Magnificent Seven Slash, The Runaway by Raven Davies



Chapter III

After rising with the sun, Vin finished his simple chores: tidying his hideout; harvesting buttons, fresh fruit, nopales, and dead wood; washing his few clothes; dispersing horse manure; and digging a new hole for his own waste. Dust from the surrounding limestone rocks cleansed the air of the quarter-moon shaped canyon, making life comfortable for himself and his precious animals. After a thorough scrubbing of his own body, he fulfilled a promise and brushed Peso's black coat, adding jojoba oil to make him shine and protect him from the drying heat, as well as easing the job of pulling burrs and prickles out of the animal's mane and tail. Once finished, his attention turned to Chico; a new friend that also enjoyed the pampering he seldom had received in his life. Vin understood, gladly taking his time with the pale yellow horse. Hooves required trimming as well, and the tracker commenced a harder job. Peso's shoes had been removed within two weeks of his journey, and of course, his Indian pony had never felt the weight of metal. Finished with his companions, Vin could now sit in his natural state, cross-legged on a boulder, letting a wisp of a breeze sweep through his wet hair that had grown longer and more luxurious as the months passed. Considering he had spent most of his adult life alone, he felt at ease in his solitude, living in a trance, and keeping his thoughts and new visions to himself, safe from intruders. His movements mimicked a languidly dozing mountain lion, as he enjoyed stretching out under the hot solar disk. Honed instincts, of the wild creature he had been likened to, had returned with the visions, or so he thought.

Late summer had arrived with many of the blooms, which he smelled only at night, fading even in a euphoric vision. Some flowers remained, however, as new ones emerged to replace others now gone. He had very few mescal tree blossoms left, which helped him sleep during his sad times, but he worried over their disappearance until after winter's reign. Since the sophora only bloomed in the spring, he had saved many, keeping them in a covered container that an old man, in a far off village, had given him. The tree had held its poisonous petals longer than expected, but he had captured the scent to breathe in when required.

Only seasonal changes seemed of importance in Vin's scattered consciousness, relying heavily on what each brought for sustenance. Space and time continued to play games in his mind, as his world spun in four emotional states: euphoria, terror, complacency, or deep depression. After his last beautiful vision of flying eagles and floating clouds, he fell into a dark hole of melancholy. Reaching for a handful of buttons, already peeled of the fluff that covered the powerful hallucinogenic centers, the recluse determined his sorrow easily rectifiable by popping one into his mouth. His abundant supply of fresh peyote was turning hard as they aged, and each button took longer to chew. This morning, however, he had stripped another cactus of its relatively fresh peyote, leaving him thinking of the dried buttons he had stored. Although hard on the teeth and jaws, the hidden stash would create the same effect. He needed much more now to achieve a heightened level, to see the vivid colors, to hear the songs the wind sang to him, and to feel the heartbeat of the earth vibrating through his body.

The decision came to add jimsonweed to the experience, which, unbeknownst to his understanding, would cause his already high anxiety level to increase a hundred-fold in his natural state of reality. He did comprehend, however, that the weed would heighten the clarity of his visions, and smoking a few puffs seemed harmless. Simply a test, the experiment deemed worthy, according to the stories told of wondrously enchanted awakenings. In Vin's mind, experiencing such euphoria outweighed the potential convulsions and death if used to extreme. Before his first attempt, he sat in the same position on the stone surface and surveyed his world. He had harvested enough buttons to last him the winter, and his northern clothes were stowed, ready to keep his thinning body warm through the on-coming freezing desert nights. A stockpile of dead brush and twigs, also gathered over many months, stood well over his head, for fire and kindling. Food remained plentiful with snake, lizard, iguana, rabbit, fox, and other assorted creatures of the desert, while cactus, like the Napoli pads added other nutritional value. Unfortunately, fruit and berries, which satisfied his new craving for something sweet, had almost disappeared. He would have none for the entire winter unless he fermented them into a sugary treat. Tomorrow he would start gathering whatever he found and try to remember the old ways taught to him so very long ago.

One happy note, his water supply remained constant, bubbling continually from an underground spring, pushing upwards through the rocks, only to fall in a soft trickling waterfall, finally to splash into a small pool of water that one could wallow in. Not very large, it did create a stream that meandered lazily through the stone outcrop, until disappearing beneath the ground a few hundred yards away. Always a source of cooling pleasure and a fresh drink, it provided a sufficient amount for himself and his horses. He also saved his tattered bandannas. They proved useful for many things, particularly after finding a sticky sap-like substance, from one of the many types of cacti, which kept him free of body and facial hair. Vin had returned to his native up-bringing, remembering how his adopted family laughed at the fuzz that covered him as he aged; and just like peyote fluff, his skin required peeling.

Thinner, but still strong and agile, both horses surprised Vin with their endurance and ability to forage for the foods they required. The only creatures he had to talk to, Peso seemed to understand the man, in his way, and answered back, while Chico continued to learn his commands through unconditional love. Vin loved both animals: no judgment calls or accusations, just gentle nuzzles that consoled and comforted the solitary man. Along with his assessment of his companions, the runaway recognized the same transformation of his own body: too thin but still strong, able to run and work easily, quickly, and for great lengths of time, at least in his world of dreams.

Continuing to chew, the runaway devoured a dozen or two buttons without realizing how much he had ingested, certainly not his normal intake. The full effects would start soon enough, and he slipped off his perch to roll some wild tobacco into a dried leaf of the deadly jimsonweed. Once lit, from a burning ember from his dying fire of the night before, a few draws on the taper would probably suffice the first time. Not a smoker, he remembered watching the elders inhale deeply on their pipes, and he repeated their actions. Instantly choking and gagging, he threw up everything he had eaten before the sun had risen. It would be the last time he imitated Chris Larabee enjoying a cheroot. 'More demons', he thought, and smiled as he continued to vomit, regretting he had not waited longer after eating. The Comanche saying certainly applied--the more you spewed, the more demons left your spirit--Vin believed he had a lifetime of ghosts to release into the sandy, barren land.

