This is a birthday story for Erin who wanted a Vin hurt Chris comfort for her special day.
I apologize to other writers because I'm sure I got pieces of Vin's background from many different sources. If you spot yours please accept it as a form of flattery that your ideas made such an impression on me.
I don't own them, just make up stories about them and wish they were still on the air.
Thanks to LaraMee for the picture idea and to Kathy M for betaing for me.
Chris Larabee winced at the sound of his wet sneakers as he walked. He hated that sound. He hated walking in and out of the dirty water causing that teeth-grinding sound. But most of all he hated having to search for a missing Vin Tanner.
"Come on Cowboy, it'll be fun. Just you and me and a week on the river. No cell phones, no bad guys, no worries. Just some fine fishing and a little white water to make it exciting. It'll be great."
Larabee shook his head and smiled at his sharpshooter. He always wondered how a kid who grew up on the 'mean streets' learned to love the wilderness. Yet Vin craved the peace the wild land offered as some men craved drink or sex. The blond felt lucky to be included in Tanner's private version of heaven.
"Okay, I'll make arrangements for the stock and you make a list of supplies, something besides jerky or twinkles. Something normal stomachs can tolerate."
"Shit, I can't help it if you're an old man an' can't eat nothing but soft bland mush." Tanner threw at him as he walked out of the office.
Chris stopped again and scanned the opposite bank. "Damn you, Tanner. You'd better be alive," he mumbled to himself as he began walking again. The riverbank was unfortunately not smooth grass or sand. It was littered with rocks from boulder to baseball size. There was trash, dead trees and branches lying half in the water just waiting to trip a man as he walked.
Chris refused to pay attention to his aches and pains as he carefully walked upstream. He could now hear the traitorous rapids that had helped throw Vin from their raft. He constantly scanned the banks for his friend. He had to be close; Larabee refused to consider the idea that Vin's body was still in the water.
"Vin, this is no boat. It's a damn rubber raft and barely bigger than a kayak." Chris growled as he eyed the small two man rig Vin was loading.
Tying the last knot Tanner smiled up at him, "an' I thought you was a SEAL in the Navy. I'd never thought you'd be scared of a little boat."
"That's not a boat Tanner, it's a rubber raft."
"Well, it's a two man raft. Didn't want to go with a big party. 'Jest you an' me. I'm planning on us taking a fork the tours don't go on. Not as exciting a ride but won't be no one to bother us. We find a good spot we'll just stay there a couple of days and fish."
"I hope you're right Vin. Some peace and quiet sounds good. I wouldn't mind some fresh trout either. But don't call that shrimp a boat." Chris chose to ignore the crack about SEALs, what would an Army Ranger know about it anyway.
The river was deep and swift and they paddled only enough to keep their raft on course. Several hours down river Vin said, "We're heading over to the left fork Chris. Sometimes it's a bit tricky getting into it but shouldn't be any problem."
"Okay." Chris answered as he began steering to the left. Once in the fork the volume of water was reduced some and the water speed slowed. It was so quiet the men could hear every bird and bug chirp and twitter.
"Look, Cowboy," Vin said pointing skyward.
Chris watched where Tanner pointed and saw the golden eagle soar. It suddenly dived and swooped into the river ahead of then climbed with a screech.
"Damn, there goes our supper." Vin laughed.
"Well, from the looks of that fish, there should be plenty more for us." Larabee smiled enjoying the relaxed happy voice of his friend.
Several hours later Tanner broke the silence. "Hey, Cowboy, how 'bout that spot for the night?" He pointed with his chin toward a smooth sandy area several yards off the riverbank.
Larabee noted the sheltered spot and the plentiful dry wood for a fire. "Looks good to me."
"Good, 'cause it's gonna be dark in about an hour and it'll get cold once the sun goes down."
Once they'd pulled the raft out of the water they unpacked their gear and set up camp. It was still twilight when Vin gathered his rod and tackle. "You get a fire going, I'll bring supper."
"That sure of yourself are you?"
"Yep." The younger man said with a grin.
"You catch something, you clean it. I'll cook it."
Not even turning Vin waved as he walked.
Chuckling Larabee built the fire and set the old coffee pot on to boil. He quickly mixed the ingredients for Dutch oven corn bread and when the coals were right he placed the cast iron pan over them and shoveled more red coals on the rimmed lid.
Once finished the blond leaned back and sipped his fresh coffee and waited.
It wasn't full dark before Vin came back with two large trout. He handed them to Chris, "I caught 'em, you cook em."
Grinning Larabee took the cleaned fish, and after setting the skillet on coals and adding the Crisco he rolled the cut up fish in cornmeal and placed them in the sizzling grease.
The cornbread finished at the same time as the fish and the men feasted on them adding a few jalapenos for flavor. Once finished Chris reached into the pack and threw a pop-top can of peaches Vin's way. "Dessert," He said.
Catching the can Vin looked at it and smiled. "What's for you?"
"This." Chris held up a small whisky bottle pouring a generous amount into his cup.
