Main Character: Chris
Notes: This is the very first thing I wrote in the fandom... oh, and Winnie loves it. :) It's a tag for Inmate 78.
Webmaster Note: This fic was previously hosted at another website and was moved to blackraptor in May 2012.
Chris Larabee stepped away from the dying warden. He could hear the fighting going on across the compound. Somehow he knew, without seeing or hearing them, who was responsible for the sudden riot. He began to make his way toward the noise. He stumbled and nearly fell. The abuse he had endured over the past weeks had left him weak. Much weaker than he would let on to the guards or other inmates. His legs quivered and shook with each step, threatening to pitch him face first onto the ground. Suddenly a pair of hands grabbed him. Instinct took over, and Chris struggled to break free. With a growl, the beaten man struck out, pushing his assailant away.
“Chris! Hey, pard, it’s me!”
Larabee stopped short. Looking up, he saw Vin Tanner standing calmly before him. The ex-bounty hunter’s face was impassive, but Chris could read the compassion in the clear blue eyes. He relaxed, and nearly collapsed in doing so. Vin held him in a firm embrace, supporting him.
Sliding an arm around Chris’ waist, Vin felt him tense, and heard the sharp intake of breath. “What’s th’ matter?” He asked softly.
Shaking his head, Chris said “it’s okay... just... just a scratch.”
Regardless, Tanner moved his hand until he felt Chris relax once more. Pulling the gunslinger’s arm across his shoulders, the hunter led him on across the compound. Vin could tell that Chris wasn’t going to be on his feet for long. Already he was stumbling, his legs threatening to give out at nearly every step. He was amazed that Larabee had made it as far as he had.
“Chris!” Buck Wilmington’s voice rang out across the yard. The big man loped toward his friends. When he reached them, the fear was plain on the man’s face. “Damn stud...can’t we leave you alone for a minute?” The words tried and failed to mask his concern.
“I’m okay... Buck...” Chris mumbled. Then he crumpled forward, unconscious. With a single motion, the ex-sheriff retrieved him from Tanner’s grasp and lifted him into his arms. Buck strode back across the compound toward the other peacekeepers, carrying his friend as easily as he would a child.
Ezra and J.D. were watching the prison guards, while Josiah was hovering over Nathan. One of the prisoners, an older man in an old top hat who had introduced himself as Doc Simmons, was sitting on his heels next to the injured healer, tending to his gunshot wound.
“How is he?” Tanner asked.
“I’m fine Vin...” Jackson gasped out as the prisoner splashed a liberal amount of whiskey on the wound.
“He’ll be fine... bullet went through and it’s a clean wound,” the man supplied.
“How’s Chris... OW!” Nathan yelped as the prison healer pressed a cloth on the wound. His attention was quickly drawn to where Buck had lowered the man in question to the ground nearby.
“Looks to be in rough shape, but don’t think it’s anything permanent,” Buck drawled.
“That’s one tough hombre,” the prisoner said with a nod. “He’s been buckin’ the Warden at every turn since he got in. Ain’t never seen anyone get in bad quicker’n this fella.”
With a smile, Wilmington turned to the hunter and said, “Sounds like Chris, don’t it?”
Vin just nodded.
Every one of the men who had ridden with Larabee during the past few months had the same thought. Why hadn’t they come looking for him sooner?
The next morning they helped to put the prison in order. Chris seemed fine now, his voice had a little boy excitement to it that only Buck had ever heard before. They were leaving the hellhole together; the seven men who had become a family. As they rode quickly away, six pairs of eyes found occasion to steal a look at the man they had managed to rescue from that prison. A gunman; their leader; their friend. Chris Larabee had rarely looked as ill-used as he did at the moment. A beard, almost three weeks old, hid the lower half of his face. He was dirty, bruised, with a cut over one eye and – they had found out – another along his ribs that had required stitches.
