HOLD ON, MR. LARABEE

By Jackie

The Magnificent Seven -OW / Rated PG-13

 

Part 11

 

As Chris made the climb up through the cobwebs of unconsciousness he became aware of a sharp pain radiating from his shoulder to end below his left collarbone.  Frowning, he tried to remember what had happened since he’d been in the barn with Buck, Ezra, Vin, and the Peters brothers.  Cursing softly, Chris took a short, shuddering breath he forced heavy-lidded eyes to open on a dimly lit room.  When he managed to focus his eyes he saw two empty bedrolls laid out on the floor near the hearth.  Where were the boys and how had he gotten back into the house?

 

Indistinguishable voices broke through his muddled thoughts and he realized they were somewhere nearby arguing.  Trying to make out what was being discussed he levered himself up onto his right elbow, hoping to locate his friends.  “Son of a --!” Chris cried out as the pain flared to new life and brought tears to his eyes.  Dropping back onto the cot his breath came in hitching gasps as he grasped ineffectually at the blankets on the cot with his right hand.

 

“Hurt’s don’t it?” Frank called from where he was slumped in the corner unable to get up and move around.  “Dick got ya good.  I saw the hole in your shoulder and you were bleedin’ like a stuck pig.”

 

Chris cracked an eye open and tried to take deep breaths.  The ringing in his ears had not completely drowned out the voice in the corner of the room and he tensed in apprehension.  The voice had sounded suspiciously like Frank Peters and if he was in the house where was his brother?  What had happened to the boys?

 

Vin strode back into the parlor when he heard Frank calling out and hoped that maybe Chris had awoken.  “Keep quiet, Peters, or I’ll tie you up under the porch like a mangy mutt.”  Not sparing the irritating man a second glance he moved to the cot.  He knew sleep was the best thing for his friend, but he really wanted to get some nourishment into him.

 

Kneeling down next to Chris, he smiled when he noticed the dull green gaze tracking the room, “Hey, Cowboy, welcome back.  How ya feelin’?”

Chris pulled a face and replied shortly, “Like I’ve been shot, how else should I be feeling?”

 

“Good to know you have lost that lovable sense of humor.  Here drink some of this.”  Sliding his arm under the blond’s shoulders he lifted him just enough to drink without choking.  Chris tried to push the mug away when after the first swallow.  “Come on, Chris, you’re supposed to finish this.  It should make you feel better.”

 

Sticking his tongue out as he shivered, “Blech.  What is that?  You steep your dirty socks?”  He kept pushing the mug away as Vin tried to coax him to drink.

 

“No, we used Buck’s union suit.” Vin grinned down at his friend who was glaring up at him with one eye.  “Actually, it’s ginger and lemon tea with a touch of honey.  Buck found some down in the root cellar.  Sorry, we were all out of Willow bark.  I know how much you love that stuff.”

 

“Can I have some water instead?  That’s all I want, plain water.”  Chris whispered as he closed his eyes and shivered again.  “Not feeling too good right now.”

 

Vin put the mug to Chris’s lips again.  “Drink the tea and I’ll get you all the water you could want.  It’ll help with the fever.”  He waited and then waited some more, until finally the gunslinger acquiesced and drank down the tea.  “See, now that wasn’t too bad.  We’ll have you up and about in no time at all.”

 

Chris just sighed and drifted back to sleep.  Straightening the blankets over his friend, Vin stayed by his side a little while longer before throwing a few more logs onto the fire.  Once he was satisfied with the fire he sat down on his bedroll and pulled off his boots and crawled under the blankets.

 

Buck drifted into the parlor a few minutes later with a blanket.  Stopping in front of Frank Peters he dropped it into the man’s lap.  “Here, found you another blanket.  You keep quiet for the remainder of the night and I may see fit to let you sit at the table for breakfast.”

 

“You have no call to treat me like some animal.  Just move yourself off and leave me to my misery,” Frank snapped as he draped the blanket over himself and burrowed down to sleep.

 

Buck wanted to comment so badly, but didn’t feel up to a verbal sparing match with this man.  Right now he just wanted to get some shut eye before his turn at watch came up.  If he was lucky he’d get a good three hours in.

 

 

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

 

Propping the kitchen door open so  he had an unobstructed view of Peters, Ezra sat down at the table and dealt himself a game of Solitaire.  Listening intently he could hear Buck’s heavy snores and Frank’s snuffles.  Thankfully, Vin and Chris were quiet sleepers so he only had the two disturbing his peace and quiet.

