Chapter 9
Chris was out of bed before Nathan or Josiah could react. But the healer was soon clucking his tongue and shaking his head slowly when the blond stood and promptly fell heavily onto the bed again.

"Shit!" He exclaimed in frustration and pain.

"I warned ya what would happen, Chris. Yer not well enough to be outta bed yet."

"Never stopped me before," Chris answered defiantly. He really was peeved. When Josiah had explained why he hadn’t left yet, Chris decided he couldn’t just lay there. He felt okay while he was laying down, it was when he tried to stand that he began to have problems.

Nathan sighed and sat in the chair near the bed. He lifted dark brown eyes and watched as Chris looked up and their eyes locked.

"Chris. You’re gonna be no help. Think about it. If you did get outta here and on your horse, what would happen if Josiah found ‘im? He’d have to worry about you too and so less care could be taken of Vin, who hasn’t had any medical help." Nathan tried desperately to reason with the pale face looking at him. He was weary and worried and just for once would have liked it if one of his patients would listen to him and do as he said. Where Chris Larabee was concerned he decided that was wishful thinking.

Chris sat and said nothing. His green eyes showing how frustrated he was feeling but also starting to show signs of acceptance, which stunned Nathan, but also the healer took advantage of it.

"The best thing ya can do is stay here in town. Vin’ll need ya more then."

Chris sat silently for another thirty seconds before he dropped his gaze from Nathan’s.

"I hate it when you’re right," he said barely audibly.

Nathan and Josiah’s shoulders sagged in relief. But it was short lived as Chris suddenly snapped his head up and looked at the healer defiantly again.

"But that don’t mean I gotta stay in here. I’m leavin’ this sick house. Can’t get well cooped up here. I’d rather be in the fresh air."

"Do you know how much like Vin you just sounded?" Nathan asked. "And you know what you always say to him about needin’ to rest up until he’s stronger."

"You ain’t gonna trap me with my own words, Nate. I can’t lay here and think too much, it’s gettin’ me hot an’ bothered. I’d be better out of here." Chris looked hard at the healer. "That’s it Nathan. My decisions made. That’s as far as the compromise goes. I’ll stay in town, but not in you’re clinic."

Nathan cast a glance at Josiah who shrugged.

"Okay Chris. You win. But ya gotta do what I tell ya. Don’t wanna have ta be worryin’ about ya any more n’ I already am, when I’m tendin’ Vin."

"Fine. Now get me some clothes." Chris looked up at Josiah. "What are you still doin’ here?" he asked impatiently. "Get out after ‘em."

The discussion was over. Josiah nodded. "I’m on my way now, Chris. Just gotta saddle my horse."

Josiah opened the door to leave.

"I’m gonna go get ya some clean clothes," Nathan informed the gunslinger and left with Josiah.

Chris nodded. He wasn’t happy that he wasn’t going with Josiah, but it would do for now. Maybe later, if they weren’t back, he’d see if he could get on his horse. In the meantime, all he could do was pray that his friends were safe and hope that Vin didn’t know he’d gotten himself shot by breaking cover. Especially after the fuss Chris had made the other day, when he’d started spouting step back and ponder lectures at him. Vin would really get a kick out of that one.

If he was still alive.

His heart leapt into his throat making him sigh hard, and he cursed loudly as that caused a pain to shoot through his shoulder. He pushed the thought that Vin may be dead as far out of his mind as he could, not even entertaining the idea. But it didn’t stop the tightness in the pit of his stomach. Boy, could he ever use a whiskey right about now.

* * * * * * *

"All this is my fault, Buck."

The ladies' man jerked, almost falling out of the saddle the two men shared as the sad voice broke the long silence. He knew JD had been thinking on things and had left him to it. Sometimes you had to be alone with your thoughts.

"How d’ya figure that?" Buck asked, shifting uncomfortably in the saddle and readjusting his hold on the reins that were leading his horse behind them.

"If I hadn’t broken cover in that robbery shootout, Vin wouldn’t have got shot; he wouldn’t have got bad eyesight, so he wouldn’t have been on the stage."

Buck felt JD’s back shudder against his chest. The saddle was a tight fit for two of them and there was no room between.

"Now hang on. I reckon the plan would still have called for that," Buck attempted, but JD continued as if he hadn’t heard him.

"…Chris wouldn’t have been shot ‘cause he wouldn’t have had to have stood up…’cause I yelled out when Vin was gonna get killed. Now your horse is lame…."

"…and we both got a sore ass," Buck cut in again.

This time JD reacted. "This ain’t funny, Buck."

"Hell, I know that kid. Just don’t beat yourself up. It’s just somethin’ that happened. Like I said before…the plan wouldn’t have been different and it’s not your fault the gang decided to rob the stage."

JD was silent; hopefully Buck thought he was thinking this new information over.

"There’s the edge of town."

Buck sighed. If that was all JD had to say, he was still feeling guilty. He’d have to talk to him later. Right now he just wanted to see how Chris was doing, get them fresh horses and get back out after Vin and Ezra.

* * * * * * *

"They’re down to one horse. There’s no way they’ve got very far ahead of us. At least one of ‘ems gotta be on foot."

