by Sarah B.
Webmaster Note: This fic was originally hosted at another
website and was moved to blackraptor in August 2004.
I didn't want to admit it at first. I've always liked to be active, moving about, 'full of spit and vinegar' as my Aunt Nettie used to say. I always hated being sick. I never liked winter, when you had to stay inside so much. I don't think I ever settled down, not really, not even after JD and I got married and I was carrying William. Of course, I had to settle down some to raise a family, but I never did mind that, and once they were grown me and JD had all kinds of time to travel and see things, and do things we never could have done before the railroads and airplanes came along. Good thing he always had as much energy as I did, or I'd have worn him out years ago. But I don't think JD will ever run out of energy. One of the things I love about him, I guess.
It started about the end of last year. I started getting a little run down, couldn't quite keep up. JD saw it right away, said I should see a doctor, but I just laughed it off. He was worried about me, I could see it in his eyes. He always had such beautiful eyes. But I guess I just didn't want to admit that I might be reaching the end of my life. Doesn't seem possible that I'm not fifteen anymore...
I still remember the first time I saw JD. Well, spoke to him; I saw him riding on that big horse of his a few times before I actually got to talk to him. Aunt Nettie was still alive, I was just a little thing. The west was still wild, none of this new stuff, skyscrapers and radio and all that. It was telegraph if you wanted to talk to somebody, the telephone was less than two years old. We needed help, Aunt Nettie and me, because this rancher wanted to take her land and sell it to the railroad. So we came to Four Corners and she went in to talk to the hired gun, Chris Larabee, and they posted me at the door, said don't let nobody in. I didn't mind, because I thought maybe I'd see him, and sure enough I did.
I wonder if he knew how nervous I was? No, probably not, I probably put on that tomboy bravado. I don't really remember much about what JD and I said to each other, all I remember is how close he was, how nice he smelled, and his eyes. I fell hard and quick, and never regretted it once, not when JD would be stubborn and we'd argue, not when he'd ride off with Chris and Buck and the others to save the world and leave me to worry, not when I sat by his bedside during that awful summer when Josiah and Nathan were trying so hard to save his life after he got shot.
I was never so scared as I was that summer, and after that I almost asked him to give up doing law work, because I was always afraid it would get him killed. I love his bravery, but I didn't want to be a widow. Of course, I didn't ask him, because that's JD. It's in his blood, I might as well ask him to cut his right arm off. He would have given it up to make me happy, but then I would probably be miserable anyway because I would know that he gave up what he truly loved doing. So, I didn't ask him. But I prayed a lot.
And now I'm dying. And leaving him.
Probably he knew something was wrong even before I asked him to call Dr. Jackson. I've been sleeping too much, and getting around is a lot harder than it used to be. So last week when I just didn't have the gumption to get out of bed he was very quick to ask if everything was all right. I hated to ask him to call Nathan's boy, I knew from JD's face he really doesn't want to face this, but if there's anything Tom can do for me I want to know. Anything, for a few more weeks. Even days would be nice...
JD calls Tom, and comes and sits by me, and we talk. It's funny, I know JD's as old as I am, a few years older even, but when I look at him I don't see any wrinkles or infirmities, although I know they're there. His hair went white years ago, but to me it's still jet-black, and it still falls in his eyes all the time. Isn't that funny.
I drift off to sleep, wake up again. Tom's here, and he looks me over, gives me a smile. Just like his father, Tom is, even looks like him. I call him Nathan once or twice, he understands. JD hovers close, tries to give me an encouraging smile, everything has to be OK for him, he's never liked to be unhappy or face harsh realities.
But now I'm afraid he's going to have to, and it's breaking my heart.
Tom's finished, he stands up. We should get you to a hospital, he tells me. I ask him if I'm dying, and to be straight with me. Nettie didn't raise a shirker, and I don't like being pussyfooted with, so I want to know. Tom bites his lip, says something about my heart and blood pressure. I get a little impatient with him, I guess, ask him if I'm dying, again. His eyes go dark, like Nathan's did when he told me Chris was dead all those years ago, and I know.
