Disclaimer: This story is the product of different minds coming together to have some fun. All rights to these characters belongs to others. This is strictly for entertainment and we will make no profit. Authors' Notes: This is the first story of a new Alternate Universe called Gangsters created by The Ladysmiths.

Gangsters AU
Alliances

By Ladysmiths


The early morning fog swirled around his legs as Chris Larabee stepped out of the gleaming Chrysler. It seemed that the mist always settled heavier over the cemetery than anywhere else, and Chris pulled his black duster closer around him to ward off the chill. Squinting out from under the brim of his fedora hat, Chris could just make out the stooped figure in the brown overcoat standing over a gravesite. Larabee knew all about saying goodbye, having stood beside the graves of loved ones too many times himself. Not wishing to intrude upon a private moment, Chris hung back and waited patiently for the larger man.

Josiah Sanchez slowly turned away from his boss', and friend's, grave and walked towards the car and his new employer. After spending several nights by Fotocelli's hospital bedside, one of Chicago's most respected and notorious businessmen had died from the extensive gunshot wounds with only his trusted bodyguard by his side praying for his soul. That's how he'd gotten his nickname, 'the Preacher', although up until Fotocelli's death Josiah had only prayed over the people he'd killed. Josiah had been set to go back to Kenosha, see if he could find some peace in the ruins he'd left behind. However, he knew from experience that you couldn't escape who you are, and then Chris Larabee had come along and offered Josiah a place in his organisation.

An alliance between the Larabee and Fotocelli families had formed over twenty years ago. When Larabee Snr had passed away from a heart condition and Chris had stepped in as head, Fotocelli hadn't even hesitated giving the junior Larabee the same respect and consideration as he had the father. Although Chris was young and had a reputation for being ruthless and bad-tempered, especially after his wife and child were killed, neither Fotocelli nor Josiah had ever seen Chris conduct himself in a less than professional manner. Chris Larabee was always fair, his reputation stemmed from the fact that anyone who ever crossed Chris never got a second chance to try again. Josiah had trusted Fotocelli's instincts, and now he was trusting his own. If Chris Larabee was hiring, Josiah would accept.

Chris knew he'd made the right decision in hiring Josiah. The fact that Sanchez had stayed with Fotocelli until the end, and even stopped to say a final goodbye before starting over, that kind of loyalty was something Chris admired. Chris had been at the failed meeting the day Fotocelli and a lot of other people had died. What was supposed to have formed a strong alliance with all the major crime bosses in the area, had become a blood bath, obviously some organisation heads had decided they didn't like the new contract and thought they could blast their point across. However, all that seemed to accomplish was for every family to break off into their own shattered groups. As far as business associates went, and the alliances his father and himself had formed over the years, Chris had sent feelers out to see if he could find out which of the Cartel's were behind the gang war and which were still trustworthy. As Larabee had already lost his family and now most of his reliable servants, Chris had decided to start over. At least this way he could choose who he would work with.

Chris held out his hand, "I'm sorry about Fotocelli. He was a good man."

"Thank you," Josiah replied, taking the offered hand before climbing into the car next to Chris and heading towards his new home.

* * * * * * *

"Haven't seen you in a while," Buck observed as he looked up from behind the bar and watched Chris walk into the club with Josiah following closely behind.

"I showed Josiah around the estate," Chris answered.

"Nice to see you again Sanchez," Buck nodded his head in acknowledgment.

"Likewise," Josiah returned.

"The Preacher! You're the Preacher," JD jumped up from his chair, but was pulled back down as Nathan continued working on the bandage around his shoulder.

"He's the best," JD said to Nathan as explanation for his sudden movement. "Nobody's been able to touch him for 15 years."

"Good," Nathan stated dryly. "Less work for me."

Josiah smiled at the dark man tending to his fidgeting patient, thinking that if he were ever hurt this man would certainly be who he'd choose to take care of the injury.

"The kid's going to be fine," Nathan answered Chris's unasked question when he shifted his gaze from Sanchez to Larabee.

Chris nodded slightly, Nathan had been a Godsend. Why any hospital would give up the best damn doctor they had was beyond Larabee, but it had been fortunate for him when Dr Nathan Jackson became a free agent. It wasn't always possible to get to a hospital, and it wasn't always possible to be able to explain where the injuries came from, so having a doctor on the payroll came in handy. It have even strengthened Larabee's alliances whenever another cartel needed a doctor's services.

Buck shook his head at JD's enthusiasm, before turning back to Larabee, "And last night? Did we get lucky?"

Chris rolled his eyes, "No." Why did it always have to be a woman with Buck, Larabee smiled slightly, probably because with Buck it usually was a woman. "I was out trying to find a partner for Josiah," he answered.

JD made sure Nathan had finished before jumping up again, "I could do it Mr Larabee. We'd make a good team."

