Main Characters: Chris, Vin, Maria
Notes: Written for Kaly, who was upset that Vin’s owwie was pretty much ignored by Chris in Lady Killers. This is sort of a missing scene, my take on what might have happened. This is one of my older fics.
Webmaster Note: ‘specially for Jenny! This is one of the first pieces I wrote in the fandom, somewhere around the turn of the century.
“Ah, hell Larabee, what’d you get yourself into?”
Chris struggled to peel one eyelid back, and stared unfocused toward the voice. He recognized it, knew who it belonged to, but it took a little while for him to put the pieces together. “Vin,” he said in a pain-filled whisper.
“Good t’ know they didn’t scramble your brains too much,” the younger man said in exasperation. “How bad y’ hurt?”
Hurt? He tried to think back to what had brought him to…wherever he was. Fragmented memories swirled past but too quickly for him to latch onto them. Finally he gave up and started to move. He discovered that was not a wise decision. “Gah-gah-GAWDDAMNIT!” he cried, slumping back against the wall Vin had found him against.
“Reckon y’ ought t' sit still for now, pard,” Vin said with an unmistakable mixture of humor and concern in his voice. “The other fellers look worse?”
Still confused, the battered blond could only say “dunno.”
Vin sat back on his haunches, looking closely at his friend. Chris’ face looked like so much raw meat, covered in bloody cuts and swollen bruises. His shirt was torn, hanging off one shoulder, which was skinned and bloody as well. One arm was wrapped around his abdomen even while the man was semi-conscious, giving a clear indication of injured ribs. His hands were scraped, skinned and bloody, swollen knuckles saying clearly that Chris Larabee had not gone down without a fight.
Rubbing a hand across the back of his neck, Tanner tried to decide where to take his battered friend. It wouldn’t have been a question if they were back in Four Corners, but instead he had come searching his friend in the border town he frequented. Purgetorio. Purgetory…hell on earth. Chris had taken a few days off to relax, but problems in the town they protected forced the other men to seek him out. Larabee had trusted Vin not to tell the others of his destination, so the young tracker had taken it as his responsibility to retrieve the man. He always prepared for trouble when he had to enter the outlaw town that he had frequented as a bounty hunter, but he hadn’t expected to find it in quite this form.
“How bad y’ hurtin’, pard?”
“Bad ‘nough I…”
“Chris!” Vin reached out, grasping the man as he started to slump to the side. “C’mon pard, stay with me.”
“Ain’t go’n no…place…” Larabee slurred. Finally he managed to focus on his friend’s concerned face. “Don’ look’t me like ‘at,” he mumbled, wishing he could make his hand work well enough to rub his throbbing jaw.
Smiling in embarrassment when he realized that he had been allowing his fear to show in his face, the younger man worked to hide it. Marshaling his emotions, he said, “don’t recollect a healer ‘round here. Reckon they’d avoid this place if they had their druthers. Where we gonna get y’ patched up?”
Chris sorted out the words and recognized the tracker’s question after a few tries. Then he had to sift through his mind for an answer. Finally he managed the process and said tiredly, “Ma…Maria…”
“Maria?” Vin considered the suggestion for a minute himself, then finally remembered the young puta the gunslinger visited from time to time. “Alrighty then. Where’s her place?”
Another lengthy pause and he managed, “’cross… from th’… cantina.”
Fixing the place in his memory, Tanner realized that they were very near by. Then he studied the best way to get the injured man up and to the place without risking being spotted by whoever had beaten him. Looking around him Vin spied a small cart nearby. Making certain that the still groggy man wasn’t going to fall again, he hurried over and commandeered the wooden vehicle. Setting it as close to Larabee as he could, he gently lifted the man under his arms and got him as upright as he could. Chris cried out several times, a flurry of curses interspersed among the cries. Gritting his teeth against the pain he was inflicting on his best friend, Vin continued the journey of inches and got the man to the cart. Lowering him between the handles at one end, Tanner got him settled as well as he could. Taking off his hide coat, he wadded it up and put it beneath the perspiration and blood-soaked head.
“Hang on Cowboy, this ain’t gonna be an easy ride.” Lifting the handles, Vin began pushing the cart along the rutted and littered dirt path that ran behind the dusty buildings. Chris groaned and clutched at the splintered sides that surrounded him. Tanner pushed along as quickly as he could, adding his own curses to the ones that rang from the cart. He’d be lucky if he didn’t add to the man’s injuries. He’d be lucky if he found Maria and even luckier if she’d cooperate in providing a place to stay. He’d be luckiest of all if he managed to get the two of them out of town and back home with their lives. “Hang on Chris, it ain’t gonna be much farther.”
