The Magnificent Seven is copyright © The Mirisch Corporation, MGM, Trilogy, and the rest of the Alphabet Soup. No infringement of that copyright is intended by this story.
"A New Beginning" is copyright © 2002, Bardd.
Author's Notes: My first slash story (though I've been reading it for years). Enjoy!
"What the hell did you two idiots think you were doing?!" Buck demanded furiously, glaring at Vin and JD. Beside him, Chris was ominously silent. "No, forget that.... Were you thinking at all?!"
Vin met him glare for glare, in no mood to be scolded as though he was a kid. He'd known exactly what he was doing, and it had worked out pretty much as he'd intended, which was all that mattered.
"Of course we were thinking, Buck!" JD blurted out. "We were thinking—"
"Couldn't prove it by what you did," Buck snapped, still furious. "That was a damnfool stunt to pull, and you both should have known better."
Vin's mouth tightened. "We was thinkin' that iffen we didn't do somethin', the two a' you'd be dead – shot in the back. Ya didn't know them three was there." His Texan accent was thick – a sure sign of how upset he was – as he gestured at the bodies of the three men in question, lying on the far side of the clearing, where they'd crept up behind Chris and Buck.
Buck shook his head. "That's no excuse for exposing yourselves like that. You coulda stayed down and shot from cover."
His eyes narrowing, Vin scowled at the two older peacekeepers. "Y'all claimin' t' be a sharpshooter now, Bucklin?"
"Then don't be tellin' me how t' take a shot," Vin returned sharply. He was feeling edgy and irritable, and Buck's lecture wasn't helping. Nor was the fact that Chris had yet to say a word. That meant that the Seven's leader was very angry. Yes, Chris was a man of few words – like Vin himself – but he generally didn't hesitate to let people know what he thought when he was angry. The fact that Chris hadn't said anything yet meant that either he wasn't angry – which everything, from the way he was standing to the look in his eyes, said was wrong – or that he was too angry for words.
"Weren't no way to hit 'em from where we was," Vin continued. Not with the man who apparently had been the leader of the group pointing his gun directly at Chris's back. Even if he'd been able to shoot him from his original position, Vin knew it was quite possible that the man's hand might have tightened on the trigger during his death spasms, and the bullets would have gone straight into Chris. He'd needed a distraction, something to keep the men away from Chris and Buck; a distraction that would also get him in a better position to shoot the man aiming at Chris. "An' don't say we coulda shouted," the tracker added forcefully. "Th' one in that fancy jacket – like the ones Ez wears – was already aimin', and his finger was goin' fer the trigger."
Buck opened his mouth to respond, and then closed it as Chris took a step forward.
"Buck, take JD and get the horses," the Seven's leader ordered. "They shouldn't have gone far. Vin and I need to talk."
Vin crossed his arms over his chest in an unconscious defensive habit, switching his glare from Buck to Chris. He was playing with fire, and knew it, but he'd been right, and he was going to get Larabee to admit that if it killed him. "Ain't got nothin' to talk 'bout."
Chris's eyes met his, and Vin suddenly found himself captured by that jade-green gaze. The edginess that had been haunting him all day – and hadn't disappeared at the end of the gunfight, as might be expected – increased sharply; and Vin found himself trying to look away – only Chris wasn't letting him. There was some emotion in Chris's eyes – a very intense emotion, from what Vin could read of his friend – but for once, he had no idea of what the emotion was.
The two of them stood there, staring at each other, for about a minute or so; Chris holding Vin trapped, and Vin trying to figure out the mysterious emotion Chris was feeling.
"Right," said Buck abruptly, and Vin finally managed to tear his gaze away from Chris long enough to look at the ladies' man. There had been an odd note in his voice – again, something Vin couldn't identify. That, too, increased the edginess even more. He was starting to feel trapped, and he didn't even know what sort of trap it was.
"C'mon, Kid, let's go," Buck continued, jerking his head in the direction the horses had run during the ambush. "You an' I have some things to talk about as well."
As soon as Buck and JD had disappeared into the trees – though Vin could still hear signs of their progress, as Buck's scolding carried quite clearly – the tracker turned back to face Chris, and was stunned to see that Larabee was now standing less than an arm's-length away. How'd he get so close? he wondered, confused as to why he hadn't sensed it, even as he uncrossed his arms and shifted away.
