JD hated seeing Vin this way. And, if he hated Vin being like this, how bad must it be making Vin feel? Vin was almost never indoors and JD couldn't remember ever seeing him lying in a bed before. And now because of him, it was all Vin could do.
It was the thought of how badly Vin must be feeling that gave JD the courage to cross the room on shaking legs and sit down in the chair Chris had abandoned. He set the plate down on the small table by the bed and tried to find something to say.
"H - Hey, Vin," JD's voice trembled. Nice JD, you can't hardly find anything to say to him.
Shit kid, don't feel so bad, Vin wanted to say in his raspy drawl, weren't your fault. But all he could do was lie there with his tormented blue eyes staring at the boy.
"I been takin' care of Peso for you." JD's voice carried a little of the desperation he was feeling. Well, you said 'hey' and you're taking care of his horse. Next, you'll be telling him, it's nice weather we're having. And to his horror, the words were out of his mouth in his next breath. "Real nice weather we're having."
Vin would have laughed at the war the kid was waging with himself, if he could have. He could almost see the JD's mind working. He'd make some kind of small talk and then he'd kick himself for saying something so dumb. JD had a gift for lifting the spirits of those around him, even when his own spirits were low. For an instant, the tracker forgot that he was as helpless as a baby as he wondered which foot the kid would put in his mouth next.
"JD, what're you doin' in here?" Nathan demanded, as his eyes swept the small clinic. "How come Chris left?"
"Chris told me to take care of him," JD informed the healer in a small voice.
"He did?" Nathan said thoughtfully.
"Yeah, told me Vin needed taking care of and since I was the one who did this to him, I should be the one to do it," JD said miserably.
Nathan knew how angry Chris was, hell, they were all angry, but enough was enough. JD hating himself wasn't going to help Vin. Chris would realize it eventually, but until he did, it would be up to the rest of them to make sure the kid didn't give in to the guilt.
"Son," he said kindly and put a gentle hand on the boy's shoulder. "What happened to Vin was a tragedy, but we ain't got time right now to be blamin' anyone. It was an accident, a real bad accident, but you never meant for Vin to get hurt. Guilt ain't gonna help 'im right now. Only thing that's gonna help Vin is for us to work together to try and help him get well."
Nathan berated himself silently, all the while keeping that gentle hand on the boy. GETS WELL! You don't even know why he's the way he is and you're talkin' about getting him well.
JD studied Nathan's warm brown eyes and kind face, for a long moment and then it seemed to the healer, that before his very eyes, he could see the boy mustering the resolve of a man.
Standing up straight, JD met Nathan's eyes head on and with dignity and strength said, "Tell me how to take care of him. Tell me what I have to do."
+ + + + + + +
Vin could have hugged Nathan for not making things even worse for JD, even though it pained him to see the kid accepting responsibility for somethng that wasn't his fault.
Nathan nodded to JD. "Okay, let's get started then."
Vin followed JD and Nathan with his eyes as they moved around the clinic, gathering a basin, soap, towels. He'd already had a bath, so he knew Nathan was going to get him to relieve himself. No, Nathan, not that, his mind screamed. The humiliation was almost physically painful. He knew it was necessary, but having someone touch him so intimately was almost worse than any pain he'd endured at the healer's hands.
"I know you hate this Vin," Nathan said when he saw the look in his eyes. "But it has to be done."
"How do you know he hates it?" JD asked confused.
"If you watch his eyes you can tell," Nathan explained. "You can see different emotions. I just wish he could tell us more."
JD sat down next to Vin and looked into his eyes. Nathan was right, Vin looked angry and maybe a little scared, too. JD got a sick feeling in his stomach. He knows what's going on... he knows everything and he can't do anything.
"Vin can you try something for me?" JD asked. "I want you to blink once for yes and twice for no. Do you understand?"
About damn time someone figured that out, Vin thought. But to his dismay, he realized that it wasn't as easy as it sounded. He wanted his eyes to blink, but it wasn't coming naturally to him like it should have.
JD's heart sank when he began to think maybe Vin didn't understand that simple request. He looked at Nathan with a worried experession.
"Give him a minute," Nathan said. "He's thinkin' about it..."
JD turned back to Vin and looked him in the eyes. Vin deliberately blinked once and stared at JD. JD smiled and looked at Nathan.
