With Eagle's Wings

by Deirdre

Two Days Later, Suppertime

The group alternated shifts, except for Chris, who wouldn't leave Vin's side. Josiah and J.D. took night shift, Ezra and Nathan day shift. Buck continued to improve and had turned the corner. Vin was fading and Chris's haunted face and weary body showed the strain of three days with little sleep.

"Hey Pard," a weak voice called, causing Chris to lean in from his post in the doorjamb.

"Hey, yourself," Chris eyed Buck, who was starting to look human again. "How you feeling?"

"Like I went down the Snake River head first," Buck eased himself upright and reached for glass of juice that was on his bedstand.

"Hold on," Chris crossed the room and retrieved it, "You up to some beef stew, hot rolls and butter and apple cider?"

"I could eat Biff Winters prize bull, I'm so damned hungry," Buck joked of a rancher near Four Corners.

Chris nodded and left for a moment. Josiah reappeared a few minutes later bearing a tray. "Room Service," He joked placing the tray in front of Buck. "You need anything else?"

"No thanks, Josiah," Buck nodded as the older man left to finish his dinner.

"Any change?" Buck asked, dipping the hot bread into the savory stew.

Chris shook his head and sank into the chair J.D. vacated, going to town with Ezra to get a hot bath. He ran a hand through his hair and rubbed his eyes. Buck's spoon paused in mid-air as he saw worry written into Chris's tired features.

"At least when he was delirious and thrashing around, he had some fight in him." Chris sighed, rubbing his sling; "Now he just lays there...all you hear is that awful raspy breathing. Nathan tried all day to get fluids into him. I don't know Buck...." Chris's voice died as he rested his elbow on his knee and stared at the floor.

Buck remained silent for a moment, when a thought struck him. "Hey Chris," He turned as Larabee's eyes rose to meet his, "What about laying him on a bed of ice?"

Chris nodded thoughtfully and left the chair, stopping to pat Buck's knee, "You might have something there, I'll check with the Doctor. You finish all of that..."

"Don't worry," Buck said scooping up a hefty spoonful.

Chris watched Doctor Adams eyeing Vin carefully. "Well?" the impatient gunslinger asked, "This fever is eating him alive. We need to get more aggressive."

"I agree, Chris, it's a good idea...but it's such a shock to the system and he's already weak. It's risky."

"What other options are left?" Chris's impatience was showing it's teeth, "You tried everything else. The longer we stand here and jaw about this, the weaker Vin gets." He shouted angrily.

"Chris is right, Walt," Kate agreed, massaging the weary leader's back from behind, "That boy don't have much fight left in him."

"I'd feel better if a family member gave consent on his behalf." the doctor commented.

"I'll give consent," Chris said quietly, wiping his sweat soaked hand so he wouldn't lose Vin's grip.

Kate had seen first hand over the last three days the depth of Chris Larabee's deep feelings for the injured man. She watched Nathan argue with the blond to get some sleep, a hot bath, or take a break. But those pleas fell on deaf ears. Other than an occasional meal and a catnap, the brooding man was never away from Vin Tanner's side. There was no question in her mind the two were close. Closer than any kin she knew. She saw the doctor eyeing Chris as well. She caught his gaze as he nodded.

"Alright, Chris," She clapped a hand on the grungy shirt, "I'll make you a deal. You get a hot bath, shave and clean clothes, and I'll send for some blocks of ice. We can set it up right beyond the house, in the yard."

Chris took a deep breath and shook his head. Josiah was in the hall with a clean pile of clothes. "I'll catch up with the others in town. We'll get the ice, Doc."

Chris hovered on the front porch and placed the clean clothes on a chair by the edge. He saw Josiah hitching the team to a wagon and leaned against the porch rail. Josiah pulled the team up and Chris shook his head. The big man wasn't surprised. He clicked his tongue and urged the team to town

Chris was still out front when they returned a short time later. He watched as J.D and Josiah hauled blocks of ice through the yard in a wheelbarrow. Ezra took care of the team. They set the ice blocks in a row, creating a cold bed. Josiah and Nathan carried Vin in his blanket and placed him in the icy bed.

