by Hombre

Vin drove out of town and headed toward Deckers. He parked near the river and pitched his tent, lit a fire and laid out his bedroll. He didn't think it was going to rain and he wanted to sleep under the stars but if the weather turned nasty at least he'd got the tent ready for use.

After eating a takeout meal that he'd picked up on the way, he lay on his side and stared into the fire. The flames were mesmeric and he soon felt his eyelids drooping. He fell asleep to the sound of crackling wood and woke screaming at midnight. At least there's nobody to hear me, he said to himself. He sat up and shivered as he wrapped himself in a blanket. The night had grown cold and the fire had died down. He rekindled it and sat staring into its depths again as he wondered how Chris had taken the news of his escape. Poor Nate. I hope Chris don't give him a hard time.

Vin stayed awake until dawn and then busied himself around the campsite. He made himself a fishing rod from a branch and found the fishing line that he always carried in his backpack. He spent the day fishing and managed to catch enough fish to eat for lunch. He found the solitary existence calming and it gave him time to think about recent events. He found it easier to think when he was on his own and he began to realize he couldn't have acted any differently in the circumstances.

+ + + + + + +

The next morning Chris drove to Vin's apartment to see if he'd returned. The jeep was nowhere in sight but Chris climbed up the stairs to the apartment anyway. When he got no answer to his knock he pulled out his keys and sorted out the one for Vin's door. He felt guilty entering when Vin wasn't there but he wanted to look around to see what exactly had been taken. He walked through to the bedroom and checked the closets. Very little had been taken in the way of clothes and Chris hoped that meant Vin would return soon. As he made his way back to the front door, Vin's phone rang.

"Shall I answer it?" Chris asked himself out loud. He decided he'd better, in case it was important.


"Chris? What are you doing in my apartment?" Vin asked. He'd meant to ring his friend last night to let him know he was alright but he had deliberately left his phone behind so Chris couldn't pester him. Vin had driven to Castle Rock in the afternoon to buy a few supplies and had seen a payphone and decided to use it.

"Vin? Where are you? Are you alright?"

"I'm fine. I rang the ranch and work and got no reply so I thought I'd try my apartment. I knew you'd be there," Vin replied.

"Why didn't you call my cell?"

"I wanted to check where you were. You could say you were anywhere on the cell so I stuck to land lines," Vin informed his friend. He knew Chris was only concerned for his safety but he did slightly resent the fact that Chris was poking around in his home.

"You're a sly sod, Vin. I was only seeing what you'd taken with you. I wanted to know how long you intended to be away."

"I just need to be on my own. You know I hate being smothered. This is something I need to come to terms with myself. There's nothing you can do to help, cowboy. I promise I'll be back in a couple of days."

"I'm here if you wanna talk. Don't shut me out, Vin. Keep in touch, won't ya?"

"You didn't bawl out Nate for losing me, did ya? It wasn't his fault," Vin asked.

"No, I didn't. I know what you're like. When you get a bee in yer bonnet there's no stopping you. Where are you?" the blond inquired. He knew it was futile asking but he was worth a try. He wouldn't go to Vin if he told him where he was but he just wanted to know for his own peace of mind.

"Oh no. I'm not telling ya. I'll ring when I get back, Chris. I promise."

"Vin? Vin? Dammit." Chris slammed down the phone. God, the man was exasperating.

+ + + + + + +

Chris didn't hear from the sharpshooter again and he was beginning to get worried. He knew Vin would keep to his word and return within a few days but he couldn't help but be concerned for his welfare. He carried on as best he could and when he arrived at work three days after the initial call, the phone in his office was ringing.


"It's me. I'm coming home. I'll meet ya later for a drink if ya like," Vin said.

"Sure. Are you okay?"

"Yeah. I'm fine. It's given me time to think and put things into perspective. We'll talk when I get back."

"See ya later, cowboy," Chris said. He was very relieved to hear from his friend. He put the phone down and ran his fingers through his hair as he leaned back in his chair and grinned from ear to ear. He was really looking forward to seeing Tanner again and making sure he was alright.

Buck walked into his office and saw the smile on Chris's face. "What's made you so agreeable this morning, pard?"

"Just heard from Vin. He's coming back."

"Great. Did he sound alright?" the ladies' man asked. He could tell Chris was mightily relieved. He knew his friend had been worried sick ever since Vin had disappeared.

"Yeah. He sounded good. I'm gonna meet up with him later. I s'pose all of you will want to come, but I think I'll see him on my own to start with."

