Promises Made... and Kept


Part One
He could feel the tears stinging the backs of his eyes now. He’d ridden for two miles keeping them at bay but as he neared his destination his eyes were beginning to well up. And then the tears came. Unabated. Please, please, please be home. JD was pushing his bay mare faster than he ever had, his need to get to Chris Larabee’s place so urgent he was pushing her harder than he should. But nothing else mattered right now, he just needed to get to Chris’s - to Chris.

+ + + + + + +

It was early morning, couple of hours after sunup and it promised to be a good day. Well, more like Vin promised it to be a good day. "Red sky at night will make the mornin’ right" the ex-bounty hunter had told him last night. So after having three days of clouds and rain Chris had saddled up and headed out to his place looking forward to getting some much needed work done. He was relaxing on the porch when he heard the pounding of horses hooves. Rider comin’ on fast, he thought. He stood, pulled his holstered gun over his shoulder and leaned into the pillar squinting into the distance. Looked like JD.

Through his tearing eyes JD could make out Chris standing on the porch. Thank you, God, he thought and quickly wiped his sleeve over his eyes. He pulled his lathered horse to a stop as Larabee stepped out to meet him. Jumping down from the saddle he held tightly to the stirrup needing some stability because his legs felt like rubber and he was shaking like a leaf.

"What is it JD, what’s wrong?" Chris grabbed him slightly to keep him from falling .

"The…the old blacksmith’s building collapsed this morning and we think…we think Vin was inside," JD stammered out breathlessly.

In the blink of an eye Larabee’s face had changed. One moment concern, the next moment what? Rage? JD felt Chris’s hold on him tighten, the jaw line harden and the eyes become black as coal.

"You think?" Larabee hissed out.

JD sucked in a breath, nodded and said, "Peso…Peso was standing in the street near there, couldn’t…couldn’t find Vin."

"Saddle my horse!" Chris barked at him.

As JD stumbled to the corral to saddle Pony, Chris hurried back inside the cabin and smothered the fire in the stove. He then finished dressing, buckled on his gun belt and slammed the door shut, his long strides carrying him across the porch as he put on his hat and duster. He put the bridle on Pony as JD finished cinching the horse up.

"Better cool that horse ‘fore you head back." With that said Chris vaulted onto his black and galloped out, his black duster flying straight out behind him.

Oh God, please let us be wrong, I promise I'll give....

Every muscle in his body was tense, his leg muscles were clamped tightly to his horse’s sides and as if sensing his owner’s urgency Pony ran flat out. Chris’s need to get to town, to find out what happened, to do something, overruled any thoughts of safety. He couldn’t ever remember pushing his horse this hard. He just needed to get to town. His mind was blank but for that one sentence JD had uttered. "We think Vin was inside." "We think…we think." Those two words he was hanging onto like a lifeline. Please Vin, please be somewhere else.

The old blacksmith "smithy" building sat just on the outskirts east of town. It was a landmark of sorts. Story was that it was the first building in Four Corners before Four Corners was even a town. It had been, among other things; trading post, saloon, brothel and a fort before becoming a blacksmiths or livery. It was an impressive building, having stone walls five foot high all around before turning into clapboard which reached another three stories high. The old timers told the story that the building had pretty much gone to waste after Four Corners was built and especially after the new livery had been built. The old "smithy" was used then to house cattle and horses but years of weather and neglect and being used as a shooting gallery had made the building unsafe. All doors and windows had been boarded up to keep adventurous children and drifters out. Parts of the roof now were caving in, the stone foundation crumbling and the building was listing badly to the south and east. It really should have been torn down and burned years ago, just gotten rid of so that no one could get injured. Now that oversite might prove to be too late, a life may have been taken.

Part Two

As Chris rode into town from the west he could see the congregation of people at the other end of town. Wagons had been pulled along side the toppled building in order to put the debris in before hauling and dumping it further away. It looked as though every able bodied man in town was helping. Chris reined in dismounting as Buck came to him.

"Any sign of Vin yet?" Chris asked his eyes roaming the collapsed mess.

"None." said Buck, studying his friends angry look and tightly coiled body.

"Tell me what you know Buck, do you know for a fact that Vin was in that building?" Chris demanded, his eyes boring holes into Buck.

Buck gave a sigh then and said, "We don’t know anything for sure yet Chris, all we know is we were havin’ breakfast in the saloon about an hour ago when the floor shook and there was a huge crashin’ noise. Came outside and saw the dust shoot up in the air as the building just kinda folded in on itself. Peso came runnin’ down the street, reins trailin’, wide eyed and scared and there was no sign of Vin anywhere. We just assumed….

