There are certain sounds that stay with you; that trigger an automatic response no matter where you are or what youre doing. Id know the sound of Vin retching anywhere.
My head is splitting; literally splitting in two. Im sure if I even attempt to raise it, half of it will stay on the floor. I try turning my face towards the sound; try to remember why Vin might be throwing up and what I need to be doing about it.
I feel blood running down my face and into one eye, but I can still see my friend lying in a heap in the corner of my living room. His entire body is convulsing, but either hes too out of it to notice, or he doesnt have the strength to even lift his head off the floor. I feel oddly detached as I take note of the fact that at least hes on his side at least he wont choke before I can get over there.
How Im going to get over there is another question all together. I try again to pull my head up and its excruciating. I want to groan so badly, but something tells me I need to bury my misery for a bit longer and keep quiet.
And then I hear him. I can only see him from the back as he moves into my line of sight and crouches on the floor near Vin. He doesnt look big, but hes carrying a smaller version of a baseball bat, and now I know why my head is coming off my shoulders. Hes laughing and trying to talk at the same time, but I can still make it out.
"I couldve put a bullet in you, Vin like your friend did. You always said I was trigger-happy. Wasnt that it? I figured itd be more entertaining to make you suffer a little. You sufferin now? Looks kinda like it. It must hurt to puke like that after all you been through. Ill bet breakin those ribs again would hurt like hell, too. Y think?"
Oh God, hes so far past crazy theres no turning back. Vin is gasping and moaning now, his arms jerking in a haphazard attempt to push himself up and away.
I pull myself up onto my knees, and even though the room is spinning and I see two of everything, I manage to move myself over to the cabinet where Ive hidden a gun. I have one in every room. Sounds a bit . . . excessive, I suppose. Im careful. I never have kids out here but I do have six friends who have more than their fair share of enemies.
Its taking too long; my hands are shaking as I open the cupboard door and reach for the weapon. I pray that Ive loaded it, knowing Ill never be able to do it in time with only one good arm. My heart pounds in my chest as I watch the crazy man lift Vin up by his shirt and swing that damn bat against his ribs. Vin opens his mouth in agony, but no sound at all comes out and I have the horrible thought that hes already dead . . . his face frozen forever in a silent scream of anguish. Oh God, Vin.
Im still seeing double, but I have to take the chance. I aim for the bastards back and pull the trigger. I dont shoot people in the back. Thats sort of an unwritten rule of mine. Now Ive done it twice in two weeks. Things go awry and lines are crossed . . .
He falls forward, barely missing Vin - who is lying on his side with his arms pulled tight across his chest. Even with my vision blurred, I can see that Vin is gasping for air, and tears fill my eyes. Not dead, then . . . not over the line. I can deal with this.
I stumble over to where hes curled up on the floor, only inches from where his attackers blood seeps into my carpet. I lay my hand on his cheek and he turns his face towards me, and even though his eyes are glassy and as unfocused as mine, I know he sees me.
"Hold on, Vin," I say as I reach for the phone and dial 911 or at least I think I dialed it. I cant make out a single number and my hand is shaking so bad I can hardly keep my grip on the damn thing.
Everyone thinks Im so cool all the time. It would completely ruin my reputation if they knew how uncool I really am. I shake inside about half the time because its always there; that possibility that Ill lose someone I care about.
I care about Vin. I care about him so much that Im pretty sure I cant string two coherent words together right now. Thank God someone smarter than me invented the system to track 911 calls by location, because there is no way I could tell them how to get here.
Vin makes a sound; a sort of groaning, gasping, whimper and I drop the phone and stagger like a drunk once more to his side. He acts like he wants to say something, but instead he coughs a little and a trickle of blood leaks out the corner of his mouth. I cup my hand on the back of his head and I lean in real close and I say again, "Hold on, Pard, helps on the way."
The words arent even out of my mouth when I hear a car outside. I know the ambulance couldnt have gotten here that fast, and in a moment of panic, I search for the gun I dropped somewhere along the way.
I dont need it, though. Bucks loud voice booms in the entryway, "Chris? Vin? You two all right?"
No, God, no. Were not all right. And thank God you didnt listen to me . . . as usual.
He ambles in the room and his eyes grow wide. "Nathan! Get in here now!"
So Nathan didnt listen to me, either. I guess Ill never know what I did to get so lucky as to work with a bunch of stubborn know-it-alls who dont do what theyre told. Ive never been so happy to be so ignored in all my life.
