"RLNI" Alternate Universe
"Are we there yet, Cowboy?" Vin asked.
Chris shook his head, it was about the 300th time (Ok a little exaggerated, but not by much) that Vin had asked this question. "No," Chris Replied.
"Ah, man, weve gotta be near. Its like weve been travellin for hours."
"Vin, you knew before we started out that was a journey of at least 5 hours and could be a lot more, depending on the traffic."
"Yeah, well it seems like 8 hours already."
"Vin, it's only been 4 and a bit hours."
"So yer saying that weve got another hour at least."
"Yep, afraid so."
"Ah hell. Well if thats the case Is got time to open another packet of those Tomato Ketchup flavoured crisps. Are you sure you dont want any?"
"Yep and dont you think 10 packets is enough for anyone?"
"Nah, thats only a light snack. Besides which its time for elevenses."
"Vin, youre not a Hobbit. You dont need to eat that junk food as often as you can."
"I like it and Im a growing boy and with our job we need all the energy we can."
"Yes, but were not on the job at the moment. Were taking a weekend away to enjoy your birthday present."
Chris and Vin were both members of the Four Corners Lifeboat drew. Theyd left the rest of the crew in the capable hands of veteran, Josiah Sanchez and second coxswain Buck Wilmington. Hope to hell they survive Chris thought.
For Vins last birthday Chris had given him the present that they were on the way to enjoy. It was a full weekend away in the New Forest participating in the round up of the Forest ponies. It was as near to the Wild West as you could authentically get in the UK. Chris had remembered that Sarah, his wife, had always taken part in these and he felt that Vin would thoroughly enjoy himself.
It would be bittersweet for Chris, as it was part of his dearly departed wife, but he was also excited about sharing this with Vin. Vin had played a large part in putting Chris back together after the tragedy along with Buck.
So earlier this morning he had hitched up the horse trailer and after a great deal of coaxing on Vins part had rounded the horses and put them in the trailer. Chris was still not sure that Peso wasnt going to make Vin pay for it. Peso was as ornery as his owner and the pantomime that was horse and rider never got dull.
Unfortunately Vin was so excited about this trip that he had constantly been using up his nervous energy by eating junk food since they left Four Corners this morning. The energy had translated into a barrage of questions about where they were going, what they were going to do, how much Vin was looking forward to it and, for the past hour, how soon would they get there.
Chris was beginning to wonder if this was such a good idea. He was beginning to get a headache from the questions. Vin was usually a quiet companion, someone who left you to your own thoughts, but this disappeared when he ate junk food. He became more annoying than JD at his most hyper-active. Chris supposed he could always shoot him, but then he would have to explain what had happened to the rest of the crew and he didnt think he was up to that yet.
At least while Vin munched the junk food he was quiet.
"So are we there yet?"
Chris just glared.
+ + + + + + +
They finally arrived in the small New Forest town of Brockenhurst. Vin had exhausted his questions and had changed to constantly fidgeting. Chris was very glad they had arrived. They stabled the horses just outside of town and then drove the short distance to the Bed & Breakfast that they would be staying in.
As they pulled up in front of the house, Chriss headache started to pound and Vin was jumping with excitement adding to Chriss misery. All Chris needed to make his day was the archetypal landlady giving them rules, curfew and rationing the hot water.
Vin hardly waited for the car to stop before he swung open the door and jumped out. He ran around the Land Rover and opened the boot and started to remove their luggage before Chris had even taken the keys out of the ignition. He exited the car slowly and breathed deeply of the clean forest air, not smelling petrol fumes, exhaust, fast food or Vins feet.
"Come on old man, let's get booked in. You can have a nice hot shower and then we can eat."
"Less of the old and is your stomach all you think about Tanner? Surely youve eaten enough already today."
"Nah, that was snacks, now I want my dinner. So get a move on, slow coach." Vin ushered Chris into the reception area.
The house looked Victorian on the outside and this was reinforced on the inside with the black and white tiles on the floor. There were 2 front doors and the inner was a plain glass but the external one was lovely old wood with a stained glass window. This window cast coloured shadows across the floor and up the grand staircase that was situated to the left of the reception room.
Under the stairs and slightly to one side stood the reception desk. This was wood too. It was currently unmanned but a brass push button bell sat on top with a note stating Push for assistance.'
Vin pushed the bell and when no one came immediately he pushed it again and again and again.
Chris grabbed his hand after awhile "Enough."
"Ah Cowboy, Is trying to make a tune."
"Yeah, well youre as good at that as you are at the harmonica."
"Glad you liked it."
"Well I didnt," a strangers voice interrupted. "Once was enough. Im sorry but I was delayed getting here. How can I help you?"
Vin turned his blue puppy eyes on the young female receptionist and in his best voice stated, "Im sorry. I didnt mean to cause you any problems. I was just bored."
"Thats as may be but how can I help you?" The female receptionist replied totally ignoring Vins charm. She turned her sweet smile onto Chris.
"You should have a booking in the name of Larabee for the next 3 nights."
"Let me check. Yep, here you are. If you could please complete this registration card." She pushed the card over the desk towards Chris.
Vin decided to test the frosty waters by asking where a good place to eat would be. The receptionist deigned to reply and confirmed that there were a number of good places and suggested that they try the Snakecatchers Pit. It sounded horrible but she assured them that it had won numerous awards for its cuisine.
The receptionist, whose name was Tina, leaned over the reception desk when Chris pushed the registration card back, giving Chris an eyeful of her best assets.
She took the card and collected a key from the wall. She looked at the card and breathed, "If you follow me, Chris, Ill show you to your room."
Chris glared at her as she had the affront to use his name without his permission, which just had the effect of increasing his headache. She ignored it, or was too dense to realise the danger sign for what it was.
She escorted them upstairs to their room which was situated in the tower of the house. The Victorians liked to add strange architectural adornments to their buildings and this one was no different. They had added a tower probably to confirm an Englishmans home is his castle.
The room that Vin and Chris were shown into had wide bay windows with a view of the heathland that makes up much of the New Forest. As Vin kept asking "Wheres the Forest? If this is the New Forest there should be some trees." much to Chriss annoyance.
Vin opened the window and was delighted to see some New Forest ponies of differing sizes and colours grazing on the heathland.
Chris dropped his bag onto the bed as Tina opened a connecting door "Heres the bathroom." As she said this the sound of a shower running could be heard.
"Ah, you have to forgive us but as this is an old house. The plumbing isnt the best and you are able to hear when your neighbour has a shower."
"As long as he doesnt sing and take all the hot water Im not bothered. Are you Vin?"
"Nope. Lived in a lot worse in the past."
"The hot water is instantly available from our gas boiler so you dont need to worry that someone will use it all up. It will have to be on a long time before it turns cold."
"Thats good to know eh cowboy," Vin stated as he threw himself onto the bed.
"Heres your room key. You are in Room 7. If theres anything you want, anything at all, dont hesitate to contact me and Ill arrange it for you," Tina stated as she handed the key back to Chris.
She took so much time holding his hand that it almost turned into a fondle, but she finally left Chris and Vin alone.
Vin started unpacking by throwing his clothes onto his bed. Once his bag was empty he hung his clothes up or put them into the drawers. He was so fast that Chris had only time to rub his temples, get a glass of water and open his bag before he was finished.
"Done," Vin exclaimed. He looked searchingly into Chriss face and noticed the throbbing vein above the eye and the tightness around his eyes. "Headache that bad?"
"Suppose you want a shower before we have that meal."
"Yep. It will help ease this headache hopefully."
