I'm Already There

By: Carol M


I want to dedicated this story to my beloved daughter Melissa, she's my very own angel... And Winnie, thanks for all your help.


How could something that was so simple turn out to be such a disaster? All he wanted was to get away for a few days. Spend some time by himself. Damn, was that asking for too much? No it wasn't, they all needed a break once in a while from the town and its people. Hell they needed a break from each other.

Little things were starting to get on his nerves. The town was starting to make him feel hemmed in. Every time he turned around new settlers were arriving. Half the people in this small burg were strangers. When he scanned the faces of the people that would walk down the boardwalk he realized he didn't even recognize half of them. They called it progress, but as far as he was concerned it was a pain in the ass. Not knowing who was a potential enemy could be deadly. That lack of knowledge was making it harder to protect oneself and that of your partner's back. A few times while he was patrolling the streets he reacted to unfamiliar sounds, drawling his gun when it wasn't necessary. His too quick response leaving him with unsettled feelings.

He reminded himself of a damn rattler coiled and waiting to spring into action. If he didn't get away soon something was going to happen, something that he and the rest of the town would regret. So he started looking for an excuse that would permit him to just get on his horse and leave. It didn't make any difference where he'd go; he just wanted to ride. He wanted the simple pleasure of making camp when the mood struck him. He didn't want to listen to the opinion of six other men. He didn't want to hear the bickering or arguments that went with the difference of opinions. And he most certainly didn't want to hear the banter and hearty laughter that would accompany the gathering of the seven peacekeepers.

He'd been thinking that maybe it was time to move on. It's been a while since he had spent this amount of time in one place, even longer since he had started to care about anything or anyone.

He found that recently his heart would skip a beat if he heard a gun shot and one or more of his fellow peacemakers weren't accounted for. He found that he was starting to care. He'd discovered that he had become part of a family and like any other family each member had a responsibility. And his, being the leader of this rag-tag group, weighted heavily on his shoulders.

Reality had smacked him in the face and he felt that wall that he erected around his heart was starting to crumble and it scared the shit out him. Experience taught him that opening your heart to people caused heartache and Lord knows he'd seen his fair share of pain and suffering.

Leaning his pounding head against the clay wall he closed his tired eyes. Sighing, he spoke out loud even though no one was there to hear him. "Well you got what you want you dumb shit, now you'll die here all alone."

Chapter 1

It was spring and Mother Nature had just finished preparing the land for the outburst of new life that would spring from her bosom. Hardly a day went by that she didn't sprinkle the hard cold earth with a soft shower of nourishment. The rolling fields were turning into beds of lustrous greens. The trees were bursting forth with new growth to cast their shadows on blankets of foliage. The sweet natural fragrances were released into the gentle breeze as the wild flowers were caressed by the southerly winds. After months of sleeping the land was alive and rejoicing.

Not all of God's creatures were happy by the preparation the new season undertakes to give birth to this picturesque landscape. There were some men who hated being kept in doors. The daily showers had limited the activities available to the lawmakers in Four Corners. They had spent most of the time in the saloon or the jailhouse. And when possible each taking their turn at patrolling whenever the showers would slacken.

Three of the hired men sat at a table on the raised platform in the left of the saloon. Judge Orin Travis was holding court and requested that Josiah Sanchez act as counsel for the defendant.

Chris Larabee, who Travis had appointed as an officer of the court, was automatically expected to attend.

Vin Tanner had nothing else to do with his time so he was slouching in a chair waiting for the judge to give the bartender permission to serve drinks.

The accused, James Thompson, was sitting in a chair to the left of the Judge. The good looking, dark haired man couldn't plea innocent to the charges of robbery. The illustrious leader of the seven lawmen had caught him red-handed trying to rob the general store.

"Mr. Thompson, I would like to know what kind of excuse you're going to use this time for robbing Mr. Jenkins," Travis asked the wayward scalawag.

"Ah Judge, Jenkins is a damn cheat," He proclaimed as he pointed a finger in the direction where Jenkins was sitting.

"Just tell me your side of the story young man and I'll make up my own mind who did the cheating," the judge informed the prisoner.

"Judge I spent all winter trackin' and huntin' them critters that I sold him. We made a deal on them skins. He'd pay me half in cash an' the rest in supplies. Well, the cash was fine, but when I went to pick up the' supplies he cut what was owe' me in half. So when he closed that evenin' I just broke in an' took what we agreed upon."

Travis looked at the rogue shaking his head in disbelief. Chris and Vin where trying hard to suppress the smile that was spreading across their face's. Josiah stood, cleared his throat and said. "Judge, he's honest, you got to give him that much."

"The only reason that he's tellin' y'all the truth is 'cause Larabee caught him," the clerk injected from the back of the room.

"Mr. Jenkins why don't you take a seat up here and we can listen to your side of the story," advised the territorial circuit judge.

Jenkins approached the now vacant chair that Thompson recently occupied. Placing his hand on a bible he swore to tell the truth.

Josiah stood, walked over to the clerk and directly asked; "Did you pay James Thompson what you had agreed upon?"

"Hell, no I didn't! If you'd seen the condition of the skins you would've understood," the irate clerk responded.

"Did you explain to him why you weren't going to pay the price you agreed?" implored Sanchez.

"I didn't have time. I was busy. I told 'im to come back later." The overweight clerk glared at the accused man. "I never wanted the' furs to begin with; I was just buying 'em to help ya' out."

The short tempered Thompson was about ready to jump over the table at Jenkins, but one glance at Larabee and Tanner persuaded him to remain in his chair. The two peacemakers would've been on him before he even cleared the table.

Directing his question towards Thompson, Judge Travis asked, "How many times have you been arrested in Four Corners for stealing or causing trouble James?"

The dark haired blue eyed rogue sighed and replied, "I don't know, maybe four or five times. I'm not real sure."

Travis took a few minutes to think. Looking hard at Thompson he frowned before disclosing his decision, "James I hate to do this, but I'm afraid I must. I am going to sentence you to six months in Huntsville prison farm."

He sat with his mouth hanging opened. He was flabbergasted. He couldn't believe that this judge was going to send him to prison. Huntsville of all places. The other attendees found it hard to believe that Travis was so harsh on the young man. Sure he was always getting into trouble, but if anyone were in need of help he was one of the first to give assistance. He was such a likeable young man. He always greeted town members with a smile and a, "howdy". If there was a pretty girl on the boardwalk he'd be by her side instantly. He was probably one of the few that gave Buck any competition when it came to the fairer sex.

"Chris, will you please escort Thompson to the jail and then I want to talk to you about making arrangements to have him transported to Huntsville," instructed Travis.

Without questioning the Judge's order Larabee stood and watched the bewildered looking prisoner raise himself to his full height.

