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It had been five long years since Four Corners. Five years and still no word from Vin or Mary.

Maybe I should start at the beginning and introduce myself. Name's Larabee, Chris Larabee. Maybe ya heard of me, gunslinger, protector of Four Corners, all around bad element. Atleast that's what I once told Mary. Damn Buck's hide. It was his fault that I was in the predicament of being in Four Corners and talking to the lovely Mrs. Mary Travis. Just wanted to stop for the night, did ya Buck? Last time I shoulda listened to him.

Oh that's right. I forgot you didn't know Buck, do you? Buck Wilmington, best friend for most of my life, went through the war with me as my lieutenant, stood by me at my wedding to Sarah, was an uncle to my son, Adam and stood by me as I watched my whole world go up in smoke. Shoulda shot the no good s.o.b. in the weeks that followed Sarah and Adam's death when he was following me all over this territory, then I wouldn't have ever met Mary. Not that I can regret that since she and her son, Billy, became my reason for not meetin' my Maker. It was hard back then but I ended up with something I thought I'd long since forsaken -- a family.

That's right, the bad element with a family of sorts. Jesus, we were a bunch of oddballs. Let's see, there was Josiah Sanchez, former preacher; Nathan Jackson, healer and former slave; Ezra Standish, cardsharp and a royal pain most days; JD Dunne, wet behind the ears sheriff but he was learnin; Buck Wilmington, considered himself a real ladies' man, with all his animal magnetism; Vin Tanner, tracker, sharpshooter, wanted man and my other best friend who I didn't feel like shootin' once a day.

Then there were the ladies: Mary Travis, widow and editor of the Clarion News. Her I liked giving a hard time too, couldn't make it too easy on her to catch me now, could I? Had a reputation as the bad element to uphold. Inez, bartender and overseer of the Standish Tavern, whom may I say Buck was sweet on. She had a real good head on her shoulders -- didn't believe Buck for a second. Then there was Casey Wells, JD's girlfriend, now his wife. I was proud of him on that day; boy finally grew up. And then there was Miss Nettie Wells, Casey's aunt. She used to look out for all us boys, her boys as it was. Never had any kids of her own, none that she mentioned to me anyways. Vin was her favorite though. God I miss her and I know that the rest of the Magnificent Seven would agree.

What's that? Oh yeah we were called the Magnificent Seven back then. The seven protectors of Four Corners, New Mexico Territory.

But like I said I ain't heard a word from Vin or Mary in about five years. I know where the others are since we came here but those two, two people I care about deeply, seem to have up and disappeared. Well aren't you in for a treat, here comes Buck charmin' the ladies on his way over.




Buck's POV

How did I know he'd be sitting in a dark corner drinkin'? Of course that is what Chris usually does, upset or not. Now I ain't sayin it's a good thing to sit with the man in black when he's drinkin, course it ain't usually a smart thing either. Good chance he's sitting there thinkin of either Sarah, Adam, Vin or Mary. Most people would probably get shot approachin' him right now but hell, what's a best friend for?

Course I probably ain't gonna be his friend anymore when he finds out what I've been hidin for the past three years.

See here's the thing, Mary Travis took off after the town council told her that they had a bigger newspaper comin into town and that her rinky-dink one wasn't needed anymore. Not the smartest move they could've made. What they didn't understand was that most of us weren't exactly protectin' the town but Mary and her son. So needless to say when Mary left, Chris, Vin, Ezra and myself took off after her.

Vin left us after awhile, said it'd be quicker for him to track her, if'n the rest of us weren't with him. Chris sure didn't like it but he agreed with Vin's reasons.

Ezra settled in the Nevada territory in a place called Las Vegas. Me and Chris, though, we headed towards Denver which is where we told Vin we'd be. Now see, this is where it gets complicated. Vin, being the tracker that he is, found Mary about two weeks after we parted ways but no one could have foreseen (wouldn't Ezra be proud) what was gonna happen when Vin did catch up to her. Maybe it could have been stopped if Chris would've gone with Vin but now we will never know.

Shit, I'm shaking. I can't remember being this nervous before. It ain't everyday that you get to fess up to your best friend that you been hidin' a secret from him that would tear his world apart once again. I know he's seen me so what am I doin' sitting here talking to Joanne, the barkeep. Stallin' for time, that's what. I ain't stupid. He's gonna go through the roof when he hears what I got to say. Either that, or he's gonna get real quiet like and look right through me, I ain't sure which is worse. Come to think of it, I'd prefer he just shot me. It's the quiet Chris Larabee that scares me. When it comes to Mary and Vin, this ain't gonna be good at all.




Five years ago, New Mexico Territory

"Damn it Buck, I will not calm down. Mary's out there all alone because of this town." Chris Larabee, leader of the seven, glared at his oldest friend. "They caused this to happen."

"I know, Chris. I know." Buck Wilmington said to try to calm his best friend down. Which was a little hard to do when he was as mad as Chris was. And he could understand the motivation behind what Chris was doing.

