"This is it! This is…"
It had been twelve years, and Dutch found himself on another cliff.
He was going to jump.
This time, though, there was no river. There were no rapids.
This time, he wasn't going to survive.
He scrambled up the ladders, hauled himself up the ledges, took the precious seconds it took John to catch up to him to catch his breath, to clutch at his wound—he'd forgotten how good of a shot John was, second only to Arthur, at least until Micah had joined them, he'd underestimated him—spitting venom that churned his stomach, that distracted John just long enough to let him breathe before he could flee again, though he could feel blood soaking through the shirt of his union suit
and how amusing, that Dutch van der Linde, the man who had already fallen so far, once so put together, a king of an outlaw, would die in his pajamas.
Though it was venom, he did believe every word he said.
John was, if not just, very much like him. The product of a dying era, and one that could never leave it behind. Though he had a woman and a son, he'd never been able to accept him, always had that feral look in his eye he'd seen in every O'Driscoll, in every outlaw, the look of a wild animal, of someone who wanted nothing more than to jump on a horse and to roam and to ride and to fight.
But that wasn't the world any more. Cars were replacing horses, and cities and towns were growing, sprouting up so quickly, that there was nowhere to roam.
Even once Dutch was dead, that wouldn't be enough. He'd never be able to settle for a life of farming, of animal-husbandry and playing the dutiful husband and father. Though Dutch had never been a good father, despite how much he'd tried, he'd raised John from a young age, and knew him well, and John was not that sort of man.
John lagged behind, and Dutch bent double, bared his teeth and clutched at his wound, found his hand came away bloody. But he didn't have long to suffer the pain, had to straighten up as John scurried up the platform below him, words tearing from his throat without his bidding, so unlike his flowing, elegant speeches he'd once been known for.
"You can't erase the past, John. Killin' me, it won't make it go away."
And he'd know, oh, he knew.
He hadn't been lying when he'd told John he'd been there to kill Micah as well, all those years ago, ("Same as you, I suppose,") though he was certain the man hadn't believed him, and he wouldn't have blamed him if he didn't.
He'd thought that killing Micah would have made the guilt go away. It was Micah's fault that Jenny and Davey and Mac, Sean and Lenny, Duffy, Susan and Hosea and Arthur had died, that he'd lost his family. That everything had gone wrong.
But he'd shot Micah, and John had finished him off though he'd have died the long, slow death he deserved if he hadn't, and felt only numb.
Because he'd known, always had known, somewhere down inside, that he couldn't blame Micah. At least, not fully. Micah had been the rat ("Oh, Dutch... he's a rat. You know it, and I know it."), sure. But it had been he that had let Micah into his ear, who had listened to him. Who had been crumbling long before he let the rat into his family, turned half-mad as he struggled in a shrinking world, buckling beneath the weight of so many people relying on him. Turning on those who loved him, wanting nothing more than to hear them reassure him, but they had questioned him instead (as they were right to do, they were family, not yes-men), and so he'd snarled and snapped and snuggled up to Micah, who'd whispered what he wanted to hear in his ear.
Killing those who he blamed wouldn't erase the past.
The tunnel came to an abrupt end, frigid air tearing at his throat and the light burning his eyes.
Arthur was waiting for him.
He looked so sad, tired blue eyes staring at the wound that even then splattered blood on the snow, leaving a morbid trail for John to follow. Dutch didn't have long, he could hear John's footsteps in the cave, but he found he couldn't look away.
It had been twelve years, but most every night he'd been haunted by nightmares; Duffy, riding into camp with his head in his hands, Hosea collapsing to the cobblestone, Susan writhing in the dirt, Abigail placing gold coins over Davey's eyes, finding Annabelle's corpse, Molly dropping in a spray of blood, and poor, poor Arthur. Staring up at him, looking so betrayed, bloodied and broken and withered in front of him.
And when he woke he'd stare at the photographs he still had, of when he and Hosea and Arthur had been young, before everything had gone so wrong. The one they'd taken when Jack was just a baby, after John had run away, long before it had all come tumbling down around their ears, ghosts staring back at him from the frames. That was the Arthur that stood in front of them, the one that had balanced atop the wagon, healthy and whole, Hosea having wrestled his rifle into his hands and insisting that he pose with it.
Though his eyes were sad, and mournful, they were clear and healthy, not faded and glassy as they'd been in the end.
His boy tilted his head, and though he looked him over it was with the sort of familiarity that said he knew what he'd find, and for the first time Dutch looked away from his face, taking the rest of him in.
He wore the clothes he had died in. That blue shirt he'd always favored, the tan jacket that had been a gift from he and Hosea when he turned thirty, and though John had been wearing that hat of his, the one that had belonged to a father who he hated but he wore anyways, as he chased him up the mountain, it sat atop his head like some sort of leather crown.
Though Arthur had died atop a cliff that never saw snow, the snow of Cochinay had become part of him. Eight point antlers of ice unfurled from his hat, though somehow Dutch knew that they were attached at the skull, as fine and delicate as lady's lace, and the sun gleamed through it such that they glowed and cast a light so bright he was left squinting in the glory of them.
But even still, the wings of hoarfrost that spread from his back were impossible to miss.
They were no angel's wings.
They stretched out wide, wide enough to dwarf Arthur twice over, but only the top remained whole, fully formed. A hand's-length down, longer in other places, some lines of crystals stretched almost to Arthur's knees, and the frost began to melt, turning to slush that pooled at his feet, though Arthur's hoarfrost wings didn't move he stood atop the platform the slush made, though it wasn't connected to the cliff and it, too, was melting, losing parts in fistfuls.
Arthur reached out to him, offered his hand, as footsteps neared the mouth of the cave, and Dutch turned to see his last living son.
When he stepped back, though his body plummeted, Arthur's hand clasped tight to his, and his heel planted firmly on the snow platform.