WARNING This fic deals with the issue of death. It has been suggested that a 'Hanky Warning' is highly appropriate. And, no none of the Seven are going to die.
UNIVERSE Old West (The Original and Still the Best)
ARCHIVE Yes, but ask first please.
SUMMARY A visitor arrives in town with a very unusual request. The resulting solution will leave an ever-lasting impression on The Seven.
SIZE: Approx. 180K
DISCLAIMER If only wishes did come true Reality is harsh
John Watson and CBS own The Magnificent Seven and all of its characters.
I seek, nor shall receive, profit from this narrative.
I claim All Original Characters as my own.
Please, do not use them without my express permission.
WRITERS NOTES Again, you might need a Kleenex if you're a sensitive reader.
The original version of this story was written for a 'zine' Issue number four of 'Legends of the Magnificent Seven', published by Demon Bunny Press. The moratorium is up though, and now everyone gets to read. A big thanks goes out to Lady Viper for the enjoyable experience.
As always, I'd like to send a wonderful thank you out to my betas, Antoinette, and Marnie.
Antoinette your edits constantly give me 'food for thought', and I know, ultimately, that improves the end result.
Marnie I love your insight and you know you continually make me giggle with your 'wandering plot lines' lol
Thank you, so much, for your amazing support, ladies.
The last few shovels full of earth were the hardest.
As each grain of the sandy soil fell back to its rightful place, the man grew increasingly tired. It wasn't just the physical labor though... he'd lost count of how many graves he had dug in his lifetime... too many, that's for sure...
But, this one was different.
This burial had been planned.
The spirit that now occupied this grave had chosen this resting-place for this exact purpose just four short days ago.
With one last painful sprinkle, the remaining dirt settled back to where it belonged.
The peacekeeper took a deep breath and looked skyward. Slowly, tears began to form and he made little attempt to stop the tide he knew was coming. His weary gaze returned to the small mound. A sob escaped his mouth and he bit down hard on his lip, throwing the shovel away angrily. "Damn it!" he cussed, a hand quickly raking through dusty, matted hair.
He was suddenly furious with himself.
He'd made a promise.
Swore he wouldn't get upset when this time finally came.
Sorrowful eyes closed, trying desperately to force back the emotions that threatened to crest with such great fury.
But, it was too late.
He wouldn't win this battle...
He'd lost it, long before the promise had ever been made.
Slumping down in a heap beside the burial plot, the man covered his face and swiped the sweat from his brow. He took the water from his eyes, too still denying to himself, and the grave's occupant that the tears had actually fallen. "I didn't know this was gonna be so hard," he whispered angrily.
Glancing back at the small rise, he tried desperately to control himself. A heavy sigh preceded more words, but this time, his voice betrayed his grief. "It's not fair... Not right that you were taken ."
After a long moment, another restrained whimper escaped pursed lips. "Not right that I... that I watched you slip away."
Slowly, his eyes drifted to the heavens, then closed defiantly as more tears trickled down his cheeks. "Oh, God " he sucked in the words.
More than twenty minutes passed yet, time seemed to stand still as his mourning echoed through the wilderness.
Eventually fighting his way back to his feet, the peacekeeper looked at the mound of earth again. He wiped his eyes no longer in denial of his emotions. A small smile crept to his lips as he gathered his strength. One last deep breath vibrated through his throat as he cleared it. Gradually, and with a gentle nod, the words came, "thank you," he whispered.
The breath was difficult, but strong as he drew it, one last painful lament was suppressed as he tried desperately to keep his promised. "Thank you."
His words were both heart breaking and joyous.
~~~~~~~ 7 ~~~~~~~ 7 ~~~~~~~
TWO WEEKS EARLIER
Buck looked at the kid and frowned. "Are we playin' this game or are you distractin' yerself so's you don't have to admit yer loosin'?" A few seconds passed and the ladies' man realized that he still hadn't gained his young friend's attention. "JD," he summoned, this time, a little louder than before.
Wilmington followed Dunne's distracted line of sight and watched as the newly arrived stagecoach passengers gradually started to disperse. "What the heck's so interestin' over there anyway? You know it's Nathan's day to check out the latest newcomers."
The kid nodded slowly, an increasingly more inquisitive look furrowing his brow.
"Huh?" Finally coaxed from his astute observation, the young man's eyes wandered back to Buck. Not having heard a word his friend had said, he was obviously more than a little confused.
Pursed lips greeted Dunne's stare as Wilmington picked up a checker and flashed it in front of him. "The game ."
Realization struck and, shaking his head, the kid relaxed back into his chair. "You win, Buck. I ain't interested in playing no more."
"Well, that's kind 'a obvious," the ladies' man groused. Watching as JD's focus drifted back to the stage, he could feel his exasperation grow.
Silence settled between them.
"Don't you think that's a little strange?"
Clearing the playing board of its pieces, Wilmington glanced at his companion. He followed in the direction of the chin motion and finally noticed what the kid had been looking at. An appreciative smile slowly made its way to the rogue's lips, before a brazen whistle escaped them. "Now that is a lady!"
"That ain't what I meant, Buck," the younger man complained. "She don't move like any woman I ever saw."
