And This is the Apple
by Farad
Warnings: discussions of a religious nature: Seven Deadly Sins
This is for the November 2008 challenge: Write a "scene you'd like to see" -- In other words, using any episode, rewrite an existing scene the way you would have liked to see it had you had the control. I didn't rewrite the scene so much as add to it.


Wonder what kind of monster uses a weapon like that.


I don't rightly know. But if I'd have had a rifle like this when I was a bounty hunter...


Big difference between bounty hunting and murder.


Maybe. But if a man is wanted alive or dead, it might be the easier if he's dead. You lie in wait. You take him down. You get paid for him being dead. Same as Lucius Stutz. I'm just saying with a gun like this... and so much money... might make a monster out of any man.


Except the man who knows better.

(From "Serpents" thanks to Nancy's Blackraptor site's transcript)

Nathan shook his head as he walked away. That Vin could say such a thing, think such a thing . . .

Despite himself, he smiled. Hell, if things weren't so tense and confusing, all of them worried about what Stutz had been doing here, he'd have laughed out loud. The very idea of Vin Tanner thinking that he could have been tempted by having a gun like the one Lucius Stutz had had . . .

Vin, with the price on his head, a price that allowed for dead or alive. . .

But that was what it was, Nathan realized, and in the realization, he paused, glancing back over his shoulder to Vin's wagon.

It was exactly that.

The gun was a beauty, well beyond anything Nathan had ever seen before. It was a finely-crafted weapon, the likes of which Nathan could appreciate; there were many medical tools that showed the same level of intricacy and finesse in their design and creation.

But Vin wasn't thinking as Vin, he was thinking as someone who might hunt Vin Tanner. He was thinking as a bounty hunter going after himself.

Nathan sighed, shaking his head. He'd never truly believed in justice, his personal history rife with too many examples to the contrary. He'd let himself selfishly believe that it was because of what he was - a colored man. That belief had allowed him to accept the Indians as other victims of the white-man's prejudice.

But meeting Vin, getting to know him, had shown him that the white man's world was just as prejudiced to white men.


He turned at the voice, catching sight of Josiah walking along the street toward him.

"Everything all right?"

Nathan smiled at the other man. "Yeah, just having some thoughts," he said, stepping up to meet him.

"That sounds dangerous," Josiah said, but he grinned. "Anything I need to know about?" He turned so that they were heading toward the saloon.

Nathan shook his head, but even as he did, it occurred to him that he was wrong. "Did you see the rifle that Vin found in Stutz's hotel room?" he asked as they stepped onto the boardwalk and through the swinging doors into the saloon.

"See? No, not yet," Josiah answered, nodding to several people as they passed by on their way to the bar. "Have heard about it though." He nodded to Chris who was at the far end of the bar, nursing a beer.

Nathan nodded to their leader but he steered Josiah toward a table in the far corner. The bartender, Lester, caught Josiah's gaze and nodded, letting them know he'd bring over dinners for them in a few minutes.

"Why the concern about the gun?" Josiah asked, taking off his hat and dropping it on one end of the table as he took a seat.

Nathan shook his head. "Seems Vin thinks that if he'd had a gun like that when he was bounty-hunting, he might have become a killer the same way Stutz did."

Josiah frowned, his pale eyes drifting unseeingly around the room for a few seconds. "Temptation," he said thoughtfully. "We're all subject to it, I reckon. Awful lot of it running about these days."

As if on cue, Ezra walked through the saloon doors, smiling brightly. Ten-thousand dollars, Nathan thought, with Ezra's eyes on it. "Seems so," he agreed with a sigh.

Lester came over then, carrying a tray with two of the dinner specials and two mugs of beer.

"Busy night," Josiah commented as the bartender served them.

"Governor's rally," he said brusquely. "People coming into town to hear him speak."

Josiah nodded. "That would explain it."

They ate in silence for a few minutes, the hub-bub around them dulling out any need for conversation.

After a time, Josiah looked up from his plate and asked, "You ever worry about temptation?"

