Disclaimer: I own very little, certainly not the rights to the Magnificent Seven and this story is intended for entertainment purposes only. I am neither seeking nor making any profit. All original characters I.E. Maisey, Sheriff Bradley , and Deputy Dean are mine and may be used in stories of a similar context and rating.

Author's Note: When I originally started this story I had some idea of where it was going; that no longer seems to be wholly the case. But seeing as how that was years ago and much has happened since then I shouldn't be terribly surprised by that. Anyway, as a result there are some chapters that come harder than others ( though I am trying to go for one a month to two months) and they end up taking longer than I initially thought they might. Yet for all that I sincerely apologize for the recent delay on this chapter. Especially as I realize my past history on keeping up with a story isn't exactly reassuring. I am going to finish this story though. It's become my mission. Anyway thanks for the patience and thank you for reading and leaving feedback, all are treasured and appreciated.

CHAPTER TWELVE

"Never in my life have I suffered such a gross indignity…"

"That include the time you dressed up like a saloon girl to get Mary…"

"Shut up, Mister Tanner!"

Smiling evilly Kevin trailed several feet behind the men, wondering if he'd ever felt such satisfaction in his whole life. For days now Standish and Larabee, and then their friends, had been making his life complicated and just flat unpleasant and if he could return that favor, if only in the smallest measure, then he saw nothing wrong with enjoying it.

Clearly agitated Standish yanked viciously at the chains connecting him to Gerald Lewis (the towns black smith and the largest S.O.B. Kevin had ever seen) who didn't so much as grunt in response.

"Paraded through town, chained to this behemoth, I mean no offense Sir, as if I were some…"

"Criminal?," Kevin offered, unable to keep his amusement out of his voice.

"And you! A sworn representative of the law not only allowing this absurdity, but participating in it! You should be shamed Mister Dean by this gross act of negligence and incompetence! And what Sheriff Bradley should have to say I dare not imagine!"

"Considering his gross dereliction of duty I don't think he'll have too much to say about it."

Which wasn't exactly true, now was it? The Sheriff had neither abandoned his duty nor did he really think the man was going to be exactly supportive when he heard about tonight's little adventure, but then nothing had gone exactly the way it should've since the beginning of this thing.

A fact which couldn't be ignored as he trailed behind Gerald and the two men chained to either arm, who, in their turn, were fallowing behind Tanner and Wilmington who continued to bicker with Standish as he bitched his way down the street.

I must've lost my mind., he thought as they drew closer to the very bar this whole stupid mess had started in. That's got to be it.

Why else would he have agreed to let his two prisoners, men awaiting trial for murder no less, leave their cells ( However he might have restrained them) and for no better reason than because one of their friends was getting drunk? Whatever Wilmington had insisted it couldn't be that bad.

Right?

UUU

Nate didn't look up as the six of them entered the bar, though the bartender did and no one missed the way his eyes widened when they fell on the two men he'd last seen standing over the body of the man they'd killed.

Chris felt the cold smile settle on his lips before his eyes fell to one of the only three occupied tables in the room, it's occupant so engrossed in whatever visions he was seeing in the depths of his glass that he seemed completely unaware of the sudden change in the atmosphere of the room.

Which said a lot, Chris knew, about his state of mind.

Damn, damn, damn., he thought, not wanting to have to deal with this, wishing he'd just kept riding past this Godforsaken town in the first place.

However he'd made it look leaving Four Corners hadn't been easy, if he'd hesitated for even a minute he knew now, as he'd known then, that he wouldn't have left at all. And he hadn't hesitated, hadn't taken the time to examine his reasons or his options. He'd saddled Job and ridden out and for the past six months he'd refused to look back. To wonder and worry about almost everyone he'd left behind, or why he'd left them behind to begin with.

And now here he was, right back where he'd started and with no option but to keep moving on ahead.

Damn it all, you'd think a group of grown men wouldn't need a Goddamn babysitter.

Behind him he could feel Dean falling back ever further as Buck and Vin moved ahead to take seats directly across from Nate, the humor they'd nettled Ezra with only moments before completely gone from their faces.

Ezra, he thought on what was almost a sigh.

If either of them had any doubts about what would send Nate to the bottle he knew it wasn't the Gambler and that alone was going to make this…

Fucked, he thought wryly, not to put too fine a point on it.

