Chapter 12
Buck scanned the dusty street as he walked along, still wary of the fact that there were three gang members unaccounted for. He was on full alert, his senses working overtime. The presence of the man who walked beside him did nothing to ease his mind. He glanced over at Josiah who was walking on the other side of John Somers, and managed a small smile when the ex preacher winked at him.

The ladies' man had dropped by the clinic earlier that afternoon to check on his friends. He was surprised to find Chris wasn’t at Vin’s bedside, but a quick scrutiny of the room found Larabee in the corner, slouched in one chair with his feet on another.

Any other person would have figured Chris was asleep, but Buck knew better. Sure enough, a green eye peeled open and Wilmington was pretty sure there was a gun trained on him under the blanket that covered the blond. A slight nod of the head, an almost inaudible click as the lethal weapon was uncocked, and the eye closing, told Buck that Chris was satisfied and resting again.

He’d sat with Ezra for a while, and then Vin. The tracker seemed better than he had earlier, and Buck once again marvelled at the man’s resilience. He always seemed to heal quicker than the rest of them; was always back on his feet faster than he knew any one else would be. His slight frame was deceiving, and Buck had chuckled to himself as he thought of the tough cookie that the scrawny frame housed.

He’d told Vin what Somers had told him about his father, and how he’d become a bounty hunter. The Texan had listened quietly and then nodded, saying nothing.

Vin had a way about him that told a person he was taking everything in, sifting through the information and storing it away. His eyes looked old and wise as they looked back at Buck, and the ladies' man knew the tracker had made up his mind about things.

Buck’s thoughts came back to the present as he walked up the clinic steps. He knew Somers was behind him and Josiah was following at the rear. Not a word had been spoken by any of the three men from the time they’d left the hotel. The air was tense around them, as dusk settled in, and the sound of their boots was all they heard as they walked along the veranda.

Stopping outside the door, Buck reached out to open it, but his hand stilled as Josiah stepped in to block the doorway.

The rogue’s hand fell by his side as he watched Josiah, seeing the look in the older man’s eyes as they pierced into John Somers. He knew the ex preacher had something on his mind, and he figured he was about to find out what it was.

Josiah’s pale blue eyes narrowed slightly before he spoke. "Before you go inside I have a question, something that I’ve been pondering on for a while."

John looked back at the big man, deciding that he felt sorry for anyone who’d ever got on the wrong side of him. "I’ll do my best to answer it."

"I’m sure you will." The ex-preacher’s voice was steady as he scrutinised the face before him. "How did you intend to get Vin to Texas?"

Buck smiled, he’d wondered that himself.

Josiah continued. "I mean, there you were, on a stagecoach, so you didn’t have a horse…" He shrugged and stared intently at the younger man.

Somers nodded, he had kind of handled this particular bounty by the seat of his pants. "That’s a good question." He couldn’t stop the smile that touched his lips, but it soon disappeared when his eyes met the steely blue gaze. "All I knew was that Tanner was going to be on the stage, and therefore so was i. I didn’t know the rest of you were going to follow, so I assumed I’d be able to get the drop on him in the next town."

Buck guffawed. "Get the drop on Vin…now that’s funny."

The young Easterner watched the ex preacher’s eyes crinkle as the older man smiled in amusement.

"Well, I know a lot now that I didn’t know then," he offered in his defence. "I just figured I would get a couple of horses and supplies before I overpowered him…" he looked across at Buck who was laughing again.

"Overpowered huh?"

Somers laughed too. "Having learned a thing or two about Vin Tanner, it makes me kind of glad I never had the opportunity to try."

Josiah moved his weight from one leg to the other, and put his head slightly to one side. "Buck tells me you’ve given up on the idea of being a bounty hunter."

John nodded. "Decided it wasn’t for me."

"Good decision." Josiah stepped away from the door. "Buck, wanna tell Vin his visitor’s here?" he cocked an eyebrow.

"Sure thing." The rogue opened the door enough for him to squeeze through, and closed it again behind him, leaving Sanchez and Somers on the veranda.

The younger man looked down at his feet, feeling the tension building again. He could sense Josiah’s eyes on him, and it was making him decidedly uncomfortable.