"Vin are you in pain?" Nathan asked.
Vin hesitated. He was hurting some, but he didn't want laudanum. His head was muddled enough. He blinked twice.
"Are you thirsty?" JD asked .
Again, Vin hesitated with his answer. If he drank, he'd have to go. But he was thirsty - had been ever since he'd gotten hurt. And Nathan would take care of that... other thing. Sighing again, he blinked once.
Nathan poured cool water in a sipping cup. It was really a tiny pitcher that had a spout on top so Vin could sip the water from it without spilling it. Nathan moved over to the bed and JD held out his hand. Nathan gave him the cup and watched as JD placed one hand behind Vin's head and raised it. He placed the spout to Vin's lips and he drank his fill.
At first Nathan had thought this was going to be a bad idea and that Chris was being too harsh insisting JD care for wounded man, but the boy seemed to take to it naturally. He wasn't the least bit hesitant to touch Vin, not like some men would have been.
"So what do we need to do now?" JD asked.
Nathan explained it to him.
"Um sure," JD said embarrassed.
No! Vin wanted to yell. Don't want a fuckin' crowd here for that Nathan! He tried moving his hand and it jerked and flopped on the covers.
"Nathan did ya see?" JD asked excitedly.
"Yeah JD I saw," Nathan smiled. "He does that every once in awhile. Not sure if he's doin' it on purpose though..."
Vin blinked twice and tried to glare at Nathan. It means NO, goddamit!
Vin wanted to rage and scream as Nathan pulled the blankets back. JD wasn't sure what to do. He knew he would hat like hell to have Nathan touching him down there. Vin had closed his eyes, but JD saw tears spilling down his face, disappearing into his hair.
He took a washcloth from the washbasin beside the bed and gently wiped Vin's face with it. "Hey Vin... You shoulda seen Buck last night in the saloon. He was trying to get Lily to notice him again and you know she don't want no part of him, or so she pretends. Well, he's over there cooin' at her like a cow with a belly ache, and he stepped right into the spitoon..." JD laughed at the memory. "That was bad enough, but with them big ol' feet of his, well, his boot got stuck in the thing, so there he is walkin' around wearin' a spitoon on one foot..."
At first, Vin resented JD's small talk, and it was impossible to ignore what Nathan was doing to him. Even so, as JD told the story, he painted such a graphic picture that Vin was momentarily distracted from his humiliation. He knew Nathan was done when he felt the covers being pulled up around his waist again, but JD was still talking.
"... then he closes his eyes and leans over to kiss her, and at the last minute she moves and he almost plants one right on Ezra," JD laughed. He noticed that Vin had opened his eyes and was watching him. "You think he stands a chance?" Vin blinked twice and JD grinned. "Me either, but that ain't gonna stop him."
Vin was running a slight fever - Nathan said it was to be expected - so JD ran the cool cloth over his neck and chest, hoping it would make him feel a little cooler.
Nathan smiled as he listened to JD. The boy was holding up better than he thought. JD was about to launch into another story when Nathan interrupted him.
"OK JD now we need to change the bandage on his shoulder," Nathan said.
"Alright," JD said putting down the cloth.
He helped Nathan placed Vin on his side then propped him in place with pillows.
Vin moaned as he was moved. Damn that hurts!
"Sorry Vin," Nathan said, as he carefully removed the old bandages. He was happy to see there was no pus in the wound, but it was still tender and inflamed. He began to clean it with carbolic solution and JD noticed Vin blinking twice, over and over again.
"Hold up, Nathan," he said. "Let him rest a minute."
Vin closed his eyes, breathing rapidly to ride out the pain. Thanks kid.
When Vin was ready, they finished cleaning the wound and then rolled Vin onto his back and propped pillows behind him. JD noticed Vin's eyes were different. They looked dull and lifeless.
"Vin are you alright?" JD asked. Now that was a stupid question JD thought. Vin blinked at him twice.
"Vin are you hurting?" Nathan asked and Vin blinked once. "I'll get you some laudanum."
No! I don't want it Vin thought. I'm afraid to go to sleep.
JD watched as Vin frantically stared blinking twice over and over like he had before. "Nathan I don't think he wants it."
