Dawn of a New Century

Carol Pahl

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.

© 1999

The middle-aged man stumbled as he walked to the back of the smoky room, heading toward the table, their table. His dark hair fell into his face as he dropped into the chair, weak and hungry. Were any remnants of his former friends still rooted in the room at this table? No ghosts appeared to challenge his right to sit among them. A few bar patrons observed his struggle to reach the far corner but soon returned to their own conversations. Not one friendly face greeted his presence. The anger driving his survival ebbed as he reached his destination. A dusty striped serape hid his slight frame but his brow shaded the loneliness in his eyes, portals to his depressed soul.

Fifteen years ago he left this room surrounded by friends, happiness filling his heart and soul. He and his hero prepared to escort two bandits to imprisonment in a neighboring town. His wife of five years, understanding his need to accompany the peacekeepers, said her good-byes earlier. She would watch over their three young children until he returned. The few days stretched into years when the simple journey became a never-ending nightmare.

To his left a young, well-dressed gambler plied his trade with the endless stream of travelers stopping by the small town on the edge of nowhere. The cold winter air threatened icy precipitation but the golden orb higher in the sky brightened the dreary landscape.

Shutting his eyes he could see the others of another time. The gambler deftly dealt and shuffled his cards; the preacher quietly read a book yet he always kept one ear listening to the surrounding conversations. The sharpshooter, the hero and the scoundrel sitting together, joking, sharing tales of their adventures and the healer adding his deep resonance to the tales. For seven years he was a part of their existence, accepted as a member of their special group, the protectors of the small town. Yet fifteen years after that fateful day he only felt anger and rejection for his former friends. Their abandonment of his plight and refusal to come to his rescue fueled the pain in his soul. For fifteen years his anger grew until it consumed his every waking thought and drove his desire to return to extract revenge from his onetime compatriots. As more memories assaulted his mind, his heart rate accelerated, his breathing became shallow and panic forced him to run from the claustrophobic, stuffy room.

 Buck sat dejected in front of the modern drugstore, slowly rubbing the black and white dog's head, memories of the past twenty some years flashing in snippets through his mind. He looked down at his pal's head and sighed. "What do you think, JD? Sure seen a lot of changes since we blew into this town. Sometimes I wonder why I'm still here."

His gazed traveled down the main street of the small settlement that struggled to survive as a new century prepared to arrive. In two days the country would celebrate the dawn of the twentieth century but he hated memories of the last day of each year. Fifteen years earlier he lost his best friend to a ruthless gang. The pain never lessened in time but the reminder of a new year brought him memories of a dark-haired young man blessed with an endless zeal for life.

The dog patiently sat by his master's side, waiting for more attention. Other than an occasional bark, he silently accompanied the fifty-year-old man throughout the day. Officially the animal's name was Dog but Buck personally called him "JD" after his 'lost brother', JD for Just Dog.

"Hi Buck, Hi Dog" came a sweet voice of a fourteen -year-old friend.

Buck looked up into the smiling face of Nettie, Casey Dunne's youngest daughter. Her long, dark eyelashes surrounded hazel eyes that sparkled and flashed with unbound enthusiasm. Her pert upturned nose was slightly pink from the cold December air.

A frown crossed her face as she studied her 'uncle', the closest thing to a father she'd ever known. "I'm sorry. Am I bothering you?"

"No way, sweetheart. Just lost in my musings. What's up?"

"Mama sent me to invite you for supper tomorrow night. I'm to find all of you. William's leaving next week for school in Boston and Mary Kate is trying to convince Mama to let her go to school back east too."

"You don't look to happy about them leaving."

"Why would anyone want to leave here? All them people, big cities. I just don't get it. We've got the prettiest skies and clearest air. I don't ever want to leave here, or to leave any of you."

"Now you sound like your father. He left all that civilization back east and knew this was the place he belonged."

"Mama's missing him again. She's down at the cemetery talking to him. I wish I'd known him. Will, Chris and Mary Kate, he at least knew about them, held them. I feel like I'm not really his daughter, comin' so late after he died."

