The List


Title: The List

Author: MMW

Disclaimer: See parts 1-5



 Part 41

An inhuman howl resounded in the warehouse. The sound of the human voice in extreme pain and anguish drowned out the echoes of gunfire and froze all living creatures in their tracks. Shudders of a primal fear raced through the core of every human in the warehouse at the unholy sound. Recovering quickly, the ATF agents used the momentary distraction to their advantage and subdued the offenders.

Another cry sounded, this one slightly softer as Buck made his way to where Chris lay on the floor, a pool of blood congealing beneath him. From his position, Buck had seen Chris get hit, had seen his oldest friend turn at the impact, had witnessed the boneless collapse of the lean body as it fell to the floor, its essence flowing freely from the bullet hole.

He remained in his position for several seconds, too stunned, too terrified to move, too overwhelmed by the scenes of their time together replaying over and over again in his mind. As he watched Chris’ eyes close and his face relax, one thought ripped through him even as he felt his soul rip, Not Chris too!

Unaware he cried out, Buck rose from his position and raced over to Chris, arriving just after Nathan. He watched as the medic checked for a pulse and checked the entry wound. He felt his last thread of hope snap as the medic shook his head. There was nothing that could be done.

In less than a minute, his oldest friend was gone. The injustice, the unfairness of it raced through him like a bolt of lightening. Needing to vent his strong emotions which had quickly flared into rage, he saw the Sharpshooter from Team 10, the man who was supposed to be Chris Larabee’s best friend approach slowly. Looking into the normally displayed everything the young man was feeling, he felt his rage choose its direction as he found himself unable to read those expressive eye.

Releasing another howl, this one of rage, Buck stood and flew over toward the wall where the sharpshooter stood. Reaching out, he picked up the sharpshooter and slammed him against the side of the warehouse after each word of his question as if driving home the point. “Where… the… Hell… were… you?… You’re … supposed… to … watch… our … backs!” With the final word, and the final slam against the warehouse wall, Buck released his grip and watched as the young man fell to the ground.

He felt some of his rage dissipate as he saw the momentary flash of pain flare in Vin’s eyes before they once more shuddered themselves, leaving the young Texan unreadable.

“Doin’ my damn job,” came the soft, raspy reply from the man as he stood.

Buck was about to launch into Vin again when Tom Rollins stepped in along with a large portion of the rest of Team 10 to defend their Sharpshooter. “Back off Wilmington,” Rollins warned. “Beating up Vin for doing his job isn’t going to help anyone. If you want to blame someone, why don’t you go blame the corpse over there with the big hole in his chest. Vin did his job and he got the bastard that shot Larabee.”  Rollins waited a moment to make sure Buck understood what he’d said and sighed in relief when the large man turned and left, though not before shooting a look of disgust at Tanner.

Walking back toward the place where Chris had fallen, he felt a shudder race down his spine as the body bag was zipped closed over the face of his oldest friend. He sure hoped he had been convincing enough and that this plan worked and worked quickly.

Part 42

Ezra sat at his desk and looked over at the sharpshooter. He knew the others on the team couldn’t see the cracks forming, knew that the others on the team didn’t see the pain, knew the other members of the team didn’t know what had really happened, but he did. It was killing him by inches to sit quietly at his desk filling out paperwork and watching as Vin struggled to keep everything at bay. He knew exactly what Vin was doing, denying the emotion, denying the reality of it. But how long could the sharpshooter hold those powerful emotions at bay. He had just murdered his best friend, his brother in cold blood and gotten away with it. Hopefully Vin’s plan had been clever enough that no one would realize the second body, the body that fell from the rafters hadn’t been alive at the time.

Shifting in his seat, Ezra felt a cold finger trace across his soul. He knew the Sharpshooter to be a compassionate man, a man worthy of honor, but the cold deliberation with which he had gone about planning this murder, had revealed a side of Vin Tanner that Ezra was quite certain he never wanted to see again. It had given him pause to wonder how much of this man he really knew. Of course, he also knew he himself was capable of such actions if pushed or if needed, but such coldness was something one did not wish to see in anyone.

Ezra had known what would happen, he had known for three weeks. He had helped Vin with the preparation and planning. He had provided whatever the young man needed of him. He had done the preparation, the legwork, anything to help his friend. Yet as he saw the still form of Chris Larabee laying on the cold concrete, his senses had rebelled, his heart had stopped and horror had momentarily overwhelmed his every sense.

