Josiah was slowly climbing the stairs of the clinic when he heard the noise inside. He took the remaining stairs two at a time and bounded into the room. He entered in time to see Ezra fall to the floor. Vin was sitting up, wild eyed and gasping. Stepping over Ezra, Josiah approached the bed. Vin clenched his fist and again began to raise his arm.
"Careful Josiah," Chris stated calmly.
Hearing Chris, Vin stopped, a look of recognition on his face. Chris? His brows creased in confusion. He licked his parched lips as his eyes began their search for his friend. Starting to sway, he put his right hand on the bed, trying to steady himself. With a gasp, he fell back against the wall.
"Chris, help me please......I'm hurt....."
Chris stepped forward and moved to sit on the bed beside Vin.
Startled, and struggling to stay upright, Vin again raised his fist to protect himself.
Chris took Vin's arm and slowly placed it down.
"Look AT ME. I'm right here."
Placing his hand under his chin, Chris moved Vin's head so that he could look in his eyes.He softly stroked Vin's scratched cheek with his thumb.
"Vin, I'm right here......look at me......come on, look here..."
Vin's eyes slowly began to focus, his breathing slowed.
Chris smiled, "That's it, I'm right here, not going anywhere."
Hearing Buck shift his weight, Vin looked up in fear. His breathing again intensified and he resumed his efforts to back away from a terror only he could see.
"Chris, please.....I'm hurt.....he hurt me...."
Buck put his head down and turned away, he felt as if he'd been punched in the gut. Damn it, I did this to him, he'll never forgive me...
"You're home Vin, back in town, look...look around, this is Nathan's clinic. Nothin's gonna hurt you..... I'm right here, I won't let it, I'm gonna stay right here and make sure."
The gambler was slowly regaining his senses. He lay quietly, listening before he said anything.
"Oh, no gentlemen! No! No! Don't worry about me, I shall be fine. I wouldn't want to interrupt your heartfelt declarations of allegiance."
Josiah looked down at Ezra, with a wry grin.
"Why, brother, I didn't realize you were here. What are you doing lying on the floor?"
"Mr. Sanchez, I shall ignore that poor attempt at humor. Apparently my injury at the hands of Mr. Tanner amuses you."
Ezra stood up, brushing the dust off his clothes.
Nathan couldn't help grinning either. He found it difficult not to laugh at the memory of the sight of Ezra running face first into the wall that was Vin Tanner's fist.
"Come on Ezra, come over here and let me take a look at you."
"I...I don't feel good....", Vin closed his eyes as he gulped. He let out a low moan as he startled to topple forward. As Chris caught him in his arms, he felt the heat through the thin material of the night shirt. Vin's skin was dry and hot. Chris looked up at Nathan, his face full of concern.
"Nathan, he's burning up!"
"I know. his arm's infected. It's the fever that's making him seem out of his head. Been trying to cool him down all morning, I don't know how much higher he can take."
Nathan went over to his small stove and returned, carrying a cup.
"While you got him awake there, see if you can get him to drink this."
He passed a cup to Chris.
"Vin?", he murmured softly. Vin was finally starting to calm, he didn't want to startle him again.
"Hey, how ya doing there pard?Can I get ya to drink some of this water?"
Chris felt Vin nod against his chest as he mumbled, "'m thirsty".
Chris held his hand to the back of Vin's head and lifted the cup, tipping it slowly. With the first swallow, Vin coughed. He shook his head and tried to push away from Chris. Chris continued to push Vin to drink the water.
Damn it Vin, you WILL drink this!
"Vin, it's not bad, it's water and you need to drink this."
"No, don't want it." Please just go away and leave me alone
Chris felt himself losing his patience. He could not believe how childish Vin was suddenly acting.
"Here, look, to make you happy, I'll have some too." Chris lifted the cup to his own mouth and took a large swallow. He immediately gagged. Turning away from Vin, he hissed, "Nathan, what the HELL is this?"
He needs to drink that Chris, he needs the fluids. I made a tea with some herbs. Used some willow for the fever and the pain and some goldenseal and echinacea to try and fight that infection. Put some peppermint in too, to try and help settle his stomach some."
"You expecting him to drink all this? You think he needs this?"
"To start, yes."