"Darlin', no one who knew your father could ever miss you being his child. You favor him the most of all your siblings. Except the fact you're a young lady, you look just like him."

"That hurts Mama all the more. I can't start to count the number of times I've seen her staring at me and start crying. It's always worse around these holidays. I'm sure she'd be willing to send me away in an instant if'n I'd go."

"Whoa now little missy. Your mama loves you very much. It's just, she and your pa had something so special, so rare, that even after he was gone she couldn't give him up. All four of you remind her of the greatest gift the Good Lord sent her way."

"Now you sound like Uncle Josiah. Christmas sure seemed strange this year without him. Not that Pastor Miller ain't fine but." She let the sentence hang.

Buck reached out to pull the young girl into a caring bear hug. "You just keep all them fine memories. Josiah probably shared with your father what a special daughter you are. I can see them up there sitting at a poker table with a mug full of brew watching you and your sister and brothers, discussing the finer points of your upbringing, except I'm sure your pa's mug will still have milk in it."

She laughed at the picture. "I'd better go find the rest before Mama comes looking for me. See you tomorrow, Buck."

He smiled as she quickly rebounded from her sorrow. He and the others all held fond memories of her father but she only knew the stories they told. JD would laugh at the idea but as much as young Nettie looked like her father, she was the exact duplicate of her tomboyish mother. She tried to outride, outshoot and outdo anything her brothers boasted accomplishing and usually she was correct.

 The heavily bearded man walked slowly between the wooden and carved stones. The trees, bare of their leaves, reached out to the sky, the limbs and boughs, fingers reaching toward heaven. Holding his anger in check he searched for his one friend's final resting place. The graveyard filled since he left and many of the names were familiar. 'Wait a minute, they wouldn't bury Chris here. He'd been buried beside his family out on the ranch,' he thought to himself, realizing his mistake.

About to leave the cemetery a newer cross caught his eye, JOSIAH SANCHEZ. Sadness filled him; the preacher was gone. Swallowing the knot in his throat he grabbed the cross for support, memories assaulting his mind. Maybe Nathan was still around, could explain why they never came for him like they did to release Chris falsely imprisoned in Jericho. His eye caught the faded marker of his own mistake, the woman he accidentally killed almost twenty-two years ago. Couldn't fix it then and still couldn't fix it now, he sighed.

Tripping over an exposed root he fell in front of a small stone, just missing hitting his head. JOHN DUNNE, he read. Shaking his head he looked again. Faded fall blossoms still surrounded the marker. His breath quickened and he started to shake. NO!

He looked up at the beautiful blue December sky and attempted to calm his racing heart before looking down at the date chiseled into the stone, December 31, 1885. Casey believed he was dead, they all believed he'd died that cold day with Chris! The anger drained from his soul as he realized why no one searched for him, why the remaining five didn't release him from the horrible hell he survived for fifteen years.

She thought he was dead and suddenly he felt very tired. His friends wouldn't abandon him knowingly. He dragged himself up from the ground and over towards the edge of the cemetery when he heard a buggy approaching the graveyard.

An attractive older woman climbed down and walked toward the grave he'd just left. Her long hair, neatly braided, hung down her back, touches of silver frosted its sides. She knelt beside the small stone and gently pulled the old flowers and dried leaves away. The man knew he shouldn't stare but something familiar about the woman pulled at his heart. It was Casey. After all these years she still came to cry at his grave.

JD wanted to run to her, to tell her how much he still deeply cared for her, for their children but he was afraid. Would his sudden appearance frighten her? Had she moved on to a new life, a new family? He wouldn't tear her from her happiness. He couldn't do that to her, he loved her so much. It would be better to fade away, letting her keep memories of JD the hero instead of seeing him now as more skeleton than flesh, balding head but bushy bearded weakling.

