Notes: This story picks up just after the closing scene in the final episode of the series, 'Obsession'. WIP, Magnificent Seven/Highlander, a story in the 'Echoes the Sea' series. Many thanks to strangevisitor7 for beta duties and brainstorming.
Characters: Ezra Standish, Chris Larabee, Vin Tanner, Buck Wilmington, Josiah Sanchez, Nathan Jackson, JD Dunne, OFC.
Summary: There are times when the only way to escape the dark, and the demons that haunt you, is to have friends who refuse to let you fall.
Too Young For Heaven ~ Part Eight
“Hey, stud! Yer looking mighty fine for a man who was gut shot and sewn up twice!” Buck Wilmington called out as his long stride brought him to where Chris and Charlotte were sitting, Vin Tanner following behind him. “Ma’am.” He tipped his hat to Charlotte. “Though if it meant being nursed by a lady as lovely as you, I might consider gettin’ shot myself.” He flashed his most charming smile.
Charlotte laughed at Buck’s outrageous statement. The big man never failed to bring a smile to her lips. It was just impossible to not to be cheered by his good humour and expansive personality.
“Ma’am,” Vin greeted her with a matching tip of his hat. “Bucklin’s right, pard; yer looking a whole lot better than the last time we saw ya.”
“Charlotte and Ezra’ve been taking good care of me,” Chris told the two men as they sat down on a bench across from him.
“Chris has been an exemplarily patient,” Ezra told them, coming up to join the group, little Constance holding his fingers as she toddled alongside him.
“S’pose miracles do happen,” Vin teased, earning him a glare from Chris.
Letting go of Ezra’s hand, the golden haired three-year-old, ignoring the other adults, raised her arms to Buck. “Uncle Buck!”
“Why there’s my favourite lil’ gal!” Buck obligingly picked her up, encompassing her in a huge bear hug.
While Buck loved all Charlotte’s brood, he had a soft spot for the youngest, and she for him. It had only been a matter of minutes during that first Sunday luncheon last year for Constance to latch on to the jovial ladies man. When he visited, they were practically inseparable.
She giggled as he settled her on his lap, giving her a big kiss on the cheek. “It tickles!” Reaching up, she petted Buck’s mustache.
“Prob’ly thinks you have kitten hidden in that thing,” Chris needled his old friend.
“You’re just jealous,” Buck shot back. “All the ladies love ol’ Buck’s mustache!”
“Is pretty!” Constance agreed, beaming at her ‘Uncle Buck’.
“There? Ya see?” Buck tweaked Constance’s nose, making her giggle again.
Chris just snorted and Vin and Ezra grinned.
“And a very fine specimen it is,” Charlotte agreed with a smile, earning an emphatic nod from Buck.
“Now, Mz Black, don’t be encouragin’ him,” Vin told her, a mischievous gleam in his eye. “His hat’ll be a mite too tight fore long iffen you keep it up.”
Charlotte just shook her head and laughed. “You gentlemen will be my guests at supper, won’t you? And stay the night of course. Then Ezra can ride back to town with you in the morning.” Chris had improved enough that Charlotte could make do with help from her sons, allowing Ezra to return to his duties in Four Corners.
“Would like that just fine, ma’am,” Vin said.
“Sure would,” Buck agreed.
“Good! Then I shall leave you all to catch up while I go see to supper. Would fried chicken suit you?”
Ezra’s eyes lit up at that; it was his favourite. “It would indeed, cousin,” he affirmed quickly. “And was that peach cobbler I smelled on my way through the kitchen?”
She stood, and then carefully folded the lace she’d been working on, placing it in a cloth bag, before looping the handle over her arm. “It would indeed. I thought you might like a meal with some of your favourite things,” she told him fondly. “There may even be some hush puppies, if you play your cards right.”
“Why, Charlotte, you do spoil me,” he told her with a flash of dimples.
She squeezed his shoulder. “My prerogative, Ezra.”
All the men but Chris stood politely as she made to leave. “Come along, sweetling, you can help me make supper for your Uncle Buck,” she told Constance.
The child shook her head. “Wanna stay wif Buck.”
“Now there,” Buck said soothingly. “Tell you what, you go with your mama now, and before breakfast tomorrow, we’ll take my horse and ride down to the river. We can pick wildflowers for your mama. Would you like that?”
She looked at him, solemnly nodding. “Can Uncle Bin come too?” she asked, fixing her attention on the tracker standing next to them. Vin seemed surprised at suddenly being the focus of the conversation.
“Of course he can, baby! Uncle Vin would love to come along,” Buck assured her.
Constance reached out, petting Vin’s long wavy hair as she had Buck’s mustache earlier. “Uncle Bin’s hair’s pretty,” she declared.
Vin blushed, ducking his head. “Thank you, lil’ lady,” he mumbled as the other adults chuckled at his discomfiture.
This time when Charlotte reached for Constance, she went to her mother’s arms with no objections. “I’ll send out refreshments in a bit,” she told her guests, “and I’ll call you for supper when it’s ready.” With a nod, she left the men to their visit.
“And how is Nathan faring?” Ezra asked after they’d reseated themselves.
“He’s doing fine,” Buck said. “But lemme tell you, we need to make sure he don’t ever get seriously hurt! If he were laid up for any real amount of time, one of us would have to shoot him. God damn worst patient I ever did see!”
Vin nodded in agreement. “Man’s a holy terror.”
“That’s hardly surprising,” Ezra opined with a small chuckle. “Doctors do make the worst patients, or so I am reliably informed.”
“How you feeling, Chris?” Buck asked.
“Better’n I deserve.” Chris locked eyes with Vin and Buck. “Apologized to Ezra and to Charlotte, and now I’m apologizing to you,” he said quietly. “I’m sorry for everything that happened; at Ella’s and back in town that day at the saloon. Treated you like crap. My friends deserve better, and I hope you can forgive me.”
“Reckon we can do that, stud,” Buck told him, his eyes heavy with emotion. He’d been down this road with his oldest friend before and had been afraid he might not be able to pull himself from the darkness this time.
“Reckon we can,” Vin agreed, his voice soft.
Chris picked up his pocket knife and the piece of wood he’d been carving before he’d fallen asleep earlier, running his thumbs over them like talismans. He took a deep breath, working hard to get out all he had to say. He was man of few words and had never been good at expressing his feelings. “Thank you, all of you.” He swept his eyes over all three men. “I wouldn’t be here without you.”
A feeling of relief swept over him, followed by gratitude for his friends. Looking down at the wood in his hand, he began to carve.
][ PART EIGHT ][