It Wasn't Supposed to Go Like This

by Lyn

A Four Corners Adventure Tours story

The first story in this AU is Assistance

Written Aug/Sept 2015

Rating PG…Vin does get bloodied up

Characters: Vin and Nathan mostly but the others are mentioned and used just not as much as even I would have liked.

Not sure why but for some reason Nathan started talking and wouldn't shut up. Not complaining! Just surprised since he is one I have a hard time writing. He does talk about Vin, who I feel very comfortable writing about. But he just insisted on being the one to tell this story. It felt pretty good to have one of the guys talking to me after a long dry spell.

It wasn't supposed to go like this. It was supposed to be a long weekend of backpacking and camping, not this. Not with Vin laying at my feet, covered in blood and likely in shock. This sort of thing just didn't happen, except in movies and fiction stories. Not in this day and age anyway. But maybe I should start at the beginning.

Chris Larabee, our partner at Four Corners Adventure tours, had arranged for us to use some public land for our tours. It's some rough land, and the plan was for us to offer a 5 or 6 day survival type backpacking trip to guests with experience in long distance trekking. The idea was that we would drive to a parking area near the base of the mountain, then backpack in with the barest of supplies and live off the land for 5 or 6 days. The area was wild with only animal paths for trails. Other outfitters had done this, so it was nothing new. The difference was the length of time and location. Well, and of course we have Vin Tanner to lead it.

I don't say that lightly. Vin is just the best in the area. Josiah has often said that Vin is part wolf, part mountain goat, and part eagle. He's sure footed and has a keen sense of what is going on around him. He can track with the best and can always find the best spot to find food and water. And it's usually a beautiful spot to look at.

The seven of us are co-owners of Four Corner Adventure Tours, an outfitter business in the Sierra Mountains. Chris Larabee owns the land and also raises horses. He and his late wife had built a house on the land and planned to raise a family there. That all changed when Sarah and their son Adam were killed in a car wreck several years back. Chris was at loose ends for a time then decided it was time to get himself together (with a lot of help from old friend Buck Wilmington) and his horse business off the ground, bringin Vin Tanner on to help out.

He brought on the rest of us; Buck Wilmington, Ezra Standish, Josiah Sanchez, JD Dunne and myself, Nathan Jackson, as he branched out and started the adventure tour business as well. Chris was also acting Sheriff in town, so he kept himself pretty busy.

Vin and Chris spent months making plans. And Chris had set aside a week in the summer bookings for the seven of us to try the trip ourselves before booking anyone to do it. Then the day before we were all to leave Chris found out he had to stay in town. As acting sheriff he had been forced into a conference call the day we were to leave, plus the governor was coming through town a few days later. The mayor decided Chris just had to be there for that.

So it was decided the rest of us would go without him. After all, we had Vin Tanner. I know I've said that before, it's just that you need to understand that Vin knows what he is doing up in those mountains. Which makes it even harder to understand how what happened, happened.

Anyway, we all left early that Saturday morning and drove an hour to where we would leave the van. Then we all pulled on packs and started out. Buck, Josiah and myself had backpacked with Vin before, so were comfortable with what we were about to do. JD had only packed in a time or two so was the least experienced, but most enthusiastic of the bunch. Ezra was our reluctant member, claiming he was coming only under duress. And even though he would deny it, he was actually pretty good at it. I think he privately enjoyed the physical challenge.

We carried the barest minimum of things in our packs. Sleeping bag, tarp, 2 changes of clothes, long johns, wet weather gear (basically just oil cloth coats or ponchos), 2 skillets, one large size pot, metal pans that could be used as plates as well as a cooking vessel (Vin reluctantly allowed us to bring the pots and pans. He had other methods of "cooking"), a coffee pot (okay, even Vin agreed we needed this) and coffee grounds, a few energy bars, some trail mix and dried meat, fishing line and hooks, carabineers and rope in case climbing was needed, hunting knives, a collapsible shovel, basic first aid supplies and of course each of us carried a rifle and extra ammo, and on Vin's insistence a dart rifle with darts to knock out animals instead of kill. We were going into high country, no telling what we could meet up with.

Our one concession to modern technology were walkie talkies. There would be no cell service up where we were going and Chris and Vin wanted us to be able to communicate with each other as we explored and mapped out the area we would be using.

That first day was pretty easy hiking, all things considered, and we spent the night in a nice little clearing with a stand of trees at our backs that would help block any winds that might crop up overnight and a small pond for water. We were able to catch enough fish for both dinner and breakfast. Sleeping was done under the stars. Well, except for Ezra who had insisted on carrying in this tent type thing that was strung up off the ground by three lines. He said it was the next best thing to his feather bed.

It also made it easy for us to toss him out of bed the next morning so we could get moving again.

By mid day that second day Vin had found us a nice size clearing with a stream, plenty of sunshine and yet plenty of protection from any winds. It really was a pretty place. The stuff people want to see on calendars or on post cards. Vin assigned duties for camp set up saying that we would stay here for a couple of days and do some scouting. Josiah and Buck were to catch dinner. Ezra and I were setting up a fire ring so we needed to scour the area for nice size rocks and plenty of wood. JD was sent out to dig a latrine, using a stretch of rope to mark a path so it could be found even in the middle of the night.

Vin went in search of the rest of our dinner, walking off with a walkie talkie, a rifle, and his emptied back pack to carry back whatever he found.