"Maybe he’s layin’ hurt somewhere outside of town," Chris reasoned, "did you think of that?"

There was no way he was going to give into the thinking that his best friend may be crushed somewhere in that pile of rubble.

"Thought of that right way Chris, but Peso weren’t breathin’ hard nor sweated up. Still, though, we sent Ezra out to do a three mile circle of the surroundin’ area, he’s not back yet. If he is out there Chris we’ll find him. Meanwhile we had to start on this job…just in case." Buck looked out over the debris, his eyes filling. God I hope he’s not in there. If you just do this for me I promise I'll give...

Buck looked back at Chris then and noticed how still his friend was standing, the anger draining away leaving him with his shoulders slumped as though he carried the weight of the world on them. "We'll find him Chris," Buck reassured the gunman again. "We'll find him."

Where though, where will we find him? Chris thought.

A soft voice called him from behind pulling him out of his thoughts.


It was Mary and she was treading softly knowing that Chris would be upset at the news.

"Chris?" she called again. "Would you like me to take Pony to the livery for you? He looks like he could use a rubbing down and some water."

Chris looked at Mary then, nodded and released the reins which he had tightly knotted in his fist.

"Thanks." he said.

Mary nodded to him and left taking the weary horse with her.

"Chris, maybe you want to go out and look with Ezra, he headed east and then was going north, you could go west and head south, cover more area twice as fast that way?" Buck was trying damn hard to get that "lost" look off of Chris’s face. If he could get him involved in something away from this mess maybe that would help. "You can take my horse."

"I’ll stay here and help." And just like that the mask had been put back into place and Chris Larabee was back in leader form. "JD will be here in a little bit, he had to cool his horse before riding back."

"Okay." said Buck nodding. Now Chris needed something to do so Buck quickly filled him in on how things were being done.

"Everyone is working from the ends and heading toward the center. Josiah and some men are working towards the back there because some bigger timbers are still intact. Nathan has been working at this as well as fixing bruised and cut hands and pulling splinters. He’s got a spot set up over yonder there where he’s takin’ care of those who are injured. The womenfolk have been bringin’ food and drinks, whatever we need. Won’t take us long Chris and we’ll have this cleaned up and then we’ll know for sure."

Part Three

Chris nodded to Buck then and headed towards the back where Josiah was. Somehow he felt he needed to be near the big man. Josiah a lot of times said things and told stories that none of the men could figure out what he was trying to get at, but he was a mountain of strength when they needed it and for as many things that had befallen Josiah, he was a positive thinking man. And right now, that’s what Chris needed.

As Chris came up to work beside Josiah, the ex-preacher took a moment to wipe his brow with his kerchief.

"Been at some mines that have collapsed and a lot of times timber and rock can fall just so that a man can be good as gold trapped under there and you’d never think there was a chance of them bein’ alive," Josiah said softly, " but when it’s all pulled away, that man is just as good and sound as ever. Yes sir, good as ever." he said again as he tucked his kerchief back into his pocket and started removing some more timbers.

See, positive. And if you are in here Vin, you’d better be good as ever or I’ll kick your ass for making me worry like this. Chris found a grin forming, yeah like he could take Vin. He didn’t think he’d ever want to fight Vin, oh they’d had some verbal battles but never anything physical, they respected each other to much to jeopardize their friendship like that. One or the other would walk away before their anger came to blows. Having lived with the Indians Vin was a excellent fighter, he used everything he had when he went into a fight, not just his knuckles. Didn’t matter if the man or men were bigger, Vin knew some moves that left his enemies dumbfounded and usually eatin’ dirt. Chris had to chuckle a little then. He liked going out on jobs with Vin. With his own volatile temper and Vin’s uncanny knack for getting into trouble they could usually find a way to let off steam. Lots of men seem to take unjust cause at Vin’s long hair or the fact that he dressed in buckskins and so they’d find themselves in the midst of some barroom brawls or flat out gun fights. One thing was for sure, his life had definitely taken a turn for the better when he and the Texan had come together to fight for Nathan. Throw into that mix five other men of diverse personalities and life rarely had a dull moment. Except for moments like this. Moments like this he could do without. He’d had enough of these moments to last a life time and beyond. Shit, don’t let me find you dead in here Vin, I’ll never let you rest if you do.

