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Hombre's Magnificent Seven Fan Fiction

So you think you're a St Bernard?

Vin AFT story added 11/5/05

Notes: Haven’t done a Vin fic for a little while. It will be short, but he gets a bit of TLC in the end! Monroe, a mongrel, is Ezra’s dog, who first made his appearance in the story Courage. Special thanks to Laura for beta-reading this! Any other mistakes are mine.


Chris looked up and waved as Vin pulled into the ranch’s yard in his battered jeep. The sharpshooter parked next to Ezra’s Jag, hopped out and ambled toward his blond friend, who was busy chopping wood to put on his log fires. Vin always tried to park next to Ezra’s car because he knew it annoyed the hell out of the man. The undercover agent always thoroughly scrutinized the Jag whenever Vin had been near it, which the younger man found hilarious.

“Hey, Cowboy. Where’s Face-ache, then?” the long-haired man called as he drew near Chris.

Ezra’s in the barn with the dogs,” the blond replied with a broad smile at Vin’s new name for the man.

“Best place for him, I reckon. You know, I’m gonna let his tires down one of these days. Bet you a dollar that he starts fussing round that damned prissy car of his when he sees I’ve parked next to it. He just don’t trust me not to scratch it.”

Chris shook his head, put out his hands in a negative gesture and said, “That’s a sure-fire winner of a bet, Vin. I don’t throw money away that easy.”

“Shame, could do with a dollar. Ain’t got a cent to my name right now,” the sharpshooter complained as he put his hands in his pockets and shuffled from foot to foot.

“You spent your wages already?” the blond asked in astonishment as he left the axe in the last bit of wood he’d cut.

The men had only just been paid the previous week, but Vin seemed to use money like water sometimes. He was a sucker for good causes and usually gave his money away to charities, or the street-kids that lived in his neighborhood.

The blue-eyed man shrugged. “You know me. No sooner than it’s in my pocket, it’s gone again.” Vin grimaced. “Anyway, it went on paying off lots of bills this month. It ain’t been wasted if that’s what yer worrying about. I don’t owe no one nothing.”

Chris looked his friend straight in the eye and asked his question anyway. He already knew the answer, but he couldn’t help himself inquiring, “How do you plan to live until next pay day then?”

“On handouts and free meals from you lot,” the younger man grinned, knowing his friends wouldn’t let him starve.

The black-clad man shook his head and complained, “Jeez, one day you’re gonna find a padlock on my freezer. How the hell can you say you don’t owe anyone anything, if you promptly expect me to feed you? I oughta claim back what you eat outta my expenses from work. This isn’t a soup kitchen, you know.”

Vin smiled broadly as he patted Chris’s back cajolingly. “Yeah, yeah, yeah. Heard it all before, cowboy. Got any eggs and bacon?”

Chris grimaced and let out a mock sigh of defeat. “Help yourself, but you owe me big time, bud.”

Vin laughed and headed into the kitchen to make his meal. He hadn’t eaten since the previous afternoon and he was famished. He rubbed his stomach to try and silence its growling noises, but the sounds only increased once the tantalizing smells from his cooking pervaded the air.

Ezra, having heard Chris and Vin’s voices, exited the barn with his canine companions, Arnie and Monroe, on his heels.

Arnie, the black Labrador, ran across to his master and leaned against his legs waiting for a stomach rub. Chris obliged and then patted the dog to tell him to go away. Monroe liked the look of the attention that his companion had received so he sat in front of Ezra, his master, and looked up at him with an entreating look on his face.

The undercover agent rubbed behind Monroe’s ears and the dog almost smiled. It was his favorite place to be stroked. “Oh, Monroe, you are a copycat, or maybe that should be a copydog.” Ezra looked up at Chris as the dog set off after Arnie barking loudly. “The beggar’s arrived, I see,” he observed as he headed straight for his car and scrutinized every inch as Vin had predicted he would.

