Disclaimer: I do not own or profit from the m7 guys, but I appreciate the freedom to borrow them for a bit.
Comments: This is the flip side to my previous fic, "Point of View" - thanks to Laramee for the suggestion! It would probably make more sense if you read that fic first, but of course, thats assuming it makes sense at all. It was written in honor of the November birthday girls on the B&B list who requested an injured Vin for their gift. It was actually my assignment to hurt Vin and I threw in emotional turmoil and some Chris-hurting for extra credit (dont you just hate over-achievers?).
Warnings: Cursing, violence.
"Burgers okay with you, Vin?" I ask him, even though I know what his answer will be. I can see that hes trying not to sigh, but its there anyway . . . silently screaming at me. He doesnt care and he wishes I wouldnt go through the motions of asking. Just do it, hes saying to me, just fix whatever the hell you want because I dont care.
Its me who sighs out loud. I dont know how much longer we can go on like this. We dont play games, Vin and I. We never have. But ever since the shooting, were like cats on a hot tin roof . . . tip toeing around each other as if the slightest poorly put phrase could somehow tear apart this tenuous grip we have on our friendship.
Its all about guilt.
I cant let go of it, and the more I drown in it, the worse Vin feels. And of course, the worse he feels, the guiltier I feel.
Im convinced it was me who shot him. Travis tried to pull some bullshit over my eyes that they were unable to determine whose bullet nearly killed Vin in the shootout at Inez place, but I didnt buy it then and I dont buy it now.
I know it was me. And I cant look at the pain in his eyes without seeing and knowing that I put it there.
Hes miserable at this very moment, in fact. He tries real hard to hide it, but hes terrible at it. I brought him back to the ranch when he was discharged from the hospital a few days ago, and hes been putting on a piss-poor act ever since.
"You take your meds?" I ask him, and this time he does sigh out loud.
I nod as I pull the frozen patties out of the freezer. Hell eat maybe two bites and that will be it. Im not sure why I bother, considering my appetite is all but gone.
"You take yours?" he asks, and I can see the guilt in his eyes, too.
"Yeah," I say.
Thats all I say, even though I want to remind him that none of this is his fault. He was the one who wanted to go ahead to the bar that night, even though wed received the threat on his life earlier that evening. It was storming like hell outside, and he was sure hed be safe with the six of us. Of course, he couldnt know that hed be taken down by one of his friends . . . by one of his partners. It was dark and it all happened so fast, but it doesnt change what happened. We shot Vin in the back and he damn near died.
His guilt comes from the fact that I was hurt, too. I took a direct hit to my shoulder Im still going to therapy every other day for it. I dont blame him any more than he blames me, but it doesnt change the fact that were drowning here. Im determined he wont see my discomfort, and hes doing his best to hide the same from me.
Hes sitting at the table in my kitchen, his elbows resting on the table as he tries to tilt his back to a more comfortable position. Its impossible. The bullet ripped through muscle and rib and lung before lodging in his chest, and no matter what he says or how he tries to hide it, there is no good way for him to sit or lay or move or breathe.
His face is still pale and drawn, and I can count every rib. I have to bite my tongue every time I help him get dressed which is another story. Me with one arm and him hardly able to raise either arm . . . well, its not easy and its not pretty. I know he hates it, but theres no way he can manage on his own yet. Hes just now able to walk from the living room to the kitchen without having to stop and rest two times.
I try to sneak a glance at him out of the corner of my eye to see if I can gauge how bad it is right now . . . how much I should push him to lie back down until dinner is ready. His eyes are closed and I see him very slowly lower his head to rest in his hands; his elbows still propped dangerously close to the tables edge. My heart irrationally skips a beat as I fear that his arm will slip and hell lose his balance, and I can actually picture him grimacing as he struggles to pull himself upright again.
"Go lay down, Vin," I say, much more harshly than I intended thanks to my overactive imagination.
He looks up at me, puzzled but resigned. He wants to sigh again, but he pulls it back just in time. Without a sound, he tries to stand up his hands gripping the table; his knuckles white. Hes too damn proud to ask for help.
I get that. I would be the same. I am the same. He tried to help me open a jar this morning and I damn near bit his head off. Were some pair, arent we?
His face goes a shade whiter and his breathing changes and I cant stand it. I move closer and grip his arm and I say real soft, "Ive got you, Pard."
