Disclaimer: We all know they're owned by folks who've left them behind in the dust. But we can certainly do our best to keep the dream alive!
Notes: Just a little piece to celebrate the birthdate of one Michael Biehn, who turns 51 this year!
Warnings: A bit of cursing of course. Nothing much otherwise.
The two riders crossed the prairie floor at a full out run; their horses leaving a trail of lathered sweat on the air as they passed. Behind them, a large group of riders flew across the ground in their wake, guns blazing. Suddenly, one of the horses stumbled and blood flecked the lather on one side of its rump. Its rider, busy dodging bullets and caught unawares, fell from the broad back and bounced along the sun baked earth for several yards behind the injured and spooked animal. Finally, his foot, trapped in the stirrup, came loose, leaving him to tumble a few more feet before coming to a rest, his posture twisted and awkward.
The other rider wheeled his horse around and, shooting as he went, came to the other man's rescue. Leaping from his saddle, he bent down and jerked the other man up; ignoring the scream of pain as he unceremoniously shoved his friend belly down across his horse. Pulling himself up behind the saddle, he bent low as he spurred the animal to a run once more.
He drove his horse another quarter mile, their attackers gaining on them now that they were on one horse. Finding cover in a rather scraggly stand of Juniper, he dropped from the saddle again, reached for his rifle and then slapping the exhausted animal's rump to send it on into the trees.
Taking cover behind one of the outer trunks, the tall man leaned against the bark as he watched the riders approach. Cursing as he counted more than a dozen men still riding after them, he loaded his Colt and ratcheted a shell into the chamber of his rifle. "Damn it all, anyway. I ought ta be just climbin' outta bed, not preparin' to take a bullet over some piece of shit like Hiram Barkley. Man deserved a rope... killin' that woman and her little ones. Should have been the end of it, but no. Now we've gotta deal with the bastard's clan." Turning back to his semi-conscious companion, he continued. "And you... you've got to get yourself tossed out of the saddle!"
The frustrated man turned back, firing sparingly, so as not to waste shells. Behind him, the other man moaned softly as he came fully back to reality. Carefully he slid off the horse's back, being careful to keep his weight off his injured leg. He wasn't certain that it hadn't already been jerked off, although the pain told him that it was still there.
Balancing himself against the big, lathered, animal, he hobbled toward his friend. Managing to get to the tree next to the other man, he leaned against it as he, too, checked his weapons. With both of them fully loaded, he began to fire at their attackers as well.
Long minutes passed, the only sound that of firing weapons and squealing horses. Three of the big beasts went down, along with their riders. Two used the dead or dying animals as cover, while the third lay still beneath his mount.
For nearly half an hour they fired, reloaded, and fired some more. The two men hidden in the trees shot even more sparingly, knowing that they had to make each shot count. Then, they were only facing four men. Then it was three.
The riders gathered just out of range, drawing their horses close together. For long moments they conferred, arms waving and gesturing as they seemed to argue their next move.
Finally, their decision made, the three men turned their horses and rode away.
The bigger of the two men turned to his smaller companion with a smile. "Reckon we got a reprieve."
In response, the injured man dropped into a boneless heap on the ground.
Pain-filled eyes opened slowly, searching the afternoon sky for some indication of where he was.
Chris Larabee managed to locate the speaker. "Buck?"
"In the flesh." Carefully helping the injured man to raise up, he fed him a few swallows of water.
Slumping to the ground, then yelping as his back made contact with the hard soil, he gritted out through clenched jaws. "Damn! That hu-hurts!"
Easing Chris onto his side, Buck saw the tears in the man's black coat and the bloodied flesh beneath. "You did a damn good job 'a rippin' yourself up, ol' son."
"Couldn't be... OW!... ha... happier," Larabee replied through clenched jaws.
"Okay, let's get you sitting up." As he spoke, the bigger of the two men helped the smaller ease up, so he could work at peeling off the torn and ruined coat. Ignoring the hitching breaths, barely stifled moans and other tortured sounds, Buck carefully eased off first the short, black coat, then the shirt and undershirt beneath it. Looking at the torn flesh, he sighed. "Well, good thing you had to go through so many layers, Pard." As it was the wounds were little more than deep scratches; gashes across the top of his shoulder blades where he'd been balanced most against the hard earth.
