Main Characters: Chris, Vin
Warnings: smarmy… very smarmy…
Notes: This is one of my earlier pieces. I wrote this as penance for ‘daring’ to call Michael Biehn skinny… *grin* … the penance was to write a “hurt Chris” and use the words “skinny” and “thin”. After I started it, I realized that it also fits the “I Give Thanks” challenge on our Black and Buckskin (General) list. I do love a two for one bargain.
Webmaster Note: This story was previously hosted at another website and was moved to blackraptor in July 2012.
Chris Larabee looked up through pain-filled eyes to see a pair of wide, blue ones looking back at him. With a soft groan, he managed a hoarse whisper. “What the hell happened?”
“Ain’t fer certain,” Vin Tanner replied. “Come up on yer horse earlier, figgered y’ needed some help. Reckon I’s right.”
Managing to lift a trembling hand to his face, Larabee took a mental inventory. Everything hurt, but he couldn’t quite focus enough to know if he hurt anywhere in particular. “Am I bleeding?”
“Not so’s y’d notice. Anything seem t’ be busted?”
Frowning, the blond once again surveyed the pain coursing in waves through his body. “Don’t think so. What the hell happened to me?”
Shaking his head, Tanner said, “Reckon we best git y' into town t’ see Nathan… see if he can figger it out.”
With a soft groan, Chris let his friend pull him to his feet. Once there nausea welled up from the center of his being, and he vomited. He was barely aware of his friend holding him up as he spilled the contents of his stomach out onto the ground. When the sickness finally left him he was leaning weakly against the other man. He accepted the canteen Vin held for him, filled his mouth with the lukewarm water, and spit it out. Taking another drink, he managed to swallow it, feeling his stomach protest its entrance.
Managing a faint snort, Larabee said, “You’re all heart… damn, scrawny Texan.”
“Yeah, well let’s see if we can get that skinny ass a yers into the saddle ‘fore y’ go heavin’ up yer socks.”
“My ass ain’t… skinny.”
“Hell, pard, yer skinny from the top a yer head t’ the soles of yer feet.”
“I am not! I’m thin… lean… trim… “
“Skinny.” Vin retorted, helping his friend into the saddle. Mounting his own big black horse, he handed over Pony’s reins to Larabee, turning Peso and leading off as they began the journey toward town.
Just a few minutes later, the Texan heard a moan and turned to find Chris leaning dangerously sideways in the saddle. Once more the blond was sick. Vin waited until Larabee was finished, then rode back to once more hand him the canteen. “Damn, Cowboy, at this rate yer gonna be leavin’ yer innards on the trail.”
“Pleasant picture,” Larabee groused weakly, feeling his stomach heave in protest as he looked up at the other man. “Just wish I knew what the hell’s wrong with me.”
Shaking his head, Vin said, “I don’t know, but think we’d best jist git’ y' out t’ yer shack and let y' rest up a bit.”
Managing a nod, the ill man clung gamely to the saddlehorn as his friend led his horse forward now. They rode in silence, both men happy when, a short time later, the gunslinger’s little shack came into view. Vin reined in the big animals at the corral, dismounting quickly and coming around to help the bigger man to the ground. Larabee’s black-clad legs refused to support him, and he found himself upright only because Tanner was holding on to him. Clinging gamely to the smaller man, he let himself be led into his little, one room shack. Shuffling inside, he let Vin guide him to the bed, where he dropped wearily to the mattress.
Tanner pulled the black duster, hat and boots off, followed by the gunbelt. Holding Chris upright, he pulled the blankets back, than lowered the ailing man to the bed. Covering him, he noticed that the lean frame was shivering. Adding wood to the stove, he built a fire, warming the already warm room. Going to the creek, he brought back two buckets of water, setting one by the stove and leaving the other near the narrow bunk while he peeled off his buckskin coat and hat.
Larabee roused, glassy eyes opening to slits, as the other man settled beside him and gently wiped a damp cloth across his face. He wanted to ask Vin what was going on, why he was tending him, but couldn’t form the words. The attention continued, and he drifted back to sleep under the sharpshooter’s keen gaze.
He felt Chris relax suddenly, and reached out to touch the strong neck for reassurance. Feeling a heartbeat, uneven and faster than he liked, but a heartbeat all the same, Vin allowed himself to relax just a bit. Tucking the blankets around the gunman, he busied himself preparing a broth, using a chunk of dried beef from the blond’s cupboard. When it was finished, he poured some in a mug and went to where Larabee lay. Slipping an arm beneath the broad shoulders, he lifted his friend enough to drink the strong broth. “Need y’ t’ wake up a bit, pard, got y' somethin’ t’ drink.”
“No… lemme be,” the older man muttered, his words slightly slurred.
“Y’ drink some a this ‘n I’ll let y' be,” Tanner countered.
“Vin… go ‘way.”