"Sure, Chris. Let us know if we can do anything to help."

Chris tried to concentrate on work but he was just too unsettled. He looked at his watch for about the fourth time in an hour and knew it was a waste of time trying to continue working. He thought that Vin may well have returned to town and he decided to catch up with him at the apartment rather than waiting to see him in the evening. He picked up his keys and put on his coat before hurrying into the outer office and telling Buck where he was going. He walked along to the elevator and rode down to the parking lot. He jumped into the Ram and drove out onto the street and drove quickly to Vin's part of town.

+ + + + + + +

Vin felt good as he drove back to Denver. He felt content and thought he would gradually come to terms with what had happened. Although he still suffered from nightmares, they didn't upset him so much. He'd relaxed a lot while he'd been away and spent most of his time walking, fishing and just taking pleasure in his own company. He smiled as he thought back over the last few days. He'd really quite enjoyed himself despite the reason for him being there.

When he reached his apartment he parked outside and made his way upstairs, laden down with his equipment. He put the key in the lock and was suddenly propelled forwards by a push to the small of his back as he opened the door. He sprawled headlong into his apartment and heard movement behind him. Towner had been waiting for his return. The policeman got hold of Vin's hair and pulled him to his feet and punched him in the face. Towner let Vin fall to the ground and then turned and picked up Vin's stuff from outside and closed the door behind him.

"What do you want?" Vin gasped as he put a hand to his cheek.

Towner rounded on him and said, "I've been charged with assault and been suspended because of you. I might lose everything, my job, pension, everything. I hold you responsible for my partner's death. You should've killed the target earlier. You had plenty of time to act."

As he spoke, Towner pulled Vin to his feet and dragged him into the bedroom. Vin struggled but he was no match for the bigger man. Towner tied the sharpshooter, by his wrists and ankles, to a chair and then left the room. Vin could hear him rummaging around in the hallway. The man returned with one near empty bottle of whiskey and several empty ones. He also carried a small box under his arm. Vin waited in trepidation as he wondered what Towner had planned for him.

The man eventually approached him and pulled up one of Vin's sleeves roughly. He tied a rag tight around his upper arm before producing a syringe of liquid.

"What is it?" Vin asked. He couldn't drag his eyes away from the syringe and he recoiled from Towner's grip.

"You don't need to know." Towner studied the inside of Vin's elbow and stuck the needle into a vein and emptied the contents. Vin struggled but he knew his efforts were futile.

Towner then picked up the whiskey and forced Vin to accept the mouth of the bottle in his lips. He tipped the bottle up to empty the spirit into Vin's mouth. The long-haired man resisted by sticking his tongue tight behind his clenched teeth and preventing the liquid from entering his mouth. Towner pinched his nose and Vin had to open his mouth in order to breathe. Towner took advantage and quickly emptied the bottle's contents into his mouth and then clamped his hand over Vin's lips so he couldn't spit the whiskey out. Vin had to swallow or choke because Towner still had hold of his nostrils. He chose to swallow. Vin then watched as Towner scattered the other bottles around the room and also dropped some pills on the floor. He untied Vin from the chair and threw him on the bed, leaving him on top of the covers. He placed a pill bottle near Vin's hand and also left one of the whiskey bottles on the bed.

Vin's vision blurred and he felt lightheaded and hot. Towner's image was floating before his eyes and the room was spinning faster and faster. He hadn't eaten that day and the alcohol had gone straight to his head. He was sure he could feel the drug coursing its way through his veins too as he began to get drowsy and felt his eyes closing.

Towner tidied away his things and checked to make sure he hadn't left anything incriminating behind. He moved Vin's camping equipment into the kitchen and left one of the whiskey bottles there too. Towner intended for Vin to be branded as suicidal and a drug addict and unfit for his job on the day of the shooting. His death would signify his feeling of guilt. The policeman had been planning his revenge ever since the day he'd been charged with assault by the police. The loss of his partner and the humiliation of his situation had festered in his mind and he'd begun to behave in an increasingly irrational manner.

Towner was positive he had succeeded in his deception and that Vin would soon be dead. He walked back into the bedroom and checked Vin once more and saw that he was now semi-conscious. The man laughed and left the apartment.

+ + + + + + +

Chris drove quickly through town and parked outside Vin's apartment block. He saw Vin's jeep there and he hurried upstairs and knocked on the apartment door but got no reply.

"Vin?" he shouted. He searched his pockets and found the key to the apartment. He unlocked the door and entered quietly. "Vin? Are you there?"