The ladies' man narrowed his eyes and studied the object of their brief discussion. With her back to him, all he'd really noticed was the curve of her hip, the well-kept abundance of mousy-blond curls and the lightly tanned skin of her arms. "Well, when she starts movin' again, I'd be happy to watch for ya."
The kid forced a cocky smile, all the while shaking his head. "That ain't what I meant either," he sneered knowingly. "That stage came in over twenty minutes ago and she ain't let go of his arm since he helped her down." Adjusting the hat on his head, Dunne looked back at the couple he was referring to.
The tall rogue could only smirk. "Least you figured out what a real lady is," he teased. Glancing back at the pair, he saw that the gentleman was busily carrying on a discussion with the coach line ticket agent. "She seems to be listenin' to that conversation real good."
The kid rolled his eyes. "Surprised you even noticed."
"Noticed what?" Sanchez inquired as he came up beside his fellow peacekeepers.
JD smiled. "Back from the afternoon rounds so soon, Josiah?"
Offering his customary toothy grin, the preacher nodded.
"Ooh, looks like they're havin' quite the little argument now," Wilmington interrupted.
Dunne glanced back at the couple while Sanchez tried to make out what exactly was so interesting.
At their distance, it was hard to tell what the debate was about, but all three men frowned at the apparent disagreement. Her escort seemed to be indicating his desire to get back on the waiting stage, while the woman looked as though she wanted to stay. Her head was clearly indicating no, each time the man pointed to the coach.
Eyebrows raised and lips pursed, the big man spoke. "Anyone ever mention to either of you, fine upstanding gentlemen, that it's not nice to eavesdrop on other people's conversations?"
Dunne started to say something but Wilmington beat him to it. "We ain't eavesdroppin', Josiah. Hell, from this distance we can't even hear a word they're sayin'."
Not liking the answer he had received, the preacher looked at JD suspiciously.
Licking at his lips nervously, the kid stuttered, "what what he said," pointing at his best friend.
Facing their playing table, Sanchez stood between the two men and took a deep breath. He opened his mouth to speak however, after several attempts, he found himself lost for words. Clasping one large hand around each shoulder, he tried anew. His lips parted but again, the preacher found himself stunned into silence.
The antics and excuses these two dispensed often had this type of effect on the big man, and he hated it to no end. After his third attempt at finding a suitable reply, Josiah simply sighed, shook his head, patted their backs, and then silently walked away.
The rogue watched the preacher leave, one eyebrow raised. "Man should be careful of the slurs he lets loose."
Dunne looked at his friend and scowled. "Well, maybe guess he's kind 'a right though. Ain't none of our business what other folks do."
The ladies' man shrugged before a sly grin slowly crept to his lips. "Less 'a course, they's breakin' the law."
"Ain't nothin' unlawful about disagreeing," JD countered as he glanced back at the arguing couple.
Buck, too, had refocused on the last remaining people outside the stagecoach office. "Too bad," he mused. "Then I'd have me a reason to go over there and introduce myself Umm I mean break it up."
The kid rolled his eyes as he watched Wilmington smile devilishly.
~~~~~~~ 7 ~~~~~~~ 7 ~~~~~~~
The young man made his way to the sheriff's office and stopped outside the door. Straightening his clothing in nervous frustration, he took a deep breath, swallowed hard, and then went inside.
Glancing towards the entrance, the on-duty peacekeeper smiled. "Good day, sir. May I be of some assistance?"
The visitor hesitated, removing his hat and quickly looking around the jail. "I was looking for the sheriff umm sheriffs. The man at the stagecoach office told me there were seven peacekeepers, here."
Setting down his cards, the southerner nodded, "indeed." Gaining his feet and stepping from behind the desk, he held out a hand in greeting. "A little unusual, I know. Ezra P. Standish at your service, sir. I am one of the Seven you seek."
Responding to the offered welcome, the man returned a rather meek smile. "William Augustus Spencer."
"And just how may I be of assistance, Mr. Spencer?" the gambler raised an eyebrow as their shake concluded.
Somewhat surprised at the unexpected good manners of his host, William seemed to relax a little. He glanced about the office again, "Are all of your men this polite, Mr. Standish?"
"Well, sir " Ezra cleared his throat, trying to hold back his amusement. "First of all they are not my men," he smirked at the very idea. "Second... I find it highly unlikely that you might find any corresponding deportment in this room, other than when I occupy it."
Looking rather disappointed with the declaration, the young man sighed, "Too much to ask for in a frontier town such as this " he thumbed his hat nervously. A deep breath resounded quickly as he squared his shoulders. "Nevertheless, it is necessary that I speak with the lawmen of this community before my sister demands that I collect you all together."
The southerner frowned. "Your sister? I'm not sure I follow you."
Realizing he'd probably said too much, Spencer tried to dismiss the query by changing the subject. "Is it possible to gather your the men together?"
The gambler was becoming increasingly curious about his visitor. It wasn't often that a well-dressed gentleman actually stopped in Four Corners, and when they did, they rarely sought out the services of the town's peacekeepers. Yet, true to his instincts, Ezra could tell that the topic of conversation seemed to be upsetting to the young man, on some unknown level. He couldn't help but wonder about the visitor's intent. "Might I inquire as to the nature of the gathering?"
William seemed a little unnerved by the question as he turned for the door. "As I said... I need to speak to all of you before my sister does." Making direct eye contact, he smiled bleakly. "There's not much daylight left, Mr. Standish. I shall return in one hour."
