Rating:  PG-13 Language, Violence

Disclaimer:  The Magnificent Seven is owned by Trilogy, Mirish, MGM, and some others I'm not sure of. The name of this fanfic comes from the comic book, ElfQuest, written by Richard and Wendy Pini and belonging to Warp Graphics. I'm not making any money.

Author's Notes:  This story is for Judy. She asked if she could get me to do a Vin story. (I haven't done one yet, even though he's one of my favorites.) So, I asked for ideas, and this is what came of it. Judy, this is for you. Thanks for being such a wonderful beta. :) The title of this fic is the name of my all time favorite comic book character.

Feedback is always greatly appreciated. Please let me know what you think. Thank you, Ruby :)

 

Strongbow

By: Ruby

Part One

Vin Tanner and Chris Larabee sat, quietly conversing, at the corner table in the saloon.

Ezra had glanced their way a few times during his poker game. He'd been holding court up on the raised platform for over an hour now. He'd been winning the whole time and hadn't been accused of cheating once. He grinned, things might just be looking up.

He watched out of the corner of his eye as Tanner stood up, shook hands with Larabee and started across the wooden saloon floor. Right before the tracker stepped through the batwing doors, he glanced his way. "Come on Ezra, yer with me." The lanky tracker kept going, not even stopping to check if Ezra had heard him.

Well, maybe things weren't looking up after all.

Ezra stared dumbfounded at the still swinging doors. He glanced over to the man in black who was sitting quietly, then back to the doors. He looked down at the hand he held, then back over to Mr. Larabee. Chris raised his eyebrow at him and cocked his head towards the exit.

Did this man actually expect him to leave a perfectly good poker game to go on a meaningless romp somewhere with that tracker? He held the winning hand, he was sure of it. Actually he *was* sure of it. But, Chris had that look on his face. That 'don't cross me or I'll smite you to hell' look. That seemed to be the gunslinger's usual expression whenever he was dealing with him.

He shook his head, rolled his eyes and tossed his *winning* hand on the table. He stood, tipped his hat to his playing companions, tossed Larabee a withering glare and walked towards the exit.

"A dollar a day, plus room and board." He shook his head and muttered softly as he pushed his way through the batwing doors.

He was sure that the man in black's mouth had turned up in a victorious grin right there at the end. That just irked him. Sometimes he thought Larabee just messed with him because he thought it was fun. The gunslinger seemed to get a perverse enjoyment out of watching him squirm. Chris Larabee did not scare Ezra Standish. Nope. Not even a little. Ezra just did what the older man asked because he was the leader. Not because he was mortally afraid of an early grave if he crossed the temperamental gunslinger. He liked to sometimes try to get a rise out of the man in black, but today just didn't seem like the day. Except for that grin that the peacekeeper let show when Ezra had finally acquiesced, Larabee had been in a rather bad mood lately and Ezra rather liked his head right where it was. It was safer to just go with Tanner. At least the laconic ex-bounty hunter wouldn't threaten to kill him at the drop of a hat. Well, at least he hoped not. He saw the tracker's back just before the man disappeared into the livery.

*****

Vin saddled his black and waited for the gambler to show. There wasn't a doubt in his mind that the other man *would* show. He knew that there was no way Ezra could sit in that saloon and not do what Larabee told him to; especially with Chris right there, glaring daggers at him. Well, he could, but he thought Ezra was a little smarter than that. He was suddenly glad of the close relationship that he had with the older gunslinger. He wouldn't want Chris to look at him like that. Chris dealt with Ezra like he was a disobedient child. Vin laughed, he knew that Ezra would sometimes bait Chris, try to make him mad. But only when the older man was in a half way decent mood, or what passed for a decent mood for the taciturn gunslinger. Vin wondered if that's what brothers were like.

He wouldn't know, he'd never had any brothers...well, 'till now. He smiled at that thought. He couldn't believe he'd thought it. JD must be getting to him. He was still smiling when he heard the gambler enter the livery.

