Not by Bread Alone
Thanks goes to my beta for helping me with this because I haven't a clue as to what I am doing and for the webmaster's mighty help in telling me what to do in baby steps.
Feedback welcome--it's my first fic. I need all the help I can get.
It was coming, he could feel it in the air. Could see the thunderheads building off in the southwest, could smell the rain in the air, yes it was coming and he had things to do, things he needed to work on. He and Vin had spent the last couple of days enlarging his corral. They had wanted to get done because Vin had known something was brewing. The days were hot, yeah, but the nights... the nights were so humid... sultry almost. A sure sign something was going to happen.
And he was sick.
Dammit, he thought, Why now? They were so close to being done and he felt like... well, like shit. He'd ridden into town early this morning to pick up some teas or whatever junk Nathan gave them when they were feelin' poorly, and of course he had to pick up what he considered the tried and true way to burn the fever out of a man--his favorite bottle of red-eye. He headed into the saloon, glanced at his men that were there and rasped out to them that he wanted to be alone - didn't want anyone around to catch what he had, so in essence, he'd told them to "stay away." Now, as he was close to his shack in the hills, his throat was getting worse, his eyes were watering way too much, his body was aching and if he didn't keep looking straight ahead things tended to tilt just a little--or maybe it was him that was tilting. He had to get out of the saddle and lay down, that's all there was too it. He didn't care if a monsoon was coming. Let it rain.
He stepped down from the saddle keeping hold of the horn for a few seconds as his head swam. He had to take deep breaths, didn't want to pass out. Took him a few minutes but he gathered himself, got Pony unsaddled and put away. He took a few minutes to try and take a look at Pony's right leg. It was a little tender but seemed okay. He'd have to recheck it in the morning. Somehow the thought of putting his head lower than his hips brought on the feeling that he just might not make it back to standing up. He stopped at the pump and ran some cold water over his face and then headed inside. He did manage to take his coat, gun and boots off before crashing onto the bed. Throwing his arm over his eyes he blew out a sigh and resigned himself to getting some rest--just for a bit.
Something jerked him awake, some sound that shouldn't have been there. He strained to hear, at first hearing nothing, but then he heard footfalls on the porch. He was reaching for his holstered gun when he heard a soft knock and a voice. "Chris?"
Vin, it was Vin. He remembered the tracker wasn't in the saloon that morning when he came in, must have been on patrol or something, anyway, Vin probably didn't know he was feeling poorly and didn't want anybody out here, or maybe Vin did. Vin could read him like no one else, knew what he was thinking before he said it and besides Vin would come out to check on him even if he told him not too. The tracker was like that. He wasn't one bit intimidated by him. And secretly, Chris admired him for that. Anyway, Vin shouldn't be here, didn't need him to catch this vicious cold or whatever it was he had. Geez, he felt like shit.
This time the door opened a little as Vin called to him again.
"Just me Chris. Chris? You okay cowboy?"
Chris tried to sit up, tried to swing his feet over, to put them down on the floor, but he didn't get beyond opening his eyes and just 'thinking' of getting up. A slight groan came from his lips and the arm went back over his watering eyes.
"What are ya doin' here Vin?"
"Storms a'comin', figured I'd bring in some firewood for ya and got some soup and bread here from Inez."
"Shouldn't be out here Vin, told the boys to stay away."
"Don't want to bother ya none Chris, just wanted to bring this to ya and maybe go put that lumber under the roof so's it don't get so wet."
Vin's answer was a mumbled "okay" and a sore sounding cough.
Chris took his arm away and opened his eyes to watery slits, but he mostly heard, not saw what Vin was doing. Another low moan came from him. He was cold, you'd think he wouldn't, couldn't be cold - what with this heat they'd been having, but Vin had brought in firewood. Guess Vin knew what he'd need. Vin knew a lot. Best he just let Vin do what it was he was going to do and leave it at that.
