No Good Deed Goes Unpunished
Notes: Haven't done a wholly Vin story for ages, so here it is. I've tended to team him up with Ezra recently. My two favorite men together. Lovely!
One minute he'd been unconscious and the next he was awake. It had been just like turning on a radio, if radios had been around in those days. One second there was no sound and then suddenly noise was faintly detectable. Not too loud to start with, but buzzing in the back of his brain like an angry wasp. The sounds slowly grew in pitch as if someone was gradually turning up the volume.
Perhaps awake is too strong a term, Vin decided after a while. Aware, is much nearer the mark, I think. He was between worlds and it was nice and he continued to drift contentedly until he was brought back to full awareness when he heard a strange noise and then scrunching footsteps. Something touched his face gently and patted his cheek softly but persistently. A hand? Vin wondered as he clenched his jaw. It was something warm anyway. He then felt pressure under his head as he was lifted slightly and something cold trickled on his lips. Water! The tracker opened his mouth a crack and let some of the precious liquid seep onto his tongue. Gee, that tastes damned good.
"He's comin' round, I think. Vin? Vin? Can you hear me?" Nathan's voice asked from afar.
Yeah, I hear ya alright but I ain't got the energy to open my mouth to tell you so. Ain't opening my eyes neither, so there! Vin thought to himself. He then flinched slightly as something gripped his right hand gently but without warning.
"Squeeze my hand if you can hear me, pard," Buck's voice commanded. The ladies' man patted the back of Vin's hand as he spoke in the hope of getting some response.
Jeez! Didn't ya hear me the first time? Ain't got the energy. Unconsciously though, Vin's fingers must have moved of their own accord because he heard Buck sigh in relief. The tracker could hear his friend's spurs jingle as he shifted slightly on the ground beside him in an attempt to get comfortable. Vin tried to move away to the side because the sound seemed so close to him he thought Buck was going to tread on him by mistake. His body didn't respond to his command though and he remained motionless except for his fingers flexing unknowingly again.
The ladies' man's voice spoke again after detecting the slight increase in pressure on his hand for the second time. He looked down at his friend and saw the man's eyes moving restlessly beneath his closed eyelids so Buck squeezed the man's hand again in encouragement. Vin's eyelids, however, refused to open to reveal the cool, blue eyes that Buck knew so well. "It's alright, Vin. You just stay with me. You'll be just fine," he said softly.
I'm fine now except you keep interrupting my rest, the tracker grumbled in his head. Different colors flashed behind his closed eyelids as his eyeballs moved about. Always thought you only saw black when you had yer eyes closed, he thought to himself distractedly. Greens, reds and yellows continued to show themselves at intervals and he lay and enjoyed the myriad of rainbow hues.
"Just gonna check you over, Vin. Let me know if it hurts," Nathan instructed from beside him, making him cringe at the loudness of his voice.
Vin lay still as he had been doing and felt Nathan put his hands on either side of his head. The examination began and he felt the healer's fingers probing his skull gently and he had to admit the touch felt good. It was kind of relaxing and sensuous.
The fingers slowly moved down his neck to his shoulders and that's when the sensation changed from relaxing to agonizing. Yeah, I think you could say that hurt, Nate, Vin said to himself. He groaned loudly as a shooting pain erupted from his left collarbone and traveled throughout his body. He increased the grip on Buck's hand and flinched in reaction.
"Alright, Vin. Sorry to hurt ya," Nathan apologized automatically before continuing on his tactile evaluation of his friend's body.
Vin felt the hands move down each side of his rib cage and reach round under his back carefully. The hands felt like two spiders exploring his body. The fingers traveling softly over his flesh with the feather-light touch of arachnids' legs. He groaned again as Nathan began probing his stomach. Jeez. Please don't touch me anymore, Vin pleaded silently. If he'd had the energy he'd have screamed loudly but instead he just jerked violently on the ground, unable to stop the movement. His body seemed to have developed a life of its own. When he wanted it to do something specific it refused to comply but then suddenly one of his limbs, for example, would move of its own accord when least expected.
