Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four

Part Three: Stalemate

"How much farther?"

"Just over that hill, Jacob," Nathan answered, and finally--thank God--he was telling the truth.

The boy pulled his head up and whispered hoarsely, "I want my pa."

"Yeah, I know. Soon. You'll be home soon. You just rest now."

Over and over again, he'd repeated those same words, for hours on end, days on end. Ever since the boy had awakened two days before, he'd offered one lie after another in an effort to keep the child calm. But now, after four of the longest, most difficult days and nights Nathan could ever remember, they were finally approaching Four Corners.

"Nathan? Can we go home now?"

Nathan wrapped the boy tighter in his arms as he replied, "Yeah. Soon."

It was late afternoon on the second day of their journey home when Jacob woke up. With a sudden gasp and a lurch that nearly threw him and Nathan both from the saddle, the boy came back to life. Terror-stricken at first, then disoriented and restless, he was a handful and--Nathan was ashamed to admit--getting on the healer's every last nerve.

"Who's that?" Jacob asked, waving a hand towards the black horse ahead of them.

"Chris and Vin," Nathan answered woodenly.

"Chris and Vin?"



But it wasn't okay at all. Jacob had shaken the fever and escaped serious illness, but he couldn't remember anything longer than five minutes, and he was too dizzy to stay in the saddle without support.

And then there was Chris, who was coughing nonstop and not even bothering to try to hide it any longer. The blond had a fever, too, Nathan was certain of it, but there was nothing to be done. He couldn't even offer Larabee a break. He couldn't hold Jacob and Vin on his horse, and Chris wouldn't let him tie Vin on Peso. Even after Chris nodded off and he and Vin nearly tumbled into a snowy bank, the blond wouldn't consider letting go of his friend.

So they'd slowly made their way home in the same manner they had made it to the cave; Nathan holding Jacob and Chris holding Vin. Through sleet and snow and rain, they'd bundled up in blankets and rode from morning until nightfall . . . and it was hell every step of the way.

"Have you seen my pa?"

"Yeah. You'll see him, too. Soon."

Vin must have gotten sick again, since Chris suddenly pulled back on the reins and tilted the tracker's head over the side of the horse. Tanner hadn't been able to keep much down, but it didn't stop Nathan from plying him with laudanum laced water or tea every chance he got. Chris had fussed initially, but it was clear that Vin was miserable, and his constant moaning soon weakened Larabee's resolve to keep the drug from him.

It wasn't Nathan's first choice either, drugging Vin to get him home, but he couldn't see any other way. Even with the pain reliever, they could only go a few hours at a time before they had to stop and prop up Vin's leg for awhile, turning the three day trip into four. Nathan didn't even want to think of what further damage they could be doing by sitting him on a horse for that length of time, but with the treacherous ground they covered, a travois was out of the question.

"Nathan? We home?"


And they were. He didn't even recall traveling that last mile, but sure enough they hit the edge of town and were quickly surrounded by a crowd. Josiah's tall head soon parted the way through the throng, and Nathan thought he just might break down right there and weep in relief. But before he had the chance to even open his mouth, a barrage of voices assaulted him.

"Jacob! Is he alright? What happened to him?"

"Did you get him this time? Did you get the murderin' bastard?"

"Is the boy gonna make it?"

"What happened to Vin? He looks awful."

"Chris don't sound good, Nathan."

He wanted to tell them all to shut the hell up and just let him get off his horse and breathe a minute. Thank goodness Josiah took charge, ordering everyone back as he and Buck led the horses the last few yards to the livery. Once there, Sanchez carefully took Jacob in his arms and disappeared out the door.

Nathan climbed wearily off his mount, noting that Buck and Ezra were already working on extricating Vin from Chris's arms. Larabee didn't seem to want to let go, the fever and exhaustion no doubt addling his thinking, but Buck's smooth voice worked its magic and he was soon carrying Vin off and out the door, too.

Both of the sick would be waiting for him in the clinic, no matter that he was bone tired himself and fresh out of ideas to help either one of them. Jacob probably needed time, and Vin needed . . . well, a new body would be a start.

And then there was Chris who, even sick with fever and coughing his lungs up, found the energy to argue with Ezra.

"I'm not going. Nathan has enough to do."

"But Mr. Larabee, you are obviously ill and Nathan will have something to . . ."

"Thank you for taking care of the horses, JD," Chris said, ignoring Ezra as he stiffly ambled out of the livery.

Nathan hadn't even noticed that JD was there and already taking care of the animals, but he was grateful for it. Just the thought of removing his saddle made him groan.

"Nathan?" Ezra was speaking to him now, looking to him for guidance he supposed, though he had none to offer.

He'd taken charge the last four days, done his best to get everyone home in one piece and most importantly, breathing. For the first time ever, Chris had let him be the one to set the pace, to say when they needed to stop and rest, to eat, to sleep. He thought it was what he wanted all along, but the responsibility turned out to be a crushing weight and he just didn't want it anymore. Let someone else take over.

"You're exhausted, Nathan. Get some rest. We'll wake you if we need you."

What? Get some rest? Ezra wanted him to back out now? After four interminable days of watching every move, every grimace, every breath that Jacob and Chris and Vin took, Ezra thought he should just . . . go to bed?

Alright, so maybe he wasn't quite ready to let someone else take over. He'd rest later, when he was sure Jacob was taken care of, and Chris had enough of the right medicine to loosen up his chest, and Vin had whatever he needed to get through his latest crisis . . . maybe his last crisis.

He sighed. There was so little he could do for Vin. The leg didn't look right, no matter how many times he'd adjusted the splints. And he could hear a rattle deep in Tanner's chest that just wouldn't shake loose. On top of that, Vin went from cold and clammy one minute to burning up the next, and Nathan couldn't figure out why or what to do about it.

The only blessing that he could see was that Vin was pretty much out of his head the whole way back; rambling about good kids and lost boys and somebody doing something again. Chris seemed to know what he was talking about but Nathan didn't have a clue, and he was too concerned about everything else to worry on it much. He was just glad--selfishly relieved--that he didn't have to look Vin in the eye and talk about that leg.

Sooner or later he'd have to, though; he'd have to face Vin and tell him that he had to do it again. Vin would have to swallow the pain and struggle for every step, and maybe those bones just wouldn't be strong enough this time. Nathan couldn't imagine it; couldn't imagine saying the words, let alone being the man hearing them. It was too much; they'd all been through too much to face another uphill battle, especially Vin.

