by SoDak7

The return to Four Corners was quiet, and after stabling of their horses, they all headed up to the clinic, making sure they knocked and called out before walking in. They didn’t want to give Nettie Wells any reasons to add more notches on her Spencer rifle. She informed the men that Vin had not stirred, but he did seem to be resting fine. She left promising to return tomorrow to check on him. Since nothing more could be done, the men, excluding Chris, all headed down to the saloon for a much needed meal. Ezra joined them later after he sent the wire to Travis. Chris figured he probably couldn’t write the wire without using foul language so had Ezra use his eloquent speech instead.

Nathan finally talked Chris into heading off to his own room many hours later. It seemed as if Vin wasn’t going to wake and the healer thought that was good. The tracker needed all the rest he could get and perhaps tomorrow he would be better. Chris’s hand was also checked over, and although Nathan didn’t find any broken bones, he knew the hand would be sore and stiff for a few days. He just had to chuckle again at how hard that kid had gone down. If the situation hadn’t been so volatile, he would have busted out laughing. The kid never knew what hit him and Nathan doubted that even now, if the Private was awake, that he’d remember what hit him. Chris was frighteningly fast, with both his fists and his gun. More than once Nathan was glad they were on the same side.

+ + + + + + +

Early the next morning found Josiah sitting next to Vin’s bed. He was quietly reading from the Bible when he heard Vin stir and looked up to see the blue eyes fixed on him.


Hallelujah breathed the preacher.

"Mornin’ Vin. How ya feelin’?"

"Like Peso stomped on my head." He licked his dry lips and Josiah helped him drink some water.

"What happened to me?"

"You don’t remember?"

"No, just know I have one hell of a headache."

"Some no account pup tried to show off his shooting skills and shot you in the head."

"Oh, is that all."

"Is that all? Yesterday you woke up and couldn’t remember who any of us were. Gave us all a fright."

"Sorry bout that. Just glad to know it wasn’t some bounty hunter lookin’ to line his pockets. Everyone else okay?"

Typical Vin. Worried about everybody else when he was hurtin so much his eyes looked almost crossed. "Everyone else is fine Vin, they’ll sure be happy to see you’re awake and know who they are." I don’t think Chris has slept a wink since this happened and you know how he gets when he doesn’t get his sleep."

"Kinda grouchy is he?"

"Grouchy is a nice word, I think the man actually growled at me when I walked by him this mornin’."

"Just needs his coffee."

"I think knowin’ you’re awake and rememberin’ will make him a much nicer man to deal with," Josiah said as he gave Vin a big toothy grin.

Nathan came into the room just then and saw that Vin was awake. Josiah was quick to inform him that Vin recognized him but didn’t remember being shot. Chris had made sure all the men understood that they were not to tell Vin about the Indian massacre if he didn’t remember on his own. One thing at a time their leader had told them. Nathan agreed, saying that Vin first needed to remember them and his place with them and if that happened then slowly they’d let him in on what happened. He didn’t want the tracker to pull inside himself with the possibility that they would lose him forever. Nathan checked Vin over as Josiah headed to the saloon to tell the rest the good news.

Throughout the day ,one at a time, each of his friends came to visit; to talk to him, read to him or just spend time with him. Chris was there early in the morning but then Vin didn’t see him for the rest of the day. And although his fellow peacekeepers were quite talkative and willing to tell him most anything, Vin felt like they were keeping something from him. None really ever broached the subject of why he’d gotten shot and he couldn’t get a straight answer on where it had happened. By the end of the day, he decided he was getting the run around and was getting frustrated. Finally Chris came back in later in the evening, and Vin decided to press his friend for the truth.

+ + + + + + +

As the men sat in their comfortable silence, Vin finally asked Chris to tell him what happened. He said he knew they were keeping something from him and he wanted to know what it was.

"Did I do something Chris, did I hurt someone?" Vin asked him pleading with his eyes to tell him what was wrong. "Why won’t anyone tell me anything?"

"No Vin, no, you didn’t do anything wrong," Chris told him. "It’s just …it’s just something bad has happened and nobody wants to see you hurtin’ any more." I don’t want to see you hurt any more.

"Tell me Chris. I gotta know."

