Pain coursed through him like an angry river, the slightest movement forced out a soft cry. He couldn't move, his shoulders were wedged somehow. His whole body throbbed, every bruise and cut seemed to scream at once. His confused mind began sorting images and he wondered why his back was wet. He managed to peel an eye open, and regretted it instantly. The pain in his aching head intensified and he had to grit his teeth. His hands felt cold stone walls. He blinked in the semi-darkness and saw the nightsky, far above...too far. It took him a minute to realize where he was and that the wetness under him was water...rising water.
"Shit..." He swore, frustrated by his inability to move. Every movement caused the wound in his shoulder to roar to life. He feet were bound and weighted by a large rock. He was a prisoner in a watery grave. The water rose higher, seeping over his chest and chin. It was ice cold and seemed to squeeze his bones. His teeth chattered and he pulled his head up, the few inches giving him a few more minutes to breathe. His head his a metal bar..no...pipe. As the water came over his head, he latched on, cursing the sick man who was playing the evil game.
+ + + + + + +
It was dark when Vin arrived at the mine. He stopped several yards away and tied Diablo securely. The wind was gusting and sending debris dancing in the air. Sticks and dust hit his face as he fought to go forward. He eyed the mouth of the mine and the surrounding area. He'd seen no horses or signs of activity. They must be hiding inside. He started for the entry and then he spotted it. The full moon illuminated it, changing his course. Desperation carried him forward.
"How'd you know?" Turner whispered, from where they hid inside the mine.
"His throat is on fire. He's had no water since his 'nap' and that drug has a nasty, burning after effect." The evil man said, eyeing the fat drops of rain that began to fall. "Come on, we must hide, they'll be here in minutes.
Vin dropped over the edge of the old well and began to crank the handle. His throat was on fire, the pain causing his eyes to bulge. The wind took his hat away and sent sharp stones and dust into his tearing eyes. He hissed in anger, as the lever took forever to bring the much sought after moisture to his lips. Finally the pail emerged. He grunted and moaned and cupped his hands, drinking greedily. It didn't seem to help, the burning remained. He tipped the whole bucket, taking long mouthfuls, then heard a snap. His brows creased in frustration as the rope broke. He leaned over, grabbed for the errant pail and his heart stopped.
"Chris!" He screamed above the wind, spotting the body in the watery grave below, basked in the silver moonbeams. "CHRIS!" He screamed again, frantically, a pain so grievous lanced him in the chest it nearly crippled him. His heart constricted, he was too late. The other half of his soul was dead. They he saw the pipe and squinted. It went into Chris's mouth. "Sick bastards..." he muttere, wondering how to get his best friend out of the well. He tugged on the rope hard, and it didn't give way. He uncoiled it, taking one end and dropping the other into the well. He lowered it down and waited. He began shaking the pipe, and finally a hand latched out, securing the precious commodity's flow. "CHRIS! CHRIS!" He screamed, banging the water.
Chris couldn't battle the pain anymore. The bitter cold water took the fight out of him. He let go...sliding into the thick blackness. Then he felt a pain in his mouth. Blood...metal cutting his gum...the pipe...someone was moving it. He pried his eyes open and heard a muffled sound. He snaked a hand up to grab the wagging pipe and felt a rope. He grabbed it and felt movement. He spit the pipe out and used it to pull himself upwards, until the pain in his shoulder stopped him.
"Chris...gimme yer hand..." a desperate voice begged.
Vin? How did Vin get here? Where was here? He was so tired...his numb fingers let go of the rope.
"Shit..." Vin cursed, leaning over and grabbing the soggy collar. The dormant pain in his lower back screamed in protest. He yanked hard and grunted, snaking his feet under the rocky base securely, he leaned further and got the slumped man under both arms. Taking a deep breath and steeling himself against the pain, he pulled with all his might, but gained little movement. Something was holding Chris's feet. He used the rope to tie the unconscious man to the side of the well. Satisfied, he eased his way in, hissing as the cold water engulfed him. He slid down the water line just under his nose. He groped and felt the large rock. Taking a deep breath, he plunged under and moved the rock. After climbing out, he hauled his best friend out and collapsed next to him, energy spent.