And the more Nathan thought about it, the surer he was that even if Vin survived, he couldn't go through it again.

+ + + + + + +

Chris clutched his chest as a particularly painful coughing spell shook his entire body. He hated it. It was never a picnic to be sick, but Vin needed him and he didn't have time for this. But he also knew he couldn't keep going without some real rest, so he pulled down the blanket and crawled into his bed with a deep groan.

Just a few hours; he'd rest just a few hours and then he'd go to the clinic. As he closed his eyes and felt the overused muscles in his body finally begin to relax, he thought he'd drift off relatively easily. But images of the trip home would not allow him that luxury. Vin had been sick and in pain every waking moment, and Chris should have been used to it but he wasn't. When Nathan started pouring laudanum down Tanner's throat, he tried to object, but the look of misery in Vin's eyes quickly wilted his determination.

He told himself that it didn't matter. Vin threw up half the mixture anyway, and the laudanum wasn't nearly as potent as morphine coursing through his friend's veins. There was still time to keep it from getting out of hand. Now that Vin was home safe and sound, he could rest up and heal up and everything would be just fine.

Yeah, Vin would be fine . . . he'd just have to do it again. Fight the pain and the despair while waiting patiently for the bone to re-heal, and just do it one more time. He'd hate being in the clinic again, but it would be temporary. He'd make sure Vin knew that, and Tanner would just deal with it like he had before.

Except Nathan's words about Vin not caring what happened to him anymore kept turning themselves over in his head. And during Vin's lucid moments, which were admittedly few and far between, he had this look of despair that Chris couldn't deny. He told himself it was only grief; after all they'd lost Michael and little Betsy only months before.

But they had found Jacob, and it was apparent the boy would survive, although a little confused and shaken up. The kid had very unclear memories of what had happened while he'd been gone, but all in all he was making a remarkable recovery. And Vin . . . and Vin didn't know that.

Chris sat straight up as that awareness finally pushed through his muddled brain. Dear Lord, Vin didn't know! Jacob was so quiet and still those first two days, that the few times Vin was semi-alert, he may not have realized the boy was there. And when Jacob finally did come around, Vin was delirious himself.

It hit him like a crushing blow then as he realized the worst of it: down by the river, Vin hadn't been asking about the outlaw, he was asking about Jacob. And Chris had told him he was dead.

He had to go to Vin and straighten this out. Yes, Tanner had other obstacles to overcome, but just knowing that he'd saved one child might be enough to turn things around. Groaning again, he pushed himself up off the bed, but he was quickly overtaken with another coughing spell.

"Chris! What pray tell are you trying to do?"

Ezra? Hell, he must have forgotten to lock the door.

"I'm going to the clinic," he growled, once he'd caught his breath. He had to be there with Vin. He had to be sure his friend understood about Jacob so that he wouldn't give up the fight. And he had to be make certain Nathan didn't give in to temptation and give the tracker more than he needed to get through this . . . because Vin was getting through this, and the last thing he needed was another complication to set him back further.

"I dare to disagree," Ezra replied.

"Dare to do anything you want . . . I'm goin'."

Or he would be going, once he got his legs under him. The room was spinning, and he just couldn't pull in enough breath to hold it still.

Before he could grasp what was happening, Ezra had taken hold of him and he was lying back on the bed. "I am your equal in stubbornness, Chris. And at this point in time, I believe I have the upper hand in strength. Rest a few hours, and we will discuss this again. For now, I am your appointed guardian."

Hell. It would have to be Ezra. One glare and a few pointed words and JD would take off. Buck would get distracted in an hour or so and he could easily sneak out. Josiah would probably fall asleep. But for now he was stuck, because as much as it pained him to admit it, Ezra was right about the strength bit. Chris suddenly couldn't find the energy to even pull his head up, and he knew by the shiver that coursed through him that the fever was taking hold.

He'd rest . . . for just a few hours.

+ + + + + + +

Vin knew where he was. After endless days and nights of confusion and nightmarish visions . . . of bitter cold and snow and rain . . . of constant motion that sent flames burning through his leg and up his back and deep into his chest. . . he knew where he was. He knew the sound, the smell, and the very feel of it: soft mattress, stiff sheets, stale air. And even though he knew he should be relieved--should be happy to be home, safe and warm in Nathan's clinic--he wasn't.

Because he couldn't do it again. He couldn't face these four walls ever again. He'd lain in this bed for weeks, fighting the pain and the grief and the goddamn helplessness and he could not do it again.

He tried to take a deep breath and moaned at the fierce aching in his chest. His back hurt, too, along with that useless leg . . . none of which mattered because his good leg hurt more, and he wasn't doing that again either. Just forget it. He wasn't fighting anymore and he wasn't trying anymore because he for goddamn sure wasn't walking anymore. So he just wasn't doing this, any of this again, and he didn't care.

Nothing mattered anyway. Jacob was dead . . . and Michael and Betsy . . . and if Chris and the boys ever had faith in him, well, that was dead, too. He might have killed the bastard that killed the boys--he had a vague recollection of taking a long fall into an icy river with the monster right beside him--but even that wasn't enough. There would be another to take his place and more lost boys and more dead children and so it just didn't matter.

"Easy, Vin," he heard Buck say and that confused him. Buck wasn't with them, was he?

No. It had been him and Chris, or him and Nathan, or him and Chris and Nathan--the three of them in various configurations but always just the three of them--for weeks and weeks now. How did Buck figure in?

Well, it didn't matter; all that mattered was that he was getting out.

"Please . . ." Vin whispered, and he wanted to say more, but his throat was so dry and he couldn't seem to formulate the words that wrapped around his brain: please let me out of here, please don't make me do this again, please let me go . . .

"I think he's hurtin', Nathan."

"Really Buck? Y' think so?" Nathan responded sarcastically, and Vin couldn't blame him for being angry. Nathan didn't want to do it again, either. That was okay because sooner rather than later, one way or another, Nathan wouldn't have to deal with him anymore.

Vin struggled to pull himself upright, ignoring the weight in his chest and the pounding in his head. Pain gripped his leg; a hot vice that squeezed harder and tighter until he couldn't breathe or speak, but even that would not stop him. Crawl if he had to, but never again would he lie in that bed in that room and do it all again.

"Calm down, Vin. It's alright," Buck spoke easily; his words tumbling about in that stale, dry, hot - when did it get so hot? - air, and it didn't make sense. Buck wasn't with them. He was somewhere else doing something else, though Vin couldn't remember exactly where or what.

