Disclaimer: I do not own anything or anyone – except the DVDs.
"Dang it, Buck! Stop that!"
As JD's voice rang through the doors of the empty saloon, Ezra glanced up from his book to see his two fellow peacekeepers enter from the street. He gave a low chuckle as he watched the grinning mustached man knock off the scowling young sheriff's hat yet again. Leaning back in his chair, he watched as they ambled over to the bar and began talking to the lovely barkeep, Inez. JD's grin began to grow as Inez shot Buck down with a few well-placed comments and her rapid-fire Spanish commentary. Finally, she delivered their drinks, and the two men joined him at his table.
"Why do you keep tryin' with her?" JD asked as they sat down. "She's never goin' to say yes."
"Sure she is, kid," protested Buck. "She weakens a bit every day. It just takes time with some women."
JD snorted and Ezra lifted a single brow.
"Pray tell, Mr. Wilmington, what is it that Miss Recillos said yesterday?" he asked with a hint of smirk lifting the right side of his mouth.
"Now, Ez…" began the group's resident ladies' man. "That don't mean nothin'."
"Ah yes," drawled Ezra. "I believe it was 'Nunca!" in a rather forceful manner."
"Naw, you just watch. Ol' Buck'll wear her down. Ain't a woman yet that could resist me for long."
"Right," replied JD, drawing the word out in disbelieving tones. "It's all that animal maggotism."
"Magnetism, JD, magnetism!"
A potent feminine voice rang out across the room.
Ezra and JD cracked up as Buck pouted for a few moments before giving up and joining in the general merriment. The three men talked for a long while before JD rose and took his glass back to the bar. Swinging back by the table, he paused to make his farewells.
"I've got the evenin' patrol, so I'll see you two later. Hey, Buck, we still fishin' tomorrow afternoon?"
"Yep," he replied. "Chris gave the okay since Vin volunteered to take the afternoon patrol and Nathan has the evenin' one. So, it won't matter if we run a bit late."
With that, JD swung out of the saloon. Buck finished off his drink in a long gulp and then gave Ezra a nod.
"Well, I have the evenin' watch, so I'd better go be seen in the street. I don't reckon it'd be a good idea for Chris to think I wasn't workin'."
"No, indeed," replied the Southerner. "Mr. Larabee does have a tendency to become a bit irritable when he believes we might be less than diligent in our duties."
The ladies' man grinned and sauntered out the door with a final salute. Ezra and Inez exchanged amused glances. As she returned to cleaning her bar, he put his book down and pulled out his deck of cards. He thought to play solitaire, but as he shuffled, a single card fell out of his hands. It landed face up on the table. The King of Clubs looked up at him. He frowned.
While many would have written the incident off as a mere slip of the hands, he knew better. He had not accidentally dropped a card since the tender age of seven. The cards were his livelihood; in many ways, they were his life. He used them to make money, influence people, gain information, and to keep his friends safe – little though they knew of it.
Reaching out to touch the King of Clubs, he pondered the six men of his circle. This particular king represented an honest man, generous and affectionate. He snorted. Who else could it be but Buck? Well, he supposed it could be Nathan, but it did not quite feel right. Moving the card slightly to the left, he shuffled and cut the remainder of the deck. Deciding to go with an easy spread, he pulled out two cards and placed them next to Buck's.
The Seven of Clubs and the Five of Hearts finished off the row. Raising an eyebrow, he stared at the three cards for a moment. So, Buck could expect trouble from a jealous lover? He rolled his eyes. That should be a permanent state for the man! Sighing, he moved the cards up a bit. Given Buck's lively love-life, it would apparently take a full square to determine exactly what the problem was. A simple thing like a jealous lover should not have caught his attention.
Quickly dealing out three more cards, he created a second row with the Eight of Spades, Jack of Clubs, and Seven of Spades. His frown grew heavier. Two spades in one row was almost never a good sign, and these surrounded a person. Given their brotherly relationship, he presumed the Jack once again represented JD. Considering the line, he realized that Buck would disappoint JD in some way, letting him down, and stretching their friendship.