Finishing the peaches Vin leaned back, lacing his fingers over his full belly. He sighed with contentment.
Larabee grinned at the sound. "You really like it out here, don't you?"
"Yeah. 'M Gran'dad would take me camping. 'Course there weren't tall mountains like this in Texas. But we'd go out an' be in the quiet. That's what he called it, "the quiet". Said he could hear himself think when we were away from towns and such. When my ma died, Gran'dad an' me, we took off 'fore the state could grab me. He'd do odd jobs an' we stayed under the radar 'til he got sick. We was in Denver then and the cops found us. Took me to juvie an' Gran'dad to the hospital..." Vin stopped talking.
Chris waited for him to say more knowing this was a rare occasion to have Vin talk about his childhood. Finally he asked, "What happened?"
Tanner stared into the fire and shrugged. "Not much. They came a few days later an' told me he'd died. Asked me all kinds of questions 'bout papers an' where I was born an' such. Couldn't tell them much, Gran'dad didn't keep no papers. Said they was the stranglehold the white government had on decent folk. After that is when the foster homes started."
"How old were you?"
"Ten or eleven. Don't matter none. Gran'dad taught me how to live and what was important to be a man."
Chris was surprised how matter of fact the younger man was about something that was so devastating. He could think of nothing to say. For a long time they listened to the fire pop and crackle.
Taking a sip of the warm whisky Chris said softly. "My dad would take my brothers and me camping. My mom said it was to give her a break. But Dad loved it. 'Course we didn't have anything like this in Indiana. I was going to take Adam..." Chris swallowed and took a breath, "I was going to take Adam camping that summer. We never made it though. Adam loved the mountains. It was going to be just him and me..." Chris was suddenly lost in the idea of what might have been. Finally he said softly, "I'd give anything to have made that camping trip."
Vin thought about what Chris had said. What would he give to have his mother or his Gran'dad for a little while longer? "What is, is, Cowboy. How about sharing some of that whisky. Just to warm my bones."
Larabee's eyes searched the river shore again as something caught his eye. He looked back at the place willing himself to see what was different, what didn't belong. He saw it again, something fluttered in the slight breeze. There, among the splintered wood trash right on the edge of the water.
Chris walked closer being careful not to trip or fall in the twisted trash that the white water had created for who knew how long. His eye caught the movement again. This time he was close enough to really see it.
A patch of cloth snagged on an upright splinter of wood. Moving closer Larabee blinked as he realized it wasn't a strip of rag but a shirt. The shirt was covering a body. Vin's body, no, not body...Vin. Standing over him, Chris saw that Vin was half submerged in the lapping river water. He'd somehow lost the bright orange vest. The pool of still water was stained red. Larabee bent down and laid two fingers on the pulse point of the younger man's neck.
He drew a deep breath and let it out when he felt a strong fast beat. Once he knew that Vin was alive he began assessing the sharpshooter's condition. Larabee hesitated before he gently reached under Tanner's armpits and carefully pulled his lower body from the debris. A low moan rose in volume as he pulled the feet free. Stopping, Larabee checked to see if Vin was conscious and then changed his hold so he could pick up the limp man and carry him to a dryer place.
He walked for several feet before he found a grass covered level stretch. Gently he lowered Tanner to the ground, laying him as straight as he could. He quickly went back for his backpack and returned to his friend. He cautiously removed the old cutoff shorts and soppy tee searching for injuries as he did. Somehow Tanner had lost his shoes in the water but he still had one sock on.
It was after the shorts were off that Chris saw the swollen discolored bump half way between Vin's left knee and ankle. "Damn! Cowboy!" Larabee fingered the bump gently. He'd seen enough to know the leg was broken. No wonder Vin had moaned when he'd pulled on the leg. Now he needed to set the leg as best he could while Vin was still unconscious.
Nodding to himself Chris moved up with his examination. There was some bruising but he didn't think any ribs were broken. The arms seemed fine except for small cuts and bruises.
Sweeping the long hair out of his way, Larabee felt for swelling or gashes. The blood in the water had to come from somewhere. He found it just in the hairline above the right temple. A shallow cut that had already stopped bleeding.
Once finished with his examination Larabee quickly built a fire and placed a small pot close to the fire and began heating water. While it heated the blond searched for, and found, two branches that when trimmed would make suitable splints. He spread out the few items he'd packed when he'd began searching for Vin.
Glancing at his friends face to see if he were conscious he carefully started to set Vin's leg. "SEAL training is good for something still." He said to himself as he pulled the leg until he felt the vibration as the broken bone slipped into place. Reaching for the sock covered sticks he held them still as he one handed tied strips of gauze to hold them in place. That done, he felt Vin's foot, it was cool but not cold so he hoped the blood circulation was good.
With the leg set and Vin more or less washed Larabee moved him over to the sleeping bag and covered him. Making sure Vin was as comfortable as possible Larabee grabbed the ax and began the job of gathering enough wood for the night. Twilight had turned to full dark when Chris came back to the fire with the last armload of wood. He dropped it with the rest and sat down beside Vin. Taking the water bottle he took a long drink and tried to get Tanner to drink.
