The Cowboy in Me

by Heather F.

Disclaimer: Not mine, no Money made.

Acknowledgements: The Cowboy in Me by Tim McGraw.

Thanks: to Mitzi and Meg

Spoilers: Penance and Obsession

I don't know why I act the way I do
Like I ain't got a single thing to lose
Sometimes I'm my own worst enemy
I guess that's just the cowboy in me

Chris Larabee sat at the back of the saloon. He glared from the shadows at anyone who dared approach him. With whiskey glass in his hand and beer at his elbow, the dark gunslinger kept the world at bay. The raw chill that seeped under the batwing doors swirled across the floor to encircled his feet. Larabee felt none of it as he raised the glass to his lips. The other five, or was it four regulators, watched from the relative safety of a lighted table a few steps away.

Glassy eyes refused to focus on them. Alcohol induced corneas never strayed from the dwindling amber liquid in the shot glass.

Larabee never looked up, never drew his gaze from the rim of the glass that offered a retreat that would once more bring him physical pain to him in a few hours.

Physical pain he could understand; he could clutch and grip. Physical torment was easier to deal with than emotional turmoil. People could see bruises, would notice the physical banners of one torn apart by bodily injury. If something bled, one could tourniquet the wound; if something was broke a splint would do; if a fever spiked, teas could bring it down.

If your soul stung raw with hurt and abuse….if your trust had been squashed and discarded, if loneliness reared its gnarled head…there was nothing to show. How does one bandage the loss of trust others once had in you? How does one splint the lack of faith that seeped from your companions? Where does one put salve to heal the burning raw emotions of hate and disappointment?

Larabee raised the small glass to his lips again and tossed back the liquid. It burned a path down his throat, giving his eyes a physical reason to water. His gut churned and boiled, gurgling with fiery vengeance. He clenched his hands at the tangible ache.

Tomorrow he would be sick. Perhaps even tonight. He would pay for his indulges. His body would hold him accountable for his actions.

It would not forgive him….It would not ease or hold back the dry heaves that would be sure to rip through him in just a few short hours. The headache would be paralyzing, almost to the point of murderous. There would be no forgiveness, no soft condolences or understanding from his body. He abused it and in return it would abuse him.

It would not forgive him, not like Sarah and Adam would have….and not like the others had last week.

Larabee refilled the shot glass and tossed the coarse liquid down. He let it scorch his throat a moment before he chased it with a gulp of beer.

Yes, in a few hours he would be sick, physically painfully sick.

It would hurt and he could understand that kind of pain.

I got a life that most would love to have
But sometimes I still wake up fightin' mad
At where this road I'm heading down might lead
I guess that's just the cowboy in me

Buck Wilmington woke grinding his teeth. He slid his arm out from underneath Daisy. The young lady mewed and snuggled a little closer. Wilmington sighed and stared at the ceiling, not moving from the warm body next to him but not embracing the soft figure either.

He stared at the overhead beams without truly seeing them, working his back molars against one another. He heard Chris retching next door. How many times had he held Larabee’s head out of a bucket over these last few years?

Sarah and Adam.

He fingered the black eye that kept his left eye closed. How many times had he apologized to Chris for that night? As many times as a sober Chris had told him he was not to blame, just as many times as a drunk Chris had sworn to loathe him until the day he died.

Last night was a repeat of so many others. JD looking for him to do something. Josiah heading for his church and maybe his own bottle, seeing the situation as a hopeless vicious cycle that needed breaking. Ezra had engulfed himself in a game of cards, turning a blind eye to the men around him. Nathan had stayed in the clinic tending Vin.

It left Buck to watch over Chris. Again. Like always. Knowing his guilt in the scenario was truly his. There was no denying his part in the loss of the Larabee family.

Wilmington ran a shaking hand through Daisy’s blonde hair. He felt the silken strands as they fell softly over his calloused fingers.

He never had trouble finding a companion for a night. Never had difficulty finding someone to talk to in the long hours of evening.

Empty companionship filled with physical pleasure and laughter. In the morning they would be gone. He would move on and start again.

Someday he would have what Chris had, a loving wife and child.

His fingers played with Daisy’s hair, brushing lightly across her forehead. He would one day settle down and raise a family.

The sounds of retching next door dragged his eyes again to the far wall, as if he could see through the planks.

