The Landon Homestead


For someone not used to others fussing over him, Vin was getting his share of attention from Jessie Landon in the sense that she was focused solely on his wounds and trying to make sure that he healed with a minimum of discomfort, although that did involve a lot of handling on her part.

Using another of her ancient recipes, she had made a sort of balm, which she insisted was necessary to make his foot heal faster and to minimize the scar tissue. At the same time she also insisted on rubbing it on his back to do the same thing to the whiplashes there. The feel of her hands on his skin made him feel all tingly inside and it took quite a bit of effort on his part to keep from enjoying it too much. The thought that all this would go away once he was well again made him apprehensive about it. He didn't want to get used to something he would sorely miss later. And he could get used to this kind of treatment. The first few times it had still been pretty painful, but he had to admit that it was helping. The wounds were healing faster and it didn't look as ugly as he had feared it would. Not that a few new scars would make him uncomfortable.

While she massaged the balm into the still tender skin on his foot, he watched her, wondering about her. He had never been one to talk much or ask other people questions if he felt it was none of his business, but this woman intrigued him. That didn't mean that he found it any easier to strike up a conversation with her. He still had no idea what to say to her and she didn't seem to be one to start talking, either.

Instead he settled for watching her fingers working over his ankle, massaging the faintly scented balm into his skin. Her long, slender fingers, drawing streaks of soothing warmth over his skin. Suddenly very aware of how much she was influencing him, he turned his head, looking away from what she was doing, and wished desperately she would stop touching him. The only way he could accomplish that without letting on how he felt right then was by feigning pain. So he suddenly hissed, jerking his foot back. "Ow."

"Sorry," she apologized, giving him a smile and a quick glance. "I reckon it's enough anyway," she said and wrapped a fresh bandage around his foot. "You hungry?" she asked once she was done.

Vin shook his head lightly, never once taking his eyes off her. He felt so stupid for being utterly incapable of forming a worth-while sentence when he was alone with her, and sank back into the pillow to gaze thoughtfully out over the yard. Mostly, he wanted to get on Peso and just ride out there and leave all this behind so he could clear his mind and find his inner peace again. On the other hand he wanted to stick around her and get to know her. But that would be a little difficult if he didn't find his voice soon. Besides, she probably thought he was being silly anyway, so why bother. With a heavy sigh, he settled for just sitting there for another day, staring into space and mentally kicking himself for not being able to talk to a woman.

"Gee, you look about ready to burst."

That voice came virtually out of nowhere and made Vin close his eyes in exasperation for a moment before turning his head to look up at Buck. "Hi, Buck," he said and gave him a tentative smile. "You come to rake me over the coals too?" he wanted to know, attempting to defuse the situation before Wilmington went overboard with whatever he had to say. Chris had warned him about Buck being upset about all this.

Buck pulled up a chair and sat down, glancing around for their gracious hostess. "Nah, I figure Chris did that already and there ain't nobody better at stickin' it to you than him," he said with a grin. "So, how're you feelin'?"

Vin sighed again. "I've felt better," he admitted reluctantly. "I ain't used to bein' stuck in one place this long." He settled himself somewhat better, shifting his foot in the process, too. "I reckon that serves me right, eh?" Buck merely made a face and shrugged. "Chris said them brothers are gonna hang," he added.

"Yup," Buck agreed. "They've gone and done somethin' pretty stupid. They killed six people. And they left ‘em to rot in the basement. How's that for stupid," he said. "They'll all swing, thanks to you."

That made Vin frown. "Why me?" he wanted to know.

"If you hadn't gone and done somethin' stupid like takin' off without lettin' us know where you're headed, we wouldn't ‘ave found ‘em. So, in a sense, pard, you did ‘em a favor by gettin' your head busted like you did," Buck explained, looking downright content with himself.

"I wasn't the one got his head busted," Vin said tiredly.

"Oh yeah, that's right. That was Chris, wasn't it?" Buck replied, grabbing the opportunity to make his opinion known.

"Yeah, it was," Vin agreed. "I ain't proud of it, Buck, but I didn't ask ‘im to come lookin' for me, now did I?"

