TO BE WHOLE AGAIN

By Jackie

The Magnificent Seven -OW / Rated PG-13

To Be Whole Again - Collage by LaraMee

The creaking of the large windmill’s blades could be heard as the night breeze tried to coax them into movement, but the wind was still too weak.  It next sought out the man standing beside the machine.  It caressed his wheat colored locks like a baby’s sigh and began drying the fine hairs on his neck that had been dampened by the misting of sweat that now covered his body.  Though the air around him had cooled; his body temperature had risen invoking the desperate need to be rid of the smothering coat he wore.  He reached up to remove it but found that it was already hanging over one of the windmill’s leg braces.  He didn’t remember removing it but he had been distracted by the cabin standing beautiful and solid before him.  He didn’t understand why seeing the cabin in this state made his heart ache and his

Image Created by LaraMee

 

CHAPTER 1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

arms yearn to be filled by his wife and child.  He felt as if he was trapped where he was; the pain in his heart suddenly filled his consciousness and as he concentrated on it the pain it moved around his side to settle in his lower back.  He tried to rub at the uncomfortable spot but it was as if his arms were being held by invisible hands and he felt the heat within grow hotter.  The overwhelming urge to get to the cabin increased and whatever had held him still released him and he was finally able to move.

 

 

 

 

 

He was standing at the base of the stairs and could not remember crossing the open area between them and the windmill.  The leaden feeling had returned and he stepped up slowly onto the first tread.  His boots made a hollow sound on the stairs as he ascended to the porch.  The night sounds seemed to be magnified; the crickets were almost deafening and an occasional croak could be heard from a bullfrog out near the well.  As he neared the door he could hear his spurs ring out with each step; he was certain that whoever was inside would be able to hear him approaching the door.  There was a comforting glow coming from the windows that were closed against the cold though he was by now burning up.  He grasped the handle on the door and tried to enter but the door was locked.  Why would she lock the door when she knew he was just outside?  He checked through each pocket and even as he did he knew it wouldn’t be there.  The key was safely in his room in Four Corners stored away with other mementos of the past.  As his thoughts ground to a halt and he questioned why he would know such an odd fact the pain in his back exploded almost dropping him to his knees.  His skin turned clammy and he struggled to pull a breath.  “Sarah!  Please help me!” he cried out but she couldn’t help him because his beautiful, vivacious Sarah could not hear him.  She was inside with their son, Adam and he was locked outside the cabin.  He was forbidden from entering that cabin and joining them all because he had left the stupid key in Four Corners.

 

He was able to take a shuddering breath and the pain retreated to some distant corner of his mind.  He would change his tactics and bring Sarah to him; she could open the door.  He knocked on the door but there was no acknowledgment even though he heard their laughter coming from within.  He sighed in frustration and moved along the front of the cabin to look in through the window.  Looking inside he could see his family playing some game that Sarah had made up for she and Adam.  They were laughing, smiling and blessedly alive and whole.  His thoughts stopped again and he wondered why he would think such a thing.  “Larabee you’re off your rocker.  They are right there where they should be.  Sarah would never leave you.”  As he reached up to rap on the window, the window went dark preventing him from seeing inside and the glass unexpectedly shattered; the wood sills and walls turned to ash and blew away on the wind.

 

The smell of burnt wood and charred flesh filled his nose and he choked on the fetid smoke.  He looked across what had once been a home full of promise and love, to see to two figures burnt beyond recognition.  One was much smaller than the other and was lying beneath the slightly larger one.  He tried to move to them but his feet suddenly felt chained and he was impossibly hot and growing hotter by the moment.  He heard a roaring sound come from behind him and a hot wind slapped him in the back.  He turned to look over his shoulder and his burning, watering eyes watched as the wooded area caught fire, the flames dropping from the limbs like rain; catching the grass on fire.  As the fire grew closed he grew hotter, so hot he could barely stand to be in his own skin.  He tried to back away but his feet were rooted to the ground and no matter how hard he tried to pull his feet free they remained firmly planted.  He knew he couldn’t save himself; he hadn’t been able to save Sarah and Adam all those years ago.  He hadn’t even known that they needed help and if he had known he couldn’t have gotten to them in time.  He’d been with Buck and had chosen to stay one more night away after successfully selling their horses.  He’d let his family down, failing them when he was needed the most.  A lowly growl caused him to suddenly look up and there it was; the fire was right before him.  He screamed in frustration and pain as the fire jumped forward and consumed him.

