Misplaced Guilt

by Wgang

Disclaimers: Mag7 does not belong to me. This is for fun.

Notes: Old West story, I have altered the episode Obsession and then made up my own ending.

Summary: Vin leaves the morning after telling Chris about Ella. Chris is consumed by guilt because he ran Vin off with his words and attitude and vows to go after his chosen brother when he recovers from his wound. Vin deals with his own guilt when he hears what happened at the Gaines ranch.

Vin Tanner spent a cold lonely night around the campfire and as soon as it was light enough to see he was on his horse and riding as fast as he could away from the Gaines ranch. If he never saw Ella Gaines again it would be to soon.

As he crested the hill he glanced back one time hoping to catch one last glimpse of Chris, his best friend, his brother, his soul mate. Sighing when everything remained quiet Vin rode on determined to put as much distance between him and the lying bitch that he could.

Vin was still hurt by Chris's comment of the night before. When the blond had glared at him, a look that had never been leveled at Vin before, and snarled 'I'm going to forget you said that' Vin had been devastated.

Finding out that Ella was lying about everything had given Vin hope that Chris would see the light. There had always been something not quite right about the woman but even when he had the evidence that she was a lying bitch Chris had still chosen her over his friends...over Vin.

There had been nothing left for Vin to do but leave and he couldn't help but notice that when he had told Chris that he would be leaving the next morning the blond had just stared at him, anger radiating from his tense body.

So it was that Vin was several miles away when Chris found out the truth about Ella and shooting erupted at the ranch. When it was finished, Hilda was dead as well as most of Ella's men. Chris was shot though Nathan said he would be fine. Ella Gaines had escaped and everyone knew that she hadn't given up on having Chris as her husband and would be back.

It was a very somber group of men who made their way back to Four Corners. Josiah carried Chris to Nathan's clinic, the healer already hurrying up the stairs, JD took care of the horses while Buck and Ezra took the prisoners to the jail. After they were done, they headed over to the saloon hoping to see their longhaired sharpshooter sitting at one of the tables.

Inez informed them that Vin had not been in town, which caused the two me to glance at each other in concern. Of course Vin had said good-bye to everyone last night but they had truly thought that after he thought about it he would just come back to town...after all it was his home.

However it looked like Chris's words had cut deep and Vin was off licking his wounds, they could only pray that their young friend would see the light and come home. Because if Vin Tanner wanted to hide then no one would be able to find him.

As the weeks passed Chris slowly recovered. When Nathan allowed him to he would sit on the boardwalk gazing down the street hoping against hope that he would see the big black nasty tempered Peso coming down the street with that ornery stubborn Vin Tanner on his back.

But it never happened; Chris never really thought it would happen. Vin was a very understanding young man, but he gave his trust sparingly. Chris had taken that trust and thrown it back in Vin's face by refusing to acknowledge that Vin might be right about Ella. Chris remembered to his shame the harsh words and the terrible look he had given Vin. A look he reserved for criminals or those people he couldn't stand to be around...and God help him he had given Vin that very look.

Chris had already made up his mind, when he was able to ride, he was leaving town and not coming back until he had his chosen brother riding by his side.

The one thing Chris worried about was that Vin had headed to Tascosa to turn himself in and to clear his name. To that end he had sent Josiah and Ezra to the Texas town to keep an eye out for the sharpshooter.

Surprisingly Ezra didn't put up a fuss about riding all the way to Tascosa. Ezra was missing Vin though he would never admit it to anyone. Vin had a way about him that put everyone at ease, Ezra missed that, he missed the dry humor of his friend...hell he just missed Vin Tanner.

Meanwhile Vin Tanner was wrestling with his own bout of guilt. After wandering from town to town he realized that he needed to go home. Even if Chris wasn't there Four Corners had still become home, the rest of the guys were there even if his brother wasn't. Stopping in a town just a few miles from Four Corners Vin was in the saloon and recognized a couple of the men that worked out at the Gaines ranch. Once the men saw Vin they tried to sneak away which made Vin suspicious and he cornered them in the alley.

Staring down the muzzle of Vin's gun the men told him everything. They told of how Ella arranged to ambush the Four Corners peacekeepers as they slept so Chris would be all hers. They had also blown Vin's mind when they had divulged the fact that it had been the crazy woman who had ordered Chris's family killed. When they told of how Chris had been shot and Ella had escaped Vin had just wanted to die. If he had swallowed his damn pride and stayed then maybe Chris wouldn't have been shot and Ella would be dead for what she did to the blond's family.

Vin was sure that he was to blame for the whole fiasco; he had run out on his brother and the guys. Chris Larabee hated people who ran out on him; my God it had taken months for Ezra to get back in his good graces after the whole Soldiers of The Confederacy problem. This time Chris had been shot, the murderer of his family had escaped and Vin was nowhere to be found. Vin was sure Chris hated him and he didn't blame the blond.

Vin then set himself a goal, he would find Ella Gaines and turn her over to Chris that was the least he could do. It wouldn't make up for running out but it would make Chris feel better.

So it was a couple of months later and Vin was camped out just a few miles from Four Corners. Tomorrow he would get his prisoner to Chris and then his debt would be paid at least as much as he could pay it. Then he would head to Tascosa and finish that up, it would probably end with him hanging but at least it would be over.

Vin looked across the campfire and met the hate filled vicious eyes of Ella Gaines. Vin couldn't help the slight shiver that coursed through his body; the woman was as cold as a snake and more vicious than a hungry wolf pack.

Vin had tied the woman's hands in front of her so she could feed herself, he had tried once to feed her but to his shock she had sunk her teeth into the meaty skin between his thumb and finger, damned hand still stung and hurt like a son of a bitch.

