(The Drabbling Vinburys are: Brigitta, Carole, Jane, Sherry, Susie, Rhiannon and Xiola)
Summary: After a cave-in, six of The Seven are separated from Vin. Trapped in a cave awaiting rescue, they have no idea if their friend is dead or alive
Comments: This story was written as a round robin of 300 word parts for the Vinfeedback List's second anniversary
Disclaimer: The 'Magnificent Seven' characters are the property of MGM, Trilogy and the Mirisch Company. The characters are used here without permission BUT no profit is being made and no copyright infringement is intended.
Friday 10 am
As five men dived for cover at Chris's command, the tunnel behind them collapsed with a mighty roar.
Retrieving an outlaw gang's stash from a cave north of Four Corners had seemed a simple job. The Peacekeepers had just located the gold in an inner cavern when the cave-in began.
The instant the fall of rock and dirt ceased, Chris scrambled up, scanning the cave urgently. Josiah, Buck and JD were on their feet and Nathan was helping a shaky Ezra. Vin was missing. His throat constricted.
"He heard something. He was heading back to check it out," Josiah answered quietly, rubbing his shoulder where he had landed awkwardly.
JD looked at the blocked tunnel in horror. "You don't think... he isn't..."
"'Course not," Buck said quickly, frowning at the younger man.
Chris ran to the one-time entrance, now solidly blocked by boulders.
His voice echoed around the cavern, but there was no answering Texas drawl.
Swallowing back a rising panic, Chris grabbed the nearest boulder and pulled. It shifted a few inches, accompanied by an ominous rumble.
"Chris, you can't move it from this side. You'll bring the whole roof down."
Ignoring Buck's urgent warning, Chris continued to tear at the rocks frantically. A louder rumble sounded, and Josiah and Buck rushed forward, dragging Chris to safety as a fresh fall of small rocks rained down.
"Chris, stop. It's too dangerous."
Chris pulled away and turned on Josiah, eyes flashing. "So we just leave him there?"
"We don't know he's trapped. He might have made it out. Either way, we have no choice but to wait for help."
Chris knew Josiah was right, but without knowing if Vin was dead or alive it was going to be a long, long wait.
Friday 11:30 am
Chris anxiously paced the small confined space. After watching him for an hour, Buck figured Larabee needed a distraction. "You know Vin... ain't no give up in him. Remember when you sent us to Red Rock with that prisoner? We told you 'bout the trouble we had gettin' him there, the gunfight with his gang, and the extra three days it cost us... me and Vin took 'em all on and won - that boy's a force to be reckoned with when he's riled - but I never said what happened on the way back."
"More trouble?" Chris stopped to listen.
"Tanner trouble! It rained, I was dead tired, and all I wanted was to get back home, clean up, and maybe see Miss Sue, she..."
"Buck!" Chris growled.
"Uh, yeah, anyway... we'd just come through the pass, when rocks started fallin' behind us. Vin turned back and rode right into 'em. I tried to stop him, but that pig-headed Texan kept on goin', rock fallin' everywhere, dust flyin' up enough to choke a horse. I figured he'd lost his mind. My ornery horse took exception to the noise and threw me into a wet patch. Here I am, on foot, waterlogged, with my backside aching. 'Bout that time here comes Vin... with a kid. Mama shows up the same time Tanner's riding out with her kid in his arms and boy was she mad! Me being on foot, I guess I made a good target. She lit into me with all four feet, wanting her kid back, and butted me clean into next Sunday. Reckon our softhearted Texan saw that baby goat as we rode through and decided it needed savin'. Tanner laughed about my sore backside all the way home."
"That sounds just like our Vin," Chris chuckled.
Friday 1:30 pm
The despair in the cave was palpable.
"Vin might not have much learnin'," Josiah said, finally breaking the silence, "but his deductive skills are mighty powerful. Came in handy for me a while back."
Without moving a muscle, Chris's smoldering glare seemed to deepen.
"It was shortly after Emma. My heart was heavy and my thirst powerful and I spent the evening at the saloon. Vin came by eventually and got me to my room, settled me in with a blanket, glass of water, and words of wisdom."
"No offense, Josiah," said Buck, turning his head lazily, "but Vin seeing you to bed after a night of drinking ain't nothin' new."
Josiah ignored the interruption. "Come morning, I awoke to a fierce headache and a moment of panic--I couldn't find the three small diamonds old Mrs. Vincent had tossed in the collection plate the Sunday before."
