Too Many Memories
By: Maggie

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Disclaimer: Usual, I’m trying to come up with a new one, but I’m sure
everyone knows what it means.
Rating: PG13
Warnings: Language and violence
Author’s Notes: Be prepared for major writer’s lib, and I hope everyone
enjoys.

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A Half’s Day Ride from Four Corners...................

“Come on Ezra, its just one more night.”

“Mr. Tanner, this wilderness may not bother you, but I’m afraid I’m
accustomed to more refined sleeping arrangements.”

Ezra Standish gave the two men in front of him disbelieving frowns.

“You know you didn’t have to come along, Ezra.”

Chris Larabee was feeling somewhat amused at the gambler’s apparent
discomfort.

“I realize I had a choice, Mr. Larabee, but business in Shilock required my
attention and a short bout of insanity advised me to accompany you
gentlemen.”

“I think he’s saying he wanted to come with us.”

“I believe your right, Vin.”

“Do not take that as a compliment my friends. I just feel any chance I get to
further your education in the finer arts of mannerism, I must take it.”

“Well, thats one way to say it. Your welcome to come along anytime, Ezra.”

Vin gave the gambler a slow grin and settled for the night.

“Night Ezra.”

“Goodnight, Mr. Tanner, Mr. Larabee.”

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The Next Morning..............

“I believe the sun is deliberately grown hotter as punishment.”

“Stop complaining, Ezra, at least it ain’t raining.”

The bounty hunter grinned at Chris, seeing a tug of a smile in the corner of the
gunslinger’s face.

“I’ve heard there can be freak storms in these parts. Ain’t that right, Vin?”

“Yep, I’ve heard that too.”

“You have made your point abundantly clear, thank you.”

The two men in the lead chuckled softly. It was a rare thing the three of them
being together, but in a strange way it felt good. Not that any of them would
admit it. Especially, Ezra. He was not one to grow attachments, definitely not
to ones of Chris and Vin’s statures. They were, in his opinion: rude, unrefined,
and very ungentleman-like.

*Well, I have learned that this life does hold many strange things indeed.*
Ezra chuckled softly at his thought. *I’m beginning to sound like Mr. Sanchez.
Abhor the thought.*

The gambler shook himself from his musings, afraid as to where they might
lead and began to listen to his compatriots conversation.

“You think the town’s still standing?”
Vin’s casual question held a hint of concern. Nothing had ‘accidently’ happen
to him on his trip, so from past experiences’ it was usually a sign that the
trouble was following the youngest of the group, J.D. Dunne.

“Well, I’m pretty sure the town’s fine, its Buck I’m worried about?”

The young tracker glanced at the gunslinger with some surprise. Out of the
seven, he thought Buck Wilmington would be the last one Chris would worry
about. As he began to wonder further, he caught the slight twinkle in the older
man’s eyes.

“You know J.D.’s been holding his own against Buck lately. I just hope the
kid didn’t shoot him because of his smothering Mother hen act.”

“I doubt that, Mr. Larabee. Mr. Dunne would just as soon shoot himself then
harm his hero. Although, I do believe he has pondered the thought once or
twice.”

The three men laughed lightly. As much as they worried about the young
sheriff, they knew as long as Buck had a say, he’d be fine.

“I don’t know about you fellas’, but I’m getting mighty thirsty. Last one to the
saloon, buys the drinks.”

As soon as the words came out, the ex-bounty hunter had taken off at a dead
run.

“Damn.” Larabee let out the experlative and then spurred his horse before
Ezra realized what was happening.

“And I thought I was the cheat in this entarage.” The gambler sighed and then
galloped behind his disappearing friends’,  willing to let them win. This time.

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Four Corner’s Saloon...........

“Anybody seen Buck? I thought he would be here waiting for Miss Violet.”
Vin had beaten his friends’ by a very wide margin, and now was enjoying a
beer while waiting for their arrival.

“I saw him heading this way, but stopped and started talking to this stranger.
Went to go see if there was trouble, but they were shaking hands and Buck
was smiling. So I left them be.” Nathan Jackson sat across from the lanky
tracker and was also enjoying an afternoon beer.

“I was afraid J.D. done had enough of him, and decided to make seven, six.”

“It almost came to that, but luckily Josiah saved him. He took J.D. over to the
church and set him to working on the pews to release his pent-up frustration.”

“Well, it seems our fearless leader shall be furnishing the refreshments this
afternoon.” Ezra strode into the establishment and took a seat with the other
two.

“Ezra, how did you beat Chris? He was right behind me.”

“Lucky for me, Mr. Tanner, Mr. Wilmington sidetracked him before he could
enter.”

“Something wrong?” Nathan’s concern was reflected in Vin’s frown.

“It did not appear that way. They seemed to accept the stranger with some
semblence of familiarity.”

Vin was about to go find out how familiar, when the two gunslingers’ and the
stranger entered.

“Boys, I would like to introduce you to an old friend.” Buck’s smile was so
big, it covered his face from ear to ear.

“Buck, I think I’ll take care of the introductions.” Chris glanced at the
exuberant man.

“Oh yeah, okay. Go ahead.”

“Nathan, Ezra, Vin, I would like you to meet my father. Jon Larabee.”

“Nice to meet you sir.” Nathan stood up first and held out his hand.

“Thank you, Nathan. I had heard so much about this town and the men who
protect it, I had to come and see for myself. What a surprise to me, to find out
my son was one of the seven.”

“I’m hoping that was a pleasant surprise, Mr. Larabee.”

“Please call me Jon, and yes it was Ezra.”

The tall, dark-haired man dressed in cowhand attire topped off with a black
duster standing beside Chris, could have passed more as Buck’s father than
his. He was taller than the two men, but held the same figure as the younger
Larabee. His face was weatherworn, but still held a gentle look, that is until
you saw his eyes. Ice blue, with the same cold hardness of his son’s.

“How long you plan on staying Jon?”

“Well Vin, long enough to look around and see what drew such an odd
assortment of men together.”

“In that case Jon, I wouldn’t drink the water. Thats the only thing I can
figure.” Wilmington’s features glowed even more if possible.

“I’ll remember that.”

“Come on Jon. I’ll show you to the hotel and then you can tell me why your
really here.” Chris’s suspicious gaze didn’t miss the underlying stress in his
father’s words.

He hadn’t seen the man since the day he told him that Sara and Adam were
dead.

*Hell, I thought I’d never see him again.* Chris turned to lead him out of the
saloon, but he stopped when he saw the quizzical look on the buffalo hunter’s
face.

