Disclaimer: The characters of the Magnificent Seven do not belong to me. I do not expect or plan to make a profit from the use of them. All original characters come from the murky depths of my own psyche, and I still expect to make no profit from them.
Authors Note: This little fic is for Anita who wanted more from End of all Things. Therefore, this is the sequel [if a deathfic can have a sequel] of my story End of all Things and it would be advisable to have read that story first. This is a different trouser leg of time story, a what if this happened instead kind of story. Please read and let me know what you think and if it all works. Feedback, by its very nature, is always appreciated.
Montana, 1921Deke Sanders winced. He clutched his knee, grimacing as pain sliced through the joint, forcing him to pause in his climb. A chill October breeze ran icy fingers across his exposed skin and the old outlaw hissed in frustration. He had had a good thing going in Huntington, a successful general store and a lucrative bootlegging operation. Everything had been right with his world, right up until that damn Sheriff Johnson had started investigating.
Deciding that the ripe old age of 67 was not the right time to experience jail, Deke had vacated his business immediately. He had hoped to reach Little Creek within a day, but he had over-estimated his strength and was still struggling up the mountain when the sky began to darken.
The nights were already bitter cold, with icy winds from Canada blowing straight through a man. Deke took a moment to study the terrain, trying to decide if there were any good camping spots. The mountainside he was on was covered by a scattering of trees, but remained exposed to the elements and offered no likely shelter. Deciding to continue up in the hope of finding a cave or outcrop, Deke Sanders forced his aching legs onward.
Night had well and truly fallen by the time Deke spotted the fire. He had all but given up hope of ever finding a place to spend the night, until the smell of woodsmoke reached him. Looking up, he spotted the soft glow of a camp fire and smiled in genuine delight. He headed straight for the fire, uncaring of whom he might be disturbing.
When he had been younger, fitter and a great deal more dangerous, Deke would have approached the fire cautiously and if necessary gone without, if the owners of said fire looked too dangerous. It did not pay for a wanted man to trust a stranger. But times were different now. The old West was gone, the days of outlaws and cowboys a fading memory. Todays sheriffs and policemen were more concerned with enforcing the prohibition and fighting organised crime. Deke no longer feared bounty hunters and gunfighters, only the long arm of civilised law.
He eagerly pushed himself up the hill and stepped toward the firelight. Calling out loudly, he cried, Ho, the fire! Got room for a cold stranger?
We sure do. Come on in.
The voice was that of an old man and sounded friendly. Grinning at his good fortune, Deke stepped through the sheltering trees and into the light.
His host looked ancient. His frame was thin and wizened, hunched over and arthritic. Skin like well-worn leather creased into a bright smile. Bright eyes greeted Sanders and the old-timer wheezed out, Pull up a rock, youngun. Tonight sure aint the time to be walking over this mountain. Ya might lose more than just your way.
Deke nodded, hunkering down by the fire, Aint that the truth. Im much obliged to ya.
The old man nodded and said, Got coffee boiling, help yourself.
Sanders poured himself a cup, savouring the aroma of fresh coffee. He settled down, holding his hands around the cup and feeling the warmth from the fire ease the ache in his bones.
Its a terrible thing to get old. Everything aches the moment the weather changes, he said, watching his host take out a piece of wood and start to whittle the ends.
The old mans fingers moved smoothly and expertly, the wood already taking shape. Yes sir, old age surely makes a body appreciate warmth, softness and a tender steak. But I reckon it sharpens a man too makes him use his head more since his body is failing him.
Deke nodded, sagely agreeing with the old timer, Yep. Gotta out-think those idiots now, cant beat the crap outa them anymore.
Looking around the camp, hoping to find a meal in the making, Sanders noted a saddle with saddlebags propped up on it, lying near the old mans bedroll. Frowning a little since he had seen no sign of a horse, Deke asked sharply, You got a horse up that mountain? It was more an accusation than question but the old man didnt seem to notice.
Scowling, Deke said, So how come you got that saddle?
Shrugging, the old man wheezed, Its a keepsake.
With instincts honed from a lifetime of successful crime and law-breaking, Sanders felt a worm of uncertainty stir within him. The old man seemed unconcerned and kept a steady pace at his whittling. Strange kinda keepsake to tote around with ya?
Reminds me of a time when a man could ride for a week without meeting a single soul.