 

The first hour of his watch in solitude seemed to drag on forever as he listened to the wind rattle the windows and the house creak in protest.  Sitting at the table sipping at a cup of tea another sound encroached disturbing him.  It sounded as if Vin were speaking, though he wasn’t sure over Buck’s snores. Moving to the doorway he looked toward the bed rolls, noticing that Vin was bent over the cot.  Frowning in confusion Ezra slipped into the room.

 

“Is there something amiss, Mr. Tanner?” Ezra asked as he moved closer.

 

Looking up quickly Vin met his eyes.  “Bring me a basin of water, Ezra, and brew some more of that tea.”

 

Ezra gazed down at Chris and watched as Vin felt his forehead and neck.  “The fever’s back up?”

 

Vin shook his head.  “No.  It never went down.  Now he’s burnin’ up.”  Vin grabbed Chris hands as the blond tried to push him away.  “Relax, Cowboy.  We’ll make you feel better soon.”

 

“I’ll be right back.  Keep him calm Mr. Tanner.” Ezra hurried to the kitchen to grab a clean basin of water and some rags.  Giving them to Vin, he went about brewing some more tea.

 

Looking out the kitchen window Ezra watched as the window blew drifts of snow up against the outbuildings.  He hoped luck was with them because good help was several days away.

 

“How’s that tea coming?” Vin called from his wounded friend’s side.  Chris had gotten so hot that the cool water had ceased to bring him any relief.  They needed to bring the fever down before Chris was too exhausted to fight anymore.

 

“I have it here.” Ezra blurted out as he brought a tray with a mug, teapot and honey.  Setting it down on a nearby table he poured a cup, blowing on it as he drew near.  “It’s a might warm.  Be careful.”

 

Vin propped Chris up and took the mug from Ezra’s outstretched hand.  “Thanks.  He’s cookin’ from the inside out.  After we get this in him we’ll check the wound again.”  Holding the mug of tea to Chris’s lips he watched as the liquid slowly entered.  “He’s not swallowing.” He groaned in frustration.

 

Ezra chuckled, “Have you ever known Mr. Larabee to do anything the easy way?  We’ll work together.  You dribble and I’ll rub his neck, maybe we’ll get at least one mug into him before morning.”

 

“What’s going on Ezra?” Buck asked from his bedroll as he pushed the blankets down.

 

Ezra spared him a glance and went back to rubbing Chris’s neck as Vin slowly poured the tea into his mouth.  “Mr. Larabee’s fever has continued to climb and we are trying to get some tea into him in order to lower the fever.

 

Pulling his boots on and his coat, he strode up to the cot.  “Shift over, Ez, let’s put him out in the snow and see if we can break the fever that way.  Wiping him down is doing nothing but making him wet.”

 

“I was holding off on that, but I think you’re right.  Let’s do it.  I’ll grab a linen sheet to wrap him up in, ‘cause I don’t want to freeze his skin.”  Vin ran to a back room to grab some linen while Buck stripped Chris of his clothing.

 

“Mr. Wilmington isn’t this a tad drastic?  It’s freezing out there, he could catch his death.” Ezra gathered up Chris’s clothes as they hit the floor and moved them to a nearby chair.

 

Scooping Chris’s hot body up in his arms Buck followed Vin who’d returned with the linen to the front door.  “If we don’t do this, Ezra, he’s gonna be even weaker.  We have to give it a try.”

 

Ezra followed Buck and Vin outside with a lantern to light their way.

 

“This looks good,” Vin remarked as he spread the linen out on the snow.  “Just place him on the sheet and we’ll wrap him up.  Then we can pack the snow around so it’ll work quicker.”

 

Buck gently lowered Chris onto the sheet and straightened his body out.  He, Vin, and Ezra then flipped the linen over him and piled the snow up close.

 

Briskly rubbing his frozen, wet hands together before shoving them under his arms Ezra asked, “How long do you think he needs to stay out here?”

 

Buck squatted down next to Chris and looked him over critically.  “He’s still flushed, but I don’t want to leave him out here too long.”

 

“Let’s try five minutes for now and if we need to leave him longer we will.” Vin felt the gunslinger’s forehead and sat back on his heels to wait.  Noticing Ezra shivering next to them he asked, “If we’re all out here who’s with Peters?”