He just knew that it shouldn't have been Buck there at his side. It should have been Chris holding him; Chris at his back and in his ear, telling him over and over that it would be alright. Chris's voice and Chris's hands and where the hell was Larabee when he needed him? Only Chris would understand that he couldn't stand to be there, in that place, starting over.

"Please, I . . . can't," Vin tried again, finally managing to push himself up only inches off the mattress.

A hand pushed against him, forcing him back down while another gripped his arm, pinning him to the too soft mattress, and he felt the familiar panic build. Trapped--as surely as if he was tied in a cellar.

"No," Vin groaned. "No . . . no."

He willed for them to understand, or at the very least to get Chris. But instead of letting him out or finding Chris or leaving him the hell alone, Nathan was pulling on his leg. Dear God, Nathan was pulling on his leg.

"It ain't right. I'm gonna have to reset it, Buck."

"Shit," Buck answered quietly.

And suddenly a hundred hands held him down; hard and heavy and cruel. It was so hot and impossible to breathe as voices, soft but insistent, called his name and demanded things of him that he couldn't possibly do. "Lay still . . . be calm . . . don't worry."

"Chris? Chris!" he called for his friend frantically, begging in thought if not in voice, and that should have been enough - was always enough in the past before it all changed.

But Chris didn't come and Buck didn't understand, and suddenly it was all about the pain; raging and unending and he couldn't take it anymore. He had to get out.

"No! God . . . let me . . . no, please," he gasped as he wrenched his limbs free and lunged awkwardly towards the door.

Strong arms caught his waist and kept him from falling out of the bed, but he twisted his leg and couldn't stop the scream that escaped as a result. Hands were everywhere; holding him down and gripping his leg and he was powerless to do anything but endure it. He felt the tears start, slow at first, then erupting into great, wrenching sobs and he couldn't make them stop. It was too late . . . too late for Jacob and Michael and Betsy; too late for himself.

And he wanted it to be over. He knew it was weak and wrong, but he didn't care.

Sudden warmth flooded him then and he fell into it easily; tumbled head over heels into the warm rapids that picked him up and swept him away. It felt so very good and it was all he'd wanted for so very long . . . and he knew that was wrong, too.

But he didn't care.

+ + + + + + +

"Nathan? Are you sure that was the right thing t' do?" Buck asked slowly.

"What the hell did you want me to do?" Nathan responded angrily, as he hastily shoved his trembling hands behind his back, nearly sticking himself with the sharp needle he held.

Dear God, what had he done?

Eased a friend's pain - that was all.

Buck was sitting on the side of Vin's bed, still holding onto Vin's arm, though the need had passed. He stammered, "I don't know . . . it's just after the last time . . . Chris and Josiah . . ."

Nathan shook his head and pulled a still shaky hand over his eyes before returning Buck's gaze. "You saw him. How could I stand by and do nothin'? I had t' . . . had t' help him and I . . . I ain't sorry for it." Nathan swallowed and looked away.

Buck cleared his throat and replied, "Alright then, it's done. You think he'll be okay?"

"Don't know," Nathan answered, obviously distracted. He couldn't think straight; couldn't get past the pounding in his heart or the waves of guilt that were washing over him.

He had done the right thing.

It just wasn't fair that Vin was facing another long recovery so soon, and there was no way Tanner could get through it without help. Nathan wasn't sure he could get through it himself, but he didn't have a choice, either. He wouldn't abandon Vin this time around, no matter how bad it got.

He'd done the best he could over the last four days. He'd dealt with the moaning and pleading; hardened his heart to it and did what needed to be done. But when Vin broke down and cried, it was just too much. It wasn't right that Vin should have to suffer when Nathan had something at his fingertips to help him.

Besides, this was different than the last time. Then, Vin was in for the long haul and he'd gotten addicted. Even though Nathan had done what he thought was best at the time, he still lived with that guilt.

But this really was altogether different. This time, it would be one time . . . just enough to get them both through what needed to be done. When Vin practically threw himself out of the bed, Nathan saw his opportunity and took it. He pushed the bone back into place and injected the drug before any questions could be asked . . . before he could change his mind. Vin took to it immediately, falling back in Buck's arms with a low groan; quiet and reasonably still at last.

It was for the best. Vin would never heal, the way he was fighting them. He needed a good, deep sleep. Let him shake off the fever and the cloudiness and then they could reason with him; keep him still and safe without drugging him to do it.

It made perfect sense. And one time wouldn't hurt. Vin would understand.

But Chris would kill him.

+ + + + + + +

It wasn't Chris who came in hours later and threatened to take Nathan apart piece by piece - it was Josiah.

Sanchez had just gotten back into town after escorting Matt Sims and Jacob back to their homestead. It wasn't his choice. He felt the boy needed to be under Nathan's watchful eye, but Sims disagreed. With the angry father still holding onto an unreasonable grudge against Chris and Vin--in spite of the good outcome--Josiah wisely decided not to push the issue.

He made his way to the clinic with a heavy heart. It seemed that Vin's trials just wouldn't end, and he wasn't sure he had the strength or wisdom to help his friend start over again.

Vin looked to be asleep when he entered the door, and he held onto a false hope that maybe it wasn't as bad as he'd thought. Buck sat near Vin's side, but he gave up the seat when he saw Josiah. Nathan stood at the window with his hands on his hips, tense and rigid.

"I'm gonna check on Chris. Let me know if you need me," Buck said as he took his leave.

Nathan nodded, but didn't turn away from the window.

Josiah pulled the chair closer to the bed and took his seat. He eyed Vin closely, not liking what he saw. But he reminded himself that Tanner had been looking worse for the wear for weeks now, and he still kept going. Re-breaking that leg wasn't likely to kill him; set him back a spell, but he'd overcome much worse before. He could do this again.

Who the hell was he kidding? He couldn't possibly do this again. Not him, not Vin, not Chris, and apparently not Nathan - judging by the way the healer stood in barely restrained anger.

Josiah took a deep breath as he realigned his thinking and shifted closer to his injured partner. They had no choice. They had to see this through, no matter how tough it got, because not a one of them could abandon their friend. His big hand settled over Vin's as he whispered softly, "You're gonna be just fine, Vin. We'll all see to it."

Vin moaned and pulled his eyes open a fraction. Josiah could see enough to grasp that Tanner was dazed and confused; his pupils tiny black dots in a sea of blue, and . . . oh . . . God.

