After the Peace

Jaye B.

Main Characters: Young Ezra, All Seven

Type of Story: Gen Fic

Universe: Alternate Civil War

Summary: Two slaves survive the destruction of the South.

Author Note: Okay, okay...the dates and anything relating to our actual Civil War I'm not using. In this AU, I've changed a little....okay a lot of things. Hey, this is fiction after all and my world. Again my thanks goes to Twyla Jane and Niki Fraizer. I wouldn't or couldn't do this without them. Let me know what you think! Webmaster Note: This is a work in progress, to be continued.


SWISH...THWACK! Pain radiated down his back! SWISH...THWACK and more pain! Again and again the riding crop fell on the back of the nine year old child curled on his side trying to cover his face and head, cutting into him leaving bloody welts.


"You will learn to do as you are told, boy! If you disobey me again, the punishment will be much worse than this!" bellowed his master. "I will have to get the bullwhip out next time!"

Ezra Standish tried to curl more into his body as the thrashing continued. This was always worse than the kicking and fist beatings he usually got. For the last seven months, ever since his mother had sold him, his life had progressively gotten worst. Now here he was in Atlanta, Georgia, with a war between the states over slavery going on about them, getting whipped because he had moved from his master's horse's side to get a drink of water from the trough.

Atlanta was under siege at the moment from the Yankees and tempers inside the city were short. Not that that had anything to do with his master's temper since he was always finding something to yell, hit, or whip Ezra for. It seemed as though there was nothing he could do right.

"I think I got swindled by that woman who sold you to me! You are nothing but a worthless, good for nothing, lazy boy!" growled the man as he swung again at the cowering child.


Finally the large man stopped, heaving from the exertion and glared at the other slaves who were watching in confusion as a white man whipped a white slave boy. There were not that many white slaves in the southern states, not since the 1700's when most were indentured servants. It was not unheard of, but mostly they were elevated to overseers' positions or managers in the household.

"Now get up off that ground and stand where I told you to and don't move again. I'm going back into the tavern to finish my drink. And don't be associating with the other slaves around here while I'm gone neither! You hear me, boy?" slurred the towering man.

Ezra struggled gamely to his feet through his back was on fire and he could feel the blood from the welts running down. He shuffled over to the head of his master's horse, nodded and quietly spoke, "Yes sir."

His eyes stayed down as he looked at the ground before him. He had learned early on that no slave looked toward his master or looked him in the eye. That had been his first painful lesson. His second had been after he had asked for some food because he was hungry. Now he knew not to eat until he had been given permission or when to sleep and a myriad of other things. Each warning had been painfully learned. He kept his head down as his master strode back into the tavern.

The sounds of occasional cannon fire echoed across the town and had been doing so for several weeks. There was gossip of a push by the "Damn Yankees" to finally take over Atlanta. This talk had been going on since the siege and the townspeople had grown indifferent to the rumors and the gunfire. Ezra wished they would just hurry up and get it over with. His master had only come to this town to gamble. He was a southern gamble by trade and traveled from town to town, cheating at cards for his livelihood. And he did cheat. Ezra had learned enough from his mother to know how it was done. In fact, his mother said he had a "God given" talent for the game.

They had traveled several days to get to Atlanta for a high stakes poker game. Two days after arriving, the town had gone under siege from the Union Army. Now everyone was bored, tired, and short-tempered. Thus the whipping was bound to happen to him sooner or later. He would have preferred later or not at all.

"Hey," was hissed in Ezra's direction. Being careful so as not to be seen talking to the others, Ezra flicked his eyes up at the one who had called to him and then quickly back down as he grunted that he had heard.

"You o.k.?" whispered the black man standing a few yards from him beside another horse that was hitched to a buggy. The man could do nothing as he had watched the boy get his lesson in the proper way to wait. He flinched in sympathy with the youngster as the crop fell but all he could do was stand silent and still so as not to infuriate the man more. Like many slaves he had learned how to look as if he was not speaking while chatting. Whole conversations had been going on while the owners had been inside out of the heat, drinking their cool drinks. Talking had stopped the second the door had been thrown open and Ezra's owner had come charging out bellowing at the top of his lungs at the boy.

"Fine," whispered Ezra still looking down in front of him afraid to move.

"I have some salve that will help. When we..." he was interrupted as the cannon and gunfire increased in timbre and started whistling overhead. Every head rose up at the sound of Calvary horns. This had not happened before. Each slave looked at the others with hope in their eyes. Maybe this was the day!

The tavern door flew open again as some of the patrons step out at the unusually display of firepower and sounds. A rider charged around the corner shouting as people scattered, "They're coming! Take cover! They're coming!" sounding like the famous Paul Revere's ride.

Suddenly a screeching whistling, steadily increasing in volume, was heard followed by an explosion as three cannon balls hit the tavern dead on. The building exploded outward with timber, arms, legs, and bodies being thrown several feet in every direction. People who did not drop to the ground in reflex were caught in the blast. Those slaves that were waiting outside were hurled backwards several yards or landed on their backsides where they had been standing from the concussion created by the blast. Several were climbing to their feet, hurrying to calm the horses that had not run away from the flash and sound or been killed. People were running and screaming; mass hysteria had hit as it seemed the Union was finally attacking.

The black man gingerly sat up looking at the carnage going on around him. He saw several of his fellow slaves get up or move around. He realized that some would never move again as the blood pooled around their bodies from their gaping wounds. These dead slaves had been too close to the inn when the blast occurred. He looked to where the small white boy had been standing and then scrambled over to the downed youth. He first checked to see if he was still alive, sighing in relief as he felt a weak pulse. Turning the child over gently, so as not to aggravate his injured back, he noted the boy had only been stunned and was already starting to come around.

"Hey, can ya hear me? Take it easy now, yer gonna be alright. Not so fast." calmed the man as the boy came around.

Ezra looked around him in confusion. What had happened? Why was he lying on the ground with this man leaning over him? Confusion turned to panic as he realized that he was not standing in his spot and one of the others was talking to him. He tried to stand up but he felt dizzy and could only sit up, groaning; his head hurt and felt funny.

"Stop," moaned the boy. "You can't be seen talking to me," he said as he tried to push the man away, back into his spot. "We will both be in trouble. Please, don't get into trouble because of me. Please," he pleaded as the world wavered in his vision.

"I don't think we will have to worry about that now. It don't look like anyone is gonna come out of that place alive," answered the man. Both man and boy looked at the destroyed building and Ezra realized how true that statement was. In fact, all the others were starting to realize that no one was coming back from the pit that now occupied the spot where the building use to stand.

Cannon balls flew overhead dropping indiscriminately on the town as people tried to flee. The man helped the child to his feet and finally scooped him up as he could not stand on his own. Several slaves ran as a group, trying to find cover in a town that was systematical being bombarded. Finally, they found refuge in the cellar of a home that had been deserted.

