Chapter 11
Chris woke with a start, and immediately scanned the two forms in the beds, his eyes finally resting on Vin. The tracker’s cheekbones were pink, highlighting his fever and the bandages that adorned his body told their own story.

An overwhelming feeling of guilt came over the blond, and he rubbed a hand over his tired face.

"It ain’t your fault."

Buck’s voice startled him and he sought its owner through squinted eyes.

The big man stood from where he’d been sitting in the shadows at Ezra’s bedside. Walking slowly over to Chris, he sat in a vacant chair near Vin, concern showing in his deep blue eyes.

"When did you get back?" Chris ran shaky fingers through his hair.

"Coupla hours ago…didn’t find any signs of the gang."

Chris nodded. "Vin said there were three left…can’t help thinkin’ we haven’t seen the last of ‘em."

"We’re all watchin’ out for ‘em ol’ friend. Nobodies gonna hurt ‘em anymore…not while we’re around."

The weary gunslinger nodded again, turning a grateful look on the ladies man. He sighed when he saw what was in the knowing blue eyes.


"Don’t think you can change the subject…I saw you when you woke up. Them emeralds of yours oozed guilt, pard."

"Buck, not now."

"Yes, now," Buck persisted. "I’ve been through all of this with JD. We all made the plan, if you’re to blame, so are the rest of us…including Ezra and Vin."

Chris closed his eyes and squeezed them tight. His fingers reached out and lightly touched the sleeping Texan’s arm before he sank back into his chair

"I didn’t ask for this job, Buck."

The rogue raised his eyebrows. "And what job might that be? Carrier of all our sins?"

Chris threw daggers at him with his eyes, and ground his teeth. "Bein’ the leader."

Buck laughed. "You didn’t have to, we were all drawn to this. We all took our natural roles. I know it’s probably not what you wanted, but you’re more alive now than you’ve been for a long time…mainly ‘cause of the job you didn’t ask for."

Chris mulled over Buck’s words. "It all fell apart."

"The plan?" The rogue shifted his weight. "I’m not gonna say this one more time, between you and JD I’ll have grey hairs, then where will I be with the ladies?" A light twinkled in Buck’s eyes and Chris could feel his own mouth twitching at the corners.

Buck continued. "It was our plan, not yours. Get over the guilt, it doesn’t belong to you…an’ if you make me go through this one more time I’m gonna take out an ad in Mary’s paper…put it down in black an’ white."

"Can an injured man…get some peace?"

Both men turned to see Vin blinking his glassy eyes.

"’bout time you woke up…a whole day and night we’ve been waiting for your scrawny hide to move," Buck said with a relieved smile.

"Go…t’ hell…Buck…lin," Vin sighed. "Now, if yer wantin’ t’ feel guilty, take it somewhere else, an’ let…me…alone."

Chris felt Vin’s gaze melt right through him. Shaking his head, he reached for a pitcher of water, marvelling at the power of his friend’s eyes. One look and he could convey so much. Chris considered himself warned about laying any blame…and he was surprised at how easy he accepted what Vin was saying to him, and was comforted by it.

Lifting Vin’s damp head he helped him take a little water. Hoping that the look he fixed on the tracker conveyed his thoughts just as well.

"How’s Ez?" Vin asked tiredly, as his bandaged head was eased gently back down to the pillow.

"He’s doin’ okay, needs a bath though…not like you," Buck teased, his eyes twinkling again.

"Bucklin…go twirl yer gun."

The ladies' man held up a hand, and turned a mock glare on Chris who was chuckling. "I might just do that, now Chris has got someone to keep him company. Not that I’d choose you."


"I’m goin’, I’m goin’." Buck looked at Chris, his face sobering as both men watched Vin close his eyes and grimace. "Holler if ya need me," he whispered, walking towards the door.

Chris nodded and turned his attention back to Vin.

Tanner sensed the scrutiny. He took a deep breath and regretted it. "Don’t know what’s wrong with me Chris, I’m plain tuckered out."

Sighing heavily, Chris shook his head and leaned forward in his chair. "Maybe it’s ‘cause you’ve got head injuries, a knife hole in your leg and bruises all over your body." He held up a hand when Vin threw him cool blue daggers and opened his mouth to speak. "...not forgettin’ you were held hostage and then walked home, half carryin’ Ezra. Could be that’s got somethin’ to do with it." An amused smile momentarily took the worry from Chris’s features.