"Before you go in there, just remember you’re not dealing with one man, you’re dealing with seven."

The threat was sewn into every word, and John had no doubt about the intent behind the statement.

He turned serious brown eyes up to look at the man who towered above him. "I’ve come to realise that, Mr Sanchez, and I hope you come to realise that I’m no longer a threat to your friend."

Any further comment was stopped as the clinic door opened, sending a shaft of light out across the now moonlit veranda.

"You can go in." Buck stepped out of the clinic, holding the door ajar. "Just remember, we’re out here."

"He knows."

Buck nodded and watched as John warily entered the clinic and closed the door quietly behind him. Turning to the preacher he grimaced. "Don’t envy him goin’ in there, Chris is spittin’ green fire."

Josiah chuckled and winked. "I reckon Vin can handle the both of ‘em."

* * * * * * *

The small clinic was dimly lit, and John had to squint when he first entered, until his eyes adjusted. He took a step forward, his gaze resting on Vin who was sitting up in a narrow bed, his head resting against a mountain of pillows.

Taking another step forward, he faltered, feeling uncomfortable. He could feel eyes on him and turned in the direction he instinctively knew would find the cause of his discomfort. He was met by a steely green glare sending a clear message, well, more a warning than a message, Somers decided.

He nodded at the man sitting in the corner of the room. He was hardly visible in the dim light, but the menacing atmosphere he created made him seem to shine out like a beacon.

Shuddering slightly, the Easterner swallowed hard. Turning back to Vin, he tried to put the gunslinger’s presence out of his mind. But he knew he was fighting a losing battle, Chris Larabee didn’t need any words to convey his thoughts, the eyes said it all.

Approaching Tanner’s bedside, he frowned at the sight of the man who only a few days ago was his prey. The tracker’s face was pale, and there were dark rings under tired looking eyes. His head was bandaged, and the bruises on his face looked worse than Somers remembered.

"…I look that bad?" The raspy voice asked as Vin nodded to the chair at his side.

"Am I allowed to say yes?" the visitor answered, his face wry as he sat down.

John’s head turned slightly to the side, in answer to the sound of knuckles being cracked in the corner of the room.

Vin seemed not to notice, although Somers was pretty sure he saw the corners of the Texan’s mouth twitch.

"Ya made it back…’m glad," Vin continued.

John nodded, his face serious. "I’m sorry Vin, I tried…"

"Don’t matter none, it’s over. Ya came back fer help, that’s what counts."

Both men looked over at the other occupied bed, as a loud snore came from that direction.

"’s only Ez, he does that a lot…he calls it a gentlemanly way o’ cleanin’ out blocked passages in private, avoidin’ the social in-adequacies o’ doin’ such unrefined thing’s in public…’r somethin’ like that." Vin spoke the words slowly, trying to say them right. He looked steadily at Somers, although there was a slight twinkle in his eyes. "…I call it snorin’."

John laughed despite the ever-present threat of bodily danger in the corner of the room. He was suddenly glad about everything that had happened to him in the past, because if it hadn’t happened, he would never have met Vin…or any of the Texan’s friends for that matter. They were an unlikely combination, but from what he could see, their union had unlocked something in each of them that he was pretty sure would never have emerged if none of them had met. Like seven pieces of a puzzle that had travelled on the wind, and finally locked into place, to make one big picture. Their loyalty to one another amazed him, and almost made him wish he were part of it all.

"You left already?"

Vin’s question broke into John’s thoughts, pulling him back from his reverie. "I’m sorry, I seem to be doing a lot of pondering lately."

This time Tanner chuffed softly, his eyes flitting to the man sitting guard in the corner. Somers figured it was a private joke between them, and so decided not to ask.

"I’m leaving on the stage tomorrow morning." The words came out quickly. He wanted Vin to know that he was no longer a threat to him.

The tracker nodded slowly. "Buck tol’ me…yer goin’ t’ see yer Pa?"

Somers dipped his head, before bringing his eyes up to meet the Texan’s steady gaze. "Yes." His voice was quiet in the small room. He was nervous about going back to Boston and seeing his Father, but at the same time, he knew it was a meeting that was long overdue. If it hadn’t been for his pride it would have happened a long time ago.