Speaking of bitches Vin sighed as the woman began to snarl at him.

"You think Chris will thank you for bringing me back tied up like a common criminal...think again. Chris loves me, you told him lies about me and made him doubt our love, but that will change. You're nothing but a low life saddle bum, just a piece of shit that my Chris puts up with and feels sorry for. I mean really what do you have to offer someone like Chris Larabee?"

Vin barely stopped himself from flinching at her cruel harsh words. The woman had been slinging her barbs at him for five days ever since he had grabbed her so he could take her back to Four Corners to face justice. It had been ridiculously easy to grab her; she had been so supremely confident that she had gotten off Scot-free. After Vin had questioned the two men he had a pretty good idea where to start looking for her and he found her.

Now all he had to do was to get her to Four Corners and then he could get on with the rest of his life or at least as much of it as he had left, after getting to Tascosa he figured it would be cut short.

Ella smiled cruelly she knew she was getting to the young man, she had checked everything out before she had gone after Chris. Her spies had told her all about the friendship...no the brotherhood between Chris and this young man. Ella was jealous of anyone being closer to Chris than she was.

That was why she had planned on Chris's six friends dying at her ranch, and then her plans had fallen apart. First this saddle bum had told her Chris something to make him doubt Ella's lies, then her men failed to kill any of Chris's friends.

But it all came back to Vin Tanner; he was the one to blame. The one that had made it impossible for her to have the life she wanted. Chris and her should be married and living happily on the ranch but no Tanner had fucked that up. Therefore she would hurt him in anyway she could, be it mentally, emotionally or physically.

Ella laughed out loud as she remembered his look of stunned shock when she had bit him, she couldn't help but remember the taste of his blood in her mouth. If she had her way more of his blood would be shed and then no one would stand between her and her beloved Chris.

Of course Ella knew that Tanner wasn't at his best right now. Her mind games were working and she had seen his hand earlier, where she had bit him was infected and she couldn't help but wonder about the wounds he had sustained when he had grabbed her. Ella had fought like a wild cat and Vin even though he hated her had a problem with hitting a woman. Vin had taken the hits and kicks but when her fingernails had raked down his ribs and side he had exploded and knocked her unconscious. She could only hope that those scratches were also infected and if the flush on Tanner's face and the bright blue eyes were any indication they probably were.

"Do you really think Chris will allow them to hang me, he loves me? But you on the other hand, you're a wanted man, I told you I did some checking and I know all about the bounty. I will be standing in the crowd when they put the noose around your neck and I will cheer when you are gagging and turning blue as your body drops through the door. Chris won't lift a hand to save you, you ran out on him, he hates that."

Vin tried not to respond to the woman, but finally he couldn't handle anymore and he gagged her. When he went to sleep he tied her to a tree praying he might get a little rest, he hadn't slept decently ever since he had ridden away from her ranch all those weeks ago. This night wouldn't be any different from all the others though as nightmares plagued his sleep.

In the nightmares Chris was screaming at him calling him a coward blaming him for the boys dying because he ran off. In others he was hanging while his friends stood in the crowd yelling that it was justice because he ran out on them. The worst one was the one where he arrived in town just in time to see Chris's coffin lowered into the ground after he had succumbed to the wound he had suffered at the Gaines ranch.

Bright and early the next day Vin got Ella on her horse and tied her hands to the pommel, he kept her gagged, he was afraid that to much more of her mouth he might truly shoot her.

While he wasn't looking forward to going into town and facing Chris and the others he knew that was the only way to get Ella to jail. Besides he might feel better if he apologized for abandoning them.

About a mile from town Vin lucked out as he ran into Sam Gelancher a local farmer and a man you could count on.

Vin told Sam who Ella was and what she had done and convinced him to take her into Four Corners. Sam tried to get Vin to go with him, he knew that something had happened weeks ago and Vin had not returned with the others and he also knew that Larabee was planning on finding Tanner.

Sam looked closely at the younger man and didn't like the way he looked. Vin had a high flush on his cheeks, his eyes were fever bright and his hands were trembling slightly.

Sam watched as Vin turned to Ella telling her that he hoped she died a nice slow death then the tracker rode off. Sam couldn't help but notice that Vin was riding slow and wasn't to steady in the saddle.

Riding faster than he normally would Sam really didn't care if the woman was comfortable with the pace or not.

Reaching town Sam drug her off the horse and shoved her into the jail where a startled JD and Buck jumped to their feet.

When Buck laid eyes on the woman who had killed sweet Sarah and Adam he snarled and went for her throat. Just then Josiah walked in and grabbed Buck as Ella was shoved into a cell.

Buck was livid and all but begged to have just five minutes with the heartless bitch.

Ella had to admit that despite her bravado with Tanner she was scared but she was still convinced that Chris loved her he was just upset at the moment.

Buck's attention was drawn away from the woman when Sam mentioned that Vin had turned her over to him just outside of town. When Sam explained how ill Vin had looked Buck had stormed out of the jail to get Chris, he wanted to be the one to tell Chris about Ella and then give him the good news that Vin was close by. Buck didn't doubt that Chris would go after the wayward tracker immediately.

Nathan had given Chris a clean bill of health the day before and they had planned on taking off the next day to find Vin. Chris had suffered a relapse a few weeks ago when he had tried to do too much to early and had left his bed to find his brother and had suffered for it.

Chris was leaving the hotel when Buck accosted him, a look of sheer fury and hatred crossed Larabee's face when he heard Ella was in jail. Then a look of joy followed when he heard Vin was close by, of course he worried because Vin refused to come into town but he would make sure Vin knew that he had done nothing wrong, the blame lay with Chris for running the younger man off.

