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Notes: Thanks to Amanda for sorting out my errors.
Vin reached out and pushed the smashed canoe partly out of the water. The boat had banged into an underwater rock and broken in half in the middle of a teaching session. Bits and pieces of canoe floated gently downstream as Vin tried to retrieve them before they disappeared.
Jeez, how the hell do I tell Chris about this? Third wrecked canoe this week, but at least there weren't no injuries.
"Mr. Tanner?" his very wet client called from the bank, still clinging to his oar distractedly. It was the only piece of equipment that had survived intact.
"Will I have to pay for it?" the teenager asked apprehensively.
"No, bud. It was just an accident and it's all covered by insurance," Vin reassured. "Why don't you go back to the ranch and dry off? Yer sure you're okay, Carl?"
The youngster nodded and turned round to make his way back while Vin continued sorting out the canoe. The dripping client passed JD nearer the ranch and the young instructor stopped the boy anxiously.
"Hey, Carl. What happened to you?"
"Fell in after wrecking the canoe. I was on the easiest section too," Carl admitted in embarrassment.
JD looked the young man up and down critically. "Better get Nate to check you out. Is Vin still there?"
"Okay, see ya later."
JD hurried on toward the river while shrugging into a sweatshirt that he'd previously been holding. He saw that Vin was up to his waist in water still collecting the broken bits of canoe from the river.
Unbeknownst to both men, there had been a flash flood up in the mountains. The resulting volume of water was now rushing down toward the oblivious Vin and JD. Funneled by the steep sides of the valley, it gathered speed and thundered on down.
The ex-army man, though, suddenly felt the water around him change its movement, and he looked up as he heard a faint rumbling sound. It sounded just like thunder and he frowned worriedly.
"Shit!" he cursed as he saw a wall of water heading toward him. He tried to get away but the river water seemed to be as sticky as glue and it held him back. He slowed his movements in the hope that, in backward logic type of way, the water would let him move faster.
"Get away, JD. Run, kid," he yelled urgently as he continued trying to escape.
JD turned in the direction of Vin's gaze to see what had gotten his friend so worked up. "Jesus," he whispered in awe.
He immediately disobeyed Vin's order and ran toward the man to try and help him escape. Vin was still some way from the bank, although he was wading as quickly as he could toward it. JD didn't quite reach him in time. The water got there first. The youngster managed to grab a nearby branch and clung to it for dear life as water swept up and over the riverbank, nearly taking him with it. The noise was deafening as the rushing, roaring water surged by, tugging insistently on his legs. He heard a yell and when the water abated there was no sign of Vin at all.
JD dropped into the water that now surrounded him and he struggled to dry land. He got to his feet and looked back over his shoulder anxiously. The river was a swirling white-foaming mass and Vin was nowhere in sight.
"Shit! Vin? Vin!"
The kid then turned and ran for all he was worth back to the ranch. His feet squelched with each step he took and his wet clothes made movement more difficult. He came to a halt in the yard and looked round anxiously.
"Chris? Chris?" he yelled when he caught sight of the blond near the barn.
"JD? What's the matter?" the slender man asked as he sprinted to his soaking associate.
"Vin. It's Vin," JD said as he bent over with hands on knees while dragging air into his aching lungs.
"What about him?"
"The river," JD gasped as he pointed in the general direction with a flap of his hand.
Chris's heart skipped a beat. The blond knew it was something bad and he didn't wait for an answer to the question that he threw back over his shoulder. "JD? What?" the blond shouted as he tore toward the river with fear in his soul.
JD groaned and hurried back after him while shouting, "He was swept away. There was a kinda water surge and he was still in the water."
"Shit!" Chris pulled out his radio. "Josiah? Get the others out to the river. Vin's been swept away. I need yer help to find him."
"Okay, Chris. We'll be there as soon as we can," the ex-academy instructor's voice said through the crackly radio.
Chris began walking down the bank sweeping the water with his eyes to see if he could catch sight of his friend. The water was dirty and full of branches and other litter that had been caught up by the wave on its downward journey. The river was currently twice its normal width and was only now starting to recede.
"He could be miles away, Chris. I'll call for the search and rescue team," JD offered.
"Sure, you do that, kid," the blond said distractedly as he handed over his cell and then hurried on his way further down river.
"Chris?" Nathan shouted as he ran up behind the departing man. "Josiah and the others are bringing the four-wheelers. We can get down river quicker on those."
Chris continued jogging along beside the swirling river nervously. His heart pounded as he wondered whether his friend was still alive and he couldn't help fearing the worst. Debris littered the muddy riverbank causing hazards of their own, and because his head was turned to the side continually, he wasn't watching where he was going. He tripped and almost fell in his panic, and he cursed as he righted himself, feeling his knee twinge in reaction to the awkward step he'd taken.
The blond then heard the sound of quad bikes approaching and he turned round to meet them.
"Hop on, Chris," Buck said as he drew alongside and patted the seat behind.
