~~ The South Wind ~~

by TJ

The gunslinger watched the woman curiously as they shared the meal.

She ate cautiously but seemed to enjoy it. They did not talk. She barely even looked in his direction.

After supper, he moved a chair in front of the fire for her before offering her his arm for guidance.

Athena refused his gesture. She stood solidly on two feet and walked past him confidently. She looked thoughtfully at the chair, smiled mischievously and then pushed it aside. Carefully settling herself on the mat, she crossed her legs and settled.

The blond watched her as he cleared and cleaned dishes. She sat rigid in front of the fire. Her eyes were closed and a gentle smile graced her lips. Glancing at her from time to time, Larabee couldn’t help but wonder what was going through her mind.

When he was done with his chores, Chris moved to his chair in front of the fire.

The woman opened her eyes as he sat behind her, yet she did not move. Her stare wandered as she tried to reassure herself that this man was trustworthy. His gentleness today was a good first step, but right now, she needed something to distract her… Noticing his comb on the bookshelf, she leaned over and retrieved it before starting to unbraid her hair.

The gunslinger couldn’t help but notice what she was doing. He looked at his dog-eared comb suspiciously and decided it would do her no good. Assuming she owned something more suitable, he got up and collected her saddlebags from beside the door. Laying them beside her, Larabee sat back down and tried hard to concentrate on the flames, as they dance about.

Smiling at the sudden arrival of her saddlebags, Athena finished unbraiding her hair before reaching inside her bags to retrieve her brush. Starting at the ends, she made slow even strokes, as she brushed out her long strands.

Watching the fire wasn’t working. Chris couldn’t help but be distracted by the woman. He followed her movements for quite some time before it became evident that the repetitive, ever increasing motions were becoming too much for her shoulder.

Athena, too, knew that the brushing was developing into a chore. She tried to swap the brush to the other hand and dropped it. Reaching to retrieve it, she froze when the gunslinger laid his open hand out above her shoulder. Her surprise grew when she realized his intent. He’s offering to help?

Chris didn’t know why he was volunteering his assistance. Her peaceful, gentle manner was growing on him and again, he felt ashamed.

Maybe he wanted the woman to know that he could be trusted…

Maybe he wanted to make up for the suffering he had put her through… if that’s possible!

Maybe he just wanted to…

Whatever the reason, Larabee did acknowledge that he was beginning to feel comfortable in her presence. He desperately wanted her to feel the same way. Perhaps she might forgive… his unforgivable actions.

Athena’s eyes closed briefly as his reflections came to her. A gentle smile found her lips as she handed him the brush. Forgiveness was but a fleeting thought in her consciousness. She had a task to accomplish and her mind was busy formulating a plan.

As carefully and softly as he was able, Chris stroked through her hair. He worked the brush slowly over the long strands as though caressing them with his own, tender fingers.

Athena relaxed into his touch. His actions showed nothing but kindness and she couldn’t help but wonder how he’d lost his way…

Minutes stretched by and his delicate touch remained steadfast. The gunslinger truly enjoyed this unfamiliar activity. And, as he finished and set the brush aside, his hands touched her hair to rearrange it over her back. He couldn’t help but pause... Chris felt an odd satisfaction from the help he had given with this simple gesture.

Athena sensed the relaxation in his heart. She was mystified… and so very curious.

Larabee let go of her hair but somehow the couple maintained a strange connection. Allowing him to help had been good for them both. The two detached people sat quietly by the fire. They enjoyed their mutual companionship and both understood that they would be strangers no more.

The morning sun shone brightly through the little window as she awoke in his bed. She was stiff and sore all over but her shoulder hurt the most. Athena wiggled her jaw, opening and closing her mouth as she sat up slowly. She rubbed the swelling in her chin and cheek before peering around the room. She spied the gunslinger asleep in his chair.

Larabee stirred and groaned.

He looked uncomfortable and Athena felt guilty.

He’d insisted she sleep in his bed. Said her body needed the rest more than his did.

Being tired and achy, …she hadn’t argued.

Sliding off the bed, she walked to the door.

