by KellyA

Webmaster Note: This fic was previously posted on another website and was moved to blackraptor in June of 2004.

Mar 1999

DISCLAIMER:  The Magnificent seven are owned by MGM, CBS and Trilogy.  I'm not profiting by their use in any way; this is just for fun.

[Well I needed to write this to get it out of my head so I could finish my other ones.  This is just your run of the mill Bank robbery/Hostage situation.  But then again when the Magnificent Seven are involved nothing is ordinary.]

The morning sun rose over the wind-swept desert floor, creating long shadows that preceded four dust-covered riders as they quietly entered the town of Four Corners.  The leader, who rode a large bay, was an unkempt, tired looking man whose younger days were far behind him.  He sat uncomfortably in the saddle.  The morning sun foretelling of another day of oppressive heat.  Several days of hard riding showed as one spasm exchanged for another throughout his aging body.  Three younger men brought up the rear.  Two of which carried the same harden exterior as their leader.   The third still held onto a naiveté that showed in his boyish face.  The leader pulled  his horse up in front of the Mercantile and stiffly dismounted, wincing as a cramp suddenly ran down his leg from his buttocks.   He placed his hands in the middle of his back and slowly straightened giving just a slight grunt of  relief.  The other men turned and he stopped himself from showing further discomfort, refusing to give into his age in front of the younger men.  He inspected the dusty town with a practiced eye, noticing every detail.  It looked like a hundred other towns he'd been  through.  He never stayed long enough to get very familiar with any one of them.  In his line of work it wasn't healthy to take up residence for to long. 

A red haired man twenty years his junior stepped up along side.  He took a long drawl from his canteen to rinse the trail dust out of his mouth.  "What'cha  think, Frank?"  The younger man asked, a Cheshire grin on his face as he wiped his mouth with his sleeve inspecting the quaint dusty town.  

Frank pulled his hat down  to shade his eyes from the desert sun.  He stared back at the red-haired man, whose red freckled face belied a malevolent soul.  Frank rubbed his grizzled face.  "Well Jubal, I see the bank,"  he muttered pulling his canteen off his saddle.  He looked over at the gray, weathered clapboard building across the street.   Taking a swig of water, he swished it around then spit it into the dust.  It dried up almost instantly.  "It looks easy enough.  So long as your information ain't horse shit."  He took another swallow of the tepid water.

The younger man absently stroked the four notches on the butt of his pistol.  Frank was fairly certain Jubal had not earned those notches in any fair fight.  "Don't worry Frank, my information is reliable.  This is goin' to be a piece a cake, in and out.  We're hittin' that bank just before they ship out the week's receipts.  It'll be loaded."  The young man grinned, which gave him a demonic look and sent a slight shiver down Frank's back.  Jubal's zealousness for this life made the older man slightly uncomfortable, but he realized he needed the younger man's energy and heartlessness.  He had lost his years ago.

+ + + + + + +

"Ezra!" Inez yelled from across the room, at the placid gambler, who sat alone at a table, practicing his craft.  She stormed up to him from behind the counter, a bottle of whiskey in her hand.  "We keep watering down the liquor and we will be serving water!" She admonished the handsome man, as she waved the bottle in front of his face, a slender hand on her hip.

Standish skillfully shuffled the deck.  The feel of new cards like the feel of a good woman in his hands.  He could manipulate a deck of cards almost as well as he could talk a man out of his hard-earned money or a woman into his soft warm bed.  He looked up at his fiery, yet very alluring partner.  "Now, now my overexcited senorita."  Trying to placate her with his smooth southern charm and guile.  "It's business, our sworn duty to this community.  We're doing them a service," he recited as if from some businessman's book of ethics.

The alluring Mexican woman closed her eyes and shook her head, causing dark strands of hair to fall over her face.  "They'll be doing you a service, a grave side service, if they find out!" she vehemently replied.  Ezra continued flipping over cards unfazed by Inez's warning.  Out of frustration she slammed the whiskey bottle down on the table demanding his attention.

"Do I detect a note of displeasure at my business practices?"  Ezra's gentlemanly manners started a torrent of Spanish, words that he was grateful he couldn't understand. He had begun to like the fiery woman, who was part owner thanks to his ever-interfering mother.  He often wondered if his mother had had an ulterior motive to this business relationship.

JD, the youngest member of the renown seven, who protected the town of Four Corners, unexpectantly interrupted his thoughts and Inez's tirade.  "Hey Ezra, I need a favor?"  The young gunfighter implored, as he removed his hat and nodded to  the flustered senorita, who turned and stomped off.  Ezra smiled, grateful for the intrusion.

"Ah..did I interrupt something?"  JD asked slightly abashed, pushing a strand of hair back behind his ear.

"Not at all." Ezra slowly gathered up his cards as he stood.  "So, what might this favor entail young Mr. Dunne."

"I need a loan..."

The suave gambler raised a hand cutting JD off in mid sentence.  "Stop right there!  I have an unwritten rule about loaning money to family, friends, acquaintances and strangers."

"What's the rule?"

"I don't loan money to family, friends, acquaintances or strangers."  Ezra turned his back to JD and stepped up to the bar where several papers laid spread out.   He began to peruse through them seeming to forget that JD was even present.  Inez stepped out from the back room cleaning a glass and staring daggers at her infuriating partner

Undaunted by the conman's seemingly lack of regard, JD continued, "Well, who do you loan money too?"

"No one!"  he replied sharply, removing his attention from the documents and turning to face JD.  "That's a bank's job and I never infringe on someone else's business."  Inez gave a curt snort, which Ezra ignored as he put on his jacket and straightened his bright red vest.  He busied himself by pulling out his ruffled cuffs and checking his hidden derringer.

"What do you need the money for, JD?"  Inez innocently inquired, coming around from behind the bar.  Ezra immediately got a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach.  He always got it when money was concerned; it was like an early warning system.

"I want to buy some land, maybe build a cabin,"  the young lawman explained, an impudent grin pasted to his boyish, stubble face. 

Standish saw the devilish gleam in Inez's dark eyes, and panic set in, he immediately intervened. "Listen Mr. Dunne,  I'm on my way over to the bank I can put in a good word for you with the Bank Manager."  Placing a friendly arm across JD's shoulders, he began to guide him towards the door and away from Inez's influence.

"Really, ah, how about co-signing a loan," JD dared to ask.

"Don't push it,"  he warned, dropping his arm and returning to the bar.  He  scooped up the papers and tried to put them in some kind of comprehensive order.

"I'll co sign for you, JD."   JD turned to the sound of papers scattering on the floor and grinned at the suddenly distraught conman.. 

Hoping he didn't hear what he thought he heard he quickly regained his composure. "Now see hear Senorita Inez we are not in the business of loaning money," Ezra argued as he bent down to retrieve the papers.

