"Buck, come on in now. Need to take care of that arm. Need you to give a hand."

Nathan gestured towards Buck. Buck met Chris' eyes. Not a word was spoken. Chris slowly nodded and Buck advanced.

"Okay boys. I want to get that arm set first, and I don't think Vin's gonna like it. Need to hold him down so I can pull the arm straight. I think he might be more comfortable, easier to hold if we sit him up a bit."

Nathan looked at the four men, anxious to help, hesitating only for direction.

"Chris, get behind Vin and sit him on up. Careful now, don't forget he's still got that bullet in him. He's so battered and bruised, prob'ly hurtin' more than we can see..."

Vin opened his eyes as Chris lifted him. The room spun wildly and his stomach churned. Please leave me be. Just go away. I'll be okay.

"That's it, let him lean back against ya. Hold on, wait a minute...."

Nathan stepped over, and as Chris leaned Vin slightly forward, Nathan placed a small pillow behind him.

"There now, that should be a bit more comfortable for him. Chris, mind his head there on your shoulder, he might hit your mouth."

Pain tore through Vin's body. Oh God, why won't they just leave me be! If it was his nature, he would have screamed, but that wasn't his way. He started breathing heavily, attempting to still the pain. Vin moved his head and softly moaned. Chris gently stroked his hair and whispered into the ear near his mouth.

"Shh, it's okay, got ya right here in my arms, Vin. You're home now, gonna fix you up... good as new..."

Vin recognized the soothing voice. His breathing calmed and he visibly relaxed into the older man's arms. He was safe, Chris wouldn't let anyone hurt him.

"Buck? I need you to stand over here beside Chris. No over on this side, by Vin's left arm."

Nathan was attempting to guide the usually agile gunslinger who suddenly had two left feet.

"That's it. Right there. Now hold his arm out like this. Here take it.... Now you need to keep a good firm hold on this arm, no matter what.... Sure you can do that? Buck did you hear me? Can you do that?"

Buck nervously blinked his eyes and cleared his throat. He nodded, finding it difficult to speak.

"Okay, Josiah. I need for you to hold his legs down. Don't want one of them legs coming up and hitting me upside the head. Not too hard....just enough to keep him from kicking...."

"What should I do?"

Ezra's anxiety had reduced him to one syllable words.

"Ezra, I need you to stand beside me, hold his arm straight after I pull it, so's I can get it wrapped up good...."

Nathan sat beside Vin. Perspiration was beading on his forehead. He wet his lips and looked up at the men around him.


Nathan picked up Vin's arm and swiftly pulled the bones into alignment. Vin's back arched and he fell back against Chris, unconscious. His strangled whimper tore at Chris' heart. Christ Vin, why can't you just scream to high holy hell?

As Ezra held Vin's arm steady,Nathan placed a splint under it and started to quickly wrap it.

"Mr. Jackson, surely you aren't going to leave it like that? Aren't you going to close the wound? 'sew him back together ' as you put it?"

Nathan sighed.

"Ezra, I don't dare. Wound is red, nasty looking already. Looks to be getting infected. Gotta leave it open for now, give the poison a way to escape...."

Nathan looked up at Buck's stricken expression.

"Now don't you go looking at me like that. You did the best you could out on the trail......"

Chris gently eased Vin back down.

"You done good pard...." he softly whispered.

Buck walked over to the window and stared out into the darkness. He tensed when he felt a hand on his shoulder.


Turning his head slowly, he looked at Chris.

"Thanks for bringing him home. We'll get through this. We're okay."

Buck turned back to stare out the window and slowly nodded.


The bullet had to come out. Nathan stared at the still figure on the bed. Still holding Vin's arm, he silently cursed himself. I'm no doctor. Boy needs a real doctor. Could kill him just trying to get that damn bullet out.

"Mr. Jackson? Did you hear me? I said, 'What should we do next?'".

Nathan jumped, he hadn't realized Ezra was still beside him, let alone speaking. Nathan closed his eyes.

"Ezra, give a man a chance to think. I need to gather some things first."

Nathan got up and crossed the room to his cupboard. His hands shook as he searched through his instruments. Morphine. Need to give him some morphine. Not too much, just enough to help the pain some.

Nathan's hands fumbled as they moved over his supplies. Buck still stood silent at the window, staring. Ezra was pacing. Josiah sat by Vin's head, wiping Vin's brow with a cool cloth, humming softly. Nathan felt Chris' hand on his arm before he saw him.

"Nathan,what are you doing? That's morphine," Chris whispered as he turned to see if the others had heard.

"He needs it......"