Chris blew out a sigh, ran his hands through his hair and readied to tell his friend something he knew was going to tear him up inside. Damn, I hate this, he thought. He realized his hands were sweating and he took a deep breath to steady himself.

"Alright Vin. Do you remember we got a wire from Travis telling us that soldiers were comin’? The government wanted to be sure there weren’t any hostiles around, wanted the Indians on the lands they were suppose to be on."

Vin just looked at him and nodded for him to go on.

"You didn’t think there would be any trouble, everyone was where they were suppose to be, and you’d talked to the tribes around here warning them that soldiers were coming to check on them. It all seemed to be fine."

"But it wasn’t fine." A statement not a question, Vin knew something must have happened between the soldiers and Indians. He could feel it, could tell by the tension is Larabee’s body.

"No. Seems a tribe had tried to get to Kojay’s earlier than expected and they got caught between some bluffs and the flooded river. The soldiers confronted them and told them to get back on their own lands."

Vin nodded again and said "White Wolf, musta been White Wolf and his people, I know they were gonna join up with Kojay come spring time. Did the soldiers make ’em go back?"

"Couldn’t go back, there was no food back where they came from."

"Soldiers herded them across the stream, is that what happened, lost some people along the way? Bastards." Vin was beginning to get angry, he knew how soldiers could be. Knew they didn’t care what pain and loss they inflicted upon the tribes as long as they got their job done. Knew White Wolf was a peaceful man, didn’t want any trouble with the whites. His people weren’t many anymore, mostly women, children and older warriors. He really had nothing to fight with. He looked at Chris with the questions in his eyes.

Chris looked down at his hands and his voice was even softer when he spoke.

"No Vin, that’s not what happened either."

He looked at Vin then and was sure his friend could see the pain in his eyes. "Soldiers killed them all," he said in a whisper.

Vin opened his mouth to say something, but nothing would come out. Killed them all, oh god, no! He just stared at Chris not wanting to believe what he’d just heard, but knew by the look on the gunslinger’s face that he was telling the truth. Finally he blinked and the enormity of what his friend told him sunk in.

"No, Chris…no," he whispered as he closed his eyes tightly and the tears began to fall.

Chris watched as Vin’s eyes closed and the tears started. He saw the right hand move up over his chest and the heel press down over his heart as if to hold in all the hurt and pain.

Chris could feel the tears beginning to fill his own eyes and his throat tighten at the sight of his friend in so much pain. Shit, but he wanted to hurt someone, kill someone even for making this man hurt. Damn that Colonel to hell! He’d like to put a bullet through his black heart, maybe rearrange more body parts on that Private. Damn!

"Weren’t but old men, women and children," Vin choked out.

"It was murder Vin… and it’s where we found you. Figured you had ridden up on the scene after it was over. It was a young Private that took it upon himself to shoot you down, ambushed you from one of the bluffs. It happened at Mesa Valley. Kojay is seeing to a proper burial for them."

Vin once again turned his body toward his friend, curling up on his right side putting his face into the sheets, his right hand stretched out. He didn’t make a sound but Chris knew he wept.

"I’m so sorry Vin," he said, his voice cracking. Damn but this hurt. He reached for his friend’s outstretched hand, took it and gripped it fiercely. He felt Vin squeeze back and hold on just as tightly. He’d hold on as long as Vin allowed, it was the only comfort he could give to the hurting man.

Chris shook his head thinking that three years ago, hell, one year ago he wouldn’t have given a damn if the whole world caved in just as long as he was among the dead. He wasn’t living, he was just existing day by day, waiting…waiting for someone to put him out of his misery, or maybe he figured if he’d kill enough people along the way he could get rid of the hurt he had inside. Well, the world didn’t cave in, he didn’t get killed and no matter how many men he fought and killed the blackness that surrounded him never went away. Then one day he rode into a town and got mixed up with six other men. One was a friend he’d known for years. The other five he came to meet and now they meant a hell of a lot to him. He’d slowly started living again, started caring. One of those five men was laying here in front of him with his heart broken and bleeding. When he met Vin it was like they’d known each other forever, it was a friendship that just happened. Vin was a man he wanted beside him - needed if he was truthful about it - and he knew Vin felt the same way. They were comfortable with each other, knew what each was going to do and were very rarely at odds with each other. It was just easy. And he liked easy. One less thing for him to worry about when it came to the situations they seemed to always find themselves in. But that’s what they were here for, what they were paid for. Shit, he hated to think what this was going to do to them. He knew what Vin was going to want to do, question was--was he going to be able to stop him…did he want to stop him? He knew he had to or Vin would either get killed or the wanted poster on him said would finally ring true. What a damn mess!

