Two Full Moons

by Sodak7

Vin, Chris, (OFC in a tiny appearance)

Note: This story is taken from a Big Valley episode which centered around Nick and Heath.

Sitting on his horse atop the hillside, arms crossed on the saddle horn, he scanned the scene below him. The house he was watching was well built, made of stone, more than likely taken from the cliff wall which butted up against the back of the house. Stone was good for protection against arrows, bullets and fire. The huge rock chimney suggested a large cooking area inside the house, one that could probably hold many pots to feed lots of people at one time. His eyes strayed to an outside eating area where weary travelers more than likely ate on nice cool days. Looking to his left , a couple hundred feet from the main house, there was large two story barn and he could see piles of fresh hay mounded up through the open second story doors. His eyes then tracked down to the corral areas, that really being his area of interest. On one side of the barn was the largest corral holding the bigger horses, those being the team horses or fresh ones waiting to be hitched up after the weary ones were taken from their duty. On the other side of the barn was the smaller corral, the one that garnered his attention because that’s where what he was looking for would more than likely be. As he narrowed his eyes and looked through the dozen or so horses in the smaller area he recognized the animal he was looking for. A ghost of a smile danced on his lips and the word "alright" escaped in a whisper-like voice. But just as quick as the smile had come, it left the handsome face as he watched a young boy of maybe ten or twelve catch the horse he had been watching, throw a saddle on it, mount up and ride off.

Damn, he thought as he felt a stinging sensation behind the backs of his eyes and a constricting of his chest. Please, no.

Knowing he wasn’t going to find out what he needed sitting where he was, he blinked back the tears and gently guided his horse down the embankment to the stone house. The young boy who had taken the horse had ridden off to the west, he was entering from the east. Passing by what he would consider the family burial grounds he noticed a freshly dug grave and felt himself go lightheaded. He pulled his horse to a stop, closed his eyes and took a deep shuddering breath. Lord, but this was hard, he couldn’t remember when he’d felt so lost. Dismounting slowly, he walked over and sat down heavily underneath an old oak tree. Glancing at the newly turned black soil, he gave in to the tightening of his throat and the stinging of his eyes as he thought back to two months prior.

+ + + + + + +

Getting up to bank the fire, Larabee looked at his partner, checking to make sure he was still asleep. They’d had a couple of days of hard riding and were only another day out of Four Corners. Tanner said they could keep going, there was a full moon out tonight and they could ride by that, but in truth, they were both bone tired after chasing and catching a couple of bank robbers that had gotten away after trying to lighten the money situation in the town’s bank a few days ago. The other five peacekeepers were in charge of putting the town back together again as he and Vin had ridden off after the two that had gotten away. All the bandits were accounted for, either in jail or dead and the money was still safely stored in the bank’s vault. Another "situation" handled magnificently by the seven.

The fire properly banked the gunslinger was getting ready to stand up when all of a sudden, out of nowhere, he was attacked by a large fur bearing animal. There was no warning as the animal took him to the ground and sunk its teeth into his left forearm, the man trying desperately to defend himself from the sharp yellowed teeth.

Even though everything seemed to move in slow motion, he finally heard the loud retort of his friend’s sawed off and felt the weight of the animal leave him. What felt like a five minute battle actually lasted less than a minute, but the damage had been done. Cradling his injured arm, he stole a glance at his friend watching as the man checked the animal quickly to make sure the beast was dead before coming and kneeling before him.

Working quickly, Vin grabbed his knife and set about cutting Larabee’s shirt away from the injured area.

Chris let out a hiss from between clenched teeth and held his arm aloft as Vin checked to see how much damage had been done. He heard a quiet "damn" come from his friend and turned to look at him and then down at his injured limb.

"Hold on Chris," Vin said softly, as he rested the man’s arm on his thigh. Using his knife he made small cuts across the puncture wounds in order for them to bleed out some. He then went to his saddle bag, got a pouch out of it and grabbed a canteen and came back to finish his work. Pouring some power out of the pouch and mixing water with it he made a poultice in his kerchief. Then he tied it around his friend’s arm making sure the poultice came in contact with the bitten area.

"We’ll head back to Silvermint. Got a doc there that kin take a look at it."

After getting a nod of consent from the gunslinger, he told Larabee to just lay quiet and he’d go and get the horses ready.

Chris did as he was told, letting his friend tend to him, realizing he wouldn’t be of any help anyway. Damn it to hell, but the thing hurt! He didn’t really remember Vin coming to help him get off the ground or help him get on his horse. He was starting to shake, not knowing if it was from the scare of the attack or the shock of the injury starting to settle in. His whole being was concentrated on pushing out the white hot pain that coursed up and down his arm.

+ + + + + + +

"What kind of an animal was it?" the aging doctor named Petrie asked of the two men.

"Wolf," Vin answered.

"And you were by the firelight when you were attacked? Is that right?"

A slight nod by the injured man confirmed the question.

"Don’t sound like something an animal right in his mind would do," said the medical man. "You check to see if it was foaming at the mouth?" he asked of either man.

"Didn’t seen none," answered Vin, but one look into his best friend’s eyes and he knew they were thinking the same thing. Chris had lowered his eyes but not before he’d seen the look of fear in them.

"Well, I’ve done all I can for right now. Keep it good and cleaned out. Change the bandage daily. And here, I’ll give you these pills…in case you start to get headaches."