Seth was peeved. It had taken longer to catch their horses than he would have liked. As soon as they’d got near them where they were grazing a little distance from the cabin, they trotted a little further away. It had taken a lot of coaxing and creeping around before they were finally seated in their saddles; and so the three escaped hostages had more of a head start than they would have done. The new gang leader decided as they were riding along to catch the fugitives up that the Texan was gonna pay.

The sound of the gunshot and then the sight of the dead horse had finally brought a smile to his angry face. He scanned the area with his eyes for any sign of their prey, but figured they would have moved off damn fast once they’d shot the horse. He wondered fleetingly why they’d bothered. They knew they were being chased yet they fired a gun. Well, that would be their undoing.

Joe shifted uneasily in his saddle. "Seth, why don’t we just go to Mexico? We don’t need to stick around here chasin’ after them. They can’t do anythin’ to us. They just wanna get away."

Seth leaned over and grabbed Joe roughly, almost pulling him from his horse. "We go after ‘em because they know what we look like. And besides, I wanna see that long haired bastard dead."

"Take it easy, boss. We’ll go with ya. Best we move though or they’re gonna get further away," Cleet interrupted, attempting to calm things down a notch or two.

"Like I said before," Seth answered, giving Joe a warning glare before letting him go. "There’s no way in hell they got far. We’ll catch ‘em and when we do we’re gonna have ourselves some fun killin’ ‘em."

The three men laughed and edged their horses forward, quickly disappearing as they galloped away in the direction they thought their prey were going.

Vin stayed silent in the water for several more minutes, not wanting to move too soon in case they came back. He was filled with worry. If the outlaws caught up with Somers everything could get real ugly. The bounty hunter, if he were not shot on sight, would have two choices. He could turn back and help them to find Vin and Ezra, agreeing to share the bounty that he would tell them about to maybe keep from being killed.

Or he could die.

Vin reckoned on him dying anyway. Seth and the others would most likely use him as an extra man to help them hunt him down and then shoot him. That way the pot only had to be split three ways.

On the other hand.

There was the possibility that Somers would be able to hide from them and get back to Four Corners in one piece. After all, it wasn’t like he was green or anything. He was a bounty hunter, used to being on his own and taking care of himself.

Vin shivered. He raised his eyes skyward in a sign of resignation. He was wet again, and so was Ezra. He pushed all of his thoughts to the back of his mind and made to move out of the water.

"Mr Tanner," said a slurred voice. "Why are we in the water, hiding amongst weeds? Have you finally lost your mind? Heaven knows you have enough wounds to your head to make that extremely possible."

Vin looked down at the gambler who he was still holding onto tightly.

"Shut up Ez. We gotta get movin’."

"Well, that’s a fine way to talk to an associate."

"Ez, if’n ya don’t quit yer ramblin’ on I’m gonna have t’ put m’ fist in yer face."

"So refined. That’s what I have always found so charming about you, Mr Tanner."

The exchange of words ceased as Vin began to drag them both from the water. When they reached the bank the tracker released his hold on Ezra and the two hurt and exhausted men pulled themselves the rest of the way out of the water and along the ground.

They lay panting for a while. Both lost in their own pit of agony. Finally Vin broke the silence.

"Gotta move Ez. We gotta get home."

Home. Even the sound of the word sent his heart lurching into his stomach. The thought of Four Corners was comforting but at the same time heart wrenching, because the tracker knew it was going to be a tough journey getting there.

Vin let go for a second, and allowed himself to acknowledge his injured body. A soft moan escaped his lips when he registered his throbbing…no, pounding…no, thumping head. His face hurt and he knew he had some colourful bruises there.

He gradually cast his mind over the rest of his body. His ribcage was screaming at him, it felt raw and battered, both from the fight in the water with Joe and being thrown over the saddle and having to travel with his ribs rubbing against the hard leather.

Then there was his thigh. When he registered the pain there he knew he was going to be in trouble real soon. It was throbbing relentlessly, felt hot and was not going to hold his weight for any great length of time. His back ached like he’d been carrying a horse and he was shivering. His clothes were soaked through…again, and he could feel the cool air through all of the layers of material. He had a fever, that was not hard to figure out, and his eyesight was taunting him. One moment he could see clearly, the next he was seeing two of everything or anything he looked at seemed as though he were looking at it under water.

Vin would have liked nothing more than to lie flat out where he was and let his body heal. But he couldn’t afford that luxury. Ezra was hurt and his bullet wound was probably infected, and judging from the heat coming from the gambler he most likely had a fever.

He sighed and winced instantaneously.

"Stop whinin’ to yerself, ya no account Texan," Vin told himself, as angrily as his sore tired body would allow.

He looked over at Ezra who he suddenly realised hadn’t answered his earlier comment.

"Ah hell," the curse came when Vin saw that Ezra was unconscious again. He closed his eyes and gathered his thoughts, putting the ones that told him he was hurt to the dark corners of his mind where he wouldn’t find them for a while.

He rolled onto his stomach and pushed himself onto his hands and knees. His stomach threatened to rebel and, hearing the water running behind him he turned around and headed to the bank.

