Disclaimer: Dont own them, never have, unfortunately never will. Wont make a dime off this either. But I am very thankful to all involved in bringing us these magnificent characters.
"Damn it Chris! Let me out of this!" Vin Tanners voice bounced against the walls as Chris Larabee closed the door to the room. He stood outside the door for a moment listening to his friend. The crash of a water glass as it connected with the, thankfully, closed door testified to a rare fit of temper from the normally calm tracker. Chris couldnt keep the wince from his face as he imagined the damage his friend was doing to himself and anything that had been left within his reach.
"Im sorry," he apologized to the blonde woman standing nearby.
"Hell be fine. Im sure hell calm down shortly," Mary Travis replied. "You have to go. The trail is getting cold."
They both looked down the stairs as Nathan Jackson approached, a small burlap bag, and two bottles in hand.
"Use this for pain, two drops in about an inch of water," he said handing her the larger of the two bottles, involuntarily flinching as yet another crash was heard from the room.
"The water pitcher." Chris muttered.
Nathan nodded, looking at the door as if he could see through the wood, then continued, "Use this one for fever. I cleaned the wound out good, but its still possible with a compound fracture that he could develop an infection and fever."
"And this one?" Mary asked touching the burlap bag.
"Mix some of this in his food or drink. Itll knock him out. Do it as often as you need to."
"From the sounds of it, Id keep him knocked out the whole time," Buck said as he joined them. "Were ready," he added.
"Good luck." Mary said as the three men walked off.
"You too," she heard called back at her. She had a feeling she would need it as she heard yet something else go flying across the room holding one very angry former bounty hunter.
Mary sat watching the man as he slept. He tossed his head about a bit, a low-grade fever and bad dreams interrupting his rest. She dipped a cloth into the basin on the bedside table, and placed the cool fabric on Vins forehead. She had used the powder Nathan had left only as a last resort, when the man had shown no signs of allowing himself to sleep. Something he needed desperately in order to heal.
She reached over and adjusted the sling Nathan had rigged to hold Vins leg in place. The break had been bad. Very bad. And Nathan was concerned about it healing properly, if at all. The bone had broken through the skin in two places. Nathan had managed to set it but wanted to keep it totally immobile to keep the broken bone from shifting.
Vin was essentially tied to the bed, with the knots out of his reach, his leg suspended and secured enough that the bone would not slip. He was able to move his upper body, but his lower body was totally immobilized.
Mary continued to mop his brow with the cloth, studying the myriad of small cuts and bruises covering his body. She checked the bandages covering the deep gash on his left fore arm and the bullet wound that had grazed his shoulder. One eye was turning a dark shade of purple but the swelling had already reduced in the time he had been at Nathans clinic.
Mary sighed and brushed the hair from Vins eyes. And she worried about the others, who had gone off to finish the job Vin had started.
Vin had been feeling extremely upbeat the previous morning. He had met a woman a few weeks before and things were going very well. So well that Vin was beginning to entertain thoughts of marriage.
Vin had been bitten by love. It had been so long since he had felt this way. In fact he wasnt sure he had ever felt this as strongly as he did now. He hadnt shared his feelings with the rest of his fellow peacekeepers, but it was hard to hide things from them. They knew without him telling them.
But his happiness was not meant to be. He had set out to spend the day with his lady, the lovely Morgan Caulfield. However, as he rode up to her house just outside of town, he saw six men riding away at a high rate of speed. Kicking his own horse into a run he entered the yard and threw himself off his mount. Running up onto the porch, he entered the house through the open door.
"Morgan! Morgan!" He began a steady search of the house, his gun drawn. He found her in the bedroom, lying across the mattress of her four-poster bed, the bed in which they had shared several steamy nights.
With a strangled cry he dropped his gun and gathered her lifeless body in his arms. Her clothing was torn and bloody, her face battered. A silk scarf was tied around her neck, twisted until her last breath had been drawn.
His hand gently stroked her face. He could see where her tears had run down her cheeks, leaving streaks in the light coat of powder she sometimes wore when she was going into town.