Reaching the low row of apartments, Vin tried to decipher which one might be their destination. It was late afternoon; the town was quiet, everyone had moved inside for siesta. There was no one in sight to give him a direction. Finally it was provided in a strained whispered.
“Number…five…” Chris informed him.
Quickly moving down the row to the fifth room, Tanner peered inside the opened window. A single figure was draped across the bed, nothing but a thin robe covering the slender body. Taking a chance he said quietly, “Miss? Uh... Maria?”
“Go away…come back later…” she replied shortly.
“Miss, my name’s Vin. I need your help.”
“Go away,” she repeated.
“Miss, y’ know my friend, Chris Larabee?”
“Señor Chris?” She rose quickly, striding across the little room to the window, ignoring the fact that her robe had fallen open. “Where is he?”
Blushing with embarrassment, Vin averted his eyes and motioned toward the cart. Getting over the initial shock, he managed to look back, focusing on her face. “He’s been hurt ma’am, and I need t’ get him patched up.”
“Of course. I will go and get some water from the well. Can you get him inside? You should bring him through the window if you can. Too many people may see him otherwise, and that could be dangerous.”
“Yes miss, I figured as much. Thank you.”
Smiling as she tied the robe closed, she said, “Da nada, Señor. He is…especial?… special to me. I will help however I can.” With that she picked up a bucket and left the room.
Turning back to Chris, Vin said softly, “we’re here pard. Think y’ can help me get y’ into her room?”
Larabee studied the question and finally formulated an answer. “Yeah.” He made no argument when the smaller man lifted him from the cart, supporting his weight while he struggled to gain his balance. Managing to put one foot in front of the other, the older man tracked next to his friend, making it to the window before his knees buckled.
“Whoa! Easy there, Cowboy. Don’t go out on me now. We’re ‘bout there. Now stand still for me.” He propped the groggy man up against the wall, holding onto him with one hand for as long as he could. Climbing through the window with a single fluid motion, he turned just as Larabee began to slide down the wall. “Easy now, c’mon pard, stay with me. Let’s get y’ inside, then y’ can lay down, okay?”
“’kay,” Chris mumbled as he fought to comply. Pushing himself back up, he helped Vin as much as he could, they managed to get him into the room and across the short space to the bed. Vin eased him to the thin mattress, making his friend as comfortable as possible. As he was finishing up a sound brought his attention to the door. Pulling his mare's leg from its holster, he stood between the door and his friend.
“It is only me, Señor,” Maria belatedly identified herself. She stared at the weapon that remained trained on the door until after she had closed it. “There is no one else, I promise,” she said quietly.
Holstering the gun, Vin nodded, then turned back to where Chris lay. He felt a touch on his arm and turned to find the wwoman handing him a damp cloth. Taking it, he smiled his thanks and set to work bathing the blood encrusted face. Larabee moaned from time to time, weakly fighting the touch. “Settle down, Chris. I know it hurts, but I gotta get y’ cleaned up so we can patch y’ up. Best you lay still, I ain’t got Nathan’s touch. Might poke an eye out or somethin’.” As he continued to work, he kept up the quiet talk. It was as much for his benefit as Larabee’s. Chris looked awful; he was afraid he was going to do more damage.
It took over an hour for the two of them to get the man in black cleaned up, his wounds bandaged, and ribs bound. Finishing, they sat back and looked from Larabee to one another.
“Reckon that’s as good as we’re gonna get ‘im fixed up here.”
“Do you think he will be alright?”
“Don’t rightly know, miss. Need t’ get ‘m back home so Nathan can have a look at ‘im.”
“Surely he cannot ride as he is?” She looked at him with concern.
Shaking his head, Vin answered, “no miss, I don’t reckon he can. Reckon you could help me get a wagon?” Hurrying on when he saw the look on her face, he said, “Maria, I know it’s a lot t’ ask, and I ain’t got a lotta money on me, but you’re welcome t’ all of it if you'll –“
She shook her head, “no, it is not that señor. As I said, I will help however I can. It is just…do you think it is wise to move him so soon?”
“Ain’t certain a that neither, ma’am. Ain’t certain a nothin’ right now, ‘cept the fact he’s hurt bad. Unless you know someone closer, reckon I gotta get ‘im t’ Nathan.
Shaking her head sadly, the pretty woman said, “No, there is no one. I think I may know where I may get a wagon… a driver, too, if there is enough silver offered.”
“Can we trust ‘im t’ get us there in one piece?”
She smiled, “si, señor. He is my uncle; not a hard worker, but he knows better than to…to disappoint me.” Her smile turned hard, telling the young tracker that the chances were that the young woman sold her body, in part, to support her uncle’s laziness.
