by Gray

Disclaimer: They are not mine. I am making no them or otherwise...etc. etc. etc.

Rating: PG? I have no idea but I'm not really a blood and guts writer and I try not to use swear words because of something a WWII vet once said, "There were times when all around us was ugliness and chaos. We could control nothing but what came out of our mouths. We were men of honor. We governed our language."

Notes: This story assumes that you already are familiar with the series and its characters. I guess there are brief spoilers for the pilot but that's all. What I know of the series I know from fan-fic. I've only seen three episodes. Two and a half in reality. I was still living in my other country when it was on and it just didn't get translated and sent to us. And I didn't have a TV. So mistakes are mine.

Just for the record my favorite characterization of "The Seven" are in the awesome story When Shadows Fall that was written by people a lot more talented than me.

Comments are welcome. Keep in mind I don't claim to be a professional writer of any kind, but I would like to write better so tips are good too.

Vin sat in his wagon with his legs dangling over the side. The wagon was positioned in an alley two buildings away from the saloon. From his position not much got through the town without him noticing and tonight he wanted to notice everything. Tonight felt different. Something was wrong but he couldn't figure out what it was.

The sense of foreboding had started early in the day and despite all the other things that had already gone wrong the feeling remained, telling Vin that fate was not quite through with him yet. Normally he would find Chris, tell him he had a hunch, and they would sit together in the jail or on the boardwalk waiting for whatever was to happen.

He slumped down against the side of his wagon. The stitches Nathan had put in his side after he was cut deeply in a bar fight were still fresh. The healer hadn't been able to keep him in the clinic and had cursed him vivaciously for his exit. There wasn't a whole lot that Nathan could do about him leaving. Chris was down in Clarksville on a run for Judge Travis and Since he was the only one who could convince Vin to follow orders Nathan was praying for his swift return. Josiah had left on patrol just after it happened so Nathan was further unable to rely on Josiah's brute strength to keep Vin captive in the clinic.

Buck had missed the whole thing as he had been out at Chris' shack doing repairs and was now in the Saloon with Ezra getting drunk. Not that either would have been any help to the worried medical man anyway. For as much as Buck and Ezra talked Nathan didn't remember either of them having a lasting conversation with Vin, and Vin being Vin, of course didn't say anything in return. After making sure Vin was safely at his wagon and cursing him a few more times Nathan had left to join JD in the land of peaceful dreams...if he could.

The tracker was alone then and that was when the itch had sharpened. The prick on the back of his neck that told him to be wary grew into a dread that sat in the bottom of his stomach and made him start to jump at shadows. Just as he was thinking he should go get some of the boys to do a check around town he heard someone stumble into the side street from the back of the alley. Must be from the saloon, thought Vin as his foreboding deepened.

He questioned himself thoroughly. He didn't remember seeing any strangers in town. He didn't see anyone he would consider dangerous enter the saloon and the majority of the patrons had been kicked out after Harly Douglas and one of the O'Mally ranch hands started the brawl.

It's just my imagination, Vin hoped, but he knew better. His hackles were high and had risen since the man had stumbled into the alley. Vin trusted his feelings. The man in the alley was dangerous.

He was a little light-headed from the blood he'd lost earlier but he slid carefully from his perch on the wagon anyway. He eased around the side of it and tried to get a look at who was sharing his alley that night. It was dark and he couldn't see much. He eased closer. The man in the alley pushed himself along the wall with his head down. Vin figured he was drunk enough to need a steady hand but not so drunk that he wouldn't be a problem for Vin if he tried anything. "You okay mister?" Vin rasped aware that the man was using a hefty piece of wood as some sort of cane. The man didn't answer, he just kept slowly making his way toward Vin and his wagon. Getting more nervous for reasons Vin couldn't fathom he started to back out of the alley.

It's just one man, and a drunk man at that, he ain't out to harm no one, Vin said to himself, trying to figure out why the drunk was making him anxious.

"ll at once the man coughed, stumbled out of the shadow cast by Vin's Wagon, and lifted his head. The combined light from the moon and the street fire were enough to let Vin see his unwelcome neighbor. In one breath all of Vin's apprehension fled.

