RATING: PG... for some swearing
CATEGORY: Challenge - OW
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.
FEEDBACK: Yes please!
comments are greatly appreciated.
DATE: October 27, 2001

A Good Name
Winner of the 2002 Diamond Ezzie Award for Best Old West Fic - General - Short
By NotTasha...who has a dandy name

'Oh no,' he thought.  'Not again.'  Things had been so quiet recently, his charge had been sleeping so peacefully, so deeply, over the past day, he'd hoped that the worst was over.  Now it seemed like things were just about to get busy again.

"Easy now, easy," Buck muttered, laying his arm across the southerner's chest to keep him still.  "It's okay."  Ezra didn't quiet down  -- not completely.   He continued to writhe under Wilmington's arm.  His actions didn't seem severe, but Buck had been fooled before and pressed harder, ready for what might happen next.  Most of the time, things went well.   The ladies' man eyed the straps that bordered the bed, wondering if he should get ahead of the game and put them on now.  Should he call Doc Templeton?  No, the good doctor was having dinner and could be here in a few minutes if he called.  Let the doctor eat for now.  Where was Frieda?  At her mother's house -- of course.

He watched as Ezra tossed his head and grimaced, his eyes squeezed tightly shut.  Standish tried to move his hands away from his sides, out from under the blanket, and was countered by Buck who crawled onto the bed, half-laying on him.

"Keep still, Ez," Buck ordered gently, using his free hand to clasp the gambler by the chin and hold his bandaged head immobile.  "You don't want to make it worse."

Still, Standish weakly struggled, but Wilmington was rather familiar with how to handle this situation by now and Ezra couldn't pull loose.  Don't want to use those damn straps yet, Buck thought.  Don't make me use 'em, Ez.'

He continued speaking softly, "Don't get yourself all worked up, okay?  No need to get upset.  Won't do you no good, you know.  I'm right here, Ezra."  He talked soothingly, hoping that the tone of his voice penetrated the addled consciousness of Standish.  "It's your ol' buddy, Buck.  I know you don't recognize the name, but just rest assured, I'm a friend."

Ezra stopped moving suddenly and slowly opened his glass-green eyes.  He blinked at the man directly above him.  "Buck," Ezra's voice was hoarse and quiet.  "What're you doin'?"

Wilmington said nothing, too surprised to speak.  "Buck?" Ezra repeated softly.  "Somethin' wrong?"

A wide grin broke across Buck's face, and had to blink his eyes to keep from crying.  "Ezra?"  he queried.  "Ezra, you with me now?"

"Where else would I be?" Standish answered peevishly.

"Well, you ain't been exactly HERE, Ez."

Ezra didn't understand the response and glared at Buck, whose face was far too close to his own.  "What're you doin' on me, Buck?"

Buck laughed, a strange sound to his lips.  "Sorry, Ez," he chortled and crawled off the bed.  "You get a bit rambunctious if left to yourself sometimes." He rubbed the corners of his eyes as he patted Ezra on the chest with his other hand.  "Damn," he cheerfully cried, settling himself on his chair.  "Look at you!  Your eyes open and lookin' back at me like you know whats-what."

"More or less," Ezra sighed, looking woozy and weak. He closed his eyes, trying to combat the ache.

"You know who you are?"

Ezra opened his eyes and gave Buck a disgusted look before responding, "A severely underpaid gambler with unachieved aspirations of wealth."  And seeing Buck's grin, he added.  "Ezra P. Standish, at your service."

"And you know me, right?" Buck asked.  "Know who I am this time, don't cha?  You said my name, right?"

"You're Buck Wilmington, a serviceable enough name. You are one rather annoying and overly boisterous member of the Four Corners regulators," he responded, and saw the pleased expression on Buck's face.

"Damn right!" Buck voiced loudly and slapped his knee, making Ezra wince at the noise. "You have no idea how long I've been waitin' for you to say that. To know my name… hell, to know you own for that matter." His smile fell as he examined the pained look on Ezra's face. "Head hurts a lot, don't it?"

"Extraordinarily -- as if someone were pounding a spike through the center of it." Now free, he pulled a hand out from under the covers and laid it across his forehead, jerking it away instantly when he realized that something was strange.  He stared at the sock-covered hand, trying to understand what was going on.