"Morphine?? Nathan, do you KNOW what you're doing?"

"I know enough to know he needs a real doctor. Look at him. You ever been hurt that bad before? Pain alone's gotta be enough to kill him; and for the love of God, I can't figure out why he's not screaming....."

Chris dropped his hand from Nathan's arm and backed away.

Chris sat by Nathan's side, across from Josiah. Vin slowly opened his eyes. He slowly searched the room and stopped when he noticed Chris.

"Chris? What are you doing here?"

His throat was dry and his voice was hoarse. Chris sighed and bowed his head. Vin still wasn't thinking straight, but maybe that wasn't such a bad thing.

"Here ya go, take a little water. No, no, go slow, that's it, nice and easy."

Chris rested Vin's head back on the pillow.

"Where's Buck?"

"I'm right here Vin, ol' Buck's right here if ya need me..."

Buck moved into Vin's line of vision. Vin seemed oblivious to his surroundings. He didn't acknowledge where he was or that anyone else was in the room.

"Buck? Is J.D. okay?"

Vin tried vainly to raise his head again.

"Where is he? You know he's spooked by that cougar?"

He turned and noticed Chris again.

"Chris? When did you get here?"

Vin was starting to pant from the exertion of talking. He was tired and confused. He was becoming restless.

Aww, why do I hurt all over? Why can't I remember Chris being here?

His eyes searched the room frantically, looking for J.D.

Nathan walked over to Vin, holding the syringe of morphine. Buck paled as he stared at the needle, he stood slack jawed.

"Umm, Nathan? Nathan? What are you aimin' to do with that?"

"He needs something for pain 'fore I go after that bullet."

Buck cleared his throat, never taking his eyes off the needle.

"Well, he.... he seems pretty comfortable now...."

"Buck, he's delirious, that don't mean he's not in any pain..."

Nathan pulled the sheet back from Vin's leg. He started massaging Vin's thigh, searching for a place to give the shot.

"Josiah, can you come over here and bend his knee up a bit?"

Vin's leg jerked slightly as the needle pierced his flesh. He tensed as a hot pain spread through his leg.

"Owwww....." he moaned softly.

Why can't you all just leave me be? I told ya I don't feel good.

"Vin! Come on now, relax that leg! Don't stiffen those muscles, just gonna make it hurt worse...."

Vin could hear Nathan's scolding, but he just couldn't will his body to obey.

"Okay, let's get him turned on his stomach while he's still out. Careful now. Chris, you sit right there, by his head. Just keep talking to him. Keep him calm. Don't want him waking up and deciding to fight us."

Nathan directed the others to where he needed them.

Vin heard the voices. The room was spinning. His head hurt and he was exhausted. Why won't you all stop poking at me and leave me alone?

Chris sat by Vin's head, his hand resting on his neck. His thumb lightly touched the claw marks on Vin's left cheek. Vin slowly opened his eyes. He sighed and let out a low moan. He closed his eyes again. Why do I feel so funny?

He opened his eyes again, and a grin spread across his face as he recognized Chris.

"Somethin' funny, cowboy?"

"Hey, Chris, never knew there was two of ya..."

"Nice to see you smiling about that. Can't say too many people are happy to see even one of me..."

"Well, I'm always glad ta see ya.... J.D. okay?"

"Shh, don't be worrying about J.D. now.... just worry about yourself.... concentrate on getting well...."

"Chris? I don't feel good.... think I gotta throw up...."

Chris ran his hand through the tangled curls.

"Try not to think about that.... it's okay.... you're gonna be all right...."

Vin took a deep breath and shuddered. He started to blink rapidly.

"My chest feels funny. Chris? Chris, I'm sorry.... it's my fault....I know better..... stupid mistake......"

Vin's eyes slid closed again. He let out a soft moan when he felt a sudden searing pressure in his shoulder.

"Chris? Can you hear her laughing? She wants me to come, mind if I go with her for a spell?......"


Chris felt as if his blood turned to ice.

"Vin? Don't you go any place! You hear me? You stay right here. We need you!"

"I need you..." he whispered.

Vin heard Chris as he sank into blackness. His voice sounded so far away. His breathing slowed. He felt warm, safe. He heard Chris, but was drawn to the laughter. It was so familiar. Too tired to struggle any longer, he lapsed into unconsciousness.



J.D. burst through the door. Chris is hollerin' at Vin! Is he dead? He stood in the doorway, breathing rapidly, his hand still on the knob. He stared at the men surrounding Vin, bathed in sweat. Nathan's hands were bloody and J.D. heard him grunt as a bullet clanked into a basin. J.D. felt his stomach suddenly turn. Chris still sat by Vin's head. He was talking softly, J.D. couldn't hear what he was saying. Chris looked up and showed no expression as he nodded his head.


