by Celeste

Genre: Actually, more of Chris’ random musings… (Which should be it’s own genre by the way…)

Summary: Chris Larabee finally finds something to be afraid of…

Disclaimer: The M7 boys aren’t mine *sigh* but if they were…*EG* well… you know...

Author’s Notes: It’s those damn plot bunnies that got released in the SBOTG I tell ya! And the fact that my muse doesn’t want to make sense… ayah. Another psychological piece for me... short and sweet. LOL Who needs plot, anyway? :) Moving on, thanks to Luna for beta’ing, aka: putting up with my shenanigans (as ALWAYS!). LOL she’s an angel... you know, the kind with the crooked halo that has to hide the horns and pitchfork behind their back.) The pictures were both taken from Wen’s Sharpshooter site. Thanks Wen for the use of the wonderful pictures.

Feedback: (yes!) but please no flames, those make my muse throw up her hands an’ just give up. It’s just a pointless piece after all, and flames would be pointless too then, don’t you think? :) Now…on with the uh…"story?"

"Fuck!" Chris Larabee ducked the bullet aimed for his head and threw his back against the boulder he was currently using for cover. Glancing to his side, he watched Vin deftly do the same to avoid being shot, before firing easily in the direction of their attackers. It was just another normal day in the life of the Seven, but the odd thing about it was that Chris Larabee was scared shitless right now.

The black clad gunslinger frowned, and his eyes narrowed into slits as he and his men traded fire with the less than infamous gang of outlaws. Damn it all to hell, he had been in worse situations before and barely batted an eye in reaction. But now, he was so scared the pounding of his heart threatened to drown out the barrage of gunfire and the shouts of men. "Damn it, get a grip Larabee!" he hissed to himself, forcing his body to stay down so he could collect himself. What had been going on lately? It seemed as if every time he and the seven had been engaged, the normally fearless leader was suddenly scared of something. He didn’t know what.

"Damn it!!"

Chris’s heart surged with panic at the sound of Nathan cursing. "Nate!!?" he called over the melee. He had to forcibly keep himself from craning his neck over the rock. It would do no one any good if he were to be shot right now.

"I’m okay, Chris, my damn gun jammed!" the healer shouted back over the range, straining to be heard over the ruckus. Larabee almost relaxed, but suddenly he remembered he was in the middle of a goddamn gunfight. He leaned over to the right of the boulder and fired. The lawman was rewarded with a grunt, but no scream. Damn! Must have missed.

"Calm down…steady hand," he grumbled to himself. He was shakier than a greenhorn on his first cattle drive. What was happening to him? He wondered briefly if it had anything to do with age. No, of course it didn’t. Josiah had a good eight or nine years on him, and the ex-preacher showed no signs of slowing down yet. Then what the hell was it, if it was not age? Was the famed black-clad gunslinger loosing his touch? Was he losing his nerve? Chris shuddered to think what the consequences would be, if it were so. The word ‘coward’ came to mind like the taunting of children in a schoolyard.

Ducking and firing automatically, the leader let his gaze dart to his six colleagues. They fought fiercely, exchanging fire and cover fire as they had grown accustomed to doing over the three years they had worked together. It was beautiful, dangerous, and frightening all at once.

"Watch out Mister…Buck!!" Ezra yelled a warning to his compatriot, as he "dissuaded" one of the outlaws from shooting Wilmington with a well-placed bullet to the big man’s forehead. The brigand dropped like a stone, dying even before he had the chance to scream.

"Thanks, Ez! Owe you one!"

"My pleasure, Mister Wilmington."

As he watched them, Chris mentally thanked the cardsharp for keeping an eye on his oldest friend’s back. His body was tense, and he concentrated on covering his six men, rather than taking the offensive and gunning straight for the enemy. When the hell had THAT happened? When had Chris Larabee stopped facing the danger head on… it was, well, unheard of.

God, he had not been this scared in a gunfight, in ANY gunfight since… since he had married Sarah. He remembered those days with striking clarity. He had hung his gun belt up on the coat rack near the door the day he had exchanged vows with Sarah. He had put them in a box, without even taking the time to dust them, and stuck them in the closet the day Adam was born.

He remembered one time; Buck had gotten into a gunfight in town while protecting some working girl. That had been one of the scariest days of Chris’s life. The notorious gunslinger had actually hesitated during that fight. He hadn’t wanted to get involved to save his best friend, not until Sarah had pushed him into it. "Go and help your friend Chris Larabee… and be careful," she had said. God, he had loved her.

That had been the last time Larabee could remember being afraid of everything, hell, of ANYTHING for that matter. It had been the first, and only, time he had considered putting his own life above his best friend’s. He had never understood how he could have been so selfish to the man who had taken bullets and knives and punches for him without thinking twice. Of course, he had apologized to Buck afterwards for his hesitancy, but Buck, as usual, had not been the least bit angry with Chris. He had only smiled gently and squeezed Larabee’s shoulder, his blue eyes twinkling with a mysterious understanding. Chris had been too guilty at the time to question Wilmington on it. He wondered if he should later, after they dealt with this mess.