With a settling stomach, he returned and took a few smaller draws on the taper, silently sitting upright, motionless, and his eyes fixated eastward. At this stage, he would stop vomiting, always his first reaction to eating peyote. His sense of taste had long disappeared, enabling him to tolerate the bitter flavor of the buttons and disregard the foulness of the jimsonweed. Happy again, out of this reality and its nightmares, Vin slipped into another place of bright colors, the loveliest of sounds, and pure nirvana, oblivious of what or who ventured near.

The first sun's light shone a brilliant orange ribbon along the horizon, and two men viewed it in wonder, although miles separated them. The gunslinger's horses stood ready, looking rested, watered, and fed. Dressed in his freshly laundered black clothes, he ate a very early breakfast, anxiously stuffing down energy for the long trail north and west. Quickly waving and calling out farewells to the boy and the old gentleman, Chris Larabee galloped out of the gracious, little village.

By late afternoon, and after a hard ride with several horse changes and rest stops, Chris nervously approached the spot the elder had described. His heart skipped a couple of beats in anticipation, but his excitement turned to terror on hearing a banshee-like scream break the silence of the isolated area for which he headed. A flash of white burst into his vision, and a thin figure flew out from behind a large boulder, running with speed, shrieking insanely, and cutting across his path one-hundred feet ahead. A floating white shirt caught Larabee's eye first, until the man, wearing the opened flimsy garment, drew closer. The long hair, streaked with so much sunlight it sparkled, savagely whipped around, as the recognizable face and wild eyes kept veering backward, looking at something unseen. Appearing scared senseless, Vin fled barefoot across the scalding-hot land of sharp rocks and spiked plants, which ripped the near-transparent cotton and scratched the tanned skin. What Larabee could see changed his frown into a lustful grin: a golden body and sinewy muscles stretched over a delicately thin frame. Vin Tanner ran with the agility and swiftness of a deer, gracefully dodging between cacti, and leaping over the smaller bushes in his panicked run.

Chris dropped the rope securing his dapple grey Mustang, and spurred his black mount into a gallop to chase the tormented savage down, scooping him up in flight, with legs and arms flaying in fright and fight. The gunslinger had finally netted the elusive runaway; but the tracker turned from a gentle dancing deer into a raging wild cat. Bringing his frothing horse to a halt, Larabee had to drop the tormented screamer before his horse's fevered excitement bucked them both onto the ground. The slim, brown legs gave way on impact; and Vin fell hard upon the cracked, parched earth. Jumping off his horse and tethering the overly stimulated animal to the closest bush, the stunned gunslinger sank to his knees beside his convulsing young friend: his tracker, his sharpshooter, his scout, his right-hand man. Unimaginable fear shook Larabee, taking a closer look at Vin's body that wriggled and jerked wildly. Foam drooled out of the younger man's mouth like a rabid dog; a glassy cloud covered the beautiful sapphire eyes; and the irrational fit caused the loss of all bodily functions. In shock, unable to react, Chris looked into eyes of black and immediately recognized the warning sign of a man under the influence of a powerful drug. Considering the bright afternoon light, the black holes should have been very small--something was terribly wrong--something had to be done.

"Vin! Vin! It's Chris. Settle down, Cowboy, you're safe."

The younger man continued to wail, spitting out more foam, and placing his hands over his ears, as if the soft whispers were shouted at him.

"You've made a hell of a mess of yourself, son. You're going to hurt yourself." The gunslinger grabbed the closest hard twig, forced Vin's mouth open, and inserted the hard reed for the teeth to clench down hard and to make the screaming stop. The inserted object also prevented any damage to the tongue, lips, and teeth. Quickly untying his blanket, without taking his eyes off the man churning up dust in his haste to flee from another demon, Larabee continued to speak gently to the unhearing man. He fought to roll the runaway up tightly to restrain the frantic seizure. The gunslinger took a deep breath and regained some control of himself and the very ill runaway. Lifting the squirming bundle took strength, but the calm but worried gunslinger managed to secure his young friend over the saddle, onto his sunken stomach; and after a few more intakes of breath, the group headed for the rocks from whence the half-naked creature emerged and his spare horse had headed directly at a full gallop. Walking swiftly and whispering softly, Chris continued soothing the man, while managing to extricate the stick to allow Vin to vomit.

A long trek in the heat, with an ill man and an agitated animal, the gunslinger headed in the direction he first saw Tanner. With a sigh of relief, he heard a soft whinny greet them, and Peso stepped happily out of the rocks. Familiar scents and sounds had the fully loaded steed returning the welcome of his former stable mate. Larabee's gelding started to prance and fidget, wanting to join his old friend, as well as sensing the fresh water that beckoned the exhausted, jumpy animal. Continually fighting his horse with one hand and using the other to secure the body on its back, Chris finally found the tiny camp, just in time for his own sake, his horse's sake, and the sake of the man he had to remove from an overly excited animal. A moment of frantic maneuvering, he pulled Vin off, again dropping him hard on the desert floor, while attempting to restrain his mount. With tack and supplies quickly stripped off, his horse ran free to join Peso and the other ponies at the spring, and a stunned and tired man turned toward his next task.

