When My Heart Finds Christmas

by Deirdre

ATF/OW crossover


Dry. As dry as a desert. A hot desert. He moved his mouth and licked his lips. He heard muffled voices and heard movement. Footsteps...leaving...then returning. He felt someone tap his face lightly. "Water..." He croaked, not bothering to open his eyes. Somebody lifted his aching head and he felt his dry lips nudged. Like a hungry infant offered a full breast, he sucked greedily.

"Slow down, Vin. I got plenty more."

"Nate?" Vin croaked, moving his hand over his throbbing eyes. "Damn..my head hurts. Chris has Tylenol in the cabinet over his microwave oven. Can y'all get me a couple?"

"What kind of oven?" Nate asked. "Tie...len...all" He questioned, sighing in displeasure.

"Aw, shit...he's still talkin' crazy."

"I heard that J.D." Vin whispered, peeling his eyes open. "I ain't..." He looked around the small, unfamiliar room and closed his eyes again. "Goddamit. When is this nightmare gonna end?"

"I ain't no doctor, Vin." Nate apologized. "I'm sorry that you're...mixed up." He struggled, searching for the right word to identify Vin's state of mind. "Could be some kind of injury inside your head. Something I can't see."

"Ain't nuthin' wrong with me or my head." Vin snapped, sitting up and tossing his legs over the side. He glared openly at J.D. and Buck. His eyes moved around the small room. No clock, no radio. no television. The bed, if you could call it that, was hard and covered with a thin mattress. He stood up, intent on leaving, anyway he could. Bus, train...hell he'd even take a horse. "Get out of my way, Buck."

"Not until you start talkin' sense. You can't go around town acting crazy like this, Vin. It makes folks nervous."

"Makes their trigger finger nervous too." J.D. warned.

"Trigger finger?" Vin scowled, "and y'all call me crazy? Ya learn this actin' stuff back in Boston in college?"

"Go to hell." J.D. shoved him hard. "That's not funny, Vin. It wasn't my fault I couldn't go to college."

"Calm down, J.D." Buck soothed and drilled Vin with an openly hostile stare. "You watch your mouth."

Vin bit off the response, his scowl changing to confusion. Why was J.D. so upset?

"I'm sorry, Kid." He found his voice "I didn't mean to ruffle yer feathers. Hell, I barely got out of High School. I'm right proud of y'all making the Dean's List...Captain of the Ice Hockey Team...all them awards ya won. I ain't never gonna be as smart as y'all."

Buck and J.D. exchanged a puzzled look. Buck knew the sincere tone in the younger man's voice. Vin actually believed what he was saying. What the hell is Ice Hockey? He wondered. Where would Vin even hear such words?

"That's okay, Vin." J.D. said quietly, sensing what Buck did. "Come on, let's get something to eat. Inez is making fried chicken."

"Reckon I could eat. I gotta go to the bathroom first. Where is it?" Vin asked as they stepped outside onto a small landing near a long flight of stairs.

"Why don't you eat first?" Buck suggested, "Then you can get a bath. Bathhouse is over yonder, Vin." He pointed across the street.

"I ain't lookin' to take a bath." Vin exasperated. "Where's the men's room?"

"The what?" J.D. stopped in the middle of the stairs. "Buck what's that mean?"

"Looks like that bump on the head scrambled yer brains a little." Buck replied. "Don't go turnin' into a funny cowboy on us."

"Huh?" Vin stepped onto the ground and turned, cocking his head. He then realized what Buck meant."Aw, hell..." He blushed. "There ya go...talkin' crazy again."

"I ain't the one talkin' crazy Vin." Buck hollered losing his patience. "Look, I showed you where the bath house is. You want to skip supper, be my guest."

"I need no damn bath!" Vin shouted. "I need to go to the bathroom and if I don't find one soon, I'm gonna take a leak right here."

"Oh..." J.D. rolled his eyes. "The privvy? That's outback Vin. Behind the fence."

"Privvy?" Vin squinted, hands on his slim hips, kidneys ready to burst. "I don't..."

"The outhouse." Buck hissed, turning Vin and shoving him. "Back there. Christ, it ain't like you can mistake that smell."

"Outhouse?" Vin peered behind the fence and wrinkled his nose and covering it. "Y'all have got to be kiddin' me. There ain't one goddamn bathroom in this tourist trap?"

"I've had it with you." Buck shouted, "You're on your own. Take a leak in middle of the street for all I care. The alley's been good enough for you until now. Forget it." Buck waved his hand.

