Chris knew that if anyone should happen along now, he would shoot them.
Oh Boy! Was he in a bad mood. He had lost Vins trail again and had doubled back once more. It was beginning to become a habit.
Not that Vin had left a trail. No! He was too clever for that. Even in his present state of mind he was cunning enough to cover his tracks, probably without even trying.
He was wondering whether Vin had figured out that he would think hed headed for high country, and the darn tracker had decided not to go that way. Although Chris could still not shake off the feeling that Vin had been through there.
That damn connection thing again!
He hissed his breath out through his teeth. His fingers were itching to strangle someone, and a long haired Texan dressed in buckskin sprang to mind.
"Where the hell are ya Tanner?" he said aloud.
Sighing heavily his eyes scanned backwards and forwards across the terrain, searching for what?
No! His head screamed. He was not going to think like that. He would find Vin and he would be fine. That was all except for the fact that he had ridden out of town sick and angry. But other than that he would be fine. Not .
"Damn, hot headed, stubborn, sleep in a wagon Texan!" he exclaimed out loud.
Oh yeah he was mad alright.
The look on his face as he continued to ride would have had even the toughest of gunfighters running for the hills. The Chris Larabee glare was very evident. Only this time it was directed at rocks and trees and bushes.
He was so lost in his quest, that when he heard the gunshot it startled him more than it did his horse. His whole body felt like it was airborne as he jumped in his saddle and his heart hammered in his chest.
He quickly gathered his senses and jumped from his horse, using the animal as cover until he figured out where the shot had come from. His gun was in his hand, poised ready to fire, but there was no-one to fire at. He came to this conclusion as his mind began to think logically and he realised that the gunshot had been quite a distance away.
Relaxing once again he holstered his gun, shaking his head in annoyance at how jittery he had been.
He climbed back into his saddle and it wasnt until then that it dawned on him that the gunshot could have had some connection to Vin.
Cursing loudly he urged his horse into a gallop, heading in the direction he had heard the shot come from. He gritted his teeth and closed his eyes in silent prayer as another gunshot filled the air.
+ + + + + + +
Ezra and Nathan were getting more and more dejected as they rode. They had not spoken much, the silence only broken occasionally by a word or two from one of the men.
It seemed as though they had been riding forever as they painstakingly scanned their surroundings as they moved slowly along. They had not even seen a beaver, and certainly not any sign of Chris and Vin. The only evidence they had that Vin was even out there was the fact that they had found his horse.
Vins horse had not appeared tired when they had found it, which made them hope that the animal had not travelled that far, although Vin could have lost him the day before, meaning his horse had had time to rest.
They were clutching at straws. But they were comforting straws that gave them the hope that they would find their friend soon.
"Hows the jaw Ezra?" Nathan broke the silence.
"I must confess Mr Jackson, that it is causing me a little discomfort. Our missing friend certainly knows how to deliver a lingering message to anyone who chooses to distress him."
Nathan grinned. He had actually understood what Ezra had said.
"He sure is full o surprises aint he. All laid back and leaning until he gets it into his head that theres a wrong bein done."
"Yes, he will defend to the death." Ezra glanced over at the healer. "So would you and all of the others Nathan."
"How bout you Ezra, you would too." Nathan was beginning to worry about the gambler riding beside him, he was taking this thing with Vin pretty hard.
"Dont be so sure Mr Jackson, Im not even sure that I would."
Nathan pursed his lips in irritation. "Dont sell yerself short Ezra. Id trust ya to watch my back, we all would."
"I beg to differ Mr Jackson. I would surmise that, due to recent events, our missing sharpshooter would not trust me to watch anything, least of all his back. I also have the feeling Mr Larabee would agree with him."
"Ezra .." Nathans voice trailed off. Whatever he was going to say forgotten as a gunshot rang out.
The two men looked at each other in alarm, both aware of what the other was thinking. They kicked their horses, sending them into a gallop.
+ + + + + + +
Buck rocked backwards and forwards, laughing in glee as he sat on the floor in the dirt. When he had fired his gun it had knocked him off balance and he had staggered around and then fallen on his butt.
"That tree aint gonna bother no-one else, I killed it!" he told himself as he continued to chuckle. " Hell, Ill be known as the greatest tree killer in the west!"
He sat thinking for a few moments, mulling this over. "Yeah. Im gonna be famous. Better kill me some more trees."
Getting shakily to his feet, he looked around him for a likely target, his gun hanging loosely in his hand.
"Aha! I see one!" he shouted as he raised his gun once again and shot at the tree he had spied in the distance. "Woo! Hoo! havin fun now."