“Yeah, he’s here and I won’t tell you what he called you.”

“I dare say it was something suitably fitting,” Ezra said as he grinned, showing his gold tooth. He finished polishing the front fender of his car and headed back to join the blond. “When will our other compadres be joining us?”

Chris looked at his watch and saw that time was getting away from him. “Dammit. In about half an hour and I ain’t anywhere near ready.”

“What can I do to ease your burden?”

The black-clad man patted Ezra’s back gratefully. He took a moment to think and then nodded to himself as he said, “Well, if Vin hasn’t already eaten all the food, can you sort out what we’ll need for the picnic? Could you pack it up in the saddlebags, so that we’re ready to go as soon as everyone arrives? I need to go get the horses ready.”

“Your wish is my command,” Ezra said as he set off toward the house with a salute.

He stepped into the kitchen to find Vin still eating heartily. “You won’t fit in your lunch, Mr. Tanner,” he admonished.

Vin nodded decisively as he looked up at his friend. “I will. Ain’t eaten for ages and my stomach thinks my throat’s been cut. I could eat all day and still not be full up.”

“I hardly think so. Anyway, hasten your eating speed because Mr. Larabee needs help preparing the horses,” Ezra said as he began looking in cupboards for food.

“Why can’t you help him?” the sharpshooter asked, watching his friend’s movements distractedly. He polished off the last of his egg after asking his question, and then reached out a quick finger to catch an errant bit of yolk which was dribbling down his chin.

“I’m seeing to the picnic,” Ezra said as he placed what he’d found on the sink so he could make sure he had everything.

I could do that.”

Ezra turned round and shook his head slowly. “I don’t think so, Mr. Tanner. You’d probably eat it all yourself before you’d even packed anything.”

“Wouldn’t,” Vin objected round a mouthful of bacon.

“Were I a betting man, I’d put a large wager on that,” Ezra stated dryly.

Vin choked on his bacon and when he’d finished spluttering, after receiving a helping slap on the back from his friend, he said, “What the hell do you mean, ‘were you a betting man’? How can you say that? You bet on anything that moves.”

The smaller man only grinned in reply and went back to packing the lunches. Chris hurried in and looked at his two friends before heading to the sink to wash.

“You two nearly ready? The others have just arrived and are fighting over who’s riding what.”

“I’ll ride anything with four legs and a tail,” Ezra said distractedly as he checked to make sure he hadn’t left anything important behind.

“Arnie’s free, but I reckon you’d squash him, Ez,” Chris said with a laugh as he imagined the undercover agent riding his dog. The blond dried off his hands and arms and went back out to the barn to see which horse he’d been left to ride.

Ezra picked up a couple of saddlebags and turned to face Vin. “Could I call on your strength to transport the rest of our lunch to our equine companions, Mr. Tanner?”

“You getting weak in yer old age? How come I’ve gotta carry five and you’ve only got two?” Vin asked as he slung the bags over his shoulder with ease.

“I believe in sharing the work equally,” Ezra said with a cheeky grin as he ran out of the room.

Vin shook his head and ambled along behind his hastily departing friend. He reached the barn to find all the best-looking horses taken, as expected. He stared at the animal he’d been left with and he smiled. Rufus might be old and ornery but, in Vin’s opinion, he was the perfect mount. The younger man liked a challenging ride and Rufus was certainly that. Vin handed a saddlebag to each of his friends, who in turn secured them to their saddles.

“All set, guys? I thought we’d head to Miller’s Cross,” Chris said as he swung up into the saddle of his stallion, Mercury.

“Great. Ain’t been there for ages. Maybe see those eagles again,” Vin said, as he smiled and mounted Rufus who gave a welcoming buck as the young man settled in the saddle.

The group headed out into the yard and turned in the direction required. Arnie and Monroe appeared out of nowhere, opting to accompany the men on their outing. They certainly didn’t want to be left behind and they barked excitedly while running in and out of the horses’ legs. Rufus continued bucking, shying and generally being a nuisance, but Vin just laughed out loud. The horse had character and no mistake.

