by Jeanne

This is a gen. OW Chris and Vin h/c story PG-13 for violence

Disclaimer: The Magnificent Seven don’t belong to me they belong to some rich guys in California that never appreciated them. I’m just playing with them for a little while and then I’ll put them back. No money made, I don’t have any either.

Authors notes: This one is for LaraMee. I owed her one, but I couldn’t remember which one I was suppose to hurt so I hurt them both. My thanks to Lynda who help me with some medical stuff when I wrote her out of the blue one day and she worked really hard to find out what Vin said, he wouldn’t tell me. I’m also grateful to Winnie for all she does and betaing too and to Mady Bay who wrote and volunteered to beta also. I had no idea I missed so many commas. Thanks so much ladies.

If you’d like to see what the White Sands of New Mexico look like here’s one site to check out.

Feedback: Yes please, but be nice.

Size: Approx: 150K


Chris Larabee knew he couldn’t take another step, yet there was always someone pulling on his arm. Urging him to move once again despite the wind, the burning sand stinging his bareback and arms and burning his raw feet. Every time he felt himself falling into stillness the insistent pulling would begin again. Coaxing him, forcing him to get up and move again. Making him keep running until he could run no more.

Stop. Leave me alone. I can’t go any further. Please no more. It hurts too much. Can’t breathe.

Finally, after an eternity, he sank to his knees and then felt the hot sand on his cheek as he collapsed. He gasped painfully, trying to get enough air into his overtaxed lungs. Trying to remember why he was running, where he was…anything to make him understand why he hurt so. Chris hurt so badly everywhere, but worse than the pain was the darkness. One errant hand slowly crept up to his face. Touching the bruised and battered skin. Feeling the swollen puffiness around both eyes. He tried to open them again with no success.

Just as his breathing was slowing, the insistent pulling on his arm was back, urging him to get up and move again. He wanted to scream, to fight back, but he knew somewhere deep down that it was Vin pulling him. Vin was insisting he move again. He had to trust Vin to lead him, to keep him safe.

Vin Tanner crouched behind the boulder looking back from where they had come. The wind was blowing the sand so hard the he couldn’t see more then a few feet away and in this was their only hope for survival. The blowing sand would cover any tracks they left behind. He glanced down at the man lying at his feet wishing he didn’t have to move, to make Chris move. But they needed water and they needed to hide. They had to move even if it felt like it would kill them both. If they didn’t move they would certainly die.

Vin reached a bloody hand down and placed it on Chris’ shoulder, ignoring his own injuries. He swallowed, trying to bring some moisture into his burning throat. It didn’t help that it was like he was swallowing crushed glass. He tried again to talk, but no sound came out and the pain would have made him scream if he were capable of it. Instead he relied on the ‘other’ communication he and Chris seemed to have. Come on, Cowboy, we gotta go. You gotta get up.

Vin watched as Chris struggled to get up. His eyes swept over the black and blue bruises that covered every inch of Chris that was visible to Vin. Even his feet were raw and to the point of bleeding. But what worried Vin the most at the moment were Chris’ eyes. They were both swollen shut and matter crusted on the edges. He’d watched the last day and night as Chris had struggled to open his eyes without success. He wouldn’t, couldn’t think about the terrible burn on his hand. Or the rope burns from fighting the ropes around his neck and wrists dragging him behind the wagon. Sometimes stumbling and falling only to be dragged until he managed to climb back up.

Shaking his head and ignoring his own wounds, he pulled Chris to his feet and they began the journey again. He pulled Chris’ arm over his shoulder and wrapped his arm around Chris’ waist putting a finger through a belt loop to give him purchase. It was only half a mile to the place Vin sought. A small spring that offered not only water but also shelter from the wind and searching eyes. The problem was that it was uphill and he wasn’t sure either of them could make it. This time they didn’t run couldn’t run. But they kept walking, putting one stumbling foot in front of the other, climbing the rough sandstone rocks that rubbed more layers of skin off with each step.

Finally Vin could smell the water and he knew they were close. Just around another large bolder and through the crack and they weren’t fighting the wind anymore. They stood on the edge of a natural basin shelter made of large boulders on each side with a narrow passageway inside. The rocks were cool as apposed to the burning hot of the outside and there just ahead was the blessed water. A few more stumbled steps and Vin carefully laid down the man he’d been half carrying for the last hour. He crawled to the water and carefully drank what he could before the pain in his throat stopped him.

Then looking at the unconscious Chris, he pulled off his pants and long john bottoms. Putting his pants back on he took the legs of his long johns and ripped off a large piece. Vin dipped it in the water and rinsing it several times, filled it with water and holding it over Chris’ mouth, squeezed the precious drops into the slack mouth. He waited for Chris to swallow before adding more. Slowly and carefully, Vin repeated this until Chris’ thirst seemed satisfied. Then, taking the cloth he began washing the bruises and cuts, starting with the swollen eyes.