JD knows too, and I see him blinking back tears when he comes back after Tom leaves. He's scared, asks if I want to go to the hospital. He takes my hand, and I can feel him stroking my hair, which he always does when he sees I'm upset. No hospital, I say. I'm not going to die in some whitewashed room I've never seen before, where everything echoes and smells funny. Call the children, and come sit with me. I want to die at home.
JD nods, gives me a kiss. He knows better than to argue with me...
I try to get out of bed, but the effort makes me dizzy and lightheaded, and after a few tries I admit it's better if I just stay here. At least it's spring, and I can see the trees blooming. The trees are just starting to come out, so there aren't any flowers yet, but there will be, just you wait. Tom gives JD some medicine for me, but I won't take it unless I have to. I think it'll knock me out, and I want to be awake, now more than ever. There's so much to do...
I sleep, off and on. When I'm awake people come to visit, some of them I haven't seen in years. They feel guilty I guess, but that's OK. Some of Nathan's children and grandchildren come, and it's always nice to see them.
Night comes, JD won't go to bed. He sits up with me, holding my hand, and we talk some more. Mostly we talk about when we were young, in Four Corners, remember Buck? Remember Ezra, and that red jacket he always wore? We don't talk about when they died, or anything that happened that last summer. Just the good memories, the time JD ran into a sweat lodge with a bucket of water because he thought it was on fire, and Josiah pulled him out and gave him a scolding. The first time I wore a dress, and ripped the skirt because I didn't know to walk in one. And the time JD tried to find someone, anyone, to laugh at that three-legged dog joke of his...
Time seems to pass in a gauzy way now. What day is it? JD's close, I don't think he went to bed last night. William arrives from Chicago. I'm still amazed at how fast people can travel these days. Some of the other children arrive too, and I tell William to make sure JD is getting some food in him, and some rest. I don't want them to lose him too...
Poor JD. He's really always wanted to be brave and strong, but I know he doesn't want me to go. When we talk about the old days, I can see in his eyes that he's trying to remember everything he can, to talk about those times as much as possible, because I'm all that's left. When I go, he won't have anyone to say, remember how Vin would just disappear for weeks and nobody knew where he went? Or ask, what was the name of Chris's horse again? Because no one will know. Not who was there, I mean.
Drifting now...I open my eyes, and the electric lights are burning in the room. It always irritated me that you can't turn those things down the way you can oil lamps. JD's still there, in the chair next to the bed, and as soon as I open my eyes he leans forward so our faces are close and he says, do you want anything? Yes, JD. I want to live forever.
I don't want to go. I just got started with you, it's only been sixty-five years. We've only had sixty-five Christmases together, we can't be halfway done yet. How many sunsets have we seen together? Five thousand? Not nearly enough. I want to feel your hand in mine again as we walk down the street, I know for a fact we haven't had nearly enough of that, even though we haven't gone out once when you haven't slipped your hand in mine.
No, somebody counted wrong. I'm being cheated. I should get to hear your laugh for at least another century. I should get at least two hundred more years to shake my head and watch you take on the world with nothing but those dreams of yours and a pair of Colt Lightnings.
I want to kiss you again, and feel you kiss me. I want to feel that electric thrill I used to experience when I'd see you coming down the street on your horse, sharing a joke with Buck or trying to impress Chris with some gun-twirling trick, and I'd know you were back, and safe. I want to hold you, just hold you in the summer sunshine with the cottonwood seeds flying around us like we were in a fairy tale. For a thousand thousand years.
It's not fair. It's just not fair.
I drift back off to sleep, wake up again. William is sitting in the chair, he tells me he put his father to bed in the guest room. William takes my hand, and I take it as tight as I can and say promise me, William. What, mama, he asks. Thinking isn't very easy now, it's so hard to concentrate, but I try to make myself understood.
