Disclaimer: Just playing. I know I can't keep 'em…damnit!
Summary: Sometimes a cunning plan is needed.
JD sighed contentedly as he lay on the grass under a huge shade tree, just a short walk from town. His eyes tracked a large white cloud floating across the sky. It amused him at how much its shaped reminded him of Chris in full stride, with black duster billowing behind him...well, white in this instance. From there, JD's thoughts drifted to thinking on Chris, and the rest of his friends.
Chris Larabee, habitually somber and solitary, but always on alert. A fast, and deadly gunman, with an untold sense of justice. For JD, just being around him was a privilege, to be accepted by him had been JD's proudest moment.
Buck, kind, funny, caring, protective, and smarter than folk gave him credit for. He liked to act the buffoon, and troublemakers arriving in town often disregarded him. But that was their biggest mistake, for as much as Buck liked to play for laughs, when it came to a show of force, there was no one finer to have at your side, and JD was deeply honored that this one-of-a-kind man had taken him under his wing.
Ezra; an accomplished gambler with a cutting wit. Inventive, articulate, but a dark horse who liked to literally keep his cards close to his chest. However, under testing times he'd shown guile, speed, accuracy and...JD grinned at how Ezra might respond to the next description...loyalty.
JD had found Vin to be, at times, a deep thinker. The man in buckskins was hard to pin down, but what JD did know was that he was a skilled tracker, patient beyond reason, a hell of a shot, and not one to mess with when it came to fairness and justice. Vin's sensibilities went past anything JD had even been aware of until coming out West. He'd already taught JD so much.
The boy stretched and yawned. A cloud shaped almost like a cross, brought Josiah immediately to mind. Here was a fella bursting with wisdom and sound advice, a good listener, and a gifted preacher, yet was often found struggling with his own demons. JD wished Josiah would turn to them for help in the way he and the others would turn to him. He sighed, softly - maybe one day.
Nathan was as good as any doctor JD ever saw. He was a skilled, kind-hearted man, with a harrowing past he rarely spoke about. His passion for seeing folk treated fairly sometimes caused clashes within the group, mostly with Ezra, but Nathan was coming to appreciate that jumping ahead and assuming, meant his opinions could be misguided. The man was a lot less judgmental lately. Being around the others was good for his self-esteem.
JD was in awe of how every man performed his expertise with effortless poise, and now understood how each skill was honed over years. JD wasn't there yet, but with these men as his inspiration, he would keep trying.
When a small purple flower tickled his nose, JD jolted and sat bolt upright. He stopped the move to his gun when a chuckling tracker dropping down in the grass next to him. JD grimaced at Vin.
"Eeeww…what's that smell?"
Vin twirled the flower's stem between his finger and thumb. "Called a Bee plant, smells somethin' awful, don't it?"
JD nodded. "Sure does."
Vin pointed to the leaves. "You can cook 'n' eat these."
JD re-settled into his supine position and covered his face with his hat. "I think I'll pass."
Tanner's cheek dimpled. "Never say never, Kid. When you're hungry, food's whatever you can get from the land."
JD lifted his hat and nodded. "Yeah, I know. Would need a peg on my nose to cook that, though." He noted Vin staring off across the plain, and then get out his spyglass. JD sat up. "What?"
Still with the glass to his eye, the tracker jumped to his feet, pulling JD up with him. "Let's go, we got trouble comin'."
JD snatched up his hat to hold in his hand as the pair ran flat out toward town. "What kinda trouble?" he yelled.
"The kind that rides in carryin' rifles."
To hear Vin's Mare's leg booming out was enough to have Chris on his feet, out of the saloon, and standing on the boardwalk. To see Vin and JD running down the street, placed his gun in his hand instantly. "How many?"
"Enough, and heavily armed," Vin hollered, a little breathless. He crossed the street and climbed up the side of Potter's store to his favorite vantage point on the roof.
The rest of the peacekeepers emerged from all corners of the town to join JD and Chris, but before Larabee could voice one command, the shooting began.
Townsfolk scattered and slammed doors closed as the regulators dove behind barrels, water troughs, and into side streets to avoid the incoming lead. Chris hissed when his thigh burned from the bullet gouge in its flesh. He would wrap it later, but right now, he was more worried about giving back as good as they were getting.