Chris set the pace and his friends rode along companionably until they reached their destination an hour later. The horses were tied up under a large oak tree and left to graze contentedly. The seven men sat down a short distance away and took their meals out of their saddlebags so that they were ready to eat when they wanted.

Nathan and Josiah lay back on the grass and closed their eyes, taking pleasure in the warm sunshine on their faces. Buck and Chris began reminiscing about an old friend who had made contact with them again. Ezra, meanwhile, sat and stroked Monroe who was totally exhausted by his long run. Arnie, however, was still full of energy and was off sniffing around in the undergrowth like a truffle-hound.

JD sighed happily as he looked around at the scenery. Miller’s Cross was a well known beauty spot, because the views were spectacular. It was one of the highest places in the area and the men were currently sitting at the top of a steep cliff face. They could look down and see the river winding like a blue shining snake below them. There was a perfect blue sky above their heads and they could see for miles into the distance. Snow-capped mountains glistened on the horizon, rising up above the lush, green pastureland. Birds chirped nearby and then the mewing sound of the eagle could be heard heading their way. It was truly a magical place.

Vin stood up immediately and pulled out his field glasses to scan the skies for his favorite bird. He finally picked out the small speck and he sighed as it got closer and closer.

“Beautiful,” he murmured in awe.

“Can I see?” JD asked as he stood up and moved next to his friend.

“Sure, kid.” Vin handed over the glasses and pointed at the bird, which was now wheeling higher in the sky on a thermal.

“Gee, he’s huge,” JD sighed.

“Well, he would be, wouldn’t he? He’s big because yer looking at him through magnified field glasses,” Buck shouted in amusement, as he guffawed at his joke.

“Oh, ha-de-ha-ha-ha,” JD retorted sarcastically.

“Take no notice, kid,” Vin advised as he patted his young friend's back. “He can’t help being a fool,” the sharpshooter whispered. “He thinks bird-watching is just leering at the ladies.”

“Heard that, pard.”

JD laughed and turned back to his eagle-watching with a sigh of contentment. “Bet he gets an even better view of the scenery than us from all the way up there.”

“Yeah, got better eyesight, ain’t he? Bet he could see a flea on a heifer at ten thousand feet,” Vin said with a laugh as he patted JD’s back again.

The youngster was always keen to learn as much about nature as he could. Vin often took him out on expeditions to find wolves or other wildlife, and JD invariably returned home bursting with enthusiasm at what he’d seen. He would quite often spend the rest of the day talking non-stop to the rest of his friends, relating information about the eating habits, or whatever, of the creature he’d been following. They in turn would listen in amusement, amazed at the kid’s thirst for knowledge. He was like the proverbial sponge.

JD sighed as the eagle glided out of sight with a soft mew echoing on the wind. The two men turned and re-joined their friends and Monroe moved to sit beside Vin. He pawed the man’s arm and licked his face.

“Jeez, Mutt, stop washing me, will ya?”

“He’s just being friendly,” Ezra said, sounding upset on his dog’s behalf.

“We’re already friends, but we won’t be if he keeps pestering me. Go away, Monroe. Go wash JD instead. Don’t reckon he showered this morning.”

JD looked offended as he sniffed his own armpits in embarrassment. “Did too,” he objected, when he found he smelled as sweet as a nut.

“I know, I just wanted to see the look on yer face, kid,” Vin laughed as he patted Monroe.

The other men smiled and settled back and thought it was high time they satisfied their hunger. Vin almost tore his packed lunch open and began devouring it like a madman, while his friends tucked in more gracefully.

Ezra stared at Vin and shook his head in something close to despair. The sharpshooter happened to glance up and he caught the look on the man’s face.

