PRESERVING THE FLOCK

By Barb

 

A/N:  The ‘pile of shit’ line was inspired from the movie My Cousin Vinny, one of my favorite movies of all-time. Just a little fyi.

 

~ ~ ONE DAY OUT WEST ~ ~

 

     As my charming collection of loners approached the town from whence they came, I let out a small sigh of relief. The voyage back from the Indian village had been relatively painless, and the fact that I hadn’t needed to rescue any of them from a grizzly fate even once had left me pleased as punch. “Of course this streak of good fortune would have to come to a screeching halt the moment I opened my trap about it,” I muttered bitterly and hung my head at the sound of a gunshot piercing the air. I didn’t even raise it after hearing my charges increase their pace down the street; I knew bloody well where they were heading. “Oh look, something’s happening. Let us go investigate the source of those gunshots,” I mocked, using the most ridiculous voice and expression that I could muster. After my little childish display had come to an end, I took a moment to compose myself before I headed after them. “I wish that just for once they would keep their curious little noses out of other people’s business,” I groused. I spotted an unfamiliar man standing in the street next to Chris, but it was the all-too-familiar figure hovering behind the old man that caused me to halt my steps and roll my eyes in irritation. “Checking up on me, Gabriel?” I drawled, crossing my arms in annoyance. One minute he can’t wait to be rid of me, and now he’s here to do what…ride piggyback?


Little brother had the grace to look embarrassed in the face of my ire, but instead of rising to take my bait he simply hooked his thumb over at the old man. “I knew you’d probably have a conniption fit if I even mentioned the idea of you keeping an eye on one more charge, so I thought…”


“You thought that you’d swoop in and do me a favor; how generous of you,” I cut him off brusquely. Gabriel opened his mouth like he wanted to say more, but I silenced him by holding up my hand in the universal gesture of ‘don’t you even think about opening your bloody trap’. “Save your lame little explanations for someone who cares, Gabriel,” I declared loudly, bobbing my open palm for emphasis. “If you’re here to work, then I suggest we put aside this petty bickering and focus on the task at hand.” I motioned towards the men standing to the side of us and cocked my brow at him in question. I watched as he sucked in a deep breath and let his shoulders slump before finally nodding his head in acquiescence. Ha, it’s about time he realized that he could never win an argument with me. Michael won arguments with me by default, because I chose to walk away when things got heated instead of saying or doing something that I might later regret. Gabriel on the other hand simply couldn’t keep up with me and ended up giving in with a minimum of fuss. I gave him a stiff nod before we turned our collective attentions toward the scene unfolding around us, and I couldn’t hold back a groan at my charges’ actions. “This is going to be a long day,” I grumbled, pinching the bridge of my nose. At least I won’t have to suffer alone this time, I thought to myself.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

“That daft old bat is worse than all of mine put together!” I crowed from my place against the saloon’s bar. Gabriel shot me a withering look before folding his arms on top of the table he was sitting at and dropping his head onto them. Seeing the look that passed for menace cross my baby brother’s face at my exclamation just caused me to laugh harder. Oh how I did enjoy serving up a nice cold dish of revenge! As honorable as my baby brother was, I was willing to bet that both he and Michael had laughed their arses off when JD made a spectacle of himself and when I voiced my frustrations into my charges’ oblivious faces. I know Michael never missed an opportunity to revel in my misfortunes, and it was only natural to assume that he’d let Gabriel in on the fun as a way to avenge all of the times that I’d picked on our younger brother. Well now it was my turn to return the favor to my dear, baby brother.  


My amusement began to die off as I caught sight of Vin and Chris talking quietly at one table whilst my other charges were spread out at another table and the bar. I knew Vin planned to leave tomorrow to head back to Tascosa in order to try and clear the bounty that had been put on his head, but now it would appear that Chris was planning to go with him. I knew that Nathan had set himself up quite well in this town and would probably stay here for some time, but I had a feeling that my other charges didn’t plan on pursuing that same course. A man like Ezra would be moving on to the next town where he could ply his trade, and a man like Buck would drift off as soon as he had run out of women to sleep with or when he lost interest. Josiah and JD would both probably end up dead by the end of the week with the way those two behaved, I thought wryly. As difficult as it was to acknowledge, the facts remained the same: my seven lovable but exasperating charges were preparing to go their separate ways, and I hadn’t the first clue about how to stop them. And I would have to stop them, I mused darkly. There was no way I could let them go off on their own now that I knew the kinds of dangerous situations that they placed themselves in.


The sound of the swinging doors opening drew my attention away from the depressing train of thought that my mind had been on, and I couldn’t prevent the chuckle that escaped my lips when I caught sight of Gabriel’s charge standing in the doorway attempting to look imposing for the sake of the saloon gatherers. The only look he’s pulling off is that of an old, puffed-up bullfrog, I thought to myself. I had to bite my tongue in order to control the giggles that began to tumble from my mouth at the mental image I had of Gabriel’s charge in the form of a fat, old amphibian. The noise I was making caused Gabriel to raise his head and look at me with a puzzled frown, but I could only point to the front of the saloon in answer to his unasked question.


