Hurting the Ones We Love
Chris began cleaning up the cabin. Gathering the bloody bandages and towels into a pile that he put beside the front door. He looked over at the wounded man. Buck was still asleep.
Larabee moved about the cabin without purpose. Straightening things that didn't need straightening. He put a pot of coffee on the stove. Finally he wandered over to the window. That's where Buck saw him when he awoke. "Chris" Larabee turned and started back to the bed.
Wilmington watched as Chris made his way back to the bedside. He looked up
at Chris, with a weak voice he said "I remember. . ." he looked away and
continued, "i remember what happened."
"Chris, it's alr. . .right. it's not your fault."
"HOW CAN YOU SAY THAT?"
Larabee yelled as he spun around to face his oldest friend.
"I can say that because. . .that is wh-what. . .I believe."
Chris moved back to his friend's side, as Buck lay gasping for air. "Don't talk anymore, you need to rest. We can talk later."
"No, now. I talked you into staying that night. we. . .hadn't. . .ever. . .done that before. we woulda'...been home a day sooner. . .Sar. . ." Wilmington stopped himself, and breathed as deeply as he could before he began again. "they would still be alive."
Larabee sighed hating himself, for his words had caused as much pain as his actions. He moved back to the window as he talked. "You didn't make me stay. I could have gone on alone."
"No, you wouldn't...have left me...in that sleazy town by...myself." Buck paused trying to catch his breath, his face flushed with the strain of talking and the fever that had built up. "Chris. . .we have both known all along it is my fault. . .y-you've been tearing yourself up lookin' for the killer for. . .three years. . .now you c-can let it go."
Buck stopped talking and concentrated on just trying to breathe. His strength was gone letting his head relax back against the pillow, he closed his eyes.
Chris was still looking out into the darkness when he realized Buck wasn't going to say anymore. He turned and walked back to the edge of the bed.
Buck's breathing had evened out some; he opened his eyes when he felt someone beside him. Buck watched the other man. He knew how hard it was for Chris to talk about this. He knew Chris felt guilty. So, he waited for his friend to say something, anything.
Chris didn't know what to say. There was no excuse for the way he had been acting or for the things he had said. And definitely not for what he had done. Larabee took a deep breath and went to his chair beside the bed.
Larabee stopped talking, he thought to himself, 'Telling him this isn't going to make a difference. I might as well just get him back to town and let Nathan take care of him. When the others find out what I've done. . .Well I don't know what they'll do. It has been time for me to move on for awhile.' With these decisions made the gunslinger tried to relax.
Chris moved his chair closer to the bed. With his adrenaline fading, he was afraid he might go to sleep. He laid his hand on Buck's chest, the rhythmic rise and fall of his friend's chest was reassuring.
The dark clad gunslinger fell asleep without meaning to. He awakened when the once steady movement beneath his hand became erratic. Larabee went to place his hand on the bed in order to move forward; it landed in something warm and sticky. Looking down he found the knife wound had bled through the bandages and formed a small puddle.
"Damn." Larabee quickly cleaned and replaced the bandage, holding pressure on it to stop the bleeding.
Once it stopped he gently turned Buck over on his side. Wilmington's left arm ended up falling, hanging over the side of the bed. Grimacing with the pain that must have caused, Chris said "Damn, I'm sorry that must have. . ." His voice trailing off as he noticed there wasn't any type of reaction from Buck.
Larabee checked the shoulder wound finding it had only bled a small amount. However, there now was a large black/purple bruise covering the shoulder and crossing to just the other side of Buck's spine. The swelling that accompanied the bruise was also very noticeable.
Chris again bandaged Buck's shoulder, then checked the cut on his head. It had not bled anymore.
Chris settled the wounded man on his back and tried to wake him. "Buck. Buck I need you to wake up." Dipping a towel into the now cold water he began wiping Wilmington's face. Gradually he began to awaken. "Come on Buck. Wake up I need to ask you something."
The weakened man blinked his eyes as he tried to focus on Chris. "wh-what?" He asked, his voice barely a whisper. Larabee watched his friend to make sure he was awake. "Are you hurting any where Pard?"
"My head hurts."
Buck nodded slightly only to wince at the discomfort the movement caused. "Yeah, w-why?"