"Hell Larabee, ya said more’n a few words," Vin frowned. "How’d ya know I half carried Ez? Ya weren’t there."

"He told us, in fact that’s about all he keeps telling us. Can’t get any more of what happened out of him."

Vin’s eyes sparked, an anger he couldn’t control taking him over. "Ya wanna know what happened, Larabee? Then I’ll tell ya." Vin’s hands clenched into fists, gripping the blankets either side of him. "I was hit on the head…can’t recall how many times…kinda a blur ya know? Then I had the wind knocked outta me, then I had a gun at m’ head. Then I think I got a knife in m’ leg. I was flung across a horse, then I had a fight in the water. Sometime around then I reckon Ezra was shot. Can’t recall what happened after that…but tell me Chris, what is it ya wanna know? I’ll do m’ best t’ fill ya in."

The room fell eerily silent, Chris too stunned to speak, and Vin fighting the urge to scream at the agony his outburst had caused him.


The tracker made a noise that sounded like a small sob, reaching out he gripped the gunslinger’s wrist. "…don’t say it…don’t say I’m sorry…that should be my line…"

"Let’s just pretend we both said it, okay?" Chris spoke quietly, his heart wrenching at the pain he’d heard in Tanner’s voice as his friend had thrown the anguished words his way. The thought of what Vin and Ezra had endured those days when they were captured and hurt squeezed a clammy hand around Chris’s chest.

"I had a chance t’ kill ‘em out there, I shoulda took it."

Chris placed a hand over Vin’s where the tracker still held his wrist tightly. "You had to play safe, you couldn’t see straight…must’ve had a fever on you and you were takin’ care of Ezra. You’re one man, not an army."

Vin turned his head slowly towards the still figure in the other bed. "He really gonna be alright?"

"Yeah, he’s lost a lot of blood, but he’s gonna be fine."

The tracker nodded, and closed his eyes as the room swam. "You should get some rest…yer hurtin’…don’t deny it, I can see it in yer face."

"Alright I won’t deny it," Chris said through a chuckle. "My shoulder’s hurtin’ somethin’ fierce." He felt Vin release his grip from his wrist. "…but I can rest later, when Nathan gets back."

The tracker closed his eyes and started to drift. "Don’t…need no nursemaid…"

Several minutes passed in silence, and Chris settled back in the chair. He studied Ezra’s unmoving figure, frowning slightly at what the gambler had slept through. A small smile touched his lips and he closed his eyes, resting a hand lightly on his throbbing shoulder. Hell, Ezra could sleep through anything when he was well, so no telling what he could sleep through when he was injured.

The blond licked his dry lips and stifled a groan as he leaned forward to reach the pitcher of water. He started to pour the liquid into a glass.

Vin’s eyes suddenly snapped open. There it was; he’d finally remembered what he’d tried in vain to bring to the surface of his memory when he first entered the clinic.

"Guess Somers never made it back t’ town. They musta caught up with ‘im."

Chris stopped pouring and darted a look at his friend. He carefully placed the jug and cup on the table. "No. He made it back."

Vin gripped the sides of the bed again and started to rise. He hissed in pain and let Chris guide him back onto the pillows.

"Where is he then?"

"He’s in jail."

Vin snapped his head around, and stared hard at Larabee. "Jail? What fer?"

"To stop him getting at you."

Vin’s next reaction shocked the gunslinger.

"Ya can’t do that…he ain’t done nothin’." The tracker tried once more to sit up, growling when he felt arms holding him back. "Damn it Larabee, let go o’ me."

"Vin, he’s a bounty hunter." It was Chris’s turn to cry out in pain, his shoulder screaming at him to stop moving it.

"What the hell’s goin’ on?" Nathan ran from the door he’d just entered and rushed to Chris’s aid. He held the squirming tracker on the pillows, allowing the blond gunslinger to release his grip and sink into a chair.

The healer was ignored as Vin continued his attack on Chris. "I was a bounty hunter. Ya gonna throw me in jail too?"

"Vin…" Chris didn’t know what to say…couldn’t understand the reason for the younger man's latest mood swing.

"No!" The tracker’s eyes almost seemed to flash with fury, and then the fire went out and his body sagged further into the bed. "No." The small voice left his two friends wondering whether his anger had worn him out, or whether all of the fight had just suddenly left him.

Nathan, his hands loosening slightly on the injured man, looked at Chris and raised a questioning eyebrow.