Damn it, you could have at least warned me....
"Vin, do you trust me?"
Vin looked at Chris, his eyes full of unshed tears, and slowly nodded his head.
"Well, Vin, I trust Nathan here, and he says you need to drink this."
"No, don't make me......please...... tastes like horse piss....."
Josiah snorted. Chris glared at him. Josiah could not hide a smile.
"It seems Brother Tanner has drinking habits we didn't know about!"
Chris couldn't believe it, his frustration was evident. His anger and worry were starting to build. Chris let out a deep breath.
"Vin, I can't help you if you don't trust me. I'm not gonna ask you to drink this again. you will drink it if I have to pour it down you myself."
Vin looked at Chris, his eyes full of sorrow. He sighed in defeat.
He slowly drank the entire cup, stopping several times, fighting the nausea that threatened to overtake him.When he was finished, Chris gently lay Vin back on the pillows. Vin took several deep breaths, struggling to keep the contents of his stomach down.
Vin turned his head away and closed his eyes.
He gulped several times, trying to swallow the bile he once again felt rising in his throat.
Chris reached to touch Vin's head, but sensing the movement, Vin moved his head away slightly.
Vin didn't answer.
"Vin... I'm sorry...."
Vin still wouldn't turn his head.
No it's not okay. I'm sorry I treated you that way. I know you're like a wounded animal, just want to be left alone.
Still no answer.
Chris sighed, "okay", he stood up slowly and with one last glare at Nathan, he left the clinic.
Buck watched silently as Chris argued with Vin and then left, slamming the door.
"Buck? Buck? Can you stay with Vin a bit while Josiah and I take Ezra to his room and then get a bite to eat?"
Nodding his acceptance, Buck turned and looked at Vin. With a sigh, he slowly walked over to the chair beside the bed and sat. Vin was still quiet, his eyes remained closed. Buck silently picked up Vin's hand and absently began to run his fingers over the bruised knuckles. Lost in deep thought, he didn't realize that Vin had opened his eyes and was quietly watching Buck.
Caught off guard, Buck barely heard the low whisper. Starting to move away, Buck felt a slight pressure as Vin tried to stop him. As Vin inhaled sharply, Buck realized the pain that the small exertion had caused.
"No...no, please," Vin gasped, "please don't leave me....I'm afraid."
Buck touched Vin's head and gently pushed his hair back. He feels even hotter...
"Buck, I... I was worried 'bout you....."
Vin was struggling to remain conscious.
He pushed his head back into the pillow as a sharp pain went across his back.
"Oh, no,,,," he groaned as he remembered pushing his friend away. good job Tanner, man tries to help you, you push him away...don't deserve to have him as a friend..serves you right if he never comes back....
"I was 'fraid the cougar got you ..."
Vin felt the room start to spin as he tried to raise his head to look about the room.
"J.D.? Oh no, Buck....J.D. okay?.....where is he?"
Slowly losing his battle to remain conscious, Vin's eyes closed. Buck shook his head. Why doesn't it surprise me that you're lying here worried about everyone else? Picking up the cloth in the basin, Buck gently placed it back on the tracker's too hot forehead. Feeling Buck's touch, Vin again opened his eyes. Struggling to control the pain, Vin was breathing heavily.
"Now, don't you mind none 'bout J.D. You're the one we're all worried about pard."
Vin's eyes closed again as a low moan escaped his lips.
"Vin, let me go get Nathan. Let me see if he can give you something for this pain."
"No. No, I'll be fine," Vin hissed, "please don't leave me."
Buck didn't know if he should insist, but hearing the plea, he remained at Vin's side. He gripped Vin's hand and sat quietly until the wave of pain subsided.
"Buck? What....what happened?"
Unable to sleep the previous night, Buck had relived the events many times. He was reluctant to discuss it with Vin, he hesitated before speaking. He realized Vin didn't know what happened after the cougar jumped him, that he had fought out of instinct. He didn't know how much he should say, but felt it was important to set the truth straight right away. If Vin hated him, he'd leave, he'd understand, he hated himself already.
"Well, that cougar looked like he surprised ya. By the time me an' J.D. got there, he had a hold on your arm."
