Cat And Mouse

by MMW

Disclaimer: The Characters of the Magnificent Seven belong to MGM, Trilogy, etc and are used here without permission. No copyright infringement is intended.

Challenge: For the Blackraptor 10 years challenge.

As he sat on the side of the cliff, he looked out at the land rolling out below him.

It was beautiful country out here, free and open. At least, it had been.

With the coming of the railroad, the West was filling up. The People were being corralled and the way of life he had grown up with was disappearing far too quickly.

The world of today was a close and uncomfortable place. There were times he thought of taking off for Mexico, but he knew he couldn’t. There were too many ties to this land, to this place. And he knew, deep within himself, that the game wasn’t over.

For most of his adult life, Vin had been on the run from one thing or another. First it was running from the orphanage after his mother’s death. Then he had run from the nightmare of losing his Indian family followed by the nightmares of the war.

The nightmares and memories had chased him, though. Even after all this time, they still dogged his heels.

But now it wasn’t just nightmares that chased him. Now he had men after him as well and had for quite some time.

For a brief period of time he had hunted men and brought them in to face justice. Then, a careless mistake on his part had led to him being the hunted.

Now he felt some small kinship with a mouse once it got in a hawk’s sight and had for far too many years.

There had been a brief time when he had been given rest, but, even then he’d been on the alert. Unfortunately, he wasn’t alert enough.

His mind ran back ten years into the past.

Ten Years Ago

Vin swept the front porch of the store. It was a fruitless task, but the proprietor was friendly and was paying him a fair wage. It was nice to do something different.

There was the usual chaos spilling out onto the street and, despite the desire, the need, to act, he continued sweeping. He had to be careful what he did. It wasn’t that he was worried about being identified, but, rather, being a stranger in town, he knew any stand he took, he would stand alone. He had no problem dying, but he didn't want to die of stupidity.

The shooting continued and he kept a careful eye on the townsfolk, hoping they stay safely out of the line of fire.

A few moments later, he spotted the man in the black duster step out of the saloon. Vin had noticed him when the blond had ridden into town and planned to stay out of the man's way. It was obvious the blond was a hired gunslinger of some sort and Vin knew exactly how dangerous that could be to him.

A sound from the livery caught his attention and he spotted several men carrying Nathan down the stairs. He was just too far away to hear what they were planning, but he would keep an eye on things just in case. He hadn't actually talked to the healer, but everything Vin had heard about Nathan was good.

It wasn't until Mary Travis stepped in front of the gang with a shotgun that he realized what the group had planned.

He stood in shock for several minutes, trying to make out what was being said. With the wind and other noise, their voices faded before they reached him. Though his every instinct was telling him to act, he also knew, or at least hoped, that someone from the town would intervene soon. They had to. It was the right thing to do.

It wasn't until the man in the lead grabbed the gun and kicked Mary to the ground that Vin realized no one from the town was willing to help her.

Having seen enough, Vin headed into the store to borrow a rifle and ammunition. There were a lot of things he could tolerate, but attacking a lady like Mrs. Travis wasn't one of them. Outnumbered or not, he could not let that pass, even if everyone else in town did.

As he stepped out of the store, smiling at the warm feeling the old man's concern gave him. Sure the man threatened him with losing his job, but it was easy to read the worry in the old eyes that drove the anger.

Vin felt a gaze on him. Offering some off-hand response to his employer, he glanced across the street and met the hazel eyes.

He'd seen men like that before and knew the black-clad gunslinger might watch Vin as well as help him. It was just a question of what his intent was and whether or not the gunslinger recognized Tanner’s face from a poster. Vin's hand tightened on the rifle as he waited to see what the blond would do, preparing to fight the gunslinger if he had to in order to help the healer. His life mighe only be worth five-hundred dollars, but Nathan’s was worth a lot more.

Seeing the gunslinger tip his head toward where the group took Nathan, Vin nodded to indicate that was, indeed, where he was going.

The blond turned and headed that way as well.


That had been the beginning.

A few minutes after walking down the street, they had been introduced to Nathan. Shortly after that, they were approached by the Seminoles. Slowly their number had been added to until it reached seven.

They had spent several good years together, working for the judge and ensuring that the town was safe for decent folks.

Vin had eventually begun relaxing, letting his guard down, believing in the invincibility of the seven men, believing he could live a regular life.

That had been his downfall.

He had become so used to having the others watch his back, gotten so comfortable in the little town where no one ever seemed to come after him, that he hadn't taken all the precautions he should have.

He could still feel the horror of that day when, on their walk back into town from the local fishing hole, shots had rung out just as they reached the outskirts.

The only problem was, it wasn't Vin who had been hit. It was Billy Travis.

