Each Deed of Shame

by The Buffalo Gals

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+ + + + + + +

Chris walked out onto the porch as the riders pulled up outside the cabin. His menacing stance amused Buck, especially when Wilmington saw the prisoners’ reaction.

“Told ya he was the devil.”

“These the snivellin’ cowards that beat defenceless men half to death!”

“They most assuredly are, Mr. Larabee. Hardly men of standing or rectitude.” Ezra bamboozled them all with the last word.

“Which one is the leader?” Larabee continued to glare at the men with open hatred.

“That would be me,” replied the one man brave enough to face Chris. “I believe you have my son prisoner.”

“He came to us…with our friend.” Chris nodded to JD. “Set the boy free, we ain’t got no quarrel with him.”

“You got that savage in there?” One of the other men dared to ask.

For a moment Chris’ hand gripped his gun. He wanted to hurt someone like Vin had been hurt, then realising Vin wouldn’t want that kind of retribution, he eased off the handle and his rage subsided.

“Gettin’ dark Buck, tie ‘em up in the barn. Take ‘em back to Four Corners tomorrow and wait for the judge.”

“Judge? We haven’t done anything wrong.”

Buck ignored Joshua’s outcry and spoke to Larabee, “What about you stud?”

“I’ll stay with Vin ‘til he’s fit to travel.”

“Ah could return to Benton and purchase a wagon and team?”

“Thanks Ezra.” Larabee said, not surprised by the gambler’s generosity. “Let’s see what he’s like tomorrow.”

“I’d like to see my s…. Benjamin!” Joshua’s face lit up with a smile, as did Nathaniel’s when the older son walked out of the cabin.

Benjamin hurried over to his father, stopping short of hugging him when he saw Chris Larabee’s face.

“Oh Papa, we did Vin an injustice. He never meant us no harm.”

“We had to protect our women and children son. We could not take that chance.”

“Who’s gonna protect ‘em while yer locked away?” Chris asked carelessly.

“Mr. Larabee, please don’t send them to jail!” Benjamin pleaded with a sob.

The gunslinger ignored the plea. “You can leave or you can go with the others, maybe you’ll be able to sway the judge with yer beggin’.”

“I’m staying.” Benjamin answered without a doubt.

“No Benjamin, you must ride back to the wagons. They will have to continue without us.”

“But Papa?”

“Go my son, you are free. Nathaniel and I will have to face the consequences of our actions.”

Benjamin looked at Larabee as if asking him for permission.

The blond nodded his head and the boy hugged his father.

“God speed my son.”

Nathaniel, overcome with emotion, allowed his brother to embrace him. “I’m scared Ben.”

“Be strong, for Papa.”

Ben took the reins to the horse JD had just passed him. “They’re not bad men.” was his last remark to Chris before riding away from the cabin. He turned back to face them once, uncertainty written across his young face; was he doing the right thing? Shaking his head with indecision, the boy continued his journey, his lonely heart beating painfully.

Tired of looking at his prisoners, Chris nodded to Buck. “Make sure they’re well tied up. Best take turns at guardin’ ‘em too. The boy may come back.” The gunslinger offered to take a shift, but said that Nathan’s only job would be looking after Vin.

“You heard our esteemed leader.” Ezra pointed his gun at the cowering men. “Please move along quietly towards the barn. Single file, if you please …”

“Aren’t you going to feed us?” Nathaniel asked brazenly.

“Did you feed Mr. Tanner when you made him your prisoner?”

“He’s a …” Nathaniel stopped.

The fancy dressed southerner suddenly looked as menacing as the gunslinger.

“A day without sustenance will hardly harm you.” Ezra pushed the youth forward to follow his companions into the barn.

Chris turned back towards the cabin, a smile on his face. Ezra would do a fine job in keeping the prisoners under control!

+ + + + + + +

“Chris, I’ll take my turn now. Vin woke up and he’s askin’ fer ya.”

Chris’ eyes lit up at Buck’s good news. He’d spent the last two hours watching over their prisoners and the constant whining by some of the men was beginning to give him itchy fingers.

“If they keep gripin’ Buck, shoot ‘em.” Chris’ smile continued as he exited the barn; the discontent voices had suddenly become silent.

“Ch …Chris…”

“I’m here, pard.” Larabee caught hold of Vin’s flailing hand. “I’m here…”

“We …home …yet?”

“Soon pard, when you’re fit to travel.”

Vin turned unfocused eyes towards the quiet voice. “Ya still …mad at …me?”

“No, angry with m’self. We’ll talk about that when you’re feelin’ stronger.” Chris was too tired to explain his thoughts and by the look of Vin, he didn’t think the tracker was capable of understanding him anyway.

“I was …comin’ …back to …town. Shouldn’t have …run out on ya.”

“Don’t matter now Vin,” Chris tried to quell the Texan’s worries, “we’re all together, like we should be.”

Vin tried to smile at the thought, but it hurt too much. “Y’all came …lookin’ fer …me?”

“Yep. Damn town’s too quiet without ya…”

“Cain’t help …bein’ …talkative…” Vin replied with a wheeze.

“You go to sleep pard.” Chris tucked Vin’s arms back under the blankets.