Vin tried not to think of what had caused the damage but as he continued, his mind unwittingly played over where each cut and bruise came from.

Three Days Before

It was late afternoon and Vin and Chris were leisurely returning to Four Corners from a trip down south. Vin was leading the way on an old trail he knew that skirted a vast stretch of white sand dunes. When he’d mentioned them to Chris, he’d smiled and said, "I’d like to see that."

It was the screams they heard first, and pushing the tired horses into a full gallop, they rounded a bend and came upon a scene of destruction. There was a wagon with eight or ten men looting it. The family that the wagon belonged to lay scattered and bloody on the ground. Pulling their guns, they began to fire.

Men began to fall and as Chris rode past the wagon a body made a flying tackle that sent him and Pony to the ground. Pony quickly stood and trotted away. At the same time two men charged Vin and pulled him from the furious Peso. Pistol-whipping Vin, the second man tried to grab Peso’s reins and was rewarded with a vicious bite. Then a spinning Peso aimed back hooves at the astonished man and ran away, his panic causing Pony follow.

The remaining men turned their attention to the two regulators lying at their feet. With blows and kicks they took out their frustration of losing their companions on Chris and Vin until the leader called a halt.

"Don’t kill them so fast. They must pay for what they did." He smiled cruelly, and continued, "we will make them pay slowly. Take their shirts and hats and their boots. Then tie them to the back of the wagon. We shall see how much fight they have after a long walk in the hot sand."

Smiling, the men stripped Chris and Vin tying a rawhide loop around their necks leading to their wrists and then a lead to the back of the wagon. Once they were secured, the Comancheros began throwing their loot into the wagon, quickly stripping all the bodies and adding the clothes to the pile of loot in the wagon. By the time they finished, Chris and Vin were conscious enough to struggle to their feet when the wagon lurched forward.

The loops were tied in such a way that any tension on the lead cut off their air. All they could do was concentrate on staying on their feet and keeping the lead rope loose. There was no stopping, no relief from the hot sun until dusk, when the leader called a halt. They were left standing, swaying in exhaustion while the men made camp. They couldn’t even sit down the ropes being too short. All they could do is shift from one sore foot to the other looking for some relief while gasping for air.

Finally, two of the men came and after untying Vin they hauled him to the wagon wheel and forced him down. They then tied his wrists to opposing spokes, with the rawhide around his neck loose and now hanging down his bare chest. The leader came over and squatted down in front of Vin. Each man stared at the other taking his measure. After several minutes the Comanchero leader held up the small leather pouch he’d taken from Vin when they took his shirt. He smiled.

"Tell me ‘friend’ who are you?"

Vin said nothing, his eyes cold. He had nothing to say to this man. Vin had seen his kind before in the Comanche camps, men who came and traded guns and supplies for loot from raids and captives. His family had always kept him as far away from the Comancheros as they could. They had known the Comancheros were not above taking small adopted children and selling them to the highest bidder.

The leader smiled again. "I think we will start our fun with your Blanco friend. He perhaps will be more entertaining than you."

Vin continued to stare, his eyes even colder than before. But he didn’t move or say anything. To react to this man would make it even harder on Chris.

Without taking his eyes off Vin, Jorge commanded the others. "Bring the gringo around and tie him so this one can watch. We will let them wait until after we eat. They will be our evening fun." He reached out and ran one finger down the edge of Vin’s jaw, caressing it. We will see just how much fun you will be, yes?" He gave a short barking laugh and stood.

Sam and Jose dragged Chris around to the side of the wagon and picking a mesquite tree across from Vin, tied Chris to it. Once they were done they ignored the two. Chris raised his head and looked at Vin. Hell of a ride, Pard.

Vin smiled back at him, Ain’t over yet.

Chris watched as the men prepared their food, his uncooperative stomach growling at the smell of it. The one good thing is that the smell activated the saliva and his dry mouth had plenty of moisture now. He knew he was to be the night’s first act for some reason. He watched the men looking for weaknesses. He noticed the leader kept watching Vin. He seemed to be trying to understand the enigmatic tracker. So Chris watched the leader.

He was dark, dark hair, dark complexion but his features were not quite Mexican. His black eyes glittered in the firelight. Thin to the point of emaciation, he ate very little of the beans and tortillas served. Nor did he join in the joking and discussions of the other three.

When he looked at Chris, Chris could feel the hairs on the back of his neck raise. When their eyes locked, Chris made it a point to stare him down.

The others were an odd mix found on any border town in the southwest. A mixture of Anglo and Mexican in speech, dress, and manners, they were hard men who got pleasure where they could and lived for today only.

Then they were standing over him. The one call Sam untied his hands and Jose held tightly to the rawhide that was around his neck. Pulling hard, he tugged a choking Chris to his knees. When Chris reached for the rope to loosen it, Sam slammed a fist into his lower back. Then another fist slammed into his left side.