Nathan hesitated, the fork half way to his mouth. He let it continue on, thinking on the question as he chewed and swallowed. "Seems like we all would," he answered. "I know I'd be tempted if I had the chance to learn some real medicine."

Josiah made a noise like a laugh, swallowing before he spoke. "Tempted to do something 'bad' to get that education?"

Nathan shrugged. "I wouldn't sell my soul or anything. But I can't rightly say what I'd do. Guess it depends on the situation."

"And that," Josiah said, sitting forward and pointing at Nathan with the tines of his fork "is the eternal dilemma."

Nathan frowned. "What do you mean?"

"The situation," Josiah clarified, pushing his plate away. "Vin's right - some things are tempting, but at different degrees. He thinks he would be tempted to be an assassin if he'd had a gun like the one Stutz had. We know better - Vin's too good man for that. If he were going to kill for money, he could do it with the weapons he's already got. And the skills; he can shoot long-range with the rifle he carries, as we already know. No, greed isn't his sin," Josiah said, as he lifted his mug to his mouth. He drank down the rest of the beer, then stood up, catching his mug and Nathan's as he headed for the bar. But as he walked away, he said, "Vin's sin is pride."

Nathan stewed on that for several minutes while Josiah got them fresh beers. As the older man returned, settling back into his chair, he said, "Vin's sin is pride? What does that mean?"

Josiah grinned just a little, in that way that he had that warned Nathan of a confidence. Without thinking, Nathan leaned forward, resting his arms on the table.

"One of the mysteries I tend to study is the symmetry of numbers. Seven is a significant number in the Bible - it's the day God rested, it's the number of nations God told the Israelites they would displace when they entered the land of Israe l, it's the number of branches on the Menorah, it's the number of sacraments - it repeats consistently in God's words." He took a sip of his beer, leaving Nathan to shake his head.

"It's the number of virtues and the number of deadly sins," Nathan sighed. "And it's the number of us."

"It is, indeed, brother," Josiah said with a shrug.

"So you've . . . what, given each of us a sin and a virtue?" The thought was impossible to speak without laughter.

Josiah grinned as well. "Yeah," he said, "I have to admit it's easier assigning sin than virtue."

Nathan shook his head, still smiling. "Only you, Josiah, only you." He took a drink of his own beer, then looked at the other man. "All right, I can't help myself. Why is Vin pride?"

Josiah's smile faded a little then, and he looked down to the table top. "He'd get himself killed to protect his name," he said. "Walk straight into a noose if he hadn't landed here, hadn't agreed to stay with us. I'd say that's prideful."

Nathan thought about it, remembering the one comment Vin had made awhile back, on a night when he'd had enough to drink to not guard himself so closely: 'My ma said to always remember I was a Tanner.' Proudly.

" 'Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall'," Josiah said. "I don't think he's going to become an assassin, though."

"No," Nathan agreed, letting his thoughts be redirected. "He don't take pride in killing. So - that's one, what are the other six?"

Josiah looked around, the music a little louder now, a tinny piano played by a half-drunk man who was more amused by his mistakes than the right keys. "Or - who?" Josiah asked. "Well, for myself, I'd have to say I'm wrath."

"Not Chris?" Nathan asked, surprised.

Josiah tilted his head. "You think Chris is angry?"

Nathan almost snorted beer. "On a good day, maybe. Most days I'd say he' a fury."

Josiah frowned, the ends of his mustache turning down. "Oh, I can't argue with you, he does know how to throw a good rage. Certainly loves to use it as an excuse to walk into the front of someone else's gun."

"And - that's not wrath?" Nathan asked.

"Tell me," Josiah said, his words slow, "what other moods have you seen Chris in when he's walked into a fight? Ever see him resigned? Ever see him anxious or worried?"

Nathan thought for minute. "Well, not mostly, no, mostly he seems angry."

"He does. He seems that way whenever anything goes wrong - he's angry when someone he cares about gets hurt, he's angry when someone he cares about does something stupid, he's angry when he has to deal with his own pain, his own memories. Doesn't that sound lazy to you?"

"Sounds scared," Nathan countered.