“Tired of…m’talkin… ” Vin was asleep before he could finish the sentence.

Larabee leaned forward and whispered to his silent companion. “Glad yer back, Vin.”

+ + + + + + +

Early next morning six of the Magnificent Seven, sat outside on the cabin’s porch, talking while they drank their coffee. Inside the cabin, Vin slept heavily after being dosed with laudanum.

Nathan didn’t like using the drug, but when Vin had woken an hour earlier, he’d unwillingly admitted that his leg wound was giving him hell.

Wanting Vin well rested, Nathan had given him a drink of the concoction.

“Should sleep the mornin’ away.” He’d informed the concerned Larabee.

They were now discussing their prisoners and other matters.

“Ezra, you still willin’ to buy a rig to get Vin home in?”

“Ah most certainly am,” The gambler replied indignantly.

“Then best you be goin’. It’ll take you a couple of days,” Larabee said dismissively.

Standish wished his companions’ farewell before mounting his horse and riding out.

“Buck, let’s get the prisoners ready to travel.”

“Chris, they need some food and water.”

“If you want to waste yer time on them…” Larabee walked to the cabin door, “I’ll stay here and take care of Vin ‘til Ezra gets back.”

Nathan didn’t doubt the gunslinger; problem was, who was going to take care of Chris Larabee?

The healer voiced his concern and offered to stay with them.

“Don’t fret Nathan, we’ll be fine.” The gunslinger turned to Buck. “Cut me out that kid and his pa. Bring ‘em to me.”

“Chris…” Wilmington’s voice held concern.

“Don’t worry Buck, I ain’t gonna shoot ‘em.” Larabee returned to the quietly sleeping Texan and waited for the prisoners’ arrival.

The cabin door opened and in stepped Joshua, Nathaniel, Buck and Josiah. The two prisoners were ushered over to Chris.

“What harm did he do to you?” Larabee indicated to the sick man.

“None,” Joshua answered honestly.

Chris stood up and circled father and son, pleased with the fear he saw in their eyes. “If he’d died, so would you.”

“My sons were acting on my orders. They are not to blame.”

“And the others?” Chris asked as he returned to his seat.

Joshua shook his head forlornly, “I had no control over them …they were afraid.”

“Funny way of showin’ it,” Buck muttered.

He and Josiah stood near to the fireplace, ready to intervene if Chris’ anger boiled over.

“I am truly sorry for the pain we inflicted upon your friend,” Joshua said humbly, “May I say a prayer for him?”

“Get out!” Chris hissed. “And take your religion with you!”

Once Josiah had taken the two men outside, Buck walked over to Larabee and placed a hand on the blond’s shoulder.

“I know they should pay fer what they done, but you’ve seen ‘em Chris, they don’t know how to survive out here. Hell, who’s t’say if we were scared we wouldn’t have done the same thing.”

“You think I should let them go?”

“Vin would, and you know it.”

“Do you want to see what they did to him?” Chris asked wildly, pulling back the covers to expose Vin’s badly bruised naked body.

Sickened by what he saw, Buck swore under his breath. He was also angry at Larabee for treating the tracker in such an uncaring way. He grabbed hold of the covers and pulled them back into place. “Weren’t no need fer that!”

“I ain’t lettin’ them go,” Larabee snarled.

“Then at least keep ‘em here. Wait ‘til Vin’s come round. Ask him what he wants done with them.”

“You think he won’t want justice?”

“Justice yes. Revenge, no. Chris, another day is all I’m askin’.”

Larabee waved his friend away. “You see to ‘em, feed ‘em. Just keep ‘em outta my sight.”

Silently praising God for a small victory, Wilmington exited the cabin door before Chris changed his mind.

+ + + + + + +


Chris brooded during the day; the only kind words spoken were to Vin.

The tracker’s body was still heavily bruised, but at least his lungs were clearing of the congestion.

Nathan’s main concern was the leg injury that still showed infection.

Vin squirmed away from the healer whenever Nathan touched the reddened flesh.

“Yer …makin’ it …worse…” he gasped at one point, slapping Nathan’s hand away.

“I need to see if the wound is healin’ properly,” Nathan explained, ignoring the tracker’s feeble attempt at stopping his examination.

“Chris …” Vin pleaded with Larabee, “Cain’t ya stop …him?”

“No.” Chris carefully caught hold of Vin’s hand, “Let Nate do his job.”

Vin sighed with exasperation. “I’m a sick …man. No one …cares.”

Chris and Nathan knew that the whining complaints were due to Vin’s tiredness, so chose to ignore him.

“Where’s Ben?” The Texan suddenly asked, noticing the youngster’s disappearance for the first time.

“Gone, back to the wagon train.”

“Good. Should be with his …family.”

“Ain’t with his family,” Chris quietly conceded.


“I’ll tell you once Nate’s seen to yer wound.”

“Y’ain’t …as gentle …as Ma.” Vin teased the healer.

“Do m’best,” Nathan replied evenly, refusing to be drawn into Vin’s argumentative mood.

“She …”

Vin was shushed by Larabee, who’d heard a commotion outside.

“Stay with him Nate. I’ll go check.”

As Chris opened the door, a stout, ruddy faced woman pushed past him.

