Disclaimer: Dont own em, didnt create em,
dont profit off em.
Notes: A little bundle of smarm in the LB-OW AU. Almost exclusively
Chris and lil Vin. If I did it right, you might wanna have a tissue
Dedication: To Joy, on the occasion of her birth. May you reap the
rewards of your hard work and dedication to the LB AU, lady! YOURE
Chris Larabee sighed as he stared out the frost-laced
window onto the moonlit landscape beyond. The ground was covered with snow;
the trees with ice. It was the last night of the year and his heart was heavy.
A soft moan drew his attention from the window and he turned toward the source
of the sound. Huddled beneath the pile of quilts was the child of his heart.
Seven-year-old Vin Tanner. The little orphan had been sick with a fever for
days now; since three days after Christmas in fact.
Chris and his friend, Buck Wilmington, had taken the boys into town on Christmas
Eve. The plan had been for the boys to spend the week in town so they could
enjoy the holiday celebrations before returning to the ranch. He and Buck
would alternate staying with them and taking care of the day-to-day chores
at the ranch.
The day it was his turn to ride out for a second
trip to the ranch, a rather out-of-sorts Vin had begged and pleaded to go
with him. The shy child was never comfortable in crowds, so Chris had decided
that taking him home might be the more pleasant alternative for all concerned.
He saddled both Pony and Peso and the two of them rode out just as the sun
was turning the sky gray.
Vin continued to be sullen throughout the ride to the ranch, huddling in
his coat and responding to the occasional questions asked him with a grunt
or a single word. Arriving at their homestead, he shuffled along behind Chris,
helping do the chores without complaint.
Chris had been shocked to realize they had worked well past lunch and nearly
to the dinner hour. It wasnt unusual for him, but the boys were like
little alarm clocks, asking politely to be fed over the sounds of rumbling
tummies. It was typically JD who protested the most, though, so the rancher
decided that the older boy simply hadnt wanted to be a bother. He quickly
called a halt to things, coaxing the child to set aside his last chore without
They had gone inside, Chris sending the little boy off to clean up while
he put on a pot of stew. When the tiny blond wasnt anywhere to be seen
by the time the pot began to bubble, Larabee went searching. He discovered
the little orphan curled up on his bed, shivering.
Reaching down, he tenderly touched the childs flushed face. Fever-bright
blue eyes opened slowly, taking time to focus on him. Stroking damp blond
curls off the tiny face, he said gently, Reckon youre not feeling
No, sir, the answer was a faint, raspy croak.
Why didnt you say anything, Pard? When his only answer
was a shrug, the tall blond sighed. Even after several months of living with
him, the child was still afraid of being rejected for being too much trouble.
Nightfall was upon them, making a trip into town too risky. It was too far
and too cold to travel with the sick boy. He would have to care for Vin himself,
and wait for morning.
By sunrise, Vin was much worse, and snow was
falling heavily. The tyke tossed and turned on his bed, muttering incoherently
and shivering despite the layers of bedding covering him. Chris paced back
and forth, cursing the fates as he tried to decide what to do. He could bundle
the boy up and carry him into town through the storm. Or he could work with
what he had at the ranch and do his best to wait out the illness.
Deciding that he would tend the child himself, Chris had boiled up some of
the herbs they kept on hand, steeping them in a tea and carrying a mug into
the little bedroom the boys shared. Vin lay listlessly on the bed, whimpering
in his delirium. Lifting the child up to rest against him, he slowly fed
him the tea, murmuring encouragingly as the bitter taste registered in the
boys foggy mind.
The day had passed slowly between rounds of feeding Vin the teas and bathing
the perspiration from the tiny frame. The fever continued to burn through
the child despite his efforts. The snow stopped sometime during the afternoon,
but he barely noticed it. His sole focus was on the tiny boy curled up in
The night passed in much the same way. He dozed in a chair beside the son
of his soul, praying to see those big, blue eyes staring up at him. But they
A third day dawned since young Tanner became
ill, the boy showing no signs of improvement. In fact he began to wheeze,
congestion growing heavy in the tiny chest. Larabee added a second and then
a third pillow to the stack beneath the childs head in an effort to
ease his breathing.
Moving one of the other narrow beds into the kitchen, as close to the stove
as he dared, Chris set pots of water to boil. Gathering the ill child up,
quilts and all, he carried him into the kitchen and settled him on the bed.
Retrieving the pillows once more, he propped the child up until he was nearly
The vigil continued, the rancher tending the fragile child as best he could.
He warmed a salve of fragrant herbs and spices, spreading it over the heaving,
struggling chest and back. Lifting Vin up to rest against him, he felt the
little boy snuggle against him, craving the comfort of the strong body. He
stroked a calloused hand through the sweaty, tangled curls whispering soft
words meant to comfort the ailing child.
The air in the kitchen was heavy with moisture from the steaming pots. Chris
left the chair beside the narrow bed only long enough to fill buckets with
more snow from outside the back door. As the hours passed, Larabee had to
venture farther and farther into the yard to fill the buckets. And still
the child showed no signs of improvement.
He watched the road for signs that someone was coming out to check on them,
but there was nothing. He couldnt blame them; the air remained frigid,
keeping the world blanketed in snow and ice with no hint of warmth to melt
them. As far as his friends back in town knew, he and his foster son were
safe and sound. There was no reason for anyone to brave the harsh weather
to come visiting.
Vin began coughing, harsh barks that caused his
tiny body to spasm. He woke the weary man sitting beside him, the seemingly
permanent frown creasing the handsome face. A hand stroked his flushed face,
soft words reached his ear as the big man sought to comfort him. The child
was unaware of any of it, his existence nothing more than fever and pain.
