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and i must scream

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They were hours too late.


He knew, because he’d just started getting bleary from blood loss.


Honestly, how he hadn’t passed out at that point, he didn’t know. How he hadn’t passed out from the pain… well, he’d always thought that God hated him, and now he had proof.


“Arthur? Oh god, Arthur!”

Colm was getting sick of his screaming, but he couldn’t help it.


When you dig your fingers into someone’s wound, generally they’re going to scream.


After eight days though, Colm had decided to do something about it. Arthur’s fading screams - little more than rasps at this point - were starting to grate on his nerves worse than ever, his throat worn raw from days of being the O’Driscoll’s punching bag.


It had been all Colm.


There had been another O’Driscoll who’d brought in a candle and a knife, but he’d bailed quickly, face alarmingly green and sending terror shooting through him when he gave Arthur a pitying look.


He knew just where to push to force him to open his jaw, pressing on his joints to make them scream until he had to open his mouth or risk them breaking, and then his mouth was being held open by fingers so filthy his stomach rebelled, bile spilling from around them. Colm struck him so hard with the handle of the knife that he saw stars, and by the time he’d regained himself his tongue was being pinched and drawn out as far as it could go, so far it tugged somewhere down in his throat and started to hurt.

Arthur had a heartbeat to realize “No, he’s not going to-” before Colm was bringing the knife down, sawing through muscle with an expression as unaffected as though he were butchering a carcass which, considering Arthur was strewn up like a deer he might as well have been, only stopping long enough to get a better grip when Arthur tried to thrash, leaving the muscle dangling half-attached and pouring blood down his face.


“Stop screamin’,” Colm commanded, and Arthur hadn’t even realized that he was hollering and when he did oh god that hurt, his throat tearing further as he reopened old wounds from screaming for well gone a week straight, and then Colm was sawing again and he was thrashing - 


- and with a very final squelch, his tongue fell to the ground.


It was surprisingly small, really. And actually pretty white from dehydration.


He stopped screaming. The vibrations were utter agony on the stump, spraying blood everywhere, but he couldn’t help the whimpers. Colm’s face twisted, drawing back from the blood that soaked his hand - and he couldn’t help it his tongue was cut off and bleeding and pouring down his face how was he supposed to stop that?


“Disgusting,” Colm sneered, wiping his hand on his pants, “you’d think Dutch would’ve raised you better than that.”


Well excuse him for bleeding.

He tried to talk. Tried to curse Colm out, to rage at him, and it infuriated Colm.


Colm warned him. “I’ll make you stop.” but he didn’t listen.


And Colm was right. He regretted it.


His only warning was seeing Colm holding thread and sewing needles - and Colm didn’t quite seem the type. He’d bristled, spat nonsense through the agony, spraying blood everywhere, only for the man to pinch his lips and then - 


sharp pain.


Familiar pain.




The man was stitching his lips.


He thrashed and he wriggled and he struggled, but there was nothing he could do. Colm held his head in an iron grip, pinched his lips out like the beak of a duck and stitched them together with a skill he’d never have expected from him though, even still the stitches were messy and rough, uneven and far apart and close together in turns, the pain compounding with that of his tongue, or lack of one, until he was retching and sobbing and forcing down bile for fear of choking.


“There,” Colm grinned, stepping back to look at his work, “isn’t that better?”


No one except for him would consider Arthur’s lips stitched together like a knock-off Raggedy Ann doll an improvement.

Colm had just left; they’d only just missed him.


It was dark, Dutch could only barely make out Arthur’s shape, dangling limp from the ceiling of the basement. “Arthur? Oh god, Arthur, please,” and Arthur wasn’t answering him, there was the dripping of blood so loud in the air, they were too late it had taken them ten days to track him down, this was all his fault he should never have listened to Pearson, why would Colm want to parley? Never should have listened to Micah, Arthur would never ride off after promising to meet up first - 


a noise. A quiet whine. Barely anything at all, but it was there and he could have cried, “It’s alright son, just hold on I’ve got you,” as he staggered forward, cut the rope binding his ankles and keeping him aloft, brought him to the ground as gently as he could but even still Arthur made a muffled sound of pain.


He couldn’t make out his bindings in the dark, though he could make out the odd way he was laying well enough, stepped over and lit a nearby candle and “Oh god Arthur.”


Arthur’s face was cast into stark relief by the candlelight and all he could manage was another “Oh, god, Arthur.”


His face was black and blue, pale and grey and flushed in turn, his nose clearly re-broken and bloodied but, oh god his mouth, his chin was soaked in blood and his mouth was still dripping it and oh god his mouth he’d never seen anything like it before and had never thought of anything of the sort in his worst nightmares, even when he desperately wanted someone to shut up on one of his foulest days, where the hell had Colm come up with this?


His mouth had been stitched shut, sloppy lines zigzagging this way and that, some of them so close to each other they were more ‘patch’ than ‘stitch’ while others were far enough apart that you could fit a finger between them and he was sure that, if it weren’t for those spots, Arthur would surely have long drowned in his blood and thank god for Colm’s incompetency. He whimpered with each breath and with each whimper he flinched, wincing as though in some great pain, and christ but Dutch couldn’t blame him.


Dutch emptied his stomach out on the floor.


“Jesus, Arthur, Jesus, just… just hold on, we’ll figure this out.” he staggered forward, dropped to his knees. Wanted nothing more than to sever the stitches but was terrified of making it worse (and he would have, though he didn’t know it, would have stopped opened countless wounds and Arthur would have screamed and undone all the clotting his tongue had managed and his son would have bled out in moments) so had to settle for viciously cutting through his bindings, hands shaking such he was terrified of nicking Arthur.


“I’ve got you, I’ve got you, can you stand?” and he could if only just, leaning almost all of his weight on Dutch who murmured soft reassurances as he took him up the stairs one at a time, alarmed at the growing trail of blood they were leaving in their wake, at the grey pallor that was overtaking his flushed face, at the fever he could feel radiating off of him.

John had been left on guard while Charles checked the other buildings, and Charles had finished checking them quite some time ago. So when the cellar doors opened it was quite obvious and the younger man came tearing over with a loud “Arthur!” that drew Charles’ attention - the man, much closer, went quiet in his horror, staring at his mutilated friend while John, having finally grown close enough to see, bellowed “Jesus! What the hell did they do to him?”


Dutch shifted, struggling beneath Arthur’s increasing weight, snapping “Charles, ride ahead, bring his horse with you, we need Hosea to be ready. John, help me get him onto The Count.”


With how they struggled to get him onto The Count, Dutch thought - then refused to think the thought - it would be a miracle if he made it home.

They needed a lot of miracles.