Disclaimer: Not mine. Never will be. No money being made.
Ezra Standish saluted Colonel Anderson just as the cannon fired and then waited for the dust to settle and for the others to show themselves. He hit the dirt as the first shot was fired and tried as best he could to help the same people he had earlier left to die. Ezra wasn't as sure a shot as Vin Tanner, but did manage to help even the odds. He slowly got to his feet and saw Chris Larabee shoot the bullet that finally brought Anderson down. After retrieving his horse Ezra walked over to the prisoners and motioned for them the get to their feet and nudged them toward the village. He was careful to keep them in front of him as he was not sure of the reception he'd receive from the others. But knew whatever happened he deserved.
"Cut 'em loose," Chris hollered barely glancing toward the gambler. "The wars over boys. Go home," he repeated. Then watched as Vin helped Buck and Nathan helped Josiah to their feet and then helped them to lay him down; with JD following close behind clutching Buck's hat to his chest. Chris Larabee had begun to like the fancy dressed gambler, but had to admit that he wasn't all that surprised the younger man had run. What had surprised him was that he came back. That took courage. Chris couldn't help but admire him, a little, for returning; especially since Ezra didn't know weather or not he would be shot on the spot. So Chris had done something that had surprised even him; he gave Ezra Standish another chance.
After giving the Chief his son's knife Chris walked over to check on Buck, "How is he?"
Looking up Nathan grinned and said, "He's gonna be just fine. Gonna be real sore for awhile, but should back to his old self in no time."
"Thanks for the warning," Chris replied with a grin causing the others to laugh. Seeing the laughter leave everyone's face except Vin and Josiah he turned and saw Ezra walking up to them.
Ezra waited until all six men were together before approaching. If he was going to apologize then he only wanted to do it once and get it over with. "Mr. Sanchez, Mr. Wilmington I trust you're going to survive?"
"We're gonna be fine son," Josiah replied with a weak grin.
Nodding his head, "I'm glad to hear it." Taking a deep breathe he ran a hand through his hair. Looking each man in the eye he began in a gruff southern voice, "Gentlemen I owe you an apology. It was never my intentions to place anyone's life in danger. I heard of a gold mine and went to investigate it and needlessly to say I allowed my greed cloud my judgement. For that I am truly sorry." Having said that Ezra tipped his hat and then turned and walked away without giving them a chance to respond.
Ezra could feel six pairs of eyes watching him and raised his head a notch and straightened his shoulders, he refused to be intimidated and told himself that he didn't give a damn what they thought of him. He also refused to admit how much of the damage done to the village was his fault. The gambler knew that most of it was, but not all of it. With a small shrug of his shoulders he told himself that there wasn't any thing he could do about it now and refused to let it worry him any longer and pushed it from his mind. Besides he had more important things to do, he thought as he heard the children approaching. Hearing a young voice call his name Ezra grinned and slowed down so that the children could catch up with him.
The six friends watched him and couldn't help but grin as the village children flocked to Ezra. They watched as the southerner knelt on one knee and said something to the children making them all laugh. Except one little girl who was sitting off by herself. They watched as Ezra got up and walked closer stopping only when the girl backed away from him. Knelling down on both knees Ezra cocked his head to the right and they could see him tell her something then watched as the southerner held out his hand and beckoned her with his fingers. The little girl looked from Ezra to the other children then back to Ezra as if unsure if she should take that such a chance. The southerner said something causing her to smile. Which in turn caused them all smile and release a breathe they didn't realized they were holding. The girl stepped closer and Ezra scooped her up, with a barely visible wince he got to his feet. Ezra then whispered something in the girl's ear making her to laugh. Holding his hand out to the little dark haired boy that had been following him since his arrival the southerner continued his walk.
"Is he hurt?" Chris wondered as he thought he saw him wince when he picked up the girl.
"Dislocated his shoulder yesterday; it's probably still sore," Nathan answered. Looking at the others he said, "Just when you think you got that fella figured out he goes and does something like that."
"He has quite a way with the wee ones doesn't he," Frances O'Mally said in a pain filled Irish voice.
"Yes he does. Someone that good with children can't be all bad," Josiah added.
"What do you reckon they see in him?" Buck wondered.
All, but Josiah shook their heads. "It's not what they see Buck. It's what they feel. Children don't judge by sight alone; they use their hearts. They know only what their hearts tell them," he ran a weary hand over his face and sighed. "Most children learn by example and I get the feeling that Ezra might have been given the wrong examples to follow." He looked at each of the men around him before continuing, "Ezra's a good man; he proved that by coming back." Having said his piece the older man laid down and tried to get comfortable.
"Ezra?" Frances questioned with a frown now that he'd gotten his first real look at him.
"Yeah that's his name. Ezra Standish," Josiah explained and then asked, "Why?"
"Ezra Standish," the Irishman repeated absently as if trying to remember something.
"Why?" Josiah repeated when his earlier question was ignored.
Chris straightened up at the note of warning in Josiah's voice and saw him eyeing Frances. He may not trust the southerner, but he be damned if he'd allow anyone to hurt one of his men.
Frances looked over at the older man and found six pairs of eyes watching him. It was a unified front if he'd ever seen one. He wondered if they were even aware of what they were doing. However, it wasn't the front that had Frances slowly lift his hands away from his guns, but the look of warning in the older man's eyes. Releasing a slow breath he licked his suddenly dry lips and said, "The name sounds familiar, is all."
Nathan snorted and said, "Probably seen it on a wanted poster."
"Nathan," Josiah said in warning.
"Actually, now that I think about it there was a Standish I heard about during the war. It was said that he could do any thing with a cannon. Heard tell he could hit any target no matter how small. It was said that he was just as handy with dynamite," Frances told them with a small smile. "It couldn't be him though; he's to young. Your friend isn't old enough to have the experience that would require. He would have had to have been just a lad; a wee lad at that. Not much older than you," he said looking at JD.