Scowling as the young man departed, the southerner slowly returned to his desk and gathered his cards. Uneasiness stalling his movements, Ezra glanced cautiously at the closed door. His feelings being what they were, he could only conclude that something was definitely amiss
~~~~~~~ 7 ~~~~~~~ 7 ~~~~~~~
The hour passed quickly as Standish brought the remaining six men together. As they gathered, most were either suspicious or complained about the interruption. It didn't help that the southerner could only provide the meager details that he'd been given.
"There's got 'a be more to it, Ezra." The insistence of the gunslinger's words was cutting through the air as the two men entered the jailhouse.
Stepping in front of his leader, Standish agreed. "Undoubtedly, Mr. Larabee, but I can assure you, this is all the information availed. Mr. Spencer will most likely explain further ."
With his words ending mid-sentence, Chris glanced in the gambler's direction, only to follow his friend's sideways gaze. Turning, his green eyes met their visitor's in a cold hard stare. There was little hesitation as the man in black stepped back towards the door. "Mr. Spencer?"
William nodded and offered his hand.
The blond responded with an obligatory shake.
Closing the door, Sanchez effectively cut straight through the silence that had enveloped the room. "Well that's all the peacekeepers this town has to offer, Mr. Spencer." The preacher smiled, walking past the man to sit across from JD and Buck at the desk. "So, tell us what brings you all the way out here, to talk to the sheriff?"
The visitor looked around at the gathered men anxiously. One by one, he took in their faces. As each set of eyes met his, the young man seemed to grow more agitated. Without explanation, his respiration became labored, his face pale.
Finally, raising his chin skyward, William Spencer drew in a deep breath.
Sanchez sat forward in the chair he'd just located to. He couldn't shake the sudden foreboding feeling that their visitor was begging some hidden strength to guide him. In all likelihood, he failed to find the courage he needed though, his voice stuttering, almost painfully, as he spoke.
"My sister has come here to die, gentlemen And, tomorrow she's going to ask one of you to help her."
Eyes wide or frowning incoherently, Seven men glanced at one another, clearly shocked by the declaration.
"What the hell's that supposed ta mean?" Wilmington spat out angrily.
"Buck!" Josiah cautioned with a raised hand as he stood. "Let the man speak."
The rogue pushed the hat back on his head forcefully. "Well, he better say somethin' that makes more sense."
Not liking what he'd heard any more than his oldest friend had, Larabee couldn't help but shoot Wilmington a warning glare. They all wanted to hear some sort of plausible explanation for such a disturbing statement and Chris didn't need the ladies' man overreacting before that clarification could be spoken.
The leader's eyes wandered back to William as Buck signaled his intent to keep quiet for now.
"Perhaps, if you start at the beginning, Mr. Spencer," Standish tried to moderate mounting tensions. "Your story might have more significance," he glanced at the rogue, "when we understand the details."
Aware that his brief words had been taken out of context, the young man nodded his agreement. Swallowing hard, he took another deep breath, attempting to relax. Each time he tried to speak however, no words escaped his lips.
Sanchez wasn't exactly sure how he could have such a calming influence. At times like this though, he was glad he did. Recognizing the anguished expression, the preacher spoke quietly. "You've gathered us here to listen to whatever it is you have to say, Mr. Spencer. Perhaps, it's best, if you just let it out." Stepping closer to William, he smiled in reassurance. "You're among friends. We'll help in any way we can."
Tears welled in Spencer's eyes as he heard the sincerity of Josiah's words. He subdued his emotions and swallowed the lump in his throat. Glancing around the room, he returned his gaze to the preacher. "I love my sister. I I ."
Offering the young man another encouraging nod, Sanchez promised, "we're here to listen, brother not to judge."
Another deep breath resounded as the visitor tried, unsuccessfully, to control the tone and pitch of his voice. "Tomorrow, Ginny is going to ask one of you to take her away from here To be with her when she when she passes from this world, and then to to bury her in the wilderness that she loves so much."
The Seven peacekeepers watched silently as the young man moved to the back of the room and covered his face. They gave him a few minutes to collect himself as they, too, used the time to consider his statement. Shrugs and frowns were exchanged. There still wasn't a whole lot of understanding to the story, but they were beginning to comprehend. Of one fact, there was little doubt William Spencer was clearly devastated by the predicament he found himself in.
He'd listened carefully to the proceedings and instinct drove Jackson to ask his question. "Is there somethin' wrong with her, Mr. Spencer?"
William turned at the sound of his name and wiped a tear from his eye. After ascertaining from whom the question had come, he looked at the healer for a long moment before answering. "Yes," he tried to brave a slight smile. "Obviously she's dying, but ." Venturing back towards the center of the room, he continued, "but, it's because she has a a growth in her head."
Rubbing his chin curiously, Nathan searched his memory; his narrowed gaze focused on William. He was trying to recall the term he'd read about some time ago. The healer's breath hitched when he suddenly remembered the name and the diagnosis. "A brain tumor?"
Spencer was surprised to hear the correct terminology spoken by the dark man. "Yes yes, that's right." Slowly making his way towards Jackson, he frowned. "Are you a doctor?"
"No, sir " Nathan shook his head. "Just a healer. I'll read most anything I can. Picked up a lot over the years."