His lips quirked as he dealt the last line of the form which consisted of the Five of Clubs, the Ace of Spades, and the Six of Hearts. So, it was going to require his assistance to be put to rights. He shook his head. That was just what he wanted to do – get in the middle of a triangle made up of the ladies' man, his jealous lover, and his little brother. Gathering the cards, he placed them in his pocket as he stood. He picked up his hat and turned to smile at Inez.
"Do excuse me, Miss Recillos. I believe I have something to attend to."
She gave him a friendly nod and, with a slight bow, he stepped out of the saloon and into the street. Glancing up and down the street, he saw no sign of Buck, but Chris sat in a chair outside of the sheriff's office. With a shrug, he strode across to join the gunslinger.
The blond man gave him a nod as he approached.
"Need somethin' Ezra?" he asked.
"Good evening, Mr. Larabee. I was hoping to inquire as to whether you might have seen which direction Mr. Wilmington had gone?"
The leader gave a soft snort.
"A simple 'did you see Buck' would have done, you know."
Ezra flashed him a grin in answer, causing Chris to shake his head.
"Yeah, I saw Buck. He was headed down towards the church and promised to look in on Josiah. If he's up and workin' on the church, Nathan'll have a fit."
"Mr. Sanchez would surely have more sense?" Ezra frowned. Josiah had been injured two days ago when an inept pair of bank robbers caused him to get knocked into a low stone wall. He had cracked a couple of ribs and wrenched his shoulder.
Chris leaned back and tilted a sardonic green gaze in his direction. The gambler blinked and then reconsidered his words.
"Or perhaps not," he allowed. "He does have a tendency to overdo."
Now a smirk joined the sardonic gaze from the blond leader, and Ezra ignored both, brushing off the arms of his favorite jacket.
"If you will excuse me, I need to catch up to our resident lothario."
Standing up, Chris turned an intense gaze on the Southern conman. Retuning a bland look, Ezra waited him out.
"Got yourself another notion?"
A discernable twitch of red jacketed shoulders had stormy green eyes narrowing. Ezra's lips folded in annoyance at giving himself away before he sighed.
"I swear I am acquiring a number of questionable habits by associating with you gentlemen."
"Don't change the subject, Ez."
"Truly, Mr. Larabee….Chris, I do not believe Buck is in immediate danger, nor do I believe he is facing any physical harm."
"All right," answered the gunslinger slowly. "Then what's got you so twitchy?"
Huffing, Ezra leaned against the doorjamb.
"I simply wish to assure myself that Buck does not make a rash decision that costs him more than he expected."
Chris folded his arms over his chest and stared at the gambler for a long moment. Whatever he saw in the emerald green eyes convinced him of Ezra's sincerity.
"I reckon you won't mind a bit of company for that conversation?"
"Humph," snorted Ezra. "I don't suppose I could persuade you otherwise?"
"Nope," stated the blond, stepping off the porch and walking down the street.
"Then I guess I would not mind your presence," Ezra replied, striding along beside him.
The two men made their way down the street, keeping an eye out for their gregarious companion. In the silence between them, Ezra could feel the questions circling Chris' mind. However, he never asked. As they searched, the gambler pondered that fact. It occurred to him that despite their difficulties, and their occasionally differing viewpoints, the gunslinger truly trusted him – except perhaps with money. Not that Ezra could blame him; they all had their blind spots. Still, that was more trust than anyone had shown him before.
As he considered it, another brick fell out of the wall around his soul.
Before the uncomfortable sensation could send him running, the two men heard voices coming from behind the hotel. An unknown woman and their quarry were having a bit of a spat apparently. Ezra shook his head – speaking of blind spots…
"Now, Lilah, I'll just be gone for one afternoon. Me and JD are goin' fishin'. We'll be back by dinner time."
A small annoyed sniff answered him.
"Why you would want to go fishing with some kid when you could spend the afternoon with me is quite incomprehensible. I might be leaving any time now, and the fish will still be there after I'm gone."
