By:  Heidi

Category:  OW GEN

Warnings:  The author attempts to keep things as realistic as possible, therefore there might be ideas and situations presented that might have the "ick" factor for some readers. 

Author's Notes:  This fic was written as a "Christastrophe", and was mostly done before the author was advised that the story seemed similar in some plot points to Jeanne's "Found", a story that I have not read.  I contacted Jeanne, let her read the story, and she said that it was different from hers, and graciously gave her blessing for me to continue with mine.

Special thanks to my SUPERDIVA beta Cin, who has patiently put up with a PNT during the writing of this fic, and giving me twists I hadn't thought of.  Thanks to Brate for reading and giving me her treasured opinions.     

The title is a quote by Robert Louis Stevenson.


Part One

The dark clad man stepped through the swinging door of the saloon and stood for moment on the dirty boardwalk.  Gratefully, the noise level slightly decreased with the change of inside for outside, lessening the throbbing in his head.  Pulling a cheroot from his pocket, he took a moment to light it up as he scanned the street.  Hearing a commotion behind him, one hand went up to secure the saddlebags draped over his shoulder, and he stepped to one side.  The beaded curtains flew open, swinging violently on their strings, when two combatants fell through them and out into the dusty street.

Impassively, his green gaze watched the pair as they continued to tear into each other.  A pair of animals fighting had more finesse than these two angry drunks.  Shaking his head, he thought it was long past time to leave this place.

Taking a few steps toward the stable, he swerved right to miss the disgusting remains of someone's dinner gathering flies on the rotted boards, and then stepped off into the street.  He dodged the horse manure, and avoided all wet areas.  The overwhelming stench of this place, as well as the liquor induced headache, only helped his stomach roll and debate emptying itself most forcefully.


Chris Larabee looked around quickly, seeing the source of the yell coming from one of the women.  He spotted the man receiving the label of truth-changer voluntarily sprawl in the dust when a knife nearly hit him.  Unfortunately, Chris was in the path of the same knife, and his fast reflexes had him ducking quickly to see it sail harmlessly over his head, landing on the boardwalk.  A human scavenger immediately claimed possession.  Larabee picked up his pace, since he didn't feel like getting hurt in his current condition, nor did he feel like hurting someone.  Yet.

"COME BACK HERE!" she screeched at full volume, charging into the street from the other restaurant. 

Chris Larabee may have been several things, but stupid wasn't his style.  His aching head tracked the movements of both the man and the woman, knowing better than to turn his back on an armed, irate female, and found his diligence rewarded.  He leapt left, keeping his head low, and saw the man run right through the spot Larabee just occupied, another knife hitting the dirt at the man's heels. 

"Senor, you must protect me."  The target of the woman's ire scrambled – or tried to scramble – behind Chris.

Larabee shoved the man away, finding him clinging to his left arm.  "No."

The woman neared, muttering in Spanish.

It was hard to keep up with the shrilly spat tirade of words, they were coming so quickly, and the blond's Spanish was meager at best.  Chris clearly understood, however, the words 'cut' and a part of the male anatomy. As he warily eyed the handful of knives in her hands, and the malevolent menace in her eyes, he was also wise enough to know he wanted no part of this showdown. 

"Let go, or I'll shoot you myself," Chris growled to the quivering man, trying to free himself and keep some distance between his body and her knives. 

The man shoved Chris toward the woman, taking off at a run.

"Shoot him anyway," the woman said, lowering her knives until he regained his balance. 

"I'm leaving, it's not my fight."  Chris backed away, one hand on his gun -  just in case.

"Umpff," she grunted and spat at the ground by Larabee's boot.  Finally turning her back haughtily on him, she ran after her target, letting out a banshee yell. 

Shaking his head, he wondered why he ever thought this place would be good to get away from things for a while. Adjusting the saddlebags on his shoulder again, having been disturbed by the confrontation, the gunslinger started back for the stables.  He was almost there when a voice called out to him. 

"Senor?  You need company?"