One eye sliding open to glare at the annoying man, he nonetheless opened his mouth to accept the strong drink. He found that it calmed his stomach as the rich liquid settled there, and he sipped with more persistence. As the mug was taken away, he managed another one-eyed look of irritation.
Smiling, Tanner said, “jist hold yer water, cowboy. I wanna see if this stays put ‘fore y’ git more.
With a sigh, Larabee allowed himself to be lowered back to the pillow, asleep before the blanket was put back in place.
Leaving the other man to sleep, Vin fixed himself something to eat, then went out to settle the horses for the night. Returning, he found the blond stirring restlessly. Moving to perch on the edge of the bed, he reached out and laid a calming hand on his friend’s shoulder. “Take it easy, pard, yer okay. Y’ jist need t’ git yer strength back. Settle down… yer fine.”
“Vin?” The man’s voice was faint, filled with pain and confusion.
“Sh, yeah it’s me. Y’ lay still and go back t’ sleep.”
“What’s… what’s wrong with… with me?”
“Ain’t certain, reckon its some sort ‘a fever. Come sunup we’ll git y' into town and have Nathan look y’ over. Now, go on back t’ sleep.” He dipped the rag into the water once more, running it over the flushed face. He could see the fever building in his friend’s usually fair features. He just hoped that morning didn’t come too late.
As darkness swallowed up the landscape, Vin roused Chris long enough to drink more of the broth he’d made. The blond lay limply against his arm, sipping at the warm liquid without comment. When the mug was empty he set it aside and lowered the feverish man back to the sweat-dampened pillow. With a worried frown, he reached out and stroked back strands of blond hair that were plastered to the pale forehead. “Y’ with me?”
Larabee managed a faint nod, but couldn’t find the strength to answer otherwise. His mind swam with disjointed thoughts and filled with barely recognized pictures. He knew who and where he was on some level, but the details eluded him. He tried to open his eyes, but failed, giving in to the fever’s pull with a breathless moan.
Watching the blond sink into the mattress, the Texan took up the cloth, wringing water from it before stroking it across the flushed face. For a reason he couldn’t name, he began to talk to the unconscious man.
“Y’ know, I was ponderin’ the other day, and I realized somethin’. Me and you, and the others been ridin’ together damn near two years now. It don’t feel like it’s been near that long… but at the same time it feels like we’ve known each other fer all our lives.” He paused, chuckling. “Reckon that’s the poet in me, there.
“It’s been like that since the beginnin’ though… since the day y’ nodded t’ me ‘cross the street. Ain’t never been able t’ figger out jist what ‘t was that made me jist walk out there and hike down the road after Nathan and them fool cowboys with y’. Must a been yer natural charm.”
Vin was quiet for a few minutes, busy straightening the blankets and rinsing out the wash cloth again. He stood, stretching to ease the tension in his back, and moved to the stove. Pouring himself a cup of coffee, he came back and settled into the chair once more. Yawning, he drank the strong brew, contemplating the older man. Chris was so still that he found himself counting the times the broad chest rose and fell.
“Y’ know, if anyone had a told me two years ago that I’d a just up and throwed in with y’, I’d a told ‘m they’s crazy. Never was one t’ let someone git close t’ me… hell, no one knows that better’n you I reckon. But… fer some reason I ain’t never been able t’ figger out, I never thought twice ‘bout walkin’ t’ the cemetery with y’.
“Now… well, now pard, I’d walk into hell with y’. But, reckon we done that a time or two as t’is.”
Chris mumbled and stirred on the bed, then quieted once again. Vin bathed the sheen of sweat from the handsome features.
“Don’t know that I could tell y’ when y’s awake, pard. I mean, reckon y’ know it anyway, but… ah, hell.” He stopped, staring out the window above the other man’s bed. After a time he continued, his voice soft with emotion.
“I’ve had friends… damn good ones. But as good ‘s they were, ain’t a one of ‘m that’s come close t’ you.
“Hell, it ain’t like we ain’t had our disagreements. It took a time t’ git y’ trustin’ me again after Ch… after Travis sent us t’ guard that wagon train. Cain’t say I don’t understand how y’ felt… but I wish I could make y’ understand what… what she meant t’ me.” He stopped again, sighing as his gaze unfocused, his minds eye seeing the auburn haired woman he’d almost given up everything for. It was several minutes before he spoke again.
“Reckon the thing that hurt the most though, was when y’ took Ella’s word over mine. If y’ only knew how I felt givin’ you that news. I didn’t trust her, but seein’ that look in yer eye when y’ looked at her. I knew where that look was takin’ y’… ah hell, cowboy, that’s all in th’ past. Reckon me ‘n you jist ain’t t’ be trusted t’ be in our right mind when it comes t’ dealin’ with women.
“Ain’t none of it means a lot, though, when it comes t’ what me ‘n you got goin’ fer us.” He stopped, a chuckle erupting from his smiling mouth. “That didn’t sound real good, did ‘t? Y’ know what I mean, though. Y’ always have been able t’ read me like a book. Jist like I can read y’ like a trail.
