Who knows What Tomorrow Brings?
Disclaimer: I own no rights to Mag 7 or the characters, but I enjoy taking them out to play for a while
Comments: This is written for the Blackraptor 10th Anniversary challenge and dedicated to the fans of the show. Thanks to Marti and Antoinette for the great beta job and making this a better story. Thanks to Pamela for the great artwork...she's a master at manipulating the pics and making them work.
Chris Larabee took a deep breath as he rode past the little shack he'd built ten years ago when he was in need of a place to be alone. Things had changed since then and it was very rare for him to seek out a place where he could drink himself into oblivion when the rough times hit. He still made it a point to ride out to Sarah and Adam's graves, but the pain and guilt from their deaths no longer caused him to seek death as a means of escaping hell on earth.
"What's got you thinking so damn hard, Chris?"
Larabee turned to the man riding beside him and couldn't help but smile. Buck Wilmington had also changed in the last decade. There was grey around the man's temples, 'a little snow just adds to my charm', was how Buck described it. That wasn't the only change, Buck Wilmington had finally settled down and Inez was expecting their first child in less than a month.
"Just thinking how much our lives have changed in the last ten years," Larabee told him.
"Amazing what ten years can do to a man," Wilmington agreed.
"Yes, it is," the blond agreed. There were a few more scars on his body, but they came from honest, hard work. The ranch he'd started with Sarah so long ago was now a reality that he shared with another woman whose love had seen him through some dark times. Buck and Inez had a little spread of their own bordering on Chris' land and they worked hard at making the ranch a success. The horses they'd sold to the army were the first of many that would bring them a tidy profit.
Chris' thoughts turned to Vin Tanner who'd married Chanu's sister three years ago and lived at the Indian village half a day's ride north. Vin often visited, bringing his wife and two children with him. Vin's return to the simpler life he'd led before becoming a buffalo hunter had been good for him. The fact that the bounty had finally been removed made it safe for him to travel without worrying about someone gunning him down in order to collect the money on his head.
"Inez had a telegram from Mary before we left," Wilmington explained.
"How is she doing?" Larabee asked of the woman who he'd once told he was 'the bad element'. At one point he'd contemplated spending the rest of his life with her, but there were several events that had made that impossible. Ella Gaines was one that he truly regretted, but the woman had finally been brought to justice and that was something Chris would be eternally grateful for. Mary had never forgiven him for going after his dream and sometimes the guilt had overwhelmed him during the weeks afterward when he was recuperating from the gunshot wound he'd suffered. He didn't really blame her, and hoped she'd finally found the happiness she craved with Gerard Whitman. He'd come back through Four Corners and Mary had married him without a backward glance. He didn't begrudge her the happiness she'd found, especially since it paved the way for his own future.
"She told Inez she's happy and that Billy seems to be adjusting well to life on a farm. He's met a girl from the next spread and plans on asking her father if he can court her," Wilmington answered.
"Sounds like they've settled down," Larabee said. He thought about the days and weeks after the Ella Gaines fiasco and was relieved that Mary had finally gotten past it and forgiven him for trying to renew an old love affair. Ella Gaines had taken his heart and soul from him, and it was hard to let that go.
"She also said to give you her best and that there are no hard feelings on her side any more," Wilmington told him. "You and her were never meant to be."
"I know...I just wish it hadn't taken us so long to figure that out. It might have made things easier in the long run," Larabee said as they topped the rise and looked down over Wilmington's spread.
"Are you gonna come in and have a drink?" Wilmington asked.
"Thanks for the offer, Pard, but I want to get home. It's been a long trip," Larabee said and watched as the one time 'rogue' turned his horse and rode toward the house set against a wondrous backdrop of blossoming trees that would give them a perfect harvest of bright red apples come fall. Buck's sharp whoop brought a smile to his face as Inez stepped outside and waved to him. Taking a deep breath Chris moved back to the trail that would take him to his house in less than half an hour.
Chris held tight to the reign of the beautiful chestnut he'd taken to riding since Pony had been relegated to short rides with only children as his passengers. The animal had lived a good long life and it seemed a fitting retirement for the gelding. Larabee thought about the other four men who'd made up The Magnificent Seven as they'd been deemed by Jock Steel so many years ago.
Josiah was the biggest surprise of all when seemingly out of the blue he'd married Gloria Potter. The duo had been secretly seeing each other for several months and one day a traveling preacher had come through town. Josiah asked the man to give them the Lord's blessing at a small ceremony that wound up becoming one of the biggest events in Four Corners' history as the small church was not big enough to hold all the well wishers. Inez and several other business people had gotten together and supplied food and drink for the party goers. Josiah's church was always filled to capacity and more and more settlers were calling the town home. Gloria's mercantile had grown and she'd had to hire several people to help her with the influx of customers.