"Si, senor Standish, but we are in the business of gambling."  This put Ezra at a loss for words, for the moment.

"We only gamble when the odds are stacked in the house's favor," Ezra replied from the floor, as he collected  up all the scattered papers.  "I don't judge the odds as very good here."  He stood, holding the papers to his chest.  He looked over at JD who squirmed a little under his gaze.

"Hey, I'm good for it," JD replied a moment later,  realizing he had just been insulted.  He turned to Inez. "But Miss Inez I couldn't ask you..."

"Right you can't," Ezra broke in.  "And what makes you think Mr. Reid would allow you to co-sign a loan anyway?" he remarked rather smugly.

"You forget, I am part owner of this establishment thanks to senor Standish,"  she replied with the same smug tone.   She hated being bested by anyone, but especially by this man.  JD looked over at the now silent gambler, who suddenly appeared about to be ill.

+ + + + + + +

Frank glanced down the wide main street, noticing two men coming up from the other end.  Both walked with the self-assuredness that came with being very good.  "Get inside the store," Frank whispered over to Jubal, who motioned to the other two men to make their way casually into the store.

The Store Clerk quickly came out from behind his counter, where he had been stocking several shelves. "May I help you, gentlemen,"  he cheerfully asked,  then stopped as the men glared at him, sending a shiver of fear through his heart.

"We're just looking,"  Jubal snarled, convincing the fastidious clerk to return to the relative safety of his counter.  The boyish faced member of the gang, peered out from between the curtains of the huge glass window.  His green eyes followed the two men as they passed by.   The one dressed all in black had a serious gunslinger guise about him.  The other seemed more casual, dressed in buckskins, with long brown hair, but with the same professional edge.

"What's wrong, Frank?" Jubal asked, also watching as the two men walked past.

"I know that one in the black.  His name is Larabee, we have a history."   Frank wiped the sweat from his upper lip.  He started drumming his fingers on a wooden crate in front of the window.  Thinking back to the time him and Larabee had a run in.  It was his last job, in a small town somewhere in Texas, he couldn't remember where.  Larabee was part of the posse hired to track him and his men down.  He was the only one that made it to Mexico, but not before him and Larabee got a good look at each other during a shoot-out just this side of the Mexican border.  The only thing that saved him was that he managed to shoot one of the other lawmen and Larabee was forced to stop and help him.

The young man at the window became even more nervous than before.  "Frank, maybe we should call this off," he stammered.

"We go as plan TJ, he's only one man, two if his friend wants to get involved.  We can handle them, can't we Jake."  Frank turned to a very large, imposing man with dark dirty hair that hung down to his shoulders.  He had a look that would make a pack of wolves hesitate.  Jake picked his teeth with a very large knife and gave Frank a crooked smile.  His smile wasn't quite as dangerous looking as Jubal's, but the rest of him more than made up for it.

+ + + + + + +

Ezra and Inez continued their tirade as JD smartly followed behind.  As the threesome approached the bank front Mary Travis, who ran the local paper, 'The Clarion News', joined them.   Always the gentleman,  Ezra halted his rather intense discussion with Inez and tipped his hat.  He found Mary an extremely attractive woman.  Someone he would love to get to know better, if not for the rather erratic relationship between her and Larabee, which kept him at bay, for now.  "Good Morning Miss Travis and don't we look fine this beautiful morning."  Inez rolled her eyes at the thick southern accent that seemed to get thicker whenever Ezra addressed a woman.

"Ezra, always a pleasure.  Hello Inez, JD what brings you here so early?" Mary asked, her smile brightening her whole face as her blond hair glowed in the morning sunlight.

Dunne stepped up trying to appear older, than his boyish face presented.  "I'm here to do some business, Miss Travis.  I see how Chris has bought some land to settle a little and I thought to myself, that's a good idea."  JD hitched his thumbs into his gunbelt.  "A man needs a plot of land he can call his own."  Ezra rolled his eyes and grabbed JD by the collar pulling him behind him.

Mary smiled at the young man's enthusiasm.  She knew how much JD looked up to Chris and the others,  always trying to get affirmation that he belonged.  No matter what he did the others still thought of him as a younger brother they had to protect.

"And I am here to help Mr. Dunne in his business venture," Ezra stated gallantly as he opened the door and motioned the women inside. "Ladies, after you."  Mary and Inez walked past.   Ezra cut JD off throwing a warning glare over his shoulder, only to receive a mischievous smile from the young gunslinger.

+ + + + + + +

The four outlaws left the store, having tied the store clerk up as a precaution.  They casually made their way across the wide dirt covered street.  Frank scanned the street, noticing only a few people who dared the morning heat to complete their daily business.  The town's people seemed unworried, and that disturbed Frank. He'd been through very few towns where people weren't suspicious and a little nervous of strangers.  Jubal came up alongside Frank.  "Frank, I realize TJ is a cousin of yours or something, but I don't think we can rely on him."

"Don't worry Jubal, TJ's expendable." An evil smile deepened Frank's already wrinkled face.   Jubal peered over his shoulder to eye the unwitting young man, the same evil grin coming easily to his face.  Jake followed nonchalantly, spitting out a wad of tobacco and meeting Jubal's eyes in silent communication.

Inez, JD and Ezra waited while Mary finished her business with Mr. Reid, the Bank Manager.  He was a small balding man with wire glasses.  He prided himself on being very serious about banking.  He felt he was one of the most knowledgeable and prestigious persons in all Four Corners and maybe the territory.  And that no one could do without him, which he made sure everyone was painfully aware of.  He might have been a little pompous, but he was also fair and well liked by the population of Four Corners.  "Very good Miss Travis you are paid up to the fourth,"  he said to the attractive newswoman, as he signed several papers and passed them back to her. 

The bank was bigger than it looked from the outside, which wasn't saying much.  The teller counter divided the front room of the bank in half.  You could see the doorway to the back room right behind the teller window.  Mr. Reid was bank manager, but also head clerk.  He did it all and was the only employee, which cut down on overhead.

The door opened ringing the little bell, which hung on top. Everyone  turned to see who else would be conducting business this morning.  Frank and Jubal walked in, their guns already drawn, Jake and TJ followed close behind.  "Everyone hands up, this is a stick-up!" Jubal yelled gleefully, waving his gun.

JD an Ezra reluctantly raised their hands, as TJ fumbled to cover them, his fear showing in the shaking of his gun.  Frank pulled Mr. Reid out from behind the teller window, as Jubal raced past to the back room to check if anybody was there.  Mary and Inez backed up against the side wall.  "Okay  Frank, it's all clear here," Jubal yelled from the back.  Frank turned his attention to the front door and window, looking to see if anyone had passed by and seen what was going on.

