Magnificent Seven Slash, The Runaway by Raven Davies

Chapter VII

Back in Mexico, Vin kept asking passersby the same question. His countenance again turned sullen, speaking very little, and puzzling over something he refused to share, causing concern in his partner. The anxious tracker believed other things could ease his stomach pain, which would taste better than the mush Chris forced him to eat and the revolting goat's milk purchased from farmers along the trail. Finding 'the one' became all-important, and he could not explain it to the mystified gunslinger.

Chris tried to hurry them along, desperately wanting to get Vin home and cared for. The young man's health continued to deteriorate, growing thinner, and paling under the tanned skin. His condition did not bode well with the gunslinger who started recognizing early warnings of mood changes, sometimes agitation, and now this new obsession to find someone or something.

The craving for sexual pleasure never stopped, and Vin always beamed happily while setting up camp, knowing evening pleasures awaited. Having learned a great deal from Chris, his lovemaking grew more aggressive, although Larabee remained dominant, yet willing to allow the younger man to experiment with a few new enterprising ideas. Vin certainly knew what pleased him and what did not. While the tracker's inhibitions dropped and his passion grew, becoming somewhat savage in their sexual games, he still remained submissive to Chris' desires and need for control. To the gunslinger's delight, he discovered the one tender gesture the young man responded to, which would settle the agitation slightly: the simple act of cupping his chin and gently caressing his lips with his thumb. It started to become habitual for the older man, as well as a need for the tracker.

A week out of El Paso, Vin found who he was looking for. Instead of being excited, he seemed nervous and a little frightened. They rode out to a hidden little shack far away from any trail. Appearing dark and dreary, with little skulls and bones hanging around the door, Larabee immediately was on the defense, with his hand on his gun, but Vin only inhaled deeply, dismounted, and headed directly toward the door, willing himself to knock. The surprised gunman soon followed, and both stopped on hearing a gravelly female voice bidding them entry. Dark and hot, with small candles burning eerily, and the pungent smell of sage, cedar, and sweet-grass assaulting their nostrils, an old woman appeared through the smoky haze, sitting cross-legged on a woven mat, beckoning them to close the shabby wooden door and to sit.

"Come in, muchacho. I have been expecting you."

"Yes, ma'am."

Chris peeked in and immediately pulled away, unable to understand the language of the frightening witch. "I'll wait outside. Call, if you need me."

"Thanks for the support, Cowboy." Only a whisper, Vin stared in fascination at the old woman, while the gunslinger stayed in range, listening to the unintelligible conversation through the door. He certainly heard the quiver in Vin's voice however; but the old woman, with no front teeth, seemed to calm him as she chanted. By the end of their strange discussion, a few giggles and snickers were shared between the two.

An hour later, the very tiny woman emerged, followed by Vin carrying a basket full of little jars and pouches, along with drawings of plants and symbols meticulously burned into deer hide. The tracker grinned his most contagious, thanking her sincerely and bending over to give the old woman a kiss on the cheek. A raspy giggle and a toothless smile warmly returned Tanner's gesture of gratitude, and both seemed delighted with the other's company. The gray-haired matron raised her hand and put it on Vin's cheek, speaking several words to him as she glanced at Chris. They both laughed. The tracker made a comment, handed her more than enough pesos, said good-bye, and joined the sweating gunman and their horses.

"What was so funny?"

"She thought you might need a potion to keep up with me." Vin snickered into his hand.

"Must be looking as old as I feel right now."

"You ain't old and you're a real handsome stud, Cowboy."

"You're making me blush." Chris smiled, crinkling up his face. It felt odd to be embarrassed; only something his tracker could do.

"Yup, you're red all right. Never thought I'd see the day." Vin laughed enthusiastically, appearing excited for the first time in days, which added to Chris' merriment and surprise--his lover had found a cure for his depression--an ancient, but mysterious woman.

"Well, Mr. Tanner, something in here has to work." Handed the basket of remedies, the taller man stared in puzzlement, trying to figure out what all the concoctions could possibly do.

"Hope so. She told me how to make and find more, and what other plants to look for as we head north." Vin busily packed each jar and leather pouch carefully into his already overburdened saddlebags.

"You liked her."

"Felt scared at first, and you should be, but she's real kind. I liked that old curandera."

"Is she a shaman?"

"Similar. She's a healer, but white folk call her a witch doctor or one of them sorcer... sorces..."

"A sorceress! A bruja!"

