Disclaimer: This story is the product of different minds coming together to have some fun. All rights to these characters belongs to others. This is strictly for entertainment and we will make no profit.

Rating: NC-17 (If you are under 18 or don't like m/m relationships turn back now!)

Pairing: (V/E)

Authors' Notes: It has been so long since we posted some new stories but this one has been completed for a while. I was in the mood for a little angst and h/c.

Ephemeral Parting

By Ladysmiths

Ezra dropped the last of the bedrolls and spare clothing onto the floor and surveyed the abandoned shack with a critical eye. There was a long wooden bench against one wall that could serve as a bed if one stretched their imagination, with a fireplace at the opposite end of the room. Otherwise the place had been stripped of all its furnishings and adornments. It wasn't the gambler's preferred type of accommodation, but it was definitely better than camping out. Ezra realised that had been a distinct possibility, especially due to the fact that it was still another day's ride to Four Corners from the errand Chris had sent them on, and he also knew that Vin had only sought this shelter out because the gambler abhorred sleeping outside. Well, that and the fact that the tracker had been sure there was a storm coming.

Suddenly there was a loud clap of thunder and torrential rain began beating down on the roof. Ezra had never doubted Vin's word, he was usually correct about anything to do with the outdoors, however it was typical of the tracker to still be outside when the storm hit. After they'd secured their horses in the run-down stable that was located a few feet behind the shack, Vin had gone in search of wood for a fire. Although now that Ezra was staring into the fireplace, he noticed there was still some kindling there ready to be lit. It probably wouldn't last long, but Ezra decided to start the fire anyway so that the place would be warm for when Vin arrived. Hopefully the tracker would still be able to bring in some dry wood despite the downpour.

Just as the fire sprang into life, a drenched tracker blew through the door. Without looking away, Ezra muttered, "I suppose the wood you gathered is useless now."

"No, it's dry," Vin stated.

Turning his head to see how this was accomplished, Ezra saw that Vin had taken off his coat and used it to cover the wood, "As opposed to you, very self sacrificing Mr Tanner."

Vin started towards the fireplace and Ezra quickly moved back so that Vin could get closer to the warmth. Placing two of the logs on the fire, Vin arranged the rest next to it for later use.

"You should remove that wet shirt. Mr Jackson will kill us if you catch your death of cold," Ezra said as he watched Vin kneel directly in front of the fire.

"Nathan'll kill you," Vin drawled as he took Ezra's advice. "I'm already dead."

Ezra wasn't paying to the conversation anymore, he was too engrossed with the way the muscles rippled across Vin's back and shoulders as he peeled off his shirt. Silently falling to his knees behind the tracker, Ezra gazed at the way the flickering light from the flames danced across the smooth skin. The attraction Ezra had been feeling towards Vin had been becoming stronger with each passing day in the man's company. However, the gambler had always managed to control it, until now. For some reason tonight, the image of Vin so close to him was causing Ezra's body to heat up. Or was that the fire?

A small, nearly faded, scar on Vin's shoulder blade attracted the gambler's attention, and without thinking about anything - especially the consequences, Ezra reached out and traced the almost indistinct line. The muscles of Vin's back tensed under Ezra's fingertips. Snatching his hand away, Ezra tried to think up some excuse as the man in front of him slowly turned around.

Vin automatically tensed as he felt the feather light touch on his back. Was that real, or had he imagined it? The soft, tentative exploration of his flesh didn't usually end so abruptly in the tracker's fantasies, so hopefully it had been real after all. Vin had begun to wonder if the gambler had noticed that every time Chris sent him somewhere, the tracker usually suggested Ezra go with him. Or if Ezra had realised that his comfort was always utmost in the tracker's mind. Okay, so this shack probably wasn't exactly Ezra's taste, but it had been the best that Vin could do on short notice. Although, now that he was finally face to face with the gambler, the bewildered and scared look in the emerald eyes told Vin that Ezra didn't have a clue as to how the tracker felt. In fact, Ezra's expression was that of a man looking down the barrel of a gun. Didn't the gambler realise that his hands on Vin's body was all that the tracker wanted?

