Continues on from  The Worth Of A Man

 

 

The following is a work of fan fiction based on the CBS television series, The Magnificent Seven. It is in no way intended to infringe on the copyrights of CBS, MGM, The Trilogy Entertainment Group, The Mirisch Corp., or anyone else who may have legal rights to the characters and settings. This story is strictly for entertainment. 

My thanks to Antoinette and MAC for your help and support.

 

The hunter becomes the hunted.

The gambler and the renegade AU

Main Characters Ezra, Vin and Chris

E/V

The story continued on from “The worth of a man.”

Ezra Standish laid in bed happy and contented. That night he had, for the first time, made love to Vin Tanner, the bounty hunter, that he had helped rescue from jail in Clarkesville where a sheriff was about to exact his own personal justice on him. During the last few days he had nursed Vin through a severe concussion, once Vin was able to move he had brought him to this town to give him a chance to recover in some sort of comfort. His feelings for Vin had been strong, but he was unsure of how Vin felt until tonight when they had made love, what had saddened Ezra was Vin didn’t know the difference between fucking and making love, he didn’t expect any foreplay just a quick, rough fuck. He had never made love in a bed until that night, having most of his encounters  braced against the wall of a livery stable or in dark alleys, groans, grunts, and thrusting all over in a matter of minutes, then quickly parting before being discovered.  Ezra had vowed then and there to show his lover there was a difference, now Ezra lay looking towards the window, the darkness was giving away to light, as dawn fast approached. Looking down at Vin who was curled up against him one strong thigh and an arm thrown over him, his hand splayed over his belly, Vin’s face pressed against his chest his breath soft against his skin. Lightly Ezra stroked the long tangled hair, easing his fingers through it, his hand moving down over Vin’s shoulders, his lover was tanned all over, which made Ezra smile but at the same time it  brought pictures of a naked sun  kissed Vin out in the mountains as wild and as free as the county  he travelled, and Ezra found himself having to move slightly as his  body began to react to the twin sensation of his imagination and the warm naked body plastered against him. Ezra looked up to the heavens as his movement had caused Vin’s hand to slide from his stomach down over his cock, and Ezra had to bite his lip to avoid groaning at the touch and the memory of what those talented hands had done to him. 

But his touches had brought Vin awake, not used to being this close, Vin reacted the only way he knew and that was defensively, pushing Ezra away from him as he grabbed for the mare’s leg that was by the side of the bed. 

Ezra tumbling from the bed, to land on the floor with a thud. “Mr. Tanner.” Ezra said indigently as he lay sprawled on his back on the floor.

There was a pause and Vin rolled over on the bed onto his stomach and looked down at him a grin on his face, “Hell Ez, should know better than wake me up like that.”

“I will make a note of that for the future Mr. Tanner,” Ezra drawled as he slowly got to his knees, and smiled as he saw the appreciative look that Vin was giving him as those blue eyes swept down his body and fixed on his hard cock. Ezra pushed up from his kneeling position and caught Vin rolling him onto his back, and looming over him. Vin’s hand caught him by the back of his neck and pulled his head down for a long lingering kiss that ended in a gasp for Ezra as a hand fisted his cock, and a calloused thumb rubbed over the sensitive head. It was all the diversion that Vin needed to flip the gambler onto his back, and straddled his thighs, pinning Ezra to the mattress. The look in Vin’s eyes made Ezra’s breath catch, there was such need, such love……. Ezra chilled himself to remember that it was too early for that, he might want it but did Vin or was he just a convenient lover, also there was still the matter of the bounty on his head. Now in town would Vin turn on him as Julian had done and they had shared at lot more than one night together. Then Vin swooped down for another kiss and all his worries were forgotten for the moment.

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On the trail to Tascosa

Ezra Standish was riding in silence as he followed his lover, Vin Tanner, as he picked his way through the countryside, forging a trail for them. It had been in Purgatory a few days ago that he had first see the wanted poster, that Julian Parker a former lover, had put out on him for sodomy, prostitution, he knew what would happen to him if he was caught, and taken in for those “crimes.”  Ezra tried to suppress the shudder that ran through him, the reward on the privately commission poster was for $350, and there was a lot of men out there that would come after him for that money,and some just for the hell of it  because of the crimes. Julian was a possessive man, and had been unable to accept that a gambler would just walk away from the money he offered, but Ezra didn’t want money, he wanted a man that would stand by him and would love him.  He had got it so  wrong in his relationship with Julian, but with Vin  Tanner, a man so very different he had found it so right.