Nathan had finally come to realize what he had with Rain was special, and in a ceremony at her village he'd married her and settled there with her. The town had a doctor now, but the men often came to Nathan for help, especially when it came to the regular townsfolk who'd lived in Four Corners since its time as a haven for the bad element. Nathan had been the one to insist that the town get a real doctor, and only after assuring everyone that he'd still be around did the town send out wires. It took several months before they found a suitable candidate and Nathan was impressed by the young doctor from Johns Hopkins. Donald Thompson knew his business and seemed to have a feel for his patients no matter age and gender. Nathan seemed happy at Rain's village and had more than enough to keep him busy there since Rain had given birth to a set of twins and was expecting their third child in about six months.
Ezra Standish had finally seen his dream come to fruition and was running a successful hotel/gambling house/saloon. Chris made it a point to drop in to see how things were going and Ezra always had a bottle of the finest brandy ready for him. They'd sit at a table near the back and have a single drink and toast to the future. Chris remembered telling Ezra that 'who knows what tomorrow brings' and was glad the conman had kept up the tradition of asking what the future held for all of them. Ezra's mother passed through town on occasion, but she'd never been able to pull a con on her son and never been able to offer any kind of a gaming establishment that could come close to The Standish Tavern and Hotel.
JD Dunne was still sheriff in the town and had several deputies who helped out once the seven disbanded and went their separate ways. JD was married now, but not to Casey Wells. She'd left town soon after her Aunt Nettie passed away and last they'd heard she'd married a business man in St. Louis. It had shocked everyone to hear that Sheriff Stains had a daughter around JD's age named Margaret. Four Corner's Sheriff had met her on several occasions during trips to Eagle Bend and it was during one of those trips that he realized fate had brought them together. They were married with her father's begrudging approval and had since had four children and lived in town where she did seamstress work to bring in extra money. She also taught school once the town decided to build a proper building next to Josiah's church.
Chris smiled at the thought of how seven men, so different from each other, had banded together when they were needed and gained a reputation that was now known coast to coast. He smiled as he topped the rise and looked down at his home. The little shack still stood nestled amongst the trees, but the main house was closer to the river and was something he was proud of. The others had helped him build the single floor dwelling once he'd told them his plans and he'd been pleasantly surprised to find several townsfolk offering supplies and know how on how to build the home of his dreams.
The single story home had three bedrooms, a family room, and a kitchen. The front was surrounded by a verandah and two swings hung from a tall tree to the right of the house. Chris frowned as he drew closer with no sign of movement except for the swings that moved with the light breeze. He dismounted and held the reins, his body tense as his hand fell to the gun he still carried. The instances of being called out were few and far between now, but he believed in being ready should some kid decide he was easy pickings. Chris tied the horse to the nearby brush and made his way toward the house, worried when there was still no sound from inside.
'Please let them be all right...please let them be all right...' became a silent mantra as he neared the house, gun drawn. Chris could hear arguing going on inside and stood with his back to the outer wall. Larabee glanced through the partially open drapes and his breath caught in his throat at the sight that met his eyes.
Two men both dressed in business suits were seated at the table with Katherine O'Hara Larabee and he heard his name spoken by the older of the two as he crept closer to the door. 'Don't let them die because of me...God, don't let them die...' He squeezed his eyes tightly and fought for the steel nerves that had made him the legendary Chris Larabee. Opening his eyes he knew it was time to make his move when Katie screamed.
Chris dove through the door, gun drawn and tackled the man who held his wife's right arm in a bruising grip. He struck the man hard, driving him backward over the table, and turned to find the second man with his gun already drawn. Two sounds reached his ears at the same instant that he fired his own weapon.
Larabee heard the man grunt a split second before pain erupted through his right side. He knew his shot was true and that the second man was dead as he turned to the first man who was trying to stand. "Move and you're a dead man! Katie, where are the kids?"
"They are visiting Vin at the Indian village," Kate answered, reaching for her husband as he swayed drunkenly. She took the gun from his fingers, aiming it at the man who had yet to make it to his feet. "I believe my husband told you you're a dead man if you move. Don't make me shoot you because that's just one more mess I'll have to be cleaning."
"Damn," Chris cursed as he took the chair closest to him.
"How bad?" Kate asked.
"Don't know...might need Nate," Larabee answered.
"I'll ride out for him as soon as I take care of him," Kate said and moved to the second man. She knew the man was dangerous and knew he would try something before long. "To hell with it!" she snapped and brought the gun down hard, hitting him above the right eye and rendering him unconscious before turning to her husband who was chuckling softly. "Don't you laugh at me, Chris Larabee or I'll knock you senseless...oh hell you already are. What the hell was that little show you put on?"