"Hope it works our fer ya."

"Thank you Vin, so do i."

A silence fell over the room, and John shuffled his feet, and nervously rubbed his hands together.

"Vin…" The voice faltered, and the brown eyes darted to the corner of the room, where the menacing presence shifted in the shadows. Determined to say what he wanted to say, he took a deep breath and continued. "…I don’t know your story, or how you became a wanted man, but I’m willing to bet it’s one hell of an interesting one."

Vin’s mouth lifted in a half smile, his head nodding slowly.

Somers went on. "Please know, if a bounty hunter, or anyone else comes through here, it wouldn’t have been me who told them where you were."

"Reckon I know that." Vin’s voice was weary.

Slapping his hands on his knees John began to rise from the chair. "Time for me to leave, i’ve kept you long enough, you should be resting."

Vin rolled his eyes. "Hell, don’t tell me yer turnin’ int’ Nathan too."

Laughing now, and feeling a lot better, now he’d said what he wanted to say, John offered his hand to the tracker. "You’re a lucky man, Vin. You have six friends willing to risk their lives for you."

Vin clasped the Easterners hand, feeling a Larabee glare fill the room. "…an’ I’d do the same fer them."

"I don’t doubt it." releasing his hold on the tracker’s hand, Somers continued. "Hell, you risked your life…and ours, for a horse!"

"Seems t’ me animals deserve it more ‘n some people."

The visitor smiled and took a step towards the door. "Good luck, Vin."

"Same t’ you," the Texan replied, with a nod of his head.

Turning away from the tracker, John looked to the corner of the room and tipped his hat. "Mr Larabee." Opening the door, he stepped out, closing it gently behind him.

The clinic was silent while two of its occupants listened to the sound of three pairs of boots walking along the wooden veranda. The lights flickered, sending eerie patterns around the walls. Soft snores came from Ezra’s corner of the room, and faint sounds drifted up from the town below.

Vin turned his head in Chris’s direction as he heard first one, then the other spurred boot hit the ground. He smiled at the sound of clicking bones, and frowned at the sound of the gunslinger’s hiss of pain. The chink of the spurs coming closer to him brought a smile to his lips as his gaze fixed on the face of his friend.

"Y’ got great social skills, Larabee," the Texan chuckled.

Grunting, Chris settled himself in the chair Somers had recently vacated. "Someone’s gotta watch out for you."

"Like i‘ve said b’fore, don’t need no nursemaid."

Chris didn’t answer, instead an amused look came over his face. "Blocked passages? Social inadequacies? Hell Vin, you sure you didn’t take Ez up on his offer?"

Vin frowned, giving Chris a glare, Tanner style. "Shut the hell up, Larabee…’fore I shoot yer other arm."

* * * * * * *

Nathan bit his lip in concentration as he tried to balance the two trays in his hands. He was hoping he’d have better luck at getting his patients to eat lunch, because they sure didn’t seem to like breakfast.

He sighed and shook his head as he walked along, wondering if, when he got back to the clinic Vin would still be there. He sensed that the tracker was preparing to rid himself of the confines of the clinic. The healer had to admit that the Texan had made a remarkable recovery. He snorted, recovery wasn’t quite the word. Vin was still far from well, but he could get around on his injured leg, and his eyesight had returned to normal, although he was plagued with headaches from the many blows on the head he’d received. Nathan tutted, only that morning Vin had insisted on taking off the bandage from around his head. His other bumps and bruises were fading and he was as ornery as the day was long, further fuelling Nathan’s belief that he wasn’t going to be able to keep him in the clinic very much longer.

He came out of his pondering as he caught sight of Chris, standing tall, and staring intently at something in the street. Turning his head to see what had the gunslinger’s attention, he watched as John Somers climbed into the stagecoach after handing his bag to the driver.

Well, at least that was one less thing to worry about. Chris had been like a man treading on hot coals since the day before when Somers had visited Vin in the clinic. Nobody could convince the gunslinger that the man was no longer a threat to Vin, however hard they tried. Then there was his constant concern about the three unaccounted for gang members.

