Disclaimer: The following is an original work of fan fiction based on the television series "The Magnificent Seven". No infringement upon the copyrights held by CBS, MGM, Trilogy Entertainment Group, The Mirisch Corp. or any others involved with that production is intended. No profit will be made from the distribution of this story.
Notes/Comments: My apologies if I copied anyone's ideas. It is certainly not my intention. This fic is mostly Ezra with a little Vin and Chris...
Chris and Vin sat on the boardwalk outside the sheriff's office watching the quiet town. To the casual observer, Vin appeared to be asleep and Chris was busy reading a book. Mary Travis knew better.
"Morning Mary," said Chris without needing to look up.
"Good morning Mr. Larabee, Mr. Tanner."
"Mornin' Ms. Travis," replied Vin.
Chris put down his book and gave his full attention to the attractive Newspaperwoman. "What can we do for you Mary?"
'She looks beautiful when she smiles,' thought Chris.
"Well, Vin, If I could borrow you for a few minutes..."
"Me?" Vin looked up startled. He pushed his hat back and set all four legs of the chair down onto the boardwalk.
Mary was Chris's territory.
Chris looked at Vin quizzically.
Mary rolled her eyes, "I have something... for you Vin."
Vin got up and followed Mary to the Clarion office, looking back at Chris and shrugging again.
+ + + + + + +
"What is it?" asked Vin as Mary handed him an envelope.
"It's a letter Vin. It's from Ezra."
"For me? ...From Ezra? ....Why'd he send it to you?" Vin was surprised and confused.
"Because he couldn't very well send a letter with your name on it could he?" Mary raised her eyebrows with the question.
"No Ma'am. Reckon he couldn't at that." Vin grinned sheepishly. Leave it to Ezra to think of a way to send him a letter without publicizing to the world that Vin Tanner, a wanted man, lived in Four Corners.
"You're welcome Vin... You're doing very well with your reading lessons, but if you'd like some help with the letter?" Mary offered.
"No thanks ma'am. I'll give it a try." He tipped his hat to her and headed back toward the jail. It was hard to conceal his excitement. He wanted to rip that envelope open and see what Ezra was up to, but he restrained himself.
+ + + + + + +
Chris could see Vin's smile all the way across the street. He watched Vin as he came toward him with something clutched in his hand. Chris pushed Vin's chair out with his foot. "Hey pard, what ya got?"
Vin held the envelope to his chest still smiling. "A letter."
"A letter? From who?" Chris was curious.
Vin just sat there grinning.
"Vin, who the hell would send you a letter?" asked Chris impatiently.
"Ezra! What's it say?" Chris tried not to appear too anxious. No one had heard from the gambler in the two months that he had been gone. They all missed having him around. The team wasn't the same without him.
"Don't know. Ain't read it yet."
Chris sighed and closed his eyes. Next to Standish, Vin Tanner could be the most exasperating person...
"Well, are you going to?"
"Thought I'd wait for the others... read it together."
Chris looked at the tracker quizzically. That was strange. Vin wasn't a very good reader yet. Why would he set himself up for Buck to tease him? "I just saw Nathan and Josiah go into the saloon. JD and Buck went in earlier."
The two got up and headed down the street. They entered the saloon to be greeted by the sound of Buck and JD bantering. Chris shook his head as they joined them at the table.
"Chris...Vin," acknowledged Josiah.
They nodded to him.
"Ain't that right Chris?" asked JD, trying to draw Chris onto his side of the discussion.
JD saw Vin holding an envelope and dropped his argument with Buck. "Hey Vin, what ya got?" he asked as Vin sat down in the chair next to him.
Buck raised an eyebrow. "Someone sent you a letter?"
"Who's it from?" pressed JD.
Chris smiled. He wasn't the only one who was frustrated by the tracker. He sat down next to Vin and poured a drink.
"It's from Ezra," said Chris.
"Ezra? Really? How is he?" asked JD
Vin shrugged and took the drink that Chris had poured for him.
"He doesn't say?" asked JD in surprise
"Ain't read it yet."
"You ain't read it yet? You got a letter from Ez and you ain't read it yet?"
"I thought we could read it together, JD. Be kinda like... like having Ez here."
