Part 7

The urgency in the tone of Chris’s voice made the healers heart leap into his throat. Turning his head sharply to look at the two men on the horse next to him, he saw immediately why Chris had called his name so earnestly.

He was holding on to Vin as tightly as he dared, not wanting to cause him any more pain than he was already in. His friend was shivering violently in his arms, groaning at the agony the shaking of his body was inflicting on him.

"Stop! Now!" Nathan ordered the gunslinger, who was looking at him wide eyed and fearful.

Five horses were brought to an abrupt halt.

Jumping from his mount Nathan stepped over to where Chris was still holding on tightly to Vin.


"We need to get ’im off the horse Chris, I gotta get some fluid into ‘im and wrap ’im in more blankets.

Chris nodded that he understood, as Ezra appeared at Nathan’s side.

" Mr Larabee. Would it not be beneficial if we called upon the services of Mr Wilmington."

Chris opened his mouth to protest. But Nathan cut him off.

"Chris. We ain’t got time fer no arguments. Leave it fer now. We need all the help we can get. Unless ya wanna hurt Vin more than ‘e needs ta be."

Chris looked down at the top of Vin’s head. The last thing he wanted was to cause him more suffering. He nodded in reluctant agreement.

Buck was off his horse as soon as he saw Chris motion with his head. Walking around to stand beside Ezra, Nathan barked out instructions.

"Chris keep a hold on ‘im while we slide ‘im down. Ezra, Buck, get either side. I’ll be in front."

Between them, the three men managed to extricate Vin from the horse and onto the ground relatively quickly, but not painlessly. The stricken mans face was etched in pain. He breathed short, sharp breaths through clenched teeth, his eyes squeezed tightly shut.

"Vin? I need ya ta drink some water." Nathan was kneeling at Vin’s side. His face was close to the trackers as he talked quietly and soothingly.

"C…can’t." Vin managed to gasp.

"Yes ya can, Vin."

Vin blinked his eyes open and looked at Chris whose face was hovering above him. "C…can’t. I’ll……throw up."

"Try." The sight of the shivering man made Chris determined to make him well again. He was not taking no for an answer. Taking the canteen from Nathan’s hand he uncapped it and lifted Vin’s damp head. "Drink." He ordered.

Vin tried to give Chris one of his ‘nobody orders me to do anything’ looks, but was too weary. Accepting defeat he opened his mouth letting the canteen be brought to his lips. He managed a few sips before he began shivering violently again.

Pulling the canteen quickly away from the trackers mouth, Chris looked helplessly at Nathan.

"Get all the blankets we got. We gotta wrap ‘im up. Jist hope it don’t make his fever worse. But we gotta keep ‘im warm while he’s out in the air."

The three men scrambled to their feet from where they had been crouching beside Vin, willing him to drink some water. In a flurry of activity, four blankets were rounded up and deposited into Nathan’s lap.

"Okay we jist gotta wrap ‘em tight around ‘im and get ‘im back on the horse. I need ‘im in the clinic fast as we can git there."

"At the speed we’re going, it’s gonna be another three, four hours Nathan."

Chris stared intently at the healer as he said the words, trying to read his face. He needed reassurance right now, and Nathan was not giving any.

"Mr Larabee. We need you seated on your horse before we can settle our sick friend." Ezra had just helped to secure the fourth blanket around Vin and was as eager as Nathan to continue their homeward journey.

"D….don’t….n…need sett…ling." Shivered Vin.

Chris pushed his hat forward and scratched the back of his head. "Vin, why can’t ya be like any other sick person and be asleep or somethin’."

Chris did not wait for the tracker to respond. Getting to his feet he walked over to his horse and climbed into his saddle. "I’m ready. Haul ‘im up."

Even Buck had to smile. He knew his old friend well, and saw that he was as frustrated as hell at the situation. Wanting to take care of Vin and strangle him at the same time. He recognised the look in Chris’s eyes, the gunslinger was trying to detach himself from what was happening, to put on a hard front. It would last about five minutes and he would be back to frowning again. Hell, he was frowning now. Buck turned his attention back to Vin as he heard the healer speaking quietly to the shivering form on the ground.

