Blaze of Glory

by Tannertexaslady

Comments are welcomed and appreciated, but please keep the flames for the barbeque

Characters: Vin and the boys, a few outlaws and Peso.

Rating: FRT~ Swear words.

Disclaimer: This story is entirely a work of fiction, for entertainment purposes only, based on the characters from "The Magnificent Seven." I don't own 'em, but if I did I would run away with 'em and never be seen again. CBS and Co., Trilogy Entertainment, and MGM had 'em first and do not want to give 'em away. I only play at this for fun and do not make any money doing it. No infringement of any copyrights intended. This is strictly a piece of fiction. Any references to locations or people are only for story use and do not intend to depict any real place or person.

Story: A simple trip to Silver Springs turns into a nightmare for Vin. Alone, outnumbered and injured he tries to hold on for the others to come and help, but time is running out.

Acknowledgments: Wendy, I appreciate your input. M7 Muse, y'all are great, thanks for your help. My deepest gratitude goes to Brigitta B for giving me a safe place to spread my wings, which gave me the courage to renew my love for writing.

Special Acknowledgment: I wrote this one for you Jo. Thank you for your support, sharing your talent, and your friendship, it means a lot to me. You are appreciated.

Notes: I'm a Texan, born and raised. I speak Texan, understand it, and write it, as I know it. Asterisks *indicate thoughts.* Any mistakes are mine, as are the original characters created for this story. The awesome collage by Bountyhunter'slady inspired this one along with the lyrics from Blaze of Glory written by Jon Bon Jovi. Visit my website to view the page I dedicated to both.


Brett could feel victory within his grasp. He would not only receive justice for his brother, but as a bonus, he'd prove himself as Daniel's equal and be five hundred dollars richer when this was over. "Tanner!  You're already a dead man, but...I'll let you decide how you're gonna die! My brother is on his way with more men, you can wait for him to kill you or we can end this now."

Vin was not going to waste his breath or use what was left of his ammunition to react to Colton's taunts. Pinned down for the third day, he was low on both. He leaned his head against the rock wall supporting his battered body, and wondered how in the hell he had landed in this mess.  Although he never forgot about the bounty on his head, he did not expect it to end like this.

 Shifting his position slightly, Vin could make out the camp below him.  Colton was there with his men waiting for him. He knew he'd taken at least three down, but there were more coming to replace them.* The boys don't even know where you are and even if they did, they couldn't make it here in time to help. Hell, Vin, you didn't ever expect to die of old age. Are you gonna stay here and bleed to death or go out fighting?*

 He weighed his options, took a deep ragged breath, tightened the grip on his rifle, and prepared himself.  If he was going to die today, he'd go down in one helluva fight.

Chapter 1

Day one

"Don't need no babysitter," Vin grumbled, throwing the saddle blanket on Peso's back. The horse quivered with anticipation, knowing he would soon leave the confines of the livery. Three weeks of confinement in town had him and his master ready for the wide-opened spaces.

Buck and Josiah had been on the trail for two weeks taking five prisoners to Fort Fillmore. They had only been back in town a couple of hours before the telegram from Judge Travis came in requesting assistance. Nathan was at the Indian village until tomorrow, leaving Chris, Vin, and Ezra to help JD control the rowdy trail drivers who chose to wander into town.

Most of the time Vin managed to balance his need to be free and his responsibilities as a peacekeeper. Not that the Texan ever complained about the role he had taken on as one of the seven men who were the law in Four Corners. However, Chris knew him well enough to recognize the signs of unease his friend was showing, but was worried about the rumors of a couple of bounty hunters in the area.

Watching while Tanner saddled the black gelding, he understood Vin's need for space, but had to try to get him to see reason. "You don't have to go alone. The judge doesn't need these papers in Silver Springs until day after tomorrow and the weather looks like it'll turn bad any time. If you wait 'til morning, Nathan will be back, and I'll go with you."

"Nope, it's my turn and I'll be in Silver Springs by noon tomorrow." Vin grabbed the reins and led his horse out of the livery. Placing one foot in the stirrup, he swung his long leg over the saddle. "See you in a few days, Cowboy."

Chris stood in the middle of the street while Tanner rode away. He was certain Vin could take care of himself, but he was still concerned. Nevertheless, the free-spirited Texan was overdue for some solitude and he could not begrudge him for wanting to go alone. Larabee headed over to the saloon for breakfast, unaware that he had not been the only man interested in Tanner's exit from town.

