Chris let out a deep sigh and frowned. His loyalties were torn between his two friends.
"Why Vin? Why do you say he's lying? I've known Buck a long time, I believe he'd never hurt you--he saved your life. I guess I don't know you as well as I thought. I never thought you'd be so unforgiving...."
"Mr. Larabee, I don't think he can answer you, he appears to be unconscious. You remember Mr. Jackson has said he's not in his right mind; perhaps he doesn't realize what he's saying to Mr. Wilmington? Maybe he isn't really saying what it seems he is?"
"What are you getting at Ezra?"
"I'm merely pointing out that Mr. Tanner has awakened only briefly, never fully coherent at any time. I have to wonder if we're really hearing what he's trying to say. And, if you'd recall, we've not yet heard a full account of the incident."
Nathan walked to the others carrying several pails. Putting them down, he felt Vin's forehead.
"Okay, time enough for this talk later. Right now I'm more concerned with cooling him down some. I want some cool water from the well and some ice. Ezra? Think you can persuade the hotel to part with some ice while Josiah and I go draw some water?"
Ezra nodded his head in agreement, and picking up a pail, headed for the door.
"Chris, you need to keep sponging him while we're gone. Get J.D. to help you," Nathan continued.
Ezra looked at Vin quietly reclined in Chris' arms with a look of concern. He realized that Vin was quiet, but recalled that could change at any time.
"Mr. Jackson, do you think it wise to leave Mr. Larabee alone, with only Mr. Dunne to help? What if he should become violent again?"
Nathan rolled his eyes and tried to hide his exasperation.
"Ezra, he's weak as a baby, he's not gonna hurt no one."
"Mr. Jackson are we talking about a normal baby or a Tanner baby here? I find it amusing you would feel this way when you are one of the few he hasn't injured today."
Chris chuckled and shook his head. He looked up at Ezra from where he was sitting with Vin.
"Go on Ezra, we'll be fine....I'll sit on him if I hafta..."
After the others had left, Chris eased Vin down on to the pillows. He picked up Vin's swollen left arm and gently elevated it on a pillow. Vin let out a soft moan as his arm was touched. Chris picked up a wet cloth and began his attempts to cool Vin off. Vin was quiet as Chris, deep in thought, watched the slow rise and fall of his chest. Chris looked up and noticed that J.D. was still sitting on the floor, staring at Vin.
"J.D. come on over....don't be afraid of him...he'd never hurt you...."
J.D. nodded his head absently and slowly stood up. His vision was blurred by unshed tears.
He wouldn't hurt me....but I hurt him.... Still staring at Vin, he anxiously walked to the bedside and sat down.
"J.D.," Chris started quietly, "why didn't you get help when I asked ya?"
Chris looked up at Chris, speechless, his eyes full of confusion.
"Get help? I...I don't know.....I didn't know...I.. I'm sorry," he stammered as he put his head down. I messed up again. J.D. looked at Vin, he couldn't take his eyes off his injured friend. Silently, he prayed that the events of the last several days never happened. I'm sorry Vin.
J.D. looked up, startled. He didn't realize that Chris had been speaking to him.
"J.D.? What happened out there? Why is Vin is so angry at Buck? Did they have a fight or something? Tell me what happened."
"I....I don't know..." J.D. began, "Maybe he thinks Buck got him back for what he said..."
Chris leaned forward in his seat. His brow was creased as he stared intently at J.D.
"'Got him back?' What would Buck get back at Vin for?"
J.D. continued to stare at Vin with his mouth open. He had begun to breathe rapidly as he felt his heart pounding.
"J.D.! ANSWER ME! What would Buck get back at Vin for?"
J.D. cleared his throat and swallowed. He stammered as he attempted to answer Chris.
"Well, he....he...Vin, he was...was teasin' Buck....about him bein' old and all.....and Buck, he said...he said he'd pay for that.....but Chris, they was just funnin'.... maybe....maybe Vin forgot that..."