Vin snuck a glance over to the bed. He knew Chris was feeling really bad, he'd been there himself a few times. Nothing could knock a man flatter on his back than an all-out mean cold. Made you feel like a pile of mush. He lit the stove and put the soup on and then laid some logs on the fire. He'd guess that Larabee would start having the chills soon if not already. He hadn't gone over to his friend yet to really check on him. Chris didn't like to be coddled any, so he'd just give him his space. If the gunman said he didn't want to be bothered, well... Vin figured he'd be there to check on him, but not really bother him, if that made any sense. He could sometimes get away with things that some of the other guys couldn't with Chris. He wasn't sure why that was, just knew Chris would never hurt him. Chris always listened to him, didn't mean he'd agree, but he'd listen and he always treated Vin like an equal. They just seem to pair up right off when they first met. Some things you knew, you felt were right and being with Chris was right. And he knew Chris felt the same way.
"Soup should be ready after a bit. Got somethin' special fer yer coffee too, should help with that throat and cough."
Chris felt himself grin just a little. "Little somethin' from Ezra?"
Chris could sense the grin on Vin's face as he heard him say, "Might say that."
Chris knew Ezra wasn't in the saloon this morning, it was too early for the gambler. "He doesn't know does he?"
"Nope", said Vin "and Inez and me ain't tellin."
Chris heard Vin head back to the door and start to pull it open. "You leavin'?"
Vin pulled open the door as the thunder and lightening started, it was still a ways off but coming faster now.
"Reckon I will, know you don't want company, feelin' the way ya do."
Chris heard the distance thunder and saw the lightening, even though his arm was again shielding his eyes. He took his arm away and looked over at Vin's profile in the doorway.
"Storm sounds close." Chris said.
"S'okay. I got time to get back to town."
"Maybe you could stay Vin. Pony has a sore right fore-leg that I didn't get to really look at. You do that for me? Look at his leg? See if it's fevered any?"
"I'll do it Chris."
"And stay Vin, don't want you gettin' caught in a downpour, gettin' wet and gettin' what I got. Nathan'll be sore at the both of us."
"Sure Chris. Be back in a bit."
+ + + + + + +
It took Vin about 15 minutes to check on Pony and to move Chris's lumber out of the impending rain. When he approached Larabee's shack again he made sure he knocked and called out. Chris might be down but he was never out. Better to be safe than sorry.
Chris was aware that Vin came back in. He didn't know if the tracker had been gone five minutes or five hours. It was all the same to him. He just knew that he was miserable. He couldn't really sleep though, he'd like to..., but until Vin was back in here with him he just felt like he needed to be somewhat aware of what was going on. Sometimes news traveled fast and although he never said he was sick when he was in town, some people just seem to know when you're off balance just a little. And Vin? Well, Vin was a hunted man, it was never safe to assume that someone wouldn't come after him. So Chris kept a lookout, not the best one he's ever done, but nothing was going to happen to Vin if he could help it. So when the buckskin clad man came back inside, he allowed himself a sigh of relief. He could relax just a little.
"Soups ready Chris, think you can eat some?"
"Reckon", was about all Chris could muster to say.
Vin came over to his bed and set down mugs of soup and some bread that he'd cut, on the side table. While he struggled to sit up in bed, Vin brought one of the chairs over to sit on by him so they could share their meal together. After a few wheezes and coughs Chris figured he was about as comfortable as he was going to get. He took his mug of soup and a hunk of bread.
"Pony looked good, must'a just stepped wrong, didn't see much swellin' and there weren't heat. Reckon he'll be just fine in the mornin. And I moved the lumber, reckon it'll be rainin' by the time we finish eatin' here. Lookin' pretty black outside, think there's..."
Chris found himself staring at his food. He heard Vin talking but wasn't really listening. Why did Vin do this? he wondered.
"...and then when we finish eatin'... " Vin stopped, realizing Larabee wasn't listening or eating. "Chris, what's wrong? You should try and eat something, at least eat a little soup."
"You cut the crusts off my bread." A statement not a question.
"You want 'em back cowboy?" Vin started to say, a grin on his face and a twinkle in his eye, but that all changed in a heartbeat when he saw Chris staring down at the bread with a serious, almost somber, look on his face.