Without answering, Larabee moved the blankets from Buck's legs. Watching Buck's face he reached over and pinched his right thigh. There was not even a hint of pain. He repeated the same test on the left leg with the same results. "Buck did ya feel that?"
"I don't feel anything except my head hurting."
Consumed with worry, Chris tried one final test. He covered Buck's legs, then uncovered the knife wound. He pressed on the bandaged area. Buck didn't even flinch. "Son of a bitch."
"Hey, what's wrong?" Concerned eyes, glassy with fever looked up at Larabee.
"Nothin' Stud. Don't worry about it."
"okay." Buck closed his eyes and drifted back to sleep.
Chris sat thinking to himself. 'I suppose the bruising and swelling might be causing pressure on his spine. Nathan said that could happen when Mr. Larkin fell off his roof last month. I hope like hell it goes away.'
Suddenly he realized as long as this lasted, Buck wouldn't feel the pain that accompanied the knife wound in his gut. 'If he dies from being stabbed it won't matter about his back. If he doesn't die from the knife, he won't want to live if he can't move.'
He covered Buck back up and went to stand at the window.
Quickly he turned and moved back to the bed. "What is it, Buck?"
"I. . .I think I might be sick.
"Ya gonna throw up?"
"I can't tell, something don't feel right."
"Yeah, but something else. . ."
Wilmington's eyes rolled back in his head and he began shaking. "Buck? Buck!" Larabee's heart nearly stopped when blood began streaming out of one corner of Wilmington's mouth. He tried to hold his friend, not knowing if it would help or hurt.
Chris watched in horror as the blood continued when the tremors subsided. Finally, Buck lay completely still, until he started to choke. This caused blood to stream from his nose also. Larabee's instincts pushed past his fear, he turned Buck on his side. More blood came from his mouth and nose. Buck took a semi-deep breath, and he coughed a few times. As the coughing lessened, Chris was relieved to hear him continue to breathe. Chris left his friend on his side and propped him up with a pillow.
Larabee cleaned up as much of the blood as he could. He saw it was still trickling out of the unconscious man's mouth. He went and got a clean bucket of cold water. Laying a towel on the bed, he tipped Buck's head downward. Then he took a cup with a small amount of water in one hand, held Buck's chin with the other, and tossed a little water in his mouth. Chris watched as water and blood rolled back out onto the towel. He repeated this until the water was clear. Chris looked in Buck's mouth; he found several cuts on his tongue. It looked like his teeth had made them. "Must be where the blood come from. At least I hope it was." He finished cleaning his friend and the bed up as best he could.
Exhaustion overcame Chris as he sat at Buck's bedside. He leaned forward and rested his arms on the edge of the bed and used them as a pillow for his head. He was asleep almost immediately.
"umm." He replied without waking.
"huh?" Without raising his head he blinked eyes though not completely awake.
"CHRISTOPHER ALLEN LARABEE!"
"WHAT?" He cried out, sitting straight up in the chair.
"Chris you need to check Buck's bandages." Yawning he said "Okay Sarah." Without realizing what he had said, he checked on the still sleeping man. He found everything okay for the time being.
Suddenly he realized what he had heard. Quickly he stood and turned around. There before him, looking as beautiful as the day they met was his wife. "Oh my God, Sarah." Larabee froze and watched as she held her arms out to him. He wanted to rush to her, yet he was afraid if he moved she would disappear. Chris stared at the vision before him.
"Chris, I've missed you so."
Wanting to believe what he was seeing very badly, his face was full of joy and love. He finally began to move forward without taking his eyes off his wife. He knocked over the chair he had been using. Larabee stopped abruptly before her, his hands held up reaching out. The expression on his face had changed to fear. "If I touch you, will you disappear?" he whispered.
"Oh Chris." Sarah stepped forward into his arms. He sobbed in relief as he wrapped his arms around her.
"Sarah, I've missed you so much. I thought I'd never see you again."
"Chris," she pulled back from him. "I can only stay for a little while. I need to talk with you. It's very important."
The gunslingers face fell, his hands dropped to his sides. "Why?"
"Those are the rules Chris. There are certain things, you are destined to do."
A small sad smile crossed his face, as he remembered this particular tone of voice. Thinking to himself. 'I'm in trouble.' Sarah continued "But, you are acting like a jackass."