 

“Jesus Vin!” Nathan snapped as he cut deeper into the wound, “hold ‘em down.  I can’t see from all the blood.  He’s bleeding so much.  I’ve got to get the bullet out!”  Nathan pulled the knife from the wound so he could use his arm to wipe away the sweat that was running into his eyes.

 

“Please tell me you’ve almost got it” Buck begged from where he was lying across Chris’s legs trying to use his body weight to hold his friend still.  It was like trying to control a bucking stallion; it was amazing how much fight Chris still had in him.

 

Vin and J.D. were not having an easy time of it either.  It was taking both of them to hold down his shoulders as he screamed and tried thrash against the instruments that would penetrate the gory, bloody hole in his lower back in search of the elusive bit of lead.  The door bouncing off the wall drew their attention as Tiny and Josiah came through the opening carrying two buckets of water each. “Over by the stove.” Nathan grunted out as he again probed the injury for the bullet.  Chris let out another inhuman scream that caused the hair on the backs of everyone’s neck to stand on end.

 

Tiny quickly filled their rapidly dwindling supply of boiling water with some of what he had just brought in and said, “If I’m no longer needed I’m going to go take care of Mr. Larabee’s horse and clean his saddle.”  When Nathan told him that he could go Tiny lit out of the clinic like his hair was on fire.  Tiny had been the person who had found the gunslinger when Pony had wandered back into town.  Chris had been slumped over Pony’s back, barely conscious and with no strength to help himself.  The saddle and the horse’s side had been saturated with his lifeblood which had continued to drip onto the arid ground.  Tiny had pulled the slack body into his arms and had taken him up the stairs to the clinic, where Nathan now pulled on every skill he had to save the man he called friend.

 

 

CHAPTER 2

 

The heat in the tiny clinic was oppressive and the air was so thick it was like breathing through a wet blanket.  Vin renewed his fight with Chris’s bucking body and mumbled, “This is when I hate being in the desert during the summer.  No wait, this is when I hate being in the desert during the summer, in a tiny room with buckets of boiling water trying to hold my best friend down who is determined to jump off the table while Nathan is digging around in his back.”  He took a moment to blow a lank piece of hair from his face and wiped his brow with his forearm.

 

“What are you mumbling about up there, Junior?” Buck asked from where he was being hard pressed to keep Chris still.

 

“Nothing.  Just sayin’ it’s hot in here.” He replied turning back to the task at hand.

 

Trying to ignore their bantering Nathan concentrated on grasping the blood covered hunk of lead with the forceps that where plunged deep into the wound causing Chris’s body to be pulled tight as a bow string.  Nathan readjusted his grip to get a better angle to try and pry the reluctant bullet from the gaping wound.  “Come on you son of a bitch.  Shit!” Nathan cried as the bullet slipped free of the forceps for the second time.

 

“What?!” came three startled voices as Chris’s body went lax on the table.

 

Nathan did not take the time to respond, he went after the bullet with the forceps for the third time before Chris’s body could tense up again as it had already during this hellishly long procedure.

 

Chris let out a sharp yelp and then was grunting as he tried to keep from screaming out loud.  He had a death grip on the edge of the table, his muscles trembling with the effort to remain still.  Faces were going in and out of focus and what he assumed were voices sounded muffled and slow.  A face that he could not place moved into his line of vision breaking his concentration to keep the pain at bay.  In frustration he narrowed his gaze at the face that was now laughing at the agony he was experiencing at their hands.  If he could just get free of these animals he’d kill them all.

 

J.D. noticed that Chris was now grasping at the table and seemed to be aware of what was happening to him.  Unaware of the disjointed thoughts Chris was having he bent over to look more closely into the pain ravaged face and watched as the glittering green gaze slowly focused on him.  “Welcome back.” J.D. smiled in relief but his smile turned to hurt as Chris growled from between teeth clenched so tightly he was sure to break all of them, “If you don’t get the fuck out of my sight I am going to pull your guts out through your nose!”

 

“Got it!” Nathan yelled triumphantly dropping the smashed piece of lead into the bowl next to him.

 

J.D. watched as Chris’s eyes rolled up and his body fell back to the table; an arm falling limply off the side.  Buck levered himself up off of Chris’s legs and huffed out a breath before looking over to where J.D. stood with a hang dog expression on his face.  “Don’t pay him no mind J.D., he probably won’t even remember saying it when he wakes up. I’m positive that he didn’t mean it” Buck stated trying to smooth J.D.’s ruffled feathers.