Surprise widened Larabee's eyes as he turned over a now motionless Vin Tanner, whose eyes had closed, and an angelic face of serenity appeared. Chris wondered if the man even felt his presence. With an even deeper breath to give him strength, he hoisted the still body over his shoulder, still wrapped in the blanket, and began his search for the waterfall he could faintly hear. Allowing the horses to drink a few swallows before shooing them away to graze, it gave him space to lay his limp friend near the falls. Heat and exertion started to take their toll, but Larabee had much to do. After unwrapping Vin, he commenced a complete check of vital signs learned from Nathan Jackson. Breathing seemed too shallow and impeded, the heart beat too rapid and inconsistent, and yet the man appeared semi-conscious, as docile and relaxed as a body could be. Scratches and open wounds, caused by the flight through a cactus garden, required tending, but cleaning his friend became the priority. Soap, baking soda, and several bandannas were all Chris needed to do the job on a man he had yet to see undressed. For a moment, he marveled at Tanner's wiry, slight physique and manly appendages. Pushing the lurid thoughts aside, he hustled over to his bags that he ransacked for the required supplies. Returning in seconds, he stopped short to watch Vin, on his hands and knees, naked and filthy, crawling toward one of the many boulders. Once again, the ailing man heaved whatever remained in his stomach.

"God Almighty, Tanner, what have you been doing? Nothing but skin and bone, you're looking mighty sick, Cowboy; and you reek to high heaven. Reckon it's that peyote shit that's got you tangled up inside."

The wild creature did not answer, and once the vomiting subsided, Vin quietly sat with his legs crossed, staring into space. Chris squatted directly in front of him to look at his face, but the tracker continued to drift in another world. "Got to give Sha-nu credit for finding you, Mr. Tanner. Looks like you're someplace else, my scrawny Peyote Button, but we'll get you clean and just wait for you to come back to me. Didn't know you were such an exhibitionist, showing yourself off like that?" The older man finally smiled, looking down between the bony legs at a near hairless crotch and a limp pole. The endearing words came unnaturally to the gunslinger, but in his concern, he needed to open his heart and speak his own truth.

Larabee hated playing nursemaid, but he took on the responsibility. He could not allow Vin to sit there, stagnating in his own filth. Again, he hoisted the tracker to his feet; and much to his surprise, Tanner stepped in whatever direction Chris guided him. With some compensatory relief, he stood the runaway under the trickling falls, ensuring the man stayed secure with his hands firmly planted against the rock wall. Starting with the long brown hair, Larabee scrubbed down every inch of the man, washing every crease, fold, and orifice, while checking for infections, scratches, bites, or anything else that may have caused the flight of terror and salivating convulsions. He patched the more severe cuts and gouges, but now found the telltale smell of rancid smoke, mixed with the bitter scent of peyote on Vin's breath, and the blackened teeth. Another chore to be tended, Chris used his ration of baking soda to scrub Vin's mouth, with the aid of a rough textured end of a blanket. The soft inside tissue, tongue, and teeth were each rubbed so hard, the younger man started to bleed and wince at the force. Water mixed with mint candies, a treat Larabee found in one of the many towns he had passed through, allowed the rinsing of the now sore mouth. Pearly white teeth finally glittered in the sun when the gunman pulled back the dried cracked lips and smelled the fresh breath. A tingle of excitement caught him off stride at the proximity of his lips to those of his runaway, particularly the way the tracker sat motionless, his eyes closed, and his mouth partially open, almost begging for a kiss.

Shocked at his immoral thoughts, the tall gunman remembered washing Vin, sticking his finger up his arse, and sponging down his soft cock and cajones. It had been pleasurable, and he lingered at the delicate areas, only playing at giving his tracker a bath. He would have continued his gentle assault, but the shame, of molesting someone so vulnerable, disgusted him. It suddenly dawned on the gunslinger why he needed this young man; his desire scared him to his grave. Chris' history had been one of whoring, before and after his wife; but in his youth, he had felt the excitement of experimentation with the two men who he allowed to have their way with him. Both were gentle and kind, allowing him to enjoy something of great risk and satisfying every inch of him. In a country where loners drifted and male urges were a source of pain, rather than pleasure, helping each other to gratify themselves became increasingly necessary for some. Even rape occurred without consequences, considering the never-ending guilt felt by the male victim. He wanted to give Tanner the choice of the pleasure he had experienced, without the reprisal of regret, now and forever: just to touch, to feel, to love every part of his body, inside and out, taking control until the man cried out for more. To hell with the moral issues and condemnation of the act, this was need and affection, maybe even some type of love. The lonely gunslinger wanted it all, but pulled back the reins of his desires.

"Enough, Larabee," he said aloud, angry at his thoughts and their intensity. Carefully bringing Vin to his feet, he guided him toward the outer limits of the hide-away, leaning him against a rock to dry off. He collected the filthy clothes and scrubbed those down as well, leaving them spread on a boulder to dry and bleach white under the last rays of an evening sun. Turning to check on his tracker, he watched Vin change position, to sit perfectly still atop an easily scalable flat stone, jutting out of the larger boulders. The younger man seemed to stare endlessly across the desert, not really seeing anything; and his deep all-over tan blended with the color of the rock and sand, making him invisible in his surroundings.

"Stay put, Button, while I clean up and cool off." Chris stripped down, washed his own clothes, finally to soap down his body, taking pleasure in releasing strained, tired muscles, and sensually playing with himself in the process. His eyes and thoughts turned to Vin: the fine frame, taut-wired muscles, golden-brown skin; and the few freckles sprinkled over his nose. Still engaged in an erotic masturbation easily seen by another, if the hypnotic stare changed to lucidity, Larabee watched the motionless sky-clad tracker, feeling grateful his search was over. With an audible moan, he jerked his hard cock wildly through his trembling hands as it spewed forth his essence. The cool, splashing falls washed off his sexual pleasure and muffled the deep groan of gratification. Satisfied, he stepped out; his own long, lanky body stretched in weariness. Looking down, his skin looked whiter than talcum powder in comparison to Vin, and it would be a pleasure to be running naked, baking his skin under the warming sun to match the radiant tone of his tracker. Still slightly aroused, his one desire remained--to touch and caress the smooth golden skin--this time strictly for enjoyment; but he had found Vin Tanner alive and had to remain grateful for that alone. Too many decisions filled Larabee's head, and with seduction set aside, he had to find a way of getting the runaway home. For now, he slid down the side of a smooth boulder, to sit with his legs stretched out, comfortably naked but shaded from the late afternoon sun, just to watch and wait for the man staring at nothing.