He sat with her for hours, rocking her gently back and forth as silent tears poured from his eyes. As the sun reached its peak he slowly came to his senses. He laid her back on the bed, gently arranging her clothing so that she was modestly covered. Placing a final kiss on her lips he turned, picked up his gun, and walked out of the room, down the stairs and out of the house.
Ezra had been the one delegated to retrieve Vin from the Caulfield place. He had initially been a bit miffed about the duty, wanting to stay in town and take advantage of several gentlemen fresh off the stage. But upon discovering the tragedy at Miss Morgans he had been thankful that the always exuberant and overeager JD had not gone in his place. He had immediately set off in pursuit of the tracker.
Ezra had located the man at the bottom of a gully, his horse waiting for him at the top. He had apparently been left for dead. Ezra had assumed the same thing.
Ezra had fashioned a travois to carry Vins body back to town, then made his way to the bottom of the gully. It was with great relief that he had found the man breathing and even semi-conscious. He managed to get Vin loaded onto the travois and back to town shortly after nightfall, where he turned the man over to Nathan and went to find Chris Larabee.
Nathan had worked on Vin most of the night, cleaning wounds, setting the broken leg bone, and stitching lacerations. They had gotten the details of what had happened when Vin had awoken early that next morning.
Vin had followed in the direction he had seen the men head off in, revenge being the only thing on his mind. He had been careless in his thirst for blood, coming up on the men suddenly and paying the price.
Chris had gotten a description from his friend and Ezra knew where Vin had last seen them. With a slight nod of his head, Chris had sent Ezra off to get the others ready to ride.
Vin had been none too happy about being left behind.
Chris watched the group of six riders lounging around a small clearing. They had been almost too easy to find. The men had obviously felt they were in no danger of being followed, especially after Vins injury. His own men had taken positions surrounding the clearing. It was a matter now of finding a time when the men were relaxed and least expecting their appearance.
Vins eyes opened slowly and took in his surroundings. The pain in his leg was there but he ignored it as he looked around. Mary stood near the window, staring down into the street. He felt hot, and thirsty.
"What did you use on me to make me sleep?" he asked quietly. Marys eyes jerked away from the window to the tracker. She smiled as she approached the man.
"Nathan gave me something to mix in with the broth I gave you."
"Dirty trick." Vin muttered. So far he was calm, his fit of temper the day before behind him. The fever and the drug he had been given had left him feeling sluggish and wrung out. Vin wasnt sure hed even be able to lift his arms to take the glass of water Mary offered. Before he even tried Mary reached over, helping him lift his head, and placing the glass to his lips, letting him take a long drink. Then she took a cloth from the bed table and dipped it into a basin. She wrung it out and began to bathe Vins warm face with the cool cloth.
"Thanks. Feels good." Vin murmured.
"Youve been running a bit of a fever. Are you in any pain?"
Vin shook his head. Mary knew it was a lie. That the stoic tracker had to be hurting, physically and emotionally. Mary, too, knew about the relationship Vin had started with Morgan. Try as he might, the tracker had not been able to hide that from those that knew him.
She stood and moved over to the small stove used to heat the room and dished up a bowl of broth. Vin needed to eat if he was going to heal and after not eating much over the past few days she wanted to make sure it was something he could keep down. Moving back to the bed, she picked up a clean towel and sat the bowl down on the bedside table. Then she helped Vin sit up some, propping pillows behind his back to hold him upright. Spreading the towel under his chin and over his bare chest, she picked up the bowl and lifted a spoonful of broth. Vin looked at the bowl, then at her.
"You didnt put anything in it this time did you?"
"No," Mary gave him a slight smile. She would resort to the herbs and drugs Nathan gave her only if the tracker became agitated again. He allowed her to spoon-feed him the broth, stilling feeling weak as a kitten. He knew he had lost a lot of strength over the last few days, due to blood loss and fever, and he wanted to gain some of it back so he could get out of this room and exact some revenge of his own.
