The Mine

by Hombre

Disclaimer: Boys not mine. Just borrowing them to play with. Hope Vin doesn't mind if I play a bit rough.

"Calm down, Mrs Turner. When did you last see Peter?" Buck asked. He put a comforting hand on her arm to try and settle her. The woman had caught the gunman and asked for his help as he'd exited the general store.

"11am. He said he was going to see Billy, but I've just checked with Mary and he hasn't been there. He was supposed to be back for lunch but he didn't return."

"Alright. You go back home in case he arrives there. We'll try to find him for you, but if you can think of anywhere else he may have gone, let us know." Buck turned and walked to the saloon in search of Chris after making sure Mrs Turner was heading home.

He stepped inside the batwing doors and saw the blond gunfighter sitting at a table in the darkness toward the back of the room. Buck walked over, spurs jingling, and took a seat next to him.

"Chris? Young Peter Turner seems to have gone walkabout. He hasn't been seen since 11 this morning and I've told his mother we'd try to find him for her."

"Have you checked with his friends?" the black clad man asked.

"No, not yet. She said he was gonna to meet up with Billy but he didn't arrive."

"Okay. We'll check around town to start with to make sure he's not just hiding. Get the boys together will ya?" Chris rose and walked along to the jail while Buck disappeared to find the rest of the Seven.

+ + + + + + +

The boys met at the jail and Chris sent them off to search specific areas of town to make sure all sections were covered. After an hour the men reconvened with negative results.

"I'll go and have a word with Billy I think. He may know where Peter hangs out," Chris decided. "You lot stay here until I get back. I don't wanna have to find you all again." Chris left the jail and went to the Clarion's office. He stepped inside and found the printing press silent having finished its daily run. He found Billy there with Mary helping her to brush the floor clean. "Hey Billy. You're doing a good job there, son. Can I just ask you about Peter Turner? You know he's gone missing? I just wondered if you knew where he might go when he ain't in town."

Billy looked over at his mother nervously before turning back to Chris. "I'm not sure," he answered quietly.

Chris squatted down in front of him. "Come on son. If you know anything, tell me. His mother's very worried. You won't get in any trouble telling us." Chris smiled at the boy to try and get him to relax and Billy returned the smile shyly.

"He sometimes goes up into the hills just outside town. Just up by the creek near the woods."

"I know where you mean. Thanks son, that's somewhere for us to start looking." Chris patted Billy's shoulder and then smiled at Mary, putting a finger to his hat brim before leaving. He walked briskly back to the jail to update the waiting men.

"Okay. I have an idea where Peter may be. I want us to split up to search when we get there. Hopefully we can cut the time down it takes to locate him." Chris told the men where they were going and who would be working with whom. "Let's get going. Nightfall won't be too far away if we don't find him in the next couple of hours."

The men saddled up quickly and left town at the gallop. They reached the search area fairly fast and split up into their teams. Vin and Buck were working together and they set off up the hill. Vin hoped if he could get high up he might be able to spot the boy with his eyeglass. The two men climbed slowly until they reached the summit.

The area the men were in had been used for mining years ago and they thought that Peter may have a hideout in one of the old shafts. All the children in town had been warned to stay away from the area because of the obvious hazards, but you always got one child who enjoyed the danger and thought nothing would ever happen to him.

Vin pulled out his eyeglass and studied the surrounding area carefully. He could see no movement other than that of the rest of the Seven. He lowered the glass from his eye and sighed. So much for that idea, he thought. He stood tapping the telescope against his leg as he studied the terrain closer to him. As he stood contemplating what to do next he felt the ground under his feet shift slightly. He looked down frowning and suddenly the section of earth he was standing on disappeared from beneath him.

Buck saw the danger and made a grab for the tracker. He managed to catch his coat sleeve with one hand but not in a firm grip. The ladies' man was sent to his knees by the weight of the falling man he was clinging onto for dear life and then to his stomach as the weight became too much to bear.

"Vin, grab my other hand," Buck pleaded, stretching his own hand down.

