Vin opened the door of his new house and frowned. “What…” His eyes scanned left and right, taking in what to him looked like an entire regiment of people. “What in the world….”
“It was her fault,” Buck said with a sheepish expression, pointing at the older woman pushing her way to the front of the crowd.
Vin’s eyes focused on her. “Your fault, huh?”
Nettie Welles stepped forward. “Damn straight! You honestly didn’t think you were gonna get away with this, did you, boy?”
“I…” he rubbed the back of his neck. “I was kind’a hopin’…”
Nettie crossed her arms over her stomach. “Well, you can stop. No adopted son and grandson of mine is going to move into a brand-new house and not let us help with the housewarmin’!”
“Aw, hell, Nettie…”
“Vin?” came a small voice from behind him. “Why are there so many people out there?” The child’s voice shook with barely-controlled fear and a small hand stole into his.
Vin smiled down at his soon-to-be-forever adopted son. “It’s all right, Ezra. It’s our friends.”
“Still!” the boy protested, trying to hide shyly behind the tracker.
Ruffling the auburn curls, Vin crouched down to look up into his eyes. “Remember what I said? About nobody gonna take y’away from me?”
Ezra lowered his voice to a whisper. “But the whole town…”
Vin studied the frightened green eyes for a long moment. He reached a decision and stood up. Laying a hand on Ezra’s shoulder, he turned to face the assembled townspeople. His voice was calm as ever, but it was pitched to carry.
“Go home,” he ordered. “Do yer housewarmin’ a few people at a time. Y’all got good intentions, but y’all are overwhelmin’ m’son. And me. So just go home.”
A murmur ran through the crowd. Nettie moved to the doorway and turned to face the crowd, placing her body directly in front of Vin’s. “Well?” she demanded. “What are you waitin’ for, engraved invitations?” Behind her, she heard Ezra’s shocked giggle. “Y’heard the man! The rest of you Six, you stay. Gloria, Inez, Casey – you stay. The rest of y’all, do what the man said! Go home!”
Murmuring, but taking no offense, the crowd did as Nettie said. Soon, only those she’d named remained. Nettie turned and smiled at Vin, then lowered her eyes to Ezra. “Better, child?”
He gave her a shy, dimpled smile somehow made all the cuter by the glint of gold on the right side. “Much, Mrs. Welles. Thank you.”
She gently cupped his chin. “It’s Gran’ma Nettie, Ezra. Okay?”
“Okay, Grandma Nettie.” He was rewarded by her calloused fingers brushing gently over his dimpled cheek before she stepped back.
“C’mon, Vin!” Buck hollered as the rest of the men moved toward him with boxes and the women moved inside to organize things. “We’ve a wagon to unload!”
Laughing, Vin gave Ezra’s shoulder a squeeze and headed to the wagon himself while Ezra began to direct the ladies where to put his belongings. He clambered onto the wagon and spun his arms as the flat bed tilted, nearly overbalancing him and definitely overbalancing one of the boxes. He reached for it, missing as it hit the bed in front of him.
Less than a second later, the world exploded.
After a very long time of floating in a haze, Vin fought his way back to consciousness.
His first impression was of Ezra’s soft sobs. Worry over what had happened, leftover pain – all of that fled away in the face of the child’s weeping. All that mattered to Vin then was comforting his son.
Reaching out, he felt his fingers brush soft curls. He stroked the bowed head, and felt it jerk and lift under his fingers.
“Vin!” Ezra shrieked. “Mister Nathan, Vin’s awake!” He must have seen Vin’s wince, because his next words were a soft, “I’m sorry, Vin. I bet your head’s sore.”
“Yeah…” Vin croaked out. “Wha…hap….”
“What happened?” Nathan rumbled. Vin nodded painfully, and Nathan sighed. “You dropped a box with a small jar of nitroglycerin inside. The oldest Miller boy told Josiah he’d thought we were makin’ a supply run to Eagle Bend and he put the nitro on the wagon so the workers can make dynamite. It was just an accident. You’re damn lucky you weren’t blown into tiny pieces. If you hadn’t been thrown by the blast….”
“Yeah,” Nathan said. “Ezra’s fine. Just scared for you.
Vin managed a smile. “Good….” Then he frowned. “Scared? Anyone….else?”
“Just you. Everyone else was far enough away there was just dirt and splinters. Like I said – you’re damned lucky t’be alive.”
“That’d be…why hurts….so bad.” Vin sighed. “How long…out cold?”