"We gotta move ya now Vin." Nathan told the tracker, as the three remaining men got into position and prepared to lift him.

"I ain’t…….p..piece o’ furni..ture." Vin rasped.

The men looked at each other and rolled their eyes in unison. With a nod from Nathan they lifted Vin carefully and manoeuvred him until he was once more settled on Chris’s horse.

"Let’s get movin’ boys." Chris did not wait for the others to remount before he moved off. He struggled to keep his face straight as he heard a raspy voice below him.

"Yer’ll never sc…scare Even..wi’ that…face."

He marvelled at how Vin knew what expression he had on his face. Trying to keep the amusement out of his voice he replied.

"Shut up Tanner, or I’ll shoot ya."

+ + + + + + +

The going really was slow, and between having to pull Vin’s horse behind them and needing to stop every now and again for Nathan to check on Vin, the four healthy men were beginning to wonder whether they would ever reach Four Corners.

Ezra and Buck had been talking quietly about nothing, just to while away the time and to try and block out the sound of Vin’s painfilled gasps that he was unable to hold back.

Vin’s pain was now excruciating and there was nothing Nathan could do to ease it. He wanted to kick himself every time he thought about the laudanum bottle that had been broken when he dropped his saddle bag. The healer chewed his bottom lip as his anxiety grew. Every time he looked at Vin he found another bump or bruise. Last time he had glanced over he had seen that the deep gash on Vin’s forehead had started bleeding again, the blood running down the side of the young trackers face. The only comfort he drew from it was the fact that he had cleaned it with carbolic.

"We should have made a travois." Chris’s voice made Nathan bite his lip painfully. The sudden words had startled him as they penetrated the healers deep thoughts.

"Woulda been just as painful for ‘im, Chris."

Chris returned his eyes to the trail in front of him. He had grown more and more anxious as the seemingly never ending journey had continued, feeling every pain filled shudder Vin made where the tracker lay heavily against him. He had been unconscious for a while now, and for the last half hour had been mumbling incoherently.

Arching his back carefully, so he would not disturb his injured friend, he tried to stretch out his taut muscles from where he had been sitting so still in his saddle. He screwed his face into a grimace as he heard and felt the bones clicking in his neck and shoulders. Settling himself once more in his saddle he glanced over at Nathan and saw a small smile on the healer’s face.

"What d’ya find so damn funny?" He asked the man riding beside him.

"I was just thinkin’ what Vin would have ta say ‘bout the noise yer bones were makin’ just now."

A small smile played on Chris’s face as he thought that one over himself.

"Damn, sorry ass Texan." He said, through smiling lips.

The other three men laughed softly, despite the seriousness of their situation.

Hell, Vin could even ease the tension when he was unconscious! Thought Chris as he moved to hold Vin more securely in front of him.

+ + + + + + +

Four Corners had been quiet since the five men had left town. The only disturbance had been when Billy Travis and his best friend had had an argument over some marbles and had ended up rolling in the dirt, fighting. It had made Josiah wonder fleetingly whether it was something being carried along in the wind that was making friends turn against each other.

JD and Josiah were seated on chairs outside the saloon, watching the townspeople going about their daily business. They had been sitting in companionable silence until JD suddenly let out a loud gasp. He sent the chair he had been sitting on crashing to the floor as he clambered to his feet, and Josiah knew that the youth would have fallen flat on his face on the boardwalk if he had not reached out his hand and grabbed the excited lawman’s arm.

"They’re back! It’s them! Look Josiah! And there’s five of them." The young Sheriff yelled excitedly.

Josiah turned his head and looked to where JD was pointing. He could make out five horses but only four of them had riders. Getting slowly to his feet, he kept his eyes trained on the cluster of horses in the distance, his brow furrowed in worry.

He still had a hold on JD’s arm and the grip tightened as the men and horses drew nearer and Josiah could make out a bundled form in the saddle with Chris.

"Dear Lord, in Heaven." He breathed quietly as his heart began to hammer noisily in his broad chest. Finally releasing a still excited JD, the ex-preacher stepped off of the boardwalk, breaking into a run as the riders entered town. JD ran alongside him, the smile vanishing from his face as he too registered what he was seeing.

