Author's note// indicates thoughts projected or read by another/ italic writing indicates personal thoughts.

They don't belong to me. I just borrow them without permission. I'm really trying to catch Tanner. It's tough though he's awful wild. I bought four peach trees this spring and I have my great-grandmother's deep dish peach pie recipe so I'm baiting the field.

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Purgatorio, Denver, CO

Monday June 1st, 1998

The apartment roof top held evidence of the hard work of the buildings inhabitants. Planting beds were full of vegetables. There were flowers all over along with pots of herbs. Several plastic chairs and a patio table made a restful place to sit and relax.

Vin Tanner sat on an old quilt. I'm gonna have ta git up inta the mountains soon. Thing's is startin' ta close in on me. Vin leaned back watching the stars.

"Did I tell ya 'bout Larabee. Feel 'im in m' head, like you, Blue and tha Capt'n. He's got an awful dark place in him. Missin' his family mighty bad. Figure if I work slow I kin heal tha' place. Tha man don't need ta hurt like tha'. He's a' ATF agent. He's got some fine men workin' with him. They's watchin' over 'em too," Vin spoke softly.

"They's Buck, bit of a rogue, got him a good heart though. You'd 'preciate Josiah, got him a unique way a lookin' at things. He kin show ya a path when ya was sure there weren't none. Nathan he's a healer with a mighty big heart. Then they's JD. He ain't but a little feller. Looks a lot smaller standin' with them big men. He's got him a spirit that cain't be held in. He lost his momma recent and is still hurtin' mighty bad. Buck's taken him fer his own so he's not alone. You tell JD' s momma that Buck's lookin' after him for her."

"I signed up fer another class today. Iffen things go right I'll have that associate degree this fall. Hope I ain't disappointed ya to much. Them letters just don' make sense sometimes. I'm just stupid. I'se sorry, now don' yah go and shake that finger at me now. I know, don't call mahself stupid. It's so dan . . . g hard they's little bitty kids wha' kin read better'n me. I won't quit though I promise."

"Wish I could hold ya close. I ain't fergot I'se a Tanner. I'll make ya proud. Love ya, been nice visitin' with ya Ma," Vin chuckled when a soft breeze brushed his cheek and stirred his hair. He rose and stretched looking out over the streets below. Things seemed peaceful.

That's trouble comin' iffen somebody don' put out tha' fire. Rekin I'm in charge of fire control tanight. He frowned down at the couple in the alley. Vin's lips quirked as he walked over to the water hose. Waiting until the water was good and cold he then sprayed the water over the edge and onto the necking couple below. Sudden curses singed the air.

"Ain't no call ta cuss in front of a lady Ramon. Rosa, yer Momma'd be mighty upset ya actin' tha' way. Iffen tha boy cares fer yah he won't hide in no alley ta see ya. Ramon you go ta tha door and you meet Rosa's folks. Ya'd want tha same fer yer sisters. Don' come back if ya ain't gonna do right by tha girl," Vin's voice carried clearly to the alley.

"Si Senor Vin, I behaved without honor. I will take Rosa home now," Ramon called to the protective guardian.

Vin shivered looking around Cowboy! What are yah doin'? Vin hurried down the stairs and hopped into his jeep taking off.

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An hour later he stood in a seedy bar watching Larabee knock back another whiskey. "Damn, he's hurtin'," Vin whispered.

"Time ta leave Chris," Vin ordered as he walked over to the table. A black look was the only answer. "Ya don' scare me Cowboy," Vin chuckled. Chris lurched to his feet and swung at the Texan. Vin dodged the fist and sank a fist of his own into Chris' belly. "I ain't Buck. Larabee I ain't carryin' a load a guilt," Vin growled. Vin sighed and managed to get Chris over his shoulder when the man collapsed. "Larabee I'd leave yer ass, but ya'd wake up dead in tha mornin' in this place," Vin gritted as he headed for the door.

A huge man started to block the exit. Vin pulled a hidden knife resting it against the crotch of the man's jeans. "Be best ta hold tha door. Ya wouldn't be wantin' me ta slip now would ya?" Vin smirked. Backing out the door he flopped Chris none to gently into the passenger seat of his Jeep.

"Chris where'd ya leave yer truck?" Vin shook the drunken man's shoulder. Grimacing Vin supported Larabee while he vomited into the storm drain. Sighing Vin settled the semi-conscious man back into the seat and belted him in. Well here's his cell phone. I guess I'll try callin'. Figure Buck is #1.

"Wilmington," a worried voice answered on the first ring.

"Yah lose somethin', Buck?" Vin asked cheerfully.

"Tanner? Are you drunk? It's three in the mornin'," Buck growled.

"Nah, I found me a drunk cowboy though," Vin answered.

"Is he hurt?" Buck sighed tiredly.

"Don't seem ta be. I cain't find his truck though," Vin responded.

"I saw where he was headed so I took his keys. The truck's locked up at work," Buck explained. "I would have come after him a couple of hours ago. Hell I got pissed at him. Then JD started running a fever and vomiting up his toenails. I decided I wasn't running after him this time," Buck admitted guiltily.