"I don't think so kid," Josiah tone was firm.

"You're not capable of being a hitman kid," Chris dismissed the idea just as Josiah had. "Besides I've got someone in mind."

"How would you know what I'm capable of," JD glared at Larabee. "And I ain't a kid."

"JD 'the Kid' Dunne," Buck smirked, "I like it Kid"

JD ignored Buck, "Please Chris, I wanna work for you."

"Has this got something to do with the Scolas?" Buck asked gently. JD had told him and Nathan how the Scola children had turned the kid and his mother, who had been a servant in their home for close to 25 years, out onto the streets. JD's mother had died a few weeks after that. JD had been hiding in the bushes outside the Meeting of the Dons, presumably waiting for the Scola boys to come out. Buck had spotted him and was heading out to scare the kid off, when everything went wrong all at once. A stray bullet had smashed through the window hitting JD in the shoulder, and for some reason Buck had felt extremely guilty that he hadn't got to the young man in time. After making sure Chris was okay, Buck had taken the kid back to his club and called Nathan at the estate to help JD.

"What if it has?" JD scowled at Buck. "I will find them with or without your help."

Chris knew the voice of revenge when he heard it, and he was afraid the kid would go off and get himself killed. Larabee watched the concern in Buck's face as he listened to the determination in JD's voice. Well, it was Buck who seemed to have this overwhelming need to protect the kid, and it had been Wilmington who had dragged JD to safety and Nathan after the shootout. "Maybe, Buck's got something for you to do around here."

Buck glanced at his oldest friend and partner who shrugged, it seemed Chris liked the kid too. "You do know how to make a martini, right?" Buck grinned at JD.

"I'm no bartender," JD scowled at Wilmington, before heading towards the door.

"Well then, maybe you can hire someone for me," Buck's smile widened as JD stopped and turned to him with still a hint of suspicion in his eyes. "I could do with a hand managing this place, and someone to help with the counterfeiting operation we run from downstairs. I'm sure I can teach you the ropes."

JD's eyes lit up, "No problem, I'm a quick study."

"I'm sure you are kid," Buck laughed. "And once you know how to run everything, I'll have more time for the ladies."

"I think I can hear all the women running for cover now," Nathan deadpanned, then ducked as a towel came flying towards him.

Chris grinned as he headed towards the stairs, "When Standish gets here, send him to my office."

"Standish?" Nathan queried turning to Buck when he realised Chris was already out of the room. "What would Larabee want with someone like Standish?"

Buck shrugged, "It was Maude who nobody trusted, and no doubt double-crossed everyone at the meeting. She seemed to be the main target, died instantly from all the gunshot wounds. But Chris doesn't think Ezra's as bad as his mother."

"And you don't agree?" Josiah questioned.

"Don't know," Buck answered. "I've never met him, but the people who have say you can never tell what he's thinking and he has a reputation for lying and cheating to get what he wants."

"Is that why no one would work for him after his mother died?" JD asked.

"The Standish clan are still together, even though there isn't an actual Standish family member running it," Nathan said. "I heard it was because everyone thought he was too spoilt and would have squandered all the money in under a year. Rumour has it Ezra couldn't run a newspaper run let alone one of the largest crime organisations."

Buck shook his head, "I don't know about that. Standish does know money, apparently he can make the dirtiest, bloodiest money come out smelling as sweet as wildflowers in the Spring."

"That's right," Chris growled as he walked back into the room to retrieve the case he'd left by one of the tables. "And with the stories I've heard spread around town about all of you at one time or another, I wouldn't have thought I'd be hearing you lot gossiping. I will hire who I choose, and if you don't like it you can leave. Otherwise the next person who repeats a rumour in my presence, gets a bullet."

Everyone bowed their heads, their expressions suitably contrite, until Chris had left the room once more.

"Okay, Chris isn't present anymore," Buck walked over and sat in one of the chairs. "Does anyone know who he has in mind to partner Josiah?"

* * * * * * *

Chris sank further into the soft leather of his seat, running his hand idly over the mahogany that made up the large desk featured in the centre of the room. He'd used this room as his office the moment Buck had purchased the club. Chris and Buck had been partners forever - whether it was planning and carrying out schemes when they were teenagers; following one of Larabee Snr's instructions as they learned the business; or branching out on their own. Chris surveyed his spacious office, he'd always felt comfortable here. Even after his father had passed away, he'd chosen the room in Buck's club over his father's office at the house in an attempt keep his business and family life separate.

A wry smile curled his lips, in those days he'd spent more time at home, however now with so many memories rattling around the large estate, Chris preferred to stay at the club. His servants and bodyguards looked after the house and the estate while Chris wasn't there, so most of the time he didn't see the need to go home at all. Instead, Chris had also claimed the bedroom that adjoined this office, spending his nights there with, or occasionally without, the comfort of one of Buck's chorus girls.