 

Buck and Ezra just stared at one another for a moment before Buck cursed and ran back toward the house.  Taking the steps two at a time as he pulled his gun free of the holster, he threw the door open onto an empty parlor.

 

Peters had used the window for his escape and now Buck stood in the center of the room watching helplessly as the curtains fluttered in the breeze and snow drifted down onto the empty bedroll.  “Son of a bitch!” Buck hissed in frustration.

 

 

Part 12

 

“Stupid. Stupid mistake!” Buck hollered looking up at the ceiling in disbelief.  Heaving a sigh he re-holstered his gun and rubbed at his throbbing temples.  Beating himself up mentally, he strode to the window to reach up and pull the sash down.  Something outside caught his attention and he stopped in mid-pull.

 

“Well I’ll be damned,” he murmured as he rested his hands on the sill, poking his head out.  He looked to the left and right of the house, and looked straight down.  No footprints and the snow was completely undisturbed.  The fine hairs on his neck prickled and his gut flip-flopped when he realized Frank Peters was still somewhere inside the house.  Looking over by the cot he found Chris’s rig.  Empty. 

 

Peters was armed.

 

Making as much noise as possible he moved to the front porch and called out above the wind, “He’s rabbited, Vin!  We’re gonna need to check the outbuildings and surrounding area.  He can’t have gotten far on his bum leg!”

 

Vin and Ezra stared in confusion as Buck hopped off the porch with an anxious look on his face.  “What are you talking about Buck?” Vin asked as he stood up from where he’d been squatting down next to Chris.

 

Buck reached out, grabbed Vin by the arm and pulled him in close.  He whispered.  “He’s still in the house.  He just wants us to think he’s outside.” Vin went to pull away, but Buck held tight, “He’s got Chris’s gun.”

 

Vin shook his head and laughed with little humor.  “This day just keeps getting better and better.  Okay this is what we should do.  First, we need to get Chris out of the snow and then we’re gonna turn this house upside down and find Frank.  Lastly, we’re gonna truss him up like a Christmas goose.”

 

“A little assistance here would be appreciated.” Ezra’s urgent call interrupted Buck and Vin’s discussion.  Glancing down at Ezra they could see that Chris had regained consciousness and had his right hand firmly twisted into Ezra’s shirt front.

 

“Someone had better start explaining why I’m lying naked in the snow,” he croaked out through chattering teeth.

 

Vin knelt down next to Chris and helped him sit up.  “Well you were stewing in your own juices and we figured this was the best way to cool you off.”

 

Chris narrowed his eyes at the trio and struggled to get untangled from the sheet.  “Well now I’m wet and freezing.” 

 

Groaning as he inadvertently twisted his shoulder.  “Damn it, Vin!  Get me outta this sheet.”

 

“Hold your horses there, Stud.”  Buck stripped off his coat and wrapped it around his shivering friend.  “We’ll take care of you.  Get you warmed up right quick.  You just need to calm yourself down and let us do what needs doin’.”

 

“Ezra, can you get Chris up on the porch while Buck and I check the house?” Vin asked as he brushed at the snow sticking to his trousers.  His union suit was now wet and clammy from the snow.

 

Ezra glanced down at Chris’s bare feet and the distance to the porch and frowned.  “Mr. Tanner that may be easier said than done.  Mr. Larabee is currently without proper footwear and in his current condition it will take some time to reach the porch.”

 

“Sorry, Chris, I’m gonna have to carry you.”  Buck grunted as he swung his friend up into his arms and strode toward the porch with Vin and Ezra trailing behind.  Setting Chris down on a bench he and Vin moved quietly inside the house.  Ezra took up a position near Chris who looked about ready to pass out.

 

Chris huddled down into Buck’s coat for warmth as the wind and snow assaulted them under the relative safety of the porch.  The sheepskin lining was soft and Chris closed his eyes as he breathed in Buck’s unique scent.  As he pulled the coat closer around himself his throat tightened on a sob as he thought of all the times Buck had been there for him.  Feeling tears prick behind his eyelids he shook himself, attributing the melancholy mood to the injuries and fever.

 

A crack splitting the night brought Chris’s head up.  Blinking blearily he wondered if he’d just heard thunder.  Ezra was standing against him, his pistol drawn.  “Where’s the lightning?  I heard the thunder.  Where is the lightning?”