 

As Nathan set about cleaning the wound and stitching it closed Buck and J.D. stepped outside to get some fresh air before they would be needed to transfer Chris to the bed.

 

“What do think happened?” J.D asked from where he was leaning against the porch railing looking up the street.

 

Buck sidled up beside him and rubbing at his mustache answered, “I haven’t a clue and until Chris’s had some time to heal there’s the good possibility we won’t know.  But you mark my words I’ll be keeping my eyes open and when whoever did this is found he’s gonna wish he never heard of Buck Wilmington!”

 

J.D. didn’t say anything for a time and suddenly looked at Buck, “Chris has a lot of enemies.  It could be anyone.”

 

“Well, you’ll have to keep your eyes and ears open J.D.  Remember though that Chris was shot in the back and a person who does that is lower than a snakes belly and has no honor.”  Buck explained.

 

The clinic’s door opened and Vin stepped half way out, “You two ready?”  when Buck and J.D. both nodded he turned back inside.

 

Nathan looked up from securing the wide swatch of bandages that were wound about the gunslinger’s middle.  “Okay this is how we’re gonna’ do this.  I want him on his back at first, I want to keep some pressure on the wound and hopefully prevent any more blood loss.  Buck, you grab his feet, Vin, his middle and I’ll grab his shoulders.  J.D. when we put him on the bed I want you to set a couple pillows behind him, I want to elevate him just a bit.”

 

As they laid Chris on the bed he started to wake up and groaned in pain.  When he tried to reach his back Nathan grabbed his hand and held it to the mattress.  “Don’t touch it.  Everything is ok.  I got the bullet out, all you need to do is concentrate on healing.”

 

Chris licked his dry lips and tried to open eyes that were too heavy.  “What happened?”  a shiver violently rocked his body wringing a groan out of him and caused tears to leak from his tightly closed lids.  “Where am I?”

 

Buck looked quizzically at Nathan before stepping forward and sitting down next to Chris.  “Hey Stud, your home.” 

 

Chris looked around the room with red glazed eyes, “Where’s Sarah, she was just here, I was just talking to her.  I need to see her Buck, go get her please.”  He moaned and closed his eyes.

 

Buck reached over and rested his hand on Chris’s brow and felt the heat building there.  He looked up when Nathan held out a cloth and placed a basin of cold water by his side.  “I’m brewing some willowbark tea; we’ll try to get him to take some when it’s ready.” Nathan whispered and added a blanket to the bed.

 

Vin moved to the foot of the bed and looked at his friend lying there oblivious to everything going on around him.  Chris’s wheat colored locks were soaked with sweat and he was paler than the sheets he slept on.

 

“Is he going to be okay?” J.D. asked Nathan from where he was cleaning the floor with a scrub brush.

 

Nathan stopped cleaning the table and looked at J.D. “We’re going to do everything we can to pull him through this.  The rest will be up to him and God.”

 

J.D. went back to scrubbing the floor, “Yeah? Ok.”  He just couldn’t shake the feeling of being helpless and that Chris wasn’t supposed to get hurt.  He was the leader, the mix that held them all together.

 

A cool breeze swept in through the window stirring the curtains gently as the morning sun’s ray stretched lazily across the room to caress the figure lying in the bed.  He turned on his side and pulled the blanket up to his neck to avoid the light.  He was worn out from tossing and turning all night while the fever had him in its grip.  A child’s laugh outside the window caused him to open his tired eyes.  He watched as a shadow crossed the doorway.  The mattress sank down beside him and he felt a cool hand on his brow.

 

“Feeling any better?” Sarah whispered against his hot cheek as she gently ran her fingers through his hair.

 

He couldn’t lie to her, he never could. “No, feel hotter if possible but if I take the blankets off I’m too cold.” He groaned and shivered.  “I’m so tired.  I’ve never felt this sick in my entire life.  My back hurts too.”

 

“Do you want me to send Buck to town for the doctor?” she asked as she pulled him into her arms and rubbed his back and shoulders.

 

“No.  It’ll pass; it’s probably just a cold.  I’ll be right as rain tomorrow.”  He sighed as he relaxed into her caresses.

 

“Hey Stud, when you gonna’ rejoin the land of the living?” Buck called from the bedroom doorway.  He was holding a giggling Adam upside down by the feet.  “Don’t forget we got the horse sale coming up in a few days.” He added as he walked away swinging Adam up onto his shoulder.

