Chris had been holed up in his cabin for days. He needed the time alone, especially this time of year. As the years had passed it had gotten somewhat easier to get through the holiday. This year was particularly hard because it marked a decade since their deaths. He knew it was his punishment for not having been there to save them. Irrational as that thought may have been, it haunted him none the less.
Mary had managed to get him out of the darkness that continued to haunt him. He could not help but think that Billy, who had grown like a weed over the years, would have been Adam's partner in crime.
During these days of solitude, he had managed to carve a flute for the boy and a set of combs for his mother. He knew Pony was getting on in years, but he was still up for the task of getting into town. The weather was taking a turn for the worse as he left his cabin.
He had promised the others that he would be there in time for midnight services. He had left in plenty of time and knew the route by heart. Pony could make it there blind folded. The clouds increased and he pulled his coat closer to his body as he shivered. He urged Pony into a gallop. They were crossing familiar terrain when the horse stepped into a gopher hole.
It caught Chris off guard and he bolted over Pony landing on his head and sliding with his body's momentum. Pony nudged him and he tried to move.
"Get help. Go Boy and find Vin." he said as he slowly lost consciousness. He tried to look at the sky as the darkness took hold.
Pony headed toward town. Without the added weight of Chris he went at a fast canter. The weather caused the horse to be more cautious.
Chris was slowly being covered in a blanket of snow. He shivered uncontrollably as he struggled to regain consciousness.
He was in the throes of a nightmare. Sarah and Adam were there before him. They were performing some kind of macabre dance while flames engulfed them. They were different somehow. They were older and they weren't screaming but smiling through it all. He tried to yell out and he tried to reach them. His body felt like it was frozen stiff as he struggled toward them. He found the darkness consuming him once more.
Pony finally made it to the main street of Four Corners. He whinnied as he started to canter erratically. Mary had stepped out to check on Chris and the weather. She recognized Pony in an instant and walked cautiously toward the horse. Vin came from the opposite direction.
"Vin where is he?" she said as he scoped out the horse with his hands.
"I'll go get a horse and let Pony lead me back to Chris. You get that spare room ready and I'll bring him back in one piece. Nate is busy with the birth of a baby. I'll bring him back I promise." Vin said.
"Vin..." she started to ask.
"He's alive. I can feel it." he replied.
"Thank God. Bring him home." she said as she walked back to her newspaper.
It was slow going and the sun was starting to set when they came to a lump in the snow. Vin was startled by the still form. He managed to pick his friend up while brushing away the snow. He listened to his chest for a heart beat and was relieved to find one, strong and steady. He kicked about the snow for some loose wood and managed to dig out some paper from his pockets. He lit a fire. He got his bedroll off his horse and wrapped Chris in the blankets while he got a pot out to melt some snow. It may not be the best thing in the world but it would have to do until he got Chris back in town.
Chris coughed and slowly woke. His entire body was shivering. His head was splitting and he could make out the form of Vin and smiled.
"You up for getting back into town?" Vin asked as he took the pan off the fire and added a bit of snow to cool it.
"What happened?" he managed to chatter. He drank the warm liquid.
"Let me get you back into town. The sooner you are out of those wet things the better. How is your head? Rock hard as ever I imagine." Vin said. He felt the man's head for any lumps. He took the empty pan and listened to the cough once more.
Chris tried to get on his feet and almost made it. A coughing jag caused him to lose his footing. Vin was there in an instant. He took him over to his horse and placed him on the saddle. He kicked the fire out and proceeded to wrap the blankets around his friend. He tied Pony's reins to his saddlebags, got on behind Chris and started to head back into town. The darkness enveloped the two of them as they made their way back. It was completely dark but for a bright star in the north.
Vin remembered the story of the Christ child as he managed to get to Mary's newspaper.
As he rode into town, he could see the rest of the team. Josiah walked toward them and caught Chris as he collapsed in his arms.
Nate followed, as he barreled into the store and set his friend in the rocker by the fire. Nate checked him out and left him while Mary came into the room. Chris couldn't stop shaking. Mary was there with some hot tea and started unbuttoning his wet clothes.
Chris tried to help. He was caught in the throes of another coughing jag. Mary grabbed whatever was handy and started to dry him. She ruffled his hair in a towel and rubbed the circulation back into him. She finally placed him in the bed that she kept on the first floor.
"Saddlebags" he managed to say through chattering teeth.
"I'll have someone get them." she said. She went to the door and told her son to check on the saddlebags. She knew he was in a state of shock and delirium. She had managed to get him dry, but now it was utmost to get him warm. She had put him in the bed and she needed to get him warm. Billy brought in the saddlebags and laid them near Chris. Mary nodded her thanks to her son and got down to her birthday suit. She climbed into bed and held Chris near her. She used her hands to rub the chills from his body. She saw only one star out in the sky. Chris coughed. She concentrated on getting him warm. His shivering slowly ceased and he was becoming more alert. He coughed once more. For the first time since he landed on his head, he began to gain focus. The first thing he noticed was that Mary was laying next to him. She had nothing on and all he would need to do was to...
"Thank you Mary. Is it still Christmas Eve? I love the gift you have given me. I'm afraid mine will pale by comparison" he felt her start to move, but he prevented her from leaving by spooning next to her.
Mary relished the warmth and almost gave in. She stayed for a few moments longer. She managed to grab her camisole and pantaloons. He allowed himself the luxury of letting his hands roam while helping her back to her clothing and letting a frown form across his face.
"Chris, you scared the hell out of me. That was my only reason for this." she said as she got out of bed. He allowed his eyes to wander as she dressed. Another coughing jag hit and she went to his side to hold him against her. She felt the heat emanating from his body and laid down next to him once more.
"You are missing something." he said as he grabbed the saddlebags. "Close your eyes and make a wish. You need something extra special for Josiah's services." he added as he place a comb in her hand and one in her hair. She caught her breath as she noticed the details. They were the loveliest roses she had ever seen. She fell into his embrace as they noticed the star. It seemed even brighter than before. There was nowhere on earth she would rather be. The star twinkled and she kissed him as her hands began to roam and she managed to get under the covers once more.
She felt his lethargy seep in and she slowly let the pull of sleep come over her as well. There was nothing she wanted more than to wake in his arms on Christmas day. Of all the gifts she had ever gotten, love was the best gift of all. Not only the love she got, but the joy of giving love in return.