Legends Born: Full Circle - Nathan Jackson
AUTHOR: Joan Curtin
RATING: PG-13 Language
SPOILERS: To the Pilot Episode.
DISCLAIMER: Sadly, I can't claim financial or creative rights to the characters of the Magnificent Seven. Those belong to the writers and producers of the series. I have quoted dialog from the series where necessary. I reckon you all know those lines by heart.
Note: I suppose you might consider this an alternate universe since it is my version of the events that took place before the Pilot episode. I'm sure there are other stories which I haven't read, dealing with the same subject, and logic dictates that some cross-over of ideas is inevitable. However, I have not knowingly used any other author's ideas. If there is some coincidental resemblence, it is because great minds think alike, and not conscious plagiarism.
I have also taken liberties with some of the circumstances in the Pilot to provide an opportunity for Fate to bring these seven men together in Four Corners.
As always, a thanks to my Beta-readers, particularly Sue N., Sue Bartholomew, and Sarah Bartholomew. Mel and Elizabeth, thanks for the encouragement.
Full Circle: Nathan Jackson
A harsh scream rose over the noises of the battlefield, and Nathan Jackson ran towards a blue-coated officer waving him over. He scarcely noticed the acrid smell of gunpowder and blood anymore, he'd been through so many battles in the year since he'd run North from slavery. He was a free man now, according to the United States Government, and since it seemed likely they were going to win the war, he supposed he'd be a free man forever. He was still learning what freedom meant.
Right now, it meant that a white man was still giving him orders. He hurried forward. The officer was standing over a fallen comrade. The wounded man's blue tunic was gleaming with dark blood, and the ground was drinking it in like rain. Nathan jerked the jacket open. Shrapnel had ripped a hole in his belly. Nathan pulled out a wad of clean rags from his pocket and slapped it into the wound. He wound the man's sash around his torso, securing the rough bandage tight.
"What the hell do you think you're doing?" The officer grabbed his hand. "I called for a stretcher-bearer."
"Suh, this man's bleedin' t'death --"
"Get him out of here, get him to the doctor's, then get your black ass back up here," the man ordered. A cannonball plowed into the ground not ten feet away, and the officer dove for cover as a spray of splintered rocks, dirt, and dust scythed over the ground where he had been standing.
Nathan raised his head, grabbed the wounded man beneath the arms, and dragged him out of the line of fire. He hollered over to another stretcher-bearer, and together they carried the wounded man back to the hospital tents.
The nasty little skirmish had caused a flood of casualties, and the doctors and medics were overwhelmed. Captain MacCready waved him over as one of the attendants sloshed a bucket of water over the bloody operating table. "What've you got, Jackson?"
MacCready was one of the few doctors who had troubled to learn his name. "Belly wound, suh."
"Should've left him to die," MacCready said with a sour look.
"Suh, I don' think it nicked his bowel."
MacCready shot him a sharp, blue glance. "You think?"
Nathan didn't waver before that study. "Yes, suh."
"Lay him down."
Ten minutes later, MacCready had tied off a bleeding artery and sutured the man's chest. He plunged his hands into a bucket of bloody water. "You were right, Jackson. He might still die, though."
"Gave him a good chance, suh." Nathan saluted the doctor. "I got t'git back, Cap'n MacCready."
"Wait. I need you here."
"Suh, I's jist a stretcher man."
"Not any more. Get yourself an apron, Jackson. You're a medic now."
"Yes, suh!" Nathan could scarcely believe it. But he stayed at MacCready's side through the day and night. During a lull, MacCready held out a small, ivory-handled knife to Nathan.
"Take it," he said when Nathan looked at him, wide-eyed. "You'll need a sharp blade if you're going to work with me."
He had never owned anything in his life. "Thank you, suh. Slaves wasn't allowed --"
"You're not a slave anymore, Jackson. You're my assistant," MacCready barked. "Get to work."
"Yes, suh!" His life had just changed.