Chris was furious. His hands were on his hips as he stalked to the window, trying to control his rage. Son of a bitch! You hurt that boy, I'll kill you myself! J.D. stared at Chris, his mouth open. Chris walked back over and put his face right in J.D.'s as he held J.D.'s upper arms.
"J.D. I want you to tell me exactly what happened out there..."
His tone was so deadly quiet and even that J.D. felt the hairs on the back of his neck rise.
"I...I...can't Chris....it happened so fast...I don't remember.... it was scary...I don't want to think about it anymore...," he sobbed.
Chris shook J.D. roughly and turned J.D.'s head to Vin.
"J.D. LOOK AT HIM! LOOK AT HIM!" he yelled.
Vin grimaced at the loud voice. He softly moaned and began to stir in the bed. Chris pointed to Vin.
"You call yourself his friend! Look at him! If it was you in that bed, he'd do whatever he could to help you!"
He wouldn't have shot me in the first place!
J.D. broke from Chris hold and ran to the door.
"I can't Chris," he cried, "I'm not Vin, I'm not like him at all!"
Chris stared at the door as it slammed shut. What the hell?
Chris barely heard the strangled whisper. As Chris turned around, Vin's ragged breathing intensified. His eyes, unfocused and glazed, were staring at something only he could see. As he struggled to sit up, Chris was easily able to restrain him. Chris sadly noted that Vin's injuries were taking their toll, he was losing his strength. He silently wished that Vin would swing that deadly right fist at him.
"Vin, shhhh, Vin....it's okay.....there's nothin' here that's gonna hurt you," Chris soothed.
"I'm sorry...sorry....my fault...please....no...please don't hurt me.." Vin softly pleaded.
Chris sat on the bed and gently cupped Vin's face in his hands. He regretted it when Vin winced as his hand came in contact with the scratch marks.
"Vin? Come on, look at me, Vin....I'm not gonna let anything hurt ya...."
"Chris?" Vin gasped. "I'm sorry....I'm hurt....gotta help Buck and J.D.....they okay?.....please help me....please....pl...."
Chris shook his head and looked away when he realized that Vin was once again unconscious. Resting his elbows on his knees, he closed his eyes and put his head in his open hands.
+ + + + + + +
Chris jumped as the door flew open and Ezra ran in. Ezra running?
"Mr. Larabee," Ezra paused to catch his breath, "are you alright?"
Ezra stopped when he noticed that Vin was lying quietly on the bed. Chris frowned and started sponging Vin with a cool rag.
"Mr. Larabee, I feared that Mr. Tanner had become violent again when Mr. Dunne literally ran into me. Whatever is wrong with him, did something happen?"
Chris clenched his jaw and pursed his lips as he shook his head. "No, I guess he's just upset, is all. Damn Ezra! I can't figure any of this out! I don't want to believe that Buck would deliberately hurt Vin.....but J.D.'s got me wonderin'......I just don't know..."
Chris stood and walked to the window as he ran a hand through his hair. Turning around, he pointed to Vin. "And Vin? He'd be dead if Buck and J.D. weren't there....I thought I knew him, but he's holding it against Buck that he's shot. He can't see that they saved his life." Chris hung his head and sighed.
"Mr. Larabee, as I pointed out earlier, perhaps all things are not as they appear. You haven't had a chance to think it all through, you're right, things don't add up."
Ezra walked to the window and stood behind Chris.
"I agree with you, Mr. Wilmington would never harm our young friend. It was an unfortunate accident, but if you put the bits and pieces you know about it together, it doesn't make sense--at least not what I've heard."
Chris turned to face Ezra; his brow creased as he squinted at him.
"What do you mean?"
"Mr. Larabee, I make it my business to be observant of people, what one says and what one does are often two different things."