Staggering around, looking for another prime target, he failed to see the rider coming swiftly up behind him.
"What the hell dya think yer doin.?" A voice boomed, startling the ladies man who spun around to see who had set the drums off in his head again.
Chris jumped down from his horse before the animal had come to a complete standstill. Storming angrily towards Buck, he snatched the gun away from the obviously intoxicated man. Glaring as only Chris could, the gunslinger took in the haggard appearance of the man before him.
"Chris, ma ol buddy." Buck grinned drunkenly, ignoring the seething look on his friends face as it swam in front of his eyes.
"Ill ask ya again Buck." Chriss voice was quiet and threatening, "What the hell dya think yer doin?"
"Im shootin trees!" Buck replied with glee.
Chris stared at the scoundrel, not believing what he had just heard. Pursing his lips he took a step towards him.
Stopping suddenly, his brows drew together in a frown. He stood stock still for a few seconds before his head snapped around to look out across the landscape, his senses alert as he tried to find the reason for the strange feeling he was experiencing that told him he and Buck were not alone.
+ + + + + + +
As the bullet hit him, Vin was knocked off of his already shaky feet and he landed heavily on his back. He was unable to hold back the cry of pain as his body hit the ground, sending him into yet another uncontrollable coughing fit. The pain was almost too much but, battling bravely against it, Vin managed to stave off the darkness that had been threatening to swamp him.
He lay there, trying to keep as still as possible in an effort to avoid having to endure any more pain than he was already experiencing. His muddled mind was trying to make sense of what was happening, and in its fevered state, the events of the last few minutes had become a jumble of distorted thoughts.
Looking up at the sky through watery, pain filled eyes he tried to recall what he was doing there.
Am I looking for a rabbit?
Before he had time to ponder on this question, another shot rang out, making his body tense as it waited to be hit by another bullet. The bullet never came. But it reminded him of why he was once again laying on the ground looking up at the sky.
Buck had shot him.
A feeling of unbelievable sadness swept over him as he finally accepted the fact that he had just lost the last thread of hope he had had that maybe he still had something to go back to, if he returned to Four Corners, and the life he had made there. Until that moment he had not realised that he had even been harbouring the thought.
He closed his eyes in anguish as the last trace of any feeling of belonging he had had finally left him.
What had he done to cause Buck to shoot him? It was him who had been laughed at back in town, wasnt it? So it should be him who was shooting people.
He knew he could never go back now, he had to move on, once again alone. Hell! He was used to it. But it didnt stop the ache caused by the feeling of having lost something that meant something to him. He had finally been making a life for himself, not permanent, but the friends could have been.
He would like to have seen Chris one last time, to at least have said goodbye. Their friendship was worth that wasnt it? He still knew with a certainty even he couldnt explain that the bond he and Chris shared would always be there, even if their paths never crossed again.
Thinking of Chris made Vin wonder how long ago he had given up looking for him. Chris must have gone back to town by now. How long had it been since he had left? He had lost all concept of time, he didnt know how many days he had been out on the trail but he knew as he tried to lick his dry lips, that if he ever found a creek he would drink half of it.
He mentally shook himself. This wasnt getting him anywhere, he had to decide what to do next.
"Tascosa." He whispered, remembering the place he had always intended to return to, so that he could try and clear himself of the charges of murder that still remained against him. "Yeah, Ill go to Tascosa."
He once again thought of Chris as he made this decision. Chris had always said that he would go to Tascosa with him, to help him in his battle. But he couldnt ask him to do that now. He had to do it alone. But first he had to figure out how to get himself out of the mess he currently found himself in.
A small smile appeared on his lips, as he saw the absurdity of his situation. Here he was laying in the middle of nowhere, sick and hurt and alone, with nowhere to go but a town that would sooner hang him than look at him, and he was contemplating his future. Hell! He would be lucky if he had a future!
Just then he heard a faint noise, making the hairs stand up on the back of his neck, as his famous Tanner instincts were alerted.
What the Heck?
It was voices, he was almost certain of it!
He tried to control his laboured, raspy breathing in an effort to hear better.
Chris! He could hear Chriss voice. He was sure of it. Where was he? He had to get his attention somehow.
All of his previous thoughts were forgotten as he set a new goal for himself. How was he going to alert Chris to his presence when it hurt like hell to move?
"Move yerself! Ya sorry excuse fer a Tanner!" he rasped as he tried to decide the best way to go about raising his body from the ground.
All he managed to do was raise his arm in the air as he desperately tried to attract Chriss attention, holding it there for a few seconds before pain and weakness overtook him and it dropped once more to his side.
