Be Thankful For Your Friends
Disclaimer: I do not own the characters of the Magnificent Seven, they are owned by Trilogy, MGM and CBS. (I do however own the fairies I created to torture said characters). I am making no profit off of this, it is for entertainment purposes only and not to foster the belief in Fairies.
Summary: It's Thanksgiving day and the guys are asked by JD if they are thankful for anything. While they all answer, to some extent, they are just not thankful enough for the fairies who decide to show them exactly what would happen if they hadn't become friends when they met.
Comments: This is the second fic that the Fairies have made an appearence in. The first is Resolutions which is archived at Nancy's site. She is graciously archiving this one as well.
Thank you to Miz Royale who beta'd this for me and being a great cheerleader. She is truly my angelic twin. :) Also thanks to Shay for her encouragement and to Nancy for agreeing to read this and archiving it.
It was a bright, sunny Thanksgiving Day in Four Corners and most of the residents were in their homes enjoying large meals of wild turkey, rabbit or even, if lucky, venison. The peace keepers however were very happy enjoying Inez's cooking in the saloon, along with, as Ezra put it, games of chance'.
"I believe that makes this the fifth hand I have won, and am indeed thankful," Ezra grinned as he swept up his winnings.
"Is that all you're thankful, Ezra?" JD, the youngest of the group asked.
"Why, of course not, Mister Dunne." The gambler shuffled his deck of cards before answering. "I am very, very thankful that my mother does not choose to attend holidays with my person."
"Ezra, for that, we are all grateful!" Chris Larabee raised his glass and took a long drink after he made that statement.
"Got that right, pard!" Buck joined in the silent toast to Maude's absence.
"Now brothers, you gotta admit, Maude's presence adds a certain-
"Chaos?" Nathan interrupted Josiah.
"I would not put it that way at all," Josiah smiled, "though she does tend to leave that in her wake."
"Among other things..." Ezra muttered under his breath.
"Oh, come on, you guys have got to be grateful for more than that!" JD harangued the group. The older men just shook their heads. It was New Year's Eve all over again, when the young sheriff had made them all make resolutions. The next day it seemed every one of the peacekeepers felt as if they'd been hanged, shot or run over by a wagon.
"I'm grateful Inez has finally learned how to stock good whiskey," Chris finally said as he took another shot from the bottle.
"And I'm incredibly thankful Carlotta has decided to start working above the saloon," Buck eyed the brunette beauty lounging near the bar. "And pretty soon she's gonna be real grateful that old Buck got paid this week!" the boisterous ladies man slapped his hat on the table to the loud guffaws from the rest of the group... except JD who only rolled his eyes.
"Vin, help me out here, ain't you thankful for anything real?" JD asked as Ezra dealt the next hand.
"Sure JD, just don't need to go broadcasting it to everyone," the tracker stated quietly. He didn't add that he was afraid if he stated out loud what he was thankful for, he was sure it would disappear. He knew it wasn't a logical thing to think, but that just seemed to be the way things went for him. So he decided that even though he was thankful for a whole lot of stuff, like his friends in Four Corners, he wasn't about to say so!
"Josiah?" JD turned to the preacher.
"I am thankful I had a lot of people in church today."
"Well, son it's unusual for many to turn out on a Sunday, let alone a Thursday."
The young lawman just sighed and turned to the healer. "Nathan?"
"I'm thankful I ain't had to fix any of your sorry butts this week," he answered, a little put out that Rain had elected to stay in the village... and not invite him to visit on this holiday.
"And we are doubly grateful not to have endured your uh, tender ministrations," Ezra replied.
"Really Nate, you've been a bear the last three days!" Buck agreed.
"Rain's mad at him," JD enlightened them.
"And what misdeed did you commit?" Ezra asked while adding his ante to the pot.
"I got no idea," the healer shrugged. "Ever since I come back from Red Rock she's given me the cold shoulder."
"Isn't the fair Carlotta from Red Rock and did she not arrive at this dusty little metropolis on the same day as your return?" Ezra asked.
"Oh yeah, and wasn't Rain in town that day?" Buck asked.
"I never saw her!" Nathan was surprised to hear that bit of news.
"I saw her head out of here real quick when you showed up with Carlotta in tow," Vin remembered.
"But, it wasn't my fault she came back with me... so did a couple of other people!"
"Don't explain it to us, explain it to Rain," Buck laughed. "I'm just thankful she came here!"
"You guys are hopeless!" JD decided.
"And what are you thankful for JD? Besides Casey not killing you after that little incident with the dress, I mean?" Buck asked, chuckling.
"It didn't look right on her, she should be happy I told her the truth!" JD was still defending his decision... and Casey still wasn't speaking to him!
"Even if they're wearin' a potato sack, you tell em they look good," Vin advised.
"Excellent advice Mr. Tanner," Ezra stated. "Now, I for one would be incredibly thankful if we could just play poker?"
The game went on and talk of thankfulness was dropped. At least, the subject was dropped in the saloon. But high above the saloon there were two little fairies discussing it a lot!
"Not one of them said they were thankful that they became friends!" Minerva (or Fairy number seventy-six assigned to the seven men) stated to Ethel, or Fairy number seventy-seven.