Together they had turned their horses and headed into Texas, along the way Vin had gotten on the trail of a cold blooded butcher called Eli Joe, it was then they had parted company agreeing to meet  in a few days time in Tascosa.   

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Tascosa

Ezra Standish was in the saloon, the men in front of him posed no threat and were easy marks he would walk away later that night with most of their money, but Ezra would never take all of it. Strip a man of all his money and he might come back after you, but let him go with a few bucks in his pocket enough for a drink and he might not try to blow your head off. A simple rule but one that had kept Ezra out of stupid bloody disputes.

It was early evening when all hell had suddenly broken loose, a man had come running in yelling that some bounty hunter had brought in Jess Kincaid’s body trying to pass it off as Eli Joe’s and claim a $200 bounty. The men rushed out, and Ezra followed, he had parted company with his lover Vin Tanner just outside of Tascosa, Vin had been on the tracks of Eli Joe a particular vicious killer and was sure that he could bring the man in. Ezra cursed under his breath, something had gone wrong and he needed to know what that was, he had carefully read the poster to Vin, and he knew his lover wouldn’t have jumped the gun. For all his reputation of bringing men back dead over the back of their horses, Ezra had found that Vin matched lethal force to lethal force only when he had too. Something was very wrong here. When Ezra pushed his way out of the saloon and onto the boardwalk, Vin was down on the ground and the sheriff and a deputy was dragging him into the jail, the way his lover hung between the men he was unconscious, and blood coated the side of his face. As much as he wanted to run to Vin, Ezra held himself back, he would do Vin no good if he got dragged into the trouble, he needed to keep free and work the   angles so that he could get him out of jail.

The men returned to the saloon, their talk all about the bounty hunter, how he must have shot down the farmer, the atmosphere was ugly, the more the men drank the worse it became. Muttered comments about a murdering renegade, fucking bounty killer, got worse, and Ezra knew it was only a matter of time before then started to talk of lynching.  He threw his cards and with a few parting words to the other players left the saloon. The street was deathly silent considering it was a Saturday night; it was as if the town was turning its back on what was going to happen next.  Using the back of the houses, Ezra crossed to the livery stable, Diablo was in one of the stalls, the horse’s ears went back as he approached, then shot forward again, as it recognized his scent as he said softly “now to get your master out of jail, this is really a habit he must learn to break.” Reaching out a hand he allowed the horse to nuzzle at his hand, before he patted it on the neck and began to saddle it up, he knotted the reins, and then went to Knave; he had his horse saddled and then led the two of them out.

The dark shadow detached its self from near the livery stable, and followed Ezra, once the gambler stopped and turned round his hand dropping down to rest on the Remington, before with a shudder he continued working his way round to the rear of the jail. Leaving the horses tethered  he made his way to the one barred window, carefully he pulled himself up so that he  could look in, Vin was on the bed, his hat pulled down over his eyes, the door between the cells and the office was closed, “Vin”.

The bounty hunter tipped his hat from his eyes, and looked up, he was on his feet in a second standing on the bed, and Ezra only had time to pass the derringer to him before he had to drop back down. Taking another  breath, Ezra hauled himself back up again quickly whispering his plan, and then with one last look at this lover dropped back down to the ground again. Suddenly he spun round his hand dropping to his gun, he froze like that his eye trying to penetrate the darkness, but he could see nothing, with a huff of breath Ezra forced himself to calm.

Unknown to Ezra his black clad guardian angel lowered a limp body to the ground, the man had been about to come up on the gambler, and that he couldn’t allow that, the guardian had know that Vin and the gambler were traveling together. That the man was risking his life to free Vin told of a connection between the two men. For that reason and that reason only he was backing his play, once the Texan was free the gambler would find out that he was not the only one who  claim  the companionship of the wild free spirited bounty hunter.

Ezra couldn’t shake the feeling he was getting, it was like the time when he had been cornered in a saloon, without a way out, and a Mexican bandit wanting to carve his heart out of him. That feeling of being stalked was almost a physical presence; he looked round once more and then made his way round the side of the jail. From out front of the jail he could hear the mob getting loud, between the buildings he could see men with torches, the sheriff’s voice yelling at them to go home, to allow justice to be done.

