The following is a work of fan fiction based on the CBS television series, The Magnificent Seven. It is in no way intended to infringe on the copyrights of CBS, MGM, The Trilogy Entertainment Group, The Mirisch Corp., or anyone else who may have legal rights to the characters and settings. This story is strictly for entertainment. 

Dedicated to Antoinette, MAC, Sarah, Mary and for my sister Eileen, thanks for all your help and support during the year, without you all there wouldn’t be a story. Have a Very Merry Christmas and a Peaceful and Happy New Year.

In the Gambler and the Renegade AU

This story continues on from Four Corners.

Some dialogue taken from the episode “One day out west.”

Second Chances

 

The shoot out in the Indian village had ended with the destruction of the Ghosts of the Confederacy, and the death of Colonel Anderson.

Chris Larabee came out of the hut that had been set aside for the wounded gun men, Nathan had been treating Buck, and it looked like the old rogue was going to survive. He ran a hand through his blond hair, and took a deep breath of the cold night air. Looking up he saw Vin keeping watch, he raised a hand to him, the Texan waved back and then seemed to melt into the countryside. Some of the soldiers had escaped, but without Colonel Anderson, it was unlikely they would return, but it paid not to be caught out twice. Vin had taken the first watch, allowing him to stay with his old friend during the critical time. Chris paused and fishing out a cheroot, he lit it, and saw his prey sat alone and away from the rest of them.   

“He came back Brother,” Josiah said as he limped up behind Chris.

“That’s why he’s still breathing, preacher.” Chris said as he left Josiah and walked over to Ezra.

Ezra looked up, and got to his feet, if he was going to face off with Chris he wasn’t going to do it sitting down, Ezra had made his living from sizing people up, and he could see by the tense way the gun man stalked towards him that Chris Larabee was angry.  Chris stopped in front of him, and for a long minute they just looked at each other, and Ezra felt that he was being weighed up and felt wanting, and that hurt more than he could ever have thought possible. Usually what people thought of him was immaterial, he lived by his own code, but somehow that had all changed and he was still trying to puzzle it out. His pride refused to let him break eye contact with the blond gun man, he lifted his head a little higher,  he would take what he had coming to him, it was his fault they had all nearly died, and mistakes like that had a price.

“You ran out on us Standish, gonna tell me why?” Chris’s voice was cold and deadly, to Ezra it was hard to think that this was the same man that was his lover, it was as if he was talking to a stranger.

“I wasn’t running out on you Mr. Larabee.”

“The boys think you were?” Chris said, taking a pull on his cheroot.

 “Then the boys are wrong, it had nothing to do with you, or Mr. Tanner, or any of the others, my profession predisposes me, towards a certain attraction to ready money, and I am afraid that the lure of the gold mine was something I couldn’t resist.”

“So that was the only reason, you ran, the lure of gold over your loyalty to us,” it was the way Chris said that Ezra easily read through the words, us, meant him and Vin, not the others, he was be accused of turning his back on his lovers.

“I wasn’t running Mr. Larabee, I”. Ezra paused, he looked up into the night darkening sky, and took a steadying breath, “It is not easy for me, to explain, and I am not sure that you would believe me, after all I am a cheater.”

Ezra had heard what Chris had called him in the saloon, and he saw that that his use of the word had struck home.

“Then talk to me Ezra.” Chris’s voice had dropped to a softer tone, and that was what got through to Ezra, he searched Chris’s face, and saw something in it that encouraged him, people usually condemned him without allowing him to explain, branding him a lying conman or worse, he had thought after that crack that Chris would do that same, but this time it was different. It was almost as if Chris was allowing him the benefit of the doubt it was then Chris added prompting him.  “You wouldn’t leave Vin, willingly, so what happened?”

“Our job was done, the ghosts had been turned away from the village, the children had told me about the  gold mine, and I decided to take a look, also, I wanted to give you time to get to know Mr. Tanner better without me being there. If this,” Ezra made a small hand motion between them, “is to work you need to be able to become acquainted with Mr. Tanner without my presence being required. Just as I will want to be alone with him, so will you, my plan was to meet you back in the town.” He put his hand into his pocket and pulled out a rumbled piece of paper, and handed it to Chris, there was three cryptic lines, as the gun man read it  he said “I was going to give this to one of the children to give it to you.” Ezra straightened up, “I made a mistake, it will not happen again,” his lips twitched into a small smile “after all Mr. Larabee to err is human, to forgive is divine".