He couldn't help himself; the memories that flooded his mind caused him to laugh out loud. All the times she'd started a conversation with 'Your acting like a jackass.'
"Don't you laugh at me Christopher Larabee, I'm serious."
"I know you are Babe." He said as he put his arms back around her. "I just never realized how much I missed you fussing at me."
Sarah's stern frown softened into a smile, she reached out and hugged him and didn't let go. She laid her head on his shoulder. She began, "Chris you have got to stop hating being a live, while we are gone. We will be together again someday, but not until it is time. No matter what you do we won't be together one minute sooner."
"All you are doing is hurting yourself, your friends," she pulled back away from him without letting go, "and you are breaking my heart."
Larabee looked into his wife's eyes as her tears began. She continued "I know you love us, we both do. And we love you. It is so painful to Adam and I to see you trying to destroy yourself."
"I never meant to hurt either one of you. You are my life, and most of the time I don't know how to go on without you."
"Chris, I don't expect you to go the rest of your life alone and miserable. Fall in love, get married again if you want, have more children. Do whatever it takes to make your life a happy one. That's all we want."
Tears streaked down his face as he listened. Still he wasn't sure he could do what she wanted. Thinking of his son he asked "Is Adam with you?"
His wife smiled and reached behind her, where their son had been hiding and gently pulled him out into the open. The gunslinger's heart nearly burst. "Adam?"
"Pa!" The young boy cried as he charged at his father.
Chris squatted down and held out his arms to catch his son. Both crying and hugging. "It is so good to see you, son." Without letting go of Adam, Chris stood up. "I want to go with you both, now."
"Chris you can't. You have too many important things left to do. However, you have got to control your temper. If you don't Chris, I'm so afraid we won't ever see you again."
"I have already f. . ., messed that up." Larabee corrected himself for his son's sake. He glanced at Buck, then back to his wife.
With her eyes filled with sadness she said, "Buck will be okay Chris. But this is your last chance."
"He looks so bad. I don't think I think I have killed my best friend." His voice broke as he admitted this.
Adam was listening to his parents. He started to cry, "You killed Uncle Buck?
Sarah reached out for her boy, taking him in her arms. "No son, your father did not kill your Uncle Buck." She looked over at Chris. "He will not die from this. You have to set things right with him once and for all."
"He loves you Chris, we are his family and he hurts. He needs to know you don't blame him for what happened. Do you want him spending the rest of his life with the pain of guilt in his heart?"
Larabee listened, tears still quietly streaking down his face. "No, I don't blame him. And I don't want him living with the guilt."
"And I don't want you living with it either. It was not your fault. It doesn't matter who caused the fire Chris, things happen the way they are suppose too. The reasons are not for us to know. So promise me, you will stop being a jackass." Sarah smiled at her husband as he choked out a laugh.
Chris reached out his arms and drew his wife and son to him. "I promise, I'll do my best to stop acting like a jackass." Sarah kissed her husband deeply then stepped back. "We have to go now Chris. We will see each other again."
"I love you both very much."
"I love you, too."
"Bye Pa, love you."
Larabee moved back to the bed. Looking at his friend lying in the there, he noticed he had become even paler. Chris leaned over and put a hand on Buck's chest to check his breathing. He didn't feel any movement. He put his head on his friend's chest and did not hear a heartbeat.
Chris yelled "Nooo!" In his panic he grabbed Wilmington and started shaking him. "Damn you. Don't you dare die on me." The gunman's fear turned to anger. "Buck Wilmington you son of a bitch. Breathe."
Chris continued to shake Buck, yelling obscenities at him. His anger turned back into fear when there was no response from the wounded man. He begged his oldest friend not to die. "Please, please don't leave me. I'm sorry, I'm so sorry."
His voice cracked and trailed off as he stopped shaking the limp body of his one time best friend, he laid him back onto the bed.
In great despair he said, "She said you would be alright. She said you wouldn't die." Larabee raised Buck back up and sat down behind him, holding him tightly against his chest. He rocked slowly back and forth as he cried. "No, no, she said you SARAH!"
