Disclaimer: I own no rights to Magnificent Seven and mean no infringement. But, if you think about it, we've given these guys a lot more life than was offered them on screen.
Warnings: Deathfic. Don't hate me, but it is the passing of an era. If you can't stand the suspense, scroll to the very end. If you're up to the challenge, please read on!
Notes: Written for the Blackraptor Tenth Anniversary Challenge. And, btw, it's my 225th piece in the M7 fandom!
Dedication: To the fans. We rock!
Even the best things come to an end; time waits for no man.
Chris Larabee looked over at the man riding beside him. Buck Wilmington looked back, his dark blue eyes lacking that ever present twinkle. Chris tried to smile, but it seemed false; a hollow gesture. They had known one another for nearly a quarter of a century now, and he could count on one hand the number of times he had seen sadness in those eyes.
Ten years ago he and Buck had met up in a dusty, hell-bent-for-leather town. They had met five other men... all right, four men and a wet-behind-the-ears boy, and became a close knit group. What had Mary Travis written once? Brothers of the gun? For three years the seven of them had acted as peacekeepers; making the little cluster of buildings safe for "decent folk" to live. But, it had been a double-edged sword. As the town grew more civilized, it needed them less and less.
For the life of him, he couldn't remember how it all happened, but five of them seemed to come to the conclusion at the same time. It was time to move on.
Vin had been the first to ride off. He had quietly announced his intention to go join Kojay's people. Things had become so civilized that he felt the need to go where there was more room to breathe and enough open land to actually see the sky without the interference of rooftops. The next morning he was gone, and they were no longer seven.
Next to leave was Nathan. The former slave had finally come to believe in what Chris himself had said to him once. Fear of losing someone you love should never keep you from having a relationship with them. He announced while the six of them were sitting at the dinner table a few nights after Vin had gone that he was going away. He wanted to be with Rain, and knew that she would never be happy in town. He would be going to live with the Seminole, marry Rain and, hopefully, raise a family.
Now they were five.
It wasn't long after that a flustered JD and a blushing Casey joined them at their usual table for dinner. While they were relaxing with cups of coffee, the four of them watched with amusement as Casey jabbed JD in the ribs more and more frequently. Finally, young Dunne announced that he and Casey wanted to be married. As Nettie had passed the year before, there was only the land holding them there and they found their friends quick to offer their assistance in caring for it, leaving them free. They had decided on going to Texas, where JD would join the Rangers and they would make a home. The wedding had been one of the fanciest affairs for the town, thanks to their friends, even making the front page of that week's edition of the Clairon Newspaper. A week after the wedding, JD and his bride were riding off toward Texas.
And then there were only four.
He and Buck were the next to leave. They had been talking more and more frequently about starting a ranch. He had never expected to have that urge again, especially since everything that had happened with Ella Gaines. But the urge to try ranching again had returned, and taken over the dreams of not only him but Buck Wilmington as well.
Fate stepped in, in three parts, and offered them the chance to make that dream come true. First the town decided to employ a bona fide constable and two or three deputies. Then, second, Buck learned of an opportunity for them to acquire a large quantity of land where they could raise and breed horses, near the Texas border. Finally, Ezra surprised them both by offering to back their endeavor. As soon as the deal was completed, the two old friends rode off.
That left two of what Jock Steele had once called "The Magnificent Seven" behind. Josiah was taking care of the Wells property until it was sold, while Ezra was busy making money on a variety of ventures in town. It seemed strange that the gambler the one that seemed least interested in staying in that "dusty backwater" would be one to remain behind.
They were able to keep tabs on the others through Standish, who checked up on his investment once or twice a year. He would ride out, wearing a threadbare duster and worn boots; explaining that he was not interested in advertising his wealth to any brigands he might come across. While these visits would begin in a very business like manner, they would quickly become more personal. Ezra became a friend, bringing the other two up to date on what had become of the town and their friends.
The news wasn't always happy, but Ezra offered them a thorough telling. As the official tale keeper of the others, he kept in touch with them all through letters, wires and visits.