The odd pain roused the slumbering dragon. His chattering teeth and twitching limbs turned vocal. Josiah, J.D. and Ezra managed to control his body. Nathan had to physically restrain Chris, who was just about undone by the young man's cries for help.

"Chris? Where the hell are ya? They're killing me...Chris..." Vin screamed, wild eyes roaming a world known only to him. "Get yer hands offa me ya cold-hearted bastards. CHRIS!! CHRIS!"

"Make them stop, Nathan," Chris screamed, "Jesus, why did I agree to this?" Chris pushed his way into the melee and tried to pull Vin off the bed, "That's enough, it's tearing him up. Let him alone."

Kate's heart nearly broke at Chris's agony, "Get him out of here," She poked Josiah, who needed all his strength to manhandle the struggling gunslinger.

"Get off of me," Chris snapped, hurling his good fist at Josiah, who pulled the fighting form towards the house.

"No! Dammit, leave me be...Chris," Vin's voice was growing weaker as the icy fingers penetrated his scorched skin.

Josiah dug his boots in deep and held on to the cursing, combative leader of the seven. "Stop carrying on like a child," Josiah angered, "That doctor knows what he's doing."

After a while,Vin's body slumped. His head lolled on J.D.'s arm. The youth panicked, his heart fearing the worst. "Nathan? He ain't...." J.D. spoke to the healer.

Nathan felt a pulse and heard the respirations. "He's still with us, let's get him back inside." J.D. and Ezra linked arms to form a seat and Nathan and the doctor lowered Vin into it. "Not you..." Nathan's hand smacked Chris's chest. "Not until you look like a human being again. Go on and find that tub."

Chris walked around the front and used that door. He was in Vin's room when they laid him back down. Chris's hand went from Vin's head to his neck and chest. "He feels like a damn corpse."

"Chris Larabee," Nathan started to argue, until he saw the fear in Chris's eyes, something so rare it rendered him momentarily speechless. "It'll be awhile Chris, his body has to adjust. We knew it was a risk."

A short time later, Dr. Adams saw the eyes of the patient flutter. He bent over the young man and smiled. His light touch to the tracker's head told him what his eyes already knew. Fever was broken. He smiled down at Vin and addressed the muddled gaze.

"Good evening Vin," He leaned in low, so the young man could hear him, "I'm Doctor Adams and you're near Correyville at Kate's house. You suffered some injuries to your legs, head and ribs. You've been lost in a fever for a few days. It's going to be awhile yet, but you will make a full recovery." He lifted Vin's body forward and held a mug of cold water to his lips, "I'll bet you're thirsty."

Vin complied, welcoming the wonderful taste. His eyes darted around the room, over the mug. Gasping as he finished, he spotted a lean black leg. He tried to see around the doctor's body, his mouth silently formed the name his voice was too weak to utter. Walter Adams exchanged a smile with Kate and moved out of the way.

"Cowboy..." it was a weak croak, but it moved the body from the chair.

Chris's eyes were swollen slits, and his exhaustion was painted clearly on every feature. He sprung forward and stumbled, grabbing the doctor's arm to regain his balance. Walter Adams just smiled and nodded, which brought a grin to the unshaven, grubby face. The doctor patted Chris on the back and left to tell the others the good news.

"High time you woke up, Tanner." He leaned in low, drinking in the clear eyes and weak smile.

"...Need...need..." Vin's hand wavered as he reached up. "...tell y'all..."

Chris grabbed it and frowned, "What Vin?"

Vin's face screwed up and his nose wrinkled, "...ya wrasslin' with skunks?...stink...Cow...boy."

Chris dropped the hand and stood back, glaring down at the blinking patient, "You Goddamn ungrateful, long-haired Texas river rat," He fired, "That's the thanks I get for slavin' by your deathbed for three days. Go to hell, Tanner"

Kate laughed heartily and left to get Vin a bowl of soup. She spotted Ezra and handed him the bowl. She gripped the gambler's shoulder and nodded, her smile told him the good news.

