First story in the Enough series
Rating: PG 13 for violence/ickiness
Disclaimer: not mine, never were, never will be. (sigh)
Authors Note: First in the "Enough" series in which someone from Chriss past tries to get his revenge. And now for the thank yous. First, thanks to Marlene, who, though she knows almost nothing about M7, knows a lot about writing and helped with the structure of the story. Next a HUGE thank you to Lisa without whom this story would be completely incomprehensible and filled with all sorts of problems. She did an amazing job cleaning this up for me. Any problems remaining belong solely to me.
After their parents died, Hank Cane and his younger brother, Marvin, found themselves in charge of a failing ranch. Though they knew how to run it, Hanks heart had always been in California. Now, with his duty to his father no longer an issue, he wanted to fulfill his dream. In order to do this, he needed money. Thats when Mr. Harley stepped into their lives.
Mr. Harley happened upon Hank and Marvin one day as Hank was practicing his quick draw, as all young men did. Smiling at the brothers, Mr. Harley uttered praise of Hanks swiftness, claiming to have seen very few who were faster. He spent some time talking with the boys before continuing on his way.
Over the next few days, Mr. Harley visited daily, talking to the boys about various gunfights he had seen in his travels as well as various gunfighters he had met. Of course, he assured both boys, no gunfighter would ever really be as quick a draw as the rumors depicted. In fact, most gunfighters reputations had been created from the imagination of the gunfighters themselves. Oh, yes, Mr. Harley would assure an incredulous Hank, gunfighters depended on their reputations and mean looks to keep people from challenging them so no one would find out how slow they really were.
Watching both boys carefully, he noticed that Marvin rarely believed the claims that gunfighters were slower than their reputations would allow. Contemplating Marvins sometimes violent outbursts of disbelief, Mr. Harley felt he had reached the appropriate conclusion: Marvin had some potential and Hank would be removed before true vengeance could be enacted.
After several days of encouraging Hank in his practice session of quick draw, Mr. Harley learned the boys dreamed of going west to California. Pausing after gathering this information, a smile crept onto his face, though it did little to soften his cruel eyes. "I have a proposition for you, boys," he began. "Theres a man in town, a gunfighter, who dresses all in black. Now, I dont think hes as fast as you are, Hank, but it could be a good test of your skills; skills youll need when youre in California. Its important to make sure youre prepared to protect your brother."
A sly look ghosted across Mr. Harleys hard face. Had they been older or more worldly, the young brothers might have recognized it for what it was, a signal the man they had started to trust would now be spinning a tale that had very little basis in truth. "Now, I know that this man doesnt like to kill people, in fact, he usually just wounds them," he continued, "so, you wouldnt be in any real danger. About the worst that would happen would be a little scratch which would easily heal." He saw a hint of doubt in Marvins eyes, but Hank, the brother who mattered, had nothing but the shining vanity of youth glowing in his. Yes, Hank would do his bidding, Mr. Harley thought, and possibly take care of his problem as well. And if Hank failed? Well, there would always be Marvin to train and manipulate.
"Think I could take him?" Hank asked eagerly, ignoring the tugging at his arm from his younger brother. It was important that he be able to protect and take care of Marvin when they went to California. Hank had promised to watch over his younger brother, just as Marvin had promised to look after Hank.
Mr. Harley let out a cold laugh. "My boy," he confided, placing an arm around Hanks shoulders, "I am so confident that you can beat this man that I will pay you $500 for your troubles. Its certainly more than enough money to get you to California."
Hanks eyes widened at the amount, more money than he had ever seen before. Certainly it would be more than enough to get the two of them to California and set up. Marvin always handled their money because Hank had so much trouble with his numbers in school, but $500 was a lot of money. And surely if Mr. Harley, a man well traveled, thought he could beat the gunfighter in town, then it would be a safe and quick way to earn the money they needed. Looking into Mr. Harleys eyes, and seeing only a way to provide for his family, Hank stuck out his hand, "Youve got yourself a deal."
Marvin felt his heart constrict and wanted to cry, "No!", but found himself unable to breath. He could almost hear the shutting of the door, the dooming of his life to a dark fate. What had Hank done?
Mr. Harley smiled icily at the boy. "Good," he encouraged. "Now, heres what youll need to do. Go into town to the saloon. There you will find the man dressed in black. Go late in the day when he will be most likely drunk. Walk up to him, your chin held high in the knowledge that you will emerge victorious. Youll want to say, My name is Hank Cane. Im calling you out, Larabee. He might say something dismissive because of your youth. You just keep on until he agrees. Then you follow him out and shoot. You just have to hit him to get the money. It should be easy."
Hank nodded eagerly, taking in all the advice and help from his potential benefactor. "Thanks Mr. Harley," he said politely. "Where should I meet you to collect my money?" The mans calm words and reassurances had worked to calm all of Hanks fears about the shootout. He didnt have to kill anyone, just wound him, and the man he would challenge would try to do the same.
