Disclaimer: The boys are the property of MGM, Mirisch, and Trilogy Entertainment. I do not own them or make money from them but if I did own them I promise that if held at gunpoint I would share at least six of them.
Characters: Old West. Vin, Chris and the words of Sarah Larabee.
Writer's Notes: Takes place immediately after the episode 'Vendetta'.
Feedback: I would be eternally grateful for feedback.
Buck Wilmington rode with him. Good ol' reliable Buck. Steadfast, true and stalwart. Buck understood, Buck knew it all. The tracker Vin Tanner hadn't understood at all. It had taken Buck Wilmington to step in and explain to the stubborn tracker the truth of why Chris Larabee had given Hank Connolly the cold shoulder.
Buck was with him now as they both returned from burying Hank Connolly beside Sarah and Adam. Chris Larabee always found it hard to say no to Buck and had finally relented and allowed Buck to put Hank in the ground with Larabee's family. Next to the grandson he had never met and the daughter he had loved so possessively that it had poisoned their relationship.
Chris Larabee wondered why it was Buck still rode with him. Chris was a prize blue ribbon bastard and Buck knew it.
"What can you expect from a pig but a grunt?" laughed a good-natured Buck Wilmington loudly, as he had walked side by side with the snarling Chris Larabee from the livery to the saloon in Eagle Bend, all those years ago.
Briefly Larabee glared hard at the tall lanky ladies' man unable to keep up the frowning for long as it it hurt his head.
"Tequila and whiskey, Stud? Hitting yourself over the head with a brick repeatedly would be cheaper and have the same outcome."
"Buck, shut the fu..." the gunfighter's words trailed away as his mind dropped below his belt.
She was standing patiently by the green painted wagon. Hopefully waiting on her pa because Larabee didn't think finding out she already had a husband he would be forced to shoot dead was a good start to married life. A small red book clasped in her hands. The noon sun ignited her cloud of flaming auburn hair, making Chris gasp aloud at the sheer beauty of it.
Buck followed his best friend's line of sight and let out a low whistle. She was as dainty as a blue-eyed china doll but this rosy-cheeked beauty was so far from Chris Larabee's usual choice of wide-mouthed sensuous female that Buck was somewhat bewildered by his friend's all too obvious reaction.
She glanced up at him from under lowered lashes for one second only and Christopher Adam Larabee's heart was knocked sideways. He was struck by lightning. Angels were singing. Bluebirds circled his head. Cupid's arrows pierced his heart. He was as hopelessly lost as the hero in a cheap yellow novel. He knew that he would never be the same man again. He would be whatever kind of man she wanted him to be. The father of her children. She was his wife from this moment onwards. He was hers and she was his. Only Death could tear them apart.
"Chris? Chris?" prompted Buck worriedly, "you gonna puke?"
"Whiskey," croaked Larabee.
His mouth as dry as sun dried leather. His tongue twice the size it had been earlier. His frozen brain unable to find the words he needed to be able to speak to her but he wasn't worried, he had forever to speak all the words of love he was determined to say to her.
Chris Larabee sat in a chair on the boardwalk and gazed off into the distance. Concertinaed into a similar hard wooden chair next to him was a pile of dusty buckskin resembling an out-of-work scarecrow. Slouched hat pulled low, the tracker was possibly asleep. Larabee shook his head in Vin Tanner's direction.
Gonna need a corkscrew to bury you if you keep catnapping in that position, Pard.
Nag, nag, nag, Cowboy.
However, the tracker shifted in the hard wooden chair slightly and lifted his booted feet up onto the rail.
Larabee opened the small red book he had taken from the late Hank Connolly's saddlebags and perused the frontispiece. Illustrated was a neat, tree shaded house with a white picket fence. On the title page were printed the words, My Journal. Below, Sarah had inked in her name in a flowing copperplate script that was a thing of beauty in itself.
Chris had opened the book at random and been both astounded and thrilled by what he had read. Sarah had purchased the journal the very same day they had first set eyes on each other and recorded her every thought from that day onwards until she had left her father's home to bind herself in matrimony to Chris. Larabee had read and reread every page until he knew it all by heart. Memorizing each and every treasured word. He had been surprised by the passages describing Sarah's first thoughts on his appearance. It had never once entered his head that his sweet virgin bride had harbored such lustful thoughts!
Casey Wells sauntered along the boardwalk an apple in each hand. "Good morning, Mr. Larabee," she greeted, "Howdy, Vin."
"Casey," nodded Larabee.
"Mornin', Miz Casey," drawled Tanner with a lazy smile, tipping his slouch hat up in her direction.
"Apple?" she offered, resembling a totally innocent Eve.
"Thank ya kindly." Tanner immediately sank his white teeth into the crisp red fruit with a loud crunching sound.
Casey bit into her remaining apple before realizing she had forgotten her manners. "Mr. Larabee?" she said offering Larabee the partially devoured apple.
"Thanks, I'll pass. J. D. Dunne is on jail house duty," he informed her, "I'm sure he'd enjoy some company."
"Huh! As if I care!" retorted Casey.
JD was obviously still not completely forgiven for attempting to forbid Casey from attracting the attentions of the Nichols brothers. Chris watched the tomboy stride across main street before veering off towards the jail house to once more harangue an unsuspecting JD. He idly wondered if JD aroused the same passionate feelings in Casey as he had awoken in Sarah? Poor innocent JD, he chuckled.