This room. The walls suddenly felt as though they were closing in on him. Nathan knew him well and had positioned the bed so he could look out the window, but he longed for some fresh air.
"Mary?" Vin asked. His breathing was becoming rapid and she could see a change in his eyes, a slight anxiety, and wished for a brief moment that maybe she had doctored the broth. "Could you open a window? I need some air."
"Of course." Mary placed the bowl aside, quickly wiped Vins chin and moved over to the window, lifting the sash upward. When she turned around she saw that Vin had let his head lean back and was taking deep breaths. She was reminded of a caged animal that she had seen once when a traveling circus had come to a nearby town. That was it, Vin was feeling caged. He had a form of claustrophobia. That explained why Nathan had insisted on moving the bed and why Vin rarely slept in the room he had at the boardinghouse.
She stepped away from the window, staying out of Vins view of the outside and wished once more that she had put a little something in the broth. But the open window seemed to help. Vin seemed more relaxed. In fact his eyes looked like he was ready to drop off to sleep. She moved closer to the bed, took up the damp cloth, and placed it against his warm forehead once more. His eyes closed.
Chris watched as the six men in the clearing set up camp for the night. Bedrolls were spread out, supper was on the fire, and a bottle or two was being passed around the group. Now was as good a time as any.
"Morgan!" Vins cry jerked Mary awake from where she slept on a cot in the corner. She was on her feet and at his side in seconds, pulling the shoulder to her nightdress up as she moved. The tracker was still asleep, calling out in his tortured dream.
"Vin!" Mary reached out and tried to push the struggling man back into the pillows. Without realizing it Vin struck out, knocking Mary back onto the floor. She scrambled to her feet again and rushed back to his side. "Vin! Wake up! Its just a dream, Vin!" She grabbed the cloth lying by the basin and dampened it, then tried to wipe down Vins sweating face and chest as he continued to struggle in his sleep.
"Vin?" Mary said as the tracker drew in a rough breath and his eyes popped open. His eyes darted around the room, panic clearly showing, had there been enough light to see by. "Vin?" she asked again softly.
"Mary?" Vins voice held a hint of hesitation. He still wasnt alert enough to know where he was or why he was there. He just knew that he felt total panic. The vision of Morgan lying on the bed, her blood soaked clothing, the scarf around her neck, still flashed in front of his eyes.
"Its okay Vin. Its okay." Mary tried to reassure him as she continued to mop at his brow.
"Shh Its okay. You were dreaming." She stroked the soaking wet hair from Vins forehead as she continued to talk softly to him. His breathing slowed to a normal rate.
"Sorry Mary," he whispered. "I dont know what happened." His hand reached up and rubbed at his eyes.
"Its alright Vin. Youve still got a fever. Im sure thats what caused it."
"I hope so." He said softly, but he knew that it wasnt. And Mary knew too. She had been awakened by the same type of nightmares in the past herself.
Mary got very little rest the balance of the night. She continued to bath Vin with cool water, even as the man slept, waking him only to drink some of the herbs Nathan had left to fight fever. He had nightmares off and on through the night, but none as consuming as the one that had originally awoke her.
Still, the dreams woke him every few hours. Mary was tempted to try and use some of the herbs to make him sleep. He needed rest. But she held off, vowing she would give them to the tracker the following night, whether he wanted them or not. In the mean time she waited to see if exhaustion would allow him to sleep, eventually.
She stood by the window once more, watching the gathering dusk. The street fires were being lit and town folk were scurrying home to their suppers, or looking for some sort of evening diversion. Night was just a short time off and there was still no sign of the returning men.
Mary had taken advantage of Caseys offer to sit with Vin and had gone off that morning to do some work at the Clarion. She felt bad at having resorted to doctoring his breakfast, but the man desperately needed some rest. Casey had gone off again when Mary had returned late that afternoon, a pot of stew and some muffins in hand that she hoped would tempt the tracker to eat when he awoke.
Casey told Mary that Vin had awoke only once during the day, and then just long enough to drink some water, with Nathans medicine mixed in it, before falling back into a deep slumber.