"Ok. Whilst you have a shower Ill take a walk 'round the village. See some of nature and scope out what's what."
"Arent I always? Besides which, all that food has made me restless. Wont be long."
Whilst the conversation was going on, Chris had finished unpacking and was beginning to make his way into the bathroom with his clothes to change into and his wash things.
"Were going to eat at the Snakecatchers Pit right?" Vin wanted to know.
"Dont see why not."
"OK Ill give you half an hour."
"Dont forget the key and dont go frightening the local wild life either."
"Yes mother. Go on have your shower."
As Chris entered the bathroom he heard Vin open the room door. He turned the shower on and so didnt hear Vins last words of, "See you back here in half an hour."
As the water warmed up, Chris stripped off his T-Shirt and stepped out of his jeans, underwear and socks after he toed off his boots. He checked that the water was warm enough before stepping into the bath and pulling the shower curtains across.
The heat immediately started to soothe his headache. He stood directly under the jet of water, allowing it to pound onto his skull and run down the side of his face, onto his shoulders, stomach and legs.
After a while he twisted around so that the water was now pounding his shoulders and back like a massage, and he sighed with relief.
He reached for the soap and flannel and started to soap up the flannel. He then started to apply the soap to his body starting with quick sure strokes to his arms, then abs and then stomach. He had to balance precariously as he soaped one leg and then the other. He finally washed his face luxuriating in the loosening of his muscles especially his headache.
He decided to wash his hair as well as he had the time and it would help lessen the headache even more.
As he placed the soap in the dish and reached for the shampoo he did not notice the soap missing the dish and sliding into the bath.
As he started to back under the water his foot came down on the soap bar and he slipped. He tried to right himself by grabbing at the wall and the edges of the bath but this only increased the slip so that he came crashing down into the bath. His head flung back and made impact with the mixer tap and darkness closed in around him. His last sight was the water still cascading down from the shower above. His last thought was Ah hell.'
Vin could feel his junk food high receding as he walked around the small New Forest town. Its more like a village,' he thought, Yes, look its even got a cricket pitch, the ponds replaced by the stream, the quaint railway station and a few rustic pubs. Theres even a ford across the stream.'
He splashed across the ford, enjoying the water scattering in all directions. The ford led to a parade of shops. Beyond the parade Vin could see the natural beauty of the Forest. He walked into the natural countryside away from the man-made town. He breathed deeply and closed his eyes whilst spinning round and round. He kept this up until he was too dizzy to remain upright. He fell to the soft ground with a goofy smile on his face. Now thats truly beautiful,' he thought. He was thoroughly enjoying the wide natural spaces.
Unfortunately, the light began to fade and Vin realised that he had to get back to collect Chris and then have some dinner. His stomach decided to growl at that moment to remind him it needed food. He hurried back to the Bed & Breakfast when he realised that almost an hour had passed by. Oh Boy Chris is going to be mad at me.'
He rushed up the stairs into the room expecting to find an even more pissed off Chris. When he opened the door to their room he noticed that Chris was nowhere to be seen.
'Damn, maybe he thought we were to meet at the pub. Hope so. Thatd mean that hes not so pissed with me.'
Vin rushed out of the room, down the stairs and into the street. Hed found the pub in his earlier exploration and so headed there as quickly as he could. When he opened the door he noticed that the pub was very busy. He pushed his way through with some excuse mes and thank yous.
Whilst he was making his way through, he kept an eye out for Chris, but he reached the bar without seeing him. He decided that Chris must have gone back to the Bed & Breakfast looking for him, so if he stayed put Chris would finally turn up. Pissed but at least they would be together.
As he had decided to wait he decided to order himself a pint. The pub didnt feel as homely as Bucks but it would do. Half an hour passed and still Chris had not appeared. Vin began to suspect that Chris was waiting for him at the B&B. Vin thought 'Uh oh Im in trouble with a capital T.'
He decided that he had better head back to the B&B. Something, though, kept nagging at the back of his mind. It had something to do with a sound he had heard Vin was sure. He was also sure that a persistent tickle in his brain was telling him something was wrong with Chris and that he would get his answer back at the B&B.
He passed Tina in the hallway and asked her if she had seen Chris. She replied, "No, but some selfish so and so has used up all the hot water."
"Oh shit," Vin exclaimed. Everything had suddenly fallen into place. That sound he couldnt quite put his finger on had been the sound of running water. Hed originally thought that it was their neighbours as it had been earlier in the day but now he realised that it was Chris and hed been in the shower for nearly 3 hours. Something was seriously wrong.
Vin rushed into their room, barging his way into the bathroom. He could hear the water running and the shower curtain was swinging in the breeze he had caused. He grabbed the curtain and pulled it back. What he saw matched any scene in a horror movie. Chris lay on the bottom of the bath, eyes closed, facing directly at the ceiling. He was very white and had goose bumps on his goose bumps.
"Chris, CHRIS, come on wake up. WAKE UP."
When Vin received no reply he knelt down next to the bath and reached across to turn the water off. He realised that Tina had followed him into the bathroom when he heard her gasp. She was staring straight at Chris.
"Is he dead? He cant be dead. No not dead, not dead."
Vin leaned across the bath and checked Chriss pulse in his neck. "No, hes not dead. Hes alive," he sighed. "Call an ambulance NOW."
Tina did not move immediately so Vin pushed her towards the phone in the bedroom.
"Ill have to let the owner know as well."
"Yes, alright, but after youve phoned for an ambulance."
Vin swivelled back round until he was facing Chris again. He had noticed the goosebumps and when he had taken Chriss temperature he had noticed how cold Chris was. He verified that he was cold all over. Yes, very cold. Vin realised that between the cold bathroom and the cold water Chris must be freezing and could be suffering from hypothermia.
So he collected all the towels in the bathroom, thankful that there was a towel rail which had warmed them. Once back at Chris he tucked them around him, being careful not to move him too much.
Walking back into the bedroom, he grabbed the duvets off the beds and covered Chris with these as well. Finally giving Chris some privacy from prying eyes. He couldnt do anything for Chriss back as that would have meant moving him and Vin knew that this was too dangerous as he did not know what injuries Chris maybe suffering from.
Vin was sure that he had followed Nathans training and often voiced procedure for dealing with possible hypothermia, head and unknown injuries. Thinking on Nathan brought his mind back to the requested ambulance and where the hell was it. How much time had passed since his request? Vin couldnt think beyond the fact that Chris was injured and that he had to recover. Oh, god what was he going to say to Buck and the others in the crew? Chris was going to be fine, he was going to be fine became a mantra in his head. He couldnt think of any other possibility, because it just couldnt happen. No, he wasnt going to let it happen.
Vin picked up one of Chriss hands and stroked it lightly keeping up his mantra in his head "Youre going to be fine, youre going to be fine."
The next thing Vin knew was Tina re-entering the bathroom with a paramedic following.
"Here he is," she explained. Turning to Vin she stated "I thought it was best to wait for the ambulance and direct them here as quickly as possible."
The paramedic stepped into the room and asked, "What happened here? Whats his name?"
"I think he slipped and banged his head on the tap as he went down. It was at least 3 hours ago maybe longer. I found him about 10 minutes ago. The shower was still running but it was producing cold water only. His name's Chris, Chris Larabee. Hes going to be ok, isnt he?"
"Whats your name, son?"
"Well Vin, youre fast thinking," he indicated the towels and duvet, "and calling us should give him a good chance."
He placed his hand on Vins shoulder to move him aside and gently untangled his hand from Chriss.