The realization of why Vin looked like he did hit him like a fist in his gut. Nathan had shot him up with morphine. Sanchez was on his feet and across the room in seconds.

He stood with his hands on his hips, unconsciously mirroring the stance of the man he faced.

"How could you, Nathan?" he asked, his voice low and menacing.

Nathan met his glare as he spat, "How could I not?"

"Do you understand what you've done?" Josiah tried to keep his voice down, tried to keep calm, though he suspected he was failing miserably on both counts.

"Understand what I've done? Hell, yes, I know exactly what I've done," Nathan answered defiantly.

But he didn't know. He wasn't there. Nathan had left Josiah and Chris to care for Vin when they took away the morphine the last time. He hadn't sat and watched helplessly while Vin threw up and cried and pleaded for a drug that slowly but surely took him away from them. Nathan wasn't there.

Josiah shook his head mournfully. "No. No, you don't know."

"You weren't here!" Nathan all but shouted. "You didn't see how . . . how he was. And you weren't on the trail with us! You have no idea what it was like for him and for us. You didn't see him strugglin' t' keep up and t' keep his head. You didn't see his face when we found Michael and then Jacob . . . and you didn't see him fall off the goddamn cliff and hit the goddamn ice and how Chris . . . how Chris jumped in after him and he couldn't let go even though I think Vin wanted him to. You didn't watch him suffer every single minute of the last four days while we were tying to get home. You weren't there, Josiah."

It stunned him, having his own thoughts reflected back at him. And they were both right. Josiah hadn't been there while the men hunted for the missing boys, and Nathan wasn't there in Chris's cabin months before. In the end, it didn't matter. All that really mattered was the man lying in the bed, but Josiah had a terrible hunch that the battle over how to care for that man was just beginning.

He caught his breath and lowered his voice once more, "Arguing won't change anything, Nathan. We have to do what's best for Vin."

But Nathan wasn't ready to give in. "That's exactly what I'm tryin' to do! He's . . . God, Josiah, look at him. Look at him!"

He'd studied him earlier; had watched his injured friend for weeks in fact, and he couldn't imagine what Nathan thought he would see that would make this alright. But he looked again anyway. He turned away from the window and the first thing he noted was how the setting sun cast a soft beam of light over Vin's pale face and his dark hair, wet with sweat. A halo effect that was at once oddly serene and eerily unsettling.

Nathan had Vin's right leg propped up on pillows, with several more stuffed behind his bad back, and the thin man was nearly lost in the trappings of the bed. He looked so small, Vin did; more like a boy than even Jacob looked when Josiah handed him over to his father. Frail and thin and impossibly young, and it would be easy, far too easy to dismiss him; to label him as helpless and hopeless and lost. Far too easy to take the easy way out . . . to coddle and sympathize . . . to pity and give in to that pity . . . and damn it! That wasn't Vin's way. It wasn't what he wanted or needed and no matter how bad he looked, Nathan wasn't going to get away with it.

Josiah turned back to Nathan and he said, "Give me the morphine, Nathan. All of it."

"What? Why? Why would I do that and why would you ask me to?" Nathan's eyes ran the gamut from bewilderment to hurt and finally anger as he stated coldly, "You don't trust me." Four small words that loomed incredibly large in the sudden, awkward stillness of the cramped room.

But as hard as it was to tell the truth, Josiah knew there was too much at stake to back down now. "No. No, I don't," he replied. He tried to soften the blow by adding, "But not for the reason you think."

"What do I think, Josiah? Tell me. You know me so well . . . why I do what I do and think what I think . . . what I'll do before I even do it. So tell me why you think I would purposely hurt a man who means more t' me than . . ."

He couldn't finish it; Nathan choked on the words as tears filled his eyes and he looked away.

"That's why, Nathan," Josiah responded softly. "Because you care for Vin so deeply, you're not thinking clearly."

"No. You're so wrong, Josiah. It's you. It's Chris. It's all of you. You don't see the truth because you don't want to see it." Nathan met his eyes briefly, but he turned away again and moved closer to the window as he continued to speak in a soft, sad voice, "Vin doesn't want to do this again. He doesn't want to be here. He wants it to be over. He hurts all the time . . . can't hardly move or think straight . . . is it so wrong for him to want that?"

Josiah cringed at Nathan's words, not wanting to acknowledge how right he could be. Could be . . . or not.

"You don't know that. You couldn't possibly know what Vin wants because he doesn't know himself. That's why we have to do this for him - make the right decisions for him. And if you can't do that, Nathan--if you can't sit here and watch this and be strong for him--then you need to leave."

Nathan finally turned to face him again. Josiah was surprised to see tears streaming down his face, though Jackson's tone held more determination than sorrow. "Never. I'm not abandoning him again. And whether you believe it or not, it was just this once . . . I only meant for him to have it this one time. But make no mistake, Josiah, if Vin wants it again . . . if he asks for the morphine to get him through this or to . . . to help him die if it comes to that . . . I'll go through you and Chris t' give it to him."

"That's exactly what you'll have to do, Nathan, because Chris and I won't give up on him."

"And I won't let my friend suffer because you and Chris are too damn stubborn and proud to admit you're wrong . . . or to let him go."

Stalemate; no backing down on either side . . . no resolution, no compromise, and from what Josiah could see, no possible winners.

And all this time, Josiah had been thinking Nathan was the weak one; that he wasn't strong enough to make the hard choices. But it occurred to him at that moment that he might be wrong. It might be the other way around. It just might be that Nathan was the only one who, when it came down to it, was strong enough to give Vin what he wanted and needed when all was said and done.

+ + + + + + +

"How's Chris?" Buck asked softly as he entered the darkened room where the gunslinger slept.

Ezra shrugged, his form a mere shadow in the moonlight that streamed through the nearby window. "Feverish. Restless. But for now, at least, he is sleeping."

Buck nodded and pulled up a chair next to Ezra. "You think he'll be okay?"

Ezra sighed and pulled a hand across his eyes as he replied wearily, "How would I know? This is not my forte, Buck. I am merely here to ensure that Mr. Larabee does not further incapacitate himself by denying his body the rest it requires to heal."

"He ask about Vin?" An unnecessary question, unless Ezra responded negatively, in which case Chris was a whole lot sicker than they realized.

"Only every fifteen minutes until he finally gave in and let sleep claim him."

Nodding again, Buck muttered under his breath, "Good. Good."