Chris told Buck to saddle their horses while he went to the jail.

Chris walked into the jail to find Sam still there with Josiah and JD. Chris ignored them and walked up to the cell but not close enough for the woman who was now untied to touch him.

"Oh...Chris my love. I knew you couldn't stay away, please tell these...these men to let me go," Ella babbled her crazy eyes pinned to the blond who she had always loved.

"No way in hell, I can't wait to see you hang. I'm going after Vin now, I don't want him to miss your hanging either," Chris snarled.

As Chris turned to walk away, Ella smirked.

"Oh he won't, I'll make sure he hangs right along with me, him being wanted in Texas and all. Besides he won't come back with you, poor baby blames himself for you getting shot and the fact that the others were almost killed. Of course I told him that he was right you would hate him, he ran out on you after all," Ella purred.

Chris growled, "How dare you say such lies to him. I will find him and bring him home. No one will believe you if you say Vin is wanted and if they do then I'll take him and we'll get far away from here. You still lose."

"If you find him in time. I'm afraid I was real unhappy when he caught me and well...you know how dirty fingernail scratches are and then of course he tried to be so gentlemanly and feed me. Well, Chris you know how I like to bite."

Chris felt bile in his throat, he knew Ella liked to bite but when she bit him it was in the throes of passion with Vin she only wanted to cause maximum pain.

"JD tell Nathan we'll be bringing Vin in and he'll need medical care. Josiah you stay here with her. I don't want her left alone.

As Chris walked to the livery, Sam was by his side. Sam told the blond gunfighter everything he noticed about Vin and Chris was very worried about his young brother.

Sam went on about his business confident that the two men would find Vin and bring him home where he belonged.

The two men followed the road out of town and easily picked up Peso's prints. Vin wasn't even trying to hide his trail, which was very unsettling for both men.

Thirty minutes later they saw a rider less horse in the distance just standing in the road something on the ground next to him.

Chris had no doubt that it was Vin on the ground, Peso standing guard over his master.

Sure enough as they galloped up, Peso just stared at them, after making sure they were friends he turned his attention to the grass he was munching on.

Chris was off his horse before Pony had completely stopped moving and was sliding to his knees by Vin before Buck had gotten off his horse.

Chris gently turned Vin over and cradled the limp body against his chest, Vin's head just lolled against his shoulder. Chris felt the heat from the slim body already making him hot.

"Damn, Buck he's burning up," Chris whispered his worried green eyes fixed on his old friend.

"We just have to get him back to Nathan and he'll be fine," Buck tried to assure Chris but he to was worried. Vin hadn't stirred since they rode up.

Buck gently grasped Vin's hand and unwrapped the bandage Vin had put around the bite mark.

Buck gasped at the wound, it was bright red with red streaks running away from the bite mark. It looked real bad with all the pus that was oozing out of it.

"I'm going to get on my horse you hand Vin to me," Chris ordered determined to get Vin back to town as soon as possible.

Buck wanted to argue that he could hold Vin a lot easier than Chris but he knew it would be a waste of words; Chris wasn't going to let go of Vin now that he had him back.

Once Chris had Vin sitting in front of him they headed back to town, Buck holding Peso's reins.

Vin's head rested on Chris's shoulder, the blond could feel his brother's hot breath on his neck. Vin's body was so fevered it felt like Chris was sitting right next to a lit fireplace.

Chris vowed that if his brother died then he would kill Ella right where she sat in the jail; he didn't care what happened to him if Vin died. Vin was his sole reason for going on, it was Vin who had shown him that there was more to life than revenge but if Vin was gone then all bets were off.

Getting back to town, Buck slid off the horse and pulled Vin into his arms then they hurried up to Nathan's clinic. JD came out and took charge of the horses, Ezra joined Josiah in the jail to keep an eye on the shrew who had killed Chris's family, tried to kill them and had hurt Vin so badly.

Nathan sent Buck to get a lot of water and ice, and then he and Chris stripped Vin out of his clothes covering him with a light sheet to preserve his modesty.

Nathan hissed as he saw the vivid angry red scratches running down Vin's side and ribs. Chris however paled then his eyes became green jewels of hate, his chin set and he growled under his breath as he started to stalk out of the clinic.

Nathan had no doubt that Chris was on his way to kill Ella Gaines and he couldn't allow that happen. Not just because Chris would then be hung for murder but for the young man who was lying helpless and had been that vicious woman's latest innocent victim.

"Chris, I need you here...hell Vin needs you here. It is going to take more than just me to pull this boy through. His fever is dangerously high, he could go into convulsions, and we have to get it lowered. The bitch isn't going anywhere besides do you really want Vin to live knowing that you'd been hung for murdering her. I think the boy already has enough unwarranted guilt on his shoulders," Nathan snapped out. He knew his words had hit home as Chris paused with his hand on the doorknob.

With his back rigid Chris turned around, he took off his duster and then walked back across the room.

"I'll help with Vin, I'll stay with him but I cannot promise you that if he dies I won't send that bitch to hell."

Nathan nodded it would have to do for now. Later he had every confidence that when...NOT if Vin recovered the young man would be able to control Chris, he had done it more than once in the past and there was no reason to think he couldn't continue to do it. Of course while Chris thought Vin needed him he wouldn't be going far.

Buck rushed in with water and some ice. While Nathan cleaned Vin's wounds and wrapped them carefully Chris sat as close to Vin as he could and continually wiped his brother's face, arms and shoulders down with cool water trying to get the dangerously high fever down.

