PG... for some swearing
CATEGORY: Challenge and Sequel - OW
MAJOR CHARACTERS: Vin, Chris and Josiah
DISCLAIMERS: This is fanfiction. No profit involved. This story is based on the television series "The Magnificent Seven". No infringement upon the copyrights held by CBS, MGM, Trilogy Entertainment Group, The Mirisch Corp. or any others involved with that production is intended.
NOTE: This is in response to the October 2001 Magnificent 7 Challenge, offered by Julia Neal: Five of the Magnificent Seven are headed to Tascosa to clear Vin's name for good. How will they prove he's innocent now that Eli Joe is dead? Two of the Seven are left to protect the town. Who will take the opportunity to terrorize Four Corners? AND this is the sequel to my first answer to the challenge: A Good Name
FEEDBACK: Yes please! comments are greatly appreciated.
DATE: October 29, 2001
A Good Name II
By NotTasha...who still has a dandy name
Vin smiled. He remembered smiling when the verdict was read, and Chris pounding his back. He shook Josiah’s hand and thanked the jury and the judge, thanked the witness for his time. Papers were signed, more hands needed shaking and a whirlwind of activity had brought him here, to this table in the saloon in a town named Tascosa. The name had long drawn trepidation in the heart of the tracker – but here he was, a free man in that dreaded town.
A bottle was ordered and then appeared before him. A glass was filled. He tipped it back, emptying it to be filled again. His name was his own. He had the papers to prove it. He patted his pocket to ensure they were still there, and then pulled the pages out to gaze upon them again.
A notary's mark on the lower corner proved their importance. He ran his callused thumb along the impression left by the stamp. His eyes fastened on his name -- his own name -- printed out in careful letters. This was the most important document he'd ever held.
His inside-out world had been turned right-side-in and he wasn’t quite able to figure it all out just yet. He gazed at the pages, wondering if he could understand it all if he just stared for long enough. He could struggle with the lettering and possibly read the words -- but it was all so difficult to comprehend just yet.
He folded the documents again, carefully because they were so important, and returned them to his pocket. He'd keep them close to him at all times because they declared him 'not guilty' and freed him, because they gave him back his good name. The bounty was void.
Yes, for the first time in years, he could get damn drunk and not have to worry about the bounty over his head. He could let his guard down. Of course, someone might come looking for him for other reasons. He'd brought in plenty of bounties himself and was certainly hated by many -- but he wasn't worried about that right now. It was his plan to get as numb as possible -- drunk enough to forget everything -- everything except the fact that he’d won the trial and was a free man now. Forget everything else.
Four weeks ago, this had been nothing but a dream – a lofty and unattainable thing. He'd stayed in Four Corners for all that time despite the fact that he could be easily hunted down there, cornered and captured. He stayed… why? Because he was happy. He liked the place and its people, the men he worked with -- liked the whole kit-and-caboodle. It was silly and foolish to stay, but he did it anyway and dreamed of a freed name.
Three weeks ago a letter arrived in Four Corners, from an old friend in Tascosa. A witness had stepped forward, capable of clearing his name. He’d only need to come to town for the trial. Was it just a con to lure him into the grasp of the court? No, the information was researched and found to be legitimate, so they prepared to go – before the witness continued on his way or changed his mind.
Chris came with him – there had been no question about that. He’d promised his company from the start. Buck came because he loved the idea of the adventure. Ezra had made sounds as if he'd planned to go, but then Josiah stepped forward, offering his help. The odds hadn’t been in their favor at the trial of Obediah Jackson, but now they had a fighting chance. Sanchez would stand beside Vin in court. Ezra stopped his subtle inquiries.
JD was sheriff. Nathan was the town’s healer. They would stay behind and do their jobs. Ezra declared the benefits of a feather bed and a roof over his head, stating he'd remain in Four Corners as well. Yet, as they prepared to leave, the cardsharp came riding out of the livery with a pack horse and nodded to them as they gathered. The con man said that he'd run into a recent spate of bad luck at the tables and felt a change in venue was in order. He’d always felt the saloons in Texas were favorable to him and decided this was as good a time as any to try them again.
Chris balked at first, concerned about the town and if it would be adequately protected without a third lawman. Ezra supplied that he’d discussed the fact with JD, and let Larabee know that the Stoker brothers were in residence. The ranchers would aid the young sheriff and the healer. After the Stokers had served a term, other gentlemen from the area had agreed to lend their help. It was all worked out, he'd explained. After Larabee had confirmed this with Dunne, Ezra was accepted into the group and they left Four Corners.