Sh, its all right, son, its all right, Chris murmured
gently. Then as the little body went rigid and the coughs became strangled
gasps, he lifted the child up, placing a bowl beneath the lolling head. He
balanced Vin against him, pounding the narrow little back as hard as he dared.
It seemed like hours before he was rewarded with several jerking movements
as the unconscious child began to bring up the vile congestion.
The hours passed without note once more, as Larabee aided the boy in riding
himself of the crud that had invaded his tiny body. Finally, he felt the
child go limp and a long sigh escaped his lax lips. Chris groaned, fearing
the worse as he shifted the child in his embrace. Then a few hot tears trailed
down his face as he reassured himself that his son was still alive.
With Vin quiet and breathing easier, Chris bathed and dried the tiny body
and placed him in a clean nightshirt. Gathering up dry bedding, he carried
the tiny boy back to his bedroom, placing him back in his bed. Covering him
to the chin with clean quilts, he left long enough to change his own sodden
clothing and to take the pots off the stove. Replacing them with one that
began to heat some broth, he returned to the childs bedside.
He had managed to coax the seven-year-old to drink a few sips of broth, but
otherwise Vin had lain unmoving ever since. Other than the occasional moan
and the slow rise and fall of the tiny chest, there was nothing to show that
young Tanner was still living.
Another moan brought Chris from his thoughts
and he moved to sit in the chair that he had spent so many hours in. Vin
was becoming restless, his head tossing back and forth on the pillow. The
big man took one tiny hand in his, stroking it gently as he sought to comfort
the boy as well as to coax him to wakefulness. Hey, Pard, its
okay. Youre gonna be fine, come on, open up those big blue eyes for
Long, thick lashes fluttered against pale cheeks and then slowly near-translucent
lids lifted to reveal dark, dull eyes. Those eyes moved back and forth as
if they were searching for something. Then the colorless lips parted and
a single word was spoken. In a raspy voice, Vin called, Mama?
Sh, its okay, Pard. Youre just dreaming, its okay.
Youre safe, Vin
Ive missed ya.
Larabee realized that the child his little boy was staring
at something beyond him. All of the stories about people seeing those they
had lost just before passing themselves came to the blond. His tired, overwrought
mind screamed, the sound escaping in a soft groan. Vin
ya come ta
git me? Ya aint gonna
are ya? Mama
I miss ya.
please, Larabee begged. He dropped to his
knees beside the bed, reaching out to stroke the tiny face once more. The
little blond continued to stare lovingly toward the space beyond the bed.
Sometimes he spoke in a halting, breathless voice. Sometimes he seemed to
be listening, his face taking on a peaceful countenance.
Chris buried his face in the quilts, sobbing as he witnessed the child converse
with his dead mother. In a hoarse whisper he beseeched, Please, God,
dont take him away from me. Please
youve taken one family
already. Please, please dont take Vin, too. I cant lose him,
I cant lose him.
Exhausted beyond words, in both body and soul, the hardened gunslinger found
himself unable to lift his head from the bed. He sought out one tiny, cool
hand, wrapping his fingers lightly around it. His voice muffled by the thick
bedding, he continued to pray, Please, dont take
dont take my child
God, hes mine as much as
as much as Adam was. God, please
I cant lose him. Dont
take him from me. Oh, Lord, Sarah! Please, help me sweet woman!
The heartbreaking scene continued until both players fell into an exhausted
sleep. Vins face was peaceful, a smile on his lips as he continued
to listen to his mothers voice, now raised in song. Beside him,
Chris face was twisted in pain as he continued to beg for mercy. Finally
the room grew quiet, even the lamp guttering and going out, leaving only
the sound of the wind blowing beyond the little homestead.
Then from somewhere came a faint lightening of the darkness. Larabee stirred
at a tender touch; someone stroking his hair. The touch was familiar and
he called softly, Sarah. Then he shifted, whispering another
prayer as he settled back into sleep, quieted by that touch and the faint
sound of someone singing a lullaby.
The morning sun cast a single ray through the
window, its light and warmth tickling the tall blond to consciousness. Blinking
open weary eyes, he tried to remember where he was. Then he felt a hand stroke
the back of his head. Not quite awake, he whispered, Sarah?
Turning his head, the rancher beheld a sight he thought he would never again
see. Wide, blue eyes stared at him with recognition. A laugh bubbling through
him as relief overtook him, the blond cried in a hoarse whisper,
The first day of the year was bright and sunny,
the air crisp and clear and warm. The ill child had wakened at last, bringing
joy to his guardians heart. Chris bundled the boy up and carried him
to the kitchen where they settled together in the rocking chair sitting there.
The rancher spooned sweetened mush into the waiting mouth; rejoicing in the
childs returning appetite.
After a few bites, the little boy sighed and snuggled against the broad chest
contentedly. He hadnt said much, only a word here and there, but seemed
clear minded and alert.
With a smile, Larabee set the half emptied bowl aside and placed a gentle
kiss on the cooling forehead. As he watched, Vin drifted off into a healing
sleep. His own contentment was obvious as he rocked the child gently, hugging
him close. It would take some time, but he had no doubt that his adopted
child would recover.
Letting his heavy head fall back against the head rest, the tall blond gave
in to the long hours of stress and worry. As he felt the warmth of slumber
wrap itself around him, he heard the faint sound of voices. Two voices, one
with an Irish lilt and the other with a Texas drawl. As diverse as they were,
though, the two voices blended in a rich, heavenly harmony. As the two people
in the rocking chair slept, those two voices sang softly to them, comforting
them with a mothers lullaby.