"Thanks," he says, only its more like a groan and it cuts deep. I did this to him.
Buck says we have to put it behind us. Josiah and Ezra continue to insist it was one of them that shot Vin. JD still doesnt believe it was any of us. Nathans just worried that Vins not bouncing back quite as fast as hed expected.
Vin doesnt want to blame any of us; hes still saying it was his fault and cant we just let it be? He wants it to be over . . . but were miles away from that happening.
Theres all this guilt suffocating us. Vins far from well. And we still dont know where the guy is who was behind it. One of the punks plea-bargained and gave us a name, but so far hes still at large and still a threat. In fact, there are two armed men stationed at the edge of my property right now. Vin doesnt know that. We decided he didnt need any more to deal with right now.
Of course, the boys wanted to stand guard themselves, but Travis insisted on having outside help. He said there was enough emotion clouding the issue as it was if anything else happened to the team, thered be no moving on.
As if we were actually moving in the direction of . . . moving on.
We stumble unsteadily towards the couch, Vin and I. My bad arm is in a sling and my good one is wrapped around his waist, and not for the first time, I wonder how Ill catch him if he gets the notion to pass out on me. The boys werent too happy about that, either me and Vin being here alone. I could see that Vin couldnt take much more smothering, though, so I sent them home last night. Theyll be back later no way are we getting rid of them for long but at least well do our game-playing privately for a few hours.
Its not right. Vin and I just hit it off from the start, and it was raw and honest and real. Now, hell, I dont know whats real, but I sure know what isnt honest.
His eyes are closed before hes even horizontal, and as I reach down to pull the afghan over his legs, he moans just a little and he whispers, "Im alright . . . dont worry."
Its a game. See, now I say, "I know. Im not worried. Just rest."
And then I delude myself into believing that he actually is resting and he actually is okay and that everything will be fine. Just fine.
It was just an accident, after all. How many times have I heard that? I go sit in the chair by the fireplace and even though there are only the burnt remnants of another fire from another time, I stare vacantly at the brick hearth.
And I relive it all again.
We were at the office, finishing up the end of the day paperwork. Vin could have went on ahead, but he waited for me. It was storming, and I didnt care for the thought of him driving in that weather in that run-down jeep of his anyway. We were about to leave when the phone rang.
I could tell by his face that it wasnt good, but he shrugged it off. He told me it was a tip that one of his old enemies was after him . . . that the guy had hired a few punks to nab him. We stuck around for a few hours and worked on a couple of leads, but it had been a long week and we were both looking forward to relaxing with a beer and our friends. The weather was so bad, that I agreed with Vin when he said no one would try anything that night. Or maybe I just wanted it to be that way. I made Vin promise hed stay with me for the night, and he teased me about being more of a worry wart than Nettie.
So we went to the bar and then these three guys came in and we both knew. They grabbed a hold of Inez - and Vin . . . shit, why the hell didnt he listen to me? I told him we could take them. I told him to just lay low, but he didnt. He couldnt. He may have the patience of the proverbial saint when hes on a stakeout, but put a friend in jeopardy and he cant wait to throw himself in the way. Damn it, Vin.
The lights were out and the storm was raging, and there was Vin in the middle of the room, scooting his gun across the floor and volunteering to go with them like they were on their way to a church picnic. I reached for him then. I thought I was being subtle, but one of the guys saw me and he started shooting.
Do you have any idea how many times Ive replayed that moment in my mind? How many different ways Ive relived it and rehashed it until reality blurs with illusion and Im left, once again, wondering what really happened?
The punk took the first shot and it landed in my shoulder. But I took the second and probably the third. And I cant for the life of me remember where Vin was. I cant for the very goddamn life of me remember if he was still standing. How could I have pulled the trigger without any conscious thought of where he was?
When Nathan said Vin had been hit . . . it was like . . . like . . . theres no way to describe it. Theres this point, you know, this point where the imaginary line begins that you cant cross because you know that you cant deal with what lies on the other side. I guess youd call it the breaking point. After I lost my family, everything that happened in my life was relative to that experience; the line clearly drawn. Flat tire? No ones dead, I can deal with it. Bad day at work? I can deal with it. The furnace breaks and the roof leaks and the toilets clogged? I can deal with it.