“What’s up with you?” he asked defensively. “Yer face’ll get stuck with that expression if the wind changes direction. Might be an improvement now I think about it. Fits your new name, too, Face-ache,” Vin said with a grin.

All the men but Ezra laughed out loud.

The undercover agent got a haughty look on his face and totally ignored the comment. Instead, he answered Vin’s first question in a tone of disgust, “I have never witnessed such a display of gluttony in all my years.”

“I ain’t eaten for an hour,” Vin objected as he looked at his watch pointedly. “I’m hungry.”

“I think you have worms, Mr. Tanner.” The undercover agent looked across at Nathan and said, “Mr. Jackson, I think a physical examination is in order, don’t you?”

“You ain’t touching me, Standish,” Vin warned as he pointed his plastic fork toward the man like a weapon.

“Shame, I was hoping for a bit of colonic irrigation to be inflicted,” Ezra said sadly as he popped a grape into his mouth

“Yer the one who needs a procedure, bud. A bullshit extraction, I reckon,” Vin replied quickly as a grin spread across his face.

Ezra scowled as the rest of his friends laughed. The undercover agent pointed at Vin while looking at Monroe. “Kill, Monroe. He’s insulting me. Do your job and protect my honor.”

Monroe barked softly and turned to Vin. The sharpshooter got ready to defend himself, but instead of a full-scale attack with teeth, the dog began to lick him extravagantly.

“I think he’s gonna lick him to death,” Josiah observed in amusement, as the dog continued his saliva attack.

Ezra pursed his lips and shook his head in despair. “I see I’m going to have to trade you in for a wolf, Monroe. You’ve failed miserably as a guard dog.”

Chris smiled. “We bought him as a companion for you, Ez. He was never intended to be like a slavering Rottweiler.”

“I know, and I am grateful every day for his company. He’s a happy hound,” the undercover agent noted in amusement.

“Yeah, well I wish he'd go be happy elsewhere,” Vin complained as he tried to fend off the kissing dog, while his friends just laughed at his predicament.

***************************************

The men packed up and headed home three hours later. Time had flown by, despite their inactivity. They took their time on the ride back to the ranch, enjoying the last of the day’s sunshine.

Six of the men reconvened in the living room after seeing to their horses, but Vin was still in the barn taking his time brushing down Rufus. He found the task relaxing and took pleasure in it. There was nothing like seeing a shining, silky coat on a horse. Monroe kept him company, but Arnie was still full of life and had disappeared in search of rabbits.

Half an hour after their return, Monroe padded into the house quickly and moved to his master’s chair. He grabbed hold of the man’s sleeve and tugged insistently as he growled in the back of his throat. It was as if he was talking to the man and Ezra seemed to understand what was being communicated.

“Monroe? What is the matter?” Ezra asked as the dog continued pulling on his clothing. “You want me to come with you?” The agent turned to his friends. “Excuse me gentlemen. My canine companion is rather eager to show me something of interest.”

“Jeez, Ez. You shouldn’t anthropom…amproth..,” JD stuttered. He gave up trying to say the word and sat glowering with arms folded across his chest. He wished complicated words would trip off his tongue as silkily as Ezra’s.

“I think the word you are stumbling over is anthropomorphize, my young friend. I sometimes think my dog is more human than most folks I meet,” the undercover agent stated.

“Well, he’s more human than you,” Buck shouted as Ezra stood up to leave.

“Ha, ha, Mr. Wilmington. Come on, Monroe. Show me what you desire.”

The dog ran out of the house, headed across the yard to the barn and sat waiting outside one of the stalls. Ezra finally arrived and pulled open the obstruction as Monroe barked quietly and began scratching the half-shut door. The undercover agent gasped as he saw Vin unconscious in the straw beneath Rufus’s feet.

“Mr. Tanner!” Ezra exclaimed as he stepped inside the stall.

