Disclaimer: The Magnificent Seven and all related characters are the property of their creators. I don't know who just yet, but I'll let you know when I find out. No copyright infringement is intended. No profit is being made. This story and all original characters are the propety of the author.

Once Upon a Time, In the Wild, Wild West...

It was a dark day, a cold day, and a strong wind blew across the prairie, sending clouds of dust and tumbleweeds through the air. The people of the small town stayed inside, seeing the bad weather as a sign. Their hero would not win, they feared.

They should have had more faith, though, in the hero who had come to save them, the one man who had both the courage and the ability to stand against the bandits who had been terrorizing them for so long. The one man who would stop the rustlers and the killers and restore order and peace to the small, quiet Western town.

It was, as tradition calls for, high noon, when the two gunmen stepped out into the middle of the street, facing each other across a distance of at least a hundred yards. The hero, dressed in black, a hat low in his brow, obscuring his eyes, though there was no sun to blind him on this overcast day; and the bandit, who had no name, none that was known, was standing at the other side of the street, gun in his holster, hand resting just above the weapon. Four men stood behind him, there either as encouragement, or as backup, in case he should fall.

Only a few of the townspeople had the courage to watch from their windows and porches as the two men began to move toward each other. Most of them remained in their homes, bundling their wives and children away and keeping themselves away from the windows for fear they would be hit once the bullets began to fly.

The hero stopped first, when they were no more than twenty feet apart. He faced the bandit, his eyes hard. Truly he lives up to his name, as John Steel gazed up on his enemy.

"You best give up now," the bandit taunted. "You'll never win this one, Steel. There's too many of us. We outnumber you. And even if you survive this one, my men will make sure you don't survive the next.

Steel did not reply, merely smiled a dry, bemused smile as he glared disdainfully upon the bandit and his companions. Steel was obviously unimpressed, and unafraid, and it unnerved the bandits to no end, they were used to men being afraid of them, or at least their weapons. But Steel didn't flinch, he did not blink and he showed no sign of being afraid.

"What happened next, Mama?" A small voice inquired, sleepy, tired and young. A young woman smiled gently as she leaned across the bed to bring the blankets up to cover her young son. "I'll tell you," she promised, "but you have to promise to sit still and try to go to sleep. No more rough housing."

The boy grimaced at the prospect of going to bed at such an early hour. The sun was still up! But he nodded and curled up beneath he blankets, burroughing against his pillow. "I promise, Mama. But tell me the end of the story."

The woman ran a hand across her son's forehead, brushing aside a few stray curls. "All, right, I promise, little one. Now hush, and let me finish."

Steel refused to draw his weapon first, waiting until his opponent left him no other choice. Instead of drawing, he stood and waited, allowing the bandit to make the first move, to decide how this would end. Steel was willing to let it end in peace, to allow this to end without bloodshed as long as the bandit promised to leave the town and its citizens unharmed. Somehow, he knew that would not happen. Men such as this bandit were not to be reasoned with. They had no respect for life, for peace, for other people's property. They cared only for their own greed, their own wealth, their own well-being. They didn't care who they had to hurt, so long as they got what they wanted.

Steel's impression was proven correct. The bandit gestured for his companions to leave him as he closed the distance between him and Steel to only ten strides. "Very well," he said with a sneer. "If it must end this way, then I'll end it this way. But remember, Steel, it was your own choice. I gave you the chance to back down."

"Steel would never back down," the little boy said adamantly, though his words were slurred by sleepiness. "The hero's gotta stop the bad guy. Right, Mama?"

The woman smiled. "Always, little one. Now let me finish."

Steel said nothing, one hand resting lightly on the gun at his hip. The bandit glared at him. "Aren't you going to say anything, hero?" he asked, placing a mocking stress on the last word. "Aren't you going to give me some high-born lecture on the morality of the thing? Aren't you going to give me a last chance to redeem myself? To surrender?"

"No," Steel said mildly, no heat in his voice, no anger. Just firm conviction. "You know already everything I could say. You've herd it before. You know the score. You've made your choice. Pull that gun know and you will die."

The bandit only laughed. "Very well, cowboy," he said snidely. "Prove it." And one hand went to the gun belt at his hip and drew his weapon in less than the time it takes to blink.

But Steel was quicker, and as the bandit raised his gun to fire, Steel drew his own weapon and fired two shots in rapid succession, each of them hitting their mark. The bandit fell to the ground, red already beginning to seep through his shirt. Steel watched the body fall, his expression as hard as it had ever been, but inwardly regretting that a life had to be taken.

The bandits four companions began to move forward threateningly, murmuring in low voices. They were unhappy with the death of their leader, and they planned to take their revenge on the man who had killed him. Steel kept him weapon out, and fixed them all with a gaze, a hard gaze, one worthy of his name. "I already defeated your leader, who was said to be a better draw than any of you. You have the choice to face me now, and know that most, if not all of you, will not leave alive, or you can leave. You and the rest of your cowardly lot can leave this town and these people alone. The choice, as I told him," he said, throwing a disgusted look at the body lying on the ground, "is yours."

That gave the men a bit of a pause as they stopped to consider his words. They slowly, and reluctantly, began to withdraw, keeping their hands well away from their weapons as they left the small town.

The people came out to congratulate the hero, but he refused to accept their gratitude, their praise. "I did what was right, what must have been done, what someone would have done eventually," he said calmly. "Evil will not triumph as long as there is someone willing to stand against it. It doesn't matter who that someone is, only that they are willing to stand."

The young woman he had met upon entering town, Madelyn, came forward and greeted him with a dazzling smile and bright green eyes. "It was marvelous, what you did, Mr. Steel. No matter what you say, it took courage to be that one to stand, to face evil in its eye. Thank you for being that man."

Steel smiled down at her with a gentle smile, almost tender. "I have business far from here, but I shall return in a week's time, a month's time. Will you be here?"

Madelyn looked up at him with a bright smile. "I would not be anywhere else," she said. "But make sure you return to me soon, John Steel, or I may be upset with you."

Steel took her hand and kissed it lightly. "Can't have that, now can I?" He turned from the town and the people, mounted his steed and began to ride out of town. At the edge, he turned back and raised one hand, bidding farewell to Madelyn and the people there who he had saved. Then, as he had done a hundred times before, but would not do much longer, he rode off in to the prairie, into the desert, into the sunset, knowing that one day soon, when he returned, Madelyn would be waiting for him.

The young mother smiled down at her child. He gazed back up at her, his eyes drooping tiredly. "Did you like the story, little one?"

Tired blue eyes smiled back at her. "I loved it, Mama. Will you tell it again tomorrow?"

"I will," she promised.

"And the day after that?"

"And the day after that," she agreed. "Now sleep." She gently rested a hand against the thick, dark curls covering his head. "We have an early day tomorrow. Again. You'll need your sleep."

His eyes drifted shut, his breathing evened. The young mother cast him one last fond look before quietly getting up from her seat beside his bed and walking across the room to the door.



"Can I be Mr. Steel when I grow up?"

She smiled at the eager tone of the tired voice, at the innocence of the question. "You can be a hero, little one."

Satisfied, the small boy once again closed his eyes, and finally drifted off to sleep. His mother stood in the doorway for a long time, watching him sleep, tears threatening as she contemplated the dull monotony of her future, of her son's future. She vowed silently that he would have everything she didn't, that she would work until her dying breath to give him whatever he needed, whatever he wanted. "One day," she whispered into the silence of the room. "One day you will be a wonderful hero, JD. I promise."


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