It was then there was another yell this one full of fear as the cry of FIRE was screamed out and flames began to light up the sky of the livery stable, then there was the pounding of horses hooves as the horses in a panic tore down the street.  The mob dropped their torches and began to run towards the fire, the deputies followed, in this dry arid land; fire could soon engulf a town.  Thinking quickly on his feet Ezra diverted from his plan, and went with the opportunity this gave him, moving fast, he was on Sheriff Lucas before the lawman knew what was happening. Ezra’s clipped him on the side of the head with his gun butt, caught and quickly dragged the unconscious man into the jail before anyone knew what was happening. Grabbing the keys to the cells from the hook he   unlocked the door and Vin was rushing out, time for words of thanks could wait until they were out of the town.  Vin grabbed his weapons within minutes the two of them were running down the side of the jail and on their way out of town.  Chris Larabee stepped out of the darkness, paused and lit one of his habitual black cheroots, dropping the match onto the ground and then walked back to the saloon, ignoring the panicked people rushing by him with buckets. It wasn’t his town it wasn’t his business, Tascosa could burn for all he cared. Tomorrow the Sheriff and the outraged citizens would get up a posse and he would join it, why bother to track Vin when he could allow the posse to do his work for him. If they caught up with his Texan then they would be dead men riding, but until then he would ride with them.

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Ezra rode in silence, he looked in concern at Vin, he had been beaten, but seemed to be showing none of the effects of concussion, for that he was grateful, remembering how badly the Texan had been last time, and how scared he had been that Vin had been seriously injured.  Later he would find out what had happened but until then they needed to get as far away of Tascosa as they could. Tomorrow Ezra knew the law, would be hot on their heels.

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Chris Larabee sat in the saloon, the half bottle of whiskey in front of him, the posse would leave at first light the next morning, they had a broken down old buffalo hunter to help them track. A small twitch of the lips touched Chris’s face, if they thought he could track Tanner down then it was wishful thinking on their behalf, but the old coot could get him close enough he could do the rest.  His attention was drawn to a group of four men that came in together, their clothes were dusty, they started round the saloon, demanding answers about Ezra Standish.  The men in the saloon had not reason to lie to them, they just didn’t want to be involved in any trouble, so they kept quiet and it was plain to anyone with half a brain that they were getting more and more pissed off, they paused in front of Chris’s table, his left hand still rested on the table fingers circled round the shot glass, his right hand rested on the butt of his gun.

“You seen him cowboy.” The taller of the men asked.

Chris looked up, “You just call me a cowboy?” there was a chill to his voice that made the people near his table start to edge away.

The tall man swallowed hard, “No insult meant Mister.”  He paused “you seen this man.”

Chris looked at the wanted poster, it had been folded back to just show the sketch of the man they were after, he easily recognized Ezra Standish.

“What’s he wanted for?” Chris took a pull on his whiskey.

“Ain’t no he mister, an ass fucking sodomite, unnatural bastard, lifted the wrong linen, the boy’s pa wanted to string him up personal like.”

“Don’t look like any law poster.” Chris pointed out, his eyes never leaving the men in front of him.

“Boy’s pappy put it out and the money; don’t aim on sharing mister, but….”

“I haven’t seen him.” Chris put in levelly.

The bounty hunters moved onto the next table finally they got confirmation that Standish was in town and soon after that he had left town at the same time as Vin Tanner was broken out of jail.

Chris wasn’t surprised when the bounty hunters joined with them the next morning, if they endangered Vin Tanner they would be bleached bones in the desert, as for Standish the jury was out, he remembered all too clearly the deputy in the saloon at Clarkesville calling him a butt fucking gambler.  Vin was one of the most deadly men he had ever men, but skittish, not liking to be touched and if Ezra….  Chris left that thought hanging; he had been patient with Vin moving slowly until he didn’t shy away from him when he laid a hand on his shoulder. Chris was all too aware that he wanted more; his love for the Texan bounty hunter had knocked him back on his heels. He was the only light in his dark world, and if that meant cutting a blood swath through the Texas Panhandle he would do it.

The posse had gotten on Tanner and Standish’s trail at first light, and the old coot actually seemed good at what he was doing, they rode through most of the day and into the evening until they had to halt or risk losing the tracks. Chris tugged a half empty bottle from his saddle bag and went over to sit by the old man, and offered him a drink.  Old Zeke took a pull on the harsh drink and smiled in appreciation, “that some fine sipping whiskey mister.”Seeing a nod he took another drink.

“What you think about the tracks.”