Shoot my best friend in the back? Okay, so maybe death isnt the only thing I cant deal with.
I could barely make Vin out; the shadow of his body was oddly distorted as he laid flat out on the floor for what felt like hours. I could feel the blood oozing down my arm, and I couldnt seem to stop my head from spinning, but all I could think about was getting to Vin. I dont know what I thought would happen once Id grabbed a hold of him, I just knew that those punks were not leaving that room with him. I just knew that I couldnt let him lie on that floor and bleed to death while I sat twenty feet away. Death is irreversible and permanent and way, way past the breaking point and over that line.
No matter how long it felt, they tell me it all came to an end within minutes. I remember shooting the kid who had the stupid idea that he could get away with finishing Vin off. I dont take a life lightly, but he asked for it. Maybe it makes me less of a man, but I didnt even think twice about it that night.
I remember Nathan saying Vin had been hit in the back. It was like Id been shot all over again. My last thought before I hit the floor of the bar was that Id killed my best friend.
My first thought after I woke up in the hospital was exactly the same. Now, my first and last thoughts every morning and every night are just a variation of the same. I shot Vin. I nearly killed him. The way he looks, he could die yet . . . over the line, past the point to the place where I cant deal.
Hes shifting a bit on the couch, still trying and failing to find that elusive position where he doesnt hurt. He grimaces, though he makes no sound. I find myself shifting, too, as if I could find that place for him, and I jar my shoulder. I groan before I can stop myself, and I cant help thinking that if it wasnt all so stupidly, tragically horrible it would be funny.
I should get up and make the hamburgers. He just might be hungry this time. Or I might be. But my eyes are heavy the result of the pills I took earlier, Im sure. Normally, Id skip em, but taking care of Vin is forcing me to take care of myself for a change. At least Nathan would be happy to hear that. He was the number one opponent to Vin and me being out here alone today, but Josiah got through to him.
Theyve been here in shifts ever since I brought Vin home three days ago. Vin sleeps a lot, but not enough. He was getting more and more depressed and withdrawn; as if everyones good intentions were more like expectations that he couldnt quite live up to. I could see that he was trying to act well and happy and good, just so they wouldnt worry, but he couldnt pull it off and he knew it.
Its that guilt thing, again. Josiah and Ezra and Buck were practically tripping over themselves to wait on Vin hand and foot. The harder they tried to take care of him, the harder he tried not to need them to take care of him.
Last night, he was dozing fitfully on the couch, so Josiah and I woke him up and helped him to the bedroom. He sat on the edge of the bed and wrapped his arms around his chest and there was pure misery in his eyes, though he didnt look directly at me or Josiah.
He just said in that maddeningly slow drawl, "Let . . . me . . . be."
Josiah and I looked at each other and we both knew it was time to give Vin some breathing room. He went out and talked to Nathan, and they argued some, but it was agreed that none of the guys would come out today.
Im thinking I should call and tell them not to come tonight, either. Its not been a great day for either of us. Were both hurting and both tired and both tired of hurting. Vin goes back to the doctor tomorrow, while I go to my therapy appointment. Maybe itd be best if the guys left us alone until then.
I reach for the phone on the nearby end table grateful that its on my right side and grateful once again that the punk had the courtesy to hit my left shoulder.
The phone rings three times before Buck picks up. "Hey," he says, knowing its me by the caller ID on the office phone.
"Hey," I say softly, with a glance in Vins direction. He doesnt move, though, so I go on, "Why dont you just stay home tonight, Buck? Were doing okay."
He hesitates. "I dont think thats such a good idea, Chris."
"Buck . . . I . . ." and I realize that I dont know what I want to say exactly.
"I just think it would be better."
"Chris . . . you and Vin are still not . . . good."
"Im fine." I am fine. As long as I dont think real hard or look at Vin too hard, Im perfectly fine.
"Okay, then how about this? That guys still out there."
"Travis has taken care of that."
With a sigh, he gives in. "Alright. Ill tell the others. But you call us if you need anything at all, y hear? Anything, Chris. And if you hear anything unusual . . . or see anything . . . or even think anything. You got that? Anything at all. We came too close t losin you both and were not gonna let it happen again."
Yeah. I get that. No one wants to cross the line. "I promise, Buck. We just need a little time."