“Vin, you alright?”

“Yeah, just an old memory trying to surface. Must be the heat.”

Larabee stared a few more seconds at his best friend and watched the lazy gaze
and soft smile return, before he resumed to his earlier destination.

“I’ll see ya for dinner.”

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Four Corner’s Hotel...............

“So, you gonna tell me why your really here?”

The older Larabee sat on the bedside and took in his son. He was paler than he
last seen him and lighter. The hatred had diminished some, but not all. He
seemed to be content somehow. Jon knew it had to do with the seven men,
and especially the buckskin.

“They’re quite a bunch. Buck hasn’t changed much.”

“You don’t know the half of it. You still haven’t met J.D. or Josiah.” Chris
walked to the window and watched the streets. Ever the cautious man. “You
in trouble?”

“No. Just had an itch to get away and see my son.”

The black clad man rested his gaze on his father. He was older, of course, a
little more grey hair than he remembered; but there was something different. A
sadness Chris hadn’t seen since his Ma died ten years ago.

“Alright, out with it. We’re not getting any younger.”

Chris pulled up a chair and sat directly in his father’s line of sight.

“What I’m about to tell you, no one on this God’s green Earth knows about.”
He took a slow breath and continued. “Actually, I hadn’t even intended to tell
you until about ten minutes ago. Back when I was herding cattle down around
Texas, I met this girl. Beautiful, young, funny. She was the image of an angel.
Blonde hair, hazel eyes, and a smile that would stop the oldest men in their
tracks.”

“She worked at the local general store, so one day we started talking. She told
me how her ma and pa died a couple years before, and so the merchant’s wife
took her in and taught her how to read and write, then gave her job working in
the store. We never stopped talking. I would make sure to visit her at least
once a month, just to make sure she was alright.”

“We never did nothing but talk, until after a while, I realized I was falling in
love with her.” Jon looked at his son and wasn’t surprised to see the hatred
directed at him. “Now don’t go thinking I stopped loving your mother. I
didn’t. I was a lucky man, Chris. I had found my true love not once but twice.
I know that sounds impossible, but believe me it wasn’t.”

“So what happened?” Chris’s voice was low and deadly.

“It was a couple of months after your little brother died of influenza. Your ma
was withdrawn. She wouldn’t talk to me and when she did, she accused me of
being the reason your brother died. I felt lonely and I started thinking about
Emma. So, on my next run to Texas, I went to see her. Thats when our
relationship went further.”

Chris got up and began to pace the room. He didn’t like were this conversation
was headed and wanted it to end, quickly.

Jon waited until Chris was seated again then continued.

“And thats when it ended.” The younger Larabee gave his father a
disbelieving stare. “Believe it. It happened once and then she told me to leave.
She said that even though she loved me and she knew I loved her, Lily needed
me more. Can you imagine? She told me to go home and be with my family,
because they needed me more. I had never met a more selfless person in all my
days. Still haven’t for that matter.” Jon paused to gaze at the patrons bustling
around below.

“So, did you ever tell Ma?”

Jon turned sad eyes to his son.

“Yes. It was about eight years later, but I told her.”

“What’d she say.”

“That she was sorry. She didn’t mean to push me away and that she was glad
there had been someone there for me.” A silent tear edged its way down the
man’s rugged face. “Like I said before. I was the luckiest man on Earth.”

“Why you telling me this now.”

“Theres more to the story, son. But I’m afraid thats all I can tell you right
now. The rest is gonna have to wait a few days.”

Chris could see the fatigue in his father and conceded to wait.

“Alright. I’ll be waiting.” The gunslinger got up to leave, but a callused hand
stopped him.

“I know these are just memories to me, but when its all said and done, it will
affect our future. I just hope you can see a way to forgive me, because I’m
going to need your help Chris.”

He didn’t know what to say. He had never seen such helplessness in this man
before. A man who could rope, ride, and shoot better then even him. Afterall,
he did teach him everything he knows. Almost everything anyway.

“I’ll think about it. But I can’t give you an answer until I know everything,
Jon.” The older man nodded his understanding and released his grip on his
son’s arm. “I’ll meet you for breakfast at the restaurant.” With that Chris left.

His father walked to the window once more and watched his son head to the
saloon, but he stopped outside when he noticed the buckskin tracker lounging
in the chair. Jon sighed heavily watching the two men exchange words.

*Too many memories. I just hope theres enough time to fix some of them
son.* He then turned to go rest and await what the morning would bring.

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Hotel Restuarant the next morning...........

“Morning son.” Jon Larabee sat down across from his son and began to sip at
the coffee that had been waiting for him.

“You seem better this morning.” Chris noticed that some of the sadness had
lifted and a certain calm had settled in.

“Its amazing how releasing some of a burden can help a man’s soul.”

“Amen brother.” Josiah Sanchez walked up and waited for an introduction
before sitting down.

“Josiah, this is my father, Jon Larabee.”

“Thats what I heard. I hope you don’t mind the intrusion.”

“Not at all Josiah. My point for coming here was to meet the men behind the
legend.”

Josiah chuckled and eyed the man carefully. The others, especially Buck, had
informed him of the older Larabee’s arrival and his curiousity got the better of
him.

“So you  mean we’re already a legend. I thought that only happened after a
person died.” A young man’s voice floated around the table as the body added
its self to the three already seated.

“J.D.,” Chris gave the young sheriff a reproachful gaze before continuing.
“My father, Jon Larabee.”

“Wow, pleasure to meet you Mr. Larabee.” J.D. seemed oblivious to the
reprimand.

“Same here J.D.”

“So, you staying awhile sir?” The youngster’s enthusiasm at having another
Larabee around was overflowing.

“It all depends on my son. If he wants me around or not.” Jon turned to the
younger Larabee and winked slightly.

“Well of course Chris wants you to stay. Don’t ya Chris?” Dunne looked
baffled at the suggestion that Larabee wouldn’t want his father around.

“Yes J.D. He can stay as long as he wants.”

Josiah shook his head slightly, “Well thats good to hear. If your wondering
around town any, feel free to drop by the church and talk a while.”

“I’d like that Josiah.” The older Larabee shook Sanchez’s outstrecthed hand
and noticed the slight suspicion hidden.

“I had better get back to work. Still a lot to do.” The preacher left the three,
listening to J.D.’s incesant questions and went in search of Nathan. Something
about Jon Larabee had him worried. It wasn’t dangerous he was sure of that,
just something more along the lines of unbalancing. And Josiah just got his
balance back and didn’t want to risk it.

