Disclaimer. The Magnificent Seven is owned by Trilogy, Mirish, MGM, and some others I'm not sure of. I'm not making any money.
Author's Note: This story is for Clara and Lester. Two of the best people I've ever known. They taught me a lot about God when I was growing up, more by actions than by words. Lester had to put Clara in a nursing home, after trying to take care of her for a long time himself. If Lester can keep his faith through all of this, I guess I can try to find mine. Thanks to Penny and Judy for betaing. Feedback is greatly appreciated, please let me know what you think.
"I don't' want to get old."
"What?" Buck glanced over at his best friend. JD was watching something across the street. Sadness filled his visage.
Buck followed his line of sight and noticed what the kid had been staring at.
A withered old man, Harold Bernhart, walked slowly down the boardwalk. Stoop shouldered, he rested most of his weight on the cane by his side. He gradually made his way, looking attentively at the ground in front of him.
"I don't want to get old." JD repeated.
Buck looked back over at his friend. A snappy comeback entered his head. 'Well, hell, kid. You won't have to worry none 'bout that, the way yer goin'.' But, the look on JD's face told him now wasn't the time for wisecracks.
Buck shifted his gaze from JD back to the gentleman making his way along the boardwalk. Both sat in unstrained silence watching Mr. Bernhart.
JD finally spoke, his voice so soft and sad it broke Buck's heart.
"In the end, right before she died, my mama...," he stopped and Buck resisted the urge to say something to help him along. After a few moments JD finally spoke again. "My mama, she...she got to where she couldn't take care of herself anymore. She was so sick, Buck. She was so sick, she...," he paused and Buck heard his throat catch.
"She was just skin and bones. She couldn't go to the bathroom by herself. I had to help. She couldn't eat by herself. I had to feed her." JD broke his gaze from the old man and glanced over to Buck. "She lost all her dignity, Buck. If that's what growin' old's like, I don't want to do it. I'd rather die young."
Buck squeezed his eyes shut. When he opened them again JD was standing on the boardwalk, still watching Mr. Bernhart. He stood up, walked over to a post and leaned on it, facing the kid.
The young man looked up at him, his face as serious as Buck had ever seen it.
"JD. There ain't nothin' undignified 'bout being sick. Your mama - she never gave up. She was stronger and braver than any a us. She fought to the end. Didn't she? That's what you told me once. She was a fighter. I bet she'd have liked to've grown old. But she couldn't. She got sick and she died."
Buck pulled away from the post and closer to JD, his voice low and hoarse, filled with emotion. "And there ain't nothin' undignified 'bout growin' old. That man," he tilted his head towards Harold, who still shuffled slowly down the boardwalk, "raised six children in this land, before it was even as 'tame' as it is now. He had to work and fight every day to keep his family alive."
Buck's voice grew higher in pitch. "He had to fight Indians, mother nature and outlaws. He's done things in his life you'll only read about. He lived long enough to see his first great-grandchild. How many men can say that?"
JD glanced at him, then back to Mr. Bernhart. He watched the emotions flicker across the younger man's face. "You think he'd rather have died? I don't think so." Buck took his hat off and slapped it on his thigh.
Wilmington's voice grew quiet and steady as he continued. "He might be old. He might have a hard time gettin' around. He might forget things sometimes and not know what he's doin'. But there ain't nothin' undignified 'bout that man. No sir."
JD looked up at him, shame covering his face. He looked back at the older man, who was having a hard time negotiating the boardwalk steps. "How do you know all this?"
"Cause, I arrested him one night. He'd had too much to drink in the saloon. I took him over to the jail and waited for him to sober up. 'Round midnight he woke, started talkin' 'bout his family, his life. He showed me a picture of his kids, his late wife. Proud as a peacock of his life and his family."
Buck walked over to the kid. He squeezed his shoulder. "Why don't you go talk to him yerself, JD."
JD looked up at him, then back at the older man. Finally, he nodded. He glanced back up at him. "He really fought Indians?"
Buck laughed. "Sure did JD."
JD smiled and straightened his bowler. "Think I'll go talk to him."
Buck shook his head and grinned, "Sounds like a good idea, kid."
He watched as the kid crossed the street and walked up to the older man. The two men talked for a second and then he saw JD reach out his hand and the older man shook it. They both glanced over at him and Mr. Bernhart waved. Smiles lit up both men's faces. They started walking together, down the boardwalk.
Buck watched his best friend's retreating back. With a bittersweet smile he glanced up at the sky. "I'll watch out for 'im, ma'am. He'll grow old, I'll make sure of it."
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