by Heather F.

Part 7

JD flung the clinic door open with a glass rumbling bang. He hurried inside trying to turn up lamps to brighten the dark room. Dunne could hear Josiah and Nathan struggling up the steps. The young Sheriff turned down blankets on one of the beds. He set a pot to boil and gathered Nathan's instruments. Dunne quickly backed out of the way when Josiah heaved into the room supporting Buck's upper body.

"Will ya dang fools put me down!" Wilmington's easy going tone seemed to have been squeezed out of his voice by clenched teeth.

"Ya best shut yer cat-a-walling...mouth fer we drop ya right here," Jackson bit back straining under the weight of Buck's legs.

With mingled groans, and a mumbled, "Thank God," they dropped Buck onto the bed.

JD immediately started pulling his friend's boots off, trying hard not to glance at all the blood.

"JD," Buck's soft voice didn't penetrate the Bostonian's fierce concentration, "hey! JD!" Wilmington wrenched his right leg free. Damn that hurt his left shoulder some how.

Dunne jerked his head up and stared at Wilmington. Maybe he had hurt him somehow.

Buck softened his voice, "I ain't dead kid....far from it," a wicked smile slid across his mustached face, "Ezra ain't the only one who can swing below the reaper's grasp and win ya know."

JD grinned back and laughed, "Yeah, well according to that Old Chinese Apothecary....your low swinging had nuthin' to do with the Reaper."

Buck's eyes widened in shock, "Boy! Ya best git 'fore I kick yer butt right into next week."

Nathan and Josiah shared confused glances, "What's this Buck? You been sick?" Nathan inquired slightly surprised that the Lady's man would hide it from him.

"What?" Wilmington shot his attention toward Nathan, "No, Hell Nathan...I ain't been sick."

"Oh no Nathan he ain't been sick at all," Dunne giggled with relief to see his friend alive and well, "it was just his noodle was limp." Dunne mimicked the old Chinese man's accent and hand actions the best he could...and did a respectable job.

Josiah stared at Buck in utter shock and amazement. Sanchez shook his head in sadness and patted Wilmington's good shoulder, "Those things happen son." There was a slight pause and a softly uttered, "or so I heard tell."

Nathan suppressed a smile, schooling his face to maintain a serious expression as he set about his work. The distraction created by JD was an added bonus.

"It didn't happen!...It ain't best tell'em JD," Buck nearly bolted upright in bed nailing the young Sheriff with a hard stare. His attention suddenly turned elsewhere,"Ow God damn it Nathan that hurts."

"Geez Buck, How would I know if its true or not?" Dunne let a conspiratorial smile slip into place as he rested against the far wall with his arms crossed.

Nathan leaned back from his work. With all the distraction he had managed to unbutton the shirt and peel it back from the wound. "Is it better now? Working all right?"

"No, of course not, my shoulder is killing me," Buck settled back against the pillow.

"He weren't talkin' about yer shoulder Buck," Dunne clarified.

"Boy I'm gonna git up and strangle the life out of you one of these days," Buck made to rise off the bed again and JD melted into the shadows.

"Well at least something will be getting up," Dunne rolled away from the kicking feet.

Nathan bit his lip and started after the buckshot.

"Now Brother Dunne it doesn't do any good to pick on some one when they're down and can't get up," Josiah sounded like a preacher. JD snickered.

Nathan peered at Josiah from under his eyebrows. "Could you two please quit riling my patient?"

Before anyone could respond Chris and Vin stumbled through the door followed by the Judge.

"Who can't git up?" Vin hissed through clenched teeth. He had his belt cinched tight around his upper thigh stemming the blood flow.

"Buck," JD answered as he flipped down the covers to the other bed, making sure he stayed well out of reach of Wilmington.

"Course he can't get up JD," Chris pointed out, "he's been shot."

"Ain't that head he wants up," Josiah finished as he put another pot to boil.

Chris gazed over at his life time friend with a shocked expression, "Heard somethin' like that could happen."

"I 'aven't," Vin added his own two cents. "It been goin' on for a long time Buck?"

"Since the trouble with the Chinese workers with the railroad," JD offered.

Both Chris and Vin let out low whistles.

Buck gazed up at Nathan and quietly whispered, "Please just shoot me now."