Vin wept a long time for his dead friends, all the while hanging onto Chris as his lifeline, and Chris’s hold never wavered. Only when he heard his friend give a deep shuddering sigh and felt the grip lessening on his hand did he know that Vin was beginning to tire. His emotions were sapping his strength and the Texan was falling into a troubled sleep. He felt and saw Vin’s body jerk as he drifted off and only then did he let go. He wiped his hands over his face only to realize that he had shed quite a few tears himself. Now he would sit and guard his friend from the nightmares that would come. He could, at least, do that much.

+ + + + + + +

Half a day later, Buck came into the saloon and stopped at the table where the peacekeepers were playing a hand of cards.

"Think we’ve got a problem," he said.

"How so?" asked Josiah.

"Vin is comin’ down the street leadin’ Peso, looks like he’s ready to head out."

"Damn," Chris mumbled, "here it comes."

"He ain’t ready to do any riding yet, he’s not healed enough," huffed Nathan.

"Somehow I don’t think that is going to stop Mr. Tanner from doing something he feels the need to do," Ezra said.

The men rose from the table and headed out the door, prepared for a battle of wills with their tracker, trying to keep him from making a big mistake.

Chris leaned against a post outside the saloon and the other men filtered in around him. Vin took them all in as he stopped to tether his horse and recheck his provisions.

"Headin’ out?" This coming from Chris.

"Reckon so."

"Goin’ anywhere in particular?"

"Think maybe ya know where I’m headed."

"This isn’t a good idea Vin." Chris was trying to keep his voice calm and non-challenging. Vin could get his hackles up real quick when he felt he was being pressed and then nothing any of them said would give him cause to think about what he was doing.

"You ain’t well enough to go traipsing all over the countryside. Hell, you was shot in the head Vin, takes time to heal," Nathan said trying to get Vin to see reason.

"Remembered what happened. Remembered I made a promise to White Wolf that I’d avenge his people."

"That’s suicide Vin and you know it, you can’t go up against 25 men," Buck said.

"Perhaps you should let the authorities handle this. Judge Travis informed us that the Colonel and his men will be dealt with harshly once they return to the fort," Ezra put in trying to sway the Texan.

"S’not enough. That murderin’ bastard will still be walkin’ around breathin’ and that ain’t right. Not after what he done."

"Not sayin’ it’s right Vin, but it’s the best we can do," Chris said. Dammit, he knew this wasn’t going to be easy.

"I kin do better."

"Would you like some company?"

Six heads swiveled around to look at Josiah.

"’Preciate it, Josiah, but I don’t want no one caught in this but me, it’s my choice, my life and I don’t want to drag anyone else in with me. Sides I work better when I’m alone at something like this."

"Gonna kill all 25 Vin?" Chris asked quietly.

Vin just looked at him and shrugged. "I’ll do what I have to do."

Chris had absolutely no doubt that Vin could do it, or at least cut the odds down considerably. He knew he’d take them on one at a time, get them when they were off on their own and slowly but surely he’d get the job done. They’d never see him, never hear him, they would die just as quietly as they had killed White Wolf’s people. Chris had never seen that side of Vin, didn’t know if he’d ever want to, but knew the sharpshooter was capable of killing. It almost made him shudder to think of it, the power and danger that Vin Tanner had inside of him. A lot of men could kill, hell he could do that, but Vin could do it in a way that would bring a big man to his knees, make him wish he’d never been born. He could sense that Vin was in that frame of mind right now. He also knew there wasn’t anything he could say or do to get him to change his mind, short of throwing him in jail.

"Could throw you in jail," Chris tossed out, even though he knew he’d never carry out that threat.

"You could try," Vin said standing and looking directly at Chris trying to measure if his friend really meant to use force to stop him.

"This ain’t the answer Vin, won’t make you feel any better, won’t take that pain away, I know, I’ve been there. I know you have too."

"Somethin’ I gotta do Chris, made a promise."