Both men knew the symptoms of rabies, one of them was painful headaches that could drive a man crazy, make him do things he normally wouldn’t do, a good sign that the person was inflicted with the disease.

"How long?" This question coming from the gunslinger.

"You will start to notice a change right away, mainly with the headaches. Body aches and well, later you’ll…"

"How long?" came the question again.

"Sixty days, ‘bout two months, I’d say. If you are still…alive…after that, then you should be fine. But you could die within any amount of time between the next five days and that sixty day frame. You just never know with rabies, but you’ll know if you have it. I am sorry. I wish I had better news to tell you."

"Thanks doc, ‘preciate all you’ve done," said Vin, as he helped Larabee up from the bed and the two men started for the door.

"You got a doctor where you are headed, you have him keep it cleaned up and bandaged."

"How much I owe ya?" Chris asked, before heading outside.

"Not a thing young man, not a thing. I just wish you the best," Doctor Petrie said, as he followed them outside and watched as they mounted their horses and rode away into the night.

"Probably don’t want ta take money from a man with a death sentence," muttered the man in black to his companion.

Vin glanced over at his friend and with a small grin said, "More’n likely ‘fraid he’d over charge ya and you’d shoot him."

He might have felt like shit, but Vin’s comment brought a ghost of a smile to the handsome face. The man had a hell of a sense of humor. He only wished he shared his friend’s deep optimistic nature.

+ + + + + + +

Alternating riding and stopping, the two men made good time back to their home town. Neither man said much, which wasn’t an uncommon thing for them, but both had thoughts that traveled in different directions which stemmed from the same problem: Chris Larabee, gunslinger, friend and leader, may be marked for death. And not just any death - an ugly one. One filled with pain and anger and humiliation.

Vin’s thoughts centered around taking Chris away into the mountains. Away from everything and everyone. He’d take care of him, treat him with the medicines he knew, and let the man die a dignified death…if that’s what was to happen. That thought alone was enough to cause a clenching of his gut and a tightening in his chest. It’s not something he wanted to think on, but he’d do it. He’d do it for Chris. Take him away from prying eyes and well-intentioned but nosy friends and acquaintances. He also knew his greatest challenge would be in getting Larabee to allow him to do this. But he had his ways, either mental or physical, he’d win this fight, of that he was sure. His friend might be angry with him for awhile but that was a chance he’d take.

Chris’s thoughts, similar to his friend’s only in the matter of getting away from everyone, if he did indeed come down with this affliction. There was no way in hell he’d let anyone see him as the ravages of this disease ate away at him mentally and physically. He’d go somewhere and die his own kind of death--either by another man’s gun or his own, whichever it came to be. He’d be ready for it when it came, his thoughts on finally maybe getting to see his family again, something he’d thought heavily on for a couple of years right after he’d lost them. His only regret now would be not being buried along side of them, for if he left, no one would know where to find him to bring him to his final resting place. With a side glance to his tracker friend riding beside him, he altered those thoughts. He knew without a doubt that Vin would track him down and find him. Knew the man wouldn’t rest until he had him back and buried with the rest of his family. And he was pretty damn sure Buck would be riding right along side of him. Maybe all of them. Hell, it just could be the one thing that kept them all together after he’d left. So maybe it wasn’t such a bad idea at all. If he just kept telling himself that, pretty soon he’d come to believe it.

+ + + + + + +

Coming to a stop on the prairie just outside of Four Corners, the two men sat on their horses looking toward the dusty little village that had become their home. The home of a bunch of mix matched ex-whatevers now turned peacekeepers. Seven men that pulled together and stayed together for some unknown reason. Each had their own reasons for staying, but their reasonings were all buoyed by the friendships that had been made. Friendships that would now be put to the test.

Taking his injured arm out of the sling and putting the material in his saddle bag, Chris gave out a groan as he slid his jacket on over the bandaged limb. Knowing that Vin was watching his every move he looked into the questioning blue eyes.

"Don’t want nobody ta know ‘bout this Vin. T’ween you and me. Cain’t hide the fact that I was hurt, but they don’t got ta know what happened. We’ll just tell ‘em I got hurt while taking down those two outlaws and we took care of it. Agreed?"

He watched the tracker’s troubled eyes furrow and frown at him but finally received the nod he was waiting for plus a whispered "alright."

Vin wasn’t happy about this at all, but he tried to put himself in his friend’s boots. He was certain he’d feel the same way, wouldn’t want anyone to know he’d gotten bit by a rabid wolf, well, they weren’t certain of that yet, but time would tell and there….

"You think what you did for me back there might be enough?" Chris asked, pulling Vin from his thoughts.

"Don’t rightly know cowboy. Just know that’s what I learned from ‘The People’."

"Ever save anyone by doin’ it?"

A shrug of the shoulders and an honest "Don’t remember" answer came from the ex-bounty hunter. He knew he hadn’t personally saved anyone, but that didn’t mean at one time someone hadn’t been saved with that poultice he’d been taught to make. Right now, he sure hoped it had helped, that and letting the wounds bleed out He just didn’t know. He did know he couldn’t give his best friend the reassuring answer he wanted. A deep sigh came from him as the trouble sat heavy on his shoulders.

"Vin?" Chris called to him softly. " No matter what happens, you did your best."

