Author Note – this is for the fifteen year anniversary challenge, and thanks to Meredith for beta-ing it.
The slight smell of wood soaked with whiskey and beer permeated the room tying the other unmemorable smells that seemed to linger in every saloon that one enters.
The tables were scattered throughout the room, but the one table raised up from the others was covered in green felt. There were a group of men surrounding this table each with a stack of money in front of them, each holding cards in their hands, watching the others on the table to see what tells they would give.
The man who was playing as the dealer smiled at the men at the table, showing off his golden tooth. "Well, gentlemen, and I use that term loosely, are we going to play or stare at each other the rest of the night?"
A young brash man, who had been bragging to anyone who had wanted to listen, and even those that didn't, spoke up. "I agree with you old man; we need to start playing, I have to say the 'West' doesn't live up to its name."
The other men at the table turned to stare at the dealer in the game. The southerner that was acting as the dealer grinned. "Oh? Tell me, how does it not live up to being the 'West?'"
The young bravo stared at the older man. "All the stories you hear. Are about the gunfights, the live or die moments, heroes who save their town and defeat the bad guys. The dime store novels showed a world of adventure where someone can make their name go into legend. Instead all I find is the same as everywhere else. Small towns, surrounded by farms and railroads that nothing exciting happens."
Around the table, several chuckles rose at the whine of the young man. An older man that the young bravo had been told was an ex-preacher, spoke up from a nearby table. "What's your name again son?"
The man puffed up slightly, which amused the men around table. "Scott Hodges, I'm from Ohio."
"Well Scott from Ohio, what did you really think? Tthat there would be gunfights every day to the point of the streets running red from blood?"
Ignoring the glare from a man dressed in black at the same table as the preacher. Scott stared at the man. "Well, no. But I thought there would be more...I don't know. I thought it would be more like the story - some dusty streets, cowboys walking around, bounty hunters coming in to claim the bounty on outlaws, enemies from the past coming to seek revenge from the law of the town. Not this. A quiet town that doesn't have anything going on. Even the cowboys are well behaved."
Several men chuckled and the sheriff of the town spoke up. "Really? What do you think? We live in a dime store novel? Who could survive all of that? Besides the outlaws and other bad guys eventually learn they wouldn't be able to win."
Before Scott could say anything, a tall lanky man with a mustache who was sitting by the sheriff, knocked the sheriff's hat off his head and grinned. "One would think. You aren't the first person to be blinded by those stories. Course you at least didn't ask if this was the West."
The sheriff glared at the man. "That was years ago. You can't still hold that over me."
"Yes, I can, besides it's still funny, especially when you now act like we did to you, to the newbies in town."
Looking to the other men at the nearby table and the other town folk who at this point had put down the cards to watch the discussion, the southerner sighed, realizing that the game would not be played until this argument was over, put down his own cards and joined the conversation. "Now, to be fair, JD was a bit younger than this man."
Rolling his eyes, the sheriff huffed and crossed his arms, "You guys aren't that funny. I should throw you all in jail."
Smirking at the thought of JD trying to get them all in a jail cell, the lone black man in the group spoke up. "Keep that thinking up and next time I won't keep quiet about how you hurt you're..."
A panicked JD shouted out, "Nate! You promised. Besides, it isn't any worse than what happen to Vin that one time."
The man who looked like a tracker, who Scott hadn't noticed until now, smiled and spoke up. "I told ya JD, it was Peso's fault. I just got in the way, and he was aiming for Ezra."
The southerner at the gaming table shuffled the cards in his hands and shook his head. "Do not bring me into that. It was your fault we were out there in the first place. How did you put it?...Yes, we were out there in hopes of avoiding Chris and that the men we left tied up in stables would take all the blame for the holes in the cabin?"
The man in black, spoke up at that. "So, it was you two that left them. They made a mess of the stables and then complained bitterly when I made them fix my cabin. Took more effort to get them to do the work than haul them to jail."
The tracker shook his head. "Ezra is delirious. We weren't hiding from you. He was helping me move the horses to the west pasture. We have no clue how those two idiots ended up in the stables."