"Mr. Larabee, there were three men there. I will acknowledge that at this moment,
Mr. Tanner's view needs to be scrutinized with an eye to the fact that he's delirious. But in spite of that, he's the only one behaving the way I would expect. He's concerned for the welfare of the others, he thinks he let them down. He says no only when Buck says he shot him...is he saying he isn't shot? or that Buck didn't shoot? And Mr. Dunne? Well he saved the day, so why isn't he puffed out with pride? I know it was a traumatic event, but he's carrying on like he was the one injured instead of the one who stopped a tragedy.I find it hard to believe that a gunman as seasoned as Mr. Wilmington missed at such a close range, especially at such a crucial time."
Chris' face relaxed slightly as Ezra's words started to register. He looked at Vin and then back at Ezra. No...
Ezra shrugged,"Just some observations."
With one hand on his hips and the other tiredly trying to work a kink out of his neck, Chris started to pace. Why would Buck take the blame? It was an accident Vin was shot, but from which gun? Chris stopped and glared at Ezra.
"Damn it Ezra! Everyone's upset, no one's making sense! Say what you know!"
Ezra calmly raised one eyebrow. "No, Mr. Larabee, if you think, you'll realize you already know." Chris was about to respond when Nathan and Josiah returned and the conversation forgotten.
"Nathan, you gotta help him...he's getting worse..."
Nathan was saddened to hear the defeated tone in Chris' voice. He looked at Chris and slowly nodded his head. "I will Chris, don't you give up on him yet...."
Chris' shoulders slumped as he sat back down next to Vin.
"Josiah, Ezra, let's get that tub filled with water," Nathan directed.
Chris turned and looked at Nathan, puzzled. Nathan understood the confusion.
"We went to the bath house and got one of the tubs. We'll fill it with the water and ice and put Vin in it."
Chris looked down at Vin and then back at Nathan.
"Nathan, that water will be ice cold! Do we have to do that to him?"
Nathan looked Chris directly in the eye.
"I don't know what to do Chris. Can't cool him any other way...he's getting weaker....shock of the cold may kill him, but that fever will kill him either way..."
Chris stared at Nathan, mouth open, speechless.
"Uh...alright, got no choice."
"Mr. Jackson, the tub is ready."
Chris bent to lift Vin up, but was stopped by Nathan.
"Hold on Chris, let Josiah do it, he can lift him easier without hurting him."
Chris' shoulders slumped when he heard the pitiful moan as Josiah picked Vin up.
"S'okay Vin, I've gotcha," Josiah murmured as he carried Vin to the tub where Nathan was waiting.
"Okay, easy now, nice and easy, just lower him into the water...I'll hold that arm out."
Vin's eyes were closed until he touched the water. As soon as he was completely in the tub, his eyes flew open, he sharply inhaled, and held his breath. Nathan gently tapped Vin's cheek.
"Come on, Vin....come on, breathe..."
Vin gasped and started panting. "C...C....cold," he chattered. "P..P..Ple...please Ch...Chris...help me....c....c....cold," he shuddered. Josiah had to look away as he held Vin up, it hurt to see Vin suffer this way. Forgive me, Vin.
Chris turned and looked out the window, it was night already. His heart broke as he listened to Vin's anguished pleas. I promised him nothing would hurt him.
+ + + + + + +
When Vin was finally dried and settled in bed, Nathan felt his forehead and smiled.
"He's definitely cooler, still has a fever...but cooler."
"So, Mr. Jackson, are you saying he'll be alright?"
"No Ezra, still has a fever, it's not broken yet, but he's cooler, he'll at least be more comfortable tonight. Now, why don't you go get some rest? You too, Josiah. I'll let you know if I need help."
As the door closed, Nathan turned and looked at Chris, sitting silently, holding Vin's limp hand.
"I know, you want to stay a bit. I figured as much...if you're gonna insist on sitting there, mind if I stretch out for a little sleep?"
Chris smiled as he shook his head.
