Each Deed of Shame
by The Buffalo Gals
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Chris walked out onto the porch as the riders pulled up outside the cabin. His menacing stance amused Buck, especially when Wilmington saw the prisoners reaction.
Told ya he was the devil.
These the snivellin cowards that beat defenceless men half to death!
They most assuredly are, Mr. Larabee. Hardly men of standing or rectitude. Ezra bamboozled them all with the last word.
Which one is the leader? Larabee continued to glare at the men with open hatred.
That would be me, replied the one man brave enough to face Chris. I believe you have my son prisoner.
He came to us with our friend. Chris nodded to JD. Set the boy free, we aint got no quarrel with him.
You got that savage in there? One of the other men dared to ask.
For a moment Chris hand gripped his gun. He wanted to hurt someone like Vin had been hurt, then realising Vin wouldnt want that kind of retribution, he eased off the handle and his rage subsided.
Gettin dark Buck, tie em up in the barn. Take em back to Four Corners tomorrow and wait for the judge.
Judge? We havent done anything wrong.
Buck ignored Joshuas outcry and spoke to Larabee, What about you stud?
Ill stay with Vin til hes fit to travel.
Ah could return to Benton and purchase a wagon and team?
Thanks Ezra. Larabee said, not surprised by the gamblers generosity. Lets see what hes like tomorrow.
Id like to see my s . Benjamin! Joshuas face lit up with a smile, as did Nathaniels when the older son walked out of the cabin.
Benjamin hurried over to his father, stopping short of hugging him when he saw Chris Larabees face.
Oh Papa, we did Vin an injustice. He never meant us no harm.
We had to protect our women and children son. We could not take that chance.
Whos gonna protect em while yer locked away? Chris asked carelessly.
Mr. Larabee, please dont send them to jail! Benjamin pleaded with a sob.
The gunslinger ignored the plea. You can leave or you can go with the others, maybe youll be able to sway the judge with yer beggin.
Im staying. Benjamin answered without a doubt.
No Benjamin, you must ride back to the wagons. They will have to continue without us.
Go my son, you are free. Nathaniel and I will have to face the consequences of our actions.
Benjamin looked at Larabee as if asking him for permission.
The blond nodded his head and the boy hugged his father.
God speed my son.
Nathaniel, overcome with emotion, allowed his brother to embrace him. Im scared Ben.
Be strong, for Papa.
Ben took the reins to the horse JD had just passed him. Theyre not bad men. was his last remark to Chris before riding away from the cabin. He turned back to face them once, uncertainty written across his young face; was he doing the right thing? Shaking his head with indecision, the boy continued his journey, his lonely heart beating painfully.
Tired of looking at his prisoners, Chris nodded to Buck. Make sure theyre well tied up. Best take turns at guardin em too. The boy may come back. The gunslinger offered to take a shift, but said that Nathans only job would be looking after Vin.
You heard our esteemed leader. Ezra pointed his gun at the cowering men. Please move along quietly towards the barn. Single file, if you please
Arent you going to feed us? Nathaniel asked brazenly.
Did you feed Mr. Tanner when you made him your prisoner?
Hes a Nathaniel stopped.
The fancy dressed southerner suddenly looked as menacing as the gunslinger.
A day without sustenance will hardly harm you. Ezra pushed the youth forward to follow his companions into the barn.
Chris turned back towards the cabin, a smile on his face. Ezra would do a fine job in keeping the prisoners under control!
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Chris, Ill take my turn now. Vin woke up and hes askin fer ya.
Chris eyes lit up at Bucks good news. Hed spent the last two hours watching over their prisoners and the constant whining by some of the men was beginning to give him itchy fingers.
If they keep gripin Buck, shoot em. Chris smile continued as he exited the barn; the discontent voices had suddenly become silent.
Im here, pard. Larabee caught hold of Vins flailing hand. Im here
We home yet?
Soon pard, when youre fit to travel.
Vin turned unfocused eyes towards the quiet voice. Ya still mad at me?
No, angry with mself. Well talk about that when youre feelin stronger. Chris was too tired to explain his thoughts and by the look of Vin, he didnt think the tracker was capable of understanding him anyway.
I was comin back to town. Shouldnt have run out on ya.
Dont matter now Vin, Chris tried to quell the Texans worries, were all together, like we should be.
Vin tried to smile at the thought, but it hurt too much. Yall came lookin fer me?
Yep. Damn towns too quiet without ya
Caint help bein talkative Vin replied with a wheeze.
You go to sleep pard. Chris tucked Vins arms back under the blankets.