“S’okay, Ez,” Buck said, quickly pulling the offending sock off the hand and out of sight, and then another as a puzzled Ezra brought the other hand into view.  “Don’t think we’ll need these no more.”

“Why?”  Ezra turned frightened eyes toward Buck, still holding his hands before him in astonishment. He tried to sit up and felt the world spin. Wilmington quickly wrapped one arm around him, steadying him and taking on his weight, as Ezra slumped against him. Things went rather black for a while and the next thing he knew, Wilmington was gently slapping his face.

"Come on, Ez, I know you're in there.  Just wake up again for ol' Buck. I've been waitin' for this day for too long.  Open your eyes now," the encouraging words reached him and Ezra slowly opened his eyes, finding a cup of water pressed to his lips.  "Drink this up, Ez."  And he drank.  "Okay now, I'm gonna set you back." And he was lowered slowly and gently to the bed.  "Stay with me, now."  And he stayed.

He found himself looking up at Buck again -- the ladies' man watched him with a deliberate gaze and a relieved expression.  Wilmington seemed pleased as punch just to sit there and stare.

"What's going on?"  Ezra asked.

"Hell, Ez, not much of anythin's goin' on.  You ain't been yourself for almost two weeks."

"Two weeks?" Ezra whispered, his eyes wide.

"First off you wouldn't wake, and then when you did, you were just gettin' sick every time we tried to get you some water.  The Doc and his nurse and I were kept pretty busy with that.  After that, you didn't know who you were or anythin’.  Just kept asking me who I was and such.  Kept talking nonsense and wouldn't listen to reason." Buck couldn't keep the concern from his voice.

"Did I say anything, untoward?"  Ezra looked alarmed. "Anything that might be found… unconscionable?"

Buck laughed again, glad to hear words that he didn't quite understand -- glad that it was because of Ezra's vocabulary this time.  "You weren't sayin' much of anything I recognized, hoss," Buck replied.  "You were just confused mostly.”

Ezra lifted his hands and stared at them, as if he expected the socks to appear again.  Bits of wool clung to his cuticles to remind him of their recent existence. “Why?” he asked again, looking pleadingly toward Buck.

“I’m sorry, Ez.  We had to do it.  Couldn’t let you do any more harm."  Buck’s voice betrayed his reluctance to impart that information.

Ezra looked aghast.  "What did I do?  Did I hurt anyone?"

"Aw, Ez, no, no --  no one but yourself.  Your head was hurtin' you so bad… you were tryin' to get it to stop.  We had to tie you down to keep you safe sometimes.  Not real often, but sometimes."

Confusion crossed the gambler's face as he tried to remember and failed. He rubbed his wrists, attempting to recall how the restraints might have felt.  "What did I do?”

“Scratched your head a bit.  Doc says it’ll heal okay if we get you to leave it alone. That’s all.  That’s the only reason we did it.”  Buck tried to keep the information as simple as possible.

Ezra’s eyes focused on the bits of wool.  “I'm heartily sorry for any inconvenience that…"

"Shut up about that," Buck cut him off.  "Inconvenience ain't the right word for it.  You scared the shit out of me."

"How…" Ezra's voice came quieter as he tried to remember. "How did I…arrive in this pitiful state?"

"Don't remember anythin' about it?"  Buck leaned forward.  "Do you remember what we were all doin'?  How it started?  Where we are?"

"We were headin' to Tascosa," Ezra murmured. "To clear Vin's good name. -- a noble outing.  You, me, Vin, Chris…" he frowned, trying to remember in spite of the horrible headache, "…and Josiah.  We'd been out for…some time I think.  I recall you singing at the campfire… an atrocious song.  Josiah called you a heathen.  Crossed a river.  We saw wild horses  -- one almost pure white.  It would probably be worth the fuss of catching for sale.  I tried to convince Vin, but he was intent on his purpose.”  Ezra paused.  “Chris… he found a trail through a canyon that should have been a shortcut, but it proved difficult country -- put us days behind schedule.  Vin killed a deer and we feasted.  Gave the rest to some settlers, I believe."

"Yeah, that's right," Buck replied, happy to note that Ezra seemed to have most of his memory.

"There was a town, Digby…with a saloon called 'Black Speck'. We decided it would be a safe place to spend the night."