"I....he was going...I couldn't lose you, Katie," Larabee told her. "You should tie him up."
"I plan to do just that. Do you think you can stay put for a couple of minutes."
"Not going anywhere," the blond told her. Chris watched as she grabbed a piece of rope that hung on a hook near the door. He held is hand tight against his side and fought hard to stay on the chair. The pain had grown steadily worse as he watched his wife struggle to turn the man over and bind his hands behind his back. She used a second piece of rope to tie his feet and once she was satisfied he wasn't going anywhere she turned back to him.
"Now let's get you into bed..."
"Now Katie...you know I love going to bed w...with you, but I don't think I'm up..."
"You're not up for anything right now, except lying down..."
"Well, lying down is..."
"Hello the house...Katie, me and the young'ns..."
"Go out there...don't let him bring the kids in h...here," Larabee said, struggling to stand.
"Stay where you are or I'll...I'll...just stay put, Chris," she warned and hurried to the door, straightening her skirts and hoping she didn't look like death warmed over. She stepped outside, glad to find Vin and her children just dismounting. "Sean, you and Emily take care of the horses..."
"Is Pa home yet?" Sean Patrick Larabee asked.
The seven year old was sharp as a tack and it was hard to keep secrets from the boy, but this was something she needed to do. She looked at the giggling three year old who rode in front of Vin and forced a smile to her face. The children loved their father and normally they'd have been bouncing all over the place to get to him, but today she needed to keep them out of the house. "He's home..."
"No, Sean, I need you to take care of your sister for me," Katherine said and placed her hands on her son's trembling shoulders as Tanner dismounted and held Emily in his arms. "Do this for me...just keep her out here a little longer."
"Please, Sean, I need to see to your pa and I can't do that if I'm worried about you and Emily. Just have her check the chickens and see if there are any eggs. I'll come get you as soon as Vin and I take care of things in the house."
"Okay, Ma...but I'm big now I can help," Sean protested softly. His green eyes were the same shade as his father's and the thick blond hair hung low over his forehead no matter how often she threatened to cut it short. He was tall for his age and more often than not she'd have to buy him new britches. She was proud of her son who was working hard at his school work and also had a wonderful eye for horseflesh...a gift from his father.
"I know you can and that's why I'm trusting you to watch out for Emily. I can trust you to do that can't I?"
"Sure, Ma," Sean said and took his sisters small hand in his own. "Come on Em...let's see if that broody old hen laid any eggs."
"Maybe ma'll make some of them cookies," Emily suggested and skipped happily alongside her brother. Her hair hung down her back in fiery curls while her hazel eyes were often filled with mischief. Even at three years of age she'd already shown her mother's fiery temper and an innate ability to get what she wanted from her father.
"What's wrong, Katie?" Vin asked.
"Two men rode in about an hour ago and they had guns..."
"They gunnin' fer Chris?"
"No," Katherine snapped as they hurried toward the house. "They came here looking for me and that damn fool of a husband of mine decided to rescue me and got himself shot in the process!"
"Where a...are the children?" Larabee managed from his precarious seat by the table.
"Sean took Emily to the henhouse," Katherine told him.
"Vin, help me get him into the bedroom," she ordered.
"Come on, Cowboy, let's get you into bed..."
"Seems I had that offer already a...and she was a heck of a lot pret...prettier than you," Larabee groused, leaning heavily on the Texan as they made their way toward the bedroom. It took several agonizing seconds to get him through the door and he was panting for breath when they lowered him onto the bed.
"Bullet's still in there," Tanner observed of the wound to the blond's right side as he helped Katherine remove his shirt.
"He needs the doctor..."
"Nate's closer...I think he's over at Buck's place," Tanner explained. "Think you can handle him while I take the kids over there and get Nate?"
"I got him," Katherine said. "Tell Sean I need him to do this for me."
"He's a big boy," Tanner said.
"Tell him....tell him he has to look after his sister until..." Larabee cried out as his wife pressed a strip of cloth against the wound.
"I'll see ta it...and I'll drag them two out and lock them in the shed until we can get JD out here," Tanner told them. He hated leaving while Larabee was injured, but the faster he brought help the better.
"Rest easy, Cowboy...Katie's got yer back," Tanner said, nodding to the pretty red head before hurrying out of the room.
"I'm fine," Katherine snapped as she checked his wound. "What the hell were you thinking barging in here like that?"
"I couldn't....couldn't let them kill you...couldn't let someone e...else d...die because o...of me," Larabee told her.
"What makes you think they were here because of you, Chris Larabee?"
