Chris wasn't sure if he was more worried because he saw Vin was losing the battle to keep himself conscious or because the young man had admitted he needed Nathan.
"He'll be here in no time, don't you worry Vin."
"I..." Vin swallowed with difficult through a throat that was becoming so dry," ...I know... it's more than a scratch this time, Chris."
"That's not true Vin. I have seen you in worse shape. But what we need to do now is to stop the bleeding, okay?"
"You're in command, cowboy." He turned his head when he heard Mary rip another piece of cloth from her petticoat, and faced the blonde woman. "Please... Mary... no, it's not worth..., you..." and tried to stopped her hand from doing it.
"Shh, Vin, it's okay... It's worth it if they can help you, I'm not a ribbons girl anymore."
Vin showed a little smile, his bright eyes staring at the woman beside him. "Thanks Mrs. Travis."
"Oh my God, Vin, now I'm Mrs. Travis... I should give you a lecture about this, but I'll save it for another day. What do you think?"
Vin nodded lightly.
Mary caressed Vin's face pulling out some wet strands of hair from his forehead. The tracker thanked her with his shy smile.
Chris was pulling the shirt from Vin's body and mentally thanked Mary for all she was doing.
Vin helped him as much as he could to get rid of the bloody shirt. When Chris got Vin's upper body naked Chris sighed deeply.
There were two holes, the one on this side between the ribs, the bullet inside yet and the one on his chest. Chris remembered JD had a wound very similar to this. He had survived and turned out as good as new, but Vin had other injuries to worry about.
Chris lifted Vin's body and saw the exit wound from the shot in his shoulder. He took two of Nathan's bandages and poured whisky on them.
Vin turned his head to meet his friend gaze. "It's going to hurt... but just do it."
Chris slipped his hand under Vin's shoulder and pressed against the exit wound at the same time as he pressed the other wound at the front with his other hand.
Vin's body jerked but the young man didn't let out a cry, his teeth gritted, and muscles tensed. The tension on his body made the side injury begin bleed profusely again.
Mary picked up a cloth and applied pressure to it.
Vin fell unconscious.
+ + + + + + +
JD and Casey had been riding for a while. It was a nice ride. They had been chatting about several issues. Both of them commented about Miss Nettie's new fence that Vin, Chris and JD had erected all around the house. Casey queried JD about whether he was going to invite anyone to the next ball in town, while JD told her about his new ideas for jokes he would play on the guys.
They were riding for a long time when they reached a group of leafy trees with a lot thickets near the riverside. The vegetation was all along it. They tied the horses to some branches well hidden from the people who ride along that path and walked to the back where JD had placed one of the two blankets he carried with him, and both of them sat on it.
"I glad we came today... It's a nice day, isn't it, Cas?
"Yeah it is... I'm glad too... You were so busy lately... It was ages since the last time we went fishing. I've probably forgotten all the tricks you taught me." Casey sounded really annoyed about the issue.
"I promise I'll find more time... You know," JD sat closer to Casey and she looked at him with a sweet smile on her face. "I like to spend my free time with you."
"Me too, JD, me too."
The two of them stared into each other. JD took off his hat, leaned over Casey and kissed her lightly on her lips.
She closed her eyes like JD did, and some seconds later they separated.
JD opened his eyes and found Casey's. She was smiling but trying to hide her smile by bowing her head.
"I'm...I'm sorry maybe I shouldn't have..."
"It's okay, JD... I liked it..."
JD and Casey blushed a little.
"So, can I consider you my girl."
"I thought you considered me that before today."
"Yeah, well, yeah. But I thought I should ask you."
"So, are you courting me? Because you'll have to tell Aunt Nettie, when this becomes serious."
JD was getting more and more embarrassed. He cared about Casey but he wanted everything to go slowly.
"Well. Mm, of course I'll talk to your aunt when this becomes serious, but, I'm..."
Casey stretched her arm and pushed JD's on the chest, laughing at the same time.
"It's okay JD, I was kidding... You don't have to talk to Nettie now... I just wanted to see how you deal with that... You look so funny: "Mm, yeah, yeah, sure... I'll talk to her..." She imitated him, lying on the ground at the end.
JD put his hat on again... and his face showed he was kind of annoyed... "Very funny for you... I'll take my revenge, Casey, you'll see."
Suddenly they were interrupted by a grave voice that came from behind them. Both were startled. They hadn't heard him arrived. They turned their heads slowly.
"Sorry if I interrupted you. I heard someone laughing and I was wondering if that person could help me get the information I need."
JD and Casey looked at the guy suspiciously but didn't say a word. JD just lifted his hand to his holster and looked at his lapel to check that his sheriff star was pinned on the inside so the guy couldn't see it. It was.