In a determined effort, he prepared himself to repeat the action once more. Knowing that if he failed to alert Chris, he would die, before he had taken even one step towards Tascosa.
+ + + + + + +
Chris remained standing stock still as he continued to search the terrain for the cause of his uneasy feeling. He dared not even hope that this feeling was what he thought it was.
"Whats wrong?" Chriss behaviour had made Buck curious enough to try to settle himself into thinking coherently. Walking up beside his friend he followed Chriss gaze, his brows creasing as he saw nothing out of the ordinary.
"Vins out there somewhere Buck."
Buck rolled his eyes. "We know that already Chris. Heck! Aint that what you an me are doin out here in this Godforsaken place."
"No Buck, I mean hes out there." Chris swept his arm out in front of him. "Hes real close, I can feel it."
"Nah, all thats out there is dead branches and bushes and trees. I should know, I shot em."
Chris gave Buck a wilting look. "Go have yerself a sleep Buck, ya need ta gather yer senses."
Buck shrugged his shoulders and turned to leave. Hearing Chriss whispered "I know hes out there." he shook his head sadly, hoping his friend was right.
"Vin! Its Vin!"
The exclamation made Buck spin back around, his head swimming as he tried to focus his eyes on the black clad figure, who was running faster than Buck had ever seen him run before. Jumping over branches and small bushes that had been blown around in a recent storm.
Buck took off after him.
Chris could not believe it, he had been right. He had turned back, after watching Bucks retreating back and had almost missed it. An arm! A buckskinned arm! As he ran closer and closer towards his obviously stricken friend he thanked God for blessing him with good eye sight.
As Chris got closer, he could make out a shape in the dry brush. He almost wanted to slow down, afraid of what he would find when he reached his target, but he willed himself to keep going, knowing that Vin must have still been alive only moments before, because he had raised his arm.
"Vin." He said, quieter this time as he reached the tracker, who was laying very still on the ground. He knelt beside him, afraid to touch him anywhere as he took in the many injuries that covered his friends body.
Vin heard the voice, so close to him, and yet was afraid to open his eyes. What if he was imagining things again? What if he opened his eyes and all he saw was the sky?
"Vin?" the voice questioned. "Vin, I need ta know yer alright pard."
He decided to take his courage in his hands and slowly peeled open his eyes.
"Chris?" he whispered. "Thought yd gone back ta town." He saw a grin appear on the face hovering above him.
"Im right here Vin." Chris felt relief wash over him and he fought the urge to whoop with delight as he heard the Texans raspy drawl.
At that moment Buck reached the two men, exclaiming in elation when he saw Vin.
"Hot Dangit! We found ya! Yer as slippery as a skittish fish when ya wanna be aint ya boy."
Chris glanced over his shoulder at Buck in disbelief. How the hell had he managed to get out that tongue twister, after the amount of alcohol hed drunk?
Hell! Hed ask him later. Bet he couldnt say it if he was sober!
Turning back to Vin he saw the horrified look on the stricken trackers face.
"Take it easy Vin." He said, worried by the laboured, raspy breathing of his friend.
"Buck ." Vin tried to explain the reason for his anxiety. "Buck ." He got no further as a single cough ripped through his pain laced body.
"Well talk about that later Vin." Chris soothed, thinking Vin was trying to talk about the events in the jailhouse. He placed a comforting hand on Vins arm and grimaced as he realised that the tracker was in really bad shape. Turning to Buck he motioned with his head back to where their horses were still grazing in the clearing. "Can ya go get me a canteen."
"Sure pard, be back in a hot minute." Before Chris could acknowledge Bucks reply the ladies man had taken off in the direction he had come from.
Chris felt Vin shiver under the hand he had placed on his arm, turning back to look at him, he took in the sweat soaked hair that in places was stuck to his head.
"Busted maself up pretty bad Chris." Vin gasped out.
"Ya sure did Cowboy."
"Ya said that like I did it on purpose."
The famous Tanner look did not quite make it to his face as Vin was once more racked with pain as he coughed.
Chris clenched his teeth and sighed heavily. Feeling frustrated at not being able to help. God! He wished Nathan was here.
"Do this ta me again, an Ill shoot ya and go get ma five hundred dollars." He tried to take Vins mind off of the pain by referring to the bounty on Vins head.
Vin chuckled as he remembered telling Chris that if anything ever happened to him he wanted Chris to take his body to Tascosa and collect the bounty money.
He tensed as he saw Buck come into his line of vision.