Buck reached out and restrained the tracker before he could move too much and Vin finally began to relax again after Nathan had removed his hands from the tender area.
The tracker heard the ladies' man ask anxiously, "Nate? What's up?"
"Real nasty stab wound and bad bruising." As Nathan spoke, his hands slid down to Vin's hips, pelvis and groin and the tracker's body wriggled as the fingers explored that sensitive area. "Alright, Vin. Just try to keep still if you can. I'll be done soon," Nathan assured him softly.
Yeah, well hurry it up and mind what yer doin' down there. Yer ticklin'.
The pressure on Vin's hand suddenly decreased and he grimaced as Buck yelled loudly near his head. "Chris? Over here, pard. We found him!"
The earth vibrated beneath Vin's body as numerous horses' hooves approached. Vin heard the sound of creaking leather as several riders dismounted nearby. He seemed to be able to understand exactly what was going on around him by sound alone.
Spurs jingled loudly and another familiar voice asked from somewhere near his ear, "He awake?"
"Sorta. He can hear ya but he ain't bein' too talkative, are ya Vin?" Buck asked as he picked up Vin's hand again carefully.
No, I ain't, the tracker declared in his head. Too much like hard work at the moment.
Vin detected hands on his leg as Nathan continued with his examination while the other two men talked. The gentle touch moved down one limb and then started on the other. They reached his ankle where more blinding pain made itself plain. "Ah, shit!" he whispered out loud before clamping his lips shut. He hadn't meant for the words to escape his mouth.
"Hey pard. Knew you were paying attention. Now, can you open yer eyes for us?" Buck asked as he wiped Vin's hair away from his face carefully.
Vin decided it probably was time to obey and leave the comfort of the twilight zone. His eyes, however, had other ideas. It was almost as if they were glued together. No matter how hard he tried he couldn't gather the strength needed to open them.
"Don't look like he's goin' to, Bucklin. Just leave him be until he's feeling better. 'Spect he's not up to doin' too much at the moment," Chris replied quietly.
Ah, my friend, my savior. Thanks for seeing it from my point of view, cowboy, Vin said to himself.
Vin heard a lot of rustling and the quiet muttered voices of his friends. He could still feel Buck holding his hand but he couldn't detect the presence of anyone else near him. He sighed and groaned softly as his stomach began throbbing constantly. Where before he'd been unaware of his injuries and the pain, they'd now been well and truly brought to his attention by Nathan's examination. He closed his eyelids a bit more tightly together as he strained his ears to hear where his friends had gone. He heard approaching footsteps again and then felt a hand on his uninjured shoulder.
"Vin? I'm gonna sort out yer stomach first, okay? I've gotta stitch you up so I want you to drink this for me now," Nathan ordered.
The tracker felt a hand under the back of his head and it began to lift him gently. The top of a bottle was placed against his lips and he managed to open his mouth just enough to take a couple of tentative sips. The bottle was withdrawn when he coughed as the liquid got caught in his throat but he drank some more when he'd recovered his breath.
"Okay, Vin. Yer doin' fine. Now, just relax and it'll be over before you know it."
Vin felt the laudanum beginning to take effect and he dozed contentedly, feeling as if he was on a feather bed instead of the hard ground. The healer dealt with his wound and broken limbs quickly and efficiently and Vin didn't notice at all.
"Vin? We're just gonna move you to the wagon and get you back to town," Josiah's voice said from somewhere overhead.
Jeez! Why keep telling me what yer gonna do? Just do it and leave me alone, will ya? I ain't gonna answer so there's no point in ya wasting yer breath.
The tracker was hoisted into someone's arms, he assumed Josiah's, and then laid gently on some blankets in the back of the wagon. He groaned again loudly when the wagon finally commenced its homeward journey with a jolt. The wagon then rocked gently from side to side like a ship on the sea and Vin found himself nearly asleep. He let his mind drift and thought back over the events that had led him to this moment.
