Till We Meet Again

by Laurie Ann

The man dressed totally in black inched closer to the bushes, his green eyes taking in the large figure several feet away. Having tethered his black steed a mile back, Chris made the rest of the trip to Ella's ranch on foot. He hated having to come back here, the memories of her murderous intentions towards his six friends a raw wound still festering. Quieting the desperate urge that had overtaken him as he neared Red Fork, the gunman raised the bow, allowing the moonlight to illuminate his target. He'd recognize one of the Brigger brothers anywhere, and this definitely was the largest of the lot. The one who had held Vin in the saloon.

His mouth fixed in a snarl, Chris allowed the arrow to fly, pleased to see the kidnapper fall to the ground. Pulling out the knife he had tucked into his gun belt, he cautiously moved forward. Nothing or no one was going to prevent him from freeing his best friend, and he was going to make sure his enemies were dead and no threat.

Feeling no pulse, Chris then drug the body back into the bushes, continuing on to the house. He had a very good guess where Vin was being held. Ella kept everything he had contact with, and the tracker would be no exception. She would hold him in her secret room or at least near it.

Seeing no other guards, the gunfighter found it odd. Wouldn't Ella be more cautious than this? Maybe she honestly didn't sense a threat. After all, she had the Briggers in town to keep an eye on the others, and he had played the role of a lifetime to convince her he was willing to accept her. With her lack of security, he should be able to recover Vin without much trouble.

As he moved silently through the yard, Chris noticed to his right a soft glow coming from near the stable area. Keeping low to the ground and against the side of the house, he made his way toward the light. He sucked in a breath when he saw it was Vin's wagon, aglow in candlelight. Unable to tear his eyes away, he propelled himself closer, almost afraid of what he would find.

Ella's naked back greeted his view, stunning the gunman for a second. What was that bitch doing in Vin's wagon without any clothes? She wasn't forcing herself on....? Chris' shock turned to anger at the thought of Ella possibly trying to seduce Vin. Almost ready to barge into the wagon, he stopped when he saw his former flame lift a glass above her head, still unaware of his presence. She seemed to be in a trance, her only focus on the object in her hands, like it was some sort of ritual. No one else appeared to be inside with her. His fist tightened around the bow and he forced himself not to yank the woman out of the wagon by the roots of her hair. She was desecrating Vin's property, a sin that would not go unpunished.

Chris fought the inner turmoil raging in him. He had come seconds away from making a terrible mistake, jeopardizing everything. Finding Vin was the most important thing right now. Ella and her sick machinations could wait. Retreating, he picked up his pace to the house. Besides Ella, the only other obstacle he knew he had was the remaining Brigger brother still unaccounted for. Thankfully Ella was busy at the moment, no matter how infuriating it was.

+ + + + + + +

Silas Brigger crept silently up to the still man, checking for a pulse. After hearing his older brother gloat about how the tracker was finally getting what he deserved, the young man found his curiosity getting the better of him. He just wasn't prepared for the gruesome sight that greeted his eyes. The smell of blood alone was enough to make one nauseous, and Silas instantly placed his kerchief over his nose and mouth. Blood spilled slowly out of the glass jar beside the bound figure, telling more than what the victim could. Tanner was slowly bleeding to death...on purpose. Shaking his head, the youngest Brigger knew the man's time on earth was almost up. His body was starting to show the signs of shock. What Tanner did to Ella was wrong...but to die like this? Suppressing a shudder, Silas turned and left the room. It wasn't his concern what happened to the tracker, besides it was too late anyhow. Tanner had sealed his fate by ruining Ella's happiness.

His mind preoccupied, Silas mumbled something as he bumped into the solid form he met in the hallway. Instantly his throat was grabbed as his body slammed into a wall. Two deadly green eyes peered at him under the brim of a black hat. It was Larabee.

"Where is he?" Chris growled, increasing pressure around the neck. Even though the man was almost twice his size, the gunman's fury provided him with the strength and fear to keep the co-conspirator in check. He'd willingly squeeze out every bit of air if the brother had harmed Vin in any way.

