Disclaimer: The boys are the property of MGM, Mirisch, and Trilogy Entertainment. I do not own them or make money from them but oh boy if I did...
Characters: Old West. Vin, Chris and OC's.
Big Thanks: I would like to really, really, thank whoever nominated Mother Love and Talisman for a Mistresses of Malarkey Fan Fic Award. As Nancy will kindly attest I was totally dumbstruck! So bless you whoever you are and I hope you will let me dedicate this fanfic to you.
Feedback: Yes, I've been watching Tombstone on DVD again! As you know any feedback is always greatly appreciated.
"Much obliged ta ya fellas."
Sheriff's Deputies Orlando Flynn and Jake McKenna had ridden in from nearby Libertyville to take two bank robbers into custody. Orlando thanked The Larabee Gang who had apprehended the bank robbers and securely locked them in the Four Corners jail.
"Weren't difficult. When two strange saddle bums ride in ta town an' start spendin' big money in the saloon even Chris here can work out they bin up ta no good," drawled Vin Tanner shaking Orlando's hand.
"Iffen we had been in Libertyville an' not escortin' Judge Travis they would never have got near the bank. Our greenhorn Deputy has a lot ta learn yet an' Acting Sheriff Bert Graham was laid up with gout ag'in," explained Orlando.
Ezra Standish was staring at Orlando Flynn's habitual boiled shirt. It was so white it almost dazzled the gambler. Ezra decided to send his shirts all the way to the Chinese laundry in Libertyville. Yet how could it still be pristine after Orlando and Jake had ridden all that way? As Orlando swung out of the saddle Ezra noticed his high boots shining like glass. Was it years in the cavalry that made Orlando such a sharp dressed man? pondered Ezra as Orlando's eagle headed spurs clanked down the boardwalk. Then looking at Orlando's close companion and cousin he decided not.
Jake McKenna, ex-cavalry major, was to Ezra's way of thinking, a man who regularly achieved the impossible in that he made Vin Tanner look presentable. Jake's buckskin pants were tighter, even more worn and coated with a layer of dirt that was impossible to dislodge. Ezra stepped aside and gave the man a wide berth as he too proceeded down the boardwalk. Odd mismatched spurs and a battered cavalry hat that a mule would be disinclined to wear completed an ensemble that Ezra was sure could stand up in a corner on it's own.
Orlando drew a heavy, solid silver pocket watch in an richly engraved case, from the pocket of his black leather vest. "Time fer a drink in the saloon I think," he announced.
"According ta yer timepiece it's always time fer a drink. Sure them watch fingers ain't stuck?" drawled Jake.
"No, pretty sure they ain't 'cause in a few minutes it'll be time ta see a beautiful barkeep."
"Do more than see that beautiful barkeep an' it'll be time fer Miz Elvira ta reach fer her shotgun," grinned Jake.
"Now Jake, a woman don't want a man that other women don't find desirable," explained Orlando patiently.
"We'll see how desirable ya is with a butt full a rock salt."
In fact it was Jake that got a hug from Inez Recillos. For some reason women admired Orlando's handsome good looks but positively adored Jake's ugly phizog. Orlando and Chris were soon engaged in a 'friendly' argument over who was paying for the bottle of rye whiskey.
"It's my saloon," argued Chris Larabee.
"Ya deserve a drink on us fer capturing them two," retorted Orlando Flynn.
"Buy a bottle each 'cos one ain't goin' ta be near enough anyways," advised Jake.
"Is there a blue moon tonight?" Orlando asked Chris.
"Jake actually said somethin' that made sense."
"Jist tryin' ta stop two gunfighters steppin' out in ta the street an' shootin' big holes in each other. Why do it always turn in ta a pissin' contest when y'all meets up? Sorry fer the cussin', Inez darlin'. I fergot there were a fine lady present how can I make it up ta ya?" grinned Jake wrapping his arms around the shapely barkeep.
"Go and sit down and try to be a good boy, Señor Jake," smiled Inez wriggling out of his arms with a well honed maneuver she practiced regularly on Buck Wilmington.
