Changes in Attitude

by Heather F.

Part 6 ...So I can't look back for too long
Maude exited the bedroom denying her son the life line she had promised herself she would always offer him.

She hated herself for what she did and despised the men who forced her hand. These six men had some how usurped her position. Though she would always be Mother.... they had become his life line, his family and his confidants. They would comfort his wounds and mend his broken spirit.

With a forced smile and shining eyes, she headed toward the kitchen. She spoke not a word. She did not trust her voice. Instead, she let the purposeful click of her heels on the linoleum convey her purpose and single minded drive.

She opened the cupboard next to the refrigerator. The skinny long rectangular cupboard. Behind that door, behind the rows of carefully neutral coffee mugs she pushed aside the Cocoa Krispies and found the envelope.

With agile dexterous hands that only had equals found in her son, she gathered the tickets for Italy and smoothly placed them in her purse.

With a tight economic nod, she bid her farewell to the men she tried desperately to loathe. She carefully paced for the door.

A dark clad arm barred her way.

She gazed up at the hazel eyes that stared at her through a mangy mane of blonde hair.

A rough coarse, "Thank you," whispered its way toward her. What had happened to her that made her so opportunistic...what forced her to mold her son in her image?

Working her teeth against one another, in a habit much like her son's, she ground out a smile, "Don't make my efforts futile," with that she slid from her son's home.

Tears flowed in great twin streams as she headed down the brick walk way, passed the mundane family SUV, toward her waiting Limousine and her hired driver.

Josiah leaned against the glass sliding window that led to the small patio. He brushed his fingers against the cool glass and whispered his own 'Thank you.'.

+ + + + + + +

JD cracked open the master bath. He peered around the slightly a jarred door and surveyed his chances at escape.

His hazel eyes squarely met the vividly neutral expression he had hoped to avoid.

Neither said a word.

Ezra laid back down on his bed and draped his good arm over his eyes.

JD quickly slid from the room.

+ + + + + + +

Buck watched JD exit the bedroom. The kid had that look about him, pissed off at the world but sad as hell.

"What's goin' on kid?"

"Nuthin'....," JD's eyes surveyed the room and the older faces waiting expectantly for information. "We should git out of here," Dunne picked up his clothes and strode down the hall.

+ + + + + + +

Nathan guided the Cherokee back toward Buck's truck. The smell of gas hung heavy in the crowded SUV. Jackson's mind drifted back to Standish's condo and the man who pretended nothing was amiss. The dimpled smile never wavered. The Southerner played host as if his mother had not just once again left him in the cold to face his problems alone.

Except truth be told there was no problem....Standish feared snakes in a place none existed. Damn man was so busy trying to distance himself he didn't realize that he had backed himself into a corner....and no one threatened him. Raw wounds...they all had them...all fought to protect them.

Why couldn't they just forgive and forget? Nathan knew that in the processes of forgetting one would get hurt a second or third time. Standish forgave easily enough because he understood that he pre-empted his circumstances. His being shuffled from team mate to team mate was something he somehow should have expected....not liked or appreciated, thus the little acts of retaliation....but still he should have come to suspect and prevented. He had not and so he fell back into his old habits of parrying his fellow team members with a disarming smile, quick wit and hands off attitude.

Jackson swore to himself as he wove the truck through light Saturday morning traffic. When would Ezra learn not to interpret such slights as personal affronts?

A tow company had already latched on to Josiah's suburban and hauled it off compliments of DPD.

JD leaned his head against the back seat rest and sighed. He could feel Vin watching him. Could imagine Nathan peeking at him from the rearview mirror.

"You gonna keep us in suspense kid or you gonna tell us what happened back there?" Buck tore his gaze from the passing scenery to the young agent crammed beside him. Even with his short stature JD's knees nearly touched his chest because of the hump.

Dunne shook his head. Ez was an intensely private person when it came to life outside the office. JD could only imagine the embarrassment Standish had to have felt when someone stepped from his bathroom. JD also knew the others would ask only so many times before they dropped it. Something needed said...something needed to convey the corner that Standish must have felt himself get backed into.

