Lonesome Star

by Chris and Laurie Anne

Disclaimer : We don’t own them! This tale was written only for entertainment. I’m fully aware that Vin Tanner and the others belong to CBS and the Mirisch Co. We "ITALIANS" are a passionate people and I was so fascinated by the subject and of course by my "beloved" sharpshooter that I forgot that not being a "scholar" I might run into lots of misunderstandings and mistakes.

My wiser American friend, Laurie Anne (I owe her a lot!) "reined me in" a bit. And so, please, don’t be too… mean towards us two.

It took 5 (five) months to write down the tale. So be merciful or at least … polite. Thank you!

Author’s Note: To my friend Jess, from Texas, this one’s for you and thanks for the bunch of yellow roses you've sent to me.

Happy Birthday to you, Jess, and a blessing to your wonderful family, even if late!

Thanks to Jim, Jan, Barbara, Debbie, and Florida from Brazil and last but not least to Brigitta B.

A big thank and a hug, in the end, to Laurie Anne, my really patient co – writer (I drove her crazy with my… imagination) Girl, you are such a good friend!

The usual thanks to the kind and precious Lynda.

Feedback: Yes, please, but as usual no bullets.

Size: Approx 100K

The Prisoner’s Dream

In the cold bitter wind, the weary line of men
Are lead like cattle onto the wired spaces.
Warmth and freedom are a dream lost in the snow
There is not even silence in my soul
There is not even solitude or relay.
I see angry faces snarling from the shacks,
And above us in the air are walls and rifles,
Under the unmoving sky.
I think we are led into the very place
Where many proud, young fellows lost their lives.
What is that noise? The wind between the trees
What is that noise? What is that wind doing?
Am I alive or not? What shall I do?
What shall we do tomorrow?
I don’t remember - my mind is empty and bare.
I close my eyes and a light shines on me,
I shut my eyes but a star's upon me,
A lonesome star in a golden bright gown
Over a free prairie, to the far way Home.

This was a prison camp; inside the walls story on story were huts for 10.000 prisoners but every day from the battlefields more and more people were led there: the remnants of the proud Confederate Army.

Surrounding the whole area, perhaps half a mile by half a mile was a barbed wire. How many times all the prisoners had planned to get out of this cage? But once outside, what then? Home was across the mountains, across the prairie, beyond the horizon, beyond a huge hostile territory. And there all was trouble: to ask for food was trouble, to ask for medicine was trouble. To ask for everything was trouble. That they were still alive was trouble.

The sergeant and the young private were sitting in the corner of the larger tent the older man glanced for the thousandth time out the open flaps towards the wire. Vin Tanner winced as he flexed the fingers of his left hand and moved his aching arm into a more comfortable position.

The Sergeant looked back. "How’s it feel?"

"Hurts like hell."

"You should get it looked at."

"Doc said some sort of healer is comin’ tomorrow."

"That’s fine."

It had happened about a week previously, Vin had been hit by a bullet in the upper side of his arm, it was only a flesh wound but they had no medicine to treat it properly, pouring cold water over it to clean it as best they could before they bandaged the arm. But something was going wrong for the throb had worsened and the pain was unbearable.

"Let’s get back to your bunk for some rest, Son," the older man said, guiding Vin towards a cot, but before they could reach it a bunch of soldiers entered the tent.

"I'm going to get the dirty bastard who killed my brother," said a thick young corporal in a blue uniform. "I want to hang him!" He then turned to the older Confederate soldier," Tell me the name of your regiment."

"It’s not yer concern, Corporal. We are prisoners of war, we all served under the Confederate Army and that’s all," growled the man.

The Union soldier gave him a dirty look and made his way among the bunks, followed by his companions. He paused near Vin and looked at the boy. Lean, light brown hair, blue eyes, about eighteen years old or maybe younger and in spite of that… a dead shot.

"Here he is!" the Corporal stated with certainty. "Take him," he ordered the men, and they dragged the boy outside the tent.

The young man managed to stay upright on his unsteady feet despite the rough handling.

Vin looked back at his superior officer and friend, his face calm and without fear. "Sarge, no matter what happens ta me don’t do anything. Remember, anything. Be seein’ ya," he said in a slow, reassuring drawl, smiling quietly at the older man.

His hands were seized by the soldiers and tied behind his back with coarse ropes, the men not caring about the torture it caused Vin’s wounded arm. The young private hissed in pain.

The confederate Sergeant hollered after the soldiers. "Leave the boy, damnit! Leave him alone!" He struggled against the two soldiers holding him, but had to stop when the cool steel of a gun barrel was pressed against his temple.

"Lousy, dirty Blue bellies." A hard punch landed in his face, causing him to hit the ground heavily. Managing to stand up again, he leaned on the nearest wall, watching helplessly as the soldiers exited the tent with their prisoner.

+ + + + + + +

Another morning. Chris Larabee brushed off his tidy uniform for the second time and sighted glancing at the gray sky, he was ordered to be here despite the fact he didn’t like this type of assignment. Light duty, so suggested the doctor after he was wounded in the same battle in which his younger brother died.

Jim Larabee was a bright boy, clever and strong, very mature for his age, and Chris was feeling his loss with a vengeance, a part of his soul being lost. For a long time after the death of their parents, he feared loosing Jim too, the dread hanging over him like a bad omen. When it did happen, the sense of meaninglessness, which had been growing in him since he joined the Army, overwhelmed his will to survive the war.