Deke smiled at the obvious wistfullness in the mans voice. Relaxing a little and putting the oddity down to sentimentality and senility, Sanders grinned, Times sure have changed, huh?
Still hungry, Deke said none to subtly, You eaten already?
Flashing bright blue eyes caught Dekes, Got swallowed whole years ago. If ya mean is there any food, no. Best I can offer you is some jerky.
Hungry enough to eat boiled leather, Sanders shifted his considerable gut. The years had laid their mark on him by adding to his belly. He wasnt the spry young man of his youth. Jerky is fine.
Returning to his wood, the old man sighed, Its in my saddlebags, help yourself.
Moving at the speed only a starving fat man could generate, Deke pulled the old bags over and began to rummage inside. He found the jerky quickly, but it was the pair of Lightning Colt pistols resting against the pouch that made him pause. Pulling out one of the Colts and the pouch, Deke quickly checked to see if the gun was loaded.
It wasnt, but it was clean and well oiled. Glancing up to see if the old timer had noticed his discovery, Sanders saw that the man was mumbling quietly to himself, wrapped up in his whittling.
Curious, Sanders explored the saddlebag further. It contained the usual shirts, a spare change of long-johns and socks, but hidden amidst the socks he found a battered deck of cards. The cards were dog-eared, dirty and a few even had bloodstains on them. They looked well-worn, as if someone had shuffled them ragged. Placing the cards to one side, Deke continued to dig through the bag. Next he found an old bead rosary, the wood worn smooth by countless prayers.
Tossing the beads aside, Deke was about to continue his search when the old mans mumbling finally registered and moved from his subconscious to conscious mind.
Yeah I remember Mary. Shes a hard lady to forget. No, I dont aim to find out what happened to her. Best if she just Yeah, Im sure Billy turned out fine, quit worrying. .. Hell, that werent my fault
Another tickle of concern stirred within Deke. People who talked to themselves were always a worry. The old man suddenly looked up and stared at Deke. Realising he was still rifling through another mans possession, he said glibly, Couldnt find the jerky. Holding up the cards, Sanders asked, Keepsake?
The old man had a strange look on his face and Deke pressed on quickly lest the old guy get offended. I didnt mean to pry. This a keepsake too?
He held up the Colt and rosary and a small smile broke on his hosts face. Yep. I keep em to remember a few friends.
Deke, who had lost more friends than he had ever made, scowled, Must have been good friends for you to tote their crap around.
Best friends a man could ask for.
Sanders studied the cards for a moment, They die?
The old man nodded, A long time ago.
Snorting in disdain, the one time outlaw laughed, So why bother? It aint like theyre gonna care or nothing.
The old man didnt answer. Rather he had his head tilted to the side as if he was listening to something. At first Deke was concerned that maybe he heard sounds of unwelcome visitors, like the Sheriff. But the old guy soon nodded and said, Sure, Ill ask him.
Turning to a puzzled Deke, the old man said, You ever punch cows for a living?
Huh? Sanders gaped.
You know, did you ever work with cattle?
Deciding to play along, Deke shrugged, Sure. My pa owned a cattle ranch when I was young. Did a little cowboy work for him.
Down in Kansas?
Figuring the old guy had pegged his accent, Sanders nodded, Had one of the biggest of spreads in the State.
Catching Dekes gaze with his piercing blue one, the old man asked, So how come you aint some big time rancher? The war ruin your Pa?
Finding himself answering without thinking, Sanders shook his head. Werent the war between the States that ruined it all. It was a damn range war with the McKenzies. Those bastards stole our water and tried to run us out!
Nodding as if he too remembered, his host growled, Tough times back then. A man had to live by his gun.
Caught up in the memories of yesteryear, Deke nodded and told the story that was ever close to his heart. Hell, yes! My Pa sure as hell wasnt gonna get run off by some damn Scots. He hired just about every man in the county, and even a few professional gunhands.
Sounds pretty serious.
Snorting again, Deke snarled, Hell, it was war! And we woulda won too if that no-good yellow bastard hadnt run out on us!
The old man chuckled, his face partly obscured by his hat and said, Dont glare at me like that, I aint the one calling you names. Looking up at Deke, the old guy continued, Who ran out on you?
Feeling decidedly uncomfortable and more than a little nervous, Sanders muttered, A gunhand my Pa hired. The others looked up to him and when he ran, they ran too. Larabee was yellow through and through! We barely lasted a month after that.