"Well," Buck said uncomfortably. "I promised him. We…"
"Oh, really, Buck! Surely he wouldn't mind waiting a day or two? It's just fishing."
Shaking his head, Ezra began striding towards the corner of the building. Chris followed a trifle unsure of what had set the Southerner off. He had heard this kind of conversation around Buck several times. As the two men rounded the corner, they found their dark haired companion standing next to a tall, willowy redhead. She turned and frowned at the interruption while Buck gave them a curious smile.
"Somethin' wrong, boys?"
"If Miss Lovejoy would excuse us for a moment?" Ezra asked with a charming smile. "We have a need for some assistance from you, Mr. Wilmington."
"Why, of course, Mr. Standish," said Lilah, eyelashes fluttering. "I'll just step back to my hotel for the evening. Buck, I'm sure I'll see you tomorrow."
As she sashayed away, Buck's eyes remained glued on her feminine figure as it disappeared. When she was gone, he turned his eyes back to his friends.
"So, what's goin' on?" he asked.
Chris glanced at Ezra who now sported a disappointed look on his face. Somber eyes of emerald pinned the ladies' man with a pitying look.
"Mr. Wilmington, we happened to overhear a portion of your conversation with the young lady. Did I hear correctly that you may be wavering in your plans to take young JD fishing?"
"Aw, c'mon Ez. The fish aren't goin' anywhere," Buck protested, leaning against the wall beside him. "I'm sure JD would understand."
"Really?" asked the gambler, skepticism shadowing his eyes. "Considering you have postponed the fishing trip twice already for Miss Lovejoy?"
The mustached man frowned.
"I don't think its been…"
"Yeah, it has," Chris interrupted. "You were supposed to take him last week, but postponed when she stepped off the stage. Then you said you'd take him a few days ago, but she pouted and you gave in."
"Tell me, sir, exactly what are your intentions towards Miss Lovejoy?" Ezra asked.
"Why are you behavin' like this, Ezra? It's just a bit of fun for both of us."
"Really?" drawled the Southerner, honeyed sarcasm fairly dripping from his Georgian accent. "So, for 'a bit of fun' you would toss JD to the side like a toy to be cherished when remembered but dropped for something shinier?"
Buck started to speak, but Chris pinned him with a glare. Ezra glanced at their leader, but the blond nodded at him to continue.
"For just a moment, try putting yourself in JD's shoes. How do you suppose he would feel if you passed him over for yet a third time for a pretty face that you want to tumble? What do you think it looks like to him – that he's not worth your attention except when you want to give it, and that a pretty face makes him forgettable?"
Although Buck's blue eyes had glittered with anger as Ezra had started, they grew confused and then concerned as he continued. By the time the gambler had finished speaking, the big man's face grew anguished.
"You don't think he believes that do you?" he asked, turning to Chris in supplication.
Two pairs of green eyes exchanged glances. Ezra gave a nod and stepped back.
"Not yet," Chris replied, stepping forward to put his hand on his oldest friend's shoulder. "But it won't take much longer; maybe just one more time would do it."
Buck examined both of their faces and only found a deep concern. He had not realized how things looked from JD's point of view. Thank God they had brought it to his attention.
He swept Chris into one of his infamous bear hugs, and turned to do the same to Ezra. Having seen his actions, the gambler had already started moving back, but had not been quick enough.
"Really, Mr. Wilmington!" he exclaimed. "Unhand me, sir!"
"Thanks, Ez. Chris. I'm goin' to wait on JD to get back so we can plan what time we're leavin' tomorrow."
Without another word, the dark haired man took off up the street towards the sheriff's office to wait on his 'little brother', swearing every step not to take him for granted again. The two men he left behind exchanged amused, if exasperated glances.
"Well," Chris noted as they headed towards the saloon. "Looks like your notion paid off."
Ezra gave him a grin and spread his hands out.
"What can I say, Mr. Larabee? I just play the hand I'm dealt."