Standing Outside the Fire

by Winnie

Comments:This was a challenge put to me by a very dear friend. Without her I never would have found The Magnificent Seven. Thanks, SilverWolf!

A special thanks to Julie for being so supportive and beta reading my story.

The lyrics in this story are from Garth Brooks song Standing Outside the Fire!

We call them cool
Those hearts that have no scars to show
The ones that never do let go
And risk the tables being turned

We call them fools
Who have to dance within the flame
Who chance the sorrow and the shame
That always comes with getting burned

Chris Larabee sat in his usual position outside the saloon. His chair tipped back, his hat tilted forward to block out the scorching noonday sun. His left arm held tightly in a white sling that stood out sharply against his black clothing. He seemed oblivious to everything around him but his cat-like reflexes, honed from years of being a gunslinger kept him on edge.

He watched through hooded green eyes as Mary Travis walked hurriedly towards him. Her blond hair trembled as a slight breeze touched the small town of Four Corners. He waited for her to speak before acknowledging her presence.

"Mr. Larabee," Mary said as she tilted her head to the side.

"Mrs. Travis," Chris said quietly, his quota of words nearly used up for the day.

"I was wondering if I could speak with you for a moment?"

Chris sat forward, letting his chair drop back on four legs, the sound loud in the unusually quiet day. "Is something wrong, Mary?" he asked using her first name without realizing he’d done so.

"No, not really. I just wondered if you could speak with Billy," she asked, her eyes meeting his for the first time. Desire flooded through her as his expressive green eyes showed her he had feelings for her as well.

"He done somethin’ wrong?"

"No, he just can’t understand what happened," she said.

"Mary, I’m sorry, I never wanted to hurt either of you," Chris said, his voice low and tinged with sorrow.

"I know you didn’t, Chris, and I understand your reasoning. After all, I am a big girl. But Billy’s just a young boy. He doesn’t understand why you never come to dinner anymore. Everyday he asks the same thing. Why does Chris hate us, Ma?" she said as tears filled her eyes.

"I don’t hate him or you, Mary," Chris said quietly. "I just can’t keep putting the people I care about in danger. If that means staying away from you and Billy then that’s what I’ll do," he said and turned away before she could see the hurt in his eyes. His mind conjured up the scene from a week ago.

+ + + + + + +

Mary stood decked in white, her blond hair tied back with a pink ribbon, her eyes dancing in happiness. He held her hand as the judge began the ceremony that would bind the two of them together forever. Two souls finding love again, two hearts beating as one. Their love evident for all to see.

Billy Travis stood beside Chris, proud to be his best man. It was a spot originally reserved for either Vin Tanner or Buck Wilmington but had been given to Billy because neither man wanted Chris Larabee to choose between them at this special time.

Chris lifted her left hand and began to place the ring on her finger, "I Chris," before he could go any further what should have been the happiest day of his life was shattered by six words shouted for all to hear.

"Chris Larabee, I’m callin’ ya out!"

Chris dropped Mary’s hand as if he’d been burned, turning quickly, his hand automatically going to where his gun would normally be before remembering he’d taken it off for his wedding to Mary Travis.

"You hear me, Larabee? Get out here before my men take this town apart," the heavily accented voice called.

"Chris?" Mary asked; horrified that this was happening on a day she’d dreamed of since the seven had agreed to become peacekeepers in the town of Four Corners.

"Stay here, Mary," Chris said as he hurried out of the little church Josiah had been restoring.

"You don’t have your gun, Chris," Vin Tanner told him as he reached for the older mans arm.

"I left it on the back bench," Chris informed the worried tracker. He reached the bench and began buckling his belt as a flurry of bullets pinged off the outside walls of the church. "Everyone stay here," he shouted as he ran through the door, his six friends following at his heels.

His eyes surveyed the gang of six men standing before him. The leader stood just a little forward of the others. He wore a large sombrero that shielded his eyes from the sun but Chris could tell they were cold and calculating. "Who are you?" he asked.

