Disclaimer: I do not own anything – except the plot…Would like to borrow a couple of these guys though! Written for LJ user slavelabour – she donated generously to the Help the South fundraiser.

How in the hell did I get stuck with this? Don't recall askin' to be running with the craziest bunch of lunatics in the territories.

Stretching his legs out in front of him, Chris Larabee tried to get comfortable in the clinic's extra chair. Once again he found himself sitting and watching over an injured friend – Ezra this time. Usually, the man was quite good at protecting his own hide, but he did have one particular and peculiar blind spot. For a conman, Ezra Standish did have a tendency to get hurt trying to help someone else, especially when it came to the six other men who protected the small town of Four Corners.

Can't say as I'd have expected this when we first met. Man ran out soon as the danger showed up…still, he'd come back when he could've kept goin'. Took some guts to do that…guts and nerve. Man's got plenty of both – even if he is annoying as hell.

Glancing out at the dark street, he spotted Vin standing watch on top of the Potter's store, and Buck sat in front of the jail, waiting for JD to get back from riding patrol. Chris gave a soft snort.

Biggest mother hen I ever saw. Think the kid hadn't learned anything after three years with this crew.

Putting his feet up on the end of the bed, he continued his mental rundown of his men. Josiah would be in the church, praying for Ezra's recovery until it was time for his own patrol, while Nathan had finally been convinced to go and get some rest in Chris' own room.

Speakin' of mother hens…

Completely disregarding his own tendency towards overprotective behavior, he tried to settle in for a long night. He did not expect to get much sleep considering Ezra's tendency to get feverish when wounded, but he would rest as much as he could. He would rather curl up on the cot, but could not take the chance of someone other than one of his boys coming in. At least in the chair, he could still draw pretty quickly.

Damn, I'm tired…and it had been such a quiet day too.

He let his mind drift back over the afternoon as he sat in watch.

The seven men had gathered for lunch before going to their separate afternoon pursuits. Ezra had the afternoon patrol and had ridden south to make the rounds. Vin headed to his wagon to grab a nap since he had the watch that night, while JD went to read and relax in his office as he had evening patrol. Buck had disappeared with a big grin which had Josiah shaking his head as he made his way to his church. Nathan rode out to the west to check on one of the homesteaders who had been down with a fever. All of them had agreed to meet back for the evening meal.

Chris himself had watch in the afternoon, so he had walked the town before settling in a chair in front of the saloon to watch over the bustle of people moving through their afternoon chores. Three years ago, he had ridden into a frightened, dying town. Local land barons and rowdy bandits had driven many people away while others had held on only out of sheer stubbornness. Women and children had stayed on the homestead; only the men came into town for necessities. The busiest place in town had been the saloon and the general store run by the Potters barely held on.

Now, he could take some pride in the fact that the women of the area felt safe in walking the streets and allowing their children to roam the town. They knew their seven protectors could be trusted to do anything in their power to protect a child. Mrs. Potter's general store bustled with activity, as did the other businesses and the one bank in town. While the saloon continued to see a good number of customers, it catered to more than just the rowdies nowadays. Many people who were passing through on their way further west would stop in Four Corners and stay at their hotel – having heard through various networks that it was one of the safest stops in all of the territory.

His pack of hooligans made sure of it.

The afternoon sun slowly drifted further west as he kept watch and made his rounds. Families began making their way home. Buck joined him on the walk even as Ezra returned from patrol and JD began to make preparations to go out. Vin climbed out of his wagon and Nathan strode out of the barn with a few teasing words for the gambler as he passed him. Chris could see Josiah talking with Mary Travis in front of the church. He could feel the subtle relaxing of his shoulders as he accounted for each of his men.

The gunshot took everyone by surprise.

The few remaining town folk scattered and Josiah herded Mrs. Travis into the church with strict instructions to stay down. The seven defenders went to ground, taking cover and trying to determine where the shot had come from. Nathan dove back into the barn, as Ezra covered him. Josiah hunkered down by the church steps, gun steady in his hand. JD crouched inside the sheriff's office doorway seeking the culprit as Vin did the same from under his wagon. Chris and Buck had both moved into the saloon for some cover. Seven pairs of eyes combed the town trying to find the gunman.

A second shot rang out from the opposite end of town from the church.

"Buck, get JD and come around from the west," Chris instructed quietly. The big man nodded and made his way across to the jail, his movements quieter than any man of that size had the right to be. A simple look towards Vin had the usually laid-back Texan making for the rooftops in silence. Josiah had been making his way up town as Chris directed the other two. The blond leader nodded at him.

"Take Nathan and angle around from the east. Buck and JD have the west."

As Josiah nodded, both men stalked towards the stables. The preacher gathered up their healer and headed out while Chris drew Ezra to his side with a tilt of his head. The leader and the gambler made their way swiftly but carefully up the center of town, keeping to the shadows and watching for the source of distress.

As they neared the end of the street, they came to one of the few residences actually in town – the one belonging to the bank manager. The front door stood open. Chris' eyes narrowed.

"Well," Ezra whispered softly. "An interesting invitation."

Chris looked over his shoulder, lifting a sardonic eyebrow in his friend's direction. The conman just gave him a shrug and checked his gun, prepared to follow where the blond man decided to lead. Shaking his head with a quirk of his lips, Chris turned back to face the house. Before he could move, a sharp whistle from above had both of them flattening to the ground. A shot rang out over their heads and they retreated to the corner of the building next door.