On the opposite side of the room, John Dunne had been sitting listening to the exchange of words. Spencer's declaration of his sister's impending demise had shocked him and before he knew what he was doing, the kid was trying to join the conversation. "Nathan knows a lot about everything."
Suddenly looking around at the others nervously, the kid forced a quick smile. 'That was a stupid thing to say' he chastised as he glanced at his best friend.
Instinctively knowing that JD wasn't handling this situation very well, Wilmington changed the subject. "There ain't nothin' they can do for her?" he inquired, hiding his own discomfort remarkably well.
Spencer shook his head as he looked into Nathan's eyes. Again, he found himself at a loss for words.
Sensing despondency, the healer answered without looking at his fellow peacekeeper. "They know what it is, Buck. Just ain't no cure, is all."
William took a pensive breath, relieved at Nathan's matter-of-fact approach. "She's slowly been getting weaker," he added quietly. "Last month her doctors said she'd start sleeping more ."
The pain in the young man's expression grew as his breath caught, cutting off his sentence. He glanced at the floor, clearly fighting back his emotions. His eyes searched for something to focus on and he looked back at Jackson, swallowing hard. "Sleeping more, once the time was was near. And, then one day she she just wouldn't wake up."
There was a long pause as the seven men tried assimilate the information they were hearing. Some shuffled nervously while others cleared their throats.
William forced back ever-present tears and Nathan gave him a sad, yet reassuring smile.
Over by the door, the gunslinger took a deep breath before stepping forward. He wasn't comfortable with any of this, especially knowing how it was already affecting him, and his men. "What's any of this got to do with us?"
Noting the familiar confrontational tone in his oldest friend's voice, Wilmington glanced up at Larabee. "Chris!"
The blond's hand rose instantly to quell anything Buck had to say.
"Hear him out, Chris."
Larabee shot the ladies' man a warning glare.
Purposely, the two men exchanged a familiar unspoken dialogue, both knowing how unsettled the other was.
Finally recognizing that the rogue would, however begrudgingly, follow his silent orders, Larabee refocused on their visitor.
Spencer hadn't missed the brief confrontation.
Reading the other men's expressions, he could see clearly that they would not challenge the man who was obviously their leader.
Looking into the hard green orbs himself, William was unsure if he could answer Larabee's question satisfactorily.
Cognizant of the sudden tension, Sanchez stepped closer and set a reassuring hand on the young man's shoulder. Josiah understood clearly that their visitor wasn't enjoying the disclosure of information, being in Four Corners, or the way any of this made him feel. "Just tell us what we need to know, Mr. Spencer," he repeated, glancing at Chris. "We're here to help in any way we can."
Tapping the palm that covered his upper sleeve, William shut his eyes tightly. He nodded as Josiah removed the comforting gesture, lowering his head as he did so. "God, forgive her stubbornness and me for saying such hateful words."
Looking up at the gathered men, Spencer made no effort to hide the tear that escaped one eye. "I love my sister She's the only family I have left Sometimes, I think this this is harder on me than it is on her."
More, painful tears escaped as he forced himself to keep speaking. Each set of words, broken by deep mournful breaths. "That's why she's doing this Why she doesn't want me to to have to be there when she dies She's chosen to say say goodbye instead."
Taken aback by the nature of the words, Standish spoke quietly. "Say goodbye?" he repeated questioningly. "What do you mean by that, Mr. Spencer?"
William looked at Ezra then glanced away. His eyes caught several of the other peacekeepers before focusing on the window. "That's why we're here, Mr. Standish. She picked a spot on the map and we came I'm supposed to say goodbye and let her go off and and ."
An uncomfortable silence settled over the room as Spencer tried to regain is composure.
"To meet the maker... without the burden of having to watch her go."
The visitor locked eyes with Sanchez, his lower lip held securely between his teeth. Gradually, he began to nod. "I promised I'd do what she wanted. Said I'd let her let her do it her way but, now that we're here ."
There was another long pause; a loud sob escaping the man as he buried his head within clenched hands.
Josiah stepped closer again. "It's alright, son," he reassured.
All this time, Vin Tanner had been standing quietly at the back of the room. His customary leaning stance slowly straightened and he pushed the hat back on his head. "Why us?" he asked calmly.
Several sets of eyes refocused on the tracker as he gazed at William Spencer.
Once more regaining some composure, the young man licked his lips. "She just picked a spot on the map, at random," he began to explain. "I agreed that I would only let her go with a man I could trust. A sheriff or deputy."
JD stared at the man inquisitively. "You didn't know about us until you got off that stage earlier did you? That's what you were arguing about."
William scrutinized the kid.
Wilmington jumped in to clarify Dunne's statement. "Ain't much goes on around here without at least one of us noticin', Mr. Spencer. Was quite the display you put on when you arrived. Even from way down the street, we could tell you was disagreein' about somethin' pretty important."
Impressed with the description, Ezra could only smile. "It would appear that your sister is very persuasive, sir." He continued when William turned to face him. "Perhaps you would be more at ease with this decision if you knew that we all of us," he indicated his fellow peacekeeper, "have been duly appointed by the Territorial Circuit Court Judge."
"So, you are lawmen?"
Larabee spoke this time, "as close as you're gonna get in these parts."