"It don’t matter who I am, Senior. All that matters is I’m here to take you down," the man said, an evil leer covering his face. "I’m told yer bout the fastest draw there is but I aim to prove them wrong or are you to much of a coward to face me?"

Chris slowly walked away from the church, his hand gently pushing his coat towards his back. Without another word the men faced each other. Chris could feel his own men standing around him protectively. He knew he was not alone and that he belonged to an elite group of seven but this was one fight he’d have to finish on his own. He waited for the other man to go for his gun.

The street was deathly quiet and even the breeze stopped breathing as the two men faced one another. Time stood still as trigger like reflexes stood ready to protect their friend if the newcomers decided Chris Larabee was too fast for their own leader to take on his own.

The quiet was interrupted by a small boy's voice near the church doors.

"You leave Chris alone!"

Chris heard the boy's voice and the distraction nearly cost him his life. He turned his head slightly, worry for the boy foremost in his mind. "Get him outta here!" he shouted and turned back just in time to feel a bullet rip through his upper left shoulder. Biting back a cry of pain, he drew his own gun and heard six others do the same from behind him.

Shots rang out in the dry afternoon air and smoke billowed from the hot barrels of the guns. When silence once again reigned supreme, six outlaws lay dead in the street and seven peacekeepers stood over their bodies.

"Let’s get this mess off the street," Chris said angrily, holding his right hand against his profusely bleeding left shoulder.

"Let’s leave the others to do that. I want to look at your shoulder," Nathan Jackson, who’d earned himself the nickname ‘Healer’ because of his unique care of his friend’s injuries, ordered.

All thoughts of the wedding they’d been attending minutes before vanished in lieu of the devastation that now lay before them. Blood stained the ground as Nathan dragged the sevens leader towards his clinic. Chris tried to turn back to help the others but found his good right arm held in a vice like grip. His knees began to buckle as his strength left him and the hard dirt-packed ground came up to meet him

+ + + + + + +

But you've got to be tough when consumed by desire
'Cause it's not enough just to stand outside the fire


He stopped when he heard the pain in her soft voice. He knew she was crying but he couldn’t let it matter to him. He couldn’t let her and Billy’s life be snuffed out, as he’d let Sarah’s and Adam’s. The reminder of his life before he’d become a gunslinger still cut like a knife through his heart. Hardening himself against her soft face he turned to look into her eyes.

"I can’t, Mary," he said as he turned his back on her and walked into the saloon and up to the bar.

Mary stood outside the door; the tears she’d been holding in check quickly becoming a river as they fell from her eyes, down her cheeks to drop unhindered onto the parched dirt. The ground lapped up the evidence of her grief even as she turned away from the man she loved back towards her old life.

We call them strong
Those who can face this world alone
Who seem to get by on their own
Those who will never take the fall

We call them weak
Who are unable to resist
The slightest chance love might exist
And for that forsake it all

"You ok, Cowboy?"

Chris kept his eyes glued to the nearly empty whiskey bottle in his hand. His voice was slightly slurred, as he answered, "Why wouldn’t I be?"

"Saw ya with Mrs. Travis earlier. Thought ya might need ta talk," Vin Tanner said as he stood over his friend waiting for an invitation to join him.

"Don’t wanna talk," Chris’s slurred voice answered.

"Ya just gonna drown yourself in that bottle?" Vin asked, cold anger showing in his eyes.

"Least I can’t get no one hurt while I drown," Chris said forlornly.

"This ain’t like you, Chris. Thought you’d given up the cowards way of drownin’ yer sorrows in the bottle," Vin said hoping to draw Chris out of his melancholy.

"What do you know about it?" Chris asked as he angrily threw the bottle across the saloon, breaking the tiny mirror above the bar.

"Know more than ya think," Vin stated simply. "I see what yer doin' to yerself and Mrs. Travis. Ain’t right, Chris. That woman loves ya and yer gonna throw it all away."