" You will pay Dog, for the lives of our compadres," one said as he hit Chris again.

Chris grunted from the blows but refused to make any other acknowledgement. He reached again for the rope and this time it was jerked tight, cutting his air while the third man, Bill, took a stick around two foot long and two inches in diameter. He began beating Chris about the shoulders with it.

Jorge watched his men’s enthusiasm as they went about the beating. He called softly. "Don’t break anything. He has a long walk tomorrow."

The others grinned and laughed. "Oh, he’ll be able to walk, barely."

The blows were timed so that between each one its full effect could be felt and Chris would almost catch his breath before the next punch came.

Jorge watched Vin. There was only the pinched look in his eyes that betrayed how much the beating was affecting him. Then he noticed, between each blow the green eyed one would lock eyes with the other. And with each look they would gain strength. He bit his inner lip in thought. Then in a mixture of Spanish and Comanche he ordered, "Jose, close his eyes. He sees too much."

"Si, patron." The others held Chris upright while Jose smiled down at Chris. Then slowly and carefully Jose began to beat on Chris’ face. Never hitting hard enough to break bone, only to damage tissue. Cheekbone skin split and began to bleed while delicate skin around the eyes began to swell and blacken. Toward the end Sam had to hold Chris’ head up by the hair because their victim was close to passing out.

Then Sam moved out of the way and Vin could clearly see what they had done to Chris. His face was almost unrecognizable it was so bruised and bloody. The anger in him steamed and rolled as he watched the men drag Chris’ limp body to the other wheel and tie him to it. With a last kick they turned to Vin.

Jorge had watched Vin’s reaction at seeing Chris and spoke to his men softly. "Best keep that one tied to a short leash. He’s a wolverine."

The others stopped and looked at their leader then down at the man at their feet.

Bill snickered, "We’ll jes’ choke him down, like you would any renegade." Grabbing the loose lead rope he pulled it tight, holding it until Vin was gasping for air. Just before he passed out the others untied his hands and dragged him away from the wagon. Out in the open they could have easy access to all of Vin. Vin rolled over and got to his knees drawing air in great gulps when Bill took his already bloody stick and hit him hard on his lower back. Then he hit him again across the shoulders, splitting open already tender skin.

With each blow soft grunts of pain came from deep inside the Tracker. The sounds finally penetrating into Chris’ dark world and brought him back to full awareness. Chris raised his head trying to discern where the sounds were coming from. "Vin?" he called softly through split lips. Taking a deep breath against the fear and pain he called again. "Vin?"

Vin shook his head, " I’s ok, ’m still here." Before he could say more Jorge backhanded Vin, slamming him down flat. Then straddling Vin, Jorge took out his knife. He placed the ten-inch razor sharp blade against Vin’s throat. Vin stared into his black eyes and whispered a word only Jorge could hear.

In a rage, Jorge took the tip of his blade and with a hissed "hold him" held it above Vin’s neck. Vin felt his head jerked back, exposing his neck and making it taut. Then, before he could react, he felt the tip of the blade slide into his neck and internally, heard a faint pop as it slit through cartilage. Then with a slight twist it was out and he was staring up at his own blood dripping off the tip of the knife.

Vin felt like his throat was on fire, each ragged breath torture. He looked from the tip of the knife, dripping his own blood, to Jorge. The smile was even wider on Jorge’s face as he said, "now puta, there will be no more name calling." Jorge looked at Sam, "Show him."

Sam nodded and punched Vin in the stomach until he began to gag and vomit. Stomach acid and blood came up and Vin wished he could pass out from the pain in his throat. When he finished, they hauled him back to the wagon and tied him up again.

" Enough fun for tonight. Tomorrow is another day," Jorge said and the others walked away from the two battered friends as if they didn’t matter at all. Jorge turned and bent close to Chris, and making sure he had Chris’ attention, he said softly, "Your compadre can’t answer you anymore." Then he laughed as he saw Larabee’s body stiffen and sink into itself as what he’d said penetrated the bemused man’s mind.

Larabee’s head fell back against the wagon wheel and once more he whispered, "Vin."


Vin watched the Comanchero leader walk away. He’d heard what Jorge said and he moved his legs in an attempt to let Chris know he was still alive.

At the scraping sound next to him, Chris turned his head in that direction. "Vin?"

I’m still here Cowboy.

Chris sighed and laid his head back against the wheel. He wiggled his fingers, trying to get some circulation in them. He tried to relax as much as possible but the pain of his many wounds ached too much. It would be a long night.

Just as he was managing to drift off, the leg cramps started. All he could do was shift his legs up and down and back and forth trying to relax the muscle spasms. Over and over through the long night he was jerked awake by the sudden pain. This constant agitation only served to accentuate his overwhelming thirst. His mouth was so dry he could feel his tongue swelling. His body cried for moisture to replace what he’d lost. He tried to suppress the moans but one would occasionally slip out.