JD had proven himself a fine addition to the Rangers. He worked hard and, after three years, commanded his own unit. Twice he had been wounded, but his youthful determination kept him amongst the living, with only a few scars to show for it. During that time, too, he and Casey, who now referred to herself as Catherine to everyone but her husband, began their family. Buck Christopher was their oldest, followed by Nettie Anne and Josiah Vincent. They had lost two babies after that but at his last visit Ezra informed them that Autumn Blessing had joined the Dunne family.
Nathan and Rain had done well in building their own family. Obadiah, Ebon, Sanchez, Larabee, Tanner and then Lily followed one after another. While Rain was busy baring and raising their family, Nathan split his time between healing their friends in the tribe and adding onto their home as the family grew. Nathan became a valued member of the Seminole people, even advising Chief Tastanagi when danger reared its head from time to time.
Just as Nathan and JD raised their families and fulfilled their dreams, Ezra prided himself in detailing his own endeavors in acquiring a variety of businesses in the growing town. At the same time, he also began his own family. On his second visit to the ranch he announced that he and Inez had been married. In the visits that followed he brought news of the birth of two children for the Standish's Evangeline Elizabeth and Malcolm Sebastian. At his last visit, six months ago, he announced that they would be welcoming a third child to their family and, in addition, he was planning to run for the election of the town's first mayor.
There was very little news about Vin. He and Kojay's people had moved a few times, finding themselves searching for a home farther away from the encroaching "civilization" of the White man. At one point Chanu rode into town looking for Nathan, announcing that Tanner had been seriously injured when settlers had attacked the village. Greatly concerned, Ezra himself had ridden for the healer and escorted him from one village to the other to care for their friend. It had taken months, but eventually Tanner had made a full recovery. The biggest news came the second year after their parting. Vin had married a member of the tribe, a young woman named Shaumae. She had been widowed a year earlier, and brought a four-year-old son, Kenoaah, to the marriage. Ezra let them know that the family had come to visit soon after the wedding and Vin seemed happier and more content than he had ever seen him.
Josiah, after a few short weeks of caretaking at the Wells homestead, found himself falling in love with the place. He wired JD and Casey to say that he wanted to buy the place and the young couple replied that they were ecstatic to turn the property over to him. Knowing that the former preacher spent much if not all of his money for his sister's care, they declared it would be deeded to him for the sum of one dollar. Sanchez had argued in the beginning but, eventually, agreed to the terms. Ezra discovered later, though, that Josiah was putting aside a dollar every month or so, planning to give it to the Dunnes for their children's education.
Still lost in memory, Chris thought about how the last seven years had seen changes for Buck and himself as well.
A year after they began building up their ranch, Buck reunited with the one woman he had ever seriously considered marrying. Louisa Perkins just happened to be in the nearby town of Dutch Hollow when they rode in for supplies. They seemed to pick up right where they left off, and Chris thought for a while that he would be ranching alone before long.
To the surprise of both men, Louisa had agreed to come out and give staying in one place for more than a few days a try. That had proven to be a disaster, however. After a "honeymoon" period of five days, the arguments began. By the end of the second week, living in the same house was unbearable. At the end of the third week, Chris found himself sleeping in the barn to get away from the screaming and yelling. He felt there was no other choice, so he delivered an ultimatum. Either the couple found a way to get along, or somebody needed to go.
The next morning Louisa was gone, leaving Buck feeling both relieved and heartbroken. The big man sulked around the ranch for a month, but then things returned to some semblance of normalcy.
Over the next few years they both had a variety of experiences with different women, but nothing long lasting. He spent his time with one prostitute or another, looking for nothing more than a physical release. Buck found himself searching for someone that could give him the same feelings Louisa had awakened in him. Chris was shocked that his old friend felt that way, but eventually decided that perhaps it was time for the man to start treating things more seriously.
David Potter was cleaning the outside of the windows along the front of the general store he helped his mother run. He caught the sound of two horses coming up the street and turned in that direction to see a pair of riders approaching. Slowly a memory made itself known and he couldn't help the smile that crossed his face. Stepping to the open door he called, "Mama, two more just arrived. It's Mr. Larabee and Mr. Wilmington."
Gloria Potter left the store and stepped out onto the boardwalk. Placing one hand on her son's shoulder and shielding her eyes with the other she said, "They're the last. Go and let Mayor Standish know they've arrived." With a nod, the teen sprinted off.