Larabee awoke with a start as his instincts kicked in. Reaching for his gun, he glanced at the portal, only to relax as he recognized Athena. His taut reflexes slackened and he offered her a gentle, reassuring smile.

Strangely unconcerned by his quick reaction, Athena returned his gesture as she moved out the door. He should definitely do that more often.

Chris sat up and felt the aches and pains of his body. Two nights in this damn chair... He cussed under his breath. Getting to his feet, he made his way to the fire, threw some biscuits in a pan to warm and started the coffee.

When Athena returned they ate and the blond tended and cleaned her shoulder. He couldn’t help but smile at her progress. The fresh air seemed to be helping the healing, just as Nathan had taught him. Finishing up, he offered her another biscuit.

She declined, sipping quietly on the fresh water he had brought from the stream.

Larabee settled in at the table to eat.

Drawing a strange comfort in his easy manner, the woman’s thoughts wandered. "The man you are now is not the same as before," she spoke quietly.

He sipped at his coffee and considered her words. "I’m best on my own," his reply was subdued. "I’ve been through too much in my life. Being here… alone," he lowered his head. "I can be myself…" Eyeing the woman again, he suddenly felt her intrusion. "Doesn’t make it any easier… especially when someone comes round wanting to interfere."

Although she recognized that his remark was directed at her, Athena did not let it phase her resolve. "I have said, many times, that I am only here to help." She met his stare head on.

Chris tried to control the tone of his voice but he had to voice his reasons. "I’ve done just fine without any help. I don’t see why I need it now."

She spoke calmly, trying not to escalate their debate. "You have decided not to return to your village… I cannot let you leave… You must return."

"Why! …Why is it any of your business? Why do you care?" he rose to his feet, hoping the movement would quell his mounting anger. His tone was harsh, "Why is it so damn important that I go back?"

She tried to ignore the warning signs he was giving off. "Why do you wish not to?" she asked quietly.

Larabee stopped and looked at the girl. "You were there... Hell, you took a bullet because I wasn’t. Buck… JD… and that damn fool Ezra."

She looked deeply into his eyes. "So your heart tells you that events would have been different, had you been in your rightful place?"

Chris considered her words before answering. It wasn’t exactly how he would have put it but it was close. He merely nodded a reply.

Confident of her tactics, Athena looked Larabee in the eye and smiled. "And what will happen to your friends, now that you plan a departure?"


The gunslinger looked away harshly. She’d tricked him with her poetic words. What will happen? …What will happen to them? Larabee hadn’t thought about it much… Yet, as he did, he cussed under his breath. Damn! HE HADN’T THOUGHT ABOUT IT AT ALL! He was still doing it... thinking about himself and no one else. Two years with these men and he hadn’t thought about the consequences of his actions on them. Turning quickly, Chris looked at the woman defiantly. God, I hate her logic… Why is she here?

They stared at one another for several long seconds before a small smile grew on the blond’s lips. She only here to help… he remembered her words.

Realizing he’d understood her point, Athena allowed herself to return his offered smile. Getting up from her chair, she moved to open the door. "My thoughts are better in the open," she said quietly. Beckoning him to follow, she went outside.

The gunslinger raised an eyebrow and shook his head. I don’t believe this woman. If her thoughts get much better, I’m in real trouble. Grabbing a second chair, he followed and sat down beside her. He had promised himself that he would listen… and he was determined to keep this promise.

They sat on his porch all day.

There were long periods of silence between the quiet chatter. Both of them seemed to understand the need to think over one’s thoughts.

Initially their conversation had been about his friendship with the other peacekeepers and how it had grown over the months that they had been together. The gunslinger had slowly accepted the presence of the six other men, although they all needed their own space, from time to time. The important thing was that they worked well as a team when things got dicey. That’s what they were paid to do and they did it well. All their differences weren’t important when it really counted.

Athena had again pressed him for an answer as to why he thought he was leaving. His response had been ‘they don’t want me around’ and she had only smiled. It pissed him off that she assumed she knew them better than he did. ‘They’re my friends, not yours.’ Looking into his green eyes, she had only grinned. ‘Yes, …they are.’

