Stuck In a Moment

by JIN

Disclaimers: The Magnificent Seven belong to others.

Comments: A follow-up to A Short Story, wherein Chris challenged Vin to write a book. Like that fic, this one takes place four years after the seven first joined up.

Warnings: A little cursing. Or maybe a lot, depending on how worked up Vin gets.

"The gunfighter wasn't looking for trouble, but trouble followed him like a hound dog on a scent. All he wanted was a quiet drink in a town with no name, but when a bullet shattered the glass he was drinking from, he knew it wasn't gonna happen that way. He stepped-"

"Chris Larabee? I'm callin' you out!"

"Aw hell," Vin muttered, tossing his pencil to the roof where he was perched. He crawled to the edge and peered into the street below. A lone gunman stood in the middle of the road, aiming his glare towards the boardwalk where Chris sat.

"Damn fool," Vin mumbled as he picked up his rifle and prepared to fire.

Chris looked up from the figure he was carving, but he didn't get to his feet. Instead, he squinted against the bright sun and said with a tone of indifference, "Kinda busy right now."

Vin shook his head and rolled his eyes. Larabee was going to get himself killed one of these days out of sheer boredom.

"What?" Larabee's would be assassin scratched his head like he couldn't quite believe what he'd heard.

"Might be able to work y' in tomorrow . . . or the next day," Chris answered, turning back to the chunk of wood in his hands.

Buck had moved behind Chris, and he chuckled so loud that Vin could hear him from up on the roof. Neither one of them was paying the least bit of attention, Vin noted with disgust. Because if they were, they'd know that even though this guy looked like he was less of a threat than JD on his greenest day, in reality the gunman was a little drunk, a lot pissed off, and ready to shoot - whether Chris drew or not.

Shaking his head again, Vin pulled the trigger just as Chris's latest nemesis raised his gun to fire. The weapon flew out of the man's hands and he sank to his knees, cradling his bloody arm against his chest. Chris did raise his head at that, tossing a casual glance towards the roof. He met Vin's eye and nodded, then went back to that damn piece of wood.

With a sigh, Vin returned to the beam he'd been sitting on and picked up his pencil and paper. It was actually a - Vin thought hard to remember the word Mary had used - a journal, he thought it was. Yeah, that was it. Mary had given him a journal to write in when he used the excuse that he wanted to practice his letters. The truth was, he had a damn good memory - having relied on it to survive most of his life - and he didn't need any more practice making letters. But Chris had put that stupid idea in his head about writing a book, and now he couldn't stop thinking about it. So he put the pencil to the paper and picked up where he'd left off . . .

"He stepped into the street - and got his damn fool head shot off."

Story over. Vin huffed. Alright, so it hadn't happened quite like that, but it certainly wasn't because Chris was watching out for himself. Vin crossed a line through that last part, applying a little more pressure to the lead than was required, and continued . . .

"He stepped into the street as a group of trail hands dragged a Negro man-"

Vin paused. He didn't like that word "Negro", probably because some folks used it like it was a curse word or something bad, something dirty. He scratched the word out . . .

"- dragged a darkie-"

No, that was worse.

"- dragged a healer-"

There. That was better. It didn't matter what color a man's skin was anyway. Leastwise, it shouldn't matter.

"-towards the old cemetery at the end of town. They were aiming to hang him, even though he was an innocent man, a good man. The gunfighter knew he should walk away, but he couldn't. Something inside him made him stand up for justice. Or maybe he just didn't care all that much if he got himself killed."

"Ain't that the truth," Vin muttered with a scowl.

"Just as he pondered what his next move might be, the gunfighter saw that the man, who had been sweeping the boardwalk, now had a rifle in his hands. Their eyes met and it was like they'd known each other forever."

Vin grimaced. That didn't sound right. In fact, it sounded like one of those romance novels Buck was always quoting. He crossed out the last sentence.

"Their eyes met, and even though no words were spoken, they bonded right off."