"Good? Don't think I can remember how ta be a good boy. A little kiss might remind me though?"
"I only kiss good boys, Señor Jake, so go over there and sit down."
"Hell, Inez, all the girls in Texas are beautiful even the ugly ones but ya'll put 'em all in the shade."
"Sit!" ordered Inez.
"If ya decide ya can't resist me, Inez, I'll be over here practicing being good," promised Jake. "Ya know, Tanner, Libertyville has more saloons than yer little piss-ant town, bigger an' better hotels, more sporting women that ya can shake a stick at in all of the shapes an' sizes, a railroad station an' a real fully paid up Sheriff an' four deputies but we ain't got anythin' ta rival that caboose!" said the Libertyville sharpshooter admiringly as Inez walked away in a swirl of brightly colored cotton.
"Ya in love, Jake?" drawled Tanner amused. "Ag'in?"
"Love? Hell I'm always fallin' in true love! At least twice a week!"
"It's marriage he's allergic to," warned Orlando. "Had his heart broke once when he proposed. Now he breaks out in hives iffen he as much as passes by a weddin'."
"Makin' an exception fer yers, Orlando!" laughed Jake.
"Mine? I ain't gettin' married," said Orlando shaking his black gypsy curls in denial.
"Ya is. Miz Elvira has gotten her mind fixed on it," Jake told him.
"Do I get a say?"
Orlando reached into his vest pocket. "Lucky I picked out this then," he slid the diamond ring on to his pinkie finger.
"Quite exceptional, flawless, cushion cut," commented a smooth mellifluent voice. "May I?"
"Hell Ezra, can ya smell gold from across the other side of the saloon?" asked Orlando as Ezra pulled out a loupe from his own vest pocket.
"Ezra can smell gold from twenty miles away," drawled Tanner. "Cain't he, Cowboy?"
"Yeah and don't call me Cowboy, Tanner," growled Chris.
"I was right, flawless," confirmed Ezra.
"Give it back now, Ezra," advised Jake. "Ya ain't Orlando's type. Wrong hair color."
"Wrong everythin'," snapped Orlando claiming the ring back.
"You getting married brother?" asked a voice that made Chris Larabee spill his whiskey.
+ + + + + + +
Chris Larabee stood up and greeted his brother with a bear hug. "Boys this is my brother, Johnny Larabee. Johnny, these are my friends."
"Friends with badges too? Doesn't seem like the Chris I grew up with!" laughed Johnny.
Vin noticed Johnny didn't return the bear hug but Chris appeared too pleased to see his brother to pay any attention.
"Appears Mother Larabee brought up both her sons to dress in black," chuckled Josiah Sanchez shaking Johnny's hand.
Only the fact that Johnny had dark hair and a thick mustache with a small imperial beard under his bottom lip made it easy to tell the Larabee brothers apart. Even the similar guns they carried were holstered alike and worn high on the hip.
"More whiskey, Inez darlin'," called Jake then pushing money into her hand he added, "Keep the whiskey comin' 'til this is spent."
+ + + + + + +
Vin Tanner stood in the shadows and watched Chris and Johnny stagger drunkenly across the street to Chris's room at the Grain Exchange. If Chris only said three words in a day Johnny apparently said only two but he could put the whiskey away as well as Chris could.
Tanner recognized the voice immediately but it still made him feel unsettled that this man was at his back.
"Orlando?" he turned around and tried to stop his hand from straying to his sawed-off Winchester.
The moonlight bounced off the two tied down guns Orlando wore. "Remember when we's all first met up?"
"Remember how me an' Chris had heard of each other by reputation an' showed each other some respect on account a that?"
"Even when Chris Larabee was at his worst his gunfights were all fair. A man who lives by a code deserves respect. Ya should know I ain't got no such respect fer Johnny Larabee an' neither should ya. He's a back shootin', lowdown, mad dawg. So watch yer back 'cos he's fast."
"Thanks. Ya watch out fer yerself then."
"Hell," chuckled Orlando. "He won't cross me unless he's lookin' ta be deader than dead. He's fast but hell he ain't that fast an' Jake always has my back."