At first, Ezra tried to be brave as the bombs fell but the noise continued on and on until he was huddled next to the man who had carried him away from the destroyed tavern. Then he was being held as terror filled his soul. He cringed as the shelling continued until tears ran quietly down his face. He turned into the shoulder of the man holding him as he gave in and began to sob.

The man tried to comfort the boy as best he could with the others helping to console the terrified child. As he looked around the cellar at the others, he realized the kid was not the only one afraid.

"Well, I think we should get acquainted as we're held up here for a while. My name is Nathan Jackson, who is everyone else?" he queried as more bombs exploded outside.

"Daniel is my name," piped up a lanky bald man. "I was with Master Danson."

"Thomas is mine," said a short old man with gray hair. "My master is...or was Trenton."

As each man gave his name, the cannons kept roaring and the bombs kept falling. Finally only the child who was shaking in Nathan's arms was left to introduce himself.

"And what is your name," asked Nathan as he reached out with his hand to the boy's chin to lift it up. Fear-filled eyes of a startling green shade, at last, gazed up at Nathan.

"M-m-my name is Ezra Standish," he stuttered. "My master wa-was Stanley...Richard Stanley. Are...are we going to die?"

"I don't know Ezra. I really don't know," replied Nathan as he gathered the child closer to him. He would not lie to the boy. "We're sure gonna try not to."

The boy stiffened and winched from the pain of his back as he felt Nathan's arms encircle him. Nathan felt the tension and cursed silently as he had forgotten about the boy's injured back. Dropping his arms, he turned Ezra around and lifted his shirt to reveal his back.

"Let's look at your back while we wait for the shelling to stop. Bill, hand me that bowl and someone see if there is any water and cloth around. Also search for any food or any thing we can use. We may be here for awhile," ordered Nathan as his healer instincts took over.

Everyone began searching for water, cloth and anything else as Nathan checked Ezra back. He grimaced as he saw old scars crisscrossed under the new welts and bruises along the too thin shoulders and rib cage. He wondered how someone could hurt a child, and by the looks of him, starve one as well. After checking the whole cellar, as bombs continued to fall about them, the others met back in the middle of the room with their findings.

The boy sat stiffly as Nathan cleansed his back. He was afraid, ashamed, and confused by the kindness and care the others were giving him. Clean cloths, a few quilts, and some canned food had been found. One of the others had found a water barrel and a bucket. He proceeded to go to the well and fill the barrel being cautious with the cannon fire still raining down. After his back was cleaned, an oversized shirt was found for him to wear. Daniel had found some dried herbs and tea that he brought to the communal area. There had not been much left in the abandoned house.

Nathan looked at the supplies that had been found and knew there wasn't enough to last them more than that night. "We'll have to go out when the shelling stops to find more supplies. For now, we will ration what we have. Here give me one of those blankets for Ezra to lie on."

Ezra protested that he was not tired the whole time he was swaying and blinking tiredly at the others. "I'm alright Mr. Jackson. I want to help where I can."

"There's not much we can do right now except keep our heads down," he said as he shook the blanket out and made a bed for the child. "You need to rest now so you can be ready when we move. That's the best thing for all of us is to rest and be ready to move. Now come lay down here and get as comfortable as you can. I'm sorry that I don't have any of my herbs for pain, but later I'll make us some tea," coaxed Nathan as he led the boy to the makeshift bed.

Ezra was weary and allowed himself to be persuaded to rest. "You've already done a lot and my back don't hurt as much as before," he yawned as he lay down on his stomach. Within moments he was sound asleep.

"How is he really?" asked one of the others.

"He'll be fine with rest. I'm more worried about the fever developing. He's already warm to the touch. We'll just have to watch out and hopefully we'll find some fever medicine," said Nathan as he smoothed Ezra's hair from his forehead. "Need to keep him warm and..."

His words were cut off as a bomb fell just outside the house shaking the foundation. The boy jumped up and stumbled as he tried to wake up to find out what was wrong.

"Whoa, there Ezra, whoa! Its o.k. now, settle down." said Nathan as he gathered the frightened, confused child in his arms.

"Oh Lord, Oh Lord!" murmured one of the others in prayer as everyone tried to huddle together. Sitting down on the floor, Nathan started singing in hopes of calming the child. His began singing in a rich baritone voice a lullaby he had heard as a child.

Swing low, sweet chariot
Comin' for to carry me home
Swing low, sweet chariot
Comin' for to carry me home

Ezra froze and went stiff as he felt himself scooped up into the man's arms. He panicked as he thought he had done something wrong. He began to relax as he heard the strong voice singing to him and others began to join in. "I'm not a baby that you have to sing to. I'm nine you know, just got startled for a minute. You can put me back down Mr. Jackson. I'm not a baby." he tried to assure the men around him.

"I know you are a big boy, Ezra. This is for my comfort, holding you like this. Gives me something to do," answered Nathan as another bomb exploded.

"Well, if you feel the need for comfort, by all means keep singing," conceded Ezra quickly as he patted the man's chest lightly. He really felt quite safe in Mr. Jackson's lap. He didn't know why he trusted this man as there were not any people he did trust. All his life there had not been one kindness done for him until now by these men. Maybe just maybe he would find a friend here he thought as he closed his eyes and went back to sleep.

The bombardment continued all that day and the next two. It would break off at night but that didn't mean the danger was over. At night the scavenger hunt for food and water would begin for those who were trapped in the city. As the silence fell on the city, many scrambled to find a way to escape. Slaves that were found were ignored, beaten or killed on the spot.

They lost two men the first night as they went out in two groups of three looking for food. The surviving one had returned beaten and bloody telling of the escape he had and the murder of the other two. Only Nathan, Ezra, Daniel, and George were left by the time the shelling had stopped and the Yankee's had started to burn the city. The others had been killed or had not returned from their foraging; hopefully they found a way out. At least those remaining hoped they did, but more then likely they were dead too.

Those remaining were in bad shape with lack of food, water and sleep. Dark circles were under everyone's eyes and the boy was weak with a slight fever that was persistent. He had grown thinner without proper food and the agitation of his injury. Nathan was worried and now that the shelling had stopped and they could escape the city. He hoped to find some medicine and food for them.

As a group they made their way out and away from the destruction and death of a once proud city of the south, weary to the bone.

Starting Over

One month later...

Chris Larabee at the age of 27 was again steadily drinking his supper. It had been one month since the burning of Atlanta and the end of the war...a war that had lasted only two years. His second-in-command and best friend, Buck Wilmington, had taken the discharge with him that was offered after the south had surrendered. Another solider, private JD Dunne, had also taken the proffered discharge to ride with them. The young man (who wasn't more than 18) had become a surrogate little brother to both men. JD had joined the Union Army when he was sixteen after his mother had died. He had been assigned to Captain Larabee's unit and Lieutenant Wilmington had took the kid under his wing saying JD was too innocent to be left on his own. Despite the horrors of war, JD somehow still retained his zest for life with an enthusiastic outlook.

