LaraMee

Disclaimer: The alphabet brigade owns them, I don't make any money off them. I have no ulterior motives in writing this stuff.

Warnings: Not much, just a little language

Notes: This is written for pamela, who asked for a Christastrophe for her birthday. Even though it's late, hope your day was wonderful, and the year to come is magnificent!! HAPPY (BELATED) BIRTHDAY!

 


 

"Vin, are you certain it wouldn't be more prudent for us to simply wait for Chris? He is only half a day late, after all." Ezra Standish said, hope fading that the laconic tracker would change his mind.

"We're goin' in th' direction he would a come, Ezra. I ain't seen 'm, have you?"

"No," Ezra felt the last vestiges of hope torn asunder.

"Then he's still out yonder somewhere. Cain't never tell what's gonna happen when yer ridin' a green horse." The gunslinger had opted to leave his black gelding behind for this trip, taking one of the horses he had been working to break instead. The animal was nearly gentle enough to sell, and he had decided to put the animal to a final test. He had gone into Carson County to testify at a trial there, then he would meet Vin and Ezra in Kelsey for a trip down into Purgatorio. Just after the gunslinger left, they had received information that Dave and Billy Belson had been hiding out there since trying to rob the bank in Four Corners two weeks ago. Vin had wired Chris with the news and they made plans for the three of them to bring the men back to stand trial. Billy had shot Buck Wilmington in the chest during their escape, nearly killing the big man. Chris Larabee was particularly anxious to meet up with the man again. Belson would certainly not be as anxious to see him.

<M7><M7><M7>

Chris Larabee stared up at the brilliant blue sky, studying the flight pattern of the three black shadows that marred the view. The big carrion had been nosing around for about half an hour, drawn by the scent of blood on the wind. His blood. He had left a trail of it along the hard packed ground, along with flesh and cloth, for more yards than he cared to consider.

With a groan, the battered blond managed to lift his head, looking around him for any sign of his horse. He dropped back to the ground when he saw nothing of the sorrel he had chosen to make the trip on. Nor did he see any sign of whoever had fired off the shotgun that had spooked the damned animal.

Larabee bit back a yell as the pain in his right leg suddenly welled up, threatening to send him back to the blackness he had only climbed out of a short time ago. The fingers of both hands dug into the aching muscles of his thigh, above the sources of the excruciating agony that knifed through him. His entire leg seemed to be on fire, and he could only guess at how much damage had been done to the limb. Chris was pretty certain that his ankle was broken, and the fact that he couldn't move his knee without the pain soaring even higher told him that it was probably wrenched as well.

"Well," he mumbled to himself, "if the damned leather hadn't broken, there'd be a helluva lot more busted."

His mind turned back to only a few hours earlier. He had gotten an early start, breaking camp before sunrise. He was anxious to meet up with Vin and Ezra, and get after the bastards who had come so close to murdering his oldest friend. His presence at the trial the day before had been a farce, his words twisted and turned so much that he would have shot the damned lawyer if he'd been allowed his gun in the courtroom. He had left as soon as he could push his way through the crowd to the door after the verdict was handed down, riding away as quickly as possible.

The horse had proven to be more nervous than he had expected, and he had been hard pressed to keep the animal under control several times. His mount's unpredictable actions had not done much to improve his mood, and he had been ready to shoot the damned thing within two hours.

Then the final straw, the echo of a shotgun blast split the air, sending the sorrel into a frenzy. Caught off-guard, he lost his grip on the reins and his seat on the saddle. Flying from the animal's back, he crashed into the ground, bouncing helplessly across the rocks and hard earth until, fortunately, the leather strap had snapped, freeing both the stirrup and his foot. He slid to a stop, the retreating beat of the horse's hooves ringing in his ears and his back burning from being torn at by the rough terrain.

No one had come around, leading him to decide that the shot hadn't been aimed at him, he had only been in the wrong place at the wrong time. He would have laughed at the irony of being cut down by someone out hunting for their dinner, but couldn't find the energy.

The one hint of hope that he would live through this entire situation was that Vin was expecting him. Tanner knew he was riding a green horse on this trip, and would suspect something when he didn't show up on time. If nothing else, the younger man would come looking just to be able to badger him about whatever mishap had befallen him.