He moved carefully so as not to spook Rufus and make him step on his injured friend. He managed to back the horse out of the stall safely and tied him up outside so he had room to work. He then went back to see to Vin’s needs. Ezra dropped to his knees beside the prone man and began to check him over gently.

He then turned back to his dog anxiously. “Monroe? Go and get Nathan. Do you understand? Nathan.”

The dog barked softly and set off at speed. He entered the living room again and went to sit next to the medic. He put his front paws on the arm of the chair and grasped Nathan’s sleeve and began tugging gently.

“Jeez, what’s that mutt up to now?” JD asked. “Do ya think he’s gonna take each one of us outside and bury us like an old bone?”

“Why don’t you go and see, Nate?” Josiah said with a laugh. “Give us a yell before you’re six feet under, though.”

Nathan stood up with a sigh and followed the excitable hound. Ezra was waiting for him at the barn door and he waved energetically to get Nathan to hurry up. The undercover agent patted Monroe’s head as the dog moved to greet him, pleased that he’d completed his master’s task.

“Mr. Jackson, thank goodness. Mr. Tanner seems to have met with an accident,” Ezra said breathlessly.

The two men went into the barn and entered the stall where Vin still lay unconscious. The medic saw Vin’s nasty head wound and began probing it gently after first brushing Vin’s hair out of the way.

“Call an ambulance, Ez,” he instructed.

“Already done.”

Vin groaned and vomited weakly into the straw as he raised a hand to his head. He felt dizzy, sick and shivery. He couldn’t quite remember what had happened, but all he knew now was pain.

“Take it easy, Vin,” Nathan said as he turned his friend onto his side in case he threw up again. “Do you know where you are?” the medic asked, trying to determine the severity of the head injury.

“Here,” Vin mumbled.

Nathan couldn’t help laughing at the obvious answer. “Concentrate Vin. Where are you exactly? Can you tell me?” The man leaned down and wiped Vin’s errant hair away again so that he could see Vin’s eyes. The long locks had fallen forward to obscure the man’s face when Nathan had turned Vin on his side.

No reply.

“Vin? What day is it? Can you remember?”

A moment of silence and then Vin moved slightly in the straw. He looked up at Nathan and frowned. “Today.”

Vin.”

“I don’t know, okay? My head hurts. Feel sick,” Vin said as he proved that last statement noisily.

“Alright, just relax. We’ll get you sorted soon,” Nathan promised as he rubbed his friend’s back gently.

“What you all doin’ in here?” Chris’s voice called in exasperation from outside.

The men in the house had become even more curious when Nathan hadn’t returned either so Chris had volunteered to go and find the missing agents. He’d heard Nate and Ezra’s voices and had tracked the sound down to the barn.

“Vin’s hurt,” Nathan replied worriedly.

“What?” the blond said as he hurried toward the medic’s voice.

“Nasty head wound. Monroe found him and came and got us.”

Chris bent down and patted the dog as he then pushed past the animal to enter the stall, too. “Hey, Monroe. Good fella. That’s what you were fussing over, was it?”

The blond squatted by Vin’s feet and studied his friend seriously. He could see the blood and vomit that was spread on the straw near Vin’s head and he winced in sympathy. “How is he?”

“Concussion, I s’pect. He’s puked and don’t seem to know what day it is, or where he is. An ambulance is on its way and I dare say he’ll be kept in the hospital overnight. It’s a deep wound.”

“What do you think happened?” Chris asked.

Nathan stood up and stretched his aching legs for a few seconds. He then turned to his friend and said speculatively, “Think he got kicked on his body first and then fell and hit his head. He’s got a bad bruise on his hip that’s kinda hoof-shaped.”

“Not like Vin to be careless round horses,” Chris noted in a puzzled tone as he looked around the area as if seeking clues.

“You don’t know that Mr. Tanner acted incorrectly. He’s a consummate horseman, but accidents can happen to anyone. I think he must have been on his way out of the stall because the door was ajar when I arrived in the scene. Monroe would never have seen him if he’d been shut in,” Ezra pointed out.