"I'm looking for this guy... I'm bounty hunter. I was given information that I could find him around here."
Both of them got their voices lost some place between their throats and their lips, but managed to keep their composure. The wanted poster showed an image of Vin.
The guy was too well dressed to be a bounty hunter. He didn't look like the kind of drunken, dirty man that hadn't done anything else in his life except shoot men in the back to collect the reward money. That was the idea the two young people had in mind even though they knew Vin had been a bounty hunter once.
It had been a long time since they had had to worry about the price on Vin's head but they all knew that sooner or later it would happen again.
JD shook his head and raised his eyes to meet with the stranger's.
"No, I haven't seen him... It's been a long time since the town was visited by gunslingers... Now there are some guys that protect Four Corners, so..."
Casey glanced at JD briefly and nodded her head as the Four Corner's sheriff talked to the man.
"And you, young lady...? Care to take a look... Have you seen him?"
The question had startled Casey... She had silently hoped the man had gained enough with JD's answer. Now she only hoped hers was believable enough.
"No, mister, I'm sorry... I don't go to town that frequently... and he's right, since those peacekeepers were hired, the town is quieter than before."
"It's okay... I didn't hurt to ask. I can feel I'm near to collecting the $500. I got it from a good source that this young man is around here, in this territory." The man let out several raucous guffaws, that seemed out of place from a fellow dressed like that.
The man held the reins of his horse... "I think I'm going to rest for a while before I carry on with my work..." An evil grin grew on his face after this last word. "Don't worry boy... I ain't going to keep spying on the both of you... So you can steal some kisses from that there sweetie."
Casey's face blushed in rage at the man's comment... How dare you, revolting worm?!! She thought. JD could read Casey's mind, reached for her arm and held it to keep her from doing or saying something they would both regret.
JD and Casey remained seated on the floor over the blanket, watching the man going away. JD held Casey's hand tight, reassuring her.
"Casey I have to ride to town to warn Vin... I would die before allowing this guy to take Vin with him... dead or alive..." JD whispered.
"It's too dangerous JD... I know it's the right thing to do but how will you manage to get to town without that guy discovering you have gone... He can kill you and I couldn't bear it..." Casey said in the same tone of voice, bowing her head at the end of the sentence.
JD held Casey's hands in his and looked directly into her eyes. "Listen to me Casey... I'll ride along the river... He can't see me if I go through the trees and the vegetation... I'll be careful not to make any noise and them I'll fly... until I reach Four Corners, but I need to warn them, I need to warn Vin."
JD stood up and began to head to where the horses were tethered. Casey did the same and stopped him, grabbing him by the arm. JD turned his face finding Casey's face just in front of him. He brought his until his lips were on Casey's and they shared a passionate, long kiss.
"You stay on the blanket... cover wood with the other blanket so it looks like I'm asleep, or just tell him if he comes back that I have gone to check for something... Take this." JD held a little gun he had bought last time a gun seller had come to town and he carried just in case in his jacket pocket. He put bullets inside it and handled it to Casey. "If he tries to hurt you, shoot him. I'll be back for you."
Casey just nodded and stood in the same spot while JD ran to where their horses were.
A little while later she saw him galloping away in the direction of Four Corners. She just hoped the bounty hunter didn't arrive in town before JD.
+ + + + + + +
Chris kept applying pressure to Vin's chest wound and back while Mary wrapped a bandage covering them. After that they did the same with the ones on his leg and side. Mary kept pressure on the hip wound while Chris wiped the sweat from Vin's face and neck.
Should I put carbolic on him?... I can't do it... Better wait for Nathan.
Chris just stared at Vin's face hoping the tracker regained consciousness, so he could figure out how well he was doing. Vin's pulse was fast and Chris was sure Vin's temperature was rising already.
He and Mary didn't speak a word. The blonde woman sent looks of concern to Chris whose face didn't show any emotion. He was just serious. In fact he felt so guilty. He could lose the most important person in his current life, just because of what he had done after his family's deaths. It was some kind of twisted fate that followed after him.
Two hours had passed when Vin's lids fluttered open and Chris was surprised by two blue eyes, full of pain, staring at him.
He saw that the Texan was preparing his throat to speak, he turned to Mary who, as if she had read his mind, held out a cup filled with water for Vin.
"Hey, Vin welcome back, want some water?"
Vin nodded lightly. Chris lifted the Texan's head so he could drink the water. After some sips, Vin took back his mouth from the edge of the cup.
"Thanks," he muttered, "I'm sorry," he lowered his eyes so he didn't look at the man in black.
"Hey, Vin easy there... don't try to talk," Chris was surprised by his own tone of voice... it was almost a whisper, but Vin heard him.
