TYPE OF FANFIC: gen humor
MAIN CHARACTERS: Nathan, Vin, Chris
Editors' Note: The original version of this story first appeared in the Mag 7 zine, Let's Ride #4, published by Neon RainBow Press, Cinda Gillilan and Jody Norman, editors. When we all decided to post the stories that have appeared in the issues of Seven Card Stud that are more than two years old, we opted to use a generic pen name because, while Kasey Tucker is the primary author of this story, she had so much help from the other folks writing for the press that it just made sense to consider the story to be written by the Neon RainBow Press Collective! Resistance was futile. So, thanks to the whole Neon Gang – Dori Adams, Sierra Chaves, Dana Ely, Michelle Fortado, Patricia Grace, Dani Martin, Erica Michaels, Nina Talbot, Kasey Tucker, Rebecca Wright Wilson, and Lorin and Mary Fallon Zane. Story lasted edited 7-8-2011. Art by Shiloh (email@example.com)
"Nate?" Vin moaned from where he lay, stretched out on a cot in the clinic. It was placed along the wall, just under the window so the tracker could look outside, something he insisted was absolutely necessary if he was ever going to heal good and proper. A blanket was wrapped around Tanner, looking like a cocoon that covered everything below his red, chafed nose, muffling the man's already hoarse and raspy voice.
Nathan Jackson looked up from his medical book, various homicidal scenarios tripping through his mind. The healer rose slowly, commanding himself to remain calm, and then crossed the room to the flu-stricken tracker. "What's wrong, Vin?" he asked in his best I'm-not-really-upset voice.
"Oh, Nate, uh, I was wonderin', would it be t' much fer me t' ask fer ya t' get me a cup 'a coffee?" came the plaintive request.
Nathan turned and stared at the coffee pot, sitting on the stove, which was less than ten feet away. "No, Vin, no problem at all," he replied, trying not to scowl daggers at the man in a way that would have done Chris Larabee proud. "I'd be happy to get ya a cup 'a coffee. I'll just walk right on over yonder…" He took five steps. "…and pour it fo' ya, okay?"
"Yeah, thank y', Nate. I 'preciate it," Vin sniffed.
The healer poured the steaming liquid to the accompaniment of a second voice, coming from the other side of the clinic. "Nathan?"
He ignored the moan following his name, pouring sugar into the coffee in indiscriminant quantities. He walked back and held it out for Vin as the plaintive voice across the room grew into a whine. "Nathan, are you still here?"
"Chris is callin' fer y', Nate," Vin said, taking the cup from the healer. "Don't y' hate people who whine when they’s sick? Know I do. That's why 'm over here. Couldn't take it no more."
"I know it's Chris, Vin." Nathan turned on his heel. Who else would it be? General Robert E. Lee? "President Ulysses S. Grant?"
Vin watched the healer leave, then frowned and shook his head. "Nate must be catchin' the fever," he muttered to himself.
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
Nathan crossed the clinic and entered the small alcove where he kept his own bed and stared down at the second, equally flu-stricken member of the group known to outlaws, banditos, and renegades as "The Magnificent Seven."
"Ya wanted me?" the healer asked.
Chris tried to offer the man a smile, but failed. "Oh, hey, Nathan, I was wondering, is there any of that apple cider left? You know, the cider Mary dropped off earlier?"
Nathan sighed. "I know where it came from, Chris, but I don't know if there's any left. I'll just go take a look."
"Thanks, Nate. I appreciate it."
"Yeah, I do know y' do. Both you and Vin keep tellin' me how much ya appreciate me every time I see ya."
"Always nice to be appreciated," the gunslinger replied. "How's Vin? I hope he's feeling better than I am. But I'm glad he decided to go use the cot for a while. I hate it when he gets sick – all he does is moan and complain. You ever noticed that?"
"Oh, I noticed," Nathan muttered softly. "Damned hard to miss." Then he said to Chris, "I'll go fetch that cider if there's any left."
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
Vin watched Nathan step back into the clinic from his sleeping space. "How's Chris?" he asked.
"Fine, he's fine. He just wants some cider."
"Damn, that don't sound half-bad. Nate, if y' wouldn't mind, I'd–"
"No?" Vin repeated, his blue eyes rounding, his expression hurt.
