JD galloped his horse out to the Cooper ranch. He knew he shouldn't push his horse this hard but he had to get to Nathan. Vin looked really bad and Nathan was their only healer. JD thundered up to the house and pulled his horse up next to the porch. Evan Cooper heard the racket and walked outside.
"JD," he said. "What brings you here?"
"I need to speak with Nathan," JD answered. "Vin's been shot."
"Come on in and I'll get him," he said.
JD followed Evan inside and watched as he went into the bedroom. A short time later Nathan came out and walked over to JD.
"Nathan!" JD yelled. "You have to come quick Vin's been shot!"
"Calm down JD," Nathan said leading him outside. "How bad is he?"
"Does it matter?" JD asked confused. "Ya gotta come!"
"JD I can't," Nathan said. "Miz Cooper's baby is all turned round. I need ta be here when her time comes."
"What about Vin?" JD said shocked. "The bullets still in his shoulder and he was bit by a wolf."
"Whoa, JD, slow down," Nathan said grabbing his shoulder and shaking him. "What happened?"
"Chris and Vin were going after that wolf," JD began. "Chris said he shot Vin. I didn't get the whole story I just jumped on my horse and came to get you."
"Did ya say Chris shot him?" Nathan asked surprised.
"Yeah," JD replied. "But he's bad Nathan. He's covered in blood and he's feverish."
"Damn!" Nathan cursed. "If I leave Miz Cooper both her and the baby will die. I just can't do that don't ya see?"
"I suppose," JD agreed reluctantly. "But what do we do about Vin?"
"Tell Chris to clean the wounds real good with that there Carbolic," Nathan explained. "Try to get him to drink plenty of water. Then bathe him with cool water to bring the fever down. I'll get there as soon as I can."
"He's in a lot of pain Nathan," JD said.
"Give him 'bout an inch of Laudanum," Nathan instructed. "If that don't help Chris can give him another inch but no more."
"Alright Nathan I'll tell him," JD agreed worriedly as he mounted. "But hurry Nathan."
JD kicked his horse into a gallop and Nathan watched as he disappeared in a cloud of dust. Nathan hated to make this decision. He knew Miz Cooper and the baby didn't stand a chance without him. He just hoped Vin was able to hang on until he got there. With a heavy heart Nathan walked back inside the house.
+ + + + + + +
Chris woke to someone calling his name. As first he was confused to where he was. Then he heard Buck talking in a soothing voice he remember.
"Easy Vin," Buck said wiping Vin's face. "Chris is here."
"Chris!" Vin screamed. "Get him off me! Please!"
Vin's anguished cry pulled Chris out of the bed and over tot he trackers side. Chris could see Vin's eyes were open but didn't see them.
"It's alright Vin, the wolf's gone," Chris said pushing the hair out of Vin's eye.
"I've been shot!" Vin cried and tried to sit up.
They both grabbed the struggling smaller man as he fought to get away. Vin cried out when his shoulder was hit in the struggle.
"No!" Please!" Vin cried as they held him.
"Vin listen to me!" Chris yelled as he grabbed Vin's head. "You're safe. Nothings going to hurt you."
Vin only stopped struggling when his strength gave out. Chris straightened his head on the pillow while Buck covered him with the blankets. Vin was breathing hard and Chris could feel the wild beat of Vin's heart as he placed a hand on his chest.
"Where the hell is Nathan!" Chris cursed.
"Don't worry, Chris, he'll get here," Buck assured him.
"I know," Chris said as he ran a cool cloth over Vin's face. "How long has he been like this?"
"Little over an hour," Buck said. "You were asleep for about two hours when he started to get worse."
"Where's Ezra and Josiah?" Chris asked not taking his eyes off Vin.
"They're checking out the town," Buck answered.
"Could you get him to drink anything?" Chris asked looking at Buck.
"We tried but we couldn't get him to swallow it," Buck answered.
Chris checked the bandage on Vin's shoulder. Vin moaned piteously and tried to pull away. Buck held him steady while Chris changed the bandage. He was just tying it off when he heard what sounded like a herd of wild horses running up the stairs. Chris grabbed his gun from the nightstand as JD came charging through the door.
"That's a good way ta get yourself shot," Buck scolded.
"Where's Nathan?" Chris asked as he placed his gun on the table.
"He ain't coming," JD gasped between breaths.