"Heads up, Vin!!!" Larabee threw a look over his shoulder at JD, who had called out the frantic warning to the tracker, as he fired steadily.

"Thanks, kid!" Tanner ducked reflexively at the warning. A bullet nicked the top of his hat.

Buck was nearby too, the roar of his voice sounding above the shots, telling the kid to take his damn hat off and watch his own head, too. Chris turned to his left, and saw Nathan hastily wrap a bandage around his palm where the powder had burned it when he had dislodged his jam. Josiah covered him with an even, rhythmic pattern, throwing an occasional, concerned look out over his flock.

Ezra ducked a splattering of rock when a bullet struck the boulder he was using for cover, and the impact kicked up shards of rock in front of his face. Vin…Vin actually laughed at Standish. Ezra threw the tracker an irate look before taking aim and shooting again. Those damn fools should have been paying attention. Of course, they didn’t seem nearly as scared as Chris felt. Such fearless men they were.

"Goddamn it, Buck, watch it!!!" Vin groused, his amusement turning to frustration when the older man rolled out to a more offensive position directly beside them and slightly in front.

Wilmington smiled and tipped his hat at the tracker. Both Standish and Tanner glowered at him. "If you pull such an idiotic stunt in the future Mister Wilmington, I think it would be safe to say you will not need to fear the bullet of an enemy!" Ezra warned as he reloaded. Buck looked almost apologetic, but the glint in his eye said he had known exactly what he had been doing. The idiot! Chris would shoot Wilmington himself, for nearly killing him with shock.

"Ah, weren’t no big deal Ez… just gettin’ some leverage," Buck called back easily, a bit out of breath from his tumble. "Goddamn it, JD!!!" Wilmington screeched when JD followed his mentor’s lead for a better position.

"What?" the kid asked, innocently.

"What the hell do you think you’re doin’ boy!?"

"Same thing you just did!!"

"If I jumped off of a building would ya do it too?!" Buck yelled back. "You damn near shaved fifteen years off my life!!"

JD fired a shot at their aggressors before turning back to Buck. "Shit Buck, I probably would follow ya off of a building, if I had too. ‘Sides, you did it first!"

"That don’t mean ya gotta do somethin’ just as dumb kid!" Vin announced over the firing. "I swear, me’n Ez are gonna skin ya both alive fer that after we git outta this!!"

"Agreed, Mister Tanner."

"Any of ya feel like copyin’ Buck or JD I’ll shoot ya right here!" Chris added his two cents worth, in a fury over seeing Wilmington break cover, only to be followed by Dunne. He could KILL those two with his bare hands!!! God, what did they think they were doing? He was going to kick both their asses, JD’s youth be damned. Larabee glowered. Fucking idiots, that’s all they were. Didn’t they know? What the hell was he supposed to do if one of them got shot or got killed? What would happen then? What was he going to tell the others? How was he going to live with himself? Those damned idiots!

The worst thing about it was that they were all the same in the sense that they were fools. God… the sheriff of Eagle Bend had asked them for help last week to hunt down a gang of cattle rustlers. They had caught up to the outlaws, having found them with Vin’s expert tracking. But, the bastards had had dynamite. They had launched a huge bunch at the seven, right into the middle of their cover on a rock face similar to the one they battled on today, and who had been the idiot of the week for that adventure? Ezra, goddamn that cocky southern cuss. He’d asked Vin to watch his back for him as they had watched the TNT fly through the air. Then… then, the gamblin’ snake had rolled out from cover, and as fast as he could, he had grabbed that bunch of dynamite and hurled it for all he was worth, right back at the outlaws.

He’d saved the day. Chris had chewed him out like there would be no tomorrow. There nearly hadn’t been. What the hell was he supposed to do if that stupid fool had blown himself to bits? Larabee had lit into his man with the devil at his back. But, what had Ezra done with Chris’ threats to, "knock the shit out of him," if he ever did something so stupid again? Ezra had only smiled a little, tipped his hat, and stated that under such circumstances, he would have done the exact same thing. He had said that he would much rather have one man in little pieces all over the desert than seven of them. Chris had nearly punched that sly grin off of the conman’s face, but he had managed to contain himself. The others, well, the others had thanked Standish for saving their lives; Buck had even bought him a drink. Then they had told him, if he ever did something like that again, they’d, "beat him ‘til his own momma couldn’t tell where he started and where he finished from the ground."

Yeah, his men could threaten each other real good to try and keep each other from pulling dumbass stunts, but it didn’t mean they listened to their own advice when push came to shove. They were damn hypocrites, or whatever the word was that Ezra had used. On Tuesday, Vin jumped from the second story of the hotel and landed in-between Chris and a man who had had a dead bead on the leader; during a gunfight with some liquored up cattle drovers who had thought Inez saying "no" meant, "yes."