"Buck," he muttered in relief, allowing himself a slight chuckle. He walked back into the alley, moving swifter this time, approaching Buck with as much confidence as he could muster with a stitched side. Vin hadn't know Buck for very long and while Buck's voracity for life seemed to make him act drunk he vary rarely really was.

"You okay Bucklin?" Vin asked as he stepped closer, "I ain't never seen ya quite like this...ya need a hand to the boarding house?"


"'s me...ya'all okay?" Buck straightened, he seemed to sober slightly.

"Not really."

"Somethin' happen?" Vin's voice was concerned.

"Well.....I found out something...something I ain't to pleased with. I want to ask you something Tanner." Vin waited. "What do you want with Chris?" The question threw Vin.

"I ain't sure what ya mean Bucklin."

"I was out at Chris' shack, found a wanted poster tucked away in this old fancy box of his, thought Chris was hiding some of that fancy whisky...he used to do that ya know." The last part sounded like an accusation.

"Yeah, I know," answered Vin softly. The response wasn't what Buck expected.

"How the hell would you know?" anger rumbled in Buck's voice. Vin didn't answer this time. He stared down at his boots. Buck's anger exploded. He fisted his hands in the collar of Vin's jacket, spun him around and slammed him against the wall. Vin felt some of Nathan's stitches break. He sucked in his breath and instinctively went for the knife in his belt. In one swift motion he held it to Buck's throat while still being pinned against the wall.

"Go ahead," directed Buck in a calm and deadly voice, "I already know you're a killer. That's what the poster said. You're wanted in Tascosa. Chris was headed there with you." Vin held the knife steady but he was losing strength and he knew from past experience his hand would start shaking soon. He knew he couldn't kill Buck, couldn't hurt him. He wasn't a killer...not like that anyway. More than that...he couldn't hurt Buck because of Chris. They were friends.

Consciously Vin let the knife fall from his hand. He heard it hit the dirt as it dropped into the shadows of the alley. He let his hands sink to his side allowing Buck to continue pinning him with his fists.

"I didn't do it Buck. I was set up. Chris was going along to help me clear my name." It was said softly. Stubborn defeat filled Vin's eyes. He knew Buck wouldn't believe him. Not that night.

Buck increased the pressure.

"Even supposing that's would of been walking into a hanging and taking Chris to die right along side ya. He calls you his friend but what kinda friend is that? You think he ain't had enough trouble in his life without adding yours to it? That kinda friendship he don't need." Buck drove his fist into Vin's stomach. Vin didn't retaliate. Then, with one hand still holding him against the wall he threw a fist across his face and this time let him fall. When the tracker hit the dirt Buck's foot connected with his side. From the way it felt, Buck's boot had cracked ribs. The boot struck one more time. Vin tried to curl away from it but he was weaker than he thought. It hit his side hard and made his head swim. Blackness curled into the edges of his vision and he fought to stay conscious. When his vision finally cleared he was alone.

+ + + + + + +

Ezra Standish was a gambling man. A night man. And a man accustomed to sitting for long periods of time. This particular night, however he found himself anxious to get out of the saloon. The games had been long and tedious. Nothing and no one to offer him a real challenge especially since the majority of its patrons had been expelled earlier in the evening. Then Buck had come in, looking as angry as Ezra had ever seen him. It had taken him momentarily by surprise. He considered himself above average in the art of reading people and while he had known Buck had the potential to get upset, he never expected to see him angry. Angry and brooding and already half- drunk with a dangerous edge like unto Chris Larabee's. The image threw him momentarily and for reasons he would later wonder at he approached the man to find out what was the matter.

They sat for a long while. Just the two of them and Buck never did tell him what was wrong. The only thing he'd said to the gambler was, "Did you know Chris and I have been friends for twelve years?"

"No, I didn't know," he'd answered. Puzzled as to why that would be important to Buck at just this moment. "Are you worried about Chris' absence?" But Buck had just shook his head and said nothing further. Ezra pondered that. He'd sensed some sort of animosity between the two since the seven had joined together and he'd noted Chris and Buck's fight just before Chris had left. He was the only one of the seven to see it but he hadn't marked it as unusual or important. However, apparently to Buck it was. It was during Ezra's pondering of that fact that Buck had started to Abe sick." Ezra had quickly moved him out the back door of the establishment and as soon as Buck could stand Ezra sent him on his way.

