(Old West)

by DoggyJ

Warning: Deathfic of several major characters
Author's Notes: It finally rained in Texas! I should have been happy, but this little piece popped into my head instead.
Rating: Suitable for all
Characters: Ezra, Vin
Summary: When several of the Seven meet their deaths, what will become of those left behind?

"Thank you, Mr. Potter." Ezra Standish shook the tall young man's hand then stepped out into the street to mount his horse. Taking a deep breath, he held it against the pain as he pulled himself smoothly into the saddle. It had taken him some time to master that move, but, as his mother used to say, appearances were everything. And, as the sheriff of Four Corners, he could not afford to appear weak. Only those who knew him well, who had been in town all those years ago, knew of his constant pain.

Josh tied the packhorse's lead to Ezra's saddle horn and looked up at the older man. "Tell him we said hello," he said. Ezra nodded and, gathering the reins in his right hand, turned his horse and headed out of town. He nodded and spoke to several of the townspeople as he passed. All of them knew where he was going, and several had messages of their own to send.

Now that he was in the saddle, the horse's gentle rhythm allowed him to relax, thus easing the ache in his lower back. However, only laudanum could dull the persistent pain that plagued his missing left arm. As he passed the cemetery, Ezra dipped his head in respect. "Gentlemen," he murmured.

The day was warm but not hot, not like it would be in just a few short weeks. High clouds floated across the deep blue sky. Ezra let the quiet sounds of nature soothe his soul. As often happened when he was alone, his mind turned back to that horrific day.

Four Corners had grown as its reputation of a well-protected town spread. More families moved to the area, bringing more business and trade. More business and trade, however, also brought more criminals looking for a quick score. The seven peacekeepers were kept busy maintaining order. Finally, in a desperate move, several gangs joined together and attacked the town.

The shootout was later described as being 'of epic proportions'. Thirteen gang members had been killed, eleven others wounded. Four townsmen had died trying to aid the seven in their defense. Chris and JD had also died that day. Buck followed them three days later. All four of the remaining peacekeepers had been injured, as well as several more men who had dared to back them up.

Josiah had never really recovered from the bullet that creased his skull. Most of the time he knew who he was and what had happened, but there were days when he wandered the town, lost and confused. Usually, someone would bring him to Ezra or Nathan, who would keep him close until he came back to himself. A new preacher had moved into town, but lived in a nearby house with his family. He graciously allowed Josiah to continue to sleep in his room at the back of the church and kept him busy on small maintenance projects.

Two doctors had also joined the thriving community. The younger man, fresh out of school and full of idealism, invited Nathan to join his practice as an assistant. Nathan accepted gratefully, relieved to hand off the responsibility of being the only healer in town. Besides, it was hard for him to get around now that his leg was crippled. He had caught a bullet in his calf during the fight, but had been so busy tending to the inured, especially Buck and Ezra, that he had neglected his own wound until it became badly infected.

Ezra's left arm had been mangled by a shotgun blast and he had almost lost his life, as well. Nathan had managed to save him, but not his arm. He had been so weak and sick that the healer had not dared to try to get the other bullet out of his lower back. Ezra lived with constant pain, but he lived. Nathan was very generous with the laudanum.

Vin had stayed only until he could walk. He had not spoken a word since seeing Chris gunned down in the street. With terrifying accuracy, Vin had moved from rooftop to rooftop, shooting every gang member he could see. When he was finally brought down, he continued to fight despite the bullet wound to his shoulder and the broken ankle he suffered when he fell. Once he could get out of bed, he had packed his belongings and left in terrible silence.

He never came into town but moved from place to place on the outskirts, patrolling the territory and killing anyone who threatened the hard won peace. Families who fell on hard times would wake one morning and find a mule deer hung from the branches of a tree or a couple of wild turkeys ready to be plucked. Mountain lions or coyotes that preyed on livestock were left where they would be found, so that the farmers and ranchers would know they were safe. Vin had become a silent, seldom seen guardian.

As he had done once a month for the past few years, Ezra rode toward the small stream with the packhorse laden with provisions. He dozed in the late morning sun, confident that he had already been seen as was being watched over. His horse, a steady, reliable mare, knew the way. His beloved Chaucer had died some time ago, and while he would never have another companion like that, this mount was well suited to his present needs.

She nickered as they neared their destination, receiving an answer from the roan gelding tethered in the clearing. Ezra pulled his horse to a stop and waited. In just a moment, Vin materialized from the trees. He smiled at the one-armed sheriff but didn't speak. Quietly, he untied the packhorse's lead and led him over by the other gelding. Before unloading his supplies, Vin returned to Ezra's side and held out his hand.

Ezra took a deep breath and prepared to dismount. He steadied himself with his right hand on the saddle horn as he lifted his right leg over the back of the saddle. A sharp pain in his back caused him to gasp. Then he felt Vin's hands, strong and steady, supporting him as he lowered himself to the ground. Vin held him until the pain eased, then led him to the small campfire. Without asking, Vin poured a cup of coffee and handed it to Ezra.

Ezra watched as Vin quickly unloaded the packhorse. A quick grin let him know that Vin had found the tinned peaches. The tracker was still lean and fit. No trace of his previous injuries showed in his smooth movements. His hair was still long, but now threaded with gray. Ezra knew his own temples now carried more salt than pepper as well. Once his work was done, Vin joined Ezra by the fire, sipping his own cup of coffee.

Ezra talked quietly about the town, about the people that still lived there that Vin knew, passing on their greetings and well wishes. He told him about newcomers, families that had moved into the area that Vin would need to be aware of. Rumors of outlaws and new information from wanted posters were silently filed away behind dark blue eyes. Finally, Ezra's words faded away and the two men sat together in companionable silence.

Suddenly, Ezra looked straight into Vin's eyes. "Come back, Vin. Come back to town."

Vin shook his head, looking away.

"Please," Ezra said softly. "Josiah's gone most of the time, and Nathan's busy with Dr. Tillman. I - " Ezra looked down, hating the pleading tone that had crept into his voice. He had promised himself he wouldn't do this. "I need you there."

Afraid to hope, afraid to meet the rejection in those eyes, Ezra lifted his head. Vin was looking away, off into distance or time. After a long moment, he looked back at Ezra.

Slowly, he smiled. "Reckon it's time," he nodded.


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