Life Worth Living
Epilogue to "Love and Honor"
Disclaimer: Dont own the Seven and not making any money off them. Just wish they were still riding the airwaves.
Author's Note: this takes place right after Love and Honor without much background, so it's best if youve seen the show. Also mentions incidents in several other of the episodes.
He sat at the back table and watched the tall, mustached man. It seemed almost all the men in town wanted to shake his hand or slap the scoundrel on the back. The ladies man laughed with them, joked with his friends, seemed to be enjoying his well-won fame. The man at the back table knew him better than that though. He knew the man had been scared to death only hours before and that the relief in surviving the duel was going to be short lived. The man in black took note that although everyone seemed to want to buy his friend a beer or a shot of whiskey, the man wasnt through his second drink yet. That meant only one thing to Chris Larabee. His oldest friend was still shaken by the closeness of the grim reaper this day. Larabee waited.
It wasnt long before, laughing at another of JDs stupid jokes, Buck excused himself and stood to leave. He had told the townspeople that had thoroughly enjoyed the show this morning, that he was going outside to relieve himself. Chris knew better. He hadnt spent years on the trail with the lanky ladies man for nothing. He watched as Buck made his way slowly out the back door of the saloon. The green-eyed gunslinger noticed the healer start to stand, to follow Buck out the door. Chris waved him off and followed his friend outside to the privy.
Buck Wilmington stood, his head down, just outside the saloon door. His breathing was ragged and his body trembled ever so slightly. He didnt turn his head when the door behind him swung open. He felt the hand on his shoulder and knew immediately who it belonged to.
Need some help? Larabee offered. He waited for Buck to answer.
Nah, Stud, I got it handled. Just goin to the john. Too much beer, I guess. Still he didnt lift his head, seemingly spellbound by the dirt at his feet.
Chris remained beside him, his hand on the shoulder of the man he had known for twelve years. He didnt say a word, just waited.
I got lucky today, didnt I? It was said so softly that only Chris could have heard the words spoken with melancholy. Finally, the head turned and desperate blue eyes met green ones.
Chris sighed and moved his hand to grip the muscular flesh beneath his hand. Yeah, ya did. Lets get you to your room before you pass out. Nathan give you anything for the pain?
Tried to but I wasnt feelin nothin right then. Damn, my knee hurts like the dickens now. He took a small step and let the limp show. His old friend eased himself under the left arm and acted as a crutch as they headed down the alley to the boarding house. They slowly climbed the stairs to the second story room. Entering the room, the man in black eased the scoundrel down onto the bed. He knelt in front of him and pulled the old worn boots off. Noticing Buck having trouble with his gun belt, he took over that job too.
I dont think Ill ever understand you, Big Dog, but I sure was proud of you today. The blue eyes swung up in surprise, meeting the green eyes with astonishment. I know what I said earlier. Hell, Buck, I was scared for ya. You always jump into things head first, specially when it comes to women. Ya just dont think beyond the first response, do ya?
The brunette grinned and shook his head. Nah, guess ya got a point there. Its just .
I know, its just what ya gotta do. I didnt think you had a chance against that little banty rooster. Ya did good though, Buck. Ya stood your ground and found a way. Ya did what the rest of us didnt dare and for that, I commend you. Chris sat on the edge of the bed, his eyes still locked with his long time traveling partner. Along with honor, he saw hurting in the dark blue orbs. You need Nathan?
Visibly relaxing into the goose down mattress, Buck huskily answered, No, just need some rest. Tell the others Ill meet up with them later. He smiled tiredly. Thanks for the assist, Pard.
Youre welcome. Pulling the cover over Bucks body, Chris quietly left the room as Buck began to snore.
Nathan climbed the stairs quickly. Chris had come back to the saloon and told the other five that Buck was resting and that he would see them all later. Nathan took that to mean he was hurting bad and the healer needed to see for himself that the mustached man was doing all right. He opened the door without knocking and saw the man who had fought so gallantly that morning sound asleep in his own bed. He tiptoed over to the bed and peeled back the blanket from the man who should have been lying in his clinic.
