Magnificent Seven Slash, The Runaway by Raven Davies

Chapter VI

He felt the quiver on top of him, and his eyes flew open. Trying to keep his heart from jumping out of his throat, he slowly looked down to see what creature decided to make his warm chest a bed for the night. Snakes often coiled comfortably on a warm, sleeping body; and Chris had lived outdoors long enough to know not to move when something lay on your chest. Without flinching, he gazed down and smiled, inhaling the familiar scent and breathing a sigh of relief and pleasure. His sharpshooter's head, chest, and arms were still snuggled on top of him, and yet the man still shivered in sleep. Vin had not moved, since floating away into the dreamtime, and breathing long, deep, raspy breaths. The weight had gone unnoticed by Chris, too exhausted from the night before to care how long his young lover used him as a pillow.

Larabee held onto his peaceful smile while gently slipping out from under the naked body, taking particular care not to wake the man from the first, long, natural sleep the tracker had experienced since leaving Four Corners, maybe even before that. Once up, he pulled another blanket over the shaking figure, making sure he bundled up and covered every bare inch of tanned skin. With the sun on the rise, it would not be long before the last of the summer's heat hit them, and the shivering would stop within the hour. In the meantime, he stoked the dying embers of the fire, added a number of dried twigs, and put on a pot of coffee.

He looked down once more to make sure Vin continued to sleep comfortably, then quietly gathered his other set of clean clothes, and headed for the little falls. Like his young friend, Larabee enjoyed being clean and spent time finding water to bathe. Not a normal practice of the day to wash more than once a month, but the gunslinger plunged into water with an ever-ready bar of soap at least twice a week. His young lover smelled freshly showered every day, although he looked unkempt with his ill-fitting clothes. The trickling shower of cool water caressed and refreshed the gunslinger, as he soaped himself down, remembering the adoration shared during one beautiful star-filled night, when Vin sacrificed his virginity. Chris grinned to himself, more satisfied than he had felt in years. Giddy in love, for the second time in his life, he had missed the overpowering sensation. A hard word for a man to say or admit to, especially toward another man, he accredited his ability to say it honestly and express it in its full meaning having been married to Sarah. It seemed a necessity for any man to learn.

Emerging out into the welcoming morning sun, he ran into Vin strolling back from a walk in the desert that lay just beyond their rocky hide-away. The younger man looked half-savage, with his long stringy hair filled with dry sweat, a large bandanna slung around his hips covering his modesty, legs that could drive anyone mad with lust, and a tanned bare chest unashamedly displayed. He peered at something in one hand, while drinking from a mug held in the other. Lifting his head, he caught sight of Chris and smiled lazily at him, slowly sauntering over toward the suddenly worried gunman.

"Morning, Vin. Find something?"

"The last one."

"A mescal button?"

"Yup. Peyote."

"Planning to eat it?" Chris held back his concern, replaced with annoyance that Vin took the first opportunity to start searching.

"Nope. One ain't enough." Vin took the button and tossed it back into the vast space it came from. He turned with the same smile directed at his dangerous but gentle gunslinger, and received a happy devilish grin in return. The two men strolled back to the safety of the rocks, with Vin still sipping his sweet coffee, and his other hand reaching out and hanging on to Chris.

"Get your riding clothes on. We're heading home."

"Need a bath first. Be with you before you can draw your gun, and I ain't talking about the one usually holstered at your side." The tracker chuckled mischievously as he walked away.

"I'll make breakfast and start gathering gear. Hurry up. You might be surprised how fast I can draw that gun. Could be ready for action sooner than..." Larabee abruptly ended the teasing conversation on hearing a groan and a thud. Long legs raced toward the water to find Vin clutching his stomach and kneeling in a hunched position, with arms pressed firmly against his abdomen. "What's wrong? Are you going to be sick again?" Immediately at the younger man's side, Chris fell to his knees; his hands stilling a body curled into as tight a ball as a human could be.

"It's getting worse."