A cruelly bemused smile twitched at the corner of Mr. Harleys mouth. "Ill be there, dont worry," he assured Hank, walking away, reveling in the knowledge that his revenge against Larabee could soon be complete.
Heading into town, after taking his leave of the boys, Mr. Harley found a seat in the saloon that allowed him a perfect view of Chris Larabee. He watched his nemesis for quite a while as his mind returned to their first encounter.
It had been a satisfying war for Private Harley up to that point. In the carnage that attended battle and the chaos in the hospitals that followed, very few people noticed the young Private as he went about helping himself to the injured. No one ever seemed to pay attention, especially since he made sure to only help himself to the enemy.
He had always been fascinated by the mystery the human body hid within, by death and by causing death. Knives especially were his forte, his obsession. He loved the way they pierced the skin, allowing all that was held inside to flow freely out. When the war had started, he had immediately volunteered to work with the wounded, the opportunity to see the mutilation caused by battle far too tempting to pass by.
Though still early in the war, Harley felt confident in his abilities to satisfy his own need while remaining unnoticed. He would have remained unnoticed had it not been for Larabee.
A small skirmish had left several of Larabees unit in the hospital. Since the Reb doctor had been killed in the skirmish, all of the wounded had been brought to the makeshift Union hospital and into the realm of Private Harley. Though less chaotic and crowded than at a major battle like Shiloh, the addition of the Confederate wounded had offered Private Harley the chance he needed. Several of the enemy soldiers had been placed near the wooded area, a situation that would only aid Private Harley in absconding with a victim.
Waiting until the men had settled for the night, Private Harley moved to the outskirts of the hospital area, to where the confederate soldiers lay. Taking the rag he had carried with him, he found his victim and stuffed it in the mans mouth to muffle any cries. He dragged the man to the nearby wooded and found the well-concealed location he had selected earlier in the day.
So intent was Private Harley on his mission, he failed to notice the blond Union Captain viewing his every move.
Once in the wooded area, Private Harley made sure the mans gag would hold in place, muffling any screams. He really preferred his victims to scream aloud, but he couldnt take that chance, not with so many people around.
Having spent an extraordinary time admiring his gleaming knife, he quickly slit the soldiers clothes, exposing the flesh beneath. Using the tip to trace lines where he would later make incisions, he watched intently as the light touch of the blade left thin trails of blood on the man.
Just as he shifted the knife in his hand to make the first incision, the snapping of a twig startled him into immobility.
After a few minutes of silence, he once more began moving his hand toward his terrified victim. The first muffled scream escaped as metal pierced flesh and began a long, painful course.
Before the blade could complete its mission, Harley felt the cold, round barrel of a gun pressed against the back of his neck, followed by the sound of not one, but three guns cocking. A number of men appeared from the bushes around him. A low, deadly voice commanded, "Drop the knife and stand."
Not ready to meet his own death, Harley had obeyed the voice. Two of the soldiers uncocked their guns and re-holstered them. Grabbing Private Harley, they pulled his hands behind his back and tied them. As the men headed back toward camp, the Union soldiers offered encouragement in the form of hard shoves and verbal abuse to keep him moving.
Once at camp, Harley was brought before his commanding officer. He stood silently, seething at the man who had stopped him. Seeing the man clearly in the light, Private Harley quickly memorized the chiseled features, the piercing green eyes, the blond hair and the whip-like litheness of the body. Yes, he could, he would, remember this man.
"Sir. Captain Christopher Larabee, Sir," the blond began. "I was visiting with my men when I noticed this man over by the Confederate wounded. I became suspicious when he shoved something in the wounded mans mouth and started dragging him into the woods. I took two of my men with me and we followed this Private. When we arrived at the scene, he had cut the clothes off the Confederate soldier and had a knife out, cutting the wounded man."
Private Harley diverted his eyes away from the disgusted look upon Captain Larabees features to the pale nausea reflected in his commanders countenance. Hes always been weak, Harley thought of his commander.
The commanding officer swallowed and steeled his face against the revulsion rising within him. "Thank you, Captain Larabee for your diligence," he began. "I will handle things from here. However, you might be recalled for the trial."
Larabee responded with an efficiently snapped salute and a "Sir. Yes, sir!" before turning and leaving the tent.
Private Harley would remember that name and that face as he sat in the prison, as he suffered at the hands of the other inmates as well as his jailers. He suffered in prison based on the testimony of Captain Christopher Larabee. He would remember the Captain well as he suffered the beatings, the disease, the darkness, the time alone. Unable to satiate his needs in jail, the dark need fed upon itself developing into an ever-blackening hatred of Christopher Larabee.
Years after the war, he had finally found an opportunity to escape. Too weak from the wounds and beatings he had received over his years in prison to carry out his revenge himself, Harley looked first for Chris Larabee, and then for someone who could be his avenging angel, someone he could manipulate for his purposes, someone who would relish inflicting pain and death as much as Harley himself.
