Main Characters: All Seven
LEGAL DISCLAIMER: This is the place where I acknowledge that I don’t own the already copyrighted material and remind folks that the following is a labor of love and involves no monetary benefit.
SPOILERS: Working Girls, Sins of the Past, Vendetta, Achilles, Lady Killers, Serpents
Note: Many thanks and much love to my beta reader, Raisa-sama.
Chris Larabee and Hank Connolly sat in front of Chris’s ranch house watching the sun set behind the trees as the last warm breeze of autumn danced about them. Chris took a pull from the whiskey bottle and handed it to his father-in-law.
“Sarah says to tell you that she likes what you’ve done with the place, though it could still use a woman’s touch,” Hank commented before taking a drink from the bottle. “Sarah says it’s time to stop living in the past, Chris Larabee. Time to start living for the future.”
Accepting the whiskey bottle back, Chris looked out across the gently swaying grass as the shadows crept in around them. “Why didn’t she come tell me this?” he asked, his voice a mix of bitterness and sorrow.
Hank leaned his chair back and looked at the darkening sky. “Something about not wanting to reopen old wounds. Can’t find your future if you’re still clinging to the past.”
“I ain’t never gonna forget Sarah and Adam,” Chris said, downing more whiskey.
“Damn right you won’t,” Hank said, grabbing the bottle back. “Elsewise, I’ll come back to haunt you!”
Chris gave a snort of laughter. “Ain’t that what you’re doing now?”
JD Dunne sat on the buckboard of the stagecoach, wondering where the team of horses had gotten off to, though it was more of a mild curiosity than an actual worry, as he surveyed the deserted landscape where the stagecoach sat marooned.
“Want some coffee?”
JD turned to see Achilles Thompson sitting next to him on the buckboard, holding two tin coffee cups.
Accepting the proffered cup, JD asked, “Aren’t you supposed to be dead?”
Taking a sip, Achilles responded. “Well, pup, I told you I couldn’t be killed.”
“But, now see, I remember putting you in that grave myself,” JD argued. “Made sure it was you in that coffin, too.”
Achilles shook his head slowly. “Can’t kill what’s already dead. You might’ve put a corpse in the ground, but that don’t get rid of me.”
“Won’t stop me from trying.”
“I already told you, boy, you ain’t a killer,” Achilles said.
JD’s gaze was firm. “I don’t have to be,” he said. “I just have to know how to drive a stagecoach.”
Josiah Sanchez sat on a cot in one of the jail cells. He stared straight ahead, glancing out the corner of his eye at his companion every so often. Mattie Stokes sat next to the big man, her knees curled up into her chest.
“What am I doing back here?” she asked.
“I’m afraid that might be my fault,” Josiah answered. “I’ve been thinking about you lately. I tend to do that with people I’ve put in the ground.”
“Did you say the shepherd prayer?” Mattie asked. “When . . . when you buried me?”
“Yes, I did,” he said, his voice a comforting rumble. “You said you liked it.”
There was a moment of silence.
“Thank you,” was the soft reply. “But maybe it’s time to let go of some of your ghosts, Preacher. I sure as hell don’t want to end up in this dump again.”
Buck Wilmington sat at an old, battered table in the makeshift tent-saloon of Wickes Town. The brothel’s proprietor sat opposite from him, a bottle of whiskey and two shot glasses between them.
“So he says, ‘They don’t call me Long John ‘cause I’ve got a big head!’” Wickes pounded the table as he roared with laughter.
Buck looked down at the shot glass he was fiddling with, a sterile grin on his face.
“Y’know what?” Buck asked, the grin vanishing. “I sure am glad I killed you. You’re even more of a pig than I remember.”
Wickes’ laugher died down. “You think you’re so high and mighty, but you’re no different from any other man, no different from me. Just ‘cause you don’t keep women in their place with your fist doesn’t mean you don’t still control them.”
“You’re wrong,” Buck said in a dangerous whisper.
“Oh, sure, you flatter them, make them feel pretty,” Wickes went on. “But, all those sweet words are just to get what you want from them. They’re nothing more to you than a roll in the hay. They’re all the same to you.”
At that, Buck stood up, his chair falling over behind him. “You don’t know the first thing about me,” he said. Then he gave a semi-hysterical laugh. “Why the hell am I talking with you? I don’t give a flying fig what you think, ‘cause you’re dead! I don’t have to explain myself to you.”
Buck strode over to the tent flap door and stepped through to find himself sitting at the table across from Wickes again.
“It’s gonna be a long night,” Wickes said, pouring Buck another shot of whiskey.