He couldn’t settle down yet, couldn’t leave Chris yet. Ella had shown her true self and once again caused upheaval in Chris and Buck’s lives.

Buck ground his teeth and swallowed when he heard the body next door thump to the ground in a heap.

The face that's in the mirror when I don't like what I see
I guess that's just the ‘gambler’ in me

Ezra Standish angrily shoved the tiny shaving mirror away from him. He was disgusted with the man that stared back at him, disgusted with the man down the hall who drank himself into oblivion last night and forced Ezra to once again show his true character. He was disgusted with the others for not stepping in earlier. He hated Buck for looking at him with questioning eyes.

He proved once again he was his mother’s son through and through. Hammered home to all those that knew him, what a callous self serving bastard he truly was when they needed him.

He eyed the shaving mirror and caught a glimpse of himself. With an angry lunge he swiped it off the table onto the floor. The hinged arms snapped but spared the glass.

He glared at it, much like Mr. Larabee had glared at all of them last night as he drank himself into a puddle.

What had he, Ezra P. Standish, Maude’s son, done? Hid. Hid like he always did. Instead of coming to the aid of a friend, he had engrossed himself in a card game and ignored all those around him.

When Josiah had disappeared, Ezra had felt vindicated. When JD had built up enough foolish bravado, the boy had stood and attempted to talk to Chris. Buck had stopped him.

Always Buck.

Buck had sent the boy to the Jail. Mr. Wilmington had said he and Ezra would take of care things.

Buck had never asked for his aid. Mr. Wilmington had looked over to him, had perhaps indicated with his facial expressions and body language that he needed some help, but he had never actually verbalized that he wanted assistance.

Surely Mr. Wilmington didn’t think Ezra Standish, could read minds?

Ezra pretended not to notice and turned around and continued his game. Mr. Wilmington had been handling Mr. Larabee for years. Surely they did not need his interference. He was, after all, just a gambler.

He had wanted to believe he was a better friend, than that…wanted to believe that he rose above what his mother had taught him. Wanted to believe that perhaps he really did have a heart of gold and a sense of duty to his friends.

Hadn’t he been with Vin last week when the Gaine’s woman set her men upon them while they rode patrol? Hadn’t he been knocked from his horse by bullet that creased his head? Dazed and unawares hadn’t he still fired and tried to protect Vin while the tracker got under cover? Certainly he had dug up an ounce of courage when lead was flying. He had saved Vin’s life and his own.

Apparently his courage only revealed itself when his life was at risk.

His valor remained well hidden and camouflaged in the dull light of a half empty saloon when his existence was not directly at stake. The strength of ‘friendships’ waxed and waned with the situation….wasn’t that what Mother had taught him? Always beware…

Standish kicked the small mirror with a booted foot and sent it skidding under the bed.

He had proved without a doubt when he turned his back on Mr. Wilmington and Mr. Larabee last night, he was, in fact, his mother’s son.

The urge to run, the restlessness
I guess that's just the ‘tracker’ in me

Vin Tanner gripped the pommel of the saddle and hunched forward over the horn. He let Peso have his head. The gelding picked his footing carefully and followed the well traveled road without any guidance from his master.

The horse plodded along, familiar with the trail that would take him to the new building in the small grassy glade that had the rough hewed wood corrals.

Tanner gripped his side tightly and tried to even his breaths between clenched teeth. Nathan had told him cracked ribs, maybe busted. Vin couldn’t help but think they were busted.

He knew he had been relegated to the clinic yesterday afternoon. He had tried to tell Larabee that none of this was Chris’s fault. Gaines was a devil. She was no better than a wild dog with rabies. She needed put down. Chris wasn’t to blame for her actions.

Vin didn’t think he got through to Larabee. Chris had made sure Vin made it up to the clinic under Josiah’s guiding touch but then he had disappeared into the saloon.

Tanner had wanted out of the clinic. Needed out. Away from the prodding hands, the prying eyes, away from the cloud of self destruction that waifed off the others.

He slept the night through but woke early with his chest burning and the urge to wander too strong to ignore. With Tiny’s help, he had Peso saddled and headed out of town just as the sun crested the tree tops.

Peso walked easily into the open grass that surrounded Larabee’s shack. The horse dutifully strode up to the side of the corral just before the house and stopped.

