DISCLAIMER: The following is an original work of fan fiction based on the television series "The Magnificent Seven". No infringement upon the copyrights held by CBS, MGM, Trilogy Entertainment Group, The Mirisch Corp. or any others involved with that production is intended. No profit is being made - enjoy!!
Eleanor Tremayne, Ezquire
Chris Larabee was not ready to admit that he just might be a happy man. He was, however, willing to concede that his life held moments he enjoyed greatly, and things that he looked forward to with something that could be described as anticipation. The trip back home from leaving a desperate criminal in someone else's jail was one of those things.
The boys had made camp early - "dawdling" is what Nathan would call their behavior, which to Chris had been a damn good reason to leave Jackson behind with Josiah to watch over the town while the rest of them were away. Chris never would understand why those two "upstanding" types didn't realize that a man needed to take his time on occasion, to get his feet wet instead of his tonsils.
They all knew their jobs when it came to setting up camp without need for consultation or order - they had from the first time they'd done it. Vin found the campsite, they unsaddled and unpacked the horses and picked their places for sleep and sentry duty, then Ezra and J.D. saw to the comfort of the horses while Chris got enough firewood for the night, Wilmington staked out the lean-to they would share, and Tanner began to build a fire the soul-satisfying, old-fashioned way, with flint, steel, and tinder.
Vin was a goodly ways into the fire-starting ritual, the bunch of dried grass in his hand smoking as he blew the red smolder of the charred cloth in its center ever hotter. Suddenly, Tanner had a hand full of flame that he lay into the ring of rocks and earth he had made for its bed with the flare of a circus artist. He quickly added more grass to keep the greedy fire alive, supplementing it with shavings of wood and bark, more substantial fare to sustain it, grow it, make it capable of devouring the thick, fallen branches Chris had brought to see them through the night. Larabee sniffed appreciatively at the woody aroma of the smoke. Try as he had to adjust to the necessity of using them for fuel back in the old hurly-burly days, burning buffalo chips always smelt like - well, burning buffalo chips.[i]
The wind was good today, helping the growing fire along instead of overwhelming it. In an hour or so, they'd have enough coals to start cooking - and he had something in mind a damn sight better than beans and salt pork. Vin had outdone himself in finding the spot for their camp - a fat, lazy trout stream idled by down the incline just a few yards away. He could hear its gurgle through a curtain of green underbrush and overhanging trees, and the sound made him smile.
The smile grew as he turned toward Ezra. Standish was already in his hammock, his curved brim Boss of the Plains hat shielding his eyes from the late afternoon sun. Another length of canvas was tied some ten feet above him, a rope tenting its center and four shorter ones stretching its edges out until it was a taut awning, tall and wide enough for Ezra's God-damned horse to join him under it should the weather turn nasty.
Before retiring, Standish would spread out a trail of coals along his length under the hammock, carefully banking them with hot ash and dirt. He and Chaucer would sleep warm and dry - and Chris had no doubt that should the day ever come where Vin could not find a campsite that had two perfect hammock trees, Ezra would contrive a way to make it swing anyway.
"Time to go catch dinner, Ezra," Chris announced, walking over to stand within arm's reach of Standish.
"Ah have sufficient provision, thank you," Ezra replied through his hat, his drawl especially languid, as suited the circumstances.
Chris gave the hammock a relatively gentle shove - Chaucer was too damned close to dump Ezra out on the ground. Besides, as much as he enjoyed the occasional dust-up with Standish, that wasn't the kind of fun Larabee was in the mood for.
"Last one to catch a fish has to clean, gut, and cook 'em all," he ordered. "I mean it, Ezra."
Turning back toward the fire, he found Buck and J.D. staring at him like he'd lost his mind, and Vin looking at him with a speculative glint in his eyes. Without Wilmington opening his mouth, Chris heard Buck tell him, 'Just remember you started it, Hoss.'
Winking at the wary Buck, Chris strolled over to where his saddle and saddlebags sat. Opening one of the black leather packs, he removed a small, hinged enamel box. Pushing its lid up with the ball of a protesting thumb, he took inventory if its contents: Silk fishing line, bullet-ball weights, and several intricately tied flies. He fiddled with them, estimating the length of fishing line he had left, making sure the lures were still sound. One of those long green twigs should have enough play in it, if he'd wanted a pole -
J.D.'s worried voice broke into his reverie, and he looked over at the kid.
"You'd better hurry up."
Raising an eyebrow, Larabee followed J.D.'s gaze back over his shoulder - where Chaucer stood on the other side of an empty hammock. The horse flicked an ear at him, his eyes wide in epic equine innocence. Chris blinked - and then the ground under his feet gave a little shake to acknowledge the muffled "boom!" that came from the direction of the stream. Vin took his hat off, holding it high over his blossoming fire just in time to protect it from the short burst of artificial rain that followed seconds behind the explosion.
"Too late," Buck said, grinning as he shook his head in mock sorrow for Chris's missed recreation.
"God damn it!" Chris snarled, taking a stride toward the creek and ignoring Chaucer's scolding whinny, pulling himself up when Ezra materialized through the embankment tangle, somewhat damp around the edges but otherwise devoid of mud, bramble, or prickly briar.