Tired of mtalkin Vin was asleep before he could finish the sentence.
Larabee leaned forward and whispered to his silent companion. Glad yer back, Vin.
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Early next morning six of the Magnificent Seven, sat outside on the cabins porch, talking while they drank their coffee. Inside the cabin, Vin slept heavily after being dosed with laudanum.
Nathan didnt like using the drug, but when Vin had woken an hour earlier, hed unwillingly admitted that his leg wound was giving him hell.
Wanting Vin well rested, Nathan had given him a drink of the concoction.
Should sleep the mornin away. Hed informed the concerned Larabee.
They were now discussing their prisoners and other matters.
Ezra, you still willin to buy a rig to get Vin home in?
Ah most certainly am, The gambler replied indignantly.
Then best you be goin. Itll take you a couple of days, Larabee said dismissively.
Standish wished his companions farewell before mounting his horse and riding out.
Buck, lets get the prisoners ready to travel.
Chris, they need some food and water.
If you want to waste yer time on them Larabee walked to the cabin door, Ill stay here and take care of Vin til Ezra gets back.
Nathan didnt doubt the gunslinger; problem was, who was going to take care of Chris Larabee?
The healer voiced his concern and offered to stay with them.
Dont fret Nathan, well be fine. The gunslinger turned to Buck. Cut me out that kid and his pa. Bring em to me.
Chris Wilmingtons voice held concern.
Dont worry Buck, I aint gonna shoot em. Larabee returned to the quietly sleeping Texan and waited for the prisoners arrival.
The cabin door opened and in stepped Joshua, Nathaniel, Buck and Josiah. The two prisoners were ushered over to Chris.
What harm did he do to you? Larabee indicated to the sick man.
None, Joshua answered honestly.
Chris stood up and circled father and son, pleased with the fear he saw in their eyes. If hed died, so would you.
My sons were acting on my orders. They are not to blame.
And the others? Chris asked as he returned to his seat.
Joshua shook his head forlornly, I had no control over them they were afraid.
Funny way of showin it, Buck muttered.
He and Josiah stood near to the fireplace, ready to intervene if Chris anger boiled over.
I am truly sorry for the pain we inflicted upon your friend, Joshua said humbly, May I say a prayer for him?
Get out! Chris hissed. And take your religion with you!
Once Josiah had taken the two men outside, Buck walked over to Larabee and placed a hand on the blonds shoulder.
I know they should pay fer what they done, but youve seen em Chris, they dont know how to survive out here. Hell, whos tsay if we were scared we wouldnt have done the same thing.
You think I should let them go?
Vin would, and you know it.
Do you want to see what they did to him? Chris asked wildly, pulling back the covers to expose Vins badly bruised naked body.
Sickened by what he saw, Buck swore under his breath. He was also angry at Larabee for treating the tracker in such an uncaring way. He grabbed hold of the covers and pulled them back into place. Werent no need fer that!
I aint lettin them go, Larabee snarled.
Then at least keep em here. Wait til Vins come round. Ask him what he wants done with them.
You think he wont want justice?
Justice yes. Revenge, no. Chris, another day is all Im askin.
Larabee waved his friend away. You see to em, feed em. Just keep em outta my sight.
Silently praising God for a small victory, Wilmington exited the cabin door before Chris changed his mind.
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Chris brooded during the day; the only kind words spoken were to Vin.
The trackers body was still heavily bruised, but at least his lungs were clearing of the congestion.
Nathans main concern was the leg injury that still showed infection.
Vin squirmed away from the healer whenever Nathan touched the reddened flesh.
Yer makin it worse he gasped at one point, slapping Nathans hand away.
I need to see if the wound is healin properly, Nathan explained, ignoring the trackers feeble attempt at stopping his examination.
Chris Vin pleaded with Larabee, Caint ya stop him?
No. Chris carefully caught hold of Vins hand, Let Nate do his job.
Vin sighed with exasperation. Im a sick man. No one cares.
Chris and Nathan knew that the whining complaints were due to Vins tiredness, so chose to ignore him.
Wheres Ben? The Texan suddenly asked, noticing the youngsters disappearance for the first time.
Gone, back to the wagon train.
Good. Should be with his family.
Aint with his family, Chris quietly conceded.
Ill tell you once Nates seen to yer wound.
Yaint as gentle as Ma. Vin teased the healer.
Do mbest, Nathan replied evenly, refusing to be drawn into Vins argumentative mood.
Vin was shushed by Larabee, whod heard a commotion outside.
Stay with him Nate. Ill go check.
As Chris opened the door, a stout, ruddy faced woman pushed past him.