"Come on Cowboy. You need to wakeup and drink some water. Vin? Wake up. It's past time to wake up now." He watched closely waiting for some sign that Vin had heard him. He could see the eye movement under the closed eyes but that was the only response.
"VIN! Time to wake up now!" He ordered in his best 'give me no shit' voice. "That's an order Tanner!"
Someone was calling him. The voice was far away and demanding. "Order, hell everyone knows I don't like orders. Damn, tight assed Cowboy... Chris?...Oh this is going to hurt..." Vin let out a low groan as he moved his head slightly. The tip of his tongue touched cracked swollen lips. "Ya don't gotta shout," He whispered. His eyes, well his left eye, fluttered open, the right stayed swollen almost shut. With a stronger voice he exclaimed, "crap."
"Easy, Vin. You're hurt."
The blue eye moved again. "No shit, Sherlock. What happened? You okay?"
"What do you remember?"
Vin tried to frown as he searched for the answer to the question. "We... we just came through the rapids. I'd turned to see what you would say... don't 'member anything else, what happened?"
"You and a tree had an argument. The tree almost won. Lie still, you got a broken leg, bruised ribs and a pretty good bang on the head." Chris' mind flew back to that moment.
The flight through the rapids was exhilarating. Larabee actually laughed out loud when at the end Vin Tanner stood on his knees, hands and ore above his head shouting "Woo Woo".
Vin turned to face Larabee, "See I told you it'd be fun. That was quite a ride Cowboy."
Chris smiled at Vin's exuberance and then his eyes opened wide in shock as the tree branch suddenly appeared and wooden fingers seemed to grab at Vin's hair and tee shirt knocking him forward and into the water. The snap was like a rifle shot as Vin and the branch landed in the water.
Larabee knew in that microsecond of time he'd never forget the surprised look on Vin's face. "Vin!" Chris screamed as he desperately fought to keep the unbalanced raft from tipping over. He started paddling trying not only to reach Vin but also to stay upright. Another dip in the river and the blond lost sight of the struggling man as he fought the swift flow of water.
Desperately he looked all around trying to spot Vin. Finally realizing how far the raft had come he angled toward the shore fighting the current until he was close enough to the bank to jump out and pull the rubber raft out of the water.
Turning his eyes he scanned the water. "Vin," he sighed as he looked for the bright orange of the life preserver vest. He saw nothing in the water. Surely he'd have seen Vin if he'd gone by the raft.
"He's back there, managed to swim to shore," the desperate man told himself. Chris squared his shoulders and grabbing a backpack tossed its contents onto the dry ground. He knew it was hopeless but he turned on his cell. No signal. Turning it off he replaced it in the waterproof bag and tucked it away. Once he had the pack empty he began to repack it for his search. Water, sleeping bag, first aid kit, both of them, tarp, ax, camp cookware, MRE's.
Once the packing was done he secured the raft and faced the way back. Glancing at the sky he realized he only had a couple of hours before dark. "Yeah, Tanner, lots of fun," he muttered as he slung the pack onto his back and began walking.
"You and a tree had an argument. The tree almost won. Lie still, you got a broken leg and bruised ribs and there's a pretty good bump on your head."
Vin reached up and Larabee grabbed his hand. "Leave it be. I barely got it taped and the bleeding stopped for now."
Tanner moved away from the touch only to suddenly stop and groan. "Shit. At least they ain't broke. How bad's the leg?"
"Simple fracture below the knee. You need to take these and I got some camp soup ready. It'll help."
Vin took the offered aspirin and the water. He quickly swallowed the pills and finished the water. "Camp soup?"
"Don't ask, it's something Buck came up with when we were SEAL's. It's surprisingly good."
Vin took the offered soup and sipped. "Not bad. Where's the boat?"
"About a mile down river. I beached it and came back looking for you."
Vin's eyes started to close and Larabee took the cup from Tanner's hand. "Go to sleep, Pard. We'll figure tomorrow out tomorrow."
The blond man stretched and blinked in the bright dawn light. His eye going from the still burning fire to the still sleeping injured man. He rubbed a hand over his face hoping to clear the cobwebs. He'd spent the night keeping the fire going, watching over Vin and trying to find the best way to get his hurt friend back to the raft and down the river to civilization. He thought of carrying Vin on his back but that was for short distances. No matter how he looked at it, it was going to be a long pain filled day for Vin.
Sighing Larabee stood and taking the ax he began scanning the nearby trees for two strong saplings to use to make a travois.
"Chris?" The twang broke Larabee's thoughts.
"I'm here, Vin." Larabee knelt down beside Tanner and reaching out squeezed the injured man's arm. It was warm but not too warm.
Ain't fevered yet, Cowboy. Something's troubling you. I can see it."
Chris shook his head. "Just plotting on how to get you out of here."
"How far is the raft?"
"Told you a mile maybe two. The river's too rough for me to bring it back up river. I'll have to carry you to the raft or I can make a travois."