 

Chris sat up suddenly with a feeling of panic.  “Buck!” he yelled startling Sarah as he jumped from the bed, “Buck!” he yelled again pulling on a pair of trousers and running after him.

 

Sarah had been frozen in shock when Chris had jumped from the bed.  “Chris, Chris come back here you’re sick!”  She called as she ran after him.  She found Chris and Buck out by the corral in a heated discussion about the upcoming trip.

 

“Buck, I can’t leave Sarah and Adam behind.  Don’t ask me to explain it.  I can’t.  I just have this gut feeling that if I leave something bad is going to happen” Chris declared.

 

Buck frowned and shook his head “We’re only going to be gone three days.  You’ve left them longer than that before and they’ve been fine when you’ve gotten back.  Don’t go puttin’ a spoke in the wheel now.  We both stand to get a lot of money for our stock.  This could get us established.” Buck pleaded.  “Look you’ve been sick; you’re running a fever now.  Please think about it.  Go back in the house, lay down, get some sleep and maybe you’ll feel differently later.”

 

Chris swayed where he was standing and Buck grabbed his arm to keep him upright. “Buck, they’re my life, I don’t know what I’d do without them.”

 

“Don’t worry about them, they’ll be okay.  Sarah, well she’s the most independent woman I’ve met, a real spitfire.  She knows how to take care of herself.  Do me a favor and sleep on it.” Buck consoled as he helped Chris back into the house and to the bed that Sarah had straightened.

 

Sarah pulled the blankets back up over him after he had taken off his trousers and gotten back into the bed.  She kissed him on the forehead and started to leave the room when Chris reached out to grab her hand.  “Please don’t leave me.”  He moaned as the pain in his back flared again.

 

“I won’t ever leave you; I’ll always be in your heart.” She crooned and pulled her hand away to leave him to sleep. 

 

The pain in his back was increasing with each breath and when he opened his eyes he was laying in Nathan’s clinic with Buck sitting next to him, he could swear Sarah was standing by Buck’s shoulder.  She had a small smile on her face and she looked beautiful, more beautiful than he remembered.  She placed her hand over her heart before settling it on Buck’s shoulder.  She seemed so real for a moment and then she started to fade just as she was fading from his memory.  Chris’s chest suddenly hurt so much he let out a small sob and a tear slowly spilled from his eye.  Buck reached out with the cloth to wipe the evidence away and reached out to take Chris’s hand in his. “Buck.” Chris whispered, “I dreamt of Sarah.”  With a sigh and a shudder Chris Larabee once again surrendered to the darkness.

 

Buck reached up with his free hand to wipe at the tears streaming down his face and sighed, “I know.”

 

 

CHAPTER 3

 

As the evening shadows lengthened J.D. joined Josiah on the front steps of the church.  The two sat lost in their own thoughts, content to sit in companionable silence.  A cool breeze had kicked up as the sun had set, cooling the air.  J.D. watched as the glow of candles and lanterns began to light the dark facades of the town’s buildings; the normalcy of the occurrence comforting to his jangled nerves.  The town’s people went about their business as if nothing was amiss and J.D. wished he could say the same about himself and the six other peacekeepers.  They would not be able to enjoy a quiet evening or a restful night of sleep; they would be keeping vigil over their friend and leader who was fighting for his life in the clinic above the blacksmith and livery.  J.D. looked up toward the clinic and could see shadows moving about behind the curtains and wondered how Chris was fairing.

 

Josiah sighed and stood up looking toward the clinic also.  He turned to J.D. gave him an encouraging slap on the back and said “Come on, let’s go get some dinner and then we’ll go up and relieve Nathan and Vin.”

 

J.D. looked sadly up at Josiah and protested “’Siah, I really don’t think I could eat a thing.  I mean Chris is up there fighting for every breath.  What if something should happen and we weren’t close by?”

 

“Well think of it this way.  If you want to stay healthy so that you can help Chris you’re gonna have to eat, you can’t take care of him properly if you’re too worn out to do anything.”

 

“Alright I’ll go with you.  Don’t know if I can eat anything though,” J.D. stood up, wiped off the seat of his trousers and followed Josiah down to the saloon.

