by SoDak7

Note: For the sake of a discussion, this Manhunt epilogue happens after Obsession.

The seven peacekeepers rode back toward their home town of Four Corners after squelching the townspeople's lust for a lynching at Ko-Je's camp. Vin Tanner had come into camp with the escaped 'renegade' Chanu and put to rest any accusations that the man had kidnapped and later killed Claire Mosely, the daughter of a missionary man, Owen Mosely. As the truths came out, unquestionable evidence pointed correctly to Mr. Mosely as the murderer and as the events unfolded, he ended up confessing. Mosely had 'accidentally' killed his own daughter in a fit of rage when she had told him that not only was she the wife of Chanu, by choice, but that she was carrying his child. After the murder, Mosely concocted his own version of what had happened and used his influence and the townspeople's own animosities towards the Indians to instill a fighting spirit in them to get revenge for Claire’s death. Hence, the confrontation of Mosely, his son Rafe and the townspeople at the Indian camp wanting Chanu to swing for his crimes and to burn the village down. Mary Travis had alerted the peacekeepers that trouble was forthcoming at the reservation and the peacekeepers had gotten there in time to help put down the angry mob. Then Vin rode in with Chanu and his own damning evidence of what had happened and why.

Consequently, Owen Mosely was taken off to jail for the murder of his own daughter. Rafe and Ko-Je’s people were left to struggle with the insensibility of it all and the seven men were headed back to town.

As the miles separated the peacekeepers from the village, the excitement and stress of a near-battle eased up and the men began to relax and unwind. Tanner and Chris Larabee led the group of men, the other five falling in behind.

“You alright, Nathan?” Josiah asked his friend, seeing a hand come up to cover a big yawn that came from the healer and watched as he visibly shook himself as if to wake up.

Nodding his head, Nathan answered, "Mostly tired. Vin and I covered a lot of ground in the last 24 hours, lot of tense moments, but we never gave up. Vin did some mighty fine trackin’ and we finally ended up with the truth.”

“Ran into a little trouble I understand, too,” Josiah said, knowing the two men had had a confrontation with Joneh-eh, the elder son of Ko-Je, and another brave who were trying to dissuade them from finding Chanu.

“Yeah,” answered Nathan, stifling another yawn. “After that, we figured Chanu was close and Vin had an idea where to find him. Then it was gettin’ them all back to the village and tellin’ Chanu’s side of the story.”

“And what a story it was,” Josiah agreed, blowing out a big sigh. “Never saw that one coming.”

“I know what you mean,” Nathan said, nodding, “but I think Vin had an feelin‘.”

“Speakin’ of Vin,” Buck cut in with a head gesture to the tracker, “looks like maybe he could use a break. Is it my eyes, or is he lookin’ a little too relaxed up there?”

“He always looks relaxed when he rides,” JD told him.

“Yes, but I think Buck may have a point there,” Josiah said as he tilted his head to one side, believing perhaps he could see the same sway that Wilmington did.

Five men studied the back of Vin as he rode alongside Chris Larabee.

“I would think Mr. Larabee would say something if he thought Vin was in imminent danger of falling from his mount,” Ezra said as he squinted his eyes to try and pick up whatever it was that Buck and Josiah were seeing.

“Well, I know how tired I am, and he’s got to be even more so,” Nathan told them. “I don’t think he slept a wink all night and then there’s all that fightin’ he’s been doin‘. Man’s bound to be stayin’ in the saddle from pure instinct.”

“Yeah, but how can we get him to stop for a rest. You know Vin,” JD said, “he’s not going to say anything.”

“Perhaps we need a ruse of some sort.”

“What'cha got in mind, Ezra?” Buck asked, relaxing into the back of his saddle, tucking one hand into the front lip of his pants.

Ezra shrugged his shoulders, then looked over at JD.

“What?” JD asked hesitantly, not liking the look he was getting.

“Mister Dunne, I do believe your horse is limping.”

“What?” JD asked again, this time looking from the conman down to his own horse’s front legs. “I don’t . . .”

“The ruse, boy, the ruse,” Buck said, giving JD a slap on the arm, then waving his hand down at the front legs of the young man’s horse. “ Get down there and look . . . and act like somethin’s wrong. I’ll go and tell Vin and Chris.”

“Vin’ll see right through this, we’ll never get away with it,” JD hissed as Buck rode off to inform Larabee and Tanner what was happening.

“Chris! Vin! Hold up a minute,” Buck called.

“Just follow along, Mr. Dunne and leave the rest to us. Now get down there and . . . well . . . inspect or something,” Ezra whispered as he pulled his horse in front of JD’s in order to block the view from Vin and Chris.

Nathan and Josiah looked at each other and shrugged.

“Might work,” said Josiah.

“Can’t hurt ta try,” said Nathan as he got down from his horse and went to stand by JD, giving the pretense of looking over the ‘injured’ animal’s leg.