Smiling seductively, Vin snaked out an arm and grabbed hold of Ezra's wrist before the gambler had a chance to run away. Pulling Ezra's hand towards him, Vin placed it on his chest near his heart and watched as the wide green eyes took on a more lustful look and the gambler's lips curled into a smile of his own. That mouth was looking mighty tempting and Vin couldn't resist leaning forward to lightly brush his lips over Ezra's. Before the tracker could pull away, Ezra opened his mouth against Vin's and drew the tracker into a deeper kiss. With the feel of Ezra's hand still firmly pressed against his chest and the gambler's probing tongue delving into his mouth, Vin kept moving closer, gently lowering Ezra onto his back with the weight of his body until he was able to crawl over the gambler's perfect form, one leg sliding between Ezra's.

Ezra moaned as Vin sucked his tongue further into that sweet, moist cavern, gladly allowing the tracker to push him onto his back without ever moving his hand away from the heartbeat pulsing against his fingertips. As he felt the warm body hovering over him, Ezra arched his back trying to rub his aching groin against Vin's strong thigh.

The small sigh that escaped Ezra's lips when the tracker's mouth left his turned into a whimper as the extra heat provided by Vin's body disappeared. Lifting himself onto his elbows, Ezra glared at the tracker who was walking away from him towards their meagre luggage.

"Is there a problem?" Ezra asked in frustration when he realised his angry stare didn't have any impact on the tracker's back.

Without turning around Vin answered, "It's hard."

"Isn't that the objective?" Ezra drawled.

That comment finally caught Vin's attention and he turned around, a sly grin curling his lips, "The floor Ez, I was talkin' about the floor. But if you don't wanna be comfortable, I won't worry about it." Vin returned to his task, grabbing the bedroll and blankets despite what he'd just said.

At least the view was enjoyable, Ezra thought as he watched Vin bend over. The gambler couldn't have cared less about the floor, in fact with Vin ravishing him, Ezra doubted whether he would have noticed his surroundings at all. Although, Vin's concern for his comfort was a welcome notion, especially since it meant that he was foremost in the tracker's mind, and Ezra couldn't stop the smile spreading across his face.

Suddenly, a gust of wind and rain burst into the room and Vin was diving for his rifle that lay by the bedding. Too late, Ezra stared in horror as two pairs of arms grabbed the tracker and hauled him to his feet. By this time, Ezra himself was already on his knees, his gun drawn and pointing at one of the men holding Vin. As Ezra stood, a deadly glint in his green eyes, three other men walked into the shack. One stayed in the doorway, one had his gun trained on Ezra, and the third had his weapon pointed at Vin's chest.

Goddammit, why did it have to be a gang of bounty hunters? Didn't they usually work alone? They were outnumbered, and Ezra didn't see any other choice that to lay down his gun. When they'd collected all of Ezra's weapons, the two that were still holding Vin dragged the tracker outside, the guy guarding the door moved out of the way before following the three men out.

Ezra stayed completely still, aware the a gun was still aimed at his heart, while the man who'd threatened Vin moved towards their gear. Rifling through the contents, the son of a bitch seemed to be separating his belongings from Vin's. Unable to control his curiosity, Ezra asked, "Is there anything in particular you gentlemen are looking for?"

"Just getting your stuff ready, so we can leave first thing in the morning," the man holding the gun on the gambler stated.

Seeing as this guy seemed to be the leader, Ezra directed his comment to him, "I'm sure we will not feel inclined to join you on your journey."

"We?" The same man spoke. "No, it's just you we want."

As Ezra processed the information, the leader continued, "A few years back you and your Ma scammed some people in New Orleans. My brother helped and was supposed to get half. Instead, he turned up dead and none of my family saw the gold. I know you took it and hid it somewhere, and now you're gonna lead me to it. My brother pointed you out as the folks he was gonna get rich with, and then I see you in Rock Creek cheatin' other men out of their earnings. So here we are, and I'm about to get my rightful share."

Ezra racked his brains trying to remember the particular con this guy was talking about. The only one he could think of in New Orleans that he and Maude had devised together had ended dismally, nobody had seen any gold. However, they certainly hadn't been in partnership with anyone else. Well, anyone that Ezra knew about. He wouldn't put it past Maude to have recruited some assistance without letting him know, and know his Mother the last thing she would have done is follow through on any promises she made. Unfortunately, the fact remained that there was no gold, and if there was and Maude had hidden it, Ezra had absolutely no idea where.

"There is no need for all this fuss," Ezra said quickly. "The gold is hidden just outside of Serenity. You can go and collect it, and my associate and I will be on our way."

"You expect me to believe a lyin' cheat like you?" The leader scoffed. "No, you're comin' with us, that way you can show us exactly where it is."

Before Ezra could form a response, the two men were shoving him out the door and towards the stable. Once there they pushed him into one of the stalls at the back. Ezra realised that instead of the normal wooden doors, these end stalls had bars dividing them, just like a jail.