Buck made sure Nathan had everything he needed and there was a constant supply of fresh water and ice for the men. JD remained right outside of the clinic and would get updates on Vin's condition and then run to tell Ezra and Josiah.

Nathan brought some of his medicinal tea over and had Chris hold Vin in his arms like he would a nursing child. Chris cringed at the analogy, if Vin heard that comment he'd be fighting them both like a spitting wild cat.

Nathan put the cup up to Vin's mouth but try as he might he couldn't get any past the clamped lips, even unconscious Vin wouldn't cooperate.

"Damn stubborn bull headed boy don't know what's good for him," Nathan growled.

Chris grinned at the comment, if Nathan was complaining then he must figure Vin was going to recover, part of the guilt resting on his shoulders left at the thought, he might have a chance after all of making things right with the brother of his soul.

Chris pressed his lips to Vin's ear and whispered to him urging him to drink so he could get well.

Vin kept his mouth clamped shut.

"Guess his subconscious is as stubborn as his conscious state," Nathan commented.

Chris frowned at the healer then snapped, "Vin Tanner open your mouth right now and drink the tea."

Vin flinched at the harsh voice, Chris hated to do it but it got the desired results. Buck laughed as Nathan put the cup to the injured man's mouth and Vin drank half of it down.

"Well, stud. Looks like your gentle voice hits the right cord with Vin."

Chris just glared at his old friend; Buck just chuckled as he asked Nathan if he needed anything else.

Nathan told him no so Buck said he was heading to the jail to check in with the guys.

After Buck had left Nathan got a cup of cool water into Vin, and then the healer urged Chris to lay Vin back down.

Nathan admitted that the bite mark was the one he was worried about; he just prayed that it hadn't gotten into the blood stream.

Chris hesitated he hated to let Vin out of his arms, the last few weeks without Vin in town at his side had been a nightmare. Vin was so easy to be around, neither one of them said a lot; Josiah said they could read each other's minds.

Chris didn't know what it was...this bond between them, but he never wanted to be without it again...never wanted to be without his brother again.

Finally Chris gently lay Vin down and began to wipe him down again. Nathan watched for a minute then told Chris he was going down to grab something for them to eat later and would be right back.

Chris absently nodded his head, his attention once again trained on the man in the bed.

For the next two days Vin remained caught in the fever, it would spike and it would be all his friends could do to keep him in the bed. The sharpshooter would cry out for Chris to help him, and then beg for the blond's forgiveness. Vin's nightmares forced his friends especially Chris and Nathan to relieve his horrible childhood and all the tragedies he had to live through.

Chris refused to leave Vin's side, which was a good thing because at times it was only Chris's voice that would calm the agitated man.

Nathan after the first nightmare had banned everyone except himself and Chris from the clinic. Buck was the only one brave enough to defy the healer, Nathan allowed him inside grudgingly and only because he knew that Chris needed the support of his old friend.

Nathan had not wanted all of Vin's childhood spilled to the men, Vin would be horrified if he found out how much he divulged when suffering from the high fever.

Chris made sure the men understood that anything that Vin said while delirious was not to be repeated to anyone and that included Vin himself.

Chris made it a point to stare especially hard at JD who was known to speak without thinking.

JD flushed knowing he was guilty of talking too much and promised to keep his mouth shut.

Chris only left Vin's side to go to the privy, he had tried once to go down and eat but Ezra had run in ten minutes later saying that Vin was upset and wouldn't calm down.

Chris had ran to the clinic to find Nathan and Buck pinning Vin to the bed as the much smaller man fought them yelling at them in some Indian dialect.

Chris had pushed his way to Vin's side and pulled the struggling body into his arms whispering soothing words to the sick man.

Vin had calmed almost immediately tucking his head under Chris's chin, his hand grasping Chris's shirt tightly in his fist obviously wanting to make sure that his lifeline didn't go anywhere.

Chris had kissed Vin's forehead not caring who saw him and gently rocked Vin back and forth until the shuddering body slowly relaxed.

It was at that moment that it all crystallized for Buck sure he knew that Chris considered Vin like a kid brother but at that moment he saw the old Chris Larabee. The Chris Larabee who had loved his family, joked around with Buck was back and it was all due to the young man the blond cradled so gently in his arms.

Chris had taken one look at the longhaired young man across the street and knew immediately that he had laid eyes on the one person who could make life worth living again. Something about the sky blue honest eyes beckoned to him, saw right through him to the real Chris Larabee, the one that had been buried years ago with his murdered family. Chris had felt the walls around his heart begin to come down and he finally allowed someone inside again, Vin had waltzed inside his heart and taken up residence like he owned the place. Of course Chris had done the same thing with Vin, the young man trusted him like he trusted no one else. At times Chris thought Vin's walls were higher than his own but Chris had knocked them down one at a time until he to found a home in the trackers heart.

Buck knew that Chris had allowed him back into his life because he now considered life worth living and Buck thanked God everyday for the chance he had to remain at his old friend's side.

On the third day Chris was sitting by Vin's bed. Chris had taken Vin's hand in his to let the man know he wasn't alone. A slight movement from the bed and Chris who had nodded off woke up with a jerk.

He saw the sweat glistening on Vin's face and reached out a trembling hand, a feeling of elation swept over him as he touched cool skin, Vin's fever had broken.

Just then Vin murmured something and long eyelashes fluttered then for the first time in weeks Chris was looking into eyes that held the other half of his soul.

Vin blinked confused, he couldn't remember what had happened but obviously he was hurt because he was in the clinic and Chris was staring down at him worry on his face.

Chris grabbed a cup and put fresh water in it and raised Vin's head giving him a drink of the refreshing water.