"Maybe," Josiah agreed. "But it never changes. He's got one reaction to any situation - wrath. It's easier for him - keeps him from having to deal with the grief and the guilt and the fear."

"Easier," Nathan said, wondering why he felt the need to protect Chris.

"Exactly," Josiah agreed.

"So - how does that make him slothful and you wrathful? Seems to me you got a lot of anger as well."

Josiah smiled. "Can't argue that. But I like to think, maybe wrongly, that my wrath is variable. It's not my first reaction to everything that happens."

"No," Nathan agreed, "it does show up more when you're upset with yourself - or feeling guilty."

"My wrath is less at the world and more at myself," he said quietly. "More about my failings in myself and in my God."

Nathan shook his head, watching as Ezra flashed a smile at Lester, his gold tooth catching the bright lamplight. "So, if you're wrath and Chris is sloth, then Ezra is surely greed."

Josiah looked genuinely surprised at that, his eyebrows climbing high. "You think so?" he asked.

Nathan stared at him, then glanced back to Ezra. "Josiah," he said slowly, trying for patience, "the man is trying to find a way to get his hands on - " He caught himself, looking around quickly before lowering his voice to finish, "That money. He's tried everything in the book to convince Chris that it's theirs because they found it. He does that every time there's even a hint of money around - how can you tell me that it's anything else?"

"Because it's not the money, it's what it represents," Josiah said, watching Ezra.

"What - diamonds? Fine clothes? Fancy food?" Nathan sat back, crossing his arms over his chest.

"Look at him," Josiah said, his voice quiet against the noise of the room. "What do you see?"

Nathan didn't have to look. "I see a man who can't think past his wallet."

Josiah took a breath. "I see a man who's always struggling to live up to someone else's standard. I see a man who's aware of what his own life is missing and who doesn't know how to go about getting it."

Nathan did turn then, watching as the hotel owner, Heidigger, pushed through the crowd to join Chris at the bar. He wasn't surprised that Ezra was there quickly as well. "You think that's not greed?"

"Ezra doesn't love money in and of itself - he spends it as soon as he gets it most of the time. He does save, but he saves for things. No," Josiah shook his head, "he wants money because he envies people who have it, and the lives he thinks they lead."

Nathan sat, watching Ezra, letting the idea drift through his mind. Random things rose to the surface, Ezra's relationship with his mother, the way he got along with young'uns, the way he had treated Li Pong. Envy of - affection, maybe? Did he think love was something one bought?

Given what Nathan had seen of Maude, it made a certain amount of sense.

He shook his head, taking a sip of beer then looking back to Josiah. "So - he's envy, you're wrath, Chris is sloth, and Vin is pride - are you going to tell me that Buck's not lust?"

Josiah grinned. "Now, don't that seem a bit easy? But no, I don't believe he is. I believe he's gluttony."

Nathan should have known better than to be surprised, but he was - on several different scores. It hadn't escaped his attention that they were running out of sins and out of people; if Buck wasn't lust, then it was either JD - or Nathan himself.

"It's not just women he seeks out," Josiah explained. "Ever notice his attention to food? He can't abide food being left on a plate - or a half-smoked cigar. An unfinished drink. He can't pass a flower without smelling it or a kitchen without sticking his nose in. He always touches Ezra's jackets and shirts, and while we like to think that his attentions to women are for more intimate pleasures, he does love to touch their clothes. It's not just the carnal, it's stimulation to all the senses that attracts him, and he can't stop himself."

At the bar, there was a slight commotion, Heidigger storming away to the accompaniment of muttered voices that rose in pitch. It didn't take long for Nathan to make out what was being said - the news of the discovery of the ten-thousand dollars was out.

"That's gonna make things fun," Nathan said, looking back to Josiah.

"We'd best keep an eye on the bank in the morning," Josiah said, finishing off his beer and rising from the table.

Nathan rose as well and they cleared their table, putting their empty plates on the tray at the far end of the bar. Lester nodded a quick thanks to them as they passed by him and headed out the door. Chris was still at the bar, looking pissed off now, and Ezra was holding court at a table on the other side of the room.

