Vin grimaced as his body and mind slowly woke up. He ached from head to foot, and it wasnt all because of his injuries. Chris and Nathan decided it wasnt a good idea for him to sleep in his wagon, and so had cajoled and blackmailed him until he agreed to sleep in the bed he never used at the boarding house.
He wasnt used to a proper bed, and didnt particularly like it either. It turned a man soft, and not only that, it was damn uncomfortable.
Blinking his eyes a few times until they adjusted to the darkness, Vin quickly figured that it was maybe two hours until sunrise and a small smile settled on his face as an idea was born.
He groaned as he eased back the covers, and carefully sat up, swinging his legs over the side of the bed. He rubbed his eyes with his fingers, and stood, one hand moving to his rib cage, and the other to his thigh when his injuries made themselves known.
He washed and dressed as quickly as his healing body would allow, and grabbing his hat, he headed out the door.
Creeping along the corridor, he stopped when he reached Chriss door. Biting his lower lip, he carefully moved the handle, and smiled when the catch clicked and the door opened a little.
Slipping quietly into the moonlit room, Vin closed the door softly and leaned against it, waiting for his vision to adjust to the dim light.
Soft snores came from the direction of the bed, and the Texan eyed the bundle of blankets that covered his friend as he slowly crept towards him.
Leaning over the bed, he reached out a hand, and touched Chriss arm
tentatively. He was surprised that hed managed to get this far without Larabee waking up, it certainly wasnt like him to sleep so heavy.
"Chris?" He gently shook the sleeping form, and jumped back when the body moved and he heard a grunt.
His eyes were wide as they watched the covers moving, waiting to see if Chris was actually waking up. He jumped what felt like two feet in the air when the body on the bed suddenly sat upright. He heard a hiss of pain, and then a click, telling him there was a gun pointed at him.
"Chris, its me. Put the darn gun down," Vin chided, his heart hammering enough to hurt his sore ribs.
"Vin?" The sleep heavy voice was followed by the click that told the tracker he was now safe from getting shot.
"Yeah, its me "
"What the hell ?" Chris blinked in the darkness. Unnerved by the fact that he hadnt woken up at the first signs someone was entering his room. "Shit, Tanner. You have to creep around all the time?"
Moving back towards the bed, Vin sat on the edge; watching the dark figure as his friend raked fingers through his dishevelled hair.
"Sorry t wake ya Chris fergot how tuckered out ya were. Guess thats my fault." Vin dipped his head.
Shaking his head, Chris reached out and gripped Vins arm. "No, Vin. Its alright. Its my own fault, didnt rest up when I shouldve." He cocked his head to one side, his eyes were adjusting to the darkness and he looked at his friend with concern. "You alright?"
Vin nodded. "Yeah yeah m fine. Jist got a hankerin t see the sun come up." He licked his lips, eager to convince Chris that what he was proposing was a good idea. "Seein as we was headin out early n all, figured a coupla hours earlier wouldnt hurt none."
Vins downward gaze rose until he was looking at Chris sheepishly. "Need t shake the dust o this town off m boots. An that darn bed was makin me restless as a hungry polecat."
Chris laughed softly, but his face sobered quickly at the thought of leaving his soft bed for a hard saddle. "Hell Vin "
The tracker stood and cocked his head, sensing a protest. "m goin with or without ya."
Chris looked hard at his friend. It was dark in the small room, but he could see Vins features as though it were daylight. He knew him well, and didnt need the light of day to know the stubborn look that was planted on the trackers face. He closed his eyes, blew out a breath, and then threw back the covers, glaring at the now grinning Texan.
"Damn stubborn, impatient, lame in one leg " Chris pursed his lips, while he thought of more names. " stubborn "
"Yalready said stubborn."
The gunslinger glared hard at his amused friend " no account Texan." He just knew Vin was grinning from ear to ear now, and it irked him, just a little. Somehow, Tanner always managed to manipulate him. He stood, and hissed out a pain filled breath when his shoulder let him know it wasnt yet healed.
"Yer gettin old." Vin adjusted his weight onto his good leg, and tucked his thumbs into his gun belt.
"Least I got the chance you carry on, you wont."