"Ah, a rare breed the Texas long-haired river rat," Ezra added, from Chris's shoulder, "If I recall correctly Mr. Larabee, they are stubborn to a fault, laconic in nature, dress shabbily, scurrying about without letting their comrades know of their actions and decidedly hostile while infirmed."

"Yup," Chris agreed, "Might have to skin this one..." He paused in the door and caught sight of the familiar Tanner scowl. He grinned, as the scratchy voice protested Ezra's efforts.

"...gimme the damn spoon...ain't no baby..."

"No, an infant has sense enough to accept nourishment when given." Ezra argued, "This soup is a necessary component on the road to your full recovery. It's my great misfortune to be covering your woebegone posterior, whilst your multitude of contusions are revitalized. So I suggest you cease and desist with your protest."

Vin's face screwed up and his head cocked, trying to decipher the Southerner's words. He opened his mouth to protest, and Ezra slid a full spoonful in. Chris chuckled, heading for the bathhouse. "You still a damn fraud, Ezra."

It was a beautiful sunny day and Vin watched the sun come up through the window to this right. His aches and pains all sung out loudly, with the slightest move. He grimaced, eyeing the bandaged chest and legs with disdain. The fight with the fever left him weak and that angered him. He hated feeling this helpless and depending on people to care for him. He spotted the cold water pitcher on the bedstand. He sat up and reached over for it, only to have the room start to spin.

"Whoa, Pard," A hand grabbed his flailing arm, "Get on back in bed. I'll get ya a drink. Wish it was a cold beer."

"Me too..." Vin coughed, starting up at a friendly face. "Buck? Nathan know yer up?"

"Not yet," Buck steadied the full cup, until Vin had it to his lips, "You're sure a sight for sore eyes. You had Old Buck worried..." His voice softened.

"Reckon I'll buy the first round when we get back." Vin looked up sheepishly, "Ezra told me it was yer idea about the ice. Thanks, Buck."

"Aw, hell, Son," Buck grinned, "It would have been damned near impossible to replace your talent on the harmonica."

"Buck!" Nathan's voice boomed.

"Looks like yer goose is cooked, Pard," Vin chuckled painfully, watching Buck scramble to avoid the healer's wrath.

Kate poured herself a cup of coffee and smiled as Buck tried unsuccessfully to get past Nathan. She spotted a blond head move outside the window. Pouring a second cup, she headed outside. He was sitting on the front porch steps, eyeing the horizon. She offered the coffee and a smile, as she took a seat next to him.

"Thanks," Chris nodded, "for everything Kate. You're gonna have some story to tell your husband when he gets back from Denver next week."

"Hell, Son," She grinned, slapping Chris's knee, "I'll be bragging for months. Old Kate never had it so lucky. Seven handsome bucks all to myself."

Chris grinned and sipped his coffee. His gaze went to the horizon again. Kate studied the handsome man's profile. Men like Chris Larabee were few and far between. He didn't seem to be the settling kind, and she wondering what kept him in Four Corners. The seven friends were loyal; she had seen that first hand. Maybe it was this unique bond that kept fair-haired maverick rooted. His face store bore shadows and he looked weary.

"You need to heal too, Son," She advised, "You look like you didn't get much sleep last night."

"I didn't. Guess I relaxed a little too much in town last night." He said, pulling a folded paper from his pocket. His grin matched the crooked lettering. "Thanks, Kate. I'll see to it that he keeps up."

"It isn't often you get to do something of such magnitude." She responded, liking the strong light that shone from his green eyes, "That boy's buttons was bustin' right off his chest. You talk to the river rat yet?" She teased.

"That's long-haired Texas river rat," He corrected, rising, "He was asleep when I got in from town. He up?"

"He is," She answered taking his arm and rising. She spotted the others around the table. Josiah was mixing pancake batter. The scent of grilled sausages filled the air. "You tell Nathan to get his overworked backside to the table. I'll bring you and Vin in some breakfast. You catch up and then you get some rest, understood? Don't make me get my wooden spoon."