"Thinkin' on JD surely gits that girl dreadful riled up don't it?" rasped Tanner.
"I'll get Buck to explain it to you, Tanner."
"The birds and the bees."
"Naw. I's plannin' on stayin' pure in body an' mind. Bucklin's risqué version is most likely ta corrupt me fer life."
"French fer ribald," drawled Tanner.
Clearly the tracker was spending far too much time in the saloon with the gambler, Ezra P. Standish, for company.
"Bawdy. Ya sure ya ain't needin' me ta explain things ta ya, Cowboy?"
"Not hardly. I'd forgotten you were a virgin, Tanner."
"Since I's were twelve, it were all her idea an' she were mebbe some five years older," snickered Tanner.
"That explains it," said Larabee getting up from his chair and striding down the boardwalk.
"What?" asked Vin falling into step with the gunfighter.
"Your rampant desire for much older women."
"Don't be dirty disgustin', Cowboy."
"Many a good tune played on an old fiddle, Tanner."
"Ya keep tellin' yerself that, it helps not ta run outta hope at yer age, Cowboy, even iffen the Larabee fiddle is sadly outta tune."
"The next time I see you slyly heading off to the hayloft to hide from the Widow Stacey, I'm making a point of telling her you're in there and that you're eagerly fluffing up the hay while you wait on her."
"Ya ain't gonna? Thought we was pards, Cowboy?" rasped the horrified tracker taking a step back.
"Scared she'll kiss you?"
"Damn scared she'll eat me alive an' spit out the bones, Cowboy," shuddered Vin, nervously looking over his shoulder for the woman in question.
One whiff of buckskin and she could hunt him down more easily than the finest Indian tracker ever could. Tanner was plainly terrified of her pouty, red rouged lips and lived in constant fear of her deadly accuracy with a frilly silk parasol. Observing the bashful tracker disappearing like a rat up an anchor rope whenever her carriage entered the town provided hours of amusement for his six so called friends. Buck Wilmington and Ezra Standish delighted in taking turns to encourage the rich lady rancher to join them in the saloon for a lively evening of rye whiskey and cards. Effectively turning the saloon into a no-go area for the shy tracker.
"She's a wealthy husband hunting widow," needled Larabee, enjoying the tracker's discomfiture hugely, "Nettie Wells says God calls at the Stacey Ranch when he needs a loan or a few hundred acres of land."
"Septimus Stacey was flush with land when she married him. Beautiful women marry up with rich men, it's jist the way of the world, Larabee."
"Ezra's eyes light up with dollar signs whenever he lifts her down from her carriage," remarked the gunfighter in black.
"He do make an effort ta git there first don't he? She's already bin married up with that broke-down gambler, Lucky Sawyer, back in Kansas City an' left widowed an' in dire straits debtwise, ain't thinkin' she's fer tryin' it ag'in. Anyways, she's gotten a penchant fer tall an' handsome gunfighters with short cut fuses."
Vin Tanner had obviously been spending time in the company of Mother York too. Although the first to deny that she was a gossip the town's oldest inhabitant was a fount of valuable information with sources more unimpeachable than even Mary Travis had access to.
"Was affianced ta King Madison," answered Tanner.
"The King Madison?"
"Yep. His last fatal gunfight with that New Orleans gunslinger, Nash Walker, were over her favors."
"Deadly dangerous men."
"That's how she likes 'em, Cowboy. Deadly gunfighters prefer a lively lookin', silk dressed woman on their arm capable a gittin' men all stirred up with jist a sway a their hips. Beddin' a fancy woman like that gives 'em braggin' rights, don't it?"
Larabee pondered the truth of the tracker's words. He had to admit that before meeting his beloved Sarah he too had enjoyed the company of the kind of bold and brazen woman that aroused feelings of lustful envy in other dangerous men. Relishing the opportunity to call out any man for even daring to turn their head and slyly glance at his latest paramour. Sarah's serene beauty hadn't been of the kind to garner that sort of attention from men and he had thanked the Lord for it. No longer wanting to cut short his life with her by even a single minute.
"Mebbe yer the one ta be hidin' up in the hayloft, Cowboy," added the tracker, reaching for the girth on his saddle as Peso blew his belly out causing the tracker to chuckle both at his willful mount and the shocked expression on the face of his best friend. "Don't go on the worry, she's gotten her hooks inta that Texan gunfighter from over in Libertyville. Orlando Flynn's courtin' her somethin' fierce."
"Orlando Flynn? Quite a bad reputation to live up to or to die for."
"A pure bad element," agreed Tanner, "I's heard he's done swore ta hang up his guns on their weddin' day an' live out his days peaceable iffen she'll only say yes to a diamond ring."
Just like I did for Sarah, thought Larabee, only far, far too late. I had already made the kind of bitter enemies that didn't baulk at burning a sweet woman and an innocent child alive.
"It's been too long since we last did this," commented the gunfighter as they finally hit the trail.
"Yer right, Cowboy. Town's kept us a mite busy."
"It's going to get worse when the railroad spur finally comes to Four Corners."
"Has the Judge heard anythin' 'bout that?"
"Delayed yet again."
"Shame. A lotta folk are relying on that ya know."
"Nettie was hopin' she could sell her land one day fer a big price an' move into town with Casey. Give Casey a good chance at a better life."
