Disclaimer: Not mine. I'm just playing. I'll put'em back when I'm done.

Rating: PG-13

Synopsis: A run-in with some nasty neighbors changes life in Four Corners for the seven.

"I’ll give anything to hear you say,
that I’m more than a friend."
Michael Learns To Rock

New Mexico Territory

North of Four Corners the otherwise arid landscape was broken by patches of forest spread out over a rather large and fertile area which was dotted with streams and grassland. Out there, a few independent homesteads broke the rolling landscape in-between the bigger farms.

One such patch of forest had belonged to the late Joshua Stanford, a rich prospector, who had moved out to New Mexico to find gold and raise cattle. After his untimely and somewhat dubious death, the land now belonged to his four sons, better known as the Stanford Brothers. Unlike their father, their reputation was among the worst in the territory, and many who knew the brothers whispered that they were the reason old man Stanford had died so prematurely. The womenfolk said he had died of a broken heart since his sons were both ugly, vicious and borderline stupid. They represented the worst of the Wild West.

The brothers were known to set traps which were akin to torture instruments, trapping any animal unfortunate enough to come across them in the worst way possible. And they were not known to check on those traps very often, which in essence meant that anything caught in the traps would die a painful and prolonged death. They were known to kick stray dogs, and even shoot them if they figured they could get away with it, and they didn't treat people any better. Any woman with sense enough would steer clear of them, and a man who wasn't out looking for trouble would not go anywhere near their land. They held a grudge longer than anyone did, and given the chance, they would hunt down and brutalize those who had done them wrong rather than leave such dealings to the law. As it were, they had never actually killed anyone as far as anyone knew, and they had refrained from doing more than verbally molest women. In that sense, they had nothing to worry about when it came to the law.


North of Four Corners

Vin Tanner had been subjected to the dubious pleasure of crossing paths with the Stanford brothers a few times. Usually he was in the company of others, which had most likely saved him from having to deal with them first hand. He had prevented them from killing or mutilating animals on numerous occasions and knew that they weren't happy about it. As he usually didn't travel alone whenever he got anywhere near their land, he didn't spend too much time worrying about them, since the only thing they seemed to do was send him angry glances. In that respect, it never crossed his mind that he could run into trouble while out hunting on his own.

With Four Corners experiencing a rather quiet time, he figured that he could use that time to hone his tracking skills, and at the same time he was keen on some fresh caught meat as well. So he had set out in the early morning hours to do some hunting without letting anyone know where he was heading. He figured they didn't need to know, and he'd surprise them with whatever he had caught when he got back.

It was still early enough for dew to glisten on leaves and branches as he tracked a deer through a smaller patch of forest, staying low while slowly advancing toward the spot where the deer had stopped to graze. The animal's ears twitched, and its head came up at regular intervals to check the surrounding area, but so far it hadn't caught his scent.

Against his better judgment he kept his eyes on the deer and not on the ground; and when he took another step forward, a step which would put him in the perfect position to get a clean shot at the animal, a metallic click instantly made him lose interest in the deer. Especially since the click was followed by the snap of two steel jaws which slammed together around his ankle. The pain was instant, and he let out a yelp. Losing his balance, he dropped the rifle, which went off and scared the deer away, and he sat down hard on the ground with pain flaring through his leg like wildfire through a dry bush.

Groaning, he grabbed the jaws of the trap and desperately tried to pry them apart, but couldn't muster the strength. The thought that his choice of boots had saved him from having his foot lopped off crossed his mind at that moment. The tough, thick hide the boot was made of had prevented that, but that didn't make it any less painful. Two of the teeth of the steel jaws had cut clean through the tough hide on either side and were slowly digging into his leg, the pressure intensifying gradually while the springs on the trap continuously pressed the jaws together.

"Shit," he moaned, sweat building on his brow as he struggled with the jaws, aware that he should try to get back to his feet to be able to step on the releaser rather than continue his pointless struggle to open the trap with brute force. But he couldn't find the strength to rise while that thing slowly cut its way through his leg.

"Well, look a' what we caught," a voice drawled from somewhere behind him. "He's mighty small for a deer."

Vin leaned his head back and caught sight of one of the Stanford brothers, who grinned a nearly toothless grin at him. He became instantly aware that this ugly and vile contraption was part of their arsenal and that he was, without a doubt, on their land. Two of the other brothers drifted into his line of sight, one looking uglier than the other, all of them grinning.