Chris was sick about the war, about this muddy and desperate place, and worried for himself. He was a soldier, an officer of the Union Army and no more. He didn’t belong in charge of this camp where the dirty side of the conflict was so clear.

He stayed at the window, thinking, "Well, that’s that. It'll be over soon and I’ll be free of every duty and..." He didn’t dare to think about the word that frightened him more … alone.

There was a rush outside. With the scurry of heavy boots, heads and faces of soldiers appeared outside the window. Whooping, jeering, screaming they pulled a prisoner towards them. He was a very young man, in a dirty gray uniform, thin and pale with a bloody sling on his left arm. Obviously he had been beaten and struggled to walk on his unsteady feet as they placed him in the middle of the courtyard.

Chris watched him, unseen, as the boy stood there looking irrevocably lost, but his face calm, the curly, bloodied head lifted in a challenging position in front of his tormentors.

"A stubborn, dirty reb," muttered an officer entering the room. Chris moved to have a better view of what was going on. The young soldier, hatless and disheveled, was carried through a crowd, "Hang him! Hang the bastard, he is a murderer, and he deserves it!" the soldiers were hollering.

Chris rushed to the door and in two long strides was in the middle of the crowd. The men parted to let the tall, severe officer make his way to the soldiers holding the prisoner.

"Stop it!" Larabee shouted. "What are you doing, Corporal?" he asked in a low, dangerous tone, "who ordered this?

The Corporal looked at the icy green eyes and trembled, "Sir, I..., he murdered my brother and I recognized him. He's a sniper and I …," the young Corporal managed to answer.

"When did all that that happen?" Chris asked in an icy voice.

"In the battle along the river. The reb was up in a tree and shooting at us."

"So, Corporal do you think that it’s your right to kill a man who was only doing what he was told to do as a soldier?"

"Sir, I..." the man muttered.

"Shut up, Corporal and confine yourself to your barracks. You’ll be punished for this as soon the Colonel comes back. The rest of you get back to your duties." Larabee looked at the group of men with his usual, deathly glare.

The prisoner in the meantime was swaying on his feet. Chris reached over to steady the boy and got a better look at him. His face paled for he saw his little brother before him, staring back with those wide, blue eyes. He blinked twice to clear his vision but the handsome face of the reb didn’t change. He was just like a scruffier looking Jim.

For a while the young man remained in his position until his legs began to give way. He tried to remain upright but lost the battle as he sank down on his knees with a muffled cry, his face falling onto the icy ground.

Larabee knelt at the prisoner’s side and checked the injuries, finding the boy was unconscious. He then cried out harshly to the soldiers. "Call for the doctor. Hurry up." But when he raised his eyes he saw another prisoner standing before him.

"I’ll take care of him," the man said in a low, distinct tone.

Chris met the two, firm gray eyes and nodded, "Right, he is one of yours. Take him and tend to him. I’ll send our doctor to your tent." And after these few words he slowly walked away.

+ + + + + + +

The tent was silent as all the men gathered near the sodden mattress where the young man lay moaning and mumbling deliriously.

The Sergeant looked intently at the boy, on the bunk. He was growing more and more concerned about the youngest of his soldiers. His mind raced uncontrolled dredging up terrors of the past and fears of the future; memories better left unremembered.

He recalled the convoy that had brought them here, in wagons that had very little space inside. They were then forced to travel knee-to-knee, back-to-back, and side-to-side in these cramped wagons. Miraculously he had managed to find a space to lay the wounded boy down, without too much compression. He had held onto the boy as Vin whimpered deliriously and fought him, vomiting the water he was given. The journey had lasted for five days and six nights, ending when they were pushed through the prison’s gates.

And now Vin Tanner, the youngest sniper in the regiment, was lying in a reeking bed, his eyes staring at the ceiling.

"How are you feeling, Son?" the old Sergeant asked.

The boy stared up at the trusted face. "Feel?" he whispered in a soft, weak voice.

Several minutes passed before Vin mumbled a 'm fine followed by a trickle of saliva running down his strong chin. "Sarge?" Vin asked.

"Put m’ boots on me, please? I’ve got ta git up."

"You cain’t, Vin, you had better stay in bed," the older man, replied.

"Am I dyin’?" The deep blue gaze settled on the Confederate soldier.

"No, Son, it’s not yer time yet, you’ll be all right and return home soon, very soon,"

"I have no home….. ta return to..." murmured the boy in a sad whisper.

The Sergeant sighed, remembering a sunny day almost a year ago in a little town near Galveston.

There were flags everywhere and the band was loudly playing "Dixie". He lifted his drawl in the noise, "Boys, General Lee expects you to break the Union! You must not disappoint him! You will honor your country and show the people of Dixie you are the best fighters in the world. Join us and let the South prevail over the proud Northern tyrants."

Looking in front of him he saw in the midst of businessman, gamblers, farmers, and drifters, a lanky young man. He was staring at him with bright, clear blue eyes, a rifle resting on his lean shoulder. A smile was plastered on the fine chiseled face. The youth approached him.

"Write down your name, young man, For the South, for glory and victory."

The boy's face turned bright red, under the longish brown curls. "I cain’t write," he whispered.

The Sergeant looked at the rifle the boy was carrying, and reached out for it. "Is that yer rifle, Son, or did you steal it from your drunken father somewhere out there?"