* * * * * * *

Running his hands over the cold metal bars, Ezra realised that there was no way to escape this crude prison without alerting one of his captors. Lowering himself to the hay-strewn ground, Ezra pulled his coat tighter around himself. Even after Ezra's eyes had adjusted the darkness, the gambler could barely see what was in front of his nose. He could hear the men settling their horses in the normal stalls for the night, at least the animals would provide some extra warmth. Obviously these guys checked out the stables beforehand, either that or they had already known about the place. It annoyed Ezra that he hadn't checked the rear of the stables, not that it would have made much difference, they would have still spent the night here. But at least he would have been aware of crude prison and of its potential danger. Ezra was usually more cautious and always liked to know his surroundings. He'd had the time while unsaddling their horses to see what lurked back here, but he'd been too preoccupied with his task and thoughts of the tracker. Instead, Ezra bundled up their gear and headed straight for the shack to wait Vin's imminent return after gathering the fire wood.

Vin - another thing he hadn't paid attention to. Ezra had no idea what had happened to Vin after the three men had taken the tracker outside. While he was being led to the stables, Ezra's mind had been so filled with what these people wanted and whether or not he could find a way out of this, he hadn't tried to search for Vin. Actually, Ezra had honestly thought that Vin would already be locked up in here, or the cell next to his. Although he couldn't actually see anything, the only sounds were that of the horses' quiet shuffling and breathing now that his captors had left.. Instinctively Ezra knew the stall was empty, and he certainly couldn't feel Vin's presence.

Perhaps they let Vin go, their leader had said that they only wanted Ezra. The thought of Vin safe and away from these people calmed the gambler's nerves somewhat. However, knowing the tracker, Vin was probably just hiding, waiting for an opportunity to help Ezra. There was no way Vin would ever leave Ezra behind, the gambler would bet his life on it. Straining his senses, Ezra was determined to be ready when Vin came for him.

Suddenly, the main door crashed open and Ezra sprang to his feet as the sound. Squinting through the bars, all Ezra could make out was three shadows moving towards him, the figures seemingly merging into one another. He'd been wrong, Vin hadn't been released, he was being thrown into the vacant cell next to Ezra's. The sound of metal clanging into place confirmed Ezra's thoughts, and the gambler glared at the retreating forms before crouching down as close to the other stall as the dividing bars would allow.

"It's me they're after," Ezra began in whispered tones. "Apparently I cheated them out of some gold. However, surprisingly enough, this time that isn't true. I don't have the gold, and I certainly don't know where it is. Although, I did tell them it was in Serenity, I was hoping they'd let us go if they had a location. That didn't work, they're planning on taking me with them in the morning. I'm assuming that they will leave you here. They figure that by the time you escape and retrieve help, they'll have the gold. Of course, I'd prefer not to go anywhere with these men, so if...."

Realising he was rambling, and that he hadn't taken a breath, Ezra stopped talking so that Vin had a chance to comment. There was no response at all, in fact Vin hadn't even moved towards Ezra since being locked up.

"Are you listening to me?" Ezra asked as an unwanted idea struck him. "You do believe me don't you? I swear, I never cheated these men. What did they tell you?"

Still no answer. Surely Vin would trust him over them, wouldn't he? Determined to convince the tracker, Ezra stretched his arm between the bars hoping that he'd be able to convey the truth through touch. His hand met with icy cold flesh and Ezra almost recoiled. He'd forgotten that Vin had been taken out in the rain without a shirt on. Ezra ran his hand up what felt like Vin's arm towards the tracker's shoulder and neck, his fingers becoming accustomed to the feel of the freezing wet skin. His exploration only stopping when Ezra came into contact with a warm, thicker moistness. Snatching his hand away, Ezra's eyes widened as they focussed on the dark liquid dripping over his fingers - blood.

Ezra's breath stuck in his throat, his insides churned, and panic squeezed at his heart. "Vin!? Vin, can you talk to me?" Reaching through the bars once again, Ezra felt the tangle of soaking wet hair. Wishing he could push himself between the bars, Ezra strained his reach until his fingertips were able to stroke the tracker's cheek. "Vin, please..."

Moving his head away from the touch, Vin moaned in pain before returning to silence.

