Don't Know From Adam
Chris and Ezra "borrowed" Vin and JDs horses from the livery and rode towards the cliff where they had been found just days before. Ezras own recollections of the cave and the outcrop that rose above it were sketchy and frightening. Chris memories of the cliff were nonexistent, but there was something about it that ignited a fire in his brain. Images began to flicker in his mind -- some pleasant, some appalling, all, overpowering.
Larabee dismounted Vins horse and started his climb up the side of the rise. Each step he took brought him closer to his own ghostly memories. Up high, he insisted. We had to get up high.
Ezra climbed down from his mount and watched as Chris drove his tired body up the incline. The impassioned man stumbled a time or two but seemed oblivious to his own physical need to rest. Whatever demons possessed Chris Larabee, they werent about to leave him alone now. He would have to see the nightmare through to its terrifying end and Ezra was afraid for him. The Southerner snickered as he thought, Friendship and gratitude. I expect this is where Im to learn about undying loyalty and being there in the end. Well, at least I hope its undying and I certainly pray its not the end. He pushed himself away from the horse and followed his friend up the hill.
It took Ezra a little longer to reach the top than Chris but he made it nonetheless. When he arrived, winded and dizzy, he found the gunfighter staring into the fading light of sunset. His arms were wrapped tightly around himself and his body stood rigid.
Ezra took a few tentative steps closer to Larabee. "Why are we here, Chris?"
Chris shook his head and continued to stare into the dwindling sunlight. "We had to make it to higher ground There was nowhere else nowhere to go."
Standish realized that his friend was once again caught up in the past. Perhaps here, perhaps now, was where the memories needed to play themselves out. "Tell me what happened. Tell me what happened with you, Adam and the bear."
Larabee lowered his eyes, turned his head slowly to glance over his shoulder and stared at the ground near Ezras feet. "I never told anyone about the bear except Sarah, she knew."
Ezra raised an eyebrow. "If it concerned Adam, Im sure she did know."
"The nightmares were bad even then, but she " The blond man bit down on his words and tightened his arms around himself.
"Talk to me, Chris. Tell me about the bear," Ezra urged.
Chris turned away. "I had to get away for a little while. There was just too much goin on. He followed me. I knew he would, but I sent him back. I shouldnt have let him come, I shouldnt have sent him away "
When the overwhelmed man hesitated, Ezra spoke up. "That pretty much narrows down your options, Chris. Why was it a mistake to do either?"
"It separated us, me and Adam. Gave that monster a chance to get between us. We lost time getting back to each other, but we did it. Then we ran."
The Southerner pressed on. "Did the bear catch up to you? Did he get to Adam?"
Larabee began to walk and then hobble without direction. His breathing took on a whole new rhythm when Ezras question unleashed a barrage of memories into his conscious mind. Terrifying pictures of torn flesh, shredded muscle, gushing rivers of blood and unseeing dead eyes positioned themselves firmly within his brain. Chris grabbed at his head as if it were about to explode. "No, no more. Im not going back there."
"Chris, you dont have a choice. The memories that youve kept locked away are going to keep coming out, one by one. You wont be able to control them." Ezra noticed the strange gait of Larabees steps. "What the warden did to you was wrong, unforgivable, but its left a door open in your mind that you have to deal with. Think, Chris. Its okay to remember. Youre safe here."
"I told you no I cant think." Larabee hobbling worsened as he paced back and forth.
Ezra, seeing that his friend was oblivious to his awkward gait, decided it was time to point out his friends affliction. "Hows your leg, Chris?"
"I my leg hurts."
"It hurts when you remember, right? Its hurting now. Youre remembering now." He approached the agitated man and touched his arm carefully. "Dont run from this. You and Adam were chased by a bear. You said you were trying to get to higher ground."
The tormented gunfighter froze when another image flashed in his mind. Ezra saw a change in Chris demeanor and pushed on. "What are you seeing? Look at it, Chris! Look at what your mind is trying to show you."