Vin tipped his hat while watching the tall gunslinger stride across the street to the hotel pondering on what Orlando had said and trying to tell if there was another kind of warning in there for him too.
"I surely do," drawled another voice.
Vin looked up and Jake grinned down at him from the rooftop. "Orlando ain't usually so nice as ta warn folk. Figure he's showin' ya some respect too."
Vin joined Jake on the rooftop. "Ya know Johnny too?"
"He ain't no Chris Larabee that's fer sure but I don't pay his sort no mind. Still iffen he hadn't given Chris as his reason fer bein' here I'd be thinkin' on why a man like him was hereabouts."
"Up ta no good ya reckon?" rasped Tanner.
"Mebbe he is jus' visitin' like he says. Still I need ta get Orlando outta town, he's got the itch."
"I know the signs even if Orlando hisself ain't realized it yet. Orlando will be jus' be lookin' fer any tiny itty bitty chance ta call Johnny Larabee out. It's a gunfighter's version of a pissin' contest an' it won't take much fer them two ta be out in the street trying ta plug each other."
"So kin I ask ya a favor?"
"Iffen Johnny decides ta stay around an' Elvira comes ta town, look after her fer us. Orlando, he'll tell her not ta come ta town but ya know her, iffen he don't word it jus' right she'll take umbrage an' act all ornery. The sooner he marries her an' drags her home ta Texas an' puts a stop ta her wild gallivantin' all over the Territory whenever the notion takes her, the better. I'd consider myself beholden ta ya."
"Ain't no need I'm glad ta do it fer ya."
+ + + + + + +
Johnny Larabee did stay around Four Corners and Vin Tanner did watch his back as the days turned into weeks.
"Vin?" called the stunning blonde in the demure coral pink dress.
"Miz Travis?" he strolled over and tipped his hat to her. "Can I be a help ta ya?" he asked tucking his thumbs into the gun belt buckled over his buckskin.
"I'm not sure. Come inside. Coffee?" she offered as Vin gingerly sat down in her spotless parlor hoping he wouldn't make the place look untidy. "I don't know why but I checked Steven's files and it seems, well, Johnny Larabee, he's well..."
"A real bad element?" rasped Vin.
"Orlando Flynn tol' me."
"That's why Elvira Stacey hasn't visited town lately?"
"Vin, Johnny Larabee has spent some time in a Mexican prison."
"Hell, ain't we all?" he drawled.
"Anythin' else in them files?"
"He's been a member of a number of gangs."
"Don't go on the worry too much, he don't seem ta be wanted fer anythin' an' Chris seems ta have quietened him some."
"So there's no need to alert Judge Travis?"
"I trust Chris."
"Billy is due back from school next week. Perhaps I should have him stay on with Orin and Evie instead," fretted Mary, uneasy still.
"Why don't you have him stay at the Stacey Ranch? Billy likes her an' I reckon Miz Elvira would love ta spoil him somethin' cruel an' let ya stay out there too. Bet she'd be real glad ta have company an' all."
"I couldn't impose on her like that," answered Mary stiffly, picturing the Widow Stacey's home as little better than a bordello.
"Shame not ta see little Billy," he said softly on the way out.
+ + + + + + +
Vin could never explain his connection with Chris Larabee to anyone, even to himself it just...was. When he looked at Johnny Larabee it was like seeing and feeling a cold black shadow. A cold black shadow between himself and Chris and he didn't like the way it made him feel...blocked. Shut out. No, he didn't like it all.
+ + + + + + +
"Bucklin? Ya awright? Ya bin mighty quiet lately."
Buck Wilmington looked up from his favorite seat outside Digger Dave's and studied the tracker leaning in front of him at length before speaking. "Chris ain't seen Johnny in a long time. I guess they've got a lot of catching up to do."
"I ain't upset not ta be seein' much a Chris lately, Buck, if that's what yer thinkin'. I think it's only right he's spending time with his real kin."
"Glad to hear that's how you feel Vin but..."
"That's not how ya feel?"
"Hell Vin, how do you do that? I reckon if you really set your mind to it you'd be nearly as good a poker player as Ezra."