"And the trouble the head Fairy went to get them together too... and all the different fairies she has sent to watch over them! The nerve, not to be even a little bit grateful!" Ethel agreed.
"Well, we should just show them what they have to be thankful for then, shouldn't we?"
"Uh, we should?" Some of Ethel's outrage was fading in the face of that statement.
"Yes, we should!"
"But don't you remember what happened to Fairies number one and two??? They are still guarding that frontier family! And twenty three and twenty four... those private detective ladies that have never seen their boss' face! Why, forty eight and forty nine... the family with six kids? If we mess with these seven guys the head fairy will have us doing something horrible... like watching over that dog and little Timmy! And this is the best assignment I've ever had... I don't wanna lose it!"
"You don't want to lose Chris' smoldering green eyes, that's what your afraid of!"
"And you could go a day without hearing Josiah in that deep, sexy voice of his?"
"Look, we'll put em back just fine... and it will be while they sleep... ya know, they'll think they're dreaming. We'll just show them what life would be like without us great fairies around to make sure they end up together as friends and not killed!
"We're gonna be guarding that damn collie, I just know it!" sighed Ethel as she pulled out some gold dust from her bag. Minerva already had hers out.
"Hold it!" Fairy seventy six stopped suddenly. "Do we make it so that Nathan and Josiah didn't know each other before hand?"
"Oh, and Chris and Buck... the head fairy made them friends years and years ago!" Seventy seven stated.
"Well, if we're going to undo all that, it's gonna take a lot more gold dust. I mean, they'll still meet in Four Corners but they won't be friends. Yep, a lot more gold dust for this job."
"I've got some right here," seventy-six stated.
"So do I, but we're still going to need more, get the extra bag," seventy-seven directed.
"It's in the highest cloud!" she complained.
"So, you can fly!"
Seventy-six, or Minerva, sighed and began the long flight up, finally reached the cloud and grabbed the bag. She struggled with the heavy gold dust, flying it down to seventy-seven.
"All right, give it here, I'll add the extra," seventy-seven, or Ethel, directed.
"You will not! I flew up there, I'm adding it!" Seventy-six grabbed it away from the other fairy.
"I'm a higher number, I'm adding it! Besides, I already said the words!"
"While I was flying my little wings off! How dare you!"
"Well, I did so now you have to give it to me!"
"I'll just say the words over!" And with that statement a serious struggle ensued and suddenly all the gold dust spilled out of the bag, coating both the fairies, who were instantly put to sleep as well as the entire town of Four Corners. People dropped where they stood.... and began dreaming of a life without the seven as friends.
Ezra Standish raked in his winnings and smiled happily as the three gentlemen left his table. That smile stayed in place until a man stopped by his table and put a heavy hand on his shoulder.
"Having a good night, Ezra?"
"Yes, sir, it seems so."
"You won't forget my percentage, will you?"
"No, Mr. James, I am aware of my good fortune in being allowed to operate in your town. Before evening's end you will have a sizeable sum delivered, as usual."
"That's what I like to hear, Standish. You just keep winning."
Ezra smiled and nodded at the tall man, the entire time seething inside. If he could leave this backwater town he would, but unfortunately the gambler was making James' a large amount of money, therefore his life would be in jeopardy if he chose to depart... or so he had been warned by the man himself. No one was there to back him up, so he was stuck.
At another table Buck Wilmington watched the proceedings and shook his head. James had a damn hold on everything and everyone in this town. If only he had been in Four Corners the day that Judge had shown up. He sure as hell wouldn't have let him get killed by this bastard's nephew. Unfortunately he had been with a little beauty one town over, that was, until her husband came upon them. Damn near got his ass shot off, but he made it out in time and this was the nearest place to lay low. More outlaws than Purgatory right now he surmised. Of course with James the self appointed sheriff, no one who needed arresting would actually get arrested. Those that were just minding their own business... now that was another matter.
"Mr. Wilmington, I would like to talk to you about an urgent matter, please."
"No need to be so formal Mary, especially after last night," the mustached man smiled as the blonde joined him at his table.
She blushed at his comment but didn't avert her eyes. Buck smiled at the look she gave and returned one of his own. The lady had been grieving over the death of her father in law when he arrived. He learned it was a death not only senseless but too soon after the recent death of his son, her husband. A couple of doses of Buck's charm was all it took to help her ease that grief some. He was glad he could bring some happiness and laughter into her life. Lord knew this town had a way of sapping all the joy out of life.
"I was wondering, is there anything you can do to help that poor Mr. Tanner? James and his men are going to hang him in two days! He singlehandedly saved Nathan's life... he doesn't deserve this!"
"No, he doesn't," Buck agreed. "He should be taken back to Texas and get a fair trial but the bounty says dead or alive... and James wants to do it the dead way. Less fuss that way."
"If he hadn't been injured saving Nathan he wouldn't have still been in town when that youth..."
"I know, the greenhorn," Buck interrupted. James made him one of his deputies because the boy is naive as hell and easy to make fun of. Who knew he would pull out Vin's poster the same day he was deputized?"
"Nathan wants to do something, but can't... alone that is."
