Michael Colter rode into Four Corners and surveyed the town. He wanted to show his two older brothers that he could be trusted to check out the next town to rob. He pulled his horse up in front of the saloon and dismounted. The town looked a little run down and Michael decided it wasn't worth robbing. Since he was here he might as well get a drink. He walked into the saloon and over to the bar to order a beer. There were other people in the saloon and he looked around for any that might be trouble. Most of the patrons were just farmers but there was a fancy dressed gambler at the corner table. Sitting with him was a large man with a mustache and a kid drinking milk. He knew he had nothing to worry about from them and went back to his drink.
"Hey, Buck, who has patrol tonight?" JD asked.
"Vin," Buck answered. "Why?"
"I was gonna ask him to take my patrol in the mornin'," JD said. "But I guess not if he's got tonight."
"May I assume you have a rendezvous planned with your paramour?" Ezra asked as he shuffled the cards.
"Huh?" JD said.
"Never let it be said that Ol' Buck stood in the way of someone else's happiness," Buck announced. "I'll take your patrol."
"Thanks Buck," JD said. He looked up and saw Chris walk in. "Hey Chris."
Michael looked up when JD called to Chris. He couldn't believe it. The man that walked into the saloon was Chris Larabee. Michael always wanted to make a name for himself as a gunfighter. He knew if he could take down Larabee he'd be famous. Michael watched Chris join the table with the gambler and the other two. He smiled when he saw Chris order a bottle of whiskey from the bartender. He finished his beer and went outside to wait.
Around midnight Vin rode back into town. His horse had thrown a shoe and he came back to change mounts. Vin could see light coming from Inez's place but the rest of the town was dark. He led his horse inside and unsaddled him. Twenty minutes later he came out leading another horse. Vin mounted and was about to ride out when something caught his eye. He could have sworn he saw someone standing in the shadows. The tracker waited a few minutes but when nothing else moved he tapped his heels to his horses side and he moved out. Vin saw Chris walk out of the saloon and cross to the boarding house. Suddenly the shadow he saw earlier stepped into the street.
"Larabee I'm calling you out!" Michael yelled.
Chris was taken by surprise as he turned and saw the muzzle flash from a gun. A searing pain lanced his right side and he fell tot he ground. He never even had a chance to pull his gun.
"CHRIS!" Vin yelled as he fired.
Vin's bullet hit Michael in the chest. And he fell to the ground with a stunned look on his face. The commotion brought Ezra from the saloon and he ran to Chris's side. Vin dismounted and went over to the man he shot. He knelt down and rolled him over to find he wasn't dead yet.
"I got him," Michael struggled to say. "I got Chris Larabeee. I'll be famous, me Michael Colter."
"Yeah Kid you're famous," Vin said as he closed the sightless eyes.
"Damn, "Buck cursed from behind Vin. "He's one of the Colter brothers. The other two are gonnna come lookin' for him."
"Let 'em." Vin said. "How's Chris?"
"Josiah and Ezra just carried him over to Nathan's," Buck answered.
Vin nodded and headed for the clinic. Buck had a bad feeling about this. The kid must be the younger brother of John and Matthew Colter. They had a reputation for being ruthless killers. He knew they wouldn't let his death go unaveneged. Buck got some men to take the body over to the undertaker before he went up to the clinic.
Vin walked into Nathan's to find Josiah and Ezra taking Chris's clothes off. Nathan was over at his worktable getting everything he would need to remove the bullet. JD was standing off to the side looking lost.
"Why would he want to shoot Chris?" JD asked.
"Don't rightly know," Nathan answered.
"Was lookin' to make a name for himself," Vin said. They hadn't heard the quiet tracker walk in.
"Do you know the identity of the misguided youth?" Ezra asked as he gently lay Chris back on the bed.
"Yup, his name was Michael Colter," Vin replied as he walked over to the bed.
"His brothers wouldn't happen to be John and Matthew Colter?" Ezra asked in concern.
"Reckon they might," Vin admitted.
"Jesus, Vin," JD cursed. "They got reputations as being deadly gunmen."
"They're also wanted," Josiah said as he held pressure to the wound. "Last I heard the reward was $1,000 dead or alive for each of them."
"And they ain't gonna take too kindly to someone killin' their brother," Buck said as he came in.
"Ya think they'll come gunnin' for Vin?" JD asked worriedly.
"Don't matter," Vin said. "Right now we got Chris to worry about. Are you ready Nathan?"
"Yeah," Nathan said. "You fellas want to hold him down."
Josiah and Vin grabbed Chris's arms and Shoulders. Ezra took his left leg and JD was about to grab his right.
"You better let me, JD, Chris is stronger than he looks," Buck said taking Chris's right side.
"You can help me JD," Nathan said when he saw the look on JD's face. "Quick wash your hands then pour some Carbolic on them."
JD did as he was told then moved to Nathan's side. Nathan explained to JD that he wanted him to hand him his tools when he asked for them. Nathan took the probe and looked around at everyone.