Buck pulled his hat off and raked his fingers through his hair, a gesture of frustration on his part. "Well, maybe not," he agreed. "But you oughta know the man well enough by now to know he'd do it, anyway. He ain't the type to leave his friends behind."

"Mr. Wilmington." Jessie was a godsend. She turned up at exactly the right moment to prevent Buck from getting all worked up about something that couldn't be changed. "I didn't hear you ride up," she added, glancing out at the yard and noting the fact that there was no horse in sight.

"Well, I kinda snuck up on you all," Buck admitted with a big smile, getting up to greet her properly. "Kinda like a surprise visit."

"Well, it worked," she said with a smile of her own. "I'm surprised. So, you wanna join us for supper?" she wanted to know, winking at Vin, who blushed all the way to his hair roots and quickly looked away. "Mr. Jackson and Mr. Tanner here are gettin' mighty hungry this time o' day."

Vin opened his mouth to object to that, seeing as he hadn't really joined them for any meals so far, but quickly realized that she was teasing Buck for some odd reason. Buck, of course, was completely oblivious to that, taken by her as he was.

"Why, certainly. I'd love to stay," Buck burst out, grinning from ear to ear.

"You reckon the rest'll turn up, too?" she wanted to know, glancing out toward the road.

Buck glanced at Vin, who wouldn't have the first clue about that, then shrugged. "I don't rightly know, ma'am. I reckon they might, seein' as you're just about the damned best cook for miles around."

"Why, thank you kindly, Mr. Wilmington," she said. "I'd best get started then," she added, but then caught the somewhat frantic look in Vin's eyes. "It might be an idea if you came inside, Mr. Tanner. It ain't exactly warm out here no more," she said.

Vin nodded his consent. Anything right now would be better than having to be alone with Buck and risking further injuries because he lost his temper or something.

"Would you mind helpin' him, Mr. Wilmington? He ain't too sure on his feet yet. And mind that foot o' his," she said, turning her attention back to Buck.

"Certainly, ma'am," Buck replied and helped Vin up, supporting him so he didn't have to use his left foot yet. He had tried earlier in the day when Nathan and Jessie had helped him outside and the result had been a near catastrophe, where he had spent nearly an hour in agonizing pain.

Jessie walked ahead, but kept an eye on their progress, not really trusting Buck to treat Vin the way she thought he should treat him.

Vin was grateful for her intervention and for the fact that Buck would do virtually anything to impress her and therefore wouldn't do anything intentionally to hurt him. He wasn't always too sure when it came to Buck. Although he would trust the man with his life in a fight, he had put Chris in jeopardy by being reckless, and if there was one thing Buck Wilmington couldn't stand, it was that. And he tended to get nasty when he was angry.


Once again everybody turned up for supper, except for Chris. Buck told Jessie not to worry about him, he had gone to his cabin to be alone for awhile. That said, they all sat down to eat, all of them having a good time.

That included Vin, who found that none of the others seemed to be holding any of the past events against him. And he was happy to be back among them even though he was still having a great deal of trouble with his injuries. And while they talked and ate, he kept glancing at Jessie, who was having a rather philosophical discussing with Josiah. The ex-preacher seemed genuinely surprised by her knowledge and kept complementing her on it, a fact which didn't derail her conversational skills at all. She graciously accepted the praise and continued their discussion. The more he learned about her, the less Vin thought he stood a chance of getting to know a woman like her. Once again, he cursed his lack of skills when it came to reading and writing. He figured he would learn it eventually, but by that time, Jessie would have probably found a companion for life. And he just knew who that would be. Making a face, he barely refrained from sighing.

"You okay?" Nathan asked, having noted the somewhat gloomy expression on the tracker's face.

"Yeah, I'm fine," Vin replied and tried to smile. It didn't really come out right and Nathan instantly mistook it for fatigue.

"You tired?" he asked.

"Nah," Vin said, finding that he actually was a bit worn out. The healing of his body took a lot of energy out of him and he didn't have his usual stamina. "Not really," he added.

"Then why, if I may be so bold as to inquire, are you lookin' like you haven't slept in a good long while?" Ezra asked him, giving him a somewhat benevolent smile.

"I said I'm fine," Vin replied, giving him a stern look, which only earned him a grin from the gambler.