Buck reached across and lightly touched Vin's broken left arm. Vin's eyes followed Buck's hand, he gazed at his arm as if just realizing it was injured. As he stared at his arm, painful memories started to return. Buck knew he had to continue, had to explain to Vin what happened, and how sorry he was for what he had done.
"He didn't know he'd made a big mistake messing with you. You were beatin' the daylights out of him when we got there...."
Vin was very quiet. Buck could tell from his expression that he was slowly remembering.
"I'm sorry, Vin."
Vin was confused. He looked up at Buck.
The room was starting to spin, his stomach was churning and he felt pain all over. His mind couldn't understand. He felt the fear rising again as he started to recall the attack. He painfully remembered seeing Buck and J.D. come to the clearing. He remembered turning his head and seeing Buck.....and then he remembered pain.
"Vin I shot you. I don't.... I don't know how I did it... thought I had him dead on...but I missed him.... got you instead."
Buck choked back tears as he continued, he did not notice that Vin's eyes had closed again. Vin was trying, but he was losing the battle in his struggle to remain conscious.
"Vin, please forgive me, I'd never hurt ya, if I could, I'd trade places with you in a second... if you can't, I'll understand.... but please know I didn't mean for this to happen....please forgive me."
Buck held Vin's hand and closed his eyes as he waited for some response. He was waiting for the forgiveness he desperately needed. He didn't know that Vin was fighting, struggling to remain conscious.
"Vin? I'm sorry. Please forgive me."
Buck? Buck shot me?No....
Vin couldn't stay awake any longer. Buck heard Vin's painful gasp. His hand went limp as he tried to respond. Buck felt a pain deep in his heart when he heard the one word Vin managed to utter before blackness claimed him.
No you didn't.........
Feeling guilty about the altercation with Vin, Chris returned to the clinic. He arrived in time to hear Buck's confession. He winced when he heard Vin's response. Aw, hell,Vin.. He saw Buck's shoulders sag as he dropped Vin's hand. He heard the painful moan from his best friend. He heard the deep shudder from his oldest friend. Stepping forward, he placed a hand on Buck's shoulder.
Chris swallowed and looked at Vin as he tried to gather his thoughts. He didn't know what he could say that would be of any help.
"Buck, you know he's not thinking clear."
"No, Chris.....you heard him....'no', clear as day....."
"Buck, he's pretty sick, you can't hold him to what he says. You don't even know if he understood you."
Buck spun around and turned on Chris.
"I SHOT him Chris!"
He walked away, pacing the room with his hands on his hips.
"You heard him. I damn near killed him.....he can't forgive me."
He stopped pacing and looked around the room.
"I need to get out of here..."
Chris put his arm out to stop Buck.
"Buck no. Don't leave here mad. Don't blame yourself. I didn't hear him blaming you. He's sick, not in his right mind....don't hold him to what he says."
Buck glared at Chris as he pushed him away.
"RIGHT. You can storm out of here because he hurt your feelings by pouting. But me? I have to be understanding when he says he can't forgive me for nearly killing him. You tell me to remember that he's not thinking clear, when I know he's right. I don't deserve to be forgiven, this is all my fault."
Chris stood silently, listening. He let Buck vent his frustration.
Buck quieted as he gestured towards Vin. His words caught in his throat as he continued.
"Chris, you weren't there. He needed my help. I looked in his eyes. I saw how scared and hurt he was. He trusted me to help him. What did I do? I shot him? I can still see the look on his face when he realized I shot him."
Chris felt helpless, he knew there was nothing he could say.
"You weren't there, Chris. I nearly killed him. How can he forgive me? I can't forgive myself."
Chris stood, waiting for Buck to finish.
"I'm here now. I'm here for him. I'm here for you."
Buck lowered his head and let out a deep sigh of resignation.
"Buck you look exhausted. Did you get any sleep last night?"
"Not much. Ended up staying with J.D., poor kid kept waking up with nightmares. He's really shook up."
"Go on. Get some rest. I'll stay here with Vin. Check on the kid, make sure he's okay."
"I told you, we're okay. We'll get through this. All of us. Together."
The two men shook hands and Buck lightly patted Vin's arm before he left. Chris sat wearily by Vin's side. He touched Vin's cheek. His skin was hot, dry to the touch. Taking a piece of cloth, he wet it and put it to Vin's parched lips. Vin began to moan as Chris lightly ran his hand through his hair. Chris sadly realized that even unconscious, the stoic tracker could not escape pain.
