The men that remained in Four Corners were beginning to worry about their friends.
Last night JD spent dinnertime making them assure him that Chris, Vin and Ezra would be all right. Buck'd got the kid cooled down, but he, Nathan and Josiah were getting worried too. If they didn't turn up by tomorrow they would go searching for them.
Next morning the day dawned gray and dark... It was as if it shared the feelings the remaining four peacekeepers had about their missing friends.
JD woke up later than usual and, after washing, putting on a shirt and a pair of pants and his boots, he headed straight to the saloon to get something in his stomach... He hadn't even pulled up the suspenders that were hanging down at his hips. He ran his hands through his long, dark hair, thinking about his friends and decided that, if he had people around him, he wouldn't feel the anguish that gripped his gut.
He was just crossing the street when he spotted a horse with a man resting over its neck. He was approaching them when he recognized the horse, and just a second later, the rider. It was Ezra. The Southerner wouldn't allow anyone to take his red jacket away from him... so it must be him, JD thought. When he reached him, JD's jaw almost hit the ground when he discovered the gambler's situation.
The young sheriff forced himself to look away from his friend. He turned his head and shouted at the top of his lungs, "Nathan, Josiah, come here, hurry... It's Ezra! Come on guys, he needs help!"
His hands were working over the gambler trying to discover if he was alive. He heard a soft moan that gave him some relief. He picked up the reins and led the horse and its precious burden to Nathan's clinic.
Nathan had heard someone shouting his name. When he opened the door and poked out his head, he saw JD with the horse and the rider with the red jacket. Josiah had heard the shout also and walked out of the saloon.
"Oh my God, Ezra!" Nathan slammed the door open and ran to meet the young sheriff and the fallen Southerner.
"He's alive, Nate. He's tied to the saddle. I was going to cut the rope but he'd fall off the horse." JD's worried face made Nathan squeeze the young sheriff's shoulder and give him a reassuring smile.
"It's okay, JD. Josiah, help me with him." The ex preacher had joined them just when Nathan reached JD and Ezra.
The three of them got the man off the horse. Josiah held Ezra in his arms and carried him up to the clinic.
In about an hour, they had Ezra settled in bed. He had been shot in the back of his shoulder. The bullet had hit the collarbone and busted it. Nathan, with Buck and Josiah's help, got the bullet out, set his collarbone, and stitched the large wound. Then he bandaged the injured shoulder and immobilized Ezra's arm wrapping it to his chest. It would allow the wound to heal easier and be a hell of a lot less painful for the gambler. Nathan had to bandage his wrists, too, because the rope had left them raw. Nathan cleaned the dried blood off Ezra's face, and now he could see the bruises on Ezra's forehead, cheek and jaw.
He hadn't awakened...
Nathan was pacing restlessly around the room. He needed to get some water into the Southerner. Ezra had suffered from dehydration too, plus some mild sunburn, and, as always, Nathan got worried to death if it was his friends, his family who needed his care.
He stayed the rest of the morning beside Ezra. The man moaned and shook his head lightly, mumbling things, but it wasn't until the evening that Nathan met with two pleading green eyes. They stared at him and the cup of water he was holding between his hands, as he waited for his friend to awaken. Nathan's heart went to his throat while he placed one hand on the back of Ezra's head and lifted it to make it easier for him to drink the precious liquid. At the same time, Nathan's mind was working, trying to find a way to tell the Southerner the news, -more accurately, no-news-, about the other two members of the Seven.
He decided not to say a word. He left Ezra to rest again.
The injured man didn't ask, either. In fact, the question was in his mind but he wasn't able to remember it. He needed to concentrate to find what it was that was bothering him. He needed to know something but what it was... he was so tired, but... Oh God, Chris, Vin suddenly everything so clear... he had to know what happened to them.
Nathan had just turned his back to the man in the bed to put everything in order when he heard the soft, tired, southern accent in a hoarse voice:
"Vin? Chris?" The pain in his shoulder was excruciating. He crumpled a piece of the quilt that was covering him in his clenched fist.
Nathan shook his head sadly.
"We don't know, Ez. Do you know if they are alive?" The dark healer turned to face Ezra, who in that moment had closed his eyes slowly in regret.
"I don't know." He tried to lift his upper body, but stopped and hissed in pain when he felt the pull of the stitches in tender flesh.