Vin could see and hear Chris’ struggles throughout the night. While he was suffering from the same cramps, his were endured in silence. No sound came from his ravaged throat. He closed his eyes once again trying to rest and ease the burning. The pain in his throat had eased a bit because he had no spit to swallow. But the taste of the bile from when he vomited was still in his mouth and made his empty stomach roll in rebellion.

As each of the Comancheros took their turn at watch they would walk past the helpless men and kick each, vengeance for having to do watch because their numbers had been reduced by more than half.

Morning finally came. Vin raised red eyes to stare at Jorge who stood over him. "How did you sleep, bueno puta? Oh, you can’t answer, can you? I will tell you what is going to happen. First I’m going to untie you and you are going to drink what’s left in this canteen. You will drink it all or Bill will make your friend pay."

Vin eyes shifted to Chris. Standing over Chris was Bill, his two-foot quirk swishing back and forth, occasionally slapping his leg. At the sound of leather hitting leather Chris would flinch away, never knowing if the sound was just a prelude to more pain.

Vin looked back at Jorge and nodded once. His hands were cut free and he wiggled his fingers, trying to get feeling back into them. Jorge shoved the half full canteen into the tingling fingers and Vin almost dropped it before he got a good hold.

He slowly raised the canteen to his mouth dreading the ordeal to come but knowing he must for Chris’ sake. The first swallow was fire ripping down his throat. He tried to let the water flow down with as little swallowing movement as he could. It was a two-fold agony. His body relished the moisture yet his throat rebelled at the misuse. Finally the canteen was empty. Drawing a ragged breath he looked up at Jorge and handed the canteen back.

The cruel smile reappeared. "Very good. Now, help your compadre." He handed Vin another canteen and stepped out of the way. Vin crawled the few feet between himself and Chris.

Sitting beside the still tied man, he gently touched his shoulder. Chris flinched away at first. "Vin?" He whispered.

Vin slightly tightened his grip and held the canteen opening to Chris’ mouth. Realizing what it was, Chris gratefully opened his mouth to drink. Vin carefully held the canteen trying to gauge when to tip it and when to let up. He did not want to choke Chris. In the morning light he gauged Chris’ injuries. His face was a mass of bruises and tiny cuts. Both of his eyes were swollen shut, black and blue with dried yellow matter along the slits. The cuts had closed and the bleeding had stopped. Bruises and welts ran up and down Chris’ ribcage but there was no evidence of broken bones.

When Chris had managed to drink most of the water, Jorge jerked the canteen away from Vin and signaling the others, they grabbed him and roughly tied him again to back of the wagon. This time the length between neck rope and wrists was longer.

Bill patted him on the cheek, and said, "Don’t you worry, we don’t want you choking yourself. It would spoil all our fun tonight."

When Vin flinched away from the touch, Bill just laughed and made kissing sounds.

Chris was dragged around the wagon and tied to it also, the sudden forced movement and standing making pins and needles race up and down his legs and back. He listened and when he though their captor had left, he whispered. "Vin? You okay?"

Vin softly rapped a knuckle against the wagon bed. Chris chuckled, "Sure you are. I’m fine, too." Then he leaned against the wagon bed for support, waiting for the wagon to start moving. His leg muscles trembled from misuse and his feet already burned from standing. They hadn’t even started yet and he wasn’t sure how he would make it through the day. He could hear the Comancheros laughing and talking on the other side of the camp. Faint smells of food came to him but this time his stomach ignored the smell.

Then, without warning the wagon launched forward and jerked Chris and Vin into movement. With each step Chris took, it ground more sand into his already sore bare feet. He knew by instinct that the horses pulling the wagon were going slow and for that he was grateful. He couldn’t have stayed on his feet going any faster. He tried to listen for the man at his side in order to gauge how Vin was doing. They had done something to him and he couldn’t or wouldn’t talk. Whatever it was, Chris could feel the pain rolling off Vin, hurting all most as much as Chris.

One more step, they needed to just take one more step. He was stumbling, falling, getting up and taking one more step. Then the wind started blowing. It stirred up the sand and sent it slashing into his bare skin. Chris ducked his head trying to keep his nose and mouth clear of the clogging sand.


Larabee moaned as Vin tried to clean the cuts but he didn’t fully wake up until Vin started washing the long slash across his abdomen. Hissing, he tried to push away the offending touch. "Do..don’t hurts."

Then he felt Vin’s hand squeezing his arm again. Gotta clean it out Pard.

"No, leave it, p..please, Vin. Just leave it for a bit. Let me catch my breath a minute."

Vin looked down at his friend. He could feel that Chris was at the end of his endurance and that he needed to stop. But the wound was red and irritated already, it wouldn’t take much for infection to take over. He looked around the small grotto, quickly accessing what was there and what he could use. Making his decision, he patted Chris’ arm once more and started to get up.

At this movement Chris grabbed for Vin, clutching at him. "Don’t leave me."

