Nathan Jackson couldn’t help but grumble under his breath as he readied his instruments. Another injury. Sometimes he wondered if he was going to end up doing what that crazy doctor did in the story Chris was telling him about a few weeks ago; making a patchwork man from parts of other bodies. Only in his case he would end up making one man from the battered and torn bodies of the other six men.
The sounds of footsteps on the wooden walkway outside his clinic told Jackson that his latest patient was being brought in. He had left the door open, to allow the others easier access. As the footsteps grew nearer, he could hear the unmistakable sounds of cursing; Cherokee and Kiowa mixed with Spanish and Texan. The smooth tones of their Southern gentleman could be heard in response.
"Mr. Tanner, I fail to see what questioning my parentage has to do with our escorting you to the clinic."
"Ezra, I done told y’, I don’t need your help….an’ I don’t need t’ go to th’ clinic. Now we need t’ get ridin’…if we’re gonna get th’ rest a them yahoos."
By this time they had reached the entrance, but Vin wasn’t making it easy for either Ezra or JD Dunne. The two men had Tanner draped between them, attempting to get him to the healer’s care. Blood flowed down his side, already staining his dun colored pants. Still, the tracker continued arguing his need for medical assistance.
"Vin, you heard what Chris said. He, Buck and Josiah are already on the trail. As soon as Ezra and I get you in here so Nathan can look after you, we’re gonna follow. But at the rate we’re going here, the others are gonna be back and those cow hands buried, or in jail, before the two of us can even get our horses saddled."
"JD," Vin started, then bit off a groan as he moved too quickly in yet another attempt to get away from the two men.
"Perhaps you should listen to your body, Mr. Tanner. I do believe that it is trying to tell you to relinquish this overwhelming sense of duty you possess, and allow your associates to carry out the task at hand. While I realize that your penchant for being indispensable to our merry band may have overridden your sense of self- "
"Damn it…Ezra…" Vin gasped out, "y’ tryin’ t’ kill me? Ain’t…in’a mood t’… listen to y’ yammerin’."
They were just outside the doorway, Tanner stopping their progress with one foot against the doorjamb. He was intent on returning to the street to help in hunting down the handful of men who had decided to shoot up the town.
"Vin, would you stop being so damn hard-headed? You’re not helping matters, acting like a spoiled brat or something," JD was tugging at the buckskin-clad arm, trying to wrangle the other man through the door.
Ezra, as always assessing all of the resolutions to a predicament, found one to his liking. Pulling on Tanner, he felt the other man pull back, intent on staying outside. Just as it seemed Vin was using all of his strength, Ezra released his hold. Caught off guard, the angry young man crashed into the door facing, the contact of his head against the wood echoed with a heavy thud. The now twice-injured man’s knees buckled, his eyes rolling back in his head. Taking advantage of the situation, Standish pulled the semi-conscious tracker through the door, JD barely managing to recover and follow on the other side.
"Ezra, I swear, if you gave him a concussion, I’ll make you baby-sit him for th’ next three days." Jackson promised.
"Alas Mr. Jackson," Standish said with his typical flourish, "I sought only to reduce the amount of time we wasted on the landing, and consequently the amount of blood Mr. Tanner loses. If I –"
"Fine Ezra, fine," Nathan said holding up a hand. He helped the other two maneuver the groggy man to the bed. While Standish held Vin upright, Nathan stripped him to the waist. He was relieved to see that the bullet had traveled through the fleshy part of Tanner’s side without hitting anything vital. Nodding to the other men, he continued, "reckon he’ll be up and around in a few days, as long as he doesn’t do anything stupid."
"It would seem our intrepid tracker is doomed, then," the gambler quipped.
"Ezra, shut up," Tanner mumbled. "Reckon y’ ain’t…gonna like what I…do to y’…soon’s …I’m on m’ feet."
"I look forward to avoiding your retribution," Standish said sincerely as he tipped his hat to the two men. Accompanying JD from the little room, he concluded simply with, "gentlemen."
As the door closed, Jackson turned his full attention to his patient. "Now, I’m gonna patch you up…and you’re gonna behave Vin Tanner. I’m tired of arguin’ with you men every time one of you gets hurt. So you can lay still, shut up, and do as your told, or I’m going to pour enough Laudanum down your throat to make you sleep for a good 48 hours. Your choice."
With a surprised look at the sudden and angry outburst, Vin said, "you get up… on th’ wrong side a th’ bed…this mornin’?"
His face reflecting both anger and embarrassment, the former slave said, "doesn’t seem to be a right side of the bed lately." He began cleaning the bloody injury, probing the torn flesh for dirt and other debris. Ignoring the younger man’s strangled groans, he worked quickly to clean stitch, and dress the wound.
"Whaz…a…madder?" Vin mumbled through gritted teeth.
Shaking his head, Nathan said, "hell, never mind me, Vin. Reckon I’m just lettin’ off steam."
"Na…than," Tanner’s light blue eyes looked into Jackson’s deep brown ones.
With a sigh, the former slave said, "Vin, I guess sometimes I just get tired of patching you men up. How many more times do I do it before I can’t save one of you?" His eyes became clouded with something very close to fear.
The young Texan nodded his understanding. Suddenly he realized how difficult Nathan’s job must be. They all knew that there was a risk that one of them would not survive a gun battle or other peril encountered in their job. He wagered that each of them had suffered that sense of panic that they would lose one of their brothers in battle. But Nathan Jackson had the added responsibility of putting the pieces back together, should one of them be injured. They had already nearly lost Josiah and Buck in the Seminole village; nearly lost JD to Maddy Stokes bullet. Sheriff Quince and the warden, Jack Avril and Ella Gaines, they had nearly cost Chris his life. All of them had paid with blood and pain in their positions as peacekeepers. But every time one of them got hurt, Nathan hurt as well. He didn’t know why he hadn’t seen that before.
"Sorry…Nathan," Vin muttered.
Looking up from where he was wrapping white muslin around the other man’s chest, Jackson’s face registered both confusion and surprise. "Sorry? For what?"
"Reckon…we do put…a burden on y’."
Laughing softly, Nathan shook his head and said, "you wanna make it up to me, do ‘s you’re told and don’t give me so much cause to worry."
Smiling through gritted teeth and pain-bright eyes, Vin said, "ain’t certain…I can…p-promise y’….that."
With a sigh, Jackson finished his ministrations and sat back. Looking at his friend, he said, "reckon that’s just too much to expect from you…or any of the others."
"You can…only ask…so…much of us," Tanner said with a slow grin, "y’ know how we are."
"Yeah, I know," Nathan said softly. "You’re a bunch of hard-headed, stubborn, foolish…"
"Hey!" Vin yelped, affecting a hurt expression. "Y’ ain’t…got no call t’…name call a…wounded…man."
Shaking his head, Jackson continued. "Sometimes I can’t help but
A glitter in his eyes that had nothing to do with the pain, the buffalo hunter said, "well hell, Doc, is there a difference?"
With a deep, warm laugh, Nathan settled the injured man back into the bed. Tucking the blankets around the slender form and watching as the pain and blood loss took their toll and sent Vin toward sleep, he rose gently from the bed. Walking out to the landing, he leaned his still bloody hands on the railing and watched the bustle of the little town. Heroes or just stupid? Yes there was a difference, although he’d never admit that to the others. Heroes saw a wrong and fought to make it right. A stupid man couldn’t see the wrong; he couldn’t make it right.
None of the men he worked so hard to keep alive were stupid.