He had recovered though as Buck started slamming Vin into the wall. Thanks to the bulletproof vest Vin had been wearing, the impact of his body against the wall had done no damage. At least, Ezra corrected himself, it had done no physical damage. The emotional damage had yet to show. Any emotion had yet to show and it had been three hours. How much longer, Vin? How much longer before you snap? Ezra wondered.

Releasing a sigh, he stood. He was about to head over and speak to Vin when his objective looked up and shook his head. Vin didn’t want to deal with anyone right then. Ezra nodded his understanding. Changing direction, he headed over toward Team Seven’s area. He needed something, some sort of support. Right now he felt shaky, as if his world had lost all cohesion. He couldn’t stand that feeling and knew he could slip and make a mistake if he didn’t get his life on firm ground once more.

Wandering into the area, he noticed the somber faces and the unnatural quiet. JD sat at his computer, his eyes staring at the monitor, hands resting on the keyboard. The only trace of his normal exuberance could be found in his bouncing knee. An unconscious action he was sure the boy would stop if he could.

He saw Josiah leaning back in his chair, arms crossed over his chest, eyes fixed on the window, lost in thought. Lost in remembrances? Possibly. Again, the face was as unreadable as the eyes, the freshness of the emotions robbing the normally expressive man of all expression.

He looked over to Nathan, the only one of the original Seven who was working on his report. Nathan, too, seemed to lack emotion. It was as if the man was working on autopilot. He wondered how losing a member of the team would affect him if he had been the medic instead of Nathan. Knowing you had the skill, or maybe didn’t have the skill, but that none of that mattered in the end because in the end you could do nothing. Ezra decided it was a burden he couldn’t bear.

Finally Ezra looked for Buck. The display of the mustached agent at the warehouse had given insight to his passionate, fiery nature. Now the outgoing man sat in Larabee’s office, staring at the desk.

Slowly making his way unnoticed through the area, Ezra cautiously entered the office. Sliding down the wall to sit next to Buck, Ezra stared at the desk and remembered everything that had happened in this one office. The constant lectures, the occasional laughter, the offers of friendship and the debates… Lord but Mr. Larabee did like to argue with Ezra, though Ezra suspected it was more that he liked to argue with Mr. Larabee. Still he wondered about the loss of the man, what it would mean to his life, mean to his work…

Sitting there staring at the desk, he understood Buck’s silent contemplation and offered no comment. Ezra knew that he, himself, was unready to shed the ghosts of the past and settled down to entertain them.

Part 43

Vin once more tried to lock up his feelings, his humanity. All day he had fought against emotions, against the pain in his soul, against the depthless well of pain that existed where his heart should be. All day he had avoided the sympathetic eyes, the word of comfort, the offers of support. All day he had won the battle.

Now the tide had turned. He was losing it. He could feel the walls cracking, the dam breaking, his heart trying to beat once more. He couldn’t give in, not yet.

As he pulled up to the pick-up zone of the Denver bus station, he spotted the figure he needed. Dark brown hair, faded blue jeans, light brown shirt and dark brown boots. The tan cowboy hat rested atop the head, shielding the man’s eyes from the late afternoon sun.

Stopping, he waited as the man threw his bag in back and climbed into the passenger seat. He could tell his passenger wanted to say something, but he wouldn’t make it to the house if he did. Vin smirked at that. It wasn’t home. Home was Purgatorio. Home was not the ranch. God, not ranches.

Vin forced thoughts of ranches and horses from his mind, knowing that would once more trigger the images he wouldn’t, couldn’t think of.

As they approached the outskirts of Denver on their way to the house Vin lived in, they drove past a pasture in which grazed a single black horse. Though the only thing other than its color it had in common with Chris’ horse was the fact it was indeed an equine, the reminder of his brother was the last straw. The dam broke and Vin began to get lost in his memories, praying he would make it to the house without killing either of them.

Naturally the first image that tried to resurface was the last one he’d seen, that of the unnaturally still Chris Larabee laying in a pool of blood. He felt his stomach begin to rebel and forced that thought away. Instead he tried to focus on the beginning of the relationship, the moment when their eyes met and they discovered a part of each of themselves that had been missing; the moment when they discovered a best friend who had quickly become a brother.

Other images flew through his mind in cascading overflow of emotion and memory. Vin could feel his hands begin to shake, could feel the color drain from his face, knew he could be going into shock and he could no longer fight the images from that morning.

