by Rowdy Tanner

Disclaimer: The boys are the property of MGM, Mirisch, and Trilogy Entertainment. I do not own them or make money from them but if I did own them I promise I would share.

Characters: Old West. Vin and Chris, with Buck and JD plus assorted bad guys.

Feedback: Thanks for any feedback it's very welcome!

"Vin? Are you hurt, Vin?"

"Naw. I's fine, Cowboy, jus' dandy."

"Get the Hell off me then!" growled Chris Larabee.

"Ya what?" asked Vin Tanner realizing suddenly that he was laid on the top of the gunslinger's supine body where the dynamite blast had thrown him. "Ya sure ya ain't wantin' a big sloppy kiss while I's down here?"

"Tanner! I'm very sure and that damn well had better be your harmonica in your pocket!"

The tracker got to his feet, dusted off his buckskins showering Larabee with grit and sand before he turned his back to look for the horses.

"Hell, Tanner! Keep your dirt to yourself!" grumbled the man in black climbing to his feet. "Or I'll shoot you in the back!"

"Ya wouldn't do that. It wouldn't be gunslingerly a ya."

"Gunslingerly? That isn't even a word, Tanner."

"Dynamite sure makes ya grumpy, Cowboy."

"Have they gone?"

"Reckon so. Guess they thinks we're dead."

"Then they don't know us do they?"

"Hell, even the Grim Reaper ain't in a hurry ta take ya, Cowboy. Don't want the competition I suspect."

"I don't suppose they left Buck and JD behind then?"

"No such luck. Buck an' JD both looked ta be out cold. Mebbe they don't even know we's after 'em. We best git the horses rounded up. Peso's off admirin' the scenery somewheres. He don't like big loud noises. We need ta git on the trail ag'in mighty quick."

"Trail he calls it," muttered Chris Larabee climbing stiffly into Pony's saddle less than a half hour later.

"Why they's riskin' ridin' on through Apache country, Hell only knows."

"They must have a destination. A hideout perhaps."

"It's gonna be awful hard on JD. He's never really come across Indians other than Kojay's people."

"He's got Buck to rely on," pointed out Chris.

"Amen ta that."

They rode in silence as Tanner tracked the gang who had taken J.D. Dunne and Buck Wilmington. By noon Larabee found himself urging Pony up into the rocks following what Tanner insisted was a trail. Peso was a half billy goat and had no problem with the loose rocky terrain but Pony was struggling to keep his footing. When Larabee dared to look down the vertiginous drop below them whirled before his eyes, causing him to grab Pony's mane.

"Don't be lookin' down, Cowboy," advised Tanner turning in the saddle to look at his friend unconcerned at the thought of Peso being left to pick his own way up the steep mountainside.

"Now you tell me."

"Nearly there," remarked the tracker confidently.

"If Buck doesn't swear to keep his mind above his belt from now on I'm going to shoot him myself."

"Weren't Bucklin's fault the leader a the gang's best girl took a shine ta Bucklin's dashin' good looks," drawled Tanner.

"Dashing good looks?"

"Cousin Elvira said that not me."

"That lady has no discrimination."

"I's in full agreement. Damn, she even said yer handsome."

"She did?"

"Can't understand why Miz Travis ain't grabbed ya up by now she says."


"Ya want ta be grabbed up by Mary Travis, Cowboy? Cousin Elvira could surely arrange it fer ya," rasped the tracker finally urging Peso onto level ground. "Women surely love arrangin' big weddin's. Any weddin's big or small. Want me ta give Cousin Elvira the word?"

"No. I don't!"

"It fair got the town abuzz the idea a them marryin' up ain't it?"

"I hadn't noticed."

"Took an age ta pay fer m' candy in Miz Potter's store the other day."

"Pay? Since when did you pay for candy?"

"I's gotten a few other things."

"Not another ludicrously colored bandanna?"

"Mebbe. They come in colors other than black ya know, Cowboy. Miz Potter were too busy jawin' with the Widow Jameson an' Miz Harker ta reckon up m' goods. Ain't Orlando Flynn an' Elvira Flynn a handsome couple."

"Not my place to say."

"Ya what? Naw, that's what the women was sayin'. A perfect match an' all that so they said, him so big an' handsome an' her so beautiful. Her a widow an' him a widower."

"Was he?"


"A widower?"