The first one reached down to grab Vin's shoulders. "Now, you just hold still, boy. We'll get 'cha outta there in a jiffy," he said. The two other brothers busied themselves with opening the trap, not doing much to be careful, but at least they were helping him.

Using a tree for support, Vin got up on his uninjured foot, fighting for balance and trying to ignore the throbbing pain from the wound, while he desperately tried to come up with an explanation of what he was doing on their land. He needed to be able to explain himself in case they asked. "Thanks," he said a little hoarsely, steadying himself against the tree.

The brother who had spoken stared at him, a sudden frown on his brow, halfway hidden by bangs of greasy, stringy hair. "Hey, wait a minute. Don't I know you?" he drawled.

One of the other brothers laughed like a buffoon, nudging his brother's ribs. "This here's the little fella who's aspoilin' our traps, Jed," he snickered.

Vin knew when he was in trouble, and this was one of those times, if Jed's expression was anything to go by. Holding up a hand, he tried to come up with a way for getting back to where Peso was grazing at the edge of the forest. But since his injury was already draining him of necessary strength, and he couldn't very well outrun the brothers when he couldn't even walk, that would just be pretty damned impossible. So he figured he had to find a way to appease them. "Now, hold on, fellas," he said, smiling in the hope that it would keep the brothers calm for long enough. "I ain't spoiled nobody's traps," he tried to defend himself.

"Yup, yup, that's ‘im alright," the third brother drawled, grinning with a mouth full of rotting teeth.

It was at that moment Vin remembered that they always traveled in pairs, which meant the fourth brother had to be somewhere in the area as well. But that was as far as he got in his contemplation before the fourth brother hammered the butt of his rifle into the back of his head, knocking him out.

"Well, I reckon we just gotta teach 'im some manners then," the fourth and oldest said, lowering his rifle with a sinister expression on his face.


Four Corners
Two days later

Chris Larabee sat outside the saloon, taking in the last of the warmth of one of the first real spring days of the year, the chair tipped back against the wall, his hat pulled down over his eyes. He was sadly aware of the slowness of Four Corners on this particular day, and although he didn't like the stress of the bigger cities much, and wasn't the type to get bored, he was feeling a little antsy this late afternoon.

After awhile of just sitting there, he raised his head a little, peeking out at the street under the rim of his hat. Few people were outside as it was nearing supper time, and the street was more or less deserted. Tipping his hat back a little, he eyed the dusty street for a moment, aware that something was nagging at his subconscious but not fully comprehending what it was yet. There was something amiss, something not right in Four Corners.

Frowning, he tipped the chair forward, landing it on all of its four legs, and got up. Something was definitely up. Not with the town itself, though. He scanned the street, looking left and right, still trying to get a grasp of why he had this feeling. Counting heads seemed like a good idea if his feeling had something to do with impending trouble in town.

Sudden muffled shouts from inside the saloon made him glance toward the batwing doors, well aware that Ezra was inside, probably relieving some poor fool of his hard-earned money. Buck had gone fishing with J.D., a past-time Chris himself indulged in sometimes when the town got too slow. Josiah was standing on the porch in front of the Clarion, discussing something with Nathan. The frown furrowing his brow deepened. That meant Vin was unaccounted for.

The feeling that something was wrong, something centered around the young tracker, made him look around again. The sun was setting, and he slowly realized that he hadn't seen Vin around for two days. Turning, he pushed the batwing doors to the saloon open and strode inside, heading straight for Ezra, who was indeed in the middle of a poker game and winning as usual.

"Ezra, have you seen Vin around lately?" Chris asked, not even bothering to apologize for interrupting the game.

Ezra glanced up at him and shook his head. "No, Sir, I cannot say that I have. Isn't it likely that he's once again out communin' with Mother Nature?" the gambler replied, returning his gaze to his cards.

"Might be," Chris agreed, but still couldn't shake the feeling that something was up with the tracker. "And then again..." he added and left the saloon to ask Josiah and Nathan the same question.

Ezra turned his head a little and glanced at the door while he considered his options at keeping the game going. Figuring he would be too preoccupied now to keep his concentration on winning, he dealt a final hand and closed the game, collecting the money he had won. "Thank you kindly, Sirs," he said, tipping his hat at the opposition before heading out the door in pursuit of Chris.


Chris stopped next to Josiah and briefly looked out along the street again. "Have either of you seen Vin lately?" he asked nobody in particular.