Atlanta had been the last straw for the once proud Confederate Army. The devastation had broken the people's resolve to fight to the death. There had been lots of sorrow and heartache from this damn war on both sides and the reconstruction was faring no better.

Chris had lost his wife and five year old son to a fire that had raged through his home during a skirmish in their field. A drought had the grasses and woods brittle dry. A simple unwatched campfire had roared into a blazing inferno devouring everything in its path. His family had been hiding in the cellar of their house while the battle seethed some yards from them. They had hid because of the stray gunfire that each hostile side shot. They were trapped and surrounded by fire while the soldiers in both encampments watched in dismay knowing there were people inside. A water line was started with both sides helping but the house burned down on top of the family inside. Both camps reported hearing their screams. The battle was effectively stopped and each side helped in the recover of the victims in order to bury them. Chris had received a letter two weeks after it had happened. Buck had stayed with him while he went on a two day drunk covering for him with the Commander.

Now the war was over and they had left the south and headed toward the west. He really didn't care where he went or what happened. Only because of Buck, JD and his fast draw ability was he still alive.

Buck looked on worriedly as Chris' mood seemed to grow darker. He shared a look with JD as both knew that trouble was just around the corner when Larabee was hitting the bottle this hard. Buck had stayed by Chris' side through the good and the bad. When Sarah and Adam had been killed, watching out for Chris had helped him in his own grief.

Sarah had been Buck only sister and the only family he had after their mother was killed in a bank robbery. Buck and Sarah had been separated with Sarah going to a couple named Connley in Indiana and Buck to a family out west. They kept in touch till Buck was old enough to go see his sister. On the way there, he had met Chris who was looking to start a horse ranch of his own. Both Chris and Buck were young and eighteen. Having become good friends, they decided to travel together as Chris was looking for some land and stock. He had already travel around to several locations but had yet to find what he was looking for. They had gotten along great and progressed to best friends with Chris finally asking if he wanted to be his partner in the ranch. It had taken them several months before they arrived at the Connley Ranch where Sarah was living.

Buck had jumped off his horse running to grab the young woman who had come out on the porch. Sarah had cried, "Buck!" and flung herself at him crying and laughing at the same time. Hank and his wife stepped outside; both happy to see that he had arrived safely knowing their adopted daughter had been waiting anxiously. When Buck finally remembered about Chris, he was surprised to see him off his horse with his hat in his hand looking nervous. As he introduced his sister to his best friend, he felt the connection that blazed between them. With Chris and Sarah, it was love at first sight. It wasn't long before Chris was formally courting Sarah and then they were engaged. Chris would not marry Sarah until he had them a place and his business was established.

So Buck and Chris traveled until they found the perfect spot and began to build. For a year they build the house up stocking the ranch with horses they captured. When they were ready, they returned to get Sarah and had the biggest wedding Buck had ever been too. Sarah for that year had been planning, sewing and getting ready for that day. Hank threw a wedding feast inviting all their neighbors around for miles. The Connely's liked Chris and were happy for their daughter. A year after the wedding, they were happy to be grandparents to a son who Chris and Sarah named Adam. Uncle Buck could not have been happier. Three years later the war started, then the fire that killed Sarah and Adam which caused Chris to drop into this black hole.

Buck, JD and Chris had stopped in this little one horse town to get supplies for the road. Having left after the war and been traveling for the last month, they periodically stopped in to restock themselves. Where they were heading, they didn't know. Chris just kept saying "we will know when we get there". Now in this small town (if it could be called a town), JD and Buck watched their friend and leader drink.

"Chris, we got the supplies we needed. When do you reckon we'll be leaving?" asked Buck. JD was glad Buck was asking as he didn't know what Chris' reaction would be.

Most times Chris would say either now or in the morning. Sometimes he would just scowl and start a fight until Buck would have to knock him out. Other times he would wait for someone to try to draw on him thinking he was too drunk to defend himself. They would find out they were wrong as Chris never seemed to lose his fast draw or deadly matter how drunk he was. JD hoped it was one of those MOST times.

Chris gave Buck a hard stare for a full minute before he said, "We'll leave in a little while. Let's shake the dust off of us first and quench our thirst. If there was a hotel here, I would say we would spend the night. Since there ain't let's just rest out of the saddle for a bit." He than poured himself and the others a drink.

Both Buck and JD relaxed as they realized Chris was not looking for a fight. The saloon was not that crowed and so they stayed for a little bit, enjoying the cool dim room and each other. Of course that was about to change.

Outside the saloon a storm was brewing. Not a rain storm, since there wasn't a cloud in the sky. No this storm came from a figure dressed in a tan felt hat, fringed buckskin jacket, worn out jeans, moccasins and toting a sawed off mares leg gun. Twenty-one year old Vin Tanner had not come into town looking for trouble but to gather supplies and to check the wanted posters. He'd become a bounty hunter after the war since he was good at tracking and a fair shot.

His family which consisted of his pa, ma, two sisters and himself had moved from the Tennessee hills to Texas hoping for a better life when he was four. Half way through Texas and several months later, Vin was the only one alive wandering in the desert. A nomadic Indian tribe had found him and taken him in. His family had died of a fever that raged through half of Texas before it stopped. Why Vin survived this fever, he would never know. What he did know was that he found happiness with his new family until the blue coated soldiers came and killed them. By that time Vin had been with the tribe for ten years and could barely speak English. He had watched his new family massacred by the blue coats and swore revenge on those involved. He didn't have a chance to get his revenge as the soldiers who did the deed were hanged for the murder of their Captain. Seems they killed him before they went on a rampage.

His tribe was not the only people killed by this band of ruffians. Several white families had fell victim to the marauders and one of them took Vin with him to Mississippi after the hanging. This man lost his wife and two sons to the killers and had glimpsed something in Vin besides the wild white Indian everyone else saw. Taking care of Vin also helped Jacob Taylor over his grief as he taught him how to live in the Whiteman's world again.

When the war started, Vin was seventeen and joined the Mississippi Rifle Company quickly establishing himself as a sharp shooter. He fought for the south because that is who Jacob Taylor joined. He didn't believe in slavery, but then that wasn't the real reason the war started. After the south lost, he headed west since Jacob had been killed during the fighting. He got started in bounty hunting a few weeks ago and now found himself in this small town fighting to control his temper.

Laughter and shouting were coming from outside the saloon. More laughter herald the entrance of a measly little man grinning from ear to ear into the saloon. He hurried over to the barkeep and said, "Phil, you gotta come see this! Maze and his group have got this Mexican and he shore is funny."

Phil the barkeep looked in disgust at the weasel, "Now George, why would I want to see Maze start more trouble. I don't like him nor his crew or the way they treat people. Killing that old Indian last week made me ill. Someone needs to take care of that sick bastard pronto! Just too bad that we have that weak knee worm for a Sheriff and I know he's probably left town now. And you watching and cheering them on makes you just as sick as them. Go on and get out of here!"