The gunslinger sighed and shrugged, his eyes remaining on the now quiet Vin Tanner.

"We sent him to get help, Chris...back t’ town t’ come get y’all…he was the only one not hurt…could move faster…"

Now it was Chris’s body that sagged in defeat. "Hell…" His heart clenched at Vin’s revelation. He ran a shaking hand through his hair…my God, what had he done?

"He made it home?" Ezra’s voice came, small and weak from the corner of the room. "He came back...and didn’t say anything…I knew it, you were wrong to trust him, Vin." He struggled to raise himself in the bed, groaning when he was reminded of his injury.

"Ezra, calm down, one ornery patient’s enough." Nathan released his light grip on Vin and headed over to Ezra while two blue eyes studied the blond’s dipped head.

"Didn’t he tell ya, Chris?" The tracker’s voice sounded weak and small. He couldn’t understand what was happening to him. Heck, his feelings were up and down all the time, one second he was angry as hell the next he was soft as a pussy cat…he hated the angry parts, they weren’t right--shouldn’t happen.

"Didn’t give him a chance…he tried…" Chris still didn’t raise his head, his guilt washing over him in tides. He’d let his friends down. Again he hadn’t taken his own advice. He’d gone in full steam ahead; he’d hardly given Somers the time to open his mouth, let alone tell him anything. His words to Vin a few days earlier seemed to be coming back to haunt him again and again…step back and ponder… if only he had.

The room was almost silent, the only sound coming from Nathan as he prepared things for his patients.

Chris raised his head, his eyes seeking Vin’s. He wished his friend would say something…anything. Even if he yelled at him, or tried to take a swing at him…at least that would be a reaction. Instead, their gaze remained locked, and the blond watched as the look in Tanner’s eyes changed from scrutiny to acceptance. He’d seen Vin do that before and knew he’d figured it out, mulled it over, and made peace with it. The gunslinger figured Vin had needed to do that a lot in his lifetime, he was used to Vin’s quiet acceptance of how it was, but all the same he wanted to let him know.

Leaning forward in the chair, he licked his suddenly dry lips. "I’m sorry."

"Don’t say yer sorry, Chris. Ya weren’t t’ know."

Chris shook his head, if Vin wasn’t going to remain mad at him, then he’d get mad at himself. "How can you say that Vin?" he shifted further forward in his chair until he was perched on the end. "We could’ve found you hours before…saved you from strugglin’ for so damn long."

Vin shook his head from side to side on the pillow. "Doesn’t matter now…it’s done."

"But Vin, let me say…" the word ‘sorry’ never got past his lips as Vin interrupted.

"No need to say anythin’. I know how yer feelin’, it’s ok now, don’t matter…hell, I probably woulda done the same thing."

Chris shook his head, he knew that wasn’t true. Vin was more laid back than he was…hell, a lot more laid back than he was. But then again, he’d seen the tracker when he went into ‘protective mode’ with one or other of them; maybe he would have reacted similarly.

"It seems I may have been a little erroneous in my judgement of Mr Somers --I thought he wouldn’t come back here."

Neither Vin nor Chris had realised Nathan and Ezra were listening to their conversation. They both turned to look at their two friends, and noticing the flush in Vin’s cheeks, Nathan tutted. Picking up a cup he walked to the tracker’s side.

"Nate, not the horse piss."

"No sassin’, Vin. Ezra took his without fightin’ me."

"Mr Jackson, you caught me unawares."

Nathan flashed a warning look at the gambler. "Thanks for the help Ezra." Turning back to the tracker he continued. "I got more fight in me that you right now, Vin."

"Ah hell…"

Chris shook his head, a small smile tugging at his lips, as he watched Vin sipping at the awful brew Nathan was force feeding him. He was relieved the mood had lightened in the tiny room.

He took a deep breath and grimaced when his stiff shoulder reacted. He decided he needed air. His heart was heavy from what he’d just learned, and he needed to come to terms with what he’d done. Vin may have forgiven him, but he still had to forgive himself.

"I’ll be outside." He felt a tug on his arm as he started to move. Turning back, he felt Vin release his grip on the blond’s sleeve.

"Let ‘im out."

Chris opened his mouth to protest but clamped his lips shut again. Their eyes locked, and they conveyed their thoughts to each other in that one look.

Finally Chris nodded and Vin’s mouth moved slightly in the beginnings of a small smile.