"What's getting worse? You're scaring me, Vin." Green eyes darted over the tracker writhing in the sand. Hidden panic mounted, leaving Chris at a loss over a new problem. He should have insisted Nathan come with him.

"The pain in my gut."

"Can you walk? Come on, Vin." Chris hoisted him to his feet, half dragging him, in a bent position, back to the bedrolls. "Lie down. Easy, Button. How can I help?"

"Can't. Have to wait it out."

"Is this a trick to delay our return?"

"Nope. Wish it were." Vin coiled into a tighter ball, lying on his side, with his face twisted in a strained grimace. He clamped his jaw so tight; a tooth was apt to break.

"What's it feel like?"

"Sharp needles... burning... damn, it hurts." Slightly garbled, the agony of the man came through the firmly clenched teeth.

"Probably should eat something, Vin, or peppermint tea can help a belly ache."

"Hurts worse than a bullet, and just where would we find peppermint?" The tracker maintained his sense of humor, when clear headed, no matter how bizarre the situation.

"Think you should try something. Can't hurt anymore than it does now." Chris stood up and retrieved a dry biscuit left over from their last night's dinner. The same twisted face greeted him on his return, accompanied by a low moan. The worried blond broke a small piece of the biscuit off, and attempted to force it into a mouth locked in a muscle spasm. "Come on, Vin, relax best you can. Chew it into small pieces before swallowing."

Bit-by-bit, the dry biscuit disappeared, and the stricken man finally started to uncurl. An hour and another biscuit later, the pain subsided. Although hungry, the burning sensation always stopped him from eating, and had done so for months. With Chris' help, he sipped a little water, and managed to sit up.

"Feeling better?" The gunslinger put his hand on a heated forehead and wondered if they should depart that day. Having packed their gear and saddled their horses, and securing their secondary mounts to the saddle of each black gelding, all that remained was Vin.

"Yup. Going to take that bath now." The tracker arose slowly, his hand spread over his stomach, as if the action helped. One attempt to stretch out his cramped body helped enough to allow a slightly hunched position, enabling him to walk at a slow pace.

"I'll get your clothes." Chris watched carefully to make sure his runaway would make it to the little pool they would sorely miss.

Freshly dressed and cleaned, Vin stepped out from the rocks that hid his private bath. The pained look had disappeared from his face, and he walked in normal Tanner fashion. "That felt good. Not as good as last night, but nice all the same."

"Glad you're better. Come here. Wouldn't mind refreshing that good last night feeling." Chris grinned at the beaming, happy face; relieved the sudden attack of something unseen had disappeared. In three long strides, Vin reached the outstretched arms that beckoned, and pressed himself against the gunslinger for the promised kiss, which sent lightning bolts straight through both bodies. Larabee could barely control his enthusiasm and thoughts, but restraint was his forte. He pushed away his desired lustful lover to look deep into those excited blue eyes that could not get much bigger. "You learn fast, Button. Now, no more teasing, or we'll never get home. Come sit by the fire, have something more to eat, and then we can get a good start today."

While breakfast fried and crackled in the hot oil, Vin sat beside Chris, deciding one more fresh biscuit would do him for the day. A hand placed on his forehead was quickly slapped away. "Quit fussing. Been getting these pains for a while now, but they go away."

"Probably from what you've been eating, sniffing, and smoking."

"Puked a lot of it up."

"Nice thought while I'm eating." Now Larabee's stomach churned; and he threw the last of his breakfast in the fire.


"Had enough anyway. Ready to travel?"

"You bet."

"Got something for you." Chris looked over the top of his coffee mug, with a fiendish grin and a twinkle in his eye. He knew Vin felt worse than he let on, but he would watch the man covertly, and in the meantime, a happy surprise seemed in order.

"What? Not your gun? Couldn't be that lucky." The voice remained raspy, with slightly impeded breathing, but its amused tone tempted Larabee with a quick tussle of lovemaking.

"Think this will make you happy too. Maybe not that happy, but close." The gunman teased back, and pulled out the harmonica to the great delight of one Vin Tanner.