“Never thought of myself as divine, Ezra. But understand this, never run out on me again no matter why.”

You have my word as a southern gentleman, it will not happen again.”

“Make sure it doesn’t.” Chris said levelly, and then added with a shadow of a smile “Cat got your tongue Standish.”

Ezra shook his head in surprise, “I that is I expected.....” he trailed off with a shrug.

“Could threaten you if it makes you feel better, could beat you to a pulp, but I recon what ever I do isn’t half of what you feel right now.” Chris paused, “if you hadn’t come back it would have gone bad for Nathan, but that would have only been half of what they would have done to Vin, with him being a Texan, throwing his lot in with Indians, blacks and Yankees.”

Ezra paled, “Then I am pleased that I was in time, and it will not happen again” Ezra repeated willing the other man to believe him as he added “Mr. Larabee, I have too much to lose now, that is more priceless to me than any gold mine, the gold was secondary you must believe me.” The sincerity was in Ezra’s voice, this wasn’t a conman working a mark, this was a man that was opening himself up, allowing his professional mask to fold back, and show the real man.

Chris closed the distance between them, what he felt for Vin and Ezra was illegal and would not be tolerated, and could get a man hung, so they always had to be careful, so he made sure that his body blocked anyone else’s view, as he put his hand out and laid it  lightly on Ezra’s good shoulder, knowing the other shoulder was still sore from being dislocated,  and squeezed it lightly, before trailing his hand up, to cup Ezra’s face, the gambler turned his head slightly, his lips brushing Chris’s palm. The contact between them was fleeting, but enough to reassure Ezra that Chris believed what he told him. Now it no matter what the others thought of him, as long as Vin and Chris believed him that was all that mattered.

It was then that Chris said, “you know that we can’t tell the boys the real reason, and as far as their be concerned you’re a two timing gambler, who lit out on us when we needed you.”

“People have through worse Mr. Larabee, the fact that you and Mr. Tanner will know the truth will be enough for.” When Chris went to open his mouth he added “it has to be.”

Turning Ezra looked up to the ridge where he had last seen Vin, Chris gave his shoulder a gentle push in that direction, as Chris said firmly “find him Ez.”

“Aren’t you coming Mr. Larabee?”

Chris shook his head, “I’m going to check up on Buck,” he paused just as Ezra began to walk away and added “make it right Ez; don’t come down until you do.”

Climbing up from the valley bowl that housed the village, it became darker, as he ventured further from the village fires until the only light was from the moon over head. Not usually one for nerves, Ezra lit a cheroot, as he walked and tried to work out what to say to Vin. The Texan had an unhealthy liking for the truth, straight and unvarnished, a personality trait that his dear mother would find deplorable. 

“Thought you knew better than that.” The voice startled Ez, and caused him to spin round there was a click as the derringer sprang into his hand. Vin was stood behind him.

“Mr. Tanner that is a good way to get yourself shot,” Ezra said as he pushed the derringer back into its spring loaded carriage strapped to his forearm.

“I’s  ain’t the idiot walking round with a smoking cigar, sure way to get yourself shot, got me more than one Yankee that way.”

“Then it’s good job that I am not a Yankee.” Ez drawled, smiling.

“So why you up here, it ain’t your watch,” Vin cocked his head slightly, “can’t see Larabee trusting you after you walked out on us.” Vin’s voice went cold, and in the dimming light, Ezra saw the hurt in his eyes. It was like an icy hand clutching at his heart, more damming than any words that the Texan could have said to him.

“I wasn’t leaving, no matter what the others might say or think.”

“Word is you went after the gold and near on got us all killed, left us when we needed you the most, if you have been there the ghosts wouldn’t have gotten to us.” If Vin’s words had been spat at him with anger, Ezra could have understood it, but instead it was said emotionlessly, as if he was stating a fact pure and simple.  The cold fist that seems to be curled round Ezra’s heart tightened.

