by Brigitta B.

DISCLAIMER: I do not own any of the characters. "The Magnificent Seven" belong to MGM and Trilogy Entertainment. Me, as I have said before, I simply wish Vin belonged to me.....but no such luck. I have not made any profit out of writing this, so please donít sue me. It would not be worth your while.

Author Comment: This one came from guilt. I really havenít given Nathan a fair go in my stories, so I set out to make him the focus....and somehow Vin and Chris just sort of crept in there under the cloak of darkness. Hey, what can I say. If there are any inaccuracies, please pardon them. I have only seen a couple of episodes of the show. Most of my knowledge of Chris and the boys has come from reading otherís fiction. Please excuse the spelling, punctuation and grammar errors. I donít claim any literary knowledge. I hope you enjoy this story. If you have any comments, please let me know. I would love the feedback. By the way, I want to thank all of the other Magnificent Seven writers whose work inspired me to create my own. And to all those wonderful people who wrote to me after reading my other stories......thank you. But special thank you goes to Linda, Trish and Mady for taking the time comment before I posted this to Nancy. Thanks to you three wonderful ladies, this is twice the story it started out to be.


The batwing doors of the saloon burst open and a dusty figure strode into the room quickly. He headed directly to the table in the far back corner, not stopping to acknowledge any of the people who had looked toward him. The black clad figure seated at the small table, glanced at the newcomer as he dropped into the only other chair at the table.

"Vin."

"Cowboy."

Chris winced. He was not in a good mood today. "Someday Iím gonna shoot you for that, Tanner."

"Someday, but not today, pard. Nine fellas just rode into town."

Larabee gazed into his empty whisky glass and assessed the tone of his friendís voice. Blank. Not edged with that annoyed twang it got when he was informing his leader that a couple of bounty hunters looked set to try and collect Chrisí money.

"So?"

"So, they werenít cowhands or miners and they werenít the happiest bunch of fellas Iíve ever met either. Donít reckon itíll be long before they find some way to draw attention to themselves." Here Vin paused, a mischievous glint reflected in his bright blue eyes. "Reckon you should go and grin at them. Scared the last fella you smiled at into having a heart attack," Vin chuckled. "Might save a lot of blood shed again."

Chris grunted. Vin was referring to an incident that had taken place several days earlier. A trouble-maker had arrived in Four Corners and decided to harass some of the locals. Chris had noted the disturbance from his Ďthroneí outside of the saloon and so had headed down the street to personally Ďexplainí the inappropriateness of the strangerís actions. Mrs Potter had spotted the Sevenís leader coming and cried...

"Thank goodness. Mr Larabee is here. Heíll deal with this nasty man."

The stranger had turned. His face had drained of colour and then he had fainted right where he stood. Poor bastard had not only recognized Chrisí name, but he had actually had the misfortune of witnessing Chris dealí with people in the past. Of course, Vin Tanner, who had observed the entire affair, had exploded into uproarious laughter. One minute the stranger had been standing there and the next...he was out cold at Chrisí feet. Larabee hadnít said a word. He hadnít even had a chance to deliver the Larabee glare. It was just the sort of thing that really tickled Vinís dry sense of humor.

"You think these strangers will be trouble?" Chris demanded, scowling at his amused friend.

"Maybe."

"Spread the word." The tracker nodded and headed off to inform his team mates that adversity may be on their doorstep.

Within minutes, the nine strangers entered the saloon with all of the subtlety of a stampede. And it became very clear that they were searching for someone in particular.

"Alright. Whereís that darkie healer!" a stocky man, in a dirty blue shirt, demanded of the local drinkers. Nathan, who had just gone to the bar to get the next round of drinks, turned.

"There you are darkie. Remember us?!"

Nathanís eyes widened. "Baxter," the healer whispered.

Vin glanced across at Chris. The tracker was now sitting with Buck, Josiah and J.D. He had sensed that Chris wanted to be alone and so had provided his comrade with the space he needed. Theirs was a friendship of total understanding. Vin could accept Chrisí need to be alone at times because there were days, when he himself, found company both annoying and suffocating. Vin waited. The Sevenís leader continued to stare at his empty whisky glass, appearing to be oblivious to the situation taking place. But the tracker knew that Larabee was well on top of the developing incident.

