Rating: PG13 for violence, language, blood & guts
Author's Note: Mercury Jones is based on the Agents of Good Roots song by the same name, as well as The Mad Hatter.
"I want that bastard's head on a silver platter."
A pregnant silence followed.
"No; bring him back. I want to be the one to put it there."
The too-soft, too-silky voice didn't reach beyond the circle of the seven men, and only six of them heard it, as the seventh slept soundly under their watching eyes. Despite the near-inaudible tone, the other five men knew the danger that laced it, and the steely determination behind the words. They also knew that the tone indicated Chris Larabee would not entertain suggestions as to the best way to do it- he would do it his own way, and careful planning be damned. However foolish his plan would prove to be, though, the reddened eyes and iron-cast face effectively silenced any opposition on their parts.
Any indication of the tired, grieving man who had spent the night pacing outside his friend's sickroom had vanished the moment Vin Tanner regained consciousness and had a fighting chance at living. Buck Wilmington, who knew Larabee better than anyone- even Tanner, perhaps- recognized the cold fire burning in his friend, and waited silently for instructions.
"Buck, J.D., head out to the trail. Scout the area around where Vin got shot, see if you can't pick up anything. If you find him, bring him back." Frigid green eyes impaled the two men, freezing them in silence, before Chris continued. "Bring him back alive."
"We will, Chris," Buck said. The ladies' man had nothing of his usual bonhomie about him, and his tone could match Chris's in cold determination. Even J.D.'s good nature had deserted him; the young man's high spirits had vanished during the long night, and in the face of what Chris asked him to do, showed no sign of returning.
Chris nodded a wordless dismissal, and the two friends strode out. The door shut behind them, and Chris turned to Ezra and Josiah. "I want you two to canvas the area back to the northwest- there's the river, and he might be needin' water or a place to camp for the night. He might not have left yet, although he will, if he knows what's good for him."
"With all due respect, sir," Ezra said calmly, "I don't believe he has left yet."
The green eyes fixed on Ezra, and the gambler fought the impulse to flinch under that unforgiving gaze. "Out of all of us, Mr. Tanner was selected as a specific target," he said slowly. "The villain, had he wished to do away with all of us, certainly had ample opportunity to do so- or to at least make a more sizable dent in our number. As he did not, we must assume that said miscreant is seeking after Mr. Tanner's bounty, or perhaps is looking to settle some past insult. Given our dear Mr. Tanner's propensity for miraculous recovery, his nemesis might very well decide to come to Four Corners and ensure that his endeavor did not end up being a vain one."
Chris digested that piece of information in silence. "Northwest of town," he repeated. Josiah and Ezra glanced at each other and exited, the gambler checking his derringer as he went.
That left Nathan, Vin, and Chris in the room alone, and Chris felt the ache of mental and physical exhaustion tug at the tight cloak of numbness that had kept him aware and functioning for the entire night. He banished it to the back of his mind, and glanced at Nathan, who returned the look with equanamity.
"You've done your bringing back for the night, I reckon," Chris said dryly.
Nathan offered him a wan half-smile, deprecating as always, and shrugged. "Didn't have much to do with me, Chris. Had more to do with God, with luck, with him..." He gestured to the still form of Vin Tanner, who appeared impossibly small underneath Nathan's blankets and assorted cloths. "He should pull out of it... be awful weak for a while, but you know Vin..."
"Yeah," agreed Chris softly, placing a comradely hand on Nathan's shoulder. "We know him."
In a flash, the compassion drained from Chris's voice and he stood up, adjusting his gun belt and pulling his coat back on. He gazed down on the inert body of his best friend, seeing for a moment there the dead and bloody body of whatever faceless enemy that lurked out there. The imagined sight resulted in a surge of feral satisfaction, and Chris stalked out the door; before he left, he paused in the doorway and turned back to his friend, seeing just Vin Tanner this time.
"I'll bring him back," he told Vin quietly, and strode into the half-light of early dawn.
The town had not yet begun to stir in earnest, with most of the drunks from last night still sleeping it off and the stores still a couple hours away from opening. Chris flicked a glance toward Mary's office, and saw with relief that the light was out. He jogged to the livery, slipping silently past the sleeping hostler and creeping through the dark to his horse's stall.
He tacked up swiftly, fingers flying over buckles and knots, moving as much from routine as conscious thought. In a few minutes, he led the animal outside and swung up, pulling its head around to head back to town. Clucking encouragement, Chris struck off down the road back through town. The horse's hooves echoed dully in the empty streets, seeming louder in their isolation. Chris forced his ears to move past the sound, searching for any rustle, any shifting that might be out of place. He emerged from the town proper and would come up on the cemetery in a moment; he had decided to turn around when movement in the graveyard caught his eye, so Chris stealthily made his way over.
A man searched amongst the few gravestones that comprised the town's cemetery, bent over as if inspecting the various inscriptions. The man seemed thoroughly engrossed in finding whatever he was looking for, moving methodically down each row and pausing for a good length of time in front of each stone or wooden cross before continuing on to the next one.
