The Ride

By: Angela B

Disclaimer: Not mine and never will be

Spoilers:  Very brief references to Witness, Vendetta and Serpents.

Notes: I’m not usually a Chris centered storywriter, but this one just came to mind. I haven’t seen a story like this one, but if there is one out there, my apologies.

WARNING: I have never professed to be “Chris” writer. This is just MY take on how strong Chris and Buck’s friendship is. If you don’t like it, just put it in the trash.

Note: Thanks to NT for betaing this for me and Chris for giving it a read from a  Chris’ fan point of view

(Moved to Blackraptor January 2010)

Vin and Chris sat outside the salon watching the day pass by in quiet solitude. The tracker had noticed Chris had been increasingly watchful of the jovial ladies’ man the past couple of days. By the same token, Vin had noticed a very subtle difference in Buck, but could not place what the difference was exactly. Vin did what he had learned many years ago; he sat back, waited and watched. Chris and Buck went back a long ways and there was no denying they shared an equally, if not different, strong bond as he and Chris did.

Chris watched his long-time friend laughing at Billy’s antics, as the child played tag with the Potter children. He knew that Billy reminded the dark-haired man of another child, the same child that filled his own memories. The blond had been watching his friend more often lately and thinking. He knew the others had noticed the slight change in Buck ever since that lady aide of the governor, Louisa, had left town. Most chalked it up to Buck being lovesick over the lady after her departure. JD had even come to see him about it, concerned that Buck had missed a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.  Chris had reassured him it would all work out in time. In truth, only he knew what the problem was, even if Buck didn’t. He saw a problem that only he could solve, a need that only he could fill. And, if he were as unselfish as Buck, he might be able to help.  Seeming to have to a decision, Chris stood and simply announced, “Going for a ride. Taking Buck with me.”

Vin nodded and accepted the information. Chris called Buck over and informed him they were going to take a short trip and told the large man to go saddle up the horses while he took care of business before they left. Buck took his friends orders without question, knowing Chris would explain later. The jovial man had learned a long time ago when Chris told him to do something there was a reason behind it.

The two men stood before the saloon, making final adjustments to their saddles before mounting up. Chris had, in his short, simplistic way, told the rest of the men they were going to be gone for a couple of days. JD had asked Buck where, exactly, they were going and was a bit surprised when the man answered he didn’t know. Buck had just justified it by saying that he trusted Chris and didn’t question his motives. For all the closeness Buck and JD shared, the young sheriff understood that there were some things he would never understand or know about Buck completely, not the way Chris did. JD was adult enough to accept this. Contrary to popular belief he wasn’t the jealous, whiny, spoiled, little brat everyone saw him as. He knew something about Buck wasn’t right and if Chris could help, then he would accept this journey with relief.

The two men rode in silence for a long ways before Buck fell into his usual talk about his favorite topic, ladies. He regaled Chris with the latest information he had garnered about the newest young filly to enter the town of Four Corners. Chris rode along, listening to Buck, a smile pressing on his lips and, occasionally, he’d shake his head. For all of Buck’s talk, he knew the ladies’ man deeply respected women and would never think about doing anything to hurt any of them. Buck had always been that way, even with Sarah.

After a couple of hours of riding, Buck finally ventured to ask, “So, Pard, where are we headed?”

A moment of silence expanded the time before Chris replied softly, “Going to the homestead.”

The answer almost caused Buck whiplash. His head spun around to look at his friend. So many questions suddenly filled his mind, yet he didn’t ask any of them. Chris would explain in his own time. Straightening up, Buck looked ahead and let his mind wonder back in time.

Sarah had been the sweetest girl around. To this day, Buck could still picture how her eyes lit up when Chris rode in after a long day of checking on the stock, the way her laughter would ring out and fill the air when he and Chris would get into a tough game of horsing around. Of course, with Sarah around, Chris tended to play a little dirtier, like a cock rooster showing off for the prettiest hen. Buck never minded. If roles had been reversed he would have been showing off, too. The ladies’ man had always flirted outlandishly with Sarah, especially around Chris. The three of them would always wind up laughing when Sarah would turn him down, telling her one cowboy was more than enough. Chris would always feign to be hurt at being called a cowboy. There had been plenty of laughter and teasing between the three of them. His heart hurt at the memories.

Chris accepted the silence with relief. He was dealing with his own memories. The way Sarah could calm his frayed nerves with just a little look. The way she smelled at night after a day of baking, the spices blending with her own smell. Chris had never though of himself as a man who would be happy just to cuddle, but with Sarah that all changed.  Sarah had been so different from all the other women he had known; finding himself in love with her was a revelation that shook his world. Buck had been the one to point out that it was with Sarah to whom he belonged. Buck. Chris had to shake his head inwardly at the thoughts that flowed. Buck had always flirted with Sarah, but never once did Chris worry about his best friend trying anything with his wife. Buck would never cross that line and Chris knew it. The three of them were best friends. The tall blond had always known if something had happened to him, Buck would look after Sarah with respect and loyalty.