Because we never worried about Vin when he was out here none of us realized how long he had been gone until the fire was built and the fish cooked and ready for a late lunch/early supper. Buck got on the walkie, which was a good quality with a long distance range, but got no reply back. Without even a word we all began gathering what we would need to go looking as Josiah doused the fire and Buck and JD gathered up anything that the animals might be interested in, including our newly cooked fish, and hung it from a nearby tree. Then we headed out in the direction Vin had gone.

Even though Vin hadn't followed a trail it was easy enough to track him and where it got dodgy he left a trail for us…a stack of small rocks, a twig broken and pointing in the direction he was heading, an obvious scuff of his boot, that sort of thing. He hadn't done it so he could find his way back…it was Vin after all so of course he could find his way back. He did it to practice what he preached. What he required of all of us and any guests he would lead later. We had done the same thing on the way up.

Still, even with good sign it took us over an hour to follow it and find him. And actually we were hearing sounds from his location way before we even got there. But we had to proceed cautiously.

Strange sounds for the middle of the wilderness. It was giggling. Almost like that of a child that was very happy with what he was watching and even included a little clapping. But what followed was worse. Josiah, Buck and I all exchanged a look when we heard it. It sounded like a bull whip. Followed by more of the laughter. Buck and Josiah motioned for JD and Ezra to hang back a little. They would follow us but watch our backs. And we began to slowly advance, rifles ready.

Buck was in the lead with Josiah and I flanking him. We all stopped dead when we came to the edge of a clearing and saw what was there. A large man, wearing dirty overalls and a flannel shirt stood near a tree, a large hunting knife in his right hand, a bull whip at his feet. He was the source of the giggling. He had one finger hooked over his lip as he studied something hanging from the tree, then smiled and reached the knife out and touched the item strung up, drawing the knife slowing downward.

 It was Vin, hanging by his arms, his bare feet barely touching the ground. His shirt and coat had been removed, as well as his shoes. His faded jeans hung low on his hips, his head hung low, his back facing us.

He was covered in blood. Down his back, soaked into his jeans, dripping off the elevated heel of his bare feet.

Before we could get past the shock and react, the man took his knife and placed the tip on another spot near Vin's shoulder and started to slide it down. That got us moving.

Buck entered the clearing first with Josiah and I on his heels, rifles raised and ready.
"Stop it right there! Drop that knife. Now!" Buck ordered.

The large man just turned and looked at us. It was obvious right away that something was not quite right with the man. His eyes were slightly crossed, what few teeth he had were brown, crooked and chipped. He didn't look afraid of us, or intimidated even, but you could see that it was taking a few seconds for him to process what was going on. But when it did the man grabbed hold of Vin, swinging him by his arms.

"No. Mine. He's mine, you can't have him!" The large man had his arms wrapped around Vin, the hand with the knife pressed up against Vin's side, blood oozing from under the edge of the blade being pressed into him.

"Drop the knife and step away! I'm not telling you again. Step away from him!"

The large man seemed to think about it before shifting again. "Mine!" he said then turned his back on us and raised the knife toward Vin once more. Josiah had the best angle to avoid hitting Vin and pulled the trigger. The big man turned, a look of surprise on his face before he took half a dozen steps, dropped to his knees and fell forward.

The three of us ran into the clearing, with Ezra and JD following behind us, still scanning the woods for any movement. Buck went to check on the man as Josiah and I ran to Vin. I moved around to Vin's front, moving my fingers to his neck to check for a pulse then, nodding at Josiah who wrapped his arms around the younger man, I reached up and cut the ropes holding Vin up, and slowly lowered his arms to his sides.

Josiah lowered himself to the ground, bringing Vin down with him, pulling him towards him enough that I could see Vin's back where the worst of the damage was. Buck came walking over to us, studying the pile that was Josiah and a bloody Vin.


"He's alive," I replied. "What about him?" I asked nodding towards the downed man.


Vin's back was bleeding, both knife wounds and whip marks covering his back and almost stripping the flesh off his back. Some of the wounds carried around his side and caught his chest. One of the whip marks had even caught his face, landing just a little low of his right eye. A narrow miss. None of the wounds were overly deep and some were barely oozing blood by now. But the damage was still massive.

"I can't do anything with Vin here. We need to get him back to camp. Can you carry him?" I asked Josiah. The big man nodded. Buck helped me lift Vin carefully so Josiah could stand then Josiah slung him carefully over his shoulder and started walking. As he passed JD and Ezra I heard JD gasp and Ezra mutter something under his breath.

"We should do something with him," I motioned to the dead man.

"Should let him rot," Buck muttered, then he turned to me and answered. "We've got nothing with us to cover him with or carry him out with, no shovel to dig him a grave. We've got no choice but to leave him for now, get Vin taken care of. Then I'll come back and take care of him. But right now we need to save Vin and get him some help."

Reluctantly I agreed. We had Vin Tanner. And he was alive. That's what mattered right now.

Going back to camp was faster but we were still cautious. JD took point. Josiah and I followed so I could keep an eye on Vin. Ezra, who had grabbed Vin's clothes, pack and rifle, was behind us and Buck took up the back, carrying the bull whip and knife for evidence. About halfway back I had Josiah stop so I could check Vin's pulse rate. He was holding his own so we continued, with Buck now carrying him and Josiah taking the rear.