As Nathan Jackson set his foot on the stairs leading to his clinic, he found it hard to believe that a few hours ago he had thought never to see the place again. Hell, he had thought he was a dead man for sure; accused of murder, being dragged to a shameful lynching while the people of Four Corners stood by silently. Out of that whole town, only three people had tried to help. Mary Travis, Vin Tanner, and a black-clad gunslinger called Chris Larabee.
Three people against a likkered up trail gang and indifference. Three white folks who'd treated him like he was worth something. If Mary hadn't given him her support from their first meeting, he didn't think he would have stayed in Four Corners. And if he hadn't stayed, Vin Tanner might have died of the fever that had literally dropped him at Nathan's feet.
Nathan rubbed the raw skin on his throat. Figured he and Tanner were even; having saved each other's lives with skills they alone possessed. Nathan with medicine and compassion, Tanner with a rifle and an eagle eye. As for Chris Larabee, Nathan did not know the answer. Why the man -- a hired gun -- would risk his life to save the life of a stranger, a Negro, a former slave, was something to ponder on. Funny thing was Nathan had a feeling that the answer to that question lay in the presence of Vin Tanner. He'd never seen two men fight in such perfect rhythm, Tanner picking his shots with precision, Larabee with a draw like lightning and reflexes like a cat. It had been both beautiful and terrible to watch. And he'd been a mite distracted!
The preacher, Josiah Sanchez, would have said that the Lord works in mysterious ways, and given him that wry, enigmatic smile that hinted at sad knowledge and deep experience. Nathan laughed to himself. Mysterious ways, indeed.
He opened the clinic door and headed for the trunk where he kept his gun and knives. A scalpel wasn't the only kind of weapon he knew how to wield, and it seemed where he was going, he might need them both; to heal and to harm. How the Hell had that happened?
A soft knock at his door made him pause and close the trunk. "Come on in," he said.
The door opened and Vin Tanner entered so quietly that if Nathan hadn't been watching him, he wouldn't have known he had stepped inside. He stood just inside the clinic, hip-shot, his head tilted appraisingly. He had discarded his store-clerk garb in favor of his hide jacket, slouch hat, and a mean looking sawed-off rifle strapped on his thigh. He looked dangerous, hard, not much like the youth Virgil Watson had hired, not seeing the wolf in sheep's clothing Tanner really was.
"Larabee's found somebody t'help. Old friend of his. Thought we'd ride out t'see that man you told us about."
Nathan's eyes narrowed. "Don't think much of Larabee's friend, do ya?"
Vin shrugged. "Seems like he might have other things on his mind than fightin'." He shifted his stance, arched a brow. "Likes the ladies," he said laconically.
"That don't mean he can't fight," Nathan grinned. "Might be he's used to it."
Vin lifted his chin. "Maybe. See ya down at the livery." He slipped away, giving the impression that he had never been there to begin with, if not for the faint scents of leather and gunpowder.
Buck Wilmington was a genial, long-legged cowboy with a wide, white smile and blue eyes that shone with the joy of being alive. Nathan had a hard time figuring this laughing, easy-going man as a friend to the taut, dangerous Chris Larabee. But something about Wilmington softened the gunslinger, brought an ironic curl of laughter to that hard mouth and an almost wistful warmth to those cold green eyes.
Nathan rode alongside Wilmington, leaving Tanner and Larabee to take the lead as they went out to the ruined chapel where Josiah Sanchez was sweating out his penance. He cast a sidelong look at the cowboy. "You known Larabee long?" Nathan asked.
Buck grinned. "Let's see, eleven, maybe twelve years if ya count the times we weren't speaking to each other." When he caught the curious question in Nathan's eyes, he shook his head. "Long story. Lord, I never thought I'd see Chris in these parts again, though. Figured he'd stay in Kansas or Texas."
"Where'd you come from?"
"Just about everywhere," Buck said. "Everywhere there's pretty ladies, good liquor, and someone not shootin' at my back." He sat at ease in the saddle. "Been a soldier, a lawman, a cowhand, even tried a stint of ranchin' once." Sadness crept into his voice. "None of 'em seemed to work out fer long. Guess I was born under a wand'ring star." Blue eyes brightened. "How about yourself?"