"He ain't gut nothin' or no one to turn too," JD dropped his head back down on the seat rest and closed his eyes.

That must be such a rotten feeling.

"Bullshit," Buck whispered out turning his gaze back out the window.

+ + + + + + +

Ezra stood in his empty condo. The frying pan lay forgotten under the coffee table. Mr. Tanner a plate would have been ok to use. He ran his hand through his hair and stared out the window.

Sun light shone through promising a bright warm day. His shoulder throbbed and his fingers felt cold and chapped. A chill hung in the air.

Mr. Dunne would not even meet his eyes this morning.

The others had scrutinized him from behind gracious smiles. They tipped toed around his mother's visit like ataxic bulls. Invitations were offered and sputtered. They were making room for him in their plans that had once not included him. Not included him because he cowered from them. An outsider invited into a closed family. So much like his cousins families and once in they would thrust him back out.

Fortune and Misfortune. At least he had the least they offered him the chance at joining them for the day....sometimes he never had those opportunities. The did not come often and not frequently, until he met this team. Fortune had smiled on him when he joined Chris Larabee and Team Seven.

Now the invites and smiles seemed forced, unsure. The misfortune of being on the inside and finally being forced to take a step outside. He could read their tells.

It's difficult to circle a nexus of friends. It's especially hard when he did it to himself. He secluded himself and he knew it. But gawd it had had hurt to waken in the Judge's house stripped of his clothes, having pity showered on him by people he hardly knew. It stung terribly that he had given up some of his independence only to learn what a fool he had been. It twisted his guts like a clenched fist to think his team mates acted no differently than anyone else he had come to know.

Mother had labeled him a burden once...long, long, ago...he had constantly tried to silently refute the statement. Tell himself she had not meant it. He had been so young then almost as angry as her at the time. Perhaps he had misunderstood...had taken her words out of context.

Gawd after all this time she had been speaking the truth.

He needed to disappear if just for the day.

He headed for the door and paused...he had nowhere to go...

And the others knew it.

+ + + + + + +

Buck and JD stopped by the Condo to find it empty.

Vin tried the door and checked the windows an hour later.

Josiah swung by on his way to the mission.

Nathan spoke with Rain on his digital phone as he rattled the door knob to Standish's small home.

Chris left another message from the Tire Center.

They began to worry.

+ + + + + + +

"I've found him," Chris leaned against the paddock fence holding the 'walking' phone to his ear. Six horses grazed in the small field unconcerned about the human leaning on their territory. Though his statement didn't actually tell the truth, the missing Chaucer gave some indication as to where the undercover agent had disappeared to this afternoon.

"No, Chaucer's gone....figure he must have takin' him riding," Larabee pushed off the fence and circled the old wood planked barn. The Jag had been nestled between the outside overhang and stack of square bales. Discreetly placed out of sight and not visible to the discerning eye.

Standish continued to hide.

+ + + + + + +

Buck, Vin and JD saddled their horses. The late afternoon cooled considerably making the unseasonably warm weather bearable. It seemed like a nice time to go for a ride.

Josiah, Chris and Nathan watched from the side porch.

No one was fooled. The three in the barn could not sit still long enough....they did not have the patience of their older counterparts. Waiting for the return of their seventh was not something they could tolerate.

Nathan did not bother hounding Vin about the bruised ribs or the dangers and risks he took in venturing out for a ride. JD would not listen to anyone once something seeded his brain. The boy took Convenient Hearing to an art level. And Buck...hell Buck did what came naturally. He hunted down a friend. If it were at all possible he would scoop up the injured and protect them from the cruelties of life until they were able to do it themselves.

Chris knew this first hand. How many times had he swung at Wilmington verbally and physically hoping Buck would drop him and leave him to his misery? How many times had he attacked and struck out at Buck so he could wallow in his own painful world.