"Yep. Married his childhood sweetheart, Amelia. Lost her in childbirth, left him with four children all finishin' up school somewheres," finished the tracker. "Don't know why it is but once a woman gets herself married she wants ta get all her friends married up too. Why is that ya reckon?"

"No idea."

"Since Cousin Elvira wed Orlando Flynn she's been tryin' ta get us all married up."

"Tell her to get working on Buck and Inez then we can all have some peace," ordered the gunslinger.

"Peace? Hell, ain't thinkin' that's what Bucklin would get!"

"And you?"

"Me what?"

"Has Cousin Elvira picked out a bride for you?" needled Chris. "The new schoolteacher, Tabitha Lovewell?"

"A Wanted man? What woman would be fool enough ta get married up with a Wanted man?" asked the tracker looking askance at the gunfighter.

"So when you get Tascosa out of the way you'll be settling down?" smirked Chris.

"I's rather be nibbled ta death by ducks, Cowboy," chuckled Vin.

"At least Buck and JD made it up here safely," commented Chris looking over the steep drop.

"Aw, they ain't on this trail," drawled the tracker.



Chris Larabee took the spyglass with a green eyed glare a basilisk would have envied aimed at the raggedy tracker. "Apaches?" he asked looking in the direction Tanner had indicated.

"Hell, it ain't no Sunday church picnic," rasped the tracker. "Don't want 'em attackin' us in open ground with no cover."

"Can you pick them off from here?"

"Like lickin' butter off a knife, Cowboy. 'Cept we'd only multiply 'em."


"There's at least double what ya can see. They ain't all travelin' together but iffen ya want ta piss 'em off real good, go ahead."

"How do you know these things?"

"Crossed 'em afore," answered Tanner tightly.

"When you were alone?"

The tracker didn't reply but spurred Peso on. Larabee decided not to push it.

+ + + + + + +

"You okay, Kid?" asked Buck giving up trying to untie the ropes securing him to the young Sheriff.

"What are they going to do to us, Buck?"

A long list of gruesome options occurred to Buck but he didn't want to scare JD. "Chris and Vin will be on the trail they aren't going to get the chance to do anything to us, Kid."

"How can you be so sure? Chris and Vin probably thought we'd gone back to Four Corners when we didn't meet up with them in Eagle Bend."

"Vin will know we didn't and Chris will be so pissed he'll be on the trail just to catch up and smack me in the kisser. Hell kid, I'm sorry to get you in this mess."

"It wasn't your fault, Buck. You were just being Buck Wilmington, famous ladies man. That redhead didn't have a brand on her did she?" asked JD trying to comfort the big man.

"Not that I found and I surely looked everywhere!" laughed Buck but far more half-heartedly than was usual. He was riddled with guilt for getting JD embroiled in this ugly situation.

"Maybe... I should get Casey a ring," mused the Easterner.

"You caught wedding fever too?"

"What? No! I thought, you know, a friendship ring might keep the other fellers away."

"Other fellers?"

"I didn't like those Nichols brothers paying her all that attention. Getting her all confused."


"They told her she was complicated!"

"Well, she's a woman so that's a given."

"Yeah? Are all women complicated?"

"And some!"

+ + + + + + +

"How will you find their trail again?" queried Larabee eying the tracker slouched in the saddle.

"Pick it up at the water hole."

"How can you be sure they'll stop there?"

"Hell, unless they is some kinda strange lizard folk they'll need fresh water in this heat. So we'll track 'em from the water hole."

"How do you know there's a water hole out here?" asked Chris looking up at the blazing ball of fire hanging in the cerulean sky above them and wondering how long it would take to fry him. For the first time in quite an age Chris pondered if black was the best color to wear from head to toe. Still Tanner was in that shabby hide coat so the heat must be endurable up to a point. Then again Tanner would probably wear that coat if he was standing airing his knowledge beside the very fires of Hell.

"Bin here once afore."


"Years ago."

"What if you've misremembered the way?"

The tracker snorted, "That's real likely."

"What if the water hole has dried up?" asked Larabee acknowledging it was never brag with Tanner, just fact.

"Iffen ya want ta go on the worry ya can console yerself thinkin' the Apaches might awready be there waitin' on us. Ya want ta turn back, Cowboy?"

"Like Hell."

The tracker and the gunslinger reached the water hole and the tracker held up his hand cavalry style to stop Chris from riding in. Chris waited impatiently, fighting the bit even worse than Pony was, while the tracker rode in first to take a good look at the tracks.