He checked each of the four lacerations made by the sharp blade. The one to his upper arm was not deep but Nathan would bet that it stung a lot. The slice across the stomach was still bleeding. The healer knew he should change that bandage but he didnt have the heart to awaken the man right now. He would have to watch the stomach wound carefully for infection for he was sure that Buck wouldnt keep the bandage on or stay away from vigorous activity. He chuckled to himself. The ladies would be swarming all over the scoundrel after todays performance. He checked the bandage above the knee and found it dry to the touch. At least it wasnt bleeding. Buck should stay off that leg for a few days and he should have stitches placed in the cut but he had refused when Nathan suggested them right after the duel. The hand where Buck had grabbed the blade was still tacky with fresh blood. Probably started it bleeding again when he got back to the room, Nathan thought.
Nathan stared down at the handsome man and once again wondered why. Who was this man and what made him risk his life to protect others? The first time they had all faced death together, Buck had thrown himself in front of a sword to protect the youngest. He had dedicated his life to protecting Chris from self-destruction for several years after the fire that had killed Chris's family. He had gone to Purgatory to aid a woman he barely knew. And now, today, he had fought a sword fight with an arrogant expert to save a barmaid. Nathan agreed that Inez was a nice woman but he certainly wouldnt have dueled with the confident little Mexican for her, and he knew how to fight with a sword. Buck didnt, at least until he and Ezra had tried to assist him with a few moves.
You have more valor in you than any man I have ever known, Buck Wilmington. I truly was proud that you are my companion today. I am lucky to know a man such as yourself. The healer got up and quietly made his way out of the room.
Vin strolled out of the saloon. He stretched his limber body and made a leisurely inspection of the street before him. Turning right, he moved effortlessly down the boardwalk to the alley that ran to the outside staircase of the boarding house. Silently, he made his way to the second floor and went inside. He came to the door of the man who had fought so bravely this morning. He stood outside in the hallway, thinking of the events of the past two days. He had come upon the first meeting of Don Paulo and Buck Wilmington, not knowing exactly what was going on. He got there in time to hear the challenge and the acceptance. He had tried to slow Buck down, knowing that the ladies man would do just about anything to impress a woman. But to fight for Inez against a stranger, that was just foolhardy. Vin was willing to face the cocky little man and his entourage with the others behind him but to accept a challenge such as the one the Mexican laid out, he would never have submitted to that.
He had a soft spot for the lovely Mexican lady that tended bar. He could see in her eyes that she had grit and determination. He liked that about her. He sure didnt want to see her forced into something she didnt want. He was more than prepared to see to it that Medera or his men didnt harass her. Buck, though, was willing to face her tormentor and fight to the death to secure her freedom. Why?
He entered the room without preamble and stood like a ghost over the bed. Thank God for people like you, Bucklin. I acknowledge your courage, my friend, and feel honored to be in your company. You are a true hero and I bow to your bravery. He smiled down at the sleeping man and noiselessly left the room.
JD was hungry and was ready for supper. He hurried out the batwing doors of the saloon and made his way to Bucks room in the boardinghouse. Giving the door a quick knock, he strolled in. He was surprised to find his best friend still sleeping.
Hey, Buck, ya hungry? The man in the bed didnt stir. Buck? he asked louder. There was still no answer from the slumbering figure on the bed. Boy, you must be exhausted! I was so proud of you today, Buck! I know, youd probably tell me it was all to impress the ladies but I think theres a lot more to it than that. I think I know you a little by now and I got to believe that it's just cause you got the biggest heart I know. It was just like ya did out at Wickestown with the prostitutes, stickin your nose in where it aint suppose ta be. Ill tell ya though, it sure does seem ta work on the ladies. Hell, even Casey was impressed and I didnt think she was the sort of girl whod fall for your shenanigans.
JD leaned over his mentor and pulled the blanket up that Buck had kicked off. I killed a man today, same as you. Guess its not the same as what you did, but its bothering me some. Maybe we could talk about it later, huh? It can wait. Hope ya feel better tomorrow, I sure would like to hear ya tell the tale one more time. It was just like in the dime novels yer always tellin me are hooey. Well, Ill leave ya ta sleep off the beer. Night, Buck.