Bonded? Where the hell did he get that word?

"Their eyes met, and without saying a word, they headed off together to stop that hanging. And the gunfighter knew he'd found a friend to watch his back for the rest of his life."

Hold on, that sounded like him and Chris were betrothed or something. This time Vin scribbled out the sentence forcefully, mumbling under his breath, "Stupid idea, writin' a book. Ain't like I got time. Nope. Gotta watch Larabee's damn, stubborn ass because he don't bother watchin' it for himself. Be watchin' his back for the rest of his life, alright."

"Vin? Who are you talking to?"

Startled, Vin dropped the journal to the roof. "What the hell are you sneakin' up on me for?"

Chris grinned. "What are you doing up here? Hidin'?"

"No!" Vin snapped defensively. "Maybe I'm watchin' your damn fool head since you can't seem t' do it for yourself."

Chris laughed long and loud, and Vin frowned. "I don't see what's so funny, Larabee. If I hadn't taken care of that idiot, Nathan would be diggin' a bullet outta you right now."

Chris stopped laughing, but the smile held. "I saw him, Vin, and I knew he was gonna fire. But I also knew you would take care of him."

Narrowing his eyes, Vin replied doubtfully, "Sure y' did."

"You bet I did. I told you before - I always know where you are. And what you're up to," he added, eying the journal that lay next to Vin.

Vin scooped the book up in his hands. "Ain't up t' nothin'. Practicin' my letters is all."

"Sure y' are."

"You want somethin'? Or did you just come up here t' rile me up?"

Chris was still grinning, and Vin couldn't help thinking back to when they'd first met four years before. Larabee always had a smile that lit up his face, but he didn't wear it much back then. Of course, at that moment, Vin wanted to wipe that grin clean off of him. There wasn't anything funny about what had almost happened in the street just minutes before.

But Chris obviously thought there was because he still couldn't keep a straight face when he said, "Thought I'd offer to buy you a drink, seein' how you saved my life and all."

Rolling his eyes once more for good measure, Vin grunted his response and stood up. He wouldn't turn down a free drink, and Chris knew it. And he wasn't getting very far on the stupid book idea anyway.

Of course, he should've known that Larabee wouldn't let it go. They were sitting at their customary table in the saloon when Chris brought it up again. "You gonna write about things that have really happened? Or is this gonna be fiction?"

"Huh? Fiction?"

"Yeah, you know, you write a story that never happened, make things up as you go along."

"Oh, so I could write like you actually have some sense then?"

Chris grinned. "Yep. Or you don't have to write about me at all. You could write about a beautiful woman."

Nearly choking on his beer, Vin spat, "Who the hell would wanna write about a woman?" Or read about one for that matter, he thought.

Chris was still smiling when he said, "God Vin, we've got to get you out more."

"Out of what?"

Shaking his head, Chris continued, "So how far along are you?"

"Do we have to talk about this?"

"Oh yeah. Ain't had this much fun in some time now."

"Fine. If it'll shut you up, there ain't nothin' t' talk about. I'm kinda . . . stuck. Stupid idea anyway," Vin muttered.

"Stuck on what?"

"On a . . . moment." He was not about to tell Chris that he couldn't find the words to describe their first meeting.

Chris raised a brow, obviously curious, but he only said, "Skip it."


"Move on and go back to that part later. The words will come to you, probably when you least expect it."

"And you've written how many books, Chris?"

That cocky grin again. "None."

"So why am I talkin' about this with you?"

"I don't know, Vin. Why have you stuck with me for four years? I'm guessin' it's not because you think I'm smart-"

Vin snorted.

"-so it must be something else."

It was something else alright. Too bad Vin couldn't think of the words to describe it. If he could, that moment when he and Chris met might not be such a struggle for him to write about.

Fortunately, Vin didn't have to continue the conversation because a group of rowdy cattle hands picked that precise moment to bust into the saloon and stir up some trouble. With a little help from JD and Ezra, they managed to get them carted off to the jail without a bruise or drop of blood between them.