George turned and started walking away. "Yeah, well you'll be sorry you missed this and Sheriff Toby turned in his badge this morning. See Maze has got the Mex's kid wrapped up like one of those piñatas. He's put him on the end of a rope hanging off the second floor of the general store. Heehee, he pulled him up out of reach of the kid's pa an every time the Mex lets him smack him with this big stick, he lowers the kid a notch. When the Mex goes to grab his kid, he pulls him back up and smacks the kid with the stick. Heehee, you ought to see the Mex..."

Chairs scraped back as three men suddenly stood up stopping George in mid sentence. He cowered back a couple of steps as all three looked with disgust and contempt at the small man. The three had been setting quietly but now they looked dangerous, in fact death screamed from around them. The man in black hazel eyes had gone flat and cold while the tall man beside him eyes flashed fire. Even the kid's eyes had grown frigid and the three men positively sent shivers down Phil's back while causing George to scurry out the door. Maybe Maze would be dealt with today thought Phil as he watched the three turn as a unit before they marched out the swinging doors. Phil and the other patrons looked at each other and then scrambled for the door. They wouldn't want to miss this show if Maze and his crew were in for a stomping.

Chris, Buck and JD stepped outside the saloon. You couldn't miss where the action was. At the north end of the street were six cowhands who had hemmed a seventh man in their circle while an eight man held a rope's end. One of the six, a black haired cowboy with pig eyes, had a big stick which he would strike the encircled man with. Hanging from the other end of the rope that was slung over the balcony of the second storey was a child tied and gagged like a Thanksgiving turkey. Both man and boy had red marks and were bleeding from wounds cause by the stick welding man. The pig-eyed man had just hit the father of the child in the head again while the others howled with laughter taunting him. The helpless boy wiggled and struggled wanting to help his father as tears ran down his face.

As the three men stood on the sidewalk gauging their chances, Chris felt compiled to look across the street. He saw a young man with long light hair dressed in a buckskin jacket and blue eyes looking at him. As their eyes met, Chris felt something click in his soul...his soul brother was staring back at him. With a nod from across the street, they both stepped off their sidewalks and headed toward the disturbance down the street. Half way to their destination, they met in the middle of the street walking side by side with Buck and JD keeping pace behind them. Buck and JD exchange glances wondering who the young man joining them was as he walked at Chris' side. When Chris didn't react to the stranger, they shrugged and accepted that he was on their side.

Vin had looked across the street into the cool eyes of the black dressed blond hair man feeling a jolt pass between them. He recognized his best friend even though they had never met before. With a silent agreement passing between them, they met in the middle of the road.

As the group met in the middle, the crowd from the saloon gathered outside to watch. Others watched from the safety of their homes. No one wanted to get hurt in this showdown.

A few yards from the commotion, the quartet stopped and Chris quietly commanded, "That's enough. Release them. Now."

The laughter slowly quieted as one by one, the tormenters turned to the foursome. The glare from the black clad man caused the bullies to shift uneasily. Finally the pig-eyed man replied without turning around, "Says who? This ain't any of your concern stranger. Best be going about your business."

"Uh...Maze." gulped one of the other bullies who was starring bug eyed at the quartet. The unsavory leader finally noticed that his friends were uneasy, in fact, they looked about ready to run. He turned to see what they could be afraid of.

There standing shoulder to shoulder before him were four men, actually, two men and two kids. Maze was too stupid to recognize the danger before him. Not so the one holding the rope. He decided that this was not funny any more. He quickly lowered the boy and backed away from the coming conflict. One of the others in that group that had acted as a fence to ring the poor farmer in decided that he was needed elsewhere. That still left five gunmen to the four saviors. Maze looked at his friends and grinned thinking this was going to be easy. Any amount of intelligence had left with the two departing men.

"Told you to let them go", drawled the black clad man.

Chris watched as the father grabbed his son and dragged him out of danger into the nearby alley.

"Or what? What you going to do, cowboy?" sneered pig-eyes as he and his men focused on the foursome. "We out number ya."

The temperature dropped several degrees as Chris brought his glare to rest fully upon Maze. Buck and JD looked at each other and shook their heads as they brought their hands closer to their guns. Vin Tanner shifted his mare leg gun into a better position waiting for the signal. The crowd at the saloon shifted a step back.

"Did he just call me cowboy?" asked Chris to anyone.

"Yep." confirmed Vin. A small smile graced Vin's face as he said, "Shouldn't have said that."

Maze guffawed, "So what? Still doesn't change that we out number ya or can't ya count? Is that it? Ya can't count cowboy?"

The sound of a gun being cocked froze the bullies where they stood. Slowly they turned their heads to see a big man wearing a poncho pointing a double barrel shotgun in their direction from seven feet away.

"I think he can count just fine. Looks pretty even to me, brothers." smiled the man.

Maze turned back around to face the four once again not bother by the man with the shotgun. After all, there were four others between him and the gun. Pig-eyes sneered, "What's it to ya? A wetback and his kid? It's not like their worth anything?"

"Mister, we just got through fighting a war over crap like this and from what I remember, our side won. We won so that anybody can walk this land without having to worry about idiots like you hurting them." spoke a furious JD Dunne.

"You fought!" laughed one of the bullies. "You're just a kid. No way you was in the war. Not you or the long hair fellow either, boy."

"He was there. He was there at Fredricksburg too. That boy survived the battle and won a medal for rescuing a certain general of the army." informed an angry Buck pointing at JD. Silence reign over the group. Everyone had heard about the battle. Three days of fighting, screaming dying men, blood that ran in streams soaking the ground...days of horror for both sides.

Maze noticed that the buckskin clad kid had cringed as he looked at the others. He thought he saw a way to divide those before him. "Yeah, but which side did he fight for?" pointing at Vin.

"Doesn't matter. We all survived." replied Vin quietly. He wondered how close he came to killing one of these men he was standing with.

"You fought for the other side, didn't you boy!" mocked Maze. "That should put you on my side being as you fought to keep slavery."

"Didn't fight for slavery." stated Vin. "Fought against blue bellies that killed my family. Done over with now."

"We lost on both sides of that war," said the big man holding the shotgun. The ones between him and their leader were getting nervous to say the least. That gun could do a lot of damage without killing you. "The question is did you fight or not?"

"Make your move or get out." stated Chris quietly. He grew tired of this.

"You think this is over? Not by a long shot, mister." threatened Maze. He tensed ready to draw his gun.

"Uh...Maze. Maybe we should just leave now." hedged one of his men. The others did not like the odds at all. Beside the man in black glaring was stealing their resolve. One by one they held their hands up by their shoulders and started backing away from the conflict. Maze was left alone in the center of the five men as he watched his friends head for their horses. He glowered at them as they mounted their horses. He snorted and then spat on the ground before he moved to his own horse.

Chris Larabee watched as Maze and his cronies scurried away. No one let their guard down until the gang had ridden out of town. Chris turned and looked at the big man who had helped them as he walked over to join them.

"Josiah Sanchez, brothers." he said simply as he settled his gun in the crook of his arm.