"My name's Mike and my partners Tracy. Were going to take good care of him."
Vin stood dazedly to one side, feeling his legs turn to rubber he slid down the bathroom wall.
"Whoah, are you ok?" asked the new paramedic. Vin looked at her through a blur and mumbled, "Im fine. Its Chris you should be worrying about."
"Mikes looking at him. Let me check you. OK?"
"Im fine. Please see to Chris."
"Look, youre not going to be any help to your brother if you fall ill yourself. So let me quickly look at you and then we can get back to Chris."
"Aint my brother." As he said this Vin realised he was mistaken . Although no blood relationship existed between him and Chris, they really were brothers in all the senses that mattered.
"OK, your friend, but I still need to look at you."
"Well what are ya waiting for?" Vin replied with one of his puppy dog smiles that all the ladies fell for no matter what age they were and that Buck desperately wanted to copy.
Whilst Tracy had been getting Vin to co-operate, Mike had quickly and efficiently taken Chriss pulse, checked his breathing and examined him.
"Trace, well need a neck collar and back board. Can you fetch them from the ambulance?"
"Sure, as soon as I finish with this one," she indicated Vin.
She had given Vin a quick check and was satisfied that he only seemed to be suffering from mild shock. So she headed down to the ambulance for the required items.
Vin, from his place on the floor, stared across at Mike and Chris keeping his mantra up in his head. He also knew that he was going to insist on been taken in the ambulance with Chris. He wasnt getting left behind.
Vin couldnt think straight but he knew that he was going to accompany Chris to the hospital and he was very insistent about it. Mike and Tracy, the paramedics, were used to behaviour like his and were more than willing to allow him to accompany them. Experience had taught them that if the patient awoke during the journey they were more likely to behave if they saw a friendly face.
Once he had their agreement, Vin crawled over to the bath and grasped Chriss hand. He whispered to Chris "Youre going to be alright. Wake up and glare at me. Ah hell, shoot me, but wake up and be alright."
Chriss eyes remained firmly closed and no answering squeeze was received from his hand.
"Ok Vin. I need you to move as were going to have to get Chris out of the bath now." Mike asked as his partner Tracy and he had set out all the needed equipment.
"Glad you said that. Were going to need the help of a couple more people as well." Tracy looked outside the door and found Tina and the owner of the Hotel. "Youll do. Please follow me and listen to what we have to say."
Mike looked at them and checked that neither suffered from a bad back. "OK, what we need you all to do is to help us pick Chris up and place him on the back board. This will be done in 2 stages and you will follow my instructions as I will be holding his head. The first stage will be to slip half the board down the far side of the bath and under Chris as far as we can get it without moving him too much. We will then roll him onto his left side and slip the other half of the board into the bath on the near side and connect them up. Then comes the hard part we will need to lift him. I think to start with we should remove the towels and one of the duvets. The other duvet should be left on him at all time. Tracy will be responsible for fitting the restraints. OK any questions before we start?"
No questions were asked so they set about removing Chris from the bath.
"On my mark one, two, three, lift," and Chris was lifted out of the bath and put on the stretcher.
The paramedics thanked everyone for their help and ushered Vin into the ambulance along with Chris. The journey to the hospital took a little over 20 minutes. To Vin, very little time seemed to have passed since he had found Chris in the bath. He was still chanting his mantra and clasping Chriss arm.
Once at the hospital Chris was rushed into casualty and placed into a curtained booth. Vin was still clasping his hand and refused to be separated from him. The nurse immediately tried to pry Vin away from him as Michael and the doctor conferred about Chriss condition. Vin did not want to let go as he was afraid that if he let go Chris would not recover. He thought of himself as Chriss anchor to this world and he was not ready to cast him adrift yet.
The nurse tried to move Vin again. "Sir, if you would please follow me to where we can register your friend and then give the doctor time to examine him."
"Nope, aint leaving him until he wakes up and glares at me."
The doctor and the nurse raised their eyebrows over this remark behind Vins back.
"Sir, until you register your friend the doctor cant examine him. Im sure you want him to wake up and what was it? Oh yes glare at you?"
"Yep, sure do."
"If youll just follow me then sir."
"Nope, and stop calling me sir, maam. The name's Vin and this here is Chris."
The nurse gave a small smile at being called maam.
"Look, why dont we let the doctor do what he is paid for? While hes doing that Ill get you a nice cup of tea and we can finish up the paperwork?"
"Thats an invitation you shouldnt refuse, Vin," said a smiling Michael. "Its not often that she offers tea."
"Alright but I need to speak to Chris alone for a few seconds."
"OK, we can give you 2 minutes and then were back and youre gone. Deal?"
As the nurse. doctor and Michael left the cubicle Vin clasped Chriss arm in their familiar handshake and whispered "Youve got to get better. I dont know how Ill manage without you and its all my fault that youre here. It's my birthday treat. I left you alone 'cause Id eaten too many sugar things, I missed noticing the shower noise and I even had a pint whilst you were freezing in that bath. Please Chris get better."
The doctor re-entered the cubicle and touched Vin on the shoulder. Vin sniffled slightly and unclasped his hand from Chriss.
"I promise as soon as I know anything I will tell you Vin."
"Thanks, Doc. I dont mean to be awkward."
He stood up as the nurse entered and followed her to the reception area. Here, he completed the necessary paperwork, having to ask the nurse a number of times to help with the writing and certain words. As promised, she procured a proper cup of tea for him and not the type that came in plastic cups from the dispensing machine.
Is there anyone we should contact for Mr Larabee?" she asked.
"No, No. Ill do it," Vin replied.
Oh God, how could he have forgotten the rest of the crew? Vin thought. Theyd want to know immediately. In actual fact they would drop everything and be there in a few hours, especially Buck. Should he tell them or wait until he knew more? Or Chris actually woke up?
Well if he waited until at least the doctor told him what was going on he would be able to answer their endless questions. Maybe not all of Nathans but everyone else's.
The nurse left the room to check with the doctor, leaving Vin to sit in silence, head bowed and fingers fiddling with the spoon from his cup of tea. He tried to ignore the constant hustle and bustle of the casualty department. He started his mantra again and was concentrating on it so much he missed the doctors approach and jumped slightly when the doctor tapped him on the shoulder.
He looked up at the doctor and immediately started to feel worried. The doctors look did not inspire confidence. Vin's thoughts flew to the fact that there was something wrong with Chris. No, no, NO. Chris was alright. Chris was alright.
"Chris has had a very nasty knock on the head. He will suffer from concussion and is currently unconscious but he has not slipped into a coma. This is a good sign. We need to monitor him for the next 24 hours but hopefully nothing will occur other than him waking up."
"Thanks doc," he replied with obvious relief in his voice. OK. All Chris needed to do was wake up. "Um, what happens now?"
"We will admit him to a ward shortly, as soon as a bed is available. We will continue to monitor him every hour to ensure that he does not slip into a coma."
"Can I go onto the ward with him?"
"Ill check with the ward. Some wards only allow visitors at certain times. Ill let you know the answer."
"Until I know better you can stay with Chris. Weve put him in cubicle 7."
As Vin entered the cubicle he glanced at Chris and thought how he looked like he was sleeping. He wished that was the case but unfortunately he knew better. He clasped Chriss fore arm and whispered, "Cowboy youve got to get better. Ive never had a best friend before and Im not ready to give up what we got. Please, please open them eyes of yours and give me that glare. Ill even settle for that tick you get in your forehead when youre angry."