"Well, pard, you'd better be on your way, cause I ain't sure how long I'm gonna be able to wait for you," he spoke the words in a ragged voice.

<M7><M7><M7>

The two riders rode silently side by side, their eyes scanning the horizon for any sign of their friend. From time to time Vin stopped, dropped from the saddle, and investigated the ground more closely for signs of Chris' passing by.

The sharpshooter's eye went toward the late afternoon sky, suddenly settling on movement in the distance. He reined Peso in, slipping his spyglass out of his pocket. Training the glass on the dark images, he grumbled under his breath.

"Signs of our illustrious leader?" Standish asked hopefully.

"Hope not," Tanner said with only a hint of the concern he felt. Nodding toward the movement, he said carefully, "buzzards."

<M7><M7><M7>

Larabee stared at the dark silhouettes flapping lazily in ragged circles above him. Suddenly anger flared through his pain-ravaged body at their arrogance and he struggled to pull his handgun from his holster. Shakily aiming toward the circling birds with both hands on the sidearm, he sent five bullets sailing upward. He grinned coolly when his actions caused the buzzards to scatter in a hail of feathers, and one of the creatures staggered, mortally wounded, from the sky.

<M7><M7><M7>

Tanner and Standish looked at one another, shock mirrored in blue and green, as the sounds of several shots reached them. Neither man said a thing as they loosened their weapons in their holsters and kneed their horses forward to a gallop.

<M7><M7><M7>

Chris heard the screams and cries of the birds as the one he shot was set upon by its former companions. "Well, at least I don't have to look at your ugly faces yet," he gloated. Then another sound reached him, nearly drowned out by the screeching carrion, and he struggled to lift his head once more from the ground. He managed a weak smile as he recognized the approaching figures.

Vin leapt from Peso's back before the big animal could stop, Ezra close behind. The lanky tracker bounded across the last few feet separating him from his friend, dropping to the ground next to the blond. His blue eyes shone with relief when his gaze was met by the injured man.

"'Bout damned time," Chris rasped out.

With a chuckle, the sharpshooter said, "well hell, Larabee, if I'd a known y' were gonna be sunbathin', me 'n Ezra'd stayed in town where 't was cool."

The blond smiled, then cried out as the pain threatened to overwhelm him once more. His body went rigid, one arm instinctively reaching out to the other man. Vin grasped the gunman's hand, holding it firmly as he looked the man over. Ezra knelt on the other side of the prone body, a canteen in hand. They watched as Chris's body slowly relaxed. Vin lifted the sweat-soaked blond head up slightly, while Ezra carefully fed the older man the cool water.

As he held his friend up, Tanner surveyed the lean body for damage. The ragged and disheveled arrangement of the black shirt and the trail they had ridden over for the last hundred yards or so told him that Chris had been dragged. The fact that his right knee was swollen to the point of straining at the black jeans and the awkward angle of his foot told him that the blond's right leg and back had taken the brunt of the abuse.

Larabee slumped back against the supporting hand with a tired groan. His eyes drifted slowly shut and he hovered at the edge of consciousness. "Good... to see you," he whispered hoarsely.

"Good t' be seen," Vin said quietly. Looking around he said, "there's a crick 'bout a quarter of a mile East a here. Ezra, y' got'cher flask?"

Looking at the other man with shock, the gambler said, "certainly you don't intend to move him!?"

"Yeah, I do," Vin said quietly, still holding the gunslinger's hand to offer the man some small comfort. "We're gonna have t' get the dirt n' stuff cleaned outta his back, 'n we're gonna need t' get the swellin' down on his leg. Cain't do that here, so we're gonna have t' take him there."

"But the pain - "

"I'll be... f-fine," Larabee gritted out.

With a heavy sigh that told the other men that he wasn't happy with the turn of events, the Southerner retrieved his silver flask and began to feed the injured man the liquor. It took several healthy gulps before Chris' grip on his friend's hand relaxed. With that signal, the other two men worked to lift him. Vin pulled his friend up against him, chest to chest, while Standish did his best to keep the painfully swollen leg as still as possible. They did their best to ignore the blond's pitifully weak cries while they maneuvered him backward onto the saddle. Vin stepped up onto Peso's back with him, sitting so Chris faced him. He draped the older man's arms over his shoulders, holding him in the saddle by wrapping his fingers around the man's belt. It wasn't the most stable way to keep him in the saddle, but, with his injuries, it was the only way.