"Casey and JD living in the same town? I don't think I'm ready for that are you?"
"Yeah, I sees what ya mean. Ya'll have ta take JD all the way down ta Purgatorio with ya ta sow his wild oats!"
"I'm far too busy with my own oats in Purgatorio to watch over JD."
"Mebbe when the railroad comes through from Libertyville an' the town grows real fast ya'll find yerself a good woman, Cowboy."
"I'm not looking for a good woman, Tanner."
"Yer lookin' fer a bad one?" laughed the tracker.
"Hell, yeah," he smiled but with a slight glint of sadness in his eyes.
"Yer not wantin' ta find another Sarah?"
"There isn't another Sarah to be found."
"She sure sounded awful special."
"She was. All I wanted to do was make her proud of me. Make her happy every day of my life. I could feel content just looking at her. She didn't have to say or do anything she just had a way of calming me down and when she smiled at me...my whole world lit up."
"That's special awrighty."
"Your turn to try marriage next anyway," he said desperate to change the subject. "What kind of wife do you want, Vin?"
"Hell, one that ain't wantin' ta git me shot dead in no gunfight," grinned the tracker.
"So you've considered it?" asked Larabee.
"Naw. Hell, Chris, ya know me I ain't the settlin' kind."
"Neither was I until I met Sarah."
"What would I do? Work in a store full time? Tame land? What kinda fool woman would marry a man with a dead or alive bounty on his head? No marriage ain't fer me."
"You need to meet the right girl and all that would change. You could have a whole new life the same as I had once."
"I's a likin' fer what I's awready got."
"What have you got, Vin?"
"All this," he said indicating the rolling hills, the meandering river below them and the horizon far beyond with a wave of his hand. "I ain't wantin' ta live behind doors an' fences. Hellfire! I's mebbe have ta sleep in a bed!"
"Sleep in a bed? Oh hell, that certainly rules out marriage then," chuckled Chris. "Marriage tends to involve bed at some point."
"See, I knew I were right. Ain't fer me."
"So where are we sleeping tonight?"
"Got a spot awready picked out fer us. How do a nice, warm, dry, cave sound?"
"Better than that swamp you had us sleep in last time, Pard."
"Last time ya said ya wanted ta be near water, Cowboy."
"Near it not in it. I woke up with gills, fins and a tail."
"Damn picky gunfighter. I knew I shoulda fetched Ezra instead a ya."
"Ezra? He would have died of the indignity."
"This do?" asked Tanner, indicating a cave on a high plateau with a spectacular view.
"Hell, it's a bit far from the water."
"Damn picky," muttered the tracker sourly.
Chris could see it was perfect campsite for the next few days. He really had needed to get out of town to find some peaceful quiet and as long as Tanner didn't insist on bringing out that tin sandwich and tooting on it, damn the buckskin man couldn't carry a tune in a bucket, he had found it. The cave was easier to get to than it looked and there was sheltered grazing for their horses too. Chris didn't know how Tanner found places like this, apparently he merely seemed to take in the landscape at a glance and immediately know they were there.
Chris gathered wood for a campfire while Vin spent a fruitless ten minutes lecturing Peso on not up and wandering off or gnawing Pony down to the bone. The big gelding merely butted Tanner in the back hinting he should leave off the nagging and go join Chris. Throwing down the wood in a haphazard pile and picking up Vin's white buffalo robe along with their bedrolls Chris suddenly realized that he was looking forward to watching the tracker get a good night's sleep. He had no idea if Tanner ever got much actual sleep in that rickety flea-pit he called a wagon or whether he merely laid there with one eye open but watching Vin's chest rise and fall under the buffalo robe always made Chris aware of his own tension slowly draining away.
Feeling relaxed and at peace, Chris didn't hear the two bounty hunters until it was too late. He heard Peso kicking up a ruckus and reaching for his Colt ran hell for leather straight into a bullet. As he lay on the ground writhing in agony he heard the bounty hunters call out to an unseen Tanner.
"Tanner? We're professionals and we know Larabee ain't wanted for nothing so if you come out peaceable and drop that mare's leg we'll take Larabee along with us and get a doctor to fix him up. We only want to take you in, Tanner. Let's be civilized about this. Hell that jury in Tascosa might even find you innocent. We hear tell that you're a decent enough fella. Sound fair?"
"Ya swear ya'll get Larabee a doctor?" yelled the tracker.
"Yep. Can't say fairer than that."
"I's comin' out."
"Vin! Don't!" groaned Larabee as he passed out.
They had lied. Hours later Chris regained consciousness and struggled to drag himself towards the cave. He didn't make it.
Help me, Sarah...help me stay alive for Vin's sake...
I, Sarah Bridget Connolly, close my eyes and see him as I first saw him. Striding out of the sun, his blond hair a shining halo and his long strong limbs moving with the sinuous grace of a big cat on the hunt. My mouth felt dry, my throat constricted, the blood pounded in my ears and my insides filled with butterflies. The world tilted on its axis, the ground shifted under my feet, the sky soared away. I no longer had any idea what my own name was or where it was that I had once called home.
I only knew that I wanted this man.
Wanted him body and soul. Wanted him forever. Wanted him to father my children. Wanted to scream out his name in the night.