Wheres my boy?
Who the hell
Dont blaspheme! She snapped at Larabee before hurrying over to the bed. Hows my baby? she cooed to the sick man.
Ma? Vin croaked.
Do you know what youre doing? She wagged a finger at Nathan.
You the woman that tended to Vin? Nathan answered her question with one of his own.
I am. Ma Lucas placed a hand on Vins brow. Still showing a touch of fever. How are his lungs?
Much better. You probably saved Vins life.
Content with Nathans reply, the woman smiled. Hes worth saving.
Still standing in the doorway, Chris shook his head in disbelief. Vin had managed to find another Nettie Welles. He was about to ask the woman how shed found them when Ezra stepped into the cabin.
Thought you were goin fer a wagon?
Ah was, Mr. Larabee. However Ah encountered that good lady on the trail. She was in search of her poor angel, Vin Tanner. When Ah explained the situation, she immediately volunteered her own wagon and team to convey our afflicted tracker back to Four Corners.
Good means we can get movin as soon as Nate says so.
Ah thought Buck was transferring our prisoners back to jail today?
Change of plan, Chris explained to Ezra in his own succinct manner.
Deciding that Vin was in good hands, Chris steered the gambler back outside.
Ive made ya some herbal tea, Vin.
Aw Nathan tastes like horse p Vin clamped his mouth shut when caught Ma Lucas disapproving glare.
Youll take it without complaint. She ordered the tracker.
Yes m. Trapped between two diligent nurses, Vin had no choice other than to drink the foul tasting tea.
Feelin much better Nathan, think I cn get mclothes back?
Nathan smiled as he scrutinised his patient. Vins face was still a motley collection of cuts and bruises, with one eye half closed. His thin body, covered by blankets was in the same condition.
He was passing blood and his lungs still ruttled, yet he said he was feeling much better!
Vin Tanner, you aint goin nowheres, so ya dont need yer clothes.
But theres a lady present.
That remark brought loud laughter from the lady in question.
Son, Ive seen everything youve got, and Im not embarrassed.
You have! Vin squeaked, his memory fuddled. He pulled the blankets up to his neck. Caint remember.
Dont worry baby, your virtue is safe with me. She winked at Nathan, who was chuckling at Vins discomfort. Is he always this shy? Ma asked the healer.
Yep, blushes real easy. Nathan teased.
Language! So, is blondie the one called Chris? Ma asked her patient.
Yeah how Vins bruised face creased into a frown.
You kept calling for him. Guess he means a lot to you.
Vin nodded, afraid his voice would show too much emotion. He still hadnt made his peace with Chris and although the gunslinger kept saying he was glad to have Vin back, what if he was just placating the tracker until he was strong enough to hear the truth?
I can see he cares a great deal for you too. Ma had read the uncertainty in Vins sorrowful countenance.
Ya think so?
Vin Tanner! Nathan had been listening to the conversation and couldnt believe Vin doubted Chris sincerity. It was Chris idea we come lookin fer ya. Hes been half outta his mind worryin about ya, so dont ya dare doubt him!
Suitably chastised, Vin mumbled apologies to the healer.
Whats he planning on doing with his prisoners? Ma asked Nathan innocently.
What prisoners? Vin asked before Nathan could reply.
Aint sure Ma-am. It depends.
What prisoners? Vin repeated a little more loudly
They did wrong, thats why I left the wagon train. But most of them are good men.
Frustrated at being ignored, Vin grabbed hold of the womans wrist and for an instant she saw the dangerous man he could become.
What prisoners? Vin hissed.
Outside baby, youre hurting me.
Horrified by his actions, Vin snatched his hand away. S sorry didnt mean to.
So ya should be! Jackson was horrified by his friends outburst. Ill tell ya. We got six men in the barn, includin Benjamins pa and brother. Chris intends em standing trial.
Ask him yerself. Nathan took hold of the womans arm and led her outside. Chris, get in there and explain to Vin why we got prisoners! Ma-am, let me take a look at yer wrist.
What happened? Larabee asked when he saw the womans injured wrist.
Nothing a misunderstanding, she replied with a shaky smile.
Huh .Vins showin some petulance. You put him right Chris.
Im very sorry.
Hes still not sure, Mr. Larabee.
The gunslinger understood her meaning. He walked over to the cabin door and grasped hold of the latch. Then taking a deep breath, he stepped inside.
When Vin heard the door open, he turned to face the wall, ashamed of his actions.
If you want to lash out, hurt me, Chris offered as he settled into the chair next to the bed. Im the one youre mad at.
Let them go, Vin said tiredly. Just want to ferget em.