"Aw shit, Chris," Buck says as he kneels down and checks the dead guy. At least I hope hes dead. I didnt even think about checking him myself.
Buck reaches for the phone and I manage to say, "I already called."
Nathan seems to have appeared out of nowhere and he looks from me to Vin, obviously and wisely deciding Vin needs him first. He gently pushes me to the side, but I seem to have latched onto Vins hand at some point, and Im not about to let go. Funny, I dont remember doing that, but I know I need to keep a firm grip on him.
Or maybe hes keeping a grip on me. The room is spinning wildly now, and I cant focus.
"Easy," Buck says in his soft, calm voice the one he only uses when he scared out of his mind.
I feel his arms wrap around my shoulders as he guides me to the floor. My head is almost even with Vins now, and even though Nathan is poking and prodding all over him, I manage to catch his eye. Well get through this, I tell him, without even opening my mouth, and I can only pray he heard me as his eyes roll up and he passes out.
Nathans saying things I dont want to hear . . . about how bad off Vin is and how they should never have left us here alone.
Bucks wondering what happened to the men out front as he uses his cell to call the others. And theres Nathan again, saying something about Vins lung and my hard head. Their voices start to weave together as I decide to follow Vins lead . . . and slip into the darkness.
Please dont move me. Youre hurtin me. Please. I cant breathe.
Sounds are all around me . . . confusin me . . . strange, frantic voices and loud sirens and beeping monitors. I dont understand whats happening . . . I cant remember . . . I cant breathe.
I wish theyd leave me alone. Theyre moving me again. Dont they know Im in pieces here? Be a lot easier on all of us if theyd just move me one limb, one rib, one piece at a time. Be a whole lot easier if theyd just let me be.
Something happened . . . Griffin . . . a bat . . . and Chris . . . oh God, Chris on the floor . . . blood.
I struggle now; sifting through the voices - trying t find his. He would be here, if he could.
"What the hell happened to him?" I know this voice - its that surgeon, the one whose name I couldnt pronounce if you put a gun t my head. He took care of me the last time . . . kept tellin me I was lucky t be alive and t find another line of work.
"He was hit . . . with a . . . bat."
Oh thank God, its Nathan. Hell know about Chris . . .
"How the hell did you let that happen? Youre ATF, for Gods sake!" Pissed. The docs really pissed.
Nathans mumblin something, but its gettin so damn noisy, I cant make out the words. Theres a roarin sound in my head thats pushin all the other sounds far and away and its startin t make me mad because I still just want t know one thing is Chris alright?
Nate? Please hear me. Please answer me.
"B/Ps dropping . . ."
I have t know. I have t make im hear me. I try t speak, but its so hard t breathe that all I can manage is a pathetic moan.
"Its alright, Vin. You just hang on now."
"Get out of here, Jackson. I have work to do if Im going to save your friends life for the second time. Good thing Im better at my job than you guys apparently are at yours."
No! Let him stay. Dont leave me, Nate. Tell me whats goin on. Oh God, where is Chris? Why cant I hear him?
I feel the blackness pulling at me again, and I know Im runnin out of time. I pry my eyes open and I focus on Nathan, and even though everything is blurry and twisted and wrong, I can see that hes startin to walk out. Please Nathan, just tell me about Chris. I have t know. He has to be okay. I cant do this again without him.
Nathan stops, and then he turns and heads back towards me. He puts his hand on my face and he has this strange look in his eyes when he says, "Hes alright, Vin."
I think the doc is lookin at him funny, but neither of us care. I try t smile or nod or anything t let him know how grateful I am, but nothins workin right.
I cant breathe and I cant keep my eyes open, but even as I drift away, I can still hear the voices.
"Hes a fighter."
"He has to be . . . his team sure isnt watching out for him."
No. No, thats not true. Dont say it. Dont even think it. Please dont let the guys hear you.
I cant do this again . . .
"Wheres Vin? Wheres my friend?"
"Its alright, Mr. Larabee. Just relax."
"It is not alright. I had a friend . . . he was hurt . . . he was . . ."
He was with me, wasnt he? Yes. He was there, on the floor. He was hurt . . . again.
My head is killing me and I admit Im a little confused, but I know Im in an ambulance, and I know Vin should be next to me. They wouldnt have sent out two ambulances, would they? No. I have no idea what I told them, but no, they wouldnt have sent two. So Vin should be next to me.
"Where is my friend? Is he alright?"