Nathan chuckled and placed a diluted carbolic soaked bandage on the multiple tiny puncture wounds, "certainly won't help yer problem."

"I ain't got a problem!" Buck nearly hollered out.

The others nodded in sympathetic, conspiratorial, and unconvinced manners. Of course not.

+ + + + + + +

Nathan, Josiah, Chris, JD and the Judge sat outside the clinic doorstep. With a little bit of help from the group Nathan got the bleeding stopped, wounds bandaged and laudanum poured down his patients.

The four gunslingers and Judge sat outside planning their next step. The full moon hung heavy in the sky. Shadows actually stretched into silvery light.

"Someone best go meet Mary and Ezra," Sanchez pointed out leaning against the shingle siding. This whole mess had him beat tired.

"What about the leader...that Gallup fella? Ain't he the only one left?" JD leaned against the railing but he moved his hands restlessly.

"He's around here somewhere," Chris answered slowly searching the immediate area in hopes of ferreting out any clues. Gallup would stick close to town, because that was just what Chris would do.

+ + + + + + +

Gallup squatted in the shadows of the church. He watched Larabee on the healer's porch. The group had seemed calm enough, their comrades apparently were going to live.

How did the six escape? The gambler? He should have checked the body....should have done the job himself....

Gallup chided himself. He knew it was a fool's error to take that boy on with him. He had been feeling charitable at the time. A mistake he would endeavor not to make again.

The outlaw came back to himself quickly and drew his gun when someone approached him from behind.

"'Ey Boss," Bishop knelt just behind his leader.

"Where've you been hidin'?" Gallup turned and appraised the man behind him. Luke Bishop was a good man, steady in a fight and loyal.

"Well them fools thought me dead in the saloon, never checked though," Bishop rubbed at the sore spot on his chest. Preacher's bullet left a hell of a bruise. His hand Bible, though, that had a huge hole in it. His pappy had given that to him...a family keepsake. "They had drug us off to the undertaker's and jist left us....figgered it was time to lite out of there...and then saw you."

Gallup no longer listened. Instead a plan formed quietly in his mind.

"Bishop ya think you could git that gambler's horse and make a break for it?"

"Sure boss...Why?" The lean kidnapper could just make out the shifting form of a horse and rider just within view. Was something walking beside the horse? The bright moon light dimmed his night vision. He could not truly discern the shapes within the black shadows.

"I'll cover ya, but with you causing all the distraction it might give me a chance to git a horse out of the Livery yard." The truth lay hidden between the words.

"Sure thing boss."

Gallup listened as Bishop jogged off hugging the shadows.

He kept his concentration on the five men on the second story porch and on the duo coming up the street with the horse.

+ + + + + + +

Movement at the far end of mainstreet caught Larabee's eye.

"Here comes Mary and Ezra now," JD pushed off the railing spotting the figures the same time as Chris.

The five men trotted down the steps.

+ + + + + + +

Mary had never been so happy to see Four Corners in all her life. Her feet ached miserably, leg and back muscles burned and Mr. Standish babbled incessantly. He had moments of clarity and in those times asked Mary a number of questions most of which repeated themselves. She had found that any answer in any language satisfied his disoriented sense of curiosity. Of course, his questions had come across as a hybrid of languages. Some she did not even recognize and wondered if not only were the sentences a mingling of various languages, but possibly the words themselves. Added with it the 'good ole boy' molasses like accent and she found herself in a quandary trying to fathom what he inquired about. In the end, the answers made no difference. Standish held a thought about as well as a colander held water.

In short time however, the cold, the helplessness of the situation and their slow pace led to a shortening of her temper. She did not become cross at the injured man. Never. The confused green eyes, the slouched posture and blatant confusion made him all to ......adorable. She could not yell at him, in this state, no more than she could reprimand Billy for all his sometimes tiring questions. With a frustrated puff on her dangling bangs, she wiped her hair back off her dirt marked face and thanked God they made it home.

When they had started down the main street of FourCorners she just wanted to laugh and cry at the same time.

Her whole body ached. She could smell nothing but sweaty horse and old vomit. It seemed as if her stomach had turned on itself and started gnawing its own lining. She could never remember feeling this hungry or thirsty in all her life. A good strong Whiskey sounded perfect right about now.

And Billy? What of her Billy?