"Don't move, Ezra. It will hurt less, and it'll heal better," Nathan approached the bed.
"Mr. Jackson," he said between clenched teeth. "They shot Vin and I in the back. Chris was there. There were about eight of them, on the way to Agua Fría. At the entrance of the desert. We didn't reach the town."
"Easy, Ez. Who were they?"
"Eight men, ambushed us. They hit Chris pretty bad. Tied Vin and I to our saddles and shot each one of us once in the back. Each horse went in an opposite direction. I don't know if Vin and Chris are alive. I hoped Vin's horse and mine, knew their own way back to Four Corners... Now I know mine knew." His eyes left Nathan's face and fixed on nothing in particular.
Outside it was getting dark. Buck, JD and Josiah were in the saloon having dinner when the Flaherty boy, a kid around eight, came running into the place and stopped beside the ex preacher.
"Tell me son," the big man said with his powerful and soothing >voice.
"Mr. Sanchez, your friend, Mr. Tanner, he's at the end of the street on his horse. He's kind of asleep," The kid was almost out of breath from running. At his words the three men stepped outside the saloon and started running to where the boy had pointed.
They found Vin, leaning over the neck of his horse, just in the same way they had found Ezra. The side of the horse as well as Vin's shirt and pants were stained with the tracker's blood.
They knew the quiet man had lost more blood than the gambler. Between the three of them, they untied him and, as he had with Ezra, Josiah carried him gently to Nathan's clinic.
When they opened the door, Ezra was awake and Nathan almost jumped from his chair when he saw the unconscious sharpshooter in Josiah's arms.
"Oh my God, Mr. Tanner, Vin!" Ezra's words come out as a pleading whisper.
Nathan checked Vin while the others waited for good or bad news.
"He's alive" Everybody stopped holding their breath.
JD stayed beside Ezra, who was fighting the sleep that threatened to knock him out. Moving his head as much as he was able without crying out in pain, he saw the worried face of the youngest of the group.
"Mr. Dunne if Mr. Tanner has arrived to us alive... he will remain in that state... Don't forget that. Our quiet friend is too stubborn to die. He'll want to find our fearless leader first of all..." his mouth was dry again. "Mr. Dunne I could use some more fresh water."
JD moved toward the table, picked up a cup and quickly helped Ezra drink its contents.
"What about Chris, Ez? We don't know a word about him. Can he be...?"
"I assure you, JD," he hoped that using the young sheriff's first name gave more credit to his words, "Mr. Larabee doesn't yield so easily."
His lids became more and more heavy. JD noticed it and, crouching next to Ezra's bed said softly "Rest, Ez. When Vin is conscious, I promise to wake you up. Besides, Nathan will want to give you some tea or broth later." He winked an eye at the injured man, and pulled the blanket up to Ezra's chin.
The Southerner wanted to remain awake but he knew the only way his shoulder would stop hurting him was by falling asleep. And he didn't want to be an additional worry for his friends now that they had to take care of Vin.
Nathan was working on Vin, with Josiah and Buck helping him. He had just got Vin's coat off and now he was examining the injury. When they all managed to see the gunshot wound, Buck whistled shaking his head. The bullet had gone through Vin's body. When the healer saw the entry and exit holes, his only hope was the bullet hadn't hit anything important.
"I must clean both sides perfectly so he doesn't get an infection. But first of all, I need to know if the bullet hit or grazed something important like his heart or his lungs. Hold him tight. I don't want to be poking around inside him if he moves, because I'll hurt him more than he is already."
"Okay." Buck said wiping the sweat off his brow with the back of his sleeve. Dawn, this day is getting more and more complicated the ladies' man thought and bit his lower lip. Where the hell is Chris? The answer to that question scared the hell out of him, and he knew that the rest of them felt the same.
Josiah saw the worry in Buck's eyes. "Everything will be okay, brother. But, just in case, it wouldn't hurt to pray a little", and a hint of a sad smile appeared on the ex -preacher's face.
He was holding Vin's legs and Buck did the same with Vin's arms. But in fact, it wasn't necessary. The tracker didn't move, not even an inch. He just moaned and shook his head lightly, mumbling something that didn't make sense.