"There he is," Buck yelled as he pointed at the bedraggled body by the bank half an hour later. The ladies' man stopped the bike and leapt to the ground once Chris had scrambled off. He then reached down and helped to pull his seemingly lifeless friend out onto the grass.
"Is he breathing?" the blond asked anxiously.
The mustached man checked, reached out a shaking finger and then sighed in relief. "Yeah, and he's got a strong pulse."
"Let me at him," Nathan demanded as he pushed through the group of men that now surrounded Vin. The therapist sat down next to the bedraggled man. "Vin? Can you hear me?"
Vin coughed wetly in response and slowly opened his eyes. He groaned and rubbed his head gently. "Oh, shit. I feel like I've been in a washing machine."
"Are ya hurt, son?" Josiah asked from where he hovered nearby.
"Can't tell, Josiah. Kinda numb and cold right now," Vin admitted as he shivered.
"Get a blanket, Chris," Nathan called. The therapist checked Vin over thoroughly and let the younger man sit up.
Chris found the requested item and draped it round his best friend's shoulders and gave his back an encouraging rub.
Vin shivered and coughed once more as he tried to regain some strength. The water had knocked all energy from his body and he felt tingly and weak.
"Feel okay, pard?" Buck asked as he watched his friend closely in concern.
"I'll call the search teams off, Chris," Josiah said as he pulled out his cell.
The blond nodded and turned back to his best friend. "Yeah, thanks. Come on, Vin. Let's get you to the hospital."
"No, I just wanna go home. I'm okay."
"Nate?" Chris asked as he looked up at the therapist questioningly.
The younger man shrugged and nodded. "Seems in one piece. Just cold, wet and bruised."
The wet, long-haired man was helped onto the back of Josiah's four-wheeler and whisked back to the ranch soon after. On arrival, Chris helped Vin change out of his soaking clothes and into a new, dry set. He then sat his friend in the kitchen and made a cup of tea, which he placed in front of the shivering man.
"Thanks, cowboy," Vin said as he picked up the cup and held it tight. He hoped that the heat from the liquid would warm him up, but so far it was having no effect.
Nathan sat beside the younger man. "Got a real nasty bruise on yer jaw, Vin."
Vin automatically reached up a hand to touch the tender spot. He rubbed it gently and winced. "Yeah, feels like I've been hit by Mike Tyson. I hit a branch that was stuck out in the river. Couldn't avoid it."
"Did you lose consciousness?"
"Nah, I was just restin' my eyes when you found me. I was exhausted is all," Vin admitted with a smile.
Nathan nodded after checking his friend's pupils just to satisfy himself.
"You any warmer?" Josiah asked as he draped another blanket over his young friend's shoulders.
"Finish yer tea and we'll put you to bed. 'Spect yer a bit shocked."
Nathan and Chris escorted their young friend to his cabin. They helped him undress and saw him safely to bed.
"Do you want me to stay?" Chris asked when he saw how stiffly his friend moved.
"Nah, I'm fine. Just tired and cold. I'll see you guys in the morning, and thanks for comin' to find me."
"No thanks necessary. We were hardly likely to just leave you to your fate, cowboy." Chris smiled and moved to the door when Vin yawned. "Call me on yer cell if you need me, alright?"
Vin woke during the night and rolled over to ease a pain in his side. He cried out as he put his hand on the mattress to help the movement. He sat up and cradled his arm against his chest while turning on the lamp with his other hand. He looked down at his painful wrist and saw that it was swollen and bruised. Vin gently touched the area and groaned at the pain. He ignored the nearby cell phone, forgetting Chris's earlier request to call him if he wanted anything. Vin got out of bed and opened the cabin door carefully and with a groan. The injured man walked, in bare feet and pajamas, along to Nathan's cabin and knocked on the door.
The therapist opened it after a few minutes had gone by and he frowned anxiously when he saw who his visitor was. "Vin? What's up? You okay?"
"My wrist," Vin mumbled.
"Sit down and let me look at it."
Nathan eased the man inside and sat him down carefully on the couch. He squatted down in front of him and took the injured limb in his hands. His faced dropped in horror when he discovered his earlier thoughts on his friend's condition had been wrong. "Jeez, Vin. Reckon you broke it," Nathan said quietly. *How could I have missed it?* he asked himself, feeling guilty. He dismissed the fact that the symptoms of a sprain and a break were almost identical and easily mistaken. "I'll just get us both dressed and then take ya to the hospital," he promised as he patted Vin's shoulder in apology.
Nathan stood and picked up the phone first and called the main house. "Chris? Jeez, I missed an injury Vin had. I've gotta take him to the hospital. He broke his wrist."
The blond absorbed that news quietly, sensing Nathan's guilty feelings. "Okay, I'll come too. Are you in Vin's cabin?"
"See you in a minute." The blond turned up breathlessly about ten minutes later looking disheveled and half-asleep. "Hey, cowboy. Heard you hurt yerself yesterday after all."
Vin looked up and shrugged awkwardly. "Yeah, didn't realize until I woke up just now. Think Nate feels bad."
