Prey by LaraMee

Main Characters: Chris, Vin

Notes: Nothing much, just a lot of H/C with a little bit of story. One of my earlier pieces.

Webmaster Note: This story was previously hosted at another website and was moved to blackraptor in July 2012.

They had been on a hunt. It was supposed to be a chance for the two men to get away from civilization. When the settlers out beyond town began complaining of animal attacks, the gunslinger and the hunter left the other members of their peacekeeping force in town and escaped to go handle the situation. For three days they had tracked the killer responsible for the loss of several head of cattle. It had taken Vin only a single look at the first track to know that they were looking for one of the biggest cougars they would probably ever see in their lives. With a renewed sense of purpose they continued the hunt. Vin followed the tracks easily, coaxing information from the environment where none seemed possible. Chris shook his head more than once as Vin squatted to study something he had spotted. Then he would nod to himself as he studied the terrain, step back up into Peso’s saddle, and they would ride again. But on the fourth day out, things went to hell, and their leisure trip was quickly forgotten.


“Hey Cowboy, time to get your sorry butt outta them blankets.” Vin, taking his life in his own hands, gently kicked a booted foot.

“You’re awful damn cocky for a man on borrowed time, “ Chris grumbled from beneath his blankets. “Cause I’m gonna get up and kick your skinny carcass back to town.”

“I ain’t scared a’ no old man set on sleepin’ th’ day away,” Tanner quipped. “Time you crawl up outta there I could –“ he broke off with a ‘whoop’ as Larabee threw back his blanket and aimed his colt right between the younger man’s eyes. With a lopsided grin, Vin backed away, hands held out and away to tell Chris that he surrendered.

With a wicked smile, Larabee cocked the pistol, reveling in the ever-widening blue eyes that stared at him, not quite sure of his intentions. Then, grinning even wider, he eased the hammer back, and flopped back to the ground. As he pulled the blanket back over his head, he ordered, “call me when breakfast is ready.”

Chuckling, Vin said, “damn you Larabee.” He set about throwing together a trail breakfast.

Dozing lightly, Chris was suddenly dragged back toward wakefulness by his nose. Easing the blanket back, he squinted open one eye. “What in the hell is that gawd-awful smell?”

“Coffee,” Vin pushed the steaming mug closer to the other man. “Come t’ tell y’ breakfast’s’ ready...old man.”

Gingerly accepting the mug, Chris eyed it suspiciously. Taking a sip, he fought to keep it in his mouth. “GEES-US!!” He yelped as he finally managed to swallow the foul concoction, “ that is the nastiest, strongest... nastiest... stuff I’ve ever tasted!”

“Yep...does tend t’ wake a body up though, don’ it?”

“Nasty as that stuff is, I may never sleep again!” The gunslinger grudgingly crawled out from under the blanket and moved to the fire through the chill morning air.


They had eaten breakfast and broken camp. Relenting for his earlier treatment of the younger man, Chris saddled both Peso and Pony. By mid-afternoon Vin announced that they were closing in on their prey. The men exchanged looks, thinking back to the day in Eagle Bend, when Chris had told Vin of his last cougar hunt. They might be close...or the cougar could be closer than they knew.


Despite their vigilance, however, they found themselves coming up short. As the evening was threatening a halt to their journey, they made their way out of a mountain pass onto a broad, tree-dotted plateau. The horses suddenly began dancing nervously, a sure sign that something was going on. Reining his black in, Vin looked around quickly, his mare's leg already in his hand.

Behind him, Chris was looking around as well, his rifle at the ready. What followed happened so quickly that he would never know exactly what had occurred. One second Vin was astride his horse, the next he was flailing through the air, in a deadly embrace with the big cat. “VIN!” Larabee’s voice echoed through the air, mixed with the cougar’s scream and the hunter’s single cry of pain and surprise. As Vin and the cat landed, the force knocked them apart. Before he even registered that fact, Chris fired, felling the cat with a single shot. Leaping from Pony’s back, he ran to his friend’s side.