Vin eyed the deserted terrain and took a deep breath. He'd occasionally urinated on the side of the road. But rarely and late at night, usually after drinking too much. Never in broad daylight. He sighed and wandered over to the wooden structure, with a crest carved on the door. "I'm gonna kill Larabee fer this. Some goddamn surprise this turned out to be." He opened the door and a bevvy of flies emerged. "Aw...God..." He took a deep breath, his eyes stinging. He shut the door and pulled his pants down.

"Watch out for the snakes, Vin." Buck warned, watching J.D. laugh as Vin's string of curses echoed. "Ass bite could be painful."

The door flew open and the red-faced tracker emerged, his hand pinning Buck to the wall. "I've been a good sport about trip to hell. But I've had it. Where's my underwear? Y'all has fried my last nerve."

"Your underwear?" Buck frowned, shaking his head. "I don't know..."

"Somebody does." Vin hissed, tapping his hip. "I ain't got nuthin' on under here."

"Aw, hell, Vin." Buck moved him and started up the alley. "It ain't a holiday. Your drawers are in your wagon, I guess. How the hell would I know?"

"They was on me when I went to sleep last night at Chris's ranch." He jogged to keep up with the long strides of the now exasperated man. "Whoever put me in these old clothes musta taken 'em."

"I'll get right on that, Vin," J.D. deadpanned. "I'm sure there's a lot of folks in Four Corners just dying to get a hold of your drawers."

Buck laughed and clapped J.D. on the back as they reached the saloon. Vin stalked through the room and took a seat in the back. A slim, attractive Mexican woman approached him. She was very pretty and had an inviting smile. On any other day, he'd be interested.

"Sorry, Darlin' I ain't lookin' fer a hot bed tonight." Vin tossed, eyeing the low cut peasant blouse. "Yer right fetchin' though...Ouch!" He sat back hard when she slapped him, and stood over him cursing in a long stream of Spanish.

"Goddammit Vin." Chris growled, moving to the table. "Jesus, can't you go five minutes without pissing somebody off."

"I didn't do nuthin'" Vin sputtered. "I's just sittin' here mindin' my own business. She come over, offerin' and wearin' one of them smiles and ..."

"Inez owns this place, she can smile whatever way she damn well pleases. It's called being friendly. Something you should learn...apologize." He teethed, leaning low and leveling a deadly green glare. "Now!"

"...sorry, Ma'am. Beggin' yer pardon." He whispered, suddenly aware of every eye on him. The hot-headed property owner spun and left, leaving a trail of irate Spanish behind her.

"I would suggest you remove yourself from this establishment, Mr. Tanner." Ezra said coldly. "The boardinghouse has more than enough food."

"Fine by me." Vin rose and stormed out of the room.

Chris stood hands on his hips, unsure of his next move. He eyed Buck, who was sipping whiskey and making room on his lap for an busty blonde named Violet.

"No..." Buck answered Chris's silent plea. "He's your best friend. You wipe his nose. I'm done with him. That mouth of his is gonna get one of us shot, and it ain't gonna be me."

Chris shot an angry look at Buck at retreated to his favorite table in the back. He poured a shot from the bottle he left and nursed it, sipping it carefully. Vin was a grown man, he didn't looking after. Hell, he nearly raised himself. He tossed his hat onto the table and eased back into the chair. A position he claimed until darkness fell and Vin hadn't returned. Sighing, he pushed the chair back and stood.

+ + + + + + +

Chris moved slowly up the boardwalk. Night came early in the winter and the cold air bit right through him. He entered Mrs. Allen's Boardinghouse and looked around the Dining Room.

"This is a surprise. You alone, Mr. Larabee?"

"Evening Mrs. Allen." He replied, eyeing the strangers at the table. "Vin here?"

"No, I haven't seen him all day."

"Thanks." Chris nodded, and exited. His eyes went up one side of the street and down the other. They lingered on the livery and on the wagon. The wagon was closer. He got close enough to see the figure sitting on a small overturned barrel at the side of the old wagon. For awhile, neither man spoke. The moonlight overhead shed enough light that Chris saw the younger man shivering. He also noticed Vin's eyes were unnaturally wide. Maybe he'd taken the head injury too lightly.

"So why are we out here freezin' our balls off when Mrs. Allen's serving Roast Beef?" He asked.

"I ain't go no money on me." Vin managed through his chattering teeth.