Vin sat quietly next to Chriss bed searching for signs that his friend was waking up.
"Pony and Peso will start getting restless. Weve promised to ride them in the round up all weekend. Its your birthday present to me. So dont go reneging on it." Vin thought, 'Ah hell Ezra is rubbing off on me.'
He continued to whisper to Chris, "Youve got me talking so much Is used up my quota of words for the month. So please just wake up."
As he sat there, he kept reliving the fact that he hadnt been there for Chris when he needed him and that he had left him in that bath whilst he had a pint. He hadnt protected his back like he had promised he would do. It was all his fault that Chris was here in hospital. Hed spoilt his own birthday treat.
Vin realised that he had yet to phone the rest of the crew and let them know what had happened. He doubted the RNLI would allow the whole crew to up sticks and race to the hospital to see Chris, but he didnt doubt that they would find some way of circumventing the rules and all turning up. Thats what type of friends they were. They were more than just a crew, they were family. He took one last look at Chris and went to find a phone.
He found one at the end of the corridor just off casualty. He dialed Bucks pub's number guessing thats where they would all be unless they were out on a rescue. It was answered by Inez who confirmed that they were out on a rescue and that she would tell them when they returned that Vin had called explaining that Chris was in hospital. She did not know how long the rescue would take and she offered her own well wishes for Chris.
He was first aware of light. It started as a small pin prick but gradually grew larger and larger. It also started as white but resolved itself into a wash of colours. He next became aware of feeling. It felt like hed been on a bender for 4 days straight. He knew this feeling because Buck and he had done just that whilst on holiday in Greece. Too much Ouzo.
But the feeling kept coming and now it was much worse and he could not remember why hed been drinking this time. The wash of colours slowly resolved into a room. A hospital room. What was he doing in Hospital? Had he broken anything? He waggled his toes, lifted his knees a few centimetres, wiggled his fingers, lifted his hands and checked the rest oh his body by lifting his head. No nothing was broken. But by lifting his head he had set off a thumper of a headache and the stars in front of his eyes did not help.
What had he done this time, he wondered? Had he upset anyone and who had he fought with? Please let it not be Buck this time. But where was Buck? Maybe he was in another room in the hospital. That had happened before as well. Why could not he remember?
Chris felt very thirsty but decided not to lift his head to see if there was any water around. He also wanted to know what was going on and why couldnt he remember what had happened. As he could not lift his head without causing himself pain he could not look for the call button.
He glared at the doors to the room ordering a nurse to open them. After a few minutes the door swung open and a very strange looking nurse walked in. For starters it was a he, well Chris assumed it was a he, as he had long curly brown hair and was wearing a T-Shirt and jeans. It looked like this hospital was very casual.
The nurse looked up and saw that Chris was awake. A huge smile spread across his face, this twitched at something in Chriss memory but it was gone as quickly as it came.
"Cowboy, youre awake."
Chriss glare went to full glare. How dare the nurse call him cowboy? He hated that nickname. It was all Bucks fault for watching Tombstone too often. It had addled his brain to the point that he thought Chris looked like a blond Johnny Ringo, hence the nickname.
"Are you thirsty?"
At Chriss weak nod the nurse approached the bedside table and took a few ice chips out and placed them on Chriss lips. Chris felt the cool water sliding down his throat and immediately felt better. He tried to clear his throat and ask, "What happened?" but it came out sounding very different. "Wha haped?"
"You had a nasty fall in the shower." Well that explained why he was in hospital wearing a hospital gown and not his own nightwear and yep that draft was as bad as he remembered.
"Hes out on a rescue with the rest of the crew."
What! Buck on a rescue? When had Buck ever rescued anyone other than a damsel in distress? Had he joined the RNLI like he had been talking about?
"Uhm Chris? Do you remember Four Corners and the Lifeboat?"
"Of course I remember Four Corners. I was born there," Chris replied angrily. What was going on? Why was the nurse asking all these questions?
"Okay, okay, whats todays date?"
"1st November 1994."
"Ah hell. Ill go and fetch the doctor."
That was the best suggestion this strange nurse had had. But for some strange reason Chris found that he liked him.
Vin hurried to the nurses station to tell them that Chris had woken up but he seemed to have lost a great deal of his recent memory, well actually all of it. What a mess. Chris couldnt remember him, couldnt remember their friendship. The best thing that had happened to Vin in years wiped out, just like that.
But if they had instantly connected before they could do it again and until Chriss memory returned thats exactly what Vin decided he would do. He would re-make friends with Chris. The friendship was too valuable to loose.
"Excuse me, maam." The nurse looked up from her computer screen. "My friend in room 7 has woken up but he seems to have lost his memory. He cant remember the last 10 years."
"The doctor's on his way down. Well get him to check Mr Larabee as soon as he arrives. In the meantime it would be best if you stay with him but dont prompt him for his memories. Let them come to him naturally. The doctor should only be a few minutes."
"OK," Vin replied. He was feeling devastated. How could his world have changed so much in a few minutes? First the fall and now this.
He walked back to Chriss room, unsure of what he could do. As he walked in Chris looked at him. At least the glare was no longer in existence.
"Would you like some more water?" Vin asked.
Chris nodded slowly and Vin put a few more chips of water onto his lips. Chris kept looking at him strangely. He asked "Do I know you? I get this feeling when I look at you, that I should know you."
"The doctor will be here shortly and hell answer all your questions." At least I hope so, Vin thought.
The door to the room opened and the doctor with a number of nurses walked in.
"Good, good youre awake. Im Doctor Jandu. How are you feeling?"
"Doctor, he can barely move his head and Im worried about his memory." Vin replied knowing Chris would not admit to any weakness. Chris turned his head and glared at Vin.
"OK Chris, is it alright if I call you Chris?" Upon receiving a small nod of the head the doctor continued, "Please tell me what you remember of the fall?"
"Fall doc? I dont remember it at all." Chris started to feel agitated. Why couldnt he remember? Why did it feel like there was a gaping hole in his memory. No this was all some great elaborate hoax by Buck. Hell kill him when this was over.
"Chris calm down. I have a few questions that I need to ask you, then I can answer all of your questions. OK?"
"Yes. But hurry up with your questions as I really want to know what is going on."
"OK Chris. Whats your full name?"
"Christopher Michael Larabee."
"What is your date of birth?"
"31st July 1962."
"What year is it?"
"Chris I can tell you that you fell in the bath and knocked your head on the taps. Youve been unconscious for the past couple of hours. You have a mild concussion which has led to a complication."
"What complication doc?"
"Well Chris the year is 2004. Youve lost your memory of the past 10 years."
"Nah, no. Tell me Bucks put you up to this. Thats it. Bucks idea of a joke. Wait till I get my hands on him Im going to kill him." Chris replied angrily. He was becoming agitated and the doctor decided to try and calm him down.
"Im afraid its not a joke Chris. You have lost 10 years of memories."
"Ah hell. How long until this fixes itself or is permanent?"
"Because of the concussion I would like to keep you in over night. The memory should return over time. How long I cant really say. It may come back tomorrow or it maybe years away."
"I want out of this hospital now. I aint staying in overnight. I want my memories back now. Hell I dont even know who I am now? As far as Im concerned its still 1994."
"Id rather you stayed in the hospital overnight but if you agree to certain conditions I think I can let you leave in just over an hour."
"Tell me those conditions doc 'cause Im out of here and Id rather do it with your blessing."
"Number 1 you stay in the area. Number 2 your friend here wakes you every hour and asks a number of questions. Number 3 no strenuous activity for 24 hours. Number 4 no pushing yourself to reclaim the missing memories. Let them come back in their own time."