Pouring himself another cup of coffee, his host sighed deeply, Seems to me you had quite a grudge against this fella. You ever find him? Pausing, the old man hissed almost as an aside, Would you quit yapping and let me talk?
Unable to stop himself, Deke looked around the camp trying to spot whomever it was the old buzzard was talking to. Figuring the old man was loosing his mind, Sanders said in a voice he hoped was soothing to the mentally unstable, You alright, old timer?
Smiling brightly, the geriatric cowboy shook his head, As right as rain, sonny. Always had a fondness for yarns though you keep on telling your story now.
Quashing the irrational fear that maybe senility was contagious, Deke decided to humour the old guy as he was sharing his fire after all. Erm, sure. I found Larabee. The snake had slithered his way into some hick town and was running the joint. I had a plan to bail my familys ranch out and unfortunately Larabee got wind of it. He chased me down, stole my property and then tried to hightail it. He even had a bunch of idiots riding with him.
The old man seemed enthralled and hadnt muttered to himself for a while now. Hoping whatever mental spell had passed, Sanders grinned, My boys and me got Larabee and his yahoos cornered in some ghost town and we beat the crap outa them. They tried a surprise attack at night and we mowed em down.
Deke smiled fondly at the memories. I kept Larabee alive for a few days until he told me where my guns were. He laughed suddenly, remembering those hot summer, blood-filled days. The old man opposite him seemed lost in memory too. The man folded like paper when I started carving up his friend. I put a bullet in Larabees head and hell, it was one of the best damn moments in my life.
The old man sighed, blinking as if to clear the fog before his eyes. You kill them all?
Squinting in the firelight, Deke shook his head, Nah I left one of them for dead. My boys had had a lot of fun with him and I figured he wouldnt last the night.
You figured wrong. The old mans voice sounded different. Firmer, younger and tinged with steel. Deke looked up and came eyeball to eyeball with a sinister looking revolver. For the first time, he could see the old mans face clearly. No longer obscured by shadow or hat, he stared straight into a face he recognised with dread.
Long time, Sanders.
Deke was stunned. It just wasnt possible. Tanner was dead, should be dead. The boys had just about ground him into the dust in front of Larabee.
Unable to tear his gaze from the icy depths of Tanners gaze, Deke mouthed soundlessly. Tanners hand was unwavering as he thumbed back the hammer on the revolver.
Larabee sends his best.
The bullet tore through Sanders chest, knocking him backward into the snow. He landed heavily, every pound shaking with momentum. Still unable to process what had happened, Deke looked up at Tanner.
Instead of seeing the ancient form of a man he thought long dead, he found himself surrounded by six men. The one nearest him was dressed all in black and had a satisfied air about him. Recognition dawned and Deke stammered the name Larabee and the ghostly figure smirked at him.
Tanner joined his friends, an aged version of their youth. The boys wanted to see you get yours and I wasnt about to complain. Be seeing you, Deke.
Sanders stared at Tanner as he faded and everything seemed to go dark. Only the six gunmen remained and then they too disappeared. And Sanders was left alone.
The camp was silent. Vin continued to break camp despite the late hour. Dekes body lay where it had fallen.
I sure as hell aint gonna move him, Nate. You want me to put my back out?
The cards, beads and Colts were returned to the saddlebag.
I am not going to shoot him with your guns just fer good measure, JD. Hes dead.
A soft whistle summoned the distant grandson of a fiery Peso.
No, Buck. I aint going to San Francisco just so you can see the ladies there.
Saddle, saddlebags and bedroll were tied firmly in place and Vin slowly hauled himself up onto his horse.
One more word outta you, Ez and I swear Ill find a way to shoot you.
Soon silence reigned unchallenged in the little clearing, the fire dying a speedy death. Only the dark, winter night watched over the fallen, its stygian depths smugly satisfied.
Cast your eyes on the ocean
Cast your soul to the sea
When the dark night seems endless
Please remember me
Though we share this humble path, alone
How fragile is the heart
Oh give these clay feet wings to fly
To touch the face of the stars
Breathe life into this feeble heart
Lift this mortal veil of fear
Take these crumbled hopes, etched with tears
We'll rise above these earthly cares
Cast your eyes on the ocean
Cast your soul to the sea
When the dark night seems endless
Please remember me
Lyrics from Dantes Prayer
by Loreena McKennit
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