It took a moment for the vision to settle enough so the man could grab hold of its meaning. "Climbing. Were climbing the rocks. Theres a ledge. If we can reach the right spot, we might be able to jump across to the rocks on the other side. Dont know though, it might be too far to jump."
Ezra noticed the change in Larabees verbal tense and prompted him as if the event were happening now. "Are you going to try, Chris?"
"Adam hes so scared he can barely stay on his feet. Were climbing as fast as we can, but " Chris stopped when he heard a noise come from behind. He looked over his shoulder.
Standish was taken off guard by the sudden turn. "What is it?"
"Chris, the bear isnt here now." Ezra tried to keep the memory on track. "Youre climbing "
Blue eyes dragged themselves back to green. "We found it the ledge."
"Can you get across? Can you get where you need to be?"
"Its too far. We cant get across, but the drop isnt too bad. The hillside angles some " Another sound caught the gunfighters attention. He moved closer to the edge of the outcrop without realizing it.
Ezra followed him, becoming more and more aware that his friend was being swept away by an ever-increasing flow of memory. "Stay with me, Chris. If the hill angles at the ledge, can you climb down?"
"Hes coming," Larabee stated just above a whisper. "Adam?"
Standish watched his friend search the darkness with frightened eyes.
"I can hear him. Damn! Howd he track us so fast?"
"I dont hear anything," Ezra lied. Oddly enough, he did think he could hear something moving around.
"Listen, Adam, hes here. We dont have time to find another way over. Youre gonna have to slide down over the edge and stay there. I dont think hell be able to reach you there." Chris was pacing closer and closer to the edge of the cliff.
Ezra placed himself between the dangerous drop and his disconcerted friend. This cliff was a lot more deadly than the one Chris faced in his mind. "What about you? What will you do?"
"Dont you worry none about me. You just listen out. When you hear him leave, you head on back to the house."
"No," Ezra said before he thought and silently chastised himself for getting carried away. He knew that Chris plan in the past had been to lead the bear away from Adam, to sacrifice himself, but that was years ago. Here, now, the man was in no danger from the animal..
"Dont be arguing with me. Theres no time. You have to go over the edge and hang on." Larabee spun around to face the beast that haunted him. "Oh, God."
The Southerner watched as Chris eyes grew large with fear. There was no doubt in Ezras mind that Chris was visualizing the same bear that had attacked him before. The same huge mountain of fur, teeth and claws that tore at his body in the past now tore at his sanity in the present.
The blond man moved nearer Ezra and shouted, "Go, Adam! Move!"
"Chris, listen to me! Theres nothing out there. Were safe! Youre safe! Just calm down and look around you. Look at me."
"Adam, you cant stay here! Just go! MOVE!!!"
The smaller man was startled by Chris intensity and stumbled. With his left arm bound to his chest, he was thrown off balance and fell to one knee. The sudden drop jarred his shoulder, sending pain throughout his entire upper body and tearing a cry from his throat.
Chris heard the cry echo in his ears and he responded with the same ferocious desire to protect that had driven him years before. "ADAM!! I SAID MOVE!!!" With incredible swiftness, he reached down for the body huddled on the ground, pulled it upright and then pushed it over the precipice.
Ezra screamed in terror as he realized what was happening. In a last-ditch effort to save his life, he grabbed for the sleeve of Chris jacket and held on. He didnt have time to consider the possibility that he may drag his only lifeline over the edge with him he simply snatched at the only hold available to him. His own shirt, which was too big to begin with and only on one arm, slid across his back. The sleeve fell towards him until the clothing hung awkwardly from his shoulder.
Larabee fell hard with the weight of Ezras body pulling on his arm. The crash to the ground was so abrupt he nearly lost consciousness, but he and his burden both held on. He was groping at the hand that held his arm when he heard the screams again.
Ezra Standish cried out at the top of his lungs, trying to draw his only hope for survival back into the here and now. "CHRIS!! PLEASE! PULL ME UP! DONT LET ME FALL!!"