Nathan studied the horse closely while his friends talked. “Don’t think Vin did nothing wrong, Chris. This horse was bit by something by the look of this mark. Probably just struck out without warning and caught Vin unawares.”

Chris moved to Rufus and looked at what Nathan was pointing to. “Poor fella. That’s gotta hurt.” The blond treated the large bite on the animal’s leg before putting him away in another empty stall nearby.

The sounds of sirens sounded in the distance and grew louder until an ambulance finally pulled into the yard. The other agents tumbled out of the house at the noise and ran over to join their friends to find out why the vehicle was needed.

Chris explained what had happened and they watched silently as Vin was treated and lifted into the back of the ambulance. The men then split up and headed to their own vehicles to follow along behind the emergency vehicle.

*****************************************

On arrival at the hospital, Vin was seen straightaway because of the injury involved. He lay looking up at the ceiling feeling drained and sick. He sighed as a man leaned over him and smiled. What the hell you smiling at? he thought to himself.

“Mr Tanner? My name is Dr. Stoppard. Can you tell me what happened?” the doctor asked as he studied the wound on Vin’s head closely. He flashed a light in the man’s eyes and then waited a bit longer for an answer.

“No.”

“Well, how about the date? Do you know what date it is today?”

“No. Been asked before. Still don’t know,” Vin mumbled as he closed his eyes against the bright lights overhead.

“Never mind. You just rest while I go and speak to your friends.” The doctor patted Vin’s arm and then wandered through to reception. “Mr. Larabee?”

“Yeah, how is he?” the blond asked expectantly as he moved to stand in front of the doctor.

Dr Stoppard looked into a pair of concerned, green eyes and he smiled sympathetically. “I think we’ll keep him in overnight for observation. He’s definitely concussed, but I want to get an x-ray and CAT scan done as well just to be on the safe side. There’s no way of telling how hard he hit his head really, or whether he hit it as he fell or was kicked by the horse.”

“Can I stay the night with him?” Nathan asked.

“Sure. I need to find him a bed first of all, though, so I’ll come and find you when he’s settled in after his tests.”

“Thanks, doc,” Josiah said gratefully as he shook the man’s hand firmly.

“Well, Vin sure knows how to finish off the weekend in style, doesn’t he? He’ll get himself a few extra days off work now,” JD said with a smile, trying to lighten the atmosphere.

“Don’t you go getting any ideas, kid,” Chris warned in mock anger. “I don’t want a spate of injuries on a Sunday just to get out of working.”

“Gee, you’re no fun, boss,” the youngster grumbled.

The men retook their seats and waited a couple of hours until Dr. Stoppard returned. “Okay, he’s been taken to a room upstairs. You can see him if you like.”

The six men followed the doctor’s directions through the shiny, sterile corridors and finally found themselves outside their friend’s room.

“Hey, cowboy. How’s the head?” Chris asked as he ambled to stand by the bed. He could see that the younger man was pale and looked anything but well.

“Aching,” Vin admitted as he raised his hand and rubbed his brow.

“Not surprised. Nate’s gonna stay with you overnight, okay?”

Vin scowled and then rubbed his eyes. No amount of massaging made him feel any better. “I wanna go home.”

“Can’t till tomorrow, pard,” Buck said sympathetically as he patted the injured man’s shoulder.

Vin nodded resignedly and closed his eyes, seeing if darkness would help to ease the pain in his head. He couldn’t really have coped with the journey back to the ranch anyway. He felt better since his admission, but he still felt a bit sick.

His friends said their good-byes as Nathan took up residence in the chair beside the bed. He knew he was in for a disturbed night, because the medical staff would be checking Vin every couple of hours to make sure his condition hadn’t changed. Nathan didn’t care though. All he was concerned for was Vin’s welfare. He looked over at the bed and saw that Vin had curled slightly onto one side and was already asleep. Nathan smiled and joined his friend in a nap.

