Arthur had never felt anything quite like it. Agonizing pain everywhere; in every limb, every muscle, every joint. In every breath he took, searing hot pain igniting his lungs and filling them with thick smoke.
And yet, at the same time, he felt completely numb. That kind of numb that shoots throbbing aches across every nerve, like molasses running in his bloodstream, creeping up his veins like some kind of disease.
It all hit him right in the chest that rose sharp and fast with each wheezing breath, his heart beating with all it had left. Like a drum - thrum, thrum, thrumming away against his battered ribcage. He felt so tired.
"I gave you all I had."
Those words he had rasped at Dutch echo through his skull, heart feeling like it was bleeding all over the bones that kept it caged, wished he could just pull it out and show Dutch his sincerity. He hadn't meant to hurt him, just wanted to keep everyone safe.
And he had.
His heart bled and ached and yet it still fluttered so joyously because he had kept them safe. They had a chance to rebuild and restart.
His dear brother John with darling Abigail and Jack, getting the life they deserved. Miss Tilly Jackson, the sweetheart she was who had bid him a farewell with the warmest tears filling her eyes, wetting her eyelashes.
Mary-Beth, Arthur did not know where she was but he knew she was strong when she needed to be and gifted with a brain smarter than any of them. She always had such kindness, such a gentle compassion for anyone no matter what. Arthur wishes her well, wishes she gets to live out her own storybook fantasy.
Sadie Adler, what a woman, what an inspiration. The widow who lost it all to the strong force she is today, yet still held that same compassion to those who needed and deserved it much like Mary-Beth. He knows she will do well, will be strong.
Karen, Pearson, Uncle, Reverend Swanson - all lost to the wind but Arthur hopes with everything he has that they will be well. That they will be fine. Was not too close to Karen but she was a woman who deserves more than life ever gave her.
And Charles. Oh, Charles. Just the name was enough to bring tears to his eyes and a skip to his heart that he's sure kept it beating just a little bit stronger, fighting a little bit harder against the losing battle with his sickly lungs. How he missed him, wanted him here with him selfishly within his last moments.
He could not bear the thought of Charles - beautiful, kind, warm, understanding Charles - getting caught up in the end. He deserved to get away and live peacefully, to not have gotten caught up in as much of the mess as he had. But Arthur still wished for him to be here even though he wanted all that.
He had been so selfless in the end, run himself ragged and made the sickness worse. He wanted to be selfish one last time even though unwinding his arms from around Charles' broad shoulders, words unsaid hanging heavy in-between them - too late to say - was the right thing to do. The right thing to do. Like a good man.
"You're a good man, Arthur."
It seeps into his brain, infecting his mind and Arthur thinks that yeah, maybe I was.
But that's all too late now. Too late to be a good man when you're lying on the cold stone of a cliff a few minutes from death as the man you once saw as your father stares down the man who destroyed your entire family.
He thinks of Sean. He thinks of Lenny, Hosea, Molly, Susan. The way she had gasped and gurgled and Arthur could do nothing for her, could do nothing but hope it took her quick. He thinks of Jenny and Davey and Mac - Christ, he even thinks of Keiran, who much like everyone else, deserved so much better.
Arthur thinks of them and it presses down on him like a toppled dead horse, like his dear Boadicea in Blackwater. How a bullet had ripped clean through her, her own chest heaving like Arthur's. His leg had been trapped underneath her, the Pinkertons fast approaching much like now (oh, how he would laugh if he had the breath) and Arthur had been content to die there with her. Had not wanted to leave her behind to rot.
It was something he could not help but was also something he could not forgive himself for, the soft kiss to the length of her muzzle as the light faded from her not feeling like enough. And as he resigned himself to his fate there, knowing he was strong but not strong enough to haul her still warm body off him he heard the slowing of thundering hooves, the yell of his name.
Boadicea's weight was hauled off him with no more than a few strangled grunts, the rushed demand of, "Hurry, Charles," and then Arthur had felt warm, strong arms wrap around under his armpits, dragging him out of danger as Boadicea was placed onto the dusty ground. Arthur had barely processed anything, not even listened well enough to know the owner of the other voice who had saved his life, looking up to meet dark eyes just as scared as they'd first met those few years ago.