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Nathans clinic/room.............

“Come in.” Jackson had been going over his new medical journal that had
arrived that day. He looked up as the door opened and was surprised to see
Josiah enter.

“I thought you were going to meet Chris’s father this morning.” Nathan
noticed a strange frown etched his friend’s face.

“I did, and thats why I’m here.” The healer waited for him to continue. “I
wanted your opinion on something.”

“Well, what is it?” Nathan was beginning to get worried.

“What did you think of Jon?” Sanchez had seated himself on the foot of
Nathan’s bed facing the chair the man occupied.

“Well, he seems to be a good man. A lot like Chris. Why?”

“I get this feeling something is going on and I’m afraid its not going to be good
for Chris.” The older man sighed heavily, saving souls could get very tiring.

“You want me to talk to Chris, maybe see if there’s anything we need to
know?” The black man didn’t usually poke his nose into other people’s
business, but if it was upsetting Josiah this much, he could at least ask.

“Would you mind brother. I’m afraid if I ask it might seem a little intrusive,
but if it comes from you, it might just seem curious.” Josiah began to smile
when he saw the understanding radiating in Nathan’s eyes.

“I’ll go see him now.” Jackson rose and slapped the preacher softly and then
grabbed his hat. As he left Josiah thought back to his earlier encounter with
the older Larabee. * I hope you know what your doing. If not, you may lose
more of your son then we can save.*

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Outside the Hotel.............

“Chris, you got a minute?” Nathan’s baritone voice stopped Larabee’s journey
to the saloon.

“Sure Nathan, what can I do for you?” The gunslinger leaned against the post
and waited for the black man’s arrival.

“I wanted to ask you something.” Jackson paused not quite knowing where to
begin. “Your father showing up. They ain’t nothing wrong is there.” Chris
studied the healer for a moment. He was wondering which one of the six
would breech the reasoning behind his father’s unexpected visit.

“I honestly don’t know, Nathan. But if its something I need help with, I’ll tell
you as soon as I know.” Larabee watched Jackson’s features ease.

“All right. We were just a little worried, thats all.”

“No problem. Thats whats kept us alive isn’t it.” Chris tipped his hat and
resumed his quest to the saloon. He was going to give his father til noon and
then he aimed to find out what was going on.

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Town saloon..................

“Hey pard, your here a little early.” Vin’s easy drawl made Chis smile.
* Count on him to make a few words sound like a full blown lecture.*

“Just getting some coffee. Figured this would be the quietest place right now.”
Tanner gave him a puzzled look. “The jail is being occupied by my father,
J.D., and Buck swapping the glory days tales.” The tracker chuckled softly.

“Well, at least he’ll keep J.D. entertained for a while.”

“Thats what I’m afraid of.” The two men laughed. It felt good to converse
about something other than who they were going to hunt down or who was
hunting them.

“He tell you why he’s here?” The quiet question caught the gunslinger off
guard.

“A little, but said he needed some time before he told me the whole story. I
decided to give him until noon.” Chris studied his friend a few seconds and
then asked. “Why?”

“Just curious, I guess.” Larabee could tell there was more to it, but if Vin
didn’t venture a more in-depth explanation, you might as well give up.

“I thought you’d already be gone riding by now.”

“On my way.” Vin emptied his coffee cup in one swallow and rose to leave.
“Care to join me.”

“Not this time. I’ve got some investigating to do.”

“Good luck.” Tanner tipped his hat and strolled out the batwing doors. Chris
sat a few moments pondering what his father could be hiding and then
determined he couldn’t wait until noon. * Now is as good a time as any.*

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Town jail................

“So the next thing I know, here comes two beer soaked boys onto the porch
looking as if they had just shot their best hunting dogs.” Chris entered the
jailhouse catching the last of his father’s wonderful tale of when Buck and
Chris got into their first bar brawl. Larabee shook his head lightly. * J.D. was
never gonna let them live this one down.*

“Chris, you father was just telling me about when you and Buck where my
age.” The gunslinger raised his hand to stop J.D.’s forthcoming reinteration of
the tale.

“I was there J.D. I would rather not relive it.”

Buck laughed heartily. “Oh, come on pard. We got our revenge.”

“Just the same Buck. I’d rather just enjoy it the way I remember, instead of
how Jon tells it.” Chris gave the older Larabee an exasperated sigh.

“You still hate losing, don’t ya son?” Jon’s eyes twinkled with delight.

“As a matter of fact I do.” The four chuckled and then let the companionable
silence take over.

“Jon, I need to talk to you.” Chris caught Buck and J.D.’s stares and added.
“Alone.”

“Sure son.” Jon followed his son out the door and knew his time was up. *
Looks like theres no more running, Larabee.*

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Town church..............

“Excuse us, Josiah. I was wondering if we could use the church for a while.”
The black clad man was all business.

“Certainly. The Lord’s house is always at his lamb’s need.” Josiah smiled and
then left the father and son to discuss their future.

“What did you want to talk about?” Jon settled himself in the pew closest to
the altar.

“I know you said it would be a couple of days before you could tell me
everything, but I can’t wait. The boys have even felt the uneasiness with you.
So tell me.” Chris sat on the pew across form his father and waited.

The older man stared at his son a few minutes and then reached into his
pocket and retrieved his wallet. He took two pictures from inside and handed
one to Chris.

“I’m sure you’ll recognize that picture as your mother, Lily.” The young man
nodded his head in agreement. “Well, this is a picture of my Emma.” Jon held
the other picture out so he could take it, and then waited.

Chris stared at the woman a while and then began to see something familiar
about her. She was beautiful, with long hair, a crescent face and soft eyes, but
it was the smile that made Chris look closer. He had seen that certain soft grin
somewhere before.

“Did I ever meet her?” The gunslinger was positive he would have
remembered someone that angelic, but he still felt he knew her.

“Not her personally, but you have met someone very dear to her and me.” Jon
waited until his son was looking him in the eye. “You’ve met our son.”

Chris felt as if his father had just punched him. “Did you just say your son?”

The older Larabee knew this wasn’t going to be like he wanted but it was too
late to turn back now. “Yes, my son. I didn’t find out until I went back to
Paradise about four years after she sent me back to Lily.” Jon got up and
began to pace in front of the altar. “I hadn’t planned to talk to her, but I saw
her walk out of the general store and this little boy was hanging onto her
skirttail.” Larabee stopped and faced his son once more. “I thought she had
met someone and got married, but as I watched him I noticed something. His
smile. It reminded me of you. Especially when you had done something your
mom had told you not too. It was the sweetest I had ever seen. And then I had
saw it again, in him.”