And I want to make em pay! Larabee argued.
Vin turned to face him. Why?
They hurt you.
Vin frowned, there was more to the answer than Chris was willing to divulge. Ive been hurt before.
I know I never meant to.
Didnt mean you Chris.
But its true. Larabee leaned forward. I lashed out at you because I was angry with myself.
We were both actin crazy Vin closed his eyes, I was comin back
And we were lookin for you Vin. We missed you Larabee patted Vins blanket covered arm.
The Texan smiled, he knew Chris admission as the truth. Will ya let them go for me? he asked once more.
Mind if I scare em a little first?
The trackers one good eye opened wide and the smile broadened, Sounds good .
Good. Larabee nodded curtly, Aim to make sure they dont hurt no-one else for lookin different.
Wish I could see Vins voice trailed off as he slipped into sleep.
Larabee sat with him for a while longer, watching the steady rise and fall of Vins chest, and marvelling at the trackers inner strength; not only to overcome the vicious attack, but also to forgive his attackers.
Im proud to call you my friend, he whispered to the sleeping man.
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The prisoners, all of them looking nervous and afraid, stood in front of the cabin. They faced six angels of death, and awaited their fate.
Chris Larabee, rested a hand on his gun and savoured every moment as he watched the mens faces.
What do you think we should do with them, JD? he asked his young friend.
Take em back to town and hang em! the youngster replied with relish.
Much as Id like to, I caint agree tkillin em Chris, the black man, glaring coldly at the prisoners answered. Let em go.
Ah have given the situation great consideration. Ah have weighed up the pros and cons. Ezra Standish paused for a breath then continued, On the one side of the equation
The gambler sniffed haughtily, disturbed by Larabees interruption. Very well. To be succinct, Ah fear Ah have to agree with Mr. Jackson. We must emancipate these loathsome curmudgeons.
Nathaniel sighed and grinned at his father. These six men were all talk. There was nothing to be afraid of here.
His smile faded quickly when Wilmington bellowed,
Hang em! before Larabee could ask him.
Finally, Chris turned to Josiah.
I cannot condone murder, Chris. And if we killed these men it would be murder, Sanchez said sombrely.
Larabee grimaced. All this do goodin gives me indigestion. The feral smile he gave the prisoners chilled them to the bone. Josiah has a conscience, I dont.
That makes three fer hangin em, three fer lettin em go. Wilmington joined Chris on the porch steps. What do we do now, toss a coin?
No need, the three of us could take em back to town.
Or we could hang em right here, JD said gleefully.
There are seven of us Chris. Josiah reminded the gunfighter.
You want me to ask Vin?
Already have, preacher. Larabee enjoyed watching the captives squirm under his scrutiny, I asked Vin how he wanted his vicious tormentors punished.
He said Chris pulled out his gun and pointed it at Joshua, let em go. Theyre not worth it.
You heard the man. Nathan joined Chris and Buck.
Best leave before Mr. Tanner, who is not in the greatest of health, changes his mind.
Dont ever come round these parts again. JD followed Ezra and stood side by side with his companions.
And if we hear of anyone else being attacked for no other reason than their clothin, length of hair, colour or creed, we will seek you out and bring down the wrath of God! Josiah preached loudly, his fist in the air.
What you waitin for. Larabee took a step forward. All but Joshua hurried to mount their horses, saddled up and waiting for them.
What about Ma Lucas? Joshua asked the gunslinger.
She made her choice when she left the wagon train. No harm will befall the lady.
Tell Mr. Tanner
Get outta here before we change our minds.
Joshua nodded and joined his friends. He recognised that theyd been lucky to escape with their lives. He would heed the preachers warning and never more make rash judgements about strangers.
Come on Nathaniel, lets get back to your brother he led the men away from the cabin and back towards their families.
Ma Lucas had watched the scene from the cabin window. It had amused her to see Larabee and his companions scare Joshua and the others; the plan had worked well.
They gone? Vin croaked.
Yes, with their tails between their legs! The woman returned to her patient and fussed around him. Youd best get some sleep. The journey back to town will be tiring for you.
Home. Vin said wistully, Never thought Id his voice broke when emotion overwhelmed him.
It sounds like a real nice town. Maybe Ill settle down there.
Thatd be nice. Some good folk live there.
And I hear they have some real handsome men to protect the town, Ma teased.
Dont know bout that. Vins blush was ever present now the woman was tending to him.
Huh, I bet all the girls are chasing you. Mas rich brown eyes twinkled with amusement; the young mans face was positively glowing!