"I'm sorry, Chris, I should have been more careful, faster drawing... I... I."
Chris felt a lump on his throat...Why was Vin saying that, it wasn't his fault at all.
"Vin, listen to me... you couldn't do any better than you did already, please stay calm, okay, it's not your fault. If it's anybody's fault then it's mine. He was looking for me. Just hold on there, Nathan will arrive in no time."
+ + + + + + +
As if Chris's promise was heard, Nathan rushed through the door, pulling off his hat and jacket, rolling up his sleeves and washing his hands in a bowl with Josiah coming on his heels.
"Nathan, thank God you came back," Mary began to say, Chris didn't take his sight from Vin who was breathing heavily with exhaustion.
Nathan approached the group's leader. "Please Nathan, help him."
Vin let out a sad chuckle. "I reckon... you're... going to... be...really... mad at me, Nate."
Nathan smiled at him... "Should I be mad at you for something, Vin?"
"I got shot...more than once and... I'm your worst patient, Nate. I..." he couldn't go on. Nathan was unwrapping the bandage in Vin's side and the bloody skin got stuck with the cloth causing Vin to tense and hold his breath for the pain.
"Don't speak, Vin, keep your strength, okay... besides don't claim to be my worst patient, you got serious opponents there."
Vin smiled. His hand looked for Chris's. The gunslinger saw the movement and grasped Vin's with his own. Vin held him tight, but he would bear that pain knowing that Vin's was a lot worse.
Nathan evaluated Vin's injuries. The worst were the ones below the shoulder, with the exit, and the one on Vin's side. He remembered JD had one similar when that Maddy girl shot him in cold blood. That time he wasn't sure if the kid was going to make it and he hadn't any idea about Vin's chances either. The fever was increasing already and he needed to treat the wounds and more important, he needed to take out the bullet in his side. He'd prefer Vin was unconscious while he did that. The best thing was if the tracker was unaware of all the process until he had finished cleaning, pouring carbolic and sewing the wounds.
He looked at Chris. He knew how the fear was working on Chris's mind. He hadn't all the information but he didn't need it. But he knew Chris was going to load everything on his owns shoulders as usual.
Josiah was beside Mary waiting for Nathan's instructions. These kind of situations were a nightmare for all of them. All of them knew that they had to arrive sooner or later, but they were never ready. How could they be prepared to accept the possibility of losing one of them. They were family without the need of telling that to each other. It was something that all of them knew, accepted and praised secretly.
He surprised himself when he realized some prayers were running through his head in a silent prayer. He cared about Vin. All of them did.
Mary was wondering if she was needed. If she could do something to help Nathan she was eager to do it. In fact she would do whatever was necessary to help those men who were the town's peacekeepers and also and more important, her friends. Her eyes traveled from the tall man beside her to the dark healer who was working on Vin's injuries, cleaning the one on his shoulder before applying the carbolic and stitching it. Her gaze moved on and stopped at Chris who was there where he was needed, beside Vin, holding onto his hand so tight and without pulling his eyes away from his best friend's face. She was amazed that the injured man was still conscious. She closed her eyes briefly to say a prayer that the tracker wasn't in a lot of pain and would fall unconscious if that was better for him now.
My damned fault again. Just a moment of distraction and Vin almost dead. I'm not going to give them any more opportunities to tear my family apart. Please Vin, hold on there. Chris realized he was squeezing Vin's hand even tighter, if that was possible. The Texan had loosened his hold but Chris knew that was normal. In fact he was surprised Vin had stayed conscious for so long. Don't let him go, please. He is needed here, you hear me. Don't do that to me again. It wasn't fair then and it isn't now. Damn. You hear me...He had seen Vin hissing in pain and his body becoming more tense when the healer poured the carbolic onto the shoulder wound, but his thoughts kept going along the same path as before.
They were interrupted by Nathan's voice.
"I'm going to stitch this one. I just hope the pain in this one will make him fall unconscious, because I need to take that bullet out as soon as possible."
Chris just nodded.
"Don't... talk... about me... as...as... if I wasn't here... You know,..." he stopped, wetting his lips with his tongue. "You know... I'd like... to be unconscious... before you hurt..., hurt me more as well."
All of the four persons inside the room let out small smiles. How it was possible Vin could hold on was a mystery, and yet he still managed to make light of the situation too.
"Okay Vin, I'm sorry. Let's see. Chris, place yerself behind Vin's head and hold his other shoulder and that arm. Josiah, come here and hold his legs. Mary, come to this side in case I need a cloth or something. You Vin, don't move a lot, if you want some fine needlework on you." Nathan tried to keep just as calm as the injured man, for if he wanted the rest of them to stay calm then he had to follow Vin's example.