"Doesn't matter what he wants," Nathan said. "It will help."
JD watched, as Vin kept blinking 'no.' He knew Nathan was only trying to help but he didn't think Vin should be made to take medicine he didn't really need if he didn't want it.
"But Nathan if Vin doesn't want it you shouldn't force him to...," JD said.
"JD, Vin can't help himself right now," Nathan argued. "We have to make the decisions for him."
"Why?" JD asked. "He's tellin' you he don't want it."
"I ain't gonna stand her and argue with you JD. Vin's hurting and the laudanum will help."
Nathan moved to the bed and tried to get Vin to drink. Vin fought Nathan the only way he could and refused to open his mouth. The healer looked at Vin and saw defiance in his eyes and something else he couldn't figure out. He tried again and Vin clenched his teeth. Nathan sighed and was about to force Vin's mouth open when JD stopped him.
"Let me try," JD said holding out his hand. Nathan gave him the cup and he sat next to Vin. "Vin I know you don't want this but it will help."
I don't want to sleep! Vin thought hoping they would understand.
"I know the laudanum will make you sleepy," JD said. "I promise I'll stay with you. I won't go anywhere until you wake up. Alright?"
Vin was both surprised and ashamed that JD has so easily seen his fear. Relenting, he blinked once and let JD give him the medicine. His shoulder was hurting something fierce so it wasn't like it wouldn't be of any use to him.
JD handed the cup to Nathan and took Vin's right hand. JD felt a slight pressure from Vin's fingers as he tried to return the grip. Vin fought the effects of the laudanum but lost the battle and his eyes closed.
"It's alright JD, you can let go now," Nathan said.
"No," JD replied. "I promised him."
JD got comfortable in the chair next to the bed and put his head back against the wall. Nathan went around the room dumping the wash water and picking up the soiled linens and towels. After a few minutes, he heard JD snoring softly, and realized it was probably the first time the boy had really slept since the accident. Maybe Chris's idea would be a good thing for both Vin and JD.
Buck had watched Chris storm down the stairs from the clinic. He had warned JD not to go there. Chris was Buck's oldest friend and he knew to stay away when he was in a black mood. JD insisted he had to talk to Chris and try to explain. Buck figured JD's real reason for going was to see Vin. He knew the young sheriff was devastated by what he'd done and wanted to help any way he could.
Buck saw Chris stalk into the saloon and knew he'd be there for awhile. Likely he'd have to go in later to get Chris to stop drinking.
Buck sighed and stood up. He wanted to check on JD and see if he was all right. As he stepped into the street, he was stopped by Mary calling his name.
"Buck," Mary called again.
"Mrs. Travis," Buck said as he tugged on the brim of his hat.
"Have you seen Billy?" she asked.
"No ma'am I haven't," Buck replied. "But you know boys. He's probably just playing somewhere."
"I suppose you're right," Mary said. "But I've looked in all the usual places."
"I'll keep and eye out for him," Buck assured her. "If I see him I'll tell him to get on home."
"Thank you," Mary said with a smile and hurried on to continue the search for her son. Buck shook his head and smiled. He was sure she'd find Billy safe and sound, but as he crossed the street on his way to the clinic, he heard someone crying and knew it was Billy. He cautiously made his way down the alley where the sound was coming from behind some stacked crates. As he got closer he saw a small blonde head and moved one of the boxes, surprising the boy. Billy looked up and tried to bolt. Buck grabbed him as he tried to run.
"Whoa! Hold on there son," Buck said.
"Let me go," Billy pleaded, struggling in Buck's grasp.
"Why don't you tell Ol' Buck what's wrong first."
"I can't," Billy said hanging his head as Buck kneeled in front of him. "You'll all hate me if I tell."
"What could be so bad?" Buck asked.
"I hurt somebody," Billy admitted.
"Did you do it on purpose?"
"No it was an accident!" Billy cried. "Honest!"
"Well than all you gotta do is say you're sorry to whoever it was," Buck said.
"What if he doesn't understand?" Billy asked.
"If he's a friend, then he'll understand," Buck said with a smile. "Now you better run on home. You're ma's been looking for ya."
Billy didn't raise his head. He nodded dejectedly and started to walk away, but he stopped suddenly and turned back to face him. "Mr. Buck..." he said in a quivering voice.