"Maybe it was his father," Buck said, "or kin."
"Ezra's pretty smart. He picks up things real fast," Josiah commented with just a touch of pride.
Vin Tanner had been content to just sit and listen and watch the others; especially this soldier. Something about this soldier bothered him. Watching him now the tracker saw something flicker in his eyes. Reaching out Vin grabbed his arm to keep him from turning away. "What? If you remember somethin' you best tell us what it is."
Frances once again was confronted by six men, sighing he told them, "It just occurred to me that the Colonel had the cannon pointed at the seven of us."
"So," Chris said hoping the man would get to the point.
"So your Mr. Standish would have had to change the cannon's trajectory in order to hit the flag. That requires skills . . . and experience," he explained.
"You're right. Ezra would have had to change the cannon's range and quickly," Josiah agreed.
"Maybe he got lucky," Nathan argued.
"No Sir. I think it is you who got lucky," Frances said with a small smile.
"Us? How?" Buck asked.
"Because he was on our side," Josiah offered causing Frances to nod and the others to think.
Vin just nodded in agreement then looked over at Chris and saw that he had turned and was now watching the southerner again. Reaching up he removed his hat and wipe the sweat out of his blue eyes and said, "Well there's work needing done." Then put his hat back on and started walking away. He needed to think and did that better when he was busy.
JD Dunne didn't know what to think about Ezra, the cannon, or anything but figured it took a lot of guts to admit that he was wrong and more to apologize. He liked Ezra. Hell, he was the first one to shake his hand when Chris finally allowed him to stay. JD figured that since Ezra had saved everyone's life they were all even. "Nathan do you need me to do anything?" he asked the healer, who shook his head no. "Then I'm gonna go and see if I can't help with the cleaning up," JD said then walked away.
Buck couldn't help but smile as he watched the kid walk away. That boy sure had a lot of grit, he thought to himself. He talked to damn much, but he did have grit. Probably had to have given the sissy hat he chose to wear, Buck didn't care if Bat Masterson did wear the same kind. Laying there he suddenly thought it's was to quiet. He didn't like quiet, unless of course he was sleeping, but it wasn't really necessary then. Buck Wilmington could sleep anywhere and had. Looking to his left he saw that Josiah had fallen asleep and decided against waking him up. Turning to his right he winced as he felt his stitches pull and looked at his oldest friend in the world and knew that Chris Larabee never said more than he had to, to get his point across. He probably said half as much since his family had been killed. Buck knew that he couldn't count on him to distract him from the pain or his thoughts. Jumping a little when a dark hand suddenly appeared in front of his face; Nathan. He'd get Nathan to talk to him; surely the man spoke more than he let on. Buck sighed when he saw that Nathan was busy and resigned himself to his thoughts.
He couldn't understand how anyone could let themselves be distracted from their duty. Grinning to himself Buck remembered being distracted by red head once. But never by gold. Truth be told Buck was glad that Ezra was alive and had come back. The gambler was fun to be around and told almost as good a story as he did, had to be the accent. Plus he had a devious mind; Buck liked that in a friend. It reminded him of a much younger Chris. Hell, he'd forgive him; it took to much energy to stay mad at someone. Besides having a friend that could handle a cannon might come in handy. Of course he'd have to make him sweat a little first. Especially when there were much more prettier things to use his energy on and winked at one of the ladies that was helping Nathan.
Nathan kept his opinion to himself at Josiah's earlier comments. He simply didn't trust Ezra Standish. He believed Ezra to be spoilt, conceited, selfish, and self-centered. Of course, he didn't expect Ezra to admit to any wrong doing or even to apologize, but he had done both. Josiah did have a point, he thought to himself, children did followed their hearts, so there had to be some good in the southerner. But now on top of all that was the business with cannon. Nathan didn't know a lot about cannons, but did know how destructive they were. Sighing Nathan decided that he would wait and see what happened next with the gambler before making up his mind completely.
Vin wiped the sweat out of his eyes and looked around the village. He quickly spotted Chris talking with the old chief. And JD was helping to clear away some of the rubble. Nathan was still tending to the wounded and Josiah and Buck appeared to be asleep. Ok, that's five where was their seventh. Frowning as he carefully survived the area. Just when he was starting to panic a flash of color caught his eye and he allowed himself to relax; a little. Taking drink of water Vin watched as Ezra kept the children busy as well as entertained; just like when they'd been preparing for Anderson.
He had seen a lot in his life and very little surprised him anymore. Until a few days ago that is. The last few days had been filled with nothing but surprises. Six of them. The biggest being the friendship and trust that had been formed from just a shared looked with Chris Larabee. Getting to know Nathan, Buck, Josiah, and JD had only added to the odd sense of belonging he was beginning to feel with these men.
Then there was Ezra Standish. Vin remembered being more than willing to come to the gambler's aid that day in the saloon; even though Ezra had conned all those cowboys. But Ezra hadn't needed any help. Vin couldn't keep the smile from forming as he remembered just how the smaller man had handled those angry cowboys with little or no effort and had impressed the hell out of one Vin Tanner; who decided then and there that that was a man he wanted on his side.
What had impressed Vin the most was the fact that the gambler could have very easily have killed one of more of those men but hadn't. You could be damned sure those cowboys would not have showed the gambler the same courtesy. The tracker had hoped they'd be able to talk him into helping them; but didn't hold out much hope since Ezra had just won more money than they'd been able to offer him. Then to everyone's surprise the conman had shown up at the livery.
He had very little doubt that the man Frances was talking about was Ezra. In the short time Vin had known the southerner he could tell the man practically bleed dixie. No way he fought for the North. The tracker could tell that Standish was the type of man that would strive to be the best at whatever he doing. Be it conning, gambling, or firing a cannon.