“Is… he always go… going to… be like this?” I wheezed out as I clutched my aching sides. Oh how I needed a good laugh. Gabriel, who had been intensely scrutinizing his charge’s actions, turned and cocked his brow at me in question. I waved a hand in the old man’s direction and swallowed thickly before elaborating. “Is he always going to be making scenes like this? I mean…he looks completely ridiculous. Oh… oh my how I do pity you, little brother. Your charge is a complete mental.” My words had started to dissolve into chuckles, but somehow I managed to finish speaking before collapsing into another fit of laughter. Gabriel shook his head wryly and grinned at me before turning his attention back towards his charge. Like I said, he never could win an argument against me.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~


“I don’t believe this!” I cried out as I watched JD lock Ezra up in a jail cell as per the orders of Judge Travis. That old fool had actually given the young man the job of sheriff! “What the bloody hell is wrong with you man!” I bellowed out the door as the judge left to go about his business. I turned a scathing look onto Gabriel, but his helpless shrug and weak smile just infuriated me further. I turned my attention back to JD as the young man proceeded to take up his new position as sheriff by rifling through the former position holder’s desk drawers. I was about to lay into him about his stupidity when I heard Buck approaching from outside. “Maybe he can talk some sense into you,” I bit out angrily as I folded my arms over my chest. Unfortunately for all of us, not even Buck could pop a hole in JD’s balloon of excitement. “Dear lord he is going to end up dead by the end of the week,” I muttered to myself as I kept my eyes cast up at the ceiling. I had held my breath when Buck had started to, in his own amusing way, read JD the riot act in hopes that the young man would listen to his words and come to his senses, but I turned my eyes away the second JD tipped over in his chair. My eyes flickered back towards the scene in front of me as Buck awkwardly made his exit, looking like a man who wouldn’t dare be seen with such an ungainly youth like JD. I cocked my head to the side to see what Ezra thought about what we had just witnessed, and I managed to catch him smirking before he laid his head back down on the cot he was resting on. “This disaster is entirely your fault, Gabriel,” I growled lowly before I spun around to glare at my younger brother. At least I had planned on glaring at him, but the spot where he had been standing was vacant when I turned around. You can run, but you can’t hide, I thought to myself.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~


If you’ve ever seen someone after he’s been in a rage all day and wondered if being angry was truly that exhausting, then let me set the record straight for you. Yes, throwing a bitch fit of epic proportions for a whole day can honestly wear a person to death. In my case, such an outcome wasn’t possible, but my body was feeling about on par with that of a living corpse. All I could manage to do by the time nightfall had rolled around was to pour myself onto a bench outside the local saloon and collapse. I had spent the better part of the day hunting Gabriel down, but the little bugger had gone to ground. I snorted at the thought that at least he was smart enough to realize that hiding was probably the best option for him now because trying to reason with me after that little display at the jail certainly was not. When I hadn’t been running around after my little brother, I had spent some time checking up on my various charges. Not much had changed in the way I had had things figured that morning; Chris and Vin were still planning on leaving in the morning and JD and Josiah were probably going to get themselves killed before week’s end. Buck would probably end up sticking around longer than I had anticipated, now that JD had taken up the position of sheriff. And Ezra…well Ezra would probably end up jumping bail again and leaving in the middle of the night for a new town. I was right back to where I had started the day, and I still hadn’t the foggiest idea how I was going to fix this mess.


I was startled from my doze on the bench when I felt a hand grip my shoulder and jostle it lightly. “Come to rain frogs on me, little brother?” I asked grumpily as I shifted over to allow him room to sit down. Gabriel looked at me sheepishly as he took a seat next to me, but he simply shook his head. I waited for him to say what was on his mind, but he continued to stare down at his clasped hands whilst he sat hunched over with his arms resting on his thighs. I sighed loudly and decided to break the ice between us; I had no intention of waiting all night for him to explain himself. “If you haven’t come here to pile more shit to the top of the mountain that I’m already dealing with, then why did you decide to seek me out?”


Gabriel remained silent for another few moments before finally answering, keeping his head bowed and his voice quiet. “You were right about Judge Travis; he really is a stupid, old codger.” I let out a snort but didn’t say anything as I waited for him to continue. “The uncle of the man he arrested this morning came to pay him a visit tonight. You should’ve seen him, playing with fire like it was a skipping stone,” he laughed bitterly as he finally raised his head to look at me. “He actually dared the man to try something at the trial tomorrow. Can you believe that?” I smirked at him in answer, which caused Gabriel to laugh merrily. “Yes, I suppose you can.” He bowed his head again and shifted on the bench, a sure sign that he was nervous about what he was about to say. “I know things have been hard on you with Travis adding to your pile like he has, but I need your help with this, Julian,” Gabriel stated quietly. “I can’t just let him die simply because he’s an asinine jackass.”