"Allergic ta tar 'n' feathers. Wanna take a ride, Bucklin?"
"The Stacey Ranch."
"Yeah? Hell, you don't need to ask me twice!"
Peso was keen to hit the trail and played up, starting at every small sound and generally being a pain in his man's butt. This always amused Buck and Vin felt good on hearing the big ladies man's hearty laugh.
"Ya waited so long ta get part a the Chris ya knew back an' now yer fearful ya might lose him ag'in," said Vin as they reached Stacey land.
"All the years I've known Chris, all we've been through together, where was Johnny?"
"He never showed fer Sarah an' Adam's burying?"
"Not the wedding, not Adam's birth not for what happened afterwards. He must have known, heard something about what happened."
"Hard not ta know somethin'."
"Exactly. I know this sounds crazy and if you want to laugh go ahead but I feel in my bones that something ain't right. Like a huge black shadow has cast itself over us seven." Buck Wilmington looked at Vin Tanner. "You know what I mean don't you? you feel it too don't you?"
"I thought I was...jealous at first," confessed Vin. "I got the same sorta feelin' 'bout Ella Gaines an' Chris thought I were jus' bein' jealous."
"You want to hear something funny?"
"I tried to be jealous of you."
"Real hard," laughed Buck. "Yet I could only see how much good you did for Chris and I guess...well, I had to love you for that. Er, I mean like a brother. You're pretty an' all but not my type!"
"Glad ta hear that, Bucklin! Wouldn't like ta have ta keep slappin' yer face."
"We can't stop it can we? Whatever is coming is coming ain't it?" said Buck suddenly serious again.
+ + + + + + +
"Vin! My darlin' Buck!" The Widow Stacey was delighted to see them. "This is a lovely surprise, Buck!" she said hugging and kissing the ladies man.
"Hell, it's even nicer from my side!" laughed Buck enjoying himself immensely.
Vin glanced at her left hand and didn't see Orlando's diamond ring so he took a hurried step back in case she made another wild grab and planted those pouty red lips on him too.
"You are staying for dinner aren't you both? Why, I insist you stay the night! I am so tired of being alone out here. Orlando is being insufferable! He has practically forbidden me to visit Four Corners. He won't say why but Jake backed him to the hilt so I am being a good girl for once!"
"The one time I visit and find you all alone and you tell me you're being good?" laughed Buck. "If it wasn't for bad luck I'd have no luck at all!"
Over a delicious four course meal in the stylishly elegant dining room, while the famous Stacey ruby necklace glowing against her peach skin twinkled in the candlelight at Buck's flirting, Vin explained all about little Billy's school vacation.
"I would so love to have darlin' Billy visit here! Has he ever spent time on a real cattle ranch? Does he ride? Fish? Swim? What does he like to do?"
"Ya'll need ta invite Mary too," Tanner reminded her, smiling at her exuberance.
"Why of course! There's a dance happening soon in Libertyville would Chris mind if Jake gallanted Mary for the evening or better still would The Seven come and stay here for the dance? Oh, please do!" Her voice rose a little higher the more excited she became before she noticed the mention of Chris Larabee's name had subdued the two men. "What? Has Chris got himself shot or something?"
The two men exchanged looks across the mahogany dining table.
"Tell me!" she insisted her green eyes flashing.
"Chris has his brother visiting him," explained Buck a little vaguely.
"Chris has a brother? Bring him too!"
"His brother is Johnny Larabee the gunfighter," explained Buck.
"Gunfighter? Back shooter you mean! Johnny Larabee has never beaten a real gunfighter in a fair fight yet! Backed down like a sniveling yellow dog when my fiancé King called him out. I saw it all in St. Louis. It happened right at my table over the lobster, after Johnny had insulted me."
"King?" queried Buck.
"The King Madison, the famous gunfighter? Your fiancé?"
"Yes. I would have never guessed a man with such a filthy manner around women as Johnny has is related to Chris. You boys know that I'm the last person to be easily offended but he would have deserved it if King had shot him. Oh, Johnny has shot some men down but none of them were professional gunfighters just poor helpless cowboys. Brother you say? That's why Orlando doesn't want me in Four Corners!"