Vin smiled at Chris as the doctor left the cubicle. The Doctor was going to ensure that all was ready for Chris to leave the hospital in the next few hours.
"So youre my friend? How long has that been the case?"
"What do I call you?"
"That long haired welsh rat but my name is Vin Tanner."
"If youre my friend why cant I remember you. I remember Buck but not you. Where is Buck?"
"I already told you hes on a rescue with the rest of the crew."
"Wait, Im part of that crew as well?"
"Of course youre our coxswain."
"Hell. When did I let that happen?"
"Ah a while ago."
"I have this strangest feeling that I should know you. That youre important to me but I dont know why."
"Well I am important. Im your best friend."
"But Bucks still around. How come he isnt anymore?"
"I think youll have to ask him for the answer to that one."
Chris smiled. He liked this man even if he wasnt sure that he should trust him. everything was telling him to trust him and Chris wasnt one to ignore his gut instincts.
"Lets start over again. Hi, my names Chris Larabee." With this Chris held out his hand for a shake. Vin grabbed his forearm and returned the greeting with "Vin Tanner, its a pleasure to meet you. Do you want to be my best friend?"
"Yep I think I will."
Vin broke out into his first genuine smile since Chriss accident.
"So, best friend where are we?"
"I know that, but where exactly?"
"Southampton. We were in the New Forest about to take part in the round up. You brought it for my birthday present."
"Oh I did, did I?"
"Yep. Pony and Peso are still in the stables in Brockenhurst."
Chris suddenly had a clear memory of a black horse that was as stubborn as his rider and a black horse with a white stripe on its nose that was as ornery as its rider.
"I think I just remembered the horses. Are they both black? One stubborn and one ornery?"
"Oh yes, thats them."
"So when we leave the hospital where are we going to go?
"Back to the B&B."
"Round up tomorrow then?"
"Oh hell yes."
"Usually this talkative?"
To Chris this felt right. The way they were reading each other and not having to say that much. He could not remember Vin but he could feel the rightness of this conversation and having Vin at his side protecting his back. He suddenly realised that his mind had established a link to Vins and that was right. This was a link that they had always shared. A vague memory stirred of someone saying "Two bodies, one soul."
Vin also felt a stirring in his mind as the link re-established itself and he knew everything would work itself out. Chris may not have all his memories back yet but he would. Their friendship would survive. However he was dreading the memories returning of Chriss wife and son and the tragic event of their death.
It looked like Chris had either forgotten them as well or his mind had gone back to before he had met Sarah. Vin had never met either of them and was not sure how he would handle that. Possibly he could leave it to Buck, but that was a cowards way out and a Tanner was never a coward. Beside which he owed Chris better than that. He would deal with it if it came up.
+ + + + + + +
The doctor as promised arranged for Chris to leave the hospital under Vins care provided they followed the previously issued instructions. He reiterated that Chris should be brought back if the smallest problem occurred.
The hospital arranged a taxi back to the B&B for them. Once they arrived Vins stomach decided to remind him that he had not eaten but his main priority was ensuring Chris obeyed all of the doctors orders. This meant that he had to guide Chris straight to bed and then spend the night waking him up every hour to make sure the concussion had caused no more problems. Ah hell.
He knew this would strain their new friendship and his own new found confidence in that friendship. It looked like the 1st test had presented itself.
As Vin was thanking the taxi Chris had stepped out of the taxi. He was dressed in borrowed clothing from the hospital as all of his was upstairs in their room. He had noticed the pub on the corner and an unholy smile was lighting his face.
"Lets get a drink before you put me to bed, pard."
"Alright theres water, tea or coffee in our room."
Chris looked stricken. "No a proper drink.
"They are proper drinks and all that you are allowed. Doctors orders. Even though the tea and coffee might be pushing it a bit far."
"Ah come on. Give a little."
"Well pard it aint me in borrowed clothes that are 2 sizes too big and it aint me on prescription drugs and it will not be me going back to the hospital tomorrow instead of riding my horse. Your choice."
"Good choice. Come on and Ill even tuck you into bed."
"Long haired dirty dealing swindling welsh rat."
Vin guided Chris into the B&B and up the stairs after assuring the landlord, landlady, Tina and a host of other guest and locals that Chris was fine and all he needed was uninterrupted rest.
Once in the safety of their own room he helped Chris into a pair of pyjamas, got him a glass of water and helped him into bed. He then decided to get him self something to eat whilst Chris slept for the first hour. As he could not leave the room he decided to order in a pizza. He found the number in the bedside cabinet, called the number and ordered himself a large pepperoni pizza along with garlic bread, chicken dunkers and the obligatory bottle of coke. He told them to deliver to the front desk and that he would come down and pay for it.
As the half hour time limit given by the pizza came there was a soft knock on the door to their room. Vin wondered who it was and quietly crossed the room to open the door. Tina stood there with his pizza order in her hand. She stepped into the room without being invited and placed the pizza etc on the table. Turning to look at Chris she softly said "I paid for the pizza. Dont worry about paying me back its on the house."
She moved closer to Chris and asked "Hes going to be ok isnt he? I mean I thought he was dead and thats like way uncool. You know what I mean."
Vin had no idea what she meant and looking closely at her he wondered if she had taken something. Deciding the best option was to get her out of the room as fast as possible he answered "Yes," whilst he tried to usher her out of the room. He was supposed to be rounding up horses not weird women in the middle of the night.
Tina sighed long and loud and a small smile played about her lips as she gazed at Chris. Vin was beginning to get worried with the way that she was acting.
"Well if you need any help with Team Handsome over there dont hesitate to call she said over her shoulder as she left the room.
Vin thought "dont worry I wont be calling you." He opened his pizza and eat his meal. When he had finished he realised he was feeling slightly dizzy. It must be all the excitement and lack of sleep he decided. He needed to do Chriss first check and then he would try and catch 40 winks before the next one.
He headed for Chriss bed and shook the blond awake.
"Whats your name?"
"What year is it?"
"According to you 2004."
"Who am I?"
"My friend." Chris whispered as he fell back asleep.
No sooner had Vin finished asking when his head hit Chriss pillow and he too fell asleep.
Vin sat at the table drinking with the rest of the crew including Chris. They were all dressed as though they were in the Wild West. He was dressed like a tracker / buffalo hunter and Chris was in all in black dressed like a gunslinger.
The doors to the saloon suddenly bust open and Tina sauntered in dressed as a female gunslinger. She looked slowly round the bar until she saw them all sitting at the table at the back of the saloon.
"Larabee Im calling ya out," she called across the saloon.
Chris cocked his eyebrows and looked at his 6 friends sitting round the table with him but he didnt make a move or reply to the challenge.
Tina called out again, "What? Are you a yellow bellied livered toad? I called ya out, so git outside." She indicated outside the saloon with her head.
"Nope, dont think so. Go home where you belong."
"Why you Tina was so angry she couldnt finish her sentence and she suddenly drew her guns.
Vin frantically looked over towards Chris and saw him lying on the floor.
Vin sprung awake at the noise from his dream resolved into reality.
He hurriedly stood up, entangling himself in sheets and cushions and turning bright red when he realised he had draped himself all over Chris.
"Alright, alright. Hold yer horses. Is a coming."
Finally untangling himself he answered the door to find Tina on the other side.
"Im just off to bed and thought Id just check that theres nothing else you wanted or needed?"
She tried to push past Vin into the room but he would not let her in.