Nathan, suffering from a gunshot wound suffered during the assault on the prison, had allowed the prison’s doctor to tend both his wound and Chris’ the night before. He had wanted to check Chris out that morning, but Larabee had put him off. The man in black had one thing on his mind, and one thing only... to ‘get the hell out of here.’ Against his better judgment, and due in part to the pain of his own injury, Jackson hadn’t pressed the point.
As the joy of his emancipation waned, Chris grew quieter. He rode next to Vin, the pair allowing the rambling conversation of the other men to wash over them while they rode in silent companionship throughout the morning. Breaking for noon camp, the other men favored both Chris and Nathan to a little special treatment, allowing them to simply sit by while they served them. Larabee accepted the mug and plate, but sat the plate down before he was even half-way through eating.
“Know it ain’t great, but you ought to eat Chris, “ Buck said.
“Just ain’t hungry right now.” As he answered Larabee raised his mug. They could all see the tremble of his hands.
“Chris, I better take a look at that knife wound ‘fore we leave,” Nathan said.
“I’m fine, Nathan. Just tired and wanting away from here. The farther from that stink-hole Jericho, the better.”
“Drop it, okay? I appreciate the concern, but I’m just tired.”
Nathan started to continue the argument, but recognized the look in the green-hazel eyes and closed his mouth. He nodded and returned to his own meal.
By the time the others had finished their meals, Larabee was sitting slumped against a tree, eyes hooded as he drowsed in the midst of his friends. The others noticed that he still seemed more relaxed than normal, the relief of being released from the prison still evident in the handsome face. Retrieving both Peso and Pony, Vin led them over to where Chris sat.
“Hey pard, you ready to go?”
“Yeah,” Chris answered, looking groggily up at his friend.
“You sure? Maybe we oughta stay put for the rest a th’ day.”
“No, I’m okay, just a little stiff and sore. You fellas need to stop fussing over me like a bunch of hens with a single chick. Nathan’s shoulder’s in a lot worse shape than my side.” That said, he stood with a groan and mounted his horse. Vin stepped up into his own saddle, and the men left the little glade.
If Chris noticed how closely Vin rode beside him, he said nothing. The sharpshooter was simply there. Again they said little. Then a couple of hours into the afternoon’s journey, Chris suddenly, silently, slumped sideways against Vin.
“Hey! Whoa!” Tanner quickly moved to grab onto the unconscious man. The others turned to see him reining both horses to a stop while he juggled the man in black.
Closest to them, J.D. hurried to the other side of Larabee’s black. Together the young men settled Larabee in the saddle. The other four quickly joined them.
“Let’s get him over there, under the trees,” Buck said. “You boys got him?”
“Yeah, I think so, “ JD said, while Vin nodded.
The seven horsemen rode slowly in a tight group, with Chris tucked in the middle, supported by Tanner and Dunne. Reaching the shelter of the grove the others dismounted, and Buck coaxed JD aside. Calling up to the tracker, he said, “Let him down this way, Vin, I got him.”
The unconscious man slid slowly out of the saddle and into the big gunman’s arms. Buck carried him easily over to rest on the grass. Nathan knelt beside them.
“Buck, undo his shirt for me.”
Wilmington carefully undid the once-white shirt. “Ah, hell, “ he mumbled as he saw the crudely stitched wound. The skin around the thick thread was swollen and red.
“Shoot, I knew I should've looked at it earlier, “ Nathan grumbled, angry at himself.
“You ain’t exactly on top of your game right now, Doc,” Buck said reassuringly.
“We’re gonna have to drain that wound,” Jackson said as he pushed aside his feelings in order to tend to the blond.
“Alright, what do we do?”
“I’m gonna have t’ open the stitches... let the wound drain.”
“Then... get to... it...” Chris’ voice startled them all.
“Hey pard,” Buck said lightly. “Didn’t know you were awake.”
“Kind of...” He responded, waving a hand weakly in the air.
“Chris, “ Nathan cut in, “I wanna open them stitches now. You’re gonna have to lay real still. I ain’t got anything with me for the pain...” He paused. “You got your flask?”