"Yeah, but a curandera is different from a bruja." Vin laughed at the shocked face.

"I hope so, Button." Chris was suddenly very thankful they were leaving.

The two men found enough storage space for Vin's new potions, tied the instructions behind his saddle, mounted up, and headed north to cross the border. The forlorn countenance switched to ecstatic, and Tanner eagerly explained everything he had received and what was said by the curandera. He now had a substitute for coffee, something to ease his stomach pain, a potion for eliminating the poison, a tonic for his depression and nervousness, and even a salve he could use on his arse, which he did not mention to his lover. He and the gunslinger's foreplay had turned a little rough the night before, and he needed to use it right then. As soon as they were out of sight, he would try it; considering how difficult riding felt that day; but Chris would not learn that he had hurt him. After a short stop for one to run behind a cactus and feeling more uncomfortable, a happier tracker set out for home with his handsome blond partner.

Larabee retained his half-crooked smile the entire day, seeing the glow in Vin's face. He took great interest and found the information fascinating of each item the tracker pointed out, and what each plant or tree yielded. He maintained accurate notes in his head, trying to remember everything said, with questions relentlessly asked of the tracker until they reached a camping spot. The gunslinger wanted to be thoroughly versed on what part of the plant to use and how to use it, and felt extreme relief that substitutes existed for certain foods and medicines. Pleased at the results of their second detour, he thanked Vin's gods that the tracker persevered to find his curandera: an angel in the guise of an old hag.

Tanner continued eating porridge and biscuits, but the taste now varied with the addition of herbs, tonics, teas, and potions. The battles over food diminished, and Vin stopped complaining. Surprisingly, the dandelion root did taste much like coffee; and Chris reluctantly agreed to allow Vin to add a little sugar to the brew, just to keep his pacing down to a minimum.

Love, trust, and romance blossomed the closer they drew to Four Corners. Crossing the border, as the sun began its descent, they were two days away from home. They had made good time, considering the obstacles. With the wedding three days off, they would arrive on the date Chris had promised in the telegram. Camp was set up, dinner made, and the couple sat back to enjoy a spectacular sunset, which enhanced the golden tans of both men. Larabee scrutinized Vin who grew increasingly nervous, hiding his agitation in silence, and certainly looking noticeably wary about returning. In time, perhaps, the craziness would pass, as the gunman had started believing in the curandara's magic and thought of ideas to keep a restless man happy yet calm. There seemed something missing, however, by watching the tracker pace, and perhaps, the reason would be minor if simply asked. After a little sage tea, one of the ulcer cures, the younger man devoured an ugly-looking root with calming medicinal benefits. Settled comfortably and snuggled together, the gunman pulled out a small bundle out of his pocket: a present for Vin carefully wrapped in black velvet.

"Have something for you, Button."

"What? Got everything I need."

"Something you don't need, but a token of what you mean to me." Chris held out the small gift to Vin, and a sudden blush spread over the tracker's surprised face.

Tanner stared at the velvet bundle, resting in the giving hand, and then up into the gunslinger's eyes that shone bright as stars, and glittered with tenderness and caring. No one ever looked at him in such a way, making his heart race and his own eyes fill with moisture. Vin caught his breath and held it when the small, disguised package touched his hand. He hesitated, and the bemused blond reached out, cupping the quivering chin and gently rubbing his thumb over his favorite lips, calming the frantic heart. Chris smiled reassuringly at him, and then let go. Opening the small bundle slowly, the young man's sapphire eyes started to mist, as the found runaway gasped in awe, picking up the two-inch band of silver, embedded with one large turquoise gemstone and two lapis lazuli rocks on either side.

"Chris! But I ain't got nothing to give you in return. I... I don't know what to say!"

"Do you like it?"

"Yeah! It's real pretty. Never seen anything like it. Look how the silver sparkles in the moonlight; and the colors are dancing again." Mesmerized by the bracelet, Vin held it up to the firelight to see the intricate engraving.

"Can you read the writing inside?" Chris also glowed; content his lover accepted and appreciated the gift.

Completely taken aback at the gesture, the heavy piece of jewelry held the tracker spellbound. "These words, I ain't seen them before."

"You'll recognize them, if you sound them out."

"Help me?" Vin looked up at Chris and snuggled against his chest, so they both could see the etched symbols. The gunman's cheek rested against the stunned face, and they studied the engraving together. "V.T. That ain't a word."

"They're your initials."