"Don’t hurry back, Chris," Nathan called as the gunslinger opened the door.

"I will." Chris turned and winked before closing the door behind him.

Nathan shook his head and sighed in exasperation. "First I can’t get ‘im to stay then I can’t get ‘im to leave."

He looked at Vin who was wearing a small smile. Walking to his workbench, he picked up fresh bandages and some bottles. Turning back towards the tracker he called over his shoulder. "Ezra, what are the odds of me wiping that smile offa his face in less than half a minute?"

* * * * * * *

Chris leaned against the door and closing his eyes, pulling in a deep breath of air. He felt like all his strength had suddenly deserted him. His legs felt like lead, and the top of the flight of stairs seemed a long way off as he began to walk.

He walked down two of the steps and stopped. Slowly sinking down until he was seated, his ever-sharp green eyes surveyed the town. He still felt uneasy over the fact that there could still be a few of the gang at large, and maybe even in town. Vin seemed to have a way of rubbing outlaws up the wrong way, and Chris decided he was going to be extra vigilant until he was sure.

He felt eyes on him and turned to watch as Buck strode quickly up to the bottom of the steps. Taking them two at a time, the rogue grinned at his oldest friend. Sitting down next to the blond, he slapped him on the thigh.

"You look like you lost a filly an’ found a mule."

Chris chuffed a breath out through his nose, the hint of a smile on his lips. "Reckon I did."

Buck frowned. "Vin okay?"

"Yeah…well, as okay as he can be right now." Chris held up a hand, knowing what the next question would be. "Ezra’s fine too, he’s awake…left ‘em both with Nathan."

"Ouch, poor Nathan." The smile left Buck’s face. "So what’s goin’ on then?"

The gunslinger sighed. "How did one suddenly become seven, Buck?"

"Haven’t we been through this?"

Chris’s eyes continued to scan up and down. "I mean…what happened to get me tangled up in so many peoples lives? Thought I was doin’ fine on my own."

"You thought wrong, Chris," Buck answered seriously. "Your life took a definite turn for the better the day you an’ a scrawny assed Texan stopped an innocent man from being hung."

The blond pinched the bridge of his nose. "I’ve really screwed up."

Buck was shocked by the defeated tone in Chris’s voice. He watched the blond sink his head into his hands. "Oh, is that all…" he tried to sound jovial, but didn’t quite make it. "That’s the story of my life, pard."

Reaching a hand out, he clamped it on Chris’s shoulder. "Wanna tell me about it?"

Chris ran a hand through his hair, a mannerism Buck was used to. Ever since he’d known Larabee, that was a sure sign that there were some strong emotions sailing around inside his friend. He flinched when Chris finally turned to face him. He could see the torture the blond was putting himself through and squeezed the shoulder he still held, for support and encouragement.


"Somers…he was with them…Vin and Ez sent him off to fetch us…he tried to tell me…I hit him…"

"I know you hit him, I was there remember?" Buck replayed that scene in his head. Somers had been trying to say something, and it was only Josiah who thought that maybe what the bounty hunter had to say would help their friends.

Chris let out a breath and looked at his feet. "Why did I do that, Buck?"

It was Buck’s turn to sigh. "Because you were hurt…you were worried about Vin and Ez…and you were angry…I would’ve done the same."

"Vin said he would’ve too."

"There ya go, then it must be true."

When Chris looked back at his friend, he couldn’t help but match the small smile on his face. "We’re all crazy bastards."

"Yep…ain’t it great." The rogue’s eyes twinkled as he watched a little life entering the blond. His gaze raked over Larabee’s pale face. "If you don’t mind me sayin’, you look like shit, ol’ friend."

"Thanks Buck, can always count on you to make me feel better."

Buck heard the double meaning and nodded slowly, his kind blue eyes showing what they felt as they looked back at the gunslinger. "Go get some rest, okay?"

"I’m goin’ back inside now…will you do me a favour, Buck?"


"Let Somers out of jail."

Buck suddenly looked shocked. "Is that safe?"

"It’s what Vin wants…right now that’s enough."

"Alright, I’ll go now. But I’m gonna make sure he’s watched. He ain’t gonna hurt Vin…he’ll go through me first."

"Get in line, Buck."

Chris began to rise, but with a hiss of pain, sat down again. "Shit, when’s this gonna heal?"