Chris also got up and began pacing. “What did she say when you confronted
her?” His words were those said with controlled fury.

“It wasn’t until that night after she had invited me to Thanksgiving dinner that
we discussed it. She told me he was mine, but he didn’t know and unless
something happened to her, she didn’t want him to know.” Jon stopped and
drifted back to that day in his mind. “I argued with her at first but then I
agreed not to let him know. It had been a few years since your brother’s death
and I felt this was my second chance, but I made her a promise and I kept it.”

The younger Larabee had stopped his pacing and was now staring out the side
window. “Did you ever try to contact him?”

“Yes. A couple of years later I had taken a herd down that way and wanted to
try and convince Emma one more time to let me raise him as my son.” Jon
sighed and sat heavily on the pew again. “That was when I found out she had
died the year before of the fever and they had put our son in an orphanage.”

“What!?” Chris whirled to face his father. “If she had died then why didn’t
you go get him and bring him home. If mom was so understanding of your
relationship with this woman, she wouldn’t have turned away your child.”

“I did go and try to get him. But the headmaster at the orphanage said he had
run away the summer before. They had tried to find him but was
unsuccessful.” The cattleman lowered his head and continued. “I even tried to
find him myself, but I had no luck. After a couple of years, I gave up. I knew
he had to be dead. No seven year old could survive that long alone.”

Chris walked over and also resumed his seat on the pew. “Why are you telling
me this now? If you thought he was dead, then why do you feel the need to
add to my pain of losing those I love or never had the chance to love.” Jon
jerked his head up and lept to his feet.

“I’m not telling you this to hurt you, Chris. Like I said at the hotel. I had no
intention of ever telling this to anyone, until yesterday.”

“So what was so special about yesterday?” Chris rose to meet his father eye to
eye.

“I saw that smile again. I saw Emma’s eyes and face. I saw him, Chris. He
isn’t dead. He’s very much alive and here in Four Corners.” Larabee waited to
let what he had just said sink in. “And if you look at that picture again Chris,
you’ll see him too. You’ll see your brother.”

Chris raised the photograph once more and concentrated on the face and
everything his father had just said. “Oh my god......” The young Larabee
glanced at his dad. “You mean-”

“Yes, he’s your brother.” Jon let a smile crease his mouth, and a feeling of
hope enter his heart. Maybe he was given his second chance afterall.

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The church an hour later..........

“Chris you all right?” Josiah returned to the house when he had seen Jon exit
a few minutes earlier. He had came in the side door and when he entered the
main hall he found the gunslinger hunched in the first pew clutching
something in his hand. “Chris, I asked if your all right?”

The black clad man raised his head and blinked before answering. “Yeah, I
think so.”

Sanchez waited but no explanation came. “Do you want to talk about it?”

Larabee breathed in slowly and then stood to face the preacher. “I think we all
should talk about this. Could you gather the others and meet me at the jail?”
Josiah nodded and watched the young man walk swiftly out of the church.

“I do believe everything just became unbalanced.” Sanchez sighed softly and
went in search of the rest of the seven, hoping whatever just happened
wouldn’t be a ‘situation’ they couldn’t handle.

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The jailhouse about fifteen minutes later.............

“Josiah, you have any idea whats going on?” Buck seemed the most affected
by the unexpected meeting. “I mean how was Chris acting again.”

“It was odd. He seemed almost happy, with a mix of anger. It was definitely
unusual for Chris.” Sanchez had taken one of the two chairs found at the jail,
Nathan the other, and the rest stood around them. Vin had just returned from
his ride when Josiah had caught him and told him about the gathering. J.D.
and Buck where still at the jail from earlier, and Nathan and Ezra where in the
saloon sharing a quiet game of poker. The town had been calm lately and
everyone was feeling the peace it offered, that is until a few minutes ago.
Before any more questions or comments could be uttered the man in question
entered the room.

“Good. I’m glad all of you are here.” Chris let his eyes meet the others one by
one and then stop at Vin. Tanner caught the quick excitement in the gaze but
couldn’t figure it out. “I told Nathan earlier that as soon as I found out what
my father was doing here, I would tell the rest of you, if it looked as if help
was needed. As it turns out, its not my father that needs help, its me.” The
other six tensed. They expected a gang of outlaws headed this way to take out
Chris. Larabee saw the grimaces and hurried to ease the apprehension. “Its
nothing like that. It seems Jon has been keeping a secret for quite a few years,
and decided to share his burden.”

“Chris you trying to tell us your adopted?” Wilmington snorted, trying to get
his friend to hurry up. The jovial young man barely had patience at good
times, much less now. The gunslinger shot a deadly look to Buck, but for the
first time couldn’t quite pull it off. The others must have caught it because they
all gave Chris puzzled glances. * Don’t worry, you boys aren’t the only ones
confused.*

“Your okay, right Chris? I mean its nothing fatal is it?” J.D.’s innocent fear
trembled in the words.

The black clad man couldn’t help but smile a little. “No J.D., I’m not dying. It
seems my father’s family line didn’t stop with me.”

“Mr. Larabee, as much as I am intrigued in this story, might I ask you to
dispense with the dramatics and tell us what the hell is going on.” Ezra’s
southern drawl echoed around them, dripping with impatience.

“What I’m trying to say is I have a younger brother.” The looks Chris saw
around him reflected his earlier when his father had announced the news.

“I thought your kid brother died of the influenza?” Buck gave his oldest friend
a quizzical stare.

“He did, but it seems another came after him, and thats why I wanted all of
you here. It seems my brother is here in Four Corners.” Larabee paused,
watching all their expressions carefully, especially Vin’s.

“Is it anybody we know?” J.D. looked ready to bounce off the wall. Not only
did he get to meet his hero’s father, but now another Larabee in the same
week.

“Looks like its somebody we’ve known for a while.” Chris hesitated, not so
sure of his decision now. He had wanted to take the other man aside and talk
privately, but quickly changed his mind thinking the others being around
would give them both support.

“Well, brother, I’m afraid we can’t handle the suspense any longer.” Josiah
and Nathan had risen to join the others in a circle around Chris.

“Everybody,” Larabee paused making sure all eyes were on him. “I would like
to introduce you to my younger brother, Vin Tanner.” Chris couldn’t hold
back the excitement any longer. Ever since he realized the face he saw in the
picture was Vin, a peace had settled in his soul and also a little something in
his heart had come to life again.