 

As they walked through the doors they saw Ezra sitting at his normal table engaged in a game of poker with several cowhands and judging by the grumbling the three were doing, he was in the process of emptying their pockets.  Josiah nodded to Ezra as they walked by and Ezra returned the gesture a nod of his owned salute.  There was a large crowd in the saloon this evening on account of a cattle drive stopped outside of the town.  The cowhands that had come to town were sedate for the time being, but when the liquor began flowing the boys would have to be on the alert for trouble.

 

The only available place to sit down to eat was on the corner of the bar so Josiah and J.D. pulled up some stools and sat down.  Josiah signaled to the bartender and he made his way down to where they were.

 

“When’d they get here?” J.D. asked the bartender, thumbing over his shoulder at the cowhands.

 

“Just after sundown,” he answered before asking “What can I get ya?”

 

“Just a milk, I’m not really that hun-.” J.D. started but was interrupted by Josiah’s statement of “We’ll have two steaks with all the fixings, a beer for me; a milk for him.”  J.D. pretended not to see the glare that Josiah slid his way.

 

“Ok, coming right up.” And the bartender left to give the order to the cook.

 

While waiting for their meal to arrive J.D. spent his time scanning the crowd.  There were some of the regular townspeople, a few people from outside the town and about ten cowboys.  The three cowhands he noticed earlier sitting with Ezra were a little rough looking but Ezra seemed to have them well occupied.  No one else looked “low” enough to have shot Chris.  If they didn’t find something out soon he was going to go out himself and start beating some bushes and see what he could flush out.

 

J.D. turned his attention back to Ezra’s table and started to size up the players.  Two of them were of about average height and size, not as lean as Chris but more solidly built across the chest, they both had short dark hair and mustaches.  The only differences between the two were that one had a thick scar that ran down the side of his face and the other a large hook nose.  The third cowboy had a large barrel chest and appeared to be almost as tall as Nathan, if not taller.  He had a face full of rotten teeth and a scraggly mustache and beard.  He looked to be about ten miles of bad road and probably had the attitude of a stepped on rattler.  J.D. found himself staring at this particular cowboy and comparing him to the wanted posters he had stored in his memory.  A few seconds passed before J.D. realized that the intensity of his stare had drawn the attention of the cowboy sitting with Ezra and that he was now returning his stare with impunity.  J.D. realized that this one could be trouble and he could lay bets that this was the group’s leader.

 

“No good can come from that.” Josiah said as he grabbed J.D.’s arm to get his attention.  J.D. gave him a quizzical look. “You’re glaring at half the room and you’re going to stir up trouble that we do not want at this juncture.  Don’t worry we’ll find out who shot Chris and then we’ll show them the error of their ways.  Now eat.”  Josiah avowed from around a large piece of steak he was chewing.  J.D. picked up his fork and stirred at his potatoes half-heartedly.  Though the steak was large and looked extremely juicy and tender he just didn’t have the heart for food.

 

Josiah watched J.D. pick at his food for a few minutes before deciding to take action.  “Don’t make me have to cut up your food, because if I do that I’ll just have to feed you while I’m at it.” Josiah glowered and turned back to his meal when J.D. took the hint and stuffed a forkful of potatoes into his mouth.

 

At the card table Ezra had been playing with winning and loosing hands.  The three cowboys he was currently betting with were uncouth and full of piss and vinegar; he wouldn’t be surprised if they weren’t wanted for some nefarious dealings.  This current hand was quickly coming to a close and there was seventy-five dollars in the pot, these three had some deep pockets and he was a little suspicious as to where they may have come upon their little pot of gold.  Two of them had already folded and were sitting back nursing their beers.  Ezra looked down at the cards he’d been dealt and held his poker face in place.  He was currently sitting on a full house and he was almost positive he had the winning hand.

 

“Okay gambler, I’m callin’ your bluff, lay ‘em down.” The cowboy sneered showing his tobacco stained teeth that appeared to be rotting right out of his head.

 

“Fine, fine my dear sir.” Ezra grinned and started laying down his cards. “I believe that my full house beats your three of a kind.”  The cowboy’s face turned an impossible shade of red and he jumped up from the table.  His two sidekicks each grabbed one of his arms to keep him from physically attacking the gambler.

 

“You’re a lowdown, yellowed belly cheater!” the cowboy yelled with spittle flying out of his mouth and running down his chin.

