Nathans feet faltered on the top step. He didnt know whether to go back to Vin or go and see what damage had been done to the three men struggling at the foot of the stairs.
He felt a hand on his shoulder and turned to see Josiah standing beside him.
"Ill see to Vin. You go and check on them." He nodded his head in the direction of the steps.
Nathan smiled at him gratefully. "Thanks Josiah." He said, heading down the stairs, deciding that he wasnt going to ask how this latest catastrophe had happened.
As he approached he was relieved to see that all three bodies were moving.
"Get the hell off o me!" Chris bellowed. He regretted it immediately as a sharp pain sliced through his chest.
He had heard Vins scream. It had cleared the confusion that his mind had been in since landing at the bottom of the steps. He had had a soft landing, which relieved and baffled him at the same time, and was wondering about it when the heart wrenching sound had come from above.
Chris moved a leg to try and free himself from what he now knew was JD. The young sheriff was lying across his legs, looking dazed and confused. A thin stream of blood traced a line down his left cheek.
"Mr Larabee. I wonder if you might find it possible to remove your boot from its present location."
Ezras voice came from Chriss left and he strained his neck to try to look at the southerner.
"Ez. I gotta get outta here. Get me out. Now!" Chris was enraged, and frustrated. He wanted to go and see what was wrong with Vin, but he could hardly move, and when he did, he could feel bruises appearing on top of bruises.
Nathan appeared at that moment and tried to emit a sense of calm.
"Chris, keep still while I help JD offa ya." Nathan reached for JDs arm. "Are ya hurt? Can ya stand JD?" he asked the stunned man.
"Er, think Im alright Nathan. My face stings a bit."
Nathan pulled the young man to his feet and glanced at the cut on his cheek.
"Jist a scratch, JD. But I wanna clean it up and have a better look. Can hardly see a thing out here."
"Mr Larabee. Can I ask you once again to adjust your footing. Those spurs you are wearing are finding some unlikely places."
"Nothin Id like more Ezra." Chris ground out through gritted teeth.
With the weight of JD off of his legs, Chris started to get to his feet. Hissing in his breath, he clutched his chest as a white hot pain shot through it.
"Chris. Easy now, yer hurt." Nathan went to grab Chriss elbow but the impatient gunslinger shrugged him off.
"I dont need tellin Nathan. I can feel it." He said sarcastically as he made to go back up the stairs.
"Let me check first, fore ya go runnin off."
Chris turned a steely gaze on the healer. "I dont know about you, but I heard Vin cry out just now, and I aint gonna stick around here when he needs help."
Before Nathan could respond, Chris turned and ran up the stairs two at a time, still clutching an arm across his body. At the top of the steps he paused and turned his head to look into the shadows. He knew Buck was there, and felt a slight softening towards his old friend. He could almost feel the torment issuing from the silent man. He lowered his eyes for a moment and then continued into the clinic.
Looking back at Ezra, Nathan could see, even in the little light available, that the con man was having trouble focusing. He was still laying on the ground, and was wiggling his fingers in front of him with a frown on his face.
"Mr Jackson, I appear to have grown some extra fingers." He informed the healer, his eyes going cross eyed.
Nathan knelt beside him and saw the glistening blood on the fallen mans forehead. "Ezra, ya took a bump ta the head. Likely ya got a concussion."
"Oh Lordy! Lucky me." Ezra managed to say as Nathan helped him carefully to his feet.
"Lets take it nice n slow, Ezra. You too JD." He cast a look behind him as he held tightly to Ezras arm and steered him up the clinic steps. Wondering where he was going to house all the patients he had suddenly accumulated.
+ + + + + + +
There were three lanterns burning in the clinic as Josiah entered, all sending out an eerie glow. Vin was sitting up in bed, wheezing heavily. His eyes were darting from side to side and his hands gripped the sheets either side of his body.
Josiah strode over to the bed and stopped short as he saw the look on Vins face. He looked lost and afraid, as though he was looking for somewhere to hide. It was obvious to the older man that Vin was not aware of his surroundings. He was not in the clinic. He was lost in some terrible, fever induced nightmare.
Deciding that he didnt want to alarm his sick friend Josiah approached slowly.
"Vin." He said quietly as he sat on the bed.
Vin did not respond. His wild eyes continued to dart around the room and his knuckles were white as his grip tightened on the sheets.
"Vin." Josiah said again, as he reached out a hand ready to put it on the younger mans shoulder.
Vins eyes shot over to stare wide eyed at the ex preacher. Seeing the hand outstretched towards him he began to flail his arms about, trying to slap the hand away, gasping at the pain it was causing him.
"Vin, calm down." Josiah reached out with both hands now and tried to catch Vins hands as they struck out at him in a frenzy.
"Let me through." The voice tinged with pain that came from behind Josiah was an order, not a request.