Ten minutes later the gambler was again sitting in the saloon knowing his mother would be ashamed of his involvement with these men. She'd be especially appalled to know he was feeling guilty for not making sure Buck got all the way to his room.

Twenty minutes of silent debate led him to stand with a frustrated sigh and exit the saloon towards the boarding house to see if the rogue had gotten in alright. His slow easy strides down the empty street masked his mission and his pace didn't quicken until he spotted Vin Tanner's crumpled form in the alley next to his Wagon.

"Vin?" asked the gambler, forgetting formality. He was hesitant to touch him. His face was bloody but his eyes were open. "Vin," he said again. This time he cautiously placed his hand on the fallen man's shoulder. The tracker jerked under his touch with such swiftness that Ezra fell back on his haunches. He watched as the tracker reflexively moved himself against the wall, crouched and eyeing Ezra with vigilance. The gambler had very little experience with wild animals and had said just days before that "Mr. Tanner" was the first he'd ever met. He'd meant it as a joke then.

"Your hurt," he tried, scanning the street behind him for help.

Vin said nothing.

"I'll help you to Nathan," Ezra continued, taking a cautious step forward. Vin simply dropped his head but kept his eyes on the man before him warily. The motion not unlike the warning stance of a wolf when being approached by a threat. Ezra backed up. "How about I go get Nathan?" He retreated another step and with a glance up at Nathan's darkened window started to race quickly in that direction.

When he returned with the healer Vin was gone.

+ + + + + + +

When Buck arose the next morning he was sporting a headache that made him feel as though there was an ax splitting it right down the middle. "No wonder I don't do that more often," he chastised himself for his night of heavier drinking. He stumbled blindly for his clothes and in slow painfulness pulled them on, settling on the bed afterward to wait again for the room to stop spinning and it gradually did, leaving him to contemplate his choices over that last few days. He'd fought with Chris before he left, but of course that was nothing new. They'd been fighting since they met 12 years prior.

When Chris left for Clarksville Buck had gone out to the shack to put in some work as an apology, or so he convinced himself. Chris was going through a tough time, had been ever since his family left. Buck missed them too. He missed Chris. Sarah had always made things peaceful between them. She cut the hard edges off her husband and tempered Buck's boisterous nature. He knew, he knew that Chris kept some of her things in that fancy box of his. It was the only thing to survive the fire since Chris had kept it in the root cellar. Buck had always told him it was an odd place for such a fancy piece of carving.

In the back of the box there was a specially carved row of animals, wolves to be exact, and if you slid that portion to the side there was a space behind. Chris had kept two flasks of whatever fancy drink was available hidden there for "special occasions." The rest of the box had been kept basically empty.

When Buck saw the box again after all these years he'd remembered. He remembered laughing with Chris on his birthday, crying with Sarah when her sister died, and the peaceful calm in the hour after Adam was born. He remembered the countless other occasions deemed worthy enough to have Chris bring out the box. And he wondered. He wondered if Chris still kept them there. So he'd looked and he'd found Vin's wanted poster instead.

Painfully the rogue remembered the day he and Tanner had met. Rolling out of a second story window he'd landed at his old friend's feet. Moments later the tracker had appeared standing at Chris's shoulder, so close they were a slightly shy little boy standing in the protection of his brother's shadow. Buck had never known Chris to let anyone into the wide berth of his personal space without an imperative reason or express invitation and even then the invitation usually started out, "Get the hell over here...." and it rarely meant anything good. Buck was shocked and astounded to learn they'd just met.

In the weeks that followed he watched Vin take an amazing amount of liberty with Chris. Calling him a cowboy, ignoring his orders, and sitting at the table Larabee usually haunted alone.