Work continued hour after hour removing the debris, loading it up and then moving it so that it could be unloaded again. Tedious work, hard work, work that left the men of Four Corners with swollen beat up hands, but none gave up. If they couldn’t do the physical work then they’d drive the wagons, feed the horses, clean up the messes, whatever they could to show these six men just how much they cared and how much they were appreciated. The women kept the men fed when they sat to have a break, kept them from overheating by pouring water into them as well as on them, kept the bandages coming and kept Nathan well supplied with carbolic, thread or whatever else he needed.

The six peacekeepers kept up their vigil only stopping when Nathan practically dragged them over to sit in the shade somewhere. JD returned hours ago working with the energy that a young man would have, and Ezra returned somberly from his search a while ago only shaking his head to answer the questioning eyes that came his way. Chris made sure that there was always someone out there riding and looking around the area outside of town, just in case Vin had been injured or unconscious and was just now trying to get back to town. He chose men that he trusted, ones that he knew would do a good job of looking for Vin. He was not going to give up the idea that Tanner might not be buried in the rubble.

As the morning turned into afternoon and then into early evening, some of the older men had dropped out. It was just too much for them to be working that hard all day, in the heat but they had done a great deal of work. All the debris around the outside was gone and most that was left was concentrated in the middle. Not a trace of anything had been found and that left the peacekeepers feeling somewhat better. Each stone pile or wood pile cleared without a sign of their friend caused some weight to be lifted off their shoulders. Now it was just to clean up the debris in the middle. Already Chris’s mind was going to work figuring on which direction they would head if they didn’t find the tracker in here. Could have been bounty hunters that took Vin and in that case he knew which direction to head. In any case they’d split up and head out to find the man that is, if he wasn’t in here.

As if to mock his thinking, Ezra suddenly dropped to his knees muttering softly, "Oh good lord." As the rest of the men came to where he had kneeled down they stood in shock. There was a part of leg showing, brown boot and tan pants, and also up near the top there was part of an arm, elbow maybe, buckskin clad. Ezra seemed to sink even lower, his head bowing down to his chest. JD couldn’t help the tears that started to flow and he looked over at Buck to see tears in his eyes also. Josiah was bending down by Ezra with one hand on his shoulder and his lips moving in a prayer. Nathan was bent down on one knee, one hand covering his eyes. No, Lord no, please not Vin. If you have any miracles to give, I promise I won't.... Chris stood staring, his throat tightening up and his stomach going into knots. Vin?

"Get these people back Buck" he hissed out. He didn’t want anyone to see Vin like this. Didn’t want any of them to touch him. Didn’t want them even close to him.

Buck and Nathan quietly began to push the concerned people back and they did as asked, seeming to understand that these men wanted time with their fallen friend. Time to mourn for him. Time to care for him.

Time seemed to stand still, no one had made a move yet, no one wanted to be the one to uncover the face that they knew would be so pale in death, didn’t want to see any mars on that handsome face or see those blue eyes staring vacantly. If it weren’t for the quiet sobbing that could be heard back by the wagons and tables there wouldn’t have been any sound at all.

It was Chris that spoke then, defiantly almost. "Let’s do this."

Part Four

As Chris moved forward Josiah reached to remove a couple of boards from the exposed arm.

"Holy Mother of God" he whispered. "Holy Mother of God!" he shouted this time. "It’s not him, it’s not Vin." "Hallelujah" Oh Lord, for this great gift you've given us I promise to....

Ezra turned to look at what Josiah was talking about and sure enough, it wasn’t Vin. "Oh thank God." he breathed looking up into the heavens with tear stained cheeks saying out loud, " I promise to honor my promise."

As Chris, Buck, JD and Nathan all came over to look to see what had given the clue that it wasn’t Vin, Buck broke out in a laugh and gave Chris a pat on the back. "You see ‘ol son, that damn long haired Texan is just plain too smart to be caught up in something like this." Giving a shout of joy, the ladies man turned back to look again at the body in the rubble. "Who the hell is that anyway?"

"Stubby McCain," Ezra said. "That moniker given to him because of the stubs of three fingers on his right hand."

"Yeah, but it never stopped him from drinking with that hand though, " said JD.

"If anything, it made people want to buy him more drinks just to watch him hold a glass in that hand," added Josiah

"Or a bottle," added JD.

"He was quite adapt at holding cards in that hand too," threw in Ezra. " As a matter of fact I remember one….

The conversations halted as Larabee cleared his throat. "This remembrance is really touching boys, but I think we’ve got a bigger problem on our hands." Chris knew that the talking his men were doing was to let off some built up stress. Hell, he felt like a mountain had just rolled off his shoulders finding out this wasn’t his friend. "Since this ain’t Vin, then he’s still out there somewhere, either taken or hurt or both."

