Four Corners


The remaining five peacekeepers rode out well before dawn, and they spent the majority of the day searching and found nothing. Buck was getting more and more frustrated, and his usually jovial spirit was down in the pits with the rest of them. He threatened people, cursed more than ever before, and completely managed to ignore a rather attractive young lady who seemed genuinely interested in him. All he could think of was that two of his friends were missing, and he knew they were because they had found first Vin's horse and then Chris' as well. Both horses had been on their way back to Four Corners, and therefore offered no solution to the whereabouts of their riders.

When the sun started to set, Josiah took command of the group, deciding they should return to Four Corners, get some rest and some supplies, and then set out again. Buck wouldn't hear of it at first. He wanted to keep going, but Josiah talked some sense into him.

"There is nothin' we can do when it's dark out," he said. "There's hardly no trail ahead of us, and it isn't gonna do neither Chris nor Vin any good if we get ourselves lost out here," he added quietly.

Buck stared at him in the half-light of dusk, then closed his eyes and sighed deeply. "I reckon you're right. Don't mean I have to like it, though," he replied.

"Nobody said you should," Josiah told him and patted his shoulder. "Let's head on home. For all we know, Chris found Vin and they're havin' a drink in the saloon right around now, wonderin' where we've all gone to."

"I wish," Buck mumbled and shook his head sadly. "I'd believe it too, if it hadn't been for them damned horses," he added, nodding at the two horses they'd decided to take along with them.

All of them felt the twinge of defeat gnawing at them, and all of them wanted to keep going; but they had no idea where Vin had gone in the first place, and subsequently had no idea where Chris had gone either. They'd have to go door to door of every property they found until they met someone who had seen or heard something. Josiah just felt that they needed to be rested to do any more good. They would be of little help to their two friends if they were too tired to respond properly.

Ezra was the last to turn his horse around and ride back toward Four Corners. He lingered a moment, staring out over the plains, a frown furrowing his brow. However much he disliked riding all day, he was reluctant to give up the search, even if it was only for the night. Despite the fact that Chris Larabee was a hard man and should have no tolerance for someone like himself, Chris had readily accepted him into their group, and for Ezra that meant more than all the money in the world. Not that he would ever admit that openly, of course. These six men were his friends, and they accepted him without question, something he had never been used to before. Not even when it came to his own mother. Sometimes he wondered if she cared about him at all. With a sigh, he finally gave the reins a light tug, and his horse turned and readily followed the rest back home.


The Stanford Homestead

Chris was, not surprisingly, hurting all over, but his physical pain was completely overshadowed by his desperate need to get free. After the sun had set, and the barn had once again become pitch black, he had started struggling to get his hands out of the shackles. He gave it a rest for a moment, gritting his teeth in pain, aware that he had broken the skin of his wrists in several places and that his hands were bleeding, but he just didn't have time for such trivialities. His hands would heal, given the chance, but Vin would die if those half-wits beat him any more. Chris didn't need to be a doctor to know that.

Knowing full well that the longer he waited the more painful it would be for him to get out of the shackles holding his hands, he fingered the iron band around his left wrist for a moment. His left hand was slightly slimmer than his right, and that gave him an edge. Holding onto the iron band to keep it as straight as possible, he closed his eyes for a moment, twisted his thumb in as far as it would go to make his hand even slimmer, and started pulling. He put all his remaining resources into it, and realized that the fact that his hand was bleeding was an added bonus at that point. The blood acted as a lubricant, and after nearly pulling his shoulder out of the socket with the strength he put into the act, his hand suddenly slipped smoothly out of the iron band. His feet hit the floor fully, and he would have fallen if it hadn't been for the fact that the shackle caught on the hook holding the chain.

Grunting with the effort, he stretched up on his toes to try and get the chain off the hook, but he couldn't reach it. He took a second to compose himself, then repeated the procedure from before with his right hand. This time it hurt like hell, and the skin on his right hand was scraped off in places, leaving his hand raw and bleeding, but he again managed to ignore the pain in favor of Vin.

On feet that felt heavy as lead, he stumbled toward the spot where he knew Vin was and remembered that the knife they had used to cut Vin with was still on the floor somewhere. He crouched down and felt for it, his hands searching blindly over straw covered boards until his fingers bumped into the wooden handle of the knife. Fortunately, Vin was somewhat shorter than him, making it easier to cut the rope holding his friend. He wrapped an arm around him before reaching up for the rope he couldn't see, and sawed through it. It took time because the knife wasn't very sharp, and that again made him wince inside at the thought that those madmen had used it to cut his friend in several places.