Later he wouldn't be able to tell you how long he cried. It seemed like forever. As his tears finally subsided, he felt a small movement under his hands. Chris quickly stood and laid Wilmington flat. He dropped to his knees beside the bed and laid his head on Buck's chest. The relief he felt was overwhelming. The faint, steady heartbeat and shallow breathing were like music to his ears.
Raising his head, he stiffly got to his feet. He felt as if he had aged fifty years in this one night. Again exhaustion caught up with him and he sat on the edge of the bed. Gently he laid his hand back on Buck's chest; he had to be sure Buck was still alive.
As he sat and composed himself he thought back on what Sarah had said. He began talking quietly to his friend.
"When Sarah and Adam died I wanted to die too. I guess you figured that out
though. I didn't even think about how you felt.
Larabee paused and looked up. Buck was still pale. The fever was still burning through him. Chris could see it in his face and feel it under his hands.
"Do you remember, remember how cold the ashes were? Even if we hadn't stopped I don't think it would have made any difference. It would have had to have been more than one day." Chris paused to catch his breath. "I have been an asshole to you for three years. I get drunk and act like a jerk, and I hear you making excuses for me. It's Sarah's and my anniversary or Adam's birthday or any of the regular holidays.
When I would get my most pissed off, you would distract me, and I'd end up taking it out on you instead of someone else.
Then there were the times like the last few days when I was pissed for no good reason. I took it out on everyone around me. You do what you always do, and focus my attention on you. I saw the hurt on your face when I told you never to speak their names again. I know that's why you came out here when you knew better.
Huh, that makes it sound like it's your fault, its not. It's mine, for drinking until I lost control."
Larabee laid his head down on Buck's chest so he could hear his heart beating. Thinking what a sight it would be for someone to see. The notorious gunslinger Chris Larabee cuddled up against another man. Even if he is like his brother.
Then he decided it didn't matter. He could barely hold his eyes open. He had to make sure he would awaken if Buck needed him. Very carefully he eased himself down 'til he laid across Buck's chest. 'Now I'll know if he needs something.'
He fell asleep in spite of himself. And dreamed of the good times he and Buck have had, of Sarah and Adam and what it might be like when they are together again.
Larabee awakened slowly, he heard voices that he thought he recognized. He opened his eyes only to squeeze them shut again as the sunlight drove a sharp pain through his head.
"Hey Cowboy, you awake?"
Finally recognizing the voice he responded, "Vin?"
Tanner laughed, he call out "Hey Nate, he's awake."
"All right, I'll be there as soon as I finish with Buck."
Larabee was holding his head with both hands in an attempt to keep it from falling off, when he heard the healer's answer, his memory came rushing back. "BUCK."
Vin grabbed Chris as he sat straight up in the bed. "Woah, you can't go no where."
Larabee fell back on the bed. "Oh my god. Buck I didn't mean it. I'm so sorry."
Not understanding his friend's anxiety Vin asked, "Didn't mean what, it ain't you your fault Buck got hurt. Hell you wasn't even there."
Chris squinted as he looked up at the tracker. "You going to tell me he wasn't stabbed?"
"Well, yeah he was. How did you know? That brawl happened after we got you outta the saloon."
Their conversation was interrupted when Nathan came over and looked into Chris' eyes. "You have a slight concussion, but I think you'll be okay. Do ya feel sick?"
"No just confused."
Chris took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. "How's Buck?"
"He should be alright. If no infection sets in. The wounds are bad. Not as bad as they could have been though."
Chris tried to sit up. He looked over at Buck and he became very dizzy.
"Hey now, you need to be still. Don't worry about Buck, he's gonna sleep for awhile. You can see him when he wakes up."
Larabee laid back down. Nathan moved away to check on his other patient. While Chris laid there, he thought to himself. 'That was real, wasn't it? Sarah and Adam were really there I touched them both. I talked to them. I know I did. And Buck, that seemed so real. Thank God it apparently wasn't. But I still feel as if it were.'
Vin had not moved from his chair beside Chris' bed. He watched his friend very closely. His feelin's are on his face, plain as day.' Hey Chris?"
Larabee slowly turned his head to look at the tracker. Vin was stunned to see tears welled up in Chris' eyes. "Chris what is wrong, are ya hurtin', do ya need Nathan?"
Larabee's voice was hoarse with emotions when he answered. "No."