Buck decided, somewhere along the way that Vin must be up to something. The talents and skills the youth possessed told a story of either experience with war or experience with the wrong side of law in a lawless land. It was just too much to believe that his motives could be pure. What did this self-assured confident young man want with his oldest friend? He'd tried to ask Chris, tried to point out that Chris was being foolish to trust him so freely. That had led to the fights. They'd fought bluntly, or rather, Buck had fought, while Chris hatefully tried to ignore him.

When Chris had left for Clarksville all he'd said was, "I ain't gonna explain it to you Buck. Just stay out of it if you don't understand."

+ + + + + + +

"I should have made him stay...I should have..."

"Nathan! Its not your fault."

"Josiah, I don't care who's fault it is, it still means Vin is out there hurt worse than he was last night, and we can't help him because he is hiding from us. Why is he hiding from us?" Typical Nathan. He couldn't understand why or how his trusted friend was trying to elude his help. Josiah sighed, disconcerted, not completely understanding himself and unable to offer any words of comfort to his healer friend or for that matter, to Chris Larabee when he arrived.

They'd been through the town countless times during the night. They'd woken JD to help them but on Ezra's suggestion left Buck to sleep off his hangover. Josiah didn't think Buck would have helped them anyway. They'd looked everywhere making three additional rounds of the town in the first light of the morning.

JD had sullenly told Buck what was going on when he'd emerged half human to join them for breakfast. Buck had frowned, his lips twitching as if annoyed, and then he'd stood without finishing his meal and the others assumed he left to search where they had failed.

+ + + + + + +

Buck glanced around the alley, watching the tell-tale droplets of dried blood mix with the dust and the first of many drops of rain. He shook his head, ignoring the rise of un-understood emotions. Vin was gone and he wasn't sure if he was supposed to be worried, mad, or guilty. Part of him wondered from the information given him through the muddled half-remembered occurrences the night before if he hadn't actually killed Vin. The thought brought a lancing pain to his head and surprisingly his heart.

The rain was falling harder now, plastering his dark hair to his head. He scanned the alley one more time as he stood from his crouched position. He sucked His breath in sharply when his eyes fell on the knife. Vin's knife. He reached down and plucked it from it's resting place between an old crate and a barrel strategically placed to catch the majority of the rainwater now flooding off the roof. After the knife was tucked into his belt Buck ran his hands over his face, controlling his urge to drive his fist into the wall. Violent reactions weren't his norm. He consciously restrained the desire. Just as Vin had consciously dropped his knife. In the distance the first rumble of thunder heralded the beginning of a long stormy day.

+ + + + + + +

"t the Breakfast table JD had wanted to go after Buck.

"Eat your food JD," Josiah had counseled, "Your going to need the energy. And we should take shifts sleeping while the others are looking. We didn't get much last night."

JD resumed eating but couldn't keep in his questions in. "Who coulda done it?" he asked. No one said anything. Ezra simply grunted thoughtfully.

Finally it was Nathan that gave what passed as an answer in the silence of the group, "We don't need to be worrying on that right now. If whoever hurt him wanted him dead or gone Ezra wouldn't have found him laying there by hisself....and we don't know anyone did do anything. The fool coulda just fallen out of his wagon and caused the same injuries." But no one believed that one, including Nathan. He shut JD up though so that he stopped asking questions.

+ + + + + + +

The day had dragged on, long, dark and full of worry. The elusive tracker remained that, just beyond their reach. Peso also remained, contentedly chewing hay, lazily watching the torrents outside the livery from the safety of his stall. They were left to assume that Vin's flight remained within the borders of the town. Josiah snorted, two feet or fifty miles, in the end, with Vin, it wouldn't make that much difference. He was invisible to them either way.

With a sigh he stared out at the rain drenched town from the window of his church. A small town, you wouldn't think it possible to lose a button let alone a person. With that final thought Josiah decided they needed someone on their side with a higher perspective.

Beginning slowly he prayed, "Lord, you have given me a new, unexpected family here in this town but...the seven of us are not used to this. Our trust is not yet what it could be and because of this our young brother has chosen to disappear. Father, you gave him a remarkable talent in this craft. Greater than the talent you have given us to find him. I believe at this time you may be the only one who can. He needs our help and we want to help him. Please show us where he is. Amen."