Chris Larabee was once again in the presence of the Honorable Orin Travis. This time the two men were seated in the saloon enjoying a drink and discussing the transportation of Thompson. The prison wagon that would convey him to Huntsville wasn't due to arrive for at least a month to a month and a half. The small jail of Four Corners wasn't equipped to handle a prisoner for that length of time. Someone was going to have to accompany Thompson to Huntsville.

"I'll do it," the man in black said without any hesitation.

Travis examined the man sitting across from him. In the few days that he had been in town he noticed the hard edge that the gunslinger had taken on. Tension followed in Larabee's footprints. The minute he entered a room a chill descended over everyone who occupied it. Something was bothering the good-looking blond and he made it quite obvious to everyone that he wanted to be left alone. The older man searched the hazel eyes hoping to get a glimpse of what was driving his friend away. Travis knew that the closed mouth gunslinger would never share his feelings with him. Maybe he should let Larabee take the prisoner. Hopefully the time that was spent on the trail might help the stoic leader come to terms with what ever was eating at him.

"How long will you be gone?"

Rubbing his finger over the edge of the whiskey glass he thought for a moment before replying, "I'd say about a week."

"When do you plan on leaving?" The concern that Orin felt was clearly heard in his voice.

"If you have no objection I'd like to leave first thing tomorrow morning," announced Chris.

Standing, Travis walked closer to Larabee. He placed his hand on the gunslinger's shoulder, and with a gentle squeeze he said, "Be careful, Chris, the people and this town needs you." With a final pat on Larabee's broad shoulder he walked away.

Chapter 2

The black gelding and his traveling companion, a buckskin stallion, were tethered to the railing in front of the jailhouse. The lean man dressed in his usual sober attire approached the big black and let his right hand glide over the animal's rump. He lifted the saddlebag off his shoulder and laid it across the rear skirt securing it to the saddle.

Vin stood at Pony's head scratching the star in between the gelding's ears. The gentle animal leaned into the hand showing his pleasure at the attention he was getting.

Vin was concerned for his friend. Their stoic leader wasn't the talkative type to begin with, but for the past few weeks he'd been more reserved than usual. He noticed how Chris just went about his business not saying a whole hell of a lot to anybody. Hell, even when they spent hours together in the saloon the time would pass in silence. He watched as Chris finished packing the supplies that he would need for his trip. All Chris had to do was to say the word and Vin would be on Peso's back riding along side him.

The silence between the two men was invaded by the sounds of an opening door. They both focused on JD, the youngest member of the seven, as he directed Thompson out of the jailhouse.

Chris returned his attention back to the saddle giving the cinch one finial check. Satisfied with the inspection he grabbed the horn and in a swift fluid movement swung his black garbed leg over Pony's back Settling his torso into the saddle's seat he watched the handcuffed Thompson mount his horse.

Vin handed the reins to Chris and tried reading the hazel eyes of his best friend. Failing to see what the man kept cloaked by the low placed hat over his head he asked, "You sure you don't want some company, cowboy?"

"I'm sure Vin." The reply was barely above a whisper.

The longhaired tracker extended his arm. Chris locked onto Vin's forearm and the two men exchanged the special handshake that was just between them.

"You watch your back, cowboy," the bounty hunter instructed his friend.

"Always," was his simply reply.

The two friends separated and Vin backed-up getting out of the horse's way.

Pulling on the reins Chris guided the animal away from the hitching rail just as Mary Travis glided along side of Tanner. Touching the tip of his finger to the brim of his hat Chris acknowledged her. Straightening, he looked over at Thompson and said, "Move out, we got a lot of distance to cover today." The prisoner didn't respond to Larabee's comment instead he just followed the man's lead and kneed his horse as they rode towards the outskirts of town.

Vin let his gaze slide to his right when he felt the light pressure of Mary's touch. He placed his hand over hers and tried reassuring her, "He'll be fine, Mary; he knows how to take care of himself."

"Vin," she wanted to look into his eyes when she asked him, "is he coming back?"

He snapped his head around, knitting his brow he let his eyes roam over Mary's features. Her blue eyes clouded with uncertainty and fear at the thought of losing Chris. "Mary of course he's comin' back. 'Fore ya know it he'll be riding right back inta town."

Placing his hand on her elbow he guided her back to the boardwalk. Tipping his head he continued in the opposite direction of the Clarion. Her question had shaken him, because his gut feelings were telling him that his best friend just rode out of his life.

They'd been on the trail for a few hours with hardly a word spoken between them. The sun would soon be approaching the noon hour and they had to stop to give the horses a rest and have a bite to eat themselves. Chris led them to a brook with its banks over flowing from the recent rainfall. He dismounted Pony and led him to the water's edge so the horse could have his fill. Retrieving a few biscuits from his saddlebag and his canteen he went and sat down by the large oak that would shade them from the heat of the sun. Thompson mirrored Larabee's movements, but remained standing next to his horse. Chris eyed Thompson and wondered why the talkative man was so quiet. It wasn't like him to go five minutes without a conversation let alone five hours. Clearing his throat he said,

"James come over here an' get a bite to eat."

The younger man walked the few paces to where his jailer sat and leaned against the tall tree. Chris handed him a couple of biscuits and the canteen and informed Thompson, "We probably won't stop again 'til evening so get your fill now."

"Larabee, you can let me ride away. I'll never come back. No one will ever know that you let me go. I swear I'll disappear. I'll be so damn far away from here."

"I'll know," the tall blond sharply responded cutting off the rest of what his prisoner had to say.

"Son of a bitch. Larabee, you can't do this to me. Do you know what the prisons are like?" the desperate man asked as he sat next to Chris.

Casting his eyes down to his hands he thought about the time that he had spent in the hellhole that was called Jericho. He wouldn't wish that kind of existence on his worst enemy, let alone on some one that he liked. Even though the experience had happened months ago he would still have an occasional nightmare. There were times that he could feel the locks and chains around his ankles and wrist. He would wake up in a cold sweat from dreaming about the many days and nights that he had spent in the ground pit that the warden had called solitary confinement. He could still feel each and every blow that he received from the warden's club. He knew that if it wasn't for his friends he would've been buried in some unmarked and forgotten grave. He knew, he knew all too well what this young man was headed into, but there wasn't a damn thing he could do about it. Travis sentenced him to prison and Chris was obliged to carry out the judge's orders.

Standing abruptly he scanned the horizon then started to walk to his horse. Half way there he stopped, and without looking back he said, "Let's mount up; we have a lot of distance to cover before nightfall."

James didn't hide the feelings that were coursing through his body. The hatred that he felt for Larabee was written all over his handsome face, but the fear that he felt for himself was slowly starting to tighten its grip on his gut. He knew right then and there that soon he would be entering the fight of his life.