Buck smiled sadly.  "Yeah, Ez."

"I had a profitable evening.  Made enough to replenish our supplies…" He blinked, trying to remember.  "I was going to replace… your rifle.  You lost it at the … canyon.  It would be unwise to continue without a new one, but…" He closed his eyes, forcing his erring mind to work correctly.  "It was morning.  You all were preparing to go.  I recall the gun-shop and…making a decision."  He turned his head, as if shifting the position of his brain might allow it to function properly.  "The proprietor, Mr. Stowe, he was wearing a blue shirt. His hat was layin' on the counter.  It was black with a gold band." He moved his hand forward, as if to lay his hand on the crown of the hat.  "He had a ring on his finger, gold -- wedding band -- with a small blue stone.  His wife was there.  She wore a white ribbon in her hair.  Her dress was pale yellow with little purple flowers printed on the cloth.  She held her hands crossed in front of her.  A thin bracelet and a locket. A cobweb in the upper right hand corner of the shop was vibrating in the breeze from the window."  He raised his hand as if to touch the remembered web, and then slammed his fist down on the bed, frustrated at his inability to remember what mattered.

"Couple of guys came in, Ez," Buck supplied patiently.  "They tried to rob the shop.  Wanted a load of guns, I reckon, but you got in the way."  He sighed.  "You were trying to protect the Stowes and almost got those guys under control when their friend showed up.  They rushed you and held you down.  Then, to keep you quiet, they hit you upside the head real hard with one of those rifles you were looking at -- the one you were about to buy for me."

Ezra raised his hand and gingerly touched the side of his head.

"Stowe sounded the alarm and folks came running from everywhere. Chris and Vin caught the fellers as they tried to run off.  I was tryin’ to quiet down Stowe and his wife.  Josiah was the first one to come into the shop.  You were in awful shape, bleeding real bad. You were just kinda sprawled out on the floor in all that blood.  You weren't movin'.  Josiah couldn’t tell if you were breathin’ a’tall  -- thought you were dead.  I think it broke that man's heart to find you like that."

"I don't remember…" Ezra whispered, resting his hand on the sore spot.

"You wouldn't, Ez."  He nodded to Ezra's head.  "You got an awful bad whack on the head.  The Doc had to shave off half your hair to get it all stitched up.  Lord, you looked a fright."  Buck could smile about it now.

"My hair?"  Ezra gasped, feeling through the bandage and looking horrified at the possibility.  He glanced about the room as if to find a mirror.

"After that, me and the doc and his nurse looked after you.  It'll be two weeks come tomorrow. You were awake some of the time, but not really with us at all."

"I don't remember…" Ezra sighed again.  "It's just…gone…" he made a gesture with his other hand, open palmed, as if releasing a captive bird.

"It's probably better that way.  You don't need to recall anythin' else."

Ezra nodded, looking like a child who just received an unacceptable explanation for something.  "Where…"

Buck waited for the question to finish, and then asked.  "Where's what, Ez?"

"The others… where are Josiah, Vin and Chris?"

Buck looked sullen.  "They had to go on to Tascosa.  They stayed as long as they could and it tore them up to go, but that witness was only going to be there for so long.  Josiah needed to be there to help Vin with his case.  Chris had to be with Vin … and Vin, well, you know.  They would've stayed if they could.  I swear, Ezra, they were all worried sick about you and didn't want to go."

"Did they make it?  To Tascosa?"

Buck smiled.  "Yeah, they got there the day-before-yesterday.   The trial's today.  Should be gettin' notice from them any minute now.  Damn it, Ezra, soon as I can, I'm gonna run a message off to the telegraph office and let everyone know you're okay.  Gotta get word to Doc Templeton too.  It's gonna be one hell of a good day for all of us. Not only if we get Vin's name cleared, but to hear you talkin’ sensible and knowin' your name and all.”

Ezra smiled wistfully.  "Wish I could've gone with them.  I might’ve been able to lend assistance in the case."

"Josiah will get along just fine, you'll see.  They all were plenty upset about goin', Ezra.  Each of them wanted to stay on to make sure you were okay."

"But it was imperative to reach Tascosa on time," Ezra completed his thought.  "Vin deserves to have a name, free and clear.  A man deserves a name.  They did the right thing."  He turned to Buck. "You should’ve gone as well."