The growled words made Vin chuckle. "Ill wait outside " He motioned to the door with his thumb as he began to walk. "Holler if ya need help paintin yer jeans on."
He ducked out of the door, the boot Chris had thrown at him just missing his head.
* * * * * * *
Seth dug his spurred heels spitefully into his horses sides. He was angry, at himself, and the world, but mostly he was angry with that long haired bastard of a Texan.
The outlaw cursed in frustration. He couldnt see a damn thing, riding along in the dark, he just had to hope he was headed in the right direction.
He was lucky he was there at all. If it wasnt for the fact he hadnt been able to sleep his mind too alive, thinking on what was in store for them two peacekeepers he wouldnt have known theyd even left already.
His plan was to wait just outside of town for them, and then to follow them until they were far enough away for no one to interfere. But he changed it during his sleepless night. He decided he would wait behind the livery, and when the two men rode out, he would go collect his horse, and ride out at a safe distance after them.
Only trouble was, on his way to wait it out at the livery, he saw the two of them riding out of town and that messed things up some, and gave him a few problems. The first one being, he didnt know where the hell the gunslinger's damn cabin was.
He soon solved that one though, he remembered with a grin. Hed just walked up to the livery guy, spun a story about needing to talk to Larabee real urgent, about the gang he was looking for, and the fool had told him the way to the cabin just like that.
He gave himself a mental pat on the back. Even before dawn he could think on his feet.
He still couldnt believe Tanner and that fancy friend of his had survived and actually made it back to town. How the hell they got away from him, he would never know. He knew Tanners friend was still suffering, and drew great pleasure from the fact that it was he who had shot the low life scum. As for the third man Jake had freed, well, he was a lucky sonofabitch too. Hed spent most of his time behind bars, and then got on the first stagecoach he could. Otherwise hed be on the receiving end of some retribution too.
But it was Tanner he really wanted, deep down in his bones he wanted him to pay for the damage hed done.
Seth gripped the reins hard, his knuckles turning white. Every time he thought of the Texan he wanted to fly into a rage. His fingers were itching to wrap themselves around the scrawny neck and squeeze real tight.
Taking in a sharp breath, he fought to control his anger. Hed waited this long he could wait a little longer. His heartbeat slowly returned to an acceptable level and Seth let his mind wander again.
When hed arrived in town a few days before, hed quickly decided that it wasnt a good place to seek his revenge. He knew the peacekeepers were looking for him, but hed spent years blending into the shadows, so evading the searches was no big problem for him.
One against seven were not good odds. Even with three of them injured, it still left four men, all good with their guns. So hed decided to bide his time, and wait for an opportunity to arise; and yesterday all his patience had paid off.
His head suddenly darted to the left, his eyes wide, when he heard noises in the brush. He never did like riding in the dark; the odds were a lot more against you when you couldnt see a damn thing.
Not that the odds were in his favour as it was, although he did have the element of surprise on his side.
He chewed his bottom lip, thinking on the gang hed ridden with, and how they were all dead now. Hed wondered over the last few days whether hed done the right thing by killing Joe and Cleet. They could have been a big help right now. But he had all the money, and didnt have to share; and not only that, it left his way clear to reform and rebuild a gang that was his to lead. He wouldnt go soft like Jake had. Hed ridden with the best there was during his youth, and he was going to be a legend in less than a year or his name wasnt Seth Banks.
He shuffled around in his saddle. Besides, he could do this alone, both Larabee and Tanner were injured and who said he was going to play fair anyway?
A feral grin adorned his aged face at the thought of spilling the peacekeepers blood. The same way Jake had been driven to help Tanner; he was driven to killing him.
It was getting so much easier to kill; not that it had been hard for him before. Putting Jake, Cleet and Joe out of their misery had been a pleasure. He had the money hidden away, and all he had to do was finish what was started with him and young Tanner and then he was heading South.
He sneered in the darkness. No one got the better of him and lived to tell the tale. The Texan was gonna pay, and so was that so called gunslinger friend of his. Soon, they were gonna be food for the buzzards what was left of them.