Then, a look, a forearm clasp and a pact-promising nod were all exchanged and the men kicked their horses into a gallop and rode to town for whiskey, food and a decent bed and all in that order.

+ + + + + + +

"Vin and Chris are back," JD announced, as he hung over the batwing doors peering down the street to the livery.

"Either one got a bandage anywhere?" asked Nathan.

"None that I can see," came the answer.

"Well, it appears our compatriots have arrived in perfect condition then. We shall have a toast to that when they grace this establishment, drawled the southern gambler, as he tossed back a drink while shuffling his cards one handed.

"I’ll drink to that," Buck said, lifting his mug of beer to his lips.

"Amen, brothers!" Josiah exclaimed, holding aloft his drink as JD came back to the table announcing that the two peacekeepers were coming down the sidewalk.

Entering the saloon, Vin and Chris headed over to their normal table, greeting the others as they went by. Before long all seven men were at the table relating stories of what had gone on while the two were away and the other five interested in knowing the outcome of the two escaped outlaws. Supper time came and went as the men sat and enjoyed each other’s company, raising their glasses in a toast to their good fortune again, but it was time to get to work or pleasure, the latter meaning Buck and Ezra. Each man left the table to go their separate ways. Chris headed to his rented room for some much needed sleep since he and Vin had ridden through the night and he notice the tracker heading reluctantly to his wagon, probably for the same reason. They were both tired, emotionally as well as physically.

Getting ready to stretch out on his bed, he heard a soft knock at his door. With the ivory handled colt in his hand, he asked who it was and then opened the door.

"Thought I’d look at yer arm. Might need a new bandage after traveling all that way," said Vin, as he came into the room with his saddle bags thrown over his shoulder, nodding for the gunslinger to sit on the bed and then waited as his friend took off his shirt and then took off the dressing.

"Looks good Chris, not much bleedin’ either. That doc did a good job," Vin talked, as he cleaned up around the wounded area and proceeded to put a clean bandage on it.

"Could have done it myself Vin," the man in black said, as he watched his friend tend to him.

"Know that Chris, trouble is…I figured it should be done sometime t’ween now and next week," he said, a grin gracing his face.

He watched as the hazel eyes slid over to look at him and narrowed, but in a teasing way. He knew Chris would just lay down and sleep, get up in the morning and head to the saloon and never give it a second thought to putting on a clean bandage and he knew the man well enough to know too, that he’d never ask for his help, so he willingly gave it.

"Should be good for another day," he said, getting up and putting his stuff back in the saddle bags.

"Don’t gotta do this Vin, I can take care of myself."

"Know that too. Just watchin’ out fer my own interests," the tracker said, giving Larabee a quick glance over his shoulder before heading to the door, knowing he’d gotten the gunman’s attention.

"Your interests?" Chris asked, with a raised eyebrow. Well, this oughta be good. He couldn’t wait to hear the answer his friend was going to give him.

"The five hundred dollars your gonna make offa me when I’m dead. I get the last laugh, remember? Figure you can use it to add on to that shack of yours or start raising horses, or… get married." He had to grin when saying the last one, knowing that would get some sort of a reaction out of his friend.

"Hell, you make it all sound so easy, maybe I just ought to off you now and get started with my new life you got planned out for me," the man in black said, a small smile beginning to tease at the mouth. Only Vin could make him smile at a time like this. But then with a shake of his head and a downcast look, he said, "Probably won’t live long enough for any of that to happen."

"You’ll live, Larabee. You’re too damn ornery to die."

Bringing his head up to squint at his best friend, he gave him a smirk and told him he’d see him in the morning. Laying back down after hearing the door softly shut, he breathe in deeply. Lord, but for once in the past four years he hoped he would live. He wanted to live If for any reason, just to collect that damn five hundred dollars!! With a shake of his head and a grin, he fell into a much needed, but fitful sleep, unaware that outside his door, his best friend listened and waited for him to settle before moving into the room next door in order to be close - in case he was needed.

+ + + + + + +

The next couple of days were pretty much normal. Vin kept a close watch on his friend and if it bothered Larabee, he never mentioned it. The boys knew Chris had injured his arm, they had seen the pained look on his face more than once if he happened to hit it just right so there was no getting around that, and it had been hard to keep Nathan at bay. He always wanted to "just take a look at it" and Chris kept putting him off, saying he was taking good care of it, it was just sore.

Chris hadn’t told Vin and he’d hoped it hadn’t been showing, but he was getting headaches now and then and as of late they were getting bad. When he felt one coming on, he always made the excuse to leave, either going to the jail or riding out for a time. He knew Vin was becoming suspicious, the man watched him like a hawk, never saying much, but Chris knew those blue eyes didn’t miss a thing.

He’d gone out to his cabin for a day, and when he came back into town, he could see the remnants of what had to have been some kind of a gun battle.

"What the hell happened here?" he said, coming into the saloon, seeing his men gathered around their usual table.

"Just a little ‘situation’ we had here stud, but we handled it," Buck said, with a wave of his hand.

"Why didn’t someone come out and get me?" the man in black hissed out, beginning to lose his temper.

"Weren’t no need Chris, we handled it, just like Buck said," the ex-preacher told the gunman when he noticed the fire in the eyes and the hardening of the jaw.

"Yes and well, we all just figured what with the way you’d been feeling, perhaps it was in your best interest to sit this one out," Ezra pointed out, not realizing he was adding fuel to the fire.

