Vin sat looking out across the town. Well, as much of the town as he could see anyway. He was sitting in a chair on the veranda outside the clinic door, with a blanket wrapped around him, and he was bored. Very bored.

He sighed heavily for about the hundredth time that morning and winced as his still sore ribs protested at the movement.

"Vin, I’m warnin’ ya. I only let ya out here ‘cos ya promised ya wouldn’t move." Nathan was sitting in a chair next to Vin and frowned at the pale face of the tracker.

"Hell, Nathan. I gotta breathe." Vin complained.

The patience of both men was wearing thin. Vin had been cooped up in the clinic for over a week, and Nathan knew how much Vin hated to be indoors. But the healer had put his foot down and made his patient toe the line, he had been very sick and his injuries would take time to heal. But, Vin had finally won him over that morning. He had turned big, blue puppy dog eyes on the gullible healer and, before he knew what was happening, Nathan had found himself helping Vin into some clothes and out onto the veranda.

"’m suffocatin’." The forlorn voice of the tracker drawled. "Hell, ya won’t even let me go ta the privy on m’ own"

Nathan couldn’t stop the smile from appearing on his face as he turned to look at the tracker all bundled up in a blanket. All that was visible was a sad, bruised face and a bandaged head.

"I know it’s not easy Vin. Lord knows, I know." Nathan rolled his eyes. "Ya jest gotta be patient. It won’t be long now, b’fore ya can leave the clinic."

"I wanna leave now. Reckon I can take care o’ m’self."

"Vin, ya can’t take two steps on yer own."

Vin knew Nathan was right. He just wanted his freedom. Needed it. He had been hit hard by his illness and the injuries he had sustained, but he was getting stronger. Soon he would be able to put up a decent fight, and Nathan would not be able to stop him. It just wasn’t soon enough for the impatient tracker.

"Figure I could ride a horse."

"’n how ya gonna get on the horse?"

The two seated men turned at the sound of Chris’s voice. They watched as he walked along the veranda towards them.

The gunslinger had caught the end of the conversation and could just imagine how frustrated Nathan was getting.

Holding his hands across his strapped ribs for extra support, he sat in the vacant chair opposite his two friends, and stared intently at the defiant tracker.

"Figure that’s none o’ yer concern." Vin answered finally.

"Well, I figure it is seein’ as it’ll be me carryin’ ya scrawny Texas ass back up here when ya land on it."

Chris received the ‘Tanner look’ and grinned.

Nathan stood and stretched his arms in the air. Putting his hands on the small of his back he leaned backwards, trying to wake up his tired muscles. "Well, Chris, seein’ as you’re here. I’m gonna go t’ the saloon for more favourable company." The healer turned and looked threateningly at Vin. "I’m warnin’ ya. Try anythin’ ya shouldn’t ‘n ya don’t get outta my clinic fer another week."

"Don’t worry Nate, he ain’t goin’ nowhere." Chris’s eyes did not leave the trackers face as they sent a silent warning.

Nathan nodded and walked away in the direction of the stairs.

The two remaining men continued to stare at each other.

Vin’s jaw was set in a hard line, his blue eyes, peeping up from a slightly bowed head, were flashing anger, but they also showed signs of tattered nerves. Chris could see the defeat in them too, and his green gaze softened. He knew how hard it was for Vin to stay put. He was a free spirit, independent to the last, hating to rely on other people. But Chris wanted him to know that sometimes he had to, that he didn’t have to be on his own any more. Didn’t have to fight his battles alone. He had friends to help him. To stand by him.

Friends who would watch his back.

Chris suddenly remembered something he had been meaning to do. Breaking eye contact with Vin he reached into his pocket, very aware of the watchful blue eyes, still focused on him. His hands found what he was searching for and a small smile tugged at his lips as he took it from his pocket.

"Just don’t go usin’ it." He said as he held his hand out to the tracker.

Vin looked down at the object in Chris’s hand and could not help the sharp intake of breath as his eyes rested on his harmonica.