"Ezra, we can take these guys there's only four and that kid is scared to death," JD whispered, his eyes never leaving the nervous young man's gun.

"Even a child is dangerous with a gun," Ezra whispered in reply.  The insinuation was  not lost on the young easterner.   He knew the others thought of him as a greenhorn, an overeager kid who was always trying to prove himself. "It's the other gentlemen I am concerned with.  They do not seem afflicted with the same case of apprehension as our friend,"  Ezra added watching as Jake herded the women and Mr. Reid together, thoroughly enjoying the fear he was creating.  Standish developed a whole new respect for the bank manager, who tried to keep himself between the women and Jake's wrath.  Jubal came swaggering out, from behind the counter. 

At that moment TJ seemed to relax, apparently thinking everything was under control.  He shifted his eyes as he tried to get a look behind him, before Ezra could stop him JD went for his guns.   TJ froze, probably seeing his short life flash before his eyes.  Ezra caught sight of Jubal raising his revolver, to take aim at his over-eager young friend.  Without thinking Ezra shoved JD aside, knocking him to the floor.   In one smooth, fluid motion his derringer appeared in his hand.  He fired, hitting Jubal in the arm, forcing him to drop his gun and grab his injured arm.  From the other side of the room a shot resounded.  Ezra was spun around and slammed into the counter, the strength running out of his legs as he slid to the floor.  The last thing he heard was Inez scream.  At that moment Frank fired his gun into the air and yelled,  "Okay, no one move!"  He waved his gun from side to side trying to cover everyone at once.   Mr. Reid wrapped his arms around both women trying to keep them safely against the wall.   Jake stood coolly against the counter, a sly grin on his face. His gun held loosely in his hand.  Jubal walked over, holding his injured arm, and kicked JD in the stomach picking his guns up.  The whole confrontation took less than a minute.  The young sheriff gasped and choked trying to catch the breath that had been rudely forced from his lungs.  He raised his head, a mask of dread coming to his face.  He sees Ezra lying motionless a few feet away a pool of blood slowly forming under him.

"TJ! TJ!" Frank slapped the young man up side the head, bringing him out of his stupor.  "Pull the shades and keep watch, the whole town probably heard those shots!" Frank snarled, not at all happy with what had transpired.

Jubal paced back and forth holding his arm and swearing.  Blood was slowing oozing out soaking his sleeve.  Jake did a rough search of the motionless gambler, taking his guns.

"Okay, I want you all together, now!"  Frank used his gun to direct the still standing hostages. 

Mary, Inez and Mr. Reid slowly stepped away from the wall and towards the front of the counter.  Mary gasped when she looked upon Ezra lying motionless on the floor.  A wave of emotion threatened to break down her normally strong composure.  She prayed he wasn't dead.  Mr. Reid tried to put on an air of disdain as he stepped up to Frank.  "Now see here my good man, you can't rob this bank, this is a Federal establishment." He nervously adjusted his glasses; beads of sweat forming on his furrowed brow.

Frank stared at the droll little man, not sure what to make of him.  "Well, there's a first time for everything and I think the Federal establishment is used to it by now," he sneered as he shoved the Bank Manager back over with the rest.  "Jake, keep an eye on these folks."   The menacing giant walked up spitting a wad of tobacco into the corner.  His gun pointed directly at Mr. Reid's bow tie, which moved up and down as he swallowed convulsively.

Jubal angrily pointed his gun at JD, who still was on the floor.  "I should blow your head off!"  JD tried to maintain some measure of dignity, as he nursed bruised ribs and tried to catch his breath.  But fear for himself and the others caused his heart to pound violently in his chest.

"Calm down, Jubal,"  Frank soothed placing a hand on Jubal's arm and lowering it.  "We have more pressing problems.  We're goin' have to revise our plan a little."  Frank looked towards the five people he now held hostage.  He had only planned on an in and out job, things had suddenly got very complicated.  He'd never held hostages before.  Usually people cooperated and stayed out of the way, or he ended up just shooting everyone and high-tailing it for Mexico for a few months.  He wasn't sure the latter wasn't still an option.  But he weighed the consequences more in his old age, whether this was good or bad thing, he wasn't sure.

Having heard the shot's people began gathering on the other side of the street and pointed at the bank.  Chris and Vin untied the Store Manager who described the four strangers.  The dark-clad gunslinger looked over at the bank and noticed the shades pulled and had a pretty good idea of what was going on.  He just couldn't believe someone would attempt to rob their bank.  As if reading his mind Buck bounced in. "Do you believe someone would have the gall to rob our bank," he cried out in disgust as he pulled at his gun belt.

Nathan smiled.  "Maybe they're new to the territory."

Sanchez came up  between Vin and Chris and pushed his hat back on his head.  "Chris, I was just talking to some of the folks here.  It appears that Ezra, JD and Inez are inside..."  Josiah paused and raised his head.  His blue-gray eyes meeting Chris' stony glare. "And Miss Travis."  Chris' heart missed a beat and the breath he was about to exhale stuck in his throat, but his face maintained its normal somber appearance.

"TJ, what's going on out there?"  Frank demanded, pressing his palm into his eye trying to hold back the headache that was slowly beginning to grow.  He gave up and ran his hand through his thinning gray hair.

"Nothing Frank, everyone is just standing on the other side of the street.   That man in black and  guy in  buckskins are there, and it looks like they have three more friends."  TJ turned towards Frank. "What are we going to do, Frank?"

Frank came to the window and peered out seeing the five gunslingers standing in front of the store. "Shut up and let me think!"  Frank yelled turning to glare at Jubal.  "Your information failed to mention that this town was protected by five gunslingers!"

Jubal just sneered back at Frank.

"Ah sir," JD nervously interrupted, clearing his throat, as he slowly got up off the floor and stepped forward.  He clumsily put his hat back on his head, still nursing his injured ribs. "That would be seven gunslingers," he corrected.  Frank stared at JD like he was loco.  "You see, you have two more in here.  So why don't you all just give yourselves up."

Jubal stepped up to JD; the two stared silently at each other for a moment.  Then Jubal turned his head to look down at Ezra and hissed,  "It looks to me like there's only six now, and if you don't step back it will be five."  This forced JD to lower his eyes wondering if Jubal was right.   Jake came up from behind, grabbed JD by the collar and flung him into the counter.  

Mr. Reid jumped, still not believing what was occurring, he'd never been robbed before.  "Please son, don't make them anymore angry," he pleaded with JD, who thought to protest until he looked down at Ezra, then whatever fight he had suddenly left him.