"When you give it a chance." Buck’s serious voice was right next to Chris’s ear as he stooped and got a firm hold under the gunslinger’s arm. "Give ya a hand?"

Chris grunted as he was pulled onto his feet. He turned grateful eyes on his oldest friend. "Thanks Buck." He winced, his eyes suddenly spotting the large bruise on the ladies' man's jaw. "I do that?" he asked, sweeping a hand lightly over the discoloured skin.

"Yep, I think you’re goin’ through a hittin’ phase, pard." Buck laughed.

Chris couldn’t help chuckling too. "Reckon I am."

"Right, I’m gone…let Vin know we got his back."

Chris nodded and smiled, watching Buck until he reached the bottom of the steps. Turning around, the smile still on his face, he walked along the veranda to the clinic door.

* * * * * * *

John Somers sighed and leaned his head back against the hard wall. He lay on the rickety bed, his legs crossed at the ankles, staring through the bars at the young sheriff.

He grimaced, reaching a hand up to cup his sore, bruised jaw. Gently, he moved it from side to side, flinching as the bruised tissue protested the movement. He’d hate to have a run in with Chris Larabee when the gunslinger was healthy, if he could inflict this much pain when he was injured. Hell, one punch and he’d been down and out; not knowing what had hit him until he was waking up in jail the next morning.

His eyes looked around for something to concentrate on. He was bored, no one would talk to him. He got fed and watered, but other than that, all he got was cold hard stares from whatever peacekeeper happened to be watching the jail at that time.

He hadn’t bargained on Tanner having the six loyal friends that he had. He’d known that he was part of a group of seven men who watched Four Corners, and the surrounding areas. But he hadn’t known that those seven people formed a close knit group, no, not group—family. He got the message every time he looked back at one of their hard stares that said, ‘Mess with Vin, you mess with me.’

He shook his head, sighed again and closed his eyes, tired of looking at the same scenery. Tired of counting how many bars there were that held him imprisoned.

A picture of a bruised Vin Tanner came into his head, and he frowned. Who was he kidding? Having got to spend some time with the ex-bounty hunter, he could very well understand why he got such loyalty from his friends.

Vin Tanner had honour.

He opened his eyes and watched the young peacekeeper shuffling papers around on the big desk he sat behind. Dunne had been a lot happier since his two missing friends had turned up safe and sound…and John couldn’t blame him. Heck, he’d been relieved too.

When he’d woken up in jail, he’d tried to get someone to listen to him. But he was told to ‘shut up’, and ‘it was no thanks to him that Vin and Ezra had turned up, just a short while ago’. Hearing that news, he figured he didn’t need to tell anyone they needed help, because they were back in town. He just wondered how they got back, and if they were alright.

He’d been a bounty hunter for a few years now, had taken in a lot of people and collected the reward money. But this was the first time that he’d wondered whether what he was doing was altogether right. How many people had he handed over for hanging that may have been innocent of the crime they were accused of? How many of them were actually half-decent human beings who were victims of circumstance; where something had happened that they couldn’t possibly have avoided?

Shaking his head, to rid himself of this line of thinking, he centred his mind on his original thought. Vin Tanner was no saint, and he may well be wanted for murder. But no matter how much money he was worth, John decided he wasn’t going to be the one to claim it.

He wasn’t surprised that he came to that decision. He figured he’d come to it the day, out in the middle of nowhere, when Tanner had almost sacrificed himself to save him. Even though he was sure the Texan didn’t altogether like him.

His thoughts halted, and his eyes flew to the door as it opened, and a shadow loomed in the doorway.

"Buck!" JD jumped to his feet, and watched as his mentor closed the door, the big man never taking his eyes from the cell in the back of the jail.

"Buck?" Dunne asked again, as the ladies' man’s eyes narrowed, and his mouth set in a hard line.

"What’s happened? What’s wrong…is it Vin?" JD’s heart clenched tight. That could be the only explanation for the look on Buck’s face. Something bad had happened to Vin, or... "Ezra?" his voice was high as he uttered the gambler’s name.

"No kid, they’re both fine." Buck pulled his eyes away from the man sitting on the bed in the dark cell. "Got the keys?"

"To the cell?" The younger man was wondering what was going on. He seemed to always be in the dark, one step behind everybody else.

"Yeah, can I have ‘em?" The older man’s deep blue eyes finally turned to look at JD, and the young sheriff took in a sharp breath at the look he saw there.