The rain fell fast and furious. He got to his knees and dragged Chris into the mouth of the mine. He staggered under the dead weight, finally his legs gave in and he fell. After several minutes of shivering and hard breathing he rolled over. If he didn't get them both warmed up, they'd never see morning. He eyed the dry walls and floor around him. He crawled down two tunnels, before he found some broken beams. Carting them back, he started a small fire.
He rolled Chris over and winced at the damage inflicted by the brutes, whoever they were. A nasty gash scored his hairline. His face was swollen and colored in bruises and cuts. The unmistakable raw wound on his neck by a whip, sent a white-hot rage through the tracker. A deep wound on the right shoulder was exposed through the torn shirt. Vin's hands traveled down the soggy pants and shirt, checking for broken bones. Until he hit the ribcage, the blond remained silent. Vin's trained fingers felt several broken ribs.
"I'll kill 'em..." he hissed, realizing how brutally his friend was tortured. Nobody laid a hand on Chris Larabee...nobody. "Chris...Chris..." he tapped the pale face, a startling white. The violent shivering had him worried. He moved his injured friend closer to the fire and thought of the new shirt, dry in his saddlebag. "Chris...Can ya hear me?" He slapped the face hard this time and saw the brows furrow. "That's it...come on and growl fer me."
A voice floated above him, distant and unsure. Something warm was near; he turned to the left seeking it out. He was freezing...numb and he ached terrifically. The voice beckoned again and he felt a sharp slap on his face. The voice gave him as much warmth inside as the source to his side did. He knew the voice...a face formed in his muddled mind. A wry grin and soulful blue eyes...Vin's eyes.
It was a whisper but it sounded like heaven to the ex-bounty hunter. He gripped the icy hand and began rubbing briskly, repeating it with the other hand and then both feet, free of their ropes and missing boots. Finally, the head moved seeking out the fire. Vin pulled Chris even closer, repeating his rubbing cycle. A hand snaked out and latched onto his shirt, two eyes shot open, startling both of them.
"Vin!" Chris grunted, pain lancing through him. "Did you hit me?" He recalled the stinging blow moments before.
"Thanks fer savin' m'life Vin." Vin parroted, rubbing the now warming feet briskly. "Don't mention it Chris. Yer welcome."
"Huh?" Chris lifted his head and immediately regretted it. "Ahhh..."
"Who done this to ya?" Vin grilled, reaching the injured man's shoulder. He peeled the soggy cloth away and saw the jagged wound.
"Beaumont..." Chris sighed, struggled to stay awake. His beleaguered brain thought on the brute and where he might be. He recalled the knife and the glint in Beaumont's eyes. He wouldn't have left him...plan...Beaumont lived by plans. The green eyes darted and then drilled into the blue ones above. If Beaumont caught Vin... "Go for help...he's mad...gonna kill..."
"Chris?" Vin leaned over and tapped the stilled face. His hand sought the neck and he sighed, relived at the strong pulse. "I'll be right back, I'm gettin' ya some dry clothes."
Vin fought against the violent wind and felt tiny stings of pain as sharp rocks and debris hit his face. He groped and found the clean shirt and the bedroll. He stumbled back inside and got to work. His job completed, Chris was covered in his new red shirt and the bedroll was wrapped mummylike around him. Vin used parts of his undershirt, which was dry; to make bandages for Chris's head and shoulder. He shivered, his own clothes still wet and laid back against the wall. He kept one hand on Chris's good shoulder, squeezing firmly at each nightmare that caused his friend to cry out. His soft voice and gentle tone cut right through the bad dreams. His blue eyes were heavy with fatigue and he fought the sandman, who tiptoed past. His chin hit his chest and he slid sideways, his head landing on Chris's chest. He never meant to fall asleep.
Four Corners, Christmas Eve, 6 p.m.
Buck drained his beer and pulled his long legs off the chair across from him. The Saloon was nearly deserted. A few drifters were sharing a bottle in one corner of the quiet drinkery; Inez was closing the kitchen, to get ready for Josiah's service later that evening. He eyed the flashy gambler whose gold tooth was glinting evilly as he raked in a large pile of coins. Buck shook his head and grinned, eyeing the disbelief on the face of the New Orleans businessmen.
"My best wishes for a happy holiday," Ezra nodded, counting his money.