"I can't. It hurts." Vin's arm had hit the side of the hole as he'd fallen and he couldn't lift it above his head. He tried to but the pain was too much and he couldn't help crying out. It felt numb and he wondered whether it was broken. His heart pounded in his chest and he had an empty feeling in the pit of his stomach as he thought of the drop below him. He could feel and hear the material in his coat ripping and he suddenly jolted downwards a few inches as his coat sleeve tore near the shoulder. He gasped loudly in fear and he felt as if his heart had stopped.

"Try, come on. I can't keep hold of you." Buck could feel Vin's arm slipping from his grip. He got hold of the arm with his other hand as well but Vin's weight was making his hands numb. He could also feel the earth around the edge of the hole giving way again under their combined weight, so he tried not to move too much himself.

"Vin. Try and reach up will ya? I'm losing my grip." Buck made a desperate attempt to reaffirm his hold on the man but it was no good. Vin looked up frantically as Buck was forced to release his hold. As Vin started to fall he felt his fingers brush those of Bucks fleetingly before he plummeted out of sight screaming. Buck listened in distress as he heard the tracker's body hit the sides and finally strike the bottom with a sickening thud. Buck stood quickly as the side of the hole he was lying on finally gave way under him and he only just managed to stumble backwards to save himself the same fate that had befallen his friend. He approached the hole again and went as close as he dared.

"Vin!" he screamed into the darkness. He strained his hearing for any reply, but none came. "Vin!" he called again. He came out in a cold sweat as he went over in his mind what had just occurred. Some more earth from the side of the shaft fell into the hole and Buck listened as it made its way down to the bottom. The sands of time slipping away he thought to himself.

He turned quickly and hurried down the hill on trembling legs to get help. Chris had heard his shouts and was on his way up to see what was the matter.

"Buck? What's happened?" Chris asked anxiously. By the look on his friend's face it was something catastrophic. The ladies' man looked as white as a sheet and very distressed. Chris came to a halt in front of him and put a hand on Buck's arm.

"Vin's fallen. We were on the hill and the ground gave way beneath him."

"Jesus. Come on, show me where." The two men turned and ran back up the slope. As they drew near the hole, Buck slowed and put a hand on Chris's arm to make sure he didn't go too close to the opening.

"Over there. It must be a ventilation shaft for one of the old mines. I couldn't see the bottom, it's too far down and very dark," Buck said. "I'm sorry Chris. I couldn't hold him. The earth was crumbling under me too and I had to let him go." The gunman was very upset and Chris tried his best to comfort him.

"Come on Buck. Stay calm. You couldn't have done anything to prevent it. I'll go and round up the others and we'll try and get him out. Wait here and don't try anything on your own." Chris left and ran back to collect the other men. He gave a quick summary of what had happened as they made their way up to meet Buck.

"What are we going to do about Peter?" Josiah asked, thinking of the reason for the men being there in the first place.

"I don't know." Chris rubbed a hand over his face while he thought. "Look Josiah, can you go back into town and see if he's turned up? If he hasn't, round up as many town's folks as you can find to search for Peter while we concentrate on Vin."

"Sure. I'll be as quick as I can." The preacher ran back down the hill to find his horse and set off back to town as fast as his mount would go.

The other men turned their attention to their stricken colleague. How were they going to approach the shaft if it was in danger of collapsing again? They couldn't risk sending a lot of debris down onto the tracker. He was most probably already badly injured and anything extra falling could only cause worse damage to him. That was if he was still alive. Chris turned and looked at JD.

"Come here, kid. You're the lightest. We'll secure you with a rope so you won't fall if the ground gives way. Can you go as close as you dare and see what we're up against?"

"Sure Chris."

"JD. Just take it easy alright?" Buck said nervously, removing his hat and wiping his brow on his sleeve. He didn't want something to happen to someone else he cared about.

"I'll be okay." JD looked anxious but he wasn't going to say no to Chris. He liked Vin and would do all he could to help him. Chris approached him with a rope which he tied round the kid's waist. He passed the other end to Nathan and Buck to hold. Buck double checked all the knots to ease his own mind.

"Right, just go slow on yer belly. See if you can get close enough to call to Vin. If you feel the ground crumbling, come back. I don't want someone else hurt."