* * * * * * *
Looking sideways at the black clad man riding slowly along, Vin blew out an impatient breath. "Ifn y dont hurry them ol bones o yers, were gonna miss it," he grouched.
Chris raised tolerant eyebrows. "Vin " He swept his hand out in front of him, and looked patiently at the tracker. "Were out in the open, howre we gonna miss it?"
Adjusting his hat, Vin looked straight ahead. "Got a special place."
Chris poked his tongue along the inside of his cheek before he spoke. "And how far away is this special place of yours?"
The tracker was quick to answer. "Its on the way t yer cabin thats how I found it." His eyes took on a dreamy look, his mouth turned up in a wistful smile. "Y can see fer miles, the ground blends right int the sky."
Chris smiled fondly in the darkness. Hell, that Texan sure had a way with words. "Sounds real nice, pard."
The sharpshooter nodded. "Its up here a piece, should reach it jus in time." He frowned over at Larabee. "Ifn y speed up that mangy horse o yers."
"Were going fast enough. Its dark," the blond stated patiently, having no intention of moving any faster.
"Reckon I jus heard a snail slither by," Vin grumbled.
Chris chuckled, receiving a Tanner glare in response. Both men fell silent as they ambled along, unaware of the danger that was fast approaching.
* * * * * * *
Blowing out a frustrated breath, and blinking the tiredness out of his eyes, Buck made his way slowly to the livery. He cursed when he tripped over something, unable to see much in the moonlight. He hated dawn patrols, especially when he had to leave a nice warm cosy bed.
He groaned aloud. What made it even worse was that hed been with Daisy, twirlin his gun, as Vin so eloquently put it.
He couldnt help laughing and shook his head as he thought of the grouchy Texan. Then the smile fell from his face and he huffed. He couldnt wait for Vin to be strong enough to ride patrol again. For some reason the tracker loved to ride at dawn, and often took Bucks turn, leaving him to sleep in the arms of a lovely lady.
He entered the dimly lit livery, and raised his eyebrows in surprise when he saw that Peso and Pony were not in their stalls.
"Guess they mustve left early," he mused aloud, as he made his way to his horse.
Tiny turned his head, and walked slowly over to Buck. "You talkin bout Vin and Chris?" Hed been cleaning out the end stall, and hadnt known the big man was there until hed heard him speak.
"Yeah, they made plans to go out to Chriss for a few days. Thought they were goin later," he gave a soft laugh. "Ill bet Vin was the one behind em leavin early."
Tiny rubbed his bearded face and nodded, laughing along with Buck. "Yeah, Chris looked like he wasnt awake yet." He turned to go back to his work. "Hope that guy finds the cabin alright."
Bucks face fell, his body going stiff as warning bells went off in every nerve end. He narrowed his eyes, grabbing Tinys arm and spinning him around to face him. "What guy?"
The livery man looked worried now. "He asked for directions to Chriss cabin. Needed to see him about the gang youve been huntin."
"Ah hell!" Buck took off his hat and slapped it hard against his leg.
"I Im sorry Buck didnt know I was doin wrong." Tinys voice was small and apologetic.
Replacing his hat, the rogue reached out his hand, placing it on the forlorn man's shoulder. "Its alright," he frowned, his mind working hard to figure things out. "How long ago did Chris and Vin leave?"
The bearded man shrugged. "Maybe an hour the other guy was about half hour behind em."
"That man aint our friend " Buck growled. He bit his lip as he thought. "Tiny, can you go wake JD and Josiah? Tell em Chris and Vin are in trouble, then start saddlin our horses?"
Buck nodded his thanks. Turning on his heel, he ran from the livery and disappeared into the darkness.
The small clinic was silent, but for the gentle sounds of two men resting in a deep sleep. Nathan was in the bed Vin had vacated only the day before. He was exhausted, and not even Ezras occasional loud snoring woke him from his slumber.
There was a smile on the healers face as he dreamt of Rain, her hair flowing softly in the breeze as she rode towards him. He stood and waited for her, reaching a hand out to her as she approached. Jumping from her horse, the young woman walked towards her man, her skirt flowing as she moved gracefully along. He took a step closer, and both stretched their fingers out to one another
"Nathan!" Buck burst through the clinic door, his eyes wide and his chest heaving after taking the steps up to the veranda at break neck speed.
