A Decision For A Life

by Kris

Virtual Season episode

Disclaimer: They who created them own them, I just play with them. Kristen created Chaucer.

Buck looked at his two companions and decided on another amusing tale to entertain them. Taking these prisoners to Eagle Bend had been difficult, both JD and Ezra had been ready to shoot them on several occasions. So Buck distracted them with riveting tales of past exploits. Buck had to admit that he loved to tell stories. JD said it was because he loved to hear the sound of his own voice, but truth be told, he loved hearing the others laughter.

Buck was about to launch into another tale when Ezra interrupted him, "Mr. Willmington, are any parts of these stories true?"

"Why, Ezra, you wound me."

The dry look on Ezra's face said that he very much doubted it.

All three noticed the upcoming riders and moved over to the right side of the road to let them pass easier. But the riders pulled up in front of them, guns drawn.

"That one there is Willmington." The bearded man in front nodded and looked at Ezra a second before he pulled the trigger, shooting him. Ezra fell to the ground unmoving.

Before Buck and JD could draw their guns, the five men had their double weapons drawn, trained on them. They were flanked on either side and relieved of their weapons. They were surrounded as the leader pointed down at Ezra's still body and said, "When Chris Larabee finds his dead body, he'll know we're serious and will follow the trail we leave right to us. Right into the trap we've set."

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The sun was on its downward slant when Ezra came to. He was grateful that he had sucked in his breath and sat up straighter in the saddle just before the bullet hit him. Not being exactly where the shooter aimed, saved his immediate life. As it was, every movement was painfilled. Ezra knew he'd die if he stayed there and waited for help. He also knew that Chaucer was nearby. He wet his lips several times and finally got a whistle off.

Chaucer arrived and nudged the human that was wavering between consciousness and unconsciousness. With more inner will than most realized he possessed, Ezra grabbed the stirrup and pulled himself up. He gritted his teeth as he raised himself up off the ground and into the saddle, hating the fact that he was dripping blood on the splendid leather work. He whispered, "Home," and in that direction, they went.

+ + + + + + +

Buck didn't know how these things kept happening to him. Now Ezra was dead and JD's life was in danger and Chris was the target. The bastard that had them was crazy as a loon and what his actual plan was...well, anybody's guess.

Buck kept a watchful eye on JD, hoping that the green kid wouldn't go all 'sheriff' on him and pull some fool stunt. He knew that if they could keep their tempers down, they might live long enough for help to arrive. The normally smiling man sat tied to a tree with a pensive look on his face.

+ + + + + + +

Vin, Chris and Nathan sat outside the saloon drinking coffee and playing cards. Josiah ambled across the street toward his friends. Chris kicked a chair out for him and Inez brought out coffee refills and an extra cup.

Vin folded as he looked up the street to the entrance of the town. Keeping a lookout for the three fellow members of their group to return. He knew they should have been back several hours ago. The tracker and long range shooter of the group sat straight in his seat and commented aloud, "Got a bad feelin'."

Nathan immediately jumped up and walked away.

"Where ya going all fired up in a hurry?" Josiah asked, puzzled.

Nathan paused and said over his shoulder, "To cut up some bandages. When Vin gets one of his feelin's, usually means two or three of us needs tendin'." Nathan hurried to his office.

+ + + + + + +

"Hey, Wilmington, 'member me yet?" The leader of their captures asked as he pulled Buck's head up by the hair.

"Can't say I do?" Buck kept his anger out of his voice.

"You just leave him alone," JD yelled at the leader.

The leader turned his dark eyed stare to JD just before he slapped him hard across the face. "Shut up." He turned back to Buck, "Don't ya remember the men you shoot, you and Larabee?"

"Guess I didn't do a very good job if your still standing," Buck said lazily. Which earned him a fist in the face before he lost consciousness.

+ + + + + + +

Ezra saw the town ahead and tried to sit himself higher in the saddle. Appearances are everything. He could see Vin by the saloon and headed for him.

Vin saw Ezra riding in and signaled Chris and Josiah, who in turn hailed Nathan. They converged on Ezra and Chaucer.

"What happened?" Chris asked almost as a demand.

"Five men approached us and took off with Buck and JD. The leader might have been southern." Ezra ran out of breath.

Vin thought there was something funny about the way the gambler was sitting in his saddle as Nathan quipped, "They let you go? Or you ran away?"

The disgust on Vin's face mirrored that on Ezra's as he said, "Not exactly," as he lost his grip on the saddle and consciousness. He fell to the ground before anyone reacted.

Vin was the first to reach him, "Shot almost dead center."

Nathan pushed him out of the way, "Hell and damm. Help me get him to my place."