+ + + + + + +

The town in the distance was a welcome sight to the bone weary men. Their nerves were raw from tensing their muscles every time Vin had given a low moan or cried out in pain.

The tracker had not been conscious for quite a while, but the shivers had not wavered. The other four men had spoken hardly at all as their journey seemed to have turned into a world wide trek, the town seeming to have disappeared into thin air. Dusk was approaching fast as they reached the outskirts of town and they saw JD and Josiah hurrying towards them.

The two men slowed their pace as they met their five friends. They took in the sight of Vin wrapped in blankets on Chris’s horse, and the sombre faces of his four companions.

"Nathan? Is Vin alright?" JD asked the healer as he walked alongside his horse, eyeing the tracker worriedly.

"Need ta get ‘im t’ the clinic JD." Was all the reply he got as the horses and riders continued to make their slow progress through town.

Josiah saw the look on Chris’s face as he passed in front of his horse. The gunslinger looked right through him, straight ahead to the clinic steps, the goal they had been striving for since that morning. The preacher decided he would leave the man alone and placed himself between Ezra and Buck’s horses. Looking up at Buck he noted the bruised face and saw the sorrowful look in the ladies mans eyes. He turned to look at Ezra, who, like the others, had his eyes fixed on their destination, almost willing it to get closer. Josiah sighed heavily. Things had happened out on the trail, there was no mistaking that, and by the looks of it, none of them good. He decided to say nothing, and walked between the horses in silence.

"Here JD, take Vin’s horse." Nathan’s voice broke the silence as the men rode nearer to the clinic. Untying the reins from his saddle he handed them to the sullen faced sheriff. Nodding his head the young man took the reins. "I’ll take him to the livery."

"Wait. JD. You can take all the horses after we reach the clinic." Chris’s words were clipped. His heart was heavy and he needed to pass his passenger into the capable hands of Nathan. His worry had reached new heights since he had started to hear the rattling of Vin’s chest about an hour ago. He could feel the heat radiating from the tracker’s body and he wanted to scream to the heavens and ask for mercy. Surely Vin had been put through enough, it was time to leave him in peace. He tilted his chin upward and raised his eyes to the approach of night, asking the God’s for leniency.

JD and Josiah continued to walk alongside the entourage as they made their way slowly through town. Some of the townspeople watched them pass as the sombre parade reached their destination.

Nathan, Ezra and Buck quickly dismounted and with the help of Josiah they eased Vin from Chris’s horse.

"Josiah, Chris, help me carry ‘im up the stairs." Nathan’s words were quickly obeyed, and they were half way up when the healer turned his head.

"Buck. When you’ve finished wi’ the horses I wanna see ya in the clinic so’s I can clean up that pretty face o’ yours."

Buck nodded as he and JD headed to the livery with five horses in tow.

Ezra stood looking down at his discarded jacket where it had come to rest on the ground. Stooping down he picked it up and began to brush some of the dirt from it. He smiled a sad smile as he realised the futility of the action. The jacket was probably ruined anyway he thought, as he noticed the bloodstained collar and sleeve. The smile faded from his lips as his thoughts returned to his injured friend. Reaching in his pocket he felt for the piece of paper, it was still there. He wasn’t sure what he was supposed to do with it. Would Vin still want it? More to the point, would Vin still be around to want it? He looked up at the closed door of the clinic, and sighing resignedly, made his way slowly up the steps.

+ + + + + + +

The three men carefully placed Vin on the bed in the small room. No sound came from the tracker, not even a cry of pain, and that had Nathan worried.

"Could ya boil some water Josiah, and find me some laudanum." He asked the big man as he began to gently remove the blankets that engulfed his patient. The ex-preacher nodded and began his task.

Once the blankets and the remainder of Vin’s clothing had been removed, Chris and Nathan marvelled at how Vin had been able to walk. He had obviously travelled a little distance after falling down the ravine. Chris and Buck had found him on flat land.

Chris cursed under his breath as he saw Vin’s injuries.

