Author's Note: Here's Vin's story. It flowed much, much easier than Josiah's! I hope you enjoy!
Ezra leaned back in his chair, casually dealing a hand of solitaire. It had been a lazy sort of day. Chris and Vin were out at the cabin rebuilding something while Buck and JD had spent the day fishing. Nathan holed up in his clinic checking and organizing his supplies while Josiah continued with the ongoing repairs to the church's roof. Everyone enjoyed the leisurely day, fulfilling their peacekeeping duties, but letting the calm of the day permeate their senses. It was not as though they had many days such as this.
A smile hovered over Ezra's lips. As for himself, he quite enjoyed the opportunity to sleep in a bit before settling on the boardwalk to enjoy a new book. Well, relatively new anyway – it had been published in 1872, but he had not yet had an opportunity to peruse it. The story of Around the World in Eighty Days started with a wager, so it certainly seemed his style. If the book continued as well as it began, he would recommend it to JD. The young fellow would enjoy the adventure and audacity of it.
A shadow slid into his mind, clouding his enjoyment. Clear green eyes came up and scanned the room. Nothing seemed amiss within the saloon. Inez continued putting the stock in order as she resolutely ignored Buck's continued attempts to woo her attention. JD sat beside him trying to repress a smile behind his glass. Ezra glanced out the window, but saw nothing to warrant extra attention or concern. Darkness continued to build within however.
His frown deepened and he gathered his cards together.
"Hey, Ez," Buck said jovially as he came over and pulled up a chair. "How about a game?"
"Not at the moment, Mr. Wilmington," Ezra replied distractedly. He shuffled the cards quickly and cut them.
"In a hurry to play solitaire?" Buck asked, his face creased with confusion.
Ezra did not answer. He dealt out three cards and stared in dismay. The Ace of Hearts, the Ten of Spades, and the Ace of Spades lay before him, dark and full of omens. "Vin," he whispered, touching the single red card.
"What about him?" Buck asked, leaning back in his chair.
"Trouble," Ezra answered faintly. "Bad trouble." He looked up to catch Buck's bewildered look. Ezra closed his eyes for a moment. A pleading tone tinged his voice as he met his friend's gaze once more. "I need you to trust me right now, Buck."
Buck scanned his face before turning towards the bar. "JD, run over and get Josiah and Nate."
"Sure, Buck," JD answered, looking at his friends. "What's going on?"
"Not now, kid," Buck replied. "Just go get them." He turned back to Ezra as JD headed out the door. "Alright, Ez, what is it?"
"Trouble is seeking Vin out," Ezra noted as his fingers traced from one ace to another. "Anxiety, misfortune, possible imprisonment are darkening around him. It will pull Chris in as well." He touched the ten as the shadow in his mind deepened.
Buck spoke softly, "What are you saying, Ez?"
Ezra could feel his friend's stare as his hands moved almost without volition to turn over three more cards. His eyes narrowed on the Jack of Spades, the Seven of Spades, and the Jack of Diamonds. "He's been tracked, followed by at least two men." He frowned as he dipped his head in consideration. "It could be a group led by two men. One of the men means well. He thinks he's hunting a legitimate criminal. The other one's the problem. He is unstable, dishonest." Ezra put a finger on the seven. "There's a warning about a potential loss."
A sharp intake of breath drew their attention to the other men. They had slipped in without the two at the table noticing. JD frowned at the cards in bemusement while Josiah gazed at Ezra in open curiosity. Nathan, on the other hand, touched a card with a dawning understanding. His serious eyes met Ezra's guarded look. "That's how you knew where to find me."
"Well," Ezra said, his shoulders rising slightly as his head ducked down. His voice died away. How did he explain this? He watched out of the corner of his eye as the four men exchanged telling glances. Now he would learn how deep their trust went.
Nathan rolled his shoulders and pulled out a chair. "Who's in trouble this time?"
"You believe me?" Ezra's jaw dropped as his control slipped.