A soft knock on the door returned no response. Balancing the tray on his big arm, Josiah turned the knob and let himself in his friends room. Smiling to himself, he set the tray of food on the small table near the bed. He was about to leave when he noticed the blue eyes looking up at him, a twinkle of humor in them.
You did good today, Buck. You looked the devil in the eye and stood up to him. You did yourself proud.
Buck grinned. Guess it wasnt my time, eh, Josiah.
The ex-preacher sat on the edge of the bed. No, son, I guess it wasnt your time. I truly believe that the Lord was looking out for you today.
The Lord and six friends. Josiah, I dont ever want to feel like that again. I figure I aint gonna die of old age but I surely dont wanna go out on the end of a sword. Hell, Preacher, I think Im still shakin in my boots!
Josiah lowered his head for a few seconds and when he looked Buck in the eye again, his face was glum. Fate smiled on us today, Brother Buck, and for that I am truly thankful. I realize that every day wont turn out as it did today and I dread that day coming for all six of you mean a lot to me. He reached out and put his huge hand on Bucks bare shoulder. I doubt if I could have done what you did, protecting the weak lamb of the flock with nothing but a sling. You are the lion-hearted one of our small enclave and we are blessed to have you as one of our own.
Bucks eyes misted at the compliment. Emotions were running high but he needed the older man to know how much he appreciated him. I dont know if I would have shown up without your guidance. I aint no hero or saint, Josiah, just a man who feels an obligation bout certain things. The others probably think Im nuts or just in it for the admiration of the ladies but that aint really it. Hell, I cant rightly explain it, not even to myself. Its just somethin I gotta do.
Josiah took a deep breath and then grinned at the ladies man. I have felt the same way myself at times. Get some more rest and Ill see you in the morning. He moved to stand in the doorway. Looking back, he stopped and saw that Buck was already digging into the supper he had brought with him. Not wanting to embarrass the man, he kept his thoughts to himself. I am honored to have a friend such as you, Buck Wilmington. God bless you and keep you until it is your time to die.
The saloon was quiet; only two others were present when Ezra got up. Tipping his imaginary hat to Inez, he headed to the batwing doors. I think I shall take a tour of the town before retiring. I expect you will be closing soon so I will reenter through the rear door, he explained to the lovely senorita. She smiled and continued wiping down the bar.
Ezra made a quick check of his town and then found himself outside the boardinghouse. He went inside and smiled at proprietress. I am going to check on Mr. Wilmington if that is all right with you, Mrs. Mickleson.
No problem, Mr. Standish. I believe that young JD did that about an hour ago but you go right on up. She turned her attention back to her mending.
Ezra knocked softly. He didnt get any response but he tried the door and found it unlocked. The light was dim and he could tell that Buck was sleeping, a light snore coming from the ladies man. He smiled down at his friend. I wagered only on you, my friend. I knew you would overcome, no matter the handicap. You know, I have been in many parts of this fair country, from large cities to the smallest of villages. I have met almost every type of human being possible. Yet,I have never met anyone so chivalrous as you. Your gallantry is simply amazing at times, Mr. Wilmington. I wish I could be as gracious as you but alas my soul is sadly lacking.
Ah, you would remind me of my unselfishness with the young Li Pong but that was merely money, something quite easily obtained. The heart of a prince is rare and can only be obtained at birth and through the loving grace of a saintly mother. I am envious of your upbringing although you would probably say that your mother went through hell with the life that she led. But, she raised you and a more gallant man there never was.
He stepped back and turned, a tear fell silently down his cheek and he quickly brushed it aside. Sleep well, Buck, he said before leaving the room. He had just turned to head down the stairs when he heard footsteps in the hallway. He glanced back to see who it was. He smiled broadly as he saw who was entering the room he had just vacated. Well, Ill be.
Inez herded the last two drunks out of her saloon and locked the door behind them. It had been a long and emotion-packed day and she was exhausted. She began to climb the stairs to go to her room above the saloon but she stopped. She had a duty to do first before she could sleep. She grabbed her shawl by the rear door and putting it up over her head, she made her way to the outside staircase of the boarding house.