Brett Colton came to Four Corners for a few supplies. He and part of the Colton gang were camped about five miles out. They had planned to move on south as soon as his brother and the rest of their men joined them. Recognizing Tanner in the livery changed those plans. It looked as if a trip toward Silver Springs was in their immediate future. The younger Colton could not wait to give his eldest brother the news that he had killed Tanner for him.

Colton Camp

"Maybe we should wait on your brother and the others."

"You saying I can't do this." Brett challenged.

"No," Garber answered. "You know Daniel has waited a long time to even the score with Tanner. I'm thinking maybe he should be the one to do it."

"You don't get paid to think. Your job is to follow orders. With Daniel gone, I'm in charge. We're going after Tanner and I promise you, he'll be dead by nightfall." Brett stood up. "Anyone else have a problem following my orders?"

Silence was his only answer, until one of the cowboys spit into the dirt and asked, "What's the plan?"

"We wait 'til he camps tonight and then take him by surprise. He's riding alone. How hard can it be to kill one man?"

Most of the men laughed and one said, "Hell, for even part of the Colton gang it should be easy."


Leaning forward Vin patted Peso on the neck. "We'll make camp by the hot springs. You'll have plenty of grass to graze on and water to drink." Vin had set a leisurely pace, absorbing the beauty of nature around him and revitalizing his soul in the process. It felt good to be away from the confinement of town. Aside from the cold nip in the air and some ominous snow clouds on the horizon, the day was close to perfect. Dusk was fast approaching though, and it was time to stop.

First thing he did was unsaddle his horse, and then rub him down. "This is the best I can do for you. I'm headed for the warm, invitin', water," he said. Vin laughed when Peso turned his head as if to say, why not me too. "I can't carry you that's why, so you can stay here and watch."

After a quick set up of camp, Vin stripped out of his clothes and walked to the water's edge. His lithe form disappeared into the depths of the springs as he dove in. Rising to the surface, Vin took a deep breath. Beads of water dripped onto his shoulders from his wet hair. He shook his head and smiled thinking about how his life had changed. In his not so distant past, this would have been all he needed to be happy, but no more, not since one fateful day three years ago. When he locked eyes across the street with Chris Larabee, he found a new best friend, who he recognized as his spirit brother, and a new life. The unlikely association of the seven peacekeepers who came together in Four Corners had developed into a family. Admittedly, an unusual and diverse one, but he claimed them all and would not trade places with any man on earth.

Vin swam until the first stars made their appearance in the night sky and then reluctantly left the water. He dried off quickly, and redressed, putting a pan of water on the campfire to boil for coffee, while he waited for warmth to return to his bones. Yeah, he would be going back to Four Corners in three days and reunite with his friends, but in the meantime, he planned to enjoy his date with nature.

Day 2

The sun was at least an hour away from making its presence over the mountain, but Vin was ready to ride. Peso was rearing to go; he pranced while his master saddled him.

"Hold still, mule." Smiling, Vin shook his head. "You're actin' like a colt out for his first run."

Peso snorted, his warm breath frosted in the cold air.

"Okay, okay, you win," Vin cinched the saddle and placed his foot in the stirrup. Before he could mount, a single shot rang out and searing pain exploded in his left shoulder. Dragging his body up and over the saddle, he allowed Peso to take charge of their destiny.

"Damnit, Garber, I thought you said you could kill him with one shot." Brett was livid. This was his chance to prove he was equal to his brother and his opportunity for killing Tanner was riding away.

Garber knelt down at the spot where Vin had stood. Touching his fingers to the ground, he smiled. "Blood says he won't get far, I can track him."

"For your sake, you'd better be right." Brett fired two shots into the air to signal his men and then mounted his horse. "The others will be along in a while, get to tracking. I want Tanner dead by nightfall."

Garber was true to his word, tracking Tanner relentlessly, Brett anxiously riding at his side. Within the hour, other members of the Colton gang caught up with them. The trail led them to the mountains and if their luck held, Tanner would be in his sights before the approaching storm broke.

"Told you we shoulda waited for Daniel and the others to get back," Charlie needled Brett. "What are you gonna do if Tanner reaches high ground?"