He really hated it when she twisted his words but he couldn’t help but accept her reply gracefully. Everything made sense when she explained his world…

They talked more about The Seven throughout the morning and into afternoon. Then she had grown quiet and closed her eyes. For a long time she just sat and listened to the wind... almost as though she was waiting for a sign.

Larabee didn’t disturb her.

A lingering shadow in the blond’s mind posed a question that Athena needed answering. She hoped he would be strong enough to respond. "Can you tell me about Sarah… and your child?"

Chris wasn’t prepared for her question but his anguished expression did not deter her need for an answer. This man had lost himself when he had lost his family… of this fact she was sure. Giving him time to calm his defenses, Athena waited patiently for his response.

An hour passed before the gunslinger sat back down. He looked long and hard at the woman beside him. She knew his wife’s name. What else does she know? Chris recognized that he carried a terrible scar on his heart. He guessed it might be obvious to someone as incredibly sensitive as Athena appeared to be. He didn’t really believe that she could read his mind but whatever her reasons were, the woman was asking… and she expected an answer.

He didn’t exactly know why, but for the first time, Larabee truly accepted and trusted her presence. Taking a deep, calming breath, he began to relate his life story to the stranger beside him.

They talked past sundown and then moved back inside his home.

Chris heated up some stew and cut bread for their meal as Athena continued to talk. She seemed to understand so much and her peacefulness gave him a different prospective on the world around him.

Laying out plates and spoons, Chris served the supper. Returning with the bread, he sat down and watched as she poured some water and joined him.

They ate quietly, but thoughts raced incessantly through Athena’s mind. Finally, she could hold her questions, no longer. "The dark side of your soul hides the man inside."

Larabee glanced at her and frowned. "I suppose you’re right… but it keeps me alive."

Setting her spoon beside the plate, she looked at him oddly. "And… it keeps you from living."

Her remark stopped Chris in his tracks. He stared at her questioningly. All manner of emotions flowed through his heart. How can she know…?

Understanding that she’d hit a nerve, Athena took a deep breath and hid her eyes from his glare. Slowly, she finished her meal.

Watching her apprehensively, Larabee, too, returned to his meal.

No more words were spoken as they cleaned up and moved to the fire.

Athena chose to sit on the floor again and Chris watched as she assumed the same contemplative position that she had taken the night before.

Watching her relaxation somehow seemed to calm him as well. Some time passed before he finally broke the silence. "Do you want me to brush out your hair again?" His reasons for asking were selfish, as well as practical. He knew her shoulder could use the time to heal. But, as he thought about the torn stitches, her other injuries flashed in his mind. The swelling on her face would take many days to go down. The bruises would remain for a quite some time as well, of that he was sure. Chris was certain that her split lip would take the longest to heal.

Guilt plagued the gunslinger again. Offering to help was but a small token…

"I can manage."

"Please, let me…"

Athena could sense his self-loathing, yet there was something else, too. A deep desire to make amends, perhaps? She turned and smiled softly at him over her shoulder before handing him the brush.

Half an hour passed as Larabee worked the brush through the strands methodically. Finishing his task, he set the brush on the table he lowered his head. All this time he’d been thinking over her words from dinner. It keeps you from living… Chris sucked in his breath. "It’s been too long…" he said woefully. "I can’t change the way I am. I like to be alone. I’ve got used to it… I think better when I’m alone."

The woman nodded in understanding, yet looked at him doubtfully. She had sensed his conflict as he brushed her hair but she only understood part of what he meant. She’d seen him in town. He was relaxed… almost at home there, sometimes. Yes, there was a part of him that didn’t want to be there on occasions, but he did his best to keep it at bay. "You must not change the essence of who you are," she whispered in the darkness. "All that you say and do… all of your actions… these are the things that make you the man you are. You must accept these things as strengths, not faults." Athena turned to face him and looked up into his green pools. "My soul is free when I am alone, yet yours feels the pain of your losses… Only your whiskey helps to lessen the ache in your heart."

Chris tensed at her declaration, yet he did not move.