While he stitched the entry and exit wounds below Vin's shoulder, the tracker remained more or less conscious. At least Vin had cried out in pain... something that Nathan thought was high time. The usually quiet man had kept himself in that behavior even when he was in pain. Nathan really thought it was better if he expressed the pain in some way and stopped keeping everything inside... It would free some of the tension kept in the tracker's body, would allow him to stop thinking about keep everything in control.
Mary helped Nathan to place folded cloths over the wounds and then assisted while Nathan bandaged Vin's upper torso.
+ + + + + + +
Ezra and Buck were coming into town. The town looked extremely calm, but they knew where most of all the people were, so it was almost normal and yet, something wasn't quite right. They headed to the livery to make certain their only mount got its deserved rest. After that, they walked toward the saloon where they didn't find any of their friends and partners. Without exchanging any words both headed to Nathan's instinctively.
They reached the top of the stairs and Ezra knocked at the door. Josiah opened the door. His face was enough of a sign to know something was wrong for sure.
"What's happened?" Buck asked.
"Vin" the ex preacher muttered, shaking his head lightly, his eyes full of worry. He walked before them and went to the end of the bed to hold Vin in case he moved. Josiah felt he had a special link with the tracker since the time Vin had believed in him so faithfully when he was being accused of murders committed by that Pinkerton agent.
Ezra and Buck took a step into Nathan's room in silence, carefully closing the door behind them and remaining there. They saw the young tracker lying on the bed while Nathan took deep breaths. He was going to do something that required all his concentration. One of his friends' life was in his hands and he didn't like that responsibility. He wanted to help them whenever they needed him but when it got serious he'd rather have gotten more medical knowledge or that the town had a real doctor. This was one of those situations.
Ezra and Buck were shocked when they saw Vin... He looked so pale, his face was covered in sweat that either Chris or Mary wiped off from time to time. Who in hell could have done this? Vin's clothes were soaked in so much blood that they couldn't imagine how Vin was still alive. The faces of Josiah, Chris and Mary, and of course Nathan's, were masks of sorrow and worry.
They could tell Vin was aware of their presence since he turned his head slightly towards the door where the two were standing.
The newly arrived looked at each other and opening the door without making any noise they stepped back outside the clinic.
Ezra grabbed the railing with both of his hands until his knuckles went white.
Buck pulled off his hat and rubbed his forehead with his forearm, his head bowed and his eyes closed.
Neither of them said a word until Buck stepped up beside the Southerner.
"He is going to be alright, isn't it, Ez?" Buck imitated Ezra's position.
"Mr. Tanner is one of the most stubborn individuals I have had the honor to meet and I assure you he will be." Ezra didn't believe in his owns words but knew he had to, at the same time he tried to hold his poker face in place, unfortunately he wasn't sure he was going to succeed at that.
They wanted to believe that what they hoped was true... but at the same time they couldn't stop thinking of the opposite possibility. And neither of them knew what in hell had happened.
Buck didn't feel like visiting Lucy Bell tonight. She would have to wait.
+ + + + + + +
Inside the clinic Vin was in and out of consciousness, but Chris and Nathan could tell that Vin was feeling the pain and they wished it wasn't so great. Everybody in the room was holding their breaths while the healer inserted the bullet probe into the wound in Vin's side. Chris felt Vin's grasp on his hand tighten and saw how Vin turned his head a little to face him, his eyes trying to find Chris. He held Vin's hand ever tighter and touched Vin's hair. When the sharpshooter's eyes found Chris's he realized that the pain and fear in the young man were decreasing as they held each other's gaze.
"Everything's going to be okay, Vin. I'm so sorry you got hurt..." Chris whispered, still touching the younger man's hair with one hand and holding Vin's hand with the other.
"Not... yer... fault." Vin said almost inaudible. Chris leaned in closer, straining to hear the softly spoken words.
"Not... yer... fault... Cowboy... Just... mistake." Vin repeated.
Chris shook his head in denial then he raised his eyes to meet Nathan's as the healer worked with the bullet probe. Nathan was looking for the bullet that had gone deep in Vin's side. Vin began to move and Nathan stopped digging in the tracker's body.
Vin gripped Chris by the front of his shirt and took a breath as deep as he could. "Don't...do anything stupid Larabee... Promise me...You... aren't... going to go... after him... Isn't worth it... Tell... me. Promise... "
Chris's face was so serious, the muscle of his jaw working hard. It wasn't time to have a chat... Vin was already exhausted, but he couldn't lie to his best friend. His heart didn't allow him to and Vin would know it if he did it. He couldn't believe Vin was telling him that it wasn't worth pursuing. Of course it was.