The air was cooler and cleaner outside, and quieter. The stars had come out and the night was clear and bright. They walked away from the saloon, Nathan thinking on Josiah's words and wondering whether he was brave enough to ask.

Josiah stepped off the boardwalk, walking down the street as they neared the building where Nathan had his rooms. "You're not going to ask?" he said, and Nathan could hear the humor in his voice.

"Kind of afraid to," he said, half serious. "It's me and JD and lust and greed. I ain't sure I want to be thought of as either of those."

"It's not as bad as you think," Josiah countered. "Greed isn't just about money alone. In your case, it's knowledge. Sometimes, I worry that your desire to know everything that you can find out about medicine will take you places where you forget that there are things we're not meant to know. Or to make decisions about. You're one of the smartest men I know, Nathan, but smart men often find themselves so greedy for more education or information that they forget how to use it - and when to use it."

Nathan stopped, turning to Josiah who stopped as well. "You think I don't know right from wrong?" he said, trying not to let the hurt bleed into the statement.

But Josiah was already shaking his head. "That's not what I mean at all," he said softly. "What I mean is that sometimes, your desire to learn blinds you to the realities around you. You can be so focused on learning that you forget what you already know."

"Now that don't make any kind of sense," Nathan shot back. "I can't do what I do without remembering what I already know."

Josiah sighed. "I don't - I'm not making myself clear. It's not meant to be an insult, Nathan, or to question your knowledge or your abilities. The only person who thinks poorly of your abilities is you. That's the root, I think, of your greed about your knowledge. You think that knowing more will make you better - but I don't know if there's enough out there to fill the hole you seem to feel."

It wasn't the words so much as the tone in them that curbed Nathan's irritation. Josiah was sincere in his concern, and his worry.

Nathan drew a breath, held it for a second, then let it go before asking, "You really gonna tell me that JD is the sin of lust?"

Josiah blinked, hesitant, until Nathan grinned. Then he grinned, still a little uncertain.

"Well," Josiah started, "you can't tell me he's not full of a lust for life - so much so that his desire to experience everything puts him in trouble, or would if one of us wasn't around to rein him in."

It was hard to argue with that one.

Nathan shook his head, but turned, starting back down the road. Josiah walked along beside him.

"You spend a lot of time thinking about that?" Nathan asked as they neared the stairway to his rooms.

"A lot? No, not really. It just sort of passes through my mind from time to time, when one of us does something or says something that reminds me."

"Like Vin thinking he could become a man like Lucius Stutz?"

Josiah nodded. "Or when you blame yourself for someone dying or Chris says something harsh to someone, or Ezra fusses about Mrs. Nettie."

"Or Buck steals your biscuit off your plate, or JD almost gets himself hurt running off after some new adventure," Nathan added.

"Or when I let myself wallow in my own self-pity because I don't have a congregation on Sunday morning."

Nathan turned, looking at the other man. "That bothers you a lot, huh."

Josiah looked down the street, past his church and into the night. "Never certain if I'm failing God or if He's failing me - or if I even play a role in it at all."

There was something sad in his tone, a sound that Nathan didn't like. "So," he said, putting on foot on the bottom stair, "if you've been spending time thinking on the seven deadly sins, can I assume you've done the same with the seven virtues as well?"

Josiah looked back at him, the sadness easing from his face. "Seems only right," he said, "striving to keep my balance and so forth. Sin and virtue."

Nathan shook his head, but grinned. "Then I'd best put on some hot water and make up a pot of strong tea, maybe get out some of that peach brandy that Mrs. Hawkins gave me last month."

"You interested in hearing?" Josiah asked.

"Don't think I could stand not hearing, what with my greed for knowledge," Nathan answered. "Get on up here and tell me some stories about angels to balance these stories about devils you been spinning."

As they made their way up the stairs, Vin passed by, nodding up to them and touching the brim of his hat. He was headed for the saloon, to find Chris. Pride, Nathan mused, waving back. A little bit was a good thing, but too much was - well, a sin. Just like with lust, greed, envy, wrath, gluttony, and sloth. And the line between was a slippery, squirming thing, a serpent in their desert garden.

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