He found himself once more on the beam, 40 feet above the floor of the warehouse staring through a scope at the form of his best friend below. He could hear his soul screaming at him not to pull the trigger. He could feel his very essence rebelling against the simple task he had performed hundreds if not thousands of times, the action of squeezing the trigger and hitting his target. He saw that split second when Chris turned and met his eyes. He knew his brother hadn’t seen his eyes, couldn’t from that distance, and yet there had been that same momentary contact, that silent communication their friendship had given them. Vin had heard the message loud and clear, It’s OK, Cowboy; shoot.

And he had. He had squeezed the trigger and watched as the bullet impacted the specially designed vest and exploded the blood packets within. He had watched the surprised look on Chris’ face at the power of the bullet’s impact, something he hadn’t been expecting, something that would have left a nasty bruise.

He watched in his mind as his best friend’s body collapsed on the floor and as he closed his eyes while blood continued to pour through the hold in the vest. He saw the face go lax and the form still.

He could still see the explosion of the dead body as his bullet tore through it, another sight among a hundred designed to sicken him and destroy his soul. It didn’t matter how necessary the actions were, his soul felt shredded. How was he to survive this? How was he to go on?

Then the image of Chris in his crosshairs appeared once more and the whole terrible scene began again, this time without the vest. This time with the bullet ripping a gaping hole through his best friend’s, his brother’s chest.

Parking the car, Vin sprinted for the door and raced to the bathroom. He managed to reach the toilet just as his stomach finally won the battle to expel its contents. Even after his stomach was empty, Vin’s stomach muscles contracted painfully, an expression of the intense emotions wracking his heart, mind and soul.

As the contractions slowed and stopped, he became aware of a reassuring hand on the back of his neck. Looking up into the familiar green eyes of his best friend, of his brother, he drew some strength from the compassion and brotherly love he saw there.

“I’ll always be here for you,” Chris said softly, squeezing the Sharpshooter’s neck once before letting go. Offering his hand, Vin’s shaky hand rose up and grasped Chris’ forearm. Smiling down at the Sharpshooter, Chris nodded and pulled him to his feet, keeping the grip and pulling the younger man into a quick hug before releasing him. He had known this would be rough on Vin, he just hadn’t realized how rough until he stood in the doorway to the bathroom listening to the young man retching. For the first time, Larabee put himself in Vin’s place and suddenly understood the enormity of what the young man had done. Whether it was real or not, whether it was planned or not, Vin had shot and killed a member of his own family. How could a man do that and not be affected. His admiration for the young Texan grew tremendously in that moment. Not knowing what else to do, Chris figured he’d give Vin a minute alone to recollect himself. Nodding toward the sink he said, “You brush your teeth, I’ll start fixing dinner.”

Part 44


Chris stood at the sink scrubbing the carrots he was preparing for the stew. All the boys were meeting at Vin’s after dark. They couldn’t be too conspicuous, though they were fairly certain that Vin wasn’t being watched. Still, it would be good to see them all and assure them he was alive and well, even if he did look more like Vin than himself.


He smiled slightly at the thought. He had to admit, no one would ever think that the man wearing the earth-toned clothes with dark brown, shoulder length hair and a dark brown beard was Chris Larabee, a man notorious for short hair and only wearing black.


His smile faded at the thought of his teammates and friends. They were all in on the plan, they all knew what was going to happen, they all knew he was alive. Yet Vin’s reaction had shaken him. Somehow in all the planning he had overlooked the emotional toll his supposed death would have on his men. Now he understood the cautious words of Josiah and exactly why the Profiler had insisted on bringing an old friend with him tonight – an old friend who was a Psychiatrist and Grief Counselor. Josiah would be having his own issues.


Though he hadn’t thought too much about the emotional turmoil the plan was creating, he had thought all the other details out. Actually, Vin had presented them with the plan and all they had to do was make it work. The vest ahd been doctored weeks before. The ambulance crew had been a fake staff provided by two members of the Phoenix FBI office who were working on the case as well. Nathan had been there to signal his death and the body bag had an oxygen tank hidden in it so he wouldn’t be without air should there be a delay.


Once in the ambulance, Chris had been released from the bag and began the process of removing the doctored vest and blood-soaked clothes. They had taken him to a safe house outside of town where he cleaned up, dyed his hair and, with Nathan’s help, applied the hair extensions and fake beard. Changing into his neutral-colored clothing, Chris and Nathan had driven to a bus stop several miles outside Denver.