"Ready?" he asked and they nodded.
The bullet entered just below his ribs on his right side. Nathan inserted the probe and Chris came to with a scream. He tried to throw them off and caught Vin in the nose with his head. The tracker saw stars but didn't let go.
"Hold him still!" Nathan shouted removing the probe so it wouldn't do more damage.
"Forgive me brother," Josiah said and punched Chris.
The gunslinger dropped back to the bed motionless. They each held on in case Chris woke again. Nathan inserted the probe and searched for the bullet. While he was doing that Josiah noticed crimson drops falling on the pillow. He looked up to see that Vin had a bloody nose.
"Vin," Josiah called. "I've got Chris."
Vin let go of Chris and grabbed a rag from off the table. He pressed it under his nose to stop the bleeding but never took his eyes off Chris. He watched as Nathan moved the probe slowly inside Chris.
"I got it," Nathan said and removed the probe.
He took the extractor and inserted it to remove the bullet. It took him a couple of tries to grab the bullet but finally he pulled it out. The bullet had missed any vital organs and Nathan was confident he'd be fine with rest.
"JD hand me the Carbolic," Nathan said. JD grabbed the bottle and handed it to Nathan. "Everyone hold on."
He poured the carbolic onto the wound. Chris's body jerked violently but he didn't regain consciousness. Nathan cleaned the wound then closed it with small neat stitches. When he was finished he wrapped a clean bandage around the wound. The others took seats around the room. Buck went over to Vin and pulled Vin's hand away from his nose. The bleeding had stopped but Vin was a mess. Chris had caught Vin on the left eye catching his nose also. The tracker's eye was already beginning to bruise.
"Next time duck," Buck said with a smile.
"Thanks," Vin said. He walked over to the water bucket.
When Nathan was finished with Chris he covered him with a blanket then turned to Vin. The tracker removed most of the blood and looked a little more presentable.
"Vin take a seat and let me have a look," Nathan instructed.
Vin did as Nathan said and took a seat next to Chris. Nathan checked his nose to see if it was broken. He pressed on the bones and Vin pulled away.
"Ow! Damn it Nathan that hurts!" Vin yelled.
"JD bring me some of that water," Nathan said ignoring Vin.
JD brought him the water and Nathan cleaned off the blood Vin missed. Vin cursed and grumbled saying he could do it himself. When Nathan was finished Vin glared at him.
"You enjoyed that," Vin accused.
"It ain't broken," Nathan smiled. "But you'll have one hell of a shiner come mornin'. Why don't y'all go get some sleep."
"I ain't leaving," Vin announced which didn't surprise anyone.
"Is he gonna be alright Nathan?" JD asked.
"Bullet didn't' hit nothin' vital," Nathan replied. "I got it out easy enough. Now we just gotta keep it clean and hope he don't get a fever."
"That is good news," Ezra said. "Gentlemen the evening grows late. And now that our fearless leader is in the capable hands of our resident healer I shall bid you good night."
Ezra left followed by Josiah. The ex-preacher said he'd come relieve Nathan in a few hours. Buck dragged JD off to the boarding house to get some sleep leaving Nathan with Chris and Vin. Vin was sitting next to the bed with his hand resting on Chris's arm. He had his head back against the wall and his eyes were closed.
"How ya feeling Vin?" Nathan asked.
"Heads killin' me," Vin admitted opening his eyes.
"I bet," Nathan said with a smile. "What happened?"
"My horse threw a shoe so I came back to town around midnight," Vin began. "Was comin' outa the livery when I thought I saw something. When it didn't move again I thought it was just my mind playing tricks. Then Chris walked out of the saloon. The kid called his name but Chris didn't' stand a chance. The kid already had his gun drawn. He shot Chris and I killed him."
"Was he really one of the Colter brothers?" Nathan asked.
"Yup, Michael, he's the youngest," Vin answered. "And he was just as mean as his brothers."
"Ya think they'll come gunin' for ya?" Nathan asked worried.
"They'll come," Vin said. "Soon as they figure out where to go."
Nathan realized Vin didn't seem very upset that two men were going to come looking for him. Vin had been on the run for so long two more didn't really matter. After he was finished telling Nathan what happened Vin closed his eyes and dozed off. It always amazed Nathan how easily Vin could fall asleep. He knew when Vin was on the trail he slept very lightly. The smallest noise would instantly wake him. Nathan knew Vin was deeply asleep when he began to snore softly. Vin felt safe with the seven and could let his guard down. Nathan checked to see if Chris's wound was still bleeding. Chris stirred and moaned when Nathan touched him. Vin opened his eyes to make sure everything was all right.
"Bleedin' stop?" Vin asked.
"Yeah," Nathan said. "Everything looks good. Why don't you stretch out on the bed."
"Think I will," Vin said getting up and moving over to the spare bed. "Wake me if you need anything."