As Chris laid Vin's head back down he saw the blue eyes widen, a flush covered the pale cheeks making him place the back of his hand on one cheek making sure the fever hadn't come back.

The cheek was cool, but as he watched the blue eyes dropped from his face and Vin started to turn his face away. Chris clearly saw the look of shame that crossed the expressive eyes and face. Vin had never been able to keep anything from him, while others thought Vin was hard to read at times, Chris had never had difficulty reading his brother.

What Vin was feeling now was unacceptable and while Nathan might say he needed to wait until Vin was feeling better, Chris knew his brother. If he didn't get the air cleared between them Vin wouldn't get better, because he wouldn't care about his health thinking he had let his big brother down.

Chris sat on the edge of Vin's bed, he saw Vin tense up slightly at the closeness but he refused to move.

Slowly the blond gunfighter reached out and placed his hand under Vin's chin until he could see Vin's face.

"Vin, look at me...now cowboy," Chris gently ordered he watched as blue eyes slowly rose to meet his the anguish in them making his heart wrench.

Then shocking Vin to the core Chris said, "I owe you an apology. You were trying to protect me from that bitch and I refused to listen to you. What I said to you was nasty and uncalled for and the look I gave you...well I just hope you can find it in yourself to forgive me for that. That is not a look one brother should give another brother. I should tell you that even though I didn't want to believe you deep down I knew that you would never lie to me. The next morning I decided to check things out and found out you were right about everything and I also found out she was the one who had Sarah and Adam murdered. If you hadn't dug for the information about her, I would never have known and probably married the bitch. Your instincts saved me from a life in hell with a crazy woman."

Vin didn't know what to say. An apology from Chris was certainly not something he had expected since he knew he was to blame for everything that had happened.

"I...I ran out on you, Chris. I left you and the guys, you could have...have died and it would have been my entire fault," Vin whispered.

Chris felt his anger rise at the bitch that had fueled Vin's insecurities assuring him that Chris would hate him.

"Did you tell me you were leaving...okay...and did you tell the guys good bye? Well that's not running out on anyone. You told us you were leaving and it was my own stubbornness refusing to admit that she had fooled me that let you go. Vin, I have chomped at the bit waiting until I was healthy enough to leave town and find you. Buck and I were leaving tomorrow and I wasn't coming back unless you were with me. Hell I tried to leave a few weeks ago and had a relapse because I tried to do it to soon. I sent Ezra and Josiah to Tascosa to see if you headed there. I was going to find you, my brother no matter what it took. You are the most honest and trustworthy man I know and I'm proud to call you a friend and my brother."

Chris held his arm up for Vin to take in their own special greeting. Vin hesitated still not sure he was deserving.

Chris commented, "You don't take my arm, I'm going to figure you don't accept my apology and I'll have to get Ezra in here to explain it to you again."

Vin gasped his blue eye's flashing that was blackmail, Ezra would give him a headache just trying to figure out what all those fancy words meant.

Vin raised his arm, surprised to find that it took a lot of effort to do so, Chris grasped his arm gently and then released it.

Vin searched for the words to explain to Chris why he still thought he was partially to blame for everything but with that uncanny connection they had he knew that Chris didn't blame him for anything.

Chris knew that Vin was still fretting over the whole thing so he smiled gently and said, "I forgive you for being a good brother and friend, for looking out for me even when I don't appreciate it. I sincerely hope you continue to do so."

Vin smiled that was all he needed to hear, Chris understood what he was feeling and had put his mind at ease.

Just then Nathan and Buck walked in, Buck saw that Vin was awake and rushed forward to grab the young man up in a big bear hug. Vin squeaked as he was hugged tightly and then released only because Nathan tugged at Buck telling him to let go so he could check Vin out.

Everyone laughed as Vin moaned complaining that all Nathan wanted to do was pour that nasty cat piss down his throat.

Chris then stood up he looked down at Vin and with that silent communication he asked if they were okay now. Vin replied silently replied back yes they were fine.

Buck told them to quit the creepy mind talk and then informed Chris he really needed to go take a bath and get some rest.

Chris opened his mouth to tell Buck to shut the hell up when Vin sniffed the air, wrinkled his nose and said, "So that's what I smell is, I wondered what that was. I couldn't decide if it was more of Nathan's tea or a dead animal outside the window."

Dead silence descended on the room, the three men stared at Vin, whose blue eyes were filled with mischief and utter happiness.

Buck began laughing and slapped Chris on the back telling him that it had been to damn quiet without Vin's sense of humor.

Chris had glared at Vin who just stared back a look of pure innocence on his face. Chris was still couldn't get over how Vin could do that. A stranger looking at all four men would immediately say that no way could someone looking like Vin Tanner could ever do anything wrong. Why the blue eyes were clear as a bell.

Chris snorted but then there were those who knew Vin for the ornery, stubborn and deadly man he could be.

"Just you wait Tanner, I'll pay you back for that remark," Chris growled pretending to be mad as he stalked to the door.

"Wow, I'm scared now," Vin tossed back not a hint of fear in his voice.

At the door Chris turned around to send a sharp remark at his brother, he caught the flinch Vin gave as Nathan unwrapped the bandage around his hand.

Chris softly said, "I'll bring you up something to eat later."

Vin smiled but quickly frowned as Nathan said.

"Broth only, nothing more until we see how he handles that."

Vin frowned at the healer who just commented, "Talk about my tea smelling like a dead animal and you will pay the price."

As Buck shut the door he heard Vin trying to placate Nathan and heard the healer tell him to keep quiet or he wouldn't get any regular food for a week.

