April 11, 2000
Disclaimer Nope, I donít own the boys, just wish I did.
Authorís Note Be warned, this is basically a PWP. No bad guys. No sex. No OCs (alive or dead). Just pure, unadulterated H/C.
After walking back from the stream to the small camp they had made, Chris put the pot of coffee over the fire. He looked over to the man sleeping on the opposite side of the small blaze. He hated to wake Vin up; the tracker had tossed and turned most of the night. But the sky was starting to get light in the East, and they wanted to be back in Four Corners by noon. He spoke Vinís name softly and the tracker was instantly awake.
Sitting up with a groan, he looked over to Chris and groggily said, "Morniní."
"That it is, Vin," the gunslinger replied with a smile, looking once again to the East. "Didnít sleep too good?" he asked, returning his gaze to Vin, giving the coffeepot a swirl.
"Must be gettingí too old for this shit," Vin drawled, standing as he tried to work the kinks out of his back and neck.
Chris laughed, saying, "Youíre only as old as you feel, Vin."
"Yeah, well, then I must be as old as you, Ďcause I feel like shit," Vin retorted before heading off into the woods to take care of nature.
The two ate a small breakfast of biscuits and jerky with their coffee before breaking up their camp. As they mounted their horses, Chris remarked, "Should be back to town by noon, Iíd say," getting only a nod in return from Vin.
+ + + + + + +
Chris watched Vin as they rode. He seemed out of sorts some. Quieter than usual. He noticed the younger man pull his hat brim down lower over his eyes.
"You alright, Vin?" he finally asked.
"Yeah, just got a headache," Vin whispered in reply, not looking at the gunslinger.
Chris looked closer at the tracker. He noticed that Vinís eyes were shut tight. He was not even watching the trail, just trusting his horse to follow along with Chrisís.
"You sure?" he asked, and actually saw Vin wince at the sound of his voice.
"Yeah," he replied, opening his eyes some to look at Chris. "Nothiní I canít handle."
"If you say so," Chris acquiesced, leaving Vin alone.
+ + + + + + +
They rode for another hour or so before Vin suddenly brought his horse to a stop. Chris was surprised at the speed at which the tracker dismounted, but then understood as he watched and heard Vin's retching. He dismounted and moved to stand nearby.
"Head still hurt?" he asked when Vin stopped, hands on his knees, catching his breath.
"Yeah," Vin rasped in reply, standing and accepting the canteen of water Chris offered. He rinsed his mouth out and spat before handing the canteen back.
"Light botheriní your eyes?" Chris asked, watching as Vin leaned his forehead against his horseís saddle. When the tracker nodded his response, Chris asked, "feeliní a little dizzy, too?"
"Yeah, why?" Vin replied.
"Come on," the gunslinger said, gently grabbing Vinís upper arm.
He brought him over to sit in the shade of the nearby trees. Theyíd been following the same stream theyíd camped next to, and the trees that bordered it were lush and green, providing a nice dark canopy away from the sun. He brought the horses in as well, and began unsaddling them.
"I ainít that bad I canít ride, Chris," Vin murmured.
But when Chris looked at the pale tracker, he knew heíd made the right decision.
"If Iím right, you will be," he said. "Sarah used to get headaches like this. Some were so bad, all she could do was lie in bed all day with the shutters shut tight against the light. Theyíd last the whole day, sometimes two days, and nothiní helped to make Ďem go away."
"Last time it went away after I threw up," Vin returned. "Should be the same today."
"Youíve had these before?" Chris asked, putting Vinís bedroll down next to him.
"Once," he got out, just before the pain came back with a vengeance, causing him to grab his head and roll onto his side.
"Easy there, Vin," the gunslinger soothed, instinctively putting a hand out to rub the trackerís back.
Vinís breath came in harsh gasps as he tried to get a handle on the sharp knives slicing through his skull. Somewhere in his mind he was aware of Chrisís presence - his touch, his voice - but they werenít any matches for the pain he felt.
"Shit!" he swore, quickly getting to his hands and knees before starting to throw up again.
Chris was there again - holding Vinís forehead and keeping the hair out of his face, then offering the canteen again, when he was done.
"Thanks," Vin whispered, slowly moving back to the tree, lying down onto the bedroll.
+ + + + + + +
Chris sat on his own bedroll with a sigh and watched as Vin tried to deal with the pain. Heíd taken the trackerís bandana from around his neck and used it to blindfold him, keeping the light away. Just like with Sarah, there wasnít much else he could do to help, except offer an occasional cool cloth or some sips of water from the canteenÖ
ÖOr help Vin to his hands and knees when he had to throw up, like now.
