Only a Matter of Time
Chris´ dreams were no better. He felt like he was reliving a nightmare. Sarah, Cletus Fowler, fire, God it was enough to make him beg to be woken up. But no matter how much he tried to clear his head, the heat of the fire, the smell of smoke, and the sight of his worst enemy brought to life in front of him was more than his brain could comprehend. Chris felt himself falling to the ground. His arms were pinned to the floor and his legs wouldn´t move, even his head felt too heavy to lift from the ground. He turned his head at the sound of the evil laugh he associated with Fowler. What he saw infuriated him. Fowler had Sarah in his arms trying to kiss her. Her head was turned to the side and he was forcing it toward his mouth. He yanked hard on her hair and jerked her face to his. He brought his mouth down on her tender lips and bit down on the lower one. She cried out in pain and when he thrust his tongue into the soft recesses of her mouth she returned the favor, biting down hard on the intrusive appendage. Fowler roared out in pain and rage and struck her hard across her face. He started to strike her again but was knocked to the ground by an enraged Chris.
Larabee had managed through pure grit and anger to push himself to his feet. He drove into Fowler´s back like a charging rogue bull. He now had Fowler on the ground, rolling him over he struck out with his fist landing punches anywhere he could. All the anger bottled up in Chris for four years poured out. He continued to lash out at the figure on the floor until he fell back exhausted. He rose to his feet, staggered over to his wife, took her in his arms and held her. He was struggling to stay on his feet but he could hold her like this forever.
Chris, you have to go back now, don´t you see, he´s going to destroy you if you stay here?
He´s not gonna do a damn thing to me, I´ve finished him off Sarah, Chris replied tiredly.
Is that so Larabee? laughed the evil man who suddenly appeared at his side. Chris jerked his head to the left and there was Fowler, unharmed, looking like the cat that swallowed the canary.
Fowler, how the hell Chris began but was interrupted by Fowler´s reply.
Exactly, Chris, hell. Your hell, and he laughed again.
Suddenly, Chris remembered he had been shot. His arm started throbbing painfully and as he looked down at it he became sick. His arm was hanging uselessly at his side, bones protruding from the skin and blood dripping off the ends of his fingers.
Chris dove for Fowler again, this time using his left arm to apply the beating. It crossed his fevered mind that no matter how many times he hit Fowler, the man never reacted to pain. Chris, however, was in constant pain and he could feel himself fading. He was dizzy, light headed, and weak. The more he struck out at Fowler the weaker he became and his opponent seemed to feed off his weakness.
Chris threw one more punch and Fowler threw out his arm and hit his right arm. Chris fell to the floor and pulled his arm up to cradle it against his body. He lay gasping and struggling to breathe. He was fighting the blackness that was starting to envelope him. The edges were blurring and he could tell he was about to go out.
Fowler was advancing on him. He would enjoy finishing off Larabee, and then Sarah Well Sarah would be his just desserts.
It was like Chris could read Fowler´s mind. He muttered a curse at his enemy and attempted to get up off the floor. He fell back down and lay still trying to clear the fog out of his brain. He attempted to rise once more and Fowler kicked out hitting him in the ribs. It drove the breath out of him and he tried to get to his feet. Fowler kicked again, this time his boot made contact with Chris´ head and he was rendered unconscious.
Sarah ran to his side and fell beside him. Chris! Chris, please open your eyes. You have to leave this place before he kills you. You aren´t supposed to be here yet. That´s why he can destroy you. You´ve got to go back, now. she was begging her husband. Her hands were pulling at his shirtfront but she couldn´t lift the unconscious man. He wouldn´t wake up. Damn you Chris, you stubborn jack ass, get up and get moving. Sarah thought maybe raising her voice and her temper would get his attention like it used to all those years ago, but now he was too far gone for her to get through to him.
All right, if you can´t fight for yourself and you won´t go back on your own, I´ll have to find someone to come get you. Stay here my love; don´t go any farther. I´ll be right back, said Sarah.
Chris could hear Sarah´s words but could make no sense of them. What did she mean by get someone to come get him? His tired body and mind just couldn´t figure out what was happening around him. He just knew that he was with Sarah and if he wasn´t in such torment he would be happier than he had even been in his life. Oh well, if it meant constant pain for all eternity he would endure it just to be able to look at her face and feel her in his arms forever.