Chris was startled out of his musings when he heard a light knock on the door, "Come in."

Ezra entered quietly, his eyes wandering around the room taking in the expensive and tasteful furnishings, before they settled on Larabee who had stood behind the desk and was indicating that Standish should take a seat.

"Well, Mr Larabee," Ezra drawled as he slowly lowered himself into the offered chair. "Would you care to tell me what this little appointment is all about?"

Chris tried to hide his amusement, he knew that Ezra had spent all his childhood and schooling down South, but the accent still threw him.

Ezra waited patiently for an answer, his southern drawl always seemed to amuse people when he first spoke. Maude had married Edward Standish when Ezra was still very young. Once she'd claimed the name, Ezra's mother hadn't felt the need to hide the fact that that's all she'd wanted all along. It hadn't taken Maude long to take over the business side of things, quickly becoming the ruthless leader of the family. The only time Ezra could recall Edward having won an argument with his mother was when his stepfather had insisted that he be sent away for his schooling. Ezra had been shipped off to stay with Maude's relatives in New Orleans. At the time Ezra hadn't realised it had been because Edward had wanted to protect the boy from his mother. However, as soon as Edward had met with an unfortunate accident, Maude had taken Ezra out of college and began teaching him the business. The accent stuck, and Ezra had no intention of changing it even if he could. Other people's initial reactions didn't bother him, at least it meant they were focussing on something other than all the stories circulating concerning his present status.

Standish was beginning to wonder whether Chris had heard him. Ezra hoped that Larabee would offer him employment, but there was no way Standish was going to ask for a job. If nothing else, Ezra would cling to his pride.

To Ezra's surprise, it hadn't been the fact that he'd been denied the chance to run his own organisation that had hurt him the most when Maude cut him out of her Will, it was the fact that his own mother had shown such a lack of faith, and in such a public way. The Standish line was now run by his cousin, who didn't even have the Standish name, and as was to be expected word had spread like wildfire.

In these type of organisations, and from what Ezra had heard especially in Larabee's circle, loyalty was very important. However, loyalty had never been one of Maude's strong points, and Ezra couldn't honestly say whether he would consider himself to have that quality either. Unfortunately, all life had ever seemed to throw at him was betrayal. Ezra didn't know whether he'd ever be able to fit into as close knit a group as Chris seemed to be looking for, allowing himself to become loyal or feel any kind of emotion towards people that weren't even family could lead to hurt, anguish and embarrassment. But then, what else could he do? Ezra had thought about leaving, going back to New Orleans and starting a different life where the rumours might not dog him so closely. However, this was all he knew, the business, the cons, the politics and, of course, the money. As surprising at it was to Ezra, not too many people were banging on his door asking him to join their businesses. So now, against his better judgment, Ezra found himself pinning his hopes on Larabee.

Chris studied the man in front of him, noting the sophistication that seemed to emanate from the southerner. Although Larabee's suit was of the same high quality as Ezra's, Chris still opted for dark and subdued colours, while Standish chose to accentuate his light grey suit with the strong green colour of his shirt. In a crowded room, and even if Buck stood next to Standish in one of his glaring, shining outfits, Chris had no doubt that it would be Ezra that would stand out with the stylish flair that seemed to fall naturally on the man. Chris admired the fact that, with all the rumours and stories spreading throughout Chicago, Standish had kept his dignity and sense of self in tact, even if it was just in his appearance. Someone who was able to hold his head up through the embarrassment and insults, and keep a mask placed over his features even when hurt, worried, scared or angry, would undoubtedly be a useful person in this kind of crime syndicate. It was obvious that Ezra had learnt that appearances were everything.

Chris knew that the rumours regarding Ezra's leadership abilities were false. Standish's mother had never given him a chance, and written Ezra out of her Will. What Chris didn't know was why. Perhaps she was trying to teach her son a lesson, in which case loyalty and honesty within one small group wasn't something Standish would have learnt. Masking your feelings in front of enemies and strangers was one thing, but you still need people around you whom you could trust. On the other hand, maybe Ezra had been cut off because he hadn't agreed with his mother's ways. Maude had a tendency to heartlessly break alliances, usually ending in someone's death. Hell, she had been the first and only suspect in her husband's grisly accident. If Ezra had shown any inclination that he would run the family and business in any other way than Maude's, Chris didn't think she would have given a second thought to cutting her own son out of her Will.