Vin laughed at the shortened form of his name. "Means it's mine and not Button's."

Chris also chuckled, knowing the nickname would forever be a comforting name when things went sideways, or well doing the devil's work in the boudoir.


"Pronounce that word like 'me'."

"Mi... Mi am... amant... Mi amante?"

"Very good."

"Know the rest without looking." Vin smiled and rubbed his cheek against Chris' as he continued to stare at the printing. "V.T.--Mi amante, mi corazón, mi alma--C.L. Thanks, Chris Larabee."

"You know what the words mean, and they're all true. You are my lover, my heart, and my soul, and that is the only gift you ever have to give me."

Vin slipped his hand through the small opening of the band, and twisted it around, fitting his arm perfectly, enhancing the fine bone structure of his wrist. "It's real nice, Cowboy. Never taking it off."

"Met a number of Spanish gentlemen, while I was looking for you. Many of the wealthy landowners wore these heavy bands. Know you're not use to fancy things, but these are natural stones from the ground. Think the bracelet suits you: strong but delicate, natural and wild, and those blue stones remind me of your eyes."

"You make me crazy talking like that, Cowboy, but I like your gift. What's this?" Vin fingered a small silver charm that dangled from the setting that held one of the stones in place.

"Represents the band who made it. Sorry, don't know which one."

"Don't matter. Can't thank you enough, but maybe I can give you something natural and wild." Vin rolled over on top of Chris and straddled him; the older man leaned comfortably against his saddle for support when the soft lips of thanks settled on his waiting mouth. The trackers nimble fingers, now well versed in the art of undoing buttons, pulling off boots, and untying knots, started the task without the nervousness it once instilled in the young man. Boldness replaced the shaking, and his pleasure with the bracelet needed more than a grateful hug. His hands undid the black pants, and he pulled away from the kiss, squeezing between the long legs; and with a quirky smile, leaned down to tickle the exposed gun he loved to tease with his long waves of soft hair. Gently shaking his head back and forth, he watched the lively serpent rise to greet him, and he continued tickling the object of his desire with his strands of gold and brown, receiving grateful moans from an increasingly excited gunslinger. Unable to hold back, the older man started to lift his hips, his pole trying to find that beautiful mouth under all the hair.

The older man gasped at the feel of a lick that twitched back and forth across his organ. Vin called it his little snaky lick; and he used it whenever he could, wherever he could, and it aroused the tall blond at the mere thought. A wet succulent cavern enveloped his pole, sliding up and down the hardening shaft, while a tongue slithered around the stiffening lance, moistening every protruding vein, fold, and that sensitive slit. With his hand firmly grasping the bottom of the awakened shaft, Vin started sucking gently, becoming harder and harder with more pressure, and faster and faster with more urgency, as the gunslinger jerked upward, unable to control his need to penetrate deeper.

Vin had learned quickly, and Chris felt his cock hit the back of the closed throat. The sucking stopped and the throat opened, allowing his manhood to slide in further. The tongue extended forward, creating a channel for his pole to slide into the depths of the younger man's now relaxed throat. More powerful than a handful of peyote, his Button supplied the sensation. He placed his hands gently on Vin's head, spreading the long hair to stare deep into two excited eyes that gazed upward at him from under dark lashes. The younger man had him fully in his mouth, and watching the action created even more excitement. Chris strained and tensed, trying not to thrust too deep, until Vin withdrew slightly to continue his rhythmic sucking. Another hand played with Chris' hard, sensitive cajones, and a single press, to the sweet spot under them, caused the gunslinger to thrust involuntarily several times, letting himself explode into the warm, moist mouth. Vin swallowed it all and slowly pulled away, leaving a sharp, sensual reminder of the experience for his lover, using his two front teeth to gently glide over the sensitive organ. Chris cried out in pain and delight, experiencing a final intense spurt, and then relaxing back against the saddle, completely satisfied. His lover licked him clean, and then lifted his head, smiling with gleaming wet lips.

"Taste good, Cowboy." The tracker leaned forward expecting a gentle kiss, but in retaliation for his favor, hands urgently grabbed and threw him on his back, with Chris passionately devouring his lips. Thrilled at the savagery, Vin returned the same powerful embrace around the blond's back, neck, and head, pulling him down into a stronger, sensual kiss. With his tongue forced back by another, he willingly suckled gently on the intruder. The younger body quivered; the soft lips released a moan. The intensity grew in power; masculine energy pushed them to limits beyond their endurance; and both men separated only for air. The younger man reached up, digging his fingers into Chris' back, and nibbling on the lower lip he loved. Sweet kisses and caresses over the gunslinger's handsome face continued unabated, as Tanner searched and pecked until every part had been caressed and licked clean.