No one was more shocked than I by these lustful stirrings. I fully expected to be married one day, of course I did, I was of age and ready to make some man a home. To cook and to clean and to bear children. I had never given much thought to how any of this would come about. I suspected Pa had already made some kind of an arrangement concerning one of the neighboring rancher's sons. No doubt engineering matters so that we would set up an adjacent home on Pa's land so that I could still cook and clean for him in place of Ma.
I would be obliged to give up teaching school with two homes to see to but our own children would soon be in our lives of that I was quite sure. Other than that nothing in my life would change. I would be some man's wife and still Hank Connolly's dutiful daughter.
Only now that I had seen this man in the flesh I would never be sure of anything ever again except that we two were meant to be together.
I am obliged to wait. I know he will come for me. Seek me out. I saw it in his eyes.
I am still waiting. Anticipating the feel of his hands on me, his lips on mine. This man knows things. Passionate things I know nothing about. In my girlish daydreams I pictured leaving the altar to holding a child in my arms with no thought of what went on in between. Only this man has ever made me think that what could happen between a man and his wife might be a loving experience. For all my book learning I am still not really sure how one actually makes a baby. There! I have said it. I have seen beasts in the fields of course I have but I have no real idea what occurs between a husband and a wife. How much will it hurt? I wonder because in all the romantic novels I have lately read the heroine swoons away in the hero's arms at what I suspect is the crucial moment which is very annoying to me and quite frankly of no help at all!
How am I supposed to prepare myself for his rampant assault on my passions? I know in my heart he will not be cruel but might he not be impatient? Think me foolish? A naif? Will I be enough for a man like that that?
Do I just close my eyes, lift up my nightdress and let him do as he wills? Or am I expected to respond in some way? How long does it take to make a baby? All night? No, I am almost sure it does not take so long. Only a minute? I do hope not. Will I even know when he's finished? Will he want to talk and embrace me afterwards (I do hope so) or will he just fall instantly asleep? I don't expect that it is proper to perform the act of love more than once a month and surely not twice in one night? That might be nice but a little exhausting.
Will he wear a nightshirt? What if he thinks me forward if I dare to touch his body? Because I am doubtful that I will be able to restrain my own ardor. Am I wrong in desiring to see him in all his rampant splendor? What if he thinks I am a brazen jezebel? Will he turn cold towards me?
I have so many urgent questions that this man and this man alone has put in my head. How I wish my Ma was still alive to ask about the marriage bed. Then again I am not sure she knew much more than I do now, even after years of married life. She died in childbirth and I rarely remember a time when she was not with child. Sadly, I am the only child that survived into adulthood. Ma was never very strong. I suspect that is why Pa is a little possessive of me after so much heartbreaking loss.
Pa is plainly furious. He returned from buying supplies in town possessed of a fearful temper. I have no idea what may have angered him so. I have never seen him so beside himself with rage.
He walked through the door and immediately forbade me to attend church on Sunday!
Pa has insisted on driving me to the schoolhouse in the wagon. I am plainly astonished as he has never done so before even in the very depths of winter. I am to wait inside the schoolhouse for Pa and the wagon to collect me at the end of class too. I am somewhat confused by his behavior.
Day Five: Evening
Pa has loaded the shotgun with rock salt and placed in the rack above the cabin door. Nightly he has barred the cabin door too.
I have it! I am heartily afraid it may have been languishing in the sorry pocket of his short pants for some days. The billet-doux is short and undeniably sweet, only a few brief words and I have secreted it in these pages. Little Joey passed it to me in class when I made him empty his pockets after the shocking incident with the peashooter while my back was turned towards the blackboard (thank the Lord for stout bustles or I should be quite sorely bruised). Telling me that a very tall dark-haired man with a 'cookie duster' gave him the note and a coin or two for candy as a reward for its safe delivery. Said gentleman is entitled to a partial refund in my view but I am elated to have the missive at last.
I am apprised now of the reason for Pa's recent sour countenance. He was approached in town, as is only right and proper, formal introductions were made and then he was asked by Mr. Christopher Adam Larabee, lately of Indiana, (at last I know his name!) for permission to court me.
Pa refused and soundly berated Mr. Larabee in the street outside the saloon as a rogue and a roisterer.
This is possibly a true assessment of Mr. Larabee's character but I am loathe to confess that I care not a jot!
Mr. Christopher Adam Larabee, lately of Indiana, intends to court me! I am sure he will find away to make his true feelings known to me. This is not a man that allows anything stand in the way of something he wants and I am certain sure that he wants me.
I must stay alive. Vin needs me. He needs me to live. I can't let them hang him in Tascosa. I swore I would never let him hang. Sarah, help me...keep me alive...help me to save Vin.
It is wrong. I know it. Pa has driven into town for supplies and told me, no, ordered me to bar the door and stay in the cabin. Yet I know He is out there. I cannot bear it. I have to see him.
I open the door.
He is standing out by our barn. Tall and sure of himself. Sure of me? I hesitate in the doorway and wonder if I should not be a little piqued at his arrogance? How can I be? Is that not what drew me to him? That prideful walk, that challenging stare?
I find myself covering the ground at a headlong run stopping just short of flinging myself into his arms for fear of frightening him away. Yes, this man that I was so sure was afraid of neither man nor beast is afraid. Struggling with new feelings, emotions strange to him. Afraid of me and all that I have come to mean to him already. His hand rests on his revolver out of habit but I see a slight tremor in his fingers. I almost laugh out loud unable to contain my joy. Love shines out of me. I can feel its heat circulating in the air between us.