Chris moved to follow him, not letting Vin get more than about two feet away from him. "We need to talk."
"Like I said, ain't nothing ta talk 'bout," Vin repeated defiantly. His back suddenly hit something, and he glanced around quickly to find that Chris had backed him up against a tree. Crossing his arms over his chest again, he glared at Chris, his own anger beginning to rise. What th' hell is Chris doing? Don't he understand what nearly happened? "Wasn't 'bout ta let you or Buck get shot in th' back, and that's all there's t' say. I ain't a kid, an' I don't need you tellin' me what I can't do."
Chris stepped closer, and Vin felt a surge of nervousness combine with his anger. Ordinarily he'd be glad that Chris chose to be with him, chose to be close – but not today. Not with the mood the gunslinger was in. He couldn't back away – he was trapped by the tree – but maybe if he pushed past Chris....
Before Vin could even uncross his arms to put his plan into effect, Chris grabbed hold of his upper arms, trapping him quite neatly – not to mention completely.
Vin flinched – being trapped was one of his worst nightmares, right up there with Tascosa and his mother's death. The only thing that stopped him from attacking Chris was the fact that he trusted Larabee completely, and had since the moment their eyes had first met, across the dusty main street of Four Corners. Whatever Chris was doing, it wouldn't be bad. But he still didn't like to be trapped, and trust or not, he didn't like the way Chris was acting.
"Let go a' me!" he demanded, trying to pull out of Chris's grip, but the other man was holding him too tightly. He couldn't get any leverage, because of the way his arms had been crossed, and the only other way out of this seemed to be hurting Chris, which he didn't want to do. "Dammit, Chris, let go!"
"No," Chris said simply. "Not until you listen to me."
Vin reluctantly stopped fighting. "All right. What d' ya want ta say?"
Chris met his eyes again; and this time, Vin had no trouble reading the dominant emotion there: rage. The other – the mysterious emotion – was still there, but at the moment it was drowned out by Chris's anger.
"That was a stupid, damnfool stunt you and JD pulled. You're both goddamn lucky you weren't injured."
This was, Vin decided, obviously not the best time to mention the bullet graze he'd received. Actually, he doubted that there would be a good time to mention it. He could deal with it himself when they got back to town; it was just a graze, and if he went to Nathan, the healer would tell Chris. It certainly wasn't all that important – and definitely not more important than getting Chris to understand that he'd done the right thing.
"Was also the only thing we could do ta keep you from bein' killed," he countered Chris's statement quietly. "Told ya – there was no time t' do anythin' else."
Chris's mouth tightened, his lips thinning in anger. "I don't think a shout would have made them fire right then."
"An' I think yer wrong, Cowboy." The tracker paused for a moment, considering, and then continued, "Ya didn't see their faces, Chris. That fancy man woulda pulled the trigger, an' you wouldn't've time to move outta th' way." Vin couldn't bring himself to look at Chris's face as he said this, afraid that Chris was too angry to listen to reason.
"So you risked your life," Chris said, his tone cold.
"Didn't have a choice," Vin snapped back, still not looking directly at Chris. "I ain't lettin' you get killed."
Since he couldn't see Chris's eyes, the gunslinger's next actions took Vin completely by surprise.
Chris let go of one of Vin's arms, but before Vin was able to take advantage of the apparent lapse, Chris's arm was around his back and he was pulled firmly into a hug.
Vin was frozen for a long moment, shocked by the completely unexpected move – and then he began to struggle. Having Chris hold him like this when he wasn't sick or wounded – well, when Chris didn't know that he was wounded – was uncomfortable, and Vin's feeling of being trapped increased.
"Let go a' me!" he repeated desperately, pushing at Chris's chest ineffectively with his free arm in a fruitless effort to free himself. Chris still had the advantages, however, both in strength and in the way he was holding Vin.
"Dammit, Larabee, let me go!"
Chris merely pulled him even closer, shifting slightly so that Vin was forced to look him in the face. He studied Vin intently for a minute or two, the jade-green eyes seeming to bore right through the younger man's soul – and then shook his head. "No, I don't think so."