An angry, blue glare answered him, "Hey, mister, don’t be tryin’ anythin’ with me, jist try it and I’ll shove this barrel deep inta that throat of yers," the kid growled aiming his mare’s leg.

"Need some help, Sarge?" the sheriff of the town asked, making his way through the crowd. "That half – breed seems to need some tying down."

"No harm done, Sheriff, a little misunderstandin', that’s all, y’ know them youngins are wild. It’s the Southern blood."

Because of some strange, inner reason he felt suddenly the urge to protect this proud, scrawny boy. Holding out his hand, he tried to make amend.

"Let me buy you a drink, Son, since we’re going to be comrades. I’ll even write down your name, for you . Deal? "

"I’ll ponder on it, Sarge. Much obliged," the youth replied, lowering his weapon with a warm, grateful smile.

+ + + + + + +

The doctor came after dusk. He nodded briefly to the Sergeant. Then leaned forward and touched the bandage on the boy’s arm. Vin screamed.

"What’s the devil?" uttered the doctor angrily, "I hardly touched him."

"I don’t know," answered the Sergeant, "the slightest touch hurts him."

The doctor lifted the arm and sniffed the bandage. "It’s bad," he said, "I’m going to take the bandage off." He gave the old man a small piece of rubber. "Make him bite this. I can’t help but to hurt him."

He waited till the older man managed to put the rubber between Vin’s teeth, and then, as gently as he could he began unwinding the bandage.

"Oh Lord," Vin Tanner whimpered through the rubber bite-piece, tears streaming from his half closed eyes.

"Hold on, it’s over son, let’s have a look," murmured the doctor. He studied the wound carefully. It was puffy and there were varying shades of yellow.

Sighing he said, "Well, I can lay open this wound and excise the infected tissues, but I don’t think that will be enough, the infection is too deep, the best solution is to amputate—"

"Yer not cuttin’ m’ arm!" shouted the boy as the rubber bite fell from his open mouth.

"Settle yourself, Son. It’s that or..." The doctor paused and sat down wearily.

"It’s your choice, but without this operation you’ll die."

"Git yer hands off me! " the young man cried out.

The Sergeant leaned on his young soldier. "Hush, Vin … calm down." He turned towards the Union doctor. "Any other choice, Doc?"

"The gangrene has settled in this arm, it has to be cut off at the elbow soon or his entire arm would have to be cut," replied the doctor

"I swear, Sarge, I'd rather die than live a cripple!" Vin burst out desperately, the fear washing over his pale face.

The doctor rose to his feet, "I’ll wait till tomorrow, in the meantime talk to him, Sergeant," he said and exited the room.

+ + + + + + +

It was dark when Vin awoke, and he immediately looked down at his throbbing arm, tied with a clean bandage. He had told Sarge that he needed a little bit of time to think this over, so they had left him alone. While the rest of the men were sleeping in the tent, he eased himself out of bed and was actually glad as pain soared up his arm as his feet hit the ground. There was still hope of it healing if he could still feel it.

"Yer afraid, Tanner, you damn fool," he told himself as he slipped through the door. Vin let the chill air fill his lugs, feeling light headed for fever and exertion. Looking up at the stars, he headed across the narrow trial jumping into the ditch beside the wire. While leaning against the wall of the ditch, his breath began fluttering. He carefully lifted his head and peered around into the darkness, his eyes narrowing, searching the forest for the enemy. A sentinel plodding along the other side of the wire, and two soldiers in the watchtower were the only signs of life the young reb saw. The men un the watchtower where turned in the other direction, leaving only one obstacle to face.

"Well, that settles it," he told himself, "m’ last plan is either a bullet or freedom."

Vin slipped out quietly and began to crawl like a wild thing into the trees, holding his aching arm in front of him. He froze in his tracks and hid as the sentinel was coming closer and closer, the barrel of the rifle barely inches from his hiding place under a big bush. Before the guard could discover him a sudden noise caused the man to pace away in the opposite direction.

Tanner slithered into the forest till he was at least seventy paces from the wire, free and safe, but the pain from his arm forced him to stop his forward progress.

Lying on the bare icy ground he prayed for breath and for his life.

Chris Larabee as usual couldn’t sleep. He glanced outside his barrack's window, a huge moon illuminating the lonely landscape. Pulling on some pants over his long underwear, the Captain put on his boots and wandered out toward the forest. The night sky was clear and the mist, which hovered near the earth, glistened like crystal water. Hearing the wind whistle softly through the trees he found himself grateful for the soothing sound. His idyllic reverie was interrupted by a sound near a group of trees. Seeing the sentinel afar distance away, Chris cautiously stepped closer to the noise.

As he approached the area, Chris saw a prone figure lying upon the ground. Leaning in closer, he recognized the young "reb" he had saved from his own soldiers. Making sure the coast was clear; he knelt down beside the boy and lifted him up in his arms

Vin moaned at the movement, his eyelids fluttering before closing again. A sharp cry of pain came from his chafed lips, as he felt his arm hit against something solid, yet soft. A body?

"Lemme be. don’t touch me," Vin murmured in a weak, shaky whisper.

"Hush, boy," said Larabee in a quiet, soothing voice. The frail body in his arms collapsed and the officer looked down at the prisoner in his mind seeing his younger brother in the battlefield, surrounded by the thick, sulfured smoke of the artillery that veiled the sun, dying in his arms.