"Now, Chris, don't have a fit a the conniptions but I's right the Apache is awready here an' watchin' us."

"I don't see any of them."

"Even iffen ya do act like ya ain't. Like it's no never mind ta ya."

"Why ain't they attacking us?" hissed Chris.

"We's got 'em intrigued."

"Intrigued?" Chris thought he really must put a stop to Vin Tanner spending so much time in the company of Ezra P. Standish.

"I's worked hard ta create an air a mystery."

"An air of mystery?"

"I know it's more like a feminine thing that women try on men but it seems ta be fair workin' on the Apache too."

"A feminine thing?"

"Ya goin' ta repeat everythin' I say, Cowboy?" asked the tracker filling his canteen.

"Until you start talking like the Vin Tanner I left town with, yeah."

"They knowed I seen 'em but we's ridin' through their lands like we was merely takin' the air not at full sprint like iffen we had our butts afire. An' like ya said I could a picked a few off by now but I ain't even tried an' that has intrigued 'em. I's reckoning on 'em followin' us 'til we rescue Buck an' JD."

"Then what?"

"It could all go real bad real quick."

+ + + + + + +


Buck heard the tremor in the young Sheriff's voice. "Yeah?"

"What if," he paused and bravely blinked back a tear, "Vin loses the trail?"

Buck marveled that the boy hadn't asked sooner, he surely had some grit. "Vin Tanner? Our Vin? Lose a trail?"

"He might."

"Look, I don't really know how he does what he does, I know he's showed you a few of his tricks but if he lost the trail and that's a mighty big if, he'd up and find it again."

"Yeah, he would wouldn't he? He's the best at what he does. I reckon he could track an Indian over solid rock."

"You can put money on it, Kid. Ezra often has," Buck didn't point out they were betting their lives on it.

"Vin told me you don't have to just look for tracks in the dirt you have to see everything. An upturned stone, a broken twig or even a scent. Not just look but really see what you're looking at. Heck, it made sense when he explained it."

"I get it, Kid."

"I'll never be as good."

"Well, he is half bloodhound to start with but I reckon he's a good teacher too. They won't give up on us, JD."

"And if it's too late when they get here?" JD's bottom lip trembled.

"That's when Chris gets to do what he's best at, Kid. Revenge. So as Josiah Sanchez would say you best hope for the sake of these poor sinners they ain't too late because whatever they do to us Chris will visit it on them tenfold."

+ + + + + + +

Chris and Vin were back on the trail. A half mile later Vin dismounted and ran his slender fingers over the hard dry ground. Standing up he leaned to one side and nodded as if he had found something of real interest.

"What have you found?"


"Sun got to you?" asked Chris grim-faced.

"Naw, jus' creatin' that air a mystery I tol' ya 'bout. It's goin' ta drive their tracker crazy tryin' ta see what he's missed."

"Make sure you don't drive their sharpshooter crazy I don't want to be shot in the butt."

"The Tibbs gang camped up ahead fer the night. Left a few hours ago."

"How do you know?"

"Intriguing ain't it?"

"Don't start that again."

Tanner was right and he stopped to examine the remains of the campfire.

"They had Buck and JD tied up over here."

"Tied up? That's a good sign. They must still be capable of being trouble." Larabee was somewhat relieved to know that about his oldest friend.

"They lost a few horses in the night that'll slow 'em down."



"Is there any sign either of them are hurt?"

"No blood. Could be concussed or some such I guess but I reckon not. The Apaches stealin' the horses gives us a good advantage."

"You already said it'll slow them down."

"I reckon when we get close up we can pick a few men off an' git the Apache the blame."

"Why do we need to blame the Apaches?"

"Then the gang won't take it out on Buck or JD."

"I guess that means I don't get to shoot anyone yet?"

"Sorry. I know yer lookin' forwards ta it."

"Like a kid on Christmas," said Chris grimly.

+ + + + + + +

"Goddammit! Horses last night and now two men and more horses this morning!"

The gang's leader, Leroy Tibbs, was furious. Two of his best men, riding a little way behind with packhorses loaded with much needed supplies, had been found scalped and the supplies gone. Most of his gang was made up of new members as he had lost several on this very same trail a month or so previously. This was his first chance to return and collect the loot he and his old gang had been forced to leave behind.

