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TITLE: Legends Born: A Sliver of Night -- Chris Larabee


AUTHOR: Joan Curtin

RATING: PG-13 Language.

SPOILERS: To the Pilot Episode.

DISCLAIMER: Sadly, I can't claim financial or creative rights to the characters of the Magnificent Seven. Those belong to the writers and producers of the series.

** Denotes dialog from the series.

FEEDBACK: Please. Joan Curtin

Note: I suppose you might consider this an alternate universe since it is my version of the events that took place before the Pilot episode. I'm sure there are other stories which I haven't read, dealing with the same subject, and logic dictates that some cross-over of ideas is inevitable. However, I have not knowingly used any other author's ideas. If there is some coincidental resemblence, it is because great minds think alike, and not conscious plagiarism.

I have also taken liberties with some of the circumstances in the Pilot to provide an opportunity for Fate to bring these seven men together in Four Corners.

Feedback is welcome. And I'd love to read other versions of this idea, so feel free to contact me with URL's.

As always, a thanks to my Beta-readers, particularly Sue N. And a tip of the hat to Sue Bartholomew, for providing the cowardly sheriff with a name. Mel and Elizabeth, thanks for the encouragement.





Legends Born -- Part Two

A Sliver of Night: Chris Larabee


" ... Chris Larabee stared down Clete Wilkins with eyes that could mesmerize like a rattlesnake's. Those jade orbs bored into Wilkins' soul, daring him to draw. Wilkin's hand twitched on his pearl-handled Colt pistol. He was going to kill Chris Larabee if it was the last thing he did on this earth! "I ain't afraid of you, Larabee."

The man in black laughed at him. "You should be afraid, Wilkins. I am going to kill you this day."

"Draw, gunslinger --" Those were the last words that fell from the lips of Clete Wilkins before Chris Larabee shot him through the heart. The man who had been the scourge of the plains lay dead in the dust of Lawrence, Kansas ..."

Chris Larabee flipped through the pages of the dime novel he held in his hands. On the cover, a pen and ink drawing of a man who looked nothing like him stared at the reader over the barrel of a gun. The title read: The Legend of Larabee: Showdown in Lawrence. A True Story.

The author didn't know shit. And about the only thing he'd gotten right was the black clothing. Larabee knew it was an affectation. Knew that wearing it only intensified the myths growing around his name. He'd started wearing it as a sign of mourning, the blackness outside reflecting the pall of grief and rage that burned inside of him. He wore it now to intimidate. The legend clung to his lean, black-clad figure like the folds of the black duster he wore. When he walked into a room, it was like a sliver of night had entered; silent, cold, and lethal. Larabee didn't need black clothing to scare folks: his skill with a gun was terrifying enough, but his shadowy presence struck potent doubt into the minds of those who dared to challenge him. And it made everyone else leave him alone, which suited him just fine.

"Ten cents."

Larabee looked up from the book, frowning. "Pardon?" A small, brown-haired woman was standing in front of him, her hands on her hips.

"Ten cents. You want to read that book, you pay for it."

Because she had no idea who he was, and because she amused him, he dug a dime out of his pocket and set it on the counter. "You ever read these?" he asked.

Gloria Potter's eyes narrowed. "No. They're nothing but made up stories about made up folks, and wicked to boot."

Larabee inclined his head. "That they are, ma'am." He strode out of the mercantile. A young boy sat on the steps, his left arm supported by a sling. When he heard Larabee's boots on the boardwalk he looked up and gave him an uncertain smile tinged with fear.

That hurt. Larabee dropped the book next to the boy. "Here, looks like you won't be playin' for a while."

The boy's eyes widened. "Thanks, mister. But my ma don't let me read them things."

"Then you'd better listen to your ma." He nodded down at the child, and strode away. As he rounded the corner, he heard the woman call out. "Tommy! I told you not to talk to strangers, ever!"

"Aw, ma ..."

Larabee halted in his tracks as abruptly as if he'd run smack into an invisible wall. Seemed no matter how hard he tried to escape his past, it kept reaching out to clutch him by the heart. Sometimes it was the way a woman held her head, sometimes a snatch of a song. This time, it was the whine in a child's voice that brought back his son to him, plain as if he were speaking in Chris' ear. Aw, ma ... Pa said I could ride on Major ... Ma, I don't wanna go t'bed ...