+ + + + + + +

Chaucer wandered toward the saloon. His rider had sat heavily in the saddle all night. His shoulders were sore....the cinch rubbed at the delicate tissue just behind his front legs. The lady holding the reins wouldn't let him eat...oh all those missed opportunities for fresh new grass. In short he was miserable. He wanted nothing more than to lose the saddle, itch his back in some dirt and eat his fill of grain. Not necessarily in that order.

They came to the saloon and he stopped. He would not walk another step. The horse hung his head and faced the halved doors.

Mary and Chaucer both looked up at the sounds of running feet. At first she had thought it was Josiah or Buck from the height of the man. The figure kept close to the shadows. She only snatched glances of his roughened features when he flashed briefly in the moon light.

Chaucer stood his ground with his ears flattened.

Mary did not recognize the stranger bolting at them from out of the shadows. She tried to pull the gun but the man was upon them before she could coordinate the movement. There was more to this quick draw than one would think.

Bishop latched onto Standish and threw him to the ground. The gambler landed with a whoomf. In a single fluid motion, Luke grabbed the saddle horn and swung himself into the seat.

Chris and the others had seen the form melt from the recesses of the boardwalk and toss their seventh to the street. All four pulled their guns as the stranger vaulted into the saddle. JD broke into a sprint with the others closing behind him. Five pairs of boots clodded down the boardwalk and stopped in front of the swinging doors of the saloon.

The Bishop wrenched the large chestnut around pointing him out of town. Leaning forward flicking his arms out over the neck, snapping the reins, the 'escaping' kidnapper yelled, "Yaaahhh!"

Chris slowly holstered his gun an amused chuckle escaped.

Mary leaned against the hitching rail wiping more hair out of her face. She crossed her arms, "You want him.....take him." The newspaper editor wondered what kind of bond existed between that bedeviled horse and his owner. That nuisance enveloped in horse hide tested her resolve every inch of the trail. One would have thought it never had the opportunity to forage. Mary had yanked its head up so many times her shoulder and neck muscles ached and knotted. Who was she to stop someone from riding off with the capricious monster? They wanted him...go right everyone a favor...Take Him! She would love to see someone else deal with that no good stubborn beast.

Josiah leaned on the opposite wall as Chris, flanking the other batwing door. Nathan rested his hands on the hitch rail beside Mary. "Billy's just fine he's stayin' with Mrs. Potter and her kids," The healer whispered softly hoping to ease some of the obvious tension in the poor lady's shoulders.

JD kept his gun out and stood on the steps propping his shoulder on the support pole. He tipped his hat to Mary with a slight smile. Mrs. Travis nodded in return.

"Mister you want ta give up now...'fer that horse kills ya?" Dunne did not bother trying to hide his cocky edge. Hell he had Chris, Josiah, Nathan and the Judge to back him up not to mention Chaucer. And right now Mrs. Travis didn't look like she would cotton to any funny business either. Ezra's dang horse must have been a bit of a bear.

Bishop sat on the horse panicking. He kicked the chestnut again and again. The damn beast just stood there like a piece of granite with its dang ears pinned tight to its head.

"He don't like gittin' kicked none," Nathan offered. Ezra's horse had more bad habits than Ezra himself.

Bishop slapped the long reins against the horse's flanks.

"That, my son, would be a big mistake," Josiah softly pointed out.

Bishop took a quick glimpse at the men that surrounded him. Damn horse Move!

With combined kicking and flaying of reins against the Quarter Horse's side, the rider urged Chaucer to move.

"You best dismount before he spreads you all over town," Chris rolled a cheroot between his lips. White teeth flashed in the moonlight. He looked almost feral.

"GawdDamn horse! Move yer ass!" Bishop hollered striking the reins against the neck of the horse.

Chaucer had had his fill of working.

Nathan whispered to Mary that maybe she should stand on the other side of the hitch rail and not to worry about Ezra...Chaucer wouldn't step on him. Jackson gave the cardsharp a cursory glance he looked no better nor any worse from when they last saw him.

Bishop started working himself into a frenzy.

Everyone waited for the explosion that would be Chaucer. The horse could turn on a plug nickel and give you change. There had been times when that raunchy SOB had bucked and flipped so furiously that his cinch faced the sun. Vin said the dang horse would probably fly if someone just taped some wings to him.