"Apaches?" asked one of his men nervously looking back the way they had come.

"Hell it weren't the tooth fairy!"

"How did they get up close to Al and Dave without the boys getting off a couple a shots?"

"By being sneaky bastards! Damn Indians!"

Buck dared to risk a glance at JD. JD tried to hide the surprise in his hazel eyes. Surely it wasn't Vin? Buck gave a barely perceptible nod of his head. JD let out a long breath of relief.

"From now on we ride up bunched up close," ordered Tibbs. "Put the prisoners near the back."

Tibbs had liked the red headed girl a lot and it had upset him to have to throttle the life out of her. He could have just as easily killed Wilmington and the kid but Tibbs liked money more than he had liked the redhead he knew how to get both his revenge and money out of Wilmington's hide.

Chris and Vin watched as the Tibbs men moved off again. Dirty Dan McCaffrey had taken the opportunity to dash into the scrub to relieve himself. No one noticed he didn't rejoin the gang.

Vin cleaned his bloody hunting knife thoroughly. "Shame we can't go collecting up on all these bounties," he remarked. "They don't call that one Dirty Dan for nuthin'. Glad ta know he won't be gettin' up close ta JD."

Chris raised his eyebrows.

"Ya know me Chris, it don't make no difference ta me what some men do together, good luck to 'em as long as it's what they both want. I don't reckon it's right when one's unwilling an' one's using force."

+ + + + + + +

Night fell as suddenly as the curtains closed on a stage play.

"What next?" Larabee asked the tracker.

"We eat an' listen out fer what might happen."

"Do you think Tibbs will post sentries when he realizes he has lost three men today?"

"We kin hope."

"Why does that help us?"

"A few men dozin' off alone somewheres alone is like takin' candy from a baby."

"How can anyone doze off in this freezing cold night air?" shivered Larabee.

"Wake me in an hour, Cowboy."

"Vin, Vin, I heard something."

"Yeah? Was I snoring?"

"Like a damn railroad locomotive but I heard something else, a muffled scream."



"One less a Tibbs's gang ta worry on."

"Who? The Apaches?"

"Hell, it ain't me were it ya that did it?"


"Apaches," nodded Vin.

"Are we safe?"

"From what?"

"The goddamn Indians!" hissed Larabee.

"Hell no."

"Then how can you sleep?"

"Bin askin' meself that what with ya pokin' me in the ribs ev'ry time ya hear a mouse fart."

+ + + + + + +

Tibbs had flown into another rage when he had finally noticed Dirty Dan was missing. Buck breathed easier on hearing the news. He had been afraid for JD once he had noticed the way McCaffrey had eyed JD with a lustful look on his pasty face. Buck was desperately glad JD was to be spared the man's unwanted attentions.

Innocent of the threat that had hung over him JD too was glad to hear the gang's numbers were dwindling. Tibbs was still convinced it was the Apache killing his men. For a brief moment JD wondered how Vin could do what he did. Shooting a man in a gun-battle was very different to getting up close with a hunting knife. JD knew a killing like that left a dark stain on the tracker's soul. JD thought he could never bring himself to soundlessly move up behind a man and feel the cold blade of a knife sliding into another's flesh. The young Easterner wondered where the savagery Tanner drew on to give him the strength to do it came from. Was it buried in his past?

The same man that wouldn't dare steal an extra slice of Nettie's peach pie from her larder for fear of a tongue lashing. The shy man who blushed as red as a ripe apple when Cousin Elvira flirted with him. A man that would show endless patience with a greenhorn kid desperate to learn. A man that really did rescue little lost kittens. Most people only saw a man as hard as a coffin nail that walked alongside Death. No, he would never fully understand the enigma that was Vin Tanner.

And if Vin Tanner walked alongside Death then Chris Larabee was Death. The deadly gunslinger in black that put the fear of death into the hearts of men with a glare like green flint. Although he knew Chris Larabee was just as relentless the gunslinger seemed to be able to call on a colder nature than the tracker had. To be able to put aside remorse when he needed to. Although JD wouldn't go as far as to say Chris Larabee enjoyed killing, the gunfighter did seem to relish the opportunity to pit his skill with a gun against another man. JD wondered if that was what made the gunslinger so damn fast, that there was not one single moment of doubt in his mind when he drew that Colt Peacemaker. Not a split second of hesitation merely the conviction that the right man was going to die that day.

