Disclaimer: The Magnificent Seven dont belong to me, but I do enjoy playing with them. Lets face it, theyd just disappear into the past if we werent doin what we do.
Warnings: Nothing much. Its straight forward H/C, mixed with angst. Its a blend Im partial to.
Notes: Old West, focus in Chris. Its just me and spell-check here, folks, so if you need perfection, well what the heck are you reading my stuff for, anyway? I started this a year or so ago and just recently discovered it nearly finished but sent to languish in my WIP pile and now offered for a small offering for the 2010 Creativity Project.
Dedication: This is for my uber Chris pards: Jenny, Winnie, Pamela and Marti. Hope yall enjoy it ladies J
Everyone dies alone. He had understood that only too well, especially since the day he had found his family - his world - in the brittle remains of what had once been a happy home. It had been his mantra ever since; he woke with it each morning and fell to sleep with it each night. When he slept, at least. Twenty-four hours a day it hung over his shoulder, taunting him. He had even imagined it would happen like this. Standing alone in the middle of the street of some piss ant town, staring across that street at a too-young punk, dreaming of making a name for himself. Around them, every man, woman and child stood in the relative safety of the boardwalks, or watched from the windows and balconies of the buildings.
Jamie! Dont do this! was called by two or three of the young women.
Kill im, Jamie! was called by a dozen or more of the men who were enjoying the show.
Dont do it, kid, Chris Larabee said softly, even as he moved his coat back, and loosened the thong that secured the trigger of his Colt.
Why? You scared? Afraid to face me? Jamie was too skinny; his clothes frayed and tattered, hand-me-downs. His face was all angles and planes, whiskers sprouting in patches. He was too young to even sport a full beard.
No. His voice remained deadly quiet. But you should be afraid of me. If you walk away youll live, son. If you dont youre gonna die.
Jamie laughed, the sound tinged with fear. He glanced to either side, both terrified and bolstered by the fact that the entire town was watching him. Watching him call out Chris Larabee. The Man in Black. If no, damn it! When he killed the gunman his future would be set. He would command respect, he would strike fear, he would be free of the life where he lived and died a dirt farmer. Laughing again, he pulled his gun.
Somewhere a clap of thunder roared. Looking into the sky, which was before him now, rather than above him, there wasnt a cloud anywhere. Why was there thunder?
Then there was a dark shape in the sky. He frowned; it was an odd looking cloud. And the cloud spoke.
I didnt want to do this, kid. Im sorry.
It was the last thing Jamie heard. The shadowy figure of the gunman was the last thing he saw.
Chris Larabee heaved a sigh, looking up into the clear summer sky. Once upon a time he had killed men without feeling anything. But that was before he became involved with six other men and one dusty, dying little town. Before his heart had begun to beat once more. And, now that it was beating, it filled with pain each time he killed someone who only wanted to make a name for themselves.
Holstering his gun once more, he turned without acknowledging the crowd that now called out and cursed him for what they had just been begging for. A show. Something to break up the monotony of their lives. Walking over to his horse, he mounted, gathered the reins, and turned the gelding toward the end of town. Back ramrod straight, as if to deflect the jibes and taunts he had heard far too often, he rode away.
But then the thunder came again. He felt the burn of lightening that pierced him in the back and exploded out the front. Responding with nothing more than a grunt, he spurred the startled animal to a run, leaving the town behind him as quickly as he could.
Behind the gunman, in the middle of the street, standing beside Jamies body, was a man who looked like a slightly older version of the dead man. His face twisted in a cold smile as he watched the black clad man jerk and slump forward in the saddle. Chris Larabee had killed his brother, but Jason had made certain the gunman wouldnt forget that fact. Shoving his rifle back into the boot, he lifted his brother and draped him over the saddle of his horse. Climbing up behind, without another word, Jason walked the horse toward the other end of town. He would take his brother home and bury him, content that the gunman would die alone, out on the trail.
He rode hard, trying to put as much ground between him and the town as he could. He used his kerchief to staunch the blood that seeped from the hole in his upper chest, but couldnt reach the second, smaller one, in his back. His left arm was numb, useless; he had managed to tuck it into his coat to immobilize it.
The world around him was a blur, he trusted Pony to keep to the best path; to keep going. He was bleeding badly and needed help if he was going to live. But, there was that part of him that didnt care. So what if he died? The world would lose what? A gunman. Someone who delivered more than his share of souls to the devil. A man who killed for a living.