"Ah, the voice of reason speaks," said Ezra. "JD maybe you would be so kind as to go get a blanket or two so that we might remove Mr. McCain’s remains from this unfortunate place."

As JD headed back to the table that supplied blankets he happily told everyone that it wasn’t Vin they’d found, it was Stubby McCain. And as unfortunate as that was, at least it wasn’t Vin. Stubby was a town drunk, didn’t have any family that anyone knew of and JD could almost feel and hear the collective sighs of the folks that were still there. Mary and Inez let go of each other, smiling brightly as their fears and anxieties diminished somewhat and Mrs. Well’s grief stricken face turned heavenward thanking God for giving her back her "son". JD felt almost giddy as he took the blankets from Casey. He’d have even given her a peck on the cheek if he didn’t think he’d probably get a slap for being so forward.

"Well, if that’s not Vin, then where is he?" voiced Mrs. Wells, asking the question that was on so many minds.

"Ain’t sure ma’am, but at least now we know that body ain‘t his. Thanks for the blankets," he said as he headed back towards his friends.

"This sure looks like Vin’s jacket don’t it? " said Buck. "But what would ‘ol Stubby be doin’ with Vin’s jacket?"

"Likely our own gallant Texan felt the need to share with someone less fortunate than himself, if it is indeed Mr. Tanner’s jacket."

Chris knew there was one way of finding out, knew Vin kept his treasured harmonica in his right hand pocket, so he reached in there and folded his hand around that damned instrument and pulled it out.

"Damn," said Josiah.

"Damn it to hell, said Chris, where the hell are you Tanner?" his eyes scanning the horizon, as if willing the tracker to appear.

Leaping over some boards JD came running back with the blankets but as he landed his right leg punched a hole in the floor and he found himself floundering trying to keep upright. Buck quickly grabbed JD around the chest and pulled him forward causing them both to land on the ground, JD falling on top of Buck.

"Are you okay JD?" Buck asked, concern clouding his voice. He’d seen the pain ride over the kid’s face when his leg had broken through into the hole.

"Think so, JD answered, but my leg feels like maybe I scraped some skin off."

"Here, better let me take a look at that JD." said Nathan as he scooted over to where Buck had rolled JD off of him.

"What the hell is that?" asked Chris.

"It appears to be some type of a hole." Ezra said his face a serious one. He was concentrating so hard on the hole in the floor he didn’t see the searing glare Larabee threw at him.

"We can see that, Ezra," Chris ground out, his temper starting to get the better of him. "Wonder if there’s a basement or crawl space under here."

"Mr. Larabee, Mr. Larabee?" the voice of one old timer came carrying across to him. "I seem to remember there being a room under the floor near by where the boy fell. It was a place used to hide the women and children when there was an attack by Indians or Comancheros . It ain’t real big, but maybe Mr. Tanner fell through the floor and is down there. I recall it ran from about this spot here to over there under that pile of timbers."

"I shall get a lantern, Mr. Larabee and then perhaps you’d care to go take a look," Ezra stated as he got up to head back to the supply table.

"JD, you alright?" Chris asked even though his mind was somewhere else. Okay Tanner, last call. You’d better be in here and you’d better be okay. I’m gettin tired of this shit."

Part Five

"I’m fine Chris." JD answered as he tried to get up.

"Just hold on there JD, let me get a bandage on that so you don’t bleed all over. There is dirt and rust all over here and we don’t want it to get infected now."

"You listen to Nathan JD, get it taken care of, " Buck admonished before moving over by Chris.

"What do ya think ‘ol pard, think our buddy might be down there?"

"Reckon we’ll find out, but I hope so Buck, can’t take much more of this."

"Tough to worry about these youngins ain’t it?" Buck said with a smile.

"Maybe, but it’s a choice we make," said Chris.

"Yeah, ain’t that the truth," Buck breathed, nodding his head slightly.

"Here is your lantern, Mr. Larabee. Perhaps another should join you down there. I will offer my services if that is alright with you. I brought another lantern.

"Alright Ezra, let’s go."

They broke the hole open some more so that the men could get into it. It was about a four foot drop to the basement floor, Ezra and Chris landing solidly on their feet after jumping down. It was more like a tunnel only about four foot wide supported by big timbers about every six feet. From where they had entered they couldn’t see to the end of the room so they started walking bent over heading to the end of the building. There by the last big timber lay their friend. The timber was tilted at an angle being almost toppled by the weight of the debris above it but it was holding it’s own keeping the Texan safe. There were a few stones and some pieces of lumber that lay across his legs but for the most part, Tanner was unscathed. As Chris and Ezra approached him, they could tell he was unconscious but breathing.