Before Josiah could move, two hands grabbed the big man and pulled him out of the way.
Chris groaned, and hugged an arm into his side as he moved past the ex preacher and sat on the bed.
Vins hands had returned to gripping the sheets as he sensed that the danger he thought he was in had passed. Chris looked closely at the wheezing tracker. He could see blood oozing through the bandage on Vins arm and cursed as he thought of the further damage his friend could be inflicting on himself.
Ignoring his own pain, Chris reached out his hands and placed them on Vins shoulders.
"Vin. Look at me." Chris said firmly as the tracker once again felt threatened and grabbed at Chriss arms. Two terror filled blue eyes turned to look at the gunslinger. "God Vin, where are you?" Chris asked aloud as he looked into the stormy depths of the eyes that stared back at him.
"Vin, calm down. Yer safe, its me, Chris. Ya remember dontcha? Come on Vin, its me. Please calm down." Chris pleaded softly with the lost man before him. His heart hammered in dread as he began to think that he was never going to get through to him. "Cmon Vin. Its alright, yer safe, cowboy"
Vin could hear a voice. A voice he trusted. It penetrated through the fog that was so thick he couldnt see through it. He remembered seeing a gun pointed at him. Then a fog had fallen over him, surrounding him and engulfing him. He couldnt see through it, he didnt know where he was, he didnt know who he was. He searched frantically for a way through the haze. Hands had come towards him, trying to grab him, all he saw were two hands. They would kill him, they would put a noose around his neck and hang him. He tried to protect himself and the hands disappeared. Now there was the voice, the voice he knew that without a doubt he could trust. He saw something beginning to appear in the fog. A face was becoming visible, a face he recognised. Who was it? He knew him. He knew he did. There was the voice again, the face was slowly gaining a body. Recognition suddenly hit him and he blinked his eyes as the fog slowly dissolved and he found himself looking at his friend.
It was a barely audible croak, but it was music to the gunslingers ears.
He had been talking quietly to Vin, knowing he had to try to pull him back from the hell he was obviously in. Knowing that, if he couldnt get through to him, this fever would claim the life of his friend.
Chriss face broke into a smile as he saw that Vin had indeed come back to the here and now.
"Welcome back, Vin"
"Whered ..i .go?" Vin asked huskily.
"Dunno. If I had, I woulda rode right in there and hauled yer sorry ass out."
Vin blinked his eyes again, and they clouded as he remembered part of his nightmare.
"Chris? Whyd ya turn .yer back..on me?" He croaked.
Chriss brows furrowed at the question. What the hell kind of nightmarish place had Vin been in? He shook his head. "Id never turn my back on ya, Vin."
"I saw ya ..never thought y would not you."
"Vin. I didnt. I swear." Chris squeezed Vins shoulders to try and make him realise he was telling the truth.
"I .saw .ya." Vin wasnt letting go, but his voice faltered.
"No. You were dreaming."
Vin started to doubt himself. Chris sounded so adamant. He wanted to believe him, and it did seem strange as he remembered the blurred image of the six men turning their backs on him.
"Yeah. Now, ya gonna lie down?"
Vin didnt answer, the frown on his face telling Chris that he was mulling over what he had said to him.
Chris stood carefully, and slowly eased Vin back down onto the pillows. The tracker did not resist. He grimaced as he retook a seat on the bed. His chest was throbbing incessantly. He hadnt noticed until now, he had been too concerned about Vin to worry about himself.
Vin looked at the face before him, and frowned. "Ya look ..like hell ..Larabee." he whispered.
"Alright, thats it now."
Nathans voice broke the spell in the room.
The other men had entered the clinic through the open door and had been stopped by Josiahs raised hand. He had seen the change in Vin that had taken place almost immediately after Chris had taken his place on the bed. They had all watched, almost not breathing, willing the tracker to come back to them. They remained by the door as Chris had slowly managed to get the terror filled man to respond to him. There had been an audible sigh of relief as Vin had uttered their leaders name.
Nathan made his way over to the two men and sat on the opposite side of the bed to Chris. Reaching out his hand he felt Vins cheek.
"Think the fevers broke." He said with a sigh. "Need ya ta drink some water Vin." The healer lifted the sweat soaked head from the pillow and placed a cup to his patients lips. Vin drank thirstily from the cup. His eyes stung and they blinked as he looked at Nathan.
"Thanks Nate." He whispered as his head was returned to the pillow. He blinked his eyes a few more times, as his eyelids grew heavy and he fell into an exhausted but restful sleep.
Chris let out a slow breath of relief and winced at the pain it caused him.
Nathan adjusted Vins blanket and stood up.
"Josiah, can ya clean the cut on JDs face. And get Ezra ta lie on the cot in the corner fore he falls over."
Josiah nodded and grabbed Ezras arm as Nathan made his way over to Chris who was still sitting on Vins bed, his arm across his chest.