We stand and stare. Drinking each other in as a desert dry man quenches his thirst. Without exchanging a single word we turn and walk a little distance from the cabin as if it holds prying eyes.
If I hadn't already fallen under his spell, hearing the timbre of his voice would have bewitched me. He is asking me if he has got my name correct and a thousand other questions all at the same time in that one word.
"Yes," I reply, answering all those questions with one word too.
I know without a doubt that this man has done things he is no longer proud of. He is a killer. It is there in his eyes for all to see.
I am not afraid. I will not ask him to change. I am only going to show him there is another way to live the rest of his life and I am sure he is going to grasp it with both hands.
And if he doesn't?
Then I will be the one to change and learn to live my life a different way...
The moon is full. I see him out by the barn standing in what I have come to think of as our usual place. It is all he can do is stand and wait until he slips away in the dawn light because the door is barred to me. Pa is a light sleeper and already tonight Pa has chased someone real or imagined away with the shotgun blast rending the night.
Tonight, I have made ready. A high stool stands under my window. I am unsure how this will work in practice but I have every intention of climbing out of the window even if I land on my head.
I hear a soft chuff of laughter drifting from the side of the barn as I scramble out of the window.
"How will you get back in?" he whispers.
Aghast, I realize it will be almost impossible.
"You will give me a boost," I say with all the confidence I can muster.
Now he looks terrified at the very thought of being required to touch me.
Tired of waiting, I stand on tiptoe and seizing the moment I kiss him.
It lasts for ever or at least until he pushes me away. He is panting, seemingly unable to breathe properly.
"Church, minister, wedding, suit, dress, wedding ring, Buck."
"Mr. Larabee, haven't you forgotten something?"
Puzzled, he recites the list again, "Church, minister, wedding, suit, dress, wedding ring, Buck. Flowers?"
He stands with his mouth hanging open clearly mystified until it hits him and he drops down on one knee.
"Sarah Bridget Connolly, will you consent to be my wife?"
"Yes," I say solemnly before trying to kiss him again.
"No more of that until we are married," he says sternly, pushing me gently away, unable to trust himself.
"Then you had better make all the arrangements as soon as possible, Mr. Larabee."
"Children there will be no school tomorrow," I say.
The church in Four Corners is so pretty and the elderly minister very understanding. Pa was formally invited but I suspect his place at the small wedding breakfast will remain empty. I have left him the following note...
I am leaving but I hope that one day you will come to understand that I had no choice but to marry Chris Larabee. I was lost from the very first moment I saw him. There will be a place set for you at our table every Sunday and nothing would give me greater happiness than to see the two men I love so dearly sitting down to eat together.
He always carried your journal with him, Sarah, it was in his saddlebags. I don't know how many hours I have been out here in the blazing sun. Your words, Sarah, your words are keeping me alive...
She rounded up the few stray cattle and pushed them back towards the main herd. They were happy to go, there was a plague of annoying flies making life uncomfortable for man and beast back there. The Widow Stacey took off her black silver-trimmed gaucho hat and wiped her brow in the hot burning sun.
A soft voice carried by the breeze gently whispered into her ear...
Refill your canteen.
Reaching for her canteen she decided to refill it at the stream as she didn't know when she would get another chance. If she wanted to reach the ranch by dark she had to start back now.
She recognized the horse at the stream as Pony right away. So where was Peso and more to the point where were Chris and Vin? She hesitated she didn't want to intrude on them. She sensed their relationship was special and although she didn't fully understand it she respected it. She climbed back into Merrythought's saddle and turned back towards the Stacey Ranch.
Where is Peso?
Indeed where was Peso? The stream was full of sparkling clear spring water but it wouldn't be unlike Peso to decide he wanted to drink from some muddy puddle instead. It was no good she would not rest once she reached the ranch unless she saw them both safe and well. She realized as she rode back towards the stream how stupid that sounded. Vin had spent all but the first five years of his life keeping himself safe, if he hadn't got the hang of it by now he never would. Chris Larabee was hardly some helpless tenderfoot now was he?
Vin is a Wanted man.
She herself had enjoyed the times Vin had escorted her back to the ranch. He had always kept her amused with a lively running commentary on the land and the life on it. Making her actually look at her own land for the first time as if she had always ridden across it blindfolded before. It was always the most she had heard him say at any one time and she had tried to follow every single word as most people did when Vin spoke.
Trouble always finds those two.
So where would the two peacekeepers set up camp? She knew Vin liked to be up high and there were several caves on her land. She didn't want to search them all so deciding Pony was exactly where Chris had left him she decided to look for a cave higher than the stream. She found their saddles and bedrolls at the cave but that was all. There were tracks but she had no idea how to read them. One big clumsy boot print looked the same as any other to her. As far as she could tell they ended at the lush grass anyway.
Take a few more steps...
Damn flies were everywhere. There must be a dead animal nearby but as long as it wasn't one of her steers she didn't much care. She flapped her gloved hand at them to keep them away from her face. It was times like this she wanted to sell up and go back to New Orleans or move to Denver and live the high life. What made her walk towards the flies instead of back the other way she never knew but she then saw a bloody swathe leading to a black shape in the undergrowth.
She ran towards the body and sank to her knees. Glad she was wearing gloves she struggled to turn the body over. Half hoping it wasn't Chris but the familiar concho belt and holster telling her without a doubt that it was. There was a hideously infected wound in his side and he had obviously lain in the merciless sun at some point as his face was burnt red. His lips dry and cracked. Miraculously, he was still alive.