The tracker ambled slowly along the boardwalk and entered the jail just after sunup. He smiled at his fellow peacekeeper and asked, "Hey Bucklin. All quiet?"
The ladies' man looked up and indicated the only occupier of cells. "Except for John here, who got a mite raucous in the saloon, I ain't had no trouble, pard."
"Good, let's hope it stays that way," Vin drawled as he took up residence behind the desk while Buck went back to his room to catch up on some sleep.
Vin put his feet up on the desk and leant back in the chair with a sigh. He looked out of the window just as the sun rose over the church. "Gonna be a beautiful day and I'm stuck in here," he moaned as he scowled unhappily. "No, I can sit outside just as well. You ain't gonna cause me any grief, are ya John?"
"No, Mr. Tanner. I sure ain't."
"That's just what I wanted to hear. Give a yell if you need anything 'cause I'll only be outside. I'll leave the door open so I can hear ya," Vin said with a smile. He'd let the man go in an hour or so anyway. He'd probably learnt his lesson by now.
The blue-eyed man stood up and strolled back out onto the boardwalk and planted himself on the seat by the window and stretched his legs out, crossing them at the ankle. He looked up and down the street and sighed in contentment. He pulled his hat brim down over his face and closed his eyes and listened to the sounds of the town as it woke up. After a while he heard hurried hooves and he opened his eyes and pushed his hat back to see a man riding toward the jail fast. The rider came to a sliding halt before him and jumped down, creating a swirling pool of dust round his feet.
"You the Sheriff?" the man asked breathlessly as he slapped his hat against his thigh to rid it of the dirt it had accumulated.
"No, but I'm a peacekeeper. What's wrong?" the tracker asked. He studied the man carefully before turning his attention to look at the horse too. It didn't look as though it had been ridden far as it hadn't even broken sweat.
"Someone's taken my wife."
"What?" Vin said as he stood up quickly and stepped down into the street.
"The bastard's kidnapped her."
Vin put a hand on the man's shoulder and said, "Calm down. You know who's taken her?"
"Yeah. His name's Peter Scully. He knocked me out and took her."
"Where did this happen?"
The man pointed off into the distance. "Out by the creek. My wife and I were traveling to Bitter Creek to start a new life. He's been after my wife since I married her, thinks she oughta married him instead. They were once engaged, you see, but she spurned him when he began abusin' her. He's been following us for days and I thought I'd lost him but he surprised me at dawn and took her."
"Okay, I'll come and look. I'm a tracker and may be able to pick up their trail." Vin squeezed the man's shoulder comfortingly and then looked up and down the street anxiously. He spotted JD and shouted as he waved a hand in the air, "Kid? Can you take over here? I gotta go outta town to track down a kidnapped woman. Tell Chris when he gets back, will ya?"
The youngster approached fast and looked at the stranger who was standing beside his friend. "Sure Vin. Where ya gonna start looking?"
"The creek. She was taken from there."
JD nodded and looked at the tracker with a pair of serious, hazel eyes. "Okay. I'll keep an eye on things for you. Is there anything that needs doin'?"
"Just let John out, will ya? He's been in overnight so he may as well be released now."
Vin turned after giving his instructions and hurried to the livery with the man following behind. The tracker collected his horse and rode out of town with his companion. They reached the creek within half an hour and the man pointed out exactly where the attack had happened. Vin scouted round and found two sets of horses' hooves leading away from the campsite.
"Right, let's get goin'. They can't be far ahead," Vin said as he swung back up into the saddle. He saw his horse was quite sweaty and he frowned as a thought tickled the back of his mind. He knew he should see some significance in that fact but he couldn't bring to mind what it was. He shrugged and set his horse in motion.
+ + + + + + +
JD, meanwhile, met the stagecoach back in town and collected several parcels and letters he was expecting. He wandered back to the jail and sat by the desk after putting his boxes down. He began opening one or two of the letters and sorted them into piles depending on their contents. He looked up as he heard the sound of approaching footsteps on the boardwalk and the door eventually opened to reveal Chris.