"Chris, sit in the chair here, I need ya ta take off yer shirt. Think ya got some trouble with yer ribs."
"Think yer right, Nathan." Chris grimaced as he slid from the bed into a chair.
Nathan helped Chris out of his shirt and began probing the gunslingers ribcage.
"Nathan, keep that up, Im gonna slug ya." Chris ground out as he winced in pain.
Nathan looked up and gave Chris the exasperated look he had been using on Vin. "Chris, ya got a coupla cracked ribs, gotta bind em up."
"A matching pair." Ezras voice drifted across the room, and JD could not stifle a giggle as he realised Ezra was referring to Vin and Chris.
"Thats enough Ezra." Nathan chastised as he began to wrap Chriss ribs. "Yer next on m list o patients."
Ezra rolled his eyes and, fingering his jacket, he found a tear in the fabric. "Well, if that just doesnt round off this momentous day. My jacket is well and truly ruined."
+ + + + + + +
The clinic had been quiet for a few hours. Nathan had finished tending the various wounds and had sent JD, Josiah and Buck to get some rest.
Ezra was snoring on the cot, and Chris was dosing in the chair by Vins bed.
Nathan surveyed the room and shaking his head, he laughed under his breath. It was almost comical, he thought, as he looked from one man to the other, all with various bandaged body parts. Did the seven of them have a powerful enemy somewhere? He wondered. Someone who was able to cast spells on them. The amount of catastrophe and misfortune that had befallen them in recent days was ludicrous. There had to be a dark force at work. Didnt there?
He decided hed pondered enough on the subject. He was bone tired and there was only an hour until sun up. Casting his eyes once more around the room to check that all of his patients were resting comfortably, he shifted in his chair, pulled a blanket around himself and closed his eyes, falling asleep almost immediately.
Vin woke suddenly from an uneasy dream. Everything had come back to him at once. All the events that had led to him being in the clinic marched back into his head and reminded him of the reason he had left Four Corners.
Everything had been hazy since his fall down the ravine, but he was now beginning to think clearly again.
He couldnt stay. He had to leave.
He sat up sharply in bed, and the shadows in the dimly lit room began to dance in front of his eyes as his body felt like it was being ripped in two.
He bent forward, trying to get a hold on the pain, but it only made it worse. I have to get out of this bed, he told himself silently as he gasped out agonised breaths.
"Vin. What the hell dya think yer doin?" Chris hissed at the tracker. He had woken instantly as he sensed the movement from the bed.
Vin turned his bowed head to look at the angry face of his friend.
"Need . m . clothes." He gasped.
"Too bad Vin." Chris leaned forward in the chair, resting his elbows on his knees to relieve the pressure on his sore ribs.
"Gimme m .. clothes. Im leavin"
"Oh really?" Chris raised an eyebrow, trying to sound calmer than he felt. He could sense he had a fight on his hands. "And where dya figure on goin?"
Vin turned his eyes away from the glare. His head still bowed. "Tascosa." He said quietly.
Chris squeezed his eyes tightly shut. Oh no, not that he thought. He knew he had to play this out carefully.
Looking back at the hunched form in the bed he said. " Ya wouldnt even get to the edge o town."
"Reckon I can .. look .. after mself." Vin gasped out as his ribs protested fiercely to the continued pressure.
"Sure ya can, Vin." Chris nodded his head and kept a steady gaze on the tracker, who would not look at him. "Ya hatch a plot with Ezra, it backfires. Ya ride outta here when yer sick, fall down a ravine and get shot by one o yer friends. Yep, ya can look after yerself alright pard."
Vin turned his head and looked at Chris with a resentful, hurt look on his face. "That .. dont count." He turned his head away once more and stared at the blanket.
Chris said nothing, he guessed that Vin was mulling things over, and hoped he would see sense. He was disappointed at Vins next words.
"Cant stay .. here."
Chris sighed. "Vin."
The tracker continued to stare at the blanket that covered him.
"What did .. I do ta make em .. hate me?" The voice was filled with hurt as it asked the question.
Chriss heart plummeted into his boots. "Vin. Look at me" He said softly.
The bowed head slowly turned towards him, and two, troubled blue eyes finally
met his gaze.
"Dya trust me?" Chris kept his gaze steady as he quietly asked the question.
Vin scrutinised Chriss face, he knew he didnt have to think about the answer.
He bobbed his head once.
"Why dya wanna leave?"
"Dont wanna stay .where m not wanted." The blue eyes turned away from Chris once more.
"Feelin sorry fer yerself?" Chris saw a fleeting look of anger cross Vins face at his words.
"No." Vin said firmly. "Jest cant do .m ..job " He gritted his teeth as his battered body sent ripples of agony through him. Chris reached out a hand but Vin jerked away. Once the pain had died down he continued. "Cant do m .job if Im not welcome cant work wi people I cant get .along .with."