In fact he didn't need to look at the man to know that Ezra's face had gone hard and unreadable, to feel the anger coming off him in waves and he didn't, couldn't, blame him for it. The things the man had revealed to him had been brutal and hard and he hadn't wanted to tell them to him. Hadn't wanted to tell anyone really and Chris still isn't exactly sure how he'd gotten any of it out of him.

But then he knew what it was like to hold a thing like that to yourself for too long. Knew how at first it was from guilt and pain and the simple horror of surviving. Then, somehow it became a comfort, a way to keep those who were gone close to you, until it started to fester and then the end was all you could remember of those who were gone.

But you couldn't let it go because it was all you could remember.

But you have to., he thought even as he wanted to cringe away from the very idea, wanted to shudder with the pain it sent twisting through his heart, You have to or you lose everything they ever were.

But that didn't mean he was ready to share it with anyone else and there was no way to tell how he was going to react if Nathan's drunk was a direct result of his having heard every word out of Ezra's mouth.

To hell with riding past Huxley, he should've never even stopped in Four Corners, all those years ago.

Should've. Would've. Could've.

"I think that's just about enough of that.," He muttered (As much to himself as anyone else) and so saying he reached out and took the only bottle in front of Nate that still had anything in it.

Or he would've, anyway, if Nathan's hand hadn't suddenly shot out and ripped the bottle from his grasp." 'm not done wi't tha'."

"You are now.," he snapped and reached again for the bottle, only to have the man jerk it out of his reach.

That was one of the things about Nathan when he got drunk like this, it didn't slow him down, didn't, until a certain point, make him as clumsy and, well, stupid as it did most men.

He'd never been sure if it would've been better if that weren't the case, but he was damn well sure enough that it couldn't be much worse than what he already had to deal with.

"Nate, give me the Goddamn bottle."

"No."

Then confirming his worst fears for the situation his bloodshot eyes shifted to Ezra, ripe with accusation., "You shou'da tol' me. Ezra…you shou'da tol' me."

Not even bothering to arch his eyebrow Ezra just stared at him, eyes blazing with something Chris was more than a little afraid to put a name to, for several seconds before saying, " I'm sorry?"

"Magdalena Telfair-Perdue.," Nathan pronounced the name without difficulty, his voice absent of the drunkenness obvious in his earlier words., "Your Aunt."

Darting a quick look to Vin and Buck, relived by their puzzled expressions, Chris waited for Ezra's reaction. After all the story hadn't been, and still wasn't, his and he wasn't prepared to decide on the other man's behalf how this should be dealt with.

Especially as there was obviously more going on here than he knew about because not once had Ezra mentioned his Aunt's last name.

But of course, if there was a way to complicate anything then these men would find it.

"My Aunt…,"The words sounded, if it were possible, awkward coming from Ezra, as dry and unadorned as anything he'd ever said in all the years he'd known him.," I don't believe I have ever spoken of that woman with you Mister Jackson."

"You shou'da…shou'da tol' me."

Buck and Vin's eyes were darting between Nate and Ezra in almost perfect unison as the two men just stared at each other.

"Eavesdropping is a foul and filthy habit Mister Jackson, I am truly surprised that you would allow yourself to indulge in something so vulgar."

Either the insult didn't register through the alcohol or Nate just didn't care at the moment because he let it slide without a return volley, those dark eyes hardening as Ezra continued to stare and , against all that they knew of his character, said no more.

"She wa' a good wo'man."

"Have not spoken of and will not speak of her with you, Mister Jackson. Not while you are inebriated and not while you are sober. My family is my business and no concern of yours."

"She saved me.," Nate added, his voice firm and once again absent of the drunken slur, his expression earnest and fierce.

Almost, Chris couldn't help thinking, as if it were some kind of competition.

Something, the look on his face, the words themselves, the somehow possessive tone of Nate's voice proved too much to Ezra and Chris closed his eyes when the man snapped, "How very fortunate for you! "

Then he felt the man they were chained to jerk, slightly, towards the Gambler as he tried to walk away (Proving once and for all that temper could lend a man a fair amount of strength.) and heard the list of profanities that colored the air as Ezra apparently remembered why he couldn't just leave.

"Mister Dean," With his temper snapping so close to his heels Ezra could do little to moderate his tone, and, even more, had little or no care for the social niceties that normally dominated his conversations. If the boy currently masquerading as Sheriff felt abused by his tone then so be it. ," I am quite finished here and demand that you return me to my cell forthwith!"

