Cold Nights

by Cheryl W.

Disclaimer: I don't own Magnificent Seven nor is any copyright infringement intended. I have the greatest respect and jealous for those who do own them.

Chris shivered and pulled his duster and blanket tighter to him. The ground was cold and the night air was nippy with an unfriendly breeze. Out under the stars? Huh?! he silently berated his own words. Right now a hotel in Felp's Rock sounded real welcoming and to heck with the number of men in that town who were anxious to call him out.

Giving up on the hope that he'd warm up or fall asleep and not mind the cold, Chris threw back the blanket with a grumble. The fire was practically out and any heat it had yet to offer was being swept away by the breeze. Climbing to his feet, Chris headed off into the woods for more kindling. His traveling companion didn't stir and Chris cursed Vin for not being as miserable as he was.

Whatever light the moon was giving off now was obstructed by the trees. Chris swore softly but venomously as he tripped over some roots and almost fell to the ground. Instead, he caught himself by grabbing onto a tree. He wiggled his toes of his right foot to make sure it wasn't a bad injury - only felt like one. Grousing at himself for not putting on his boots, he bent down and began to collect some broken limbs on the ground. A snap thundered through the silence.

Someone else was in the woods tonight and it was to the far left of their camp. Staying low, Chris crept through the woods toward the sound, cursing his foolish mistake of leaving his gun on the ground beside his blanket. Vin please be awake! he thought even as he tried to come up with a plan to deal with the trouble he was sure lurked in the woods.

When he was 200 yards from the campfire, Chris could make out three figures in the darkness, all crouched down eyeing up the camp. Before Chris could formulate a plan, gun shots erupted. Swinging his head to see the source, Chris saw another man standing over Vin's blanket covered body - sending two bullets into the fabric.

All rationale left Chris. "No!" he screamed as he began a full out run toward the shooter. Suddenly bullets from the three waiting men headed his way, sinking into the trees and zinging into the forest. Survival instincts kicking in, Chris dropped to the ground with a curse. The shots continued to ping into the trees over his head. With angry resignation, he crawled back deeper into the woods when a familiar gun's retort came to his ears. Vin's mare's leg. Hope sprang into Chris- maybe Vin hadn't been shot bad!

But no matter the state of Vin's health, men were now tramping through the woods, looking for Chris. "Come on out, Larabee!" a voice called into the darkness. A voice Chris knew belonged to Trevor Schober. Apparently Schober was still carrying a grudge about Chris turning him into the sheriff in Alberqerque.

Chris didn't respond but scrambled further into the black void of the woods. Without his gun nor the knife he kept in his boot, he was vulnerable to any attack they would make. There was only two things going for him - the darkness and just maybe Vin was well enough to come to his aid.

The night fell eerily silent and Chris crouched down behind a tree trunk. Straining to see or hear his attackers, Chris scarcely breathed and felt like he was all alone in the world. A minute later a figure stepped into his line of sight, oblivious to Chris's presence only two yards away. With the speed and grace of a cougar, Chris sprang from his crouch and tackled the man.

+ + + + + + +

Vin crept through the woods as the Indians had taught him to - becoming one with nature. He knew Chris was somewhere in the woods along with at least two men who seemed intent on killing him. Vin had already killed one man back at the campsite.

If Chris hadn't gotten up and traipsed into the woods, Vin would have been under that blanket! But he had woken up as soon as Chris threw his blanket off with a grumble. He had played possum, letting Chris think he was sound asleep. And as soon as Chris headed into the woods, Vin had surged from his blanket and scrambled to the south side of the campsite. His plan had been to quickly grab some wood, have a roaring fire going and be snug in his blanket faking sleep when Chris returned. It would have gotten a great response from Chris, cursing and maybe some tossing of wood. Vin had smiled as he gathered the wood, just imaging the laugh he would get at Chris's whole tirade. And reluctantly Chris would join in on the laughter and good-naturedly call his best friend a SOB. In that moment, the tensions of the day would have left them both.

Instead, Vin's prank had saved his life. He had been in the woods, had watched the man approach the campsite and fire into his blanket covered saddle. Trouble was, Vin's gun lay nice and cozy by his blanket. When Chris yelled, it was like a lightening jolt to Vin - the terror and anger in his best friend's voice putting a shiver down his spine.

And then the woods filled with the echo of gunfire and Vin knew who all those bullets were aimed at - Chris. Letting his fear for Chris lead his actions, Vin charged out of the woods and tackled the man who had shot into his blanket. They both fell to the ground and Vin landed a punch into the man's jaw and tried to wrestle his gun free. The man retaliated with a punch to Vin's jaw, sending him falling to the ground. Something bit into the muscles in Vin's back at the impact and suddenly Vin knew he was lying on his own gun. The man raised his gun to shoot Vin but with lightening speed, Vin had pulled his gun free. His bullet slammed into the man's chest.