Chris stood up and grabbed the younger man by the collar. He pulled back his fist and with barely contained restraint was able to stop himself from delivering the devastating blow. He pushed the younger man away from him and in a voice hardened with pain and grief said quietly, "Stay away from me, Vin, don’t need ya interferin’ with my life." Before the younger man could say anything, Chris Larabee turned his back and hurried out the door.

Vin Tanner walked out of the saloon and watched as his friend made his way towards the livery. ‘Ya need help, Pard,’ he thought.

"Where’s he goin’," Buck Wilmington asked as he came up beside Vin Tanner. JD Dunne, the youngest member of the seven, was close on his heels.

"Don’t know but I aim ta find out," Vin said as he followed his friend from a distance.

"Might not be a good idea, Vin. I seen Chris like this before and he’s like a rattlesnake ready to strike. I wouldn’t wanna be standin’ to close when he decides to lash out," Buck told him.

"Can’t let him go out on his own when he’s this drunk. No tellin’ what’ll happen to him."

"You gonna ask him to let you go along?" JD asked.

"Not gonna ask him nothin’. Just gonna follow him and make sure he don’t do nothin’ stupid."

"He’s not gonna like that," Buck said as they were joined by Ezra Standish, resident gambler and member of the seven.

"I think Mr. Wilmington may be right. The one thing Mr. Larabee wants is his solitude," Ezra told them.

"His what?" Vin asked.

"His solitude. His space. His privacy. Mr. Larabee is a man in need of some meditation," Ezra remarked from behind them.

"He’ll have his privacy as long as he doesn’t know I’m followin’ him," Vin said, a smile forming at the corners of his mouth.

"I tell ya he ain’t gonna like it," Buck reiterated.

"That’s too bad. Think you guys can handle the town while we’re gone?" Vin asked.

"Can’t see why not. The place has been quiet since last Sunday," JD said, hanging his head when he realized he’d brought up the reason for their leader’s sadness. "Sorry," he said.

"It’s ok, JD," Buck said and turned his attention back to the tracker. "You take care, Vin, remember what I said about the rattle snake."

"I will, Buck," Vin said as he hurried towards the livery. They watched as Chris Larabee, astride his large black, raced out of town at a full gallop.

They're so hell-bent on living, walking a wire
Convinced it's not living if you stand outside the fire

Chris Larabee rode as if the demons of hell were hot on his trail. He knew what he had to do. He had to be rid of the feelings of love and friendship. Those two words did not belong in a gunslinger's vocabulary and he wanted to make sure they never returned. He would learn to live his life as if friendship and love didn’t exist. He would stand alone from now on, with no one to care for and no one to care for him. He would never let anyone else be hurt because of him.

Standing outside the fire
Standing outside the fire
Life is not tried, it is merely survived
If you're standing outside the fire

He had no idea how long he rode ignoring the pain in his shoulder as if it didn’t exist. He’d pulled his arm from the sling as soon as he’d cleared the outskirts of town and drove his horse as if the fires of Hades were on his heels. ‘I can’t let you be hurt because of me,’ he thought again as he tried to outrun his demons.

Darkness descended and with it came heavy rain. As the track became treacherous, he knew he’d have to slow or chance an injury to his horse. As he pulled back on the reins, he felt his shoulder tear and bit back a cry of pain. He released the reins in his left hand and held on with his right.

A flash of lightening ripped across the sky as thunder cracked loudly overhead. Chris’ precarious hold on the reins became non-existent as his terrified horse screamed and began racing through the stormy night. He felt his body leave the saddle and become airborne. He struck the ground on his left shoulder and gritted his teeth against the white-hot agony. His body rolled and soon became airborne again as he continued his downward spiral over the edge of a cliff.

He felt his right leg give at the knee as he landed on a ledge and as consciousness left him he cried out one name, "Mary."

There's this love that is burning
Deep in my soul
Constantly yearning to get out of control
Wanting to fly higher and higher
I can't abide
Standing outside the fire

Vin Tanner knew something was wrong. His relationship with Chris Larabee was more than friendship. They were like brothers, close brothers with an even closer tie. He knew he had to find Chris before it was too late. The unrelenting storm had come on them quickly and he knew he’d have to track Chris using his inner instincts rather than his tracking abilities. The torrential downpour had obliterated any evidence that Chris was still on this trail.