"It’s wrong Vin! What you’re planning makes you no better than then those men. Thought you had more sense, thought you were better than that." Chris was beginning to get desperate. Vin was finished rechecking everything and was ready to head out. He knew he was grasping at straws, but he just wanted to reach his friend somehow, try to make him see that what he was going to do wasn’t going to fix anything.

"Guess maybe you don’t know me then Larabee."

"Guess maybe you’re right." Damn this was going to hell quick. Now they were having words and Chris didn’t want him to leave angry, thinking that no one believed in him but that’s just what was happening. Damn but the man was stubborn!!

Josiah stepped up then, put his hand on Vin’s shoulder and told him that no matter what happened, no matter what he’d done, if he was hurting physically or emotionally he always had a place to come back too, that he would take care of him. He also told the tracker that he had faith in him, knew he was angry and hurt and that it was natural to want to strike back, to hurt someone who had hurt innocent people, that it was an okay feeling, one he understood completely. He told Vin to remember he was a good man…a Tanner.

Vin nodded to Josiah, licked his lips and said, "Mary…" and he slid a glance to Chris "…Mary has a piece of paper that she scribed fer me. Tells what to do with…with my stuff if somethin’ were to happen to me. Would you see to that ’siah if’n…?"

"I’ll take care of it Vin, don’t you worry. God be with you my friend."

Vin took a last look at Chris and then mounted Peso. He touched his hat brim to the boys and rode off.

"Well, that went well," Ezra snorted.

"You sure buddied up to him Josiah. We were suppose to try and talk him outta goin’ remember?" Buck nearly fumed at the preacher man.

"There are a few things in life that I’ve learned. One of them being that life is short. Things we care for can suddenly be snatched away from us and what we’ve said or done can’t be taken back. We almost lost Vin the other day, today he could ride out and within two miles someone could shoot him dead. I just don’t want him dyin’ thinkin’ nobody cares, that’d he’d be leavin’ this world with people hatin’ him for what he stood for. I ain’t angry at Vin, this is the kind of man he is, it’s what makes him Vin, he stands up for those oppressed and I may not like what he’s planning, but there’s a difference; I’m angry at the situation not the man and I just wanted him to know that.

"He’s responsible for his actions Josiah," Chris stated softly. He didn’t want Vin to think he hated him either, he could never hate his friend and he could understand what the big man was saying but killing was still killing and nothing could make that right.

"I know Chris and I’m betting that the day and a half or two days that it takes Vin to catch up to those soldiers he’s going to be doing a hell of a lot of thinking. You know how things mull around in that head of his. I just think we need to give him the benefit of the doubt. He’s a good man, a smart man and I don’t want to throw that all away until we know for sure what he’s thinking, cuz right now he’s running on emotion, his heart is ruling his head. In a day or two I’m betting his brain will kick in and that’s when I pray he doesn’t do anything foolish."

"Like try talking to the Colonel," said JD, "or that smart-assed Private."

"Yeah, like that, because we all know without a doubt that bastard would cut him down without blinking an eye.

Chris pushed himself away from the post and started heading to the livery. He’d be damned if he was going to let Vin ride in and try and talk to that son of a bitch Colonel alone.

"Chris?" Josiah called softly. "He needs to do this on his own. If you go after him he’ll think you don’t trust him to make his own decisions. He’ll only resent you the more for doin’ it."

"We’re only tryin’ to protect him," Buck said.

"I know, but it’s like watching the fledging leaving it’s nest, you can’t be everywhere with them, you just have to trust that they’ll use the brains the good Lord gave them. Let’s just give Vin a couple of days and if he’s not back we’ll go lookin’, but at least we have to give him a chance to set things right with himself.

"You mean like getting his balance back?" JD asked.

"That would be a good way of puttin’ it JD," and Vin is the only one who can do that."

"Coupla days," said Chris as he watched the horizon where Vin headed, "then we go get him."