Buck had ducked, bobbed and weaved and had sometimes parried the blows. Occasionally Chris might have landed a successful hit but each time Wilmington climbed to his feet and stood guard again.

Between the three of them, JD, Buck and Vin, Standish did not stand a chance.

Chris sat quietly on his porch nursing a cold beer and wondered how things had gotten so out of hand.

Josiah reached down over the side of his rocking chair. He fished through the ice chest and dug out another long neck. With a careless flick of his wrist, the twist cap came off. The large profiler watched and marveled at the intricacies that linked this team.

Sanchez watched the three men mount up and ride out. Brief waves over small smiles marked short farewells.

The first string hit the trail.

+ + + + + + +

"Got'im," Buck's amused voice rang over the pay phone.

Chris had not been in his house...from the sounds of it he and the others were in the Ram.

"Yeah I see ya," Head lights lit up a tree lined rural road. The deep hum of the Dodge drowned out the sounds of the evening. The lights splayed across the unlined road. Chris angled the truck into an unpaved parking lot. Tires crunched on the gravel drive.

A Neon sign flickered, "Bud's" the S hung a little off center line.

Chaucer stood quietly tethered to a "No Parking Sign". He lipped the windshield wipers of a car parked too near him. Peso and the others had found themselves hitched to a US Mail box and a Utility Pole.

The warnings about being Towed At the Owner's Expense...apparently held no trepidation for the riders.

Nathan, Josiah and Chris stood beside the truck staring at the horses and then the bar.

Josiah's bemused chuckle floated on the late evening breeze.

+ + + + + + +

Chris stepped into the bar. Josiah and Nathan flanked just a step behind. Bud's really was not a bad place but sometimes it could get a bit rough. The uneven wood floor carried the stains of a life time of beer, tears and blood. The dank heavy cloak of cigarette smoke wrapped around patrons and visitors alike. A grittiness seemed to texture the very air.

An uneven pool table sat off to the side. The green felt top worn and marked from years of misuse. The soft light hanging above the table bore the scars of one to many bar fight.

A Juke Box stood off on the far wall near the pay phone. Something no one understood but no one dare question.

Hard liquor lined the wall behind the pot marked sticky bar top. The bar tender himself a man of many tattoos and a heavy beard. He greeted new customers with an unfriendly, unwelcoming growl. Sweat stained his dark sleeveless T-shirt and dripped across his shiny bald head.

New clients were as in frequent as blue moons and those that made the mistake of entering Bud's quickly left.

Standish, as far as any one knew, had never once crossed the threshold. Until tonight.

A crowd had gathered around the pool table.

Chris noticed Buck off to the far side...against a planked wall with a Milwaukee decorative mirror. Vin stood on the west side of the pool table his back toward the wall lined with pool cues. JD tried to garner the air of casualness on the East side his back to Chris, Josiah and Nathan.

"Think they're in trouble?" Nathan asked.

"Yup," Josiah smiled out an answer. Finally the powder keg would blow. Hopefully they would survive the fall out.

Chris headed for the bar, "Pete," Larabee nodded toward the barkeep who in turned automatically poured the ATF agent a double shot of Jack Daniel's finest.

"Mr. Larabee," Pete poured two more shots for the men flanking Chris. He capped the bottle and placed it back under the bar with the rest of his near full stock. Empty spaces on the shelves behind the bar indicated that stock had already been moved to spare the damage about to ensue in the building melee about to break loose.

"There a problem?"


Josiah grinned taking a sip from his drink. Nathan silently wished someone would speak in complete thoughts.

"Buck involved?"

"About to be."

"Anyone else?"

"Some one armed Redneck hustling people at the tables,"

"One of my boys," Larabee sipped from his drink. He placed it quietly on the bar and gazed up at Pete, "You gonna call the cops?"

"Can't afford too....threatened to take my license,"

"My boy gonna git hurt?"

"Not with Wilmington and Tanner around...You gonna break it up 'fore it starts?"

"Rather not,"

Pete merely nodded and started removing more bottles from the shelves behind him.