The medic looks over at me and he frowns and he says, "Just keep calm, Mr. Larabee. Well be at the hospital soon."
What the hell do I have to do to get an answer? Am I speaking in a foreign language here?
"Where is Vin and is . . . he . . . okay?"
Just answer me. Just tell me the truth.
Oh God. Maybe hes dead.
"Hes being taken care of, now just relax."
"Tell me the goddamn truth!" My head is exploding and Im going to throw up hopefully all over this useless paramedics lap.
I must have passed out again, because all of the sudden, were at the hospital. Theyre poking me with needles and shifting me from one hard surface to another, and I admit that Im getting a bit unruly okay, maybe more than a bit unruly - because I still just want to know one thing where is Vin?
For the second time that night, Buck appears out of nowhere, and he grips my shoulders as he pushes me back down on the stretcher.
"Now just hold on here, Chris. Let these people do their job."
Yeah, exactly. Let them do their job and take care of Vin. Hes the one who needs them, not me. "Dammit, Buck," I say, "where have they taken Vin?"
Tell me hes alive, Buck, because anything else is just . . . I cant deal with it.
"They airlifted him. Hes already in surgery."
I meet his eyes, knowing he could never hide the truth from me. He flinches, but he doesnt turn away, and then as an afterthought, he adds, "Hell be okay."
Im about to tell him not to patronize me, when they come to wheel me away again for another round of useless tests. I can already tell them what they want to know. Head injury been there, done that. Yes, I have a headache and blurred vision and Im sick . . . sick because I didnt do my job. I didnt watch my best friends back and consequently, hes fighting for his life again.
Think they have any drugs to fix that?
Its hours later when Im finally taken to my room. I dont know why they even bothered; I have no intention of staying there. Its not like Ive never had a concussion before I dont exactly need a manual on what to do and what not to. Hell, I could write the manual.
Buck tells me that Vin is already back in the critical care unit, and so I strongly encourage him to finagle me a wheelchair although even that is more for everyone elses comfort than my own.
By the time I get there, the boys are already gathered around his bed. I think theres some kind of rule against that, but apparently theyve learned that the effort to enforce said rule is probably not worth it where my team is concerned.
I can see by their long faces that Vin is not good, and that something else is going on. I have no idea what, and at this moment I dont particularly care. I just need to get a look at Vin. I just need to know that somehow, hes avoided crossing that line one more time.
I didnt think it was possible for him to look worse than he did the first time. Maybe he doesnt maybe its my imagination. Maybe hes not really lying here hooked up to chest tubes and IVs and bright, ugly bags of blood once again. Maybe this is just one never-ending nightmare.
I feel a hand on my shoulder and hear Josiahs strong voice in my ear. "Doc said he fixed him up again . . . said its just gonna take some time."
I drop my head and rub my hand across my eyes. I feel like shit. I feel like maybe I cant deal with this after all.
Buck moves in front of me, and he says, "Lets go lay down awhile, Chris. Come back here later."
Thats a ridiculous suggestion of course, so I dont even bother to respond to it.
I expect Nathan to throw in his two cents, but he doesnt. Instead, he clears his throat and he says, "Were sorry, Chris. Were just so . . . sorry."
That puzzles me a bit. For the first time since entering the room, I look at the others. JDs hanging back in the corner, acting like someone just shot his dog. Ezras not far from him staring at his shoes. Josiahs still next to me with his hand on my shoulder, and Nathans across the bed, with his hand on Vins shoulder, and they both look . . . well, I guess disturbed would be the best word.
"Sorry?" Maybe Im more confused than I thought.
Now they all look at each other, with the exception of Buck, who is hanging back and shaking his head.
Josiah moves in front of me and he frowns. "About Vin . . . and you. About all of this. We should have been there."
Its my turn to frown. They think this is their fault? Let me clarify . . . "You guys think this is your fault?"
Ezra steps forward and he says, "We left our wounded teammates alone and defenseless when we knew that a culprit was on the loose and seeking revenge. That error in judgment is unforgivable."
I like Ezra. I know I dont act like I do . . . but thats only because he expects it. Hed be uncomfortable if I got all warm and fuzzy with him. But I have to tell you, I cant figure out what the hell hes going on about half the time, and this time . . . "Ezra, what the hell are you talking about?"
He raises an eyebrow at me and looks to Buck for help, but all Buck says is, "Youre on your own here, guys. I dont see this the way you all do."