"Can ya tell me what's wrong? It might help?"
Chris stared at Vin with a blank look on his face, then suddenly asked, "What happened at the saloon?"
"Well, after you and Bucklin had it out, you went to sit back down in yer chair. Ya lost yer balance. I tried to catch ya, but I wasn't fast enough. That was when ya busted yer head on the table. Ya been out since then." When Chris didn't answer he said , "I'm real sorry, Pard."
Larabee tried to rein his emotions back in as he listened to Vin.
Tanner decided to wait quietly. He and the others had finally, believed what Buck had been trying to tell them. Larabee would talk or not, pushing him wouldn't help.
Chris leaned his head back. "I remember the fight with Buck. I remember him telling me to go ahead and shoot him." Chris paused, not sure if he should go on. Thinking back to the time when it would have been Buck he'd talk to when something bothered him.
"As for the rest . . I sat down at the table and stayed there drinking for I don't know how long. Then I rode out to my place to be alone. After a day or so Buck came riding up. I was still drunk. I lost my temper and started hitting him. He wouldn't hit me back, but he did pin my arms to my sides to stop me." Larabee paused for a moment. "Of course that made me even more angry. My God Vin, I wanted to kill him so badly. With my arms pinned I couldn't get my gun out. I even tried for his."
Vin stayed quiet, listening and watching his friend as he talked. He noticed how Chris hands began to shake. "While I was trying to get to the guns I felt Buck's knife." Larabee stopped to take a deep breath; he let it out slowly and continued. "I pulled it out and stabbed him in the gut."
The tears sliding down Chris' face caused Vin's chest to constrict. He watched as Chris' breath caught in his chest and his face paled.
"What's wrong Chris?"
"I just remembered. Buck's knife, Adam, and I picked it out together. It was our gift to him, the Christmas before they died."
Vin wished he were better at trying to comfort someone. It was not something he was used to doing. Before he could think of something to say Chris continued. "I couldn't believe what I had done. The look on his face at first he looked shocked. Then the strange thing was he looked relieved.
I took him inside and tried to fix him up. He stayed conscious most of the time. When he did finally go to sleep, I dosed off. And, umm. Well later Buck got worse. He couldn't feel anything from the middle of his back down. He had some kind of fit and bit his tongue. It bled a lot. He forgave me for stabbing him; told me it was the right thing for me to have done. Then he closed his eyes and slowly stopped breathing and I. . .that's when I woke up."
Vin looked at his best friend. "That sounds like one hell of a nightmare, Cowboy."
"It was. Only it seems so real. It still feels like it really happened, in here." Larabee pointed to his heart. Chris decided he had to see Buck. He threw the covers off and swung his legs over the side of the bed.
Vin was about to tell him to stay where he was, until he saw the determined look on the gunslinger's face. So, he helped him stand and held on to him while Larabee's obvious dizziness passed.
"Alright, let me go." Tanner let go, but stayed close just in case. About that time Nathan looked over and watched Larabee for a minute, then moved away from Buck to go to the stubborn gunslinger.
"Now Chris "
"How's Buck?" He derailed the healer's lecture with a look and a question. Nathan sighed heavily before answering.
"I think he will be okay. He ain't bleeding anymore he doesn't have an infection, so far. Only a little bit of fever.
"I'm going to sit with him. You and Vin can go get something to eat." Chris stated this not as a request but a fact.
Nathan balked, "I don't know, I think I should stay."
"We'll be fine for an hour. Go."
Vin understood why Chris wanted to be alone with the ladies' man. So he took Nathan's elbow, "Come on Nathan, Chris'll yell if they need ya'." Reluctantly Nathan started toward the door. Larabee met Vin's eyes with a silent look of gratitude.
Chris slowly made his way to the chair Nathan had put beside Buck. Wilmington lay asleep, his left arm strapped across his chest. Another bandage covered the wound in his stomach, and still another covering the wound on his head.
"Buck? Buck can ya hear me?" Buck moved his head a little. "Come on Buck, wake up I have something to tell ya."
Dark Blue eyes fluttered open slowly, when they found Larabee, Buck said, "Chris you alright?" "Yeah, I'm alright." Wilmington blinked eyes, trying to focus and stay awake. "Listen Buck. I am real sorry about what happened. I said and did some terrible things. I want you to know I am very sorry."
