Disclaimer: Don't own them, don't make a profit off them.
Warnings: Nothing much, it's just a little H/C ficlet in which Vin gets the hurt and Chris gives the comfort.
Webmaster Note: This story was previously hosted at another website and was moved to blackraptor in June 2007.
Larabee looked to his left, toward the shadowy figure of his friend. Even in the pale light of sunset he could see the pain etched on the ashen features. He knew Tanner had to be in a lot of pain for him to call out to him. He just wished he could do something for him. They had used up his supply of whiskey, along with the other supplies he'd carried along in his saddlebags.
Scanning the horizon, the gunfighter realized that they were only about fifteen minutes from his little shack, while they had about an hour and a half before they reached town. Taking another look at his friend, he made a decision. "We'll go to my place... let you rest up, okay?"
Vin nodded, groaning softly as the pain threatened to overwhelm him. He sat hunched over in the saddle, his right arm held tight to his side while his left hand was clinched, white-knuckled, around the saddlehorn. He relied on Peso to stay with Chris and the gunman's black gelding. So far the usually fractious animal had done just that, his demeanor as calm and gentle as Pony's.
They had been riding for over a day. The slender tracker had been shot a day before that, when they'd been set upon by a pair of thieves. Their attackers lay dead on the trail now, but they hadn't died before one of them putting a bullet in Vin's side.
Larabee took a deep breath, closing his eyes against the memory of having to dig the bullet out of his friend. They were too far from town and Nathan Jackson, the only healer in the vicinity. Knowing that there was no way Vin could travel that far with the bullet in his side, Chris had fed the semi-conscious man as much whiskey as he could take before using what crude supplies he had with him to remove the little piece of metal.
The sound of Tanner's weakening cries still echoed through his memory.
After the young sharpshooter had time to rest, the gunman helped him into the saddle, and they started off for home. They moved slowly, stopping every couple of hours to allow him to rest. Vin struggled to hide how badly he felt, but Larabee could see the growing weakness in the ashen face and the tired slump of the slender body. He grew more and more worried that he would end the journey only to deliver the other man's body to the undertaker.
They reached the little one room shack that the blond had built several months ago, skirting the pile of lumber he had been collecting to build a second room as they rode toward the corral. Chris climbed down from the saddle and hurried around to help Vin down. The former bounty hunter all but fell into his arms with a breathless moan. Larabee held the younger man carefully, mindful of the thick bandage around his middle, and half carried him into the little house. Inside he guided Tanner to the bed and settled him on the edge of the mattress. "Let's get you as comfortable as we can, okay?"
Vin smiled wanly. "Ain't fer... certain... th-there is such a... thing."
Squeezing the buckskin covered arm compassionately, the blond went to work. Soon he had the younger man stripped down to his drawers, and settled on the narrow mattress. Pulling the blankets up to Vin's waist, he went to light the lantern. In its flickering light he gathered up what he could make use of to help his friend. It was meager, but would have to do for now.
Pulling the table closer to the bed, he set everything out. Taking a bucket outside, he drew water from the pump and returned to his friend. Tanner lay unmoving on the bed, his breathing shallow. Chris settled on one of his ladderback chairs and took up a bottle of whiskey. With a gentle hand he reached out and patted a square jaw. "Vin, come on now and wake up. I've got something for you to drink."
"Ain't thirsty," came the soft reply.
"Come on. It's whiskey; it'll help cut the pain."
Glassy blue eyes opened a crack and the tip of his tongue came out to run along dried lips. "Whis... whiskey?"
"Yeah. It'll help with the pain. I'm gonna have to change the dressing and see if I can't clean up the wound a little. It's gonna hurt."
Tanner struggled to lift his head from the pillow, than felt the older man's hand slide beneath to ease him up. He leaned heavily in the embrace and felt the touch of the bottle's mouth against his lips. He drank the liquor, the sharp taste burning his throat. Biting back a cough, he took as much of it as he could manage, signaling that he was finished by turning his head slightly.