“Vin? Oh... shit...” The gunslinger groaned as he gently rolled the injured man over. Broad gashes angled across Vin’s chest, and crimson was already soaking his torn shirt and open coat. Hurrying back to his horse, Chris returned to Tanner’s side. He pressed a folded shirt against the wounds.

Tanner moaned softly, his blue eyes fluttered open. “What... happened?” He whispered.

“Cougar came calling. You lay still now.”

“Where is... it?”



“Dead. Lay still, alright? We need to get the bleeding to stop.”

“Tore me up... pretty... bad?”

“Seen worse. Look, how come I want you to shut up for once, you keep yammering?”

“Sorry,” Vin whispered with a smile. Then the smile became a grimace as Chris put pressure on the wounds. “SHIT!” He cried, “take... it easy... pard...”

“Sorry, I know it hurts, but we’ve got to get the bleeding stopped.” He could hear the fear creeping into his voice, and knew he had to mask it. Letting Vin think he was going to die wasn’t going to help anything. But, looking at the deep wounds in the thin, muscular chest, he wasn’t sure that it was far from the truth.

“Chris... I ain’t checkin’... out cause a no... mangy cat,” Vin said. He had known how worried his friend was even before he spoke. He could see it in the hazel green eyes that were avoiding his.

“No one said anything about checking out, you stubborn buff hunter. I ain’t ready to collect that $500.00 yet. Now, Vin Tanner shut up and lay still. Next time I have to tell you, I’m doing it with the business end of a club.”

They were silent then, each wrapped in his own personal hell; Vin consumed by the pain of his injuries, Chris fighting the fears of losing his best friend. The bleeding finally stopped, and Chris bandaged the wounds as best he could. Vin was nearly unconscious by the time he finished. Bringing the bedrolls from both saddles, he made Tanner as comfortable as he could. That finished he built a fire nearby. Even with the extra covering, Vin was beginning to shiver. It would only get worse as the night went on, Chris knew that.

Fixing broth over the fire, Larabee managed to feed some of it to his friend. Vin’s face was paler than he had ever seen before, sweat from the coming fever giving him an eerie, waxwork glow. Propping Tanner up against the saddles, he held the mug while the injured man drank. It was only a few sips, but at least it was something. His head lulling back against the leather, Vin nodded his thanks to Chris.

Pulling the blankets closer around his companion, Larabee moved off to find more material for the fire. Reticent to go very far, he stayed in kept the wounded man in sight. Returning quickly, he built up the fire and checked on Vin. Already he could tell a difference. The younger man was growing warmer, his eyes had a glazed look in them when he turned toward Chris.

“You plannin’... on fussin’ o’er me... all night?”

“Probably. You got a problem with that?”

Smiling wanly Vin just closed his eyes. Chris watched him, comforted by the gentle rise and fall of his chest. Looking skyward, he looked for clouds. On one hand their presence could mean rain or, more likely, snow this high up. On the other, the lack of clouds would allow it to grow colder during the night. Neither possibility made him happy. Stoking the fire, he put himself between Vin and the cold beyond the camp. Pulling his arms and legs up under his serape, he wished for morning.


Vin was aware of Chris sitting nearby, but he slowly became aware of another presence. Looking around slowly, he found himself looking into a familiar face that was watching him intently. It was several minutes before he found his voice, and then he said only a single word.


She smiled, that little bit of a smile he remembered from childhood. The one that let him know that he was the most important person in the world to her. “Hi baby,” she said softly.

He had forgotten that...hearing her call him ‘baby’. He had hated it then; made him embarrassed. But just made him feel happy. He had missed her so badly. She had always been the driving force in his life; he realized that he had always known she had never completely left him. “Missed you.”

“You knew I was nearby Vinny. And I always will be.”