Ezra sighed as relief washed over him, Vin was alive. Taking off his jacket, Ezra shoved it through the bars and tried to spread it over the tracker, hoping the material was covering more of Vin's body than it was the ground. The tracker flinched under Ezra's ministrations, and harsh painful gasps seemed to echo around the stable. Not daring to touch the tracker any more than necessary, Ezra leaned his back against the bars and waited for Vin to settle into stillness and what the gambler prayed was sleep.

* * * * * * *

Dreams of hot lips pressing down on his own drifted away on the brisk morning breeze as Ezra opened his eyes. Ezra must of dozed, the stables had been in complete darkness and now there was some light filtering in. At least it had stopped raining, Ezra thought as he wrapped his arms tighter around himself to ward off the dawn's chill. Other arms should be holding the gambler, making him feel safe, warm and loved.

"Vin," Ezra mumbled as he turned around to see what damage they'd done to the tracker.

Ezra's jacket had only covered the left side of Vin's chest and stomach, and the first thing Ezra noticed was the seeping wound on the tracker's lower right side. There were bruises and scratches cris-crossed across Vin's chest to add to the scars the tracker already had. As his eyes finally rested on Vin's face, Ezra winced and looked away for a moment. Blood matted the tracker's hair and was still running down over Vin's neck and shoulder from an injury that began at his temple and continued down passed his ear. The surrounding area was dark purple in colour, the angry bruising distorting the tracker's face. Ezra returned his glance to Vin and noted that the tracker's skin was glistening with wetness, which Ezra took to be sweat instead of rain.

Reaching through the bars, Ezra adjusted his jacket so that it covered the tracker's entire torso. Vin jerked as the material touched the injury at his side, and Ezra swore he could feel the tracker's pain. Wishing he knew whether or not Vin was actually still bleeding, or whether it was the fever making them appear moist. Cursing at not been able to stretch further and bind any of the injuries, Ezra had to settle for stroking Vin's forehead. "Vin? Can you hear me?" Ezra asked softly, trying to keep his voice soothing.

Vin turned his face towards the sound and touch, and Ezra thought the tracker was about to say something as his lips parted. Instead, a couple of small coughs that seemed to rack Vin's body followed by a groan was all the tracker managed.

"Please Vin, try to wake up," Ezra begged, desperate to see into the blue eyes.

Vin's eyes fluttered slightly, but the effort was too much and the tracker became still once more.

"Vin, they're going to force me to go to Serenity with them," Ezra prayed that Vin was able to hear and understand him. "I don't want to leave you. Please Vin, if you don't remember anything else, remember that I never wanted to leave you."

As he heard the stable door open, Ezra quickly removed his hand and got to his feet. The gambler didn't want to these men to know how much he cared for Vin, they'd already hurt the tracker enough.

Three men headed towards their cells, while the other two began getting the horses ready to travel.

"How's your friend?" The man Ezra believed to be the leader asked.

Ezra looked down at Vin and hardened his eyes before speaking, "That was completely unnecessary."

"He mouthed off," one of the miscreants spoke.

"Besides," the leader continued. "We didn't want you refusing to go with us without him. Now that there's no way he can ride, you have no choice than to go with us alone. And in his condition, he won't be telling anyone about us in a hurry."

Ezra stayed silent as he contemplated telling them about the bounty on the tracker's head. If it was money they were after, perhaps they'd consider taking Vin with them anyway. Ezra could keep an eye on the tracker and it would give him more time to work out a plan of escape. However, considering what they'd already done to Vin, Ezra figured they'd just kill the tracker outright and take the body in dead. It was better to keep that piece of information to himself. Ezra tried to stay impassive as he watched one of the men open Vin's cell and snatch Ezra's jacket away from him. But Vin's husky groan brought a grimace to Ezra's face, and smile to everyone else's.

"Well at least he's still alive," the leader said.

"You can't just leave him here like this," Ezra stated as they locked Vin's door and opened his.

The leader grabbed Ezra while one of the others tied his hands behind his back. "Well," at least this way your friend has a chance. Maybe someone might find him." Nodding at one of his associates the leader continued, "But if you'd prefer, we can put him out of his misery right now."

"No," Ezra blurted out quickly as he watched one of the men aim his gun at the crumpled form on the ground. He'd prefer Vin to have a chance no matter how remote.

"Don't say we never did you any favours," the leader smirked. "And just remember, if your lying about Serenity, the same thing will happen to you."

Ezra craned his neck to catch one last glimpse of the tracker as he was led out of the stable towards his waiting horse. The gambler noted that the guy with the keys placed them on the nail by the door, at least he knew how to get Vin out when he came back for the tracker.