"I fail to see what is good about any of this," Ezra replied testily.

"Well, they found Jacob at least." Somehow, in the worry about Vin and Chris, they'd lost that rather large morsel of good news.

"True. But at what cost?"

He couldn't see Ezra's expression in the shadows, but Buck knew the man well enough to picture it clearly in his head. Standish didn't show it often - that look of fear and dread when one of them was hurt or in danger. Ezra tried to deny it; tried to make others believe he didn't care all that much about anyone but himself, but it couldn't have been further from the truth.

Still, surely Ezra knew the life of a child was first and foremost?

"Are you sayin' savin' Jacob wasn't worth the risk, Ezra? Cause I'm sure Chris and Vin would have a strong word against that kind of thinkin'."

Ezra sighed again, louder this time. "No, Buck. I'm not saying that at all."

But he was, and Buck knew it. When it came to losing Jacob or losing Vin, well, any one of them would make the same choice. It might be wrong, but whether they admitted it or not, deep down they all felt the same; losing one of their brothers was like losing a limb.

"How is Vin?" Ezra asked quietly; an afterthought perhaps, but more like he wasn't sure he wanted to hear the answer.

"He's . . . he's restin', too," Buck hedged.

He didn't know why he didn't want to say more, but he didn't. Maybe it was because he just didn't want to think about Vin trying to walk again, or watching Chris watch Vin suffer . . . or about what Nathan had done and what the consequences of that could be.

"For heaven's sake, Buck, answer the question."

He'd never heard Ezra quite so out of sorts, but they were all wore out so he let it slide. "Leg's broke. He ain't breathin' so good. And Nathan . . . Nathan had t' give him . . . somethin' t' help him rest."

"What?" Ezra's voice rose sharply in the darkness.

He shouldn't have mentioned it, though Buck was never sure which side of the morphine argument Ezra was on the last time. Buck didn't know what he thought himself, until just that moment when he replied, "He had to. Vin was sufferin' somethin' awful and Nathan couldn't do what he needed to with Vin thrashin' about like he was." His voice thick with emotion, he added, "He didn't have a choice, Ezra."

And he didn't. Buck would have done the same thing if he had to. It just wasn't right watching a man hurt like that when there was something right there to make it better.

"He most certainly did have a choice! Dear Lord, do you have any idea what the ramifications of this could be?"

Suddenly defensive, Buck replied, "No. And neither do you. This ain't your forte, remember?"

"What I remember is a time when Vin was so filled with morphine that he couldn't recall his own name! And I remember the agony he endured when that drug was taken away. My God, Buck, why didn't you stop him?"

"Why? Because . . . because," Buck stuttered, "because it was the right thing t' do." He added more gently, "You weren't there, Ezra. You don't know."

Ezra stood suddenly, pacing in the shadows several moments before stopping abruptly and peering between the curtains to the moonlit streets below. "I know more than you think, Buck. I understand what it's like to want something so badly, to crave something so terribly that you are certain you will die without it. To feel that every breath you take is dependent on that one thing . . . that you would give up all you own and all you are for the object of your desire, your need. And it can take the form of many things, Buck; drugs, certainly, but also food or drink . . . gold, money, games of chance . . . sex, women. Obsession or addiction, it all amounts to loss of control . . . loss of one's true self."

"It was just one time, Ezra," Buck whispered. It seemed absurdly important to clarify that fact. "And Vin, he needed it. He needed it bad."

"He will now," Ezra answered sadly.

"Vin? What about Vin?" Chris's hoarse voice cut through the heavy mood that had swiftly settled in the darkened room.

"Nothing," Buck and Ezra answered as one.

"Vin . . . shit . . ." Whatever Chris intended to say was lost in a burst of deep, hacking coughs that nearly shook the bed.

"Get the tea, Buck," Ezra instructed as he placed an arm around the gunman's back to hold him upright. "I think his temperature is rising," Ezra added. "Perhaps it would be prudent to summon Nathan, as well."

Buck handed a cup of the brew to Ezra and said, "Okay, but . . ."

"Vin . . . tell him . . . he doesn't know . . ." Chris interrupted, but his words were once again cut off by the congestion that clogged his lungs.

"I'm goin'," Buck said, unnerved by how sick his old friend sounded, not to mention the conversation he'd just had with Ezra.

Well, it would be alright in the end, Buck was sure of it. After all, they'd weathered worse and come out on top. Might have to bicker a bit about how to handle things, but hell, they'd done that before, too.

But Ezra's words about obsession and addiction rolled through his head as he made his way over to the clinic. He didn't really get the man's point, although he was pretty sure that comment about sex and women was aimed in his direction. The more he pondered it, though, the surer he was that Standish was talking more about himself than Vin. Loss of control, loss of one's true self--or whatever the hell Ezra had said--none of that applied to Tanner. Vin was straight and true, through and through, no matter how many times he got knocked down. A little morphine wouldn't change that.

Besides, it was only one time. Nathan was right to do it.

He was even more certain of that when he entered the clinic and found Vin still asleep. Good. Tanner probably needed to sleep for a week and by then, everything would be better. The only problem was, Nathan was sleeping, too, and God knew the man deserved his rest.

He hesitated for a moment, feeling badly about waking Nathan, but his concern for Chris won out. Or it would have, if Josiah hadn't startled him. "What do you need, Buck?" Sanchez asked from the corner where he sat still and silent in the dark.

"Shit, Josiah! Scare a man half t' death, why don't ya!"

"I'm sorry," Josiah said in a low whisper that quickly reminded Buck to lower his own voice.

The big man rose from the shadows as Buck spoke, "Chris is getting worse. Fever's climbin'. I thought maybe Nathan . . ."

"I'll see to him," Josiah responded on a sigh. But first he turned his head towards Vin, then Nathan, in an odd way that set Buck to pondering what had gone on in that room after he had left earlier.

Josiah didn't say anything about it, though; he just lit the lamp and plundered through Nathan's supplies before turning to leave. "They're both exhausted," Josiah said on his way out. "Should sleep the night through."

That sounded fine to Buck. He was damn near done in and he'd just take the opportunity to rest a spell. But it didn't happen that way. In fact, it was only moments later when Vin woke up. It was nothing at first; soft moans and slight, stilted movements, and Buck thought maybe he could just sit close by and soothe the tracker back to sleep. But it soon became apparent that a few soft words and a gentle touch wouldn't be enough.

