Author's Note: This takes place at the end of the season 1 episode, Gunfighter.
“You don’t understand, there’s only one way you’re going to get what you came here for. And we both know what that is.” The tall gunfighter’s words were matter of fact, but his eyes and his smile laughed at Jimmy, scoffed at his attempts to do right by Emma.
Yes, he had known. He’d known all along where this would end. He’d known he’d end up here… seemed like his entire life.
“Jimmy, don’t go.”
The young teen ignored his little sister’s wide, pleading eyes shimmering with tears.
“Aw, leave him alone, Celinda,” Horace grumped. “The rest of us had ta get jobs after Pa died ta help out around here. He should, too. It’s his own danged fault he’s too ornery for anyone around here ta hire him.”
Jimmy ignored the two of them. Only three years separated the three in ages. Horace was a year and half older than Jimmy. Celinda a year and a half younger. But at his 13 years of age, that year and a half, in both directions, was a gulf wider than that Lake Michigan his teacher was talking about in Geography class last week. It was supposed to be a thousand times bigger than Lake Clinton. And Clinton was so big he couldn’t see to the other side. He refused to look at either of his siblings, busying himself stuffing a last pair of longjohns into his carpet bag. Neither of them would understand, or accept, why he had to leave. So he just wasn’t going to bother explaining.
Of course, he’d only been 8 when Pa’d taken them all to Lake Clinton one summer on a camping trip. Maybe it wasn’t as big as he’d thought then. That was back before Pa had got caught up in his stupid Abolitionist Movement. Even in Jimmy’s thoughts the words were capitalized. That’s just the way Pa had always said it.
Jimmy sniffled and wiped a hand under his nose as he snapped the carpet bag closed. He’d never admit it, but in a way he’d miss the big, comforting presence of his Pa. Oh, he hadn’t been perfect, Jimmy thought, surreptitiously swiping the cuff of his worn sleeve across his cheeks, under his eyes, as he lifted the bag and turned toward the door, pushing past his little sister and older brother.
He didn’t dare look at them, one accusing, one pleading, or he’d really lose it. Squaring his shoulders with determination and steeling his jaw, Jimmy stomped through the family room to the kitchen, where his mother stood wrapping sandwiches and shoving them into a burlap sack for him. They were big, thick slices of her homemade bread, filled with the delicious cheese she made every fall. Cheese sandwiches would always make him think of the comfort of her arms. Not that he needed that now. He was too old to be hugged and cuddled like a baby. And a good thing, too. There was no time or energy left for it these days.
“Here, Jimmy,” Ma said quietly, her voice hoarse from her crying. It seemed like she’d done nothing but cry in the month since Pa’d been killed by them slavers.
He took the bag of sandwiches and stuffed them careless into the carpetbag on top of his clothes. One more thing and he’d be ready to go. He turned toward the formal sitting room at the front of the house and walked up to the wall where Pa had mounted the family weapons. There was a large shotgun, a sword of some sort and two revolvers. One was old and well worn, the other newer and shiny. Both were obviously well cared for.
Jimmy reached up and plucked the older of the two pistols off the wall and turned away from the wall as he stuffed the gun into the belt of his pants.
“Oh, Jimmy, I wish you wouldn’t,” his mother sighed from the door, twisting her apron in her hands agitatedly. “Guns cause nothing but death and destruction.”
“Aw, let him be, Ma,” Horace practically purred, his eyes narrowed in contempt as he checked out his ‘little’ brother’s appeareance. Horace had had it out for Jimmy ever since he’d outstripped him in height the last fall. Never mind Horace was the smart one. Did great in school, would probably even finish this year, while Jimmy still had to work out of the first primer with the little ones. “He’ll need somethin’ ta protect him out on the frontier.”
“Are you really goin’ all the way out to the territories, Jimmy?” Lynda, his youngest sister at just eight years old, asked, worry shining in her eyes.
Horace barked a derisive laugh. “Course he is, small fry. Don’t think anyone closer’s gonna hire the little troublemaker do ya? With an attitude like his he belongs out there with the outlaws and the wild injuns.”
“Is it really that dangerous?” Celinda asked, perching up on her tiptoes to see over Horace’s shoulder into the room.
Jimmy shrugged. “Dunno. But better safe than sorry.” He patted the gun in his belt with a show of confidence he wasn’t sure he really felt.
“Jimmy, please don’t,” Ma said softly. “Surely you can get a job around here if you try hard enough. Have you asked down at th--“
“I’ve tried ever place in town, Ma,” Jimmy sighed wearily. “Ain’t a one of ‘em gonna hire me. They all think like Horace over there.”
“Alright, son,” she relented, forcing a smile onto her worried face. “Be safe. And… try not to use that gun. Guns… they never brought anyone any good. You mind me, son, no good at all.”