A lot of time. A hell of a lot of time. More time than I can probably imagine.
I hang up the phone then and I look over at Vin once more and I see that hes awake. He nods slightly. His eyes meet mine and for the first time since this all happened, its real and honest. He needs to get past this as badly as I do.
Im just not sure I can do it.
I dont know how t get through to him. How many ways can I say, "It aint your fault?"
How many times do I have t ask em all t just let it go? Theyre all actin like they care so much, but they wont give me what I want the most. They wont let it go.
I keep thinkin that maybe when Im on my feet again, itll go away. But Chris . . . his eyes are scarin me. Im beginning t think hell never let it go. And its damn sure that we cant go on this way.
What would I do without him? From the first time we met, it was like we knew each other from the inside out. I always knew where we stood; always knew that no matter what went down, hed be at my back. I never had that before; never thought I needed it. But now, Im not sure I could go back t livin without it.
Sure, hes still here, at my back, but theres all this damn guilt chokin him and its squeezin the life out of us both . . . forcin us t play games with each other.
I dont know how t fight it. Cant put a bullet in it or stuff it away. Im real good at both those things but that wont work right now. I cant fix it for Chris, so I cant fix it for me, either.
Cant he see that I just need him t be him? I just need us t be us.
I hear him tell Buck t stay home, and I feel a first ray of hope. He must have read my mind . . . like old times.
The guys mean well, I know that. But I cant keep up the act, and the last thing I need is more people feeling more guilt while they hover over me.
Let me be. Let it be. Please. Just let it go.
I look him in the eye and I hope that he gets it. We need t get through this, Cowboy.
He gets it, but hes still not sure.
I try t sit up and it hurts like hell. Chris jumps up from the chair hes been sittin in and he leans over t give me a hand. I hate bein helpless. As if all the other shit we got goin on aint enough.
"Where you headin?" he asks me.
I dont have a clue, really. I just couldnt lay like that another second. Sittin up aint feelin so hot, either, though and I know walkin aint the answer. Shit.
I shrug, and even that hurts. I guess I have t be honest and say that Im startin t wonder if Ill ever feel good again. Ive been shot before; been knifed and beat up and banged up more times than I can count but I cant quite recall ever feelin this bad. But maybe you forget, y know? Like when a woman has a baby they say she forgets all about the labor once she gets a look at her kids face. Somethin like that. Anyway, I reckon I just forgot how bad I felt those other times.
I try t take a deep breath and it feels like a knife in my lung, so it comes out more like a gasp. I dont want t see Chriss face at that, so I keep my head down my eyes on my socks.
Cant remember the last time I had a pair of shoes on. I guess it would have been that night. It all comes back to me at the strangest times. Like now, while Im starin at my socks and tryin not to think about how much I hurt and how much my hurt hurts Chris. Must be them pain pills that gets me all muddled up like this.
That night, there was a humdinger of a storm. Me and Josiah and JD like t be right out in the middle of it all but Nathans gets a mite miffed when we act "like a bunch of foolhardy kids."
I got the call that one of my old enemies was after me, but I didnt put much store in it. I have a past that comes back t haunt me now and then. Ive always managed t take care of myself before, and now that I have the boys at my back well, I didnt figure there was much t worry on.
I didnt figure on havin t worry about Inez, though. When that kid grabbed her, I thought I might get sick right there. I couldnt let nothin happen t her. Dont think I could live with that.
I reckon it wasnt so smart of me t go walkin out into the middle of the room like I did, but Id do it that way again. Ive thought it over, and knowin everythin I know now, Id do it again. I just couldnt take the chance that theyd hurt Inez. She really is one hell of a woman Bucks right about that. Not that Im competin with Buck for her affections, as Ezra would say. Id never hurt him that way. Maybe if he wasnt so hot for her, Id feel different, though. I mean, like I said, shes one hell of a woman.
Which is mostly why I did what I did that night. But I guess its also because I didnt want anyone else hurt, either. I feel bad about Chris and JD. The Kid is actin like nothin ever happened, but Chris still has a ways t go. I was tryin to avoid that.
I dont remember much at all after slidin my gun across the floor. I sort of remember lyin there on the floor, with this burnin pain runnin through my back t my chest. I figured it must have come from one of the boys behind me, and my last thought was that I hoped they didnt make a big deal out of it. Anything can happen in a gunfight especially on a night like that where the shadows from the candles and the lightening were makin everything look wrong.