Ezra hurriedly mounted his horse, grabbing up the big black's reins. With Vin directing him, he led both animals toward the water. The sounds of Larabee's weak cries came to him from behind, and Standish couldn't help cursing under his breath at the pain they were inflicting on the man.

They were soon reining in the animals at the creek bank, then worked out the best way to get Chris down. As Vin slid his friend downward into Era's waiting arms, Larabee cried out, then his body went limp as he lost his tenuous hold on any sense of consciousness. It made it easier to transport the gunman to the water, and the men did so as quickly as possible.

Positioning the swollen limb so that it lay at the edge of the cold water, they slipped the ruined black shirt off the broad shoulders, loosening it until the tatters were the only things in contact with his body. Then, while Vin held Chris upright, the blond head lulling on his shoulder, Ezra began wetting and loosening the cloth that had become embedded in the man's back.

They said nothing while Standish performed the loathsome task. Soaking the cloth with the cold water, his agile fingers gently tugged the bloodied shirt away from the torn back. It took well over an hour for him to be satisfied that he had all of the cloth removed from the ravaged flesh. While Tanner continued to hold his friend, the Southerner gingerly splashed the water onto the open skin.

"St... stop," Larabee moaned against his friend's shoulder. "Please."

Stroking the matted blond head, Vin said quietly, "just take 't easy cowboy. We're tryin' t' keep yer back from gettin' infected."

"T-t-tired," Chris complained.

"Reckon y' are, pard. Just let us do th' work, you rest."

"C-cold."

"It's th' water," Tanner hedged, hoping that Larabee wasn't feeling the effects of shock or infection. "We're tryin' t' get th' swellin' down in yer leg... ought 'a take care a some a th' pain."

"I believe I've done everything I can do here," Ezra announced in a strained voice.

Nodding his head, Vin said, "I'll hold ont' 'm... can y' go lay out a bedroll?"

"Certainly." The gambler jogged away to make a place for the injured man to rest. Returning a few minutes later, he nodded.

Nodding in return, Tanner said, "all righty then, let's get 'm outta th' water. Chris, hear me? Now, y' lay still, 'n let me 'n Ezra take care a moving y'."

Too overwhelmed with pain to reply, the blond simply nodded.

Tanner and Standish lifted the man carefully, Vin once more wrapping Chris' arms around his shoulders, before he lifted him by his belt. In the meantime, Ezra held the badly injured leg, keeping it from moving any more than necessary. They moved the injured man slowly, carrying him to the spread blankets. Being as gentle as possible, the men lay the blond on his stomach. There was only a soft whimper from the older man to protest the agony this time, then he lay limply on the blankets.

While Ezra sat with the injured man, Vin rummaged nearby, returning with material to immobilize Chris' leg. The Southerner steadily fed the semi-conscious gunslinger whiskey in hopes of sending him into oblivion before they set his leg. By the time Vin had returned with what he could scavenge from nature, Larabee was blissfully numb from the effects of the fine Scotch whiskey.

One corner of the Texan's mouth twitched with faint humor as he watched Standish holding the limp blond head. The gunman's face had lost its pinched expression, his eyes stared unfocused into the distance. "Don't look like yer feelin' as rough there, pard."

"Felt worse," his friend replied dreamily.

With a chuckle, the young sharpshooter spread the wood and other things, gleaned from nature as well as Nathan Jackson's ever present emergency provisions, out across the ground in preparation for the task at hand. Then he sobered, his eyes meeting the Southerner's jade ones. Neither man was happy at the prospect of what they would have to do next.

Squatting down next to his friend, Tanner spoke evenly. "Gonna set yer leg, Chris, then we'll do somethin' t' bandage yer back. Ain't gonna be too pleasant - "

"Ain't been a real... pleasant d... day," Larabee responded.

Squeezing the man's arm compassionately, the younger man said, "don't reckon it has."

While Ezra took a firm hold on the man in black's upper arms, Vin positioned his hands above and below the knotted flesh that told him where the break was. Nodding to Standish in warning, he quickly snapped the ankle straight, grimacing as Chris' scream echoed through the late afternoon air.

