CARELESS by The Tanner Triplets

Buck had watched JD slowly climb the stairs to the clinic with Vin's breakfast. Once inside, he knew the kid would put on a cheerful face, but right then, his footsteps were as heavy as his heart. Buck knew the boy hadn't been sleeping well since Vin had been hurt. JD's room was next to his and he had heard him wake up more than once screaming Vin's name. Sometimes, he'd just cry. Knowing what he'd done to Vin was a heavy burden to bear, and Chris wasn’t making it any easier for the kid. He wouldn't even look at JD, and he rarely went to see Vin unless it was late at night when he knew Vin would be asleep. He'd sit in the dark next to Vin's bed, watching him with an ureadable expression on his face that gave Buck the shivers. He knew Chris well enough to know what he was thinking. Chris had told Nathan Vin would be better off dead, and Buck couldn't help but wonder if Chris wasn't toying with some dark idea of ending Vin's suffering..

Buck felt like knocking some sense into his oldest friend. He'd been forced to throw him in jail again the night before. The gunslinger had gotten drunk and then he'd gotten mean , and it had led to a fight at the saloon. Ezra had managed to subdue Chris before there had been any gunplay, and once Buck had Chris safely in a cell, the gamber had itold Buck how the fight started. Vin's condition was no secret to most of the town, although the other six... well, five... had taken care to protect the injured man from the curious and the nosy. One of Guy Royale's men had mentioned that they shot lame horses and that they should do the same with Vin. Ezra said Chris had gone plumb crazy after that, busting up the saloon and anyone who tried to get in his way.

He was on his way to the jail with a big pot of coffee and a tray of food. Once he sobered Chris up, they were going to have some words.

He found Chris sprawled across the cot where he'd deposited him the night before. He set the tray on the desk and unlocked the door to the cell.

"Hey. Pard, time to get up.". When he got no response he shook Chris’s shoulder.

"Mmmppf," Chris mumbled as he rolled over and opened his eyes. "Shit."

"Yeah I bet," Buck laughed.

"What happened?" Chris asked as he sat up and swung his feet over the side of the cot.

"The usual," Buck said. "You were drinking. Some cowhand said something about Vin and you started a fight."

"Hell," Chris grumbled as he stood up. "Got coffee?"

"On the desk," Buck said stepping out of Chris’s way.

Chris stumbled out of the cell and over to the desk. He pulled out the chair and sat down. He grabbed the coffee pot and poured a cup. He drank it black and leaned back in the chair. After he finished one cup he poured another. Buck joined him and hitched his right hip on the desk.

"We need to talk," Buck said seriously.

"About?" Chris said leaning back and running his hands through his sleep-spiked hair.

"I think you know," Buck said. "Don’t think you’re being a little hard on JD?"

"I don’t think so," Chris said coldly. "His recklessness almost killed Vin... maybe it would've been a blessing if it had."

"He knows that, Chris," Buck said angrily, pointedly ignoring the second part of Chris's statement. "And it’s eating him up inside. He still insists the guns weren’t loaded."

"Unloaded guns don’t just go off," Chris said angrily as he stood up. The force of his anger sent the chair flying into the wall.

"I know, I know," Buck said holding up his hands. "But JD’s really sorry about what happened. "

""Sorry' ain't gonna make Vin whole again," he spat.

"He knows that, to, Chris. He's tryin' his best to do what's right."

"Well he can just do his penance by taking care of Vin," Chris said as he headed for the door.

"And what about you? What are you doin' penance for?" Buck asked.

Chris stopped and turned back to him. "What're you talkin' about?"

"Don't take a fool to see something is eatin' at you, Chris. You don't even want to look at Vin."

He expected Chris to argue that point, but instead the gunslinger's shoulders drooped and he lowered his head. "I know."


Chris glared at him. "That's a stupid question, Buck. The man can't even sit up by himself..." His voice trailed off to a whisper. "It's too hard seein' him that way."

"It's a lot harder for Vin, Chris, and he ain't givin' up. He's tryin' so hard, and he gets a little better every day."

"Ya coulda fooled me," Chris scoffed.

"You'd see it for yerself if you'd just look in on him once in awhile."

Chris shook his head sadly. "I can't look him in the eye, with him just starin' at me like he wants me to put him outa his misery. I don't know what to say to him. Nothin' can make this alright, Buck. Nothin'."

"He doesn't need ya to make things right, Chris. And I don't think he expects anything of you. He just needs you to be there. He needs all of us right now."

Chris didn't say anything, which annoyed Buck past the breaking point.

"You're a selfish sonofabitch, Chris Larabee. Well, I tell you what... We can see to Vin just fine without your sorry ass."

Chris turned and grabbed his hat.

"Where are you going?" Buck demanded.