"So you do remember us. Well, darkie, we are here to take what belongs to us. And thatís you."

"I ainít a slave no more," Nathan growled. "I donít belong to nobody." Deep rooted emotions exploded to the surface and Nathan found his usually controlled demure leave him. He suddenly felt the need to tear these men apart with his bare hands.

"Youíre a darkie. That means youíre a slave. Ainít that right boys." The men around Baxter agreed noisily. Vin again flicked his eyes to Chris. Still, the Sevenís leader sat. Listening. Evaluating. "Now me and the boys here are gonna take you outside and weíre aiminí to belt the shit out of you, darkie."

Vinís eyes bored into the side of Chrisí head persistently. Chris? Surely itís time. Nathan shouldnít have to put up with this. Larabee glanced across at his second in command and his head bobbed once. Vin returned the nod and climbed to his feet. The ball was in his court.

Nathan stood, the anger he felt boiling in his veins. But he didnít move. At the moment, there were nine of them and ONE of him. That was about to change.

"I ainít going anywhere with you Baxter."

"Oh, yes you are darkie." One of Baxterís men half stepped forward, but abruptly found his path to Nathan filled by a slight man as he made his way to the bar. Vin stopped next to the teamís healer, placed his empty glass in front of the barkeep and then turned around to face Baxter and his men. The young tracker slouched back against the bar easily, his intense blue eyes grabbing Baxterís and holding them.

"Doc, thereís somethiní ailing me," Vin snarled softly. Cautiously, Nathan turned to glance at his quietly spoken friend. Vin, one of the men who, ten weeks ago, had stopped him being lynched by a mob not unlike this one. A man, who never thought twice about risking his own life to defend others. Hell, Vin would probably defend the devil himself if Satan were outnumbered and had no way of protecting himself. But then, Vin Tanner had a regard for life that the healer had rarely seen before, for all life. Nathan had seen the tracker stop and turn a bug over when he had noticed it struggling on its back. Heíd seen Vin rescue a moth caught in a puddle of water after a spot of rain. A soft man? No. People who made that sort of judgement did so at their own peril. A gentle man? Yes. A tough, brave, resolute bastard who would defend a friend with his last breath? Absolutely. And Nathan thanked all that was holy in the world that he had the privilege of calling someone like Vin Tanner, friend. Now, Nathan knew he was not ONE man standing facing Baxter and his mob. Now, he was a part of TWO.

 

Vinís eyes were centered firmly on the stocky leader of the ill-mannered strangers. "Itís my finger, doc. Itís gets this infernal itch every time someone threatens decent folk." Vin paused, his eyes narrowing and aiming acid at Baxter. "You get my meaniní?" Oh, yes. Baxter and his boys got the message loud and clear.

"Decent folk!" the loud man laughed. "He ainít decent folk. Heís a darkie slave." Vinís face darkened. He wasnít a man who went looking for fights, but by God he was someone who finished them when they were presented. Why was it that some people insisted on judging a man on what he was, rather than who he was? "You a darkie lover, boy?!"

Out of no where, Buck appeared, crossed in front of Vin and lent against the bar on the other side of Nathan. Buck Wilmington. Another white man who failed to see Nathanís colour. Buck did not appear to be someone with deep convictions...but he had them. Stronger beliefs about justice and righteousness than most people gave him credit for. And here he was, prepared to face a mob at Nathanís side. It certainly humbled a man when he realized that others cared enough, or respected him enough, to face trouble for, and with him.

Baxterís eyes swept to Buck, but unlike Vin, Buck didnít acknowledge the existence of any of the threatening intruders.

"Nathan, I reckon I need your help. Thereís somethiní ailing me. I get right tense when loud mouthed bastards come into town and shoot their noisy mouths off. You reckon you got anything that could help me?" the local scoundrel asked, staring at the healer who had, by this stage, found his anger dissipating. Yep, now they were THREE.

"Maybe, Buck," Nathan replied.

"Well, looky here boys. Another darkie lover. You fellas should have minded your own business. Now youíre gonna die where youíre standiní."

