by Gray

Disclaimer: Not mine

Notes: Assumes you are familiar with the series and its characters. It follows Cover but can be read alone I imagine, and is basically just another short snippet.

Thank you again for all the encouraging comments I have received. I hope I am bit by bit improving in the writing arena.

Corners were interesting things if you thought about it—a dichotomy of vulnerability and protection. For some reason this was all Vin Tanner could seem to think about on this particular day. The paradox a corner provided was interesting. The tracker hated being backed into one, yet strategically if he had to choose a spot in a room to fight from he’d pick the corner over anything else. He’d even pick the corner over the door, because even though a door could provide a hasty exit if needed you never knew if you might just be jumping from the frying pan into the fire. If you were in a corner you could definitely end up trapped, but you also had less angles to be attacked from. You were in a more defensible position.

Unfortunately on this day Vin awoke feeling more like he was being backed into a corner instead of picking a strategic position. And ironically it seemed as though the rest of the seven were the ones doing the backing. It was a feeling he was never sure would go away as long as he had a price on his head—as long as he felt he complicated and compromised the seven’s position because of it.

He woke up early that morning in the corner of Chris Larabee’s room, comfortable and warm yet achy in a way that reminded him he’d rode hard in the rain the night before just to get here—rode hard in the rain just to discover that bounty hunters with an unknown purpose were here as well. He blinked his eyes and pulled the blanket off his head to see Chris shaving in front of a tiny mirror.

Vin was usually the first one of the seven to be up, and it bothered him somewhat that he’d slept so soundly. He pushed the blanket off his chest as he sat up and leaned against the wall of the corner he’d slept in, trying not to show he was annoyed by his deep sleep.

"Morning," said Chris, not even looking at him.

"Morning," Vin returned and he couldn’t help that it came out in a croak, whether from just waking up or from the approach of uninvited illness he couldn’t be sure. His throat didn’t hurt any so he gave Chris a dismissing nod when the man frowned at the sound.

He’d ended up sleeping in Larabee’s room when he got in last night—both the rain and the non-descript bounty hunters in town allowing Chris to lure Vin away from his wagon. Vin had felt comfortable, as he always did with Larabee, but worried at that comfort just the same.

A glance out the window confirmed that last night’s storm had remained to make it a dark gray and gloomy day, which probably meant the bounty hunters in town had followed suit. This left the sharpshooter with few options. Riding out of town was one of them and even as he thought it he felt Chris look in his direction with disapproval.

Backed into a corner, indeed, Vin thought, rolling his eyes in response to both Larabee’s look and the fact that in his thoughts Vin was starting to sound like Ezra. He shook those thoughts from his head, rocking his jaw followed by tilting his head from side to side in an attempt to stretch the kinks from his neck and shake the sleep from his brain. When he was finished, nimbly, he pushed himself to his feet.

The second option he had was to stay in town but stick to the shadows and out of the path of the visiting bounty hunters—especially until the seven could figure out what they’d come here for. Option two carried with it the inherency of having to stay indoors with one or more of the seven around him the majority of the day. And as he had that thought he saw Chris look at him, lifting an eyebrow and smirking. It was one thing to choose to be in a corner, he thought again, it was another to feel it was a requirement.

Vin did his best to ignore Chris and his look but knew that the man was right. People who stayed outside on days like this seemed to draw attention, even if they were just sitting on the porch dry as can be. The townspeople tended to make comments like, "Did you see that tracker…just like a wild animal he won’t come indoors even for weather like this." And those comments would be followed by old ladies tsk-ing and shaking their heads and getting other people interested in who they were tsk-ing and shaking their heads about.

One thing was certain though—if he was going to stay indoors he wasn’t going to stay in Larabee’s room all day, which would mean he needed clothes. He was still wearing Chris’s extra shirt and Buck’s discarded pants since it was all he’d had to put on when he’d arrived in the room late last night. He looked at Larabee again and saw him give a nod toward the bed. Seeing the clothes there, Vin dressed in silence. The dark blue shirt Nathan must have dropped by was one of his warmest and he was glad. He was feeling the cold. The fire Chris had kept going in the night was now almost out. Part of him was bothered that he should have slept through the night so soundly that he didn’t hear Nathan come in with his clothes, but he tried not to dwell on it.

"You were tired," said Chris, reading his thoughts as usual.

Vin just gave a nod. For some reason, when Chris said that it suddenly made it okay…okay that he’d slept so soundly and okay to not be bothered by it. It was suddenly okay that he’d felt so comfortable in the corner of Chris’s room. It was okay…even though he’d been left with few other options and should have felt a little trapped in the tiny room but didn’t. And it was suddenly okay that Chris had walked over to him and put his rough hand on his forehead to check him for fever, just as he had the night before.

