Disclaimer: This is a work of fanfiction created solely for the enjoyment of fans of the Magnificent Seven. The characters are not mine. They belong to the Mirish Group, CBS, and Trilogy. Any aspects which do not belong to the entities listed above are mine, C. Knox Binkley.
Snow. He could smell it. Buck Wilmington watched his breath float in front of him - breath made mist by the icy air. He loved it! He loved the overcast sky and the promise of snow. He loved the season of giving thanks and celebrating Christmas and the chance to begin again with the New Year. Yes, Buck knew how to keep Christmas. He knew how to feast and he knew how to give. He could indulge the kid that lurked so close to the surface throughout the year. And he could unabashedly show his appreciation for the people he loved and cared for.
At this time of year, Chris Larabee both admired his oldest friend and was annoyed by him. It hurt that Chris couldn't keep Christmas like Buck could. He envied Buck's unfettered joy, and cursed himself for his own cynicism.
And that damn whistling! Buck whistled from November until the middle of January, and this year . . . well, Chris may just have to kill him. That thought brought a slight chuckle to the gunslinger. God love him, Buck was a piece of work. And Chris knew he was lucky to be counted among his friends. No matter how much Chris had pushed him away, Buck was always waiting for him, like an old faithful dog who would forgive if he could only remember the offense. No one could quite shake Buck, once he was in your corner. And when Chris heard that out of tune whistling coming from inside the boarding house, he smiled and met his oldest friend at the door.
The saloon was a bit more crowded than usual - probably the threat of snow. Folks'll find the nearest town to bed down in on a cold night, but they'll warm their innards with strong spirits first. It wasn't quite dark yet and already Ezra Standish had established an intense game of poker with some out-of-town players. Josiah hadn't been dealt in, but he sat just behind Ezra to watch. He found it eternally frustrating that he couldn't master the game. Even though he studied the gambler's moves, he could pick up nothing. Ezra had offered to help him - to show him some moves, but Josiah was determined to figure it out himself. So these evenings of poker were all the more amusing to Ezra, and he'd do things deliberately to baffle the preacher. Eventually, Josiah would get a headache, and go to bed, muttering all the way.
Nathan Jackson sat at the bar, talking to the barkeep, waiting for Vin or Buck . . . He felt obliged to listen to the barkeep's practiced litany of ailments, he had, after all, seen him through a serious bout of influenza. Of course he should be interested with the subsequent recovery and then the gout that had sprung up and the . . .
Thank God, Buck and Chris!
"Hey!" Nathan called, waving at them. What was going on? Chris actually looked . . . happy.
No one had noticed JD sitting in the shadows, writing by the light of a dim lamp. The boy looked up and grinned as Buck Wilmington ordered hot buttered rum and launched into a rousing chorus of . . . well, he didn't know what the song was, but he knew it was rousing and it was about snow. He didn't really feel like joining his friends right then. He would inevitably find himself the subject of good-natured teasing about something or other. No, he would just enjoy their nearness. He looked down at his list, and felt the sting of tears in his hazel eyes. The last time he had made a list of gifts he would buy or make for Christmas, most were for his mother. God, he missed her. But somehow, listening to Buck's revelry, he didn't feel so lonely.
Vin Tanner pulled his heavy collar up and pulled his hat further down. He stopped his horse long enough to glance over his shoulder at Nettie's place. The smoke circling from the chimney almost drew him back to the hearth. The hot supper had been wonderful, but sitting at the table with Miss Nettie and Casey meant more to him than they could know. He had a place to go home to.
He sighed and headed back to town, anxious to extend Nettie's invitation to his friends. She was opening her home to his friends for Thanksgiving. In addition to the six men he rode with, she wanted Mrs. Travis and the judge to come out as well. Vin smiled. Such a generous woman. He wished he could do more for her than just simple carpentry work and repairs.
But for now, it was enough.
Buck had his hands full with a beautiful young girl nibbling on his ear. It was hard to drink the end of the hot buttered rum when he kept chuckling. Chris and Nathan were amused at his contortions. Finally he set the mug down on the bar, and pulled the girl to him with both hands and kissed her hungrily. She pulled herself up onto his lap and slid slender fingers through his black hair. Chris and Nathan were obliged to look somewhere else, but the tete a tete ended in a barrage of laughter. The girl guzzled the end of Buck's drink and Buck lustily called for another.
Ezra was working his magic at the poker table. Josiah's headache was coming on. Chris and Nathan were talking intermittently. They nodded at Vin when he emerged through the saloon doors, shaking the flurries off of his hat, and absently slipping his coat off. He nodded back.
He didn't see the gun slipping into a man's hand. He didn't hear the click of the hammer. And he didn't see the man aim at him from under the poker table.
"GET DOWN!!" JD cried, as he aimed a colt at the assassin.
Two shots fired. Thank God, JD's hit first, causing the other shot to shatter the window a good four feet above Vin Tanner's head.
The gunman clutched the poker table, the gun slipping from his hand, and he turned his head to see who had shot him.
A kid. A boy whose pale face was lighted eerily from the low lamp. A boy whose eyes were wide and scared.
The gunman looked incredulous. He couldn't see his injury. JD had shot him in the back. So he simply held the boy's gaze as he fell to his knees, then he fell forward.
JD stared at what he'd done. His hand shook, still clutching the gun. For a moment he couldn't move. He couldn't speak. It was as though the room was caught in a horrifying tableau. He didn't even notice the room coming alive with activity.
Buck had hurled the girl to the ground, and instinctively covered her body with his own. Vin had dropped to the floor at JD's warning, and now pulled himself up carefully, avoiding the shattered glass that surrounded him. Nathan bolted over to Vin, Josiah and Nathan knelt beside the dead man, and Chris stepped cautiously over to JD.
"JD, you need to put the gun down." Chris kept his voice steady. JD didn't seem to hear him. He just stared at the body on the floor.
"Listen to me, son. It's over."
JD looked down at the gun in his hand, then he turned those scared eyes to his leader. Without a word, he handed his gun to Chris. The gunslinger holstered it, then slid his hand around the young man's neck. He looked back over his shoulder. "Vin?" he called.
"I'm fine. Didn't get hit."
Chris turned his attention back to the kid. "You saved his life, JD. Vin would be dead if it weren't for you." JD's eyes trailed back to the body on the floor.
"I shot him in the back, Chris."
Before Chris had a chance to respond, Buck scurried over. "You all right, kid?" he asked, stepping between JD and the body.
JD started to answer, but felt his stomach lurch instead. He turned and ran out the back door. Buck ran after him. Chris glanced back at the dead man. Damn him!! Sitting right there with them for hours, waiting for Vin to show up so he could take him out in cold blood. And JD would suffer for ending his miserable life. Vin was standing, still shaking off bits of glass. Nathan was picking glass off of the back of his shirt and out of his hair.
The strangers hanging out at the saloon skittered out, leaving the seven to take care of each other. And they would.
But first they would have to figure out who this man was and who he was working for, if anyone. Why would this man shoot Vin in the middle of the saloon? He had to know it would be suicide. Vin and Nathan approached the body, and Chris nodded at the bounty hunter. What a close call. If JD hadn't moved so quickly . . .
JD . . .
"Where is he?" Vin asked, and Chris nodded toward the back door. Vin didn't stick around to examine the body. He had to find the kid and tell him . . . thanks.