As we approached camp, JD and Ezra ran ahead of us, starting a fire, laying out Vin's bedroll, getting water started boiling. Josiah and I took hold of Vin and laid him out on his stomach, his hands up near his head, then I grabbed my supplies and went to work.

That's how I ended up with a bloody Vin at my feet. Although it would be more accurate to say at my knees.

Buck and Josiah both stripped their now bloody shirts and tossed them into the fire so the blood did not attract animals, then pulled on clean ones.

There wasn't really much I could do but clean the wounds, apply a salve and wrap him in bandages, then get him off the mountain. I started running my hands over Vin, checking for other injuries while the water heated and Buck began throwing a few supplies in his pack.

"What are you going to do Buck?" Josiah asked from where he now knelt on the other side of Vin to help me.

"I'm heading down the mountain for help. Ain't no way we can carry him out of here. We don't have the stuff to do it." he replied still stuffing things into his pack as he talked.

"Buck, he don't have the time for you to climb down, get help and climb back," I had to add.

"I don't have to climb all the way down. Just far enough to get cell service or raise some Rangers on the walkie talkie."

"Mr. Wilmington, do you think it wise to go alone? After all, we do not know if that…animal…has friends or not that may be upset with his demise." Ezra had a point.

Buck paused. Everyone was used to Vin having all the answers when we were out here. It's not like we aren't smart enough to know what to do. Vin just seemed to quietly lead and we were all willing to follow. But Buck was just naturally stepping into the position.

"All right. Two of us go, the rest stay here and take care of Vin. No one is to be alone. Not even to go to the latrine." JD and Ezra were the fastest but the least experienced. Buck was the next most experienced but we might need his muscle with Vin and he would be most helpful if we had a visitor from a disgruntled friend or family member.
While they were deciding I was still examining Vin and not liking what I found. Dislocated left shoulder, both wrists broken (that had to have been excruciating hanging by those ropes on broken wrists) and what I found as I moved down his legs really shocked me.

"Damn." I muttered, shocked.

"What is it Nathan?" Josiah asked.

"His ankle. His Achilles tendon's been cut."

"What?" Buck stopped in his tracks. "He hobbled Vin?"


"What does that mean?" JD asked.

"It means, Mr. Dunne, that he is unable to use that foot and could be crippled. Are they even able to repair that Nathan?"

"Yeah, they can fix it. Recovery can be months in a cast. In the mean time it's gonna hurt like hell when he wakes up. I don't have anything strong enough with me to help him out for long."

The water was ready by now and Ezra brought the pot over. He returned a moment later with a silver flask. "Perhaps this would be helpful," he said. "For the pain or as an antiseptic perhaps?"

"Thanks Ezra. I'm gonna need some help here in a moment. His shoulder is dislocated and needs put back. Both wrists are broke so we need to immobilize and splint them. I need four nice straight sticks for splints. I don't have near enough bandages so I need a couple of shirts tore up, boiled and hung up to dry." Ezra jumped up immediately and went searching through his pack for a clean shirt. Josiah grabbed his pack as well and pulled out a clean cotton shirt, and Buck tossed him one from his pack.

"Okay, we're wasting daylight. Maybe we have two hours of daylight left. I want to have made some progress down this damn hill by then. JD, you're coming with me. Get your pack, sleeping bag and rifle and let's go."

"We'll take the jerky, trail mix and energy bars, and all but 2 of the canteens. We're stopping only when it gets dark and we're moving again at first light. No time for hunting and we may not find water. Josiah can keep you all supplied in fish to eat and you have plenty of water. Try and move Vin closer to the tree line when you can and get rid of any logs in this clearing. It may be big enough to land a bird in to haul Vin out of here." Buck nodded, satisfied with his decisions. "JD? Let's go."

Buck picked up his rifle and pack, then set off at a trot downhill, JD following behind him with a last glance at Vin's bloody form.

The three of us left behind looked at each other silently, then started working. Ezra dropped down next to us, prepared to help reset Vin's shoulder. Carefully we rolled him onto his side. I had Ezra hold him at his hip to help keep him from rolling over. Josiah held his chest, with one hand under Vin's arm and the other on his shoulder near his neck. I took hold of his arm just above the elbow and, hoping I didn't do further damage, pulled and manipulated his arm until I felt the bone slide back into place.

Vin didn't react at all. In fact he hadn't made a sound or movement since we found him. Yet I hadn't found any sign of a head wound. Chances are it was shock. Which meant things could go south really fast. But all we could do was keep Vin warm, and find a way to elevate his feet.

For now we were as close to the fire as we could be and still have room to work, and I was using warm water to try and clean his wounds. Once I was done we would cover him with a blanket…or three if need be.

After I reset the shoulder, Ezra started gathering rocks for a second fire ring, choosing a spot near a 20 foot smooth faced rock. It would protect our back from anything coming from that direction. There were still a few trees close enough that Ezra was able to string up his elevated tent high enough that we could walk underneath it if we hunched over.

Josiah helped me splint and bandage Vin's wrists. I decided to wait and let the doctor's set them. I suspected that surgery was going to be needed to do that anyway. After all, he had been hanging from them, all 170 or so pounds of dead weight. Then Josiah carried more water over and began tearing up the shirts (I just had him remove anything rough, like collar, buttons, pockets and such, and pull them apart at the seams) and setting them to boil for absorbent pads while I set about cleaning the blood off of Vin.