He closed his eyes with a sigh. He was safe now. It was a feeling he had known so seldom in his life that he was almost afraid of it. But at the same time, he felt himself truly relax.


Chris roused at the sound of Vin mumbling in his sleep. Looking over, he saw a smile overtake his friend’s face, pushing away the pain. Then he heaved a big sigh and went quiet. Larabee jumped, his hand flying to Tanner’s neck. He only relaxed then he felt a heartbeat. In fact, it seemed a little stronger than it had been...


“You here t’ take me away?” He asked a little while later. He had woken up again to find her still sitting there, watching him.

“No. I came here to make sure you stay put.”

“But, Mama...I miss y’ so much...”

“I know Vinny, but it ain’t your time yet. You’re too young to be leavin’ this life.”

“You were younger’n I am now Mama.”

“I was too young too,” she said with a smile. “But I didn’t have a choice. I sure wouldn’t a left you if I could’a stayed...I’m sorry I had to leave you so young.”

He smiled in return. “ I know Mama. I always knew...knew you was watchin’ over me, too. Sometimes it was th’ only thing I could count on...knowin’ you were there.”

“I woulda wished you an easier life –“

”No ma’am! I wouldn’a changed hardly a thing. Other than the trouble in Tascosa, m’ life ain’t been that bad.”

Shaking her head, she said, “ain’t been easy, neither.”

“No, ain’t been easy, but I figger it ain’t made me a bad feller, neither.”

“Oh no! I couldn’t be prouder a you Vin Tanner!”

“I’ve had your words in my heart since the day...the day I lost you, Mama. Ain’t been nothin’ as important t’ me as living up to m’ name. Bein’ a Tanner’s th’ only thing I ever needed to live up to.”

“You have baby, and more. Watchin’ you, standin’ up for what’s right, bein’ there for your friends...couldn’t want a better child.”

He smiled, broader than he had ever smiled before. Her words brought him comfort and pride. His mother was pleased with the way he had lived his life. He could never need anything more. “Thank you, Mama.”

She bent forward and kissed him on the forehead. Stroking his cheek as she sat back, she smiled once again. “I love you Vin.”

“I love you, too, Mama,” he said quietly. He closed his eyes then, savoring the feel of her touch; the warmth of her kiss. Opening his eyes a few minutes later, he found her gone.


“Mama?!?” He called out.


Turning toward the voice, Tanner found his best friend watching him anxiously. “Where is she Chris?” He asked in a dry whisper.


“Mama...” Vin felt the sorrow well up in his chest. Tears threatened to spill from his blue eyes. “Where’s m’... Mama?”

“You were dreaming,” Chris said quietly. “You’ve been fever-talking for awhile. It was a dream, Vin.”

“NO!” he said adamantly. “My Mama was here. Right here...” then he stopped, realizing what he was saying. “She was Chris... she was.” The sadness in his eyes when he searched Larabee’s for confirmation nearly broke the gunslinger’s heart.

“Go back to sleep, Vin. It’ll be better in the morning.” Chris gently bathed the handsome face with cool water.


Morning came, and with it heavy clouds that told of a coming storm. Chris built up the fire and set about to warm more broth for the injured tracker. Vin had slept for a few hours, restlessly, but hadn’t yet recovered to full consciousness. His fever was no worse, but Larabee wouldn’t be happy until it broke. He slipped Tanner’s spyglass out of his coat and studied the countryside for signs of shelter. He would have to get his friend under cover somewhere; he wanted to get Vin strong enough to return to town and Nathan’s skills.

Finding nothing promising, he knew that he would have to somehow get Tanner down out of the mountains. At least they would be warmer there, and perhaps he could find somewhere that would give them shelter while Vin recuperated. If not, they would have to travel back home. They had been moving in a wide arch; it would take at least two days to get back. Taking up the hot broth, he moved to Tanner’s side. Gently tapping the fevered cheeks, he said softly, “Vin? Wake up and eat a little bit.”