Larabee pulled away and lunged his face into the tracker's ticklish neck, nibbling on any skin pliable enough to suck and leave a visible red vampire-like marking; a brand for the world to see that Vin Tanner belonged to him. He pulled the pink bandanna down, exposing the long slender neck straining and arching. Licking the succulent Adam's apple with all do gentleness, not to start a coughing fit, the gunman's moist tongue slid up and under to the tip of the tracker's chin. A low growl purred against his tongue, as the gunman once again attacked the soft skin that vibrated from the sound; and it stretched to its limit with one harsh suck. Continuing his assault, one bite at a time, Chris reached the solid collarbone and pulled away. Covered with red love bites that a normal young man would proudly display, but the repercussions would violate the social mores of the day. On seeing them in a mirror, Vin could now believe someone loved him and had proof of his lover's passion, which his mind thought impossible.

Slightly frightened at the ferocity of Chris' attack, he succumbed to the thrill created and the notion of pleasure replacing pain. He felt a hand undo his pants, gently releasing his erect pole, and moaned with anticipation at what might be in store for his body that so desired to be adored. Moving down to take Vin in his mouth, Chris sensually guided the fully extended cock down deep into his throat. He pulled back, as the tracker giggled in delight. Holding the shaft firmly but gently, he started letting Vin thrust evenly back and forth between his wet lips. The younger man finally came in little spurts and gentle hip thrusts, while his lover let the fluid drain slightly over his pole, and swallowed the remainder. Another yelp at the slightly cool feeling, the tracker gave a final hip thrust. Larabee swallowed it all, until his little Peyote Button lay still and panting, drenched in both men's sweat. Continuing to purr deep in his throat, like a lion cub ready to pounce, the smaller man could only lay his head on the ground and smile, waiting for another chance. He grabbed Chris by the hair and pulled him up harshly for one long, intense kiss, exchanging the taste of each other's cum. They separated, green eyes flashed into big blue ones, both filled with surprise and desire at the lightning passion that had struck them both, and they reveled in it. Chris slipped off Vin, rolling him on top and holding him tight as the stare intensified.

"Mighty powerful, Tanner." The gunslinger breathed into the gasping mouth of the tracker.

"Ah hunh."

"So much for that bitter root calming you down." Chris mused.

"You should be grateful it did." Vin smiled slyly.

After a good deal of chuckling and tickling, the two men sat together quietly, when the gunslinger announced, "Two days, Vin, and we'll be home."

"I know." An involuntary shudder swept the entire length of Vin's body at the thought.

Feeling the sudden quiver, Chris opened a door to clarify why the tracker appeared nervous. "Have you changed your mind?"

"Nope, but what if they hate me for leaving? Maybe I've changed, and they don't want me there. It's been a long time."

"It has been a while; over seven months now. They want you home, Vin. Give them a chance. Besides, when did you start worrying about how other people feel? Sorry, stupid question considering what you've been through to avoid us."

"Things have changed, Chris. Might not fit in with the others... maybe never did... but I do care what my friends think. You know that from all the talking I've been doing." Depression again settled on the frail shoulders.

"Some things will be different, but friends are friends. We forgive them for things we'd kill others for; and love them for their faults." Chris prayed for an opportunity to bring back the trust Vin lacked amongst their oddly matched friends.

"The group of seven, or what did Jock Steele call us in his book… The Magnificent Seven… made me laugh when Josiah read it to me. There's a few things you should know, Larabee."

"Like what?"

"You don't trust Ezra and treat him like a thorn in your behind. He may have laughed at me and speak to me like I'm stupid, but I think I understand him better than all of you. After meeting his mother, you had to see how lonely his life has been. Josiah hides so much pain and regret, yet keeps a happy face; and that holds true for Nathan, raised as a slave until freed by war. I'm on the fence about JD; he's too reckless and green, making him dangerous. He almost got Buck killed during our encounter with those Confederate soldiers, and then accidently killing Casey's best friend. Always in the way, I'm surprised he ain't dead, and by one of us." Vin leaned back against the tree, sifting through thoughts of each man he had worked with. Loving and disliking a person, at the same time, was foreign to him, as the two emotions changed on a gust of wind.