"Chris, I can’t feel my legs. Where are we?" Jimmy cried out, extending his arms aloft with a sporadic movement.

"You’ve been shot, Jim, lay still, help is on the way," Chris answered his brother, tears stinging his eyes as he looked down at the bloody clothing of the young man. The wound was mortal, he had seen too many wound like that to be fooled.

"Chris it’s getting dark, … hold my hand, please?" Jimmy was getting weaker and his face was drained of color under the waves of light brown curls.

"I’m here, brother, hold on, you promised me you’d help with the new ranch, after this mess of a war ends. remember? Our ranch, a new large house, a windmill, and a barn full of the best horses in the territory." Larabee stopped, a knot tightening in his throat. He gently took in his bloody hand the slack one of his brother, grimacing at the coldness that had overtaken the slim body in his arms.

"I’d love to see it, Chris… see the frontier, the prairie and the big sky," Jim replied, his voice soft and thin like a wisp of light wind. His breath became shallow as his icy, long fingers clutched at Chris' hand.

"You’ll see all that, sure, little brother and we will ride together towards the mountains in the sun … real soon."

Jimmy didn’t answer, his chest raising and falling abruptly. "I can’t breathe," he slurred, the blue eyes widening on his handsome, ashen face. With his sweaty head slumped on Chris shoulder, Jimmy Larabee went limp in his older brother’s embrace.

"Jim! Jimmy, oh Lord … noo!"

Chris shook his head to remove the haunting memory and struggling to retain his rising emotions, he headed for the Army Medic’s tent, with his slight burden.

Doctor Wilson was reading under a little gas lamp when Captain Larabee came bursting into his lodgings. He looked up in wonder as he saw the limp form in the officer’s arms. "Where did you find him?"

"Outside his tent," Chris hedged. He couldn’t tell anyone Vin had actually escaped. The young reb would've been punished severely for such an action

"What’s the matter with him? He’s worse than last I saw him." He gently lay the youth on a cot.

Wilson examined Vin closely. "The arm is gangrenous and the poison now above the elbow, I must amputate it immediately."

Vin stirred lightly, coming out of his faint. "Aw hell," he gasped, trying to get off the bed. His own body betrayed him as he fell back against the pillow. "Ain’t cuttin’ my arm!"

"Take it easy, kid. You’ll be all right," Larabee said as he helped Vin to take a drink of water. "What’s your name?"

"Vin, Vin Tanner," the boy murmured in response

"How old are you, Vin? "

"Old 'nuff ta be in the Army,"

The Captain’s brow furrowed, taking in the glistening face of the young reb. There was a powerful fever coursing through the thin body. "Is the amputation the only way to save his life, Dr. Wilson?"

Nodding solemnly, Dr. Wilson folded his arms across his chest. "I don’t have enough supplies here to treat something as serious as this. You know that."

A knock sounded on the wooden beams at the entrance to the tent. "Come in!" the doctor called out. The flap opened and a young, tall black man entered. "This is my helper, Nathan Jackson," Wilson said in introduction. "He has a natural gift for healing… best I’ve ever seen. Nathan? Would you mind looking at this wound? I’d appreciate your opinion."

Jackson leaned towards the wounded boy and as gently as he could began unwinding the bandage. Unfortunately the fabric had clotted to the injury, forcing the former slave to peel the bandage off.

Vin Tanner had known in his short life different kinds of pain, but this was beyond any he had experienced before, and he cried out loudly, his body trembling.

Nathan wiped down the sweaty forehead with a rag and then began the examination of the open wound. "We need to clean it up real good for starters," the black healer said, looking at the pale, pained face of the young man on the cot, "then if’n ya let me, Doc Wilson, I’ll get some of my herbal remedies ta try on him."

"Let’s give a try, Nathan," the doctor replied with a confident smile in his assistant’s direction.

"Yer not cuttin’ off m’ arm!" Vin shouted trying to avoid the gentle probing assaulting his aching flesh.

"I won’t," Nathan, answered his sorrowful, kind gaze meeting the pained, sky blue eyes, "Trust me, kid."

"I ain't no kid, Mister, and don’t go callin’ me that," Vin growled.

Chris caught himself smiling. Vin didn’t seem to mind when he had called him a kid earlier. "You are a real reb all the way, ain’t you?" he joked, kneeling down by the other side of the cot. "How about you settle down and let him work?"

The younger man stared up at the Captain, his strength waning, "Do ya really trust him?"

Severe green eyes studied Jackson’s face for several minutes, "You’re sure you know what th’ hell you are doing?" Chris asked abruptly.

"Yes, Sir, I know," replied the black in a calm, low voice.

Larabee could see the deep strength coming from the healer, like he had a special sort of power, and an equally strong determination to help this boy. Looking down at Vin, he nodded., "Yes, Vin, I trust him." He then lightly squeezed the lean shoulder of the ailing youth for reassurance.

Jackson washed his hands thoroughly with soap before leaning near Tanner’s ears,"I’m gonna be cleaning this wound. and it's gonna hurt … All right?"

"All right," Vin exhaled, shutting his eyes and holding his breath, in preparation for the pain to come. He felt a firm hand take hold of his forearm and he saw Larabee positioned beside him. A sense of peace washed over him, and Vin Tanner did something he rarely did, allowed someone else to watch his back for him. "Go on, Mister," he managed to utter to Nathan before his consciousness left him once more.