"Yes, ma'am," replied Buck. "We understand."
"Why, I'm sorry but I have no desire to see that animal at my table as much as I care for and respect Chris."
"We ain't expectin' it of ya, Miz Elvira."
"Johnny is quite mad you know. He doesn't care who he shoots as long as they don't have a chance against him. You two should be careful, you all should. You don't have the right sort of reputations to make him think twice about calling any of you out. Oh! Do watch over JD won't you? Why, the little darlin' can be so hot-headed."
"Count on it," promised Buck grimly.
"Why not have JD escort Mary and Billy here?" suggested Vin to Buck.
"Would you consider keeping an eye on JD here for me?" asked Buck nodding in agreement at Vin's good idea.
"Why, let me see how could I keep such a handsome young man amused and away from his friends?" she teased.
"You'll think of a way!" laughed Buck.
+ + + + + + +
When Vin and Buck returned to Four Corners to deliver Elvira's invitation to Mary and Billy both men felt more prepared to face whatever would happen next. It was only when it actually happened that they found they were totally unprepared.
Chris and Johnny had been spending more and time out at the small horse ranch Chris owned but they came back to town for much needed supplies and stayed until morning.
Vin carried out his peacekeeping duties as normal and was checking the door to Gloria Potter's General Store was secure just before dawn. He was turning the door handle when a Colt was rammed into his ribcage.
"You don't remember me do you, Tanner?" asked Johnny.
"Naw. Should I?"
"A stinking Mexican jail, a cell mate and a very sharp knife."
"That weren't ya. That ugly cuss is deader than a beaver hat."
"That was my partner you gutted."
"Poor taste in friends ya got."
"I was in the next cell I heard him die."
"Then ya heard what he tried ta do ta me. Ya heard me warn him off."
"I swore I'd come looking for you, Tanner."
"So ya found me."
"And a $500 bounty as a bonus."
"Kinda awready promised that ta Chris."
"Ah. Another bonus, I rid my self of a usurper."
"Ya what?" rasped Tanner.
"A usurper. One who takes another's rightful place."
"I know what it means I jus' don't know any."
"I'm the only loving brother Chris needs or wants."
"I never tried ta take yer place."
"You couldn't. Now, let's get one thing straight. I don't particularly want to drag a stinking corpse all the way back to Texas with me so I'll let you live if you don't give me any trouble."
"Won't be no trouble."
Vin allowed himself to be taken. He tried to shut down his thoughts. Vin Tanner didn't want Chris Larabee to know his brother hadn't come to Four Corners for a family reunion, instead he had come for revenge and a $500 bounty. Vin was pretty sure he could deal with Johnny on his own once they were both some distance away from Four Corners. Then he'd move on, maybe even to Tascosa because he couldn't face Chris knowing he was the one to have killed Johnny.
+ + + + + + +
Chris awoke just after dawn. He thought hoof beats might have awoken him but he wasn't sure. He glanced across the room and saw the cot bed was empty. It wasn't like Johnny to be up and awake first, he thought. Still Chris had other plans for today. He knew he had neglected Vin since Johnny had arrived and he guessed the tracker understood but he wanted the man to know he still had a big role in his life. In fact he could no longer imagine a life without Vin Tanner.
Chris couldn't find Vin. He was worried, for the last few weeks he had felt something wasn't right. That something bad was waiting around the corner for them all. Worst of all he had felt only a cold dark shadow between himself and Vin and he didn't like how it made him feel...shut in. Blocked.
"Ezra! Ezra!" Chris pounded on the door of Ezra's room, correctly suspecting Ezra would have been the last to leave the saloon the night before.
"Mr. Larabee, please leave the door on it's hinges!" shouted Ezra finally opening the door. "What could be urgent enough to keep me from my down comforter?"
"Can't find Vin!"
Ezra made no more flippant remarks. All week he had felt as if huge black shadow had cast itself over The Seven. "He was on patrol when I turned in this morning. I saw him sauntering towards the livery with Johnny."
"Please, Mr. Larabee! If you need comfort find it elsewhere I beg you! May I suggest Mr. Wilmington?"
