Judgment Day
by Mary Ann

(Thanks to Melissa & Sue for catches)

Main Character - Vin

Sort of Death fic - Tissue warning - for the good :-)

He limped slowly along the gravel strewn path, pain and age making his step slow and measured. The trees towered high over him, hazy green in color. He could hear the whistle of the wind through the leaves, and the sound of a creek in the distance. His still bright, but old hazy blue eyes gazed in wonder of this new place. He wasn't sure where he was, or why he was here. It was warm and welcoming, he felt the draw of someone waiting for him, actually looking for him, but couldn't see that far along the path to know who it was. The misty green trees swayed in the wind as the sun dappled the ground under his feet.

Coming around a house sized boulder he saw a stretch of grass with flowers bordering the path. With a shake of his long white hair he kept moving along. He wanted to see where this pathway led.

The breeze blew his long hair this way and that and he smiled as he walked along. He still had no idea where he was but wherever it was, it was beautiful. The creek, he finally realized was off to the right of him; the grass was dotted with flowers and he could see above him the brilliantly blue sky through the thinning trees.

All of a sudden he limped out of the woods, into a small clearing. A short distance ahead of him he could make out someone sitting on an old log. He glanced around trying to spot any other people, but it was just the one man ahead of him, dressed in light colored clothes. With a shrug he kept walking. There was nothing behind him that he wanted to see.

He stopped in front of the man and a slow, friendly smile crossed his lined, tired face as the man rose to tower over him. There was something different that he couldn't quite make out about the man, he seemed to glow, and his light brown hair curled around a face that was way too pretty for a man. The man smiled at him and when he spoke his voice sounded almost musical, a pleasant voice and easy on the ears.

"Please sit down Vin Tanner."

Vin slowly lowered his aching body to the log the man had been sitting on. He turned his face up to the man and smiled. "You know my name?"

"Yes, I know everyone's name from their birth until they come here, passed me."

Vin nodded. "Who are you? You know my name, I don't know you though."

"You can call me, Peter. I am here to see you beyond this time and place. To make you whole again."

Vin cocked his grey head a moment as he thought on the man's words. "Make me whole again? I think I am dead, aren't I?"

Peter smiled, his bright white teeth showed for a moment. He nodded. "You get right to the heart of things don't you Mr. Tanner?"

With a smile, Vin nodded.

"Well, yes, you are dead. You passed last night. This is your Judgment Day."

"I thought so. I remember some family members crying and sniffing in the room. Then it seemed I was flying. I haven't flown since I missed that jump I was making back in 1899, just before this new century came in." Vin patted his leg that he'd been limping on.

"I know. You were a marvel when you leaped from roof to roof. If we could have bet here it would always have been on you."

A blush colored Vin's cheeks as he looked at Peter. "Thanks. I was watching my friends' backs."

"Yes. You have been there for them for many years."

"I'm lonely though. All my friends are gone. Have been for awhile. I really miss them, and Chris, he was there for me many times."

"Well, possibly you will get to see them again. Now, I have a few things to discuss with you. You lost your mother when you were five, and went to a couple of other families."

"Yeah, Ma died of putrid fever. When they took me away they gave me to this other family for awhile. I was the smallest in that house and got fed less and treated like I wasn't good enough to be there."

"They did treat you badly. You left them one night during a bad storm and were found two days later by a tribe of Kiowa. You lived with them for some time, before the soldiers came and took you to their fort, and tried to remake you into someone they thought you should be."

"Yes. The Kiowa treated me as one of their own. I had a family that I loved. I learned a lot from my adopted parents. If I could have stayed I would have become a warrior. But… that didn't happen. I was taken away; even though I fought I couldn't get away from the soldiers. I never forgot my family there. I never found them again even though I looked for them."

"You did a lot of good when you were with the tribe. You were young but you helped almost everyone in the village, especially the elderly. You were a prisoner of war in the War Between the States. Even though you were wounded, you helped several other prisoners. And when you escaped, you took several with you."

"We had to separate. I don't know if they survived or were caught again. I somehow managed to get clean away and made it back to Texas."

"We were a little worried about you when you became a buffalo hunter. We did not like seeing the animals being killed to where they almost became extinct."

"I know. I finally realized what was happening and that the tribes were the ones to suffer the loss of the herds. I moved on."

"Yes, you did. You became a bounty hunter. We had hoped for better things for you, but you needed money."

"Don't remind me. I did need the money that I made to survive. I couldn't read the warrants but I sometimes had some help doing that."

Peter sighed. "You were good, and you did try to take them all in alive. You treated the men fairly and if they were injured you doctored them. Until…"

"Eli Joe. He really set me up for a fall. And I did fall."

"He was bad and We were sorry to see what he'd done to you. And when your friend killed him, We hoped that you could get over the loss."

"Chris was protecting me. If he hadn't shot Eli Joe I'd've been dead long ago. Chris was my friend, my brother, and I trusted him with my life," Vin said a little hotly. He would protect his friends until the day he died. He looked at the man and laughed out loud, his rough, hoarse voice breaking with his thoughts as tears filled his eyes.

"I'd always be there for my friends. They were my brothers. I can't believe I outlived all of them." Vin buried his face in his hands as the loss overwhelmed him.

Peter watched the man and looked skyward for a moment, then nodded and looked back at Vin. His hand went to the younger man's shoulder and he gripped it tightly.