The sound of his name being called brought the healer out of his dream with a start. He sat upright in bed, his heart hammering and his eyes wild with fear at what it all meant.
"W what? Whats wrong?" he already had the covers off of him, and his feet on the floor.
Buck leaned a hand against the doorframe, trying to catch his breath. "Chris and Vin."
"What about em? Where are they?" Nathan practically jumped into his pants, and was tucking his shirt in before he realised it was still dark outside. He was scared now. Buck had come through the door like he had the devil on his tail. He looked frantic, and was obviously in a hurry to go somewhere.
"They headed out early." The big mans voice was more level now, but tinged with fear. "Someone followed em."
"Yeah, thats what I thought," Buck ground out anxiously. He ran a hand down his face. "Im goin back to help with the horses," he supplied; disappearing out the door before hed finished speaking.
"Ill be right there," the healer called after him. Hearing a groan, Nathan turned in the direction of the other bed. He watched in dismay as the gambler stood and reached for his pants.
Holding up a hand, the Southerner looked up determinedly. "Dont even try, Nathan."
"Well alright." The healer didnt have time to argue. "But if you fall offa your horse, Im leavin you there."
"A fair arrangement." The gambler placed his hat on his head, and followed Nathan outside. He didnt care that he was wearing the same jacket hed worn throughout his and Vins ordeal. All that mattered to him was that two of his friends were in danger.
Ezra and Nathan reached the livery last, and Buck handed them their reins. Looking at the gambler, the ladies' man gave him a solid look. "Figured youd wanna come."
"Oh dear, am I becoming predictable?" Ezra accepted the leg up from Josiah, settling himself uncomfortably on his horse.
"How many?" Josiah asked Buck as he climbed into his saddle.
Buck shrugged as he urged his horse forward. "One definite, no tellin how many more."
The five men rode fast and furious out of town. Hoping they werent too late to save their friends from the imminent danger that loomed around them, like a claw reaching out from hell.
* * * * * * *
The horses hooves drew the dirt up from the ground as the two friends rode comfortably along. Both lost in their own thoughts, as they were akin to do when they were together. They both relished the serene moments they shared, and this one was no exception.
"Chris?" Vin glanced over at his friend as his query finally broke the silence.
"Yer m friend, right?" The voice faltered just enough for Chris to hear it.
"You know I am." The blonds brows furrowed as he looked across at the trackers shadowy form, wondering why hed had to ask that. It was obvious there was something the Texan had to get off his chest, but was he that unsure of their friendship? "Why do you ask?" He managed, still stunned by what Vin had felt hed needed to verify. Theyd both been lost in their thoughts as they rode, and Vins mind had obviously gone deep, conjuring up some serious questions.
Vin rubbed absently at his sore thigh, wincing at the sensation on the sensitive area. Unaware of the turmoil hed created in the other man he began to speak again. "Well, I was jus thinkin bout sittin in the saloon playin cards, or sittin with a beer, or jus sittin "
Vin paused and Chris waited, his frown deepening as he wondered where this was heading.
The tracker let out a slow breath before carrying on. "Reckon I had friends I wanted t get back t that I didnt realise I had til recent," he spoke quicker than he normally did, then swallowed; not sure that what he wanted to say was coming out right. He went on, slower this time, needing to say the words, so that Chris would know how he felt. "Thought it was the bathhouse I was comin back t I was wrong it was yall." The sharpshooter looked straight ahead and not at his friend, as he said the words. He was a private man, and rarely shared his deepest thoughts and when he did, it was usually Chris he shared them with.
Larabee smiled crookedly; relieved beyond belief that Vins revelation was nothing to worry about after all. "Glad you finally figured it out, pard."
Vin nodded. And Chris figured that was all he was going to get on the subject. Hed tried many times to tell his best friend that he was no longer alone. That he had friends now, to help him when he needed it. But hed decided a while ago, that it was best to let the tracker work it out for himself; and maybe, finally, he had.
They both lapsed into silence, until Vin turned his horse to the left.