Chris nodded his head in greeting as he introduced himself, "Chris Larabee."

"Buck Wilmington." Buck grinned as he held out his hand shaking Sanchez's hand.

"JD Dunne. Glad to met ya." as he copied Buck's move holding out his hand.

"Vin Tanner." he also nodded his head in greeting.

The Mexican farmer and his son moved out of the alley and hurried over to the group. The crowd gathered at the doorway of the saloon moved back inside as the fun was over. All except the bartender Phil. He walked over to the group as the farmer profusely thanked everyone. "Gracias, gracias."

Josiah Sanchez spoke to the farmer for a few minutes before sending him on his way. He then turned to the group and explained, "Just told him that its okay and we was glad to help. He's going back home now that it's over."

Phil spoke then saying, "Would watch your backs for a while. Maze is known for getting revenge, especially since you made him back down in front of the town. Just a friendly warning," he grinned, "Shore was nice to see someone put him in his place." Phil then turned and went back into his bar to tend to business feeling he had done all he could.

Chris looked at everyone, his eyes lighting with humor. "Guess that's our cue to leave."

"Yep...cowboy." joked Vin as he looked at the blond a small smile tugging at his lips.

"Shut up and don't call me cowboy." warned Chris as he headed for his mount. He watched as the others got in their saddles, before saying, "Let's ride." They rode out of the one horse town not realizing they were being followed.

Maze was going to get his revenge as soon as he could. He glared at the others around him. "No one better back out on me again or I'll kill them myself." He kicked his horse to follow after the men who had humiliated him. He was going to kill the black clad man before the day was over.

Band of Seven

The War had ended in the month of August. One month later the fall weather was starting in the territory of Kansas turning the leaves of the trees brilliant colors. The air was getting cooler then the usually blazing heat of summer as it blew across the land. Nights that once were warm now turned cold with frost on the ground by morning. The sun set earlier in the evening while it rose later in the morning.

Five men rode out of a one-horse town not realizing they were being followed. Chris Larabee, Buck Wilmington, JD Dunne, Vin Tanner and Josiah Sanchez had met by saving a father and son. After defeating the bully with his friends, they were now heading Westward. Chris rode in the lead with Vin along side after leaving the town behind. It felt natural for the two men to fall in side by side. Vin's eyes swept the countryside continuously as he and Chris listened to Buck and JD talking with Josiah behind them. They were following a well traveled trail winding around the hills and mountains of the western Kansas region.

"So Josiah, where you headed?" asked Buck. He and JD rode on either side of the big man who was wearing a poncho. They were curious about both new companions.

Josiah smiled, "Where ever I can, Brother." He liked these men with whom he had helped rescue the poor farmer.

The five had helped just because it was the right thing to do, which spoke volumes of the type of men they were. In a land where the law was sparse or non-existing, finding men of honor was rare. Outlaws were more of the type to roam the region taking what they wanted until territories became states. Even than that was no guarantee of stopping lawlessness. Ranchers who started out in the territories could, more likely they would, become their own law. What they said went at least until someone bigger, stronger or meaner called them on it. Beneath its beauty the land was harsh and unforgiving to those who didn't know where to look for it's bounty. People who survived out here could become like the land letting others live or die without their help. There were good people, but not enough as most of the settlers were helpless against outlaws. The War had ended so Peace could start...when it would was anybody's guess.

JD noticed that a cross was hanging around Josiah neck on a leather string. "You a preacher, Josiah? Not that it is any of my business, just we haven't seen many church's since we started traveling."

"I was once, but lost my way. Now I'm just a man seeking ways to repent for former sins. I find myself helping where I can as I travel. I've been traveling since I left the war a year ago. Got discharged after being seriously wounded, so they decided I was too old at the age of 39 to be fighting with you younger men." replied Josiah. "What about you, JD? Where are you going?"

That started JD in telling how he met Buck and Chris during the war, what they did in the war, when they were discharged which lead into the last month of traveling. Buck would interject a statement every once in a while when he could between breaths that JD took. There weren't that many times the boy would draw in air. Vin actually turned around looking in awe at the younger man as he prattled about their travels while asking more questions of Josiah. He turned to Chris who just smirked and shook his head. The look he gave Vin said yep, he talks. Josiah was actually smiling at the younger man enthusiastic manner. This might be an interesting trip after all thought Josiah. The young man beside him dressed in blue jeans, white shirt and blue bandana was still describing their travels while Buck dressed in the same outfit, except for a red shirt, tried to add to the conversation. JD chatted for almost two hours before he paused for one of his few breaths.

Maze and his men had been following, watching the group's progress from the surrounding hills. They rode a trail parallel to the main road that Chris' party trekked on. Maze and his cohorts knew the area pretty well as they had grown up around these parts. After following for about an hour, Maze decided to spur ahead to search for an appropriate ambush spot. It wasn't long before they found the perfect place. Of course brains were not evident in this group. They never considered that what they thought was a good location for bushwhacking that others would also think so too. They also put themselves up wind from the approaching group, giving away their position in the rocks.

Vin was getting a bad feeling as they approached an outcrop of rocks that were spread on both sides of the trail ahead. A twitching between his shoulder blades signaled to him that they were being watched. Rags, his horse, was slowing as it sensed others of it kind in the area. The flickering of his ears told his rider that strangers were nearby. Vin held his hand up and stopped, causing the whole party to halt as he scanned the road ahead.

Chris had been occasionally glancing at the buckskin clad man (hell, he couldn't be much older than JD) as they rode in a comfortable silence. It amazed him that he felt so connected to this stranger that he had just met. When Vin signaled a stop, he looked at the section of trail ahead that had captured the tracker's interest. The others had halted behind them falling silent as they waited on their companions to move. It was a perfect place for an ambush. Thunder, Chris' mount, side step in warning as he also smelled the other horses hidden nearby.


Upon a hill on the left side of the road, Nathan Jackson with Ezra Standish watched as a group of men approached an ambush. They were traveling westward in hopes of finding a place to settle. Their clothes had changed from the torn ragged outfits of slavery to as Ezra would say "better apparel". Nathan wore a new white shirt of homespun flex, brown pants, brown vest, coat and hat. He carried his medicines including bandages in the saddlebags slung across his shoulders. He also packed food, extra set of clothes for both of them and matches. Ezra carried a haversack filled with food, a deck of cards, their utensils plus any other odds and ends that little boys needed. At least as far as Nathan could discern as the boy was secretive. Both man and boy carried wooden canteens filled with water and bedrolls strapped on their backs. The child found his own style of clothing in choosing a red shirt of cotton, black long pants, matching jacket and slouch hat. At the time Ezra's back was still healing, so Nathan had gotten the more expensive shirt for him to wear letting the child pick his own color. Now the boy refused to wear anything else complaining that it was uncomfortable upon his person.

Ezra had stayed close to Nathan even after he overcame his fever. Nathan had carried him out of Atlanta where he had found medical herbs, clean water, bandages and food. He had found a place for them to stay so he could mix restorative teas, clean his back; generally he took care of him until Ezra was well. He knew of no relatives or any one else that he could trust except Nathan who had proved himself to the child.