Yer mixin me up with Buck. He gets all the girls. Vins face clouded over. Whod wanna be seen with me.
If I were thirty years younger Id be chasing you!
Thank you, Ma.
Emily, my name is Emily.
The smile returned to Vins countenance; he considered himself lucky to have gained another friend.
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Ill drive the wagon, Ma-am, you sit with Vin, Josiah politely offered once the wagon was loaded with the injured man.
Thanks, but Id sooner drive. My boys know my voice. Besides, Mr. Larabee is staying in the wagon. Ma Lucas hitched up her skirts and hoisted herself onto the seat. She felt more protected now than at any time with the wagon train.
In two short days shed become well acquainted with her travelling companions.
She respected Josiah and Nathan, they both saved people in their different ways.
Buck and JD were like brothers and very dependable.
Chris Larabee was enigmatic and very daunting.
Her favourite, after Vin was Ezra. He put on a show of bravado but underneath it he was just a little boy in need of mothering. The moment theyd met, out on the trail, she knew she could trust him; he hadnt failed her.
They were a family; brothers, yet they didnt need to share the same colour, blood or surname to prove it.
She gathered up the reins of her team and clicked them steadily forward. The journey would take four days at the slow pace but that didnt matter. Vins health was paramount to all of them.
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How you doin pard. Chris sat close to Vin in the dimly lit wagon.
Felt better Tanner replied as he groaned loudly when the wheels hit rutted ground.
We can stop whenever you say.
Vin shook his head. Wanna get back home.
It aint goin nowhere. Chris smiled ruefully.
Hate bein all this trouble. The tracker fretted at the blankets edge.
Larabee placed his hand over Vins. No ones complainin.
Lost mhorse. Vins tired mind wandered off at a tangent.
Mhorse dont know what happened to him. Damn fine animal.
Chris regarded his friend doubtfully. Vins equine partner was the most ill tempered creature hed ever known.
Hope they dont hurt him.
About to tell Vin of the creatures whereabouts, Chris changed his mind. Tomorrow theyd be close to Limpin Jacks camp. If the miner was still there, Vin could be re-united with his horse, if not, Chris would tell him that the animal was back in Four Corners, waiting for him.
To appease his unhappy friend, he joked, Probably the other way round, knowing that ornery creature!
Vin tried to smile, Yeah, guess he was a mule head.
The journey continued steadily and they camped early when Nathan decided Vin could take no more of the unsteady wagon.
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Limpin Jack was indeed still camped in the same place. Hed started to pack up his belongings after deciding the trackers horse was fit enough to make the journey.
The ill tempered animal was now stomping and snorting and bickering with Jacks mule.
Best get ya back to town. Maybe theyve found yer master by now. Jack dodged the horses snapping teeth as he gave a final check to its right foreleg. Ya dont scare me none. If ya bite me, Ill bite ya back.
The horse pricked up its ears and whinnied.
Whats wrong boy? Jack glanced across the slow moving river. Well Ill be.
On the far side bank a wagon, plus five riders were carefully making their way down to the rivers edge.
Jack frowned as he pondered the whereabouts of the other two men. And wasnt that a woman driving the wagon? He patted the horses neck.
Caint see yer master, boy. Hope it aint bad news. He made his way back to camp and put the kettle to boil. His company would be ready for some food and a warm drink.
Inside the wagon Chris gathered Vin close to him. Gonna be a bumpy ride crossin the river.
Too tired to speak, Vin clung to his friend and although the crossing jarred his bruised body he never once complained.
When the wagon finally came to a halt Chris made sure Vin was comfortable then pulled open the back cover of the wagon.
Got somethin for you to see.
Look out the wagon? Larabee indicated for JD to bring the horse forward.
Look Vin, you aint lost him.
The Texans eyes widened, Ya found mhorse!
More like he found us. Hes been here with Limpin Jack.
He alright? Vin struggled to get nearer to the opening.
Hes taken a few knocks, like his owner. Chris huffed as he helped his friend, Stubborn like his owner too.
Vin reached out of the wagon and his fingers caressed the animals nose.
The horse whinnied when it recognised the trackers scent.
Nathan grumbled when he stepped up to the wagon. Vin Tanner, what ya doin?
Ya can do that once yer well! Buck, Josiah, help me get him outta here. Ezras placed his bedroll near the fire.
Vin hated being manhandled. I cn
Yaint doin nothin Vin Tanner! Nathan said much louder than he intended.
Suitably chastised, Tanner held his tongue while he was carried over to the bedroll.
More fussing came I the shape of Ma Lucas, then Jack visited with him.
Vin thanked the miner for taking care of his horse.