Chris smiled. Now he understood. Vin wouldn't worry about being teased, he was simply thinking of the others and that they missed Ezra as much as he did, whether they admitted it or not.
Vin was amused at JD's eagerness. Very carefully he tore open the end of the envelope.
Josiah also found himself eagerly awaiting the words, but the tracker moved so slowly as he laid the paper on the table.
Vin's hands trembled slightly as he unfolded the letter and carefully smoothed out the wrinkles. It looked as if the paper had been wadded up at one time.
He began to haltingly read:My Dear Friend:
Vin smiled. Ezra was even careful with the text of the letter, not mentioning Vin's name in case the letter fell into the wrong hands.Here's hoping all is well with you and the others. I cannot begin to tell you how des...desper..
Vin scrunched up his face trying to sound out the word. In frustration he handed the letter to Chris. "Chris, will you? You know how Ez uses them ten dollar words."
Chris continued:I cannot begin to tell you how desperately I miss all of you. Tell Mr. Jackson, I would be thrilled to be in his clinic in Four Corners. His gracious and gentle manner is far superior to some of the cretins here in St. Louis. There is a nurse here that I am certain not even Mr. Wilmington could charm. She is fierce and demanding. When she tells me to do something, I find myself fighting the urge to salute. I am certain one doctor dislikes me very much as he continually complains about my progress, or rather, my lack thereof.
I am doing my best to keep my promise to you, my friend, but it is proving difficult. I am eating as much as I can, but apparently it is not enough. The food here is deplorable and I find I have no appetite.
Remind Mr. Larabee that I have not...
Chris stopped reading as his voice caught. The words stung. He would have never thought the words spoken at the Seminole village so long ago would effect the gambler so deeply. Yet they had come back time and time again. 'Don't ever run out on me again.' The words were meant to offer him a second chance. He hoped that someday Ezra would figure that out.
Chris took a deep breath and continued to read.Remind Mr. Larabee that I have not run out on him. In fact that would be very difficult to do so since running is much more difficult than walking, and I am doing well to walk the short distance from my room to the dining room. It seems like miles, but is actually only a long corridor. I tire too easily I'm afraid, but I'm seeing improvement, even if the doctor is not pleased.
Chris paused again. The tears forming in his eyes were making it difficult to read. "Josiah?" he asked handing off the letter.How fairs young Mr. Dunne? I hope he is well and that the others are learning to give him the respect he deserves. He is a fine sheriff, a good student, and an excellent horseman. His youth, his innocence and compassion are reminders of how things should be. Please tell him I send my regards.
"Jeez..." gulped JD. He had no idea Ezra felt that way about him...no, that wasn't right. He didn't know how Ezra felt about anything. The con man was so good at hiding his emotions that he was nearly unreadable. JD knew that Ezra didn't tease as much as the others, but he didn't realize that Ezra actually respected him.
Josiah continued with the letter:The powers that be blessed us with that young man, and with Mr. Wilmington. They couldn't have picked a more caring guide for JD and for all of us. His love and respect goes far beyond the lovely ladies.
I hope Mr. Sanchez's demons have let him be for awhile. He is a man of great wisdom though he would probably deny it. He always seems to have a way to help me find my balance. I could use a good talk with him now. My progress is slow and I fear at times, it may not be worth the effort.
Josiah, moved by the sentiment, simply handed the letter to Nathan, who cleared his throat and continued:Unfortunately, Mother is nowhere to be found. While she arranged for my stay here at the hospital, after the second week, she no longer visited. She probably found a new mark and couldn't be bothered with me since I am unable to help her with a con.
Nathan stopped. He felt uncomfortable as he read the next lines silently.
"Vin, perhaps you want to read the rest of this in private?"
"No Nate, it's for all of us."
Nathan nodded and quietly continued:My friend, I have never been more uncertain of things than I am now. I wish I could hear your Texas drawl reassuring me. Or see Mr. Larabee's glare or feel his squeeze of a shoulder... I would gladly hear JD's incessant questions, or hear Mr. Wilmington's infamous 'Dammit Ezra'. (I believe he thinks Dammit Ezra Standish is my full name). I would let Mr. Sanchez call me 'son'. I would even drink one of Mr. Jackson's concoctions with pleasure. I don't know what I am to do now. It would have been easier had I never been part of the Seven. Mother was right, you have ruined me. I can no longer go about conning. It just doesn't seem right anymore. And you know, after the events that have transpired I will never play another hand of cards. I was never meant for menial labor, and now with my infirmities, well, that seems even less of an option.
