"'s blood."

Ezra leaned over J.D.'s shoulder and looked at the faint brown spots the younger man was intently studying.

"Ezra, he was here. I was right. He got hurt when he fell, and then Billy saw him. He must be here somewhere."

J.D. stood up and began to quickly survey the empty town.

"Mr. Dunne, the town appears deserted, so far this is the only clue you have found. Assuming that is Vin's blood, where do you propose we begin our search?"

"He's here Ezra. I just feel it." He gestured in a sweeping motion with one arm. "He could be in any one of these buildings."

Squinting as he considered it, Ezra bit his lower lip and slowly looked around.

"Okay, lead the way then."

Starting at one end of town, they began searching each building for any sign of their missing friend. Vin's name could be heard echoing throughout the empty town as a hot breeze blew brush down the deserted streets.

"Ezra," J.D. grunted, "give me hand, I can't get this door open."

The door flew open and Ezra fell into the room as he threw his shoulder against it. Gasping, his eyes began to water as he entered the dark, stale air of the oppressively hot room. Holding his hand up, he stopped J.D. and frowned. As he started walking in the direction of the ragged breathing, his eyes adjusted to the darkness.

"Oh, sweet Jesus," he muttered when his eyes focused on a shivering Vin, bound to a bed.

"Ezra! It's Vin!" J.D. pushed forward and rushed to Vin's side. "Vin?" J.D. lightly tapped the tracker's cheek, wincing when he noticed the dark bruises discoloring his face. "Vin, come on, wake up," he coaxed. With his hand still resting on Vin's chest, J.D. looked over his shoulder at Ezra. "He's burnin' up, we gotta get 'im back ta town."

Mistaking the look on Ezra's face for lack of concern, J.D. began to seethe as he stood to face Ezra. "How can you stand there and even have to think about it? Vin's sick and hurt bad...he needs to get to Nathan...NOW."

"Mr. Dunne," Ezra sighed, "J.D., calm down. We will be of no help to Vin if we don't keep our wits about us. Look at him...someone took the time to tie him to the bed."

J.D. turned and looked at Vin. Exhaling slowly, he licked his lips. "Yeah, right...all the more reason to get him outta here NOW, before whoever it is comes back."

"J.D., be honest with yourself," Ezra urged. "I won't try to fool myself. In his condition, there is no way that I can safely hold him on a horse to take him back to town. I admit that I'm not strong enough."

J.D.'s shoulders slumped as he realized and agreed with what Ezra had just said.

"Then what do we do?"

"We move him. We hide him if necessary. One of us can go for the others to assist in bringing him back to town.

"Okay, let's do it then." J.D. knelt beside Vin and started to pull at the ropes securing him to the bed. His efforts were futile until Ezra reached down and swiftly cut through the bindings.

Grabbing a sheet, Ezra quickly tore it and began to tightly wrap the wound on Vin's right leg.

"Okay, J.D. you grab his top," Ezra commanded, "I'll grab his legs, and let's get the hell out of here."

As he sat on the bed by Vin's head, J.D. slid an arm under his back and quickly sat him up.

"'m sorry" Vin's back arched as his body stiffened in pain.

"Vin...I'm sorry." J.D. looked down at the man moaning in his arms and started to lie him back down.

"'s his shoulder. I think it may be dislocated. Hold him up, I'll put his arm in a sling." Arching an eyebrow, Ezra looked at J.D. appraisingly. "Are you going to be able to carry him?"

Feeling guilty that he had caused Vin more pain, J.D. nodded silently. Standing, they slowly started to move Vin out of the room. I'm sorry...I'm sorry....Vin, I'm sorry J.D. sadly tried to ignore the soft moans from the injured man.

Reaching out, Ezra snagged Vin's gunbelt on his arm. During the brief stop, J.D. looked around the room quickly.

"Hey, Ezra, where's Vin's boots and his gun?"

"I assume, whoever did this to him, has them," Ezra grunted, "now shall we proceed?"

As they reached the threshold, Ezra peered outside and checked for any signs of anyone else.

"Ch...Chris? Sorry," Vin slurred. "Please...'m sorry...Mrs.'t... don't be mad...sorry."

"It's okay, Mr. Tanner...Mr. Larabee will be here shortly," Ezra soothed. "Given time, I'm fairly certain that Mrs. Spencer will not harbor any resentment for was an unfortunate in no way responsible," Ezra grunted as he walked along the boardwalk with Vin and J.D.