Least I could do, son. Jack glanced over to where Larabee stood. Knew hed find ya.
Vin followed Jacks glance. Glad he did.
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Three days later, the weary travellers rode into Four Corners.
Mary Travis rushed out to meet them.
Vin? the question was aimed at Buck who rode in front of the wagon along with Josiah.
Hes hurt Mary, but recoverin. Chris is in the wagon with him.
Sent him over to Netties with the news. Buck halted the horses and wagon in front of the livery stable. He and the others dismounted and while Josiah and Nathan unfastened the backboard of the wagon, Buck helped Ma Lucas to the ground and introduced her to Mary.
If youd like to come over to my house to freshen up, Mary offered the older woman.
That sounds fine, once Ive settled Vin in where is Nathans clinic?
Mary pointed to the stairs.
Huh, theyll keep me fit! Ma chuckled.
Buck, Nathan and Josiah carried their injured friend up the stairs to Nathans abode.
Ezra hurried behind them and Chris started to follow but stopped for a few moments to talk with the blonde woman. Any trouble while weve been away?
Nothing we couldnt handle. Just a few drunken cowboys. Yosemite scared them to death! Marys smile disappeared, How are you?
Better now weve got Vin back. Its a long story Mary, Ill tell you later. Larabee was itching to follow his friends.
Mary understood. You go Ill get Yosemite to see to the horses and wagon.
Thanks. Chris nodded to her then quickly hurried up the steps.
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Vin woke up with a start; disorientated and confused. The room was in darkness except a solitary candle flickering on the night stand. The Texan jumped when a quiet voice asked,
Do you want a drink?
Larabee stepped out of the shadows and helped to make his friend comfortable before he passed him a glass of water.
Thanks what time is it?
Way past midnight. Nathans gettin some sleep at the hotel. Larabee moved over to the window and lit the lantern sitting on the shelf.
Ya look warn out yerself, Vin observed.
Ill get some sleep tomorrow.
There was an awkward silence, then both men spoke as one.
Larabee walked back to the bed and sat on its edge close to the tracker. He bowed his head and stared at the floor. I was wrong to blame you for everythin.
I werent no better. Ya had no choice with Eli Joe.
Id give anythin to get that day back. Chris lifted his head and turned to face the tracker. I knew you were right about Ella. Just too pig headed
Arrogant like I said fore, ya werent thinkin with yer brains
Chris had the decency to blush. Huh right.
We both said things best to ferget em
Larabee nodded in agreement. Couple of mule heads.
Speak fer yerself Larabee.
Vin settled back down, a contented smile on his face.
Relieved that things were back on an even keel, Chris patted the Texans blanket covered knee then returned to his chair.
+ + + + + + +
There was a definite spring in Larabees step as he jogged up the stairs to Nathans home. Vin was well on his way to recovery and their friendship was stronger than ever.
He expected the tracker to be resting and was surprised to find Vin getting dressed, or at least trying to.
What ya doin pard?
Vins face was flushed with frustration and anger. Whats it look like!
Before Chris could ask any more dumb questions, Vin continued, Im goin he didnt get a chance to finish the sentence.
Larabee strode over to the bed and grabbed hold of Vins arms.
Goin! I thought you mean you still want to leave? As he spoke, Chris shook Vin violently.
The younger mans colour faded as pain ripped through his back.
When Larabees tirade ended, he released Vin and the Texan sank back on the bed in agony.
I wont stop you. But this time I wont be comin after you. the gunslinger turned and walked stiffly towards the door. He almost missed the painfully whispered,
Without turning, he snapped, What!
I aint leavin town. My back I caint stand lyin in bed no more. Im leavin the clinic.
Larabee turned. Your back hurts?
Vin, his head bowed, nodded. I need tget movin. His naked arms shivered in the cool air of the shadowy room.
I thought Larabee was horrified to see the bruises hed inflicted on Vins arms. Slowly he walked back to his friend. Im sorry.
The tracker nodded, accepting Larabees apology without a second thought. Would ya help me get dressed?
Sure but how about a back rub first?
Chris question brought Vins head up sharply. A back rub? No ones offered to do that before! Sounds good, he replied shyly.
He lay back down on the bed and turned onto his stomach. Hed managed to pull on his pants before Chris had come into the room so felt no embarrassment in front of the gunslinger.
Chris searched through Nathans lotions and potions until he found some herbal oils.
Vin nodded his head.
Chris poured a little of the oil down Vins spine then some onto his own hands.
Vin hissed when Chris cold hands first touched his skin, but after a few moments the hands warmed up and he began to wallow in the sensations the back rub was giving him.