Promise me he'll be taken care of. You don't understand, you really don't, you didn't know JD when he was young. His heart does his thinking for him, it always has. Always putting the dad-blame cart before the horse, Buck used to say, always running off with his guns blazing like he ain't got a lick of sense. Buck knew JD before I did, and it's a good thing, because to hear him tell it JD almost got himself killed a half-dozen times before I laid eyes on him. And Buck always looked after him, bless his heart.
Then it was my turn. JD always said that if it hadn't been for me he would have died after Fowler's men shot him up that summer. You just wouldn't let me go, Case, he'd say, and laugh a little like he couldn't believe how stubborn I was.
Oh, but I wasn't about to let that bastard win. It was bad, Nathan told me not to get my hopes up, that JD would probably be better off if he died. Did I get mad at him? I don't remember. I don't remember much about those days, except sitting by JD's bedside, watching Nathan work his miracles against the fever and the infection and those awful, awful wounds.
Don't you dare die on me, I remember saying to JD. I'd hold his hand while Nathan tended to his wounds, and I'd squeeze it tight, and Nathan told me later I looked like I was going to kill somebody. I'd lean close to JD's ear and I'd say, you die and I'll never forgive you. I'm not going the next sixty years without you, so you better come back to me. Come back to me, please. Your boy's gonna need you. The others don't want you yet.
The others. Ezra, Buck, Chris. They'd all died. Vin, we never knew what happened to him. It was their time, JD, but it's not yours. I won't let it be yours, dammit. I won't.
And then one day those long black lashes fluttered, and JD came back. And I was so happy.
But now, William, now I've got to go, and who will look after JD? Who'll be there to tell him it's going to be all right, that it won't be dark forever, that he still has something to do with all that love and energy and enthusiasm? He'll be lost, William, I'm the last, there isn't anybody left who knows.
William smiles and pats my hand, tries to calm me down. I'm trying not to get upset, it only makes me more tired and confused, but the fact is I can feel that I'm dying and it frightens me. I've always believed in God, and heaven I guess, but I don't really know. I don't know what else there is, or if I'll ever see JD again. And I'm so worried about him...
I sleep again, and have hazy dreams that I'm a little girl again, flying through fields of chest-high hay. It feels wonderful.
I wake up again, it's morning and JD is sitting by my bedside again. He's asleep, and for a long drowsy moment I look at him, because I really don't know if I'll ever see him again. So I try to concentrate, try to memorize for all eternity that wide brow, those long lashes, that turned-up nose that used to irritate him because he hated it when I said it was 'cute'. He looks haggard, drawn, and I feel terrible because I don't want to put him through this. And I know it won't be long now.
JD blinks, wakes up, looks at me. I try to give him a smile, and he's down on his knees by my side in a moment, his hand stroking my hair. Oh, JD, I'm going to miss you. I stare into those bottomless brown eyes, only a little dimmer than they were sixty-five years ago, and they look scared, but concerned, and he puts his cheek to mine and says, I love you, Case.
I whisper it back. I don't have a lot of strength left.
JD knows, I think he sees it in my eyes. The day wears on, the angle of the sun on the wallpaper changes. JD opens the windows, lets the spring air in, says he wishes he could make the flowering trees bloom early, just for me. He holds my hand and strokes my hair until I fall asleep again.
Later on. The children come in, the grandchildren, they all say their goodbyes, trying to be brave. Dr. Jackson comes by, I think he's crying too, and I smile at him and tell him I'll say hello to Nathan for you. It may have been the wrong thing to say; it seems to make him more upset.
The sun's setting now. Most beautiful colors I've ever seen. William comes in, presses my hand, asks me how I feel. It's not bad, son, I say, it's not painful or anything. It doesn't hurt, just feels...light, airy, like I'm floating. Floating away.
William kisses me and quietly leaves.