"JD had to grow up fast riding with us. We can be thankful to Buck who took the time to show him the ropes. Speaking of Mr. Wilmington, I've known him for twelve odd years, and he's had my back for a long time."

"Don't know about him either. He's a strange one to like. When I first met you and Nathan, deciding to help the Seminole villagers, you sent me to pound and yell at a door where he was engaged with one of his many women. Didn't like him when I saw him hug you in the street, and he just kept nattering. I don't think he's stopped since. He don't take kindly to orders, or even polite requests; then he does something stupid like challenging that highfaluting Spaniard hombre to a duel to defend Inez and her honor."

The statement caught Chris by surprise. Of all seven men, Buck made them all laugh with his antics and stories, always stumbling into one escapade after another. He had put a knife to the man's neck more than once, and certainly, when Wilmington started telling the townsfolk of Four Corners about the death of his wife and son. Always a game Buck played, opening his mouth and forgetting who stood in hearing range; but the gunslinger relied heavily on the former lawman. In hard cold reality, however, Buck lacked any sense of responsibility. "Don't you like him, Vin?"

"Sometimes, but he's foolish. That first night in the Seminole village, you asked him to stand the first watch. He just laughed and ignored you."

Chris leaned back and put his arms around the fragile shoulders. "Just like he always does, but he's there when it's important."

"Like showing up, in the nick of time, to ward off Mr. James' men."

"Just like that, but I won't forget who did take the night watch for the village. It was you, Mr. Tanner, and your immediate decision to take the job impressed me. I remember that night when I climbed up to sit with you. You told me about the bounty on your head. I was impressed with your honesty and bravery from the beginning, and watching that sunset with you is a favorite memory. You had my heart from that moment, but I couldn't tell you. Figured you'd shoot me right there." Chris smiled in the darkness, thinking about the man's wavy hair that had curled from sweat and the genuine smile seldom seen but by a few.

"We've wasted time, Cowboy. You could have had your way with me that night, but you missed my signal. Reckon I ain't much good at showing my feelings." Vin sighed, also thinking of that warm night full of stars and the scent of his first and only love.

"Neither am I, Mr. Tanner. You do have friends and good ones, however, including JD, epitomizing you as one of his storybook heroes, with the way you act, dress, and come to the aid of the misbegotten. He's not much younger than you, and looks to you for guidance, constantly watching your every move to learn how to survive in the wild-west, and perhaps become you one day."

"Ain't a hero. You're the one they all look up to."

"They respect us for saving Nathan, when you hit that rope with a perfect shot. Our healer would be dead if you had missed, but your marksmanship impressed me enough to trust you. That same day, the three of us decided to take on a former and crazy Confederate Colonel. On our return, I'm still unsure of why the two of us didn't head for Tascosa that rainy day."

"Gunshots and Judge Travis." Vin looked away, avoiding a possible question of his desire to clear his name. Everything had been said about the matter, but it remained in his mind and would forever. He would always be a wanted man, constantly looking over his shoulder.

"Reckon I know why you nodded to stay and remained so long. Wish I'd known how you felt. Things would have been different, and we would have headed out. The past is the past, Vin, and now we just have to look at a new future. You're looking forward to the wedding though?"

"Suppose so. I do like Casey and Nettie, wishing they were my family. Wonder if Maude will be there. Like her too, although not the way she treats Ezra."

"So you do like women, older women, including that curandera."

"They're safe and ain't interested in me, except as an adopted son." Tanner lowered his head, thinking of the three elderly women and the young one about to marry.

"Well, I know Nettie adores your spunk; and you were Casey's first choice to give her away." Chris squeezed him into a closer cuddle in case the idea spooked his lover, and his instincts were correct.

"What? You can't give women away; they're not slaves." Vin was horrified at the thought.

"Don't go off on me now, but the saying comes from a religious ritual that the father of the bride gives his daughter away to her new husband. Just a saying, Tanner, nothing more."

"But I ain't Casey's father." Vin had turned to gaze in bewilderment; the lines in his face expressed his naivety.

"But you're the closest thing she has to a brother, and that leads me to another question. Most folks in our part of world call their fathers 'Pa'. Why do you use the formal term?" Chris finally queried after contemplating it since the morning Vin had run.

"Respect. My own father and my native ones deserved being called 'father', and it's proper in all three cultures in which I was raised."