JD took off his hat and handed it to Buck with a weak smile. He then lay on the ground and started toward the hole. He went slowly and waited after each movement to make sure the ground was firm before going on again. He got to within a few feet of the opening and decided he was close enough. He could see the state of the rim round the shaft was not good.

"Vin, it's JD, can you hear me?" he called. He listened but couldn't hear any reply. He called again with similar results and then turned his head and looked back at the men behind him. "I can't hear anything. What do you want me to do?"

"How does the ground look in front of you?" Chris called.

JD turned to study the ground carefully. The wind blew suddenly and his hair flew over his face obscuring his vision. He cursed and he pulled it back irritably before answering Chris. "Not good. It's very soft and bits are falling in even now."

"Damn. Do you think you can scout round for the mine entrance Buck? We may be able to reach him through the front unless the tunnel itself has collapsed."

"I'll have a look, but I don't think it's safe to go into the mine itself."

"Just have a look and then we'll decide on our best option. Ezra you go with him."

The two men set off to search the surrounding area. There was no way of knowing in which direction the mine entrance would be. It took over half an hour before they found what they hoped was the correct one. It was overgrown with bushes and had been hidden from view until Ezra went right up to it and saw it for what it was. The two men carefully cleared away as much debris as they could, to determine whether the shaft was usable. Buck took a few steps inside and came out again quickly.

"The roof's caved in. There's no way to get through." Both men returned to the ventilation shaft to report their findings.

"We can't use the entrance Chris. The roof's fallen in. Even if we could clear the rubble it's not safe," Buck informed the gunfighter sadly.

"Dammit. Any ideas? We're gonna have to use the shaft then by the looks of it."

"Look. I need to get in there as soon as possible to take care of Vin. He's been in there too long without treatment already," Nathan said, getting impatient.

"I know, Nate, but I don't wanna risk anyone else or make matters worse for Vin. Did any section of ground round the rim look stronger than the other JD?"

JD frowned as he thought back. "I suppose the north side was more stable. Two of the other three sides were in a bad way."

"Right. Do you think we can lower you down using that side Nate?"

"I'm willing to try anything. You could use a couple of the horses to take my weight although they may be too heavy to risk."

"Yeah, I think we'd better do it ourselves for the moment. Are you ready now?"

"I'll just get my bag."

"Chris? There were some long pieces of wood in the shaft entrance that we could lay across the hole. They might help to distribute our weight to stop anything else falling down onto Vin," Ezra suggested.

"Good idea, Ez. Can you and Buck go and get as much as you think we need?"

"Sure." The two men ran back to the entrance and started work. They returned with an armful each and started laying them across the hole, leaving enough room for Nathan to be lowered down.

Chris meanwhile gathered together everyone's ropes to use while Nathan collected what he needed. They set about securing the healer and helping him over to the edge of the shaft. Nathan got to the edge and looked down. He couldn't see a thing, but he looked back at Chris and nodded. The men began lowering him down. He swung round and round as he was lowered and he used his arms and legs to stop himself hitting the sides and to halt the rotating motion. He couldn't help the earth that was dislodged as he touched the sides. He only hoped it didn't hurt Vin as it fell.

"How far down are you?" Chris called.

"About 20 feet."

"Can you see anything?"

"Yeah. I'm just near the bottom."

"Can you see Vin?"

"Yeah. He's half buried. I'll know more in a minute. Let me down about another five feet will ya?"

The healer felt himself lowered again and he shouted when his feet touched the shaft bottom. He untied himself and started moving some of the debris carefully from the tracker's body. There was only very limited light and he worked slowly and carefully in case there was anything nearby that could cause further harm. Once Vin was clear, Nathan sat down next to him and started checking him over for injuries.

"Vin? It's Nate. Can you open your eyes?" Nathan asked as he felt for a pulse in the tracker's neck. He found it but the tracker remained absolutely still beside him.

"Nate? How is he?"