"He's...he's evil," Silas managed to wheeze out, unable to remove Larabee's hand from his throat.

"...And you're dead," Chris hissed, placing his face closer. "Unless you tell me now, where Vin is." Seeing the genuine shock in Silas' eyes, the gunman loosened his grip slightly.

Silas twisted away and pointed down the hall to the secret room. Why would this man be so fiercely loyal to Tanner? Didn't he care at all about Ella and the baby? His thoughts were interrupted as he felt something hit him hard in back of the head.

Chris pistol whipped the younger man with his colt 45, making sure the brother fell to the floor unconscious. For some reason he felt this one wasn't as merciless as his other siblings. Pushing himself past the downed figure, he rushed towards the shrine, the smell of blood meeting his nostrils before he entered inside. He swallowed the fear that sprang up inside his soul.

A soft glow illuminated the tiny room, allowing Chris to catch sight of the slumped figure tied to a chair. The gunfighter suppressed his emotions as he knelt down on one knee before his friend, checking for any sign of life. Vin's face was so pale, even in the soft candlelight, he looked ghostly white...and there was absolutely no movement. He reached up tentatively to the side of the tracker's face to pull down the gag.

Chris cursed under his breath as he felt the cold, clammy skin. "It's Chris...you're going to be fine," he spoke in a near whisper, more for himself than for the unconscious man.

Placing a hand near Vin's mouth and another by his neck, Chris was rewarded with shallow breathing and a weak pulse. He then turned his attention to the tubing that was attached to Vin's left arm, gently removing it and using the former blindfold draped over the chair back as a bandage to stanch the wound. He had to get the bleeding stopped before anything else. When he was satisfied the bleeding was contained, next came the removing of the bindings that held the sharpshooter immobile. His hunting knife made easy work of the cloth, catching the limp body as it fell sideways.

Resting Vin's head against his shoulder, Chris undid the button to the tracker's left cuff, letting the fabric fall to the floor while he buttoned up Vin's shirt. "We're going to get you warmed up and go home," he said in a comforting tone while he lifted his best friend in his arms in one sweeping motion. He hoped his body heat would be sufficient enough for the moment. All his concentration would be used to get his young friend out of this hell hole as fast as humanly possible so he could get medical help.

A conflict arose in Chris' mind. If he left, he would be letting Ella off the hook once again. No doubt she would flee once she saw Vin was gone. Could he allow her to roam free to wreak her havoc on his life once more? He glanced down at the slumped figure of his friend. But could he risk Vin's life for vengeance? And there was the baby now to consider also. Going after her would endanger two innocent lives. Even if he drug Ella along to throw her in jail, he'd be having to divide his attention between her and Vin. Not to mention the knowledge she had of Vin's bounty. Resolve filled Chris' soul. Vin came first.

Oblivious to the weight he was carrying, the gunman hurried down the hallway and descended the staircase. Vin's precarious health was the only thing on his mind. He knew the stages of shock, and the sharpshooter was failing rapidly. First he would have to find something to wrap around Vin to give added warmth. Trying a doorknob to his left, the gunfighter grumbled as he found it locked. Undeterred, he traveled to the next door and found success.

Surprised to see a lantern burning in the room, Chris carried the sharpshooter inside. Empty shelves filled the large room behind the humongous object situated in the center. It was covered with a velvet fabric, the perfect thing to keep his friend warm. Gingerly he laid Vin on the wooden rail that oddly reminded him of a kneeling bench and pulled the cloth off. He didn't have time to dwell on Ella's weird decorating tastes.

His breath caught in his throat when an elaborately engraved bed frame accosted his view. What the hell was this? He felt icy shards rip through his gut as he stared in disbelief at the glass encasing the plush bedding. Immediately he turned and looked over at Vin, a chair nearby catching his eye. Draped over it was an outfit similar to the style the young sharpshooter wore. Giving his blonde head a horrified shake, Chris hastened to the unmoving figure. That was no ordinary bed, representing more of an eternal rest than a good night's sleep.