Larabee sat the half empty bottle aside and lowered the limp body back to the bed. Watching as his friend drifted off into an alcohol induced haze, he carefully began removing the thick bandage around the well-honed body. Vin moaned from time to time, but didn't come fully conscious.
Exposing the wound, he pulled the lantern closer, looking for signs of infection. It was blessedly clean and was barely bleeding at all. He knew that was the biggest concern, the amount of blood Vin had lost.
He bathed the injury site with water warmed on the stove. As the abused flesh dried, he warmed one of Nathan's salves as well. With tenderness most people would doubt he could show, Chris coated the wound with the fragrant medicine. That done, he wrapped a new bandage around the slender body, and then pulled the wool blanket up over his friend.
Letting Vin sleep, he went out to tend the horses, turning them out into the corral and checking the supply of food and water. Buck had promised to come out every couple of days to check up on his stock while he was gone and, from the look of it, the big man would more than likely be coming out sometime the next day. That gave him hope that he wouldn't have to put Tanner back in the saddle to get him to town. Wilmington could go for help, returning with the healer.
Replenishing the food and water for the half dozen horses in his corral now, the blond pumped fresh water into the bucket and returned to the shack. He was happy to see Vin was still resting, although he also worried about the fact he didn't respond to the sound of someone coming near. The wanted man never slept deep enough not to register the presence of someone else. He just hoped that it meant Tanner knew he was safe with his friend, and not that he had grown too weak to respond.
The slender body was dry and warm to the touch, and Chris knew he had to keep the injured man from succumbing to dehydration. He filled a mug with water and lifted the man's head and shoulders, settling Vin in the crook of his arm. "Come on pard, I need you to drink some water."
The only answer was a breathless moan, but the former bounty hunter's lips parted, giving the gunman an indication he had heard. Slowly, he dribbled the cool liquid into the open mouth, stopping every so often to make certain Tanner's body was accepting the water. He took his time, and almost half an hour passed before he emptied the mug. Setting it aside, he unconsciously stroked back an errant lock of chestnut hair as he watched the younger man settle back into a deep sleep.
The night passed slowly, the gunslinger impatient for signs of dawn. He was thankful, at least, that Tanner was resting comfortably. His younger friend would rouse only partially when Chris fed him water or whiskey, taking in as much as he could before dropping back to sleep.
The injured man drifted most of the time, with no awareness of his surroundings. At times, though, he moved close enough to the pain to register his friend's presence. He could feel Larabee's strength and let it buoy him up as his own escaped him.
Just after dawn, Chris heard the sound of a horse, and stepped hopefully to the door. He allowed a relieved smile to spread across his tired face at the sight of Buck Wilmington approaching. Stepping out onto the porch, he raised a hand in greeting, calling out, "Buck!"
Reining in his big gray, General, Larabee's old friend said cheerfully, "hey stud! Wish I'd a known y'all were back. I left me a nice warm bed ... "
"Vin's hurt," the blond said, interrupting the other man. "I need you to ride back and get Nathan as quick as you can."
"What happened?" The big ladies man asked in a concerned tone.
"Gunshot," Chris replied. He quickly filled the other man in on what had happened. Finishing he said, "He's sleeping, but I'm worried about the blood loss. I need Nathan to come take a look as quick as possible."
Nodding, Buck said, "I'll get him here."
With a relieved slump, Larabee settled against the upright as he watched his oldest friend speed away at a dead run. As the dust settled, he returned to the little cabin, smiling as he found a pair of blue eyes staring at him. They were dulled with pain, but clear. "Morning."
"Mornin'," came the answer in a raspy whisper.
"Buck's on his way to get Nathan."
Nodding, Tanner said, "heard 'im."
"I'll fix you some broth."