"There's another choice Chris you can leave me here and you go for help. Got plenty of wood, water and food. You'll make good time without me and then you can come back with help."
Larabee shook his head, "Not an option. I'm not leaving you here alone."
"But..." Vin started.
"Would you leave me?"
"Sure I would."
"Okay, no. Don't mean it's not a choice."
"I said I'm not leaving you behind. I'm making a travois and I'm dragging your sorry butt out of here."
Vin stared at his team leader and his friend. "Leave no man behind." It was a code they'd both lived by, he wouldn't ask Chris to break it now.
The question brought Vin from his thoughts. He wasn't hungry. In fact the thought of eating made his stomach churn. "Sure," he said.
Chris fixed the soup and after handing the cup to Vin he picked up the ax and again examined the trees. He found two fairly straight ones around seven feet tall and a man's wrist thick. Chopping them down and then cleaning all the little branches away took longer then he thought it would. When he dragged the newly made poles back to camp he found Vin fitfully sleeping. Frowning Chris knelt down. He was relieved there wasn't any heat from fever. Digging into the first aid kit Larabee pulled out the aspirin and taking three and a cup of water he said, "Vin, come on Vin, you need to wake up and take some aspirin."
Tanner groaned his eyes fluttered. "Chris?"
"Yeah. Open up. I want you to take some aspirin."
"Don't wan' any. Stomach don't feel so good." Vin replied without opening his eyes.
"I know, but they'll help with the pain. Open up."
Tanner's mouth opened just wide enough for Chris to push the tablets into the waiting hole and tip the cup letting the water touch Vin's lips.
The semi-conscious man swallowed until the cup was empty. "Damn, I hurt. It's hard to breath."
"I know Vin, but I gotta get the travois ready."
"Okay..." came the faint answer.
Chris quickly tied the space blanket to the two poles. He carefully tied a strap for Vin to sit against so he wouldn't slide down when Chris lifted the travois to pull it. Once it was finished Larabee quickly packed the supplies in the backpack and made sure the fire was completely out. Kneeling once again he woke Tanner. "Vin? I need you to wake up. We have to move you onto the travois. It's gonna hurt like a son o' bitch but we gotta get to the raft."
Blue eyes stared at him. "I know. Just get it done, Chris."
Nodding once Larabee sat Tanner up and lifted him and the sleeping bag as he stood and carefully positioned him between the two poles. "Okay, Pard?" he asked.
Vin swallowed and relaxed his white lips enough to say. "Jest peachy."
"That's good because that was the easy part. We'll start now but if you need to stop, tell me."
Vin frowned, "'K."
Larabee slipped on the strap he'd fastened to the ends of the poles. It fit across his chest leaving him room to hold the pole ends while his chest held most of the weight of the travois and Vin.
Each step pulled the ends of the poles over the loose rock, jarring and thumping Vin every time. The sharpshooter clenched his teeth, settling deep inside himself to endure the pain.
Time crept at a snails pace to the two struggling men. Each caught in a private hell. Larabee felt blisters rise and break and rub raw on his hands and chest where the strap rubbed. The blond simply lowered his head into the pain and concentrated on placing one foot carefully in front of the other.
For Tanner each step brought another jar to his bruised back and ribs and broken leg. Sometimes the pain was so bad he couldn't seem to catch his breath. His fingers dug into the sleeping bag and held the poles so tight his knuckles were white beneath his tan. The sun beat down on his closed eyes. The heat beat through his eyelids seeming to burn his very sight away.
Vin kept silent as long as he could but he finally called. "Chris, stop. Please, Cowboy. You gotta stop."
It took Chris several more steps before Vin's voice registered. Stopping the forward movement was almost as hard as continuing. He swayed slightly as the pressure from the strap lessened. Stepping back he turned and again knelt down beside his friend.
"NO. Just couldn't take it no more. Just give me a few minutes to rest. 'M beginning to feel like a milkshake. What with all the bumping I been doing."
"I'm sorry Vin. There's no other way. This is as far away from the bank I can get without fighting a bunch of trees."
"Ain't yer fault, Cowboy. I'll be good to go in a few moments. Just need to rest a bit." Vin squinted up at Chris and for the first time noticed the dark three-inch band across Larabee's chest. "You okay?"
Chris glanced down, "yeah, just sweating under the strap."
"Oh," Vin said closing his eyes. It was a testament of how bad Vin was hurting, that he believed Larabee that the dark band was only sweat.
The blond sat quietly letting both himself and Vin rest. He figured they were about halfway back to the raft. At least he thought they were. It was hard to tell. He hadn't paid that much attention to landmarks when he'd been looking for Vin.
Chris glanced at the sun's position. It was mid afternoon. He figured if they were lucky they'd get back to the raft by dark. It would be another night before they could head down river.
Leaning over he gently touched Vin's shoulder. "We gotta get moving again."
Vin cracked open an eye. "I know, go!"
Nodding Larabee stood and gritting his teeth slipped the chest strap back into place. Taking a deep breath he began pulling the travois again. Each foot traveled seeming like miles.