Snugly wrapping Vin up with the velvet covering, Chris proceeded to leave the room when he heard the front door open and close, the voice of the one speaking causing his body to tense. Instead of leaving, the gunman was forced to hurriedly shut the door, crouching in a corner with his unconscious bundle supported by his arms.

+ + + + + + +

"Silas?" Ella called through the lower part of the house. Jacob had vacated his post, which made her curious. Maybe the other brother would know what happened. Silas was the most responsible of the brothers, but not as blindly loyal as them. She took particular care to win him on her side. Her spirits soaring from victory and the opium she sampled as part of the uniting ceremony, she practically danced up the staircase. Smiling as she gazed at the blood stained goblet she had just drank from, Ella decided she was thirsty again. The taste of blood grew on her...and she knew of a handsome young man who was just dying to give her more of what she wanted.

The brunette almost stumbled over the body lying in the middle of the hall. Her eyes growing large, Ella stared past Silas and down the corridor. Who could have done this? Anger rose like a fire inside as she stormed toward the door that Hiam was staying behind. Twisting the knob, she was satisfied the Egyptian could not have left. There wasn't even any windows to climb out of. The sound of scuffling was heard inside the room. He was in there.

Tanner? Ella hurried her frantic pace. No, there was no way he could've escaped. The last she saw, he was barely clinging to life. Entering inside the room, all time froze.

The wine glass shattered as it fell from Ella's hand to the floor. The tracker was gone!

+ + + + + + +

An inhuman scream pierced the air as Chris tightened his grip on Vin. They had to leave now.... Reaching for the doorknob, he discovered to his alarm that the door had been locked from the outside. Lying his friend upon the ground, Chris tried tugging on the knob, unable to budge it. They were trapped!

Chris took Vin to the farthest corner of the room, and took his gun out of it's holster, ready to take out whoever he needed to to get the sharpshooter to safety.

+ + + + + + +

"NO! NO! NO!" Ella screamed over and over again. Everything was so perfectly planned! There was no way Tanner could have gotten free! Rage built to an intolerable level as she blindly lashed out at anything in her path, throwing objects against the walls in frustration. Her cherished items flew off the shelves along with the candles, nothing was spared her wrath.

"YOU RUIN EVERYTHING!" Ella yelled at the empty chair that once held her captive. Heaving from her exertion, the murderess clutched her fingers around the dagger she had used in the first ritual. Vin Tanner would never interfere with her plans again!

Silas groaned as he grabbed his head and tried unsuccessfully to get up off the floor, the sounds of wailing and screaming jarring him back to consciousness. A blurred figure in black stood above him. Larabee?

"You let him get away," Ella hissed lethally, the dagger poised to strike.

"Wh-what?" Silas frowned in confusion, his mind throbbing unmercifully.

A demented howl echoed through the house as Ella repeatedly stabbed Silas over and over, his blood splashing upon her face and clothes as her victim offered no defense. Her logic was totally gone, all her plans and goals eliminated. All that mattered was destruction. The man responsible for her torment had to pay, and all who helped him escape!

Silas closed his eyes as he felt blow after blow rip into his body, finding an odd penance in the unbearable pain. Ella wasn't the innocent victim had she portrayed. Using him and his brothers to help in her schemes. With a fluttering of his eyelids, and a final breath, Silas Brigger died.

"I'll find him and tear his heart out with my bare hands!" Ella screeched at the dead body. Everything around her was an unrealistic dream as she staggered down the hallway to the staircase. The opium heightening her senses beyond normalcy. She had to find Tanner. With him alive, all her hard work would be destroyed.

Teetering at the beginning of the long stairway, the brunette felt her foot slip on the top step as Silas Brigger's blood spilled down upon it from the hallway. Desperately Ella reached out both hands to grab the railing, her kerosene lantern flying behind her due to the frantic maneuver. The full canister holding the flammable liquid busted, sending it running down the hallway, mixing with the blood that was sprayed everywhere. Unable to gain her balance, Ella was propelled down the stairs, her body falling in a heap at the base.

