"Aw, come on Vin, don't do this...."
Vin turned his head away from Chris and closed his eyes. I'm sorry J.D., it's my own fault.
"It's my own fault Chris, didn't even have my knife with me....not some dumb kid, know better," Vin insisted.
"Damn it Vin! Don't go blaming yourself! It was an accident... we nearly lost you. The son of a bitch jumped you, you don't know that you would've been able to even get the knife out!" Chris was frustrated, he knew he wasn't getting through to Vin. "You're good Tanner, but I don't think even you are that good..." Vin remained silent as he turned his head back to Chris and frowned. "Why can't I get you to understand this was an accident? You can't blame yourself for what J.D. did! Maybe you were a little careless and weren't paying attention, but that don't mean you deserved a bullet in your back!" Vin sighed as he continued to look up at Chris, his eyes full of sorrow. Chris leaned over the bed and placing his hand on the side of Vin's face, stared right into his eyes. "Vin can you at least understand that?" he asked quietly.
Vin shuddered as he slowly nodded. "Where's J.D.? Is he okay?"
Chris dropped his head and sighed. "Yeah, he's fine, he should be along soon." He'd better be.
+ + + + + + +
Nathan stood up and walked across the room. Placing his hand on Vin's forehead, he frowned at first but then smiled. "Still a little warm, but definitely an improvement."
Josiah rose from his chair and stood behind Nathan, smiling. Moving past Nathan, he leaned down and also felt Vin's forehead.
"It's good to see those clear, blue eyes again Vin, you had us all worried there."
The door swung open, and Ezra entered. Freshly shaven and neatly dressed, he did not look like the same man who had wearily climbed the stairs to his room a few short hours ago. A broad smile came to his face when he saw the smiles of the other men. "Gentlemen.....I trust there's a good reason you all look so happy? Rolling up his sleeves, he crossed the room and felt Vin's forehead. "Mr.Tanner! How is our patient this beautiful morning?"
Chris smiled and shook his head as he stood up. Vin was in no mood to be fussed over, if they weren't careful, those stubborn one-word answers would turn to grunts next.
"Ezra, thanks for coming early to help me get Vin cleaned up a bit." Nathan smiled as he thanked the gambler.
Chris looked down at Vin, who was just staring with his mouth open, and grinned.
"My pleasure, after the day he had yesterday, looks like he could use another shave and hair washing."
Chris chuckled as he noticed Vin attempting to pull the covers higher.
"Don't need no hair washing," he muttered hoarsely.
Smiling, Ezra turned and looked at Vin with his head cocked.
"Perhaps not, Mr. Tanner. My, were you aware that when you perspire your hair turns into the most enticing ringlets? The lovely females of our fair town won't be able to resist running their hands through it," Ezra smiled.
Buck smiled and leaned forward to whisper in Vin's ear.
"What he's trying to say is, that when you're all hot and sweaty your hair curls up...the ladies are gonna love it..." Buck raised his eyebrows and then winked at Vin.
As Vin blushed again, Buck and Chris burst out laughing. When he was finally able to control himself, Chris looked down at Vin.
"Tell ya what cowboy, you get cleaned up and Buck and me will go and fetch you a clean pair of pants and a shirt."
When Vin looked up at him, Chris could see the doubt in the young face.
Vin sighed. "Okay," he whispered quietly.
+ + + + + + +
When Chris and Buck returned a short while later, Vin was resting quietly with his eyes closed. His dressings had been changed, he was freshly shaven, and his wet hair was neatly combed.
"He's okay, Chris, just napping.....fell asleep waiting for you to come back. Won't give me an answer about how he's feeling....all he'll say is he's fine."
Chris smiled and walked to the bed. Squatting down, he touched Vin's head.
Vin opened his eyes and Chris held up a shirt and trousers. Chris smiled when he saw the slow smile spread across Vin's face.
"Hey, how you feeling there?"
Vin swallowed and licked his parched lips.
"Not hurtin' anywhere?"
"M' back hurts some..."
"Well, yeah....that's where ya got shot....."
Vin shook his head. "No....down here." He slowly moved his arm and indicated his lower back. "Can I please sit up for a bit?" he pleaded. "Been laying down too long, it hurts..."
Chris looked up at Nathan who was slowly shaking his head.
"I'm sorry, you can't, you're still too sick."
Chris felt his heart tear when Vin closed his eyes and sighed.
"S'okay," he said softly.
Chris looked up again at Nathan. Nathan hung his head and rubbed the back of his neck. He raised his hands in resignation.
"Okay...okay....you can sit in a chair for a little bit on one condition...."
Vin opened his eyes and looked up at Nathan.
