By Winter


CHAPTER EIGHT

For the next couple of days the rest of the seven took turns watching Vin. He seemed to be the most restless whenever Chris or Ezra watched him. Ezra sported a black eye where Vin had hit him with his elbow in his delirium. Chris wasn't immune and he had a large bruise beneath his right eye. On the afternoon of the fourth day Chris was dozing in the chair when he was suddenly awakened. He looked around the room in alarm. A breeze was blowing through the opened window causing the drapes to billow. Chris could hear Buck and JD outside arguing over the best way to chop wood. None of these things had alarmed him. He turned last to Vin and knew something had changed. He stood up and leaned over Vin. The tracker seemed to be sleeping peacefully but something was different. Chris reached out to touch his face.

"Nathan!" Chris yelled.

Chris heard running on the stairs and Nathan burst into the room seconds later. He moved quickly to Vin. The others entered the room close behind Nathan and found the two men smiling.

"What?" JD demanded

"His fever broke," Nathan announced.

"Yee ha!!!!!" Bucked yelled picking JD up and swinging him.

"Buck!" JD protested. "Put me down!"

"That is most extraordinary news," Ezra said.

"Than God he's over the worst of it," Josiah smiled.

"He still ain't out of the woods," Nathan cautioned. "We still have to keep those wounds cleaned."

"But he's going to be alright?" JD asked.

"If he does what I say," Nathan answered.

"Then I regret to inform you, Mr. Tanner, is doomed," Ezra concluded.

"I have to agree with Ezra," Buck laughed. "That boy never follows what you say."

"He will this time," Chris vowed.

"Then there is hope, Brothers," Josiah smiled.

"I'm gonna have to changes these bandages and give him a bath," Nathan said. "After I get him clean I'll move him to the other room and let this one air out."

Nathan had Buck start a fire in the other bedroom to warm it up. JD went to get firewood while Josiah went down to put the kettle on for hot water. Ezra and Chris helped Nathan remove Vin's bandages. Vin moaned a few times but didn't wake. JD came back into the room carrying an empty bucket and one filled part way with cold water. Nathan asked him to start a fire. He wanted Vin to be warm while he bathed him. Josiah finally came up with the hot water and Nathan shooed everyone outside except Josiah. He knew Vin wouldn't be happy if he found out he had an audience while he was bathed. It took them about an hour to get washed and bandaged. Buck and Chris were waiting in the hall when Josiah exited the room carrying Vin. Chris went ahead of him and opened the door.

"Jeez, Nathan even washed his hair," Buck said as he noticed Vin's wet hair.

Josiah laid Vin on the bed and gently lowered his head to rest on the pillows. He took the extra towel from his arm and raised Vin's head so he could cover the pillow. Once that was done Josiah spread his long hair out to dry in the warm room. Chris pulled up a chair and got comfortable next to Vin.

"Oh no you don't," Nathan said from the doorway. "You're going into the other room and get a proper night's sleep."

"Who, Buck?" Chris asked. "Leave me out of this Pard," Buck laughed backing towards the door.

"It would appear, Mr. Larabee that you are out numbered, "Ezra added as he walked up next to Nathan.

"Damn, my own men turned against me," Chris cursed. "You'll come get me if he wakes up?"

"Don't worry Chris we will," Buck assured him.

Chris went into the third bedroom and lit the lamps. He unbuckled his gun belt and hung it over the back of the chair. His pants and shirt followed. When he was undressed he climbed into the bed. As soon as he felt the softness of the down mattress he sighed. He'd forgotten what a proper bed felt like. Chris was asleep before his head hit the pillow.

+ + + + + + +

The morning sun cast its rays in the bed shining into Chris's eyes. He stretched lazily and heard a number of joints pop. Chris lounged in the bed when he heard a knock on the door.

"Come in," he called.

"Figured you were probably awake," Nathan said as he entered carrying a tray.

"How's Vin?" Chris asked.

"He's still sleeping," Nathan said as he placed the tray on the table. "Josiah sent you up some breakfast and afterward, if you want, he's got hot water boiling for a bath.

"Where is everybody," Chris asked as he got up and walked over to the table.

"They went into town to celebrate," Nathan smiled. "Ezra went looking for a game."

"Buck went looking for a woman," Chris added with a smile. "What about JD?"

"He's watching Vin," Nathan said.

"How'd you get him to do that?" Chris asked.

"He wanted to," Nathan answered.