He walked into the kitchen and saw the tent and other things stacked there. He also saw the whiskey bottle and he picked it up and shook it. Empty. He frowned in concern and walked through to the lounge. He found another empty bottle there.

"Empty. Shit. Vin, where are you?" Chris had a feeling of dread but he didn't want to believe what his mind was telling him. He headed to the bedroom and found his friend sprawled on the bed. His heart skipped a beat as he took in the unwelcome sight. He looked round the room and saw the numerous bottles and pills scattered around before rushing over to the sharpshooter and leaning over him.

"Jesus Christ. What the hell have you done, cowboy?" he said totally shocked. He picked up the pill bottle and threw it aside. "Shit. Vin? How many did you take?" he asked desperately as he shook his friend. He slapped his face to try and rouse him and then felt for a pulse.

Chris felt sick and wondered whether he'd misread Vin's mood earlier. It was always difficult to tell how the sharpshooter was feeling, but Chris really believed him this time when he'd said he was fine. Surely Vin wouldn't have taken his own life? He sounded happier when I spoke to him earlier. It's just so unlike Vin to be so dramatic, but perhaps I hadn't realized how badly this whole episode had affected him.

He pulled out his phone and rang for an ambulance. After that he picked up the pill bottle again and studied the label intently. It was not prescribed to Vin and Chris wondered where he had obtained it. His attention was drawn to the bed as Vin moaned and stirred. The man's eyes opened and he vomited. Chris lifted him and turned him on his side quickly so he didn't asphyxiate or choke if he vomited again. He held Vin's face gently between his hands and looked into his blue eyes but could tell his friend was not really aware of what was going on. He stroked his cheek and hoped the paramedics would arrive soon. He didn't know what to do to help his friend. He didn't know what the pills were that Vin had swallowed and he knew he needed to find out the quantity ingested so he could tell the paramedics.

"Vin? Vin, listen to me. How many pills did you take?"

"Dint," Vin mumbled incoherently after a minute had passed. Chris had to concentrate hard to distinguish what the sharpshooter had said and even then he wasn't sure he'd understood his friend correctly. The man sounded very drunk and sleepy.

"The bottle's empty, Vin. Did you take them all?" Chris slapped his friend's face again to try and make him pay attention.


"Vin? You're not making sense. Come on, stick with me buddy," he said as he saw Vin's eyes closing. He slapped the man's face again and shook his shoulders. Vin reopened his eyes but couldn't seem to focus.

"Talk to me, Vin. Come on. Why did you have to do this? Did you take the pills with the whiskey?" Chris asked despairingly. He could smell the drink on his friend's breath but he couldn't believe Vin had drunk the amount he thought he had.

"Tow....ner.....sringe," Vin mumbled. His mind was forming the words but he knew only half of what he wanted to say was actually emerging from his lips. He tried to focus on Chris but he felt sick and he threw up again.

Chris saw that there were no pills in the vomit and he frowned. Surely there should have been if Vin had swallowed some. He thought back over Vin's words and slowly began to understand. He grabbed Vin's arms and studied them closely and found a needle mark and some blood on his right arm. He also saw marks on Vin's wrists that looked as if he'd been tied up. Chris checked the sharpshooter's ankles and found the same marks on them too.

"Did Towner inject you with something? Is that what you're trying to tell me?" Chris noticed for the first time the bruising to Vin's face. It could have been caused by the sharpshooter falling over while drunk but Chris had his doubts. Taken with all the other evidence on show he was becoming convinced that Vin had been injected against his will.

"Did Towner do this to you?" he repeated more forcefully.


"Fuck him. Did he hit you, Vin? What did he give you?" Chris was getting panicky. He watched as Vin lost the battle to stay conscious and closed his eyes. Chris heard voices calling and he hurried out into the hallway. He saw the paramedics and ushered them into the bedroom.

"I don't think he took the pills that are scattered around. There aren't any in his vomit. He says he was injected with something, but he's not very coherent so I can't be sure. There's a needle mark in his arm and I can smell whiskey on his breath but I don't think he could have drunk all the whiskey from the bottles left around. He doesn't like whiskey much anyway. It also looks as though he was tied up at some point."

The paramedic put out a hand and moved Chris out of the way. "Okay. We'll take over. What's his name?"


"Vin? Can you tell me what you've taken?" Vin didn't reply and the paramedic started doing a thorough examination while firing questions at Chris.

"Does he have a drugs history?"

"No! I told you. Someone injected him on purpose. He's an ATF agent. He doesn't do drugs," Chris barked angrily.