"You have no soul..." Buck commented from across the room, watching the green eyes widen. "Yeah...you..." He chuckled, "Damn, Ezra, you took the man's last bit of currency on Christmas Eve...that's cold...even for you."
"Mr. Lacavilier's bank interest accounts for more money than you and I will ever see in this lifetime." The Southerner drawled, of the wealthy man who'd departed. "He has made this a Merry Christmas indeed." He lifted an expensive bottle of brandy from a spot on the floor near his boots and raised an eyebrow at the Rogue. "Care to join me in a holiday toast."
"Damn generous of you." Buck snorted, ambling over and grabbing two shot glasses from the bar. He slid into the seat next to Ezra, who poured them each a shot.
"To my continued good health." Ezra lifted his glass, only to see Buck frown.
"Your health?" The mustached man chortled. "What the hell am I drinking to your health for?"
"I don't see anyone else buying you drinks."
"Good point." Buck agreed, lifting his glass. The booming voice behind him startled him, sending some of the amber liquid onto his clean shirt.
"Dammit J.D." Buck winced at the decibel level and brushed the shirt. "I'm two feet from you, what the hell are you hollerin' for?"
"News?" Ezra eyed the yellow telegraph paper in the youth's hands. He nodded and gave the note to the Conman.
"I'll get the horses ready and..."
"Hold on a minute, Son." Ezra held up his hand, and gave the note to Buck. "I see no cause for alarm."
"No cause for...Unless there's an angle of some kind or profit to made, you're not interested!" J.D. spouted, eyes flashing.
"J.D. Calm down!" Buck hissed, placing a hand on the heaving chest. "Ezra's right. Don't go off half-cocked. All this message says is that they found the prison wagon empty."
"What if them them animals went after Vin and Chris?" J.D. snapped. "They could be laying hurt somewhere or worse."
"Or they could be riding home." Ezra suggested, "If the prisoners were transferred already, the incident happened after, when our two peacekeepers were well on the way home. Those miscreants are in Mexico by now."
"Well?" Buck asked the frowning sheriff.
"Well what?" He responded.
Buck rolled his eyes and took his hat off, banging it against his leg. "Sometimes I wonder how you keep that star." He exasperated.
"What'd I do now?" J.D. said hostily
"I believe Mr. Wilmington is referring to your return wire, inquiring on the transfer papers."
"Uh-Oh..." J.D. croaked, grabbing the wire and turning. "I'll be right back."
They finished their drink and sat in silence, despite their reassurance to the youthful lawman, they wondered about their absent friends. Buck eyed the liquid on the table in front of him.
"These damn kids today," Buck shook his dark head and retrieved his glass, "You gotta do half their thinkin' for them." He concluded, finishing his drink.
"Here, here." Ezra agreed, pouring the ladies man another shot.
Buck had the glass halfway to his lips again...
The arm jerked and the liquid once again poured onto the formerly clean shirt. "J.D.!" He screamed, wheeling around and glared in anger.
"Sorry..." the dark-haired youth winced. "They found transfer papers on the guard. The wagon was about ten miles from Cloverdale."
"Alright," Buck nodded, with a reassuring pat on the youth's back, "There you go. Nothing to worry about. They should be back in an hour or two."
"Not likely," Nathan Jackson predicted, entering the saloon. He grabbed a glass and held it out for Ezra to fill. Taking a quick shot, he wiped his lips. His clothes were damp and he eyed the eyes gazing at him. "Bad storm brewin', I rode in ahead of it, barely made it. If they're comin' from the south, they're in the middle of it. They had any sense; they'd take shelter. We might not see them until morning."
"Damn..." Buck sighed, his face creased in worry.
"Not to fear my good friend," Ezra nodded; catching Buck's worried face, "Mr. Larabee, despite his outward appearance, worries like a mother hen when it comes to our drawling Texan."
"Vin?" Nathan frowned, "Didn't Josiah go with Chris?"
"Uh...well you see Nathan..." Buck sat forward, drumming his fingers on the table.
"Y'all let him ride out of here to Cloverdale?" He eyed the guilty group. "Ya know how long a ride that is? Time he gets back here, that back of his will be workin' him but good. He'll be more onry that a cross-eyed mule."
"You know how stubborn he is, Nate" J.D. tried. "Besides, Josiah has a big Christmas Eve service planned."