 “So I’s need you to tell me the truth, Ez, why you run out on us?”

Ezra found his mouth dry, and he could feel his heart thumping in his chest, “I wasn’t running out on you and Mr. Larabee, I thought that our mission was finished, the ghosts defeated, I was heading towards town.” Straightening up Ezra added “I did look in on the mine and it confirmed what the children said, it hadn’t been used in years. But that was not the reason I left. I wanted to give you and Mr. Larabee time together; I saw the way that you and he were better for the time that you spent alone together.” When he saw the frown he clarified, “When he joined you on your watch the night before the ghosts attacked. You need time together, and just as you gifted time to Mr. Larabee and myself on the journey to Four Corners, I wished only to replay the gesture.” Ezra paused and offered a hand to Vin, for a long moment it hovered in the air and then Vin took it. Taking a step closer Ezra pressed Vin’s fingers against the side of his throat, “you can feel my pulse, my life force Mr. Tanner.” The Texan nodded, “I swear by all that I hold dear to me, that Mr. Tanner, being  our love,  that I was not running away for the gold, but wanted to give you time to be together,” he added “you can feel my pulse, if I had lied it would have speeded up, did it Mr. Tanner.”

Vin shook his head, as he pulled his hand away, “You didn’t have to do that Ez.”

“But I did Mr. Tanner, I wanted there to never be a moment’s doubt between us.”

“You didn’t say to swear on the bible,” Vin said thoughtfully.

“I am not a man who frequents churches, to swear on the bible would be blasphemy, what I do care for is you and Mr. Larabee, that is my core belief and I would not have risked your life and his for a minute. There is something that Mr. Larabee said; he said that it would have gone badly with you, the ghosts.” Ezra trailed off.

“Yeah well they didn’t take kindly to me, being there.” Vin said, and then shrugged.

“Because of Mr. Jackson,” Ezra asked.

“Don’t see color in people Ez, people is either good or bad, seem plenty of both in my time, seen plenty of hate. Had a whip taken to me because I lived with the People, by a couple of mule skinners, said if I wanted to be red they would make me red.”

The shock must have shown on his face because Vin smiled at him, in that shy way that made Ezra want to throw him to the ground and ravish him. “The scars on your back, I never wanted to ask.”

“Nearly killed me, took the skin right off my back, would have died, but for the   Shaman, the old man wouldn’t give up on me, said my life wasn’t spent yet. Healed real well, can hardly see them.”

“Most people are not you Mr. Tanner, and for that the world is a poorer place.” Ezra laid a gentle hand on Vin’s arm as he added.  He felt Vin’s hand cover his, and words suddenly were not important between them.

He wanted no more than to take Vin some place and show him what he felt for him, but he knew that he couldn’t not now, only later when they got back to the town. They still had to get the wounded men back to Four Corners.  Instead he kept watch with Vin until Chris came up to spell them; the gun fighter didn’t ask any questions, just patted Ezra on the back.

 

Chris smiled as he heard the two men’s conversation come floating back to him on the night air.  

Vin kept pace with Ezra and turned to him as he drawled “you shoot a cannon pretty well, pard.”  He couldn’t help but smile back at his lover, as Ezra said dismissively, “dreadful, I was trying to hit Anderson,” then all pretense was forgotten as he grinned back at him, and they continued back down to the village.

0-0-0-0-0

The seven started on their way back to Four Corners the next day, Nathan hadn’t been happy he would have preferred Josiah and Buck taken another couple of days to rest and heal before the journey back to town. But neither of them wanted to be left behind.

Buck rode with one hand pressed to his chest, he had been lucky he knew that, Anderson hadn’t been able to get in a good enough blow to kill him, but the wound had hurt like hell, and he had lost blood, but thank god it hadn’t been serious, he had seen enough men split in half by a saber during to know that wasn’t a way he wanted to die.  JD stayed close to him, the kid was like a fish out of water, trying so hard to fit in, but there was a world of difference between him and them.

