Tonight, A.R. cannot stand to see Charlie shut his eyes.
Red stains his fingers, and the satin and silk pressed to Charlie's torso-hot and sticky and it makes Rothstein's skin crawl and his stomach drop.
Charlie is whimpering, gasping hollowly, a rattling gurgle. His hands scramble frantically over his ribcage, smearing and clawing and trying to staunch the blood and yet-somehow the fear etched on Charlie's face is far worse to A.R. than the blood under Charlie's nails and on his usually pristine cuffs.
Charlie cries out his name pleadingly and A.R. doesn't know what to do.
He's never gotten his hands dirty before.
"I need to talk to you," is the whisper and Charlie catches his coat sleeve.
"Charlie, you know better to interrupt me when I'm working." The cards are light in A.R.'s hands.
"Boss, I wouldn't be botherin' yas if I-"
"I...I mean—I would never interrupt if it weren't important." An insistent tug at his sleeve and apologetic eyes.
"Just a moment then, Charlie. Wait in the billiards room."
A.R. never folds.
"Joe says Gyp Rosetti wants a piece."
Rothstein is barely over the door's threshold.
"…Have we not discussed this, Charlie?"
"He thinks I'm tryin' to take over his piece for Masseria."
"I thought I told you t—"
"A.R., he's gonna come after us."
Charlie doesn't interrupt him. Charlie is normally languid and long and lean, bent against the pool table. Charlie doesn't pace, doesn't smoke agitatedly, doesn't show his fear.
Not in from of Rothstein.
Tonight is different.
A.R. plucks the cigarette from between Charlie's cold fingers.
"…Well. We'll have to do something about that, won't we?"
He loves how quiet Charlie can be sometimes. He was so quiet in the beginning.
When they were appraising Charlie in the tailor's mirror... If this new boy was to be hanging around, Rothstein would see to it he looked as lucky as his moniker.
A.R.'s own soft tones had urged him. "Look at me, Charlie—look at me."
Smoke curled from Charlie's mouth in rising plumes, and A.R.'s hands smoothed out his protege's first new suit. Charlie drug his eyes from A.R.'s palms and locked them to A.R.'s, his gaze intense and eager, alight with potential. His impish grin grew silently.
Rothstein is good with numbers, so since that day he makes a habit of counting how many times he can make Charlie's eyes blaze.
Two weeks pass after their conversation and A.R.'s men manage to take out nearly as many as Gyp has of theirs. Nearly.
"This war ain't movin' nowhere, A.R.," Meyer is anxious, and Charlie is attached to Rothstein's hip.
A.R. hates this, sneaking around in the shadows, flanked by muscle. It is loathsome, it is for suckers—it is too near practices Nucky Thompson keeps for it to leave a clean taste in A.R.'s mouth. But his boys—his boys are in too deep, too young, too stubborn…
He almost loses his composure when Meyer jumps and looks sidelong at a shadow, when Charlie nervously tugs his curls into place under the hat A.R. bought him.
Instead, Rothstein's irritating, quiet voice checks them.
"I guess you boys will have to make it move, then." But he pulls out his bankroll.
"Charlie...Charlie...st-stay with me, keep your eyes open, Ch-Charlie..."
Rothstein feels numb.
His knees hit the pavement with a dull thud, and he doesn't know where to put his hands. Charlie chokes on a sob, and red colors the corners of his mouth.
"Charlie." A.R. can't help whispering-frozen, shocked, bewildered.
"Help me, A.R., help me, God! Fuck, please, help me!"
A crimson hand pulls at his Rothstein's lapel, smears helplessly into the fabric.
Fumbling, A.R. presses his hand over the hole torn in Charlie's side.
If Rothstein ever believed in anything, it was money. Money.
"We got 'em, boss." Meyer is grinning cheek to cheek.
"How?" A.R. sinks two balls into the left corner pocket.
"Meyer and I, we mowed some of Rosetti's bodyguards. Dropped 'em like bricks! That oughta send a message, huh?" The boys pant like pups, eager for praise.
Rothstein lifts his eyes from the sight down the cue stick and glances them over solemnly before resuming play.
"Lets hope they don't kill the messenger."
He and Charlie are leaving his club when they hear the footsteps behind them.
"Mister Rothstein!" the rough voice calls, moving too fast toward them.
Charlie steps in front of him before A.R. hears the crack of the metal.
His back arches sharply and his fall is almost graceful and Rothstein is taken aback as Charlie hits him heavily and crumples-A.R. can hardly hear the pounding of fleeing footsteps over the panicked rhythm of his heart.
Charlie is in Rothstein's bed because Carolyn is in Europe and a private surgeon has been called.
Meyer had been there, grim and ashen but nodded with determination when A.R. had told him what had happened. A.R. had given him money and told him to take care of what needed to be taken care of.
It's quiet here, and empty-everyone is out for vengence-and Rothstein hopes they are safe here for awhile.
"A.R..." Charlie sounds hoarse and A.R. breaks his bedside vigil to pour cool water and tip it to Charlie's cracked lips. Moisture and pain etch his brow, his curls clinging wetly to his forehead as he winces.
A.R. can't quite stop his hands from trembling.
"A.R...sorry, I'm...I'm sorry. I...I don't...I don't want to, I don't want to d-" Charlie voice keens upward with terror and pain, tears slipping down his face. His crudely bandaged stomach ripples and he whimpers out his fear and agony, his hands pressed to where the bullet is lodged in him.
He looks utterly vulernable and broken, and it's so unlike his Charlie that it takes A.R. a moment to compose himself.
"Don't speak, Charlie, don't...don't close your eyes. Stay here with me, and rest. I need..."
What does he need?
"...I need you to stay here. You...you know how I can't stand to be alone."
Rothstein places a warm, gentle hand over his, willing comfort.
A.R. has never felt much about "family" but this-this means something to him.
"All...Always...always about...you," Charlie whispers and blinks and tears streak down his pallid face-his lips set in a small, pained grin.
Rothstein returns a smile hollowly and asks softly before he can stop himself.
"Charlie, look at me."
He isn't sure how long they sit and hold each others gaze, but after A.R. realizes not much more needs to be said.
Panic slips from Charlie's eyes and is replaced by intensity.
"You are important."
"Valuable, you mean."
"Important, Charlie. To me."
Surprise, then, and it looks like Charlie is fighting to not blink too hard or rapidly.
"...Yeah. Yeah, ok."
Rothstein can't bare to see Charlie shut his eyes tonight, so he doesn't let him.
A.R. doesn't fold.
"Jesus Christ, Charlie. You really are lucky." Meyer is examining Charlie's stitches.
A.R. puts the bankroll back in his pocket.
When Charlie's bloody palm print won't wash out of Rothstein's coat, he buys a new suit.