"Go get Nathan, " Chris whispered to Ezra, why he did that he didn’t know. Maybe he felt if he talked to loud the rest of the flooring might come down on them or else he just didn’t want to startle his friend although he could see that Vin wasn’t going to be waking up right now. Maybe he just wanted to embrace the quiet of finding his friend here alive after all their toiling and worrying today.

"Everything is going to be okay Vin, we gotcha now." Chris ran his hands over Vin’s body trying to determine if anything was broken. He had a nasty cut along his eyebrow that had bled a lot, but from Nathan they had all learned that head wounds do bleed a lot and looked worse than they usually were.

"Damn, you had us all worried Vin, hell the whole town showed up just to dig you outta this hole. Bet you never thought you were so important." And Chris leaned down close to Vin’s ear as he said with an emotion filled voice, "but you are Vin, you are."

Chris pulled himself back together as he heard Nathan coming up behind him.

"How’s he lookin’ Chris?"

"Got some bruisin’ on his legs from the debris probably and that cut on his head but his pulse is strong and his breathin’ is good. Didn’t find anything broken on him."

"Okay. I brought down a blanket, figure we can get him on that and carry him back to the hole."

As careful as they could the two men got Vin onto the blanket and walked back to the hole to lift him up to Josiah and Buck. He was then put into a wagon where JD drove it back to Nathan’s clinic. Many of the towns folk walked along the wagon just wanting to see how their protector was doing. Ezra had rode in the back letting himself be used as a pillow to cushion Vin’s head and back.

As the entourage arrived at the clinic Chris and Buck took Vin upstairs as Nathan went ahead to get things ready. Vin was laid on the bed and Nathan pushed everyone out but Josiah. Just wait outside Nathan had said, he’d come and get them when he was done.

The remaining four men spread themselves out along the balcony to wait. No one spoke, each one caught up in their own thoughts from the day. They were all exhausted that was plain to see. Dirt and grime, bruised hands, arms and legs could be found on each man. And emotionally they were all spent, just too tired to think beyond caring about anything except for the man that lay so still in the clinic bed.

Chris slid a glance over his men. They were sprawled out either on the benches, or on the floor of the balcony. Heads back, eyes closed looking as though they’d been through a war. Hell, even Ezra looked like something that got dragged behind a horse. He shook his head and gave thanks for these men of steel that he rode with and called his friends. Now, if he found out that his best friend was going to be okay, then this day would have a happy ending. Well, all except for Stubby McCain dying. That was the one flaw in the day so far. Hopefully it’d be the only flaw.

JD broke the silence by stepping up to Chris.

"I’m…I’m sorry about this morning Chris, he stammered. I didn’t mean to fall apart on you, I…."

"S’kay JD, you’re a good man."

Chris turned from the balcony then and went to sit on the top step putting his back and head against the wall closing his eyes and stretching out his legs. He didn’t see JD pull himself up straight, take a deep breath and push back the tears that threatened. Chris Larabee, the man in black, the deadliest and fastest gun in these parts, his friend and yes, his hero had just given him the greatest compliment that he could ever remember having. JD felt a peace come over him that he hadn’t had in the last, what ten hours? As he turned back from the balcony he saw Buck give him a small smile and nod from under his hat. Just then Nathan came out of the clinic and four men's questioning eyes cut to him.

"As far as I can tell he’s gonna be okay. Got some scrapes and bruises and I stitched up that cut on his head but a day or two of rest and he should be just fine. Now I want you all to go and get yourselves something to eat and then rest. I know you all ain't eaten much today and heavens knows we could all use the rest. You ain't gonna do Vin any good sittin' around here lookin' and smellin' like you do. Now go on which you all, go on." Nathan pushed the air with his hand as if to push them along.

"I do believe we've just been slandered."

"Maybe so, but there's a steak in that saloon with my name all over it."

"Yeah, and maybe Ezra will buy us all drinks since we're eating in his saloon, right Ezra?"

"Dream on my boy, dream on."

Three men got up and headed down the stairs, the fourth, of course, headed into the clinic.

"Go on Chris and eat. He's sleepin' anyway. I can watch him for now."

"You go Nathan, you and Josiah, I'll sit with him."

Nathan tossed his hands in the air and Josiah gently pushed him towards the door.