When the rope finally broke, Vin collapsed in his arms, nearly dragging Chris down with him. With an effort nearly beyond him, Chris held him, dragged Vin's right arm over his shoulders, and tried desperately to keep the young man upright. If he'd been unhurt himself, this wouldn't have been a problem, but the added weight made him more aware of his own injuries.

Grunting with the stress of keeping them both upright, he dragged Vin toward the rear of the barn, where he had seen one of the Stanford brothers leave through a small door. It would be better to get out at the back than having to cross any barnyard and thereby risking detection before he had a chance to get Vin out of there. "Vin," he whispered. "Can you hear me, pard?" The younger man stirred a little and moaned. "You're gonna have to help me out, Vin. I can't carry you," Chris went on, hoping to God that Vin would manage to at least rest on his feet.

Vin raised his head a little, finding it difficult to focus past the pain he was in. He couldn't remember ever having hurt so bad, and all he wanted to do was lie down and sleep so he didn't have to feel the pain anymore. But he did have some common sense left in him, and he knew Chris had been beaten too. So he made a conscious effort to find his feet and walk on his own, completely managing to forget his injured foot.

Chris was the one who remembered, and just in time, too. Vin shifted his left foot forward, putting weight on it, and would have screamed his head off if Chris hadn't instantly clapped a hand over his mouth, preventing him from doing just that. "Looks like I'm gonna have to carry you after all, huh?" he whispered.

Vin felt like he couldn't breathe. His foot hurt so badly, it stole his ability to fill his lungs with air, and he felt tears of pain welling up in his eyes. Chris somehow managed to load him over his shoulder and that hurt him too, but the throbbing of his already badly infected foot was the worst. He gagged weakly, too parched to do anything other than that. He hadn't eaten in the three days he'd been in the company of the Stanford brothers, and he hadn't had anything to drink either. It was a blessing in disguise since that prevented him from throwing up all over his friend.

Chris found the door and pushed it open, edging outside while hoping that he didn't hurt Vin any more than necessary. The door opened up right into the forest, and one glance in either direction told him that the main house was probably on the opposite side of the barn, since the barn seemed to be the only building located in this end of the clearing. Good fortune seemed to smile on him at that moment, and he started moving, walking as briskly as he could in his depleted condition, and with the extra weight of his now limp friend draped over one shoulder.

It didn't take him long to realize that he couldn't go on much further, carrying Vin like he did. His strength was ebbing away and even though he was determined to get as far away from the Stanford homestead as he could, he was afraid that he wouldn't make it like this. But he stumbled on and started dragging his feet after a while, his breath coming in labored gasps.

"Chris," Vin rasped when Chris finally came to a stop to lean against the trunk of a tree for a moment. "Le'me down."

"You ain't in no condition to walk, pard," Chris pressed out, but couldn't help wishing Vin would insist.

"You ain't in no condition to carry me, neither." Vin's voice was weak and his movements were sluggish, but he seemed adamant about this anyway.

Still breathing hard, Chris thought it over for a second, but figured he didn't want to get into an argument right now as that would slow them down even further. "Alright," he consented and let Vin slide off his shoulder as carefully as he could, draped Vin's arm over his shoulders again and wrapped his own around Vin's back. "Now, you try to keep that foot off the ground, you hear?" Chris admonished him, still breathing hard.

Vin nodded weakly and Chris started moving again, once again nearly dragging the younger man along. He knew Vin didn't have the strength to help him out, but he would be damned if he would get slowed down by this. He had to get off the Stanford land and find help somewhere.

They moved on through the forest at a less than satisfying pace, stopping every so often to just rest for a moment. Vin was out of it most of the time, moving on reflex when he was moving at all. Chris carried him as best he could, breathing hard, and was slowly but surely running out of energy, when he heard a noise behind them in the forest. It was far back, but it was obvious what it was. The Stanford brothers had realized that their prisoners were gone, and they were searching for them.

How he managed, Chris would never know, but he tapped into hidden reserves and quickened their pace. Hiding would do them no good. If he stopped, he knew for certain that he'd never get going again, and Vin couldn't afford to wait until he'd rested. Vin needed medical attention, and he needed it as fast as possible. And the risk of being found, along with the chance that his young friend would die on him from exposure and his injuries, was just too damned high. So he pushed on, giving it his all, praying to anyone willing to listen that he would run into help somewhere ahead.