"Should have known, considering Sha-nu uses the same terminology." Larabee smiled at the questioning expression on his runaway's face. "It means the same thing as 'word', or the 'use of a word'."

"Terminology, hunh. Think that gets in my way when I misinterpret people's terminology." Both men laughed; and Chris knew the real Vin Tanner was slowly returning with his quirky sense of humor.

"So, we're heading for a wedding, but I don't think you'll be ready to give the bride away." Larabee continued to smile his most beguiling.

"Reckon we are, and you're right; I'd get real upset giving Casey to JD in front of a bunch of folks, and in a church." Tanner smiled back rather sadly. He loved Miss Welles as a sister, and certainly trusted her Aunt Nettie more than anyone he had ever met. Ezra had called her an old crone when they helped the two women save their ranch, and unbeknownst to Mr. Standish, Vin had almost blown his head off with the disrespectful remark. Thinking about attending a large get-together had the tracker sweating over other things. "Chris, after the wedding, what'll happen to us?"

"Never gave much thought to the future. Knowing you'll be with me, future plans seem a necessity, considering we'll have to hide our attachment under some type of pretense." Chris sat erect and buttoned his pants, then reached over to do the same to Vin's. He poured a little tea for his partner and a cup of coffee for himself. Reaching for his habitual cheroots, he stopped short, remembering the doctor's words, and settled his craving with a long stem of sweet-grass.

Taking the tea, Vin pulled himself into a straighter sitting position. Chris studied him carefully, watching the change. The sheer joy and intensity of their pleasure, moments before, had been replaced with sorrow and doubt, and certainly became clear with his suggestion, "I say we head directly back to the desert, if our future means hanging together from the nearest tree."

"To be honest, Mr. Tanner, I'd think we'd get bored. Have to think of something to do with our lives, even if it's just drifting, helping where we can."

"You'd hate that too. You need to feel useful, Larabee; maybe I do too."

"Never asked you this before, Vin, but what would you really like to do? If you could do anything you wanted, what would it be?"

"Don't know. Never gave it much mind. Reckon surviving was my only reason for being. Guess I'm just happy knowing I'll be with you; if you're willing to take on a huge risk with your life."

"We've faced more risks together than you being wanted; and there're going to be more, but don't ever forget your bracelet."

"Nope, can't forget this." Vin looked at the silver band of gems, and ran his fingers over the stones. A slight look of serenity passed over his face, but faded as quickly.

"Try this, and don't even think about it. Just tell me the first thing that comes into your head." Chris looked directly at the darkest blue eyes he had ever seen.

"Kill Ella Gaines."

Larabee sat shocked, wanting the same thing, but the idea of cold-blooded murder had him trembling. He regained his composure and lightly responded, "I'm all for that, and if anyone can find her, it would be you." He almost choked with his words; however, he had inadvertently agreed and now felt sickened at the heartlessness of the suggestion.

"If you agree, the two of us can set out and finish your quest, Larabee."

"Think I may have a way of finding her. In this length of time, she would've dissolved her assets by selling the ranch and her company. The bank in Red Fork may give us a start, if they're willing to share where they transferred her money."

Without realizing it, Chris set off a stick of dynamite in Vin's brain; and the young man pushed away and put his hands over his face. "No. No. The bank wouldn't do that, would they?" In what sounded like terror, the young man held his position; and before Larabee could he respond; a tirade of panic upset their easy conversation. "Stupid, I'm so stupid. Any sensible bounty hunter could do the same thing to me. I'm so stupid that I endangered Nathan and Josiah just by getting my bounty earnings sent to the Four Corner's bank from three other ones. I'm a dead man. I'm so stupid, stupid, stupid."

"Easy, Vin. We'll take care of it when we get home."

"But they may already be dead!"

"They'll be careful, and most bounty hunter's wouldn't think to check." Chris tried to sooth the young man, but Tanner was inconsolable as he reached down to hold the pain developing in his stomach. A quick grab of a left over biscuit, Larabee had him chewing on a piece to settle an attack of vomiting. "Listen, Vin, Nathan and Josiah are fine and just want to see you return home safe. We'll clear everything up, including your health, and get right back on the road to catch Ella."

With the biscuit easing the pain in his stomach and Larabee's few words, the tracker stopped quivering to settle back into safe arms. He had one more admittance to unveil and it seemed the time. "Stole the assassin's rifle, Chris. I'm sorry, but I didn't think anyone would claim it."