It took Nathan almost three hours to clean the wounds completely, to check for internal injuries. He had to cauterize a bleeding blood vessel near his lung that was grazed by the bullet. Though the man was unconscious, he cried out in pain. All the men in the room felt the pain as if it was their own. After that, Nathan, still worried about the Texan's injuries, managed to keep calm and stitched the wounds on Vin's back and chest. Then he heavily bandaged the tracker's upper body.
When Nathan finished and was cleaning his hands of Vin's blood, he looked through the window and realized it was dark outside, and Four Corners, was quiet, almost deserted. It was if everybody knew the peacekeepers were busy, and tried to help them in some way.
A moment later, JD, Buck, Josiah and Nathan stood in the room looking at both of their friends. Ezra had awakened and obliged them to help him to the cot and place Vin in the bed. Nathan thanked him for the gesture. In fact, it was more important that Vin stay put in the bed so his wounds didn't bleed again.
The four of them took turns looking after their two injured friends.
It was nearly daybreak when Josiah, who took the last watch over their fallen comrades, discovered a pair of blue eyes staring at him, fighting the need for rest.
"Vin, hey, welcome back... Here, drink some tea." The ex -preacher stood up, and held Vin's head and put the cup to Vin's lips so he could drink. The tea helped get rid of the dryness of his throat.
"Chris? Ezra? Are they okay?" He tried to sit up but the pain in his chest and Josiah's reassuring, firm hand on his shoulder prevented it.
"Ezra's on the cot. He's fine. The bullet broke his collarbone." Josiah's face got darker at each word that left his mouth.
"Chris isn't dead, is he?" Vin had panicked and that was apparent in his voice.
The older man shook his head slightly "We don't know Vin. He's still missing."
"They worked him over pretty good. He'll need Nathan for sure. You,... you... help me." Vin got agitated and tried to get out of the bed but a deep stab of pain went through his chest that left him breathless.
Josiah squeezed Vin's arm, and pushed him gently back until he was resting on the bed again, with his head on the pillow.
"Keep calm, Vin. We are going to find him. Nobody knows about it, but I had a dream, Vin."
Now the ex -preacher had the Texan's full attention. Not because what he said made any sense for someone who didn't know him, but Vin always trusted the older man's dreams as well as Josiah trusted Vin's hunches.
"You had a dream?" Vin's brows came together in a puzzled frown. He was so weak and tired, he wasn't sure what Josiah was talking about. He thought the fever had set on him already.
"I haven't said a word about it, even to Nathan. It was the same dream two nights in a row."
"Were there crows?" Vin asked, turning his head to face the man crouched beside him.
Josiah put his mouth to Vin's ear, "They were on my window sill. I woke up and walked there and they began to fly south. In the last dream, I was with them, flying, and I could see Chris lying in the desert."
"Was he...?" Vin's voice trailed off.
"No, he wasn't... but he didn't look great, either," Josiah bowed his head, not allowing the tracker to see his eyes when he was remembering the image of Chris in his dream.
"Okay, when are we going to leave to find him?"
"I don't think you're in any shape to begin a trip, Vin. Besides, Nathan won't allow you."
"I'm fine," he snorted, trying to sit up in the bed again.
"Stop doing that, brother. The wounds can start bleeding again."
In fact, they had. A red stain began to spread through the fabric of the bandages on the front of Vin's chest.
"Great...! I assure you, Vin, you aren't going to go. Now less than before. I'll call Nathan."
It wasn't necessary. He had left the room, but when Josiah stood up and turned to the door, Nathan was coming in.
"Oh my God, Vin, the wound is bleeding again. Stop moving."
"Aw, I'm sorry Nathan," Vin had kept still after trying to sit up and now he had his hand over the wound, putting pressure on it to stop the flow of blood. "I didn't want it to begin bleeding again, Nate. I just, just... hurts..." Vin closed his eyes and held his breath, in an attempt to bear the pain easily, but it wasn't working. His face was covered by a light sheen of sweat. "I just wanna go find Chris. He could be dead by now." Vin faced Nathan with pleading eyes.
"I know Vin... but Ezra and you have to remain here... It would be dangerous and painful for both of you... specially for you Vin... you could die."
The sharpshooter gave the healer a disbelieving look.