He waited then, resting his head in his hands as his elbows resumed their position on the window sill.

"Amen" repeated Ezra from the silent entryway.

+ + + + + + +

"Nathan. Have you found him?" The speaker was Mary Travis.

The healer turned from where his gaze had just followed Ezra Standish's form through the rain and into Josiah's Church. "No ma'am."

Mary nodded her head in sympathy. She didn't know them all very well yet but she hoped to. They'd only been in charge of the town a short time and already the townspeople seemed more confident to walk their streets and the dynamics between the men were incredible to watch.

"When will Chris return?"

Nathan grimaced, "He's due in this evening. Part of me hopes Chris gets here soon and part of me hopes he's delayed. If he got here he could probably find Vin but if he gets here and knows we lost Vin after he was already hurt he's going to be a mite upset."

"They're close. I've noticed."

"Yes ma'am. They respect each other. They trust each other. And I don't reckon there are a lot of people that Chris Larabee respects or a lot of people that Vin Tanner trusts."

"I don't suppose it would be easy to gain Mr. Tanner's trust. He seems so...wary all the time. I guess that's why you're in your current predicament."

Nathan simply dipped his head, "It won't be easy ma'am but I'll do what it takes to gain his trust. He's a man of honor. Not many like him anymore. He needs to know we just want to help him."

"You'll find him Nathan," was all that Mary could reply.

+ + + + + + +

Josiah walked down the back-steps of the church. It was late afternoon but the day had been dark and gloomy for hours. Only thunder with the distant flashes of lightening ruled the outside. He'd walked around the town, passing Ezra and JD on the first turn and Nathan and Buck on the second. Nothing. He now headed toward the oil-cloth covered wood pile, carefully sliding a stack of logs into his arms before turning toward the church again, intending to build up the fire inside.

In unexpected clarity a brilliant bolt of incandescent light illuminated the church yard. It's afterglow fading slowly. For a few brief seconds every detail of the yard was perfectly illustrated and there hunched in the corner between Josiah's steps and the Churches' stone wall was Vin Tanner, calmly and tiredly watching him through dark blue eyes. How long had he been sitting there? How many times that day had the Preacher pulled wood from under the tarp and simply passed him by?

Five thick wedges of formally dry wood fell unceremoniously into the mud and were stepped over by Josiah in one of the six steps it took him to reach and hunker down in front of their wayward partner. Knowing he'd been caught, Vin dropped his eyes to the ground, unconsciously punching himself deeper into his corner.

Josiah's eyes glanced briefly heavenward in unrestrained thanks and an unvoiced plea for further help. Scanning the young man quickly he took in his split lip, the traces of blood on his soaked coat, and the pale tightness around his mouth and eyes.


No response.

Coming to a decision Josiah reached for his arms, preparing to pull him up. "Vin, I've got to get you inside." Vin instantly dug in his heels.

Like caging a wolf, Josiah grimaced. The tracker's back was pushed tight against the wall and he was tense. Josiah could feel tension through his hands that still tentatively gripped Vin's arms.

Surprisingly the silent tracker spoke, "Reckon I'm okay where I am. Reckon you don't need to bother with me." The voice was soft, barely heard over the persistent rainfall.

"Reckon you're wrong, reckon I do," returned Josiah.

Vin tersely shook his head in denial.

"Vin, do you live by a code?"

Stormy blue eyes glanced up, confused at the question, Ado you always try to keep your word? Always try to back a friend?" He waited and Vin finally nodded hesitantly, confused. "Is that why you decided to help Nathan that day? Because you felt it was the right thing to do?" Josiah continued, referring to the day he and Chris had met and saved Nathan from a lynch mob. After another notable pause the soaked head again shifted in a nod of truth. The preacher paused now too, choosing his words carefully. "You know Son, I've always admired that about you. Since we met that day and Nathan told me what you did I've felt it was an honor to ride with you. I felt it was an honor to be able to call you my brother and my friend...and...I live by a code too. Vin, I wouldn't be able to call myself either one of those things if I left you out here right now. So let's go." With that he hauled the young man upwards, knowing he was too weak to fight him, and then hooked an arm under his knees, lifting him totally into his arms.