Vin had always been able to read people. Hell in bounty hunting it was as necessary as breathing. But Ezra Standish had him stumped. The southerner was a complex man and so the tracker couldn't get a get an accurate read on him. Just when he thought he had the gambler pegged he'd go and do something and Vin would have to start over. With a shake of his head Vin thought about what Josiah had said and found that he agreed with him. Ezra Standish was a good man and Vin was glad he had come back.
+ + + + + + +
As the sun went down the villagers started calling their children home for supper and Ezra suddenly found himself alone. A prospect he normally enjoyed, but not tonight. Tonight he had to much on his mind. To much he didn't want to think about. It was all their fault, he fussed silently. No matter how hard he tried he could not push the black clad gunslinger, the mustached ladies man, the long haired tracker, the giant former preacher, the opinionated healer, or the over enthusiastic kid out of his mind. These six men were storming his walls of defense and he didn't like it. Not one damned bit.
A glint of medal caught his eye and looking up the mountain Ezra saw the barrel of the cannon and shook his head. Something would have to be done about it. It was way to valuable; not to mention dangerous to be left unattended. Glancing around the village he felt a plan to begin to form and almost grinned at the prospect of having to convince the old man. Ezra's grin widened as he decided he might need the luck of the Irish.
With a frown on his face Ezra looked up as a shadow feel across him. Seeing the large form of Josiah standing in front of him with a thoughtful look on his face. Ezra gave serious thought to telling the man to go away, but once again he acted against his nature and to his surprise he found himself smiling in anticipation at the lively conversations to be had with this man. "Ah Mr. Sanchez I take it you're feeling better," he inquired as he got to his feet.
"No, but don't tell Nathan," Josiah replied with just a hint of pain in his voice. With a frown he watched the younger man look all around him and up in the sky before giving him his full attention. "What are you doing?" he couldn't help but ask; not real sure he wanted an answer.
With a cocky grin that showed his gold tooth Ezra said, "Making sure the area's secure."
"Secure? From what?" he asked looking around for any danger, but didn't find any.
"Crows," he replied with a straight face and twinkling green eyes. "Rest assured Mr. Sanchez there's not a crow in sight."
Comprehension quickly dawned causing Josiah to roar with laughter causing the others to look at them in surprise. Grimacing in pain he tried to stop laughing, but he hadn't laughed like this in a long time and it felt good in spite of the pain it caused.
Seeing the older man grab his side Ezra gently took his arm and eased him to the ground. "Mr. Sanchez you really mustn't carry on so. You're liable to cause yourself more harm ," he tried to chastised, but couldn't keep the smile off his own face. "You wouldn't want to bring Mr. Jackson's wrath down on me now would you," Ezra jokingly said, but cast a weary glance around him.
Nathan like everyone else had looked up at the sound of Josiah's laughter and couldn't help, but grin. Until he saw Josiah grab his side then he immediately placed all the blame on the southerner helping the larger man sit down. Damned southern fool was determined to get someone killed, Nathan silently fussed, but he'd be damned if it would be Josiah. So with an angry stride he quickly made his way to them. "Ezra!" he warned and had the pleasure of seeing the man jump in surprise. "What the hell do ya think your doin'?" but didn't give him time to answer as quickly continued as he knelt down in front his friend. "Josiah are you all right? And just what in the hell are you doing up? You're suppose to be restin'."
"Mr. Jackson if you would just ......."
"You stay out of this. You've all ready caused enough damage," Nathan snapped then turned his back on him. "Let's get you sitting up so I check your stitches."
Josiah quickly got his laughter under control at the tone of the healer's voice. Seeing the hurt that quickly flashed in Ezra's green eyes before he tucked it away behind what could only be called a mask made him frown. Just as he opened his mouth to tell Nathan to leave him and Ezra alone the southerner spoke up.
"Here let me help you," he offered and reached for the arm he had just relinquished.
"I don't need your help," Nathan told him and slapped the hand away.
"Good cause I wasn't referring to you," Ezra snapped back before reaching once again for Josiah. "Here Mr. Sanchez let me help you," then with a wink he said so that only Josiah could hear, "we wouldn't want the crows to win now would we."
"No we wouldn't," Josiah said just as quietly with a smile that threatened to turn into laughter. "Stop fussing Nathan I'm fine," he told the healer.
"Yeah I can tell. Come on let's get you back up the hill so you can rest," Nathan said then grabbed his arm to help him up.
"I'll rest right here," he replied and pulled his arm away.
"Josiah stop being so stubborn......," Nathan started, but was interrupted by Ezra.
"If Mr. Sanchez wishes to be stubborn then I suggest you let him. He's only hurting himself," Ezra said with a smile so as not too sound rude.
Nathan felt his temper flare and just managed to control the urge to hit the southerner. "Fine then. When he passes out then you can haul his butt back up the hill," he warned.
"I most certainly will not," Ezra snapped right back. "Mr. Sanchez is a grown man and can take care of himself. If he passes out I shall leave him where he falls," he said in a serious tone, but winked at Josiah to let him know he was teasing. Then watched as Nathan got to his feet and stalked away.
"Oh Ezra you're bad," Josiah said with a laugh once Nathan was out of hearing range.
"Thank you, sir," the southerner said tipping his hat. Straightening up he narrowed his eyes and looked at the ex-preacher and asked, "Are you really all right?"
"I'm fine, really," Josiah replied then as an after thought asked, "How about you?" But as he waited for a response he found that he really wanted to know.
How am I? Did he really wanted to know? Or was he just being polite. With a glib answer on the tip of his tongue Ezra looked at Josiah, but the look in the older man's blue eyes told him that he was serious. Shaking his head at what should have been a very simple question, but for once wasn't. Ezra didn't have a simple answer. Sighing he settled down beside him, but before he could comment he noticed some of the children were headed his way and he couldn't help the smile that slowly spread across his face as he realized he'd just been saved. Bless their little hearts.