+ + + + + + +

Chris felt for a pulse. Vin being wrapped head to foot in fabric, he couldn't see his friend's breathing "Hang on, Vin," the gunman said as calmly as he could. The pulse was incredibly weak, causing the gunman's anxiety to rise further. His best friend wasn't going to last much longer. Dull thuds and yelling was heard overhead. Ella knew Vin was gone.

The gunfighter searched his mind for any possible means of escape. The cathedral styled windows were too narrow to slip through. He could shoot the lock and get out that way, but that would alert Ella to his presence here. Yet Vin needed immediate help. The Briggers were out of the picture, but were there others? Could he risk the element of surprise for escape? Who had locked the door behind him? He wished he had brought one of the others, like Buck or Josiah with him, but it was too risky at the time. If their plan had failed, they would need every available man to handle the rest of the Briggers. It was easier for one man to slip away.

Raising his gun, Chris made a decision. Before he could pull the trigger of the weapon, he heard a familiar voice outside the door.

"I'm sorry, Sir," Bishop Crenshaw stammered on the other side. "I followed you here."

"Bishop?" Chris called out, grateful to hear the voice. He was surprised the stable hand was so interested in his movements. It was probably concern over Vin's disappearance. "Unlock the door."

"My sister won't like that....she's gonna be already mad," Bishop said fearfully. "I don't want ta make her madder."

"Your...sister?" Disbelief filled Chris' mind as he grappled with the knowledge. But Bishop seemed so fond of Vin....and how could someone so polite and caring be a sibling to Ella? She had never mentioned a brother to him. Bitterness replaced the incredulity as the gunman looked down at Vin's pale features. The sharpshooter was betrayed by someone he trusted... Trust was something Vin didn't give easily.

"You damn sonovabitch....," Chris barked disdainfully towards the door. He raised his gun again. Even if he shot through Bishop to free himself and Vin....so be it.

"Is Mr. Vin okay?" Bishop asked hesitantly. "He looked sick when ya went in the room."

"He's dying! And your sister is to blame!" Chris replied hotly.

"No...no...she said she was gonna help Mr. Vin," Bishop spoke with obvious confusion in his voice. "Bad people were tryin' ta hurt 'im, and she was gonna make sure no one could hurt 'im and make 'im feel pain again. She said."

Chris heard the child-like trust, and realized she had lied to him like she had the Briggers. "Bishop," the gunman said in a more calm tone, "open the door and see for yourself how sick Vin is. He needs to see a doctor or he'll die."

His request was answered with the sound of the key turning in the lock. Lowering his gun, and tightening his grip around Vin's mid-section, Chris watched Bishop awkwardly enter inside the room. The gun immediately frightened the young man, as Bishop cringed and walked back to the door.

"You can see him, Bishop," Chris urged, placing the gun behind his back. He had to remember Bishop viewed the world as a child, due to his stunted mental facilities. "I want you to see what Ella did to him."

The large lad inched closer, the glass from the bed-like coffin catching his eye. "Do ya like the bed she made for Mr. Vin?" Bishop asked softly. "My sister says this way he'll never be far from you, and he'll always stay the way he is. She even got his wagon so he can have all his things here."

Grinding his teeth together to stop his fury from rising to the forefront, Chris began to get the mental picture. Vin's belongings were to placed on the shelves behind the glass coffin, just like she had arranged his former possessions. The blood draining was obviously done to prepare the tracker for his entombment. But the strange ritual he had seen Ella doing in Vin's wagon... the recollection chilled his veins. What the hell was that all about?

Bishop stopped in front of the gunman, glancing perplexed at the white face of the sharpshooter under the velvet wrapping. "Mr. Vin don't look none too good," the youth mumbled. "Maybe ya shouldn't have touched him, Sir. He wasn't done."

"Wasn't done?" Chris said icily. "Wasn't done? Don't you mean wasn't dead?"

His face contorting with fear, Bishop shook his head vehemently. "No! She said he wouldn't die....ever...."

"If he doesn't get to a doctor and warmed up, he will die!" Chris' frustration spilled out. "Dammit Bishop! I don't want to hurt you, but I will do anything to get him the hell out of here!"