"Your riparian employments await, Mr. Larabee," Standish informed him, doffing his hat and waving Chris on his way with a smugly elaborate flourish. Chris would have called it prissy pussyfooting in a man whose shoulders weren't wider than his horse's chest and just as full of muscle.
Giving Standish his best glare, Chris tracked Ezra all the way back to his hammock before turning with a dark and disappointed look toward the wager he himself had called.
Chuckling, Buck slapped J.D. on the back to share his amusement. "Well, at least Chris can cook a fish so it tastes like a fish."
A muffled snort floated out through Ezra's hat.
"Should be enough for breakfast 'n dinner," Vin observed, building a lattice of finger-width twigs across the fire, using the hat in his hand to gently coax its progress along a little faster.
"Chris's fish for breakfast and dinner?" J.D. said with a frown.
"Food's food, kid," Buck informed him. "Especially if it's hot, fresh, and there' s plenty of coffee to wash it down with."
"Mr. Dunne has a point," Ezra yawned, his words suddenly perfectly intelligible regardless of his hat. "I'm not certain I am up to Mr. Larabee's gastronomic efforts twice in one day."
Despite the fact that he had been up since dawn, Standish chose to cling to the formalities of his normal working day - for him, dinner was breakfast and breakfast was dinner. The others had to admit it came in handy - since Ezra could and did ride Chaucer while fast asleep, he often took the lion's share of the night guard duty. No one made much fuss of it, but they took extra care on the lookout when Standish tucked Chaucer in between Chris on Job and Buck on Clyde, with Vin and J.D. on either side, and caught a nap on the trail home, accepting the action for the compliment that it was.
"I'll put on the coffee," Vin volunteered. "My Pa always said my coffee could get a man past anything."
"Cease and desist, Mr. Tanner!" Ezra ordered. "Ah cannot stand to see good Rio[ii] cry."
"Is that what it's doin'?" Buck muttered around his mustache, just for the fun of getting a dirty look from Vin.
"I dunno, Ezra," J.D. said. "We just might need Vin's coffee. Chris's fish don't taste like the kind of fish I et back home in Boston."
"Cod is somewhat scarce in these waters," Standish agreed dryly. "But I did notice what looked to be respectable freshwater clams and something resembling a langastino during my labors for our table."
"Crayfish, Mr. Dunne. Go forth and gather them."
J.D. didn't need to be told twice, not with a promise of Ezra taking over the chuck wagon duty.
"I'll help ya," Buck volunteered, also knowing when his nest was sprouting feathers.
Vin watched them go, keeping at the fire until it could handle the large branches that would burn into the coals needed for cooking and provide the heat to ignite the big chunks of wood that would see them through the night. The snapping crackle of the fire wrapped around the sound of Ezra's quiet snoring in a mellow duet, and he was sorry when the time came for him to rise.
"I noticed some of those reeds you fancy so much as well."
Vin's answer was to spit into the fire, making it sizzle before he headed out to find Chris.
Larabee was sitting on the bank as naked as the day he was born, drying off from collecting Ezra's bounty. He'd hauled up enough fish to leave them all stupid with eating, and had a bunch for breakfast tethered out. The rest of the stunned critters were beginning to wake up and decide that it was time to be some place else. Vin's admiration for Ezra's skill with explosives went up another notch - just enough to do the job, but not enough to kill the fish, or the creek. The man was truly gifted when it came to igniting black powder.
The mud was settling - in another five minutes, the stream would be calmed enough for swimming. Off to his left, beyond the strike of whatever Ezra had used to stun the fish Larabee was cleaning, J.D. and Buck chased each other, their hats, handkerchiefs, and shirts full of Fat Muckets[iii] and crawdads. J.D. was using the sense God gave a man and had stripped off, but Buck's trousers remained firmly upon his person, no doubt influenced in this condition by the presence of the crawdads and their claws.
Sitting down beside Chris, Vin took off his own boots and socks, set them neatly aside out of the path down the bank, stood up, shucked off his clothes in preparation for going in the water after the roots Ezra wanted him to fetch, and sat down again. Momentarily resisting the urge to pitch Larabee into the stream, at least until Chris put the gutting knife down, Vin dangled his legs in the stream and leaned back on his elbows to let the sun bake away the prickles the cold water sent through his body.
Looking over at Vin, Chris gave him a rabbit-faced grin, as self-satisfied as Ezra ever was at the conclusion of a con so successful no one even suspected they'd been had. Laughing, Vin shook his head. No matter how you sliced it, Larabee and Standish were two peas in the same damn pod.
"Nice fishin', Cowboy," he congratulated.
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[i] Buffalo chips = dried pats of buffalo dung. In the treeless prairies of the United States, they were used for fuel, and Frisbee. (Shudder)
[ii] Rio = coffee. Lots of good coffee used to come from Rio, and it picked up the name in slang use. Java was also in use, but since we still call it that, its use here would be too jarring.
[iii] Technically, this is wrong, I think. Fat Muckets are found in Arkansas, and are a freshwater shellfish. I've never tasted them, but I couldn't resist the name! I'll let you know how they taste when I get to Grant County.