Chris still tried to run his organisation closely following his father practised method of combining ruthlessness, strength, cautiousness, trust, integrity and heart. Alliances were something you tried to keep, not betray. Change was not something Chris' father promoted, you stuck with what you knew and who you knew. Progression hadn't seemed to be a high priority. Keeping your business and family on a familiar track, and doing what you had to do to ensure that it stayed that way was Larabee Snr's focus in life. And Chris' father had never let any occurrence or emotion sway him from the path he seemed to see so clearly. However, Chris himself had sometimes deviated from Larabee Snr's teachings, especially after his wife and son were killed. Things changed, bonds were broken when Chris' course had taken a vengeful turn. Now, Chris was forming new attachments, within the next generation, which he knew was something his father wouldn't understand. Chris hoped that his father's admirably qualities were something he also possessed, but knew that Chris Larabee was still his own man.

Watching Standish, Chris hoped that the same could be said for Ezra. "I hear you're good with money."

"It is something I like to keep intimately familiar with," Ezra answered.

Chris smiled slightly, "I need someone to run the counterfeiting operation, and keep our accounts in order."

"Really?" Ezra said coolly, making sure he kept any hint of eagerness out of his voice He already knew what his answer would be if Larabee ever got around to asking the question.

"I'd like you to work for me," Chris stated bluntly, a little disgruntled that Ezra was making him ask. Chris realised that this man could probably read him better than he could ever hope to read Ezra, and that thought was disconcerting. However, somehow he knew this was the right thing and found himself hoping that Standish would say yes.

"Well Mr Larabee, your proposal has taken me quite by surprise," Ezra smiled amiably. "A decision like this should not be taken lightly. But, if you'll give me a few days, I will let you know."

"Of course." Chris couldn't quite hide his surprise, he knew Standish hadn't had any other offers and thought the Southerner would jump at the chance he'd just handed Ezra. Regaining his control, Chris added, "I'll give you until tomorrow evening, then I'll be hiring someone else."

Ezra nodded, he'd noticed the surprise on Larabee's face when he'd said he had to think about it. He didn't really, tomorrow evening Ezra would say yes to Chris' offer. However, if Chris thought he could act like he was doing Ezra a favour then Larabee had another thing coming. If Ezra had his way, no one would ever know how much he actually needed this job.

"I'll see you out," Chris said and headed towards the door.

Ezra's train of thought didn't break as he followed Larabee. Maybe he didn't need this job as much as he thought, perhaps Ezra could start his own organisation just as Chris was doing.

* * * * * * *

All conversation halted abruptly as Ezra took the last step and turned to enter the main bar and ballroom. Buck's continuous tapping on the glass he was supposed to be cleaning was now the only sound in the room, which seemed to enhance the sudden silence.

"I certainly hope my presence hasn't caused any obvious discomfort," Ezra drawled as he walked further into the spacious room.

Chris stopped at the foot of the stairs, noting that whether or not he was actually causing any discomfort the southerner still opted to walk through the crowd and out the front door, instead of slinking down the hall and through to the back alley.

"Actually, I threatened to shoot them if they didn't stop gossipping like a bunch of housewives," Chris informed as he followed Ezra, glaring at Buck as he walked passed the tall ladies' man.

Buck threw back an 'I'm innocent' look and wondered why he was the only one to cop the infamous steely stare that Larabee had perfected over the years. Ignoring Buck's expression Chris turned to glare at the other three, and Buck couldn't suppress his grin, at lease everyone was being treated fairly.

"Such control," Ezra mumbled under his breath as he watched Josiah 'the Preacher' Sanchez shift under Larabee's intent gaze.

Although he felt embarrassed at being caught out, JD was still the first out of the four to speak, "So, will you be moving into Chris' estate or staying here at the club?" The kid had no doubt that Chris had been able to convince Ezra to stay, who'd say no to someone like Chris Larabee?

Slightly affronted by the foregone conclusion that he was desperate enough to take any employment as soon as it was offered to him, Ezra spun around to impart a suitably sarcastic remark. However, when he found himself face to face with the kid, Ezra realised that it had been an innocent assumption on JD's part, borne out of awe not scepticism. "As persuasive as Mr Larabee is, I still prefer to make important decision in solitude and quiet contemplation."

Chris bowed his head to hide the grin at his friends' reactions, Ezra would certainly keep them on their toes if he chose to join them.

As Ezra was about to move towards the exit, he noticed the figure standing just inside the doorway. Startled into immobility, Ezra usually prided himself on his ability to observe the slightest change and he certainly always knew when someone new had entered a room, Ezra could only stare as the figure stepped forward into the light.

No, the lean, long haired, slightly scruffy looking man in front of him wasn't anyone Ezra knew. The southerner narrowed his eyes, he may not have seen this person before, but there was an unsettling familiarity about the man that Ezra couldn't quite place or understand. Realising his confusion and emotions were playing over his face, Ezra quickly assumed a neutral demeanour and stepped back.

It was too late, Chris had seen the look and couldn't help wondering what connection Ezra had with Vin Tanner. Sure, everyone had been surprised to find that Vin had been standing there for God knows how long, but Ezra had seemed downright shocked.