With each bark of Vin's rifle, a rider fell. Some stayed down, while others grabbed a passing hand to double up on a fellow gang member's mount. Tanner ducked one bullet soaring over his head, only to feel the searing pain of another in his rear flank, which almost dislodged him from his precarious perch. Breathless, and dizzy, he clung to the rooftop for support.
Buck slowly and steadily picked his targets, and hit each one. On any other day, he'd be doing good, but there appeared to be at least twenty riders firing in all directions, and he seemed to barely be making a dent. He could only watch in fascination when a bullet pierced the semi-filled water butt he was behind, causing water to spurt through a hole on his side of the barrel. With a frown, he looked down to see a bloom of red forming on his shirt. A moment later he felt the pain. 'Ah hell'.
From the alley between the post office and undertaker's, Ezra was well concealed and making his own mark on the marauders. He fired right then left, but as he turned again to his right, a ricocheting bullet spat vicious, wooden splinters into his face. The southerner fell to his knees in agony, and now helpless in the battle. "My eye...my eye!"
Josiah and Nathan were under the porch of the bathhouse and adjoining hotel, and firing from behind the bullet pocked supports. To their surprise, an empty, burning wagon hurtled toward them, but before they could move to avoid its impact, it smashed into one bullet-riddled stanchion, causing the heavy porch roof to fold, and bury both men beneath the crashing timber.
Chris was painfully aware of the slowing gunfire from his own men, and already feared the worst. He felt helpless when, from his position, he sawJD jumped from behind by a man with a knife, but before he could see the outcome, three riders rode up close and fired on him.
JD knew he was in trouble even before the intense pain of a knife sinking into his flesh. His right hand and arm went numb instantly, but his left fired the Colt it held into his assailant's gut. Sick to his stomach, JD kicked the bloody body off him and, dizzy with pain, he crawled back to his previous position with the intention of continuing to fight. To his surprise, it went eerily quiet, so JD succumbed to blood loss and pain and slid to the ground.
Satisfied with how his planned attack played out, Dillon Small raised his rifle and fired into the air three times. As quickly as the marauders came, they were gone, leaving the town battered and smoky, and the apprehensively emerging townsfolk unsure if their protectors were still alive.
The next afternoon, Mary sighed heavily as she took one last look at the front-page column of her just-published newspaper, which was being circulated a little early due to the events of the previous day. She gathered up the printed sheets and ventured out onto the street to hand them out.
Three strangers seated in the sparsely populated saloon happily swigged back whiskies and chuckled to themselves as they read the paper Mary placed on their table.
"So the rumors was true. Didn't expect it to be over so fast, figured we'd have to hit 'em at least one more time." Dillon Small grinned. "This town's ripe for the takin', fellas. I reckon we can call in the rest of the boys, now."
Tom Perch picked up the paper and again read the article's headline. "Magnificent Seven slaughtered in brutal gun battle – town in mourning."
"Wish I coulda seen it when their bodies were found," he mused.
"Hell yeah," Levi Card agreed. "Shame we lit out so fast. You want for me to go round up the rest o' the boys then, Small?"
"No need," the man informed, "they were told to camp a few miles outside town. Perch, go get 'em, tell 'em we already got the whole town to ourselves."
Perch rose and, swaying slightly from the alcohol imbibed, he left the saloon.
Inez passed the two remaining gang members and carried a tray up the stairs to one of the saloon's rented rooms. She knocked once and Nettie opened the door.
"Come in, dear."
Inez smiled as she looked around the room at seven familiar men, bandaged and sore but most definitely alive. Her smile faded as she noted JD asleep, but a wink from Buck told her it was under control.
Putting down the tray of sandwiches and beverages, she approached Larabee. "They're calling in the others now; they should be here in a few hours."
Chris's smile was all the encouragement the people in the room needed. He got up and limped over to JD, shaking the youth's good shoulder gently.
JD rubbed his eyes as Buck helped him sit up. "Chris?" He glanced around, and smiled on seeing each of his friends bandaged, but in good spirits.