"Here ya go Chris." Buck puffed, as he handed the canteen of water to the gunslinger. "Hows he doin?"
Chris looked at him and shook his head almost imperceptibly. "Not good." He mouthed.
"Want me ta ride back and get Nathan?"
Chris raised a hand at Buck, halting him as he was about to leave once again. "Wait, I wanna see what were dealing with here, so Nathan knows what ta bring."
Buck nodded as Chris turned his attention back to Vin.
"Ya want some water?" he asked the frowning tracker, who was still looking warily at Buck.
"Water? Ya got some?" Vin asked hopefully, turning his gaze on Chris.
"Yeah, I didnt throw away my canteen." Chris replied wryly.
"Guess I did do that didnt I?"
"Guess ya did Vin."
Chris pulled the cork from the canteen, and putting a hand behind Vins sweat soaked head, he eased him up a little to enable the tracker to drink.
Vin gulped on the heavenly fluid, feeling it go down his dry throat. He couldnt remember ever drinking anything that tasted so good.
"Steady there Vin, take it slow." Vin groaned as Chris took the canteen away from his lips and eased his head back onto the ground.
"I gotta check out where ya hurt now Vin. Ya understand?" Chris knew it was going to hurt like hell when he started checking Vins injuries, and he wanted him to be ready.
Vin was not ready, but knew he had no choice. First though, he had to get something off his chest. Darting his eyes towards Buck, he grabbed Chriss arm.
"Buck .shot ..me." he rasped.
Chris drew his forehead into a frown.
"No Vin, yer all confused. Buck didnt shoot ya."
He didnt notice the reaction of the big man beside him as Vins three pain filled words ripped into his soul.
"Yes I did." Buck said softly, sitting heavily on the ground. "I did."
Chris turned disbelieving eyes on his old friend. "What?" The question was hissed out between gritted teeth. Barely controlled anger visible on the gunslingers face.
"I thought I was seein things again, Chris. Oh God, I did it. I shot him"
As Buck watched, he saw an anger rising out of Chris like a tornado rising up from the ground. The ladies man stood and started to back away as he saw the raw fury on the face of his old friend.
With a growl from deep in his throat, Chris lunged at Buck. Grabbing him by the front of his jacket he held him there. Bringing his free hand up into a fist he pulled back his arm and sent the fist powerfully into Bucks face.
The force of the blow made Buck fly backwards, landing heavily against a rock. Before he had time to react, Chris had descended on him. He lifted him up by his jacket and sent painful blows to his midsection. As Buck looked up from being bent over double from the wind being knocked out of him, his blue eyes met fiery green. "I thought I knew you Buck." The words came out between gritted teeth, and lips that hardly moved. Quiet and menacing in their intensity. Buck recoiled at the look of raw hate on Chriss face, he opened his mouth to speak but the words never left his lips as a fist once more connected with his face and he was dropped unceremoniously to the ground.
+ + + + + + +
"The whole world has gone mad!" Ezra exclaimed, as he and Nathan watched the scene play out just ahead of them.
They had found Bucks and Chriss horses and, looking around, had seen the two men in the distance looking intently at something on the ground.
As they rode towards them their eyes widened in disbelief as they saw Chris suddenly rush at Buck and begin to beat him half senseless.
"I dont know bout the world, Ezra. But Chris Larabee certainly has." Nathan responded to Ezras exclamation, as they rode quickly towards the two men.
+ + + + + + +
"Whered he shoot ya Vin?" Chris asked as he once more knelt beside his injured friend. His eyes raked over the trackers body. Hell! It could have been anywhere he thought to himself as he looked at the blood stains that coated Vins clothes.
"Dont rightly know." replied Vin tiredly. "That pain kinda mingled in with the rest."
Chris was about to ask the tracker how he had sustained his many injuries when he heard a noise behind him. Turning, he saw Buck staggering towards them.
"Get the hell away from him! And get the hell away from me!" he yelled at the stumbling figure.
"Chris! For Gods sake whats goin on?" Nathan yelled the words, above the sound of his horses hooves as he came within shouting distance. It was as he drew up alongside Buck that he noticed the still figure laying beside Chris, who was now standing with his fists clenched, staring angrily at Buck.
"God in heaven! Vin!" he exclaimed. Jumping from his horse he grabbed his saddle bag, dropping it in his haste to reach the injured man. With a silent curse he picked it up and ran towards the reason for his anxiety.
Chris continued to glare at Buck in fury, he was itching to hit him again, and almost wanted him to come closer.