He glanced over at Nathan as Vin became more alert and more restless, but Jackson was dead to the world. Alright then, he could handle this, he thought nervously as Vin started to cough. It was a deep, tight, hacking sound that was nothing like Chris's cough, and Buck couldn't decide if that was better or worse. Either way, it hurt the tracker, judging by the way he suddenly attempted to sit up in bed with an audible groan. Vin braced himself on one shaky arm and wrapped the other around his chest, until Buck slid up beside him and held him up.

"Easy now, Vin. It's alright," he said in as low and calm a voice as he could muster.

But it wasn't alright because no sooner had the spell eased somewhat and Vin caught his breath, then he suddenly wrenched himself from Buck's arms and fell back to the bed with a sharp cry. His back arched and tears ran down his cheeks as Buck watched helplessly, uncertain as to what was causing his friend's distress and even more uncertain what to do about it.

"Vin? What is it?"

"Leg," Vin ground out between clenched teeth, and Buck felt ridiculous for asking.

Of course, which leg was the question. Chris had told him that Vin often got severe muscle spasms in his bad leg, but technically both legs were bad now, and really, when it came down to it, did it make a difference? Vin was writhing on the bed, so Buck called, "Nathan!" while attempting to reposition the broken leg and massage the other leg at the same time. But the healer didn't move; didn't even open his eyes.

Reluctantly, Buck left Vin's side and moved to Nathan's cot, roughly shaking his shoulder as he called to him again, "Nathan! Wake up!"

Nathan opened his eyes, mumbled something groggily, and fell back asleep within seconds. Four days and nights of hard riding with little or no sleep had finally taken their toll.

Buck was on his own.

Glancing at the clock, he was surprised to see that it had only been a few hours since Nathan had given Vin the morphine. It seemed like it should have lasted longer than that, but maybe Jackson hadn't given him much. He'd have to try the next best thing, he supposed. Nathan had made tea earlier and it was still warm in the kettle. He poured a cupful and reached for the laudanum. It wasn't the same as morphine so Chris and Josiah and Ezra shouldn't have a problem with it. Besides, Vin needed help and quick.

He held the cup to Vin's lips and hoped the amount he spilled down the front of his sick friend's chest wouldn't make too much difference. Tanner still had tears in his eyes and it tore at Buck's heart. It shouldn't be; Vin was too good a man to suffer like that. It didn't help when, within minutes, Vin threw up everything Buck had just managed to get in him.

He tried again to soothe the man with his voice and his touch, but Vin's eyes turned to his in agony and he mumbled brokenly, "Buck? Help . . . please. . ."


Of course he knew how to give the shot. He'd watched Nathan do it often enough and there was nothing to it. He could hear Chris and Josiah and Ezra in his head--condemning Nathan--and it wasn't right or fair. They'd condemn him, too . . . maybe more so because they'd think he should know better.

But they weren't there. Not a one of them was there to see what he'd just seen in Vin's eyes. It wasn't right.

No man should have to suffer like that, especially not a friend.

+ + + + + + +

Nathan couldn't figure it out. Vin was so deep under, he was almost unconscious. Momentary panic set in . . . had he overdosed Vin earlier? He was so tired, what if . . ?

He'd awakened that morning to the soft snores of Josiah, still stretched out in the chair next to Vin's bed, exactly as he'd been when Nathan fell asleep. He expected Sanchez would be a permanent fixture in the clinic for the next few days or maybe even weeks. The preacher would likely watch every move Nathan made in fact, at least until Chris was well enough to spell him. Well, that was fine. They could do what they wanted, but he wasn't walking out on Vin this time, no matter what.

But something wasn't right. Vin wasn't responding to him and his breathing was so shallow, Nathan had trouble detecting at first if he was breathing at all. He glanced over again at Josiah, badly wanting to ask the man if Vin had woken up at all during the night, but he decided he wasn't ready for the confrontation that was sure to follow. Although condemnation was probably a better word, especially when Josiah saw how wiped out Vin was.

Maybe it was the fever, Nathan thought as he ran his hand over Vin's forehead and neck. Tanner was warm, sure enough, but not so hot as to be completely out of it. Exhausted then; that had to be it.

Of course that was it. Vin was just plumb wore out after being on the run the last few weeks, not to mention fighting off injuries and what was working up to be pneumonia. Nathan took a deep breath to steady his nerves and wished mightily for a cup of strong, black coffee.

He wished he could check on Jacob and Chris as well, but it looked like that was out of the question, too. Because he wasn't about to leave Vin with Josiah. Not only wasn't Sanchez dependable, Nathan thought with a huff as he once again took in Josiah's sleeping form, but he probably would go so far as to deny Vin a drink of water if he wanted it.

Shaking his head at his own narrow-minded thinking, Nathan acknowledged that perhaps he was being a bit harsh. He believed that Josiah wanted what was best for Vin; they all did. But Josiah just didn't realize what Vin was up against. It was more than another broken limb - as if that wasn't bad enough, and oh Lord, it was bad enough. The problem was that Vin was already wore down; still not totally recovered from when he was pretty much crushed by that runaway stagecoach. They could all act like that wasn't the case, like Vin was just fine and normal, but he wasn't and no amount of pretending could change that.

And then he had to find Michael, and could that have been any harder or ended any worse? Well, yes and no, because finding Jacob ended up a whole lot worse for Vin, and Chris, too. Both of them soaked to the skin in freezing water for far too long and Vin . . . Nathan couldn't close his eyes without seeing Tanner and the outlaw tumbling over the edge of that rocky cliff. Top it off with four excruciating days journeying home, and it was a miracle Vin was still breathing at all.

That explained it then, why Vin was like he was. Still . . .

Nathan repositioned the broken leg on the three pillows he'd propped underneath, watching Vin's face all the while for the slightest hint of discomfort. Nothing; not so much as a twitch, and Nathan bit his lip in consternation. Soft rapping on the door startled him, and it seemed to take him long moments to find his voice. Even when he did, he could barely manage to mutter, "What? Come in . . ."

It was Ezra, looking drained and worried, and Nathan felt a flicker of longing; he never thought he'd miss the gambler's cocky arrogance. Everything, just everything was off-balance and wrong.

"Nathan? I'm sorry to disturb you, but I've run out of the tea and Chris . . ."

"What? What about Chris?" Nathan asked more sharply than he intended, his brain just now coming in to focus.

"He's been quite ill. He was feverish and restless all night, although the concoction you provided seems to be fulfilling its intended purpose, if the magnitude of nauseating expulsion from Mr. Larabee's lungs is any indication. However, as I mentioned, I have used the last of . . ."