Mary slowly kneeled down next to Ezra.  She felt Jake's dark eyes follow her every move and she suppressed a shudder.  She checked to see if Ezra had a pulse, relieved to find one, even a weak one.  Inez quickly sat down next to her.  Looking down at the injured gambler made her regret all the nasty things she thought and said about him.  JD slowly moved closer, but stopped as Jake's gun came to bear.  He gathered up his courage and tried to keep his voice from wavering.  "I'd like to check on my friend."  Jake seemed amused by this, and doesn't say a word.  JD continued towards Ezra and slowly knelt down never taking his eyes off Jake's gun.  Why did gun barrels get so big when they were pointed directly at you?  Mary looked over to see Frank and Jubal in quiet conversation.  She turned her head quickly when Jake tried to make eye contact and shifted uncomfortably under his leering gaze.  "How is he?" JD whispered.  Guilt threatened to engulf him as he realized this was all his fault.

"We need to turn him over," Mary instructed.  Carefully, the three turned their injured friend over.  Inez gasped slightly and crossed herself, mouthing a silent prayer.  Blood covered the whole lower half of Ezra's shirt and vest.   Mary carefully unbuttoned Ezra's vest and white cotton shirt. The bullet had entered his lower right side.  She quickly tore some of her petticoats to use as bandages. 

"Is there an exit wound?" JD asked feeling helpless.

"No, the bullet's still in there," Mary replied.  "We've got to stop the bleeding."  Inez helped to hold the bandage on the hemorrhaging wound.

Jubal suddenly came over and grabbed Mr. Reid, who tried to maintain some of his prestigious manner.  "Open the safe!"  he sneered, shoving the frightened banker towards the safe.  The manager tripped and almost fell, as he grabbed at his glasses righting them on his face.

Standish stirred slightly and let out a weak groan.  His head rolled to the side then came back to center.  His emerald eyes slowly fluttered open.  He tried to rise, but a sharp pain in his stomach made him reconsider this endeavor.  "No, no senor Standish you are badly hurt," Inez asserted, placing a halting hand on his shoulder.

He whispered something and Mary had to lean closer to hear.  She turned to JD.  "JD, he wants to talk to you."

JD bent down closer.  "Ezra, I'm so sorry, I never..."

Ezra grabbed JD by his coat, pulling him down to within inches of his face, and through gritted teeth uttered,  "If we get out of this...remind me to thrash within an inch of your life."  Ezra fell back, wincing as he choked back the pain, which threatened to send him into oblivion.  His ashen face made a stark contrast against his blood stained shirt, which was slowly matching his bright red vest.

A shot from the back startled everyone, including Frank who jerked his gun around.  Jubal came sauntering out carrying two bags filled with money.   "See boys, I told you it'd be worth it," he yelled, tossing the sacks into the middle of the room.  TJ stared at the bags, then returned his attention to the window.   Frank walked over and opened one of the bags.  He smiled, as he pulled out a fistful of money.  He stood up and looked at Jubal, then swung his arm, his hand making contact with Jubal's right cheek.  Jubal's head snapped back and he fell to the floor.  The younger outlaw grabbed for his holstered gun, but stopped, as Frank's own gun appeared inches from his face.

"What'cha you do that fer?"  Jubal angrily complained, rubbing the side of his face, which was quickly matching the color of his red hair.

"Did I tell ya to kill him?  I'm in charge here, you do as I say and nothin' more."  Frank turned his back on Jubal, knowing this was a risky move.  But he had to show everyone he was in charge.  Jubal glared at the older man's back, everyone could see and feel the hatred between the two men.  Mary silently hoped they would kill each other.  Jubal's grin returned to his face and some of the tension seemed to evaporate.

Ezra struggled to sit up.  He winced, feeling like his insides were being ripped apart.  Mary and Inez tried to help him.  "Excuse me, Gentlemen." Ezra called out.  Frank turned to the injured man; a little surprised he was alive. "It would be the decent thing to release the women." 

Frank laughed and shook his head in amusement.  "Well, I'm not a decent man, son.  And anyway, if I let them go and you die on me all I have to bargain with is this gunslinger wanna be."  Frank jerked his thumb towards a contrite JD, who didn't even acknowledge the remark with an indignant sneer, something which worried Mary.

"Senor, por favor, at least let Senora Travis go, she has a little boy, she's all he has," Inez pleaded as Mary grasped her hand in thanks.

"I'm sorry about that, but if everyone behaves themselves we might all get out of this alive."  Frank returned his attention to Jubal who was busy counting the money on the floor, giggling everytime he reached a hundred.

"I find that highly doubtful," Ezra remarked softly, closing his eyes as a wave of dizziness threatened to put him in darkness once again.  He fought the feeling until it passed, then looked up into Mary's worried gaze.  He tried to give her a reassuring smile, which she didn't buy  for a second.  Did he see something in those deep blue eyes?   fear, concern, or was it something more?  He shook the thought out of his head.

"Okay, I want you folks to move to the back," Frank ordered, moping the sweat from his brow.

"He can't be moved," Mary protested, her own face flushed from the heat.

Frank ignored this and motioned to TJ.  "Oh, I think he can, and will.  TJ, you and Jesse James here move our southern fried friend"  Jake grabbed TJ's guns as he walked over to help.  JD grabbed under Ezra's arms as TJ took his feet.  They carefully lifted the injured man who sucked in his breath refusing to give satisfaction.  They moved Ezra to just behind the counter and propped him up in the corner.  Mary quickly checked his wound and heard Inez gasp.  Mary looked over and saw Mr. Reid's body slumped up against the huge safe.  Inez bowed her head and said a silent prayer.

"You better make that a double," Ezra remarked, his breath coming out in pain-filled gasps.

"Oh, no Senor Standish, what would this town do without your southern Hospitality?" Inez smiled.  "And your mother, she would fire me if you died."

Ezra chuckled at the thought.  "No, Inez she would not, it wouldn't be good business and business always comes first with mother."  Inez detected the slight remorse in this and noticed a sadness  come into Ezra's pain-filled eyes.  She gently squeezed his hand.

"So what's the plan, Chris?" Buck asked, his anxiousness showing in his constant pacing.  Two things in life he hated, waiting and not knowing what's going on.  The two together were driving him crazy.

"We wait until the time is right," Chris calmly answered, sitting on the boardwalk just within the shade of the overhang.

"What!  They have Mary and Inez when will the time be right?"  Buck blurted out unable to contain his frustration and impatience.

Chris casually looked up at his long time friend.  They were such opposites.  Whereas he kept his emotions bottled up inside.   Buck kept his on top, where everyone could see them.  When his wife died, his emotions were buried with her.  Buck stayed by his side, hoping the man he use to know would someday re-emerge.  Mary had been the first, since his wife's death, to uncover some of those buried feelings and bring them to the surface again.