The plea came to Chris ears as garbled nonsense, but the desperation rang through loud and clear. He shifted his body until he could reach down with his right hand and grasp the limb that clung to his left. His bare hand gripped a bare forearm and the sight sent a shock down his spine. It was the sight of the last hold he ever had on Adam. The last time he ever touched the boy when there was life still pulsing through his veins. There was a chance, a chance to stop the unthinkable from happening all over again. The gunslinger held firmly to the arm in his hand. His grip was so tight that his fingers sank into the soft skin and blood began to ooze. The red drops of life cascaded off white flesh and fell into the darkness below. Chris imagined their descent and let his eyes wander to the spectacle his mind created just beyond Ezras kicking feet.
"No. N-no," he muttered. The bear materialized at the base of the cliff. The beast clawed at the dirt and rock and slowly inched his way towards the legs that hung suspended just a few feet away.
Hurry. He had to hurry. Chris made ready to use both hands to raise his burden topside when he felt the flesh of his hip being sliced away. White-hot pain seared through his mind and body and threatened to send him into oblivion. He fought to stay conscious and to maintain his grip on Adam, but he had to surrender one hand to grab at the sudden agony that bit into this body.
The man who dangled over the cliffs edge tried to swallow the horror that clung to his throat. He was at the mercy of a man who no longer had a grip on reality. His very life depended on the memories that filled his friends tortured and drug-ravaged mind. By all rights, there should have been little reason to hope for a good outcome, but then he remembered who his friend was. Chris Larabee was a man passionate about family; if he believed a loved one in danger, he would move heaven and earth to save him. Right now, Ezra Standish was Adam Larabee to the man who held his arm and it would be that delusion that would return him to the safety of the ledge above.
Ezra decided to increase his odds with added subterfuge. "Pa! Pa, help me! Please, pa!"
The urgent cry rang in Chris ears and resonated in his mind. Pa? Pa, noooo Im sorry. Im so sorry.
"PA!!!" the helpless man screeched.
Larabee looked down his arm and saw the same ghostly blue eyes he had seen years before -- eyes so full of trust and love. He tightened his grip and nailed the face below him with a look. "Pa aint here, Adam, he doesnt know where we are," he said. "But I swear, Ill get you up. I wont let go."
Ezra felt reassured by Chris determination, but he was stunned by his words. What the hell does he mean, Pa aint here? Pa who? Hes pa, and Im Adam and Im going to be one dead son-of-a-bitch "if you dont GET ME OUT OF HERE!!" Frightened thoughts rapidly became terrified screams.
"Adam, hold on to me! And stop kickin your feet! Use em to climb!" Larabee looked below and saw the bear gaining more and more ground. "Youre always tellin me youre as grown as me. Prove it, Adam! Fight! Climb!"
The hold Chris hand had on Ezras arm was strong and the fingertips that dug into his flesh were biting deeper and deeper. Standish felt his own blood trickle down his bicep and to his neck. That in its self didnt frighten the dangling man -- it was the blood flowing down his forearm from Chris rope-torn wrist that put the fear of God into him. The slick liquid began to well up against his rescuers palm and the tenuous grip that held him began to slip.
"Chris " Ezra choked in warning as he felt strong fingers tear his skin. Long grooves were being cut into the soft underside of his arm as he slowly slid away from Chris. Larabee leaned further over the edge, but he couldnt better the hold he had. The move instead caused the ledge to crumble bit by bit beneath him and sent a spray of dirt showering down into the gamblers face.
"Chris, were both going to fall." Ezra spat the dirt from his mouth. He realized in an instant that his life might be the price for Chris. "You have to let go."
"I wont let him have you!"
"No choice "
Before Standish could say another word in argument, his arm was ripped elbow to wrist and the only hold Chris had left was the bandage that was wrapped around the Southerners injured hand.
Ezra glanced up at Larabee to see him look in turn over his shoulder. "NO! Get off! You cant have him!" Chris hollered, just before his head slapped the ground.
"The hell I cant," a second voice growled.