"Can you stand there and say you dont feel guilty, Buck?" Nathan asks him. "Can you honestly say that you dont believe weve failed Vin all the way around? Regardless of who put that bullet in him?"
"No," Buck answers shortly, "I cant say that. But Vins been asking for just that from the very beginning and I dont think hell feel different now."
JD shifts around and faces the window. Hes staying out of it. Kid gets smarter every day.
Nathan turns to me then and he says, "You know Vins surgeon?"
Of course I know him. Couldnt pronounce his name if my life depended on it, but hes not an easy man to forget. He was half mad when he took care of Vin the first time; kept harping about how Vin should never have survived laying on the floor of the tavern that long, or the ambulance ride in that terrible storm, or even the surgery to remove the bullet. Youd think we had purposely endangered Vin just to put his skills to the test.
But he saved Vins life then, and apparently, hopefully, please God again. So yeah, I know him.
Nathan goes on, "He asked me how we let this happen how Vins team let this happen. I didnt have an answer, Chris. I still dont. We let Vin down and we let you down."
My head really hurts and I seem to be having a little trouble with this conversation.
"As far as I know, boys, I was the only one there when Griffin threw his little party. And I was the only one there because I asked you all to stay away. Fortunately, Buck and Nathan chose not to listen to me. Unfortunately, their timing was off. But you all can quit beating yourselves up over this. Youre off the hook."
Its pretty obvious theyre not gonna buy it, but we cant really discuss it further because were busted when the nurse comes in. I guess the six of us really are pushing the two-visitor rule a bit far, because she gets tough and says four have to go. Buck hangs back and I hear him offer to stay.
I dont much care who stays or goes. Im having difficulty caring about much of anything, in fact. I cant tear my eyes away from Vins face. Griffin didnt touch his face. And even when he fell face first on the bar floor, there wasnt a mark on it. But still, his face shows it all. Dark shadows, sharp bones, pale skin . . . how much more can he take? How much more can we take?
"It wasnt your fault, either, Chris," Buck says real soft. "Hell, even if we were there, this could have happened. Or maybe, he would have waited and caught Vin when he was alone."
"I shouldnt have told you to stay home that night."
He sighs and he pulls up a chair. "Vin was damn near suffocatin with all of us around. You did what you thought was best for him."
Yeah, right. What was that Ezra said? Something about an error in judgment . . .
"Good thing you didnt listen."
"I guess you and Vin aint the only ones with gut feelings."
This time, I sigh. An error in judgment . . . how many of those did I make this time around?
"I fed him chocolate pudding and root beer," I admit.
"You heard me."
Buck is laughing softly. I dont see whats so funny. Then he says, "So you think it made a difference? You think thats why Vin is laying here like this?"
Buck can be so dense sometimes. I guess Ill have to spell it out for him. "I didnt take good care of him."
Hes pulling his brows together and frowning. "Seems t me, you took real good care of that guy that was tryin t kill him. Doesnt that count for something?"
Ive known Buck for a good twelve years now, but sometimes were just not on the same wave length. "Too late. I took care of him too late. It shouldnt have happened in the first place." And then I add, because I just now think of it, "And what the hell happened to those guys Travis hired?"
"They got sore heads t match yours," Buck answers.
Damn miracle that nut didnt kill anyone. Then again, the way Vin looks, he just might succeed yet. Although, I suppose it would be difficult to really say who did the actual killing . . . Griffin, or the man who put the bullet in Vin to begin with.
"I shot him," I say, just in case Buck missed it the first few dozen times around.
"I know it," I say for added emphasis. "I know it as sure as you and I are sitting here. It was me."
"Okay," he says slowly. "It was you. So what?"
So what? So what!
"What the hell kind of a response is that?"
"You do it on purpose?"
"Shit, Buck. We gonna talk about this or not?"
Why am I talking about this? Why did I even bring it up?
"Answer the question, Chris. Did you deliberately shoot Vin?"
I answer without thinking. "No. You know that."
"Yeah, but do you? Because it seems like I know it and Vin knows it but you seem t think that you can prevent shit from happening just because you want it that way. I hate t be the one t tell you, Larabee but even you cant control everything. Shit happens."
You know, that phrase is so overused. And Buck acts like this is the first time hes given me the "you cant control everything" speech. Im pretty sure I get it at least once a week.
"I know that," I say to him. "But it doesnt change the way I feel."
"Well, you damn well better figure out how to change the way you feel before Vin comes around. Hes only asked for one thing in all of this and aint a one of us listenin."