A sound suspiciously like a giggle escaped the injured man at that final thought. A groan followed, long and low, as pain began to register. Chris recognized how weak he was becoming. He was losing too much blood. Without conscious decision, he slowed the big black to a walk. Looking around he found nothing but scrub and rocks, nothing that would afford him much cover. The sun was still high in the sky, ready to bake what little there was left out of him.
Why not just lie down, get comfortable, and wait?
But, something kept him from doing that. Something tugged at him, coaxing him to move on a little farther. He wasnt certain what it was, but it wouldnt let him do the sensible thing and succumb. Then, visions began to appear before him. Six men were riding toward him; as they came closer their names flitted across his feverish brain. Buck. Vin. Josiah. Nathan. Ezra. JD.
Six men rode closer; then they were riding beside him. He managed a smile as they fell in on either side of him, three and three. Good to see you boys. They turned toward him, smiling, and then turned their attention back to the trail.
On they rode at a mile eating pace. No one said anything, not even when his strength began to fail and he found himself all but lying across his horses strong neck. They moved in closer, though, seeming to buoy him up and urge him forward.
Perhaps there was a reason to live, after all.
It was dark, only the glow of nearby stars breaking through the black. He frowned as he saw that the glow was closer than it seemed that it should be. How did he get this close to the heavens? Perhaps he was dead, after all. Turning to the left and then the right, he saw that his friends still rode beside him but then, as the starlight grew brighter, they began to disappear.
Movement ceased; he belatedly realized that his horse had stopped. The animal whinnied; it sounded at once pleading and protesting. Pony had to be tired, they had been riding for quite some time. He supposed it was a long distance to get this close to the heavens. Someone giggled; weak and verging on hysteria. He looked around, but saw no one to own that sound.
Mr. Larabee? Chris?
The dying man searched for the speaker, finally seeing the livery man standing nearby. Simtee? He muttered, slurring and nearly unintelligible.
Yes, sir, Yosemite replied as he came closer, Are you all right?
Reckon Im dying Larabee announced, just before the darkness engulfed him, and he dropped to the ground with a dull thud.
Yosemite called to his brother, Tiny, as he lifted the gunman into his arms. As the other man appeared in the doorway, he instructed, Go fetch the others, Ill take him to the clinic. As Tiny hurried away, he moved to the stairway and carefully climbed to the clinic with his limp burden.
Nathan! Tiny called out as soon as he saw the healer at the table near the back of the saloon. As Jackson looked up, he said, Youre needed in the clinic. Reckon all of you should come.
As one, the six men rose and, leaving their half-eaten dinner behind, followed the livery man out the door. Together they hurried down the street, toward the healers place, questions unasked as they followed Tiny. Even their youngest, greenest member recognized the need for silence, even if they didnt yet understand the reason behind it.
Climbing the stairs, the group entered the room above the livery, all of them standing aside while Nathan went to the figure on the bed. Motioning Josiah over to help him, they soon had the blood-soaked clothing removed, leaving the pale, bloodied body naked to the waist.
Nathan? Bucks voice was filled with emotion as he beheld his oldest friend in his current state.
Dont know. Hes lost an awful lot of blood. Ill know more when we get him cleaned up. Fetch some water; heat what there is here. This is gonna take a while.
Diligently the others moved to respond to the healers instructions. Vin and JD left for more water, Josiah and Ezra helped Nathan as he stripped Chris to his long johns. Buck stood back against the wall, watching as the blond was tended to. His mind swam with the same word, over and over. Dying dying dying dying
Blinking, the brunet saw that Ezra was speaking to him. Yeah?
What say you and I go out on the landing, so Nathan can perform his duties on Mr. Larabee?
Uh, yeah, okay. Like a sleepwalker, he followed the smaller man and soon found himself dropping to the bench on the landing, and leaning back against the wall. Without asking, he felt something placed in his hand and looked to see Ezras flask in his grasp. Tipping it back, he drained a healthy dose of the fiery liquid before handing it back. It was taken away and quickly returned, and he took another drink. Sorry.
For what, my friend? Being human?
Wilmingtons mustache twitched with a smile. Ive seen him hurt before, but
His tone serious, Standish said, but you know that not even Chris Larabee is invulnerable. How many times have you waited to see whether hell die or not?
Heaving a deep breath, Buck said, I lost count. Seems that man has been dancing with death most of the time Ive known him. Even when he was married, there was something about him he didnt seem to think about dying about leaving those who care for him behind. It used to frighten Sarah somethin fierce.
Did he not curtail his actions while he was married to her?