All this attention had only one result and that was the one Vin had tried to avoid. Jessie looked over at him with slight concern, maybe expecting him to fall off his chair in a second or something. Seeing that whatever Nathan thought he had seen was exaggerated, she gave him a smile instead. "Well, he looks perfectly fine to me," she said. "It's about time he got up and about, don't you think?" she asked, still looking at Vin.

It was with something of an effort that he managed not to blush again. This whole thing was getting ridiculous, and he now more than ever wanted to take off and be alone for a while. But that was still impossible.

"I agree," Josiah said, a small smile on his lips. He figured he knew what was ailing his young friend and he didn't blame him one bit. Now that Vin was virtually back to normal, he had obviously discovered the charms of their gracious hostess. Josiah figured a man would have to be dead and blind to not notice. "You look fine to me," he went on, directing his words to Vin, who nodded gratefully. The last thing he wanted right then was to be sent to bed like a little kid.

Just then, the door opened and Chris stepped in, hat in hands. "Am I too late?" he asked, glancing around at them all, then fixing his eyes on Jessie.

"Of course not. Come on in. Have a seat," she replied, smiling brightly at him.

Vin saw that smile and felt the immediate sting of loss. But he subdued that feeling at once, pushing it away. It had no place here. He couldn't begrudge Chris what little happiness the gunslinger might find in knowing Jessie, and he figured he wouldn't stand a chance with her anyway. He had once found another lady irresistible and had even considered spending his life with her, only to be told, ‘You're reachin' for the stars, Vin Tanner. No man ever reached ‘em.' This time he did sigh, but nobody noticed. Then he looked up to meet Chris' stare and smiled. "How's the shack?" he asked.

Chris made a face and sat down at the opposite end of the table from Jessie. "It ain't no shack. It's a cabin," he growled, but found it hard to keep a smile at bay. It was damned good to see Vin up and about again.

"Yeah, yeah, whatever," Vin brushed him off with that smile still on his lips.


Four Corners
Two weeks later

Who would have thought that getting back to normal could be so difficult, Vin wondered and wiggled his left foot a bit. His ankle was stiff and started hurting real easy these days. He knew it was still early and that the side effects would gradually wear off, but he didn't like being hampered like this. He always had to think twice before taking a step down from anywhere, weighing the pros and cons of whether his foot was going to twist under him or not. Jessie had given him enough of the balm to see him through to the end of the year if need be, but he didn't like the smell of that stuff and hence didn't bother rubbing it on. He didn't heed Nathan's advice to take it easy, either, and went riding every day. He didn't think riding would hurt his foot at all, but he was beginning to see it in a different light.

The past days, he had been able to go riding all day without too much discomfort. His foot had hurt a bit, but as soon as he took the weight off it, it had stopped after a few moments. But not today. Today it hurt like hell and every move he made with that foot sent a jab of pain through his leg. Apart from that, his foot felt swollen inside the boot. He had attributed that to the boots being new, but since he didn't have the same feeling where his right foot was concerned, he was beginning to see reason. Not willingly, but the pain was beginning to wear him down.

Carefully, he put his weight on his left foot and jerked violently when a cramp-like pain shot up his calf, nearly making him double over. "Shit," he hissed, holding onto Peso for support.

The gelding turned his head and glanced at Vin almost accusingly. "Don't you start on me, too," Vin growled. "It'll pass in a minute."

"What will?"

Turning his head, he caught sight of Chris, who had just stepped into the livery. He had a dark look in his eyes. "Nothin'," Vin hastened to say. "Just overdid it a bit today, I reckon," he added as ways of explaining why he had his left foot off the ground.

"Didn't Nathan tell you to take it easy, Vin?" Chris asked, his voice holding that hint of anger that Vin knew so well.

"Yeah, sure, but I ain't sick no more. I must ‘ave twisted it or somethin'. I's out longer yesterday and I didn't have no trouble at all," he tried to defend himself.

Chris stared at him for a moment, then shook his head a little. "You ain't never gonna learn, are you?" he asked. "We're here to help you if you need it. All you gotta do is ask."

"For what? I'm fine," Vin claimed and stubbornly turned his back on the gunslinger.