"We're about to get in some more shootin' practice, could use all the help we can get."
"No problem I'm fine," JD assured, raising his left hand to demonstrate.
Buck laughed softly. "Fine...yeah. We're all fine, Kid." He shuddered at the memory of the aftermath of the previous day's battle.
ONE DAY PRIOR
Chris's pants leg made an odd suction noise as he lifted the numb limb out of the sticky blood pool surrounding it. He tugged at a bandanna stuffed in his jacket pocket, but before he could fully extract it, delicate fingers were doing so for him. Mary's trembling hands quickly tied the cloth around the gore-filled gouge in Chris's leg and then she helped him to stand.
Struggling with fuzzy vision, Larabee scanned the street for his friends. Townsfolk were removing the wood of the collapsed porch. Buck was up, but was definitely looking ropey as he stumbled across the street. JD was on his feet, and leaning heavily back against the corner of a building. He had a knife in his shoulder - and now Chris knew where Buck was heading. Chris squeezed Mary's arm and gestured toward Buck.
"Would you go direct that fool into the saloon? Ask Inez for a room, we need to regroup."
Reluctant to leave him, but knowing better than to disregard Chris's request, Mary made sure he was steady, and then walked to Buck.
Excited cries caused Chris to glance back at the crumpled porch. Relief flowed on seeing Josiah and Nathan being helped to their feet. They were bruised, and bloodied, but alive, and talking. He figured their luck was holding when Nettie's wagon trundled down the street. A half an hour earlier, and their favorite matriarch would have been caught up in the conflict. Now, she and Casey would be welcome assistance. He was pleased to see her halt, set the brake, and hurry over to JD, who hadn't moved since Chris last looked his way.
Casey hovered awkwardly while Nettie checked JD over. She looked around at the busted town and then to her niece. She gestured to JD, who was sitting way too quiet for her liking.
"Can you handle this?"
Instantly squatting, she nodded, took JD's good arm, and tugged him to his feet. "C'mon, JD."
JD groaned. "Oww! I can get up myself."
"Yeah, sure you can, that's why you was sitting there in the dirt."
Nettie smiled and left. Yep, she could handle it.
Gloria Potter was slowly leading Ezra toward the saloon. The normally unruffled gambler was clearly distraught, clinging to the woman as if his life depended on it. After leaving Casey with JD, Nettie hurried over to check on the southerner. Following a quick investigation, she ushered Gloria to continue on. It was at that point when Nettie spotted Vin, hunched over, and limping her way. She glanced toward Casey, and nodded approvingly to see the girl helping a bloody, but surprisingly subdued JD toward the drinkery, which freed her up to go to Vin. Tanner was pale, and bleeding heavily, and was grateful for Nettie's help.
"Just a scratch, ma'am."
Nettie raised an eyebrow. "Pretty deep one, I'm thinkin'. Come on, son, lean on me, ain't no one gonna judge you, today."
Mary was back and now helping Chris into the saloon and up to the room the others were either already in, or heading to.
Inez's first 'patient' was Buck. He was grumbling to Mary about it 'being nothing' as she helped him into the room, but the bloodstains on his shirt and pants suggested otherwise.
"Suficiente con las protestas y que se acueste en la cama." She noted Buck stare at her. "Please to lie down on the bed." His silly grin disarmed her, but reality quickly returned when the action of lying down caused considerable pain. "Madre de Dios...settle down."
Several womenfolk had brought up water, cloths, and towels, allowing Inez to get to work quickly. She looked up when Gloria brought Ezra in, and was visibly shocked to see the gambler shaky and anxious as he sat down on a chair. Some townsmen helped Nathan and Josiah in next. On seeing Ezra's distress, Nathan ignored his own pain and went to his side.
Despite Ezra's reluctance for anyone to touch it, Nathan kneeled next to the man and examined Ezra's eye. After a long, anxious minute, the healer patted the southerner's shoulder.
"The splinters have missed your eyeball, they're just in the skin around it."
Ezra shook his head. "The pain..."
"Is dust...just lots of dust. I promise you, you ain't gonna lose your sight. It'll be sore, and red, and a mite swollen for a few days, but..." The southerner seemed unconvinced. "Ezra...look at me...look at me, man."