"No, I mean, no, I don't mind gettin' you some cider, too."
"Thanks, Nate," the tracker called to the healer. When he heard mumbling coming from that direction he called, "Hey, Nate, y' feelin' poorly?"
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
"I hate it when one of 'em gets sick or hurt," Nathan muttered under his breath as he stood, pouring two glasses of cider. "Don't get nothin' done. You'd think they'd sleep, like normal folks, but no, they just lay awake and come up with things fo' me to do. I was so sure I'd get that medical book read, and check on Mrs. Althorpe, and I wanted t' talk to Ming 'bout that new root he got all the way from China. And I still have t' get that letter off t' Dr. Beaudine, and that poultice powder is still only half-finished…" He sighed. "And I should check in on Emily, too. Make sure she's over that infection."
"Hey, Nate, y' feelin' poorly?" he heard Vin call.
Carrying the full glasses out, he handed one to Vin without comment, then carried the second over to Chris, who was blowing his nose with considerable fanfare. Nathan waited patiently until the performance was over and then handed him the glass of juice.
"Yo'r welcome." He turned to go, determined to reach his desk without being detoured again.
"Nate?" Chris questioned.
The healer stopped, his hand on the blanket that acted as a door. "Yeah?" he asked, his quiet voice vibrating with barely-held-in-check violence.
"Could you hand me some more rags? I ran out."
Nathan's shoulders rose and fell in a show of extreme control. How long did the flu last? It had already been seven days. Surely there was something more he could do to speed the process along and get these two out of the clinic and into their own beds. He was sure they could manage on their own now, but they still sounded sick, and then they turned those eyes on him and…
It hadn't started out like this. A week ago each man had been stoically facing the ravages of illness in his own peculiar way, each refusing help or sympathy from Nathan and the others who, at the time, felt compelled to treat them both like small, sick children. After all, Chris did have a tendency to get a little whiny, and Vin was definitely a moaner when he was feeling poorly. And both of them had tempers that set the other on edge when they were sick or injured, so they'd wanted to make them as comfortable as possible – to ensure both men survived the illness without getting himself shot by the other.
Of course they'd both refused all of their best efforts then. Chris had insisted that hot toddies would do the trick, and Vin had tried some Indian remedy he barely remembered from his time among the Kiowa. Both cures had failed, miserably.
And, when their methods of choice had brought them no relief, Nathan had found himself doctor, nurse, and mammy to two very sick, very embarrassed, very grumpy regulators.
"Sure, Chris, I'll get y' some more rags," he said tightly, stalking off to grab them. Returning, he handed the stack over, asking, "Anything else y' need?"
"No. Thanks. I app—"
"Appreciate it. Yeah, I know y' do. Why don't y' try to get some sleep? Maybe you'll feel better after that."
Chris set the small squares of cloth on the nearby table. "Yeah, thanks. I think I will give that a try."
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
Opening his book, Nathan found a comfortable position in his chair and started to read. He managed to get though two and a half pages, and then, he heard it again, that rough, raspy voice rolling across the room to drag him away from his work. "Nathan?"
He pushed himself up and crossed the room. "Yes?"
"Hell, Nate, 'm real sorry t' bother y' again so soon, but do y' got any more 'a 'em rags? I—"
"You two are doin' this t' me on purpose, aren't you?"
"Doin' what?" Vin asked, coughing.
"Nothing, nothing," the healer said, his sympathy re-engaging with the sound of the wet cough. "I'll get you them cloths."
The healer marched back to the shelves and retrieved the last of the rags. He would have to go get some more cloth and cut it up to make more. And it was probably time to burn the used ones, too.
Nathan brightened. I'll have to go to Potter's store! I can leave 'em here for a while – alone!
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
Nathan burned the used cloths first, and then he walked down to Potter's store to buy more cloth – the odds and ends leftover from the various bolts, too little for clothing, but invaluable for bandages and sick cloths. As he was leaving the store, he almost ran into Ezra, who was just walking back from the livery where he'd dropped off his horse. The gambler had taken Chris' usual mid-morning patrols – a supreme sacrifice for a man who went to bed near dawn and who didn't rise again until close to dinnertime.