"Bad. Broken wrist and ankle and he seems to bleeding from somewhere. His face is a mite battered too." As Nathan spoke, he gently lifted the tracker to find the source of the blood. He swore as he saw what was causing it. Vin had landed on some old mining equipment which had been left behind when the mine had been abandoned. A pickaxe blade, the handle broken, had pierced his lower back and he was bleeding quite badly. The fact that the blade was still in the wound had made sure that he had not bled excessively though.

"Chris? He landed on a pickaxe blade which has punctured his back. That's why he's bleeding. I'm gonna need some help down here."

"Okay. I'm coming. Have you untied yourself?"

"Yeah. You can take the rope back up." Nathan heard the rope being pulled back up the shaft and then heard the grunts as Chris made his way down a couple of minutes later, scattering dirt as he came. The gunman came to a rest beside the healer and looked down at his injured friend.

"What do you want me to do?"

"I want to sort out his arm and leg first before moving him to check his back. Can you see if there's anything we can use as splints?"

"Yeah, sure thing." Chris felt around the ground near him. He encountered a few things that made him screw his face up in disgust. He really didn't want to know what they were. He eventually managed to find some bits of wood to use. He handed them to Nathan who quickly dealt with the broken limbs. In his search Chris was pleased to find Vin's eyeglass as well. He checked it over and found it intact if slightly more battered than it had been before. He blew as much dirt from it as he could before stowing it in Nathan's bag for safe keeping. He then wiped his hands down his pant leg to try and rid himself of whatever he had touched. He didn't look at his fingers in case his worst suspicions were realized.

"Okay, I need you to turn him on his side and hold him there while I look at his back." The two men gently turned the tracker who moaned pitifully at the movement and then Chris held him on his side, keeping him as still as possible.

"It's alright Vin. Just relax and stay still. We'll have you sorted in a minute," Chris said reassuringly. He was glad that the tracker was waking up but wished he'd waited until they'd dealt with his injuries before doing so.

Nathan looked at the wound and sucked in a breath between his teeth.

"What is it Nate?"

"The blade is rusty as hell, which isn't surprising really. He's gonna get a bad fever because of it though. I daren't take the blade out now or he'll bleed to death. I need to get him back to the clinic pronto."

"How do you suggest we get him safely back up the shaft?"

"We'll have to tie him to one of us to stop him being jostled. I'll bandage the wound up round the blade and see how we go."

Chris stood up and tilted his head back to shout up the shaft to the waiting men. "Buck? We're gonna have to tie Vin to one of us to get him out. Can you manage or do you want to get a couple of the horses?"

"I'll get the horses. It should be safe enough if we keep them well back. Is there anything else you need?"

"We'll let you know. Nate's just seeing to Vin's back."

"Okay. I'll call when I've got the horses." Buck left the other men and went to collect the two strongest horses. He led them up the hill and tied them well away from the shaft. He gave them a pat before making his way back to the shaft.

Nathan meanwhile had bandaged Vin securely and hoped that the blade wouldn't move or be hit on the way up the shaft.

"Do you think we could make some sort of makeshift stretcher? Something to keep him flat and still while he's taken up," he asked Chris. Ideas floated round in his head as he bandaged the tracker.

"Out of what?"

"Well, I was thinking some of the wood that Buck used at the top. I know it'll be hard and uncomfortable but tying him to something stiff would help us and him. I need to make sure he doesn't do anymore damage to those broken limbs. What do you think?"

"If that's what you think is best then I'm with you," Chris said.

Chris shouted up to Buck, "Buck can you send some of those pieces of wood down so we can strap Vin to them?"


The healer sat back on his heels as he considered the practicalities of getting the sharpshooter out. He looked up the shaft to see how much room there was and then looked back down at his patient. It was going to be a tight squeeze.

Vin was now conscious and moaning in pain continuously. Chris reached out and put a hand to the tracker's face in comfort while Nathan got some laudanum from his bag. Before he could give the tracker some Buck called down from above.

"Stand back in case anything happens." He started lowering the wood down to the men below. The wood swung round out of control and hit the side of the shaft sending earth and stones raining down on the men below. Nathan draped himself over Vin to try and protect him from further injury. Buck could hear the falling debris but could do nothing to stop the wood swirling around.

"Are you alright?" Buck shouted.