“Just a couple of hours.”
“No…” Vin struggled to sit up. “No, it’s been longer!”
Vin felt hands on his shoulders. “Easy, Vin,” Nathan gasped. “Easy, you’re scaring Ezra…”
Vin gripped Nathan’s arms. “If it’s not night….then why in the hell can’t I see?”
All went very still, then Nathan grabbed a lantern and pulled it close to Vin’s face.
When the staring eyes didn’t react, Ezra began to cry again.
Nathan would have been dismayed to find his patient – badly injured and newly blinded – out of bed only an hour after he awoke. He would have been dismayed to find said patient groping for his clothes, rejecting laudanum, and demanding his son be allowed back in. Nathan would have been completely dismayed at this behaviour –
If said patient had not been Vin Tanner. For him, it was just a matter of course. So Nathan helped him into his clothes, gave him a lecture that was waved off, and led him into the living room.
“Ezra?” Vin called, his free hand sweeping out to find the boy. “Ezra? Where are you? Ezra?”
There was no reply. Vin fell silent, listening for his son.
Nathan said softly, “Vin, I don’t see him.”
“Shh!” Vin hissed. Nathan fell silent as well, then Vin whispered, “Get me to the window. I can hear him cryin’.”
Going to the window, Nathan found himself unable to speak for the sight that met his eyes.
Ezra was, indeed, crying. But he wasn’t alone.
Chris Larabee was sitting with his arms wrapped around the boy, rocking him. He whispered words of comfort and reassurance – never lying to him.
Vin smiled to hear the familiar voices – one sobbing out his fear and the other soothing it. He closed his useless eyes and let it wash over him.
Nathan’s eyes flicked from one to the other as a cold chill touched him. He felt as if he’d stepped right into the beginning of a miracle.
“I’m sorry,” Ezra whimpered, trying to push away from the strong grip. “I shouldn’t be—“
Chris tightened his grip into a hug. “Nonsense,” he said gently. “Your pa’s been hurt. That’s enough to make any boy upset. I’d be more worried about you if you didn’t cry.”
Ezra sniffled and drug a sleeve across his eyes. “But… h-how do you….” He swallowed hard and decided to just bull ahead. “Mister Larabee – you’re a hardened gunslinger… a killer… and you’re here – holding me like a father would! I’m sorry, but I just don’t understand!” A still too-thin hand waved toward the house. “He’s your best friend – why are you not in there?”
“Because my best friend’s son needs comforting.” Chris took out a surprisingly white handkerchief and gently wiped the child’s face. As he encouraged the boy to wipe his dripping nose, he smiled as he added, “And don’t you know? We fathers band together to help our sons.”
Ezra looked wide-eyed at him and before his brain could censor his mouth, the incredulous, “You? You’re a father?” popped out.
A pain too deep to accurately put into words welled in Chris’s eyes. His smile faltered. Mindful he was talking to a nine-year-old boy and not an enemy trying to rub salt into old wounds, he kept his voice gentle. “Yeah, Ezra… I’m a father. Or rather, I was. My son – and his mother – were murdered.” He gently touched Ezra’s nose. “You look a little like him – except you’re a few years older and his hair didn’t curl.”
Horror dawned into Ezra’s eyes. “Oh… oh, I’m so sorry! I didn’t know!”
Chris tightened his grip again into a hug of comfort. “I know you didn’t. I found who did it – someday I’ll find out who hired him.” He eased back on the hug and looked down into Ezra’s brilliant green eyes. “But my pain isn’t important right now.”
“Nope.” Chris shook his head and touched Ezra’s button of a nose again. “What’s important right now is you and your father and what happened today.”
Ezra sniffled. “Vin was the first one to ever tell me I mattered.”
“Well, you do. And you and him got a lot of adjustin’ to do.” Chris tilted Ezra’s chin up once more and green eyes bored into green. “And you are not going to do this alone. We’re family, Ezra. And family sticks together.”
Quite out of the boy’s control, tears welled up again. Ezra buried his face in the ebony-clad shoulder and felt powerful hands rub soothing circles on his back as a fresh wave of sobs ripped through him.
The three o’clock stage rolled into Four Corners on time. It disgorged a well-dressed man who looked around for the man who had sent for him.
“Doctor Lewis?” A young man with long black hair and a ridiculous bowler hat jogged up to him. “I’m JD Dunne.”
“Harold Lewis.” He shook JD’s proffered hand enthusiastically. “Where is Doctor Jackson?”