"I can walk...I ain't a baby," complained Vin, his weak voice pained from the man-handling. The preacher tightened his grip. He hadn't known Vin for long but he'd known him long enough to figure out "I ain't a baby" and "I'm fine" were his favorite phrases when he was banged up at all. Josiah had to concede to the fact that he wasn't a baby, in fact, he was half-inclined to believe Vin was "born a man" as Kojay called him the second time Josiah had taken the tracker with him to the reservation. But, that didn't mean Vin was in any condition to walk.

"No, I don't reckon you're a baby but you are hurt and I'm still going to carry you." Vin simply groaned, his head lulling back against Josiah's shoulder. The big man turned, carefully walking around the church and starting down the boardwalk in carefully placed swift even strides. He hadn't gotten far when Nathan spotted him from down the way.

"VIN!" he clamored. He came running with JD on his heals. From the opposite side of the street Ezra approached rapidly as well but Buck simply watched and listened.

"How'd you find him?" asked Nathan now mere inches from the Preacher and his cargo.

"The good Lord saw fit to point a finger," he acknowledged truthfully.

"When you get a chance thank him for me," joined Nathan as he removed the apparently barely conscious tracker from the preacher's tired arms. The tall man turned and started for the clinic, Ezra and JD close behind. Josiah didn't follow immediately. Instead he stood still on the deserted avenue, bowing his head to do as Nathan requested. When he lifted his eyes again he saw Buck's pained blue ones watching him wonderingly. Their eyes rested on each other for a moment. The counselor in Josiah hoping Buck would come to him and ask what he was thinking. But Buck broke the connection, turning away to slowly enter the warmly lighted saloon.

+ + + + + + +

Chris Larabee's horse was usually a calm self-assured creature, though it tended to bite other horses that neared it, it was amazingly docile under the direction of at least some humans. Now, however, the horse fought the bit, tossing its head and dancing sideways as Chris pranced it into the livery. So intent was he on his suddenly cantankerous horse that he didn't notice the young sheriff standing just inside the doors with news Chris Larabee wouldn't want to hear.

By the time Larabee had stepped down from the animal he had noticed the boy standing still by the doorway and he couldn't help thinking that since his arrival in the west JD had acquired a remarkable ability to stay quiet for extended periods of time. Though those times were few and far between, Chris was still impressed.

When he finished un-tacking his mount he turned deliberately to face the boy, leaving his hat on to shade the worry in his face. Regarding JD carefully, he noticed in the flickering glow of the lantern that he'd been trying to grow his hair out. No doubt to either seem older or to be more like Vin. Chris thought he should let him know it was backfiring. His bangs now constantly fell into his face, calling attention to his inexperienced, soulful eyes.

"Do I have time to change into something dry?"

The dark voice was low and JD figured he should have known Chris knew he had bad news. He nodded. Together they walked to the boardinghouse. The sheriff waited while his leader changed and in too short a time was standing in front of him again.

"Vin's hurt," JD blurted, having been silent for far too long, then realized by the hard look on Larabee's face that more would be needed. "Nathan thinks he'll be okay but..."

"What happened?" Stated in unrealistic calmness.

Forcing himself to talk slowly and clearly JD told him.

"Who attacked him?" Chris continued while JD hurried to catch up to Chris's brisk walk toward the clinic.

"In the Saloon or afterward?"


"We don't know...Ezra....found the...found him," JD was feeling out of breath trying to talk and walk with Chris's brisk pace at the same time, "And then...well...he said Vin wouldn't let him get near Nathan but when they got back Vin was gone."

"How did they know he wasn't taken?" Chris didn't say anything about the bounty. They didn't know.

"He was conscious when Ezra found him but he was just laying there. Ez said that when he touched...his shoulder he just jerked up and slid into the wall...wouldn't let Ezra no where near 'im. Ez said he looked like he was gonna bolt but he figured he had to get Nathan or it wouldn't matter no how."

Chris just nodded and then took the stairs up to the clinic two at a time leaving the youngest at the bottom wondering if he should follow.


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