And he thinks of Javier.
It hurts the most. A hurt he could not find a single word to describe so he decided to not try, content to let it simply stay in the wind, floating around aimlessly. Arthur had never really been good with words anyway.
Javier. The man he had grown to trust, grown to love, grown to hate. And it wasn't an angry hate, no; it was a sad hate. A hate that bubbled in his guts and made him sob on cold nights away from camp, sheltered inside his small tent with no one around to see. No matter how many pleading glances he gave him or attempted conversations he initiated, it all ended with Javier walking away and putting his life in Dutch's hands and never his.
It curled around Arthur's stomach so tight one night he'd drank his weight in whiskey, perhaps a mistake when the atmosphere at camp was so hostile. Couldn't remember what he did or what he'd said - obviously nothing to make a bigger target on his back because he woke up the next morning somehow in his cot.
Just watch that cough, Arthur.
He had spent many evenings watching the sun set and wondering, why was their love not enough? Had wished he was in one of Mary-Beth's fancy romance novels where the couple beat all odds and end up together. But real life ain't like that, never was, never will be.
Not for men like Arthur - a sickly outlaw who had grown to fall so deeply in love with two men. It's like he had everything possible against him, you could pluck just one of the smallest details from his life and hang him for it.
Everything about Arthur was bad but he could not help being a good man, something he hopes to atone for all the sin he had committed for simply existing.
For all the bad Javier had done to him the past few weeks, his cold shoulder attitude and hurtful words, Arthur couldn't stop his thoughts from wandering to the memory of their first kiss.
When they were all frozen up in Colter, still shaken and sore from Blackwater - mourning their losses - Arthur had still yet to thank the men who'd saved him. But he didn't know how to and so had simply resigned to doing it once they got off the god awful mountain, until a particularly bitter night he could not fall asleep.
The cold had settled into his joints - particularly his knees that had a tendency to click whenever he crouched down - the discomfort making it impossible to fall into a restful slumber. He'd slipped outside, finding a small fire burning away and warming himself by it. The snow was still falling but a lot lighter than the days gone by.
There'd been the sound of crunching, footsteps that hadn't caught Arthur too off guard but his finger still twitched by his side anyway. They were hidden but there may still be O'Driscolls nearby.
His head was facing the floor, thawing from the fire. A telltale shine of gold on boots enters his vision, twinkling under the moon and stars. A beautiful night it had been, if only Arthur could have appreciated it.
It was silent for a while save for the crackling of the burning fire and Arthur was unsure Javier was waiting for him to talk first or just wasn't in a sociable mood at all. He didn't have to wait much longer.
"How is your leg?" there was concern in Javier's voice, worn a little from the cold, but nothing to border on worried mother hen territory. Arthur appreciates it though, made his chest feel just a bit warmer on that mountain.
Arthur hadn't noticed the ache in his right leg much, too busy trying to help fix their current mess, "It'll heal. Wish the same could be said for Boadicea..."
Javier shifted just a little closer to Arthur's side, a small hum rippling in his throat, "I'm sorry, Arthur."
"S'not your fault."
They fell into silence again, nothing awkward but comfortable; peaceful. A nice moment away from all the chaos before Arthur was reminded all too soon.
"Thank you, by the way," it's sincere although it sounds clunky in the way Arthur's voice wraps around it, "I'd be a dead man if it weren't for you."
Javier chuckled, clearly amused as the sound bubbled out of his dried lips and into the brisk air, "We're all dead men, Arthur. Besides, Charles helped."
Arthur knows this but Charles had looked so content, so free of the thoughts of Blackwater whilst tending to the horses earlier that he didn't have the heart to mention it to him. When they get off the mountain he will thank him. "I know. But so did you."
He didn't know how they'd gotten so close, shoulder to shoulder as they shared their minimal body heat by the fire, knuckles brushing together by their sides. Arthur was glad his cheeks were already flushed from the cold.
How many times had Arthur dreamt of this? Woken up with a tingling fingertips as his sleep-clouded mind struggled to let go of his sweet dreams. A breath caught in his throat when a curious pinky finger wrapped around his own hesitantly.