"What is it son?" Buck said, ruffling his hair.
The boy wanted to say something, Buck could tell, but all he did was whisper, "Nothin'. Never mind," and continued on his way.
Buck wasn't surprised something was bothering the boy. The whole town was acting peculiar since Vin had been shot, and like as not some of that had rubbed off on the lad.
He'd been approached by a few people wondering what they were going to do with JD. He'd been in the saloon when Hank Conklin had raised the question - and his voice. Surprisingly, Ezra had come to JD's defense. The gambler stated that he had no doubt in his mind that JD had believed his guns were empty on that tragic day. Ezra said he'd watched Mr. Dunne on numerous occasions cleaning his weapons, and assured them that JD always removed the bullets. Conklin remarked that he had obviously forgotten this time, and unfortunately, Ezra had no answer for that. Even JD had seen his own gun discharge the bullet that had hit Vin.
When he reached to door of Nathan's small clinic, Buck quietly opened it and peered inside. He could see JD was asleep next to Vin's bed. The sharpshooter was also asleep and Buck figured that was for the best. Nathan turned and saw him then gestured for him to go back out. Nathan followed Buck out onto the balcony.
"How are they doing?" Buck asked as Nathan closed the door.
"At first I thought Chris was being too hard on JD," Nathan said. "Told him that he was responsible for Vin now, that it was up to him to take care of him."
"That's all JD's wanted to do since this happened," Buck said. "He's wanted to accept the responsibility for his actions."
"Didn't think it would be a good idea," Nathan admitted. "I don't thinkVin's has really wanted anyone seeing him like this. Kid has a way about him, though... Vin seemed comfortable with JD, which is good. I don't know how much care Vin is going to need and for how long. It's good to have someone to help out."
"So you think Vin knows... You know... " Buck fumbled for words.
"You mean is he aware of what's happened to him?" Nathan sighed sadly. "Yeah, he knows. JD got him to communicate with us."
"He did?" Buck said in surprise.
"It's just for simple yes and no questions," Nathan said, not wanting to get Buck's hopes up. "But he knows what's going on. Kinda suspected he did from the way he reacts to some things... the look in his eyes tells me a lot. I don't know if that's good or bad.".
"But that's something, Nate, right?" Buck asked hopefully. "It means his mind is okay, doesn't it?"
Nathan looked at him, his expression bitter. "Yeah, his mind is okay and trapped in a body that can't do anything. That's gotta be worse than hell, Buck."
Buck considered this, but couldn't think of anything to add. Nathan was right. "Might be best if we just leave Chris be for awhile," he suggested, changing the subject.
"He head for the saloon?" Nathan asked in disgust.
"I'm afraid so."
"Damn!" Nathan cursed. "That ain't what Vin needs."
"But it's what Chris needs," Buck said, understanding what Chris was going through. "Don't worry he'll come around. Chris just hates feeling helpless."
"He ain't the only one," Nathan sighed as he leaned his elbows on the balcony railing and surveyed the street below. "I ain't got a clue what will help Vin."
"We'll just have to take it one day at a time," Buck said as he gripped Nathan's shoulder. "Come on, I'll buy you dinner."
"What do you mean buy?" Nathan asked as he stood back up. "Dinner's free."
"Then I'll buy you a drink after," Buck smiled as he glanced back at the door. "Will they be okay alone?"
"Yeah. I dosed Vin with laudanum so he should sleep for a few hours, and JD is exhausted," Nathan said as he started down the stairs.
The ladies' man followed Nathan after one last look towards the clinic door. He didn't know why but he knew deep down that Vin was going to get through this somehow. Vin was a hearty soul, and he'd rolled with a lot of heavy punches that life had dealt him. If any man was up to the challenge of suddenly being dependent on others, it was Vin, even though God knew he had to hate it. Buck just hoped the rest of them were strong enough.
Vin woke in the middle of the night, disoriented. He tried to move but his legs and arms wouldn't respond and he struggled with rising panic as the memory of what had happened came rushing back at him like rockslide.
NO! Vin screamed, but only in his mind. All that came out of his mouth was a garbled sound.