Needing to change position, Chris slid from the chair to the floor. As he watched the slow rise and fall of Vin's chest, he thought about the turn his life had taken since they met. I'd have prob'ly gotten myself killed by now.... The day's events were starting to catch up with him as Chris put his head down on the bed. Finding it impossible to resist any longer, his eyes slowly shut and he drifted to a dreamless sleep.
+ + + + + + +
Chris felt something touching his head. He moved his head, but the poking continued. He wasn't quite awake and missed the hoarse whisper. "Chris?" He swatted at whatever was poking at his head and jumped up when he heard the startled hiss followed by a low moan.
When he realized that Vin was awake, a wide grin spread across his face.
"Hey pard, what finally woke you up?"
In the dim lamplight, he did not see that Vin's eyes were still glazed.
Chris looked around the room and frowned. The only sound was Nathan's soft snoring.
"Laughing? Who's laughing, Vin?"
"Momma," Vin sighed as he smiled and closed his eyes again.
"Vin, no..."Chris pleaded.
Vin you gave me your word, you said you'd keep fighting.......
"Damn it Vin! You gave your word!"
Chris stood, grabbed the chair beside the bed, and turned it over. As he stalked across the room, he kicked the chair out of the way. When he reached the wall, he clenched his fists, raised his arms and slammed the wall.
"Chris! Calm down!" Nathan yelled, to be heard.
"I don't want to CALM DOWN....I'm mad as hell and I've HAD IT!,"
"And tearing up my room is gonna make you feel better?"
Chris' glare was met by Nathan's. Both men were angry and frustrated, neither one was willing to lose this fight.
"What is it Chris? You mad 'cause he's hurt or 'cause you can't control this like you do everything else?"
Chris didn't answer as he pushed past him to walk to the window. When he turned around again, Nathan could see the fury blazing in his eyes.
"Stayed too long in this town...What do I care?...... Everyone dies anyway....."
Nathan put his hand on Chris's arm.
"Chris, you're overtired, you've been here all day...."
Chris shook Nathan's hand off and walked away.
"No...What do I care? He's just some friggin' kid with a bounty on his head....he's gonna die anyway, he wants to do it now, let him......"
"You don't mean that," Nathan quietly stated.
Shaking his head, Chris turned away. "Time I moved on anyhow."
Nathan had heard enough, now he was angry. He grabbed Chris by the shoulder and turned him around.
"Damn it Chris, admit you care about that boy.....admit he's made a difference.....admit you're scared....."
Nathan stumbled backwards as Chris pushed him away. Turning away, he shook his head and quietly insisted, "NO."
Chris' outburst had awakened not only Nathan, but Vin also. They did not notice that he was awake until they heard the labored breathing. Vin was sitting up with his back against the wall, and his knees pulled up.
"Vin........" Chris started towards the bed.
Vin's eyes opened wider as he shook his head " no" and vainly attempted to back away.
"No," he gasped.
Chris looked down, his heart sank when he saw that Vin had made a fist and was slowly starting to lift his arm. Pure terror was evident on his face. Never taking his eyes off Chris, he became increasingly agitated.
"Vin.....come on...look at me... it's me, Chris....you're safe ......everything's gonna be okay....."
Vin licked his parched lips and continued to shake his head.
"Chris, back off, you're scaring him...."
"NO, I'm NOT....He knows ME.....He KNOWS I'd NEVER hurt HIM!
"Does he?" Nathan answered quietly. "After seeing and hearing this, does he?"
Chris closed his eyes and slowly swallowed. Closing his eyes, he rubbed his neck. Shit!
Nathan sat on the bed and placed his hands on Vin's shoulders.
Vin's face relaxed and his breathing eased as he recognized Nathan's voice.
"Nathan?" he whispered.
Nathan smiled, "Yeah, it's me....."
"Nathan, I don't feel good," he hoarsely whispered. The pain and fatigue were evident. Smiling, Chris moved closer, in front of Vin.