"What do you mean?" Chris asked in a deadly voice.
"I didn't understand it all Chris," JD said in apology. "But he can't leave Miz Cooper cause he said something about the baby being turned around."
"Damn!" Buck cursed.
"He said to clean Vin's wounds with the Carbolic and bathe him with cool water," JD added. You can give him some Laudanum 'bout an inch worth. Nathan said if that don't work you can give him an inch more but that it."
"That baby's got great timing," Chris said angrily as he got up and paced the room.
"I'm sorry, Chris," JD said as he backed towards the door.
"Ain't your fault Kid," Buck said as he wiped Vin's face.
"It's alright JD," Chris said turning to the bottles on Nathan's shelves. "Buck's right it ain't your fault." He picked up the bottle of Laudanum and a glass then walked back over to Vin.
"How we gonna get him ta drink it?" Buck asked as he watched Chris pour some in the glass.
"Ain't sure," Chris admitted. "Maybe if I hold him up."
Chris handed Buck the glass and put his left arm under Vin's good shoulder. He lifted the lean tracker and Vin moaned when he was moved. Chris propped him up against his chest and held his head. Buck put the glass to Vin's lips and tipped it up. Some of the medicine dribbled from his mouth but they were able to get him to drink some of it when Chris rubbed his throat. In Vin's weakened state the Laudanum worked quickly and he went limp in Chris's arms. Buck help lay him back on the pillows.
"JD can you get us some cool water from the well?" Buck asked.
"Yeah sure Buck," JD said. He grabbed the buckets and walked out.
Chris and Buck went back to bathing Vin when they heard footsteps on the stairs. Ezra entered and looked around surprised.
"Where is Mr. Jackson?" he demanded.
"He ain't here," Buck stated.
"I can see that Mr. Wilmington," Ezra said sarcastically. "I know Mr. Dunne arrived back in town and assumed Mr. Jackson returned with him."
"He couldn't leave yet," Chris said. "The baby is turned round and he couldn't leave."
"Couldn't or wouldn't?" Ezra asked.
"Wouldn't," Chris said staring at Ezra and daring him to say anything.
"I see," Ezra said. "When will he arrive?"
"I don't know!" Chris exploded bolting to his feet.
"Easy, Pard, we're all worried, "Buck said in a calming voice.
"Aw hell, Ezra," Chris said as he dropped back to his seat.
"I understand perfectly, Mr. Larabee," Ezra said with a nod. "If my questioning of the good healer seemed in appropriate it was because I was surprised he wasn't here. I will procure some coffee. I have a feeling we're going to need it."
Chris watched as Ezra walked out. He slumped back in his chair and ran his fingers through his short blonde hair. He stopped with his fingers entwined in his hair then clenched his fists trapping his hair. He leaned back and growled an inhuman sound of frustration. Buck waited for Chris to lean forward and release his hair. He knew his friend was worried and felt guilty for shooting Vin. Buck sighed knowing there was nothing they could do but wait.
JD returned with the water to find Chris leaning over in the chair. He had his elbows propped on his knees and his buried in his hands. JD looked at Buck as he silently placed the bucket on the floor. Buck gave JD a reassuring smile but he wasn't fooled.
"Chris," Buck called. "Why don't you go get something to eat. Me and the Kid can take care of Vin."
"I'm fine," Chris said looking up.
"Chris you need...."
"Enough Buck," Chris snarled. "I ain't leaving. Now are you going to help me bring his fever down or not?"
Buck sighed and moved over to Vin's side. JD followed wanting to help. Chris pulled the blankets back to Vin's waist. He checked the bandage covering the wolf bit and saw the blood had seeped through.
"Damn, Chris, that won't stop bleeding," Buck said glancing at him across Vin. "You now what we gotta do. If that wolf was rabid you know it's what needs to be done."
"JD, get Josiah," Chris sighed knowing Buck was right.
"What're ya gonna do?" JD asked worriedly.
"Just get Josiah!" Chris snapped.
JD looked at Buck who nodded. He went out the door as Ezra came in carrying a try loaded with coffee and sandwiches.
"Mrs. Travis has provided us with these victuals," Ezra said placing the tray on the table. "Can I offer you gentlemen some coffee or sandwiches?"
"Just coffee," Buck said not wanting to eat.