A third man was standing off to the side, with his horse all ready saddled and rarin' to go. Vin Tanner looked between the two friends and thought to himself, Well Tanner, you knew it couldn't last. Jes hope Chris doesn't shoot Buck 'fore we find Mary.

Of course with what had transpired over the past few days, Vin really felt Chris would be justified shooting someone -- just not Buck. It wouldn't help any. Now the Mayor on the other hand, would be Vin's choice on who to shoot.




~Flashback~

Three days ago, town council meeting

"Mrs. Travis, you have to understand our position. We are growing and need something that you and your newspaper just cannot provide." Mayor Henry Jameson said to the pretty blond editor of the Clarion News. "We appreciate all that you and your deceased husband have done for this town with the Clarion. However, the Denver Post wants to open up a branch down here in our town. The least we can do for such an outstanding newspaper is to pave the way for them."

"Plus Mrs. Travis, you said yourself that this town cannot support two newspapers. You should be at home taking care of Billy and concentrate on finding yourself a husband, not worrying about the news. We see this as an opportunity for you to remember how to be a woman and a mother." Craig Peterson said with a smirk. It was no secret in town that Peterson was wanting Mary to be his.

By now Mary was livid. How dare they insinuate that she had forgotten how to be a woman and a mother. Everything that she had done after Stephen's death had been for Billy. From sending him to live with Orrin and Evie, to learning how to run the paper, to convincing Chris and the boys to stay in town as its protectors, had been for Billy's benefit. Oh she knew, there was talk about her and Chris and on occasion about her and Vin but she had conducted herself above reproach. Or at least she thought she had. Looking back now, maybe she should have made some of the rumors true.

While Mary was lost in thought, Chris, Vin, Buck and Josiah were growing more and more irate about the aspirations being cast about by the council. Sure they were friends with Mary, so what, but as they sat there listening to the bickering, a thought came to Chris. What do they expect her to do about money and food? Mary was too proud to come to any of us for help and she sure wouldn't go to Orrin even though she knew she could.

Lost in thought, none of the boys noticed something really wasn't right until Mary yelled, "Fine you s.o.b.s, you want me gone, I'll be gone by morning, because I'll be damned if I stay in this prejudiced town any longer than need be." With that Mary stormed out of the church into the pouring rain.

~End of flashback~




"Chris. Buck." Vin said in his soft Texas drawl.

When he knew he had both of their attentions, he continued. "I love Mary just as much as both of you, but biting each others heads off ain't gonna help us find her any faster."

"You're right. Sorry Stud, I'm just as worried as you are. We'll git her back just watch." Buck said as emotion threatened to choke him. God he thought, don't do this to him. He deserves to be happy after all this time.

The man in black just nodded and watched as a fourth man came over to them.

"Nathan."

"Chris, I figured you're gonna ride out to find her. I'd love to go with you since Miz Mary was the first one in this town to make me feel welcome but I'm needed here as healer and protector. Plus if she comes back this way, I figure she'll be happy to see a friendly face." Nathan said apologetically.

"We understand, Nathan. You gotta do what you gotta do. Miss riding with you though," Chris said as he watched his friend walk away and knew in his heart it would probably be the last time he saw Nathan Jackson alive.

Later that night, Chris had called upon the remaining Seven, to see who was gonna go with him and who was gonna stay behind. It was pretty much as he figured with one exception, Ezra Standish. Seems good ole Ezra had made plans to leave in the morning to help find Mary. JD, just being married to Casey, well it was understandable to Chris, why he wasn't going and Josiah had made plans to go live with Chanu and the People since he needed the stability and not be judged for it. Although, before Chris finished talking with Josiah, Josiah did make him the promise that if he came across Mary, he would get hold of Chris and let him know where to find her.

The next morning as the four of them were fixing to leave, Timmy, who worked at the telegraph office, came running.

"Mr. Larabee. Got a real important telegraph here for ya from Judge Travis." After delivering it Timmy turned around and ran off the other way.

"Shit." Was all Chris said after reading it.

Just as Buck was about to ask him about it, Chris continued.

"Judge says that Johnny Ringo and his bunch were spotted heading in the direction Mary went. Nothing to be done though, let's ride and hope we find her before he does."

With that the four left Four Corners for the last time.




Denver, Five years since riding out

"Buck" Chris greeted as his friend sat down. "Buy you a drink?"

"Sure, Stud, sure." Was Buck's only reply as he thought about what he had to tell Chris.

After a while, Buck had finally come up with the perfect way to tell Chris what he knew, without Vin being here. "Chris, I've got something to tell you and I'm not real sure how you're gonna take it."

"Just spit it out Buck," came the reply

"Well see, it's about Mary." Buck started and then noticed that Chris's attention was over his right shoulder. Then before he could say anything else, Chris's face broke out into a grin that he hadn't seen in a coon's age.

Chris stood up and Buck turned around and promptly dropped his jaw. Where, when, how? Was the only thing that Buck's mind could come up with. At least he wouldn't be the only one getting shot today.

"Vin! Long time no see," Chris gave the younger man a hug and so did Buck. "Sit down. Have a beer. Tell us, did you find Mary after all this time?"