His emotions calmed slightly, William nodded his understanding. "She's just so so incredibly stubborn. This is what she wants not me. She wants it this way so I don't have to watch her die."
Sanchez smiled and nodded. "Son maybe you should just say she's incredible... Sounds to me like the rest, just fits right in there, right along with that one word."
A small delighted huff escaped Spencer's lips as he realized what Josiah was saying. "You could very well be right," he acknowledged painfully.
Looking around the room again, William took another deep breath, his emotions slowly coming under control. "Maybe that's all I should say for now," he edged slowly towards the exit.
Wiping the residual water from his eyes, the young man continued. "My sister will tell you everything she wants you to know tomorrow." Opening the door, he stepped though, but then paused. "No There is one more thing I should tell you." Glancing back at the seven men Spencer sighed. "We discovered this tumor several years ago as she progressively lost her sight."
There was a pause as the gathered peacekeepers looked at William, uncertainty clouding their expressions.
"She's blind, gentlemen. She truly does need your help She can't make this journey by herself."
The door closed leaving Seven men standing in stunned silence.
Chris cocked his head, forcing his eyes closed as he turned away. This whole situation was exceedingly uncomfortable, and he was already having a hard time with the prospects of what lie ahead.
Hazel eyes were quietly pleading for some any explanation as JD looked to Wilmington for support. A lot of things had happened to them since they'd come together, but Dunne wasn't sure if he could do what was now being asked of him.
Lost in his own thoughts, Buck knew he had little to offer the kid, except the shrug of his shoulders. Having a hard time comprehending Spencer's statements himself, he couldn't possibly figure out how to explain it to someone else.
Ezra's brow had been continually raised, seemingly with each statement the young man had made. Now, he simply stood and stared out the window, his extensive vocabulary having failed him.
Still at the back of the room, Vin had folded his arms tightly across his chest and was looking intently at the floor. There wasn't much that made him uneasy, but this situation qualified, no question
Standing tall and proud in the middle of the gathering, Josiah had his chin raised high in the air. Without thought, he was silently hoping to harness some of the strength the young man had been searching for.
Sucking in his bottom lip, Nathan cleared his throat uncomfortably. He'd heard of this, but never witnessed it. He was now silently wishing he still wouldn't have to.
~~~~~~~ 7 ~~~~~~~ 7 ~~~~~~~
The saloon was a somber place that evening. The Seven were gathered around their usual table but their normal jovial activities were absent.
Setting yet another bottle of whiskey at the table, Miss Recillos looked at each of the men in turn. She was completely puzzled as to why all of them could be in the same mood. "Is there something else that I can bring for you, Senor Larabee?" she asked cautiously.
Chris hadn't even realized that the woman was there. He glanced up and forced a polite smile. "Just the whiskey, Inez thank you."
The pretty Mexican returned the offered pleasantry with her own. "Si, Senor," she acknowledged, retreating to her place behind the bar.
"I can't do it," the kid blurted out without warning. He'd been quiet all evening, but John Dunne finally had to say his piece. His nervous anxieties were clearly visible as he adjusted himself in the chair and swallowed down more whiskey.
JD's fists slammed down against the table, attracting more than a little attention from around the saloon. He looked about cautiously, knowing full well that not just Larabee's glare was on him, but he didn't care. "Don't you tell me to take it easy, Vin. This may be easy for you but I ain't never " his breath caught as he thought about the words he wanted to say. Licking his lips, he finally spoke them. "I ain't never watched a woman die before."
Ever the quiet, reserved one, Tanner said nothing. He let the comment roll from his shoulders, understanding that the kid didn't mean anything by his tone. The words were treated much like innocent raindrops that fall, but know not where or why.
The gunslinger eased forward in his chair and set his glass down. He poured himself another drink and then played with the tumbler. At last, his eyes slowly drifted to the kid. "Ain't many of us who have, JD," his voice was barely a whisper. "Not many of us have had to bury one, either."
Dunne was suddenly embarrassed by his self-centered thoughts. He took a deep breath and swallowed hard. 'Oh, God!'
He knew that Chris had buried Sarah with his own two hands. But, somewhere in all these emotions, he'd forgotten. Here he was, worrying about having the courage to deal with a task that he may not have to perform and he'd completely forgotten about the others. His friends, whom, for all the wrong reasons, may have had to do this sort of thing before. "Chris I I never ."
Larabee sipped his whiskey. His eyes refused to focus on anything but the glass in his hand. "You'll find the courage," he whispered slowly. "If you're given no other choice."
The ladies' man watched his oldest friend swallow down the whiskey and then, just as quickly, pour another. Buck closed his eyes and pushed back the emotions he rarely gave in to. He understood the feelings that plagued the blond. No man should have to put his own wife and child in their graves let alone, with his bare hands. For his part, Wilmington would never rid himself of that anguish either. He just concealed it better
"This ain't gonna be easy for whoever she chooses," Nathan said quietly.
Standish huffed. "Mr. Jackson, sir. That is an understatement, if ever I heard one." Sitting up in his chair, the gambler fumbled with the cards that lay idly on the table. "Given Mr. Spencer's rather flamboyant description of his sister's tenacity. I dare say the lady will be hard to forget let alone ."