"Saloon!" Chris growled and walked off.

"Aw hell," Buck cursed and  plopped down hard in the chair Chris had vacated.

He sighed heavily as he grabbed the coffeepot and poured himself a cup. It was hot and good, but Chris had left him in a sour mood. He was wondering how he was going to pound some sense into his friend when JD burst in.

"Hey, Buck," he said excitedly. "Where’s Chris? I have to tell him something."

"You had best just stay clear of Chris," Buck warned.

"But it’s about Vin," JD said. "He’ll want to know."

"Chris ain’t in the mood for talking," Buck said. "Why don’t you tell me."

"Vin stood up today! Just a little while ago." JD exclaimed.

"What?" Buck said staring at JD incredulously. It didn't seem likely Vin had actually done that and he wondered how far JD was stretching the truth with wishful thinking.

"Well he did have a lot of help from Josiah," JD admitted, "but he tried real hard and he stood by himself for a few seconds. Nathan said it's a real good sign."

JD's enthusiasm was infectious. "JD that’s great," Buck said laughing.

"I know," JD smiled. The smile quickly faded and his shoulders slumped. "Wanted to tell Chris but I guess he’s still mad at me."

"Ain’t gonna lie to ya, kid," Buck said standing and placing an arm around JD’s shoulder. "Chris is still plenty mad. But I have a feeling it’s not only you he’s mad at."

"Who else?" JD asked confused.

"Himself," Buck answered and smiled at JD’s look. "He’s mad that he can’t help Vin. He feels useless."

"But that’s crazy," JD said. "Vin needs Chris."

"I know that and you know that," Buck said. "Deep down Chris knows it too but it’s gonna take him awhile to figure it out."

JD seemed to contemplate this briefly, but he abruptly changed the subject. "Buck I have to ride out to Nettie’s," JD said suddenly.

"Good," Buck smiled. "Go spend some time with Casey. Might do you some good," he winked.

"Aw, it’s not that, Buck, I have an idea, about Vin," JD confessed. "But I can’t tell ya until I talk to Nettie."

"JD, what are you up too?" Buck asked.

"I’ll tell you after I work everything out," JD said. "I’ll be back later."

+ + + + + + +

JD dashed out the door and headed for the livery. Buck headed for the clinic. He wanted to check on Vin. When he got to the top of the stairs, he slowly opened the door, and Nathan motioned for him to come in.

"How’s he doin'?" Buck whispered when he saw Vin was sleeping

"I’m sure JD told you," Nathan smiled. "He was fixed to bust."

"He told me," Buck smiled , but then asked somberly. "Does this mean he can get well?"

"I don’t really know," Nathan sighed. "Never had to deal with anything like this before. I want to think it's a good sign, but he has a long way to go, and I don't know how much better he's gonna get. No way to tell."

"Well, you must be doin' something right," Buck said, placing a reassuring hand on the healer's shoulder.

"It sure ain’t much," Nathan snorted.

"That’s crap and you now it," Buck snapped. "Don’t know of too many people that would care for Vin the way you have. He's gettin' looked after better here than he would in some big city hospital."

Nathan pondered this and realized it was true. Vin was never alone, and his needs were immediately seen to, although Buck, Ezra and JD had as much to do with that as he did. "Reckon you're right about that, Buck," Nathan smiled, grateful for the confidence Buck had in him. "So how’s Chris doing?"

"You know Chris," Buck sighed. "I think he blames himself even though there was nothing he could have done."

"Blames himself for what?"

Buck shrugged. "Who knows? For not supervising JD. For not watching Vin's back. For not protecting either one them. Chris will let it eat at him until he comes up with something."

Nathan had to agree with that assessment of Chris."So where did JD go?" he asked. "Said he was coming back after he told y’all."

"Well I told him to stay clear of Chris," Buck replied. "Then he went high tailing it off to Nettie's. Said he had an idea."

"Idea for what?"

"Wouldn’t tell me," Buck smiled, and then stretched his long, lean body. "Well I’m off to keep and eye on Chris. He was headed for Digger Dan’s."

"Good luck," Nathan mumbled.

Nathan turned to Vin after Buck left and saw he was awake. He didn't know how much he'd heard of the conversation he'd just had with Buck, but the expression of hurt and despair in his eyes was hard to miss.

Nathan tucked the covers up around him. "Go back to sleep, Vin," he said softly. "Chris'll come around, you wait an' see."


JD stopped on the small hill over looking Nettie Wells ranch. The house and barn weren’t very big but there was more than enough work for Nettie and her niece Casey, so the two women didn't come into town often. JD had done some mental calculating and realized that they had not been to town since the shooting.