"Let Chris sit with him, maybe after we're done eating and such one of us can change places with him."

"What chance do you think we have of that happening," Nathan asked in a frustrated voice.

"Not a snowball's chance in Hades, my friend, not a snowball's chance."

Part Six

Chris pulled up a chair and sat next to the bed studying his friend.

"Another day, another dollar huh pard?" He leaned in closer to Vin. " So what in the hell did you think you were doing? Dammit Vin, do you have any idea what you've put us through? I'm gettin' too damn old for this shit. You hear me in there Tanner?"

As if he did indeed hear Larabee, Vin turned his head towards him and furrowed his brow.

"Yeah, I'm a bit put off with you, don't ever do anything like that again okay?" Chris's voice had gotten softer, not really wanting Vin to hear him angry if he could really hear him. He didn't want to yell at his friend, he just wanted him to know how worried they'd been, he'd been. But he reckoned Vin would hear plenty of that tomorrow from the rest of the guys. No doubt Vin would get his ears full.

"Guess you'd better rest up good Vin, I think the next couple of days you are gonna be mighty busy." With that said, Chris moved the chair up near Vin’s head stretching out his legs on the bed along side his friend and leaned back to grab a little rest himself.

The next day did prove to be a busy day for the injured Texan. Five men, after having breakfast, headed up the stairs to the clinic to get some answers. Chris was with them having been persuaded late last evening to get some food and some rest, if even just a couple of hours. It had taken Nathan a lot of talking and the loss of his patience to finally get the man in black to leave. He’d finally told Chris that he had his permission to "shoot him down like a dog" if any harm should come to the Texan during the night. That had left the gunfighter glaring at him but never the less it had worked. Now they were all coming back and Vin was awake waiting for them.

Vin had told them that when he was riding in from his patrol he had seen Stubby crawling through a hole in the stones in the back to get into the old "smithy." Seems there were some stones that were loose and Stubby would remove them, crawl into the old building and then put the stones back in place and no one knew any better. It was dark, quiet and warm in there he had told Vin after the tracker had crawled in after him to try and get him to come out of the place, telling him that it wasn’t safe to which Stubby had told him that he’d been using it as his hidey hole for many weeks now and didn’t plan on giving it up for any reasons. Besides, he didn’t have a place to call home anyway and no one to worry on him.

Vin told his friends that it had been particularly cool that morning and that Stubby had been shivering so he had offered his jacket to the old man knowing he’d get it back later in the day, or at least he’d know where to find it when he wanted it. He’d gotten ready to leave then when the building for some reason started falling in and the ground gave way. Vin said the only thing he could remember was trying to grab Stubby to get him out when he felt himself falling and then everything went black.

The men sat or stood unmoving while Vin told his tale, no one spoke and even after the tracker was done with his story the clinic remained silent. He looked around at his six friends, none meeting his eyes except for Chris and it wasn’t hard to tell what kind of a mood he was in, Vin knew he was upset with him. Anger was an emotion that Larabee was comfortable with and it’s how he dealt with many issues although Vin himself rarely was the target of Chris’s anger. Vin could usually dispel his friend’s anger like no one else, but now this anger was directed at him because he had caused them to worry on him, even thinking he was dead under a ton of rubble.

So Vin did the one thing he was good at. He apologized. He picked at the lint on the blanket covering him, and with his eyes downcast he gave his apology.

"M’sorry fer causin’ ya all to worry bout me so much, and m’sorry fer makin’ ya all have to work so hard findin’ me and fer gettin’ all bruised up and dirtied up and…."

"Mere skin and clothing means nothing to have you back among us Mr. Tanner. After all, if we didn’t perchance think that you were amidst that rubble and begin searching then we would have never found that unfortunate Mr. McCain, that is until the stench of his deca…."

"Thank you Ezra, for that wonderful thought, but he’s right Vin, it ain’t nothin’ you wouldn’t have done for us," Buck added.

"That building needed to come down anyway and now it’s done, said Josiah, and may Stubby McCain rest in peace."

"And look how everyone in town pitched in, I thought that was pretty great," said JD.

"I don’t know Vin, I think you got someone lookin’ out for you, all that rock and timber fallen and yet you got by with some scrapes and bruises." Nathan shook his head. It just ain’t at all how I figured it would end, not complain’ though," he said with a big grin.

Vin looked around at all his friends and saw the grins on their faces, knew he was forgiven, well except for one, but he’d have to work on that one.

"Time for my patrol," Chris said as he stood up to leave. Reaching for the door he looked back at Vin and said, "I’m thinkin’ a good two, three days of hard work out at my place ought to make up for my lost time, what do you think Vin?"