So it was with an air of excited apprehension that they waited for the 'show'.

A large sigh filled the area. Chaucer blew his nostrils. He did a full body shake loosening muscles. Then with another sigh...

He leaned back onto his haunches.........and sat down....then he folded his front legs resting ,unconcerned, on his chest.....just before he dropped to his side and laid still...effectively pinning his rider.

"Dang horse is even lazier than Ezra," Nathan laughed stepping around Mary and heading toward Standish. The gambler once again struggled toward his feet but instead fell into and onto the saloon step.

"Guess Chaucer doesn't do menial labor either," Josiah rumbled heading out to give JD a hand with the outlaw. Chris merely shrugged his shoulders shaking his head with amusement.

"That horse always so much trouble?" Judge Travis stepped into the light of the saloon.

Mary blew strands of blonde hair out of her eyes and gazed up at her father-in-law, "That isn't even the half of it."

Part 8

Gallup had almost made it toward the Livery unnoticed. He felt eyes following him.

Larabee stepped off the boardwalk, " Nathan, Judge, git Mary and Ezra out of the way."

The two men followed Chris's gaze and immediately understood. The Healer hauled a fumbling Standish up the few steps to the saloon. Judge Travis layed a firm but guiding hand on his daughter-in- law's back and eased her into the building.

JD and Josiah stepped into the street after depositing their burden in a cell. Sanchez could almost smell the sudden catching the scent of a building thunderstorm. The Preacher pulled the young Sheriff back into the Jail. Dunne started to protest but the pressure and strength in the grasp muted any protest.

Buck and Vin struggled and limped out of the clinic onto the small porch. The Laudanum worked great to dull the pain but the two had just enough orneriness to fight its sedative like effects. Besides something was in the air.

+ + + + + + +

"I see your seventh is very much alive," Chad Gallup turned to face the blonde man in black. Even with the full moon reflecting light from behind the peacekeeper, Chris Larabee fluctuated in and out of clear visibility. The moon's light gave his silhouette a silver, white glow while the man himself stayed sheathed in inky blackness.

"He'll cheat at just about anything," Larabee answered keeping inside the truth. "Drop your guns Gallup it's over." A condescending tone tinted the demand.

Vin leaned slightly into Buck, "Does he do that intentionally?"

Wilmington chuckled, "Chris would piss on the Devil just to see the steam."

Tanner chuckled. Dang fool was gonna git his head blowed off one of these days...but not tonight. The bounty hunter kept the mare's leg resting on the balcony ledge.

"Can't do that Larabee," The outlaw answered unfazed by his predicament, "why don't you just lay your guns down and I'll let you live."

Josiah shook his head wondering what made men posture in such grandiose manners. They all did it...every last one of them.....they just used different arenas.

JD stood beside Josiah holding his breath. Did Gallup really believe he could out draw Chris? Did Chris really think he would win this?

"You've lost," Larabee ignored the comment, "and you've got no more skirts and nickers to hide behind."

Nathan closed his eyes and shook his head. Dang fool just better shoot straight.

Judge Travis sat at table with his back to the proceedings outside. He nursed his second whiskey. The first one had blazed a fiery trail breaking the ice. What would he have done if Chris and the others had not walked through the door when they did? Would he have disregarded the Jury's verdict or would he have risked sacrificing Billy and his mother?

Gallup reached for his gun. He never moved a leg or a shoulder. With a quicksilver flexion of his elbow, the gun seemingly materialized in his hand....just before a bullet tore through his chest.

With a look of bewilderment caught in the moon's glow, Chad Gallup was thrown backward off his feet. The gun discharged in reflexively clasping hands. The small muzzle flashed, muted in the gleam of the night's light.

Larabee holstered his gun and turned from the puddle of flesh in the street. He needed a drink.

Buck slapped Vin on the shoulder forcing the Bounty Hunter to put weight on his injured leg. Tanner hissed and whacked him back, high in the shoulder area.

The audible yelp brought Nathan's attention up to them.

"Ya'll best git yer asses back in that clinic before I git over there and nail yer hides to the beds!" Jackson stormed out of the batwing doors, "I"m comin' up there right now!"

Standish tottered absently behind the healer doing his best to follow him. Nathan trotted on ahead unaware of his drunken shadow. With a sigh, Ezra,under the guise of a controlled fall, sat on the boardwalk step.