The Welles' place was well off the main road. Josiah and Nathan had been busy caring for Vin while Buck had watched over the town - and Chris. Ezra had been riding the regular patrols they usually took turns at, and JD knew he never rode so far from town as to reach Nettie's. JD realized that it was possible the two women hadn't even heard what happend to Vin.

Which meant he'd have to tell them. He was suddenly tempted to abandon his idea and just leave when Casey spotted him and waved from the corral.

"Howdy JD," she smiled. "What ya doing out here?"

"Come to talk to Nettie," JD said as he dismounted. "I got some bad news about Vin."

Casey's smile abruptly faded. "What happened? He ain't... dead... is he?"

JD shook his head. "No. He ain't dead." JD lowered his head. "But I shot him. I hurt him real bad." Despite his best effort, his voice cracked as he choked back a sob.

Casey put her hand on his cheek and lifted his head up. "JD?"

"It was an accident," he said flatly. "Just like with Annie."

"Oh, JD..."

He told her everything that had happened. "I swear on my ma's grave, Casey, I unloaded those guns. I don't know how the bullets got in there." He produced the 10 rounds that he still carried in his pocket. "Here's the ones I took out... they're all here.... I just don't understand how it happened."

Casey took his arm. "We best let Nettie know. She'll want to look in on him."

JD pulled back slightly. "I don't know if Vin would want that, Casey. He's in a bad way."

"Nettie won't care," Casey said, in a way which left no room for further argument.

They found Nettie at the stove pulling out a pan of her delicious biscuits. She turned to put them on the table and smiled.

"Well hello, son," se said in her gravely voice.

"Nettie," JD said taking of his derby. "I need to tell you something... then, I need to ask a favor."

+ + + + + + +

Nettie had listened to JD's story, and then, instead of being angry with him like he expected... like he deserved, she sat him down and fed him some stew and biscuits while he explained to her what he had in mind.

He wanted to bring Vin to her place, where he'd be able to be out in the fresh air with no one to gawk at him. The Welles' barn had plenty of room, and he was thinking they could set up an exercise area for Vin so he wouldn't have to be in bed all the time.

"I don't know if it will help," he said timidly. "Nathan thinks it's likely Vin might never walk or talk again... But he's tryin' Nettie. He's tryin' really hard. He stood up by himself this mornin' and even Nathan thinks that's a good sign.... So you see if Vin just practices I think he’ll get better, and I figured if he could be out here, where..."

"JD," Nettie interrupted him. "You don't need to sell me on the idea. You know I’d do anything for that boy."

"I knew you would!" JD exclaimed. "Now we just have to convince Vin."

"Convince him?"

"You know he ain't gonna go for it. He'll think he's bein' a burden," JD explained. "But... if you maybe let him think it's your idea..."

"Say no more," Nettie laughed. "I can be plumb convincin', even with that stubborn little cuss."

"I can stay with Mrs. Potter for awhile. Vin can have my room," Casey volunteered.

JD smiled at both women. "Thanks."

"You and Casey go hitch up the buckboard," Nettie said ."I’ll pack up a few things for Vin."

Nettie had hidden her shock and dismay at the news about Vin because she knew there was no way JD would ever intentionally hurt anyone, let alone one of his friends. It pained her deeply to think of Vin bedridden and helpless, and she knew she would do everything in her power to help him get well. For now, she would have to content herself with taking him some of her stew and biscuits, both of which he loved. She placed the stew in a crock and then put it in basket along with biscuits and some oatmeal cookies, which were another of Vin's favorites. Knowing Vin, it was going to take careful coaxing to get him to go along with JD's idea, but her cooking was as good a place to start as any.


Nathan hated to admit it to himself, but he was losing his patience with Vin. He was trying to get Vin to take some broth but the tracker refused. After having had eggs that morning Nathan didn’t want him to have too much rich food, but Vin was thinking just the opposite. If he could have eggs, he wasn't going to eat broth.

"Vin you gotta eat," Nathan scolded. Vin blinked twice and Nathan threw up his hands. "Fine!"

Nathan stood up and angrily placed the tray on his workbench. Vin knew he was causing Nathan grief but dammit, he didn’t want the broth. So much of the bland liquid had been spooned down him that he thought he'd gag if he had to have one more mouthful. He knew if he ate solid foods what Nathan would have to do for him later but he didn’t care. He was hungry! He wished he could get Nathan to understand that.

If Chris was there he would have known what Vin wanted. Only problem was Chris hadn’t been around. Hell Vin couldn’t really blame him. Chris had more important thing to do than sit with a cripple. The only other person who seemed to know what he wanted was JD, but Nathan said he'd gone out to see Nettie.

Vin sighed and closed his eyes wondering what was going to happen to him. He couldn’t expect his friends to care for him for the rest of his life. He would rather die first, like Chris....

The thought slammed into him unbidden. Like Chris wants me to.