“Ain’t hungry...” he murmured.

“You need to eat something. You won’t get your strength back if you don’t and it’s going to be a long trip home.”

“Chris... let me... be...” then suddenly his eyes opened, and he looked at a spot beyond the gunslinger. “Ain’t hungry...” he repeated. “But... okay...” he sighed and looked back at Chris. “I’ll eat... I reckon.”

Larabee focused on helping the younger man take some of the broth. He had the eerie feeling that if he looked behind him he’d see something – or someone – that he wasn’t prepared to deal with right now.

Together the men managed to get half a mug of broth into the hunter, but then he gulped and began chocking, his breath coming in raspy sobs. Chris lifted him, letting Vin rest against his body as he fought to get his breath.

“Oh... God, Chris... it... hurts!” Vin moaned as the spasms tore at the gashes in his chest.

With nothing to do but hold his friend, Chris squeezed his shoulder, not knowing how else to bring comfort to him. “Hang on Vin, just try and breath normal... hang on.”

Slowly Tanner relaxed, his breathing becoming more regular. Gently Larabee lowered him back to the bedroll. Vin’s face was tear streaked, his eyes glazed over with pain. Without a word Chris dampened his kerchief and bathed the other man’s face. Carefully opening his coat, he found that Vin’s wounds had begun seeping again. With nothing else to use as bandage material, he pressed against what was already there.

The bleeding subsided quickly. Looking back at Tanner’s face, Chris saw him staring off in the distance once again.

“Feelin’ better pard?” He asked quietly.

“I’m okay,” he said dreamily.



“Look at me, Vin,” the man’s distraction was beginning to make Larabee nervous.

Azure eyes slowly tracked to Chris’ face. “What?” Vin asked once again.

“Where are you pard?”

Looking at him quizzically Tanner didn’t reply.

“Where are you Vin?” Chris repeated, more firmly now.

“In the mountains... you get lost ‘r somethin’?”

A look of relief gracing his handsome features, Chris said, “no, I just wanted to make sure that you hadn’t.”

“Nope... I’m fine...” then he returned his gaze over Larabee’s shoulder.

Glancing behind him, Chris half-expected to see someone, but there was nothing but the open vista of the plateau. Turning back, he watched Vin some more.

“What are you looking at?” He asked finally.

“Nothin’ right now. Just... waitin’...”

“Waiting for what?”

“Mama...Chris, I ain’t crazy... I did see... her...” Vin said adamantly.

“Alright,” Chris decided that here and now was not the time to discuss theology. When Vin had recovered, well, they’d see how the man felt about it then. Instead he set about gathering their things up. “We need to get off this mountain,” he explained as he worked.

“Yep...storm’s comin’,” Vin answered. If anyone could read nature, it was Vin Tanner.


“Why do you have to be such a damn stubborn fool?” Chris was beyond exasperation. His eyes snapped with anger.

“Ain’t bein’ stubborn, Chris,” Vin said from where he lay propped up against a tree trunk. “Bein’ reasonable. Peso ner Pony... neither one’s gonna be... able t’ carry double down the pass. “ he paused, pale from the simple exertion of talking.

“Pony can do it,” Chris said adamantly. “Peso can too. You ain’t well enough to ride on your own.”

“Then tie me... int th’... saddle,” Tanner said evenly.


Looking up at the sky, he said softly, “Chris... storm’s comin’... gonna be here... in ‘bout two... hours. Y’ wanna argue... til then?”

“No. I can just pick you up and put you in a saddle, pard. Don’t think you could do much about it.”

“Maybe not... but you’re m’ friend... you ain’t gonna...”

Dropping his head, Chris conceded defeat. “Damn you, Tanner,” he grumbled.

Grinning, Vin remained quiet.