Chris chuckled, nodding his head and held the door for the red-haired force. He exchanged greetings with the men and gave Buck a firm pat on the back. Vin was arguing and struggling with Nathan when he entered. Vin wanted out of the bed and Nathan was threatening to use a rope. Chris stood behind Nathan, hand on his hips.

"Don't make me shoot you before breakfast, Vin." Chris complained.

"I hate when that happens," Nate added, shoving Vin back one last time. "Be careful where you put it Chris, don't mess up Kate's sheets to much."

"I'll keep that in mind, Nate," Chris slipped into the chair, "Go on and eat."

Chris yawned and rubbed his burning eyes. Too much booze in the saloon and too little shuteye. He eyed the cot in with a favorable gaze. For all the past several days as Vin's life hung in the balance, he'd put the argument behind him. Now looking at his best friend's pale features, he knew the downcast blue eyes were thinking the same thing.

"I'm sorry, Chris." Vin rasped quietly, breaking the tension, "I was wrong to run out on ya at the cabin. It weren't right to put that burden on y'all. I never looked at it from yer side. It's just that when I saw ya layin' there...damn," Vin swore, swallowing hard as the gut-wrenching pain of Chris's corpse returned.

Chris looked up when Vin's words died off. He saw a flicker of the agonized face that morning returning. He caught the pained blue gaze and shook his head. "Vin, I want your word."

Vin thought for a moment as the twin green beacons drilled him. He sighed and dropped his guard, offering his arm. They clasped forearms and Vin spoke.

"I won't run, Chris, I promise." Chris gripped the tracker's arm and nodded. He rose to get them each some breakfast and felt a tug on his pants. "Sit down," Vin demanded, softening his tone at the raised sandy eyebrow. "I ain't done yet."

Chris dropped back down and waited, eyeing Vin's drawn face. Several minutes went by and Chris balked. "Vin, While I'm still young..."

Vin sighed and crossed his eyes, shifting in the bed nervously. He fiddled with the blanket and tried to scratch the itchy wound on his leg. He jumped as his hand was slapped. "Dammit Vin," Chris exploded.

"Alright," He frowned, looking at Chris's tired features, "Damn, you look like shit, Cowboy."

"Vin, so help me God," Chris ranted, rising and looming over the invalid with a clenched fist.

"I didn't mean nuthin' 'bout the mirror. I was outta line. I'm sorry. Losin' the two best things in yer life, like ya done...Hell, I got a pack of ghosts trailin' me and go no right to point fingers." He blurted and sank bank into the pillows, exhausted and relieved.

Chris eyed the relief that washed over Tanner's pale features. He studied the battered body, swathed in bandages and liniment. He remembered the cold fear that gripped him when he thought Vin was gone for good. Sitting back down, he tapped the side of Vin's leg. One eye opened and the shaggy hair cocked.

"The truth hurts," Chris hushed, "and sometimes it takes a raggedy-assed, long-haired Texas River rat to keep a stubborn Yankee ass in line."

"That'd be a long-chinned, yeller-haired stubborn Yankee jackass," Vin corrected, "Kinda rare in these parts. This rat's damned glad he has one."

Chris chuckled and caught the familiar twinkle in Vin's expressive blue eyes. Kate entered, bearing a large tray. Vin's eyes nearly popped out of his head at the sight of a tall stack of steaming pancakes, full of chunks of apples and cinnamon and drenched in maple syrup. A half dozen fat sausages, grilled to perfection, assaulted his nose. He picked up a fork and his joyous face changed to one of irate anger as the plate disappeared from in front of him and onto the bed.

"What the hell do ya think yer doin'?" He screamed at Chris, who already had a mouthful of pancakes.

"Kate," Chris muffled, winking at the smirking hostess, "These are the best griddle cakes I've ever eaten."

"Gimme my breakfast," Vin growled, grabbing for the plate, "Dammit, Chris, that ain't funny. Y'all know them's my favorite."

"Here's your breakfast, Sugar," Kate eased a large mug of broth and some toast, tea and juice, in front of the patient.

"Aw, hell," Vin complained, pushing the tray away, "That ain't fit fer a starvin' bird. I want..." Vin bit off the end of his thought and picked up the spoon obediently. Kate laughed so hard she had tears in her eyes. Chris glared at the now humbled tracker, and put his drawn colt, back in the holster.