A I want damages paid for in full,"

Chris nodded in agreement, "Everything my guys break you'll get paid for."

Nathan fingered his shot glass, "Anyone with weapons over there?"

The bar keep narrowed his eyes at the medic in thought and then shook his head, "Don't think so..." He turned his attention back to Larabee, "though Joey is over there."

The warning had Josiah sliding from his seat.

Chris nodded and quietly said, "Big, Bronco's baseball hat....Southpaw,"

Sanchez quietly crossed the floor and slipped, like a shadow, in amongst the moderate crowd.

Nathan and Chris quietly contemplated their drinks listening to the steady rising cresendo of voices from across the room.

Jackson smiled and shook his head. Ezra sure had a knack for pissing people off.

Like a slab avalanche quiet and deadly, stock piling unused energy, waiting for the tiniest of vibrations to set it off. Bud's Pub grew electric with tension.

Then it snapped.

Part 7 There's just too much to see waiting in front of me...

A sharp shout of anger. The raising of a pool Cue and the quick maddening rush of a perturbed body.

Nathan and Chris merely swiveled in their seats and watched the ripple effect.

The first body flew at Standish. The undercover agent, with an unconcerned air, side stepped the charging form.

Someone grabbed for him from behind. With a shifting of height, dropping slightly and stepping into the opponent from behind, a back elbow found it mark and deeply buried itself in an unsuspecting stomach.

A third made a move. Buck intervened.

A fourth and fifth from the other end of the table picked up cues and found a Texan blocking their advances, with a goading smile.

The sixth tried to make a run at Buck....Dunne's misplaced foot tripped the would be assailant slamming the man's cheek into the bumper of the pool table.

Joey smiled and reached under his leather vest. He found his hand trapped by a vise like grip and gazed up into the grinning features of man old enough to be his father. Joey never did like his father much.

The brawl erupted in earnest.

+ + + + + + +

Standish bobbed and weaved under a heavy Haymaker. He swiveled his hips and buried a solid upper cut into a tense abdomen. Someone came at him swinging a pool cue like a baseball bat. The undercover agent knew he would not be able to disengage his opponent in time to avoid the blow.

Luck and Fortune. It seemed as if Misfortune toyed with him for amusement. Though it could be worse...the rapidly descending pool cue could actually be a baseball bat. Circumstances and point of view.

Trying desperately to protect himself while keeping the behemoth he had closed in on from crushing the life from him, Standish tensed waiting for the strike.

Suddenly Wilmington came into view. He swept in under the arm brandishing the Cue. He stopped the arm above and below the swinging elbow. With nerves hit, the cue dropped from numb fingers. Buck Wilmington collapsed his inner elbow and planted it neatly into the cheek of the man who had once held the cue.

Wilmington turned slightly and winked at Ezra.

Standish inclined his head a fraction and turned his attention back to the gentleman before him.

Perhaps his Luck had turned...perhaps circumstances had changed or maybe he was finally beginning to see what had been in front of him the whole time.

Standish tucked his chin in closer to his neck and resumed a boxer's stance.

Maybe he couldn't get much luckier. He had six men still trying to back him even when he had done his damndest to shove them away. Maybe it was his point of view of the circumstances that needed to change or evolve with the dynamics of his team?

Still he could've been luckier...It would be nice to win the Lottery once...perhaps twice. Greed does not have to be a bad thing

+ + + + + + +

Larabee sat at the bar sipping his whiskey. Nathan stood crossed the floor to the window and flipped the "OPEN" sign to "Closed".

Occasionally a body was hurled outside the nexus of the fight and Nathan or Chris was forced to toss the body back into the fray.

One time JD slid past on his stomach. The young agent scrambled to his feet and dove back into the mix.

A chair was hurled at Wilmington.

"Buck," Chris hardly seemed to have raised his voice. Apparently Buck heard the warning and understood it. He ducked. The chair shattered against the pool table.

Chris turned to Pete, "Not Buck's."

Standish attacked the man wielding another chair. The rickety, wood, spoke back caved and splintered under a side kick.