Vin reached the water just in time, as the threat became a reality and the few contents he had in his stomach were brought up with a painful wretch. Dry heaves followed and Vin squeezed his eyes shut against the pain in his body.

The heaves slowed and finally stopped and Vin opened his eyes and stared into the calm water at the rivers edge. His face looked back at him through the ripples and he stared at his reflection, squinting each time the image threatened to unfocus. Feelings began to rise in him of anger, stubbornness and determination.

"Yer a Tanner…an’ don’t ya ever ferget it," he rasped at the reflection as the feelings gave him strength and in turn, hope.

Vin pushed himself to his feet slowly, biting back the gasps of pain. He remembered the guns he’d hidden in the long grass and stumbled over and retrieved them, securing his weapon to its holster.

Then he squinted over at Ezra who was still laying frighteningly still on the ground.

Limping over to the prone figure he struggled onto his knees.

"Ez, ya gotta help me. Can’t do it on m’ own right now." He touched Ezra’s shoulder gently and felt him move under his fingers. A feeling of relief swept through him when he saw the gambler’s eyes flutter open.

"Hell Ezra, ya scared me fer a while there, thought I had t’ carry ya."

The gambler slowly pulled himself onto his elbows and blinked to clear his fuzzy head. He’d drifted off, which annoyed him. He told himself he had to stay alert, or awake at least. Vin had enough to contend with, without having to worry about him.

"I must confess, I’m having trouble with the idea of having to walk anywhere, but…" he winced as pain shot through his side. "…but I believe the thought of being carried will help me along."

Vin smiled and winked at the gambler. Things were looking up. Maybe the situation was dire, but it could be worse...a lot worse.

Vin stayed on his knees until Ezra was in a seated position and then the two men supported each other until they were both upright. They stood panting and groaning in unison, allowing themselves to gather their strength before they began the long arduous journey homeward.

Vin felt his leg begin to shake and threaten to buckle but a stubborn look came over his face as he told himself silently, and in no uncertain terms that there was no way in hell he was going to end up on his knees again. His eyes shot sideways as he saw Ezra begin to sway and he quickly reached out a hand to steady him, wincing as Ezra leaned against him for the support he badly needed.

The tracker had to concentrate with every fibre of his being to stay on his feet. The added weight of his friend leaning against him made him see stars and his body was threatening to shut down again.

Ignoring the pain, he picked up the foot that was attached to his injured leg and put it purposefully back to the ground again. His face set in a grim look of determination. This was no time to be weak. Ezra needed him, and he was not going to let him down.

Grabbing a firm hold on the gambler Vin took a step forward, making sure that Ezra took one with him. Then they took another and another and Vin smiled in satisfaction. They were moving, even though Vin was half dragging Ezra along.

"Now I know how yer horse feels," the Texan rasped, a look of mischief in his eyes.

"Mr Tanner...," Ezra began his retort.

"Call me Vin."

"Mr Tanner...," the gambler started again.

"Ez, right now I want ya to call me Vin."

"It’s impolite."

"Since when’ve ya been polite?"

"I beg your pardon?"

"No beggin’ necessary, Ez, jus’ call me Vin…or I drop yer sorry ass here."

The bantering continued as the two men made their way slowly along the trail. Each knowing that it was the only thing that was keeping their thoughts away from how much they hurt…because if they gave in now they knew they were dead men.

* * * * * * *

Josiah was on his way to the livery and met Buck and JD as they drew level with the saloon. He’d just left the jail where he’d checked on the men he’d hauled in there from the saloon earlier. He’d wanted to make sure all was in order before he headed out. He was beginning to get the feeling that he was never meant to leave town in search of his friends, with all of the obstacles that kept appearing to stop him.

"What happened to you two?" he asked, taking in the men’s downhearted faces and the fact that they were both sharing the same saddle.

"My horse got lame." Buck looked sadly at Josiah. "…and we lost the trail."

"You mean, I lost the trail," JD said angrily.

"No I don’t, I mean we lost the trail." Buck jumped down from his seat and hauled JD down after him, holding him tightly by the shoulders.

"I’m not gonna listen to you puttin’ all the blame on yerself, JD. We were out there together, searchin’ together, and losin’ the trail...together," the ladies' man’s blue eyes bore into JD’s brown, telling him the subject was closed.

The young sheriff sighed and shrugged. "Alright Buck, whatever you say." He said quietly. He still blamed himself but wasn’t up to fighting with Buck. All he wanted was to get a fresh horse and head out again.

"No sign of Ezra either?" Josiah asked as the three men began walking towards the livery with the horses in tow.

"Nope, we reckon..." Buck grimaced. "...or we’re hopin’, he’s wherever Vin is," he finished as they reached the livery doors.

"And where is Vin?"

The quiet, steely voice startled the men and they all spun around to see Chris standing by the stairs leading up to Nathan’s. His green eyes showed no mercy and his face was angry.

"Chris!" Buck exclaimed happily, walking back to his friend and standing in front of him. "You look good for someone who was shot."

Chris gave Buck a dirty look. "You didn’t answer my question."