 

Ezra leaned back in the chair to avoid the spit and stated sarcastically, “I’m sorry, could you please cover your mouth? You are spraying what ever happens to be stuck between your molars everywhere.  They have invented such a product to assist in cleaning your teeth.  It’s called tooth powder; you may want to purchase some.”  Ezra’s gold tooth glinted in the lantern light when he suddenly sat forward, slapped the table and leered, “I’m free now and I’d be more than happy to direct you to the mercantile.  In fact, I believe they recently procured a new supply and Ms. Potter only stocks the best.”

 

The cowboy lunged again shouting “You’re dead, fancy man!” he continued to fight with his friends as they dragged him from the saloon.

 

Ezra just chuckled as he gathered up his winnings.  He stood up to stretch his legs and peered out the front door of the saloon to see where his three “friends” had gone.  When he didn’t immediately see them he took a step out onto the boardwalk and looked up and down the street.  He watched as they ducked behind Watson’s Hardware and the barber.  “Boys, boys, boys, are we up to no good?” Ezra murmured as he stepped off the boardwalk to follow.  As he neared the corner and looked around; they were gone.  “Now where did they go?” Ezra started to whisper to himself, when he felt a cold blunt object press just below his left ear.

 

“Not too smart, fancy man.  Now put your hands up where I can see them.” Came the hot putrid breath next to his ear.

 

Ezra slowly raised his hands, mentally kicking himself six ways to Sunday for falling for that age old ploy that he himself had used on numerous occasions.  He started to turn and realized he was face to face with the cowboy he slighted and his grin was even worse up close.  “To what may I owe the pleasure gentlemen?” 

 

An evil laugh broke the silence.  “You’re bait!” the cowboy growled and brought his gun butt down on Ezra’s temple knocking him unconscious.  “Okay, pull his jacket off and pin the letter to it.  On the way out of town we’ll hang it on the church door.  Chris Larabee and his friends will rue the day he crossed paths with Luther Boggs.  Boys sling him over that horse and let’s make tracks.”

 

 

CHAPTER 4

 

“Why do fevers always seem to be worst at night?” Buck huffed as he and Vin lugged the large tub toward the clinic. “Whew, this thing is heavy.  Chris just better thank his lucky stars that I like him, ‘cause I don’t go lugging bathtubs around town for just anyone.  You okay back there Vin?”

 

Vin rolled his eyes at Buck’s back and readjusted his hold on the tub for what seemed to be the hundredth time, “Well, Bucklin’ I figured you was doin’ enough talkin’ for the both of us.” Vin almost dropped his end when Buck suddenly stopped and looked over his shoulder.

 

“Excuse me? You’ve been like a Magpie for the last two hours, talkin’ so much that I could barely hear my self think.” Buck griped at Vin and suddenly started walking again causing Vin to stumble.

 

“Just you wait until we get done and I can give you a piece of mind proper like!” Vin hissed as they gained the bottom of the stairs to the clinic, “and what fool decided to put a medical clinic on the second floor of a building anyway, must have been daft.  I must be daft lugging this damn thing up the stairs.  If it wasn’t for Chris I may be hard pressed to do it.”

 

“Hey!” Nathan’s angry voice shouted down from above, “You two trying to wake the whole town up or just the whole territory?  I’ve been listening to you two feather brains for the last five minutes.  Since you both got so much energy, once you get the tub all set up, start bringing up the water.  No excuses!”

 

Vin and Buck looked at each other in astonishment and quipped in harmony, “What’d we do?”  They both shrugged at each other and with much cursing, griping and pinched fingers, managed to manhandle the tub upstairs to the clinic.

 

Nathan had watched helplessly through the evening as Chris alternated between shivering uncontrollably and gasping from the smothering heat his own body was generating to fight the infection that had taken hold.  Because of his weakened condition dosing him with quinine for the fever and packing the wound with sulfur seemed to make little difference.  They tried other methods and they had been continuously wringing cooled rags over his heated skin since the late morning in the hope of reducing the fever but despite their best efforts he continued to worsen and his pitiful cries for Sarah no longer carried beyond the four walls of the clinic.  As Nathan waited for Buck and Vin to get the tub set up he watched Chris lay listlessly in the bed seemingly unaware of what was going on around him.  Nathan picked up the mug of Willow Bark tea that had been cooling by the bedside and sat on the edge of the mattress.  He gently raised Chris up and held the mug to his cracked and bleeding lips offering him the liquid his parched body demanded.