Sarah quickly looked around the darkened clinic. She saw Chris´ still form on the bed. She knew all these men just from watching them as they interacted with Chris. She saw the compassionate healer who had tried so hard to keep her beloved husband alive. She saw the carefree gambler sitting on the floor, vigilant in his watch over her husband, and his friend. She smiled at him as he tiredly rubbed his eyes. Chris must mean a lot to him, he left a high stakes poker game to sit up and keep watch over him. There was a lot more to Ezra Standish than anyone knew and she intended to let Chris know about it.
Buck entered the clinic at that moment and her heart sang at the sight of him. She became more somber however, when she took in his haggard appearance. He looked older than his years and worry was plainly etched on his face. Her heart went out to him and she longed to hug him and thank him for all that he had done for her grief stricken husband in the past four years. She was happy where her spirit was now but it always made her sad to see the other half of her soul in so much misery. She had been afraid that Chris would become despondent and do something that couldn´t be undone, but Buck had kept after him and his stubborn friend had responded, sometimes in anger, but he had responded. For that Sarah would always be grateful.
Sarah´s eyes fell upon the form of Vin Tanner, the lean tracker that sat at her husband´s side. He had just started to drift off to sleep. Sarah knew she had found the one that could help her. Vin had the strength, the spirit, and the willingness. Of course the others would help her too, but she felt drawn to Vin. Sarah started to touch him when a gasp from Chris caught her attention. She didn´t know what was happening to him. Nathan jumped up and started examining him. The bandage on Chris´ arm was soaked in blood, and Nathan and Ezra were attempting to hold pressure on it.
Vin, get me some more cloths. Hurry! He´s hemorrhaging. He´s gonna bleed to death if we don´t get it stopped, yelled Nathan.
Vin responded, All right, hang on, where´s some more cloth? The panic in Vin´s voice was beginning to rise.
Ezra replied, There are white shirts in my room. Get whatever you need.
Nathan and Ezra´s hands were covered in blood and it was starting to puddle in the floor at the side of the bed. Chris´ face was stark white. I think a bone fragment has cut an artery. I´m gonna have to cauterize that artery and get that fragment out, and now. Nathan said. Vin ran in with an armload of Ezra´s shirts. He started ripping them into shreds.
Sorry Ez, I´ll buy you some new ones.
Don´t concern yourself Mr. Tanner, it is of no consequence compared with Mr. Larabee´s life. Ezra grabbed a handful of cloth and started to press down on the wound. Chris´ moans became louder and Ezra winced, I´m sorry my friend, it´s for your own good.
Nathan had heated a small scalpel till it was white hot and quickly touched it to the damaged artery, sealing the gaping tear in the artery wall. Chris cried out weakly. Nathan quickly stitched up the wound again and wrapped it tightly. I´ve done all I can short of taking his arm. If this doesn´t stop the bleeding I´ll have no choice but to take it off.
Ezra nodded slightly and replied, That would appear to be our next course of action.
Vin just looked defeated, he was torn between his promise to Chris and his desire to keep Chris alive. He could see that Chris was fading. Chris, please stay with us. I don´t want to break a promise to you, but I ain´t sure that it´s a promise I can keep.
Sarah was torn between staying and watching Chris here and going back to see what was happening to him there. She chose the latter. There was no telling what Fowler was doing to him and she knew that anything Nathan did would be in the wounded man´s best interests.
Sarah walked back into the inferno. Chris was still on the floor, curled up trying to protect his arm and battered ribs. There was a slight bruise and swelling on his temple and his breathing was increasingly shallow. Sarah knew it was only a matter of time before Fowler finished him off. He was as much a coward in death as he was in life, tormenting a defenseless man.
Sarah made up her mind and stole a quick glance at Chris lying on the floor. She needed Vin and she needed him now. She stepped back into the clinic. Vin, Ezra, and Nathan were still in their places at their friend´s side, still working together to save his life. It made Sarah happy to see that Chris had friends who would take such good care of him. She quickly stepped to Vin´s left side and touched him on the shoulder.