There was something going on which Buck made thoughtful, but he couldn’t get a handle on it, JD was wary of Chris, that wasn’t to be surprised as Chris could be one scary son of a bitch, but the kid was also keeping clear of Vin Tanner, and in the time he had known Tanner since setting out on this job, Vin appeared to be easy going, deadly but easy going.  Also he was avoiding the gambler as well. There was a tension that was building between the four of them.  Buck sighed, looked like he was going to have to get to the bottom of it, because if JD pissed Chris off the gun man was likely to put a bullet in his hide, but Vin, that boy had spent too long with the tribes from what he had heard, more Indian than white, so he was more like to take a skinning knife to the kid.  Chris and Vin were closed mouthed, so it looked like he was going to have to tackle Standish, the gambler was a big question mark, Standish had walked out on them, and nearly got them killed. Yet Chris had welcomed him back with just a glare and a snarled warning, when he had been happy to put his money on Chris killing Standish for his betrayal. Buck made a mental note to have a private word with Standish once they got back into town he wanted answers.

Whatever Buck had planned to do was forgotten when they reached Four Corners, they had found an old man in a frock coat, facing off three younger men with a stage coach scattergun in his hand, all piss and vinegar. Chris had stepped in and taken up the fight while the other six of them had spread out covering each other, while the leader of the three, James was arrested. The old man had turned out to be Judge Orin Travis, a circuit riding judge with a truly biblical sense of justice. From then on things had gone to hell in a hand basket for Buck, instead of being able to drink and get to know the fine ladies of the saloon, he had found out that JD had taken on the post of sheriff, and he had gone to the jail to put him right, lord oh lord the kid was determined to get himself killed. Storming into the jail he hadn’t been surprised to see Ezra sat behind the bars, when the gambler had asked to be released Buck had allowed his resentment of the man to come to the fore, and he had sarcastically snapped back at him. If Standish was behind bars then there had to be damned good reason why, and all he could think of it was about time too, the man was a cheating conman and a back stabber, better behind bars that out.

The kid was all but bouncing around the room, with pride at being taken on as sheriff of the town, he was talking a mile a minute, but it didn’t take Buck long to realize that it was nervous energy, the kid was on edge, and it soon began to wear on Buck’s nerves. Finally he dragged the kid into the store room, and said. “Look kid you want to tell me what’s got you so riled up.

JD hesitated shooting a look in the direction of Ezra from the store room he could see the gambler sat on the cell bunk, flipping cards into his hat. , “they ain’t going to like it if I tell you, but.” The kid stuttered to a halt, taking his hat off and running his hand through his black hair nervously.

“Who, they,” Buck promoted frowning at the younger man.

JD didn’t answer him directly, “You’ve known Mr. Larabee a long time haven’t you?” JD asked answering a question with a question.

“Since the war, met him in the 1st  Indiana Regiment when old Chris was a green Lieutenant, and I was his sergeant, followed him ever since, so yeah, I’ve known him a parcel of years, kid why?.

“Vin has a bounty on his head, $500.” JD blurted it out.

“What?” Buck snapped back and regretted it as he saw JD pull in on himself, and added “you sure about this kid.”

“Yeah, I joined the posse.”

Buck looked thoughtful, JD added “I am telling you the truth Buck, and Mr. Larabee knows all about it he was in the posse as well.”

Now Buck knew that Chris and Vin rode together, and that Chris has been looking for Tanner, but Vin carrying a bounty on his head that was new and it changed things, not that he would be dump enough to make a try for it. He didn’t have a death wish, but with $500 on his head, Tanner was going to be attracting bounty killers, and that would put Chris at risk. Because he was lost in thought he nearly missed the next thing the kid said. “Ezra’s got a bounty as well.”Buck turned on him, “yeah I heard about it, that’s why he’s cooling his heels next door.”

JD shook his head, “no Buck, that’s not the one, they were chasing him over, it’s chicken feed, there’s another bounty on him.”

“What?” Buck paused “say that again kid.”

“Ezra has a bounty on his head, the posse well Vin cut it down bit by bit, that man can sure shoot a rifle, I...”

“Cut to the chase JD,” Buck put in sharply.

“Err, well he ..... we he scared them off, and then we found out that   Ezra had split from Vin and most of the posse went after Tanner and four others went after Ezra and I joined them. Mr. Larabee went with the men that went after Vin.”