I chuckled as Gabriel grinned at his description of his own charge, and I clapped my little brother on the shoulder. “Of course I’ll be there to help you tomorrow,” I responded with a grin of my own. “Besides, JD will probably be at that trial too, and he’s as much of a danger magnet as Travis is.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~


The next day dawned bright and cheerful with sunshine permeating every surface of the town. Gabriel and I leaned against support posts in front of the saloon as we kept an eye on the morning’s events. We chuckled as Buck ran about passing out newspapers for Mary Travis; how someone could have so much energy this early in the day was simply astounding. Aside from Vin breaking up a standoff between JD and a group of citizens attempting to release Lucas James, nothing seemed to be amiss until we spotted Chris stalking towards the barbershop that we had seen Buck go in earlier. I threw an irritated look Gabriel’s way before I headed after my seemingly furious charge. What in the world could Buck have possibly done now?


I got my answer when I walked in on Chris holding a razor to his friend’s throat whilst growling at the man to keep his mouth shut about Chris’ past. “You don’t think that that was just a touch over the top, do you?” I asked Chris sarcastically whilst the man brushed past me and out the door. That man sure took his personal business seriously, I mused to myself as I watched him stalk down the street. I glanced back inside to see what Buck thought about his friend’s behavior and frowned at the grimace on the man’s face. “Talk about cutting your nose off to spite your face,” I tisked disparagingly as I turned to head back to my spot at the saloon. Chris may have just shot himself in the foot on this one.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~


I knew things were going to go to hell in a bucket the second the three imposing acquaintances of the condemned man stepped foot into the saloon. Gabriel and I had discussed what contingencies we needed to be prepared for during our conversations last night and this morning, and it looked as if our worst case scenario was about to come true. I looked over to where Judge Travis sat at his table on the raised platform like a king holding court and couldn’t resist venting some of my agitation on the man. I turned to Gabriel and thrust my index finger at his charge as I growled, “When this is over, I don’t ever wish to see his old, leathery face again.” My brother simply nodded curtly before we both turned our attentions back to the scene taking place around us.


Events rapidly deteriorated as I had feared they would, but it was my asinine jackass that caused things to spiral downward not Gabriel’s. “You are a bloody moron,” I muttered to myself as JD began to wave his monstrous, relic of a gun around. I heard Gabriel begin to snicker next to me, but before I could turn and tell him to shut it I saw the chamber from JD’s gun fall out and hit the floor with an ominous thump. “You should’ve listened to Buck,” I tisked as my young charge adopted the look of a frightened deer. No, things were not going to go well at all.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~


“Well, look at it this way, little brother,” I drawled as Gabriel and I leaned against the back wall of Chris’ room and observed Judge Travis speaking to Larabee from his prone position on the room’s bed. “You only have one charge to look after.” Gabriel flashed me a small smirk before falling back into a state of contemplation. “Why the long face, Gabriel? You did well, and your charge is still alive and annoying,” I chuckled, throwing an arm over my brother’s shoulders.


“Perhaps we’re looking at this all wrong,” Gabriel muttered to himself, and I arched an eyebrow at him in question. “I know we’ve been pretty harsh on the man, but perhaps Judge Travis is serving a bigger purpose aside from trying our patience.” I removed my arm from Gabriel’s shoulders and crossed it over my other one as I continued to look at my brother questioningly. “Just hear me out on this, alright?” he pleaded as he moved to stand in front of me and held his hands up in supplication. “You’ve been complaining about how your seven charges were fixing to separate, yes?”


“You bloody well know that I have,” I responded flippantly.


 “And yet the judge’s timely injury kept two of them here,” Gabriel said excitedly, motioning to his laid up charge. When I failed to respond to his enthusiasm, his arm fell despondently to his side, and he turned around to plunk his back against the wall with a resounding thump. “Maybe I’m just reading too much into the situation,” he sighed, shrugging his shoulders despondently.