"Now Mister Standish…"

"RIGHT NOW! DO YOU HEAR ME? RIGHT NOW, DAMN YOU!"

Having absolutely no doubt that he's shocked at least three of the men in the room with his outburst he keeps his attention focused on Deputy Dean, who simply stares at him unsurprised and unaffected. And why shouldn't he be? In the scant few days he has known him the Deputy has seen him lose his temper far more often than not, has seen him scream and rage and enact violence upon another's person. Why should something as minor as his yelling at the top his lungs entice so much as a flinch out of him at this point?

That being the case, as the saying went, in for a penny, in for a pound.

"THIS TRAVESTY ENDS HERE! DO YOU UNDERSTAND ME! "

"Ezra."

" I HAVE QUITE HAD MY FILL OF ENTERTAINING YOU …"

" Ezra."

" AND MUCH MORE TO THE POINT…"

"EZRA!"

Turning to direct his rage at Chris as the other man used his longer reach to circumvent the immovable Mister Lewis and take hold of his arm in a viselike grip Ezra caught the look on his face and froze.

Just froze, all his rage and indignation draining away, leaving him feeling limp and empty.

Because Chris wasn't mad, or even annoyed.

There was something soft, almost gentle ( Though Ezra's mind skittered away from that description like a frightened bird) in his expression, something …well, kind.

" I don't want to do this Chris. I shouldn't have to do this."

The Gambler's voice wasn't quite the whine it could've been, would've been on another man, but there was a frantic, feral light in the man's eyes Chris'd never imagined he'd see there. It held something of pain and fear, of terror and shame, and what it boiled down to would be out and out hysteria on any other man.

"You don't have to.," he snarled and let his gaze lock on to Dean where he sat at the table nearest the door. Watched him flinch away from what he saw there.

"Now Chris…"

"For once in your life just shut up Buck!"

Then, in a decisive gesture he shouldn't have been capable of, Nate shoved away from the table. He rose to his full height and used the bottle to gesture at them.," Y'all thin you know, bu'ya don'. Ya don know nothing'.,"Making one grand all encompassing gesture with the bottle, he swayed slightly on his feet, "Miss Maggie, she was…"

"SHUT UP, DAMN YOU!," Ezra snarled and lunged.

"Here now!," the until this point silent blacksmith protested and jerked the arm attached to Ezra back, effectively yanking Ezra back toward him.

It almost would've been comical, the way the smaller man slammed into the larger's torso, the way he shook his head and shot Lewis a look of outrage, but then he turned to lunge again and all Chris could see was the fear and the pain in his eyes.

No., he thought.

Then he reached out and slammed the table away from him and straight into Nathan, who (being more drunk than he had a right to be and still be standing in the first place) lost his balance.

He stood there for several heartbeats, balancing on his heels, pin wheeling his arms before finally losing the battle and falling backwards into the table behind him.

The table which collapsed beneath his weight.

Buck and Vin were already on their feet, had begun to rise as soon as he moved, Dean not far behind them as they moved to check on Nate who didn't stir after his landing.

He looked at Ezra, saw nothing but relief, if not outright satisfaction on that front, then to the blacksmith who just stood there, apparently unmoved by the whole scene.

Which was fair enough, Chris figured.

"Well hell, "Vin muttered, kneeling beside their Healer, slapping each cheek to try and rouse him," C'mon Nate. Wake up."

"Someone's gonna have to pay for that.," The bartender, who was also the owner if he remembered right, called out from where he stood behind the bar polishing glasses.

Dean shot him a quelling look before kneeling next to Nate., "We'll have to send for Waterston."

"HA!," Ezra barked out in a very so there tone of voice.

"I can settle with you or I can bring it up with the Judge when he arrives. Same difference to me, really.," the Bartender drawled and set Dean to cursing under his breath.

"I'd a thought his heard was stronger than that.,"Buck murmured, exchanging looks with Vin.

Chris felt himself rolling his eyes at the sight.

On the floor, Nate groaned.

"There ya go Buck, ya gave up too easy.,"Vin chided as he moved to slip his arms beneath the larger, heavier man, "C'mon Nate, up ya go there son."

Nate groaned again as he let them push him into a sitting position and Chris waited, knowing the other man wouldn't stay that passive for long. Even drunk and probably concussed Nate just wasn't the type to let others handle him. None of the were, really.

And sure enough he'd only been upright for a handful of heartbeats when the struggle began.