Nathan assured him that he would and Vin fell asleep. Nathan knew the blow to Vin's face wasn't serious but it had to hurt. The tracker didn't need to be sitting up when sleep would do him good. Nathan moved over to his table and began to prepare some willow bark tea. Vin referred to it as ditch water and always gave him a hard time about drinking it. He just hoped Chris wouldn't be as stubborn.
The next morning Vin woke to find Josiah sitting next to Chris. The gunslinger was pale and Vin could see sheen of sweat covering his forehead.
"How's he doing?" Vin asked.
"He's got a fever, "Josiah answered looking over at Vin. "How's your nose?"
"Hurts like hell," Vin admitted as he touched it. "But if you tell Nathan I'll deny it."
"Well Nathan was right," Josiah chuckled. "You have one hell of a shiner."
"Town quiet?" Vin asked changing the subject.
"Towns folk are worried," Josiah said as he wiped Chris's face. "Want to know what we plan to do when the Colter's come."
"Protect them we always do," Vin said. "Guess I'll go out and make sure everything is alright."
"Watch your back," Josiah said.
Vin touched the brim of his hat and walked out. He stood on the porch over looking the town. Vin noticed Buck and JD in front of the undertaker's surrounded by townsfolk. The tracker decided to find out what was going on. As he got closer he heard Buck trying to reassure them that the seven could handle everything. Buck noticed Vin walking towards him and smiled.
"Nice shiner," Buck said. "Tell these people we have everything under control."
"Ain't nothin' to worry about," Vin said in his quiet voice.
"But what are we going to do with the body?" one of the men asked.
"Bury it and mark the grave," Vin answered. "In case his brothers wanna bury him somewheres else."
"I think we should keep quiet about the whole thing," Another said. "Maybe they won't find out about it and leave the town alone."
"Town ain't the one they'll be comin' after," Vin reminded them.
"Tanner's right," one of the ranchers piped in. "If he's not here they won't do anything to the town."
"Ya asking me ta leave?" Vin asked angrily.
"Hell no!" Buck protested. "You ain't forcing Vin out."
"We don't want Vin to leave," Yosemite assured them. "We're just worried that's all."
"There's nothing to worry about," JD said. "We can take care of the town."
"We just have to keep this quiet," someone said.
"It's a little late for that," Ezra said holding up a copy of the Clarion. "The streets were made safe once again by the presence of the seven peacekeepers hired for the town. Michael Colter, notorious gunman, tried to make a name for him by killing Chris Larabee. His plans were foiled by another regulator that took the young mans life."
"At least Mary didn't mention your name," JD pointed out to Vin.
"This is terrible," cried the telegraph operator. "Now they know where to come."
"We can handle it Elijah," Vin said. "I'm goin' out on patrol. Never got to finish it last night."
"I'll go with you," JD said.
"Watch your backs," Buck yelled after them.
Vin and JD headed for the livery. Buck and Ezra talked with the town's people awhile longer then they dispersed. Buck headed over to the clinic relieve Josiah while Ezra headed for the saloon.
+ + + + + + +
He's late!" Mathew Colter growled.
He was a tall man with black hair and dark eyes. A scar ran from the corner of his left eye down to his mouth giving him a sinister appearance.
"It ain't the first time," John said. "And it won't be the last."
John Colter was the oldest. He was a bear of a man standing over six and a half feet. He had the same dark hair as his brother but it was going gray on the sides.
"Well I ain't waiting out here for him," Mathew stated. "He knows where we were headed and he can meet us there."
"Sounds good tome," John agreed. "I could go for a hot meal and a bed."
"Yeah," Matthew smiled. "A nice warm bed and someone to share it with."
They mounted their horses and headed for the nearest town. The town of Big Springs was twenty miles away and they would get there by dark. They weren't worried about Michael. He could take care of himself.
+ + + + + + +
Chris couldn't figure out why he hurt so much. The last thing he remembered was being in the saloon having a few drinks. He couldn't understand why he was so hot either. Chris slowly opened his eyes and realized he was in the clinic. He looked around and saw Buck reading the newspaper.
"What?" Chris croaked.
"Hey Pard," Buck said with a smile. "Hold on a minute this might help."
Buck poured some water into a cup then moved next to the bed. He slipped his hand behind Chris's head and lifted it. Buck placed the cup to Chris's lips and he took a drink. When he was finished Chris leaned back against the pillow.
"Thanks," Chris said. "What the hell happened?"
"Some kid decided he wanted to make a name for himself," Buck began. "Figured if he took out Chris Larabee he'd be famous. Except he didn't give you a chance."
"I remember someone calling my name," Chris added.
"Not surprised," Buck smiled. "The kid called you out and Vin shouted out a warning. You didn't have a chance; the kid already had his gun drawn. You didn't even have time to skin your piece before he shot you."
"Did ya get him?" Chris asked coldly.
"Vin got 'im," Buck answered. "Your lucky his horse threw a shoe and he had to come back early form his patrol."
"Damn lucky," Chris grunted in pain as he tried to sit up.