"You look terrible, Ezra," Nathan interrupted. "You sleep at all?"

Ezra pulled his hat from his head and sighed in exasperation. "Terrible is quite possibly an accurate description because no, of course I have not slept. JD took patrol all night and Buck has since gone to relieve him. You and Josiah are needed here, and Mr. Larabee is in need of attention as well. So if you could please just give me more medication, I will be on my way."

Angry and irritated, by the way Standish said it and by the way his eyes narrowed, and Nathan knew there was more behind it than just exhaustion. He wasn't going to get into it with Ezra right then, though, because there were far bigger concerns. And Chris had just moved to the top of that considerably long list because without Larabee, Vin didn't stand a chance of coming out of this.

"Go on to bed, Ezra. I'll wake Josiah and then I'll sit with Chris awhile."

"You'll leave Vin?"

Leave Vin . . . only moments ago the very idea was unthinkable. But with Chris so sick, he had no choice. As badly as Nathan wanted to be at Vin's side, the man Vin needed most in that position was Chris.

Licking his lips, Nathan turned his head towards Tanner once more. "He's out," he replied softly, carefully masking the worry behind his words.

"Yes, he certainly is," Ezra said. And maybe Nathan was paranoid, but there was something accusatory in the gambler's tone and the icy glare he turned his direction.

"Wh . . . what?" Josiah growled, his voice rough-edged with sleep as he pulled himself up straighter in the chair. He glanced at Vin, before turning a puzzled frown on Nathan and Ezra. "What's going on?"

"I'm gonna see t' Chris. Come and get me if there's any change with Vin," Nathan clipped as he quickly gathered the necessary supplies. He slipped out the door without waiting for confirmation or looking back, but he paused on the landing. It felt wrong leaving, but he reminded himself that he wasn't abandoning Vin - he'd be back long before the tracker needed him.

+ + + + + + +

Nathan was irritated with him, that much was clear. But Josiah wasn't sure what else was going on with the healer. He'd seen something dark and worrisome in the black man's eyes, but maybe it was his imagination. After all, he'd only had a few hours of sleep and hell, he was just getting too old for all of this.

Of course, Nathan probably thought he'd slept at Vin's side the entire night. Jackson didn't realize that in actuality, Josiah had spent much of the long night helping Ezra with Chris. It took both of them to keep the man down; to sponge him off and force the medicated tea down his sore throat. Larabee was determined to get to Tanner, and the higher his temperature climbed, the more he fought them. The gunman kept pleading for them to tell Vin something, too, although neither Josiah or Ezra could figure out exactly what it was. It wasn't until almost morning when the fever finally broke and Chris slipped into a deep sleep that Josiah returned to the clinic.

He had found Buck dozing in the same chair Josiah was now perched in. Wilmington woke up and lit out with a murmured, "Gotta relieve JD." Josiah figured both Nathan and Vin had slept the whole night, just like he'd predicted.

With a deep groan, the preacher stretched his stiff limbs and glanced at Ezra. Standish was standing stock still, his gaze riveted to Vin, and if Nathan's eyes were worrisome, Ezra's were positively panicked.

"Is he breathing?" Ezra asked lowly, the words forced between choked breaths.

What? What?

And now it was Josiah in a panic, because dear God, Vin was pale and still and there was nothing, nothing . . . no slight rise and fall of his chest, no soft hiss of air, no indication at all that the man still lived.

He was out of his chair then, his strong hands gripping Vin's shoulders and it was all he could do not to shake the life out of him - or into him. "Vin?" he asked, and it came out like a gasp though he was shouting in his head.

Again he said, "Vin?" . . . three desperate letters that tore loose from his throat and trembled with fear. Not Vin, not now, not like this . . . Chris wasn't even there and he'd never forgive them . . .

There was a twitch, a slight movement behind the heavy lids, and Josiah quickly laid his head against Vin's chest. The slow, but steady heartbeat should have been enough to allay his fears, but still he couldn't feel the rise and fall of the slim chest. But it had to be; Vin had to be breathing for his heart to beat so surely, though Sanchez placed a hand over the tracker's mouth to be sure.

"Well?" Ezra asked urgently, frantically, and Josiah had forgotten the other man was even in the room.

"He's still with us," Josiah responded positively, though his tone held no reassurance. Something was wrong; something more than the obvious, something else.

Josiah's big hands were built for handling a hammer or hefting stone, not caring for the sick, so he cursed his clumsiness as he tried to lift Vin's eye lids and get a good look at the man's pupils.

"What are you looking for?" Ezra asked from over his shoulder.

"Nathan gave him morphine," Josiah answered succinctly, every syllable punctuated by the anger that lingered. "But it was hours ago. . ." he added under his breath, ". . . it should have worn off by now."

But constricted pupils, shallow breathing, and total lack of responsiveness made it clear that it hadn't worn off at all. Unless . . .

Eyes flashing, Josiah rolled up the sleeve of Vin's faded long johns. The small tell-tale bruise from the first injection was still there . . . only inches away from a larger, fresher purple area.

"I'm going to kill him." The words stood out like fresh black ink on pure white paper in his head, but he didn't think he'd said them out loud. Not until Ezra grabbed his arm as he spun towards the door.

"Josiah, please . . . we've had enough violence," Ezra pleaded, though Josiah saw his disgust and anger reflected in the gambler's eyes. Standish stood with him and Chris on the morphine issue, in spite of his plea for mercy on Nathan's behalf.

But the only man who counted was lying in the bed, comatose, for all intents and purposes, and Nathan wasn't going to get away with it. Succumbing to blinding rage was his weakness, Josiah knew that, but if ever there was a time to do battle, this was it.

"Get all of the morphine out of that cupboard and destroy it," Josiah commanded as he gestured towards the cabinet where Nathan kept his supplies, "while I speak to Nathan."

But Ezra shook his head. "No, Josiah. That's not the answer. I realize that of late it seems that Mr. Tanner is the only injured party in our community, but it would be unfair to deny others medical treatment if perchance it were needed."

Josiah reluctantly agreed. "Alright, then guard it with your life."

"I will guard Vin with my life," Ezra clarified, and it was good enough.