"Here Chris." Nathan placed a bowl of water by the bed and handed the worried leader some cloths. "Dip these in the water, put one on his forehead and bathe his face and chest. We need to get the fever down and clean these wounds properly." The healer realised he had to give his worried friend something to do, or it was likely he would go berserk.

Chris nodded mutely and proceeded to carry out Nathan’s instructions.

Seating himself at the head of the bed Nathan took a closer look at the gash on Vin’s forehead. "That’s gonna need stitchin’" he thought aloud, as he placed his hand on the back of the trackers head.

He blew air out through his mouth. "Well, now I know why he was actin’ so weird out there. He’s got a bump on ‘is head the size o’ Texas."

"Thought ‘e was just drunk." Chris glanced up fleetingly, a momentary twinkle in his troubled eyes as he remembered the little song Vin had performed.

Josiah looked quizzically from one to the other of the two men as he handed Nathan another bandage. He decided not to comment on Vin being drunk and asked instead.

"What happened to Vin? How’d ‘e get hurt?"

Nathan did not look up from his task of cleaning Vin’s head wound as he answered "Don’t know exactly, Josiah. Vin mumbled somethin’ ‘bout fallin’ down a ravine."

"Don’t forget the part ‘bout Buck shootin’ ‘im Nathan." Chris’s voice was hard as he uttered the words.
Josiah said nothing else. Knowing that, for now, enough had been said.

As the three men worked at making Vin more comfortable and tending his many wounds they could hear soft murmurs, indicating that the other peacekeepers were keeping vigil on the veranda on the other side of the clinic doors.

Vin stirred on the bed as Nathan was applying a bandage to the bullet wound on his arm. He hissed in a painfilled breath as he moved.

Laying a gentle hand on his shoulder, Chris paused in his task of dabbing at the tracker’s face. Leaning forward, he spoke quietly into his friend’s ear.

"Easy Vin. It’s alright pard. We’re back in town, in the clinic."

Vin lay with his eyes closed for a few moments trying to collect his muddled thoughts. Slowly peeling open his eyes he winced as the light from the lamp sent shooting stars through his aching head.

Nathan quickly realised what was wrong and moved the light away from the bed.

"Good to see you awake Brother." Josiah’s voice boomed from somewhere to Vin’s left. Darting his eyes from side to side he took in the three men who were paying him too much attention.

He suddenly felt cool air against his skin and, to his horror, realised he was laying there with no clothes on.

"Need……blank…et." He managed to rasp. His mortification at laying there completely naked showed as the red flush in his fevered cheeks turned a shade darker.

Chris and Nathan shared an exasperated but amused look as Nathan reached over for a blanket, and placing it carefully across his embarrassed patients hips, he restored Vin’s dignity.

"I need ya ta drink some laudanum, Vin. It’ll help with the pain." Nathan picked up the bottle Josiah had placed on the table earlier.

"Aw, can’t……I have….. Ez’s whisky …‘gain." Vin answered as he tried to cover up how much he actually hurt.

Chris sighed impatiently.

"No." he said firmly. "Ya can have what Nathan gives ya an’ like it."

Vin slid his eyes over to look at Chris with as disagreeable an expression as he could muster.

"Yer no….fun……ya know that." he murmured just before a spasm of coughing sent razor sharp spears of agony through his body.

Chris closed his eyes, sighed heavily and shook his head.

Josiah moved forward, ready to help ease the coughing if needed. But Vin managed to regain control. Wheezing heavily he gasped, "Gimme the……damn….stuff….then."

Chris left the damp cloth on Vin’s chest and raised the patients head enough to feed him the medicine. Taking a few sips, Vin sighed carefully as Chris lowered him once more onto the pillows.

The men watched as the laudanum began to work and Vin’s eyes drooped, finally closing.

Three deep, relieved sighs filled the room as they resumed their duties.

+ + + + + + +

Finally, after what seemed like hours, Nathan rearranged the blanket laying over Vin’s hips so that it covered the lower half of his body. Sitting back in his chair he blew out a long, slow breath.