Vin stopped struggling and stared at Chris. Had Larabee gone mad? What was he thinking? "C'mon, Larabee, let go a' me. This ain't funny."
"Not meant to be."
Then, again before Vin could react – so many shocks, from the ambush and the gunfight, to the danger Chris had been in, to the current situation, had slowed his reflexes down – Chris let go of his other arm and brought that hand up to hold Vin's chin, while his arm tightened even further around Vin's back.
"No. Ain't gonna be letting you go, Tanner," Chris declared in a whisper – and then he brushed his lips against Vin's in a quick, gentle kiss.
Vin froze again, tensing up, startled and confused. What was going on? Why was Chris doing this – and what exactly was 'this', anyway?
Chris met his eyes; that mystery emotion, the one Vin couldn't identify, was back full force, with such intensity that Vin could almost feel it pulling him in.
Then Chris kissed him again, this time much more firmly – and not at all quickly. Chris's hand slid up from his chin, one finger gently tracing his cheekbone, and then moved around to cup the back of his head.
Vin was distantly aware of this, but most of his attention was focused on the sensations from the kiss.
He'd never felt anything like this before – not with Charlotte, and not with any other person he'd been with. He could feel the heat of Chris's body everywhere they were touching, and it surrounded him, wrapping him in a cocoon of warmth, safety, and trust. His body felt as though it wanted to melt into Chris's, melding them together.
And it felt right. So very right....
Vin tentatively moved his lips against Chris's, and felt a surge of something almost like heat pass through him as Chris responded by deepening the kiss, and pulling him even closer.
The kiss ended when both men started to feel dizzy from a lack of breath, and for a moment they just looked at each other, reading each other's eyes. Chris looked... satisfied, and Vin's expression was dazed.
"You all right, Vin?" Chris asked quietly.
Vin forced himself to concentrate – it was hard, considering all the feelings that were still rushing through him. Saying he was 'fine' would just make Chris worry, and the last thing he wanted to do was worry Chris about this new element to their friendship. Not when every instinct he had was telling him that this was important to them both.
"Better'n all right," he murmured finally, and Chris smiled – a soft, gentle smile that Vin had never seen from him before.
"Good," Chris murmured, and moved to kiss him again.
This time, Vin didn't freeze, or debate with himself about what was going on. He was still confused about Chris's reasons, but he put that thought aside to concentrate on the here and now. He responded by flinging himself wholeheartedly into the kiss, his full attention on Chris and what they were doing. He was only vaguely aware that Chris was stroking his back – until Chris's hand touched the graze from the bullet that the fancy man had gotten off.
Vin pulled away from the kiss with a hiss of pain, and Chris stared down at his fingers, whose tips were covered in blood, before returning his gaze to the tracker.
"Sit down," he ordered, and then, as Vin swayed, he helped him sit. "Dammit, Vin, why didn't you say anything?"
"'S just a graze," Vin protested. "I can take care of it when we get back t' town."
Chris looked down at his hand again, feeling a surge of fear go through him – the same fear he'd felt when he'd seen Vin break cover and race toward him earlier, during the fight. He didn't know why – it seemed to him to be more logical the other way around – but that fear was what had prompted him into taking this chance, letting Vin know how he really felt.
He crouched down next to Vin and touched the tracker's shoulder with the hand that wasn't covered with blood. "Vin, I need to take a look – there's too much blood for it to have been just a graze."
Vin shrugged and then carefully removed his buckskin jacket, wincing in pain as he pulled his left arm out.
"Where is it?"
"My left side – just below my ribs," Vin replied, his voice now tight with pain.
Chris moved around to Vin's left, and then carefully pulled the bloodstained shirt up to reveal a deep, bloody gash between Vin's ribs and his hip. Despite the fact that the wound must have happened about half an hour ago, it was still bleeding, though sluggishly.
"What is it, Cowboy?" Vin asked.
Chris looked at the young tracker, and as their eyes met, he felt the connection they shared flare – for a moment, it felt as it had the first time, when they had read each other's souls – and then settled down – but stronger than before. He could feel the increase in strength, though he didn't think he could define how it had changed the connection. Just that it was stronger.