Nathan and Josiah exchanged glances. "Nope, can't say that I have," Josiah said. "You, Nate?" he asked and the healer shook his head. "Somethin' up?" he wanted to know, turning his attention fully to Chris.

"Don't know," Chris mumbled, still staring along the street. "Got a gut feelin' that somethin's wrong," he added and made a face.

Ezra caught up with them, looking a little flustered. "Did he not go with Buck and J.D. this mornin'?" he asked, looking from one to the other.

"Nope," Josiah said, shaking his head with a frown. "I saw Buck and J.D. take off together. Haven't seen Vin anywhere near 'em. Come to think of it, I haven't seen him around for the better part o' two days."

"Are you sure somethin's wrong? He might just ‘a gone huntin'," Nathan inquired, giving Chris a thoughtful stare.

"I ain't sure," Chris admitted somewhat reluctantly. "I just realized I haven't seen ‘im for a bit, and he usually let's someone know if he leaves town for longer than a day," he added.

"You sure you're not jumpin' at shadows?" Ezra asked with a grin, well aware that that would be one of the last things Chris Larabee would be doing in this life. It earned him a scowl from Chris, too, and he raised his hands in a deprecating gesture. "No pun intended, I assure you. But doesn't young Mr. Tanner have the tendency to isolate himself at times?"

"I reckon he does," Chris agreed, still not satisfied with the explanation. "If he isn't back when it's dark, we have to go look for ‘im."

"Pardon my ignorance, but is it not Mr. Tanner who is the tracker in this ensemble? I mean, he does not strike me as a man who loses his way," Ezra said, a little more serious.

"Oh, I'm not worried about that," Chris said darkly. "But there is a bounty on his head, and I'd be mighty upset if someone's decided to cash it in."

Josiah sighed. "Begging your pardon, Chris, but don't you think Vin can take care of himself? He's a big boy, you know," he said seriously, letting Chris know that he agreed with Ezra.

Chris stared at him for a moment, his jaw set. He could see the sense in their words, and knew what Vin would think if he came racing after him like this. Shaking his head, he turned his back on the others and stared back out at the street, cursing his inability to stop the sense of urgency he felt. "Damn," he mumbled and crossed his arms over his chest.

Josiah grabbed his shoulder, giving it a light squeeze. "I know you like the kid, Chris, and I know he isn't easy to understand at times, but Vin's got his own way and his own path. Let him walk it. He'll be back. He always comes back," the preacher said in a quiet, reassuring tone of voice.

With a sigh that spoke volumes, Ezra turned around and headed back to the saloon, hoping against hope that he could engage someone in a friendly game of poker again. Sometimes he just had enough of these worrywarts: Chris when it came to Vin, and Buck when it came to J.D. "Like they cannot look out for themselves," he mumbled under his breath as he pushed the batwing doors apart and stepped back into the cooler interior of the saloon, straightening his lapels and looking around for fair game.

Chris acknowledged Josiah's words with a curt nod, but kept staring out at the street. The seed of worry was planted and it was growing fast, making him feel almost physically sick to his stomach. It was something that had developed after Sarah and Adam had died, a sort of sixth sense aimed at the people closest to him, and that sense was usually right.


Nathan had to check in on a young woman who needed some tending to, and Josiah left Chris standing on the porch to join Ezra in the saloon. He was parched and needed a drink. Somehow, he couldn't shake the feeling that Chris might have a point. He hadn't known Larabee that long, but it had been long enough to know that he had an uncanny ability to know when trouble was coming their way.

Chris remained where he was, thinking hard about what he needed to do. Even though he saw the point to both Josiah's and Ezra's words, it didn't still the alarm bells which had gone off the moment he had realized it had been awhile since he'd seen Vin.


The sound of Mary's voice right behind him startled him. He hadn't heard her coming outside, and that gave him another nudge to go and look for the tracker. If he was too preoccupied by Vin's absence to pay attention to his surroundings, it didn't bode well. Turning, he faced her.

"Is something the matter?" Mary asked. As she stood there, her hands folded, her eyes worried, she tried to understand this man and her feelings for him which she so desperately tried to bury. It was never easy to guess what Chris Larabee was thinking as most of his emotions never showed on his face, but looking into his eyes gave her an indication that he was worried.

"Maybe," he said, his voice gruff. "I don't know. I aim to find out, though," he said, turned and strode back to the chair he had abandoned to retrieve his jacket. Foolish or not, he was going to set out to find Vin Tanner, and the sooner he got going, the better. He trusted his instincts more than anything these days and would be damned if he would let a friend get hurt because others thought he was being silly.