Old Zeke leaned back against his saddle he was using as a back rest, “Tanner’s a tracker himself, and lived with the Comanche, this is too easy mister, way too easy.”

“Meaning?” Chris took a pull at the whiskey and handed it back.

“Meaning, the son of a bitch is going to come after us, he crossed his trail twice, he wants to be followed, and you mark my word.” Old Zeke took another pull of the bottle, and then when Chris stood up offered him the bottle back. Chris shook his head, let the old man have it, he had told him what he wanted to know, Vin wasn’t that far away, and he wasn’t running, that  long haired Texan was out there waiting.

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Ezra had been puzzled why they weren’t running for the hills, finally asked, “Mr. Tanner, I would have thought that the idea is to get as far away as possible from the good people of Tascosa given their interest in hanging you.”

“Posse like that is full of hate, they’re not going to let go easy, gonna have to give them a reason.”

Vin pulled his Winchester from the sheath, and leaving Ezra crawled out  through the long grass so that he could see the posse camped out below him, carefully he sighted ,moving from one person to the next finding his target. A smile twitched his lips as he saw Chris Larabee. He squeezed the trigger and the rifle kicked against his shoulder, Larabee reacted to the gun fire by flinging himself face down in the dirt his gun in his hand. One of the deputies stood behind him pitched face down in the dirt hand clutched to his shoulder screaming like a stuck pig; there was a ragged returns of fire none coming close. Vin edged back, and walked past Ezra and returned his rifle to the sheath.

“Why him Mister Tanner?”

“Bastard beat on me when I was in the prison cell, when they had me shackled  like some mangy cur, wanted me to admit to killing that farmer, didn’t do it, couldn’t make me say I’s did.”  Seeing the look on Ezra’s face he added, “got to wing one of them else they won’t get skittish when I start working on the rest of them, he seemed a good a target as any.”

Vin pulled himself onto his horse with a wince, and then touched his heels to its side, leaving Ezra stood there.  Concern colored the gamblers face, as he mounted he needed to get a look at Vin, and check him for injuries it would be difficult the man had a standard answer of “I’s fine” whenever he asked about his health. But if that man had got his hands on Vin in the cell, there was a lot of damage that could be done to him.  This was one time that his lover was going to do what he was told.

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Chris pushed himself up from the ground and then looked behind him, at the  deputy surrounded now by the other members of the posse, poking and prodding him, Chris muttered under his breath. Tanner was a lot closer than even he had thought.

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One day later and the posse was getting jumpy as Tanner set to work on them, with well placed bullets that had their horses jumping and bucking as they snapped round their hooves like hornets . Slowly members of the posse were falling back away from the body of the posse and then making off towards town as fast as they could, keen to get away from Tanner’s rifle, as they told each other in hushed whispers, it was only a matter of time before he turned the ground red with their blood.

 

Chris nightly spoke to the old man, Old Zeke leaned into Chris and confided in him that he might be good but Tanner was better  then he added   “Tanner will be getting ready to bolt soon, show us a clean pair of heels. Now that he’s got us cut down.”

The posse turned guns at the ready as they heard the drum of horse’s hooves; it was a new band of men, they were cowboys fresh off the trail and waving a wanted poster of Tanner, emblazed across it was the $500 reward.

Vin swore under his breath as he watched them through his telescope, “going to have to split up Ez, they want me, so you get the hell out of here and I’ll meet up with you at Twin Boulder.”

“Mr. Tanner.”

“No argument Ez, winds changed we got to change with it.”

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Chris studied the newcomers, and his gaze settled on a young man, his city suit and hat marked him out as a tenderfoot, green as grass, even if he did wear two guns. The kid would think that he was fast, but they always did until they came up against someone, and then they usually died. He saw the way the kid kept looking at him, Chris deliberately turned on him, and saw the way that the kid backed off, and dropping his eyes, the twitch of a smile that Chris gave him was ice cold as the grave.

It was early morning at the time when the guards were at their most vulnerable, and the men sleeping their deepest. The night was split by a rebel yell that sent the men reeling awake in terror. Chris rolled up onto his knees just managing to knock into one of the others who were trying to draw a bead on Vin Tanner as he rode through the camp at a  gallop, firing up in the air. Then the Texan was gone, the posse’s horses scattered, Old Zeke hobbled over to Chris, “damn didn’t expect to ever hear that again,” the kid was with him, his guns in his hand unfired.