"There's not too many people in this town that can help," Buck cautioned.
"You mean there's not too many who will help, don't you?" Mary asked angrily. "Like that blonde gunslinger over there!" She motioned to an unkempt man dressed in black, an empty bottle before him. His eyes seemed to stare vacantly off into the distance. "He could have helped to save Nathan, he was there that day, but he was too drunk to do anything!"
"Mary, that guy's been in the bottle so long that even if he could crawl out I doubt his hands would be steady enough to shoot straight. Hell, he'd probably kill us."
"He had a reputation once, didn't he? Chris Larabee? Famous gunslinger?"
"Yep, at one time he coulda been a big help. I heard that men came one night, took him out of his house and set fire to it with his wife and son inside. He couldn't protect his family and that killed him inside. He hasn't been without a bottle since."
"That's sad, very, very sad."
"I don't need your pity, lady," Chris growled and turned their way.
"Didn't mean to disturb you, pard," Buck said in a conciliatory tone.
"Well you did, gossipin' about me. What happened to me is my business. Remember that or I'll be happy to prove just how straight I can shoot!"
"If you can shoot so straight sir, why didn't you help to save Nathan? Then perhaps Mr. Tanner wouldn't be incarcerated and about to die. If you want to prove something, help us break him out of jail!"
"Mary! Ya don't just go talking of jail breaks to anyone and not in the middle of the damn saloon with the sheriff at the bar!" Buck hissed.
"I must agree with your friend, madam, it is not the best route to go when planning nefarious activities of such an illegal nature," Ezra joined the two at the table. Pulling one over on James would be a subtle revenge... and fun. A jail break would be perfect, especially since James would be very sorry to lose the $500 bounty. If he himself took Tanner back to Texas then that would make up all the money James had bilked out his winnings.
Chris Larabee made his way over too, at a loss for a moment because Mary had talked back to him. No one had talked back to him in the 3 years since his family's death. Besides, a jail break sounded real interesting. And it would prove that Larabee was more than just a washed up drunk. Yep, he'd get his respect back and save a life. And have some fun.
Buck glanced at his new companions dubiously. A gambler, probably out for his own ends and a drunk, mean gunslinger. It'd be easier to break the kid out by himself.
"This is the help you brought?" Nathan asked as Mary snuck into the church with Buck, Ezra and Chris.
"We're plannin' a jail break in a church? Does that not seem a little contradictory to anyone?" Ezra asked, ignoring the insult to his and Chris' characters by Nathan.
"It was the best I could do. I assume Josiah said it was ok?" Mary asked.
"I have indeed given my blessing to this venture. It is a worthy cause, to save a life and give him a fair chance. I also know the timing is right, I have seen crows circling and know my life's end is near... so I shall go out doing a good turn for someone."
"Uh, yeah, that's right nice of you Reverend Sanchez," Buck greeted the man. "However, you are not an inside person and we need someone on the inside of that jail in order to break this boy free."
"Actually, brother, I will be hearing the accused's confession and will be inside the jail at the time."
"But you won't have the keys," Buck pointed out.
"It is my intention to obtain those, by force if necessary."
"I believe I could be of some service in this area," the gambler put in helpfully.
"And I'll be inside too, seein' to the bullet wound in his leg," Nathan advised.
"They're letting you give medical treatment to a guy who's supposed to hang in two days?" Chris asked incredeously.
"That kid is, JD Dunne," Nathan told him. "Real naive, got a big heart. Don't know how the hell he ended up in James' camp."
"About him, I don't think he deserves to be killed. Shoot any other of James' deputies, but not him. He doesn't know what he got himself into and honestly believes he's upholding the law," Buck ordered.
"James' men will kill him if we get Tanner free," Josiah stated. It was a fact none disputed.
"Take him with you then, if you can, but keep him quiet. Maybe we can knock some damn sense into that thick skull."
"You want us to break mister Tanner out and the deputy?? You must be joking," Ezra drawled. He saw no reason whatsoever to dirty his hands for a kid deputy. He wouldn't be dirtying his hands for Tanner either if the man wasn't worth $500.
"You don't want in on it, you're free to leave," Buck told him in a no non-sense voice.
"Just what are you doin' in on it in the first place? Nathan asked the southern gambler. "This don't seem to be your kind of work."
"If it will pull one over on Mister James and get me out of this town in one piece, it is my kind of work!"
"What makes you think any of us will get out of this in one piece?" Chris rasped.
"It's worth a shot," Ezra decreed.
"Vin's life is worth fighting for, I believe," Nathan stated quietly. "He saved mine, when I was a stranger to him, getting shot while doin' it. I went to help him and ya know what he says to me? I just lost my job so I ain't gonna have no money to pay you for your help.' He was worried about payin' me when he'd been hurt savin' my life. I don't think that kind of man would have murdered someone in cold blood. He at least deserves a fair trial and a chance to clear his name!"
"Amen brother," Josiah murmured.
"Now that we all agree why we're doing this, can we get on with the plannin' of it?" Buck asked.
"Mary, do you know when JD's shifts are?"
"They give him the evening ones so the rest of them can be in the saloon or above with the working girls."