It was just them out in the snow, nothing but eachother and the burning fire to keep eachother warm. No one was around to intrude on their private moment.
"I'm glad you're here, Arthur," Javier's voice had been so soft, barely a whisper over the cold wind that howled against their ears and Arthur put it on the list of his most favourite sounds, a close second to Javier's singing.
In a burst of courage, heart rattling against his ribs as he prayed he hadn't gotten this wrong, Arthur curled his fingers around the rest of Javier's. "'m glad you're here too..."
It felt like he'd been winded when Javier slipped his fingers out of his loose grip. Arthur must have read it wrong and he was truly mortified, looked too far into fireside glances and shared cigarettes. Who had Arthur been kidding anyway, how many times had he found Javier sweet talking some lady at a saloon?
Such a fool.
Paralysed, numb, stupid – that's how he'd felt stood there not knowing what to do. Should he say sorry? Should he just leave without another word and let it all be forgotten and hope Javier doesn't kick the shit out of him for having those kinds of thoughts towards him, another man?
Arthur had finally gathered his thoughts enough to begin making his way back to the rickety, old cabin he had tried to sleep in earlier, feet shifting in the snow as his muscles woke up when he was stopped in his tracks once more.
Five frozen and trembling fingertips reached out to splay across his stubbled jaw, warm leather glove now removed and held tight in Javier's left hand. A few nervous breaths escaped Arthur's lips, unable to be hidden as they puffed out into white clouds.
Javier didn't say anything, didn't make fun of the way Arthur was acting, instead he just shuffled a few small steps in front of him so he could look into Arthur's averted eyes. They were beautiful, as blue as the sky in Mexico when the weather was warm and clear, with a ring of green to compliment them much like the lush grass they'd seen at the bottom of the mountain.
"Tú eres mi corazón..." Javier's lips quirked into a gentle smile and Arthur almost swooned. Didn't know what he'd said but anything the man purred in his native tongue always seemed to hit Arthur right in the gut.
The cold pad of a thumb pressed against his bottom lip, Javier's eyes drawn to the way Arthur's lips parted ever so slightly underneath it before it was swiped away. He leaned closer and Arthur was sure he'd stop breathing right there and then, lungs starved of oxygen as Javier's thick eyelashes fluttered closed.
Their lips pressed together, chapped and near frostbitten, hurting a little when Javier's tongue creeped out to run across the split skin of Arthur's bottom lip. His mouth tasted faintly of cigarette smoke and of the tequila he sometimes drank when he felt homesick. And then it was all over, too soon for Arthur's liking.
It hadn't been long enough for them to lose their breath yet they both stood there, panting quietly and foreheads resting against one another. Arthur had wrapped his arms around Javier at some point, hands resting on the other's waist not wanting him to pull away.
Just a few more minutes.
How Arthur wishes to turn back time, to be back in that one moment that sparked so many more. Stolen kisses behind a thicket of trees, comforting embraces by the scout fire after a particularly hard day, passionate nights away from camp on fishing trips.
But he was here, lying on dirt and rocks with tuberculosis killing him and Javier is gone. It was agonizing when he turned his back on him after Guarma, after Arthur had fought tooth and nail to get his love back, had feared every second Javier was out there alone without him not knowing what he was going through.
Not knowing if he was dead.
But knowing that even in the end, when Miss Grimshaw was dying on the ground he still didn't let his faith in Dutch die, had not come to Arthur and John like Arthur had hoped and expected. He really thought...
He coughs and gags, hacking up blood across the hand he raises to his purpling lips. He wishes he could have kissed Javier one last time, could have held him in his arms, made him feel safe with him and not Dutch and Bill and fucking Micah.
It brings him back to the present, mind less foggy with death causing him to reminisce on times long passed. Micah still stands over him, trying to convince Dutch to leave. Dutch... Dutch doesn't seem like he's listening much but Arthur can't be completely sure.
"Let's go. We can make it."
They can't. None of them can.
Arthur's gaze is fixed on Micah who has such desperation in his face that Arthur almost feels sorry for him. Almost.