"Hey, Vin, how ya doin' there?" he asked softly.
Nathan saw the immediate return of panic to Vin's eyes. He turned to Chris.
"Chris, get away, you're scaring him...."
"Nathan," Chris pleaded.
"Chris, just go for a little bit, he's still delirious, let me try to get him settled," Nathan ordered. "Your little tantrum scared the hell out of him."
Chris slowly backed up to the door. "Uh, okay, I'll be back, I guess." He never took his eyes off Vin as he softly shut the door. Oh, God Vin, I'm sorry, I didn't mean any of it....
Nathan directed his attention to Vin. "Okay, come on now, let's get you settled. Want a little water?....Yes?.....here ya go.....just sip it....that's a boy.....drink it all.....okay now.....how about you lie down there?.....there you go......here, let me put this pillow under your arm.....good....good...."
Vin was exhausted and followed Nathan's directions.
"Are you hot?...How about I sponge you off some, okay?......Here ya go....let's unbutton that shirt some.....okay now, it's gonna be cold....."
Vin silently watched Nathan and listened to him calmly. He didn't understand half of what Nathan was saying, but his breathing slowed and his body relaxed.
"Go on, close your eyes....get some rest....you've had a long day...."
As Vin slowly closed his eyes, Nathan let out a long sigh. Come on Vin, you have to beat this and get well.... Nathan dimmed the lamps when Vin had fallen asleep. Setting the chair back upright, Nathan sat down and settled in for the night by Vin's side.
When J.D. ran from the clinic, he had no idea where he was going. All he knew was that he wasn't like Vin, not like him at all. Vin wouldn't have shot J.D., and Vin wouldn't let Buck think he was responsible. As he reached the bottom of the stairs, he ran into Ezra. He heard Ezra call out to him, but couldn't stop. He couldn't let Ezra see how upset he was. The Southerner was too perceptive, he would know what was wrong. J.D. didn't know what to do, where to go. He knew how Chris felt about Vin, he couldn't face Chris, Chris would probably want to kill him. He couldn't face Buck right now either. He didn't want to have to see the sad disappointment in Buck's eyes when he learned that J.D. messed up, again.
He ran until he reached the livery. As he walked into the cool darkness, he looked around; except for a few horses, it was empty. Seeing Vin's horse, he walked over and buried his face in the animal's neck as he stroked it. I'm sorry Vin, I'm sorry. Taking a brush, he started to gently brush the animal. He knew that Vin took better care of this horse than some people did their own children. The least he could do for Vin was take care of his horse. He sensed that the animal was nervous, knew that he wasn't Vin. He tried to talk soothingly to him, to tell him that Vin would be back soon. He smiled at the memory of Buck's face the first time he saw Vin whistle and the horse came. He knew that Vin always had some sort of treat in his saddle bags for the horse. Reaching in, he felt around, his hand stopped when he felt the cold metal. Swallowing the lump in his throat, he withdrew the battered, old harmonica. He wiped his eyes with his hand as he looked at it in his hand. Laughing to himself, he remembered that Vin played with it just because he liked the sound. No song ever came out of it, ever. The funny thing was, as soon as Vin learned how much it irritated Chris, he played it even more. He'd pull it out, look at J.D. with a grin, wink and start blowing. He'd play with that thing until Chris looked like he was going to burst something, then he'd calmly put it away. Vin was his friend, for the first time in his life, J.D. felt like he had a friend his own age. Vin never made him feel like a nuisance, or dumb. Vin was his friend, but he wouldn't want to be now.
Still holding the harmonica in his hand, he lay on the floor of the stall. He was just tired, he didn't want to sleep, didn't want the nightmares of the previous night to return. I'm sorry Vin, I'm sorry. He recalled his first day in the town. He still was shocked that Chris and Vin stood up to all those cowboys, alone. Chris told him that first day not to shoot a man in the back, it wasn't right. I shot Vin in the back. Sighing deeply, he closed his eyes. Soon, he lost his battle against sleep.