Vin swung his horse around to the left as Chris turned his to the right at Buck’s call.

“Somethin’ wrong?” Chris asked, his eyes first going to Buck’s and then looking beyond him to his men.

“JD’s horse is limpin’ a little. Think . . . damn,” he whispered the curse, watching as the tracker headed back to the group of men before he could get out the next plan of action.

“Buck?” Chris called, but the ladies man had turned his horse already and was headed back in the direction he came. Larabee shook his head and followed after him. He had a feeling . . .

Vin came riding up to the four men surrounding JD and his horse and was in the motion of dismounting when Ezra’s voice stopped him.

“Perhaps Mr. Tanner and I should go over near that stream,” Ezra said with a head nod to the mentioned area, “and find an appropriate place for you to submerge your animal’s injured appendage.”

JD and Nathan stopped what they were doing and looked up at Ezra, twin blank looks on their faces. Finally deciding they needed to make a decision, they looked at each other and then nodded to the southerner to let him know it was a good idea.

“Mr. Tanner, shall we?” Ezra gestured with his hand, ending with it pointing to the nearby riverbed.

“It’s alright, Vin,” Nathan told him. “Just a little swollen is all. A good soak in some cold water for a little bit might just do the trick. Need us a spot where it’s not too rocky to stand,” Nathan tried to urge Tanner on with what he hoped sounded like a good plan.

Vin nodded at the men and turned with Ezra to go check out the water.

The four remaining men watched them ride off and blew out a collective sigh.

“Well, that was easier than I thought it’d be,” Josiah acknowledged.

“Everything alright boys?” Buck asked as he rode up to the men.

“For now,” JD said. “But how are we suppose to get from here over to there without Vin noticing that Milagro isn’t limping?”

“What’s going on here?” Chris asked as he leaned forward and crossed his arms over the saddle horn.

“We just thought Vin looked like he needed a rest,” Buck said, glancing at the man in black.


“Yeah, well . . . we,” Buck flipped his hand to encompass Nathan, Josiah and JD. “Nathan mentioned how tired he was feelin‘, didn’t you Nathan?” he said with a nod to the healer. “And so ‘we’ just thought Vin could use a little rest too. Just lookin' out for him is all."

Chris blinked, looked at his men, shook his head and mumbled something incoherently before turning his horse and heading over to where Ezra and Vin were hunting for an appropriate spot in the steam for JD to wade his horse in.

“What he’d say?” JD asked as soon as Larabee was out of ear shot.

“Nothin’,” Buck said with a frown, as he and the other men got into place surrounding the ‘injured’ horse so as to lead him to the water hopefully without Vin noticing there wasn’t a thing wrong with the animal.

+ + + + + + +

“Mr. Tanner, I find this to be an opportune time to apologize for my . . . behavior, such as it were, questioning your instincts and beliefs the other night.”

“Knew there’d be questions,” came the answer as the tracker halted before an area next to the water that he figured would be a perfect spot for JD to bring his horse.

“Yes, well, from the townspeople perhaps, but not from your own compatriots.”

“You made a stand at the village. Helped stop a lynchin’. Didn’t have to go along. That’s worth somethin’."

“But is it worth enough?” Ezra asked hesitantly, taking great interest in the reins in his hand.

Vin shifted his eyes to look at the gambler. “Yeah, it is,” he replied without hesitation, knowing the conman was feeling guilty for his quick tongue and prejudices that surfaced from time to time. He also knew an apology when he heard one.

Ezra nodded, more to himself than anyone and felt himself relax. Vin Tanner was a man he respected more and more all the time and the thought of losing him as a friend was somehow quite unsettling.

“So this would be the place?” Ezra asked relieved, changing the subject, and pointing to the spot Vin had picked out. It was perfect, not surprisingly.

“Reckon it’ll do,” came the answer.

“Then I’ll go and direct them here. Vin,” he acknowledged with a fleeting nod and a fingertip to the brim of his hat before turning his mount back to where the others were slowly catching up. Giving a big grin to Larabee as the gunslinger rode up he noted the man had effectively blocked Tanner’s vision to the rest of the men.

“What was that all about?” the man in black asked, curious about the look he’d gotten from Standish.

“An apology.”

Chris nodded and glanced to the place Vin had chosen. “This looks to be a good spot.”

“You here as a diversion?”

Chris adjusted himself in the saddle and once again crossed his wrists over the saddle horn. He looked over at Vin with a wide smile.

“On to 'em huh?”

Vin just grinned back at him.

“They’re worried about you. Think you need a rest. Buck’s idea. His way of apologizin‘ too.”

First Ezra, now Buck. Vin felt pretty good about his friends and their wanting to make things right between themselves and him. It meant a lot to him. He figured he could play along.

Vin raised an eyebrow, smile still on his lips. “Reckon I could use a rest.”

“Alright. What say we head over there to those trees,” Chris motioned with his head, “and take a load off?”

“Sounds good,” Vin said as the two men headed to a shady spot.