JD raced forward and stood in front of Buck. "It was my fault, I lost the trail. Then Buck’s horse got lame and we had to come back." He dropped his head. "We didn’t see any signs of Vin or Ezra."

"You didn’t have to come back…one of you could’ve stayed out there lookin’. What’s wrong with you?" Chris’s voice was raised in an angry shout, until pain shot through his shoulder and he grabbed hold of the handrail and swung himself quickly around until he was sitting on the clinic steps.

"Shit," he whispered between clenched teeth. Putting his head into his free hand he sat quietly, waiting for the pain to subside.

"Chris, I’m goin’ back out just as soon as I get a fresh horse and supplies," Buck said softly, going to sit by the blond’s side. "We’re not givin’ up, we’ll find ‘em…we will."

"Hell...Ezra," Chris said softly. "He gone too huh?"

"Yeah, seems that way, pard." Buck looked worriedly at Chris’s pale face. "Want me to help you up to Nathan’s?"

"Hell no," Chris responded raising his head to look at Buck. "I’ve just sprung myself from there. Was goin’ to the saloon, and toyed with the idea of headin’ out myself tomorrow."

Buck looked at him in shock. "Forgive me for sayin’ Chris. But I don’t think you’re up to riding just yet."

"Don’t need two doctors Buck, ones too many…and I’ll do as I damn well please." He looked at the three men looking worriedly at him. "Well, don’t just stand there. Let’s get to the saloon, and get back out there." His eyes rested on Josiah. "What the hell are you still doin’ here? Thought you’d gone searchin’".

JD, Buck and Josiah could not help smiling...and then laughing. Chris looked from one to the other incredulously. How could they laugh at a time like this? Vin and Ezra could be dead for Gods sake. He opened his mouth to tell them exactly what he thought and the look on his face only made them laugh louder.

None of them really knew why they were laughing, but it sure as hell felt good. The tension had been building since the hatching of the plan to foil the robbery, and had got steadily worse. It felt good to let off steam…laughing may have been a strange way of doing it, but it worked.

Chris looked from one man to the other and felt his lips start to twitch. Before he knew where he was he’d joined them in laughter, although his was softer. He felt like shit, the worry was killing him and all he really wanted to do was lie down…although he would never admit to that.

"What’s so funny?"

The question was spoken in an annoyed tone and the men all turned to see Nathan leaning over the handrail just above Chris.

"Brother, I have no idea," Josiah answered. The laughter came to an abrupt halt at Nathan’s next question.

"Where’s Vin and Ezra?"

"Brother, we have no idea," Josiah answered again.

The men all looked from one to the other and Buck helped Chris to his feet. "We’re headin’ over for food before we go out again," he told the healer.

"Well let’s go then," Nathan replied, knowing he wouldn’t be happy until the two missing men were in his clinic, because he was sure, if Ezra was not back by now, then he was injured too. He knew it was a strange thing to wish for…after all, who wanted their friends laid up injured? The fact was, he’d rather that scenario than the other one that he refused to entertain. The scenario that they were dead. He shook his head to clear it of negative thoughts. "Josiah, you told ‘em about Somers yet?" he asked as they slowly moved along the boardwalk.

"What about Somers?" Buck asked curiously.

* * * * * * *

"They must o’ got a horse from somewhere," Seth ground out. "There’s no way they’d have got this far with only one horse between ‘em."

"Why are we stoppin’ then?" Asked Joe. "We won’t catch ‘em."

"I’m enjoyin’ the hunt. No way they’ll get away from us, however hard they try," Seth answered. "Just needed to gather my thoughts."

"But if they’ve got a horse then, like I said, we’re never gonna catch ‘em up," Joe replied. "Besides, that long haired one is wily. He could hide ‘imself in a desert full o’ sand I reckon."

"He ain’t as wily as me," Seth answered angrily. "No one gets one over me ya hear me?…No-one." He nodded his head slowly, a sneer on his face. "We’ll get ‘em never fear."

Cleet and Joe exchanged a look. Seth was starting to get more and more irrational. The men they were chasing started out with two horses. They found one shot dead back at the river, that left them with one. Two of them could have carried on, riding one horse leaving one on foot. There was little chance that they could have found another horse out here in the middle of nowhere. Yet Seth was working on the assumption that they were riding. Even if they were, there was still no way that the three of them wouldn’t have caught them up by now. Two riders on one horse would have slowed things down for them, and two of them were injured, not forgetting the fact that Joe, Cleet and Seth had been riding hell for leather. No, they were likely behind them somewhere, not ahead as Seth thought. Joe and Cleet just wanted to forget the three men they were chasing aimlessly and go to Mexico, but they had to stay with Seth because of the money. Besides, they were afraid of him.

Seth seemed to read their minds. He’d just about had enough of their whining and figured he’d get along better on his own.

"How about I give the two o’ ya yer share and I’ll meet up with ya in Mexico?"

Both men smiled and nodded, not needing any time to ponder.

"Fine," Seth said reaching down. "Here."

Cleet’s mouth fell open and Joe swallowed hard when they found themselves looking not at money bags, but Seth’s gun.