Of course, its been nothin but a big deal ever since. Aint a one of them listenin t me.
"Vin? You gonna move? Or is there something entertaining about your socks?"
I look up at him and roll my eyes, and I know this is where I should mutter somethin sarcastic and clever . . . somethin that will make him believe Im alright. But nothin comes t mind and Im pretty sure its all the damn pills Im takin.
"Yeah." Ezras right; I really need t work on my vocabulary.
Maybe the bathroom would be a good place t head for. Im thinkin its been awhile and besides that, its a pretty good place t hide. Chris wont see that Im hurtin so bad that I think Im gonna throw up.
I tilt my head that direction and for the second time today, he reads my mind. He pulls his good arm around my waist and helps me stand up and if that isnt the stupidest thing. My legs are perfectly fine but I cant even manage t get up on my own.
It takes a long time t get where we need t go, but we make it without either of us groanin or sighin or fallin on our faces. Thats about all we can ask for these days. As soon as he lets loose of me, I close the door and I sit on the toilet seat with the lid down because I dont really need t go anyway; I just needed t hide a minute. I lower my face to the counter and I try t catch my breath and keep from gettin sick.
"Vin? You okay in there?" he asks from outside the door.
Shit, Chris. I want t tell him to get the hell away from the door and leave me be, but I dont. I say, "Yeah," instead.
But Im not okay. Damn stupid idea t walk all the way here for no good reason because now I know for certain that Im gonna be sick. I slide t the floor and lift the lid and Im wishin I could die. Dont ever remember feelin this bad. I cant even hold my head up and I have this terrible thought that I might drown right here while Im pukin my guts up in a toilet.
And I really need Chris so Im prayin he didnt listen t me when I told him t get the hell away if I said it out loud. Did I? Damn pills.
Im chokin and gaggin and I cant feel nothin but the most god-awful pain in my back and chest and . . . I . . . need . . . Chris. And all of the sudden hes there, behind me. He kneels down beside me and he rubs my back and pulls my head out of the toilet and thats a hell of a thing for a man t have t do. I hate this. I can feel hot tears stingin my cheeks, and Im wishin again that I was dead . . . but then Chris would never get over it. Hed never let it be.
Guess Ill just have t go on then. Guess Ill just have t save dyin for another time.
I finally stop heavin, but I cant hold back the groanin this time. In fact, I cant stop groanin - over and over again, and it feels so good t just get it out. Oh God, Chris. I feel myself collapse against him and I know the only thing keepin me alive at this moment is the man at my back.
"Shh," he whispers. "Its alright. Were gonna get through this, Vin. I promise."
Even though I cant see his face, I can feel the difference in him. Thank God! I want t shout it; Im so relieved. Hes bein him and were bein us and I need it so bad . . . need him so bad.
But all I say is, "Yeah."
It all changed when I charged through that door and saw Vin draped over the toilet, his face practically floating in the water. I knew right then that I had to put my feelings aside; that he needed me and all the other shit was just gonna have to go away.
I knew that it was time to give him what he wanted most: to let it go.
I still wasnt sure that I could do that but I was damn sure I couldnt live without him and that was a real possibility if I didnt get my act together.
Of course, the most immediate action to be taken was to get him out of the toilet.
Hes asleep now. It took us a long time, or what seemed like a long time time seems to have gotten a bit distorted here of late - to get him to the bedroom. It scared me, the way he was listing to one side and moaning like Id never heard him before. Hes been hurt more times than I can count, but I dont recall ever seeing him like this. I figure he must have known, too, that wed turned the corner since he was finally giving in to it . . . finally letting me see how bad he felt.
I helped him lay down and pulled up the covers. He met my eyes and I couldnt decide which was more evident the pain or the gratitude. I almost had to look away. An hour ago, I would have.
But not anymore. He needs me. He needs me to be strong and honest and real. He needs who we are and what we have to be just like it was before. I cant imagine Ill forgive myself, but its time I quit thinking about me and concentrate on my friend.
I wasnt sure whether to give him a pain pill or not; neither one of us wanted a repeat of what had happened in the bathroom. So I picked up the phone and called Nathan, which may have been a mistake. I could see him putting on his coat and reaching for his keys the minute I opened my mouth.