"Mr Wilmington. I believe it would be wiser for you to remain where you are for the time being." Ezra had been a few seconds behind Nathan, and taking in the scene of hostility, he made it his job to keep the two men separated. Looking from one man to the other, to ensure that they were not about to rekindle their fight, he stole a fleeting glance at Nathan who was tending to Vin.
"How is Mr Tanner faring?" he asked the healer.
This snapped Chris out of his rage and after giving Buck a final warning look, he spun around quickly, and knelt beside Nathan.
The healer shook his head. "He aint too good, but I need to get his jacket off sos I can get a better look." He looked at Chris who nodded and the two men began to carefully remove Vins coat.
"Dont ya go an lose that, its the only one I got."
Vin hissed in pain as the two men worked to remove his jacket.
"You jist quiet down now, Vin." Nathan ordered the tracker.
"Dont worry none Vin. Well take good care o yer damn jacket, Cowboy." Chris smiled in spite of himself. All thoughts of Buck forgotten as his attention focused on his injured friend.
Nathan let out a slow breath as he handed the jacket to Chris. "What the hell ya been doin ta yerself Vin?" he asked the tracker, who was barely holding on to consciousness.
"Gun..shot..spooked ma horse stopped him fell down ravine " Vin tried to explain, but it took a lot of effort to speak. The process of removing the jacket had been agony for the tracker.
"Alright Vin, its okay, ya can tell us later pard."
Vin tried to focus on Chriss face as the two men worked at taking off Vins shirt. "Lost...ma horse, Chris." He whispered, gasping as the shirt was finally removed.
Nathan and Chris exchanged a horrified look when they saw the extent of the injuries to Vins upper body.
"Its alright Vin." Nathans voice said soothingly. "Ezra and me found im, hes right here."
"Ya pair o low down dirty horse thieves." Vin tried to smile but grimaced instead as Nathan gently prodded his stomach and ribcage. "T..take it easy Nate. I hurt..mself."
"Sorry Vin. But I gotta do it."
"Aw, ya jist like ta prod .ahh."
"So help me Vin. If ya dont keep quiet ill gag ya with yer own bandanna." Nathan was hating it that he was hurting his friend. He had found two broken ribs and the bruises on Vins upper body and arms were too numerous to count. "Any other time we wouldnt be able ta squeeze a word outta ya."
"Been on m own .fer a while .need ..ta talk."
Chris saw the exasperated look on Nathans face and could not hold back a small smile. He had been listening to the exchange and knew that it was Vins way of dealing with the pain. He always made light of things when he was sick or hurt, hating the fuss that was made of him. He knew the tracker liked to blend into the background and did not like it when attention was drawn to him. Now he needed help, and he knew it. But that didnt mean he had to like it.
"Be quiet now, Vin."
" .righty Chris." Vin breathed weakly.
Nathan gave Chris a grateful look.
"I lost m harmonica."
"Seems ta me yer losin a lot of things lately."
"Including blood." Nathan was looking intently at a deep wound on Vins arm.
"Vin. The gunshot that spooked yer horse. Did the bullet hit ya?" Nathan asked.
"Nah..jist fell down ravine ..it was after .that .Buck shot me." Vin shut his eyes against the pain. The words were getting harder to force out.
Nathan shot a quizzical look at Chris. The anger on Chriss face told him the answer to his unspoken question. He looked over his shoulder in disbelief at the man who was seated next to Ezra a short distance away. Shaking his head in bewilderment he turned his attention back to his patient.
Buck saw the look Nathan had directed at him, and knew the reason for it. He hung his head, and tried to swallow the lump that had once again appeared in his throat.
Ezra looked at the man seated beside him, knowing exactly how he felt.
"It seems we both have crosses to bear in this fiasco, Mr Wilmington."
Buck did not raise his head as he replied. "Ya didnt shoot im Ezra."
Ezra looked startled. This was news to him. He had assumed that Buck and Chris were still at loggerheads after the events in the jailhouse, but it seemed he was mistaken. He took time to compose himself before he spoke.
"I shot his trust full of holes, does that count." Ezra knew he could not judge Buck for what he had done. He did not understand why Buck had shot Vin, but was sure he would get all the details later. There had been so many misunderstandings lately that this just had to be another one. But he now understood the fight he and Nathan had witnessed when they had ridden up.
He looked once again at the bruised face of the man beside him. Buck had not responded to Ezras last words, and so the gambler decided to leave things alone for now and shifted his attention back to the three men a short distance away.
Chris now had a firm grip on Vins hand. Nathan had told him it would comfort the tracker and help him cope with the pain
The healer was pleased to find that the bullet had gone straight through Vins arm and had damaged only flesh. He reached for his saddle bag, to get the carbolic, deciding he would bind the wound tightly to stop it from bleeding any more so that he could check on the rest of Vins injuries before he stitched it.