The wind was picking up by the time Larabee had managed to get them both ready to go. He reluctantly bound Vin in his saddle, wrapping the blankets around him to fight the chill Tanner was feeling more by the moment. Looking up into the finely chiseled face he was rewarded by a wan smile and a wink. Taking up Peso’s reins he mounted Pony and started them off down the mountain.

Soon they began to feel the snow. It fell in big flakes, hitting them from behind. Chris coaxed the horses to go a little faster. The snow came faster. Pulling up, he dismounted and went to check on Vin. The hunter’s face was a mask of pain, ghastly pale, his eyes and lips tightly clinched shut against the agony he felt with each step his horse took. Peso had the smoothest gait of all their mounts, Chris knew then that Vin wouldn’t have tolerated being on Pony. Reaching up, he pulled the blankets tighter, tucking them around his friend. Pulling them up in the back, he did his best to make certain that as little of the precipitation touched him.

“You... make a... good... m-mother... hen...” Tanner managed to quip.

“Awful cocky for a man tied to his horse, with a price on his head,” Chris joked in return.

Getting back on Pony, he started them off again. He pulled the serape closer, but the wind still managed to get inside and beneath the duster he wore as well.

By the time they reached the bottom of the trail, both men resembled forlorn snowmen. Vin was slumped in the saddle, barely conscious. As soon as he could, Chris reined Pony in next to Peso, so he could steady the younger man in the saddle. At least it was getting a little warmer now, but it would also be sundown soon. Going had been slow; Vin’s injuries and the snow nearly halting their progress several times during the day. Chris had stopped them long enough to coax Tanner to take some jerky and water, but had pushed them as hard as he dared the rest of the time.

Vin stirred, looking blearily over at the other man. “We there... yet?”

“Nearly. I’m going to find us someplace to hole up til tomorrow. Alright?”

Nodding, Tanner let his head slump back down to his chest. Afraid to release him, Chris rode slowly, keeping the horses as close together as he could. He scanned their surroundings for someplace to camp. Finally settling on a dense copse of trees, he steered them toward it. Once there he ground-reined the horses and, not wanting to take the time to work loose the knotted rope, simply cut Vin free. The lean hunter slid silently from the saddle. Chris lifted him into his arms and found the most comfortable place he could to deposit him. Quickly finding material to burn, he built a fire, feeding it until it was roaring as hard as he dared. Pulling the blankets from around Vin, he shook them free of snow and spread them out near the fire to dry. Returning once more to his friend’s side, Chris slipped his duster off beneath the snow-soaked serape and covered him with it. Reaching beneath the coat, he grasped the limp hands with his own and began rubbing them briskly.

“We... holdin’ hands... now?” Vin asked quietly, his eyes still closed.

“Yeah, couldn’t think of anything better to do,” Chris replied. Meant as a joke, it rang with truth. There was little he could do for his friend out here, alone.

“You’re fussin’... again.”

“Yeah, well enjoy it while you can, cowboy. You get well, I’m gonna have you pulling my duty for a week.”

Vin laughed weakly, then lapsed into silence. His body went limp, his breathing growing ragged.

Watching the younger man with growing alarm, Chris found himself clinching the slowly warming hands he still held. “Pard, you stay with me...”

“Ain’t goin’... no... where...” Came the whispered reply. “But yer... r-rub... bin’ th’ skin... off m’ hands...”

With an embarrassed chuckle, Larabee loosened his grip, but did not let go.


The night was warmer than the previous one had been, but there was still a bite in the air. Wrapping Vin in the warmed blankets, Chris built up the fire and once again set vigil through the darkness. His own reserves were becoming more depleted by the moment, and he dosed restlessly from time to time. But then Vin would begin fever talking again, and he would come fully awake and watch him intently.


“Vinny, I’m here.”

“Mama... I’s worried... worried you wouldn’t come back. That you left me.”

“Never, baby. I’d never leave you,” she stroked his face, brushing his hair, tracing the outline of his jaw. “Such a strong face, but caring too. The face of a son to be proud of.”