Pulling the small purse from his coat pocket, he emptied it of its stash of coins. Vin reached into the pocket of Chris’ duster as well, not surprised to find it empty. Handing what remained of his month’s wages to the young woman, he said, “this is all I’ve got, ma’am. If it ain’t enough, I can promise some more once we get back to town.”
Smiling, Maria took the coins and stashed them in the pocket of the skirt she had donned earlier. “It will be enough. I must go to his casa and it is some ways from here. Do you have a horse I may borrow?”
“Yes ma’am, I do.” He instructed her as to where she could find Peso, some part of him wondering if he were doing the wrong thing. Just because Chris enjoyed visiting the young whore didn’t mean she was a trustworthy person. Unfortunately, he didn’t have much of a choice right now, and neither did Chris.
Watching her leave, the young man turned back to where his friend lay. Chris was unconscious again, his head tossing weakly on the pillow. Taking up the damp rag, he gingerly bathed the battered face, carefully avoiding as many of the cuts and scratches as he could.
It was nearly nightfall before Vin heard the sound of a wagon outside. Leaving the now unconscious man, he stood near the door, his shogun at the ready. As it opened, he heard a now-familiar voice, “It is me once again, señor.” Easing the trigger back, he kept the gun in hand. He watched as the young woman slipped in the door, a gnarled and haggard looking man standing outside, near a likewise gnarled and haggard looking wagon. Tanner couldn’t help but smile at the thought of what the dapper conman would have to say if he were forced to travel in such a conveyance.
“How is he, señor?” Maria asked as she sat down next to the too-quiet man.
“Been awful quiet for ‘bout an hour. Ain’t certain that’s a good thing. Figure t’ get i‘m back home quick as possible. If I could ask y’ one more thing, miss, could y’ keep a look-out for trouble out there?”
“Certainly.” She swept from the room, motioning him that it was alright. The town had yet to come alive in the early evening; the only sounds coming from the saloons and the few homes scattered about.
Unable to rouse Chris now, Vin slipped one arm under the man’s shoulders and another beneath his knees. With a grunt, he lifted the man from the bed and staggered out the door. “Damn Larabee,” He whispered through gritted teeth, “y’ don’t look that heavy.” Managing to get him the few yards to the wagon, he rested the limp body on the edge of the open wagon. Pulling himself inside, he dragged Chris in as well, grateful to see that Maria had thought to provide a pallet on the floor of the wagon. Leaving the man alone for a minute, he stepped back out of the wagon. Maria was just emerging from her room, the bucket and an armful of cloth in tow. He took the cloth, but she stopped him from taking the bucket.
“I will get fresh water for the journey,” she said quietly. “You stay with señor Chris, si?”
Nodding, the tracker returned to the wagon. He could feel the woman’s uncle staring at him, but chose to ignore him. Tanner had little respect for a man who’d allow his kin to do something so degrading as selling their body just because he was too lazy to work. He considered finding a way to have the sorry excuse for a human being arrested once they got to town, but decided that would accomplish nothing. Sighing, he returned to the wagon bed and his friend.
A few minutes later, he heard a sound, and watched as Maria placed the bucket inside the wagon. With a smile and a nod to the pretty woman, he pulled the bucket toward him. “Thank y’ miss, for everythin’.”
“You are welcome, but thank me later. I will travel with you to your home.”
“Ma’am, I ain’t certain a what kinda trouble Chris got hisself in, and I ain’t certain it’s over. Ridin’ with us could be dangerous.”
“Señor,” she said with a coy smile, “have you forgotten where I live?”
With a chuckle, Vin said, “reckon y’ got a point there, miss. Alright, then, but if there’s a sign a trouble, I want y’ t’ stay clear and let me handle it.”
“I have not problem with that,” she winked before closing the ripped and stained tarp across the back of the wagon.
Making his friend as comfortable as possible, Tanner held him against the bouncing of the wagon. Keeping the damp cloth handy, he bathed Chris’ face and neck, talking softly to him as he worked to keep his friend alive. They had traveled just over an hour when the wagon slowed to a stop. Tensing, the tracker listened for some sign of trouble. Hearing none, he peeked out the back of the wagon. “Miss Maria?” he called softly, “what’s goin’ on?”
In answer, the young woman appeared at the back of the wagon, two sets of reins in her hands. She smiled up at him as she tied them off on the nearest brace. Stepping back, she said, “we had to stop for the horses.”
Looking out into the darkness, he saw the familiar silhouettes of Peso and Pony. “How’d y’ know which one was Chris’?” he asked with a laugh.