Chris sighed, "That one's ours."

Vin played cat and mouse with two of his opponents. He kept them at Ten and Two on the clock. One got a round house kick to the side of the knee while the other took a jab to the nose. This alternated and repeated itself for a few quick seconds.

Tanner's amused smile dropped when a double balled fists smashed themselves between his shoulder blades.

Larabee saw this and shook his head. Vin could be as cocky as Buck at times.

JD threw himself at the man that downed Tanner.

Josiah and Joey traded punches.

Nathan shook his head. Why didn't Sanchez just duck on occasion?

Standish found himself on the receiving end of gut punches. Someone held his good arm pinned while a second pounded on his exposed midsection.

The Southerner snapped his head back, hammering the upper chest and chin of the person behind him. They did not loosen their grip. He struck out with a kick at the individual raining punches on his person. They side stepped them neatly.

Perhaps Luck and Misfortune still played a fickle hand...his circumstances could stand to be better

Buck and Vin witnessed the trouble their third was in and abandoned their own scrapes. They jumped to the aid of their undercover agent.

Tanner merely snapped a side kick into the Neanderthal throwing the punches. Buck figure foured the neck of the person pinning Standish's arm.

Once free Standish slid to his knees trying to catch his breath. Ahh Yes, Mistress taking the form of Mr. Wilmington and Mr. Tanner Still his situation had improved.

A set of legs knocked him over and rolled him under the pool table. His shoulder burned in protest. This situation needs to change...a little redirection

Nathan stood up from his bar stool when he lost sight of the Southerner.

Jackson returned to his seat when he noticed two more of Bud's patrons take a mysterious dive to the floor.

Standish climbed to his feet wiping his hands and flecking dust from his sleeve.

Mother had always said the best solutions were the simplest...perhaps she was right...

Inattentiveness cost him a blow to the jaw. The undercover agent was spun back into a gnarl of larger men.

JD hit the floor and sprang back to his feet like a 'Weeble Warble...but they don't fall down'.

Larabee chuckled at the hybrid of moves their young computer expert employed. How do you defend against such a frenzied wild cat. Dunne was everywhere at once. Damn kid had more energy than a kindergarten class.

Buck let his man slip from his arms. He smiled triumphantly at Tanner. Vin returned the grin. Smiles faded as Standish crashed between them with a body attached to his midsection. Buck and Vin reached down to untangle their agent, unfortunately both men collapsed under the sudden weight of other bodies.

JD dove on the growing pile.

Josiah noticed the growing collection of bodies on the floor. With a quick combination, Joey teetered on his feet, heel to toe before falling face first toward a table. Sanchez gently guided the man down. He stripped the hidden gun from behind the flap of the vest.

Nathan and Chris shared a look. With silent agreement, both climbed to their feet. They headed toward the twisted conglomeration of arms and legs. It had the appearance of Sunday Quarterback Blitz.

With a tired air, Larabee began hauling bodies up off his men. With a stern look, patrons were prevented from rejoining the fray. Larabee now carried the stench of a 'Fed'.

On nearing the bottom, someone took a swing at the leader of Team Seven and clipped his jaw.

All motion in the bar room stopped. Pete put down the pencil and paper he was using to keep a running tally on damages. Maybe the cops should have been called?

People held their breath.

Larabee wiped blood from his lip.

The individual who threw the misguided punch stood stalk still....a deer in the hunter's scope.

Larabee cocked his head. A slight intolerant smile quirked across his face.

JD some how nudged closer to Buck. Tanner kept himself on the ground shielding the body under him.

"Git out," Larabee's softly whispered words offered the only escape to the doomed men.

Patrons grabbed one another hauling each other to their feet and headed for the exit.

A mass exodus. Josiah guided Joey up, placed the Bronco's hat back on the sandy brown hair and gently nudged the larger man toward the door.

Vin rolled off the body under him.