Vin was halfway into his chair when he stopped and looked at Buck incredulously. "Ya mean, ya never told him?"

Buck looked down into his drink before replying. "Well what was I supposed to say to him? Anyways I was fixing to tell him when you showed up. So now you can tell him."

"Tell me what?" Chris was not heard so it was no surprise the next time he asked half the bar could hear him. "TELL ME WHAT?"

Vin and Buck shared a moment of silent communication before Vin answered.

"Well, Cowboy," Vin started before he was interrupted

"How many times do I have to tell you I ain't no damn COWBOY?"

Vin chuckled for a moment. "Good to see you're in such a good mood 'cause ya ain't gonna be much longer." And with this cryptic remark, Vin launched his story.

"After we parted ways in Santa Fe, I headed towards northern Arizona. It took a few days but I finally found an old miner who had seen Mary. Problem being, she wasn't alone. Johnny Ringo had caught up with her and seemed to be escorting her to wherever she was headed. Followed them for about two weeks 'fore Ringo's men got the drop on me. Could've sworn I was gonna die, probably would have if not for Mary. See the whole time I had been following them I thought Mary was a hostage. Turns out she kinda..." Vin muttered the next part under his breath hoping that Chris wouldn't ask.

"She kinda what, Vin?"

"He needs to know, Vin." Was all Buck had to say. Atleast he wasn't the only one gonna die today.

"She, well she was traveling with Ringo to find a justice of the peace. Seems she and Johnny fell in love and wanted to get married."

Chris just sat there getting paler and paler through Vin's story until he looked like he was gonna have a stroke.

"Stud, ya okay?"

A nod was the only reply that Chris bothered to give.

"So after they got married, I hid out for a while. Then went to Tascosa to clear my name. That took up a lot of time, considering I had to spend part of it in jail, while the territorial marshal was checking out my story. Afterwards, I received a full pardon and I'm no longer a wanted man."

"That's great, Vin. Really it is," replied Chris, still overwhelmed by what he had just heard. "Vin, Buck, do you hear a beeping sound?"




Chris sat straight up in bed and looked around him. Oh god, really shouldn't have read my great grandfather's journal last night, he thought to himself. Then he smiled noticing that Mary had woken up when he jumped.

"What wrong, Chris?" Mary asked in a soft voice still heavy with sleep.

"Nothing's wrong. Nothing at all," Chris said with a grin and pulled the covers back over their heads knowing he was gonna be late for work again. It was good to be the boss of the Denver Branch's ATF unit known as the Magnificent Seven.

As Chris was pulling out of the drive later that morning, he got a big surprise. There in the front seat of his Silverado was Toby Keith's newest CD Shock'n y'all, with a note telling him to play #8. He couldn't help but grin when he read the title, "Nights I'll Never Remember, Friends I'll Never Forget". It reminded him of Buck and Vin.

Me, JB and Sonny
Grew up on the buddy plan
Weren't we some bad mothers
Closer than brothers
Rockin' little three piece band
We wrote a lot of songs about women
Then we tried singing them pretty for the girls
Pushing everything we did to the limit
Living right out on the edge of the world

I recall one summer night at a party
We were sophomores hanging out at the lake
I got off on some wine with a waitress
Sonny had a girlfriend that just couldn't wait
JB hooked up around midnight
With an ugly girl from up in the city
He downed every can of beer in the cooler
Just trying to drink that poor girl pretty

Yeah me and the boys who made a lot of noise
And we sang all our songs for free
We partied through college
Acquired some knowledge
But never did get a degree
We did it our way
Looking back on the good days, still not a lot I regret
Just some nights I'll never remember and friends I'll never forget

I grew up and got married
Took a job with the FPL
Sonny's got a good life,
A baby and a good wife
And everyday he carries the mail
JB's a cross-country trucker
And he called last night from South Carolina
He said I've fallen in love with a waitress
I met in a waffle house diner
He said the years seemed to roll on faster than they did when we were kids
Man we need us a break from the grindstone and that's exactly what we did
We put in a call to Sonny
Then we stayed out all night long
We drank a few cold ones and told a few old ones
And sang another verse to this song

Yeah we were the boys who made a lot of noise
And we sang all our songs for free
We partied through college
Acquired some knowledge
But never did get a degree
We did it our way
Looking back on the good days, still not a lot I regret
Just some nights I'll never remember and friends I'll never forget

Those nights I'll never remember
Friends I'll never forget


Sounds like fun, Chris thought pulling up to the building, think I'll see if any of the boys want to get together later tonight. As he was getting out, Ezra came running up.

"Chris, glad to see you. We've got a problem. A hostage situation that requires our help. At least that's what Deputy Ringo had to say when he called."

At that, Chris had to smile. Johnny Ringo may have won the woman his great grandfather loved but now, Chris was his superior officer and he managed to get the girl as well. Revenge was indeed sweet and great when served cold, and as Ezra was telling him about it, all Chris could think was God, thank you for these friends.

THE END
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