"I know. Don't worry about him 'cause I'll talk to him about it later," Chris promised.
"Put these sneakers on, Vin," Nathan said as he came back from his bedroom, now fully dressed. "Now this coat. Can you drive while I sit with Vin, Chris?"
The two men took Vin out to the Explorer and strapped him in gently before setting off for the hospital. The ranch track was very bumpy and Vin winced and groaned as the jolts seemed to got straight to his injured wrist. Even though Nathan had bandaged and put the injured limb in a sling, it didn't stop the pain.
They arrived at the hospital and Vin was taken away to have his injury seen to. Nathan and Chris sat in the waiting room, in an uneasy silence, which Nathan finally broke.
The therapist stared at Chris in embarrassment. "I'm sorry, Chris. I thought he'd just sprained it yesterday. I shoulda taken him to the hospital then to get him checked out properly. It was basic stuff and if I was in any doubt I shoulda treated it as a fracture."
"Don't apologize, Nate. It was probably only a small fracture and Vin didn't say that it hurt yesterday, did he? He could still move his hand and fingers, couldn't he?" the blond pointed out quietly. "Besides, Vin didn't wanna go to the hospital. He didn't feel that anything was wrong."
"He was numb from the cold. Probably couldn't even feel the nose on his face. He ain't the doctor anyway. I failed."
"No, Nate. He's okay and he doesn't blame you. It was just one of those things."
The therapist shrugged unhappily but seemed to accept what Chris had said.
The blond patted Nathan's knee and said, "I'll go and call the guys. They need to know what's happened."
Chris came back just as Vin was wheeled into the waiting room ready to go home.
"Hey, Vin. How ya feelin'?"
"Alright, thanks. Kinda ache all over now though. Think my body's just coming to life after yesterday," Vin admitted as he wriggled in the wheelchair in discomfort.
"I can imagine. Do ya wanna stay in town tonight and go home tomorrow?"
"Yeah, that'd be good, cowboy. Don't think I can face the journey back right now. Just wanna sleep."
"Fine. We'll book into a hotel and then I'll let Buck know," Chris agreed as he patted his pale friend's shoulder sympathetically.
Vin arrived home just after lunch the next day to find most of his friends waiting for him.
"Ah, Mr. Tanner. I hear that you suffered harm yesterday after all," Ezra said in concern as he looked at Vin's cast in concern.
"Yeah, nothing too bad, Ez."
"Well, it doesn't appear to be *nothing too bad* from where I'm standing. You've broken a bone, godammit."
Vin grinned. "Yeah, well, hearing that from someone who has to retire to bed when he stubs his toe, that don't surprise me none. You can be real over dramatic when the rest of us would take the same thing in our stride."
Ezra's face clouded momentarily. "Yes, you're regular heroes. I just had to contend with discovering that I had a heart condition. That's something you wouldn't bat an eyelid over. Is that what you're insinuating?"
"Sorry, Ez. I'll take my foot outta my mouth," Vin said with an apologetic wince.
Ezra smiled and signaled that no real offense had been caused. "You're well, though, aren't you?"
"Yeah, I'm fine, Ez," Vin reiterated as he sat down wearily on the couch.
"Hey, can I sign it?" JD asked as he burst into the living room and saw the cast on Vin's arm. The equivalent of a blank sheet of paper was too much of an invitation to the youngster. He grabbed a pen ready to deface the gleaming cast and hovered over Vin expectantly.
The injured man smiled up at JD. "Sure, kid. Don't write no insults or I'll hit you over the head with it instead."
JD laughed as he signed his name and wrote something else. When Vin looked up again he saw that an orderly queue had formed behind the youngster, and each of his friends took their turns to write on his cast. By the time they'd finished, the cast was nearly covered.
"Hey, this is kinda like having a tattoo," he said as he saw the pictures and writing that adorned his arm.
"Yeah, well at least they'll come off more easily than the real thing. You won't be stuck with, 'I love Big Bertha', written across yer ass for all time like some folks," Buck said with a snort of laughter, ignoring the fact that tattoos can be removed. "Those fools go and get a tattoo professing their undying love and then break up with their girlfriend the next week. Bet some have got a great list of their past conquests all over their body. Have to get a new one for every sweetheart or she'll think that you don't love her the same way."
"Speaking from experience, are ya, Buck?" The injured man turned to the blond. "Remind me to study his ass when we go skinny-dipping next time, Chris," Vin said with a grin. "Wouldn't have thought Big Bertha was his type."
Ezra snorted. "Well, with all the women he's supposed to have bedded, there shouldn't be any pink flesh left on show on his body," Ezra said derisively as he looked his mustached friend up and down. "He's obviously been deceiving us all. Probably only ever had one paramour and that was back in kindergarten!"
"You pesky attorney. Just you wait 'til I get my hands on you. I'll give you a tattoo, somewhere real painful, that won't ever come off," the ladies' man yelled as he ran off after a fast departing Ezra.
"Ouch," Vin said as he burst out laughing, cheered no end by his friend's antics.