Perhaps one day JD would be as fast on the draw as Chris Larabee but he knew in his heart of hearts he would never be as fast on the trigger. Somewhere deep inside him there would always be that split second of remorse.

Buck too had heard the same muffled scream Larabee had. This time he didn't know if it was Vin or an Apache that had claimed another victim but he knew the end result was the same. There were still too many of the Tibbs gang left alive for Vin and Chris to risk carrying out a rescue but the odds were improving greatly.

JD's head nodded sleepily against Buck's shoulder and again Buck cursed himself. Why could he never keep his mind off the ladies? Some little nagging voice had warned him the redhead was trouble but still he had headed straight into danger once again dragging JD with him and for that he would never forgive himself. He should know better, JD wasn't Chris Larabee. The wild days and long nights he and Chris had spent carousing should have been enough for any man. When they returned to Four Corners, if they ever got back to Four Corners, he was going to concentrate on no woman other than Inez. If a woman chasing rascal like Orlando Flynn could win himself a beauty and settle down then Inez would be putty in Buck's hands! He was going to turn the full force of the infamous Wilmington animal magnetism on her and not rest until she was his bride.

+ + + + + + +

Resting his mare's leg across his lap Vin Tanner watched Chris take his turn to sleep. Vin knew Chris was wracked with worry for Buck's safety. Although the two old friends often clashed there was a deep bond between then that stretched back years. It had barely survived Ella Gaines' act of murdering madness but it had endured. Tanner knew their chances of coming through this ordeal alive were slim. For once they had Buck and JD back and he was in no doubt they would get them back because he couldn't bear to think any other way, they had to ride back through country crawling with renegade Apaches.

Tanner knew he was good at what he did. In a way that made him sad that a man should have a God given talent for killing. The things he had learned to do he had learned not from choice but from necessity. Merely to keep himself alive. He had to learn quickly too as from a young age he'd been all alone. It was that or fall victim to predators worse than any wild animal that stalked the wilderness. He'd been forced to live like an animal and animals lived and died without the benefit of judge and jury. He had rarely had time to dwell on the right or wrong of what he had done. He knew too that he carried the stink of what he'd done on him so he had never expected to find six men who would choose him as a friend and accept him for what he was.

The three men he had killed all had bounties on them and all were wanted dead or alive just like the rest of the Leroy Tibbs gang. As for Leroy Tibbs he was wanted for mass murder in two states. Still it wouldn't have mattered, the very fact that they were a threat to Buck and JD was all the justification he needed. Now that he had friends he loved like brothers whom loved him in return he wasn't going to let anyone ever take them from him.

+ + + + + + +

That day started very much like the previous day. More horses had gone from the Tibbs camp and two more men had been found to have met their maker in the sparse undergrowth. Buck was concerned when he heard these men had been killed in a much more brutal fashion than the three men who had died the previous day.

A furious Tibbs was ranting and raving at his men. Even after they had broken camp without breakfast and resumed their journey, he was still cursing a blue streak.

+ + + + + + +

Vin briefly inspected the two mutilated bodies the Apaches had left. It was a message to both Tibbs and himself. The Apaches knew Tanner had made his three killings look like the red man's work and they wanted Tanner to know they knew. Tanner would have to be a little more cautious from now on.

"I's figurin' Tibbs ain't far from his destination, Chris," rasped Tanner.

"We're in the middle of nowhere."

"A few miles up ahead is a town, ain't thinkin' that's where Tibbs is headed. It's a garrison town. Don't reckon Tibbs is fer mixin' with the Mexican Army. So I's thinkin' he's got where he's goin' all but."

"I see," pondered Chris.

"Whoa!" Tanner signaled they should stop. "Looks like we're here."

"Where ever the Hell here is," muttered Larabee impatiently.

The two peacekeepers watched as The Tibbs Gang stopped and dismounted at the edge of a cliff.

"You two are going down there. At the bottom is a box, tie it to the rope so we can haul it up," ordered Leroy Tibbs.

"Thanks but we'll pass," said Buck looking over the crumbling edge to view the distant ground below.

"Okay. I'll just leave your little friend here with nowhere to wear his hat," shrugged Tibbs pulling his gun and taking aim at JD.

Buck didn't need to look into JD's hazel eyes to see the fear there. "I'll go alone it doesn't take two," decided Buck.