They headed out into the open land, toward a place that Vin had long contemplated.
It surprised Vin how much he’d enjoyed the trip at the start. The five men got along well, with nary a fight. They’d kidded around the campfire, saw beautiful country and found hardly any trouble… until they took a shortcut. It looked like an intelligent move, but the cutoff took them through a canyon that proved too difficult for easy passage. By the time they’d found their way out of it, they were argumentative, tired, behind schedule and short on supplies. A packhorse had lost its footing as they crossed a treacherous area. Buck and his horse almost followed the poor creature as they tried to retrieve it. He had been able to snag the lost horse, save his own and himself, but lost his rifle, and the animal’s load in the scramble.
They came into the town of Digby to replenish lost supplies and get a good night’s rest. That was two weeks ago.
Vin downed another drink, remembering the morning of their departure from Digby. Ezra had slipped a fold of cash into his hand, telling him to get some ‘edible’ foodstuffs this time. Ezra’d been at the tables all night, turning his small reserve into a much larger one, getting an angry glare from Larabee who’d told him to get some sleep. Still, the evening’s work provided them with enough money to replace the losses.
They’d spoken for a moment or two after the money was exchanged. Vin commenting that the cash would buy enough hardtack and jerky to hold them for a while. Ezra grimaced theatrically, and had said, “Please, Mr. Tanner, my constitution wouldn’t allow for such.” The gambler had smiled then and told him that he’d be back momentarily. Vin couldn’t remember if he’d said goodbye. He remembered Ezra’s smile though. It made Vin think that Ezra was happy about the journey, too – that he was enjoying himself in spite of the recent difficulties.
After that, the gambler headed to the gun shop. Vin knew that Ezra wanted to replace Buck’s missing weapon. He’d probably just hand it to Wilmington as they were headed out of town, with the explanation that he’d purchased the expensive thing to keep his own life safe. If Buck declared he’d pay Ezra back, the con man would say that he'd get the money out of him at the poker tables soon enough. And that would be the end of it – except it never happened, Ezra never did have the chance to hand Buck that rifle and shrug it off.
Vin had just stepped out of the general store when he heard a woman shouting, “Help! They’re killing him! Help!”
He dropped his box as three men raced out of the gun shop, laden with rifles, pistols and ammunition. The idiots didn’t realize that the firearms weren’t loaded, that they were too damned overburdened to even defend themselves. Larabee appeared from somewhere, and Josiah and Buck. The three outlaws, with enough gun power to equip a small army, were overtaken easily.
Buck tried to calm down the folks from the shop. The woman was crying and the man talking quickly, saying how it all happened – two outlaws had come in and the fellow who was buying a rifle held the robbers off until the third arrived through the side door. The three thieves were able to overpower the man and split his head open with the butt of a rifle.
“Ezra!” Vin remembered shouting the gambler's name and looking toward Josiah. The preacher’s face went white and he ran immediately to the shop.
Vin had glared at the outlaw in his grips and saw the rifle in the man’s possession – a Winchester lever-action – a nice match to the lost one. The butt of it was bloody. Hurry, Josiah, he'd thought as he held down his man and as Chris found reason to belt the man he was holding. Tanner shoved his man around a little more, seeing that blood on the rifle that looked just like Buck’s lost one. The third man trembled on the ground near Larabee, knowing that he was next if he got out of line.
The lawmen from Digby finally got in motion and were able to take the thieves off their hands. It was good that they did, because Chris' eyes had gone dark when he'd heard the woman say they'd killed the man in the shop.
Free of his prisoner, Vin ran to the store. The gun shop owner almost mowed him down as he hurried out to find the town’s doctor. Vin would never forget the scene that greeted him. Josiah was sitting on the floor, with Ezra half pulled into his lap, muttering quietly to him and holding him close. There was a dark pool of blood on the floor, and soaked into Ezra's clothing. Buck was squatting beside the gambler, trying to stem the flow from a terrible gash across the side of his bruised head.
Ezra didn’t move at all.
It was already crowded in that small place, so Vin stood in the doorway. Larabee arrived, and would have squeezed himself inside as well, but the young doctor shoved him away and there was no more room. They crowded around the bleeding man, trying to help, finally picking him up and toting him away.
And Ezra never moved.