He'd been all over town, each step causing his anger to be replaced by fear. The General Store was quaint and a perfect spot for tourists...but he'd found none. He'd searched for a parking lot...but he came up empty. He watched the citizens entering the various businesses and homes. He couldn't believe how realistic this place was. No bathrooms? How'd they get away with that? How many sanitation codes did that violate?


"Huh?" He blinked, roused from his confused state.

"Come on, it's freezin' out here. Let's get some dinner."

"I already told ya..."

"I got money." Chris turned and started back to the boarding house, but Vin hadn't moved. The older man paused and waited. He made his way back and tapped the shoulder. "Well?"

"What's wrong with me Chris?"

Chris sighed, glad that the darkness covered up the emotional eyes he knew too well. He rubbed a hand over his weary face and waited. "I don't know Vin." he said quietly. "But gettin' pneumonia won't help. Come on, I'm hungry."

Vin followed Chris, and sat quietly, while Mrs. Allen fussed over him. This only confused him more. He'd never met the kind, white-haired woman. He opened his mouth to comment and saw Chris shake his head. He nodded meekly and picked up the fork. He ate out of need, rather than want. It might have been a fine piece of beef, but he couldn't taste it. Chris and he never needed a lot of words, so it didn't feel uncomfortable to share the silent meal.

"Thanks Chris." He said, sipping the coffee and pushing the pie away.

"s'okay Vin."

They left the boarding house and headed up the street. Vin saw Chris heading away from the saloon towards the hotel. He followed, hoping the nightmare was over and they'd be leaving. He followed Chris up the stairs and saw him turning into a room.

"Night Vin..." He imparted, leaving the stunned Texan in the hall. Vin tapped on the door and Chris opened it. "What?"

"Can we go home now? Please..." Vin pleaded, more upset at the blank stare that greeted him than if Chris has chastised him.

"Home? Vin this is home...at least it has been for about nine months now."

"No..." Vin swallowed painfully and felt the heat rush to his face. He could read the blond easily and knew he spoke the truth. "It can't be...home is in Denver...near the office. At least it was until them drug addicts tore my place up. I want to go home for Christmas."

Chris tried to divert his gaze from the fear tinged with hopelessness in the blue eyes before him. He guided Vin two doors down and opened the door. He lit the lamp on the table beside the bed. He walked back to where Vin stood, almost seeming like a small boy, lost in the woods. He laid a single hand on the slumped shoulder. "Get some sleep, Vin. Things will clear up in the morning."

Vin heard the door shut and stood in the strange room. He took the hide coat off and poured water from the pitcher into a cup and also into the basin. He washed his face and took a long drink. He took the boots off and eased himself under the blanket. He glanced outside the window at the single star in the sky. He ached to go home...but where was home? His friends were here...but he didn't belong. It was all so confusing. His hammering heart and heavy eyes took him hostage and forced him to sleep.


"God, what a dream." Vin mumbled, blinking as the Dawn began to get dressed. Funny, he couldn't remember going to bed. Come to think of it, he couldn't remember much about yesterday. He recalled Chris and the others being in coats...the tree, that's it. They went to get the tree. He yawned and stood, rubbing the small of his back. He stretched and padded ahead, not needing his eyes to find the bathroom. He stayed in Chris's guestroom a lot, a knew the path to the nearby bathroom by heart. He turned the knob and went left, past the closet and then found the doorknob to the bathroom. He turned and entered, his hand seeking the lightswitch. Yawning again and eyes trying to open, he decided against the light. His head was throbbing and the thought of a stabbing pain of light, made the decision easier. He stumbled forward in the dark, his eyes opened a crack. He fumbled with his pants.

Like a cat, Chris was a hunter. He sensed movement in the dark and rolled slowly over in his bed. He grabbed his colt and wheeled. He was about to shoot when he noticed who the intruder was and what he was about to do.

"Vin! This ain't the privvy!" He hissed, grabbing Vin's arm before any damage was done.

"Huh?" Vin croaked, swaying and blinking. "Chris? Sumthin' wrong?"

"No, Vin." Chris hissed, "You were just gonna piss on me is all."

"What?" Vin sputtered, backing up. His eyes were wide open now and the walls seemed to close in. He saw the gunbelt and the colts...boots...spurs..."Aw, shit..." he backed away, shaking his head. "When will this nightmare end?" He pounded the walls and stormed out of the room.