She ran back to her horse, collected her canteen and as a last thought her Winchester carbine. She knelt beside him again, hastily pulled off her gloves, unstopped the canteen and patted her wet fingers against his lips.
She wet her bandanna and wiped his face, risking dribbling a little water on his lips rejoicing as he swallowed.
"Chris? Chris? Are they still here?" she suspected they were alone but she had no wish to be taken at gunpoint too.
Realizing he couldn't care less for his own or her safety in his present condition she changed tack. "Chris? Where's Vin? What happened to Vin?"
He responded with such sudden desperation that she squealed in surprise. As if coming back from the dead he grabbed her arm in a fierce grip that made her wince in pain.
"Bounty hunters," he croaked. "Took, Vin."
Get him to the cave. Use Vin's name again.
She took that as good news for now at least they wouldn't still be around. "Chris? I need to move you can you help me get you to the cave? If we are to help Vin I need to get you to the cave."
On hearing her use Vin's name he didn't argue and somehow she half-dragged and half-carried him towards the cave. Once inside she gave him a little more water and braced herself to look at his wound.
You'll need to unbutton his pants.
"Chris? I'm going to unbutton the top of your pants and lift your shirt to tend your gunshot. Don't slap my face I'm not interested in your manhood."
Remember that I'm keeping my eye on you, missy!
"Nothing you haven't seen before," he answered resigned now to the fact that he couldn't help Vin until his wound was treated and they had daylight.
"Ah, yes. The bitter disappointment! How could I forget?"
"Hey. Not right to make fun of a man's accouterments," he hissed.
She sucked in her breath sharply at the pus filled bullet wound.
"That good then?"
"I've seen worse Chris. I just can't remember when. There's an exit wound thank God in Heaven. Where's your whiskey flask?"
"Not got it. Don't need it when I'm with Vin. He makes me feel at...peace."
"Damnation. Of all the times to go join the Temperance Movement on me. Can't even trust a man to carry hard liquor. What a sorry state of affairs. I might have something in my saddlebags that'll clean some of the infection out."
"You're not going to suck out the poison out then?"
"Why, that may be what passes for jollification between you and Vin but no, I most certainly am not."
"Saddlebag. Nathan packs it when me and Vin are riding together. Carbolic and bandages and all."
"God bless Nathan's good sense. This is ugly."
"Don't puke on my best shirt."
"Why! I don't think this qualifies as a shirt anymore."
"It can be patched."
"How ever will you match the color?" she said tugging the black shirt up and away from the wound. "Oh Lord! I wish Nathan was here!" she exclaimed.
Keep calm and I'll help you.
He grimaced at her words. Surprised too that even though Doctor Dempsey was nearer than Nathan Jackson and had a string of letters after his name she trusted Nathan far more, "Hellfire! Woman you could have warned me you were going to pour that on me!"
"I would have done if you hadn't made the puking jibe."
"Hellfire! Hellfire! That hurts! I never thought I'd want to trade a beautiful woman's touch for Nathan's. What the hell are you looking for in there?" he demanded as she started to clean the wound.
"I don't know until I find it. There. I think that's clean. I won't stitch it until I'm sure it's clean." She busied herself packing the wound and wrapping it tightly.
Fire and water.
"I'm going to refill the canteens and light us a campfire."
Leave your ranch hands a sign.
She hurried back to the stream and tied her hair ribbon on the tree nearest the trail. When she didn't return to the ranch that night they would search for her when it was light. After attending to urgent business she returned to the cave.
"You puked out there didn't you?" he greeted her with a snicker.
Keep him conscious.
"No. I did not."
"You did. I can tell, you're all pale and pinched looking."
I know that you have not met him that often but you have known men exactly like him, so you know how to talk to him.
"It was the thought of having to share this cave overnight with you that gave me nausea!"
"Prefer Vin would you?"
"Vin would be a delight. I'd prefer Liver-Eating Jones or my old friend Cajun Jack to you."
"Cajun Jack? That man's face can stop clocks so I hear."
"He's a very dear sweet man. I loved him dearly."
"I hear he's not that way inclined."
"Want to tell him that to his face?"
"That face? No. You are acquainted with some most charming gentlemen."
Keep his strength up.
"Aren't I just, Larabee?" she chuckled. "I haven't any food left. Have you anything?"
"We were going to catch fish and shoot some game."
"Why, I could probably shoot something but then I wouldn't know what to do with it."
"You've never skinned and roasted anything?" he laughed.
I do miss his laugh so.
"Only mouthy gunfighters."
"Vin always has jerky and biscuit in his saddlebags."
Make him laugh again, please.
"That's because Vin's a real cowboy."
"Don't make me laugh. It hurts when I laugh."
"I think I may be capable of boiling up this jerky."
"What a treat."
"I don't need a husband I need a wife," she said as she boiled up the jerky with distaste.
I said keep him talking.
"I suppose Sarah was a good cook?"
That's not quite what I had in mind but it will do.
"She was," he replied thinking how strange it was that Sarah had now been the subject of two recent conversations and wondering whether or not it had been Buck that had told her his late wife's name. "Her chicken and dumplings were like no other."
"Dumplings? You don't look like the dumpling kind of man. Too warm and cozy."