Ezra and Nathan jumped in surprise when Vin slumped over in the chair and then fell to the floor. Ezra moved to his side and turned him over on his back. Mr. Jackson, I believe he is out cold, said Ezra, surprise and concern registering in his voice. What would make him keel over like he had been pole axed? He asked.
I guess he´s just exhausted, replied Nathan.
Buck came back into the clinic with a steaming pot of coffee. What happened to Vin? he asked sitting the coffee down and crossing the floor in three long strides. He placed a blanket under the unconscious man´s head and Ezra handed him a cup of water that Buck threw into the tracker´s face. Vin didn´t even flinch. Buck slapped his cheek a couple of times and got no response. It was starting to bother Buck, something must be seriously wrong with the man, with Chris in such bad shape Vin would fight off an illness or fatigue until he was better. For Vin to just fall out, it must be something he couldn´t control.
Buck made Vin as comfortable as possible till Nathan could check on him. He looked up at the healer whose look of concentration on Chris´ still form was terrifying. Chris was as white as the sheet he was lying on, and his arm was covered in fresh dark blood. Buck had never seen so much blood. Everyone in the clinic was covered in it, Chris, Nathan, Ezra, Vin, and now himself. He didn´t know how Chris had any left. He couldn´t have much and from the look of things it was only a matter of time till what he had was gone. Buck shook his head sadly and looked back down at Vin and quietly thought to himself, You better wake up pard,Chris ain´t got much time. It shocked and saddened that his thoughts had gone in that direction. He just knew that in order for Chris to survive now it would take a miracle.
Sarah glanced down at the longhaired tracker who now lay at her feet. Wake up Vin, she whispered to him. Wake up and help me. Vin stirred and frowned. He thought to himself, Damn, why has Nathan got the clinic so hot. No wonder Chris´ fever won´t go down. He´s trying to roast him.
Sarah spoke more plaintively to him. Get up Vin, you´ve got to help me now.
Vin heard a woman´s voice and thought at first it was Mary Travis, but the voice had more of an Irish lilt to it. He couldn´t remember anyone he knew with that accent and decided it wasn´t worth the effort to open his eyes to investigate. He was just too tired to move. He had been up with Chris for most of two days and nights and it had started to take its toll.
Sarah looked up as she heard Chris curse at Fowler. Fowler had Chris up on his feet and was attempting to choke him. Sarah launched herself at her tormentor´s back and began to strike at him with her tiny fists. Fowler just howled in amusement. Don´t they know they can´t hurt me? I´m invincible," he thought to himself. Satan was a good employer. The job came with all kinds of fringe benefits, and when he had destroyed Chris Larabee and taken his soul to his boss, his reward would be the little spitfire that was attempting to shred his back with her fingernails.
Vin struggled to open his eyes and drive the sleep away. A woman´s scream brought him to his feet in fear. He looked around and his heart skipped a few beats. Chris was dangling from Cletus Fowler´s raised arms. He was totally unconscious by now and it looked like Fowler was going to finish him off at any moment. Vin was further surprised to see a small red haired woman on Fowler´s back scratching at his eyes and striking his back with her other fist. He didn´t know what kind of nightmare he had walked into. Flames were all over the room, the heat was unbearable and Chris was as near death in here as he was there. Where was here? It looked like it was the size of Chris´ cabin that had burned. Oh God, this was Chris´ cabin and the petite redhead attacking Fowler could only be Sarah.
Wake up Tanner, this dream has got to stop, he said out loud to himself. He closed his eyes then opened them again. He was still there and the scene that was unfolding before him enraged him.
Fowler threw Chris to the ground, where he lay unmoving. Fowler extracted Sarah from his back and pulled her by the hair to face him. He´s mine now Sarah. I killed him and his soul is mine forever. He laughed, an evil demonic laugh.
No, you´ll never have Chris´ soul. He won´t let you have it, said Sarah as she started for his face with her nails once more. He just laughed and pushed her to the ground.
You have nothing to say about it Sarah, it is done. I took his soul for my new employer and I was promised you as a reward. Chris is dead and there is nothing anyone can do to stop this.