Standish tentatively pushed himself into a sitting position. He curled his good hand up and tugged on his shirt cuff that rested at his wrist...covered with grime. The sleeve tore at the shoulder seams. Non plussed the undercover agent gazed up at the man standing over him, "Why Mr. Larabee...what remarkable timing."

Chris allowed a smile to twitch at the edges of his mouth. The damn man looked up this time.

"I've been teaching'im," Vin sat beside Standish wiping blood from his own nose.

"So ahhh Ez...." JD sat up leaning on one elbow holding a hand to his bloody lip, "how do ya play pool with only one arm?"

Standish stared at the young agent and then at the others. He sighed theatrically, "I never professed as to having only one arm.....foolishly others make great misguided leaps in their reasoning...and thus create grievous errors in their decision making."

Nathan silently hoped Ezra would repeat that same sentence and look in the mirror.

"What are you saying?" Buck rubbed at his chest. Two fights in just as many would think he and Chris were back in the DPD wearing their rookie blues.

"You best be keeping that arm in a sling," Nathan scrutinized the Southerner.

Ezra raised one eyebrow and returned an unobtrusive stare of his own, "I am not encumbered by a sling." He gently slid his injured arm from under the protective wraps. The white shirt did little to disguise the bandages around his torso and shoulder.

"And apparently not the bandages either," Josiah shook his head. He easily hauled Vin to his feet.

Chris reached down and pulled Ezra up. Larabee said nothing. He closed his eyes briefly and shook his head.

"Let Nathan rewrap your shoulder and then we're going home," He forced Standish into a chair Josiah had slid behind the undercover agent.

Ezra harrumphed and feigned disgust but let the medic do his job.

Part 8 ....and I know that I just can't go wrong....

JD stood in the near empty parking lot of Bud's. The only light afforded the dark driveway was the red neon glow of the sign over the shake roof. Peso wandered freely about the driveway picking at the sparse, littered, shrubbery trying to find a bite to eat.

"Damn Ez I wish your horse would quit untying mine," Tanner held his chest grimly and limped toward his horse.

"There is no evidence that my horse did any such thing," Standish remarked slightly defensive for his poor maligned animal.

"," JD turned in a slow circle. The gravel rolled and ground sharply in the stillness of the night, "where'd ya park your truck?"

Buck leaned against the building holding a piece of paper that had been tacked to the door.

"Say's here it got towed....Blocking the exit," Wilmington's amused explanation floated across the air.

"That is a fire hazard brother," Josiah schooled. He untethered Chaucer from the 'No Parking Sign' and checked the cinch.

"Lucky they didn't put the Boot on it," Jackson picked up Peso's reins flipped the stirrup fender up over the saddle seat.

Larabee leaned against the mailbox that Buck's Grey was tethered too. The leader of Team Seven patted the gelding's neck.

"How ya gonna git home Chris?" JD watched as Larabee gathered up the little Bay's reins.

Buck, Vin and Ezra saw it before JD. All three men made desperate hobbling attempts to reach their horses.

"Oh no you don't Cowboy."


"Unhand my horse Mr. Sanchez."

Three desperate voices cried across the small parking lot.

"Sorry Brothers but we'll send a car back for ya," Sanchez swung easily into the saddle. The stirrups stopped mid shin but it did not prevent him from placing his feet solidly in the stirrups. His knees were bent like a Jockey's.

Jackson was on Peso and reining the horse away before Vin could make three steps, "Ya might want to start out now."

"We'll send a car for ya when we get back and get the horses settled," Larabee reined the Grey out of the parking lot ponying JD's Bay behind him. The other two closed ranks falling into single file.

Buck, JD, Vin and Ezra stood dumbly in the garish light of Bud's sign listening to the fading sound of clopping hooves on pavement.

JD turned and looked at the other three, "They ditched us."

"I can't believe it," Vin muttered.

"Happens to me all the time," Standish sighed and started walking down the road toward Larabee's ranch.

Buck, Vin and JD exchanged worried glances. Ohhh, Not again.

"Only cuz we know how much it bugs ya," Tanner shot back shoving the Southerner good naturedly from behind.