The trail went by unnoticed by either man, both keeping their senses keen to trouble, but letting their inward minds wander through memories. Buck smiled as he remembered the day Adam came into the world. He and Chris had stuck close by the last couple of weeks, neither man wanted to be to far away in case Sarah needed them. Chris had almost panicked when Sarah went into labor a little early. Buck had grown up around women who’d sometimes found themselves in trouble. His mom had helped with several births and therefore Buck had learned a few things. When Adam decided to make his appearance, Buck had coached Chris through the steps in helping Sarah, and once again it was the three of them working together. Buck remembered Chris holding his son that night; the look of complete bliss on the man’s face was one he would never forget. Adam had become a surrogate son to the jovial man. Though Buck never forgot Chris was the boy’s father, he felt he was entitled to spoil the boy, as any good uncle should. The boy became the main reason Buck’s life was so filled with happiness. Sarah had not announced it, but Buck was pretty sure she had been with child when she had died.  Just something about the way her eyes shone brighter, the way she would place her hand over her stomach in that protective way. Buck hadn’t mentioned this to Chris when they left; he was waiting for Sarah to deliver that news herself. She never had the chance and afterwards Buck wasn’t going to tell Chris.

 He loved those two people as much as Chris had. Their deaths would have done to him what it had done to Chris if he had allowed it. There were other things that had come first, though: burying the bodies, keeping guard over Chris’ sanity for the first few days, then, for over a year, searching for the ones who had set the fire. Somehow, both men knew instinctively that the fire had not been an accident. Sarah would never have been that careless with the lamps. Later, when the two had gone their separate ways, Buck had been pushing the pain away for so long that it didn’t seem necessary to unbury it.  Only lately, playing with Billy and his love interest in Louisa, had the old feelings been fighting their way back to the top. The two men rode on side-by-side in silence.

Chris, for the three years between their deaths and his sudden employment in Four Corners, truly believed he would never want to feel alive again. Then he had run into Buck again and met the other five men he now protected the town with, and that feeling slowly disappeared, replaced by a desire to join the living once again. When the Seminoles had come into town and hired him to protect them, there had never been any doubt in his mind who he would ask to ride with him. He had seen Buck in town the day before, he just couldn’t seem to find a reason to go up to him and let him know he was in town. He knew he had treated Buck, like a lot of other people, pretty trashy. Buck hadn’t deserved it and Chris had silently worried how Buck would react to him. He shouldn’t have worried because Buck was always forgiving and the reunion had been no different. Buck had acted like he always had, outgoing and not afraid to show his emotions.

Chris and Buck arrived at the old homestead.  Nothing had changed since the last visit. The last of the charred remains were a vivid reminder of the devastating scene they had found a little more than four years before.  Buck stayed seated as Chris dismounted and headed towards the small graveyard. Chris realized Buck had not moved and turned to his friend. “Its not scared ground to you,” the blond spoke plainly.

Buck dismounted slowly and walked over to where Chris was standing. Together the two men walked up to the fenced-in yard they had put up years ago. Stopping short of the first grave, Buck allowed Chris to walk to Sarah’s resting place. Chris shook his head to some thought; Buck always did think there was some invisible line that he wasn’t allowed to cross. For the second time Chris turned to his friend and beckoned him forward. Reverently, Buck moved up bedside Chris and stared at the two markers.

A long moment passed before Chris put his arm around Buck’s shoulders and whispered, “It’s time you said goodbye and let them go.” Buck had given him his strength all these years. Now it was time he returned the favor.

“Me?!” Buck asked, staring at his friend in shock.

Chris nodded. “I said mine a while back. After that fiasco with Ella,” Chris said in a whisper. Shaking his head at the memory. “Came out here by myself,” he said low. Buck only nodded his head, remembering the couple of days Chris had taken off on his own. Everyone believed he had gone off to deal with the new revelation that Ella Gaines had been responsible for Sarah and Adam’s deaths alone. Not even Vin had been asked to accompany him on the short-lived trip.

Chris watched the hesitancy and myriad of other emotions crashing in around his friend. Chris looked at Buck; strong green eyes met scared blue ones. “They were your family, too.” Chris spoke the words with all the love he felt for this man who was more than just a friend to him.

Buck looked back down at the graves.  The sight of Sarah, with her arm around Adam’s shoulder, waving goodbye to them, as he and Chris headed off with the string of horses on that last day flashed into his memory.  Suddenly, it was if someone had turned on a  release valve. The tears flowed down the strong man’s face. Overcome with grief he sank to his knees. Chris went to the ground with him and held his brother.  He owed Buck this moment, this chance to let go.  After all the things Buck had done for him and all the times Buck had been his support and tether to life.

Neither man marked the time that passed. Chris eventually could feel Buck regaining some control.  The heart-wrenching sobs had slowed and finally stopped. Chris slowly let go of his grip and rose to feet. Patting Buck on his shoulder, he whispered, “Take as long as you need.”

The horses had been unsaddled and cared for and the camp made by the time Buck walked away from the little yard. Sitting down across from the fire, where supper was cooking, Buck looked at Chris with puzzlement. In the three years since their deaths, Chris had never acknowledged or showed that he might know that Buck, too, had suffered a great loss. This sudden show of that knowledge and this insurmountable act of courage it must have taken on Chris’ part, shook Buck.  Finally, all Buck could manage to ask was, “Why?”