."Hell and damnation! What the heck can go wrong next." Nathans outburst startled Chris, and his heart sank, thinking that Nathan had found something seriously wrong.
"Nathan? What?" he asked urgently.
"The damn laudanums spilt out all over the place. Must have broken the bottle when I dropped m saddlebag." Nathan began to empty the contents of his bag. He pulled out laudanum soaked bandages which made him curse again.
"What we gotta do Nathan?" Chris asked tightly. A frown creased his forehead as he felt Vin squeeze his hand firmly as his friend was riddled with a bout of coughing.
"Chris, I got a few bandages that I can use on his ribs and arm. I dont know what kinda state his legs r in. I aint got nothin ta give im fer pain. I only got carbolic to clean the wounds."
Chris took a few deep breaths before replying.
"Do what ya can Nathan. Then we can get im back ta town."
"Not today Chris. Daylights gonna be gone soon, and hes in no fit state ta travel. No. Cant leave here til tomorrow."
"Dammit! Nathan." Chris stopped himself from launching into a barrage of abuse as he glared at the healer. Nathan looked frantic, but was managing to keep himself under control. Rubbing his face with his free hand, Chris took another deep breath before he spoke.
"Alright Nathan. Do what ya can. Ezra and me can help ya."
The omission of Bucks name did not go unnoticed. But nothing was said.
Ezra had heard the loud exchange of words coming from the two men and sat thoughtfully for a moment. Looking at Buck, he patted his leg in reassurance before standing and making his way over to where Nathan was busy with carbolic and bandages.
"If I may ." His voice trailed off as he caught sight of the injured body Nathan was tending. Chris looked up at him expectantly.
Ezra cleared his throat. "Mr Larabee. May I suggest " Believing, in this case, that actions spoke louder than words, he reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out his flask. Holding it up he continued. "This flask is full of very fine whiskey. Which I am sure would be a very effective pain reliever."
Chris looked thoughtfully at Ezra, one side of his jaw was a combination of blue and purple and looked a little swollen. It reminded him of the many layers of trouble that had occurred over the last couple of days.
He was brought back to the present by a pain in his hand. Vin was squeezing it so tightly he could feel the bones in his fingers cracking. This helped him make his decision.
The healer turned away from his charge to look at him, Chris raised his eyebrows in a silent plea, motioning to the flask in Ezras hand. "It would help with the pain." Ezra added, seeing the doubtful look on Nathans face.
Nathan blew out his breath and nodded his head in agreement. "Hell! We got nothin else and he cant take that pain without help."
Chris nodded and, taking the offered flask he gave Ezra a grateful smile.
Ezra tapped his hat. "I shall retake my seat beside our other troubled comrade Please inform me if I can be of any further assistance."
Chriss attention had turned back to Vin before Ezra had started to move away.
"Vin? I want you ta drink some o this."
Vin opened his eyes and looked disgustedly at Chris.
"I aint drinkin none o that gnats pee." He couldnt stop the small chuckle that escaped him. "Nats..pee. Get it? .Nathans pee." He chuckled again, gasping and gripping Chriss hand tightly as Nathan finished removing his trousers. He knew he couldnt stand much more of this pain.
Nathan looked at Chris in exasperation. "Hurry up and give im some o that before I hit im over the head with somethin."
Chris couldnt stop the grin that appeared on his face.
"Okay Vin. This aint Nathans tea." he said, still grinning as he emphasised the words. Its some of Ezras whiskey."
"Yeah. Now, drink."
Pulling his hand out of Vins grasp, Chris undid the flask and raised Vins head far enough for the tracker to drink some of the whiskey. As Chris pulled the flask away from his lips, Vin grabbed at his arm as Nathan found a deep gash on his leg.
Two pain filled blue eyes looked pleadingly at Chris. "Gimme some more o that afore I .shoot im."
Chris once again lifted Vins head and let his friend drink down the expensive liquor.
He was lost in thought for a few moments, before he turned his attention back to the tracker.
"Easy pard. Think thats enough now."
"All gone .anyways."
Chris shook the flask as he eased Vins head to the floor. Sure enough it was empty. He had been watching Nathan working on Vins numerous wounds, marvelling at how efficient the healer was, and had forgotten he had been helping Vin drink the alcohol.
Nathan glanced up. Pursing his lips he shook his head. "Damn it Vin. Id rather have a tiger for a patient."
"Hey it ...dont .hurt s much now Nate." Vin giggled and then groaned.