"I ain't going to lie to you. You probably will get a fever later today... I only hope the infection isn't so bad... and you could bleed to death. Do you think Chris would like it if you died searching for him? Or what do you suppose we'll tell him when he asks for you? 'I'm sorry Chris. He's dead because he didn't follow my medical advice.'" Nathan was getting angry while he was saying these words.
Besides, he hoped the strategy worked for once with the Texan.
"I can't believe you can be so damned stubborn, Tanner." Nathan had been unwrapping the old bandages around Vin's chest and back. At the same time, Josiah held the injured man by his shoulders. Vin was holding his breath again when the stabs of pain became deeper and more frequent.
"I know it hurts. That's the reason you can't be moving around or come with us. Do you understand now?"
Nathan added softening the tone of his voice. He didn't like to give a lecture when they were injured, but sometimes... they got on his nerves.
"I will leave you with Mary... but if you prefer it. Vin..., I can tell Miss Nettie... she will take 'really good care of you.'" This time Nathan's face showed a hint of a mischievous smile.
Vin's eyes were wide open. "No, she really is a nice lady but you know how she'd take care of me... I'll be in bed for two months."
Nathan grinned widely at this affirmation.
+ + + + + + +
Damnit, it's cold.
Finally he raised his head that poked from his coat and the scarf around it. It wasn't weather for man nor beasts. He wanted to be home so badly. It was almost a week since he had left to help some nearby farmer prepare his cattle and Chris missed his family so badly. Besides, this time Buck hadn't gone with him. He never thought that he'd miss the company of the ladies' man. In fact, a trip was really better with Buck. He kept Chris from thinking about his family all the time.
Now he could see his home. It wasn't a big place but it was enough. It had everything that was worth living for. He urged the horse to a gallop . The smoke coming out of the chimney was too much for him. He needed to be at home, hold Sarah and Adam and get something hot in his stomach.
He stopped the horse, dismounted and walked to the porch. He knocked at the door, - he wanted Sarah and Adam to keep it locked when he wasn't at home, just a phobia - and he could hear soft and rhythmic footsteps approaching the door. He smiled widely. It was Adam. Chris's eyes sparkled , not from the cold weather but with excitement at seeing his boy and wife again. He'd give all the money in the world for the look on Adam's face right now. He could hear Sarah telling the kid, "Adam. Remember what pa taught you, sweetheart, ask 'who is it?' first." He could almost smell the scent that he didn't know why, but it was always her, and he closed his eyes and imagined her standing with her arms on her waist, watching how Adam ran toward the door with that smile of hers, knowing it was him who was knocking. He always knocked in the same way when he returned from a long trip. He could come in without knocking, it was his home after all, but he liked doing it in that way.
"Who is it?" a child's voice asked, pushing his body against the door.
"Adam, it's me, dad." The boy didn't doubt, and without hesitating, opened the door and threw himself into the arms of the figure in front of him.
"Daddy!" Chris crouched and opened his arms, giving the child a place to come into and embraced him tenderly and protectively.
"Hey, how is my little man?" Chris whispered into his child's ear.
"Very happy, because you've come back."
Chris felt the little arms around his neck. He looked up and met Sarah standing there in the doorframe smiling tenderly at the scene in front of her.
"You came back to Ithaca, Ulysses," Sarah said as Chris stood up and climbed the steps that separated him from his wife.
"Yeah, my dear Penelope, I've come back to you."
Sarah interlaced her arms around Chris's neck. He did the same around her waist and lifted her up, holding her tight, and spun around with his wife in his arms...
Suddenly he found himself holding just air. He, stopped there, staring at his empty arms, turning his head to where Adam was just a minute ago, and there was nothing there, either. The fear grew inside him; he felt emptiness in his heart. He fell on his knees and cried out, raising his face to the sky.
"No! Give them back to me!" An intense pain all over his body, more unbearable than the one in his side, brought him to reality.
He was in the middle of nowhere. He knew he was dying but right then he didn't care. He was beyond it. He was already dead, not once but twice.
He didn't even remember when he had managed to reach the base of the rock where there was shade. His lips were parched, his tongue fell as dry as leather, and he couldn't see clearly.