Only thing was that he didn’t want to die. Not like this. He knew he was getting better, and he couldn't give up until he was sure he couldn't beat this. Vin watched Nathan angrily put things away at the workbench. He knew Nathan wasn't so much mad at him as he was frustrated by the fact he couldn't do anything for him. That's how Nathan was. Person got too sick or hurt too bad and died, he'd take it to heart, and you couldn't convince him that nothing he could have done would have helped. It was damned sure he'd done more than enough for Vin.

Vin decided to quit being stubborn and eat the broth, but he couldn't tell Nathan that.


Nathan stopped what he was doing, the way he always did when Vin made any kind of sound.

"So...Sor...ssssss" Aw hell, Nathan, I'm SORRY. Damn why couldn't he get the words in his head to come out of his mouth?

"No, you ain't gettin' no more sugar," Nathan scolded.

There was a gentle tap on the door and JD poked his head in to make sure it was okay to bring Nettie in.

"Hey, Vin," JD said as he walked in with Nettie following close behind. "Brought you a visitor."

"Vin giving you a hard time Nathan?" Nettie asked as she sat next toVin’s bed and took his hand. "How you doin' son?" The old woman tried to behave as naturally as she always did with Vin, even though what she saw broke her heart. He was every bit as bad off as JD had said he was, she could see that.

Vin was torn between joy and embarrassment. He was always happy to see Nettie, but he didn't want her to have to see him like this. He felt his face flush and he cast his eyes away from her.

"Vin Tanner, don't you ignore me," Nettie admonished him.  "Now, what are you givin' poor Nathan here grief about?"

"He won’t eat the broth I brought him," Nathan scowled.

"You know he hates that," JD said.

"Well don’t worry I brought Vin something he’ll like," Nettie smiled as she pulled out the small crock of stew removed the lid. The rich aroma of beef and vegeables immediately filled the room.

"I don’t know, Ms Welles, Vin might not be ready for that," Nathan said.

"Nonsense," she said. "His mouth and stomach work don’t they?"

"Yes, but…"

"Ain’t no buts," Nettie interrupted. "The meat's boiled down nice an tender. I’ll give him small bites." She suited action to words and gave Vin a small mouthful.

Vin thought he’d died and gone to heaven and Nettie laughed when he quickly opened his mouth for more. He'd pretty much gotten over his embarrassment at being fed. He still didn't like it one bit, but no one else made a big deal out of it, so he figured that making a fuss over it wasn't accomplishing anything useful. Except he really didn't want any more of that damned broth. Nettie had real food for him, though. God, he loved that woman.

Nathan handed Nettie a small ceramic bowl."Just a small bowl of stew," he said. "And one biscuit."

Nettie agreed to that, giving Vin small bites and soaking small pieces of the biscuit in gravy before giving them to Vin. When he'd finished that, she pulled out the oatmeal cookies. Vin’s eyes lit up when he saw them.

"Two! That’s it!" Nathan insisted.

Vin gave him a dirty look, but Nettie picked up two cookies and covered the rest with a napkin.

Nettie put one of the cookies in Vin’s hand. "You hold on to that one while I break this one up for you."

Nathan saw the gratitude in Vin’s eyes that Nettie was letting him do something for himself, even if it was just holding a cookie. Nathan realized that as hard as it might be to watch Vin struggling to do simple things, he'd have to stand back and let him do what he could.

"Vin I kinda brought Nettie here for a reason," JD confessed. "You see I have this idea...."

Vin listend thoughtfully to what JD had in mind. As much as he liked the idea, he knew he couldn’t be a burden to Nettie like that, so.when JD asked if he wanted to do it Vin blinked twice for no.

"I know what’s going through that mind of yours," Nettie said. "You done plenty for me, Vin Tanner. You'd best remember I wouldn't even have my place if it wasn't for you. You ain’t no burden that I ain’t willin; to have, you understand me?"

Vin glared at her defiantly and blinked no.

Nettie patted him on the cheek and then kissed his forehead. "Well, lucky for you, you can’t really fight us now can you?" she laughed. "Tomorrow morning the boys will bring you out to my place. You can cuss us all out when you’re feeling better."

Nettie was a feisty old gal, and Vin knew there was no arguing with her once she had her mind set. He also knew she wouldn't let him get away with feeling sorry for himself, that she wouldn't pussyfoot around if he needed a kick in the ass. Still, he didn't think Nettie really understood the responsibility she was taking on, and that made him apprehensive. Deep down though, he was happy that she was going to give him this chance.

"Tha....ssss," he managed to get out. Even to him, it didn't sound anything like what he wanted to say.

But Nettie pushed his hair back and said, "You're welcome, Vin."