He pushed on, a sense of urgency pulling at his heart. He had to find Chris before it was too late. He pushed his horse faster as the rain began to diminish. The night shrouded him in a cloak of darkness but he still wouldn’t stop. As the thunder echoed out it’s last cry Vin forced his horse onward. The ground underfoot was treacherous and his horse stumbled before righting itself.

"Where are ya, Chris?" he asked aloud.

Silence was his only answer as the fury of nature gave way to the calmness of quiet and solitude. He pulled his horse to a stop near the edge of a cliff as the clouds parted giving way to a brilliant full moon. His eyes adjusted to the new light and he could see the trees to his right giving way to a steep embankment just ahead. A horse stood to the left and full recognition hit Vin instantly. Pulling his horse to a stop, he jumped down and began to search the area. Finally his eyes came to rest on a still figure laying on a small outcropping ledge approximately thirty feet below him.

"Chris!" he shouted. "Chris, Can you hear me? Come on, Cowboy, answer me," his voice was becoming hoarse as he shouted to his injured friend.

He hurried back to his horse, grabbed his rope and canteen and ran back to the edge. He tied the rope around the nearest tree and dropped it over the edge. He pulled on the rope to make sure it wouldn’t come undone. When he knew it was tight, he dropped over the edge and began to rappel down to the ledge.

What seemed like an eternity but was actually less than a minute later, he felt his feet touch the hard surface. He dropped the rope and knelt by his friend. By the light of the moon and the stars, he could tell his friend was in bad shape. A small pool of blood lay under his left shoulder and his right leg was bent at an awkward angle. Vin knew it was broken without touching it. He gently patted Chris down feeling for further injuries and knew there were some broken ribs when his touch elicited a cry of pain from the injured man.

"Easy, Chris," Vin said in a worried voice as he continued his cursory exam.

Chris heard the voice and struggled to open his eyes. He knew it couldn’t be Vin’s because he’d left without inviting him along.

"That’s it, Cowboy, open your eyes," Vin told his friend.

"V...Vin," he asked confusedly.

"Hey, Pard," Vin said. "Got yourself in a hell of a mess this time didn’t ya?"

"S...seems like who...whole life’s big mess," Chris grated through clenched teeth. "’d you f...find me?"

"I was following ya, Cowboy," Vin told him.

"F... following me? Why?" Chris asked trying to keep the anger he felt from showing in his voice.

"Knew ya weren’t thinkin’ straight."

"I wan... wanted…"

Before Chris could finish his thought, a wave of pain swept through his body and he tried to curl into a ball. His movement caused white-hot lancing pain to shoot through his broken leg and he cried out.

"Easy, Pard, ya might just wanna stay quiet for a little while. Looks like ya’ve broke your leg and a few ribs. Re-opened that shoulder wound again too."

"G...good thing N...Nathan’s not here," Chris said dismissing his anger as the pain in his body took command.

"Wish he were," Vin told him. "I’m gonna need help getting ya outta here, Cowboy."

"Figured as much," Chris said as he looked up the dark face of the cliff. Thirty feet had never seemed so far but he knew there was no way he’d be able to climb out of there on his own even if Vin were helping from the top.

Vin looked around and knew he’d have to leave his friend and go for help. The thought of leaving Chris alone while he went for help sent a chill through him but he knew there was nothing else he could do. If he tied a rope around Chris and pulled him up from the top, he’d likely cause more damage to his friend's already battered body.

Chris could see unshed tears in the stoic tracker's eyes and knew he was the cause. ‘I’m still hurting him,’ he thought as his eyes closed and darkness once again took over. "I’m, sorry, Vin," he said.

"Ya ain’t got nothin’ to be sorry for, Pard. I’m gonna leave ya here. Ain’t no way ta get ya to the top. Ya think ya can stay outta trouble till I get back?"