“Where’s my boy?”

“Who the hell…”

“Don’t blaspheme!” She snapped at Larabee before hurrying over to the bed. “How’s my baby?” she cooed to the sick man.

“Ma?” Vin croaked.

“Do you know what you’re doing?” She wagged a finger at Nathan.

“You the woman that tended to Vin?” Nathan answered her question with one of his own.

“I am.” Ma Lucas placed a hand on Vin’s brow. “Still showing a touch of fever. How are his lungs?”

“Much better. You probably saved Vin’s life.”

Content with Nathan’s reply, the woman smiled. “He’s worth saving.”

Still standing in the doorway, Chris shook his head in disbelief. Vin had managed to find another Nettie Welles. He was about to ask the woman how she’d found them when Ezra stepped into the cabin.

“Thought you were goin’ fer a wagon?”

“Ah was, Mr. Larabee. However Ah encountered that good lady on the trail. She was in search of her ‘poor angel’, Vin Tanner. When Ah explained the situation, she immediately volunteered her own wagon and team to convey our afflicted tracker back to Four Corners.”

“Good …means we can get movin’ as soon as Nate says so.”

“Ah thought Buck was transferring our prisoners back to jail today?”

“Change of plan,” Chris explained to Ezra in his own succinct manner.

Deciding that Vin was in good hands, Chris steered the gambler back outside.

“I’ve made ya some herbal tea, Vin.”

“Aw Nathan… tastes like horse p…” Vin clamped his mouth shut when caught Ma Lucas’ disapproving glare.

“You’ll take it without complaint.” She ordered the tracker.

“Yes ‘m.” Trapped between two diligent nurses, Vin had no choice other than to drink the foul tasting tea.

“Feelin’ much …better Nathan, think I c’n … get m’clothes …back?”

Nathan smiled as he scrutinised his patient. Vin’s face was still a motley collection of cuts and bruises, with one eye half closed. His thin body, covered by blankets was in the same condition.

He was passing blood and his lungs still ruttled, yet he said he was feeling ‘much better’!

“Vin Tanner, you ain’t goin’ nowheres, so ya don’t need yer clothes.”

“But …there’s a lady …present.”

That remark brought loud laughter from the lady in question.

“Son, I’ve seen everything you’ve got, and I’m not embarrassed.”

“You have!” Vin squeaked, his memory fuddled. He pulled the blankets up to his neck. “Cain’t remember.”

“Don’t worry baby, your virtue is safe with me.” She winked at Nathan, who was chuckling at Vin’s discomfort. “Is he always this shy?” Ma asked the healer.

“Yep, blushes real easy.” Nathan teased.

“Aw hell.”

“Language! So, is blondie the one called Chris?” Ma asked her patient.

“Yeah …how …” Vin’s bruised face creased into a frown.

“You kept calling for him. Guess he means a lot to you.”

Vin nodded, afraid his voice would show too much emotion. He still hadn’t made his peace with Chris and although the gunslinger kept saying he was glad to have Vin back, what if he was just placating the tracker until he was strong enough to hear the truth?

“I can see he cares a great deal for you too.” Ma had read the uncertainty in Vin’s sorrowful countenance.

“Ya think …so?”

“Vin Tanner!” Nathan had been listening to the conversation and couldn’t believe Vin doubted Chris’ sincerity. “It was Chris’ idea we come lookin’ fer ya. He’s been half outta his mind worryin’ about ya, so don’t ya dare doubt him!”

Suitably chastised, Vin mumbled apologies to the healer.

“What’s he planning on doing with his prisoners?” Ma asked Nathan innocently.

“What prisoners?” Vin asked before Nathan could reply.

“Ain’t sure Ma-am. It depends.”

“What prisoners?” Vin repeated a little more loudly


“They did wrong, that’s why I left the wagon train. But most of them are good men.”

Frustrated at being ignored, Vin grabbed hold of the woman’s wrist and for an instant she saw the dangerous man he could become.

“What prisoners?” Vin hissed.

“Outside …baby, you’re hurting me.”

Horrified by his actions, Vin snatched his hand away. “S …sorry…didn’t mean to.”

“So ya should be!” Jackson was horrified by his friend’s outburst. “I’ll tell ya. We got six men in the barn, includin’ Benjamin’s pa and brother. Chris intends ‘em standing trial.”

“Fer … what?”

“Ask him yerself.” Nathan took hold of the woman’s arm and led her outside. “Chris, get in there and explain to Vin why we got prisoners! Ma-am, let me take a look at yer wrist.”

“What happened?” Larabee asked when he saw the woman’s injured wrist.

“Nothing … a misunderstanding,” she replied with a shaky smile.

“Huh….Vin’s showin’ some petulance. You put him right Chris.”

“I’m very sorry.”

“He’s still not sure, Mr. Larabee.”

The gunslinger understood her meaning. He walked over to the cabin door and grasped hold of the latch. Then taking a deep breath, he stepped inside.

When Vin heard the door open, he turned to face the wall, ashamed of his actions.

“If you want to lash out, hurt me,” Chris offered as he settled into the chair next to the bed. “I’m the one you’re mad at.”