Early the next morning JD sat in a wagon at the bottom of the stairs to Nathan’s clinic. The sun was just beginning to rise and the town would be waking soon. Right now the streets were deserted. They wanted to move Vin early so he wouldn’t be embarrassed by any townspeople who might want to stare, either out of sympathy, curiosity or just plain rudeness.

JD heard the door to the clinic open and looked up. Josiah walked out holding Vin in his arms. The sight of Vin beginning carried that way made JD uncomfortable. He was used to seeing Vin leaning against the rail or sneaking up on Buck and scaring him half to death. JD turned away and quickly wiped the tears from his eyes. He knew Vin wouldn’t want to see how sorry he was for him.

Nathan climbed into the wagon while Josiah sat Vin on the tailgate. Nathan then grabbed Vin under the arms and pulled him into the wagon, but when he tried to lay him down, Vin clearly didn't want any part of it .

"Nnnnn..." Vin made the sound forcefully enough that it was an obvious protest.

"What is it Vin?" Nathan asked in concern. He had tried to be mindful of the healing wound on Vin's shoulder, and had placed his left arm in a sling. "You hurting?"

Vin blinked twice but didn't know how to make Nathan understand. Don’t want to lie down he thought. Want to see the land, too, not just the sky!

"Nathan," JD called as the healer adjusted the sling and checked the bandage on Vin's shoulder. "I don’t think he wants to lie down."

"How do you know?" Nathan asked .

"Just look at his eyes," Buck said as he walked over. "He’s not in pain. He's madder than a sidewinder with lumbago."

"I think they’re right," Josiah smiled. "Vin do you want to sit up?"

Vin blinked once then glared at them all. Buck laughed and ruffled Vin’s hair.

"Keep glaring like that and your gonna be better than Chris," he said.

Buck regretted bringing Chris up as Vin looked at him practically begging him to say Chris was coming. "I’m sorry, Vin," Buck said. "Chris is pretty angry. Blames himself for what happened." Buck laughed as Vin gave him the ‘stupid bastard’ look. "I know it’s stupid but you know how Chris is when he gets something in his head."

"He becomes completely unreasonable," Ezra said as he joined them.

The supplies Nettie was taking back to her place were arranged so that Vin could be propped up in a sitting position. His shoulder wound was almost healed, and except for whatever terrible thing had happened inside his head, he was as healthy as the rest of them, so there was no reason for him to have to lie down if he didn't want to.

They weren’t about to eat Nettie out of house and home while they stayed there and since they were paid for room and board they had made sure Nettie's cupboards would be well-stocked. They got Vin comfortable and Josiah climbed into the driver’s seat. Nathan climbed in back with Vin and they got ready to move out.

"You boys come get us if there’s any trouble," Josiah said. "We won’t be far away."

"Don’t worry Josiah we’ll be fine," Buck assured him. "Y’all take care of Vin. I expect to see him walk when I come out to visit."

"We’ll do our best," Josiah smiled then snapped the reins to get the horses moving.

Vin was disappointed that Chris hadn’t come to see him. He could never figure out why Chris always took the blame for stuff that wasn’t his fault. If Billy Travis hadn’t been messing with JD’s guns this never would have happened. It angered Vin that he couldn't tell the others that none of this was JD’s fault. He knew they all still had doubts about JD, and worst of all, JD was doubting himself. Vin sighed knowing there was nothing he could do until he regained his ability to speak. He didn't know how to make that happen, though. He knew what he wanted to say, but the words wouldn't come out. At first, it had been hard for him to even think the words, but he could do that now, most of the time, so he had to believe he'd keep getting better. He let the nagging fear that it he might stay just as he was slip from his mind as he watched the town disappear behind them .

Once they were left with open road. Vin relaxed against the sack of floor that was propping him up and enjoyed the warm sun and the breeze on his face. It was good to be outside again.

Nathan watched Vin to make sure he wasn’t in any pain. Now that Vin was out of town Nathan wasn’t surprised to see him relax, but it did surprise him  when a crooked little smile came to Vin’s lips as they got out in the open. After the accident Vin hadn’t seemed able to move any muscles in his face, but that had changed in the past few days. Nathan was beginning to dare hope Vin had a chance to recover, and, it was good to see him smile.


Nettie had decided to make apple dumplings for dessert since they were one of Vin’s favorites. She had come out on the porch to peel the apples while waiting for the men to arrive. Casey had already packed and was eager to make the temporary move to town. Nettie didn't blame her. It was a lonely life for a young girl living so far from everything like they did. They had prepared her room for Vin, and had set up a cot in the large store room next to the kitchen for JD, who would be staying out there with Vin. Casey hadn't been too happy to hear about that arrangement, since it meant she'd be just as far away from JD as she had been before, but she saw the need for it. Nettie would give Vin all the care and attention that she could, but at least one of the men would have to be there to help out. Vin wasn't a big man, but moving him still required physical strength she didn't have, and there were just some things that Vin would probably be more comfortable having Nathan or JD do for him.

