"You did it, Pa. You did it."
William's reverent words echoed in Dan's flickering mind. His vision darkened, lightened, then darkened again. In one of the lighter moments, Dan could sense Ben Wade's presence lurking above him, looking down from the train just before the wheels began to squeal and lurch forward. Then his vision faded out again.
"Pa?" William's worried words pulled him from the gathering clouds about his mind. He opened his lips to speak, or at least he thought he opened them. All he heard was a clattering of horse hooves going in the direction the train had taken. His head pounded in time with the sounds, sending sharp pains throughout his entire body. He passed out again.
"Evans?" Dan's mind returned from darkness, exhaustion keeping his eyes shut as he listened to the conversation taking place above his somewhere.
"Yes, he's my pa."
"The one who took Ben Wade to the train?"
"Yes," William replied, his voice full of pride. "Yes, that's my pa."
"Will," Dan croaked, his voice harsh and raspy. Blood curled up his throat as he said the word.
"Pa!" Dan felt the shift of air as William moved to stand over him, quickly taking his hand as if to pull him back to reality. "Pa!" The boy's voice was strained, concerned. Dan smiled.
"Mr. Evans?" The same man's voice pulled Dan from his dream-state. The one who had been talking to William earlier. Dan groaned in response. "Mr. Evans?" A hand gently touched his shoulder. "We're going to try to remove one of the bullets we couldn't get out earlier. We're going to knock you out for this. Alright?" Dan grunted. The doctor must have taken that for a yes, because this time the dark rushed to meet him, not the other way around.
Dan opened his eyes. Light flooded the room, causing him to momentarily squint in surprise after so much darkness. Slowly, Dan turned his head to take in his surroundings. He hadn't been in this room, though he guessed it was one of the doctor's rooms in Contention. William was sound asleep on a chair directly across from where he lay now, the boy's face turned toward the window. As if sensing his father's eyes, William woke up, quickly popping up from the chair and to Dan's side.
"Pa!" he cried in relief, his eyes blurry. He grabbed onto his father's hand, holding tightly. "Pa, you're alright."
"I guess I am," Dan rasped, surprised at the hoarseness of his own voice. Will looked up at him, trying to read his face.
"The doc said that one of the bullets passed pretty close to your organs." The boy paused, looking down to study both of their hands. "They couldn't take it out after all. Not without risking your life. It's somewhere between your heart and lungs."
"But I'm alive," Dan rasped again, amazement clear in his voice.
"Yeah, Pa," Will said quietly, resting his head on his father's hand. "You're alive." Dan felt a drop of warm liquid splash onto his hand. He reached down and rested his other hand on William's head, ignoring the pulls in his chest at the movement. Dan closed his eyes for a moment, enjoying the comfort of holding another human being after so long in the darkness alone.
The pair simply sat there for a while, silently enjoying the company of the other. After a few moments of solitude, the door quietly squeaked open. William raised his head and Dan looked toward the door. Neither released the other's hand as the doctor came into the room, followed quickly by a nurse in an outfit of light pink and white. Dan watched William's eyes follow the woman around the room, a small smile lighting upon his lips.
"Yes, Doctor-?" Dan paused, leaving the ending open for a name.
"Ah, yes. Excuse me for not introducing myself now that you are awake." The slight man stepped into the room, pushing the door shut behind himself and running his fingers through his thinning gray hair. "My name is Conroy Smith. I've been looking after you since, since, well, the incident at the train." The Doc looked awkwardly at the ceiling. Dan wondered absently if this man had been in the crowd of shooters below the hotel window competing for some quick cash. Clearing the thought from his head, Dan smiled at the man.
"How do you do, Doc?"
A smile of relief crossed the old man's face. He definatley had been. "Ah, quite well, thank you Mr. Evans."
"Dan," the doctor corrected with a smile. "But I do believe the question is how are you doing?" The man stepped forward and stood next to the bed, carefully observing Dan's face before waving the nurse forward. William gave his father's hand a final squeeze and retreated to the chair by the window, alternating his gaze between the outside and his father.
"We're going to sit you up now and change the bandages on your chest. This is probably going to hurt a lot," the nurse said meekly, not meeting Dan's eyes as she put a hand behind his back to aide in pulling him into a seated position.
