Disclaimer: I don't own them, MGM and Trilogy does. Not making a penny off of this, just writing because I enjoy it.
Also very big thank-you to my wonderful beta-readers, White Raven and Lori. You are the best!
Epilogue to Serpents. Ever wonder what happen to the rifle?
"By the way, what are we going to do with the money?"
Ezra Standish's words echoed through Chris Larabee's mind as he walked down the street to the jailhouse. He knew what custom dictated, but he still wanted to wait and see just what the judge had to say about it. Ezra was right about one thing though, large amounts of money had a way of doin' things to a man's mind before he really knew what had hit him.
As he opened the jailhouse door and stepped inside, he saw Vin Tanner seated at the desk, the rifle that they had found in Lucious Stuts' room, propped on his shoulder and aimed at a wanted poster on the opposite wall.
"Chris." Vin quickly lowered the gun.
The older man closed the door and nodded his head toward the rifle. "Practicing?" he asked.
Vin shrugged. "It's hard to put down. Fits in my hands so natural like."
"You did well with that today."
The tracker glanced at his friend. "Easy to take Stuts down with a beautiful girl like this."
"Too easy maybe?"
Vin picked up a rag and poured some oil onto it. He began to wipe down the barrel. "Maybe. Rifle done practically fired itself. Wonder where he had it made?"
The gunslinger shrugged. "Where ever it was, looks like it cost him a fortune."
Vin nodded. "Reckon so. One thing's for sure, I ain't ever gonna see that kinda money."
Chris sat in the chair opposite Vin. "Man could get used to a weapon like that."
"Yup," the bounty hunter answered.
"You thinkin' of keepin' it?"
Vin looked at his friend and Chris saw a flicker of uncertainty in Vin's eyes. "Thought about it, Chris. I ain't never seen a gun like this a'fore. It's like a dream come true, like all those Christmases I ain't never had."
Chris just looked at Vin after hearing this last statement. He had always suspected the younger man had not had many Christmases, or even birthdays, for that matter. He would probably be too uncomfortable if anyone made a fuss about it, but Chris knew there had to be something he could do to make up for that lost part of Vin's life, something that wouldn't cause the tracker any embarrassment. He placed the thought in the back of his mind for future pondering. He propped his feet up on the corner of the desk and returned his thoughts to the conversation at hand. Vin had become quiet the last few moments. He hoped the younger man would continue. It wasn't everyday Vin talked so much in one sitting.
"Nathan stopped by the wagon last night," Vin continued. We got to talkin'. 'Bout monsters and such."
"Monsters?" Chris asked.
The tracker nodded. "Yup, oh not the kind like when you're a little kid and you think they're hidin' under your bed. 'Bout the ones out there," he gestured with his head to the world that lay out beyond the jailhouse. "Said whether or not I kept the gun, he knew I would know the difference 'tween right and wrong, 'tween bein' a killer just for profit, or just killin' the bad guys."
"You ain't no cold-blooded killer, Vin, and you never will be. I don't care what Texas says."
Vin shook his head and finished wiping down the barrel of the rifle. "I don't know, Chris. Bein' up on that roof today, I could almost feel the power comin' from this. Like it was a livin' breathin' thing. The way it felt in my hands, the way it fit in the crook of my shoulder...the ease of the trigger, " the bounty hunter stopped and met Chris' eyes. Concern looked back at him. Uncomfortable with what he saw there, he quickly lowered his head.
He waited for Chris to say something, but the gunslinger seemed content to be silent and let Vin do all the talking, which made the tracker a bit nervous.
Chris wasn't a superstitious man by nature, and he did not believed for one minute that the rifle was cursed, seeing it was used for assassinations and all, but hell, even he knew that that if Vin did keep it, the damn thing was probably gonna bring nothing but trouble. Chris' gut tightened at the thought of some low life scum trying to kill Vin just to get his hands on the thing. The best thing would be just to get rid of it. Throw it into Miller's Pond and be done with it. Better safe than sorry, as Sarah used to tell him. But he also understood that Vin would have to be the one to make that decision himself. He hated to see his friend struggling with this, but he also knew what it might cost Vin if he kept it.
Chris knew the way that Vin had sometimes chosen to bring down an outlaw when he was bounty hunting. Setting a trap, shooting a man before he could pull his gun. But those men were outlaws, wanted men and in the eyes of the law, it was fair game to take them down anyway you wanted, or anyway you could. Chris knew that Vin still struggled a lot with the way he had done his job. Legally he was right. Morally, Vin wasn't always so sure. Now when Vin did pulled the trigger, he did it in defense of the town, his fellow peacekeepers, or himself.
Chris folded his arms across his chest.
"I don't know, Chris. I've been athinkin' about all the good that I could do if'n I do keep the gun." He leaned forward and put his arms on the desk. "I mean think about it, Chris. Think about all the scum we could put away. All the lives we could save, all the women an' children that would never get hurt. We could clean up this territory in a matter of weeks."
"How ya' gonna do that, Vin?" Chris asked. "Sit in a tree near Purgatory and pick 'em off as they ride out of town?"
