Sequel to Dawn of a New Century
This is a work of fan fiction based on the TV, The Magnificent Seven. It is not meant to infringe on the copyrights of CBS, MGM, The Trilogy Entertainment Group, or The Mirisch Corp.
Nathan walked into the café/saloon with a smile exploding across his face. His heart felt like erupting in his chest from the joyous and emotional scene he just witnessed at his office.
"Well, Doctor Jackson, either you just discovered the cure for all what ails modern man or you've suddenly become filthy rich." Ezra, adorned in a forest green cut-a-way jacket, motioned for the local healer to join him at the back table.
"Nope, something better. But I can't tell you a thing about it now. It will have to wait until this evening."
"Until the soirée at Mrs. Dunne's residence?"
"Yep, and I expect all of us to be greatly affected by what happens then."
"You do weave an enticing mystery, Dr. Jackson."
"What's wrong with Buck? Why ain't he over here supervising?"
"Mr. Wilmington decided to join the depressing crowd and not be privy to today's discussion."
Both men nodded in acknowledgement towards the approach of the current editor of the Clarion, William Travis. "Son, has your mother visited your office yet this concluding day of the century?"
"No, I think she made other plans for this morning. Have you heard? It just came over the wire. This fellow in Germany made a flying ship. It went seventeen miles per hour. Can you imagine?"
"Nope, not me. I saw some of those balloons they used during the war. If the tether broke them boys had no chance of getting down till the wind blew them into a tree or hillside. I want to keep my feet on the ground." Nathan shook his head at the memories.
"Well I want to get one of the horseless carriages except there's no where around here to drive them. The roads are too bad. Maybe that should be my next editorial since we're moving into the new century."
"Where do you keep getting these new fangled ideas, son?"
"Ezra, you're always one for progress. I can see it now. Automobiles replacing horses and wagons. Flying ships carrying people across the country. Soon there won't be any need for horses except for pleasure riding."
"Billy, don't go getting your hopes too high. All these new machines doing the work of men goin' ta put 'em out of jobs." The healer shook his head at the young man's ideas.
The young, enthusiastic editor looked over at the former sheriff and asked, "What's the matter with Buck? You'd think he lost his best friend? Something happen to Dog?"
"Dog's fine, just today is the anniversary of his comrade's death. New Year's Eve seems to send Mr. Wilmington into a deep state of depression. It's best to let the day pass and then attempt to revive the sullen lawman."
"I've got to get back to the paper. Dr. Jackson, Ezra. I'll see you both tomorrow." The blond haired man strode out of the establishment with purpose and a zeal for his being.
"The Judge would sure be proud of that young man."
"Yes, I agree, Nathan. At least these times lend themselves more towards young men receiving the chance to attain their goals. By the way, how is the unfortunate victim of my carelessness of last evening? I attempted to apologize this forenoon but he had already vacated the room."
"He was fine last night. Just needed some rest."
"Is he still about the town? I don't mind offering charity for an evening but will he be needing an abode again?"
"He's not leaving anytime soon but I wouldn't expect him to take advantage of your hospitality, Ezra."
"Well I hope to see him soon and extend my apology. I can't shake the feeling that I know him from somewhere."
Nathan didn't answer but turned his attention across the room. Buck slowly wandered over to his two friends and sat down next to Ezra. "Will's going back east to school, that would have made JD's ma real happy. He regretted not getting the education she wanted him to have."
"Will is certainly more into book learning than his brother, young Chris."
"That is due to your tutelage, Dr. Jackson. Who knows? The young Mr. Dunne may become the best medical protégé to grace the medical operating theaters."
"Sure Ezra, a hundred years from now Will's descendants will wonder about their one ancestor's detour to this little corner of the world."
"That's easy, Buck. Every family tree needs a skeleton rattling in their closet." As soon as the words were out of his mouth, Nathan regretted the analogy.
"Well, today's one day this old man's got to go visit that skeleton. I'm headed over to Casey's, see if she wants to go with me. Don't expect to see me there later fellows. Me and a certain glass container have some serious plans."
"He won't do anything rash, will he?"
"I doubt it, Ezra. I would expect he'd change his mind and show up at Casey's tonight. It's too important for him to not be there." Nathan wished he could reveal the precious secret but it wasn't his place to announce their friend's return.
+ + + + + + +
Buck rode his roan to the small Dunne homestead; his constant companion, JD, trotted beside the horse. Helping Casey was the least he could do for his late friend. Could it be possible young Will reached the same age his father was when first arriving in town? How had the greenhorn from the east wormed his way into the gunslinger's heart? Why wouldn't the pain go away? Wasn't fifteen years long enough to mourn the loss of the young man with the long, dark hair?