"He also has the early morning shifts so they can sleep in," Nathan added.
"So we can do this a couple of ways," Buck directed. "Evening when it's really dark, cause one hell of a distraction and get Tanner out the back, or early morning, no distraction but quiet like and hope they can't track us real well when it gets light out. Suggestions?"
"I for one would be missed were it to take place in the evening," Ezra volunteered. "James and his men like to keep their eyes on the golden goose."
"I can slip in about midnight to hear the confession, and let it last a long time. Penance, you know," Josiah offered.
"I can say I was just with a patient and decided to check on Vin while I was up. Say around 3am? Does that give us enough time?"
"James' men are still up around then. Make it 4am and they will have drifted to their beds. Sanchez, hold off on the confession bit until then."
"Dawn's around 5, this isn't going to give us much time to disappear," Chris said.
"How would you know when dawn is?" Buck asked in surprise, assuming the man was well passed out by then.
"A man can spend a lot of sleepless nights counting the hours. Dawn's around 5am." Chris said with certainty.
"Ok, anybody know the area well enough to disappear?"
"I do," Nathan offered. "There was a Seminole Indian Village not far from here. It's abandoned now, something to do with a crazy confederate colonel and gold, but it would suit our purpose."
"All right, if you can, map it out for each of us in case we get separated," Buck asked. "Ezra, if Josiah and Nathan can't get the keys from JD you'll have to go in and pick the lock. If you don't have to, I need you as a gun. Chris, are you sure you can shoot straight?"
"Don't worry about me, I can handle it."
"What am I doing?" Mary asked.
"Staying the hell off the street and as far away from the jail as possible," Buck ordered.
"I will not! I can be a gun too, or a distraction if anyone's around! I am in this and I will be with all of you at the Seminole village!"
"It's better if you stay here, Miz Travis," Nathan agreed with Buck. "There's no guarantees we'll make it or they won't find us. You shouldn't be subjected to what will happen if something goes wrong."
"I'm subjected to these men every day! I want out, even if it means risking my life!" Mary nearly shouted. "I want to be able to leave this town or to bring my son here so I can see him! James hasn't let me leave and he won't! I want out!!!!!" she repeated with furiously. "OUT!"
"Uh, Mary will be riding with me," Buck stated after that outburst, "and you'll stay within my sight at all times," he warned her darkly.
"Ok, then we're set?" Chris asked.
"We're set," Buck confirmed.
Everyone nodded and began to sneak out of the church in pairs so as not to attract attention.
As Chris turned to leave Buck put a hand on his shoulder.
"One more thing, cowboy," Buck smiled sadly at the former gunslinger.
"No drinking, this is too important."
The two men stared at each other for a long time. Finally Chris broke eye contact and acceded by saying, "You're the boss."
"Don't' forget that," Buck ordered.
Chris nodded and left the church. Buck stared after him. He wondered what Larabee had been like before he lost his family. He also wondered how he himself would have handled losing a wife and son like that. Would he be the shell of a man that Larabee was? And would that shell help them pull this off? Sometimes it was hard being a good guy and even harder bein' the boss.
Vin Tanner lay on a hard cot in his jail cell in considerable pain. He was awake, despite it being around 3:30 in the morning he guessed. James had made his last rounds and was off with some whore and the town was pretty quiet now. But he was wide awake. How could a person sleep when it felt like there was a knife stuck in your leg?
His long hair was more unkempt than when he had hunted buffalo, his jacket had been taken so he was freezing and the once bright blue eyes were dull and lifeless. This wasn't the way he had wanted to go out. Hung before the town like some freak show in a carnival.
His thoughts were interrupted when he let a small groan of pain escape his lips.
"You hurtin' real bad?" the young deputy, the cause of all this as he understood it, asked.
Vin had avoided talking to him so far but now broke his silence. He was ready for a fight and if an argument was the best he could do with this wet behind the ears pup, he'd take it. "What do you care?" Vin asked bitterly.
"I care. It ain't right to see someone sufferin'," JD said earnestly.
The boy had really been trying to make up for this in small ways, Vin thought. If it were up to that rotten sheriff and the rest of his men he wouldn't have had any food in several days, no water and Nathan Jackson, the healer he'd saved, sure as hell wouldn't have been allowed to give him something for the pain or change his bandages. Of course, what did it matter now if his leg got gangrene? But the kid wasn't having any of that. He snuck Nathan in, and gave Vin his own food and water. That didn't matter much now either.
"Kid, you're the cause of my sufferin' so don't go tellin' me what's right!" Vin hissed.
"That ain't fair, I was only doin' my job!"
"If you was doin' your job then I'd be on my way back to Texas right now, where I'd get a fair trial. What you're doin' is committin' murder!"
"I uh, brought that up to Mr. James, that you might be innocent I mean," JD said hesitantly.
"Yeah, and what'd he tell you? Every man in a jail cell will tell you they're innocent when they ain't?"
"Somethin' like that," JD confirmed.
"Well, he's right, that's what they all say."
JD's surprise showed on his face. Not only was Vin Tanner talking to him, but he'd just about admitted he was lying.