"Hold on there Chris," Buck said pushing him back down. "Nathan doesn't want you moving around."
"Don't think I can anyway," Chris said through clenched teeth. "Damn kid got a name?"
"Vin recognized him," Buck replied. "Kids name was Michael Colter."
"Shit," Chris cursed and tried to sit up again. "Those tow brothers of his are gonna come gunnin' for Vin when they find out."
"We know Chris," Buck said holding him down. "We're keeping an eye on things."
"Where is he?" Chris demanded.
"Went to finish his patrol," Buck answered.
"What!" Chris yelled and struggled in Buck's grip. The stitches across his abdomen pulled and he cried out.
"He givin' ya trouble Buck?" Nathan asked as he walked in.
"Nothin' I can't handle," Buck assured him. Chris was breathing heavy from the pain and he gave them a deadly look.
"How could ya let Vin go out on patrol when you know the Colters will be after him," Chris snarled.
"He didn't go alone," Nathan said trying to calm him down. "JD's with him."
"And that's supposed to make me feel better?" Chris snapped. "A pig headed tracker and a greenhorn kid ain't no match for John and Matthew Colter!"
"What do ya want us to do Chris?" Buck asked angrily. "Lock Vin up until this all blows over?"
"Damn!" Chris cursed.
He knew Vin could take care of himself but this was different. Vin was a hell of a shot from long distance but a fast draw he wasn't. The Mare's leg he favored wasn't meant to be used in a gunfight. Vin didn't stand a chance against the Colters. He also knew Vin would never let them try to protect him.
"How long ago did they leave?" he asked.
"They should be back soon," Buck answered. "Ya ain't gotta worry, Chris, we'll watch his back."
"I know," Chris sighed. "Maybe by the time his brothers find out about this I'll be up and around." Buck and Nathan traded worried looks. "What?"
"Now, Chris, don't go gettin' yourself all riled up," Buck said soothingly.
"Spill it Buck!" Chris said.
"Well it's like this," Buck tried explaining. "Mary wrote and article about the shooting. She mentioned your name and Colter's."
"Damn that woman!" Chris exploded and regretted it instantly as his side flared in pain.
"Easy Chris," Nathan warned. "It ain't' gonna be no fun if I have to put them stitches back. Besides there's ain't nothin' you can do about it now."
"Nathan's right," Buck agreed. "Besides Mary's smart. She didn't mention Vin's name."
"Thanks God for that or every bounty hunter in the region would be coming for him," Chris said. "At least the paper is a local one. That should help."
"Yeah," Buck laughed. "We're probably the only ones who read it."
"Tell Vin I want to see him as soon as he gets back," Chris yawned and closed his eyes.
"I will," Buck said and watched as Chris fell asleep.
"You really believe the paper stays close to town?" Nathan asked.
"I hope so, Nathan," Buck said. "Or those Colter boys are gonna pay us a visit real soon."
+ + + + + + +
Matthew Colter walked across the street to the saloon. Big Springs wasn't a huge town but it had everything he needed. He just came from the whorehouse where he had spent the night. They were still waiting for Michael and he hoped he came soon. Matthew knew he'd find his older brother in the saloon. He wanted to know how long they were going to wait. He entered to find John entertaining one of the saloon girls. He knew better than to interrupt his brother and walked over to the bar. The saloon was quiet so the bartender was reading the paper holding it up in front of him. Matthew saw that it wasn't a paper from this town but one called Four Corners. The headline caught Matthews's attention and he began to read. Suddenly he grabbed the paper and moved towards his brother.
"Hey," cried the bartender. "I was reading that."
"Not any more you ain't," Matthew said pulling his gun and shooting the bartenders ear. "Don't ever talk to me like that again."
He turned he back on the bartender as he clutched his bleeding ear. He headed over to his brother and slapped the paper down in front of him. John looked away from the saloon girl in his lap and glared at his brother.
"This better be good," John warned.
"Read it," Matthew said pointing to the paper.
John picked it up and began to read. When he was finished he folded the paper and placed it on the table. Suddenly his hand snaked out and he grabbed the girl by her hair and jerked her head back.
"Where's Four Corners?" he growled.
"It's about two days ride East of here," she answered in a frightened voice.
"Good girl," he sneered and threw her down to the floor. "Get the horses. We're gonna go kill this regulator that killed our brother."
Vin and JD rode into town late that afternoon. Buck saw them and walked across the street to meet them. They pulled their horses up in front of the saloon and dismounted.
"Where the hell have you been?" Buck demanded. "You should have been back hours ago."
"Mrs. Murphy's cows knocked down the fence," Vin answered unaffected by Buck's tirade. "Me and JD helped round them up and fixed the fence. Besides were all grown up and can take care of ourselves."
"Yeah, Buck," JD agreed. "Quit worrying."
"Quit worrying!" Buck echoed. "When two gunslingers are comin' for Vin and you want me to quit worrin'."
"I can take care of myself, Buck," Vin said angrily.