Vin had taken no notice of his friend, still shaken from the remembered attack of a raging black snake; but he had suddenly been rescued, swept off his feet by a high speeding thunderbird with long black talons and four legs. Back in a state of grace, gazing in wonder at the intense colors and details lying before him, his demons had retreated. Facing toward the seldom-changing landscape, he smiled and leaned comfortably against the familiar warm rock, his head nestled into its smooth indentation. With the sudden appearance of a new vision, he sat upright and pointed at nothing in particular in the vastness of the desert. "Peso! Peso! Look! They're redder... the red flowers... they're on fire! Look!"

Peso started talking to him in a quiet, familiar voice. "What flowers, Vin?"

"Can't you see them... and those ones over there... the purple ones with the yellow lines glowing so bright?" Vin pushed himself backward, steadying himself with his hands firmly placed on the rock where he sat.

"Tell me what you're looking at, Vin?"

"Can't you see? Stripes of yellow are floating in the air like blowing ribbons. Peso, come. Come here. It's a fiesta!" Vin laughed merrily and clapped his hands at the delightful scene shown to him alone.

Much to Chris' amazement, Peso stepped out on command, and Vin took a flying leap onto his horse, lacking all rigging. Galloping at full speed into the desert, along with a beautiful golden steed, horse and rider flew straight into the falling sun. The gunman had tried to speak with Vin, but the younger man believed his horse expressed the words. Still intoxicated with peyote, the naked tracker ran as wild and free as the horse he rode and the new one next to them; and Chris could only watch him play in his fantasy world. The dazzling beauty of wind ravaged hair blowing back off a face, so remarkably handsome, it created stares from even those who knew him well. With horse and rider so well teamed, they knew each other by instinct. The sight was magical. The two horses came racing back; while Peso came to a gentle halt for the limber body to slip off his back. Tanner hugged the horse's neck, long and hard, offering thanks and loving words to his friend.

The gunslinger mused at the man's noticeable aroused pole, happy to see Vin did enjoy male pleasures and in the throes of sexual excitement. He jolted back a pace again seeing the large black holes obliterating the sapphire orbs; but those eyes turned and twinkled mischievously at what the younger man thought an apparition. Larabee yearned to see the unusual dark sapphire eyes suddenly appear and light up upon seeing and understanding that he was real. While he waited for recognition, uncertain of the tracker's mental state, he stayed cognizant but confused at the young man's sudden flirtatious demeanor.

"Chris, you came back." Vin smiled coyly at the older man and approached the dark shadow tentatively. "You're glowing, Cowboy. There's a ball of fire blazing around your head." Vin reached up, quizzically mystified that he could run his hands through the blond hair, and actually feel the softness. He leaned forward, uninhibitedly pressing his naked body against the sky-clad image he saw of the gunslinger. Sucking in his breath, he smelled a familiar scent, felt the warmth of strong arms wrap around him, and tasted something extraordinary as a mouth enslaved his lips. A hard cock pushed against him, rubbing up and down against his own aching organ, and he released himself to swoon in the ecstasy. His sightings of Chris Larabee had never been this intense; and a kiss, never imagined in his dream state, heightened his intoxication, sending shivers up his spine. A hand gently stroked his lower back and pulled him closer, while another hand laced itself through his tangled hair, to press his mouth harder against pliant lips. Vin opened his mouth slightly, and a very experienced and searching tongue explored the inner cavern. Each tooth, his lips, the ticklish palate, received the touch of a gentle tip of this vision's moistened tongue. Vin could taste and smell Chris Larabee, and the emotion overloaded his senses. Feeling the warm body start to pull away, the runaway stopped himself from falling into a stupor. He refused to let this vision fade into the sunset, and clung to the heat source, forcing it hard against him, with his arms roped tightly around the blond head. He wanted this ghost to stay, and he instantly decided to use jimsonweed with every button chewed, considering the degree of enhancement created.

"Don't go disappearing on me again, Larabee. Stay longer this time." The ghost changed position, slightly moving from Vin's quivering lips to settle on his neck. Hot breath and little bites excited the younger man further, and his eyes floated upward, until he regained focus to ensure the handsome figure still held him tightly. He moaned in erotic pleasure at the devilish smile offered him. Strong arms suddenly had him off the ground, only to be gently settled in a supine position on a rough blanket, and he released a soft, long drawn-out sigh of happiness. A dither with the oddest of sensations, hands traced his body with delicate teasing touches, taunting his nipples to harden and hurt at a touch, until suddenly a tongue swept over them, and then swiped sensually from his belly button to his throat, until the apparition's mouth moved down and engulfed his pole. The younger man let out a shriek of rapture, entwining his fingers frantically in the corn-silk hair, as he deeply thrust into a warm, wet cavern. He prematurely came when a loving snake entwined itself around him, and its throat sucked back, milking him dry. Gentle, calloused hands replaced the moist heat, and Vin convulsed and lunged with every helping pump offered by the ring of taut fingers. Eyes wide open, misting over with tears, he could still see Chris' image, and he gasped for air. "Don't go. Not yet. Please don't go."

"I'm not leaving, Vin. Roll onto your hands and knees."

The tracker heard the whisper distinctly, like music on the wind calling his name, and he passively rolled over, spreading his knees out, and exposing his arse to whatever pleasures this hallucination could give him. The moistened tip of a cock pressed lightly against his completely relaxed hole; one of the benefits of peyote. A stronger push and a gentle thrust broke through the tight guardian of his virginal inner pleasures, and a very hard shaft slowly entered, waiting, and then stretching in further, until it rhythmically and cautiously slipped in and out, allowing Vin to accept the invited intruder. His interior muscles languidly took only seconds to relax for the penetration of a hot steel rod, enabling him to feel the textured veined shaft reach its fullest length, massaging and teasing every sensitive nerve. His dream lay on top of his back, thrusting in and out, creating sensations he had only imagined. Thanks to the gentle movement, sweeping past and stimulating every fiber of his being, Vin's own cock grew hard once more, wishing to be stimulated further, but the rhythm of the dance became more rapid, and he had to push back to meet every lunge with a soft, high-pitched squeal of pure joy and gratitude.