"Was he conscious when you found him?"

"No, but he woke fairly soon afterwards." Chris trembled as he watched the paramedics treat his friend. He tried to remain calm but his composure was slipping. He looked longingly at the empty whiskey bottle. If it had been full he would have gladly taken a swig from it.

He turned his attention back to Vin and watched as the paramedics started a drip and gave his friend oxygen. They then transferred him to a stretcher and took him downstairs quickly to the ambulance. Chris followed in their wake and got in the back with Vin.

When they arrived at the hospital Vin was whisked away and Chris was left on his own in the waiting room. He wanted someone to talk to so he pulled out his phone and called Buck.

"Buck? I need you at the hospital. It's about Vin." Chris hung up before Buck could ask any questions. He paced the room in a total panic and hoped Buck would arrive soon.

The ladies' man took fifteen minutes to get to the hospital and he found Chris still wandering about in a daze. He hurried over to his friend and put a hand on his arm to get his attention. "Chris? What's happened? Is Vin alright?" He looked at Chris and saw the anger on his face.

"No, he's not alright. I went to his apartment and found him in the bedroom. It was as if he'd tried to kill himself. There were pills and empty whiskey bottles all over the place. He was out of it when I got there but he woke up and said something about Towner and a syringe. I found a needle mark in his arm. I think he was trying to tell me that Towner tried to kill him and then made it look like suicide."

"Shit. Do you know what he gave him? Are you sure that's what happened?"

"I don't know. He sounded drunk and wasn't making much sense, but he'd definitely been tied up. I thought he was dead, Bucklin. I never want to go through that again." Chris broke down and sobbed and Buck pulled him into his arms and hugged him tight. He rubbed his back comfortingly and held him until he calmed down.

"What are you gonna do?" Buck asked. "About Towner, I mean?"

"When I hear how Vin is, I'm gonna find him and get him to tell me the truth. I'm gonna kill him if he did this."

"I'll come with you. I'll get Nate to wait here with Vin." Buck didn't want to let Chris out of his sight in his present frame of mind. He was likely to carry out his threat and kill the man. He pulled out his phone and punched in Nathan's number while watching his friend closely. The phone rang for about a minute before the medic answered.

"Nate? It's Buck. Can you get to the hospital pronto? Vin's been given an overdose by Towner or at least that's what Chris thinks happened."

"Jesus. I'll leave now. Don't let Chris do anything irrational," the medic instructed.

"Easier said than done, pard. You know it's like spitting in the wind when he gets angry," Buck replied as he hung up.

Twenty minutes passed and there was still no news of Vin. Chris was pacing the waiting room, angrily muttering under his breath. Buck sat and watched his friend anxiously and wondered what the man was going to do when he confronted Towner. The ladies' man looked up as he heard running feet and he smiled in relief when Nathan hurried into the room.

"Any news?" the medic asked.

"No, nothing," Buck said as he kept his eye on Chris.

"What happened?"

"Don't know really. Chris found Vin at his apartment. There were pills and empty bottles of whiskey all over the place. Chris managed to get him to speak and he said something about Towner being there but he was very incoherent. Anyway he possibly mentioned a syringe and Chris found a puncture mark on Vin's arm. We're still waiting to hear what the drug was that he was given."

A doctor walked in as Buck finished talking and Chris immediately changed direction to intercept the man before he reached Buck.

"How is he?" Chris asked fiercely.

"He's on a ventilator and comatose and suffering from shock. It was a large dose he was given and it's affected him badly. He was having trouble breathing but he seems to be improving. It'll take a while for his body to rid itself of the drug but because he was found quickly he should recover fully."

"What was the drug?" Buck asked.

"Benzodiazepine. It's a sedative-hypnotic drug and made him very sleepy and one of its effects is depressing respiration. The alcohol accelerated its absorption into his system and could have killed him. Now we know what drug is involved we've given him the appropriate antagonist to counteract the symptoms."

"Can we see him?" Buck asked.

"Not yet. I'll come and get you when you can." The doctor left the room and Chris headed toward the door.

Buck stood quickly and hurried after his friend. He turned and called to Nathan as he left, "You stay here with Vin, will ya? I'll try to keep a leash on Chris but it looks like we're making a house call."

Nathan shook his head at Chris's temper and took a seat to wait for their return.

+ + + + + + +

"I'll drive," Buck said as he caught up with Chris outside the hospital. "You're in no fit state to be behind the wheel of a lethal weapon. Hand over your keys."