"That don't mean some of em aren't innocent or guilty," Vin clarified. That's why they got trials and judges. James, he ain't no judge. He's got no right to be one, or jury or executioner."
"Why don't you tell me what happened then? How'd your face get on a wanted poster?"
Vin considered the request for a long minute. JD thought he was going to refuse when Vin suddenly sat up, trying to ease his leg from it's position.
"Might as well tell it to someone," he finally said. "Not like I'm gonna get another chance."
"You ain't told it to Mr. James?"
"He wasn't interested kid."
Vin's statement, uttered so matter of factly made JD realize that perhaps Vin was telling the truth, or at the very least, James wasn't the kind of Sheriff that was fair, or out to protect the people.
"Well, I am," the young sheriff stated with conviction.
Vin looked at him for a minute, as if to judge the truth of that, and finally began.
"I was a bounty hunter, after a man named Eli Joe. He was a mean son of a bitch and he knew I had him. I didn't reckon how smart he was though. Ya see, I'd never seen his face. I was trackin' him and came upon what I thought was his body, already dead. Like a fool, I took him in for the bounty since it was dead or alive. Only, it weren't Eli Joe. And now I'm wanted for murder."
"That's it?" JD asked, almost disappointed.
"It's enough for a $500 bounty. Sorry it ain't more excitin'," Vin drawled.
"So you need this Eli Joe to clear your name?"
"Yep, that or find someone in Tuscosa who could help, maybe say when they last saw this guy or verify my whereabouts." Vin shook his head sadly. "I woulda cleared my name if I had the chance, but that's been taken from me now."
"I'm sorry, I really am." JD turned from the prisoner then and went out on the boardwalk. He had a lot of thinking to do and very little time to do it in.
+ + + + + + +
"You look troubled, son," Josiah said as he approached JD, still out on the boardwalk. The young man eyed him warily but then shrugged. It was the town preacher after all.
"I'm startin' to have doubts about what the Sheriff is gonna do to Vin."
"Ah, the hardest part of your job, meting out justice."
"I ain't so sure anymore that it's justice we're-
"Meting," Josiah supplied.
"Yeah, meting out."
"I was going to hear Mr. Tanner's confession. If you would like to come in though perhaps we could all talk this through."
"That confession's gonna have to wait til I take care of his bandages, Josiah," Nathan joined the group. It then dawned on JD that it was nearly 4am and not the time for confessions or bandages.
"Hey, what are you two doin' up at this hour and visitin' the jail for?"
At his question the two older and much larger men steered JD into the jail and closed the door.
"You're gonna break him out, aren't you?!" JD's eyes were wide.
"Yep, we are son, now either you can hand over those keys and come with us or you can be knocked out and remain here, where James will find you and probably beat the holy hell out of you," Josiah offered.
JD quickly handed over the keys.
"You're gonna be real quiet about this now, aren't you JD? You're gonna come with us without a no noise and no trouble, or I swear we'll drop you in the street," Nathan warned him.
For an answer JD took the badge pinned to his shirt off and threw it on the floor. Josiah and Nathan smiled.
"You really bustin' me out?" Vin asked, his voice filled with both pain and relief.
"Yep, Tanner, we are," Josiah confirmed.
"Because you deserve a fair shake," Nathan said. "No one who saves a stranger's life is a murderer."
"He ain't! He was set up by Eli Joe, this bounty he was chasin' but Eli was smarter than him and tricked him into bringing back a dead body that wasn't supposed to be dead-
"Son, I believe we said you had to come along quietly," Josiah reminded the over enthusiastic youngster. Vin was just shaking his head at the boy.
"Oh, sorry, it's just that I ain't never been part of a jail break before, or broke the law at all for that matter, but this is why I came out west, for real adventure-
"Gag him, Nate, will ya?"
"I'm busy making sure Vin don't fall, you gag him," Nathan answered while tightening a bandage on Vin's leg and helping him up.
The foursome then made their way cautiously out the door of the jail, the former deputy actually going first to make sure no one was around. He darted back in after a few seconds of scanning.
"It's all clear," he promised.
It was anything but all clear, however young Mr. Dunne was not supposed to see Ezra, Chris, Mary or Buck.. He was quite surprised when the horses silently made their way to the escapee and his rescuers. He was even more surprised to see Buck Wilmington leading his own horse. Ezra Standish rode silently up to the group from a different direction.
"Get it taken care of Ezra?"
"There is not one uncut saddle in the town of Four Corners," he informed them.
"Wow, I never woulda thought of that!" JD murmered.
"It was Mr. Larabee's idea, thought one I will endeavor to remember in the future." Ezra tipped his hat to the man.
"Let's get out of here, this isn't over yet," Buck reminded them.
They all nodded and quickly made their way out of the town of Four Corners.
Dawn had well broken by the time they made their way to the Seminole village. It was a sad sight. Everything in it had been destroyed, except the caves that sheltered it. It was in those caves that the seven men and one woman took refuge. They had agreed to hole up there and travel at night, when the heat was less fierce and they had the added protection of the cover of darkness.