Five Days Later

Vin sat on the bed and buttoned his shirt. He eyed the crutches and grimaced, thinking of the long four weeks ahead. Dr. Adams didn't have to look far to get six volunteers to make sure the cranky sharpshooter would stay off he broken leg. He grasped the bedpost and stood on his left leg, keeping the right one off the ground. He was about to lower it, to test it, when a lethal voice stopped him.

"You got a death wish?" Chris stated, crossing the room and handing Vin his crutches, "You about ready?"

"Yeah, I was waitin' on Kate." He eyed his best friend and made a quiet request. "Chris, I got a favor to ask." He paused as the other man nodded, "When we get back, I was wonderin' iffen ye'd help me write Kate a proper Thank You."

"Seems to me," Chris tapped Vin's chest, "You'll say it fine. You'll have plenty of time to get it right." Chris noted of his temporary houseguest.

Nathan, Josiah, Ezra and J.D had left three days ago, for Four Corners. Chris would be bringing Buck and Vin back in a wagon. Chris told Nathan as they departed, that he'd be taking Vin to his shack to recover. The blood loss, fever and healing injuries left the ex-bounty hunter weak and tired. Vin would drive Nathan to a frenzy if he was in town, trying to escape. There were no distractions at the cabin, and he'd get the opportunity to rest.

Buck was on the porch, kibitzing with Kate, when Vin hobbled out. He grinned at the younger man and stepped off the porch. He leaned over and kissed the smiling woman on the cheek.

"Thanks for everything, Kate," Buck winked, "and my offer still stands. Second floor of the hotel, corner room."

"Honey, I'd wear you out," She grinned, giving Buck a saucy look.

Chris and Buck helped Vin scoot into the back of the wagon. Kate leaned over and cupped his chin, giving him a warm smile and a kiss on the cheek. "Sure am gonna miss them pretty eyes of yours," She swallowed hard, reading his emotional gaze. "You take of yourself, Son."

"Kate..." Vin paused, groping for words, "Damn, I had this all set up in m'head earlier. Was thinkin' on how lucky that boy of yers is. Ain't nuthin' compares to havin' a Ma like y'all. I'm grateful, Kate, I want to say..." He felt her small hands on his lips and tilted his head.

"You said it fine, Son." She wiped her eyes, "Don't be a stranger." She turned to Chris and Buck,"That goes for all of you. I expect you back next month, when the boy can ride. We'll have us a real party."

Buck helped Vin settle in the back of the wagon. Kate had packed them a huge basket of food and two jugs of cider. Chris went back inside to make sure they didn't forget anything. Kate followed him and caught him as he returned. She leaned up and kissed his cheek. He grinned down at her. "It's about time, I was beginning to feel left out."

She embraced him and spoke quietly in his ear, "Keep him close, Chris. He's not a strong as he's lets on. Somehow I think you're the only one who understands the pain that boy is totin' around." Kate reflected on the quiet conversations she shared with Vin over the last few days.

Chris squeezed the strong woman's hand and smiled down at her. His tone was gentle and firm and his green eyes answered her before he even spoke. "You'll never have to worry about that, Kate. You got my word. You take care, now." He nodded and made his way outside to the wagon.

"Kate!" Vin suddenly sat up, looking slightly alarmed.

"What?" Kate and Cris in unison.

"Did that doctor leave a bill? I'll wire him when I get back home."

"Bill's taken care of," Chris said, tossing Vin's bundle of clothes in the back.

"Whaddya mean?" Vin snarled, brow's furrowed, "It was my damn bill. Y'all had no right to be sneakin' around behind my back."

"You're barking at the wrong dog, Vin." Buck offered, "It wasn't Chris."

"Well who the hell..." Vin's eyes narrowed and an image of Ezra talking to the doctor on the porch the night before his four friends departed. "That damn, interferin' fourteen-carat phony. I'm gonna knock that gold tooth of his right outta his head. I ain't no charity case. I aim to..."