Vin had followed the procession to the doctor’s clinic. The physician seemed adequate enough. Buck, Josiah and Larabee held Ezra down as the doctor used a straightedge razor to cut away the hair on the wounded side of his head. Vin would have crowded in, too, but there was no place for him at the bed. He could only stand back and watch.
They had to keep Ezra still with that sharp implement being wielded so close to his scalp, but there was no need to hold him. Ezra was as still as a statue, but the three men didn’t remove their hands as the doctor worked. They held tightly to him, and Josiah continued to speak softly, sometimes in quiet words of encouragement, sometimes in prayer.
Vin stood apart, watching as the nurse, a young woman with frizzy brown hair, handed the doctor what was called for. He wanted to help, but there was no room for him. He could only stand out of the way.
God, Ezra looked awful, with his hair half-gone and that blood-soaked jacket, his head all bruised and gashed open – the doctor stitching his skin closed again like cloth.
Once Ezra was shaved and stitched and cleaned and bandaged and settled in a bed, Larabee tried to draw Vin away, but he couldn’t move. Finally there was room for him and he sat beside the bed. He grasped onto the gambler because he couldn't before. He held onto him because he had to.
Finally, after one long day and a sleepless night, Chris pulled him from the room and they headed on their way. It was like a dream. One minute he was in the doctor’s office, hanging onto Ezra and waiting for him to awaken, the next minute he was riding off with Chris and Josiah, leaving Ezra and Buck behind. Did they really leave Ezra and Buck behind in that little town called Digby?
How could he do that? Just leave them? He couldn’t remember if he said goodbye. There never was enough time to say adequate good-byes.
The journey that had started off as an enjoyable adventure, became a sorrowful trek. Buck kept them informed as they moved on, but every telegram they received only brought bleaker news. They’d cheered when they received word that Ezra had awakened, but the news that followed was heartbreaking. By the time they finally reached Tascosa, they were all worried that the worst would come of this.
A man came by the table to offer congratulations. Vin nodded and hunched over his glass. “Must be the best day of your life, huh? Bet you’re happy!” the man said and Vin looked up at him in disbelief.
Yes, it should be the best day in his life – to have this long desired prize -- finally. He should be happy, instead he felt like crap. It had all come crashing down on him as the verdict was read and he was declared a free man. He should be happy.
Wish I’d at least told him, ‘goodbye,’ Vin thought. Wish I’d thanked him for coming because he didn’t have to. Wish I didn’t have to leave him behind.
He filled the glass and drank it down again, then stared for a long time at the quivering line that marked the level of the liquid in the bottle.
A shadow moved before him and came to sit beside him. It took the bottle, making the line jump, and filled another glass. “Vin,” the shadow said. “I’ve been lookin’ for ya.”
“Found me,” Vin responded, snatching the bottle back from Chris to refill his glass. He settled the bottle before him again to stare at the line.
He hadn’t hidden. He’d found the saloon closest to the courthouse.
The two men drank in silence and Vin waited to be numbed. The line lowered until it almost touched the bottom of the bottle. He tore his attention from it and looked up to Larabee. “Don’t tell me to be happy," he snapped.
“Won’t do that, Vin,” Chris replied, emptying the bottle into his glass, taking away the line, and signaling for more whiskey.
“I should be happy,” Vin stated. “Should be damn fuckin’ happy.”
The telegrams from Buck had been disheartening. Ezra couldn’t hold a thought, didn't recognize Buck, didn't know his own name, had to be tied down sometimes to keep him from scratching up his head because of the pain. God, he must be in a heap of hurt, Vin thought, wiping his upper lip on his sleeve.
The doctor had said that Ezra might never get any better. How in the hell could that happen? It seemed so wrong for the clever con man to be left so mindless. It just wasn’t fair.
Vin didn’t want to think about what they’d have to do when they returned to Digby. Would they have to put Ezra in an asylum if he didn’t improve? Should they just contact Maude and put him into her hands? God, what would happen to him then? They'd have to keep him from Maude. The woman was his mother, but damn it if she didn't act like it. Sometimes Vin wondered if she ever had his best interests in mind.
Vin sighed. How could he be happy with something as pointless as a cleared name when Ezra couldn’t even remember his own? It was a shitty exchange, Vin decided. If he could, he’d turn it all back. Why did Ezra even come along? If he’d just stayed in Four Corners, then nothing would have happened and everyone would be safe and whole.
Except maybe that couple who owned the gun shop. They might be dead. Those outlaws might have shot up some other folks with all those guns. They had been planning a robbery with their buddies in another town. The law from Digby had managed to round up that other group as well. So no one got hurt, except for those three thieves who were probably still nursing their broken noses and bruised jaw -- and Ezra who was lying in a bed, not knowing his own name and acting crazy.