The first part of their journey was spent traveling over terrain that was splashed with multi-color foliage. The rolling hills and the meadows were teaming with young life that was busy spending their time frolicking in the warmth of the day. The riders would occasionally run across a family of rabbits or some other type of burrowing critter that was curious about the massive creatures that were invading there playground. As the distance started stretching out from their point of origin and their destination was coming closer, the landscape changed with it. The lush greens and the vibrant colors started changing to more of a muted brown. The terrain was losing its soft contours and taking on a more jagged appearance. The meadows gave way to plateaus and arid desert would not be far away. They had just started approaching a shallow basin that once was the path for a river that the miners had used for their search for gold. Now the dry rocky bed was home to weeds and an occasional bush. Chris didn't see the need to ride into the former waterway he chose instead to skirt around the basin's edge.

Thompson kept a steady gaze on Larabee throughout the leisurely trip. He knew by the way Larabee sat his horse that the man wasn't about to tolerate any of his shenanigans. He would just have to bide his time and hope that the gunslinger would relax a little and let his vigilant eyes rest. He could and would be a patient man when the stakes were so high. He hoped that when an opportunity presented itself he would be able to capitalize on it. He prayed that when it did, that he would be the one walking away. He sat rigid and alert, from the fear that was coursing through his body. His mind kept thinking up all kinds of ways to best his keeper. He'd thought of jumping Larabee, but the handcuffs would prevent him from successfully over-powering him. He had thought that an Indian attack might solve his problem, but with his luck he'd end up with an arrow in his back. No, something had to happen, something that wasn't expected. Until it did he would abide his time.

The horses walked side by side with every little conversation being exchanged between the two riders. The sun was beginning to make its journey down toward the western horizon. The weather had been perfect, the sun's steady rays warmed you, the gentle breeze softly stroked you, and the even gate of the powerful animals rocked you into a sleepy lull. Maybe the conditions were too perfect. If the environment had been harsher things might have been different, but they weren't.

For the most part of the days journey Chris was alert, always aware of his surroundings and the man that he was delivering to the gates of hell. Why and how it happened he didn't know, but it only took a moment and in that one swift moment a chain reaction started that would alter his life and start him down a path of soul searching.

Chapter 3

Chris cast his eyes up to the sky, he noted that the sun was half way to completing its journey of setting in the west. Letting his eyes slowing slide down to meet the horizon he could see the jagged mountains in the distance. Chris knew that he would have to start looking for a place to spend the night. The barren land didn't offer much in the way of protection. He'd hoped they could make it to the foothills of the mountains where possibly there stood an abandoned mining cabin or two. This was not the kind of place you wanted to sleep out in the open. Between the rattlers, wolves and the plunging temperature you wouldn't get much rest. Off to his far left he could make out a slight formation that appeared to be man made. Chris pulled slightly on Pony's reins to direct the animal towards the basin. The black gelding responded to his master and started slowly down the incline.

James never for a moment let his mind wonder far from his goal. He sniffed the air like a cornered animal. His eyes roamed over the terrain calculating constantly what he could put to use. The wilderness could be a deadly weapon if used correctly. Something as small as a gofer hole could bring down a powerful enemy. Larabee rode half a horse's length in front of Thompson, and James noticed that his jailer was heading towards the dried up riverbed. He knew this might be the only chance he would get to gain his freedom.

The prisoner lifted his left leg out of the stir-up and put as much force as he could into the kick as he slammed his spurred boot into the gelding's right thigh. He didn't intend to spear the horse with the sharp spur but the slight miscalculation on his part ended up inflicting more harm then intended. In the few seconds that it took for him to kick the powerful beast and the aftermath of Larabee's tumble, he started his escape. Digging his heels into the stallion's side the animal broke into a gallop. Swiftly, he knew, the distance between the two men could become great. Thompson slackened his hold on the stallion; he laid low on the horse's neck and let the horse have free rein. A smile spread across his handsome face as he realized that he just might get away. Turning his head towards his left shoulder he glanced quickly behind him. That was a mistake, at that same instant Larabee aimed and fired his colt peacemaker at his escaped prisoner.

A sudden impact compounded by a spur thrust into the black's thigh caused the powerful animal to rear on its hind legs, neighing his displeasure at the pain that flared through his rear flank. The surprising movement of Pony took Larabee completely off guard. Chris tried desperately to stay seated in the saddle. He leaned towards Pony's neck, he used his legs to apply pressure along the horse's side, but all his efforts failed to keep him from rolling over the black's rump. He landed with a loud thump as the hard baked earth seemed to rise and slam into his body. The sudden contact with the unforgiving surface forced his body to expel what air was in his lungs. His vision played tricks on him and specks of colors danced before his eyes. Shaking his head, he tried to ward off the effects of the fall. Not feeling too much pain in any one area he rolled towards his side bringing his long legs under him. Coming up swiftly to his feet his right hand sought the handle of his colt. With breakneck speed the gun cleared leather and in the blink of an eye the bullet was blazing a trail to its intended target.

Thompson never heard the bark of the gun. He only felt the sudden shudder that flowed through the mighty stallion as he stumbled. He could perceive the animals fear as he tried to coordinate his running legs, but the searing pain that streaked across the stallion's left thigh prevented him from staying afoot. The buckskin lowered his head. The rider tried to keep the powerful beast moving, but lost his fight. Both rider and horse went down in a plume of dust as the dry earth met them.

Chris looked on watching the scene unfold in front of him. Silently cursing because he didn't want to injury man or beast. He looked around for his hat that managed to fly off his head when he fell. His search didn't last long, the item sat only a few feet away from him. Retrieving it he slapped it alongside his leg to loosen the fine dust that settled on it. Placing it back on his head he scanned the surrounding terrain. "Son of a bitch", he uttered under his breath. Pony had run off leaving him on foot. Inhaling deeply he started his trek to where his prisoner and his mount lay on the ground.

With long strides he reached James in a few minutes. The man was sitting next to his horse running his hands down the long neck trying to soothe the wounded animal. Chris knew with just one glance that he was going to have to put the animal down. The odd bend on the front leg told him it was broke. He moved closer to Thompson extending his left hand slightly trying to think of something to say to the young man. Having failed to think of anything he muttered, "I'm sorry."

James fleetly turned on Larabee, "You're sorry, that's all you gotta say. You shot my horse right out from underneath of me and all's you gotta say is I'm sorry." The venom dripped from his mouth as he spoke with scorn.

Brushing the angry younger man aside Chris stood at the mount's head. Drawing his gun he placed it next to the forehead of the horse and pulled the trigger. With hard cold eyes Larabee looked at James who stood with his mouth agape. In a monotone voice he said, "'Cause of your stupidity we're both on foot and I had 'a put a good horse down. If I was you, I'd think twice about running off again, because the next time I shoot at you, I'll aim for your heart."

With that Larabee bent down and picked up the canteen. He threw it at Thompson saying, "Start walking."