"What was your excuse?" He grilled eyeing Ezra and Buck. The big difference being Buck looked guilty, his eyes darkened, hands playing with his hat. Ezra looked as calm as a serene sea.
"Mr. Tanner so loves the outdoors. I did not feel it was my place to deprive him." Ezra relayed.
"Hmmmph..." The healer snorted at the Conman in disgust.. "I'm getting a bath and some clean clothes. I'll see you at the church."
The Church Service was a warm one. The citizens all embraced the spirit of the season and the moving gospel that Josiah told. Afterwards, in the back of the church were cider and home made goodies, donated by the grateful congregation? Buck saw Casey smoothing the folds of her pretty dress and eyeing J.D. He turned his dark head towards the lawman and frowned. The youth was chomping on a handful of cookies. Buck strode over and smacked him.
"You ever think about using that mouth of yours for something other than eating?" He whispered, nodding at Casey.
"Huh?" J.D. muffled and blushed, "It's too early for that..."
"That's the difference between men and boys..." Buck boasted, "It's never to early..."
"CHRIS!" J.D.'s muffled shout caused a coughing fit. Buck clapped his back and eyed the room. J.D. saw the curious look, took a gulp of cider and pointed to the half-opened window. "There...I saw him..."
They were almost at the church door, when it opened and a tall, lean blond man stepped in. His suit was wrinkled and he looked exhausted. He eyed the room, and noticed how silent the jovial voices had become.
"Good Evening." He nodded at the wide-eyed stares he received.
"I'd swear that was Chris." Mary whispered to Josiah, "...except for the eyes."
"Dead ringer." Nathan agreed, "'cept that fella's younger."
"Can I help you?" J.D. asked, dumbstruck by the resemblance to his idol.
"Yes, I'm looking for a Vin Tanner. I'm..."
"Dan Larabee!" Buck choked, remembering Chris's flight that day. They'd had words and Buck was finished with him. He'd spent months picking him up, cleaning him, bailing him out and this was the final straw. They'd had a severe fight that landed Buck in bed, too injured to ride. The younger Larabee stopped by to apologize and offer to pay for the doctor bills.
The room was stilled in stunned silence, as the handsome young man stood uncertain. Buck held a hand out and the stranger with Chris's face shook it. He led him inside and closed the door, shutting out the howling wind and cold rain.
Damn, it was cold. He shivered and tried to curl up, but his arms and legs didn't cooperate. His eyes were heavy and he fought hard to pry them open. The fire was far away. His confused blue eyes tried to coordinate with his brain. He was lying face down in ...in...a cave? No, think, damn it. He blinked away the blurriness and saw an old mining car...a mine? CHRIS! He screamed, only to taste the filthy cloth in his mouth. He struggled to rise and felt slam onto his naked back. Naked back? His hands were tied behind his back and something heavy was sitting on him. He jerked backwards trying to dislodge it and the hand returned, pressing against his neck and forcing his face into the dirt.
"Hey, Chiquita...I missed you..."
Shit! Vin thought, squirming as the Mexican bandit's hand caressed his face. He was sitting on Vin's lower back, preventing any movement. He eyed the other prisoner, who was dressed in Chris's clothes. He waved at Vin, laughing and taking a swig from a bottle.
"Hey, Luke, bring that over here..." Rico said, getting on his knees and straddling Vin. He moved over, so he was kneeling beside the confused victim. He jerked Vin up by the hair, turning him over. Vin lashed out, propelling his legs forward and sending the surprised bandit flying. He used his shoulder, bracing it against the wall and managed to get to his feet. His quick glance determined the two goons were alone with him. Chris...What had they done to him? He ran blindly towards the nearest tunnel and was hit hard from behind. The force of the landing took the wind out of him. He lay stunned and had no strength to fight the angry hands that assaulted him. He was on his back and fighting to rise when the fists found his face.
"That wasn't very nice, Chiquita." Rico snarled, pummeling the helpless tracker with well placed blows to the chest, face and abdomen. He stood over the blinking prisoner, eyeing the bruises appearing on the pale skin. "You're soft like a puta..." he laughed, eyeing the hairless chest. "Maybe you are one..." He sneered, kicking Vin harshly in the groin.