 

“Chris, that was gunfire and I sincerely hope Frank Peters has been dispatched with.”  Ezra kept careful watch from their location on the porch.  It would be up to him to protect them and he had no intention of letting Buck and Vin down.

 

A clattering from inside the house had Ezra on edge and only his quick reflexes kept Vin from an early grave.  Holstering his gun and placing a shaking hand over his heart Ezra pleaded, “Mr. Tanner, I must insist that in the future you announce yourself.  Do you have the slightest inkling how close you came to having a third eye?”

 

Vin twisted round, “What you rambling on about, Ez?  Told you we’d be right back.”  Smiling devilishly he held the door open as Buck struggled outside under a blanket wrapped burden.

 

Raising his eyebrows Ezra asked, “Deceased?”

 

Buck snorted as he dropped Frank Peters onto the porch, “Deader than a door nail.  Thought he’d get the jump on us.  He was hiding in a ladies wardrobe and jumped out as we were on our way out of the room.  Planned on shooting us in the back like his lowlife brother did to poor ol’ Chris here.”

 

“Not supposed to shoot people in the back,” Chris mumbled from where he was leaning against the house, his eyes at half mast.  He watched with a disinterested eye as blood seeped out of the blanket wrapped bundle and trailed toward the edge of the porch to drip into the newly fallen snow.  “He’s leakin’ and messing up the porch.”

 

Vin glanced down and huffed, “Come on, Buck.  We’ll wrap him up in the other tarp and throw him in the wood shed with his brother.  It’s cold enough and they should keep for a while.”

 

Chris held up a hand.  “I need to lie down but I can’t seem to get up.”  Ezra grabbed his hand and helped Chris to a standing position.  “Thanks.” He murmured and stumbled inside to the relative warmth of the parlor.

 

As they neared the cot Ezra tried to divest Chris of Buck’s coat, but Chris stubbornly held onto it all the tighter.  Glaring at Ezra, he dropped onto the cot and curled into the sheepskin.  Sighing, Ezra picked up the blanket and draped it over the man shivering before the fire.  He’d let Buck get his own coat back.  He no longer had the energy for it.

 

Chris lay there staring into the flickering fire.  The snapping and crackling of the logs comforting as the warmth slowly penetrated his chilled flesh.  It was times such as these when he felt the weakest that he missed Sarah the most.  She had the gift to make him feel better when he was feeling the worst; to kiss away the aches and hug away the sickness.  He really needed her now.

 

 

Part 13

 

Distorted shadows danced across the walls and ceiling as the chilled draft sent the flames to flickering wildly.  Ezra looked up from his seat near the fireplace as the front door opened wider and Buck and Vin walked back into the house. 

 

Pushing the door closed with a solid thud Buck joined the others and held his hands out to the welcoming fire.  “Colder than a witch’s teat out there and the storm’s really picking up.  We gathered up some more wood after we took care of the Peters brothers.  Oh and Vin bedded down the horses.  All we got to do now is hunker down and ride out the storm.”

 

Vin looked at Chris and noticed his pale complexion wondering if he was getting sickly.

 

Sitting on the edge of the cot Vin reached for Buck’s coat.  “Well, Cowboy, all you got to do now is concentrate on healing.  We don’t have to worry about the Peters anymore cause they’re down cooling their heels in the woodshed.”

 

Ignoring Vin, Chris held on all the tighter and turned his gaze back to the fire.  “Leave me be.”  Pulling his knees up to his chest he lay on the cot feeling completely and utterly miserable.

 

Buck looked at Chris and shook his head.  “Come on, Chris.  Don’t be like that.  Vin just wants to make sure you’re okay.”

“Let me take a look at your shoulder so’s I can clean and re-bandage it.  Then you can sleep as long as you want.”  Vin waited patiently for any acknowledgment from his friend.

 

Without saying a word Chris pushed himself to a sitting position and pulled his right arm free of the coat.  Closing his eyes tightly he lifted a trembling hand to move the coat off his left.  He swallowed convulsively as nausea set his stomach to somersaulting and a cold sweat broke out over his face.

 

“You feeling sick?” Vin asked as he noted the blood leave Chris’s face to be replaced by a sickly gray pallor.

 

“Get it done,” Chris answered slowly as he leaned forward to rest his head in his right hand.