Buck dismounted and tied his horse to the railing next to Casey's fence. The cold December air cleared his fuzzy mind when JD growled. "What is it, boy?" He watched the dog's ears flatten. Someone was in Casey's barn. The dog knew the Dunnes so the unknown individual must be a trespasser. The dog and man cautiously approached the small barn-door and entered the structure.
Someone was standing by Casey's horse, his arm around the animal's neck. It was the vagrant that got hurt yesterday. Buck sneaked towards the stall and shot his arm around the smaller man. "You're under arrest for horse theft, mister," he yelled throwing the dark haired stranger into the opposite wall. JD barked and growled at the intruder, snapping his teeth at the unknown interloper's face.
JD, the man, cowered in the corner; his mind retreating to another time and other dogs. Several prisoners spent weeks attempting to dig a tunnel out of the prison camp to reach a nearby river. If a man could reach it, the camp's dogs couldn't track the escapees in the water. The first two men out of the hole made it to the river. JD was the third one out of the tunnel but was too late to escape. The dogs trapped him up a tree before he was recaptured and tortured.
"You coward! Come on, fight like a man, you sorry excuse for a person!" Buck's smoldering anger erupted at the man. He reached out and grabbed the oversized wrap, lifting the man off the floor. Ready to throw him across the alleyway, he jerked around at the sound of Casey's voice.
"Buck, what are you doing? Put him down," she screamed.
The man looked at the woman and then back at the man he held. "He was getting ready to steal your horse, Casey." Buck's voice was low and menacing while JD, the dog, stood by watching the stranger.
She approached the two men and softly spoke, "Buck, put him down and look at him, really look at him."
The older man did as he was told, setting the other man back on his feet. "OK, mister, you gonna tell me what you're doin' in Casey's barn?"
"Nice to see you too, Buck," JD said just before sending a fist to connect with the older man's jaw. Years of pent-up anger and hatred poured from JD as he came face to face with his 'best friend'. Buck fended off a majority of the blows but a few struck his face and ribs. After one bloodied his nose, Buck threw his fist into the smaller man's chest throwing JD back into the stall support. Hitting his head and gasping from the pain around his injured ribs, the prodigal husband collapsed to the floor.
"What the.." He looked at his friend. "Who is he?" Buck panted.
Casey knelt beside the fallen man, pushing the hair from his face. "Don't you see, Buck? It's JD."
Buck stumbled over a pail, trying to back out of the small building. A ghost? He fought demons but this was a ghost come back to haunt him and Casey. Falling to the barn floor he kept scooting back away from the pair. "No, damnit," he whispered. "It can't be. JD's buried in the cemetery. I cut him down from that tree and helped put him in the ground."
"Buck Wilmington. Get yourself out of the hay and help me carry him into the house." Casey's voice spoke with authority. "He ain't well. He sure as hell didn't need you beating up on him."
"Casey, this some kind of joke? Cause that ain't JD. It's just some drifter playin' on your loss." Buck refused to rise but stared at the prone figure.
"I don't know the details yet Buck but it is JD. He weren't killed but was taken prisoner. He's been held down in Mexico till a couple of weeks ago when some officer exchanged him. Help me," she pleaded.
The dog growled as the smaller man stirred. He looked around the drafty building unsure of his whereabouts. Looking up into Casey's face he sighed. Damn, it was a dream. When did he try to escape and the dogs tree him? Only an angel in heaven could look at him with as much love because Casey wasn't here. He waited, tensely for the anticipated beating, shutting his eyes tight to keep out reality. He'd remember that face, the kind face that smiled at him. Casey's love sustained him when the guards refused to feed the prisoners. It was her face he remembered when the guards beat him for being an American. Her image consumed him when they whipped him for walking too slow in the leg-irons. Would she carry him to his final rest at last?
"JD, time to wake up." Her soft voice confused his conscious. Do angels talk?
Opening his eyes slowly, he saw she didn't fade away. Her soft hands held his while a cool breeze tempered his fever. "Let's go in the house. It's too cold out here for you. We've got a party to host tonight."'
Unable to break the contact with her wonderful caring eyes, JD sat in her arms.
Buck reached down to help his friend, studying the frail man's features intensely. "Oh, my. It truly is JD." Effortlessly, the larger man picked him up and carried him out of the barn. No longer conscious of the gesture, JD retreated into the 'safe' place in his mind where he and Casey still lived together happily and the place nightmares couldn't reach.
"Casey, when? How?"
"Sit down, Buck." They entered the small parlor and laid JD down on the settee. She removed his dirty serape while Buck replenished the wood in the stove.