Larabee raised an eyebrow; Vin was almost purring like a contented cat! He leaned close to the unsuspecting tracker and whispered, If you tell anyone bout this, Ill be forced to shoot you.
Vin chuckled, Wouldnt do much fer ya reputation, cowboy. Ouch!
Larabee had smacked him hard on the rump.
Less of the cowboy! Chris worked quietly for another ten minutes before standing back. How does that feel?
Good. Sleepy now.
Oh. Ya aint gonna join the rest of us in the saloon then?
Vin turned carefully and sat on the edge of the bed. Sounds good caint see Nathan lettin me he said downheartedly.
Hes waitin for you. Thats why I came over here. Its a celebration.
The younger mans eyes widened. Really? What fer?
Lets finish gettin you dressed. Folkll be wonderin where we are. Chris grinned as Vin tried to pull his shirt on.
The Texan glared at his friend. Aint ya gonna help me?
Chris soon had the tracker looking decent. There, youll do. He took hold of Vins arm and led him to the door. No heroics. Im here to help you, he warned his friend.
Vin didnt need telling. By the time they reached the bottom of the stairs his legs were shaking. They walked steadily towards the saloon; Vin concentrating so much he barely noticed the greeting and well wishes he was receiving from the townsfolk.
There was a rousing cheer when the two men stepped through the batwing doors.
Bout time too! Wilmington rebuked his companions.
Vin, sit yerself down. Knew it was a bad idea, Nathan grumbled, yet a bright smile lit up his handsome face.
Ah Mr. Tanner, just in time to purchase the next round of drinks. Ezra pulled out a chair and Vin gratefully sank down into it.
Another reason to celebrate. Josiah clapped his hands together and gazed heavenward.
Vin, aint nobody told ya yet? JD asked.
Theres gonna be a weddin. Josiah explained.
Weddin? Vin tried to work out which of his friends was tying the knot. Buck ya finally met yer match.
Hell no, I aint gettin hitched.
JD you and Casey.
The youngster shook his head. Aint ready fer that.
Nathan it has to be you and Rain. Vin smiled at the healer.
Someday Vin, but not fer a while.
Ah am a confirmed bachelor, and our friend Mr. Sanchez is enamoured by mah mother. Only he and God knows why, Ezra explained to the tracker.
Then Chris for a moment Vins heart constricted; Ella Gaines was the only woman no, there was another candidate. Mary?
There was a twinkle in Chris eyes when he shook his head.
Aint one of us where is the groom?
Tryin on his best suit, upstairs. Ill go fetch him. Buck bounded up the stairs three at a time.
You alright pard? Chris pulled a chair close to Vin and settled in it.
Confused . A bit tired, Vin confessed, knowing that Chris would see the truth.
He wanted us all to be here to celebrate said were the reason he found her.
Chris explained how Jack and Ma Lucas had become inseparable on the ride back to town, and how their romance had blossomed.
Whens the weddin?
Tomorrow. Chris leaned nearer the younger man. She wants you to give her away.
Vin blushed furiously at the unexpected honour. Aint got tgive no speech have I? he suddenly asked with concern.
I think that would be askin too much, dont you? Larabee chuckled at the trackers embarrassment.
You the best man?
Oh good, hell talk that much no one elsell get chance to make a speech.
I think hes already workin on it.
A few minutes later Buck returned with the groom.
Shoulda seen him boys, hes gonna dazzle Ma Lucas, Buck teased.
Jack thumped Wilmington lightly on the arm, then seeing Vin he limped over to the Texans table.
Nice tsee ya up and about sonny.
Vin shook Jacks hand. Thanks, and congratulations. Mas a good woman.
The best! She cn cook, aint afraid of work and theres plenty of flesh tkeep me warm at night!
Everyone laughed at Jacks description of his perfect woman.
I hope ya didnt tell her that? Buck asked him.
No sirree! Are you well enough to give her away tomorrow, sonny?
Wouldnt miss it, Vin replied honestly.
Oh, by the way Mr. Tanner, a letter arrived for you today?
It did? For me? Vin took hold of the envelope Ezra passed to him.
Yes, as you can see, it was addressed to Mr. V. Tanner, peace keeper at Four Corners. Ezra knew of Vins reading and writing difficulties and was determined not to embarrass him. Perhaps you would like Josiah to read it for you, he does have a rich voice which enhances the written word eloquently.
Yeah he does. Vin didnt understand what eloquently meant but it sounded a good excuse! Here ya are Josiah.
The letter was passed onto the preacher.