With the fresh memory of an armed domestic playing out in the street, and this woman's obvious lack of hygiene, Chris mustered a smile.  "Maybe next time, ma'am."  He continued on, finally reaching the stables and retrieving his horse.  He led the magnificent mount into the sunlight. 

"You sure, cowboy?"  The soiled dove followed him there, trying to sashay enticingly.

"Real sure, ma'am, and don't call me cowboy."

"Then you give me your money."  She raised a pistol from the folds of her skirt.  "Or I'll kill you and take it."

He was saved from reacting when another man charged up, flung his arms around the woman, and lowered her arm.  He held her securely around the waist while she tried to struggle in the man's arms.  "Sorry, Mister.  She's my sister and she's loco.  Gun ain't loaded."

"Figure you should take it away before she gets herself killed." 

"I aim to."  The man tipped his hat, dragging the woman away.  His voice carried back to Chris.  "How many times do I got to tell you to go for the ones that ain't got mean and dangerous written on their faces?  Find the stupid ones."

"Time to go home," Chris Larabee said softly to his horse, taking a final look around Purgatory, making sure someone wasn't gunning for his back while he rode out, and, for some reason, Chris wanted to take one more look around.  Purgatorio, Purgatory, or colloquially known as hell, was barely a break in an almost barren stretch of land – a place – where the low and lower crawled to forget their troubles, to hide from the law, to step away from proper society, or came here to die.  People fell into two groups – dangerous, and not so dangerous, which applied to both sexes. 

He'd been here for three days, but a niggling part of his brain told him to look at where he spent his time.  While he normally discounted the faded walls, the muddy, littered streets, and the air of neglect, he truly saw the decay with fresh eyes.  Right now, it struck him that he and his horse sat in the middle of a wasteland.  His more than attentive perusal did not go unnoticed; several faces gave him glares, suspicious stares, and blank looks.  The glares and stares didn't worry him too much; he reflexively counted them as threats. 

The blank eyes and faces he left behind unsettled him.  Those who wore that look or those eyes fit into either category, but held an underlying sense of desperation.  Many neared, or passed the point, of slitting a throat for a pair of boots or a shirt, and Chris had witnessed how the freshly dead lost their worldly belongings in minutes.  Sometimes, he got the sense the blank eyes were dormant until provoked or given an opportunity, and others he felt had given up on life, settling on scratching out a pitiful existence here.

Where once he sought towns like this out for their anonymity, now he could only sense death and disease hovering over this place like a stagnant cloud, and it unsettled him.  Flicking the reins on his horse, he rode further out of town and away from Purgatory, one hand on his gun, staying vigilant until he was sure that no one followed him.  His mind continued to delve on and analyze his behavior. 

After losing Sarah and Adam, he lived in the same manner as many of those people, not caring about life.  Things had changed in the past several months or so – he was horrible with time – and the point of his trip down here these past three depraved days was to release the hate and despair that took up residency in his soul.  That hate and despair needed an outlet from time to time, and he chose this miserable town.  He let his own survivor's guilt and broken heart have free rein down here, dropping the tightly packed walls around his emotions, and indulged in the baser parts of life.  The parts he'd thoroughly learned and explored during his wanderings, and counted those as the times he shot first, maybe asked questions later, and any challenge to fight was welcome.  A challenge was a chance to die and end his pain, or it was a way to feel a little fear.  Hell, he admitted, it made him feel something until he won.  Then he felt as dead inside as the person he killed.   

He kind of felt a little dead inside right now, too.  The bright sun added to his headache, so he kept his hat brim low.  He relied more on his ears than his eyes, but the bloodshot orbs continued to sweep from side to side, keeping the best watch they could. 

The longer he thought about his past, followed by the heavy drinking and other things he did in Purgatory, the more all of it sickened him and soured his stomach.  "Penance," he said softly, borrowing Josiah's term.  Letting that concept roll around his brain, along with the guilt, and the slight hangover, Chris continued his journey toward home. 