The gaze was filled with worry, uncertainty and a deep distrust.

Gulping, JD took the keys from his pocket, and handed them to his friend. "You’re letting him out?" His eyes darted to the door. "Did Chris…?"

"Yeah, Chris’s idea, kid. Don’t worry, I ain’t goin’ against Larabee’s wishes. Seems we screwed up."

Dunne frowned as he followed the troubled older man to the cell door.

Buck paused, the key hovering near the lock. He lifted his eyes to meet John Somer’s wary gaze. He watched as the bounty hunter rose from the bed and stood there, not attempting to walk towards him.

Finally, he put the key in the lock and turned it in one quick movement. He grabbed the door, pulling it open.

"You’re sprung."

Somers hesitated, not liking the look the big man was giving him. Summoning up some courage, he walked up to the two men, his eyes watching as Wilmington moved out of his way, so he could exit the cell.

He sidled past them and stopped, turning a quizzical look on the peacekeepers.

"Vin put us straight," Buck offered as an explanation for the bounty hunter’s sudden release.

Relief made John’s shoulders sag. "They really made it?" It was a silly question, he’d known they’d made it back, just hadn’t known what condition they’d been in when they got home. It was a comfort to know Vin was well enough to be able to tell them anything.

Buck eyed him intently, wondering at the reaction. "If you knew Vin, you wouldn’t be so surprised."

Somers nodded, not doubting Buck for a second. He had witnessed Vin out in the wild after all.

JD stood beside his friend, his eyes wide as they watched the bounty hunter warily. He didn’t like the thought of Somers walking freely about town. Casting a sideways glance at Buck, he pulled his strength from the look on the rogue’s face. The big man was in control, he could see that, and knew that he’d be filled in later.

John didn’t know what to say so he turned to leave. He felt a vice like grip on his upper arm and turned back, coming face to face with steely blue eyes.

"Go after Vin Tanner…you’ll die."

The low growl was lethal, the words not an empty threat.

Somers shook his head. "Don’t worry, my bounty hunting days are over. I’ve got no intention of hurting Vin."

Buck’s eyes narrowed, his voice remaining soft but firm as he answered. "Why would I believe that?"

The former prisoner bit his lip while his eyes went from one peacekeeper to the other. Shifting his weight from one leg to the other, he put his head slightly to the side. "You want to know why I became a bounty hunter?"

"Will it answer my question?" Buck shot back.

John sighed, not quite knowing why he felt he had to say what he was about to. "I fell in love."

The ladies' man shrugged, his hand resting lightly on the handle of his holstered gun. "I fall in love all the time, never made me wanna become a bounty hunter."

JD snorted lightly at that remark. Even in the tense atmosphere, he felt comforted standing at Wilmington’s side.

Somer’s leaned his shoulder against the closed door of the jail. "I was born into a wealthy family. I fell in love with a woman my Father didn’t approve of. He cut me off when I refused to break off our engagement. He dropped me like a hot potato…thing is…so did she."

JD hung his head, always a sucker for a sob story.

Buck hated it, but he was suddenly feeling sorry for the man before him. He didn’t know why he was listening to him, he could be spinning them a yarn. But there was something about him that he almost trusted…and Vin had given him a chance, hadn’t he? "Your Father wouldn’t talk to you? He wouldn’t take you back?"

The bounty hunter shook his head. "I was too proud to go to him," he swallowed, fighting the feelings his revelations were bringing back to the surface. Straightening his shoulders, he continued in a stronger voice. "I heard bounty hunting was a quick way of getting a lot of money. So I came out West to give it a try."

"Was Vin your first?" Buck’s voice turned instantly hard again, his thoughts turning to the bruised body in the clinic.

"No, but he’s my last. I’m not cut out for this job…Vin made me realise that."

Buck’s face was transformed as his lips moved into a fond smile. "Yeah, he’s got a habit of making you look real hard inside yourself."

John nodded again, smiling back. "I’d like to see Vin again, say

goodbye to him if I could."

Buck chewed his lip as he thought. Chris would definitely not be happy about it. But Vin had shared some rough times with this bounty hunter. "If Vin trusted you, how can I not? I gotta ask Vin first…and you won’t be alone in there..." The rogue hoped his decision wasn’t going to get him another bruised jaw courtesy of Chris Larabee.