"Like hell," the doctor quipped before adding his hand. Dan nodded and the pair slowly pulled him upright while Dan swung his legs over the side of the bed. "This is a lot easier to do while you're conscious," the doctor muttered under his breath. Dan grimaced as the movement and position changed the way his skin pulled on his injuries. A small spot of warm liquid flowered around the bullet wound near his heart. The nurse quickly set to work removing the bandages, somehow pulling them away from his skin, where some had actually begun to attach to, without further injuring him. Aside from the occasional hiss or wince of pain, Dan felt better than he had expected after being shot four-was it four?- times in the chest. Some of his wounds had grown patches of scarred skin over them.
"How long was I out for?" Dan asked quietly, almost afraid to hear the answer. If his wounds were this much better, it couldn't have been only a day, even two.
"Dan, you were out for a good week."
"A week?" Dan exploded, moving to stand only to recoil from the hammer-like pain sprouting from various places on his chest with the movement. "That means the ranch-"
"Don't worry about it now, Pa," Will said quietly. "The house will still be there when we get back."
"Thank you, William," the doctor said before turning to again face his un-bandaged patient. "Now look," he chided. "You have managed to open some of the wounds again." The nurse left the room with the dirty bandages, returning with a pile of new linen strips with which to bind Dan's shot up chest. The pair slowly began wrapping his torso, every now and then asking him to lift and arm. Dan felt his eyelids beginning to flutter as they neared the end of their ritual. His mind was sluggish with exhaustion from so little an effort; part of his mind despaired as to what he would do when he got back to the ranch, for there was no way he would be able to do all he needed to like this. Another part of his brain had a different question.
"Hey, doc," he asked quietly once they had finished wrapping the last of his bandages. "Why aren't I in pain? Serious pain? Shouldn't I be feeling more than, well, this?"
The doctor took a moment to reply, opting to aide the nurse in shifting Dan onto the bed again before answering. "My nurse and I have been giving you some drugs, Dan. To help with the pain and your recovery."
"Ah," he said quietly. Then his eyes closed and he was back in dreamland.
The next two weeks passed much like the first, though each day Dan slept a little less than the one before. By the end of his second week in the doctor's room, Dan was able to actually walk out of the room and down the hall to the bathroom without managing to reopen his wounds. The doctor had been angry to find him in the bathroom the first time, though when Dan said he felt fine, and after his bandages had been examined for bleeding, the doctor had beamed and allowed him unrestricted bathroom privileges. Dan still remembered the look of relief on William's face when Dan returned to the room, accidentally waking his son from his nap in the chair, and told him that he no longer needed help managing his personal business. That had been Dan's opportunity to beam.
By the end of the third week, the doctor was ready to let Dan try the trip home, as long as he promised to stay in a hotel each night they were on the road. When Dan had inquired about the expense of his stay, the doctor had waved his hand and told him that the railroad people had taken care of it. Dan made a mental note to thank Grayson when he got home.
The day Dan and Will were to leave Contention, Will brought the newspaper to his father as he pulled on his boots. The front headline was expected and probably long overdue: "Outlaw Ben Wade Escapes Yuma Prison after Trial Finds Him Guilty." Dan grinned and laughed, though it became more of a wheeze, much to William's concern. Waving off his son's concern, Dan caught his breath and stood, tucking the newspaper into his saddlebag and slinging it over his shoulder as the pair left his room for good.
"Aren't you mad, Pa?" Will asked his question quietly as they descended the stairs, nodding a final farewell to the doctor and his quiet nurse.
"Mad?" Dan replied quietly, "how can I be mad? The bastard saved my life. He also told me straight out that he had gotten out of Yuma twice before. Frankly I'm surprised it took him this long."
"Maybe he wanted to be dramatic," Will suggested as the exited the building and approached their horses. Both animals looked eager for the exercise of the road again.
"Maybe," Dan said quietly, almost to himself, as they mounted up.
The ride home took far longer then Dan would have liked. They spent three days traveling, their pace a frustratingly slow walk for riders and horses alike. Anything faster, however, and Dan was panting in pain from the jarring effect the motion took on his still healing wounds. They spent two nights in hotels, an expense which, quite frankly, Dan would have eliminated completely had not William miraculously produced the hotel fee from money given to him by Grayson. Dan swallowed his pride and ignored the tightening of his gut at the charity. The man owed him. Big time.
The sight of Bisbee, even from so far away as they were now, had never been such a relief as it was after nearly a full month away. The thought of seeing Alice again, however, filled him with an almost bittersweet longing for something else. What, he couldn't determine.
"Pa," Will said quietly, pulling on Dan's sleeve and waking him from his thinking. "I think we should just go to the ranch." Dan nodded. The pair slowly worked their way down the hill and by passed the busy town. They were going home.