"Yeah Ez...wouldn't be no fun to do it to Chris...hell he'd just shoot us or something but get all flustered and pissed off....more fun that way," JD replied pushing Vin in retaliation for shoving Standish.

"Imagine if we ditched Josiah...hell he'd probably just sit down and meditate til someone decided to come get'im....or start talking in his riddles til someone begged us to come git'im," JD laughed picturing Sanchez sitting Yoga style in a field of daisies.

"Hell Nathan would probably think we all had Alzimers and make us take physicals if we ever left him somewhere," Buck quipped.

The foursome fell into step side by side.

A heavy silence settled on the group. Boots scraped on road sand and pavement. The soft swish of clothing and shallow breaths echoed gently in the night.

Then a quiet indignant voice quietly informed, "I do not get all flustered as Mr. Dunne has so crudely labeled it."

A quietness answered the statement.

Then a satiric Texan drawl whispered out, "Uh ha....sure ya don't."

"I do not,"

"Noo not you Ez....shoot you take it about as well as Vin takes getting cuffed," JD explained.

"Shut up JD," Vin pushed JD off the soft shoulder into the woods.

"Yes Mr. Dunne please refrain from comparing myself to the wild nature of Mr. Tanner," Standish eyed the road trying to figure if he were truly insulted or not.

"Nah JD, heck Vin here would probably go off the deep end and need tranquilizers.....Ez would just pout and plot," Wilmington nudged the undercover agent into Vin.

Standish skewered his brow and shoved Buck into the road.

"I do not pout,"

"Yeah yer right," Vin pushed Standish back into Wilmington, "you sulk instead."

"Kind of like a cat locked out of the house during a rain storm," JD added scrambling back onto the road.

Buck pushed Standish back into Tanner...Tanner in turn stepped into JD. Dunne found himself back in the edge of the tree line. "Cut it out you guys!"

"Will you desist from touching me," Standish tried to keep a wary eye on the two taller men flanking him. JD continued to fumble noisily in the brush.

"Touchy ain't he?" Vin goaded.

"Just a might," Buck added.

Both Tanner and Wilmington continued to physically harass and mess Standish's hair while the Southerner tried to squirm and twist away from them. They were irritating as hell.

+ + + + + + +

Larabee, Sanchez and Jackson sat a fair piece off into the woods. The horses stood quietly. The creak of leather too faint to give them away at this distance.

The voices of the foursome trudging up the road rang clearly in the starry night.

"You think things are going to level out?" Josiah patted Chaucer's neck scratching the root of the mane. A simple gesture he had seen Ezra do time and time again.

"I hope so," Nathan let Peso nip and lip at the Grey's flank. The Grey stomped it's feet in irritation, pinning back its ears. Pine needles muffled the shifting of shod hooves.

"Until the next time," Larabee whispered out...he wondered who would it be? Buck maybe? or JD? What if it were Josiah or Nathan? Those two were the rocks of the group...the foundation. What if one of them should take to cover like Standish had...or Vin was known to do on occasion?

Larabee couldn't help but think that maybe that was where the Luck in the number Seven came from.....If one should falter...six more would push, pull and just plain haul the other back into the group.

Seven was Lucky...Seven was a number of Fortune....An odd number but the pairings altered and fluctuated...The shear number of individuals made it work.

Seven...not six or five...not groups of twos...or threes. Seven worked for them because it took six to make their seventh step outside his walls. Next time it would be someone else and then a new configuration made of the same parts would mold around the faltered seventh...who ever that maybe...and six would make Seven work again.

Chris nudged the Grey forward and headed home.

The sharp voices coming from the road now conspired about revenge and pranks.

So much for their ride....

The end

With these changes in latitudes, changes in attitudes
nothing remains quite the same
With all of my running and all of my cunning
If I couldn't laugh I just would go insane
If we couldn't laugh we just would go insane
If we weren't all crazy we would go insane.

-Jimmy Buffet Changes in Latitude

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