"Wait him out. He's wounded, alone, and once he's up there, cut off from retreat. His only way out will be through us." Brett was confident that Tanner's remaining lifespan measured in mere hours, not days. "Now, shut up and ride," Brett ordered.


Vin gritted his teeth as waves of agonizing pain shot through his torso, reacting to the steady gait of his faithful steed on the snow covered terrain. He knew he needed to reach high ground as soon as possible to prevent his unknown enemy from succeeding in finishing him off. His left shoulder blazed with a burning sensation, and he could feel thick, sticky blood running down his back in rivulets, pooling in the waist of his buckskins. He needed a place to heal and avoid whoever was tracking him for a few days, at least until he was stronger.

The mountains in the distance were growing closer and he urged Peso on with a touch of his knees. He knew a place, which would offer cover and water for both of them, if he could get to it. The drawback was that there was only one-way in and one-way out. Vin hunched down lower in the saddle, ignoring the pain in his shoulder. Tanner was thankful Peso was in tune to his every need and needed little direction. They reached the base of the incline and he gave a slight tug on the reins with his right hand to guide the horse onto the rugged trail, which wound its way up the mountain.

Peso plodded up the trail, his hooves finding solid ground amid the jagged passageway, taking care not to get to close to the mountainside, preventing his wounded master from falling off the saddle. The path became more treacherous, Peso's breathing coming out in small snorts, exerting more effort on his part to climb. Despite the fact he was becoming weaker by the moment due to blood loss, Vin hung on to the saddle, determined to reach shelter.

Sliding weakly out of the saddle when they reached shelter, Vin let out a cry of pain as his knees buckled beneath him and he fell to the hard ground. Peso let out a concerned nicker and the gelding brushed his muzzle against his master's cheek, stirring the injured man into motion once again.

It took great effort on Tanner's part to rise to a standing position, and even more so to walk toward the back of the sheltered area. He had used this cave once or twice before and knew there was an underground stream running through it, which would provide him and Peso with the water they needed to survive. The last time he used it he had left some loose wood, matches, and an old blanket there for anyone who might find themselves in need. He was relieved to see a few of the items still there.

The first thing he did was take a long drink of the cool water from the stream, and then he worked on making a campfire. Set at the back of the small cave it would be less likely to draw any unwanted attention, and would be a warmer place for him to rest. The next thing he did was to take out his knife, cut strips off the old blanket, and use it to bind his arm. It was an awkward dressing at best and had taken more energy out of him than he liked, but Vin knew it would have to do. His hardest task was to free Peso from his saddle. Tossing the pile of leather and metal onto the ground at his feet, his energy left him in a rush. Shivering from blood loss and the cold, he barely stumbled back to a warm position beside the fire. He doubted that anyone, besides him, would be foolish enough to traipse up the mountainside in this weather, but kept his mare's leg in hand, just in case

Outside his makeshift dwelling, the weather broke and the snow began to fall. The weather forced Colton and his men to make camp and settle in to wait for the storm to pass.

Saloon ~ Four Corners ~late evening

Ezra flipped another card while Inez set a tray of drinks on the table. "Gentlemen, while solitaire keeps my mind sharp, it does not keep my pockets flush. Are you certain I cannot interest any of you in a game of chance?"

"It's not chance when you play, Ezra. It's a certainty that we'll lose money," Nathan said.

Josiah just shook his head. "I have none to lose."

"Don't look at me, I'm broke." JD added.

"JD, you're always broke." Buck grinned and then turned his attention to Chris who was sitting alone at a corner table. He picked up his beer, and walked over to join him. "When is Tanner supposed to get to Silver Springs?"

Chris sipped his whiskey. "He should already be there. I sent a wire to the Judge telling him to expect his papers today."

Buck nodded. "Good, I'd hate to think about our poor Vin out there in this storm. You know how he hates the cold."

"You're turning into a mother hen, Buck." Chris smiled. It did not seem to matter which on of them was out of town, the others worried until they could account for whoever was missing.

"No more than you," Buck countered.

Chris chuckled. "I suppose we're all guilty of worrying when it concerns one of us."

A young boy entered the salon and scanned the room looking for Chris. Spotting him in the corner, he went directly over to him. "Mister Larabee, I was told to bring this to you and instructed to see if you wanted to answer." Handing him a telegram, he nervously rocked on his heels waiting for a reply.