"Were jest fine maam." He replied firmly closing the door on her.
He frowned when he looked at his watch realising that he supposed to have awoken Chris a quarter of an hour ago. He shouldnt have fallen asleep and if not for Tina he could have caused Chris even more problems.
He shuffled over to the bed and tried to decide on the best way to wake Chris without pissing him off too much. "Ah hell, so much fer easy."
He decided to go for the direct approach and poked Chris in the shoulder. Which caused Chris to jerk awake setting his headache off in painful waves. His eyes opened a slit and he glared at his antagonist.
"Wot you do that for?" he demanded.
"Time to wake up and answer yer questions."
"Ah hell my heads killing me and you want me to answer some stupid questions to make sure I dont have concussion even though my memory seems to be missing."
"Yip. Now whats yer name?"
"What year is it?"
"Well every one keeps telling me its 2004 and so it must be."
"Who am I?"
"Vin Tanner, Supposed best friend. Now let me sleep."
With this Chris turned over and fell asleep. Vin knew he would have a sleepless night but to ensure he did not miss the next round of questions he set the alarm clock. He lay down on his bed to rest and as soon as his head hit the pillow he was asleep.
However this time he could not remember his dreams and he was woken by the alarm, he went through the questions again and again and again until finally he came to the last set of questions at 7 in the morning.
Chriss answers had been getting more and more sarcastic as his sleep was continually interrupted and each time the headache re-asserted itself.
"Whats yer name."
"Chris Larabee. Remember that as it will be the last name yer going to hear."
"What year is it?"
"2004. As it was an hour ago and will be in another hour."
"Who am I?"
"A long haired pain in the ass welsh rat whos dead as soon as I find my gun. Go away and let me sleep."
Vin thought that Chris had either been around Ezra too long or was watching too much of the TV series the Magnificent Seven. Although after his nightmare last night that could apply to him as well.
"No more sleep Chris its breakfast time. In actual fact weve had a lay in today. So up and at em."
"Cant I have another hour?"
"Nope, not if you want some breakfast. Besides which weve got to go and see Peso and Pony and apologise for not riding them today. And thens we got to decide whats we doing with the rest of the day."
"Alright, alright. You got any of them headache pills from the doc?"
Vin and Chris changed and went down to breakfast. Vin was glad when he didnt spot Tina hovering anywhere. They entered the breakfast room to find a few other guests eating their breakfasts. A couple asked Vin how Chris was and Chris turned his glare on them. They politely excused themselves and hurried out of the room.
"Theres no need to scare the tourists, Chris."
"Well they could have asked me. Not like Im not here is it."
They looked around the room and decided to take the table in the big bay windows nearer the food for Vin. As they sat down their waitress came up and asked if they wanted Tea or Coffee and what hot food they wanted. Chris decided on coffee, toast and a full fry up. Vin wanted coffee, toast and a full fry up but asked for double portions. The waitress explained that the cold food was on the side table and that they should help themselves.
Vin helped himself to cakes, meats, danishs, Rice Krispies, weatabix, shreddies and yogurt. He then went back for fruit juice, honey, marmalade and marmite. Chris just stared at the pile of bowls and plates holding food and shook his head.
"Vin you know you can go back for more dont you?"
"Yep. This is only for starters. I did not get to eat last night you know."
"Oh what was that pizza carton I saw then?"
"You're going to be putting on so much weight that you wont pass the fitness test."
"Oh yes I will. Ill diet just before hand and besides which I dont put the weight on burn it off immediately." Vin was secretly pleased that Chris had remembered the fitness requirements for the boat. His memories must be coming back.
Chris helped himself to a bowl of corn flakes and a danish. As Vin tucked in the waitress brought them their coffee and toast.
They finished their breakfast in relative quiet but as soon as they finished Vin was up and talking for Wales. "Well we must go and see the horses. But then were do you think we should go? Huh, cowboy. Theres Beaulieu, Id love to see those cars, or theres Bucklers Hard. We could go further a field and go see the Victory at Portsmouth."
"Vin. Hold up. Slow down."
Vin grabbed Chriss arm and dragged him out of the Breakfast room. He had just spotted Tina emerging from the kitchens and wanted to be gone before she saw them, hence the reason for his impersonation of JD.
Chris was thinking that he knew someone who acted like Vin had been but he could not remember other than that person was younger than Vin.
"If yer feeling you need more quite we could just go into the Forest or theres always Winchester. We could go to Poole and visit the RNLI museum and see where they build the Life Boats. What do ya think Chris?"
"I think we should go visit the horses and then make up our minds. Oh and Vin SHUT UP youre making my headache worse.
As Chris opened the door to the bedroom he was suddenly assaulted with the feeling that he was forgetting something extremely important to him. He glanced around the room but nothing jogged his memory. Vin not realising that Chris was going to stop walked into his back.
"Hey cowboy, some warning would be appreciated if yer gonna stop like that."
"Sorry," mumbled Chris "but I feel that Im forgetting something really important. I just cant put my finger on it."
Chris turned towards Vin and suddenly his face changed from wondering thoughtful to heartbreakingly sad.
"Oh god, oh god. Sarah, Adam." Chris repeated as he looked at his wedding ring finger. His voice hitched as he said "I remember what happened to them. Its like living the whole experience again. Im not sure I want to remember anymore if they are going to be as hard as this."
With which he walked into the bathroom solidly closing out the world and Vin. Leaving Vin alone with his thoughts. How in the hell did Buck get him through this the first time. May be he should call Buck and see if they were back from their rescue yet? Should he worry Buck and the others about this? Would it be a good idea to remove all alcohol from Chriss immediate vicinity? Was he suicidal? Would he now fall into a deep depression? Oh god, oh god what should he do?
Then Vin knew what he had to do. He was Chriss best friend even if Chris could not remember this. Best friends do not let each other down. He would be there as a cushion to cry on or as a punching bag if that was what was needed and he would not walk away from Chris, like Buck had done.
Mind made up he walked over to the bathroom door and knocked gently. Hearing no reply from the other side he tried the handle, surprised to find it turning. He quietly pushed the door open to find Chris sitting on the side of the bath with his face held in his hands and hunched over. He was not crying but it looked like he was fighting back the tears.
As the door opened Chris looked up and asked Vin, "How could I forget them? Theyre my heart. Always will be."
"Its not yer fault Chris. The bump on the head has meant that you have to find these memories again. Theyre not lost jest forgotten. And youll start remembering them as the days go on. I bet there are some good memories of Sarah and Adam."
"Yes but they are over shadowed but the memory that is burned into my mind now. That of their deaths."
There was nothing that Vin could answer that would make it right. So instead he offered companionable silence. Offering support until Chris decided what he needed to do.
They sat their in silence for a while until Chris raised his head and squared his shoulders. He looked directly at Vin and said, "It happened awhile ago didnt it?"
"Yes, it happened before I met you."
"So I found a way to cope with it."
"I think it was called Buck."
"From what I understand he stood by you and helped you deal with it. I know that hes not here now but I will do my best."
"But youre my best friend now, so Buck helping me cope with it altered our friendship?"
"And youre willing to help me even if it destroys our friendship."
"Not very talkative are you?"
"Nope." But Vin was smirking as he answered.
"Alright, I cant continue sitting here and trying to remember what happened and how I coped with these memories. Where do you suggest we go?"
"Well the Lifeboat museum in Poole may jog some further memories."
"Alright let's go."