Chris turned his attention to Vin, who seemed unconcerned or unaware of the attention he was attracting.

"You wanted to see me," Vin's quiet, husky voice seemed to fill the quiet room as he slouched and hitched is thumbs through the belt loops of his pants.

"I was just about to head out to find you," Chris said. "I guess you beat me to it."

Realising that no comment was forthcoming, Chris continued deciding that getting down to business might be the best approach, "I was wondering whether you'd be interested in helping me recover some of my money."

"Looks like you have plenty of help already," Vin indicated Josiah, before backing towards the door.

"I know you usually work alone Mr Tanner..."

"Vin."

Vin Tanner, the name didn't sound familiar to Ezra either and the southerner involuntarily shook his head.

Vin's eyes flicked to Ezra and then immediately returned to Chris waiting for Larabee to continue after his interruption.

Chris noticed the exchange and glanced at both Ezra and Vin. Deciding not to bring it up right now, Chris continued afraid he'd lose Tanner's interest, "After what happened at the meeting, a certain person decided they didn't need to pay me the money they owe. I'd like it recovered."

"Who?" Vin asked, he wouldn't take on any job unless he knew the specifics.

Chris should have known that Vin would want to know the details, Tanner had a reputation for turning down jobs because, well, no one was every really sure whether it was because he had a problem with the employer, or perhaps he liked the person he was hired to hit, or maybe the money just wasn't good enough and the young man was holding out for more. Whatever the reason, Vin kept tight lipped and followed his own code.

Deciding to be more precise, Chris continued, "Kit Moriarty, he owes $25,000.00, and I want it back. Kit should have about that amount on him tomorrow night when he plans on buying the drugs that keep him and his help sensible."

None of the men in the room could miss the disdain in Chris's voice, and they knew instantly that Chris would not tolerate that particular habit from anyone gathered in this room.

"It seems like you have it all planned out," Josiah stated calmly. "I'm sure Vin and I shouldn't have a problem."

Vin nodded at Sanchez's comment, and Josiah instinctively knew he'd have no trouble working with this young man.

"If you do, I'm sure you guys would know plenty of ways to take care of it," Buck smiled. "But if not, I'll give you a few tips."

JD looked at Buck and rolled his eyes, "They're trying to get the money back Buck, not lose it forever."

Nathan chuckled and Josiah smiled, while Chris and Ezra valiantly tried to hide their spreading grins.

However, Vin's expression never faltered, "As you said, I work alone."

Ezra's grin quickly disappeared, this man wasn't the slightest bit amused and usually Ezra himself wouldn't have let the banter affect him either, but these people were infectious.

"I think it's time for me to take my leave, I'll be in touch Mr Larabee," although Ezra was addressing Chris his attention never wandered from Vin's face, and even as he walked towards the door Ezra kept a wary eye on Tanner. If Vin Tanner was going to be an employee, Ezra knew he'd have to get over the uneasy feeling he'd felt in the young man's presence if he was going to accept.

"I'll look forward to it," Chris said to the retreating form before turning back to Vin. "Maybe you could change that policy?"

"Maybe," Vin answered.

"If it works out, there could be a permanent position in my organisation for you," Chris stated hurriedly, not wanting to lose the opportunity to ask and know that he wouldn't be able to find Tanner once he'd gone.

"Maybe," Vin said before he left as quietly as he'd entered.

"That went well," Buck smirked. "Now I know why all my staff leave, you keep scaring them off."

"Shut up, Buck," Chris threw his oldest friend a dirty look. "The reason you're staff keep leaving is because you won't stop harassing the girls."

"I've never heard of Vin Tanner before," JD commented, he'd thought he knew the names of all bodyguards and/or hitmen.

"Vin Tanner is a lone wolf," Josiah answered for Chris. "He's been around for a couple of years, and nobody knows when he started. Anyway, he's only ever worked for himself and done his jobs alone, very efficient and deadly when he needs to be. Not much on loyalty, or so I've heard."

"Doesn't sound like someone you'd hire," Buck observed.

"Buck's right," Nathan added. "Where do you know him from?"

"Don't," Chris answered. "He was at that meeting, I saw him pushing one of the servant's aside when the gunfire started. Almost got shot himself." Realising he wasn't explaining the connection he'd felt with Vin when he'd first laid eyes on him, Chris tried one more time, "Tanner seems to have a code he follows, and when I saw him I knew it was the same code I was trying to follow." Great, that sounded even stranger that what he'd said before. Well he wasn't going to rationalise his actions any further, he wanted Vin Tanner to work for him and the others, including Ezra, just had to accept that.

Josiah picked up on what Chris was trying to say, "Well, Tanner actually said maybe to your proposal. That's more than anyone else has ever gotten out of him." Turning to Chris, Josiah lowered his voice so that only Larabee could hear, "Maybe he felt a connection too."

