The rising sun peaked over the mesa bathing the desert in its warm glow. Vin and Chris were out early hunting a wolf that was preying on live stock in the area. They knew if the wolf was this close to people it was either sick or hurt and should be checked out. So far the animal had remained elusive even to Vin's tracking, almost like it was playing with them. They would catch glimpses of the wolf from time to time before it would disappear. They had been tracking the animal for three days and Chris was getting frustrated. Vin was enjoying his time away from town.
"If we don't catch him today we go back," Chris announced.
"Running out of patience, cowboy?" Vin smiled.
"I ran out yesterday," Chris snarled.
Vin smiled and tapped his heals to his horses and he cantered towards the rocks. The tracker decided the wolf must have been hiding somewhere amongst them. Chris couldn't think of a better place to look so he kicked his horse to follow Vin. As they got closer the wolf darted out from behind an outcropping and raced across the clearing to another one.
"I'll go that way," Vin yelled pointing to the left.
Before Chris could protest Vin disappeared behind the rocks. Chris pulled up his horse and dismounted. He took the rifle off the saddle and walked cautiously towards the rocks. Chris was determined to get the wolf so he could get back to Four Corners for a hot bath and a good meal. He heard something scrambling behind one of the rocks and took aim. The wolf raced from behind the rock and Chris fired. The gunslinger watched in horror as Vin stepped out from behind the rock and was hit by his bullet. Vin went down and the wolf attacked him. Vin jammed his left forearm into the wolf's mouth to protect his face and cried out as the teeth ripped into his arm. Vin heard a shot and the wolf collapsed on top of him.
"Vin!" Chris yelled as he raced to his side. He pushed the dead wolf off Vin and knelt next to him. "I'm sorry Vin, I didn't see you."
"You got him Chris," Vin said weakly. "He ain't gonna bother no one any more."
"Yeah I got him," Chris said bitterly. "Got you too."
"Not your fault Chris," Vin said gritting his teeth as Chris checked the wound. "I should have known you were there. It's my fault I wanted him so bad and should have warned you I was there."
"Damn," Chris exclaimed as he looked at the wound. "The bullet's still in there and it's two days back to town."
"I'll be alright Chris," Vin stated to reassure him. "I have been shot before."
Chris knew Vin was hurting. The bullet entered just under Vin's collarbone. He helped Vin over to some shade cast by one of the rocks. Chris went and got his horse and grabbed the bandages Nathan insisted they all carry out of his saddlebags. He grabbed the canteen and sat down next to Vin. The sharpshooter hissed in pain as Chris him to remove his shirt. The wound was still bleeding so Chris one of the bandages and placed it against the bullet hole and applied pressure.
"OW! God damn it Chris!" Vin protested. "Not so hard."
"It's either that or you bleed to death," Chris commented.
Vin complained the whole time as Chris bound his shoulder and cleaned the bite marks on his forearm. When he was done Vin grabbed Chris's arm.
"Chris you gotta promise me something," Vin said seriously.
"Depends on what it is," Chris said.
"If that wolf is rabid ya gotta promise you'll kill me," Vin said staring into Chris's eyes. "I seen what happens when someone gets it and I don't want to go through that."
"Vin I can't promise that," Chris protested.
"Then promise you'll give me a gun and I'll do it myself," Vin insisted.
Chris also knew what would happen if the wolf was rabid. There was nothing Nathan could do if he was infected. Vin would suffer a horrible death.
"We'll worry about that latter," Chris said stalling. "I need to go get your horse so I can get you back to town. You just take it easy. I'll be right back."
Vin leaned his head back against the rock with a sigh. He knew Chris wouldn't agree to kill him. He also knew Chris was blaming him self for the shooting when it was an accident. If anyone should take the blame it should be him. He should have known Chris would shoot as soon as he saw the wolf. The tracker knew he should never have followed so close behind the wolf. Vin closed his eyes and tried to get comfortable. He wasn't sure which hurt more his arm or his shoulder.
Chris went over to the wolf and checked it over. It didn't look to be rapid but there was know way of knowing. He cursed as he stood up and went to get Vin's horse.
+ + + + + + +
JD wandered around town making sure everything was secure. Everything was quiet since Vin and Chris went hunting that wolf. The sheriff finished his rounds and headed over tot he saloon. It was late in the afternoon and he knew the others would be there. He pushed through the bat-winged doors and waited for his eyes to adjust to the gloom before he walked in. He looked around and saw Ezra and Buck sitting at their usual table.
"Hey Kid," Buck greeted as he sat down. "Town quiet?"
"Yup," JD answered. "Too quiet."
"I concur," Ezra said. "There hasn't been a potential player in days."
"You mean no green horns to fleece don't ya," Buck teased.