"Why'd you do that Vin?" Almost a whisper this time, a raspy whisper tinged with what...? Sadness?
Vin ducked his head and stopped his chewing. All playfulness gone. "M'ma used to do that fer me when I's a little fella and had a sore throat. She'd tell me that..."
"...the crusts were scratchy and hard to swallow with a raw sore throat." Chris finished his sentence for him.
"Yeah, that's what she always said."
"Sarah used to do the same thing for Adam and me when we had a sore throat."
It was a good minute before Vin found his voice. The silence was torture. Finally Tanner said the only thing he could think of. "I'm sorry Chris."
"Ain't nothing to be sorry for Vin, just brought back some memories."
"Guess we was lucky to have someone to worry on us and take care of us," Vin said. He almost cringed when he heard himself speak. He needed to shut up. Why was he talking so much? Just shut-up Tanner! he thought, Weak or not, Chris'll toss me outta here. Vin hung his head even further, he really felt lower than a snake.
"Vin?" Chris finally rasped out. "It's okay, they were good memories."
"Yeah." Vin replied, feeling just a little better. At least Chris didn't sound angry or worse...sad.
Both men finished eating in silence, Chris trying to get down as much as he could. He planned on sleeping forever and didn't want to get woke by a growling stomach. After they ate Vin poured them each some coffee and put some of Ezra's fine brandy in it. Vin put more in Chris's than his own because he knew it would help the man sleep, and Vin didn't want to sleep that hard. He had to be alert to watch their backs. Nothin' was going to happen to Chris - not on his watch.
Chris was having a battle staying awake and so Vin took the dirty dishes away so the gunman could rearrange himself and get ready for a good night's sleep... he hoped. Tomorrow he'd feed Larabee some of Nathan's teas and such and try to get his friend back to feeling somewhat human.
The tracker grabbed some extra blankets and a pillow and made himself comfortable in front of Chris's fireplace. He could hear the wind pick up and the rain start to gently hit the roof. The thunder was now upon them and the lightening flashed, but Vin felt safe here. With Chris here---even sick as he was, Vin still felt safe. He hoped Chris would feel the same, be able to sleep some, knowing he was watching his back. He could do that right for his friend at least.
"Thanks... for everything."
"Yer welcome cowboy."
Bread crusts. Chris thought. Of all things to bring up memories, and Vin.. memories for him too. Chris felt himself grin. Tough guy, cutting the crusts off my bread for me...sure glad Buck wasn't here to see that, we'd never hear the end of it. If he could have chuckled he would have but didn't want to start a coughing fit. Chris finally felt himself relax, probably the brandy and food taking effect. His last thought was something he'd heard Josiah say one time for some reason or other. "Man does not live by bread alone." He'd have to think on that one... tomorrow maybe. Too much work for now. The sounds of the rain and thunder grew softer as he drifted off to sleep.
Vin listened as Chris's raspy breathing slowed into a more settled sound. Knew his friend was finally getting some healing sleep. He started to think to himself, Bread crusts. Of all the things to stir old memories. Hadn't meant to hurt Chris, don't think I did... hope I didn't. He didn't seem angry. Good memories he'd said. Vin smiled to himself. Sure glad Bucklin wasn't here, he'd a had a smart comment and never let us live it down.
He listened again as he made sure Chris sleeping peaceful and was breathing okay. Guess gettin' that hot soup in helped. Something Josiah had said one time came to mind. Josiah was giving the boys all a talk and as usual no one could follow just exactly what he was trying to get to, but Vin did remember him saying that "Man does not live by bread alone." Now maybe that meant they needed meat and water to stay alive, or maybe it meant something deeper. Maybe it meant man needs not only food to live by but friends too. Yeah, he kind of liked that, that sounded like something Josiah would mean. Friends sure did make the journey better, or at least more interesting. Maybe he'd ask Chris tomorrow, see what he thought. Sometimes he and Chris thought along the same lines. He had to grin at that. Yeah, friends are a good part of life. He tuned over and sighed. This had turned out to be a really good day.
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