Josiah could tell that Ezra was about to give him his usual response, but then something changed his mind. He watched as his question brought a look of confusion to gambler's face that made him look older than he was. Then right before his eyes Josiah watched as Ezra smiled a smile that made his eyes dance and lit up his whole face and the years seemed to just melt away making him appear years younger. It was a smile that came from the soul. This was the true Ezra, the one he should have been, Josiah thought to himself. And couldn't help but wonder what happened.
Ezra was totally unaware of the gentle giant's thoughts as he watched the children make their way toward him and couldn't resist teasing them just a little. He wiped the smile off his face and settle back against the rock beside Josiah and pulled his hat down low over his eyes as he stretched his legs out in front of him as if he were asleep. Ezra could hear them and out of the corner of his eyes he saw Josiah motion them closer and heard him whisper that he wasn't asleep. Ezra just did catch the body that suddenly launched itself at him causing Josiah and him both to laugh. After a moment of laughter they finally settled down and smiled as they all asked for a story. Spreading a blanket on the ground Ezra swept his hand in a grand fashion for the children to sit. "What kind of story would you like to hear?" he finally drawled out careful to keep his words simple. "How about one about a giant and the heroic deeds of one young man that changed his fate with a single rock?" he offered with the same smile lighting up his face.
Vin looked up at the sound of laughter and couldn't help but smile at the children surrounding Ezra and Josiah. He noticed that the conman had captured the attention of some the villagers as well. Curiosity got the better of him and he stepped closer to find out what the excitement was about. Vin saw that JD had already found himself a comfortable spot. The sharpshooter listened in disbelief as he realized that familiar southern voice telling a story. Hearing someone coming up behind him he turned and saw Chris and the Chief headed toward him.
"What's going on?" Chris asked just as Nathan walked up. Him and the Chief had watched as a small crowd started gathering around Ezra and the children. Chris wasn't about to let the conman swindle these people.
"He's tellin' them a story," Vin replied before turning back.
As they listened to the conman they understood why Ezra was so successful and still alive. He had a way about him that made you want to believe whatever he said. He told a story so that if you closed your eyes you'd be able to see it in your head. Everyone was smiling by the time he'd finished the story and they watched as Ezra embraced as many of the children as he could; grinning all the while.
As Josiah listened to the familiar Bible story being told with a certain flare; as only the southerner could. He watched the young man's face and Josiah could easily see the joy in those green eyes and he knew that Ezra would have made one hell of a preacher. Swallowing the sudden lump in his throat Josiah realized that Ezra had just managed to captured the place in his heart that was reserved for a son. He figured that Ezra just needed someone to point him in the right direction every once in awhile and he was as good a man for the job as any other. All wayward sons needed a guiding hand from time to time. Josiah offered up a silent prayer that the Lord help him to do a better job than his father had.
Shaking his head JD walked toward them and asked with a smile, "Did you hear that? That was amazing." Then continued on toward Buck.
"Your man has quite a way about him; especially with the children," the Chief said with a smile. He liked these men. One on one they were each a force to be reckoned with. There was a quality about them when they came together and worked as a whole. This quality made a person feel a variety of emotions ranging from fear to admiration.
"What makes the children trust him?" Nathan wondered as he came up behind them. Not at all sure he believed what Josiah said earlier.
The Chief looked at the tall dark young man in front of him before answering, "Because he talks to them and not at them." Seeing the confusion in the dark man's face he tried to explain it better, "He respects them and that shows in his words and actions. He treats them like individuals and not just children."
Chris, Nathan, and Vin didn't say a word just stood there watching. Each not really sure what to believe about the conman. After a couple of awkward minutes of silence. Vin asked, "Think we should stand watch tonight?"
"Wouldn't hurt," Chris said with a nod.
"I'll take first watch," Vin offered already looking around.
Shaking his head Chris said, "No. Let Ezra do it." Then made his over to the conman and stood there watching as Ezra listened to every word the child in front of him said.
Ezra smiled at the little girl in front of him and gave her a brief hug before turning his attention to the man in black.
"Since you missed your watch this morning you can do it tonight," Chris told him in tone that brooked no argument.
"Certainly Mr. Larabee," he replied without the smile leaving his face or any farther comment. Ezra Standish may be a lot of things, but a fool wasn't one of them. Well not most of the time anyway. He knew he was only hanging by a thread with this man. Hell, all of these men. Ezra then retrieved his hat, "Mr. Sanchez do you need me to assist you back to Mr. Jackson?"
"No Ezra I'm fine, thank you son," Josiah replied.
Ezra looked at the older man with a raised eye brow, but did not comment. Then with a tip of his hat he said, "Well then gentlemen I'll bid you goodnight," and went to saddle his horse.
"I don't think he liked you callin' him son," Chris commented.
Grinning Josiah replied, "Then I guess I'll have to do it more often." Causing the blond haired gunslinger to grin.
As Chris and Josiah watched Ezra walk away Chris felt a tug on his duster, looking down he saw that it was the little boy that had been shadowing the conman since their arrival. Smiling at him he knelt down so that they were eye to eye, "What can I do for you son?"
"Where's Ezra going?" the boy asked with a slight catch in his voice.
"He has first watch tonight," Chris explained.
"Can I go with him?" the boy wanted to know.
Chris frowned and looked over at Josiah, who only shrugged his shoulders and grinned. The black clad man almost swore when he couldn't come up with a reason why the boy shouldn't. Looking into those big brown trusting eyes he said the only thing he could think of, "That's up to your folks." Shaking his head he watched the boy ran up to his parents and then race after Ezra, who upon hearing his name stopped and waited for his shadow to catch up. The blond haired gunslinger watched as Ezra swung the boy up on his horse and removed his rifle. With a frown Chris watched as he removed the bullets before handing rifle to the boy to hold. I'll never figure that man out, Chris thought to himself. "What the hell are you grinning about?" he asked as he turned and saw a grin on the tracker's face.
Vin shook his head as his grin widened as he continued to watch Ezra and the boy ride away. "I get the feeling that maybe you should of shot him while you had the chance," he replied looking at Chris and Josiah. At their questioning look he tipped his hat, much the same way that Ezra had earlier, turned away. Grabbing a bite to eat he found himself a quiet spot to try and get some sleep before he relieving Ezra.