"And how are our favorite invalids today?" the gambler inquired drolly. "Healing rapidly, I hope?"
"I wish I could say that was true, but it ain't," Nathan sighed.
Ezra shook his head sadly. "I would offer to relieve you of your onerous duty, my friend – for a short respite – but I find myself in desperate need of several hours slumber myself."
Nathan shook his head. "Wouldn't ask ya," he said. "I know you're ridin' Chris' patrol, and yours."
"Yes, and Mr. Wilmington has taken Mr. Tanner's patrol, which, I have heard – in far greater detail than I ever desired, I assure you – is cutting into his, uh, conquests, shall we say. The man's becoming decidedly surly as a result."
Nathan grinned. "Josiah can spell me 'round dinnertime."
"Warn him now," Ezra advised the healer. "Should give him ample time to pray for the necessary patience he'll require while attempting to conciliate those two."
That made the healer grin. "It's bad 'nough when it's just one of 'em that's hurt, or sick, but both of 'em?" He shook his head.
"You have my utmost admiration and respect for your dedication to duty, Mr. Jackson. Had it been me, I would have shot them both, several days ago, and put them both out of my misery." And with that Ezra continued to the saloon and his room where his feather bed awaited.
Nathan started back to the clinic, his thoughts on any other cures – Apache, Seminole, or Chinese – that he might have forgotten or overlooked, and that might work on the two men.
He stumbled to a stop and smiled, nodding to himself. "That might just do the trick," he said and turned, hurrying back to Potter's store to pick up an item he'd seen in one of the glass cases.
Returning to the clinic from his trip to Potter's, Nathan proceeded on tiptoe past the sleeping tracker, who was now sprawled on the cot by the window. He went straight to his desk to put his "cure" into motion.
With the necessary items prepared, Nathan occupied himself by finishing another chapter in his medical book, wrote his letter to Dr. Beaudine, and finished preparing the poultice powder.
He stepped outside to shake out a cloth and heard a slow creak as Tanner rose from the cot. Nathan smiled, listening to the footfalls that told him Vin was headed back to the bed where Chris lay. Once he heard the tracker settle in beside the gunslinger, and then the soft tones of the two men speaking, the healer stepped back inside and grabbed his props, heading straight for the two men.
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
Like a pair of wheezing book ends the two regulators lay side by side in the bed, buried beneath the covers, their noses red, cloths clutched in one hand, the other gripping some item meant to make their condition bearable, like sick children clinging to dolls or blankets. Only in this case Chris cradled his Colt and Vin his mouth organ. They looked so much like two young boys that, for a brief moment, Nathan considered sparing them, but the intruding memory of the repeated trips back and forth across the room dispelled that charitable notion.
The healer remained in the makeshift doorway, flipping his medical book open at random. "Hey, got some good news fo' the two of ya," he said. "I've been doing some reading and I think I've come up with a cure."
"How could you come up with a cure, Nathan?" Chris grumbled. "Doctors can't even do that."
"Well, I ain't no doctor, that's true, but I can read, and I know what the Indians and the Chinese do for their own."
"He's got y' there, Cowboy," Vin said, nodding. "What've y' come up with, Nate? Some new powder that tastes worse 'n what y' usually make me drink?"
"Nope, it ain't a powder. It's a tincture."
"Damn, Nate, yer startin' t' sound like Ezra, tossin' 'round them five-dollar words like that," Vin interrupted, then blew his nose.
Nathan snapped the medical book closed and tucked it under his arm. "Well, from what I've been able to figure out, we need get this here tincture right into yo'r lungs so it can break up that congestion."
"Just like that?" Chris asked skeptically.
"Just like that," Nathan said with a nod. "Y' see, the phlegm in yo'r lungs is what makes y' sick, builds the fever, makes it hard fo' y' to breath."
"Like lung fever, but not as bad?" Chris cut in to ask.
Nathan smiled and nodded again. One down, one to go. "That's right. Y' see, this here tincture will melt that phlegm so you can cough it right up, and that'll make y' feel better."
"Sounds too easy, if y' ask me," Chris muttered.
"How y' goin' t' get this tin-tor int' our lungs?" Vin asked. "Steam tent?"