She looked up and saw the wagon come around the bend in the road. She waited until the wagon stopped by the porch before she went to meet them.

"You boys have a good ride?" she asked as she walked over to the wagon.

"Wonderful, Nettie," Josiah boomed. "Nothing like being out in the early morning."

"I see Vin liked it also," Nettie smiled.

Vin turned his eyes to look at her and she winked at him. Josiah jumped down and helped Nathan with Vin. It pained Nettie to see the humiliation in Vin's eyes as Josiah lifted him from the wagon.

"Where do you want him?" Josiah asked.

"Got his room ready," Nettie said heading into the house.

"Nnnn," Vin blurted.

"What is it Vin?" Josiah asked. "Are we hurting you?"

Vin blinked twice and stared at Josiah. The preacher asked him a few more yes or no questions as he carried Vin to his room. All of the answers had been no and Josiah could see Vin was getting frustrated. Josiah laid him on the bed and Vin glared at him. Vin’s anger gave him purpose and he punched the mattress with his right hand.

"I’m sorry, Vin, I don’t know what you want," Josiah said.

"We better get the wagon unloaded," Nathan suggested. He wasn't trying to ignore Vin, but he could see that he was getting upset, and thought maybe he could use a moment  alone to calm down.

"Nnnn... No...," Vin managed to get out.

"You don’t want us to go?" JD asked.

Shit, JD Vin cursed. Can answer that two ways. Yeah I want ya’s to go but no I don’t want you ta leave me here.

"Hold on let’s figure this out," Nettie suggested, sitting beside Vin

"Alright when did Vin started to get agitated?" Nathan asked.

"When we brought him inside," JD said. As soon as JD said that they all smiled.

"Think we could have figured that one out," Josiah laughed. "He's been cooped up inside long enough."

They didn’t bother asking if that was what he wanted. Josiah just picked him up and headed back through the house. Nettie told JD to grab her good Heppelwhite chair so that Vin could have her comfortable rocker on the porch. Vin had gotten the chair back form Guy Royale when he tried to foreclose on Nettie's ranch and stole it because he liked it. JD carried it out to the porch for her and Josiah deposited Vin in the big rocker. Nathan propped some pillows around him so he wouldn’t fall over. Vin had regained enough muscle control that he could hold his head up and sit for short periods, but if he wasn't supported he tired quickly. 

Nathan covered Vin’s legs with a blanket and got a dirty look for his troubles. I ain't some old lady, Nathan!

Nettie sat beside him and continued peeling the apples as the other men unloaded the wagon. She watched out of the corner of her eye as Vin moved his trembling right hand to the edge of the blanket and with a movement that was more luck than coordination managed to push the blanket off.

Nettie casually picked it up and draped it over the back of her own chair. "Okay, Vin, have it your way," she smiled.

She offered Vin a small slice of peeled apple, only she didn't hold it near his mouth. She wanted to see what would happen if he had to reach for it. When he was trying to remove the blanket, she'd noticed that part of his difficulty was that he couldn't hold his arm or hand steady.

He tried reaching for the apple, but he didn't even come close. His hand flopped uselessly in his lap. He threw his head back angrily.

"Let's have none of that, young man," Nettie scolded, and with her free hand, she encircled Vin's wrist while using her forearm to steady his. She guided his hand to the apple slice and he was able to close his fingers around it without too much effort. She then guided his hand to his mouth. She patted his arm as he carefully chewed the piece of fruit. "It's just going to take practice, son. Practice and hard work. Gettin' yer dander up every time somethin' is hard fer ya ain't gonna get nothin' done."

Vin didn't acknowledge her, but she knew he had understood. He managed to swallow the apple and then sat back in complete contentment as he watched Josiah, Nathan and JD unload the wagon. He noticed that along with the food, they also unloaded several pieces of lumber. Nettie's fences all seemed okay, so he wondered what they intended to do with it.. When the wagon was unloaded Nathan climbed into the driver’s seat and headed the wagon for town. Josiah and JD walked over to the house.

"Where’s Nathan headed?" Nettie asked.

"We forgot nails," JD smiled sheepishly.

"How ya doing Vin?" Josiah asked. "Like it out here don’t you?" Vin blinked once and the preacher smiled.

"Well it’s time for your exercise," Josiah said. Vin became alarmed and glanced at Nettie. He didn’t want her to see.

Nathan had explained to Nettie how they had been helping Vin exercise his limbs, and how he believed it was doing him some good. She didn't want him to be embarrassed about it on her account. "Vin, I'd like to help," Nettie said guessing what Vin was thinking. "And it won't bother me a bit, so I don't want it to bother you."