Vin put a hand over Chris’ and squeezed it.

Chris reached out with his other hand and asked. "What’d they do to you Cowboy? Why can’t you talk to me?"

Vin took Chris’ searching hand and placed the fingers on his throat. Chris gently rubbed the scabbed place just below the Adams’ apple. He unintentionally pushed too hard and Vin jerked back. "They cut you?"

Vin squeezed once. He watched as Chris frowned trying to thank of his next question.

"Will it get better? Will you be able to talk when it heals?"

Vin squeezed once again.

"That yes to both questions?"


"Are we safe here?"

No answering squeeze.

"Are we safe for now?"


Chris took a deep breath. "You should go without me. Get help."

Two squeezes.

"Yes, I’ll only slow you down. There’s water I’ll be fine."

Two squeezes.

"Stubborn mule headed Texan."


"Ok, g…go do what you need to do. I’ll be fine."

One more squeeze. Vin looked down at Chris as he slowly stood. He’d never seen Chris so helpless before. He could feel the fear of being alone in the dark pouring off Chris in waves. Not that he wouldn’t feel the same way if it were he lying there. Shaking himself out of these thoughts, he began working his way around the grotto.

He needed tools, a weapon. Others had camped here, leaving their trash. He looked for a dirt-covered mound. There, under the greasewood bush. Vin limped over, and falling to his knees, carefully began to brush away the sand that had built up. He carefully dug, setting aside what he found until he hit hard rock. Then, setting back he assessed what he’d found. The biggest prize was a broken knife blade. It still had its point and about 4 inches of blade. Although it was rusted he could still use it. There was also a broken pottery bowl, a tin cup that the handle had been broken of and some small pieces of flint. Gathering his treasures, he went back to where Chris lay.

Jerking awake at the sound of something coming Chris called out. "Vin?"

Vin, hands full, touched Chris lightly with his toe.

"Taking to kicking the blind have ya?"

Vin blew air through his lips.

"Damn, you sound like yer horse."

Vin sat down cross-legged beside Chris and reached out touching his arm.

"Been hunting?"


"Find anything?"


"To eat?"

Two squeezes.

"Oh,.." Chris moved restlessly, trying to get more comfortable. He felt hot and wondered if the sun was up.

Vin watched Chris squirm, and taking the cup, rinsed it out several times before filling it up. He then lifted Chris’ head placed it against his mouth. Chris gratefully sipped the water. "‘nuf. Found a cup did you?"

Squeeze. Then Vin took Chris’ hand and showed him the knife blade and bowl piece.

Smiling ruefully Chris said, "Damn you have been busy." Then his voice caught as his stomach rebelled and rolling away from Vin, he lost the water he’d drunk. When he finished he rolled back over, laying on his back gasping for air.

Vin squeezed his arm again. Looking at the knife slash, he wasn’t surprised to see it was bleeding again from the muscle spasms. He needed to clean the wound and wrap it. Patting Chris he got up again. Taking the knife, he limped to the crack in the rocks they’d come through to enter the grotto.

Outside in the flat, there were yucca, and Spanish dagger plants, along with aloe like plant called Agave. Vin took the knife blade and started with the Yucca. He dug up some of the root, then using a piece of his long johns he cut off several leaves of the Spanish dagger and lastly carefully harvested part of the Agave. Wrapping them in another piece of the long johns to protect his hands.

Taking his find back, he laid it out, and starting with the yucca, he washed the root and with a fist sized rock began pounding it. Once he had it mashed, he took the fibrous mass, and putting it in the bowl, he added water and worked the root pieces with his fingers, creating a natural soap that he could use to cleanse their wounds.

He didn’t know how to tell Chris what was coming but he had to get it done. Dipping the smaller rag into the soapy mixture, he gently touched Chris’ stomach. Then as gently as he could, he began washing and cleaning the wound.

Chris hissed, biting his lip at the pain. He knew it needed cleaning and was worried that it also needed stitching. Waiting a few minutes until he thought his voice would be steady he asked. "D..does it need stitches?"

Vin looked critically at the wound. While it was long, it wasn’t deep and had already begun to seal itself on the edges. Nathan would have likely stitched it, but he had nothing to do that with. So he was grateful that Chris had ‘sucked it in’ and it wasn’t as deep as it could have been. Reaching over he squeezed twice.

"Well, I suppose that’s good."

Vin blew loudly through his lips again. He carefully skinned the Agave, and taking the gooey healing gel from the inside, he spread it over the cut.

Then taking the soap and the rest of the root, he went down to Chris’ feet. Neither one of them had said anything about their feet but three days of forced march on bare feet had created painful, raw sores.

Vin gently lifted Chris right leg and set the foot between his crossed legs. He let water run over the foot before he tried to truly wash it. Looking for thorns and stickers, he pulled out several before he took the rag and began washing the foot. He tried to ignore the involuntary jerks and hisses coming from Chris. He shook his head as he pinched one place and pus and a thorn popped out.