The apparition found his inner fancy, while a hand found the round head also requiring immediate attention. Panting and gasping, he purred in delight over the ferocity of this pleasure, arousing his pole to push forward from between his legs. It brought him into a frenzied need for more, unable to restrain his knees from spreading wider against the tussled blanket, to open his arse further, and to push higher against the attack, until a tremor swept through his body. He could only groan in mystified pleasure; the intoxicated man had received his final quest. A quick change of pace, to a series of short jerks and one ramming thrust, from the blond-haired apparition, freed him from all anxiety and wishful need. He cried out at the sudden feel of a gush of fluid filling and quenching the starving, virgin cavern. Vin pushed back for the last time, trying to impale himself even further onto the cock still spilling liquid honey. Arms reached under his armpits, encircled his shoulders, and stretched him backward and up. With his back arched, his shoulders pressed against a sweating chest, his cheek came to rest against a moist mouth that gently consoled, with comforting whispers. Another erotic gesture and his cock slipped through a hand, to be softly fondled and played with.

Vin's immediate reaction, to the light touch, tightened his arse muscles around the snake slowly dying inside him. The only connection he had to the ethereal ghost, his actions caused the invader to harden again within him. A hand now pumped his cock with vigor and purpose, hard and fast with great force, and he could not move off the lance penetrating him. In the throes of no-return ecstasy, Vin's arms reached skyward and back, to pull two heads together, mouths turned toward each other, and breaths of pleasure and familiarity were exchanged. With his sexual needs set free, by the most beautiful of imaginings, he came again, as did the cock stirring inside him. He arched his back and neck to the extreme, moaning quietly as an unknown force drew his hips back further, until reaching ultimate penetration. Feeling dizzy and coming close to passing out, he sat completely spent on top of two thighs, bludgeoned with a hot pole slowly ebbing on its own accord. A warm blanket of two arms wrapped around his chest, friendly snakes laced tenderly through his fingers, and the wind rocked him in its gentle dance. Soft kisses pressed against his neck; and long awaited words whispered and tickled his ear, "I love you, Vin Tanner."

The entranced tracker opened his eyes. In his euphoric state, sexually satisfied, and still impaled on his favored fantasy, he returned to stare in wonder and deep satisfaction at the intense array of colors painting the desert sky. His heart raced, and those strong arms and the warm body remained a safe haven. He reveled in the moment, overwhelmed by the sensation; and he lingered in his position for what seemed an eternity. With his vision quest fulfilled, he had reached the end--the point of feeling the truth--in all its glory and wonder. Blissfully intoxicated and completely satiated, Vin blossomed, along with the desert.

With his knees and shins hurting from the hard-packed desert floor and tangled blanket, Chris sweated profusely, gasping for air. Sweltering, with little wind to cool him down, he had sexually exerted himself beyond measure, immensely enjoying every moment. The object of his attention and desire sat quietly on top of his thighs, wrapped in his arms, while the happy gunman licked at the droplets of sweet-smelling sweat dripping down Vin's cheek; a man as wet as himself. Both men breathed rapidly, while Chris' heart pounded against the back ribs of a wild creature never before experienced. Not his original intention to seduce the vulnerable man, but his lust gave in when Vin pressed against his naked body. Feeling another man's arousal rubbing against his own, the erotic gesture over-ruled his conscience. He gently released the younger man and pushed him forward, disentangling himself, and helping the tracker to his feet. Tanner was still not with him, but somehow he had been. In some strange, intangible way, the runaway responded as if played out a hundred times, very willing and more relaxed than any of Chris' previous male sexual encounters. The affects of peyote had blessed the gunman, and he wished to repeat the act when this quiet, unruly spirit became lucid. Having taken the young man with such ease and beauty, he wondered if the wild creature would desire participation in a forbidden tryst when the peyote cleared from his mind.

He led the entranced figure over to his dry clothes and carefully dressed him, checking first for blood and rips. The thin white material hung like resting angel wings over the thin body, making the man look younger and more innocent than Chris remembered. His tracker no longer had stubble on his face, or a sorry attempt at a mustache. Finally dawning on the gunslinger, Vin appeared hairless for the first time since they met, except for the wild tresses now hanging half-way down his back. He had no prior knowledge of Vin having a nesting surrounding his manhood, a patch on his chest, or under his arms, but he certainly was near hairless now, and without a razor in sight. Perhaps it gave him reason to find the man so wildly exciting sexually. Perplexed by the notion of a man's body and a man's killer instinct wrapped within a youth's skin and frailty; the idea excited the weary gunman who laid his thoughts to rest, as he set Vin down at what seemed his favorite resting place.

Truly exhausted, yet happily satisfied, Chris dressed quietly, although his thoughts lingered on lying down to sleep with his found runaway, both comfortably naked, entangled only in each other's arms and legs. However, with Vin still wide-awake, staring into nothingness, the gunman could not afford the luxury of succumbing to his fatigue. He built a small fire, put on a pot of coffee, and listened to it bubble and brew, as he sat back to light a cheroot and gaze thoughtfully at Vin. Somehow, in some way, he would convince his tracker to return home. He made a promise to JD, he made a promise to them all, but more importantly, he made a promise to himself. Chris wanted and needed Vin Tanner, but both their lives would change dramatically. Months had passed since the young man had disappeared; and through all the discussions, debating, and arguments, no one had an idea of why Vin had become withdrawn, ignoring them all. The gunman, now dressed in fresh, clean black, sighed heavily, exhaling a puff of smoke into the desert evening air, pondering this creature now of the wild and lost in bright visions of ribbons of fiesta flowers. Chris Larabee took another long draft off his cheroot, sending requests skyward for help. Promises had to be kept.