Mary Travis remained on the porch in front of her newspaper office until Chris mounted his horse and guided it out of town. Then she returned to her work, her mind preoccupied by this development. Somehow she was always afraid that if he rode out alone, he wouldn't come back. It probably went back to the time he had been gone for much longer than usual, and it turned out he'd ended up in a prison somewhere at the hands of some crooked lawmen.


North of Four Corners

It didn't take Chris long to figure out that his gut feeling had once again been right. No more than half an hour out of town he came across Vin's horse grazing quietly near a brook. The gelding wasn't tied to anything, and the dusty saddle and muddied reins hanging loosely from the bridle gave away that he had been on his own for a while. Chris halted Pony next to Peso, and stared at the black animal for a moment before scanning the area for any sign of the tracker. There were no sounds to be heard apart from those natural to this spot, but he knew Vin was able to move as quietly as anyone he'd ever known.

Rising a little in the saddle, he looked around, trying to spot any movement in the high grasses around him. "VIN?" he called. "TANNER? YOU OUT HERE?"

There was no reply and that didn't sit well with Chris. Glancing back down at Peso, he figured the animal could look after hims for the time being and would eventually return to his stable. At least he didn't have to worry about that.

Determined to find his friend, he urged Pony on, searching the ground for signs until it got too dark for him to see anything properly. He was also painfully aware of his deficient skills as a tracker. Vin could find traces of someone passing by on foot on hard rock. Chris sometimes thought that he couldn't even find a damned hoofprint in soft soil. But he kept going, kept pushing Pony forward while the chill of the night air crept into his clothes. He was mindful that his single-minded determination could get him in trouble, but he just didn't care right then. All that mattered was finding Vin, no matter what the cost.

Whether it was blind luck or divine intervention wasn't something Chris considered at that point, but after riding for a while he entered a small patch of forest and got off Pony because of the dense foliage. Leading Pony by the reins, he set out to find a place to camp for the night, walking slowly through heavy underbrush in the dark forest.

When he stumbled over something on the ground he first thought was a root, he struck a match to take a better look at the footing before continuing, and found that it hadn't been a root at all. It was Vin's sawed-off rifle. Dropping down in a crouch, he picked it up and stared at it for a moment before rising again to shove it into the saddlebag on Pony's right side.

Just then, a sound made him stare into the darkness. Pony was suddenly very nervous, maybe catching the scent of a predator, and he considered going back the way he'd come when a howl of pain sounded ahead of him. An animal, perhaps a dog or a coyote, started screaming, an eerie sound for someone who hadn't heard it before. It sounded much like the death woes of a child in terrible pain, and it went right to his soul. The animal had obviously stepped in a trap, and Chris wouldn't leave it to suffer.

Carefully, he nearly tip-toed through the undergrowth, leaving Pony behind to not risk getting him hurt. Where there was one trap, there were usually others. He quickly found the suffering animal, a coyote as he had suspected. It had gotten both hind legs stuck in the trap, and one foot had been clipped clean off. If it didn't die of shock, it would die of blood loss, he figured, but that was still a ways off, and he couldn't stand to see the animal suffering. Training his gun at its head, he administered a clean shot, which killed the coyote instantly. "Poor thing," he mumbled and made a face at the trap.

Turning around to head back the way he'd come, he suddenly realized he wasn't alone any more. Although it was hard to make out anything in the darkness, he saw a darker shadow moving among the trees right in front of him, but before he could say or do anything, the butt of a rifle connected squarely with his brow, dropping him to the ground instantly. Dazed, he struggled to clear his vision as he fumbled for his gun, but was almost instantly hit again. This time the blow knocked him out, and he was unaware of what happened after that.


Four Corners

Buck and J.D. returned from their fishing trip right before it got dark, both in a good mood from having caught quite a few fish each. Buck kept teasing J.D. about the size of his fish, even though he hadn't been much luckier size-wise himself.

"Little man, small fish," Buck said, grinning at the pinkish color of J.D.'s cheeks. "Ain't nothin' wrong with that, boy. They're edible," he added, unable to leave the subject alone. "Might not get full of 'em, but..." he went on, but was stopped when J.D. tossed one of the smaller fish at him and hit him straight in the face with it.

J.D. stared at him for a second, then started laughing so hard he nearly fell off his horse.