As the headed for the bathhouse, Chris detoured to the jail, which made Buck uneasy. Chris had not been near Ella since that first night. Vin had been his sole focus in life.

Stalking into the jail Chris ignored Josiah who was the one behind desk; he headed straight for the cell.

Ella saw him coming and jumped up smiling at the man she was obsessed about.

"I knew you couldn't stay away long, I knew you would come for me," she gushed.

"I only stopped by to tell you that Vin is getting better, he will recover and we will both be standing in the crowd as you hang and then we will celebrate over a beer," Chris replied.

Ella jerked back like she had been stung. Damn that stinking tracker was still alive and still in her way.

"To bad, I was hoping he was dying a slow agonizing death. He is the reason you can't love me Chris, he has filled your head with lies about me can't you see that," Ella pleaded her eyes filled with crazy hate for Tanner.

"Vin is the most honest person I know, he is my chosen brother and you, you will soon be rotting in hell where you belong."

When Chris finished talking he turned and left the jail leaving behind a screaming screeching shrew.

For the next couple of days Vin slowly got better and then he began to demand to leave the clinic. Nathan refused to let him leave until he had been fever free for another two days.

One day Nathan had to go to deliver a baby, Josiah stayed with Vin until it was time for dinner. Josiah glanced at his young friend and saw that Vin was still sound asleep so he went down to grab some food and bring it back.

Chris had taken to spending some time around town and in the saloon when he wasn't with Vin; he knew Vin didn't like to be hovered over.

Vin waited until Josiah was gone and then began to sneak over to the hotel where the guy's rooms were. He didn't usually use his room preferring his wagon but figured Nathan would let him stay in the room faster than he would the wagon.

The walk took longer than he thought it would and he was totally exhausted by the time he reached the alley next to the hotel, for just a second he leaned against the wall.

When the alarm was sounded for the fire he jerked and stumbled as he moved to go help...or at least try to, he went to his knees and stayed there for a few seconds waiting for his head to stop spinning, he began to think Nathan was right and he should have stayed in the clinic a couple of more days.

Vin couldn't know that the fire was discovered in an old abandoned building on far edge of town. Everyone rallied to put the fire out before it could catch any of the other buildings on fire and maybe destroy everything.

JD and Buck were on duty in the jail when the fire call was sounded. Buck made sure the back door was locked and locked the front door as they went out to help. Whenever there was a fire every able-bodied person ran to help.

After the fire was extinguished Chris and the guys started speculating why the structure caught on fire. No one was ever around it; it had been abandoned for years.

Ezra then calmly said, "Well whoever it was certainly got everyone's undivided attention."

That comment made the men freeze as they realized the whole fire was a setup to get them out of the way.

Ezra, Buck and JD ran to check on the prisoner; Josiah and Chris ran to check on Vin.

At the jail the back door had been kicked in and the vicious bitch was gone. Buck felt his heart drop as he realized she had gotten away then his whole body shook when he remembered how much Ella hated Vin and Vin wasn't back to full strength yet.

Chris and Josiah pounded up the stairs to the clinic; their hearts stopping when they saw the clinic door had been kicked in. Pulling their guns they entered the room, Chris rushing across the room to pull back the pile of blankets afraid that he was going to find the bullet riddled body of his brother.

But Vin wasn't in the bed, the blankets and the surrounding furniture and wall had several bullet holes in them, but no Vin.

Yet there was no blood either, and Chris knew Vin well enough to know that the young man wouldn't have gone anywhere without a fight.

Chris and Josiah headed back down the stairs where they met up with Ezra, JD and Buck. No one had to tell Chris what had happened he could tell by their faces Ella Gaines had escaped and there was no doubt in his mind that after escaping she had come straight to the clinic to eliminate the one person she hated.

But somehow Vin hadn't fallen victim to her brutality.

Where was he?

Chris sent Ezra and JD to check Vin's wagon, sent Josiah to check with Mrs. Potter maybe Vin had stopped by the woman's store to make sure she and her family were okay. Chris and Buck then headed over to the hotel to check Vin's room, he seldom stayed there but it was worth a shot.

As the guys were searching for Vin, Ella and her henchman were trying to get out of town. Ella was seething that she had not been able to kill Vin Tanner, but as they ran towards the livery she saw movement in the alley next to the hotel.

Pausing despite the fact that her escape was sure to be found out soon the woman saw Vin kneeling in the alley trying to get to his feet.

Revenge drove everything else from her mind; escape was abandoned, as all she wanted to do was kill the man who had turned Chris against her.

Snarling in rage she dashed down the alley her man right behind her his gun drawn. Reaching Vin Ella kicked him viciously in the side causing him to cry out and slump to the ground as the pain seared through him.

Ella hissed, "You have cost me everything you piece of shit. I am going to take you far away and take my time making you pay for ruining my life."

Ella nodded to her man who reached down and grabbed a handful of Vin's hair pulling him to his feet. Vin felt an arm go around his throat slowly choking the air out of him, he knew that if he lost consciousness all was lost, they would get him out of town and the guys might not find him in time.

With one last surge of strength he brought his fist down and back hitting the man on his groin, the reaction was immediate and not exactly what he was hoping for.

The man screamed in pain, threw Vin against the hotel wall and then doubled over in pain, his gun dropped to the ground.

Vin hit the wall hard and slumped back to the ground, his mind was screaming at him to get up and fight but his body was just to exhausted and his side was throbbing from where the bitch had kicked him with her pointed boots but he slowly tried to struggle to his feet.

Chris and Buck heard the scream and after glancing at each other they ran to the alley in time to see Vin bounce off the wall and fall to the ground.

