Author: Kat Lee
Fandom: The Magnificent Seven
Character/Pairing: Vin/Chris, Buck/JD, Ensemble
Challenge/Prompt: 1_million_words Monday Flash Challenge: Cactus
Word Count: 1,022
Date Written: 27 June 2018
Disclaimer: All characters within belong to their rightful owners, not the author, and are used without permission.
“Stop,” Vin called, swinging down from Peso. He walked over to a cactus, picked off a piece of fruit, and sniffed it.
“What are you doing?” Buck demanded.
Josiah held up a hand to calm him as Buck’s mustache twitched with his impatience. “Leave him alone, Buck. Let him do his job.”
“We are all agreed that Mistah Tanner is the best tracker amongst us,” Ezra drawled. “If we are to find our missin’ friends, he is our best bet.”
Buck’s mustache twitched again. “He ain’t gonna find nothing there but a damn cactus and some thorns!”
Nathan, meanwhile, was silently watching Vin sniff the cactus. He had started with the fruit, then moved to the top of the cactus, and worked his way down. “They were here,” he called out suddenly.
“What?” Buck snapped, snatching Beavis’ reins without thinking about it. “What do ya mean they were here? How do you know that? What are you now, The Cactus Whisperer?”
“Nah. But Chris cut a piece o’ th’ fishhook barrel here fer ‘em to get some water an’ left a little something behind.” He held up a tiny scrap of black cloth.
Buck’s eyes narrowed. “There’s no way you saw that.”
“No,” he agreed. “I saw the cactus and followed my gut instinct.”
“What does your gut say now?” Josiah asked, speaking over Buck’s retort.
“That they’re out here somewhere,” Vin said, his sky blue eyes scanning the horizon. “They got away from their kidnappers somehow. They wouldn’t’ve been able to get th’ water otherwise.” He jerked his head back to the plant, then suddenly pointed up in the air. “An’ I’m bettin’ we’ll find either them or their kidnappers there where those birds are circlin’.” He prayed it wasn’t their boys or, if they were, that they were all right despite the scavengers circling above their heads.
“Death birds,” Josiah intoned what Vin was already thinking in his deep, gravelly voice. He edged his horse forward.
“Hiyah!” Buck rode out in front of them, but all five of the men, including Vin who was back astride Peso, quickly broke into a gallop. They passed bodies whose skin had already been picked clean from their bones along the way. Ezra shuddered as the other men did inwardly. He almost lost the bile that rose up in his throat and was thankful when Nathan wordlessly passed him a clean cloth and his canteen.
“They’ve been goin’ in circles. Come on!” Vin called to the others, having seen the shape Chris’ and JD’s kidnappers were in. “We ain’t got no time to lose!”
They hurried along the trail, Vin and Josiah each constantly checking for the death birds, and sure enough, they found Chris and JD laying on the hot, desert ground, too exhausted and starved to be able to go any further. The heat played dangerous tricks on the best men’s mind, and Chris, for all his strength and bravado, was no exception. Vin leapt off of Peso at the same time that Buck released Beavis’ reins and jumped.
They hit the ground running together and were kneeling in the side beside their lovers at the same time. Chris groaned as he opened his eyes. Vin lifted his head onto his lap and started to open his canteen but paused and looked at Nathan, who had joined them, for permission first. Nathan nodded. “But real slow,” he added as he moved to check on JD.
Chris’ weak hand touched Vin’s where he held the canteen to his parched lips. They had bled earlier, but even the blood was dried and caked onto his mouth now. “You found me.”
“Always, darlin’,” Vin whispered low enough that the other men shouldn’t be able to overhear him.
His blue eyes twinkled. “It’s what I do,” he replied. “‘Sides I found your calling card.” He held up the tiny scrap of cloth, never mentioning that he wouldn’t have noticed it if he hadn’t already sniffed Larabee’s strong scent on the cactus, especially the few drops of blood that its thorns had taken from him. Chris grinned weakly up at him.
“Now hush up,” Vin directed, “an’ drink slow.” In a short time, they had their men up and moving toward the horses. Nathan helped Buck with JD while Josiah took most of Chris’ weight with his arm around his massive shoulders.
After JD was secured on Beavis with Buck and Chris was in Vin’s arms astride Peso and they’d started out again, Buck quietly guided his horse closer to Vin’s. He glanced over at him. “I . . . “ His mustache twitched. “I owe ya one, pard.”
Vin shook his head. “Nah. Ain’t nothin’ to it. We were all impatient.”
“Yeah, but without you, we wouldn’t’ve found ‘em ‘til it was too late.”
Vin was going to let it go, but it was Josiah riding by who spoke in his defense. “Indeed. We all need to remember, Brother Wilmington, we’re more than a team here. We’re a family. If one of us hurts or is missing, then the rest of us are hurting. Every one of us. But we also need to remember we come from different backgrounds, each of us. We’ve all learned different things, and we all have different things to offer. Some of our ways may be . . . odd at best . . . Folks, even our folks, may not always be accustomed to our methods, but -- “
“But it works,” Buck said, catching on and smiling, “and that’s all that matters. Thank you, Vin.”
“Yeah,” JD mumbled. “Thanks, Vin.” He slumped back against Buck’s strong chest. Buck’s blue eyes glittered with unshed tears as he realized just how close he’d come to losing the Kid.
“That’s what family’s for.” Vin nodded, released Peso’s reins, and touched the brim of his hat with the fingers of the hand that had been holding the reins. Peso, loyal to his master, didn’t miss a step, and Vin never moved his other arm from around Chris. He lifted Peso’s reins again and continued leading the way home for all their family, a secret smile chasing over his grizzled lips as he passed Bucklin.