Larabee read the message, tossed a coin to the boy, stood and said, "No reply."

"Trouble, Chris?" Buck stood with him.

"Message from the judge, Vin didn't make it to Silver Springs." Headed for the door, he tilted his head to the others on his way out. None knew what was wrong, but it did not matter, whatever it was they would take it on together. They pushed back their chairs and followed him outside.

Once they gathered on the boardwalk, Chris told them, "Vin's overdue in Silver Springs. We'll ride out tonight; go as far as we can before we make camp."

To their credit, not one man pointed out the foolishness of leaving at night, during a snowstorm. If Chris was concerned, then Vin needed them and that was all the needed to know, It was no less than what he would do.

JD nodded. "I'll deputize a couple of men, to keep an eye on things while we're gone." He left.

"I'll restock my medical bag and meet y'all at the livery." Nathan hurried off.

"Ezra and I will gather the supplies we'll need," Josiah said as they turned to leave.

Buck looked out into the snowy night. "Are you thinking bounty hunters?"

"Don't know and it don't matter," Chris was already in motion. "We have a Texan to find, let's get to it."

Chapter 2

Day 3

In spite of the weather, Daniel Colton and three of his gang managed to make it to camp in the early morning hours. The bank job had been easy pickings and he lost only one man during the robbery. Tired after their long, but rewarding trip, he planned to take a few days to rest up and then move on to Mexico. To his surprise, only one man was there to meet them.

"Where the hell is everyone," Daniel growled as he dismounted, throwing his saddlebags to the ground, he walked toward the fire.

Crouching in front of the campfire, Wallace silently cursed Brett for making him stay behind and face the wrath of their leader, Daniel Colton. "Brett and the rest are on Vin Tanner's trail. The kid planned to get him before you returned."

"What do you mean planned?" Colton stopped in his tracks. "I hope to God, my little brother has enough sense not to try and take him alive."

Wallace shrugged his shoulders. "His first attempt to kill him failed, just wounded the man. Brett and the boys rode out yesterday morning to find him, left me here to tell you."

"Damn stupid kid," he grumbled. "You don't let someone like Tanner get away. Wounded or not, he's a dangerous man to cross and Brett is too inexperienced to match him." Exhaling loudly, Daniel shook his head, knowing he would have to go after the kid. Vin Tanner had already killed one of his brothers; he was not going to have an opportunity to take another one. "Break camp, we ride in ten minutes."

Amid the mumbled curses of his men, Daniel was ready to leave in half that time. Picking up Brett's trail was the easy part, getting to him before he got his damn fool self killed... was another matter entirely.


"Chris, wait up." Buck shouted, riding up beside him. "Do you have any idea where in blazes we're going?"

Standing in the stirrups, Larabee closed his eyes to listen. His instincts told him Vin would head to higher ground, which meant somewhere in the distant mountains. However, his head said that if bounty hunters had him, they would veer off in the opposite direction. Relaxing back into the saddle he sighed, if he chose wrong, it could cost Vin his life. Making a decision, he tilted his head to the west. "The mountains....Vin's there and he needs us."

"Are you..." Buck was talking to Chris's shadow. Larabee had already turned his horse toward the mountains and was not waiting to argue about it. "Boys, you heard the man, the mountains it is." Buck kneed his horse to follow his friend.


It was late afternoon and snow was still falling. Each time he tried to move closer to the mountain trail; Tanner had fired a few rounds, finally killing one of his men, forcing them to back off. Frustrated, angry and anxious, Brett Colton paced the camp, cursing the fact he had let Tanner make it to the relative safety of the mountains. The weather was not helping and if he knew his brother, Daniel would be here soon.

*Daniel...what was he supposed to say to him? Oh, by the way I found Tanner but fucked up as usual and left him alive. Sorry you're going to have to wait another six years to find him again*

Stopping in front of Garber, Brett snapped, "Your damn shot failed to kill him. Take one of the men with you, get your ass up there, and bring Tanner down once and for all."

"Just how the hell do you expect me to do it? From his vantage point, he'll see us coming."

"That's your problem," Brett yelled. "I want Tanner dead before Daniel gets here. Now do it!"

Rising to his feet, Garber glared at the younger Colton. Without a word, he turned and nodded to one of the others, indicating he should follow him and then stalked out of camp.