All that Chris had lost rose up in him, savaging his heart like the claws of a wolf, making his mouth curl into a snarl of anger. Half-blind with it, and wanting only to find the nearest bottle of whiskey, he moved quickly, his long stride carrying him straight into the path of a woman walking out of a storefront.


He heard her startled gasp, caught a quick impression of silvery blond hair and wide cornflower-blue eyes. "Sorry." He tipped the brim of his hat and brushed past. She wasn't the sort of woman he needed. Not a whore he could spill his seed into until he was blinded and numbed by physical release. Odd perfume, though -- roses and something that smelled like machine oil. He resisted the impulse to look back. He never looked back.

Mary stared after him. Another stranger in town. She watched his lean, dark form stalk towards the saloon, the tails of his duster fluttering behind him. She shivered. He'd left a disturbance in the air, an impression of latent power. She didn't know who he was, but she'd find out. Four Corners had enough trouble without the addition of more bad elements to the already volatile mix of characters. She paused for a moment, composing herself. She didn't hear Vin Tanner come up behind her.

"Ma'am?" The buffalo hunter's soft voice made her jump. "You dropped this. He held out her reticule and gave her a worried look. "You all right? Ya seem a mite shaky. That feller didn't hurt you?"

"No. He was just rude." She took her purse from his hand. "Thank you, Vin. Did you recognize him?"

"No, ma'am. Never saw him b'fore." He looked down the boardwalk. The man had vanished, probably gone into the saloon. "I jist wanted to thank you fer speakin' to Virgil Watson. He hired me on the spot."

"I thought he would," she smiled. "Now you take it easy for a few days, unless you want to end up back at Nathan Jackson's clinic."

"I'll do that, ma'am." He touched his hat brim and as silently as he had come upon her, ghosted away. Mary watched him, aware as she had not been before that there was something in his movement that put her in mind of the stranger; a shared aura of danger and controlled violence that made her shiver. Foolish, she told herself. Letting herself be spooked by a chance encounter. What could the slight, reticent hunter have in common with that black-clad shadow of menace?


Chris laid his money on the bar and took his bottle of whiskey into the far corner of the saloon. When he'd come in, a silence had fallen for a moment as the crowd took his measure. He let them look, let them worry that he might be coming to cause trouble. He'd long ago given up being inconspicuous. After he'd taken his seat, the noise level in the room gradually grew to its former level. Larabee sat, back to the wall, and lit a cheroot. His gaze roved from one table to another, taking stock of the other occupants of the room.

At one table, a gambler in a scarlet coat and a fancy waistcoat was dealing cards so quickly that Chris figured he was an accomplished cheater as well. He grinned as he dealt, revealing a glint of gold incisor. Chris wouldn't play cards with that man if he were running the last game on earth and his life was on the table.

Across the way, a big Negro man sat alone, nursing a beer. No one paid him much mind, so Chris assumed that he was known in town. Saw that the bartender wasn't too keen on having him there, either. When he'd finished his beer, the Negro got up and left. A few men nodded, too few for long familiarity or acceptance.

Chris drank deeply and refilled his glass. After a while, the upstairs girls came down to start looking for customers. One of them, a sultry blond with a lush figure came up and started a flirtation. Chris poured her a drink, too. For a few minutes, he thought she might be worth the effort, then he caught a drift of her perfume -- roses -- the same as the woman on the boardwalk; and that sudden remembrance of her cool beauty made the blond at his table seem as brassy and coarse as the rinse on her hair.

The whore's hand, which had been working its way from his inner thigh to his crotch, stopped its exploration as she sensed the sudden waning of his interest. She sighed. "Listen, honey. You're a mighty fine-lookin' man, but I gotta make a livin', if you know what I mean?"

Chris gave her a wry smile. "Sorry, I ain't lookin' fer company, tonight."

The blond hitched up the strap of her gown which she had allowed to slip enticingly from her white shoulder. Her eyes lit on the door, and her face brightened at the sound of a warm, raucous laugh coming from the doorway. "Maybe another time, cowboy?" she suggested politely, but she was already on the move.