 

Buck hurried to the kitchen to collect a basin of hot water and some clean linen to use as bandages while Vin unwound the dressing they’d used on Chris’s shoulder to stop the bleeding.  Once the wound was uncovered Vin sat back to eye it critically.

 

“Chris, I don’t like how it looks and its hot to the touch.  We need to give the wound a good cleaning just to be sure.  We’ve got some whiskey and I don’t want to waste any.  You think you could bear up under the pain so we can douse the wound real good?”

 

Chris looked at Vin with red rimmed eyes and asked, “Do I have a choice?” After a pause he said, “I’ll do the best I can, Vin.”

 

Ezra sat forward in his seat and looked at Chris thoughtfully.  “Mr. Tanner, I believe I may have a better remedy.  While I was rummaging around in the pantry earlier I came across a nice sack of sugar.  The previous occupants must have had a sweet tooth but alas I digress.  In my travels I came across an old gypsy woman who saw fit to bestow upon me an old family remedy.  You see sugar can be used to clean a wound and prevent it from turning putrid.  If I remember correctly all you have to do is pack the wound and each time the sugar turns to syrup you clean it out and repeat.”

 

Vin looked at Ezra like he’d grown two heads, “I’ve never heard of such a thing.  You’re sure it works?”

 

“I admit to having not tried it but she assured me it was a good remedy.  Let’s try, shall we?”  Ezra stood and retreated to the kitchen.

 

Buck returned to the parlor soon after.  “What is Ezra going on about?  He was mumbling some durn thing about sugar healing the wounded.”

 

Vin spared Buck a quick glance as he soaked a rag in the basin.  Reaching in he winced at the temperature and dropped the rag back into the bowl. “Damn! That’s hot.”  Blowing on his fingers Vin gamely fished the cloth back out.

 

Chris leaned away as Vin drew the dripping cloth near the wound.  “Not gonna happen, Vin.  I just heard you yowl like a stepped on cat because you burned your fingers in the water.  Let it cool some first.”

 

“Hotter is better because it’ll take the caked on blood off,” Vin explained reaching toward Chris once again.

 

“You’ll be out cold if you touch me with that rag, Tanner,” Chris snapped as he pushed Vin’s hand away from his shoulder.

 

Buck sloshed some whiskey in a glass and held it out to Chris.  “Here take a swig and cool off.  All this fussing isn’t doin’ you any favors.”

 

Grimacing as he downed the whiskey and handed the glass back.  “Thanks.”

 

Shaking his head Vin wiped at the wound and tried to ignore the gasps of pain escaping Chris’s tightly clenched teeth. 

 

“Almost done and as soon as Ezra brings that sugar we’ll wrap you up and put you to bed.

 

“Never fear Chris.  We shall have you tucked in the arms of Morpheus within the next quarter hour.” Ezra assured as he once again joined the group.  “Now, Mr. Tanner, all you have to do is pack the wound very well and wrap it.  We can check it again in the morning which according to my watch is about four hours away.”

 

Buck sighed and dropped onto his bedroll.  “Where did the night go?  Well at least with the Peters brothers gone we can actually get some sleep.”  Pulling his blankets up to his chin he called, “Wake me when breakfast is ready.”

 

Chris looked at the bandage as Vin tied it off.  “Thanks, Vin.”

 

“You’re welcome.  Now go ahead and lie down and I’ll get your blankets.”  Chris carefully stretched out on the cot and Vin draped the blankets over him being mindful of Chris’s bad shoulder.  “Get some sleep, Cowboy.  You earned it.”

 

“I don’t know about you but I’m more than ready to head for home.  I’ve had about enough of this place.”  Chris said around a yawn.

 

“I think you ought to be thanking your lucky stars that we were around or you wouldn’t have made it out of the well.  I would hate to think of you spending eternity rotting away in a well.  In fact you’d probably end up haunting this homestead.  Doomed to walk the earth forever because no one found your body to put it to rest.”  Ezra explained and sat down on the settee.

“You got any good news?”  Vin asked as he threw the dirty water out the front door into the snow.  “We could all have been haunting this place if we hadn’t gotten the upper hand.  I hate to think what could have happened.”

 

“If you all would hush your yammering maybe I could get some sleep,” Chris snapped from his place on the cot.

 

“Goodnight.”  Ezra and Vin called simultaneously as they prepared their sleeping areas.