* * * * * * *

Vin was wondering where the three robbers were. He realised that he and Ezra were in constant danger, and there wasn’t a damn thing he could do about it. He wished he could have taken the three of them out back at the river, but couldn’t have trusted himself to even attempt it. At any other time he wouldn’t have hesitated but his condition rendered him a less than perfect shot. Hell, he was more likely to have hit Ezra than one of the robbers. Okay, so maybe that was taking it to the extreme but it wasn’t worth risking their lives...Ezra’s life. Three against one were not bad odds for him under normal circumstances but back there, by the river it would have been suicide.

Not forgetting that there was always the chance that John Somers would be stalking them too. After all he was a bounty hunter. But Vin felt that Somers was not a threat, how much was knowing and how much was hoping remained to be seen.

He was panting heavily; his head was throbbing so badly that a black spot appeared with each pound of his head. His leg was almost numb, thankfully. But he knew it was bleeding again, one look at the bandage Jake had wrapped around it told him that. Every now and again a shiver would ripple through him almost sending him to his knees, it really hadn’t done them any good getting wet. He was almost dragging Ezra along and he rolled his eyes every time he thought of the easy trail they were leaving in their wake.

They’d been walking for what seemed hours, well Vin was stumbling and Ezra was being dragged, that was probably a more apt description. Vin figured, by the position of the blistering sun that it was late afternoon. Their stops to rest had been few and far between, Vin hadn’t wanted to stay in one place for too long, especially in the open with the threat of Seth and the others on their shoulders. The tracker figured they were only a few short hours from town but it was a few hours too far for his exhausted, injured body, and he’d noticed Ezra was bleeding again. They needed to find a place to settle for the night, where they could rest up and start off again the next morning.

"Mr Tanner," a Southern voice slurred. "I am having trouble walking. It never has been one of my favourite pastimes."

Vin looked down at Ezra’s dishevelled appearance. He was being held upright by Vin; God only knew how. His hat was crooked on his head and his jacket was crumpled up almost around his neck. He had a flush in his cheeks and his face was filthy.

Vin felt a gurgle of mirth rise up in him. But it threatened to turn to bile as it rose in his throat and he swallowed it down hard.

"Ez, fergive me fer pointin’ this out to ya. But yer the one who wanted t’ stay b’hind and walk with me."

Ezra thought for a second. "You have a point," he answered finally.

A silence followed, broken only by the heavy breathing of the two men as they used their waning strength to move forward. It was finally broken by Ezra’s quiet voice.


The tracker was too tired to open his mouth so he looked down at the gambler’s face and raised his eyebrows questioningly.

"You know, I have to say, at the oddest times you surprise me."

Vin frowned and stopped walking, causing Ezra to stop too. "Huh?"

Ezra looked back at him, searching the tracker's face. "He could come back and capture you. But you still let him go."

"Somers?" Vin asked. Receiving a nod from Ezra he continued. "Yeah I know, I’ve thought on it m’self. He could come back and kill ya, then take me on a real nice journey back t’ Tascosa. It’s a chance we had t’ take, Ez."

"We should have left him Vin. He could be out there now, lurking."

"We have t’ trust him, Ezra, he was our best chance ‘cause he could get t’ town faster ‘n us."

Ezra snorted. "He certainly could. He had the horse."

Vin chuckled and almost lost his balance. "So why do I surprise ya, Ez?"

"Because Vin, you let him go knowing all that. Hell, you should have left him back at the cabin. He is a threat to you, yet you could not leave him behind to die. That is admirable Vin. I am proud to have shared that moment." Ezra nodded his head drunkenly. Any other time he would never have said so much about what he thought, he would have kept it to himself. But this wasn’t an ordinary time. They were out in the middle of nowhere, sick and injured and he felt the need to share the thought with Vin.

"Ezra, yer full o’ bullshit," Vin drawled, feeling uncomfortable, yet at the same time all warm inside. It was a compliment indeed when Ezra said such things. "I told ya why I did what I did, and none of it was admirable."

"Pffft." Was all Ezra said in return.

Vin smiled and then looked up, searching the area around them. His eyesight was ailing still, but he managed to spy a few trees surrounding a small clearing a little way ahead.

"I’ve found our room fer the night, Ez," he said, moving forward and pulling the gambler along with him.

"Five star accommodation I hope," Ezra slurred, his eyes half shut.

Vin grunted at the effort of dragging himself and Ezra over to the trees. Reaching their destination he lowered his friend to the ground as gently as he could and fell to his knees in the process, emitting a loud exclamation of pain as a burning heat tore through his thigh.

"I’m sorry, Vin, I’m so sorry," Ezra uttered in a whisper. Their energy was at an all time low and it was an effort for the southerner to stay awake.

"Not yer doin’, Pard," Vin answered through gritted teeth. "Reckon I’m glad it’s summer. We can’t have a fire, never know who might be out there."

Ezra groaned and pulled himself along the ground until he was sheltered under a tree. "My accommodation is adequate, Mr Tanner. I thank you for your efforts." He mumbled as he wrapped his arms around his middle, gingerly placing a hand over his injured side. Within moments he was asleep.

Vin sighed and crawled carefully over to Ezra. Leaning against a tree close to his friend he pulled his gun from its holster and held it in his hand by the side of him.