A quiet murmur of ‘busted' came out from one of the other men. The tracker glared at the man who said that. "I wouldn't talk Bucklin, you were just as bad."
"How am I that bad? I haven't had anyone shoot up the church or Chris's cabin ever!"
Vin grinned. "No, but what about the situation last year when you ran that string of horses to market by yourself. We had to come in guns blazing to save you after you got in a fight with a man."
Buck glared. "I had it under control."
Nathan snorted. "You were bleeding from a dozen cuts, barely standing. You're lucky that we decided to meet you."
This time Buck grinned, "You mean get away from Raine and Casey who decided they had enough of your moping and sent you to fetch me back."
JD and Nate both glared at Buck. "That isn't true. Inez was worried. Besides, you have bad luck with knives."
Glaring at JD, Buck moved the subject off of him and the aftermath of the incident. He hadn't seen Inez that mad in a while and really it hadn't been his fault. "So, Scott, you came out West for adventure. Please tell me it was something other than dime store novels that made you come out here."
The cards forgotten in listening to the men, Scott nodded. "In part it was the novels, but I had a teacher, he had traveled all around the US, and he had actually stopped in this town. He spoke about the seven men in the town that protected it. He said that they embodied what the West was supposed to be."
The group around him chuckled at the young man. The Man in Black shook his head, "It can't be non-stop shoot-em ups. No one would heal or get any sleep, besides, our cemetery would be huge at this point if that happened every day. Don't think there would be enough people left in the territory to live. Besides, bad guys sometimes get half a brain and start to leave a town alone after the first hundred or so either end up dead or jail."
Scott sighed, "But the stories, the one street towns and high noon gunfights..."
Ezra scoffed at that. "We never have had a high noon gunfight. Why you would want to do it then? Much too early in the day."
Nathan grinned, "Right, we only have sword fights and that tiff that Chaucer and Peso had over who was going to JD's oldest to ride on."
The two men who owned the horses rolled their eyes. "JB bribed them." Vin stated.
Ezra nodded in agreement, "The young man offered them both sugar cubes and carrots. He brainwashed our horses. And it isn't funny."
"Yes it is Hoss. Thought you and Vin were going to hurt something. Almost had to knock you both out."
Sharing a look, Vin and Ezra suddenly grinned. Ezra looked at Buck. "Just wait until Sarah is old enough to start looking at boys. "
The horror that flashed across Buck's face at the thought of his four year-old dating had him shaking his head. "Hell no. She isn't dating. Ever."
Mr. Hodges sighed, he was bored with the conversation of families. "See, this isn't at all like anything. Listening to you all, is just like sitting back home listening to everyone talk. You lot, I bet, never been in a gunfight, and couldn't stop an outlaw if you tried."
As Scott finished talking, he suddenly was aware he had gone too far. The seven men who had been sharing memories and stories with him, had gone silent and suddenly, the underlying relaxed attitude of the men had been changed by an underlying of danger and since he had gotten to the town, Scott started to fear for his life.
Before he could faint from the glares and danger he felt in the room, Chris growled out. "Son, we have been nice to you. We listened to your ideas about what the West is, but you've been here less the half a day, and we were fine letting you talk; but you don't go around insulting men that you don't know. We've been in this town for fifteen years and we've seen it go from a one street town filled with gunfighters and outlaws, to today where families can feel safe to live. We've seen the blood and pain that has gone into the town, and even now, we see the fight to keep this place what it is. You don't want the West, you want something in a book, and the book never tells the truth.
"You want the truth of the West? Those gunfighters and outlaws are real, they bled, lost love ones, got shot and had to fight to stay alive long enough for the Healer to get to them. It is about regular people who lost their life and left widows and kids behind because they refused to be scared. It's about family sticking together and living though mistakes and fights.
"It was taking people like you and swallowing them up and spitting them out on the other side dead. You want a short life, challenge someone to a gunfight, and when they walk away from your dead corpse, you might understand that out here, there is always someone better than you and they won't care about your dreams."