"Where are we headed?" J.D. loudly whispered.

"To...the...mine shaft." Ezra was breathing heavily from the exertion of carrying Vin's dead weight.

Wrapping a rope around J.D. and Vin, Ezra carefully lowered them down in to the shaft.

"Hey, Ezra...your horse is faster. I'll stay here with Vin. You go fetch the others."

J.D. saw the hesitation on Ezra's face as he looked up at the gambler.

"It's okay, really...I got my gun...I'll pull Vin over there," he gestured to the side. "We'll hide 'til you get back."

Ezra stood looking down at the two youngest, wondering if any decision he made would be the correct one. He silently debated which course of action to take.

"Ezra, go...NOW."


Ezra pulled his horse to a halt and watched the cloud of dust thundering towards him. He coughed lightly and brushed his coat sleeve as the billows of dust reached his nostrils.

"Ezra, where's J.D.?" Buck demanded breathlessly.

"He's in Rio Plata."

"You LEFT HIM ALONE?" Buck reached out and roughly grabbed Ezra's arm.

"No, I can tell you, most assuredly...he is not alone...not at all."

"Ezra, get to the point. What's that grin on your face?"

"Mr. Dunne is not alone. He is with Mr. Tanner."

Moving quickly, Chris sat up straighter and frowned.

"Vin? Vin's alive?" His voice cracked with raw emotion. Chris grabbed the gambler and nearly pulled him from the saddle. "You left Vin and J.D. ALONE? Was Lillian Spencer any where around?"

"Yes...what?" the southerner stammered.

Josiah moved up and calmly held Chris's arm until he released Ezra.

"Chris, Ezra didn't know. Let's not waste any more time here."

Nodding wordlessly, Chris tapped the sides of his horse and he and Buck tore off ahead of the others.

"Ezra," Josiah sighed, "to make a long story short," he looked at Robert Spencer pointedly, "there was no missing child. We now have reason to believe that Mrs. Spencer may have harmed Vin."

"Oh...God almighty." Ezra was nearly speechless. "He's seriously ill and injured. I left him alone with only J.D. for protection."



J.D. cringed and tightened his hold as a hoarse cough racked Vin's lean frame.


"No Vin," J.D. gently stroked Vin's back. "Chris ain't here...yet...he's on the way."

Shifting, Vin weakly attempted to move from J.D.'s arms, slumping back down with a low moan.

"M' shoulder hurts," he slurred as he clumsily lifted his right hand and began massaging his left shoulder.

"I know, Vin...I's on the way," J.D. soothed , unaware that he had begun unconsciously rocking his injured friend. Resting his chin lightly on the top of Vin's head, J.D. listened to the labored breathing.

"C...Ch...Chr...Chris?" Vin shivered.

Tightening his hold, J.D. pulled the blanket higher on Vin. "It's okay Vin...I gotcha...just rest."

"Nooo...ohhhhhh" Vin groaned as he moved his right leg.

"No Vin, shhhhh......don't move around," J.D. pleaded.

"J.D.," Vin gasped.

J.D. felt Vin's hand fumbling on his chest to get his attention.

"Vin, take it easy, just relax," he soothed gently.

"No...J.D....go...Mrs....Mrs. Sp...Spencer..." Vin's hand dropped down heavily.

"Vin? What about Mrs. Spencer? Vin?"

Cupping Vin's chin, J.D. lifted his head and sadly noted he was once again unconscious. Leaning back against the wall, he tightened his hold, and resting his cheek against the top of Vin's head, began to softly murmur words of comfort.

Hearing a noise, J.D. jerked suddenly. His heart sank when he heard Vin's sharp gasp. I'm sorry Vin....I'm sorry J.D. suddenly became more alert. What was that? "Vin?" he whispered. There it was again "Vin" he whispered a little louder as he gently shook the injured man.

"Ohhh.....ohhhhh.....mmmmm," Vin softly moaned at the jostling movement. can be real proud of yourself J.D. What do you expect? You want Vin to get up and protect you? J.D. berated himself silently.

Moving stiffly, he slid out from behind Vin and gently leaned him against the wall. As he pulled the blanket up, he brushed the hair from Vin's forehead.

" just sit tight. I'm gonna go check that noise out."

Moving quietly, he stepped away from Vin and with a frown began moving towards the noise.


"'ve been very're shouldn't have left."