Ezra poured Buck a cup of coffee and looked towards Chris. When Chris didn't acknowledge him Ezra handed Buck the coffee and poured another one. Ezra took the cup and walked over to Chris.
"Chris," he called and held out the cup.
Chris looked up and blinked. "Thanks Ezra," he said accepting it.
"I will watch Mr. Tanner if you would care to partake of the sandwiches Mrs. Travis has provided."
Chris traded places with Ezra and walked over to the table. He didn't eat anything as he watched the gambler bathe Vin. Chris dreaded what they had to do but knew it had to be done. He sipped the coffee and waited for Josiah. They didn't have to wait long when they heard footsteps on the stairs.
JD said you wanted to see me." Josiah said as he came in.
"Yeah," Chris replied. "I need you to hold Vin. Actually it will probably take all of us. The wolf bit need to be cauterized."
"Good Lord!" Ezra exclaimed wide-eyed. "You can't be serious?"
"Can't get the bleeding to stop," Buck said. "Besides if the wolf was rabid it'll help."
"But Vin's so week," JD protested. "It might kill him."
"He'll die anyway," Chris snarled. "We don't have a choice."
"Maybe we should wait for Nathan," Josiah suggested. "
"We can't," Buck said. "The bloods soaked through the bandages four times already."
"This isn't up for a debate!" Chris yelled.
They all stared at Chris and knew he was right. They just didn't want to be responsible for causing the tracker any more pain. Ezra stood and walked over to Nathan's worktable. He pulled down a bowl and took five bullets out of the loops on his gun belt. He grabbed a pair of pliers and pulled off the end of the bullets and poured the gunpowder into the bowl. Josiah sat on the bed next to Vin and gently lifted him. Vin moaned as he shoulder protested the move. He braced Vin against his chest then wrapped his arms around him. Chris moved next to Vin's side.
"What do you want me to do Chris?" JD asked.
You and Ezra can hold his legs," Chris instructed.
Ezra finished what he was doing. He walked over to Chris and handed him the bowl. Buck grabbed Vin's arm by the elbow and Chris took his wrist. They both kept their hands well away from the wound. Chris poured the gunpowder over the wound and Vin tried to pull his arm away. They could see Vin was regaining consciousness from all the moving.
"Shit!" Buck cursed. "I'm sorry pard." He said as he punched Vin in the jaw."
Vin went limp against Josiah and Chris looked at everyone. Josiah tightened his grip as Ezra lay across Vin's thighs. JD's eyes were huge as he held Vin's ankles. Chris looked at Buck last and he nodded. He struck a match and lit the gunpowder. Vin came awake with a blood-curdling scream as the ignited gunpowder burned his flesh. He struggled in their arms as he tried to get away. Vin threw back his head and cracked Josiah in the mouth. Buck tried to hold his arm steady as Vin suddenly went limp. The last of the gunpowder burned then went out. The smell of burnt flesh was too much for JD and as soon as Vin was unconscious he ran from the room.
"Buck, go check on JD," Chris said. "We'll finish here."
Buck nodded and followed JD out the door. He stood at the top of the steps and heard retching coming from below. Buck descended the stairs to find JD leaning on the side of the building doubled over. He walked up to the Kid and grabbed his gun belt so he wouldn't fall over.
"Thanks Buck," JD said as he stood up.
"Anytime Kid," Buck said holding out his kerchief.
"God Buck the smell," JD said as he wiped his mouth with a shaking hand.
"I know," Buck said in sympathy." But it had to be done."
"Is he?" JD asked but couldn't finish the question.
"No JD he ain't dead," Buck said putting his hand on JD's shoulder. "You OK to go back up?"
They went back up the stairs and entered the clinic. When they entered they saw Josiah sitting by the table holding a cloth to his split lip. Ezra was holding up Vin's arm as Chris was tying off the bandage on his arm. JD looked at Vin and saw he was breathing fast and was deathly pale. Chris looked up and saw the Kid starring at Vin.
"You alright?" he asked.
"I'm fine Chris,' JD answered. "What are we going to do about Vin's shoulder?"
"Well wait for Nathan," Chris said.
"That's probably for the best considering Mr. Jackson is more versed than the rest of us in removing foreign objects from ones anatomy," Ezra agreed.
"Well boys looks like it's going to be a long night," Buck said. "Why don't we take turns watching him while the others get some shut eye."