"Just as well," Nathan spoke as he stared intently at the festering wound. He had no drugs to ease the boy’s pain so he was glad Vin had passed out. Cutting out as much of the rotten skin as he could, he washed the wound with cold water and placed a smelly poultice over it, spreading it into the wound before bandaging the arm. The young man remained still throughout the procedure, exhaustion and pain overwhelming him. Again the black healer found himself grateful for that small allowance.

Larabee looked up at Nathan, "Think he is going to be all right?"

"It's moist gangrene, Captain, Sir. I’ve done the best I could, but without bromine, I’ll have to cut off his arm in a few days."

Watching the ashen face of the young private, the brown locks plastered to the pale forehead by sweat, Chris couldn’t help but feel he was losing Jimmy all over again.

"Do we have any of the damn stuff?" he asked Jackson angrily .The healer shot a wary glare in the doctor's direction, fearful to speak further.

Approaching the older man, Larabee grabbed the man by the arms, "I asked you a question Dr. Wilson. Do you have any of this bromine?" The doctor remained silent. "I want an answer…. now!" the Captain growled lethally.

Withering under Larabee's glare, Dr. Wilson answered the irate officer in an unsteady voice. "There’s a small bit of it left back in the surgery area. "

"Then why are you standing around here then? Go get it and bring it back. That’s an order!" Chris shouted.

"I can’t," the older man cried out in anger. "We can’t be using what little medical supplies we have on these prisoners! What about our own men?"

Larabee couldn’t believe what he was hearing. "This is a Confederate prison camp dammit! It ain’t our men being brought here all shot up and hurt. How can you say that?"

Nathan saw the storm brewing in the Captain’s green eyes and stepped forward. "Doctor Wilson meant no harm, Sir. It’s just he don’t have permission ta use it."

"Why the hell can’t he use it? This boy could die!"

"This boy will live if he lets me amputate," Dr. Wilson inserted.

"You don’t have to amputate if you give him the bromine!" Chris roared. "And what’s all this nonsense about permission?" The blond officer fixed a stern glare towards the doctor, a sudden realization hitting him, "You don’t want to help the boy do you? 'Cause he’s a reb?"

Before Dr. Wilson could respond, Jackson interrupted again. He knew the Captain was a decent man, and he also knew of the doctor’s hatred of the Confederacy. A big fight wasn’t going to do either mans any good, and it certainly wouldn’t help Vin’s arm. "The Colonel gave orders not ta use certain medicines unless there was an emergency."

"What the hell is this?" Chris said throwing an index finger in Vin’s direction. "Ain’t saving his arm worth it?"

"The Colonel must make that decision," Wilson said coldly, "This medicine is hard to come by and expensive due to the war. We only keep a small amount at hand in case our men need it."

"Our men?" Chris snapped, "the same men who were ready to string this kid up this morning? Don’t see any of them ready to die because their arm is bad."

"You never know what may happen, a reb may injure one of the guards …" Wilson tried to explain, "If we waste it on this boy …"

"Waste?" Larabee felt the heat of fury rise to his face. "Saving this boy's arm is a waste?"

"What the doctor means," Nathan hurried to assuage, "is that using the bromine may not heal the boy's arm either. It may be too far-gone for that. I’ll do my best to heal him, Sir… ya have my word."

Vin began to stir, hearing the rising of voices. Half awake, he looked at the men around him and lifted his arm, his eyes widening in wonder. "It’s still.here," he half – whispered .The exertion was too much and he laid back, panting hard. Minutes later he drifted into unconsciousness.

Chris leaned close to the injured boy. "Jimmy," he murmured lost in his memories as he stroked Vin’s too warm forehead.

Nathan looked at the Captain in confusion. "Thought he said his name was Vin, not Jimmy."

Green eyes met the brown, gentle ones. "Sorry, Jackson. I guess I was thinking about my younger brother," Chris mumbled.

"Is he back home waitin’ for ya ta come back from war?" Jackson asked cautiously.

"He’s… gone," Chris replied in a low voice. Collecting his mind with great effort he turned to the healer," Do your best with him, Nathan," he said before exiting the tent.

+ + + + + + +

For three days Vin Tanner fought a hard battle with death, but he wanted to live, and so he did. On the fifth day Jackson had had enough of the strong willed young man. Getting Vin to submit to another cleaning of the wound, he spread more ointment, looking on in sympathy as Vin had to bite down hard not to shout from pain. Re – wrapping the arm, the healer dipped a towel in cold water, placing it as a compress on the boy’s feverish forehead.

"Ya best drink now," Nathan ordered, giving Vin a cup of herbal tea.

"That crap stinks!" Vin complained.

"You’ll drink and enjoy it, kid," a strong, steady voice said, Larabee had entered the tent and was looking at him standing at the foot of the cot.

The young man frowned, "Yer not m’ father," he groused.

"Maybe not, but here I’m in charge of you… so drink!" Chris demanded. Receiving an angry glare from the reb, the Captain held back a smirk when he watched Vin drain the cup." Where are you from?"

"Ain’t none of yer business, Yank, " Vin growled, shitting his eyes. As if a Union officer would really care about his life….