It's getting quieter. JD sits in the chair until William is gone, then he leans close to me and says my name, still stroking my hair. I look up at him, very tired now, and I think I'm so sorry, JD, so sorry. I'm staying as long as I can, I know you hate to be alone, and I wish I knew what to do.
But no. I refuse to be helpless. I refuse to let this bastard win. I fought him before, didn't I, and I won. I look at JD again, and he blinks at me; maybe something in my eyes has changed. I lick my lips; talking is hard but I really want to do this. JD leans closer, he doesn't want me to struggle too much.
JD, I say.
His hand on my forehead now. Those eyes, so close, so full of pain. What is it, Case?
Don't you give up, I say.
He blinks again.
Don't you dare, I try to say it as stern as I can. They need you.
JD looks puzzled. I guess he doesn't know what I'm talking about, but I do, it's like it's just been revealed to me, and I can feel my voice getting stronger.
Their story, I say, it ain't been told yet. You gotta make sure people know.
JD strokes my forehead now, says sssh. Take it easy, Case. Nobody wants those stories, nobody outside the family anyways. That's ancient history anymore. Nobody cares about the old west.
No, and now I'm getting mad. Don't you dare turn your back on what you all stood for. People gotta know, they'll care if they know. And if you follow me too quick, you won't get to tell it, and you got to. It's got to be you.
JD takes my hand, and I can tell he thinks I'm delirious. Who am I gonna tell? He asks.
I don't know, I say, a little quieter now. I just know that if you don't stay here long enough to do this for me, I ain't gonna talk to you after. JD Dunne, I ain't even gonna give you the time of day.
I feel like the old me for a moment, and I must sound like it too, because JD had this look on his face like he's maybe going to laugh or cry, or both. He strokes my hair and touches my cheek, very gently, but his face still looks kind of confused, like he doesn't know what to do.
I'll try, Case, he says, very softly. But it's gonna be awful hard.
I lift up my hand, put it in his. You left your home and came all the way out west when you was nineteen, I tell him. You took a chance on a tomboy girl who didn't know a thing about being a lady and who thought she'd impress you by beating you at knife-throwing. And you made a life out of a dusty three-piece suit and a head full of wild dreams.
This can't be harder than that.
He laughs again, and I see the tears in his eyes. There's an aura around him now, a kind of golden glow, and I'm starting to feel like maybe we aren't in the same room anymore. It's kind of wonderful and scary at the same time, and I know that it's time. I can't really breathe very well now, but I manage to say very softly, JD.
He still has my hand, leans close, and I say, kiss me, quick.
He does, and it feels light and strange, his lips are trembling, but I don't want it to end, I never want it to end, and suddenly I can pick myself up and put my arms around him, and he holds me, closer than I thought was possible, and I hang on as tight as I can, tighter, and then I open my eyes.
And I see them.
The room is full of a wonderful kind of light, like the sun only warmer, and there are people in the light. It's my ma and pa, and Aunt Nettie, they all look young and happy, and I start to cry because suddenly I feel as if all the troubles I ever had are over. I'm still holding onto JD, and I'm pretty sure he can't see any of this, but I can feel him crying against me, and I stroke his hair and whisper that it's OK, that everything will be all right. And I'm hoping that it will be.
Then I see someone else moving through the light, coming toward me, and as the figure comes closer I can see that it's Buck. He looks fit and strong and well, not at all like the last time I saw him, and he comes close enough to touch me, but he doesn't. He smiles at me, a gentle smile, and I smile back, almost laugh, because, well, it's Buck. He reaches out, and I think he's going to take my hand, but instead he puts his hand on JD's shoulder, but I guess JD doesn't feel it because he doesn't react, he's still crying, and I feel so sorry for him. Buck looks at me and says in a voice as serious as I've ever heard come from him, tell him I'm here.
I never felt stronger. I pull my head back a bit and say, JD? Buck's here.