"I'll be. Thanks. Where'd you find it? Never thought I'd see this again. Sure feels good to have it back."

"Thought it might. It's from an old man in the village we're heading for. Thought you might want to thank him personally."

"I do. Suppose it best to return these duds." Tanner looked down at his flimsy clothes and noticed, for thte first time, how naked he looked.

"Best keep them. They may come in handy when we grow closer to the border. Can't have you looking like your poster."

"We're heading for Texas? Don't think so, Cowboy." Vin rubbed the smile off his face, turning his joy into depression.

"Only into El Paso to send a wire, then right back into Mexico."

"Sure we should be taking that route; not just because of bounty hunters, but the wars not over with the natives? Don't know if they'll respond to me, even if I get a chance to speak with them." Not convinced of the need for such a dangerous path, the idea distressed Vin that this trail may lead straight into more trouble than the two could handle.

"I'll be riding with you. We'll unlikely go unnoticed riding through the desert. Besides, Tascosa is so far north of El Paso; the sheriff may have tossed your old poster into the trash."

"Doubt it, but if that's what you want, let's ride, Larabee."

After cleaning up the camp, they headed for their saddled and packed mounts, along with the grey animal and his new friend Chico. Chris suddenly stopped in his tracks, and on instinct, Vin just as quickly halted, listening and watching for whatever had startled the gunfighter. Hearing nothing, he turned toward the gunman with a questioningly stare.

"Come here, Button."

"You want a little something?" Vin stepped closer, wearing a silly grin and daring the gunslinger to delay their journey for an hour. Quite prepared to play the games of the evening before, it seemed more sensible than heading for his possible demise as a wanted man in Texas.

"Just a little something, but we don't have time for what I see in those blue eyes." Chris smiled, as did Tanner.

"Means we'll do it again?"

"You bet; and in more ways." Chris pulled him into a wrestling squeeze that had them both laughing. He pulled away to look at the beaming young face, vowing to never hurt Vin's feelings again, remembering always why his new lover had originally left the group.

"More ways, hunh? Like that idea." Vin chuckled not knowing what to expect, but thinking of his own ways to feel Chris inside him. Stretching on his toes, he pecked at Chris' cheek, grinning wickedly as he headed for his horses with a happy gunslinger at his heels.

They made a long detour southeast, riding into the village early in the afternoon and remaining through siesta. Both men thanked the elderly gentleman and purchased several cotton shirts from the man. Larabee willingly packed away his signature black clothing, at least until out of the blazing desert heat. The sun could parch a body in no time, with the aid of the baked floor bouncing the white rays straight back into dry, sore eyes.

On the contrary, Vin seldom felt the heat and took no notice, although he did love the freedom of the peasant gear he had been wearing. Too sheer for the streets of El Paso, however, both men chuckled over the stir it would create, and they would both end in jail.

For two weeks they journeyed, Chris finding ways to get Vin to open up, and both back into their intuitive thought patterns, each picking up on the other spontaneously. Their odd ability of knowing what the other was thinking, without a word, always surprised their five friends, and though never discussed, both felt good about their reconnection. With strong horses, they made good time, allowing the couple to make love wherever they wanted, and to ride on whenever it pleased them. Some days passed quietly without a word uttered; just secret smiles and riding so close, they could hold hands. The gesture intrigued Vin, and the constant touches and loving gestures became his favorite new experience: someone cared about him. Alone for the majority of his adult life, he now had a partner, and silently begged his gods and spirits that Chris Larabee would remain as such. Still unnerved about his strange urges and fears, they gradually dissipated while on the trail, with the two growing ever closer, allowing him to enjoy Larabee's offers of affection fully. It came so easily and naturally to the gunslinger, and Vin wanted to be just as relaxed about it, without looking the fool or embarrassing the older man.