I went through three pots of hot water, having Josiah and Ezra dispose of the bloodied water downstream, and finally had enough blood off Vin to see the wounds. Several still seeped blood and would require stitches. Even a few of the whip wounds were seeping blood, but most of those had started to dry and scab, or were just very painful looking welts.

I needed to bandage him up as soon as I could, to keep any dirt or bugs off him. I started with his ankle, using a splash from Ezra's flask to sterilize the cut (I had used my small amount of peroxide cleaning the wounds on his back), then adding some antiseptic salve, some gauze padding, and wrapped it all in an elastic bandage, keeping the ankle joint flexed. I kept thinking how Vin was going to hate recovery from the surgery it would take to fix that ankle. I needed help to bandage the rest.

So I called Ezra and Josiah over from where they were hanging tarps from the hanging tent to create a shelter. Josiah and I turned Vin as we shifted him into a sitting position while Ezra gently moved the ankle to match up. Still, Vin didn't make a sound, his head just hung toward his chest.

Once he was in more of a seated position I had Josiah hold him up. Seemed like the best way to do that was to hold him under his armpits. I had already smeared his wounds with the salve, so I laid a couple of gauze pads on the wounds that were still oozing some blood, then began wrapping what bandages I had around his chest. I barely had enough to get around him once. The cloth drying now would be used later.

We carefully laid him back down on his stomach, then used the bed roll as a stretcher we carried him over to the new shelter area. As I made Vin comfortable, Ezra and Josiah finished the shelter and we all worked on the new fire circle and moving our belongings over. The fire was doused and the rocks there allowed to cool. As soon as they could be moved they would make a second fire near the shelter to help keep Vin warm during the night.

Finally everything was done and Josiah went down to the stream in hopes he could still catch a couple fish in the growing twilight for our supper. Ezra took up a position between the shelter and Josiah, rifle in hand. I spent the time stripping Vin of the bloody jeans and long johns he wore and replaced them with a clean pair from his things, then covering him with a blanket. I wrapped his bloody clothes, the whip, and the knife in one of the few plastic trash bags we had brought and tossed it down toward Ezra who gave it to Josiah. It was then hung up in a tree across the stream. We might need them for evidence or some such later but didn't want animals wandering through our campground. Vin had taught us well.

We cooked the fish in the dark, none of us talking much. I think we were all in a sort of shock that something like this had happened. I monitored Vin constantly but he showed no sign of waking. He didn't even twitch. His breathing was pretty steady and his pulse was strong enough for the circumstances but not like it should be normally. He wasn't clammy or cold, as you might expect with severe shock.

I wasn't entirely sure his lack of response was shock, although logic would say it was. So I elevated his feet a bit, bending his legs at the knees and propping his feet up on my pack. It was awkward but the best I could since he needed to be on his stomach.

After we ate Ezra and Josiah moved the rocks from the first fire over and set it up so that Vin had a fire near his feet and one near his head. He should be plenty warm for the night. Then Josiah and Ezra took their rifles and stepped outside our shelter, blending in to the shadows, with the rock we were camped by at their backs for safety. They were prepared to spend the entire night that way while I tended to and guarded Vin under the shelter and exposed by the fires.

We heard the first rumbles about one in the morning and it didn't take long before the rain started pouring from the sky. Our two guards stayed out in the deluge, wearing the wet weather gear they had packed, while I kept the fires stoked trying to keep them going. I had already covered Vin with my sleeping bag to keep him warmer and hopefully dry.

About an hour after the rain started a bolt of lightning lit up the clearing. In that brief moment of light I saw the silhouette of a large man standing in the clearing and looking our way. Not sure why I did it, but I pulled the sleeping bag off Vin and rolled him to his side so the bandages could be seen in the light of our sputtering fires. Blood had seeped through in spots. I know I was exposing his back to danger but I guess I figured if the man saw Vin's bloody and bandaged body our visitor might realize why we had shot the guy who had hurt Vin.

"Josiah? Ezra?" I said as quietly as I could and still be heard over the rain and thunder.

"Saw him," was Josiah's reply.

"As did I," Ezra added.

When the next bolt of lightning lit the clearing the man was nowhere to be seen.

The rain didn't stop until shortly after sunrise. The fires had finally given out a couple of hours before. We didn't see the man again.

We were all exhausted and wet. Josiah went fishing for breakfast with Ezra taking position in the field again. I built a fire using the dry wood we had under the shelter then checked Vin over again, making sure he was dry. I unwrapped his ankle and added one of the shirtsleeves we had kept dry under the hanging tent to the bloody padding already there, then rewrapped it. The bleeding had stopped but had soaked through the gauze before it had. I would have to wait for the others before I could add padding to the bandages on his back.

After we ate, I added the padding to Vin's existing bandages, then Josiah laid out one of the sleeping bags behind where I sat with Vin in the shelter. We had decided that we would each take turns getting a few hours sleep while the other two stood watch.
We spent the rest of the day taking turns sleeping and watching the sky for help. There were only a few logs in the clearing and we had moved those first thing and were now using them for seating. I spent some time trying to get some water down Vin, squeezing drops of water into his mouth using part of one of the shirts. I didn't figure he would get overly dehydrated since it wasn't real hot out but I'd feel better if I got some water in him. But he never did swallow any and it just sort of dribbled out of his mouth, which was better than him choking on it.