Chris ran a hand through his hair, and felt his own sore ribs protest at the movement.
"Vin. Ya need ta let Nathan help ya get well. Itll all get straightened out."
Vin could not believe that Chris was not taking him seriously. Did he really think things would be alright? How could he believe that, after everything that had happened?
The expression on his face turned hard as he snapped his head around to look at the gunslinger. He regretted the quick movement as a wave of nausea swept over him. He groaned and closed his eyes.
Chris grabbed his shoulders and tried to ease him back onto the pillows but Vin resisted.
"Let me . go." He said through gritted teeth.
"No. ya said ya trusted me."
Vin opened his eyes and turned his head slowly, until he was looking at his friends face.
"Reckon I do."
"Then lay down."
"I wanna .. leave." He grimaced as a cough threatened to erupt from deep in his throat. He sighed with relief as the feeling passed. "Bsides. Got an itch .needs scratchin."
Chris knew the itch Vin was referring to was the ever present bounty on his head. He shook his head in exasperation. Hed never met anyone who was so eager to get themselves hung. Then again he had never met anybody like Vin Tanner before.
"How bout we talk about it later. Ya need help Vin. Ya know ya do."
Vin tried to think of a way to respond. He knew Chris was right. Hell, hed be lucky to get off the bed, let alone on his horse.
Sighing, he let himself be pushed gently against the pillows.
"Youre not alone anymore Vin. Were yer friends. Im here, we all are."
"Dont reckon thats rightly true, Chris."
"Thought ya trusted me."
Vin rolled his eyes. Was Chris going to keep using that to his advantage now?
"I do, its .. the others. Ezra .. and Buck."
Chris sat quietly for a moment, trying to work out what to say next.
"Vin? Dya wanna tell me what you an Ez were cookin up?"
"Surprised Ez didnt tell ya." Vin replied tiredly.
"Nah. He said it was between you an him, an hed made a promise to keep it quiet."
Vins brows knitted in confusion.
"Ah hell, whats .it matter now .he was jest messin ..wi me ta . get a laugh."
"Thats not true Vin."
"Howd you know .ya dont .. know what .. we was plannin."
Chris could see the pain etched on Vins face and knew he should let him sleep, but he knew the tracker needed to get some things out in the open too, so he answered the question.
"Vin, youve been pretty much out of it the last few days. Ive seen em, all of em. The way theyve been worried bout ya."
Vins eyes scrutinised the shadows on the ceiling as he listened to Chriss words. Had he been wrong? He remembered the scene in the jailhouse and shook his head.
"He jest saw ..another chance to .. have .. a laugh at me, and took .it."
"He was tryin ta help ya Vin."
The man in the bed stayed silent.
"Thought you could judge people better than that, Vin."
"I jest thought Id found .friends .. Chris."
"Ya have Vin. Trust me. If youve never trusted me before, trust me now."
"Dont .know if i .can this time.." Vins voice trailed off as he finally lost the fight to stay awake.
Chris pursed his lips, and closed his eyes. This was not gonna be easy. As he watched the dawn approach through the window he decided that today was the day he would find out what Ezras plan had been to help Vin. He nodded his head, agreeing with himself. Leaning back carefully in the chair he closed his eyes, unaware that Ezra had heard almost every word of their conversation.
+ + + + + + +
Vin opened his eyes and blinked a few times. Daylight was streaming through the clinic window, and he wondered how long he had been sleeping. He sensed someone beside him and turned to see Josiah, sitting in a chair beside the bed, reading.
"Jsiah?" The word came out as a croak, and Vin swallowed and licked his dry lips as the ex preacher looked up from his book and smiled at the tracker.
"Well, Brother. How are ya feeling?"
Josiahs smile widened into a toothy grin. Standing up he reached for a cup of water and helped Vin to drink some of the cool liquid.
"Thanks." Vin whispered. Looking around the room he asked. "Wheres everyone?"
"Ezras still sleepin in the cot over there, took a hard bump to the head."
Vins brows knitted in puzzlement. "What happened?"
Josiah didnt know whether to make up a story, so as not to upset Vin, but decided to tell the truth. "Buck and Chris had a disagreement of sorts outside, Chris lost his footing on the stairs and fell on top of JD and Ezra."
Vins brows creased more as he took in this unbelievable information and he chuckled. "Yer messin .wi me aintcha?"
"Wish I was, Brother."
Vins face grew serious. "Josiah. I dont want Buck and .. Chris to be bad friends cos o me. Cant leave knowin I . spoilt a friendship."
Josiah was shocked at Vins words. "Leave? Ya still plannin on leavin?"
"Cant stay Josiah. Not now. We all need ta be able .ta get along."
