by Winter

It never failed. Whenever Vin came into the saloon for a quiet drink it never happened. He figured today would be different. Vin came back from his patrol hot and thirsty and figured he'd go into the saloon for a quiet drink. Now he found himself facing a man with a broken bottle. Usually Vin would just shoot him, but his mare's leg was kicked from his hands earlier. Vin jumped back sucking in his stomach as the man swung the bottle. He wasn't quite fast enough and he could feel the broken glass graze along his chest on the left side. Damn, Vin thought. That'll teach me to take of my hide coat. Vin was trying to figure out how he was going to take this man down when a gun went off.

"That's it!" Inez screamed from hind the bar holding a shotgun. "If you want to fight go outside. Quit breaking up my saloon."

The gunshot brought the other regulators running. Vin just shook his head as he pulled on his coat to hide the blood. He knew the cut wasn't serious and he didn't want Nathan fussing over it. Vin tied the strips of hide to hold the coat closed then turned to the others.

"Took your damned time," he accused as he picked up his gun.

"You OK?" Chris asked in concern.

"I reckon," Vin said licking the blood off his split lip as he walked to the bar.

"Here, senor Vin," Inez said holding out a rag.

Vin took the rag and placed it on his lip. He cringed a little when the whiskey Inez had poured on the rag stung. Chris joined Vin at the bar after they rounded up the cowhands. He watched as Vin dab at the blood and realized he was missing most of it.

"Here give me that," Chris said taking the rag from Vin. He grabbed Vin's chin and turned his face towards him and put pressure on Vin's split lip.

"God damn it, Chris, that hurts," Vin said as he tried to pull away.

"Quit your belly aching," Chris said as he took a firmer hold of Vin's. "There, all finished."

"Damned town," Vin said as Chris let go. "Can't a man come in for a cold beer without having to break up a fight?"

"Here ya go Senor Vin," Inez said placing another beer in front of him.

She placed one in front of Chris and the two of them drank in companionable silence. Vin turned his back to the bar and leaned against it. The sun was just beginning to set and they watched as dust devils danced along the street. For the past three weeks there had been no rain and everything was dry. Tempers were short as the draught hit the town. Everyone was worried except Vin. JD asked him why he wasn't worried. Vin said it was just nature's way and that she'd take care of everything in her own time. Thunder could be heard rumbling over the mountains but the clouds would dump their rain on the other side and have none left when they came over. Vin finished his beer then turned to Chris.

"Got some tack that needs mending," Vin said. "See ya later."

Vin touched his two fingers to his hat and thanked Inez for the beer. He walked out the door and headed for his wagon. There was no tack to mend. He only used that as an excuse to get away from Chris. Vin had felt the blood running down his chest and didn't want Chris to know. Vin climbed in his wagon and pulled the flap down. He pulled off his coat and looked down at his chest. The left side of his shirt was covered in blood.

"Damn," Vin swore. "Didn't think he got me so deep."

He pulled the shirt off to find a three-inch cut on his left side a little under his arm. He used his already bloody shirt to wipe the rest of the blood from his chest. He pressed the shirt against the cut and hissed.

"Damn cowboy," Vin muttered as he searched for a clean rag.

He found one that was fairly clean and wet it with the water form a canteen he kept in the wagon. Vin wiped the warm water over the cut and cleaned it as best he could. Normally he would pour whiskey on a cut like this but he didn't have any in the wagon. If he went over to the saloon to get some the others would be suspicious so he did the best he could. When the bleeding was stopped Vin pulled on a dark shirt then put the hide coat back on. He rolled up the bloody shirt and tuck it away to throw out after the town was asleep. He climbed down from his wagon and headed for the livery.

After sunset the townsfolk began moving around again. Without its relentless heat beating down on them they did their shopping and anything else that needed doing. Chris was walking along the boardwalk headed for the livery. He was hungry and was going to get dinner and figured he'd ask Vin if he wanted to eat. He found the track brushing his horse. Chris just shook his head when he saw Vin dressed in that hide jacket of his. How he could wear it in this heat Chris never knew.

"Hey, cowboy, you hungry?" Chris asked.

"I reckon," Vin gave him that half smile of his as he stepped away from his horse.

Vin followed Chris to the restaurant. Mrs. Walker offered them a choice, chicken and dumplings or roast beef. With out hesitation they both chose her chicken and dumplings. She smiled as she went to get their order. She came back a few minutes later with two big bowls and a pot of coffee. They were in the middle of their meal when JD walked in looking for Chris.