"What about JD?" Buck asked. "What if they came gunnin' for you on the trail and JD got caught in the middle of it."
"I ain't no babe in diapers Buck!" JD protested just as angrily as Vin.
"Hold on everyone," Josiah said walking up. He caught most of the conversation and figured he'd better step in. " We're all worried and a little on edge. Now Buck you know they couldn't leave Mrs. Murphy to round up her cows alone."
"You're right Josiah," Buck agreed. "They couldn't. Vin, JD just forget it."
"No harm done," Vin said the anger leaving him as quickly as it came.
"Yeah, Buck, it's OK," JD said.
"Vin, Chris is awake and he's been looking for ya," Josiah said.
Vin nodded and headed for the clinic. He climbed the stairs and headed for the door. Voices could be heard behind the door but Vin couldn't make out what was said. He opened he door and waked inside. Chris was in a reclining position and when he saw Vin he glared. So that's how it's gonna be, Vin thought.
"Nathan he giving you a hard time?" Vin asked.
"Not as much as you do when you're laid up," Nathan answered.
"Where the hell have you been?" Chris asked angrily.
"Out on patrol," Vin replied calmly as he approached the bed.
"You got two gunslingers out for your blood!" Chris growled. "I want you to stay close to town."
"Nathan can you leave us a minute," Vin stated staring at Chris. Nathan could feel the tension between the two of them and was reluctant to leave.
"Alright," he agreed. "But don't' get him riled up, he's getting a fever."
Nathan got up and headed for the door. He looked back at the two men and decided it might just be safer if he did leave. After Nathan left Chris and Vin just stared at each other. No words were needed between them to convey their feelings. Vin knew exactly what had Chris so pissed off.
"Been takin' care of myself for a long time now," Vin said.
"Well you don't seem to be doing a hell of a good job!" Chris snarled. "What happened to your face?"
"You weren't taking kindly to Nathan pulling that slug outa your side," Vin answered. "You whacked me with your head."
"That's what I'm talking about," Chris said angrily. "What the hell were you thinking last night?"
"What the hell are you talking about Chris?" Vin asked confused.
"Killing Michael Colter was a stupid thing to do!"
"How the hell was I supposed to know who he was!" Vin shouted in surprise. "I wasn't about to stop and ask who he was while he shot you!"
"Damn it Vin," Chris cured. "John and Matthew Colter are hired guns. You won't stand a chance against them."
"I know how to shoot Chris," Vin defended himself.
"Yeah you can shoot," Chris agreed. "But they're gonna call you out for a gunfight. A fast draw you're not. They don't know it wasn't you who killed their brother. You're gonna tell them I did."
"I ain't no damned kid, Chris," Vin snapped. "Don't need ya fighting my battles for me!"
"You're a damned fool is what you are," Chris yelled. "You can't beat them!"
"Guess we'll see won't we!" Vin said as he walked out slamming the door.
"Tanner!" Chris bellowed and tried to get up.
He slumped back against the pillows with a yelp holding his side. God damn it Chris cursed himself. This isn't what I wanted to happen.
Nathan heard the door slam and watched Vin stomp angrily down the stairs. He had been waiting close by in case they killed each other. Nathan had never seen Vin so mad. The tracker stalked to his horse and grabbed the reins. He vaulted into the saddle and rode out of town. Nathan went up to the clinic and entered to find Chris trying to get out of bed.
"What do ya think you're doin'?" Nathan asked and grabbed Chris.
"Where is he?" Chris asked and gasped as Nathan forced him back on the bed.
"You tryin' to pull them stitches?" Nathan demanded. "Now lay still."
"Damn it, Nathan, tell me where he is!"
"He just rode outta here like someone lit his tail on fire."
"Shit!" Chris cursed and slumped back. "Someone has to go after him. If the Colter's find him they'll gun him down."
"You promise to stay put?" Nathan demanded.
Chris sank back and nodded his head. Nathan accepted his word and went down stairs to the saloon. He entered to find Buck and Ezra playing cards. Buck looked up and saw Nathan waling towards their table.
"Hey Nathan," Buck greeted. "What's goin' on?"
"Chris and Vin had a fight," Nathan said. "Found Chris trying to get out of bed and Vin rode off."
"Damn that boy," Buck said throwing his cards down. "Don't he know all we're trying to do is protect him?'
"Obviously Mr. Tanner doesn't believe he needs protecting," Ezra said as he picked up Buck's cards and shuffled the deck.
"Talk sense Ezra," Buck said. "The Colter brothers will gun him down. If he's with us they might not challenge him."
"That is my point Mr. Wilmington," Ezra explained. "Mr. Tanner isn't accustomed to depending on others to protect him. I do believe it scares him to death that he might just need someone's help."
"He's right," Nathan agreed.
"Yeah he is," Buck sighed. "I'll go find him and bring him back. Which way did he ride out?"
"South," Nathan answered. "I better get back to Chris."