"But...," Bishop reluctantly stood in the gunfighter's way. Ella had told him not to let Chris Larabee out of his sight, no matter what. If he did, she would be very displeased. She scared him when she got angry like that. He didn't want her getting upset and not help his friend...or more likely...hurt him. To protect Vin from his sister's wrath, he'd willingly stand in the way of the black attired man before him.

+ + + + + + +

Ella rose groggily from the foot of the stairs, a sudden pain attacking her stomach. The baby? Something was wrong with her unborn son, she could feel the turmoil inside her body. She clenched her teeth in fury, the dagger laying beside her where it dropped when she grabbed the banister. If Tanner lived....her baby would die. The ritual was started.

Concentrating on only the excruciating pain in her belly and ignoring all other injuries from the fall, the brunette forced her body to a standing position and limped through the lower part of the house. She had to find that damnable tracker before it was too late to save her child.

Hearing voices coming from the special room she had created for her beloved, Ella made her way painfully to the doorway. Astonishment replaced all her feelings as her brown eyes took in the figure of the man she would willingly do anything for.

Her worst fear was realized at that moment. Chris had come too early, before everything was complete! She thought he understood her request for waiting a few days. How would her lover accept her with Tanner still alive? She and the baby could not be consummated with Vin's essence unless he was gone from this earth. And how could she even begin to explain everything to Chris without that power being fully received?

Clutching at her abdomen, Ella made a decision. She would hide the dagger, get close enough to the tracker and finish him off. It would incense Chris at first, but she would then take Vin's place as his soul mate, easing the outrage. Replacing the knife back in it's original hiding place in the front of her dress, she shuffled into the room, doing her best to hide the enormous discomfort torturing her body.

"Chris," she called out sweetly, "you're early...."


Pure hatred could scarcely describe the feeling Chris had when he saw Ella standing in the doorway, smiling innocently while his best friend was dying next to him. The vehemence turned to repulsion when he viewed the brunette's appearance. Ella's wide, anxious eyes stared at him almost pleadingly as her disheveled hair hung limply around her blood stained face with traces of red visible on her black lace dress. He shuddered involuntarily at the sight.

"I was going to send for you when everything was ready," Ella said in a soothing tone, forcing her body to inch slowly into the room. She looked over at her brother. "Bishop, go outside the door, close it and stand watch." Hearing the slam of the oak door, she turned back to Chris, determined not to let Tanner out of the room alive.

She hid her fury well at seeing Tanner being held up by her beloved. It was all his fault. If she had realized his influence over Chris at the ranch earlier, the tracker wouldn't have survived his visit, she would have made sure Handsome Jack only took him out. The murderess stopped herself. No, this way was better. She and the baby would take Tanner's place, sparing Chris the grief of losing his friend.

"You murdering...Bitch!" Chris spat out. He wanted desperately to wrap his hands around her throat and strangle the air from her lungs, as the smoke had stolen the air from the lungs of his wife and son in the fire Ella had ordered. And Vin...being forced to watch as his very life was being drained slowly from his body. She didn't deserve to be among the living.

Ella's eyes registered astonishment. "I know it looks bad, my love...."

"You promised me you wouldn't do anything to him!" Chris raised the gun towards Ella's head.

"I said I wouldn't destroy him, and I haven't. Chris, we both know you won't shoot me, so put the gun down and let's talk," Ella said calmly, coming closer.

"Here's what I've got to say," Chris snarled, the gun still pointed. "I'm leaving now...with Vin, and you better hope he lives!"

"It's too late for him now," Ella said with all the sympathy she could muster for the young tracker. "Let him pass in peace and let him live on forever in us." She stopped and gestured to the glass coffin. "He'll stay here...and this room will be your sanctuary."

"Shut up!"

"He's going to die, Chris." Ella beckoned towards Vin with her open palms, trying to get

her lover to focus on the futility of his actions. "It's only a matter of time before a bounty hunter kills him." She tipped her head in the direction of the ornate coffin. "Do you want to bury him in the cold, unforgiving ground? To rot away, the only thing left of his life a memory that fades in time? This way he'll be forever young, always here when you need him."