He had found such a person in the form of Marvin Cane. Oh, yes, he encouraged Hank to challenge Larabee, but that was only so he could get to Marvin. Harley had spent a lot of time over the past days and weeks finding out everything he could about the boys. Hank, the older brother, possessed a fierce protective streak for his brother. No one would get Marvin without going through Hank. Harley had smiled at the ease with which he had removed that problem.
Harley had planned it all. With the death of his brother, Marvin would be left alone in the world. If he could get to the younger boy soon enough after the fight, Harley would be able to prey upon the anger, confusion, fear and grief to bind the boy to him and mold Marvin Cane into the needed weapon. It would take time, but he could wait. He wanted to be sure Larabee would suffer.
For his part, Chris Larabee sat trying to drink himself into oblivion, completely unaware that an old enemy sat across the saloon watching him.
The two boys followed Mr. Harleys advice. After a brief, but heated, exchange in the saloon, Hank Cane and Chris Larabee stood facing each other on the dusty street.
The fight itself took only seconds, but to Marvin, it would replay eternally in his heart and mind. In those few seconds, Marvin Cane found his world plunged into a darkness from which it would never recover.
Marvin screamed his denial as he watched his brother fall to the ground. Racing to Hanks side, Marvin knew he would be too late. He had seen the life leave his brothers eyes. He had seen the curtain of death fall, separating him from his brother, from his family. Tears poured down his cheeks as he turned toward the man who had just shattered his world.
The storm of emotion raging in the young man turned from desolation to anger at the callous display of the gunfighter. Larabee was the best. Everyone said so. He could have winged Hank, shot the gun out of his hand, even talked him out of it. Instead, he went for the kill shot. With a cry of rage he called out, "I will make you pay, Larabee!" as the man in black headed back to the saloon.
Mr. Harley walked up behind Marvin as he held his dead brother. "Get up," he ordered, grabbing the boy by his ear. Tossing some coins on the dead body, he placed a strong hand on the back of Marvins neck and directed him toward their awaiting horses.
"But, my brother," Marvin stuttered. "I have to get Larabee."
Mr. Harley just laughed, a cold, dark sound, causing Marvin to shudder. "Undertaker can have your brother, as for Larabee Lets just say I have other plans for him."
Marvin stayed with Mr. Harley at first because he didnt know what else to do. Having lost his entire family, Marvin had no idea where to go and no money to get there. The two traveled into the wilderness.
In the beginning, Marvin had paid little attention to the words of his traveling companion, but soon Mr. Harleys words penetrated his grief-shrouded world.
"This is all Larabees fault. He knew your brother couldnt beat him. He could have winged him. If he had, your brother would be alive. A man like that, a full-grown man with no respect for the life of a boy doesnt deserve to live. All the pain youre feeling now is all because of Larabee." Seeing he had finally gotten the boys attention, Harley continued. "All this pain, youre feeling, the destruction of your dreams, the loss of your family all of that is Larabees fault. He doesnt care who he makes suffer, he never has."
Watching Marvins head turn slightly toward him, Harley quickly suppressed the cruel smile that tried to grace his face. "Do you know what he did to me?" Harley asked. The boy nodded in the negative. "During the war, I worked with doctors. One night I had been checking on our men when I heard a sound. Going out to check on it, I found a Confederate soldier lying wounded in the woods. I only tried to aid him but Larabee He wouldnt listen to reason. He had his men hold me while he beat me. Then he took my knife and killed that soldier Id been trying to help. And if that werent enough, he brought me to my superior officer and told him I had been killing the man. He testified against me at my trial, lying on the stand. He claimed I killed that soldier. I ended up in prison and Larabee went free. Surely a monster like that shouldnt live. Surely a monster like that will only understand once the pain he has inflicted on others is inflicted upon him."
This severely distorted truth formed the basis of all of Mr. Harley and Marvins conversations. Over the weeks, a dark hatred of Larabee and all he had done grew within Marvin. Marvin fed off his own hatred as well as Mr. Harleys. He stayed because Mr. Harley understood.
Then one night, a few months after Hanks death, Mr. Harley had left Marvin at their hidden campsite while he went into town. Coming back after dark, Marvin wondered who the man was that Mr. Harley brought with him. The man had been tied and knocked unconscious. Curiosity and concern rose in Marvins heart. A dark gleam danced in Mr. Harleys eyes, one that Marvin had never seen before.
Dismounting his horse, Harley pulled the other man down and brought him close to the fire. He drove two stakes deeply into the ground, tying the new man to them. Reaching into a saddlebag, he pulled out two knives, one older but well cared for, the other new. He handed the new knife to Marvin and smiled up at the boy, a smile that sent a chill down Marvins spine. "Tonight," Mr. Harley began in a pleasant tone, "I thought we would begin some skills training. If were ever to help Larabee understand what he has done to us, we have to know how to teach him which means we must learn."
Seeing the fearful reluctance in Marvins eyes, Mr. Harley set his own knife down and waved the boy over to him. Harley had the boy kneel down next to the body. He then slipped to his own knees behind the boy and reached around to the hand that held the knife. Taking the hand and knife in a firm grasp, Mr. Harley offered, "Here, boy, let me help you." With that said, he guided Marvins hand in a gentle motion to first remove the clothing and then to trace patterns upon the naked body with the tip of the blade.
