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Vin swallowed hard as his stomach rolled, the cramps growing stronger.
Damn, breakfast isn't goin' ta stay down.
The cramps began again and he swung a leg over the saddle horn, diving off Peso for the grassy edge of the trail. Peso eyed his master, curious at the sudden desertion. Vin ignored him as breakfast made an unwanted reappearance, the heaving continuing until surely nothing was left.
Vin eased back onto his haunches and turned to Peso.
"Knew breakfast at that damn flea-bit hotel was a bad idea," he remarked to Peso.
Peso chose to ignore such hindsight as his master staggered towards him to grab a canteen. Vin swilled out the sour taste and returned the canteen with a shaky hand. He dragged himself up into the saddle and urged Peso towards home.
Three hours until Four Corners. I can do that.
His good intention lasted less that ten minutes as a cold sweat broke out. His palms were damp and he began to swallow quickly. Again Peso halted as Vin dived from the saddle to the trail edge. The painful heaves continued although nothing was left. Vin collapsed to the side exhausted. The creek ran close to the trail here. Staying seemed like the best idea at the moment. A shiver ran through his body as he took shallow breaths. The cramping began again.
It seemed like forever. A godawful cycle of cold sweats and heaving stomach muscles. Vin was miserable, no longer even attempting to sit up. Dry heaves wracked his body and tears were squeezed from the tightly clenched eyes. He desperately wished someone were here. That Chris was here, Nathan, any of his six friends. He'd gotten so used to a gentle hand, the comfort of a friend when he was hurting.
No, this is stupid! I've bin doin' this 20 years, I don't need no one holdin' my hand whenever I'm hurtin'.
Thoughts of his friends and their fussing concern over the last year only made him more miserable. He thought of all the times he'd complained, argued and plain yelled at them for the fussing. Fussing sounded good right about now. Another cramp distracted his thoughts. This time it was finally easing. His tired body relaxed into a fitful doze.
The sun was well past noon when Vin next rolled to consciousness. He was desperately thirsty, his canteen dropped and emptied onto the ground earlier. He sat up slowly. The landscape had stopped its slow circling so he attempted moving towards the creek. The twenty feet to the trickling water was made in a slow stagger. His feet slipped on the slight bank, dumping him on his butt. Vin clenched his eyes against the sharp pain that burst in his head. The dizziness and vomiting had stopped, leaving behind a raging headache. The effort to get to the water sapped what little energy he had awoken with. Miserable and aching his thoughts circled on the 'if onlys'.
If only Chris were here, he'd help him back to town. If only Nathan were here, he'd have some godawful tea to make him feel better. If only any of the six were here.
Anger at himself stopped the circling thoughts.
You can do for yerself. Do what ya always have to. Stand up, get on yer horse and get going!
This new plan was easier said than done. Peso was fractious. He'd been ignored for a number of hours and was in no mood to make things easy for his master. Vin's strength was fading fast with the failed attempts to mount the side-stepping Peso. He grabbed the bridle, pulling Peso's head down to eye level. Staring hard at the horse, he ground out "Y'd best stand still or the next step ya take will be to the nearest tallow men." Peso seemed to consider the tone, and this time made no move as Vin scrambled into the saddle.
I got Peso, I'm on Peso, now just the home part to take care of.
It was late afternoon as Vin finally approached Four Corners. He was grateful that the lowering sun was at his back as his headache still raged.
He was exhausted, but nearly home.
Peso ambled slowly into the outskirts of Four Corners, but the livery was on the other side of town. Vin would have to travel the streets now busy with wagons and people out in the cool of the afternoon. Vin sighed and slumped in the saddle.
He was exhausted, and so nearly home.
Peso stood shaking his bridle and reigns, anxious to get to his stall and oats. Vin moved Peso forward, only to stop a few yards on as a loaded wagon rattled past. He was nearing the saloon, but the movement and noise in the bustling streets was too much after today's long ride home. He leaned forward, his arms resting on the saddle horn.... Just too much....
Chris stepped quickly over to the stationary rider. Vin raised his head in answer, meeting the concerned eyes of Chris Larabee.
"You look like shit Tanner. Get off that horse now. You're going to Nathan's."
There was none of the usually arguments from Vin. Wordless, he slid down from the saddle. Chris grabbed his shoulders as his knees began to buckle. Once steady, he found himself being steered towards Nathan's.
"JD'll see to Peso," Chris remarked to the look Vin had thrown back at his horse.
Chris was surprised at the easy time he was having getting Vin to the clinic.
"What happened?" Chris asked.
"Jus' got a bit sick on the trail," was the mumbled response.
Happy but surprised he'd received more that the usual 'it's nuthin', he directed Vin to the stairs up to Nathan's clinic. Vin eyed the number of stairs. It might as well be a mountain. Chris heard the quiet sigh, saw the shoulders droop and an unsteady hand reach for the rails. He moved up close behind Vin, placing a hand on his back in case he stumbled.
Vin sighed again.
Yes, he was exhausted, but he was finally home.
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