"Are you forgetting how many men I sent to prison or the hangman's rope? I was a lawyer before I became your wife or did you forget about that?"
"How c...could I...y...you...saved me fr...from the hang...man's noose," Larabee stammered.
"Well them two fools came here because I helped put their kin in prison and they didn't take too kindly to it," Katie said. "I nearly had them convinced that killing me for those two idiots would just get them their own necktie party!"
"For me...and not for the great Chris Larabee," Katie snapped, pressing down on the wound. "Hold that there while I get some clean water!"
Chris watched her leave and thought about the day she'd come into his life. It was nearly ten years ago and the fiery redhead had blasted into town with Circuit Judge Orrin Travis. The judge was there to try him for murdering a drifter who came into town looking for employment. Chris had shot him in an alley and had walked away when JD and Ezra had shown up. He'd gone to the saloon for a drink when Ezra came and sat at the table with him. He'd proceeded to tell Chris that the drifter was a well known philanthropist from Boston named Charles Woodrow. Woodrow had met with several townspeople and was supposedly taking donations for several charities in the Boston area. Woodrow had no weapon on him and in spite of Chris' insistence that the man drew a gun; Dunne had been forced to arrest him and put him in jail until Travis arrived the following week. Chris had stayed in the jail while the others investigated his story, but kept coming up blank, leading people like Conklin and several others to believe Larabee had committed murder. JD had no choice, but to keep Larabee locked up and on several occasions was forced to threaten people with bodily harm if they attempted to lynch the gunslinger. Katherine O'Hara had swept into town with Orrin Travis and had appointed herself as Chris Larabee's benefactor. Over several days she'd visited him and no matter how hard he tried to push her away, she'd persisted in her goal. For some reason the fiery redhead had decided he needed a champion and she was it. Orrin had no choice but to hold a trial and set the date for the following week after his arrival. Katherine had been absent the day and night before the trail and when she hadn't shown up on the morning of the trial, Chris and the others had figured she'd realized she had no case. The gun was still missing and although people believed Larabee was telling the truth, they needed evidence to prove his innocence.
Chris shifted on the bed and continued to reminisce about his first meeting with his wife. Katherine O'Hara had shown up just as things looked bad for Chris and she'd spoken with the judge before being allowed to defend the accused man. It hadn't taken her long to shake up the courtroom with the knowledge that she knew why Charles Woodrow had come to Four Corners and that he had an accomplice. The accomplice had tried to leave town before anyone even realized he was there, with Charles Woodrow's weapon of choice. The man's name was Theodore Murphy, a plump businessman out of Boston who'd run into some hard times. He'd thrown in with Woodrow in an effort to fleece as much money from influential people and prosperous town under the guise of collecting for the needy. Murphy had been found in Eagle Bend with a satchel full of money and Woodrow's weapon. He gave a full confession to Judge Orrin Travis and confessed to taking Woodrow's weapon after Larabee had shot him.
Chris couldn't help but smile as he thought of his wife and her ability to drive a man to the drink. She'd confronted Murphy on her own and used her considerable charms to make the man confess before dragging him in front of Sheriff Stains. He'd found out later that the man was trussed up with ladies garments including a black lace bra that made it impossible for him to speak. Stains had told him how Theodore Murphy had been quaking in 'her' pantyhose when Katherine O'Hara had dragged him through the streets amidst the catcalls and bawdy laughter of the townspeople.
Larabee gasped as he turned to look at her and tried to hide the discomfort he felt as each breath cause the flesh around the raw wound to pull. "Katie, I'm...I'm..."
"If you tell me you're okay then I'm going to sit on you until Nathan gets here and then I'll have him..."
"I'm sorry, Katie," Larabee said and reached out to her. He felt her hand slip into his own as she sat on the edge of the bed. "I...I thought I was going...going to lose you, Katie. I couldn't live...live with that."
"I know, Love, but if you'd just waited another couple of minutes they would have left...."
"I heard you scream," Larabee said and rubbed her arm where it showed signs of bruising. "The bastard touched y...you...hurt you..."
"I've had worse, Chris, but you've got a bad wound and..."
"Nathan will take care o...of it," the blond told her and turned his head toward the window when the sound of galloping horses reached his ears.
"That's probably Vin and Nathan," Katie told him and smiled when a familiar voice reached their ears.
"Katie, how is he?"
"And Buck." Chris whispered.
"Jesus, Chris, guess you should've come in for that drink," Wilmington lightly teased as Jackson entered the room.
"Sean...Emily...okay?" Larabee asked.
"They're fine...Sean's worried about his Pa and Emily is helping Inez..."