"I'll take first watch," Chris said.
They all knew better than to argue with Chris. Ezra said he would take the next watch. The others would figure out who went after Ezra over dinner. Buck stayed with Chris while the others went out. JD stopped at the door and looked back at Buck. Buck waved JD and he shut the door.
"Chris it was an accident," Buck said put his hand on Chris's shoulder
"I know," Chris agreed. "But I'm still responsible for him being hurt."
Buck gave Chris's shoulder a squeeze before he went out. Chris sat down next to Vin and leaned his head back against the wall. Chris was a preying man but he said a silent one anyway. He figured the tracker was in His hands now.
Josiah was watching Vin as a new dawn awakened the town. They had forced Chris out only a few hours ago when Josiah had taken over for Buck. Josiah looked down at Vin and sighed. The tracker was pale and his fever hadn't come down. Josiah was worried that Vin no longer sweated. They couldn't get him to drink and he was becoming dehydrated. Josiah decided to try again when he heard footsteps on the stairs. The door opened to reveal a very weary Nathan. When he saw Vin he quickly moved to the bed. Vin lay motionless as Nathan touched his forehead.
"Have you been giving him water?" Nathan asked in concern when he felt how hot Vin was.
"We've tried but we can't get him to swallow it."
"I know a couple of tricks," Nathan said. "Give me a hand."
Nathan instructed Josiah to lift Vin slightly off the bed and hold him. Vin didn't make a sound when his shoulder was jarred and that worried Josiah. Nathan got a glass of water and had Josiah put it to Vin's lips. Josiah did as Nathan said and watched as he placed his hands along side of Vin's jaw. Nathan told him to pour in a small amount. Josiah did and Nathan applied pressure to the pressure points and Vin was forced to swallow. The tracker gagged as few times but they went slowly and got him to drink the whole glass. When they were finished Josiah gentle laid Vin back on the bed. Nathan walked over to his worktable and started to get everything together to remove the bullet. Josiah saw that his hands were shaking from fatigue and got up and stood next to him.
"Nathan, you need to sleep before you try to remove that bullet," Josiah pointed out.
"I can't Josiah," Nathan said turning blood shot eyes towards him. "I've made him suffer long enough."
"You can't, not like this," Josiah said and grabbed his hands.
Nathan looked down and saw they were shaking. He knew Josiah was right but Vin had suffered long enough. If only he was able to get here sooner he would have been able to ease the tracker pain. Nathan looked at Vin.
"You didn't have a choice, Nate," Josiah said. "You made the right decision."
"Did I?" he asked bitterly. "Vin's my friend and I chose to let him suffer."
"You'll only make him suffer more if you try to dig out that bullet they way you are now," Josiah pointed out.
"You're right," Nathan said in defeat.
Josiah helped the healer over to the extra bed. Nathan was asleep as soon as his head hit the pillow. The ex-preacher sat down next to Vin and placed a hand on his good shoulder. Josiah preyed for guidance.
Chris stormed out of the boarding house. He couldn't believe it was noon. How could they let him sleep so long? He needed to be with Vin. Chris stormed across the street and ran up the stairs. He walked in the door to find Buck and JD sitting with Vin. Chris's eyes wandered over to the other bed and saw Nathan sleeping. Buck saw the look in Chris's eyes but he wasn't fast enough to stop him grabbing Nathan out of the bed.
"What the hell do you think you're doing!" Chris demanded. "Vin has a God damned bullet in his shoulder and you're taking a nap?"
"Chris!" Buck yelled. "Let him go. You're being an idiot. Nathan didn't sleep all night and was in no condition to go digging around for that bullet!"
Chris pushed Nathan away from him. He could see Nathan was angry but also feeling as guilty as he felt. Chris knew Buck was right, Nathan didn't deserve this.
"Aw hell Nathan," Chris began. "Next time I get shot you can pull out the bullet without giving me some laudanum."
"I got a better idea," Nathan smiled. "Next time you get shot I'll keep you in bed for a week without and whiskey."
"Now Nathan that's just cruel," Buck said shocked.
Nathan walked over to his worktable and began to gather everything he would need. Chris went over to Vin and pushed the hair off his forehead. He hated to cause the tracker any more pain but the bullet had to come out.
"I'll go get Josiah and Ezra," JD said as he ran out the door.