"Oh, I don't think we'll have to wait long and anyway they also have JD and Ezra.  We need to find out what the situation is."  Everyone was quiet for a moment, almost holding their breaths, waiting.  All of a sudden Chris stood up, looked at the four men he now called friends, tipped his hat back and took a deep breath.  "Okay Vin, you're with me, let's go find out the situation."  Chris and Vin walked across the street and stopped in the middle of the road.  Vin cradled his rifle as Chris yelled,  "In the Bank!"

It was several moments before the door opened.  Ms. Travis was thrust out, a strong arm around her throat and a gun to her head.  Chris' face and resolve fell momentarily, but he quickly regained his stoic composure.  He had to keep it together, for all their sakes.

"So, we meet again, Larabee," Frank yelled, the bright sun causing him to squint.

"Hi Frank, what are you doing?"  Chris asked dryly, as he recognized the aged gunman.

"Oh, I think it's pretty obvious, don't you?"  Frank nuzzled Mary's neck, causing her to flinch and try to pull away only to be held tighter.

Larabee casually placed his hand on his revolver, squeezing the butt trying to funnel his growing anger.  "Why don't you let the people go and surrender. You can't get away with this."

The aged outlaw seemed to consider this then haughtily replied, "Nah, I don't think so.  The way I see it as long as we have hostages we're safe and you'll do as I say.  So here's the deal, I want six horses brought around, two extra so we can take some company with us."

"Sorry Frank, can't let you do that," Chris replied matter of factly.  Vin's attention was momentarily diverted to two faces peering out from behind the shade inside the bank; he placed his finger on the trigger of his mare's leg.

Frank tightened his grip on Mary's throat causing her to cough.  The somber lawman could see Frank whisper something into her ear.  "Explain it to him, Miss."  Frank released his hold on Mary's throat, slightly. 

"Chris, they killed Mr. Reid and Ezra is badly hurt,"  Mary choked out.

Chris could see the fear in her eyes, but her stance showed courage that made him proud.  He removed his hand from his gun and closed his duster.  Things were different, they had killed someone.

"Think on that, Larabee," Frank yelled and pulled Mary back into the bank. 

Chris stood silently a moment and stared at the bank door, then abruptly turned on his heel and headed back to the store front, followed by Vin, who doesn't turn his back on the bank.

"Who is this Frank fellow?" Vin asked as he caught up to Chris on the boardwalk.

Larabee looked back towards the bank, still seeing the fear in Mary's eyes and swearing it would not be the last thing he sees of her.  He ran his hand over his face in disgust.  "Frank Stiles."

"Stiles, where have I heard that name?" Josiah asked, stepping up to the two men, his own rifle now being held loosely in his hand.

"Probably down in Texas, he was a notorious outlaw for about thirty years. Five years ago he disappeared, some said he was killed, most believed he went down to Mexico to retire."  Chris removed one of his pistols and checked the chambers, something he often did when he was thinking or nervous.

"So why's he here?" Buck asked, overhearing the conversation.

"I guess he decided to come out of retirement!" Chris replied sharply, his vehemence surprising even himself, and he regretted it instantly.  He looked over at Buck's slightly downtrodden face.  "Sorry, Buck."  Buck waved him off, with a smile.  He knew how Chris felt about Mary, even if Chris wasn't sure himself.

"What are we going to do with Ezra hurt?" Vin asked solemnly.

"Now, JD can handle himself don't you worry," Buck replied defensively, trying to convince himself as much as the others. He knew the young gunfighter was sometimes a little to eager, but he was smart. The five gunslingers looked at each other, and then they all turned their attention to Chris who seemed very distant.

Ezra drifted in and out of consciousness the bleeding had slowed, but the danger from infection grew with every passing minute.  Mary realized Ezra would die without medical attention and soon.  She decided to try and plead once more.   Ignoring Jake's lustful stare, she stood and called out to the leader.  "Sir, our friend needs a doctor."

Frank sauntered over and kneeled down next to the semi-conscious man.  He raised his gun, bringing it up against Ezra's temple.  "Why don't we just put him out of his misery."  JD stepped forward, but was stopped by Jake's imposing form and even more imposing gun.  Inez held her breath and closed her eyes; certain this was the end.  Frank chuckled and holstered his gun.  "Look little lady, what do I care if one man lives or dies?"

Mary realized she had to offer this man something if she was to get any help for Ezra.  She looked over at Jubal who continued to nurse his own injury. "Look, Sir,"

Frank interrupted,  "Call me Frank.  We shouldn't be so formal."  Frank tried to give Mary a friendly smile, which she ignored.

"Ah, yes, Sir." Frank ignored the contempt in Mary's voice.  "You also have a wounded man we could have the doctor come and tend to him and he could also bring some food.  I bet you and your men are hungry."

Jubal got excited over the mention of food.  "Yeah Frank, we could use some grub and some whiskey too."

Frank seemed to consider this.  "That's not a bad idea.  Okay, we'll step out on the porch and you explain to them what we want.  But remember no funny business I'll have a gun pointed at your pretty little head and it would be a shame for your little boy to see his mother shot down in the street."

Mary was grateful that Billy was at his grandfather's as she stepped out the door and stopped on the walk, Frank just inches behind her.  Chris was the first to notice and rushed to the middle of the street.  "That's close enough Larabee!" Frank yelled out pointing his gun threateningly.

"Chris!" Mary called out. "They're going to allow the doctor to come in, if he brings food and whiskey."  

"Good girl, Mary," Buck whispered to himself. Glad for the opportunity to get one of them inside, to see what was going on.  He wasn't ashamed to admit, he was extremely worried about JD and Ezra.

"Are you okay?" Chris asked, genuine concern evident in his tone and the worried frown on his face.  His eyes flickered between Mary and Frank. She tried to give him a reassuring smile.

"Yeah, so is Inez and JD, But..." She paused a moment then continued, "Ezra is in bad shape."

Chris nodded his understanding.  "Don't worry Mary everything will be all right we'll send the doctor in shortly." 

Mary smiled.  Chris'  reassurance brought renewed hope and strength. Sometimes she could not understand this somewhat somber man, but she trusted him with her life.  She'd seen what she believed to be the true Chris Larabee under that hard exterior.  Chris and Billy had gone off fishing one morning.  After a few hours she came down to the river, surprised to hear laughter.  She saw a smile on Chris that revealed his true self, a self that she fell in love with.  She had turned back that day not wanting to interrupt the special connection the two seemed to be sharing.  Somehow Billy had been able to break through a wall no one else had even managed to chip.  For a long time she felt Chris was the one for her, but now with these strange feelings rising for Ezra she wasn't so sure.

"Okay enough!" Frank yelled.  "You heard our demands and your friend inside isn't gettin' any better."