"Well, I thought 'bout that for a long spell, but I don't think you can breathe in enough to do the job good and proper. But I think I've come up with a way."
"Nate, c'n y' jus' get t' the point? 'M gettin' tired jus' listenin' t' ya."
"Sure thing, Vin," the healer said and, reaching into his pocket, he removed a large metal syringe. He held it up with a smile, noting with satisfaction how the sunlight from the window played off the shiny surface and the pointy tip.
"What's that?" Vin squeaked, his voice two octaves higher than the last time he'd spoken.
Chris shot his friend a worried look and they both looked ready to bolt for the door.
"Well, they usually use this fo' horses and cattle, but—"
"That's a— a— Hell, I don't know what the hell that is, but it's damned big, that's what that is!" Vin protested, his gaze locked on the shiny item.
"It's a syringe," Nathan replied. "Y' see, all I have to do is push this needle right into your lung and—"
"Y' want t' push that int' m' lung?" Vin cut in. He looked over at Chris. "He wants to push that int' m' lung! Yers, too!"
Chris paled noticeably, making his raw, red nose much more pronounced. "Nathan, you're not serious about this, are you?"
Nathan put on his best doctoring face. "O' course I am. I want to help y' get well."
"Uh, Nate, 'm feelin' a whole lot better already," Vin said, sitting up. "Must've been that cider earlier, or that nap, or maybe it was them powders y' kept forcin' down m' gullet the past few days."
"Yeah," Chris agreed, nodding. "I'm feeling some better, too. I was just telling Vin how much better I was feeling, wasn't I, Vin? So, I don't think you'll need to try this new cure of yours on us."
"Y' sure?" Nathan asked them. "Y' really feeling better? Both of ya?"
"Better?" Vin asked, shaking his head energetically. "Hell, Nate, I'm not feelin' better, 'm feelin' fine – damn sight better 'n fine even." He forced a smile.
The two men sat up in the bed.
"In fact, 'm feeling so much better, why, think I'll go on over 'n' take me a bath," Vin said.
"Think I'll come along," Chris quickly added. "Just t' make sure you get there without fallin' down. Appreciate all your help, Nathan. Can we give you a hand putting any of this stuff up?"
The healer fought to keep the smile off his face. "No, that's all right, I can do it… if you're sure?"
"Oh, we feel fine, Nate. Good as new," Vin assured him. "Right, Cowboy?"
"Well, all right then. Guess I'll go on over and check on Emily Trace. Her ma tells me she's got a fever. But if y' start feelin' poorly again, y' just let me know and we'll try this cure out, all right? I'm sure it'll work."
The two men nodded.
Nathan sighed and slipped the syringe back into his pocket, then disappeared into the clinic proper.
Chris and Vin waited until they heard the healer leave for the Trace home before they both collapsed back onto the bed.
"Still feels like 'm goin' t' die," Vin groaned softly.
"Shh, don't say that!" Chris hissed softly. "You do, Nathan'll come back and practice medicine on us."
"Y' think he's mad at us? I mean, 'bout all the fetchin' and carryin' he's been doin' fer us?"
"You were the one asking him to do all the fetching and carrying."
"Me? Hell, Larabee, yer the one who made 'im bring y' that cider," Vin whispered hotly.
"After you asked for coffee."
"Ah, hell," Vin moaned, "maybe we both took advantage of 'im, huh?"
"Yeah, I guess maybe we did."
"All I know is, no matter what I feel like t'morrow, 'm goin' t' be just fine. Did y' see the size of that damned thing?"
"Hmm," Chris concurred, nodding. "Wonder where it was supposed to go."
Vin shuddered. "Ah hell, Cowboy, that's goin' t' give me nightmares fer a week – at least! Damn. Y' don't think he'd used that thing on little Emily, do ya? Likely scare the poor kid t' death!"
"I doubt it. You know how much Nathan likes children."
"Hell, Cowboy, thought he liked us, too."
Chris frowned. "You've got a point…"
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
Standing outside, listening, Nathan smiled broadly. He leaned back against the wall, basking in the memory of their expressions. Tomorrow he would keep an eye on them, make sure they really were on the mend, but he'd also get some of the things he wanted to get done finished as well.
* ~ *