His reaction had quick and decisive. The woman turned from his gaze. Thinking better of her direct approach, Athena decided her questions should stop for a while.

Silence ensued and neither party objected to the serene atmosphere that settled upon them. They sat quietly watching the fire for more than an hour but Larabee couldn’t help but watch the woman as well. She twisted all his words and that irritated him to no end. Yet, there was truth in her and he was beginning to realize it. It had been so long since a woman… since anyone… had made him feel like this… "Well…" he spoke sleepily. "Suppose it’s about time we turned in," he shuffled in the chair. "You’d best get yourself to bed now… if we’re going to do some more talking tomorrow."

Athena took a deep breath and lowered her head. She’d thought about her next words carefully but there was not easy way to say them. She couldn’t let him spend another night in his chair, yet she was hesitant to offer the space beside her on the bed. She knew he would let her sleep on the floor, yet she didn’t want him to think she was offering more than a place next to her. Getting to her feet, she continued to stare at the flames. Shed dared not look into his eyes. "You must not sleep in this chair again tonight," she said softly.

He hesitated for just a moment, unsure of what she was saying. "Oh, I’ll be alright, you go on now," he motioned towards the bed.

Athena took a deep breath and turned to face him. Reaching for his arm, she looked at him hesitantly. "I offer nothing more than the space beside me… It is your bed… But, if you will not use it, then nor shall I."

The silence was deafening…

Slowly, Athena walked towards the exit.

Larabee considered his options as he watched the door close. He really wasn’t looking forward to another night in this damn chair but he couldn’t swear he could trust himself lying next to this woman. He’d spent the last two days getting used to her and several times; he’d caught himself watching her. The way she tilted of her head as she swung her hair around, or the way she caressed her bare shoulders when she was deep in thought. Her peaceful, gentle manner was so distracting… and alluring…

Athena returned a few minutes later. As the door closed, she looked at him, awaiting his decision.

Chris took a deep thoughtful breath before conceding the point. He glanced at the floor before getting to his feet. Pursing his lips, he cautiously moved towards the bed. Pulling back the covers, he sat and took off his boots and gun belt.

Athena swallowed hard before making her way to the bed. Intent on securing control, she sat on the mattress and slid her bare feet underneath the blanket. Making herself as comfortable as possible, she purposely turned her back to the man. She did not want to look at him.

Chris watched the woman settle before he, too, tried to get comfortable in the bed. Although he’d spent more than a few nights with Maria in Purgatory, this was the first time, in three long years that he’d had a woman in his own bed. Gazing at the bare shoulders and long blond hair, the gunslinger felt a familiar urge. He started to reach out for her before stopping himself abruptly. Athena had made it clear that she offered nothing more than the bed. Closing his eyes tightly, Larabee tried to go to sleep.

Athena stirred. The haziness of sleep gradually gave way to awareness and she could see two beautiful green pools shining through the darkness… yet there was still a shadow of sorrow behind them. The woman opened her eyes slowly to look at the man who had been watching her sleep. His eyes sparkled as she returned his gaze. He was handsome, this dark stranger…No! I must not call him dark, anymore.

Athena knew better now… This man had been a victim of circumstances beyond his control. He carried guilt few men knew. It left him with a deep wound in his soul and created a dark spirit for all to perceive. Larabee had become an enigma. If he could not overcome an obstacle with his dark presence, or his gun, he simply retreated and moved on.

Then he became the leader to this group of men. Some strange fate had brought them together and eventually the blond took comfort in the circumstances that had befallen them. Yet, now he was running away again; his trust and confidence shattered once more. Somehow, Athena needed make him accept and understand. No man can control everything that goes on around him, every single moment of every single day. The blame and self-loathing needed to end.

Seeing only his despair, Athena reached out and gently caressed the soft stubble on his chin. She hadn’t seen him shave since she’d arrived. But, the growing beard was nice. She liked it.

Chris watched her eyes study him and he smiled gently as she touched his face. Responding naturally, he reached out to stroke her arm.