Frowning, J.D. turned to look at Vin behind him. As he turned back to face Mrs. Spencer, he fell as a sudden, sharp pain in his temple drove him to the ground.

Standing unsteadily, Vin closed his eyes and gulped as the room began to spin wildly. Sliding along the wall, he staggered towards J.D.'s unconscious body.

"J.D. ..." he exclaimed breathlessly as he reached out. Blinking his eyes, he tried to focus as the edges of his vision began to darken.

"Robbie, you've been very and your friend need to be punished."

"No...'m Vin," he slurred.

Leaving the support of the wall, Vin ignored the woman and stumbled forward. His body froze when he heard the familiar sound of his own gun. He looked down at J.D. and back up at the deranged woman pointing that gun at him.

"Nooo," he slowly shook his head. Looking down at J.D. he gulped and blinked several times and squinted as the edges of his vision began to blur. His chest was heaving, and his body swayed as he tried to support his weight on one leg. Without a second thought, he instinctively reached down and grabbed J.D. by the collar. Pulling with all his strength, he yanked J.D. backwards. Falling hard to the ground with J.D. on top of him, his breath was driven out in a rush. As the cracks of gunfire echoed in his ears, he fell once again into the dark void of unconsciousness.





Pushing past the others as they holstered their guns, Buck and Chris went to the two fallen men.

"Chris," Buck began quickly removing his bandana, "J.D.'s been hit." He winced as J.D. hissed and tried to move his leg away when he applied pressure to the bleeding wound.

Chris knelt by Vin's side and stared at the still tracker. Although he kept his features deceptively composed, it took all he had not to pull the injured man into his arms to reassure himself that Vin was, indeed, alive.

"Buck, he's right on top 'a Vin. We gotta move 'im. NATHAN...JOSIAH," Chris called out impatiently.

"It's okay, shhh, it's okay J.D.," Buck soothed, "I hurts. Try and stay still a bit longer...Nathan's on the way and then we'll move ya."

Nathan and Josiah quickly stepped over the lifeless body of Lillian Spencer as they moved to give aid to the two youngest.

Frowning with displeasure, Ezra licked his lips and carefully pried Robert Spencer's fingers off his revolver. The shocked man had not moved and stood, still holding his smoking gun over the body of his wife.

"Robert...Robert," Judge Travis shook the stricken man's shoulder. "Come...come over here."

"Okay...good Buck, keep holding the pressure there...good...good...looks like the bullet just grazed his leg," Nathan muttered softly. "Josiah, grab his shoulders...we'll ease him offa Vin.


"See if you can get Vin to let go of J.D. He still has a hold on his collar."

"Ohhhhh....." Vin moaned softly and moved his head as Chris gently pulled his fingers from J.D.'s shirt.

"Damn. Look at that." Josiah moved his hands over the dirt beside Vin's leg and looked over to where Nathan was tending J.D. "There's the bullet. If Vin hadn't yanked J.D. like he did, it would've killed him."

"Mmm," Vin turned and started to curl on his side as a painful cough started to wrack his body.

"Easy Vin...shhh." Chris reached down and lightly rested his hand on the younger man's shoulder.

Hearing a familiar voice, Vin frowned and slowly opened his eyes.

"Chris?" he sighed.

"Hey, cowboy," Chris whispered as he grinned.

"Okay, Vin," Nathan moved to Vin's side after finishing with J.D.'s leg.

"Ahhhh....noooo....please...." Vin arched his back and tried to push Nathan's hands away as the healer touched his bloody right leg.

"VIN...damn it...Chris, hold him," Nathan ordered.

" on Vin, grab my hand...that's just squeeze it if Nathan's hurtin' ya." Chris opened his eyes wide and gulped as Vin tightly gripped his hand. " are they?" he stammered while he tried to readjust the position of his hand.

"Hmm..." Nathan rocked back on his heels and bit his lower lip when he finished wrapping Vin's leg. "Well," he dragged his hand over his hair, then cupped his chin in his hand. "J.D. has a concussion and that bullet grazed his leg. Looks like Vin was stabbed in the leg...need to clean that wound out and stitch him up. He's lost alot of blood." Nathan lowered his head and let out a tired sigh before continuing. "He's so battered and bruised I don't know what all might be hurtin' him, but I can tell from right here that left shoulder is dislocated and the arm is broke."

Chris looked down at Vin, who was now lying quietly with his eyes closed.

"But they'll be alright?" Buck asked quietly.