Chris dropped his hand and gave a nod of approval. Vin just shrugged, attempting to feel annoyed and not succeeding.

When they were both ready they went to the Saloon to eat breakfast, getting an ‘all clear’ nod from Josiah before they crossed the street and entered. Buck was probably still asleep, having kept watch late into the night. They expected the same to be true of Ezra and were a bit surprised to see his obviously tired form sitting at their corner table. Chris sat and kicked out a chair for Vin at the same time.

"Where are they?" he asked Ezra of the bounty hunters as soon as they were seated.

"They took a room in Peter’s boarding house after we finished our game last night and have not emerged since. JD is keeping an eye on their door.

Chris and Vin both gave a nod. Chris keeping his eyes on Ezra’s face and Vin maintaining his wary gaze on the saloon’s few other patrons. Peter’s boarding house was across from the livery and was usually occupied by ranch hands, miners and other out of town workers who came in only a few times a year to re-establish their store of supplies. It was cheap and simple but clean. News that the strangers had chosen it as their habitat didn’t surprise any of them.

"Did they say why they were here?"

Ezra tipped his head in affirmation. "They are pursing someone known as Jed Parker and the three hundred dollar price on his head. He was reportedly seen heading in this direction after robbing the bank at the settlement near Fort Apache. I believe they will depart as soon as the weather allows and not pose any problem to our intrepid tracker, although I feel it still wise to keep his identity and presence anonymous.

"Should we be worried about this Jed Parker?" Chris asked.

"Only if he decides to grace us with his presence," said Ezra. "And thus far he is only a robber, not a murderer."

"Okay, get the word to everyone to be on the lookout, there aren’t many towns near us so if the bank robber did head this way it’s likely that he’ll show up here soon enough. And everyone should keep Vin unmentioned today."

"I’ll make sure the others know," agreed Ezra.

"You don’t have to involve everyone, Chris." Vin dipped his head and tilted his chair back.

Chris just looked at him and Vin dropped whatever else he’d been about to say.

Moments later when their breakfasts appeared before them Vin suddenly noted that Chris had given him the corner seat of their corner table.

Vin tipped his chair forward again until all four legs touched the ground so he could reach the food but for some reason he didn’t feel very hungry.

"You still look tired," Chris finally commented.

"Reckon," Vin responded. For some reason he couldn’t shake the uneasy questions that had invaded his head since he woke that morning. He shoved his food around a little more while Chris ate a few more bites.

"You like corners, Chris?" Vin asked in an easy drawl, knowing he was betraying his thoughts to Chris, even though Chris probably already knew Vin had something on his mind. Tanner than figured he needed to clarify and gestured to his chair. "You usually sit here."

"Sometimes," Chris shrugged, "Good place for a fight. Good place if you need a defensive position. Good place to watch from." The man in black said it all, knowing that his young friend already knew these things and was probably asking something deeper. "Figured today you’d want to have that position," he added, addressing Vin’s clarifying statement.

There was silence for a short while as they both made an attempt at finishing their food—one more successful than the other.

"They don’t let you go anywhere," Vin said, again referring to corner positions.

"You have somewhere you want to go?" asked Chris, making it clear in the way he asked it that riding out still wasn’t an option and that wanting to go somewhere was different than feeling forced to go somewhere.

Vin pondered the question and the fact that he felt just as he had that morning, bothered with himself that he wasn’t bothered by being seemingly backed into the corner. And uneasy because it was suddenly okay to feel that way, just because of a way Chris asked a question.

"You can get trapped," he mumbled, easing his chair back against the wall again.

"You can get trapped in a lot of places," Chris responded. "But I figure the difference is in the corner. It’s different if it’s the corner you choose…if it’s the corner you would want to be in anyway."

There was silence again as both pushed their plates away and watched a few other patrons trickle in.

"Maybe the difference is also who else is in the corner you choose," Vin added after a time.

Chris smirked and nodded as Buck came through the door with a smile and a tip of his hat in their direction, followed not long after by Nathan and Josiah. They both knew JD was probably still watching the boarding house, and that Ezra was most likely finally getting some sleep. Chris leaned closer to Vin as he stated in a wry voice, "I never figured our corner would end up so crowded."

Vin gave a quick grin. He could tell Chris was both joking and serious. "Well, reckon we chose it, just like you said."

Chris gave another nod, "Guess we have to live with those choices."

"Well, it’d be a bit hard to find a new one now, anyway."

"And even if we did they’d probably just follow us there."

Vin gave an amused nod. He wasn’t feeling so bothered about not being bothered now. He felt…easy. Wary as always, but easy because he had someone in his corner, a corner he really didn’t mind being in. Weariness was dragging at him and he dragged his hat lower over his eyes and settled back against the wall, drifting into a comfortable half-sleep, confident that he wasn’t going to wake up trapped.

The End

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