The begging and pleading of the man seemed to excite Harley. While Marvin fought against the motions, Harley simply tightened his grip upon the boy, forcing him to proceed while maintaining a constant litany of Larabees crimes against the two of them and the necessity of the lessons. He spent most of his time encouraging the boy to think of the man before them as Larabee himself and allow the rage and anger to flow through him and guide the path of his knife.
When it was over, Marvin, who had been sick several times throughout the "learning process", sat quietly washing the strangers blood from his body. Before long, Mr. Harley returned from disposing of the remains. Unlike Marvin, Mr. Harley seemed in no hurry to remove the blood. In fact, Mr. Harley seemed to enjoy it.
Marvin knew if he stayed with this man any longer, he would become as twisted and dark as the man before him. Tonight, Marvin would leave.
Mr. Harley seemed to have suspected that Marvin would try to leave and before settling down, called the terrified boy over and placed a manacle attached to about ten feet of chain to Marvins ankle. Throwing the chain around a sturdy tree, Mr. Harley secured the chain with a lock, making escape impossible. The entire time he did this to his reluctant protégé, he continued a quiet dialogue of why this punishment was Larabees fault. He described the horrors of the man in black and wove lie after lie of how Larabee sought out the family of the men he killed, only to taunt them and make them suffer. He explained how the manacle wasnt only for Marvins benefit to ensure he didnt run amok from Larabee before the boy had been fully trained.
Marvin knew then, with absolute certainty, that he had found Hell and Harley was the devil himself.
The physical and mental cruelty Marvin suffered daily over the next three years, shaped him and molded him into the man Mr. Harley had wanted, a weapon as black as the clothes of Christopher Larabee. After years of torment, no cruelty, no horror, was beyond the abilities of Marvin Cane. Faster on the draw than his brother, he probably would be able to succeed where his brother failed, but Mr. Harley had other plans for Marvins hatred of Larabee; a life filled with suffering followed by a slow, painful death would be much more satisfactory than a quick death in a gunfight.
As for Marvin, he stopped seeking his own freedom, rejoicing instead in the dark lessons of pain, torture and mutilation Mr. Harley sought to teach him. He discovered within himself a need for the suffering of others, an enjoyment in their pain.
Hate had eaten away Marvins soul over the years leaving nothing but flames of dark hatred burning within. Hatred. Cruelty. Revenge. These were the fruits upon which Marvin Cane feasted. The suffering and blood of Chris Larabee was all he craved.
Each night he would lay down and each night the sight of Larabees bullet entering his brothers body haunted his dreams, renewing his purpose, renewing his desire for vengeance. Each morning he woke up darker, less human. Eventually Marvin noticed even Mr. Harley shying from him and some of his acts. Couldnt the man understand how good it felt to take a knife to a person and experiment with various methods of torture while listening to them scream? After all, wasnt it Mr. Harley who had shown him how?
Once he became aware of Mr. Harleys fear of him, Marvin watched the man carefully, waiting to see how it could be used to his advantage, waiting for an opportunity to escape and seek his retribution upon the black-clad gunslinger.
One day, that opportunity came.
Mr. Harley had been pushing Marvin rather hard recently, using all of his bullying tactics to get the young man to do what he wanted. Marvin decided he had become tired of being Mr. Harleys lapdog. So, as soon as the mans back was turned to him, Marvin pulled his gun and shot Mr. Harley. Walking over to the prone body, fascinated by the blood flowing from the wound, Marvin turned Mr. Harley over and looked him in the eye. Smiling, he watched Harleys fear mix with pride in the monster he created and dance in the dark eyes as their black light faded into death.
With Harley gone, Marvin had but one purpose in life, one calling to fulfill make Chris Larabee suffer.
Knowing he would have to go into the towns they had so frequently avoided while Mr. Harley "taught" him his skills, Marvin quickly found the money belt Harley had kept hidden from him for so many years. Taking that as well as the extra horse, Marvin set out on his mission.
In town after town, he waited and listened. Occasionally his need for the suffering of others became too great and someone from one of the towns he was visiting would disappear, though no one ever connected him with the disappearances.
He decided to put his other skills to use as well, not only for personal pleasure but also to keep well practiced and to prepare for Larabee. He started building a reputation for himself as a gunfighter. As he gained notoriety, others began talking about him, began talking to him, but no one seemed to know about Larabee.
Finally, one day, he heard the tale of seven lawmen protecting a dusty little town called Four Corners. The leader of the gang of peacekeepers was said to be Chris Larabee himself. With his first lead since beginning his search, Marvin began asking questions about the seven, about Four Corners and about Larabee.