Chris dismounted, cursing the rattling of his spurs, but the man in the graveyard didn't seem to notice; even as Chris got closer, the man's intense concetration didn't falter, and Chris could see that the man had a piece of paper in his hand and was comparing whatever was written on it to the inscriptions.
The gate creaked as Chris opened it, and still the man did not look up. Unease prickled its way up Chris's spine, and he felt the reassuring weight of his .38 against his hip. Something in the man's posture seemed animal-like... like a buzzard hovering, Chris thought distantly. Like a horse gone crazy with being stuck in its stall, weaving its neck back and forth.
When the man finally registered his presence and turned to confront the intruder, the lifeless, slate-gray eyes more or less confirmed what Chris had thought.
No life in them. Nothing at all. They stared out from the deep shadows of a battered hat, and even the scraggly beard that framed the face could inject any wildness into them. Chris wanted to run, to get far away from the spectre before him, and even the cold lust for revenge flagged before those eyes.
"Howdy, stranger," Chris said, his voice sounding absurdly loud to his ears.
"Howdy," the man returned.
"Might want to know what you're doin' lookin' around a graveyard this time of day. Are you lookin' for someone?"
The man licked his lips- a nervous reflex, except those eyes didn't even evince a glimmer of anxiety. "Yeah. Yeah, lookin' for someone."
"You mind tellin' me who?" On a hunch, Chris added, "We just had someone die yesterday- didn't get a chance to get him buried yet."
"Huh. Well, yeah, yeah... help me..." the man's voice, rough with disuse, trailed off in an insane whisper. The paper Chris had noticed earlier flapped in his hand, and even in the dim light surrounding them, Chris could read the thick block lettering.
WANTED: DEAD OR ALIVE
Revenge and fear alike spiraled into nothingness as the raw instinct of the hunter/gunfighter took over. In one fluid motion, Chris's hand went for his sidearm, unholstered it, raised, and aimed.
The paper dropped from the hand of Mercury Jones, fluttering in the breeze like an uncertain bird. As he became aware of it, Mercury Jones bent to retrieve the poster, which had fetched up against a gravestone.
He didn't get anywhere near it.
With his initial target gone, Chris surged forward, a silent predator exploding out of ambush. He collided with the man, sending them both sprawling in the dirt. Chris's right elbow slammed against a tombstone and he heard the ominous sound of bone snapping, but the pain didn't matter as the other man rolled on top of him and he saw those blank gray eyes staring into his...
In the heat of close fighting, revenge resurfaced and lent Chris strength- aided considerably by the overwhelming need to destroy the two lifeness eyes that bored into his. Even as his right arm screamed in protest, and as the man sought to get both his hands around Chris's neck, Larabee tightened his grip on the .38.
And, in one final surge of strength, in one bone-wrenching motion, brought the gun to Mercury Jones' forehead and pulled the trigger.
The sharp crack of gunfire broke the silence of early dawn, followed instantaneously by bone splintering. As the echoes of that gunfire rebounded in the stillness, the body of Mercury Jones collapsed on top of Chris, its descent terminated in a piteously brief thud against Chris's chest.
Chris stared up the faceless enemy that sprawled lifelessly atop him, fighting to not see the lifeless gray eyes staring at him, even though one had been dislodged somehow and the other blown away completely. Still, Chris couldn't shake the image that superimposed itself on the face he saw, like the eyes were really there, still empty and lifeless, and the shattered forehead was just stage makeup; the man would stand up and walk away, neverminding the thin gray liquid that trickled out of his skull to drip down his scalp and land on Chris's right arm.
Forcing back revulsion, Chris shoved the corpse off him, standing and staggering away from the lifeless body, shuddering in disgust. Steeling himself, he took the one of the corpse's hands in his left one and dragged it out of the cemetery, thinking as he did so that for the first time in a long time, his seeking revenge had terminated in something other than a forbidding, maniacal happiness or empty victory.
It had ended in relief- a relief so deep but somehow dull that his breath shook a little when he thought about it.
He left the body in the undertaker's and stumbled back to Nathan's, cradling his broken right arm close to his chest. For some reason, his legs didn't want to work properly as he ascended the steps to Nathan's place. Chris collapsed against the wall, fighting for air and coherence, praying he'd made enough noise for Nathan to hear him.
He did. Through his pain and exhaustion, he heard footsteps coming closer and then the door opening.
"What the hell? Chris? Chris!"
Dimly, Chris felt two strong arms pulling him to his feet and the warmth of Nathan's body as the healer supported the gunslinger's weight against him. Nathan eased him into a cot across from Vin and ran to wash his hands and equipment.
Chris stared at Vin, who hadn't stirred during all of this.
"I brought him back, Vin," Chris whispered.
A slight opening of blue eyes and tilt of the head answered him, and that answer was all Chris wanted, but a harsh, quiet rasp followed after Vin had managed to inspect his friend.
"Did... you bring... Chris back... too?"
Chris craned his head to look down at the blood decorating his shirt, and then became acutely aware of the pieces of Mercury Jones that had begun to dry and stick to his face. He smiled, feeling the caked blood crack and flake away.
"Yeah, I brought him back."
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Continues in Few Words Spoken