Nathan shook his head as he eyed the man in black. There was another one who wouldn’t let himself heal. Ever since Vin and Ezra’s return, Chris had neglected his own injury; his only concern being the Texan’s safety and well being. He should have been resting all this time, but no, he had to go gallivanting around, threatening anyone who looked at him the wrong way.

At least Ezra was doing what he was told…for now. But Nathan had the feeling that even the gambler would soon be getting himself out of bed and walking around like he didn’t have a hole in his side.

The healer sighed again as he started up the stairs that led to the clinic. But, what did he know? He was just the man who patched ‘em up and sent them back out into the world to get themselves shot up some more.

Reaching the door, he nudged it open with his shoulder, almost stumbling as he crossed the threshold with his two trays of food. He stopped short, the door closing of its own accord behind him, at the sight that met his eyes. Oh boy, why did he have to be right?

"Vin, what the hell you think you’re doin’?"

"You’ve been…how do you put it, Mr Tanner? Caught with your trousers down?" Ez added, watching the goings on from his bed.

Vin cursed and eased himself into a chair, his eyes looking up guiltily into Nathan’s annoyed face. "Need air, Nate. Can’t stay here no more."

"You’re not healed, Vin. You gotta rest up some more." Nathan put the trays down and turned towards the tracker, taking in his dishevelled appearance. His shirt was hanging loose and open, his pants were pulled up but only half fastened, and braces were hanging from his slim waist. The healer put his hands on his hips in annoyance. "I knew I should’ve hid your clothes."

"Woulda left wearin’ a blanket," Vin countered defiantly. He saw the worry on the healer’s face. "’m sorry Nathan, I jus’ can’t stay here one more day."

"I must concur…" Ezra suddenly felt like breaking free too, and carefully pulled back his covers. With a groan, he settled back into the pillows. "…tomorrow…"

Nathan decided he should be grateful for small mercies, at least Ezra was being more sensible.

"Will you eat this food before you go?" The healer knew when he was fighting a losing battle. Maybe he couldn’t stop Vin from leaving, but at least he could try and make sure he left with a full belly.

The tracker was surprised at how easy his escape was turning out to be, and decided the least he could do was eat some food, if that’s what Nathan wanted. "I’ll try."

Nathan smiled. He picked up one of the trays, settling it on Ezra’s lap. "Eat," he ordered, handing the gambler a knife and fork.

"I shall do my utmost." Ezra peered at the food on the plate, not liking the look of the congealed concoction one little bit. But he didn’t argue, he figured Nathan had enough to deal with right now.

"Here Vin."

The tracker took the tray from his healer friend, and balanced it on his knees, trying to tell himself he must have eaten worse. He wrinkled his nose. "Thanks Nate."

"You’re welcome." Nathan stepped back. "I’ve got an errand to run, eat what you can…please." The last word came out more a plea than a request.

The two patients nodded, and the healer headed for the door. He had to figure out a way to stop Vin leaving town. The damn fool was likely to saddle his horse and disappear for a few days if he had half a chance, and Nathan knew of only one man who could stop it from happening.


The healer turned, looking expectantly at the tracker. "Yeah Vin."

"Want ya t’ know I ‘preciate what ya done fer me, takin’ care o’ me an’ all."

The brown eyes softened at Vin’s words. "Like I said, you’re welcome, Vin." He wagged a finger at the tracker. "Just don’t you go and undo all the good healin’ I done, you hear me?"

The Texan winked. "Loud an’ clear."

Nathan smiled before heading out the door. Hell, there were times when these men could drive him crazy with frustration and worry…and then there were times when he wanted to fall to his knees and thank the Lord for their friendship.

* * * * * * *

Chris wasn’t hard to find, he was where Nathan had last seen him, standing on the boardwalk, watching the stagecoach as it disappeared into the distance.

Nathan walked up and stood beside him, waiting for the gunslinger to turn his way.

He didn’t have to wait long. Once the stagecoach had completely gone from view, Chris turned and eyed the healer, his eyebrows raised in a question.

Larabee was no fool, he sensed the moment Nathan had walked up to him that there was something on his mind…and he was pretty sure he knew what it was.

"What’s he done now?"