The explosion of color and pain left the Texan fighting to stay conscious. He felt a hand hook onto his belt and felt his body being dragged back towards the center of the shaft. The room got brighter as he was thrown towards the fire. The blond one knelt beside him and pulled his legs up. He rolled over, pulling his knees to his chest and glared at the leering guards.
"I told you we should have finished while he was still out cold. Beaumont's gonna be pissed when he gets back. You heard what he said, get him dressed and..."
Back? Vin thought, drowning them out. Beaumont...Chris mentioned him. He must be the leader. He must have Chris with him. Vin stared at the Mexican and realized he was wearing his clothes. The only thing they'd left on him, were his longjohns. He saw the blond pull out a pair of filthy brown pants. What the hell was going on? He skittered backwards, feeling the wall behind him.
"Come on, Rico...We ain't got much time."
"Yeah...alright." The grinning bandito agreed, taking a long swig from the whiskey bottle.
Vin kicked out again, clipping the blond's knees.
"You don't play nice, Chiquita..." Rico snarled, gripping Vin by the neck and slamming his head onto the wall. Vin saw stars and slumped. He felt them groping him freely as they pulled the gritty pants on. He felt boots shoved on his feet. He fell sideways, eyeing the spinning rocky walls and rotted timbering. There were four of them now...laughing and taunting him. He felt his hands freed and they lay useless at his side. The dizziness got worse and he felt himself slipping. He was forced upwards onto his knees and a crude workshirt pulled on to his freezing upper body. The gag was removed and he began to choke and cough.
"He's thirsty..." Turner decided, jerking the tangled, bloody head backwards. He clamped his fingers on Vin's face.
Vin felt the fingers press onto his face, cutting off his air. He struggled and saw the curtain falling. He opened his mouth, sucking in air and felt the cheap liquor burn a path down into his stomach, which rebelled.
"Aw, shit..." Rico jumped back as his toy vomited all over the floor.
"It's time...get him on his feet." A voice commanded.
Vin was pulled up and staggered along, using his hands to guide him through the darkness. He was dizzy and his head hurt. He felt the stickiness on the back of his neck as blood ran down the cheap shirt. He was pushed forward into a well-lit clearing outside the mine. He shivered as the night air hit him. The storm had moved on, and stars blinked down at him, mimicking his eyes. He was forced to sit on a crude bench, formed from a pile of broken beams. He closed his eyes, warding off a wave of nausea.
"Clean that mess off his face." the hard voice commanded.
The cold water that hit him jerked his eyes open. The sight that met them caused the emotional pools to heat in anger. "Fuckin' bastard..." He croaked, his throat raw and sore. He lunged at the large man, with silvering black hair. The one responsible for torturing Chris. His pale friend lie motionless on his back, with arms at his sides. He was dressed in tan pants and Vin's blue shirt. The shoulder was already blood-soaked, where the bandages he applied were.
"Chris...Chris..." He pleaded, crawling towards his fallen comrade.
One nod from the leader moved the two hired hands to action. Each moved forward, taking an arm and pulling the irate tracker to his feet. Vin struggled in vain, kicking and biting. His teeth found the blond's hand and he bit hard, gaining a blow to the lower back.
"Ahhh..." He screamed as a jagged pain ripped through his injured back.
The murky pool that Chris was lost in was rippling. Something was wrong. His skin tingled and he heard a cry of pain. Vin? Vin was hurt...Open your eyes...he commanded himself. Vin's hurt...He pried his heavy lid open, panting and out of breath for the effort. Every inch of him hurt. His shoulder throbbed and burned. He turned his face and met Vin's eyes. They brilliant blue eyes that could see him like no other, were dulled with pain. Vin was biting his lip so hard, blood ran from the corner of his mouth. Chris cursed his weakened state, eyeing the pain rippling through his best friend. A body stepped in front of him, blocking his view.
"Now that you have decided to join us, Captain, the show will begin." Beaumont said.
Chris felt the cold fingers of fate tickling his heart. His blood turned to ice as he was forced into a sitting position. His ribs protested, sending a white-hot flare through him. He didn't realize he'd cried out, until he saw Vin's muddled eyes focus. They were still in pain, but not his own. Vin was anguishing over him. He stared hard, blinking once and nodding. He heard the explosion of air from the battered Texan and watched his tense shoulders slump.