Let it go . . . thats all Vin wants.
But I cant do it. Not now, now after this.
The nurse comes in to check the wires and tubes and . . . stuff, and Vin moans real soft, so she pushes the button to inject more pain medication into his blood stream. I meet her eyes, looking for some hope I guess, and she smiles at me, but says nothing.
Probably because theres nothing to say - regardless of what Buck thinks. The fact remains that I screwed up two times running . . . with one misplaced bullet and one error in judgment.
At this rate, Ill manage to kill Vin off before Christmas.
Voices drift around me. I cant hear all the words, but the feelings come through loud and clear.
JDs scared. Scared for me, I reckon but more scared for us.
Ezra, too. Hes a different man now that hes one of us. I guess we all are. But I guess Ezra needs that more than some.
It hurts me t move and so I try t lay real still; try t concentrate on breathin. If I make any sound at all, they push more drugs into me. Thats when things get really mixed up, so I try t keep quiet.
Either way, I can hear em.
Josiah, hes sad . . . seems kinda lost. I keep waitin t hear him say the right words t the others, but he doesnt do it. Maybe he doesnt know the right words this time. Maybe no one does.
And Nathan. Hes made an art out of sighin. Theres his frustrated sigh, and his angry sigh, and his sad sigh. I seem t be hearin that one the most.
Buck, hes alright. A little mad, I think. Im not sure at who.
But then, Im not sure of much of anything.
I do know that theyre all feelin guilty again. I cant make out most of the words, but I know thats whats goin on.
Chris, especially. It took a long time for us t get through it the last time. I dont know if we can do it again.
It feels like theres a two ton boulder sittin on my chest. I try not t groan, but I can feel them hoverin over me, pushin those drugs into me.
I want t tell them t forget it; that maybe Id come out of this fog if they just let me be. But then again, comin back to their long faces aint all that appealin. Carryin this weight on my chest just might be easier than carryin the weight of all their guilt.
Think they have any drugs t fix that?
Every time he groans or moans or even sighs, its like a blade cutting straight into my heart. I suppose thats a little over-dramatic, but I never claimed to be the poet of the group. That distinction belongs to Vin. Doesnt fit, does it? At least, it doesnt until you get to know him.
Most people have no idea who Vin Tanner is. I watch the nurses and doctors and therapists work around him, their words and actions detached and routine, and I feel this ridiculous need to clue them in. They just dont know who theyre taking care of; what kind of man he is; how much he means.
They tell me hes getting better. He looks like hell, and he still hasnt managed a coherent sentence, but the doctor with the impossible name assures me that Vin will live provided his friends dont screw up again. And so the breaking point is still off somewhere in my imagination . . . waiting for a different day and a different time to collapse my world once again.
Unless I get lucky and die first.
I want to die first. I dont want to die - I just want to die first. I told Buck that once. I said not to mourn if something happens to me, because its better for me that way. I just cant bury another person I love.
I suppose if I was totally honest with myself which I rarely am, I would have to say that I love the guys. Now lets not repeat that out loud. Shit, Buck already has way too much fun with me and Vins friendship.
Speaking of Vin, hes starting to come around again. He opens his eyes and seems to search for something. I move into his line of sight, and I try to offer a smile, but its so damn hard to see him like this . . . his blue eyes dull and confused. God, Vin I am so sorry.
He licks his dry lips and he whispers, "Got root beer?"
I do smile then, even though I know there are so many miles ahead so many obstacles yet to clear, that Im not sure that light at the end of the tunnel really exists anymore.
"Ill get you some," I promise, and he nods before dropping back to sleep.
I smooth a stray hair from his face, and I take a deep breath as it hits me once again. I do love Vin. I couldnt stand to lose him I absolutely could not deal with it. Take your best shot, Buck, but there it is.
Of course, I love Buck, too. And JD grows on a person. Nathan, with his fussing, and Josiah, with his endless parables, annoy the hell out of me but I know its just that they care so much. How could I not care about them back? Even Ezra has his good points, and heaven knows, I dont think I could lose him, either.
So there it is. It would be better for all concerned if I die first.
Ive tried. Ive tried t ignore their pained expressions and the awkward way they talk about anything and everything except what happened. I look the other way when flashes of guilt cross their faces every time I cough or sigh or push away my plate.