 

 

Part 14

 

The morning dawned crisp and bright with the promise of plenty of sun.  Vin breathed the frigid air deeply into his lungs and stretched his arms wide.  Sighing loudly he leaned back against the porch railing.  “Gonna be a cold one today but at least the snow’s moved on.”

 

Sipping at his steaming mug of coffee Buck squinted against the sun’s glare off the snow.  “Appears that way so’s I figure we got a few more days out here and when Chris is up to it we’ll head toward home.”

 

Vin snorted.  “You know we’re gonna have to start sitting on him once he starts feeling better.  He’s already saying he wants to go home.”

 

“I think we’ll be okay.  He hates the cold and won’t want that wound aching with it.”  Draining his mug Buck sat forward.  “He’ll probably sleep most of today and tomorrow.  It’s the best thing for him right now ‘cause we’ve got a long trip back home.”

 

“You headin’ back in?” Vin asked and at Buck’s nod handed him his empty mug.  “I’m going down to the barn to check on the horses.”

 

Turning the door knob Buck pushed the door open.  “You do that and maybe Ezra will break out his cards for a friendly game.”

 

Buck entered the house and looked around the darkened interior.  As he was closing the front door Ezra strode past with a basin and rags.

 

Following Ezra into the kitchen he asked, “So how’s he doing this morning any improvement?”

 

Sitting down at the kitchen table Ezra huffed, “The wound is looking quite healthy and the sugar seems to be working.  I found some laudanum as I was looking around this morning and gave him a small dose.”

 

“You know that stuff knocks him ass over tin cups.  I’m surprised he let you give it to him.”  Buck cocked an eyebrow at Ezra when the man grinned thinly.

 

Scratching at the back of his neck Ezra sighed.  “I mixed it in some whiskey.  It wasn’t a lot.  I promise.  It was just enough to take the edge off.”

 

“Well I guess a little won’t hurt and it’s not like he doesn’t need the sleep.”  Buck set the coffee mugs on the table and flopped down next to Ezra.  “How about when Vin gets back we have ourselves a friendly game of poker to pass the time?”

 

“I thought you didn’t have any money left?  How do you plan to back your wagers?” scratching at a knot on the table with his thumb, Ezra leveled a look at Buck.

 

Buck gave Ezra a wide smile.  “I’m sure we can find something around the house.  This is supposed to be a friendly game.  Remember?”

 

Smirking, Ezra pulled his cards from his vest pocket.  “I always play friendly games.”

 

 

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

 

“Come on, Ez!  Shake a tail feather,” Buck called from his perch atop General.  “I’d like to get back home before Chris turns old and gray.”

 

“Hey!  I’m not old or gray.  You’re supposed to be sympathizing with me.  I’m hurt, remember?” Chris scowled at Buck’s remark as he pulled the heavy blanket tighter around himself.

 

Vin sniggered.  “Yeah.  Give Grandpa Chris a break.  He’s feelin’ his age.”

 

“My right arm works just fine, Tanner.  Don’t make me shoot you.”  Shifting in the saddle Chris looked toward the house. 

Clearing his throat he called, “We’re leaving in two minutes with or without you!”

 

Stepping out onto the porch and pulling the door shut behind him, Ezra jiggled the doorknob to be sure it was secure.  Throwing a disgusted look over his shoulder Ezra grabbed up the wood plank that had been barring the door and hammered it into place.  He skipped down the stairs and handed Vin the hammer he’d used.  “Thank you for the loan of your hammer and I’d like to point out that things would have proceeded much more efficiently if I’d had assistance closing up the house.”

 

“We did.  You just insisted on checking the house a second time,” Vin pointed out as he handed Ezra Chaucer’s reins.

 

Buck tsked and grinned at Vin.  “No.  I believe he actually checked it three times.  The house is just as we found it.  Right, Ez?”

 

Ezra’s jaw dropped open.  “Mr. Wilmington, I am stunned at your lack of trust.  I had to nursemaid while you two were away collecting the reward on the corpses.  Three days.  Three days I had to do everything and my pockets are as light as they were when we arrived at this forsaken farm.  We could have at least split the reward.”

 

“We discussed this, Ez.  Yosemite should get it,” Vin sighed as he leveled a look at Ezra.  “He lost his horses and got knocked six ways to Sunday.  We’re not in it for the money.”

 

Ezra made no comment as he swung up onto Chaucer and settled into the saddle.