"You always seem to know when something's wrong," Josiah replied calmly.
"And," Nathan spoke over him, "when someone needs help as well."
"Chris knows, doesn't he?" JD asked.
"Ah, yes," Ezra stammered a bit as he stared at the four men before him. He blinked. "Why…?" His voice failed him again.
Buck gave a soft snort. "Because you reading cards is any stranger than Chris standing up in the middle of lunch to say trouble's coming?"
"Or Vin getting jumpy when the wind blows through town?" JD pointed out.
Ezra's attention remained riveted on the honest, open expressions of trust surrounding him. Something tightened in his chest, almost robbing him of the ability to breathe. His hands trembled. "I don't...I can't…" Words tripped over themselves as his voice wavered.
Nathan came to his rescue. "Worry about it later," the healer advised as he rested a hand on Ezra's arm. "Just tell us what the problem is so we can go fix it."
Giving himself a good shake Ezra turned back to his cards. His mind worried over their reactions, or lack thereof, even as he reiterated his previous explanations to Buck. He forced himself to attention as he laid out the last three cards – the Five of Clubs, the Ace of Spades, and the Five of Diamonds. He rose to his feet, sweeping the cards together automatically. "We need to get out to the cabin." He met their eyes. "Quickly."
The men began moving without a word. They were on the road within minutes.
The ride passed in near silence, only the sound of their pounding hooves breaking drowsiness of the late afternoon. Buck's head came up sharply as they neared Chris's property. He raised a hand and they reined to a halt. Now all of them could hear the gunshots. JD slipped out of the saddle, handing his reins to Nathan, and moved forward, sliding into the trees with barely a whisper of sound.
Ezra spared a thought of surprised admiration at the man's actions. Vin must have been teaching him more than just tracking as the two rode joint patrols once a week. He shared a look with the other three men, all of them sharing proud smiles over the maturing young man they were helping to shape. Ezra was happy they managed to keep the spirit of the 'kid' alive as well.
JD rejoined them. "I spotted twenty horses, fourteen men, and six bodies."
"Well," Buck laughed, "I hardly call that a fair fight. Chris could handle half of them without ever drawing his gun."
"The men are crouched behind the fences and some of the trees," JD continued. "They're in three groups; one of six and two of five."
Ezra's eyes narrowed. "Who is directly in front of the cabin?"
"The group of six," JD replied. "The two groups of five are on either side."
A quick grin flickered over Buck's face. "Ez, go with Josiah and Nathan around to the west and handle that bunch. Me and JD will handle the east side."
"We'll have them in the same trap they planned for Vin," Nathan smiled.
The men led their horses into the trees only far enough to be hidden from sight and tied them. They separated to deal with the two outlying groups. Ezra led the way. The three men came up behind the five attackers.
"Drop your guns," Ezra announced with a bored drawl.
The attackers spun, their guns coming up to fire only to drop in surprise as they found themselves facing four guns and a wicked looking knife. One day Ezra was going to determine how Nathan always managed to draw that thing without attracting attention. The five men surrendered without a struggle.
Josiah shook his head as they used the men's own rope to tie them up. "I don't know whether to be grateful or ashamed of the human race that the semi-intelligent ones cause less trouble than the stupid ones."
"I will be grateful if we may keep avoiding the brilliant ones," Ezra retorted quietly as he finished gagging the last of the group.
Josiah nodded in agreement. "True, brother, quite true."
"Are you two idiots about done?" Nathan rolled his eyes.
Ezra raised an eyebrow as he began moving through the trees once more. "Really, Mr. Jackson, that was not nice at all."
"It worked," Nathan noted.
The three of them gathered near the last group of attackers and waited for some signal from Buck and JD. As they waited Ezra examined the men facing the cabin. Two men, brothers from the look of it, argued quietly. The younger man's face showed clear confusion and concern while the elder's bore a calculating malice. That would be the dangerous one. The four men with them were so focused on the argument they never noticed the sudden silence on either side.