“And” Buck promoted a sick feeling was building in his stomach that told him he hadn’t hear the worst of it all yet. “You ain’t told me why Ezra was wanted, if it’s not got anything to do with the Fort Griffith wanted poster, what did they want him for?”

“The bounty was for $300  and it was for sodemy,” JD’s voice trailed away as he blushed scarlet.

“For what.” Buck bellowed and then dropped his voice as he caught JD’s arm and dragged him further away from the door of the store room.

Sodemy.” JD repeated hesitantly.

“Are you sure?”

JD nodded, “they give it to me to read,” and then he added quickly “I ain’t lying to you Buck, that’s the truth.”

“What else did it say on the poster?” Buck persisted.

“It said that Ezra had to be taken to Clarkesville, man called Parker was posting the reward.”

“Then it’s a private poster, damn it to hell, haven’t seen many of them in my time, but they usually mean that someone important got really pissed off. “ Suddenly Buck turned on JD, “what ain’t you telling me kid, and don’t try to lie, can see it in your face.”

“The men they said that since Ezra was a sodomite,” JD dropped his voice on the last word, “that it wouldn’t matter if they sampled the merchandise, they, he....” JD looked down at the ground, and scuffled on foot in the dirt.

Buck swore under this breath, he had easily read between the lines of what the kid was telling him. “Did Chris know about this?

JD shrugged, “the men said they had been showing the poster round the town, so he might have.”

“You keep this just between us, right kid.”

JD nodded quickly, relieved to unburden his news, just as he was starting to turn away, Buck said, “you said you where with them, I guess that means when they violated Standish, or did I get that bit wrong.”

JD nodded again, “you want to know why I didn’t stop them.” The young man took a deep breath and then looked up slowly, and to his credit held Buck’s gaze. “Because I didn’t think they would hurt him like that, never knew you could ..... Well you knew. I was too scared of them, I wanted to help him but.” Buck for the first time realized just how young JD really was.

“How did he escape? Because it’s obvious that he didn’t get to Clarkesville.”

“Tanner.” JD said the name and for a moment lapsed into silence, then took a deep breath. “He jumped me, said that the only reason I was still breathing was because I hadn’t touched Standish, then he knocked me out, and when I came too.”  JD’s voice trailed away, and when he spoke again his voice was a horrified whisper, “the other men where all dead and Vin he....” This time JD couldn’t continue.

Buck didn’t need the kid to go into details, given what he knew of Vin Tanner. Now it seemed that Vin and Ezra Standish had a history, which both men had conveniently had forgotten to tell anyone about, Chris was obviously aware of it, yet from what he had heard from Nathan, the way Chris had recruited Standish, had made it appear that they had never met before. Considering his reputation for pure violence, Chris surprisingly had a flare for the smoke and mirrors, of deception, there was no one better during the war at sniffing out traps than Lieutenant, later Major. Christopher Larabee. It seemed that Chris wanted their connection to be kept private, and the man was a bear where his privacy was concerned, without realizing it Buck raised a hand and touched his throat, remembering the razor and the warning that Chris had given him.

“Okay, JD, you keep your mouth shut about those wanted posters.”

“I am the sheriff, I should arrest Vin, and.”

“And your earn yourself an early grave, so unless you’re prepared to go against Chris Larabee one on one you best pull in your horns kid, and let me figure this out.”

0-0-0-0-0

Chris was sat in the saloon, a bottle of whiskey in front of him, and Vin by his side, the younger man had slide down into his seat when the judge had come in earlier, trying to keep his distance from a man that could order his neck stretched. He had watched bemused as Ez had been marched out of the saloon, he would have normally been concerned, but he knew that JD wasn’t about to hurt him.

Vin took a sip of his whiskey, “so how long are you gonna keep Ez in jail.”

“I ain’t the law, Vin,” Chris said favoring his young lover with a half smile, “and it doesn’t hurt Ez to cool his heels in jail for a couple of days, until the judge gets out of town.”

“He could take Ez with him.”

“No, he’ll want Ez to serve his time here; all he did was jump bail, that’s 30 days at the most.”