"And how the hell do you know how I’m feeling and what gives…"

"Easy cowboy," Vin said, standing up and meeting the angry eyes of his friend.

"Don’t call me cowboy," he practically snarled at Vin, "and was this all your idea? Not ta bother me?"

Moving away from the table Vin headed to the bar only to be cut off by the man in black.

"Tell me Vin. Was it your idea ta leave me outta this? Last time I checked I was still the leader here."

"I just thought…listen Chris, I…"

"You what? Still tryin’ ta take care of me? Tell you what, I don’t need your help and I sure as hell don’t want it either. Just stay the god-damn hell away from me Tanner, you got that?" he spat at the confused ex-bounty hunter.

"Chris?" Vin said, putting a hand on the man’s shoulder. "I didn’t mean ta take…"

Shrugging the hand off his shoulder, the hazel eyes bore into the blue ones. "I said stay the hell away from me!" And with one lightening quick move, Chris landed a punch to Vin’s jaw, surprising the young man and knocking him back against the bar.

"Oh damn, oh shit damn," whispered Buck.

"What the hell’s wrong with Chris?" JD questioned quietly, keeping an eye on both of his friends.

" Hell and damnation," spoke Josiah, not believing what he was seeing.

"What just happened there?" Ezra asked, to no one in particular, the hand bringing his drink to his mouth stopping in mid air.

Nathan sat on the edge of his chair, cigar held in his hand, the wisps of smoke rising lazily up to the ceiling. He was noticing the body language of both men, looking…just looking for something, knowing in his heart that there had to be something wrong, if not physically, then mentally with Larabee. There was no way on God’s green earth that he’d ever, ever strike out at Vin. Something was wrong, he could sense it, knew the man in black was hiding something from him, but damned if he could get anything out of either man. But now, he was sure there was something amiss.

The saloon had gone deathly quiet, first because of the hot words being spoken by Larabee and then the surprise of the attack made most patrons draw in a breath and hold it not knowing what was going to happen next. Everyone in the place knew Vin Tanner was a patient man, but one that you didn’t push around. They all knew he was a force to be reckoned with once he was riled and there was no doubt in anyone’s mind what kind of havoc a man like Chris Larabee could reap if he had the notion. The gunslinger’s hands were balled into fists and his stance showed that of a man ready for a fight. They could almost see the anger roll off the man.

Nobody made a move. Not Vin, not Chris, not the patrons and not any of the other peacekeepers. It was like they were all frozen in time, just all to stunned at what had happened because there wasn’t a person in the place that didn’t know the relationship between these two men was as tight as it can get. They never had harsh words or a look between them, and now all of a sudden, this.

Finally the spell was broken as Vin slowly pulled himself upright and ran his right hand over his bruised jaw. Damn, but the man had hands hard as stone. His eyes never leaving his friend’s, he watched as Larabee finally became aware of his surroundings and saw what he had done. The eyes went from black anger to shocked realization in the blink of an eye and he caught the pained look just before Chris started to turn away.

"Chris? Chris, wait, he called, reaching out to the man but missing him, as Larabee strode toward the back and headed through the kitchen and out the door.

"Vin? What the hell is goin’ on here?" Buck demanded, jumping from his seat and grabbing the tracker’s arm as he was headed out the back after the gunslinger.

"Later, Buck," Vin said, pulling away from him.

"Later, hell! Now!" he said, trying to block Vin’s path but was cut off by a hand to his shoulder and a deep voice telling him to "let ’em be".

"Let ’em be, Buck. Let ’em straighten it out," Josiah told him.

"Did you see the look on Chris’s face? Did you see how angry he was? We can’t leave them alone. I ain’t gonna leave them alone. If Chris would happen to really hurt Vin somehow, he’d …he’d never forgive himself and I’m not about to let that happen.

"Vin will talk to him, it’ll be okay. Let ‘em settle it. Chris just thinks Vin overstepped his boundaries. He’ll apologize and it’ll be better. Just let ‘em handle it," the big man pleaded. He knew if the emotional rogue got mixed up between the men, things could indeed get ugly. It was best if the two friends could just work it out between themselves. It was peculiar though, to say the very least. Larabee had a quick temper, everyone knew that and all had felt the sting of his words or the blaze from his eyes at one time or another, all but Vin. He never went after Vin, at least not that he knew of. Knew there were some words between them now and then on the wagon train trail, but Chris still backed Vin feeling the young man was pulled into a situation beyond his control. It just happened, and Vin took the full brunt of what had happened getting his feelings flayed in the end. He himself, had almost gotten caught up in the web of a woman, but managed to wiggle out of it. The thought of that put a ghost of a smile on his face.

"I hope ta hell you’re right Josiah," Buck said, heading to the front entryway. He wouldn’t follow, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t be out there close by…just in case. Shuddering visibly, he went through the batwing doors, JD following in his wake.

+ + + + + + +

Going out the back door and into the alleyway, Vin saw the man in black disappear around the corner and walk out into the street, striding toward the boarding house, his back stiff and shoulders riding high. People moved to get out of his way, glancing warily at him, obviously noting that the man didn’t want to be bothered by anyone for any reason. Coming to the front of the building he easily cleared the steps leaping onto the boardwalk, the black duster billowing out behind him like a black cloud. Vin followed behind him and headed for his friend’s room. Knocking softly he entered, watching and wincing, as he noticed the force behind Chris’s shoving things into his saddle bags.