Since his conscience was determined to dwell on these dark thoughts, the whiskey bottle wasn't around to chase them away, and no one else was there to distract him.  Chris reluctantly let his mind go where it wanted.  Usually, this didn't happen, because most times he only indulged in a drink or two, and maybe a couple beers.  But when he let down his walls, he needed the whiskey to help him control the pain, the anger, and all that overwhelming angst.  Sometimes, his need of the bottle shamed him, and with his stomach threatening a revolt, combined with the feeling of mush in his brain, he wasn't too proud of himself.  In his town, his new home, he kept the thoughts at bay as much as possible, and something went wrong often enough where he needed his gun and wits to defend the town, or his friends kept his mood lighter.

He finally admitted to himself he was lucky; he had friends.  A faint smile crossed his lips as a picture of each one flashed in front of face.  Friends.  Six of 'em, and each one with their own problems and demons.    Two images stuck around a little longer – his oldest friend Buck Wilmington, and his new best friend, Vin Tanner.  All of them enriched his life, but Buck kept a heart-sore Chris from completely stamping out his humanity until Vin figured out how to bring it back out to the forefront.

Overall, Chris considered himself lucky to have such good friends, and wondered if he would have eventually moved to Purgatory like the blank faces.  He'd been heading that direction, just waylaid by some drunken trail hands, and then some Confederate ghosts.  If that – and everything that followed – hadn't happened, where would he be today on that other life path?   Probably dead. 

He pondered that for a long while, running possibilities through his head.  Every time his mind whispered 'what if Sarah and Adam hadn't died', Chris forcibly shut down those thoughts.  Finally, he told himself there was no use in thinking 'what if'. 

A few hours later, he reached the pass cut through the foothills and canyons that he needed to journey through in order to reach home. It was the shortest, most direct route, and one of the best places for an ambush or two.  Chris found it completely blocked, muttering a few choice words under his breath.  Evidence of a recent landslide – along with the profusion of sizeable boulders haphazardly piled in the center of the beaten dirt and rock trail – caused him to frown.  Now he had to go around the long way, and that would add a day or so to his journey.  A day was a conservative guess because a lot depended on how fast he traveled, and how solid the ground was beneath their feet.  Turning his horse, he started around, making it a pretty good distance before he had to bed down for the night.  He wouldn't risk his horse at night on unstable ground, and he'd had enough of the saddle for today.  Horse probably had enough, too.   

He'd made his camp in a defensible position, and close enough to water for him and his horse.  Both drank deeply from the creek to quench their thirst – his more from the hangover than working – and then Chris unsaddled his horse, giving him a quick brushing and feeding before ground tying him.  That done, Chris ate trail rations instead of lighting a fire because the weather wasn't cold, and he didn't want to advertise his position.  He was careful, knowing that others would have to go around with the pass closed, and he'd rather not be caught unawares, especially with what he left behind in Purgatory.

Having been in a thoughtful mood all day, his mind saw no reason to stop now.  Lying on his bedroll, staring up at the stars, he realized his life was pretty good now.  Chris admitted there was a part of him that wanted more, but in the grand scheme of things, it was better than most. 

He earned an honest living, protecting and helping people, and he was a town leader of sorts.  Chris wasn't naοve enough to believe everyone wanted him there, especially with his dark reputation, but those that didn't stayed quiet.  Their moment of realization came at the expense of the town, when the seven were fired and left.  After their return, someone made sure that the town knew the men were under no obligation to return after being let go.  Now, the grumblers only spouted off when someone screwed up, or a large amount of property got damaged in an all-too-frequent fight.

Word slowly spread that their town was not easy pickings, and the newspaper – who often exaggerated Chris's own actions to discourage others – reported what happened in other towns with less protection.  Chris knew he wouldn't get rich off his salary, but having room and board paid for helped him save some money, and fix up his place outside of town.  Sleep finally claimed him as he dreamed the dreams he thought forgotten.  Of a future, raising horses, having a home, maybe having another family, and of his friends.