Slowly she climbed the steps and, pausing at the top, she wondered if she should go inside. He might get the wrong impression and then he would be intolerable to live with. However, remembering the talk they had had the night before, she knew he was not the man that everybody thought he was. There was so much more to the tall gunslinger than he ever let on. He had been soft and yet strong at the same time. He had only her well being in mind when she begged him not to fight the Mexican that wanted to take her back to, how had he put it, a living hell? His heart was open for her to view and she found that the man who never seemed to have a thought for anyone else was a true gentleman with a heart of gold. She opened the door and made her way down the hall to stand in front of his door. Noiselessly, she entered, never noticing the man at the other end of the hall.
Holding her breath, she floated to the bedside. She wanted the man to know how she felt, the gratitude, the admiration, the love. She just didnt know how to tell him without feeling obligated. She didnt want to ever feel that way again. She had had her fill of that in Mexico. She had come to the United States so that she would never feel that way again. Obligated! In debt to someone because they gave you a menial job or because they fixed the thatch roof of the house that was too small or because they gave your mother food to put on the table. No, she never wanted to be bound to anyone ever again just because they had shown you a kindness. This was different however. This man really didnt want anything in return. Or did he?
Did the gringo want her body in payment for his valiant deed? If so, he was no better than Don Paulo. Somehow, though that was what others would have had in mind, she didnt think this man did. He hadnt pressed her for anything but a date since she arrived here in Four Corners. It was true that he flirted with her constantly but he seemed to like the sparring matches that she held with him. He enjoyed the challenge of a woman that said no to his good looks and amazing magnetism. She had watched him leave night after night with a new woman on his arm. She had also seen the glow on the womans face when she returned several hours later. She had overheard the girls that worked the saloon go on and on about Buck and his remarkable charms. Every one of them would like a repeat performance.
No, this man was a gentleman, of that she had no doubt. He was incredibly handsome but it was his heart that made him so appealing. She had found herself in awe of his gallantry last night. He had said that he couldnt live knowing she was going to be treated like a whore upon her return to Mexico. Well, he had defeated the young don and now she was free. Yes, free to do as she liked and tonight that meant showing her gratitude to this intriguing man.
She reached down and touched his hair. He moaned as she did so and she withdrew her hand instantly. Covering her mouth to contain the shock she felt, she listened to his slumbering words.
Inez, Inez, are you all right? Did he hurt you? Please say he didnt. Tell me he didnt hurt you! Mama, did he hit you? Here, rest for a while, Mama. He wont hurt you again, I promise. No man will hurt you again. I wont let them.
Biting her bottom lip, she listened to the sorrow-filled words and her heart went out to the man. He must have loved his mother very deeply. She must have had a hard life for him to still recall her being hurt so.
When he settled, she again reached out to touch him, lightly brushing her hand over his cheek. Kneeling down, her mouth just inches from his ear, she whispered, No one will hurt me as long as you are here to protect me, mi amour. And I promise, no one will hurt you if I can just be here for you. Hush now, sleep, my darling. I am here to watch over you. She lifted her head and, with the gentle moonlight illuminating his face, she saw a smile curve his lips. She placed a light kiss at the corner of his mouth and then settled her head onto the mattress, her body still seated on the floor. Sleep well, my white knight.
In the dead of night, he awoke. Feeling warm breath on his arm, he turned his head slightly and found the stunning Mexican maiden by the side of his bed. His arm rose and wrapped protectively around her as she slept. No one will ever harm you, my beautiful rose. I promise you that. He sighed and fell back into a sleep filled with glorious dreams. When he awoke the next morning, she was gone.
Just before noon, Buck hobbled down the street, his right arm still in a sling, his shirt covering the thick bandage that Nathan had replaced just an hour ago. He smiled at the ladies and traded jokes with the men. He broke into a large grin as he approached the six men he would give anything for. Mornin guys. Its a beautiful day, aint it?
All six looked up and returned the grin. They were all grateful that the seven were still seven.
You look like the cat that swallowed the mouse, Buck. Somethin we should know? Chris had seen the look before but rarely in the past three years.
Just so glad to be alive, Pard! He smiled even broader. He looked up to see Inez watching him over the batwing doors. His eyes turned smoky and his body relaxed as he returned her gaze. He had a long ways to go but it would be worth the journey.
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