Chris didn't hear her. He was watching the front of the room as intently as the whore. Jesus Christ, he knew that laugh!

A tall, broad-shouldered, long-legged cowboy ambled into the room, and all at once every female in the saloon was buzzing around him, like bees to a honey pot. They clung to his arm, looked up adoringly into his laughing eyes, even stroked the glossy black mustache he sported over a mouth that seemed to smile at each individual woman as if she were the single most important thing in the world.

Buck Wilmington.

Three years ago, Chris would have gone up to Buck, greeted him with a slap on the back, and pressed a tall cool beer into his hand. They would have whiled away the night, reminiscing about the war -- the good times, and the bad. They would have talked horse-flesh, and women, and when the night was old, they would have clasped hands and parted; Buck going off to his current amour, and Chris to his marriage bed. And before he crawled in next to Sarah's sweet body, he would have gone to kiss Adam goodnight.

No more, and not ever again. They were gone to ashes and grief more bitter than gall.

Buck Wilmington had been his best friend. There were no scars on Buck's face, and the bruises Chris' fists had left were long faded. The pain remained inside, the memory of waking up to a hangover and the horrifying realization that he had pretty near beat Wilmington to death. All because he couldn't bear knowing he had been off buying bloodstock with Buck while Sarah and Adam burned to death. He'd finally accepted that it wasn't Buck's fault, wasn't even his fault. But out there, someone knew who had taken those innocent lives and Chris' heart, with the flick of a lucifer.

Once he knew Buck would live, he had abandoned his ranch and begun his search for the men who had murdered his family. The trail had led him through bloody Kansas, Nebraska, parts of Texas. Colorado. He'd hired himself out as a ramrod, a gunslinger. Killed more men than he could count, and most of them without a twinge of remorse. Watched with cool, ironic eyes as his name became a legend, and the legend struck fear into men's hearts. The man who had been Buck Wilmington's friend was gone.

Chris had written to Buck once, offering an inadequate apology for his actions. Buck had sent back a note, scrawled in a hand as long and lazy as his drawl, forgiving him. That was all the communication they'd had in over two years.

Chris drained the last swallow of whiskey from the bottle. Then with his hat pulled low, he slipped along the edges of the room, making his way through the shadows to the door of the saloon. If anyone noticed his passing, they were wise enough to leave it unspoken.

He went to his room at the hotel. It was a warm evening, and the small room was hot and airless. He tossed his hat on the bed and shoved back the hank of blond hair that had fallen over his forehead. He opened the window as far as the warped frame would allow -- all that did was let in more heat and more dust. His hand went to his black leather gunbelt. He unbuckled it and set it on the bed. His sidearm was a Colt revolver with bone grips, beautifully tended and balanced to fit Chris' hand. He'd worn that rig for so long that the supple leather had shaped itself to his hips, and without the familiar weight on his bones, he felt incomplete.

Three freshly laundered shirts and a pile of neatly folded clothing had been laid out on the foot of the bed. Larabee wasn't vain, but he liked being clean; liked the feel of a crisp, cool shirt on his skin in the morning. Sarah had spoiled him that way, and when he was sober, he tried to keep his standards up in her memory.

He stripped down to his trousers and lay on the bed. A light breeze blew over his body, but it was like a warm breath and did little to relieve the stuffy atmosphere. A trickle of sweat worked its way from his temple to his cheek, and slid down his throat. He brushed it away, feeling the rough stubble of beard on his chin. He'd go to the bathhouse in the morning, clean up before he met the man who was interested in his services. Guy Royal. Larabee had heard of him. He knew he was rich -- rich and greedy for more. Aren't we all, Chris thought cynically. Always searching for something we had lost or weren't even supposed to have. Wasn't that what made a man restless, made him wander?

Larabee's hard mouth softened into what could nearly be termed a smile. If ever a man was born under a wandering star, it was Buck Wilmington. The West was a vast and dangerous place. A man could lose himself in it, or die a thousand different ways -- but something had brought him and Buck to this hot, dusty corner of the world. The why had yet to be revealed.