* * * * * * *

Dawn broke the next morning, the sun slowly rising over their campsite. Chris made sure that the fire was completely out while the rest of the men got the horses ready.

"So, are we continuing on or heading back to Four Corners?"

Buck's question startled Chris out of this thoughts. After the storm of the previous night, Chris had decided to go out and look for the two men who were already a day late. He knew that they could look after themselves, He knew that they would have had the foresight to find shelter through the storm, and he knew that they look out for each other. But he'd had a bad feeling that he couldn't explain, and as soon as the storm had passed had headed out. Of course, Buck, JD, Nathan and Josiah wouldn't be left behind, even though Chris had tried to convince them, and himself, that they would probably cross paths with Vin and Ezra who were most likely riding back into town. That hadn't happened, and the five men had set up camp when it had become too dark to continue.

"Since we've come this far we may as well keep going," Chris finally answered.

"The storm is probably why they're late," Nathan joined the conversation. "Vin would have seen it coming and delayed their return for a day."

"We'll most likely meet up with them sometime this morning," Josiah added hopefully.

"Where's JD?" Chris queried as he surveyed their campsite.

"Scouted ahead," Buck stated. "He was full of energy, so I sent him ahead to see if he could work out which path they'd be likely to use."

Chris stared at his oldest friend for a moment, "If you knew I'd want us to continue, why'd you ask?"

Buck just shrugged before turning towards the sound of horses hooves.

"I think I saw some kind of shack just up ahead," JD said as he rode towards his friends.

"Great Kid," Buck muttered. "You couldn't spot that before we spent the night outside?"

"It's not that easy to find," JD stated indignantly, no one else had found it either.

"It sounds like something Vin wouldn't have any trouble finding," Josiah observed thoughtfully.

"And it would have provided perfect shelter from a storm," Nathan agreed.

"Lead the way JD," Chris ordered as they mounted their horses.

* * * * * * *

Chris and Buck were heading towards the stables behind JD when they were distracted by Josiah's voice, "They've been here."

Making their way towards the shack instead, both men stopped in the doorway that Josiah and Nathan had just entered. Provisions were strewn about the room, and it was clear that Vin and Ezra must have been here. But there was no sight of their actual friends.

"In here," JD's yell was laced with panic. "Oh God, come quick."

JD came out to meet them as the four men rushed through the stable entrance.

"Jesus Kid," Buck exclaimed, taking in JD's pale face. "I can see you found Peso, but..."

Buck's words faded as JD lifted a shaking hand and pointed towards the back of the building.

Glancing at the Kid curiously, Chris made his way to where JD indicated.

"Sweet Jesus, no," Josiah's low statement was barely audible over Chris' cursing.

Chris struck the cell door, the sound echoing around the room. "Somebody find the damn keys," Chris growled in frustration when the door wouldn't give under his onslaught.

JD looked around frantically, his eyes finally resting on the keys hanging from the nail by the entrance.

Following the Kid's line of sight, Buck quickly grabbed the keys and made his way to where Chris, Josiah and Nathan were hovering. When the door flung open, Nathan and Chris were the first to push through and fall to their knees by Vin's side. Chris didn't reach out to his friend, he couldn't find any place on the tracker that didn't seem to be covered by dirt or blood, including his hair, and Chris wasn't able to distinguish where the actual injuries were. Nathan, on the other hand, bent over Vin and placed his ear to the tracker's chest. Faint, raspy breaths were just audible as was the slow, thready heartbeat.

Looking up at Chris, Nathan nodded slightly, "He's alive."

Chris sighed, "We should get him inside."

"I'll help you," Josiah stepped into the cell and lowered himself at Vin's feet in one swift movement.

Chris placed his hands under Vin's arms, getting ready to lift the tracker when Josiah was ready with his legs. As he touched the tracker, Chris stared in confusion at the sweat soaked body, "He's cold. I thought the fever..."

"It's freezing in here," Nathan interrupted quickly as he watched the two men lift Vin. "The sweat's cooling on his skin."

Buck and JD stepped aside to let the small procession through, staring anxiously at their hurt friend. "I'll need a fire, water and as many bandages and blankets as you can gather together," Nathan instructed as he passed them both, relieved at the eager speed Buck and JD used to carry out what had been requested.