Josiah realised Vin was still upset about the incident in the jailhouse. Not to mention the fact that Buck had shot him. He still didnt know how that had happened, but it sure as hell wasnt gonna be easy to keep Vin here.
"Youre friendsll be upset Vin."
"Pfft.Yeah, right." Vin said unbelievingly.
"Vin. When you rode outta here the other day, they all went after ya to straighten things out and bring ya back."
"They did?" Vin suddenly thought about how the others had been out there, on the trail, after he had been injured. It had never occurred to him before that they were actually out looking for him. Chris yes. But not the others.
"Have faith in yer friends, Vin. Theres an explanation for everythin thats happened. Give it some time and thought before ya decide to go."
"They were out there ta help me? But Buck shot me, Josiah."
The big man shook his head. "I dont know what happened there, Vin. But Buck is beside himself over it. I figure it was an accident."
Vin lay in the bed quietly, thinking on Josiahs words. Was it possible that he had jumped to all sorts of conclusions? His mind was slowly becoming clearer, as the fever gradually left his body. Was it possible that these men were still his friends after all? Maybe he should stick around for a few days at least, and try and figure everything out.
Josiah watched the emotions crossing the young trackers face. He was too afraid to even think that he might be getting through to Vin. He suddenly remembered something he had heard a long time ago and decided to share the words with his young friend.
"Friends are angels who lift us to our feet when our wings have trouble remembering how to fly."
The room was silent after Josiahs words floated through the air. Looking at the young man laying in the bed, Josiah was stunned to see a single tear appear in Vins eye. It rolled slowly along his bruised cheekbone before falling silently onto the pillow.
Josiah placed a gentle hand on the top of Vins head. "Stick around for a while, son. Youll see." He whispered.
Vin felt the touch and heard the quiet words. He swallowed and blinked his eyes. "Thanks, Josiah." He croaked.
+ + + + + + +
Ezra lay quietly on the cot in the corner of the room. His head was throbbing and he was no longer feeling very jovial. He had been hearing a lot of conversations while he lay in the clinic, and he had learnt a lot.
He had lost Vins trust, if he ever had it that is. But, yes, Vin must have trusted him, he accepted his help. Ezra smiled wryly. Yes, and look where that had got them all. He couldnt even look after a simple piece of paper. Well, maybe not simple, it meant a lot to Vin. His soul had been poured out onto that paper, the words written there were his inner most thoughts and demons, and Ezra had managed to expose them to all and sundry.
His train of thought was cut off as the clinic door opened and four men entered the small room.
Nathans sharp eyes quickly took stock of the men in the room. He could see Josiah was with Vin and so made his way over to Ezra.
"How ya feelin?" he asked the gambler as he studied his face to see if the dazed look was still present. It wasnt, but there was a sadness in his eyes that told Nathan he had a lot on his mind.
"I am Fine, Mr Jackson. Now if you would kindly let me leave, I can dispose of this pitiful excuse for a jacket and make myself presentable once more."
Nathan placed a restraining hand on the southerners chest as he started to rise from the cot. "Oh no ya dont. Want ya to stay there for a while longer, jest sos I can see how yer actin. Wanna make sure yer back ta normal"
"Will ya be able to tell?" Chris threw over his shoulder as he took a seat beside Vins bed.
Small chuckles bounced around the room at the gunslingers words and Ezra bit back the retort he was about to issue. His head hurt and he just wanted to close his eyes to block out the light in the room.
Chris turned his attention to Vin and found the tracker studying him intently.
"Whats got your attention, pard?" he asked.
"Ya hurt yer ribs?" Vin asked in return, noticing the sling Chris was wearing and the way he was holding his other arm across his middle.
"Yeah, busted em up a bit"
Vin lay quietly for a few seconds before speaking again.
"Well, dont catch yerself a cough." He drawled as his mouth turned up in a lazy grin and his eyes twinkled in mirth.
Chris tried to glare at his friend, but couldnt. It was just so good to see him looking better, and actually seeing some of the mischief back in his eyes had made the weight he had been carrying on his shoulders seem lighter.
"Tanner, one o these days ." He let his voice trail off, leaving the threat hanging in the air.
JD and Buck were standing by the door. As Nathan passed in front of them on his way over to check on Vin, he caught Bucks eye and nodded. The ladies man had asked him earlier if he could talk to Vin and Nathan had told him he would see how Vin was, and see if he was up to it.
Walking over to the bed, he took the seat that Josiah had just vacated. The older man had decided that Vin was in good hands now Chris was with him, and had gone to sit with Ezra.
Vin turned his eyes to look at Nathan and grabbed the blanket as he saw the healer reach for it.
"Nathan." He hissed, "Im nekkid under here, the rooms full o people."
"I gotta check on yer wounds Vin. How m I gonna do that with a blanket over ya."