"Le'me go.," Nate snarled, throwing his body forward to free himself from Vin's grasp and managing to head but Buck in the process.

"Damn it Nate!,"Buck roared as his nose gushed blood.

Falling backward the Healer clipped Vin's chin with his head, sending him sprawling on his ass, then rebounded and slammed his fist into Bucks jaw.

Ezra began to laugh and Dean struggled to subdue Nate, failing spectacularly, while Vin spit blood and scrabbled to his feet.

Chris turned to the Blacksmith, "So, you run a good business?'

"My work's stand up."

"Think my horse's getting ready to throw a shoe.," Which was the whole reason he'd stopped in the damn town to begin with, might as well take care of it now while he had the chance and the time., "You got time to work him in? "

The blacksmith shrugged, a gesture like mountains moving," Take a look at him later today. The big black at the livery right?"

Chris nodded,"Yep. Appreciate it."

"Nothing of it."

With a sigh he turned his attention back to the melee on the floor, where Dean was now sitting on his heels working his jaw back and forth as if trying to make sure it was still attached while Buck, Vin and Nate continued to wrestle around in a tangled mass of limbs.

Beside him Ezra continued to laugh.

"You're not helping you know."

"I assure you Mister Larabee to do so was never my intention."

"Yeah, I figured."

He let it go on for several more seconds before taking a deep breath and bellowing out," ALL RIGHT THAT'S ENOUGH! GET OFF HIM BEFORE I BOOT YOUR ASSES ACROSS THE DAMN BAR!"

Dean shot him an incredulous look, which was a mistake because he didn't see Nate's boot until it caught him in the stomach.

With the force of long habit the other two quickly obeyed, releasing Nate and then darting out of reach of both fist and boot.

Nate went right back to glaring at Ezra, who silenced his mirth, retreating again behind that expressionless stoicism.

"You le'me hate you,"he slurred, though not nearly as badly as only a moment ago.,"Fer no reason"

"You had reasons enough. It just so happens that what you assumed, without once seeking beyond the surface of the matter, was wholly incorrect."

"You coulda…"

"Could have what Mister Jackson," Ezra's voice lashed out like a whip, all the worse for the cold, precise tone of it," paraded my tragedies before you as proof of my good character? Used the deaths of my loved ones for profit and gain? Proven to you and to myself that I am exactly the kind of self bastard you've always assumed? Tell me, would that have changed your opinion of me at all, when nothing I actually did managed to make so much as a scratch upon your own intolerant opinions?"

"I was wrong."

"That must've hurt your tongue.," was the Gambler's only reply.

"Well, it seems as if we have not arrived in the nick of time, Brother ."

Even Nate's attention snapped toward the doorway where Josiah and J.D. were standing, looking, of all things, slightly amused.

Oh, for God's sake, Chris thought, not needing this complication.

"Nice nose Buck., "J.D. snickered," What'd we miss?"

"Kevin,"the Bartender called out,"I'm still waitin to hear who's gonna pay for all this."

"Well shit.," Nate muttered just before the liquor caught up to him and he slumped to the floor where he almost immediately began to snore.

UUU

It's nearly eight o'clock when Mary slips into Billy's room.

She new she didn't have much time to find what she was looking for, Billy might've been up later than he should've but he's never been the type to sleep in, so with the instincts of a mother who knows her son she went straight to his bed and lifted the mattress.

And there they were, a neatly stacked pile of letters.

With only a twinge of guilt she pulled them out and settled on the bed to read them.

She unfolded the first letter, noting the well worn cresses in the paper that told her Billy has read and reread this letter many times, her eyes falling to the flowing and beautiful calligraphic script.

Mister Travis,

It is a rare thing to find a friend such as yourself and your concern is duly noted. Let me reassure you again though that I am doing quiet well, in every way imaginable. My side is still tender, yet only that Sir. Nothing, I assure you, to concern either of us.

Now, let me assure you that there is no possible way your mother could place the blame for Mister Larabee's absence upon your shoulder. Whatever her reasons for asking you to remove yourself to your grandparents residence I am convinced that she has only your best interests at heart. As, you must know, she always has.

The tears came readily enough at the thought that Billy could believe she'd blamed him for Chris leaving and she brushed at her eyes before they could fall and mar the page.

As to my luck at the tables it persists, though I find I am growing bored in this town and believe I shall move on to my next destination in but a day or two. I will, of course, send you word of how to contact me upon reaching said destination.