The man holding his groin gave them an indication of what Vin had just done, which brought a brief smile to their faces? Vin Tanner was not a man to be counted out no matter how much he was hurt.

Chris felt his heart clench in terror as he watched Ella pick up the gun and walk over to Vin, she pointed the gun at his head and began to pull the trigger.

"ELLA, NO!!!" he screamed as he pointed his own gun at the woman.

Ella turned to look at him, a look of triumph crossed her face if Chris could break her heart then she would gladly break his and take away the one person he loved.

As Ella turned back around, Vin with his last bit of strength pushed the gun away from his head, just then a shot rang out.

Chris fired his gun praying it was in time, the bullet slammed into Ella who screamed she fell pulling the trigger as she hit the ground.

Vin felt fire race across the side of his head, he groaned as he slumped unconscious to the ground.

Chris screamed Vin's name as he ran towards his brother. Ella tried to clutch at the blonds legs as Chris just stepped over the mortally wounded woman.

As blood trickled from her mouth she whispered, "Chris...sss...I....lo...ove...yo..."

Ella Gaines finally died and was on her way to hell. Buck shoved her body away from Chris and Vin with his foot. The bitch could rot where she lay as far as he was concerned.

Chris pulled Vin up into his arms; the blood dripping down the side of Vin's face alarmed him, had he lost Vin to the crazy woman after all.

Buck seeing that Chris was only able to hold close the man who was the center of his universe knelt down and checked the wound.

Sighing in relief he said, "It looks like the bullet grazed him, its not deep Chris."

Just then Josiah, Ezra and JD came pounding up the alley, Ella's man was slumped against the wall, one look from green eyes told him that if he moved he would die.

"JD go after Nathan, tell him Vin is hurt and needs him," Chris ordered never letting his eyes leave Vin's face, Buck was trying to stop the blood flow from the wound, thankfully it was slowing down.

Ezra spoke up, "I will go to the clinic and get everything ready for Mr. Tanners return."

"Let me take Vin up to the clinic, stud. We can get him ready for Nathan and hopefully the boy will wake up before Nathan gets back," Buck said holding his arms out. He knew better than to try to take Vin out of Chris's arms, the blond would undoubtedly fight it.

Chris slowly nodded his head and let Buck take Vin carefully into his arms.

As Buck walked down the alley with Chris close beside him, Josiah turned to take the man to jail and tell the coroner that there was a body for him.

The man was pissed, Ella was dead, he wasn't going to get paid, and now he would either be going to jail or worse. Well he wasn't the only one that was going to trial.

Loudly he said, "If I was you boys I'd let me go. Ella talked a lot and I know that injured half-breed is wanted in Texas. I go to trial and I'll make sure everyone knows all about him."

Chris froze in place; he nodded to Buck to continue to take Vin to the clinic. As Buck vanished from sight Chris turned and headed back down the alley.

The man began to wonder if he would have been better off keeping his mouth shut as the man in black came towards him. As he backed away he was totally shocked when Josiah turned to face him pointed his gun and pulled the trigger, the bullet hitting him right between the eyes. The man fell dead without uttering a sound.

Chris stopped next to Josiah astonished that the preacher had in cold blood shot an unarmed man. Of course Chris was going to do that but that was to protect his brother from any harm, Chris would do anything to take care of the younger man, especially since he felt like he had failed Vin again by leaving alone so that Ella could get her claws in him.

Josiah calmly put his gun up and looked at Chris.

"Damn fool thought he could threaten Brother Vin, well guess he now knows different," Josiah said.

"Thank you Josiah, although it surprises me that you shot an unarmed man."

Josiah and Chris walked out of the alley, they saw the undertaker strolling towards them, and Chris nodded at the man and told him to send the bill to Judge Travis.

Walking up to the clinic Josiah stated, "Brother Vin is very important to me, while we are not as close as the two of you I do look upon him as a son. I was not going to allow Vin to be drug back to hang for something he didn't do. I figure I have enough sins under my belt that one more won't matter and this one was worth it. I do think this needs to remain between us; there is a certain blue-eyed tracker that would be consumed by guilt if he knew what had just occurred. Somehow he would think it was all his fault that I just shot that man."

Chris smiled as he replied, "Just between us preacher and you're right Vin would blame himself for putting you in that situation. Thanks Josiah."

Chris stuck his hand out and watched as it was engulfed in Josiah's big one.

"You are welcome Chris. Now you go on up and be with Vin. I'll check on the town and when JD gets back with Nathan I'll keep the kid occupied."

Chris rushed up the stairs in time to meet Ezra leaving for Mrs. Potters for fresh bedding, he had informed Buck that Mr. Tanner was not going to recuperate by lying on the blankets and sheets that had been shot up so he was going to procure some new ones.

Buck just nodded his head and proceeded to strip Vin down to his birthday suit, he growled when he saw the vivid dark bruise where Ella had kicked the man.

Chris walked in and hearing the growl hurried over to the bed. Chris lay his hand over the bruise and felt the heat rising from it, Vin probably had a broken rib from the kick.

"I am so glad that bitch is rotting in hell right now," Buck hissed his eyes snapping with fury and hatred.

Chris and Buck wiped Vin down knowing how Nathan always preached cleanliness and how important it was to keep the wound clean and free of debris. When the wound was as clean as they could get it they just had to wait for Nathan, with Vin covered by a light blanket that Ezra had brought up they sat next to the bed and waited, Chris checking constantly to see if Vin's fever was coming back, thankfully the tracker remained cool to the touch.