"Yeah. Just take it easy will ya?"

"Shit," Nathan said bleakly.

"What is it?"

"The bottle of laudanum's broken. I can't give him anything for the pain."

"Dammit. We'll just have to take extra care then."

Nathan and Chris reached out and swung the wood away from their friend when it was near enough for them to reach. They untied it and then attached several pieces together until they had a flat panel.

"How are we gonna position him?" Chris asked. Whichever way it seemed to him, Vin would be in pain.

"Look, I'll strap his arm to his side rather than across his chest and then we can lay him on his front."

"Great." Chris stood and watched as the healer made the appropriate adjustments to the tracker's injured limbs.

"Okay. We're all set." Nathan turned and looked at Chris, smiling faintly. He wasn't sure whether this was going to work or not, but it was all he could think of. Chris patted his shoulder and shouted up to Buck again.

"We're ready Buck."

"Alright. I'll just get the horses ready." Buck reappeared at the shaft entrance when he had arranged things and told Chris that they were ready.

Nathan began tying Vin to Chris. He wanted to do the securing himself so he could ensure the least discomfort to the sharpshooter. It was going to be highly uncomfortable for the gunfighter as well, Nathan knew, but it wouldn't be for long.

"Okay Chris?"

"Yeah. The sooner we get him up the better." Chris looked at Vin as he moaned at the pain. "Not long now pard. Just hold on."

Nathan shouted to the waiting men above and the slack on the rope was taken up. Chris felt himself lifted and he stretched his legs out to keep himself and Vin away from the wall. They were about halfway up when another fall of earth from the rim showered them in dust. Chris tried to protect Vin as best he could but he heard the tracker whimper as stones rained down on his already injured body.

"Stop a minute will ya Buck?" Chris called up as he tried to get a look at Vin to make sure he was alright. The two men came to a lurching halt as the horses were pulled to a stop on the surface. Chris studied the tracker closely as the light was slightly better now they were nearer the top. Vin looked okay but Chris would be glad when they were out of the shaft. The ropes holding him to the tracker were cutting into his body painfully, but he knew his suffering was nothing compared to that being endured by the tracker. From the constant moans, Chris knew the pain must be excruciating.

"Chris are you alright?" Buck shouted.

"Yeah, I think we're okay. Nathan, how are you?"

"I'm fine. I managed to get outta the way in time."

The men outside started the horses moving again and Chris and his burden finally made it to the top. They were met by outstretched hands. He felt himself lifted under his arms until he was laying on his back with Vin on top of him. Ezra and Buck quickly untied the tracker from Chris and moved him gently aside. Despite their care the tracker cried out and then lost consciousness. They left him still secured to his make shift stretcher. JD meanwhile held out a hand to the gunman and pulled him to his feet.

"Thanks kid." Chris moved away once he had gained his feet and knelt down beside Vin. He wiped some of the dirt from his friend's face and now they were out in the light he could see the real extent of the tracker's injuries. At least with Vin finally unconscious he wasn't suffering so much. If only they could get him back to town before he woke again Chris would be pleased.

Nathan had now been pulled from the shaft and he made his way over to the gunfighter's side.

"How's he seem?"

"He looks worse now that I can see him properly. You're right when you say he's gonna have a fever. All his wounds are dirty. Can someone give me some water so I can wash some of the dirt off?"

Ezra handed him his water pouch and Chris pulled out a clean bandage and started washing Vin as best he could. There was no way he could get all the dirt off but at least it would be an improvement. At that moment Josiah came panting up to them.

"How's Vin?"

"Not good. Did you find Peter?"

"Yeah. He'd made his way back home. His mother is not happy."

"Nor I am. I think I'll have a word with him when we get back," Chris said.

"Now Chris. Boys will be boys. It was just an accident. Don't be too harsh on him," Buck pleaded.

"He needs to be taught a lesson Buck. If he hadn't run away none of this would have happened. Vin's gonna be off for a while because of this. He could've done without all this. The boy needs to realize what he's caused."

"I know, but just go easy will ya? I know he was irresponsible, but you can't tell me you've never done anything stupid in yer life, because I know you have."