"Chris. Im lettin you deal with that problem." After uttering these words, Nathan reached for the carbolic and continued to patch Vin up.
"Now ya getting us in trouble Vin. Jist lay still n be quiet."
Vin sniffed the air. "I smell food."
Chris realised he could smell it too. Looking behind him he saw that Ezra had started a fire and was sitting, stirring something in a pot."
"Guess he remembered supplies huh, Vin?"
"Alright ..enough digs at me..cowboy." He giggled again and clamped his mouth shut. His eyes widened as he realised he was drunk as a skunk.
Aw heck! He thought. Im drunk and helpless, and having to rely on people Ive been running from. What shall I do?
A word came into his head. Sing!
Well alrighty then! Another voice answered, again in Vins head.
How many voices are in there? He wondered, as a song suddenly came to mind.
The other four men could not believe their ears as Vins raspy voice rang out.
"Oh, give me .a home, where ..the buffalo roam ..and the deer and the ..antelope play." Vin stopped as he started to wheeze. Grabbing Chriss hand he squeezed it tightly as he began to cough.
Chris grimaced as he sat beside his drunken friend. "Nice singin pard." He said once Vin could relax once more.
Nathan knelt by Vins head. "Ive done what I can fer ya now, Vin. Ya need ta sleep."
"Not sleepy." Vin lied, his head swimming from the effects of injury and alcohol.
Chris nodded his head to where Ezra was dishing up some food. "Go eat, Nathan. Ill watch im fer a while."
Nathan looked from Vin to Chris and back again. Sighing he nodded his head and got to his feet. "I mean it Vin. Sleep." Looking at Chris he added, "Ill talk ta ya in a while."
Chris watched as Nathan turned and walked towards the campfire, about ten feet away. He wasnt sure he wanted to know how bad Vins injuries were.
"You gotta sing the ..next bit." Vin rasped.
Chris turned to look at his friend.
"Vin." He said, on a sigh.
"Vin." This time the name was said more firmly.
"Sing .it." Vin gasped in pain, squeezing Chriss hand tightly once again.
"Oh boy!" Chris knew he had no choice, he couldnt deny an injured friend. His shoulders sagged in defeat as he sang quietly.
"Where seldom was heard, a discouraging word, and the skies are not cloudy all day."
Vin smiled tiredly. "Mighty purdy .pard."
Chris felt the grip on his hand weaken and looked worriedly at his friend.
"Think I might close ..m eyes ..fer a while."
"Alright cowboy. Weve got ya back" Chris whispered.
At that moment, Nathan walked over and sat down beside Chris, handing him a plate of food.
"Hows he doin?"
"Im goin .ta Tascosa." The voice was quiet, but it still managed to startle the two men.
Chris looked up at the twilight sky and swore under his breath.
"Not yet ya not."
"You aint the .boss o me."
"Like ta see ya try an leave right now." Nathan saw the look on Chriss face at Vins last remark. He could see a muscle throbbing in the gunslingers jaw, and didnt need him getting agitated.
"Aint got nothin ta stay fer."
Nathan realised that Chris and Vin did not know the truth about what happened in the jailhouse.
"Vin. Theres plenty o time ta sort things out. Theres a reason fer what happened yesterday in town. It was all a mistake."
"Was it .jist .yester .day?"
Before Nathan could answer Vins question, the trackers eyelids slid shut, and he fell into an exhausted sleep.
"Thank you, Lord." Nathan said, sending his eyes skyward.
"Mr Larabee, might I have a word?"
Chris looked up to meet Ezras troubled eyes.
"Go on Chris, Ill watch im"
"We can speak here." Ezra did not wait for a response as he seated himself next to Chris. Feeling in his pocket, his hands found the item he required and he pulled it out, being careful that, this time, a precious piece of paper remained.
He held out the object to Chris. "Mr Larabee. I would like to place this into your hands for safekeeping. I retrieved it from the floor in the jailhouse and have been waiting for an opportunity to pass it on to a more worthy guardian."
Chris looked silently at the object in Ezras hand. It was Vins harmonica. He slowly reached out and picked it up, looking back at Ezra with a thoughtful frown.
"Ezra? Whats the big secret between you an Vin?" He asked, putting the harmonica into his pocket.
"I am sure Mr Jackson will inform you of recent events." He said getting to his feet. "With regard to the er big secret, I made a vow to Mr Tanner that I would not tell a soul about our agreement. Therefore, until I can speak to him and gain his permission I am unable to give you any details."
Before Chris could respond, Ezra walked back to his seat beside Buck at the campfire.