Athena’s gaze followed his hand as it traced a path to her shoulder, and then moved on to her lips. Suddenly aware of their situation, the woman bowed her head, pulling her bruises away from his gently touch. There was a time and place for such caresses but now was not it. She felt a familiar longing but Larabee had truly hurt her. Athena always believed there was a purpose for everything that happened… but she still couldn’t fully understand where she stood with this man. Something deep inside told her that Chris was just as lost as she was. Yet, for all that had passed between them, the woman could not detach herself from him… she had a job to do. And, she was determined to complete her task. Pulling away from his touch was her only way to tell him to go no further.

The gunslinger understood her message too clearly. He distanced himself and sat up in the bed.

Athena closed her eyes and turned her face to the pillow. She did not want him to see the confusion or desire in her heart. She had a responsibility to these men. She needed to see to Chris and move on. Looking in the opposite direction, she searched for something to break the impasse. Noting the shadows, she spoke softly. "The sun has risen to its task… and so must we." Sliding out of bed, she straightened her clothing. She didn’t look at him as she carefully stretched and left him alone in the room.

Chris forced his eyes shut and pursed his lips. He was disappointed in his actions. Mad at himself for assuming… How could she possibly trust me after what I did? He knew the woman was here to work… and nothing more. He was slowly beginning to accept her wisdom. Their conversations had made him realize a few important facts. Athena had a gentle way about her when she was ‘on task’. She made everything seem so easy... Wiping the tangled thought from his head, the blond got out of bed and fixed the blankets.

They had some biscuits and coffee to start their day off again. No words were spoken even after they moved outside. Larabee walked out his taut muscles as he finished his brew. He thought over her words from last night. ‘You must not change the essence of who you are. All that you say and do… all of your actions… these are the things that make you the man you are. You must accept these things as strengths, not faults.’ Perhaps she wasn’t here to try and change him. Maybe she just wanted him to accept himself the way he was and not lay blame for being…

"Your patience for others, has limits," she spoke as he sat down beside her. "You should not attempt to alter this… but merely extend those boundaries."

Setting his cup down, he looked at her curiously.

The woman smiled. "You have become accustomed to the ways in which you now live your life," she tried to clarify. "When the presence of others becomes too much, you step back. You must not see this as a failure. It is simply a trait of the man you have become." Athena had spoken these same words to this man’s oldest friend several days ago. The cowboy had understood he could not change this man too much. "Your heart tells you when to go and when to stay… And, you are compelled to listen. You cannot fight it. No one could have stopped you from leaving your town when you did… No one could have stopped you from leaving your family when you did."

Chris looked at her harshly but his expression slowly dissipated.

Athena’s face was full of reassurance as she continued quietly. "Fate has no room for condemnation and despair. You need to rid yourself of these feelings and move on."

Chris took a deep breath. "It’s not that easy."

"Nothing worthy… ever is… The answer lies in acceptance." Turning her body in the chair, the woman looked at him and smiled gently. "Acceptance is the gift of absolution. You need not change who you are… or forget what has gone before… You need simply, to forgive… Accept yourself for being who you are and you will be free from your demons."

Her words were but a whisper yet, Chris understood all too clearly, there meaning. He watched as she lowered her head and he couldn’t help but wonder, how one gentle creature, could understand so much.

After several long minutes Athena got to her feet and wandered over to the corral.

Larabee took a deep breath and closed his eyes. For a long while he simply sat and thought over her words... Again, he’d heard her say that he didn’t have to change his ways. It sounded as though she was merely suggesting that he forgive himself for all that he could not change. His torment was his own and perhaps the demons that she spoke of were his mind’s creation.

An hour passed and he found himself just watching her. He truly wondered who, or what, had sent her to him… to them all. None of The Seven were easy people to know. But, then again… neither was she. Yet, over the last few days, Larabee had learned to accept her. She mystified him… but… Gazing at the corral, Chris had to smile. Even his strong willed horse seemed to have taken a liking to her and that was highly unusual for his spirited beast. Acknowledging the peace in his heart, the gunslinger got up and moved to the corral.

Athena stood by his horse and patted it gently.