"Uhm cowboy I think that I should drive. With your knock on the head and memory problems its probably best that I do." Vin had noticed that Chris had not yet mentioned drinking but how soon before he remembered that this was the way that he had coped with his wife and sons death and this was the main reason behind his offer to drive.
"Oh ok. Where are the keys?"
"On the desk. Ill get them."
Chris opened the door after checking that he had his wallet and walked straight into Tina.
"Oh you're going out."
"Yip." Answered Vin.
"I thought you had come to ride in the round up?"
"Yes but we cant until tomorrow 'cause of Chriss injuries."
"Ah, well you see tomorrow is my day off and Ill be riding in the round up. Is it alright if I go with you?"
"Dont see why not? Chris are you ok with this?"
"Huh, yer no problem." Chris was not sure what he had agreed to as he had had another memory. That of hitting Buck. But surely that was wrong?
Vin had agreed to let Tina ride with them as he had to thank her for her aid with Chris yesterday. He did not want her to go with them but he could not think of a polite way to refuse her. "Well excuse us but were on our way out."
"Oh yes. Dont let me hold you up." With which she walked down the corridor with a smug smile on her face.
+ + + + + + +
Returning from the day out Vin & Chris were both very tired. They knew they would be riding in the round up tomorrow so they decided that an early night would be best. Vin had hoped that the Lifeboat museum, RNLI HQ or the horses would have brought back memories especially when Peso tried to take a chunk out of Vin for not riding him but nothing had happened except for Chris being amused by Peso and his antics.
Vin was exhausted with keeping up with Chriss mood swings and his returning memories. He had kept his promise to be their for Chris but it had been hard. The memories were now returning faster but they were piecemeal. Chris could still not remember Vin or their friendship.
For Chriss part the returning memories were all jumbled up and he still had to cope with the loss of Sarah and Adam. He knew that it had happened a while ago and that somehow he had learned how to carry on but it was extremely difficult just to walk, talk and think with just the memory of their death. What would happen when his full memories returned? He kept trying to remember how he coped but frustratingly it kept being just out of reach. Other memories returned but not that important one. He needed to know how to live his life again but the memories kept coming. He was also troubled that he could not remember anything from his current life.
They decided to grab a quick bite at the Snakecatchers Pit and then head to their beds. They managed to avoid Tina but both knew she would be joining them in the morning for the round up.
All night long Vin tossed and turned. He was worried about Chris and his memories. He was also a little worried about the ride and about Tinas way of looking at Chris and him. He woke up exhausted after 2 nights interrupted sleep.
Chris had slept like a log exhausted from the days turmoils. Vin dreaded waking him up. What if all the memories had been lost again? Would he remember everything and blame Vin for their loss? Why could not he remember Vin or the new crew?
Vin shook Chris awake to find out that no new memories had come but that he had not lost the ones he had regained. Unfortunately this threw Chris into a deep depression as he still did not how to cope with Sarah and Adams deaths. Vin tried cheering him up by reminding him that they would be riding today but it didnt help.
Chris was so depressed that he did not wan to eat but Vin insisted knowing that they had a day in the saddle ahead of them.
As they sat down for breakfast Vin once again tried to bring Chris out of his depression.
"You know Pony will be happy to see you and you know that you enjoy riding."
"Youre not listening to a word I say. Are you?"
"Sorry. I was trying to remember more. Its just there but I cant quite grasp it. Its like trying to catch smoke. You just think you have it when poof its gone."
"Well you know what they say. The harder you try the less the memories will come. Theyll come when you least expect it so enjoy your breakfast. Think about todays ride and maybe the memories will come."
"How can I not think on the lost memories. They are part of me. A part that I cant access, a part thats lost. Do you know what that feels like? Well do you?" Chris was becoming more strident with each sentence and more aggressive. By the end of the tirade he was leaning well across the table into Vins personal space.
"No." Vin answered meekly, trying to diffuse the situation and not allow his guilt, that he was responsible to overwhelm him.
"No, so dont lecture me. Dont try to cheer me up. Dont tell me that my missing memories are not part of me and that if I cant find them I will not know who or what I am. Dont tell me its alright to loose my control."
"Look, Im sorry see. I didnt mean to tell you how to live your life. I was only trying to make this bearable. Your memories will return." Vins welsh accent became more pronounced as he spoke as he allowed all his guilt and emotion to pour out.
"Yep, but when?" Chris asked softly and plaintively.
"Dont know but for now eat your breakfast, we have a full day ahead of us. Youre going to need it."
After breakfast Vin drove them to the stables so they could collect & saddle Pony and Peso. They did not run into Tina for which they were thankful and Vin began to hope that maybe she would not turn up today. Since the conversation at breakfast Chris had not spoken and seemed sullen and depressed still.
Both horses were happy to see their riders with both neighing a hello. Peso decided to punish Vin further for not riding him and became his obstinate self as Vin tried to saddle him. He ended up resorting to bribery to get the tack and saddle on which involved sugar, apple and a small amount of hay.
Chris in the meantime brushed Ponys coat as though it were a lifeline for his memories but nothing new came. Pony docilely allowed Chris to saddle him, almost as though he knew how depressed Chris was and responding to that.
Once Peso was sorted out to his satisfaction both riders mounted their horses and set off for the round up corral where they were to meet the other riders and find out which area of the New Forest they would be covering. Vin wanted it to be the open heathland as he preferred the freedom this gave him. Chris wanted the woodland as it was more beautiful and precious to Sarah.
The gentle gait of the horses and the auburn countryside lulled both riders into a thoughtful frame of mind. Chris found more missing memories popping up especially Sarah and her love of the countryside. It brought a wistful smile to his face.
Vin was relishing the feeling of freedom that always came with riding Peso but he was also relaxing from a very tense few days. The early morning mist in the trees was just beginning to lift and the autumn colours of rust, amber and brown were beginning to predominate over the white, translucent mist. He sighed in happiness looking forward to the rest of the day.
They arrived at the corral to find a number of other riders milling about and people on foot here to see the spectacle, wave people off or offer refreshment. Dogs ran among the horses woofing and barking greetings. The vet and the verderer were quietly talking in the corner. Chris and Vin took some of the hot chocolate on offer but remained astride their horses. Vin feared Peso would go after the people offering hot chocolate as his horse had a notorious sweet tooth.
The verderer called those assembled to order and proceeded to confirm where the round up would take place and he warned that the open heathland had hidden dangers in rabbit holes and that the gorse bushes did not like horses or riders, so to be wary of them. The round up would take place mainly on the heathland but did encompass some of the wooded areas so that they also had to be careful of low branches, roots and the banks of the streams.
Vin was beginning to get very excited and Peso picked up on this and was being difficult to control. He was concentrating on bringing his horse under control when he bumped another horse and rider.
"Sorry. Will ya calm down ya mule or Im going to leave ya behind."
"I hope thats the horse youre talking to and not me." Replied the rider he had bumped. Vin looked up with a sinking feeling in his stomach. Peso had managed to find the one person he hadnt wanted to see, Tina. She was dressed as though going out for a hunt. She had jodhpurs, her red hunt jacket, white blouse and cravat. She also wore like every other rider her riding helmet. No one was allowed into the round up without one of these.
"Ah hello Tina and yes I was talking to ma horse."
"Oh thats alright then. Wheres Chris? Is he ok? Should he be riding today?"
"Over there, yes and yes." Vin pointed in the direction that he had left Chris.
"Well then let's get over there the round up is due to start shortly."
Vin sighed wearily but turned his horse in the direction that he had last seen Chris. He had really hoped that Tina would not turn up and that he and Chris could have enjoyed the ride in peace but that looked like a forlorn hope now.