+ + + + + + +
"Excuse me Sir, I don't think we've met. I'm Ezra Standish," Ezra said and tipped his hat.
Frances looked up clearly startled by the southerner's voice and quickly turned and saw the man in the red jacket standing just inside the tent. He didn't know why but he felt like he should stand at attention in his presence. "Sar... Frances O'Mally," Frances replied and held out his hand. You're not a soldier anymore old boy, he reminded himself.
"I wondered if I might I have a word with you?"
"Of course," he said.
"How are you feeling?" Ezra asked to be polite and to keep him off balance.
"Fine," was the confused reply.
Ezra nodded his head and said, "Good. I wanted to speak with you about the cannon." He didn't particularly trust the man before him. Frances O'Mally had switched sides a little to quickly for comfort. The man had obviously had ridden with the Colonel during the war and to still be with him meant one of two things. O'Mally was very loyal or he was almost as insane as Anderson. Ezra believed it was the latter. After all these years, he all of a sudden disagreed with what the Colonel was doing. It was a little to convenient and Ezra Standish didn't believe in convenient. No, he didn't trust one Frances O'Mally, but needed his help so he pushed those feelings aside, for now.
"The cannon? What about it? It belongs to the village now, sir," Frances said. "You know what they say, 'to the victor goes the spoils'."
Ezra grinned and rubbed his hands together, "Exactly what I wish to discuss with you. The spoils." Then motioned for the soldier to follow him.
Later that morning Ezra and Frances carefully approached the Indian Chief. "Excuse me sir, but may we have a word with you?"
The Chief looked at the two men in front of him and stood. He knew what it must have cost the funny talking soldier to help the seven take down the colonel. Even wounded he tried to help with the repairs that he'd helped cause. It was one of the reasons he'd decided to give him a chance.
He had watched this fancy dressed white man charm the children of the village. He was like the fox. Cunning and very smart. One not easily fooled. And just as deadly. The Chief watched as this fancy dressed man and his six friends battled side by side risking their lives to help defend his village and way of life. He knew that this village was lucky these seven men were on their sides; especially the fancy dressed white man. For it was him that had turned the tide. "What about?"
"Your cannon," Ezra said simply.
"My cannon?" he questioned in surprise. The Chief had not given the big gun any thought, but now that he did he wondered what these white men wanted with it. "It is not my cannon."
"Sir haven't you ever heard the phrase 'to the victor goes the soils'," Frances replied.
"Your village defeated the Colonel so now that cannon belongs to you," Ezra explained at his look of confusion.
The Chief looked from the men to the cannon and asked, "What do you think I should do with it?"
Ezra grinned showing his gold tooth as he placed an arm around the Chief's shoulders and said, "I thought you'd never ask." Then with a gentle nudge the gambler, the Irishman, and the Chief started walking toward the cannon.
+ + + + + + +
Josiah had seen Ezra approach Frances earlier and for some reason got a sinking feeling in his gut as he watched them walk away together. The sinking feeling slowly faded when he didn't hear any gun fire. Standing beside Nathan now as he looked around the village he happened to glance up and spotted a familiar red jacket. The sinking feeling returned with gusto at seeing Ezra standing on the mountain with the cannon. "What in the hell is that fool doing?" he demanded to know as he felt his temper override the sinking feeling.
Nathan followed Josiah's gaze and swore under his breath as he quickly spotted their conman standing on the edge of the mountain. "If that fool hurts himself I'll kill him," he warned as Ezra turn and look down and appeared to tipped his hat at them. Cocky son of a bitch, he thought with a shake of his head.
JD ran up to Chris and Vin pointing in the direction of the cannon and asking, "Hey what's Ezra doing up there?" Causing the others to look up and then swear as they spotted Ezra.
Vin quickly got to his feet and started running with Chris right on his heels. Ezra, Vin thought to himself, don't dare do anything stupid cause I would hate to have to let Chris shoot you.
Buck saw Chris and Vin running and said, "What's going on?" Then followed Josiah's finger as he pointed up toward the mountain causing his eyes to widened and say, "Aww shit."
When Vin and Chris finally reached the top they quickly spotted Ezra standing by the cannon with the Chief and a few of his men. The Chief held up a hand and motioned for them to stay back. Ezra looked to be explaining something to them about the big gun.
"Mornin'," the Chief called as he got closer to them. "Your man is very wise." Seeing the question in their eyes he continued, "He has been explaining the rules of war to me."
Chris and Vin exchanged a confused glance before once more looking at the Chief and questioned, "Ezra?"
Grinning he took pity on them and explained, "He told me 'to the victor goes the spoils'". But that was all he would tell them before walking away. The Chief was about ten feet from them before calling over his shoulder, "Come. Your man knows what he is doing." At first he thought that the green eyed hired gunman and the soldier were loco when they suggested destroying the mind once and for all. But the more he thought about it the more he agreed with them. Something had to be done about the mind and the only way to insure the safety of the village was to destroy it. The only problem he had was the use of dynamite and before he knew what was happening the green eyed man had him agreeing with him. What the Chief did like, was the idea of hiding the cannon in the village. It would be his ace in the hole like the fancy dressed man said.
"Figure it's his decision," Vin offered before following with a reluctant Chris behind him.
They were half way down the mountain when they heard the sound of an explosion. Turning as if to run back up the mountain Chris and Vin found their path blocked by a grinning Chief. "Do not worry it is all part of the plan," he said before giving the two men a gentle shove.
The men were met at the bottom by the remaining four, but Chris and Vin could only shrug in confusion.
"What the hell was that?" Josiah wanted to know. "Where's Ezra? Is he alright?"
"Do not worry it is all part of the plan," the Chief repeated.
"What plan?" Chris finally asked. "Where exactly did Ezra get the dynamite?"