I hope your studies are progressing well, though I know you find your numbers tedious. Remember persistence is the key to success and the sooner you have mastered this onerous task the sooner you may move ahead to another more enjoyable one. Speaking of persistence I find I must again remind you that it is not Mister Jackson's fault that I took my leave and, though I am grateful for your show of loyalty, it would perhaps be best for you to let your anger toward him go. They were only words Master Travis. Only words.

Mary's eyes narrowed at that as she remembered Billy's sudden and potent dislike of Nathan Jackson.

Now I am afraid the hour grows late and I must seek my bed. I look forward to hearing from you next month, indeed your letters have become the very highlight of my month. Remember to be kind to your mother.

Ezra P. Standish

How long, Mary wondered, had it taken Billy to read just this one letter? That he had read it she had no doubt, but it wouldn't have been particularly easy for him. Not at his age and level of education.

She looked down at the stack of letters in her lap, realizing for the first time not only how important Ezra had become to her son but how important Billy had become to him and the tears came again.

I should've loved you, she thought, with a quiet regret for things that could never be, and remembered how foolish he'd looked dressed as a woman.

He'd left town, yes, but he hadn't left Billy. And that was a lot more than could be said for …

The thought trailed off as her eyes found the figurines sitting on the nightstand beside Billy's bed.

The one she knew well, a hand carved likeness of Job that Chris had given Billy not long after he moved back. But the other …Though she is confident that she has never laid eyes on it before everything about it is familiar. The stance and the cut of the clothes, the angle of the hat. She knew the craftsmanship as well, it was obvious enough when you compared it to the wooden figure of Job it was standing beside.

Chris, she thinks, and her heart skips, then drops.

And then the tears come in earnest.

She'd tried so hard to tell herself over the last six months that Christopher Larabee had never been any of her concern, that his absence meant no more than his actual presence ever had, and oh, how convincing she could be when she had to be.

But sitting there on her son's bed, faced with the evidence that he hadn't, at least, left Billy as she'd thought he had, she can't accept her own lies anymore.

It had never been that Chris had left the town, left Billy; he'd left her and she hadn't been sure if she could forget that, if she could move past it.

She hadn't meant to let him get so close to her, hadn't meant to fall in love with him, but then she hadn't been a strong enough guard for her own heart and one day she'd looked down and realized it was gone.

And then he'd left and it was worse than losing her husband because Chris chose to leave and God how that hurt. Hurt so bad that at times she thought she couldn't breathe around the pain.

So she'd gotten mad, good and mad. It had been easier, safer to embrace all the anger building around the pain. Anger at him for leaving, at herself for loving him because how could she love someone who would do that to her son? Who would just leave him like that?

But he hadn't and she hadn't and all she can do now is cry as the anger falls away from her, washed away by the tears falling from her eyes, blurring the image he'd carved of himself to watch over her son in his absence.

UUU

The telegraph, by its very nature, was short to the point of blunt.

YOU HAVE ALWAYS DONE WHAT WAS RIGHT STOP I TRUST THAT YOU WILL SEE JUSTICE SERVED STOP IT WOULD BE NICE TO HAVE THINGS BACK THE WAY THEY SHOULD BE STOP LOVE MARY AND BILLY STOP END

Rereading the thing for what had to be the tenth time Judge Orrin Travis considered his daughter -in-laws words, both those in the message and those she'd left unsaid.

Deliberately left unsaid, he was sure.

He'd known as soon as he'd been summoned to Huxley that this was going to be complicated but he hadn't anticipated this, maybe couldn't have. Mary had a stubborn streak as wide as Texas and she wasn't the most forgiving woman ever born; the very fact that she would ask this of him said more than anything else possibly could have how bad this thing really could go.

She shouldn't have used Billy like that, he thinks, knowing she did so to remind him what was at stake.

As if he hadn't already known.

As if he wanted to hang Chris Larabee or Ezra Standish.

Well maybe Ezra, but only a little and only sometimes.

Sighing he settled deeper into the cushions as the stage rumbled on and wondered what the hell he was going to do now that his daughter-in-law had, for the sake of her and his grandson, asked him to throw what was fast proving to be the most difficult murder trial of his life.

And it hadn't even started yet.

UUU

This is a giant block of whatever is most difficult for you to carry & trust me on this,

you'll carry it more times than you can count until you decide that's exactly what you want to do most

& then it won't weigh a thing anymore.

-Brian Andreas