For a moment Chris considered leaving him to it, knowing full well that the tracker couldn't walk right now and would have to ask for help, but he figured he'd just come up with something silly like riding Peso over to his wagon or something in that direction. "You need any help?" he asked, finding it hard to speak normally.

"Nah, I'm fine," Vin replied, not looking back at him. He didn't want Chris to see how he was really feeling. And fine wasn't it.

It took some consideration on Chris' part to make up his mind about what to do next. Then he nodded to himself. There was only one course of action he could take. It wasn't fair, but he wanted Vin to stay off that foot until it had healed properly. "I'm gettin' Mrs. Landon," he said, turned around and strode out without giving Vin a chance to object.

"No," he snapped and turned around in an attempt to stop Chris, but instead he brought his left foot down when he almost lost his balance and only barely managed to prevent himself from crying out in pain. "Shit, shit, shit," he hissed through clenched teeth, grabbing his shin with his left hand while holding onto Peso's saddle with the right.

Only moments later, Jessie strode into the livery, a look of concern on her face. "What the hell are you up to?" she demanded, stopping right in front of him. It took one look for her to determine that he was anything but fine. He was pale, a light sheen of sweat covering his face and neck, and his lips were pressed tightly together in a good imitation of pain. "For heaven's sake, Vin Tanner," she exclaimed, throwing her hands in the air. "Are you tryin' to ruin that foot for good?" She didn't even give him a chance to reply, but turned her attention to Chris, who had followed her back to the livery. "Would'cha get Mr. Jackson for me, Mr. Larabee?" she asked. "If he won't stay off that foot himself, we gotta make ‘im."

"I don't need no help," Vin pressed out, fully aware that he did need it. But he would be damned if he would give in that easily.

Jessie turned back to face him and all the fight went right out of him at that look in her eyes. "You worry me, Mr. Tanner," she said. "I would ‘ave figured that Mr. Larabee would be the self-destructive type. Instead it's you."

Nathan turned up, looking both angry and concerned at the same time. "What did I tell you only yesterday, Vin? You gotta stay off that foot. It ain't healed yet," the healer exclaimed.

"But..." Vin began, but was cut off by Jessie.

"No buts. You're goin' over to the clinic and that's final. I wanna take a look at that foot. Right now," she said, pointing toward the doors of the livery with a stern expression on her face.

"But..." Vin tried again, but was this time interrupted by Nathan.

"You heard the lady. Let's go," he said, taking a hold of Vin's arm.

Vin caught sight of the somewhat satisfied look on Chris' face and sneered at him. "What'cha lookin' at?" he snapped. "Ain't ‘cha gonna help me?"

"Oh, now you can ask, huh?" Chris countered. "I'll help ‘em get you over to the clinic, Vin," he added and couldn't help but smile somewhat sternly at the dismal expression on the younger man's face. "Even if I have to carry you."

"Aw hell," Vin sighed, but figured he wasn't done fighting back yet. "I'll ride over," he added and pulled his arm out of Nathan's grip.

Chris gave him an unmistakably threatening look. "Don't even think about hightailin' it outta here, you hear?" he warned.

At that very second, Peso seemed to make up his mind about joining the fun, sensing his owner was outnumbered, and turned his head and clamped his teeth down on Vin's shoulder, nearly breaking it in the process. "JEEZ, YA STUPID MULE," Vin howled, twisting around to get his shoulder out of the vice-like bite. Peso released him almost instantly and nearly seemed to be laughing to himself. Vin struggled for balance and stumbled backwards into Jessie's arms, but she managed to catch him and steady him before he came down fully on his left foot. That would have aggravated the injury further.

Holding onto Vin, who was even paler than before, Jessie locked eyes with the ornery gelding. "What the heck did you do that for?" she snapped at the animal. For some odd reason, Peso seemed to take it to heart that she was angry with him and backed up a step. He stomped the stable floor nervously a few times. "Get back in your stall," she added and Peso obeyed without the slightest hesitation, backing into the stall without ever taking his eyes off the woman.

Then Jessie finally glanced down at Vin. "You okay?" she wanted to know.