Chris nodded and did as he was told. He got in the passenger seat without arguing and sat in silence. Buck drove to Towner's house and Chris was out of his seat and storming up to the front door almost before Buck had parked. The ladies' man rushed up the path after him but Chris was already pounding on the door. Towner answered it and found a furious ATF agent in his face. Chris pushed the man backwards and followed him into the hallway.

"You worthless piece of shit. Did you think you'd get away with what you did to Vin? You're not worthy of your place on Earth."

Towner looked shocked and Chris realized that the man hadn't expected his deception to be discovered because he thought Vin would be dead. It was the last straw and Chris continued to force the man backwards. The blond had lost control of his temper completely and he wanted retribution for what had happened to Vin.

"You know Vin's alive and pointing the finger at you? We got to him in time and he'll be alright but that's more than can be said for you. I shoulda punished you when you attacked Vin last time. I want to hear you confess to giving Vin an overdose."

Chris continued pushing the man as he spoke and he eventually came up against a wall. Chris hit him in the stomach and when Towner bent over he grasped the neck of his shirt and his pant's waistband and threw him bodily against the wall opposite. Towner collided hard with the obstruction and fell in a heap at Chris's feet. Chris reached down and pulled him upright and sent several more punches to his face and body.

"Answer me! Did you give Vin an overdose?" Chris yelled.

"Yes. He ruined everything. He deserved it," Towner said spitefully. Towner was furious with himself. He'd let the need for revenge cloud his judgement and it had backfired disastrously. I should've known Larabee would find out what I'd done. Damn Tanner. I should have just shot him and got it over with.

Chris grabbed him in a rage and hit him over and over again. Buck had been watching from the doorway and decided to end the one- sided fight. He didn't want Chris to jeopardize his own career over such a person.

"Chris, pack it in. He's had enough," Buck pleaded as he reached out a hand and pulled his friend away.

"Well, I haven't."

"Chris, will you fucking do as you're told for once. Just leave it, will ya? Do ya wanna kill him? How's Vin gonna feel if you do?" Buck asked furiously.

The rage slowly left Chris and he backed away from the cowering man. Buck phoned for the police to come and collect Towner and charge him with attempted murder. He stood between Towner and Chris in case the blond took it into his head to take matters further. Buck sincerely hoped he didn't because he knew Chris was too much for him to handle when he was enraged.

The ladies' man turned to Towner and asked, "You won't be complaining to the police to try and get Chris in trouble, will you? I'll say you attacked Chris first if you do and who are they more likely to believe?"

Towner just stared at him and didn't answer. Buck took that to mean he understood the implications and left it at that. Buck heard the sound of sirens and then saw the police coming up the path to the house. He explained what had happened and left them to deal with Towner.

He herded Chris outside and put him in the car. He drove back to the hospital and both men hurried through to the waiting room. Nathan was still there and Buck sat down beside him.

"How's Vin?" Chris almost shouted. He was still on a high after dealing with Towner and he was acting aggressively. Nathan put out his hands to placate Chris and stood up warily. Chris realized he was behaving badly and backed away.

"Haven't seen him yet. Did you find Towner?" Nathan asked although he could tell from Chris's demeanor that they had.

"Yeah, you could say that. He's learnt his lesson, I think," Buck said as he exchanged a knowing glance with Nathan. "Police have got him now."

The three men turned as a doctor came into the room while Buck was talking. "You can see your friend now. He's still unconscious but if you want to sit with him, you can." The man was almost run down in the rush to the door by the three men he was talking to.

They entered Vin's room together but Nathan decided to leave the two men alone with the sharpshooter.

He patted Buck's shoulder to get the man's attention. "I'll go and tell the others what happened. I'll come back tomorrow to spell one of you."

"Okay. Thanks, Nate," Buck said.

Chris and Buck split up and sat on opposite sides of the bed. Vin was very pale and still and the only sound in the room was the ventilator and heart monitor. The doctor came to check Vin over periodically and after several hours had passed it was decided that the sharpshooter could be removed from the ventilator.

"He's improving well. He's just lightly unconscious now so it shouldn't be too long before he wakes."

"Thanks, Doc." Buck turned his gaze to the blond man opposite him after the doctor left.

"Are you okay, Chris?"

"I will be when Vin's better."

Chris took one of Vin's hands in his and sat back to wait for him to wake. The sharpshooter started to move about in the bed after a while and mumbled in his sleep. He settled down after feeling Chris's touch and the room was quiet for a time. It was so quiet, in fact, that both visitors fell asleep too.