As Vin saw the man fall dead to the ground, a glimmer of metal caught his attention. Chris's gun was there by Chris's blanket. Right convenient spot to have it during the night, 'cept if you headed into the woods without it and got attacked!

"Damn!" Vin cursed lowly as he realized that Chris was unarmed in the void of the woods with at least two armed men trying to kill him. Vin noticed Chris's boots sat by Chris's gun and grimaced. He mentally reevaluated the situation. Chris is unarmed in the void of the woods, barefooted and has at least two armed men trying to kill him. Oh much better!

Taking off into the woods, Vin's own sock clad feet slipped on the leaves and tripped over the roots. It was after his second trip that landed him on the ground that he knew he had to calm down or he'd be no use to Chris. He climbed to his feet and tried to recall the hunting skills his Indian friends had tried to teach him.

When the man had called for Chris to come out, Vin knew the voice came from the far right of his position. That put the number of alive bad guys up to three. Heading toward the man who had called to Chris, Vin stopped short as a single gunshot tore into the quiet of the night. That one shot put more terror into Vin than the previous barrage of shots. It sounded so final. So efficient.

+ + + + + + +

Chris pulled back from the dying man. They had struggled to control the gun and the man had lost. The bullet tore through his chest even as the muzzle rested on his skin. Prying the gun completely from the now dead man's grasp and standing up, Chris tested the weight of the gun. Now my odds are a little better. That happy thought dissolved into a disheartening one. The gun was too light - way too light. In the darkness, Chris popped the cylinder, setting out to count the bullets. Nothing dropped into his hand - the gun was empty.

"Oh great," he growled softly. He was about to rummage through the dead man's clothing for more bullets when a bullet sank into the ground not more than a couple inches from his sock covered foot. He took off into the woods as another bullet zinged by his ear, dropping the gun as he ran. The gun was useless. He was as vulnerable as before. He consoled himself with the thought that at least there was one less man trying to put a bullet into his head.

+ + + + + + +

Vin practically ran over the next bad guy. He had been in a full out run when he caught a glimpse of a figure in his path. As the man turned with surprise, Vin whacked his gun into the man's jaw. The man fell to the ground but immediately raised his gun. Vin's bullet hit the man in the chest, leaving the man dead before his gun hit the ground. Without sparing the man a look, Vin again ran to where the last shot had come from.

+ + + + + + +

I'm tired of running! Chris's mind was screaming even as he ran. A bullet hit the tree where his head had been a second ago, reminding him why running was best. He veered off to the north, hoping to lose his attacker among the heavy foliage. Trouble was, the branches were battering and hampering Chris so severely that it didn't seem like such a great tactic after all.

Vin's mare leg sounded again. Real close this time. Close enough to have embedded a bullet into one of his pursuers. Wanting to call out to Vin, Chris refrained, knowing that Schober was still lurking. Chris headed toward a clearing, hoping to get his bearings and to bait Schober to come out and play.

"Schober," Chris called out as he crouched by the outskirts of the clearing. "Thought you forgave me since you only did 2 1/2 years 'stead of hanging."

"Forgive you?! I'm gonna kill ya then I'm gonna forget ya!" Schober yelled, his voice coming from the other side of the clearing. Chris squinted to try and make out Schober but without warning a bullet seared across his left temple, sending him sprawling to the ground.

+ + + + + + +

Schober cautiously approached the prone figure of Chris Larabee. Larabee was a hard man to kill, it was a known fact. But as he drew closer, his cautiousness was being replaced with cockiness. He had killed the great Chris Larabee! This would do wonders for his reputation!

Standing over Larabee's unmoving body, Trevor Schober roughly kicked the body over to see Chris's face. Without warning, Chris swung a tree limb into Schober's side, knocking the man to the ground. Instantly, Chris leapt at the downed man and delivered a right cross.

+ + + + + + +

Vin ran into the clearing and immediately caught sight of the two figures wrestling on the ground. The moon's light showed him that Chris was pinned to the ground by his attacker. Even as Vin raised his gun, a shot rang out and everything seemed to freeze.

"Chris!" Vin yelled as he ran for the two men. Neither man had moved a muscle since the shot. Vin was about two steps away when Schober collapsed onto Chris..dead. Vin dropped to his knees by Chris and viciously shoved Schober off of his best friend.

"Chris?" Vin urgently called as he leaned over the gunslinger's unmoving body. But Chris's eyes met Vin's in the moonlight.

"Don't yell, alright?" Chris mumbled lowly in pain.