“Let them go,” Vin said tiredly. “Just want to ferget ‘em.”

“And I want to make ‘em pay!” Larabee argued.

Vin turned to face him. “Why?”

“They hurt you.”

Vin frowned, there was more to the answer than Chris was willing to divulge. “I’ve been hurt before.”

“I know … I never meant to.”

“Didn’t mean …you …Chris.”

“But it’s true.” Larabee leaned forward. “I lashed out at you because I was angry with myself.”

“We were both actin’ crazy … ” Vin closed his eyes, “I was comin’ back …”

“And we were lookin’ for you Vin. We missed you…” Larabee patted Vin’s blanket covered arm.

The Texan smiled, he knew Chris’ admission as the truth. “Will ya let them go…for me?” he asked once more.

“Mind if I scare ‘em a little first?”

The tracker’s one good eye opened wide and the smile broadened, “Sounds good .”

“Good.” Larabee nodded curtly, “Aim to make sure they don’t hurt no-one else for lookin’ different.”

“Wish I could …see…” Vin’s voice trailed off as he slipped into sleep.

Larabee sat with him for a while longer, watching the steady rise and fall of Vin’s chest, and marvelling at the tracker’s inner strength; not only to overcome the vicious attack, but also to forgive his attackers.

“I’m proud to call you my friend,” he whispered to the sleeping man.

+ + + + + + +

The prisoners, all of them looking nervous and afraid, stood in front of the cabin. They faced six angels of death, and awaited their fate.

Chris Larabee, rested a hand on his gun and savoured every moment as he watched the men’s faces.

“What do you think we should do with them, JD?” he asked his young friend.

“Take ‘em back to town and hang ‘em!” the youngster replied with relish.


“Much as I’d like to, I cain’t agree t’killin’ ‘em Chris,” the black man, glaring coldly at the prisoners answered. “Let ‘em go.”


“Ah have given the situation great consideration. Ah have weighed up the pros and cons.” Ezra Standish paused for a breath then continued, “On the one side of the equation …”


The gambler sniffed haughtily, disturbed by Larabee’s interruption. “Very well. To be succinct, Ah fear Ah have to agree with Mr. Jackson. We must emancipate these loathsome curmudgeons.”

Nathaniel sighed and grinned at his father. These six men were all talk. There was nothing to be afraid of here.

His smile faded quickly when Wilmington bellowed,

“Hang ‘em!” before Larabee could ask him.

Finally, Chris turned to Josiah.

“I cannot condone murder, Chris. And if we killed these men it would be murder,” Sanchez said sombrely.

Larabee grimaced. “All this do goodin’ gives me indigestion.” The feral smile he gave the prisoners chilled them to the bone. “Josiah has a conscience, I don’t.”

“That makes three fer hangin’ ‘em, three fer lettin’ ‘em go.” Wilmington joined Chris on the porch steps. “What do we do now, toss a coin?”

“No need, the three of us could take ‘em back to town.”

“Or we could hang ‘em right here,” JD said gleefully.

“There are seven of us Chris.” Josiah reminded the gunfighter.

“You want me to ask Vin?”

Josiah nodded.

“Already have, preacher.” Larabee enjoyed watching the captives’ squirm under his scrutiny, “I asked Vin how he wanted his vicious tormentors punished.”


“He said …” Chris pulled out his gun and pointed it at Joshua, “ …let ‘em go. They’re not worth it.”

“You heard the man.” Nathan joined Chris and Buck.

“Best leave before Mr. Tanner, who is not in the greatest of health, changes his mind.”

“Don’t ever come ‘round these parts again.” JD followed Ezra and stood side by side with his companions.

“And if we hear of anyone else being attacked for no other reason than their clothin’, length of hair, colour or creed, we will seek you out and bring down the wrath of God!” Josiah preached loudly, his fist in the air.

“What you waitin’ for.” Larabee took a step forward. All but Joshua hurried to mount their horses, saddled up and waiting for them.

“What about Ma Lucas?” Joshua asked the gunslinger.

“She made her choice when she left the wagon train. No harm will befall the lady.”

“Tell Mr. Tanner…”

“Get outta here before we change our minds.”

Joshua nodded and joined his friends. He recognised that they’d been lucky to escape with their lives. He would heed the preacher’s warning and never more make rash judgements about strangers.

“Come on Nathaniel, let’s get back to your brother…” he led the men away from the cabin and back towards their families.

Ma Lucas had watched the scene from the cabin window. It had amused her to see Larabee and his companions scare Joshua and the others; the plan had worked well.

“They …gone?” Vin croaked.

“Yes, with their tails between their legs!” The woman returned to her patient and fussed around him. “You’d best get some sleep. The journey back to town will be tiring for you.”

“Home.” Vin said wistully, “Never thought I’d …” his voice broke when emotion overwhelmed him.

“It sounds like a real nice town. Maybe I’ll settle down there.”

“That’d be nice. Some good …folk live …there.”

“And I hear they have some real handsome men to protect the town,” Ma teased.

“Don’t know ‘bout that.” Vin’s blush was ever present now the woman was tending to him.

“Huh, I bet all the girls are chasing you.” Ma’s rich brown eyes twinkled with amusement; the young man’s face was positively glowing!