Sanchez interrupted the southerner before he could finish. "I think " he glanced at Ezra, "We've heard enough speculations for now." Focusing on the entire group, Josiah tried hard to set an optimistic tone. "I might, suggest it unwise to dwell on something we have no control over Only one of us is going to have to deal with this. So let's just see who she chooses, before the rest go giving out advice."
Standish acknowledged the comment. "Here, here, Mr. Sanchez. A splendid suggestion."
"It's gettin' late," the healer noted as silence reigned yet again. "Maybe it's best we turn in."
Agreement was seen and heard around the table and the men slowly prepared to leave some for rounds, and some to bed.
The quiet was broken as a soft drawl erupted from the corner. "With the dawn comes deliverance Release from the cares and burdens of the world Forgiveness for all that may be wrong Salvation for those who must persevere and go on "
Sanchez smiled as his eyes slowly met Tanner's. His head cocked slightly, the only acknowledgement to the poetry of well-spoken words. Taking a glass in hand, he raised it high, "a toast, gentlemen."
They'd all heard Vin's poem
For some, it meant more than to others but, for all, the quiet declaration meant that they could find the strength they needed to face the coming days.
Glasses were raised as Josiah seconded Vin's verse. "To deliverance May it be granted to all who are in need."
~~~~~~~ 7 ~~~~~~~ 7 ~~~~~~~
"Buck," Dunne looked to his confidante nervously. "I know I ain't I mean I I can't do What if she ?"
The ladies' man looked at the young man solemnly. There wasn't even the slightest hint of his usual jovial jesting persona present. "JD," he began, "I think we all admitted this ain't gonna be easy ."
"But I know I " the desperation in Dunne's eyes was pleading for understanding.
Wilmington watched the kid's head lower and he forced back the lump in his throat. "You gonna let me finish?"
JD nodded and once more looked up at the rogue.
"Ya know there's one man among us who's got more courage than the rest, all put together. But his job gets a whole lot harder when one of us takes on the easy part."
The kid searched the older man's eyes questioningly.
Buck smiled at Dunne's reaction. It made continuing all that easier. "William Spencer brought his sister here to say goodbye to her for the very last time. Imagine that, JD he's known her all his life watched her laugh and cry most likely smiled with her, through all of life's grand adventures He's been there through all the bad."
The younger man licked at his lips nervously.
"I can't even imagine that kind 'a courage, Kid," Wilmington continued. "It ain't somethin' that's measured by the gun on your hip or how many men you've stood against."
The hurt in their eyes seemed to give way to some hidden strength both men gained from the words.
"Miss Spencer must really be quite the lady, if he's willing to let her go like this With the dignity and respect that she deserves. William He knows that more than any of us ever will. And, he's gonna be hurtin' more than any of us ever will."
JD was trying to find the words to reply to the rogue's statement when the door opened
"You know that ain't what I mean, Josiah," the healer replied as the trio entered the jail.
Sanchez nodded. "I know, Nathan. Just seems like there should be something ."
Closing the door behind them, Vin Tanner smiled a brief greeting to Dunne and Wilmington. "Mornin', boys."
The ladies' man tapped JD on the shoulder reassuringly and returned to his usual happy self. "Mornin'," he scanned the new arrivals, "and how is everyone today?"
"Ready for the day to be done, I reckon," the tracker drawled as he set down the coffeepot and moved to the rear of the sheriff's office. Leaned against the back wall, he slowly sipped at the hot brew.
The preacher took a quick note of Tanner's disposition and rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "You gonna be alright with this, Vin?"
No sound escaped his lips. Instead, the sharpshooter gave a single quick nod.
The door opened and closed again as Standish made his entrance. He looked around at the gathering and took a deep breath. "Ah, good," he mumbled. "I see I'm not the only unfortunate soul who was unable to acquire suitable repose last evening."
Nathan lowered his head. "You're right, Ezra Was kind 'a hard to sleep knowing what the day would bring."
"Indeed, Mr. Jackson," the southerner huffed. Moving towards the stove, he proceeded to pour himself a cup of coffee. "However unpleasant the task at hand, I fear we cannot let Mr. Spencer down."
"Or, his sister ."
Four pairs of eyes settled on the preacher.
"Hard to know who's doing the most suffering," Josiah offered.
Wilmington nodded his agreement, raising a cup to Sanchez.
"Ain't somethin' we should be thinkin' on neither," Nathan added. "Reckon all these things is gonna come ."
All eyes turned to the door as it opened again. Chris looked at his men before sealing the opening behind him. He marched over to the stove and took the mug from the gambler's hand. Nodding his thanks, he walked back to the window.
Working empty fingers through the air, Ezra drew in a deep breath. "You are most welcome," he announced, exasperation evident. Trying once more to obtain his morning pick-me-up, Standish turned his back to the assembled men and poured another cup of the hot liquid.
Although amused with the shenanigans, Wilmington was a little hesitant to approach his oldest friend. He knew instinctively when Larabee was withdrawn, and right now, the gunslinger was about as removed as Buck had ever seen him. "You all right, Chris?" he asked quietly.
The twist of his head was so slight that anyone not watching closely would have missed it. The blond sipped at his coffee before speaking. "The Spencers just left the restaurant." Turning to face his fellow peacekeepers, Chris pursed his lips, "let's get this over with."