Vin gritted his teeth, the aspirin had worn off a long time ago. It seemed like days but he knew it was only an hour or so since they had stopped. It hurt so badly and the worst part was it never seemed to end. He'd been hurt before but it never seemed to last this long, going on and on and on.
Larabee shook the sweat from his eyes. He couldn't wipe it away for fear of unbalancing the travois. He squinted into the late afternoon light hoping to see the raft so there'd be an end to this seemingly never ending day.
"We almost there?"
"Yeah, not much further. Hold on Vin, we'll be there soon then we can stop." Larabee stated just trying to make Vin feel better but as he talked he finally spotted the raft. "Not much further, Vin." He repeated.
It was a silent sigh from both men as Chris stopped and looked around for the best place to make camp.
"Ya can drop me over there, Pard and I can dig a fire pit while you gather the wood."
"Yeah that figures, been walking all day an' you want me to gather the wood."
"Well, hell Cowboy, I'd trade if I could."
Chris grinned down at his friend. "I know you would." It wasn't hard to see the lines of pain and fatigue that covered Vin's face. The blond quickly spread the sleeping bags out and carefully lifted the smaller man from the travois and sat him on the sleeping bags. He put the pack within reach and even got the other pack from the raft. "I won't be long. If you need anything holler."
Vin nodded as he rubbed his upper leg hoping to ease some of the pain and threatened cramping.
Chris gathered the wood and before total dark had a warm supper cooked. "Take three, maybe it'll let you sleep."
Tanner popped the aspirin into his mouth. "Hell Cowboy, I got so many aches I ain't sure the aspirin will know which to work on."
"I know Vin, but it'll help and even though we'll ride the boat down I don't know how far it is to a town."
Vin sipped his coffee frowning as he thought. "Could take most of the day, can't remember exactly. Don't know if they'll have a hospital but at least there will be phones."
"We'll cross that bridge when we come to it."
Buck Wilmington jerked awake his heart pounding, his sheets tangled and damp from sweat. He looked around as he reached for the pistol in the drawer of the nightstand. Listening, he remembered he was home, alone, really alone, because JD had gone for a week's vacation with Casey.
He heard nothing yet the uneasy feeling wouldn't leave. Something was wrong. He just knew it, but what. His cell loudly broke the silence.
"Buck, it's Josiah."
"I was about to ask you the same thing."
"I have an uneasy feeling one of our brothers may be in trouble."
"Been talking to the 'spirits' again Josiah?"
"I can hear it in your voice brother, you have the same feeling."
"Yeah, but who? Damn, Josiah it's three AM, we can't be calling anyone now."
Josiah chuckled despite his worry. "I called you. But we'll hold off except for Ezra, I believe it's afternoon where he is. I'll call him and Nathan at a more reasonable time. You call JD?"
"Yeah, if I can get him to answer the phone. The only ones we can't reach are Chris and Vin."
Josiah was silent for several breaths. "When are they due back?"
"Not for a couple of days yet. Where they are there's no cell service."
"Of course there isn't. Chris is up in the wilds with the trouble magnet and no way to call for help. Not sure we need to call the others."
Sanchez chuckled again, "You're probably right but I'll call Ezra just the same. There's no telling what kind of trouble he's gotten into in Monte Carlo with Maude."
"Sounds good, I'll call you around 6:30."
"Okay." The older man didn't even try to say 'get some sleep'. He knew neither of them would.
JD grabbed his phone, glancing at the number he whispered. "Buck? What the hell you calling me for? Yes, we're fine. No, you didn't disturb anything... Are you okay? Then why the hell you call for? Oh, We'll come...Are you sure? Okay keep me posted." The young man flipped the phone closed and set it on the nightstand.
"Wha's up?" came the sleepy voice next to him.
"Nothing probably. Sorry I woke ya."
A slender bare arm reached out. " 'S okay, come here..." She demanded as she pulled Dunne over.
Buck grinned at his closed cell. "That's okay kid, you take care of your homework, I'll find Chris and Vin." He then quickly dialed Josiah.
"Ezra is having a great time at the poker tables and Nathan is having a not so great time with his in-laws."
Buck snorted, "That's what he gets for not marrying an orphan." Then with a sober voice, "That leaves Chris and Vin. Any ideas on how to find them?"
"Nope, I don't know where they were going. I'll meet you at the office. Perhaps in their haste to leave they left some clue to where they went." Josiah suggested.
"Okay, I'll be there in half an hour. I bet there's something on Junior's computer. Too bad we don't have the kid to help us find it."
"A half an hour." Sanchez said, hoping Buck was right.
Larabee was walking back with an armload of firewood in the predawn light when he glanced over at where Vin was laying and frowned. Vin was awake, sitting up and looked to be rocking back and forth. The closer Chris got he saw Vin wasn't rocking he was running his hands up and down his thighs.
"Vin? What's wrong?"
The younger man looked over at the approaching blond. "Aches a bit, reckon it's swoll' some. Think ya could loosen the splints a little?"