As we cooked more fish for our supper it was obvious that help wasn't coming that day. Ezra and Josiah gathered enough wood to get us through the night while I stood outside our shelter and stretched my legs, rifle in hand just in case. But I had a feeling we wouldn't be seeing any visitors. The man from last night had the chance then to do something if he was going to.

I was real concerned about Vin. He still hadn't moved or made a sound and he seemed a little warm. It might be best that he wasn't alert and hurting but it was still a big worry. I kept trying to figure out what else I could do, but aside from keeping him warm and dry, and finding a way to get some water into him if we stayed here much longer, there was nothing. He needed pain meds and IV fluids and antibiotics.

We all spent time talking to him while we sat with him, hoping that he could hear us and draw some comfort from knowing we had him and he was safe.

The night was spent just like the one before, only thankfully it didn't rain. If we had a night visitor we never saw him.

Breakfast the next morning was fish again. We all knew we'd be eating a lot of fish but had planned on having berries and various greens Vin would teach us to find to supplement the fish. It was going to be a long time before I wanted fish again.

I needed to move so Ezra stayed with Vin while I went looking for wood with Josiah. We had decided at breakfast that we would pack everything up that we could so we were ready to go when help arrived. It surely would come today. Buck and JD would have had a faster trip going down the mountain than we had coming up so should have been able to contact help by now. All we had to do now was wait for it to come then start hiking out ourselves.
As the morning went on Vin felt warmer than before, so I started placing cool cloths on his forehead and the back of his neck. I knew that some of the cuts had started to get infected, but I didn't have anything to clean them with other than warm water. So we boiled water, then let it cool some hoping any bacteria that might cause Vin more trouble had been killed. Then I cut off the bandages and eased off the cloth and gauze padding as carefully as I could. I hated that it might be causing Vin more pain, pulling on loose skin and such, and considered leaving it. But not knowing how soon help would be here I couldn't just leave it and not try and stop some of the infection.

I cleaned all the wounds again with the boiled water but some of the wounds were looking inflamed and a little oozy with pus. There was a little bit of whiskey left in Ezra's flask, so I used it on the areas that looked the most infected, then I left Ezra with Vin and took Josiah in search of moss. I used this to lightly pack some of the deeper wounds and made a mental note to find a class on deep woods survival medicine. Vin had mentioned using the moss before and I'm sure he had a few other things up his sleeve, but hadn't had the chance to show us before he was … well, tortured.

While Josiah and I looked for moss we also found some berries like the ones Vin had picked our first night out, so we figured those were safe. So we had those with our fish lunch. Not having anything else that needed done after that we all sat back to wait. By now we were all so sleep deprived that I confess that at any point during the next few hours one or more of us were dozing where we sat.

It was several hours after we ate lunch that we heard the first faint sound of rotors. Ezra headed out to the center of the clearing, his red oilskin coat in hand and waved it overhead until the chopper hovered over us, then he turned and headed back to us, helping to block Vin from anything the rotors might stir up as it landed in the small clearing. It was a tight fit.

Four people climbed out of the chopper, two medics and two National Park Rangers, each hauling gear with them. The medics ran forward and entered our shelter, dropping down immediately to start checking Vin over. I told them who I was and that I was an EMT/Paramedic, then gave them the run down on Vin's injuries, apologizing for not having done a better job of caring for my friend. I just didn't have the equipment to do much. They took blood pressure readings (low), heart rate (not great but not bad enough to panic yet), respirations (slow but steady), temp (103.8) and verified that there were no possibilities of neck or back injuries before loading him onto a Stokes basket, being careful how they strapped him in, then Josiah and I helped carry him to the chopper.

There would be no extra space on board so I knew I had to leave him in their care and stay behind. It was one of the hardest things I had to do. This was my friend, Vin Tanner, and I had to watch him being taken away. Josiah and I turned back to our shelter where Ezra was filling the Rangers in on what happened and approximately where we had left the body. But we all agreed that it probably wasn't there anymore. Our night visitor would have taken care of it.

As soon as the chopper had left the clearing, we dismantled our shelter, finished packing everything up, grabbed the plastic bag with our evidence in it and, along with the Rangers, started the hike out. The Rangers said they would come back up with a larger team and see if they could locate our visitor and see if something needed done about him. We could have helped the two of them look. We'd been deputized by Chris before and knew what we needed to do. But to be honest, we just wanted down off that mountain and to get to the hospital to see how Vin was.

We walked until twilight began, then dropped where we were, laying out bedrolls or sleeping bags. The Rangers had brought some food and we ate a cold meal (dried fruit and nuts, protein bars, and foil packets of tuna. Yup, more fish) then we all turned in for the night.

We woke at first light the next morning, even Ezra, and ate more protein bars and some water as we packed up our bedrolls and started off again. The three of us insisted on hiking on through lunch, stopping only for ten minutes at a time every so often for water breaks and to rest. We made it the parking lot where a Ranger truck was parked late that afternoon. The van that we had come in was gone.

I learned from Buck later that they had weathered out the storm in a small barely there cave they had found, then started out early the next morning. But the heavy rains and some minor flooding had washed away some of Vin's markings so they lost the trail to the van. The ground under foot was soaking wet and muddy, causing Buck and JD to slip and slid. And they couldn't get any cell service the whole day.

By nightfall that night they had reached the base of the mountain, covered in mud, and miles away from where we had parked. And still no cell service.