"Think you can challenge me now, uh?" Chris’ tone was firm, but not angry. He couldn’t blame the boy for not trusting him with such intimate details. As far as Vin was concerned, he was the enemy. Yet he found himself driven to find out as much as possible about the reb.

"Captain, Sir, the boy here ain’t feelin’ too good. The wound is botherin’ him an’ he is still purty weak. Must've lost fifteen pounds in the last four days and that’s dangerous at his weight, considerin’ he’s lost so much already," Nathan informed the officer.

"M’ fine, why don’t ya’ ll quit yer yammerin’ and lemme git some shut – eye, " Vin muttered under his breath rubbing his eyes with his good hand, stifling a yawn.

"Okay, you old cuss, sleep well, I’m going to scout around for some decent food to build you up," Chris half smiled, " Jackson, keep an eye on him, I’ll be back soon."

As soon as Larabee had left Vin opened his eyes and studied the tent. It was pretty sparse; two other cots were situated in different parts of it and there was the meager equipment the doctor used, along with a big cupboard in the farthest corner. Clenching his teeth together, he sank into the pillow, his arm killing him. The fever was still there as he felt the heat radiating from his body, making his strength wane quickly.

An abrupt noise made the young man jump as two soldiers entered inside, carrying between them a sailed box. On the side of it Vin could make out the words U.S. ARMY, printed in large, white letters.

One of the men went over to the cupboard and opened a door, exposing a small safe tucked inside. Unlocking the safe he placed piles of wrapped money and coins into it.

"Pay day’s tomorrow, Jackson, " the soldier called out cheerfully to the healer, putting the padlock back on." Kinda odd though, keeping the money in the medical tent."

"That’s 'cause no one would think to look for it in here," the other soldier pointed out.

Outside the windows two men in dusty, torn, gray uniforms, listened intently near the rear.

"I’ve jist told ya, Bill, the money came today and they jist got done puttin’ it in here. It’ ll be like lickin’ butter off’n a knife …there's only that darkie and the sick boy inside. They’ll be no problem, the officer's gone and that uppity doctor left the camp," the larger of the two Confederate soldiers said in a whisper.

"What about our men? " Bill asked, " They ain’t gonna be happy not gettin’a cut or gettin’ free."

"Hell, they’ll help us. all of 'em. We’ll tell 'em we’re usin’ the money ta git some help. While they're creatin’ a diversion, we’ll be free, rich and on the way home."

"The Sarge?"

"I know how to handle him, if'n he wants the boy alive, he best not be stoppin’ us,"the man replied with an evil grin.

Nathan was busying himself cleaning the doctor’s instruments, his front facing the canvas wall. Vin watched the healer for a bit, allowing his gaze to roam around the good – sized tent. Rest was eluding him because of the constant throbbing of his arm. His sharp eyes stopped on a floor rack studying the rifles on it eagerly. A deep sight escaped through his lips as he remembered his own lost rifle that was so precious to him. The Union army had it now.

Jackson has finished his task and observed Vin’s fascination with the weapons. Wanting to ease the boy’s distress, he smiled." Ya werere a sniper, weren’t ya? "

"Among other things," Vin shrugged.

"What else?"

"I used to hunt and truck 'fore I joined," Tanner replied, "but ain’t never seen rifles like these. They're mighty fine."

Nathan took a Winchester from the rack. "Have a look, then." He knew the guns weren’t loaded, but yet he felt that even if they had been, the boy wouldn’t turn on him. A broad smile graced the healer’ s face as Vin rang long fingers over the smooth surface of the weapon.

Handling the rifling lovingly, Vin accessed the weapon's weight and the feel of the trigger, all the while a slight smile playing on his pale lips as if he were a child enthralled with a long desired toy.

"It’ s jist perfect .. "Vin murmured, in wonder, turning the gun over in his hands. Placing the rifle down beside him, the young reb was woken from his reverie by the sudden arrival of two Confederate soldiers bursting in through the front flab of the medical tent.

"Okay, Darkie, git out of our way! We're gitting that money!" the first and largest of the men ordered Nathan. Raising a rusted rifle, towards the healer, he made his thread known.

"How’d you prisoners git a hold of a weapon?" Nathan asked in shock.

"Ain’t any of yer concern now ya best tell us exactly where that there payroll is hidden."

"I found it," the other thief called to his partner, "but it done got itself a padlock on it."

With the robbers preoccupied with Nathan, Vin managed to quietly lift himself up off the cot, pulling his arm out of the sling. Taking a deep breath, he willed the pain to another part of his mind, reaching over slowly for the rifle. He rested his trembling body against the metal frame that held the cot immobile.

"Ya best git me that key for the lock, Darkie, ..or I’m spreadin’ yer guts all over this tent!" the larger reb snarled.

"Lower that gun’o yers or I’ll blow your head clean off," Tanner growled, between clenched teeth.

The large man stared at the pale, half - naked boy who dare challenged him in surprise. Familiar with Tanner’s skills as a sharpshooter, he aimed and fired before the boy took him down.

"Noo!" screamed Nathan as rushed to Vin ’s side, watching in horror as the pool of blood grew around the boy’s narrow ribcage.

"I tried ta …, sorry…," Vin slurred before collapsing into the healer’s arms.

"Murderer!" Nathan shouted at the gunman. "The rifle wasn’t loaded!"

"Shut up, slave! Bill git him outta here," the larger reb commanded, turning to his cohort. "We’ll bust the lock ourselves."