"You keep an eye on JD. I'll take Larabee home wit' me," Vin offered calmly. "Got yah a pad and pencil. I'll give yah mah number jus' in case," Vin said.

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"Come on Cowboy tha damned elevator' broke 'gain. Don' wanna have ta carry ya up five flights. Damn yer drunk ass. Serve ya right iffen I'se ta leave ya out here," Vin fumed while trying to wake Larabee.

"Senor Tanner, are you all right?" asked a soft accented voice.

"Ola Senor Rameriz. Reckon he's down fer tha count," Vin sighed tiredly.

"I will help you, si," Jose Rameriz gave one of his huge grins.

"'Preciate it," Vin smiled slightly.

They soon had Chris stretched out on an old blanket Vin kept in the jeep. "You worry for him Senor Vin. You like this man," The huge Guatemalan lifted one end of the blanket.

"Gracias, Senor," Vin groaned as they lay Chris down on his bed. "Sure don't look like he's tha' heavy." Vin panted.

"Sleep well, Chico," Ramirez waved and slipped out the door.

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"Yer gonna be mighty miserable come mornin', Cowboy," Vin sighed as he slid Chris' boots off. Why's it feel sa right him bein' here? Best strip him down and wash his clothes. He's gonna need somethin' ta wear ta work come mornin'. Vin efficiently peeled the clothes off the drunken man making him comfortable as he did so. Vin loaded the washer and returned washing Chris' face and placing a bucket on each side of the bed just in case. I cain't bring yer woman and boy back fer yah. Sure wish I could Chris.

Chris tossed restlessly as he started to dream. He calmed at Vin's touch and soft whisper "Hush now, yer safe,". Chris slept without the nightmares that had plagued him nightly for years. With a pleased look Vin turned and went to make his bed on the couch. Tanner rose often to check on the sleeping man. Vin moved quietly through the apartment setting things up for the morning.

Do ya have any idea how special ya are Larabee? Been over most of tha States and a good part of tha world and only found 4 folks I could touch in m' whole life. They's m' ma, Blue, tha Captain and now you. Ever'body else is dead. Figure God sent yah fer a reason. Reckin I best hang on fer a spell an' see where we go. Hope this whole thing don't scare the shit out a' yah./

Chris woke in a strange bed.

"Where the hell am I?" He moaned as he tried to sit up. The water bed shifted under him making his already queasy stomach react in a seasick manner. Bright light filled the room from the open windows. Chris was helped to the edge of the king-size bed by an supportive hand. Larabee squinted trying to focus. Finally ducking his head to avoid the sunshine.

A hand appeared with three aspirin on the palm. Chris quickly snatched them up. A cup of steaming liquid was offered. The tea had a light pleasant flavor. Chris stomach seemed to settle miraculously.

"What is that stuff?" Chris finally asked in a whisper.

"Blackberry tea. It'll calm yer stomach. Don' taste bad neither," came a soft Texas drawl.

"Cowboy?" Chris asked weakly.

"Best git up and grab a shower Larabee. Towels and such are on tha back of tha throne. They's a razor with a fresh blade on tha sink. I washed yer clothes. I'll leave 'em on tha bed fer ya," Vin spoke softly and turned to leave.

Vin heard the water start and grinned slightly as he counted to twenty. A sharp yelp was followed by curses. Kids is all up fer school. Won't be no hot water fer an hour er better. Vin quickly prepared breakfast.

Chris glared darkly as he exited the bedroom. "You knew that would happen, you little shit," he snarled.

/Yah got lousy manners Larabee. Cleared yer head didn't it/ Vin laughed silently.

Chris studied the bounty hunter as he ate. "How'd I get here?" Chris asked roughly.

"Found yah down at Charlie's last night. Figured ya was safer here," Vin drawled without expression as he ate.

"Where was Buck?" Chris tried to piece together the night before.

"Called him when I couldn't find yer truck," Vin responded.

"He took my keys," Chris snarled.

"Yah couldn't drive. Hell, had ta have help gittin' ya up here," Vin retorted.

"Why didn't Buck come after me?" Chris asked in confusion.

"JD got sick on him and he was scairt ta leave him," Vin drawled calmly.

"JD's sick?" Chris sat up straighter.

"Got him a fever and was throwin' up somethin' fierce," Vin informed the now concerned man.

"What time is it?" Chris looked around for a clock.

"7:10, Buck says JD's a mite better this mornin'. He'll be in ta work a little late gittin' a 'scription filled fer JD first," Vin passed on the message.

Chris called and asked Amos -his closest neighbor- to take care of the stock for him. Looking around at Vin's apartment, a small smile graced Chris' lips at the unique room. Well it isn't Buck's.

The high ceilinged apartment was just 2 large rooms and spotless. The spartan furnishings were worn but clean. Chris nodded in appreciation at the place. All of the woodwork, cabinets and hardwood floor had been finished in golden oak. Most of the upper cabinet doors had been replaced with brightly colored stained glass in oak frames.

The main room walls had been painted in a mural of trees and underbrush. Giving the place an illusion of a forest glade. Live plants blended with the walls creating a living effect. The ceiling was painted big sky blue, sponging had softened it with a few clouds.