“Whoa there, cowboy.” Vin thought Chris and been drinking again. “What
the hell are you talking about?” Larabee reached in his pocket and retrieved
Emma’s photo.

“This is your ma, Emma Tanner, isn’t it?” Vin took the picture and stared. He
had vague memories now and then of her, but the one thing he always
remembered was his ma’s eyes and there they were looking at him again.

“Where did you get this?” Tanner raised a dumbfounded look at his best
friend.

“My father.” Chris could see the hurt, anger, and disbelief cross Vin’s face.
“He said he had it made the summer before you were born.” The gunslinger
wanted to ease some of the tracker’s load, but knew he had to let him come to
terms with this himself. “He tried to find you after she died but you had ran
away from the orphanage.”

Vin slowly turned and walked to the window overlooking the town and
thought back to those times. “I stayed for a few months, waiting...” He
stopped suddenly as another memory hit. “She told me his name before she
died. She only said his first name, but she told me the church ladies knew who
he was and they would send for him. His name was Jon.” The others stared at
the hurt child now mirrored in Vin’s eyes. “It was after I overheard the
headmaster talking to one of the ladies, saying that my ma had been out of her
head, that my pa couldn’t be who she said, when I knew no one would come
for me. So, I left.” The tracker glanced back at the others and saw the pity and
sorrow and quickly turned back to stare out the window.

Chris walked up behind him and placed his hand on his shoulder. “I’m sorry.”
Vin raised his head and looked into Larabee’s eyes. He could see the
gunslinger’s hope and need etched there, but he didn’t know if he could offer
this man the brother he wanted.

Glancing once more at the picture he still held, he said, “It doesn’t matter. I’ve
lived without a father this long. I don’t need one now.” Vin handed the photo
back to Chris and quickly exited the room.

“I afraid that was not the response we had hoped for.” Ezra’s voice held a
tinge of sadness.

Chris watched the bounty hunter saunter down the street, ignoring anyone and
everyone in his path. “He may not want a father, but he damn sure has a
brother.” Larabee glanced at the faces around him. Men they had both fought
with against impossible odds, and now friends concerned of losing something
special. * It seems you may have more than one, little brother. You have me
by blood and the other five by the grace of God.*

@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@

The livery stable.......

“Going somewhere?” Vin had been so engrossed with saddling his horse, he
hadn’t noticed Jon come in.

“I’d rather be alone if you don’t mind, Mr. Larabee.” Anyone who knew the
ex bounty hunter knew that tone, and it meant back off.

“I need to explain some things, son.” Jon stepped closer to the stall.

“Don’t call me that.” The tracker jerked his head toward the older man. “I
never had a father, and frankly I don’t need one now.” Vin turned to finish his
horse.

“All right, I can accept that. All I want is a chance to say I’m sorry for not
finding you. Larabee stepped a little closer. “I tried to Vin, but no one had
seen you or they didn’t know nothing about you. I didn’t want to stop looking,
but I knew it was hopeless.”
 
“Leave it be. You don’t need my forgiveness, so don’t ask for it.” Vin pushed
past the man and led his mount to the outside. “I was just fine as being a
Tanner and thats all I want, so just leave me alone.”

“Look, I just want to get to know my son, thats all.” The ex buffalo hunter
stopped and turned. The hatred and pain radiating from the usually passive
face stopped the other man in his tracks.

“I’m only gonna say this once, so listen good. I am not your son. I’m a
Tanner, always have been, always will be.”  With that, Vin swung into his
saddle and set out at a dead run toward the east.

“What did you say to him?” Chris’s deadly voice seemed to rise from the dust
swirling around Jon.

“I asked him to let me get to know my son.” Jon raised sad eyes to his eldest.

“Damn it, you never did know when to leave well enough alone. Vin’s not like
you or me. He feels things a whole lot deeper and harder than any of us
realize.” Chris let his gaze follow the retreating form of Vin. “Whether we like
it or not, we’ve shattered who he is, and if we’re not careful, we may destroy
who he can become.”

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A small cliff a few miles outside Four Corners................

“Damn him.” Vin crouched near the edge, watching the wind stir up the dirt
floating to the ground. “You told me to never forget I was a Tanner. Now,
he’s asking me to be a Larabee.” The tracker eased to the ground and lay back
to stare at the sky. “Why now? I mean everything was turning into what I’d
always dreamed. I’d found six friends who I would gladly ride to hell and back
for. I thought I’d finally found some semblence of a home in Four Corners,
but now all that seems like a lie. Hell, my whole life is beginning to feel like a
lie.” He closed his eyes and let his mind drift.

“I miss you, ma.” A silent tear born of years of loneliness began its trail down
the side of his face. “Tell me what I’m I suppose to do now.” Opening his eyes
once more, he saw the clouds slide over head. They seemed to move as one,
but at the same time, looked as each had its own path. “Sometimes I wish I
could drift away like those clouds, and never give a damn about anybody or
anything.” *Maybe now was the time. Maybe he could harden his heart and
hate everyone and everything like a Larabee. Maybe he could just walk away.*

Even as the thought ended, the clouds changed shapes, they began to take the
form of the six men he had left behind. They also began to slide apart and
wander in different directions, as if searching for the wind that had held them
together, but now had died down.

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Four Corners saloon.............

“Any sign of him?” Nathan asked Chris as the weary looking man seated
himself at the table with  the others.

“No.” The gunslinger sighed. “I just hope he comes back.”

“Don’t worry, pard.” Buck’s words seemed softer than usual. “He may have a
lot on his plate right now, but he still gave his word to help protect this town.”

“Yeah.” Chris glanced once more out the saloon window. “I’m hoping thats
one reason he’ll come back.” * I just hope he comes back for another.*

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Outside the jailhouse............

“Sheriff Dunne?” J.D., who had been about to head to the saloon, glanced at
the shape running toward him.

“What can I help you with, Mr. Greely?” The telegraph operator slid to a stop
a few feet from the youngster.

“This just came from the Judge. It sounded urgent, so I ran it over here as fast
as I could.” J.D. reached out to steady the elderly gentleman.

“Thanks, I’ll take it to the others right now.” The sheriff took the outstretched
paper without looking at it. “You go on back now, I’m sure its nothing we
can’t handle.” This seemed to ease Mr. Greely some.

“All right. You boys be careful now you hear.” J.D. nodded, smiling softly at
the man’s worrying. He stepped off the porch, once he was sure the old fellow
could make it by himself to his office, and resumed his early direction.