Vin glared at his friend. "I thought we were hired on to protect this town, these people the best way we could. In case you ain't noticed, the bad guys do out number us."
Steel eyes stared back at Vin. "Protect this town within the law, Vin. Just cuz you have this rifle, that don't mean that it's the best thing."
The tracker blinked and sat back in his chair. He remembered once Josiah telling him that God had given man everything that was in the world, but that didn't necessarily mean that everything was always beneficial for man. Men had the free will to make their own choices, whether they were right or wrong. He sighed and ran his hand lightly over the rifle. He knew Chris was right. He thought about his conversation with Nathan the night before. If he had had a rifle like this when he was bounty hunting, would he have stuck with just that, or would he have crossed the line like Stuts did? He felt a chill go down his spine at the thought of what he could have become. He had a home here, friends, ah hell who was he kidding, they weren't just friends, they were family. Especially Chris. Did he really want to throw all that away because he was wanted to keep somethin' that someday he might not be able to control? The temptation might become too much for him to handle and he would cross that invisible line. Vin knew that was something he wasn't willing to risk. If there was one thing that he had learned in his life, it was that was life was meant to be lived, whether the good Lord gave you seven years or seventy.
Vin rubbed the back of his neck. "I can't just take it apart. Someone might put it back together."
Chris smiled. He knew Vin would come to the right decision, given time.
"Have an idea about that," the gunslinger rose from his chair. "Grab that thing and come with me, Cowboy."
Vin raised an eyebrow questioningly, but picked up the rifle and followed Chris out the door only to follow him at the blacksmiths' shop down the street.
"What are we doin' here?" Vin asked.
"Well I think it would probably be a good idea if we got rid of it permanently, so I thought we could have Joe here melt it down."
Vin grinned. "And here I was, thinkin' that ya'll would want me to just dump it out at Miller's Pond."
Chris grinned back. "Guess you don't always know what I'm thinkin.'"
'Yeah, right.' Vin thought, his eyes locking with Chris'. 'Tell me another one.'
The blacksmith finished shoeing the horse he was working on and walked over to the two lawmen. "What can I help you fella's with?" he asked.
Vin held out the rifle. "I'd like ya to melt this down for me Joe."
Joe took the weapon and looked it over. "I ain't never seen no gun like this before. Where'd ya' get it?"
"Off a hired assassin," Chris replied.
"I know a couple of people that would pay a lot for this, if you're willin' to sell it."
"Nope, it's better for everyone if ya' just melt it down," Vin answered.
The blacksmith shrugged. "What do you want me to do with the metal?" he asked.
Vin thought for a minute. "I want ya' to make me a knife."
"Okay. I can get right to it now."
Vin tipped his hat. "Much obliged."
He started out of the shop. Chris quietly spoke to Joe and then joined his friend out on the boardwalk.
"A knife?" Chris asked. "Don't you have enough?"
"Ain't for me."
"Buy ya' a drink?" Vin asked.
Chris grinned. "Yeah, 'bout time you were buyin'."
+ + + + + + +
Vin opened the door to Nathan's clinic. "Nathan, ya' got a minute?"
"Sure Vin, come on in," the healer set down the bottles he had been cleaning.
Vin stood in the middle of the room. "Gettin' some work done?"
"There's always something to do, never know when things will heat up again," Nathan grinned. "Something I can do for you?"
"I just wanted to come by and thank ya'."
"Thank me? For what?" Nathan asked.
"For stoppin' by my wagon the other night."
Nathan shook his head. "I didn't do nothing but talk to my friend."
"Ya'll did more than that, Nathan, ya got me ta' thinkin' 'bout things. 'Bout what I might become if I kept that rifle."
"Facing your own monsters ain't always a pleasant thing, is it?"
The tracker shook his head. "No, they ain't"
"But we do learn from them."
Vin laughed. "Now ya' sound like Josiah."
"Must be spending too much time with him," Nathan grinned.
Vin reached into his coat and pulled out the knife. "Ya'll believed in me and I want ya' to have this."
The healer took the weapon and turned it over in his hands. "This ain't necessary, Vin."
"Yes it is Nathan. Without ya', I ain't sure I would have realized what demons I have to face."
"You put 'em to rest?" he asked, looking up at the younger man.
"Almost." Vin tipped his hat and walked out of the room.
The healer ran his fingers over the blade and a warmth filled his soul.
+ + + + + + +
Chris looked up as Vin entered the saloon. He poured a glass of whiskey and pushed it to the other side of the table as an invitation for Vin to join him.
The tracker inclined his head and took a seat.
"Got something for you," the gunslinger stated.
Vin looked out from beneath the brim of his hat as Chris reached into his duster, pulled out a small object and placed it on the table.
Vin frowned and picked it up. "A bullet?"
Chris took a sip of whiskey, and remained quiet.
An idea began to form in the younger man's mind and he looked at his friend. "This here's part of that gun, ain't it?"
Chris nodded. "Your own apple. So you don't forget."
Vin clutched the bullet in his fist for a moment, then put it in the inner pocket of his jacket, where it would be safe. He reached for the bottle and poured another round for the two of them. 'It sure was nice to have family around to help keep the monsters away,' he thought.
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