“what was that, never heard it before, it was well wow.”

Chris suppressed a shudder, “hear it during the war, that one’s got the Comanche war cry  mixed in with it.”

Old Zeke nodded and to the kid explained “could always tell who you faced by the rebel yell. Damn it didn’t think I would ever feel that again, you feel it boy, a kinda corkscrewing sensation that goes up your spine when you heard it. “The kid nodded, Old Zeke added “if a man ever tells you that it didn’t scare them, means they never heard it."

Zeke saw the way that the kid was nervously looking round him, “don’t worry son, Tanner’s cutting out now, won’t be able to get our horses until tomorrow, he’ll have a good head start by them. Tell you this, I figure we should leave him be.”

“Give up.” The kid said sounding indigent, “the others they said that.”

“Kid you follow them and you’ll find an early grave won’t he Mr. Larabee.”

“Kid needs to follow his own way.” Chris said.

“Chris Larabee, I thought it was you I read.” The kid gushed, then added “name’s John Daniel Dunne most people call me JD.” He stuck his hand out, but it just hung in the air, as Chris looked from it to his face, and then ignored it and pulled out a cheroot and lit it. 

Blushing JD let his hand drop down, Old Zeke clapped him on the back, and then steered him away from the gunman, he didn’t know why Larabee was with the posse, the man was a loner,  and a fast gun killer, a posse wasn’t his way, but if he was there it was because he had personal business with Tanner or Standish and there was no way the old man was going to get in the way.

It was late morning when they finally managed to get their horses, Chris like Old Zeke and a few of the others had no problem their horses came when they called them, the others well their horses were properly  half way back to Tascosa by then. 

The tracks showed that Tanner was on his own, he had split up with Standish, the bounty hunters with JD in tow and a couple of others headed after the gambler, the cowboys voted to go back to town without horses they faced a long and hard walk back to Tascosa, cowboy boots were made for riding not for hiking over the countryside.  Chris joined the remaining members of the posse with Old Zeke, in going after Tanner.

Chris  rode in silence, he could remember so clearly the first time that he had seen Vin Tanner,

He had sat outside of the saloon, his hat pulled over his eyes shielding them from the harsh glare of the sun, he was hung over from the night before and at 10.00 am he already had a half bottle of whiskey on the floor near his hand and he was half way through a three day drunk. Periodically he would pick it up, tilt it and take a deep pull and then place it back down again. His mood was dark, and people kept out of his way or they died, since the death of his beloved wife and son, a part of Chris Larabee had perished with them. He had always had a violate  temper, Sarah had tamed it, but now it was out of control, hung over he was as dangerous as a pissed offed diamond back, and to cross him now would be to get a bullet in the head, he would kill as easy as he would drain the whiskey bottle.

It was then he saw the way the people were stopping to stare, a rider was coming into town, trailing behind him was two horses, bodies lay draped over them, the man leading them was dressed in an old buckskin jacket, and slouched confederate hat.  Chris automatically noted his weapons, instead of a colt he wore a mare’s leg strapped to his thigh, the butt of a Winchester rifle showed from just under his knee, the hat was pulled down and he didn’t get to see his face until he was nearly level with him.  It was then the man looked across at him, and Chris was pinned by a pair of blue eyes, the bounty hunter was young, good looking even if he was wearing a week’s worth of stubble, it was a strong face, and he knew that he was looking at a dangerous man. In that instant they seemed to take the measure of each other, then the bounty hunter turned towards the jail, the sheriff and one of the deputies where already waiting for him.  For that split second when their eyes had met it was as if something had lifted inside of him, and the darkness had receded. Chris turned his attention to the jail, the bounty hunter came out a little later, the sheriff yelled after him from inside the jail, the hunter turned and then just touched the brim of his hat to the man, his smile was one guaranteed to piss the sheriff off. Which  brought out a torrent of abuse, when the sheriff barreled up to the door of the jail, Chris found himself easing forwards his hand resting near his gun, as he saw the sheriff’s hand drop to his gun. But the Sheriff turned on his heels and slammed the door of the jail closed behind him, sending it rocking on its hinges,  the hunter was crossing the street the man nodded to him and then went into the saloon.