Which was actually pretty disappointing, so since Vin was feeling a little restless, he offered to take watch at the jail. All the men were drunk as skunks, so they quickly collapsed in the two cells and proceeded to sleep off their binge.

Sighing with boredom, Vin decided he might as well settle in for the night. But before he did, he went to the window and peered down the street. No one coming that he could see, but Larabee could be a sneaky devil when he wanted to be. Just in case, he decided to lock the door. Once that was accomplished, he sat down and propped his feet on the desk. When all remained still for another ten minutes, he pulled out his journal and began to write . . .

"Bullets flew in all directions at the old cemetery that day. Those trail hands would've been happier if they'd just rode away. But they were drunk and stupid, and by the time the dust settled, they were dead, too. The gunfighter cut the healer lose, and they all three headed for the saloon. They ignored the nosy, but kinda pretty, newspaper lady as they passed by."

There, he put a woman in the story - that should please Chris.

"While they were sharing a drink, two Seminoles came in and asked for help protecting their village. They didn't have much to offer - just a tiny gold piece that wouldn't hardly pay for a man's bullets. The gunfighter looked at the-"

The what? What was he exactly? A tracker? A sharpshooter? Buffalo hunter? Wanted man? Vin pondered that a moment. Maybe he should just call his friends by name, otherwise he was going to have a whole story filled with things like "the gunfighter", "the healer", "the gambler", "the preacher", "the kid", and . . . well, he couldn't think of a good word for Buck at the moment but he was sure there was one. Maybe he'd ask Buck what he'd like to be called tomorrow.

He was getting ahead of himself. He really didn't like the idea of using their real names; that was just too personal. But Chris said he could make things up as he went along, so Chris could be . . . Cal. And Nathan could be . . . Nick. And he could be . . . "Aw hell," he grumbled, tossing his pencil to the desk. "This is too much damn work."

But the longer he sat there, the more it nagged at him. Might be that no one ever read what he wrote. But it might be that someday, he'd wish he'd written it all down while he could remember it. So alright, if he was going to be known for something, he'd rather it not be for how he used a rifle.

"The gunfighter looked at the tracker. He didn't say anything because he didn't need to. The tracker seemed to know what the gunfighter was thinking without any words being said. It was like that right from the start. No one knew why, it just was."

Vin stopped a minute to think on that. Why was it that he and Chris could read each other like that? After four years together, there were times when Vin swore he knew what Chris was thinking before Chris even got around to thinking it. It was the damnedest thing. Too bad he couldn't make Chris think the way he wanted him to - now that would be something. Damn fool might actually look out for himself if that was the case.

But since he didn't, it was a good thing they met all those years ago; otherwise, Larabee would likely be dead by now. Vin smiled grimly when he thought about how many times he'd stepped in and save Chris's sorry hide. Of course, there were a few times when Chris did the same for him. In fact, Larabee always seemed a whole more concerned about his friends' welfare than his own.

Vin thought back to that night a few weeks before when the book subject came up. He and Chris had damn near come to blows talking about Ella and the bounty that remained on his own head. But hell, it was Larabee's fault; anyone with a half a brain would realize that Ella was still out there, just waiting for her chance to get her hooks in Chris again. Vin knew that he could look out for any bounty hunters that happened to cross his path, so Larabee needed to quit worrying about him and start worrying about himself.

Like that was going to happen.

With a heavy sigh, Vin moved on with his story.

"The Seminole village was in trouble, and it would take more than three men to win this battle. But as luck would have it, the gunfighter's best friend-"

Best friend? That made Buck and Chris sound like little school girls. And if the truth be known, Vin didn't really like the idea that Buck was Chris's best friend. He'd never say that to anyone - ever - no matter what - they could hang him by his toenails before he'd admit that he wanted to be the best friend in this story. Vin crossed out the word "best".

"-the gunfighter's old friend-"

Now Buck sounded like he was an old geezer. Vin scratched through the word "old".