"You take some laudanum first." He held up his hand to stop Vin's protest. "Now hold on, I don't care if it makes you sick. From what I've seen, anything I give ya is gonna make you sick."
Josiah smiled and nodded his head in agreement.
"Well, Mr. Tanner, you've heard Mr. Jackson's proposal."
Vin looked at Chris and sighed. He knew he was on his own.
"Alright, here you go."
Nathan held Vin's head up as he drained the glass with the laudanum in it. When he finished, he looked at Nathan and scowled. Chris was laughing as he bent down to help Vin sit up.
"Here you go...no....no...let me do all the work."
Vin started gasping, the room was spinning wildly. He squinted and blinked slowly, trying to focus the blurring images in front of him. Squatting on the floor in front of him, Chris held him steady. Chris gently removed the nightshirt and carefully helped Vin put his shirt on. He saw that Vin's hands were shaking as he tried to button it.
"You know, it's pretty hot today, why don't you leave it unbuttoned?
Vin slowly nodded his head and tried to swallow the bile rising in his throat.
"Okay now,lift up your foot, that's it....now the other...okay. You doing okay there, pard?"
Vin slowly nodded.
Buck quickly moved to Chris' side. Chris wrapped his arms around Vin's waist.
"When I stand him up, you pull his pants up."
As Chris stood up, Buck quickly pulled up Vin's pants. Vin's head rested on Chris' shoulder as his body sagged. Chris sat Vin back on the bed and sat beside him.
"How you doin'?"
Vin swallowed and slowly nodded his head. He wrapped his arms across his stomach and started to lurch forward.
Chris caught him and Buck grabbed a basin. Chris sat with his arm across Vin's shoulder and the other hand to Vin's forehead as Vin retched.
"I'm sorry,"Vin choked.
Vin's head rested on Chris' shoulder.
"It's okay, nothin' to be sorry for," Chris soothed. "Now what do you say we get you into that chair?"
Vin sighed and nodded his head.
Josiah stepped forward. "Here let me take him," he offered.
Chris felt Vin's body tense. Vin was stubborn and independent, he was thinking clearly now. He'd crawl to that chair if he had to.
"Thanks, Josiah, but I think Vin would rather walk on over, right?"
Vin looked up at Josiah and smiled as he slowly nodded his head. The growing fatigue was evident on his face. Nathan bent down and gently lifted Vin's left arm and placed it in a sling. With Chris and Buck supporting him on either side, he stood unsteadily and slowly started to walk to the rocker. After his knees buckled the second time, Chris began to regret refusing Josiah's offer. Vin was perspiring and breathing heavily by the time he reached the chair. He closed his eyes and sighed as Chris and Buck eased him down. He sagged into the pillows Nathan had placed there to prop him up. Chris smiled as he looked down at Vin sitting in the sturdy rocker with his eyes closed. Buck was right, barefoot and with his shirt open, Vin didn't look much older than J.D., yet they were so different.
He didn't realize that the door had opened. A tense silence filled the room. He turned and frowned when he heard a nervous cough. Standing before him with his hat in his hand was J.D.
"I...uh...I...," J.D. stammered. "I came to see Vin..." J.D. stood, shocked, when Chris moved aside and he saw Vin. A soft breeze from the window was blowing his hair. His face was pale and damp with perspiration. Dark circles were under his eyes. Oh, Vin..,I'm sorry, I didn't know you were so sick. Vin opened his eyes, and when he saw J.D. a slow, tired smile spread across his face.
J.D. nervously stepped forward and started to reach out.
"You feel my forehead and I'll break your hand."
J.D. dropped his hand, it took a moment for him to realize that Vin wasn't serious.
"Vin, I ....I need..... I need to talk to you....."
Vin looked up at J.D. quietly. Ezra stepped forward.
"Gentlemen, why don't we all take this opportunity to go have some breakfast? Let Mr. Dunne do his share and sit with Mr. Tanner a while? We can bring them back something...."
Vin looked up at Ezra and smiled. Ezra nodded his head and smiled back. Chris hesitated, he knew how weak Vin was. He did not feel comfortable leaving him alone with J.D. He was afraid that if Vin got it in that stubborn head of his that he was feeling better, he'd try to get up and go out for a ride. He squatted down beside Vin and placed his hand on his arm.
"It's okay, Chris......go on......" Vin whispered, "please."
"Okay, on one condition....you give me your word....you don't leave this chair until I come back."
Vin nodded his head.
"No Vin, you say it, I want your word."
Vin sighed, "Got my word...stay right here 'til you get back......"
J.D. turned and watched the others leave. He felt uneasy being alone with Vin. As he started to turn around, he felt Vin staring at him. He stood in front of Vin, nervously fidgeting with his hat.