"Can't." Was his sharp answer. Chris closed his eyes. He knew that hurt Vin even more than the wounds in his body, but he had to find that man and make him pay. It was Vin, his best friend whom that stranger had tried to kill. Mistake or not. And it was him who that man wanted. He was going to find him. He knew it wasn't an intelligent idea denying what Vin asked, and absolutely not the most practical right at that moment.
"I'm not going to lie to you Vin. What kind of friend am I if I don't find him to bring him to justice, at that the very least. It needs to be done."
"My friend... would promise me what I ask for. Aren't you going to do that for a dying man? You should do it, Larabee... After all you're going to get 500 for me." Vin's voice had lowered in volume and if Chris had not already known what the Texas was trying to say, he wouldn't have understood him. In fact Nathan, Josiah and Mary couldn't make out Vin's last sentence.
"Stop this now!" Nathan interrupted. "Stop talking Vin, and Chris, promise him. You aren't going to do anything now, you hear me."
Chris raised a defiant brow that silently asked the healer how he dared to tell him what he had to do about Vin and that situation."
"I need to take that bullet out now. I haven't found it yet... He's lost enough blood and strength. I can't tell why he is still conscious... So if we have this going for us, lets take advantage of it and take care of Vin so he can be resting as soon as possible."
Nathan was losing the coolness that distinguished him, and in fact, he would have punched Chris's face and Vin's also. How could these two men be so stubborn?
"Vin. It's okay. I promise to you Chris isn't going to do anything... At least for now. It's that okay with you?"
Vin nodded lightly.
Chris just straightened his back again, his shirt free of Vin's grasp and held Vin's hand again, a thing Vin allowed him to do and gave silent thanks.
Nathan moved his shoulder backward trying to ease away some of the tension he felt in them then he took several deep breaths and began his work again with the bullet probe.
The conversation between the two men seemed to have lasted hours when it had been barely a minute.
Just when the healer dug into the wound, Vin's body jerked up at the same time and the young man let out a cry and then his body went limp. Finally he was totally unconscious.
Chris panicked when he saw the body of his best friend tense in that way especially when his hand didn't feel Vin's tight hold anymore. He raised his face and stared at Nathan whose eyes met the gunslinger's while his hand went to Vin's neck to check for a pulse.
"It's better this way. He won't suffer so much while I pull that bullet out. I just hope to find it soon."
Chris stared Nathan out, then nodded to him and turned to Vin. He pushed aside some wet locks of hair from Vin's sweating forehead then wiped it with a cloth, just as he had done several times before.
"He is going to be fine, isn't he, Nathan?" Chris asked almost in a whisper without taking his eyes away from the injured man. He felt terribly guilty, first for that stranger had come looking for him and then for not promise giving Vin the promise he had asked of him, but he couldn't do. He knew he couldn't keep that promise. Even without realizing it, he began to pray, just a little but with his attention on Vin.
Nathan had stopped digging for the bullet and applying pressure with a bandage on the wound.
"I don't know, Chris." He didn't look at his leader. Just stared at Vin's injuries. In that moment he discovered the wound in Vin's leg had begun to bleed again. In some quick movements he pulled out his belt and tied it to Vin's leg in a place at the top of the wound.
"He has lost some much blood and he has got a fever already... I just don't know. I hope so, but I ain't talking in medical terms, Chris. I ain't being objective."
Chris looked into Nathan's eyes again trying to find the answer he was looking for and needing to hear some reassurance. The ex slave was a good man. Vin was in the best hands he could be. He stretched out his arm and squeezed Nathan's shoulder. He couldn't help wondering if he had done right when he didn't promise to do as Vin wanted.
"I know you are doing you're best... Try to keep him with us." Chris said. Without saying any other word Chris left the room followed by Mary.
Buck and Ezra were just outside the clinic and had to move quickly to give Chris the room he needed as he rushed away. Both men stepped back, staring at their leader's figure and at the blonde journalist who was following him and trying, without success, to get the man in black's attention. Both men got even more worried.
Chris reached the bottom of the stairs and headed to the saloon while Mary kept following him.
"Chris!!" she called out.
Chris stopped dead and turned to face the blonde woman. His jaw was working hard and his eyes went from Mary to the dusty ground.
"I know I can't tell you for sure, Chris, but I believe he's going to be fine. There are too many things here for him to just let go. He knows it."
"I wish you were right, Mary. Sorry, but I need a drink."
Mary nodded briefly her eyes meeting with Chris for a short moment. Then, both of them stared at the ground where it remained some of Vin's blood and the opened package with his clothes. Chris closed his eyes at the sight, while Mary walked there and picked up the clothes. She would take care of them, she said to herself.