"No, not me!”  Buck quickly responded.  “I had other things to take care of."  He patted the southerner on the shoulder.  “Had to keep an eye on you.   Had to stay here and keep tellin’ you what your name was every time you asked.”

Buck sat back, remembering the horrible days after the robbery at the gun shop.  Josiah would have rather stayed.  He would have preferred to send Buck along to Tascosa and to keep himself here in Digby.  He had fretted and fussed, tortured by the thoughts of unwanted possibilities. Finally, he knew that he was needed at the trial -- a silver-tongued devil might be critical to Vin's case.  Sanchez had hoped that Ezra would be there with him though. He had seen several the contracts that the gambler had drawn up around town and knew that this man was more familiar with legal mumbo-jumbo than he let on. Josiah's presence in Tascosa had become critical -- so he had to leave the gambler behind in Wilmington's trusted care.

Vin had refused to leave the cardsharp's bed at first, blaming himself for what happened -- Ezra never would have gotten hurt if he'd just stayed home, just stayed in Four Corners with Nathan and JD as was originally planned. The gambler had added himself to the adventure at the last minute, coming along to see if his knowledge of the law (or rather his knowledge of how to get around the law -- as he put it) would come in handy in freeing Vin's name.  Buck had caught Standish stashing several heavy-looking books onto one of the packhorses, calling it 'light-reading.'  The books were cracked open every evening at the fireside and Ezra had studied them silently, taking notes, marking pages.

It was Larabee, finally, that forced Vin to go -- knowing that time was important and they'd lost too much of it already.  "Gotta get a-movin'," Larabee had stated. "We'll lose this chance if we don't go now."

"Can't leave him," Vin had responded. "Gotta make sure he's okay."

"He won't be okay if he wakes up and finds out you fucked up this chance," was Larabee's response.  "He'll hate himself if he finds out what you did."  And so Vin left, with Larabee tugging him out the door.

Buck could read Chris well enough to see how hard it was for the gunslinger to leave like this -- not knowing if Ezra was even going to wake up -- but he had to go, for Vin's sake.  He blamed himself for the ill-advised detour that brought them through Digby instead of another town on another route, and Larabee had been determined to be there when the gambler awoke, but Ezra never did open his eyes while they waited.

Before they left, Chris had pulled Buck aside and said, "Stay with him, Buck," as if there'd been any question about that.  But Wilmington understood.  He'd stay for all of them.

Every time the group came to a new town, they'd send back inquiries. And every day, Buck had to field the questions -- not only from them, but from Nathan and JD in Four Corners as well.  It was heartbreaking to send back bad news every day.  "STILL HASN'T WOKE." "WOKE TODAY BUT NOT TALKING SENSE." "SICK - VERY SICK."  "CANT REMEMBER HIS NAME."  "HE'S STILL NOT RIGHT -- TALKING CRAZY."  "DOC TEMPLETON IS WORRIED."  "TROUBLE TODAY. NEEDED TO TIE HIM DOWN."

Buck glanced at Ezra's bandaged head, recalling the times that he'd had to hold back Ezra's bloody hands to keep him from further clawing at his pain-filled head – not often, but even once would have been more than enough. It was heart wrenching to hear the pitiful cry of, "It hurts!" and "Make it stop!"  over and over.  It took all of their strength to keep the gambler from further injuring himself, from tearing through his skin in his agonized frenzy.  Templeton's nurse, Frieda, had come up with the idea of ‘socking’ his hands to protect him, but not before he'd managed to open the healing wound more than once, and tear gouges into his bare head.  The bandages were for these new injuries and not the original one.  Don't worry, Ez, Buck thought.  Your hair will grow back and cover the worst of it.  No one need know.

Wilmington had been frightened when Ezra had calmed down and started talking again, sounding like a simpleton, constantly asking the same damned questions over and over again and never appearing to have comprehended the answers. Ezra had asked, "Who are you?" a hundred times, and Buck responded one hundred times with his name, and Ezra would reply with, "Do I know you?"  How many different ways could Buck say, "I'm your friend," and receive that vacant and confused look in return?

And Ezra would ask for his own name constantly.  “My name?  What’s my name?”  The question would be frantic, as if he needed that small piece of information to hold onto, but was constantly losing it.