Camped on the Mexican side of the Río Grande, they could see the fires of El Paso, glowing like the stars in the dark sky. Although extremely worried about someone recognizing Vin, Chris remained resolute they both ride into town to replenish their supplies. He tried to stay calm and serene, but the younger man could feel his nervousness and would place a hand on the gunman's arm for assurance. With little knowledge of playful affection, the tracker quickly discovered the various touches and nuances Chris enjoyed; and he used them often. Both understood, however, that once they reached the border and living in Four Corners, all public displays of closeness would halt. Their sexual antics would surely have them at the end of a noose.

Little did Vin know of Chris' plans while in El Paso: first to send a wire to Nettie, the purchase of a surprise for Vin, and the most important reason, to find a doctor. The tracker's stomach pains had increased, growing more intense as they traveled, and they had stopped often to allow him to leap off his horse, only to land on his hands and knees, vomiting quantities of blood. He refused to believe something could be awry, and he would be fine. The older man knew better, and watched in despair, as Vin grew thinner and paler under the deep tan. Dark hollows now ringed the large blue eyes, and the gunslinger's worry escalated.

They set up a simple camp this night: no fire to arouse undue attention, and only leftover biscuits and a can of cold beans to share. Vin changed into his light peasant garb, his long hair combed out straight, held back by a pink bandanna across his forehead, attempting to disguise him in some manner. Chris' serape finished off the look, covering everything that may cause suspicion, including the sharpshooter's near-naked body, his guns and knives, and the assassin's rifle that Larabee knew Vin had taken. After seeing the young man's caress of the lethal weapon when he first found it, he had wondered if the tracker had decided to forego his stated vision quest and had accepted the horrendous job as a paid killer. The gun also represented a return to bounty hunting; a job the former hunter knew well, and with such a gun, could easily wound a man, subdue him with a perfectly placed shot, before handing him over to the law.

Chris sat comfortably, leaning against one of the large trees that lined the river border, but Vin felt the cold in the light garments and squeezed in tight against his lover. Neither man intended to sleep that night; they were too close to Texas. The gunslinger pulled both blankets over them, and Vin took up his usual position, snuggled against Chris to maintain some warmth within the triangle of bent legs, a warm crotch, and a hard chest. With strong arms placed around his smaller torso and their fingers entwined, the runaway and his gunslinger remained vigil, completely armed, and ready for any possible trouble. It thankfully never came.

At sunrise, the two riders splashed across the shallowest, narrowest point of the Río Grande, heading for El Paso a few miles away. Quietly entering the town, they stayed wary, as Chris' plan unfolded. One ominous looking man dressed in the darkness of night--a flowing black duster, silver spurs glistening, and a straight black hat--Larabee looked like El Diablo himself. The other, less imposing figure, rode barefoot, donned in white fluttering pants and shirt under an earth-toned stripped poncho, and hair streaming down his back, tied in native fashion, exposing a remarkably handsome, boyish face to the townsfolk. Everyone looked and stared, but no one saw Vin Tanner.

The two strangers dismounted in the perfect disguise of being noticeable. Chris left Vin, sitting just outside the telegraph office, always aware of the young man on the other side of the glass. He sent the wire and asked for directions to certain locations he needed to visit. With information easily obtained, the menacing-looking gunfighter left, thanking the young lady who sent the wire. Stepping out the door, Chris squinted questioningly at the surprised look on Tanner whose eyes widened in dazzling blue and who took a few deep breaths, either to calm a sudden fear or a near miss.

"Something happen, Peyote Button?"

"Been asked twice if I wanted to give a man some honey. Didn't understand what that meant at first, but then they offered too much money. Got me thinking of those working girls we saved from Wickes and why they thought San Francisco would be their way out. They were all so pretty; they'd make a good amount of money."

"Unfortunately, the ladies may have run into someone as evil as their last employer, unless Lydia and the rest of the girls managed to save enough money to start their own brothel."

"Never thought of that."

"So, I've deterred you from becoming a male whore?" Chris laughed at the squinting eyes.

"Shoot, waited so long for you to come along, but if you hadn't, it might of kept me on the move with money in my pockets." Vin finally laughed along, both men knowing the tracker too shy for such behavior. "Always gives me the chills when other men look at me that way. Someone usually gets hurt, and it ain't me. Let's get out of here, and stop calling me Button in front of folks."