"I'm glad my situation amuses you so, Mr. Tanner."

Vin couldn't help it, the idea that Ezra was miserable *was* very amusing to him, and his smile grew. "Ah hell, Ezra, it's just for a few days."

"A few DAYS?! Where are we going? I assumed that we were just going out on patrol."

He tightened the black's cinch and leaned over the horse to look at the gambler. "We're going to Strongbow. Drop off a prisoner and come right back. No cons - no games - just work." Vin was sure that this would get a rise out of the gambler. Ezra would sputter on about how he wasn't going to be looking for any games, his face would be all righteous indignation and he would be mad, and silent, for most of the trip.

He was surprised, when instead of getting angry, the gambler got very quiet.

"Did you say...Strongbow, Mr. Tanner?"

Did he just see a flash of fear in Ezra's eyes? "That's what I said. Why? You got some angry marks waitin' on ya there?" Vin laughed as he watched the gambler start to get nervous, but the look on Ezra's face made him stop laughing.

"You alright Ez?"

Ezra's head snapped up and his eyes narrowed. "Of course, Mr. Tanner. I'm perfectly fine."

Just like Ezra to take offense at an honest question. Show one ounce of concern for the con man and he was running the other way. He wondered why that was. Vin watched as the gambler chuckled nervously and wrung his hands together. Here it comes.

"Actually, I have pressing matters to attend to, here in town. If you would be so kind as to tell Mr. Lara-"

"Tell 'im yerself."

"Excuse me?"

"If you can't go to Strongbow, go tell Chris yerself."

Ezra glanced towards the saloon, back to him, then his eyes fell on the ground. Vin almost felt sorry for him. Almost.

Ezra glanced up at him, towards the saloon one more time, then chuckled nervously again. "Well, actually, I do believe that I shall be able to accompany you on this journey."

Vin couldn't hide his grin. Whatever the gambler faced in Strongbow wasn't as bad as facing 'Chris Larabee's wrath.' If he hadn't've seen that fear in the other man's eyes, even if it was just for that second, he would think all of this was really funny. But he had seen it and now he had a nagging feeling in the back of his mind.

What was in Strongbow?

He thought about asking Chris if maybe JD could come instead. He was pretty sure that the kid didn't have enemies in every town in the land. But, Ezra was supposed to go, and it would be easier for them to just head out and not have to go talk to Chris about it. He didn't want to have to deal with the Larabee temper either, especially not on such a pretty morning. Besides, he'd be there to watch Ezra's back, if he'd let him.

"I'll be at the jail, gettin' the prisoner." Vin led his black towards the livery door, grabbed the reins of the rental horse and walked out.

*****

"Ezra Simpson. You son of a bitch! How dare you set foot in my town again."

The two men hadn't been in Strongbow for three minutes before they were stopped by the man in front of them.

Vin's eyes darted over to the gambler then back to the angry storekeeper. "Sir, you have the wrong ma-"

"The hell I do! This bastard conned me outta my life savings two years ago. I told him that if I ever saw him again I would shoot 'em where he stood!"

Vin eased his hand down on his mare's leg and glanced at Ezra. The gambler was sitting stoically; calmly staring at the irate man, like this was an every day occurrence. Vin wondered, not for the first time, how Ezra had lived this long.

Three other men joined the storekeeper. The biggest pointed his finger at the gambler. "Simpson! You low down dirty snake. We let you into our community and you used us. We shoulda figured that you wasn't trustworthy. All them big words and promises." The man turned towards his friends. "Let's hang 'em."

Ah shit! Vin needed to stop this before someone got hurt. "We're the law in Four Corners, just droppin' off a prisoner." He cocked his head towards the gambler, "This here's Ezra Standish, don't know who that Simpson feller is." He legged his black forward, fully intending to run the men over if they didn't move out of his way. Ezra stayed right beside him. The men just glared at them, turned and walked away.