@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@

Saloon..........

“Hey guys, any word on Vin yet?” J.D. could tell from the solemn looks
returned to him, nothing had changed. “Well, I just got this from Mr. Greely.
He said it was from the Judge. I figured you would want it as soon as possible,
Chris.” The young sheriff handed the folded message to the gunslinger and
then took a seat next to Buck.

Larabee opened the telegraph slowly, not in the mood for any jobs the Judge
might need them for at the moment, but as he read, fear began to grip his
heart.

-------Mr. Larabee----stop

-------Urgent. Dawson gang headed to Four Corners.------stop

-------Hit Eagle Bend yesterday-----stop--------Killed the sheriff and both
deputies, along with at least ten other townsfolk.---------stop

----------At least 30 in the group, coming your way from the east.----------stop

----------Good luck. Judge Orin Travis.-------stop

“Chris, you look like you seen a ghost. You all right?” Wilmington had got up
and went to stand by his friend, when the gunslinger had lost all his color.

“Mount up. The Dawson gang’s headed our way. They hit Eagle Bend
yesterday and killed at least thirteen people.” Larabee had rose and was
quickly heading to the exit.

“Mr. Larabee, pray tell, where are we going?” Ezra had joined the group at
Buck’s wave over. “Wouldn’t it be more prudent to wait for our enemy here,
and take a stand?” The others, except Josiah who was at the church, gave a
slight nod to the gambler’s supposition.

Chris stopped. He then turned his full attention on the five. “Yeah, Ezra, that
would be best. Except, the direction the Dawson gang is coming from is the
same way Vin left earlier.” Larabee waited while the meaning of his words
sunk in. “And, I would be willing to bet, theres at least one traveling in that
bunch who will recognise him.” The gunslinger paused afraid his voice would
reveal the fear in his heart.

“I’ll get Josiah and grab some supplies from my room, and we’ll meet you at
the livery.” Nathan didn’t wait for the others to acknowledge his statement.

“Vin will see them coming a mile away, Chris.” J.D.’s faith in the tracker’s
sight was ever present.

“Not if he’s distracted by something else, he won’t.” The black clad man
didn’t have to spell out what the obvious distraction may be. * Damn my
father and his timing.* Without another word they left the saloon and went in
search of another impossible situation.

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Somewhere between Eagle Bend and Four Corners.............

“You think they’ll be waitin’ for us, Paul?” A grungy- looking
cowhand/gunslinger was sitting atop a sorrell mare, and spit out a hunk of
tobacco with his question.

“I sure as hell hope so, Marty. I’ve waited as long as I can for those
troublemakers to move on, but now its time to help them along.” The speaker
was of Buck’s age, and kinda handsome, but the streak of meanness that lay
underneath radiated through his auburn eyes. As the two men sat and waited
the arrival of their scout, the other outlaws meandered at the campsite behind
them.

Paul Dawson was rumored to be as fast a gun as Chris Larabee himself, and
with the devil, you can never be second best. He had accumulated his enterage
over the past ten years. Some were ex soldiers with blood thirst, and the rest
were just petty hoods who wanted the luxuries of other criminals but didn’t
have the brains to go to the outhouse alone, much less rob a bank. Marty
Stewart fit this category. He considered himself Paul’s right-hand man, but
little did he know, Dawson just viewed his crew as expendable baggage that
kept him from getting killed.

That meant Paul didn’t care who he killed or got killed, as long as he got what
he wanted, and at that moment he wanted the seven guardian angels of Four
Corners to go straight to hell and he aimed to put them there.

“Mr. Dawson.” A half-breed Pawnee rode up beside the leader. “I found
something mighty interesting.” The scout stopped as if he was about to give
his boss the directions to the mother lode.

“Oscar, if you don’t mind.” Paul let his words drip with anger.

“Uh, sorry sir. I just saw a man perched near a cliff and he fit the description
of the sharpshooter of Four Corners.” Dawson’s heart lept.

“Was he alone?” Marty asked, also feeling his leader’s anxiousness at the gift
handed them.

“Yeah, as far as I could tell. Looked like he’s been there a while, and he didn’t
even notice me and I was about 15 feet from him.” Oscar puffed his chest out
with his bravado words.

“Well, that would make sense. Seeing as if he had spotted you, I would be in
need of a new scout, and we would be under the seven’s fire.” Paul was
always quick to disspell any thoughts of heroism other than his own. “Marty, I
want you to take Oscar and about 5 others and retrieve our special package.
This is proving to be easier than I anticipated.” * And much more fun, once I
get my hands on the tracker.* Dawson was no stranger to torture, and loved to
inflict it whenever the need arose.

“Well, what are you waiting for, a formal invitation.” The leader growled at
his subordinates lack of brains. “Larabee and the others could be on their way
now.” The other two quickly understood their boss’s urgency and went to get
the other killers needed for the mission.

* I do hope the others are on their way. I’ve waited a long time for this
Larabee, and now we will see just who is the fastest.* Paul sighed with evil
pleasure and looked to the sky. “Looks like the clouds are coming together
again, maybe they are bringing a storm of their own.” He turned and went to
await the arrival of the unsuspecting bounty hunter, and the storm the clouds
had brewing.

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Livery stable..............

“Something wrong?” Jon Larabee’s entrance into the stables, once more
caught the patrons inside unaware.

“Nothing we can’t handle.” Chris hoped his father took the hint they didn’t
want him.

“Does it have anything to do with Vin?” The man was definitely using the
Larabee stubborness.

“Not really.” This time it was Buck with the clipped answer.

“Look, if I can help, please let me.” Jon was not a man who begged, but when
one of his family may be in danger, to hell with it. “If its as dangerous as I
think it is, your going to need all the guns you can.”

Chris glanced into his father’s eyes and saw concern and fear. “All right, but
only if you understand, you do as I say.” The younger Larabee wasn’t going to
let him get away with anything more than the others, even if he was his father.

“Understood.” Jon went to saddle his own horse.

“You think thats a good idea, pard. He ain’t exactly a spring chicken.”
Wilmington let the worry enter his voice.

“Well, I’d rather him be beside me so I can keep an eye on him, instead of
following us and not knowing what he’s up to.” Chris turned from Buck and
gazed at Jon. “Besides, he needs to do this.” Buck nodded and swiveled to
follow the others and their horses outside.