Nathan went back to the clinic to find Chris where he said he would be. The healer could see beads of sweat on Chris's forehead and knew his temperature was higher. Chris's breathing was also a little fast and Nathan figured he was probably in pain. He went over to the worktable and poured some laudanum in a cup. Nathan carried the cup over to Chris.
"Here Chris, "Nathan said. "Drink this."
"I'm alright," Chris argued when he saw it was laudanum. "What about Vin?"
"Buck went looking for him," Nathan answered.
"I just hope he wants to be found," Chris sighed. "If not Buck ain't gonna find him."
"I know," Nathan said worriedly.
"Why does he have to be so damned stubborn?"
"I think Ezra figured it out," Nathan said. "Vin's never had to depend on others and it scares him."
"I reckon," Chris said and tried to get comfortable but the stitches pulled and he grunted.
"Drink it!" Nathan commanded holding out the cup.
Chris reluctantly took the cup and drank. He knew Vin could take care of himself and that this fight was his fault. Some times being the leader of this ragtag group was a pain in the ass. Chris's eyes began to close and he gave himself up to the darkness.
+ + + + + + +
By the time Buck saddled his horse and rode out it was starting to get dark. He decided to start at a place he thought Vin might be. About a mile outside of town was a mesa that Vin liked to visit. A few times Vin had been found there and Buck hoped that's where he went this time. When Buck got to the mesa he pulled his horse up by the trail leading to the summit. Vin liked to sit on the edge and think. He didn't see Vin's horse but there were other trials leading to the top. Buck dismounted and tied his horse to a tree. He started up the trial and passed a large boulder.
"Lookin' for me?" Vin asked stepping from behind the rock.
"Damn it Vin!" Buck cursed as he jumped back. "Don't do that."
"Sorry," Vin said with a smile. Buck could see he wasn't sorry at all. "Chris send ya?"
"We're all worried about ya," Buck said.
"I know," Vin sighed and leaned back against the rock. "Ain't used ta so many people watching out for me. Started feeling like things were closing in."
"Can't say as I understand," Buck said. "Always been used to havin' people around. What happened between you and Chris?"
"Nothin'," Vin said avoiding the question. "You know how he gets."
"Yeah pard, I know," Buck laughed. "You know we'll all be there to cover your back when the Colter's come."
"I know," Vin smiled. "Just don't stand too close ya might get shot."
Buck laughed and clapped Vin on the shoulder. Vin went around the boulder to get his horse then followed Buck to his. They both mounted and headed back for town. When they got back it was late and Buck offered to take care of Vin's horse and he handed the reins to Buck. Vin walked towards the clinic and up the stairs. He entered to find Chris asleep.
"How is he?" Vin asked in a whisper.
"Damned fool tried to follow you," Nathan grumbled.
"I ain't goin' no where if you want to take a break," Vin offered.
"Alright," Nathan said. "His temperature is up. You can use the cool water to bathe him if you've a mind to. He should sleep through the night."
Nathan left and Vin got comfortable in the chair next to the bed. Vin leaned over and touched Chris's forehead. He was warm and Vin grabbed a rag and plunged it in the water. He bathed Chris's face and neck then re-wet the rag. Vin folded so it was long and placed it on Chris's forehead. When he was done he stretched out his legs and leaned his head back. A short time later Vin was asleep.
+ + + + + + +
Later that evening JD was just finished his walk around town before heading over to the jail. He checked the locks on doors as he walked by. Inez finished closing up the salon and waved to JD as she closed the door. Everything was quiet and he went inside the jailhouse. Just as he closed the door two men rode into town. They headed for the livery and dismounted. They led their horses into the dark interior and stopped just inside the doors.
"Anybody here?" one called.
"Just a minute," came the reply from the back.
The two men waited patiently for the liveryman to come towards them.
"You boys are getting in late," Carl said.
"Miscalculated the distance," one answered. "How much to board the horse?"
"Two bits," Carl answered. "Four if you want them to get fed."
Carl waited as the one with the scar dug in his pocket for a coin. He pulled out his hand and flipped a five-dollar piece towards Carl. He caught the money and smiled.
"Is this a quiet town?" asked the older man.
"Usually," Carl said. "Sometimes we have some gunfights in the street."
"Do tell," said the one with the scar.
"Yup just the other day Vin shot a gunslinger trying to kill Chris," Carl said. Sometimes Carl talked too much.
"Vin?" Asked the older man.
"Yeah Vin Tanner, he's one of the regulators here."
"Well thanks for the information but it's getting late."
Carl watched as the two men headed for the hotel. The one with the scar running down his face made his skin crawl. Well they weren't his problem. He bedded down the horses and went back to bed.
Vin glanced toward the window when he heard his name. He'd spent the night sitting by Chris. Nathan left a few minutes ago to get them some coffee and more water. Chris's temperature was lower but Nathan was still worried.