Four Corners

Buck paced the floor of the saloon, nearly wearing grooves into the already worn planks, while he muttered angrily to himself. The first thing he would do once they found them, was give Vin a piece of his mind. None of them were supposed to leave town for longer than a day without informing someone about it. He realized the tracker was a loner, and didn't always think about things like that, but this whole situation could have been avoided if he hadn't taken off without letting anyone know where he was going.

And Buck knew Chris. His friend didn't get attached to others easily, but he had found something in Vin, which he had obviously missed, and he had grown rather fond of the younger man. Buck figured it was more a father-son relationship than it was a buddy relationship. Chris somehow felt responsible for Vin and wanted to protect him however he could. That bounty on his head didn't make things easier, either.

Stopping dead in his tracks, Buck stared ahead of himself for a moment. He ought to sleep, ought to get a bit of rest before going out to find them both, but he just couldn't. He had tried. Restless and sick with worry, he had returned to the saloon to at least have some company. But what good did he do, wearing grooves in the floorboards of the saloon, while Chris and Vin might be in trouble up to their necks right around now?

With a sigh, he glanced over at the clock on the wall. It was half past four in the morning, but he just couldn't wait any longer. The decision made, he went and woke everybody up, and an hour later they were ready to go. Buck's idea was that they should split up to cover more ground, and the others had agreed to that. It seemed like a good idea. J.D. would stay behind in town in case either of the two should return on their own. He'd been unhappy about it, but Buck had convinced him that he would be doing more good there.

Ezra, Nathan, Josiah and Buck took off in different directions to find their missing friends and, if need be, shoot their way out of any given situation. Buck was worked up enough to take on the whole army, if that was what it took to get both of his friends back. He didn't really blame Vin for this whole mess, but he needed to pin the blame on someone.


North of Four Corners

When the sun cleared the horizon, promising a warm day, Buck caught sight of a small homestead in the distance. He figured he might as well ask around, and rode up to the porch steps before dismounting. He glanced around briefly, noting the neatness of the yard, the way nothing seemed in need of repair, and then walked up to the front door and knocked.

It took a moment before the door opened, and he found himself facing the double barrel of a rather new Winchester rifle held by the delicate-looking hands of a strikingly beautiful woman. Dark eyes stared at him with suspicion and downright contempt.

"What do you want?" the woman snapped, ready to blow his head off if he made a wrong move. She was tall for a woman, slender, with a shock of dark curls framing a hard-cut face. Her skin had a coppery tone to it, slightly darker than most women, which disclosed to him that she probably had Indian blood in her veins.

"Beggin' your pardon, ma'am," he said, pulling his hat off and giving her his most winning smile. It did nothing to make her waver in her aim, though. "I'm looking for two missin' friends, and I was wonderin' if you might ‘ave seen 'em around here? One tall man, clad in black; the other smaller, shoulder-long hair."

She stared at him for a moment longer, then lowered the rifle, obviously convinced that he wasn't going to hurt her. "I ain't seen nobody around here for a bit," she told him, her tone still a bit stand-offish. Her expression mellowed a little, increasing her beauty by leaps and bounds.

Buck felt weak in the knees in the face of such beauty, and if it hadn't been for the fact that he had more important things on his mind, he would have wooed her right there and then. "Well, I'm sorry to bother you, ma'am. I'll just be ridin' on then," he said, put his hat back on, gave her a nod and returned to his horse. He promised himself that he would look her up again when this was all over. A beauty like that shouldn't be living out here all by herself. And even if she did have a husband, he still didn't think it was right to leave her by herself. "Good day, ma'am," he said to her, still smiling, and rode off again, back up to the road leading to her house, and on from there.


The Stanford Land

Chris allowed himself a second of rest, but the sounds behind them were growing stronger, and he needed to move on, to get Vin out of this predicament, before it killed them both. Hoisting Vin up a little to get a better grip on him, he pressed on, dragging his half-conscious friend along with the last of his reserves. He knew he needed to find help soon or they would both end up dead. Or worse. He had seen the looks one of the brothers had given Vin, and he didn't like it one bit. And his friend was certainly in no condition to defend himself against such atrocities.

So he struggled on, fighting for every step he took, sweat rolling off his body at the almost inhuman effort he was putting into supporting both of them, when all he really wanted to do was lie down somewhere and sleep. He was nothing if not stubborn, though, so he continued to drag his feet forward, to struggle against his fatigue and his aching body. He would get them both out of this, or he would die trying. The way he felt right then, though, suggested that this would be the only outcome.