Shrugging, the bigger man said, some, but hes always been I dont know, he just doesnt seem to worry about dying like most folks do. And now well, its only gotten worse since Sarah and Adam died.
Ezra sorted through his keen mind, searching for something to say. Everything sounded false; weak and ridiculous. So he did the only thing he could; he passed his flask over again and simply settled in to wait beside the distraught man.
It was in that deepest point of night, starlight and the moon gilding everything silver. Four men sat on the landing, waiting for word on their friend. They all looked up at the sound of someone opening the clinic door. None of them could mistake the smell of blood that escorted another friend onto the landing.
Josiah? JD said softly.
Nathans done all he can do, its up to time, God, and Chris Larabee now, boys. You can come on in if you want. Hes asleep.
One by one they filed into the room. Lamps offered light on each side of the bed where Chris lay. He had been cleaned up and covered to the chin. There was no color in the usually tanned face, the dark smudges around his closed eyes giving his face a cadaverous look.
Managing to find his voice, Buck asked, Nathan?
Hearing the questions that accompanied his name, the healer said, Only times gonna tell. Hes lost a lot of blood, theres an infection brewing. I just dont know, Buck. Its up to him now.
Life came to him in snatches of light and darkness, pain and relief. There were no days or nights, only random moments. But each one had a single commonality: Friendship. Each of those bits of consciousness included one of the others; his six friends.
Nathan lifted his head enough that he could swallow a few sips of water without drowning.
Buck gently ran a cool cloth over him, fighting to banish the fires that burned within him.
Vin lifted him onto a second pillow and fed him a few small bites of mush, then cleaned him up when he couldnt keep it all down.
Josiah sat beside him, offering up prayers and news of the town; it didnt matter which, his deep voice brought comfort.
Ezra regaled him with tales of his latest economic venture, although even in his fevered state, Chris didnt believe him.
Even JD sat with him, reading out of one penny dreadful or another, asking questions that he couldnt answer.
Each of his friends sat with him; bringing him something he hadnt known for a long time; the strength and courage to continue breathing.
Jackson turned from where he was mixing up a potion to find a pair of hazel-green eyes staring up at him from where the wounded man lay in the bed. Moving over and dropping wearily to the rocking chair sitting beside it, he propped his elbows on his knees and leaned forward. You with me for sure, this time?
Running his tongue over fever-dried lips, Larabee said, Seem to be. How how long ? He was shocked at how easily his strength deserted him.
Been almost two weeks. Thought we lost you a couple times there, but well, you are a stubborn one, Chris Larabee. Nathan managed a smile; the first one hed felt since the gunman had ridden into town.
Guess so. Wheres the boys?
Sleepin if they know whats good for em. Its near one in the mornin.
You should be sleeping too.
Reaching out and patting the blonds shoulder, Jackson said, Its my turn to be here. You feel like a drink?
Heaving a sigh, Larabee acknowledged the fact that he was too ill to argue as he murmured, I guess.
Nathan lifted the weakened man up and slipped a second pillow beneath his head. Retrieving a mug then, he slowly fed the bitter contents to the blond. By the time he was finished, Larabees eyes were closed and he barely seemed to be aware of anything around him. Satisfied that the other man had drunk at least the majority of the medication, he lowered Chris once more and placed the mug back on the table. Turning back, he realized quickly that the blond was asleep once more.
The early morning sun felt good on his face as he sat in the old rocking chair, out on the landing. Nathan and Josiah had helped him into it and then slid the chair out onto the landing to save him the embarrassment of being carried like a child. It didnt really make much of a difference, but he hadnt said anything it was the thought that counted. He could hear the two men now, inside, cleaning up the little room and airing it out after his long convalescence.
It had been over a month since he had been shot and nearly died. Most of that time was etched in his mind in a series of brief memories. Memories of friendship.
Chris Larabee smiled as he heard a familiar footstep coming up the long stairway. He turned to see his oldest friend bound up onto the landing and nearly dance along the boards as he came nearer.
You just come from some ladys bed? He asked, still hating how weak his voice was.
His voice filled with laughter, Buck Wilmington said, Never could hide that from you now, could I ya old war dog?
Shaking his head, Chris simply said, Well, sit your ass down and tell me all about it I know you want to, anyway.
As Buck settled in to regale him with the tale of his night, the blond relaxed in the old rocking chair, a smile on his face. In his minds eye he was seeing what he remembered of his long ride the night he should have died. He didnt remember the pain anymore. Nor did he remember the landscape.
He remembered only one thing the vision of his six friends, riding beside him. He was no longer a man who had to stand alone.
January 28, 2010