When the swinging man looked up again, he saw Buck Wilmington lying on top of Chris, snaking his arm along his friends so he too could grab onto Ezra. "You just hang tight, Ezra. Ive gotcha," he said as he took hold of the smaller mans upper arm and eventually hauled him back to safety.
Ezra dug into the ground with his feet, but both of his arms were now completely useless. When he reached the top, he fell in a heap and didnt move again until his heart stopped racing. He simply laid back and watched the tall cowboy pick Chris up from behind, move him away from the cliffs edge and lean him against a huge rock. "I have no idea cough how you found us wheeze but I am forever in your debt," he struggled to say.
"I followed you two when you left town," Buck replied. He too found himself breathing heavily from the excitement. "Ive been hanging back to give you some time with Chris. I figured maybe you knew how to help him."
Ezra twisted on the ground in an effort to sit up. Wilmington bent down to help him.
"Im afraid I havent been of much help," Ezra said in disappointment. "I seem to have done little more than push him to the point of collapse."
The gambler and ladies man both eyed Chris as he pressed himself closer to the rock and hid his head with bloody hands. He hadnt stopped mumbling since hed been put where he sat. "My fault, my fault. I put him there. Shoulda tried. I shoulda tried."
"What the hell was he doing? I saw him push you off the ledge," Buck asked excitedly, never taking his eyes off Larabee.
"He thought he was saving my life."
"Saving your life?" Buck repeated in disbelief.
"He was remembering when he and Adam were chased by that bear. He thought I was Adam," the Southerner answered carefully.
"I told you, Ezra, Adam was never attacked by a bear. I know that for a fact."
"Those scars on his leg "
Buck interrupted. "Are on Chris, yes, I cant explain those. But his son, Adam Larabee, was never mauled or killed by a bear. That little boy never even saw a bear."
"That little boy," Standish repeated to himself. "That little boy."
Buck saw Ezra appear to roll something over in his mind. He waited until a spark flashed in the conmans eyes before he asked, "What? You know whats going on?"
Standish reached out for the cowboy to help him up. "If youll assist me, we need to check on Chris."
Buck pulled Ezra to his feet and used his shoulder and arm to hold him upright. Chris caught the movement out of the corner of his eye and lowered one of his hands from his head. He looked sideways at the tall shadow and pushed himself closer to the rock.
"Pa?" Larabee asked in a tone laced with fear. "Pa, no. Please dont."
When the man against the boulder looked up at Wilmington with a look of panic and fright on his face, Buck was both shocked and hurt. Why should Chris be afraid of him? He gently sat Ezra down near his friend before he himself took a kneeling position in front of the gunslinger.
Chris had no more room for exit. He was as close to the rock as he could possibly get. "Please, pa, dont. Im sorry. Forgive me," he muttered. Buck raised a hand to touch him but quickly pulled it back when Chris began to shout, "No! Not again! Not again! Please!"
"He aint seein me, is he, Ezra?" the ladies man asked over his shoulder. "And he aint seein that damned bear either."
"No, I dont think so," Ezra answered softly.
"Has he lost his mind?"
"No," Ezra answered instantly. "Hes just getting more pieces of the nightmare than his mind can handle."
"Nightmare? He aint sleepin! And this is more than some bad dream. You and I are sittin right here with him and hes callin me Pa. Look at him, Ezra, he dont know me! He dont know us from Adam!"
"Not him, Buck. Us. We dont know from Adam."
"What the hell are you talking about?" Buck was becoming as agitated as Chris.
"He told us back at the Inn. When you talked with him about Adam, he told us not my son, remember?"
"Not my son?" Buck echoed the phrase.
Chris heard the words come from the cowboys mouth, but they reached his ears in his fathers voice. No more! His father had said. After what you let happen, youre not my son! He died because of you. You hear me, boy? Youre not my son! Not my son
"Pa, dont." Chris answered his fathers words. "Oh, God, youre right. Its my fault. Im the reason hes dead."
"Chris? Chris, I need you to listen to me," Ezra said in an effort to help his friend, but Larabee wasnt listening. In fact, Chris couldnt even bring himself to look at the man he saw as Adam.