You didn´t count on me Fowler, snarled Vin as he rose off the floor. Adrenalin surged through Vin´s veins. He saw Chris´ lifeless body and unadulterated fury flooded every cell in his body. He launched himself at Fowler sidestepping the young woman who was crawling toward Chris. Take care of Chris, I´ll handle Fowler, he shouted to her and the fight began anew.
Buck´s thoughts of Vin were diverted when he heard Nathan say, No, oh God. He looked up to see Nathan with his ear to Chris´ chest and Ezra frantically feeling his neck for a pulse.
Blood began to pound in Buck´s ears. NO,NO,NO!´ he thought over and again. He can´t be dead, he can´t be dead.´ A chant started to form in his mind pushing away the realization that Chris was no longer alive. No, he ain´t dead, no he ain´t dead ´ echoed through his mind.
Nathan, there´s no pulse, said Ezra, defeat creeping into his panic stricken voice.
Don´t say that Ez, Buck cried out.
Not saying it won´t make it so Buck, replied Nathan sadly.
Do something Mr. Jackson, ordered Ezra.
What would you have me do Ezra, raise the dead? Nathan started to pull the sheet over Chris´ face when Buck stopped him. Don´t pull a shroud over him. Josiah needs to be here, and JD, Buck said tiredly.
I´ll go for them, said Ezra, already dreading the prospect of informing young JD of his hero´s passing. Maybe he could get Josiah to do it; he knew how to handle this sort of thing. Ezra realized that for all his culture, breeding and five-dollar words, as Mr. Larabee called them; he would not be able to form a simple sentence telling the others of their leaders demise. And how would they tell Vin when he awoke wondering where Chris was. If he awoke. Vin´s condition troubled Ezra. Maybe he knew Chris was dying and just couldn´t deal with it and decided not to. It sounded like a plan to Ezra, but oblivion couldn´t last forever. He would have to regain consciousness eventually; it was only a matter of time.
Ezra walked into the church where he saw Josiah asleep on a bench. He walked over to him and gently touched his arm. Mr. Sanchez Mr. Sanchez Josiah, wake up, he said.
Josiah´s blue eyes opened and realization dawned on him as he took in Ezra´s countenance and red watery eyes. Has something happened Ezra?
Your presence is required at Nathan´s clinic Josiah, Ezra replied sadly. Josiah asked no more questions just hurried to the door. He didn´t want Chris to leave the world without a prayer for his tortured soul. Ezra called to him There is no need for haste Josiah, it is over. It happened so fast that we didn´t have time to get you.
He is finally at peace. God rest his soul. Josiah left to tell Chris goodbye. Ezra continued on his sad journey.
The jail came into view and Ezra struggled to form an explanation for the young sheriff. Chris was the boy´s idol, and next to Vin would probably take his passing the hardest. Then he remembered that no one had yet informed Mrs. Travis. She was visiting Judge and Mrs. Travis and didn´t even know he had been wounded. He would have to send a telegram as soon as he finished telling JD.
Ezra found JD at the jail looking through wanted posters. He tried to plaster a smile on his face. He wanted to ease into this one, not like he had done with Josiah.
JD turned to look at Ezra. Hey Ez, how´s Chris? he asked his dark eyes filled with worry.
That´s why I´m here JD, replied the gambler in his soft southern drawl. Chills ran up JD´s spine. Something wasn´t right. Ezra called him JD, not Mr. Dunne. JD could see Ezra´s composure crumble. JD, Chris passed on about 20 minutes ago.
JD´s breath caught and his words seemed to catch in his throat. Tears pooled in his flashing black eyes and for a moment Ezra feared the young man might faint dead away. He eased the youngster down into the chair behind him and offered him a cup of water from the pitcher on the desk. JD took it but didn´t drink any of it. He was still in shock. Chris. Dead. Those two words just didn´t go together. Even after all the scrapes they had been in Chris seemed untouchable. He had seen the gunslinger get shot in the chest, stand up and keep shooting. And now an arm wound had taken his life.
JD stumbled along the boardwalk ahead of Ezra to the clinic. He had to see for himself and say goodbye to the man he idolized like he had never idolized another. Chris Larabee encompassed all the young sheriff imagined a hero to be. Brave, fearless, strong, Larabee was all this and more. JD knew there would never be another Chris and it saddened him that his children would never know the hero he loved and respected. This could happen to any one of them and probably would. It was only a matter of time.