"Frank, why'd you come out of retirement?" Chris quickly asked.

"Why else, I ran out of money," he scoffed.  "How else is a man my age suppose to live.  It's not like I have any usable skills.  This is all I know."  Frank dragged Mary back inside.

Chris returned to the others a plan already formulating.  He knew Frank was desperate and that made him dangerous.

"Chris, we can't give them whiskey, that'll be asking for trouble," Josiah calmly stated.

"Give them Ezra's stock, it'd take a whole vat for them to get drunk on that watered down swill."

"What! That southern son-of-a-bitch waters down his liquor, why I'll...." Chris halts Buck's ranting.

"Later Buck." He turned to Nathan.  "Okay Nathan, we need to find away to stash a gun on you." Nathan tried to force an eager grin, but the prospect of going into the bank with a concealed weapon and no back up was less than appealing.

"JD," Ezra whispered.

JD barely heard the weak voice and was a little stunned that Ezra would call him anything other than Mr. Dunne.  "Yeah, Ezra."  Ezra swallowed, his breathing coming out in labored breaths.

"I'm placing the safety of these ladies in your hands.  You see to their safety above your own, Sir.  Swear on your honor."  Ezra's eyes had a glassy but determine look to them.

"Yes,  I swear, but you're going to be fine.  Chris will think of something," JD insisted firmly.  Not willing to accept anything else.  He never fully trusted the gambler, but he respected him now more than ever.

"I do hope you're right."  Ezra took a painful breath and finished the thought.  "For all our sakes."  His wound had softened from an icy burn to a distant ache, he was not sure this was good.  He was feeling very light headed and it was getting hard to concentrate.  He felt Inez's hand on his forehead, but it felt distant almost disconnected.  He tried to look up at her and focus his eyes, but the effort was too much.

Nathan walked slowly across the street wearing only a light linen shirt and pants.  Hoping to put the gunmen at ease.  He felt naked without his knives though, and the street never felt so wide.  Vin kept an eye on him from the roof of the store, his rifle aimed and ready for any opportunity.  The door opened, Nathan looked over his shoulder and proceeded inside.  When he entered the bank the picnic basket he carried was taken.  He was thrown roughly against the wall and rather intimately searched.  Jubal spun him around and shoved his gun into the dark man's face.  The look in Jubal's eyes was something Nathan was all to familiar with, the look of blind, ignorant hate.  "You're the doctor?"  He shouted incredulously.

Nathan swallowed hard, beads of sweat starting to appear on his brow.  "I'm all there is in the way of a Healer."  Nathan chanced a glance at his friends, worry replaced the fear on his face as he looked upon a very pale Ezra.  His face was haggard in the dim light that managed to stream in through the tops of the windows.

"Can I go and check on him?"  Jackson asked giving his voice a submissive tone knowing people like Jubal were more pliable when they thought the other person was being subservient, he'd learned long ago to use this for his own gain.

"No! First you fix my arm,"  Jubal demanded.  He turned to TJ.  "TJ, get over here and cover"  Jubal spit out the last word.  "If anything funny happens blast him."  TJ looked less then thrilled by this, but obeyed Jubal's orders.

The dark healer examined the wound.  "It's not bad, the bullet went clean through.  Can I have the basket? I put some medical supplies in it."  Frank brought the basket over, which had been relieved of food and drink and dropped it at Nathan's feet.  Nathan rummaged through it and pulled out some clean bandages and a flask of whiskey, which he used for medicinal purposes.  Jubal had already grabbed a bottle of whiskey and proceeded to empty it as quickly as possible.  He wiped his mouth and continued to stare menacingly at Nathan.  Nathan quickly cleaned and wrapped Jubal's wound, after which he again asked, "Can I see to my friend now." 

Jubal gave him a sinister grin as he flexed his arm.  "Sure, why not, a man should be allowed to die in the company of  friends," he sneered.

Nathan walked over to Mary and Inez, passing Jake who growled under his breath at him.  As he kneeled down he quickly scanned the layout of the bank, taking in everything and everyone's position.  Nathan was surprised to find Ezra conscious, considering the amount of blood now soaked into his shirt and pants.

"Our you ladies okay?"  he quietly asked, as he carefully removed the bandage from Ezra's wound.

"Yes Nathan, we are," Mary answered.  Nathan looked over his shoulder to JD who nodded.

Ezra winced as Nathan removed his blood soaked bandages.  "How kind of you to join our little soiree, Mr. Jackson, I'm afraid you will have to take the next dance as it seems I am incapacitated at the moment."  Ezra smiled at his little joke.  Nathan could feel the heat coming off his body and was not sure Ezra wasn't on the verge of delirium.

"The bullet is still inside, Nathan," Mary worriedly related. She placed her hand upon Ezra's brow shocked to feel how hot he had become.

Nathan began to rummage inside the basket.  He furtively looked over his shoulder, then bent over close to Ezra and Mary and murmured,  "Everything you need is in this basket." Nathan winked and patted the bottom of the basket.  Mary smiled slightly and nodded her understanding. Jake cleared his throat loudly and cocked his gun.  Nathan then pulled out a bottle of clear liquid and raised his voice so Jake could hear, not wanting the man to become overly suspicious.  "I have some morphine it should help deaden the pain."

"No Mr. Jackson," Ezra regretfully cut him off.  He licked his lips and looked up into the dark man's face.  "Not that I enjoy the feel of your skilled hands, probing around in my insides, but I must remain as alert as possible."

"Ezra, don't be a hero, you'll pass out from the pain," Mary bluntly stated.

"Maybe, but I'll come too a lot faster without the morphine, correct Mr. Jackson?"  Nathan nodded, realizing that Ezra was right.  Even in the shape the gambler was in, it would be better to have him as alert as possible when Chris' plan was put into action.

"Okay I'll do this as quickly as I can," Nathan regretfully replied. 

"That would be most appreciated, Sir."  Ezra gave him a wary smile. "I have the utmost confidence in you."

Nathan grinned and murmured, "Now I know you're delirious."  Mary again felt the flutter of warm affection; more than just concern for an injured friend.  She shook away the feeling knowing she must not be distracted.  There would hopefully be time later to sort out these feelings.

"JD, I'll need you to help hold him still," Nathan requested.  Ezra bit back the pain as they gently laid him out flat.  Mary had discovered some old money sacks that she placed behind Ezra's head.  JD firmly clasped Ezra's shoulders and Inez and Mary each grabbed one of his legs.  Nathan pulled out his scalpel.  It was one that Josiah had given him  after he used a rather dull knife to remove a bullet from his leg.  Ezra closed his eyes as Nathan took a deep breath and began to cut open the festering wound; Ezra cut off a scream, more color leaving his already pale face.  JD looked up to see Jake smiling in amusement.  JD  never wanted to kill a man more in his whole life.  He turned his attention back to Ezra, who was shaking violently and seemed to be muttering something, but he couldn't make it out.