The healer felt a slight pulse. "No! he's breathin’ let me help 'im." When he read the cold look in the shooter’s eyes, he added, "he’s one of y'all, aint’ the boy suffered enough?"

"I’ll end his sufferin’," the man replied raising his weapon. But before he could fire again, he heard the crack of a gun, followed by a searing pain in his hand. Looking down the reb saw the bleeding hole in the middle of his palm, the rifle laying on the ground inches away.

Chris Larabee was standing at the opening of the tent, a Colt. 45 smoking in his right hand.

+ + + + + + +

Other soldiers launched themselves through the entrance behind Larabee easily cornering the two prisoners and taking them away.

With the immediate threat taken care of, Chris moved closer to the wounded young prisoner and stood a moment over the bed, gazing down at Vin’s fine features. The youth's face was so unlike his conscious visage, the lines of pain replaced by a more relaxed look as his sooty golden lashes laid against the pale skin. A pulse beat slowly in the hollow of Vin’s throat and Chris found himself in an odd way comforted by the sight.

"What happened here?" the officer asked, turning to Nathan.

"He saved my life, Sir," the black healer answered in awe, "in his condition he aimed his rifle at them rebs and saved my life." Taking a cloth, he put pressure on the hole just below Vin’s armpit. "I’m gonna need your help, Captain. If’n ya can hold this cloth while I get some supplies, I’d appreciate it."

Larabee nodded and took over Nathan’s position by the bed, holding the cloth as firmly as he could to the wound. "How bad is it?"

"There's no exit wound, so I'm gonna have ta dig the bullet out. His arm's gonna need tendin’ too, but I don’t want him bleeding to death," the healer explained, crossing the room with a beat up medical bag. Opening the satchel, he pulled out bandages, a probe, and bottles of various herbs and medicines. The former slave took another piece of cloth and doused it with chloroform. Meeting Larabee's curious gaze, Nathan smiled faintly in reassurance.

"It’s called chloroform, ta help keep him out so we can get the bullet out without too much pain."

"I’ve heard of it," Larabee replied." What else is in those bottles?"

"I’ve got carbolic, laudanum, morphine and all the types of healin’ herbs. This here is my personal supply, but I’m willin’ ta share ta help get him better." Placing the soaked cloth over Vin’s mouth and nose, Nathan waited until he was sure his patient was fully under the powerful anesthetic. Jackson then checked his patient’s eyes before continuing. Good, the young reb wouldn’t be waking up any time soon.

+ + + + + + +

An hour later the operation was over, with Vin still resting peacefully under the drug-induced sleep. The bullet was an easy enough task, a group of neatly stitched twine closing the hole that was now covered by a thick pad of gauze. Tanner’s arm was another matter. It was still badly infected, and posed more of a danger then the bullet did.

"How is he doing?" Chris asked worriedly.

"Not bad, Captain, Sir," Nathan replied. "This boy seems ta me ta be a fast healer."

"I’ll take that to mean he’s too damn stubborn to die." Chris said, carefully covering the half - naked, slim body with a light blanket. Drawing up a chair close to the side of the cot he sat down and took a tight grip of the unconscious young man’s icy hand.

+ + + + + + +

The sun was beginning to set in the distance, dappling the tent with a graying light and deep shadows as Vin began to stir. Wincing as he tried to lift his head the young man fought the waves of pain that took hold of his body, his eyes finally opening due to the great effort. He shuddered when his blurry vision made out a blue uniform next to him, the horrors of war invading his muddled thoughts.

"Don’t try to get up," Larabee said quietly, pushing Vin back down to the cot. "How are you doing?"

Vin calmed, recognizing the voice " I’m … fine. What happened?"

"A lot of things but right now all you need to concern yourself with is resting. We can speak about the details of what happened later," Chris said in a soothing tone. He watched in concern Vin’s face lined with pain, as he shifted against the wall. "You want something to eat?"

"Ain’t hungry."

"Maybe you could use a drink?" Larabee lifted a cup of water to Vin’s dried lips, the boy eagerly gulping the cool, sweet tasting liquid. Suddenly a groan escaped from the boy, his eyes slamming shut in agony.

"Something wrong, Vin?" Chris asked in alarm as he adjusted the pillow under the matted, curly head. Tanner didn’t answer the pain intensifying up his arm.

"Where’s the pain coming from?"

"My ….my arm," Vin half whimpered before a cry of pain from his open mouth shattered the quiet of the tent.

Larabee felt as if his heart was being torn apart as he heard the cries of pain. Leaping up from his chair, he scooped the frail body up in his muscular arms.

"I’ve got to get you some proper help."

"Noo, they'll cut m’ arm! No, please don’t let 'em," Vin pleaded desperately struggling weakly against Chris’ hold of him. Unable to fight the pain and the Union officer, he passed out, hanging limply in the Captain’s arms.

Gently Chris wrapped a blanket around the boy and continued out of the tent, his destination the severe looking, and stone fortress in the middle of the camp where he knew the medical supplies were kept. . He hurried to the building and spotting a guard standing in front, he hollered," Let me in, I need help!"

"Prisoners ain’t allowed in here, without the proper authorization," the soldier replied stiffly." You should know that, Captain."

"Fine! Then get the hell outta my way! I’m getting this boy some help!" Larabee growled.