“Yer mixin’ me up with Buck. He gets all the girls.” Vin’s face clouded over. “Who’d wanna be…seen with …me.”

“If I were thirty years younger I’d be chasing you!

“Thank you, Ma.”

“Emily, my name is Emily.”

The smile returned to Vin’s countenance; he considered himself lucky to have gained another friend.

+ + + + + + +

“I’ll drive the wagon, Ma-am, you sit with Vin,” Josiah politely offered once the wagon was loaded with the injured man.

“Thanks, but I’d sooner drive. My boys know my voice. Besides, Mr. Larabee is staying in the wagon.” Ma Lucas hitched up her skirts and hoisted herself onto the seat. She felt more protected now than at any time with the wagon train.

In two short days she’d become well acquainted with her travelling companions.

She respected Josiah and Nathan, they both saved people in their different ways.

Buck and JD were like brothers and very dependable.

Chris Larabee was enigmatic and very daunting.

Her favourite, after Vin was Ezra. He put on a show of bravado but underneath it he was just a little boy in need of mothering. The moment they’d met, out on the trail, she knew she could trust him; he hadn’t failed her.

They were a family; brothers, yet they didn’t need to share the same colour, blood or surname to prove it.

She gathered up the reins of her team and clicked them steadily forward. The journey would take four days at the slow pace but that didn’t matter. Vin’s health was paramount to all of them.

+ + + + + + +

“How you doin’ pard.” Chris sat close to Vin in the dimly lit wagon.

“Felt …better…” Tanner replied as he groaned loudly when the wheels hit rutted ground.

“We can stop whenever you say.”

Vin shook his head. “Wanna get back home.”

“It ain’t goin’ nowhere.” Chris smiled ruefully.

“Hate bein’ all this trouble.” The tracker fretted at the blanket’s edge.

Larabee placed his hand over Vin’s. “No one’s complainin’.”

“Lost m’horse.” Vin’s tired mind wandered off at a tangent.


“M’horse … don’t know …what happened … to him. Damn fine animal.”

Chris regarded his friend doubtfully. Vin’s equine partner was the most ill tempered creature he’d ever known.

“Hope they …don’t hurt …him.”

About to tell Vin of the creature’s whereabouts, Chris changed his mind. Tomorrow they’d be close to Limpin’ Jack’s camp. If the miner was still there, Vin could be re-united with his horse, if not, Chris would tell him that the animal was back in Four Corners, waiting for him.

To appease his unhappy friend, he joked, “Probably the other way ‘round, knowing that ornery creature!”

Vin tried to smile, “Yeah, guess he was a mule head.”

The journey continued steadily and they camped early when Nathan decided Vin could take no more of the unsteady wagon.

+ + + + + + +

Limpin’ Jack was indeed still camped in the same place. He’d started to pack up his belongings after deciding the tracker’s horse was fit enough to make the journey.

The ill tempered animal was now stomping and snorting and bickering with Jack’s mule.

“Best get ya back to town. Maybe they’ve found yer master by now.” Jack dodged the horse’s snapping teeth as he gave a final check to its right foreleg. “Ya don’t scare me none. If ya bite me, I’ll bite ya back.”

The horse pricked up its ears and whinnied.

“What’s wrong boy?” Jack glanced across the slow moving river. “Well I’ll be.”

On the far side bank a wagon, plus five riders were carefully making their way down to the river’s edge.

Jack frowned as he pondered the whereabouts of the other two men. And wasn’t that a woman driving the wagon? He patted the horse’s neck.

“Cain’t see yer master, boy. Hope it ain’t bad news.” He made his way back to camp and put the kettle to boil. His company would be ready for some food and a warm drink.

Inside the wagon Chris gathered Vin close to him. “Gonna be a bumpy ride crossin’ the river.”

Too tired to speak, Vin clung to his friend and although the crossing jarred his bruised body he never once complained.

When the wagon finally came to a halt Chris made sure Vin was comfortable then pulled open the back cover of the wagon.

“Got somethin’ for you to see.”


“Look out the wagon?” Larabee indicated for JD to bring the horse forward.

“Look Vin, you ain’t lost him.”

The Texan’s eyes widened, “Ya found m’horse!”

“More like he found us. He’s been here with Limpin’ Jack.”

“He alright?” Vin struggled to get nearer to the opening.

“He’s taken a few knocks, like his owner.” Chris huffed as he helped his friend, “Stubborn like his owner too.”

Vin reached out of the wagon and his fingers caressed the animal’s nose.

The horse whinnied when it recognised the tracker’s scent.

Nathan grumbled when he stepped up to the wagon. “Vin Tanner, what ya doin’?”

“Pattin’ m’horse.”

“Ya can do that once yer well! Buck, Josiah, help me get him outta here. Ezra’s placed his bedroll near the fire.”

Vin hated being manhandled. “I c’n…”

“Y’ain’t doin’ nothin’ Vin Tanner!” Nathan said much louder than he intended.

Suitably chastised, Tanner held his tongue while he was carried over to the bedroll.

More fussing came I the shape of Ma Lucas, then Jack visited with him.

Vin thanked the miner for taking care of his horse.