He felt the anger building as he made his way to Chris's room; red-hot and flaming and close--so dangerously close--to out of control. It was his weakness, his Achilles heel, his cross to bear - but justified this time, or so Josiah believed as he lunged through the doorway to the gunman's room. Nathan startled; jumped back from Chris's bedside where he must have been arranging the covers or tending the man in some way, and a flash of guilt rippled through Josiah. But the hesitation left as quickly as it came, doused by his need to find fault and strike back.

He flicked his gaze to Chris and saw that he was asleep, before fixing a glare on Nathan and demanding, "Outside. Now." Nothing more, and Nathan didn't argue, merely raised an eyebrow and followed along.

Josiah had only shut the door behind him when Nathan quickly spoke up, "What is it? Is Vin alright?"

They were in the hallway of the old hotel where Larabee slept when he stayed in town. A long row of rooms lined the corridor, but true to his nature, Chris had chosen the most private location at the end of the hall. Even so, Josiah consciously lowered his voice, checking his emotions as he answered Nathan's questions with one of his own, "Were you trying to kill him?"

Below the belt, and clearly not at all what Nathan expected, but he should have. The fact that Jackson was surprised by Josiah's attitude just proved that the man still didn't get it. Dear Lord, what would it take? For Vin to stop breathing altogether?

"Wha . . . Josiah, what are you . . .?"

But he didn't let him finish. Josiah slammed Nathan up against the nearest wall, pinning the dark throat with those strong hands. He lost it then; he knew it but he didn't care and he couldn't have stopped even if he did. "You come anywhere near him and I swear I'll kill you, Nathan."

Nathan didn't say a word, or at least, Josiah didn't think so. He heard nothing and felt less as he numbly turned away and marched along the long hall, down the stairs, and out in to the streets. He was suddenly weary, the energy fueled by anger dissipating with each step. But there was no regret; he meant what he said. With Chris laid up, it was up to him to protect Vin and get him through this, and that was exactly what he intended to do.

+ + + + + + +

The words reverberated in his head . . . "Were you trying to kill him?"

Kill who? Vin?

Nathan remained rooted in the hall, his hand unconsciously massaging his throat, as he tried to grasp what had just happened.

Were you trying to kill him?

What the hell was Josiah implying? Kill him! Dear God! Was Vin dead?

No. No, or else the threat would have been unnecessary. There would be no reason for Josiah to kill him if he went near Vin, if Vin was already dead, would there? No, of course not, so Vin must be alive. But something must have happened . . . something that made Josiah so angry that he promised to kill him.

Josiah would kill him? What the hell? Why? What the hell was going on?

"God, Nathan, what the hell is going on?"

His thoughts spoken aloud stunned him, and he whirled about to find JD standing in the hall, rubbing tired eyes and looking about as confused as Nathan felt.

"I don't know, JD," Nathan replied with a sad shake of his head.

But he was going to find out. Damn, Josiah, anyway. He had no right to keep him away from Vin.

"JD, I know you're tired, but grab yourself a blanket and lay down by Chris's bed, alright? He should be fine, but I don't want t' leave him alone just in case."

JD pulled his brows together and frowned, but he nodded. "Yeah, okay."

The walk to the clinic was endless as Josiah's words replayed in his mind. He couldn't imagine what had happened, or what Josiah thought had happened. Maybe Vin had come around? Maybe he'd said something? But that could only be good news, considering Vin's condition when Nathan had left him.

Maybe that was the problem; maybe Josiah was upset that Nathan had left Vin in such a sorry state. He had no choice really and Sanchez had to know that. They all knew that Chris and Vin were more like brothers than friends; linked in a way that meant caring for one was caring for both. Better for him to let Vin rest and work on getting Chris back on his feet.

Damn, who was he kidding? This wasn't about Chris. It had to be about the morphine again . . . still. Why the hell couldn't Sanchez let it go?

He thought about pounding on the door to the clinic with enough force to break it down, but everyone in town was up and about by now, and no one needed to know about their squabbles. It was bad enough how folks reacted to the situation with the boys and Vin; doubts and speculations that even bringing Jacob back couldn't dispel.

He used his key instead, though he met resistance when he tried to push his way in. Josiah gripped the edge of the door, his massive body effectively blocking Nathan's entrance.

"You're not welcome here, Nathan. I thought I made that clear," the preacher said.

"It's my goddamn place, Josiah!" Nathan shouted. Not just his place . . . his medicines and his books and his friend and his life, and Josiah would not keep him away.

Josiah may have had a few pounds on him, but he had a few years, too, and adrenalin coupled with desperation gave Nathan the edge he needed to squeeze past and propel himself into the room. The first thing he saw was Vin, still pale and unmoving, but alive, thank God. Ezra was there, looking more cross by the moment as he literally stood guard over Vin.

"We'll move him out of your place, just as soon as he wakes up from the coma you put him in. Now get out and let us do what needs to be done here."


"I'm not saying it again, Nathan. You've done enough damage. Vin's hardly . . . hardly breathing and how he'll . . ." Josiah swallowed as he searched for the words. But apparently he couldn't find them because he never did finish the sentence. He just gripped Nathan's arm and hauled him to the door.

Nathan fought back. No one treated him like that; not anymore, not ever again. He shoved Josiah's chest, causing the big man to momentarily lose his balance, but not his determination. This time Josiah came back swinging, his left fist connecting with Nathan's jaw and sending him sprawling to the floor.

But Nathan rebounded quickly and prepared to match his former friend's movement with a well placed punch of his own - until he came face to face with the wrong end of a gun.

"Stop this madness now or I will shoot," Ezra promised. "Both of you," he added, with a meaningful glance at Josiah, though his aim held true on Nathan. "Leave this room and do not come back until you can act like the civilized men you profess to be . . . or at least a reasonable facsimile thereof."

It crossed his mind that Ezra wouldn't shoot, and he could follow up a fist in Josiah's face with one in Ezra's. But the word 'civilized' hung in the air and pulled him up short. What had they become? Coming to blows at the bedside of a dying friend?

He turned a longing gaze to Vin. The last thing Vin would want on his conscience was the awareness that he'd come between his friends; inadvertently and completely innocently, but still another burden for him to carry to his grave.

And really, Nathan could protest all he liked, but the truth was that he'd given up the right to manage Vin's care months ago. He'd gotten Vin addicted to morphine, then walked away when it got tough. He had no right to be there at all. Josiah was right.

Words stuck in his throat, though he doubted Josiah or Ezra would have heard them anyway. So he left without speaking and without looking back at Vin, fighting to hold back tears at the bitter certainty that he would never see his friend again.

Part Four