Mary allowed a tired sigh to escape her as she realized that the chances of Chris and the others returning today were slim.
"Thats a mighty heavy sigh," came a weary voice from the bed. Mary immediately moved away from the window, allowing Vin a full view of the quickly approaching evening sky.
"Well the sleepy head has awoke." Mary tried to keep her voice chipper, even though she was truly concerned about the low fever that Vin seemed unable to beat.
"I have a feelin you had somethin to do with that." Vins voice was becoming clearer as he shook off the last traces of sleep. He even tried to push himself up to a sitting position. Mary hurried over to help, propping several pillows behind his back.
"Are you hungry?" she asked as she helped him take a drink of water. His hand shook as it held the glass and she helped him steady it until he had drank the whole thing.
"I could eat a little." Mary gladly ladled out a bowl of stew and placed a corn muffin on a plate, then returned to his bedside. He picked up the muffin and began breaking it apart, slowly chewing on a few small bites. It was the first solid food he had eaten in over four days. Mary fished out a small piece of meat and fed it to him followed by some of the rich broth.
Both pairs of eyes went to the window as a small commotion in the street drew their attention. Mary set the bowl aside and moved to stand at the side of the window, looking down into the street.
"Mary? Whats going on?" Vin was very aware that the six other lawmen of the town were out looking for Morgans killers. That left the town unguarded and he wasnt exactly in a position to do much should anything happen. He struggled to sit up further, as though he could see into the street himself.
Mary turned to him, a smile on her face. "Theyre back. Chris, Nathan and the others."
"Do they do they have anyone else with them?"
Mary moved back to his side, hoping to get the man to eat a bit more before the others joined them. "There are six additional horses with them."
Vin sank back into the pillows, all thoughts of eating gone. His mind was consumed with rage at the men that had taken Morgans life, that had mistreated her so and left her dead. He impatiently waited for news, refusing the stew that Mary attempted to feed him.
He didnt have long to wait. It was only minutes before he heard boots on the stairs and Nathan and Chris quietly entered the room.
"Hows he doing?" Chris asked as Nathan took Marys place by the bed.
"I kin answer for myself you know," Vin said irritably as Nathan began to check his patient over.
"Yes, but I figure Ill get an honest answer from Mary," Chris replied. He received a stabbing glare from the younger man in the bed as a reply.
"Did you get them?"
"Yep. Only two survived. The others are locking them up now. Then theyll be up here Im sure." Chris had moved over to the bedside, watching Nathan as he checked the sling that held Vins leg. Nathan had asked Mary several questions already, mostly about the fever and medication doses.
"Then untie me. I wanna go see the bastards." Vin was trying to sit up once more.
"Hold on Cowboy," Chris answered him as Nathan placed one hand on Vins shoulder and gave a little push. It was enough to put Vin on his back again and Nathan had barely pushed him. "Youre not going anywhere for awhile."
"Damn it!" Vins carefully checked temper erupted. "Let me up!"
"No!" Chris shouted back with equal fervor. Mary took two steps back, surprised at the outburst of both men. Nathan kept working, finally turning to face Vin.
"If we let you up Vin, the chances of the bone slipping out of place would be too great. I might not know that it happened."
"I dont care. I want to go see the bastards for myself." Vins voice changed to a growl.
"If the bone dont heal right you might never walk again. I aint gonna take that chance."
"Im willin to."
"We arent," Chris said firmly, the tone in his voice usually stopping any further arguments. Today it didnt work.
"And you dont run my life! Now let me up!" Vin had never shouted at Chris before, or Chris at him. The fact that he did so today testified to his emotional state of mind.
"Well, it seems we have arrived at a most inopportune moment." A slow southern drawl came from the doorway. JD and Buck stood slightly behind him. "Gentlemen, I think we have seen a first in our lifetime. Mr. Tanner has actually raised his voice and shouted at our illustrious leader."
"Shut up Ezra!" came two voices simultaneously.
"I see things are now back to normal," Ezra replied, unflustered, as he and the other two walked into the room. Buck and JD both held back snickers of laughter.