Only then did Chris settle back down in his chair, and take another pull at the whiskey bottle, cradling the bottle in his hand, turning it round and round, finally his mind made up he heaved himself out of the chair and went into the saloon, following the younger man, the hunter was leant against the bar, but it seemed he wasn’t the only one that was after the younger man’s company. Two cowboys fresh off the trail and already well into their drink were either side of him, “lookie here Jeb, real pretty ain’t he, you looking for a real man pretty,” the man laughed. . One on the left half a head taller than the hunter brushed a hand against his shoulder flicking his long hair, “real pretty,” as he pressed up against him.

The bounty hunter  elbowed  him hard in the gut, his breath came out in a harsh wheeze as he doubled over, at the same time the hunter stamped down  on the other man’s foot, following it up with a hard right to the stomach, turning he caught the first man by the shirt and slammed him head first into the bar, his body sinking down onto the ground narrowly missing going head first into the spittoon.

The hunter spun round as he caught movement behind him in the mirror, Chris leaned against the bar, his foot coming down hard on the hand of the winded man as he started moving towards his gun as he laid on the floor.  Chris looked down at him, and shook his head, as he released his hand from where he had ground it into the rough wooden floor. Chris’s right hand rested on his gun; his left tapped the counter top, “whiskey” he looked towards the hunter, ignoring the man that scurried away from his feet “Chris Larabee.” But he said it loud enough for the bounty hunter’s attackers to know who he was and that he was back the man’s play. The two men quickly tottered out of the saloon, as the gun man and the hunter watched them go.

The bounty hunter smiled and nodded his thanks, in that minute Chris’s world tipped on its axel, Chris pushed a shot glass of whiskey over, the hunter took a sip of it, as the gun man poured himself another drink.

“Vin Tanner.”  It was the first time that he had ever heard the soft rasping Texan accent.

Chris nodded toward a corner table and Vin shrugged but followed him over all the same. He barely managed to get two words out of the bounty hunter, but it the silence between them wasn’t forced it was as if he had known this long haired Texan all his life.

Since his wife had been murdered, Chris had lost his interest in women, for a year the only release he had  was  his own right hand, need drove him finally into the arms of whores where he could take what he needed for a few dollars. He had never been interested in men, he had fooled around a little during the war, who didn’t?  It had been a little comfort amidst the fear and death of a bloody civil war.

But now as he sat looking at this blue eyed hunter he could feel his body reacting to him, he could imagine running his hands through the long brown hair, lying down with that lean body pinned under him and….  Chris  forced himself to break off, who the hell was he kidding,  if he made a move on him Tanner would plant that bowie knife he was carrying deep in his gut.

It was then Tanner reached across and with a smile that sent the blood singing though Chris’s veins,  took the whiskey bottle from his hand just as  he was about to pour himself another two fingers of rot gut whiskey.  Chris raised an eyebrow, as Vin did something no other man in that room would dare to do, it was then  their hands brushed, and Chris felt a jolt run through him, Tanner’s lips twitched  and his eyes were laughing, the little bastard knew what he was doing to him. Chris sat up right in his chair, well two could play that game, and he caught the bounty hunter’s wrist, and suddenly the bottle hit the top of the table with a clatter as Vin had pulled back like a scolded cat, only Chris’s lightening fast reflexes as he had released Vin’s wrist and grabbed at the bottle had stopped it from spilling. The warmth in Tanner’s smile died and the blue eyes flared with an anger that Chris was at a lost to explain.   Chris kept still, just like he would do with a cornered wild animal, he wanted to give  Vin a way out and not bottle him down, he could see that Vin was near to bolting, but when he made no move, he saw a puzzled look come into those blue eyes, he still remained still. A flood of relief went through him as he saw Vin eased back in his chair as far away from him as possible without leaving the table.

Keeping eye contact, but making his movement slow, Chris poured a good measure into Tanner’s glass, and then into his own and just waited.

The bounty hunters breathing slowed and Vin’s hand moved to curl round the shot glass and his eyes never leaving Larabee’s, he picked the glass up and drained it. Putting it back down onto the table he took a deep breath and let it out slowly.

Chris raised the bottle up again, and indicated the glass with it, but this time Vin shook his head, Chris shrugged and then put it back down, and drained his own glass. His plans for the evening had changed, he was going to suggest going to the barn and letting off a little steam. He still wanted the long haired, blue eyes bounty hunter, but now he would have to take it slow, and he surprised himself in that he didn’t mind, they would take it at Vin’s pace, because after all that Chris was sure he hadn’t been wrong he had seen want in Vin’s eyes earlier, but his reaction  told a different story. Buck Wilmington might argue the point but when it was something he wanted he had all the patience in the world, after all it had taken him a year to convince Sarah to take him as her husband, and he would give Vin as long as it took to convince the young Texan that he really wanted him.