Josiah picked up the lifeless looking body and realized that the red jacket was blood soaked. He grunted some as he made the top of the stairs. He laid Ezra down on Nathan's table and helped the healer remove his bloody clothes.

Nathan chased Vin and Chris outside as he set to remove the bullet that still lay lodged next to the sternum, close to the heart. Nathan whispered aloud, "He is so lucky it missed his heart and lungs." Nathan kept working at the wound as Josiah continued to blot up the blood so Nathan could see. The clink on the plate as the bullet hit released sighs from both men. Nathan quickly sewed the hole closed after he cleaned it out.

He stepped outside, toweling his hands to let Vin and Chris know. "He's still with us, and if he can make it through without infection, he'll be okay."

Vin nodded, relieved, then turned to Chris, "Let's get the bastards." He moved to the stairs.

Nathan called out, "It's almost night.."

"Don't matter, I can track with the moonlight." Vin continued on down the stairs.

"Good job, Nathan." Chris told him before he followed the tracker down the stairs.

Inez had some food in a box that she handed to Chris as he passed by on his way to the livery. He nodded his thanks. Vin had just started on his horse as he entered. Chris took over then asked, "Got enough ammo?"

"Yeah, picked up more just now." Vin swung up into the saddle with purpose and determination. The two men headed out of town.

+ + + + + + +

Buck came to as the slap made contact against his cheek. "Wilmington, come on you Yankee pig, I need you awake for Larabee. Wanna watch your face when Larabee decides who lives and who dies. Jus like you done to me."

JD looked over at his best friend and searched his face for a clue on what he wanted to do. He could tell Buck was trying to remember this lunatic, but hadn't yet.

Their tormentor grew impatient, "Wilmington, you're nothing but a yellow cur. Using the war as a means to do murder. My brother pleaded with Larabee, but he paid no mind. Shot him anyway. All I could do was sit there as your bastard friend killed my kin. Now I aim to do the same. You may not be blood, but you two are still together and I aim to change that." He spit on Buck as he walked away.

JD looked over at Buck again, watching his face as his friend sifted through memories. "Buck, Chris'll find us."

"Yeah, that's the problem Kid, that's just what this lunatic wants." Buck shook his head to clear it, working on a faint memory.

JD worked at his ties as his own frustration grew.

"Hell, he's gotta be talking about Daniger. A Reb, he shot six cows and a dozen pigs. When the kids and their ma came out he shot them too. There weren't any soldiers on that farm or in the area until we came upon him. He was just killing to kill. If he had fellow troop members about they never came out and helped him. Chris shot him, plain and simple. All the blood, five kids and a women, their stock. I think all of us wanted to empty our rifles into him." Buck shook his head at the memory, one of many he had tried to forget about those days. "Our commander had us bury the people and dress out the stock. He didn't want to see it go to waste."

JD didn't comment on the story. This wasn't Buck's usual kind, wasn't told in his usual voice and suddenly JD longed for one of Buck's merry tales.

+ + + + + + +

Vin tracked silently all night. He knew they were close come sun up. "Shit, Chris, this has been too easy. They want us to find them. It's probably some trap." Vin shared as he rubbed his rough face.

"Yeah, you're probably right. I'll go in alone and you circle high." Chris looked at Vin, who nodded and turned to remount his horse.

Chris watched as his friend silently rode off. The gunslinger climbed back on his horse and followed the easy trail into camp.

+ + + + + + +

Ezra greeted the dawn with the slightest of fevers. Nathan was breathing easy. He told Josiah to go get some rest.

"You sure?" Josiah asked.

"Yeah. This is normal. He jus need rest. That's the hardest part. Go git some sleep." Nathan actually grinned at the big man. He left knowing that Nathan wouldn't be smiling unless the danger was past.

Josiah nodded and headed out of Nathan's and down the stairs. But he didn't go to the church, instead, he headed to the livery and saddled up his horse. He pointed it out of town in the same direction that Vin and Chris had taken. When Vin had a feeling, they all took it at face value. Right now, Josiah had one and he knew that he must act on it. He found that the tracks were not difficult to follow.

+ + + + + + +

Vin saw the outcropping he wanted and he headed up rapidly, but quietly. As he reached the base of the rocks, the tracker was very focused on his upward route. It was quite unexpected when the ground gave way under hid foot and he found himself falling into a large dug out pit. When he hit bottom, he twinged his ankle, but that swiftly became the least of his problems as he realized that he shared the pit with a bobcat.

+ + + + + + +

Chris kept his eyes open but it wasn't too long before he heard a voice stopping him.

"Stay where yer are Larabee. We've been expecting you."