"Can’t Pr...promise ya but I...I’ll try," Chris said as he groaned again.

"Wish there were some other way, Cowboy," Vin said as he patted Chris’s shoulder gently.

"There ain’t. Just go," Chris said through gritted teeth.

Vin took one last look around. He made sure Chris was as far away from the edge as possible and placed the canteen next to him. "Ya make sure yer here when I get back," he told the older man.

"Ain’t nowhere else t... to go," Chris said as he watched his friend move to the rope. "Vin," he called as his friend’s hand touched the rope. "Tell Mary I’m sorry."

"Ya can tell her yerself when ya get back ta town," Vin told him.

"Can’t face her," Chris said, his voice so full of despair it made his friend turn back to him.

"Yes ya can, Pard," Vin said as he came back to sit by his friend.

"Can’t. Put her and Billy th...through too much al...ready."

"Chris, Mary don’t blame ya for what happened. She understands why you called the wedding off. She may not agree with it but she does understand."

Chris didn’t seem to hear him as his quiet, tired, pain-filled voice continued, "get every one ki...killed, Sarah, Adam, almost got B...Billy killed. Tell t...them ta st...stay away f...from me. No...nothing but trouble pa s...said."

"That ain’t true, Chris. Ya just love ta take the blame fer everythin’. Ain’t always yer fault. Ya can’t keep everyone safe by stayin’ away from em," Vin tried to console the older man as his body was wracked with pain and guilt.

"Mary and Billy w...were better without me. If I... I stayed with em they’d die be...because of me. Be...better life t...than I c...could give em."

"Were they? Seems ta me that Mary had her own share of troubles before ya even came ta town. Her husband was killed before ya got there. Ya gonna blame yerself fer that too," Vin said and saw the hurt in his friends eyes. "Look, Chris, if ya hadn’t been there the day Billy came back ta town the kid woulda been killed. Ya saved his life twice that day and saved a lot of other lives since. Ya can’t go on livin’ as if yer the only man ta shoulder the blame fer everything in the world. Ma always said if ya stand apart from yer friends then life’s just a lonely stretch with nothin’ ta look forward to. She said if you let people in then there’s a reason ta go on. I almost let that happen ta me till ya came along, Cowboy. I need ya in my life. We all need ya in our lives."

Chris Larabee stared into the blue eyes of his friend. The words the younger man had just said to him made sense even to his numbed mind. Pain seemed to invade every part of his body as he tried to reason out what Vin had said. His Ma had once told him the same thing only with different words. She’d called it standing outside the fire and letting life slip past you. She’d called it a waste and made him promise never to let it happen to him. He’d forgotten those words until his friend had spoken his own mother’s words so softly.

Standing outside the fire
Standing outside the fire
Life is not tried, it is merely survived
If you're standing outside the fire

"Your Ma’s r...right, Vin. Th...think maybe I do owe Mary an explanation. Th...think she’ll give me an...another chance?"

"I know she will, Pard. Now I gotta go get us..."

"Vin, ya down there?" Buck's worried voice carried down to them from the edge of the cliff.

"Buck?" Vin yelled. He wondered how the others had found them but didn’t voice the question. He knew there’d be time for that later.

"Yeah. You hurt?"

"Not me. Chris isn’t feelin’ too good right now. Is Nathan with ya?"

"We’re all here. Figured ya might need help with hard head there," Buck shouted.

"How bad is he?" Nathan asked worriedly.

"I...I’m fine," Chris said eliciting a tiny laugh from Tanner and the others up top.

"He ain’t fine, Nathan. Think his leg's busted, a couple of ribs. Looks like he opened up that bullet wound again too."

"Keep him still. I’ll be down in a few minutes," Nathan Jackson yelled and disappeared from the edge of the cliff.

"Hear that, Cowboy, Nathan’s on his way," Tanner told his trembling friend.

Chris felt as if his body was one mass of pain and there was no escape from it. He tried to move but had to bite back a groan at the agony it caused. "H...hurts, Vin," he said.