Tanner started rocking; his eyes closed; and he seemed to sway gently in rhythm to the strange sound of bubbling coffee. An involuntary quiver suddenly ran through his body, shaking from the reaction to the cooling air as night rapidly approached. Chris' paternal instincts made him get up and find a cover for the man. He stopped himself immediately, waiting to see how Vin took care of himself during his months alone. Sitting back down, he waited and watched.

The shivering increased, and the tracker groaned, coming to life and rubbing his face with his hands. He raised himself slowly, staggering slightly, still a little dazed, yet able to whisper Peso's name. Scanning the desert, under the purple twilight, Vin did not see his steed and he turned, heading around the rocks where his horses usually grazed and dozed during the hotter part of the day. The sun hung onto the horizon, and darkness would fall upon them quickly. Now, very apparent to the blond gunman, he had disrupted Vin's routine, completely disorienting the tracker enough to send him in search of his horse that usually came to a whistle or call.

Chris lost sight of him, but jumped in fright, hand reaching for his gun at the sound of a shriek from behind the rocks. The normally fearless tracker scurried back into camp, straight into his shelter. With great deliberation, Larabee stopped himself from running to his aid, but his curiosity pulled him into the game, waiting impatiently to see what would happen next.

A head slowly eased out to look carefully about. A few deep breaths and Vin cautiously emerged from the stone dwelling. The gunslinger went unnoticed; Tanner appeared only intent on what lay behind the boulders. He moved like a cougar, stealthily inching his way between the rocks, slowly maneuvering closer to the area of concern. Perplexed, with a little fear, the young man looked for something obviously abnormal to him, and the gunslinger, with great curiosity and fascination, watched him stalk the dreaded monster. Vin appeared more lucid, but his happy glow had turned to sadness even before the shrill shriek. The sorrow, witnessed by another, seemed to permeate every inch of the frail looking man, overtaking him completely.

Finally at the rock, his back and arms braced against it, the tracker peeked around the edge. His head snapped back, and he started gasping for air, trying to calm the building panic. Chris had to discover the mystery, and moved covertly the other way around to peer over one of the larger boulders, only to see his black gelding, Peso, and two ghostly colored horses grazing leisurely. Vin saw four horses instead of two, and the tall blond smiled to himself, trying to disguise his mirth. The tracker was finally lucid, but could not explain the two dark horses and two glowing under the moonlight. Quietly returning to his sitting position, the gunslinger waited for the man's next move.

"Peso... Peso..." Still braced against the rock, Vin refused to look a second time. His horse, however, happily trotted out to greet him, and the runaway clung to his neck in desperation. Proving once again to be a true and loyal companion, the gentle, protective steed nuzzled the man's back reassuringly. "Good boy, am I glad to see you. Where's Chico?" With his heart in his throat from the initial fright, Tanner tentatively looked again around the rock. "No, Peso, no," he yelled when he saw the three horses still foraging. This time the gunslinger got up, knowing the sight confused the tracker's normal day. His fault for Vin's anxiety, he had to show himself.

"Two of those horses are mine, Vin. Peso's standing right beside you."

Tanner spun around and wobbled, seeing Chris for the first time in his hated, depressed reality. His horse stood vigilant, supporting the man standing in shock and disbelief, and his hands grasped too tightly to its mane.

"Say something, Vin. Haven't seen you for a long while."

"Are... are you real?" The voice choked, and the body teetered on lurching forward, or running away.

Chris helped him make a decision, by reaching out his arms toward the younger man, inviting an embrace. "Come here, Tanner. Want to make sure you're real too." Soft, steady, and quiet, the welcome convinced Tanner to run, throwing himself into those waiting arms, shedding never seen holy tears against the black shirt, and grasping at the sleeves with both hands.

"Easy, Vin, you're all right, and I'm real glad to see you. Let go and let me have a look at you." Larabee could see the black pupils had returned to normal size, but the beautiful blue eyes reflected sadness and pain. "You're a hell of an hombre to track. Can't tell you how relieved I am you're okay. You've lost weight, Cowboy, but you're looking good. How are you feeling?" Chris used every effort to remain calm, hiding his fear beneath a stoic fašade and more words than he would normally utter. Shivers ran up his spine, feeling bones sticking out of Vin's fragile body, which he had ignored while scrubbing away the filth and in the heat of passion. A simple squeeze could break every bone in the man's body.

"Fine." The soft drawl could melt ice, along with a notorious gunslinger. A quizzical look crossed over the innocent face. "It's really you, ain't it?"

"Came to take you home, Vin. It's time." Chris tilted his head questioningly, hoping for a positive response. This time there would be no anger or teasing in his voice, just simple straight talk to a man teetering on the edge.

"Nope." Vin sounded slightly dreamy, but determination reverberated in the voice.

"Can you tell me why? Something's been bothering you for a long time, and it won't right itself unless you start sharing."

"Been having visions of you." Vin swiftly changed the subject.

"Hope they're good ones." Chris' concern turned to mirth and joy, remembering the experience the two men had just shared.

"Visions of you are always good. Today especially, except when you turned into that black snake and chased me into the desert."

"That doesn't sound good." Larabee waited, hoping the intimate liaison would manifest into excited words.

"It wasn't, but then a thunderbird swept out of the sun to save me. Don't remember much after that, except I felt you. I did, just like you were right here."

"Does that mean something?"

"Yeah, I think so. A quest is finished when it becomes so real that you feel it; and I did. I really did, Larabee." Vin's expression turned from sadness to awe, repeating the words to convince himself his quest had ended. Coming to terms with his thoughts about his journey, it stopped abruptly with the man in black.

"So what is the answer to your quest?"