A moment later, the mounted pair reined in before the store keeper. As they both removed their hats, Chris said, "Mrs. Potter, it's good to see you."
"It's been a long time, Mr. Larabee, Mr. Wilmington. I wish it were for a better reason."
"Yes, ma'am." Before he could say anything more a familiar voice called out to them.
"Ah, Mr. Larabee... Mr. Wilmington, it's been some time. How is our little enterprise?"
"Boomin'," Buck chuckled. It was the first time in days that he had sounded happy. Then he added with a flourish, "Mayor Standish."
With a smile that showed his gold tooth, the gambler said, "The very same. The others have gathered at my home. Shall we?"
The momentary joy seeping from them now, Buck and Chris dismounted, tied off the reins of their mounts and followed Standish down the busy boardwalk, toward a rather stately home at the edge of town.
After knocking off as much dust as they could, the three men entered the home, finding the drawing room filled with four of their friends along with their families.
The first to approach was Vin Tanner. His usually long hair now flowed in loose waves down his back; the front pulled back and held with a leather strip decorated with an eagle feather and clay beads. His hair was bleached by the sun just as his flesh was burnished to copper. He still wore buckskin, but he no longer wore layers of clothing, opting instead for loose garments that would protect him from the sun without being too hot.
"Buck... Chris..." He greeted the two men, shaking hands with them each. His grip with Larabee was that familiar palm to forearm embrace as if they had only been away from one another for days rather than years. Then he turned slightly and beckoned to someone behind him. They smiled as a young woman came to join them. Beside and slightly behind her were a boy of around five and a girl of perhaps three. Bringing up the rear was an older boy of seven or eight. While the younger children showed a mixture of both White and Indian heritage, the eldest was purebred Indian. The men noted the heavy swell of the woman's belly as well; the family's size would increase soon.
"I'd like ya both ta meet my wife, Shaumae, and these are our children. The big feller there is Kenoaah, my wife's son with her first husband, Keanto. The little'ns are Larabee and Nettie."
The newcomers greeted each Tanner in turn, finding Kenoaah shy before the strangers, while Larabee and Nettie clamored for their attention. Very quickly, Larabee was on his namesake's hip while Nettie was tucked in against Buck's chest.
The reunion had just begun. Reluctantly handing Vin's children over, they next greeted the Dunnes. JD, or rather Captain John Dunne, seemed to have grown at least six inches, although his physical stature hadn't changed. He approached them with a child in one arm and the other around Casey Wells-Dunne.
"Well, lookee here," Buck chuckled, "If it ain't our own Kid, with his own passel of kids."
"Ha-ha, very funny. I see the years haven't improved your sense of humor."
"Well, at least I've got one. Casey, darlin', is this boy treatin' you all right?"
"JD's a fine man," the petite young woman said with pride glittering in her dark eyes, "he's a good provider and a wonderful husband, thank you very much, Buck Wilmington." She reached up and kissed her husband's cheek. The young man who had once sported patches of whiskers now had a full beard and mustache.
They met the rest of the Dunne family; their children a mixture of bright eyes and dark hair, chubby good looks and mischief in their smiles. Little Buck was the spitting image of his father, while Nettie was her mother all over again. Tiny Josiah was the bond of both Wells and Dunne lineage. Autumn, the child JD carried, was fairer than her siblings, but her features were those of her mother.
Ezra returned to bring his own family for a visit. Inez was beside him, her peasant clothes replaced by tailored garments befitting the mayor's wife... at least Ezra Standish's wife. The former bar manager greeted them with sparkling brown eyes.
"Mr. Larabee... Mr. Wilmington... it is wonderful to see you." She continued by introducing Evangeline, whom she referred to as Vangie, Malcolm and the infant in her arms, who she informed them, was Beatrice Maude.
Buck couldn't help but to turn on the charm. "Inez, darlin', you have only gotten prettier in the years since I saw ya last."
"Yes, well, perhaps it is because I haven't had to dodge those silly attempts of yours to get me into your... arms."
Wrapping his arm around his beautiful wife, Ezra said, "What can I say, Bucklin... the better man won."
"OUCH!" Wilmington responded dramatically, earning a chuckle from his friends.