The blond looked slightly taken aback when he saw JD sitting in the chair behind the desk. "What you doin' here, kid? Thought Vin was on duty," the black-clad man queried curiously.
JD smiled and replied, "He had to go and look for a woman who's been kidnapped."
The blond frowned. "He went on his own?"
"Yup. Weren't no-one else around," the kid shrugged.
"Anything else happen?"
"No. Quiet as a grave."
"Great. I'll be in the saloon if you need me," Chris said as he did a swift about face and headed out again.
+ + + + + + +
Vin dismounted at a stream and furrowed his brow anxiously. He squatted down and poked his hands in the water carefully before standing up and wiping his fingers down his pant's leg. He pointed with an outstretched finger and said, "They've gone downstream. I'll need a bit of time to find where they got out though." He studied the stones in the riverbed as he walked slowly on foot leading his horse behind. The pebbles had been kicked over in places by the hooves of his quarry's horse and showed a fairly plain trail. It still took him well over an hour to finally find tracks leading to the riverbank again. The two men quickened their pace now they were on dry land again and finally caught sight of two people in the distance.
"There they are. I recognize my wife's horse," Vin's companion said as he kicked his horse into a lope.
Vin cursed and hurried to catch up. He managed to bring the man to a halt and said, "Wait a minute fella. What is yer name, anyway?"
"Okay Will. We need to creep up slow and careful. No use going in guns blazing 'cause if he sees us, things could get real nasty for yer wife. Follow me but keep quiet and do exactly what I say."
The two men continued on their way and Vin saw his quarry stop at another stream. He frowned as the wind suddenly picked up and brought the sound of laughter to his ears. He looked toward the two people he'd been following and saw the woman's mouth open again to emit a high-pitched giggle. Kidnapped people ain't usually happy about what's happened to 'em, he thought to himself. By the way the two people were acting together they looked happy and content in each other's company. He thought back and realized that the woman had been riding beside the man of her own accord. Her mount hadn't been secured to her kidnapper's horse at all. Why didn't I think of that before? Vin turned to Will in confusion but couldn't duck the stiff, outstretched fingers that were aimed at his unprotected throat. He collapsed to the ground gasping for breath as he heard a gunshot ring out. That'll teach me to do someone a good deed, he thought before passing out.
+ + + + + + +
JD leafed distractedly through the new batch of wanted posters that had come in on the stagecoach.
"Shit!" The youngster got up and flew out the door and headed to the saloon with a sheet of paper flapping in his hand. "Chris? Chris?" he yelled as he barged through the batwing doors.
The black-clad man stood up hastily as he heard his name being called urgently. He could see the panic on the young man's face and he moved toward him. "What's wrong, kid?"
"The man........ It's him," JD blurted out breathlessly as he came to a standstill beside the tall blond.
Chris furrowed his brow, not understanding what JD was saying. "What ya talking about, JD?"
"The man Vin went with.... This is him. He's a murderer," JD explained as he waved the paper under Chris's nose insistently.
"Damn. Give it here." Chris snatched the sheet and read the details in increasing alarm. "Jesus Christ. Get the others rounded up, kid. He's one vicious bastard and real dangerous."
+ + + + + + +
Vin woke up and slowly struggled to his feet, finding that he'd been disarmed while he'd been unconscious. He put a hand up to his throat and rubbed the tender area as he coughed roughly. He looked around him when he heard the sound of grunting and groaning and then hurried toward where Will was struggling violently with the woman. The supposed kidnapper lay dead nearby, the victim of the gunshot Vin had heard earlier he assumed. The tracker flicked a quick look toward the body and could see a slight resemblance between him and the woman. Brother and sister? he wondered. Damn but I could kick myself. Being played for a fool but how was I to know Will was a liar?
"Get yer stinking hands off her," Vin croaked as he drew near the two struggling people.