"Would you care to make a wager?" a cultured voice called from the other side of the room. Ezra Standish. A Southern gentleman who had had very definite views about the roles of white and black men entrenched in his upbringing. If anyone had told Nathan ten weeks ago that this manÖthis man who had initially refused to join the Seven because they had a dark skinned man riding with themÖif anyone had said that Nathan and Ezra would become friends, Nathan would have laughed in their face. But they had become friends. Actually, of all of the Seven, it was Ezra who tended to take the greatest offence when outsiders judged Nathan on his colour or made disparaging and belittling comments about the dark manís heritage. Oh, Ezra was still bigoted in some respects. Hell, a man couldnít change thirty years of beliefs overnight, but he was now quick to apologize for his Ďoversightsí and Ďtactlessnessí. Of course, Nathan and Ezra would never really see eye to eye on someÖa lot of things. But that was okay. They sparred a lotÖ.flat out fought actuallyÖbut when the chips were down, they were partners. And they were friends. And now they were FOUR, Nathan noted with pride.

Baxter turned and watched the well dressed man, who had been playing cards up until this point, climb to his feet. Ezra paraded his way through the gang of thugs and took up his position several feet on Vinís left.

"Mr Jackson, could you spare a few minutes of your time. I am in need of some of your expertise. I seem to have an ailment that," Ezra paused and coughed, "is causing me (cough) some intolerable discomfort. It would appear (cough) that I am suffering an allergic reaction (cough, cough) to miscreants." Here Ezra stopped and turned to eye the men threatening Nathan. "Unfortunately, it appears that nine such afflictions have entered our fine town and upset my delicate constitution." Baxter and his boys glared at the gambler. Now, they really werenít sure what he had said, but all were certain that he was insulting them.

"Well now, fancy man, youíve just signed your own death warrant," Baxter snarled.

"You donít say," Ezra flashed back, his eyes as cold and hard as any mans.

"Brother, Nathan," Josiah boomed, standing and crossing the room. Josiah Sanchez. A person with complicated beliefs. A saver of lost souls. An individual searching for the meaning of his own life. And he was right here too. Prepared to stand beside a man he barely knew. A black man. But then, like Buck, Josiah didnít see Nathanís colour. He saw a brother in arms. Another soul that needed saving. Nathan felt his lips part in a half smile...because now they were FIVE.

"I have the most incredible headache ailing me," Josiah claimed approaching the group. "Would you have something to help ease it? Normally, I wouldnít trouble you, but the Lordís work is never done and it appears that I will have to officiate at one....two...three...four...five, six..seven....eight.." the preacher counted Baxterís men, intentionally making eye-contact with each one, "..nine funerals in the next hour." Josiah stopped walking once he was several feet to Buckís right.

"You got to be kiddiní. You think that you couple of fellas is gonna stop the nine of us? Go and sit down, preacher. The darkie ainít worth it. Now step aside the rest of yaís, weíre gonna take the damn slave out into the street and have us some fun."

"Gentlemen," J.D. declared, standing up. J.D. Dunne. A boy who was learning to be a man in the hardest possible way. At first, the youth had seen joining the Seven as one huge adrenaline rush. An adventure. But now the kid was disappearing and being replaced by a man whom Nathan was proud to ride with. J.D. did see Nathanís colour. But he, like Vin, understood that it was an important part of who Nathan was. J.D. honored the dark manís heritage and respected that Nathan had deep-seated beliefs about certain things. And like the others, the youth was another white man who was prepared, not only to voice his beliefs concerning black and white, but he was ready to use a gun to support those convictionsÖÖto support Nathan. And so that made SIX.

J.D. strode over to take his place in the confrontation. Heíd just received permission from Chris to join his companions. Subtly, by entering the fray one by one, the members of the Seven had formed a semi-circle around the nine men who were Ďdisturbing the peace.í Each man knew exactly who they, and who their team mates, were marking. "My nameís J.D. Dunne and Iím the sheriff of this here town. Now, in Four Corners we have a law that prohibits swearing in public places."

"And you three SONS OF BITCHES have been swearing all morniní," Vin growled.

"Which means that you BASTARDS have been breaking the law," Josiah claimed.

"So weíd like you to shut the SHIT up," Buck added.