"Dynamite?" Josiah whispered as he looked up the mountain.
"The soldier gave it to him," the Chief explained.
"What the hell was he thinking?" Josiah wanted to know.
"Who? Ezra, the Chief, or the soldier?" Nathan couldn't help, but ask.
"All of them," the former preacher replied and went to step around the old man.
The Chief reached out and placed a hand on the large man's arm to prevent him from going after his friend, "Him and the soldier know what their doing." The old Indian tightened his hold as the large white man started to push past him anyway. Leaning a little closer he said, "Trust him." Stopping Josiah in his tracks.
"Soldier?" Vin asked. "What soldier?"
"The Colonel's Francis?" Buck questioned.
With a nod and a smile the Chief walked away leaving the six men with their confusion and couldn't prevent the laugh that suddenly bubbled out.
The six gunslingers watched as the old chief walked away and then looked back up the mountain and wondered what the old man knew about Ezra that they didn't. They quickly grabbed each as another explosion rocked the village.
+ + + + + + +
"Don't you at least want to check out the mine before you blow it?" Frances asked as he watched the southerner place the sticks of dynamite along the mind's entrance. He watched as the younger shook his head no. "If you do this no one will be able to mine it again," the Irishman pointed out. When Standish first approached him about blowing the mind he'd figured that it was just a front to throw the old Indian Chief off, but all these sticks of dynamite proved just how serious the southerner was.
"That's the whole idea," Ezra explained once again. "Now come on. Everyone find cover!"
Frances quickly ducked as the southern shot the stick of dynamite. As they waited for the dust to settle he stated, "You've done this before." France watched the man shrug his shoulders. "I heard about you during the war," he took a chance and told him then wondered if he'd said the wrong thing as he froze.
"Did you? War stories have a way of getting distorted," Ezra replied in a quite voice. "Did you tell them what you heard?"
"Yes. Not everything, mind you, but enough. I told them I'd heard about a man named Standish who knew his way around a cannon and dynamite. However, I also told them that I thought you were to young to be that man," Frances explained. "How old were you?" he questioned as he racked his brain trying to remember if there was something he could use to hold over the southerner's head to shake things up a bit.
Ezra didn't say a word just flicked some dust off his jacket before once again aiming his rifle at the mind and fired causing the ground to rumble once again. Without even waiting for the dust to settle Ezra got to his feet, but before walking away he released a shaky breath then whispered, "Too young."
Frances shook his head as he surveyed what was left of the mine. What a waste, he thought.
+ + + + + + +
Chris and Josiah cornered Francis later that day. With a grin he told them that they'd blown up the mind; which is what they had all pretty much figured anyway. In an angry voice Francis told them that the fuses weren't long enough, but that didn't stop the southerner as he was determined and shot the dynamite instead. Josiah exchanged a weary glance with Chris as they silently agreed to keep a closer eye on Francis.
Nathan waited until the others had walked away before approaching the soldier. "How's that wound? Need me to look at it?"
"Don't touch me," Francis sneered and stepped back. "I don't need help from your kind no more."
The healer watched in shock as the Irishman walked away and made a mental note to stay away from him.
As soon as Josiah spotted Ezra he wanted to grab him and shake some sense in to him, but looking at that dust covered face and into those heavily guarded green eyes made him want to give him a hug instead. But because he didn't want to get shot Josiah settled for keeping a discreet eye on him and with a silent but deadly glare warned the others to keep their distance as well. Now was not the time to confront the skittish southerner.
Josiah's glare may have worked to keep the men away, but it didn't faze the children. They flocked to him as usual. Sanchez watched as Ezra entertained them with more stories until their parents called them all in for the night. With a smile Josiah watched as Ezra's shadow returned with a blanket and then crawled onto Ezra's lap. The ex-preacher felt a pang of sadness as he watched Ezra pull the boy closer to him as they both settled down for the night. "Pleasant dreams Ezra," Josiah whispered, "I hope that little boy helps you lay your ghosts to rest; at least for one night." Then pulled himself up and made his way to the cot he knew Nathan was keeping for him.
+ + + + + + +
The seven men stayed two more days just to make sure that none of Anderson's men were still in the area.
It was mid morning when Vin happened upon Ezra tending to his horse and couldn't help but grin as he noticed that for once the gambler was alone. Being a tracker made it easy for him to surprise others with his presence and the gambler was no different. His sudden appearance did surprise Ezra, but Vin got a surprise of his own as Ezra had his derringer pointed straight at him. Holding up his hands in mock surrender Vin realized that Ezra Standish was just as quick on the draw as Chris Larabee; probably more so because no one would ever suspect it from the smaller man.
"That's a good way to one's self shot," Ezra warned as he activated a device and placed the derringer back up his sleeve before turning back to his horse.
Never much for words Vin simply said, "Sorry." Then walked over to his own horse and began to give it a good rub down. Casting a nervous look at the other man Vin suddenly grinned as he remembered that Ezra was alone. "Where's your shadow today Ez?" the tracker asked.
Ez? Son?, what the hell was wrong with these people, Ezra silently asked himself. "Ezra," was all he said.
"What?" the Texan asked clearly confused.
"My name's Ezra. Not Ez," the southerner explained.
Vin grinned, "Yeah I know." So he doesn't like the nickname, the tracker thought to himself, of course he wouldn't let that stop him.
Looking at the tracker for a moment he shook his head before answering his earlier question, "The boy's name is Eli and he had some responsibilities of his own to attend to."
Why couldn't he just give an easy answer, Vin thought as he looked at Ezra for a moment as he figured out what the fancy man said, "That mean the same as he had chores to do?"
"Yes Mr. Tanner. That's exactly what it means," Ezra said with a grin that lit up his green eyes causing Vin to grin as well.