"Hey Chris," JD said sitting at the table. "Got a telegram from Judge Travis."

He handed the telegram to Chris and he opened. As he was reading it Mrs. Walker came over and asked JD if he was here for more dinner. He shook his head and she asked if he wanted any pie.

"What kind you got?" JD asked.

"Let's see I have Apple, Cherry, Pecan, and Sweet Potato," she said.

"Sweet Potato, ma'am," JD said.

She nodded and left. Vin finished his dinner and pushed the bowl away. He poured himself more coffee then grabbed Chris's cup to refill his.

"What's up cowboy?" Vin asked.

"Judge wants us to escort a prisoner from a mining town about a day's ride from here," Chris answered.

"I'll go," JD said.

"Reckon I will too," Vin said.

"Hell there's no telling the trouble the two of you will get into alone," Chris said. "Reckon I'll tag along."

Vin was about to protest that he didn't need Chris watching out for him when Mrs. Walker returned with desert. She placed a big slice of Cherry pie in front of Chris. JD got a wedge of Sweet Potato and a glass of milk. She smiled at Vin as she put a plate of oatmeal cookies in front of him. They were still warm from the oven and Vin leaned over and smelled them.

"I must be in heaven," Vin sigh in contentment as he picked one up and bit into it.

When they were finished with dinner they joined the others for a few hands of poker. Around eleven Vin called it quits and went to his wagon to get some sleep. He pulled off his shirt and winced when he realized it was stuck to the knife cut. Vin slowly pulled it away from the wound and threw it on the pile of laundry to be washed. Vin didn't feel like lighting a lamp to check the cut and stretched out to get some sleep.

+ + + + + + +

Vin woke the next morning to stifling heat. The sun wasn't even fully up and already it was hot. Vin checked the cut and saw it was a little red around the edges but at least it wasn't bleeding. He pulled on a shirt then changed the pants he slept in. He jumped down from the wagon and had to grab the sides as a wave of dizziness hit.

"Damn heat's never bothered me before," Vin grumbled as he grabbed his coat and put it on.

He went to the stable and saddled their horses. Chris and JD joined him a few minutes later. They led the horses out of the stable and were met by Buck.

"Now you two mind the old man," Buck said with a smile.

Chris gave Buck a deadly glare as he swung up on his horse. JD smiled at Buck as he followed Chris's example. Buck looked over at the tracker and realized he was being quieter than usual. He watched as Vin mounted and thought he looked a little flush. Buck shrugged and figured it was just the heat.

+ + + + + + +

The three regulators picked up their prisoner with no problem. They were on their way back to town when they heard a loud rumble of thunder. Vin turned in his saddle to see dark clouds descending on them rapidly. It wasn't unusual for a storm to blow out of nowhere in the desert. Vin tried to calculate their distance to town. His mind was a little fuzzy but figured they were about two hours away.

"Think we can make it back before the storm hits?" Chris asked.

"Barely," Vin answered wiping his forehead with the back of his hand. "Hell I won't mind at least we'll get cooled off."

"Yeah me either," JD agreed.

"Well I mind," said their prisoner.

"Shut up," three voices said in unison.

The prisoner had kept up a steady stream of complaints as the rode back to town. Vin decided he didn't want to hear this guy's complaints any more and tapped the heels to his horse to get him to canter. The others followed.

+ + + + + + +

Buck sat on the porch enjoying the rain. He wasn't alone. Many of the patrons from the saloon joined him. As soon as the rain started the temperature fell and everyone was feeling a might better. Even Ezra had left his customary table to join Josiah and Buck on the porch. It had been raining for about two hours and Buck thought the others might get back before it started.

"Think they might have hold up somewhere?" Buck asked.

"Maybe," Josiah said.

"I believe that to be highly unlikely," Ezra said.

"Oh?" Buck asked.

"If I know Mr. Tanner he's loving every minute of this storm," Ezra answered. "It's the closest he every gets to a bath."

"Better not let him hear you," Buck laughed. "Remember what happened last time?"

"I remember," Ezra said and kept his mouth shut.

Just then they heard horse coming down the street. Sure enough Vin was leading them through the rain up to the hitching post in front of the saloon.

"Well look what the cat drug in," Buck said.

"Don't start Buck," Chris growled. Buck could see he was in no mood for games. "JD help me get the prisoner over to the jail."

"Sure Chris," JD said.