Ignoring Buck, Nathan continued to fuss over Vin, searching for injuries.

"Nathan," Buck's hand rested on the healer's forearm, "they'll be alright, right?"

"I don't know." Nathan's voice was barely audible. "J.D. will be fine, but Vin was pretty sick before all this...I just don't know..."

"Damn." Buck hung his head and let out a long, defeated sigh.

"We need ta get them back to town, but first I want to get that shoulder set."

"Mr. Jackson, allow me...I'll get your saddle bags. You'll be wanting to give Vin something for the pain?"


"WHAT?" Chris demanded.

"Chris, we didn't head out expecting to find Vin hurt," Nathan explained. "Don't have enough with me to help him...'sides, don't want to sit here waiting for it to work. Let me just get that shoulder back in place, and get him back to town. Clean up the leg and sew it up there, rebreak the arm and set it properly there too..." he muttered.

"Rebreak it?" Chris felt the bile rising in his throat.

"Chris, his arm's broke...was never set proper," Nathan patiently explained, "I'll do what I can."

Staring silently down at Vin, Chris sadly nodded his head.

"Chris...Chris? Can you do this?"


"Okay, sit him up...easy...mind that's hurtin' him...that's you just hold on ta him,Chris."

" me alone...nooo...." Vin pleaded as he restlessly moved his head on Chris's shoulder.

Capturing Vin's head, Chris cradled it against his head while he tightly held Vin's upper body. Josiah quietly reached down and held Vin's legs.

"Okay, here goes," Nathan licked his lips. Bracing himself, he forcefully pulled Vin's arm.

"AHH...Nooo," Vin cried out as he pushed back against Chris.

"Damn." Nathan shook his head and wiped the sweat from his forehead. "Hold on to him," he ordered the other men. Taking a deep breath, he once again lifted Vin's arm and forcefully pulled back, grunting with satisfaction when he felt the bone slide back in to the socket. Vin's body stiffened momentarily as he held his breath and arched his back. Letting out a strangled cry, he collapsed against Chris, unconscious. Moving quickly, Nathan gently placed Vin's arm in a sling and secured it to his chest. "Okay...let's get them back to town."

Chris stood and surveyed the area.

"Mr. Larabee...go ahead. Judge Travis and I will take care of Mr. and Mrs. Spencer and meet you back in town," Ezra offered.

Chris nodded, grateful that he only had to worry about Vin and J.D. Vin...

Leaning down, Josiah carefully lifted Vin as Buck lifted J.D. Walking slowly, the men stepped over the blanket covered body. Scowling as he walked by Mrs. Spencer's body, Chris sighed. What the hell happened here?


Grunting with approval and a sigh of satisfaction, Josiah and Buck gave one final, mighty tug on the rope as Nathan gently guided Vin up over the edge of the mine shaft. Moments later, Chris climbed up over the edge and briefly sat on the edge catching his breath. Pulling his hat off, Chris let out a long sigh and wiped the perspiration from his forehead as he stood. Putting his hands on his hips, he shook his head as his eyes quickly scanned the area. How the hell did everything turn out like this? To his right, Robert Spencer was sobbing over the blanket-covered corpse of his wife. Judge Travis stood helplessly behind the man, a hand resting on his shoulder. To his left, Ezra sat on the ground with J.D. propped up against him, coaxing the injured youngster to take some water. Shit, if not for the kid and the con man, Vin might be dead... Chris looked down in front of him and frowned as his shoulders sagged. Nathan was busy tending to Vin as Buck and Josiah clumsily offered their assistance. I should've could I believe Vin would kill himself? Crouching down by Vin's head, he flicked a stray lock from the younger man's forehead before gently fingering the dark bruises on his cheek. Noticing the slight flutter of Vin's eyelids, he quickly withdrew his hand. His brow furrowed as he looked down into the glazed blue eyes staring at him. With a shudder, Vin feebly tried to push Nathan's hands away from his injured leg.

"," he gasped. "ST...STOP," he stammered. As weak as he was, he still managed to hinder Nathan's attempts.

"Damn it! Someone hold him," Nathan impatiently ordered.

Josiah quickly grabbed Vin by the ankles and firmly held his legs, while Buck pulled his right arm up over his head and held it down. Hoping he wasn't causing any more pain, Chris firmly pinned Vin's left side.

"Vin...STOP IT," Chris ordered through clenched teeth after Vin's arm broke free from Buck and hit him squarely on the jaw.