He drifted back to sleep in the comfort of her touch and her words. Words that he had prayed to hear for so long.


Morning came with a promise of sunshine. Chris built up the fire and used more jerky to make broth. Taking a mug to Vin’s side, he simply sat watching the younger man. Tanner’s face told him more about how he felt then the man would himself. Brow furrowed in pain, his eyes moved rapidly beneath closed lids. He had mumbled soundlessly throughout the long night hours talking, Chris supposed, to his dead mother.

“ star’n... at...” the words came faintly, and Chris saw that the hunter’s eyes were opened to slits.

“Thought you were still asleep,” Chris answered softly, not certain that Vin had actually been talking to him.

“Ain’t sure... m’self most a... th’ time.”

Touching the man’s head yet again, Chris saw Vin flinch at the cool touch. He was burning up. Larabee knew that time was running out Vin Tanner. Pushing those thoughts away, he gently lifted Vin’s head. “Here, drink this.”

Laying back after a few sips, Vin said, “you ever see a... sweat l-lodge?”

“Heard of them, why?”

“It’ll drive... the... fever out...”

“Alright,” Chris said with his typical resolve. “Can you tell me how to put one together?”

“Reckon...” slowly, stopping every few words, Tanner explained the construction. By the time he finished, he was trembling from the exertion, sweating and panting as he lapsed back into semi-consciousness. Cooling the pale face, Larabee patted the other man’s shoulder before leaving his side to gather materials for the lodge.


He felt more anxious by the minute, wanting to be done and away; wanting to be back in town. Chris Larabee, who had always been his own man, relying first and foremost on himself, craved the company of the other men he had been riding with for a little over a year. He wanted to turn the burden of Vin’s life over to their resident healer. If Vin died, he didn’t want...

“Stop it, you damn fool!” Chris growled the words aloud. With renewed effort, he pushed on to finish.


“Not... bad...” Vin wheezed from where he stood, leaning heavily against the gunslinger.

“What now?”

“Help me.. get m’... clothes... off...”

Easing the hunter to the ground, Chris continued to support him while he worked Vin out of his clothing. Finishing, he said, “what now?”

“Bandages... bandages, too... Chris...”


“Do... do it... Chris.”

Hesitantly complying, he hoped Vin knew what he was talking about. Laying the soiled strips of cloth atop the pile of clothes, Chris moved his friend into the small structure. It was already heating up; Chris was sweat-soaked by the time he settled Tanner on the blankets. Moving back outside, he covered the opening and busied himself with cleaning the blood-stiffened bandages.


“Hey Mama.”

She smiled. “Hey yourself. Your friend’s working awfully hard to keep you with him.”

“Chris... he’s a good friend. ‘Bout th’ best I ever had.”

“I’m glad,” she paused, studying his face. “Vinny...”

“Mama, please... I don’t wanna know what you’re gonna say. I can read it in your eyes.”

“Baby, I’ve got to go. You need t’ get back t’ th’ business a livin’. You’re tryin’ t’ hold on t’ me and it’s keepin’ y’ from fightin’ t’ hold on t’ life.”

He sighed, knowing that she was right. Finally, feeling his heart break as he did so, he nodded. “Alright Mama...but would y’ stay, just for a little while longer? Just for awhile?”

“Yes baby, I’ll stay.” She stroked his hair and began to sing to him softly.

Outside, Chris listened to Vin mumbling again. Sure it was his imagination, Larabee could almost swear that he heard someone singing softly; the sound carried to him on the wind.

Through the day and on into the night, Chris kept vigil, watching as Vin fought back from wherever the fever had taken him. He fed him water and broth, bathed his face and tried to keep the sweat from burning into his wounds. Finally, just before dawn, the fever broke. Vin lapsed into a true sleep, and Chris allowed himself to relax for a while.


It had been a long, long ride. Vin’s fever had broken two days before, but he was still weak and ill. The mangled flesh on his chest was in need of cleaning and stitching. All Chris could do was to keep the worst of the infection at bay with whiskey and prayer.