"I know it does, Pard, Nathan’ll give ya somethin’ ta help ya when he gets here," Vin said as he gently swept the blonde hair back from his friend's forehead. "Ya just hang on, ok?"

"I...I’ll try," Chris said in a steadily weakening voice.

Vin watched as Nathan dropped over the edge. Saddlebags and a canteen quickly followed him. Vin reached out and guided Nathan and the saddlebags onto the cliff.

Nathan knelt beside the injured man and shook his head, "When’re ya ever gonna learn?" he asked, not really expecting an answer. He checked Chris’s body over and then turned to the men waiting above. "Did you boys find anything useful?"

"Think these’ll do," Buck called as he dropped another rope over the edge.

Vin could see the long sticks coming down and reached out for them. He untied the different lengths and placed them in Nathan’s easy reach.

"Drink this, Chris," Nathan said as he placed a small brown bottle to the injured man's lips. Chris swallowed the hated liquid and waited for the effects to take over. It wasn’t long before the pain ebbed and he drifted towards sleep.

"Gonna need yer help, Vin. Have to set that leg and take care of those ribs before we can get him up top. I need ya to hold him tight while I set it. He’s gonna buck as soon as I yank it."

"I got em, Nate, go ahead."

Nathan Jackson hated causing pain but it seemed like the six men he called friends were always in need of his services. He grabbed Chris by the right ankle and just above the knee. With an expert touch, he yanked the leg and felt the bone snap into place.

Chris was pulled from his peaceful rest by the sudden excruciating pain in his leg. He tried to pull away from the strong grip that held him firm.

"Easy, Cowboy, Nathan’s just gonna splint yer leg and we can get outta here," Vin told him as he continued to hold the man close.

Chris heard the younger man’s voice and felt his strong arms holding him. He nearly cried out again as Nathan bound his leg to the sticks.

"The next part is gonna be just as hard. Gonna have to bind his ribs. Can ya help me get his coat and shirt off?"

"Sure, Nate," Vin said.

Between the two of them, they soon had Chris Larabee’s ribs bandaged tightly. By the time they’d finished, Chris had slipped into unconsciousness and the newly rising sun shone off his sweat-streaked face. Vin looked around him and knew his friend had been lucky he’d fallen where he did. All around him was a sheer drop of two hundred or more feet. The small ledge that Chris had fallen on was the only ledge he could see. Someone protected this man in his flight to leave his friends and worries behind him.


Vin shook his head and looked into the eyes of the healer. "Sorry, Nathan, I was just thinkin’ how lucky Chris was."

"What do you mean?" Nathan asked as he wrapped a bandage around Chris’s shoulder.

"Look around ya. If Chris had fallen a few feet to either side, he would have been killed. Ain’t no way he would have survived that drop."

Nathan had finished the shoulder and looked around in wonder. "I think Josiah would say there was Devine intervention," Nathan said in awe.

Standing outside the fire
Standing outside the fire
Life is not tried, it is merely survived
If you're standing outside the fire

"This is gonna be hard on him," Nathan said as they finished securing the line under Chris’s arms.

"It’s the only way ta get em up there. Ya ready?" Vin said as he wrapped his arm around the injured man.

"Think so," Nathan said as he wrapped his arms around Chris’s torso as well. Between the two of them they protected the injured man from being thrown against the cliff wall as the men above pulled them slowly up the rock wall.

Chris felt every movement as if it were sheer torture. He kept his eyes pressed tightly shut and bit back the cries that would have issued from his mouth if he’d let them. He knew his friends were doing what they had to do but it did little to buffer the pain.

Vin knew they were causing his friend a lot of pain but there was no other way. "Easy, Pard, we’re almost at the top."

"H...hurts," Chris ground out.

"I know it does, Pard, ya just hang on a little longer," Vin told him.

"K," Chris said and tried to ignore the agony that was his body.

"Easy, Pard, we got ya," Buck Wilmington said as he helped Vin and Nathan get Chris over the top.