It's more than just a graze, pard.
Vin frowned. You sure? Don't feel that bad....
It's deeper than a graze, and it's still bleeding. "Where the hell are Buck and JD with the horses?"
"Don't know," Vin said quietly.
"We need to bandage it until we can get back to town, and Nathan."
"An' the bandages are in th' saddlebags," Vin finished. He slumped back against the tree, and Chris brushed one hand across his forehead, abruptly worried. It had been about half an hour – maybe a bit more, as he'd sort of lost track of time while he was kissing Vin – since Vin had broken cover and been shot, and he could have lost quite a bit of blood in that time. Remembering what Nathan had told them about shock and blood loss, Chris swore under his breath. He needed to find something to act as a bandage, and then—
His train of thought was broken as he heard the sound of hooves coming closer, and he could almost have wept with relief when he saw Buck and JD with the horses come into the small clearing.
"Bandages, Buck!" he demanded, not moving from Vin's side.
"What happened?" Buck asked, concern clear in his voice, even as he dismounted and hurried over to Chris's horse. A moment later, he had untied the saddlebags and pulled out the bag of sterilized cloths that Nathan insisted they all carry.
"Vin was shot."
"Hell!" Buck swore, almost running over, leaving JD to see to the horses.
Chris carefully pulled up Vin's shirt and reached out one hand for the bandages.
"Here, Chris, I'll put 'em on him – your hands are a mess."
Chris had to acknowledge the truth of that statement. Between crouching in the dirt trying to avoid being shot in the ambush, and Vin's blood, his hands definitely needed a wash.
Vin was leaning against the tree, his eyes closed, but Chris knew he was conscious, at least. He sat down at Vin's right side and touched the tracker's shoulder gently.
Blue eyes opened slightly and met his.
Buck's gonna put the bandage on, and then we're leaving. You're riding with me.
Vin didn't respond – either verbally or silently – for a long moment. Then, Don't need a nursemaid, Cowboy. It ain't that bad.
Chris's lips tightened as he felt the anger rise again. Goddamn it, Vin, it is that bad! I ain't about to let you on a horse by yourself. You ain't got a choice.
"No. I ain't giving you the choice."
"I hate it when you do that," Buck remarked absently, as he pulled out a bandage and placed it carefully against the wound. "Switch in the middle of a conversation. Drives everyone crazy trying to figure out what you're talking about. This is probably going to hurt, Vin..."
A soft gasp escaped the tracker – to Chris, it was a sign that Vin was definitely going into shock. "Ain't no 'probly' 'bout it, Bucklin."
"Well, c'mon then. Let's get back to town so Nate can have a look."
Vin nodded, and then shot a glance at Chris. Seeing the question in his friend's eyes, Chris reached down and grabbed Vin's forearm, pulling him up. Vin wavered – he was unsteady, another sign of shock, especially with their sure-footed tracker – and Chris carefully put his arm around Vin's shoulders, supporting him unobtrusively, and led him toward the horses.
"What happened, Vin?" JD demanded, concerned, as he finished watering Peso.
"He's got a nasty gash in his side from a bullet. That isn't too bad, but he's lost a lot of blood, and that is a problem."
JD nodded in understanding – he'd heard Nathan's lecture on shock and the causes of it many times.
"He's going to be riding with me," Chris continued, ignoring the irritated look Vin gave him. "Can you help him stay on his feet while I mount?"
"Sure," JD replied, the concern still clear in his voice.
Chris mounted quickly, and then Buck and JD helped Vin mount up in front of him. Chris put his arms around Vin's waist and gently tugged him a bit closer.
Vin tensed, making it clear that he wasn't happy about this, but Chris ignored it as Buck and JD mounted, JD taking Peso's reins.
"Ready?" When the other two nodded, Chris squeezed Pony's barrel with his legs and they started back to town.
After about ten minutes of riding, Chris noticed that Vin was starting to relax back against him – which could be either good or bad. Determined to find out which, he asked quietly, "Vin?"
"I's awake," Vin responded. His voice sounded irritated, but the way he was leaning against Chris's chest belied that. There was a pause, and then he said softly, "Chris... what was that?"