Sensing the tracker behind him, Chris said, "Wasn’t your fault Vin. I should’a left, should’a never came back here. Just thought maybe…"

"You didn’t mean it Chris, hell, the stress of …," his speech cut off and his eyes widened as Larabee turned on him, the anger vivid on his face.

"I could have killed you back there Vin, do you realize that? I didn’t know what I was doing, hell, I didn’t care, I just…I just…damn it ta hell Vin," the anger left, the shoulders slumped and the pain was written in the eyes. "I could have killed you," he said again, softly.

"It was my fault Chris, I overstepped my boundaries. Next time…"

"Next time? Next time what? Next time it could be Mary…or Billy that I go after. There won’t be a next time Vin. I’m leavin’. I’m a danger to everyone here, never knowing when…" he stopped suddenly, clamped his eyes shut and swayed a little.

Instantly Vin was at his side, leading the man backwards to sit on the bed. Once there, the gunslinger’s shaky hands removed his hat and slid his hands down his face. Taking the bottle of pills from his pocket he took out a couple, put them in his mouth, threw back his head and swallowed.

Vin moved to get him some water and handed the glass to his friend watching as he drank the water.

Opening his pain filled eyes, he took a deep breath and muttered, "Damn."

Squatting down in front of him, the concerned tracker asked, "When did the headaches start?"

"Two days ago. Been gettin’ worse. It’s why I gotta leave. It’s happening just like the doc said it would if…if I had it."

"Let me take ya to the mountains Chris, I can take…"

Shaking his head, the gunslinger cut off whatever was going to be said. "No Vin," he said, in a tight emotional whisper, watching the cavalry hat dip from the spoken refusal. Damn, but he hated to say no to this man.

Vin stood, turning his back to the gunslinger and walking toward the door. His eyes hot with the coming of tears he turned to look at his best friend.

"Chris, ya can’t just ride the hell off…please…" He’d never begged for anything in his life, but he was doing it now. The hurt of losing the man who had come to mean so much to him, brought him to that level. "You don’t gotta do this alone. Let me help."

Seeing the pain and the pleading in Vin’s eyes, emotions he’d put there, the hardened gunfighter relented. Locking eyes with the tracker for a few seconds, he stood and picked up his saddle bags.

"You know where Willow Creek is?"

He received only a nod of the head in acknowledgement, more than likely because his friend was too emotional to speak. And he had done that to him. How this man had come to mean so much to him was a mystery in itself. He had no answer for it, it just happened. Their friendship just slipped on like a well worn pair of gloves. Easy and comfortable was how it was. Easy and comfortable.

"Bout twenty miles east of there, butted up against the mountain ridge, there’s a place, a relay station. That’s where I’m headed. Got a friend there I want ta see."

"Long ride," Vin rasped out, knowing the gunman would get his double meaning.

"I’ll follow the main road, only off a bit. Carry what I can, so I don’t have to stop in many towns. I’ll mark my trail. You’ll know it when you see it."

"I could follow you," Vin said, his voice filling with some defiance.

"You could," the man in black said, knowing his friend could do that without him even knowing it. "But I need you here Vin, need you to keep the men together and…to watch out for Mary and Billy for me." He knew that was a below the belt hit, but he truly did want Vin to watch out for the widow and her son. They’d come to mean a great deal to him and he didn’t want any harm to befall them. He could trust Vin to look after them.

He watched as the tracker’s head dipped once more, saw the long deep sigh of resignation and met the intense blue eyes as they looked into his. The fight was back. He could see the determination return and knew Vin would do as he asked. Always as he asked, and sometimes even when he didn’t.

"Two full moons and I’m comin’ lookin’."

"Be disappointed if’n ya didn’t. And Vin?" he said, stepping closer to the man. "You know where I want ta be. You do that for me?"

"You got my promise on that…cowboy," the last word slipping out tentatively knowing he’d been told not to use it.

He saw the smile borne in the hazel eyes and gave one to match. Forearms clasped in a parting gesture, lingering longer than normal, both men knowing this could be their last.

"What do you want me ta tell the boys?"

"The truth," Chris said, which got him a raised eyebrow from his friend.

"I’m headed out to the cabin, you tell ‘em that and it ain’t lyin’, cuz that’s where I’m goin‘…for now."

"Watch yer back, pard," Vin said softly, as Chris brushed by him and went down the steps.

Buck stepped into the street, his eyes on his oldest friend as he emerged from the boarding house. Glancing at the tracker who had just come out of building behind Chris, and seeing that the man was still intact, he hurried to catch up with Larabee.

"Where you headed Chris?" came the question the gunslinger knew was comin’.

"Out to my place and I don’t want to be bothered for a few days either," he said, making sure Buck got the point. Tying the saddle bags on his horse he mounted up and headed out of town at a gallop.

Seeing Vin headed toward the saloon, the ladies man came over to join him.


"Well, what?"

"What the hell was that all about?" Buck asked while gesturing toward the saloon and then to the boarding house.

"S’all taken care of. Shouldn’t have done what I did, and I made it right with him. S’all that matters."

"Don’t you be holdin’ out on me Vin. I won’t stand for that."