He rode out to the place he'd agreed to meet Guy Royal early the next morning. When he arrived at the abandoned shack, no one else was there. He dismounted slowly, alert to a possible trap, though he did not know why Royal would be interested in ambushing him. He went up the concave steps, wincing at the dry splintery sound of the wood underfoot. One sharp kick opened the door.

Nothing and no one. The place was deserted. Cobwebs hung in the window frames, and he heard the skitter of mice in the floorboards. Chris looked up at the ribs of the rafters overhead. Chinks of light shone through the rotted shingles. The place had been decent shelter at one time, and it could be made livable again with hard work.

He went back outside. The house sat beneath the limbs of a tall cottonwood. There was a barn in worse condition than the house, a tipped-over water trough, a well. Chris went over to it and shoved back the cover. The smell of cool water and algae rose from the depths. When he dropped a pebble, it sounded a hollow plunk, not too far below the surface. Out back, two gnarled apple trees were laden with green fruit. A stream running through the property bubbled over rocks, swirled into a deeper pool, then continued to thread through the grass like a silver ribbon.

Something about the run-down house and neglected property spoke to Chris. He could see himself settling down in a place like this to raise horses. That was one dream that hadn't died away with Sarah and Adam. His green eyes swept the line of the property. Maybe someday he would find a place just like this one, hang up his guns, and live that life. Quick, derisive denial rose in his mind. Most likely the only property he'd ever own was a cemetery plot.

The sound of approaching horsemen brought an end to daydreams. His nerves sparked, and though he didn't move, every sinew of his body was drawn taut in anticipation of danger. Three men galloped towards the house and reined in. The lead rider dismounted and strode towards Chris, stopping short and holding his hands away from his body, as if he knew he was no more than a breath away from being shot.

"You Larabee?" he asked.

Chris nodded. "You Guy Royal?"

"No. My name's Wyn Tucker. I'm Royal's foreman."

Chris' eyes hardened. He jerked his chin towards the other men. "Either of them Royal?"


"Then I reckon we ain't got anything to talk about. Tell Royal I don't deal with anybody but him."

"Royal sent me. That should be good enough," Tucker said, his voice rising a fraction, as if Chris had insulted him.

Chris smiled. "Now I ain't sayin' you're not an honest man, Tucker. You ever been in the Army?"

"No. Don't see what that has to do with anything, Larabee."

"Let's just say that the secondhand orders have a way of being misunderstood. Royal wants me, he's the one who needs to be here. Not you. Tell him I'll be back tomorrow, same time."

"Fuck you!" Tucker spat. "Maybe Mr. Royal don't need you after all."

"Maybe you'd better let Mr. Royal make that decision," Chris said mildly. His hand drifted to his holster, his eyes said he meant business, and Wyn Tucker blinked. He mounted back up, and he and his two companions galloped off the property.

Chris' throat was dry. He went down to the stream and scooped up a handful of water. It was sweet-tasting, faintly metallic. He drank, then splashed water on his face. It felt good. He wondered who owned this place, and sure hoped it wasn't Guy Royal.

He rode back to Four Corners in the heat of mid-morning, in time to see them carrying a body from the Healer's clinic. He went to the saloon. He'd slaked his thirst, now he needed a drink.


The shots erupted without warning; shattering glass, scattering the folks on the streets, turning Four Corners into a shooting gallery. The rowdies rode down the street firing wildly, careless of damage to property or citizens. The windows of the mercantile splintered and showered Gloria Potter's hair with fragments of glass. One bullet ripped through the siding of the Clarion and glanced off the metal handle of Mary Travis' printing press, ending up buried in the wall behind her desk. The next casualty was the bottle of Red-Eye Chris Larabee was about to wrap his fingers around. He jerked his hand away briefly, then without a tremor, poured another finger of whiskey into his shot glass and drained it.

He drew on his cheroot, turned away from the bar, and walked out into chaos. Far as he could tell, four cowboys were riding around, shooting at anything that caught their eyes, and drinking enough whiskey to fill the Rio Grande. A shout and a struggle from the direction of the clinic caught Chris' attention. Three men were muscling the big Negro down the stairs. They dragged him toward the undertaker's wagon and threw him on the back of it. They had tied his wrists, and Chris figured they were looking to wrap a rope around something more lethal. Seemed like Four Corners was havin' a necktie party.