"Captain, the Colonel was very strict about this, ain’t no prisoner’s allowed anywhere near here," the private protested, still standing in front of the entrance." You’ll have to wait for the Colonel’s orders."

"You know where I’m going to shove those damn orders!" Chris shouted back, his face turning hateful. "Get out of my way! Now!"

Lifting his rifle, the private stood his ground," Captain, please, don’t do this, or I’ll be forced to shoot."

Seeing the rifle tremble in the young soldier’s hand, Larabee debated his next move. Would this private actually shoot him? He glanced down at Vin’s ashen, sweaty face. If he did get shot, where would that put Vin?

"Listen, Captain, …Doc Wilson ain’t even here right now. He should be coming back from town soon. Just wait till he gets back and he’ll help the kid," the private offered, his weapon lowering slightly. The reb did look mighty bad, but orders were orders. He’d shoot anyone who tried to get in with the enemy, even if it was a good man like Captain Larabee.

Muttering under his breath, Chris began his trek back to the tent in defeat. Doctor Wilson …that damnable man wouldn’t lift a finger to help save Vin’s arm. If only he could get a hold of some bromine.

"Captain, Sir?" Jackson hurried up to the officer, his eyes widening in shock," Is the boy all right?"

"No he is not. He’s getting worse, Nathan. Vin needs that bromine! " Chris spoke angrily." That damn Wilson won’t help him, and I can’t give up on Vin. I won’t!"

Ushering the Captain back inside the medical tent, Nathan tried to remove the bandages as gently as he could, only receiving a slight groan of protest from the unconscious patient. Before he could comment, the tent flap parted, Doctor Wilson cold features greeting the two men.

"I’ve just been informed there is a problem with one of the prisoners?"" The tall man said coolly. He met Larabee’s eyes." In the future, Captain, I’d appreciate conferring with me before trying to usurp my authority."

"The boy was in pain, and you weren’t here," Chris replied, through clenched teeth. "As if you'd do anything for him anyway ……"

Both men stared at each other contemptuously, the animosity growing in the room until it seemed only a matter of second before the men erupted into fisticuffs. Jackson took his eyes off the young reb, wanting to stop the altercation; he knew was sure to come. Placing a hand on the doctor’s sleeve, the former slave succeeded in drawing Wilson's attention away from the Captain.

"The gangrene is getting worse," Wilson stated, taking his coat jacket off. "I have to amputate immediately."

"No, Sir. ya don’t have ta," Nathan tried to explain.

"Jackson, I gave you a chance to help this boy," Wilson snapped," and it’s yours and Captain Larabee's stubbornness that is causing this prisoner's agony to continue."

"You damn, pompous..." Larabee growled, rising in protest.

Nathan threw up a hand to stop the advancing officer. "Doctor Wilson, the herbs are workin’. Look his blisters are beginnin’ to disappear, there is no sign of swelling and no pus comin’ out no more. If we had some of that there bromine ……I’m sure we’d get the boy better ….without havin’ ta cut off his arm . "

"Are you a doctor?" Wilson asked curtly.

"No, sir, just a healer," Jackson lowered his gaze.

"That’s right, so remember your place! This prisoner’s arm is not improving, it’s going deeper into his arm, I must amputate now."

Larabee trusted himself between the doctor and Vin’s prone body," You ain’t even looked at the boy properly," he said in contempt," and you sure as hell ain’t gonna be touching him."

"I was mistakenly under the impression you cared what happened to this traitor," Wilson said with an indignant huff. "If you want to watch him slowly die, then be my guest, I will inform the colonel of your disrespect of my authority."

"And I will inform the Colonel of your lack of compassion," Chris spat back. Watching the retreating back of Doctor Wilson, the blonde officer turned his attention back to his "brother", seeing the lean body tremble under the pain.

" Help me, Chris, …" Jim Larabee’s voice echoed in the Captain's mind, "I don’t want to live like a cripple…. " The voice faded and Chris found himself staring into the intense, blue eyes of the young rebel, the gaze an unspoken plea for help.

Meeting Jackson’s eyes, Larabee nodded forcefully. "I’m getting him that damn bromine," the officer vowed passionately," and I need your help, Jackson."

"I can’t get ya that bromine without the Doctor’s okay," Nathan replied sadly," and we both know he ain’t gonna agree ta it."

"All I need you to do is kept the bastard occupied while I search for the bromine and bring it back to Vin." Chris searched for the kind, brown eyes before him," Wilson keeps his supplies in the back room, right?"

Jackson nodded wordlessly, his mind battling over his two choices, doctor Wilson had been kind to him, allowing him to glean knowledge of medicine under his tutelage, but looking down at the young Confederate soldier, the healer knew a doctor’s first priority was to his patient, no matter what side of the conflict he was on.

"We best take the boy back to his tent," Nathan suggested.

"Yeah," Chris agreed," then I can sneak the bromine to the leader of Vin’s regiment, and I’m sure he’ll keep quiet."

"Then I come in, get the bromine and treat the boy," Jackson finished the plan. Helping Larabee lift the reb off the cot, they carefully carried their light charge to the prisoner’s tents.

The Confederate Sergeant looked at the two men in alarm when they brought Vin’s sweaty form in. "He is gettin’ worse?"

"Not if we can help it," Chris answered, lowering Vin onto a nearby cot. Exchanging a glance with the dark skinned healer, he gave a short nod, each man quickly exiting the tent to fulfill his mission of mercy.