"I don't want his dead body!" Chris backed away to leave with his friend, his body shaking with rage. If he stayed a minute more, he knew he'd kill her, dooming the baby, and endangering Vin's health further.

"That's what I'm trying to explain," Ella called out after the gunman. "The baby and I made a blood pact with Vin, his spirit will live through us. We'll all be connected now."

Chris stopped dead in his tracks, looking on in alarm. "A blood pact?"

Ella sighed briefly. At least Chris was listening. "Yes. This way Vin could always be with you. Vin and I tasted each other's blood, so we bonded together. But our child and Vin will become one. By drinking his blood...I pass it onto the baby...."

"Stop it!" Chris yelled. He couldn't stand to hear anymore, his mind refusing to acknowledge what his ears had heard. The gunman wrapped both arms around Vin's body, shielding him from Ella's presence, keeping the gun aimed at her.

The brunette began to panic when she saw Chris once again head for the door. She had to make him see, make him understand. "I did it all for you! I wanted to give you what you wanted! A wife, a family, even having that tracker playing a role in our lives after what he did."

Inches from the door, Chris froze. "I had a family....remember...?" he said in a low growl. Looking at Vin's still form clenched against him, he swore he was at least going to keep his friend.

"Chris...listen," Ella began to plead before an overwhelming pain griped her stomach. She doubled over, clutching frantically at her abdomen. "The baby...," she cried out in tears. "He's dying...."

The baby? Chris' steel will began to sway ever so lightly. "What's wrong with it?" The pain was etched clearly in her face and voice. A small pool of blood escaped under Ella's dress, telling the gunman she really was telling the truth.

"We have to save him," Ella sobbed, reaching her hand out for Chris to take.

"I'll get Bishop and we'll take both you and Vin to a doctor," Chris said without much emotion. He didn't give a damn about Ella, but the baby was different.

"Help me up, there's only one way," Ella said, her hand still outstretched.

"I'll get Bishop," Chris said coldly, re-holstering his gun and taking Vin to the door. "He'll help you." Turning the knob, he began to open the door.

"NO!" The opium coursed wildly through her body due to her stress, giving the woman a renewed strength. Her mind banished all else except the one desire that now consumed her soul. Ella pulled out the dagger and stumbled towards Vin, her teeth bared like a rattler ready to strike. She was going to save her baby!

+ + + + + + +

Hiam sat at the edge of his bed, watching the smoke billowing under his locked door. He had smelled the kerosene in the hallway that Ella obviously spilled during her fit of rage. There was no doubt the secret shrine was utterly destroyed by the woman's fury. The candles in the room must have ignited the kerosene. He found himself smiling. Tanner had escaped , and Hiam didn't need to guess who had helped....Larabee. He had overheard male voices in the hall prior to Ella's arrival, but figured them to be her henchmen. All of Ella's wicked plans were going up in smoke...along with her home. Lying back upon his bed, the Egyptian awaited his death. With no windows and the solidly built door locked, he had no means of escape. It was fitting. Now he would be free of Ella Gaines once and for all.

+ + + + + + +

Like a lightening strike, Chris' hand reached up and snagged Ella's wrist, stopping the dagger's deadly plunge. With a sharp twist, he pulled the vixen's hand to the side, applying pressure until she dropped the blade out of sheer agony.

"Chris, stop...you're hurting me," Ella gasped, her body crumbling to the ground.

"Good...," Chris said with a grunt, slinging Ella's hand away from him like it was filth. He kicked the dagger across the room with his boot. She wasn't in any condition to go chasing after it with any speed. Only moments before she was in intense pain...he almost didn't see her attack coming.

The door now open before him, the gunfighter smelled the heavy smoke upstairs, the lower part of the house covered in a haze. Fire? Thinking quickly, he covered the sharpshooter's face with the velvet, hoping to keep the smoke from reaching the already struggling lungs.