As mumbled acknowledgements sounded, the door swung open once more. William Spencer stood in the entranceway and smiled. There was a moment of silence as he counted the occupants of the room. "Looks like they're all here, Ginny."
At the sound of her name, the young woman stepped to her brother's side.
The Seven men watched as she offered them a shy cautious grin. Her brother whispered something in her ear and the small gesture grew until the smile brightened her entire face. The couple stepped inside the sheriff's office and the door quickly closed.
"Gentlemen," William looked around. "May I present my sister, Miss Virginia Elizabeth Spencer... Ginny," the young man turned to the woman on his arm. "These are the lawmen of Four Corners."
Still smiling, the lady looked happily around the room.
Their expressions covered every degree of emotion between awe and suspicion. JD had the wonderment down pat, while their leader had skepticism written all over him. The peacekeepers watched as the woman glanced around, taking in all within reach.
They, in turn, couldn't help but see her.
Miss Spencer was very much the epitome of walking grace her movements were so slow and deliberate. The dark green satin of her full gown accented her figure magnificently. A soft beige wrap hung listlessly over her shoulders. Only the sparkle in her deep brown eyes surpassed the beauty of her smile. Soft curls of dirty blond hair framed her face and lay effortlessly over her upper arms.
Sneering, Chris reached behind him and set his cup down. "What the hell is this?" he growled as he stepped closer. "Why did you lie to us?"
William was about to object to the gunslinger's accusations but Virginia held her hand up, dispelling her brother's intervention. She turned to face the blond, her head tilted down from his gaze. "And you are?" she asked casually.
"Name's Larabee," he answered the woman. Glaring at the young man over her shoulder, he narrowed his eyes menacingly. "And, I don't take to being lied to, Mister. What's this all about?"
"There has been ."
"My brother would never lie," Virginia spoke above her brother's voice, effectively cutting him off. She glanced back at her sibling before refocusing on the gunslinger. "What is it that Will said, that you don't believe, Mr. Larabee?"
Maybe it was the way they wandered maybe, the slight glazing he saw in the pretty brown coloring of her eyes
Looking at the woman carefully, Chris moved his head to one side, and then the other. All too quickly, he realized that she couldn't really see him. The sudden wave of his hand between them confirmed his suspicions. The sheer embarrassment alone made the gunslinger take a step backwards. He glanced at William and frowned apologetically.
Realizing what had happened, Mr. Spencer averted his eye, the smirk on his face not hidden very well. "Ginny doesn't like people to pity her, Mr. Larabee." Looking around the room at the comparable expressions, the young man stepped to his sister's side again. "She's practiced this deception many times. Don't feel bad that she fooled you ."
Virginia broke the silence that ensued. "Now then how shall we do this?" she looked around the room and smiled.
Stepping towards the lovely young woman, Ezra offered his suggestion. "Perhaps you might enlighten us as to exactly what it is, that you require."
A devilish grin appeared on Miss Spencer's lips. "Oooh more of that voice," she bowed her head sheepishly.
The lady turned on her brother quickly, the blush of her cheeks fading as she grew serious. "Don't yell at me, William I'm dying Please allow me my musings I I need my humor. I can't let that die before I do."
A poignant moment passed and all of the occupants of that small room focused on the woman.
All manner of emotions flowed, yet, no one spoke.
Recognizing the abrupt change in atmosphere, Virginia finally cleared her throat. "Mr.?" she questioned the southern accent.
The gambler smiled in earnest. "Standish, Miss Spencer. Ezra Standish," he stepped closer, took up her gloved hand graciously, and then offered a polite kiss.
The coy grin returned to the woman's face as her arm settled back to her side. "A gentleman in such a far-away place," she raised an eyebrow happily. "I would never have imagined ."
"As are the rest of my associates, Miss Spencer," the southerner replied. "Some are a little rougher around the edges perhaps," he mused, "but, I can assure you. There are seven men of honor in this room."
A deep breath sounded as Virginia bowed her head. "Pardon the correction, Mr. Standish, but, I would say, eight counting William."
'Oh, this really has to stop!' Looking back around the room, her unseeing eyes focused in Ezra's direction again. "My brother is the only reason I could be here, Mr. Standish There is no one else Our parents passed from this world years ago Poor Will has given up his life to see to me ."
"Don't say it like that, Ginny."
Her head glanced at his voice but her body did not turn. Virginia stared hard for a moment but then renewed her eye contact with the southerner. She hesitated though, her chin lowering as her brother's anguished tone replayed in her head. "William has given up his life for me," she repeated. Her gaze lifted slowly and she forced a smile. "I will not allow him to suffer the pain of my death as well."
William Spencer turned away, unable, or unwilling to let the others see his grief.
Hearing the shuffle of his feet, Virginia's eyes closed briefly. She understood the emotions and denial in Will's heart. "You can see what I mean," she spoke to no one in particular. "See, what this has done to him ." Forcing back her own heartfelt response, Ginny continued, "see, what it does to me ."
In all this time, Sanchez had remained silent, yet, he could no longer stay that way. "Tell us what you need, Miss Spencer," the big man spoke from behind Ezra. "The greatest gift we have is our ability to put other's before ourselves... Willingness, we eagerly share ."
Another short silence ensured as Virginia regained control of her wavering emotions. She considered the words she'd just heard 'There are seven men of honor in this room . '
Of that fact, she no longer had any doubt.