Nathan in turn had found himself being a surrogate father to a little white boy. A lad who, while brilliant with words also had a tendency towards a smart mouth. A child who found wonder in the world around him that would suddenly dry up those words leaving him speechless. The youngster had a quick mind that was always scheming. Nathan could understand that because as a slave you were always planning, whether it was how to avoid the whip or how to feed your family. The small brown haired boy could infuriate him to no end one moment but then would turn around with those green eyes shinning in fear or sadness breaking his heart.

They had traveled from Atlanta by walking, hitching rides from kindly folks and taking the stagecoach when they could afford it. Nathan tried to find work whenever he could to support them, but it was Ezra who got the money for their first passage on a stagecoach.

In each town they would separate while Nathan looked for a job agreeing to meet later. In the big city of Independence, Missouri their luck ran out. Nathan couldn't find any type of work. A drought in Kansas had sent thousands of people out in every direction looking for jobs. He met up with Ezra that night discouraged and worried. Ezra had calmly sat down, taking off his shoe and gave him most of the money hidden there. Nathan tried to question him about how he got it but had no luck in gaining the answer. The boy also came up with extra money for supplies. Nathan still could not get any answers so he determined to follow the child in the next town.

They followed the same routine in the next big city agreeing to meet later...except that Nathan discreetly followed behind the boy. What he saw shocked and distressed him.

He had followed the child until he saw him duck into a dark alley in the center of town. He waited for perhaps five minutes before this small ragged boy step out from the same alley as Ezra had entered. He took a double look when he realized that it was Ezra! He couldn't believe the change in his appearance. He knew Ezra was thin, but you could actually see his ribs...every detail. His hair was disarrayed while there were dark circles under his green eyes. The boy looked like he was starving and Nathan berated himself for not taking better care of him. He watched as the child walked around town until he went back in that same alley and came back out in his other clothes. The transformation was astounding! But he did notice that Ezra was still way to thin even in his better clothes. He confronted Ezra later that night with what he saw. Nathan wanted an explanation of what he had seen.

The boy confounded him with his answer. "Mr. Jackson, it is not that major a deal. Begging is an exemplary way of gaining funds while giving people a feeling of moral satisfaction. If you noticed, I only petition those who could readily afford it while causing no stress to their pocket books." Ezra knew it would distress Nathan more if he found out he had gambled also to increase their funds.

Nathan wanted Ezra to promise never to do that again but he had just given that infuriating smile that said we'd see. He never promised and as it turned out, sometimes that was the only way they could get money. He hated to see that small boy begging, while wondering all the time where Ezra got the courage and guts it took to do that.

Now they both watched as the group of riders suddenly stopped on the trail below them. From this position they could see the attackers waiting in the rocks. Nathan murmured, "We need to help them."

"Why?" asked Ezra in growing concern. Nathan was always trying to help. "This is no concern of ours. For all you know, this may be a feud that's been going on for awhile. How do you know that these people are not miscreants that deserve falling into that trap? What if that is a posse in the outcrop of rocks just doing their sworn duty? While I commend your compassionated nature...God knows it saved me...we should leave and be on our way forgoing any type of heroics."

Nathan gave Ezra an exasperated look, sometimes the boy sounded like he had swallowed a book. "Come on. Let's see what going on. Either way someone may need our help." The boy protested the whole way down until they were in hearing range of the bushwhackers and their intended victims. Silently Ezra cursed his guardian's lack of self-preservation...he also prayed that Nathan would never change.

Vin looked at Chris while pulling his rifle from its scabbard. Ambush ahead, those idiots he thought as he shook his head. Chris nodded his head in agreement as he pulled his gun getting the same feeling. Buck, JD and Josiah noticed the by play between the two. Quickly without panic they also pulled their weapons.

A shot rang out from up ahead when the bushwhackers realized their plan was a bust. The bullet whizzed by Vin's head as he jumped from his horse to the right into some bushes beside the trail. Chris leap the other way behind some boulders as Buck, JD and Josiah dropped from their mounts. Josiah followed JD to arrive behind Vin as more bullets were fired their way while Buck joined Chris adding his gun to the fight. The startled horses turned and ran a little ways down the road back in the direction of that one horse town. The military training of the mounts caused them to stop after a few yards from the action, never leaving their riders. Shots flew back and forth between the two groups.

Vin looked around knowing they were pinned down. Ambushers held the high ground to their right in the outcrop. A hill to their left offered still higher ground but no shots seemed to be coming from that direction. Turning to JD and Josiah he said, "We need to get above them."

Looking over the area he searched for a way up. He knew that if he could get high that his sharpshooter skills would get them out of this tight spot. Ah ha, he spotted the path he need.

"Josiah, JD, I'm gonna go to the top of that hill to try to pick off these fellers." He pointed to his left and traced the path for them. "See. I'll cross over to Chris then make that point there on that hill. On my way by I'll explain to them my plan. Ready...Cover me now!" yelled Vin as he sprinted across the road. Bullets kick up dirt at his feet as he ran over sliding behind Buck and Chris to a stop.

"What the hell are you doing?!" growled Chris as he shot at the bandits before taking time to glower at the sharpshooter. "That was a fool stunt to pull. You want to get yourself killed?"

"Y'all think that was something, wait until I tell ya what I'm gonna do next." replied Vin as he moved to Buck's side. "I've got an idea. Need to get the high ground and that hill over there is the perfect spot. I'm gonna need y'all to cover me while I make a run for it. I get up there and I figured I can pick some of them off. At least enough that the others might quit and run."

Buck sighted the distance to the hill Tanner pointed out. "That's a lot of ground to cover. You're gonna have to run full tilt."

"I can make it. Did it all the time during the war. Y'all just need to keep the bad guy's heads down for a bit."

"No Tanner, don't. What if they have a sniper already on the hill?" worried Chris.

"They don't or we would know about it already. All their shots have come from the outcrop of rocks ahead. If it's the gang I think it is, they haven't even thought about that hill." declared Vin.

Chris looked at Vin, Maze? Tanner nodded yes. Ducking as a shot whistled by, Chris made a quick decision. "Okay, go for it. Better not get shot though."

Vin grinned as he moved into position, "When y'all ready, Cowboy."

Chris growled though there was a twinkle in his eye. Buck smirked as he took aim firing his gun again.

"JD, JOSIAH!" shouted Chris. When he had their attention, he signaled to them their plans. When Chris next shouted it was the word, "GO!" JD and Josiah increased their gunfire aiding Chris and Buck. Vin Tanner ran for the hill dodging left then right in a crisscross zigzagging pattern. Maze and his boys couldn't shoot worth a damn.

"Where does he think he's going, Maze?" asked one of his henchmen as he tried to hit the weaving tracker. He had to duck as lead started flying around them.

"Look's like he's running away. Coward." sneered their leader as he grinned. "Keep it up, boys! We got them on the run!"