Nathan opened the small brown bottle and once again helped Chris drink from it. He felt Vin Tanner reach out and lay Chris’s head on his lap.

"Hey, Chris," JD Dunne said as he watched Nathan, Vin, and Buck lower the injured man to the ground.

"Looks like you took a fall, Brother Chris," Josiah Sanchez said as he knelt beside the man he considered a close friend.

"Mr. Larabee, may I say I’m glad you did not leave us in need of a replacement. I don’t think any of us could carry on without you leading us," Ezra Standish said from behind Josiah.

Chris Larabee closed his eyes with a smile. He knew he was among friends. Friends who would see him safely home.

"Let’s get him in the wagon," Nathan said softly.

They carried their injured leader to the wagon and lifted him gently into the back. Mounds of blanket lined the floor to make it as comfortable as possible for the ride back to town. Vin climbed in beside Nathan and JD took the reins. As the journey back to Four Corners began, Vin finally asked the question he’d put off earlier.

"How’d ya find us?"

"Not really sure, Vin. Buck had one of his feelings and he’s usually right when it concerns Chris. It seems to me that you have the same type of relationship as Buck does when it comes to Chris and danger. Buck just seemed to go with his feelings. We were almost out of town when he insisted we bring a wagon," Nathan laughed.

"Good thing he did," Vin said and lapsed into silence. The journey back to Four Corners was uneventful as the injured man was lulled into a quiet sleep by the use of Laudanum. He remained unaware of what happened around him as the six men helped get him into Nathan’s clinic.

Mary Travis had watched them ride out of town the day before and had been watching for them to return. What she saw made her heart pound and tears sprung to her eyes. She hurried after the men as they carried their precious cargo up the stairs to Nathan’s room. She climbed the stairs with a heavy heart, worried about the man she loved more than life itself.

Standing outside the fire
Standing outside the fire
Life is not tried, it is merely survived
If you're standing outside the fire

Mary remained by Chris’s side as his body fought the throes of fever. It had been two days since the gunslingers had returned to Four Corners with their injured leader. Two days of living hell for her.

She’d listened as the man on the bed had called out for Sarah and Adam. It hurt that he’d be calling for them but she understood. She longed to hear his voice calling her in the same loving tone he’d used the morning they were to be married. She reached for his uninjured hand and held it close to her lips. "Oh, Chris, I love you so much," she said softly as tears flowed from her eyes.


Her eyes flew open at the softly spoken word. She could see his fever bright eyes were still hooded and knew he wasn’t quite awake. She watched as he tried to move on the bed and held him as the pain ripped through his body.

"You have to stay still, Chris. Nathan’ll be right back," Mary said as the sweat soaked, blonde head began to thrash back and forth on the bed.

"Can’t, Mary, I...I’m sorry. N...never m...meant hurt ya," Chris said as his body protested his movements.

Mary was glad when the door opened and Vin and Nathan stepped into the room. She moved away to let the healer have the chair next to the bed, "Now be still, Chris," Nathan said as he watched Vin Tanner take up position on the opposite side of the bed.

"Hey, Cowboy, how ya feelin’?" Tanner asked.

"Feel pretty bad right now, Pard," Chris said and groaned as Nathan removed the bandage from his shoulder.

"Chris, listen to me. You’re gonna be fine but you need to rest and get your strength back. I want ya to drink some of this," Nathan said.

"W...what is it?"

"Just one of my teas. It’s gonna help with the fever and the pain. Come on now, open up."

Chris opened his mouth and drank the tepid liquid, grimacing as the last of it emptied into his stomach.

"Very good, Chris. Now I have one more thing for you to drink and we’ll let ya sleep again," Jackson said as he reached for the small cup on the table.

"What?" Chris asked weakly.

"It’s just a little but it’ll help ya get yer strength back. Now let’s get this down into ya so ya can get some rest."

Once again Chris drank the tepid liquid but the taste didn’t elicit the same grimace as the tea. When he was finished, Vin lay his head back on the pillow and watched as his friend succumbed once more to sleep.