The two men finished their business and quickly headed out of town. They were a couple miles away before either spoke.

"Christ, Ezra, next time just talk to Chris!" Vin let a small chuckle rise to the surface and looked at his partner, to gauge his response. Ezra wasn't smiling.

The two men walked their horses for a while in silence.

Finally Vin couldn't take it any more. "Ezra?"

"Yes, Mr. Tanner?"

"Just wanted to make sure ya was still breathin' over there." He grinned and glanced sideways at the older man. "Yer allowed to talk, you know. I ain't gonna bite ya. If yer embarrassed about all a that, don't b-"

"Mr. Tanner, I assure you. The opinions of a few backwater ruffians would not effect my disposition in the least."

"Oh." Vin rolled his eyes. "Whatever Ezra." Vin would never understand the infuriating man.

"Well, it ain't effected my opinion of ya none. Hell, I knew what ya was, even 'fore I heard all a that."

He watched as the gambler winced and looked down at the pommel of his saddle. Bingo. The gambler might not care what those townsfolk thought of 'em, but it sure looks like he cares what I think. He turned his head to tell Ezra that he was just jokin' with him when something in the woods to his right caught his eye.

"EZRA!" Vin sawed his horse's head around and the large beast barreled into Ezra's chestnut. The gambler's smaller mount was knocked off balance. A gunshot split the air, sending the already agitated beast rearing towards the sky. Ezra was thrown backwards, to land in a heap on the ground.

Vin jumped off his horse and with a slap to the rump sent it scurrying off into the woods. He watched as the chestnut followed his black. He wasn't sure if the horse's hooves hit the downed man as the chestnut made a mad dash for cover.

Vin could feel the burning pain deep in his chest. He knew the bullet had hit him, but just wanted to make sure the gambler was ok. He started towards his friend's side.

He couldn't hear any more shooting. Either they thought they were both dead and left, or thought they soon would be. Either way he needed to check on his friend. The world pitched sideways and his body had no choice but to follow. He was out before he hit the ground.

*****

Part Two

Vin's mouth was dry. What he wouldn't give for a cool sip of water right about now. Even just a tiny taste, anything to make the cotton in his mouth go away.

He blinked his eyes and noticed how black the sky was. Stars twinkled over head. He stared at the stars until he was sure he could see shapes up there. He tried to remember what'd happened, but just couldn't. A low pain-filled moan quickly brought his memory back.

He moved his head just enough to spot Standish lying face down just a few feet away. He grimaced, that had to hurt. The conman's head slowly turned towards him and he saw green eyes trying to focus on his face.

"Welcome back, Ez."

Ezra blinked at him, licked his lips and grinned. "Mr. Tanner, I feel...as though...I've been run over...by a...horse."

Vin grinned, then grimaced. He tried to work some saliva into his mouth. "What happened?" His voice was hoarse.

"Well, I do...believe...I've been...run over...by a horse." Ezra moved his left arm, put it under his body and pushed himself up.

Vin rolled his eyes. Great! Ez was bein' a smart ass. It was gonna be a long night. Suddenly a terrible pain ripped through his chest. He squeezed his eyes shut and tried to stifle the groan.

When he opened his eyes, Ezra was kneeling over him. He must not've stifled it too well. He didn't know how the conman had made it over to him so quickly, but he was right there with a face full of concern. Vin wondered how bad his wound was. Ezra sure looked scared. He tried to pull his head up so he could look down at his chest, but Ezra put his hand on his forehead and gently forced his head back down.

"Mr. Tanner, please lie still. You've been shot." Ezra pulled his coat off and wadded it up. Vin hissed in pain when the gambler pushed it against his wound.

Vin looked up, Ezra's face was inches from his own. His face was so pale; blood flowed down the left side, making a crimson track through the dirt. The gambler's face was full of concentration and worry as he tried to stop the bleeding.