Nathan was jerked awake by a noise. He looked around his darkened room but saw nothing. The noise came again and Nathan realized it was Vin. The healer quickly lit a lamp. The only sounds Vin had made up to this point were soft moans, but now it definitely sounded like he was trying to say something. Nathan carried the lamp closer to Vin's bed and was alarmed to how fast he was breathing, and the way his eyes were darting around the room like they belonged to a frightened animal.
"Easy, Vin, You're alright," Nathan said putting the lamp on the table next to the bed.
"Nnnn," Vin forced out between his lips.
Nathan pushed Vin's unruly hair back from his face. "Try to calm down Vin. I know you're scared, but gettin' all worked up like this ain't doin' you any good."
Vin's eyes pleaded with him, for what Nathan didn't know. "What is it, Vin? Are you hurting?"
Vin blinked twice for no, but a tear slipped out of the corner of his eye. Nathan was at a loss for what to do next. Give him a broken bone or a bullet wound and he could fix it. This was beyond his humble skills.
All he could do was wipe away the tears and offer a comforting hand until Vin's breathing finally evened out.
"You okay now?" he asked softly. Vin blinked twice, and Nathan nodded that he understood. "I'm sorry, Vin, I ain't a doctor. I don't know what to do for you."
Well that's for damn sure, Vin thought sarcastically then regretted it. Hell Nate I know you're doing the best you can.
"Think maybe you can go back to sleep?" Nathan asked.
Vin was desperate to communicate that he didn't want to sleep. He didn't want to be left lying there alone and helpless in the dark. He concentrated hard to shake his head no, and could have sworn his head moved.
Nathan saw it too. This wasn't like the other times when his head moved in a random way. This was deliberate
"Jesus, Vin," Nathan said excitedly. "Do it again. Shake your head no."
Vin tried, but nothing happened. I can't! he wanted to scream. It's too hard.
"It's alright Vin," Nathan said when he saw the frustration in Vin's eyes. "It's a start."
No it's not all right, goddamit!
"Why don't you try to go back to sleep," Nathan suggested. "I'll be in the bed across from you so don't worry."
Don't leave me alone.... Don't turn the light out!
But Vin could only watch in dismay as Nathan left his line of vision. He could hear Nathan climb into the bed but couldn't turn his head to see that he was really there. His heart pounded wildly in his chest and he was ashamed. He had never been afraid of the dark and now he felt like a frightened two-year-old. The healer blew out the lamp and Vin tried to remain calm as the room was plunged into darkness.
+ + + + + + +
JD crossed the street to the clinic carrying a tray loaded with food. He struggled up the steps and made it to the door without spilling anything and banged on the door with his foot hoping someone would open it. Josiah appeared and JD stepped inside.
"Morning, JD," Josiah said as he helped JD place the tray on the table.
"Mornin' Josiah," JD said then walked over to Vin's bed. "Morning' Vin."
What the hell is good about it? Vin thought bitterly.
JD could see Vin was awake and the tracker turned his eyes to look at him. Vin's blue eyes stared at JD unblinking and he became uncomfortable. Josiah saw the reaction and laughed.
"Vin's been perfecting his glare," Josiah said. "He just used it on you."
"Yeah," JD said. "He's getting almost as good as Chris."
"Where is Chris?" Josiah asked. "I haven't seen him this morning."
"Well " JD began hesitantly.
"What is it?" Nathan asked.
"Buck had to lock Chris up last night," JD said. "He got really mean after he'd been drinking in the saloon."
Serves him right Vin thought. Damn fool drinking himself to a stupor 'cause he thinks he's got a problem.
They were all surprised when they heard a snort from Vin. Josiah looked at Nathan to make sure he wasn't hearing things.
"He's starting to make noises," Nathan confirmed. "I think he's tryin' to talk."
"Sounds like you don't approve of Chris's actions," Josiah said as he walked over to Vin. He laughed heartily when Vin blinked twice
"JD who's all this food for?" Nathan asked.
"It's for me and Vin," JD said. "Figured I'd stay with Vin for the day."
"That's right nice of you, JD but Josiah and I have something we want to try with Vin," Nathan said. "You can help out."
"Yeah?" JD asked.
"Been thinking that even though Vin can't do much right now, he isn't paralyzed," Josiah pointed out.
JD had noticed that too. Vin seemed able to move everything, just not when or how he wanted to.