As the Standish family moved aside, the Jacksons arrived to take their place. Nathan shook hands with his old friends. "Mighty good to see you boys."
"Good to see you, too, Nathan," Chris spoke up for the first time in minutes. Turning to the young woman beside him, he continued, "And it's always a pleasure to see you as well, Mrs. Jackson."
Rain grinned. "Please, it's Rain." She stood at her husband's side, beaming proudly as Nathan introduced their children.
"Gentlemen, I'd like you to meet Obadiah... Ebon... Sanchez... Larabee... Tanner... and Lily." He coaxed each child forward to greet his friends. Lily, her skin like milk coffee, grinned at the strangers, instantly charming them both. She quickly found herself swooped up into Buck's arms.
Nearby, Chris noted that, like the Tanners, the Jacksons would be increasing their family in the next few months. He teased the couple about having their own magnificent seven soon, which earned him a deep chuckle from Nathan and a shy blush from Rain.
That left only one of the former peacekeepers to greet.
"Gentlemen, shall we go to meet with Mr. Sanchez?" Ezra asked.
The mood in the room changed immediately. After a long moment of silence, Chris stepped back into his role as their leader. "Let's go."
It was the church that Josiah Sanchez had re-built and it was beautiful in its simplicity. While Ezra would never admit to it, he had helped fund many of the later renovations, including the beautiful stain-glass that filled each window. Having left their families back at Standish's home, they filed inside, one after another.
Inside it was dim and cool; candles offering a warm glow along the walls. Chris moved resolutely forward, toward the long, polished casket just before the pulpit. He refused to allow himself to stop or turn around, although there was that part of him that longed to. Behind him, he could feel the tenseness in the others and knew that none of them wanted to finish this journey.
Arriving at the casket he made himself look down, fighting back the swell of emotions as he viewed the familiar body lying in repose. Struggling to remain calm, he was surprised when he felt a strong arm drape itself around his shoulders. Looking up he managed a bittersweet smile as he beheld the owner of that arm.
"Chris, it's good to see you." Josiah Sanchez said in a soft, deep rumble. "Wish it was for a better reason."
"Me, too, preacher."
One by one, the magnificent seven paid their respects to the man that had made their fellowship possible.
Territorial Judge Orin Travis, retired.
The sun was nearly up, but the seven men still sat at the weathered table they had once claimed as theirs. There were several bottles of Ezra's finest sitting empty amongst the litter of beer glasses and plates that held the remnants of a meal long ago eaten.
They had spent the hours since the funeral sitting there; it was as if the last seven years had never been. Time and again the words, "Do you remember..." began yet another tale, recounting one of their exploits.
Mary Travis-Whitman had met them at the church, having returned from where she had been living for the last five years since selling the newspaper. She was accompanied by her husband, Gerard, her son Billy, her step-daughter, Katie, and the children of her union with Gerard, Orin and Margaret. The men greeted the Whitman family with a mixture of happiness and solemnity, offering both condolences for the loss of Mary's father-in-law, and congratulations for her marriage. After the funeral, Gerard had even joined them for a short time, before joining his wife and children. They were going to accompany Travis' body home, to bury him beside his beloved wife of forty years, Evelyn.
They finally had a chance to catch up on Josiah's life as well. While the former preacher had never married, he found peace and contentment in caring for what he continued to call the Wells homestead. He came into town on Sundays to preach to a growing congregation, and was always available for spiritual advisement for those who sought it. And, he announced, he was negotiating with the sisters of Vista City to bring his sister home for a visit, to see how she managed the change. He had hoped that, at some point, he would be able to give her the normal life she had never known.
As the sun made itself known through the saloon windows, the men settled into silence. Each of them realized that they felt whole again, for the first time in seven years. It had been an emptiness that family, children or their new careers could never fill, for it was, in each of them, the size of six friends.
Seeing that they would all soon need to catch some sleep before returning to their new lives, Josiah raised his glass, the others following suit, knowing inherently what was coming next.
"Brothers, I'd like to propose a toast. To the Magnificent Seven, and to the man who made that union possible. Judge Orin Travis!"
Six voices echoed the seventh. "Judge Orin Travis!"
March 16, 2008