“Ez ain’t going to like that.” Vin put in.

All Chris did was smile back at him, devilment lighting up the green eyes as he took another sip of his whiskey, “he ain’t is he.”

0-0-0-0-0

The next day all hell had broken loose in the saloon come court house, when Lucas James had made his escape, leaving the Judge Travis slumped onto the floor with a bullet in his shoulder; the gun fight had spilled out onto the street.

Vin snapped his rifle up, getting a bead on James’s retreating back, just then JD came running out of the saloon, Vin yelled a warning even as he jerked his rifle up to clear JD, and he saw his target make it to the bend in the road and was out of slight. The tracker swore under his breath, the kid was going to get them killed one day, he was so damn green. JD tried to apologize, but Vin wasn’t in a mood to hear him, all the kid did was apologies, he had said he was sorry that he couldn’t stop the bounty hunters from raping Ezra. The kid had said he was sorry after he had drunkenly brought up things that Chris would have preferred to keep unsaid, after their first fight at the Indian village. He had been in near tears clinging to Buck’s hand when the big man had been carved up with Anderson’s saber, and nearly got filleted, and now again he was apologizing, well this was the last time, the next time the kid would find out there was consequence to what he did, painful ones.

 Vin brushed past JD ignoring him to take his place near Chris as the gun man was stood on the boardwalk, reloading.

“The judge?” Vin asked.

Chris nodded back towards the saloon “He took a bullet, he’s still breathing.” Chris paused then added “James is going to run back to his Pa’s ranch, the man don’t have a lick of senses. You figure we could get him out of his hole.”

Vin scratched his jaw thoughtfully, “alive or dead, you want him dead I’s can take him at 900 yards, won’t know what hit him.” He gave Chris a smile, “or you looking to take him alive, if'ing you’re thinking of that we’re going need Ez.”

Chris looked towards the jail, and Vin followed his gaze, and read the concern, he placed a hand on Chris’s elbow “at least they didn’t try to break him from the jail, Ez is safe.”

“More through luck than anything else, you heard about the bet he made with James,” Vin shook his head “JD told me, Ez’s bet was if he won, James would take him with him when he escaped and if he lost, James could kill him.”

“The fuck he did,” Vin exploded and started towards the jail, only for Chris’s hand to lash out and grab his arm and pull him to a halt, “you go and find the others, I’ll see to Ez.”

JD was in the jail;   he had started to thank Chris for helping him out in gun fight in the saloon, but trailed to a halt when he realized the black dressed gun man was focused on Ezra, even as he took a Winchester from the gun rack.

Ezra had moved a little closer to the bars, he smiled flashing his gold tooth “Mr. Larabee, might I assume you've come to take me with you?” He was so cock sure of himself that Chris had to suppress a smile, so instead he kept his tone cool as he said.

“Oh, I couldn't do that.”

“May I ask why?”  Ezra was expecting Chris to say many things but not that.

“You broke the law. You've been a bad boy.” Those words said that way made a shudder run through Ezra’s body that had nothing to do with the cold of the jail cell. It was said with a promise of retribution to come, handed out by one very possessive protective lover. Ezra licked his suddenly dry lips and cleared his throat. 

“I know where Lucas went.” Ezra offered trying to take the upper hand, and allowed himself a smirk as Chris said eagerly

“You do? “

“Yes, sir.” Ezra threw in the sir, with mock submission, but at the same time his tone of voice spoke volumes.

“So do we.” Chris said with a gloating smile that told Ezra all too firmly that he could play this game as well. 

Suddenly from having what he had considered a winning hand in this bargaining, Ezra realized he was losing control, “Well, great, but he likes me. I can get us in. You try walking in there you'll just get yourself shot.”

Chris eyed him coolly “You ran out on me once before. You wouldn't be thinking about doing that again, would you?” Ezra swallowed he hadn’t expected Chris to bring that up not now, the gun man knew the reason that he had run, but then he saw the slight cock of Chris head towards where JD stood, and understood, this was for the audience.

Ezra raised a hand and placed it over his heart “I swear upon the grave of my sainted mother.”

JD cut in “Now, you told me your mother was still alive.”