Buck smiled a small smile. "If she were here, she'd tell you, you were acting like a jackass."
Larabee's breath caught in his chest. 'Alright, that's just a coincidence.' "Yes, yes she would. And she'd be right too. Those things I said, they were not true. I don't think you had anything to do with them dying. And I wanted to stop and stay the night, too. The ranch had finally made a profit, we deserved a chance to celebrate all our hard work."
"Hey Chris, didn't you already tell me this?"
Larabee took a deep breath, this is what he had been hoping would happen. He had to know if what he remembered was true or not. "Buck, what is the last thing you remember?"
"Well I remember seein' a knife sticking out of me. I remember hurtin' my shoulder when I fell. After that I remember seein' JD and Nathan, he told me I hit my head too."
Chris nodded. With a quiet voice, Chris reluctantly asked, "Who stabbed you Buck?"
Wilmington looked his friend in the eye. "JD said it was one of the trail hands that were fighting. I only remember somebody wearin' dark colored clothes. Ever since I woke up the first time, I feel like there is something I'm forgetting. Nathan said it was the head injury. What about you?"
"I remember everything, only Vin tells me what I remember isn't what happened. Said I probably had a nightmare." Larabee dropped his gaze to his hands.
Buck's forehead wrinkled in concentration. "What is it you remember?" Chris looked up at Buck. The ladies' man was very surprised to see tears welled up in Chris's eyes. He didn't say anything, just waited patiently for Larabee to start talking.
"I remember us arguing in the saloon. After you left I kept drinking. Next day I went out to my cabin. You came out there a day or so later. We, well, I started a fight, but you didn't fight back. Why is that Buck? If any other man starts hitting you, you defend yourself. All you do when it's me is try to get me in a bear hug so I can't swing."
Buck realized Chris was changing the subject or stalling, maybe both. The sincere look of confusion, tugged at his heart, so he went along with it.
"Well hell Chris, you've been my friend for going on twelve years. I wouldn't deliberately hurt you." Larabee's face flushed a crimson red, and his chest tightened with pain. Buck continued. "Besides the only reason you ever did that was when you were missin' Sa I mean, missin' your family. You were already hurtin'." Wilmington's voice dropped, "and it's my fault their dead. I deserve a lot worse than anything you've ever done."
Buck looked over at Chris. Tears were streaming down Larabee's face. Buck realized he hadn't seen Chris cry since the day they buried Sarah and Adam. Chris looked into Buck's eyes. The loyalty, caring and concern in those dark blue eyes was so obvious. It was too much, Larabee slide off his chair on to his knees beside Buck. "I 'm sorry. I am so very sorry. . ."
Buck reached out and squeezed Chris' shoulder. "Hey, it's okay Pard. I'm not sure why you are so upset, but I'll do everything I can to fix it."
Larabee shook his head. "No, you can't fix it. You don't understand." The distraught man was getting even more upset.
"Then tell me."
In between shuddering breaths he said, "I stabbed you, Buck. I nearly killed you." He began crying harder, saying "I'm sorry."
Wilmington reached out again. He took hold of Larabee's arm and gently pulled him until he was kneeling against the bed. Chris laid across Buck's chest avoiding any injuries. Buck wrapped his good arm around Chris. "It will be alright. I'll be alright. Come on Pard. I don't blame you."
With a quiver in his voice Larabee replied. "I know, and after all the abuse I gave you, you still care as much or more than you ever did."
"Well, that's the way it is suppose to be between brothers and best friends." Chris raised his head and looked at Buck with tear stained cheeks and grateful eyes. Buck put his hand on the back of Chris' head and gently laid him back across his chest. In a soothing voice he comforted his friend with words of forgiveness and caring. He tenderly stroked Chris' hair, as the tears slowed and finally stopped.
Buck lowered his voice as he felt Larabee relax against him. Chris was staring with unfocused eyes. He moved his hand down to Chris' shoulders and began gently rubbing them.
As they laid there Buck thought to himself. 'What he said does sound familiar, although I only remember bits and pieces. Course it don't matter as long as he's alright.' He thought back to some of the good times they had with Sarah and Adam. Sarah, Chris, and him playing cards after Adam was asleep. They didn't get to relax together like that very often though. The rascal remembered he and Sarah working together to pull a prank on Chris.