Jerking his head up, Vin groaned, he could not afford to sleep. His shoulder hurt like hell and it was difficult to breathe, partly due to the altitude, but mostly because of his injury. Although he had tended it the best he could, and was certain the bullet had passed through his shoulder, the wound was no better. Looking down the trail, he saw a slight movement.

*Damn, here we go again.*

Bracing against the boulder next to him, Vin raised his weapon and set his sites, waiting for his target. He held his breath in the silence, and then he saw them. Two men attempting to work their way to his location, thinking they would go unnoticed, but they had made a fatal mistake by underestimating the wounded Texan. Moments passed before they tried to rush him, Vin fired two deadly shots ending the challenge, and then he slumped to the ground.

Lying there, Vin knew he should get up, but he was weak and tired, all he wanted to do was sleep. It might have been minutes or hours, he was not sure, but something cold was pushing against his cheek. Feeling it a second time Tanner decided he needed to open his eyes, when he did he was nose to nose with Peso. The ornery horse was not ready to see his master freeze to death and was determined to wake him.

"All right...I get it..." Vin realized his words slurred and knew he had to get warm. "Why don't you stay up there and I'll try to move?" Peso stood still while Vin put forth every once of strength he could muster to pull himself up, using the horse to hang onto. Once he was on his feet, he leaned against the gelding. Breathing heavily, he let Peso take his weight and together they managed to walk inside the cave. It was not much warmer, but even the few degrees difference in the temperature seemed to help.

He had no idea who was after him. It might be bounty hunters or someone he had crossed paths with over the years, or hell, it could be anyone. Whoever was out there, he was certain they would not try to rush him again, at least not before morning. Shaking his head, he moved closer to the small fire he had allowed himself to build. Vin was a pragmatic man, he knew the type of life he led was dangerous and every day he survived was a good one. He carried his name proudly, followed his conscience, accepted his life as his destiny, and did not think much about dying. It had never made any difference to him how it ended...but...that was before Four Corners, before he met Chris and the boys. Now it did matter, damnit. The single regret he carried was not being able to tell them ...they were his family and they mattered to him.

*Face it Vin, you've backed yourself into a corner. You can't get out and all they have to do is wait you out...then you're a dead man. You know Chris will find you, but no way in hell he'll do it in time to make a difference in the outcome.* His mind drifted to Texas. *Always reckoned I'd find a way to clear my name and go home, at least visit my mama's gravesite and stand on Texas soil one more time. Reckon fate has other plans.*

Peso nudged his uninjured shoulder, drawing him out of his thoughts. "Yeah I know...helluva mess we're in huh? I don't have any grain, and there's damn little for you to graze on around here. I reckon if you can find your way out of here, you should go."

The big black pawed the ground.

Vin managed a small chuckle; he and Peso had been together so long he swore the animal understood every word he said to him. "Okay, tell you what, you take first watch and if I sleep too long you wake me. But, when I tell you to go, I want you to leave. You hear me? Leave and don't look back. Chris will find you and he'll take good care of you." Vin laid his head on his saddle, closed his eyes, and within minutes, he was asleep.


"Damnit Brett, Garber and the Mex ain't coming back. Tanner got 'em and he's gonna get what's left of us if we don't pull out now." Creed yelled and headed for the horses.

Brett knew if Creed walked, the others would too and he could not face the ridicule his brother would dish out if it came to that. Exhibiting a confident stance he hoped they would not see through, he said softly, "No one walks out on the Colton gang, including you. You're staying and that's an order."

Creed turned and spat at the ground. "I take my orders from the boss and in case you don't know who it is, his name in Daniel Colton."

"Daniels's not here, I am, and you'll answer to me." Brett stepped away from the fire.

"Or what? You think some wet behind the ears kid can stop me?" Creed eased his hand toward his gun.

The man they called Hoss stepped in front of Brett, laying his hand on his gun arm. "Let him go. Doc and me will stay with you 'till Daniel and the others get here."

Creed laughed. "Better listen to him, 'cause he just saved your worthless life. Tell Daniel, I'll see him in Mexico." He went on over to the remuda, slipped a bridle on the bay, saddled his horse and rode off.

Brett shook off Hoss' grip. "What the hell do you think you're doing?"

"Saving your life, Kid, Creed is almost as fast as your brother. You'd be dead before you cleared leather."