The prisoner didn't look up; he kept his eyes on his faithful steed. He silently made a vow that he would get even with Larabee. At that moment James's dislike for his jailer swiftly turned to hatred.

The two dust covered weary men were walking in a north westerly direction towards the setting sun when Larabee called a halt to their movement.

James's eyes opened wide when he saw Chris reach into his jeans and retrieve the key to the handcuffs. Briefly hope flared, Larabee was going to let him go.

Without saying a word Chris unlocked Thompson right wrist and suddenly he secured the cuffs to his own left wrist. Turning rapidly he threw the key as far as he could.

"What the fuck is wrong with you? Christ, man you just handcuffed us together then threw the damn key away." The stunned prisoner bellowed. Looking at Larabee in total disbelieve.

The impassive man looked at James and in a calm voice replied, "If you try to escape again you're going to have to kill me." Holding up his left arm he indicated with a nod of his head, "This is my insurance. I don't think you want to drag my body all over this wasteland."

Chris knew the kid would try to make another attempted at escaping; hell he would if he was in that position. He thought that maybe James might think twice about it if in the struggle for freedom he killed his jailer then was saddled with his corpse.

"You know, Larabee, the same thing can be said to you. You better make sure nothing happens to me 'cause then you'd be stuck with me, dead!" the irate Thompson barked.

"I'll worry about that when an' if it happens." Chris returned as he started walking forward.

Not having a choice Thompson started keeping pace with Larabee.

They'd been walking for a couple of hours and it seemed like their destination wasn't any closer. They needed to find shelter soon. The last rays of the sun was only minutes away. Straight ahead was a structure that had seen better days. From what they could observe it looked more like what was called a lean to. All that was left of it was two walls and a few planks for a roof. Undoubtedly it was what was left of some miners' home.

Chris looked back a James and said, "I think we found a place to bed down for the night. Let's get there before we lose what little bit of light's left."

They quickened their pace to try and beat the setting sun. When suddenly the ground moved beneath their feet. Both startled men looked at each other not having a clue as to what was going on. Before they could take their next breath both men were swallowed up by the earth.

Chapter 4

Chris didn't know if he'd lost consciousness or just been stunned for a few moments. His right hand came up to his face swiping away some of the dirt that covered it. He blinked his eyes trying to clear his vision. His first mistake was lifting his head to see what the heavy weight was across the lower part of his body. Stabbing pain streaked across his laden brain. Groaning, he tried bringing both hands to his reeling head. His left hand failed to move on his command. Placing more strength behind the movement he gave a tug, which resulted in a voice hissing close by.

"Alright, I'm movin', just giv' me a second."

He knitted his brow trying to remember what had happened. Then his memory cleared flooding every cell with the events of the past day. "James, are you alright?" he asked.

"Yeah, I'm fine. A little banged up, but I think I'm okay."

Chris could feel the slight movement of the other man. Slowly the weight was starting to lift off of him. As it did pain awakened in his lower leg. Groaning loudly he started to roll on to his side. "Son of a bitch," he shouted. "God damn it, that hurts," he swore. He couldn't believe the pain that was coursing through his leg. Reaching for his right leg he announced through gritted teeth. "I think my leg is broken."

"Don't move an' let me have a look," The dark haired man said as he started slowly and carefully running his hands down Larabee's legs. It didn't take long for him to find the damaged section of the leg. Sitting back on his hunches, he sighed. "Yep I think you're right. It feels broke to me."

Larabee raised himself on his elbow and asked, "Can you see anything that you could use to make a splint with?"

James started to stand when he was brought up short by cry of pain from the injured man and the pull to his right wrist. "I'm sorry. I forgot about the cuffs," he apologized. Sitting back down next to Larabee he continued, "It's dark in here an' I can't see if there's anythin' layin' around that I can use."

"Can you make out where we are?" the blond asked.

Looking up Thompson could see the stars twinkling high up in the clear sky. "I'd say we were in some kind' a hole in the ground." Running his hands across the wall he continued, "The walls are dirt. We must've fallen into a mine shaft or well of some sort."

Being careful not to jar Larabee he stepped over him. Extending his left arm out he tried to touch the opposite wall. "I can't feel the wall over here. Whatever we're in it must be pretty big."

"James, help me sit up against the wall?" The pain ridden man asked his companion.

Placing his arms around Larabee's chest he started pulling him closer to the wall. Chris's vision spun wildly and he grunted with pain as the injured limb scraped along the dirt floor. Sweat beaded on his forehead as he tried to stifle a cry of pain. His back came to rest against the dirt wall; he laid his throbbing head back and tried to get his breathing under control. A few moments past before he was able to take a deep breath and open his eyes.

It was difficult to see exactly what kind of pit they fell into because of loss of daylight. Consequently he could only see a few feet in front of himself. Sighing he turned his head towards James. "It looks like we're gonna have to wait until morning to figure out how to get out of here."

"I don't see how mornin's gonna help us out. You with a busted leg an' all", the dispirited man proclaimed.

"We'll think of something. Right now try to get some rest."

He heard movement as James made himself more comfortable on the cold earth. He felt a slight tug on the handcuffed wrist as the young rogue settled down for the night.

Chris pulled his black duster tighter around his chest to ward of the cold that was seeping into every pore of his body. His muscles would tense when his body shivered trying to shake of the invading chill. He wondered how much was from the drop in the temperature and how much was the onset of a fever. He sat there with closed eyes riding out the waves of pain that ran rampant through his leg. His head wouldn't let him forget that it had sustained some form of injury too. His reminder was the constant throbbing behind his eyes. Running his tongue over his dry lips he realized the need to quench his thirst, but what happened to the canteen? Was it somewhere in this damn pit or was it sitting above them? Opening his eyes he looked around. It was so fucking dark he couldn't even see his own hand if he held it up in front of his face. Son of bitch, he really did it this time.

His thoughts turned towards Sarah and Adam and how much he missed them. It made no difference how much time elapsed since their death. The heartache that engulfed him was just as strong today as it was the day he found there burnt bodies. The only thing time did was to make it harder to remember what Sarah's sweet voice sounded like when she would sing one of those Irish lullabies to Adam or the sound of their laughter when they shared something funny.

The guilt that he felt for not being home was still eating at him even though he'd told Buck that he'd let it go and that he should do the same. Lying to Buck was not something that he took lightly, but it wasn't right for his oldest friend to be strapped with that guilt. After all it was his decision to stay another night.

A bone weary tiredness settled over him and the need for sleep, but sleep would be impossible for him tonight. If either one of them was to survive he had to think of a plan. It was quite obvious that his survival depended on James getting both of them out of this hell pit, and there laid his dilemma. Why should this young man try to save his life? After all, he was taking James on a one way ticket to hell.