Buck wiped a hand over his mouth, making a face at the feel the soggy fish had left behind. "You think that's funny, boy?" he boomed, but was unable to keep a smile at bay. It wasn't so much the situation itself as it was J.D.'s almost hysterical laughing fit.

Just when the big cowboy was about to retaliate in kind, Josiah stepped out of the Clarion's office, a serious look on his face, and waved the two of them over. "Buck, J.D.," he called.

"I'll git you for that," Buck muttered to J.D., who only kept smiling and steered his horse over to the newspaper office and dismounted on the opposite side of where Buck jumped to the ground.

"What's up, preacher? You look a might worried," Buck said, placing a foot on the edge of the boardwalk.

"And I am, too, Buck," Josiah agreed. "We seem to have gotten ourselves a situation here we don't know how to handle," he added.

Buck frowned. That didn't sound good. "Chris in there?" he asked, nodding toward the office.

"Nope," Josiah replied. "That's the problem."

That increased Buck's frown. He took a step closer to the door and glanced inside, finding Ezra talking to Mary with Nathan standing by watching them. None of them looked too happy. Turning back to face Josiah, he stared at him for a moment. "Where's he at?" he asked, glancing around him.

"He rode out to find Vin," Josiah said. "On his own. We're a tad uncertain about how to proceed, as it were."

"Why's he goin' after Vin?" Buck asked, not yet concerned about the absence of both of them, but more about the fact that the remaining three seemed slightly upset about it.

"Chris seems to believe somethin's amiss. He said it was a gut feelin', and he needed to set out at once. The thing is, now I got a gut feelin' that was a bad move," Josiah told him, keeping his tone low.

Buck pulled his hat off and raked his fingers through his hair, staring at nothing for a second. "Damnit," he mumbled, then focused on Josiah again. "I ain't never liked his gut feelin's one bit," he said. "They usually turn out to be right."

Josiah nodded. "I feared that would be the case," he said calmly. "I suggest we give Chris until dawn. If he isn't back by then, we go lookin' for them both."

Buck nodded, well aware already that he wouldn't get any sleep at all. He was a worrywart, always had been when it came to Chris. And Chris worried too much about Vin. "We set out at dawn," he said, turned around and headed for the saloon.

J.D. stared after him, then looked up at Josiah with a question in his eyes. "He don't believe Chris will be back by dawn?" he asked.

"That's right, son. Where Chris has a feelin' for trouble, so does Buck. It's like a sixth sense," Josiah agreed and put a hand on J.D.'s shoulder. "I gather he'll be back here in less than an hour, demandin' we set out at once. We might as well get ready," he added and returned to the Clarion's office.


The Stanford Homestead

Chris had just about the worst headache he'd ever experienced when he came to again. His face hurt, his right cheekbone and forehead the source of the pain, and it took him a good long while to get around to raising his head. The strain of that simple movement alone made his stomach cramp up, and he knew without a doubt that he had a concussion. The first thing that dawned on him was that he was standing, or rather hanging by his wrists, his feet barely touching the ground.

With an effort, he opened his eyes and blinked until they adjusted to the darkness surrounding him. The faint smell of hay and rotting wood gave away that he was probably in a barn or a stable of some kind. His hands felt numb, and when he tried to move them, the rattle of a chain gave away that he was shackled, and the shackles were suspended from something above his head. Tilting his head back a little, and causing himself unnecessary pain in doing so, he looked upward. From what he could make out in the darkness, the chain of the shackles was held by a hefty-looking hook which was hammered into a supporting pillar of what he figured was a barn. What the purpose of his confinement was, he could only guess at right then, but that wasn't foremost on his mind. He needed to get down from this precarious position. It left him wide open to attack and unable to defend himself, and that just wasn't acceptable to him.

A sudden sound made him squint into the darkness, and he had the distinct impression that he wasn't the only one trapped in this place. He couldn't make out much because it was too dark, but the sound he'd heard was a moan. Twisting around a little, he tried to see more of the place but couldn't make anything out which was worth while.

In vain, he tried to shift himself around so he could reach the ground properly with his feet since as long as he couldn't stand fully, he couldn't get free. But no matter how he turned and twisted, he missed the floor by about half an inch with his whole foot and could only reach it with his toes. While he struggled against his bonds, it gradually brightened in the barn, telling him he'd been here most of the night and that the sun was coming up. Slowly, things came into focus, details became clearer, and he stopped his pointless struggle to get an overview of the barn, and also of whoever else was in here with him.