"Vin? Don't know if you can hear me. I'm sorry. I'm right here. I'm right here for you."
Aw, hell Vin. How are we gonna make this right? You have to get well. It don't seem like you to be the type to hold a grudge. You have to forgive Buck. He needs it---we all need it.
Chris sat alone with Vin. Time stood still. He was lost in thoughts about how much his life had changed in the last few months. Changed due to one brief look exchanged with a complete stranger. He couldn't recall when or how, but Vin had quickly become his best friend. Part of Vin reminded Chris of himself at the same age, another part was what he hoped Adam would have been like if he'd had the chance to grow up. He sat alone, quietly whispering prayers he thought he'd long forgotten.
Hearing the door slowly open, he looked up to see J.D., alone.
"Buck find you?"
"No....I.. I was at the livery", J.D. stammered. "I fed Vin's horse, gave him some exercise."
Chris looked down at Vin's still form, he brushed the hair from Vin's forehead as he looked up again.
"That's nice of ya, J.D. I know he'd appreciate it, you're a good friend."
J.D. took off his hat and cleared his throat. He nervously advanced. He started breathing rapidly as he got closer.
" Is he any better?"
Chris was quietly concentrating on trying to cool Vin down.
"No, J.D., I'm sorry. He's not. Just seems to be getting worse."
J.D. stood suddenly and turned. Too stunned to think. NOOO!
Chris sounded so defeated. Chris would never give up on Vin if he thought he had a chance.
"Here, sit down. Give me a hand here."
J.D. sat down anxiously.
"Wh...What do I do?"
"Just talk to him. Let him know he's not alone, we're here. Scary when you're hurt this bad. Take this rag and try to sponge him some, help cool him a little."
"Can he hear us?"
"Don't know. Hope so. Hope he knows he's not in this alone."
J.D. was too quiet. Chris was concerned.
"J.D., you okay, son? Need to talk about it?"
"Yes.....no.....no I'm not. I was so scared Chris. That cougar was so big. I was afraid it was gonna kill Vin and then come after us."
"Well, he's lucky you and Buck were there."
"I can't forget it, Chris. No matter what I do, I keep seeing it. Everything was okay, having fun, teasing......then....then it all went bad. Why did this happen?"
The boy looked at Chris, hoping for an answer. Chris didn't know what to say.
"Don't know J.D., guess you just have to appreciate what you have while you still can. You can lose everything you have in an instant." Again
"My hands were shaking so bad. For a moment I forgot about Vin, I was just so afraid for myself."
"Buck was there, he wouldn't let anything happen to you."
J.D. gulped as he continued,"Yeah, we spread out. Buck was right over there." J.D. gestured to his left. "He told me to shoot to kill. I aimed right here" J.D. gestured between his eyes. When I close my eyes, I keep seeing the Vin get shot....."
Chris sat up straight. He looked up at J.D., his brow was creased in concentration.
J.D. stopped. He was shocked when he came to a sudden realization. I shot Vin His heart sank, he became short of breath. Chris was about to say something when he saw Vin start to become restless. J.D. was forgotten as he directed his concern to Vin. Something was wrong. Vin had started shivering. he needed Nathan.
I shot Vin
Chris pulled Vin into his arms.
"Chris, help me please," he pleaded through clenched teeth.
J.D. didn't move.
I shot Vin. He's gonna die and it's my fault.
"J.D.! Get Nathan NOW!"
I shot Vin.
" J.D. NOW!!!"
J.D. never heard Chris. He stood and ran from the clinic.
It wasn't Buck. I shot Vin! It was me...
"It's okay Vin, help's on the way. J.D.'s gone for Nathan."
Chris tried to remain calm as he waited for help.