"I.. I heard you.....Vin's not.....he isn't..... he isn't dead is he??"

Buck walked to J.D.'s side and put an arm across his shoulders.

"No, he's not J.D. , feeling a mite poorly, but not dead...."

Ezra quietly slipped out and returned a few minutes later carrying a soft, white night shirt. Nathan looked up from wrapping Vin's shoulder.

"Ezra, what do intend to do with that?"

"Mr. Jackson, what I 'intend ' to do is ask you all to help me get Mr. Tanner into this."

Nathan looked at Ezra, the disgust evident on his face.

"When he awakens, he will be much more comfortable wearing this than thinking about us all seeing him spread out in his illustrious glory..."

Josiah helped Ezra clean Vin up and into the night shirt. When they finished, he carried him as if he were a small child and placed him gently on the bed. Vin didn't wake up,only a small moan escaped his lips as Josiah held him in his arms.

"Nathan? He gonna be okay?"

Chris hadn't left his seat, his body was too spent to move.

"I don't know Chris."

Ezra spun around and turned on the healer.

"YOU don't know??? Mr. Jackson, YOU set the bone, YOU removed the bullet.... WHAT DO YOU MEAN? YOU don't KNOW??"


Buck mournfully looked down and realized he'd never changed.

"He's already got a fever. Between that and the blood he's lost...I'm telling you... I've done the best can, I DON'T KNOW!"

Josiah stepped between the two men.

"Gentlemen, we're all concerned. This altercation can't be of any help to Vin...."


Ezra turned his anger on Josiah. He poked his chest with an index finger as he spoke.

"If Mr. Jackson can't give us the odds of Mr. Tanner's chances, perhaps you can tell us. What does your 'Heavenly Father' you're always talking to have to say?"

Ezra shook his head in disgust. He picked up his coat, and stormed from the room, slamming the door behind him.

Nathan looked at the remaining men.

"It's been a long night. We all need to get some rest. I need to think about Vin, can't be worrying about you all. Buck, get J.D. out of here and put him to bed before he falls down."

Chris had moved over to Vin's side. He placed a cool cloth on Vin's forehead, pushing the hair back as he did.

"Nathan.... I ah... I think I'm just gonna sit with him a little longer... if you don't mind?"

Nathan stood behind Chris and rested a hand on his shoulder.

"He hasn't moved... he looks so pale...."

"I'm doing the best I can for him Chris."

"I know Nathan.... I know."

As the sun started to once again waken the town, Chris sat in front of the saloon. His eyes were fixed on the door to Nathan's clinic. Josiah wearily came down the stairs and crossed over to Chris. Chris never took his eyes off the door.

"How's he doing?"

"Still quiet. Waging a battle on the inside right now. You get any sleep?"


Josiah looked at Chris appraisingly.

"Okay, some"

The two men sat in silence.

"Who's with him now?"


"Ezra? Ezra don't seem the nurse maidin' type to me...."

"I know, but he came early. Set about fussing over Vin's hair.Scrubbed it good, combed it nice and all, even shaved him."

Chris glanced over at Josiah.

"You sure he wasn't whispering in Vin's ear, trying to sell him a cemetery plot?"

Josiah chuckled as he shook his head.

"No, I can assure you brother, his intentions seemed honorable."

Chris rested his chin on his hand.

"Now, why do you reckon that is?"

"Well, I tell you, I have been giving that some thought. You know Vin's never exactly said where he's from? Every time he opens his mouth, there's no mistaking that drawl. Now the way I see it, Ezra wants to make sure that if the South 'should rise again', he's got Vin all buttered up and on his side....."

Chris shook his head, laughing at the idea of Vin as a "reb".

"Thanks. I needed that."

Chris looked up at Nathan's windows and stopped.

"Josiah, why did this happen? Damn. How did everything go so wrong?"

"I'm sorry. Got no easy answers for that."

The two men sat in silence.

Josiah patted Chris' knee as he stood up.

"I'll be at the church if you need me."

Chris nodded and watched Josiah as he walked away.

How did everything go so wrong?


Josiah stepped into the empty church and slowly closed the door behind him. Chris' words echoed through his mind.Why did this happen? He started moving about the small building. Restless, his hands searched for something to do. He sat down at his table and placed his head in his hands, his eyes closed. Why did this happen? For what purpose?