+ + + + + + +

Vin rode straight for a day and a half stopping only to rest Peso and eat some hard tack. His mind was churning with all kinds of thoughts. He wanted to catch up to the soldiers before his conscience took over and he’d begin to question what he was doing. Since when did it make a difference anyway? A year ago he wouldn’t even be thinking these damn thoughts. Wouldn’t a cared what anybody thought, sure as hell wouldn’t’a let anyone tell him what to do. He’d made a promise dammit and he was going to keep it! White Wolf and his people needed to be avenged, something like that just couldn’t be let go. Or maybe it was him that couldn’t let go… Ah hell, I need to quit this thinkin’ so much. What the hell do I care that some broodin’ gunslinger gives a damn about what I do? Except that ‘that broodin’ gunslinger’ was the best friend he’d ever had. Was the best man that he’d ever ridden and fought beside. Hell Chris, get outta my head will ya?

He pulled Peso up short as he cocked his head, listening. Sounded like gun fire. Coming from over the ridge. He was close to Cedar Ridge. Good place for a holdup or an ambush. He pushed Peso into a gallop keeping to the high side. No one would be able to see him from this side, the mountain would keep him hidden. He didn’t want to ride into anything until he knew what was going on. When he topped the ridge behind the mountain, he couldn’t believe what he was seeing. Well, I’ll be damned. Looks like White Wolf will be avenged.

The soldiers were in a fight for their lives. A war party had them surrounded on three sides and the mountain ridge was to the soldiers backs. They were pinned in. There was no way they could get out of this alive, but they were fighting with all they had, even though they were outnumbered at least ten to one. It’s as it should be Vin thought as he started to ride away. He didn’t care to stick around and watch.

Reckon he should be happy, should be glad the soldiers were paying for what they’d done. He knew they would die this day, knew the war party was something they had brought on themselves. Word spread fast throughout the tribes when something like White Wolf’s massacre happened. The soldiers deserved what they got. But something kept gnawing at him. He’d given his word to White Wolf, and it was this promise that led him to defy his friends and catch up with the soldiers. It wasn’t over yet, his need for vengeance was strong. He remembered Josiah’s parting words. "You’re a Tanner." And a Tanner kept his promises, a Tanner did what he thought was right. He knew what he had to do. Vin wheeled Peso and started back to the mountain ridge. He took his rifle out, picked out a good spot, took a deep breath and began shooting.

Soon it was all over. He crouched down behind some rocks, unseen by anyone below. His ears rang from the rifle fire and his head pounded from the shouts, screams and war whoops that came from below. And the screams continued as the war party finished off the soldiers. They would leave no one alive either, and they would mutilate, torture and prolong death as long as they could. Vin closed his eyes as he listened to what was happening . Josiah once said "an eye for an eye leaves us blind." Well, he was blind now because tears flooded his eyes. I’m sorry Chris. He’d done his best, but it wasn’t good enough. He knew he needed to get back to town, needed to send a wire to the Judge letting him know what had happened, damn he hoped this wouldn’t start a war. It just made his head hurt more to even think about that. Just have to cross that bridge when they came to it he guessed. Right now he needed to get up and get going. He ran his sleeve over his eyes, hauled himself up, put his rifle in the scabbard, mounted Peso and headed back the way he’d come.

+ + + + + + +

It was late when he rode into the livery. He had to tell himself to get down off the horse and when he did he stumbled and almost fell. His legs were weak, hell his whole body was weak. He was exhausted and so was Peso. He flipped the stirrup up over the saddle horn but that’s as far as he got. His hand grabbed hold of the thick black mane as he rested his head against his horse. He just needed a few minutes to rest then he could finish.

He heard the men come into the livery, knew it was Chris that stood so near him, but for the life of him he just couldn’t seem to get anything to work.

"Vin, are you hurt?" he heard Chris ask softly as the gunman put a hand on his shoulder.

No he didn’t think he was hurt, he just couldn’t seem to get anything to move. And why did it sound like Chris was so far away when he knew he was standing right here beside him?

He felt Chris’s hand take his own from Peso’s mane and heard him ask him to look at him.

"What happened Vin? Tell me," Chris pleaded with him.

At the desperation in his friend’s voice Vin turned to look at him. He saw nothing but worry and concern in the hazel eyes, no recrimination or anger at all.

"Soldiers‘r all dead." He heard the gasps and the muted curses from the men behind Chris. "Was a war party…trapped ‘em…trapped them at Cedar Ridge. M’sorry Chris. Need to get a wire to Travis ‘for any more happens."

"It‘s okay Vin, it’s okay," Chris soothed. "Well take care of that, you need to rest."

"Need to take care of Peso fir…first."