Chapter 5

The slight movement was startling, arousing him from the light sleep he managed to slip into. Chris opened his eyes to see Thompson sitting along side him. He moved his head from left to right trying to relieve some of the stiffness that developed from the awkward position he had slept in.

"There's no damn way we can get out of here," Thompson announced.

Chris leaned forward trying to get a better view of the top of the crevice. "Would you say it's about ten feet to the surface?" the blond asked.

"I don't think its any more than that," the dark haired man replied turning towards Chris.

"Only one of us has to get out in order to get help," Chris stated raising an eyebrow.

James first cast his eyes toward Larabee's broken leg. Holding up his right hand in front of his face he turned his head to look at Chris through slanted eyes. "I think you signed our fate when you bound us together," he sneered.

With his non-cuffed hand Chris dug into the pockets of his jeans and pulled out the key to the handcuffs. Holding it in front of the younger man he responded. "Give me a little credit. I'm not that stupid."

The blue eyed man grabbed the keys out of Larabee's hand. Shaking his head he looked at Chris with a look of total confusion. "You had these fucking keys all night long an' you never bothered to take off these damn cuffs," he shouted.

"Where in the hell would you have gone last night? It was too damn dark," he retorted while running his free hand through his hair.

Slipping the key into the lock he released its hold on his wrist. Letting the key and cuff fall where it may. Standing he walked towards the center of their prison. With both hands on his hips he surveyed the walls and the opening to freedom. Looking back down at Larabee he asked, "Do you have any suggestion on how to get out of here?"

Raising his left hand he grabbed onto the key. Upon completing the task of unlocking himself he leaned back against the wall. The pain was making him feel sick and miserable all over. "I done some thinking on it last night." He replied in a weary voice. "We're both about the same height. If one of us stands on the other's shoulder that man might be able to reach the top."

Thompson walked over to Larabee and squatted down in front of him. Staring into the hazel eyes he asked, "Who stays and who goes?"

With a snicker Chris responded, "I think that's obvious, I ain't goin' nowhere." Taking a deep breath he continued, "With your help I'll be able to stand up, then you climb onto my shoulders and try to hoist yourself out to here."

Standing, James started walking along the perimeter looking up to see if there was a certain spot that would be the safest and strongest to support his weight. Finding what he was looking for he turned back to Larabee. "I think if I tried climbing out here I could make it." He announced with hope in his voice.

"Good, but first you got to find something to make a splint out of so I can stand on my leg."

James crawled along the floor of the pit searching through the dirt and debris hoping to find something to use. Sighing in relief when he found two pieces of old wood, one about two feet long the other a few inches shorter. He moved back over in front of Larabee to start setting the broken leg.

The two men stared hard and long at each other before Chris finally said, "Go on and do it."

Taking in a deep breath he fisted his hands against the pain he knew was coming. Looking at the blue eyed man he nodded his head letting him know he was ready. Closing his eyes as tightly as he could he waited for the moment when excruciating pain would ripple through his body. Before he could take his next breath he heard the sickening snap of the bone going back into place. His lungs forgot to inhale for those few seconds as waves of pain tried to drown him and pull him under. He fought with every bit of strength to control the nauseating feelings that descended upon him. He desperately tried to keep his mind clear, but as hard as he fought he couldn't control the scream that erupted deep in his throat. With that outcry his body gave into the call of oblivion and sank into the depths of darkest.

Free from self-awareness was not a luxury that stayed with him long. The gentle taps on his checks and the calling of his name reawakened consciousness. Unfortunately awareness meant pain. He lifted his hand and swatted away the annoying tapping on his face. He wanted to roll on to his side and curl up into himself and return to the world of darkness, but it was too late. The re-introduction to pain had already begun. He heard groaning and realized that it was coming from himself. His eyes fluttered, working hard at trying to open. The persistent calling of his name was starting to irritate him. He ran his tongue along his dry lips; and swallowed trying to gather enough moister in his irritated throat to tell the man to shut the hell up, cause he was giving him a headache.

Approaching the point of annoyance he opened his eyes. His first vision was of the young man that was trapped with him. It was clear even to Larabee's fog riddled mind that Thompson was very concerned about his state of being. And why shouldn't he be, he thought, if he died Thompson wouldn't be able to get out of this hell hole.

"How long have I been out?" he asked James

"Not long... You scared me. For a minute there I thought you'd died." The frightened man confessed.

Gathering what little strength he had left he tried setting up. James immediately came to his aid and helped him get more comfortable. Chris looked around the odd shaped confines hoping to see that the canteen had made the journey down with them. Not seeing what he was looking for he asked James, "You didn't find the canteen?"

The young man stood turning his gaze heavenward and replied, "No, it must be up there somewhere."

Looking back at Larabee he continued, "I wonder what this was?" Sweeping his hands out to indicate the area they'd fallen into. "It can't be a well; it's too big and oddly shaped. A mine. isn't it a little too close to the surface? And someone had covered it up with boards. Look at those rotten planks we fell through." He indicated pointing skyward.

At that moment Chris didn't care what type of hole this was. He was stuck in it without water and that's all that mattered to him.

Chris knew the time was at hand for his companion to try and gain his freedom. The longer it was put off the higher the chances of him being dead, if or when he was found.

Sighing heavily he accepted his fate and said, "Once you get out of here go due north. There's a passage through the mountain that'll take you to the other side without having to do any climbing. When you make it through there head east and there's a small town about fifteen to twenty miles away." Leaning his head back he cast his sight on James and continued," If you start now you should be able to make it there by sunset tomorrow."

The dark haired handsome man stood in front of Larabee with his arm extended. Chris reached out and clasped onto the hand letting James pull him to his feet. The minute he stood the dull pain became acute, shooting up his injured leg. His head swam and his vision dimmed. He swallowed hard trying to keep the queasiness in his stomach at bay. Weakness and pain had taken its toll on him. He leaned heavily on James as he tried with all his strength to straighten out. Closing his eyes he inhaled deeply. Holding each breath for a few seconds, he tried to absorb as much oxygen into his lungs. What seemed like an eternity was only a couple a minutes before he was able to look up and say," I'm alright now, I can do this."

Accepting most of Larabee's weight, Thompson slowly helped maneuver the man to the safest spot for his exit. He hoped the gunslinger would have enough strength to give him the boost that he would need to reach the top. Looking at the man dressed in black he wasn't too sure if the blond was going to survive. His face was a pasty white and beads of sweat were running down his face. He could also feel the heat that was being generated by the fever that claimed Larabee. The effort of walking was taxing the gunman's breathing, making each breath sound labored.

Releasing his hold on to James, the injured man straightened, letting his good leg support as much of his weight as possible. He tried smiling at the young man, but the best he could do was a slight upward turn of his lips. Cupping his hands at hip level he indicated that it was time for his prisoner to get moving.