“Least I could do, son.” Jack glanced over to where Larabee stood. “Knew he’d find ya.”

Vin followed Jack’s glance. “Glad he …did.”

+ + + + + + +

Three days later, the weary travellers rode into Four Corners.

Mary Travis rushed out to meet them.

“Vin?” the question was aimed at Buck who rode in front of the wagon along with Josiah.

“He’s hurt Mary, but recoverin’. Chris is in the wagon with him.”

“Where’s JD?”

“Sent him over to Nettie’s with the news.” Buck halted the horses and wagon in front of the livery stable. He and the others dismounted and while Josiah and Nathan unfastened the backboard of the wagon, Buck helped Ma Lucas to the ground and introduced her to Mary.

“If you’d like to come over to my house to freshen up,” Mary offered the older woman.

“That sounds fine, once I’ve settled Vin in …where is Nathan’s clinic?”

Mary pointed to the stairs.

“Huh, they’ll keep me fit!” Ma chuckled.

Buck, Nathan and Josiah carried their injured friend up the stairs to Nathan’s abode.

Ezra hurried behind them and Chris started to follow but stopped for a few moments to talk with the blonde woman. “Any trouble while we’ve been away?”

“Nothing we couldn’t handle. Just a few drunken cowboys. Yosemite scared them to death!” Mary’s smile disappeared, “How are you?”

“Better now we’ve got Vin back. It’s a long story Mary, I’ll tell you later.” Larabee was itching to follow his friends.

Mary understood. “You go …I’ll get Yosemite to see to the horses and wagon.”

“Thanks.” Chris nodded to her then quickly hurried up the steps.

+ + + + + + +

Vin woke up with a start; disorientated and confused. The room was in darkness except a solitary candle flickering on the night stand. The Texan jumped when a quiet voice asked,

“Do you want a drink?”


Larabee stepped out of the shadows and helped to make his friend comfortable before he passed him a glass of water.

“Thanks … what time is it?”

“Way past midnight. Nathan’s gettin’ some sleep at the hotel.” Larabee moved over to the window and lit the lantern sitting on the shelf.

“Ya look warn out yerself,” Vin observed.

“I’ll get some sleep tomorrow.”

There was an awkward silence, then both men spoke as one.

“Chris.” “Vin.”

Larabee walked back to the bed and sat on it’s edge close to the tracker. He bowed his head and stared at the floor. “I was wrong to blame you … for everythin’.”

“I weren’t no better. Ya had no choice with Eli Joe.”

“I’d give anythin’ to get that day back.” Chris lifted his head and turned to face the tracker. “I knew you were right about Ella. Just too pig headed…”

“Arrogant … like I said ‘fore, ya weren’t thinkin’ with yer brains…”

Chris had the decency to blush. “Huh …right.”

“We both said things …best to ferget ‘em…”

Larabee nodded in agreement. “Couple of mule heads.”

“Speak fer yerself …Larabee.”



Vin settled back down, a contented smile on his face.

Relieved that things were back on an even keel, Chris patted the Texan’s blanket covered knee then returned to his chair.

+ + + + + + +

There was a definite spring in Larabee’s step as he jogged up the stairs to Nathan’s home. Vin was well on his way to recovery and their friendship was stronger than ever.

He expected the tracker to be resting and was surprised to find Vin getting dressed, or at least trying to.

“What ya doin’ pard?”

Vin’s face was flushed with frustration and anger. “What’s it look like!”

Before Chris could ask any more dumb questions, Vin continued, “I’m goin’…” he didn’t get a chance to finish the sentence.

Larabee strode over to the bed and grabbed hold of Vin’s arms.

“Goin’! I thought … you mean you still want to leave?” As he spoke, Chris shook Vin violently.

The younger man’s colour faded as pain ripped through his back.

When Larabee’s tirade ended, he released Vin and the Texan sank back on the bed in agony.

“I won’t stop you. But this time I won’t be comin’ after you.” the gunslinger turned and walked stiffly towards the door. He almost missed the painfully whispered,

“Chris …”

Without turning, he snapped, “What!”

“I ain’t …leavin’ town. My back …I cain’t stand lyin’ in bed no more. I’m leavin’ the clinic.”

Larabee turned. “Your back hurts?”

Vin, his head bowed, nodded. “I need t’get movin’.” His naked arms shivered in the cool air of the shadowy room.

“I thought …” Larabee was horrified to see the bruises he’d inflicted on Vin’s arms. Slowly he walked back to his friend. “I’m sorry.”

The tracker nodded, accepting Larabee’s apology without a second thought. “Would ya help me get dressed?”

“Sure …but how about a back rub first?”

Chris’ question brought Vin’s head up sharply. “A back rub? No one’s offered to do that before! Sounds good,” he replied shyly.

He lay back down on the bed and turned onto his stomach. He’d managed to pull on his pants before Chris had come into the room so felt no embarrassment in front of the gunslinger.

Chris searched through Nathan’s lotions and potions until he found some herbal oils.


Vin nodded his head.

Chris poured a little of the oil down Vin’s spine then some onto his own hands.

Vin hissed when Chris’ cold hands first touched his skin, but after a few moments the hands warmed up and he began to wallow in the sensations the back rub was giving him.