"I's a slave," Nathan said shortly, the bitterness still there, and knowing that Wilmington, with his Southern drawl had likely soldiered for the Confederacy.
Buck looked into the distance for a moment. "Nasty war no matter what side you fought on."
Nathan couldn't argue about that. "I was a stretcher bearer for the Union Army. Learned some healin' there. After the war, wasn't nothin' left for me. So I came West. Done a bit of wandering myself over the years."
Buck laughed. "Wonder how we all ended up in a place like Four Corners." His gaze rested on Chris Larabee's straight back, and the slim man riding at his side. "You know him?" he asked, inclining his head towards Tanner.
"I know he saved my life."
"You trust him?"
Nathan's broad hat brim lifted as he met Buck's questioning eyes. He thought of Tanner's diffident gratitude, his quiet courtesy, his undoubted courage. "Man does something like that, you trust him."
Buck couldn't even remember how many times he and Chris had been each other's salvation during the war. So often that even after Chris had turned hard and bitter, Buck was willing to forgive and forget the harm he had done. "Reckon so," he admitted.
Then they were reining in before a tumble-down church baking in the sun. Nathan dismounted and went up to Chris Larabee. "Let me talk to him. He's a man of God, a preacher."
Sitting at ease next to Larabee, Vin gave a raspy chuckle. "He gonna pray those ghosts to death?"
Nathan gave him an answering grin. "Have a feelin' he ain't beat all his swords into plowshares."
But after speaking to Josiah, he wasn't so sure about that. The big preacher had refused, said he was doing his penance, needed a sign before he moved on. Nathan had thrown up his hands in defeat, and joined the others. "He says he's not coming. He says that's his penance." He shook his head, gave Larabee an apologetic look.
Larabee spat in the dust. "For what?"
"He won't say. Word is he kilt a lot of men." Nathan looked back at the chapel, as if he expected Josiah to emerge. "He's a hard man to persuade." Larabee stared him down with those green dagger eyes. When Josiah came out of the ruins, curiosity having made him risk taking a look at these men who were asking for his help, Nathan tried again. And failed.
Despairing a bit, and feeling that he had let the others down, he had told Larabee he would try again tomorrow. The man in black had just jerked his chin in the general direction of Four Corners, and off they had gone, leaving Sanchez to wrestle with his conscience.
By that evening they had picked up the gambler, Ezra Standish. Nathan thought Larabee was scrapin' the bottom of the barrel by choosing that man to ride with them. Standish was worse than a cheater; he was a Goddamn Southerner, looking down his aristocratic nose at Nathan like he smelled of the sweat of the cotton fields. That look had made his stomach turn, and he'd protested to Larabee -- not in so many words -- but making his feelings clear. Why'd you want to hire a cheater? Larabee just gave him a look like the idea of Standish riding with them left a sour taste in his mouth; but like medicine, sometimes the bitter tonic was the cure. Might need one, was the wry reply. Nathan couldn't argue.
He packed up a few belongings and medical supplies, then left his clinic to get some dinner. As he stepped out on the boardwalk, Vin Tanner was ambling past. He paused, gave Nathan a slight nod of greeting. "Comin' t' the saloon, Doc?"
Nathan considered. "I ain't always been welcome there."
Tanner's mouth curled. "Reckon we got that much in common." Then his eyes took on a wild blue spark. "Figger Larabee'll have something t'say about us bein' served."
Nathan couldn't help laughing. Tanner looked like a small boy getting away with a load of mischief. The two men paced down the boardwalk in the gathering twilight. Across the way, Mrs. Potter was closing up the Mercantile, and Tommy waved at them. Gloria nodded to Nathan, and lifted a brow to Vin. He decided he was out of her favor since that morning when his true colors had flared out. Couldn't help that. At least now he felt he was back in his own skin.