"-the gunfighter's friend was in town. The . . ."

He left a space, still undecided about what he should call Buck . . .

". . . was in the hotel, having a real good time with a pretty lady. With a little help from the tracker, the gunfighter got the . . . out of bed, and he agreed to join the fight."

Vin smirked. That ought to do it, had to do it because he was not writing about any more woman. Although eventually he might have to work in Rain . . . and Nettie . . . and Casey . . . and Inez.

"Stupid book idea," he mumbled under his breath again as he pulled his hat over his eyes and leaned back in the chair for a bit of rest.

It was morning by the time JD relieved him, so he headed for the saloon to see if he could talk Inez into some breakfast. He never had settled on what he going to call Buck in his story, so when Wilmington happened to show up to eat at the same time, Vin tried to find a way to casually bring the subject up.

"How y' doin', Buck?"

"Good. Real good. You?"


Buck continued to slurp down his biscuits and gravy, while Vin pushed his eggs around on his plate. It was a sorry day when some stupid book had him too strung up to eat Inez's cooking. The sooner he got this settled, the better.

"So Buck, I was wonderin', what do y' think you are?"

Aw, hell, that didn't come out right, he thought, wincing as he quickly choked down a swallow of hot coffee.

"Huh? What do y' mean, Vin?"

"Well, uh, you know, Josiah's like a preacher, Nathan's our healer, JD's the kid-"

Buck chuckled. "Don't let him hear you still callin' him that. He thinks now that he and Casey are engaged, he's a real man."

"He'll always be the kid to us," Vin replied. "So anyway, what would you call yourself?"

"Well, I don't know, Vin. Never thought about it before. Why do you wanna know?"

"Yeah, Vin, why do you wanna know?" Chris's voice suddenly joined in.

Vin cringed, but he managed to hold back a groan. It was just like he thought, Larabee was sneaky as hell when he wanted to be, and this was one of those times.

"Mornin', Chris," Buck said between bites. "Didn't hear you come in."

"Thought I'd join you boys," he said. "So go on, Vin, tell us why you wanna know what Buck would call himself."

"Ain't no reason," Vin mumbled morosely as the heat rose up to color his face. If Larabee said one word . . .

"I think Buck would be our . . . ladies' man. How's that sound?" Chris offered.

"Ladies' man?" Vin repeated, horrified at the very idea. He was beginning to think he needed to prod Chris in Mary's direction - and soon - since the man obviously had women on his mind.

"I like the sound of that," Buck said with a wide smile. "And hell, it is accurate. Ain't many ladies can resist old Buck's charm."

"I don't like it," Vin replied. "It sounds . . . cheap." Hell, Buck could ride hard and shoot straight and he never backed down in a fight - why would he want to be known for what he did with a lady?

"Why do you care?" Buck asked, suddenly curious. "I thought it was my choice."

"Yeah, Vin, why do you care?" Chris asked, those damn green eyes laughing at him even if his voice wasn't.

"Don't," Vin muttered. But he turned his gaze to Chris, pleading with him not to tell Buck the truth about the stupid book idea.

As usual, Chris must have read his mind, because he softened his voice a bit and said, "Well, you know Buck, now that you and Inez are courting, it might be better if we call you our . . . rogue."

"Huh?" Buck and Vin puzzled in unison.

"Rogue. R-O-G-U-E," Chris answered, spelling slowly for Vin's benefit.

Vin wasn't sure whether to be insulted or grateful.

And apparently, neither was Buck. Wilmington cocked his head for a long moment before finally nodding. "Alright, I'll be the rogue."

Well, Vin thought, that was one thing settled. Now all he had to figure out was how to describe that first moment when he and Chris met. Maybe Chris was right, maybe it would come to him when he least expected it.

It was hours later before he could sneak away and get back to the stupid book. But once again he was stumped. He'd gotten to the point in the story where they met Josiah, but he couldn't quite remember why Josiah had turned them down the first day, then changed his mind the second. He vaguely remembered some sort of nonsense about penance and crows, but he didn't understand that now any more than he did then.