 

“Don’t pout, Ezra.  Just think how happy Yosemite will be when we give him that thousand dollars.  He may even buy you a drink.”  Buck shot Ezra a wide grin when his face darkened further.

 

Tiring of the banter, Chris just shook his head and started Pony off toward Four Corners.  “I’m leaving.  Follow if you want.”

The others hadn’t even realized Chris had ridden off, but as soon as they did Buck hurried to catch up to him.  “Hey, you can’t leave us back there.  The conversation was just getting interesting.”

 

 

Chris did not comment.

 

Adjusting his hat, Buck continued chatting.  “Besides, you could get hurt out here on your own.  You’ve still got a bum shoulder to deal with.”

 

Snorting, Chris continued on.  “I was with you boys and I still got hurt.  It was a case of bad luck.  That’s all it was.”

 

“You keep telling yourself that, Stud.  If we hadn’t been with you, you would have drowned in that decrepit well.  You were lucky we were there to pull you out.”  Buck looked at Chris noticing the dark shadows under his eyes and the gaunt look about his face.  Chris should have spent another few days resting but he’d gotten it stuck in his craw that he was heading home today.

 

Chris could hear Vin and Ezra chatting behind them as the horses moved at a leisurely walk.  He let the Pony’s easy gait lull him into a doze and they traveled that way until they reached the first resting point.

 

“You need a hand there, Chris?” Vin asked from where he was standing next to his friend’s left leg.

 

Blinking owlishly Chris looked around for the first time noticing Buck and Ezra setting up camp.  “Thought we were riding until lunch?”

 

“We did.  We’re gonna have lunch, let the horses rest, and let you lie down for a while.” Vin stepped back as Chris stiffly swung out of the saddle, staying close by as Chris made his way over to a fallen log.

 

Buck looked up from where he was lighting a small fire.  “Hey, Stud.  We’re having your favorite: Beans.”

 

Arching an eyebrow at the ladies man he asked, “Is that supposed to bother me?  I like beans though I’m not sure if I’m actually hungry.”  Sliding down onto the ground in front of the log he absently drew pictures in the dirt until the beans were heated through.

 

Wrinkling his nose at the beans Buck held out to him, Ezra asked, “How long are you planning on staying here?  I only ask because the sun will be down around five this evening.”

 

Licking his spoon, Vin set his plate aside.  “I figure we’ll stay here ‘til about one and then move on until four.  Everything depends on Chris.” The sound of tin hitting the ground brought Vin’s head around.

 

Sighing deeply Ezra stood up to see to their fearless leader.  “Mr. Larabee you could have mentioned you were about done in.  Here.  Come over to the bedroll.  It will be much more comfortable.”

 

Shaking his head slowly, Chris set his spoon down on his plate.  “I’m fine.  I can catch a quick cat nap here.”

 

Ezra was about to protest but Buck waved him off.  “Mind if I set down here next to you, Chris.  I’m kinda chilly.”

 

Yawning widely Chris nodded his head.  “Up to you.  Just don’t keep me awake.”

 

“No.  I won’t do that.  I’ll just sit here all quiet like.” Buck dropped down next to Chris and waited for him to fall asleep.  As Chris settled further into sleep he listed against Buck who grinned widely.  “Works every time.”

 

Vin and Ezra puttered around doing whatever needed doing while Buck watched over his self appointed charge.

 

 

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

 

“Woo Wee! Would you lookee there.  I believe we’ve finally made it,” Buck called out cheerfully as Four Corners materialized in the distance.

 

“Well I have to say I’ve never been happier than I am at this moment.  Home is close enough that we can almost touch it.  I long for my feather bed,” Ezra sighed as he pulled Chaucer up beside Buck.

 

“Never thought I’d be eager to get back in town but I have to agree with Ez.  I want my own bed.” Vin grinned looking back at Chris who sat there looking toward town.  “What’s wrong?  I thought you’d be happy to be back.”

 

Chris scowled.  “I should have gone to my cabin.  Nathan’s gonna want to poke and prod.”

 

“Oh no you don’t.  You promised us you’d let Nate give you the once over,” Buck pointed out before urging Chris and the rest on.

 

“I know what I promised.  Doesn’t mean I gotta like it.”  Chris huffed and took the lead.  “Might as well get this over with so I can get some sleep.”

 

Shaking his head Buck laughed, “Welcome home boys!”

 

The End.

 

 

PARTS 1-5 / PARTS 6-10

 

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