J.D. was dreaming. He was dreaming about when they all returned from the Seminole village. He thought he was so smart, being the sheriff. His mind replayed when Vin came to his aid in front of the jail. J.D. knew that the townspeople only backed down because of Vin, and the whole time Vin acted like J.D. was in charge. The whole James trial was a mess. After the judge got shot, Chris told him to go get Nathan. "J.D. get down!"......."J.D. get down!"....."J.D. get down!" J.D. awoke with a jolt and sat bolt upright, Vin's voice still echoing in his mind. "J.D. get down!" J.D. was hyperventilating as he shakily got to his feet. Vin didn't shoot me, but I shot him! Looking outside, he saw that it was now dark, the lamps were on at Nathan's clinic. Still holding the harmonica in his hand, he left the livery and started walking, to where, he didn't know.
When he was in front of the church, he looked up and saw the dim lamplight in the window. Climbing the steps, he tentatively opened the door and peered inside. His mouth dropped open in shock.
"Oh......, " he exclaimed.
"J.D.? Come on in, son, " Josiah's deep voice called.
"Josiah, what happened?" J.D. was shocked by the condition of the church. Josiah shook his head and rubbed a tired hand across his forehead. "Well, I got a little involved in prayer this morning......"
"Oh?" J.D. couldn't stop looking around in disbelief. Josiah put his arm on J.D.'s shoulders and led him to one of the remaining pews. He said nothing, he knew J.D. was troubled. He patiently waited for J.D. to lead the conversation. J.D. looked down at his hands and sighed.
"Josiah, I need to go to confession."
"No, Josiah, I NEED to go to confession, " J.D. interrupted.
Josiah cleared his throat and nodded. Sitting up straight, he placed his folded hands in his lap and looked straight ahead.
"Father, forgive me," J.D. nervously began, "it's been six months since my last confession...." Josiah raised his eyebrows as he turned his head to look at J.D. "uhh, more or less...., " J.D. continued. "This is my sin.....I..." J.D. cleared his throat and licked his lips. "I...I shot Vin..." J.D. stammered. Josiah turned and put his arm on the back of the pew behind J.D. That explains Vin's behavior with Buck The tears that J.D. had been struggling to hold in spilled forth. "Oh, God...I shot him....I didn't mean to....I really didn't.....I'm sorry." J.D. shuddered and took in a deep breath. After a few moments, he was able to continue. "I am sorry for this sin and all the sins of my life. I ask forgiveness of God, in penance from you Father..." J.D. sat expectantly, waiting for Josiah to speak. Finally, he turned to Josiah, "Josiah, you're supposed to give me absolution, now, " he whispered.
"Oh, yeah, yeah, uhm..., " Josiah's brow creased and he licked his lips. "You're right.... say, oh say two thousand Our Father's, three hundred Hail Mary's and make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land."
J.D. couldn't help it, he burst out laughing. He wiped his sleeve across his nose and shook his head. "Two thousand Our Father's?" he chuckled. Josiah leaned forward and rested his elbows on his knees. "Well now, J.D. I haven't done this in some time....but I do know the forgiveness you need doesn't come from me." He stopped and looked at J.D. "God has already forgiven you, it was an unfortunate accident. Nothing I can say will make you feel any better. You know what you have to do."
"But Josiah, he'll hate me...."
"Maybe, but I don't think so. If he does, you'll be able to live with yourself, knowing you were honest. That's the most important thing, it's the right thing to do."
J.D. nodded his head absently. He started to rise, "I gotta go talk to Vin."
Josiah put his hand out to stop him. "No, that can wait. It's late, it can wait 'til morning. Now you need to sleep."
As Josiah extinguished the lamp, he silently prayed.
Lord, for the sake of us all, give Vin the strength to be forgiving.....
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