"All right, Buck, get outta the way and let me have a look at 'im," Jackson ordered and lifted the bandage from the wound. "Vin's gone to Four Corners to get the Don...he should be here in an hour or so."
"Trust you...Nate...always have...never l...let me d...down before," Larabee told him, gritting his teeth as Jackson probed the area around the wound.
"I hear ya, Chris," Jackson said and turned to the fiery redhead. "Katie, do ya have any of that carbolic I gave ya when Sean cut his leg?"
"I do," Katherine said and hurried from the room, retuning in less than a minute with the requested item and a basin of hot water. "I cleaned it, but he's been bleeding a lot."
"Ya did a fine job of cleaning him up and keeping him from moving around too much," the healer assured her. "Chris, I don't have my kit with me and I'd rather not go digging around in there with no knife, but I'm going to clean it with carbolic..."
"Damn...Katie, is there any of that brandy l...left?" Larabee asked.
"Nathan, is it okay to give him some brandy?"
"It might help keep him quiet until Don gets here," Jackson told her and waited until she retrieved the bottle and a glass. He watched her pour a liberal amount into the glass and he helped Larabee sit up a little in order to drink it. "Go easy, Chris."
Larabee drank the shot of brandy and closed his eyes as it burned a trail down his throat. He felt his head lowered back to the pillow and tried to fight the pain that washed over him in ever increasing turbulent waves. He could hear the others talking, but couldn't quite make out what they were saying. All he knew was that his wife was there and he felt her hand slip into his own as Jackson began to clean the wound. He fought hard not to squeeze her fingers and opened his eyes when she ran her fingers through his hair.
"You just hang on, Chris Larabee, or you'll find out just how much I've been holding my Irish temper in check," Katherine told him, fighting to keep the tears from falling.
"Don't go getting her riled, Chris, she's got a temper that'd..."
"Buck, I'd advise you not to get me riled either," Katherine told him and watched a hint of a smile form on her husband's face. She continued to run her fingers through his hair and watched as the eyelids fluttered and finally opened. Katherine knew he was in pain, but he tried not to show it as Nathan placed a bandage over the wound.
"All right, Chris, Don should be here soon and we'll get the damn bullet out," Jackson advised.
"O...okay," Larabee managed and allowed his wife's tender touch to follow him into the darkness. Voices woke him, but he had no idea how much time had passed as he opened his eyes and looked at the face of an angel. "Katie...okay?"
"I'm fine, Chris, Dr. Thompson is here and he's going to get the bullet out," Katherine explained as she moved back, but found her hand trapped in his.
"I'll be right here, but I need to let Nathan and Dr. Thompson take care of you now," Katherine told him.
"You know, Larabee, I could retire if I took you on as a full time patient," Thompson said. He remembered his first meeting with the band of seven brothers and had taken a liking to each man in spite of their uncanny way of finding trouble without even looking. It was a toss up between Larabee and Tanner as to who had visited his clinic more often, but right now it appeared that Larabee was at least one up on Tanner.
"Damn, Doc, you sure your last name's not Simmons?"
"Simmons?" Thompson repeated and rubbed his chin. "No, can't say that it is although I did have an uncle whose name was Simmons."
"Figures," Larabee grumbled.
"Well, we can talk about my family once we get that bullet out. Now, I know you're a strong man and can take a hell of a lot, but right now I'm not in the mood to listen to you moaning and groaning while I'm digging around for the bullet, so, I'm going to have Nathan give you a nice shot of morphine."
"Hate that shit," the blond said and watched as Nathan readied a vein in his arm.
"I'm sure you do, but the faster we get this done the better for everyone involved. Buck, take Mrs. Larabee into the kitchen and make her a cup of strong coffee..."
"I can help..."
"Not this time, Mrs. Larabee. Nathan and Vin are going to help me," Thompson assured her.
"It's okay, Katie," Larabee winced as the needle slipped into his vein and forced a smile to his face as he looked at his wife. She leaned across the bed and brushed her lips against his and Chris sighed as the drug quickly flowed through his veins.
"I'll be waiting for you," Katie whispered.
"I know...makes it worthwhile," the injured blond said, watching as she left the room. Tanner moved in to help hold Chris down as Jackson and Thompson went to work.
"All right, Chris, are you ready?" Jackson asked.
"No, but get it done," Larabee ground out as Thompson moved in with his scalpel and probes. Nathan gave him a piece of wood to bite down on and he nodded his head in gratitude. Chris closed his eyes as the doctor sank the probe into the wound and fought to keep from crying out as pain twisted like a knife through his gut. His hands clutched the blanket in a white knuckled grip that spoke of the agony he suffered.
"Almost there," Thompson, said as Jackson wiped the sweat from Larabee's brow. "Got it."