Using what Vin had taught us before heading up the mountain, they figured out approximately where they were and headed towards the parking area. That took them another couple of hours. By then the batteries in both their cell phones were pretty low, even though they had turned them off when not trying to get a signal. So they had to drive to get help. I'm betting they were quite a sight walking into that Ranger station covered in mud and twigs and with a story of some "Wildman" in the mountains that had whipped and cut one of our friends up. But Buck showed him some ID, told him they were both with Four Corners Adventure Tours and that Chris Larabee was their boss.

The Rangers took action, calling their superiors and Chris, pulling out maps and figuring our coordinates with Buck and JD's help. Then they arranged for a Medivac from Modesto. Buck and JD were exhausted and the Rangers offered their shower and a couple of bunks. While they showered Chris arrived and was told the plans. Chris added a few ideas but knew he had to leave this to the Rangers. It was their territory and they knew this land while he didn't. He offered his own department's help after hearing the details. Then he waited for Buck and JD to emerge from the showers to get the story from them as well. He knew Buck would give him the details he wanted.

I'm betting Chris was chomping at the bit to be in that chopper, but there just wasn't room.

 Buck told me that Chris headed back home for what little was left of the night (I doubt he slept) then straight to Modesto to wait for the Medivac to arrive.

Buck and JD grabbed a couple hours of sleep at the Ranger station, then drove back to the Lodge, changed clothes, packed some clothes for Chris (Buck knew Chris and knew he wouldn't have done it), grabbed a few things for Vin and followed Chris to Modesto with promises of letting Nettie and Inez know how Vin was doing as soon as they could.

The Medivac wasn't able to leave at first light but had to wait, something about sporadic winds, until closer to noon. They put down at the parking area we had used and picked up the two Rangers. I guess Buck had given them pretty accurate directions on where to find us because they didn't have to do too much searching.

Anyway, when we got to the parking area we all piled into the back of the Ranger's truck and they drove us back to our compound. By then it was too late to head to Modesto. We headed to the bunkhouse, got showers, and went to bed, hoping to get some rest before we left in the morning. Don't know about the others but I tossed and turned half the night, finally getting a couple hours sleep early in the morning.
Nettie had breakfast waiting for us, so we ate quickly and headed to the landing pad where Josiah's chopper waited. He checked everything over while I made sure it was fueled up. Ezra used his cell phone to call Buck so he could meet us at the airport.

An hour later we were walking into the hospital, Buck leading us up to Vin's room. But no Vin and no Chris or JD. Checking with the nurse we were directed to the surgical waiting room.

Chris was sitting in a chair across from the door leading to surgery, JD in a chair nearby. He explained that Vin had come in with a fever and infection (no surprise) so they had held off surgery while he got a couple rounds of antibiotics via IV along with some fluids and they had brought down his fever. He still hadn't made a sound.

They had come to take him while Buck was picking us up. All we could do was wait.

The waiting room attendant kept us updated as well as she could but we were in for several hours waiting. They had both wrists to set using pins and rods, there was some ligament and tendon damage in the shoulder that had been dislocated and it needed repaired. They tried putting some stitches in some of the cuts on his back, but after so many days there wasn't much they could do there. He was going to have some massive amounts of scar tissue there. Maybe plastic surgery later would help some.

And of course there was the Achilles tendon repair. I had read up on it last night after we got back to the compound. If he was lucky they would be able to repair it with several small incisions. Worst case scenario he'd have one long incision up the back of his calf. Either way he would be recovering from that surgery for months, with a progression of casts and orthopedic boots. Months. Five or six. And with the wrists being broken and shoulder surgery, he would be in a wheelchair until those healed and were strong enough to hold his weight. I didn't even want to think about how his shredded back was going to affect him and his recovery.

Buck and JD had told Chris what had happened, and I filled him in on what had happened after they left. He got up and started pacing when we told him about the night visitor and I could tell he wanted to be the one out in the field finding him. I also knew he would never leave Vin.

Three hours later a doctor emerged from behind the door and approached us. Said his name was Dr, Rubenstein. He had done the repair work to Vin's shoulder.

"Vin is doing well," he said after introductions. "Dr Stahl is repairing the Achilles tendon now. The wrists have been set. The plastic surgeon was unable to do much with the cuts on his back at this time. The tissue had pulled away too much and there is still some sign of infection so it's best they are left open to drain. The shoulder is repaired and he should have good use of it in time. Very near full usage if not complete recovery. The other shoulder showed signs of strain and the tendons and ligaments were stretched but time and physical therapy will take care of that. Dr Stahl will be out when he is done with the tendon repair."
He turned and left us as we murmured thank you's and sat back down to wait some more. Buck and JD made a food run and Chris drank a whole pot of coffee himself. The lady at the help desk left and an older gentleman took her place. JD flipped through channels on the TV before finally turning it off since we were the only ones left in the waiting room. Ezra flipped and shuffled his ever present deck of cards. Josiah sat staring out the window and Buck sat next to Chris, occasionally talking to him quietly.

 It was another three hours before we saw another doctor. "Gentlemen, I'm Dr. Stahl. Mr. Tanner is in recovery and will be for about an hour. We'll move him to a room outside ICU. He'll get more one on one care there than he would on a regular ward but since his condition isn't critical we have no need to put him in ICU. The Achilles tendon has been repaired but it wasn't an easy procedure. We had to do a fourteen inch incision to find the tendon. It has been reattached and we have immobilized the leg with bandages for now. Once we confirm that the incision is healing and infection free we'll use a brace for a short time, then cast the leg to above the knee before we release him. Normally he would be on crutches, but his other injuries prevent that, and could slow down his recovery. He'll be wheelchair bound for several months, until he has completed physical therapy for the wrists and shoulders."