"You dont need to come, Nathan. I was just wondering could it be the pills making him sick?" I asked him.
"Could be, Chris, but then it could be something else entirely. You know what his bodys been through. Ill be there as quick as I can." He was zipping up before I could get out my next sentence.
"No, Nathan. Thats not necessary." I turned an uneasy glance Vins way then to be sure I was doing the right thing. He nodded at me. We still needed time.
Silence. Then finally, "Chris, this isnt a good idea. One of us needs to be there."
"Yeah, I know, but . . . just for tonight, let us handle it."
He sighed and I heard the same hesitation in his voice that Id heard in Bucks earlier. "Give him just one of the pills with a little food. From what you said, its probably the pain that made him sick, not the medication. And call me, Chris. Call me if anything at all changes. You hear me? Anything at all."
So I gave him the pill with some of that imitation chocolate pudding crap you get in those little plastic containers. It doesnt taste like the chocolate pudding I knew and loved, but Vin likes it.
That was an hour ago, so it must have worked because nothings come back up and hes sleeping alright. I keep checking on him like hes a two-year old. Hed hate that . . . or maybe not. Maybe he needs that right now as much as I seem to.
The suns starting to go down, so I turn on the closet light and pull the door mostly closed just enough so I can see without tripping over anything. He groans a little and licks his lips and I can see that he needs a drink, so I head for the kitchen.
He loves root beer. Nathan would probably have my head but I really dont think the sugar and caffeine are a concern at this moment. I pull out the can and pop it open and stick in the straw as I head back to the bedroom.
Vin never had much root beer as a kid. He never had much of anything as kid. I try not to think about his dismal, sorry excuse for a childhood because it just makes me mad, and Im sure that doesnt do my blood pressure or my ulcer any good. But the fact is, the littlest thing can make Vins face light up. Like a good swig of root beer.
I sit down on the edge of the bed, and he turns his head a little, but doesnt open his eyes. "Gotta drink for you, Pard," I say as I poke the straw in his mouth. Even though its fairly dark, I can see the chocolate pudding stuck in the cracks of his dry lips, and for some reason, it makes me smile.
Thank goodness Buck and JD did the grocery shopping. Nathan would have bought healthy stuff and Ezra would have bought gourmet stuff and heaven only knows what Josiah would have come up with. At least Buck and JD understand that even a recovering Vin needs what he calls "the good stuff."
He takes a swallow, still without opening his eyes, and I see just the slightest hint of a smile before he greedily sucks more. And in a crazy, stupid kind of way, it makes me feel a little lighter . . . as if this one moment of simple pleasure, this one moment of knowing that Ive made it a little easier for him . . . is enough to make it all bearable.
And as I head back to the kitchen, I catch myself grinning again when I picture talking with Nathan tomorrow. Somehow, I just have to work into the conversation that I fed Vin pudding and root beer for dinner. I know I might be a little twisted to gain some kind of perverse pleasure from the expression that hes sure to give me, but at times like this I have to take it where I can find it.
As many times as I have experienced it, it still takes me by surprise when everything abruptly changes. Ive been in the middle of dozens of busts where things just suddenly go awry. Hell, my whole life is an example of things suddenly going awry. But it doesnt stop me from being surprised when it happens again.
Im just starting to feel hopeful; just starting to believe that we can set it all right again, when I feel my hair stand on end. Its not just an expression, you know Buck will tell you that my hair literally stands on end when trouble is near.
Im at the entrance to the kitchen and I head straight for the phone. I dont hear anything or see anything . . . but I feel something, and Bucks words are ringing in my ears . . . "anything at all, you call."
I know there are men standing guard, but when it comes right down to it theyre not my men and even if they were, shit happens and things just go awry. The breaking point is always looming and I feel a sudden surge of fear that something is gonna happen to push me over that line.
Im two feet from the phone, my good arm outstretched to reach for it when I hear someone behind me. I start to turn, but I already know its too late. The pain is immediate and intense, and as I fall to the floor, all I can do is whisper his name, "Vin."
Its been one god-awful, shitty day after another, but I kinda have t smile when I think about telling Nate what Chris fed me tonight. Probably aint right t take pleasure from rilin up a friend, but a mans gotta take what he can get at times like this.