 

Chris tried to raise a hand to hold the mug but it felt as if his arms weighed a hundred pounds and the fire in his back flared with every breath he managed to drag into his battered body.  Everything was heavy and he was just too tired; too tired to hold his eyes open, too tired to cry anymore and too tired just from the simple act of breathing.  More and more he just wanted to drift away and be free of the pain, he wanted to hold Sarah and Adam again.  It would be so easy to drift away.

 

Nathan felt Chris exhale and go lax in his arms.  He waited for the inhalation but there was silence.  Nathan’s heart skipped a beat and stilled, “No!  Don’t you give up!  You fight!” he screamed and shook Chris.  This couldn’t be happening, not to Chris.  This man was the mortar that held them together, the man he asked advice from and could talk to; he was the man who had saved him from the noose and certain death.

 

Vin turned from where he was pouring water into the tub and froze at Nathan’s inhuman cry, the bucket falling from his numb fingers to bounce unnoticed on the floor.  He watched with wide eyes as Nathan slapped Chris across the face and shook him.  “Chris?!” he cried as he stumbled over to the bed praying that his mind was playing cruel tricks with him or that he might even have fallen asleep and was currently trapped in a horrible nightmare.

 

Buck had been below when he’d heard the cries of distress and had thundered up the stairs taking them two at a time.  He had burst through the door not caring that it bounced off the wall.  “What?!  What’s happened?” he exclaimed as he surged into the room.  What he saw was Nathan holding a limp unmoving Chris in his arms and Vin standing by as if shell shocked.  “Oh no!” Buck wailed at the top of his lungs and rushed to the side of the bed snatching Chris from Nathan and falling to the floor with him cradled in his arms.  Buck sat rocking, clutching at Chris, sobbing uncontrollably. “Please no, no, no, no.”  Vin sank to the floor beside them placing a shaking hand on Chris’s head.

 

He was standing in the middle of a field with a large Oak tree and small pond nearby, he could smell lavender in the air; Sarah’s favorite scent.  A child’s giggle floated on the wind but it was indistinct enough that he was unable to pinpoint where it was coming from.  He looked toward the pond and could see a lone figure sitting in the shade under the tree.  It reminded him of one of the places he’d taken Sarah to when he had started courting her so long ago.  A breeze tugged at his hair and felt cool on his skin as he started in the direction of the Oak.  As he walked toward the Oak he realized that he was no longer in pain and his thoughts were no longer muffled and disjointed.  His thoughts were clear and it felt like a great weight had been lifted from his shoulders.  He realized he was probably dead or pretty darn close to it, but there were no feelings of sadness or regret; only a feeling of euphoria that came with finding Sarah and Adam again.  The thought that after all these years that he’d be able hold his wife and child again brought forth a feeling so great that he could no longer contain it; he whooped at the top of his lungs and smiled like he hadn’t in a long time.

 

“Come on, come play with us.” A child’s voice whispered on the wind “We’ve been waiting for you.”

 

Chris looked around but did not see the child, he wasn’t even sure the child’s voice he was hearing was Adam’s so he continued toward the tree listening to the child’s giggles as they continued to call for him to come play.  “Where are you?” he called but there was no answer.  He drew closer to the tree and the lone figure looked back at him.  “Sarah?  Sarah is that you?”  She slowly stood and turned to him.  “Sarah! Oh Sarah I’ve missed you so much.”  She looked so beautiful wearing his favorite blue calico dress with the white lace edging.  She’d been wearing it on the day he’d met her, she’s had her hair pulled back with a satin ribbon that had caressed her shoulders.  He could still remember it as if it was yesterday.

 

“Stop!  Don’t you dare come any closer Christopher Adam Larabee!”  She yelled and held her hand up to ward him off.

 

“What?  Sweetheart, I’ve come to be with you and Adam.  What’s wrong?” he asked as he stepped closer.  The once pristine sky started to darken and the clouds to roil.

 

Sarah took a step back away from him.  She couldn’t let him suspect that she wanted him to stay because to do so would acknowledge his crossing over.  She wanted to reach out and pull him to her, her arms ached to hold him again; but it would mean he would not be able to return, he would be dead and that was not an option.  He had to fight; he had to fight to survive.  “No! Stay where you are.  You are not supposed to be here.  It’s not the right time.  Go back.  Go back to Buck.  Go back to your friends.”  Sarah started crying; her heart was breaking with what she knew she had to do.  The winds changed and grew violent and the skies darkened further.  She looked up at the sky and back at him.  “You have to go now.  Do it Chris.  Do as I say!”