Vin hadn't moved since she'd grabbed him and he didn't really feel much like it in any event. Sure, it had hurt when Peso had bitten him, but that stubborn mule did that a lot. It wasn't anything new. Reluctantly, he allowed her to help him regain his footing. "Yeah, I'm fine," he told her. "Ain't the first time he's done that," he added, giving Peso an annoyed look. The gelding whinnied, throwing his head in pure disrespect.

Peso had defused the situation quite nicely, and that even without wanting to. Vin couldn't really be angry with him for that. He went with the others without further fuss, letting Chris and Nathan help him so he didn't have to put his weight on his now decidedly painful foot, while he wished that it had been Jessie instead of the two others, who was helping him. It wasn't that he didn't appreciate the help, but there was something about Jessie that made him just want to be held by her. Hell, if he had to be honest with himself, he wanted to do a lot more than be held by her. But once again he was reminded of how she had looked when Chris had turned up for supper that night a few days ago, and he figured it was probably for the best if she never found out how he felt about her.

Once in Nathan's clinic, where Jessie had been working with Nathan for the past two weeks, Vin reluctantly agreed to letting Jessie remove his boot. He sort of knew what to expect, considering the strain he had put on his foot over the past many days, but he hadn't really expected it to look that bad. The foot was swollen, the fairly new scars nearly purple, and the whole area felt burning hot.

Jessie stared at his foot for a moment, then raised her eyes to meet his. "You wanna spend the rest o' your life with a limp?" she asked him. "You wanna be unable to walk or ride ever again?"

"No, ma'am," he nearly whispered.

Nathan had turned his back on the whole thing and was staring out the window, muttering to himself. "Don't matter how much you do, it ain't enough," he growled.

Whatever opinion Chris might have, he kept to himself. He just stood leaning against the doorframe, arms crossed over his chest, and watched the proceedings quietly.

Jessie shook her head angrily and wrapped a moist, cool cloth around his foot. "You're stayin' here until that's healed. And I don't give a damn what'cha think. You ain't impressin' anyone with that sort o' behavior," she told him, her voice as angry as her eyes. "Damned fool stubborn men," she added under her breath as she propped his foot up on a chair in a not entirely gentle manner. "You ain't walkin' on that and that's final."

"But..." Vin tried, but before he could say more, she had clamped a hand over his mouth and was leaning in real close, staring him in the eye.

"I said that's final," she warned him. "If you won't do it on your own, I'm gonna tie you down and sit on you," she added, unaware that he didn't exactly consider that a threat.

Chris couldn't help grinning. He sure was happy he wasn't on the receiving end of her fury this time around, but what really got to him was the helpless way in which Vin continued to give up when facing her. He had seen the way the younger man glanced at Jessie and it was an unending source of amusement to him that Vin actually seemed to believe he stood a chance with someone like Jessie. Jessie was like one of those wild horses, that couldn't be caught. Or that was what he figured. And he was actually dying to meet the man who'd married her.

"Now, go easy on ‘im, Mrs. Landon," he said, trying to buy his friend some leeway.

Before he could say another word, Jessie had turned around to face him, her eyes still displaying her fury. "Would you stop callin' me that?" she almost snapped, then got a hold of herself again and straightened her back. "I ain't no Mrs. I ain't married."

Chris stared at her, unable to retain the surprise he felt at that revelation. Every one of them had thought she was married and that the fact that her husband wasn't around had to be explainable somehow. "You're not?" he asked, looking as surprised as he felt.

"No, I ain't. Never was," she replied more calmly. "So, what do you say, we skip this last name business and call each other by our first names?"

Chris stared at her. For some odd reason he couldn't define, finding out that she was single made him lose his power of speech. It was highly peculiar to him that he would respond that way, but he just couldn't seem to get past it.

Vin stared at her, too. When Chris didn't answer, he leaned forward a bit. "Sure," he said. "Jessie."

She glanced at him and smiled, all her previous anger gone again. Then she glanced at Nathan, who smiled back and nodded.

"Sounds like a fine idea to me," he said.

"What about you, Mr. Larabee?" Jessie asked, returning her attention to Chris, who continued to stare at her as if he had never seen her before.

Then he nodded once. "Sounds good, Jessie," he finally said and gave her a vague smile in return.