“Figure of speech.” Ezra dismissed the kid words off hands.

“Figure you're dead if you're lying.” The warning was cold and deadly, and Ezra saw the effect on the young sheriff as he heard them, the kid went two shades of pale, it was a chilling reminder of the man that Chris could be, but what only he could see was the look on his lover’s face, even as Chris threw him the keys to unlock the cell door, he could see that he would never be in danger from this man and that humbled him in a way he had never experienced before.  

0-0-0-0-0

Buck  was about to cross over to the jail, when he saw Chris coming out of building, he  looked on in disgust as Ezra followed the gun man out onto the street he still couldn’t understand why Chris would allow the man near him. His mind made up he cut through the alley way by the side of the Potters general store, meaning to have words with his old friend.

Coming round the side of the building he saw Standish, grab Chris’s arm and pull his old friend to a halt, the two men were having words but he couldn’t make sense of what was being said. Then Standish’s other hand came up to rest on the gun man’s shoulder trying to stop him from walking away. Suddenly Chris pushed Ezra away causing the gambler to take a couple of step backwards and stalked off, leaving Ezra stood shaking his head.

Buck’s anger blazed through him, in a matter of strides he was on Standish, grabbing the smaller man and throwing him up against the wall, again and again punctuating his words. “Keep your fucking hands off him Standish,” he spat the words into Ezra’s face, as he snarled “Or I’ll make sure everyone knows what you are, a fucking sod mite, and I’ll be first in line to stretch your neck.”

Ezra’s hand came up there as a click as the derringer snapped into his hands, he pressed it to the side of Buck’s neck, as he hissed “Let go of me, Mr. Wilmington, before I have to use it.” For a long minute they were at a stale mate. Buck released his hold on Ezra, pulling away from him as if he was something diseased.

“Now Mr. Wilmington, I can understand your concern for your old friend, and that Sir I respect, but if you ever lay hands on me again, I will blow your head off, do we understand each other.”

Buck backed way, “you any good without that pop gun to back you up,” his hand dropped down onto the butt of his gun, Ezra smiled coolly at him.

“That is something you don’t want to test me on Mr. Wilmington, I have seen you draw, and I would hate to have to bury, one of Mr. Larabee’s few friends.”

“Cock sure aren’t you gambler.”

Ezra didn’t answer him, just met his gaze levelly. Buck shook his head “this ain’t over Standish,” and turned and walked away, only once he had gone did Ezra release the breath he had been holding as he pushed the derringer back into its carriage, that had been too close.

An hour later Ezra sat on his horse, as Chris came out of the saloon, there was no Buck Wilmington at his side, the gun man looked annoyed, as he swung onto his horse, turning his gaze took in the five men with him, “let’s ride,” and dug his heels into the belly of his horse and took off at a gallop down the street.

0-0-0-0-0

Buck had heard them ride out of town, and turned back to the bar and got himself another beer, but as he lifted it he caught his reflection in the mirror, and halted the beer half way to his mouth,  he didn’t like what he saw. He had turned his back on Chris Larabee, the one constancy in his life since they had first met all those years ago. The man who’s wife had opened the door to their home willingly to him, a woman that had smiled and laughed at his womanizing, scolding him like an older sister. They had given him the only home he had known since his mother, and he had turned his back on Chris Larabee, his oldest friend   because of Standish and his jealousy of Vin Tanner, and how the young Texan had taken  his place as Chris’s friend and because of that, he had allowed Chris to ride off, when by right he should be at his side, taking his rightful place as Chris’s side.

Buck slammed the beer down on the counter, slopping beer onto the scarred wood, and gently pushed the clinging saloon girls away from him as he strode out of the saloon. He knew there was no way he could catch up with them, but he had enough faith in his old friend to know that he would succeed and when, not if, he did they would be coming through the pass hot foot with Jame’s men breathing down their neck, all he had to do was wait at the bottleneck and he would be able to give them covering fire.