Chris stopped on the command, half expecting it. "Well, now I'm here, what in the hell do you want?"

"I'm calling the shots here, Larabee." Two men rode into sight, guns drawn. "Don't be doing anything foolish, my gun is aimed right at Wilmington's head."

Chris offered no resistance as the riders demanded his weapon. He tossed it on the ground as opposed to handing it over. As one of the riders was about to dismount, the other said, "Leave it."

They took Larabee into camp and he found what he was seeking, Buck and JD. They were tied to trees, very tightly and they were standing. Both looked weary.

+ + + + + + +

Vin backed up into a corner, as wary as the cat. She growled as she circled, Vin mimicked her movements, staying the same distance from her. His ankle pained him and he knew he couldn't keep this up indefinitely. The sharp shooter looked about for his gun and figured it didn't make the fall with him. It was too steep to climb out and impossible with his injured ankle. He worked a rock piece out of the wall and carried it with him.

Watching the cat, he figured that she wasn't hurt bad, just angry. She probably figured he was the best target to take that anger out on. Vin knew that she was scared and he didn't really want to kill her if he didn't have to. So he waited for her to make her move. Her shoulders shuffled back and forth and froze a split second before she sprang. Vin moved at the last second and clunked her on the head with the rock, knocking her out.

Now he could relax some, or as much as one could, tapped in a hole with an unconscious bobcat and your friend's lives in danger above.

+ + + + + + +

Daniger watched Larabee's face closely, elated to pick up the distress he saw there when he gazed upon his friend's situation. "Well, Mister Larabee, hope your memory is better than your friend's. He's had trouble placing me. And I most definitely want you to know where your pain is coming from.......you see, you won't die here today, but one of your friends will. You will choose who lives and who dies."

Chris blanched inwardly at that thought; Buck or JD, shit. Where in the hell was Vin, Chris thought to himself, looking for an immediate way out.

"I hope you aren't depending on the friend you brought with you....by now he's trapped in a hole with a mountain lion, and possibly dead. The longer you take, the least likely he'll survive." Daniger laughed aloud, a laugh that would have one think of the demented.

Buck spoke to Chris, "'Member that murdering butcher, during the war on that Reb land? He killed the stock and then the ma and her kids? This yellow belly here watched and never tried to help his brother and he blames us....ha!"

Daniger moved to Buck quickly and slapped him on the left cheek and then again on the right. "You lying bastard, my brother was a soldier, nothing more. We were on Yankee soil." He turned his enraged expression to Chris, "You remember your lily livered way of killing my brother?" Sneering at the startled expression on Larabee's face.

"Man I shot was a butcher. Killed five kids and their ma. Was no man there tending the land and they were Rebs. That's why we were sent to investigate. That murderer killed all in his sight. He planned on killing one of our men and I shot him. There were no others visible at that time. If you were there, you were in hiding. Buck's right, you must have been a yellow belly."

Daniger, enraged, took out his gun and shot Buck first in the leg and then the same to JD. "Shut yer trap. You don't know nothing."

Both men yelped in pain as the bullet hit their thighs.

Chris reigned in his temper, knowing that it wouldn't do any good to lose it here.

"Now, Larabee. I want a decision now. Who dies. Your army friend or that snot nose kid?" Impatience driving his body and voice.

"I ain't no kid. I can take you on." JD squeaked out. He hated being talked about as though he wasn't there.

"Shut up JD." Buck growled at him. Buck turned his eyes to his oldest friend, imploring him to let him die. Also letting him know that he would never forgive him if he let JD die.

Chris was quite aware of Buck's wishes. He loved that kid like his own brother. He wouldn't want to live in JD's place. But Buck wasn't looking at JD's face none. JD was telling him the same thing. No forgiveness if he lived and Buck didn't. Quite frankly, Chris would rather die than choose.

Ezra may be dead back in town, Vin could surely be dead at the jaws of a mountain lion and down here, he'll earn the hatred of one he calls friend as the other dies. This just made Chris Larabee madder. "Fuck you. I ain't here to play no stupid head game. You're all fired up to kill, you choose. You're just as crazed as your brother. You didn't help him and now you think that by killing us that it will make it all better." Chris turned his face away from Daniger.

He stomped up into Larabee's face. "You will choose. Or I'll shoot'em both."

"Go ahead, better than me picking." Chris said without a care in his voice.

JD's eyes nearly popped out of his head, but Buck smiled to himself. Chris was riling the guy to shoot him instead. Always had to admire how Chris got out of the tough decisions.

Daniger put the barrel of his gun to Larabee's temple, "Choose now."