"Hey Vin. How ya feeling?" JD asked, always the one that never knew when not to speak and what not to say.
"Just great JD. How do ya think I feel?" Vins temper had not yet waned.
"Ya dont need to take your bad mood out on the boy, Vin," Buck said calmly.
"Its okay Buck, really. I know hes hurtin and all."
"No its not okay," Vin replied, immediately feeling remorse over how he had talked to the younger man. "Im sorry, JD."
"Its alright Vin."
"Vin, I caint let you up outta this bed for at least three weeks. That bone needs time to knit," Nathan said. He was still looking Vin over, admiring the work Mary had done in his absence.
"Three weeks?" Vins voice had turned from angry to incredulous. "I caint stay in this room for three weeks."
"Fraid youll have to Pard." Chris voice had mellowed out. He knew how hard it was for Vin to be surrounded by walls. He added more quietly, "Well find a way to get you through this."
Vin knew Chris meant more than just becoming bored from lying around.
"Sure thing Vin!" JD jumped in with his normal exuberance. "Ill come and read to ya and tell ya some jokes."
"No jokes!" Six voices answered him. Mary couldnt suppress her laughter.
"Okay yall, now get on outta here. Vin needs some rest." Nathan chased them all out of the room, then set about changing the bandages on Vins leg. He managed to get Vin to drink some medicated water in which Nathan slipped a few additional herbs. Within the hour Vin was sleeping once more.
Chris re-entered the room quietly, not wanting to disturb his sleeping friend. He filled Nathan in on what he had learned from Mary, about the fever and the nightmares, while he helped Nathan change the sheets on the bed. Vin slept through the whole procedure.
When Chris pulled a chair up next to the bed, Nathan started to object. "You need some proper rest Chris. You havent slept much since this whole thing happened."
"Im staying with him."
"Im fine Nathan. Go get some sleep yourself. Hell be a handful when he wakes. One of us should be rested."
"Well, Ill go sleep in my room here in case ya need me. But he should sleep through the night."
"Okay. Night Nathan."
Chris settled back in the chair, stretching his legs out in front of him. He sat there, watching his friends chest rise and fall, until sleep claimed him.
Chris was in the same chair, legs outstretched, elbows on the chairs arms, hands crossed in front of him, when Nathans herbs and Vins own exhaustion finally wore off. Chris smiled when Vins eyes opened and darted around the room, the former bounty hunters normal reaction when awakening.
"Morning, Pard," Chris said softly.
"Mornin," Vin muttered back. Chris was already moving closer, pouring a glass of water as he reached the edge of the bed.
"There aint nothin in that, is there?" Vin asked, not willing to take a drink if it meant hed be asleep once more in the next five minutes.
Vin seemed to study the man in black, determining if his words could be trusted at the moment, then took a long drink of the offered water.
"Want some breakfast?" Chris asked as he got up, moving to the small stove and dished out a bowl of oatmeal. He poured a little milk over the top and added a spoonful of molasses before returning to Vins side, grabbing a mug of coffee along the way. Vin looked at the meal with some distaste, but right now the thought of something like steak and eggs didnt sound very good either. He reached out with shaky hands to take the offered bowl, after Chris helped him sit up. He needed to eat, needed the strength, no matter how unappetizing the meal looked.
He made it half way through the bowl before Chris took over, making him eat the balance before allowing him his first cup of coffee in days. His stomach full, he lay back in the pillows, staring out the window as Chris took up a seat in the chair once more.
"Thanks for getting them." Vin broke the comfortable silence. Chris just nodded in reply. It was several moments later before Vin spoke again.
"Was there a funeral?" His voice was almost a whisper.
"Its this morning. Nettie Wells made all the arrangements while we were gone." Chris watched the younger man as his eyes closed and his head pressed back into the pillows, fighting to keep his emotions under control.
"When?" he asked when he finally could trust his voice.
"Bout a half hour from now." Chris answered.
"Chris, I want you to be there. If I cant go, I want you to be there for me."