So he figured the only thing to do was to go to the source.

"Hey, Josiah," Vin called out as he approached the church.

Once again, Sanchez was working up on the roof of the church. Vin was thinking that after four years, there couldn't possibly be a single shingle that hadn't been replaced at least twice over, but he wasn't going to question his friend. At least, not about that - he had other things on his mind.

"Something I can do for you, Vin?" the big man asked as he climbed down from the ladder.

"No, not exactly. Well, kind of. I was just sorta wonderin' about something."

"Alright. I'll be happy to help you if I can."

"Well, you know, uh," Vin stumbled a bit, trying to think how to phrase his question without letting on why he was asking it. "When we first asked you - I mean, when Nathan first asked you to join us - you know, back four years ago - well, uh, why didn't you? I mean, you said 'no' at first and then you changed your mind the next day and I always wondered why."

Josiah cocked his head. "It took you four years to ask me this, Vin?"

Vin kicked the dirt at his feet and muttered, "Just was thinkin' about it, that's all."

Josiah frowned and Vin got the distinct impression he didn't quite believe him, but after a few moments he cleared his throat and said, "It just wasn't the right time, that first day when Nathan asked. But after I did some pondering, and you all came riding back the next day, it was the right time."

Now it was Vin's turn to frown. "That's it? Wasn't there somethin' about crows?"

"That's right," Josiah agreed, like he'd just now remembered. "I did see crows and I took that as a sign."

"Of what?"


"Oh, yeah. But you didn't die. So . . .?"

"That was four years ago, Vin."

Vin took that as Josiah's way of saying he didn't know either why he saw crows or why he didn't die or why any of that had any bearing on his decision in the first place. In short, Vin was back where he started from.

Mumbling his thanks - for nothing - he made his way back to his wagon and slipped inside. Picking up the journal, he began to write . . .

"The healer knew a preacher who was busy moving a bunch of rocks for no apparent reason just outside of town."

He liked that word, 'apparent' - it had a nice ring to it and made him sound smart. But what he really wanted to write was that no one knew why the hell Josiah was moving a big pile of rocks from one damn spot to another.

"The preacher was a good man, even if he had some odd ideas, but he wasn't ready to join them just yet. Even the promise of a hell of a fight wasn't enough to convince him. They'd have to come back the next day and ask him again."

Nope. There was just no way to write that to make it sound reasonable. What man in his right mind would turn down riding with Chris Larabee to haul rocks?

But then, if he couldn't make Josiah's actions seem logical, how the hell would he ever explain Ezra? Standish defied explanation, as far as Vin was concerned. Four years of riding with the man still wasn't enough for him to figure out why Ezra thought and acted the way he did.

Deciding a cup of Mrs. Potter's coffee might help him clear his head, he left his wagon and headed for the small restaurant the widow had opened up the year before. He took the table in the far back corner and pulled out the journal once more.

"So the four men moved onto the next town. It wasn't long before they heard some excitement coming from the saloon. They went inside and saw some fancy gambler playing a shooting game with the local townsfolk. The tracker was real impressed when that gambler got off a decent shot using a mirror."

"Vin? May I ask what you are doing?"

Slamming the journal shut, Vin looked up at Ezra and mumbled, "Nothin'."

"Well then, may I join you?"

"Uh, yeah," Vin replied with a shrug. He'd come to the restaurant well after the others had already eaten, so he'd thought he was safe.

Ezra ordered a piece of pie, before glancing at the journal Vin still held in his hands. "What are you reading?"

"Huh? Nothin'," Vin replied again, wincing at how stupid he sounded. "I mean, uh, I'm just practicin'. My letters. And stuff. You know."

"Oh, I see," Ezra replied with a nod. "Well, I didn't mean to interrupt."

"No. No. You didn't. It's not important."