Vin was tiring. He had flown at Fowler with a rage that could only be termed deadly. The sight of his friend´s lifeless body, the young woman´s cry of sorrow as she looked up at him confirming what he already knew to be true was more than his battered soul could carry. He lit into Fowler raining punches and kicks on him as the demon possessed man laughed. Fowler had fed on Chris´ anger and his weakened condition, now he was feeding on Vin´s rage and it was making him giddy with power.
You´re wasting your time Tanner. He´s mine now, said Fowler.
You may have taken his life, but you ain´t getting his soul, you sorry son of a bitch. Vin lowered his head and caught Fowler in his midsection and drove him to the floor. Sarah flew at his face with her fingernails and Vin punched him in the stomach repeatedly as hard as his mounting rage would let him.
Fowler was starting to panic. The anger the tracker had been feeling was changing to something else. He couldn´t quite place his finger on it at first, and then it hit him. Righteous Vengeance. That´s what it was. Vengeance had become what was driving Vin Tanners´ fists into his body over and over. Revenge had replaced rage and Fowler knew he was going to lose the battle. It was only a matter of time.
Buck sat at his oldest friend´s bedside holding a hand that was already beginning to turn cold. Josiah entered the room and crossed to the still form on the bed. He offered up a prayer for Chris´ soul and knelt down beside the battered gunfighter. He knew Chris wasn´t in pain anymore but his face still didn´t look peaceful. It still looked like he was waging a battle. Josiah stood and clasped Nathan´s shoulder and said, You did your best Nate. Nobody could have done more.
I know Josiah, but it just wasn´t good enough. Josiah hoped the death of one of their own wouldn´t send the healer into despair. They needed him.
Ezra escorted JD into the room. JD looked at Chris and still didn´t believe he was dead. He was just sleeping. He had to be, for Chris to be dead meant that a member of his family was gone. He considered these men family. They were all he had, and now one was gone.
JD fell to his knees beside the bed. He touched Chris´ arm. It felt cold. He wanted to cry but out of respect for the man who lay before him, he choked back tears and gave him a salute. Two fingers aside a hat brim as was customary for the seven.
Buck put his hand on JD´s shoulder and both men took comfort in the small gesture. It was not customary for the men to show much emotion and it was as much as either man felt comfortable with. None knew how they would be able to put this man, this life force into the ground. How would they all survive it? That was something they would have to deal with soon. It was only a matter of time.
Vin´s assault on Cletus Fowler continued. He couldn´t believe it but every punch seemed to bring more energy, more satisfaction. Now he could feel Fowler´s strength fading, also his hold on Chris´ soul. If Chris had to die at least his soul would be free, if he could beat the bastard in front of him. He would, he owed his friend that much.
A movement out of the corner or Vin´s eye caught his attention. It was a child leaning over the body of the prone gunfighter. The child looked up and Vin was startled. Chris´ jade green eyes looked back at him from the child´s face. The face Vin knew belonged to Adam Larabee. Adam smiled at Vin and simply said Thank you. At that moment Vin could have fought a full grown grizzly AND the devil. His assault on Fowler took a deadly turn. He kept punishing Fowler´s body with his fists and Fowler´s mind with his smiling countenance.
Fowler stopped struggling for a moment to think out his next move. The damn tracker was starting to win. He had to do something and fast. The brat. Chris Larabee´s child was giving the tracker strength. He had to get that boy away from here. He rolled away from Vin and got to his feet. He was across the room in three strides. He tore the child away from his father´s side. Daddy! screamed Adam. Vin could do nothing and neither could Sarah as Fowler held the child in front of him as a shield.
I believe I have the upper hand once again, Tanner, sneered Fowler. Vin looked past Fowler and saw Chris rise up off the floor. He tried not to look surprised. He didn´t want to give the recently awakened man away.
Chris had heard his son call out for him. He had opened one eye and saw Fowler grab his son. It took all Chris´ resolve not to cut Fowler down. He had to get Adam to safety first. When he stood he was more than startled to see Vin. How in the hell did he get here? his muddled brain queried. It didn´t matter how he just knew he was there, and two against one were better odds.