Larabee dropped the wood. "I'll try. Are you up to our ride down the river?"
"Well, it's gotta be better then yesterday."
"I'm sorry it was so hard on you, Vin. It was the only way I could get you down here." Chris' light mood broke as he thought of how hard the day before had been on Vin.
Tanner reached out and placed a hand on the blond's arm. "You did your best, Cowboy. Was hard but I been through harder."
Shaking off the mood Chris smiled as he loosened the ties on the splints. "Well, today will be easier. You'll just sit back in that 'boat' and we'll float down river to some real help."
"That's the spirit." Vin said and laughed and then hissed with the movement of his leg.
Looking up Chris asked, "better?"
"Think so. Give me a minute."
Chris scrambled some breakfast hash and made a pot of coffee. While Vin ate he packed the camping gear and tied it into the raft. He took the sleeping bags and made as comfortable a place as he could for Vin. Finally satisfied he turned to the injured man.
"You ready to load up."
Vin threw away the last of his coffee. "Yeah, lets get 'er done."
" 'get 'er done'? You been watching too much TV, Vin."
"Nah, some radio station plays these comedy fella's early in the morning. It's fun to get a laugh first thing on the way to work."
Chris snorted at this new side of his friend and held out his hand. "Okay then, lets do it."
Vin reached up and grabbed Chris' arm. Between the two of them they got Tanner upright and he hopped toward the raft, holding the broken leg up while Larabee helped him balance.
The younger man sank gratefully into the space Chris had created for him. His pale face was shiny with effort and pain. "Thanks, Pard." Vin gasped out. The aspirin he'd taken hadn't helped at all. He hoped it would take effect soon. The throbbing seemed to travel from his leg to the top of his head and for good measure go back down to his toes again. With his eyes closed he leaned back and concentrated on slowing his breathing. In, out, in, out slowly until the pounding reduced to a dull ache. He could hear Chris loading the rest of their stuff and making sure the fire was out. He felt the boat tip as the blond pushed it into the water and jumped into it. Vin didn't open his eyes through all of this.
"You doing okay Vin?"
"Yeah," came the soft answer.
Larabee guided the rubber raft into the faster water and tried to keep it flowing smoothly. The hours flew as swiftly as the river. The beauty of the landscape was lost on the two men in the water. The blond paddled enough to keep the raft on course. The sharpshooter rode with his eyes still closed concentrating on not moving the pain filled leg.
"You want to stop and eat something Vin?"
"No, not hungry."
Larabee nodded and pushing the water bottle closer to Vin's hand said. "We'll keep going then, but you drink all that water."
It was mid afternoon when Larabee spotted buildings and a wharf. He guided the raft toward the small wooded dock. When he saw an old man sitting near the end with a fishing pole, he shouted, "Hey, can you help us. My friend has a broken leg. Is there a hospital here?"
The man stood squinting at the raft. "Got a clinic that doubles as a hospital until we can transport people. Let me get my truck and I'll call them."
"Thanks," Chris said as he drew up to the landing and jumping out he tied the raft. "Vin, come on, Pard, it's time to get that leg fixed."
"Okay," Vin said groggily and reached up. He let Larabee lift him out of the raft and carry him to the old pickup truck.
Once the three men were seated in the truck the driver started the engine and put it in gear. "Names Jim by the way. What happened, if you don't mind me asking?"
Chris shook his head; "My friend here had an argument with a tree reaching out over the river. Knocked him off the boat and the river took care of the rest."
Jim nodded, "Yep, I love living by the river but you gotta be careful. Most folks forget how dangerous it can be. Some stupid newcomers even try building right on the edge. Damn fools get flooded out every five/ten years. Then bemoan how no one told them about flooding. Old timers know better, their houses are on high ground. Here we are," he said as he pulled into a parking lot of a largish building.
Getting out Jim added, "Stay here, I'll get help if anyone's still here."
"Okay." Chris said worry showing through the exhaustion in his voice.
Vin cracked an eye. "Don't worry Cowboy. Small towns usually have good docs."
They watched as Jim came out with a large woman and a wheel chair. Opening the door Jim said, "this here's Sophie. She's on call tonight."
Larabee nodded as he helped Vin out and into the wheel chair.
Sophie continued to explain, "I'm a nurse practitioner. Doctor Benjar is gone for an hour or so but I'll take good care of your friend."
Once Tanner was in the examination room Chris turned to Jim holding out his hand. "Thanks a lot for your help. We really appreciate it."
Shaking hands Jim said, "No problem. You're in good hands with Sophie. I trust her as much or more than most docs."
Nodding the blond turned and entered the little room Vin had disappeared into. His friend was stretched out on the bed with an IV already in place.
Tanner blinked a few times and grinned. "Hey, Cowboy." He said with a lopsided smile.
"Hey yourself. I see they already gave you the good stuff. Did you warn them about how you hurl most of the time?"
"Yep!" Vin said nodding his head once. "Shee said thisss was oookay. It wooodn't do that."