"This is it." His voice was filled with anticipation, his eyes bright in the
moonlit night as he grew excited about what they were about to witness.
He led them close to the edge of a steep ravine, and both horses were pulled to a halt.
Chris looked across at the shadow of his friend, and then turned his head to look out over the darkened land. He shivered, and pulled his jacket tighter around him. "Tell me again why were sittin here, when theres a nice warm cosy cabin just a bit further on."
"Ya got no soul, Larabee," Vin chided, then his lips turned up in a wry smile. "Bsides, reckon Ive had m fill o cabins fer a while."
Furrows appeared in Chriss forehead as Vins words made him frown again. "So why did you agree to come and stay at mine?"
" Cause Im guessin yer not gonna tie me up and leave me sittin on the cold floor."
So that was what Vin meant about the cabin! Chris shifted in his saddle, agitated by the thought of his friends being treated badly especially when they were injured. He was sorry that most of the gang were dead, cause he would have taken great pleasure in killing them himself.
His next thought made him grind his teeth. Most of them were dead, thats the part about it all he really didnt like. The whereabouts of three of the outlaws was still a mystery and Larabee didnt like mysteries.
He suddenly realised he hadnt answered Vin, and smiled a small smile.
"Thats up to you " He could feel the trackers eyes piercing him in the darkness.
"What the hell does that mean?" The Texan voice shot back.
"It means, you dont sass I dont tie." Chris shrugged, trying to keep the amusement out of his voice. He could almost feel Vin bristling beside him.
"Larabee, ya dont have a hope in hell " The growl was cut off, as Chris clapped a hand on the tracker's arm.
"Shhhh, Vin, cant you hear it?"
"Hear what?" The younger man cocked his head, trying to listen.
"Silence quiet no noise dont want you spoilin it with that temper of yours."
"Yer walkin a fine line " Vins drawled warning trailed off, his eyes catching something in the distance. He took in a breath and as he exhaled, a smile of wonder lifted his lips.
Chris caught the mood, and looked across the great expanse of darkness, seeing instantly what had caught Vins attention. A faint red line was just becoming visible way over in the distance.
The two men fell silent again, all teasing forgotten for a moment as their eyes fixed on the horizon.
Out of the corner of his eye, Chris caught movement from the other man, whod been sitting so still only a second before. He watched as the tracker rubbed carefully at his head, and saw him wince at the touch. "Are you alright?" he asked, his voice full of concern.
"m fine." Vin nodded, despite the fact that his worsening headache was drumming a persistent beat inside his skull.
Chris snorted softly. "Sure you are." He rubbed absently at his stiff shoulder, wondering again how he had let Vin persuade him that what they were doing was a good idea, and not madness.
"Reckon yer the one ailin, Larabee bein old n all."
Chris flashed Vin a warning look, which was wasted in the meagre light. "Think youre smart, dont you?"
"I am." The trackers eyes shone with amusement.
Shaking his head, the gunslinger chuckled at the smug reply. He turned laughing eyes back to his friend. "Youre one crazy Texan, you know that?"
Vin lifted his brows at the insult, but wouldnt rise to the bait. "Heard as much "
Chris decided he wasnt finished. He was enjoying this too much. It had been a long time since he and Vin had shared a time like this, and he was going to make the most of it. "Reckon that could be why youve survived so long on your own. Anyone with half a mind runs as far away from you as they can get."
Vin turned his lips up in a wicked grin. "That why yer still here, Larabee?"
Chris pursed his lips and furrowed his brows, realising hed had his insult returned. He glared hard at his friend, but his lips turned up at Vins next words, spoken with amusement.
"Yer fingers r twitchin ya gonna shoot me?"
"Dont tempt me."
Vin suddenly sucked in a breath and turned his head slightly one way, his body going stiff as it went on full alert. His eyes moved rapidly from side to side, as he held his breath. The trackers senses sparked as each one worked to identify why his survival instincts had kicked in; his eyes growing wide when he realised they were in imminent danger.
"Chris !" The Texan warned urgently, reaching for his gun.
The blond hardly had time to register Vins swift change of mood before a shot rang out through the stillness.