Will instantly turned his attention to Vin after knocking the woman out with a savage blow to her face. Vin still hadn't quite recovered his breath properly after the strike to his throat and it made his reactions slow. Will, however, didn't intend to kill the peacekeeper and he only tried to put Vin out of action so he could then safely escape with the woman. He certainly didn't want the law on his tail for murdering a lawman. The man struck fast and forcefully with the butt end of his gun and Vin felt his collarbone snap as he was hit hard on his upper chest by the gun. He bent double and gasped at the renewed pain as he hugged the injured limb tightly to his torso. The tracker backed away to give himself some respite while he tried to recover but Will followed immediately sensing he had the upper hand. Vin bent and picked up a stone, which he threw at Will and managed to hit him on the side of his head. It only stopped the man for a minute though, so Vin looked round for a means of escape or another weapon he could utilize. Nothing was in sight so he tried to make the odds a bit more favorable to him instead. The tracker kicked out with his foot and managed to disarm Will but the movement caused a lot of pain in his own body too. Both men stood and watched the gun, a dragoon colt, skitter across the dirt to land in a puddle some distance away from them.
With the powder in the fallen weapon rendered useless by the water, the tracker looked around again for something to use against his foe. His eyes settled on the fallen kidnapper and he turned to approach him to try and utilize the man's weapon instead. Before he could get close, however, he heard footsteps hurrying up behind him. He swung back to face Will and found the man was within inches of him again but now with a knife in his hand. He forced Vin back toward an arroyo as he thrust continually with the outstretched blade like a sword fighter. Vin leapt away to put some distance between himself and his attacker as he continued to look around worriedly. He glanced behind quickly as he realized he'd just unwittingly taken himself nearer the drop in his haste to escape.
He gasped and looked down at his belly when he felt a deep burning pain as the knife eventually hit its target. Vin clutched the wound and fell backward awkwardly down the slope and knew he had broken his ankle during the ungainly tumble. As he came to a halt in the dirt he heard an angry yell from Will up above him, which was answered by a scream from the woman. The next sound to reach his ears was running footsteps as two people began hurrying away into the distance. Vin then heard a gunshot followed by silence and then sobbing. His hearing was beginning to fade but he thought he detected the sound of a horse galloping away being urged on by a female voice. He lay lifelessly at the bottom of the arroyo in the sudden silence and felt the energy drain from his body as he lost consciousness.
+ + + + + + +
Chris and his five friends arrived at the creek and split up to search for any clues as to their missing friend's whereabouts. JD found the highly visible tracks and began following them as best he could. Reading sign had proven a handy skill to have and JD was glad that Vin had taken the time and effort to teach him how to read it. To the illiterate tracker it was his form of reading, plain as the nose on his face and there was nothing he understood better. When JD had first been shown how to track he hadn't understood the markings at all but he now realized it was a language all to itself. Both men had been illiterate in their own way, one with words and one with sign. As Vin had patiently taught him, JD had come to realize how hard it had been for the tracker to learn how to read books at all. It must have seemed totally alien to him after reading everything pictorially as he had learnt to as a tracker.
JD sighed as he carried on following the tracks for quite some time but when he reached the river his newly learnt skills deserted him. "Sorry, Chris. This is as far as I can do it."
"Okay kid, you've done real good so far. Let's split up. Nate? You go with Buck and the rest of us will go together. You two head downstream."
Nathan and Buck set off where they had been instructed to go. They split up and traveled on either side of the river with their eyes glued to the ground to find where Vin had exited rather than trailing hopelessly through the water.
"Got something, Nate! Someone came out here, just hope it's them!" Buck called as he waved his arm in the air and pointed.
The two men followed the plain tracks until they lost them again in some trees.
"Well, let's keep going in the direction they seemed to be heading in," Nathan said with a shrug. They traveled on silently with eyes scanning the countryside for any sign or clue as to Vin's whereabouts.
"Hey, over there. A body, do you see it, Nate?" Buck asked as the two men emerged into a clearing.