Chris ate his breakfast then decided to take Josiah up on his offer of a bath. When he was finished he headed upstairs. He walked towards Vin's room and heard JD talking. Chris stood just outside the door and peeked in. JD was sitting next to the bed reading the paper out loud. Chris glanced at Vin and saw the tracker sleeping. He was pale but not the sickly color he had been during his fever.

"Wow, Vin, check this out," JD exclaimed. "They got horse racing here every Friday afternoon. You'd win easy."

"I don't know JD, I think you could give Vin a run for his money," Chris said waking into the room.

"You think so?" JD asked eagerly.

"Yeah," Chris answered. "Why don't you get out of here, I'll watch Vin."

"OK," JD agreed. "I'll go check the horses."

They had found Vin's horse in the stable behind the house. JD brought the other horses over form the livery. Chris worried how they were going to pay for the horses food as well as food for themselves. Josiah confessed to finding a large sum of money hidden in the kitchen. Chris had laughed and said it was only fair. He wandered around the room glancing at some of the books on the shelves. He saw a copy of Romeo and Juliet and pulled it down. The play was Sarah's favorite and Chris sat in the chair and began to read. Nathan had opened the windows in anticipation of the heat later in the day. Right now a cool breeze blew through the window and Chris decided to cover Vin with an extra blanket. He placed the book on the table and grabbed the quilt from the end of the bed. Chris placed it on his feet then unfolded the quilt towards Vin's chest. When he looked up familiar blue eyes met him.

"It's about time you woke up," Chris sad with a smile.

"How long?" Vin croaked.

"Hold on," Chris said.

Chris poured Vin some water and raised his head so he could drink. Vin gulped the water quickly.

"Slowly Vin!" Chris yelled as he pulled the glass away.

He placed it back on the sharpshooter's lips and Vin drank his fill. When he was done Chris lowered his head back to the pillows. Vin smiled and looked at Chris for answers.

"We found you four days ago," Chris said.

"How bad?" Vin asked glancing down at his chest.

"Nathan said it's nothing that won't heal," Chris said.

Vin nodded and tried to pull his arm out from under the covers. As he did this pulled on the healing wounds on his chest and he cried out. Chris lifted the blankets and pulled Vin's arm from under the cover and placed it on top.

"I wouldn't suggest doing that for awhile," Chris said.

"I'll try to remember that," Vin smiled.

Chris hadn't realized how much he had missed Vin's soft drawl. He watched as Vin tried to get comfortable. Chris grabbed an extra pillow and gently lifted Vin so he could place it behind him. Vin glanced around the room trying to figure out where they were. Chris could see he was confused.

"It's one of the houses in town," Chris said.

"Ella?" Vin asked in a trembling voice.

"I killed her," Chris stated.

"It's about damned time," Vin said as he relaxed.

This small exchange with Chris had drained Vin and he drifted back to sleep. Chris tucked his arm back under the blanket and took a seat in the chair. He smiled and picked up the book. When Chris had looked into Vin's eyes he knew the wedge he had driven between them was gone.

+ + + + + + +

They remained in Lassiter another week. As Vin regained his strength he started arguing with Nathan that he was fine and that he wanted a steak not the broth Nathan insisted he drink. Physically Vin was recovering but he would still wake up screaming from nightmares about rats and the whippings. The sheriff came by the day Vin first woke up to inform them that Ella had been buried the day before. He also told them that the circuit judge would be by in three days to try Leon and Mitch. Chris told Vin that they had been found guilty of attempted murder. By the end of the week Vin was driving them all crazy and Nathan decided it was time for them to head home. It took three days to travel back to Four Corners since Nathan didn't want to push Vin. Nathan also insisted that Vin ride in the back of a wagon piled with hay and blankets. Vin had protested but gave in when Nathan threatened they'd stay another week. When they got to Four Corners told Nathan in no uncertain terms that he wasn't staying at the clinic. Nathan insisted he needed watching and gave in when Chris said he could stay in his room. The first night back Vin slept soundly without dreaming.

+ + + + + + +

Vin sighed as he glanced across the street at Nathan. It had been four weeks and Nathan still watched him like a hawk even though he was hobbling around without any trouble. The wounds on his chest still pulled a little when he walked around using the crutches but he'd be damned if he was staying in bed. Nathan headed in his direction and Vin steeled himself for a lecture.