"So we were thinking maybe it might come back to him how to do the things he could before if we help him along... excercise his arms and legs."
Like hell, Vin glared. You ain't gonna go pawin' all over me!
"Don't give me that look, Vin," Nathan said. "This might help."
"Sounds good," JD said. "I'll help. After Vin and I have breakfast."
It didn't escape Vin's notice that JD didn't say 'after I feed Vin' even though that was what he'd have to do.
JD pulled the napkin off the plate and Nathan could see it was covered with scrambled eggs
"JD, I ain't sure Vin is up to solid food."
Vin gave Nathan a look that was both angry and pleading. The food smelled good. What I ain't up to is more of that trough water you call broth.
JD laughed when he saw Vin's expression. "I figured if we went slow maybe he could try."
Nathan wasn't sure it was a good idea, but Vin couldn't go on surviving on broth forever. "Let's prop him up a bit, first," he suggested.
They got Vin propped up in the bed and JD placed the fork in Vin's hand, then folded his own fingers over Vin's to keep it there. He helped him spear a small amount of eggs and moved them to his mouth. Vin worked at the small mouthful until he managed to swallow it. He eagerly opened his mouth for more.
"Go slow, JD," Nathan cautioned when he saw Vin's reaction.
After a few more bites, JD picked a cup of coffee off the tray. He sipped at it to make sure it wasn't too hot before he wrapped Vin's hands around it, helping him hold it. Again Nathan was going to protest but Josiah stopped him.
"What can it hurt?" Josiah asked.
JD moved the cup to Vin's lips and he took a sip. Vin took a swallow but refused more. "You don't want it?" JD asked confused.
Hell yeah I want it! Vin blinked once for yes. Ain't no sugar in it.
JD tried to give him more, but again Vin wouldn't open his mouth. "What the hell, Vin..., you say you want it but then you don't drink it."
Vin closed his eyes and concentrated all his effort on trying to make a simple sound come out of his mouth. "Sssss..." was all he could manage, and he could see the others didn't realize he was trying to tell them something, so he tried again. "Ssssshh..."
Josiah noticed and sqatted down so he was at Vin's eye-level. "JD did you put any sugar in it?" Josiah asked.
"Well no," JD confessed.
"Sssssshhh...," Vin said again.
"Hey did you hear that?!" JD said excitedly.
"Sugar? Is that what you want, Vin?" Nathan said and smiled when Vin blinked once.
Nathan took a small covered bowl from one of his shelves and handed it to JD. He spooned some into the cup and stirred it, but Vin still wouldn't take it. "More?"
Vin blinked once and JD added more sugar. He looked up at Vin holding another spoonful of sugar. Vin blinked twice and JD smiled. He held the cup to Vin's lips and the tracker drank it this time, so eagerly that JD was forced to take it away when Vin went too fast. Josiah burst out laughing at the look Vin shot JD when he did.
It took JD almost an hour to get through the meal, but Nathan was just happy Vin was eating. It meant he still had some fight in him, and he was going to need every bit of it.
Nathan had decided they needed to keep circulation going in Vin's arms and legs and that massaging and stretching them might be the way to do that. Josiah and Nathan each took a leg and would rub and knead warmed lanolin into the muscles. The first day was the worst. Vin didn't like what they were doing, but he couldn't make them understand that he wanted them to stop touching him that way. To make it worse, the two men were carrying on a conversation - about him - as if he wasn't even there.
"You can see what's happenin' already," Nathan explained, tracing his fingers along the back of Vin's left leg. "Just takes a couple of days 'fore the muscles start to shorten up from not being used. If we don't do this, it won't be long before we won't be able to straighten his legs out. As time goes on, his whole body could curl up into a ball and stay that way."
NO! Vin's mine raced to that grim image. Fer God's sake, kill me before you let that happen.
Josiah massaged the calf on Vin's right leg while he flexed the knee and ankle. "I see what you mean... This leg already feel tight." He pulled Vin's let out straight, stretching the taut muscles.
Vin felt a sharp cramping pain in the front of his thigh that rapidly intensified with Josiah's administrations. Stop... HURTS! He pounded his fist into the mattress trying to get their attention as the pain became unbearable.