He looked up at the heavens and prayed that Somers had made it safely back to town and help was on it’s way. His heart sank at the thought of Four Corners and his friends. He knew one of them had been shot, and had the strongest feeling that it was Chris. The question was, was he still alive?

Sighing softly, he shifted his gaze and stared at the country before him, setting his senses to alert. ‘I have to stay awake.’ He told himself silently. ‘I have to stay awake’

* * * * * * *

Chris’s eyes narrowed and he rose from his chair slowly.

"That son of a bitch," he said through gritted teeth. Buck and Josiah looked in the same direction as their obviously angry friend, trying to make out what had caused Chris to react the way he had.

When they saw the lone rider slowly making his way along the middle of the street their faces changed to looks of disgust.

The three moved in unison, putting down their plates of food; Chris flanked by Buck and Josiah as they made their way quickly towards the rider.

Somers hardly knew what hit him. It was twilight and he was tired. He didn’t know what was happening and gasped in surprise as he felt himself being grabbed by what seemed like a dozen hands and pulled from Chaucer’s back.

He steadied himself as his feet hit the ground, concerned that the hands hadn’t let go of him. Turning his head, his heart leapt as his eyes came into contact with two green orbs of fiery steel.

"You God damned bastard from hell!" Chris spat venomously at the shocked dumbfounded bounty hunter. The gunslinger reached out with his good hand and grabbed Somers roughly by the collar. "Where’s Vin? You low life conniving piece of shit."

"He made me come back alone..."

Chris cut him off. He wasn’t listening. His head was pounding in anger and all he wanted to do right then was vent his rage on the so called man standing in front of him.

Besides, he knew what had happened.

"You sold him out didn’t you? You told ‘em about the bounty so they let you go free."

John sighed. So Tanner’s friends had found out about him being a bounty hunter. "No. That’s not it. He told me to..."

The bounty hunter was cut off again, this time through lack of air. He was trying to tell them that Vin and the gambler needed help but these men wouldn’t allow him to say the words. Besides, he found it hard to talk with a hand at his throat.

Chris, his face screwed up in contempt, released his hold on Somer’s collar when he knew Josiah had a firm grip on the scums neck. Buck and Josiah continued to hold him fast between them, allowing Chris to deal with him.

The gunslinger moved in close to Somers until their faces were only inches apart. "You’re goin’ to hell sooner than you realise," he spat.

John saw the fist coming and tried to tell them what they needed to know.

"No, wait. Tanner asked me..."

Chris’s fist stopped in mid air. "Don’t you dare let me hear you say his name again. You don’t deserve the privilege."

"Goodnight," Buck said with a satisfied smile as Chris pulled back his arm once more and, when his fist connected, it was with a force that astounded his friends considering he was still weak from a bullet wound.

Somer’s reeled backwards, Buck and Josiah almost losing their balance as the fist came into contact with the bounty hunter’s face. They released their hold on him and he fell heavily to the ground, unconscious.

"Way to go ol’ friend," Buck exclaimed with a grin on his face.

"I hate to say this," Josiah said, his head on one side. "But did it occur to you that Somer’s might have been able to tell us where Vin was?" The ex preacher saw a glimmer of doubt in Chris’s eyes as he continued. "What makes you think that them outlaws would’ve let him go, ‘stead of killin’ him?" he added as he nodded towards the body on the ground.

"You sidin’ with him Josiah?" Chris asked, his voice tight.

The big man sighed. "Hell no Chris, I’m just sayin’ maybe he knows about where Vin and Ezra are."

"If you believe that, then you’re an idiot," Chris said, dismissing the idea immediately.

The gunslinger looked down at the unconscious form, he held his arm tightly as it throbbed mercilessly. "Put him in jail." Was all he said before he spun around, straight into the path of Nathan and JD.

"What’s Chaucer doin’ here? Where’s Ezra?"

The question made Chris stop. He’d been ready to go to the livery and ride out after Vin but JD’s words stunned him. He turned back around, sidestepping to let Buck and Josiah past, carrying Somer’s to jail.

"Hell…" the blond growled as he grabbed Chaucer’s reins. For the first time it sunk in…Ezra was in trouble too. The fact that Somer’s rode in on the gambler’s horse confirmed their suspicions. His heart tugged, a little comforted by the thought that the two men were more than likely together, and neither of them were suffering alone…that is if they were still alive.

"Reckon Ezra’s with Vin, like we thought?" Nathan asked, worried by Chris’s stance and the sheen of sweat clearly visible on the gunslinger's face.

"God I hope so, I really hope so," Chris responded before everything went black and he crumpled to the ground.

* * * * * * *

Vin opened his eyes and felt himself being touched. In a split second his hand darted out to grab his gun, and he was stunned when it wasn’t by his side.

"I have your gun Mr Tanner. I took it from you as you slept, knowing you would reach for it when you awoke and found yourself being touched."

Vin groaned and opened his eyes slowly, wincing and closing them again as the harsh sunlight hit them. He’d fallen asleep. All of his efforts to stay awake had failed. Some guard he’d turned out to be…so much for watching his friend’s back. They could have been shot as they slept by them murdering bastards who were chasing them across the countryside.