Buck cleared his voice and said, "I want to apologize Chris. I should never have left Ella alone in the jail. If I had remained then she would still be there and Vin wouldn't have gotten hurt again. I screwed up again, first Sarah and Adam and now Vin."

Chris turned his eyes to Buck even as he kept a grip on Vin's hand.

"You responded the correct way, Buck. You locked the jail doors and you went to put out a fire. You know that every able-bodied person is to respond to a fire or the whole town could burn down. As far as Sarah and Adam are concerned you didn't force me to stay away, I decided that...not you. You are in no way to blame for their deaths, I know at one time I said that but I was so bitter and angry I struck out at the only person at the time that gave a shit about me. I apologize for that."

Buck looked at his old friend, he had never thought Chris would ever be so candid with him. As far as an apology was concerned he figured hell would freeze over before that happened.

Buck glanced at Vin and realized that it wasn't hell that froze over, it was Chris's heart that melted and the fire that did it was named Vin Tanner.

Buck slapped Chris on the back and replied, "Hell stud. I accept your apology, I mean not that many people are going to put up the likes of the two of us so we need to stick together."

Chris smiled at Buck's attempt to lighten the atmosphere just then a husky soft voice whispered, "You...you got that right, Bucklin. Kind of hard...put...putting up with the two of you."

The two men glanced down and were elated to see Vin staring back at them. The blue eyes were filled with pain but they were clear so the fever was staying away.

 Buck stood up and shook his finger teasingly at the young man, "Now listen here, Vin Tanner. You best behave boy or I'll get some of Nathan tea and pour it down your throat."

They laughed as Vin grimaced at the thought of the nasty tasting brew. Buck told them that he was going to let the others know that Vin was awake. Buck also stated that he was going to check the town and see if there were any strangers around, make sure Ella didn't have any more men hanging around.

Chris put the chair closer to Vin's bed. If Ella had any other men hanging around and they tried to get to the vulnerable tracker they were in for a shock. No one would harm his brother while he was nearby. If they wanted Vin they would have to go through him first. He had left Vin earlier but it wouldn't happen again until his brother was on his feet and could defend himself.

After Buck left Chris asked the injured man how he as feeling and if he needed anything?"

Vin wanted to say he felt fine but he knew that wouldn't fly with Chris, besides the blond would be able to see right through the lie.

"Feel like I've been tromped by a bear and tossed down a hill. My head hurts and so does my side," Vin replied honestly.

Just then Nathan bustled into the clinic. JD had met him on the road and they had rushed back to town.

"Serves you right Vin, if you would remain in bed where you belong you wouldn't be hurting so bad," Nathan admonished the younger man.

"If he had of stayed in bed he would be dead right now, Nathan," Chris said nodding his head to the wall where the bullet holes could clearly be seen.

Vin slowly turned his aching head, his mouth dropped open as looked back at Chris.

"What exactly happened? I remember that bitch in the alley, some guy and a gun and...well that's all I really remember," Vin admitted frowning as he tried to remember what had happened.

Nathan stepped in and ordered Vin to relax while he checked him over, they could talk about it later.

By the time Nathan was finished bandaging Vin's 'thick head' as Nathan called it and binding up the two broken ribs Vin was out. Nathan had slipped a sleeping draught into the tea wanting Vin to sleep as much as possible.

Chris told Nathan to go on and get something to eat; he wasn't leaving Vin's side. Nathan thanked him saying that he wanted to hear everything that had happened while he had been delivering a baby. Nathan assured Chris that when Vin woke up he would be feeling better and might even be able to leave the clinic the next evening if he continued to improve.

Chris was watching as several hours later long eyelashes fluttered and then a slit of blue could be seen as Vin slowly woke up.

Vin sighed and then blinked as he woke up, damn it felt good to be out of the clinic then he realized that he was still in the clinic. The attack by Ella all came back to him in a flash. Vin sat up to fast making the room spin and he felt strong arms come around him pulling him into a strong chest, he instinctively started to struggle until the scent of his brother assailed him and he heard the soft firm voice telling him he was okay...relax he was safe.

Chris pulled the slightly startled young man closer into his arms for a heartfelt hug gratified when he felt Vin's arms go around him to return the embrace.

Chris vowed at that moment to do all in his power to keep as much evil as he could from touching his brother again... he didn't know how he would do it but he would have to think of something.

For the safety of the man in his arms he just had to, but right now he just wanted to savor the fact that they were all alive and Ella was dead.

An hour later Chris had filled Vin in on everything that had transpired the last several hours, except for the fact that Josiah had committed murder to save Vin's life. Vin could only remember bits and pieces probably due to the bullet graze.

Vin stared searchingly at his brother's face.

"Since the bitch is dead, your demons laid to rest now?"

Chris smiled, he reached out and gently gripped Vin's arm in their special handshake.

"I think so, but they were well on their to being laid to rest the day I looked across a dusty street and a pair of sharp blue eyes met mine and reached for my soul and when I reached back I knew that I had found my brother and the other half of my soul. A soul I thought had been lost so long ago."

Vin blushed a little at the sentiment, for he had felt the same connection, the same bond as Chris had that day and it had only gotten stronger as time went on.

"You know I feel the same way, cowboy," Vin replied his throat to choked up to say anything else.

Thankfully before it got to emotional the door was opened and five boisterous loud men entered the room. They were carrying cards; a table and some booze and set it all up in the corner of the room.

Since Chris refused to leave Vin's side the guys brought some entertainment for the two men. While Vin still had a headache he enjoyed the company, it was nice they were all together.

So while the guys played cards Vin would watch and then sleep off and on all under the watchful eyes of his five friends and one protective brother.

Four Corners was finally back to normal.

The End