"JD can see to Peso, come on Vin, I gotcha, just lean on me. I don’t want to pick ya up off the floor."

Chris took Vin on his left side putting the Texan’s arm around his shoulders and grabbing him around the waist.

"Let me set up the cot in the clinic, Chris. Mr. Gordon can sleep on that and…"

"I’ll take him to my room. JD, take care of Peso and then bring Vin’s things up to my room. Ezra - send another wire to Travis, tell him what’s happened. Buck, Josiah…watch our backs will ya?"

"I’ll get a few things and meet you in your room then Chris, I want to check that head wound again," Nathan said as he hurried off to the clinic.

Chris took Vin up the back steps to his room. As he was shutting the door, Vin went to sit on the bed. The tracker was utterly exhausted, couldn’t even hold his head up. He just wanted to sleep forever. He knew Chris came over to help him out of his hat and coat. Vin remembered undoing his gun belt and watching as Larabee put it around the bed post. He started to toe off his boots but Chris had to help him with that too. Hell, he couldn’t even undress himself. Larabee told him to lay down but he knew he mumbled something about "not wanting to take his bed," and Chris told him he’d wake him up when JD brought his bed roll in. He remembered laying down on his left side trying to stay as close to the edge as possible so he wouldn’t take up so much room, and he even remembered Chris pulling a blanket over him, but that was the last. He didn’t know Nathan came in and checked him over, that JD brought all his things in, including the bed roll that Larabee never intended him to sleep on. He never heard Josiah and Buck and Ezra come in and ask how he was doing and then all silently leave, and he never heard Chris spread the bedroll out next to the bed and sleep there all night keeping watch over him once again.

+ + + + + + +

Vin slept most of the next day, not rising until around supper time. His head didn’t hurt near as much, but his stomach was thinking that maybe his throat had been cut. He was still tired and was sure that if he ate something, he’d need to go back to sleep, but he couldn’t deny his stomach any more. He made up Chris’s bed as good as he could. He thought he’d told the gunslinger that he didn’t want to take his bed, but then when did Chris listen to him anyway. Larabee sure could be stubborn at times. He snorted. They really did have a lot in common.

He made his way to the saloon coming through the back door. One thing he didn’t need was a lot of questions, he didn’t feel like talking much yet. He kept to the back pretty much and come upon the table the boys were all sitting around.

"…aren’t ya just curious though wonderin’ what he did up there on that ridge?" JD was asking. "Do ya think he maybe helped those Indians finish off the soldiers or…"

"Evenin’ boys."

"GEEZUS VIN!" Buck exclaimed, as his hand went to his heart. "Do ya have to sneak up on a guy?"

"Chris saw me comin’, and Ezra too."

"Yeah, well, then, they could at least warn a guy," Buck said as he sent a glare over to the two men.

"How ya feelin’ Vin?" asked Nathan.

"Hungry," was the reply.

"That’s good, how bout the head?"

"Little sore, pra’bly be better once I get some food in me."

"Welcome back Vin, good to have you return to the fold," Josiah said as he held out a hand for Vin to shake.

"Thanks ‘siah, glad to be back."

Ezra and Chris both looked at him and gave him a nod of welcome.

JD ducked his head, hoping Vin wouldn’t call him on the questions he’d been asking. Sometimes he did the dumbest things, but he was curious. It just was his nature.

Vin looked around the table, and if he didn’t know better, it was just like nothing’d ever happened. Chris was nursing a glass of red eye, and the rest had just got done eating and were dealing out a hand of cards. Inez brought him over the special for supper and told him she was glad to see him.

"Vin, I was wondering…"

"JD," the name came out in a low growl from Larabee. "Leave it."

"Sorry," JD whispered. He looked over at Buck and got a look that would have curdled milk.

Not much was said while Vin ate his supper, aside from the comments about the poker game. It wasn’t as if the boys were ignoring him, and he knew they probably had a lot of questions, knew for sure JD did, but they would hold them until he was ready to talk. He appreciated that about them. It was something he didn’t take for granted, their friendships. They all meant a great deal to him and he hoped they wouldn’t be too sad or angry if he decided to leave. If there were wars coming between the Indians and whites Vin didn’t know what he’d do. He certainly didn’t want to choose sides and he didn’t want anything to happen to his friends, so he was figuring on maybe taking the cowards way out and just leaving. That way they wouldn’t have to choose either. The way he saw it, it would be a win-win situation.