Vin sat up and pulled his gun from its holster and checked it. He knew who was outside waiting for him. Vin stood up and looked down at Chris. The gunslinger was pale but at least he was finally asleep. Most of the night Chris had tossed and turned in fevered nightmares of his family and how they died.
"Adios Chris," Vin said as he headed out the door.
Vin stepped off the stairs and walked along the boardwalk. Waiting in the street by the livery were John and Matthew Colter. Vin stepped into the street and walked towards them. As he passed the jail Buck and JD came out and walked by his side. Ezra came out of the saloon and joined them. Nathan and Josiah completed the group when they stepped out from Mrs. Potter's store. The six regulators walked down the street and stopped twenty paces from the Colters.
"Which one of you is Tanner?" John demanded.
"I am," Vin said as he moved in front of the others.
"Couldn't face us without your friends?" Matthew sneered. The scar on his face gave him a feral look.
"You killed our brother," John said. "Now we've come to kill you."
"You'll have ta go through us first!" JD declared.
"It'll be my pleasure," Matthew growled staring at JD.
"NO!" Vin said stepping in front of JD.
"I believe it would be prudent for you gentlemen to leave this municipality," Ezra warned.
"You don't scare us fancy pants," John said. "We'll leave when Tanner's dead."
"But now we see Tanners' yella," Matthew taunted. "He can't face us alone."
Buck watched as Vin's posture changed. He could see Vin was angry as he clenched his teeth. Buck glanced at Josiah and saw he was watching Vin also. Buck was getting a bad feeling about all this.
"When?" Vin asked angrily.
"In one hour," John answered. "Come alone."
Vin nodded and the two brothers backed towards the livery. When they got to the doors they entered and closed them tight. Vin turned and headed for his wagon. The others backed away keeping an eye on the livery. Once they were in the alley Buck exploded.
"What the hell do ya think you're doin'?" Buck yelled grabbing Vin by the arm and turning him around. "Never turn your back on men like that."
"They weren't gonna shoot me!" Vin said angrily pulling his arm from Buck's grasp. "They want it to be face to face."
"You really gonna shoot it out with them?" JD asked surprised as Vin climbed into his wagon.
"Ain't got no choice," Vin said as he opened a chest.
"There's always a choice," Josiah said.
"There ain't no way you can out draw them with that mare's leg," Nathan reasoned.
"Nope there ain't," Vin agreed. "But at least I'll have a chance with this."
Vin held up a Colt revolver in a black holster. He jumped down from the wagon and unbuckled his mare's leg. They watched as Vin strapped on the revolver. Buck couldn't take any more.
"You stubborn fool!" Buck growled grabbing Vin and pinning him against the side of the building. "I ain't gonna stand here and watch you die. There's six of us. We can take them."
"I reckon we can," Vin said with a smile.
"What?" Buck asked confused.
"I do believe Mr. Tanner has a plan," Ezra said returning the smile.
"Look, Buck, I ain't stupid," Vin explained. "I know I ain't fast enough. But I had to make the Colters think I'd come alone. This way they'll be watching me and the rest of y'all can sneak up on them."
"I like the way you think brother," Josiah smiled.
"I'm just glad you decided to let us help," JD said.
"Gonna take some gettin' used to," Vin said. "Ain't used to so many people trying to protect me."
"Yeah well if you didn't get into so much trouble all the time, we wouldn't have to," Buck grumbled.
"What about Chris?" JD asked. "Shouldn't we tell him what's going on?"
"He was pretty much out when I left earlier," Nathan said.
"Yeah he was still asleep when I left," Vin said. "He didn't sleep much last night I doubt he'll be waking up anytime soon."
"I'll check on him again before we meet the Colters," Nathan said.
"Alright meet back here in forty minutes," Vin said.
+ + + + + + +
Forty minutes later they were all gathered around Vin's wagon. JD was watching the livery and said the Colters never left. Vin asked if Chris was all right. The healer assured them he was deeply asleep.
"Don't ya think Mrs. Travis should watch him?" JD asked worriedly.
"Nah," Nathan said. "This won't take long, he'll be fine."
"Y'all better get into place," Vin said.
They nodded and went their separate ways. Vin walked to the end of the building and waited.
+ + + + + + +
Chris woke with a start. He was dreaming that Vin was killed in a gunfight and he stood there and let it happen. When he realized he was alone in the clinic he got suspicious. He sat up and gritted his teeth as the stitches pulled. Everything was quiet and Chris didn't like it. Then he realized it was too quiet. Chris knew instinctively that something was wrong. He swung his feet over the edge of the bed and almost passed out from the pain in his side. When the blackness at the edge of his vision receded he grabbed his pants from the chair and pulled them on. Nathan knew better than to take Chris Larabee's clothes away. He also knew to leave Chris his gun. When Chris got his pants fastened he reached over for his gun hanging on the back of the chair. Chris caught himself on the chair as the clinic started spinning. He waited until everything settled down and he buckled on his gun. Chris didn't bother with his boots. He didn't think he could bend down to put them on. In bare feet and no shirt Chris made his way to the door. He opened the door and made it to the stairs. He painfully descended the stairs to the street. Once on the street he was shocked to see Vin standing by himself in the middle facing both Colter brothers. Where the hell were the others, Chris thought.