Vin couldn't hold off the huge smile at Chris's ornery come back. "I thought you were dead Chris," he exclaimed softly.

"Nah," Chris roughly denied, "Now help me up."

Vin stood and grasped Chris's hand in his, pulling his friend to his feet. Almost instantly, Chris's knees buckled. Catching Chris around the waist, Vin said, "Whoa, you're hurt," as he now saw the blood covering Chris's left side of his face.

Chris forced his legs to support him and tried to pull away from Vin but the tracker only tightened his hold. "Let go Vin!" Chris ordered but his head hurt too severely for him to speak above a tortured whisper.

"You planning on crawling back to camp 'cause with that head injury, you ain't gonna be able to walk without help," Vin calmly replied, his eyes challenging Chris's defiant look.

But Chris managed a louder version of his previous growl, "Let go!"

With a long suffering sigh, Vin released Chris but didn't step back. Chris managed a single step back from Vin before he lost consciousness. Instantly, Vin's hands shot out and wrapped around Chris's waist as the unconscious man fell against him.

"Damn stubborn fool!" Vin cursed with worry and fear. Bending over, he gently pulled Chris over his shoulders and began the trek back to the campfire.

+ + + + + + +

Chris's first coherent thought was that he was hot. Burning up hot. And even as that thought was complete, he felt a coldness settle on his forehead. He winced with pain as his head threatened to explode.

"Come on back, Chris," a gentle voice he knew beckoned. "I'm feeling kinda lonely out here with no one to talk to."

Vin - it was Vin's voice but Chris had never heard it sound so...desperate...afraid. Chris forced his eyes open and regretted it the second the light hit his pupils. Immediately, Chris clamped his eyes shut and moaned in pain.

"I know you're in pain but ya gotta wake up and eat something Chris," Vin's voice now sounded more like Chris remembered it to be - calm yet forceful and confident. Chris responded to Vin's command and again forced his eyes open. But this time Vin was leaning over him, blocking out the harsh brightness of the sunlight.

Vin felt like he had just come back from the dead and his smile was brighter than the sun. "Hey cowboy, thought you were gonna run out on me," his voice gentle and soft.

Chris's come back was an uncharacteristic complaint delivered in a weak, raw voice, " My head's killing me."

Vin's face clouded with fear at Chris's admission of pain. And the truth of Chris's declaration was clear to Vin as he looked into Chris's pain-filled eyes. Running his damp neckerchief over Chris's forehead and cheeks, Vin gently replied, "Bullet hit your head - you're lucky to be alive."

Chris shut his eyes, "I don't feel real lucky," his words almost a moan.

"Well, I feel real lucky," Vin firmly stated. "You've been out for the past day and had a high fever. Was terrified I was gonna be bringing your corpse home." Vin tried to let his words come off light but Chris heard the anguish in them and forced his eyes open again to rest on Vin's pale, anxious face.

"At first, I thought they had killed you at the campsite," Chris revealed his own nightmare.

Vin put on a smile, "Who could sleep with you stomping into the woods?"

Chris's eyes narrowed "You were awake?!"

"Yeah," Vin said with a mischievous glint in his eyes, "was gonna have a roaring fire waiting for your return 'cept we got company 'fore I got back with my own supply of wood."

Chris's eyes darkened at the coincidence that had saved Vin's life. "Damn lucky you weren't back there."

"Yeah, just like it was lucky you got cold enough to gather wood," Vin countered back.

Both men fell silent as their eyes held. They had come way too close to death that cold night.

"Sorry, Vin. It was all 'cause of me," Chris apologized, his tone full of self-loathing.

"No," Vin shot back firmly, "It wasn't your fault, Chris. Those men came lookin' for revenge and they are the only ones to blame for this."

"Shoulda stayed in town - probably woulda been safer," Chris growled and then smirked "and I know warmer."

But Vin vividly recalled the looks Chris got the second he walked into the saloon in Felp's Rock, had felt the unspoken threats directed at Chris. Vin had wanted to stand in front of Chris and protect him from any comers. Instead, he had forced himself to remain at Larabee's side, satisfying his fear by glaring at anyone who even looked in Chris's direction.

Spend the night in that town?! Hell, Vin had wanted to shove Chris out of the saloon the second all those hate filled eyes fell on him. Vin's fear had been so strong he had struggled to remember to breathe.

"I'll take one hellish night in the cold any day over bein' in a town where every man wants to put a bullet in ya, Chris," Vin solemnly confessed.

A wicked smile pulled onto Chris's features. "Get ready for more cold nights, Vin."

Vin looked stricken with fear and Chris laughed in spite of the pain. Vin had a lot to learn about the hazards of being Chris Larabee's friend.

The End

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