Chris is the worst, of course. He never could hide anythin from me, and now aint no different. Any progress we made the last time is long gone. He cant get past it, even though I think he wants to. He brought me root beer and he sat at my side for a good part of the last week, and I appreciate it. Really, I do. But it just takes too much out of me t keep on with the game.
Thats why Im goin t stay at Bucks. Hes the only one who gets it. Hes the only one who treats me just the same as he always did. Itll be hard t tell Chris, but hell understand. I hope.
He comes in the door of my room with Buck, and before I can explain, he says, "You ready to go, Vin?"
"No. I mean, yeah. But . . . I appreciate the offer, Chris, but Ill be leavin with Buck."
I look down then, avoidin his face because I know hes hurt. The last thing I ever thought Id do is intentionally hurt him, but it has t be like this. I cant go on lookin at him lookin at me like . . . like he cant stand the sight of me.
Buck says its cause he feels bad feels like he let me down and all that shit. And I guess that must be true for the other guys, too, because they pretty much look at me the same way.
Except for Bucklin, which is why Im goin with him. That doctor with the funny name says I cant go home alone, and I aint arguin. Thats scary, I know. I admit to bein proud to the point of bein stupid sometimes, but not this time. I cant even breathe right, let alone do anything else on my own.
"Oh sure. Fine." Chris says, and he looks down, too. Hes got his arm out of the sling, and Im wonderin when that happened? Was I too wrapped up in myself t notice? He still has a nasty bruise running along the side of his head, though, and I cringe when I see it. Griffin was such an idiot . . . aint right he could bring us all down like this. The truth is that he hurt every single one of us, not just me . . . and I got some guilt of my own t deal with.
Buck clears his throat and he waits for me and Chris t finally look up at him. "Actually Vin, plans have changed just a bit."
He looks sort of uncertain, and I figure my brows are pulled together about as tight as I know Chriss are. Whats he up to?
"I . . . um, I have t go some place for a few days . . . for the, uh, weekend actually. Then youll be welcome to come and stay, Vin. I promise. Its just a few days."
"JD wont be there, either?" Chris asks, and I can tell hes not buyin this any more than I am.
"No. He and Casey have plans." Now its Bucks turn t look at his feet. Youd think we all had the most interestin shoes.
"What the hell is this about Buck? If you told Vin he could come with you, then you keep your word."
"No. Its okay, Chris." God, I hate this. Do they have any idea how humiliating this is?
Buck turns t me and he finally meets my eyes as he says, "I need you to stay the weekend with Chris, Vin. If you still want to come to my place afterwards, youll be welcome for as long as you need."
I nod and mumble, "Thanks," before glancing sheepishly at Chris. I cant believe how embarrassing this is. "That okay with you?"
He looks at me pointedly and says, "Of course, Vin. It wasnt me who changed the plans."
It takes a while t get me loaded up in Chriss truck. I feel like an invalid; cant remember when I could walk a straight line all on my own. Were not even gonna mention what it took t get me up in that damn cab of his. Talk about humiliating . . .
By the time we get t the ranch, Im sound asleep and droolin all over his window. I always do that . . . drool on his window. No matter if Ive been in the hospital for two hours or two days, he always takes me back here and I always fall asleep and I always drool on his window. And he always says, "Damn, Vin, you leak more than any man I know. Get out the Windex and get that cleaned up, will ya?" Then he laughs and I stammer something about what a damn pain in the butt he is.
This time, he nudges my shoulder, like always, and he says, "Vin, were here." I wait for the rest; wait for him t be him and us t be us, but I know it aint happenin. Were right back where we started . . . playin games.
Usually Im pretty good about hidin how I feel, but I pull my back when I straighten up to get off the seatbelt, and I gasp before I can stop myself. Chris swallows and he looks away, and that hurts even more though Im not real clear on whos hurtin most just now. Josiah appears out of nowhere and thank God he practically floats me out of that damn high seat before Ive even had a chance t think about it.
Nathan shows up on the other side of me, and even though I put up a good show of insistin I can walk to the door myself, no one believes it. Nate and Josiah take me under each arm, careful not to put pressure on my ribs and back, and once again, its like Im floatin to the house.
They ease me onto the couch in Chriss livin room, and its like I never left . . . like it never happened, that whole nightmare with Griffin. But when I look over t the corner of the room, I see the faint stain of blood on Chriss floor. Hell likely have t replace the carpet and I feel guilty for that, too.
Chris moves in front of me, and he mustve been watchin me, because he speaks up then, "Ive wanted to replace this old stuff anyway. I was thinking hardwood." He looks down at me with a question in his eyes, and I get the hunch hes askin more than it appears, but Im not sure what it is.