"Next time, mind your own damn business," Brett growled and pushed him out of his way. *Yeah, Daniel will be here tomorrow and Tanner will die, but I lose my chance to prove I'm not a kid.*


Reluctantly, Daniel called for them to stop and make camp. He figured they were getting closer and the trail was easy to find, but exhausted men did not fight well. When he caught up with his wayward brother and Tanner there would definitely be a fight.

"We'll catch a few hours rest and ride out early." Daniel told them, "Wallace, after we eat, you take first watch."

"When do you think we'll catch up with them?"

Daniel sighed. "Best guess, mid-morning."

Wallace nodded. "Then I reckon Tanner will be dead by noon."


Chris sat with an empty cup in his hand and stared out into the night. Vin was out there somewhere injured and alone, that much he knew. Shifting his eyes, he observed the others sitting around the campfire. Buck had been in and out of his life for years, but it was only when they came together with Josiah, Ezra, Nathan, JD, and Vin, did he realize how much his friendship meant. Each one of them was special and whether he planned it or not, they were his family now. Hell, they were his spirit brothers, the reason he stayed in one place and cared about what happened to them.

Vin though, had given him more than friendship. He gave him back his soul, shed light into his life and taught him the meaning of unconditional trust. They were not blood related, but they were brothers of the heart and in spirit. Vin deserved more than he had received in this life, he should be free, not looking over his shoulder all the time. He should have his own family, grow old and enjoy the pleasures most men took for granted. Vin was a good man and he did not deserve to be left out there, maybe to die alone.

"We will find him," Josiah said next to him. "Our boy is too stubborn to leave us without a fight."

Chris nodded. "Stubborn, yes, and tenacious," he sighed wearily. "I know he's alive, I can feel it, but he's in a bad way."

JD picked up the coffeepot from the campfire and refilled Chris's cup. "Vin's probably dug in some place safe, just waiting for us."

"Hell, I bet Vin's curled up in a nice, warm spot. He'll have a good laugh when he finds out we're out here freezing our butts off." Buck grinned, stood up and slapped Chris on the back. "I'll take first watch. Try to rest, at least for a few hours."

Nathan threw the remains of his coffee on the ground. "If you're right, Vin will need my help. I'd best get some sleep while I can. Good night."

"We'll leave before sunrise." Chris became aware of Josiah stirring beside him.

Josiah said his goodnights and turned in, which left Chris and Ezra alone by the fire.

"My money says Vin will be fine," Ezra stood, "and you know I never make a bet on something I'm not certain about."

"I wouldn't bet against you." Chris found a smile. "I learned that lesson a long time ago."

Sitting alone now, he turned his thoughts back to Vin. He hoped they would reach the base of the mountains by mid-morning. If everything went right, Tanner would be safe and sound by noon.

* Hang in there brother, we're coming.*

Chapter 3

Day 4

Vin woke with a start. The light filtering into his recessed shelter told him it was morning. He felt like hell, fever racked his sweat-soaked body, yellow stuff oozed from his wound, and pain seared through his shoulder. It required a major effort to move, but drawing on what little strength he had left, he managed to rise to his feet.

Patting Peso on the rump he took a deep breath." Reckon we should see what our bad guys have in store for us."

Taking his rifle, spyglass, and a blanket, he shivered, slowly making his way outside. Squinting as he emerged from the cave, he looked up at the sun's position and figured it was close to seven. Soon, his adversaries would have to make a decision. Either come after him, or leave. Whatever their reasons for pursuing him, Vin guessed leaving was not an option for them. He chose to settle in beside a huge boulder, which offered him some protection, at the same time giving him a clear view of the trail up the side of the mountain. Now all he could do was to wait and let fate decide his outcome.


Daniel dismounted and knelt down on the ground. The snow had wiped out any sign of a trail, but at this point, it did not matter. He was certain a wounded Tanner would head to higher ground, the same thing he would do in his position. If Tanner was as smart as he figured, he went into the mountains and he doubted his little brother had stopped him before he dug in somewhere. A man like Tanner outclassed Brett and the kid was most likely in way over his head.

Remounting his horse, he signaled for his men to move forward. Two hours, maybe three and they would catch up with the rest of his gang... or at least what was left of it.


Closing in on the baseline of the mountains, Chris could feel Vin's presence. From the very first time they met, he knew their spirits communicated in some strange way. It was not something he ever stopped to think on or questioned, but it had benefited them both on several occasions. He rode with purpose, positive now where to look for their lost brother.