"I found him this morning or rather he tripped and fell into me. He'd been talking with Nettie. The kids, they don't know yet. How do I tell them we made a mistake, a horrible, unforgivable mistake, Buck?" Tears ran down her face as she stared at her husband. "I'm mad and angry at him for leaving but then I feel guilty for not saving him. Will he ever forgive me?"
Buck took the woman into his arms like he'd done many times before during the last fifteen years and caressed her back. He held her close and breathed deeply of her scent. Buck never married and quit his womanizing after JD died. He was Casey's comforter and consoler. Though they never became intimate, Buck felt married to his best friend's widow. A shudder went through him. What had he done? What had they all done? JD wasn't dead! His friends abandoned him when he needed their friendship the most!
"He's so scared of everything. He hated all of us for not rescuing him and he came back to get revenge. He was out at the cemetery looking for Chris, thinking all these years he'd died, when he saw Josiah's stone. That frightened him. He tripped and saw his own headstone. Then he knew why none of you came lookin' for him. He said he didn't hate you any more but I can tell he can't forget what happened to him. It's like he's living it all over again. Did you see he was terrified of Dog? JD's never been afraid of animals. Out in the barn, he was with the horse. Said he wasn't ready to come in the house."
"And then I laid into him. Probably hurt his ribs again. Ezra knocked him into the street yesterday and a horse stepped on him."
"So that's why Nathan knows," she spoke softly to herself.
Casey looked at Buck's face, her eyes brimming with unshed tears. "What about us, Buck? That isn't the same man I married. I've been with you longer than we were together. I can't forget all you did for us."
"Don't worry about that now, darlin'. What's important is that he came home. He's been giving a second chance to know his children and you. He's been hurt real bad but he was strong and we've got to help him get that way again." He pulled the distraught woman closer, not believing a word he just told her.
+ + + + + + +
Shortly before six, happy chatter reached Casey's ears. Will, Mary Kate and Nettie walked into the cozy house; their faces pink from the cold evening air. "Mrs. Potter was real happy with the dress, Mama." Mary Kate glowed from the praise the older woman shared. She enjoyed sewing and often created special dresses for the local women.
"Yeah, Ma. She was tellin' us a story about a dress she sold you way back when," Will added to the story.
"Did it really tear and show your..?"
"Stop right there all of you. I don't want to talk about it." Casey's eyes flashed and the three teenagers' faces sobered. How dare they speak about something that happened involving their late father?
"What do you want us to do, Mama?" Mary Kate asked seriously. Something happened this afternoon after they left to deliver milk and eggs to their neighbors. Normally Casey would be flying around the room unable to sit still for more than a few seconds. Now she was sitting at the unset table. Was the party canceled?
"Sit down children. There's something I need to tell you. I wish your brother was here now but I'll tell him when the others get here." Buck walked up behind her and squeezed her shoulders. This was so hard. The children were small when JD left; they didn't understand what happened then but they would now. She looked up at the ceiling, blinking the tears away, took a deep breath and said, "I, we," she looked up at Buck's stoic face, "we made a horrible mistake fifteen years ago and we just found out today about it."
The widow's hands shook but she continued. "He didn't die. Your father came home today." There, she said it.
"This is impossible!"
The youngest glared at her mother and said through clenched teeth, "That man. That man I talked to. That's my father?" Casey could only nodded her head.
"Where is the bastard?" Will hated him for the hurt he gave Mama and his sisters.
"Settle down. You're acting like I'd expect your brother Chris to." Buck saw the anger and betrayal in the young man's eyes.
"Stay out of this, Uncle Buck. How dare he come back here after running out on us?!"
"It weren't his choice, son. The man that came back is JD Dunne but he ain't the man he was."
"Then why bother to come back at all? He didn't care enough to be here; we don't need him coming back now changing everything."
"William Jonathan Dunne. Don't you ever say such things about your father. He was held prisoner in Mexico all this time wondering why we didn't come rescue him. Yesterday he found out we assumed that he died; that the body we found and buried was him. He needs time to heal."
"Where is he, Mama?" Nettie asked quietly.
"In the parlor, sleeping."
The young girl walked to the closed door and hesitated a few moments. She grabbed the door and entered the sitting room. He sat on the settee, staring at the fire, tears running down his face.
"Hey, mister. I mean, Papa."
He turned his weary face toward the youngster, unable to speak. Could this day get any worse? I should never have come back, he thought. I should have left things the way they were. They would all have been better off without me.
Nettie approached the stranger. "Why didn't you tell me who you were this morning?"
"Been better if I'd never lived."
"How can you say that? I've prayed everyday for a chance to meet you, now my prayer's come true. Don't you want to know us?"
"I just don't want to cause no more pain." He looked back at the fire. "I ain't no hero. It been better if I gave up and died, like everyone thought."