"Chris," Vin rasped, barely able to make himself heard.

Trudging on, Chris didn't even dare shift his hold on the tracker out of fear that his hand would be too numb to reestablish the hold he had on him now. "What?" he pressed out through clenched teeth.

"Can't... go on."

Chris kept moving, not allowing himself to even consider the possibility of stopping. Any thought even touching on that subject drained his strength. "Sure you can. Just a little further, Vin," he pressed out, pushing himself to move faster. He knew he would pay the price for straining himself this much, but he couldn't stop, couldn't even slow down.

"Feel... sick," the younger man rasped out. "Hurt... all over."

"Yeah, me too," Chris admitted. "But we ain't stoppin' until we're outta the woods. Just hang in there, pard. Just a little longer." He was trying to convince himself as well as Vin that they wouldn't have that far to go, but somewhere deep down he didn't believe it. He wasn't ready to give up yet, though. So he pushed on, forcing each step, having to consciously command his legs to move.

So suddenly, it took him by surprise, they reached the edge of the forest and stumbled out onto a road. Chris came to a precarious stop and glanced either way, seeing nobody around except for a rider vanishing in the distance. It was still pretty early, although the sun had risen above the horizon. Scanning the area quickly, his eyes fixed on a homestead not too far away; and he forced his feet forward, aware that his friend wasn't going to make it much further than the house. He needed to get there, and he would threaten or beg for help. Either way, whoever lived there would have no choice but to help them out.


Never had he felt so tired, so utterly exhausted as he did with a goal in sight. Chris stumbled on, still dragging his nearly comatose friend along, not knowing nor caring where he got the strength from. It wasn't something he spent any time thinking about. All that mattered was getting Vin to safety.

He considered it slightly funny that the two steps leading up to the porch should seem insurmountable when he finally got to them, but he did stop nonetheless and stared at them for a second before forcing his right foot up on the first step. It hurt, but he couldn't stop now. Dragging Vin up the steps, he felt dangerously close to running out of strength, and had to remind himself that if he gave up now, they'd be dead for sure. He could hear the Stanford brothers shouting in the forest beyond and chanced a glance backwards. They were still not in view when he hammered a fist against the door.

Before he could consider any alternative to his present endeavor, the door swung open, revealing the copper-skinned beauty Buck had fallen for. Chris didn't know that, of course; but rather found himself facing the double-barrel of the Winchester, his tired mind groping for something he could say to appease the woman holding it. At least she was armed, he thought. "Please, you gotta help us," he begged, his voice raspy.

She stared at them over the barrel of the rifle for a second, but then shifted her eyes to the forest beyond, when she heard shouting from there. Almost immediately, she lowered the rifle and stepped aside. "Bring ‘im in," she told Chris and put the rifle down right next to the door. "Hurry," she added when he hesitated.

Chris didn't have to be told twice, so he dragged Vin inside and stopped once again, close to giving up the fight to stay upright with every step he still had to take.

The woman closed the door and led the way down a small corridor leading away from the common room they'd stepped into. "This way," she said and opened the door to a room at the very end. There were two beds in the room, both covered with patchwork blankets.

Chris eased his friend onto the first bed, and he nearly fell over when the added weight was finally off his shoulders. The woman grabbed his arm, steadying him. "You need to lie down, too," she told him firmly, but before she could guide him to the other bed, there was a heavy knock on the front door. She huffed with annoyance, a response he wouldn't have expected from her, her eyes on the door. "Stay here," she advised him and hurried back out into the common room.

Even though there was nothing he would have liked better than to drop down on the bed and just go to sleep, he followed her out into the small corridor, and went as far as the end, where he pressed up against the wall to listen in on the impending conversation. He was certain that the Stanford brothers had arrived, and he feared what would happen next, considering that he had no means to defend himself with.

Their gracious hostess opened the door with the rifle in hand, and shoved it in the face of another unexpected visitor. "What do you want?" she snapped angrily.

"Uh... pardon the intrusion, ma'am," Jake Stanford stammered, taken aback by both her hostility and her weapon. "My brothers an' me are huntin' some horse thieves. You ain't seen 'em around, have you?" he asked, raising his hands to show her he was unarmed.