"J.D. , sit down, please."
"Naw, that's okay, I don't mind .....I'll just stand..."
"Please, J.D. .....getting dizzy trying to keep looking up at ya....."
J.D. quickly grabbed a chair and sat down.
"I'm sorry, I....I didn't know....."
J.D. looked down at his hat. He didn't know where to start.
"Buck's right, it is a silly hat....."
"You like the hat?"
J.D. nodded his head.
"Well, that's all that matters, you like it, stick with it....."
Vin looked out the window and sighed, he wanted to be outside, he'd never felt this sick and didn't know how much fussing he was going to be able to tolerate.
"J.D., I'm sorry."
J.D. looked up, startled.
Vin nodded slowly and frowned.
"My fault......if I'd had my knife with me...I coulda killed the cougar myself...." Vin sighed, he was tiring and he was struggling to stay awake. "Sorry I put you in that situation." He slowly closed his eyes.
"You....you know?" J.D. stammered as he touched Vin's arm.
Vin opened his eyes and nodded. "It was an accident J.D....I'm lucky I'm not dead....my own fault..."
"No Vin, you couldn't help it....he jumped you....." J.D. insisted. "I shot you in the back! You wouldn't have hit me! But I shot you!"
Vin turned his head and looked out the window again. The two young men sat in companionable silence.
"Vin, you were hurt so bad, I made it worse, why did you apologize to me?"
Vin continued looking out the window. "My fault you were put in that spot. Gotta take responsibility for my own stupidity. Been thinking the other day, wouldn't be stuck here now."
"But Vin, it was an accident."
"Vin, you're tired...let me help you back to bed."
"Oh, okay." J.D.'s shoulders slumped, he could understand why Vin wouldn't want to trust him.
"I can't J.D., promised Chris I would stay put....gave my word....."
J.D. smiled. The Tanner word....
J.D. sat, watching as Vin sat with his eyes closed. Vin grinned, "Just my luck. First time I get shot, it's by a friend....."
Vin opened his eyes and turned to J.D.
"Vin, I'm sorry I shot ya.....I.....I promise I'll never do it again..." Aw, why'd I say it like that? I sound stupid!
Vin laughed and winced as it turned to a low moan.
"Oh, I hope not J.D.......I sure hope not....."
The two sat quietly. Neither knew what to say, both afraid the wrong words would sever their fragile bond.
"You okay Vin?"
"'m awful tired," he hoarsely drawled.
"Well, let me get Chris for you."
Vin nodded his head. J.D. could see that he was struggling to stay awake for his benefit. Forgetting that it was painful for Vin to move his arm, he stood and stretched out his arm to shake hands. Vin looked up at J.D. and smiled. As he slowly lifted his arm, he bit his lip as pain shot through his shoulder. Instead of taking J.D.'s hand, he slid his arm forward and held J.D.'s arm in the familiar clasp of friendship he shared with Chris. J.D. looked down at the two arms and back at Vin and smiled.
"I'll go get Chris."
As he softly closed the door behind him, he smiled. Walking by the window, he looked in and saw that Vin was already asleep. He stopped at the top of the stairs and looked out at the town. Chris and Buck were sitting in front of the saloon, pretending not to watch the clinic. Ezra was waiting for a stage that wasn't scheduled to arrive. Josiah and Nathan stood in front of the church shaking their heads at Josiah's mess inside. He had come west for a better life. He was lucky he found these men. He had Josiah to guide him. Nathan to scold him. Ezra to teach him about people. Buck to look out for him. Chris Larabee to look up to. He looked down at the hat in his hands. Bought this stupid hat 'cause I wanted to be like Bat Masterson. Turning around, he looked in the window again at Vin asleep in the chair. That's the best man I know. Not afraid to say when he's wrong. Stands up for what he believes in. Let's me be his friend. Don't want to be Bat Masterson, want to be like him. Want to be like his ma said to be, want to be like a Tanner.... Smiling, he turned and started down the stairs.
Seeing the smile on J.D.'s face, Chris and Buck relaxed.
"Well, what do you think?" Buck asked.
"I think Mrs. Tanner would be proud of her son."
Buck smiled as he watched J.D. cross the street.
"Hell, Chris, look at him....I think Mrs. Tanner would be proud of both of them."
Smiling, they both stood and stepped down to the street to meet J.D.
"So....you still planning on leaving?"
"Hell no, I want to be there when Ezra goes after Vin for his facial disfigurement."
"Lord, Chris, now you sound like Ezra."
The two men laughed.
"What about you, you still leaving?"
"No...no way.... still have the little matter of my age to discuss with Vin..."
Chris chuckled as he shook his head. Vin didn't know what he was in for.
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