+ + + + + + +

"Chris! No!"

Chris was on his feet in an instant at the cry from the bed. He saw Vin was sitting bolt upright in bed and shaking uncontrollably. He put a hand on Vin's shoulder and patted his back.

"Vin? What's up? You're safe, buddy. Everything's okay," he murmured quietly. He put both his hands around Vin's face and turned the man's head so he could look in his eyes. "Nightmare?"

"Yeah. Jesus Christ," Vin answered as he looked around the room. "Why am I here?" He couldn't remember what had happened. He still felt very tired and had a massive headache. Jesus it must have been some party, he thought to himself. His tongue felt like an old sock and the taste in his mouth was abominable.

"I found you in your apartment. I thought you'd killed yourself."

"No.........It was Towner," Vin said, becoming distressed as he began to recollect events.

"I know. Don't worry. You get some rest. Tell me all about it when you wake again. Do you want a drink?" Chris asked.

"Yes, please."

Chris held a glass of water for him and stroked his face and with Buck's help they lowered him back onto the bed. Chris kept hold of Vin's hand and watched as the sharpshooter closed his eyes and went back to sleep.

"You okay, Chris?" Buck asked again.

"Yeah. I really could have killed Towner, you know?"

"I know Chris. It's over now so don't stress about it. He'll get what's coming to him. He really blamed Vin for what happened and it twisted his mind. He must've been a bit unstable to act so irrationally. He planned things meticulously but he didn't reckon on you finding Vin so quickly."

"Yeah, Vin was lucky but even if Towner was unstable it still doesn't excuse what he did."

The two men sat in silence and Vin slept for several hours. He woke again in the early morning and looked round the room and spotted the blond man asleep beside him.


"Yeah. I'm right here. How do you feel?" Chris asked as he wiped his eyes to wake himself up.

"Better. Still tired though. Think I could sleep for a year."

"Well, you were given enough drugs to knock you out for that long. Do you feel up to telling us what happened?" Chris inquired tentatively.

Vin sighed and was quiet for a while before he started talking. "I went back to the apartment and Towner must have been waiting for me. He pushed me from behind and hit me. He had some whiskey and made me drink it. I couldn't stop him 'cause he tied me to a chair and held my nose so I had to swallow it. Before that he injected me with something but he wouldn't tell me what it was."

"It was benzodiazepine. God, I thought you'd done yerself in. I couldn't understand why you would have done though. You seemed okay when you phoned earlier in the day. I must have found you soon after Towner left. You managed to tell me something about what happened but I had trouble understanding you." Chris smiled at his friend and patted his shoulder. Chris could still see the image of Vin's body on the bed and he shook his head to clear his mind.

"What happened to Towner?" Vin asked.

"I went to see him. I sorted it out."

"You didn't do anything rash, did you?" Vin asked apprehensively. He knew what Chris could be like when he was riled.

"Me? No. Just gave him a lesson in manners. He's been arrested for attempted murder. Don't worry, he was still in one piece when I left him."

Vin looked at Buck to get confirmation and received a slight nod in reply. He could tell from Buck's look though that Chris had beaten the man badly.

"Remind me not to rile you Chris, will ya?" Vin asked.

Chris grinned ferally.

+ + + + + + +

Vin was released from hospital and stayed with Chris for a while. He still suffered from nightmares about the shooting and his overdose but he gradually accepted what had happened to him.

The inquiry into the shooting was held a few weeks later and Vin was very relieved when he was cleared of all blame. Although he knew he couldn't have done anything to stop what happened he did wonder whether the hearing would judge otherwise.

+ + + + + + +

It had been a stressful few weeks and Chris knew the men needed to let off steam. He arranged for them all to meet up one evening in Inez's saloon to relax and celebrate Vin's return to health.

"What do you want to drink, Vin?" Chris asked.

"Just a juice please. Can't face any alcohol at the moment."

Chris placed a drink in front of him and patted his shoulder. "Are you ready to return to work?" he asked once the other men had settled down.

"Yeah. It's gonna take time to forget what happened and I know it won't be easy but I'll be alright. What else am I gonna do with my life anyway?"

"You could become a beach bum, Mr. Tanner. I can just see you posing with a surfboard and surrounded by comely wenches," Ezra said smiling at the image.

"Na. Not my style."

"You could have fooled me," Ezra replied as he raised an eyebrow.

Vin reached out and punched him playfully and burst out laughing. Ezra could always make him feel better no matter how bad things got.

The End

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