Stopping in the middle of the street, Vin said, "You heard him Buck. Said he was headed out ta his shack. Told me the same exact thing. Just needs a couple of days," he said, almost choking on the words. A couple of days and Chris could be dead. "Best ta just leave him be. Figured you’d know that by now, best to let him work through it."

"Yeah, reckon you’re right. Just…well, just strange he’d go after you like that."

"Tell that to my jaw," Vin said, as he rubbed the now bruised area.

"Hits damn hard don’t he?" the ladies man chuckled, patting the tracker on the back, pushing the worrisome thoughts to the back of his brain. "Did I ever tell you about the time Chris and me were…"

+ + + + + + +

Days passed and every man heeded Larabee’s wishes. No one went out to check on him knowing that the man would come back to town when he felt like it. It wasn’t the first time he’d headed out to his place when he was facing his own demons and chances are, it wouldn’t be the last. The only speculations thrown about were as to why the whole thing happened in the first place. None really had a answer to that question, but where their leader was concerned--you just took what you got. If he wanted you to know something he’d tell you, if not, then you either found out through another resource or sat in the dark. Chris was his own man, did his own thing, and if you didn’t like it, then to hell with you. But each of the men, and the townspeople too, knew there wasn’t a better man to have on your side when the chips were down. He was a one man army, a leader of men and although many feared him, just as many respected him.

One week to the day he’d ridden out, Buck came riding into town and burst through the saloon doors telling the rest of the peacekeepers that Chris had lit out. That led to more speculations. The general consensus was that he’d most likely headed to Purgatory. If anyone suspected that Vin knew more than anyone else, no one had spoken that thought. Since he was the one that had taken the brunt of Larabee’s anger, they didn’t think he was hiding anything…yet.

After almost two weeks of Chris being gone, Buck was starting to get worried as well as angry. Wasn’t long and he and JD or he and Vin had gone out looking for him. Checked all his favorite haunts. They’d sent telegrams, checked with the stage lines and the train stations, anything to find out where their friend had gone.

Vin felt like a lowlife…a snake, knowing where Chris was headed, wondering, always wondering if his best friend had made it or was lying out in the open somewhere, dead. He had started out so many times to go after him, but always remembered what he’d promised; to stay close and to look out for Mary and Billy. He wouldn’t break that promise and the damned gunslinger knew it. But it bothered him to no end watching the rest of the men, especially Buck, worry and wonder what had become of their leader. Hell, he worried too, but it was for a different reason. He’d kept a poker face Ezra would die for, when the topic of conversation would come up about Chris.

And he’d watch the skies, just waiting for that second full moon.

+ + + + + + +

One morning after taking watch, Vin came into the saloon, ordered breakfast and headed to the table where the rest of the men sat, minus Ezra, who was still sleeping, of course. The conversations stopped as he neared the table and took his seat and the men busied themselves with either eating or drinking coffee or fiddling with their napkins all except Buck that is, who sat back in his chair, pushed up his hat and took a good long look at the tracker.

Damn, thought Vin. Something is up.

"Ya know Vin, I’ve been thinkin’," Buck started out, "maybe this has ta do with that injury Chris got. What do you think?"

Vin tipped his head to look at the ladies man and then gave it a shake. "Don’t rightly know, Buck. Know it was botherin’ him some, but he seemed to be ridin’ alright with it. Never spoke much of it painin’ him." And that was true. Larabee never complained.

"Seemed funny though how he never let Nathan look at it. Seems a little peculiar don’t it, even for Chris?"

When no answer came from the tracker, Buck pressed on.

"You see what happened? I mean, what did actually happen to his arm? You see that?"


Vin felt all eyes turn to him as he struggled to come up with an answer, anything to just not outright lie to these men.

Choosing his words carefully he said, "Was there when it happened and took care of it," all true. "Seemed pretty bruised and sore, but I did what I could," which was true, "and bandaged it up and that’s all there was to it," which wasn’t all true. "Chris never said much more about it ta me after that," which was true. "Knew it was painin’ him some," true again, "but thought he’d see Nathan if’n it got real bad," which wasn’t true, he knew there was no way in hell Larabee was going to see Nathan.

"So it happened when you were after the outlaws?" this coming from Nathan.

Great! Think Tanner, think! "We was at the campfire when it happened. Happened quick like. But I killed the varmint that done it." There, that was all truths. Just hope it was enough. Just hope they don’t ask if it was a two-legged or four-legged varmint.

Vin glanced at the men to see how they’d digest the information he’d given them. Slapping the top of the table, Buck seemed satisfied with the answers…for now. They all did. Which was a huge relief for him. He didn’t know how long he could go on like this--didn’t know how long he could put off Buck, and Buck, knowing Chris the way he did, would let the gunman be for awhile yet, but sooner or later, Vin was going to have to give out more information. And he wasn’t looking forward to that at all.

+ + + + + + +

Two weeks later, the town was under siege again from a dozen bandits, hoping to rob the bank. Coming into town in pairs and each pair a few days apart, the boys were on alert but taken surprise by the attack when it came. Even though the peacekeepers won the battle, Vin and JD had gotten creased by bullets. Although not bad injuries for either one of them, it put Buck back on the prod wondering where Chris was and why he wasn’t there where he was needed. All the men were getting to the point to where they wanted answers.