The blonde lady, Chris and the two men at the top of the stairs of Nathan's clinic turned their faces when a man came into town riding like the devil.
They soon realized it was JD and watched as he brought his horse to a halt just in front of Chris and Mary.
When they saw it was JD who was coming at this speed, Buck and Ezra rushed down the stairs until they had joined Mary and Chris.
JD stepped in front of them, his hat in one of his hands. He leaned his body and with his hands on his thighs was regulating his breath.
"What is it, kid?" Buck asked impatiently.
"A bounty hunter is coming looking for Vin."
Chris panicked. "What?"
"Casey and I were just at the riverside when a guy came asking us if we had seen the guy in a poster he had, and it was Vin for sure. He told us that he had heard that Vin had been seen for this part of the territory. Where is he? We have to warn him to hide or something... " Adrenaline was running through the youngest member of the group and the sentences came out his mouth without any attempt at a break to take air.
When JD asked where Vin was... Mary's face turned to the clinic's direction, while Chris and Buck and Ezra bowed their heads to look at the floor.
"Vin's at the clinic." Mary said softly.
"What happened?" JD worried at the tone and face the blonde lady had used.
"Some guy came to town and mistook Vin for me and shot him." Chris explained briefly.
Buck and Ezra, who had not known what had happened until this moment, each felt stabs of guilt. If somebody had mistaken Vin for Chris then it was probably because he was wearing the black clothes. This was their fault.
Ezra tried to rack his brain for some solution to the problem.
JD stared at Chris. He didn't want to ask if Vin was dead. Chris read the kid face, and shook his head lightly. JD felt as if a very heavy weight had been lifted from his shoulders, but then the urgency of the situation came to his mind again.
"We didn't have a lot of time... He's going to arrive here any minute."
"Gentlemen, when this individual comes to town... I suggest we direct him to Eagle Bend." Ezra smiled mischievously to Buck hoping the mustached man followed his path of thoughts.
Buck's eyes met the sparkle of Ezra's gold tooth. Suddenly he realized what Ezra was suggesting.
"We met a fellow ridding from this direction like he was running away from something or somebody. At first we were surprised because he looked a hell of a lot like Vin." Buck explained to the rest keeping with Ezra's idea.
"We just have to stay around so there is a greater possibility he inquires of one of us, so we can send the bounty hunter after this individual..."
"Especially as he might be the same man that came looking for Mr. Larabee, and shot Mr. Tanner by mistake." Ezra finished his explanation.
"It would be kind of poetic justice if that bounty hunter killed the man who shot Vin." Mary said aloud what was in the minds of everybody.
"Okay... that's it. If any of you see him, you know what to say. JD, go to Nathan's clinic and explain to him... This man can't see you here... if he discovers you came to warn us... Mary you go to warn Mrs. Potter. Ezra go to the saloon. Buck you go to the hotel. Tell people as quickly as you can and stand out on the boardwalks so he can see you and ask you first."
JD and everybody nodded. In fact he wanted to know how Vin was doing.
Each man headed in a different direction.
Ezra went to his room first as fast as he could to get another pair of pants to replace the ones ruined by the cougar. He wanted to look more presentable. After that he headed to the saloon.
Chris walked towards the post office.
Chris would have liked to go to Nathan's also, but he wanted to make sure that the bounty hunter got out of town chasing the man that almost killed Vin.
+ + + + + + +
JD opened the door very slowly. It was hot inside. Nathan had several lamps lit even though it was daylight, but he understood the healer needed more light to work with. Josiah was with him. The ex preacher was releasing his hold on Vin's shoulder. Nathan had gotten the bullet in his side out and also the one in his hip. He had just finished wrapping those wounds and now he was cleaning and bandaging the scratch on the sharpshooter's arm.
Vin looked so pale and his face glistened with the sweat that covered it.
JD pushed the door closed with the weight of his body and stayed there, at the door. "How's he doing?"
"He's holding his own, but he's lost so much blood and is so exhausted, that I don't know." Nathan said without looking at the kid's face. "He's gotten a fever already."
Josiah, without saying a word, was wetting a cloth and cleaning the younger man's face.
"A bounty hunter is headed this way looking for Vin."
Nathan and Josiah stopped what they were doing and stared at JD.
"That's the only thing that's left. Jesus. He has had enough already."
"Don't worry Nathan. I'm just here to warn you that Ezra and Buck have an idea in mind. On their way into town they saw a rider that could have been the guy that shot Vin, and they thought it was Vin. So they're going to send the bounty hunter after him."
"And do they really think it's going to work?" Josiah spoke for the first time.
JD nodded shyly... He wanted to believe it would.
+ + + + + + +
Mary told Mrs. Potter, Buck warned the hotel owner, Chris had a word with the clerk at the post office, and Ezra spoke to Inez. Chris joined Ezra outside the saloon; the place where it was most likely that the man would stop by.