Larabee took his reins and went to stand by his son. “I want you to know I’m
sorry, Chris. I would have loved to seen the two of you grow up together.”
The cattleman reached over and patted his eldest’s arm. “But I know thats just
too many memories never made. I’m just glad you have each other now.”
With that the older man turned and also left the barn.

“So am I dad. So am I.” Chris’s words drifted softly with the wind and floated
up to the sky joining the ever flowing clouds above.

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The cliff...........

Vin didn’t know how long he had been sitting there watching the ever
changing scene above him, but he knew it was long enough. He had to face
what awaited him in town. Just because Jon Larabee claimed to be his father
didn’t change who he was. He had lived everyday of his life learning from the
people around him. In his opinion, this wasn’t any different. He just needed to
learn to accept the truth and then do what he had done forever. Live one day
at a time.

“Thanks ma where ever you are.” Tanner grabbed his hat and began to rise
when he heard the click behind him.

“That was downright sweet, wouldn’t you say boys?” Vin turned to find six
men, including a half-breed Pawnee from his guess, covering him with
unwavering six shooters.

“Can I help you boys with something?” The tracker tried to stall while he took
in his surroundings.

“Well, he’s polite too. Fancy that.” The speaker spit tobacco juice at Vin’s
feet. “Must have right proper folk up Four Corners way, uh Tanner?”

“At least we know how to spit straight, you missed my boot by a mile.” This
seemed to get the desired effect Vin was hoping for. Marty started to lunge for
the lanky man but was stopped by the scout.

“Boss said to bring him alive. And you know what he’ll do if we disobey
orders.” A look of sheer terror crossed the cowhand’s face.

“All right, but I get first crack at him when we get to camp.” A sadistic smile
replaced the fear. “Don’t worry buckskin, we won’t make you suffer more
than a day.”

The ex bounty hunter gave the other faces a quick once over and felt the fear
clutch his gut. * The Dawson gang.* He had hunted them once, but never
caught up to them. They’re not a hard bunch to track, considering the
destruction and death they left behind, but catching them had been the major
problem. The leader seemed to have a military mind, and would always
counter move his posse, and torture any that got close enough into an early
grave.

“If you don’t mind, I’d rather stay here. Its much nicer.” Tanner had
anticipated the others advance and saw was able to catch the glint of surprise
as he stepped off the cliff and began falling.

@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@

“Chris, you have any idea where he might be?” Josiah was riding beside the
leader as they thundered across the plain.

“Yeah, theres a small cliff about a mile ahead. He took me there once, said he
likes to watch everthing from up there.” Larabee stopped as a small smile
crossed his wind whipped face. “He said it made him feel a little closer to
God, if there was one, made him see what the man himself would be looking
at.” Chris turned and saw a similar smile cross the preacher’s features.

“Amen, brother.” Sanchez let the conversation fall as his mind drifted to the
jail and the happenings earlier. * I hope he found the same kind of pride the
father does when he sees his creations, and he understands.* Josiah finished
his little prayer and looked toward the east once again. It was still a couple of
hours until dark, but the clouds embracing themselves above was causing a
shadow to fall over the land. The pounding of hooves seemed to add to the
darkness developing around them, and the sudden gunshot up ahead caused
the riders’ faces turn to dark masks of fury.

@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@

“Damn, do you see him?” Marty searched the abyss below him for any sign of
the tracker.

“No, and theres no way anybody could have survived that fall.” Oscar was
also gazing below and marveled at the beauty that now served as a grave.
“The boss ain’t gonna like this.” The scout turned to Marty but quickly froze.

“I wouldn’t worry about him, if I were you.” Chris’s words seemed calm until
you saw the red rage lighting his eyes. Oscar jerked his eyes from the black
avenger and scanned around them. He counted seven trained guns aiming at
their hearts.

“Look, we were just following orders mister.” The half-Pawnee felt the sudden
need to confess his sins.

“I do believe that does not concern us at this moment, my friend.” Ezra’s
southern drawl floated from behind him. “So if you would be so kind and
releave yourself of your weapons, we would be grateful.” The six men did as
asked or rather told and were quickly bound and moved to the outer tree line,
out of ear shot.

“Looks as though Vin wasn’t here when they arrived.” Buck glanced at the
horse and gear of the absent tracker.

“Good, that means he’s probably watching us and waiting to make his move.”
Chris let some relief into his voice.

“I wouldn’t be so sure about that.” J.D. was headed toward the two men with
Marty in tow.

“Why do you say that J.D.?” Wilmington’s tone did not hide his sudden
uneasiness.

“This guy just told me Vin was here when they got here, but jumped off the
cliff.” The sheriff’s voice echoed his disbelief with the cowhand’s admission.

“What do you mean he jumped off the cliff?” Larabee’s words could have
caused a saint to confess.

“Well, the boss told us to bring him back to camp, but when we went to grab
him, he stepped back and went over the cliff. We tried to look for him, but  we
couldn’t see the bottom much less a body.” Marty began to shiver and it
wasn’t from the storm brewing overhead.

“Get him out of my sight.” Chris abruptly turned to stare at the cliff overhang.
He just looked at it as if waiting for Vin’s head to appear over the top.

“Chris.” The gunslinger gave a slight start at his father’s voice. “Buck told me.
They’re looking over the cliff to see if they can spot him.” Chris had never
heard defeat in the man’s voice until today. Today, they had both found a
piece of heaven and now they had lost it once again.

“Why would he do it? He knew we were coming, if not now, soon.” The
young Larabee was trying to hold the tears that he thought had died with his
wife and son, Sara and Adam, in check. He didn’t realise until just then how
much he had needed Vin. Not because he had found out they were blood, but
because they had a shared soul. He saw it the day their eyes met, and had seen
it ever since when he looked at his best friend.

“I don’t know, son. But from what I learned from you and the others, he
always done things for others, just like his ma.” Chris heard the choked sob as
he turned to face his father.

“Its not your fault. If its anybody’s its that devil Dawson, and I plan on
sending him back to hell where he belongs.” The black clad man slapped his
father on the shoulder and went to help the others search for some sign of Vin
or his body.

@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@

“Riders’ comin’.” The guard on post at Dawson’s camp recognised the lead
horses’ as Marty and Oscar but became puzzled when seven new ones came
into view. “Its Marty and Oscar and they got company.”

Paul new instantly things had went terribly wrong. “Fire. Its a trap, don’t let
them get near camp.” The outlaws began to scramble in all directions, firing
aimlessly.