The blond had to smile at the already slurred words. The painkillers Vin had been given must be really powerful stuff.
Sophie and a young man in scrubs came in. "Vin? Randy is going to wheel you to X-Ray and then bring you back. While you're gone I'll get some info from your friend."
"Chris. Is that okay?"
"Okay dokey Sophie." Vin said trying to do a thumbs up.
Once Tanner was gone Chris turned to the nurse. "What was that stuff? I've never seen Vin so drunk so to speak."
Sophie chuckled, "Nothing special, he didn't tell me he hadn't eaten much today and he is dehydrated. I do need to fill out his chart so let's get started, Randy won't take long."
By the time Vin was back with Chris the town's part time doctor had joined them. "Hello I'm Doctor Benjar. I've looked at the X-Rays and you have a simple break of the fibula, that's the smaller leg bone. Mr. Larabee? You did a good job splinting it so I'm going to put a temporary cast on tonight and for transportation tomorrow. When you get him home you can take him to his regular doctor for further treatment. The cast will stabilize his leg from thigh to foot and it will help ease the pain while he's in transit."
"HELLO! HE'S right here!" Vin called out.
"I'm sorry Mr. Tanner. I do want you to stay here overnight. You are very dehydrated and I want to address that problem. Besides tomorrow morning is the earliest we can get a non emergency vehicle up the mountain."
Vin just yawned and nodded too out of it to put up his usual argument.
"The motel here is nice and there's a small café right next to it. I'd suggest you get some rest too Mr. Larabee. Believe me Vin will be sleeping most of the night."
"That's my line, Pard. You're beat. Go, get something to eat an' some rest an' I'll see ya in the mornin'."
"You sure Vin?"
"Yeah, I mean, what can happen to me here? Right Doc?"
"God! Don't ask! Okay, but you call me if you need me." Larabee said more to the doctor than to Vin. He squeezed Vin's shoulder and left.
Standing out side in the waning sunlight Chris realized how tired he truly was. He tried to think of what he should do but it was as if his mind had just quit moving. Chris saw Jim's old truck and watched as the old man stopped in front of Chris.
"I gathered up your packs. Climb in and I'll take you over to the Western Motel. You can clean up and get something to eat."
Chris climbed in, "How far is it?"
Jim squinted, "Oh around a quarter of a mile I guess. You should be able to walk it in 15/20 minutes."
"I appreciate it." Larabee said as he leaned back and tried to relax.
Standing in front of the bathroom mirror at the motel Chris examined his bare chest. The skin was red and irritated across his chest and the tops of his arms where the strap from the travois had rubbed. He dabbed Neosporin on the blistered spots and was thankful it wasn't worse. It would be tender for a few days but nothing to worry anyone about. Even the blisters on his hands weren't bad thanks to the calluses he had.
The ATF leader walked to the motel bed and sat down trying to think what to do next. Everything was a blur even after a meal and a shower. He pushed his still damp hair back and felt some of the loose skin catch //I need a hair cut// and then reached for his cell. He watched as it turned on and stared at it for several seconds before he punched in Buck's number.
"Buck, it's me."
"CHRIS!! Where the hell are you? Are you okay? Is Vin okay?"
"Yeah, I'm not sure, Vin's got a broken leg."
"You're not making a lot of sense, Pard. Where are you?"
"Umm, some little town..." Chris looked around the room. He spotted a phone beside the bed and looked inside the drawer under it. "Some tiny river town called... Gold Mills. Vin's in what they call their hospital. He's got a broken leg and we can't transport him until tomorrow. I'm at what seems to be their only motel."
He could hear Buck repeating everything he'd said. Then Buck said, "hold on Chris Josiah says we can be there by morning. Get some rest you sound beat. We'll take care of everything."
"Thanks Buck." Larabee shut the phone and fell back on the bed. The next thing he knew it was morning.
Chris walked in the front door of the clinic and straight to the front desk. The young man sitting there looked up from his computer screen. "May I help you?"
"My friend, Vin Tanner, was admitted last evening. What room is he in?"
The young man glanced at his screen again. "Oh yes. His room is down the hall to your right and then the second door on you right."
Larabee walked down the short hall and glancing in before entering saw Vin poking at the tray before him. "Morning, Pard."
Vin jumped slightly and looking up, something like relief flashed across his face. "Hey, Cowboy. Are you going to spring me from here?"
"If they'll let you out. How are you doing?"
"No, really 'm leg don't hurt at all this morning."
"Must be the meds they have you on."
"Nah, haven't had any since they put on this temporary cast. Uh... Chris how are we getting home an' where exactly are we?"
"Buck and Josiah are coming, as for where we are it's a little town called Gold Mills. Was the first place we came to after we got back on the river."
While Chris was talking he took the lid to the breakfast tray and moving it bumped the tissue box next to it almost knocking the box off. He grabbed it and frowned as he felt something heavy slide and bump the side of the box. Looking in the slit he dug with his fingers and found a table knife hidden inside. He turned a puzzled look to Vin.