"You been on your feet too much," Nathan scolded. "Don't try to deny it now."

"How can I when you've been watching me since I woke up," Vin said. "It's been almost a month Nathan. I'mů."

"Fine," Chris finished for him. "Leave it be Nathan. He's doing alright."

"Yeah," Buck agreed. "He hobbles around real good."

"Thanks Buck," Vin said rolling his eyes. "I'm heading for the saloon."

They followed Vin across the street. Chris went ahead and held open the bat wind doors as Vin came through. They saw Josiah and Ezra sitting at their customary table.

"Afternoon boys," Josiah said as they sat down.

Vin winced as some of the cuts on his chest and abdomen pulled as he sat in the chair.

"You hurting?" Nathan asked. "I'll get some laudanum."

"I don't need it," Vin yelled. "Unless it will make them stop itching."

"They that bad?" Chris asked in sympathy.

"They like to drive me crazy," Vin answered.

They all laughed and Ezra asked if they wanted to play a hand of poker Vin was sitting near Josiah and he pulled over an extra chair for Vin to prop his leg on. Nathan was pleased the way it was healing but didn't like it when Vin pushed too hard. They played a few hands when JD walked in and joined them. That's how Mary found them a few hours later when she walked in.

"Vin," She called. "This package came for you from Sheriff Roberts."

"Thank you ma'am," Vin nodded.

Mary handed his the package. Vin pulled his knife and cut the strings holding the paper. He pushed the paper away and lifted the lid. On top was a note. He took it out and tried to read it.

"I can't make this out," Vin said handing it to Chris.

"I'm not surprised," Chris said. "His handwriting is terrible. I think it says, These are a few items we found in the house that might belong to you"

Vin pulled out a razor, a deck of cards and a leather pouch. Nathan exclaimed in delight when he saw the pouch.

"What is it?" JD asked.

"I keep my fine stitching needles in here," Nathan said as he pulled them out.

Ezra reached for the deck of cards and placed them in his vest pocket. The razor Josiah claimed. Vin was about to put the box on the floor when he saw a piece of white sticking under the flap at the bottom. Vin lifted the flap and found a letter wit his name on it. He pulled it out and dropped the box on the floor. Ezra asked if he wanted to be included in the next hand and Vin nodded. He opened the letter and read it.

Vin, my pet,

Remember our secret, remember Maggie.

Ella

Vin blanched as the image of Ella rubbing her stomach and calling the unborn baby Maggie flashed before his eyes. The letter fell from his nerveless fingers and fluttered to the floor.

Chris had been watching Vin open the letter. He became alarmed as the color drained from Vin's face as he dropped the letter.

"Vin!" Chris called garbing his arm. "Are you alright?"

Chris could feel him trembling beneath his hand but he didn't answer. Chris reached down and picked up the letter.

"That's not possible!" Chris yelled as he read the note. "I killed the bitch and they swore they buried her."

Ezra grabbed the note form Chris and looked at it closely. His eyes widened when he saw who it was from then he noticed the date.

"Relax," Ezra said, "If you would check the date it was written the day before her demise."

Chris snatched back the letter and smiled when he read the date. How could he be so stupid? He knew the letter had shaken Vin and he looked at him. The color had returned to his face hut his expressive blue eyes had a haunted look. Josiah was talking to him and Vin. Chris handed the note to Buck. It made it's way around the table.

"What does it mean?" JD asked.

"Hush kid," Buck said kicking him.

"Vin," Chris called placing his hand on his arm. "You alright?"

"Yeah," Vin answered with his lopsided grin. "Stupid to get frightened form a letter."

"Under the circumstances it's understandable," Ezra said.

"You sure you're alright?" Nathan asked.

"I'm fine!" Vin yelled.

"Easy Vin," Josiah said.

"Do you know what she means Vin?" Chris asked gently.

"I have no idea," Vin lied.

"Why does it have to mean anything," Buck said. "She was crazy.

"Mr. Wilmington is right," Ezra said. "This could just be the rambling of her demented mind? I believe someone hasn't put a coin in the pot.

JD said Buck hadn't and an argument started. Vin knew they were doing it for him and he was grateful. He smiled at Chris and picked up his cards. Vin hated lying to Chris. He would never tell Chris that Ella might have been carrying his child. He knew Chris would never forgive himself for killing a baby. He glanced at Chris and swore he would spare his friend from this burden. Vin Tanner would take this secret to his grave.

THE END

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