"I was warm and cozy with Sarah."
"What did she look like?" she asked curiously.
"She had dancing blue eyes, clear soft skin and a cloud of soft auburn hair that lit up in the sun."
"What's your favorite memory of her?"
"I can't bring one to mind. It gets more difficult each day to remember them."
"Yes, you can, try."
Don't make him remember Adam it's too cruel.
"Why? What damn business of yours is it?" he snapped.
Ask him about Mary Travis instead.
"I'm a woman, we love to hear things like that. Has Mary Travis never asked?"
"Mary Travis? Hell no and why should she?"
I approve of Mary. She's a good woman and Billy needs a father.
She sighed and shook her head. "As darlin' Buck says, any blinder and you'd be running into walls---"
"Shut the hell up!"
Perhaps you should leave the subject of Mary alone for now. Still, don't hesitate to play matchmaker for him and Mary if you should ever get the chance.
"Bah! You shouldn't let your memories take over your life but you shouldn't be afraid to remember the sweet moments you had with Sarah. And you're not going to bore me all night with silly stories about your days cowboying either."
"Damn that Vin Tanner, listen up, I have never been a COWBOY!"
You touched a nerve there!
"Sarah sang when she stood at the washstand in the morning. That's my favorite memory of her, getting washed and dressed in a small patch of sunlight that always came through the shutter. I loved it most because it was something I knew no one else ever saw. It brought a lump to my throat every single morning."
I never knew that.
"Why! Larabee, you old romantic!"
"You think it's funny?" he snarled angrily.
"No. Why, I'm very moved and heartily jealous of Sarah," she said with total honesty.
"Sarah's dead and it was my fault," he said bitterly. "I wish I had never met her then she'd still be alive."
It wasn't his fault we died and he made me so very happy even if our time together was cut short.
"I'd trade all the land and money I have for even a few years of being with a man that I was sure loved me like that."
"Yeah?" he fell silent for a few minutes. "Men must have loved you? In an aggravating kind of a way you could probably be quite lovable if you really tried," he finally conceded.
"Never in the same way you loved Sarah. Men want to own me. To show off to other men."
Try wearing a respectable dress that actually doesn't involve you falling half out of it, missy and you might find yourself a decent man willing to forgive you your crimes in much the same way Chris found forgiveness in me.
"When Sarah and Adam died everyone told me I'd forget in time and move on. I didn't want to forget but I was too scared to remember. I wouldn't let Buck speak about them, not even their names, until he had to leave for his own sake. My only memory of them was the day I put them in the ground that I thought about every single day. I fed off that. It fueled my every waking moment. When I'm with Vin I can think about Sarah and Adam too. I don't know why it's different when he's there but it just is. Still, I don't let myself remember all the happy times we had together. I never recall a happy moment just for the pleasure of it. I realize I am letting them down by reducing their memory to the two burnt bodies I put in the cold ground. I should remember Sarah's gentle touch and Adam's happy laughter. I just...can't."
He closed his eyes tight and silently promised whoever was listening that he would allow himself to remember if only he got Vin Tanner back, alive and well.
Time to check his wound again.
"It's time to check that wound again," she said seeing the expression of agony on his face and abruptly changing the subject.
"I can tell you it's still there."
"We should burn this shirt. Have you a clean one?"
"No. It was an extra shirt or the medical supplies. Vin might have one."
"Why, you wouldn't have lasted five minutes without Vin would you? His jerky and biscuit now his shirt."
"Er, isn't there another one?" he asked eying the red material dubiously.
He has no need to wear all that funereal black after all this time, he should move on. I never wanted him to mourn us forever I love him too much for that.
"Why no, there isn't!"
"I don't suppose it matters, that ornery tracker will probably shoot me dead for bleeding on it anyway."
"VIN!" he yelled.
"What?" she asked springing awake.
"Are you alright? Is it the fever?" She held the back of her hand against his forehead but it felt cool enough.
"He's halfway to Texas but don't worry as soon as my ranch hands get here I'll send them to stop them."
"No, he's near."
"Which way? North? South?"
"It doesn't work like that. I only feel what he's feeling. Pain or a strong emotion. Got to help him," he muttered trying to get to his feet.
Please, stop him.
Don't let him go alone.
"Bah! It may have escaped your notice but so are you!"
"Yeah but he's all alone."
You go, it will set his mind at rest.
"I'm going to go and take a look," she said picking up the Winchester.
"Stupid fool woman, you'll fall flat on your as...face out there in the dark."
"I'll take a brand from the campfire."
"Great thinking! Make yourself a target! You'll have two bounty hunters taking potshots at you if you don't fall down a rabbit hole first. Have you even got a reload for that carbine?"
Show him the gun Jake McKenna gave you.
"Yes and this," she said showing him a small pearl-handled Colt.
"Pretty toy, does it work?" he sneered.
"I don't know. Shall I try it out on you?" she snapped.
"Just sit the Hell back down."
"No, I'm going."
"I think he's off to the South," he said exasperated.
"Good. I'm going then. Er, which way is South?"
"Turn left. No, your other left. Look, I'm coming along too."
Stop him please!
Wait! Yes, it is alright to let him leave the cave now.
They staggered out of the cave together, Larabee leaning heavily on her as they stumbled about in the dark until they were hopelessly lost in the ebony night.
"Which way now?" she hissed loud enough to wake an entire regiment of bounty-hunters.