Nathan’s shoulders slumped in defeat. "I can’t keep him in the clinic any longer, Chris. He’s up and dressed, and I’m afraid he’ll head out of town on that damn cuss of a horse he insists on ridin’."

Larabee dipped his head, as if in thought, and then raised it once more, his eyes meeting Nathan’s. "You think I can stop him?"

"You’re the only man who can."

Chris sighed and ran a hand through his hair. There it was again, responsibility he didn’t ask for…but got anyway. Vin was his best friend, and he didn’t want him to go disappearing out of town, not until he was well, and all the gang members were accounted for. He looked at Nathan’s worried face and sighed. "Alright Nate, I’ll talk to him. But you know Vin."

"Uhuh." Nathan rolled his eyes, and then matched the smile Chris now wore on his face. "Was gonna ask you to try and get him to rest up, but seein’ as you won’t even do that for yourself, I don’t reckon I’ll bother."

"Think that’s too much to ask." Slapping the healer on the back, Chris’s eyes ran up and down the street, surveying the roof tops. "Where is he?"

"Well, I left him at the clinic, eating. But now…who knows."

The blond’s eyes settled on something, and his face lit up in a smile. "Maybe I do." He started to walk away, and chuckled as Nathan’s voice found his ears.

"…and you take it easy too!"

The healer turned back towards the clinic, feeling a little less anxious than he had before. If anybody was going to make Vin see sense it was Chris, and maybe that would keep their leader in town too. He was pretty sure Chris was getting itchy feet, but hoped talking Vin out of leaving would keep him here too. The blond was still far from well, and Nathan wanted him where he could keep an eye on him.

Reaching the door of the clinic he went inside, and sure enough, Vin was gone.

* * * * * * *

When Chris reached the roof, his eyes quickly found what he was looking for. Vin was sitting, his back leaning against the wall, his eyes closed and face held towards the sun. A soft breeze was blowing and his lips were turned up in a small, contented smile.

The gunslinger stood silently, not wanting to disturb Vin’s serene moment…he had too few of them. The blond knew better than to think he could keep Vin in town, so, on his way to the roof, he’d come up with another plan. All he had to do now was figure out how to go about it.

"Heard ya comin’ a mile away, Larabee."

Chris grinned. "Sure you did." He walked to stand over the seated tracker. "Join you?"

"Yer here ain’t ya?"

The blond raised an eyebrow. "…and you criticised my social skills."

"This ain’t social…this is you an’ me."

The man in black nodded in reply, the amusement showing on his face as he sat next to Vin.

The two men looked out across the town, neither saying anything for a few minutes. The afternoon air was a welcome relief, and both took a few deep breaths.

The gunslinger could see why Vin liked it up here, away from the bustle of town. You could feel the breeze more, and it was refreshing as it hit your face. Yep, having Vin for a friend had taught him to value a lot of things, some of which he used to take for granted.

Chris turned his head slightly, studying the face of the man seated beside him. He noted the paling bruises on the handsome face, and the still healing grazes and cuts on one side of his head. It wasn’t often that Vin was seen without his hat, but this was one of those rare occasions. The blond figured he wanted to let the air touch every part of him possible in the confines of the town.

His eyes raked over Tanner’s features, knowing that Vin knew he was being scrutinised. The closed eyes, and comfortable posture just went to prove how much Vin trusted him, and that meant a lot to Chris. He only knew bits and pieces of Vin’s past, but the parts he did know made him realise how much of an honour Vin trusting him really was. Tanner was a very complex man…hell, all seven of them were. But this man who had become his best friend in the blink of an eye, intrigued him in lots of ways.

One minute he would be laughing in the face of the devil, the next he would be sitting quietly on a roof where he thought no one could see him; concocting a poem no one was supposed to know he composed.

Yep, Vin Tanner was hard to fathom, but Chris didn’t care, because however long it took to figure him out…he was along for the ride.

"Ya finished starin’? Always figured y’ liked women."

The raspy voice came quietly and suddenly, startling Chris from his pondering.

"Funny Tanner…real funny."

Opening his eyes, Vin turned to his friend, noticing Chris’s sling was gone. "How’s yer shoulder?"

"Stiff as hell, and hurts like a sonofabitch."

