A Magnificent Seven gen novel by SueN, set in the Old West and with lots of hurt-comfort. NOTE! The story has appeared, or is currently available, on-line.

When JD and Ezra are hurt while the bank is being robbed, Vin holds himself responsible and is willing do whatever it takes to make things right.


Chris tore out of town the moment he decided he had light enough to see, with Josiah at his back. Though nowhere near the tracker Vin was, he still picked up Peso's trail easily enough, a fact which both relieved him and added more fuel to his steadily burning anger.

"Goddamn it," he spat after a good three hours of seething, "what the hell's he thinkin'? Damn fool ain't even tryin' ta hide his tracks!" His green eyes glittered like jewels in his face, and fury rolled off him in waves. "Hell, a blind man could follow him! Not ta mention every bounty hunter in the goddamn territory!"

Josiah sighed heavily and shook his head slowly. It was going to be a long, trying ride. Wasn't bad enough Ezra and JD were hurt; wasn't bad enough Vin was hurt and had run off on his own after two desperadoes. Now Chris was on the warpath, and wouldn't be happy until he'd taken scalps.

He'd thought he was lucky to get off with only a graze to the arm. But he was beginning to think that being gut-shot would be better than riding with a thoroughly pissed-off Chris Larabee.

"Maybe," he answered at last, his deep voice calm and – he hoped – soothing, "he's not coverin' his tracks because he knew you'd be comin' after him, and wanted to make it easy for ya. Vin's not stupid—"

"No?" Chris shot back in a hard, tight voice. "Then how do ya explain what he's doin'?"

Josiah regarded him with a practiced patience. If he'd learned only one thing in his time among these six men, it was how to be patient in the face of sheer cussedness. "If you'd been here when that gunfight broke out," he said quietly, "if you felt responsible for someone getting shot, what would you be doin'? Would you wait for Vin to come and talk you out of it? Or would you just go on with what you felt you had to do, knowin' all the while he'd be right behind you?"

"Damn it, Josiah, he's hurt!"

Sanchez shrugged his broad shoulders. "He's able to walk, he's able to ride. In his mind, that means he's all right." He fixed knowing eyes on Chris. "Seen you ride hurt a few times, yourself. Seen you ready ta charge the gates of hell when it was all you could do ta stay in the saddle. You sayin' Vin ain't as entitled ta his stupidity as you are ta yours?"

Chris reined in his horse sharply at that and stared in disbelief at the older man. "Did you just call me 'stupid'?"

"Nope," Josiah said, returning the green stare evenly. "I said you have moments of stupidity. There's a difference." He smiled slightly. "Sometimes it's a fine one, but it's a difference nonetheless. " He shrugged again. "You've had your moments, now Vin's havin' one. But it's our job ta find him before it gets him killed." He winked. "Sort 'a like he's done for you a time or two."

Against his will, Chris felt his anger cooling before the big man's words, and a slight, wry smile ghosted about his mouth. "I guess it's a good thing we're not both havin' our moments at the same time."

Josiah chuckled and shook his head. "God help us if that ever happens! One 'a you at a time is hard enough on a man's nerves. Both of you together…" He shuddered dramatically. "It just don't bear thinkin' about."

Chris stared off into the distance, and his smile gave way to a worried frown. "I just wish he'd waited. He had ta know somebody would've gone after the bastards! It didn't have ta be him—"

"In his mind, it did," Josiah contradicted quietly. "He considers what happened t' Ezra and JD ta be his fault. And that makes it his responsibility ta make it right. You know him better than any of us, Chris, you know his honor, his loyalty, and his pride. And this struck at all three of them. Right now, that bullet graze is the least of Vin's wounds."

"It wasn't his fault!" Chris said loudly, harshly, his anger rekindling. "Goddamn it, Josiah, if I hear one more person sayin' that—"

"I'm not sayin' it was, Chris," Josiah said pointedly, his patience wearing thin. "I'm tellin' you what Vin thinks!" He drew a deep breath and exhaled slowly, and tried to regain his calm. "Put yourself in his place," he urged quietly. "Try seein' this as he does. Not as you want him to, but as he does. We are his. We are his friends, his family, his brothers. And I believe you know, probably better than anybody else, how fiercely he guards and protects anything that is his. The moment that boy let us behind that wall of his, we became his responsibility. And you know how seriously Vin takes his responsibilities." He frowned at Chris. "Surely you know that's why he prowls those roofs like he does when there's trouble, why he goes sailin' from one to another, givin' no thought t' the bullets flyin' around him? All that matters ta him is keepin' us safe."

"But he can't watch all of us!" Chris said with a quiet intensity. "Damn it, Josiah, there were eighteen of 'em! And nobody can expect Vin ta be everywhere at once, watchin' everybody at once! It's just not possible!"

Josiah shrugged. "Try tellin' that ta him." He sighed heavily, and his blue eyes grew sad. "He didn't get there in time ta keep Ezra from gettin' shot. Got the bastard who did it, but not until after. And JD…" He winced and shook his graying head slowly. "JD called out to him just before he ran inta that street. Called for Vin ta cover him. But Vin couldn't, because he was hurt himself. And JD went down. Then those last two outlaws got away. Normally, Vin could've stopped 'em without thinkin' about it. Just fixed those hawk's eyes of his on 'em, brought that rifle up and dropped 'em. But he didn't. He couldn't. And they got away." He leaned forward in his saddle and held Chris's gaze with his own, determined ta make him understand. "In Vin's mind, we were dependin' on him, Ezra and JD were dependin' on him, and he let us down. He failed us. And that sense of failure is what's drivin' him ta do this."

"But what is this?" Chris asked, waving a hand around the empty countryside. "Revenge?"

Josiah shook his head. "Not revenge," he intoned sadly. "Redemption."

84 pages. $10 for PDF version with color cover.

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