Vin got to his feet, “for the whiskey I’s thank you,” Vin nodded and then left the saloon, leaving Chris at the table alone. Now all Chris wanted was to follow the bounty hunter out but he had to take his time, he couldn’t be seen following the younger man, so he helped himself to another drink, taking his time to look round the saloon. As soon as his eyes met any of the other men, they looked away, so different than Tanner who had met his gaze levelly, and without fear. Suddenly he was fed up with it, the stink of fear that seemed to permeate the saloon, the gun man got up and pocketed the whiskey bottle and left, moving out onto the  boardwalk making sure not to frame himself in the doorway. He looked down the street, and saw Vin disappearing into the livery stable, so Chris took himself a seat outside, and a slip from his bottle and waited. Tanner would be checking on his horse, then he would head for one of the boarding houses, a god sent opportunity to bump into the hunter again. Time ticked by slowly and Tanner still hasn’t returned,,  Chris took another couple of drinks, still no Tanner, finally given that patience certainly wasn’t one of his virtues Chris made his way down the street in time to see the big man from the saloon earlier come staggering out of the livery and doubling over vomiting his heart out as he clutched at himself and the  second came out his hand bleeding, nose bloody and the front of his pants undone.

Chris broke into a run, and came crashing through the doors of the livery, Vin turned fast as he entered, his hand fisting round the hilt of his Bowie knife, Chris somehow managed to stay his hand from flashing down to his gun in answer to the threat. “Easy Tanner, don’t mean you any harm.”

“Huh,” the hunter said but didn’t relax, Chris could read the younger man’s body language he was tensed and ready to fight, “don’t know what you think Larabee, but I ain’t no whore. No matter what those other bastards thought, don’t lie down with anyone”

“Never thought you were.” Chris paused “I don’t know what you think happened in the saloon between us, but whatever it was I didn’t mean to spook you, if I made you think I was after more than just a drink I am sorry.”

“The great Chris Larabee is apologizing to me?” Vin said some of the tension seemed melt away from the younger man.

Chris saw the twitch of the younger man’s lips, “yeah and the sanctified dead are going to rise tomorrow.”  Looking round he saw the bed roll in the stall.

“You sleeping with your horse?” he raised an eyebrow.

“Don’t snore as bad as some, I’s know.”

Chris didn’t like the idea of Vin sleeping out in the livery, the man he had kneed and the one he  had cut  would have a score to settle because that would be the second time that Vin had humiliated them, out here Vin would be,  vulnerable alone, in his mind’s eye all Chris could see was the young man being beaten and abused. A wave of need to protect this young man swept through Chris, like nothing he had felt since his family was lost. All he knew was that Vin had to be  safe and there was no safer place that he knew of.  “Got me a room in the MacDowell Boarding House.” He saw the way that Vin tensed again and added “just thinking that if you want you can throw your bed roll onto the floor there, be warmer there and you won’t get any uninvited visitors.”

“Always a price Larabee, so what’s yours cowboy.” Vin met Chris’s eyes levelly, the green ones burning into his.

Chris took a deep breath, “God you’re a hard man to convince Tanner, don’t flatter yourself you ain’t got anything I want, your  virtue’s safe with me ,” Chris drawled.  Turning Chris walked out hoping and praying that Vin would follow. He stopped in his tracks as he heard the audible “Sure,” from Vin, heavily laced with sarcasm, he allowed himself his first genuine smile for a long time, as he heard the footfalls. Chris didn’t turn round but when he glanced right he saw Vin Tanner stood there his saddle bag thrown over his shoulder, his Winchester in his left hand and without another word the two men fell into step as they headed for the MacDowell Boarding House.  

“LARABEE”, his name brought the gun man back to the present with a jolt and he pulled his horse to a halt and he looked round to see the old buffalo hunter riding towards him.

“Yeah Zeke.”

The old man nodded towards what remained of the posse as they pulled ahead of them, “Posse’s down to four of us now, you sure you want to keep going, gonna get bloody, Tanner’s not going to go down easy.” Zeke suddenly swallowed hard, as in that split second he had seen something in Chris Larabee’s eyes and it was as if someone had walked over his grave. Quickly he turned his horse away and gave it a hard kick to get as far away of Larabee as he could, even so he could feel those blue eyes boring into his back, and he shivered, it reinforced his decision to slip away in the dark that night.