An array of bandages covered the trackers fever ridden form. He had a bandage around his head, covering the five stitches that had been needed to close the deep gash on his forehead. His ribs had been bound tightly, to enable the two broken ribs to heal and large bandages covered the wound on his leg and the entry and exit wounds in his arm caused by Buck’s bullet. There were bruises on most of his body and Nathan ran a hand through his short hair and shook his head as he wondered again how Vin had actually managed to get onto his knees with some of these injuries, let alone walk.

Chris and Josiah watched the healer, waiting for him to tell them the news.

"Nathan? Anything ta worry ‘bout?" Chris finally asked, as he continued to try to get Vin’s temperature down.

"Heck, Chris. Where do I start? If the fever don’t get ‘im from that damn chill he won’t leave alone, the wounds could get infected."

Chris looked ready to chew the healer out and Nathan jumped to his own defence.

"I ain’t got no answers. All I c’n do is help with what I know, the rest is up to Vin. All we gotta hope is that he want’s to fight, the way he’s been lately."

Chris looked from Nathan to Josiah.

"He’ll fight." He said with conviction.

+ + + + + + +

Vin was still sleeping, but Nathan knew it would not be long before he stirred again. They had not been able to get much laudanum into him, so it would not keep him restful for long.

As Chris continued to try and reduce the trackers temperature, Nathan left Vin in their leaders capable hands and moved to his cabinet to make some medicinal tea.

"I’ll go and fill the others in." Josiah said walking to the door.

The other two men nodded slightly without looking at him as the preacher stepped out of the clinic.

Squinting his eyes as they adjusted to the dark, he was surprised to see that it was only Buck seated outside on the veranda. JD and Ezra had decided to go and get a quick bite to eat.

Buck looked up at Josiah, wincing as his swollen left eye throbbed at the movement. He searched Josiah’s face, wanting to know the condition of his friend.

"Vin?" he asked simply.

Josiah saw the depth of pain and guilt in the ladies mans eyes. Moving to his side he slid down the wall to sit beside him.

"Nathan’s patched ‘im up. His fevers high, and he’s got a lot of healing to do."

"This is all my fault Josiah."

The preacher heard the catch in Buck’s voice and reached out a comforting hand, placing it on the distraught man’s shoulder.

"Just the way things happened Brother. Don’t blame yerself."

"But I shot him Josiah." Buck said angrily making a fist and slamming it into his leg.

The preacher looked at the distressed man beside him. What did he say to him without knowing what had happened out there? He squeezed Buck’s shoulder in reassurance and support, knowing that there was a sound explanation for the rogues actions.

"I shot him." Buck said again, this time in a whisper, and hung his head in shame.

+ + + + + + +

In the clinic, nothing had changed. Chris was still working on Vin’s fever and Nathan had just finished preparing some medicine, and hoped he would get some into Vin before too long.

Walking back to the bed, he placed a hand on Vin’s hot cheek.

"His fevers not gettin’ any less Chris. Think he’s in fer a rough ride."

Chris raised tired eyes to the healer.

"When we gonna get some good news?"


The quiet raspy voice drew the attention of the two men to the body on the bed. Nathan sighed as he realised Vin was about to have one of his coherent moments.

"Vin. Now you stop talkin’ ya hear." The healer chastised as he reached for a jug of water.

"Hell, i…..only jist……said….one….thing."

"Vin. Be quiet. Do as Nathan tells ya." Vin turned his head slowly at the sound of Chris’s voice.

"Ya look….like….hell…pard."

"Yeah, well, take a look at yerself before ya pass judgement."

"But I’m……sick….what’s yer excuse."

"Alright, s’enough now. Hell, Vin when yer well, we can’t get more ‘n two words from ya." Nathan scolded.

"I’s jist….. economical….. wi’…. time."

Chris snorted at Vin’s response. "Hey, you been spendin’ too much time with Ezra." He wanted to eat his words as he saw the hurt look appear on Vin’s flushed face at the mention of the gamblers name.

Nathan saw it too and decided to take charge of the situation.

"Alright, Vin. I want ya to drink some water, and some laudanum." Before the tracker could utter a protest he looked at Chris and said "And you can go get some food." He was going to tell Chris to rest too but knew he would be fighting a losing battle where that was concerned.