“Let us just say that I have met not only Señor Chris, but his horse before,” she said with a suggestive glance and a giggle. She ran one hand down the man’s handsome face and said, “I would not wish to leave such fine creatures as these to the whims of chance.” She pushed him gently backward and closed the canvas. “We will be at your town by sunrise I think. If he needs to rest, let me know.”
They rode slowly, the creak and groan of the old wagon the only sound other than the occasional cry or muttering of the injured Larabee. Vin spoke to him nearly non-stop, reassuring his friend that everything would be alright as soon as they made town. At times it almost seemed that the blond heard him, but most of the time he seemed beyond Tanner’s words.
The wagon hit a particularly deep rut, jarring everyone in the wagon. Chris cried out in pain, his body arching in response to the movement. Vin grabbed him, holding him against his chest.
“It’s okay, pard, it’s okay. You’re gonna be okay, just hold on now. We’re gonna be back in town real soon, Nathan’ll have y’ patched up and fussin’ over y’ by tomorrow breakfast. Hold on, cowboy, just hold on.” In response, one of the gunman’s hands wrapped around his forearm. Grimacing at the grip of steel, Tanner marveled at the injured man’s strength. “That’s good, pard, y’ just hold on. I got’cha now, an’ I don’t aim t’ let y’ go. Y’ just hold on.” He gently brushed the sweat-soaked blond hair back, resting Larabee’s head against his chest.
On the wagon seat, Maria watched the two men behind her. She smiled wistfully at the scene, watching the young gringo comfort the man that seemed so often beyond comforting. She had long ago stopped caring about the men who paid for her company, but this one was different. He touched her heart in a way she thought impossible. Somehow she felt that he did the same to this man.
The night seemed a thousand miles long. Vin continued to hold Chris in his arms; once there, the man seemed far more comfortable. He ignored the complaints of his back, shoulders, and neck. Those pains would work themselves out soon enough. As long as his friend was comfortable, that was all that mattered. He continued talking to him, brushing the dampened hair back, bathed the face that grew clammy as the night passed. Larabee’s breathing grew harsher, labored, as the night waned. Tanner prayed they’d reach Four Corners soon.
Just as dawn lightened the landscape, Maria’s voice broke through his thoughts. “I can see the town, señor.”
Breathing a sigh of relief, Vin thanked her, then said quietly, “y’ hear that cowboy? Reckon we’ll be wakin’ ‘em up when we get into town. Now, y’ hold on…hang on tight. It’s gonna be okay.”
“’kay,” Chris mumbled against the rough hide coat.
Vin chuckled, “y’ back with me cowboy?”
“Ne…ver left…pard,” Larabee said tiredly.
Patting the man carefully on the shoulder, Vin swallowed hard around the knot in his throat. Leaning a cheek gently against the top of the other man’s blond head, he held Chris the rest of the way home.
Vin yawned and stretched. It had been a very long day… no, he corrected himself, as he watched the sun rising once more, three very long days. By the time they had returned, the problems that had sent him in search of the gunslinger had been solved. Josiah declared that the true reason for his going in search of Larabee had been to save the man’s life. He was just grateful that he had brought Chris home with him, and that they had found the town intact when they arrived.
It had been close. Chris had lost a lot of blood, and one of the fractured ribs had scraped his lung. His left hand was fractured, two of the cuts he had received had needed stitches, and he had a concussion. After several long hours of waiting, Nathan had delivered the good news that he should recover just fine with rest and care. Maria, sitting with the others on the landing, had been just as relieved as the others. Bidding them farewell, she went to locate her uncle and return to the other side of the border. She had received the grateful thanks of all the peacekeepers, as well as some of the townsfolk who heard of the gunslinger’s latest ordeal, with shy embarrassment. Tanner read her discomfort in the strange surroundings and made certain he was close at hand. She seemed a bit more relaxed if he was nearby.
As they took in the news that their leader would recover the others had drifted off to take care of other things, but Vin had stayed at the clinic with Nathan. No one was really surprised, if he had opted to leave without an argument, that would have surprised them. It was only after Chris awakened long enough to take some broth and use the chamber pot that Vin even ventured as far as the landing. Now he surveyed the sleeping town, breathing the cool morning air. Larabee had told them what had happened while he was awake. The men who had attacked him had once been ‘guests’ of the Four Corners jail, and had decided to extract some revenge from the peacekeepers unquestionable leader. Vin remembered them, and decided that he’d see if Buck wanted to make a little visit to the little border town in a few days. Until then, he was just going to be happy for the crisp morning air, the hint of summer in the dawn, and the fact that his best friend would live to enjoy them both as well.
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