It wasn’t long before he saw the rising dust that told him of men riding fast, Buck’s jaw tightened as he saw Tanner riding close to Chris, with Standish flanking him on the other side. Slowly he raised the Winchester and for a second he sighted onto the gambler as he rode low over his horse’s neck. It would be oh so easy to shoot him, with all the lead flying; they would think he had been shot by James’s men. But he was no murderer, so instead he let his rifle sights move over Standish to  train it onto  the men chasing them, and squeezed off a couple of shots, which sent three of  the James men tumbling from their saddles. The other men  gave up, turning their horses away, aiming a few wild shots at them  and heading back to James ranch, and only then did Chris pull his horse to a halt and wait for him to catch up, Buck kicked his grey horse, to greet him.

 “Good thing I came along.” Buck drawled, knowing Chris he didn’t offer any apologies, for the choices he had made earlier, he was there now that was all that mattered.

 

“Good thing you did.” Chris said flatly, but there was a twitch of a smile to his lips as he turned with Buck by his side and led them back to town.

0-0-0-0-0-0

Four Corners

Judge Travis watched as Lucas James was led away to the jail, it was only then that he turned back to the seven men that had made it possible. “Kind of hoping you gentlemen would consider sticking around for 30 days... keeping an eye on things until I get back. I'd be willing to pay.” Although the offer was made to all of them it was aimed at one person, the one person the Judge knew had to accept if this was going to work.

Buck already knew that he would accept if Chris said yes, but asked all the same “How much?”

The Judge looked towards JD, and answered “a dollar a day. Room and board. How about you, young Sheriff? You willing to take a cut in pay?

JD wasn’t yet ready to part from the other men, and said “I'm in, if everyone else is,” at the same time looking towards Buckfor his approval.

Ezra had been watching his lover and could see that Chris was seriously thinking about the offer, a quick glance at Vin and he knew that the Texan would do whatever Chris wanted. Since Ezra knew that his  was the only wanted poster that was made public he said “It's a pity that I, as a convicted felon will be unable to lend my services.” The breath caught in Ezra’s throat as he saw the Judge’s keen eyes move to Vin at that remark. Ezra let his hand drop casually towards this gun,  Vin was  at the back of their little group, and if needs be  could make a run for it, if he could keep them off Vin’s back long enough, Ezra was ready to die for his lover.

Then the Judge looked back at him, “Well, how about if you got a pardon?”

Ezra played his part, the one that Chris had allocated him from the moment in the saloon, and in the jail in front of JD Dunne, the self serving gambler. “Where do I sign?” He flashed the Judge a gold tooth smile, as the judge nodded and continued his role call of the other men, getting confirmation from Josiah and Nathan that they would help. But Ezra was watching Buck Wilmington, and their eyes met and there was complete understanding between them, he touched the brim of his hat to him, the others would think it was to the Judge, but Buck would know, that he was offering an olive branch between them. There disagreement could be resolved later in private.

Buck smiled as he said “A few women around here I'm not acquainted with.” It brought a smile from Chris, but Ezra wasn’t fooled, it was the response from the womanizing gun man that everyone expected, so it seemed that he wasn’t the only one playing a part, Buck Wilmington was doing the same. 

The Judge looked towards Vin, “You in the back, there,” Ezra tensed, and he could see Chris do the same, it was the way the gun man’s stance changed, a shifting of his weight balancing him if he needed to draw, but it wasn’t needed as the judge added. “Are you interested?”

“I got some things need taking care of. But I guess they'll keep.” Vin drawled but Ezra read between the lines knowing the final call would all depend on Chris Larabee.   

“Chris?” The judge asked the question of the one man that would hold the seven men together or blow them apart with one word.

 “I have a feeling I'm going to regret this.” Chris accepted, and Ezra knew enough to understand what the gun man was doing, they had spoken of the need to find a place to hole up for a while. Where better than Four Corners, the kid might have the badge, but Chris would have the power, as regulators they could deal with anyone that came into the town after Vin, and could back it up with a cloak of legality. They would bide their time and work out how to get Vin cleared of the murder charge, and he could ply his trade, and it was the one town he couldn’t get run out of, the one fly in the ointment was Mr. Wilmington.  The man was protective of Chris and for that he couldn’t fault him, but all the same he wouldn’t let him destroy what the three of them had their one chance of happiness. 

The end.