I don't own them (mores the pity!); they're Marvel's and Ah'm usin' without permission:):) Ah ain't makin' a plug nickel! If ya'll sue me Magnus is gonna be right peeved ...

Rated PG-17 for implied sexual content and some violence. So if that sort of things bothers ya'll, skedaddle:):)

End Of The Line

An Elsewhens Tale by Dannell Lites

You have to understand. He wasn't a bad man in spite of all that happened; no, he wasn't. It's important that you know that.

They call me Red Jean. I guess it isn't hard to see why. Slim says my hair reminds him of a crackling fire; warm and bright and friendly. How someone who is blind can know that is beyond me. Doctor Xavier is a little more poetic. He claims it's like watching the sun set. Me? All I know is that it brings me a lot of customers and that's all that matters in the end. The first thing everybody always wants to know is "how did a nice girl like you", etc. Magnus was the first man I ever met who never asked me that question. He just seemed to know the many pathways errant feet can travel; how dreams can twist and change until you don't even recognize them anymore. Until, somewhere along the way, little by little, one compromise at a time, they turned into nightmares. As if he'd been there himself.

I didn't start out to be a whore. But, then, does anyone? I started out to be a school teacher as a matter of fact. It's what I came west to do but I'm afraid I didn't get the chance. I never made it past St. Louis. My own damn fault really. Remy was charming and sexy and one hell of a talented gambler. What that man could do with a deck of cards was absolutely amazing. And illegal, of course. That was the part I always refused to let myself think about. All I knew was that I was in love. Before you can say, "You want ol' Remy, non, chere?" he'd talked me out of my money and my clothes. I guess they learn to work quickly in New Orleans. Damn me if it wasn't almost worth it. Almost ... Lord we had fun in the beginning. It was like a fairy tale come true. Early afternoon breakfast served to us on silver dishes that sparkled. Champagne and the luxuriant feel of beautiful silk and lace dresses. Roses ("Red as your hair, chere!") and long lazy afternoons full of breathless lovemaking. I could never get enough of Remy's body. I used to adore sex. But that was quite a while ago. And more men ago than I care to count. Now it's just a job. I never enjoy it anymore. Well, almost never. Hair like spun silver haunts me now. Soft ... so very soft ...

But no, I'm getting ahead of my story.

The fairy tale came to an end, of course. In St. Louis, the same place it all started. The same place I'd met Remy. There's not much to tell, actually. Remy was caught cheating. It was bound to happen. Even for someone as skillful as Remy the odds were against him, Which he knew, damn his eyes. He was prepared, I'll give him that. But when he disappeared like a thief into the night ("The law be bad news, cher ami; ol' Remy he don't be caught!") he left a few things behind.

Me, for example.

So what with one thing and another, mostly, "the other", I reached my nadir here in End-Of-The-Line, New Mexico about five years ago. Yes, that *really* is the name of the town. It rests at the end of the Great Plains And Western Stage Line you see. What an ironic and appropriate name. It's not a bad life. It does have a few compensations for all it's humiliation.

Doctor Xavier is one of those compensations. When he all too infrequently visits my small upstairs room he's always very considerate. He actually talks to me. The truth is that's mostly what we do: talk. I think he enjoys that even more than the sex. Lord, it's nice to have someone to talk to! I think that's the thing I miss the most. No one wants to talk to me. Charles is very well read and he doesn't mind lending me his books. And if he's a bit condescending because I'm a woman and so much younger than he ... well, you can't have everything, now can you? I'm very lucky to be his friend.

And then there's Slim. Slim, who knows that I "entertain" other men night after night while he serves drinks from behind the oaken shield of The Ace Of Spades' polished bar. Slim, who worries about me and looks after me and never, never lectures me or asks for something I can't give him. Slim, who loves me and will always be too frightened to say so. Lord, what am I going to do about Slim?

It began innocently enough. Well, no, on second thought I guess it didn't begin all that innocently at that. There's nothing innocent about Logan, not a damn thing that I can see anyway. If he had any innocence left, he lost it along with his eye in the War. And he's a stubborn and surly man. How else would he have the temerity to come back here to a Union town after fighting for the Confederacy? Logan always rubbed people the wrong way. Now don't get me wrong. He's not quite the bastard everyone makes him out to be. He was always nice to me and these days that's my only standard of character assessment. He's quiet, generally. But you don't want to make him angry the way this town did. No, you don't want to do that. Logan may be small but I've seen him without his clothes and he's solid muscle, built like a bull. And when he's angry he likes to ... break things ...