As he heard the many stories of the seven lawmen, the "Magnificent Seven", a new idea formed in his mind. A better idea than killing Larabee, which would be too quick, or making him suffer for days, would be to eliminate his friends. The closer ones would be removed first and quickly, making those remaining more precious. The ones Marvin would take later would know pain and suffering, would die days after being taken, cursing the name of Christopher Larabee. Why give Larabee a quick out, he reasoned, when the man in black had made him suffer every night of his life
No, death in a gunfight would be too quick, too painless for such a creature. Living night after night with the image of his friends dying by Marvins bullets and knife would eat away at the man and let him know first hand the misery he had caused.
Yes, Marvin liked this plan very much.
So. he made his way to Four Corners by stage. With each passing mile he thought with great satisfaction upon his new plan. Yes, this was the right thing to do. This would avenge Hank. A black inner peace settled upon Marvin as he imagined the gunslingers face at the death of his friends. Larabee would pay, and Marvin would enjoy every second of it.
Vin Tanner had been restless all day. His constant movement around town did little to alleviate his feeling that something bad was about to happen. With Josiah, Nathan, Ezra and Buck out of town and JD at Miss Netties visiting with Casey, his anxiety only increased with each passing moment.
Finally, tiring of his friends pacing, Chris Larabee grabbed Vin by the arm and swung him to a nearby chair. "Sit," he ordered, looking at his friend. "Talk," he commanded.
"Troubles comin," Vin replied shifting distractedly in his seat. Glancing down the street and shooting looks over his shoulder into the saloon, Vin soon found his way back to his feet. "Im goin ta check the town again," he declared, heading down the boardwalk before disappearing down an alley to the back of the stores.
Theyd ridden together long enough that Chris trusted Vins instincts. If Vin said trouble was coming, then it was coming. Catching some of his friends nervousness, Chris scanned the town from his seat in front of the saloon. He decided hed make his own circuit of town after the stage arrived.
Chris could just see the dust of the stage coming down the road when a quiet voice spoke at his shoulder. "Reckon thatd be the problem," Vin said, nodding toward the stage as Chris jumped in surprise.
"Jesus, Tanner!" Larabee exclaimed. "You tryin to scare me ta death?" He noted the amused smirk that flitted across the face of the young tracker as they stood watching the stage pull into town.
Observing the passengers disembark, the duo noticed the regular assortment of passengers, a traveling salesman, a couple obviously just stopping to stretch on their way somewhere else; but the last man to climb out of the coach caught their attention. Vin felt his gut tighten at the sight of the man and Chriss uttered oath. "Ya know em?" he asked the gunfighter of the man who stepped off the stage and looked around.
The young mans eyes finally settled on the pair of peacekeepers on the boardwalk keeping watch. A murderous smile crept across his face as hatred and satisfaction flared in his dark eyes.
"Yeah, I know him," Chris said, his face set and grim. "And hes going to be trouble." Chriss mind swept back through time to another small dusty town that had little going for it other than being a place to water your horse on your way to somewhere better.
Larabee sat in the darkest corner of the saloon. He didnt know the name of the town and he didnt care. The only thing he cared about sat silently in front of him, waiting for him - a bottle of whiskey, the first bottle of the day on his path to forgetting.
For two years he had lived in the blackness of pain. For two years he refused to live, to allow the light of life to enter his soul. For two years he sought only to deaden the pain of having lost his wife and son in the fire he should have been there to prevent. For two years Buck had followed him around taking care of him, reminding him of his family. Now Buck was gone. His family was gone. The pain would only leave when he passed out. So he sought the only friend he had the bottle.
No one approached the man dressed all in black. The thick air of menace that surrounded him, combined with the reputation he had earned, kept any curious patrons away. All day he sat, drinking one bottle after another, waiting for oblivion.
He sat, seeking the bottom of yet another bottle, when a brash young redheaded boy of maybe seventeen came in followed by a slightly younger boy. The determination in the young mans purposeful strides as he made his way toward the drunken gunslinger proved to be enough to catch even the man in blacks attention for a moment before he turned his eyes once more to his latest bottle.
"My name is Hank Cane. Im callin you out, Larabee," the young man announced.
Chris did not even bother to look up at the boy before laughing out loud, "Go on home kid and let yer ma wipe yer nose. Come back when youre a man."
The mocking words and the offhand manner of their delivery only served to anger the young man. "I said, Im callin you out," the young man repeated, taking a step closer to the gunfighter. "Now you goin to take my challenge or are you too yella to face me?"
It had been a quiet-based curiosity that fell in the saloon when the initial challenge had been issued; now a dead silence based on fear only heightened the growing tension. The green eyes, which had moments before been hooded and focused on the bottle before him, shot upward and drilled into the young man offering nothing but a glimpse of Hell. Larabee watched as the young man paled before him, suddenly aware of the magnitude of his mistake in challenging the gunslinger, suddenly aware of his own fragile mortality. "Lets do it," the gunslinger said standing and staggering his way through the door and outside.
The young man and his brother followed the man in black out to the street. The confident swagger of young Hank now lacked its earlier purpose. "Hank!" the younger boy pleaded. "You can take it back. You can say you dont want to do this." Fear for his brothers life shown through the eyes of the younger boy as he pleaded with his brother to listen to reason. He had already lost both parents; he didnt need to lose a brother as well.