He raised his head and opened his eyes. His gaze rested on a book. An old, worn book sat on the table before him. His father's bible. A book from which his father had always received much comfort. Why did this happen?

He picked the book up and began thumbing through the well worn pages. Why did this happen? He stopped leafing through the book when he came to Ecclesiastes. His eyes misted as he began to read the familiar passage. To everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under Heaven....... He threw his head back and closed his eyes. WHY? He slammed the book shut and hurled it across the room. WHY DID THIS HAPPEN?

He stood up, and with one sweep of his arm, he cleared the table.

'WHAT DO YOU KNOW PREACHER?' Why? Why did this happen?

If the other men looked to Nathan to heal their bodies, they looked to Josiah mend their spirits, to give them answers where they could find no worldly ones. Josiah gripped the side of the table and turned it over.

WHY? Why did this HAPPEN? Why Lord? Why are You doing this? Life has already broken these men, why are you putting them through this? You don't have to take this man, he's still a boy. There must be more work for him to do here. Chris Larabee has lived through unspeakable losses... he's just letting himself care about other people again....don't take Vin and make him suffer again. Buck feels responsible.....don't break that man and make him live with the guilt of this needless death. Ezra is finally learning to open up, and think of someone else without needing to gain from it. Nathan can only do so much.....but he will forever feel it wasn't enough. And J.D. ..... young J.D....... if , in Your wisdom , You see fit to take Vin, what will happen to J.D.? You will destroy the bonds we have forged.....the only "family" J.D. has he strong enough now to survive without these men to guide him? 'What do you know preacher? ' Why did this happen?

Outside, those passing could hear the noise inside. They heard the gentle man destroying all he had repaired thus far. They heard him yelling at his God, not receiving the answers or comfort he needed. No one entered, no one intervened, no one gave comfort to the one who always had a kind, gentle word.

Josiah leaned against a wall and sank to the ground. He rested his arms on his raised knees . He looked at the destruction his anger had caused. He closed his eyes and put his head down on his arms.

Why did this happen? How did everything go so wrong?


Nathan sat by Vin's side. It was early morning, and the day was already hot. Sitting next to Vin, and the heat that radiated off him, made Nathan even hotter. Vin had not spoken since the night before. The only sound he had made was an occasional, low, painful moan. Nathan knew he should give him something for the pain, but didn't know what. They hadn't been able to get Vin awake enough to take any laudanum, and if he didn't choke while they tried to force it on him, he'd probably throw it up. And the morphine? Well, after seeing how the morphine hit Vin when it started working, Nathan was hesitant to use it again. No, he'd just have to wait. Wait until Vin indicated how much pain he was in--if he he'd know what to give him.

Nathan pulled back the sheet and unbuttoned the nightshirt to reveal Vin's chest. Damn nightshirt! Just to protect his modesty! The material was damp with sweat and clung to Vin's body. Nathan picked up a cloth, dipped it into the basin at his side, and gently began to sponge Vin's chest and legs. Vin was burning up, he needed to cool him down. I can't even get him to wake up enough to take anything to bring the fever down.

Ezra paced, hands on his hips. He stopped occasionally to run a hand through his hair. He'd been at Nathan's since daylight and still hadn't left. Without prodding, he had immediately set to cleaning Vin up and attempting to make him more comfortable. Now that he had finished these tasks, he paced. He didn't know what else to do.

"Ezra, unless you're planning to pick up the pace enough to raise a breeze and cool Vin off, come over here and give me a hand."

The gambler stopped and looked over at Nathan as if he'd just realized he wasn't alone. Coming over to the bed, he sat opposite Nathan.

"Here, take this and start trying to cool him off."

Nathan grabbed Ezra's hand and placed a wet cloth in it. Nathan picked up Vin's right arm and gently started to manipulate it. He raised it slightly and bent the joints at the elbow and wrist. Ezra sponged Vin with a look of puzzlement as he stared at Nathan.

"May I ask, what are you doing?"

Nathan was frustrated. Why do I always have to justify everything I do? He tried to control his voice as he responded.

"Ezra, Vin's shoulder is pretty busted up. I don't know what kind of damage he's got. I do know that shoulder's gotta hurt like hell. And Vin? Well he ain't gonna want to move it, it'll hurt that much, he won't be able to help it. I need to exercise it for him, make him move it, until he can do it himself. Needs to be able to use his arm ,don't want it stiffening up on him."

Ezra nodded in understanding. How does this simple man know so much?

"Mr. Jackson?"

Nathan looked up.

"I would like to apologize for my outburst last night."

"Don't let it worry you's okay,you was just concerned is all."