Chris needed to know if Vin was okay but knew that would have to wait until they solved this 'little' issue. He pulled out a cheroot from his jacket pocket and lit it.
Suddenly he saw a rider coming into town at a trot. Of course you aren't in any hurry.You think you're going to find him easily. I'm afraid you aren't. Let's begin the spectacle.
Chris glanced at Ezra, who had already seen the rider heading for the saloon, where they were standing. The Southerner nodded and placing both hands at the ends of his vest straightened it with a quick pull at both sides. Each one took a place one each side of the saloon entry. Each one leaning on a post.
The man left his horse and walked toward them.
"Afternoon gentlemen." He unfolded a paper he had in his hand and approached Chris.
"Have you seen his guy? Somebody told me I could find him here."
Chris put in place his coldest look. He looked at the wanted poster but didn't face the man. He exhaled the smoke from his cheroot.
"Maybe. Who's looking for him and why?" He asked in a dry tone.
"I'm a bounty hunter. This man killed a farmer."
"I see." He bowed his head slightly. "He looks familiar, though." Chris said.
"And you, sir?" He looked at Ezra. "Have you seen this guy?"
"Maybe." Ezra said. "But if I did. What profit am I going to make out of it?"
"Uh-uh. I see. So, you're a gambler. You'll get to stay alive." He dared to menace, stepping in front of Ezra until his face was millimeters from the Southerner.
"Hey amigo. We don't want any trouble in town." Chris began. "If that's all you want to know, this man just left town this morning. He headed to Eagle Bend."
"How can I be so sure?"
"Take it or leave it. It's the truth."
The man didn't know what to do. With the information he had the only way he could take it was to Eagle Bend.
"Okay, thank you. I'll take a drink before I track him."
The man went into the saloon. Ezra and Chris exchanged looks but didn't move from where they were standing.
Some time later, he came out of the saloon. "Gentlemen. Your beautiful waitress has been most helpful. Of course she has reason for wanting him caught." He smiled at them, walked to his horse, mounted it and headed out of town.
Ezra and Chris looked and smiled at each other then, with identical head movements they glanced back at the saloon doors. They didn't know what Inez had told him but it had worked. They would ask her later.
+ + + + + + +
Mary and Buck had witnessed the entire scene played at the saloon doors between the man, Chris and Ezra.
Mary had walked to Vin's wagon before warning Mrs. Potter and left Vin's clothes there. After warning her, she had picked them up again. She wanted to have them ready again for when he needed them. When she saw the man ride out of town, she smiled at Buck and walked away to her house with the clothes in her arms.
+ + + + + + +
Chris returned to the clinic. He wanted to be beside Vin until his friend awoke but had to wait until he was certain the bounty hunter would not be coming back. Nathan needed to rest, the healer had allowed him to sit next to the tracker.
JD had left a little while ago to find Casey and bring her home. Ezra and Buck had headed to the post office to send a telegraph to Eagle Bend's sheriff to warn him that a killer and a bounty hunter were heading to his town, and ask him to send them news about it.
Josiah had headed to the church to rest for a while also.
Chris stared at Vin's face for a while after wiping the sweat from it. The Texan had a fever and hadn't moved a muscle since Nathan finished treating him. Chris was seated with his elbows on his thighs and his eyes fixed on the wooded floor.
"I'm so sorry Vin. I'm so sorry for all of this. I should be there instead of you. I should have kept my guard up... I... I don't know Vin. I know I should have promised you what you asked for, but I couldn't. I know you and you would have done the same for me. If this had happened to me you'd find the guy. I'm sure. I know I wouldn't like the idea but I know you'd go after him."
"I'd... I'd... do it, cowboy."
Chris raised his head with a quick movement and found two blue eyes dulled with pain fixed on him. He poured water into a glass and helped Vin to drink some, placing a hand at the back of the younger man's head. Vin hissed in pain at the smallest movement. Just talking was taking more effort than he wanted.
"I just... didn't want you to do something while blinded with rage and... without me... backing you up. I didn't want you to blame yourself either. It was a mistake." It was getting even harder to speak, but he needed Chris to hear him.
"I know it, Vin, I know it. But I don't have to like it. Now, shut up, cowboy and rest. You need it."
"Yeah, this boy almost killed me."
"I know, Vin."
Vin could see Chris's face shadowed and Vin sighed in his helplessness. He didn't want his best friend to think about the ifs of the situation, or bring back memories of his lost family. Then Vin discovered real fear in Chris's eyes.
"I ain't going any place yet, cowboy."
"You'd better not." Chris allowed a tiny smile on his face. "I'll be here when you wake up again."