Thinking back, Chris hadn’t paid attention, but Nathan had been unusually quiet the whole time. Every now and then he would see the Medic looking at him as if trying to reassure himself Chris was alive. Chris had read uncertainty in the brown eyes and had eventually discovered that Nathan was dealing with thoughts that all of the skills he had acquired would be for naught should such events ever happen in real life. The Medic was feeling uncertain and not useful.


If Nathan who had been there all along and knew Chris to be alive had that sort of difficulty with the scene from earlier, how much more were his other men suffering?


His frown deepened as he thought about what each man was going through, how they had reacted to what they saw.


JD had been the least outspoken of the Seven with regard to the plan. He hadn’t seemed to have much to say one way or the other, just saw the necessity of it. He might be young, but JD had lost his only family before meeting up with the six other men who had become family of their own. How would it feel to see on of their number die? Even if he knew it was fake, how would he know Chris had survived until he actually saw the Team Leader? JD would be hurting, but would stand up until he saw proof one way or the other with his own eyes.


Josiah. Josiah had seen a lot in his life, more than any of the others had been told. Though only hinted at, Chris could see the devastating effects of the memories upon the Profiler. How much more damage did their act today do? How much more of the man’s soul had they stolen? How much more anguish had they applied? Yet Josiah was another rational man, in his own way. He too would wait on proof. So both JD and Josiah were in a holding pattern.


Ezra. That one name was a sentence. Ezra put up a good face, a good bluff, yet Chris wondered if even he had cracked. Ezra felt things deeply an didn’t let it show. Chris knew from experience how dangerous keeping those emotions inside could be. Ezra had run many a successful con, but he had admitted that none was ever like this. How had a man who had been along most of his life dealt with the image of one of his family dieing?


Buck. Chris closed his eyes against the sound that once more assaulted his ears; the sound that had nearly mad him blow the whole deal. When Buck had released that inhuman cry, Chris had know what his oldest friend was going through. Buck had lost everyone he considered family except for Chris. The two of them knew things about each other that would never be known by anyone else. Vin might be his best friend and brother, but Buck was his rock, his heart. For whatever reason, in the moment Chris went down, Buck’s heart had refused to believe what his mind insisted was true and had let his true grief show.


It wasn’t very often a man was privileged to know what his loss would mean to his friends. Chris Larabee was humbled by what he’d witnessed. He felt unworthy of the love and respect showed to him by these men.


What of Vin? His role had been worst of all…


Shaking his head, Chris refused to think of that as the image of a pale, shaking Vin rushing into the house once more assaulted him.


Turning his emotions back to the carrots, he viciously ripped the skins off with the peeler as he ran them under water.


Reaching up an flipping the shoulder-length, dark brown hair off his shoulders, Chris allowed himself a silent curse. He’d dyed his hair for the next part of their plan and listened carefully as Ezra explained about the hair extensions, but what the Southerner hadn’t told him was how to keep his hair from driving him nuts. How in the world did Vin do this every day? And why would anyone voluntarily have his hair like this?


Thinking he should ask Vin, he turned and stopped dead in his tracks. The Sharpshooter was standing in the doorway, shoulders slumped, face devoid of expression, eyes locked on Chris. Chris took in the posture first before looking in those haunted eyes. He suppressed the cold shudder that threatened to overwhelm him. A thousand questions and concerns assailed him. What was wrong with Vin? Would he be all right? Would Vin come through this? Would he be able to finish the assignment?


Walking over he stood in front of the Sharpshooter and tried to think of something to say, he found his voice wouldn’t cooperate. He stood still as Vin’s eyes continued to focus on his chest, watching it expand and contract with each breath. Even though the close attention was making him uncomfortable, he didn’t want to startle his friend. After a few minutes, he couldn’t stand it anymore. “God, Vin,” he whispered, “what did we do to you?”


Vin blinked several times, trying to focus on the face before him. He heard Chris’ voice. But he wasn’t sure that was possible. Every time he closed his eyes he saw his bullet rip into Chris’ chest. He knew the blond was dead, lying on the floor of a warehouse in a pool of blood, a gaping hole in his chest; a hole caused by his rifle, his bullet. Vin could hear a portion of his mind trying to convince him differently, but how could that be when he could still feel the weight of the rifle in his hands, feel the resistance of the trigger as he squeezed it… He had killed his best friend, his brother.