"Vin get down!" Chris yelled as he pulled his gun and fired on the Colters. John Colter pulled his gun and pointed it towards Chris.
"NO!" Vin screamed and ran for Chris.
John fired then all hell broke lose. Vin tackled Chris but felt a burning sensation along his right temple as he tumbled into darkness. His momentum was enough to knock Chris to the ground. Chris screamed as he felt the stitches in his side rip open. The Colters ran for cover as the others opened fire. Chris and Vin lay tangled in the street. Ezra was the closest and he knew he had to get them out of the line of fire. He dashed from cover and made it to Chris's side.
"Take Vin!" Chris yelled over the gunfire.
Ezra nodded and grabbed the unconscious tracker by the hand and dragged him towards the water trough. Chris watched as Ezra began to pull Vin to safety. He began to crawl after them. Buck and Josiah had the Colters pinned down across the street. Chris was concentrating on making it to cover when he heard Ezra cry out in pain and watched as he went down.
"Shit!" Chris cursed and tried to get up.
"Stay down!" Ezra yelled.
Chris was relieved to see Ezra puling Vin to safety behind the water trough. Chris was close to the trough and Ezra reached out his hand and pulled him behind its limited safety.
"You, Mr. Larabee, are supposed to be asleep," Ezra complained as he reloaded his gun.
"What and miss all the fun," Chris grunted as he held his side.
Ezra chuckled as he handed Chris his handkerchief then took aim around the side of the water trough. Chris pressed it to his side to try to stop the bleeding. With his free hand he checked Vin. The tracker was bleeding heavily from a graze to the right side of his head. Blood covered Vin's face and Chris grimaced. Chris grabbed Vin's shirt and pulled it out of his pants then ripped a strip off. He held it to Vin's head to try to stop the bleeding. Chris wanted to help Ezra but he had both hands full trying to stop his and Vin's wounds from bleeding. Suddenly he realized every thing was quiet. The shooting had stopped and Ezra slumped against the trough. That's how Nathan found the three of them.
"Buck! Josiah!" Nathan called. "Come give me a hand!"
"Mornin' Nathan," Chris grimaced.
Nathan just glared as Buck and Josiah raced over. They started to ask questions but Nathan stopped them and told them to just get them back to his clinic. JD came over last and helped Ezra hobble after them. Once inside Nathan gave all of them instructions on what to do and they got to work.
+ + + + + + +
Vin floated out of a sea of darkness to hear voices. He slowly opened his eyes and instantly regretted it and shut them again. The room was spinning and he decided to just lie there for a few minutes. His head was killing him and he tried to remember why. When his foggy brain started working again he recalled his plan to get the Colters was a complete failure. He listened as the others resumed talking again.
"Damn it Nathan," Chris cursed. "You give me any more of that swill and I'll shoot ya!"
"It's your own damned fault!" Nathan countered. "I told you to stay put."
"He's right Brother Chris," Josiah said. "You and Vin don't seem to be able to take orders."
"If you told me what you were up too I wouldn't have gotten out of bed!" Chris growled.
"If we told you never would have let us do it," Buck said.
"Mr. Larabee if you had remained asleep I wouldn't now be lying here shot in a most important part of my anatomy," Ezra added. "I will not be able to play poker for a week."
"Ya got shot in the ass Ezra," JD said "Not the hands."
Vin couldn't help it that last part made him laugh. He quickly stopped when his head protested the abuse. Vin went to touch the side of his head when he felt a hand grab his.
"Leave it," Nathan said softly. "Vin can you open your eyes?"
"Rather not," Vin replied. "Light hurts."
"Try now," Nathan said a few seconds later. Vin opened his eyes to see the lamps had been dimmed. Four faces were starring down at him.
"Damn I must be in hell," he moaned.
"Well if you are you're in good company," Buck laughed.
"Please, Buck, not so loud," Vin complained. "What the hell happened."
"Chris decided to go for a mid morning stroll," Ezra answered.
"Keep it up," Chris warned.
Vin realized he was on the floor cushioned by blankets. Chris was propped up in one of the beds. Vin thought he looked pale but at least he was all right. Ezra was in the other bed lying on his stomach. His head was facing the foot of the bed and he had a pillow under his chin and his arms tucked under the pillow.
"Did we get 'em?" Vin asked weakly.
"Yeah we got um," Buck smiled.
"Go back to sleep Vin," Nathan said when he realized Vin wasn't quite with them.
Vin drifted back to sleep listening to Chris ask if he was OK. Nathan assured him he was. When Chris was satisfied with the answer he started yelling at all of them again for using Vin as a decoy. Vin listened as they all defended the plan. He finally drifted off to sleep thinking this must be the way brothers fight in a family. Vin decided he liked it.
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