That got Ezra's attention. "You, sir, had diamonds in your possession?" He paled and sat up straight. "You, sir, lost these diamonds in your possession?"
"I had a vague recollection of panicking after Vin left, certain that robbers were after those diamonds. I knew I must have hid them somewhere, but the location eluded me. I was frantic! Fortunately, Vin came by to see how I was doing. I told him my dilemma. In all of five seconds, he walked over to my glass of water by the bed, poured it into the palm of his hand, and held out the three missing diamonds, soaking wet."
"Thank God," Ezra murmured, his color returning.
"My sentiments exactly. 'That was mighty clever of you, brother Vin,' I told him. Vin just shrugged and said, 'Wasn't me that was clever, Josiah. You were the one put 'em there.'" Josiah sat back and grinned. "I was indeed."
Friday 2:00 pm
Each man sat, lost in thought, then a soft laugh caught their attention, and five heads swung toward the youngest member of their group.
"Somethin' funny, JD?" Buck questioned.
JD shook his head, looking slightly sheepish.
"What were you thinking about, son?" Josiah prompted.
Taking a deep breath, JD looked around at the other men, a faint smile on his face. "I was just remembering one time... A couple months ago, Vin and
I took some papers over to Eagle Bend for the judge. After we gave them to the sheriff, I headed over to the saloon while Vin took care of the horses." He
paused. "I was sitting there, minding my own business, when these two cowboys came in. They took one look at what I was drinking, and..."
"What were you drinking, son?" Josiah asked.
"Milk. There's nothing wrong with that," JD added a bit defensively.
"Nope," Nathan agreed. "It's good for you."
"Well, anyway, those two didn't see it that way." He shifted uncomfortably in his seat.
"They give ya a hard time?" Buck asked, his eyes promising retribution if he should ever come across the two cowboys in question.
"Well, they started to, but then Vin..." JD smiled. "All of a sudden, there he was, sitting at the table next to me, and he was drinking milk, too."
The other five men chuckled.
"He didn't say anything, just leaned back in his chair, propped his feet up on the edge of the table, and sipped on that milk like it was whiskey." JD shook his head in admiration.
Buck laughed at the image. "Probably wearing a milk mustache, too, just like a little kid."
JD nodded. "He was! And the whole time he was staring those two down."
"That's our Vin," Buck crowed, slapping his knee.
Friday 3:00 pm
Nathan felt a chill claw at his spine, his mind clouding with an image of his softly spoken companion. Vin hadn't thought twice about facing down a lynch mob to save the ex-slave's life. As a matter of fact, Vin never thought twice about risking his life to defend anyone. Nathan didn't doubt that Vin would defend the devil himself if Satan were outnumbered. Tanner had a great regard for life and he hated injustice with a passion Nathan had rarely seen in someone so young... someone who had not spent time as another's slave.
"And one for the doc." Jackson's companions glanced in his direction, light from the small lamps flickering off the healer's solemn face. Realizing he'd spoken aloud, Nathan explained, "On the day I met him, we went into the saloon and ordered a drink, but the barkeep..." His voice faded. It had happened so many times in so many different towns. It didn't any more... didn't because of men like Tanner.
"Vin treats everyone with equal respect," Josiah agreed.
"He judges people on who they are, not what they are," Nathan growled. That fact revealed strength of character that was difficult to maintain in modern times.
Inez had once referred to Vin as a 'softie', but that was wrong. Those who mistook Vin's gentle and reserved nature for weakness did so at their own peril. Vin was as hard as nails... a tough, brave, resolute survivor who would defend a friend with his last breath.
Nathan thanked all that was holy that he had the privilege of calling someone like Vin Tanner, friend.
Jackson rose and strode across to the impenetrable wall of rock. His 'friend' was behind that... under that. Josiah appeared at his side, took his arm and led him back to the group.
Friday 5:00 pm
"Mr. Tanner's latest act of selflessness transpired just last week in Shorty's Folly."
"I never heard that you two ran inta any trouble there," Buck mused. "You were only gone three days, but then, that's plenty 'a time for you t' git yourself in a mess."
"Stung as I am by your assumption that I was the author of this misfortune-"
"But ya were, right?"
"Mr. Dunne, let's just say I was a victim of circumstance."
"OK, so you were caught cheating at cards. Then what happened?"
"Mr. Larabee, you wound me."