"Get use to it. Don't intend calling you by your real name, at least not here." Chris whispered back. "Come with me and don't argue. We're safe for now. Just stick close, Mr. Button Larabee."

"That's a good one. Don't even fit together proper. Where we going?" Vin looked up, but received only a squint in Chris' normal style. The long conversations had grown shorter, and the gunslinger had grown quiet with his words, but when he spoke, it meant something. "Okay, another surprise, but I'm stuck to you, Cowboy, like horse shit on a boot. This place makes me nervous."

"Feels tense all right, so let's keep moving. Have a few things to do, and I'm right beside you."

"Good. Least you ain't watching my back." Vin thought about his abhorrence of the insidious expression.

"What?" Unsure of the exact words spoken, Chris pondered on what he thought he heard.

"Nothing." The tracker immediately dismissed explaining his fear over the disquieting idea that lurked deep in the recesses of his continually wandering mind. Vin's moods had been shifting back and forth on the trail to El Paso, along with his attention span.

Chris did not question it further, believing it another of his tracker's bouts of melancholy. Leading Tanner into a small walled courtyard, just passed the church, the gunslinger again insisted his companion sit and wait, while he knocked on one of the doors surrounding the small garden. A gentleman invited him in. Wondering what secrets transpired behind the closed door, Vin sat quietly, his hand on his gun. Well-hidden from everything, he had a decent view, through the arched gateway, of the main street. Remaining alert and very aware he could be recognized, the young man still felt exposed and compromised, ill-prepared for Chris to suddenly sneak up behind him. Startled, but glad to see his lover, Vin agreed to follow him back to the open door and enter.

"Button, this is Dr. Pasquel. He's going to take a poke at your belly."

"No he ain't." The tracker quickly spun around and stomped back toward the door, the sound of his bare feet slapping harshly against the ceramic tile floor.

Both the doctor and the gunman expected the move, and each took an arm to stop him. The doctor smiled and quietly spoke, "Mr. Larabee, your uncle has told me some of your symptoms, and I believe I can help. Can I call you Button?"

"No." Vin snapped.

"Button..." Chris warned with the biggest smile that wrinkled up his face in mischief.

Madder than a hornet, Vin reluctantly stepped into a small examining room with a complete stranger, his head twisted backward to give Larabee a snarl.

"The Doc will take care of you for an hour while I'm gone. Behave, and do as he asks." Chris laughed, and the physician turned and bid the gunslinger farewell. Heading first for the silversmith, he purchased a silver bracelet, engraved especially for Vin; a rather romantic memento he wanted his partner to have. He returned with everything he wanted and entered the doctor's office.

Vin sat waiting, with the most determined pout on his face; so infuriated with the gunslinger, he wanted to knock the supercilious grin off the man's face. Reason reigned, and a half-empty glass of milk stayed in his hand, while he stared at it in disgust.

"Ah, Mr. Larabee. It appears, as I suspected, your nephew has acute internal lacerations of the stomach and abdomen area. They're akin to what they call ulcers, which can be visible depending on the ailment."

"Ulcers! What in Hades are ulcers? Can they be fixed?" Chris frowned, having never heard of the affliction.

"They're holes in my stomach." Vin growled.

"Mind your tongue. This sounds serious."

"Yes, Uncle Chris." The two men stared at each other, one steaming mad, the other wanting to burst out laughing if not so concerned with this new development.

"It's very serious, Mr. Larabee, and currently, the medical community has no distinguishing name for the condition. The quantity of peyote, ingested by your nephew, has created lacerations in the walls of his stomach. I assume that is where his name comes from. We've been dealing with peyote eaters for sometime in these parts, particularly elderly shaman, and there are certain common problems they all share. Certainly, the smoking of jimsonweed and inhaling mescal blossoms has added to the severity of the situation. One problem is the stomach pain; the other is mental, creating agitation, depression, and mood swings. These may or may not wear off in time, but his stomach must be taken care of first. We know little about this condition or why it occurs, and the term 'ulcers' is the only thing similar to what European scientists are studying, without a definite cure for the disease. The bodies we have internally examined, of those who have died from this condition, are not a pleasant sight. The rest is a vicious cycle, I'm sorry to say."