"I work with Neanderthals," Ezra sighed dealing the cards.
"What's with him?" JD asked as he picked up his cards.
"The stage didn't show today," Buck answered. "Ezra was hoping for some easy pickings."
"Indeed," Ezra sighed. "Now I am forced to play with my peers for less than spectacular stakes."
"Cheer up Ezra the stage should be here tomorrow," JD said helpfully.
"That will e the highlight of my day I assure you," He smiled as he fanned out his cards. "Three queens gentlemen."
"Aw hell," JD cursed as he threw down his cards.
+ + + + + + +
Chris decided to ride through the night so he could get Vin back to Nathan as quickly as he could. Vin hadn't protested but by the time morning dawned he was delirious and having trouble staying in the saddle. Chris was forced to mount behind him and hold onto the rapidly weakening tracker. Chris tied Vin's horse to the saddle horn. He stopped as few times so he could check Vin's bandages and give him some water. Chris also stopped to switch horse a few times. Vin was lean but their combined weight was taking its toll on the horses riding double. At mid day Chris pulled the horses up in the shade of a tree and pulled the canteen off the saddle horn. He uncorked it and took a drink. . It was tough balancing Vin's dead weight as he drank. The younger man had passed out a few hours ago and Chris could feel the heating radiating from him. When he was finished he tried to coax some of the water passed Vin's lips. All he succeeded in doing was getting the unresponsive tracker wet. Chris sighed and replied the cork. He hung the canteen back over the saddle horn and kicked the horse forward. The gunslinger figured they were about six hours from town at the rate they were traveling. He guided the horse down off the hill and onto he road. At least he would make better time now that he didn't have to pick his way through the underbrush. They had been riding for two hours when Chris heard the stage. The stage never seemed to keep its schedule and for once Chris was grateful. He stopped in the middle of the road and waited.
The stage coach driver saw the two horses standing in the road and stopped the coach when he realized they weren't going to move. His partner gripped his gun and watched the horseman. AS the stage slowed the driver recognized the man in black as one of the lawman from Four Corners. He was holding someone bundled in a blanket in front of him.
"Chris is that you?" he called as he stopped the stage.
"Yeah Harper it's me," Chris called. "Vin's been shot, got room for us?"
"Driver what is the meaning of this delay?" Demanded one of the passengers.
"Nothing to concern you," Harper said.
"I paid good money for this stage to arrive on time," A man said sticking his head out the window. "We are already a day behind."
"You keep jawing at me and we'll be even later," Harper said as he climbed down to help Chris. "Lem get the saddles off the horses and throw them up top. Then tie them to the back." Harper was a big man and easily took Vin from Chris. "What happened?"
"I shot him by accident," Chris said. "We were hunting a wolf."
"I'm afraid there's only room on the floor," Harper said as he carried Vin to the coach.
"It'll do," Chris said as he opened the door.
"What do you think you are dong?" said a fancied dressed man as Chris climbed onto the stage. "There's no room in here."
"You'll make room," Chris glared as he grabbed Vin and pulled him into the stage.
"Well I never," the man said. "Is everyone in this God forsaken territory so rude?"
"Only most of us," the stage driver said. "Don't worry Chris I'll get us to Four Corners as quickly as I can."
Harper shut the door and Chris sat on the floor leaning against the opposite door jam. He pulled Vin against his chest and braced him so he wouldn't be jostled as the stage moved out. Chris checked the bandage on Vin's shoulder and he heard one of the women gasp. He ignored her and continued what he was doing. The wound was bleeding again but Chris didn't have any more bandages He was about to replace the old one when a piece of whit cloth appeared in his line of sight. He looked up to see an older woman holding out a piece from her petticoat.
"Thank you,' Chris said taking the cloth.
"There's more where that came from," she said. "My names Lucille."
"Do you live around here Mr. Larabee?" she asked as she helped rebandage Vin's shoulder.
"In Four Corners."
"Hang on everyone," Harper called. "We're ready to move."
They heard the whip and the stage lurched forward. Vin moaned as the stage began to sway. Chris took a tighter hold on the unconscious tracker so he didn't move around as much. Once the stage was on it's way Lucille handed him a canteen and they tried to get Vin to drink something. Vin struggled against them in his delirium and Chris gave up. Lucille ripped another piece form her petticoat and wet it then handed it to Chris. He ran the cloth over Vin's face hoping it would cool him off. AS he was doing that Lucille introduced the other passengers. Two of the young women were her nieces. They were going to San Francisco. Another women was going to be the new schoolteacher in Big Springs. The only man on the stage was Mr. Cornelius Van Dike III wealthy mine owner coming to check out his mines in California. He resented the fact that his schedule was interrupted and ignored Chris. This was fine with the gunslinger since he had to concentrate holding onto to Vin as the stage bounced along the road. Chris had no way to brace Vin's legs and they moved along the floor. Vin Dike got disgusted as Vin's legs kept rolling onto his feet and at one point he kicked Vin's legs off them.