"Okay Buck. Just leave it. Come on, let's get Vin outta here before we lose what's left of the daylight."

"I brought a wagon with me. Figured you might find it of use," Josiah said.


Four of the men lifted Vin between them and started back down the hill slowly. JD led the horses and they eventually reached the valley bottom. Vin was gently hoisted into the wagon and then the men mounted their horses and headed back to town. Nathan rode in the wagon bed with Vin to keep an eye on him. The tracker was already succumbing to the effects of the fever from his wound and he mumbled quietly throughout the journey home. Chris rode next to the wagon and watched over his friend, ready to lend a hand if required.

They rode into Four Corners just as night fell. Pulling up outside the clinic, Josiah hopped down and moved to help Nathan with Vin. Chris and Buck also dismounted and approached the rear of the wagon to lend a hand. The other two took the horses and went to the livery. The four men carried Vin up the steps carefully, trying not to jostle him. Even so the sharpshooter, who was waking again, groaned at the slight movements he could feel. Nathan released him from the stretcher after he was laid on the bed and the healer set to work. He first rechecked Vin's broken limbs and then looked at his back. He unwound the bandages gently and studied the blade protruding from the wound. He scratched his chin and then looked for the instruments he thought he would need to treat the injury. The tracker was now in the full grip of fever and tossed and turned under the healer's hand. Chris reached out again to calm his friend, but Vin was in the hold of some nightmare and associated the hand with some horror only he could see.

"Get it off me!" he cried out in fear and Chris snatched his hand away before the tracker could react further. Nathan spoke softly and calmly to the tracker and the injured man slowly calmed as the gentleness of the voice got through the mists of his terror.

"Chris, Buck? Can you hold him down while I do this? Nice and tight now."

Nathan dosed the patient up with laudanum from the clinic to ease the pain and discomfort that he was bound to feel during the operation. He also hoped Vin would not react badly to being held again or it would make his job impossible. They waited until the drug had taken effect and then Chris and Buck took up positions on either side of Vin and got hold as best they could without touching his numerous injuries.

Nathan looked at his two assistants and smiled at them and then set to work. When he was finished all three men were liberally covered with blood. Nathan had encountered the greatest difficulty stopping the bleeding but he hoped he'd now got it licked. Now it was up to Vin to fight the infection. The tracker had mumbled all the way through the procedure and Nathan wasn't sure whether it was because of the fever or that he could still feel Nathan working on him despite the laudanum. The healer hoped it was the former. The three men washed the blood from their hands and then Nathan sent his two friends off to get changed into clean clothes. Chris volunteered to watch over Vin during the night to allow Nathan to get some rest.

The gunfighter entered the clinic clean and fresh and sat down next to Vin. Nathan handed him a bowl of cool water and a cloth to wipe Vin down with.

"I'm just gonna get somethin' to eat. Come and get me if anything happens, but I won't be too long."

"Alright Nate. You did a good job today. Thanks," Chris said appreciatively.

"I only hope it was good enough. He's in for a rough time." The healer left Chris with his patient and headed to the saloon. He met up with the other men there. Nathan took a seat next to Buck and wiped a hand over his face as he let out a big sigh. Buck lifted a hand and patted him on the back.

"Come on Nate. Tuck in," he said, as he placed a plate of food in front of the tired man.

"Thanks Buck." Nathan ate quickly and arranged for Ezra to relieve Chris at first light before he headed back to the clinic. As he climbed the steps he could hear Vin talking loudly under the influence of the fever. He opened the door and walked into the room and looked down at the man on the bed. He put a hand out and felt his brow and shook his head at the heat he encountered there.

"Keep him as cool as you can Chris. It won't do him any good if he's caught in this fever for too long."

"Sure Nate. Could you get some more water?" Chris handed the bowl up and Nathan refilled it. He took a seat on the other side of the bed and helped wash the tracker down. Vin tossed and turned again as he was assaulted by yet another nightmare. Chris listened in distress at the fear in his friend's voice. He couldn't seem to do anything to help calm the man down. He tried talking to him and touching him, but thinking back to when he'd done that earlier he didn't want to push his luck.