She knelt by his side. "You don't mean that. Buck told me how you never gave up. You were the thing that held the rest together. Please stay. Get to know us. I, we, need to know you."
JD looked into her large hazel eyes and saw his mother smiling at him. If he was crazy enough to come west with only his dreams, he sure wasn't going to give up the ride yet. "Nice to meet you Nettie Dunne. I'm your father." She sat beside him and put her arms around him. This girl was going to know her father!
+ + + + + + +
Loud voices from the kitchen interrupted their embrace. "Time to go meet the rest of the family," she said grabbing his hand.
"Lord, give me strength" he mumbled as she pulled toward the door and a room full of strangers.
+ + + + + + +
Nettie opened the door and they stepped into the warm homey room. "Happy New Year everybody. Guess who came back from the dead."
JD looked around the crowded room. Casey sat by the table while Buck stood behind her, his hands resting on her shoulders. A young girl and young man sat beside Casey; they must be Mary Kate and Will. Three women stood beside the window, three women that looked very familiar. Two wore looks of shock and one wore a welcoming smile. Before anyone could speak, stomping feet announced the arrival of more guests. Dog barked excitedly but wasn't allowed in Casey's house.
A young man with long dark hair hanging in his face entered first. "Hey what's with all the long faces?" He gave his mother a tender kiss before continuing, "So you finally convinced her to let you go to Boston for some more schooling, big brother?"
"Shut up, Chris."
Chris Larabee, Vin Tanner, and Ezra Standish joined the crowd removing their coats as they said hello to the group gathered around the table.
"Boys, we've got a surprise for you." Buck wanted to get this over with as soon as possible.
Nathan Jackson joined the rest and smiled when he saw Nettie and JD. "Everybody know, JD?"
The silence was deafening as six pairs of eyes stared at the stranger holding Nettie's hand, everyone afraid to speak the questions racing through their minds. Taking a deep breath, Nettie said proudly, "Happy New Year, everyone. My father's back."
JD fought to slow down his breathing, unable to hide his feelings for the gathered group. Hatred, love, anxiety and longing battled in his soul for control.
Nathan led the man to an empty chair and pushed him into it before he collapsed. "Ezra, you know, you were right when you thought the stranger looked familiar. Now this is the way to welcome a new year and a new century!"
Chris Larabee, Vin Tanner and Ezra Standish stood speechless. The boy who could ride, shoot, fly, and swim could also return from the dead.
"Somebody say something." Young Nettie looked around the crowded kitchen. The stories made her father larger than life but the silence made him shrink. She saw him start to shake, the same as he did earlier in the morning. Like a frightened animal ready to bolt, the girl reached out to hug her father before he ran from the house.
Ezra recovered first and offered his apology. "Mr. Dunne, I extend my sincerest regret for your pain last evening." He extended his hand towards the man in the chair but JD refused to accept it.
"He don't mean to snub you, Ezra," Nathan interrupted. "Seeing us all at once must be pretty overwhelming.
Chris drew his hand down across his face. The living proof of their error sat dejected across the table, feeling the collective guilt of the assembled. The rancher noticed the young girl's hand never release her father's larger, scarred one. Finally getting her dearest wish, Nettie wasn't about to let him bolt out of her life.
The teenagers glanced around the silent kitchen, waiting for someone to speak but everyone jumped when the raspy voice of a man old before his time spoke. "Lot's happened since the last time we were together. It ain't gonna be easy and it most certainly won't be perfect."
"Nothin' we ever did was perfect, kid." Buck added, a smile slowly crossing his face as he looked at his friend.
JD looked around the room, his gaze held on Casey a few seconds before moving on to his sons and daughter. "I almost gave up but then I thought about you, all of you. I hated you for not coming for me but then I remembered your last words to me, Chris." He made eye contact with the leader of the seven peacekeeper."
Chris looked at him, trying to remember what he'd said.
"I wouldn't be one of you if I was perfect. I thought you died, Chris, and every day I mourned your loss. I don't hate you no more; you're all my heroes. You showed me the life I wanted to live. I regret Josiah ain't here to share with us."
"I think he is, JD," Vin stepped next to his wife, Inez.
"It isn't every family that gets a second chance to create the fellowship we obtained," Nathan added.
Chris Larabee finally found his voice and spoke, "I remember sayin' you're not the type for out here. I expected you'd die young. You told me when we first met you respected me and would be proud to work with me." He paused and looked his friend directly in the eye. "You got it wrong, JD. You're definitely the type. I respect you and am proud to call you my friend. Welcome back, JD."
Tears ran freely in the small Dunne household but nobody noticed. The Magnificent Seven was reunited and ready to ride into the Dawn of the Twentieth Century.