"Vin...wait a minute." Chris called, pulling his clothes and boots on. He ran to the tracker's room, but it was empty. Chris noticed the hide coat and gunbelt were still on the small chest of drawers. "Shit..." He jogged to the stairs and left the hotel.

Vin had no idea where he as going. He just had a need to get out...and away from the harsh reminders. He walked swiftly, stealing past the slumbering town as the first light broke into the sky. He was so intent on his mission, he wasn't looking and heard a small cry as he send someone onto the ground. He landed ontop of the unfortunate soul.

"Sorry..." Vin mumbled, groping to find a limb to assist the person. "Aw, hell..." He retracted his hand is if it touched fire. The soft, pliable flesh was decidedly female. "I didn't realize ya was a girl."

"I haven't been called a 'girl' in quite some time," a soft voice replied, "Thank you Vin..."

"Huh?" Vin blinked, recognizing the voice and the pretty blond. "Mary?"

"Merry Christmas Vin!"

"Billy?" Vin stood as the small blond boy hugged him around the waist. His trembling hands managed to pat the small head. "Today's Christmas?" He asked, eyes darting as tried to come to terms with his situation.

"You alright Vin?" Mary asked, noticing the unusual sign of panic in the tracker's eyes.

"Yeah...I...didn't sleep good." He recovered.

"Did Santa come to your wagon?" Billy demanded, tugging on Vin's sleeve. "I got a checker board, a top, some soldiers, some pencils and paper for drawing...Vin?"

"Huh?" He sighed, staring at the small face, "That's great Billy."

"Wait 'til you see what I got for you..." Billy's eyes lit up.

"Don't spoil the surprise Billy. You know we're exchanging gifts after supper tonight at the Hotel." Mary advised, winking at Vin "You sure you're okay, Vin?"

"Yeah..." He nodded, "Dinner?"

"Six o'clock." She reminded him, "Come on Billy."

"See ya later Vin." the boy waved.

"Bye..." Vin's voice trailed off. "Presents..."

He made his way to the wagon and rummaged through the piles of clothes, undergarments and other possesions. No gifts. He sat on the small barrel and took several deep breaths. How could this be real? He gripped his thighs and studied the dusty wheels of the wagon. What kind of game was this? It had to be a game...What other explanation was there? He shivered and remembered the buffalo hide coat. He made his way back to his room. He put the coat and gun belt on. He searched the room and came up empty. He peered out the window at the residents making their way up the street. The exchanges of 'Merry Christmas' only made his spirits sink futher. He swallowed painfully, and felt utterly and totally alone.

+ + + + + + +

Buck was enjoying a large stack of pancakes when Chris arrived. One look at his oldest friend's face told him trouble was brewing. The man in black stood in the doorway, hands on his slim hips and green eyes searching the nearly deserted Saloon. He nudged J.D. and tossed his head to the door.

"Uh-Oh..." the youthful sheriff said.

"It's gonna be a long day." Josiah commented, pushing his empty plate away. "I'd love to stay but duty calls." He noted of his Christmas morning service. "I'll be expecting you."

"First pew..." Buck ducked as Josiah's hand swatted at him. "Chris, you're gonna start a fire..." He warned of the intense gaze. "He ain't been here." He answered the silent beacon, searching for the wayward tracker.

"He still actin' funny?" J.D. asked, shoveling his eggs in at a record rate.

"Tried to piss on me..." Chris imparted, "Didn't know where he was. Kept askin' to go home last night. He took off."

"We'll keep an eye out." Buck nodded as Chris left.

The leader of the seven walked the streets of Four Corners, but didn't unearth his troubled friend. His horse was still in the livery, which was a relief. He was about to head back to the saloon, when a voice called.

"Chris...hey Chris...Merry Christmas."

"Same to you, Son." He said as the flying bundle of boy landed at his waist. He ruffled the blond locks and smiled at Mary. "Mornin' Mary," he tipped his hat. "You seen Vin?"

"As a matter of fact," She hedged, "I did run into him. He seemed...odd?"

"He hit his head yesterday...fell outta that damn chair." Chris muttered. "He's...not right...mixed up about things."

"Well, we have to go. I promised Mrs. Potter I'd help with the pies for tonight. I want to get done in time to get ready for Josiah's service."

"Yeah...See you later." He nodded, swatted Billy and left. He eyed the deserted street and frowned. "Where are you, Vin?" Something glinted on the roof, reflecting from the morning sun. He scanned the area and saw it again. He crossed the street and made his way over.