Chris was certain the worn couch had been purchased for comfort rather than looks. A beautiful Indian blanket was folded over the back. A well broke in recliner faced the entertainment center. The coffee table was sturdy with a top made of heavy oak planks. His lips twitched at the whimsy. A frightened hunter was climbing one leg of the table carved to look like a tree. An angry bear stood under him. Chris chuckled as he spotted the bear cub peering through the branches above the hunter. A dryad was carved into the next leg. Small animals peeked out from the third. A plain block of wood stood for the fourth leg.

"Haven't decided what that one'll be," Vin drawled at Chris' questioning look.

A oak cabinet held a 19" TV, an old stereo system and an aquarium of brightly colored fish. A framed 5 x 7 held an old photograph. The red-gold haired woman was young but looked sad. A small curly blond haired boy sat on her lap with a lopsided grin. The boy's bright blue eyes were full of mischief. The woman's eyes were a matching blue full of love for the child she held.

A beautiful lady, that scrawny little fella must be Vin.

/She was beautiful. An' who ya callin' scrawny/

Chris' heart skipped a beat. He flinched at the unfamiliar but soothing mental touch.

/Dammit Tanner there isn't enough room for all of us in my head./

/Just you and me, Pard./

/You forgot the headache from hell./

/I weren't tha one out drinkin'./

Trying to regain his composure Chris continued to study his surroundings. A computer sat on a desk in the corner of the room. An old Wells Fargo cash box was being used for an end table holding a simple wooden lamp and the phone. An oak Shaker style rocker sat turned to the window. A quilt was crumpled in the seat. Tiny 1" squares in bright colors made a diamond pattern. That pattern's called Around the world. I remember when Mom tried to make one like it. I guess it's still boxed up somewhere.

The kitchen area was small and spotlessly clean. Plants graced the window sills along with a gallon jug of brightly colored glass beads. Suncatchers sparkled in the morning light. A small oak table and two chairs took up much of the room. Vin shifted uncomfortably at Chris' scrutiny.

"You have a nice place here, Tanner," Chris offered sincerely. "Thanks for everything. Guess I need to get to work," Chris sighed.

"Figured I'd drop ya off at yer office. Make sure ya git there and all," Vin reached for a jacket. Chris got a dark look on his face and started to speak. "Larabee do ya even know where ya are?" Vin asked. Chris blinked and shut his mouth. "Let's go," Vin walked over and locked his bedroom door. Chris stared speechlessly at the twin deadbolt locks gracing the security door. Shrugging he followed the bounty hunter out of the apartment.

"Tanner you forgot to lock your door," Chris reminded Vin as he headed down the hall.

"I don' lock it. Tha kids use mah computer fer school an' such. Older ones know they kin use tha washer and dryer."

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"You got a death wish or something?" Chris fumed as he followed Vin down the dingy hall. Worn flooring. Scratched wooden banisters with the finish worn off. The wooden risers worn down in the middles. The building seemed to radiate poverty and old sorrows.

Chris was subjected to glances full of distrust. While Vin was met with greetings in a dozen languages as they made their way out of the building. "Your neighbors aren't real friendly," Chris growled.

"Yer a stranger is all," Vin explained.

"Senor Vin, Senor Vin," a tiny black haired girl toddled out of an open door.

"Hey beautiful, how's mah angel?" Vin swung the baby up into a warm hug. The tiny girl giggled and lisped a mouthful of incomprehensible syllables. "Ya gotta eat tha green stuff too," Vin laughed softly. "You best git back in there for yer momma scolds me," Vin sat her down and steadied her till she toddled back to the smiling woman in the door. The woman called something in Spanish to the two men and closed the door.

Vin looked Chris over for a minute. Chris frowned as Vin walked all the way around him shaking his head. "Tanner?" Chris snarled.

"Maria said yer mucho hombre. Just don' see it mahself," Vin snorted.

She thought I'm very much a man. The day looks better already. Chris smiled to himself.

/Said ya gotta nice ass too./ Vin snickered as he followed the blushing man out of the building.

/Get out of my head cowboy one headache at a time./ Chris froze when he reached the cracked sidewalk. Run down buildings and rusting cars greeted him.

"Welcome ta Purgatorio, Larabee," Vin drawled softly. Chris crossed to Tanner's jeep and crawled in, buckling the seatbelt.

"Tanner you deserve better than this. You need to move some place safer," Chris said in a worried tone.

"Larabee, nobody deserves ta live in Purgatorio. If I kin keep one a' mah kids outta trouble than I'll be happy," Vin started the jeep and pulled away from the curb.

Looking back at Vin's building Chris saw a small oasis in the middle of the dilapidated neighborhood. The building was old and tired. The sidewalk out front was clean. There were bright pictures painted on the old walls, but no obscenities or recognizable gang sign. Window boxes graced many of the windows filled with herbs and flowers. A mural covered the wall next to a vacant lot.

The lot had been turned into a community garden. It was clean with bright flowers trimming the edges of walkways. A fenced area was full of small children playing. A dozen or so people worked in the garden plots.

It looks like someone's making a difference. I got a feeling it's you, Cowboy.