"What do we do?" The explanation certainly described Vin's moodiness, and Chris felt sick with fear that the poison could be slowly killing the man. His eyes looked panicked when he stared at the doctor for answers.

"The only thing that helps ease the burning and bleeding is bland food, lots of milk, and no fat. Porridge, wild rice, that type of thing is fine." Dr. Pasquel could only suggest a treatment, which worked with a few of his patients.

"Baby food, Uncle Chris." Sarcasm with a whine, Larabee only laughed to appease his own tension. "Stop laughing at me."

"Trying hard not too. This is serious, Button. Now, shut your mouth."

"Start with soft foods and, in a few months, try something a little more palatable. Whiskey, coffee, and sugar are definitely out. The latter is very difficult for a peyote eater, since they crave that particular substance the most and for the longest."

"So I noticed."

The doctor quietly continued, rather hopelessly lost with the disease that had struck so many after the Civil War and the nearby natives. "A couple of other things, Mr. Larabee; one of which is not easily solved, although your nephew is much younger than our usual patients, but he has consumed enough to create the problems early. This gives me hope that he will recover quickly from the mental disorders associated with peyote eaters. The lacerations, on the other hand, seldom heal; and there is always the potential of severe flare-ups, as we call them. It is imperative he stay calm and quiet; unfortunately, one of the very noticeable side-affects, of over-indulging in peyote, is anxiety and nervousness, which I mentioned. He cannot be either, and that means ever, if possible. Currently, he is extremely upset and annoyed; the worst things he can be. Another problem to address is the poison, which he's been sniffing and smoking, may permanently damage his lungs. He should not be around smoke of any kind. Even campfires can make it worse if he is downwind. He'll also be susceptible to colds, coughs, bronchitis, tuberculosis..."

"...understood, Doctor."

"Hah. Have to stop smoking them little cigars you're hooked on, Unc." Vin finally smiled smugly, his only retaliation for what Chris had put him through, but having no understanding of the deadly problems the doctor had listed.

Pasquel continued, "It's going to take a while before the poison is out of his system, but until it is, remember he is in an emotionally weakened state and easily distressed. Keep him warm, comfortable, and quiet; although something he truly enjoys doing is an acceptable activity."

"Thanks, Doc. We'll do as you say; and I'll get Button out of your hair." Chris could not feel worse over the entire situation, blaming himself for not starting his search earlier for the tracker. Vin unknowingly created a serious condition from eating, smoking, and sniffing the various plants, and now he could be permanently ailing from it all, with stomach problems, breathing problems, and worst of all, mental problems. He had already noticed the concentration fragmentation since arriving at the runaway's hideout.

"Before you leave, I have a list of things that may help the various discomforts your nephew will encounter. I wrote them down while awaiting your return. He tells me you have a friend who is a healer. Perhaps you can give him this, and he'll be able to help."

"Thanks. Greatly appreciate your time. What do I owe you?"

"Nothing, Mr. Larabee, except Button has to finish his milk before he leaves." Both Chris and the doctor turned to grin in amusement at Vin's deadly squint. It lightened the new burden.

"Squint all you want, but it's not going to work. Drink up." The gunslinger had to keep an emotional man calm, his hardest challenge considering Vin's behavior before leaving Four Corners. Larabee wondered if taking him back would unleash more problems for the young man to face, causing irreparable health consequences. The gunslinger kept up his amused façade, but cried out from deep within for help to a God he had forsaken when he lost his wife and son. Maybe this time, the spirit above would answer his prayer.

"Hate this shit." Vin swallowed the thick white liquid quickly, gagging at the taste. "Y'all happy now?"

"Happier. Come on, Button, let's ride."