Mother paid for 3 months of care here, so I will be here for another 6 weeks before I have to fend for myself. Hopefully in that time I will come up with a plan.
Please watch your back my friend, and tell the others the same.
Ezra P. Standish
Ezra Standish was livid. Someone had mailed it! How could they? It was personal...private property. He stormed his way... well, he hobbled his way, angrily to the nurse's desk in the corridor. He had a very good idea what had happened.
Ezra had written a letter to Vin, painstakingly printed with his recovering right hand. He knew the printing was abhorrent, but he owed word to his friend that he was keeping his promise. When it came time to send it, he couldn't bring himself to do it. He had revealed too much. He had wadded it up and thrown it away.
She looked up. The anger in his eyes was obvious.
"Mr. Standish, what can I do for you?" she asked, hoping to calm him. She knew why he was angry.
"I received a letter today."
"It's from a friend. He thanked me for the letter that I sent."
Her eyes dropped, as she could no longer meet his gaze.
"But I did not send him a letter... I wonder how he received a letter from me?" The words were thick with sarcasm.
"I'm sorry Mr. Standish. I thought it was for the best."
"I never intended for him to read those words. It was private, Miss Baylor." He turned away and looked out the window.
He was ignoring her. Jennie Baylor began to get angry as well. She had not intended to hurt Mr. Standish, but having read the wadded up piece of paper she found on the floor, and knowing that he had no visitors, she felt his friends needed to know how he was. She told Ezra as much.
Ezra listened to the words and found the anger melting. When he thought about it, he was really glad to have the letter from Vin, glad to know that Vin finally had someone to whom he could write. He knew that Vin had written the letter with his own hand because of the childlike printing and the misspelled words. He was not happy, however, that the tracker now knew his darkest moments here, but nothing could be done about it.
"How did you know where to send it?"
"It was a guess." Ezra looked at her questioningly. "You talked a lot when you were delirious when you first came. You talked about someone named Vin. I took a chance that Vin was who the letter was intended for. I sent it to Four Corners in care of the newspaper editor."
Ezra winced. She had no idea how huge a chance that simple act was with Vin's life. He was glad that Mary Travis, the editor, was a friend as well. In someone else's hands, well... he shuddered at the thought of Vin being found out.
Ezra sighed. It really didn't matter now since he would not return home. 'Home.' He had to stop calling it that.
The train jerked as it rounded a curve. Vin was jolted from his thoughts with the harsh movement. He grabbed the seat back in front of him, steadying himself.
"You ok, Pard?" asked the darkly clad gunslinger seated beside him.
Vin nodded and settled back. "Just thinkin'."
The corner of Chris's mouth twitched toward a smile. Somehow, somewhere in the past few months Vin and Ezra had bonded. Although he couldn't see how the self-centered fancy gambler and the longhaired scruffy tracker could have anything in common, he was glad their friendship had grown.
Vin turned his attention out the window and sighed. Chris's smile faded at his friend's sadness remembering the tragic circumstances that had led them to this train ride.
"He'll be alright Vin... We'll bring him home."
Vin didn't answer, as he was lost in his thoughts.
Chris dozed off with the constant rhythmic movement of the train. Vin found himself thinking about the gambler and all that had transpired between them. Chris hadn't known that sending Ezra and Vin out on the trail together four months ago would bring about the changes it did. He had simply been irritated with Ezra and assigned him a job to get him out of town and off his nerves for a few days. Ezra seemed to know exactly what to say and do to set off Chris's fury, and at times, it seemed the con man delighted in it. Chris had told Vin he was sorry that he would be stuck with Standish, but at least Ezra wouldn't be driving Chris crazy for a few days.
+ + + + + + +
Vin wasn't happy with the prospect. He was feeling mighty cooped up. He needed to be out of town for a few days, but he didn't need Ezra harping and complaining the entire time.
Ezra was surprisingly pleased with the idea, though he would never let any of them know. Oh, he knew Larabee sent him to get rid of him, but he had planned to go to Eagle Bend soon anyway, and now he didn't have to find an excuse to go fetch JD's birthday gift.