Chris sat quietly, trying to remain calm as he held Vin in his arms. Except for the sound of Vin's labored breathing, the room was silent. Chris sat patiently. He did not want to upset Vin, but he was scared. For the first time in as long as he could remember, Chris Larabee was frightened. He knew his reputation, in fact he enjoyed it. He had begun to expect people to bend to his commands by his intimidation. Damn it Vin you WILL get well. As he waited, Chris realized that it was ironic he sat with the one person he could not intimidate. If he could, he would scare him into recovering. He smiled remembering the first time he glared at Vin, only to be rewarded with a grin, followed by Vin doing as he planned in the first place. Christ Vin, do you even realize how important you are to the rest of us? When Sarah and Adam died, something deep inside Chris had died. Without any effort, this quiet man who was not much more than a boy had reawakened a spark of life in him. Chris could not, would not, let his friend die. This time, he would make him listen.
As he sat with his chin resting lightly on Vin's head, Chris began to rock. Vin was quiet except for an occasional deep breath. Chris realized that Vin was fighting to stay awake, fighting to hang on. Moving his hand to Vin's back, he gently started to massage it.
"Just hang on Vin, Nathan'll be here soon, and he'll fix ya up good as new," he soothed.
"Too....tired," Vin sighed.
Chris swallowed the lump that had formed in his throat as he pushed the hair off Vin's forehead.
He tried to control his rising panic when he looked in Vin's eyes, which had become dull and vacant.
"Oh, sure....'fore you know it, you'll be out riding that miserable horse of yours....just like lickin' butter off a knife."
Chris' voice caught when he used the phrase he'd often heard his friend use. Vin was drowsy, he was struggling to hang on, but he was just so tired. With Vin's head against his chest, Chris felt the low chuckle at his poor imitation of Vin's easy drawl.
" 'm cold," Vin slurred.
Chris carefully slid out from under Vin and gently eased him down onto the pillows.
"Let me get you another blanket."
Putting several heavy quilts over Vin, Chris sat down on the bed and picked up Vin's hand. He was saddened to realize that in Vin's weakened state, his hand hung limply in Chris'. Please Vin, hang on...
Chris barely heard the hoarse whisper.
"Just a blanket.....gotta keep ya warm...."
Vin licked his parched lips. He was struggling to stay awake, he needed to talk to Chris.
"No....thanks.....for..for...believin' in ....me," he gasped.
Hearing the resignation in Vin's voice, Chris' heart sank. NO...don't you give up!!!! Chris clutched Vin's hand and squeezed. He could not let go, he was afraid that if he didn't hold on to him, Vin's soul would just slip away. Blinking back hot tears, he swallowed deeply.
"You're a good man Vin Tanner, I'm proud to ride with you," he choked.
Vin's eyes closed and silence once again fell on the little room. Nathan, where are you? Chris sat anxiously watching the slow rise and fall of Vin's chest. Vin slowly opened his eyes.
"Shh...Vin...just try to rest....." Chris soothed.
"Don't....don't for..forget the .....five..hunerd ...dollars."
Chris was unashamed as the tears that had been threatening to fall spilled forth. Taking a deep breath, he swallowed deeply. Clearing his throat, he opened his eyes.
"Now, I done told ya, we're going to Tascosa together."
"Can't.....too tired....," Vin sighed. Vin shifted slightly and closed his eyes as he gasped. One tear escaped and slid towards his ear. Chris placed his hand on Vin's cheek and gently wiped the tear away with his thumb. Vin opened his eyes and looked up at Chris.
"I'm sorry....can't... "
Chris lowered his head, and struggled to control his emotions. Why did I let you get so close?
"Chris...don't be mad.....at Buck...."
You tell me to not to be mad at him for killing you, yet you refuse to forgive him yourself?
Chris couldn't understand Vin's request. Aside from Ezra, Vin could read people better than anyone he knew. Yet somehow, he failed to realize that his forgiveness was more important to Buck than suffering the wrath of Larabee.
"Vin..." he began gently, "he's sorry this happened. He's sorry he shot you...."
Vin was struggling to remain coherent, the threatening blackness was closing in. He tried to get Chris to listen, but he couldn't make his mouth obey.
"No... he's not..."
"Vin, it was an accident, you gotta believe that."
As Vin vainly struggled to sit up, the room began to spin, his vision blurred.
"No...no...saw him.....he shot...."
With a deep sigh his head fell back as he lost the battle. Chris grabbed Vin's shoulders and shook him. "VIN!!!! NO!!!!!"
Chris knew he was powerless, the end of the seven had just begun.
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