No one had mentioned taking Vin back to Texas, yet that was. It was a thought that worried the exhausted and pain ridden man. He knew these people were risking their lives for him and he owed them something. The fact that he was innocent didn't' seem enough. He hated owing anyone anything... and this was a debt that would weigh heavily on him. However, going back to Texas in his condition didn't appeal to him too much either. He needed to be able to find Eli Joe and his men, he needed to clear his name.
"Aren't you supposed to be sleeping?" Chris Larabee asked as he eased himself down next to the former bounty hunter. They were near the opening of the cave, Vin having insisted on it. He was not one for closed spaces it seemed. The two stared out in silence for a while.
"I don't' know why you all did this," Vin finally said.
"I can't speak for anyone else, but I had my reasons. It's been a long time since I helped someone just for the sake of helping them. It seemed right somehow."
"You sure picked one hell of a way to ease your conscience, pard. It's probably gonna get you killed."
"If it does, it'll be for a good cause," Chris returned.
"Don't' seem right, getting six other men and a woman killed cause of me."
"They had their reasons Vin, let it go. Besides, I for one don't aim to get killed. James is a power hungry bastard that needs to be taken down. That's what I aim to do."
"Hey, you're supposed to be restin'!" Nathan scolded, coming up to the pair. "Since you ain't I'll just change those bandages again."
Chris got up to leave and grinned at Vin in sympathy as the tracker groaned. Nathan was a good man but it seemed he was also a mother hen when it came to his patients. Vin wasn't going to have a moment's peace.
He still had a slight smile on his face when he joined Buck, Josiah, JD and Mary.
"Sent him out on patrol, make sure we don't get surprised," Buck told him.
"Good idea. Sure you can trust a gambler though?"
"Nope. I'm headin' out in a minute or two. How's Vin doing?"
"Seems to be holdin' his own. Worried some about why we did this. I think he feels he's gonna owe us for the rest of his life, that or we're takin' him back to Texas to collect the bounty ourselves."
"He said all that?" Josiah asked in surprise. The preacher had talked to the young man earlier and had gotten no more than five words out of him.
"Nope, just something I kinda picked up on."
"I don't think anything we say can ease those worries," Buck stated.
"Mr. Tanner wasn't treated very fairly by our town and I for one don't blame him for those worries," Mary defended, staring pointedly at JD.
"I was just goin' through the wanted posters! I didn't mean to almost get him killed!" JD said angrily. Instead of the adventure and comradery that he expected following this jail break he gotten boredom, being stuck in a cave and with people that seemed to despise him.
"Leave off Mary, the kid got taken in by James. He's nothin' but a greenhorn, what did you expect?" Buck tried to smooth things over. Of course his words did not mollify JD.
"Hey! I was right there with Vin trying to save Nathan! I musta shot three guys at least!"
"Yeah, I saw that. You shot them all in the back as they were runnin' away. Go back East kid, the West isn't for you," Chris advised.
"At least I tried to do something instead of standing around with my ass up a bottle!" JD cried angrily. He saw the hurt his words caused and immediately was sorry. But his pride did not let him show that. Instead he strode angrily to the entrance of the cave and left.
"Who wants to go after him before he gets killed?" Chris surprised everyone with the question.
"I believe it my duty, falls under the saving souls category," Josiah offered. And he too left the cave.
Mary snuggled closer to Buck and asked, "do you really have to go on patrol right now?"
"I can take that patrol if you want," Chris offered. "Give you two some time alone."
Mary blushed at the offer but Buck shook his head. "Thanks but I'd rather do it myself."
"Don't trust me yet?" Chris asked.
"Nothin' personal, but I don't trust any of you yet, and probably won't."
"What happens after we take care of James?"
"To Tanner?" Buck asked.
"We'll all go our own separate ways, including him. If he wants to go back to Tuscosa and clear his name, that's his business. If he wants to stay a bounty a while longer, that's his business too."
"What will you do Mr. Larabee?" Mary asked.
"Same thing I've been doin," he answered. Looking for the men that killed my family... only I'll do a lot less of it in a bottle." With that he walked back to the entrance of the cave.
"Mary, make sure you have this gun cocked at all times. Ezra and Josiah doubled back a number of times but they really ain't gonna have a problem picking up our trail. This system of caves might hide us for a little while, they'll look in the village first, but that search won't take forever."
"I'll be ready. Go make sure Ezra's doin his job and that Josiah hasn't thrown JD off a cliff yet," she smiled at him.
"Damn I hate to leave a woman as beautiful as you in a place like this!" Buck joked.
"Go!" Mary said through her laughter. Oh yes, Buck Wilmington was just what she needed to get on with her life. She couldn't imagine her life without him.
Ezra snuck through the back part of the system of caves. He remembered the stories of this Indian village, had the moment Nathan had mentioned it. Gold! Who needed a bounty and the trip to Texas when he could have gold? This system of caves was said to have been a gold mine at one time for the Indians. That was why that crazy confederate had attacked the village, wiping out everyone. Of course, the imbecile had failed to secure the location of the gold mine before he had done this, but Ezra was quite confident he could find it himself.
He was just going out of one cave and to mark his location again when he saw them. James and his men had not come from town as he had thought they would, but his ranch instead. Dammit! They were coming in the back way and looked as if they knew exactly where to go... straight for the caves. The men were at least a half hour off from the location. Enough time to warn the others, not enough to escape.