Vin sidestepped and grabbed for Adam as Chris launched himself at Fowler. Vin had Adam against his chest and was turning his back on the fray to get the boy to his mother. Sarah reached for him with a look of pure relief on her lovely face. Vin turned back to help Chris and found him repeatedly stabbing a burnt splintered piece of wood into Fowler´s back. Vin wanted to let him continue, but could see that Chris´ strength was gone. He took the wood from him and sat him back on the floor out of Fowler´s reach. Just in case.
Sarah and Adam rushed to Chris and there was a reunion that made Vin´s eyes fill with tears. He just didn´t know how it would turn out. Was Chris dead and would he be staying with Sarah and Adam or was he alive and would he be returning with him? Or am I even alive? wondered Vin to himself.
Sarah pulled out of Chris´ embrace and crossed the floor to Vin. She stood on her tiptoes and kissed Vin´s cheek. Thank you Vin. I don´t know how much you know about all this, but it was me that brought you here. I had to bring you here to save Chris. I couldn´t let Fowler get him. Fowler made a deal with the devil to get Chris´ soul. When Chris came here he was determined to stay, even though I told him he couldn´t. It wasn´t his time, and it still isn´t Vin. He has to go back with you. He needs all of you. I saw what happened to him after our deaths. It frightened me to see him so desolate. Then all of you came along and now he is starting to show signs of returning to the Chris I knew. Please continue to look out for him. Oh, and tell Buck thank you for me, and Ezra is a good man deep down. I don´t think even he knows it.
Sarah turned back to Chris who was standing now holding Adam in his arms. Sarah looked at him sorrowfully. You have to go back now my love, she said in a gentle but firm voice. Chris knew that voice, it brooked no argument.
I know, he replied.
You do? Sarah asked surprise registering in her voice.
Yeah, I don´t want to but I know now I´m not supposed to be here.
No, you´re not. This is not our world either and now that you have fought your demons, Adam and I will be waiting for you in a better place. We´ll be waiting for you when it is your time my love.
Sarah was starting to fade and Chris reached for her. He tasted her lips, smelled her perfume, and held her in his arms one last time. He kissed his son´s tousled hair and held him close. He backed up and they were gone. He dropped to his knees wanting to go to them, yet wanting to live. He couldn´t believe it, for the first time in four years Chris Larabee wanted to live. Vin moved to his side helping him stand. Chris looked at him. Thanks, Vin. It was all he needed to say. Vin could get more out of those two words from Chris than a million words from others.
Let´s go home Cowboy, replied Vin. A tear rolled down Chris´ face as he looked around the burned out cabin, then quietly turned to follow Vin.
JD was still kneeling beside Chris´s bed. The room was quiet and somber except for a few sniffles from Inez and Casey, who had been informed of Chris´ passing only moments ago. Ezra had also sent a telegram to Mary Travis and they were sure she would be on the next stage. They had decided Chris´ funeral would be the day after tomorrow. Funeral, another word he would never associate with Chris, yet here he was planning one like he was planning what to wear tomorrow.
JD looked at Chris and his mouth dropped. Well,´ he thought, it has finally happened. I´ve lost my mind.´ JD was calmer than he had been since Chris had been shot; yet his mind was absolutely in an absolute frenzy. It couldn´t be, but he was almost sure he saw Chris´ chest rise and fall. He wiped his eyes and looked again. There it was, it happened again. He wanted to say something but he knew the others would think he was crazy. He kept looking at Chris and he didn´t know what to believe. Maybe his mind was playing tricks on him. He told himself, I just want him to be alive so much that I´m seeing things.´
Ezra drew JD´s attention away from Chris. Gentlemen, Mr. Tanner has decided to join us once again. Which one of us is going to have the sad duty of telling him?
Vin rose to his feet and crossed the room to Chris´ bedside. Josiah tried to block his way. Vin, there is something we have to tell you he began.
Vin interrupted I´ve got to get to Chris.
Vin, Chris is dead. Josiah rushed to get the words out before the young tracker could reach Chris´ side.
No he´s not, replied Vin shortly.