Seeing what little color there was drain from the already pale man’s face, Chris grabbed the Sharpshooter’s arm and shook him gently. “Hey,” he called. “Hey!” he shouted, shaking the Texan harder as his first attempt got no response. “Look me in the eye!” the Team Leader commanded harshly.


Vin looked up into the familiar green pools. He felt a shock sweep through him as the fabled connection they never spoke of jumped inside him. “Chris?” he whispered, his shock and disbelief evident in his voice. The Texan reached up and touched the whiskered cheek, making sure it was a real form before him as he searched in those eyes for his friend who no longer looked like his friend.


Chris waited as Vin read his soul. Seeing the pain, feeling the abyss of dark emotion threatening to swallow his younger brother, Chris squeezed the arm still in his hand. “I’m here, Vin,” he reassured once more. “The plan worked. It was all staged. I’m alive. I’m fine. I’m here.” He tried to keep his voice soft and continued a soft litany of heartening assurances, hoping eventually to break through the emotional devastation to the rational mind.


Vin searched those eyes he knew, those eyes that had brought him into a family and read there the truth of the soft words. Chris was indeed alive. He was here. With the suddenness of a popping balloon, the emotional stupor that had consumed him since he saw the black horse on his ride home released its hold. Straightening his shoulders, he maintained eye contact with Chris. The initial shock of emotion that he had fought all day had dissipated, but now Vin found himself facing other emotions, the most prominent was guit. How could Chris ever trust him again knowing what Vin had done? He had shot his best friend. How could any of his brothers with to be near him knowing the monster that lived within Vin Tanner?


Chris smiled as he saw Vin win the battle against the paralyzing emotions. The smile faded quickly, however, as he witnessed guilt, fear and self-loathing rise up in the blue eyes. He had just opened his mouth to say something when the front door opened and a cacophony of sound assaulted the two men within.


The others had arrived.


Part 45


Vin heard the noise behind him and knew he couldn’t face any of them. He couldn’t live with himself if he saw the disgust, revulsion and hatred he knew would be in their eyes. Even if none of them showed it now, he knew that as soon as the initial relief of Chris being alive was over, they would look at him differently, look at him with fear, look at him with mistrust. How was he supposed to live if his family couldn’t trust him anymore? How could he trust himself?


Seeing Chris’ eyes shift from his toward the noise, Vin pulled out of the firm grasp of his friend, his brother and headed outdoors. He couldn’t face any of them now. He couldn’t lose them all. He just wanted to hold on to his family for a little while longer before he lost everything.




Chris felt Vin pull out of his grasp when his eyes flicked toward the sound of the new arrivals. He turned to follow his friend, all too aware of the hurt inside and unwilling to let it go. He didn’t want to leave Vin in pain, but the Sharpshooter had his hand upon the door as Chris opened his mouth.


Just as he was about to follow Vin, he felt a hand descend upon his shoulder and turned to look into the deep blue eyes of his long-time friend. “Buck,” he said, nodding slightly to acknowledge the rogue. The truth was, Chris felt nervous, he didn’t know how to respond to the emotion in the Rogue’s eyes. He could see the flames of fear dancing in their depths, the relief washing over those flame, the tears sparkling in the eyes. He couldn’t speak.


Buck saw the form in the doorway. The outside looked nothing like the man he knew, the posture and the eyes were all Larabee. All day he had been tossed in an emotional tempest. He tried to let his rational mind overtake his fears and other emotions, but it just didn’t work. All he could see was the jerk of Chris’ body as the bullet hit, the crumpling form and his friend, his brother lying too still on the floor. Even though he had known what to expect, even though he had known it wasn’t true, in that moment, in the heat of the battle, all thought had fallen away and a desperation to avoid the all-consuming darkness of loss rose up within him resulting in his yell of denial.


It hadn’t all been an act when he confronted Vin. Buck could still remember his pounding heart, the fear racing through his system. A portion of his mind was screaming at him that it was all an act, but the adrenaline in his system had allowed his emotions the upper hand. He would have to be sure to check with Vin to make sure he hadn’t hurt him.


Now, though, looking into the green eyes of his oldest friend, he couldn’t find the words to express the joy at finding him alive. Wrapping his arms around Chris, Buck pulled him into a tight hug.