Ezra sighed as he looked at the caves again... possibly his only chance to be rich beyond his wildest dreams. The others would definitely not appreciate his sacrifice.
+ + + + + + +
"Mr. Standish!" Mary exclaimed when he came from the back of the caves.
"No time to explain my dear, we have company. Where are the others?"
"Chris, Nathan and Vin are at the entrance. Buck's out looking for you!" she cast accusing eyes at him.
"Well, no need to look any longer. We must depart however. JD and Josiah?"
"Gone as well, I don't know where they ended up," she looked away while answering so he wouldn't see the guilt in her eyes.
Ezra, who could read people like a book, a must in his profession, caught the tell tale sign and knew she had something to do with it. However now was not the time to discuss it.
"Very well. I will apprize the others of the situation. If anyone comes from the back, shoot first, ask questions later."
Mary nodded in understanding and Ezra ran the twisting pathways to the entrance of the cave.
"Guess he was right not to trust you," Chris said at the gambler's appearance.
"We don't have time for that now. James and his men are coming in the back way. I estimate only few minutes until their arrival."
"I need a gun." Vin sat up at the news.
"You may have my spare one," Ezra offered, pulling a small caliber pistol from his belt.
"A pea shooter?" Tanner questioned the southerner.
"No, sir, this is a pea shooter," Ezra answered, a gun emerging from his sleeve.
"Yep, that's a pea shooter all right," Vin smiled. He might be in pain and about to die but his sense of humor was returning.
A bullet suddenly sounded in the cavern followed by a scream. Chris and Nathan rushed through the maze of twisting passage ways, stopping short behind some boulders to take in the scene. Vin and Ezra followed as quickly as Vin's pace would allow them.
The tableau that greeted them was, to say the least, not good. Six of James' men were behind him, one lay dead at his feet and the man himself had Mary in his grasp, a gun pressed to her temple.
"Let her go James! It's me you want," Vin yelled out from behind the small cover of a rock.
"Oh, I want your hide, Tanner, all $500 worth, but I want this pretty little gal for a different reason. However, I'm a reasonable man. You come out and maybe I won't hurt her too much."
"No! Don't Vin!" Mary screamed and dug her heels into James's instep. The man ignored her.
"I've got five more men on the way, that's eleven to what, your seven? Save her some pain and come on out, all of you. I don't take to traitors and in my book all of you are traitors."
"You're nothing but a slimy bastard!" Mary struggled in James' hold.
"Damn but I always did love a woman who could cuss!" Buck's jovial voice came, to Mr. James' surprise, from behind him. This took about a second to register, but it was a second too long. The villain turned his head to see where Buck was coming from and Chris Larabee's gun exploded, sending a bullet straight through the man's temple.
Mary screamed as she was showered with blood. Gunfire on all sides erupted and Ezra rushed the woman, throwing the two of them behind a boulder. The gambler covered her with his body while still firing.
Chris' reflexes were not as fast as they had once been, he noted, but they were getting the job done. Vin, using the borrowed, gun was deadly accurate. Nathan worked his way, firing all the while, to Buck who had fallen with the first shots.
Josiah and JD added their skills and bullets to the battle, taking care of the five men coming from the front of the cave. The preacher and former deputy had seen them enter the cave and made short work of the killers.
It was over in just a few seconds, but to Mary it seemed like hours. Each death, each drop of blood, seemed to be in slow motion. Buck's voice seemed to echo in her head as well. "Damn, but I always did love a woman who can cuss!"
"Buck," Mary croaked as she crawled out from under Ezra.
"He's over here, Mary," Nathan said sadly. "A bullet, it went through his heart. I'm sorry." The healer bowed his head after making that pronouncement.
"NOOOOO!" Mary screamed and threw herself at the fallen man. "Oh God, no!!!"
Each man bowed their heads in grief. Josiah helped JD sit down. The young man had killed two men and seen the leader of this rescue die. He was in as much shock as Mary.
Chris wondered, if he had been at the top of his game, would that man, the man that had given him a chance to prove himself, still be alive?
Similar thoughts went through all of their heads. Ezra worried that his absence had caused this. Perhaps he should have stuck to the patrol route. Josiah berated himself for not getting there sooner. Nathan told himself that while there was nothing he could have done to save him yet that didn't sit well. And Vin, Vin just plain blamed himself for the whole thing.
"Oh God, why, why Buck?" Mary was sobbing. And each man asked that question of themselves as they turned away, their own faces awash in grief-
"WAKE THE HELL UP!" Fairy number seventy seven assigned to protect the peacekeepers of Four Corners screamed at her partner fairy, number seventy-six.
"Geesh! I'm up! What's all the fuss about? Can't a fairy take a cat nap? I had the weirdest dream ya know? Buck died and then Chris, poor Chris..." the fairy trailed off and her eyes widened as she looked down on the scene below.
Mary was running into the saloon where the seven men, still groggy, tried to hash out why they had all fallen asleep playing poker and why they had all had the same dream!
"You're alive!" Mary gasped and stopped just short of Buck.