“Enjoyin’ this?”


Larabee raised an eyebrow; Vin was almost purring like a contented cat! He leaned close to the unsuspecting tracker and whispered, “If you tell anyone ‘bout this, I’ll be forced to shoot you.”

Vin chuckled, “Wouldn’t do much fer ya reputation, cowboy. Ouch!”

Larabee had smacked him hard on the rump.

“Less of the cowboy!” Chris worked quietly for another ten minutes before standing back. “How does that feel?”

“Good. Sleepy now.”

“Oh. Ya ain’t gonna join the rest of us in the saloon then?”

Vin turned carefully and sat on the edge of the bed. “Sounds good … cain’t see Nathan’ lettin’ me …” he said downheartedly.

“He’s waitin’ for you. That’s why I came over here. It’s a celebration.”

The younger man’s eyes widened. “Really? What fer?”

“Let’s finish gettin’ you dressed. Folk’ll be wonderin’ where we are.” Chris grinned as Vin tried to pull his shirt on.

The Texan glared at his friend. “Ain’t ya gonna help me?”

Chris soon had the tracker looking decent. “There, you’ll do.” He took hold of Vin’s arm and led him to the door. “No heroics. I’m here to help you,” he warned his friend.

Vin didn’t need telling. By the time they reached the bottom of the stairs his legs were shaking. They walked steadily towards the saloon; Vin concentrating so much he barely noticed the greeting and well wishes he was receiving from the townsfolk.

There was a rousing cheer when the two men stepped through the batwing doors.

“Bout time too!” Wilmington rebuked his companions.

“Vin, sit yerself down. Knew it was a bad idea,” Nathan grumbled, yet a bright smile lit up his handsome face.

“Ah Mr. Tanner, just in time to purchase the next round of drinks.” Ezra pulled out a chair and Vin gratefully sank down into it.

“Another reason to celebrate.” Josiah clapped his hands together and gazed heavenward.

“What celebration?”

“Vin, ain’t nobody told ya yet?” JD asked.


“There’s gonna be a weddin’.” Josiah explained.

“Weddin’?” Vin tried to work out which of his friends was tying the knot. “Buck …ya finally met yer match.”

“Hell no, I ain’t gettin’ hitched.”

“JD …you and Casey.”

The youngster shook his head. “Ain’t ready fer that.”

“Nathan …it has to be you and Rain.” Vin smiled at the healer.

“Someday Vin, but not fer a while.”

“Ezra … Josiah?”

“Ah am a confirmed bachelor, and our friend Mr. Sanchez is enamoured by mah mother. Only he and God knows why,” Ezra explained to the tracker.

“Then …Chris…” for a moment Vin’s heart constricted; Ella Gaines was the only woman … no, there was another candidate. “Mary?”

There was a twinkle in Chris’ eyes when he shook his head.

“Ain’t one of us … where is the groom?”

“Tryin’ on his best suit, upstairs. I’ll go fetch him.” Buck bounded up the stairs three at a time.

“You alright pard?” Chris pulled a chair close to Vin and settled in it.

“Confused …. A bit tired,” Vin confessed, knowing that Chris would see the truth.

“He wanted us all to be here to celebrate … said we’re the reason he found her.”


“Limpin’ Jack.”

Chris explained how Jack and Ma Lucas had become inseparable on the ride back to town, and how their romance had blossomed.

“When’s the weddin’?”

“Tomorrow.” Chris leaned nearer the younger man. “She wants you to give her away.”

Vin blushed furiously at the unexpected honour. “Ain’t got t’give no speech have I?” he suddenly asked with concern.

“I think that would be askin’ too much, don’t you?” Larabee chuckled at the tracker’s embarrassment.

“You the best man?”

“No …Ezra…”

“Oh good, he’ll talk that much no one else’ll get chance to make a speech.”

“I think he’s already workin’ on it.”

A few minutes later Buck returned with the groom.

“Shoulda seen him boys, he’s gonna dazzle Ma Lucas,” Buck teased.

Jack thumped Wilmington lightly on the arm, then seeing Vin he limped over to the Texan’s table.

“Nice t’see ya up and about sonny.”

Vin shook Jack’s hand. “Thanks, and congratulations. Ma’s a good woman.”

“The best! She c’n cook, ain’t afraid of work and there’s plenty of flesh t’keep me warm at night!”

Everyone laughed at Jack’s description of his perfect woman.

“I hope ya didn’t tell her that?” Buck asked him.

“No sirree! Are you well enough to give her away tomorrow, sonny?”

“Wouldn’t miss it,” Vin replied honestly.

“Oh, by the way Mr. Tanner, a letter arrived for you today?”

“It did? For me?” Vin took hold of the envelope Ezra passed to him.

“Yes, as you can see, it was addressed to Mr. V. Tanner, peace keeper at Four Corners.” Ezra knew of Vin’s reading and writing difficulties and was determined not to embarrass him. “Perhaps you would like Josiah to read it for you, he does have a rich voice which enhances the written word eloquently.”

“Yeah …he does.” Vin didn’t understand what eloquently meant but it sounded a good excuse! “Here ya are Josiah.”

The letter was passed onto the preacher.