"Bishop, help your sister outside," Chris ordered the man waiting outside the door, cradling his best friend's body as he sprinted out of the room.

"Tanner has to die!" Ella whimpered to her brother while they navigated through the thickening smoke to find the front door. "The baby will die if he doesn't."

"The baby?" Bishop tried to think out what his sister was saying. He would like to have a baby around...someone he could help take care of. Ella never liked taking care of him, even made him use their mother's last name so people wouldn't know they were related. It always hurt him how mean she was, especially when she hit him, but she was all the family he had left. When she had told him about the baby before he came to Four Corners, he was excited, wanting to lavish all the attention and love on it that he longed for. His hand tightened on her arm as he helped her up. He didn't want the baby to die.

Hobbling out the opened door, Ella and Bishop gratefully rushed outside, coughing gripping their throats when they inhaled the fresh night air. Through the pale glow of moonlight, Ella searched frantically for Chris, spying him going towards the barn. He was going to leave!

She gave no thought to the fire now licking at the windows upstairs, or the man trapped in his room. The only thing she could see going up flames was her well crafted plans.

"Bishop, hurry! Stop Chris and bring Vin back here...." Ella said, pointing to the fleeing gunfighter. "He can't leave with him!"

"He's goin' ta take Mr. Vin ta a doctor," Bishop hesitated. "He's real sick."

"But your little nephew will die," Ella reminded her brother. She touched her stomach, willing back the pain. "Your little nephew will be exactly like Vin, and when he grows up, his children will be like Vin. But Vin has to go to heaven before that can happen."

The large, young man's eyes narrowed in concentration.

"Even if Vin survives, he'll never be the same. He won't be the same person you liked. This way, he won't suffer anymore...he'll be happy in heaven, and I'll be happy, Chris will be happy and so will you and the baby."

"But Mr. Larabee ain't happy 'bout Mr. Vin," Bishop stated in confusion.

Ella groped her mind for an answer, a sly smile spreading across her broad mouth when she came up with one. "He's unhappy because Vin is still alive...and suffering. Chris don't like Vin to suffer, but he doesn't understand that he's making it worse."

"I don't want Mr. Vin ta suffer...."

"That's why I tried to stab him, to make his suffering end quickly. When Chris sees how peaceful Vin is when he's heaven, he'll be happy." The cunning vixen almost couldn't contain her triumph when she noted the resolution written on her younger brother's face. It had worked.

+ + + + + + +

Chris hurried to the barn, not once glancing back. This was his best chance to get Vin to safety while Ella and Bishop were finding their own way out of the house. Inside the barn he saw Peso pacing nervously in his stall, itching to be free from the smell of smoke drifting outdoors. Placing Vin beside the pen in a seated position, the gunfighter proceeded to carefully lead the spirited horse out. He would need the loyal steed to get Vin back to Nathan. It was a risk, but he couldn't trust anyone else other than the ex-slave to help. Unwillingly he left his friend for a moment to find a saddle.

+ + + + + + +

A figure stole up silently beside the barn, stopping just inches from Vin. Busy synching a saddle to a nervous Peso , Chris' complete attention was taken up with the horse, his back to the visitor. Two large hands reached out, clutching the fingers tightly around the tilted head. One quick snap of the neck would end the tracker's suffering.

His senses tingling in alarm, Chris turned around rapidly, his gun un-holstered with his lightening fast speed. Vin was in danger. His mouth yelled out a warning as he saw Bishop grasp Vin by the sides of his face, a reluctant but determined look in the young man's eyes.

Unheeding the warning, Bishop lifted Vin's head up slightly to give him a better grip. He wanted it to be immediate, clean and final. Ready to give the sharpshooter's head a sharp twist to the side, he didn't hear the discharge of the bullet heading straight towards him.

It was a living nightmare.... Chris didn't pause when he turned, pulling the trigger while his best friend was defenseless to stop the assault about to happen. The bullet found it's mark, sending Bishop crumbling down to the ground in agony.