Suddenly a heart-wrenching cry of distress burst forth, and Vin fell hard on his knees, his hands covering his face. His breathing grew erratic while attempting to calm his thoughts and emotions that coursed too close to the surface. He wanted to shout and drive his fist into something that would die from the blow, before he blurted out an incomprehensible truth. Larabee stood over him just as confused, debating whether to tell Vin the reality of his vision, the steamy granting of his own desires, or leave the tracker to say it in his own words, never knowing the gunman took advantage of him when most vulnerable.

The gunslinger helped the smaller man to his feet. The evening chill had taken over, and he threw his poncho over Vin's lowered head. With the garment straightened out, the hair pulled out from beneath, the handsome blond quietly settled the unsteady body by the newly built fire. Chris sat cross-legged in front of the younger man who hunched over on his butt, his arms wrapped around his knees. After some intense staring on the gunslinger's part, Vin finally looked up to return a similar stare of wonder, fear, and sadness. The rich blue eyes begged him for answers, but he had no questions? A change of topic seemed necessary, and to the gunman's surprise, Vin spoke first, "Is that coffee?"

"Yup. Started dinner a while ago, before you thought you were seeing double. Should be almost done."

"Got sugar? Need something sweet." A strong hand gently pushed Tanner down, stopping his attempt to search for his usual satisfying fresh fruit.

"I'll fix you some sweet coffee. Just stay put."

"Thanks." Vin sat quietly, watching every move the gunslinger made; still unsure of what he saw was real. The first sip of coffee confirmed it, and his eyes closed, savoring every sip of the strong, sweet taste he craved.

"Why you here, Chris?" The question came after a long silence, and much to the older man's relief, Vin sounded like Vin.

"Told you. It's time to go home."

"Home's here."

"Thought your quest over and lay elsewhere. You telling me that this place is the end of your journey?"

"Nope." Vin's eyes stared at the refilled coffee cup, watching the steam dance with a slight breeze. He wanted to tell Chris everything, but did not know what to say or where to begin. Not his nature to reveal his feelings, and considering the gunfighter hated long-winded explanations, Tanner simply shut his mouth except to take another sip of sweetness.

"Then where? I'll take you wherever you want to go."

"To the stars and back." Whispered into the mug so quietly, Chris missed the words he wanted to hear.

"What?"

"Nothing." Stalemate: both men wanting, but neither wishing to speak.

"Think you're too tired for this, Vin. I know I am. How about some sleep, and we'll talk come morning?" Gravely concerned, this first exchange of words, however, had been non-antagonistic, and Larabee did not intend to lead it in that direction.

"Yeah, I am tired, but can't sleep without something." Tanner remained sitting, covertly sniffing around his darkened hideout for the infamous poisonous scent he required.

"Like what? You haven't eaten anything. A full gut would probably help."

"Nope. Can't keep food down yet. Those dying flowers over there will put me to sleep." Vin pointed to the small sophora tree with the wilted lavender-pink blossoms.

"It's straight poison, Vin. It could put you to sleep permanently. Think we better find another way." Stricken with a new fear, of the number of months Vin may have inhaled small quantities of the intoxicating deadly blooms, Chris jolted with the sudden realization the tracker could be deathly ill from slow poisoning. The man certainly showed signs of an ailment, being far too thin, but he had blamed it on Vin's poor living conditions.

"Works real good and smells... it smells real nice." Vin could not describe the aroma, which allowed a little happiness to ease his duress, before sending him adrift into a deep sleep.

"Maybe having someone nearby will help?" The nonchalant tone had become a well-practiced disguise to cover Larabee's raw emotions, and it continued to work even on the extremely intuitive Vin Tanner.

"Don't know. Been alone so long, might make me more nervous." Vin returned to stare at the steam coming off his freshly poured coffee, not looking up for fear of eye contact.

"Surely, after all this time, you're not afraid of me." Chris laughed, placing his hand over his heart in jest.

"Just ain't been around folks lately, except for the occasional Huichol who need water."

"They let you stay here and eat their peyote?"

"Good people who just seem curious. They understand." Tanner, always the minimalist, refused to expound on the nomads who crossed the desert toward the sacred mountain of their gods.

"I'm surprised, but I guess it's one of the few places for them to refill their water containers. They must travel long distances."

"They walk for days on foot." Vin responded to the rhetorical question, considering he was in a vision state when they passed through and stayed a few days to rest. He barely remembered, but they had helped him on occasions of wicked dreams.

Larabee left the subject, happy the natives watched over the runaway, in their own fashion. Time came to get his friend to rest, and he put forth a question. "Why don't you let me hold you close tonight? You're shivering from the cold, and you're exhausted. Think I could keep you warm enough to help you sleep naturally, instead of sniffing poison." Chris felt instantly ridiculous at his suggestion, but there it lay, open for Vin to accept or refuse a little human contact.

The younger man sat frozen, saying nothing, scared to death of the possible meaning and what his vision had created.

"Promise I won't turn into a black snake." The gunslinger smiled broadly, showing his teeth for once, which produced a small upturn to the lips on the tracker's sad, sorry face.

"Guess I am kind of cold." Vin put the empty mug down, watching Chris pull out his bedroll, and then going in search of Tanner's blankets stored in the shelter.

With comfortable bedding placed side-by-side near the fire, the lanky blond added more wood, and settled in comfortably. He did not say a word about the quantity of mescal buttons he discovered within the adobe walls, or the dried jimsonweed and tobacco. "Come on, Button. This way we'll both stay warm." The inviting gunman reached out a hand as he leaned on his other elbow.