Doing his best to squash the urge to run all the way back to the East, the young man cleared his throat. "That isn't what I meant, I mean, I'm sure you all have witnessed that, and no offense..."
Buck shook his head. "Kid, listen to Chris. He isn't going to repeat himself twice. You aren't the first kid out here with stars in his eyes and you won't be the last. The people who survive out here, came out here to live and make a life, not to find some mythical place they heard from a story."
"But... my teacher. He said the men were real and when he was there he met the gunfighters and outlaws and the dangerous places."
The seven men shared a look, Ezra, sighed. "Who was this teacher? What was his name?"
Scott grinned, "His name was Jock Steele. He said..."
"Ah hell. I thought he would be dead by now. Can I go kill him now, Chris?"
Before Chris could answer Vin's question, Josiah spoke up. "Vin, it wasn't that bad, and he kept his promise. He only wrote one story and it wasn't that bad."
Glaring at the ex-priest, Vin grumbled quietly, "Didn't like the first time."
Scott frowned. "He wrote about you? What story was it? I don't remember one that deals with a clean cut town like this. I would think it would be a little boring."
A shared glance between the men had them chuckling again. JD opened his mouth to say something, when Nathan snorted, "Boring is not one of the words I would pick. I think this is the first day in a week that I don't have one of you in the clinic."
"Mr. Jackson, it has been well over a week that any of us has had a reason to visit your place of business due to any unfortunate accidents."
Snorting and rolling his eyes at the statement, the Healer countered the declaration. "Right, which is why Raine has decided that we need to just add on a room as a guest room for you each, since you seem to spend more time there than you do at your own place."
JD piped up. "Now that isn't fair. We don't go out and plan to get hurt, it's just that the bad guys don't listen."
"Really? You don't plan to get hurt. You do a good job of getting hurt. If I actually charged you guys I would be rich."
"Now, that is just wrong. There are Seven of us and things happen. iI isn't like Josiah planned to hurt his wrist when that drunk tried to break into the church."
Turning to look at Buck, the ex-preacher frowned. "Now that was an accident, unlike that slash you got across your ribs last Tuesday."
Looking around the saloon, Buck hutched down slightly. "It was just a scratch and it wasn't like I was trying to get scratched. Who knew that horse thieves don't like coming along quietly?"
Chris raised his eyebrow at that, "So, that was why you were late getting back. How did Nate find out?"
Making sure that Inez didn't over hear the conversation, Buck sighed. "Saw me later and noticed that I was bleeding somewhat."
"More like a stuck pig."
Glaring at the healer, Buck sighed. "It wasn't that bad. Plus it was a lucky hit."
Hearing about horse thieves perked Scott right up, as this was what he was looking for. Before anyone else could say anything, the young easterner spoke up. "How many thieves? Did they get away with any horses? Where was this? Can I see the scar?"
Having forgotten that Scott was there, the seven men turned and glared the young man. At this point the others at the poker table decided it was late enough to go home and quietly got up and left. Scott, paid no attention to this, his eager eyes staring at Buck.
Before Buck could say anything, Vin spoke up. "Please don't ask that. Then we get into who has the best scar and if you remember last time we did that, we ended up helping with running the town's fair. We didn't even get a chance to eat any pie."
Turning to the tracker, Buck snorted, "That wasn't my fault, I believe Ezra bet you, and it escalated from there. Besides, I'm not showing it. Least not in here."
Before anything else could be said, the door to the saloon opened and a group of ten men walked in. Taking a look at the ten men, the seven men shared a glance and stood up as one and headed over to the group. Scott, blinked in surprise, and quickly scrambled to get a better eye on the action, though he didn't know what the seven old men, in his mind, could do against the seasoned group of young men that had just entered into the saloon.
The seven men moved as a group, as the other group paused with sneers on their faces at the older men. Vin and Nathan moved to one side, making sure they both had a clean line of sight. Buck walked through the group, almost brushing the leader of the group to settle on a chair behind them. Ezra and JD stood on the other side of the group.
Chris wandered in front of the gang's leader. "You want to turn around and leave. We heard what you did up at Eagle Bend and we won't want that to happen here, especially since you won't like the results."