“Thank you Vin.” Josiah carefully took the letter from the envelope and began to read it,

“ Dear Mr. Tanner, I hope you have returned to good health. I will never understand what possessed us to hurt you so badly …” Josiah stopped and looked up at the young Texan, “you want me to continue Vin?”

“Huh? Yes, please…” The tracker blushed when he realised all eyes were upon him.

“Very well …” Josiah’s eyes returned to the letter, “ … your forgiveness proved that you was a far better man than I or my father and brother could ever be. It was an honour to know you and your friends sir. Since papa and Nathaniel returned to the wagon train, they have become far more subdued. You taught us all a lesson in humility and tolerance and for those reasons alone I consider myself a better person. I wish you well in future and please pass on my good wishes to Ma Lucas. Yours faithfully, Benjamin Weiss.”

Josiah passed the letter to Vin, “You may want to keep it.”

“Thanks Josiah.” Vin shoved the letter in his shirt pocket.

“You alright Vin?” Chris asked the subdued tracker.

“Yeah … he called me sir…” Vin shook his head, “ …ain’t never been called sir before.”

“Means yer getting’ old Vin.” JD said cheekily, “hope ya don’t expect me to call ya sir!”

“Wouldn’t know who ya were talkin’ too.” Vin carried on JD’s flippancy. “Is there an address I c’n write back t’Ben?” he asked Ezra.

“There is. Ah know your writing is a little untidy Mr. Tanner, so if you wish Ah could write out your reply to him?”

“Thank you.” Vin gave a watery smile to his friends, “….hey, I thought this was supposed to be a party?”

“Just waitin’ fer you to buy the next round, pard.” Buck feigned a punch to Vin’s arm.

“Very well…” Vin called to Inez for their glasses to be refilled, “… I got a lotta drinkin’ time to make up!”

The celebration continued until Jack passed out onto the floor. Buck and Josiah carried him up to his room with Ezra following dutifully behind.

Larabee smiled indulgently at Vin who was sitting back in his chair, snoring softly.

“Best get him back to the clinic,” Nathan said as he and Chris half carried the tracker out of the saloon.

+ + + + + + +

“Don’t know why I gotta take a bath, ain’t me gettin’ hitched!”

“You ain’t lettin’ Ma Lucas down lookin’ like a …”

“Savage?” Vin asked Chris sharply.

“No … some street urchin…” Larabee sat close to the large tub Vin was languishing in.

The bath house was busy, with Buck and Josiah also soaking in tubs.

“Why ya got that soppy grin on yer faces?” Vin asked the other men sourly.

“Gonna be a weddin’, a union! Marriage is a celebration of love.” Josiah waxed lyrically.

“There’s a party after. Women love weddings, so I’ll get the pick of the bunch,” Buck crowed.

“All that fussin’.”

“Ain’t ya ever thought of gettin’ married Vin?”

“No!” the Texan squeaked, horrified at the notion.

“Thought about what ya gonna say?”

Vin frowned. “When?” he asked the ladies man.

“Yer speech.”

“Chris …” What little colour Vin had drained at the thought of talking in front of an audience. He looked at Larabee accusingly. “Y’said I didn’t have to speak.” he sank down until the water covered his head.

“Thanks Buck, I was wonderin’ how to get him to wash his hair,” Chris said with a smile.

“Any time pard.”

A few seconds later Vin surfaced, spluttering and coughing. “Cain’t do it Chris.”

“You gonna let the lady down?”

“Yes. No …oh hell.”

“Just say somethin’ nice about the bride.”

Vin nodded resignedly; his stomach already in knots at the thought of it!

+ + + + + + +

Josiah smiled brightly as he pronounced the happy couple ‘man and wife’.

“You may now kiss the bride.” he winked at Jack.

The small band of guests grinned along with the preacher when Jack placed his arms around the buxom woman and planted a kiss firmly on her lips.

“Well I guess we’d better take this party over to the hotel.” Josiah shepherded everyone out of the church. He was in need of a stiff drink!

“You comin’ Chris, Vin?”

“In a minute Josiah.” Chris settled on the pew next to the tracker. “How are you holdin’ up.”

“Tired. Think I could miss the party?” Vin asked wistfully.

“You tryin’ to wheedle out of your speech?”

“Cain’t do it Chris.”

“Sure you can, just thank everyone’ for bein’ there and wish the happy couple good fortune.”

Vin shook his head. “Cain’t. M’sorry …let everyone down …”

Larabee sensed his friend’s growing distress. “Very well…she’ll understand. Come on, let’s go…” he laid a hand on Vin’s shoulder and squeezed it, “That cake looked real tasty.”

“Sure did …don’t want Josiah and Buck eatin’ it all.”

“Probably already have!”

The two men walked out of the church and into the late autumn sun.

Vin limped beside his friend, warmed by Larabee’s protective closeness.

“Just a few words?” he asked the blond, a smile lighting up his handsome face.

“You’ll be fine,” Chris replied encouragingly.

Tanner nodded in agreement. With Chris Larabee by his side, there was nothing Vin wouldn’t attempt.

They’d found their balance, and their friendship, which had so nearly been destroyed, was now stronger than ever!