Thompson placed his booted foot into Larabee's hands and used it as a stepping stone to get onto the man's shoulders. With bated breath he balanced himself hoping that Larabee's strength held out. Raising his arms high above his head he reached for the lip to the opening of the crevice. Latching on to a solid plank he put as much strength as he could muster into his arms and pulled himself to freedom.

Rolling onto his back he let his arms flop to the ground. Inhaling deeply he enjoyed the sensation of sunlight shining on his face. Sitting up he started looking around to get his bearings. There only a few feet away sat the liquid that would quench his thirst. He crawled to it and gave the canteen a good shake. It sounded half full. Opening it he drank his fill. He stood, brushed some of the dust off of his clothes then walked back to the opening of the fissure. Looking down he could see Larabee still standing and looking up at him. Holding out the canteen he let it drop into Chris's hands.

"Don't forget north through the pass, then east," Larabee shouted up at him.

"Okay," he returned. Then headed in a westerly direction.

Chapter 6

The sound of harsh breathing revived him from the stupor he'd lapsed into. How long he stood there looking at the pale blue sky, he had no idea. His battered body gave into its need to rest and without warning he collapsed into a heap on the cold unforgiving ground. He didn't feel like he lost consciousness, he just felt like every part of his being was suspended and time stood still. He laid there until the need to quench his thirst overrode any other of his wants or needs. Slowly opening his pain filled eyes he saw the canteen laying just inches from his face. He started laughing to himself and thought, Boy, sure wish I could get this without getting up. Knowing that that was impossible he brought both hands under him and started to push himself up into a sitting position. Reaching the canteen he shook it and he would have to be careful with the water. It had to last him until they rescued him. Drinking enough to take the edge off of his thirst, he draped the strap over his shoulder and started pulling his damaged body closer to the wall.

His head pounded, it felt like a herd of horses was running wild in it. His whole body shook from chills, but at the same time he wanted to rip off all his clothing, as if he they were smothering him with heat. His leg, it throbbed unmercifully, and he didn't think there was an inch of his body that didn't in some way or another ache.

Time slowly past for Chris as he drifted in and out of consciousness. Whenever he woke he would take a sip of water. He wouldn't give into his needs for more, even though his fevered, sick body demanded that he replace the fluids that he lost.

Feeling the change in the temperature he opened his eyes and realized that the sun had set and darkness had claimed the evening. For some reason this night felt more menacing, why he didn't know, he was in the same God forsaken pit as last night, and he didn't have this weird sensation then. He forced those feelings out of his mind and tried to think of something more pleasant. His thoughts turned towards his lost family and immediately a lump formed in his throat and a mist clouded his eyes. It made no difference how much time past, his love for them was just as strong today as it was before their death. He closed his eyes as tears slide down his face and bitter sweet memories assailed him. His last image of Sarah and Adam was of them waving good-bye as he rode off with Buck.

There'd has always been a part of him that didn't accept their death. Every time he made a trip back to the old homestead hope always seemed to flair within him. When he'd crest that last hill he'd half expected to see wisps of smoke curling from the chimney. He prayed that Sarah would be fetching water from the well and Adam would be chasing one of the animals around the yard. But it never failed, for in the past three years every time he made that heartbreaking trip the only thing he ever found was the remnants of his scorched home.

His home, he thought, no his castle, because Sarah made him feel like a king. She claimed his heart and showed him what life was about. She taught him the importance of love and family. She was his love. She was his life.

Opening his eyes he stared into the darkness. His hand that was lying on the ground scooped up a handful of dirt and he watched it as the soil slowly slide between his fingers. He stared at his now empty hand and a great sadness overwhelmed him. He would never see his family again. He would never see them smile. He would never hear them laugh. He would never feel their arms around him and he would never, ever, hear them say I love you. Chris Larabee did something that he hadn't done in three years. He cried his heart out.

He felt drained of emotions, but he also felt better. For far too long he had pushed his grief aside, and he had buried it with all his feelings. He was always afraid his sorrow and compassion would be mistaken for weakness and in his line of business he couldn't afford that.

His thoughts turned towards what he now called home. Four Corners, the town citizens, his fellow peacemakers, and especially Buck and Vin and how over the past few weeks he had done everything possible to push them away. He truly regretted his behavior towards them. He didn't think he could explain his feelings to friends, because he didn't even understand them himself. He hadn't realized that his grief had so tight a hold on him and until he was ready to release it he couldn't and wouldn't move forward.

Leaning his pounding head against the clay wall he closed his tired eyes. Sighing, he spoke out loud even though no one was there to hear him. "Well you got what you want you dumb shit, now you'll die here all alone."

Chapter 7

Chris couldn't ever remember feeling so sick. He felt like his whole body was consumed by fire. What little bit of water he managed to drink didn't stay down any longer. His foggy mind told him that he couldn't afford to lose that precious liquid. His lips, dry from dehydration were starting to crack and bleed and the never ending pain took possession of his body.

He'd lain motionless and curled into himself for so long that when he did opened his eyes he expected to see daylight, but to his surprise it was still dark. He knew it was only a matter of time, maybe only hours before death would claim him. He didn't look for death, he wasn't afraid of death, but he would embrace death.

Muttering to himself he said, "James, I hope you're getting help."

"Redemption, Chris Larabee"

He squinted his eyes and looked around in the darkness, rubbing a hand over his eyes he said, "Son of a bitch, now I'm hearing things."

"Redemption, Chris Larabee"

He didn't move a muscle this time, he didn't even breath. He laid there wondering if he really heard the voice.

"I said redemption, Chris Larabee"

He sat up becoming ridged and alert and as best as he could he scanned his prison. Not seeing anything he started to wonder about his sanity, "Oh God, I'm losing it," he voiced.

"Hahahaha. I said redemption, Chris Larabee."

"Son of a bitch, where are you," he shouted. This time there wasn't a doubt in his mind that he had heard the voice.

"Here, can't you see me, Chris Larabee?"

"No, you mother fucker, show yourself."

"I'm right here, Chris Larabee, right in front of you. Can't you see me, Chris Larabee?"

He strained his eyes as hard as he could, looking for anything that would give him a hint as to who or what was in this place with him. He had to find it, because how could he fight an unseen enemy. Seconds passed before he spotted a dim light, no two dim lights. He stared at them trying to figure out what they were.

"You found me, Chris Larabee."

"Who in the hell are you?" he asked not sure if he really wanted to know.

"You know who I am, Chris Larabee."

"Well, you could've fooled the shit out of me," Chris barked at the apparition.

"A little testy are we, Chris Larabee."

"That's it, what the fuck do you want," the irate man shouted.

"Hahahaha... I want you, Chris Larabee."

The stunned man sat still trying to comprehend what was going on. His mind was reeling as it tried to make sense of everything. In a subdued voice he asked, "Are you the grim reaper?"