“No... must still be back in... the Warden’s office.”
“Allow me,” Ezra knelt next to the healer and held out his own flask. Opening the silver container, he handed it to Larabee. Jackson supported the blond head as Chris rose shakily and took a long drink. Coughing as the liquor burned his throat, he lay back down.
Catching his breath, he said, “thanks... knew we kept you... around for a... reason...”
With a chuckle, the conman said “always good to know you have a place in the world.”
Chris smiled, then grimaced as Nathan gently probed the injury. Without a word Buck and Vin, on either side at Larabee’s shoulders, gave the gunfighter an hand. Gripping them tightly, the gunman also accepted a knotted kerchief to bite down on. Then, staring straight above him, he tensed at Nathan began cutting lose the stitches. He groaned once or twice but, other than the death grip he kept on his two friends hands, he lay perfectly still.
Opening the wound, Nathan pressed at the abused flesh, the bloody pus oozing from the cut. Finally satisfied that he had cleaned it out for now, he put out a hand for Standish’s flask. “Buck, lift him just a bit... yeah, that’s good,” he instructed. With Chris half way up on his side, Jackson washed the cut with alcohol. The man’s cry could be heard through the cloth in his mouth. “Alright, lay him back down for now.”
“When you’re ready Doc, I’ve got a bedroll laid out and a fire going,” Josiah said quietly behind the little group.
Nodding his head, the healer said “thanks. I’m gonna leave the wound open for now, let it drain. You two lift him up for me so I can bandage him.”
Tanner and Wilmington did as instructed, supporting Larabee between them while, with Ezra’s help, Nathan bound the wound. When that was done, they carefully moved Chris to the bedroll. Only then did Vin reach up and take the gag from his friend’s mouth.
“Th-thanks...” Chris said hoarsely. Tanner only answered with a nod and a quick squeeze of the man’s shoulder.
“He gonna be alright Nathan?” Buck asked.
“Yeah, he oughta be fine in a few days. We need to stay here at least til tomorrow, maybe longer. Give him time to get his strength back. Need to get that fever down, and watch the wound, but he’ll be good as new soon.” The other men nodded, relieved at the news.
“Mister Larabee, might I suggest you imbibe a bit more... take advantage of my usefulness?” The southerner favored him with a dimpled grin.
Returning the smile wanly, Chris took the proffered flask and took a long swallow. Handing the container back, he let his hand fall limply. His eyes drooped shut, then struggled to open. The prison camp was suddenly there before him... the malicious face of the warden taunting him from above the hole that had been his prison within the prison.
Laying a hand on his shoulder, Buck said softly, “go on to sleep Chris. We’ll keep an eye on things.”
With a sigh, Chris drifted toward unconsciousness, secure that the tortures of the previous weeks were over. His friends had found him, and he was safe.
The Warden was back, taunting him, ordering him into a pit filled with snakes. Suddenly he found six men standing between them. His men…his friends. He smiled, placing one hand on Vin’s shoulder, the other on Buck’s.
“Don’t reckon we’re gonna let y’ do that,” Vin said in that soft twang of his.
“Unless you feel up to takin’ on the seven of us at once,” Buck added, his voice menacing in it’s softness.
“Perhaps you would prefer to hide behind blind justice,” Ezra added now. “I fear, however, that even she will not be able to overlook your actions.”
“A wise man knows when it’s time to lay down his arms. You’ve ruined your last life, and it’s time to pay for your deeds.” As Josiah spoke, he motioned to the left of their little group. Chris was aware of a glow and warmth nearby. Looking toward the source of the heat, he found himself staring at what could only be the gates of hell.
“Reckon you’ll have lots a company,” Nathan said. “Figure at least some of the men you killed in that little hellhole will be there to welcome you.”
“Don’t think it’s going to be with open arms,” JD finished with a laugh as if he had told a joke.