"What else can I do?" Chris asked plaintively.

"I'm not sure that there is anything to do but pray that the fever breaks soon. We've done all we can, it's up to him now. Keep talking to him. He heard me earlier so he might hear you too."

Nathan left Chris to keep watch over the tracker while he caught up on some sleep. Chris kept up the vigil all night and Ezra turned up at dawn to relieve him. Nathan arrived too and issued explicit instructions after checking Vin over.

"I've got to make a house call out of town. I hopefully won't be too long. Just keep him cool and calm. I'll be out at the Henderson's if you need me."

"Just leave it to me Mr Jackson. He's in safe hands, I assure you," Ezra said. Chris and Nathan left and Ezra took up residence beside the tracker's bed. He kept up a constant commentary as he worked, hoping his voice would help to keep the tracker calm.

Vin had another bad dream and began shouting loudly. Ezra sat on the bed and put a hand on Vin's arm. Vin grabbed it and said, "Don't leave me."

Ezra knew he wasn't being spoken to in particular but the tracker obviously needed comfort of some sort, so the gambler pulled the tracker toward him. He held him in his arms and rocked him until he had calmed. The conman made sure he held the sharpshooter gently so he didn't hurt his injured limbs. He kept talking softly and calmly and finally the sharpshooter drifted back to sleep with his head on Ezra's shoulder. Ezra held him for a while and then laid him back down carefully.

"Mr Tanner, for someone who's usually so quiet I feel I have to check for a pulse to make sure you are still alive, you can certainly be loud when you want to be. My hearing will never be the same again." Ezra poked his ears to make sure he still could hear.

Josiah had arrived to check on the two man and stood in the doorway listening to Ezra's constant babble while smiling broadly. Ezra never ceased to amaze him. Josiah had witnessed him holding the tracker and knew that the rest of the Seven sometimes underestimated the underlying goodness in the gambler.

"Don't you ever shut up Ezra?" Josiah asked.

"It's not often I get a captive audience so I'm taking advantage while I may. You never know, my conversation may reach Vin on a subliminal level and he may awaken talking like me. It would be an interesting experiment to conduct."

"Heaven forbid. I don't think we could handle two of you. No offence."

"None taken. I sometimes think Mr Tanner is frightened of wasting oxygen and that's why he doesn't talk too much. I have to agree with him sometimes when you hear the verbal diarrhea that comes from some people's mouths."

"Like yours, you mean?"

"Certainly not. My speeches are never baloney Mr Sanchez. Every diatribe is an education for the rest of you lesser mortals. Anyway, enough of that. Can you assist me in changing the bed linen? Mr Tanner seems to have been trying to flood the clinic with his perspiration. A change of

night clothes would be in order too by the look of it. There's nothing like the feel of cool sheets against a fevered body."

Josiah picked the tracker up carefully and sat down in a chair with him in his lap while Ezra worked. The two men then put Vin back into the bed and settled him down. He seemed calmer for a while and the gambler left him to sleep peacefully until the tracker started becoming distressed again. Ezra started cooling him down and was pleased when at around noon the tracker's fever finally broke. Josiah, who had stayed to keep Ezra company, went in search of Nathan. The healer had just returned to town and hurried back to the clinic with the preacher.

"Good. He's hopefully on the road to recovery. He should sleep for quite a while. I'll stay with him now. Thanks Ezra," Nathan said.

"Don't mention it. It was a pleasure. I'll come back later to see him." Ezra left to go in search of Chris to give him the good news and the two of them returned later in the day to see their friend.

As they entered the clinic they could see the tracker was finally awake. Ezra walked over to the bed and smiled down at its occupant.

"Mr Tanner. What a pleasure to see you awake."

"Ez? What happened?"

"You fell down a mine shaft. Do you remember?"

"Jeez, yeah. It scared the shit outta me."

"Your experiment in subliminal learning didn't work then Ez? Never mind," Josiah said laughing.

"What experiment?" Chris asked curiously.

"Ezra thought that if he talked to Vin non stop while he was unconscious he might wake up talking like our esteemed gambler. I'm happy to say he was wrong," Josiah said.