Tanner carefully eased himself from the saddle and climbed the stairs one painful step at a time. He knocked on the door and waited. Then knocked again. After a bit he pushed the door open.

The little rooms stood empty.

Tanner stood in the door for a moment and then slowly turned shutting the door. Clutching his chest he stepped down the steps and crossed to Peso.

Tears watered his eyes as he finally settled into the saddle. He reined the horse around and paused as he came to the road….The horse waited patiently, waiting for his rider to indicate if they were going home or leaving.

The things I've done for foolish pride
The me that's never satisfied
I guess that's just the ‘preacher’ in me

Josiah Sanchez threw the whiskey bottle as far as he could as he stood in the frigid shade outside the far side of the church.

The bottle arched high in its trajectory, seemed to pause for a split second at the height of its arc, then started its descent towards a stand of trees.

Bare chested and in stockinged feet the preacher stared beyond the copse of trees and into the horizon.

Anger bubbled up inside. Anger at himself, The Gaines woman, and Larabee and God himself. His anger knew no bounds and boiled into unspent frustration as seamless as the bluing sky before him.

He turned in fury and hammered his fist into the side of the church. He paused felt sharp spears of pain shoot through his hand and wrist. He smashed the wall again. Pain started to stretch from the side of his fist and echo up his forearm. Dust rained down from the boards above him.

Its sparked Sanchez to pound harder. All the times others had turned to him for guidance, how many times had he turned away from them? Just as he had last night? How many times had he stood up and fought for the wrong reasons protecting his pride and faith from those that did not matter?

How many times had he turned on his friends like a rabid dog when they sought his guidance? Hadn’t he done just that to Ezra only months ago? Further leveed blame on him for follies that did not need pointing out in such a manner?

Hadn’t he turned away from them when Poplar set on him? Lost faith in his friends. Kept Hanna a secret so they would not know of his true failures?

Last night, when Larabee had drowned in his drink, when Chris and Buck and the others needed him most, hadn’t he just walked away? Hadn’t he just headed back to the church, the protection of his religion and drowned his own frustrated self disgust in rot gut?

He abandoned the others, left them to their own demons while he drowned his own.

We ride and never worry about the fall
I guess that's just the cowboy in us all

"They’re robbing the Terrance’s! They’re takin’ the horses!!!" Bill Rogers raced through town screaming at the top of his lungs.

Chris Larabee picked himself up off the floor, wrestled on his boots and grabbed his gunbelt and hat.

Buck Wilmington rolled over and gave Daisy a quick kiss and a promise to return before jumping out of bed and grabbing his pants.

Ezra Standish leaped from his chair and rushed to his door, whipping his plumb coat from the bed spread.

Josiah Sanchez stormed back into the church and grabbed his serape, boots and guns.

JD and Nathan bolted from the restaurant.

Six men rushed from the livery on horseback. They paused nodded and grinned at one another as they checked their guns.

The six galloped out of Four Corners heading for the Terrance Ranch.

They met Peso and Tanner just outside of town.

Six men rode hell bent for leather, the seventh gripped his chest and cursed the others. They angled their horses off the trail and through the woods uncaring of the odds they faced at the Terrance Ranch. It somehow didn’t seem important.

We ride and never worry about the fall
I guess that's just the cowboy in us all

The End

Comments to:

I don't know why I act the way I do
Like I ain't got a single thing to lose
Sometimes I'm my own worst enemy
I guess that's just the cowboy in me

I got a life that most would love to have
But sometimes I still wake up fightin' mad
At where this road I'm heading down might lead
I guess that's just the cowboy in me

The urge to run, the restlessness
The heart of stone I sometimes get
The things I've done for foolish pride
The me that's never satisfied
The face that's in the mirror when I don't like what I see
I guess that's just the cowboy in me

The urge to run, the restlessness
The heart of stone I sometimes get
The things I've done for foolish pride
The me that's never satisfied
The face that's in the mirror when I don't like what I see
I guess that's just the cowboy in me

Girl I know there's times you must have thought
There ain't a line you've drawn I haven't crossed
But you set your mind to see this love on through
I guess that's just the cowboy in you

We ride and never worry about the fall
I guess that's just the cowboy in us all

"The Cowboy in Me"
- Tim McGraw