"Damn it," muttered Ezra. "This job continues to do considerable damage to my haberdashery."

"You bleeding?" Chris asked, sparing a glance towards him before looking back to the house.

"No," replied the Southerner. "It is merely a crease in my jacket. Mr. Tanner's warning came just in time."

"Let's keep it that way."


Looking around, Chris could see the other four men cautiously peering around other bits of protection. He could not see Vin from this angle, but he could sense him just above their heads. His thoughts ran fast and furious, trying to determine a safe way to enter the house and deal with whatever was going on.

Before he could come up with anything, there was movement at the door. The banker's wife, a timid little brunette with a soft Virginian accent, stumbled out onto the porch. An unkempt man, a miner by the look of him, followed her out. Her wide frightened eyes darted around, looking for help, while his hand on her arm kept her firmly in front of him. He stared with red-rimmed eyes in Chris and Ezra's direction.

"You fellows, get on out of here! This ain't none of your business!"

Chris glared, and the man flinched. Ezra gave an almost imperceptible snort, but kept quiet. Taking a breath, Chris rose and moved into view, gesturing Ezra to stay put. He ignored the grumbling coming from behind him as well as the lower mutters of retribution coming from above. The miner did not seem to notice Vin, or any of the other men for that matter.

"I done told you – get out of here!"

Hands down by his side, apparently at ease, Chris tilted his head.

"You might want to let her go," he said, voice cold and biting as a northern wind coming off the mountains.

The man responded by pulling her in a bit closer to him. He had guessed that his life was forfeit the second he lost her protection. Unfortunately, he had failed to realize that all of the men were currently in town, including the tracker with a sharpshooter's gift. Chris lifted his chin just a bit, staring the man down. He felt more than heard his friend move into position. As tense moments slipped by, he watched as the sweat ran down the miner's face – the man was trapped and knew it. If he let the woman go, he was likely to die. If he harmed the woman to try and make the gunslinger back off, he was even more likely to die.

A soft click came from the rooftops above Chris' head – Vin was in place and ready to take the shot.

Even as Chris gave the nod to signal him, another man came tearing around the corner of the house, gun out and firing in the gunslinger's direction. Before Chris had a chance to move, two things happened simultaneously. A shot from above took out the first man while Ezra plowed into Chris from behind to get him out of harm's way. He heard another couple of shots as he fell to the side.

Rolling to a crouched position, he glanced around quickly. Both strangers were down. Josiah shook his head as he closed the eyes of the one who had come from the back while JD did the same for the man at the door as he covered for Nathan. Their healer was checking on the woman, but his lack of urgency indicated a simple fainting spell. Buck was nowhere in sight, and Chris could bet he had gone in to check the house. Vin was in the process of climbing down to the street. That left just one of his men.

Ezra lay next to him – unmoving and unconscious.


As Chris shouted, the healer's head snapped around and he ran over. Together, they gently turned their injured friend onto his back. The bullet had entered his upper chest area on the right side. Given the lack of an exit wound, it had become trapped and would have to be removed. Nathan examined the entrance and breathed a sigh of relief.

"It's not too deep," he said, his voice steady and soothing to the men gathered around him. "I want to get him to my room before I try takin' it out, but it should come out pretty easily. Man's got more lives than a passel of cats."

"Thank the good Lord for that, brother," came the deep voice of the preacher.

"Josiah, help Nathan get him to the clinic. Vin, go with them. Buck, JD & I'll finish up here."

Chris nodded to his men as they began to gently lift the gambler and carry him off. He watched for a long moment before turning to check on the other two.

A soft groan brought him abruptly back to the present. Moving to sit on the edge of the bed, he leaned down to meet the green eyes of their resident conman. A haze of fever and confusion blurred the usually sharp gaze, but Ezra had no trouble focusing on his leader's face.

"Well, hell," he breathed in a soft Southern drawl. "I would place a wager that I failed to get out of the way quickly enough."

Taking a soft cloth and dipping it in some water, Chris wiped the sweat from his friend's brow. He gave a sharp smile to the man.

"No bet. You took a bullet in your shoulder, but Nate says you'll be fine in a couple of weeks."

"Hmph," mumbled Ezra, eyes closing in relief at the damp cloth's touch. "He worries too much; I shall be fine in a couple of days."

"Sure, Ez, whatever you say," Chris replied, a genuine smile lightening his expression for a moment.

As the green eyes opened once more, to peer at him in suspicion at his easy agreement, the leader gave his friend a direct look.

"You're going to have to stop makin' a habit of jumpin' in front of bullets. You're givin' Nathan fits and the rest of us are none too pleased either."

One eyebrow lifted in sarcastic retort at the blond man's words.

"Tell me, Mr. Larabee," he drawled out slowly, "do you intend to cease making yourself an easy target for the miscreants that seem to be drawn to our small town?"

His lips twitched, but Chris remained silent.

"That's what I thought," Ezra replied, closing his eyes once more. "Ask me again when your answer changes."

As the gambler's breath evened out into sleep, the gunslinger moved back to the chair and stretched out once more. He looked out the window, giving the peaceful street a once over before tucking his chin down to grab some rest.

Would still like to know what I did to get mixed up with such a bunch of overprotective pains-in-the-ass…have to make sure I keep doin' it.