"Ya need it just as bad as me Nate."

"Yeah well, I’ll go when you get back."

Chris was too tired to argue. He passed the damp cloth to Nathan and raised his tired frame from the chair.

"Hey Chris…..’fore ya go….wanna tell ya….somethin."

Chris looked down at the flushed face of his friend. Vin’s eyes were glassy and Chris knew that meant the fever was taking a firm hold of the tracker.

"What pard?" He asked leaning over the bed as Vin motioned him closer.

"Never….break yer……ribs….when ya got….a..hackin’ cough…. pard." Vin chuckled slightly at the look on Chris’s face causing him to cough uncontrollably.

He groaned between coughs, as Chris and Nathan tried to help him get the spasm under control. It took a full two minutes for the onslaught to end, and Vin lay, wheezing and in pain on the bed.

Chris looked angrily down at him.

"One o’ these days I’m gonna shoot ya, Cowboy."

"I know…… I…. Know." Vin rasped as Nathan lifted his sweat soaked head and made him drink some laudanum.

"Go Chris. The sooner ya do, the sooner ya get back." Nathan motioned to the door with his head as he lay Vin back on the pillow.

Chris nodded "Won’t be gone long." He said as he cast a worried look at his friend.

Nathan rolled his eyes. He knew only too well that Chris would not leave his friend for long. These two had a strong bond, they were more like brothers than friends.

"Tell Buck I need to see ‘im now. Gotta take care o’ his face."

Chris’s hand paused on the door handle and he turned back to look at Nathan, his mouth formed into a hard line.

"Don’t start wi’ me Chris. That’s for you an’ Buck ta sort out. But I’m gonna tend to ‘im"

Chris said nothing. He understood. Turning the handle he opened the door, closing it quietly behind him.

Nathan turned back to his patient. He was worried. He saw the same glassy eyed look in Vin’s eyes that Chris had, and knew the fever was going to hit its height soon. He couldn’t understand how Vin was still having coherent moments, but Vin always managed to surprise him. He felt Vin’s cheek again and sure enough it was burning hot. If he got much warmer they would be in trouble.

"That laudanum should work soon." He said quietly to his friend, seeing the pinched look of pain on his face.


Nathan smiled at his charge reassuringly and, stretching his arms in the air he leaned back in his chair as Vin’s heavy eyelids closed over his pained blue eyes.

+ + + + + + +

As Chris closed the door behind him he could make out two silhouettes, when his eyes adjusted to the darkness he realised it was Josiah and Buck.

Glancing at Josiah, Chris then turned hard eyes on Buck.

"Nathan needs ya inside."

Buck jumped to his feet, but instead of going towards the door he stepped towards Chris.

"Need ta talk to ya Chris," he said quietly.

"Got nothin’ ta say." Chris looked down at the wooden floor of the veranda, unable to bring himself to look at Buck.

"Well I have." The ladies man said louder as he reached out and grabbed Chris’s arm as the gunslinger turned to leave.

Chris hissed at the touch and spun around, glaring angrily at the man he used to call his friend.

The two men stood facing each other, saying nothing. Buck’s eyes were filled with anguish and pleading for Chris to hear him out, and Chris’s were sparking green balls of fire.

Josiah watched quietly from the darkness.

Buck felt a sudden anger well up inside him. Still gripping Chris’s arm he pointed to the closed clinic door.

"Don’t ya think I would trade places with Vin if I had the chance?" Buck hissed.

Chris continued to glare, saying nothing.

"If I could go back in time, I’d never have picked up that God damned piece o’ paper, I’d never have gotten drunk, and I’d never have shot Vin." Buck’s voice broke on his last words.

Chris’s glare faltered, as he took in the grief stricken look on the scoundrels face. He gulped but still said nothing.

"Hell." Buck continued, louder now. "If I could see that bullet now, I would run in front of it and take it m’self."

Chris’s face hardened again as the trackers words came back to him. ‘Why did Bucklin shoot me?’

"Too late. Shoulda learnt by now Buck."