"Vin, you were there for your brothers many times. From the first day when you and Chris saved Nathan's life, to the last when you saved JD's granddaughter from being trampled by her horse. You have protected not only your brothers but their families; you have done nothing but good."

Vin shook his head, the tears making tracks down his pale thin cheeks. "I couldn't stop them from dyin' …" He felt the hand gripping him tighten for a moment before it rubbed over his shoulder and across his upper back.

"You had many years with your brothers. More than I thought it would be. But when it was time for them to move on, well, We can't change what will happen or when. We do what We have to do. Your brothers did leave before you. It was their times."

"Isn't fair to have left me all alone. I didn't want to be here without them." Tear's fell silently as Vin remembered the passing of his brothers, one after the other over the last years. He then realized that he had enjoyed a good life with them even though he never dreamed he would outlive any of them. When Chris, Buck, Josiah and Nathan had gone to Tascosa with him he was sure that he'd end up being hung. But Judge Orrin Travis was there and even though he was sick and frail he was able to clear his name. Vin had felt as if a huge weight had fallen off him. The five of them had ridden home happy that Vin was finally free. The town turned out to celebrate. He'd been shocked to find out so many had known but never said anything.

Nathan had been married for several years to Rain and had four children ranging in age from 12 to 5. Now the oldest was the town's doctor and married with two children. Nathan died of a heart attack. Josiah had married Mrs. Potter, and they had twelve happy years together. Josiah adopted her two children and they had a couple of grand children before they died in a house fire. Josiah had been around 85 years old by then. The oldest boy had grown up and he and his family were running the mercantile, the general store having grown over the years to the largest business in town now. Buck finally managed to lasso Inez and they had 7 children and several grandkids. JD the youngest brother, as they all had thought, ended up married to Casey and they had three sets of twins, and several grandchildren.

Vin smiled through his tears, remembering the shocked expression on JD's face every time they had kids; four girls and two boys. All were grown and four had settled in the area taking over the Dunne and later the Larabee/Tanner ranch with two of Buck's sons. JD remained the law of the growing town, and Buck was his deputy. They died together in a gun battle with some bank robbers before the others could take the outlaws out. Judge Travis had also died that day. His daughter-in-law Mary had married Gerald and they had several more children. Billy Travis, now in his 50's, was running the newspaper, and it was a good one, not full of gossip as his mother's had been. Ezra married later and the woman he married loved him totally. They had a boy and girl and his wife was still living in the pretty house he built for her. He had loved her absolutely and died basking in the love they shared for years.

Chris never married, and he and Vin, who also hadn't married, had gone together and turned Chris's little ranch into a well known horse breeding farm. They raised some of the finest cattle horses in the state. Chris died breaking a stallion they'd captured. Vin had killed it when he found Chris. For days Vin was mad at Chris for dying. He had been too old to be trying to tame the wild stallion.

Once more tears rolled down his cheeks. He'd been alone now for over five years and he was tired. He wanted to be with his brothers not sitting here on a log talking to a strange man.

Peter looked down on the bowed head of Vin Tanner and raised his eyes once more to the sky above him. With a smile he patted the old man's shoulder. "Vin I need you to listen to me."

Vin's head rose and he blinked the water haze from his eyes. He felt his face turn red, and frowned, he still could blush like a young woman he thought. But he looked at the man who seemed to glow brighter.

"This was your Judgment Day, Vin Tanner. You served this earth for many years, helped people no matter what was thrown at you, and were loved by those you touched during your life. You had six brothers, who you were there for, helped, loved and shared all with everyone. You protected, watched over and loved the families your brothers had. Life for you was very hard, but you passed everything that was thrown at you and persevered. Your time has come for you to go on, into another, happier life. You will be back in another time. All of you will rise again. But for now … Go up there. They are waiting for you." Peter pointed to the left of him.

Vin turned his head feeling every moment of his 78 years. His dim blue eyes blinked in the brightness of the day. He slowly rose, and to his surprise he felt better than he had in a long time. He started to move in the direction Peter had pointed, the path seemed to smooth under his booted feet. Vin shook himself, he could see some figures in the distance that seemed to be walking towards him through the trees. His eyes blinked again and began to clear. He could finally see everything clearly around him, the figures were coming closer and he started to pick up things about them he hadn't seen in many years. His step became lighter and the pain from his hip and leg disappeared. His eyes fastened onto the six men walking towards him and his eyes filled once more with tears.

Was this a dream? If it was he didn't want to ever wake up. He could see Chris, a black duster slapping around his legs as he walked towards him, to one side of him was Buck, JD and Ezra. On the other were Josiah and Nathan, smiling widely.

His step became longer, smoother, Vin felt like the years were falling away from him as he drank in his brothers' faces. They weren't old; they looked years younger than he'd last seen them. They all had happy grins on their faces as they approached him. For an instant Vin glanced down at himself. His stride was long and even, no pain or limp, his hands lost the arthritis that had twisted some of his long fingers. The hair that blew across his face was no longer grey, it was brown with golden highlights. He was young again. He broke into a run.

Falling into Chris's arms he felt the strong limbs wrap tightly around him. The others were right there, hugs, back slapping, pats and joy-filled words poured over the seven. They were once again together, brothers to the end of time.

Peter smiled. The seven were whole once more. Their time would come again before too long. But for now, the men were reunited as they would be for centuries. He smiled at the sky as he began to fade away. He loved a happy ending.


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