"No, Chris Larabee, I'm not death."

He could see now that they were definitely eyes and he could also see that they were closer. "Why do you keep saying my name?" he asked the creature.

"Because that's your name, Chris Larabee."

"Yeah, well let's not wear it out, okay. Son of a bitch, what the hell is going on?" He demanded as he looked around letting his eyes roamed all over this cavity that housed him.

"Redemption, Chris Larabee."

"Am I looking for redemption?" the blond asked scornfully

"Murder. Guilt. Chris Larabee."

"Who in the hell did I murder? And why in the hell are you coming closer?" he asked, a hint of fear in his voice.

"You know who died by your hands, Chris Larabee. And you want me closer, Chris Larabee."

"I didn't kill anybody who didn't deserve it." He replied in a shaky voice.

"Are you sure, Chris Larabee?"

Long forgotten images flooded his brain of the men that he had killed in battles or those that died because they called him out. Each act was replayed in his mind, in slow motion. He was forced to think about the things he'd done over his life time and some of them he was not very proud of. He knew Sarah would be very disappointed in him if she'd witnessed his behavior. Slouching in defeat he responded, "No, I'm not sure."

"Guilt, Chris Larabee."

"What about guilt? What am I guilty of?" he asked as he noticed that the creature was even closer.

"Why the death of Sarah and Adam, Chris Larabee."

He rubbed his hands over his tired face, letting his head fall forward so that it rested on his chest. In a voice barely above a whisper he responded. "I didn't murder my wife and child."

"Then why do you feel guilty, Chris Larabee?"

He raised his pounding head to look at the apparition, and nearly jumped out of his skin. Fear grabbed him and shook him to the core. His breath caught in his throat. His heart pounded in his chest. His blood quickening and rushing to all his limbs. His adrenaline flowing and kicking in the fight or flight syndrome, but he had nowhere to go, he had nowhere to run too. The creature was standing a foot in front of him.

He had never seen or heard of anything like this before. The fur covered creature was massive, standing on all four legs. His eyes were so dark that they reminded him of lumps of coal. The snout was long with fangs that dripped saliva. A slow and even growl was rumbling in its chest. With one bite the savage beast could kill him. He felt like he was a dead man and just don't know it yet.

"I said why do you feel guilty, Chris Larabee?"

Chris tried to shy away from the hot scorching breath of the creature as it burned his face and neck. He prayed the earth would swallow him up again. Anything, anything would be better then being devoured by this thing.

Raising its voice the demon demanded. "I said why do you feel guilty, Chris Larabee?"

Inhaling deeply, Chris tried to get control of himself before he answered. He turned to face the creature once more.

"I should have been with them instead of carousing with Buck in some Mexican town. If I'd been home, they might still be alive." The distraught blond stated.

"Are you God, Chris Larabee?"

Looking at the beast he said, "That's a stupid thing to say, of course I'm not God."

"Then why do you think you can control the fate of other people, Chris Larabee?"

In an exasperated voice he responded, "I can't control my own life, let alone someone else's."

"Then you couldn't control Sarah and Adam's fate, Chris Larabee."

Sighing, he let himself slouch back against the wall before admitting, "No I couldn't control their fate."

"Chris Larabee."

"Yes" was Chris's only reply.

"I've come for you, Chris Larabee."

He raised his head and looked the beast straight in the eyes. He swore the creature smiled at him before the upper lip was lifted in a snarl. Slowly the mouth opened and Chris's breath was taken away by the foul odor that escaped from it. He felt a clawed hand latch onto his right arm and pressure applied to his chest as the other clawed limb rested there.

Slowly they started to tighten their grip on him until the razor sharp claws dug into his skin. His blood was running freely down his arm now and the clawed hand on his chest was digging its way into his body to capture his beating heart.

No matter what this thing had told him, he knew he was staring death in the face and he knew he had to start fighting it. With his free hand he stuck out at the beast hitting it fully in the face. The roar it omitted shook the very walls of the pit. Chris cringed trying to block out the sound that vibrated through this head and body. The pain was starting to become unbearable in his chest making it harder for him to breath. He lashed out one more time screaming, "Go to hell you fucking son of a bitch." As he aimed his fist towards the creature's face. He would never know if he hit it, because at that same instance the beast killed Chris Larabee.

Chapter 8

He could hear the sweet song of the nightingale as he strolled along the mist covered banks of the lake. He felt like he was floating with each step that he took. The light scent of lavender that hung in the air filled his lungs with its intoxicating aroma. He thought this must be heaven, because he felt so light, so carefree, not a care in the world. He continued walking until he reached the top of the hill, there he stopped and looked out over an open field of wildflowers, which were gently swaying in the breeze. From where he stood it looked like the flowers were dancing, they were so busy moving all about, until he realized that he was looking at a mass of multi-colored butterflies skipping over the flower's petals. He had never seen anything so beautiful, so vibrant, and so full of color. The serenity of the scene engulfed him, wrapping him in a blanket of love. He was so overcome by its majestic beauty that he dropped to his knees in awe. He sat there so absorbed in all of God's wonders that he didn't hear the approach of his loved ones.

A small delicate hand placed on his shoulder forced his eyes upward and there smiling down at him was his beloved wife Sarah and his son Adam.

He thought his heart would burst with joy from the love he felt for his wife and child. He couldn't believe that they were finally together again. He wrapped his arms around them and inhaled their essence. He let his eyes drink in every part of them. The glow of their skin, the shine of their hair, the sparkle in their eyes, and the happiness that surrounded them. And then he realized, yes they were, so very happy here.

They didn't need to speak words to say how they felt; it was all in their touch or conveyed in a look. They knew that their souls were bound for eternity and that their love would go on forever and ever. He looked deep into Sarah's eyes and marveled at all the beauty he saw there, until she reminded him, that what he saw was a reflection of the pure love he had for them.

How long they stood in each others embrace did not matter. For time wasn't measured in minutes or hours, it just didn't exist here, but all too soon they had to separate. It wasn't time for him to join his family forever; he still had work to do.

He gently embraced his son in his arms and held him, as close to his heart as possible and felt the first stab of pain race through his body.

He then so very tenderly cupped Sarah's face with his hands, and lowered his lips to hers and the sweetness of her kiss breathed new life into him. He wished he could stay like this forever, lost in her love, but someone higher up had other plans for him.

The lovers stood before each other one last time. Sarah placed her hand on his heart to let him know that until they meet again, they were only one heartbeat away.

He felt himself falling, dropping out of a void. His mind screamed to him that he had to stop his descent before he hit the ground, but he had no way of doing that. So he braced himself for the impact that he would feel when his body hit the surface.

His body jerked and his eyes flew open, his breath hitched in his throat, he'd thought he was falling. He tried to calm his racing heart while looking around the room and there standing before him was an elderly woman softly speaking to him. His eyes followed her lips then, slowly her words started to become clearer.