"He aint hearin ya, Ezra," Buck stated.
"No. He seems more interested in talking to his father right now."
"This is getting out o hand. We need to get him back to town."
"Not yet. Hes just beginning to uncover the memories hes kept hidden for so long." Ezra leaned a little more towards the gunslinger, but Chris still wouldnt look at him.
"And thats a good thing?"
"It very well could be. He cant continue the way hes been. Its as if his past is overshadowing his life now; one is masking the other. He needs to understand the nightmares that are haunting him. That means he has to remember everything. He has to work through whatever it is thats tormenting him."
Buck rubbed at this face worriedly.
"You need to talk to him, encourage him," Ezra suggested.
"Ezra, he thinks Im his pa."
"Exactly. Help him to understand. Ask him who went over the cliff." Before the mustached man could object, Ezra added, "Ask him."
"You know already, dont you?"
Ezra didnt answer if he did. "He has to know, Buck. He has to face what happened with that bear. I have a feeling he has assumed a lot more guilt than is rightfully his. Ask him."
Wilmington prepared himself to step into his best friends past. He wrung his hands, took a deep breath and began his charade. "Chris? Son? I need to talk to you."
"Pa?" came the muffled reply.
"Son, I need you to tell me what happened here." Buck looked over at the outcrop. "I need you to tell me who you sent over the ledge."
"Pa, I had to. The bear was behind us. We couldnt jump across to the other side. I had to get him away from the bear," Chris said anxiously.
"Who, Chris? Who did you get away from the bear?"
"You know, pa. You know." Chris voice trembled.
"I want you to tell me, son. I want you to say it."
"Say it, Chris," Buck insisted. "Who did you put over the ledge?"
"Son, answer me," Wilmington said firmly.
"Please " Larabees upset grew intense.
Buck didnt give in. "Who was it? Tell me!"
"Pa, why are you doing this?"
"Damnit, Chris, who was it? Say it!"
"Say it!" Buck yelled cruelly.
"My brother!" Chris blurted out. "It was my brother!"
The answer was so unexpected that Buck was rocked from his knees and sent to the ground. Ezra looked skyward and then closed his eyes, his theory confirmed.
"Im sorry, Adam," Chris sobbed, tears filling his eyes. "I didnt save you. I shoulda tried."
"Chris had a brother?" Buck whispered to no one in particular. "Adam was his brother? Why? Why didnt he tell me?"
"My guess is that hed chosen to forget about him."
"Chris wouldnt do that. He wouldnt forget family."
"Not intentionally, Buck, but listen to him. Hes been claiming responsibility for his own brothers death," Ezra stated as gently as he could. "Burying the memory was probably the only way to survive it. Tell me, how long have you known Chris?"
"Known Chris? Years. Ive known him since we were both old enough to be on our own," Buck answered.
"Then what happened to his brother must have occurred when Chris was not much more than a boy himself. You witnessed the hell he went through when his wife and child were murdered. Can you imagine being little more than a child and believing that you let your brother die? He learned very early in his life how to assume and survive guilt, Buck."
"But this doesnt make sense. If Chris, just now, was reliving what happened when that bear attacked him and his brother, then how could he believe that it was his fault? I saw him trying to pull you away from the bear. Damn, what am I saying? There was no bear,"
Buck said as he clenched his fists in frustration.
"To Chris that animal was as real as the day it killed his brother. He began remembering more details just before we left the Inn. Im afraid when the drug wore off, he couldnt suppress the thoughts any longer. They drove him here, the place most like the actual cliff he lost his brother," Ezra explained.
"Okay, so Chris believed it was happening all over again. I still dont see how he could believe that he was responsible for anything. He keeps sayin he shoulda tried. He did try. He nearly killed himself trying to save you. I saw him. He was halfway over the ledge, hanging on to your arm."