She glanced past him at his brothers clustered together in her yard, then looked back at him, her nearly black eyes digging holes into his soul. "I ain't seen nobody around," she told him angrily. "Get off my land or I'll pump you full 'o lead, boy," she added, the threat unmistakable.

Jake Stanford backed up a step. "Uh... sorry for disturbin' you, ma'am," he stammered, turned around and returned to his brothers. "They ain't here. Must still be in the forest. Let's go," he said to them, and they took off.

With a snort of contempt, she closed the door again and placed the rifle next to it, then turned around to face Chris, who was leaning heavily against the doorframe. "I swear the next time I see their ugly faces, I'm gonna blow 'em off," she said and shook her head in disgust. "You need to lie down," she then added in a no-nonsense tone of voice, pointing a finger at him.

Chris couldn't argue that point with her. It was with no small amount of admiration that he allowed her to help him back to the room and the bed waiting for him. He had met a lot of pigheaded women in his time, a few of them more than a little crazy, but this one took the cake. There hadn't been a flicker of doubt or fear when she had faced off against Stanford, and he wondered if she realized how dangerous crazy men like him were. But he could tell that she didn't give a hoot one way or another.

It actually hurt Chris to stretch out at first when he eased down on the bed. His body did quickly adjust to the fact that his back was once again straight and the weight was off his legs, and he eventually sighed with relief. Although he still hurt all over, it felt so damned good to lie down that he almost fell asleep at once. But he couldn't allow himself the rest yet. He needed to know how badly Vin was hurt.

Turning his head, he watched the woman as she sat down on the edge of Vin's bed and carefully pushed tangled strands of blood-caked hair away from his face. "I figure you ran into the Stanford brothers, eh?" she asked, glancing over at Chris.

"Yeah, we did. They're a pretty nasty bunch," he replied and pushed himself up on one elbow. "I'm Chris Larabee. That's Vin Tanner," he introduced them both, since Vin was in no shape to even blink right then.

Turning her head to face him again, she gave him a surprised look. "Larabee?" she asked. "I heard o' you. The Magnificent Seven," she said and smiled a quiet little smile. "I'm Jessie Landon," she added and rose. "I'd best get some water and towels so you both can get cleaned up a bit. I need to see how badly he's hurt, and that ain't easy with all the blood stickin' to him." With that, she left the room again, leaving the door ajar.

Chris stared over at Vin for a moment, then allowed himself to lie back down. "Vin?" he tried, hoping his friend was still conscious.

"Yeah?" Vin nearly whispered in reply.

"Just checkin'," Chris said. "Looks like we got ourselves a guardian angel here."

Vin blinked sluggishly up at the ceiling with his one good eye. "She don't look much like an angel," he rasped, and tried a smile, which cracked his lips.

"More like a fury from hell, eh?" Jessie asked when she re-entered the room with a bowl of warm water and some towels. Her tone was good-natured, and she smiled vaguely when she said it. "And right you are," she added. "Now, let's take a look at you, shall we?" she asked on and placed the bowl beside Vin's bed on the floor.

"I'd rather not," Vin muttered.

"Oh, hush up," she told him and sat down. "You look like you've been through a wringer."

Chris kept an eye on things when she started to clean off the blood and muck covering Vin's face, and the younger man flinched more than once. But she was as careful as she could be.

The way she sat on the edge of the bed, her back halfway turned to Chris, her dark-brown curls bopping around her head whenever she moved, made a long-buried ache rise in the gunslinger. She looked like Sarah from that angle. Overwhelmed by the sudden grief, he closed his eyes and draped an arm over his aching face, trying to will those memories back into the dark corner of his mind, where he usually kept them under lock and key. Exhaustion and pain had brought down his barriers, and he hated the feelings rising in him.

Jessie glanced over at him for a moment, but figured he was a lot less hurt than his friend. She would get to him eventually. Returning her attention to Vin, she took a second to stare at him with a hard sadness in her eyes. She hated it when others got hurt, and she would forsake almost anything in life to help those who needed it. But she had learned harsh lessons in her life, which had left her in a position where she waited for them to come to her. She had stopped offering her help to others a long time ago.

Wetting the end of a new towel, she went to work on his battered chest, carefully dabbing the warm water onto his skin before drying it off as gently as she could. He had at least three or four cuts that needed stitches, but she couldn't close those wounds up before the infection already spreading in them was gone. There were rips in his pants as well at several places where he had been stabbed or cut, and she figured he'd have a lot of scars to show off after this.