"God Ezra. You don't think you have that much influence over him do ya? You know no one listens to what you say after a while. We tend to get comatose."

"No intellect. That's your trouble."

Chris turned to Vin and asked, "Are you up to a visitor?"

"Who is it?"

"Someone with an apology."

Vin frowned. "Yeah alright."

Chris turned and reopened the door and called through to someone outside. He stood back to allow the visitor in. A very overawed child walked in and hung back while he looked at the men already in the room. Chris got hold of his shoulder gently and ushered him over to Vin.

"Peter has something he wishes to say to you Vin. Go on Peter, he won't bite."

"I'm sorry you got hurt. I didn't mean no harm."

"That's okay Peter. How about you doin' me a favor while I'm stuck in here to make up for things. Will you take care of my horse for me?"

The boy's face lit up. "Yeah. 'Course. Love to."

"That's settled then. Chris can show you the ropes. Just take care will ya? He's dangerous both ends. That's the horse I'm talkin' about, not Chris. Although you'd better take care of him too. He can be a bit ornery." Vin winked at Peter while the other men laughed.

"Well. Rather you than me Peter. I wouldn't take care of Vin's horse no matter what you paid me," Ezra said, patting the boy on the back.

"Not like you to turn down money," Josiah said.

"I like money, but I'm not stupid. I know my limitations and getting within five feet of that horse is one of them." He saw the worried look on Peter's face and hurriedly added, "Only joking, kid."

Peter didn't look entirely sure but he smiled and Chris led him back outside and squatted down in front of him when they were at the top of the steps.

"Well done. It takes guts to accept your mistakes. Just think before doing anything silly in future," Chris smiled and let the boy go.

+ + + + + + +

Vin was finally allowed up at the end of the following week and Mrs Turner saw him as he made his way carefully along to the saloon. Luckily he had broken his left ankle and right wrist so he was able to get around with the aid of a crutch under his good arm.

"Mr Tanner? I'm sorry my Peter caused you harm."

"It's alright Mrs Turner. I think he's learnt his lesson. He's been looking after my horse for me so we're even. Don't you worry about it." Vin smiled and continued on his way to meet his friends. He entered the saloon and sat down with the others.

Chris turned and said to him, "I've got something that belongs to you. I'd forgotten all about it until Nathan reminded me." He held out Vin's eyeglass.

Vin took it and looked it over. "I thought I'd lost it forever. Thanks." He polished it on his sleeve and looked through the lens to make sure it was alright. He frowned when he could see nothing through it. He took it away from his eye and saw that Ezra had got his palm covering the other end blocking out the light.

"You idiot. I thought it was broken."

"The look on your face is worth any retribution you may think up. It was priceless," Ezra laughed.

"I'll think of somethin' don't you worry. I'll catch you when you think I've forgotten all about it."

"I'll be prepared. Never fear."

"Yeah right," Vin said sarcastically.

Vin rose and went to buy a beer, shaking his head when asked if he wanted any help. While he was at the counter he asked Inez to do him a couple of favors. He hobbled back over to the table with Inez and slapped Ezra on the back, while Inez placed a beer in front of the gambler.

"There you are Ez. That's to thank you for looking after me."

"Well Mr Tanner, how kind." Ezra looked at the tracker suspiciously and he even sniffed the beer before drinking it down, deciding it hadn't after all been poisoned. He could hear a lot of sniggering and he felt a few people brush by him a bit roughly. He looked around him to see what people were laughing at. He frowned and rose to leave after seeing nothing amiss. As he turned, the other men at the table burst out laughing. Pinned to Ezra's jacket was a note that read 'If you think I'm an idiot, hit me.'

Buck did as the note said and Ezra turned angrily to him, "What was that for? Why are you all laughing?"

Chris unpinned the note and showed it to him. "Well, Mr Tanner. You seem to have got your revenge. I obviously wasn't as prepared as I thought. I assume you cajoled some help from our luscious saloon proprietress?"

Vin just smiled smugly, basking in the laughter of the others. He really enjoyed getting the better of the gambler. It didn't happen often but it made him feel twice as good when he did.

The End

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