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Several miles away further on, heading in the direction of Four Corners, Ezra Standish wasn’t happy. That stubborn mule headed  Texan love of his life had insisted they split up now rather than continue to flee together away from the posse.  Tanner insisted on acting as bait to lure then away from him, and give him a chance to escape on the grounds that he was the one they wanted, and they would leave Ezra alone once he was gone.  It was with a sense of unease that Ezra looked back and saw that some of the men where now on his trail, all he could do was keep going,  and hope to out distance them. He was all too aware that his skill lay in cards he was not a skilled backwoods man, in a situation like that all he could do was keep ahead of them, and trust to the speed and stamina of his horse, and the fact that Vin had said he would find him. If there was one thing he knew about his lover was that he was a man of his word.

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The posse

The other men in the posse were giving Chris a wide berth; none of them keen to risk the infamous gun man’s wrath, his reputation was known and feared. Under the tugged down brim of his hat Chris watched them, the sheriff had been among the first one to turn back, with his wounded deputy, using the man as an excuse to desert his posse. Next had been the farmers and store holders, men with grass roots reasons for going back but not wanting to lose face. This left the men more out for money than justice, they had no real ties to the town, and it was the thrill of the chase that had them still riding. With an expert eye Chris took in their weapons, and classed them he knew who would break and run and who would stand their ground.  Soon Vin would turn back again, for one final bid to get the posse off his back, and when he did Chris would be there to back his play if he needed him.

Old Zeke was chewing his lip, he hadn’t survived for as long has he had done, without getting that certain  feeling, which sometimes was the only thing that kept him alive. He pulled his horse to a halt and looked down at the small cairn with a bandana, and a hank of hair. It was an Indian warning go further and you will die. This was Tanner’s final warning, Zeke threw a hand up  signaling the men to stop, but one of the men, snarled at him and barged  past, there was a crack of gunfire and he was sent flying from the saddle. The man hit the ground hard, and rolled onto his side blood seeped through the fingers of the hand he clasped to his shoulder.  Horses skipped sideways trying to unseat their riders as in response to the bullets the other posse members fired back up into the rocks blindly until their guns dry clicked on empty chambers

Chris drew his own gun, and leveled it at the other men, who stared at him in shock, “you know boys you threw a lot of lead there, and you ain’t had a chance to reload.” He made a motion with his gun, “think it time you boys went home before Tanner buries you all.”

“And if we don’t?” one of the men said.

“Then I plant you here,” Chris said his voice a savage whisper, when he smiled Old Zeke nudge his horse out of the way of any flying lead, all through the chase Zeke had seen the way the other men avoided Larabee. The man had a reputation as a cold blooded killer, and since no one knew why he was there the whispers had been rife, silencing only when those cold green eyes had fixed on them, and his fingers had tapped the butt of his gun.  The one story that was circulated the most was that Tanner crossed the gun man and Larabee wanted blood suddenly the money on the poster didn’t seem enough if it meant getting between the gunman and his prey. So when Chris drawled. “Get your friend and get the fuck out of here.” The other men didn’t hang around, they wheeled their horses round and took off, leaving Old Zeke to pick the wounded man up and push a rag against the wound and bundle him up on his horse, grabbing the reins and leading him off as quickly as he could.

Chris watched them go and only then did he holster his gun and walked over to the warning cairn, pulled the bandana from the stones, he fingered the lock of Tanner’s brown hair as he looked up at the rocks, somewhere out there was Vin and he would find him he folded the hair into the bandana and pushed it into the pocket of his black duster. Mounted his horse and kicked the animal forward, Chris mused  Vin Tanner could run but he couldn’t hide, from him, the bounty hunter  might out distance him now, but he would catch up and when he did, Vin would be under no illusion of the place he occupied in the heart of the gun man.

He didn’t expect Vin to be waiting for him, that scrawny assed Texan would already be heading that devil spawn mule of a horse towards Standish, but he would follow.

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Ezra Standish, was being run to ground by the men hunting him, he tried to pace his horse, by alternating it from walking to trotting and back again, hoping to out distance them. But in his heart he knew that he was being caught, all he could do was hope and pray that Vin was on his way. He refused to believe that his lover was lying dead across the back of a horse on his way back to Tascosa. What ever happened he had to survive, for Vin.

The End

The story continues in Darkness and light