The pain sent Chris tumbling that last step into oblivion, and he once more collapsed limply onto the bedroll. The men worked quickly and carefully to finish their ministrations before he returned from the darkness. Soon the blond was swathed in bandages from shoulders to waist and from thigh to the sole of his right foot. They exhausted the bandages and finished by cutting up Ezra's spare shirt. As usual the gambler grumbled about the inconvenience of being on the trail without anything to change into, but Vin had learned to read the other man too well. The grifter was just as concerned as he was for their leader.

Larabee remained unconscious, for which the other two were thankful. They built a fire nearby, carefully laying a blanket over the still form as evening brought a chill to the air. While Tanner kept a vigil at his friend's side, bathing the pale face with cool water, Standish prepared dinner for the two of them and making a broth for the gunman.

"I've been thinking," Ezra said after a while.

"Thought y' looked a mite pained," Vin said, not quite hiding the glint in his blue eyes.

Choosing to ignore the jibe, the well-dressed man continued. "Chris won't tolerate riding horseback very well. Perhaps I should return to that god-forsaken hole we left this morning to procure a wagon. I can bring along whatever other supplies we'll need to make his trip home as comfortable as possible."

Tanner grinned with genuine friendship now. "Sounds like a plan t' me pard."

<M7><M7><M7>

The night passed at a wearying pace for all three men. By the time the pale moon rose, Chris was feverish and fitful, not quite able to sleep and not quite able to wake. Vin talked to him whenever he seemed somewhere near consciousness, reassuring him that he was not alone. Ezra brought fresh water from the creek every half hour or so and offered his flask time and again. By the time the sun lightened the horizon, all three men were much the worse for wear.

Ezra tacked his chestnut as soon as there was enough light to do so. He cast a last, worried look at the other two men before leaving. He touched the brim of his hat, nodding at the lanky Texan as he rode off.

As he watched the other man ride away, Vin heard a faint sound. Looking down, he saw Chris' face working as he fought the darkness to return to consciousness. Dampening his 'kerchief, he gently swabbed the perspiration from the waxen features. "Take 't easy, cowboy. Yer gonna be okay, just rest now, hear?"

"N-not...cowboy," the blond managed to argue.

Smiling, Tanner said, "I'll try 'n r'member that."

Managing to turn up a corner of his mouth in a smile, the blond said, "best... n-never for... get."

Gently stroking a blond tendril back from the rugged features, the hunter said, "how y' feelin' pard?"

With a soft groan, Chris said, "lousy."

Nodding sympathetically, Tanner said, "don't doubt it. Ezra's gone t' git a wagon so's we c'n tote yer sorry hide back t' town. Reckon he'll be back sometime t'night, 'n we'll head out in th' mornin' if yer of a mind to."

Chris considered a variety of replies. He could argue that he didn't need to be carried back to Four Corners in the back of a wagon. He could say that he would be fine, that they were making a fuss. He could remark that if there was a card game to be had, they might be waiting for awhile. In the end, however, he simply mumbled, "okay."

The day passed in a fog for both men. Larabee drifted in and out, sometimes coherent enough to know what was going on, at other times confused as to where they were or why he was in so much pain. Vin hardly left his side for more than a minute or two, doing his best to fight back the fever that threatened to overtake his friend. He lifted the damp blond head ever quarter hour or so, carefully feeding the other man water to fight the dehydration the growing fever brought with it.

<M7><M7><M7>

Ezra Standish found his mind drifting as fatigue threatened to send him to sleep despite the emergency of the situation. The gentle bouncing of the rig he had rented didn't help much; it was only managing to send him further into the arms of oblivion. He scrubbed one well-manicured hand over his face, grimacing at the feel of stubble on his handsome chin.

He found his mind wandering back through the past several months, wondering at the changes that had come over him since becoming a part of what the New York writer, Jock Steele, had termed the "Magnificent Seven". He found little of the self-absorbed, grifting scoundrel that had joined the others for that fateful trip to the Seminole village. Never would that Ezra Standish have ever considered living the life he now led. He would not have concerned himself the plight of Chris Larabee, or anyone else for that matter. Even if he had ridden with Vin in search of the man in black, he wouldn't have volunteered to ride for help.