"I don't know," he admitted slowly sinking to the ground. "I'm lost."
"Hell, Cowboy, what y'all doin' out in the dark?" a voice rasped out of the inky night. "Courtin' is ya? 'Cos I's gotta tell ya moonlight is better fer wooing the ladies in."
Vin! Everything will be fine now.
"I's concussed an' a hallucinating real awful, Cowboy."
"Are you?" Elvira asked concerned.
"Yep. Must be 'cos Cowboy is lookin' like he's wearin' a fancy bright red shirt."
"No, you are right. Chris is wearing a red shirt," she reassured him.
"That's good. As long as it ain't mine. Ain't wantin' Cowboy here stinkin' up my favorite shirt."
Make certain that Vin isn't badly hurt too.
"Let me look at your head, lover," she said kneeling beside him once Tanner had led them all safely back to the cave again.
"I's fine. Ouch! That hurt! Please, ya ain't ta touch it again."
"She's more dangerous than the damn bounty hunters ever were," muttered Chris.
"Shut up, Larabee. You could have roasted out in the sun forever without me to look after you."
"Are you saying that's isn't a fair trade?" grinned the gunfighter happy to see Vin in one piece.
"Vin, tell Larabee I love him too."
"Well? What have we here? Sounds like it could be a ménage à trois," remarked the last of the two bounty hunters appearing at the cave entrance. "Explains why you were so all damn desperate fired up to get back here, Tanner."
Chris Larabee automatically reached for his gun but it wasn't on his hip.
"You're too slow with that sawed-off, Tanner, so don't reach for it or the beauty will be wearing a black veil and burying you and your friend both. I pride myself on my work but you're a slippery one, Tanner. Where the Hell was that knife you used on my partner hidden?"
Pass the gun that Jake McKenna gave you to Chris. Do it quick!
Chris felt the cold metal of a small Colt pushed into his hand. Instantly he fired and the bounty hunter toppled like a felled tree, landing heavily on Elvira Stacey.
"Sonuvabitch!" shrieked Elvira. "That hurt! Get him off me. He's broken my ankle!"
Language! It isn't broken by the way.
Tanner checked the bounty hunter had collected his last bounty and dragged him outside feet first.
"Lemme take a look," offered Vin, concern for a lady overcoming his natural shyness.
You may have once earned your own living dancing the cancan with your skirt up over your head showing off those long legs of yours but I'll thank you not to let my Chris glimpse those saucy black lace garters trimmed with yellow roses, missy!
"No! If you think I'm flashing my lace garters for you two to ogle forget it!"
"Stop making such a fuss and let him take a look at your ankle. I didn't make such a show when you unbuttoned my pants," said Larabee scornfully.
"I miss somethin'?" asked Vin looking from one to the other, a shocked expression on his face.
"Much ado about nothing," spat Elvira.
Calm down! With that hot temper you sound like Chris in a corset!
Vin waited for her to quickly calm down like he knew she would before saying, "Lemme look. Iffen it is broken we need ta keep the blood flowin' or ya'll git gangrene."
"Turn away both of you while I hitch up my skirt and roll down my stocking."
"I can't I am very badly shot," snickered Larabee, sensing a chance for revenge and very amused by her sudden coyness.
Be warned! I may be dead but I can still feel jealousy!
"Y'all be deader than a damn beaver hat if you don't!" she promised.
Not quite the way that I would have phrased it but it will do.
"There," said Vin tugging off her boot as gently as he could.
"Ooooh. Ahh," she groaned as Tanner held her foot firmly and gently examined her ankle with his slender fingers.
"Did I hurt ya, Rosebud?" asked Vin pretty certain he hadn't.
Larabee guffawed loudly and she stuck out her tongue at him over Vin's buckskin shoulder.
"I's thinkin' it's a bad sprain," he said. "I can't feel anything broken. I'll bandage it up fer ya."
I told you it wasn't broken.
"There's liniment in my saddlebag," she said, "and please, Vin darlin', if Larabee doesn't stop smirking will you kindly shoot him for me?"
"Ya want me ta rub it on yer leg fer ya?" Vin asked opening the bottle he'd found.
You're a hussy if you let him!
"No. I can do it myself. As an ex-opera dancer I'm used to doing it."
"Aw, go on let him," laughed Larabee, in dire danger of pulling out his stitches with delight at her uncharacteristic embarrassment. "I've never seen a grown man blush before!"
Shame on you, Chris! This dear sweet boy isn't Buck Wilmington, don't tease him so.
"I's must be still mighty concussed 'cos I's all confused," muttered Vin, "can we all git some shut-eye afore her men git here?"
Thank you, Elvira.
The Cave is silent now. I always did love to watch my Chris sleep. It's only lately that I've seen him sleeping so peacefully again without the aid of red-eye whiskey. God bless you, Vin Tanner.
A gentle breeze whispered in the tracker's ear as they drank their morning coffee seated outside the empty jail house.
"What exactly happened in that damn cave while I were gone?" asked Vin.
"Yer practically human."
"Amazing what one night with a lively woman can do for a man," winked Chris.
"I recommend it."
"Did I ever tell you how Sarah and I first met?"
"Naw," drawled Vin, his heart warming to hear Chris speak about Sarah in such a joyful tone of voice.
"I was passing through Eagle Bend with Buck and I was more than a little hung over," began Chris with a wide smile.