"DAMN." Chris clinched his hand. He wanted nothing more than to kick Vin away from his feet to make him stop. Instead he dug into the ground and rock with his fingers, fighting to be still.

Vin finished cleaning Chris’ feet and knew he must now work on his worst wound. Crawling back up to Chris’ shoulders, he gently slid his hand down Chris’ right arm. Chris didn’t move until he got to the wrist.

"No. Don’t touch it!" Chris cried through clenched teeth, jerking his arm and wounded hand away from Vin.

Vin sighed and reached out again, gently pulling the hand toward him. Turning it palm up, he tried to open the fingers in order to see the burn on the palm.

"Please, Vin, don’t."

Vin squeezed once and held it. Then he eased his grip and again began opening the fingers. Again ignoring the hisses of pain, Vin carefully washed the burn, and then taking the thickest pad of Agave, he laid it on top of the wound. It was all he had, but it should work, not only to help the healing start but to ease some of the pain too. He’d found a flat piece of palm sized bark by luck and laid it on top of the Agave piece. Then, using strips of his long johns, he bound the hand to the bark, forcing the fingers away from the palm and stretching the hand open. He knew that to do otherwise, the healing muscles would pull the fingers into a claw and Chris would lose any chance of using that hand again.

By the time Vin finished, they were both breathing hard. Vin crawled over, and filling the cup again offered Chris some water. It was all he had at the moment. Chris sipped a little before he fell into a fitful sleep.

Pounding more yucca root Vin started working on his own feet. His hand shook as he washed them and took care of the thorns. He was worried about the long gashes on the bottoms of each foot but there was nothing he could do about it. Taking a piece of Agave skin he wrapped apiece around each foot, hoping the healing gel would help.

Vin crawled over to a boulder to use as a back stop and taking the Spanish dagger leaves, began separating the long fibers. Once he had them separated, he used some to tie the aloe skin to his feet and then he began to braid the rest of them into a long thin rope. It took until almost dark to finish. Carefully looping the new rope, he then set several snares around the grotto in hopes of catching something to eat. Chris needed food. Reaching up and feeling his throat he shook his head. He needed food too, but being able to swallow it was another matter. Maybe that’s what the Comanchero wanted, for him to starve to death. Vin clinched his teeth, he wouldn’t die and neither would Chris. The one to die would be Jorge. Vin glanced at the sleeping Chris, and despite his efforts to stay awake; he too, drifted into a fitful sleep.

Two Days Ago

The wagon finally stopped but the two men walking behind it weren’t aware of that until they bumped into the back. Then they sank to the ground, arms pulled over their heads by the leads they were tied with. Not caring about the reason for the stop, only that they could rest, they were relieved that they could finally stop putting one painful foot in front of the other.

Vin leaned his head against an upraised arm and closed his eyes. Each breath felt like a furnace blast traveling up and down his ravaged throat. He was unaware of the small pool of blood collecting beneath his feet. Suddenly, his head was jerked back as a cruel hand twisted in his hair. His eyes flew open to see the leering face of Jorge.

"Thirsty, puta?" Then there was a cascade of water being pored into his open mouth and down his throat choking him. Vin started to gag and cough yet the water kept coming until he was afraid he would drown. Finally his head was released, and gagging, he vomited what little water had made its way down.

When he finished and was gasping for breath, the hand grabbed his hair again and pulled his head back. This time Vin clinched his teeth in an effort to prevent the water torture again. Only this time Jorge took his thumb and began to rub the spot where his knife had entered Vin’s neck.

Vin twisted, fighting to get away from the offending thumb but he couldn’t. He was being held too tightly. A raspy groan came from deep inside him. Jorge laughed aloud giving the sore spot one last push before letting go.

Chris struggled against his ropes. He could hear the struggle going on beside him and knew something was happening to Vin. He thought better than to say anything, knowing whatever he said would make it worse for Vin. But when he heard Vin’s agonized groan, he screamed. "Leave him alone you son of a bitch!"

Without thought, Jorge took his knife and slashed at the man who was interrupting his fun. Letting go of Vin, he growled in disgust and stomped away.

Chris gasped, folding in on himself, covering his abdomen as best he could. He expected to feel his guts falling into his hands. He could feel some moisture, was it blood? Then the pain came and he moaned. His whole abdomen hurt, all the way across.

Chris gasped for air trying to get enough inside and waited for the next blow. But it didn’t come. "Vin?" he whispered. "Vin?" What had happened to Vin, what had happened to him?

He waited, and then came a hesitant knock. Letting out a breath he didn’t know he’d been holding, he hung his head. He felt a hand and started to jerk away. But somehow with the touch he knew it was Vin. Letting Vin run his hand across his stomach Chris asked, "did he gut me?"

Vin squinted at Chris trying to work through his own pain. The cut wasn’t deep and barely bled, but it was long. Vin tapped Chris lightly twice.