He pushed his plate back and got up to leave. He needed some fresh air and a little exercise. He wasn’t ready for a ride yet but a walk sure wouldn’t hurt.

"Think I’ll take a little walk and then head to my wagon. See you boys in the mornin’."

"Your head starts hurtin’ you durin’ the night you come up to the clinic and I’ll give you somethin’, okay Vin?"

Vin nodded to Nathan and headed out the front batwing doors, stopping only to thank Inez for the supper. He hesitated for a few minutes outside the swinging door to let his eyes get accustomed to the darkness.

He stepped off the boardwalk and took a few steps when he heard the sound of Chris’s spurs come out of the saloon. And then he heard his name softly called.


He turned to see Chris leaning against the support post smoking a cheroot.

"You headed out to Kojay’s tomorrow?"

"Reckon I am."

"Want some company?"

"Thought maybe you and I were done. Figured maybe I’d just keep ridin’ after goin’ to pay my respects."

"Is that what you want? You want to ride outta here Vin?" Chris asked in that soft voice.

"Reckon I don’t rightly know what I want Chris. I’m feeling a mite lost these past few days."

Chris’s heart clenched at those words so softly spoken. Vin was never lost, not on a trail anyway. He’d seen that many a time. But now the tracker’s heart was lost and it was partly his fault. He’d let his friend down when he needed him most. Larabee took a couple of drags on his cheroot and blew the smoke into the night air. Guess it was now or never to test his theory. He needed to help Vin get back on the right trail again. Tanner needed to know they trusted him, that he trusted him.

"None of this was your fault Vin, you did the best you could. No man has a right to ask for any more than that."

Vin look at him then, hooked his thumbs in his gun belt and said, "Thought you said you didn’t know me. How do you know what I did or didn’t do?"

"I know you Tanner. Ever since day one I’ve known you. You fight for the underdog Vin, you fight for what you believe in, for what you believe to be right and you never, never back down. It’s annoying as hell sometimes but it’s something I respect you for. This was… well, this was a bad situation and I knew what you needed to do and you had every right feeling the way you did. And I had no right telling you that what you had to do was wrong. I just didn’t want you to get in over your head, didn’t want to have to collect my five hundred dollars so soon."

Vin came up and leaned against the other side of the post Larabee was on. There was a few minutes of silence and then Vin said quietly, "I didn’t shoot to kill, Chris."

Chris felt tears starting to prick the backs of his eyes and he almost choked on his next words. "Doesn’t matter, you did what you had to, you tried to even the odds." God, he was so proud to call this man his friend. He couldn’t even begin to fathom how hard a decision that had to be for him to make. Vin’s honesty and integrity blew him away.

Again Vin was silent as he thought about what Larabee said. Chris’s trust in him was astounding and it took his breath away. He never wanted to let this man down, didn’t want to disappoint him and the fact that this was as emotional for Chris as it was for him, was just beyond his understanding. To think he could find a friend like this. It left him speechless.

Finally Vin spoke and when he did Chris found a smile coming to his lips.

"Reckon we deserve each other then, seeing as how we’re both stubborn and annoying as hell."

"Shit, you make my heart hurt Tanner," he said as he shook his head and the tears went away.

"Nope, ’tain’t me that’s doin’ that. Reckon that would be them ceegars you smoke doin’ that to ya. Ya ain’t gonna have one of them attacks Nathan talks about are ya?"

Chris laughed then, "If I do, you’ll be the first to know, cuz then you’ll be head of this rag tag group."

"You check out Larabee and I’ll be runnin’ as fast as I can in the other direction," Vin grinned at him.

Both men began to relax as their banter swept away the tension of the last few days. They stood in silence for a few more minutes before Vin announced he was headed towards his wagon for more sleep.

"Reckon I’d like to have some company ridin’ in the mornin’. See ya then cowboy." Vin said as he gave him a nod and walked away.

"Night Vin."

Chris smirked. Cowboy? One of these days Vin, one of these days. He tossed the cheroot and headed back into the saloon.

Come morning, it would be another hard day to face, what with heading to Kojay’s. But this time they’d go together and they’d handle it together. And no matter what happened in the near future all seven would face it together.


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