Buck and Chris both put a hand over the crusty-Texan's mouth. "You'll be gracious and say thank you, won't you Vin?" Chris teethed, his mouth a grim line.

"That's good advice, Son," Buck added, "There still a couple places that ain't covered in bandages. Plenty of room for a bullet or two."

"Aw, hell." Vin muffled, swatting the offending hands. Buck laughed and dropped Vin's hat on his face. The wagon pulled out and the motion was making Vin sleepy. "Shame I don't have my harmonica," Vin stated, drifting off to sleep.

"Yeah, that sure is a real loss," Buck mocked a sincere tone, watching Chris roll his eyes and grin.

A Week Later at Chris's Cabin

A cool breeze sauntered onto the porch and Vin embraced it. The slight wind sent his hair off his face. He continued to read, not wanting to waste any of the remaining daylight. Chris had disappeared down to the stream to wash the dishes from dinner. The steak and grilled potatoes went down easy. He thought of the pile of books in the house. Chris went to town every other day and seemed to return with a few each trip. He was suspicious as first, but Chris insisted that 'the guys keep buying them for you. Best you get to reading them.'

He heard the back door shut and went back to his book. He frowned as a word stuck in his mouth, sounding off balance. He scrunched his face up and repeated it.

"Spell it," Chris said, slipping into a seat a few feet away.

"K-N-O-W," Vin said, "Kaynow? What's that mean?"

"It's pronounced, 'no'," Chris answered. "Like 'I know a sorry-assed Texan'."

Vin grinned then frowned, "That can't be right. One of the first words I learnt was 'no', it's spelled N-O."

"The K and W are silent." Chris answered.

"Who the hell put 'em in there then? Is that another damn rule, like the 'h' in yer name? Seems to me somebody in charge of this stuff is real mixed-up."

Chris laughed and sipped on his coffee. "It'll get easier as you read more. You'll start to understand the rules better." Chris listened to Vin reading. A few minutes later, "You skipped a word."

"No, I didn't" Vin defended, wondering how Chris knew. "It's too long," He threw to the profile across the porch.

"Break it up into little bits," Chris advised, "Here, I'll show you." He made his way over and stood behind the hard-working student. He glanced at the word and covered most of it with his finger. "You read what you can see, then string all of them together. Okay?"

Vin nodded and watched as each small word was uncovered "IN...TRO...DUC...TION..." he said haltingly.

"Now put them together," Chris said, taking his finger away.

"Intro...duc...tion. Introduction!" Vin beamed, "Hey, how 'bout that! Them big words ain't as scary when ya bust 'em up like that. Thanks, Chris."

Chris smiled and patted the student on the head. He was proud of Vin and the progress he'd made. He spent most of his days, reading and practicing his writing. On more than one occasion, he'd found the recovering patient, asleep with the books on his chest. He sure was determined. Chris eyed the oncoming sunset, as it's brilliant orange coat unfurled. He picked up a leather bound notebook and handed it to Vin.

"What this?" Vin asked, eyeing the handsome deep blue cover.

"Open it up and read it," Chris said settling back into his seat a few feet away.

Vin eye's narrowed, studying the somber profile of his best friend. He opened the book and saw an inscription.

"Damn," Vin swore, "and ya got nerve to call my scribin' poor." He could make out Chris's name at the bottom, but the lines above it were more of a challenge. 'For Vin, to keep your thoughts and dreams alive - Chris.' He looked up to catch his friend's eye, but Chris was staring away. He continued reading haltingly, his finger guiding under each word.

"When he shall die take him and cut him out into stars and he shall make the face of heaven so fine that all the world will be in love with night and pay no worship to the garish sun."

"Chris," he managed to croak, expressing his deep thanks for the beautiful verse, but the words seemed to die in his tightened throat.

"It's from Romeo and Juliet," Chris spoke softly, "It was a favorite of Sarah's. When I wrote the inscription, it jumped right out."

He saw the unbridled emotion in Vin's eyes and watched the younger man silently re-reading the verse. He saw Vin swallow hard and caress the verse with his fingers. "Come on Vin, we're losing daylight. Turn the page." He said impatiently.