Damn that rifle!  If he hadn't lost it into that damnable gorge…!

Buck had spent many distressed evenings, praying that the cardsharp returned to his senses -- please don't leave him like this.  It ain't right!

Doc Templeton had told him that everything might be okay, but nearly two weeks had passed without ANYTHING being okay -- until now, until Ezra Standish opened those green eyes and finally recognized him -- called him by name. Buck never thought he'd be so pleased hearing his name uttered by that cardsharp.

Wilmington smiled, imagining Vin and Chris crowded around Josiah as the immanent telegram was received -- or Nathan and JD back at home.  They'd read it together and smile, they'd 'whoop', they'd slap each other on the back and laugh. Nathan could finally relax.  Wilmington was fairly sure that Jackson had worried himself crazy over the insensible southerner.

Nathan's telegrams came twice a day  -- always filled with advice -- always demanding precise information that Buck really wasn't willing to give.  How could he tell Nathan that Ezra clawed up his scalp?  How could he say that Ezra sounded like a two-year-old?  How could he say that Ezra didn't know him, didn't know anyone? Today, he'd have no trouble sending information to Nathan.

JD, he could imagine, would be incredibly relieved.  The poor kid felt everything too deeply.  He knew that Ezra had had a long conversation with JD before leaving, probably making sure that Dunne was okay with the revised situation -- that he wasn't required in Four Corners  -- that the sheriff and the healer could adequately protect the town without him.  JD probably agonized over that now, wishing he'd asked Ezra to stay.

"Buck?"  Ezra waved his hand in front of Wilmington's eyes, startling him. The gambler's face looked concerned as he tried to garner the ladies' man's attention.  "Are you okay, Buck?"

Wilmington smiled, realizing that his mind was wandering.  "Yeah, sure."

Ezra smiled.  "I thought perhaps it was contagious."  Buck laughed, glad just to have the right to laugh again, when Ezra asked, "My hair… is it that bad?"

"It'll grow, Ezra!"

Ezra looked unsure.  "But it was one of my best features."

Buck was about to respond when a gentle rap on the door drew his attention away.  Young Donald from the telegraph office peeped in. "Got one for you, Mr. Wilmington," the boy said quietly.  His gaze drifted to the figure in the bed and he stepped back slightly, seeing that the sick man was awake. That sometimes meant that things were about to get scary.

Buck strode forward and gave the kid a coin for the message, and then handed him another coin.  "Go tell Doc Templeton that Ezra's awake…and aware!  Make sure you say, 'awake AND aware.' Come back after that with your pad 'cause I'll have a message or two to send."

Donald nodded, turning and muttering, "Awake and aware," as he hurried off.

"Does it concern Vin?"  Ezra asked excitedly, motioning toward the telegram.  "Is it…is everything okay?"

Buck sat down again beside the bed and unfolded the wire. He scanned the message first, not wanting to disappoint Ezra just now.  Lord, don't let this be bad news.  He'd lie if he had to, tell Standish that the note was from Nathan or something.  He smiled as he read through the words.

"Buck!"  Ezra cried urgently, and winced at his own loud voice.  "What does it say?"

Buck grinned.  "They did it!  That witness …Josiah says he used that book of yours that had…"

"Buck!"  Ezra called, flinching again.  "The verdict?"

Buck nodded.  "Not Guilty."

Ezra smiled, leaning back against the pillows.  "The terrible price has been lifted.  Mr. Tanner's name is once again his own.  A most satisfactory conclusion."

"Yeah, that's one way to say it."  Buck slapped his knee again.  "Gotta say it, Ez. I'm damn happy." He rattled the paper and declared, "Vin gets his named cleared and, hell, you finally know your own and mine to boot.  It's a hell of a good day."

“I believe it was Cervantes who said, ‘A good name is better than riches’,” Ezra said offhand.

“That true?” Buck inquired, intrigued that Ezra would make such a claim.

Ezra shrugged as if he couldn’t make heads or tails of the comment. He maneuvered his hand to the bed-stand and picked up the nearly empty cup.   "To good names, both regained and cleared."

"Amen to that, brother," Buck said with a wink, and refilled the glass with water after Ezra emptied it.

THE END - by NotTasha
Continue on to A Good Name II

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