Nathan took a breath and was just going to speak about Vin not doing any hard physical work for at least a week or so, but was stopped with a nudge of Josiah’s elbow and a shake from his head. "Leave ’em", Josiah mouthed.

"Sounds about right ta me cowboy," Vin said with twinkle in his eye and a grin on his face.

Chris gave him his best glare and walked out the door.

"Well best we’d better leave Mr. Tanner so he can get his rest and relaxation in before succumbing to that slave driver, no offense Mr. Jackson."

"None taken, Ezra."

"See you boys later and thanks."

One by one his friends nodded to him or touched him before they left all promising to stop in and see him during the next couple of days.

Part Seven

Two evenings later found six of the seven together at the saloon. Ezra was playing cards with a couple of well dressed gentlemen that had gotten off the stage just that day, Buck was drinking a beer at the bar and Chris, Vin, Nathan and JD were sitting at "their" table enjoying each other’s company and drinks.

"Where did Josiah go? asked JD, I haven’t seen him all day."

"Oh, he promised that widow Mrs. Tinnesman that he’d do a few repairs around her place." answered Nathan.

"Mrs. Tinnesman? You mean that old lady that smells like moth balls and follows Josiah around like a sick puppy, he went to help her out?" JD again asked unbelief clouding his features.

"That’s the one, but it ain’t nice to talk about people like that JD. Besides, Josiah said he’d made a promise and he was going to keep it," Nathan told him.

"Hmmmm…" said JD, as he glanced at the bar just in time to see Buck shake his head no to a pretty young gal that had come up to him and whispered something in his ear.

"Did you see that?" JD asked the other three his mouth hanging open. "Buck just turned down that lady, just told her no, I can’t believe it, I don’t think I’ve ever seen that before."

Buck came dragging over to the table and plopped himself down dejectedly in a chair next to JD.

"Did you just do what I think you did?" JD asked the forlorn Buck.

"Yep, kid I did." Made a promise that I’d…I’d…well, that I’d…stayawayfromwomenforaweek." He nearly choked on the words and blew out a big sigh. "Think I’d rather be dead."

Vin raised an eyebrow, looked over at Chris and both men grinned knowing how true those words were. Buck could be dead, and he still wouldn’t give up women.

"Hmmmm…" said JD, thinking, "hummmm…."

"What does ‘hmmmm’ mean JD? I mean that ain’t even a word so why even say it and besides it’s annoying the hell out of me, just what do you mean by ‘hmmmm‘?" You trying to be a bee or somethin’?" Buck was getting wound up now, nothing would make any sense to the man for an entire week if he gave up women. He was going to be a bear to live with, no doubt about it.

"Well, I was just thinkin’... you just said you made a promise to swear off women and Nathan said Josiah had made a promise to that old Mrs. Timmesman to help her and…."

"Mrs. Tinnesman? The old lady that smells like moth balls and follows him around like a lovesick puppy?" "Why would he do something as dumb as that?"

"He made a promise...and...well...I made a promise, too." said JD sheepishly.

"And what pray tell did you promise kid, to give up milk for once?"

"No, I promised to give all my dime store novels away."

"What? Well, that’s serious stuff kid, now why would you go and do something stupid like that?"

"It…it was a promise…a promise, and JD looked at Vin then, a promise I said I’d keep if only Vin was found safe."

"Oh." Buck said and cleared his throat, "That was sorta what I did too, I mean I promised I’d stay away from women for a week if we didn’t find Vin dead in that rubble."

Vin found himself starting to sweat and a knot beginning to form in his throat at his friends admissions to making promises to whomever to assure his safety. He was going to have to leave in a few minutes if this didn’t quit, he was having a hard time keeping his breathing steady and he noticed his hands were starting to shake.

"Well, as long as we’re all sharing here, said Nathan, I guess I made a promise too, and I kept it Vin Tanner if you noticed. I didn’t make you drink any of that ‘horsepiss’ as you call it while you was in the clinic. Did you notice that? That was my promise if you was okay and made it to the clinic alive, I wouldn’t force you to drink any of that stuff. I hope you appreciate that too," he said with a huff.

"I do Nathan, I ‘preciate all that ya give up fer me but it ain’t necessary." He ducked his head not wanting them to see how this was affecting him.

"Yeah, it is Vin, it is. A promise is a promise and as long as we got what we wanted well, then we need to keep our part of the bargain, said Buck nodding his head as if to emphasize the point.