Larabee was sitting at a table a distance from the door, his back to the wall, his chair tilted slightly back and braced by his long legs. His hat was tipped down over his brows, shadowing those sharp green eyes that could flay a man to his bones. A bottle of whiskey was on the table, and four glasses, one filled with amber liquid. When Larabee saw them enter, he lifted his head slightly and raised the glass, inviting them to join him.
Nathan pulled out a chair. Tanner slid his narrow body into the chair at Larabee's side, as reluctant as the gunslinger to put his back to the door. He didn't move in close, but settled with enough room in front of him for an escape. The action wasn't lost on Larabee. Nathan saw him shift slightly, his body angling towards Tanner's; alert, and somehow, protective. Nathan didn't know how to explain that -- Tanner would've been the first to scoff at the notion that he needed protecting -- but Nathan understood the impulse. Made Larabee seem almost human.
He swallowed down the shot of liquor Tanner poured in his glass. He wasn't much for drinking, but the whiskey sure felt good going down his bruised throat. The day had been one of the longest of his life, and he was tired. He didn't say much, not even when Buck Wilmington sauntered over, a saloon girl on each arm, or when the gambler joined them, whip-sharp and wary as a fox. Long, nervous fingers shuffled a deck of cards continuously. Nathan watched, fascinated. He didn't like the Southerner, but he understood Larabee's decision to coerce the gambler into joining their number.
Larabee's plan was to leave at dawn, and Nathan pushed away from the table, realizing that dawn was really only a few hours away.
"Hold up, Doc. I'll go with ya." Tanner rose, tipped the brim of his hat to the others, and followed Nathan out of the swinging doors. Neither man spoke. Nathan silent by necessity, Tanner by nature. When they reached the stairs leading to his clinic, Nathan turned to the hunter.
"Your side still hurtin'?" he asked. He knew the answer, he'd seen it in the slight grimace at the corner of Tanner's mouth when he rose from the chair. "All the shootin' an' ridin' might've tore somethin' open."
"Ya wanna keep up with Larabee, t'morrow?"
There was an implied threat in the question and Tanner laughed softly. "Hell, I ain't had so much fussin' over me since -- " He broke off, looked down at the tips of his boots. "Been a long time."
Reluctantly, he followed the healer up the steps to the clinic. He didn't much cotton to the idea of being prodded again, but Jackson was right. If they were going to take off for the Seminole village and trouble, he'd best be sound. While Nathan lit a lantern, Vin unbuckled his gunbelt and loosened his shirt. He felt the cool touch of the evening air on his skin, then the healer's gentle hand on his side. He winced at the pressure, but the ache was less than he had anticipated. "See, Doc. I'm fine."
Nathan nodded. "Yeah. Reckon it'll jist take some time. Won't be nothin' but a scar, soon." His gaze went from the fresh mark, to the older ones on Tanner's back. He touched the silvered ridges lightly, felt the shiver ripple beneath the hunter's skin. "Like these."
"Don't hardly remember," Vin pulled away from Nathan, tugged down his shirt and tucked it in the band of his trousers. "Thanks, Doc."
Nathan knew he was lying. A man never forgot the getting of those scars; he remembered every stroke of the lash, every line of pain, every humiliation. "Don't often see 'em on a white man," he said. "I got mine when I's fifteen, fo' tryin' t'run away. The master said he was bein' kind ... said he could'a kilt me."
Vin turned slowly, the brim of his hat shadowing his face even in the lantern light. "There's other kinds of slavery, Doc." That was all he would say, all he could say without opening up the scars on his heart that never quite healed up right. But the healer couldn't mend those hurts, so they were best left hidden from the light of day. "See ya in the morning," was all he said, and then left in near silence.
He leapt the short gap to the next building easily, settling on the overhang of Watson's hardware store, just outside the window to his room. He wrapped his arms around his jacked-up knees and watched the folks on the street below. Up there, he was safe. Up there, he was alone.
Nathan watched that solitary figure; a pale blur in the growing darkness. A few minutes later, he saw Larabee leave the saloon and head for the hotel. Seemed like it was time to get some rest.