Buck and Vin paused for a moment gaging Nathan's mood....and then hobbled the best they could fighting one another to get through the door first.

Josiah and JD jogged across the street. Jackson turned on them,"You boys take care of the trash in the street and then git Ezra up to me. I've got my hands full with them two fools 'n' I ain't gonna be chasin' that back sassin' Suthern idiot." Nathan's tone left nothing but agreement in the Preacher and Sheriff.

+ + + + + + +

Chris watched as the Judge nursed his third shot of whiskey...if he understood Inez's concerned gestures.

"Thinkin' about what you mighta done ain't gonna git you nuthin' but sick in the morning," Larabee's voice held a soft but knowing edge to it.

"I almost threw a trial.....these people trust me to do what's right," Travis bit back with more venom than he wanted to admit stewed in his heart.

"Ya didn't, so it don't matter," Chris nursed his own drink. He could see Ezra sitting on the top step leading toward the saloon. Where were the others? Josiah and JD had stumbled and staggered by carrying the body over to Silace's. Shouldn't they have been back yet?

"What if you and the others had not been there?"

"We were, so let it go," Larabee heard himself mimicking the same lines Buck had used on him countless times. Though the persuasion of opinions did not occur right away, Chris was determined to plant the seeds.

"Steven...even Mr. Potter... stood up to the forces of lawlessness...sacrificed themselves for what was right," The Judge twirled the shot glass on the table, "Tonight...I seriously considered comply..."

"No offense Judge," Larabee felt his anger rising.

Inez paused in wiping down of the bar. She gazed quickly around for Mary...for some sort of ally or witness to the brewing tension. Mrs. Travis had disappeared to find Billy.

"But yer son and Mr. Potter had no idea what was on the line," Chris paused trying hard to bite back the intense frustration that boiled in his veins, "or I sure hope they didn't....or they died fools."

The Judge snapped his head up. His anger and shock nearly matching the black tides that swirled in Larabee's eyes.

Chris met the Judge's infuriated stare, "Cuz what father in his right mind would give up his son and wife so he could reveal a few names on a Land Deed...Who the hell would toss his life away just because a few things in his little store got broken." Larabee leaned forward on his forearms ignoring the whisky glass at his elbow, "I always figured Mary would have married someone less selfish than that....Figured You would have raised your boy to know what to really cherish in this life."

The gunfighter paused for a moment letting his livid gaze burn its way into the Judge's heart.

"I bet if your son knew that he would leave Mary a widow and his son fatherless...he would have dropped the matter right quick...or done something different..." Larabee leaned back in his chair picking his shot glass up from the table, "Mr. Potter too."

The Judge could not hold the gaze and let his eyes fall back to the table. Tension, shame and fear swirled like blue smoke around the two men. The air nearly crackled.

"Did someone say bet?" The thick southern accent waifed in from between the batwing doors. Larabee swung his gaze from the Judge to the gambler. Ezra sat upright, no longer leaning mutely against the railing post, searching for the elusive 'bet'.

"Shut up Ezra," Chris ordered with a smile before sipping from his glass thankful a hundred times over for the oblivious intrusion.

"Man's as bad his horse," Travis whispered turning in his seat to see the gambler outside on the step.

"You don't know the half of it."

"So I've heard."

Josiah and JD's voices carried as they approached the Saloon. Judge Travis and Chris slowly pushed their way to their feet to meet them outside. It was time to pull everyone in and do a check.

+ + + + + + +

Standish sat on the boardwalk his head resting on forearms that crossed bent knees. "Karma, It's Karma Mr. Larabee..." the gambler tried to raise his head from his arms but found the task invited the ever present unwanted appearance of Dizziness. "I was not raised for an honest living," He carefully spit pooling saliva from parted lips.

"Least ways Judge," Ezra this time did manage to raise his head slightly and focus on the triple silhouettes of Travis, "for a dollar a day," the effort taxed the inner ear and other contrary sensory imputs and forced the gambler to ease his head back down below his shoulders, "for a considerable raise in payment...I will consider my continuos obligations as peacekeeper."

"What's he sayin?" JD asked leaning against the opposite post just outside the saloon. From here he could see the door to Nathan's clinic.