The next morning, he had to swing wide of the foothills because the horse couldn't climb the steep, sandy slopes, and headed toward the flat land between the canyons.  The terrain never ceased to fascinate him, and throughout the couple hours it took to reach the flatlands, he noticed life teeming around him.  He was the only human out here, outnumbered by wildlife, but they seemed content to go about their business and not bother him.  Painted in shades of brown and tan, the surroundings looked desolate and unforgiving, with the canyon walls jutting up nearby.

The landscape was another reason he loved the West.  A far cry from the flat farm fields and lush green grass he remembered from Indiana, this area was stark and beautiful in its wildness.  Different shades of green could be found, and in muted darker or lighter shades.  Desert blooms created bright contrasts, little splotches of color here and there to break the monotony of the terrain.  The ground itself was not a rich dark brown, but a sun-baked tan.  Where there was no water, cracks filled the ground.  But the weather was extreme out here, and flash floods happened all too often, especially if too much rain fell too fast, and overran the creek beds. 

Lost in his thoughts, he continued to ride, letting his mind drift along with the miles.   All the reasons for staying in his town filtered through his brain, filling him with a sense of contentment.  He didn't notice the burgeoning quiet, or feel the humidity rise, just riding along in his own world of sorts. 

Stillness and silence filled the air, and he finally noticed that the wildlife was not active any more.  In fact, they had disappeared.  Raising his head to the heavens, looking beneath the brim, he saw the storm coming his way.  It looked to be moving toward him, and not taking its time.  Chris cursed himself for not detecting it sooner because it looked pretty vicious.  He and his horse needed cover before it hit.   

Looking around, he saw some caves near the entrance to the canyon a distance on his left, and figured that would be the safest bet for him.  Whirlwinds and dust devils didn't go well with horses and men, plus at least one of the caves he spotted looked big enough for his horse. 

Nudging his mount into a gallop, he rode against time, seeing the black, heavy, ominous clouds getting closer and closer.  He wasn't sure if he would make it or not, but he'd give it his best effort.  Bent low over his saddle, Chris hung on to the reins, merging with his horse.  Faster and faster, the ground disappeared underneath the hooves of the magnificent animal, leaving behind the open lands for the mouth of the canyon.  

He made it.  


The storm moved faster than he reckoned, coming over him within minutes of his sighting of it.  Wind and rains whipped him in sheets, the wind in one direction, and the rain striking with the force of tiny spears.  His hat blew off his head, stopped from blowing away by the latigo, but that cut into his throat when the wind tried to rip it from him.  He coughed when it tugged hard, taking in a mouthful of grit and rain.    

His horse foamed beneath him, the foam sliding down off the wet coat in the driving rain, and the heaving breaths showed how hard the horse ran to get out of the storm.  They were nearly there, entering the mouth of the canyon, walls stretching high above him filled with large rocks, and the rain ran down in rivulets.   The sounds of booming thunder and crackling of lightening filled the sky, sounding entirely too close for comfort. 

Almost there, he thought, turning the horse toward the cave entrance no longer so far away.  "You'll rest when we're inside," he yelled to his horse over the wind.  "Good boy," he praised. 

Forked lightening struck right above and beside him.  Electricity filled the air, and his horse screamed, immediately drawing up and tossing his rider in fear.

Chris hit the ground hard, almost rolling out of it, when the lightening struck again above him, on the rocky canyon wall.  Rocks fell from their perches, pelting him and his horse.

The horse took off in a frightened gallop.

His voice drowned out by the wind, Chris could not call his faithful steed back, and lost sight of him in the whipping winds and blowing dirt.  

A second later, the thunder boomed loud and close, combining with the falling rocks and rumbling earth, so painful that Chris lost his bearings.  Everything coalesced into seeing the whipping winds and dirt, rain driving into his body, and chips of rocks cutting into his skin.  His focus narrowed on the cave he was pretty sure – he knew it was – in front of him.  It was so dark now, in the heart of the storm, and he staggered a few steps, nearly knocked over by just the rain and wind.  His boots slipped in the quickly mudding earth, sending him to his knees.  His hair hung down in filthy, dripping strings in his face, and one dirty hand pushed it back out of his eyes, only to have the pouring rain send it right back down.