"…figured…" Vin’s smile made his eyes twinkle as he turned away. "Should take better care o’ yerself, pard."

"Wanna practice what you preach?"

"Reckon I’ll leave the preachin’ t’ Josiah."

Chris laughed softly, that was another thing he liked about Vin, his sense of humour. He noticed the tracker had turned away again, and decided to get his attention another way. Reaching into his pocket he pulled out a cheroot and put it between his teeth. He watched the younger man from the corner of his eye as he rifled around for a light.

"Not up here, Larabee."

The low growl almost made the blond spurt out his cheroot as he snorted out a laugh. Quickly taking it from his mouth he turned to the Texan, noting that his friend hadn’t seemed to look his way at all. He’d had no intention of smoking, he just felt like doing a little teasing and knew exactly how to pull Vin’s strings.

"Tryin’ t’ ruin the fresh air?" This time the growl was coupled with a frown as Tanner turned his way.

"Sorry…forgot about your love affair with the great outdoors for a second." Chris cocked his head to one side. "That why you left the clinic…you needed air?"


"Gonna ride out?"

The gentle query made Vin sigh. He looked steadily back at his friend, his face serious. "I’m goin’ soft in town, Chris…need t’ go an’ sharpen m’ wits, can’t afford not to."

Chris nodded slowly, fully aware of the threat that was always hanging over his friend from the bounty on his head. Hell, the last few days were a testimony to that. He also knew that, although Vin hadn’t said anything, he too was worried about the gang members who could still be out there. Although he himself was pretty sure that by now they were long gone, and probably in Mexico or some such place.

He frowned when he saw Vin shiver. "You okay?"

"Yeah, jus’ a chill."

Chris’s frown deepened. "That’s what comes of swimmin’ around in your clothes. Ezra’s got one too."

"Yeah, I know."

The blond blew out a breath. Vin was being hard work again. "Nathan’s hat’ll blow clean off his head, he finds out you’re up here."

"Ya gonna tell ‘im?"


Silence fell once more over the two men, their eyes raking over the town, but neither of them really seeing it.

Chris decided to come right out with it. He had a plan, if Vin was going to ride out, he wanted to be right along side him. "Thought I’d go to the cabin for a few days."

Vin raised his eyebrows. "Yeah? Have fun."

"Wanna come?" The question came out matter of fact, the blond holding the plea inside his gut.


Chris sighed in frustration and shifted his body, turning towards his friend. "If you wanna take a ride, why not with me?" He saw the tracker swallow, knew he was breaking. He thought he’d try another tact. "Look Vin, it’ll stop Nathan havin’ heart failure."

"Had a feelin’ y’ were here ‘cause he asked."

"No…well yeah he did, but…"

Vin laughed. He liked the idea of Chris’s cabin, it was just far enough away from town to feel isolated. But had the comfort he needed at the moment. He hadn’t relished the thought of sleeping on the hard ground; he still hurt like hell.

"Ya know, the cabin sounds kinda nice. Reckon I was bitin’ off more ‘n I c’n chew."

It was Chris’s turn to raise his brows. He wasn’t used to Vin admitting he was weak. "Good, that’s settled then."


"Head off tomorrow mornin’?" Chris ran a hand down his face. He was exhausted after the conversation he’d just had. It had been like getting blood out of a stone, but he’d achieved his goal.

"Alrighty then…"

"Want a beer?"

"Alrighty then."

Looking across at each other, they both laughed. Boy, it was good to be more or less back to normal again, and sharing moments like this.

The two men groaned as they got to their feet, both putting a hand to the wall for support until they found their balance. It took them a while to climb down the ladder, but lending each other a helping hand worked wonders.

Leaning against the rail, outside the clinic, Nathan watched as Chris and Vin slowly made their way along the street. He hoped Chris had managed to talk Vin out of doing anything stupid, and at the moment it seemed like he had, because they were headed away from the livery. They were talking quietly to each other, and occasionally would both smile or chuckle.

Shaking his head, the healer clucked his tongue. He could tell by Vin’s gait that he was in pain. And Chris could think again if he thought it had gone unnoticed that he wasn’t wearing his sling.

He rolled his eyes, and raised them to the heavens. Looking back at the two men who’d saved him from the noose, not so long ago, he began to ponder.