"Yeah," I say. "That would be good."
"I imagine the others will want to hang around this time, Vin. Even when you go to Bucks." Hes lookin at his feet again.
I shift myself up a bit, cause I hate lookin up at people when Im tryin t talk to em, and the pain explodes in my chest. I thought Id gotten used to it by now, but it takes me long minutes t get my breathin under control again.
"Nathan!" I hear Chris holler like Im dyin here, rather than just tryin t sit up.
"Shit, Chris," I groan. "Im alright . . . just give me a minute."
But Nathans already there and Josiah, too, and this is just what I was afraid would happen.
Josiahs layin my head back down and Nathans got out his stethoscope and Chris is pacin. Hardwoods probably a good idea, now that I really think on it . . . take him a lot longer t wear a hole through it.
"Stop it, Nate," I snap as I bash his hands away. "Just let me be for a minute. Im alright."
Relatively speaking, anyway. Truth is - I feel like shit. And Im tired of it. And Im not all that sure anymore which is the best way t play this. Do I let em fall all over me so they feel better? Like theyre helping me? Or do I act like Im fine my usual way of doin things, so theyll think about somethin else? Fat chance of that happenin.
Damn Buck anyway for not stickin t his word. He said I could come there and not worry about who was watchin every move and every face I make. Not worry about all the guilt and crap because he was over it and just wanted me t get well. Least thats what he said.
Instead, he left me here and oh, God I just cant play these stupid games anymore.
Go ahead, Chris feel guilty. You, too, Nate after all, you shouldve known Griffin was comin after me that night. And Josiah werent you the one who talked Nathan out of stayin with me and Chris? Pile it on, boys. Im sick and Im hurt and its all your fault.
Whats with Chris now? Whys he lookin at me like that?
Josiah and Nathan back off, and Chris bites his lip and his eyes are tearin up and I have no idea why.
And I dont care. "Just leave me be," I whisper as I close my eyes and wish it all away.
Hes crying . . . there are tears running down his face and I can tell that he doesnt even know.
He has no idea hes crying.
"Just leave me be," he whispers.
"Okay," I say, though it comes out so soft, that Im not sure if he heard me. Im not sure of anything anymore.
Josiah and Nathan exchange an uncertain frown, but they follow my lead and back off. I head outside, largely because I dont know where to go. I just know I have to get away . . . as far away as I can go from his face and his tears . . . from him. Hell of a friend, arent I? I cant stand to see it, so I run. Never mind the fact that he asked us to leave - Im happy to do it. Im relieved he doesnt want me around.
The wind hits me as I open the screened door; it lifts my hair right off my forehead and its the best thing Ive felt in ages. I walk across the deck and lean against the railing and into that glorious wind. I close my eyes, and allow it to sweep me away. I imagine myself up on Ponys back, riding fast and hard and free.
I want to be free. Free of sadness and guilt and the incessant pounding in my head that hasnt left me since the day I shot Vin.
But it will never happen. I know it and so does Vin. Ive broken my promise to him we cant get through this. Thats why he wants to stay with Buck. He cant stand to see my face, anymore than I can stand to see his.
How stupid is that? Am I so weak a man that I cant lay my feelings aside and move on?
Apparently Im just not strong enough to do whats best for the man whos never hesitated to do whats best for me. No matter how unpleasant or uncomfortable or downright dangerous it is, Vin is always there to help me through it. Hes always there for me - at my back, and now when he needs me most, Im not there for him.
Dammit! This is ridiculous. Im marching back in there and telling Vin that its over. That all I want is for him to be well again and everything else just doesnt matter.
I shot him. So what? I didnt protect him from Griffin. So what?
So his face, lined with pain and streaked with tears, burns into my brain, and no matter what I say or what I do or what I tell myself, I cant make it go away. Im sorry, Vin. I just dont know how to do this.
I look back into the house and see that Vin hasnt moved. I head for the barn and pull out the saddle. I know Im not supposed to ride yet; know that Nathan will remind me that bouncing in a saddle does not fall under the category of "taking it easy." But maybe a good, hard ride will knock some sense into me.
Or maybe, Ill jostle my bruised brain just enough to quit feeling altogether.
"Are you quite sure that is all you need?"