"Now, I can detect your confusion and I assure you that I fully understand itís source," Ezra claimed. "Please allow me to explain. You must understand that the basis of your stupefaction is our failure to define imprecation as we see it." Baxter glanced at his men nervously. He had no idea of what Ezra had just said. The gambler sighed with tired disgust. "Let me rephrase that so that you **gentlemen** may comprehend my explanation with a little more clarity. We do not see Ďsonofabitchí, Ďbastardí or ...the vulgar word that Mr Wilmington used, as Ďoffensiveí expressions. Rather it is your derogatory use of the term Ďdarkieí to refer to our resident physician, that is a breech of the said law that Sheriff Dunne mentioned.

"Thatís right. And it right PISSES us off," J.D. growled.

"He ainít no doctor," a man grilled from behind Baxter. The Six watched as the speaker shouldered forward. He had ridden in with the other man, but there was something very different about him. His clothes were not dirty or old like the rest of the gang. His face was harsh and proud. "Remember me, darkie?!"

"Should he?" Vin demanded. The new leader of the thugs glared across at Vin and then let his eyes sweep around the ring of defense that his adversaries had formed so cunningly.

"You fellas are good."

"That we are," Ezra agreed modestly.

"But you have no idea of who I am, do you," the proud man grilled softly.

"Awww my God. Aww hell, fellas," Buck suddenly exploded. "I canít believe it. Shit, I didnít recognize him. Guys, I want you to meet an old friend of mine. This is Turd Face. Turd Face, this here is the guys." The other manís face darkened, but he held his cool.

"My name is Michael Watson." Dead silence. Six hands descended to holsters. Ready. Chris Larabeeís head came up from his empty whisky glass and he eyed the situation overtly for the first time. Watson. A familiar name. A gunfighter with half a reputation. The situation had just changed.

Watson stood, not facing off against Buck as one would have expected, but rather his eyes were directed at Nathan. And then Watson grinned.

"You remember me good, donít you, Jackson."

"I remember you," Nathan stated evenly.

Watson heard the scraping sound of a chair. Out of the corner of his eye, he spotted the man in black rise to his feet. Watson consciously turned and watched this new player stride powerfully toward him and then stop, placing himself directly in front of the dark skinned healer.

"And who the hell are you?" Nathan couldnít help smiling. Larabee. The Sevenís elected leader. The second of the two men who had marched into that graveyard over two months ago to prevent the dark skinned healer from being lynched. Nathan would never be able to repay that debt. Never. Immediately after the incident, Nathan had erroneously believed that the reason that Chris had rescued him was because his best friend had decided to and so Larabee had taken part simply to support Vin. But that was incorrect. Vin and Chris hadnít actually officially met until after they had rescued the healer. So that meant that Chris had entered the fray by choice. Because he had decided that Nathan was worth saving. Larabee did not appear to be a man who would go out of his way to defend the weak against the strong, but he was. Nathan had seen him do it more times in the past ten weeks then he cared to remember. And while all of that was true, Nathan knew that the reason the Chris Larabee was here now, had less do with the powerful defending the helpless and everything to do with the fact that Chris considered Nathan one of his men, an equal. And that meant a great deal to the young dark skinned healer who had grown up as no white manís equal. And with a mixture of pride and gratitude, Nathan allowed his eyes to sweep along the line of man standing shoulder to shoulder with him. Now they were complete. Together they were the SEVEN. The ĎMagnificent Seven.í

Watson glowered at Chris. "So, you another darkie lover?"

Chris Larabeeís green eyes narrowed. Eyes that could cut a man to the quick. His lips parted in what could have been a smile, but was closer to a sneer mixed with a snarl. "Larabee," Chris breathed. "Chris Larabee." And Buck grinned. Watson and his companions reacted the same way as a hundred men before them had when they realized who the snarling man in black was. "Mr Jackson," Chris continued in a hushed voice that filled the deathly silent room, "is a personal friend of mine. Iíd appreciate it if you fellas left town........Now."

"Yeah, sure. Sure Mr Larabee," Baxter cried.

"We was just going."

"We didnít know that the darkie was a friend of yours."

"Weíre going. No need for you to get upset."

"Come on fellas," Watson shouted. And with that, Watson, Baxter and the rest of their merry band, turned tail and raced for the door.

"Reckon you lot owe Nathan an apology before you go," Vin growled. Watson glanced at Baxter, at Larabee, and then back at Vin. The tracker inclined his head toward Nathan. Watson licked his lips nervously.

"Weíre sorry if we upset you and your friends, Jackson," the gunfighter murmured.

"Yeah, weíre real sorry," Baxter added quickly.