 

Chris looked at her in confusion, “No Sarah, I love you.  I won’t leave you or Adam again.”  He rushed to her and tried to pull her into his arms but she fought him.  She struggled in his embrace.  This was not at all how he pictured their reunion.  He didn’t understand what was happening.

 

Sarah reached back and slapped him as hard as she could across the face.  “Don’t you understand, I don’t want you here!  You are not supposed to die yet you have too much left to do.  Get out of here!” she screamed and pushed him away sobbing.

 

Shocked to his core he stood there with tears streaming down his face as his heart broke into a thousand pieces, his chest felt so tight that he couldn’t draw a proper breath and it hurt to swallow.  This was not happening.  This could not be happening.  He’d never felt so helpless and bereft, not even as he buried her and Adam with his own two hands and carved their two crosses; the only solid reminder that they had ever lived.  Like a bolt of lightning he realized what she was trying to do and it infuriated him.  Sarah was pushing him away.  She could not.  They were married before God and all who had witnessed it.  He confronted her.  “You said you would never leave, you broke your promise to me!” he shouted slapping his chest with his fist.  “I gave you everything and asked only that you love me and stand by me in return!  Well you may have give up on me but I haven’t given up on us; me, you and Adam!  I will fight for you!” he declared to Sarah and whoever else cared to listen; and then there was silence.  The colors started fading around him, like a once vibrant painting that was left exposed to the sunlight for too many years.  And then Sarah was blending into the back ground and he knew she would soon only be a memory.  “Sarah, Sarah what’s happening?” he asked as he strained to make out her silhouette in the distance.

 

“You fought back my love, now go and do what you’re supposed to do.” Her voice whispered next to his ear and she was gone and everything faded into nothingness.

 

Chris could hear what sounded like someone sobbing their heart out and he felt wetness on his face.  He felt like he was suffocating and instinctively drew in a deep breath which triggered his coughing reflex and then he was gasping and trying to breathe with regularity.  Suddenly a cold chill shook him from head to toe which caused him to break out into a cold sweat.

 

“Oh thank the Lord above!  Chris, oh Chris, you’re alive!” Buck cried and squeezed him in a bear hug and kissed his forehead.

 

With great effort Chris pried his eyelids open and looked up at Buck. “I’m happy to see you too but please don’t kiss me, hug yes, kiss no.” Chris croaked out and fell into a dreamless sleep.

 

Nathan took a deep breath, checked to make sure his heart was indeed still beating then knelt down next to the trio on the floor.  He reached out and felt for Chris’s pulse and then checked his forehead for fever.  “If that don’t beat it all, his fevers done broke.  His heartbeat is a little slow but it is definitely stronger.  Now I’m not saying it’s a miracle, man’s got a lotta healing to do and it’ll probably be a few weeks before he can even think of getting out of bed, but this is encouraging.” Nathan smiled and gave Vin a small hug since the poor man still seemed to be in a state of disbelief.

 

“He’s gonna be okay?” Vin asked from where he was sitting on the floor staring at the rise and fall of Chris’s chest.

 

“He’s got a good chance.  We just gotta keep a close eye on him and get his strength up.  But as I told you we are far from being out of the woods.”  Nathan lamented.  “Okay Buck, let’s get him off the floor and into bed.”

 

After they had gotten Chris washed up and settled in bed the three headed just outside to sit on the porch for a few minutes.  They had been outside enjoying the cool breeze when J.D. and Josiah came trudging up the stairs.

 

“Hey!  Could you keep the racket down, we’ve got a very sick friend inside trying to get some rest.” Nathan admonished as the two gained the landing.

 

“We got trouble.  Ezra’s missing and someone named Luther Boggs has him and wants Chris in trade.”  J.D. shouted out breathlessly holding out the letter for all to see.

 

“How do you know someone’s actually got Ezra?” Vin asked stepping forward to take Ezra’s jacket from Josiah.

 

“Found the note pinned to the jacket and the jacket was hanging on the Church’s front door so’s I’d find it.  If you look closely, there is blood on the jacket and I bet it’s Ezra’s!” Josiah huffed before sitting down on the top step.

 

“So what do you want to do now?” J.D. asked the group in general.

 

They all looked at each other and then looked at the closed door to the clinic.

 

 

 

PARTS 5-8 / PARTS 9-12 / PARTS 13-15 / PARTS 16-18 / PARTS 19-20 / PART 21

 

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