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Stampede

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Chris knew this day would come again eventually but he thought they would have more time before someone put two and two together and realized Vin was a wanted man with a sizeable bounty on his head. Instead, just weeks after the Governor's visit he watched the worrying events unfold, reflected in the large mirror behind the bar as one Texas Ranger put shackles round Vin's slender wrists while the others stood on guard, guns at the ready. There were four of them and they had chosen their timing well, waiting until the rest of the Seven were preoccupied, mostly out of town or asleep, before making their move on Vin. Chris's own fingers tightly gripped the edge of the bar, fearing he would spin and reach for his gun if he let go of the beer and whisky soaked wood. He caught Vin's desperate sky-blue eyes in the mirror, seeing the relief of a promise kept.

"Ain't no use both of us hanging," Vin had said some weeks earlier.

They had been sitting on the porch of Chris's shack outside of town, tired and sweating after a hard day enlarging the corral to hold more horses. Chris had thrown away the sludge left in the coffee pot so the coffee was freshly brewed and the aroma of a meat stew and freshly made biscuits was drifting through the open door. Chris couldn't recall now what had started up the conversation but they had discussed the possibility of Vin being captured by bounty hunters or arrested by lawmen, and taken back to Tascosa to face trial for a murder he hadn't committed but couldn't prove his innocence. The only reason why he'd finally abandoned all hope of heading back to Tascosa to clear his name.

"Got to promise me, Cowboy. My life ain't worth saving if you're already in a pine box and six feet under."

Chris had never given a verbal response but he had made a promise with a tight mouth and a sharp nod. Afterwards they had washed and eaten before turning down the lamp. Chris had pulled Vin against him, slowly pulling off both their union suits to lie naked in their shared bed. He'd felt a powerful need to hold onto Vin, to possess him fully in every way possible, lashing out his fury and fear in hard kisses and harder thrusts until gentled by Vin's tight hold of him in return, fingers clinging just as desperately.

Eventually they had laid wrapped around each other, skin slicked with sweat and semen, listening to the settling creaks of the wooden shack and the nocturnal noises from the world beyond.

"Go to keep your promise, Chris," he had whispered in the dancing shadows of the lamp-lit room. "Need to know you'll stay alive and whole."

Vin's only hope after the death of Eli Joe was a pardon, but Governor Hopewell was unlikely to support such a request following his visit to the town. Chris and the others could not prove it then or now, but they had made it clear to Hopewell they suspected him of paying Stutz - the assassin who had targeted any pro-Statehood advocates, and who had intended to kill Mary Travis before being stopped. The pro-Statehood movement was gaining strength but Chris knew it could take years before anything changed, including a new Governor. He had never asked help from the Judge because Travis was too set in his ways of right and wrong. Had he known of the bounty on Vin's head Travis would have ordered Vin's arrest and sent him back to Tascosa years ago in the belief justice would prevail, putting his faith in the law as mightily as Josiah put his faith in God.

Lying close to the Mexican border Chris had talked of lighting out and heading south, maybe even as far as Argentina or Brazil but Vin liked the roots laid down in this town, for both of them. It was too late now, though just like before Chris saddled up and followed behind at a distance. It didn't take much to figure they were heading towards the nearest town on the railroad, planning to head to Texas by train rather on horseback. It limited Chris's options for breaking Vin free and racing for the border.

They were maybe an hour outside the town when he felt the trembling in the ground, like thunder reverberating through the dust and dirt. The sound grew louder along with the vibration, and Chris swore when he saw several hundred head of cattle stampeding directly towards Vin and the Texas Rangers. Chris had no idea who or what had started the stampede but he wasn't going to let the opportunity pass by without doing something. He used the reins to whip his horse into a gallop, hoping to cross in front of the herd before it reached him and Vin. Horses reared in panic, throwing one Ranger who scrambled onto the back of another Ranger's horse when his own bolted. All four Rangers and Vin's horse were separated and only Vin's skills as a horseman, taught by the Kiowa and Comanche, kept him in the saddle with his hands shackled behind him. He used his feet to kick his horse into a gallop, keeping up with the stampeding cattle to avoid going under, and Chris set a path to intersect. The dust cloud raised by a thousand and more hooves beating the earth concealed them as they angled towards the edge of the herd and made their escape.

Vin looked surprised but relieved when Chris reached him, letting Chris's horse lead the way as they turned south towards Mexico, not stopping until they had crossed the river. Even then they carried on riding at a pace until they were beyond the range of even Stutz's custom rifle. Eventually they slowed to a walk until they found some shade from the overhead sun. Chris took a metal pin and hammer from his saddlebag and made quick work of breaking the lock on the shackles, setting Vin free.

"Didn't want you to give up your home for me, Chris."

Chris looked at him hard and huffed. "I guessed you hadn't figured it out, Vin," he stated with a wry smile. Chris licked lips, dried and cracked from the dust and heated air. He gripped Vin's shoulders and pulled him in closer, and just before their lips met he whispered, "You're my home."

END