The leader of the gang stared at Chris, then sneered. "Who is going to stop us? You, cowboy? With your friends? You all are old and slow and are outnumbered. Cowboy."
Chris shook his head, and smirked... "I know you just didn't say that. JD, did he just say what I think he said?"
JD looked at the ten men and smirked slightly, "You mean the part about calling you a cowboy?"
Ezra smirked as he brushed off one of sleeves. "I think he called you it more than once."
From his seat, Buck shook his head. "He doesn't like that, I would take it back."
Glaring at the mustached man, the leader frowned. "What do you mean? He isn't going to do anything. I'm the fastest draw in the room. Only people faster are one of the Seven. And even them I'll race."
Josiah suddenly seemed to appear next to one of lackeys near the leader, playing with a rather long knife. "I would rethink that."
Before the leader could say anything, Nathan spoke up. "Please don't tempt them, I really don't have time to heal anyone. Especially you. Raine and I have plans, especially since Casey is babysitting for us tomorrow."
The leader of the gang scoffed at that. "Right, like you guys can stop us."
A tsk-ing sound from the southerner had the gang of ten looked over at the man. "Before this goes any further, can we at least get your name so it will make our job easier when we carve your headstone?"
The leader straighten up. "My name is Randy Moore, and I lead these men."
Smirking, Chris walked forward into Randy's personal the space and stared the man down. As he saw Randy start to back down, and look of true unholy fear appeared in the man's eyes, Chris growled out low and threatening. "You sure about that Randy? You really want to take us on, see if you're faster than us?"
Stumbling away from the man, Randy looked at the other six men, and suddenly felt like a fat hen surrounded by wolves. "I think we've had enough for tonight. We still have to make camp outside of town, far outside of town. Let's go."
Not one of Randy's men protested. They quietly left the saloon, making sure that they never looked back at the seven devils that they had met in the saloon.
As the last member left, Scott spoke up. "How... That was… I can't believe that, I've only read of people doing that. Who are you?"
The seven men turned back to Scott after the last of Randy's men left, sharing a quick look. Nathan was the first to break the silence. "I need to get going, I have to make the rounds on the outlaying houses. JD, you still coming with?"
"Yes, I want to check on the Landsing's, they think that something is taking their chickens again. You are still going to watch the town for me, Buck?"
Rolling his eyes, Buck nodded, "Yes, I'll keep an eye on the town. Isn't like we have much to do up at the ranch right now. At least nothing Vin and Chris can't handle."
The two men mentioned glared at the third. Vin snorted, "You just didn't want to help with cleaning the stalls and checking all the horses. Instead, you wanted a day in town with Inez."
Buck just grinned. "What can I say?"
Rolling his eyes, Ezra sighed at the mostly empty saloon. "I think I shall close up and head to bed as well. It seems everyone has left for the night."
Josiah grinned. "That sounds like a good idea, and I need to check on the church roof tomorrow anyhow. Seems there is a leak there."
After a few more words and good nights, and Chris and Vin promising to make sure that Randy and his gang had left the town and camped for the night, the seven men broke up and headed to their beds.
Scott watched from his seat, frowning, he looked around the saloon and spotted someone who had been sitting with the men. The man was a little older than he was. "Hi, I'm Scott, and who were those men? Do you know? I've never seen anything like that."
The younger man grinned, stood up and walked over to Scott. "My name is Bill Travis, and those men are the Magnificent Seven. If you knew Jock Steele, I bet you read the story about them."
Scott stared, "That's them? But they're legends. They're part of the West. I wouldn't think to find them in a town like this."
"Oh they're still legends and to hear it they get in just as much trouble, but they made this town safe and like all places that are safe; it has grown. But don't think that since the wolves have settled down some that their teeth aren't as sharp. Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to head to bed. My mother wants me to help her with the paper tomorrow."
Scott watched as Bill left the saloon. Staring at the empty room, Scott got up and headed for the door. As he headed to his hotel room, he caught himself rethinking about the West. And instead, wondered how he had missed that the seven men he talked to all evening were the men of legend.
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