"By the way," Ezra said between bites of pie, "I've been reading an interesting book that I think you might enjoy. It's quite unique as it is written from the second person point of view. Very difficult concept to pull off effectively, as you might imagine."

"Huh?" Vin didn't know what the hell Ezra was talking about, which pretty much proved his point about still not understanding the man. But he did know Standish well enough to be certain that this conversation was only just beginning. He tried not to groan.

"Point of view - a form of literary narration."

Vin looked at Ezra blankly.

Ezra cleared his throat. "When an author chooses to write a novel, he must first decide on the viewpoint of the narrator. Most commonly, novels are narrated in third-person omniscient, although I generally prefer third-person limited as I find it easier to relate to the feelings and emotions of one or two main characters than the entire cast. Another common view point is that of the first person, where the narrator speaks directly to the reader."

"Uh-huh," Vin said, studying his coffee. Did Larabee put Standish up to this, he wondered?

Clearing his throat again, Ezra added, "I am referring, of course, to the use of 'I', as in 'I was sweeping the boardwalk when I heard shots fired.'"

Blushing furiously now, Vin looked up at Ezra. "What did he tell you?"



"Chris? He didn't tell me anything. Should he have?"

"Why are you here talkin' about all this viewpoint stuff then?"

"No reason in particular, I assure you. I just noticed that you've been reading quite a bit lately and I thought perhaps we could share in a discussion about literature. Why? Is there some other reason I might discuss writing styles with you? Are you per chance considering authoring a work of your own?"

"No!" Vin squeaked.

"I see. Well, I've enjoyed our talk . . . I think. Oh, and I highly recommend the blueberry."


"Pie. The blueberry pie is excellent."

"Oh. Yeah."

Ezra stood up then and walked away. Vin thought he heard him mumbling something about someone still being a mystery to him, but he wasn't sure. His pencil in hand, he continued . . .

"Now the gambler talked real smart - used big words with lots of letters and such - but he sure didn't use his head when it came to money. He got himself into all kinds of trouble because he was always looking for a way to get more bills to stuff in his boot. He was real good at pissing off the gunfighter, too."

Pissing off? Probably wasn't right to write words like that down. Vin scratched that out.

". . . at riling up the gunfighter."

That was still true, Vin thought with a grin. Even after four years, no one could get under Chris's skin quite like Ezra.

"The gambler, he had to think on the gunfighter's offer, too, but early the next morning, he showed up ready to ride."

Vin shook his head. He sure didn't understand why the man hadn't jumped at the offer to ride with them - he was knee-deep in trouble, after all. What was there to think about?

Thank goodness the time had come to write about JD - finally someone he understood. The kid was chomping at the bit to ride with them, which was exactly how it should have been. Even though Chris had turned him away repeatedly, JD never gave up.

"There was this kid from the east who had been following the gunfighter and his men around. He was kind of annoying, like one of those gnats flying in your face that you keep swatting at but it won't go away. The kid couldn't help it though, he just wanted to ride with them all in the worst way. But the gunfighter turned him down at first - said he wasn't the type. The truth was, the gunfighter was worried about him (he had that habit, worrying about his friends)."

"Even when they don't need worryin' about," Vin muttered under his breath. It always came back to that: him and Chris in this tug of war about who was most in danger, whose past was likely to strike first - who took the most unnecessary risks. It was silly, really, because they were both perfectly capable of taking care of themselves. Just because they'd gotten used to watching each other's backs, didn't mean they needed each other for that purpose, did it?

"Hell, no," Vin answered his own question with a sigh.

"Talkin' to yourself again, Tanner?"

"Sneakin' up on me again, Larabee?"

Chris gave him that shit-eating grin and sat down across from him. "How's it comin'?" he asked then, with a nod towards the journal.

Snapping the little booklet closed, Vin merely shrugged.

"You still stuck?"

"Maybe. Kinda. Yeah," the last said with a deep sigh.

"Maybe I can help," Chris offered sincerely.