"I see it, hold him still, just one more minute," Nathan exclaimed.  Ezra went limp just as he pulled out the bullet.  He wiped his sleeve across his forehead and immediately pressed a bandage over the inflamed wound and grabbed Inez's hand forcing it on top. "Hold that!"  Blood continued to ooze out soaking the bandage. Nathan placed another compress on top, cursing.  Finally the bleeding began to subside.  Nathan took Ezra's pulse, finding it very weak.  He then carefully placed his hand on his chest to check his breathing.  "Well, that's all I can do for him here."  Nathan looked up towards Jake. "I don't suppose you'd let me take him out of here?"  Jake gave him contemptuous smile.  "I didn't think so," Nathan quietly remarked using a rag to wipe the blood from his hands.

"Okay Doctor you're house call is over, out!"  Frank exclaimed.   Nathan stood and looked down at the basket and back at Mary a silent message past between them. 

Frank grabbed Nathan's arm.  "Listen, you tell Larabee he has one hour to get us those horses or we're goin' to start throwin' out bodies." Frank peered down at Ezra. "And the way he looks we'll probably be able to start with him."

Nathan shook off Frank's arm and headed towards the door.  He turned to TJ who stood guard and appeared a little pale, at the window.  "You ever been shot?" Nathan asked the young man.

Surprised by the question TJ answered quickly, "Ah...No."

Nathan handed him the blood covered bullet he had pulled out of Ezra and walked out the door.  TJ stared down at the small piece of metal, the blood already staining his palm.  He had thought this would be an exciting adventure.  His adventure had turned into a nightmare, and one he couldn't wake up from.  He had been tired of working the farm back in Kansas with his two older brothers. When his cousin Frank came by and told him all those exciting stories of his youth TJ decided to leave with him.  He started regretting his decision after several days when they picked up Jubal and Jake in a seedy backwater town.  He was too proud to admit he had been wrong and this pride stopped him from returning to Kansas, now he figured it was to late.

Chris eyed the dressmaker shop that shared a wall with the bank.  Wilmington graciously brought over old Ms. Fritz who seemed to enjoy being on the handsome man's arm.  "Ms Fritz do you know if there is a crawl space under your store and how far it might run?"  Larabee asked the matronly woman. 

Ms. Fritz seemed to consider this.  "Why yes Mr. Larabee, I do believe there is.  In fact, last year, Fred, my oldest son, chased a polecat underneath all the way out from under the back of the bank."

Chris smiled and patted the woman's hand causing her to blush.  "Thank you Ms Fritz."

"You're welcome, Mr. Larabee," Ms Fritz's replied not sure why she'd been thanked.

"What are you thinking, Chris?" Josiah asked, always intrigued when Chris got that sparkle in his eye.

"I'm not sure just yet, Josiah.  We know there's only one entrance to the bank, so I think we might have to think of another way in." Chris tipped his hat back on his head the noonday sun was directly over head and he could feel the heat through his hat.

Nathan joined them and informed them of Frank's demands. 

"Well at least he's giving us an hour," Buck commented wearily.

"Okay, Nathan what's the setup in there?" Chris asked.

"They have Ezra, JD, Inez and Miss Travis in a far corner of the front part of the building."  Nathan retrieved a stick and proceeded to draw a map of the bank layout.  "They're behind the counter, one man usually watching, a real ugly brute.  He watches from the end of the counter, but on the other side pretty much. But you need to be careful they also have one real loco hombre with them.  A young kid straight off the farm watches the door, I don't think you'll have to worry about him.  Ezra's not going to be any help, he's in bad shape, but hopefully JD will get the gun."

"Okay here's the plan.  Buck and me are going to crawl under the floor till we reach the bank and hopefully we can figure out a safe place to saw our way in, preferably in the back room."

"Chris that bank's not that big they're bound to hear you and Buck sawing through the floor boards," Vin injected studying the drawing in the dirt.

"That's why we'll need a diversion or some confusion out here, something loud!"

Josiah stepped up a knowing grin on his face.  "I have just the thing brother Larabee leave it to me."

"Okay, Vin you get back to the roof in case things start to fall apart."  Chris gave Vin a thoughtful look. "Don't let anyone leave with hostages no matter what."  Vin nodded his understanding.  "Josiah give us twenty minutes to get in position then we'll wait for your signal." Josiah quickly departed whistling some unknown tune.

+ + + + + + +

Inez pretended to search for something in the basket. Mary noticed that Jake was taking an interest and making it impossible for Inez to retrieve the hidden weapon.  Realizing what she had to do, but not relishing it.  Mary stood and slowly made her way over to Jake making sure to stand between him and Inez, blocking his view.  She forced the friendliest smile she could muster for the dirty, bear-like man.  His eyes burned with animal lust and she had to stop herself from becoming violently ill.  "So, what will you do with all that money?" She calmly asked, keeping her voice steady.

Jake smiled showing several rotten teeth.  "Oh, I don't know I always wanted to own a bar, maybe you could come and help me run it." Jake placed a meaty paw on her waist.  She cringed but doesn't remove it.  "A pretty face like yours would bring in a lot of customers."  Mary gave Jake a crooked smile.

Inez quickly retrieved the gun which was tied down in a secret compartment at the bottom of the basket she quickly hid it in the folds of her skirt.  Ezra moaned and looked up at her.  "Do you have it?" he whispered.  She nodded, her eyes still on Mary and Jake.  "Good, give it to me." Ezra put out his hand.

"Senor Standish you're in no shape to handle a gun," she plaintively reminded him.  Ezra's hand dropped to the floor as the strength ebbed out of it, knowing she was right.  JD knelt down next to Ezra.

Inez checked to make sure that Mary was still distracting Jake, then slipped the gun over to him. The young gunslinger placed the small gun into his waistband, under his coat.  He then immediately went to Mary's rescue. "Miss Travis, Ezra is awake and is askin' for you."  

The relief in Mary's face was almost tangible.  "Excuse me, Sir." She slowly moved off flashing grateful eyes at JD.  Jake gave him a vicious sneer, but JD just smiled, tipped his hat and slowly moved back, stopping at the end of the counter.  The gun giving him renewed confidence and bravado.

Mary and Inez helped Ezra to sit up.  He had a little color back in his face, but was very weak.  His hair was matted to his head with sweat and his eyes seem unable to focus.

Outside, Josiah had managed to put together a town band, or in reality, anyone who owned any kind of instrument was drafted.  Half the town crowded along the boardwalk and into the street.  Buck and Chris managed to crawl under the bank,  to a place they hoped was in the back room.   They waited for Josiah's distraction to begin.