Standish raised his head. Despite the pain, and watering, he slowly opened his swollen eye. Vision in that eye was blurred, and it burned, but he could see; my God, he could actually see. His hands grasped Nathan's and he nodded.
"Thank you," he whispered. "Thank you, my friend."
Nathan squeezed Ezra's arm. "Didn't do nothing, yet. Just gently hold this clean cloth over it, and give it room to water freely. Waterin's good for it."
Josiah helped Nathan to his feet and both men groaned in chorus - and then laughed, which made them groan more.
"Reckon I bruised a few ribs," Nathan deduced.
Josiah winced. "Me too. We were lucky, brother."
Nathan watched Casey bring JD in, quickly followed by Nettie and Vin, and finally Mary with Chris. "Let's hope we ain't the only ones."
During the course of the afternoon, between Nathan, Josiah, and the ladies in attendance, Vin's back was relieved of the bullet that hit a rib and then lodged just under the skin. Painful, but not life threatening.
Buck's side wound was more a crease than a hole, and was sewn up, as was JD's shoulder wound from the knife, and Chris's leg gash. Buck, Chris, and Vin had bled outwardly, while JD mostly bled inwardly, causing all to be weary from blood loss, but no less determined to fight on when the time came. Josiah and Nathan's injuries were cleaned and strapped, and the splinters around Ezra's eye were carefully removed and his eye rinsed repeatedly. The healer's insistence on all seven drinking his herbal tea ensured they slept peacefully that night.
Because each man had agreed that they would be ready for the battle to come...no matter what...for the ladies it became a long, tough evening and night of tending, and nursing. A crazy idea from Chris, and concurrence and assistance from Mary, was intended to help them with their cause...and they would soon learn that it worked.
Inside the busy room, Larabee heard the alarm that the men were coming back. He looked proudly around at his friends...his brothers...all armed and ready to fight. He offered a crooked smile. "Not quite the reception those fellas are expecting, huh?" Chris nodded to each of his men in turn. "Okay, let us 'dead men' go finish this."
The seven peacekeepers strode to the center of the street as a distant dust cloud grew larger, and closer. Each man carried a rifle, and rested a hand on or near his gun; Vin cradled his mare's leg while Chris slowly eased his jacket back behind his holster. Their bandages were visible, but so was the steely determination on their faces.
JD recalled being in this position once before. Just as then, he glanced across at the men who lined up alongside him. Seven men, battered, and worn, but nevertheless standing proud, shoulder-to-shoulder, rifles at the ready. JD tried to control his shaky breathing, and he wondered if the others felt as nervous as he did. If they were, they sure didn't show it.
The seven stood firm as ten riders emerged from the dust and arrogantly strolled their horses through the main street of the town, not stopping until they were just feet away. Chris spoke.
"You're not wanted here. Leave now, and we'll let you live."
Small edged his horse forward. The man spat in the dust just inches from Larabee's feet - the feet of a man neither he, nor his men had expected to see again. He hoped he'd contained his surprise at finding seven supposedly dead men, standing before him.
Chris grinned at the shaken man. "Says me, butt-wipe. Now, we can do this the hard way…"
Seven men cocked their rifles.
"…or the easy way."
Small ran his gaze along the line of men, stopping at JD. The easterner straightened in an attempt to look taller, hoping he'd matched the glare he'd received.
With a manic smile that revealed tobacco-stained teeth, the leader wheeled his horse, drawing his gun the moment he did so. This time the response was instantaneous. Seven rifles barked out, accurate, and even. Not one of the peacekeepers moved from their position until, when the smoke cleared, they were the only men standing.
While the others dealt with any of the gang still alive, townsfolk emerged from their safe places, and the undertaker scurried from body to body to take measurements, Chris looked around and nodded to himself.
"So…I guess it was the easy way."
With a slow and painful gait, Chris made his way to the jail. Once those captured were dealt with in whatever way was needed, he would be handing over responsibility to several trusted townsmen for the day. He and his men needed to rest, and he would see to it personally that they did.
And not one person commented on the fact that, despite having their own beds, all seven drifted back to the room they'd initially shared before the showdown...just for the night.
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