"Jest lift it up off m legs, leave the mportant bits covered." Vin hissed again, his eyes darting around the room to see who was watching.
Chris chuckled loudly at his friends discomfort and regretted it as his ribs protested painfully.
Vin darted a look at the gunslinger. "Serves ya right .. fer laughin." He grumbled at his friend, as he tried to stifle a cough.
"Alright boys, thats enough." Nathan scolded. He shook his head as he folded the blanket back from Vins legs so he could check on the injuries there.
"Thanks Nate." Vin drawled with a small smile on his face.
Nathan pondered as we worked. It was good to see Vin smiling again. The fever was well and truly on its way out, and Vin was obviously finding it easier to talk. The healer wished he wasnt talking quite so much though, he would wear himself out. He thought about Bucks request earlier and decided that, if Vin was willing to listen, he would let Buck talk to him. Vins eyes still had a melancholy look in them, even though he was joking with Chris, and Nathan had a feeling it was partly to do with Buck.
"Vin." He ventured, getting the trackers attention. "Bucks asked me if he can have a few words with ya."
He watched Vins face as he continued to re-bandage his leg. Maybe this was a mistake he thought as he saw the change in Vin. His breathing quickened and his eyes had a troubled look in them.
"Nathan. No." Chris started to rise out of his chair as he spoke, his face like thunder.
But Vin grabbed his arm and pulled him down again. "Chris. Its alright."
Turning back to Nathan, Vin slowly nodded his head. "Alrighty Nate, let im come."
Chris opened his mouth to protest, but stopped as he felt Vin squeeze his arm where he was still holding onto it.
Nathan looked from one man to the other.
"Go get him Nathan." Vin said quietly and the healer nodded and walked over to Buck who was sitting on Ezras cot.
"Vin, is this a good idea pard?" Chris asked his friend. He was worried that Vin would not be up to a heavy conversation with Buck.
"Its fine, Chris. Your turn ta trust me."
Chris sat back in the chair. He couldnt argue with that. He watched as Buck made his way slowly over to the bed and sat down.
An awkward silence followed as the three men surveyed each other. Chris made it quite plain that he was not going to leave the two of them alone, and Buck could not blame him.
Looking at Vin, who was eyeing him warily, he sighed and decided to come straight to the point.
"Vin. Im sorry I shot ya. I swear I am. I know its no excuse but I was drunk."
The words tumbled out of Bucks mouth, and the anguish in the scoundrels voice startled Vin.
"Salright Buck." He said simply. He was tired of holding a grudge, he just wanted to get over it and move on.
"No, it aint." Buck responded. He decided to start from the beginning.
"When I saw that piece of paper on the floor in the jailhouse I thought it was JDs letter. Ya know the one hes been writin to Casey?"
"I read it aloud to tease im. I didnt know Ezra had dropped it and it was yours, I swear."
"Ezra dropped it?" Vin had not heard any of this before. Was this what Chris had been talking about when he said that it would all get straightened out?
The clinic was deathly still as the other peacekeepers listened to the conversation taking place in front of them.
"Yes Vin." Ezras voice came from the corner of the room. He knew everyone was listening but ignored it. He was just grateful that everything was finally coming out into the open. "It inadvertently fell from my pocket when I used my handkerchief."
The puzzle began to slot together, and Vin felt the heavy weight he had been carrying sliding away.
Buck continued. "Vin. I was beside mself when I realised the sufferin I caused ya. Got drunk and rode out. Saw some dry brush and dead trees, and thought it was you layin injured. But it wasnt and I was angry I hadnt found ya. Then later, I thought I was seein trees and stuff again. I was drunk Vin. Im so sorry, boy."
Buck looked at the still, silent form on the bed. The tracker was staring at the ceiling, and saying nothing.
Vins heart was lighter than it had been for a long time. Buck had shot him accidentally. He could feel everyones eyes on him, but this time he wasnt unnerved by it.
These people were his friends.
A smile twitched at the corners of his mouth.
"Been mistaken fer a lotta things in m time Bucklin, but never been compared t a tree bfore."
Chris had been watching all the time, ready to haul Buck out of the way if he needed to. But when he heard the words Vin had just spoken, all of his hate dissolved and all of his anger was dispelled. Hell, if Vin could forgive Buck, what right did he have not to?
He turned to look at his two friends and saw them grinning at each other.
Bucks eyes danced as he looked down at Vin. He had called him Bucklin, now he knew that he had been forgiven, and it had been so easy. He didnt deserve friends like that he decided. But he wasnt going to let Vin get the last laugh, even if he was sick.
"Always said yer bark was worse than yer bite, boy." His eyes twinkled as he smiled at his own pun.
Vins grin grew wider and Bucks heart sang. That smile he had been waiting to see was almost there, but not quite.