They dragged the prisoner off his horse and over to the jail. Buck turned back to Vin and saw he was just sitting on his horse in the rain.

"Mr. Tanner if you are just going to sit there might I get you a bar of soap," Ezra said.

Buck cringed and waited for Vin to explode. He was taken by surprised as he watched Vin pitch to the side and slowly slide off his horse. Buck never saw Ezra move so fast. He grabbed the unconscious tracker before he could hit the ground.

"Might you gentlemen offer me a hand?" Ezra asked sarcastically.

"Damn, he's burning up," Buck said as he took the limp form of the tracker in his arms. "I can feel it through the damned coat."

Buck carried Vin up the stairs to the clinic. Ezra offered to go get Chris since he was already wet. Josiah held the door to the clinic open so Buck could enter.

"What the hell happened?" Nathan demanded.

"Hell if I know," Buck said. "They just got back and Vin fell from his horse."

"Place him on the floor Buck," Nathan instructed. "We'll get them wet clothes off him before we put him in the bed."

"What the hell happened," Chris bellowed as he rushed in the door.

"Don't know Chris," Buck said as he pulled Vin's hide coat off.

They got the trackers wet pants off and went to pull off his shirt when he moaned. Nathan saw that it was stuck to his side. He pealed the shirt away careful and found it stuck to a cut on Vin's left side. Nathan pulled it away and Vin tossed his head and moaned again. When Nathan got it off he found a three-inch cut that was infected. The infection had the tracker burning up with a fever.

"Where the hell did he get that?" Chris demanded.

"Didn't you say the guy in the bar the other day had a broken bottle when you walked in to break up the fight?" Josiah asked.

"Damned fool!" Chris cursed.

They dried Vin off then put him in the bed. Nathan went to his workbench and got what he needed to fix Vin up. Josiah put a kettle on to boil. Ezra came in sat in a chair out of the way. JD completed the group when he entered shortly after Ezra.

"How is he?" JD asked anxiously.

"He's got a cut that he let get infected," Nathan said.

"Why didn't he say anything?" JD asked confused.

"Because it's Vin," Buck said if that answered the question.

When the water was boiling Nathan poured it in a bowl and added some herbs. He added a little cold water to cool it off then grabbed a rag and walked over to the bed. Nathan placed the bowl on a table and sat on Vin's left side. Nathan put the rag in the water and wiped it along the cut. He wasn't very gentle and Vin groaned and tried to move away from him.

"Somebody want to hold him," Nathan said exasperated.

"Why are you doing it so hard Nate?" Buck asked as he grabbed Vin's legs while Chris grabbed his arms.

"Got get it bleeding again to draw out the infection," Nathan said.

Nathan rubbed the wound and it broke open releasing the infection. He continued to clean the wound until it was free of the yellow discharge. Nathan bathed it with carbolic and Vin tried to pull away in protest. When he was finished he had Chris lift Vin as he wrapped a bandage tightly around the cut.

"Don't ya think it needs stitches?" Buck asked when he saw how deep it was.

"Not right now," Nathan said. "I want to make sure I got all the infection before I stitch it. Now we just have to get his fever down."

+ + + + + + +

Buck was sitting in the clinic reading the paper. The tracker was sleeping peacefully in the bed. The fever kept Vin in its grip for two days. When it finally broke Nathan saw the cut was healing nicely but decide it needed a few stitches or Vin would end up with a pretty big scar. Buck glanced over at Vin when he heard a soft moan. He put the paper down and leaned over Vin. He could see the tracker's eyes flutter then open.

"Aw hell," Vin drawled. "What happen?"

"Next time you get cut in a bar fight you better tell someone," Buck said.

"Damn, it was only a small cut," Vin protested. "Cleaned it myself."

"Yeah an you did a right good job," Buck said with a laugh.

"Buck!" Chris bellowed as he stepped in the door. "That no good tracker awake?"

"You're in for it now," Buck warned. "He's madder than a mama bear with cubs."

"Buck do me a favor?" Vin asked.


"Give me your gun," Vin said holding out his hand.

"Planning on shooting Chris?"

"Nah, myself," Vin said. "This way I ain't got to listen to him."

"You do Buck and I'll shoot ya," Chris warned.

"Sorry Pard," Buck said.

"Aw hell," Vin said as Buck moved away.

He glanced at Chris and saw the fury in his eyes. Damn, Vin thought. When am I gonna learn? "Look Chris I can explain."

Buck chuckled as he closed the door and headed for the saloon.


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