Gritting his teeth, he shifted his position a little to get a better look. His wrists were pretty sore already, and his shoulders were strained from holding his weight for this long. But the instant he laid eyes on his fellow prisoner, he forgot all about his own discomfort. His eyes widened in shock, and for a moment he had no idea what to do. Not that he could do anything in his present condition. "Vin," he whispered.

The younger man was suspended much like he was, except his wrists were bound with rope, and the rope was looped over a cross beam supporting the roof above. Like Chris himself, Vin's feet barely touched the ground, but in his case it made no big difference. He was either unconscious or just too worn out to keep his head up. The only thing he was wearing were his pants, and they were blotched with dried blood. His torso was bruised, and he had cuts and abrasions everywhere. His left foot was swollen and nearly black, and there was dried blood on the floor beneath him along with discarded sticks and a knife.

Swallowing hard, Chris had to take a couple of deep breaths before he was able to make another sound. "Vin," he called a little louder.

The young tracker moved his head a little, but failed to raise it.

"Vin, can you hear me?" Chris called, wanting more than just that movement of his friend's head to confirm he was still all there.

With an effort almost beyond him and a low moan, Vin finally raised his head, showing Chris that whoever had done this to him, had done more damage than Chris had thought at first. Vin's right eye was swollen shut, his lips were split and caked with dried blood, his face looking as badly as his torso. "Chris?" he rasped, his expression twisting when he realized his friend had been captured, too.

Before Chris could ask any more questions or try to soothe his friend's distress, the barn doors opened and the four Stanford brothers came in, looking meaner than hell and ugly as sin. Chris could smell them even at this distance, and he made a face at them. He knew who they were, and it came as a bit of a surprise to him that they were the ones who had not only managed to catch Vin off guard but had also messed up the tracker badly.

"Well, look at that. Ain't that just nice," the oldest brother drawled, squinting at Chris, who gave him an angry glare back.

"You better set us both free right now," Chris growled.

"Or what? You gonna shoot us? Ain't got no gun that I can see," Jake Stanford said.

Chris would have loved to have gone for his throat right there, but that was just plain impossible. "I ain't the only one comin', boy," he said, his voice angry. He knew it was a lie, but the kid standing there with his baby brothers behind him didn't know that.

"If you ain't the only one, where's the rest?" Jake asked, then snorted. He was the only one who had just a little bit of sense, but he was madder than a rabid dog, and didn't much care what other people thought of him. If they interfered in his business, it changed things, though.

Chris resisted the need to yell at the runt. That would only seem desperate, and he didn't want to give them the impression that he was scared. He was, though. Not for himself but for Vin, who was already in bad shape. "What's this about anyway?" he demanded angrily. "Why'd you do that to ‘im?" he went on, nodding toward Vin, who had let his head drop again.

Jake turned his attention to Vin and made a face. "He's been amessin' with our traps. Ain't nobody gonna do that to a Stanford's trap," he growled and reached down for one of the sticks. He started gently slapping his left palm with the stick while he kept eying Vin.

The tracker had found the strength to raise his head again, and Chris could tell he was scared of the impending beating. He'd been hurt badly already, and anything more would make him feel a hell of a lot worse than he already did. "You leave him be," Chris snapped, fighting his restraints once again. "If you wanna take that out on someone, take it out on me."

Jake turned his head and looked Chris directly in the eyes, showing the gunslinger that he was as mad as Chris had feared. "Oh, your turn will come," he promised and smiled almost languidly before returning his attention to Vin.

The next hours were hell on Earth. Seeing a friend being beaten to a pulp by four madmen, and being unable to do anything about it, put an unfamiliar strain on Chris, and he sputtered curses and swear words at them while pulling and yanking at the shackles holding his hands. Eventually, he hit a nerve in Jake Stanford by calling him a ‘degenerate bastard', and the younger man turned his mad rage on Chris instead.

With malignant, cold eyes, the younger man attacked the gunslinger with everything he had, using his fists to pound the older man. Chris had learned a lot about taking punches in his life, hard-learned lessons for the most part, and so managed to cushion the majority of the blows to avoid any fatal injuries. But the kid gave him a good beating, repeatedly hammering his fists into his chest and sides. And when Jake was spent, his brothers took over. They didn't hit nearly as hard, but Chris was already exhausted and in pain. The only thing that kept him going, kept him silent except for the occasional grunt, was the thought that this gave Vin some breathing space. Chris just wasn't too sure it would be enough. He needed to get Vin out of this place, and fast. He just didn't know how yet.