"Leave it be Chris." It was all Vin said. The sharpshooter looked down plucking at the light blanket.
"What's up, Vin?"
Vin shook his head, "nothing."
"Come on, Cowboy, tell me what's going on."
"Its... ah damn it Chris, last night, late, the local cops brought in some drunk. I could hear them down the hall. Guy was cussing enough to make a marine blush but they put him in a room an' things quieted down. So the cops left..." Vin stopped and looked around the small room. Finally his eyes stopped on Larabee.
The tall blond was watching Tanner intently. He'd never seen Vin like this before. He sat quietly waiting for Vin to continue.
Licking his lips Vin spoke again so softly Chris had to strain to hear him. "Kay, the nurse she'd just come in checking on me and I could hear her walking away then I heard the drunk. She was trying to talk him back into bed. He...he weren't having nothin' to do with it. She... she was doing all the right things... saying all the right things...only...only it weren't working. I heard a thud and then another..."
Large blue eyes looked straight into green ones. "I couldn't do nothing, I couldn't move, I couldn't help her, I couldn't even defend myself if that drunk came in here. Kay, the nurse she's a real hero, she stood up to that guy an' held him...finally I heard others comin' an' helpin' her...God Chris, I ain't never felt so helpless... not since I's a little feller."
It was then Chris realized what he saw in Vin's eyes. Fear. He reached out and squeezed Vin's forearm. "I'm sorry Vin. I should have been here..."
"You were asleep on your feet, ya needed to go. Was stupid. Them cops shouldn't 'a left him here like that..." Vin stopped and slashed at the curtain shielding the door. "Kay saved 'm life, Chris. She saved all of us. I know there's at least one other person... sounded like a old man, she told him to get back in his room an shut the door. I couldn't even do that."
Chris didn't try to say anything he just sat on the edge of the bed and listened.
Vin wiped his face swatting at the moisture. "When's Buck gonna get here?"
"Not sure. He said he and Josiah would be here by the time all the paperwork is done. They were driving all night."
Vin thought for a minute. "How they gonna get me home? You gonna rent an ambulance?"
"Not sure. Buck said they had it all worked out. It was almost as if he was expecting my call. Very weird."
Vin nodded absently. "Chris? Could you go ask how Kay is. Tell 'em I said she was a real hero."
"Sure, I'll be right back." Larabee walked down the hall and was relieved to see staff at the small nurses' station.
"Excuse me. Vin was wondering how the nurse, Kay? Is doing? He's really worried."
The nurse nearest him smiled. "Kay's fine. Some bruises and a whopper of a black eye, but she's fine."
"That's good. Vin says she's a hero the way she handled last night."
"Thanks, I'll tell her. But it's an unfortunate part of the job."
Larabee just nodded and walked away while he pulled out his cell. Punching speed dial he waited.
"Buck? How long?"
"Another hour I'm guessing. How's Junior?"
Being Vin. Hurry, I've had about all the fun I can take."
Chris heard Buck laughing as he closed his phone and headed toward the front desk and began signing paper after paper. Once finished he headed back to the room.
"You ready to go?"
Tanner snorted, "I'm ready if they'd just let me go. I sure hope Buck is bringing something big. This cast is gonna take lots of room."
Chris glanced at the cast that went from booted foot up past the knee. "I'm sure Buck and Josiah thought of everything. They're gonna go by the motel and get our stuff before they pick us up."
Tanner nodded and picked at the edge of the cast. "Just wanna be home."
The older man smiled to himself. The little boy in Vin came out at the oddest times. Now that things were calm and over Vin let his guard down. Larabee patted the uninjured leg. "I'm gonna go back to the motel and get everything ready. I'll leave word with the motel about Buck and come right back. Can I bring you anything?"
"Nah... oh maybe a snickers. Been thinking of one all morning for some weird reason."
Chris rolled his eyes. "Okay, I'll see what I can do."
Vin looked at the large SUV Buck and Josiah were standing beside. The back hatch was open and he saw why when Chris wheeled him around to where he was looking into the vehicle.
Half of the backseat was folded down so that there was a long flat surface. It looked as if there was an air mattress and many blankets spread over the surface. Pillows were stacked against the back of the front seat. The other half of the back was stuffed with their gear.
"So can you get in by yourself or do you need help." Chris asked.
"Ain't helpless, Larabee. I reckon I can get there."
For all his brave words it took Chris' and Josiah's help to get Vin situated on the makeshift bed. Finally they were heading out. Chris was sitting beside Vin in the back seat with Buck driving and Josiah riding shotgun.
"You okay back there Junior?" Buck asked over his shoulder.
"Yeah, I'm just glad to be heading home."
Larabee looked down at Vin and raised an eyebrow. "Home? I don't think so, your first stop is Denver General to get that leg taken care of."
"Aw hell Chris, the leg's fine. I've had my fill of hospital."
The blond glared down at the younger man and Vin tried his best to glare back.
Sighing Tanner said, "Okay Cowboy. But it was fun, huh, until the tree?"
Chris snorted, "Yeah it was fun, until the tree."