"He doesn’t make friends easily," Chris huffed.

The woman lay her head on the animal’s temple. "Then he is like his master." She glanced at Larabee before focusing on the ground. Something else had been nagging Athena and she just had to ask. "There is another who appeals for your companionship?" Leaving the comfort of his mount, she moved to the other side of the enclosure.

Chris stroked his horse for a few minutes before following. He knew exactly who she was speaking of but was unclear how to talk about Mary to the woman. "Yes…" he said as he leaned against the fence. "Don’t reckon I quite know…"

Athena turned quickly and looked deep into his green pools. She held his gaze for an eternity before closing her eyes. She stood and listened to the wind.

The gunslinger just watched, afraid to disturb her concentration.

Finally, she came back to him. She opened her hazel eyes and smiled softly. "She too must accept what is in your heart. But, …you must make your peace before…" Athena turned away. "I see contentment if you can find your true self."

The blond looked puzzled. "What does that mean?" he questioned.

Athena turned back to him, laid her hand on his chest and looked into his eyes. A gentle smile crept across her face. "Be true to your heart…"

Chris felt she had more to say but her confusion was evident. He frowned.

Athena had meant to add his name at the end of her sentence but she felt the one she knew was not right. Removing her hand from his chest, she narrowed her gaze. "Your name is Christopher?"

He looked at her and frowned. He couldn’t believe her question. She’d been in town with them for eleven days and out here alone with him for four more. She hadn’t addressed him by his name in all that time. "Yeah… Chris... Chris Larabee," he replied. "Don’t suppose no-one’s called me Christopher since I was little."

She looked him straight in the eye and again covered his chest with her hand. "Perhaps, this was the last time your soul spoke to you clearly." She smiled for him. "Be true to your heart, once again Christopher Larabee. Your heart and your spirit are strong. They will never lead you astray."

She started to move her hand but he held it in place and looked deep into her eyes. "Who are you?" he whispered.

All expression disappeared from her face as she returned his stare. "I am the spirit of the red wolf. I am the one who has guided you on your journey… I am The South Wind." Her hazel eyes sparkled as she removed her hand and slowly walked away.

Chris forced the air back into his lungs as he watched Athena exit the corral and walk into the meadow. He stood silently, leaning against the fence and closed his eyes.

A gentle breeze blew through two peaceful minds.

Evening came and they had dined on the porch this time. Their conversation was lighter than it had been all day. Athena wasn’t entirely sure, but somehow she felt no further need for discussion. This man would run, no more. And, she sensed, too, contentment with his decision.

Chris felt as though a great weight had been lifted. Somehow, he had understood her message. Her gentle manner had soothed his soul. He felt strangely sad when she told him she would be leaving tomorrow.

Shaking the lingering thoughts from his mind, Larabee dropped a towel on the back on the chair. He gathered his things and headed outside. "The water’s ready," he smiled.

Leaning against the support beam, Athena turned to face him. "Thank you," she replied, moving to the doorway. She stopped, looking inquisitively at the soap, towel and shaving blade in his hands.

The gunslinger took notice of her curiosity and grinned. "I’m headed down to the creek to do a little washing myself. I left your gun belt at the end of the bed. Latch the door. I’ll be back in a bit." He smiled at her again and turned to leave but a hand on his arm stopped his departure. He looked back at her questioningly.

Raising her hand to the stubble on his face, Athena caressed it gently. She lowered her eyes and carefully reached out, taking shaving blade from his hand. Her eyes sparkled as she looked back at him coyly.

Chris frowned. A few seconds passed before he smirked suspiciously, turned and headed for the creek.

The woman watched him go. His image held her gaze, far too long, before she retreating inside. She just couldn’t help it. She knew the depths of his heart and she understood their similarities too clearly. She closed her eyes, intent on driving away her thoughts. Closing the door, she latched it, as he had advised. Looking around, she was amazed at the site. Everything was laid out for her. Towels, soap, wash basins and warm water. She smiled again. He might actually pass for a gentleman!