Chris inclined his head slightly as he realised how perceptive the people he'd chosen to gather around him were.

"Back up a minute," Buck said. "The long hair, stubble, low budget clothes and cowboy boots would have stood out like a sore thumb at that meeting. And I never saw this Tanner guy there."

"That's what makes him so efficient," Josiah stated. "And deadly."

* * * * * * *

Ezra silently stepped backwards, out of the doorway to the dusty basement of the abandoned apartment building, hurriedly ducking into the shadows that seemed to linger in the alley no matter what time of day it was. With his heart beating much more rapidly and the urge to flee barely contained, Ezra took at deep breath and tried clear his mind.

He had to work out his next move. As soon as he'd recognised the silhouette of the man already standing in the dilapidated room was that of Vin Tanner, Ezra had been instantly and irrationally spooked. Gathering his thoughts, Ezra realised that Josiah must also have been there with Vin, the young man had been nodding to someone. They'd shown up early, before the trade, and it was ruining Ezra's plans.

Obviously both of Larabee's new bodyguards (that job description being very loosely termed, in Ezra's mind) had come here early so that they could unburden Kit Moriarty of his cash before his supplier arrived. It was a smart idea, in fact it had been Ezra's own idea. Now however, Ezra had to decide whether to cut his losses and get the hell out of there, or whether to try and convince Vin and Josiah to join forces with him in retrieving the money. Tanner he wasn't too sure about, but Ezra knew how loyal Sanchez was once he'd chosen to ally himself with anyone, and in this case Josiah's alliance was with Chris Larabee.

Ezra would have to get his story straight and let them know that they could trust him. After all, it wasn't like he was going to abscond with the money, well he didn't think he was. Actually truth be told, Ezra didn't really know what he was planning on doing with the cash. All he knew was that once he had it, a lot more options would be open to him than what he'd been facing.

A shadowy figure distracted Ezra from his decision making and caused him to sink further into the darkness of the alley. So this was Kit Moriarty. He'd seen the man years ago but Ezra would have barely recognised him now. Kit should have stuck to boozing and womanising, Ezra mused.

It looked as though the plan was going to work. Vin and Josiah would be able to surprise Kit, take the case (presumably holding the money for the drugs) and leave without any bloodshed at all. Perhaps Ezra could add to the element of surprise by coming in behind Moriarty. Ezra's confidence in his ability to convince Josiah and Vin of his intention were building, and if that failed, at least he'd be the closest to the cash.

Ready to make his move, Ezra took a tentative step forward only to be forced back as four other people approached. Damn, here come the suppliers, Ezra thought as he squinted at the shadowy forms. He recognised one of the men as Rob Stoney, the owner of a large chain of pharmaceutical companies. That explained who Kit was buying his amphetamines from, but it didn't explain why Rob would show up in person, surely this was a lackey's job. Perhaps Kit Moriarty was a good customer, it was obvious the young hood had money to burn in wasteful pursuits. Or maybe, Rob Stoney was just a cautious man and showed up to all his deals. Ezra didn't really know, he'd always stayed away from this scene and people like Rob Stoney.

And staying away seemed like the best option now, surely Vin and Josiah could handle anything that came their way. They had been planning on doing this particular job on their own anyway and it wasn't as if they knew Ezra was out there with the capacity to help or, at the very least, warn them. Ezra waited until the coast was clear before quietly heading back down the lane away from the abandoned building and potential danger.

Ezra flinched involuntarily as he heard the muffled sound of a gunshot. Goddamn it, why should he care about how well Josiah and Vin were fairing. It's not as if he knew them personally. Sure, he'd seen the Preacher around and had heard of the large man's reputation - who hadn't? And before yesterday, he'd never laid eyes on that Tanner fellow, although the strange sense of deja vu still lingered no matter how many times Ezra had tried to shake it off since. No, Ezra wasn't worried about those two men, he was just curious as to what might be happening.

Since when did passing curiosity have such an impact, Ezra wondered as he slipped into the basement, stealthily moving behind one of the old shelves that were scattered about the room. He wished that particular piece of furniture looked more stable as he drew his weapon and crouched down and surveyed the area.

Ezra's first assessment had been correct, Sanchez and Tanner seemed to be handling the situation fine on their own. Two of Stoney's men had already been felled, making the numbers much more even. Kit Moriarty moved, effectively blocking Ezra's view. Shifting slightly, Ezra watched as Rob Stoney gunned Kit down, the case falling out of the dying man's grasp and sliding towards where Ezra hid. Deciding this was why fate had compelled him to turn around, Ezra glanced around and made sure everyone was still occupied before breaking cover. His movements were unhurried and sleek as his free hand glided over the surface of the case and grasped the handle. Straightening from his crouched position Ezra realised that no one had noticed his presence and, preferring to keep it that way, he sank back into the shadows and headed towards the door.