"I dont understand that myself. He did push me over the ledge, but he kept telling me that it was to get me away from the bear. He told me that the ledge angled a little and that I would be safe if I hid myself there. But something happened, something changed. He began trying to pull me back up." The Southerner slowly began to relive his own terrifying memory. "He was using both hands in the beginning, but then he cried out and moved one hand back across his body."
"To his leg," Buck added excitedly. "That must have been when he was clawed. Oh, my God. He must have felt it happen all over again." The cowboy began to feel nauseas. Just the thought of his friends agony was too much to tolerate.
"Theres a lot more to this, Buck. We only have pieces. I think Chris only has pieces pieces from a boys frightened mind. Thats why hes feeling guilty. I dont think he knows what really happened, and if my suspicions are correct, I know how he came to remember everything wrong," Ezra said in a voice that was tinged with disgust.
"Ask Chris." Standish motioned for Buck to talk to Chris.
Buck hesitated but he knew that Ezra was only thinking of how to best help their friend. He returned to his knees and cleared his throat then he lowered his voice and spoke in a gentle, soothing tone. "Chris? Son, we need to talk about what happened to your brother."
"We dont have to, pa. I know it was my fault," Chris answered the backlit shadow that hovered so closely.
"Why, Chris? Why is it your fault?" Wilmington questioned softly. "How could you even think that you just stood by and let Adam die?"
Larabee darted his eyes around distrustfully. Buck didnt understand the look, but Ezra did he believed it had been his fault because his father had insisted it had been.
"Son, tell me what happened after the bear chased you up here. Talk to me, Chris," Buck insisted.
"I-I pushed Adam over the edge of the cliff. It wasnt a sheer drop, he shoulda been able to hang on," Chris swallowed, "until the bear went away."
"But you didnt go over with him," Buck prompted. "You stayed up top."
"Y-yes, sir. I thought I could lead the bear away," Chris looked away from his fathers shadow, "but there wasnt time."
Buck and Ezra watched in amazement and regret as the tormented man began to frown and rub at his left leg. The frown soon turned into a painful grimace and the rubbing intensified until Chris fingers were digging into his own flesh. The ladies man reached out to stop the hand from clawing, but was pushed away when Chris kicked out with his feet and scooted along the boulder.
"Hurts pa, it hurts," Chris said in anguish.
"What, Chris? What hurts? What happened after you got Adam out of the way?" Buck asked, near tears himself.
"The bear, I couldnt lead him away so I tried to go with Adam but he caught me " Chris nearly gagged on the words. "He pulled me down! I tried to go over the ledge, but he was on top of me!" He shuddered. "I didnt realize at first that hed hurt me, my leg was just kinda numb. Then I felt his breath on my neck, his weight on my leg and back. I tried to roll over to see him, but I couldnt. I didnt actually see his teeth or his eyes until he made a grab for Adam. Nooggghh! Hurts!"
"Chris! Chris, the bears gone. Its all over, son! Listen to me, its all over, hes gone!" Bucks eyes overflowed.
"Hes not gone, pa! He fell!"
"Who fell, Chris? Was it Adam? Did Adam fall?"
"N-no. The bear fell. The ground crumbled beside me He was so heavy the ledge gave way." Chris wrapped his arms around himself tightly as he watched his shocking memories rush back to show themselves.
"Thats good, Chris! The bear cant hurt you now," Buck said encouragingly.
"No, pa! Hes after Adam!"
"He didnt die! The bear didnt die! Hes coming again, up the side of the cliff. Hes coming after Adam! Adam, hold on! Agggh!!" Chris grabbed at his leg. "Pa, you were right I put him there, I let him die!"
Ezra decided it was time to intercede. He moved quickly towards the hysterical man and used his torn limb to grab Chris right forearm. "You didnt let me die, Chris! Look at me! You tried to get me back. You tried!"
Larabee reluctantly stared at the ghost before him. "I let you fall." His voice was thick with grief.
"No, you didnt. Look at my arm, Chris. Look at what you did trying to save my life." Ezra knew now why Chris had cared for his arm back in the cave in spite of the fact that his arm had never been wounded. Adams arm had been injured, torn open by Chris attempt to pull him to safety. It had been the mans last hold on the brother he loved. Ezra shuddered when he thought of how that last tug must have felt in Chris hand; that last sudden jerk when the bear snatched him away and took his life, leaving Chris to watch the gory sight.