Feeling overwhelmed by the emotional display, Chris patted his oldest friend’s back seeking words. His mind flashed back to several years ago when he was setting up the team. He hadn’t seen Buck in a while and the big man had hugged him then. Echoing the words of so long ago, he choked out, “Whoa, there, big fella. Folk’ll talk.”


Buck felt a laugh force its way out at the words. It was Chris. Releasing his friend and looking him over from head to toe, the mustached man’s brow furrowed. “Damn, stud,” he said. “Looks like Vin’s finally rubbin’ off on you.”  He laughed when a glare was sent his way. The laughter died when he saw the concern flash in the green eyes as Chris shot a look over his shoulder. “Junior not doin’ so well?” he asked, suddenly serious.


Chris was about to reply when JD bounded up and stopped, mouth open, eyes wide, staring at his Leader.  Looking at the young man’s astonishment, a smile twitched at his lips. Raising an eyebrow in question, Chris was rewarded when JD closed his gaping mouth.


JD was stunned. He had been expecting to see Chris. He knew that was foolish since Chris was undercover, but still, he had expected his friend to look more like… well… his friend. Instead, he had to look twice to recognize Chris. It was the eyes and the arched eyebrow that finally gave him away. Relief flooded JD. He hadn’t even been aware of the anxiety that had taken up residence until he saw that questioning look. A huge smile sweeping over his face, JD reached out his hand. Once Chris accepted his hand, JD wrapped his other hand over the joined ones and shook, brown eyes shining with all the joy and relief the young man felt.


Josiah walked in behind Buck and JD. All day he’d been fighting his emotions. All day he’d been reflecting upon his makeshift family and what they meant to him, to each other. He hadn’t realized how deeply their deception had affected him until he stepped into the kitchen and saw Chris, alive and well, shaking JD’s hand.


Stepping forward, the Profiler couldn’t find his voice. Not caring how Chris would react, Josiah enveloped the formerly blond man in his embrace.


Chris stood still as Josiah displaced Buck and embraced him. Josiah was obviously relieved beyond words to find his friend whole and intact, if looking a little less like himself than usual. Chris accepted the hug, swallowing hard, his emotions were rising again. He realized exactly how lucky he was to have these men as friends and family.


Eventually Josiah released him and Ezra stepped up, taking the Team Leader’s hand. Tonight Ezra was unable to hide the relief in his eyes. Chris watched, stunned as the Southerner opened his mouth only to close it again and swallow. Chris found himself humbled by the sight of tears in the conman’s eyes. How had he come to mean so much to these men? He wasn’t sure he deserved such friendship, such brotherhood, such love.


Ezra grasped Chris’ hand in his own and tried to find the appropriate words. They eluded him. He knew tears stood in his eyes, but he couldn’t hide them. This day, this case was exacting a high price from his soul, leaving it raw and exposed. He found he couldn’t express what he wanted, what he needed to say, to express. So he took his boss’ hand, enveloped it in both of his and nodded, allowing the man to think what he would.


Nathan had stayed back allowing his teammates their chance. He had helped Chris earlier and had his chance to overcome the emotions. As he watched the scene before him unfold, he noticed the absence of the Texan. Turning to look back at the door, he noticed Josiah’s friend, Mike Staley, staring outside. Walking up to the other man, Nathan asked, “What’s out there?”


Without shifting his eyes from the figure standing by the corral, Mike nodded his head toward the lone man. “A man in pain,” his gentle voice answered.  “What’s his name?”


Nathan looked out at Vin and felt his heart seize slightly at the sight of the young man. He hadn’t thought of what this was doing to his friend. He, like everyone else had been too wrapped up in the con, too wrapped up in his own emotions to think of what the young Sharpshooter was going through. Nathan swallowed hard as he realized what it would have taken to line up your sites on a family member and pull the trigger. He knew with a certainty that he could not have done that. He started reaching for the door handle to go out to his friend when he felt another hand stop his. Startled, he looked up into Mike’s understanding and compassionate golden-brown eyes.


“Let me go,” he said quietly. “I don’t think he can face any of you just now.”


Trusting the man Josiah had brought to this night, Nathan nodded and dropped his hand to his side. Stepping out of the way, he watched as Mike walked out the door and made his way over to the corral. The older man took up a position several feet away from the Sharpshooter and rested his arms on the top rail.  Nathan hoped Mike would be able to help bring Vin back to them.



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