Not having anything else to do but wait until he died, and not wanting to think about his nightmare, he tried to take inventory of all his injuries. He couldn't move his left wrist so it had to be broken, and he knew that his collarbone and right leg were in the same situation, but his leg didn't hurt him at that moment. He lifted his right arm and touched his face. Dry blood covered it, and he grimaced when he discovered the gash from his right temple to his chin. His hand went to his side. He didn't think the stab wound had stopped bleeding at all. That was draining the remaining life from his body. Before applying pressure to it he went round his ribcage. It wasn't a dream: they were broken and if he pushed hard, they still moved.
Don't do that, bastard! Hurts like hell! he thought.
They must have worked his face over quite well, because he couldn't speak or articulate his jaw without crying out in pain. He was lying there and didn't have enough strength to raise his head and take a look at his body.
You were looking for this kind of death Larabee. You deserve it, his mind told him. After Sarah and Adam's deaths you were asking for it. What a shame Tanner and Standish were with you'. 'Stop it, stop it! another voice inside him pleaded. They shouldn't have stayed with me. Vin, Ez, I'm sorry. They killed you and it's my fault. They were looking for me. Not for you. You didn't deserve it. You didn't have to come with me. I asked for it. Damn it , they were two of the best people I've ever met, even Ezra with all his strange ways hiding his real self.** In fact he thought they were as great as the rest of the men he used to ride with. They looked so far away.
Sarah... unconsciousness called him again and he couldn't refuse the invitation. The too bright light of the sun turned into dark.
+ + + + + + +
They left just after dawn. It was difficult to persuade JD that he had to stay in town. He was the sheriff, it was his duty and the town couldn't remain unprotected. Besides he could help Mary care for Ezra and Vin.
They followed Josiah's lead without saying much as they rode. Each one of their minds was imagining possibilities about their friend and leader's fate.
Buck had pulled his hat down to protect his eyes from the sun and to avoid the rest seeing the great fear he felt about Chris's whereabouts reflected in his eyes. He felt a really bad feeling in his gut and he imagined the worst about his old friend. It was some days since Chris, Vin and Ezra began this trip to New Mexico and Buck didn't know how long it had been since Chris needed their help. 'Please God, let us find him alive. He doesn't deserve this after all he has suffered in his life'.
Nathan had packed as many medical supplies as he could. He trusted Josiah's dreams as much as Vin's hunches, so he was afraid he would need the things he was carrying. The only thing he wanted was to find Chris alive. It was bad enough to know that Chris was in a bad shape, thinking about the possibility of finding him dead, was too much for him. He turned his head to look at his companions.
Buck had his hat almost covering his head, casting shadows across his face.
Josiah's face was serious and impenetrable. The ex preacher was thinking his dreams over. What did they mean? I have to find it out. Chris's life depends on it. He lounged in his saddle. The hot weather didn't improve their leader's chances. All of them knew it.
They spent two days riding in almost the same way. Nobody said a lot. Chris wasn't in their conversations. It was as if talking about him meant they were going to lose him definitely. They had resumed their trip again after some hours of rest. It was early in the morning and Josiah was at the lead.
Suddenly Josiah caught a glimpse of a rock formation. He was so shocked that he stopped his horse, and just stared at the horizon.
"Is something wrong, Josiah?" Nathan approached him quite worried.
+ + + + + + +
He opened his eyes again and the sunlight blinded him. The desert was so wide open in front of him. Nobody had come to rescue him, and probably nobody would. The only thing he could do was wait and think about what had happened, what they had left him and where he wanted to be. He wanted to die, to join the people he cared for. But he had to wait until they found him, give them some useful information about Vin and Ezra's killers. He opened his eyes again after closing them to stop the light that came from everywhere. The light was there but he could catch a glimpse of something that was coming towards him.
As the form was approaching him, he could clearly see what it was. It was Sarah. She was as beautiful as always.
"Sarah," he whispered.
"You want to join us, don't you, Chris?"
"I'm glad you're here. I missed you so much. And I missed Adam. Now I only want to stay with you and our son and Vin and Ezra."
"What have they done to you, my dear?" she added crouching next to him and caressing his uninjured cheek.
"They attacked us when we were going to Agua Fría, the New Mexican town, to pick up two prisoners. I don't know who they were and I can't understand why they killed Vin and Ezra like they did. I didn't know them, I didn't know their leader" Chris was feeling more and more weak. He thought he couldn't bear the pain and the heat anymore.