Vin sat on the eave of the roof and pulled out the old harmonica. He eyed the street of this strange place...his unwelcomed home. There was too many pieces in this puzzle. He knew these people...they were friends, yet they didn't know him. How could that be? He didn't belong here. He sighed deeply, so homesick it gave him a deep pain in his chest. The words to his favorite song came to mind, 'Desperado' by the Eagles. He drew up the mouth organ and closed his eyes, letting his aching heart come through in every note.

Chris watched from a few feet away and felt every sorrowful chord of the sad tune Vin was playing go right through him. Funny thing was, he'd never heard Vin play the damn thing. Usually he just fooled with, sending haphazard sounds outward. But this wasn't disjointed...it was a real song and very well done. The music stopped and Chris stepped closer.

Vin tapped the harmonica against his leg and thought on the haunting lyrics to the sad song. The song so reminded him of his own life, sometimes it was painful to hear it. One line wouldn't leave his head. He eyed the dusty street below and thought how appropriate it was.

"Your prison is walkin' through this world all alone..." He sang, low and sad.

"It don't have to be..." Chris answered the silent plea. "I outta know..."

Vin didn't answer or look up. He remained fixed in place, eyeing the street below. He didn't even know what he was looking for. He refused to believe the reality of the situation. It wasn't real...and he'd have to find a way out.

"Breakfast?" Chris quizzed, turning to go.

Vin sighed, and heard his stomach growl. Wordlessly he followed the man in black...who should be Chris Larabee. Buck and J.D. looked up when they entered. Vin slid into a seat in the corner, dropping his head to his chest.

"How you feelin' today Vin?" Buck asked, noticing the change. As much as he bitched about the fiesty, irate stranger they'd encountered the day before, this sad figure was even worse.


Chris took the seat next to Vin and deposited a plate in front of him. Nathan joined them, bringing a pot of coffee and three cups. He eyed Chris, who silently shook his head, indicating there was no change. Vin made no attempt to pick up his fork.

"Eat it before it gets cold." Chris imparted, without looking over. He heard the shuffle and saw the hide-coated arm moving. Satisified, he continued with his own meal.

"There an ATM machine here?" Vin said, realizing he needed cash. "Aw, hell..." He sighed, he had no wallet.

"A what?" Nathan asked

"ATM..." Vin's voice was distracted, his eyes elsewhere. "I need money."

"A machine that spits out money?" Buck laughed and pushed his chair back. "Next thing you'll be telling us there's a man on the moon."

"Been quite a few...not for some time..." Vin answered, then blinked and as their snickering brought him out of a trance. He saw the four sets of eyes staring at him. He was too tired to fight them. He gave up and left.

"Vin, get back here and finish that." Nathan hollered, eyeing the barely touched plate. "What you eat wouldn't keep a mouse livin'...Vin?"

"Shit..." Chris's appetite died. "What next?"

"I don't know, Pard." Buck replied, grabbing the tracker's full plate, "But you better do something. He keeps talkin' crazy and he's gonna end up in the nut house or worse."

The headache returned and he made his way to the room he'd had the night before. He slipped inside, taking refuge. He fell on the bed, letting his heartache lull him to sleep. He woke up and looked at his wrist. No watch. He sat up and took a long drink. Glancing out the window, the angle of the sun told him it was past noon. The gifts...he couldn't hide forever, especially from a little boy. He recalled Ezra's expensive suit and the wad of money he'd seen the gambler place in his boot. He watched J.D. ride off and Chris walking with Nathan towards the other end of town. Running a hand through his tangled hair, he eyed the Saloon.

Ezra looked up when Vin sat down across from him. Buck had updated him and he'd decided to stay away from the sharpshooter. He saw the nervous movements of the younger man's hands and waited.

"What can I do for you, Mr. Tanner?" he asked coldly.

"I need a loan..."

"You wish me to lend you money?" Ezra asked, as the head dipped once. "What is your collateral?"

"My what?"

"What can you offer in return...a guarantee until I get my funds back."

Vin's eyes grew hard and he returned the stare the sea-green eyes gave him. Ezra could be cold but this was beyond that. He pushed the chair back and curled his lips in disgust. He wasn't borrowing a huge sum of money. Just a few bucks to get Billy a gift.

"Fuck you, Ezra..." He spat and left the stunned gambler in his wake.