"Aint leaving you alone Pard."
"Ill be fine. I need you there, Chris. Please."
Chris seemed to think it over, not giving Vin an answer until the younger mans blue eyes met his. Finally the gunslinger nodded agreement.
"Ill see if Mrs. Potter will sit with you."
"No! Please. I need some time alone, Chris. Just a little time."
Chris thought it over, agreeing to the request reluctantly. But he knew how he had felt when Sarah and Adam had been killed. He wouldnt have tolerated the confinement Vin was dealing with. He had gone off on his own rampage, sinking into remorse found in the bottom of a bottle. He had almost chased off his best friend in his grief, despite Bucks attempts to save him from himself.
Well Chris was determined that Vin would not do what he himself had done. But he also recognized that Vin did indeed need some time alone, some time for the private man before him to grieve. Chris agreed.
"We gather here today to say goodbye to our friend Morgan Caulfield, returning her to the bosom of the earth and the loving arms of God "
The six remaining lawmen stood at the graveside with Mary, Casey and Nettie Wells, Mrs. Potter and a few other members of Four Corners. Josiah officiated over the short service.
The other peacekeepers stood solemnly with their heads bowed. But Chris stood, his gaze fixed on the town of Four Corners, on one building in particular that housed an injured member of his family. His gaze broke momentarily to shift to the jail where the two remaining men responsible for Vins injury and loss were held. His green eyes turned to steel.
" short time on this earth, Morgan knew love. Most recently she captured the heart of a man who "
Vin lay in the bed in Nathans clinic, staring out the window as tears silently flowed down his face.
Vin was sitting up, nursing a cup of willow bark tea the next morning, Chris in the chair by his side, when Buck and Ezra burst through the door. It was obvious even in their hurry that Vin was in a certain amount of pain, and that neither man had slept much the night before. But the two newcomers had other things on their minds.
"Chris, you should come down to the jail. We got a problem." Buck said, still standing in the doorway.
"Whats wrong Buck?" Chris asked as he set down his own coffee mug and rubbed his bloodshot eyes.
"You need to see this."
"Okay. Ezra, would you stay with grumpy here? Ill be back as soon as I can." Chris stood, strapped on his gun belt, then grabbed his duster from the hook by the door. As he walked out the door, Ezra took up the seat Chris had just vacated.
Vin looked at the gambler, his eyes and face expressing the question. Ezra just shook his head. There was no way he was going to deliver this news to the injured man.
Chris stood in front of the jail cells watching the two men held there swaying from the ropes tied around their necks. Nathan was kneeling next to a chair, finishing an examination of JD, as Josiah stood watching the two recently departed. The boy sat with his head in his hands.
"He okay?" Chris asked.
"Im fine Chris. Just have a headache is all." JD answered.
"Hell be fine. No permanent damage." Nathan tossed in as he stood and moved over next to Chris.
"Good thing whoever did this hit you in the head kid," Buck said. "Couldnt really hurt you that way. Heads too hard."
"Ha, ha, Buck." JDs voice dripped with sarcasm. Then a note of failure replaced it. "Im sorry Chris. I never even heard them come in."
"Its okay JD. Whoever did this had no intention of you knowing they were here. Youre sure youre okay?"
"Yeah. Who would do this?"
"Someone looking for a little frontier justice I reckon kid." Buck answered him.
"Buck? Will you take care of this mess? Im gonna go tell Vin." Chris said as he turned toward the door.
"Sure thing Pard." Buck moved to help Josiah cut the two men down. The rope hanging them gave him no clue as to who had done this and Buck wasnt sure he even cared.
Chris climbed the stairs to the clinic. Ezra stood as he entered, excusing himself as Chris hung his coat back on the hook. Chris moved over, taking the coffeepot from the stove and filled Vins mug, then filled one for himself. Then he checked the sling-type frame Vins leg hung from, making sure everything was as it should be, before taking his seat once more.
"Everything okay?" Vin asked. Chris nodded and resumed sipping at his coffee, stretching his legs out in front of him. Now it was time for healing.