Vin drew renewed strength from Chris's penetrating gaze. He knew the green eyes were begging him to fight. They're silent connection was broken when Beaumont stood between them. He watched the large man nod and felt himself hauled to his feet. Rico had moved behind Chris, who was sitting on a rock. The leering bandit held a gun to the gunslinger's head. Vin eyed the gang's leader curiously. He watched the large man rummaging in a burlap bag. His eyes widened when a large machete was brought out.
The ex-commander smiled evilly at Vin and then walked towards him. Vin heard Chris cry out and try to stand. He heard the click of a pistol in his own ear and realized a gun was pointed at his head as well. The crude torches that flickered in the makeshift arena seemed to mock him. The steel edge of the menacing weapon drew his fearful gaze. Vin was hauled backwards to a post and his arms forced behind him.
Beaumont turned to smile at Chris as he raised his arm. He drank in the terrified green eyes, glued to the machete and aware of the intent.
Chris's heart was hammering, and the physical pain he felt was no match for the agonizing waves in his heart. He knew the cold-blooded madman was capable of murder. They'd had a 'talk' while they waited for Vin to appear. After the ordeal in the mine, all those years before, a Reb outfit had captured Beaumont. They left him in a prison, deep in southern Virginia. After the war, he should have been paroled, but the prison records got mixed up and he was transferred to another prison, in Tennessee. He remained there for over five years, until a fire gave him the means of escape.
Beaumont stared at the object of his hate. The only thing on his mind was revenge. Every day, he tortured Chris Larabee. He wanted to see the same look of feral fear as he'd endured.
"Will you beg?" He barked, and saw the blond's face furrow. "For his life...that dirty, Reb...Tanner. Will you beg?"
"Go to hell" Chris spat, seeing Vin's weak grin.
"Very well." He nodded and turned. The blond pulled Vin's head back and the Texan saw stars as the tender wound was slapped against the wood. Beaumont raised his arm and...
"Don't..." Chris whispered, chest heaving and face flushed.
"I couldn't hear you." Beaumont prodded.
"Don't hurt him..." Chris coughed, biting back the pain that raced through his ribcage and shoulder. His head throbbed so hard he felt his eyes popping out. He couldn't...wouldn't watch Vin die like that.
Beaumont's arm wavered, poised and ready to strike. "I'm waiting..." He grinned, fingers itching.
Vin shook his head, eyes burning at what the cruel captor was forcing Chris to do. The gunslinger had more pride than any man Vin ever met. He couldn't endure watching Chris grovel.
He met the green eyes, full of fire and ice, and for a moment, time stood still. All sound died away, the faces faded and so did the physical plane around them. The only sound each heard was the loud beating of two hearts in perfect harmony.
Keep yer mouth shut, Cowboy. Don't give 'em the satisfaction. I'm going to Hell anyway ya look at it.
Thought we were going together?
Beaumont saw the small smile and turned, eyes narrowed and saw the identical smile on the Texan. He felt their combined strength charging the air around him and grew angry.
"Get on your knees and beg...or I'll gut him like a fish." He screamed, his eyes bulging.
Chris saw the crack and got false hope. He wasn't in control now. He pulled his shoulders back, leveled his stare right through the ex-commander and curled his lips up in disgust.
"Fuck you, asshole." He gasped, and heard Vin's weak laughter. His heart clenched when Beaumont wheeled and sent the machete flying. The large man's body prevented the agonized blond from seeing what it struck. The dull thump sounded like ...a chest.
He squeezed his eyes shut, not able to bear the sight of Vin's bloodied body. But the soft, sarcastic drawl, drew them open.
"Ya throw like a girl."
Chris let the breath go he'd been unaware he was holding. A resounding slap of the beefy hand smacking Vin's face with such intensity, the tracker's head snapped back and dazed him. Vin's head dropped to his chest and Chris's anger surged at the blood-encrusted hair and the crimson smearing on the post. He saw Beaumont stalk off and rummage in the bag again, drawing out a bottle. He made his way back to Vin. Chris eyes furrowed, the pain in his head and shoulder made it difficult to remain awake.
"Get his head up." Beaumont ordered the blond guard, who took pleasure in jerking the mangled hair backwards.