All the frustrations of this nightmare began to simmer over, like a pot of surging water. Fists clenched at his side, eyes steely and face red, he marched out of the saloon and down the street.

"What's with Vin?" the sultry voice asked from a window on the second floor.

"Hurt his head...he's all mixed up." Buck replied, taking a grape from the small hand of the lush blonde who was tangled in the sheets with him. "Never mind about him...How 'bout fixin' Old Buck. It's cold over here..." He beckoned the redhead, eyeing her glorious naked body.

"He looks like he's fixin' on shootin' someone." She replied.

"Aw, hell..." Buck grimaced, prying himself loose and reaching for his drawers. He got to the window, one girl on each arm, just as Vin passed by.

"Vin hold up a minute." He called, waving his arm, the drawers dangling. "You headin' for one of them machines that spits out money. I'll go with you." Buck laughed, the girls joining in.

"Fuck y'all Buck." He hissed.

"Merry Christmas to you too." Buck called after him.

He was tired of this game...of them laughing and of the ache in his chest. He wanted to go home.

"Vin...I want to talk to you."

"Oh Great!" He turned as the black figure approached. "I ain't got nuthin' to say. I'm leavin'. This fucked up surprise of yers ain't funny no more. I want to go home. If this shit hole of a town ain't got a telephone or any cars...I'll find one that does..."

"Stop it!" Chris hissed, watching the passersby glaring at the crazy speech. "Stop talkin' crazy. I've had it with you. You get your shit together and cut it out..."

"I AIN"T THE ONE WHO'S CRAZY!" Vin hollered, eyes buldging, hand on his gun. "Get out of my way."

"Nice Vin..." Chris eyed the gun. "You're gonna shoot me down on Christmas day?"

"Move..." Vin hissed, feeling the walls closing in and the roaring in his head beginning. "I'm gettin' outta here."

"Fine. You go cool off and get your head together. These people worked hard for this day. We're having a nice service at Josiah's church and dinner afterwards. You can't get your act together by then, don't bother coming back."

Vin didn't reply, he started to but the words and the angry glare chilled him. He pushed by the lean man and continued up the street.

"You want me to get your horse ready?"

"Huh?" Vin eyed the burly bearded man in the liveryqqq

"You going on patrol?" he asked, "I'll get your horse ready. Only take a minute."

"Yeah...thanks." Vin nodded.

He had no idea where he was going. He followed the road out of town and eyed the unfamiliar landscape. No highways...no landmarks or buildings no telephone poles. He rode for a couple hours and spotted a small creek. He led the handsome, dark horse to the water and got a drink himself. The voice startled him.


Vin eyed the middle-aged man cautiously. He got a tingle...the one that usually meant bad news. He kept his hand on his gun and nodded back. He spotted a cart laden with every imaginable kind of goods. He made his way over and saw several small toys and a train. He swallowed painfully, recalling the train he'd made. He spotted some other things...small things but worthwhile gifts for the rest. Sighing, he recalled his problem.

"Nice coat...ain't never seen one quite like it. What will you take for it?"

"Yer kiddin' me?" Vin asked, "Y'all would pay money for this?"

"Maybe we could make a deal. What is it you want?"

Ten minutes later, Vin had a small burlap bag with this presents in it and no coat. He shivered in the cold air, but the ride back wouldn't be long. He thought of not going back, but recalled Billy's eyes and plea. He'd leave tomorrow. So intent was he on his plan, he didn't see the two bushwhackers. The first blow brought him to his knees...it cut him across the ribcage. He saw the sticky blood on his fingers and grabbed for his gun. The second blow was against his head and he toppled forward, breathing raggedy. He felt their hands...groping and pulling his clothes off. The gunbelt first, boots, then his shirt and jeans. He rolled over and tried to kick the hands and a boot kicked him hard in the ribs. He felt his hands and feet being bound and a filthy rag was shoved in his mouth. He heard them bragging about riding into the next town. A faint glimmer of hope...they'd notice the coat...wouldn't they? Chris would find him...Chris....Chris. The last thought he had was of his harsh words to his friend.

It was dark when he woke up, cold...freezing. It was so cold his bones ached. He was lying in a ditch, covering in mud and snow. He couldn't feel his toes and fingers. His head and ribs ached and he was very dizzy. But it was dark...why didn't they come? They had to have seen the men in town. His heart sank with the realization that nobody was coming. They laughed at him...they didn't care. Chris told him to go. Chris...the green eyes were all he saw in the dark as his world spun away.


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