"Hang on, Chris, we're almost done," Jackson told him as Thompson pulled the smashed bullet from Larabee's side. He could tell the blond was barely conscious and watched as the eyelids fluttered and searched the room until he found what...or was that who he was looking for.
"Katie," Larabee whispered after dislodging the piece of wood from his mouth. He watched as she crossed the room and sat on the opposite side of their bed, giving Thompson room to clean the wound and stitch it closed.
"Sh, Chris, he's almost done," Katie said and gently ran her fingers through his hair. She watched the eyes close and waited for the lines of pain to ease as Thompson finished his ministrations and covered the wound. "Will he be okay?"
"I think so, but he's lost a lot of blood and will need to take it easy for a couple of weeks. What he needs is rest and lots to drink. Go easy on him for the first few days and just give him broths and maybe soft vegetables mixed in. Nathan says he'll be staying around for a few days so he'll be able to give him a shot of morphine if he needs it. He'll also change the bandages and make sure there are no problems with the wound," Thompson explained.
"Katie, do you have any willow bark tea?" Jackson asked.
"Yes, it's in the cupboard."
"Good, if he starts showing signs of a fever then we need to get that into him," the former slave told her and watched as her face blanched. "Katie, what's wrong?"
"I'm okay...just a little tired," Katherine told him and saw Buck watching her closely. Tonight was supposed to be special for her and Chris and the children, instead she'd nearly lost her husband to her past.
"Katie, look at me," Wilmington ordered when the woman's eyes filled with tears and she turned away, but she hurried from the room before he could catch her. He motioned for the others to stay where they were and hurried after the sobbing woman. Buck found her out back, sitting on a bench Larabee had built and sat beside her, pulling her close until her tears stopped. "I seen you like this before, Katie, and if Ez was here I'd wager that you're going to have another little Larabee..."
"I was going to tell him and the children tonight before...before all this happened," Katherine told him, eyes downcast as she tried to keep her emotions in check.
Buck reached out and took her hands in his and waited for her to look at him again. "Katie, what happened wasn't your fault..."
"Yes, it was, Buck, they came for me...not Chris...me, and I damn well knew who they were and should have been able to handle them before Chris got home and took a bullet for me."
"Listen to me, Katherine Larabee, Chris has a past he's not real proud of...hell, most of us do, but things have changed in the last ten years and we're all proud of those changes. I don't think I've ever seen Chris happier than he is right now with you. Don't get me wrong...he was happy with Sarah and Adam, but they were taken from him and he had to live with the reasons for a lot of years. That took a hell of a lot out of him...I once told JD it burned half his soul out of him, and it did, but he started living again when you came along. Not just surviving from day to day, but living. So don't you go getting down on yourself because I'll have to take you across my knee..."
"Try it and I'll knock you into next week," Katherine told him.
"That's my girl," Wilmington said with a grin. "Now, you're gonna have your hands full with Chris tonight and I know Nathan is gonna stay with you, so I'm not worried about that, but them young'ns of yours are gonna be real worried. Not Emily so much, but Sean knows something is wrong with his pa, so I'm gonna head on home in a few minutes and have a talk with him. If it's okay with you we'll keep Emily with us for a few days, but I doubt we can keep Sean away."
"Sean's a smart boy...and he's old enough to help me," Katherine said softly, straightening her skirt before standing up and facing the man who would always have a special place in her husband's life. They had a history that went back further than the ten years the group had been together and she hugged him tightly before releasing her hold once more. "Thank you, Buck...are you sure this is not too much on Inez?"
"Inez loves children...besides this'll give us both a chance to get a little practice for when Buck JR makes his entrance."
"Buck Jr.? I don't think that'll suit a girl," Katherine told him.
"I know, but I do love teasing Inez. I told her if it's a girl we can call her Buckleen," Wilmington said with a roguish grin.
"I bet Inez was thrilled with that," Katherine chuckled softly before making her way inside and smiling at Tanner who stood next to the pot bellied stove. "I'm fine, Vin."
Tanner nodded and watched her disappear into the bedroom and turned to Wilmington. "Is she okay?"
"I think so...she's worried about Chris, but I think she'll be fine once he opens his eyes and starts grumbling about being stuck in bed when he's got so much to do," Wilmington answered taking the shot of whiskey Tanner offered. "I'm gonna head home and help Inez with Sean and Emily."
"Nate's staying," Tanner said. "JD oughta be out first thing in the mornin' to take charge of the prisoner."
"I should go check on them," Wilmington said.
"I just did...one's dead...the other's got one hell of a knot on his head and Katie had him trussed up like a Christmas turkey. He ain't 'bout ta go anywhere," the Texan assured him.