"Get on with it, Ez, while we're still conscious."
"There was a reunion in progress. All of Shorty's many descendants were on hand and Mr. Tanner and I were forced to share a room at the hotel. He was feeling under the weather and retired long before I did. When I finally left the saloon with my considerable winnings, I overheard my tablemates vocalizing their desire to visit grievous bodily harm upon my person. I made my way to the hotel in haste and upon my somewhat boisterous entrance into our chamber, our resident Texan awoke. I explained my plight and he devised a plan. It seems
our hostess noticed Mr. Tanner's indisposition and, concerned that he might not be warm enough while sleeping, offered him the use of one of her nightgowns, complete with lace trimmings. Not wishing to refuse her kindness, he accepted the garment. When Shorty's clan came knocking, Mr. Tanner opened the door to them while I, `Mrs. Tanner', lay abed, attired in women's raiment, waiting for my spouse to return to my loving arms. I am rather chagrined to acknowledge
they had no difficulty accepting me disguised as one of the fairer sex. But fortunately they were convinced, and we left town unharmed."
Friday 6:45 pm
A prolonged quietness had settled on the group; an eerie silence that was periodically interrupted by a clattering sound, as loose rocks shifted in the cavern.
Chris had listened to the conversation in the past hours, as the five men regaled them all with tales of Vin's various exploits and characteristics. The gunslinger guessed the reasoning behind the others' spontaneous anecdotes of the missing tracker, privately admitting it had allayed his increasing fear. He'd also been thinking of his absent friend, although felt unable to share his own thoughts and impressions of the Texan.
Everything said was Tanner through and through. But there was more. Chris couldn't recall ever meeting a nobler, more honorable, determined and gritty but sensitive man than Vin. There was an easygoing uniqueness about him, something almost virtuous that defied explanation. The gunslinger believed that even if he lived to be a hundred years, he'd never truly understand the many faceted layers of his younger friend's personality. In light of their current predicament, he just prayed he'd have the opportunity to find out more.
The gunslinger knew Vin was strong, resourceful, someone who coped well under pressure, and usually prevailed no matter how serious the situation. But being ensnared underground had swept away that knowledge, and worry - like a hungry dog gnawing at a clean bone - had started to invade Larabee's mind. What if Vin was lying trapped, and dying, under a pile of rocks just feet from them? Could he have done more to help his friend? What if they never found him?
Mary Travis knew their whereabouts, so rescue was just a matter of time, but Chris couldn't stop the feeling of helplessness at Vin's possible fate. Getting to his feet, the gunslinger paced once more, occasionally glaring in malevolence at the blocked entrance.
Friday 7:15 pm
The only sound was the echo of Chris's footsteps as he marched back and forth.
"What's that?" Buck jumped up.
Josiah cocked his head. "Hammering?"
"They've found us!" JD cried.
The sound intensified and a muffled voice called, "Larabee?"
"No, we're fine."
"Hold on, we're almost through."
Minutes later, amidst the sounds of scuffling and muffled curses, a gap appeared in the rocks and a figure squeezed through. Chris's heart leapt. "Vin!"
"Chris! I thought you were... that you'd bin..."
Chris looked closely at the sharpshooter and frowned. "Vin, you're hurt."
He didn't look fine. He was swaying, one arm held stiffly across his chest, face white and drawn.
"Chris, I think I'm gonna..."
Vin's eyes rolled back in his head and his knees buckled. Chris leapt forward and caught him before he hit the ground.
An older man squeezed through the gap. "Passed out, has he? Ain't surprised. Stubborn cuss shouldn't be here, not with broken ribs and that lump on his head."
"What happened?" Chris asked, eyes fixed on Vin's prone form.
"He was caught in the rock fall, somehow dug his way out and came for help. Insisted on comin' back to help dig you out. Man's got a lot'a guts."
Chris's throat tightened. "Yeah, that's Vin."
+ + + + + + +
Later at Nathan's clinic, Vin opened his eyes on six anxious faces. He frowned. "Somethin' wrong?"
"Nope, thanks to you," Chris said.
"I thought..." Vin cleared his throat. "So, how did ya pass the time in there?"
"We engaged in some enlightening conversation," Ezra said.
"Some of us," Buck added. "Others just... paced." He grinned at Chris's scowl.
Vin looked skeptical. "What did ya find ta talk about fer nine hours?"
Chris smiled. "You'd be surprised, Vin. You'd be surprised."