"I never thought I would be…and of course, if Vin doesn’t want to see me…"

Buck had a feeling he would, but said nothing. He thought he should warn Somers about something though. "Well, just so’s you know, you’re treading on unsteady ground. You met Chris Larabee, and he’s kinda assigned himself as Vin’s guardian Angel."

Somer’s smiled wryly, rubbing his jaw. "Couldn’t think of a better person for the job." He pointed to the door. "Can I go now? I want to see if I can get on the next stage."

"There’s one tomorrow afternoon, and yeah, you can go." Buck watched the man leave and then turned to his younger friend. "Kid, make sure he’s followed. We can’t let him out of our sight until he’s out of town. He seems okay, but I’m not willin’ to take a chance."

"I’ll watch him for now." JD stepped outside the jail and watched Somers walking along the street.

"Okay, JD. We can all take turns…I’ll explain what happened later…I gotta go see Chris now."

The young man nodded and set off after his quarry, leaving Buck standing in the doorway of the jail. The rogue blew out a long breath, and rubbed the back of his neck. He pulled the door of the jail closed, and began to walk to the clinic.

* * * * * * *

"…we had no bandages, the ones that our outlaw friend had put around our wounds were soiled and wet. I needed something, and there was only one option that I could see."


Chris’s eyes left Ezra and settled on the Texan, squirming on the bed. He’d lost count of the number of times he’d had to reach out and place a restraining hand on Vin to stop him from rising up from the pillows. It was only the fact that Tanner was as weak as a new born babe that helped him win each time.

He’d been listening to his two friends recount their ordeal. Ezra being the one who had the most comments to make about everything. As usual, Vin left a lot of blanks, only saying what he figured was needed. The gunslinger was finding Ezra’s recount of how he had cleaned their wounds particularly interesting, and wondered why Vin looked suddenly so uncomfortable.

"Go on." He returned his gaze to the gambler, keeping Vin pinned down with a light hold on his shoulder.

"Well, as I was saying, I used the only thing I could…"


The gambler sighed impatiently. "Mr Tanner, I am trying to tell our story, and I’m sure you have nothing to add at this moment in time, as you were, as I recall, deeply asleep at the time." The southerner shrugged as he continued with his tale. "So, as I was saying, I tore up my undergarments and used those."

Aha! There it was! Now Chris understood Vin’s unease. He looked down at his uncomfortable friend, an amused smile playing around his lips.

"Ezra, d’ya know what y’ done now?" Vin growled, his eyes not leaving the face of his best friend.

"Vin, you should be grateful to Ezra," Chris answered for the gambler. His green eyes twinkling with mischief. "After all, he did take care of you."

Struggling to free himself from the blond’s hold, Vin gave up and just glared, sending a fierce blue eyed warning to his friend. "Tell Buck and I’ll shoot ya, Larabee."

Just then, the door opened and Nathan entered the tiny clinic. He eyed the three men, wondering what he had missed. Seeing Chris holding Vin down, gently but firmly, he raised an eyebrow. "He tryin’ to leave again?"

"Nope. Vin just got a little edgy about somethin’."

Nathan nodded slowly, this time wondering at the teasing smile on Chris’s face as he offered the explanation.

"Seems to be getting mighty edgy about a lot of things just now." Walking over to the sharpshooter, he placed a hand on his cheek. "Still too warm…I’m gonna give you some tea."

"Ah hell."

"Mr Tanner, I wonder if I could interest you in a little coaching while we are held captive together. I could increase your vocabulary no end…"

"Ya done too much already with them five dollar words’r yers," Vin growled, finally managing to slap away Chris’s hand.

"Did I miss somethin’?" The healer raised Vin’s head and put a cup to his mouth, pressing it harder until the lips parted and the sharpshooter drank.

"Nope." Chris’s eyes sparkled with mischief again, as Vin’s gaze dared him to tell Nathan anything. "Ezra was just tellin’ me why Vin’s coat was damp when they got back to town."

"Oh." Nathan was not convinced, but he let it drop. He was more concerned with taking care of his patients. Placing Vin’s head gently back on the pillows, the healer turned his attention to Ezra. The gambler had suddenly felt exhausted and had been laying quietly after his offer to teach Vin some new words.

Chris watched the Texan’s eyelids droop, and found his starting to do the same. He was tired as hell, and his shoulder was throbbing mercilessly. He needed to rest, he knew that, but he couldn’t, not yet, not until he’d seen Buck.

Just at that moment the clinic door opened again, and this time it was the man he’d been waiting for.