And Adam. Following Chris and him around, trying to walk and talk like them. On the nights that he got to put the boy to bed, Adam would pester him 'til he gave in and told him stories about his 'Daddy'. This was a chore he secretly loved. And, the stories improved with each telling. By the time he was five, Adam thought his father was an outlaw turned lawman, who quit his sheriff's job after he bought the railroad. Then sold the railroad to buy a ranch so Adam would have a place to eat dumplings and ride horses.
Buck lost in memories gradually stopped rubbing Chris' shoulders. The sleeping man noticed the change; he sniffled, rubbed his face against the quilt that covered Buck from mid-chest down. Then raised up slightly drew both arms to his chest and rested his fists under his chin. Wilmington began rubbing his shoulders again. He watched with a smile on his lips as the infamous gunfighter settled back down, looking remarkably like a five your old Adam Larabee.
Buck rested his head back on his pillow still comforting his friend. As he was about to doze off, the door to the clinic opened. He quickly raised his finger to his lips to keep the others quiet. Silently the five other peacekeepers filed in.
All the men had various looks of surprise on their faces. Buck watched their expressions change. Nathan became even more concerned. JD looked relieved. Ezra pulled his poker face back on. Josiah looked as if all was suddenly right with the world. And Vin, he had an 'I knew this would happen' smirk.
Nathan moved to the opposite side of the bed to check on Buck. "How you doin'?" The healer whispered.
Buck nodded. "You want us to move him?" He looked down at Chris, then back to Nathan. Quietly he said "Help me scoot over a little, then stretch him out beside me."
"I don't really think that's a good idea, you need to rest so you can heal." Buck looked a might irritated when he answered "So does he. Do it my way or get out of my way."
Jackson stepped back a step. No one had ever heard Buck sound that protective over anyone except JD. When Nathan didn't answer Buck tried to start to get up. "Okay, okay." Nathan gave in when he realized his and Buck's voices had gotten louder and Buck's attempt to move did not awaken the sleeping man.
Wilmington gently grasped Chris' shoulders, as Nathan and Josiah picked him up slightly and moved him over away from Chris. Vin and JD held Chris up, until Buck was settled. Josiah came around and they carefully lifted Chris onto the bed. Belly down next to Buck. Buck raised his good arm and Chris wiggled a little until he was back up against his friend. Wilmington laid his arm down across Larabee, once again rubbing his back. Ezra came over to spread a quilt over Chris. Nathan came back over and began to examine Buck's wounds.
A panicked knock on the door interrupted them. Being the closest Josiah opened the door and quickly stepped out. The man who knocked had no choice other than to back away from the door.
"What can we do for you brother?"
The young cowboy fidgeted nervously as he explained. "The boss got kicked by a horse earlier today. He wouldn't let us come get the Doc. Now he is feelin' worse so I came even though he still didn't want anyone too. Will he come and see about 'em?"
Josiah smiled and said, "I'm sure he will. Why don't you go to the livery and have Yosemite saddle his horse and he'll meet you there?" " Okay, we'll be ready."
Sanchez re-entered the clinic. Nathan looked up with questions in his eyes. The ex-priest walked closer so he could talk quieter and explain. "A boy from the 'Two D' ranch said his boss been horse kicked, he doesn't want a doctor but they say he needs one anyway. I sent him to get your horse saddled."
Jackson looked down at his other patients. Buck said "Nate, We're fine. Go on. If something happens that the guys cain't handle someone will come get you." The healer finally agreed, gathered his things and left.
Vin and JD decided they would stay. Ezra and Josiah went to the saloon after agreeing they would relieve them at dawn.
Vin settled in the chair Chris had used, JD pulled another up on the other side of the bed. During this whole time Larabee never woke up. JD asked "Are ya sure he's alright Buck? He slept through a lot of noise."
"JD, you ever have something weighing you down? Something heavy and for a long time? And when that burden is lifted, you realize how tired you are from carrying it?" Unfortunately both young men knew exactly what he was talking about. They both nodded yes. "He's exhausted. Too many years and too heavy a load."
TWO WEEKS LATER.