Vin made a face that said quite clearly he wasn't excited about the idea, but said nothing. He lay limply against the pillow, listening as Chris moved around the room, fixing something to eat. He allowed his eyes to close, finding it impossible to hold the lids open for long. The sound of a chair scraping across the rough wood floor told him the blond was settling in beside him.
Larabee lifted the other man, settling the limp body against him as he stacked some pillows behind him. Carefully he lowered Tanner back to the bed, his upper body elevated on the pillows. The younger man's face was even paler, if that was possible. His eyes and mouth were clinched tight against the pain, breathing coming in harsh pants.
Waiting until the injured man relaxed, Chris draped a cloth over the narrow chest and took up a bowl and spoon. Slowly he began feeding Tanner the broth, pausing between bites to make certain he was all right.
"Stuff's worse 'n... Nathan's... boil't skunk," Vin managed to complain between bites.
Smiling, Larabee said, "Well I never said I was a good cook."
"Good thing... wouldn't... wouldn't wan'cha... lyin'," the sharpshooter quipped.
"Awful mouthy for a man who can't even sit up on his own," the blond growled. But there was no animosity in his tone, and his hazel eyes glittered.
"Figger ya ain't gonna... shoot me... seein as ya jist got... a bullet outta.... my hide."
"You'd better hope you're right," Larabee said, shoving another spoonful of broth into the younger man's mouth.
Nathan arrived a few hours later, accompanied by Buck. Both horses were loaded down with supplies, making it clear that Jackson didn't want Vin moved any time soon. He strode into the shack with two burlap sacks, leaving Buck to see to the rest of the stuff. Dropping the bundles on the table, he moved quickly to Tanner's side.
Breathing a sigh of relief that he was no longer the injured man's sole caretaker, Chris moved back, gratefully allowing the healer to take over.
Vin carefully pushed himself up, slipping his legs over the side of the narrow bed. He gripped the edge of the mattress, taking a few deep breaths as he struggled to calm his racing heart before he took the next step. With a deep breath, he climbed to his feet, standing there for a minute until the room stopped spinning around him. When that happened, he grabbed up a blanket and wrapped it around him before walking across the little shack with short, uneven steps.
Reaching the door, Tanner opened it up and shuffled out onto the little porch. He blinked rapidly in the midday sun, finally able to focus on the land around him. Just as he located the man he sought, the blond turned and saw him as well. He watched as Larabee hurried from the corral, a frown on his face. Vin knew he was about to be on the receiving end of a tongue lashing.
"What are you doing up?"
"Tired a bein' in bed," the bounty hunter replied.
Reaching out, the bigger man took hold of his friend and led him a few steps to where a chair sat on the porch. He eased the now trembling body onto the wooden seat, settling him against the back rest. Tugging the blanket closer around the shivering frame, he said, "well if you don't be careful, you'll be in bed a lot longer."
Managing a wan smile, the young sharpshooter said, "I'm fine."
Larabee shook his head, and said in a scolding tone, "you are not fine. Nathan said you're supposed to stay in bed for at least two more days."
"He jist said... I had t' rest. Didn't say I had t' lay abed th' whole time."
"Lord, you are one of the most stubborn men I have ever had to deal with."
His smile widening, the younger man said, "ah hell, Chris... y' know that ain't true. Buck, Ezra, Nathan... they're all more stubborn than me."
With a snort, the gunslinger said, "you're delirious."
"Mebbe... but mebbe not." Then the kidding tone disappeared, and the younger man said softly, "I know one thing fer certain, though."
"What's that?" The blond asked when Tanner hesitated.
"I'm grateful. Y' saved m' life out there... kept me goin' once y' got me here."
Shaking his head, Larabee said, "I only did what I had to do, pard. It's what friends do."
"I reckon," Vin answered. "But I know fer certain that it's cos a you I'm still here an'... well, purty much in one piece. An' I'm grateful."
Looking into the wide blue eyes, Chris saw the feelings just below the surface. He felt them touch his soul. All he said, however, was "you're welcome."