"That mean no?"

One tap.

Taking a deep breath, Chris felt his body relax and he started trembling. He’d have laid down if the rope were long enough, but it wasn’t, so he just leaned into the wagon bed as best he could. He could feel the wagon moving back and forth. The wind was becoming more noticeable.

"Sam, get that wagon canvas down and tied to the wagon bed. We gotta be ready for the sand storm that’s coming. There’s a grove of salt cedars about a mile further up the trail, we can wait the storm out there."

Chris felt the wagon jerk into motion and barely had time to stand before it jerked him forward. This time the horses were urged to go faster and Vin and Chris were forced to trot behind the wagon or be dragged. Chris could feel the wind whipping the sand around him bombarding his bare skin. He tried to keep his arms between the wind and his nose to keep from breathing the find dust that filled the air.

At last, just as Chris felt he could not go another step the wagon stopped. The rustling and whistling of the wind in the cedars surrounded him, making the men around him shout to be heard over the noise. He no longer had the comfort of hearing Vin next to him. Chris fell to his knees and curled his back against the onslaught from nature, protecting his tender face.

Vin looked at the dejected posture of his best friend, and reaching out with a foot gently touched Chris’ back, tapping it until Chris raised his head a bit. He strained to hear Chris whisper his name and then tapped once more. It was all he could do. He hoped it would be enough for the time being.

The Commancheros ignored the two as they unsaddled their horses and unhitched the team that pulled the wagon. With the wind blowing so hard it was impossible to build a fire, so all the men could do was huddle on the lea side of the wagon, covering themselves with coats or blankets and wait the storm out. The canvas they’d pulled down gave little in the way of protection.

Vin watched as the men disappeared around the side of the wagon, leaving Chris and him to survive as best they could. The sun would be setting in an hour or so and usually that meant the wind would die down but Vin could tell that this storm would last through the night and the next day, easing only a little at sundown. It might be their only chance to get away from the Comancheros. If he could get the ropes loose, if he could get Chris’ ropes loose, and if they could slip away in the storm before the others found them missing, they just might have a chance.


Jorge and Jose sat with their back to the wind partly shielded by the tarp. Jose took another drag on the small Mexican cigar before he spoke. "We need to move ‘them’ around out of the wind. It will get cold tonight."

Jorge nodded. "Si. Tie them to the back wheel. Perhaps they will keep each other warm."

"Soon we can build a small fire and eat. Then, I have some fun planned."

"Jorge, I think I know who the gringo is."


"Remember the stories being told in Purgatorio? The ones we heard about Larabee’s Gang from up North? How they take care of that nothing town Four Corners?"


"Well, I think that’s Larabee. He’s blond and was dressed in black. I’ve heard him called ummm, the Man in Black, Hombre en Negrura. He’s also known as a gunslinger, a fast gun."

Jorge thought a minute, then "The other one?" he asked, finally.

"Don’t know. There’s something ‘bout him, but can’t place it yet. There are seven in the gang. Maybe so it would be best just to kill them and leave."

"No. They killed my men. They will pay, especially for Miguel. The gringo will die regretting what he did."

Jorge’s eyes glinted with hate as he watched the two shivering men. Thinking of what he would do to the blond one tonight, his lips turned up in a feral grin.


Chris was suddenly jerked away from Vin’s side. After being dragged and pushed a few feet he was tripped and fell hard on his back. When he tried to roll over and get up, he was held down and new rope was tied tightly around his wrists and ankles. The ropes were pulled tight, spreading Chris’ arms and legs out until he couldn’t move except for his head.

Then he heard the hated voice softly in his ear. "I’ve been told you are a gunslinger, Blanco. Very fast, I think I will fix that for you."

Jorge nodded and Sam stepped on Chris’ fingers holding his right hand down and open. Then Bill giggling dropped a two inch in diameter glowing ember onto the middle of the palm.

It took several seconds for the pain to register in Chris’ brain. As the heat penetrated through the thin layer of ash, Chris’ body jerked and convulsed trying to rid itself of the object causing the pain. Then he screamed. His back bowed up and his head flung back and the cords in his neck stood out. He kept screaming.

Jose was waiting behind Tanner, knowing that the minute the other made a sound, Tanner would begin to fight.

Vin went berserk at the sound of Chris’ screams. Despite the pain, he fought until the choke collar cutting off his air brought stars and black spots to his eyes.

Chris felt as if he had no hand left, just a white hot burning hole where his hand should be. He wasn’t aware when Sam got off his fingers or when the ropes were loosened, only vaguely aware when he was lifted and carried and dropped next to Vin and re-tied to the wheel. His body on automatic, it curled into itself and Chris cradled the injured hand, rocking back and forth.

Vin shook his head, trying to clear it, and reached out to Chris. Chris flinched away from the touch, and whimpering curled even tighter into himself.