He found Chris in the same place that he had left him.
"Morning Chris I do hope that you are feeling better." Tina asked as she leaned across her horse to put her hand on his thigh. Chris looked dispassionately down at the hand on his leg.
"Morning Tina I had began to think that you would not be joining us."
"Oh no I would never miss this chance."
"Chance for what?" Chris asked as the hairs on the back of his neck stood up and his gut started to remind him what a gut feeling felt like.
"Oh for riding and well a girl is very lucky to ride with two such gorgeous companions." As she replied she patted his leg a couple of times. Chris began to feel slightly ill from the touch and brushed her hand off his leg.
Vin just glowered at her. Since when had Tina decided he was gorgeous? As far as he knew she hated him and thought of him as something that had crawled out from underneath a rock. She was up to something, he was sure but he had no proof to bring to anyone's attention apart from the fact that he did not like her. Ah hell, he would just have to keep a close eye on her during the ride. He nudged Peso closer so that he was between Chris and Tina. She smiled sweetly at him and in a low voice said, "Be careful Vin, theres a lot of hidden dangers out there for an excitable horse like yours."
Just then the verderers horn sounded and the riders set off in search of the New Forest ponies. Chris, Vin and Tina rode together. The first ponies were sighted within half hour but they were intelligent horses and it took a further hour to round them up and head them towards the corral. Vin was thoroughly enjoying the riding as it was taxing his control of Peso and his ability to ride. He kept a close eye on Tina but noticed nothing. Even Chris had seemed to be enjoying the tough ride.
Once back at the corral they all took a few minutes breather and Vin decided he would use the toilets before heading out again. He asked Chris to wait for him. As he came out of the toilets he noticed Chris and Tina riding off alone. He was suddenly very worried. Why hadnt Chris waited? What was Tina up to? He headed to Peso and after mounting followed in the direction that Chris and Tina had gone.
A few moments before Tina had asked Chris "Are your memories returning alright?"
"Some are, some arent."
"Have you ever thought that maybe there are no memories to return, that you have most of them back by now?"
"What do you mean?"
"Well when you first arrived I wasnt certain but I thought that Vin was making you do something against your will. Is he really your friend? How come you cant remember him?"
"No. I know Vin is my friend. I can feel it. What are you trying to do?"
"As I said it was just a feeling. Maybe you had had an argument or maybe you were just fed up with him."
"Are we there yet?" suddenly popped into Chriss mind along with a powerful pain that shot right through his head.
"Chris, Chris are you ok? Look why dont we go over there and give you some peace and quiet." With which Tina grabbed Ponys reins and led them into the Forest.
Vin followed them into the Forest and out into heathland the other side. He noticed them on the brow of a hill and he was sure that Tina was leading Pony. Why hadnt Chris stopped her? He was worried enough to kick Peso into a trot. With his eyes on the horizon he failed to see a thick clump of gorse bushes but Peso saw them and remembered being ribbed by one earlier in the day so he shied away. Vins lapse of concentration was betrayed as he was flung back in the saddle and then forwards as he tried to control Peso. Peso decided that enough was enough and threw Vin over his head straight into the gorse bush. Vin cried out in surprise as he sailed threw the air. He thought he had wanted to fly but not like this and then all thoughts ceased as the air was forced out of his lungs on landing.
He rolled to one side and realised that his right arm was screaming at him in red hot pain. He looked at it dazedly before realising where the pain came form and as soon as he realised this he passed out.
Meanwhile on the brow of the hill Chriss pain had subsided enough that he realised where he was and that Tina had a hold of Ponys bridle. He dug his knees in and ordered Pony to stop. Tina realised that Pony had stopped when she felt a sharp tug on the bridle that nearly took her arm off.
"Whats going on? Where are you taking me?" Chris demanded and for good measure through in a glare.
"Oh. Oh youre feeling better. Good, good. Not much further now and I can show you how much you mean to me."
"I aint going any further. Wheres Vin?" As he said this Chris realised his whole right side was aching and he had a strong urge to turn around. He turned around in the saddle knowing that he would be turning his back on Tina. What he saw horrified him. He saw Peso streaking off into the west and he could just make out Vin amongst the gorse bushes.
"No one turns their back on me. No one," came from behind him as Tinas horrified scream brought him back to the here and now, "not even you." She said more quietly. He turned around to see her swinging the leather of her reins at his exposed back. He grabbed them as they passed his face and tugged hard. Tina was pulled off her horse straight towards Pony. Pony decided that he did not like this thing flying at him so he side stepped. Tina sailed passed his head straight for a rock that was sticking out of the heath. She hit it head first.
Chris did not have time to see if she was alright as Vin was his priority. He realised as he shot across the heath on Pony that all of his memories had now returned and that meant he knew how important Vin was to him.
He jumped off Ponys back and forced his way through the gorse at the same time as shouting for help. He found Vin crumpled in a heap.
"No. no. Its not going to happen again. You are not going to die on me. Do you understand that you stubborn welsh rat. YOU ARE NOT GOING TO DIE."
Once he had reached Vins side he checked for a pulse and felt overwhelming relief when he found one. He cradled Vins head in his arms repeating over and over "You are going to be fine. You hear me, fine." He realised after awhile that he could hear voices calling and he shouted back. The verderer, the vet and a number of other riders appeared out of the forest leading Peso.
"We were worried when the riderless horse appeared. So we thought we better look for you." The verderer stated.
"Here let me look at him," the vet offered "I know Im not a doctor but I do know some medicine. Someone call for an ambulance."
"You better go and look up there as well," Chris stated and pointed towards Tinas horse which was eating grass. "She fell and landed on some rocks."
"How old was that message that Inez gave us?" Buck asked for the thousandth time.
"As previously told to you by the venerable members of our elite band of male siblings and continuously repeated ad infinitum, 2 days ago."
"Im worried that we have heard nothing since, brothers."
"Yes, well knowing those two they probably found some way to annoy every member of staff here and had to be locked away for their own good."
"Do you really think so Nathan?"
"No JD I dont."
"Well the nurse downstairs said theyd be on this floor in room 307. Funny how we keep coming across the 7 in everything we do. I keep telling Buck to change the name of the pub to the Magnificent Seven but he wont. Will ya?" With which JD poked Buck.
"Dammit kid will you stop doing that and no I will not change the name of the pub."
"WILL YOU ALL SHUT UP Brought them all up short. Buck broke out smiling, JD grinned even more, Josiah and Nathan both beamed and Ezra turned to his brothers and stated "I believe you all owe me £5."
"Stud, youre ok. Thank god." Buck strode forward and grabbed Chris into a hug which wasnt returned.
"People will talk, Buck. Let me go."
"Pray tell why are you out here and not in a hospital bed and wheres the other half of the dynamic duo?" Asked Ezra.
"I was let out of hospital on Friday night."
"So, Chris why are you here then?"
"Vin had an accident today and had to be admitted. Hes broken his arm."
"How did he do that?"
"Why dont you ask him?" With which Chris opened the door to 307. Nathan immediately began to examine Vins chart to make sure everything is ok.
"Well junior we came to see old Chris here and what do we find you in the bed instead. What happened?"
"Its a long story Buck. Chris how did it go with the police?"
"They think her death will be recorded as accidental and they have no idea where she was taking me."
"Police, broken arms, she do tell Vin. Do tell."
"And dont forget Pesos contribution, soap, lost memories and close friendship finished Chris.
"So tell all. Tell all
"Ah hell, alright it all started with, Are we there yet?"