Dying Ain't Much Of A Living

by Tiffiny

Disclaimer: The usual. Not mine. No profit.

Warnings: DEATHFIC. Also some language. Anyway, all comments are welcome.

Dyin' ain't much of a living. Truer words ain't never been spoken. Death should be an all or nothing sort of thing. None of this half assed, half dead/half alive crap. None of this crawling on hands and knees towards the grave. There should be no prisoners in this war. Only casualties. It's kinder that way, believe me. But then, no one's ever accused death of being kind. Or constant. She's a damn fickle bitch, is what she is.

Death don't scare me. Even now. Especially not my own. But it sure as hell makes me angry. When it happens, it should be quick. A bullet. A knife in the gut. Hell, even a hangman's noose. Anything but this. The slow wasting away of body and soul. The agony of knowing what a burden you are to others as they are forced to be spectators to your pain and suffering. The indignity of it all.

Indignity. Now that's a word I never thought I'd use. Or know. I reckon I must've picked it up from Ezra somewhere along the way. He has the early evening shift. Spends most of it reading to me. Right now we're in the middle of some book about a couple of kids growin' up near the Mississippi. I like it pretty well. I think Ez likes it because he can relate to that one little feller, Tom. Sometimes we play cards. But lately, we've just been reading. I'm too damn weak to do anything but lay here and wait to die.

When Ez leaves, then it's Chris' turn. In them black clothes, he just about blends into the shadows here in this room. My prison. He don't say much. But he don't have to. I can see it in his eyes. Anger. Pain. Frustration. Pity. And sometimes just the slightest touch of hate. I wish I could tell him that I know exactly how he feels. That I understand. But I don't. I feel all those same emotions, but we're comin' at this from opposite directions. One of us dyin'. One of us livin'. Both of us helpless to change things. Both of us wishing we could. Instead, we just sit there. And hope that the occasional clasping of hands or the occasional word of comfort will suffice. Will say everything that we can't.

Nathan has the morning shift. He bustles around doing all kinds of medical stuff to keep busy. We both know nothing he does is gonna help me, but he needs to try. And so I let him.

Josiah comes after Nathan. He has some pretty good stories to tell. About some place named India. And if his voice chokes up a bit in some parts, I pretend not to notice. Just like he pretends not to notice certain things he sees.

JD hates coming here. I think it reminds him of when his Mama died. But he comes. Every day. I tried to tell him he didn't have to sit here with me. Aint like there's anything he can do. But the boy's stubborn as a mule. Determined to do his duty. I never wanted to be anyone's duty, dammit.

Buck comes after Chris. Usually smellin' like the inside of a whorehouse. That's Bucklin for ya. But still. He makes me laugh once in a while. His shift is my favorite. Because he'll sometimes doze off for a bit. And then I can be alone with my thoughts. Without having to school them for fear what the others might see on my face.

I don't want them seein' the hate. The resentment. Bad enough they see the pain and humiliation. But it ain't their fault that they're healthy. That they can walk and run and lift a glass of whiskey to their lips. That they can breathe in fresh air, lay with a pretty woman, ride beneath the wide open sky. ain't their fault that all I can do is lay here like a dead thing. Except I ain't dead yet. They're my friends. My family. I'm glad they ain't in my shoes. It's just that I wish I wasn't in my shoes neither.

Sometimes I hate them for being my friends. In some ways it might be easier if they weren't. I could take that extra dose of morphine. The one that they would give me, if I asked. But I can't. Can't burden my friends with that. They all have enough guilt. Enough blood on their hands. So I just lay here and pray. Pray for death. Same way most people pray for life. I wonder which one my friends pray for me?

I always knew I'd never live to no ripe old age. Hell, figured I was damned lucky if I got to see the sun rise another day. But I always thought there would be a reason. The bounty on my head. A gunfight. Doing my duty towards this town. Never thought my own body would betray me. Never imagined I'd surrender every shred of dignity and pride I had to the enemy within. And that I would still lose the battle. Lose the war. Guess them books that called us unbeatable were wrong. Because even the Magnificent Seven can't defeat the cancer growing inside me.

At least I don't got to worry about clearing my name no more. The Tanner name dies with me so I guess it don't much matter if it's tarnished or not. In a few years, no one will remember it anyway. No one except the six men who keep a constant vigil by my bedside. It's been said that you're born alone and you die alone, but they aim on provin' that last part wrong, at least. They're good men. Probably better than I deserve. But maybe not. They ain't no angels themselves. Just men. The kind you want riding the river with ya. The seven of us done our share of riding together. And then some.

The earlier flash of resentment I felt is gone. The one I felt when Buck came in laughing. Looking bigger than life. Smelling of whiskey and women and underneath, the faint scent of soap. Talking like a man who has a future. Just because I'm dying don't mean life doesn't go on for everyone else. Took me a while to accept that. My head always knew it, my heart just didn't want to admit it.

Now I'm mainly just tired. Too tired to entertain any bitter thoughts. Too tired for regrets. Funny how I don't have so many of those anymore. Not since I come to this town. Buck's still snoring away. Maybe I'll just close my eyes for a while, too.


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