"No, Mr. Jackson, it is not 'okay'. I was concerned about our young friend, but that in no way gives me the right to direct my anger at you. Please allow me the satisfaction of apologizing. It is not something I am accustomed to doing. I would not want you to blame yourself, and think you gave inferior care because of something I may have said."

"Thanks Ezra."

Nathan looked at Ezra, he knew how difficult it had been for the southerner to offer that apology and he appreciated it.

"Ezra, why?"

"Pardon me, Mr. Jackson?"

"Why do you care so much about what happens with Vin? He owe you money? Watching you two, have to wonder if you even know each other."

"I don't know Nathan. I know how you and the others see me. But Mr. Tanner? I don't know. I look in those eyes and I don't know what I see. Seeing him this hurt and vulnerable is frightening.

He is our strongest link. Without any effort or realization on his part, he keeps us all on course. I can't imagine the repercussions if the unthinkable should befall him."

The two men sat silently, attending to Vin.

"Mr. Jackson, these sheets are all wet, they can't possibly be comfortable."

Nathan grunted in agreement. The bed was hot, Vin was hotter than hell, this room was stifling. Ezra went to the shelf for some fresh linens. When he returned, he gently turned Vin to face Nathan and began stripping the damp linens off the bed. When he indicated to Nathan that he was ready, they turned Vin to face Ezra.

"Ezra? You think you can hang on to him there so I can check those bandages while he's on that side?"

Ezra nodded and knelt by the bed. Vin inhaled sharply and winced as Nathan cut away at the dressing.


He made a feeble attempt to move away from the hands at his back. Ezra knew he was no Chris Larabee but he knew what he needed to do. He tried. He tried to comfort and reassure Vin. Caring was a new thing to him. He placed his hand on Vin's head and gently stroked his hair as he looked at Vin's face.

"There.... there.... it's okay..... just trying to make you a little more comfortable....."

His attempt felt awkward, the words foreign on his tongue, but Vin heard him. His body relaxed and his ragged breathing evened. He sighed, and let Nathan do what he had to, he was safe, Ezra was here.



When he finished, Nathan placed a pillow behind Vin and gently eased him back so that he was slightly on his side, resting on the pillow.

"That left hand's looking swollen. Here. Ezra, put this pillow under his arm. Easy. Easy. Don't yank at him, just raise it a bit. Need to get that swelling down a little."

Nathan heard the door open as they finished. He heard Chris and Buck quietly enter. He sat back in his chair and smiled at the two, glad to see that they had come,together.

"Nathan, how's he doing this mornin'?"Buck whispered, expecting good news.

"About the same."

Nathan and Ezra stood up and stepped away from Vin. Chris looked down at his friend and then around again, as if searching for something he'd lost. Walking over to the basin, he saw the bullet still there and picked it up. He held it, looking at it as if he'd never seen a bullet before. Holding it up, he asked Nathan," Can I have this?".

Startled by the odd request, Nathan was speechless. He shrugged his shoulders.

"Uh, sure, I guess so...."

"Mr. Larabee, whatever for? Are you compiling some sort of barbaric memory book for Mr. Tanner? First tooth," Ezra was waving his hands for emphasis, "first haircut, first bullet?"

At that last statement, Buck paled, guilt and grief washed over his face. Nathan stepped forward and placed his open palm on Ezra's chest.

"Ezra, take it easy before you say something you're gonna regret."

As Chris looked Ezra in the eye, a small grin spread on his face. Ezra stepped away.

All backs were turned to Vin. He had been momentarily forgotten. The heated discussion had aroused him. No one noticed him as he began to stir. Hearing a loud, "NO!" they all turned as one. They were surprised that Vin had somehow managed to sit up. He was breathing rapidly. His eyes were open, but glazed. They could see fear on his face as he stared at a demon only he saw. He drew his knees up, dug his heels into the bed and pushed himself back. His further escape hindered by the wall as he hit it.


He was gasping. Struggling to breathe.

When he remembered the event that followed, Ezra never knew what possessed him. The others were there. What force propelled him to Vin's bedside, reaching it first? Vin looked at Ezra, panic evident on his face. He looked at Ezra, but he did not see Ezra. As Ezra approached, another heart breaking "NO!" escaped his lips. He raised his right arm, a movement that in a lucid moment, pain would have prevented.

Chris saw what was going to happen next, but could not react fast enough to prevent it.

Ezra never saw what hit him.


With a strength they didn't know he still possessed, Vin's fist connected with Ezra's head. He hit Ezra with enough force to send him backward, unconscious. The other three men stood, shocked, mouths open in astonishment at what they had just witnessed.


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