"Well, reckon Ill go and have a visit with Ez now." Buck said as he got up from the chair. He could feel moisture in his eyes and needed to escape to get his emotions under control. He nodded to Chris, who nodded back, and patted Vins arm before walking towards the four men all seated around Ezras cot in silence. They greeted him with pats on the back, and reassuring smiles, letting him know he had done good.
Josiah sat in the corner, looking over at Vin. His heart swelled with the pride he felt for the young tracker. He had handled the situation just right, and Josiah knew he would always be proud to call Vin Tanner his friend.
JD leaned across to whisper in the big mans ear. "Was that the first domino, Josiah?" he asked.
"Yes son, it sure was." Josiah answered, as he tilted his head and winked at the young sheriff.
+ + + + + + +
The clinic seemed to be the place to stay, as no-one made a move to leave. Five of the peacekeepers whispered quietly in one corner of the room while Chris remained with Vin.
He saw the gradual change in his friends face after Buck had left them. He remained awake, but he had a far away look in his eyes, and it was clear there was still something bothering him.
Chris opened his mouth to ask Vin if he was alright, but the words never left his lips as Vins raspy voice met his ears.
"Theyre back, Chris."
"What are, Vin?"
"That what you and Ezra were discussing? Is that whats been troublin ya?"
"Wanna talk about it?"
Chris waited patiently while Vin pondered on the question. He didnt want to push too hard, the tracker had already had an emotional morning.
"Youll laugh at me." Vin said finally.
"Ill never laugh at ya Vin. Ill laugh with ya but never at ya."
A silent look of understanding and respect passed between the two friends.
Vin shifted in the bed, and winced when various parts of his body protested. "Wanna sit up, Im tired o lyin down."
"I dunno Vin, best ask Nathan."
Nathan was beside the bed in a matter of seconds.
"If ya promise ta eat some broth later, Ill let ya sit up fer a while."
Vin screwed up his nose at the thought of having to eat broth, but he weighed up the odds. Nodding he said, "I figure its worth it, iffen I can sit up."
Chris went to stand up but was stopped by a raised hand from Nathan. "You should be in bed too, restin them ribs." He said as he eased Vin forward and piled some pillows behind his back. "There, hows that Vin?" he asked the tracker, who gritted his teeth until the throbbing in his ribs subsided.
"Better Nate, thanks." He said tiredly, resting his head against the pillows.
"Well? Ya gonna tell me the big secret?" Chris persisted with his line of questioning. He had promised himself the night before that he was going to find out Vin and Ezras plan and he was not going to stop now, not when he was so close.
"Ya got a lead ass aintcha Larabee?" Vin drawled. "Stubborn as the day is long."
Chriss mouth formed into a wide grin at the trackers words. "Thats me pard. Now spill."
Vin sighed and closed his eyes. "Ezra?" he called as loudly as his injured body would allow him.
"You called Mr Tanner." The raised southern voice replied.
"Im kinda tired pard. Tell em all bout our plan would ya? Hell, everythin else is public, mighta known this wouldnt stay a secret either."
"If that is your wish Mr Tanner, I will be glad to oblige."
"Ezra, tell us now or Ill throw yer ass in jail."
"Very well, Mr Larabee." Ezra cleared his throat. "Vin was having trouble with some nightmares. There were some things from his past that were causing him some distress. I suggested that he write down on paper the things that bothered him and then put the piece of paper into a stream or river and watch it float away, hopefully taking the memories and nightmares with it. We both agreed it was worth a try."
The clinic had never been so quiet. Everyone was stunned. Ezra had managed to surprise them again.
Chris had watched Vins face as Ezra related the tale. He was troubled, that was obvious, but he also saw relief as everything was finally in the open.
"Why didnt ya tell me about the nightmares, Vin?" Chris asked his friend quietly.
"Dont rightly know, Chris. Fer some reason I figured ya couldnt help me."
"Dont ever figure that again."
Vin looked at his friend, and saw the hurt in his eyes.
"Sorry Chris. Reckon I wasnt thinkin straight fer a while."
"Hell, Vin. When do ya?" The two men grinned.
"And where did you and Ezra hatch this plot?" Chris asked.
"The roof." Vin and Ezra answered in unison.
"Ya got Ez on the roof?" Chris asked incredulously.
"Well, he kinda followed me up there." Vin yawned, pulling his elbows into his sides as even that small movement hurt his body.
"Okay, all out, hes had enough." Nathan ordered as he walked back over to Vins bed. "Josiah can ya help Ezra to his room, I dont need to watch his sorry self anymore."
"Im stayin." Chris said flatly and stared at Nathan, daring him to argue.
But Nathan knew Chris would not leave his friend, and he was grateful. It worked in his favour. He wanted to make sure Chris rested and what better way to watch him than to have him in the clinic.
He nodded as the others all headed for the door. Ezra broke free of Josiahs hold and walked over to Vin.