The sudden noise startled the horses, sending both animals into a panic. Vin dropped his weapon but was able to steady Peso, being a practised hand at calming the ornery beast. But Chris, one arm still weak from his wound, was not so lucky. He couldnt prevent Pony from rearing up. The beast flailed his hooves in the air, and, not being able to hold on, the gunslinger was thrown to the ground, grunting as he landed heavily.
Before Vin knew what was happening, a second shot pierced the air, and the sharpshooter felt something hit his upper arm. This time, his weakened state stopped him from being able to hold on. He fell to the ground hard, hitting his head and knocking the air from his body.
Blinking the stars from his eyes, the tracker turned towards where Chris had fallen. His friend was laying not four feet from him, his eyes closed, but his body stiff as though fighting back pain. He reached out a hand towards him, but dropped it to the ground when he couldnt reach.
He closed his eyes for a moment. "Gotta move " he whispered to himself, knowing they had to get to cover before whoever had fired at them got there.
Turning towards Chris once more, his fingers dug into the dirt as he saw a shadowy figure at his friends side, leaning over him.
"Chris !" the warning sounded weak, but was enough for Chris to react.
The blond moaned as he reached for his gun, but his sluggish movements gave their assailant time to lift his own weapon and hit the gunslinger soundly on the side of the head.
After throwing Chriss gun clear, and waiting to make certain the black clad gunfighter had been rendered useless, the man stepped over him and in two strides was standing over the tracker.
Vins eyes widened in recognition. Seth! His eyes darted back and forth. Did that mean the other two were here too? He couldnt see them, but then, he couldnt see much of anything. He mentally shook himself, this was no time to ponder. The sonofabitch was leaning towards him, and sneering.
Roaring loudly with the effort, Vin suddenly lunged sideways, grabbing the startled outlaw around the ankles, causing him to lose his balance and land in the dirt.
Vin pushed himself onto his fingers and toes, ignoring the pain in every fibre of his body, as he prepared to pounce.
"You lousy piece of " Seths growl was cut off as Vin sprang, landing on top of him. He pinned him down by the shoulders, using his body weight to keep the rest of the outlaw still.
The two men stared wildly at each other; both sets of eyes filled with hate. Seth squirmed on the ground, beneath the tracker, breathing hard and grinding his teeth. His mouth turned up in a sneer. "Im gonna make ya wish yd never been born .then Im gonna wipe ya off the face o the earth."
Vins smile was feral as the vicious words were spat at him.
"Yalways were fond o spoutin bullshit," he snarled back.
With renewed loathing filling his soulless body, Seth cried out as he used all his strength to free himself from Vins weakening hold. In one swift movement the positions were reversed, with the Texan now on his back, pinned down, by the stronger man.
Chris groaned as he turned his throbbing head, trying to clear his foggy mind. Too weak to move, all he could do was watch as Vin and the other man rolled around in the dirt, throwing kicks and punches whenever either of them was able to. He ground his teeth in anger when he saw the enemy slam his fist into Vins bleeding arm, making the tracker cry out in pain.
"Vin " he uttered weakly, feeling for his gun, but finding an empty holster. With his heart beating painfully in his chest, his gaze moved with the men.
The sun glowed orange and red on the horizon, casting an eerie light on the drama as it unfolded. The dawn helping Chris to see the figures more clearly, his breathing grew more rapid as his eyes flitted from the scrabbling bodies to the edge of the ravine. With all the energy he could muster he rolled himself onto his stomach. His eyes not leaving the two men, he slowly lifted his upper body onto his elbows. He had to help; Vin couldnt do it alone.
The bodies were dangerously near the edge, but neither man realised as they fought. Vin was on top of Seth once more, but knew his energy was almost spent.
Seeing the slight downward sag of Vins shoulders, the outlaw took advantage. Hooking his ankle around the trackers leg he rolled sideways, trying to gain the upper hand.
Chriss chest hit the ground when his arms gave way. He rested his head in the dirt before raising it again, needing to know what was happening. His eyes grew wide in horror at what he saw.
"Nooooo!" The anguished cry tore from his throat, his arm reaching out with fingers splayed wide, as he saw Vin and his opponent disappear over the side of the ravine.
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