"Hell, I'd never even slow down if I found our scowling gunman prostrate on the ground," he mumbled under his breath. Silently he gave thanks to whatever powers had caused his change of personality.

<M7><M7><M7>

"Vin?" The tracker's name was delivered in a voice so soft that it was barely a whisper. Pain and exhaustion were taking their toll on the gunman.

"Right here, pard," Tanner said reassuringly, squeezing his friend's arm as he spoke.

"Wh... where's .... Ezra?"

Glancing up at the late evening sky, he said, "he ought'a be here 'bout any time. Don't tell me you're worried 'bout 'm."

Managing a weak smile, the blond said, "don't... tell him."

With a chuckle, Vin said, "y' got m' word. Why'n't y' go on back t' sleep. We won't be able t' leave til mornin', anyway."

A soft moan escaped the injured man. "Tired," he agreed.

"I know y' are, pard." He gave his friend a drink of water from the canteen, then bathed the fevered features. "Wish we could do more'n we have. "

Frowning, Chris murmured, "sa... saved my... life."

As he watched the hazel eyes drift closed, the Texan said softly, "I sure's hell hope so."

A short time later the sound of a team and wagon came to the young man. He stretched his lanky frame from where he sat next to his friend and started into the evening gloom. The sight of Ezra Standish guiding the wagon toward them, his own mount tied behind, sent a wave of relief through the sharpshooter. As the horses were reined in nearby, he said, "good t' see y'. We thought maybe y'd found a poker game."

The gambler's head snapped up at the comment, but he smiled when he saw only friendship and good humor in the blue eyes. "Yes, well how do you think I procured this fine chariot and these amazing steeds?"

Chuckling at the man's description of the roughhewn wagon and dusty horses, he nodded and asked, "did y' stay long 'nuff t' win some supplies?"

"Indeed." Standish bounded from the wagon seat, his eyes flicked toward the blanket covered figure near the fire and back again. His tone turning serious, he asked, "how is Chris?"

with a weary sigh, the buckskin clad man said, "he's holdin' 'is own fer now. Fever's wearin' 'm down though. Reckon we best git 'm t' Nathan soon's we can."

Nodding as he moved to the rear of the wagon, Ezra said, "I was able to procure bedding, bandages, food and liquor. I had hoped to find something more medicinal... perhaps even some laudanum, but such was not to be the case. The whiskey will have to suffice until we reach Four Corners."

"Y' done good," Tanner commented as he carried the burlap sack to the fire. He patted the other man's shoulder as he passed.

Behind him, Ezra Standish's face split into a wide grin at the comment and casual action of friendship.

<M7><M7><M7>

"C'mon pard, y' gotta drink some a this." Vin was holding Chris sideways against his chest, balancing him there without touching the ravaged back. While he held the gunslinger, Ezra was trying to get some whiskey into the man. Larabee, the fever keeping him from waking fully, was struggling against both the hands holding him and those trying to force something into his mouth.

"Lemme be," he slurred tiredly. "Go 'way... lemme... sleep."

"Chris!" Tanner's voice was soft, but firm. "Settle yerself down, now. Yer okay... it's just me 'n Ezra, 'n we're tryin' t' take some a th' pain away."

"P-pain... hurts... make it st-stop," Larabee tried to make sense of the words.

"That's right, we're trying to stop the pain, my friend," Ezra's voice was gentle, and filled with concern for the blond leader of their group. "You need to allow us to help you. Now, sip this slowly."

"Ez... Ezra?" Larabee murmured as he swallowed the smooth liquid.

"At your service," the younger man said with a small smile.

A grin teased one corner of the other man's mouth upward. "No... no poker game... in town?"

Laughing at the uncharacteristic jibe, the Southerner said, "alas, nothing intriguing enough to sway me from my duties."

Larabee leaned more heavily against the tracker, exhausted by his struggles. He opened his mouth without hesitation now as the gambler fed him the whiskey. Even as his hold on consciousness slipped, he swallowed the liquid as long as they gave it to him.

Finally satisfied that Chris would rest now, the other two men lay him back on the ground. Using saddles and blankets, they rested him on his side, draping the blankets carefully over his battered frame.