Ezra and Nathan had just made it to the bottom of the hill when they saw a buckskin clad man run towards them. As lead started flying in their direction, Nathan pushed the boy down covering him with his body. He looked up when the bullets stopped whizzing around them, right into the barrel of the biggest gun he had every saw. He froze.

Vin had run for all his worth making the slope of the hill and then into the tree line. He ducked behind the nearest tree gasping. With his back against the tree trunk, he scanned the area for danger as he caught his breath. Right there to the left of him not ten feet lay a black man with his head down covering something. A few saddlebags and canteens were lying close by where they had been dropped in a hurry. When the man raised his head, Vin had his gun trained on him.

"Y'all with them?" he questioned softly in case there were others around, never taking his gun off the man he continued searching the area. Satisfied there was no one else around, he focused back on the man lying before him. That's when he noticed that the something he covered was a child.

"No." gulped Nathan. He felt Ezra trembling beneath him.

"Then stay here and stay down. Don't move or the others will shoot ya." warned Vin as he moved further into the woods proceeding up the hill. In a few minutes he reached the top, quickly finding a vantage point overlooking the outcrop of rocks he set about doing the job he was trained for in the army. He counted six men in the rocks.

Vin brought his rifle up taking aim on the man furthest from him. He drew in a deep breath, held it while he squeezed the trigger. He let it out and quickly sighted on the next target already knowing his aim had been true. The man flung up his arms falling backwards as a hole appeared spilling red blood down the center of the chest. One down five to go. Again he squeezed the trigger bringing down another man. Two down four to go.

Below, the attackers saw one of their own flung backwards, dead before he hit the ground. A second later they heard the rifle report as it echoed across the land. They ducked trying to figure out where the shooter was. On the second shot, as another one of them bit the dust, they located the spot. They lost another man when the idiot half way stood to point out the location. Chris, Buck, JD and Josiah all took aim and shot the man. Three down three to go.

By the time the third man fell, the others were nervous. "Maze we need to get out of here! Their picking us off like flies and we ain't even scratched one of them!"

"We're gonna die if we don't leave." stated the other man.

"Then we die!" grounded out Maze. What little brains he had left was now suicidal in his thirst for revenge. He started firing frantically at the men below as one of his men slipped away unnoticed towards his mount. By the time the remaining man with Maze was dead, a lone figure was riding hell bent for leather north. Maze cursed the man as he realized he was all alone. Quickly scuttling back out of sight, he tried to make his way back to his horse.

Vin had a bead on the leader when he suddenly moved. He knew he had missed his mark, but not by much. Maze for his part felt the bullet enter his shoulder as he attempted to escape. He wasn't planning to leave, just regroup. His whole purpose now was to kill the black clad man even if it was at his own peril. He knew they would find the horses so he made his way to that area. He would set up there and wait for his prey to come to him. Silence reigned suddenly as the firing stopped.

Vin scanned the area below for any more of Maze's gang. After the firing stopped, they had heard the sound of a horse galloping away. Everyone slowly stood up. Moving cautiously ahead, Chris and the others searched the area for any survivors.

Vin made his way down the hill to join them stopping at the bottom. He smiled as he noticed that the man and boy were still in the same position as he had left them. They had taken him at his word.

"Y'all can get up now. The shootings over." drawled Vin. He waited as the others slowly stood up.

"What was that all about?" asked Nathan as he helped Ezra stand. The boy was still trembling as he moved behind Nathan for protection.

"Just some unfinished business. Y'all alright?" Vin was assessing the strange pair in front of him. He could read people like a book. It was a necessity that he acquired earlier in life from his time with the Indians. The black man had place himself between Vin and the boy like a mama cougar protecting her young. He read that he could be just as dangerous especially when it concerned the boy. To Vin that showed a great deal about the character of the man before him.

"Yeah, I think so." Nathan replied as he eyed the other man. The man stood with his gun cradled in the crook of his arm watching them. Seeing that he posed no threat, Nathan turned to check on Ezra. The boy was brushing his clothes off as if nothing had happened, his trembling now under control. It was only when he squatted down to look in the child's eyes, saying his name that he saw how frightened he was as he looked up. Not that Ezra would let anybody else know it. Nathan watched as the bland look dropped into place as Ezra finished straightening his outfit.

Nathan stood up and faced the buckskin man again. "My name is Nathan Jackson and this is Ezra Standish. I'm a healer. If there is anyone hurt, I could try to help them."

Vin's eyes widen slightly in surprise. "Don't know if there is any of them still alive, but y'all can check if ya want. Better follow me so the others won't shoot ya."

He waited as the boy and man picked up their belongings. He led them from the bottom of the hill to the outcrop of rocks where the others were still searching the area. He grinned as he noticed Chris frowning at him then at the pair that followed.

Chris had been watching for the young tracker to come back hoping he wasn't injured. It had taken the man longer to return than was necessary. He felt the tension ease as he spotted him leaving the tree line from the bottom of the hill. He caught movement behind Vin and was surprised to see two figures following along behind. One was a black man and the! Chris felt his heart contract in pain as he caught his breath. There was a little boy who looked to be six or seven years old coming towards them. The same age as Adam would have been if he had lived. Chris turned his pain into the fury he had been nursing every since his son's death. His anger was the only thing that kept him from shattering apart at the swirling emotions of his grief.

Chris waited until Vin got closer before growling. "Where did they come from?"

Vin frowned in confusing at the anger he felt emanating from the man before him. Shrugging he said, "Found them in the woods over there. Man there says he's a healer and wonder if anyone needed help. Told him he could come and see. Any problems?"

Chris could not take his eyes off the little boy who trudged behind. It was only when the child looked up with his green eyes could he stop staring. Adam's eyes had been brown, the color of his mothers. Adam hair had been blond while this one's was brown.

By this time the others had gathered around, noticing the newcomers. Buck, JD and Josiah had walked over when they realized Vin had not come back alone. All three had seen the stiffening posture of Chris but Josiah was the only one who was wondering why. JD glanced at Buck letting him know he would follow his lead. For Buck's part, his heart ached for his brother-in-law and for Adam.

Ezra had perceived the other men but it wasn't until he was closer did he really look at them. He saw the man in black suddenly turn angry so he moved closer and slightly behind Nathan. He didn't know what the problem was therefore he put on his most unconcerned air as a buffer. He would let Nathan handle things for the moment.

Nathan didn't know what was going on except that the man before him had turned livid. Fury seemed to roll off him in waves. Nathan examined the other three men who had come up. They stood this way for a few moments in uncomfortable silence until Josiah held out his hand, smiling, "Howdy, Brother. Name's Josiah Sanchez."

Nathan grinned in relieve as he shook the man's hand noticing they were of the same height and build. "Nathan Jackson. This here is Ezra Standish."

Ezra looked up into the smiling face and held out his hand. "Ezra P. Standish. It's a pleasure to make your acquaintance Mr. Sanchez."