"Gimme m’ gun Ez. Ya shouldna took it from me." Vin groaned again as shards of fire burned into his leg.

"I thought it a wise move to put it out of reach in case you chose to...uh, fill me up with hot lead as you so charmingly put it," Ezra informed his friend as he put Vin’s gun into the tracker’s hand.

"If’n ya don’t leave go o’ m’ leg, I will," Vin said tightly, his teeth clenched against the continuing fire in his thigh.

"It needs attention Mr Tanner, you have been neglecting yourself. I am just putting on a fresh bandage."

"Where’d ya get a bandage?" Vin asked as he opened his eyes a crack and looked quizzically at the gambler.

Ezra looked around him and leant in until his face was inches from Vin’s. "I tore some material from my undergarment," he whispered.

Vin tried to writhe away but Ezra clamped a hand on his chest.

"Hell Ez," Vin exclaimed, his face screwed up in disgust. "Yer wrappin’ m’ leg in yer drawers?"

"So enchantingly put, Mr Tanner…as always," Ezra responded wryly, wincing at Vin’s leg wound. It was looking a little angry, heaven knows what it would have been like if the unfortunate gang leader hadn’t cleaned it up at the cabin.

Vin rested his head once more on the tree he was leaning against, too tired to fight any more. "It ain’t hardly nothin’ Ez, I’m fine." He said quietly.

"The marks and bruises upon your person contradict that statement, Mr Tanner." Ezra replied with a small smile.

Vin lifted his head slightly from the tree trunk. "Contra what?" Vin’s body jumped as Ezra applied the makeshift bandage to his leg. "Ah hell Ezra, ya have t’ pull so damn hard? Get offa me." Vin tried to pull Ezra’s hands away from the bandage but the gambler slapped them away.

"No. I shall finish…and you will like it." Ezra decided to draw Vin’s attention away from his leg.

"Eyesight still wayward, Mr Tanner?"

"Not as wayward as yers’ll be if ya don’t quit yer hoverin’." Vin answered impatiently. "Ez, we gotta get movin’. Get back t’ town. It’s only ‘bout two mebbe three hours away. Ya reckon ya can do it?"

"If you can, I can," Ezra replied. "I would have preferred being transported in a comfortable wagon, but it appears that our friend Mr Somers did not reach town and summon help."

Vin nodded slowly. "Reckon yer right, Ez," he answered and couldn’t help wondering what had happened to the bounty hunter. Did the three outlaws shoot him dead? Or had Vin been wrong to trust him and he was stalking them? He figured the latter was least likely. He’d had plenty of opportunity to grab Vin and hadn’t. That left only one explanation in Vin’s mind, Somers was dead.

They were on their own.

A short silence fell over the two men as Ezra finished bandaging Vin’s leg and sat back. Sweat poured from both of their faces, and they were both flushed with fever.

Vin started to laugh and then groaned at the discomfort it caused.

"What do you find so amusing? I must confess I cannot see the comedy of our plight."

Vin’s face sobered. "Dunno how we’re gonna make it, Ez," his Texan voice rasped. "We’re so near t’ town, but still so far."

Ezra looked hard at Vin. "You are a Tanner aren’t you?" he asked.

Vin nodded.

"And I am a Standish," the gambler continued. "We will make it to town." He nodded determinedly, as much to convince himself as Vin.

"When we do Ezra, I swear t’ ya now, the first thing I’m gonna do is have me a bath," Vin vowed; feeling strengthened by his friends words.

Ezra chuckled, showing off his gold tooth. "A fine vow to make, Vin." He stood slowly and offered a hand to help the Texan to his feet. "What say we vacate this dwelling sir?"

Vin grinned. "Good idea Ezra." He took the offered hand, and his balance wavering when he finally found himself on his feet, he reached out for the tree trunk to steady himself. Looking up at Ezra he caught sight of the fresh bandage the gambler had applied to his side. "Hell Ez, even yer drawers’r fancy," he chuckled.

* * * * * * *

Chris had found it hard to sleep. He’d woken the previous evening with Nathan hovering over him. JD and Nathan had carried him to his room at the boarding house after he’d passed out in the street. All attempts he made to get up and go out looking for Vin and Ezra had been thwarted by his stubborn friends.

Something at the back of his mind kept gnawing away at him all night long, and that, coupled with the pain in his shoulder had caused him to spend most of the night laying awake, staring at the ceiling. It was during that time that he’d done some pondering of his own. He wondered whether perhaps Josiah had been right about Somers. He’d just hit the bounty hunter without asking him where Vin was. He’d assumed what had happened and reacted on that assumption, without thinking about the consequences. He decided as he lay there that he would have a little chat with the bastard in the jail when morning arrived, and felt better after that decision was made. Anything was worth a try if it meant it would lead them to Vin and Ezra. Hell, they weren’t even sure Vin and Ezra were together. They needed to get out there and split up; unless Somers informed them that the two friends were together. Buck had told him the evening before that none of them were leaving until the morning and Chris had gotten angry. Josiah had been dragging his feet all day, it almost seemed he was finding excuses not to go looking, Chris knew the thought was ridiculous, but a lot of ridiculous things had happened lately.