“I won’t clean your boots,” Chris spoke finally. “I won’t bow to the likes of you. You’re a small man, Warden, and not worth my time. I’ve got my friends with me and as long as we’re together, we’re a force to be reckoned with. Now you go on… meet your fate.”
The Warden stared at them, his eyes wide with fear. He tried to lunge past the protective wall of men, but fell back, unable to breech their ranks.
“Go to hell, “ the seven men said in unison.
The man struggled to his feet, his face the color of adobe. “Please,” he begged, “don’t force me there. You can’t…you…”
Together the seven men began walking toward the vile creature who had destroyed so much in the name of greed. With each step, he retreated until the flames reached out to touch him. Crying out, he tried to move away, but found himself cut off from escape by the angry group. Backing away, he found himself embraced by the fire, and pulled slowly toward the nothingness beyond. With a final scream, he disappeared from sight.
“He’s gone,” JD said, somewhat amazed.
“Yep,” Vin turned toward Chris. “He ain’t gonna hurt y’ again, cowboy.”
Chris smiled around at the six faces that surrounded him. He was safe now, protected by the friendship of the men who had become his brothers.
Opening his eyes, the gunfighter discovered that they were still in the little clearing they had camped at. Looking around, he saw that Nathan was nearby, sleeping. Other than the soft snoring that came from the wounded healer, the camp was quiet. Almost. Then a voice broke into his thoughts.
“’bout time y’ woke up, lazybones,” a raspy voice teased.
Looking around, he saw that Vin was nearby, tending to the fire. “You sure one of you yahoos didn’t belt me when I wasn’t looking?” he joked.
Coming to squat down next to the older man, Tanner said, “nope, just let that fancy liquor a Ezra’s do th’ job for us. How y’ feelin’?”
“Better.” He grimaced as he pushed himself to his elbows, feeling the various bruises and sore muscles chime in to protest the movement along with the infected gash on his side. Looking around, he asked, “Where is everyone?”
“Well, Josiah and Ezra went on ahead t’ town. Figured somebody oughta be there in case somethin’ happens. ‘Sides, Ezra was worried he’d miss some new sheep t’ fleece stayin’ away too long. Buck ‘n JD’s over at this little crick yonder, rustlin’ up some fish for dinner, and Nathan’s gettin’ some rest. Reckon you oughta be doin’ th’ same cowboy.”
“I’m okay,” Chris said, only to yawn long and hard. He couldn’t remember when he’d gotten more than a few minutes sleep at a time. Smiling sleepily at his friend, he lay back, folding one arm beneath his head. “Ezra wouldn’t have happened to –“ before he finished, Vin produced the silver flask from his coat pocket. His smile growing wider, Chris took the flask and siphoned off a healthy drink. Handing it back to the tracker, he said, “reckon I oughta see about getting that man a raise.”
Smiling that broad, lazy smile of his, Vin said, “Yeah, but on th’ other hand, if he can afford such as this, maybe he needs a cut in pay.”
They shared a laugh, the little glade echoing with mirth. Then the younger man sobered, looking seriously into his friend’s face. “Knew y’ weren’t dead, Chris. That lyin’ bitch in Jericho, she said you’s dead. Knew she’s lyin’ through her teeth.” Relief washed over him, shining in the finely chiseled face.
“Glad you didn’t believe her, pard. Kept hoping you’d find me. Reckon it’s a good thing I’ve got one of the best trackers in the territory on my side.”
“One a th’ best!” Tanner feigned hurt. “One –“
Holding up a hand, Chris said quickly, “sorry…sorry. THE best tracker in the territory.”
“The TERRITORY!” Vin yelped, humor glittering in his blue eyes.
“Did I say territory?” Chris said in all innocence. “Must be the fever. I mean in the whole world!”
“Much obliged, Cowboy,” the young man said, “but y’ didn’t have t’ say that.”
Rolling his eyes heavenward, he smiled back at the other man. With a chuckle, he allowed the whiskey to wash through him and lull him back to sleep. He wasn’t afraid of sleeping now, he wasn’t alone any more.
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