Shoving the Bishop aside with a push of his boot, Chris struggled to lift Vin over Peso's back as he had to sling his friend's right leg over the saddle, wincing when he heard Vin give a low moan. He knew it had to hurt the tracker, but it was unavoidable. Swinging Vin's legs over the saddle, Chris then mounted behind him. Having situated the sharpshooter up against him, the gunman urged the horse forward, throwing Bishop one last glance. Ella had claimed another innocent life. He felt remorse for shooting the boy, but he had to save Vin. There was no other way.

+ + + + + + +

In the light from the flames now consuming the upper portion of her home, Ella saw her brother's defeat at the hands of the man she loved. How could Chris kill her brother? She frowned. It was all too clear who was answerable. A sarcastic chuckle overtook her frayed nerves. Bishop thought Vin was a true friend...but in the end was the one who took his life. What a waste of loyalty! If she had the chance, she'd show Chris his folly before Tanner destroyed him too.

She watched frantically as Chris maneuvered the horse to leave. With all the effort she could demand from her battered body, Ella half ran, half limped her way towards the departing gunman. There was one thing left for her to try to make Chris comprehend her motives.

As the animal swung came towards her, Ella put her body directly in the path of the horse, forcing Chris to come to a halt. Grasping a hold of the horse's bit, she held on, moving with the animal when the gunfighter tried to pass around her. The actions brought spasms of pain shooting through her entire body, but she held on, convinced she'd win out in the end.

Reluctant to hit the pregnant woman, Chris finally stopped, Ella's persistence causing further delay. He would literally throw her aside, tie her down if he had to. Vin was dying and the longer he played her games, the less time he had to save his best friend's life. Pain was evident in Ella's face, sheer will the only thing keeping her from collapsing into a heap. He remembered the bleeding he saw.

"I'll take you to a doctor too," Chris offered through gritted teeth, trying to pry Ella's fingers from Peso's bit. "But only after I drop Vin off at a doctor in town. Vin's going to live if I have anything to say about it." He had wanted Nathan, but necessity forced a different hand. It was too far to travel to and from Four Corners, and Ella was in no condition to ride her own horse.

"The baby...," Ella wailed. "If Vin lives, the baby dies...the blood pact."

"Shut up!" Chris threatened.

"You don't understand," Ella tried again. "Their lives are one now, but one needs to die for the other to survive."

"All I understand is that you're a murdering bitch who won't get another chance to do it again!" Chris snarled "Vin is going to be your last victim! "

Stupefied, Ella sank to her knees. Why was Chris reacting so harshly? She and the baby possessed most of Vin's spirit.... Why wasn't Chris staying drawn to it? With the tracker growing weaker, she should be growing stronger. Maybe if she drank more of Tanner's blood? Overriding his frail link to Chris? Nodding her head, she looked towards her home. All she had to do was run into the house and consume some more blood. Chris wouldn't resist her then. Her brown eyes stared in horror as she finally realized the upper portion of her house was devoured by flames. The blood! Her treasures!

Without thought to herself, Ella pulled herself up to her feet, her drug induced haze compelling her on. She had to reach the jar, and save some of her more precious items! In a blind panic, the femme fatale rushed inside.

Chris turned to see Ella running through the front door. "ELLA!" he yelled in shock, taking in the bursting flames coming out from every angle upstairs. Why would she run back in? The gunfighter shook his head. Why did she do any of the horrible things she did? He wasn't going to waste a moment of concern on Ella. She had made her choice.

Flipping the reins, he continued on, not glancing back until he heard the horrendous sound of the roof collapsing seconds later. Chris watched silently as the upper section of the house crashed down onto the bottom portion. He stopped Peso and his eyes searched the grounds for any sign of life. Shaking his head sadly, he knew deep down no one could've survived. Even if he had went in after her, there wasn't a chance. It wasn't an easy decision to leave the child to it's fate, but Vin needed him too. Another innocent caught in her deceitful and murderous games. Ella had endangered the baby, not he or Vin.

The gunfighter tightened his grip around Vin, finding himself praying again to God to save his friend as the once elegant house burned insatiably behind him. There would be no more threats from Ella Gaines. Her soul now in the flames of Hell.


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