It was late, and his throat hurt. He went inside and brewed up some herbal tea to soothe it. His fingers touched the abrasions on his neck. So close to death ... if not for Vin Tanner and Chris Larabee, he'd be cold in the ground. That morning seemed a hundred years past. He looked up at the stars overhead. Where tomorrow would lead, he couldn't begin to guess. Seemed the Lord had saved him that morning for some unknown reason. Maybe to help those folks in the Seminole village. A shiver of anger worked its way across his skin. Indians and slaves, conquered and beaten, dispossessed, looking for a miracle from a healer, a gambler, a gunslinger, a hunter, a lover, and, maybe, a preacher. Nathan's anger shriveled away as laughter welled up in his chest. Lord! The blind were truly leading the blind!
A movement from across the street caught his eye. Larabee had come out on the boardwalk, his dark clothes blending into the shadows. His cheroot was a hot spark in the night, growing brighter as he drew in the smoke, then fading into a dim red point. Nathan was aware that Vin had moved from his perch, slipping soundlessly to the ground in a graceful descent from the roof.
Tanner crossed the street, tipped his hat to Larabee, and slouched against the post opposite the gunslinger. Light and shadow, Nathan thought. Neither one existing without the other, and somehow inseparable. Nathan shook his head. Tanner, he'd figured to be a decent-hearted man; he'd seen that in his eyes, but Larabee? A man with more of a reputation for taking lives than saving them, had saved his.
The scars on his back had been put there by a white man; only time could fade those marks. The scars on his heart were no less deep, but, this night, they did not ache and burn with bitter gall. His grandmother, gifted with wisdom as well as gentle hands, had said that healing didn't come easy, but you had to be patient and wait, even when it looked like there was no hope. Hope always came, she said, just not always in the way you expected.
Nathan grinned. That day hope had carried a gun and held out an open hand in friendship. Tomorrow, it might bear a cross and a bible, might even show up in a hand of cards. You just never knew.
Nathan drank his tea, and with a last glance across the way where Vin Tanner and Chris Larabee stood like guardian angels, he went inside and began checking his medical kit. The first item he took out of the leather satchel was a small, sharp, ivory-handled knife. He looked at it for a long time, remembering what his life had been after the war, how he had come to Four Corners.
After Appomatox, MacCready had left the army and gone to St. Louis to open a practice. He had asked Nathan to join him, and for a year, he had remained with MacCready. But St. Louis was not a city where a black man could make a place for himself. Nathan had signed on with the army as a medic, and went to Texas with a company of Buffalo Soldiers.
Life on a Cavalry outpost wasn't what Nathan wanted. He wanted to heal, to build, to make his life, and the lives of others, better, not wage war against what the Government termed "Hostiles." Those Hostiles had in some cases, offered shelter to runaway slaves, and Nathan wasn't about to drive them from their lands in the name of the US Cavalry. He wouldn't put dishonor on the brave men he served with, but as soon as his hitch was up, Nathan had moved on.
He had bounced around from town to town, settling for several months, once for as long as a year, but never making a home. Not that there hadn't been some good folks and good towns along the way, but sooner or later he got the urge to move on, like a voice telling him to keep looking. Four Corners should have been just another stop on his way. That morning, it had become much more.
Nathan blinked. The little knife came into focus, and he stowed it away in his kit. He packed in rolls of linen, special salves, packets of herbs to reduce fevers. Forceps and probes, and, with a shudder, the bone saw. God help them if he had to use it. He buckled the leather satchel shut and laid it over the back of his chair, along with his knives in their leather back sheath and his guns. MacCready would have approved of the medical kit and the weapons, both.
Nathan glanced out one last time on the town. Larabee and Tanner were gone, each to find what rest they could. Seemed like a good idea. He stripped off his shirt and dimmed his lantern to low. He lay on his narrow bed. Twenty-four hours ago, he had done the same thing, listening to the last breaths of a dying man. Tonight, only silence. Silence and the knowledge that the dawn was bringing not only a new day, but a new life.