He did not miss Vin's grimace at Chris's assignment of his riding partner, but he appreciated Vin's attempt to keep his feelings private. Ezra knew that grimace was somewhat deserved. He did make it very difficult for the others. But it still hurt. He wanted to be a part of this group, God help him, he didn't know why. He had never really been a part of something...worthwhile.
The two set out toward Eagle Bend and rode in silence. At first Vin was grateful for the silence, but after a few hours it began to wear on him. It just wasn't like Ezra. He wasn't talking. He wasn't even flipping through those damn cards of his.
"You alright Ez?"
"Certainly, Mr. Tanner."
Vin eyed him suspiciously. "Then why ain't ya talkin'?"
Ezra reined his horse to a stop. "I was under the impression, Mr. Tanner, that you prefer solitude."
Vin nodded, pulling his horse up.
"This is my 'punishment', Mr. Tanner, not yours. I see no point in disturbing the quiet and making this trip unpleasant for you, simply because I am meant to suffer."
Vin looked at Ezra in surprise. The normally self-serving con man certainly wasn't known for doing good deeds. Slowly a smile came to his face and with a twinkle in his eye Vin asked, "Who are you and what have you done with Ezra Standish?"
Both men chuckled. The gambler spurred his horse forward with the tracker following as Vin considered Ezra's words more seriously.
"Yes, Mr. Tanner?"
" 'Preciate your thoughtfulness, about not talkin' I mean. But I really don't mind talkin'. It's the complainin' that gives me pause. So iffen you wanna talk, I reckon I'd like that."
Ezra smiled. "Well, Mr. Tanner, what would you like to talk about?"
Vin shrugged and the two laughed again, both understanding permission had been given, but neither feeling like talking. It wasn't long before Vin heard the constant flip, flip, flip of Ezra shuffling cards between his fingers. He smiled. He liked this Ezra Standish.
They continued on in companionable silence until they decided to set up camp. It was still a couple of hours before dark, but this was a nice place, with good shelter in the trees and a creek nearby, and since they were in no hurry, they stopped for the night.
Ezra took meticulous care of Chaucer and then began to wander the edges of the camp apparently looking for something.
"Whatya doin' Ez?" Vin asked curiously as he finished caring for Peso.
"I assumed since you are the 'hunter', that you would be seeking our dinner. I am gathering firewood."
Vin grinned and shook his head. He couldn't figure what had gotten into Ezra this trip, but he liked it. It made for an entertaining time.
"Why don't you catch dinner?"
Ezra looked up in surprise. He tried to hide it behind his poker face. "Well, Mr. Tanner, if you are hungry, and you want to eat sometime tonight...you would be the better choice." Ezra's grin didn't quite reach his eyes and his voice was a bit wistful.
Vin raised an eyebrow at the gambler. He thought he detected a little longing in the words. Nah, Ezra was too good at hiding stuff like that. But then again...He thought for a few moments. Ezra had made a big effort this trip. Who knows? Maybe he would want to learn a little more about hunting.
"Let's both go, Ez. I could show you a couple tricks if you'd like."
Ezra looked at him suspiciously. He saw nothing hidden there. Vin was simply making an offer of friendship. Ezra nodded, with his face brightening, "I'd like nothing better, Mr. Tanner."
"Name's Vin, Ez."
"Yes, well, mine is Ez-RA." Ezra smiled and the two set off into the trees.
+ + + + + + +
After a successful hunt and a good dinner of rabbit, the two men sat comfortably near the campfire. Ezra was writing something on paper. Vin lay propped up on his saddle, watching his companion.
"Whatya doin' Ez?"
Ezra was deep in thought and didn't respond. He tapped his pencil idly on his knee as he tried to compose his thoughts.
"Ez... hey, Ez!"
"What? I'm sorry Mr. Tanner. What can I do for you?"
'You could quit calling me Mr. Tanner!' thought Vin, but he responded, "I jest wondered what you were doin'."
"I'm writing a letter..." he paused knowing the ribbing was coming, "...to Mother."
"That's real nice, Ez," Vin sighed.
Ezra looked up at Vin. He was serious. There wasn't even a hint of teasing in his response.