Vin saw movement out of the corner of his eye and automatically turned and fired, the bullet finding it's mark in Rob Stoney's chest. How had Standish not realised that he'd had a gun aimed at him, even if it was at his back? Vin supposed the money clutched tightly in Ezra's hand had the southerner's full attention, and to Ezra it must have seemed as though he was clear and free once he'd stepped back out into the alley.

Focussing his attention on the job at hand Vin looked over to where Josiah had rounded up Rob's other two men. Noticing the expression on Sanchez's face Vin knew that the Preacher didn't really want any more bloodshed than was necessary. That was fine with him. Vin really didn't see the point in killing these two, Chris had just wanted his money and these men were no threat to them now that their boss was dead. Besides, with three bodies littering the room, they had enough to clean up as it was. Giving Josiah a curt nod, Vin led the two goons outside. It was understood that he wouldn't kill them, but Tanner figured that it wouldn't hurt to make sure they didn't get any ideas about coming after himself and Sanchez - or any other member of Larabee's new cartel for that matter. Vin grinned wryly as he stepped outside, he guessed that meant we was taking Chris up on his job offer.

Josiah walked over the dead body closest to him, whispering a short prayer and noticing that the softly spoken words reverberated around the almost empty room. He'd been glad when Vin had just nodded and quietly taken the two remaining men off his hands. Usually Josiah had to ask for the privacy he sought at such moments, although everyone was aware of what he wanted (his nickname was the Preacher after all) they seemed fascinated with the ritual and wanted to hang around and watch. What irritated the Preacher more was the fact that they'd then insist on asking all kinds of inane questions, usually right in the middle of the prayer. What he did and why he did it was nobody's business but his own, and thankfully Vin seemed to understand that. Josiah may have finally found someone he could actually work with, he just hoped that Tanner wasn't too attached to freelancing and would consider joining this somewhat unusual family.

Vin had given Josiah the exact amount of time he'd needed, and Sanchez had only felt the young man's presence beside him once the last prayer was said. Josiah smiled his thanks.

"Our first job for Chris Larabee and we failed," Josiah observed.

Tanner just bent to lift the body, and Josiah quickly stooped to help. Realising that Vin didn't feel the need to acknowledge his comment, Sanchez continued, "We were supposed to retrieve the money but it's disappeared."

"It's safe," Vin drawled, his tone unconcerned.

Josiah quickly scanned the room once more. He already knew the case wasn't there, he'd checked when he'd been alone. "You took it outside with you," the answer dawned on Josiah and the words came out as a statement rather than a question. "The case is in the car."

"Nope," Vin answered. "It's gone."

"But it's safe?" Now Josiah was asking, confusion evident in his voice. Besides Kit Moriarty, Rob Stoney and his three men, and of course himself and Vin, no one else had been here. Well, no one that he'd noticed, "Was there someone else here? The money can't just have disappeared."

Again Vin didn't seem to feel the need to answer, and Josiah had the distinct impression that any further inquiry was pointless. This young man was more secretive than he himself was.

Josiah knew he should be feeling more anxious about the lost cash and that generally he'd be searching the room as frantically as his cool demeanour would allow. Instead, in the face of Vin's calm, confident assertion, the Preacher found himself trusting that everything was fine.

* * * * * * *

"They're back," JD exclaimed.

Buck put down the chair he'd lifted off a table, getting his club ready for tonight's crowd. "Geez, Kid," he grinned. "The whole neighbourhood doesn't need to know."

"Why don't you tell everyone what they were doing while you're at it," Nathan smiled as he appraised the two men who'd just entered the club. "How did it go?" The ex-doctor asked when he was satisfied that they were both free of injury.

"Fine," Vin stated looking past Nathan to the doorway in which Chris had just appeared.

Chris sauntered further into the room, his manner calm and collected. The barely noticeable catch of breath was the only indication that Chris had rushed down the stairs when he'd heard JD's announcement (that boy's exuberance would have to be curbed) worried that something might be wrong. And it wasn't the money that concerned him. Sure, he wanted it understood that no one steals from Larabee, but he also knew there were a number of ways to bring that point across if this particular avenue had failed. It was the thought that Josiah and/or Vin might have been hurt, or even killed, that had weighed on his mind these last couple of hours. It wasn't unusual for bodyguards and hitmen to simply disappear or turn up somewhere injured or dead, and Chris had learned not to care - until now. He could have understood his reaction if it were Buck that had been sent out, they'd been friends for longer than Chris could remember; Nathan had also been with him for six years now, and Chris had a great deal of respect for the doctor; JD was just damn likeable, Chris couldn't help but feel protective of the Kid in the few days he'd been hanging around; even Ezra had endeared himself, and Chris had instinctively known he'd want the supposed con man around for at least a while longer. But he'd only just met Josiah and Vin, had hired them for the sole purpose of placing themselves in danger so that he himself and the others wouldn't have to. Therefore, Chris hadn't expected any kind of emotion to surface. However, instead of making him back off, the feelings Chris was experiencing only made him more determined to have all these men work for him.