JD stood by with the hot, wet towels that Nathan said might help relax Vin's stiffened limbs. He was the only one who noticed Vin's distress.
"I don't think he likes it," JD said.
"Didn't think he would," Josiah said. "But it might help."
Vin clamped his eyes shut against the pain.
"You're hurting him," JD said, and boldly removed Josiah's hands to wrap Vin's leg in the warm towels.
Vin sighed as the moist heat quickly brought blessed relief from the muscle spasm.
JD looked at the older men. "Ya can't just be doin' things to him without watching his eyes," he admonished them. "He can think an' he can feel. Ya gotta remember that!"
Josiah looked sheepishly at Nathan, who looked down at Vin. Vin's eyes were closed. His pain and humiliation could be clearly seen, but they hadn't even bothered to look.
"I'm sorry, Vin," he said, gently touching the tracker's shoulder.
Vin refused to look at him. I hate this. Just lemme go in peace.
JD saw the defeat in Vin's eyes and it scared him. He knelt down beside the bed. "I tell you what Vin," he took Vin's hand. "If these big apes get too rough, you just squeeze my hand a little an' I'll take care of 'em both."
Vin was in no mood for JD's attempt to make him feel better. What was the point? He felt the tears welling up in his eyes again. Goddam fuckin' crybaby.
"C'mon, Vin," JD whispered. "You gotta try... Please..." the kid choked.
Vin just wanted to crawl off somewhere and die, but, he couldn't crawl and he certainly couldn't kill himself, and he coudln't ignore the pleading desperation in JD's eyes. Kid still thinks this is his fault... It was because of that... and only that... that Vin managed with tremendous effort to collect himself and nod his head.
He'd try. For awhile. For JD.
The mornings settled into a routine. Ezra would arrive early (even though Vin suspected that the early dawn hour was the end of the gambler's day rather than the beginning) and would assist Nathan with bathing and grooming. Vin didn't think he'd ever been so clean in his life and couldn't figure out why in hell Nathan thought a man flat on his back with nowhere to go needed to be bathed and shaved and have the tangles combed out of his hair every damned day. After that, JD would bring breakfast, and then they would get down to work.
Vin still hated it, but slowly he was sensing subtle changes that gave him a small glimmer of hope to cling to. Remembering the first time he'd awakened, when he couldn't understand what was happening around him, or move or communicate in anyway, he realized that he was getting a little better every day. He still couldn't speak, but it was getting easier to make the sound he wanted, and, he was finding himself able to move a specific arm or leg or his head when he wanted to, even though fine control of his limbs still eluded him.
Buck would often come and help with the exercises, or come along later in the afternoon and read to him, or tell him stories that Vin knew were 95 percent bullshit, but which kept his spirits up, and that was probably the most difficult task of all. It would have been easy for him to just lie there and give up, but damned if his friends were going to let him do that.
All except Chris. Chris had only been to see him a couple of times since the accident, at least when he knew Vin was awake. Vin had sensed his presence in the room at night several times, and he'd opened his eyes to see Chris sitting beside the bed staring at something only he could see. When he'd been there during the day, he hadn't had much to say. Vin almost felt like Chris was afraid to touch him... or look at him.
He had endured a lot, and would endure a lot more, but it hurt that Chris didn't seem able to bear the sight of him.
The night before, Chris and Nathan had had words over it when they thought Vin was asleep.
"He'd be better off dead," Chris had said.
"Well, he ain't dead," Nathan had snapped "and he ain't gonna be as long as I can help him."
"Help him do what?" Chris had asked bitterly. "Man like Vin can't just lie closed up in a single room. His body might go on livin' but his spirit is gonna die inside... I could kill JD for what he did to him."
"You don't mean that Chris!"
No! Chris! No! It ain't JD's fault!
Chris had never answered. He'd just grabbed his hat and left. He hadn't been back since.
JD had noticed that Vin seemed unusually down that morning. This whole ordeal had been brutal on the normally shy, private man. He'd been stripped of his last shred of dignity, needing the others to see to his every need, so it wasn't surprising that he'd be depressed by his condition. No one blamed him for that. But JD sensed that something else was bothering him, and he had a feeling he knew what it was.
Chris had been in the saloon for two solid days now. Not getting drunk, like he had that first night when Buck had tossed his ass in jail, but just sitting there, like he was trying to figure something out. JD didn't think he wanted to know what.