"We're gonna have to clean these up, before they get infected. And it sure won't feel good."
"Tell me some-something I d-didn't know."
"Well, how 'bout I tell you about the time I bedded all three of the Warton girls the same night?"
"Lord... only... only you." Larabee hissed as Buck began to clean the wounds. They weren't life threatening, but they sure as hell hurt. Then he cursed more loudly as his friend touched a spot on his head. "Damn it!"
"Sorry. Seems like you took a pretty good knock on the head when you fell. Imagine it's part of the reason you're a bit groggy."
"Well, st-stop poking at it!"
"I've got to clean it up, too, ya hard-headed son-of-a - Shit!" He cursed as the blond slumped against him, once more unconscious. "Damn it, son, what am I gonna do with you?"
Settling Chris on the ground once more, propped up on his side; Wilmington continued working on the injured man.
Larabee found himself waking once more. He hurt from head to toe, but the worst of it focused on his upper back, the back of his head, and his right leg. He attempted to move, only to have the pain slam even harder through his body.
"Might wanna stay still, stud."
"Yeah... thanks," Chris grumbled as he did what Buck suggested. "So... what's the damage?"
"You know about your back already. And your head." He watched his friend frown as he tried to focus. Gently he said, "You've got some pretty nasty cuts on your upper back, shoulders, a knot on the back of your head..."
"Your ankle's broke. Pretty bad, I think."
"Yeah, that's what I thought."
"Can you splint it?"
Managing to shift his gaze, Chris saw that Buck had removed his boot and splinted his ankle with thick sticks and their bandanas. "You sure that's gonna hold?"
"Hey, you can count on me, right?"
Managing a smile as he let his head drop back to a makeshift pillow of Buck's saddle, he replied, "Always could... always will."
His mustache twitching with his broadening grin, Wilmington said, "Damn straight, stud."
"So... what's the plan?"
Sitting back on his knees, the bigger man said, "Well, to be honest, I'm not real certain. We're still a day from town, maybe a little less. We've got one horse, so if the boys don't meet us it's probably more like two or even three."
"Then you go - "
"Buck, listen. You go, get back to town and get the others. Come back for me."
"Three of them rode off; we don't know what they might be doing now. Maybe regrouping, getting replacements, who knows."
"Or, they could be holed up somewhere, licking their wounds. It's a chance I'm willing to take."
"Well, not me ol' son. I'm not leaving you here, alone."
"Buck - "
Gently slapping the other man on the shoulder, the brunet said, "Now, I'm gonna go find us somethin' to eat and set up camp for the night. Get some rest, Larabee."
"Buck." But the other man was gone. Chris sighed and shook his head. The man was harder headed than Tanner's horse.
Chris woke once more; deciding that he was fed up with all of this waking and falling asleep that he wasn't intending on. With a moan he reluctantly opened his eyes, groaning now as the sun, even filtered by the trees as it was, seemed to cut through him like a hot knife through butter.
"Damn," he hissed, whispering to keep the pain in his head at bay. It didn't work.
"Am I alive?"
Buck chuckled, asking only, "Think you could take some water?"
"Long as there's some whiskey to cut the taste."
Another chuckle. "I'll see what I can do."
"Obliged." A minute later he felt himself lifted up and tried to assist in moving his sluggish body. The water was warm at best, but did manage to ease the terrible thirst that was just waking in him. Then something new was pressed against his lips and they parted to find a much stronger taste running over his tongue. He drank as long as the liquor was offered, praying for it to kill the monstrous headache that was doing it's best to pry his skull apart.
Buck eased the other man back down onto his makeshift bed, sitting beside him and watching to make certain that the liquid stayed put. Satisfied after a few minutes that it was, he asked, "what about some stew?"
Not risking a move, the blond replied, "Don't wanna push it."
"Can't say as I blame you. Maybe some of the broth later."
"Maybe." Larabee responded non-committally. "How long... how long we been here?"
"Just a few hours."
"Happens when -"
"You back with me?"
"Shit." Chris opened his eyes, noting that it was dark now; the only light coming from a nearby campfire. "Again?"
"Yep. Times getting' shorter, though. Reckon that's a good thing." Moving into view, Wilmington asked, "Feel up to somethin' to eat?"
"Thought you might." Prepared for the request, the bigger man helped him to raise up enough to once more sip first water, and then whiskey. This time he didn't wait as long before offering food. He smiled when Chris agreed to try some.