The next morning found Nathan and the other five healthy men standing over the bed as Nathan examined the lucid man laying there. " Well I’ll be," Nathan said, a smile spreading over his handsome features.

"What is it?" Buck asked, but the smile on the healer's face let him know it was finally good news.

"Looks like he’s beaten the odds again. The fever's gone and there’s no sign of infection in the shoulder," Nathan explained happily.

"Then I can get out of here," Chris said.

"Don’t start," Nathan snapped a little too harshly. "It’ll be at least a week, maybe longer before I even think about letting you outta my sight. You even think about moving before that and so help me I’ll tie ya down."

"N...Nathan, I was kidding," Chris tried to calm his friend and healer.

"I don’t think Mr. Jackson appreciated your attempt at joviality," Ezra said, a smile on his face.

"What’d ya say, Ezra?" JD asked seriously.

"He said he didn’t think Nathan liked Chris’s joke any more than he did the ones you tell," Buck said and they all laughed.

Chris closed his eyes and listened as his friends talked. He knew he’d almost lost his friends by throwing away what they had and he resolved to fight to keep them together.

"Thanks, Boys," he said.

"For what?" they all asked in unison.

"For not letting me do something stupid."

"Ya don’t call running off with an injured shoulder and falling over a cliff stupid?" Buck asked grinning wickedly.

Once again the men laughed, but it was short lived as Chris’s face grew sombre. "Guess that was stupid but not as stupid as throwing away the chance at happiness I have here. Where’s Mary?" he asked.

"She’ll be here shortly. She stopped off to get ya some breakfast and you’d better eat every bit," Nathan ordered.

"Mush?" Chris groaned.

"Yes, mush and that’s what you’ll be eating for a few days so put up with it. Maybe next time you’ll think twice about doing anything stupid," the healer told him.

"Yes Sir," Chris said, a chagrined look on his face. He smiled as the door opened and Mary Travis entered the tiny room.

"Think we’d better go, boys. I’ll be back after ya eat, Chris."

"Thanks, Vin," Chris said as Josiah lifted him and Nathan placed extra pillows under him.

"Welcome, Pard," Vin said as he ushered the others from the room.

"Every bite, Chris," Nathan said as he followed the others out.

"You heard him, Chris, open up," Mary said as she placed the spoon in front of his mouth.

Chris closed his mouth against the onslaught of the food until Mary reached up and gently pinched his nose. She waited for him to open his mouth before relinquishing her hold. "Am I gonna have to do this for every bite?" she asked.

Chris smiled at the beautiful woman in front of him and reached for her hand, "I’m sorry, Mary," he said.

"For what?"

"For running out on you and Billy."

Mary looked into his eyes and knew he was hurting, but not just from the physical pain.

"It’s alright, Chris, I’m sorry I tried to force you into something you didn’t want," she said, her voice betraying her sadness.

"You didn’t force me into anything, Mary. I just couldn’t face anything happening to you and Billy. I lived through the loss of one family and couldn’t face the possibility of the same thing happening again."

"It won’t, Chris."

"I’ve played a dangerous game with my life since Sarah and Adam died and I’ve made a lot of enemies. I can’t promise things’ll go back to the way they were but if you’re willing to give me a chance, I’d like to give us another try."

"Oh, Chris," Mary cried as she let the tears of relief flow from her eyes. "I love you so much."

"I love you too, Mary Travis, and want you to be my wife. Will you marry me?"

"Oh, yes, Chris, yes."

There's this love that is burning
Deep in my soul
Constantly yearning to get out of control
Wanting to fly higher and higher
I can't abide
Standing outside the fire

Chris placed the ring on her finger and smiled broadly as Judge Travis announced that they were man and wife. He placed his arms around her shoulder and placed his mouth on hers. As the two met in a passionate kiss, everything else disappeared and they were alone. As the fire burned deep in their sole, they knew their love would survive anything life threw at them. Finally, they broke apart and turned to face their new life.

The End

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