"Don't get offended but, I'm not going to wear black clothes again. They don't look so good on me..."
Chris chuckled. "It's okay, cowboy. I'll keep the black just for me." He pulled the covers in place so Vin was perfectly tucked up in bed.
Vin had been in bed for the last four days. At the beginning he was delirious with the fever and wasn't totally aware of what was happening around him. Then he just slept and ate... Everything hurt so much. Chris had been by his side almost all the time and had told him everything about the bounty hunter. The other members of the group had been with him for short periods of time. Nathan had given orders to keep him quiet but he knew that, with the rest of them around, it was almost impossible.
Vin felt too damn tired and in pain to argue with Nathan or Chris. He also knew he had to thank some people for helping him; Mr. Shepherd, Casey and Inez, but right now that would have to wait. He felt too weak to move out of bed.
Nathan had just given him something to eat and some more laudanum for the pain and now he hadn't anything left to do but sleep. He was reclined on the bed with pillows placed against his back. He really tried not to hiss in pain each time he changed position on the bed, but without success. He had yet to find found a position that didn't hurt.
Suddenly there was a soft knock on the door.
He turned his head slightly and saw Chris coming into the room.
"How are you today?" Chris winced each time he looked at Vin's upper body. The sharpshooter had a bandage that covered his chest and right shoulder, another one around his middle, and a little one on his left forearm. He also knew there were two others under the bed covers.
"I can't move without feeling pain, but it's fine, thinking I could be dead. Nathan gave me something to ease the pain for a while. I just wish I could go outside." Vin sighed.
"You know... I found the wheelchair JD used when he got shot..."
Now it was Vin who winced. He didn't like that idea at all... Everybody would be fussing over him and staring at him. It was bad enough having to answer everybody's 'how-you-doing?' after being in Nathan's clinic for a while.
"No, thanks... I'll leave this place walking by myself." He lounged back on the pillows placed behind him, his brow creasing. He wasn't going to change his mind in this matter, much as he would like to feel the wind and sun upon him.
Chris chuckled. When Vin made up his mind about something he looked like a stubborn child but, in fact, Chris felt sympathy for his friend. He'd rather do whatever Vin asked if it would make the Texan happy. Chris had been too damn near to losing him... and that was a double-edge sword, because Vin could take advantage of this and get his own way. He shook his head trying to get rid of those thoughts, in case Vin could read his mind as he used to do. He was definitely in a good mood again.
"Okay, I imagine so... I received a telegram from the sheriff at Eagle Bend... The bounty hunter killed the guy who shot you and he still believes it is you... I don't think he'll come back looking for revenge when he finds out... And... I have two people who are waiting until you feel stronger to talk to you about something."
"Ez and Buck."
"They should know there isn't anything I have to forgive them about."
Both men were listening outside the clinic door and stepped inside when Chris opened the door.
"Yeah, well Vin... We just wanted you to know that we are sorry about the meal on your clothes... that's what began all of this."
"And although it was Mr. Wilmington's fault I want you to know that I too apologize... I wanted to teach Mr. Wilmington a lesson, and you got caught in the middle, I'm afraid."
In that moment Mary stepped into the room with a pile of folded clothes.
"Morning gentlemen." She greeted. "How are you doing, Vin?"
Vin grabbed the covers with his left hand and pulled them up to cover his chest. He had already blushed.
"Better ma'am, thank you," he managed to say as the scratch on his arm pulled the skin with the movement.
"I have this for you. I'm afraid your clothes got dirty again when you got shot... So I imagined you would like to have them cleaned for when you were ready to go outside again."
"Thank you Mary, that's very nice of you. You shouldn't have... I...I... thank you."
Chris smiled at Vin uneasiness.
"Well, I don't want to interrupt you anymore... I have things to do... It hasn't been any problem, Vin. I assure you," Mary said, smiling sweetly at the Texan and heading to the door again after leaving Vin's clothes on a chair.
"Mary..." Vin called out.
Chris already knew what was coming.
"Have you washed the shirt and pants Ez and Buck stained?"
"Were they with the ones you were carrying? I only took those ones."
Vin shook his head slightly, a smile increasing on his face.
"I'm sorry then... I'll wash them... Don't worry, I don't mind."
"No, it wasn't going to be necessary. Ez and Buck will do it."
Ez and Buck looked at each other with a 'it's-your-fault' look in their eyes.
"I'll bring them to you, boys... They are in my room." Chris said smiling evilly.
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Author's note: No animal had been damaged during this story... All of them were stunt animals... They got really good pay from the author and did their jobs with a lot of safety measures. In fact, they are willing to come back for a following story, if the aforementioned author gives them some parts in it.