"Okay folks I don't care if this is good, but it's gotta be loud.  Let's wake the big man upstairs shall we."  Josiah picked up a stick and started to conduct. 

Chris and Buck heard the so-called music.  "I knew we could count on Josiah," Buck exclaimed.  Chris took the thin saw blade and wedged it between two floorboards.

"What the hell is going on?"  Frank yelled trying to be heard above the din.

"There's some type of band playing in the street," TJ remarked, a smile breaking on his boyish face which quickly disappeared at Frank's angry sneer.

"Something's goin' on, I don't like this." Jubal started to pace nervously waving his gun, he went to the back room, but returned quickly.  Jake turned his attention to the music coming from outside and took a couple steps towards the window.

"Maybe they're going to rush us?" Jubal stated his eyes scanning the street.

Ezra and Mary heard something in the back and quickly glanced at each other.  Mary leaned over to try and peer into the back room.  She caught sight of what looked to be a small saw coming up through the floorboards.  Jake returned his attention to the foursome and Mary quickly resumed her place next to Ezra.  She used her eyes to tell Ezra something was going on in the back room.  Fearful that Jake would hear something and investigate Ezra broke into song, "Oh I wish I were in the land of cotton old times there are now...."  Jake stared at Ezra in bewilderment and took a step forward not noticing JD slowly slink away.  Jubal, Frank and TJ continued to stare out the window looking for any sign of trouble.

Chris and Buck tried to listen in case anyone entered the back room.  Buck cocked his gun, ready as soon as Chris cut through the last board.

"He's delirious!" Inez cried out as Jake continued to stare at crazed southerner.

Frank turned and stepped into in the middle of the room.  "Shut him up, Jake!"  Jake took another step closer, his gun still drawn.  Mary realized Jake's gun had never once left his hand, almost like it was a part of him.  She jumped up in front of the big man and gave him an encouraging smile. 

"Jake!"  Frank yelled fear mixing in with anger.

The big man shoved Mary aside and waved his gun menacingly at Ezra.  "Shut up or I'll shut you up!"

Chris and Buck had made an opening large enough for them to squeeze through.  They quickly  came up and flattened themselves against the wall.

Standish ignored the big man and continued, "...look away, look away Dixie Land...."  Jake suddenly took his foot and kicked him in the side.  Ezra yelped.  Mary screamed, "NO!" and threw herself at Jake.  Pain racked Ezra's body as he curled up holding his side, which began to bleed profusely again.  Bright dots flashed across his vision in sync.  He fought to stay conscious, but it was a losing battle.  Jake shoved Mary aside planning on delivering another, probably lethal, kick when Chris appeared in the doorway. 

Chris yelled out, "Hey!" When Jake looked up a bullet threw him back into the center of the room.  At the same time JD pulled his gun and shot Jubal, who stared at him, an incredulous look forever frozen on his face as he fell to the floor.  Frank shot wildly, causing everyone to duck then raced out the door waving his gun.  The sound of a rifle shot ended any thought Chris or Buck had of chasing him.  They looked at the young man in the corner who hadn't even attempted to draw his gun.  He slumped down putting his hands over his head and sobbed quietly.  Chris immediately went to Mary and hugged her tight.  He gently pushed her away still holding her shoulders.  He looked into eyes that no longer held fear.  He glanced over Mary's shoulder at Inez.  "Is everyone all right?" He asked. Inez nodded then turned her attention back to Ezra.  Chris kneeled down beside his unconscious friend a worried frown coming to his face.  "Buck, get Nathan in here, pronto!"

Buck glanced over to the weeping young man then went to the door and waved an all clear calling for Nathan.  Nathan, prepared for the worse, entered with two men carrying a stretcher.  He first checked Ezra over then ushered the men to place him on the stretcher.  "Is he going to be all right?" Chris asked as Nathan stood up with the stretcher.

Nathan met Chris' eyes with a mournful gaze, bringing back the fear he had just vanquished.  "I don't know Chris, he's in pretty bad shape." 

Mary watched as they carried Ezra out, concern etched on his soft face.   If Chris noticed, he chose to see it as a friend worried about another.  She wasn't so sure it wasn't something more.

+ + + + + + +

Two days later, Chris, Buck and Josiah entered the saloon to find JD tending the bar.  The three stepped up to the bar.  "So this is where you've been hiding," Buck teased the distraught young gunslinger.

"Yeah, I figured it's the least I can do since screwin' up and almost getting Ezra killed."  JD paused a moment, not even able to meet anyone's eyes.  "How's he doing?" He plaintively asked.  He hadn't even been able to bring himself to visit the southerner yet.

"We just left him and Nathan," Chris remarked.  "He's been askin' for ya."  JD could just imagine why probably to collect on the thrashing that he justly deserved.  "He said you did good," Chris continued meeting JD's eyes and giving him a nod.

JD smiled some of the burden of guilt lifting from his shoulders.

"He lost a lot of blood, Nathan says it'll be a week 'fore he'll even let him out of bed," Josiah added as he pulled out a cigar.

"And Nathan is stayin' with 'em to make sure, even if he has to sit on 'em," Buck added, smiling at the thought of Nathan sitting on top of Ezra. "Hell, after a week Ezra will probably shoot Nathan."

"Chris, what's going to happen to TJ?" JD asked with mild concern.

"Well, Vin's guardin' him until the Territorial Marshal shows up.  He should get off light, first offense and all."

"Maybe I could go and put in a good word for him," JD nonchalantly said as he cleaned a shot glass and placed in on the bar.

"Now brother Dunne, that would be a most gracious and decent thing to do," Josiah commented.

"Yeah, you can give him your years of experience," Buck snickered good-naturedly, wincing as Josiah elbowed him in the ribs. "Hey!"

"Ha, Ha, well, I know how it is, you know being the kid an all," he replied to Buck's taunts.  Chris and the others smiled at the kind-hearted young man.

"Well, what can I get you guys?"  JD asked the three gunslingers his mood considerably improved.

"I ain't drinkin' any of this saloon's pigwash," Buck angrily replied.  "Not after I found out he waters down his liquor."   Chris and Josiah chuckled.

JD pulled out a dusty bottle of whiskey from behind the bar.  "How about from Ezra's private stock?" He said with a gleam in his eye, blowing the dust off the aged liquor.

Whoops of delight filled the empty saloon as the three eyed the well-aged liquor.  "Well don't just stand there line em' up,"  Buck crowed placing his hat on the counter, prepared for an evening of heavy drinking.  "This one's on Ezra!" Buck yelled out.

The End (Mar 1999)

Comments: KellyA