The seven grim-faced men didn’t stop there entrance, even as the six prisoners’
gunned their horses away from the camp. The bullets flew close to them, but
never seemed to find their mark. The lawmen quickly dismounted and found
cover as realization that the shots were not scattered but coming in
systematically.

“Everybody all right?” Chris’s voice was loud enough to be heard all the way
to California. The resounded yes’ allowed him to once again concentrate on
the enemy.

Jon and Josiah had taken refuge behind some trees on the outskirts of camp,
while Ezra, Nathan and J.D. where at the trees nearest camp. Chris and Buck
were behind boulders right in the thick of the volley.

“Whats the plan, pard?” Buck asked as he ducked to avoid a stray shot.

“Send them to their grave.” Wilmington didn’t miss the underlying intent. He
had been afraid that after Sara and Adam something would eventually push
his friend over the edge, and from the looks of it, it had happened.

“No arguments here.” The mustached gunslinger raised up to shoot and check
on J.D. at the same time. He didn’t like being seperated from the kid but he
knew he was in good hands with Nathan and Ezra.

The barrage looked like it was never going to end, that is until an all to
familiar click sounded behing Chris’s head. Buck jerked his gun up to fire, but
stopped when he saw, who he assumed was Dawson, holding Larabee in front
of him like an armor.

“I suggest you put that down, before I decide to kill you and your friend.”
Paul’s nerves were shot. You could see the maddness had finally taken over
completely and this frightened Wilmington more than he ever imagined.
“Listen up. I have your leader, so please put down your weapons and I won’t
kill him yet.” The others knew it was hopeless. If they lowered their guns, not
only would Chris die, but so would the rest of them. “This is not up for
negotiation gentlemen.” Five weapons thudded as they hit the dirt. “Good,
now my men. Get on your horses and ride out. I will meet find you later.”

“But Mr. Dawson, they’ll kill you if we leave.” The chubby outlaw was
standing near J.D.’s position.

“I wouldn’t worry, Harvey. As long as I have Larabee they won’t try anything,
so please all of you mount and ride.” Paul gave the young outlaw a maniacal
smile and clutched his arm more tightly around Chris’s neck.

The eight men now left behind watched the retreating dust in all directions.
“Now, if you boys would be so kind as to step into the open.” Dawson made a
sweeping motion with his gun and the others quickly obeyed. “Well, now let
me introduce myself. I am Paul Dawson and I’m going to kill everyone of you
and let Mr. Larabee here watch you die and wait.” The laugh was followed by
a clap of thunder overhead.

Chris was biding his time. He knew as soon as Dawson made a move to shoot
one of the others he could attack, but apparently Paul had also realised this.
The madman brought his gunhand down and fired. Larabee couldn’t help but
yell as the piercing fire ripped its way along his left side.

“Just to curb any ideas you were getting.” Dawson laughed again and turned
crazed eyes to the men around him. “So who wants to be first?” Paul pointed
his gun at each of them. Ezra tensed when the gun fell on him, he had wanted
to try to get off a shot from his derringer, but Chris had slumped closer to the
outlaw and obstructed his shot from the ground. The one part that seemed
very open to attack was the lunatic’s head, but only someone with a bird’s eye
view could pull that shot off.

Paul finally made his decision and aimed his gun at J.D.’s heart. The sheriff
tried to look brave in the face of death, but a slight tremor couldn’t hide itsself
from J.D.’s body. Chris glanced into the young man’s eyes sending a quiet
apology for not keeping him safe, but the kid just smiled. He wouldn’t allow
any of them to have guilt for his decision to ride with these men. His brothers’.

“Shoot if your going to maniac, I ain’t getting any younger.” J.D. tried to
imitate Chris’s coldness and amazingly he did.

“Okay.” Dawson began to pull the trigger and at the same moment of the
connection a horrendous clap of thunder also sounded.

The wind seemed to stop blowing and the clouds stopped moving, and a
silence as natural as running water settled over the camp. Buck had squeezed
his eyes shut, not wanting to watch the energy disappear from the kid’s face
when he fell dead at his feet, but when he heard the whispered cry of his
name, he jerked toward J.D. And found him staring at him dumbfounded.

“Buck, I’m not dead!” The sheriff’s excalmation caused an uproar. The men
glanced toward the would be killer and saw Chris Larabee standing over the
fallen man. They abruptly rushed to his side.

“Chris, you all right?” Nathan’s ever present worry was first to be heard after
J.D.’s admission.

“Yeah. Somebody shot him.” Larabee turned a puzzled gaze to the men
around him, looking for some declaration of who done it. But all he saw was
his own confusion.

“I wouldn’t say just anybody.” Vin Tanner strode from behind the trees and
into the once again sunlite camp. “I couldn’t let him kill my brother, now
could I cowboy.”

The gunslinger forgot about his wound, about the others around, and went to
his brother.

“Where the hell have you been?” Chris never was good at showing his true
emotions. The tracker just smiled and shook his head lightly.

“Doing what I do best. Covering your ass.” Larabee didn’t know if he wanted
to punch him for scaring the hell out of him, or hug him for being alive. So,
making up him mind, he decided to berate him for taking so long.

“Next time,” Chris paused letting a smile cover his lips also. “Don’t take so
long, little brother.”

“Does you being the oldest mean your gonna be even bossier than usual?”
Vin’s eyes twinkled. He was about to embark on the finer points of torturing a
sibling.

Larabee’s eyes darkened but not before sparkling as he answered, “I’d say I
have the right. Especially, since we have a lot of time to make up for.”

Tanner turned, as did Chris, when they heard the laughter erupt behind them.

“Well boys, looks like the seven ride again.” Buck whooped and grabbed J.D.
in a quick hug.

Jon Larabee stood off and watched the interchange with the seven. Nathan
fussed over Chris’s wound while his son still berated his younger brother for
pulling a foolish stunt of jumping off the cliff. Buck and J.D. talked wildly
about the celebration they were gonna throw when they got back to town, and
Josiah and Ezra quietly laid odds on which of the new found brothers’ would
kill each other first.

Jon sighed softley feeling the wind pick up again. He glanced at the sky and
saw the clouds moving away. He also noticed a string of clouds off to
themselves, and moving ahead of the rest. As he continued to stare he
suddenly felt eyes watching him. He looked to the others but they were all still
engrossed in one another, so he cast another gaze above him. There on top of
the clouds he saw the slightest glimpse of golden eyes peering at him.

*Ah, another father watching over his sons.* Larabee gave a salute to the
disappearing orbs and went to join the others. And the seven clouds embraced
themselves and resumed their journey across the sky.

The End
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