Reaching a hand out from beneath the blanket he was swamped in, he took the treasured possession from Chris’s outstretched hand.

Vin pulled his other arm free from the blanket and rolled the harmonica around in his fingers. The look on his face openly showing how much the simple object meant to him.

"Thought I’d lost this fer sure." He drawled softly.

"Ez found it in the jailhouse. Gave it to me when we found you."

Chris sat and watched the emotions crossing Vin’s features. He had often wondered why the harmonica meant so much to Vin. But, even with their strong friendship, he was hesitant to ask, feeling that there were very close private feelings that were attached to the instrument that his friend was holding so carefully in his hands.

Vin smiled and reached back inside the blanket, placing the harmonica carefully in his trouser pocket. He looked back at Chris, and his grin turned impish.

"Reckon I’ll practice on that later. Give Nathan a bit o’ music while he’s makin’ some o’ that tea he loves to throw down m’ throat."

Chris grinned widely. He knew Vin’s ulterior motive. He was going to make Nathan pay for keeping him in the clinic. Hell, if Vin started blowing on that thing, Nathan would likely have him out of there in a hot minute. Or maybe he would ply him with enough laudanum to keep him asleep for a week. If he didn’t shoot him first.

"Well now, what kinda plot d’ya think you two are hatchin?"

Buck’s voice broke into the silent reverie the two friends had been sharing. They turned their smiling faces to look at the ladies man as he took Nathan’s vacated seat.

"Hey there Bucklin, what d’ya bring me?" Vin asked the big man sitting beside him. Shivering, he pulled the blanket closer around himself.

"Seems ta me I shoulda brought ya another one o’ those." Buck replied nodding towards the cover enveloping the tracker.

"Ah hell, Buck. Gimme a break. Not you n’all." Vin complained. "Reckoned I could rely on you ta gimme somethin’ ta smile ‘bout."

Buck grinned and squeezed the younger mans leg. He pulled some tobacco out of his pocket and handed it to Vin. "Seek and ye shall find." He smiled and, cocking his head to one side he winked wickedly.

Vin grinned once more and started to reach his hand out to take the offered present, only to have it slapped away, the tobacco disappearing before his eyes in a flash of black haze.

"What d’ya do that fer?" Vin asked, frowning. "That’s my present from Bucklin, now give it on back."

Chris glared at Buck, who couldn’t help laughing at the look on Vin’s face.

"Think I’ll jest take care o’ this for a while, Vin." Chris said through gritted teeth as he continued to glare at Buck.

Vin did not bother to argue. He resigned himself to the fact that he was trapped. Hell, he might as well be locked away in the jailhouse. All he got to eat was broth, and all he got to drink was water or Nathan’s God awful tasting tea.

"Jest don’t go chewin’ m’ tabacca." He threw across at Chris. "Or I’ll likely do somethin’ I’ll regret."

"Well, I’m real glad you ain’t got ya gun, pard. Ya look real mean." Chris’s eyes twinkled as he tried to control the smile that was threatening to turn into an all out grin. Vin looked far from mean, sitting huddled in a chair with a big colourful blanket wrapped around him.

Buck threw his head back and laughed.

"Well, I’m glad yer both findin’ it all so amusin’, ‘cos funny enough, I aint." Vin’s face turned angry as he threw off the blanket and went to get to his feet.

"Oh no ya don’t." Buck jumped from his chair and caught the tracker as his legs buckled beneath him.

Vin gasped and breathed heavily, his eyes tightly shut as Buck and Chris helped him back into the chair and wrapped the blanket around him once again.

"Why did I have ta fall down that darn ravine?" Vin asked quietly, not looking at his two friends.

Buck and Chris shared a silent look. They could see that Vin was tiring and decided not to tease him anymore.

"Somethin’s been botherin’ me about ya fall, Vin."

Vin turned two sorrowful blue eyes on Chris. "Bet it’s botherin’ me more." He drawled as he rubbed his sore ribs.