Vin stared at a new verse, freshly printed and glued carefully onto the first blank page of the book. "Mary do this on her printin' machine?" Vin asked. "For me? That was awful nice."

"They're not her words Vin." Chris cleared up the mystery; "She just printed them." He sat back and waited, as Vin began to read.

"I was lost and alone, in a storm of doubt and pain..." Vin's voice died and his heart began to pound. His mouth fell open in muted astonishment. His hands were trembling and the book slipped onto his lap. He heard the footsteps and looked up in shock as the rest of his poem, danced gracefully off Chris's tongue.

Ya came with the sun and sheltered me from the rain
With eagle's wings ya strengthened me
A kindred spirit that set me free
For in yer soul resides the best of me

Chris was battling his emotions at the end. He stood behind Vin and exhaled a deep breath. Vin remained silent for several seconds.

"How...It was just 'tween us...I never told nobody." Vin's voice was barely audible.

"I heard you Vin. Every agonizing word." Chris replied, eyes squinting as the image of Vin in the doorway reappeared, "I think I might have been dead, Vin. It was cold, dark place. Not like anything I've ever experienced. I was lost and then I felt...well, I knew you were near. You brought me back, Vin. I saw you...in the doorway." Chris paused, taking breath. "That's not a face I ever want to see again."

Vin nodded, recalling the unbearable pain he'd felt when he saw his best friend's corpse. "I know what ya mean." He rasped.

"Vin, nothing as fine as that," He pointed to Vin's moving eulogy, "should ever be stuck up in your head. This world needs all the beauty it can get. You've got a rare gift and I'm not going to let any more of your treasures get lost. So until that chicken scratch of yours improves, you tell me those poems that are stuck in here," He tapped the unruly curls, "and we'll get Mary to print them. You keep them in that book. We got a deal?" He glanced down sideways and saw the head nod and a hand swipe the eyes. "Good. You want some coffee?"

When he returned, he handed Vin a cup and settled back across the porch. He sipped the steaming brew and watched the display of emotions playing on Vin's face.

"Those words, Vin," Chris eased, noting the heart-felt poem, "I wish I could have said them."

Vin smiled, "Ya already have, Cowboy." He drawled, feeling the bond grow stronger. He took a sip of the coffee and grinned. "Ya make a wicked brew, Larabee," He complimented, noting the heavy dose of whiskey.

They sat in silence, enjoying the front row seat of Mother Nature's daily curtain call. The brilliant oranges and crimsons melted into the horizon. Neither moved as darkness set in and a brilliant starfield dazzled them. Finally Chris stood, stretched and headed for the door. He smacked Vin's good leg and held out his crutches.

"Let's go Cowboy," He urged, grabbing the dozing man under the arms and hauling him upright.

The lone light shone from the cabin's window. The sounds of the night creatures blended in perfect harmony. An eagle swooped downward, setting on the porch rail and peering into the window. The solitude was broken as an irate voice shattered the peace and tranquility.

"I ain't taking that cat piss," Vin growled, "Get away from me."

"Vin don't make me shoot you," Chris replied, "I got a barn to build. That five hundred dollars would come in handy."

"I'd come back and haunt you. I'd make ya more miserable than ya are now."

"You calling me a grouch?"

"Just statin' a fact."

"Speaking of misery..."

"Hey! My harmonica...where'd you find it?"

"On the floor of the saloon, the night they carted you sorry ass away."

"Why the hell didn't ya give it to me sooner."

"I value my sanity."

"I ain't that bad..."

"Compared to what? I've heard dying mooses more lyrical"

The sound of a gun cocking ensues.

"Aw, hell. How long I gotta keep takin' this cat piss?"

"Until Nathan says different, or I run out of bullets."

"Yer enjoying this a little too much, Larabee. I aim to wipe that grin off yer face."

"I like to see you try. It's open season on ungrateful, longhaired, Texas River rats. Yup, that five hundred will go a long way."

The eagle blinked and took flight, soaring heavenward. Harmony had been restored and once again the universe was in perfect balance.


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