"My dog, Cuddles. When I was only a little boy I had a dog, a scruffy, yappy thing that took on all comers. He slept on my bed, followed me everywhere, we went fishing together, he even swam in the pond with me. One day he disappeared. I told Pa he had just run away but I'd already found him strung up in a tree. I never admitted it to anyone not even to myself but deep down I always knew Johnny was the one who did it. He was always jealous of Cuddles."
"Chris, we must find Mr. Tanner at once." Ezra guided a reeling Chris Larabee to a chair and poured him a shot of brandy from his flask before he dressed and armed himself hurriedly.
They rode out. Five grim-faced men chasing a dark shadow.
+ + + + + + +
"How did ya know where ta find me?" Tanner asked Johnny.
"Jock Steele's dime novel. I read all about you in it."
"It don't say where I is ta be found."
"No but it said you rode with Chris and I always knew where Chris was," smirked Johnny.
"Chris, how do you know Johnny is heading for Texas?" asked Nathan Jackson.
"'Cos he wants to see Vin strung up like a...mangy dog," snarled Chris.
Pard? We're coming for you, Vin.
There was no answer, Chris couldn't make himself heard.
+ + + + + + +
"It's started," said a voice.
"Yeah? Good an' it's high time ya told Vin the truth about his pa."
"Planning on it real soon."
+ + + + + + +
Johnny hadn't taken Vin's sawed-off Winchester from him. Vin guessed that Johnny thought he was too fast to have to worry about a tracker with a mare's leg outdrawing him. Vin grinned, true enough it wasn't his gun Johnny had to be wary of, Vin much preferred his knife for scum like Johnny Larabee. They had ridden since dawn but now in this heat they would have to stop at some point on the journey and Vin was ready.
The horses need water. Peso was particularly miffed to have been ridden so long and hard. His man knew the value of a good horse and never, whatever the circumstances, expected more than the black gelding could give. Johnny had no such consideration for his mount but knew they had to stop soon or walk to Texas.
"Here!" Johnny ordered, drawing his gun. "Water the horses, Tanner."
Tanner obeyed. He could wait. It only took Tanner a moment to kill a man and Tanner could wait for exactly the right moment. The ability to wait patiently made Tanner as accomplished at killing as any man with a fast gun was.
"Is that them?" asked Josiah Sanchez looking down into the clearing below them.
"Yeah." Chris Larabee didn't need Vin's spyglass to recognize his true brother in buckskin. "I'm going down there. If Johnny even coughs on Vin I want you, Buck, to kill Johnny."
"Chris I..." Buck faltered.
"Do it, Buck."
"Howdy brother, you guessed where we were headed then?" asked Johnny as Chris strode into the clearing his fury clearly palpable.
"Johnny step away from Tanner," ordered Chris.
"A $500 bounty will help you set up that little ranch real good."
"There wouldn't be anything good about it if it was paid for with blood money. Let Vin go, Johnny."
"What is with you and anything little, scruffy and yappy?" smiled Johnny.
"Damn, who ya callin' little?" muttered Vin.
"That would be love and loyalty. Two things you know nothing about," snapped Chris coldly.
"I know about brotherhood."
"No, that's just it you don't. Let him go."
"I could drop you and then him, he's no gunslinger."
"No, Johnny you couldn't," stated Chris menacingly.
"Fact is, Chris, you couldn't pull the trigger on your own brother."
"Fact is I only got one brother here and he isn't you, Johnny."
"Well, let's put that to the test. Draw on me, brother."
Stand down, Cowboy.
No answer came, Vin couldn't get through.
"Johnny, let Chris go peaceable an' I give ya m' word I'll go ta Tascosa with ya," rasped Tanner. "Ya don't have ta do it, Chris. Please."
"Shut the hell up, Tanner," snapped Chris.
"See? Scruffy and yappy," said Johnny looking over at Tanner. "Let's put it another way, draw on me or I'll kill him now."
Johnny turned back around his attention fully focused on Chris Larabee's eyes. Chris had no choice but to push back the long black duster he wore and ready himself to draw on his own brother.