JD leans back a little, looks at me, confused, sniffles.
I look back at Buck and I see Ezra, and Chris, and then Nathan and Josiah come out of the light toward me. Ezra looks wonderful, like he did before he got tuberculosis, and Nathan and Josiah don't look old anymore, they look like they did when I first met them. Vin is there too, mysterious, always-young Vin. My parents and Nettie stay back a bit, as if they know their time will come in a minute.
Tell him we're all here, Buck repeats, still serious. That there ain't nothing to be afraid of. It's gonna be OK.
JD's holding me, he's afraid I'll fall if he lets go, but that's silly, I never felt better in my life. I look at him and say, they're here, sweetheart. JD still looks confused, and I wipe the tears out of his eyes and say quickly, because I know there isn't much time, Buck says there's nothing to be afraid of, everything's gonna be OK.
He wants to believe me. I can see that he does. His eyes look so frightened, he's still crying. I put his head on my shoulder and just hold him. I don't know what else to do.
And that's when I feel it. Buck still has his hand on JD's shoulder, and I feel something coming from him, and the others, a feeling really, a wall of comfort and strength that I can almost see surrounding JD, going into him, supporting him and making him stronger.
It helps, I know it does. I smile at Buck, and he looks kind of relieved. They all do.
Chris comes up to me. Gosh, he looks different. He looks happy. His eyes look so blue. He looks at me and smiles and says, tell JD that what he wrote on the back of his train ticket to San Francisco is true. And it always will be.
Maybe I'm hallucinating all this. No, it feels too real, but I don't know what Chris means. Chris sees my puzzlement, says with a smile, do it. Okay. JD? JD clears his throat, he looks calmer now. What?
I take a deep breath. Chris says that what you wrote on the back of your train ticket to San Francisco is true, and it always will be.
Buck and the others move closer. JD blinks again, and he goes kind of pale and looks around. Buck laughs and says, I think that got his attention. Vin smiles, Ezra says, nice work, Mr. Larabee.
JD looks at me, and he almost looks happy. They're really here? He asks, and he sounds a little scared too.
I nod, and I feel so happy. JD doesn't look so crushed anymore. Maybe things are gonna be OK.
Buck takes his hand from JD's shoulder, and takes mine. He feels solid, real, and his eyes lock with mine.
One last embrace. I hold JD to me fiercely, and he must know too because he holds me really tightly and says, I love you, Case. I'll love you forever.
I love you too, JD. Forever. Be strong and don't you dare give up, cause when it's your time I want to come for you, and I'll come running, and we'll have the flowering trees in springtime forever.
Just you wait.
+ + + + + + +
She couldn't have known.
Where is that train ticket...
Feeling really tired. The funeral today was draining, but everyone was there, and it was good to talk to the Jacksons again. They looked a little surprised that I wasn't more upset, I think.
Turn on the study light. It's in here somewhere...
God, Casey, I'll miss you. You always knew me. I was so scared before you left, but it's not so bad now. And I think you're right.
Ah, in this drawer.
You're right, I've got to tell their story. I don't have you anymore, and I won't be around forever. It's my duty to make sure somebody knows. There's a reason I'm the last, and maybe that's it. I'm sure that's it.
Near the back...
And it won't be so bad now. I'll see you again, I'm sure of it, and I'll see them too. If I ever doubted it before -
I don't now.
It's old and yellowed, and I stuck it in this book as a bookmark the day we left Four Corners for San Francisco. You remember, Nathan told you to take me to the sea so I would get my health back, I was so sick. We were on the train, and I still had the stub, and as we pulled out of Ridge City I had this thought and I wrote it down and stuck it in this book, and it's been there for sixty-five years, and no one's ever seen it.
Until tonight. Tonight it's time to bring it back out again. There they are, the words I scribbled down in shaky pen.
"The Seven will ride forever".
I love you, Casey. And I won't let you down. I promise.
Companion story: Legacies