They settled in at the fire, eating dinner and fighting the fatigue that seemed as much a member of their group as the rest of them. Finally Vin said, "you go on 'n sleep a while, Ezra, I'll keep an eye on things."

Shaking his head, Standish said, "you go on Vin. I'm fine, and you've been sitting with Chris for far too long now. You rest and I'll take care of things."

Vin wanted to argue the point, but he found it difficult to do as he yawned loudly. With a sheepish grin, he said, "all righty then, but y' wake me up 'round midnight."

With a quick nod, the tracker took a look at the slumbering blond and rolled into his blankets. Standish watched him retire, and moved to sit beside Larabee. The blond lay unmoving at the moment, his mouth open slightly, soft wheezing sounds coming from the unconscious man. He lay facing the fire, the low flames casting shadows on his fever-flushed face. Ezra took up a cloth, dampened it, and gently wiped away the perspiration. The slack lips moved, Chris mumbling incoherently for a moment.

"Take it easy, you're quite all right now," Standish whispered. He watched with satisfaction as the injured man quieted. Drawing his coat closer against the chilling air, he retrieved his ever-present deck of cards and began to shuffle them as he watched Larabee sleep.

<M7><M7><M7>

The sun was up by the time they were ready to leave. Chris had been lifted into the wagon by his two friends and placed carefully on the tic mattress Standish had brought along with the other supplies. Vin sat down next to his friend to keep an eye on the feverish man. They had managed to keep him quiet for hours, thanks to the whiskey and the injured gunman's fatigue. Climbing up to take a seat on the wagon, the Southerner glanced back at the other two men as he took up the reins. "Well, here we go," he said as he coaxed the horses forward.

Tanner kept a close eye on the blond, and his diligence was rewarded a short time later as Larabee began to move restlessly, softly groaning. The whiskey, fever, and rocking movement of the wagon served to make him ill. The sharpshooter called up to the gambler, "best hold up Ezra."

Standish pulled back on the reins and set the brake, climbing over the seat to where Vin was carefully lifting the gunman. They barely managed to lean him over the side of the wagon before the meager contents of his stomach were expelled onto the ground below. Vin held the man's head, and both men supported the semi-conscious blond as he was sick.

Several minutes later, Chris finally quieted after a bout of dry heaves. Ezra reached for a canteen, and they coaxed him to drink a little water. Reassured that the episode was done, they eased him back down onto the mattress. This time, however, Vin sat against the wagon box and leaned Larabee against him to ease not only the pain of his wounds, but in hopes of curtailing any further incidents.

A short time later the blond came to, pale brows knitting together in a frown. "Vin?" he questioned hoarsely.

"Hey pard." The younger man managed to shift the battered body slightly, easing Larabee up a bit. "How y' feelin'?"

"L-like... hell," he muttered. "Why... why are you..." he drifted off, but the other man could easily guess the question.

"Why'm I holdin' y'?" He chuckled. "Don't worry, I ain't tryin' nothin' with y'. Y' got sick on us while ago. Thought y' might do better if y' wasn't laying down, but since y' d'cided y' wanted t' go sleddin' on yer back, this seemed th' best way t' do 't."

Larabee sighed as he digested the information, then finally relaxed against the steady presence. As he moved back toward the beckoning darkness, he whispered, "th-thanks."

Absently brushing a rebellious lock of hair back from the perspiration soaked forehead, Vin nodded. "Yer welcome."

<M7><M7><M7>

The three men made slow but steady progress through the day and on into the evening. They stopped only when necessary, but decided that the quicker they managed to get the injured gunman home, the better. Keeping him as comfortable as possible thanks to the whiskey, they continued on through the night.

By sunrise, the exhausted crew found themselves approaching the small town of Four Corners. They breathed a collective sigh of relief as Ezra pulled the team to a halt below the healer's clinic.

"Ezra, Vin!" The two men turned to find JD jogging toward them, concern on his young face. "What happened?"

"Chris had a little trouble with his horse," Tanner explained quickly. "Can y' go get Nathan?"

"Sure thing." Dunne didn't break stride, bounding up the wooden stairs toward the clinic.

"It would appear you ran into some trouble," the deep baritone of Josiah Sanchez cut through the early morning air.