"Hey Chris, how they doin’?" The ladies' man’s eyes flitted from one injured man to the other, before finally resting on his oldest friend. He frowned, seeing the lines of pain and weariness on Larabee’s face. "More to the point, how’r you doin?"

"I’ll feel a lot better when you tell me what happened." Standing up, he took Buck’s arm and led him to the corner of the room, so they wouldn’t disturb Vin. "Did you do it?"

"Yeah…" Wilmington’s voice faltered. All the way to the clinic he’d dreaded this moment.

Chris’s eyes narrowed. "What?"

Sighing, Buck raked a hand through his hair. "He wants to see Vin before he leaves."



"I said no."

"Not yer choice, Chris."

Vin’s wearily spoken words had the two men looking at each other and walking to the sharpshooter’s bedside.

"Vin, he’s a bounty hunter for God’s sake." Chris suddenly felt giddy. He closed his eyes as his body began to rock. He felt strong arms guide him until he was sitting in a chair.

"Thanks Buck." Opening his eyes, the gunslinger looked from one friend to the other, feeling mad with himself for letting his weakness show.


"I’m okay Vin, just tired." Sighing, Chris leaned forward in the chair. "You can’t let Somers near you, Pard. He’s a threat."

"Don’t know that until I look int’ his eyes, Cowboy. Trust me, I know what I’m doin’"

"He seems okay, Chris."

The blond turned his eyes to Buck. "He’s taken you in too? Don’t you remember how he wormed his way into the town, got us to disregard him. You know as well as I do he was gonna grab Vin at the earliest opportunity."

"He had a chance, more than one. He didn’t take it."

"I have to concur. He had every…chance to take Vin and didn’t." Ezra added, his weak voice barely audible.

"Shhh, easy Ezra. Rest now." Nathan rose from his chair beside the gambler and walked over to the other men.

"I wanna see him, Chris. I’ll go t’ him if I have t’."

Sighing heavily, the blond sagged in defeat. "Alright Vin, you win. But I’m stayin’ right here."

"Got no problem with that." It was the end of the discussion as far as Vin was concerned. He closed his eyes tight, sucking in a breath as he finally acknowledged how much his damn head hurt. His mind and body started to shut down, letting Nathan's tea take over, sending him into a deep sleep.

Chris relaxed once more into the chair. He saw Nathan hovering and knew he was the next to get a clean dressing and some of the healer’s herbal tea. Looking at Buck, he raised an eyebrow. "Where is he?"

"At the hotel, JD’s watchin’ him."

The blond nodded. "Tell him he can see Vin tonight. Tell him you’ll collect him from the hotel and bring him here, and not to attempt to come on his own."

"Got it." Buck went down on his hunkers and waited for Chris to look at him. "Chris, do me a favour. Take care of yourself, or let Nathan take care of you, okay?"

Chris felt anger boil up in his belly. He didn’t need anybody giving him advice on how to take care of himself. He turned a steely green glare on the rogue, ready to give him hell. But the look in the deep blue eyes threw a bucket of cold water on the angry fire inside him. He swallowed the sharp retort he’d been about to unleash and nodded his surrender.

Buck saw the change come over his friend and sighed in relief at Chris’s nod. For once he didn’t have a fight on his hands. He reached out and gave Chris’s arm a light squeeze. "Don’t worry, I’ve got it under control."

"I know…thanks Buck."

The rogue moved away and the healer took his place, his tall frame blocking the view as Buck headed out the door.

"Chris, I need to get this shirt offa you. Gonna check your wound, then I want you to take some tea and get some rest."

"Don’t need any tea." The gunslinger grimaced as Nathan helped him ease the shirt from his shoulders.

"You’re still a patient o’ mine, and you’re gonna drink." The look Chris received from the healer begged no argument. "I’d make you lay down if I had a bed for you…I know you won’t leave."

"No, I won’t," the blond responded vehemently.

"Well then. How about we put two chairs over there in the corner, and you can rest for a while when I’m done?" Nathan knew he was pushing his luck but he had to try.

Chris hissed as the old dressing on his wound was gently eased away. Right now, he could sleep on a cactus so Nathan’s offer sounded mighty good. He didn’t see any reason why he couldn’t rest over in the corner. Just as long as he was there when John Somers arrived. "’k Nate, sounds good to me."

With a satisfied smile, the healer tended to his patient.


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