Above him, lightening struck again, and the thunder boomed.  The soaking rain, combined with too many lightening strikes, and the earth-rattling thunder, created a mud-and-rock slide.  He didn't hear it coming; his intent was on gaining his footing and moving forward. 

The slide hit him hard, pummeling his body, sending him flat on his face, and then the smaller rocks pounded his body in their roll, the precursor to the heavy mud and bigger rocks.  Chris tried to get up, but it was no use.  He tried crawling, but a small rock bounced off the back of his head, stunning him.  It was enough time for the main force of the mud and boulders to catch him, the mud sliding under his body and lifting him.

Half dazed, he tried to claw for something to hold onto, but everything moved – below him, around him, above him, and he was out of control.  He didn't know where up was, and every sucked in breath brought mud with it, filling his mouth and nose.  The slide finally ran out of room, the mud shoving him hard against the opposing canyon wall, and the force of it – the big boulders pounding into that wall - set off another slide. 

This wall came down directly on top of him, hitting him all over, and pain quickly overtook his senses from the multiple hits.  A searing pain filled his left leg, followed by a bright flash in his eyes.  Then nothing. 

The storm ended just as quickly as it came, moving on to wreak havoc elsewhere.  Only the destruction was left behind, extensive in this canyon.  In the short length of time it took the violent storm to pass, the landscape had been changed.  Both canyon walls had been reshaped by the torrential rains and rock slides, and the mud added several inches to the bottom, along with large rocks looking completely out of place in the center. 

It took awhile for the wildlife to come out of their hiding, and a scared horse continued to gallop, coming to a stop where the canyon ended.  He whinnied, pawed at the canyon walls, and then looked back.  Shaking in fear, the horse stayed still, watching everything, expecting danger to come again. 

At the site of the multiple slides, pieces of muddy material blended with the surroundings, but fluttered a little in the remnant breezes.  Splotches of red on different rocks added color to the brown sameness, but only the fabric moved. 

The smell of blood drew the bugs and insects.  They slithered, crawled, and moved out of their holes, all heading for the intoxicating scent of their next meal.  It concerned them not that the person beneath the loose pile of rocks and partially buried in mud was a person that mattered to others, or that the person wasn't moving. 

Carried on the breezes, the smell wafted to the other wildlife, the ones with teeth and appetites for meat.  Slowly, cautiously, they approached the canyon, growling and snarling at each other in warning.  Even from a distance, they could tell the prey was still, and a meal was there for the taking.

They adopted aggressive stances, and they prepared to fight for their prize.  Growls and snarls continued to fill the air, along with raised hackles and bared teeth.  Only one question remained:  who would claim the prize?

Agony.  Sheer, unfiltered, pure, raw agony.  All he felt was pain.  The darkness – and release from pain – beckoned him, but one tiny spark of his mind wanted to know why he woke up.  It was dark.  He tried to open his eyes, but didn't think he succeeded.  He tried to listen to what was going on around him.  Something was trying to pull him out of his state of oblivion, where he couldn't feel the pain, but he couldn't hear anything, either.

OUCH!  Son of a bitch!  What the hell was that?  Fresh waves of torture swept through him, making his body involuntarily shudder, but he couldn't move his hands.  His feet – no, someone help him – he couldn't move them either.  It came again and he thought he screamed. 

His body was one big mass of torture, and he no longer fought oblivion.  In fact, when it happened again – that ripping, tearing sensation – he welcomed the escape. 

Part Two

The pain jarred him awake.  A tugging that awakened a fire in his leg that spread up through his body and left him gasping for breath.  Something was pulling at him.  He tried to lift his limbs to bat the nuisance away, but he couldn't get them to respond.  Movement brought more agony.

The tugging stopped.  He tried to take in deep breaths, but found himself coughing trying to dislodge something foul from his mouth and airway.  The violent expulsion from his airway causes more razor like pain to slice through his insides.  Finally spent, he was panting, lost in a swirl of darkness that made him feel as if his whole world was spinning, leaving him disoriented and nauseous.