I took a moment to ruminate on his words, and I had to admit that the sentiment Gabriel was trying to imply did sound appealing. “I suppose that keeping my charges together is the least the old codger could do after the way he royally mucked things up,” I admitted aloud and gave Gabriel a small smirk. I watched as Chris strode purposefully from the room and turned to follow him out. I wanted to believe that Gabriel was right about the judge, but I wasn’t holding out too much hope for my charges to have a happy ending no matter how much I wished for one. Expect the worst but hope for the best was my motto.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~


“Here we go again,” I exhaled loudly as my charges began to ready themselves for the trip to capture Lucas James. Chris had managed to talk Nathan and Josiah into coming along, but he’d been royally blown off by a preoccupied Buck. “He did have that one coming,” I reasoned to myself as I perched on top of the sheriff’s desk and watched as Chris and JD raided the gun cabinet in the jail. As they were scurrying about, I kept an eye on Ezra whilst the downtrodden man tossed cards into his upturned hat. I kept waiting for one of the other men to acknowledge his presence, but they appeared content to let him rot in his cell. “Well that’s just bloody fantastic,” I exclaimed as I threw my hands up in the air. If no one else was going to acknowledge the elephant in the room, then I would. I hopped down from the desk and strode over to Ezra’s cell, making sure I could look Chris in the eye before I began my tirade. “The man risks his neck to save you lot, and yet you’re willing to just toss him aside like so much rubbish?” I accused as I flung a hand towards the cell.” “You barely know these other men, and yet you’re willing to stand by them. What makes them so special?” I snarled whilst pointing an accusing finger at Chris. “You told him not to run out on you, and yet here you are doing that exact thing to him. You’re a right bastard,” I growled as I stabbed my finger into his chest to punctuate my words. My actions may have gone unnoticed by him, but I’d still like to think that perhaps Ezra had heard me when he suddenly chose to speak up. I held my breath during the conversation between him and Chris, hoping that perhaps I’d judged Larabee too harshly in my state of anger. “Good show mate,” I chuckled weakly as my breath came out in a relieved whoosh when Chris tossed Ezra the keys to the cell door.  Now I just had to make sure none of them got shot on this fool’s errand they were embarking on.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~


“It looks like you managed to bring them all back in one piece,” Gabriel called out to me as my troupe and I trotted up the street. I flashed him a weary smile and inclined my head in Buck’s direction. “I saw him leave about an hour after you lot did. I guess he couldn’t stay mad for long,” Gabriel chuckled as he answered my unspoken query.


I trudged up the step to the boardwalk and plopped down next to him on the bench outside of the saloon. “If he hadn’t have showed up, there was no way I could’ve gotten them all back here in one piece,” I managed to wheeze out. I leaned my head back against the wall and closed my eyes as I allowed myself a moment to rest.


“You don’t seem particularly pleased, Julian,” Gabriel observed as I felt him nudge me gently. “I mean, you just had a job well done, and all of your charges are alive and kicking. That should warrant a little gloating especially from you,” he snickered.


“Nothing’s changed, Gabriel,” I muttered bitterly, still keeping my eyes closed. “This whole bloody trip changed absolutely nothing.” I felt my brother shift next to me, and after a few moments pause I heard him clear his throat.


“You might want to open your eyes for this.” I could practically hear the smirk in his voice and cracked one of my eyes open at once.


“Wha’s goin’ on?” I slurred whilst attempting to straighten in my seat.


“It would appear that my charge is offering all of yours a job,” Gabriel observed casually as he leaned back on the bench. I shot him a disbelieving look, but he simply shrugged and pointed to the scene before us.


“I’ll be damned,” I whispered, hearing my charges’ various acceptances of the judge’s offer. The old man actually came through in the end. But that doesn’t mean I ever wish to see his cantankerous hide ever again, I mused to myself. “Don’t think this changes anything, Gabriel.” I waved in the general direction of my charges as they gathered around the judge. “I still want that bloody man kept as far away from here as possible.”


“No sympathy for the elderly, eh Julian,” Gabriel chuckled. When I continued to scowl at him, he held up a placating hand and sobered his tone as he promised, “I’ll do what I can.” I chewed my bottom lip as I contemplated whether or not to bring up a subject that had been gnawing at my mind since the battle at the Indian village. Apparently Gabriel sensed my distress because he finally called me out on my silence. “Something on your mind, Julian?” he asked quietly.


I inhaled deeply as I nodded in the affirmative. “Do you know…if it’s possible to make contact with your charge?” I stammered out whilst fidgeting with my hands. I looked over to see what Gabriel thought of my query, and I was surprised to see him with a pleased smile on his face. “What? Why are you looking at me like that?”


“I just…never imagined you taking this role seriously,” Gabriel replied with a disbelieving shake of the head. He saw that I was beginning to get flustered and held up a hand in pacification. “You just caught me off guard is all; to answer your question…yes, I’ve been told that you can make contact with your charge.”


“You’ve been told?” I asked incredulously.


“Father said that a person is most receptive to us when his heart is open, which would be during times of great internal struggle,” Gabriel explained as he shrugged his shoulders.


“But you’ve never managed to make it happen,” I asked slyly and grinned impishly at my brother’s blush. “Well, I’m going to go out of my mind unless I can manage to get through to them,” I stated as I moved to get up.


“Best of luck to you, Julian,” Gabriel hollered after me. Damn him, I could hear the smirk in his voice again. 

 

 

 

 

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