I know Chris has been checkin on me like clockwork. I cant seem t sleep for more than ten minutes at a time, but Im too tired to do anythin more than just lay here with my eyes closed. When he put that straw in my mouth and told me t drink I gotta tell y, I was about t spit it right back at him. After all the shit Ive put up with in my life I was beginning t think it would be all this fussin that would finally do me in . . . drive me right on over the edge into bein plumb crazy.
But damn, that root beer tasted so good and it took me all of two seconds t remember that that fussin was exactly what I needed. I knew that Chris and me were gonna be just fine the second it hit my lips. He knows me better than anyone ever has.
I cant lose him.
I think about it all the time, y know. I never let anyone get too close in my life. Its safer that way. We all have those things . . . those things that we know we cant take; things that will break us clean in two. Im not good at losin people. I still cant figure how I let myself get so close t the guys because now, well, losin any of em would be unbearable. And Chris . . . I cant lose him. For awhile there, it felt like I was losin him with him standin right there in front of me, though.
I hear him head off for the kitchen, and Im thinkin maybe I should at least try t get up. I dont know why, but somethin tells me itd be a good idea. Of course, thats before I actually try t move.
The pain pills help make me loonier than all get out but they do help. Im pretty sure I wouldnt be able t move at all without em. I take a deep breath a risky action at this point and when I find that I can actually manage it without my stomach goin all queasy; I go ahead and push myself up.
I wonder if Im doin somethin stupid again. Like that walk to the bathroom earlier. Maybe I should lie back down and close my eyes. Yeah. Thats exactly what I should do, and Im almost there when I hear a sound.
A sound that doesnt belong.
I dont know why it always surprises me when things go wrong. Hell, my whole life has gone wrong in one way or another. Meetin up with Chris and the boys was the best thing that ever happened t me, but it still aint helped my luck all that much. I guess the fact that Im lyin here tryin my damnedest to get out of this bed proves that.
What the hells goin on? My hearts about thuddin out of my chest. Somethings wrong really, really wrong. Oh God, Chris.
Im movin faster than I have since I got shot and I dont feel a thing, but my heads spinnin. I lean against the wall and I try t get a grip . . . aint gonna do either of us any good if I go chargin out there and fall flat on my face.
Its quiet now. Maybe it was my imagination . . . maybe Chris just dropped something. He has been exceptionally clumsy with that bum arm of his . . . shouldve seen him try t open a jar this mornin.
Yeah, thats it. Chris just dropped something. Ill just take a minute and catch my breath and go on out and check.
Hes okay. He has t be okay . . . because I cant deal with him not being okay. Id never let on to that . . . never tell a soul I felt that way. Its embarrassing enough how flustered and damn near panicked I act whenever he gets a scratch.
My heart is poundin so hard, its hard to hear, but I keep my forehead propped against the wall just next t the door of the bedroom and I strain t hear anything, anything at all. Come on, Chris. Just say somethin. Slam a door or turn on the tv or just . . . say . . . something.
But I dont hear a sound, so I move just outside the door into the hall and it seems like Ive gone ten miles rather than ten feet. Once again, I lean against the wall and I try t catch my breath . . . and then I know its too late.
He rounds the corner and pushes me up against the wall and oh God, hes got a wooden club in his hands and hes pushin it in t my ribs. They cut me open right there, in that spot, even though the bullet went in from the back. Nathan said it was less dangerous gettin it out that way and frankly, I didnt care one way or the other because I hurt clear through anyhow.
I try not to cry out, but I cant stop it as he grinds the club harder against me. My head is up against the wall and my eyes are squeezed tight because I cant . . . breathe. I dont even know who it is or what the hell he wants and I cant stop whimpering like a damn dog.
Please let me go . . . please . . . Chris.
Wheres Chris? He has t be down. And thats enough for me t block out the pain and open my eyes and try t push the guy off me.
"Nice t see you again, Tanner," the voice growls in my ear. I know that voice. I thought theyd got him. Didnt Chris tell me that?
No. No, he said they knew it was him . . . said they were close. Well, here he is, guys, and now would be a real good time for them two men Travis put out front t show up. Yeah, I know theyre there. Im sick and hurt and messed up in the head, but I aint deaf.
He backs off a bit, but keeps the club pressed up against my chest as he whispers again, "So, you glad t see me?"