He wasn't referring to anything he'd just noticed, Chris knew; he was talking about what had happened in the clearing.
Glancing ahead at the others, Chris was pleased to see that they weren't close enough to hear as long as he and Vin spoke quietly.
"Something I've wanted to do for quite a while."
Vin twisted, trying to look at him, and winced.
"Dammit, Vin, don't try to move around," Chris said, exasperated, and tightened his grip on Vin's waist.
There was another period of silence, and then Vin asked, "How long?"
Chris took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "Since... just after Ella."
Even without being able to see Vin's eyes, he could tell that his friend was surprised. That had been almost six months ago.
"Why didn'tcha say somethin' earlier?" Vin asked then.
"Hell, Vin, I couldn't just walk up to you and tell you that I'm in love with you," Chris blurted out. "It ain't the kind of thing one man generally says to another."
Vin had stiffened, and for a moment Chris thought he'd said the wrong thing. Had he moved too fast? He knew Vin was uncomfortable getting close to people.... "Vin?"
"Ya... ya love me?" Vin breathed out, the words almost silent.
Chris wished, despite their connection, that he could see Vin's eyes right now. No matter what, Vin could never lie with his eyes – they showed every emotion he felt, as long as you knew how to read them....
Vin must have known, because somehow, despite Chris's restraining grip, he twisted around in the saddle – not letting the pain he obviously felt stop him – so that he could turn his head to look directly at Chris.
The two of them stared at each other, but this was very different from the confrontation they'd had in the clearing, such a short time ago. Then, they'd been furious with each other; now what dominated was an entirely different emotion.
Vin's eyes were wide, and filled with a combination of shock, surprise, and wonder, as though he couldn't quite believe Chris had actually said what he had.
"Yes, I love you," Chris replied, wishing he could kiss Vin again, but he couldn't risk it in front of JD. Buck was a hell of a lot more tolerant than he let on, and he knew how Chris felt about Vin – but Chris had no idea what JD felt about the idea, or how he'd react. Instead, he brushed the fingers of one hand through Vin's hair, which felt as silky as he'd always imagined it would. "And I'm in love with you."
Vin looked stunned.
"I.... 'Cept for my Ma an' Laughin' Crow, ain't never had someone say they... loved me before, an' mean it...."
Chris felt a combination of shock and pity for his friend, but didn't let either show. "Well, you know I mean it, don't you?"
A shy, sweet smile crossed Vin's face at that, making him look years younger than he usually did – Closer to what must be his real age... – and Chris found himself smiling back.
"Yeah," Vin replied quietly, "I know." His wide blue eyes met Chris's, and his smile faded. "I... I don't know what ta call what I feel 'bout you, Chris," he admitted after a moment.
Chris didn't lose his own smile. Just as Vin knew that he wasn't lying about the fact that he loved him, Chris knew that Vin loved him as well, even if he didn't know how to say it. He'd seen it in the younger man's face when Vin had declared that he wouldn't let Chris get killed. It was that, even more than the fear he'd felt when Vin had broken cover, that had prompted him to do what he had. "That's all right," he murmured, giving in to the need he felt and pulling Vin even closer, careful of his wounded side. "You don't have to tell me how you feel.... I know."
Vin studied his face for a long moment, and then his smile returned, even shyer than the first one.
The mood was broken as Pony suddenly started up a hill that Chris hadn't noticed – he'd been too busy concentrating on Vin – and the tracker winced as the movement jarred them both.
"Why don't you turn back around – it'll be easier on you," Chris suggested. "We should be home soon."
Vin thought for a minute or two, and then reluctantly did as Chris had suggested, turning back to face forward. He immediately leaned back against Chris, resting his head against Chris's collarbone, and relaxed.
Chris was momentarily alarmed when Vin went almost bonelessly limp in his arms, but quickly realized that the tracker was still awake, just relaxed. Very relaxed. He couldn't help but feel honoured. He knew that Vin trusted him completely, but even so, he felt as though another barrier, one neither of them had even known was there, had just gone down, and another, deeper level of trust had just been laid between them.
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Last modified March 15th, 2002.