Chris came to a stop as he saw the two very different men grinning at each other and wondered what had brought that on, but decided that he'd be better off not knowing. "Where's your shadow Ezra?" he asked, since the boy wasn't around, causing them both to laugh. Seeing Vin about to explain Chris held up his hand and said, "Don't bother cause I don't want to know." Shaking his head at the pair of them before turning his head to looked at Ezra and came straight to the point, "We're leaving in the morning. You coming with us?" Chris saw the laughter on the younger man's face replaced by apprehension that was quickly hidden behind the best poker face he'd seen in years. Chris told himself that he was glad to see that he had caused Ezra to feel uneasy. Him and the others had felt damned uneasy sitting on that mountain with a cannon pointed at them. What Chris didn't understand why it should bother him. Cursing silently he placed on the blame on Ezra. He'd figure out why later.
"If you gentlemen have no objections?" Ezra commented in a voice that didn't betray any of what he was feeling.
"If we'd had any objections I wouldn't have asked," Chris replied. "We'll leave just as soon as the suns up."
Vin watched the laughter leave the gambler's face and wished that Chris hadn't said nothing. He opened his mouth to say something, but Ezra started speaking first, "Very well then I'll be joining you in the morning." Then turned back to his horse. Vin wished he had a better gift for gab as he tried to think of something to say to his friends to break the tension. Woh! Friends? Chris, sure no problems there, but when had he started thinking of the gambler as a friend? he asked himself. Ok, ok, he did save our lives, he grudgingly admitted. But, he countered, if he hadn't left in the first place maybe our lives wouldn't have needed to be saved. No, friend was a little strong in regards to Ezra. Vin wasn't sure what to call him. Sighing Vin decided to just keep it simple, "That's some horse you got there Ezra."
Ezra kept his head down but looked over at the tracker, "Thank you Mr. Tanner. Your steed's quite impressive as well."
Vin grinned and petted his horse, "Thanks. Yeah, me and Peso have been through a lot together."
"Chaucer has saved my hide more than once," Ezra commented with a grin of his own. "He's very intelligent."
"I'll wager Peso's just as smart," Vin countered.
"Wager?" he repeated with a gleam in his eyes. "Care to put your money where your mouth is?"
The tracker smiled, "Aint got no money."
The gambler arched one eye brow and said, "Figures." Pushing his hat up high on his forehead Ezra looked the tracker up and down and suddenly grinned that cocky grin of his and started telling him one of his and Chaucer's many exploits.
Chris ducked his head to hide his smile as he listened to the two younger men compliment each other on their choice of horses and compare stories of how their horses had saved their lives. As he walked away he heard them both laugh and was glad Vin had managed to put the smile back on the gambler's face
Later that afternoon JD sat with Ezra and some of the children at a table watching as the gambler entertained them with card tricks. Try as he might JD could not tell how Ezra did those things with a simple deck of cards. When he'd asked how he it Ezra only grinned. Looking up as a shadow fell across the table JD watched as Francis pushed a little boy out of the say so he could sit down with them. A shiver went down his spin at the look in Ezra's eyes. Reaching out JD took the little boy's hand and made sure he was ok then quietly told him to go and get the others. Just incase.
"Don't do that again," Ezra said in a quiet voice that was filled with silent warnings. Then motioned for the children to move closer to him and JD.
"I'll do what I damn well please," Francis calmly replied. "They're just a bunch of mixed bastards and don't matter to no one, but their own kind."
"They matter to me," Ezra pointed out locking eyes with the Irishman.
Taking the hands of a couple of children and motioning the rest to follow him JD pulled them away from the table and any potential trouble. Come on guys where are you, he silently asked himself. looking toward the desert.
"Why? Why do they matter to you? This is what we fought against during the war," Francis argued as he jumped to his feet knocking his chair over.
"Not we!" Ezra shouted and slammed his fist on the table, but remained seated. "You. And men like Anderson. Not me."
With a smirk on his face the former soldier accused, "It's because of men like you that we lost the war." Shaking his head Francis continued, "A real man wouldn't have quivered at killing a few innoc....". He got no further as he suddenly found himself lying on the table top with Ezra's hand around his troat cutting off the words and the air.
"Shut up! Shut the hell up!," Ezra snarled and tightened his grip and watched as the man began to loose consciousness. Suddenly he was grabbed by his shoulders and someone tried to pull him off the fallen man, but he refused to let go and shrugged them off. Another set of hands joined the first and together they managed to pull him away.
Josiah pushed Ezra back and onto a near by chair keeping himself between the two men. He quickly grabbed Ezra's arm as he jumped back up and he pushed him back down on the chair. Placing a hand on the tense shoulder he gave a little squeeze and said, "Calm down Ezra. Don't let him get to you." The irate southerner slapped his hand away, but made no further attempts to get up.
Vin looked from the southerner to the Irishman and shook his head. Looking closely at Ezra he could see his eyes flashing bloody murder and could even hear his uneven breathing as he tried to get himself back under control. Ezra turned his head and it was like someone had blown out a candle. Just that quick he was back in control. The green eyes stopped flashing and the breathing even out. If Vin hadn't been there and seen it with his own eyes he never would have believed it. Turning he saw why just a few feet away were the children.
Chris saw what Vin had and still he didn't believe it. "He gonna be alright?" he asked Nathan about Francis.
Nathan just nodded then stepped away. A part of him wanted to let Josiah and Vin let Ezra choke the life from this man, but no matter how much he may want it to be Nathan knew it wasn't right.
Looking down at the still shaken Irishman Chris said, "You ride out of here now and you can live."
Francis didn't say a word just looked at the man in black. Looking past him he watched the southerner and got to his feet and said something in French then grinned as the color drained from Standish's face as the words registered.
Ezra felt the blood drain from his face and fought the veil of blackness that threatened to overwhelm him. It felt like he was fighting a losing battle until the grin on O'Mally's face. A grin that made his blood begin to boil and with a rebel yell that sent an all to familiar chill down Chris and Buck's back he jumped to his feet and threw himself across the table and tackled the Irishman to the ground. Landing punches before they even hit the ground. After landing a few more punches Francis O'Mally lay unmoving. Ezra never one to pass up an opportunity grabbed the man's head he slammed it into the ground a couple just for good measure.