The anger and hatred for his former friends melted and took with it the strength on which he depended. For fifteen years he endured the torture and punishment of surviving an insane man's institution deep in Mexico. At first JD expectantly waited for the remainder of the magnificent seven to appear. But as the months and years trickled by he knew no one would come to save the kid from back east.

His hero died that day fifteen years ago while he'd been taken captive by renegade outlaws, suffering until an army officer searched the unlawful prison and offered him in a prisoner exchange with the United States government. Nothing mattered to the heartbroken man except for a chance to see from afar his wife, sons and daughter.

 Ezra Standish walked rapidly out of his most recent acquisition, turning to talk to the well-dressed man following him. He didn't see the poor fellow until he felt the other man falling down into the muddy street. Quickly composing himself, the former gambler turned to offer an apology but instead saw the prone figure of a dirty, emancipated man laying unconscious beneath a nervous horse, its hooves stomping near the man's head.

"Whoa, girl. Whoa," he admonished grabbing the dancing animal's bridle. With the agility of a man much younger he pulled the man away from the animal's threatening danger.

"Help, would someone help me get this man to Doctor Jackson's office?"

Soon with the help of Buck and another man, the trio carried the injured to the ground floor office of the licensed medical provider.

"I do believe this poor fellow suffered a head wound because of my lack of attention."

"Still running over your fellowman, hey Ezra," the black doctor joked while his concentration focused on the prone figure before him. "Anybody know this here man?"

No one in the gathered crowd identified him, figuring him to be another transient from the railroad.

Feeling guilty, Ezra expounded. "I will see to the man's care. It's too cold a night to be left on the streets of our fair metropolis. When he awakes tell him a warm room awaits at the hotel."

"Ezra you can't just keep buying you way out of trouble."

"Don't worry, my long-time friend. I will personally extend my apology when he is able to receive it as such. Good day."

 "You ever seen that fellow before, Ezra?" Buck queried.

"Not that I can recall. Though I must admit I wasn't watching where I was going since I was conversing with Mr. Dunlapp."

"You know, there sure was something familiar about him. Don't think he came to town with anyone. I remember seeing him entering the saloon earlier today. He was by himself, but it was like he was searching for someone."

"His physical substance was certainly lacking. After we lifted him I believe I could have carried him myself. Hopefully Dr. Jackson will tend his wound and the poor man won't suffer any permanent injury."

"Still looking out for yourself, hoping he don't sue you?"

"I am appalled at the thought Mr. Wilmington. My only concern is the unfortunate man's health."

"Say did Nettie find you this morning? Casey's invited us all over for supper tomorrow night."

"That woman certainly decides to entertain for the most anomalous reasons."

"Well this time it's because Will and young Mary Kate plan to go east for their educations."

"As long as a certain anniversary celebration in not in the offing, I'm sure Mary and I will be most ecstatic to make an appearance. As I have not yet seen our fair feminine messenger, I wouldn't doubt as to her eventual appearance. Perchance she has already spoken with Mrs. Standish."

"I suppose I ought to ride out to Chris's place and let him know. I figure he and the family will want to see the children before they leave."

"Perhaps his namesake has already informed him of the festivities. I believe he is employed by Tanner and Larabee, Incorporated."

"I'll go see Casey tonight and ask her before I ride out there. Be careful of doorways, Ezra. Never know who you might back over." Buck laughed at his friend as the two parted company.

 Nathan removed the injured man's raggedy coat and laid the comatose man gently on the examining table. The small gash above the man's left eye clotted and the gentle healer found no other wound or bruising on the man's head.

He proceeded to unbutton the man's well-worn gingham shirt. Ezra could be paying a long time for this accident if the man decide to take advantage of the gambler's guilty generosity. The scarred, dirty skin clung to the man's bones revealing how undernourished he truly was, the extent hidden by the baggy clothing.

Nathan's heart went out to the unnamed stranger. No man should endure the whippings and other afflictions suffered. Even a confessed murder should not suffer the injuries this man's scarred body revealed.