"You can both go. In case one of you falls and breaks his neck," guffawed Tibbs.

It was patently obvious The Tibbs Gang wasn't going to stay around and pull either of them back up but perhaps there was a slim chance they could make their way back to the trail once the gang had left.

"Aw Hell," breathed Tanner as he and Larabee watched while Buck and JD started the descent.

"Just don't look down, son. Don't look down, JD, we're nearly there," Buck constantly reassured JD until they reached the ground below.

Quickly the two men tied the box to the rope and watched as Tibbs had his men haul it up. Tibbs was ecstatic to recover the Wells Fargo box he and his previous gang had watched fall from the trail months before while they were escaping from a Mexican Army patrol. As Buck had predicted Tibbs had no interest in hauling himself and JD back up the cliff. Now all the two men could do was hope Vin Tanner had tracked them this far.

"They left them," growled Larabee.

"That's the good news, all we gotta do now is haul 'em back up."

"Let's ride."

+ + + + + + +

"What y'all doin' down there?" called down Tanner.

"Taking the air," grinned Buck awash with relief.

"Yeah? Leave y'all to it shall we?"

"A man can quickly get bored with taking the air. How about throwing down a rope?"

"Buck, I can't," whispered JD.

"What JD?" laughed Buck. "We got down we can get back up, son."

"No. I can't."

"Course you can," said Buck soothingly.

"Ya taken root down there?" yelled down Tanner.

"JD just needs a little more time," called Buck reassuringly. "Come on, JD."

"What the Hell? Does he know we're sitting ducks up here?" snapped Larabee.

"I can't Buck. You go leave me here," insisted JD.

"I can't leave you JD. Now come on, let's get going. You first."

"He's frozen," said Vin. "Buck, ya come up then I'll go down."

"If he won't climb up there for Buck what makes you think he'll do it for you?" pointed out Chris.

"I'll go on the worry 'bout that when I's down there. Let's get at least one of 'em up here."

"I'm not leaving JD!" called Buck.

"Buck, show JD how safe it is," called down Chris. "JD? Watch Buck."

Buck was panting for breath when he reached the top. "JD? Your turn now son," he called back down.

JD remained where he was frozen rigid with fear.

"What are you doing, Vin?"

"Goin' down ta talk ta him," replied the tracker taking the rope off Buck and lowering himself over the edge.

"JD? Ya got Larabee frothing at the mouth up yonder. Ya wanna come see?" rasped Tanner slapping JD on the back.

"I c-can't move, Vin."

"Yeah, ya can. It's jus' a little scary. Take some deep breaths. Look here feel the rope in yer hand. Buck an' Chris are at the top waitin' on ya they ain't gonna let ya fall. It's us JD, yer brothers, we ain't goin' ta let anythin' happen ta ya. Ya can trust us ya know it."

"I'm so sorry. I can't do it."

"Look, JD, watch me," said Vin tying the rope around JD's waist before reaching up and finding a handhold then a foothold then another handhold. "See it's easy. Ya don't even need a rope see?"

JD watched as Vin scaled half the cliff before looking back down at him and grinning, "C'mon JD, it's fun."

"Fun?" Buck asked Chris. "Is he plumb crazy?"

"You only just noticed?" ground out Chris through gritted teeth.

"C'mon, JD, ya can do it. Do ya want me ta come back down fer ya ag'in?" asked the tracker.

"No!" JD knew he couldn't ask his brother to risk himself again. "I'm coming."

"I'll wait fer ya. We'll climb the rest a the way together."

Vin used his strong legs to inch his way up the cliff a few feet from JD's side until the youngster reached the top and was hauled into Buck's arms.

"If we get out of here alive I'm going to kill you, Tanner," growled Chris wiping the anxious sweat from his face.

"Grumpy damn gunfighter," muttered Tanner. "I's half a mind ta ride off an' join them Apaches."

"I agree you've only got half a mind," snapped Larabee

+ + + + + + +

Their progress was slow. Buck rode with Vin and JD rode double with Chris and it was hard on the two saddle-sore black horses. They came across the sorry remains of The Tibbs Gang a day later.

"You okay, son?" Buck asked sliding from Peso's back as JD looked likely to pass out at the sheer brutality of it.

"Try not ta puke up JD, we ain't alone." Tanner jerked his head towards the Apaches watching from the crest of the hill.

"Hellfire," breathed Buck.