Vin's eyes widened with trepidation, but managed to step over to Chris and take the older man's hand. Larger than his own, he felt very small as he slid down to lay beside the man of his explosive vision; the man who gently slipped his arm under his neck, the other hand wrapping around his small waist, and turning him on his side. Pulled even closer, thoughts of running away, into the dark night, entered Vin's mind, and grew more intense when his head came to rest on Chris' shoulder and chest, and his arm placed across a flat, but well-chiseled stomach. The young man stopped breathing, waiting for Larabee to cover them both with blankets. Raising his knees, the gunman allowed enough room for Vin to curl up, sliding his bent legs under the taller man's long limbs. Tanner had waited, since their first meeting, to lay with the dangerous gunslinger and held with love. The actuality frightened him.

"Too heavy if I rest against your thighs?" Chris asked.

"Nope."

"Good. It'll keep us warmer. Forgot how cold the nights get at these high altitudes."

With some reservation, Vin inched closer, his thighs pushed against Chris' butt, and his body resting against the gunman's side. In his thin clothes and the poncho, he felt the older man's radiant heat, and he did not resist. Snuggling his head deeper into the indentation between the man's shoulder and collarbone, he brought his fist up toward his mouth, a compulsive gesture when at rest and alone. The gunslinger instinctively placed his hand over the smaller one and started to rub gently. With Vin Tanner secured, as if anything could secure the tracker, Larabee would not let go for any reason this night.

"How do you relax, Vin? Would a backrub help?"

"Don't know. Guess just brushing my hair feels good."

Larabee let go of Vin's hand and gently started to ease his fingers through the long, soft mane, massaging the scalp, and continuing to stroke and caress the head resting on his chest. The last comment wrenched at his heart, sensing a lack of tenderness and care in the voice; things a man needed, and perhaps, this one had never received. He continued until he thought his arm would give out, along with the rest of his body. Overcome with exhaustion, he still wanted Vin asleep before he closed his eyes, too worried the young man may slip out of camp while he slept. There would be no more running and chasing, and if necessary, he would continue caressing his disturbed friend until dawn. Strand by strand, the gunslinger brushed the hair off the surprised, unsure face, until the fingers massaged deep into the neck. With the last of his will, Larabee pulled the silken tresses away from the shoulders, and, one by one, dropped each wavy lock to cascade over his arm that held Vin securely.

The tracker, however, remained wide-awake, sighing under the influence of a gunslinger's gentleness. As his pleasure increased, Vin felt himself stir at the sensation of being this close to his vision's warmth, and nurtured with such a caring hand. "Think you should stop, Chris."

"Why?"

"Ain't helping me sleep." Vin pushed away and slipped out of Chris' grasp, standing up and walking away. With arms wrapped around his chest, protecting himself against the cool night air, he headed straight for what he needed: the last of the mescal blooms.

"Damn." Chris swore quietly under his breath, tossing off the blankets and quickly beating his friend to the fragrant flowers. "No."

Tanner looked up into an angry face, and started backing away. He did not like this. Being so close to Chris had him aroused, and he wanted this man. If he could not use the scent, then a button, just a handful of buttons would take him away from the trying situation, and rid him of the dragging burden of depression he felt in this world. He turned and dashed for the shelter, with the gunslinger right at his heels. A flying tackle and Larabee had Vin pinned on his stomach. The smaller man first shrieked in sudden pain, and then yelled in protest while groveling in the dirt, reaching for a basket of the stored buttons. "Get off me. Let go."

"Nope, can't do that, until you stop and behave?"

"You're hurting me. Just get off." Vin was in pain and sounded like it. His hard cajones had hit the ground with the heavy impact, bringing him close to tears. He exhaled a long, low groan. Chris got up and offered his hand to help the tortured soul to his feet. Instead of its acceptance, the angry tracker curled into a ball, holding his breath. The groan turned into a steady series of harsh profanity.

"What could possibly hurt? I hardly touched you." As he said the words, he searched through the darkness, finally seeing what Vin clutched in his hands. If anyone wanted to drop dead in shame, it was Chris Larabee that very second; and he could do nothing.

Vin sucked in air, a few rare tears moistened his eyes, when the full shock of the hard fall overtook him and excruciating pain flooded over him. "Damn it, Larabee, what did you do that for?"

Chris quickly rolled him over; Vin still curled in a protective ball; and with some difficulty, lifted the smaller, lighter man up under his knees and around his back. Tanner stifled a moan with the movement, as the mortified gunman carried him outside, back to the warmth of the fire and his bedroll. "Best see if you're hurt or bleeding." Chris felt the fool, wondering how to deal with a problem that men always handled themselves.

"You can't break it... and nothing's bleeding. You just hurt me and... and that's how it's going to feel... for a few hours. Know what being kicked... kicked in the cajones by a horse feels like..." Vin stopped his tirade, but anger had added to his depression and pain. He slowly rolled onto his side still holding himself, and away from Chris.

The gunslinger sighed and left Vin to tend to himself, while he hustled over to the mescal bush, picking only one of the very tiny blossoms. Carrying it over to the ailing body, he held it directly under the nose of the man, who gratefully inhaled a couple of very deep whiffs, and then laid the powerful little mauve blossom six inches away from the handsome face, which twisted in a grimacing contortion.

"Okay, Vin, just this once."

"Thanks."

"Still hurt?"

"What do you think? I'll sleep now. Everything will be... will be..." Vin fell away too quickly for Chris' liking. His concern grew, and he removed the flower and threw it into the flames, watching it shrivel and disappear, leaving no trace, not even the heavenly scent. It took affect within seconds, seeming too potent for the tracker in his physical condition.

"Thank, God. I'm sorry, my little Peyote Button." The tall blond gunman stretched out beside the sleeping figure. This time he pulled the frail body back against his chest and spooned around him comfortably under the blankets. He had found out at least one thing: Vin did want him, when in a lucid state. Just by being close had aroused his deadly sharpshooter, and Larabee had to believe in what had transpired. Exhaustion finally won; and he succumbed to dreams of clinging to his lost friend who could become his sworn companion. Vin Tanner had been what he had needed for years, and he only recognized it now. He had wasted so much time.
   

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Chapter IV

 
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