He struggled to pull himself out of the nauseous darkness, but after his previous struggles found the effort too much. Slowly, he felt himself slipping into a quiet abyss.

Startled, he felt tugging again.  The struggle began anew to try to get away from the source.  Now he was moving, and something pushed him over onto his side.  The fire of pain blazed again, and swirling darkness called him to oblivion once more.

His mind woke again; dragging his consciousness from the pleasant place it took refuge.  Feeling heavy and disoriented, he took a moment to try and get his bearings; his first thought was of agony.  Chris stayed still, almost afraid to move for fear of the pain returning.  Wait – it was already there, a silent specter attached to him, haunting his every move, but now muted to a dull ache.  Not wanting to aggravate it, he continued to lie still.

Still feeling bogged down he tried to open his eyes.  It was unclear to him if he succeeded; all he saw was darkness.  He wasn't sure if it was night, or the effort was just too much for him.  Instead, he listened, wanting to get his bearings.  Not hearing anything, he allowed his body to relaxed slightly.  His mind told him he was on his back, stretched out.  Experimentally, he wiggled his right fingers, finding himself pleased to know they worked.  The left ones responded, too, giving him another positive to concentrate on.  He moved on to his toes and feet.  His right toes responded, so he checked out the left side.


Chris groaned; at least he thought he did, but he heard nothing.  He'd wakened the pain monster, who sent the message – quite clearly – his left leg was hurt, and hurt bad.  Gathering his considerable will, he fought the screaming nerves and protesting muscles.  His hands reached for something to squeeze, anything to distract him, and his right fingers encountered solid rock.  His left found the blanket his body lay on.  Concentrating on the woven feel of the blanket, he fisted his hand, rubbing the almost soft material through his fingers.  Chris kept telling himself the suffering was manageable, and eventually it subsided back to a constant ache.  Irritating, but he could tolerate it for now.

Knowing he needed to see how badly he was hurt, he tried once again to open his eyes.  He thought he'd opened them earlier, but the room was still dark, and perhaps they closed under all that pain.  Or they wouldn't open, and the effort to try hurt him too much.  Gritting his teeth – making his jaw throb – he reached up with his hands, inspiring hereunto-silent injuries the opportunity to announce themselves most forcefully.

His breath came in shuddering, heaving, aching gasps.  It was too much pain in too short a time.  No matter how hard he fought it, the overload of misery overwhelmed him.  He went screaming into the darkness, not wanting to succumb to the unprotected oblivion of unconsciousness.

Chris didn't know how much time passed, but it was dark and quiet when he woke.  Then he realized his eyes were still closed.  Since he knew his right fingers worked, he slowly brought them toward his face, stopping when he felt a pulling sensation in his right shoulder.  He eased the fingers back to their original position.  Thankfully, he had stopped himself before the shoulder pain became a full-blown, leaving him gasping for air after an attack of agony.  Trying the same process with his left fingers, he was pleased when he made contact with his face, and no pain announced itself.

His hand brushed the scruff of beard on his face, and he paused trying to guess the amount of time that passed by the length it had grown.  Hmmm…he figured he quit shaving when he left town for Purgatory, hadn't shaved since, but the scruffy hair didn't feel much longer than when he left Purgatory.  He rubbed a little harder, and felt something flaky come off.  Either his skin was real dry, which he could believe; sunburned – a distinct possibility; or it was dirty.  Any of the three could be the actual cause, or a combination of them.  It was useless trying to guess, he needed to see what had happened to him.  His wandering hand continued up to his eyes.

Sliding his fingers up, he poked something he didn't expect – swollen skin that didn't like being disturbed.  It protested in a nerve-screaming fashion, giving him an instant headache.  In actuality, it was more of an increase in the incessant throbbing in the back of his head from an ignorable ache to an insistent screech.  Riding out his body's defense mechanism of 'hey you - I'm hurt – quit poking', Chris decreased the amount of pressure in his fingertips, exploring beneath his eyes and over to his nose.