Lets see y made me some weird kind of chicken soup sure aint Campbells brought it t me on a tray, broke the crackers for me, tucked the napkin on my chest, fluffed the pillows behind me on the couch, and wouldve spoon fed me, if Id let you. Yeah, Ezra, youve done enough.
Hes still waitin on an answer, so I go with the usual, "Yeah."
Course, its still not as bad as what Josiah did earlier. He helped me t the bathroom and held me up the whole time probably wouldve taken the piss for me if he couldve managed it. I suppose its better than fallin on my face, though. Then again, fallin on my face couldnt be nearly as embarrassing as that was.
"Well . . . well, I shall uh, go and see to other matters, then."
Did y hear that? He cant even talk right around me anymore. Im probably the only person in the world that can leave Ezra flounderin for words.
I push the soup away. Even the stuff I like tastes funny. Nathan says its the pills and then he goes into this long speech about how I have t take em anyway. I hate t burst his bubble, but it really never occurred t me not to. Hell, Id take the whole goddamn pharmacy if it would get me on my feet and out of this house quicker.
I can hear him and Ezra talkin in the kitchen. I dont know why everyone thinks I cant hear anything. I got shot in the back and whacked in the chest, but oh, maybe if we talk real quiet-like, Vin wont hear us.
"Where has our leader escaped to?"
"He took off on his horse a few hours ago. Aint seen hide nor hair of him since."
Nathan sounds a little miffed about that. I dont blame Chris. Thats exactly where Id be if I could manage it.
"Hes taking a nap. He hasnt been able to sleep much since that night."
"I assume you are referring to the night when Vin was originally injured?"
Nathan doesnt answer, but I can picture him noddin.
"I cant say I have slept peacefully myself," Ezra says. "Nightmares seem to be the norm for more than one of us these days."
I can relate t that.
"You wanna talk about it?" Nathan asks him.
Theres a long pause before Ezra finally answers. "I felt so useless that night . . . so helpless and utterly clueless. Buck was maintaining pressure to Chriss wound, while you and Josiah worked on Vin. Inez was busy gathering supplies and assisting you all and I could not determine what to do."
It dont matter, Ezra its over. Let it go.
"There was so much blood, and both men were trembling . . . and I remember thinking that there was something I should be doing. When Josiah instructed me to find blankets or jackets or something with which to cover our friends, I felt like a fool. I couldnt believe I had not even thought to perform that simple act. In fact, I was quite certain that my only contribution that evening was to shoot Vin."
Oh no, Ezra. Please dont.
"That . . . doubt . . . continues to plague me on a nightly basis."
Aw hell, Ez.
Nathan clears his throat and he says, "Josiah says he cant close his eyes without seein Vin there on the floor. Says he can still feel his blood soakin through the dressings he held on the wound for me."
I didnt know . . .
"I think what really bothers him, though, is when we had to roll Vin over and start CPR on him. I never have seen Josiah so scared. And the truth is, I dont remember ever being so scared myself."
Oh God. Nathan and Josiah had to . . . they did what? Oh God, I didnt know.
"But its the second night I cant get out of my mind," Nathan says.
I dont want t hear anymore. I just didnt think what it must have been like for them.
"Buck told me to get in here, and there was Chris with his head bashed in and Vin . . . Im tellin you, Ezra, I thought for sure wed lose him right then and there. He was gasping for every breath and bleeding from his mouth, and I just knew that bastard had popped his lung. I just knew he was gonna die and there wasnt a damn thing I could do."
Oh God. I feel sick. Please dont say anymore. Im so sorry. I didnt know.
"I called for an air lift, and then I just held him till they came, y know? I just held onto him and I begged him to hang on. The whole time, I was tryin to breathe for him . . . just tryin . . . to keep him alive. Just like the first time, only this time . . . I knew I could have stopped it if Id just been here."
Im gonna be sick.
I push the tray off my lap and it crashes t the floor. I have t go . . . Im gonna be sick. I try t stand, but my knees fold up and I latch onto the coffee table as I go down. I keep one hand on the edge of the table and the other against my stomach, just tryin t catch my breath and hold it in.
But it doesnt work, and once again Im pukin on Chriss carpet. "Im sorry," I mumble in between spasms. "Im so sorry."
"Its alright, Vin," Nathan says as he suddenly appears next to me. "Well get it all cleaned up."
No, he doesnt understand. Im sorry I got hurt. Im sorry I put you all through this. Im sorry I didnt understand.
Im sorry because now I know why they cant let it go.
Theyll never look at me the same again. Well never be the same again.
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