"Dont worry, Marvin. I know what Im doing. Hes too drunk to beat me. Besides, after I hit him well have enough money to make our way to California. Mr. Harley promised," Hank assured his younger brother, ignoring the doubt assailing him.
A crowd lined the street. The two combatants prepared for battle. Larabee saw the youth of his opponent and had a moment of indecision. That moment passed when the boy went for his gun.
Later the townsfolk would discuss the gunfight. The man and the boy stood in the street, the man in black swaying slightly, unsteady on his feet. Everyone had heard of Christopher Larabees reputation, but none had seen him fight. As the boys hand touched his gun, Larabees hand snapped to his own, pulled and fired before Hanks could even clear leather. The boy stood in shock for a moment before turning his eyes to his younger brother.
The man in black didnt even look at the two boys. Another foolish challenge and another death at his hands failed to stir Larabee. He blamed himself for the deaths of his wife and son; that pain allowed no room for the fools who challenged him. As he re-holstered his gun, he turned back to the saloon and returned to his bottle, hoping to find oblivion.
Neither Chris nor Vin moved as the young man approached them. Stopping in front of the gunslinger, the traveler looked into the intense green eyes; the eyes that had once frozen his soul, back when hed had one. "Remember me Larabee?" he asked, his own eyes promising pain, retribution and Hell. No light escaped the dark, dead eyes of Marvin Cane. "Or did you kill so many boys you cant recall them all or their families."
Chris felt himself grow cold inside as he suppressed his anger. He never claimed to be proud of what hed done, but to have a young whelp like this question him just rubbed him the wrong way. "I remember you," Larabee shot back, his voice flat and deadly. "You have any more sense than your brother?"
Marvin sneered. "What do you know about my brother? All you know about is killing boys and drinkin whiskey. You could have talked him out of it. You could have injured him without killing him. But you didnt. Shot for the heart. Killed him. Killed my seventeen-year-old brother right in front of me with the whole town lookin on. Then you crawled back to your bottle." Larabee didnt react to the taunt, just as Marvin knew would happen.
Marvin allowed a feral smile to cross his face. "Reckon you dont know what its like to lose a brother." The two men stared at each other a few minutes before Marvin continued. "Reckon its my job to teach you." Without shifting his eyes away from the deadly green glare boring into him he offered in a loud, authoritative voice, "Vin Tanner, Im calling you out. This street. One hour." With a twisted smile and soulless laugh he turned on his heel and strode away.
The two peacekeepers stood in stunned silence for several minutes. Finally Chris turned to look at his friend. "Vin, you dont have to do this," he offered, praying his friend would decline the challenge. "Youre not a gunfighter. Hell, you wouldnt stand a chance trying to draw that mares leg of yours against a pistol. Just turn him down. No one will think anything of it."
Vin stood silently, his jaw clenched, his mind fighting back images of eyes just like the ones of the boy that just challenged him. "Ive seen those eyes before, Chris," he said quietly. "That one aint goin ta stop til he gets what he wants." Turning and meeting his friends eyes he easily read the question. "He wants revenge. He wants you to suffer. He wants to use me to make you suffer," Vin spat through gritted teeth, angry that someone would even think of using him to hurt Chris.
"It doesnt have to be you that stops him," Chris stated, fear and anger adding an edge to his own words.
Vin looked his best friend in the eye. Larabee just didnt understand the evil in that boy. "Hes goin ta keep challenging every person you care about until one of us agrees to fight him. Would you rather watch JD fight him? What about Buck?" Tanner demanded. Seeing the denial in his friends eyes, Vin continued, "If he doesnt get one of us in a fight, or we dont get him, hell find a way to kill someone close to you. Would you like to risk Mary or Billy like that?" The last question caused his friend to jerk back in shock, yet seemed to drive the point home.
Chris ground his teeth. He knew that Vin was right. It wouldnt stop until someone he cared about was in the ground, or Marvin was dead. But, he knew that speed was not Vins strong suit. His accuracy, especially over long distance with a rifle had saved their lives countless times, but the speed necessary for a gunfight
"Look, Vin, Ill challenge him," Larabee tried. He hated the idea of his friends paying the price for what he had done; hated even more the idea of his friends being used as a means of revenge against him.
Vin just smiled, shaking his head in the negative. "Reckon I best get my pistol for this," he said, heading off toward his wagon. "Reckon you best find out what you can about this boy."
"Vin!" Chris called after his best friend, cursing the tracker who kept walking away. Pausing just a moment, Larabee set out to find out what he could about the young whelp who had just challenged his best friend.
Vin heard Chris call his name, but ignored him. Right now he needed time to focus, time to overcome his nightmare. Right now he needed to be alone to prepare himself for something hed never done before duel.
Stepping into his wagon, Vin moved a pile of bandanas and shirts. He could feel his hands shaking as he reached for the dark wooden box. He briefly thought of asking Chris to borrow his gun, but knew that wouldnt do. His heart raced and fear screamed through him as he pulled the box into the open.