Chris and Vin were two of a kind, different in so many ways, but the same in so many more. They should be laid up in bed, healing from their wounds, but both of them were walking around…barely…but walking all the same. What could he do about it? Not a damn thing! All he could do to help them was what they would allow him to. He couldn’t make them stop, unless he tied them down, and he didn’t fancy his chances with that idea.

He might be fast with his knives, but those two were lethal with their guns, not that they would shoot him, but…Hell, Larabee could kill you with a look!

No…he would let them walk around, and if they collapsed he’d be there as always to pick up the pieces.

Shaking his head in defeat, he pushed himself away from the rail. He figured Vin and Chris were headed for the saloon, so decided he’d join them.

* * * * * * *

Buck threw open the batwing doors of the saloon, and came out shaking his head and laughing. Dang, he never thought Vin could be outdone for being wily, but it seemed Chris had stolen the tracker’s crown.

"What’s so funny?"

The rogue looked around and grinned at JD who came up alongside him.

"See anythin’?" He knew JD had been out to check the area, they were still being careful about the outlaws Vin said had been heading towards town. They’d all been watching out in town too, but hadn’t seen anyone or anything out of the ordinary.

"Nah, nothing." The young sheriff elbowed Buck in the side. "So c’mon…what’s so funny?" he looked at the rogue expectantly.

Reaching the corner of the street, Buck stopped and turned to his young friend. "Nathan asked Chris to try and stop Vin ridin’ out of town."

JD nodded impatiently when Buck stopped. "Yeah…and…"

"Well, the thing is, Chris knew he wouldn’t be able to stop Vin, so worked it so they’re both goin’," the ladies' man chuckled some more.

JD laughed. "Nathan know?"

"Yeah, and he ain’t happy." Buck shifted his weight before he continued. "Chris says to him…’Couldn’t stop him, leavin’, Nate, seemed the only thing to do to keep an eye on him.’…" Buck imitated Chris’s voice and manner to perfection. He bent his head towards JD, well into his story telling now. "Well, Nathan rolled his eyes, ya know, like he does?"

The younger man nodded, eager to hear more.

"…he rolls his eyes an’ says… ‘An’ who’s gonna keep an eye on you?’"

Buck threw his head back and laughed, and JD followed suit. Getting himself under control, Buck continued. "There was Vin, sittin’ there, his hat low over his eyes, lettin’ ‘em talk around him. An’ after Nathan asked his question Chris just shrugged, threw a glance at Vin and picked up his glass o’ whiskey."

Slapping JD on the back, Buck shook his head. "Hell, JD. It was the best entertainment I’ve seen around here in a while! Those two are somethin’ else."

The young sheriff’s face turned serious as he looked back at his mentor and best friend. "D’you mind Buck…Vin being Chris’s friend like he is?"

The rogue lifted his head, his eyes still twinkling, but his smile growing smaller. "Hell no, JD. Me an’ Chris…we’ll never lose what we have. We’ve got history…sometimes I think I remind Chris too much of the past, but in honesty I think he wants to be reminded." He shook his head thoughtfully. "No, I don’t mind. I think Vin is what Chris needed…" he raised his brows. "…and I also think Chris is what Vin needed. They balance each other out….they’re each others centre."

The two men’s gazes held for a few moments before Buck started to laugh again. "Reckon those two’ll send Nathan crazy before too long though! I left him in there givin’ them a list of dos and don’ts!"

"Where they gonna go?"

"To Chris’s cabin for a few days," Buck answered distractedly as his eyes followed a young woman as she crossed the street. Finally returning his eyes to JD he added. "Do ‘em both good…long as they don’t kill each other."

Both men laughed again, and Buck swung an arm across JD’s shoulders. "Told Nathan I’d go check on Ezra, wanna come?"

"Yeah, sure."

The two men began to walk again, neither having seen the shadow that loitered in the alley near where they’d been standing.

The figure stepped out of the shadows, watching as the two men walked up the street. An evil smile broke out on his face as he took the cheroot from his mouth and threw it on the floor, grinding it into the ground with his heel. Seth’s patience had paid off; one more day and vengeance would be his.


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