"Serves him right," Wilmington said. "Tell Nate I'll be by first thing in the morning."
"I will, Buck," Tanner said and watched the man leave. He knew how hard it was for Buck to leave while Chris was hurt, but Buck had a wife now and she was expecting his baby. With Chris and Katie's kids at their home, Inez would need him more than ever. He looked up as Jackson and Thompson exited the bedroom.
"Nathan, if he has any problems send for me," Thompson ordered.
"I will, Don," Jackson said, nodding to the Texan as they walked out of the house.
Vin made his way to the bedroom door and stood watching. Katherine Larabee was seated on the bed next to her husband and was gently running her fingers through his hair while humming softly. He smiled inwardly at the obvious love the duo shared and realized Chris had to be the luckiest sonofabitch ever born. He'd never met Sarah Connelly Larabee, but from the stories Buck and Chris had told him she was a beautiful lady with an Irish temper, and that she loved Chris Larabee more than life itself. Katherine O'Hara Larabee had that same Irish temper and was a perfect match to Chris Larabee. He remembered their first glaring match and admitted Katherine had held her own against the stern gunslinger. The couple still laughed about the betting going on amongst their friends during one of those times when neither would back down and the stubborn battle of glares began.
"Katie, I need to head out, but I'll be back in the morning..."
"Vin, thank you for staying...I know Fawn will be worried about you," Katherine said.
"I told her I wouldn't be back until late because I was going to do a little hunting," Tanner explained. His wife's name would have been unpronounceable to most people and from day one he'd started calling her Pretty Fawn. The name stuck with his friends, but was shortened to Fawn and Vin smiled inwardly when he thought of the raven haired beauty who waited for him at the Indian village. He couldn't wait to be home and snuggled tight in her arms.
Nathan didn't sleep very much during the long night, but he could not convince Katherine that she needed to rest. The woman stayed at Larabee's side, bathing his sweat soaked face and talking in soothing tones. The sun had crested the hills and brought with it the promise of a whole new day and he was grateful that Chris Larabee would be alive to see it. He moved to the door when he heard her call him and was surprised to find the blond awake and lucid.
"Welcome back, Chris...how do you feel?" Jackson asked.
"Like I was rode hard and put away wet," the blond answered.
"Understandable considering you were on the wrong side of a bullet," the healer said and took the space Katherine vacated. "Let me take a look at ya and I'll leave ya to Katie's capable hands."
"Okay," Larabee said and closed his eyes as Jackson changed the bandages and made sure there was nothing going on. He shifted slightly on the bed as Jackson stood up and was replaced once more by his wife. He smiled weakly and reached for her hand, hoping to rid her face of the fear that was so easily readable. "I'm okay, Katie..."
"No, you're not...but you will be or I'll follow you to hell and nag the devil to set you free..."
"He wouldn't stand a chance," Larabee told her, sighing when she brushed her lips against his mouth.
"Don't leave us, Chris."
"I'm not planning on going anywhere..."
"Good...our baby will need his father," Katherine told him and watched the smile form on his face as he reached out to touch her stomach.
"Our baby...Katie...are you..."
"Yes, I am," Katherine said and let the tears fall before taking the time to compose herself.
"Baby," Larabee whispered, letting the joy fill his heart as he reached to pull her into his arms, wincing when the movement pulled on the raw wound. "God, Katie..."
"I know," Katherine said and stretched out alongside her husband. The relief of seeing him awake washed over her and the exhaustion she'd been keeping at bay since he'd been shot conspired to send her into a deep sleep.
"Nathan, is she..."
"She's fine, Chris. She's just exhausted and I expect sleep is good for both of you right now," Jackson lightly scolded before helping Larabee drink the willow bark tea, smiling when he got the usual look of disgust. "Go ahead and sleep, Chris, I'll watch out for both of you."
"Thanks, Nathan...kids okay?"
"Buck'll probably bring Sean with him when he comes back...they're both fine," Jackson said and eased a blanket up over Katherine before leaving the room.
Chris stared at his sleeping wife, and brushed the red hair away from her face. God, she was beautiful and he silently thanked God for the gift of not only finding love once, but twice. He snuggled close and felt his eyelids growing heavy and gave in to his body's need for sleep.
Nathan moved to check on his patient and smiled when he saw they were both sleeping soundly. Chris had the life he deserved with Katherine and so did the others. It seemed as if things had finally come full circle and the reward they all received for helping make Four Corners a safe haven was that they all lived in or around the town whose reputation they'd helped build. He went back to the kitchen and thought about his own life and the happiness he'd found in Rain's arms.