He lay there, deciding not to think anymore, and watched as the sun rose, slowly filtering light into the room and then he must have finally drifted off into a deep sleep

He woke with a start and sat up in bed, gasping in pain as his shoulder reminded him of his injury there. Then he realised what had woken him when he heard a loud rapping at the door.

"Chris? You in there? You okay?"

Buck’s concerned voice made Chris grin as he pulled himself up and propped his head against the wall.

"Yeah Buck, you can come in."

The door opened and Buck’s big frame filled the doorway. He struggled through it and kicked the door shut behind him; and Chris’s amusement grew as he looked at the reason for Buck’s struggles.

The ladies' man was carrying a tray full of breakfast food and coffee and he grinned back as he set it down on the table by Chris’s bed.

"What’s this for?" Chris asked, eyeing the food and feeling suddenly hungry.

"For you and me. We’re gonna eat breakfast," Buck replied with a big smile and a glint in his eye.

Chris smiled back and turned himself around, putting his feet on the floor.

"Want me to cut up yer food?" Buck asked, feigning innocence.

"Want me to cut up you?" Chris responded with a glare.

The two men ate in a friendly silence. Buck watching as Chris struggled to eat with one hand, his other rendered useless in a sling. The four healthy peacekeepers had had a meeting in Chris’s room the night before, when he was still unconscious, and decided that the best idea would be to head out in the morning to look for their missing friends. After all, someone had to watch over Chris, Somer’s was in jail and it was dark out. It seemed pointless going out in the middle of the night, when they could head out at first light.

Chris finally put down his fork and looked at his friend, and Buck had to fight not to wince at the look he saw on his friend’s face. "I gotta find ‘em Buck. I know they’re out there. I can feel it." He bent his head and studied the remainder of the food on his plate. "I can feel Vin out there."

"I was gonna head out right after I left ya, ol’ friend," the big man answered quietly. He knew about the connection Chris and Vin shared, it was a mystery to all of the other five men. But they all knew there was something that bonded Chris and Vin tightly together, and none of them questioned either of them when they got a sense or feeling about the other.

"I’m comin’ with you."

"No you ain’t." Buck’s head shot up. "Look what happened yesterday, Chris. You gotta stay here and get well, you owe it to yourself…and you owe it to us." The ladies' man saw the questioning look on Chris’s face. "We’ve got too much to worry about already, without you addin’ to it Chris. So you stay in town and worry and we’ll head out and worry. At least that way there’s one less person for us to worry about, ‘cause we’ll know you’re safe in town."

Chris shook his head. "Buck, you’re talkin’ gibberish." He was about to say more when he suddenly clamped his mouth shut and turned his head to the window. He all of a sudden had a strange feeling inside of him. Buck watched as Chris slowly rose to his feet and walked to the window.

"They’re comin’. They’re almost here," he said quietly, continuing to stare out of the window. He looked down and saw Vin’s spyglass on the dresser. He reached his hand out and picked it up, holding it tightly in his hand. "I will give this back to him, Buck. I will."

"Sure ya will Chris," Buck soothed, coming up behind his friend and placing a hand on his uninjured shoulder. He looked over Chris’s head, out of the window, praying that Chris’s instincts were right.

The two men stood still, Buck’s hand remaining on Chris’s shoulder, for countless moments; and then suddenly Chris tensed and dropped Vin’s spyglass back onto the dresser. He spun around, making Buck lose his hold on his friend’s shoulder, and the ladies' man sucked in a breath at the look on Chris’s face.

"They’re here, Buck. They’re home."

Before Buck could stop him, Chris had raced for the door, thrusting it open and running out of the room.

"Chris! Slow down ol’ buddy. Yer gonna pass out again," Buck yelled as he ran after his friend.

They reached the street and Chris kept running, holding onto his upper arm to still the movement in his shoulder. He stopped abruptly; almost making Buck crash into the back of him.

"What’s wrong?" Buck asked, watching Chris’s eyes staring intently ahead of him, oblivious to the townspeople on horseback having to ride around him.

"I knew it!" Chris exclaimed, a broad smile appearing on his face just before he tore off again. Buck followed and his heart leapt when he saw two figures in the distance, just entering town.

By now, the other peacekeepers had witnessed Chris’s strange behaviour in the street and were on their way to find out what was going on. When the blond suddenly began to run again, they followed the direction he was headed in with their eyes to see what was holding his attention.

"Dear Lord in heaven," Josiah exclaimed as the men all broke into a run.

Chris couldn’t believe it, he blinked his eyes as he ran, to be certain that he wasn’t seeing things. But each time his eyes opened, the image was still there, and growing steadily closer.

Vin and Ezra were walking slowly into town, holding onto each other, supporting each other.

Vin lifted his hot, aching head and blinked to try and get a clear image of what he thought he saw. A slight smile came over his face when he realised his eyes were not playing tricks on him. They were in Four Corners and their five friends were running towards them.

His strength seemed to leave him at that moment and he toppled onto his knees, pulling Ezra down with him. "We’re home," he whispered just as Chris reached them.


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