Nathan Jackson sat on the edge of the big bed in his clinic. He gazed at the small woman sitting propped up against the bed pillows, looking fresh faced and rosy. Annie Neuhaus smiled kindly at him.
“Thank you,” she said. “You did the best you could, and I appreciate that.”
Nathan shook his head. “But it wasn’t enough, was it? I still let you die.”
Annie patted Nathan’s hand. “Sometimes, we learn more from our failures than from our victories. Nathan, what did you learn?”
The healer stared into space while he contemplated the question. “Well, I learned that I’m all this town’s got and I don’t know enough. It drove me to read every book I could get my hands on. I’ve put questions to every doctor, medic, midwife, and medicine man I’ve met since then, trying to learn more, to learn enough.”
Nathan looked at the woman sitting next to him. “I’ve learned a lot, but is it enough? The next time something like that happens, will I be able to save them?”
Annie shook her head. “I can’t tell you that. But I know you’ll do your best. And when you do your best, it’s always enough. You can’t save everybody, Nathan. It’s not your fault.”
Nathan took Annie’s hand in his. “Thank you.”
“My pleasure,” Anne said. “Could you do one thing for me?”
Nathan nodded. “Anything.”
“Please tell Hiram that he needs to go ahead and marry Judith.” Annie smiled. “It’s time my girls had a mother again.”
Vin Tanner sat on the peaked roof overlooking the telegraph office, staring intently at the man balanced precariously at the roof’s edge. Eli Joe stood at the very tip of the eave, causing Vin to wonder why he hadn’t already fallen backwards to his doom. On some level, Vin knew what the outcome would be -- Eli Joe dead on the boardwalk below -- but knew also that they were waiting for something important to happen before the end occurred.
“This is all a bit familiar, eh, amigo?” Eli Joe asked.
Vin just stared.
“Suppose maybe I get away this time?” Eli Joe quirked an eyebrow. “Or maybe it’s you who ends up dead?”
“You ain’t getting away,” Vin said. “Pretty sure you can’t touch me either.”
Eli Joe shrugged. “It don’t matter much. You still ain’t got what you need, and you never will.”
“Oh, yeah? What do I need?”
The smile that spread across Eli Joe’s face was cold and cruel. “A way to clear your name,” he said. “I’m the only one who could do that and now . . . well . . . let’s just say, I don’t plan on giving you no help.”
“You come back here just to taunt me?” Though his words were cool, Vin’s anger was heating up by the second. “Ain’t you got nothing better to do with your afterlife?”
“Of that, I am not so sure,” Eli Joe said. “But this has been fun.”
In slow-motion horror, Vin watched as the man he loathed, and yet desperately needed, fell backwards.
Ezra Standish sat on the raised dais of the empty saloon, a game of solitaire spread out on the table before him. His gold pocket watch lay open next to the discard pile. Glancing down at his cards, Ezra was hardly surprised when he looked up again to find the chair across from him suddenly occupied by a black woman dressed in a gaudy ensemble of red silk and black lace.
“About time,” he said, closing his watch and returning it to his vest pocket.
“When have Ah evah missed our annual visit, cheri?” she asked, her accent announcing her Cajun origin.
“In the last ten years, Tante, you do always seem to find me on this particular day,” Ezra conceded.
“But Ah t’ink dis may be our last time, eh?”
Ezra stopped gathering the cards. “What makes you say that?”
Tante shrugged. “Time to move on. Time fo’ de both of us. Don’t need my help no more. No more wanderin’. You got a place now.”
Shuffling the deck, Ezra said, “I am having severe doubts about that. They don’t trust me, certainly not after that fiasco at the governor’s rally.”
“Pssht,” Tante snorted. “Ain’t nobody trustworthy when it comes to money, cheri. You should know dat. But dose men, dey trust you where it matters. An’ dey’ll trust you even more if you trust yourself.”
Ezra cocked his head, considering the advice. He stilled, looking up with a air of suspicion spreading across his face.
“You haven’t been visiting them, have you?” he asked. “If they ask me about you, I will lie through my teeth and deny your very existence.”
“Nah, cheri. Dey’s been too busy with their own ghosts fo’ me to bother with.” Patting Ezra’s hand, she stood up from the table. “Now, you c’m here and give ol’ Tante a kiss ‘fore Ah go.”
Standing up, Ezra embraced the woman and kissed her cheek. Softly, Ezra whispered in her ear, “I shall miss you.”
“Ah as well,” she replied. “But we meet again someday, eh? Just, not too soon, Ah hope.”
And with that, Ezra found himself alone again.
He stood there, staring thoughtfully for a while. Finally, Ezra shook his head, pulling himself from his daze, and sat down again.
“Trust myself,” he muttered, laying out another round of solitaire. “What a novel concept.”
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