Chris and Vin left the doctor's office and headed for the General Store. The man in black needed different food supplies for Vin, and wondered how he could keep a supply of milk on their journey. Perhaps, riding past ranchos and villages, they could purchase small, fresh quantities; the only thing that came to mind considering people traveled great distances with babies and children, although suckled for the first three or four years. There had to be away besides towing a goat behind them. With his mind going through the possibilities, he headed down the street with his ailing tracker beside him. Preoccupied with Vin's ailments, Larabee was not paying attention, while the younger man seethed with annoyance, too lost in anger to be wary. Two burly men suddenly accosted them, abruptly halting further progress.

"Hey there, cowboy. We're going to take your pretty little muchacho here for a ride; one he ain't ever going to forget." The two men smiled in lust, showing their yellowed, broken teeth.

Vin and Chris turned and looked at each other. "Did he just call me a cowboy?"

"Did he just call me pretty?"

Immediately both men chuckled aloud, turning into gut-wrenching laughter, making it difficult to even stand. They continued to roar and giggle like crazed mad men, stunning the two very large, ugly-looking men who confronted them. Immediately between the two opposing forces, a Texas Ranger stepped in and suggested the other two men depart without further trouble. His attention returned to watch the two strangers snicker and giggle hysterically.

"Never seen anyone approached by the O'Reilly's left standing. Glad you didn't try using your guns."

"Have no idea who they are, and don't much care. They 'd be dead if we pulled our guns." Unable to stop his merriment, Chris caught himself saying something he would never claim, particularly to one of a few dozen Rangers that patrolled a vast area.

The lawman, on looking at Chris, knew the man did not offer the comment in jest, and looked very capable of handling the situation in a lethal fashion. "Mind telling me what was so funny?"

"Private joke, Ranger..."


"Thanks for helping us out, Jenkins. I'm Chris Larabee and this is my nephew. We're heading home as soon as we pick up supplies. Can you watch those two for us?"

"They seldom leave town, but I'll make sure they don't follow. Have a safe journey." The lawman chuckled along with the two who remained in a flurry of laughter, but gaining some control. He shook Chris' hand and departed, smiling and shaking his head, while commenting for only the two to hear. "Craziest way I've ever seen to stop those two yahoos, especially from a gunfighter as well known as Chris Larabee."

Tanner continued to giggle uncontrollably, his anger disappearing as Chris tried to settle him before he fell down.

"Okay, Vin, enough. Take a deep breath. This isn't the time to get a bad case of the chuckles. We best pick up the stuff on this list, and get out of here. That lawman didn't recognize you, but he's heard of me. Won't take long for a Texas Ranger to put two and two together."

"Which two together, with which two? Thought us two were plenty?" Tanner continued to chortle, unable to stop, thoroughly enjoying the pleasure, until he grabbed Chris' sleeve in a new panic never felt while laughing. "Let's find a privy, before I..."

"...behind this hotel, hurry." Larabee rushed him into an ally, finding a discreetly hidden facility behind the one story lodging, where Vin relieved himself, while vowing never to laugh that hard again, although he continued to snicker in merriment.

"Hush, before something else happens."

"Can't stop. That was funny, Cowboy." Vin teased the gunfighter and steadied himself, before they proceeded to the General Store with much more caution.

Chris leaned over and whispered into a ticklish ear. "If you weren't so good looking, we wouldn't have these problems."

"Sorry, Uncle Chris, I'll try to look uglier. Maybe I should start foaming at the mouth."

"Don't ever do that to me again. You scared me half to death." They continued to snicker every time they looked at each other, pushing and poking in play. The storekeeper was not amused.

Chris regained his composure and requested the items required, praying his accidental remark, regarding the tracker's drug induced seizure, would go unnoticed by the man on the edge of having to run to the privy again. After paying for several sacks of wild rice, oatmeal, cornmeal, and a canteen of milk, and packed with the rest of their provisions, the notorious gunslinger, Chris Larabee, and his handsome nephew, Button, were on their way home.

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