"He’s my friend too. I made a mistake, Chris. Somethin’ you never do, right?"

"And Hell, yer such a perfect friend, aintcha?" Chris spat back as his eyes pierced into Buck’s swollen ones.

"Ya shouldn’t be here Buck." Chris added as he spun on his heels, yanking his arm free of Buck’s grip.

Buck strode along the veranda behind Chris and as they neared the stairs he grabbed for the black clad gunslinger as he yelled.

"I’m goin’! But not before we have this out."

Chris turned and once more yanked his arm from Buck’s firm grip. His eyes grew wide as he lost his balance. Flailing his arms out behind him trying to grab hold of something solid, he realised he was at the top of the stairs and there was nothing but air.

His breath caught in his throat as he felt himself fall backwards.

Buck stared in horror as he saw JD and Ezra at the bottom of the steps, starting to make their way up as Chris rolled towards them, his body thudding heavily as he hit each step.

+ + + + + + +

Vin’s fever had hit with a vengeance the moment his eyes had closed. It really had a hold on him now.

Nathan marvelled at the resilience of the slight tracker as he wiped his patients sweat drenched chest with a damp cloth. Anyone else would have been unconscious the whole time the fever was with them. But not Vin. No. He had been in and out of it the whole time. Nathan figured it was because Vin had been out on the trail on his own from an early age, and had probably had nobody to take care of him when he had been sick or injured. So he had more than likely had to take care of himself and so had built up his own defence mechanism. So he tried to joke his way through it and make wise ass conversation with him and Chris.

He just wished the sharpshooter would relax and let go, and let his friends take care of him now.

Didn’t he know that they would watch his back?

Nathan glanced up at the door as he heard raised voices. It sounded as though Chris and Buck were really laying into each other out there. He sighed. There were a lot of fences to be mended between the seven men before things were back on track.

Vin started mumbling incoherently and tossing his head from side to side.

"Aw hell, here we go." Nathan said as he looked at his friend, whose face was contorted in pain and torment.

Vin was trapped inside his head. The memories that had started this whole mess had returned as soon as his eyes had closed. But this time they were joined by new ones. Images of his friends were in there too now. Their faces were floating in front of him, and he was walking towards them, his arm outstretched, ready to shake their hands. But as he reached them they all turned their backs on him.

Vin moaned and thrashed around on the bed.

"Hell and damnation!" Nathan exclaimed as he leaned forward and held Vin’s shoulders.

"Vin, listen ta me." He whispered soothingly to the tracker. "It’s alright. We’s takin’ care o’ ya. Just take it easy."

Vin continued to thrash around violently, and Nathan’s pulse was racing as he tried to calm the tracker. There was a full scale argument going on outside too, and he suddenly wished he was anywhere but in that clinic right now.

Vin’s nightmares were going from bad to worse, and this time he couldn’t escape. He could feel white hot agony in most parts of his body as his mind replayed his memories over and over again, distorting them into a muddle of flashing images. He felt something cool on his chest, and heard a soft voice close to his ear, but however hard he tried, the nightmare always ended with his friends backs to him.

Nathan snapped his head up as the shouting suddenly ceased outside. As he strained his ears he heard faint thudding noises coming from outside and a loud exclamation.

"Damn it! Damn it ta hell." He exclaimed as his heart clenched. He knew something was wrong outside, but he didn’t want to leave Vin.

Darting his eyes from the door to Vin and back again, he cursed and, jumping to his feet, ran out of the clinic.

Just as Nathan left him, Vin began living a new nightmare. He was stumbling in the wilderness, he saw Ezra laughing at him, a piece of paper was in Buck’s hand and then suddenly the paper turned into something else, something shiny and aimed at him. Vin thrashed around on the bed groaning, his heart suddenly clenching tight as he realised the object Buck was aiming at him was a gun

+ + + + + + +

As Nathan ran out of the door, he looked hastily around him. He made out two forms at the top of the steps. Running towards them he pushed a stunned Buck out of the way, and gasped as he saw three tangled bodies at the bottom of the stairs.

Just as Nathan was about to make his way down to the three men, a soul destroying scream emanated from inside the clinic.


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