Relieved at Nathan's relaxed demeanour (that man could spot the slightest injury at a glance), Chris inquired, "No problems?"

Seeing Vin just shake his head, Josiah stated, "Nothing that couldn't be solved."

"And the money?" Chris asked noticing that neither man seemed to be carrying anything.

Josiah looked to Vin for an answer, curious himself as to the explanation.

"On it's way," Vin drawled quietly.

Chris just stared blankly at Vin.

"The money's on it's way," Tanner repeated, looking directly into Chris' eyes.

"Okay," Chris said.

"Okay? What do you mean okay?" Buck stalked over to where Chris was standing. "What did you do with the money, Tanner?" Realising that no answer was forthcoming, Buck whirled around to glare at Josiah, "Where's the cash, Preacher?"

"I don't know. I mean, it disapp..." Josiah glanced at Vin and sighed, "It's safe."

"Do you know that for sure? Or is that what Vin said?" Nathan asked Josiah.

"I trust Vin," Josiah stated adamantly hoping that was a sufficient answer.

"So do I," Chris added, not sure what made him say it. He knew he should have had Buck's reaction to Vin's quiet ascertain that the money was on it's way, but for some inexplicable reason Chris had no doubt that whatever Tanner said he meant.

Buck was about to protest further when the door to the club swung open.

Ezra's gaze never wavered as six pairs of eyes focussed on him. "I have a cheque from the United Bank made out to a Mr Larabee," he stated matter-of-factly.

Chris took the offered slip of paper, noticing that it was the exact amount owed by Kit Moriarty. "You were at the deal?" Chris asked Ezra, although Larabee had turned to face Vin once more.

Vin's expression remained neutral, the slight inclination of his head the only answer Chris needed.

Unnerved by the communication that was going on between Chris and Vin, Ezra stared at the two men trying to interpret what the gestures meant.

Giving up, Ezra had just opened his mouth to reply when Josiah jumped in, "I didn't see you Ezra. I guess Vin must have handed the case over outside."

Ezra raised an eyebrow, "Excuse me?"

"Vin just said that the money was coming when we asked about it," JD explained hurriedly. "And he told Josiah it was safe before that."

"So," Josiah concluded. "Vin must have noticed you were outside, grabbed the case when the gunfire started and given it to you for safe keeping."

"Actually..." Ezra began, not sure how he was going to finish the sentence. Vin must have seen him and let him take the money. Ezra hadn't known what he was going to do with the money and handing it over to Chris hadn't been the first choice. Perhaps Vin didn't care whether Larabee employed him or not. But then why come back here and tell everyone that the money was safe and on it's way? What the hell was Tanner playing at? The young hitman couldn't possibly have trusted that Standish would return what rightfully belonged to Chris, especially not before Ezra himself had decided. Ezra gave Vin a confused glance, well the story Josiah had related did sound better than telling everybody he'd snuck off with the money because he'd been planning on keeping it for himself. Realising that everyone was waiting for him to continue, Ezra smiled ingratiatingly, "That is exactly what transpired. Mr Tanner and I have established an understanding."

"Why didn't you just say that?" JD asked Vin, before turning to Ezra. "And why did you go to the meeting?"

"When money is at stake I prefer to check that the people sent to obtain it are trustworthy," Ezra answered absently.

"Did we pass?" Josiah asked amused.

"Certainly," Ezra grinned.

"You sure banked that money fast," JD stated, clapping Ezra on the shoulder.

Ezra's smile widened as he heard the awe in the Kid's voice, "Expediency is essential in this business."

"Where are you going?" Chris asked when he noticed Vin heading towards the door.

"Home," Vin replied. "I'll see you all tomorrow."

Chris followed Vin to the door and watched as the young man strolled down the sidewalk. "Does anyone know whether that means he's going to work for me?"

"Maybe," Buck said.

"Hopefully," Josiah stated.

"I have a feeling it means he'll be seeing us tomorrow," Ezra drawled.

"What about you Standish?" Chris turned his attention away from Vin Tanner. "Are you going to work with me?"

Ezra hadn't missed that Chris had said 'with me' instead of 'for me', and he knew he'd made the right decision, "I would be honoured to join your organisation Mr Larabee."

Buck pulled back the panels behind the bar to reveal shelves laden with every type of alcoholic beverage anyone could want. "Well then, I think this is cause for celebration."

"Definitely," everyone chorused.

fini



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