Five weeks had now passed since the ’incident’ and Vin felt himself getting anxious to go after his friend. The toll of keeping it all inside was beginning to wear on him and it was getting increasingly harder to hide what it was doing to him. Nathan had already talked to him a couple of times about how he looked, as though he hadn’t been sleeping well and it was true…he hadn’t. Josiah had tried a couple of times to coax him into talking about what he was feeling and even Ezra tried with his five dollars words to cross him up and possibly get him to spill something. He also knew the men discussed the situation when he wasn’t there, knew they were getting closer to figuring out something, and soon they were going to press him even harder. It was just bound to happen.

Since he and JD were not able to go on any extended rides because of their injuries, they had to stay back when Buck, Ezra and Josiah rode out one morning. The men hadn’t given any clues as to where they were headed, but just said they were going to do some scouting around to see what they could find out about Chris’s disappearance.

It came as no surprise to the tracker when four days later, the three peacekeepers came back into town and Buck was loaded for bear.

Pushing away from Josiah, the angry rogue stepped up to the long haired man who had risen from his chair outside the saloon, to greet the men.

"You son of a bitch!" the big man roared, as his fist connected with Vin’s jaw. With all of Wilmington’s weight behind the punch, it would have knocked Vin though the plate glass window had it not been for Nathan’s quick reflexes.

The healer’s hands scrabbled for a hold on the tracker’s jacket to stop him from tumbling too far backwards just as Josiah’s hands went around the rogue’s chest and arms pinning him effectively and dragging him away from Vin.

"You knew! You knew!" Buck shouted at the man, forceably trying to remove himself from Josiah’s strong arms.

Vin, with Nathan’s help, got up from where he’d fallen, wiping the back of his hand across his torn flesh.

"Let me look at that Vin, might need some stitches."

"Just give me a few minutes Nathan, then you can stitch up more on this ungrateful bastard."

"That’ll be enough!" Josiah thundered out, tossing Buck out into the street. "We meet in the jail in five minutes. All of us!" He pushed Buck toward the jail telling the man to "save it" and "this is not the place". Buck went, but not willingly, looking over his shoulder now and then to throw a glare in the tracker’s direction.

Ezra who had been calmly standing by holding onto the horses reins, now took the time to tie the animals to the hitching post and headed over to the jailhouse, but not before tossing a look of disgust the ex-bounty hunter’s way.

After tending to the deep cut on the tracker’s face Vin and Nathan headed over to the jail. Vin felt as though he was headed to his own hangin’…or worse. He knew this time would come, he just hoped he could remain true to his one good friend without losing the other five.

+ + + + + + +

It was like walking into the lion’s den. Buck was pacing, Ezra was leaning again a jail cell with his arms crossed and Josiah was sitting at the desk looking like God himself in the judgement seat. JD was the only one that seemed distracted…or embarrassed, one of the two.

The minute he got inside the door, Buck turned on him, telling him they’d retraced his and Chris’s steps, found the campfire, found a dead animal, put two and two together and went to the closest town, which was Silvermint, and talked to the doctor there who told them two men matching Larabee and Tanner’s description had come to see him. The doc had proceeded to tell the three peacekeepers what had happened and what he had treated the man called Larabee for.

Vin stood there for an hour, felt like eight, while the men grilled him, pleaded with him, threatened him - that coming from Buck - to tell them anything about Chris. Nathan laying it all out on the line, explaining what Larabee would have suffered on his own, which just about had Wilmington drawing on him. And he took it all. It hurt, hurt deeply, but he had made a promise to his best friend and damned if he wasn’t going to keep it. They didn’t know, couldn’t know, how hard this was for him. It was tearing him apart, this ‘not knowing’ if Chris was alive or if he had suffered all alone the symptoms Nathan described. That was what kept him awake at nights - wondering if Larabee was suffering, alone. Dying alone. Many nights, he’d wept, the tears coming no matter how hard he tried to keep them at bay. He tried being mad at Chris, but that just didn’t wash. It wasn’t Larabee’s fault this had happened, and besides, the man was possibly going through a lot more pain and anxiety than he could ever imagine. And if he was honest with himself, it’s what he would have done; what any of them would have done, with the exception of maybe JD. They’d have gone off somewhere by themselves or maybe to some place long forgotten, just like Chris had done. He understood their need to vent, to blame someone, for they were scared for Chris, just like he was.

After the men had left him, Buck telling him in no certain terms, "to stay the hell out of his sight", he knew there was one place he could go. One place where he wouldn’t be judged. One place where he would be listened to and understood. So saddling up Peso and riding out, he headed to Netties. If any of the men decided to follow, he’d let them. He didn’t have anything to hide. At least not now. But when he did take off to go after Larabee, they’d never be able to track him. He’d see to that.

+ + + + + + +

It finally was time to leave, the second full moon creeping higher and higher into the night sky. He found himself shaking as he tied the extra supplies on his horse. He didn’t know if the feeling came from the anticipation of finally being able to go after Chris or if he was just plain scared shitless for what he might find. He’d spent the last week out at Netties, off and on, only straying into town late at night or early in the mornings when the boys were sleeping. It’s when he did his patrols, checking in with Mary and Billy to be sure they were alright.

He had told Nettie right off where Chris was and how to get there. Knew that someone else should know just in case anything happened to him. Larabee wanted to be buried with his family and he’d promised him that he’d take care of it. So if something happened to him, Buck and the others could still keep that promise to the gunslinger.