Daniger turned his gun to shoot both men when a shot cracked the air and Daniger's eyes got big and round.

+ + + + + + +

Josiah didn't have much of a problem following the tracks. Not only of the kidnappers, but Chris' and Vin's horses as well. He pushed his horse on hard. He felt a pressure that it was imperative that he get there.

He never thought of himself as a hero. Reckon he felt proud to be able to say that he belonged to a group of unusual men that happened to do some good along the way. He had too many sins to atone for to ever reach hero status. But he knew sure as breathing that he was needed today.

He didn't much believe in his father's ways, but he knew for certain that four souls rested on his shoulders today. Possibly two more if he failed. So there was no room for failure. Josiah spurred his horse harder.

The sun was nearly overhead when Josiah spotted Vin's horse. He climbed up the rock face and found a large hole in the ground. He looked down into it to see Vin sitting next to a bobcat, scratching her ears. "You okay, Vin?"

"Be better iffin I were outta here. See Chris?" Vin's voice alerted Josiah once more to the dire circumstances that brought him here.

Josiah looked about and saw Buck and JD tied each to a tree and Chris standing by a man with a gun. Four others were spread about the camp. He relayed this to Vin.

"That leader plans on shooting Buck or JD. My gun's out there somewhere. Take it. I'm fine down here."

Josiah looked around and spotted the scoped rifle. He picked it up and set himself down in position. He watched as the barrel of a gun was placed at Chris' temple and as Chris calmly replied in the negative. Josiah kept his eye trained on the man gesturing his gun everywhere. When he trained it on Buck, he knew this was it. He looked through the scope, took a breath and squeezed the trigger. The back kick was mighty, but he replaced himself to take out the next one. The man closest to JD turned his gun and Josiah squeezed again. Two down and now the other three scattered behind rocks. He watched as Chris ran out of sight and then back behind a rock formation closer to Josiah. He had his gun in hand and he ran shooting as moved in to cover JD and Buck.

One of the last three peeked out from behind a rock, obviously planning to shoot Chris in the back and Josiah shot again. With Buck and JD loose, they retrieved some loose guns off the ground and pursued the last two men.

Fearing death, they surrendered to Chris, Buck and JD.

Josiah went back to the hole and smiled down into it. "Job's done."

Vin let out a big sigh of relief. "Think you can get us out of here now?"

Josiah went down and got the rope from both his and Vin's saddles and after tying them together sent down one end. Vin wrapped the groggy cat around his shoulders and walked up the side gingerly. Keeping hold of the cat and not placing too much weight on his injured ankle. As he crested the top, Josiah gently removed the cat and placed her away from the opening. He reached and plucked Vin up the rest of the way and placed him next to the cat and backed off.

He tossed his canteen to Vin, who cupped his hand and poured some water into it and offered it to the cat. She lapped it up and stretched. She rubbed her face against Vin's leg then bounded down the rock face at a break neck speed. Josiah just smiled at what could have been a dangerous situation.

+ + + + + + +

Tying up the last two culprits, JD looked around and finally asked of Chris, "Was that Vin?"

Buck said from behind his horse, "Must have been."

"I'd like to think so. Caught with a lion in a pit, can't be good." Chris said cautiously.

Buck found his and JD's guns and rifles. They were just loading their horses as Vin and Josiah came around the hill.

"Josiah," exclaimed JD.

Chris looked Vin over and saw he was okay and his nod to Josiah, he knew then that Josiah had rescued them.

"Glad you could make it, Josiah." Chris said with a smile for the large man. The unexpected hero.

'Yeah, me too." Josiah smiled and took in the whole group.

+ + + + + + +

Town was just in sight when JD asked Josiah to relay again what the bobcat did before leaving. Vin blushed and Buck laughed. The best sight for the five men was the two seated outside the saloon. With Ezra being able to be up, either he was doing well or he was driving Nathan nuts. Either way, it was good to see him up.

Vin looked over at his friend, "Glad to see ya don't die easy." Connecting with the gambler's eyes.

"Oh, have to stick around to exasperate Mr. Larabee." Ezra said with a grin, gold tooth flashing.

Chris just shook his head, Vin grinned at the truth of it and Buck just laughed.

JD smiled at the Southerner, "Well thank you Ez, for getting back here and thank you Josiah. Your shooting was great. You and Vin should have a contest........what.......it'd be exciting......Buck stop that." Reacting to being slapped upside his head by Buck.

"Let's just go get a drink, JD. I don't know about you, but I could use one." Buck headed inside the saloon.

JD followed, saying, "Yeah, okay, but why'd ya hit me...Buck answer me....Buck.."

The laughter followed them in.


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