Chris looked down at the arm that held his. He felt its warmth. He saw the blood oozing from the marks he had made. The marks he had made. He had tried. The realization came slowly as it struggled to pierce the layers of guilt that had grown around his heart. "Little brother," he said with sorrow, "forgive me."
Ezra pulled his hand from Chris and placed it on the peacekeepers neck. He looked into his friends tear-filled eyes and whispered, "Theres nothing to forgive. You did all a man could do and that makes me very proud to be your brother."
When the words reached Chris brain, he fell into his brothers embrace and cried.
Ezra and Buck gave Chris the time he needed to mourn, not that twenty-some-odd years of grief could be expressed in a single night, but the weeks of heart-breaking, gut-wrenching torment he suffered had finally beaten him down. Shock and exhaustion intruded on his anguish and his mind and body were forced to submit to its numbing will. He sat next to the boulder from which he had sought refuge earlier and stared into the moonlit night.
Wilmington shook his head and walked away from his silent friend; there was little he could do to help, but at least Chris was alive. He made his way to Ezra when he spotted the smaller man shivering on a rock about 15 feet down the hill. Buck came out of his coat and handed to it the gambler. "Next time you decide to go for a ride at night, you might want to wear more than a thin shirt and bandages."
Ezra took the large coat gratefully and offered the ladies man a weak smile in return. "I can honestly say it was not my intention to go for a ride this evening." He looked up the rise towards Chris. "How is he?"
"Quiet. I tried to get him to talk but he doesnt seem to know Im there. Im worried about him, Ezra." Buck sat down next to Standish.
"I think hes in shock. The drugs he was given have more than likely worn off. They opened a door to his past. Unfortunately, theres no closing it now. What happened to him all those years ago; hes got to come to terms with it. Its just "
"Just what? What are you thinking?"
"The event itself was tragic enough, but what really concerns me is the way hes remembering-- his assumption of guilt, his willingness to accept responsibility for his brothers death. Something is telling me that theres a lot more to this than meets the eye. Chris may have been given one truth this night, that he did indeed try to save Adam, but I believe there are layers of lies and abuse so thickly grown around his memory that he may never know the whole truth about what took place."
Buck couldnt suppress the shiver that traveled down his spine. "I aint gonna lose him, Ezra, especially over somethin that happened more than twenty years ago. Ive been to hell and back with him. Whatever it takes, Im seein him through this."
Standish looked the man beside him straight in the eye and said unwaveringly, "We both will."
Buck started to thank Ezra for all hed done in the name of friendship and loyalty when he noticed the Southerner pale and lean forward. "Ezra, you alright? You dont look so good, pard."
The gambler wheezed through the sharp pain that ignited in his shoulder and grunted. Wilmington put a hand across his back and tried help him ride out the hurt. "I gotta get you two back to town. Youre both half dead. Nathans gonna be pissed as hell about all this."
"Nathan," Ezra blew against the throbbing, "isnt going to know about all this. Agh Save us, no one else will know."
"Whatre you talkin about? Nathans gonna know you two have been missin, and when he sees your arm and the shape you two are in, hes gonna blame me for not stoppin ya. Come to think of it, he has every right! What was I thinkin, lettin you ride out here."
Ezra leaned against Buck when the pain passed. Damn, he felt awful. "He can fuss and rant all he wants. I will even allow him to tend my arm since he was so determined to do so the last time we discussed its injury, but we are not going to tell anyone about what Chris has been through or what he has remembered."
"Ezra, Nathan needs to know. Maybe he can help Chris. And the others, theyll want to help too," Buck responded in a low voice when he saw Larabee looking at them from where he sat.
Standish took a deep breath and tried to sit up. "I doubt there is much Nathan can do for him. The others? You know that Chris would hate any attention he might call to himself with reference to his loss. I would think one trip down that road with him would make that quite evident."
