A Magnificent Seven gen novel by SueN, set in the Old West and with lots of hurt-comfort. NOTE! This story has appeared, or is currently available, on-line.
Vin has gone missing and it's up to JD to find the tracker before it's too late, but the signs aren't adding up the way anyone expects them to.
Buck read every agonized thought that raced through those tortured eyes and felt a sick twist at his gut. With another soft, sad sigh, he stepped closer and set a big hand gently on one bowed shoulder, infusing every bit of strength, compassion and courage he could muster into Larabee through his touch. "JD wants to go on to Yellow Creek," he said quietly. "Forget about Peso, concentrate on Vin. We know Henry was at Yellow Creek, and we know Carlyle was ridin' Henry. Could be when we get there we'll find 'em both. Or at least find out more about what happened and where they are now."
Chris looked at Buck and tried to speak, but couldn't find the words. Too many fears chased through him; too many horrible possibilities haunted him.
Buck saw that and managed a slight smile. "Think about this," he urged, squeezing Chris's shoulder reassuringly. "Henry's back in town. Peso's out doin' whatever the hell it is he's doin'. That means they're afoot. They're walkin', Chris. They been walkin' through rain and now they're sloggin' through the mud. And you know as well as I do, ol' son, that Vin ain't goin' of his own free will. Now, you tell me," his smile widened into a mischievous, knowing grin, "if you had to drag Tanner, who's prob'ly soaked to the skin an' mad as hell, somewhere that he didn't wanna go, just how far d' you think you'd get on foot?"
Chris had to smile, however shakily, at that thought. If Vin had been out in the rain for three days against his will, he'd be pissed. If he were being dragged back to Texas against his will, he'd be pissed. If he were on foot against his will, he'd be pissed. And if he were being dragged back to Texas through the rain on foot, he'd be so far beyond pissed that Chris just wasn't sure he wanted to consider the consequences.
Except that he hoped every one of those consequences fell squarely on Carlyle. He looked into Buck's eyes and relaxed under the man's hand, his smile growing stronger. "He don't much like bein' told what to do, does he?" he chuckled.
Buck laughed aloud, as much in relief at Chris's returning steadiness as at the thought of Vin making life hell for the man who had him. "Shit," he snorted wickedly, "that boy's a regular handful when he's in a good mood!" He winked and slapped Chris's shoulder. "I'll bet ol' Carlyle's thinkin' real serious about a change in jobs!" He wagged his dark brows. "Likely that five hundred dollars ain't soundin' like just a whole lotta money to him right about now."
Chris chuckled again and nodded. "Tanner's got a way of puttin' things into perspective for a man real quick," he joked, amazed that he could do it. Then he sobered and nodded at Buck. "Kinda like somebody else I know," he added softly, seriously. "Thanks."
The words, and the warmth behind them, startled Buck and brought a sudden lump to his throat. Maybe once he'd felt a twinge of jealousy toward Vin and the ease with which the younger man had settled into his singular place at Larabee's side and in his life, had feared that the tracker had "replaced" him. God knew so much between himself and Chris had changed when the man's family had been killed. But time had taught him that Vin hadn't replaced him at all. Whatever it was that bound the tracker and gunfighter together was wholly unique to them, had never been known by either man with anyone else before. And what bound Chris and Buck together was just as unique and just as deep in its own right, forged over time, sweetened by shared joy and strengthened by shared tragedy. Maybe it wasn't exactly what it had been before, but then again neither were they. Both were older, wiser, sadder certainly and surely more scarred, but both were still here, both were still standing, and both were still holding firmly to those very few things that life had shown them were true.
"Well, hell, stud," he finally rasped, his heart full, "that's what I'm here for." He squeezed Chris's shoulder again. "I been kickin' your skinny, stubborn ass too long to fall down on the job now."
102 pages. $10 for PDF version with color cover.
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