Buck smiled crookedly at the tracker and squeezed his shoulder. He marvelled at how quickly Vin bounced back from being downhearted. Hell, he didn’t have much to joke about at the moment, but he still managed to bring humour into the conversation.

Chris continued. "You said that a gunshot spooked ya horse and ya got him back under control but ya fell."

"Yeah." Vin agreed wondering where Chris was going with this.

"D’ya know where the gunshot came from?"

Vin thought for a moment. "Nah, but it weren’t close by, not too close anyhow."

Buck tensed, his face changing to a look of horror at the terrifying thought that he could have been responsible for spooking Vin’s horse. Could he have caused Vin that pain as well as everything else? He relaxed again as the realisation dawned that it couldn’t have been him who had fired the offending shot.

"I’m innocent this time pard. I didn’t shoot my gun ‘til I saw ya."

"’m grateful pard." Vin smiled wryly.

"Guess it coulda been anyone out there. We don’t hold the rights to the land." Buck pondered.

"Did you see anyone else out there, Buck? ‘Cos I sure as hell didn’t." Chris was worried by the fact that the gunshot Vin heard could have been from a bounty hunter, and he wanted to make certain that Vin was safe. At least for now.

"No Chris, just you, and then Ez and Nathan."

"Don’t matter none. S’over." Vin drawled and yawned immediately after the words left his mouth.

"Does matter Vin, I need ta know." Chris’s brow was creased in thought. So Buck hadn’t fired the shot, and he sure as hell…." His head suddenly snapped up, and his breathing quickened as reality hit. The snake! That damn snake! He had shot it! He had fired his gun. He swallowed and looked up at Vin’s tired face.

"Vin, it was me, I fired m’ gun. Had ta shoot a snake."

Vin looked at the guilt ridden face in front of him.

"Chris, iffen ya hadn’t shot the snake, ya could be dead. Ya didn’t know, please ferget it."

Chris shook his head. "I’m so sorry Vin."

Vin decided to brush off the latest revelation in the whole sorry saga of the last couple of weeks. "Seems ta me, ’m hearin’ too many o’ them apologies round here lately. ‘m tired of ‘em. So gimme a break and wipe that sorry look offa yer face, Larabee."

Buck grinned widely at Vin’s words and chuckled as Chris’s eyes lost their guilty look and he directed a mock glare at Vin.

"Ya wanna try lookin’ in the mirror, Vin. If ya wanna see what a real sorry lookin’ excuse fer a face looks like." The gunslinger shot back.

Vin hit back immediately. "Yeah, well I been sick, so at least I got an excuse, pard."

"Vin, one o’ these days……" Chris’s words were cut off by a raspy Texas drawl.

"Yeah, I know, I know. Yer gonna shoot me."

+ + + + + + +

The clinic door opened and Vin stepped to freedom. Yes he was finally free. Well, as free as Nathan would allow him to be anyway.

He wore a sling on his left arm and still had several bandages on various parts of his body. But he didn’t care, he had been sprung from the clinic that had been like a prison to him for the two weeks since he had been brought back to town by his friends.

Vin closed his eyes and held his face up to the warm sun. He took a deep breath of fresh air, making him go slightly dizzy. He swayed on his still unsteady legs and Nathan grabbed his arm.

"Maybe it’s too soon." The healer said half to himself.

"No Nathan, t’aint, I’m fine."

Nathan studied the pale face of his patient and friend. "I wouldn’t say that Vin, but yer doin’ alright. Long as ya don’t go n’ do what ya shouldn’t."

"Ah hell Nate, ya know I’d never go ‘gainst yer advice."

Two blue eyes twinkled at the healer and then turned their gaze longingly to the steps leading down to the street.

"Think I’m gonna go get m’self a coupla gutwarmers."

Nathan opened his mouth to admonish Vin, and stopped himself as he saw the wicked, teasing look in the sharpshooters eyes.