Thank you Vin. Josiah carefully took the letter from the envelope and began to read it,
Dear Mr. Tanner, I hope you have returned to good health. I will never understand what possessed us to hurt you so badly Josiah stopped and looked up at the young Texan, you want me to continue Vin?
Huh? Yes, please The tracker blushed when he realised all eyes were upon him.
Very well Josiahs eyes returned to the letter, your forgiveness proved that you was a far better man than I or my father and brother could ever be. It was an honour to know you and your friends sir. Since papa and Nathaniel returned to the wagon train, they have become far more subdued. You taught us all a lesson in humility and tolerance and for those reasons alone I consider myself a better person. I wish you well in future and please pass on my good wishes to Ma Lucas. Yours faithfully, Benjamin Weiss.
Josiah passed the letter to Vin, You may want to keep it.
Thanks Josiah. Vin shoved the letter in his shirt pocket.
You alright Vin? Chris asked the subdued tracker.
Yeah he called me sir Vin shook his head, aint never been called sir before.
Means yer getting old Vin. JD said cheekily, hope ya dont expect me to call ya sir!
Wouldnt know who ya were talkin too. Vin carried on JDs flippancy. Is there an address I cn write back tBen? he asked Ezra.
There is. Ah know your writing is a little untidy Mr. Tanner, so if you wish Ah could write out your reply to him?
Thank you. Vin gave a watery smile to his friends, .hey, I thought this was supposed to be a party?
Just waitin fer you to buy the next round, pard. Buck feigned a punch to Vins arm.
Very well Vin called to Inez for their glasses to be refilled, I got a lotta drinkin time to make up!
The celebration continued until Jack passed out onto the floor. Buck and Josiah carried him up to his room with Ezra following dutifully behind.
Larabee smiled indulgently at Vin who was sitting back in his chair, snoring softly.
Best get him back to the clinic, Nathan said as he and Chris half carried the tracker out of the saloon.
+ + + + + + +
Dont know why I gotta take a bath, aint me gettin hitched!
You aint lettin Ma Lucas down lookin like a
Savage? Vin asked Chris sharply.
No some street urchin Larabee sat close to the large tub Vin was languishing in.
The bath house was busy, with Buck and Josiah also soaking in tubs.
Why ya got that soppy grin on yer faces? Vin asked the other men sourly.
Gonna be a weddin, a union! Marriage is a celebration of love. Josiah waxed lyrically.
Theres a party after. Women love weddings, so Ill get the pick of the bunch, Buck crowed.
All that fussin.
Aint ya ever thought of gettin married Vin?
No! the Texan squeaked, horrified at the notion.
Thought about what ya gonna say?
Vin frowned. When? he asked the ladies man.
Chris What little colour Vin had drained at the thought of talking in front of an audience. He looked at Larabee accusingly. Ysaid I didnt have to speak. he sank down until the water covered his head.
Thanks Buck, I was wonderin how to get him to wash his hair, Chris said with a smile.
Any time pard.
A few seconds later Vin surfaced, spluttering and coughing. Caint do it Chris.
You gonna let the lady down?
Yes. No oh hell.
Just say somethin nice about the bride.
Vin nodded resignedly; his stomach already in knots at the thought of it!
+ + + + + + +
Josiah smiled brightly as he pronounced the happy couple man and wife.
You may now kiss the bride. he winked at Jack.
The small band of guests grinned along with the preacher when Jack placed his arms around the buxom woman and planted a kiss firmly on her lips.
Well I guess wed better take this party over to the hotel. Josiah shepherded everyone out of the church. He was in need of a stiff drink!
You comin Chris, Vin?
In a minute Josiah. Chris settled on the pew next to the tracker. How are you holdin up.
Tired. Think I could miss the party? Vin asked wistfully.
You tryin to wheedle out of your speech?
Caint do it Chris.
Sure you can, just thank everyone for bein there and wish the happy couple good fortune.
Vin shook his head. Caint. Msorry let everyone down
Larabee sensed his friends growing distress. Very well shell understand. Come on, lets go he laid a hand on Vins shoulder and squeezed it, That cake looked real tasty.
Sure did dont want Josiah and Buck eatin it all.
Probably already have!
The two men walked out of the church and into the late autumn sun.
Vin limped beside his friend, warmed by Larabees protective closeness.
Just a few words? he asked the blond, a smile lighting up his handsome face.
Youll be fine, Chris replied encouragingly.
Tanner nodded in agreement. With Chris Larabee by his side, there was nothing Vin wouldnt attempt.
Theyd found their balance, and their friendship, which had so nearly been destroyed, was now stronger than ever!