"Sorry Chris, I got the prior claim," announced Orlando Flynn suddenly appeared from the little stand of trees off to the left.
"You? Never," denied Johnny a tremor in his voice.
"You insulted my wife-to-be back in St. Louis when she was known as Elvira Sawyer," insisted Orlando calmly.
"I don't suppose she ever told you she was Lucky Luke Sawyer's new widow by only a few short weeks and already keeping company with King Madison?" smirked Johnny. "You do know she's already been widowed twice? Nash Walker notoriously shot King Madison dead over her too. Hell, she don't even let a man get cold in his grave before she moves on to the next."
"I made it my business ta know all there is ta know about her past an' I ain't lettin' a yellow snake like ya back down as King Madison kindly did."
"King had lost his nerve, that's why I backed off. Bedding a boldacious woman like she is gelds a man," sneered Johnny trying desperately to unnerve Orlando.
"Ya jus' keepin' the dust off that six shooter or are ya goin' ta use it?" taunted Orlando.
"Draw!" laughed Johnny pulling his gun and dying before it had barely cleared leather.
Chris turned around but Orlando Flynn's guns were already back in their holsters.
"What? Ya think I could abide that man still walkin' around after he insulted my wife-to-be?" asked Orlando.
"I was ready to kill him," growled Chris.
"I know but a brother shouldn't have ta be the one ta kill a brother," said Orlando as understanding brown eyes met with saddened green ones.
"Aw Hell. Orlando's bin itchin' ta outdraw Johnny since he first rode in ta town he only held off 'til now ta show respect fer ya," drawled Jake casually shouldering his custom made rifle and noisily appearing from the place he'd been watching Tanner's back from. "Can we go home now? Hell! I think I was laid on some poison ivy. Damn bossy gunfighters, I'll be making camp outside Four Corners he says while ya hang around an' keep watch over Tanner he says, let me know when Johnny Larabee makes a move he says. Now go lay down over there he says. Yep, I'm sure that was poison ivy. Be ready ta shoot iffen he even looks at Tanner funny, watch my back, watch Chris Larabee's back an' don't miss. Miss says he? I don't miss says I. I got me a proper weapon not some fancy shined up pearly handled Colts only fit ta dazzle the working girls with..." muttered Jake squeezing Tanner's shoulder as he passed by and continued droning on and on and on...
+ + + + + + +
The full moon was reflected in the river resembling Orlando Flynn's silver pocket watch. Vin Tanner shucked his clothes and stepped down into the bitingly cold water. It was freezing as he swam out into the middle of the river. Too cold to be safe. Within minutes his limbs felt numb and leaden. He knew he had only seconds to make it back to the bank and safety before his heart stopped and the black veil of a cold death overtook him.
What the Hell, Tanner?
Get the Hell out of there Tanner, you damn fool!
Tanner looked across to the bank where the furious gunfighter had suddenly materialized holding out a dry blanket for him, as he stepped out of the water leaving the dark shadow to slither back into some deep netherworld hidden beneath the icy waters. As the gunfighter draped the blanket around Tanner he hugged the tracker in a tight embrace. Tanner rested his wet tousled head on the gunfighter's shoulder standing like a bronze statue in the moonlight until the tracker shivered from the cold. The gunfighter made a noise that was half growl, half sigh and raised the tracker's face to his so he could stare into his eyes as a wealth of feelings were shared between them.
"Ya ain't threatenin' ta kiss me are ya, Cowboy?" drawled Tanner finally breaking the spell at last.
"Brother, I just might consider it if I thought it would put a stop to you calling me Cowboy."
+ + + + + + +
Johnny Larabee was buried in Libertyville. Chris didn't want him on his land with Sarah and Adam. Or in Four Corners near himself and his true brother Vin Tanner.
There were twelve mourners at the graveside but none were there for the benefit of the Larabee being put in the ground that day as a black shadow lifted from over all of them.
+ + + + + + +
"I won't tell anyone about that bloody ridiculous nightdress you wear to bed and you will never, ever, mention to anyone that I once had a dog called Cuddles you understand?"