But then he remembers what he's done and how many of them had to die for his greed and games. For being a filthy fucking rat.
He hears the soles of Dutch's shoes shuffle against the surface of the cool rock beneath them, Arthur's eyes slipping shut. He couldn't bear to see the man he thought of as a father walk away with him... hopes he'd done enough to convince him not to, to hopefully save the last person he had a chance to.
And then his ears are ringing, the sound of a gunshot cracking through the bitter air.
When Arthur cracks open his tired eyes, head lolled to the side, he's face to face with Micah. There's a hole in his head, right between the eyes. The rasp of a chuckle sends Arthur into another painful coughing fit, spitting out the saliva and blood that filled his mouth. Good fucking riddance.
He catches his breath the best he can before turning back up to see the gun smoking in Dutch's hand. But there is no gun in his hand, in fact his hands are resting by his sides.
Arthur follows his gaze the best he can, groaning at the throbbing in his head and lungs and ribcage. And there he is.
Revolver in his shaking hand, still hot from the bullet that killed Micah, he must have snuck up behind Micah and put a bullet in his brain before either could react. He can hear the wet sound of Dutch opening his mouth and Javier pulls the hammer of the revolver back, a fire burning in his eyes.
"Go, Dutch," and it sounds like it hurts Javier to say it, the final thread connecting them both being cut. Even if Dutch went for his own gun still tucked away into it's holster, Javier already has his drawn. They all know how quick Javier can be, how deadly.
The gold on his boots shimmers so beautifully under the dirt caked across them, the stars and moon twinkling off whichever parts they can and it reminds Arthur so much of that night. The one they kissed, when he sent the ball rolling down the hill of loving Javier knowing it would never stop.
And then Arthur looks back up to his deep, dark eyes and notices how they twinkle too. Crystal tears threatening to spill over his eyelashes and somehow Javier manages to force out a simple, "Please," his voice trembling in a way that makes Arthur want to scoop him up into his arms, never letting go again.
But he can't no matter how much he wants to even if his fingers itch and ache to reach out and pull Javier down into his weakened chest. Just one last time.
There must be something there that gets to Dutch. Perhaps knowing he lost everyone who once would have followed him to the ends of the earth? Or maybe it's the way Javier's voice cracks, the way he looks down at Arthur the same way Dutch had once looked at Hosea.
And so Dutch takes a step back, another, the soles of his boots kicking up dust with every single step until he is gone. Until Arthur can rest his head back on the hard ground.
It's like all the weight on his chest releases at once, like Arthur can finally die feeling free from it knowing Micah is gone, that he won't need to worry about him catching back up with any of them. Won't have to worry about Javier following Dutch into some kind of death trap.
There's a familiar, slightly rough palm gripping his jaw, shaking it a little and Arthur opens his eyes again not even realising they'd slipped shut.
"Javier..." he rasps, taking a good look at him. His hair is a mess, sticking up all over the place and no longer tied into his usual neat ponytail. There's dust and dirt all over his usually pristine shirt, a few scratches on his cheeks from where he must have been scraped by brambles and twigs racing through trees on Boaz.
Arthur thinks of his own horse down at the bottom of the cliff. Aurora, a beautiful White Arabian he had found during a trip that led him to Lake Isabella. She had been strong, loyal, and Arthur made sure to stay with her just as Boadicea had deserved. He'd hushed her through it, made sure she hadn't been scared.
But just as the thought entered his mind, it drifted away, a dumb, almost drunk grin on his lips as he reaches up to touch Javier's cheek, just like he had when they kissed in Colter. "Y'came back," is all he manages before Javier rests his forehead against Arthur's own, something wet and warm falling down onto his cheeks and down his jaw.
"Don' cry for me..." but it's too late, the floodgates already opened and trickling onto Arthur's face like a waterfall. He'd never seen Javier cry like this, had never wanted to be the reason for it.
"I'm so sorry Arthur," Javier's voice cracks and rises in pitch, shaking with every rushed word like he didn't have enough time to say everything he wanted, "I'm so sorry. Mi alma, mi vida, mi sol – please forgive me. Please don't leave me Arthur. Te quiero con todo mi corazón. Please stay with me."