"Mister you kick him one more time and I will shoot you between the eyes," Chris said in a deadly voice.
Van Dike blanched at the look in Chris's eyes and pulled his feet away from Vin. Lucille chuckled at his reaction. She glanced back at Chris and could see he was forcing himself to stay awake.
"Why don't you try to get some sleep," she suggested. "I'll keep and eye on your friend."
Chris nodded and put his head back. HE took a tighter hold on Vin as he drifted off to sleep.
+ + + + + + +
Josiah was on his morning patrol when he saw young Thomas ride into town at break neck speed. He pulled the horse up by Nathan's clinic and jumped off before the horse came to a complete stop. He was about to race up the stairs when Josiah called to him.
"Son if you're looking for Nathan he's at the restaurant."
The boy changed directions and ran across the street and into the restaurant. A few seconds later Nathan was lead out by Thomas pulling on his hand.
"Josiah. Mrs. Cooper's baby is coming," he said as he headed for the clinic. ""I'll be going with Thomas for a bit."
"Don't worry Nate, we'll keep an eye on the town," Josiah called.
After he got what medical supplies he needed from the clinic Nathan headed for the livery. It only took a few minutes to saddle his horse and they were on their way. JD and Buck exited the restaurant and walked over tot Josiah.
"The way Thomas was acting you'd thin he was the father," Buck laughed.
"He does take his role as big brother very seriously," Josiah smiled.
"I'm sure Mr. Cooper will drive Nathan crazy when he gets there," JD predicted.
"And I wager that Mr. Cooper is in a dead faint on the parlor floor," Ezra said walking up to the group.
"I'll take that bet," Buck announced.
"AS you wish Mr. Wilmington," Ezra smiled widely showing his gold tooth. "Now you gentlemen will excuse me I have an appointment with the bath house."
+ + + + + + +
Chris had fallen asleep with the swaying of the stage. He hadn't been asleep long when Vin screaming awakened him.
"Easy Vin," Chris said tightening his grip on the tracker.
"Behind you Chris!" Vin shouted and began to struggle.
"It's OK Vin," Chris said in a soothing voice.
Vin groaned and tossed his head from side to side. Chris pushed the sweat soaked locks from Vin's forehead as the younger man began to settle. Chris could feel Vin getting heavier and moved him to a more comfortable position. Lucille handed him a wet piece of fabric and Chris wiped Vin's face and neck. He checked Vin's shoulder and saw he had dislodged the bandage in his struggle. The wound was bleeding again and Chris applied pressure to it. Vin moaned and tried to pull away.
"Sorry Vin," Chris murmured in his ear.
"How much further to Four Corners?" Lucille asked.
"I'm guessing another hour or so," Chris said. "Ain't sure how long I was asleep."
"You hardly slept at all," she said. "Why don't you try to go back to sleep."
"I need to watch Vin," Chris said as he wiped Vin's face again.
"Suit yourself," Lucille smiled. "Are you hungry?"
"Starved," Chris admitted.
"Mr. Van Dike can you hand me the food hamper?" she asked.
"Madame this food is for paying customers," he said.
"You are a pompous fool aren't' you," Said Caroline the schoolteacher. "Now give me the hamper."
"How dare you speak to me in that manner," he said slapping her.
The sound of Chris cocking his gun was loud in the confined space. Van Dike glanced at Chris and looked own the barrel of Chris's peacemaker. His eyes traveled down the barrel and into Chris hated filled blue eyes.
"Mister you're lucky there are ladies present," Chris snarled. "Or I'd blow your head off."
"He isn't worth you going to jail Mr. Larabee," Caroline said as she reached for the hamper.
"You're right, he ain't," Chris said as e released the hammer on his revolver and returned it to his its holster. "I better not hear another word from you understand?"
Van Dike swallowed hard and nodded his head. Chris looked away as Caroline handed him a sandwich. When he was finished he took the canteen from Lucille and took a drink. He drank his fill then tried to get Vin to take some as well. He held the canteen to Vin's lips and he choked on the first swallow. When he realized it was water he drank greedily and Chris was forced to take it away from him before he got sick. He handed it back to Lucille and got comfortable. The stage hit a bump and Vin moaned as his shoulder was jolted. Vin's head rolled back and forth n Chris shoulder to the swaying of the stage. Chris finally turned Vin's face towards his neck and laid his cheek against his sweaty hair. The rocking of the stage finally put Chris to sleep.