Before Vin could respond, JD burst through the rear doors of the restaurant and shouted, "We got trouble!"

"Could be Ella," Vin rasped at the same moment Chris growled, "Could be bounty hunters."

JD looked at them like they were both a little crazy and simply stated, "Bank robbers."

Chris and Vin looked at each other and said, "Oh," before exchanging a nod.

While Chris went out the front, Vin exited the rear, but he heard JD call out as he left, "It's real nice that you two can talk without words, but it don't help the rest of us know the plan!"

Vin was thinking after four years, JD ought to know the plan by heart. Vin was going up, Chris was going around. Everybody else needed to keep their heads down and shoot straight.

As he took his position on the roof, Vin quickly noted the positions of the five gunmen on the opposite side of the street. He quickly picked off one of the criminals, and he saw Buck take out another. He knew the remaining peacekeepers were situated in various places along the boardwalk, and he took reassurance in the insistent report of their weapons.

Ten minutes of heavy fire had passed when his eye caught movement on the roof of the hotel across the street. Moments later, a rifle appeared, aimed straight at him. Alright, so there were six men in the gang, Vin thought as he prepared to take the man out. But just then, he caught a glimpse of a seventh man, sneaking up in the alley behind Chris. He saw Chris turn and peer at the man behind him, before glancing up at the man on the roof.

Vin had a choice: he could take out the guy on the roof across the street, or break cover and take out the one in the alley who had his aim on Chris. For a split second, he caught Chris's eye, and that was when he understood how it was between them. It came to him just like Chris said it would, when he least expected it.

In a heartbeat, Vin understood that it didn't matter who they were battling - Ella's men or Eli Jo's - bounty hunters, rowdy trail hands, or bank robbers. It didn't matter because he and Chris had joined forces on the day they first met. Prior to that fateful moment, they were both solitary men; fiercely independent warriors who fought their own battles. But ever since, Chris's battles had become his battles, Chris's enemies had become his enemies - and vice versa. Watching Chris's back was no different than watching his own; they were partners, brothers, united in a common cause and prepared to die for each other if the situation called for it.

And it looked like it did. Vin only had time for one shot and his single thought as he stood up to fire was how easy the choice was. He and Chris had always planned to ride through hell together, so it didn't matter all that much if he got there first. He did kind of hope it would be quick, though - that his killer would be a good enough shot to get him with the first bullet.

But that bullet never came. Vin only had to look over his shoulder to know that Chris had taken care of the man for him. Well, he supposed he couldn't call Larabee a damn fool for breaking cover to fire at the guy on the roof, when he'd done the same thing to get the guy in the alley. Chris looked up at him and grinned, so Vin tipped his hat and smiled back.

It was all over then. The three remaining outlaws threw their weapons down in the street, and JD and Buck quickly marched them off to jail.

He was about to make his way down when he heard Nathan hollering, "I don't believe it! What the hell is wrong with you two? I saw what you did. Ain't neither one of you got a lick of sense! Not a lick!"

From up on the roof, Vin heard Chris argue, "It all came out fine, Nathan. What are you so worked up about?"

"You damn near got yourself killed! Neither you or Vin have the good sense God gave you t'. . ."

Nathan's voice trailed off as Vin made his way down the back of the building. Chris greeted him at the bottom of the stairs with a clap on the back. "Care for a drink?"

"You bet. And I'm buyin'."

"Oh yeah? There a reason?"

"I'm celebratin'."

Chris cocked his head for a moment, then raised his brow. "You unstuck?"

A slow, easy grin was Vin's answer.

That night, Vin crawled into his wagon and picked up his pencil once more . . .

"Their eyes met, and without saying a word, they headed off to stop that hanging. It was just the first of many roads the two men would walk together, the first of many battles fought side by side. They'd risk their lives time and again for justice, and offer up their lives for each other without a thought."

Vin smiled as he added one more line . . .

"Apparently, neither one had a lick of sense."

The End