It was sometime deep in the night when the two men found themselves with company. Buck was woken from a light doze when something heavy fell nearby, a just audible grunt followed by whispered oaths informing him that it was a man. As quietly as possible, he slipped his Colt free from his holster.
"Two, on the right," came a whisper from beside him. He could just make out hooded, hazel-green eyes and knew that Chris was back with him. He nodded, trusting his friend to see him, then pointed to the left and held up two fingers. He barely stifled a chuckle when the prone man shook his head and held up three fingers. In return he once more held up two and then five fingers, silently betting the gunslinger five dollars that he was right. Getting a confirming nod, he moved off, deeper into the shadows, to await the attack. He hated leaving Larabee behind as bait, but also knew that, even half dead, Chris could handle himself just fine.
The attack didn't wait long, as five shadows advanced on their camp, two from the right and three from the left. Buck cursed to himself, imagining the shit-eating grin that Larabee would be wearing as he took a hard-earned five dollars from him.
The attack itself was almost anti-climactic; Buck took down three to Larabee's two. By the time he checked the bodies, disposed of their guns and drug the dead men away from their camp, Chris had pulled himself up to a sitting position. He was as pale as, and trembled like, Ezra paying off a lost bet. But he was upright, his Colt held against his chest. Whatever else, he knew the blond would watch his back.
"Like a whiskey bottle on payday. Soon as it's light enough, I'll go see if I can find their horses."
Chris nodded and, on quivering arms, he lowered himself back to the ground. Buck watched him, knowing that the other man wouldn't ask for or welcome help. If he could do it alone, he'd do it alone.
But he could always count on Buck to be there when he needed him.
Morning was little more than a promise of daylight when Wilmington woke Larabee before he crept out of the camp to search for their attackers mounts. He was fairly certain that they were safe for now, but there was no sense in taking risks. Add to that Chris' need for medical attention, they needed to get back to town as soon as they could.
The injured man was sitting on the ground, just finishing rolling up the bedroll he'd spent the night in, when the bigger man returned with a paint pony in tow. "This one looked in the best shape; I turned the rest of 'em free. You're lookin' better this mornin'."
"Yeah, well, that's because you can't hear the drum corps playing in my head."
"Well, we'll get you back to town so Nathan can fuss over you... probably half-drown you in that boiled skunk of his."
"Something to look forward to," the blond grumbled.
A few minutes later, Chris was sitting, slightly hunched over, on the back of Buck's horse. They had carefully hooked his broken leg around the pommel, cushioning it with the bedroll. Wilmington was riding the unknown horse; although it seemed as docile as General, they couldn't take the chance that the animal would toss the blond off its back.
They rode slowly across the prairie now, Buck on the alert for any sign of danger. Even after several hours in the saddle, there was no sign that they were in danger. He was surprised, then, to hear a quiet plea from beside him.
"Think we could... stop a mo... moment?"
Taking in the ashen features and pain-filled grimace on his companion's face, Buck cursed. "Ah, hell, stud, why didn't you say somethin'?"
Rolling his eyes and grumbling about cocky gunfighters, the bigger man searched quickly for cover. Finding very little, he settled on a tumble of boulders at the bottom of the nearby hills. Coaxing both horses to a canter, he led them across the earth, hoping the stone would be enough to keep them hidden.
Once there, he carefully maneuvered the blond off his horse and to the ground. There, Chris groaned, collapsing against him as he fought vertigo and pain to stay conscious.
"Take it easy, ol' son, come on, let's get you layin' down, okay?"
Chris nodded, hesitant to try his voice, afraid all that would come out would be a scream. Keeping his weight off his injured limb, he hobbled beside the other man.
Settling Chris on the ground, Buck hurried back to the horses, returning with a canteen. Squatting beside the other man, he offered it over, watching to make certain he was able to manage a drink alone. The hands that took the container trembled, but held it without much trouble.
They sat in the meager shade during the hottest part of the afternoon, the two old friends arguing from time to time about getting back on the trail. Buck found it more and more irritating, trying to keep Chris out of the saddle. One look at the pale features, though, told him that the other man wasn't up to more time in the saddle this day.
"So, here ya are, lolly-gaggin' about, while we're bustin' a hump lookin fer ya."