Chris looked at the people gathered around the makeshift tables and couldn't help but smile. It had been a month since he'd been shot and although he still felt pain if he overdid things, Nathan and Don assured him he was healing fine. The tables were actually long wooden planks resting on several large stumps. The seven men who'd banded together to make up the 'Magnificent Seven' had made a habit of this during the last ten years and Chris looked forward to his growing family as each Fourth of July Celebration came upon them.
JD and Margaret and their four children sat on one side of the long table. They had three boys and a girl...the girl being the youngest and JD's pride and joy. She could and did wrap her Pa around her little finger and she snuggled close to him with her thumb plopped in her mouth, sucking noisily before sticking out her tongue at the boy seated opposite her. The boy was Gloria's son who simply smiled at the little girl.
Josiah, Gloria and her children were seated opposite the Dunne family and were engaged in conversation with JD as to how many new families had settled in town and the possibility of expanding the church to accommodate the newcomers.
Nathan, Rain, and their twins sat next to Josiah and talked to the man seated opposite them. Chris could clearly hear Ezra telling them about his plans for The Standish Tavern and how several investors were interested in his ideas. Standish was proud of his success and was more than willing to share his story with the newspaper people who'd come on the train from Boston.
Next to Ezra was Buck and Inez who held their 3 week old son, Christopher Jacob Wilmington, in her arms. The baby had been born with a full head of dark hair and the same blue eyes as his father. Chris had been floored when the happy parents had told him the name they'd chosen and just about fell over when he and Katherine were asked to be the baby's godparents.
Chris looked at the man seated next to Inez and saw the spark of light in the Texan's eyes. His life had changed dramatically once the bounty had been lifted from his head and he'd finally found what he was looking for...happiness with the woman seated next to him. Fawn was beautiful and she suited Tanner more than any woman who'd ever tried to catch his eye. Their boys were well behaved and were being schooled in both the ways of the native people and in the ways of the white people. Both were smart and eager to learn and loved it when Chris and Sean joined them to hunt wild game.
Chris turned to the woman beside him and smiled as he noticed the healthy glow in her cheeks. Katherine had worked hard to get him through the fever that had raged through his body in the first few days, but now she was resting and the baby was growing inside her. The others knew she was pregnant and had given them both their best and Chris gently kissed her cheek.
"Get a room, Larabee!" Wilmington teased and received a swat on the arm from his wife. "Hey, what was that for?"
"For being an ass," Dunne answered.
Chris smiled as the two men continued what had long been the norm when it came to them. Their antics never ceased to be a reliable source for a good laugh. Chris heard a sound beside him and reached out to ruffle his son's hair and found himself under an intense green glare.
"Pa, I'm too big for that!" Sean scolded.
"I got news for you, Son," Larabee said with an easy smile. "You'll never be too old for that."
"Papa, did you see the new dolly Uncle Josiah and Aunt Gloria gave me?" Emily asked as she bounced across the yard.
"Let me have a look," Larabee said and made as if he was checking the doll over. "She as sassy as you are?"
"I'm not sassy, Papa...Uncle Ezra says I'm pre...pre...coscious," Emily told him.
"That's a mighty big word for a little girl..."
"I'm not," Katherine corrected.
"Not what, Mama?" Emily asked indignantly.
"You don't say I ain't...you say I'm not," Katherine answered.
"But Vin says ain't ands he's big..."
"That's jest because I growed up in Texas and didn't have no fancy schoolin'," Tanner said.
"Schoolin's for sissies..."
"No it's not, Em, I go to school," Sean told her.
"Yeah, but you're a boy..."
"Okay, you two, sit down now and we'll get Uncle Josiah to say Grace," Larabee suggested and pulled his small daughter onto his lap, receiving a stern look from Nathan Jackson. "I'm okay, Nate," he mouthed and turned to Sanchez before Jackson intervened.
"Lord, we thank you for this bountiful feast you've set before us..."
"Papa, I thought Mama and Aunt Inez made dinner..."
"Sh," Larabee said softly, smiling when Sanchez continued.
"Lord, we thank you for gracing us with such wonderful cooks as Katherine, Inez, Gloria, Rain, Margaret, and Fawn. They did a righteous job and we are grateful for the feast set before us. Thank you for making this meal possible and for the gift of friendship and family you've given us...Amen..."
"Amen," the others repeated and everyone began passing the food.
Chris wrapped his arm around his wife and son while his daughter sat on his knee. This was the life he had sought for many years and things were looking good with his third child on the way. "I love you, Katie," he whispered.
"I love you too, Chris," Katherine said and turned to enjoy the company of friends and family. "Happy Fourth everyone."
A chorus of Happy Fourths echoed around the table as everyone settled in to enjoy what they'd been blessed with over the last ten years.