Staggering to his feet he disengaged his derringer and pointed right between those black Irish eyes. Hearing the distant sound of a child's cry broke Ezra out of his trance-like state. Then with a shake of his head lowered his arm and re-engaged his run. "This ends now!" Ezra shouted. "The only thing saving you is the fact that these children have seen enough blood shed," he said. "Now do as Mr. Larabee said and get on your horse and ride out of here ........but heed my warning if I ever see you again I'll kill you on sight."
But Francis could only hear Colonel Anderson's voice in his head saying, We can't give up now Francis. Victory is within our grasp. Now finish him off. With those words echoing around in his head he picked himself up and spit the blood from his mouth and threw himself again at the southerner.
Ezra kept a close eye on the O'Mally and was ready for him and just twisted out of the way. Grabbing the Irishman around the neck and he spun them back around so that their backs were to the children and with a audible snap the man went limp and Ezra let him drop to the ground.
Breathing hard Ezra stepped back and straightened his shoulders then turned and starting walking away desperately needing some time alone. As he walked past Josiah the older man he reached out and gave his arm a squeeze. Looking up he saw understanding in the older man's eyes and nodded at him.
Vin gently slapped Ezra on the back and leaned in close and said so that only those around could hear, "You spared them any more blood shed. We'd have done the same thing."
"Not me," Chris threw in. "I'd have shot the bastard between the eyes. Children or no children. Same results. Your way is just less messy," he said with a small grin.
Ezra grinned in spite of himself and nodded and walked away.
JD stepped up the others and said in a shocked voice, "Ezra broke his neck." Causing the others to look at him with a worried expression on their faces. Holding up a hand he continued, "I understand why he did. It's just......I never seen any one do that before."
"What he say anyway?" Buck asked looking at Josiah.
"It was French and I'm not sure, but I think it had something to do with a baby," Josiah offered with a frown. Then placed an arm around JD's shoulders and gave him a squeeze letting him know that everything was gonna be ok.
It was almost sun set before they saw Ezra again. It seemed the whole village watched him as he walked up and sat down with Josiah and JD. "You ok son?" Josiah asked.
Ezra cocked his head to the side and looked at the ex-preacher and sighed before asking, "Do you know something I don't?"
Josiah grinned and shook his head no.
"That's a relief. Here I was thinking I was going to have to write to my mother and asked her to explain herself," he said.
"You didn't answer Josiah's question Ezra," JD pointed out.
The boy's more astute then I thought, Ezra thought. Then grinned and replied, "I'm as well as can be expected." Nodding his thanks to the plate that was suddenly handed to him. Once he finished eating Ezra pulled out his flask and offered Josiah and JD both a drink before taking a more than generous swallow himself.
Josiah and the others soon joined them and they all watched as some of the children cautiously making their way toward them and held their breaths waiting to see what would happen. Eli, the gambler's shadow, push his way past the other kids and proudly walk up the Ezra with both hands behind his back. Pulling one hand out he handed Ezra his hat as the other revealed a blanket. Ezra grinned and put his flask away before opening his arms in invitation. Eli smiled and climbed onto Ezra's lap and as the other children soon followed and gathered the rest of them and waited for yet another story.
+ + + + + + +
The next morning as Ezra was talking with Josiah they suddenly found themselves surrounded. Grinning at the children around him he noticed that some looked a little sad; especially one brown eyed little boy. "Now, now why the long faces?" he asked as he knelt down.
"You're leaving," one little girl said with tears in her eyes.
Josiah looked at the little girl and instantly felt sorry for Ezra. He would not want to be in the position of having to break these children's hearts and wondered what Ezra would tell them.
"I'm sorry, my dear, but you knew I couldn't stay," Ezra started then paused to gather the little girl close and wiped her tears with his handkerchief. "My friends and I were hired to protect you and your families from the colonel and now that he's gone our job here done. I'm sorry, but we....I don't belong here, but I want you to know that I have throughly enjoyed my time with each of you. I'm glad to have made so many new friends, but this isn't my home. Do you understand that?"
The little girl looked at him and nodded, but Josiah could see the tears in her eyes. He watched as Ezra leaned close and whispered something in her ear causing her to grin. Ezra tucked the handkerchief in her pocket before placing a kiss on her forehead. Josiah and Ezra both watched as all but one child walked away. Deciding to give Ezra a little privacy Josiah gave him a pat on the shoulder then walked away.
Ezra looked at the boy in front of him and suddenly felt very unsure of himself. He watched as Eli stepped closer and when he got in touching distance Ezra snatched him up and threw the boy over his shoulder and spun him around a couple of times before setting him back on his feet.
"Can I come too?" he asked his eyes full of hope even though he knew he couldn't.
Ezra chocked his head to the side and said, "A brave boy like you has to stay and protect the village." Then placed his hands on either side of the boy's face before handing him a deck of cards, "Do you remember what I taught you?"
"Never draw to an inside straight," Eli replied with a smile.
"Trust your gut," the boy grinned.
"Instincts. Gut is such a vulgar word," Ezra corrected with a wink. Grinning Ezra got to his feet and shook hands with a villager before mounting his horse. "What about you Mr. Jackson you willing to ride with a reformed southerner?" he asked the healer.
"No I'm gonna stick around and help these folks get back on their feet," Nathan replied with a smile. Maybe Ezra wasn't so bad after all, he thought to himself as he watched him and the others ride away. Then stared in shock as Josiah rode past.
Vin steered his horse closer the tree in front of him and removed what was left of the flag that Anderson had tried to raise. "Nice shooting pard," Vin commented.
"Dreadful. I was trying to hit Anderson," Ezra replied as he and Vin caught up with the others.
Josiah and Nathan soon caught up with the others and together the seven men set a slow but steady pace toward Four Corners.