“Want to tell them you know?”

“Nah, let ‘em have their fun,” Vin chuckled, taking a quick glance back at his friends, seeing Buck look at him and wave as if telling him all was just fine.

+ + + + + + +

Not long after Vin and Chris had found a place to rest along side the stream in a shaded grassy area, Nathan and Josiah had joined them. Jackson was concerned about the tracker, wanting to know how he was feeling. When Vin assured him he was fine, just tired, Josiah began to tell them how he and Ko-Je had see-sawed back and forth between finding out the truth about Claire and Chanu and the relationship he himself had with his own father. He told them that in life all things were related and once he’d grasped that concept, he’d gotten his balance back and found the answers he was seeking.

Vin, Chris and Nathan listened, however, none had a clue as to how one thing related to the other, but Josiah seemed genuinely happy about it and they were in turn happy for him.

Yawning once again Nathan spoke up, “Think I’ll go lay down under that tree yonder and take a little nap while Milagro’s leg is still soaking.”

“Sounds like a good plan. Mind if I join you?” asked Josiah as he waited for an acknowledgement from his friend.

Nathan nodded to him and with a quick glance back to the men standing in and around the water, he and Josiah walked a little ways to a fallen dead tree limb, sat down in front of it and rested their backs against the massive log.

“You alright?” Chris asked softly, noticing his partner had gone quiet and solemn.

With a shake of his head, Vin answered honestly, “Don’t rightly know. Can’t help thinkin’ but what would have happened if I hadn’t let Chanu get away. Maybe Claire would still be alive.”

“Most likely not,” Chris told him. “The truth would have come out sooner or later and then things could have turned ugly. For Claire. For Chanu. For the village. Ain’t sayin’ it couldn’t have turned out better, but Moseley could have killed Claire and Chanu both and twisted everything around and we might have ended up in an Indian war. Least this way, the truth came out. Got ta let it go Vin.”

“Maybe,” Vin said absently, trying to make sense of the whole thing.

“You did good Vin,” Chris told him as he met Vin’s eyes. “Justice was served. Chanu and his people have the satisfaction knowing Claire’s murderer will be punished. That means a lot . . . that knowing,” he finished, eyes drifting to the horizon, a shadow crossing his features. “It’s closed for them,” he added in a near whisper.

Vin studied his friend's profile, knowing just where Larabee's thoughts were. “We’ll find her Chris,” Vin told him softly, conviction in his voice. “We’ll close that fer you too.”

Chris appeared to study that thought for a minute before looking back at Vin and giving him a quick nod. Eyes lowering then to the leather pouch hanging from his friend's neck, he asked, "What's in the pouch?"

Fingering the item Chanu had given him, he told Chris a little about what the pouch meant and what kinds of things a brave usually put inside. Sacred things, things that entailed important passings in a young warrior's life.

“It’s gift, a thank you. I didn’t have ’nothin’ ta give back,” Vin said, a wistful look on his face.

“You gave Chanu the truth, Vin. That’s an honorable gift.”

Blue eyes met hazel, a small smile was born and Vin was once again reminded of why he’d chosen this man as a friend . . . a trusted friend. Chris understood, and if he didn’t, he made a damn good try at it and Vin respected Larabee for that. He needed to let him know that.

“Thanks fer believin’ in me Chris, givin’ me the time ta find Chanu and sort this all out. You took a chance on me and I ‘preciate it.”

“Figured the odds were in my favor,” the answer came with a knowing look.

Vin nodded and looked over to his right at the men tending to the ‘injured’ horse. Chris turned to his left and followed the tracker’s gaze.

“Reckon we should tell them ta come out of the water now? They’s likely ta start prunin’ up,” Vin chuckled as he spoke. It felt good to have something to laugh about. These men . . . all of them, were capable of bringing out the best in a man even in a bad situation.

Chris’ grin widened. “You done restin‘?”

Vin glanced back at Nathan who was still reclined against a tree stump and shrugged.

“Nathan’s pretty relaxed yet. Reckon I could shut my eyes fer a little bit.”

“Alright,” Chris said, getting up. “I’ll go find out how ‘things’ are going.”

“You gonna tell them?”

“Want me to?”

Pursing his lips together, Vin thought about it as he looked to his friends in the water once again and thought about the trouble they’d gone through worryin’ on him. “Keep it ‘tween us I reckon.”

Chris nodded to him, said “Get some rest,” and walked away.

Laying down in the grass, Vin pulled his hat down over his face and crossed his arms behind his head, using them as a pillow. He still had ‘what if’ questions bouncing around in his head but he knew Chris was right about one thing: if it hadn’t played out the way it did, who knew . . . it could have ended up a blood bath. Mentally shaking his head to clear the unwanted thoughts, he tried to think of lighter things . . . like Buck, JD and Ezra riding the rest of the way home in wet boots and socks.

He drifted off to sleep with a smile on his face.