Through the crusted skin, the healer saw the spreading bruise most likely from broken ribs. The poor man's luck was non-existent. Several pans of warm water and soap removed the majority of the filth and Nathan could see the scars from injuries many years previous.

Looking closer at the large scar on the man's right side, right below the large bruise the healer gasped. Another familiar scar sat below the man's left shoulder. Both bore witness to the doctor's own handiwork.

Gently he washed the dirty face and matted beard, washing away years of disease, hurt and neglect. Guilt squeezed his heart. "We all thought you'd died, son. We didn't know." The picture of the rotten corpse, dressed in a three-piece suit, swinging in the lonely tree suddenly flashed in his mind. They discovered the body two miles from where earlier they found their leader, Chris Larabee severely injured but still alive. The Kid's guns, holster and hat sat piled beside the fallen leader.

Fifteen years ago they believed JD Dunne died by hanging at the hands of outlaws determined to wipe out the magnificent seven. The body was reverently buried and marked with the stone proclaiming JOHN DUNNE.

But now, here laid out before him was the ghastly evidence of JD's survival and some other poor man's body rested unidentified in the town's graveyard. Tears ran down his face, tears of joy mixed with tears of guilt and fear.

Their young friend was alive and returned to them but in a body weakened and damaged. What nightmares did he suffer because the other six didn't save him from the hell he fell into? How would Casey and the children receive the news that their husband and father who they thought rested in heaven still lived? Nathan believed Casey never stopped loving JD, nor looked for another man's comfort except to accept the assistance the remaining peacekeepers offered.

How would Buck Wilmington take the news that the boy he loved as a brother still walked among them and that the young widow he comforted was still married to his best friend? He feared too the overpowering guilt Chris and Vin would experience once they knew of the grievous mistake they all made!

Nathan recovered from his musings when the unconscious man opened his weary eyes and faintly whispered. "Hi Nathan." The eyes fell shut again and the man returned to a deep healing sleep.

Nathan continued his contemplation and ministrations to his younger friend. How could JD not hate them but yet he just gave the black man absolution for fifteen years of negligence.

Knocking at his office door brought the healer back to the present once again. Pulling a blanket over the half undressed form lying on the examining table, Nathan opened the door expecting to see Buck or Ezra but was surprised to be greeted by Nettie Dunne.

"Hi Nathan. Mama sent me to invite you and Raine and everybody to our house for supper tomorrow night. She's havin' a sendin' off party for William and maybe even Mary Kate."

The man gave no response.

Since usually being greeted with a hug, the silence frightened her until she saw the covered body behind him. "Oh, I'm sorry, Nathan. I didn't know you had someone here."

Quickly she averted her eyes from the patient and turned her back to the tall man. "I guess Mama understands when you've got other commitments. I'll go talk to Raine."

"No wait, Nettie. Don't go. I was just surprised to see you is all."

"Surprised?" she questioned her eyebrows raising. "I've been inviting you to our house New Year's Eve ever since I can remember. All of you seemed to want to be together to talk about that night years ago." The last statement held more than a little contempt.

"Something bothering you Nettie?"

She looked up into his dark eyes, the sparks and fire glistening in hers. "Yes, all of you. It's like you're afraid to even mention him but it's almost like grievin' him all over again at the end of each year. Maybe Mary Kate has the right idea getting away from all you sad people who can't get over the death of one man."

He pulled her into an embrace and looked down into her tear filled face. "It ain't right for you to hold so much angry feelings in, girl. It's just that we all loved your father so much that when we thought he was dead a part of all us died too." He paused a huge smile breaking across his face, "Nettie, where is your mother? I need to talk to her. Could you get her, ask her to come see me this afternoon?"

"I don't know Nathan, she's awful busy today. I'll ask."

"Thanks." He laughed to himself. She was as stubborn as her namesake was but as easy to perplex as her father.

"That one of Chris's children all growed up, Nathan?"

The healer looked back as the man resting on the table and shook his head as he smiled, "No, actually she's your daughter, JD."

"Huh? I ain't ready to see Casey. You can't tell her about me."