"Hey, said JD, I wonder if Ezra made any promises."

"Don’t look like it to me, said Nathan, at least if he did it wasn’t nothin' too important, he’s still doing what he always does--fleece people out of their money."

Chris who had been silent during the entire conversation, stood up, put on his hat and nodded to his men. "See ya in the mornin’" he said. He made his way over to Ezra’s table and stopped on his way. Keeping his back to the gamblers at the table his eyes met Ezra’s. "Don’t forget. You promised to keep your promise." He walked away then leaving Ezra sitting dumbfounded and sputtering.

"Are you alright man? Did that gunfighter just threaten you with bodily harm?"

"Ah no, no he didn’t, I ah, oh Lord, he groaned as he dropped his head. Oh hell, was his next thought as he spied something laying on the floor under the table. "Gentlemen, look what I have found, it appears that a card has mysteriously fallen on the floor under the table. It must have gone astray as I was dealing the cards." As the three men bent down to look under the table Ezra picked up the three of clubs from the floor.

"Not to worry, it’s only the three of clubs I don’t…."

"Well, I believe according to the rules finding a wayward card like that would constitute a misdeal, isn’t that right sir?" asked one gentleman.

"Yes well, but I think the fact that it’s only the three of…."

"And," spoke up the other gentleman, "I believe that means we all get to take our money back and begin again isn’t that correct sir?"

"Yes well, but you see I don’t think this three would have changed…."

"Thank you Mr. Sandwich…."

"That’s Standish and if you would permit me…"

"Well, you’ve been good about this Mr. Standwich…."

"Standish and…"

"Yes, whatever, anyway, it is getting late and Mr. Gordon and I should be turning in. Mr. Gordon, shall we?"

Ezra watched disheartedly as the two men took their money from the huge pile gathered in front of him and then split it back amongst themselves.

"Perhaps tomorrow evening we…."

"We’ll be leaving on the noon stage tomorrow. It has been a pleasure to meet a gentleman such as yourself Mr. Standmish. Perhaps we’ll meet again some day, goodnight."

And with that, the gentlemen and their money were gone.

"Oh Lord, I believe I am going to be sick, Mother would be positively appalled!!"

Over in the corner, snickers were becoming louder as the four men watched the whole scene unfold.

"Can you believe that? Ezra just let them take all that money he’d won, just like that, wow, I didn’t think I’d ever see anything like that happen. Do you suppose that was his promise, to give back money he che…I mean won from someone?"

"Could be JD, could be. I would imagine Ezra ain’t gonna be feeling too good for a couple of days, I think he’s already beginnin’ to turn a lovely shade of green, Buck said chuckling.

"Well boys, I think I’ll be turnin’ in." Vin got up to leave having to take a minute to steady himself. He wouldn’t admit it but the queasiness he felt wasn’t all due to his injuries. It had a lot to do with the emotions running through him. Feelings that came out knowing how much these men cared about him, what they were prepared to give up for him. It was enough to humble any man.

They all said their goodnights, Nathan having to add his advice about being sure to get plenty of rest, and to stop by the clinic in the morning so he could check him out. As Vin left their table he walked over by where Ezra was still sitting, eye glazed over shuffling a deck of cards. He stopped as he went by.

"Thanks Ez, I appreciate it."

Ezra looked up into Vin’s eyes then, shaking himself out of his stupor.

"My pleasure Mr. Tanner, my pleasure."

Part Eight

As Vin parted the swinging doors he saw Larabee off to his left leaning against a post, watching the street, and smoking a cheroot. He approached the other side of the post, leaned against it and tucked his thumbs in his gun belt.

Neither said a word for a few minutes just enjoying the night air, the companionship and Vin enjoying the scent of Chris’s cheroot.

"No promises cowboy?"

"Gave up makin’ promises three years ago. Ain’t no good if ya can’t keep ’em."

More silence then. Chris heard Vin take in a breath, could "see" him nod his head in understanding and heard him scrape the sole of his boot on the edge of the boardwalk.

Damn, he hated when he could hear the wheels turning in the Texan’s head.

"So ya sorta made a promise never to make a promise." A statement not a question, it didn’t require an answer.

Here we go. He had to admit he was curious. He had to see where his friend was heading with this. "Reckon you could say that."

Another nod and more silence.

"Reckon then you could say you kept your promise."

"Reckon." Damn. Vin logic. It constantly amazed him.

That seemed to satisfy his friend then so he stepped off the walkway and headed toward the boarding house.

"Night Chris."

"Night Vin." Damn.

The End

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