Vin watched his best friend, and then he turned to Jorge. His eyes cold blue ice that promised retribution to the Comanchero.

Jorge saw the change in Vin and raised his chin to the challenge, smiling. Promises were made and understood.

"Can we have the other one now, Jorge?"

"For a time. But do not kill him. Not yet."

Jorge stared into the darkness. He relished the sound of the struggle and the beating. There was nothing quite so satisfying as the sound of impacts made upon flesh. He didn’t need to watch he knew his men well and their taste for hurting those at their mercy. He wanted this one broken, not just hurt. His men were experts at that. He would break this one, then kill his friend in front of him, and then kill him. Jorge shivered but not from the cold air. He’d seen his own death in those blue eyes.


Vin lay curled up. He could feel the morning cold blow against his bare skin but it felt good. It cooled the heat radiating out from damaged tissue. He didn’t want to wake up. To wake up meant the return of pain and worry over Chris. But the boot toe placed none too gently on his butt broke the spell.

"Wake up, Trash. You have to take care of the Blanco." Vin forced his eyes open and than eased his aching body into a sitting position. "Feed yourself if you can and feed him. We leave before the wind starts." Jose reached down and cut his wrists free, then without another word, he handed Vin a tin plate of beans and a ‘hunk’ of bread already soppy with juice. He dropped a canteen beside Vin.

Vin turned to Chris. He placed a careful hand on Chris’ shoulder but got no reaction. Then he shook Chris lightly and sat him leaning against the wagon wheel.

Chris sat with his head down his arms still cradled tightly against his chest the left hand covering the wounded right.

Vin scooted closer and pinched off a small broth soaked piece of bread. He held it under Chris’ nose hoping the gunslinger would react to the smell. But nothing happened. Knowing Chris needed to eat he took a finger and forced Chris to open his mouth enough to push the bread inside. Then he closed the jaw and waited.

After a time, Chris finally chewed and swallowed the piece of bread. Vin took another piece and touched Chris’ lips with it. This time the mouth opened. Vin pushed the bread in and waited again for Chris to chew and swallow.

Slowly, Vin managed to get most of the bread and beans down Chris. He tried a bite or two but even the soft, soaked bread was agony to swallow. Vin ate anyway. He had to if he was to keep going and he had to keep going. Chris needed him. When the beans and bread were gone he held the canteen to Chris’ lips and helped him drink. Again, he made himself drink too.

The water and beans gone, Vin tried to look at Chris’ wounded hand. Gently pulling it down and uncovering it brought whimpers of pain and fear from Chris.

Easy, Cowboy. Just gonna look.

Vin rubbed Chris’ arm in hopes of calming him. Before it could work he was jerked away and dragged to the back of the wagon again. When he tried to pull back on the rope, he was whipped with Bill’s quirt, the lashes reopening the wounds from the night before.

Sam jerked the unresponsive Chris up and dragged him to the back of the wagon to join Vin. The wagon lurched forward; Jose drove the horses to a trot in his haste to travel some distance before the winds picked up again.

Chris stumbled along, unaware of the faster pace and his damaged feet. Vin jogged beside him, each step making him all too aware of his own ravaged feet. The pain awoke hazy memories of the night before. Toward the end they had held him down, and with thin limbs from the trees, they had beaten the bottoms of his feet. He didn’t remember them quitting, only the screams that couldn’t escape his torn throat.

The winds came then, rolling across the dunes, creating a blizzard of sand. The wagon lurched, swayed and finally fell over, pulling Vin over on top of Chris. He lay there stunned, not moving, barely breathing. Chris lay unmoving under him. Vin could vaguely hear Jorge shouting orders. Sam came near and kicked at them both. Neither of them moved.

"Jorge? What about them?"

"Never mind them, pack what you can on the horses. We’ll come back after the storm and see if they still live," Jorge shouted above the wind.

Sam shrugged and with a last kick he went back to the front of the wagon and helped the others load the packs on the horses. Then they rode away.

Vin lay as still as death waiting for the Comancheros to leave. Finally it was quiet except for the sound of the wind. He cautiously opened his eyes and saw no one. Empty boxes and trunks lay scattered around. Painfully, Vin sat up and began working the ropes with his teeth. Twisting, and pulling until the knots loosened and he was free. Reaching up, he pulled the hated loop from around his neck.

Then he turned to Chris. He began working on the knots and freed Chris. The whole time Chris lay limp and unresponsive. But he breathed, Vin told himself over and over, he breathed.

Vin slowly stood and moving like an old man, he searched the wagon for anything that could be useful. There was nothing. The Comancheros had taken everything. Sighing internally, Vin looked around through the haze of dust. He thought he knew this place.

There was a hidden spring around five miles back and into the hills. Pulling Chris up and holding onto his left arm, they began. Running, walking, then running again, getting as far away from the abandoned wagon as fast as they could. The gale force winds began covering their tracks with sand.


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