+ + + + + + +
JD and Buck were sitting playing checkers outside the sheriff's office when they heard the stage approaching. They walked over to the general store and were met by Ezra. The stage came around the edge of the last building and they noticed the horse trailing behind.
"Ain't those Vin and Chris's horses?" JD asked puzzled.
"Looks like 'em," Buck said.
The stage pulled up in front of the store. Josiah joined them when he recognized the horses as well. Buck opened the door to find Chris on the floor holding a bloody Vin.
"Shit, Chris, what happened?" Buck asked.
"I shot him."
"What?" JD asked shocked.
"I'll explain later," Chris said. "Help me get him over to Nathan's."
"Nathan ain't here," Buck said as he held Vin so Chris could climb out from behind him.
Ezra was on the other side of the stage helping the ladies down from that side.
"Where the hell is he?" Chris demanded as he took Vin's legs.
"Tommy rode into town this morning," JD explained as they handed Vin into the preacher's arms. "The baby was coming."
"Damn!" Chris cursed as he climbed out of the stage. "Lets get him over tot he clinic."
Chris cleared a path and Josiah carried Vin's limp form in his wake. JD untied their horses and led them to the livery. Ezra finished helping the ladies and Buck helped Harper with the luggage. The last person out of the stage was Van Dike. He looked around the town and sneered. Ezra smiled when he saw the mans expensive attire and knew he found his mark. When Van Dike saw Ezra he decided he was someone important in town and walked over to him.
"My good sir can you tell me where I might find the constable of this town?" he asked.
"The good citizens of this town pay me and my associates to keep an eye on things," Ezra said. "What can I help you with?"
"I want you to arrest that man in black," van Dike said angrily. "He pulled a gun on me and threatened my life."
"After you slapped me," Caroline said coming to Chris's defense.
"Is that right?" Buck asked in a deadly voice. "Did you slap this young lady?"
"Well I....." Van Dike stammered.
"Mister you're lucky Chris was worried about Vin or you'd be dead," Buck said. "Besides we can't arrest him. He's one of us."
Buck help the ladies with their luggage and escorted them all over tot he hotel. Ezra left a stunned Van Dike on the boardwalk and went over to help with Vin. The fool would be around later and Ezra was going to enjoying fleecing the windbag.
Josiah placed Vin on the bed in the clinic and began to strip his clothes off with Chris's help. They were getting ready to remove the bandages from Vin's shoulder when JD walked in.
"Chris you want me to ride out to the Cooper's and bring Nathan back?" he asked.
"Yeah JD," Chris agreed. "Just find out how long he'll be. I doubt you'll get him to leave."
"Alright Chris I'll go right now!" JD announced and raced out the door almost colliding with Ezra.
"Where is the perpetual whirlwind off to now?" Ezra asked.
"To see how long Nathan is going to be," Josiah answered. "Can you put the kettle on Ezra?"
Ezra moved to Nathan's small stove and stoked up the fire. Once he had it going he placed the kettle on the stove. He noticed the water bucket was almost empty and went to get more. When he returned he found Buck had joined them. Ezra saw they had the tracker out of his cloths and were cleaning him up. The gambler grabbed the bottle of carbolic off the shelf and walked over to Vin.
"I believe you want this next," Ezra said handing it to Chris. As he handed the bottle to Chris he noticed Vin's arm. "Are those teeth marks?"
"Yeah the wolf attacked him after I shot him," Chris said bitterly.
"Dear Lord, the wolf wasn't rabid was it?" Ezra asked in dismay.
"You come right to the point don't you fancy pants," Buck said.
"Not that I could tell," Chris said as he soaked a rag with the Carbolic. "Buck, Ezra grab his legs."
They did as Chris said as Josiah held Vin's upper body. He placed the wet rag on Vin's forearm and he screamed. They held on tight as Vin tossed and struggled in their grip. When Chris was satisfied it was clean he moved to his shoulder. They held on tighter but Vin was to tired to struggle any more. He cried as Chris poured the Carbolic on the bullet hole. Buck decided he rather have Vin screaming than the pitiful whimpering noises he was reduced to. When Chris was satisfied he placed a clean bandage on Vin' shoulder as Josiah loosely wrapped his forearm. Vin was alarmingly hot and Ezra began to bath him with the cool water he brought from the well.
"Chris why don't you get some sleep," Josiah suggested. "We can watch Vin now."
"No, he's my responsibility," Chris protested. "I shot him so I should stay with him."
"Chris," Buck warned. "You know Vin wouldn't want you getting sick worrying about him. Now you just climb into that other bed and get some sleep."
Chris nodded as he ran his hands through his short blonde hair. He unbuckled his gunbelt and looped it over the bedpost. He lay down and fell asleep watching them try to cool down the fevered tracker.
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