Josiah held his laughter in at the formal manner of the little boy who held his hand out. He nearly lost it when he saw that JD and Buck looked thunder struck. Shaking the child's hand, he said, "Likewise. You've already met Vin. The others are Buck Wilmington, JD Dunne and Chris Larabee."

Nathan and Ezra shook hands with Buck and JD but Chris just nodded his head before turning away. He started walking toward the rocks, "Buck? Were there any survivors? JD, did you locate their horses?"

"Nope, all four dead." replied Buck.

JD answered, "Mounts are over behind the outcrop in that little stand of trees. I counted five of them. The sixth one got away."

The whole group was following Chris as he circled the rocks heading for the small herd that was standing in the trees. "JD, Josiah, go get our horses. Take the boy with you. Buck, Vin, lets start cleaning up this mess. Nathan, right? You can help us move the bodies."

Vin suddenly stopped in his tracks. Five horse...four bodies...someone..."CHRIS! GET DOWN!"

Tanner's warning came none to late as Chris dropped to the ground at his shout. A split second later a shot passed over Larabee where he laid. Had he still been standing, it would have hit him dead center. Everyone scattered to take cover while Chris was pinned down behind a boulder. He couldn't even move to draw his gun without exposing himself. Vin drew his mare leg sending a shot into the rocks as he ran for cover. Buck pushed JD behind the nearest boulders following him. Josiah tackled Nathan who had scooped up Ezra bringing them all down out of the line of fire. Ezra was so startled he yelped. At the boy's cry all the men went cold. Had the child been hit? Nathan tried to maneuver to check him out but Josiah had both of them pinned beneath him.

Three guns barked sending lead towards the rocks where the shooter hid. Chris lay still as another shot ricocheted off his boulder. His fury mounted as he heard the healer frantically ask the boy if he was alright. Rage ripped through him at the thought that a child might be hurt. Ignoring his common sense telling him to stay down, Chris stood up and drew both his guns. Firing a deadly barrage, he walked towards the shooter as if he was strolling down a street.

Buck said, "Shit!" as he watched his friend walking calmly forward. JD was awe struck as he watched his Captain.

Vin dropped his mare's leg bringing his rifle up sighting at the head of a man who suddenly stood up. Maze!

Maze could not believe his luck. He had the man in sight and then he was gone, ducking behind a boulder. He barely acknowledged the shout before he tried to kill the man behind the rock again. He was going to kill him! He dodged as the others fired at him. Keeping his focus on the man in black, Maze was again wondering at his change in fortune as his target stood up and walked towards him. Never mind that his was firing twin guns at him. Taking aim at the man who had brought him such humiliation, Maze grinned in anticipation. He never felt the bullet that entered right between the eyes. The impact threw his head back and his finger flexed firing the gun. The jerk of his body pulled his aim off enough that the bullet only grazed Chris' arm. Chris ignored it as he ran to make sure the man was dead.

Vin closed his eyes as he rested his head on the rock he was leaning on knowing the man was dead. His heart was pounding hard as he drew in a long breath. Damn fool nearly got himself killed!

Buck and JD both ran to catch up with their leader to back him up. Josiah quickly rolled off Nathan and Ezra. Nathan was frantically calling Ezra's name as he gently turned him over checking for blood. Ezra was trying to breath. Finally gasping, he padded Nathan's arm to get his attention.

"Nathan...I'm...alright." rasped the boy. "Breath...knock...out."

Nathan and Josiah both sagged in relief. Nathan then lifted the boy up into his arms, hugging him as he said, "Thank the Lord...Thank the Lord."

Ezra realizing how upset his friend was let him hold him as his hands patted Nathan's shoulders. It actually felt kind of comforting as he relaxed into the hug.

Josiah sighed, "Praise God." his hand lightly rubbing the boy's back.

Buck had caught up with Chris as he stood over Maze's body. "Damn it Chris! My heart nearly stopped. You scared ten years off of JD over there. What has gotten into you?"

JD had kept up with Buck. He quickly took of his blue bandana, wrapping it around Chris' arm. "Captain? You're bleeding!"

Larabee winced as JD tied off the arm. Vin walked up about that time saying softly; "Y'all lucky your wounded or I'd knock some sense into that thick head of yours. What do ya think ya were doing?"

Chris looked into the concerned faces around him. He felt his anger leave him as he said, "The boy alright?"

"We don't know as we was too concerned backing you up, stud. Dang fool thing to do." grumbled Buck. Vin just kept staring at Chris until he locked eyes with him. As with Chris, his tension eased when he realized his new found friend was going to be okay.

"Nathan said he was a healer. Better get him to see to that arm." stated Vin.

All four men turned and headed back to join the others. Relief swept over them as they saw that the child seemed to be okay. Nathan and Josiah were both fussing over Ezra as the boy tried to stand, repeating that he was fine. His legs wobbled causing Nathan to pick him up which in turn led Ezra to protest loudly at the indignity. Nathan ignored him until seeing that Chris' arm was injured; he then handed Ezra over to Josiah as he grabbed his saddlebags to get his supplies.

"Sit down over here and let me look at that." ordered Nathan as he led Chris to a nearby boulder to sit on while handing his bags to Buck.

Chris eased down and asked, "The boy alright?"

"Yeah. Just got the wind knocked out of him, he'll be fine." assured Nathan as he started to work on the arm. Nathan took the temporary bandage off and checked the wound. "This is gonna need some stitching. Buck, hand me that whiskey out of my bags. JD there should be some bandages, thread and a needle in the other bag. This won't take but a minute. Need to clean it real good so it won't get infected."

Despite the "Ow that smarts!" and in drawn breaths, Nathan had Chris stitched and bandaged in a short while. Wiping his hands, Nathan told Chris, "There that should do it. You won't be lifting anything heavy for at least two or three day. I'm gonna make you a sling and I want you to wear it! If the arm gets to bothering you, you just let me know. If the pain gets to where you can't stand it, I have a tea that will help."

Ezra had finally got Josiah to put him down. Walking over to the two men, Ezra sat down beside the gunslinger. He said, "Don't worry Mr. Larabee, Mr. Jackson is a fine physician. He'll have you up and around in no time."

Vin looked around noting how late it was getting. "Might as well set up camp seeing as its gonna be dark soon."

Buck replied, "Yep. Might as well get started. Seeing as you're wounded and all Chris, you just sit right there and do as the doctor ordered. Josiah and me will start moving the bodies out of the way. JD, you and Vin go get our horses and bring them up here. Might as well bring the other gang's mounts over too. Nathan, would you start gathering wood and build a fire? Then we'll see what we can make for supper."

Each man had turned to do his appointed chores when a small voice piped up, "What about me Mr. Wilmington? What do you want me to do?"

Looking down into the serious face of Ezra, Buck couldn't help but smile as he said, "Why you get the hardest job of all kid. You have to stay here and make sure Chris doesn't move."

"Buck." warned Chris.

"Oh joy. This ought to be fun." muttered Ezra.