"Uh, yeah, seems that way... though I do appreciate you sobbing over my dead body like that. If you want some private time with me I'd be happy to oblige," Buck's eyes twinkled but his tone lacked the humor his words held.
"You fell asleep and dreamed that too?" JD asked, wide eyed. "I almost got Vin hung! I never would do that! Honest!"
"It's ok, JD, it was just a dream," Chris reminded him. However he was looking at Buck in a new way. Perhaps he had undervalued their friendship from the beginning. Would he be that Chris Larabee if Buck hadn't been around? He blamed himself, and Buck if he were honest, for Sarah and Adam's deaths. It was a whole hell of a lot easier to blame Buck than himself alone, and Buck had shouldered that blame, gotten him out of the bottle time and again... and Chris had never thanked him. He didn't know why they had all had the same dream, but it sure was an eye opener.
"Forget powder! We need lots of forget powder!" Minerva screamed as she saw more people running towards the saloon to assure themselves that Buck was alive.
"We don't have enough forget powder to do the whole town! Oh, God, the head fairy is gonna send us away forever! Forget that dog, we'll be guarding-
"Teenagers who find stupid creatures called Pokemon! That is what the two of you will be guarding from now on! The bane of every adult's existence!" the head fairy growled.
Minerva and Ethel turned just in time to see her and about 20 other fairies descend from the clouds. Then they were suddenly zapped, presumably to Pokemon land.
"All right, Clean Up Teams two and three, take the north end of town, one and five, the south. Four and six, I want east from you, seven and eigh, west. All of you make sure that the outlying ranches, especially the James ranch, were not touched by the gold dust. The rest of you, help me with the saloon and the buildings in the center of the town. I will be taking the seven personally. Questions?"
"No ma'am!" The fairies chorused and began the arduous task of making an entire town forget a dream that lasted a day and half. Once they were done, the head fairy would have to turn back time so that they didn't lose track of the days. The whole town... this was gonna take a lot of powder and dust!
"You are going to make the seven forget as well?" The head fairy's assistant asked.
"I'm going to leave Buck and Chris' memory intact. I think this was an important lesson for them about their friendship," she replied.
"Buck will chase Mary forever now," the assistant laughed.
"No, Chris will stop that one," the head fairy smiled.
"Seventy-eight and seventy-nine are arriving now," the assistant looked at a cloud approaching.
"Let me see the documents on them please."
The assistant handed some scrolls to her boss and watched as two females, dressed exactly alike jumped off of the cloud and landed gracefully at their sides.
"It says here you two are the fairy twins'?" the head fairy questioned.
"Yes, we started out with the same name and found we had so much in common that we decided to become twins," seventy-eight explained.
"Uh huh. This is your assignment. You are to protect, guard and report on events that happen to the seven men who are peacekeepers in this town. I have just sent the last two fairies to guard Pokemon trainers so don't screw this up!"
The two nodded wisely as they were led to the view of the saloon.
"The man in black is Chris Larabee, he's the leader. The young man with the long hair and bucksin coat is Vin Tanner, the sharpshooter and tracker. Then there's Buck Wilmington, he's Chris' oldest friend and quite the ladies man. Josiah Sanchez is the gray haired gentleman preacher of the town... are you two listening to me?"
"You lost them on Vin Tanner, Ma'am," the assistant informed her.
"Look at those blue eyes!"
"And that gorgeous long hair!"
"I would love to see what's under that coat!"
"I'm gonna see what's under that coat first!"
"HOLD IT!" the head fairy yelled. The two new fairies looked at their boss guiltily.
"Ahem, may I suggest a solution?" the assistant fairy broke in.
"Please do," the head fairy stated coldly.
"I know of two fairies that are getting burned out traveling from world to world, following the SG team around. Perhaps they would like a nice rest and you could send the twins over to guard the SG team for a while?"
"SG team?" the twins questioned.
The assistant pulled out some scrolls with pictures. "Col. Jack O'Neill, commander, Daniel Jackson, archeologist, Major Samantha Carter, Scientist, and Teal'c, Alien Jaffa."
"You lost them on the first two, but they aren't fighting over em, so very well, you two are reassigned," the head fairy stated. And with a wave of her wand the two were wisked away, much to their disappointment. Both were yelling goodbye to Vin. The tracker actually looked up as if someone had called his name.
Two new fairies were in their place and the head fairy went through the entire spiel again, with warnings. Then she and the assistant went to work on the seven.
"Do think these two new ones will work out?" The head fairy asked.
"Well, you didnt' lose them until Nathan and Buck, so maybe..."
"It's hopeless, isn't it?"
"Yep, I'm sure we'll be back here cleaning up another mess by Christmas," the assistant stated.
The two looked down at the seven men, now with memories restored, except Buck and Chris.
"What makes them so special, do you think?" she asked her boss.
"Their friendship, their honor, their skills, just who they are," the head fairy answered.
"Yeah, I guess so," the assistant responded. She didn't add that every darn one of them was too handsome for words too... not wanting to be sent to cartoon land... but she was thinking it!
(Or so the head fairy hopes!)
Comments to: Karikay28@aol.com