"Fishin' for a raise," Chris answered back grinding the stub of his cheroot under his heel.

"A dollar a day just like before gentlemen," Orrin pushed himself to his feet with a slight groan. His old bones did not handle all night vigilance like the younger men. "I will see you gentlemen in the morning."

Various 'Goodnights' and nods replied back as the Judge headed for the hotel.

"Tough old man ain't he," JD observed with a touch of awe.

"Yup," Chris stared at the back of the gambler and then up at Josiah.

"Cheap, Frugal Son of a Bitch," Standish muttered quietly.

Josiah and Chris nodded in agreement and hauled the Southerner to shaky legs. It was time to see Nathan and check on the others.

JD followed. Tomorrow he would slip Chaucer a few sugar cubes.

+ + + + + + +

Larabee quietly shook his head switching his gaze from Wilmington to Tanner. Both men had finally succumbed to Nathan's laudanum laced teas. The soft whispers of Josiah and Nathan washed over the room. JD stood silently behind Nathan handing the healer wash rags and instruments. Sanchez carefully slipped the unconscious gambler out of mud splattered, torn clothing. Despite everything Standish had sidestepped yesterday and today, the man would be livid to discover another jacket and pants had fallen to the vigors of his new pseudo- profession. The man certainly had his priorities in a twisted knot. Larabee grinned. Ezra made it easy for Chris to appreciate Buck and Vin.

"Now jist hold still Ezra...don't be movin' around none," Jackson whispered softly to himself as Standish rolled his head trying to burrow the laceration protectively into the pillow. Funny how instinct kicked in when the conscious mind slept.

Josiah chuckled softly and held the gambler's head gently but firmly pinned to the side. Jackson started the slow process of scrubbing and stitching the wound.

Larabee slipped out the door. He settled his frame wearily onto the bench. It would be morning in a few hours. Vin would probably be on his feet trying to skip out of town. Chris sighed and closed his eyes.

That's how Josiah and Nathan found him forty-five minutes later, asleep leaning precariously against the clapboard siding. They woke him and sent him home.

+ + + + + + +

The bounty hunter truly hated Laudanum. The liquid opiate would keep him in an unmotivated fog for almost a full day. It bothered him that it took most of his will to force himself to even drag his heavy butt out of bed. He had been tempted to stay put but habit based on survival would not let him rest.

With gritted teeth and more fight than he had energy the Tracker hauled himself out of bed. Pain throbbed through his leg in synchrony of his pulse. It took a bit but he finally gained his feet, found his pants and boots and started out the door.

The cool early morning air wisped into the room through cracks in the walls and windows. The air had a fresh quality to it that seemed only to exist in the very beginnings of a new day. Birds chattered louder, flying insects were at a lull and wind held a reviving quality not seen after the sun cleared the tree tops.

The tracker gazed over at the other occupants of the room. Buck lay in the middle cot. He seemed impervious to the morning chill. Standish, how and when he came to the clinic Vin could not recall, but the gambler lay huddled under a quilt. Only the dark mop of his hair could be seen beneath the covers. Vin would never understand why Standish craved the confining life that surged within a saloon's walls. He accepted it, just didn't understand it.

Tanner sighed. It was time to skip out of town. His leg hurt, his head felt dense and he needed time alone.

Buck watched the tracker with half hooded lids. " 'Ey Vin....Where ya goin'?" Wilmington's voice boomed across the room shattering the early morning silence.

Vin swung around eyes wide. He put more force on his bad leg than it could take. The leg buckled and sent him crashing into the door jam. The Ladys' man started laughing.

"Damn you Buck," Tanner hissed through clenched teeth. The tracker wrestled gamely to make his feet, "will ya shut up," Vin's harsh whispers effectively conveyed his malice.

"Course I will pard' iffen you help ole Buck here git up," Wilmington whispered back the smile never dipping, "gotta go find me a warm body to slip beside...helps the healin' process 'n'all."

Tanner sighed and pushed himself to his feet. He hobbled muttering the whole time. "Y'all sure ya can git up...I mean I'll help ya with this part...but ya sure don't want to be disappointin' miss Daisy or someone."

Buck narrowed his eyes, oh he was going to kill JD, "Vin just shut yer yapper and give me a hand or you'll never make it passed Nathan," His voice took on an outside quality.