A sad smile takes over Arthur's face, a stray tear sliding down his own jaw and settling in the rubble beneath him, "Would if I could..." his words fade off into an exhale, vision spotted with black as he feels himself dragged down into darkness.
He can hear the distant playing of a guitar, a melodic voice singing along to the tune and he followed it, seeking out the musician behind it. He found him sat at the scout fire, plucking at strings absently in the way only a seasoned player could do. The admiration Arthur has for him being able to play such beautiful songs so casually like, as if it was as easy as breathing.
Arthur swayed while he listened to foreign words, a few too many beers in his system. Although Arthur didn't know what Javier was saying, it felt romantic and sweet. Something good with lyrics that probably rivaled the material in Mary-Beth's books.
Lazy eyes met one another, keeping eachother grounded in the moment, burning as bright as the flames before them. How long they stayed like that Arthur didn't know, but Javier's song comes to a close.
"You sound good," words Arthur had told Javier many a time but still received the same reaction; a warm, shy smile with a grateful, silent nod of his head.
"...rthur. Arthur?" those same warm, hands with calloused fingertips from years of plucking at strings slap him awake, bringing a few coughs with it.
Bright blue meets deep brown as Arthur's eyes open. Oh, how Javier missed how clear they used to be, the whites now riddled with red.
"Stay with me, Arthur. Can you stand? Boaz is just down the cliff, I can get you down if you lean on m–"
"'m dyin' Javier..." Arthur's voice sounds just like the gravel beneath him, like the tip of a knife scraping across the rough surface of a rock. He places a hand over Javier's on his chest, a firm and comforting weight, "'m dyin'."
And just to help his case, a few more ragged coughs rip through his throat. Javier wipes his lips with his shirt sleeve, staring down at the stark red smudge on the dirtied white and breathes out like all the life left him in that moment.
"Alright," Javier nods, voice soft and hoarse – almost like that night in Colter but not quite right – wisps of his hair falling into his face as a few more tear droplets drop down onto the ground. He wipes his eyes, brushes the hair from his face and takes a deep breath. Composes himself.
Putting on a brave face for Arthur.
"Alright," his voice was just as hoarse and wet as before, but sounded more sure of himself. He even manages a small smile that breaks Arthur's already broken heart into thousands of tiny pieces.
There's a flicker of light in the corner of his eye, the smallest speck of sunlight in the horizon. But it's blocked by the boulder in front of him.
Arthur doesn't even need to say anything because Javier is on his feet, curling his fingers beneath Arthur's armpits much like Charles had done back when they were escaping Blackwater. He doesn't pull Arthur along with the same amount of ease that Charles had done but he manages, the small stones a little uncomfortable when they dig into Arthur's back. But it's bearable. For this moment it's all alright.
He finally manages to get him to an open spot with a perfect view of the sunrise, the sky turning from dark to dusty purple and orange hues.
Arthur's head was no longer uncomfortably laying on the dirt covered ground but instead resting in Javier's lap. A perfect moment, no other way he would have it.
"How..." he rasps, Javier's fingers linking with Arthur's on his chest. He was too tired to lift his hand, too tired to keep his eyes open much longer. "How many times we seen the sunrise together..."
Javier's thumb rubs along his bruised knuckles, coaxing more words out of Arthur, "An' yet... I think," one cough, two coughs, "I think this's the most beautiful one we ever seen..."
He hears sniffling start up again, Javier letting out a small, painful noise before it's gone, "Yeah," he agrees, words watery, "yeah it is." Javier's other hand lands in Arthur's hair, twisting around strands he let get too long. He can feel wet against his scalp where Javier used his palms to wipe at his eyes.
It's harder to breathe, harder to keep his eyes focused on the sun rising into the sky. "I l'you Javier," his voice is barely a whisper, just a faint breath.
As his eyes slip shut he feels the tip of Javier's nose press to his sweat coated forehead, gentle and warm lips pressing a feather of a kiss to it, "I love you too, Arthur."
Arthur smiles, heart fluttering with all that he has left. And then he's gone.