Chris was so long in answering that Buck figured he wasn’t going to get an answer. Silence reigned for a long while before the blond said,  “I told Billy once that the bravest thing a person could do who had lost a love one was to go on living.” Chris stopped for a moment before continuing.  “I told him to do something I had yet to figure out how to do myself.”

 Chris paused for a long time as his friend sat there thinking about what the blond had just said.  He figured that was all he was going to get out of Chris, though he was still unclear as to what had prompted the blond to bring him out here to say goodbye. He knew they were dead; he was the one who buried them.

“Remember when Hank was here? I told you then I was forgetting Sarah’s face.” Chris stopped and drew in a deep breath. “The sound of Adam’s voice when he called me. I didn’t want to forget. I thought it was somehow betraying them,” Chris said, in a whisper.

Chris cleared his throat before speaking again. “I never told you what Hank said to me right before he died, did I?”

The tall man could only shake his head.  Chris hadn’t shared that with any of them. The blond took a deep breath before saying, “He told me to remember never to forget.”

Both men were quiet for a bit, both staring at the fire where the food remained untouched. Staring out into the darkness, finally Chris started speaking again. His voice so low it barely had the volume to carry across the camp. “At first I figured he was telling me I should never forget their deaths. Like it was his last way to remind me I was responsible, and I didn’t have the right to go on with my life. I’ve thought a lot about it though and I came to a different conclusion. I think he was trying to tell me not to forget they lived.  I shouldn’t let the bitterness their deaths caused overshadow the happiness we shared when they were alive. I couldn’t recall the joy they gave me when I couldn’t let go of the pain of their deaths.” Chris waited a minute before finishing, “I will always remember them, Buck, but now I can do it and still get on with my life.”

When he was finished, Chris laid down and turned his back to the fire and the other man. The big man wasn’t offended, he knew it was just the way Chris was. He had spoken his peace and now it was up to Buck to piece together what his friend had been trying to tell him.

The next morning Chris rose to find Buck gone. Looking around, he quickly spotted the man over by the ruined remains. Walking quietly over to where his friend sat amid the rubble, Chris squatted down and waited for his friend.  The long minutes of silence were neither comfortable nor uncomfortable. Buck finally looked at Chris, tears pooled in the blue expressive eyes. “I guess I’m one dumb man because I still don’t know why we are here. If you have already made peace with Sarah and Adam, why bring me?” Buck’s voice began to rise in tempo with his anger. “I know they’re dead. I buried them. I searched for their killers.  I stood by you when you fell in love with Ella all over and then learned she was responsible for this!” Buck was now on his feet, his arms out encompassing all the surrounding debris. “Why bring me?” Buck lowered his voice and his head. “Why?” he asked one more time.”

Chris sighed heavily. “I guess I did a poor job of explaining that last night if you still don’t understand.” Nodding his back to the graves, he said, “I know you buried them and you rode with me looking for the ones who did it. You stayed long enough to make sure I wouldn’t go crazy.” Stopping for a minute, he grinned. “Couldn’t stop me from going and doing stupid things, though.” Chris waited while Buck barked out a laugh. That was true.

Chris spoke straight to his friend. “I did this for you,” he said. “You fell in love with Louisa. You were ready to settle down, but I could see the hesitation and it wasn’t because you weren’t ready to give up all the other girls. You hadn’t let go of Sarah or the guilt yet.”

Chris stopped Buck from interrupting. “I know you didn’t love Sarah like that, but none-the-less you did love her, and Adam. You’re not betraying them by having your own family.” Chris laid his hand on his friend’s shoulder. “None of us held you responsible for any of it, Buck. Sarah would want you to find your own love and Adam would love for you to have a son. It’s time you had your own family, Buck. To share all that love you have with someone deserving.”

Chris turned and headed back to camp and started fixing biscuits. He would let Buck think on his words for a while. After breakfast, they broke camp and saddled up their horses. Both men walked back up to the lonely little graveyard one last time. Each man speaking only with their hearts to the ones who lay before them. They had ridden many tough trails together, but to Buck this seemed to be the hardest one. With one last nod, Chris slapped Buck on the shoulder and they turned to leave the ones that had meant so much to them.  A new peace settled down around the two riders as they headed back to their new home and lives.

JD watched as the two men walked their horses into the livery.  Even from down the street, he could tell something was different about the pair. Buck and Chris had been friends long before the rest of them had come along and would be friends for many more years to come, and for that JD was grateful. The young sheriff knew without a doubt that the two men needed each other as much as JD needed Buck. He knew others would be surprised the young sheriff understood this; so many people thought he had replaced the blond, just like so many thought Vin had replaced Buck in Chris’ life. Both young men knew it for a lie. A friend could neither be a replacement nor be replaced, only added. He counted himself very lucky to be added as a friend to Buck, and to Chris.

It wasn’t long before the two men walked up to JD, both wearing matching smiles. Yep, JD thought whatever had happened in the last two days the journey had been worth it.