Nathan poured Carbolic into a bowl and placed the probes and extractor in the bowl. He carried it over to the side of the bed and they waited for JD to get back with the others.
"Chris did you get a good look at the wolf?" Nathan asked.
"Yeah Nathan, it looked healthy but I ain't sure," Chris answered. "We cauterized the wound figuring that would help."
"You done good," Nathan said. "I would have done the same thing."
"Nathan!" Buck cried and pointed at Vin.
Vin's left hand was jerking back and forth. Nathan threw off the covers and they could see his lower legs were doing the same thing.
"Chris, Buck grabs his calves and rub them," Nathan instructed as he took Vin's left arm. "His having muscle spasms."
They did as they were told and rubbed his legs. A short time later the spasms stopped and Vin lay quiet again.
"What caused that Nathan?" Buck asked as he pulled the covers back over Vin's legs.
"Ain't sure," Nathan lied.
Nathan turned away from them and began to take the bandages off Vin's shoulder. Chris knew something was wrong but didn't have time to ask when JD returned with Josiah and Ezra. Nathan gave all of them instructions and they jumped to do them. Chris would hold Vin's upper body while Buck grabbed his hips. JD and Ezra were again assigned the task of holding his legs. Josiah would assist him in removing the bullet. Nathan looked to see if everyone was ready and they all nodded. He placed the probe at the entry point of the wound and pushed it inside. Vin cried out and tried to jerk out of their grasp. Chris held his shoulders down and whispered to Vin that it was all right. Nathan moved the probe around and tried to find the bullet.
"CHRIS!!!!!" Vin screamed.
"Easy Vin," Chris said and looked at Nathan.
"I found it!" Nathan yelled and removed the probe.
Vin tried to throw JD and Ezra off his legs but they held on tighter. Nathan pushed the bullet extractor into the wound and Vin struggled more.
"Get him off me!!!!" Vin cried thinking the wolf was attacking him. "Chris Please!!!!!"
Nathan found the bullet and pulled it out. He handed the instrument to Josiah and poured Carbolic on the wound. Vin screamed and arched his back then went limp. When they felt Vin's body go slack they released him. Chris straightened his head on the pillow while Nathan cleaned the wound. Nathan placed a thick bandage over the wound then wrapped it tight to get the bleeding to stop. Vin was breathing heavily and Nathan could feel his heart racing as he wrapped the wound. He decided to give Vin some Laudanum to take the edge off the pain. Chris gave him a hand and Nathan applied pressure to force him to swallow. There wasn't anything else Nathan could do for him now it was up to Vin.
"Why don't y'all go get something to eat," Nathan suggested. "I'll stay here with Vin."
"I'll stay Nathan," Chris said.
"Chris if I know you, you haven't eaten since you brought him in," Nathan scolded. "Now go on git."
"Come on Chris, You now there's no arguing with Nathan," Buck said.
"Nathan," JD said. "He's gonna be alright ain't he?"
"You know I'll do anything I can JD," Nathan said.
"Well I don't know about the rest of you gentlemen," Ezra began. "But I heard Mrs. Walker was cooking Chicken and Dumplings for lunch and I intended to consume my fair share."
"Not if I get there first you ain't," Buck said and headed for the door.
"Don't worry Nathan, I'll bring you some," Josiah said when he saw the look on Nathan's face.
"Come on, Chris," JD called. "You don't want to miss chicken and dumplings."
Josiah grabbed Chris's arm when he didn't move. Chris looked at Nathan and he nodded. The gunslinger reluctantly followed Josiah out the door. Nathan watched them leave then walked over to his desk and pulled down a medical book Mrs. Travis had given him. He turned to the page he needed and began to read. He wasn't happy with what he read but he had figured as much. He wanted to make sure and decided to try one more test. The sun was shining across Vin's bed and Nathan shifted it so the sun was shinning into his eyes. Nathan pulled up Vin's eyelids and he pulled away and cringed as the sun hit his eyes. The healer pushed the bed out of the sun and sat down with a sigh. How the hell am I going to tell them, Nathan thought. He took Vin's left hand and gave it a squeeze.
"I'm sorry," Nathan said.
Nathan leaned back in the chair holding Vin's hand. He wasn't sure the tracker even knew he was there but it was the least he could do. The news he had to tell the others would hit Chris the hardest and he hoped they would all survive what was inevitable.
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