Sitting back on his haunches, he eyed the box, knowing he had to open it. He only had this one pistol, but this one pistol was all it took to bring back the worst nightmares of his life. Secrets he kept for many years, unwilling to tell anyone for fear they would judge him unfit to be with men and leave him alone. Even his Comanche family didnt know the truth about his oldest secret, though they suspected.
Sliding his hands carefully down the side of the box, he slowly opened the lid and stared down at the six-shooter that lay within, the initials HH carved on the ivory handle along with the image of a rose. Vin Tanner knew he was deadly with a gun, any gun. He just wished like hell it didnt have to be this one.
His memories of the first time he had held this gun tried to flood back to his conscious mind, but he viscously pushed them away. He tried to banish the next series of images associated with this gun that assaulted him, but failed. The face of his one-time, buffalo-hunting partner appeared in the forefront of his mind.
The mid-summer sun scorched the dry air as the two rode the trail. Things had been quiet this trip, a true oddity for the two men who seemed to attract trouble wherever they went. But for now, the quiet found welcome from the two tired, thirsty men.
Tom and he had been riding towards another herd when a rattler startled Toms horse. Vin jumped from his own mount, fear piercing through him more surely than any bullet could. Tom had lost control the moment his horse reared and fallen to the ground less than a foot from the rattler.
Though his quick dismount resulted in a dead snake, Vin had not been fast enough to prevent the rattler from biting Tom. Had Tom been healthy, had he been completely well, perhaps he would have survived the bite. Instead Tom had been recovering from influenza.
His face twisting in pain, sweat pouring from him as the poison coursed through his veins, Tom handed Vin his gun and begged the young man to shoot him. Vin dropped the gun when the request came as the image of Stevies terrified face sprang up before him. He had known from the first time he saw it that Tom carried the same gun Vin had used all those years ago in the clearing with that man and Stevie. He had seen the cursed weapon in his dreams for enough years to remember it. Now, another friend was begging Vin to use the gun. This time, though, Vins friend was begging for a quick and less painful death.
Seeing the desperation in Toms eyes and watching his body writhe in the dirt, Vin tried to comply. He picked up the gun and placed it against Toms head. That was when the full memory of the day he ran away from the orphanage first returned; the day he had first held the gun now resting in his hand. Unable to move, Vin sat silently, frozen, with the gun still resting at his friends temple.
Through his pain, Tom saw Vin freeze, eyes locked into a vision far away in time and space. Reaching up, he placed his thumb over the finger Vin had resting loosely on the trigger. With a last gasp, Tom pushed Vins finger until the trigger engaged and a shot rang out.
Screaming in horror at the sight before him, Vin cried over his friend, cursed him and finally buried him.
Vin gathered their things together and stopped by the first trading post he found. He tried to get rid of the gun then, but the trader refused. Vin had told him it had come from a friend. The trader had taken the box in which it still rested and carefully placed the gun and holster within, telling Vin to honor his friend by keeping such a precious weapon.
His mind came back to the present; Vin reached down and carefully lifted the hated item from its resting place. He would have to oil it and clean it before using it, but that shouldnt take too long.
Finding himself struggling for breath, Vin closed his eyes and attempted to focus on something else, anything else. Finally the image of the desert at sunset rose in his mind. His breathing eased and a peace started flowing through him.
His eyes still closed, he began cleaning the weapon in his hands.
Finishing the job, he holstered the gun and strapped it on in place of his mares leg that he had removed earlier. Still focusing on the peaceful vision in his mind, he leaned back against a wall of the wagon and slowed his breathing. Allowing peace to fill him, Vin turned his mind inward, seeking out the quickness he knew he possessed.
Half an hour later, Larabee approached the covered wagon that Vin called home. Glancing inside, he shook his head at the sight of the sleeping tracker. Didnt Vin understand how important this was? Couldnt he see that this could end in God, no! Chris couldnt think about that. Just the thought of going through that, of watching his best friend, his brother, die in a gunfight proved too overwhelming.
"So you just goin ta stand there or you goin ta spill it?" Vin asked without opening his eyes.
He would never understand how Vin could tell who stood near without opening his eyes. Shaking his head, Chris said, "I say you call it off. It turns out this kids been making a name for himself as a quick draw. Rumor says that hes not among the fastest, but hes fast enough." Pausing for a moment, Chris waited until the trackers blue eyes met his, "Dont do this Vin. He aint worth it. And youre not a quick draw. Youre not a gunfighter."
Vin looked into the eyes of his friend seeing real worry and concern. Trying to reassure his friend, Vin offered, "I dont have to be fast, Larabee. I just have to be fast enough to beat him. I can do this. I saw that kid; I saw in him. Hes driven by hate, a deep hate, but thats what blinds him too. Thats whats goin ta slow him down. By callin me out, hes goin to be getting everything hes wanted for a long time. Hes goin ta enjoy it, and thatll slow him down."