"Buck, Josiah, J.D." Chris snapped. "Escort them to their horses. They got two minutes to be out of town." Watson broke into a sprint, his companions falling all over each other in their attempts to put as much distance between themselves and Larabee as possible. The sheriff and two nominated assistants followed them out the door and disappeared.

"Mr Larabee, I canít help thinking that next time, we should start at the end. It would have saved us all a lot of time and trouble if you had just......"

"...smiled at them in the first place," Vin muttered winking at Ezra. Chris glared across at the two men and then spun on his heels and headed back to his table. The tracker frowned. Maybe he had left Chris alone with his anger too long. Giving his friend space was one thing, allowing him to sink into a whisky soaked depression was something altogether different. Vin nodded to Ezra and Nathan and then followed his leader.

Silently, the tracker slipped back into the second chair at the table. Chris ignored him. He was busy filling his glass from the half full bottle of whisky heíd bought that morning. That morning, after he had celebrated his sonís sixth birthday at the childís grave. Vin had no way of knowing that today would have been Adamís birthday. Because he wasnít sure what the problem was, the tracker had allowed Larabee to simmer in silence. Now was the time to interfere, Vin decided unhappily. He didnít like interfering in Larabeeís business, but then, sometimes it was necessary.

Vin watched as Chris filled his glass. You want me to trail them for a while....make sure they leave town? No words. But then, they rarely needed them. It wasnít telepathy. Just a unique understanding of what each other would be thinking in most situations.

No. Theyíll leave.

Yeah, reckon they will. Almost shit themselves when you smiled at them. You really are going to have to work on your people skills, Chris.

"Shut up, Vin."

"What you talking about? I ainít said a word." But there was a grin decorating the young manís face that matched the amusement in his thoughtful blue eyes. Larabee ignored the comment and put the whisky bottle down. He was about to pick up his now full glass, when his companionís hand darted out and grabbed it. Chris frowned as Vin downed the contents. Before he could rip Tannerís head off....and he was in just the mood to do it.....Nathan appeared beside him.

"I.......thanks fellas. I really mean that. Thanks." Chris glanced up, nodded and then returned to glaring at the tracker.

"Any time, pard," Vin drawled, grinning up at Nathan. The healer could sense there was something going on and so immediately turned to leave.

"Nathan," Chris grilled through clenched teeth. "Just a minute. I got somethiní ailing me."

"What Chris?"

"A no good, drink stealiní, smartass, sonofabitch buffalo hunter," Larabee growled. Vin snorted, reached for Chrisí bottle and tipped it up to his lips. Chrisí frown deepened.

Nathan grinned at the two of them. "Sorry, Chris. Donít reckon I got a cure for that." Vin lowered the bottle and set it down directly in front of Larabee. Almost like a challenge. "Reckon thatís the price we pay for friendship," Nathan whispered emotionally.

"Priceís too high," Chris snapped reaching for his bottle. Vin grinned, slouched back in his chair and pulled his hat down over his face. Larabee grunted with satisfaction. Maybe now, he could drink in peace. The Sevenís leader tilted the bottle over his glass and watched two paltry drops of the precious pain numbing liquid float down into his beaker. Anger gathered in his chest ready to explode. The bastard had finished his bottle! Damn him. And then Chris realized what Vin had done. In his own way, the meddlesome tracker was telling Chris that he had had enough to drink. Instantly the anger turned to rage.

"Damn it, Tanner, I donít need a keeper!" Vin pushed his hat back and eyed Chris sharply. Those blue eye of his were unintimidated and as cold and cool and calm as ice.

"Never said you did." There was a long pause as the two men glowered at each other. "But you do need a friend........COWBOY." And the tension between them disappeared.

"Someday, Tanner," Chris growled. "Someday!"

"Yep, someday," Vin agreed, pulling his hat down over his face. "But not today, pard. Not today."


© June 2000 Brigitta B. : This relates only to the creative property in this story. The distinctive way the story unfolds, the specific dialogue and unique situations are mine. I acknowledge that some of the characters and settings belong to MGM and Trilogy Entertainment and thank them sincerely for turning a blind eye so I can borrow them. (g) No infrigement of copyright was intended and no profit has been made from this story... so, please don't sue me. It wouldn't be worth your while.


























   

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