Vin seemed relieved by that.

"Do you want to do it outside?" Josiah asked. Vin looked around then his eyes settled on the road. "I don’t think anyone will come. No one will see you but us."

Vin reluctantly agreed and Nettie went inside to get a blanket. She came back out and spread a thick quilt on the porch. Josiah lifted Vin from the chair being careful of his arm, and lowered him onto the quilt. JD helped position him so his arms and legs were as straight as they could get them. True to Nathan's prediction, despite their efforts, his arms and legs still wanted to fold up.

Josiah started on Vin’s right leg. He bent it at the knee and manipulated it to work the muscles. JD knew Vin didn’t really like to be touched and only tolerated this because he desperately wanted to get better. Josiah worked all Vin’s limbs except his left shoulder and arm while JD worked on turning his head from side to side and moving it up and down to ease the stiffness in his neck muscles. JD wondered at the fact that Vin didn't seem to mind his presence. Right from the start, he had willingly accepted help from him.. JD by rights should have expected just the opposite, considering he was responsible for Vin's condition.

Josiah carefully eased Vin’s left arm from the sling. Vin groaned as the wound pulled.

"Sorry Vin," Josiah said. "I’m going to work on your back now."

JD helped Josiah remove Vin’s shirt. They rolled Vin onto his stomach and JD turned Vin’s head so he could look out to the road. Josiah began to knead the muscles of Vin’s left shoulder. None of them knew if this would even work but Nathan figured it would help circulate Vin’s blood. JD laughed as Vin sighed in pleasure. Josiah slowly moved down Vin’s back. Vin gasped in pain as he worked on the curve in Vin’s lower back.

"That paining you son?" Josiah asked and Vin blinked once. "Guess you’re using them muscles when you sit. I’ll go easy and try to loosen them up."

When Nathan had first discovered the slight curve in Vin’s spine, he’d never seen anything like it before and figured Vin had had it since birth. Nathan figured that Vin's tendency to lean to one side was an effort to relieve the pressure on his spine. It didn’t seem to hamper Vin’s agility or movement, but it looked painful, so it probably was. Josiah kneaded the muscles along the curve and felt them relax under his strong fingers.

"Jeez, Josiah, you relaxed everything," JD laughed when he saw Vin was asleep.

"Maybe I’ll let you work on this old spine," Nettie smiled.

Josiah folded the quilt over Vin and stood up to stretch, thinking it would be a good idea if he and Nathan made a table of some kind to do this on. Squatting on the hard ground was tough on his back.

Nathan returned by lunch time to find Vin still asleep. The healer frowned at first when they told him how long he'd been napping, but after checking him out, he concluded it was probably just that Vin was truly comfortable, even lying on the hard wooden porch like he was. The fresh air and sunshine were doing as much for him as any medicine could.

Still, he wanted to wake Vin to make him eat something but Nettie said she'd feed him later.

Nathan looked at her sympathetically. "You know that means really feeding him," he said. "Vin can't manage a fork or spoon, not without a lot of help."

"I got time to give him all the help he needs," Nettie assured them. "'Specially since I have you three to do the work," she laughed.

With some help from JD and Casey, Nathan and Josiah spent the rest of the day in the barn erecting a paralell set of rails so that Vin would have something to hold onto while he practiced standing and, they hoped, walking. They made a sturdy table for the exercises and padded the floor around everything with soft hay to cushion any accidental falls. Nathan had brought the wheelchair from the clinic when he'd gone for the nails, and they made sure there was an even path for it from the house to the barn.

They worked until the sun went down, when Nettie called everyone to supper. Everyone could see Vin was exhausted, but he had wanted to be outside the entire day, coming in only once for Nathan to take care of his personal needs.  They had moved him to the wheelchair and Vin was not the least bit happy about it, but seemed to agree that it was preferable to being carried.

At lunch, Nettie had allowed Vin to try to feed himself, even though she had to hold his hand steady and keep his fingers wrapped around the utensils, and much of the food never got to his mouth. But when dinner came, she knew he was tired and hungry and that he would eat better if he was fed. Vin didn't seem too upset by the idea until he noticed that Casey was doing her level best to avoid looking at him. Hell, he didn't blame her. He'd probably do the same thing in her place.

Nettie touched his hand and he looked at her. She smiled reassuringly and squeezed his hand as she offered him another mouthful of her apple dumplings. Vin opened his mouth. What the hell did he care what Casey thought? He was hungry and Nettie was a damn good cook.


For two weeks, they continued with the exercises and watched as Vin made painstaking progress. JD was with him all the time, having taken to heart what Chris had told him about Vin being his responsibility now. He'd paid meticulous attention to Nathan's instructions regarding what he had to do to care for Vin's physical needs, and devoted himself to making sure Vin was as comfortable as he could possibly be. Nathan, Buck and Josiah would alternate days helping him out with the excercises and just keeping Vin company.