Josiah started to open his mouth to confirm to Vin that Chris was indeed deceased, but something stopped him. It was JD. The boy was still on his knees with Vin beside him. Vin´s right Josiah, he ain´t dead. The boy could hardly keep the excitement out of his voice. I saw his chest move. I thought I was seeing things at first but now I know I ain´t, JD continued on, running his words together.
Nathan hurried to Chris. What he saw made his heart race. There on Chris´ left side was a large bruise over his ribs, and on his temple was another large bruise. And there on his left cheek just under his eye was a small tear. Damn, Nathan roared, Get me some water, hurry.
JD hurried to get the water Nathan requested. Everyone else, except for Vin, stood mouths open wide staring at Chris. Vin spoke to Chris soothingly, Come on Cowboy, you´re gonna be alright now. Open your eyes.
Chris felt like he had been caught in a stampede. He was battered and bruised, but he was alive and in one piece. He knew this because his arm felt as if it were on fire. He slowly opened his eyes and the figures around him blurred and swayed. He was so dizzy he grabbed on to Vin´s arm with his good hand to stop the room from spinning. He once more tried to open his eyes and was a bit more successful.
Vin smiled at him and Chris attempted to smile back. The others eventually found their voices and joined in welcoming Chris back to the land of the living. Nathan didn´t let them tarry too long, Chris was still weak and feverish, and Nathan was taking no chances with him.
Surprisingly, Chris´ arm was healing much better. Nathan was very optimistic about not only him keeping it, but having full use of it as well.
The day that was supposed to be the day of Chris Larabee´s funeral dawned bright and clear and Chris´ friends gathered in the clinic and had a celebration of his return to them. The only moment to mar the day was when the stage arrived carrying a clearly distraught Mary, and an even more clearly devastated Billy Travis. Ezra met them at the stage. Mary had cried herself out at the home of her in-laws. She didn´t think she had any tears left until she saw Ezra Standish standing, waiting for her to exit the stagecoach.
She stepped down and into the arms of Ezra. She immediately became angry, as she smelled the liquor on his breath. It didn´t occur to her that the other men might be hurt at the loss of Chris. She was furious that they would consider drinking on the day they would commit his body to the ground. Mary grabbed Billy by the hand and charged toward Nathan´s clinic. She figured that is where they would be. Ezra ran behind her begging her to stop. Mrs. Travis, please stop, let me confer with you for a moment.
I have nothing to say to you Mr. Standish. Your behavior is atrocious and I wish nothing more than to just be away from you. Ezra stopped trying to speak to her, threw his hands into the air, looked to the heavens and sighed. Mary Travis was mad now, but what would she be like when she saw Chris Larabee alive and recuperating nicely in Nathan´s clinic. Images of erupting volcanoes, tornadoes, and swarms of locusts filled his mind. He hoped Mary had no access to a weapon of any kind or he would be a dead man. He hurried to catch up to her. He was afraid of what she would do, yet had a morbid fascination with finding out what her reaction would be. Like a spectator at a train wreck, he just had to look.
Mary stole a glance inside the saloon as she hurried by it. None of the men were in there. At least they had the good graces to do their drinking in private. The clinic was just ahead and Mary almost turned and ran. If she went in there she would be facing Chris´ demise head on. If she stayed at the newspaper office she could avoid it for at least a few more hours. She pushed on up the stairs, she had never ran from things before, she wasn´t going to start now.
Mary pushed open the door and was surprised by the number of people in the small room. They were apparently having a wake. Everyone was drinking and laughing, and not really paying attention to her. She continued to push her way through the crowd trying to reach Vin Tanner, whom she saw standing on the other side of the room. She pushed her way past the telegraph clerk and promptly fainted on the spot when she saw Chris sitting up in bed looking very much alive.
Chris´ mouth dropped open and Vin rushed to her side meeting Ezra there. Mary, Mary, oh Lord we forgot, she thought Chris was dead. Why didn´t you tell her Ez? Vin asked concern and guilt tingeing his blue eyes.
She didn´t give me the opportunity, Mr. Tanner. She acted like I was plague infested and flew off down the street. Mr. Larabee, good to see you looking so well after all the turmoil you caused. Ezra finished sarcastically.