"No one did, and I'm glad you have it. With your steady hands, you could shoot her from a great distance, and we'd be gone before anyone could find us."

"Thought maybe you'd want the pleasure." The former bounty hunter knew he could find her, if given the chance, time, and money to travel in the style Mrs. Gaines, now calling herself Mrs. Larabee, was accustomed to.

"Depends on where and how we meet up with her. The gun will come in handy, depending on what we end up doing, but we have to go home first, Vin, and make plans for the house, keeping it as our sanctuary and headquarters."

"Home... sounds nice." Vin looked to the heavens and uttered a few words in Kiowa to his protective Great Spirit. He felt better, but still unnerved that a bounty hunter could be hiding in any given window, in the town of Four Corners, waiting his return.

"We need to stop sending you into a stew over nothing, Vin, and start taking care of your health, before we take on another adventure. Dr. Pasquel told us to do anything you enjoy, and risk is somthing you crave. While you settle down a bit, I have other things to worry about, and then we can find Ella."

The gunslinger could only wish, knowing they would be found out eventually, and when the time came, they would be running for their lives to escape hanging or drawn-and-quartered, not to mention their manly parts cut off and fed to the dogs. His thoughts whirled in his head, contemplating their situation and possible solutions. Nothing came to mind, but he knew their lives depended on his stability and sanity to get them through the thick walls blocking their way. Larabee's thought concluded with a quiet whisper from Vin, "What about you, Chris, have you finished mourning?"

"Finished it on the trail, heading for someplace in Mexico. Just want you around for a long, long time. We'll finish this discussion once back home. Remember that you're still very ill; the perfect pretense for you to live under my roof, but that's what scares you. Settling down doesn't appeal to you."

"With you it does, but four walls? I love you, Cowboy, but I need space." Vin gave him a shallow grin, trying to look happy about their dire predicament.

"In other words..."

"...terminology." Vin cracked a smile, coming back from the melancholy for a moment.

"Smart ass." Chris chortled, disguising his concern, but continued, "We do have some options to consider, and one may include changing your name, or you'll end up deader than a nit, with me beside you for aiding and abetting."

"More words I don't understand, Cowboy, but I'm a Tanner, and can't ever forget it. Guess you're right though. We sure got a whole mess of things to think about."

"Just like JD and Casey." Chris again chuckled lightly and pulled Vin's chin closer to give those lips a soft kiss. They lay together in a familiar embrace, both silently pondering a future together. The difficulties they faced were immense, and when they arrived in Four Corners, they would have more thoughts as to their future. The demise of Ella Gaines, however, would be the end of Larabee's torment and give them both a new start. They just had to get home first.

The two day ride was over but for the few miles into town. They slept little, their last night on the trail, one excited about nearing home and starting a future with the young tracker by his side. The other one quite the opposite, nervous at the proximity of the little town, and Four Corners lay only a few hours away. Vin remained sullen and undecided.

Too dark to travel, they found their favorite resting hole, made camp, ate, and got their gear and clothes cleaned, polished, and ready for JD's big day. Leaving first thing in the morning, they would head straight for the wedding, and they would still be clean and presentable when they arrived. Nettie had told Chris, before he left on his sojourn for their runaway, that JD and Casey would marry in the church, with the invitation called by the bell ringing at twelve o'clock, and then celebrate at the Welles' homestead. The party would carry on until Nettie herself kicked the last drunk out.

Depressed and miserably anxious about what his sudden appearance in town might do, Vin became easily upset and agitated at the thought of one of the other five rejecting him, or saying something that would return him into the emotionally precarious state he could not control. The chaos he created, involving the banks and his trusted friends, had him ready to turn tail and run. Chris continued to reassure him, but nothing worked. His voracious ailment flared up, certainly not to the gunslinger's surprise, and his tracker lay curled on his side, throwing up blood and writhing in pain. The older man forced him to drink several cups of strong, nerve-settling, chamomile tea that also eased the stomach pain. He covered Vin's fevered body and snuggled him up in his bedroll. After hours of watch and contemplation, Larabee joined him, and both men dozed off, with the smaller man spooned against the gunman's torso, and protected by the arms of his lover, dreaming of the vows written to him in his beautiful bracelet. The troubled gunman, however, had night terrors of Vin's failing health, intuitive bounty hunters, the gravest of Indian Wars, their law-breaking relationship, and all the broken fences that required repair. He needed help and his friends' wise words to get him through.

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Chapter VIII

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