“What I was aimin’ at’s jist that… well, while I’ve had close friends, ones I could count on t’ watch m’ back, I ain’t never had a friend as close as you are. Ain’t never had one I considered a brother. Never even thought of it… not ‘til you come along.”
Vin sighed and lounged back in the chair, sipping at his cup of coffee. He continued to contemplate the man who lay in the bed, amazed at just how strong their bond had grown. He had realized some time ago that no matter where the two of them were… how much distance separated them… he was never without some sense of the other man. It offered him a feeling of comfort that he had rarely known before in his life. He knew without asking that it was the same with the blond.
The night passed with a slowness that set the former bounty hunter’s skin crawling. He spent most of the dark hours bathing the older man’s flushed features, feeding him broth and water, and talking to him.
As dawn spilled her frail beauty across the hills beyond the shack, Vin woke from a light doze. Frowning as he tried to decipher just what it was that had woken him, he heard a faint sound coming from the bed. He looked to find fever-bright hazel eyes looking back at him. With a smile, he leaned forward, his hand lightly gripping a listless arm.
“Mornin’,” his light word was belied by the relief evident in his raspy voice. “Y’ ain’t lookin’ near as old and haggard as y’ did last night.”
“Ha… ha,” Larabee managed in a weak voice. Blinking as he tried to focus his eyes, he asked, “water?”
Nodding, Tanner poured a mug half full of cold water and returned to the bed. Slipping a hand beneath the sweat-soaked head, he lifted Chris off the pillow and helped him drink the water. Lowering the man back down a minute later, he saw the pinched expression on the handsome face. “Y’ feelin’ sick?”
“Ain’t bad,” he managed.
“Reckon we ought ‘a try ‘n git y' into town soon’s we can. Don’t think y’ need t’ be out here alone. Think y’ can sit yer horse?”
“I’ll be… okay,” Chris croaked.
Nodding, Vin moved out to take care of getting the horses ready. Coming back inside, he found Larabee sitting on the side of the bed, head in hands. Helping the ill man into his boots, coat and hat, he pulled him carefully to his feet, holding him upright as the older man began to sag to the floor. “C’mon, cowboy, let’s git y' on yer horse.”
It took a few minutes to get Larabee from the shack to the corral and then onto the black’s back. He groaned, slumping in the saddle as he waited for the world to once again right itself. Beside him, Tanner climbed into the saddle of his own horse, took up both sets of reins, and led off at a pace he thought the gunman could handle.
The ride took twice as long as usual, the two men stopping several times along the trail. Each time they stopped, Chris was comforted by the presence of his younger friend. Vin would help him from the saddle to rest against a tree or whatever else he could find, then help him take some of the water in his canteen. Larabee felt as weak as a newborn kitten, and leaned heavily on his friend as they returned to the saddle and the trail into town.
JD Dunne looked up to see the two peacekeepers entering town and knew immediately that something was wrong. Bounding from the raised boardwalk, he hurried up the dusty street to meet the two men. He looked up to see Vin’s concerned expression and then turned to see a very pale and shaken looking Chris. Without a word, he ran ahead of them, calling for Nathan Jackson as he reached the broad staircase leading up to the healer’s clinic.
Larabee’s fever continued for two more days before breaking in a burst of heat that left both the gunman and his bedding soaked. The other peacekeepers had taken turns sitting with him through the worst of the illness, bathing the flushed flesh with cool water and feeding him water and broth when he was awake. Nathan had no explanation, only that it was a bad fever. Several other members of the community came down with it in the days that followed, although none of them became as ill as the blond did.
It was another three days before Chris was strong enough to leave the clinic. With Vin at his elbow, he walked unsteadily from the healer’s rooms and down the long stairway. Pausing at the bottom, he leaned heavily against the railing as he gathered the energy he would need to continue the walk to his rented room. He turned to the bounty hunter, smiling at the expression of concern. “I’m fine, Tanner, quit fussing over me.”
With a lopsided grin, the Texan said, “wasn’t fussin’. Jist wonderin’ how far I’m gonna have t’ carry yer skinny ass if y’ fall over.”
“Damn it… I said my ass ain’t skinny!”
“Yeah? Well, y’ ain’t had nothin’ but broth fer near a week. If it weren’t skinny before, it sure as hell is now!”
Larabee opened his mouth to reply, but shut it with a shake of his head. Slinging an arm over the cocky young man’s shoulders, he allowed himself to be helped down the street toward his room. Neither of them said anything else until Tanner helped him into bed.
As Tanner pulled the blankets up over the broad chest, Chris lifted his arm, clasping his friend’s forearm. With a broad grin that said more than his words could convey, he said softly, “thanks, pard. For everything.”
Returning the smile, Vin said, “any time, cowboy. Anytime.”
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