Buck's voice rang out. "You know, Chris, I'm a mite put out that you're having a party and didn't invite us!"
"I declare," Ezra commented quietly as the six attackers spun towards the ladies' man's voice, "subtlety is lost on this rather variegated group."
Nathan gave a soft snort before shouting in answer to Buck. "I would call it downright rude myself."
Ezra wished he had some way to capture the expressions of the six attackers as voices came from all sides when Josiah and JD both decided to add their two cents into the conversation. He kept quiet, waiting to hear anything from the cabin itself. His eyes fell closed and his breath rushed out as an annoyed, if appreciative voice echoed across the yard.
"These damn lunatics decided to throw a surprise party," Chris called back.
"Hell, you old war dog, you forget to tell somebody how much you hate surprises?" Buck asked joyfully.
"They must've missed the telegram," Vin replied.
"Thank God," Nathan sighed. "That's both of them."
Ezra tossed him a quick smile before turning towards the attackers. "Gentlemen, and I do use that term loosely, I recommend you surrender." He could see the older brother's eyes narrow as if judging the possibilities. Ezra spoke once more. "Your ten companions have been dealt with, and you are now outnumbered. Drop your weapons."
"Or we could just shoot you," JD tacked on, a cocky grin clear in his voice. "Chris won't mind."
"That boy," Josiah muttered. "Still got some growing to do."
The six men dropped their weapons and the seven peacekeepers made their way slowly towards them. Ezra's eyes flickered over all seven before focusing on the older brother. This was the dangerous one, the wild card. For a moment everything seemed fine, but then something flashed through the man's eyes as he spotted Vin.
The fellow shoved his younger brother at Chris, tying up the gunslinger's hands and attention long enough to pull a hidden gun and try to aim it at the tracker. Three bullets found their mark and the man's body jolted in response before crumpling like a puppet with its strings cut.
Vin stared down at the still form before looking up at Ezra and JD. He nodded at both of them. "Thanks."
"Thank Ezra," JD said as he holstered his weapons to help secure the prisoners. "I was watching because of what he said in the saloon."
Vin frowned and Ezra gave him a half-smile. "Later perhaps, Mr. Tanner? When we are not so encumbered by these miscreants?"
"Sure, Ez, that's fine," Vin replied, trust clear in his voice despite the lingering note of confusion.
Chris's gaze narrowed on the gambler. "A notion?"
"Out of the blue," Ezra agreed. His lips twitched. "And in such unexpected company as well."
A sharp grin crawled across his friend's face. "Guess you don't have to worry about how to tell them then."
"Yes, well," Ezra rolled his eyes, "I could have done without the rather disquieting sense of doom which preceded it, thank you very much, Mr. Larabee."
Chris glared, but Ezra's quick grin had him shaking his head. "Names, Ezra, names."
"Another time?" Ezra offered as he brushed some dust off his jacket sleeve. "I do believe we have a large group of prisoners to deal with right now."
"Where the hell are we going to put them?" Chris muttered as the other peacekeepers went to fetch the rest of the prisoners.
"If we chain them securely enough then the church might be the best place," Ezra offered.
"Good idea," Chris agreed. "Tiny and Yosemite can help stand guard."
"And Mr. Sanchez may practice his proselytizing on them," Ezra smiled.
"Not sure these boys could handle Josiah going 'Old Testament' as Nate says," Chris commented as he gave a thin-lipped smile.
"Ah, but think of the enjoyment Mr. Sanchez will derive from having a captive audience," Ezra pointed out.
Chris gave a small groan. "Ezra."
"I am simply saying-"
"But Mr. Larabee-" Ezra started.
The two men stared at one another, one set of eyes twinkling in mischief while the other held exasperated affection. Chris shook his head. "I'll let you talk him into it."
"An excellent notion," Ezra nodded. He looked around with a smile as the others entered the clearing with the rest of the prisoners. "Ah, Mr. Sanchez, I have a proposition for you."