Yup, his nose felt broken. That explained the pain and some of the swelling.  Continuing up to his forehead, it was seriously misshapen.  Half of it jutted out over his eyes, telling him he probably had some spectacularly swollen bruises up there.  Continuing around his head, he found more bruises spread throughout the entire distance, and vaguely remembered getting hit with something hard.  What hit him, he didn't remember quite yet.  His hair felt gritty and disgusting, dried together in chunks that stuck to what felt like a bandage he encountered wrapped around his head. 

His conscience now joined the rest of his body, solemnly asking him what he expected.  The memory was still muddled and elusive, but he somewhat recalled being in a tempest. He had been fool enough not to pay attention to his surroundings.  Flashes of a knife-throwing woman appeared in his jumbled brain, along with a dangerous pair of siblings, one trying to rob him.  What happened to him?  His foggy memory confused him even further. 

Ignoring the confusion for now, Chris opted to continue taking stock of himself and his surroundings.  He'd lost his sight, at least until the swelling went down.  So the big questions became where was he, and how did he get here?

Chris used his fingers to explore the blanket beneath him.  It was softer than his bedroll, and since the last real thing he remembered was being outside under the slide, someone had to have moved him.  A dark memory rose to the surface of ripping sensations, and he forcibly shut that down.  He didn't want to recall that, no thanks.

His hand reached down for his gun, not finding it or the belt at all.  Fear gripped him briefly, telling him he was sightless, hurt, and unarmed.  It whispered to the very centers of his brain that he was a target, easy pickings, and had no control.  The last two words – no control – bounced around, letting their full import play havoc with his ingrained personality traits, of always wanting to have some type of control over himself.  Time passed while he mentally wrestled that demon into submission, reminding himself he needed his wits about him to figure out where he was and what happened.  Rational thought took over momentarily, making him reason that he wasn't dead yet.  Maybe one of his friends found him, or he was still? back? in Purgatory and Maria took him in.

He didn't know. 

The not knowing bothered him.

It couldn't be any of his friends, could it?  One of them would have been there when he woke up, unless they were doing something else important, like checking the area.  Wherever this area was. 

Lying here wasn't helping to answer any of his questions, so he called out.  Didn't hear his voice, so he tried louder.  His throat hurt something fierce, so he guessed his voice wasn't working.  That's when he remembered the latigo cutting into his throat.  He thought it cut into his throat; he wasn't sure.  Could someone have cut his throat, or tried to strangle him?  The holes in his memory frustrated him, and inside of his mouth felt like he swallowed chunks of dust, filling his pores and smothering his taste buds.  Chris added a sore throat and no voice to his mental calculation of injuries.

A soft tapping started on his left hand.  He hadn't heard anyone come up, and now he was being touched.  His left hand snatched at the other in startled reflex, and missed. Instinctively Chris attempted to roll over, trying to raise himself to meet his unknown foe or savior.  That hurt, but he toughed out the pain.  He needed to know who this person was, and where they were now. 

A slight pressure on his chest pushed him back over onto his back.  He tried to snatch the hand again, but his arm was slapped away, and he was too weak to fight it anymore. He thought he was trying to ask the person who they were, but he couldn't hear anything, not even the scratch of his own voice.  Yet he felt the rumble in his chest like he was trying to talk. It struck him then he'd lost his hearing, and mentally cursed himself for a fool because he didn't figure that out earlier. 

He hoped it was temporary, because right now his world was dark and silent, sensation his only guide.  With his nose broken, smell was an iffy proposition, and taste didn't do him any good if he couldn't see what he was picking up to eat. The senses he relied so much on to keep him safe…failed him.

Chris felt pain, and that was not good, because there was entirely too much of it.  But the positive side was he knew what hurt where, based on his self-exploration, and kind of figured out how to move.  This person had not hurt him yet, so he waited, his mind trying to figure out what was going on, and making the feeble attempt at planning.  The thought that scared him was the wondering at what his damaged senses still hid from him, and what injuries were still undiscovered by his conscious mind?  He clamped down on his fear, needing to deal with the here and now. 