* * * * * * *

Nathan placed a final blanket over Vin's still shaking form. The healer had used up almost every spare scrap of material cleaning the tracker up, taking special care with the wounds to Vin's side and head. Even with his gentlest touch, Vin's skin still jumped, which was at the very least a visible sign of life. The tracker's fever was too far gone and there was no way Nathan could even try and ebb the sickness in these conditions. He'd already forced the herbs and medicines he'd had on him down Vin's throat. There were no more bandages to use when the ones that already covered the tracker's injuries inevitably became soaked with blood and puss they produced in their infected state, and Nathan knew that he should be cleaning the wounds out at least every half hour. The small bench that they used as a bed wasn't nearly large or comfortable enough. And even though they'd started a fire the room still seemed to hold a chill in the air, which wasn't helping relieve the pneumonia that had set in as evidence by the laboured breathing and harsh, dry coughs that racked the tracker's body sporadically.

"I can't help him here," Nathan stated more bluntly than he intended. "Chris, I want to see if we can get him back to Four Corners. I have the medicines and bandages I need there, and it would be much more comfortable for Vin."

"What about Ezra?" Josiah now asked, he'd been patiently helping Nathan tend to Vin.

Besides ordering Buck and JD to see if they could find any trace of Ezra or whoever did this, Chris had spent the rest of the time pacing the room lost in thought. Before Chris could formulate at answer, Buck and JD burst into the room.

"There's other fresh hoof and boot prints in the stables," Buck informed them. "But they must have left when the ground was still wet and sloshy, and I have a feeling they're covering their tracks. I can't get a bead on where they're headed." Buck glanced at Vin who didn't look any better now that he was clean and bandages, in fact it seemed to Buck that his bruising was now more pronounced.

JD was also staring at Vin, thinking how frustrating it was that the one person that probably could track these guys down couldn't.

"It seems strange that the only bedroll and spare clothes we can find belong to Vin," Nathan observed now that he could focus his attention on something other than his patient for a moment.

"Maybe they had to split up," JD came to the most obvious conclusion.

"That doesn't sound like them," Josiah noted.

"Whoever did this could have been after them," Buck suggested.

"They would have been stronger together," Josiah stated.

Nathan nodded in agreement, "And if they knew someone was following them, it would seem more likely that they'd hide in a cave or something, and we all know how good either one of them is at disappearing."

"They would have been attacked by surprise," Chris confirmed.

"So where's Ezra now?" Buck asked what everyone wanted to know.

"Even if he'd left to find help, you would have thought we'd have met up with him by now," Nathan muttered.

"Ez would never leave Vin here hurt and alone," JD stated adamantly.

"Not willingly," Chris mumbled.

"So he was taken or already..." Josiah began.

"He's not dead," Chris said angrily. "If they just left Vin here to rot, then if they'd killed Ezra they wouldn't have bothered hiding him or his stuff."

"That's true," Nathan agreed gently. "But we're assuming that these same men did bother packing Ezra's gear for him and took the extra baggage with them."

"Ezra would never leave Vin..." JD began.

"I know," Nathan interrupted. "I'm just saying it's a little odd. Maybe Ezra doesn't even know that Vin is hurt."

"Or maybe there was something in Ezra's stuff that these guys needed," JD suggested, realising that Nathan wasn't making accusations just observing and trying to find answers like the rest of them.

"They wouldn't want anyone to know that they had Ezra," Buck stated firmly, only continue when he noticed that he'd drawn the four men's attention. "Well, if anyone other than us had found Vin first, there'd be no sign that someone else had been travelling with him. If we hadn't already known, we'd have assumed that Vin was alone."

"Makes sense," Josiah nodded.

"Where do we go from here?" Nathan asked quietly. "I mean..."

A sharp, wheezing sound from the makeshift bed distracted the healer's attention. Bending over his patient, Nathan placed a caring hand on Vin's forehead, and listened intently.

"Serenity," Nathan said as he straightened up. "That's all he keeps repeating."

Chris watched as Vin's eyes fluttered, struggling to open and then giving up.


The harsh, painful whisper was torn from Vin's chest, and Chris flinched as he saw the strength that one word seemed to drain from his friend. "Buck, you and me are heading for Serenity," Chris decided.

"Vin doesn't know what he's saying," Nathan said doubtfully. "He's fevered and probably delusional. Ezra might not be there."

"We don't have anything else to go on," Chris stated firmly, sick of the discussions and ready for action. "Buck and I will head out that way. The rest of you get Vin back to Four Corners."

Chris stalked determinedly out of the shack with Buck not far behind. "Don't worry Kid," Buck tried to smile when he noticed JD's anxious expression. "We'll bring Ezra back with us."

* * * * * * *


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