"Fuck! I's had enough a this," snarled Vin seeing JD's look of terror.

"Tanner? Vin! Get back here!" yelled Larabee as Vin took off at a gallop.

+ + + + + + +

"You are not having them," growled Tanner in their own tongue. "I'm telling you now. I will kill as many of you as I can first, then I'll kill the three of them myself before you can lay a single hand on them."

"You are not one of their kind so why do they matter?" replied the sneering Apache.

"They are my brothers."

"There is no blood shared between you and any of them. This we can see."

"My Comanche name is Walks Again and I have walked with those men before and I will again."

"You risked your life climbing for the young one this we saw. It was brave, you showed no fear. Today you will pass by us because of this, Walks Again."

"We need two more horses," said Vin holding out his hand.

The Apache looked at the good sized silver nugget on Tanner's upturned palm. "You have no white squaw of your own?"

"I told her 'forever' but she married another."

"Then she is a foolish woman."

"Mebbe," he rasped as Peso tossed his noble head and stamped his hoof impatiently.

"If you had a better mannered horse she might change her mind," said the Apache eying Peso who managed to look affronted.

"I like my horses to know their own minds like my women."

"Then you will get hurt by them both," laughed the Apache. "I will trade these two docile horses for the silver maybe they will teach you the value of a docile squaw."

"Seems more than fair," grinned Tanner before rejoining his brothers.

+ + + + + + +

"You should have seen it, Ezra. Vin rode right up to the Apaches madder than all Hell and dang it all if he didn't come back with two horses! Two horses for me and Buck to ride, Josiah! Nathan, you should have been there to see it. Ezra, you should have seen Vin just slouching in the saddle, one leg over the saddle horn like he was talking to Virgil Watson in the middle of main street. You should have seen it Ezra!" JD was waving his glass of milk around in the saloon and talking ten to the dozen heedless of the fact Ezra, Josiah and Nathan were trying to play cards.

"Did this occur before or after our Apollo scaled Mount Olympus unaided?" asked Ezra, hiding a smile at the boy's hero worshipping tone.

"You can laugh, Ezra but you should have seen him! It was...mythical!"

"Indeed. I have no doubt Mr. Tanner will take up a career as a full time funambulist next."

"You know what I mean don't you, Josiah?" pleaded JD.

"I do Brother John. Brother Vin is a sight to behold when he is defending his friends against overwhelming odds. David facing down Goliath."

"See Ezra? You should have been there."

"Oh, indeed I do wish I had been. At least then I would have been spared this fantastic fable's endless repetition," commented Ezra arching an eyebrow at the four kings he had generously dealt himself.

"Wish ya coulda bin there, Ezra," rasped a familiar voice.

"You do, Mr. Tanner? Pray why?"

"Would a traded ya ta the Apaches fer better horses," rasped the tracker sitting down.

"Then tell me, Mr. Tanner, if you were the hero of the hour battling Apaches and bank robbers, while scaling cliff faces with one hand tied behind your back, how did one acquire that Brobdingnagian black eye?"

"Larabee," drawled Tanner leaning back and balancing his chair on two legs.

"Mr. Larabee struck you?" For once Ezra didn't attempt to hide his astonishment.

"You should have seen him Ezra, when Vin rode back with the two horses, Chris just hauled off and hit Vin!" chattered JD.

"What was the reason for Mr. Larabee's pugilistic behavior, Mr. Tanner?"

The tracker merely shrugged.

"Did you raise your fists in retaliation, Mr. Tanner?"

"No! Vin just laughed, Ezra. Laughed! Buck too! I don't understand it. You should have been there! Why did he do it, Vin?" JD wiped milk off his top lip and gazed at Tanner expectantly but no explanation was forthcoming from the now taciturn tracker.

They collectively held their breath when Chris Larabee entered through the bat wing doors and approached the bar. The tension inside the dusty saloon ratcheted up several notches as he strode over to the table with a bottle of Highland Rye and two glasses. Sitting down the gunslinger poured whiskey into the two glasses and slid one towards Vin Tanner.

"Cowboy," acknowledged Tanner draining the glass.

You ever do anything so damn foolish again and I'll do more than punch you, Tanner.


My gut gets all twisted up when you pull stunts like that.



Awrighty then.

Tanner slid the glass back across the table for a refill and got it.

The other men breathed a sigh of relief and resumed their card game.