Summary: Vin's thoughts during the final scene of 'One Day Out West'.
Acknowlegements: Many thanks to Angela for her superb beta reading services.
Notes: This story was written for the Vinfeedback List's second Anniversary Week and is for all my friends on the List.
Disclaimer: This is a work of fan fiction. I don't own the rights to the Magnificent Seven and I don't make any money from this work.
"You in the back, there. Are you interested?"
Vin looked the Judge in the eye, ready with his answer.
As Judge Travis began to ask the men one by one if they would stay on to help keep peace in Four Corners, Vin found himself in a quandary. It was strange, as he had somehow known that it would come to this, right from the moment four days ago when his eyes had met those of a black-clad stranger across a dusty street in this lawless town. A town no different from countless other places he had passed through in recent years.
Passed through. That had been his life for so long now that it was hard to remember any other. Since Eli Joe had set him up, he had moved around, of necessity never staying anywhere too long, always afraid that someone would recognize him as a wanted man. Four Corners had been no different when he'd arrived. He was on his way to Mexico but had run out of money and stopped off in the innocuous little town to earn a few dollars to keep him going. Nothing had warned him back then that his life was about to change.
Now, he was faced with a choice. He could shake his head, tell the Judge he had pressing business to take care of, and head out, leaving Four Corners behind. After all, he didn't owe the town anything, and he barely knew these men he was working with. Or, he could stay. He had to admit that he'd enjoyed the unaccustomed camaraderie - it had been a long time since he'd been able to walk into a saloon and be greeted as a friend by any of the patrons. That was the price you paid as a wanted man.
He should not even think about staying on. Working for a circuit judge as a peacekeeper was playing with fire. Sooner or later Travis would find out the truth about him, or a wanted poster would find its way to the sheriff's office. He had no business here keeping the peace. Innocent or guilty, the bounty on his head put him square in the camp of those against whom he'd be protecting the town.
Yet a part of him yearned to stay. He was weary of running, bored with his own company and tired of constantly looking over his shoulder. He felt good about the way
he'd been able to help the tribe against its oppressor and see justice done against the man who had murdered the storeowner, Mr. Potter. Those were deeds he could be proud of and Lord, that hadn't happened in a long time. Although he knew he was innocent, the wanted order made him feel dirty, as if he'd tainted the Tanner name. And his name was important to him. It was all he had left of his family. Until he was able to prove himself innocent, maybe he could redeem himself by doing something here that would make his mother proud.
Four Corners was a long way from Tascosa, Texas, and it was a fact that the further southwest he'd traveled, the less bounty hunters he'd run into. It was only a month. He'd stayed in other places for the same length of time; it wasn't that long, and there was a good chance that he could remain unrecognized. Yet - what if a bounty hunter did find him? That could put the town and his fellow peacekeepers in danger. It would be only fair to tell the others about the bounty, but he was afraid to, unsure of their reaction. He had no proof that he was telling the truth, no witness to back up his side of the story. How could he expect near-strangers to believe him and accept his word?
Chris, though, Chris had believed him from the first. Vin had somehow known that he would, otherwise he wouldn't have blurted out the truth the way he had. He still wasn't sure what had led him to do it, except that he had never met a man like Chris Larabee - a man who had looked into his soul and accepted what he found there, good and bad, without question or doubt.
JD was the first to accept the sheriff's offer of a dollar a day, room and board, for his services. That was no surprise. The kid was green as an ear of unripe corn and full of romantic ideas of life out West - but he had courage, and no one could fault his enthusiasm.
Ezra was the next, and there was no mistaking his motivation. Thirty days of work in exchange for a pardon for whatever crime he had committed seemed like a good deal to Vin - and obviously to Ezra, too, from the smile that spread across his face. If only his own crime could be pardoned so easily, Vin thought with a pang of envy.
Josiah barely hesitated, too, reflecting that a man could stay pretty busy in a town like this. What that meant, Vin wasn't sure. Josiah was a difficult man to read but one thing was certain - he was hell bent on doing penance for whatever sins he'd committed in his past, and obviously saw this as an opportunity to do just that.
Nathan had already been in town for a few weeks and Vin admired his courage when he, too, signed up. It took a lot of guts to stay in a place where men had tried to hang you for doing nothing more than trying to help someone out.
As Vin listened, Buck also signed on. "A few women around here I'm not acquainted with," he said with a lecherous grin. Vin frowned. He found Wilmington hard to figure. At first, he had been tempted to write off the big man as little more than a ladies' man and was unsure if he could keep his mind out of his pants for long enough to be of any use in a fight. But Chris had assured him that Buck would come through when he was needed, and Vin was already coming to respect Chris Larabee's judgment. And Buck had come through, convincing him that there was a lot more to the man than met the eye. Vin was fairly sure there was a lot more to his reason for staying on than his light reply implied.
Vin found himself tensing slightly. Only two men left - himself and Chris - and he still hadn't made a decision. He had a feeling that Chris was going to agree to stay and felt a stab of disappointment. He'd been surprised but pleased when Larabee had suggested riding with him to Tascosa. It had been a long time since he'd done anything but ride alone and he had a feeling Chris would be agreeable company on the road, and a good man to have at his back should he run into trouble.
When they'd first met, Chris had struck him as a man on the edge, unsure of who he was and where he was going. Vin had seen a change in him over the past few days. It was obvious that Larabee was a born leader who had somehow lost his way, and when he'd been given no choice but to lead, it seemed to have awoken something in him.
As he saw the Judge turn his eyes towards him, Vin looked around and caught Chris's eye. The unspoken communication that had passed between them on their first meeting happened again. Chris didn't speak, but Vin could sense his thoughts. "If you still want to go to Tascosa, I'll ride with you. If you choose to stay - know I've got your back."
In that moment, Vin made his decision.
"You in the back, there. Are you interested?"
Vin looked the Judge in the eye. "I got some things need takin' care of. But I guess they'll keep."
He didn't need to look at Chris to sense the man's approval, as the Judge turned finally to the man in black.
"I have a feeling I'm going to regret this." But he was smiling.
Vin looked around at the men with whom he had chosen to throw in his lot, and had the distinct impression that his life was about to change forever.