Chris looked at Nathan in bewilderment. The healer shrugged, "He wouldnt tell me neither."
Looking around the small camp at his companions, Chris sent his eyes heavenward.
Vin was badly injured, and had been shot by Buck. Ezra had a bruised jaw, courtesy of Vin. Buck had been beaten, courtesy of Chris and Nathan wore a look on his face of concern, worry and bafflement.
Could it get worse? God! He hoped not!
The casualty list was longer than if they had been in a gun battle.
It was easier to look after a town than it was to try and keep up with these men.
His gaze fixed on Buck. He didnt know what to think of him anymore. Hell! First he causes a ruckus in town, then he shoots Vin, because in his drunken state, he thinks Vin is a tree!
Chris would have laughed if he wasnt so tired and worried.
"Everythins gone ta hell, Nathan." He said to the healer, who had just returned to his side after checking on Vin.
"Itll all look better in the mornin."
"Dya believe that Nate?"
The two men smiled.
Looking at the man seated next to him he said "Tell me what the hell happened in that jailhouse Nathan. I was there and Im still confused."
+ + + + + + +
The night was long for all of them. Vin was restless, and his fever grew worse. Three of the men took it in turns to watch over him. Chris would still not let Buck anywhere near his sick friend.
Nathan had explained the misunderstanding to him the night before and he realised how distraught Buck must have been. But he could not forgive him for shooting Vin.
"He can sit on my horse with me."
Chris and Nathan had been discussing the best way for Vin to travel back to town.
"Aint sittin on no horse ..with no-one .kin ride m own." Vin was having one of his coherent moments, and Nathan wished he wasnt.
"Shut up Vin! Youre in no position to argue."
The tracker had no answer for that. Chris was right. He could hardly move, and he only had a blanket and his underwear covering his modesty, and Nathan had cut some of his underwear away.
He would have wriggled with embarrassment if he didnt hurt so much.
Chris looked triumphantly at Nathan when he received no response from Vin.
"Thats settled then. He rides with you Chris."
Buck was already in his saddle. He knew Chris would not let him help with Vin, so he thought he would just be ready to move out. He had decided he would go back to town with them, and once he knew Vin was alright and on the mend, he would leave. It would be better that way. He knew Chris would never forgive him.
A cry of pain from Vin brought his mind back to the present. He watched helplessly as Nathan and Ezra carefully lifted Vin into Chriss saddle. The gunslinger was already on his horse, and between the three of them they manoeuvred the injured Texan so that he was sitting in front of Chris.
"Alright, I got im." The other two men nodded at Chriss words and climbed into their saddles.
"Lets take it nice n easy." Nathan moved up alongside Chris and Ezra took the other side. Looking behind him, Ezra motioned with his head for Buck to come and ride beside him.
The going was slow, and Vin was not having an easy time. If Nathan had had more supplies he would have rather them stay out on the trail at least one more day, until Vin was stronger. But they did not have that luxury and so they had to make the best of it.
Ezra saw Vin shivering despite the blanket and reined in his horse. The others did likewise.
"Whats wrong Ezra?" Chris asked impatiently. He could feel the heat coming off of Vin and knew his fever was dangerously high, and he just wanted them to be back in town. But at this rate they would not get there until the next morning.
Ezra proceeded to remove his jacket, causing the others to look at him questioningly. Holding it out to Chris he said "Mr Larabee, please make use of this to help Mr Tanner. He is shivering."
Chris took the garment from the gambler. Nodding at Ezra he placed it over Vin and they all began moving again.
"Hes a hard one ta fathom aint he?"
Nathans voice came to Chris in a whisper. "He sure is that." He replied.
"Chris?" Vins voice was barely audible, even though his head was just below Chriss chin.
"Easy Vin. Dont talk now."
"Why did Bucklin shoot me?"
Chris closed his eyes and licked his lips, how did he answer that when he didnt know himself? He saw movement to his side and turned to see Ezra reach over and pat Buck once on the back. The ladies man had his head bowed, and it was obvious to Chris that he had heard Vins question. He must have good hearing. Chris thought as he remembered the quietly spoken remark.
He turned his attention back to Vin.
"Dont worry about that now Vin."
"Thought they were m friends. They .laughed at me." Chris grimaced at the emotional break in Vins voice.
"They are yer friends. They werent laughin at ya." He didnt know what else to say.
"Thought they were. Guess .I dont rightly .know what friends .are."
Chris felt Vin go heavy against him and knew he was unconscious.
"Rest easy pard." He whispered, his voice shaking. "Yer about ta find out."
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