JD cocked a thumb over his shoulder. “Out at the Tanner homestead – with your patient. Soon as your gear’s stowed, I’m to take you out there.”
Lewis nodded. “His condition is not life-threatening, correct? A mere case of blindness?”
Frowning, JD replied, “Yeah, he’s blind, but—“
“Well, then!” Lewis interrupted. “Part of ‘stowing my gear’ shall be stowing a meal behind my belt! Where is the restaurant about here?”
Mutely, JD pointed. He suddenly was very disturbed by this man.
It was mid-morning of the next day when Lewis and a visibly angry JD rode up to Vin’s place.
Chris walked out to them, Nathan by his side. Both looked irritated, but it was Chris that spoke. “I thought you were gonna bring him straight out.”
“I tried,” JD snarled as Josiah, Buck and Ezra exited the house. “Oh, brother, did I try!”
Lewis dismounted and flipped the reins of his horse to Nathan. “Take care of my horse, boy,” he ordered imperiously. “And if she’s mistreated, it’ll come out of your hide!” He then sighed and clapped his hands together. “Right, then! Where is this Doctor Jackson I’m to collabourate with?”
Nathan’s eyes narrowed. “I’m Jackson.”
Lewis turned and scanned him up and down. “Yes, I’m sure you are. But I’m looking for your master. Doctor Nathan Jackson. Run along now, so I can speak with him.”
Nathan scowled as he took a step forward. “I am only gonna say this once. My name is Nathan Jackson. Vin is my patient. And I have no master but God.”
After a moment, Lewis pulled his jaw up from the ground. He stared blankly at Nathan for a moment longer.
Then he burst out laughing.
At Chris’s elbow, Ezra snarled softly, “Why, that sanctimonious son-of-a-bitch!”
Lewis’s laughter stopped and he put a finger on Nathan’s chest. “Now you listen here – boy. I don’t take kindly to jest. Especially not from an uppity ni—“
The rest of the awful epithet was cut off by the simultaneous cocking of four guns.
Lewis looked from gun to level-pointed gun, from face to furious face. Paling almost to transparency, he gulped, “What...what is the meaning of this?”
Josiah rumbled, “We don't take kindly to our friend bein' treated worse'n an animal.”
“Especially,” Ezra snarled, the length of his words indicating his state of mind, “since said compatriot is the very physician you traveled a considerable distance to assist!”
Lewis scowled, “Sirs, should this be your idea of a pernicious prank, rest assured that I am not amused.”
“It ain't a prank,” a tired Texan groused from the doorway. Ezra ran to Vin's side. Vin startled when the slight body impacted his, but reached down and stroked the boy's shoulders comfortingly. “That's the best damn doctor north'a Texas you just called foul names. And in front of my son, no less!” The blind man waved an arm. “You git on yer horse an' you ride away right now. I ain't gonna be touched by the likes a'you.”
“Sir,” Lewis shot back, “do you have any idea who I am?”
“Yup,” Vin replied. “Sure do. Yer a pompous windbag who's so damned full of himself there ain't no room for compassion. I'll say it again – git on yer horse an' ride away.” His jaw set grimly as his blinded eyes narrowed. “I ain't gonna tell y'a third time.”
With a look around at all the guns trained on him, Lewis swallowed hard. “Very well.” He mounted his horse. “The authourities in your town will hear of this atrocity – especially a slave who pretends to practice medicine!”
“The law already knows,” JD snarled. “You're lookin' at 'em.”
“Including Nathan,” Chris growled out. “Go. Away.”
Lewis's jaw unhinged. A second later, he was riding full-bore toward town.
As his hoofbeats faded, Vin snorted. “Y'should'a shot him,” he growled.
“Why?” Nathan shot back. “Then I'd just have to patch him up – and I've no desire to touch that windbag.”
Lewis left town on the next morning's stage. Two days later, a second doctor disembarked at Four Corners.
This doctor was more than kind to Nathan – because she, too, was in the minority of medical people. Few women were doctors, and Susan Plimpton was one of the best of that breed.
Unhappily, she could not fix Vin's eyes. She determined Nathan's initial diagnosis was absolutely correct – Vin's eyes had, pure and simple, been shocked by the explosion.
Either his sight would return, or it wouldn't. There was just no way to tell.
With that crushing diagnosis, there was no alternative left to Vin. For his son's sake – as well as his own – Vin Tanner would simply have to adjust to a world without sight.
Return to The Magnificent Seven page
Return to The Realm