*************************************

“Mr. Tanner? Vin? Can you open your eyes?” a voice called.

Nathan stirred and blinked a few times. He looked over at the bed and saw a nurse shaking Vin’s shoulder gently. It was the first check of the night.

Vin eventually groaned and woke up. He fortunately didn’t swear, which he quite often did when woken before he was ready.

“How are you feeling?” the woman asked quietly.

“Tired.”

“Do you know where you are?”

“Yeah, Hell,” Vin drawled as he stared up wearily at the nurse. This was the part he hated about head injuries: the constant interruptions and questioning. “I’m in the hospital again, I reckon,” he mumbled.

“That’s right. I’ll be back in another hour to check on you again,” she said as she patted his arm and smiled across at Nathan.

“Great. Already looking forward to it,” Vin whispered sarcastically as he fell asleep again.

*****************************************

Morning finally arrived. The night seemed to have lasted for twenty-four hours instead of twelve because of the constant interruptions. At last, though, the sun rose over the horizon and flooded through the hospital room’s window.

“Hey, Vin. Feel better?” Nathan asked when Vin woke and yawned loudly.

The long-haired man nodded as he ran his fingers through his hair slowly and then rubbed his eyes. “Yeah, thanks. Head hurts a bit, but it’s much better than yesterday.”

“Well, I’ll get Dr. Stoppard and he can probably discharge you,” the medic said hopefully.

The doctor arrived as Nathan was talking. “Did I hear my name being spoken?” The man smiled at his patient and moved to stand by the bed. “Hello, Mr. Tanner. How was your night?”

“Disturbed.”

Dr. Stoppard smiled sympathetically. “I can imagine, but it was all for your benefit.” The man examined Vin thoroughly as he talked and then nodded in satisfaction. “Right you can go home.”

“Glad to hear it,” Vin said as he struggled upright and climbed out of bed.

“Aren’t you waiting for breakfast?” the doctor asked, never having seen anyone quite so eager to leave before.

Vin fixed the doctor with a serious stare and shook his head firmly. “No way. I don’t wanna be poisoned and have to stay in here longer. I’ll eat when I get home, thanks, doc. No offence,” the sharpshooter said as Nathan handed him his clothes to change into.

“None taken. You’re probably very sensible. See you again.”

“Not if I can help it,” Vin grumbled as he pulled on his pants.

*****************************************************

An hour later, Vin and Nathan arrived at the ranch house to find all the boys had stayed overnight. They congregated on the porch to greet him as he climbed out of Nathan’s Explorer. Vin stretched and sighed in contentment as he looked at his friends. It was good to be free.

“Hey, pard. Good to see you,” Buck said as he stepped into the yard to shake the younger man’s hand.

“Thought you’d be at work,” Vin commented curiously as he scratched his chin and yawned.

“Chris sweet-talked Travis into letting us have the morning off,” JD said with a laugh.

The sharpshooter grinned at the blond, wondering how he’d managed such a feat. “Terrific.”

Chis moved to stand beside Vin and put his arm round his friend’s shoulder gently. “Well, you aren’t doing anything today except resting, cowboy. Get your butt in the living room and sit down.”

“Yes, sir,” Vin said as he went indoors and took up residence on the couch.

Monroe ambled in and jumped up beside him. He lay down and looked set to go to sleep with his head in Vin’s lap.

“Hey, Monroe. Nate told me on the way home that you helped me out, pup. I owe ya one,” Vin said as he patted the dog gratefully.

“Yes, maybe you won't be so scathing of his affection next time. It turned out that my lick-friendly dog was your savior Mr. Tanner,” Ezra commented.

“He’s a regular surrogate St. Bernard, aren’t you, boy?” Josiah said as he tickled the small dog behind the ears softly.

“Yeah, he is, but next time tell him to bring the whiskey,” Vin ordered.

The End

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