" let me go," Vin pleaded. The exertion of his struggle induced another fit of coughing, and when it finally subsided, he was gasping for air.

"Be good...please..." he hoarsely whispered.

"Let him go!"

Without warning, Buck felt himself roughly pushed to the side.


"Let him go! You're hurting him!" J.D. demanded as he stood with clenched fists, his chest heaving.

As Nathan briefly looked up, an irritated look crossed his face. Looking back down, he continued to work on Vin's wound.

"JD," he began, "Vin's hurt, sick, outta his head with fever. We gotta hold him down to work on him. Now you sit down 'fore you fall down."


J.D. was interrupted by Ezra's hand on his upper arm.

"Mr. Dunne, allow me. Gentlemen, perhaps I should explain." Taking J.D.'s elbow, Ezra eased the younger man to the ground. "When we found Mr.Tanner, he was bound, hand and foot. What Mr. Dunne is trying to explain to you is that you are causing more duress."

Swallowing, Chris sadly noted the rope burns on Vin's ankles and wrists. Shit

"Makes no difference, still gotta hold him down to treat him," Nathan grunted.

Looking down sadly into the desperate blue eyes, silently pleading for his help, Chris sighed. I'm sorry Vin.


Letting out a tired sigh, Nathan stood, and stretching side to side, rubbed his lower back.

"Josiah, you think you and Buck can get these two up on horses?"

Chris looked up in confusion. "Nathan, horses...not a wagon?" he questioned.

Nathan shook his head as he massaged the back of his neck.

"No. Don't want either of them on horses, either, but it'll take too long to send for one. I want ta get 'em both back ta town, so's I can treat them proper." Nathan looked at the other men until his gaze rested on Ezra. He wanted to see for himself where Vin had been held, to try to estimate how much blood he may have lost. "Ezra, can ya show me where you found him?"

+ + + + + + +

"Okay, kid. Come on, put your arms 'round my neck...that's it." Briefly holding his breath, Buck quickly stood with J.D. While Josiah held the reins, Buck easily hoisted J.D. up on his saddle.

"Buck, this ain't my's yours. I ain't ridin' with ya," J.D. insisted.

"I know," Buck answered quietly, "but Mrs. Spencer's on your horse. Now sit tight while we take care of Vin." Buck started to move away, but hesitated and turned back to the younger man. "Hey, ya done good, kid. You were right, and stuck by it, I'm proud of ya." With a small grin, Buck lightly patted J.D.'s leg before moving away.

Kneeling by Vin's side, Buck gently touched the tracker's shoulder. Vin's eyes slowly opened, and he looked up at Buck with tired, blue eyes.

"Hey, what do ya say, cowboy?" Buck winked. "Wanna give ol' Buck a hug like J.D.?" Buck's eyebrows wagged as he winked once again at Vin.

Vin's lips turned up in a small smile as he started to laugh softly. Wincing, Vin clutched his left side as he turned slightly and began a painful bout of coughing.

"," he moaned softly when he was able to speak again.

"It's okay Vin, I gotcha. let me do all the work." Holding tightly to Vin as he swayed, Buck looked up as Chris moved closer with his horse.

Leaning down, Chris reached to pull Vin up.

"" Vin weakly tried to push away from Buck as he looked up at Chris, his face pale with terror.

"Vin," Buck grunted as he tightened his hold.

"You heard 'im , Buck." Chris's eyes flashed with anger and hurt as he moved his horse away.

"Chris...come on," Buck sighed as he shook his head. "Josiah, wanna give me a hand here?"

With a few grunts from Josiah and Buck and gasps from Vin, they soon had the injured tracker safely saddled.

Just as they finished, Ezra and Nathan returned. Nathan described the room Vin had been held in. Buck's stomach turned when Nathan described the blood soaked mattress, and the board that had been used to beat him. When Nathan mentioned the walls, Buck lost the battle. Jumping down quickly, he lost the contents of his stomach.

+ + + + + + +

Darkness was slowly descending on the town by the time they arrived. The street fires glowed softly as the group slowly entered the town, led by Chris. The others followed quietly, with Judge Travis and Robert Spencer following a short distance in the rear.

"Chris? You coming?" Nathan asked when he realized the gunfighter was not following as they carried J.D. and Vin up to the clinic.

" some things I need to tend to first..."

Nathan scowled at the other man's back. What could be more important right now than taking care of Vin and J.D.?


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