"Yeah. There's another one in the trees too. Two men by the look of it. Where's Vin and the woman gone then?" Nathan asked as he realized in relief that neither body belonged to the tracker.
The two men dismounted and Nathan went to study the bodies in more detail to see how they'd died. Buck wandered away from him to see if he could find any trace of Vin or the woman. Maybe Vin killed both men and has taken her back to town. Sure seems that way. He ambled to the edge of the arroyo and looked down distractedly. "Nate? Vin's hurt!" he yelled as he began to make his descent.
The healer hurried over and both men slid down the slope toward their friend's body.
Back to the present
The wagon rolled into town and pulled up outside the clinic. Josiah and Buck carried Vin upstairs and laid him on the bed.
"Yer home, pard," Buck called softly and was rewarded when Vin finally opened his eyes after a struggle.
"Hey cowboy. About time too," Chris said from beside him.
"What happened to the woman?" Vin asked quietly as he squinted against the light.
Chris shrugged. "Gone. All we found were two dead men and you."
"Will killed the supposed kidnapper but I didn't kill Will though. Maybe the woman did and escaped. I heard another gunshot after I'd fallen and also the sound of her voice. Hope she's okay 'cause the bastard really hit her hard earlier."
Ezra appeared at Vin's side and said, "Hello, Mr. Tanner. Are you well?"
"Bit battered but I'll survive."
"Well next time, before rushing off like a Knight of old to save a damsel in distress I suggest you wait for some assistance. You're too chivalrous for your own good sometimes and it can lead you into trouble."
"Yeah, I think I agree, Ez. Who was Will? Was he her husband as he said?"
Chris shook his head. "No. Mary did some checking while we went to look for you and she just caught me now to tell me what she learnt. Will killed the woman's first husband and then just sorta kept her for himself. He treated her badly and her brother, who was the man Will said had kidnapped her, had tried many times to save her. After a couple of months on the run Will was captured and jailed for the murder of her husband but he escaped within weeks and set about tracking her down again. He was obsessed with her. She'd, meanwhile, gone to live with her brother in Eagle Bend but when they heard Will was free again they fled."
"Well, looks like she's finally free of him now," Vin sighed.
"Thanks to you," Buck said.
"Na. I just hindered her escape by leading him straight back to her."
"You weren't to know who he was, Vin. You had to act with what you knew."
"Cost her brother his life though, didn't I?"
Chris sat beside his friend. "You don't know that. If you hadn't helped Will someone else woulda done. He'd have tracked them down one way or the other whether it was this week or next year. Think the brother was destined to die by Will's hand whether you were there or not, cowboy."
Vin looked at Chris as he sighed and yawned. "Shoulda been more vigilant. I was sloppy and there were clues I shoulda noticed earlier that woulda told me Will was lying but I didn't take note of them until it was way too late. Will's horse when he first arrived in town was as fresh as a daisy. I know he hadn't rode too far but it shoulda shown a bit of sweat if he'd rode hard like a frantic husband woulda done after losing his wife. It was hardly even panting. Also, the way the woman and her brother rode together was a dead giveaway too but I ignored it until I heard her laugh then it all fell into place."
"Well, we can't always get it right, Vin. Everyone makes mistakes."
"Mistakes cost lives and it did today."
Chris could tell Vin would be upset for a while and nothing he said would placate him. "Get some rest, cowboy. You done good so don't beat yerself up about it."
Vin looked at all the men who were standing around the bed. Each set of eyes told him the same thing. It wasn't your fault.
The tracker closed his eyes with a sigh. If it was, or wasn't, my fault I can't change it, can I? Just gotta learn to live with it along with all the other things I've done wrong over the years. Sure don't make it any easier to accept though. God gave you this life, so don't waste that precious time in fretting over something you couldn't avoid. What's done is done. Learn from it and move on, Tanner. That's what Ma woulda told me. S'pose I'd better follow her advice, hadn't I?
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