Jimmy pushed past her, unable to look at her without feeling and odd sense of both pity and hatred at the same time. He’d never wanted to do anything but protect her, from the youngest of ages, especially from Pa’s temper. But he couldn’t remember a time when he hadn’t felt betrayed by her inability to protect him. She was the adult,after all.
A slight smile, full of derision for Longley and his type, quirked the corner of Jimmy’s lips as he took a slow step back. No, guns may not have ever brought anyone any good. But they were damned good at removing the bad. For good.
And… he was meant for this moment. He felt it in his bones. He clenched his hand repeatedly at his side, the weight of the ivory handled Colt revolver that now rested on his hip a comforting reminder of its presence. As he thought of the lessons he’d gotten from the Judge when he’d gotten the weapon as a gift, Horace’s last words floated through his mind.
“Keep that firestick close ta hand, little brother. Yer a troublemaker, that’s fer sure. And sooner or later, yer gonna need it. Just make sure yer ready when ya do. Yer good with that thing. It’s yer talent. Don’t know why, but seems like it’s what God made ya fer.”
Horace had looked at him, for once, without derision or contempt. The clear blue eyes of a sibling, concerned for his brother, peering up at him on top of the nag he was mounted on, ready to ride away. His words had almost had… wonder… in them at Jimmy’s almost preternatural skill as a shootist.
Then, everything just went away as his world narrowed down to the man standing so confidently a dozen paces down the street from him. He noted, with a small corner of his brain, as Longley caressed the small gold chain that led to Emma’s watch, tucked into the gunfighter’s pocket. But it didn’t disturb his concentration as his eyes remained glued to the man who thought to take his life.
He’d never been in a stand-up gunfight like this, but to the very marrow of his bones, he already knew who was going to win and who would lose. There was never any question as every muscle in his body relaxed and tightened at the same time.
He stood there, in the loose, ready stance of a man ready to pull his weapon and use it.
“It’s your play,” he vaguely heard Longley say, a slight smile in his words. But Jimmy didn’t react.
He just waited. He didn’t even jump when he heard Cody’s Hawkens go off behind him. Then Kid’s unwieldy old six shooter fired. Longley jumped though, turning his head to see what was going on. His body stiffened with shock.
But Jimmy’s focus never changed. He continued to watch the man. For what, he wasn’t sure. He saw Longley draw and fire frantically. But, though he flinched as the other man’s bullet slammed into his arm, he somehow knew Longley’s bullet was never close to hitting anything serious. Then his Colt was in his hand, the bullet already ripping down the street and into the gunfighter, who fell to the ground. Gone. He’d never made a conscious decision to draw, to shoot. He’d just known where his bullet needed to be. And now… there it was.
He stood there in shock at the corpse slowly bleeding out into the dusty street.
“You alright?” Kid asked.
“Yeah,” Jimmy answered, realizing he was panting for some reason. He wondered silently when that had happened. Then again, he wondered, when had he become a killer. For the first time in his life, a man was dead because of him. And he wasn’t sure what he thought about that.
Curious, he walked slowly up to the body and looked down at it. Light from a nearby torch glinted off the chain to Emma’s watch. Emma. She reminded him in so many ways of his mother. Always worried about him, taking care of them all, mothering them. He always felt the strongest pull to protect both of them. That’s what had led him here, to right a wrong done Emma. But unlike his mother, she had a core of steel. She hadn’t wanted this showdown anymore than his mother would have.
Jimmy squatted down and slowly drew the watch out of the dead man’s pocket. Holding it in his hands he found he could feel no guilt for this night’s work. Standing, he looked down at what had been the man Longley. Now it was just slowly cooling meat in the middle of the street. No. No guilt. He’d been… bad. And his being gone was…. good.
But, would Emma feel the same way? He worried what she would say. She might reject him, just like his mother had, over his attachment to the gun at his hip and what he could do with it.
As he started to walk away, he came to the conclusion, he was what he was. He wanted to stay here. He felt welcomed, dared he even think loved. But he couldn’t change who he was. Who he’d always been. Who he was destined to be. They’d have to take him as he was, or he’d leave. Move on to someplace that could accept him.
But first, he had something to return.
He stood there with the watch held out in his hand, his heart full of fear about what she might say.
“Was it worth it?”
A question he’d asked himself already a dozen times. He thought back over the entire encounter, his entire life.
“I had no choice.” He couldn’t fight who he was. He wouldn’t. It’s why he’d left the civilized East to begin with.
“Did you want one?”
He cocked his head, looking at her in confusion. What did she mean by did he want a choice? How could one choose what God had created you for?
Author's Note: Inspired by the song Bad Company, as used in the episode of the same name.