Saying goodbye to Nettie, he’d set off, watching his back trail to be sure no one was following him. Nettie had told him that she’d "take care of everything," whatever the hell that meant. He knew she was hotter than a fired pistol when she’d seen his face and found out what had happened, but he was quick to tell her that the boys were just worried about Chris and that if the shoe were on the other foot, he’d be just as angry. Only difference being, he could track the man down himself.

It had taken him almost a week to get to the place where Larabee had told him he’d be at. Chris did mark his trail and seeing the markers had given him reason to grin. Who else but Larabee would leave little black strips of clothing here and there? And every damn little strip of material he found meant that his friend was still alive, which lighten his heart every time he saw one. And those little markers had finally led him here…to this place…a final resting spot.

+ + + + + + +

Sucking in a deep breath, he wiped at his eyes and stood, glancing at the freshly dug grave one last time before mounting his horse. Riding slowly up to the front of the house, he dismounted and climbed, with a heavy heart, up the two steps to the front door. Knocking on the door he cursed himself for the feelings of tears pricking at the back of his eyes again and for the tightening of his throat. The door opened, he took off his hat and looked into the hazel eyes of a woman.

For a moment he couldn’t speak, he felt as though his tongue had swollen and taken up his whole mouth. He twisted his hat in his shaking hands and shifted on his feet.

"You must be Vin Tanner," the woman said, startling the hell out of him. "I’d know you anywhere," she said, as her eyes smiled and sparkled at him.

"Yes, ma’am," he finally choked out. "I’m a friend of…"

His sentence was interrupted by the sound of young voices coming from around the side of the house to his left. He turned to look as he saw one young boy emerge and then another and then…


Larabee turned to his left when he saw something out of the corner of his eye and couldn’t believe who he saw standing there.


Slowly two big grins met and the men greeted each other on the landing. A quick fierce hug, a forearm grasp and a couple of slaps on the back and all seemed right in Vin’s world again. Brushing away the few tears that managed to escape, Chris took him away from prying little eyes as they led Peso to the corral to get him unsaddled.

"You just get here?" Chris asked, moving in to undo the leather straps seeing that his friend’s hands were shaking.

"Been here a little bit," came the answer. Damn, but he was shaking and his voice was coming out in a whisper. Didn’t know how Chris could even hear him, but the man acted as though nothing was out of the ordinary. Typical Larabee. Always trying to put him at ease.

"Saw a boy ride off on your horse earlier and ran across the grave yard over yonder," he said, cocking his head in that direction. "Saw a freshly dug grave, thought…thought…hell, you know what I thought," he said, taking a deep breath and looking at Chris with anguished blue eyes.

Chris nodded to him, seeing the pain in his best friend’s eyes. "Might still happen…I…"

"Hell no Chris, it’s been longer than two full moons, you are free and clear."

"You sure?" Like he would ever question Vin! But the dumb words just tumbled out of his mouth.

With a big lopsided grin Vin said, "I’m sure, cowboy. It’s all over." He watched the emotions flick over the gunslingers face, finally settling on that killer smile.

Meeting the tracker’s eyes he said softly, "Reckon it’s time ta head home then."

"Reckon it is," came the rely, said just as softly.

"Come on in, got someone I want you ta meet," Larabee said, putting his hand on Vin’s shoulder and the two friends headed toward the house.

+ + + + + + +

Two weeks later found both men back in Four Corners sitting at their usual table. Although a telegram had been sent telling the other peacekeepers they were headed back, they had taken their time, Vin showing off some of the prettier places he knew along the way, and Chris enjoying every bit of it. He was just happy to still be around to enjoy it and had told Vin as much, many times. Both were welcomed back with open arms, with the exception of Buck who had mixed feelings; glad Chris was alive, but still upset over not being told about it, and angry at Vin for not saying anything.

Chris had told him in no uncertain terms to "deal with it." It had been his decision and he’d made it and he was just as angry at Wilmington for taking it out on Vin. But the men would make it right between themselves. Buck had the biggest heart he'd ever known a man to have, just knew it would take some time for the man to forgive. But it would come. Chris would bet on it, so would Ezra and it wouldn’t surprise him in the least if the gambler didn’t already have a few entries in his little bet book.

They just all needed a little bit of time to settle down, but the important thing was, as it always was, that they were seven again. And they would come together when needed, there was no doubt in anyone’s mind about that.



"Reckon I need a vacation."

A side glance and a raised eyebrow was sent his way. "A vacation?"


"You wanna take a vaction Vin, it’s fine by me. Where you thinkin’ on headin’ to?" He’d ask, but he was pretty sure he knew the answer. The tracker had been impressed with this old friend Skye. She was one hell of a woman, and he’d gotten the impression his friend would have liked to have stayed longer at the relay station, but they’d sent the telegram and so had to head back. So yeah, he had a pretty good idea where Vin would head to.

Vin just gave him a look and a grin.

"Figured as much. You…"

Conversation was cut short as JD burst through the saloon doors coming up to the two men.

"Chris, Vin, we got trouble!" Man, did it ever feel good to say those words. JD thought.

"Aw hell, so much fer a vacation," Vin muttered and Chris grinned as the chairs scraped back across the floor, the two men following in the wake of the youngest.

Yep, wouldn’t take long, and things would be back to normal, whatever the hell normal was, Chris thought, as he went outside to face another ‘situation’.