"Ya know Vin. I can see ‘xactly why Chris finds it hard not ta shoot ya sometimes."

Vin grinned. "Are ya gonna help me down the steps or do I have ta do it m’self?"

"It’d be ma pleasure ta get yer sorry ass the hell away from ma clinic, Tanner."

Nathan continued to hold tightly to Vin’s uninjured arm as they walked along the veranda and down the steps. When they reached the bottom Vin shrugged off Nathan’s hand and looked at the healer.

"Nathan, I can take it from here, pard."

The healer was caught off guard as Vin turned a grateful blue eyed gaze on him. "’n I wanna say thankya fer takin’ care o’ me. I ‘preciate it, even iffen I don’t seem to."

"It’s nothin’ Vin, it’s what I do. And your m’ friend."

He handed Vin his hat and Vin nodded as he placed it on his head.

"Jist a li’l thing Nate." Vin said as he turned to walk away. "Iffen I need ya help again, could ya at least leave me with ‘m underwear."

Not waiting for a reply, Vin turned in the direction of the saloon and walked slowly away. He grinned as he heard Nathan’s soft chuckle from behind him.

Two days later

Vin’s heart leapt into his throat as a hand suddenly appeared in front of him, stopping him from lifting his saddle off of the hook on the livery wall.

"I’m comin’ with ya, Vin."

Vin sent his eyes heavenward and sighed. He had been expecting this. He turned around to face Chris, a resigned look in his blue eyes.

"Figured y’d wanna come along." He drawled. "Jest don’t wanna miss any o’ the fun do ya?"

Vin and Ezra were going to the stream, just north of town. Vin could not wait another day. He had been bombarded with nightmares for too long, and he was at the end of his rope. He had to try and put his past behind him once and for all. Well, the parts of it that he could at least. He knew there were some things that would be a little harder to get rid of. Like the bounty on his head.

If Ezra’s idea didn’t work….hell, he didn’t even want to think about it not working. It had to work. His sanity depended upon it.

"Ya know Nathan ain’t too happy ‘bout this dontcha Vin?" Chris said as he pulled Vin’s saddle from the wall and threw it over the tracker's horse.

"Hell, I’m only ridin’ m’ horse a li’l ways. He’s got more worryin’ in ‘im than a grizzly bear wi’ fleas."

Chris grinned as he continued to secure Vin’s saddle. "So, yer gonna let me come along?"

"Sure, why not. Hey, let’s take a picnic, make a day of it."

Chris ignored Vin’s sarcasm. He could see the tracker was wound up tight.

"N’ ya can get yer hands offa m’ horse, I can do it." He tried to push Chris aside but the gunslinger held his ground.

He stopped what he was doing and fixed his eyes on the ornery trackers face. "Accept the help Vin. Ya know ya can’t do it yerself, so why try?"

Vin dropped his eyes to the ground. "Sorry Chris, ‘m feelin’ a mite jittery."

"No problem pard." Chris handed Vin his reins and moved towards his own horse and saddle. He could feel the tension emanating from his friend.

God, I hope this works, he thought as he noticed the dark circles under Vin’s eyes.

"Where ‘r the other horses?" Vin asked, noticing for the first time that the five horses belonging to the other peacekeepers were missing.

"Ezra’s is tied up outside the saloon, waitin’ on ya. The others went on mornin’ patrol." Chris answered without looking up from fastening his girth.

"All of ‘em?" Vin asked in surprise. "ya ‘spectin’ trouble Chris?"

"Nah." Chris said nonchalantly. "Just got sick of ‘em round ma feet. Nothin’s goin’ on round here and they were bored. So I gave ‘em somethin’ ta do."

Vin nodded his head slowly. His brow creasing. Something did not feel quite right.

"Well, ya ready? Let’s go get Ezra."

Chris came to stand beside Vin and, locking his fingers together, he waited for Vin to let him give him a leg up onto his horse.

"Hell Larabee. You got bad ribs too ya know." Vin grumbled.