Ezra pulled the coat away. It must not have stopped bleeding because he put it right back and pushed harder. Vin tried to curl himself up when the new pain hit him. He heard the sound of metal on metal and felt a hand on the back of his head. He took a gulp from the flask that the gambler held up to his mouth. He took a couple more long drinks and winced as the liquor burned its way down to his stomach. He felt his head gently lowered back to the ground. Sudden pressure on his chest had him gasping in pain. Blackness slowly overtook his vision. He could hear Ezra yelling at him, but was just too tired to care anymore. He let himself drift away from the pain.

*****

The smell of burning wood and the crackle of a fire brought him back to awareness. He was lying on a bedroll, something soft was under his head. There was another blanket tucked around his body. Ezra sat close to him, studying him seriously.

"Welcome back, yourself, Mr. Tanner. You gave me quite a scare."

"I did?"

"You didn't wake up when I cleaned your wounds. You're lucky, the bullet went straight through. I poured alcohol on both wounds and bandaged them and you slept through the whole thing. I was really starting to worry. It's almost morning now."

Vin could see the dark circles under the gambler's eyes. He'd probably stayed awake the whole time, watching over him. "Sorry, Ez. But, I feel better now. If that makes you feel any better."

Ezra smiled. There was a slight twinkle in his eye. Relief washed the worry off his face. "Mr. Tanner, that makes that whole horrible evening worth it. I'm glad that you're on your way to a recovery."

Ezra looked like he was about to drop at any second. "Why don't you get some sleep now. I'm ok."

"No, I need to stay awake incase those men decide to come back and finish the job."

The gambler looked like he had something on his mind. "Ez, if somethin's botherin' ya, why don't you just come out and say it."

Ezra's head snapped up. He watched Vin's face, like he was checking to see if he was being sincere or not. He sighed, "Mr. Tanner, about...about what those men back there said. I realize that you have a...pre-conception of me. But, I just wanted to let you know...that-"

"It was a different man."

"What?"

"Back there. It was a different feller that those men was talkin' 'bout, not you. That Simpson feller, he sounds like a right ornery person. I'm glad that I ride with Ezra Standish, not Ezra Simpson. Hell, if I rode with that Simpson feller, I'd hafta be watchin' my money all the time." He grinned and watched a smile replace the frown on Ezra's face.

"Hell, Ezra, we all done things in the past we ain't proud of. You think I ain't done things that I'm sorry for. As long as yer sorry for em, I think you'll be ok."

Ezra's eyes were bright. He nodded. "Thank you, Mr. Tanner. Thanks...Vin. You're right, you wouldn't have liked Ezra Simpson at all. Hell, I didn't even like him."

Both men chuckled. Then silently caught the others eye. There was a tacit understanding. Things in the past, were in the past. Ezra nodded and pulled himself into a sitting position, then crawled over to Vin.

"Um...Ez, why are you crawlin'?"

Ezra looked sheepish as he replied. "Cause I broke my damn leg when that horse ran over me."

Vin grunted as Ezra suddenly threw his body over his. The gambler had his gun out and pointing towards the woods.

"Howdy boys!" Chris Larabee's voice carried through the camp.

Vin breathed a sigh of relief. Ezra visibly relaxed and lowered his weapon.

Vin grunted again when the gambler pulled himself off his body. Nathan appeared out of nowhere, making him jump slightly. "Damn, Nate. Warn a man, won't you."

Nathan pulled the blanket off of him and checked his bandages. The black man looked over to the gambler. "Did a good job, Ezra."

Vin watched as Ezra blushed slightly and looked down.

"What the hell happened?" Chris's barely controlled hiss made both men shrink.

"We ran into troubl-" Vin was interrupted by the gambler's voice.

"I met a couple...acquaintances who saw fit to-"

"A couple marks, you mean! Damn Ezra, when will you learn not to risk the other men's lives with your penny-anty card games?!"