I wasnt even glad t see him when we worked together. It was years ago, back when I was bounty huntin. He and I handled a few cases together, but he was trigger happy and when I ended up testifyin against him, he ended up doin prison time himself. He vowed hed get back at me, but I always thought he was too damn lazy t go through with it.
Hes here now, though, and Im in a heap of trouble. I should kick him in the balls and run, but that thought is so ridiculous, its laughable. I cant even focus my eyes and he knows it.
"You always were stupid, Griffin," I growl, and even I know it sounds weak and pitiful.
He laughs and he says, "Looks kinda like youre the one in a bit of a predicament here, Tanner. And you look a little under the weather, too. What happened? One of your friends finally get sick of you and put a bullet in your back?"
Hes laughin hard now, and I wish I could shut him the hell up but Im too busy tryin t breathe.
Where the hell is Chris?
"Theres men out front . . . and men . . . on their way," I gasp, in a pathetic attempt to intimidate him. But he just laughs harder.
"Trust me, Vin. The men out front are no longer a problem and by the time your friends find you, it will be too late."
He grabs hold of my arm and yanks me through the hall and into the livin room. I can hardly keep on my feet, and I cant tell up from down but it doesnt appear t concern him much. I land on the floor after he finally lets go, and I cry out again, and I hate it. I hate givin him that satisfaction.
I curl up on my side and try to clear my head because . . . wheres Chris? I have t find Chris.
From where Im layin, I can see the entrance t the kitchen. I think I see something or someone on the floor and I raise my head up enough t get a better look. I groan when I see him. Hes laid out flat on his stomach . . . not movin . . . with blood under his head.
But hes okay. He has t be okay.
I call out t him, "Chris!" But my voice is weak and breathless so I know he couldnt have heard me even if he was perfectly fine which its clear hes not. Hell be okay, though. Well get through this, thats what he promised and hes never broken his word to me yet.
I dont remember making the conscious decision t crawl towards him, but I must have because suddenly, hes feet in front of me, rather than yards. Griffin is just sittin there laughin like the lunatic he is. The man always did walk just this side of crazy.
"This is just damn entertaining, Vin, old friend!" he says. "I never figured on it being this easy or this much fun."
A few more feet and Ill be there. Please Chris, I need y right now . . . be okay.
"Real touching, too . . . especially considering hes the one who put the bullet in your back."
He stops then and waits for me to react. He thinks hell shake me up, but it doesnt work. Theres no way hed know whose bullet it was.
"You think Im messin with you, dont you, Tanner? Well, maybe I know more than you think I do. Maybe I know more than you and your six partners know."
He pauses but I dont; Im just inches away now.
"It was Larabee who shot you. I did you a favor taking him out like I did."
I reach for Chris, and its like my arm wont move for the longest time. Finally, I grip his shoulder and I try to turn him over, but I cant do it. I cant do it. I dont even have the strength to get his face off the goddamn floor.
"Chris," I say, even though its more like a moan than an actual word, and I see him move just a fraction. I want to give in to my relief, but for Chriss sake, I know I cant. Its better if Griffin thinks he finished him off.
Griffin gets up and he pushes me back away from Chris, and then he gets right up in my face and says, "Didnt you hear me, Tanner? He shot you. You look like hell and its a sure bet you feel that way, too, and its all his fault."
I laugh. Its a soft, barely there laugh, but its genuine because this is all so needless and stupid. No one gets it. I dont care who shot me. It just doesnt matter. I dont care if it was Chris or Buck or Ezra or Josiah. Nothing changes for me because I know it was an accident. I know that the best thing in my life is the team and as long as were together, I just . . . dont . . . care.
He shakes his head like Im an idiot, and then its like he remembers why he came. He jerks me up and it hurts, but this time, I swallow my cry because Im determined hell have t work for it. Griffin always did make it easy on himself, though, so before Im even upright, he swings that club against my back and throws me against the wall.
It wont be long now. The blackness is looming at the edges of my vision, swirling around as it tries t pull me under. Im on the floor, I think. I think Im throwin up again, too, but I cant find the energy t care. I can hear him talkin and laughin and when he reaches for me again, I know its all over.
Chris will wake up and find me dead and he wont be able t deal with that. I know where his breaking point is, too.
Im so sorry, Chris.
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