With another glance at Chris, she leaned closer to Vin. "Can you hear me?" she asked him quietly. He nodded weakly. "I need to get your pants off so I can take a look at your legs. You've been pretty badly messed up, and your wounds are already infected," she told him.

"Can't... move," he rasped, his voice nearly gone.

"No problem. I'll deal with it," she told him and went right ahead and did it. If he had been just a little more together, this would have embarrassed the heck out of him; but at that point, he just couldn't care less.

Jessie was about to set her plan into action when she realized something was very wrong with his left foot. Barefoot as he was, she hadn't noticed the fact that his left foot wasn't black from dirt. Carefully, she lifted the coarse fabric of his pant leg up and that caused him to groan in pain. The fabric was stuck in the wound, and she instantly released it with a deep frown on her brow. This was anything but good. Inhaling deeply, she briefly considered what to do. Then she settled down next to him again and touched his brow. He was running a fever, which told her more than enough. "Mr. Tanner?" she asked quietly. He managed to open his one good eye and blinked sluggishly up at her. "Your foot is badly infected. I need to clean out the wound."

He blinked a few times, trying to understand what she was saying, then glanced down toward his leg. The thought of anyone touching his leg made him feel sick to his stomach. It hurt like hell, but it got worse when he moved it. Lying down had taken a bit of the pressure off it, but he didn't want her messing with it and making it worse again. So he shook his head. "No," he whispered hoarsely. "Leave it be."

She closed her eyes for a moment. "Listen to me, alright?" she said, placing a soft hand over his lips when he tried to argue immediately. "If I don't clean it out, you will get gangrene or blood poisonin'." She could tell by the look in his eye that he didn't give a damn. "It will kill you. And if it don't kill you, you might end up with an unusable foot. You want that?"

He stared at her for a moment, then slowly shook his head. "No," he rasped.

That made her smile. "Alright. I'll be as careful as I can," she promised.

She soon found that keeping that promise wasn't as easy as she had thought it would be. The second she touched his foot he reared up, finding hidden reserves to bat her hand away from the injury. Sitting up was a terrible effort, and it hurt him more than he had ever thought it could; but he still remained in an upright position, making sure she didn't touch his foot.

"Vin, you gotta let her help," Chris said. He had overheard the discussion and was sitting up, too. "You'll lose your foot if you don't," he said, knowing that harsh words were the only way of dealing with this.

Vin wasn't peevish. He could stand a lot of abuse and most of it without making a sound. But this was too much. The thought alone was too much. He couldn't stomach the pain because he had been in pain for three days straight, and it wasn't getting any better. Despite knowing that both Chris and Mrs. Landon were right, he just didn't have the courage to let her deal with it. "I'll do it myself," he rasped and tried to shift around a little so he could get to his foot without bending his knee, but he could barely move on his own.

"You're in no condition," Chris admonished him and pulled his lead-heavy legs off the bed. "Let Mrs. Landon deal with it," he repeated, his tone of voice oddly commanding despite his own fatigue.

Jessie closed her eyes again, then sighed. "Alright, I'll make you a deal. The easiest way to remove your pant leg from the wound is to soften the whole thing up. Lukewarm water with a bit o' salt added will do that. It will also help clear out the infection, and it won't be nearly as painful as if I just pull the fabric off," she explained. "Will you let me do that?" she wanted to know. Just in time, she lashed out and grabbed Vin's arm, preventing him from falling heavily back on the bed. He just couldn't keep himself upright any more.

Chris was halfway off the bed before realizing she had the situation under control. "You got him?" he asked needlessly, and she merely nodded, easing her troublesome patient back down on the bed.

"You okay with that?" she asked Vin, who closed his eye and nodded weakly.

With a halfhearted sigh, Chris dropped back down on the bed, rubbing his palms over his face for a moment. Then he focused on his friend again when Jessie got up to get whatever remedies she needed. "You okay?" he asked.

"No," Vin groaned. "I hurt all over. Ain't an inch of me that don't feel bruised."

Chris regarded him for a moment, taking in all the wounds he could see. There were quite a few of them. "I'll buy that," he said and gingerly touched his own sore forehead. "There ain't nothin' you can do about it, neither, but let Mrs. Landon do what she can to help."

"It just hurts so bad," Vin mumbled, halfway unconscious again.

Once again, Chris sighed. "I know, pard. It'll pass," he said, hoping it would. There was no telling how many complications could arise from all these injuries that Vin had sustained. His foot was the worst from what Chris could see.