"Are you sure you don't know why, Chris? After my death and Adam's you turned into somebody I didn't know. You made some enemies then."
Why was Sarah talking about that? Was it a clue, or a recrimination? He didn't know, but it hurt.
"I'm not proud of that, but what could I have done, Sarah? I lost everything with your deaths."
"I know honey, and I'm sorry. I would have spent all my life with you."
"I'm so tired. I just want to stay with you and them."
"Why did you think Vin and Ezra are here with me and Adam?" Sarah's face became serious. The sweetness he had seen in it disappeared suddenly.
"Aren't they with you? I had always thought they would be with you when it was their time... I..." Chris was confused, his beliefs were being slowly destroyed.
"No they aren't with us. What did you think Chris. They didn't deserve to be here."
"Why not... They were extraordinary individuals. Both of them had great hearts..." Chris looked into Sarah's eyes that were staring at him reproachfully.
"I'm sorry honey. They aren't with us and they'll never be... and neither will you. Your place is Hell!"
After those words Sarah became rounded by fire and laughing hysterically, disappeared.
"No!!!" Chris cried out as loud as he could in his state, which was just a whisper. He fell into unconsciousness again.
+ + + + + + +
Josiah urged his horse to a gallop and stopped abruptly just in front of the rock wall that rose up before him. There was a black and dusty form at his horse's hooves.
Nathan followed him closely and muttered an "Oh my God" when he dismounted and joined the ex preacher.
He knelt next to where Chris was lying. His eyes were closed but also covered by dry blood and sand. In fact, his entire face was covered in his blood. Nathan held his face carefully and when he very gently turned it to one side, he saw a cut that covered his face from the temple to the jaw. Nathan tried to evaluate the whole extent of Chris's injuries. He really thought they were more than enough... His clothes were in shreds and below them there was more blood, wounds, flesh burnt from the friction against the ground and by the sun.
"They dragged him tied to a horse, Josiah. I'm surprised he's still alive," his voice was getting lower. The healer faced the older man at the same time he put two fingers to Chris's neck trying to find his pulse. "I don't know if he will make it. The trip can kill him. And I am telling you that before having examined him. He is in a very bad shape."
"I know brother. We can only hope that he wants to live. Besides, what option does he have if we remain here, Nate?"
"No more than if we go back," he answered shaking his head.
Buck had reached them, "Oh my God," was all he managed to say before covering his mouth with his hand. "I'll find who did this and I'll kill him with my bare hands if I have to!" Buck's rage increased.
Josiah placed a reassuring hand on the younger man's shoulder, trying to calm him down." All of us think the same, brother Buck. But that isn't the way... and brother Chris doesn't need that right now. He needs our help and our comfort, and he needs us with him."
"I know Josiah. It's just... that it would be more merciful to kill him than leaving him that way. Those bastards don't have any trace of a soul in their bodies."
"That's an understatement." Nathan added from where he was, trying to put some water in the motionless and dehydrated body he was holding. He lifted Chris's head and brought the canteen to his mouth. Nathan doubted any liquid had gone into Chris. He sighed deeply. At least he had managed to wet his tongue and lips.
Pouring more water on a cloth he very gently began to clean his leader's face, being very careful with his wounds. He cleaned the rest of the blood from his nose and the corners of his mouth and then the scratch on his hairline and ended with the large cut on the side of his face, being very gentle with it. He was sure he would need stitches. He took mental note to do it very slowly and carefully to lessen the scar it might leave.
It was worrisome that Chris hadn't even moaned when he put pressure on his wounds and Nathan knew he was inflicting pain on him while examining him. Josiah and Buck had turned to watch Nathan's exam without saying a word. The healer's features showed his worry and sorrow. How had this happened?
Nathan soaked a small piece of cloth with whisky and placed it at the large cut on his face and then wrapped another one around Chris's head and under his chin to hold the first one, covering it preventing it from getting more infected than it was.
"Brother Nate, can we help you with something? ... I feel, and suppose Buck feels the same, totally helpless."
"Yeah, in a moment... When I begin with his shoulder, his leg, arm and ribs... He's burning up... I don't know if I will be able to lower his temperature... with this heat and in the middle of nowhere..."