Vin was quieter than usual, but gamely did what he could to get through the journey. He would sit in Peso’s saddle for as long as he could, then with a soft word to his companion, he would slip from the saddle, holding on to the leather until Chris could get to him and lead him to a comfortable spot to rest. He would answer Chris’ questions in that soft twang, and didn’t even complain when his friend insisted on fussing over him. He didn’t seem upset or angry about the situation. Chris couldn’t explain it, but his friend seemed more at peace with himself than the gunslinger could ever remember. There was also an air of...something... expectation, Chris decided. Expectation that something or someone was just around the next corner.

Looking over to see Tanner slumped in the saddle, Chris reached over an steadied him, then said quietly. “Vin? Wake up. We’re just about home.”

“Home?” the hunter said in a weak whisper.

“Yeah. We’ll be there in just a little while. You understand me?”

Looking ahead, Vin saw the wooden frames of the little gathering of buildings. He smiled, happy to see that their long journey would soon be over. “Home,” he repeated.


“Hey, Buck, looks like Chris and Vin comin’ this way.” J.D. called to his friend and surrogate older brother as he entered the saloon.

“They got the cat with ‘m?”

“Can’t tell, but I think maybe something’s up. They’re riding awful slow.”

The other five peacekeepers stepped out onto the boardwalk just as Chris and Vin rode slowly up the street. They watched as Vin started to topple sideways, Chris reaching out to pull him back into the saddle. The others came at a dead run, Nathan and Buck reaching the pair at the same time.

“What happened?” Nathan asked in concern.

“Cat got him,” Chris said. “About four days ago. Been running a fever, wounds are infected. He needs more attention than I could give him out there.”

Nodding, Nathan reached up and held onto the injured man. Motioning to J.D., the healer had the young man climb onto Peso’s back behind Tanner. Dunne mounted the horse and leaned his friend back against him. Letting the former preacher lead Peso, he concentrated on keeping Vin in the saddle. They got to Jackson’s clinic and carried the hunter carefully upstairs. Once there, Nathan shooed out everyone but Josiah, instructing Buck, J.D. and Ezra to take Chris away for a hot meal and a drink while he and Sanchez saw to Tanner’s injuries. Arguing only for a minute, Chris bowed to the logic of taking care of his own needs, and left his best friend in the healer’s hands.


“Hey pard, you awake?”

Blue eyes fluttering open, Vin finally focused on the face of his friend. “Hey Chris,” he said in a raspy whisper. “We in town?”

“Yeah, been here for three days. Your fever came back, and I couldn’t get Nathan to put in a sweat lodge.” He smiled at the younger man. It was a smile of relief and joy that his friend was finally awake again.

With a smile in return, Vin said, “guess he figgered... that new-fangled... medicine’d... be better.”

“Reckon. How are you feeling?”

“Ain’t real... sure yet. Could use a drink.”

Retrieving a mug of water from the nearby table, Chris knelt by the bed and lifted Tanner’s head from the pillow. Drinking greedily, Vin finally took his fill and let his head fall back against the bed. He looked up into the other man's eyes and said, “thanks, pard, for gettin’ me back here’n all.”

“Anytime, “ Chris ducked his head, afraid that the emotions were too close to the surface to look at the other man right now.

“Sorry...sorry I scared you out there.”

“Just couldn’t figure out where I was going to get a decent tracer on short notice if you cashed in,” Chris jibbed.

Smiling, but not playing into the gentle joking, Vin continued, “I know you think I’m crazy Chris...maybe...maybe I am. But I know what I saw out there...who I saw...”

“Rest Vin, we’ll talk about it later.” Chris laid a hand on his friend’s shoulder, watching the pale eyes drift shut. He watched him sleep for several long minutes. And somewhere, in the distance, he could hear someone singing a lullaby.

The End

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