"Where you been all this time? We thought you were dead."

"I know; I saw the stone. I've spent the last fifteen years hating all of you, hating that you never came to save me. When I saw my name out there all that anger and hate drained away. Who's in the grave?"

The healer shook his head. "We thought it was you. When we found Chris we searched for you. It weren't till days later we found you, or what we figured was you. That fellow was wearing your suit. There weren't enough of him to identify. I'm sorry, JD."

"I think all that hate I felt for the rest of you kept me alive. If you weren't going to rescue me, I was going to survive to come back and get my revenge. Don't worry. I was lookin' for Chris's grave when I saw Josiah's marker. Suddenly nothing mattered any more. I saw my name and wished I could crawl into that tomb."

The black healer grimaced in surprise. "Why? Why don't you want to see your wife?"

A veil crossed the weaker man's eyes. "I saw her out at the cemetery. Is she..?" He paused and took a deep breath before continuing. "Did she remarry?"

Nathan smiled as he reached out to his younger friend. "Casey never remarried, JD. She's raised four wonderful children with a little help from Buck and the rest of us."

"Four? Must of left most my mind in Mexico."

"Four, JD. Nettie's the youngest. She came, well, after you was, was gone."

The injured man sighed. He'd missed so much. His heart hurt and he gasped for a breath. If he'd known it was going to hurt this much, maybe he'd been better off dying years ago.

Painfully he asked, "Buck's still here?"

"Only Josiah's gone. He passed away last October. Chris and Vin have a small ranch, raising horses."

"Chris ain't dead? I saw them gun him down."

"He was hurt real bad but he survived. Ezra owns many of the buildings on Main Street. In fact it's his fault you're here. He knocked you off into the mud where a horse stepped on you. Buck just retired from being the sheriff of this town. That and helping Casey in any way he could."

JD scowled. He knew how Buck liked to 'help' widows.

"No, no. I'd don't mean that way, son."

He saw that the conversation was wearing the other man out. "Let me get those ribs wrapped and we'll get you over to the hotel. Ezra's got a room reserved for you. Won't he be surprised when he learns the identity of his guest!"

 The night passed quickly for the returning lawman though thoughts of his wife and family invaded his troubled dreams. He rose early, ate breakfast at the hotel, and visited the local barber for a much-needed haircut. Feeling himself presentable JD strolled to the bench in front of the drugstore and watched his former hometown awaken for the final time in the eighteen hundreds.

The last day of December dawned cold and clear, ice crystals shimmered on the boardwalks and hitching posts. The cool morning air invigorated JD and he smiled to himself, remembering other morning's back when before trouble took him away.

"Those must be some happy memories, mister."

The dark-haired, pigtailed young girl sat down next to him on the bench. JD turned to look at the youngster, unsure what to say to her.

"Are you ready for the new century? Everybody talks like tomorrow will be so different."

"You don't think it will be different?"

"Nah. Now if someone was to return from the dead that would be something, but tomorrow's just another day Just will be January."

She turned to look at the stranger sharing the bench with her. "You're new around here. Just passing through?"

"No, I used to live here. Don't know if I'll stay or not."

"This is a pretty nice town. Years ago outlaws ran the place. Course that was before my time."

"You sound real proud of this place."

"Yeah, I am. My folks helped build this town to what it is today. When did you live here? Maybe you knew my pa?" the girl asked the stranger.

He looked at the eager teenager's face and recognized the face, the same face he'd seen in a mirror for the past forty years. "Your father doesn't live here any more?" he asked already knowing the gruesome answer.

"He was one of the peacekeepers and even sheriff for a while. He got murdered before I was born."

JD looked at his forlorn daughter, wishing he could take her into his arms and comfort her, but he stopped himself. "I'm sure he'd be real proud of you, miss."

"You look familiar, mister. Have we met before?" She eyed the man with scrutiny.