"What kind of recovery time are we looking at?" Chris asked.

"In total? Probably six months. Maybe seven since he has the other injuries to slow him down. I can recommend a good rehab center here in Modesto or he could be transferred to one closer to home."
"Boy won't be happy about that at all," Buck muttered running his hand through his hair.

"I can take care of him," I found myself saying. Buck was right, Vin would not settle in a rehab center well. And I guess a little part of me wanted to help Vin through to the end.

"I strongly recommend that he receive care at some sort of medical facility."

"I'm an EMT/Paramedic. Just need someone to show me what needs done and I can do it."

The doctor paused at that. "We'll consider that closer to release." I wasn't sure if I convinced him or whether he was just appeasing me for now.

"He'll be on some strong pain meds for awhile, likely sleep a lot. I understand he wasn't alert before surgery?" Both Chris and I shook our heads. "I'm told no neurological reason was found for that or we would not have performed surgery. Hopefully if we can get his pain level under control he will be more alert. Don't get me wrong, he'll still be in pain even with the meds, but it will be greatly reduced. I'll have someone let you know what room he is in once they start moving him. He'll be out all night so if you gentlemen would like to come back in the morn…"

"I'm staying." Chris said, leaving no room for argument.

"I am too," I added.

The doctor paused a moment, then nodded. "Alright. I'll let the nursing staff know. Any questions at the moment?" There were several head shakes. "Well if any come up let the nurses know and they can get a hold of me. Good evening gentlemen."

Everyone wanted to see Vin before they left so we sat back down and waited until the nurse came to give us Vin's room number. Everyone had seen him since the injury but it was still a shock to see him after surgery. A nurse was still with him when we got there but she motioned us all in while she finished up settling Vin and taking notes. I saw Buck grimace and look away for a moment. JD looked a little green. Josiah closed his eyes and his lips moved silently. A quick prayer maybe?

He was laying on his stomach, his head turned so that the whip mark near his eye was on the up side, a nasal canula supplying a little oxygen to help out. The area had been swollen and puffy at the clearing and I was glad to see that it was going down. I didn't think it would leave a permanent mark, but you'd be able to see it for a few weeks yet anyway.

His upper arms lay along his sides, with his arms bent at the elbow so his hands lay next to his shoulders. One shoulder had a gauze bandage loosely taped down where they had done the surgery. His wrists and hands were bandaged with a plastic splint under each one to keep them from moving.

His back was uncovered, some of the cuts still oozing fluid even after almost four days. Some of the edges of the cuts looked like they were drying up. Eventually that dead skin would need to be removed and I hoped they would sedate him when that happened.

His leg was stretched out so the toe pointed. It also had a splint on the front side and it was held in place with bandages, but the incision area was exposed, staples holding the incision closed. They'd be putting a bandage over it before the night was done, but for now we all saw it. Sand bags lay along the leg and up along the hip to keep him from moving.

The IVs were in his other foot. With both wrists having had surgery and his arms being bent they didn't have much choice.

The room was warm, the temp having been set up a bit higher than normal because they didn't want to cover him with any blankets. A sheet covered his hips and thighs. I knew he would be naked under that sheet, and when he did wake up I knew he'd be plenty upset about that. The boy is pretty shy for the most part. But I had to wonder when he managed to get that all over tan thing going, as shy as he is.

He really wouldn't like the catheter either.

Chris stood back, watching Vin as the rest of the guys went up to the bed one at a time, and said a few words to him, even though he might not hear them, before stepping back and letting the next one do the same. Poor JD seemed to have a particularly hard time, even though he had been here the day before as well. It wasn't all that long ago since his mother had passed, and I think he still struggled a bit with hospitals.

Buck gave me the keys to his truck and I left the hospital long enough to drive them to the airport. Then I grabbed a couple sandwiches at a deli and some coffee at a nearby Starbucks and joined Chris at Vin's bed side. Thankfully there were plenty of magazines available because Chris sure isn't much of a talker when he's upset. Although he did sit near Vin's head and talk to him now and then. Kept brushing the hair that insisted on flipping down over Vin's eyes, or rested his hand on Vin's good…well, better… shoulder.

The nurses kept us supplied in coffee and made sure we were comfortable. The chairs really weren't that bad, considering. They kept reassuring us that Vin was doing fine, but I kept an eye on the machines and checked his chart for myself when they recorded anything.

As the night progressed into early morning Chris started talking more, to both Vin and me. Not sure if he was trying to stay awake or whether he had some sort of feeling, but around six AM it paid off.

There was the barest of movement in the tip of one of Vin's fingers. Then some eye movement and a little wrinkle of his nose. Then a dull blue slit appeared and a barely heard grunt.

And just like that I knew we had Vin Tanner back.


I gotta say, I've never felt pain like this before. And I've had more than a few chances to feel pain in my life. But this…man…not like this.

There ain't a spot on me that doesn't have some sort of hurt. Well, maybe my right leg doesn't hurt. Nothing really happened to it. Okay, it aches a little now and then, but that's just from not usin' it enough.