"How did you get Nathan to agree to let you out of the clinic and then to ride a horse?" The scoundrel grinned and said, "I'm not sure, I'll tell ya when it happens." Chris smiled back and shook his head.
They rode a little farther without talking. Then Buck said, "Say Pard, did you ever decide if the we dreamed the same dream or did it really happen?"
"Hell Buck, I don't know. At first I thought it was real, now I'm not so sure." The two men finished the last of the ride in a companionable silence.
Chris jumped down off his horse and held Buck's while he slowly dismounted. "I'll take care of the horses you go sit down."
Buck smirked "Yes 'em, Ma." Larabee tried to glare at him. When Buck just grinned real big, Chris dropped his head down and shook it in defeat. He led the horses near the shelter he had built in one corner of the corral and began unsaddling them.
Buck had turned to walk to the house. He had to step around Chris' chopping block. His eyes were drawn to the ax stuck in the stump. The wood around the ax was stained a reddish/brown. He searched the ground beside it and found a medium size uncut log with a similar stain.
Buck started toward the cabin trying to figure out the meaning of what he had found. He had only taken a few steps when he felt something under his boot. He squatted down to see what was there. Brushing away the dirt he saw his knife laying there. The surprise of it caused him to lose he balance. He landed on the ground sprawled on his rear.
That's where Chris found him. Rounding the corner he saw Buck sitting in the dirt, he ran over to him. "What's wrong? Are you OK?" When he looked up at Chris his face was white as a sheet.
Larabee knelt down beside him, "What is it?" He asked gently. Wilmington reached down and pick up his knife and handed it to his friend. Chris took the knife; he looked at it, when he realized what it was he dropped it like it had burned him.
They sat and looked at the knife for a long time, each lost in their own thoughts. Finally, Buck reached out and picked it up again. He brushed it off and slid it into the scabbard he had not taken off his belt. Chris stood and gave him a hand up. Then they went and sat on the porch.
Wilmington spoke first. "Well, I guess we know for sure now." Larabee nodded.
"Yeah, I suppose so. That means I really did try to kill you. What kind of animal am I?"
"One that was hurt. One that didn't know how to make the hurting stop, so you lashed out at the ones closest to you."
"That is no excuse for what I did."
Buck looked thoughtful for a minute then said, "Hey Chris, how many times you been in the saloon these past two weeks?"
"What? I don't know, at least once a day. Why?"
"How much have you had to drink?" Larabee frowned not understanding where the questions were leading. "I don't remember."
"Well. Think about it."
"I don't know maybe three four shots total, I didn't really feel like drinking."
Taking a deep breath Wilmington asked, "Do you remember what Monday was?"
Larabee scowled, "Of course I remember, it was my anniversary. What the hell kind of question is that?"
"Okay, okay, what did you do on Monday?"
"Have you lost your mind? You know very well me and you took Billy Travis fishing. What's with all these questions?"
"Only one more question. What did you do last year on your anniversary?"
"You are starting to piss me off. Last year I. . .I went somewhere. I went to Purgatorio. I stayed there for two days then came back." Chris had a 'so there' look on his face.
Buck smiled a little and shook his head. " Pard. Yes, you did go to Purgatorio. But you stayed five days and me and Vin came and got you and brought you back." The confused look on Larabee's face caused Buck to shake his head again. "Chris you are a real smart man. But, sometimes you are so dense. Now think about this. Do you suppose you drinking constantly, me and you fighting, and the stabbing had anything at all to do with how you feel now and how you have felt the last two weeks?"
Wilmington could swear he heard gears grinding. The look of concentration of Chris' face looked almost painful. He let him think on it for a few minutes, then in a very quiet voice Buck said, "and maybe getting to see Sarah and Adam again might have something to do with the way you feel now." Larabee's eyes widened in shock. He hadn't told anyone about that, not even Vin.
Buck grinned, "I'm sure Sarah explaining to you how the cow ate the cabbage has a little to do with it also. Jackass."
They looked at each other for a few moments then both busted out laughing. The confirmation of the events and the release of pent up emotions left them feeling good if not a little weary.
They sat watching the sun set. Chris spoke up and said, "For the first time in three years I think everything will be alright."
Buck looked at his friend and replied, "Me too, Pard, me too."