Closing the shutters, she set about her bathing. She was expecting the East Wind to guide her to the fourth man tomorrow and she wanted to clean up before she began the journey. She had no idea how long it would take her to find the final wayward spirit she needed to heal.

He heard her unlatch the door but waited a little longer before he went inside.

Athena was in the floor by the fire drying her hair. She glanced at him as he entered, then swapped her towel for her brush and started to stroke through her locks.

He noticed her clothing immediately and Larabee couldn’t help but be pleased. Having rinsed her regular clothes, she had them drying on the backs of chairs. Athena was now wearing a colorful Indian skirt and had a pretty cloth tied around her chest. Her shoulders were still bare, as Chris had requested. He had offered to bandage and wrap her wound in preparation for the journey that lay ahead. It was healing well but he thought it would travel better if it were prepared.

Swapping his towel for bandages, he sat behind her on his chair. "Are you ready for this?" he asked, holding up the clean strips of cloth.

The woman turned to look at him. She smiled softly. "A few more minutes."

The gunslinger took in her face silhouetted against the firelight. Her true beauty shone through the bruises he had inflicted on her. The swelling of her cheeks and lip had gone down but the split was still evident. Times like these he could see all too clearly, what he had done to her that first day. Other times he was able to look beyond the surface to see the beauty that this woman held within her soul.

Athena set her hand on his knee.

One look into her eyes told Chris that she had been listening to his thoughts. Her quiet piercing concentration also let him know that there was no blame…

They stared at one another for some time, before she pulled her hair back to reveal her injured shoulder.

Chris examined it again and smiled. The weeping had stopped two days ago and now the scab on it was solid. "Well," he said happily, starting to apply the bandages. "You’ll have quite the scar when it’s healed but at least you’re alive."

A satisfied expression graced her lips.

Larabee unrolled the long strips and started by applying some of Nathan’s ointment. He gently rubbed it into her shoulder before covering it with padded cloth. Next, he applied the strips. Tugging as he wrapped, Chris made sure the bandages were secure.

His actions were uncomfortable but Athena did not let him sense her burden. He was helping her and that’s all she wanted him to know.

Using the smaller strips last, the blond tore the material and tied it off when he was finished wrapping. "You’ll need to give it some air in a couple of days..."

Athena felt him pull away.

Larabee closed his eyes, lowering his head when he realized what he was saying. She was leaving to go after Tanner and the tracker had almost a week’s head start on her. Her journey would surely be more than a couple of days.

The woman gazed at the fire and left him to his thoughts.

A deep sigh echoed off the walls of the cabin. "Are you gonna be able to find him?" he asked solemnly.

It was Athena’s turn to bow her head. She honestly didn’t know how to answer his question. The East Wind still had not appeared to reassure her. The only hope seemed to be that the young man had listened when she asked him not to go far.

Glancing back at the gunslinger, she forced a smile. "I must find him… for all of you… History must know The Seven."

Chris looked at her curiously. She had said this before but… "You say that like it means something… ‘The Seven’."

Athena turned and rose to her knees. His shirt was still unbuttoned from his washing and she could feel his heart beating in her mind as she watched his chest rise and fall. She looked at him long and hard before shutting out his image. Slowly resting her hand on his chest, she waited a minute before she spoke. Her words were filled with emotion. "I believe your heart understands, Christopher. It does… mean something. History must know The Seven. And, seven men must see destiny as one." Opening her eyes, she looked at his handsome face again.

Larabee returned her gaze. Her words were drenched with passion and he felt his heart race as he reached out and caressed her cheek. Ever so slowly, he leaned over and kissed her.

Athena could not resist him.

Pulling back to look at the woman, the blond gazed into her beautiful hazel eyes. Seeing no objection to his actions, he kissed her again.

The woman reached her hands around his body and pulled him closer. They shared another passionate embrace before stopping. They searched each other’s consciousness for a clear path to follow.

A question arose in Athena’s mind, yet her small suspicions dissolved as he kissed her yet again. She responded in kind and pushed the shirt from his shoulders. Caressing his muscular form, she pulled the clothing from his arms.

For Larabee, there were no more doubts… there were no more questions.


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