JD had noticed that Vin was getting stronger, and had gotten an idea in his head that he thought might cheer the tracker up some if it worked. Of course, if it didn't... well, things couldnt get much worse, so he figured it was worth a try.
"Nathan can I ask you something?" JD said.
"Sure, JD," Nathan said as he worked on Vin's thigh muscle.
"Have you tried to see if Vin can stand?" JD asked.
"Don't be crazy, JD," Nathan scolded. "He has no control over his arms and legs."
"Yes, he does," JD insisted when he saw Vin's expression become instantly alert. "It ain't very good, I admit, but how will you know he's gettin' better if you don't let him try to do things he could do before?" JD asked.
"He has a point," Josiah said. "And Vin might just be stubborn enough to do it."
"This is crazy," Nathan said. "We still aren't sure Vin even understands everything that is going on around him."
Oh come on Nathan! What do I gotta do? Hit you over the head with the chamber pot?! Vin swung his arm out in a wild arc and almost knocked the basin off of the table beside the bed.
"Yes he does!" JD said adamantly. "He knows what we are saying and he understands perfectly."
"I say we let him decide," Josiah said and held up his hand to stop Nathan's protest.
"Vin, you understand me, don't you?" JD asked and then gave Nathan a smug look when Vin blinked once.
"Do you want to try and stand?" Vin again blinked yes.
"All right," Nathan conceded. "But the man has been down for more than a week. Like as not, he's going to pass out cold as soon as he's upright, so you better al be ready for that whether he can stand or not."
Nathan hunted up some longjohns for Vin and helped Josiah get them over the tracker's uncooperative legs. When that was done Josiah had to bodily lift Vin to a sitting position. Vin's head dropped against Josiah's shoulder, even though they could all see he was struggling to raise it and keep it steady. Vin was light enough for Josiah to lift off the bed, and Nathan had him gradually raise him to an upright position to prevent the blood from suddenly rushing from his head and causing him to black out.
.When he was ready to be put down, JD gently positioned his feet and legs where they should be and then stepped back as Josiah held Vin up with muscular arms wrapped around Vin's chest, taking most of his weight.
"Concentrate, Vin," Josiah said. "I know you can do this."
They all watched as Vin struggled to lock his knees, and to everyone's amazement, he managed to put his weight on first his left leg, then on both of them. Josiah smiled and gradually released his grip while still keeping his arms around the smaller man.
Vin stayed upright for only a few seconds before he collapsed in Josiah's arms, but it was enough.
"See I knew he could do it!" JD said excitedly.
No one could mistake the crooked little half-smile on Vin's face, either, even though the tracker looked deathly pale from suddenly being upright after lying down for so long.
"Get him back in the bed before he passes out," Nathan said.
No! Vin protested. I wanna do it again!
"Nathan look," JD said and pointed to Vin. They could see he was blinking no. "I think he wants to try again."
"Alright," Nathan said reluctantly. "One more time."
Josiah held Vin but as hard as he tried Vin couldn't get his legs to respond. Then, suddenly, he went limp in Josiah's arms.
"Vin?!" Josiah gasped in concern as he grabbed him.
"It's okay," Nathan said. "He just fainted. It happens. Lay him down and prop his feet up."
Vin quickly regained his senses, but he wouldn't look at anyone, keeping his eyes closed as he tried to get a grip on his emotions. They could tell he was disappointed.
"Vin it's a start," Josiah said. "You did good. We'll try again later."
Josiah patted Vin's shoulder as Nathan pulled up a blanket and told Vin to take it easy. He knew Vin hadn't slept too well the night before and wasn't surprised when he fell asleep a few minutes later.
"What do you think, Nate?" Josiah asked.
"To tell you the truth, I don't know," he admitted. "But maybe he's gettin' some control back."
"So you think he's gettin' better?" JD asked hopefully.
"It looks that way, JD," Nathan sighed. "But I don't know enough to go gettin' his hopes up yet."
"Well I gotta tell Buck!" JD said excitedly. "I think Vin's gonna be okay."
They watched as JD bolted out the door. "Glad one of has enough faith that everything will work out alright," Nathan said.
"Amen," Josiah added.
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