"Easy, there, Cowboy," he soothed, holding Vin around his waist.
Vin had lost the last of his breakfast about an hour ago. He was suffering from dry heaves, now even worse, he thought. When the younger manís stomach muscles stopped convulsing, he collapsed, exhausted, onto Chrisís lap.
"Whenís it gonna end?" Vin cried quietly.
"I donít know, Vin," Chris replied softly, gently pressing a cool cloth onto the back of the trackerís neck.
+ + + + + + +
Somewhere shortly after noon, Chris began questioning his decision to stop. He kept telling himself that Vinís headache was just like the ones Sarah used to have, that even if Vin could have ridden all the way back to town, Nathan couldnít have done anything more. That the Ďrealí doctors couldnít help her, so surely, Nathan couldnít have the means to help Vin. But then he looked again at Vin on the bedroll next to him, and wondered if he was wrong.
The young sharpshooter was lying on his side, rocking back and forth with his arms wrapped around his head. It was a steady rhythm, back and forth, back and forth. Somehow concentrating on keeping that motion going, even though it was only an inch or two to either side, kept his thoughts away from the pain, made it more bearable.
Every ten minutes or so, a low, long groan would come, followed by frustrated whimper. Chris realized, after the first few times, that Vin had inadvertently been rocking himself to sleep. The constant battle against pain and lack of sleep had exhausted him. But as soon as the rocking motion would stop, the pain would return full force. And Vin would start the rocking again.
"Vin?" he called quietly, tentatively putting his hand on the younger manís shoulder.
Vin stopped his rocking at the touch, breathing quickly, panting, to make up for the lack of movement. He listened for Chrisís voice.
"Ainít no way I can get on a horse," the tracker got out, having heard the question Chris didnít ask. "You said yourself, probably ainít nothiní Nate can do for me, anyhows. Aah, shit!"
Even with the bandana turned blindfold still covering Vinís eyes, Chris could tell that they were probably squeezed tight as another sharp stab had overtaken him. Vin was on his elbows and knees, head buried in his hands. The gunslinger again went to him, began rubbing his back, trying to get his attention focused elsewhere. After a few minutes, though they seemed like hours, Vin relaxed and sagged back down onto his bedroll with a loud sigh.
Alarmed at the quiet, the lack of rocking, Chris quickly rolled Vin onto his back and put an ear to his chest. Still alive, still breathing.
"Ainít dead, yet, Cowboy," Vin whispered raggedly, a bit of humor in his voice. "Just tired as hell."
The older man sat back on his heels with a smile as he watched Vin finally fall asleep, the pain having finally eased.
+ + + + + + +
Just after nightfall, as Chris was adding another log to the fire, heíd heard the horses. He took a quick glance at the still sleeping tracker, grabbed his gun and headed toward the edge of the trees. He saw five horses slowly heading his way. With the moonlight in the background, he was able to quickly recognize the shadowed riders and gave a shout and a wave, getting their attention.
Buck was the first to arrive on his big gray.
"Vin alright, Chris?" he asked, quickly realizing that the tracker was nowhere to be seen.
"Yeah, just sleeping," Chris replied, jacking a thumb over his shoulder to point to the small campfire under the trees.
"Sleepiní? He hurt?" Nathan asked, immediately worried, his healerís instincts kicking in.
"Heíll be fine, just had a hell of a headache, is all," the gunslinger responded.
As the six men walked to the camp, Chris filled them in on what had happened.
+ + + + + + +
Vin awoke with a groan, as being blindfolded with sore muscles and a dry mouth was not a very pleasant way to wake up.
"Chris?" he called tentatively, reaching up to uncover his eyes.
"Right here, Vin," Chris replied, helping him with the bandana. "How ya feeliní?"
"Better," Vin replied. "Thirsty."
The older man helped Vin to sit up and handed him the canteen. Vin was surprised to see several other sets of eyes watching him.
"When you two didnít show up yesterday, we came lookiní for ya," Buck replied to Vinís silent question.
"Yesterday?" the tracker croaked.
"Yeah, yesterday," Chris replied. "Youíve been asleep for almost a whole day now. Was starting to worry about you again."
"You think you can handle the ride to town, now?" Nathan asked and received a nod in return.
A little while later, after getting Vin to eat a little bit, the men broke camp and headed back to town. Chris rode next to Vin, watching for any signs that would show that the younger man wasnít up to the ride yet. He still looked tired. His shoulders were slumped and the dark circles under his eyes stood out in the late day sun.
"Iím fine now, Chris," Vin said, looking at the gunslinger, knowing that Chris was still worried about him. "AndÖ and thanks for beiní there."
Chris smiled then and nodded. "Any time, pardí. Any time."