He looked down at the old-timer sitting on the bench in front of the saloon. **"Town always this lively?"

A shot ricocheted off the brick facing of the saloon, and the old man flinched. "Trail herd from Texas all likkered up and got in the mood fer a lynchin'."**

**"Where's the law?"** Chris was watching two men riding away from trouble fast.

The man snorted, nodding towards the departing riders. ** "Marshal and his deputy. That isn't even his horse,"** he said in disgust. Chris took in another mouth of smoke and let it go. No one seemed to be making a move to stop the lynching. It was an ugly scene, but Chris had seen ugly before. It wasn't his business, he figured. Not against eight drunken cowboys, with no one out there for back-up. The slim young man sweeping the steps of the hardware store had paused to watch as well, but had not been moved to act.

The wagon started moving forward, and then things got interesting. A solitary figure stepped into the path of the wagon -- Chris drew up straight. It was the woman from the boardwalk, toting a shotgun, and knowing how to use it, judging from the steadiness of her aim. Her hair glittered in the sunlight, a pale contrast to the dark silk dress she wore.

When the cowboy kicked her rifle up and the recoil sent her to the ground, Chris' gut tightened. He started to move off the porch as she got to her feet. She looked around at the crowd that had gathered, imploring their aid, giving a final despairing look over her shoulder as she gathered her skirts and started after the lynching party.

No one did anything. No one. It wasn't right. Chris could almost feel Sarah's presence. She would have been standing right at that woman's side, giving him the same accusatory glance; looking hurt and angry at his indifference. For Sarah's sake, Chris made a move to step from the boardwalk, then paused. The young man across the way had gone inside the store and emerged without his apron, and with a rifle in his hands instead of a broom.

**"You walk off with that rifle and you're fired," the owner of the store threatened.

"Hell, I'm probably gonna git myself killed. Now I gotta worry about a new job, too."**

Soft and raspy, but with a carry to it, his voice caught Chris' attention. He felt a smile tug at his mouth. Then the young man stepped forward, and he looked at Chris as direct as if he'd spoken. Lightning couldn't have hit harder. He couldn't have explained for the world how he knew that this was a man who would fight beside him this day, and if they lived through this one, all the days to come. And if he died, he would not die alone.

They stepped into the street, their paces falling into natural rhythm. Chris gave the man a sidelong look. He balanced the rifle on his shoulder with the ease of long practice. His eyes were blue and steady, his fine-boned face calm. Man must have had some confidence in his abilities, or he'd be sweatin' by now. The long hair and the slope-brimmed hat made Chris suspect that he might have been a buffalo hunter -- maybe not as fast a shooter as some, but deadly accurate with that long rifle. That was all right. Chris was fast enough for them both as long as the marksman could reduce the odds in their favor.

They reached the cemetery and stood side-by-side, neither wanting this affair to turn deadly, but poised to act with lethal effect if it did.

Fallon's foreman turned to them. **"What the hell do you want?"** he sneered.

There was just enough booze in his system to make him reckless. His mistake, Chris figured. **"Cut him loose."**

The hunter spoke, the rifle still balanced on his shoulder, deceptive in his stance. ** "Reckon y'all 'd be happier if ya jist rode away."** There was hint of a suggestion, a hint of a threat in that rasp of a drawl that made the hair on Chris' neck rise.

**"Not a chance, boys."** The foreman spat, laughed. Moved his hand towards his gun.

Larabee fixed him with those green-ice eyes. **"You boys shot a lot of holes in the clouds back there. Any of you stop to reload?"** His gaze went from man to man, saw the doubt spring up. He moved his duster aside, revealing his sidearm, and setting his palm against the butt of his revolver.

For the breadth of a second, he thought they might yet get out of this. Then the damn fool cocked his gun ...