Both men startled, pulled their side arms and then glared as they recognized speaker.
"Easy, boys, I ain't lookin' fer more holes in m' coat." Vin requested as he lightly jumped from the boulder he'd been perched on.
"Cocky ass tracker," Chris grumbled as he lowered his gun, his glare still trained on Vin Tanner.
"Hell, Larabee, holster yer glare, too. Reckon that's more deadly than a bullet."
"I concur," Ezra's voice preceded him as he appeared around the edge of their stone hiding place.
"I'm not sure that we even needed to come looking for our lost lambs. Seems to me they're sitting pretty." Josiah appeared around the stone as well.
Nathan appeared next, his medical satchel over his shoulder. Ignoring the banter, he went straight to Chris, kneeling down beside him. Shaking his head, he muttered, "You'd find trouble in a monastery."
"Good to see you, too," Larabee grumbled back.
"He took a bad crack to the head, got some nasty cuts and scratches on the upper back, and his ankle's busted... got drug by his horse a few yards."
"We figgered somethin' happened, when yer horse came back ta town, lathered up with a graze across his rump." Vin observed.
"Wondered what brought you boys out here. He all right?" Larabee asked, slapping at Nathan's hand when the healer began to prod at his head.
"Will be. JD and Yosemite, they've been tendin' to 'im."
Nodding, Chris said, "Good."
Ignoring the conversation around him, Nathan pinned Buck with a look. "Has he been lucid? He been makin' sense?"
"Pretty much... about the same as usual," Buck replied with a smirk that earned him a glare from the injured man.
"All right. You boys give me some room so I can check him over and see what I can do for him 'til we get back to town."
It was morning before they were back in the saddle, Chris flanked by Buck and Nathan. Ezra had taken the lead, while Vin brought up the rear. The former slave had given the gunman enough Laudanum to mask some of the pain, making him sleepy but not sending him unconscious. He drifted from time to time, responding to questions when asked, but little else.
The sun was just disappearing over the horizon when they reached town.
"Afternoon ol' son!"
Chris grimaced at the cheerful voice, peeling one eye open to stare up at his oldest friend. "Afternoon?"
Hearing the question in the other man's voice, Buck said, "Yep, it is. We've been back about sixteen hours, I reckon."
"So, Nathan said that, if you feel like it, you can come down to eat with the rest of us. Brought you these." He held up a pair of crutches.
With a groan, Larabee said, "Great." He eased himself up, slowly shifting until he could lower his splinted leg over the edge. He was wearing his jeans, the leg carefully split to the knee to accommodate the wood and cloth that was protecting the broken bone beneath.
Buck tossed him a shirt that he carefully slid on, leaving it hanging loose and buttoning it only half way up his bare chest. Not exactly proper, but his shoulders hurt too much to burden them with more. At that moment, though, he couldn't care less what the more proper townsfolk thought.
Wilmington helped the injured man up, catching him as he swayed. Holding onto Chris until he conquered the vertigo, he then helped him transfer his weight to the crutches. Satisfied that the other man was steady on his feet, he said, "Okay, then, let's go get something to eat."
They started down the hallway, the blond clump-stepping behind the brunet. Reaching the stairs, Chris once more swayed just looking down the staircase.
Taking hold of the smaller man, Buck guided him down two steps, and then took the crutches. Transferring one hand to the staircase and sliding the other arm over his shoulder, he said gently, "Just hold onto me, stud, I'll get you down safe."
Managing a weak smile, Chris said, "can always count on you, right?"
With a short laugh, Buck replied, "You got that right, pard. You got that right."
They navigated the boarding house stairs that he had no memory of going up the night before. At the bottom they once more shifted his balance to the crutches and he hobbled along beside Buck, who was shortening his steps so the injured man could keep up.
A few minutes later Wilmington and a slightly out of breath Larabee entered the saloon. Five men sat at one of the larger tables, positioned at the best vantage point in the place. Chris stopped, managing a reassuring smile when Buck looked at him questioningly. Taking a deep breath, he let it out slowly. Six friends, each meaning something different to him. The friend beside him, though, had earned his friendship with long years and the most difficult journeys. And one thing was for certain.
He could always count on Buck.
"Say, Buck?" Chris said just loudly enough for the others to hear him.
"Seems to me I remember something about you owing me five dollars."
August 5, 2007
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