"Got dragged," the tracker supplied tiredly. Any further conversation was cut off as the young sheriff bounded back down the stairs, followed closely by a half-asleep healer.

"Damn, can't I get one a y'all healed 'fore another one gets busted up?" Nathan lamented as he hurried to the wagon. Taking a quick look at the unconscious blond, he said, "let's get him upstairs. Vin, ease him down to the mattress. Think the best way to carry him is on it, belly down."

The others, bowing to the man's medical knowledge, showed their agreement by following his orders. Each man took a corner of the think mattress, JD supporting the injured leg as they carried him carefully up the stairs and into the clinic. Once there they lay him, mattress and all, on the bed.

Under the former slave's guidance, they cleaned and re-bandaged his back, using carbolic acid to clean the deep abrasions. It took the other four to hold him down while Nathan worked diligently to drain the infection. Chris' bucked against the restraining hands, crying out hoarsely as the pain ripped through him.

It was just then that Buck Wilmington entered the room, breathing heavily at the exertion of the trip from his room. The big man was pale and shaken, one hand holding his painful chest wound while the other clutched the doorknob.

The other men turned at his entrance, somewhat chagrined that they had forgotten the convalescing man in their haste. Leaving the bedside, JD moved to his friend's side and carefully helped him to the nearby chair. Settling the ladies man on the seat, he accepted a blanket from Jackson and wrapped it around the injured man.

"Th-thanks... Kid," Wilmington wheezed. Turning to watch the activity at the bed, he asked, "how... how is he?"

Without turning from his work, Nathan said, "ain't sure yet, Buck."

After he wrapped clean cloth around the injuries, Jackson moved next to the swollen and broken leg. With their help, he carefully aligned the broken bones, wrapped the ankle then re-splinted it. The injured knew was wrapped in hot towels and kept immobile with blankets and pillows.

The gunman had long ago succumbed to unconsciousness, and lay limply on the bed. They managed to get a few swallows of herbal tea into Larabee's mouth in an effort to stave off any complications from the injuries. That done, Jackson covered him with a sheet before turning to the others.

"Long as we can get the fever down and there's no more infection, he ought 'a be fine in a few weeks. Y'all need t' get outta here an' give me some room t' work. Ezra 'n Vin, you two boys look done in. Get some sleep, 'n y'all can come back in later this afternoon."

There were grumbles of dissention, but slowly the other peacekeepers made to leave. Josiah helped Buck to his feet, keeping one arm around the trembling body as they took a quick look at Larabee before moving to the door. JD followed them, his eyes remaining on the still form in the bed until he was out of the room. Ezra stretched aching muscles before retreating from the room as well.

The last to leave, Tanner moved to Larabee's side, gently laying a hand on the man's arm. "See y' in a few hours," he whispered softly before walking slowly from the clinic.

<M7><M7><M7>

"Hey Cowboy," the Texan's soft drawl announced his approach. He smiled as the blond

returned the greeting with a smile.

Chris sat propped up in a chair on the landing outside the clinic. Several pillows had been arranged to support his still healing back, while not putting too much pressure on the injuries. His right leg, wrapped and splinted, was propped up on a second chair.

"Hey. You just getting back?" The gunman asked, referring to the fact that Vin, JD, Josiah and Ezra had gone after the Belsons.

"Yep. Josiah 'n Ezra's lockin' 'm up now. JD went t' tell Buck, so I figured I'd let y' know they'll be ready t' stand trial soon's th' Judge gets here."

The handsome face split into a wider grin. Nodding, he said, "thanks pard."

"Ah hell, it wasn't difficult. Both th' damn fools was fallin' down drunk in th' cantina. 'Bout all we had t' do was walk in 'n take their guns off 'm."

Shaking his head at the outlaws ignorance, Chris said, "not just for that, though. For all of it. If it hadn't been for you and Ezra, I'd be buzzard bait by now."

"Well, reckon we'd a had a few less buzzards 'bout now, then, chewin' on your ornery hide," Tanner quipped. Then sobering, he said, "any time."

Larabee looked into his friend's face, reading the friendship there. A million things went through his mind, things that he thought and felt about not only the man before him, but the other five men that had joined them in forming a band of brothers. He couldn't seem to voice them, though. In the end he simply put out his hand, gripping the other man's forearm.

 

The End