Twelve hours later, Chris Larabee was lying on his bed, wondering at what point his life had taken a turn he could not have anticipated in a hundred years. It had all started with Vin Tanner. Tanner, Jackson, and the Seminole Indian chief looking to hire guns to protect his village from a band of renegade Confederate raiders. The chief had asked, the big healer had agreed, and Tanner, with a wry smile curving his mouth had said, **"Hell, I wasn't plannin' on dyin' with a broom in my hand, anyway." ** He'd given Chris that look, the same as he'd given earlier. A challenge, and a suggestion that dyin' might not be such a bad thing as long as they were in it together. Chris, in a state of exhaustion and euphoria left by the gun fight, not ready to walk away just yet and very much in a "why not" sort of mood, had agreed.

Thirty-five dollars, pledged in gold. Seven men. ** "I think I know a man who c'n help."** Nathan had said.

**"I know one too, if I can get him outta bed."** Chris had responded. He and Tanner had gone after Buck Wilmington.

Buck, then the red-coated gambler Ezra Standish. Himself, Tanner, Nathan Jackson and his man, Josiah Sanchez, who needed some ponderin' before he made a decision. That was six. A seventh would be hard to find.

All for thirty-five dollars. Guy Royal was offering him five hundred. But Sarah hadn't whispered that he should take up with Guy Royal.

Chris rolled himself upright from his bed. Sleep was a long ways away -- so was dawn. He buckled on his gun and left his room. He stood on the boardwalk and lit a cheroot. The saloons had emptied for the night and there were watch-fires burning on the street corners. But the streets were quiet, as if the gunplay of the morning had worn the town out. A glimmer of motion caught his eye from the rooftop opposite. Tanner had climbed from his window to sit on the hardware store overhang. His knees were drawn up, and the Winchester rifle was cradled in his arms. Chris drew on his cheroot, and stepped out of the shadows. Tanner's head came up, alert at the movement. He saw Chris and touched the brim of his hat. With a compact flip of his body, he dropped from the roof to land lightly on his feet and crossed the street. He nodded to Chris.

"Thinkin' on tomorrow?" he asked.

"Hell, no. I'm thinkin' on today," Chris answered, and gave him a sidelong look. "What the fuck have we got ourselves into?" he asked.

Tanner slid his hat from his head and combed his fingers through his hair. "Got ourselves a job t'do, is all. Gittin' paid fer it, too." His eyes laughed, his mouth just took on that twist of a smile.

Chris gave a grim chuckle. "You know what I get paid t'do a job?" Tanner lifted an inquisitive brow. "Five hundred dollars."

An unfathomable expression rippled in Tanner's eyes, turning the blue to black for an instant before they lightened again. "S'lot of money. Must be a hell of a job."

Chris sucked in smoke. "You know anything about a rancher named Guy Royal?"

Vin was quiet for a moment. "Shit. Nothin' good. But I've only been here fer a week."

"What do you know?"

"I heard he's a man who wants more'n his share of land, money, water. And that he'll do jist about anything t'git what he wants. Even hire guns t'do his dirt." Tanner's voice was tinged with scorn. "You one of 'em?" he asked, with a look in those blue eyes to take a man's self-importance down real quick.

Chris thought of Guy Royal. Thought of how he'd felt after Wyn Tucker and his muscle rode away. Like he'd been wading in filthy water. Thought of how he'd felt when Tanner had been walking beside him; how he felt now. Like Sarah had set her cool hands on his forehead after a touch of too much sun. You'll be all right, she'd say. And he knew it was true.

"No," Chris shook his head. "I'm not." He dropped the butt of the cheroot in the dirt and ground it out beneath his heel. He grinned. "I got a job."

Tanner nodded. Chris read amusement, approval, faith in that simple tilt of a chin and a brief curl at the corner of his mouth. They stood together in silence; the tall gunslinger and the slight marksman. A passer-by would have taken note of them, and seeing Larabee's posture mirroring the slouch of Tanner's body like a shadow, would have assumed such physical ease came from an acquaintance of long-standing between the two men.

That observation would have been a surprise to them, for they were so used to walking solitary paths that they would have thought such friendship to be impossible, unattainable. They only knew that in the morning, they would ride out together.



Continued in: 'Born Under a Wand'ring Star: Buck Wilmington'