Ezra went back to writing his letter, but after a few minutes he asked, "Do you have someone you want to write to Vin?"
Vin shrugged. "Nah. Ain't got no one to send me a letter. Iffen I did, I wouldn't be able to write anyways. I'm not too good with my scribin'."
"It just takes practice, Mr. Tanner."
"That's what Mz. Travis says too. I jest ain't got much patience for it."
Ezra looked at Vin remembering the "tricks" he had been taught a little more than an hour ago. "Mr. Tanner, I'll show you a few tricks, if you'd like?"
Vin grinned and moved over, sitting next to Ezra, "Can't think of anything I'd like more, pard."
On the way back from Eagle Bend they sat by the campfire as dusk fell. Ezra was going through his purchases in Eagle Bend: a new blue coat, a fine leather bound book for JD and a brand new deck of cards.
"Ez, you got more decks of cards than a gamblin' hall. Whatya need another one fer?"
"Ah, Mr. Tanner, this deck is not for me. It is a gift for a friend."
Ezra looked up at Vin, once again gauging whether he should divulge a secret to the tracker. He smiled. He knew he was safe with the tracker. "It's a gift for Master Martinson."
"Jesse Martinson?" asked Vin in surprise.
"Yes. Master Martinson is learning how to do some card tricks. He can't very well practice without his own deck."
"Aw Ez, you ain't teaching him to gamble?"
"No Mr. Tanner. Just a few simple card tricks for fun."
They fell silent for a few moments both thinking about the boy, Jesse Martinson.
"Ez, you spending a lot of time with Jesse?"
"Well, the lad doesn't have anyone but his aunt. Let's just say I've been in his shoes a few times. Why do you ask?"
"No reason. It just explains why he cain't go fishin' or ridin' with me sometimes."
Ez raised an eyebrow. "So you're the appointments Master Martinson keeps?"
"Guess so. Little feller just needs some friends, being without his ma and pa and all. Reckon I been in his shoes a few times too."
"Perhaps we should combine our efforts on occassion?"
"Sounds good to me Ez. I think Jesse would enjoy that."
+ + + + + + +
The elbow nudged him roughly in the side. He hated to be elbowed. "What?" asked Vin grumpily.
"I asked if you wanted one of these sandwiches Mary & Nettie packed for us," repeated Chris.
"Sorry Chris, I was thinkin'."
"I know, I know, about Ezra." He handed Vin one of the sandwiches.
The train slowed for a water stop. Vin stood and stretched his legs as he ate the sandwich. "You think he'll want to come back with us Chris?"
Chris hesitated. "I don't know Vin. May be best if we don't give him a choice."
"You gonna glare him into coming back?" chuckled Vin.
Chris shook his head. He didn't know how they would convince Ezra to come home. From the tone of his letter, it sounded like he'd want to come, but he knew Ezra had some powerful guilt and fear to overcome.
Vin and Ezra had said nothing to the others about their trip to Eagle Bend. However, it didn't escape Chris's attention that Ezra and Vin took patrols together a little more often. The two men had found some kind of common bond, which though surprising was also pleasing to Chris. Despite each of the seven's imperfections, these men made a force to be reckoned with, and Chris was glad Ezra was finally allowing himself to be a part of it.
Vin entered the saloon and found the atmosphere rather chilly. The closer he got to Chris, the colder it seemed. He looked at Ezra and saw the glint in the green eyes. Vin rolled his eyes and shook his head, realizing what was going on. He pulled out the chair next to Chris and sat down.
Chris just glared at him.
"Having a conversation with Ezra?" Vin chuckled.
"What's so funny?" asked Chris defensively.
"You... and Ez." Vin shook his head. "He's baiting you Chris."
"Well, we'll see how funny it is when I send him on that prisoner pick up."
Vin's grin grew wider and he chuckled. "That's exactly what he wants pard."
Chris looked up in surprise. "What do you mean? Ezra hates being on the trail, wants his soft bed and the saloon. It'll do him some good to be out of his element."
Now Chris was getting really annoyed. Vin was laughing, outright laughing!
"Talk to me Tanner," threatened Chris.
Vin tried to stifle his laughter, but it kept sneaking out.