Why exactly, had Vin jumped from the roof? Because, he "didn’t have the time to reload," thought he’d, "do it on the way down, and distract the guy from shootin’ Chris." Chris had been more than livid; he had been downright murderous. It was pure luck that Buck and Ezra had saw what was going on and had put the bastard aiming at their friend down faster than they could find the time to be annoyed with Vin. That of course, hadn’t lasted. Once the dust had cleared, Buck had bodily grabbed the tracker’s hat off of his head and beat the younger man with it several times over.

"You damn fool boy, don’t you EVER do something like that again! He coulda fuckin’ blown your brains out an’ scattered ‘em from here to Kansas!" Chris and Ezra had agreed. Ezra, the fool that had rolled out to play catch with dynamite, was so angry for VIN’s little stunt that he had not talked to the tracker for two days straight. Hypocrites!

That, combined, with Nate’s shout from earlier, the bullet nicking Vin’s hat, the close call with Ezra and the rock shards, and Buck and JD’s little side trips to better cover today, was making him angry, jittery, and most of all, afraid. He stopped the random thoughts that were filtering through his head. God, he cared about the bastards, didn’t he? Chris Larabee wasn’t afraid; he was just apprehensive for the safety of his friends. He almost breathed in relief, before the mocking part of his brain came out to play. It was that damned part of his subconscious that always told him deep down inside when he was lying to himself. Then it taunted him for it. Damn! He was afraid. He was afraid of losing one of them. He was also afraid of not being able to be there for them in return. That was it. He knew that was it, because they were all very much the same in certain respects. His men may not seem as concerned about their own lives as they should be, but whenever one of their damn fool friends put himself on the line, their attitude turned deadly serious, and angry. They were afraid for each other, of loosing each other. He was scared too; afraid of having to bury someone else that mattered to him, and he was frightened of dying and not being able to be with them. When did that happen? He cared that much about his men. The only other time he had felt quite like this before… Chris sighed.

When he had Sarah and Adam to watch out for, the world was a deadly place that he did not want a part of. He had only wanted the safety of his home, and his quaint, happy life, nothing more. He had his son, his wife, his land, his home; and he had happiness. He would not have traded it for anything in the world, or risked it, for that matter. That was why he had hung up his guns. He didn’t want to give himself a chance to die, as he had during his life before marriage. He avoided fights and avoided danger, because he loved living. He did not want to risk it, no matter how small the risk was. His wife and his son were far too precious a thing to give up.

Those days without Sarah and Adam had been spent wandering; fearless, stupid, and defiant, because he had lost his reason to fear death. After that fire, he had lost his reason for living. So, Chris Larabee had stepped into every fight he could find during those days. He was ready to die to end the pain, but above all else, he wanted to go out struggling. He had stared down odds of ten to one, while calmly smoking his cheroot in the days directly before he had met the other six. Chris Larabee had been afraid of nothing, back then. Bold and fearless, he had been a man who would look any danger in the eye without reacting. His bravery had been a thing of legend to the territory. Men would see him, that man all in black, as they would come to call him, and they would tell stories about how he gunned down fifteen outlaws at once without even ducking. They would tell young men with dreams of heroism in their hearts about how Chris Larabee had killed three troublemaking drovers in the street on his way to breakfast. Greenhorns called him out, in hopes of making a name for themselves. Chris had never flinched when they did. Why would he have? Sarah and Adam had been killed; Larabee had nothing to live for, and he had nothing left to lose.

But, today, against these robbers out here in the middle of nowhere, Chris was experiencing something with a strikingly unbelievable familiarity. That old fear was returning. Damn it, that was it, wasn’t it? Chris suddenly knew where all the fear and tension came from, both on that day so long ago when he had hesitated with Buck, and right now. He knew why his heart pounded like this, why his breathing raged like this, and why his body tensed like this whenever he faced a new danger with his comrades. He feared for his men, and he feared loosing them; just as he had during those days so long ago, when he had had Sarah and Adam to loose. He had been afraid that day in the past, because he had had so much to live for then. There was a wife and a son to live for. They had been his biggest reasons for living, and with them he had experienced true joy.

After the fire, after they had been killed, that had all changed. He didn’t have anything anymore. Just whiskey, women, and guns to try and drown out the pain of living without a purpose. He had been a man with nothing to hold on to, nothing to make him want to live. There was not anything to make him fear death, as he had in the past with his family.

Men fear only because they have something to lose. Larabee looked to his six men, spread out across the desert rock face, doing battle with the remaining criminals. Now? Now, he had a conman with a heart, a long time comrade, a doe eyed kid, a preacher, a healer, and a tracker. He had friends. What he felt was fear, but it was also worry. Men fear because they have something to lose. Chris Larabee, after a long time of welcoming death with open arms, was now afraid to die. The leader watched the others with a small smile, because, he realized that now he had something to fight for, and that once again he had something far too precious to lose.


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