"Shush yer mouth Buck," The panic tone matched the worried blue eyes.

Together they managed to get Buck sitting up and decent. Vin tugged the gunslinger's shirt on a little too gruffly causing the mustached man to cry out.

"Oh sorry that hurt?" The sincerity was seriously lacking from the tone.

Together the two men hobbled out the door. Buck's pants sat half tucked into the tops of his boots. Leaning on one another, they traversed the steps. Vin headed toward the Livery and Buck toward the boarding house.

Standish slept unconcerned and unaware of the world outside.

Tanner hobbled into the darkened livery. The smell of early morning dew mixed heavily with the scent of horse and manure. The sweet smell of rotting hay tinged the atmosphere. With a step and a shuffle the Bounty Hunter headed toward Peso. The ornery black gelding nickered gently at the approach of the heavy steps.

"Ain't breakfast yet," Tanner mumbled to himself, concentrating on making the next step.

"Well if you were over at the hotel you would probably get some hot rolls," Larabee stepped out from the shadows of the wall.

"Damn Cowboy," Vin muttered realizing that his plans for immediate escape just fell through.

"Yup, com'on you aren't leavin' town...not on that leg," Chris slid down the short wood aisle and grabbed the young man's arm.

"Chris I ain't no little kid," Tanner felt his hackle rising.

"Nope yer not."

Vin did not like the leer that stretched across the older man's face.

"That's why I'm not going to toss ya over my shoulder and haul your ass back to bed," He forced the tracker to turn around and head out the livery.

"How'd ya know?"

Chris merely raised his eye brows.


"Well at least he'll be in bed," Chris answered. Wilmington's idea of bed rest had some translational difficulties.

"Ezra?" Tanner asked. He let Larabee take some of the weight.

"Give him a few hours an' he'll be back on a roof somewhere," Chris shook his head in resigned frustration.

+ + + + + + +

"What is Mr. Standish doing on the roof?" The Judge poised his question to no one in particular while he shielded his eyes against the mid morning sun. The ribbed torso of the gambler was unmistakable with the hallmark suspenders against the pale back. How the man managed to get onto the roof of the Mercantile was a mystery.

Buck and JD followed his gaze. Wilmington shook his head and chuckled leaving JD to answer the question.

"Probably watching for more ships to come in," Dunne explained matter of factly and followed Buck toward the saloon. The big man delicately re-adjusted the sling that supported his shoulder.

The Judge paused for a few seconds trying to make sense of the explanation. Neither peacekeeper seemed overly concerned. "Shouldn't some one go up and get him down from there?" Travis followed them.

"Nah, Josiah and Chris should be out there in no time," Buck answered stepping up onto the boardwalk. His boot heels rang hollowly on the wood planks. Sand scratched under his foot falls as the March mud finally began to dry up. Wilmington flexed the muscles of his left arm testing them. They twinged and burned, nerve endings firing with vigor. The pain did not cease with the cessation of movement. It slowly dulled itself into the background. Buck hissed...damn that hurt.

The Judge gazed back up to the roof top and sure enough Josiah's lumbering frame peeled itself from the small confines of the roof's hatchway. Larabee followed closely on his heels.

"This happen often?" Travis asked sliding between the batwing doors JD held open for him.

"Nope," Tanner answered from his table nursing a whiskey. His hat had been pulled low over his eyes. His long legs stretched leisurely out under the table. His feet resting on the chair adjacent to him. It felt good to have some down time. The Laudanum admittedly did take the razor edge off the pain. If he could just keep his eyes open and his brain on track everything would be ok.

"Mr. Tanner," The Judge greeted before taking a seat.

"Judge," The tracker slid a full whiskey glass closer to the older man. Buck and JD headed for the bar to get some beers. "Ezra convince ya to give'im a raise in pay?" Vin did not bother hiding the smile. Standish could irritate a Saint into swearing.

The Judge closed his eyes and rubbed them, "He is persistant...I'll grant'im that."

Vin agreed tipping his glass slightly in acknowledgment. He couldn't stifle his chuckle at the memory of this morning. When the Judge had gone up to thank Standish for his help in this whole mess...Standish had lain quietly and in the end had simply asked, "Does this mean I'm in entitled to a monetary bonus of long standing?"

Tanner had thought the old man was going to shoot someone....namely a half awares gambler.


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