Ezra's thoughts were on Vin's safety and the differences of riding now versus the first time they rode together, three years earlier. Where before he had drifted from one place to another without purpose and ties, he now had a reason to stay and cared enough to allow their bonds of trust to tie him down. He never envisioned belonging to such an unconventional family, but here he was with six brothers, who he would willingly ride into hell to protect.

Nathan mentally prepared to treat whatever injuries Vin might have, and said a small prayer to guide him through it. Josiah was silent, but steadfast in his belief that the six of them would arrive in time to help their seventh. Buck and JD rode side by side; both thinking about the weapons they had cleaned and put in order the previous evening, wondering who they would have to fight to get to Vin.

"I hope Chris is right about where we're going." JD stood in the saddle to stretch his back.

"When it concerns Vin, he usually is," Buck said with a grin. "I swear those two could find one another if they were deaf, dumb, and blind."

"Lucky for us," JD agreed. "How long do you think it'll be before we get there? "

Buck shook his head. "Hard to tell, but I reckon two or three hours."


Vin shivered, but not from the cold, he ached all over and knew his wound was infected. It was only a matter of time before the blood loss or infection killed him. If he had the strength to lift it, he would saddle Peso and take his chances by charging out of here, but it was too late for any type of escape. Cramped in one position for almost three hours, he was too stiff to move, and it took all he had just to hold on to his gun.

A shot rang out. "Tanner, I know you can hear me. My name's Brett Colton, the man planning to collect the bounty on your head. I ain't leaving so you best give up now, 'cause I aim to take you back to Texas and see you hang." He waited to see if Tanner would answer him.

The only answer Vin gave him was a rifle shot, which hit the ground three inches in front of his boot, Brett jumped back. Tanner wasn't giving up and now he'd have a chance to take him.

In spite of losing some men, Brett could feel victory within his grasp. He would not only receive justice for his brother, but as a bonus, he'd prove himself as Daniel's equal and be five hundred dollars richer when this was over. "Tanner! You're already a dead man, but...I'll let you decide how you're gonna die! My brother is on his way with more men, you can wait for him to kill you or we can end this now."

Vin was not going to waste his breath or use what was left of his ammunition to react to Colton's taunts. Pinned down for the third day, he was low on both. He leaned his head against the rock wall supporting his battered body, and wondered how in the hell he had landed in this mess. Although he never forgot about the bounty on his head, he did not expect it to end like this.

Shifting his position slightly, Vin could make out the camp below him. Colton was there with his men waiting for him. He knew he'd taken at least three down, but there were more coming to replace them.*The boys don't even know where you are and even if they did, they couldn't make it here in time to help. Hell, Vin, you didn't ever expect to die of old age. Are you gonna stay here and bleed to death or go out fighting?*

He weighed his options, took a deep ragged breath, tightened the grip on his rifle, and prepared himself. If he was going to die today, he'd go down in one helluva fight.

Peso stood a few feet from his position. Vin called him over and when the black lowered his head, he rubbed his nose. "We've had a good run together, but it's time for you to go, partner." The horse only twitched an ear and did not budge.

Shaking his head, Vin mumbled something about hardheaded mules. There was only one way out of here and as soon as he could get to his feet, he aimed to take it. Colton may take his body back to Texas, but there would be no hanging for this Tanner. He picked up his spyglass and looked for a spot down the trail to make his final stand; he planned to take as many men with him as possible.

Movement beyond the camp drew his attention. Five unknown riders were coming in fast from the south; he figured they were more of Colton's men. Scanning to the east, a surge of renewed energy spiked through him as he witnessed six guardian angels bearing down on the newcomers. How the hell they had found him he had no idea, but they were there, big as life and armed for battle. Vin raised his gun, he might not be able to ride, but he could damn sure cover their butts.


Chris knew when he heard the shot; Vin was in the middle of whatever was going on. Turning to follow the sound, he kneed his horse to a gallop and that's when he saw the five riders coming from the opposite direction. Instinct told him they were trouble, and their guns confirmed it.

"Break out," Chris shouted, crouching low in the saddle, while drawing his gun.