To say that everyone was surprised when he came back is an understatement. Shocked is more like it. And nervous. *Very* nervous. Just about all of us thought that he was dead, you see. The War ended four years ago for God's sake! So when Sebastian Shaw helped himself to Logan's property by paying the overdue taxes no one said or did anything. How were we to know? Shaw has always done as he pleases here. That's one of the wonderful things about being wealthy. I loathe Sebastian Shaw, you should know that right now. He isn't one of the nice ones. The only time he ever purchased my services Slim heard me screaming and came running. He pulled Shaw off me and got pretty beat up in the process himself. Mister McCoy smoothed things over with Shaw. Henry's good with words. But, then, that's part of a school teachers job, isn't it? Doctor Xavier made me spend a week in bed and Slim never left my side for long. He sat there holding my hand, telling me stories to distract me from the pain about places he'd never seen, only imagined and for a bit, just a little while I could let myself believe in them. I mean how else in the world would Slim and I get to San Francisco or some place like that except in his stories? And what would we do when we got there? Dreams are foolish things. I learned that the hard way. It took a long time for the look on Shaw's smiling face to fade from my dreams. But Slim was there to help with that, too. He's got strong arms for holding onto you when you're frightened and broad shoulders to cry on.

Logan hadn't been home a week before Shaw tried to kill him. He didn't have anyplace to stay so he was camped out in the old livery stable. Since Logan gets along better with animals than he does most people that suited the townspeople just fine. I've never heard all the details of exactly what happened but I was there that night when Logan came stalking out of the burning livery stable. The horses he'd set free were fleeing in all directions, whinnying in equine terror. One of them almost ran me down. Quite a hostile crowd had started to gather as I recall, but that didn't stop Logan. He never missed a stride. He just kept coming, two of his assailants slung over his massive shoulders, dragging the other two behind him by the hair like sacks of grain. He didn't stop until he was inside the Ace Of Spades, facing down Shaw who smiled pleasantly and never broke a sweat. With a shrug Logan tossed his burdens at Shaw's booted feet one after the other into a ragged pile. Shaw moved quickly but he was still splattered with blood. I told you, Logan plays rough. Frowning in distaste, the bane of everyone in End-Of-The-Line's existence sneered and started to speak but Logan cut him off.

"Don't mess with me, Shaw!" he hissed. Then, almost faster than the eye could follow, he was behind Shaw pulling his head back by his hair. The knife that he had used to butcher four men drew a thin, warning line of blood across the rancher's exposed throat. "You want me, you come for me yourself," he snarled. "Just take yer cajones in yer hand and *do* it, rich man. Don't make me come for *you*. You won't like it if I do." Is it any wonder that Sebastian Shaw was angry? Men like him can't abide their own cowardice. And having his displayed so publicly must have been like reaching out and touching the surface of the sun.

So where was our esteemed Sheriff during all this? Oh, you mean Peirce? Donald Peirce is every bit as much Sebastian Shaw's servant as his butler or his ranch foreman, make no mistake about it. Why you may as well depend on Miss Frost to protect you. You'd be better off actually. Emma takes fine care of us girls. She runs a quiet, quality House even if some of her "ladies" are a little young. I worry sometimes about Logan's new favorite that little Chinese girl Julee. She's awfully young. But, I suppose she's better off with Logan, at that, than with some of the other men here. Logan spent some time with her here in the House waiting for something to happen. The truth is, we were all waiting for something to happen. After his humiliating confrontation with Logan, Shaw stormed out of town and didn't come back. End-Of-the-Line held it's collective breath and waited for his response. No one was more shocked than I when it didn't materialize. In point of fact, things settled down considerably for almost a month. Tension can only last so long. Things were about as normal as they ever get in End-Of-The-Line.

And then one bright and dusty August day the stage from Santa Fe pulled into town and we all had our answer about Shaw's next move.

End Part One

*Cue Music From "The Good, The Bad And the Ugly"* On To Part 2 Ya'll!