"I'm waiting," demanded Chris. The fury was subsiding, as the tracker's laughter was infectious. Chris had to work hard to keep a straight face.
Vin took a deep breath, and swallowed the chuckle. "Hey Cowboy, Ez is a con man, remember?"
"What makes you think he is 'out of his element' when he's on the trail?"
"That's obvious. I've been with him on the trail."
Vin shook his head in disagreement. "Ez complains about sleeping on the ground and such, but it doesn't mean he's out of his element. He's really purty good on the trail... Think about it Chris. How many times do you suppose he's been run out of towns because of his gamblin' and connin'? He had to survive. He can take care of hisself on the trail. He just prefers the comforts of a hotel."
Chris eyed Vin. He glanced over at the gambler who had that annoying smug look on his face. He turned back to Vin. "So you're saying he's making me mad because he wants to go out on the trail?"
Chris sighed in exasperation, realizing the tracker was probably right. "Why can't he just ask?"
Vin shook his head. "Ez cain't do anythin' the easy way. Somethin' to do with connin' I reckon. He's got ta sneak it outta ya. Wouldn't seem right to just ask."
Chris shook his head. "Ezra!" he bellowed.
"Yes, Mr. Larabee?" came the sarcastic reply.
"Get the hell out of town!" ordered Chris, but there was no anger in his voice.
"Yes, Mr. Larabee." Ezra tipped his hat and grinned at Vin as he headed for his room.
+ + + + + + +
Fifteen minutes later Chris and Vin were standing by the livery as Ezra mounted.
"I expect to know when you'll be back, Standish."
"A few hours will be sufficient Mr. Larabee. I'll be back before dark."
"See that you are," warned Chris
"Yes, Mr. Larabee."
"Ez, he means 'watch your back,'" said Vin with a grin.
Ezra's eyes twinkled with delight. "Yes, Mr. Larabee."
"He means, 'thanks', Chris."
Chris & Vin chuckled as the con man rode out of town.
+ + + + + + +
As promised, Ezra was back before dark, sitting at his usual table, engaged in a game of poker. Chris noticed that the gambler actually appeared happy. There was a contentment about him that Chris had never seen. Maybe Ezra was finally settling in.
The evening wore on and the game got into bigger stakes. It ended abruptly when the large man across from Ezra accused him of cheating. Ezra saw the shift in the man's eyes and fired his derringer a moment before the man fired. Ezra's bullet took the man in the shoulder. The man's aim was thrown off and the bullet went harmlessly over Ezra's head. Or so he thought until he heard Chris yelling for Nathan.
Ezra disarmed the man and turned to see what he feared. His heart sunk. No! No! No! Not Vin. God, not Vin. The tracker was lying on the floor with Chris at his side trying to stem the flow of blood from his shoulder.
The nightmare had begun.
Vin cried out as Nathan probed the wound in his shoulder. Josiah, Buck, Chris and JD held him down as he struggled against Nathan.
"Dammit Nathan!" cried Vin.
"I'm sorry Vin. I got the bullet out, but I've got to make sure it's clean. Don't want you gettin' no infection."
Vin tried not to resist, but the pain was too much and he fought against those holding him down. As the pain shot through his shoulder he let out a string of curses.
"Easy Vin," soothed Chris.
Nathan swabbed the wound again sending white-hot fire through Vin's shoulder. Vin gasped and finally fell unconscious. The men kept their holds just in case, as Nathan finished cleaning and began to stitch the wound in Vin's left shoulder.
"Missed the bone," informed Nathan. "He's gonna be laid up for a few weeks, but if he don't get a fever, I think he'll be fine."
Chris let out a sigh.
Buck slapped JD on the shoulder.
Josiah smiled and moved to the door. "I'll tell Ezra."
"Wait," ordered Chris.
Josiah looked up. He hoped that Chris wasn't going to hold this against Ezra. He and the gambler seemed to be at odds too frequently, and Ezra was just starting to really settle in.
"Where is he?"
"At the bottom of the steps. He's been there ever since we brought Vin up," said Josiah.
"I'll talk to him."
"Chris, are you sure?" asked Buck. It was an accident. He didn't want Chris to take it out on the con man.
"Stay with Vin," ordered Chris. He shook his head as he headed out the door, secretly pleased that his men were defending their seventh.
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