~~~~~~~ 7 ~~~~~~~ 7 ~~~~~~~
"You ready?" Wilmington asked.
Buck sighed. "Come on, JD. You'll do just fine."
"How come I got 'a go first?" the kid blurted out anxiously.
Like a nervous father sending his son off on his first date, the rogue fixed Dunne's collar and straightened his coat. "JD, you heard the lady say alphabetical, right? She don't know you from the rest of us."
The kid brushed off Wilmington's attempt at primping and walked up behind William Spencer. "I don't get it," he said bluntly. "How comes she's got 'a touch me?"
Will turned to face Dunne before looking around at the gathered men. He glanced off down the street and then took a deep breath. "It's just her way of seeing you," he replied, meeting each man's eyes in turn. "She wants to be able to choose to truly know who she will spend her last few days with ."
Caught between the explanation and his feelings, William seemed a little frustrated. "You need to understand Before she lost her sight, Ginny was an artist. She painted the most beautiful landscapes That's why she loves the wilderness so much the wide-open spaces the freedom, and the fresh air. She wants to feel that openness one last time." Finally meeting the kid's eyes again, Spencer smiled. "When she touches your face, Mr. Dunne she'll picture you in her soul She'll be able to see you she'll be able to see again for just a little while."
JD turned quickly from the man's gaze and wrinkled his nose. "Guess, that makes sense," he huffed, trying desperately to force away the emotions he felt.
"Good," William forced a solemnly smile. "Are you ready then?"
Swallowing hard, the kid could only nod.
Taking one last look at the gathered men, Spencer stepped to the entrance and then moved inside the jail.
A nervous John Dunne followed on the man's heels and the door closed gently behind them.
~~~~~~~ 7 ~~~~~~~ 7 ~~~~~~~
William smiled at his sister as they approached. She sat, waiting patiently beside the desk and looked in the direction of the door as it opened and closed. "I have Mr. Dunne, Ginny." He signaled the kid to sit in the second chair facing Virginia.
JD did as he was asked.
Hearing the peacekeeper settle, Miss Spencer's face lit up graciously. "Alright, William," she glanced up. "You can go now ."
"Are you sure?" he asked expectantly.
"Go now, dear brother. Mr. Dunne can send in the next person when we are finished."
Although hesitant, William nodded at her insistence and departed.
Virginia waited for the door to close before refocusing on her company. "So what can I call you?" she smiled again. "Mr. Dunne seems so formal, don't you think?"
The kid smiled at her easy manner. "Oh I'm JD, Ma'am Well John Daniel Dunne, actually. But, my Ma always calls me JD least wise, she did before she died ." Suddenly even more nervous than before, he scrambled to correct his words before the lady took offense. "Oh oh, I mean before before she ."
With all the precision of any sighted person, Virginia quietly set her hand on the man's knee and offered the gentlest calmest smile Dunne had ever seen. "Shh, JD" she hushed, "it's okay."
Time stood still
He had no other options. Dunne sat quietly and listened to Virginia talk. He answered her questions without hesitation. The conversation came easily, as though he'd know the woman all his life. He wasn't exactly sure how it happened wasn't exactly sure if he even noticed the moment when it did. All the kid really knew was that he had no more fear or apprehension... Her reassuring tone took all of his discomfort away.
When it came time for Miss Spencer to 'see' him, the kid did just as she asked. There was no more nervousness to get in the way. His eyes closed as her gentle hands explored his face. He pondered the pleasing technique, asking what she saw when she was finally finished.
"Maturity beyond your years," her answer. "Striking features and a tenderness you reserve for few to see."
Dunne was very glad that she couldn't see the blush in his cheeks.
Guessing at his reaction, Ginny straightened in her chair. She had one last question to ask of Dunne. She took a deep breath before making the inquiry. "Were you with your mother when she passed away, JD?
As though ripped from a dream, the kid suddenly became painfully aware of this question. His breath caught sharply and he nodded, focusing on the lady's delicate shoes.
Virginia frowned. Assuming that he had answered with a motion, rather than his voice, she sat forward in her chair again. "Was that a yes, or no, JD?"
The kid cleared his throat. "Did it again, didn't I? Sorry, Ginny Yeah, I was with Ma when she died Made me mad that the Doc couldn't do anything to help her. I just I wanted to hit someone, you know. Like a piece of me was ripped away and I couldn't do anything about it."
Hearing the clear agitation in Dunne's voice, Virginia thought it best that she let the man down easy. "I understand, JD. When my mother died, I felt the same way ."
"Yeah," he huffed. "Guess we all do."
Miss Spencer smiled again. "Well, I think I've seen and heard enough, JD." Sitting back in her chair, she took a deep breath. "Who's next?"
"Oh, Nathan," the kid got his feet. "Nathan Jackson," he clarified the alphabetical order she had requested.
"Could you see him in, please?"
Moving towards the door, he nodded happily, "yes, ma'am."
The young man stopped and turned. "Ma'am?"
"It was a pleasure to see you, Mr. Dunne."
The kid grinned as he remembered the way she had explored his facial features truly, the most fascinating experience of his young life. "Pleasure was all mine, Ginny," he replied softly.
The woman's smile was wide as she listened to the door open and then close. She thought about John Dunne and it made her happy. The recollections sustained her as she waited.