Ezra had his own task to perform and rode out to Nettie's every other day to spend several hours with Vin in the afternoon. Vin had resisted Ezra's efforts, at first - he hadn't forgotten how the gambler had laughed at him once, and in his present condition, he didn't think it would take much for him to do it again.

He was wrong about that, though. Ezra never laughed, not once, although, he did threaten to kick his ass a time or two.

Vin watched as Ezra laid out pieces of paper on Nettie's kitchen table. They had drawings on them that Ezra had done himself, and Vin had to admit, he wasn't a bad artist.

"Shall we begin, Mr. Tanner?"

"Kay... Ez," Vin replied with effort.

Ezra tapped one of the drawings with his finger. Vin hated this. It was so fucking boring, and they had to do it inside, so the papers didn't blow away. But, it did seem to help, so he examined the picture and, as Ezra had suggested, tried to imagine saying the word before he actually attempted it. The picture was a rifle, but he had a hell of a time making that "rrr" sound. It came out sounding like baby talk.

He took the easy way out. "G.. gu.. nn."

Ezra glared at him. "Not acceptable, Mr. Tanner."

Vin sighed. "W....ww..."

"No," Ezra corrected. "Ri... fle. Position your lips as if you were attempting to whistle, then try it."

"W...rrrr...... ri... fo." There, he did that sound.

"Get that last sound in there Vin. Ri-fu-luh."

Aw hell, Ezra, you know what I mean! Vin sighed. "ww...rrri... fu..LUH," he snorted.

Ezra smiled. "Mr. Tanner, sometimes you make me feel very unappreciated." He stabbed his finger at another drawing.

It was Vin's turn to glare. "Tww...racks," he responded.

"What kind of tracks?"

"" Vin teased.

Ezra waited patiently.

Vin sighed again. "Wwww... tracks." To his surprise, the word 'tracks' came out easily.

Ezra smiled. "That was good, Vin."

He pointed to the next picture, and for the first time, Vin took note of the entire group of drawings. Rabbit, rake, rooster, rope, rock... Damn it, Ezra. "Man... on..."

"Well, yes...," Ezra nodded, "however, the word I am attempting to suggest is 'rider.'"

Hell, you think I don't know that, you son-of-a-butt? "Www..." Shit! "Ri-do."

"Ri-deR," Ezra emphasized the end sound.

"Ri.." Vin thought out the sound. "Ri-der." He leaned back in his chair, and gave Ezra a crooked little smile.

Ezra smiled and nodded, but then went on to the next picture, and the next, and the next, moving along only when he was satisfied that Vin had made his best effort to say the word associated with each image. It was tiring, but Vin actually noticed the "rrr" sound becoming easier to say with each attempt. Ezra methods may not have been very entertaining, but he knew they worked. He'd mastered a few other difficult sounds by practicing them this way, over and over. Ezra never became impatient, but he did insist he do his best, so Vin had come to expect no less of himself.

When they were done with the pictures, they practiced numbers, colors, and names again. Vin had gotten pretty good at most of those, even though he still had to take his time.

Nathan sat back and watched the two men work.Ezra was relentless. He had made it his personal mission to see that Vin regained his ability to speak, and he had refused to accept Nathan's caution that it might not be possible. He would push Vin to his limit and then demand more from him. Nathan thought he was too rough on the injured man at times, but Vin would work with him until he was completely exhausted.

The results of their combined effort had been noticeable. Vin was slowly beginning to communicate with words again, and when he spoke, it was easier to understand what he was trying to say. The return of his ability to express his basic needs had made it easier on all of them, since they no longer had to guess when he was tired, or thirsty or needed to relieve himself.

He still had a long way to go, though, and it was understandabe that he became frustrated and depressed at times. Most of that was due to the rough shape he was in, Nathan knew, but some of it had to do with Chris Larabee. Nathan knew Vin didn't understand why Chris hadn't been to see him. He had asked about it - or tried to - but never pressed the matter when they couldn't give him an answer. That's just how Vin was, figuring what Larabee did - or didn't do - was his own business, even if his behavior was confusing and painful. Nathan worried that Vin perhaps thought that Chris had no more use for him now that he wasn't able to do all that had been expected of him before.

Nobody understood Chris. Nathan knew Buck had talked to him. So had Josiah. But the man's head could have been made of wood for all the good it did. A wooden head and a heart that was a block of ice. How could he do this to Vin? Yeah, it was hard watching a grown man trying to do things a three-year-old could easily do, but it was a hell of a lot harder for Vin.

Nathan was disappointed in Chris. They all were. And they knew Vin had to be hurting worse than any of them.


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