“Fuckin’ happy,” Vin murmured again, finishing his drink and grabbing for the bottle that had somehow reappeared at the table. Chris lifted it away from Vin’s grasping reach and once the tracker lowered his hand, he filled the glasses.
“We’ll finish things up here and head back,” Chris said solemnly, settling the bottle on the far side of the table.
“Yeah,” Vin replied, downing the shot. Why wasn’t he numb yet? Why wasn’t he fucking happy yet? He could recall Ezra sitting at the fireside as they camped, scanning through the books, taking notes and later discussing it all with Josiah. Vin wanted to tell Ezra that those books helped. The lawyer who represented the dead man had pulled a couple of punches that they weren’t expecting.
Wish I could tell you that those books helped, Ezra. Vin stared at the empty glass again, feeling it with his fingers, wishing that he was beyond these thoughts and able to experience the happiness that he’d been searching out for so long.
A large form made it to the table and stood there for a while, until the tracker gazed at him. Josiah looked concerned when their eyes met, and then he spoke to Chris. “I sent off the telegrams as soon as we got the verdict. Got this one just a minute ago. It’s from Digby.” He held the folded paper carefully.
That was Josiah for you. Chris would have read it right off, but Josiah always waited until they were together. He couldn’t quite face the words alone.
“Go ahead,” Chris said, filling a third glass for the preacher, refilling his own and Tanner’s. Sanchez downed the drink before opening the paper. Vin finished his latest glass and pushed it back toward Larabee. Josiah sighed as he saw the long message. Long messages usually meant bad news.
“VIN,” he solemnly read the first word. “I HAD NO DOUBT THAT YOU WOULD SUCCEED. I WISH I COULD HAVE BEEN THERE BUT KNOW THAT I WAS WITH YOU IN SPIRIT. ENJOY YOUR NEW FREEDOM. YOU DESERVE THIS MY FRIEND. CONGRATULATIONS. ALSO I UNDERSTAND THAT THERES BEEN SOME CONCERN FOR ME. WORRY NOT. MY SENSES ARE SOMEWHAT ADDLED BUT RETURNING…” Josiah trailed off, his mouth dropping open for a moment.
Chris looked up, his eyes sharp and a grin forming on his lips. “Ezra,” he muttered.
Vin brought his gaze away from the shot glass, not ready to make such assumptions yet. “Finish it!” he demanded.
“UNFORTUNATELY I HAVE AN INCREDIBLE HEADACHE. DR TEMPLETON IS WORSE THAN NATHAN WITH HIS REMEDIES. HE WILL POISON ME IN NO TIME. BUCK SENDS HIS REGARDS AND CONGRATULATIONS. INSTRUCT HIM PLEASE TO GET SOME REST. SINCEREST REGARDS, EZRA.”
Vin felt Chris clamp a hand down on his shoulder and he let go his grip on the glass. Josiah was laughing, but damn if it didn’t look as if he was crying. Chris shook his head, grinning like a fool.
“How,” Josiah started, and then began anew. “Last time I heard from Buck, he said that Ezra’d been sleeping all day.” The preacher had been frightened by that news, wondering if it was a sleep that Ezra would never awaken from.
“Couldn’t say, Josiah,” Chris said as he refilled the glasses. “Doesn’t matter, I 'spect, when you consider that the fool just sent us a $20 telegram. To Ezra,” he extolled as he held his glass aloft. “Glad to have him back with us.”
“Welcome back,” Josiah responded, lifting his glass as well. And then whispered, “Thank you, Lord.”
Vin smiled and toasted along with the rest, glad that he wasn’t as numb as he’d hoped.
They downed their liquor and slammed the glasses down on the table, drawing curious looks from the other bar patrons. They smiled, probably for the first time in two weeks. Chris filled the glasses again, but Vin wasn’t really interested anymore.
He glanced across to Josiah, his eyes fastening on the flimsy paper still clutched in his hand. He reached, and Josiah handed it over. Chris and Josiah toasted again as the tracker gazed at the lettering for a while. He grinned, knowing that the words declared that Ezra was once again with them. From his pocket he pulled the papers that declared his cleared name. He carefully added the telegram to the documents and returned them to his pocket. The papers would stay together for as long as he held them.
THE END - by NotTasha
Continue on to Good Name III and IV?
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