"Mr Tanner." He stopped and sighed. "Vin. I have something that belongs to you." He reached into the pocket of his tattered jacket and took out the piece of paper he had been guarding. Holding it out to the tracker, he waited for Vin to take it from him. "I am sorry for the suffering this has caused you and hope that giving you this will bring this matter to a satisfactory conclusion."
Vin said nothing as he held the paper in his hand. Staring at it. Ezra turned and walked out of the clinic followed by the other men. The only people who remained with Vin were Nathan and Chris.
Chris saw the shattered expression on Vins face and ran his hand through his hair. When would this all end? he asked himself.
"Kinda lost my way fer a while there didnt I?" Vin asked as he rested back against the pillows.
"Ya back on track now pard?"
"Not quite." Vin fingered the piece of paper he still held firmly in his hand.
"Ive been a stupid cuss aint I Chris?"
"Nah ya havent. No more than the rest of us anyway. Its what youve expected all yer life Vin. Why should ya expect anything else? Ya just gotta learn to trust us."
Vin heard his friends words, but didnt answer. Trusting people wasnt easy, and at that moment he knew that there was only one person he truly did trust and he was sitting by his side. He would have to work on the rest.
"Still wanna leave?" Chris asked the silent tracker.
Vin looked up and tilted his head.
"Reckon I might stick around fer a while."
Chriss face broke into a wide grin. "Glad ta hear it." He said as he reached for a cup of water and helped Vin to drink some.
+ + + + + + +
"So, is that it Brother? Youre going ta leave it like that?"
Josiah was walking alongside Ezra as they made their way to the hotel.
"Its for the best Josiah. I dont want to cause any more trouble. I was trying to help and look what happened."
Josiah stopped walking, making Ezra stop beside him, the two men looked at each other.
"So yer gonna abandon Vin now are ya?" Josiah looked straight into Ezras eyes.
"I wouldnt have thought he would wish to continue with the venture now." Ezras responded.
"Didnt ya see the look on is face when you handed im that paper, Brother?
Ya gotta follow through with this Ezra. You started it, now finish it."
"Maybe he doesnt need to do it anymore." Ezra knew he was clutching at straws. He just wanted to run away and hide. He cursed the day he left the card table in search of Vin as Josiahs eyes continued to bore into his.
"You know that aint true, Brother. He put his trust in you. Are you gonna let him down for real this time?"
Ezra did not answer.
"He needs to know he can trust us Ezra." Josiah persisted.
Ezra stared back at the big man before him. His last words had hit home. He knew that feeling. He wanted these men to trust him, and he was throwing away his chance with Vin. Nodding his head determinedly at Josiah, he spun on his heels and headed back towards the clinic.
Josiah watched the retreating back and hoped that Ezra would make it back to the clinic without falling sideways. He grinned and, looking up at the gathering storm clouds he wondered if this would be the one that would clear the air.
As he started walking he got a mental image of seven dominoes standing tall and strong beside one another. His grin widened.
+ + + + + + +
Ezra reached the door of the clinic and took a deep breath. His head was pounding, but he knew he had to do this now. He would not let Vin down.
Turning the handle he stepped into the clinic.
Three heads turned to look at him as he entered, and he cleared his throat before heading towards them.
As he neared Vins bed he noticed the tracker was still clutching the piece of paper he had handed him earlier.
"Mr Tanner. I would just like to say that if you wish to continue with our plan, I would be very honoured to help you."
Nathan and Chris sat stunned. Bewilderment showing clearly on their faces. Nathan wondered if he had released the gambler from his care too soon.
Vin searched Ezras face. Did he let this start up again? He dearly wanted to rid himself of these nightmares. As his body was healing, his mind was being invaded by the images all over again. If there was even a slim chance that this plan would work he would willingly try it. But could he place his trust in Ezra? What did he have to lose? A voice answered him. It was all out in the open now. There were no more secrets. Everyone knew all there was to know. It frightened him to realise that he had had his soul bared for these men to see.
Vin gave an almost imperceptible nod. "Id like ta give it a try Ez." He said quietly.
"Very well, Mr Tanner. As soon as you are no longer incapacitated we shall make arrangements."
Ezra turned to leave, feeling happier than he had expected to.
"Thanks Ez." The words reached the gambler as he opened the door. He turned around and smiled broadly, his gold tooth glistening in the sunlight before he closed the door behind him.
Chris and Nathan looked at one another and then at Vin, who was smiling.
God, it was good to see him smile.
"Aw, hell." the smile disappeared from Vins face. "Nathan?"
"Yeah Vin, what is it?" The healer made his way over to the tracker and Chris leaned forward in his chair. The two men thought Vin was in trouble.
"I need the privy."
Chris sat back in his chair, relieved and exasperated.
Nathan rolled his eyes. Here comes another argument he thought as he reached for a bowl.
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