Vin's eyes shot open as his head made contact with the bloody post. He didn't have time to breath or blink, when Beaumont's arm flew past and then a white-hot pain exploded in his eyes.
The raw, animalistic scream caused Chris to break free of the Mexican's grip. Vin was writhing on the ground, sceaming and clutching his eyes. He dropped by his side and grabbed the Texan from behind, pulling him against his chest.
"What the fuck did you do to him?" He growled at Beaumont.
"A homemade recipe...just the right mix of minerals, liquids and jalepeno juices. They used in on us in prison...it's quite effective and causes horrific, unimaginable pain."
"Why?" Chris screamed, gripping Vin close to him. The screams were cutting him like a knife. "He had nothing to do with that night." He left the madman's gaze long enough to try to pry Vin's hands off his eyes. They were swollen and red; and..unfocused...unseeing...Vin was blind. Chris's arms trembled and Vin curled up tighter, making himself smaller, balling his fists into his eyes, trying to put the fire out.
"He was the key ingredient. The one thing that makes you feel pain. The person whose life you value over your own." Beaumont's voice dripped with glee, watching the unbridled agony in Chris Larabee's eyes, his pale face a mask of guilt. That was the look he'd dreamed of, the unreachable anguish.
Vin curled up, rocking into Chris's chest. The blond gunslinger wrapped his arms around the smaller man, despite the screaming protests from his shoulder and ribs. He felt Vin shivering terrifically and realized the younger man was in shock. The screams had softened and the whimpering, hissing sounds were worse.
"Easy, Vin. I gotcha." He murmured into the top of Vin's hair, which resting under his chin.
After the fire exploded in his eyes, Vin didn't remember what happened. The fire had died down some, it burned, but not like before. He couldn't stop shaking; he was freezing. He felt someone embrace him, strong arms...comforting arms wrap around his fear. He melted into the embrace, seeking comfort. He pushed his fists into the fire in his eyes, and couldn't help cry out...the pain was unbearable. He heard a voice...and his trembling halted. A warm voice, strong and true. Trust...trust...the image formed....
Chris heard the breathless whisper and felt a hand snake up towards his face. He grabbed the errant hand and pulled Vin closer. He continued to rock him, sensing it calmed the injured man, deep in shock.
"Yeah, Vin. Take it easy."
"...s'dark...Chris?....s'dark...I can't see ya...Chris?"
Chris's heart was breaking and it took all his strength not to let the water in his eyes fall. He kept on hand on the bloodied tangled head, pressed against his heart and the other gripping the errant hand, seeking truth.
"I know, Vin...you hurt your eyes. Keep them closed...I'll..."
"Aw, hell..." Vin hissed, struggled to break free of the iron grip. "I'm blind...Shit...Chris...I'm blind...I'm...'
The tender reunion was over as Vin was violently jerked from him. A blow to the stomach prevented Chris's further motions. He doubled over, gasping and seeking air. His ribs were screaming in time with his head and shoulder. He felt himself pulled backwards and saw Vin being pulled the other way. They left him in the middle of the ground.
"Ever play Blind Man's Bluff?" Beaumont teased, stepping aside. He turned Vin around and around, quickly, spinning him until he was dizzy. Vin staggered, his legs drunken and arms wavering, seeking anything to hold onto.
Chris watched the macbre game. His stomach clenched and searing hate was born. He'd kill Beaumont with his bare hands for torturing Vin. He'd make it slow...and painful. He'd like to take that knife and peel his scalp off. He saw Vin staggering toward the well.
"No Vin!" He screamed, and saw the body jerk. Vin turned back, seeking Chris's voice.
"Chris?" He rasped, blinking rapidly tears running freely from the burning eyes, swollen and angry.
A cloth was tied around Chris's mouth, preventing any further comments. He jerked against the restraining hands and felt a punch to his wounded shoulder. The wall of pain exploded in a burst of rainbowlike color. He fell forward, unable to stop the curtain.
He watched Vin being cuffed in the head. The dazed man was then forced on his knees. The blond bandit pulled Vin's hair back, exposing his throat. Chris lost all will to live when he saw the gleam in the madman's eyes as the machete was raised, it's target- Vin's exposed throat. The last image he had was Vin's unblinking eyes, searching for him and the soft call of 'Chris' as the blade fell.
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