"Ya ain't gonna fall back ta sleep on me are ya?" The gray haired woman asked. She didn't expect him to answer as she picked up a cup and started spooning warm broth into his mouth.

She smiled down at him and placed her hand on his forehead, turning her head she spoke to someone in the next room. "Hon' ya get them boys, Mr. Larabee's awake again."

His eyes roamed over the room trying to make sense of what was going on, his confused brain didn't know what was happening. Nothing looked familiar, where was he, did she know him, what had happened to him, all his thoughts were jumbled, everything seemed to run together. He only had vague lingering images of a monster, wildflowers and Sarah and Adam.

He softly pushed her hand away from his face indicating he had his fill of the liquid she was feeding him.

"Mr. Larabee, if'n I was you I'd drink this broth, ya was in mighty bad shape when they brought ya in here," the woman informed him.

"Where's here?" Chris asked in a halting voice.

"Ya here in my home, son," the old woman said.

His eyes shifted to the entrance of the room when he heard a commotion and within a second Buck and Vin burst through the door with huge grins on their faces. He was never so happy to see them.

"Hey stud, you gonna stay awake longer then a few seconds this time?" the ladies' man asked his oldest friend.

"What are you taking about?" the confused man asked.

"Hell Chris, ya keep waking up, we'd tell ya what happened, you'd fall back ta sleep.

Then the next time ya wake up we'd hav'ta tell ya all over again." Vin informed him.

"I don't remember," confessed the blond.

Buck placed his hand on the elderly woman's shoulder and said, "This darlin' here is Mrs. Gilmore, she and her husband have been taking care of you."

Chris smiled at her and nodding his head he said, "thank you, ma'am.

"How did I get here, what happened?" the curious man asked.

Before either of his friends could answer Nathan injected, "That's enough talking, and Chris needs his rest."

The tall black man entered the room and went straight over to Chris. He placed his hand on the blond's forehead, he smiled satisfied that the fever that had a claim on him had run its course and it was no longer present. With his other hand he held out a cup and said, "Drink this."

Chris looked up at him and asked, "What is it?"

"It's for the pain Chris and don't tell me you ain't in any, cause I can see differently," the healer informed him.

Chris accepted the cup and drank the awful tasting brew. He couldn't argue with Nathan, because he was tired and was forcing himself to stay awake.

Within a minute the room was cleared and his tired and healing body fell into a resting sleep.

He slowly opened his eyes this time feeling rested and more relaxed. The healing sleep had helped his mind remember the events leading up to his injury. He recalled leaving Four Corners with Thompson, the man's attempt at escape, his horse running off and the two of them tumbling into the crevice. He vaguely remembered helping James get out of the pit, but after that everything was puzzling, nothing fit together.

He heard a slight sound and noticed he wasn't alone in the room. An elderly gentleman had sat vigil over him. He looked at the weather beaten face, and saw compassion shining through the light blue eyes. He braced his arms behind him, gritted his teeth and pulled himself up into a sitting position. Once he got himself comfortable he turned towards the older man.

"Are you Mr. Gilmore?" Chris asked.

"I sure am, Mr. Larabee, I brough' ya here,"

Confused Chris asked, "How did you find me?"

He chuckled, shaking his head, like that was a dumb question to ask, "Why, Mr. Thompson showed me."

Taken by surprise he responded, "Thompson showed you where I was? Where is James?"

"Don't you remember, he died," the gray haired man informed him.

He knitted his brow trying to think what had happened, but it was a blank, he didn't know. "No, I don't remember what happened." He asked.

The elderly man started shaking his head back and forth before saying, "I don't know what happened, Mr. Larabee, all's I know is that ya kep' saying James Thompson died. Ya told me if'n anybody asked Thompson had died. Ya down righ' insisted that he was dead."

He had so many questions he needed to know the answers too and he hoped this man would help him fill the gaps of his lost memory. Leaning his head back he asked Gilmore, "How did the guys find me?"

"Hell, I went to Four Corners to fetch 'em, was only half a days ride from here."

Seeing that Chris was in the dark and had no idea as to what had unfolded he started telling his tale.

"Mr. Larabee that young man James showed up here three days ago with your horse, tellin' me about the fall into the pit an' that ya needed help to get out. We don' loaded up the buckboard an' rode out there. James tied a rope ta the wagon an' lowered himself back in that pit."

The old man started laughing and shaking his head then continued with his story.

"Lawdy ya must've put up one hel'ofa fight, cause when he gotcha up here he was sportin' a brand new shiner, an' if'n your jaw is sore it's 'cause he had to clip ya one ta settle ya down. After he gotcha' out of that pit he don' caved it in with some blastin' powder and I'd brought ya back here. I helped the missus get you settled in, and then I went an' fetched your friends."

He was slowly starting to understand some of what had taken place and hopefully one day his memory would recall everything, but for now he had to be satisfied with the little bit of information that he had.

His healing body was telling him that he needed rest. Raising a hand to his mouth he tried covering up the yawn, but Gilmore didn't miss the movement. The older man knew that his wife would raise holy cane if the blond had a relapse, so he helped the recovering man into a more comfortable position for sleep.

Something woke him up, but he didn't know what. He remembered that he was dreaming about Sarah and Adam and they were laying in each other's arms in a field of flowers and Adam was chasing butterflies and giggling like little boys do. He knew this dream was different this time and he felt so much more at peace. In the past when he'd dreamt about his family he'd wake up with a heart full of sorrow and bitterness, but tonight he felt as if they were here with him, and their spirits embraced him. He closed his eyes and let his senses enjoy the wonders of the night. In the distance he could hear the nightingale singing its song of love, and the air, it was filed with the sweet fragrance of lavender. He smiled as his thoughts turned back to Sarah and Adam and he peacefully drifted back to sleep.

He was restless and tired of being in bed. He wanted to be up and about even if he had to stay in a chair. Buck and Vin had made themselves busy helping the Gilmores with some repairs to the barn and fence. Nathan was constantly after him to eat or drink one of his concoctions that would make him feel better. Mrs. Gilmore was cooking up a storm. She kept complaining that if'n a good wind came along it would blow them boys away and she felt it was her duty to try and fatten them up. Mr. Gilmore would laugh, he wasn't going to get in the middle of it.

It was late morning of the fifth day, and Nathan had just finished looking at Chris's leg and was pleased with how it was healing, "Chris, if you think you're up to riding we can head out today," the healer informed Larabee.

"That's great, stud, I'll saddle up Pony whenever your ready," said the ladies' man.

Vin coming to Chris's side held out his hand for support and asked his best friend, "Chris, are you ready to go home?"

Chris felt light at heart, and then smiled at his friends with true affection. He gazed into their eyes and said, "I'm already there."


Carol M