Chris took no offense, seeing the warm smile on Ezra´s face. Thanks, Ezra, oh for God´s sake pick the lady up off the floor. Where´s your manners boy? he drawled, sounding like Ezra´s brother.
Oh my heavens, said Ezra, realizing he had left a lady lying on the floor. How very ungallant of me. My ancestors are toasting the freezing over of hell at this very moment, he returned the drawl for Chris´ benefit.
Mary came up spitting and clawing like a wildcat. She promptly jerked free of Ezra´s grasp and slapped him across his face. She then turned on Chris giving him a dose of the same medicine. Chris and Ezra held their hands to their stinging faces. She had even managed to crack Chris´ still dry lip and make it bleed. Buck started to laugh and she drew back on him ready to strike. He backed up and immediately stopped laughing.
Mary was breathing hard and tears spilled past her lashes unchecked. Well Gentlemen, and I use the term loosely, you have had a great little joke at my expense. Live it up! It´s the last time you will ever see me cry for one of you. She looked Chris dead in the eye and turned on Ezra, How could you do this to me? You of all people know how I feel. Why?
Chris was feeling very bad about being the cause of her pain. He didn´t like to see any woman cry, and it ripped his heart in two to see Mary like that. He got unsteadily to his feet. He still felt as weak as a newborn foal and his legs shook as he stood up straight. Vin readied himself to catch the guilt ridden man if he started to fall. Chris walked to Mary and laid his good hand on her shoulder. She turned, fire still in her eyes, but something else was there too, weariness, pain, hurt, and concern all pouring from her pale green orbs. She slumped against Chris and cried. Cried for all the worry that had built up, cried for all the loss she felt at word of his death. Chris held her until Vin noticed how pale he was becoming, and that he was swaying on his feet and now listing dangerously to his right. Vin moved in beside him. He helped Chris sit down on the edge of the bed and pull Mary down beside him. Billy finally broke free of Josiah and jumped up in Chris´ lap, careful of his arm like Nathan had told him. Mary looked up and saw the blood on Chris´ mouth and started to cry again. I´m sorry about that, she said as she wiped the blood away.
It´s o.k. Mary, I´m sorry you had to go through that. Ezra was gonna tell you before you got here, Chris replied looking at Ezra and grinning.
Ezra rolled his eyes and said, For the last time, she didn´t give me the opportunity to tell her the reports of our fearless leaders demise were greatly exaggerated. A chorus of Huh´s went up from the crowd and Ezra said, I didn´t tell her he wasn´t dead, and rolled his eyes again. Heathens, he mumbled and even Mary laughed.
Ezra, why did you send me the telegraph in the first place?
Nathan answered her. We really thought he was dead, for a good hour it was just like he was dead. His breathing was so shallow and his heartbeat so faint you couldn´t tell he was alive. Don´t know why it happened, it just did. Then Vin had his little fainting spell and we thought we was losing him too, Nathan finished with a smile.
But, said Josiah in his booming voice, We´re all here and alive and on our way to a full recovery. Let´s drink to friendship, and divine intervention.
Everyone raised their glasses and a hearty Amen or Hear, hear was raised from everyone in the room. Chris looked at Vin, raised his glass and said, I´ll drink to that.
Vin replied, Me too Cowboy, me too.
Later that night after everyone had cleared out of the clinic except for Chris and Vin, they talked a little about what had happened. There was no need for a lot of words because they had both been there. Vin said, It was nice seeing Sarah and Adam. They were just like you described them. I knew them before their names were ever mentioned.
Chris replied, It was incredible holding them in my arms again. It will be hard to forget that feeling and try to go on living without them. But for the first lime in four years I am at peace with it. Sarah assured me that she and Adam were all right and I know she was telling me the truth. Chris lay back on the pillow and yawned.
Vin said I´m gonna let you get to sleep now, you´ve had a lotta excitement today, what with Mary attacking you and all. he grinned. You need rest. But before I go I just wanted you to know how glad I am you´re back and Chris, you´ll see them again someday. Vin finished with a smile.
Thanks Vin, Chris replied. I know I will, it´s only a matter of time.
Chris drifted off to sleep, and dreamed of Sarah and Adam running through a green meadow with wildflowers, a pond, and sunshine overhead. For the first time in four years his dreams of his family were peaceful.
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