JD and Buck bared their weapons and split to the sides, as Ezra flanked Chris. Nathan went wide to the right, while Josiah took the left. Horses and riders became one, skillfully maneuvering for an advantage. Each man fought for survival as bullets flew from all directions. When the firefight was over, the Colton gang was history and Daniel lay dead on the ground. The six peacekeepers had killed all but one man, who wisely threw down his gun to surrender.

"I've got this one. Go to Vin." Josiah dismounted to tie him up while the others continued without stopping.

While trying to dodge the barrage of bullets Tanner was raining down on them, Brett saw five unfamiliar riders coming at him. He turned his gun towards them, intending to fight, but Hoss stopped him. "Don't be stupid kid, we're outnumbered and outgunned." He and Doc headed to the horses.

"Daniel would never run h...h e..." Brett stammered, unsure about what he should do. However, he waited too long to make a decision. Buck and JD raced past him to pursue the two men who ran, leaving Brett to face a very unhappy Chris Larabee.

Chris grabbed the younger man by the shirt, stuck his gun in his face and roared, "Where's Tanner?"

For a brief moment, Colton thought about lying, but the raging storm he saw in the man's green eyes convinced him otherwise. "Up there," he pointed to the trail.

Ezra restrained Brett by the collar while Chris and Nathan remounted and hurried up the mountain.


Once assured that Chris and the others were safe, Vin was satisfied. He was not going to hang and Chris would be able to collect the bounty on his body. Most importantly, he was not going to die alone. His strength left him in a rush and dropping his gun, he slumped against the rocks.

Vin heard rather than saw Chris's boots hit the ground. "Glad y'all made it...," he rasped out between jagged breaths.

Chris dropped down beside Vin, cradling his head while Nathan examined him. "Where else would we be?"

Gripping Chris's arm, Vin whispered, "Take the promised."

"Damnit, you're not gonna die. Shut up and save your strength for the ride home." Chris held his breath when Vin's eyes closed and anxiously looked up. "Nathan?"

"Just passed out," Nathan assured him. "He's in a bad way, but you know how stubborn he can be. With rest and a few of my potions, he has a chance. I don't want to move him too far though."

Buck, JD and Josiah rode in and dismounted, rushing over to join the others. Chris looked to JD for a report

JD told him, "We have three still alive, they're tied up and Ezra's watching them. We also found the money from last week's bank robbery in Batesville."

"What do you need us to do, Nate?" Buck asked, kneeling down beside him.

"Check out that cave, see if we can shelter in there. I'll need a fire, water to boil and some blankets." Nathan snapped off orders and the men wasted little time following them.

It did not take long to get another fire going, the water on, and a warm place ready for Vin. Josiah carried him into the cave, and then they all moved back to let Nathan tend to his wound.

Buck pulled Chris aside. "I know we need to get those outlaws to town, but we talked it over. None of us wants to leave until we know Vin's all right."

Chris knew they were just as worried about Vin as he was. "Help Ezra get them up here, but they stay outside. We'll take turns keeping watch on them. They give you any trouble...shoot 'em."


Vin tossed and turned during the rest of the day and very long night while Nathan worked to break his fever. The three surviving member of the Colton Gang remained securely tied up outside with one of the six alternately standing guard. Josiah bedded down the horses, making sure Peso received extra attention. The rest took turns sitting with Vin, waiting for a sign they would remain seven strong. It was just before sunrise when Vin's eyelids fluttered open.

Nathan's smiling face was the first thing he saw. "Welcome back."

Licking his dry lips, Vin tried to draw in his memories of what happened and where he was. "I'm not dead?" Blinking his eyes, he remembered. "My guardian angels... thought I imagined y'all."

"We've been called a lot of things, but angels ain't one I recall." Chris reached over to feel Vin's forehead, while Josiah went out to give Ezra the good news.

"His fever's gone, a few days of healing, and we can get him back to town." Nathan said as he stood up and stretched, allowing JD to take his place.

Vin shook his head and asked softly, "No angels?"

Chris leaned in close and said, "No angels Vin, not this time. Just six brothers who refuse to let go. Now, you rest and then in a few days, we'll take you home."

"Home...sounds good," Vin whispered, closing his eyes once more.

Rising to his feet, Chris took a deep breath and walked over to the cave opening. A spectacular sunrise was breaking over the horizon and they were without a doubt still seven. His ragtag family was intact. With a smile on his face, he stepped outside... It was going to be a truly magnificent day.

The End