The long moments of nothing after being touched caused him to call out a simple, "Hello?"

He didn't hear it, but he knew he tried. He hurt his throat again, and it felt like tiny shards of glass tearing the tender skin when he swallowed. 

Ignoring the pains, desperate to know the person's identity, Chris relied on the only sense he knew worked, touch.  He raised his hand and reached out toward the unknown person, but quickly drew back when he felt a stinging pain in his hand as it was slapped with something hard.  The jolt woke up some other injuries, and as he fought to control the pain again, he pulled back. 

Chris groaned. 

On the heels of the discovery of new pain, a secret his senses finally revealed, an insistent tapping started on his left hand.  It felt hard, harder than a hand would make, and he guessed it a warning to be still.  The tapping would probably turn into something a little more painful –were that indeed possible – if he continued gesturing and reaching.

With exaggerated movements to show no hostile intent, he lay back, leaving him momentarily alone and helpless.  He didn't like this feeling very much, but his survival depended on the good graces of his visitor. 

Chris felt hands at his back, trying to lift him, and did not resist.  They did all the moving; he went along for the ride.  The ride was doubled; he was sitting up, and enduring waves of fresh agony.  He bit back the pain, wondering why the torture till he felt something near his mouth and a drop of wetness fall on his dry lips. Feeling that brief drop, his body reacted knowing it needed the moisture.  He took a sip.  Then another.

The refreshing liquid was taken away several times, as the person wouldn't let him gulp it down.  It went away briefly, but was replaced again, and this time the liquid was warm.  Broth.  The water had eaten away some of the thick coating on his tongue, and his taste buds functioned.  He recognized the broth, and that small identification pleased him.  Chris drank it all – slowly – and decided right then it was the best 'meal' he'd had in a long time.  Figuring it didn't hurt even if he couldn't hear it, he said thank you. 

He felt a pat his good shoulder in response, the bowl was gone, and somehow he felt alone. 

His stomach full of an herbal broth and water, and nothing to do, Chris allowed his aching body to rest, and he fell quickly to sleep.

When he woke, he called out.  Not too much later, he felt a tap on his left hand, letting him know the person arrived.  Chris made no moves, just lying still and oddly pleased to no longer be alone.  He dared not project himself into something threatening, because he didn't know what the person would do. 

He almost snorted, barely stopping himself from inflicting pain through his nose, but the thought finished that he probably couldn't threaten a simple housefly right now.  In fact, the fly was probably more dangerous than he was lying on his back dependent on a stranger for his well-being.  Chris had no plans on angering his benefactor.

A bowl was placed into his hands, and he welcomed the help to drink.  Knowing trying to touch the caretaker would not be permitted, and not caring to risk losing out on water and broth, he stayed passive.  He felt so weak and hot, guessing he had a fever.  If the person couldn't do anything for the fever, he'd keep himself drinking to hold it at bay if possible.  The water came first this time, followed by the broth.  When he finished, he felt strips of cloth placed into his hands, feeling them carefully.  There was a light tap on one of the bandages he found earlier, signaling the intent to change his bandages. 

He nodded agreement, wincing at the pain, and then lay still while the person removed the old ones, gently rubbed some salve on them, and replaced the bandages with new.  That took some time, making Chris realize how badly injured he truly was, and in so many places.  Mentally, the sick man catalogued all the sites, and the discovery of new ones somewhat disheartened him.  He gave his thanks when it was over.  Worn from the constant battle of controlling the pain, he welcomed the oblivion of sleep once more.

The pattern continued for each time he woke, and on the third time, the person gave him a bottle and a bowl, placed them within easy reach, showed them how to find them, and let him draw his own conclusions for what they were for.  He was grateful, needing help sitting up the first few times, but he wasn't too proud to say no to the help.  His body was traumatized, and he couldn't do much for himself.

He was useless, a feeling he hated intensely, but one he was forced to endure.  What good was an injured gunslinger?  What if he never healed? 

Time had no meaning to him.  Chris just ate, slept, and survived, too weak to do anything else.