"Sarah and Adam you mean. Yeah, Chris didnt like nobody tryin to help him then. I reckon he wouldnt like it none now. In fact, it may take him some doin just to get over the fact that you and I know so much." Buck noticed that Chris was still looking down the hill as if hed spotted something.
"Im not sure how much hell remember about tonight. He may recall the truth about his efforts to rescue his brother, but he may not recollect our part in what just happened," Ezra stated.
"Maybe we should tell him we know," Buck suggested.
The gambler pulled Bucks coat tighter around himself. "I dont think that would be advisable. Chris Larabee is a leader. Face it, he is the law in Four Corners. He cant have his men doubting his abilities. If he felt that he appeared vulnerable or weak he may never be able to continue his duties."
Buck thought about Ezras words. "Youre right, and I dont want him back in that damn bottle again. It took too many years to get him out of it." He glanced up again and noticed that Chris was on his feet and moving carefully down the hill towards the horses. "Wheres he goin?"
Ezra followed Wilmingtons line of vision and saw the gunfighter making a beeline for the animals tied several feet past where they sat. Buck began to intercept Larabee but Standish stopped him. "Leave him, Buck. Lets just see what hes doing."
Buck nodded, waited and watched. Chris appeared focused on one thing in particularVins horse. He took slow, deliberate steps to reach the mount then stared at it as if he barely recognized it. Buck and Ezra followed him and moved close enough to hear him speak.
"Easy, boy, whatre you doin here?" Larabee asked the animal.
"Chris," Buck called.
Larabee didnt respond; he kept his focus on the horse. "Did you wander out here on your own? Vinll be mighty worried when he finds you missin."
"Chris." This time the ladies man laid a hand on his friends shoulder.
The blond man turned to see a concerned mustached face made visible by the light of the moon. After a few seconds, he looked back at the horse, confused. "Buck?"
"Buck, whatre we doin? Where are we?"
Ezra came forward. "You dont remember, Chris?"
Larabee heard the Southern voice at his back and turned to take in the haggard face he knew hed find. "No yes. I dont know."
"Give yourself a little time to think," Ezra recommended just before he began to sway.
Chris reached out to catch Standish before he slid to the ground. Buck gave a hand and the three men ended up seated on the rocks. In getting Ezra settled, the coat that he wore fell away from his body revealing a multitude of bandages, an arm bound to his chest and one limb cradled protectively against his stomach. Larabee knew in his heart that he was the cause of all the damage done to his friend; that he was once again responsible for nearly destroying someone he cared about. All the wounds, all the blood, all the agony, it was all because of him. That realization threatened to once again send his mind into madness, but there was a look in Ezras eyes that grabbed his soul, snatched it back and grounded it in reality. Ezra knew, and for the first time, Chris knew as well. "I tried," was all he could say.
Ezra raised his arm and took hold of Chris hand. "Remember that."
Buck saw the exchange between his friends. The moment was intense; hopefully, it would be powerful enough to begin the healing that Chris so desperately needed. He blinked his eyes a few times and took a deep breath. "How about we get outta here," he suggested.
"Its time to go home," Larabee said to himself.
"Well, well have to go back to Jericho first, probably spend a day or two there. Nathans plannin on you two mending a bit before we head back to Four Corners," Buck advised firmly.
Ezra was able to stand with the help of his fellow peacekeepers. "I agree with Chris. Well swing by Jericho to pick up the others, but then we head home."
Buck followed as Chris helped Ezra get to his horse. "Damnit, Ezra! Nathans plannin "
Ezra interrupted the well-meaning words. "You need to understand something, Buck. Sometimes that which is planned to happen has to give way to that which is meant to happen."
Wilmington frowned at Ezra. "What?"
Ezra looked into Chris tired face and spoke with finality. "Its time to go home."
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The character of Adam Larabee was written for the actor Gabriel Macht (previously of The Others.) I think if you have seen his work and can imagine this performer around 14 years of age, you can understand why he was such an inspiration.