That morning I woke up, I hurt. But the pain was kind of far away. Stayed that way for a day or so. Morphine helped keep it that way. Then they reduced the dosage and I really felt it. Didn't want to complain though, seeing's how I was alive and all.

Couldn't do a thing for myself. Still can't. So I laid there for two weeks (naked!), stuck full of IVs drippin antibiotics and pain meds into me, before they insisted on sending me to a care center of some sort. No one asked me if I wanted to go but I guess I figured out those first few days that I wasn't going to have an opinion on much for quite awhile. Chris told me it would be okay, and Nathan, well he just came along with me. Spent a week there and the whole time Nathan was the one taking care of me the most. He was learning what needed done so I could go home.

Before they sent me to that place they pretty much covered my arms in plaster…I guess it's fiberglass now…and it really only just seemed like they did. They really only covered me from the tip of my fingers almost to my elbow. Buck was visiting that day and tried to convince em I wanted pink casts. Thankfully they didn't listen to him and used Dallas Cowboys blue instead.

Gotta say those casts hurt the incisions on my wrists. But not as much as the boot thingy they used on my leg.

And they did their best to strap my right arm to my chest so I wouldn't move the shoulder just yet. PT on it would start when I went to that rehab place. But that hurt a lot too. The strapping rubbed against my back. I have no idea what my back looks like and to be honest, I don't really want to know. Not yet anyway. At some point I'll have to look, but not just yet.

A couple days before they transferred me, after they put that boot thingy on my leg (darn thing went up past my knee and was held with that velcro stuff. I figured if I could use my hands I could get the damn thing off, but since I couldn't use my hands, and I couldn't bend enough to use my teeth, I was stuck with the thing) and the casts on my wrists, they helped me sit up for the first time. Took some twistin and such on their part to get everything moved right and I didn't want to lean back against the bed because the skin would catch, but I was upright.

Then they went and wrapped bandages around my chest. Never thought I'd say it but it helped. At least it held the loose edges so they couldn't rub. Even though it hurt, it did feel good on my muscles to lean back against a bunch of pillows. Some of the cuts were pretty well healed but the scar tissue was still formin and they were still real tender and rough. Only some of the deeper ones and a couple that had been infected the most had been stubborn and were just now on their way to healing. The incision on my shoulder was in pretty good shape too and therapy would start big time when I went to that center.

I been home a week now. They put a cast on my leg before I left the center, and they sent a bunch of bandages and foam wedges and such home with me. Along with a whole bunch of pain pills. I was finally off the antibiotics. And of course a wheelchair. Eventually I'll be able to use an electric one and guide it myself, but I'll need a few working fingers to do that.

Nathan and the boys take care of me and do everything for me. And I mean everything. Can't dress myself, even though I'm only wearin shorts right now, can't feed myself, can't blow my nose myself much less scratch it when it itches. I don't even want to mention what else they have to help me with, it's too embarassin, but that's usually Nathan and he has a way about him that doesn't make me so self conscious.

While I was gone Chris and the boys paved a path from the bunkhouse to the main house so the wheel chair wouldn't be so hard to push and bump all the time. They also added a ramp to the main building so I could spend days there, and made it easier to get into the bunkhouse by changing the doors a bit. They got a nice hospital bed and put it on the main floor of the bunkhouse, since the bedrooms are on the second floor. So I get to spend evenings with the guys while they watch movies and such and still be comfortable. Nettie even has a bed ready for me at the main house in case I need to lay down during the day.

Nathan's been doing a bunch of exercises and stuff on me, movin my good leg so it stays strong and working my shoulder. Chris found a therapist that lives in town. I'll see him once a week to change up the exercises. Still, I gotta go back ta Modesto next week so they can x-ray my leg and see how it's healing and the doctors want to actually see everything else for themselves. Guess I'm gonna be making that trip more than a few times.

I remember everything that happened up until the first dozen cuts or so. Got took down by a real well hidden trap that had a blade in it. Cut clean through my boot and into my heel all the way down to the bone. It was definitely meant to hobble an animal…or a person.

I remember the big guy that came along a few minutes later. I thought he might help me, clear up until he picked me up, slung me over his shoulder and then hung me from a tree branch. Man was just not right in the head, kinda childlike in a way. But when he first laid that whip on me I knew he wasn't a kid even in his mind. Not really. Then he started in with the knives, giggling to himself the whole time.

I fought back. That's how I broke my wrists, fightin against the ropes. Must a been when I messed my shoulder up too.

I guess Chris and Buck went back on that mountain with the Park Rangers to take care of that guy but couldn't find any sign of his body or the man Nathan, Ezra and Josiah saw.

It still hurts like hel..I mean heck…and will for awhile. I try not to complain, but there's some days that I've had enough. That's when Chris takes me out on the porch and he and I just sit there watchin'. Just watchin'. After an hour or so he takes me back in to whoever gets to watch me and he goes back to work. But I usually feel better by then and don't get upset when Nettie starts ta fuss and try and feed me more cuz I'm getting too skinny. Sometimes JD takes me up to the bunkhouse and we'll watch some movie with lots of action. I might even get put in the office with Ezra and we'll play poker. He has to hold my cards up for me but he swears he never looks. But Nathan is usually not far away in case I need him.

Yeah it hurts, and yeah it's embarassin, but it won't last forever. Besides, I got a bunch of good friends here that have my back and a boss that's better than a brother who reads me like a book. And I got Nathan Jackson to take care a me.


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