"But will it be enough?" Chris asked quietly, not convinced by his friends arguments. Still pleading with his eyes for his friend to forego such foolishness. He sought out indecision, a weakening in Vins eyes, a sign that he could be swayed. There was nothing but peace and determination: peace with his decision, determination to succeed.
"Reckon well find out," came the soft reply. Vin allowed the peace within him to flow out of him, hoping to calm his friend. He didnt expect Chris to fully understand. Larabee certainly wasnt a soft man, but he most likely had never seen hate like this. This sort of hate knew only one resolution death.
Marvin sat in the restaurant of the local hotel. He had booked a room for the night, confident in his victory. The restaurant proved to be a wonderful source of information for the young man. It turned out that the only two lawmen in town were Larabee and Tanner. Tonight, with Tanner dead and Larabee mourning, he would be able to have his pick of victims. Certainly the death of Vin Tanner would call for a celebration and it had been so long since he had the pleasure of using his knife.
Scanning the patrons, he focused on a smartly dressed blond woman. His eyes raked her body, disrobing her and picturing the white flesh beneath, the flesh that would tremble in fear as he warmed his blade against her skin. Yes, that woman would be a welcome guest at his celebration. Harley had always preferred men for his practice, making it easier for him to picture Larabee. Marvin had no such qualms. He actually preferred to use women for his knife practice. Somehow women seemed to endure the torture better than men.
Calmly finishing his dinner, Marvin allowed all thoughts of the upcoming fight to leave him as he watched the young woman make her way out of the restaurant. Leaving money on the table, Marvin followed the woman at a discreet distance. He would stop and glance in windows as she stopped to talk to various people on the street.
Slowly they made their way toward a brick building on the left side of the street. The Clarion, a sign proclaimed. The woman disappeared inside.
Glancing in the window as he passed by, Marvin noted the printing press and the woman preparing to set her type. A smile creased his face as he made his way down the alley at the side of the building to search for the best way in. Yes, the blond woman would make an excellent choice as his victim.
As he planned his evenings activities, he kept an eye on the time. Eventually the hour he had given Tanner reached its conclusion and he headed toward the street.
Standing on the boardwalk, leaning on either side of a post, the two peacekeepers waited silently. His nerves were racing to the breaking point; Chris began scowling at everyone who came by. Trying to ease his friends worry, Vin coaxed, "You keep that up, that boyll drop dead of fright fore I get a chance to face, im."
Larabee closed his eyes at his friends flippant tone. Didnt Vin understand? He had to have seen enough fights to know. "Lets hope so," Larabee replied quietly. He couldnt lose Vin too. He might have survived losing one of the others, though even that would have been doubtful, but never Vin. Vin had become more than a friend, he had become Chriss brother in every sense except blood.
Looking at Vin, he sought a sign that Vin understood how serious this was. Seeing the understanding in his friends eyes, Larabee saw something else that he hadnt seen before a hint of fear. He couldnt let Vin go in afraid. Fear would delay Vins actions, or cause him to make a foolish move. He silently cursed himself, realizing that he had done nothing with his efforts except create the fear within Vin.
Trying to find a way to lighten the dark cloud that seemed to have settled over them, Chris caught the glint of the pistol in Vins holster. Somehow his friend just didnt look right walking with a pistol instead of his mares leg, but here he stood, Colt at his side hanging in a holster. Nodding to the unusual implement he asked, "You sure you know how to use that thing?"
Vin allowed a crooked smile; thankful for Chriss effort to ease the tension Vin felt building within himself. "Reckon," he replied, standing straight and adjusting his gun belt to a more comfortable position as he watched Marvin step into the street.
As he made to step into the street himself, Tanner turned one last time to look his friend in the eye. Reaching out, the two locked forearms and allowed their emotions to shine openly in their eyes. With a smile and a nod of his head, Vin stepped into his street to face his opponent.
Though the battle was over in seconds, it seemed an eternity to Chris Larabee. The two men stood facing each other, sizing each other up for several seconds. Something unknown to anyone other than the participants triggered the men causing them to draw. One shot rang out and the pool of blood beneath the lifeless body grew, holding Larabees gaze.
Chriss mind unwillingly replayed the sight of the bullet entering the body. The jerk as the impact was felt. The collapse of the body as it fell to the dirt of the street. The last spark of light as it faded from the now lifeless eyes. He watched the empty body as it rested more still than any living thing could, the very epitome of death.
His heart constricted. His eyes closed against the death. But his mind would not be so kind, instead it continued to replay the scene over and over, merging it with other eerily similar scenes from his past.
Lost to the deadly images racing through his mind, he jumped when a hand clapped on his shoulder.
"Need a drink," came the raspy drawl of the scruffy Texan.
Turning to look at his friend, Chris noticed the pale color of Vins face and took in the drawn expression. Vin Tanner had never been a man to kill for no reason and Chris could tell this gunfight sat poorly with him. With a nod of his head, he walked into the saloon with his friend. Vin may not be a quick draw, but for today, at least, hed been fast enough.
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