His eyes swelled with tears but quickly they were blinked away. This was too hard, he thought. "Ah, I've gotta be goin', miss." Half way down the block he turned to see the confused face, his heart tugged at him to go back but his mind insisted he walk away. A loose board tripped his shuffling feet and he stumbled into a person on the walkway.

"I'm sorry," he exclaimed, grabbing his injured side before seeing the woman.

"I'm fine, mister. Nettie, I need you at home. We have company coming. Get to your chores." The woman turned and took a second look at the man staring at her face.

"Hi, Casey," he whispered.

She furrowed her brow and looked at the man's face before seeing into the hazel depths of his eyes. "Oh my!"

Nettie stood beside her mother and grabbed her waist before she collapsed. Fire snapped out of her eyes as she glared at the stranger, "What did you say to her? Get away from my mother!"

"Let me help you get her off the street. She wouldn't want all these folks staring at her."

"How would you know what she wants? You touch her and I'll start screaming; I don't care who you are. Uncle Buck will tear you apart for hurting her!"

Recovering Casey softly but firmly told her youngest daughter, "I'm alright, Nettie. Go home and do your chores. I'll be along shortly."

Nettie eyed her mother and the stranger before slowly heading home. The kind stranger seemed familiar somehow but she couldn't remember ever meeting him. Why did her stoic mother almost faint from just seeing him? Though she'd love to hear the adult's conversation she knew better. Her chores needed to be completed before Ma came home!

"I got a room over at the hotel or we could go to Nathan's."

"This's what he wanted to see me about yesterday?"

"I guess."

She headed toward the doctor's office refusing to say more until she could speak privately. Nathan saw the couple walking toward his office and he smiled. Now would be a good time to join Buck for some coffee. "It's all yours, folks," he said exiting the doorway.

"Nathan, I'll be talking to you later," Casey sternly replied.

"Yes ma'am." The grin crossed his face as evidence of a hidden joy.

"Where the hell have you been, JD? Am I talking to a ghost or is my imagination playing tricks with my eyes?" Casey walked across the room and gazed out on the winter scene unable to look her husband in the eye.

"In hell." Excited to be reunited with his wife but exhausted he sunk into the doctor's chair. Why couldn't she just accept the fact he was back without making him relive the horror?

"JD, I've spent the last fifteen years grieving for you, crying my heart out because you were gone, I thought forever." She turned toward him, her eyes snapping fire. "Why didn't you let me know?!" she yelled.

"Casey, I couldn't." Shutting his eye tightly, he returned to the gruesome prison. His love for Casey and his hate for the remaining peacekeepers fueled his resolve to return to this town. Remembering the past he began hyperventilating as his mind relived the horrendous incarceration.

The distraught wife watched the emotions flash across JD's face. The lack of oxygen caused him to sway and she caught him before he crashed to the floor. Looking closely at his scarred face the hurt and anger dissolved as love and concern for her husband flooded her heart. Gone was the exuberance JD held for life. The man before her existed in a shell of his former self. She pushed his unruly hair from his eyes while she noticed his breathing return to a normal rate. How many times had she prayed for the chance to caress his face one more time? Or for the chance to give him one more kiss? She bent over and lightly touched her lips to his. She opened her eyes and saw two peaceful hazel orbs gazing loving back at her.

"Oh, JD, I have missed you more than anything. When they brought back that body and said it was you I wanted to die but by then I knew Nettie was growing inside me. She and the other children needed me but I felt so incomplete without you."

He slowly licked his lips before speaking again, "Casey, I never stopped caring about you. I want to try again but I can't do anything. If you want I'll leave and never bother you."

"What kind of nonsense is that, JD Dunne? You're home and I doubt I'll let you out my sight any time soon. I take it you've talked to Nathan already."

A small smile crossed his face. "Got in trouble and woke up here. Seems like Ezra knocked me out and I never saw it coming. I don't know how to approach Buck."

"That's easy. They're all coming to our house tonight to welcome the new century. We'll just surprise them when you're there too."

She pulled him closer and the two surrendered to each other.



Dawn of a New Century - Part 2