"We'll arrive at Four Corners as soon as possible. We don't sleep if it's necessary," Buck voice was resolute and his face intense. He didn't care for the look Nathan gave him saying 'I don't need any of you falling sick too. I have enough'.
"Come on, Nathan... it's not winter, we are strong as oaks. It wouldn't be the first time I've spent two nights without any sleep," and a mischievous grin appeared on the ladies' man, "if you know what I mean..." he added stroking his moustache enjoying the situation.
Josiah couldn't do anything more than laugh aloud, tilting his head backwards. Nathan let out a little smile, relaxing a little for the first time since they had found Chris.
"You are incredible Buck," Nathan turned his attention to his patient again, shaking his head in disbelief, wondering how sometimes Buck could lure the attention of every female that saw him. Of course it wasn't his animal magnetism. That's for sure.
Josiah seemed to read the healer's mind. "Your animal magnetism will give you the energy, won't it, Buck?" Josiah couldn't stop goading his friend. It took their minds off the possibility of losing Chris.
"Of course, Josiah," Buck said with a grin on his lips that was changing into a serious face "and the need to carry him back... Vin and of course Mary and Billy wouldn't forgive us, neither will Ezra, or JD."
"Okay, stop that and come here to help me," Nathan saw that the chatting was taking path they really were trying to avoid.
The three men knelt beside their fallen friend. Nathan had managed to get rid of the rest of Chris's shirt and was gently cleaning the cuts and burns he found there. The stab wound in his side was quite deep and he had lost so much blood from it. He ran his fingers just grazing Chris's ribs and he knew they were broken... He didn't want to know how many were intact, but not a lot were. He poured more whisky on Chris's chest and inside the wound and applied pressure with a clean cloth to the stab wound. Josiah had Chris's head resting in his lap and Buck picked up a large bandage that Nathan began to wrap around Chris's body after Buck took his place holding the cloth on the wound. After having wrapped part of it he immobilized his arm in a splint and then wrapped it in the rest of the bandage. In this way his collarbone and his arm were tied and didn't hurt so badly. Chris had cuts and bruises all over his legs and Nathan knew his knees were quite swollen, but what he needed was to cut his boot to allow his broken leg to be free of pressure. He only hoped it wasn't too bad, right now it was impossible to immobilize it with a splint, there wasn't any branches that could be useful for that. What he needed most was to rest in a bed.
Buck stood up and shook his head. "It's impossible for us to build a travois. There is only a pair of twigs and they've grown so twisted in this damn dry weather that the only thing we can use will hurt him more," he pushed his hat to his back with a hand then run through his hair.
"I can carry him resting against me in the saddle," Josiah said, and turning to Nathan, "and we could take turns, okay?"
"Okay, but you have to be very gentle, I couldn't do anything with his leg and his ribs are in very bad shape. You must hold him as gently as you would hold a baby. I only hope he doesn't wake up a lot during the trip."
Chris's lids fluttered. Nathan and Josiah turned their attention to their leader and Buck approached in two steps. They couldn't believe he was conscious after all he had endured .
His lids were so heavy... his vision blurred, there wasn't an inch of his body that didn't hurt, but he could make out the faces in front of him. His battered face, mainly his cheekbone and his jaw, didn't allow him to speak correctly, but they understood him, or maybe it was just they wanted to do it.
"Nat... Josh... Buck," a hint of a smile seemed to appear on his face, or at least it's what the three men imagined.
"Shhh, Chris, we are going to be in Four Corners in no time," Buck squeezed Chris's free hand.
"H-H-Hom..., s...und good."
"Yeah I bet it does, buddy," Buck felt Chris was fading between his fingers, he looked so weak.
Nathan took Buck's place, "Chris, Josiah is going to carry you with him... if you can't bear the pain... tell us and we will stop."
Just a light nod and he fell back to unconsciousness. Josiah went to his horse and picked up his serape. The three of them placed it over Chris and Josiah mounted his horse while Buck and Nathan carried their leader and friend and gave him to Josiah. When he had him, Nathan gave him instruction about how to hold him to ease the pain in his upper body.
It was a good thing that Chris was half out of it, because the sun was without mercy and although they tried to ride slowly and gently they were sure he would have cried out in pain. Josiah and Buck could hear Chris moan and mumble unintelligible words.
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