Quick thinking allowed Vin to get the boy to safety, leaving their fishing poles in the middle of the road.

Gunshots so close to town quickly drew the attention of the others and the shooter was soon found and subdued, but Vin was too engrossed in talking to Billy and making sure the boy stayed awake to notice.

Later, as he and the others waited for word on the boy outside of Nathan's room, he found out that the shooter had been a bounty hunter after Vin.

It was at that moment Vin knew he would have to leave. He saw Chris narrow his eyes and understood that the blond suspected his plan.

Fighting back the panic and need to leave immediately, Vin had simply pushed aside his plans, knowing that he would have to plan around Chris and the others.

It was five months after Billy Travis was fully healed that Vin finally left town. He knew it would be for the best. Since they would no longer have to watch his back, the others could continue on with their lives as normal. Maybe they could finally settle down and start families. They were all good men and deserved to have the good things of life.

Surprisingly, Mary and Billy had both been quick to forgive him, Mary even stating that he had nothing to apologize for, that it was the shooter who had been at fault. They were pretty words, but did little to assuage Vin's guilt over the incident, never believing, even for a moment, that he deserved a normal life, a happy life.

Silently, he slipped out of town, leaving most of his possessions behind along with a note. He had felt bitter-sweet emotions as he wrote it. He had come to the town three and a half years before unable to read or write, never allowing anyone close and having no expectations other than a lonely grave. So much had changed, but he had forgotten that Death was tracking his footsteps.

He spent a few minutes thinking of the irony of that. For years Death had stalked after him, hounding him, forcing him to move constantly. Then he met Chris Larabee, a man who was chasing Death. Somehow or another, in the presence of both of them, Death had left them alone.

When he left, he knew that Death would once more hound his step's even more doggedly than the bounty hunters who wanted the price on his head.

What he hadn't counted on was the six of them following him, hunting him with more tenacity than even Death could muster. And he hadn't counted on them never giving up, though he should have. Not once in three years had they given up on each other or on pursuing their prey. Why he thought they would leave him be, he would never know.

He had lost count of the number of times he had been preparing to leave a town and one or more of the boys would show up looking for him. It had been mighty close a few times, far too close for his liking. But it had been so good to see the boys, his brothers.

It was those few glimpses of his family that had kept him coming back to the outskirts of from time to time despite the far distance between where he wandered and where his heart remained. The other six men were the only family he had left and, for a man who had spent so much of his life alone, the lure of family was too powerful to resist.

Despite his knowing how dangerous it was to show himself, despite knowing that keeping any sort of contact was asking for trouble, he hadn't been able to completely break away from the others. He would still check on them frequently. Sneaking to the edge of town or slipping in under the cover of darkness were his two main methods of seeing them and gathering information..

He knew they were hunting him so they could draw him back into their circle, so they could be family once more, but they were still hunting him, just like Death, just like the bounty hunters. His life was a game of cat and mouse and, unfortunately, he was the mouse. There had been times, far too many times, over the past years that he had been tempted to let them catch him. Times when he dreamed that if he just let them catch him, everything would be fine as long as they were together.

Vin knew better, though. His presence put them in constant danger. They would never be safe as long as he was around.

That hadn't stopped the others from trying to find him, though.

After those first weeks, it was rare to hear of all six of them leaving after him. Now they would take turns tracking down the rumors and sightings of him.

It was now ten years to the day that he, Chris and Nathan had that first, fateful meeting.

Chris and Mary were still single and still dancing around each other. Both relished their independence too much for them to settle down together, despite what everyone else in town thought or expected.

Josiah had found a good woman to settle with him and Nathan and Raine had finally wed as well.

JD was married to Casey. Buck was still charming every woman he met and Ezra was the owner of the saloon and hotel.

Occasionally, Vin would make his way back to the town that had been so important to him, that still held the only family he had left, but, with the growth brought by the railroads and settlers, it was getting more dangerous for him to do so.

The last time he'd been by to Chris' shack, more of a full-blown house now, Billy Travis had nearly caught him.

Vin rubbed his jaw thinking of how far and how fast he had ridden, haunted and chased by his own name cried out in Billy's voice.

Leaning back against the warm rock, he let out a sigh and closed his eyes, taking comfort from the impartial rays of the sun.

Ten years was a long time. Seven years on the run from his family had worn him down, but he knew, without a doubt, it was the right thing to do.

“They'll give up soon,” he murmured to the wind.

A hawk's cry mocked him from above.

His eyes followed the small black figure as it rode the wind. A wry smile appeared on his face. Despite his words, he knew the hawk was right; they would never give up hunting him down. And in the secret places of his heart, he hoped that they would never stop until they found him.