"It wasn't like that Chris." Vin groaned as he pulled himself up into a sitting position. Suddenly Chris was next to him, helping him up. "It wasn't like that at all. It was some men from his past. We had words with 'em in town, then they came after us. It could have happened to anyone." Vin silently pleaded with the gunslinger to let this one go. He knew that Ezra felt bad for what happened and sure as hell didn't need Chris riding him hard about it. "Everything worked out in the end."

"Worked OUT?! Vin, you got a hole in yer chest!"

"Yeah, and it's fine. Ezra did a real good job of patchin' me up and I'm fine." Vin's eyes widened. "Nathan, you need to check on Ez. He broke his leg, and hit his head."

Chris and Vin watched as Ezra tried to bury himself further into the saddle he'd been leaning on. The healer caught him and started checking his injuries.

Vin could see the unadulterated concern that showed on the older man's features when Chris looked back at him. "Chris, we're fine. It's all right."

Chris sighed and nodded. "Just worried is all."

"I know. That's what older brothers do." Vin smiled when Chris looked at him sharply, then lowered his face as a grin turned the corners of his mouth up.

Vin reached out and clapped the older man on the shoulder. "Now, get on over there and check on the black sheep. I'm fine."

Both turned towards Nathan who was trying to clean the gambler's head wound. The two men shook their heads and smiled when they heard the profanity that came from Ezra's mouth.

Chris stood up, but Vin stopped him with a hand on his boot. "After all this is over, I think you need to work on your social skills, cowboy."

Chris's voice croaked, "M-E?!"

"Yeah, it's pretty bad when one of yer own men would rather face a lynchin' party than talk to you about somethin'."

Chris looked down and then over to the gambler. "I'll get him straightened out."

Both men winced when they heard the gambler howl in pain.

"Think Nathan just 'straightened' out his leg." Vin smiled and Chris laughed.

"Damn that hurts." Chris shook his head and looked down at Vin once more.

"Get some rest, cowboy. We'll head back, soon as you two are up to it."

"Thanks Chris."

Chris nodded and started towards the gambler.

*****

Ezra was trying to breathe through the pain. His breath came in sharp gasps and his eyes were squeezed shut. After a few minutes he finally opened them. Nathan was watching him closely. Ezra saw movement to his right and watched as Chris started his way. He knew what was coming. He'd rather have his leg set again.

Chris squatted next to him, then glanced towards Nate. "How's he doin'?"

Nathan wrapped his leg as he spoke. "He's got a pretty bad break and a concussion, but, I think he'll be ok. He needs to stay here for a while, though. Can't move him too soon.

Larabee looked down at him. Ezra couldn't keep himself from shrinking back. He cleared his throat before speaking. "Vin ok?"

Chris nodded and continued staring at him. Ezra looked away, then back.

Finally Chris spoke. "Thanks for taking care of Vin last night."

Ezra couldn't hide his surprise. He coughed into his hand. "It's the least I could do. It was, after all, my fault." He waited for the other shoe to drop.

Chris smiled. The small gesture lighting up his green eyes. "Ezra."

"Yes, Mr. Larabee?"

"Next time you need to talk to me, please just do it. I'm not your worst enemy, you know. In fact, I'm not your enemy at all."

Ezra watched the man in black. He seemed sincere enough. He suddenly felt very silly for going to Strongbow instead of just explaining the situation to his leader. Finally, he nodded.

Chris held out his hand and Ezra shook it.

"Thank you, Mr. Larabee."

Chris looked from the gambler to the tracker, a grin barely showing on his stern face. "Can't you two go anywhere without finding trouble?"

Vin and Ezra shared a knowing smile. Both laughed, then laughed harder when Chris gave them that 'don't cross me or I'll smite you to hell' look.

Larabee shook his head, rolled his eyes, turned and walked away.

the end (Mar 2000)

Sequel: Moonshade

 

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