"Yeah but I ain’t got the rest o’ them injuries yer sportin’ there pard. So stop whinin’ and get the hell on yer horse."

Vin was too tired to argue any more. He just wanted this day over. He put his booted foot into Chris’s waiting hands and was hoisted onto his horse. He winced as he gingerly threw his leg over the saddle, and shifted until he was as comfortable as he figured he was going to get.

Chris moved to his own horse and mounted. "I would say race ya. But I guess that’s not on the cards fer a while eh pard?" he teased.

He chuckled as Vin proved to him that the ‘Tanner look’ was well and truly back.

As they rode slowly out of the livery, Vin pulled his horse up sharply as he encountered an unexpected sight.

"What the hell…?"

"Mr Tanner. Would it be an intrusion if….." Ezra’s words were cut off by Buck.

"Vin, we wanna come. Can we please come with ya? We wanna be there for ya. Aw darn it…don’t know how ta say it."

"They asked me if they thought you would mind." Ezra added.

Vin looked at the five men seated on their horses in front of him. He could feel Chris’s presence beside him, and was glad that he was there, sending his silent but steady support.

The image of his friends blurred as Vin’s eyes misted over. How did he get so lucky to find friends such as these? He asked himself as he swallowed the huge lump that had suddenly appeared in his throat. The words Josiah had spoken to him in the clinic two weeks before floated back to him. Friends are angels who lift us to our feet when our wings have trouble remembering how to fly.

He scratched a non-existent itch under his sling as he tried to regain his composure.

The men sat silently, waiting for Vin’s response.

"Alrighty then." Vin finally managed to rasp. "Be mighty glad ta have ya come along."

Chris grinned, thankful that things hadn’t backfired. When the others had approached him about wanting to go with Vin he had not been sure how the tracker would react. But he could not make the choice for him, and so he had agreed to go along with their plan.

The seven horses fell in alongside each other and the men created quite a spectacle as they rode slowly out of town.

+ + + + + + +

Vin lost himself in his thoughts as they rode slowly towards the stream. Why weren’t they teasing him about what he was doing? Heck, this whole thing was laughable. He was riding out to a stream to put a piece of poetry into the water and watch it disappear. Now, in his eyes, that was not the usual pass time of a hired peacekeeper. Or a sharpshooter for that matter.

But he was going to do it anyway. And he was grateful. Yes he was glad that these men were here. That his friends were here. He felt a kinship with them. Something he had never felt before. And it made him feel warm inside, and safe somehow.

The sound of the slow moving stream brought his mind back to the here and now. He reined in his horse and prepared to dismount. He was not looking forward to the pain that he knew he would experience doing this, and took a slow deep breath in preparation.

Before his butt had even left the saddle, three men were beside his horse, ready to help him.

"I ain’t some fancy woman needin’ help." He directed at the three upturned faces. The irritation he was feeling towards the men was clear on his face.

Chris, Buck and Nathan took a step back. They knew how highly strung Vin was right now, and this was not the time to rile him.

With a grunt Vin lifted himself out of the saddle. It took longer than normal to drag his leg from the other side of his horse and his knees threatened to buckle as his feet hit the ground.

But the men held back. Respecting Vin’s need to be independent and stand on his own two feet.

"Told ya I was fine." He drawled as he finally let go of the saddle and began walking towards the stream.

He stopped a couple of feet away from the slow moving water, he could sense the other men hovering a little way behind him.

Reaching into his buckskinned pocket he retrieved the piece of paper that had caused all of his recent troubles. He decided he would be glad to see it go.

"Would you like me to read it for you, Vin?" Ezra’s voice asked softly. "I must confess that I did not use my best handwriting on the occasion that I wrote this down. As I recall Mr Larabee was waiting somewhat impatiently for my presence at a meeting."

Vin shot Ezra a grateful look. He knew the gambler was covering for him. To hide the fact that he could not read. Well not very well anyway. He was just beginning to learn. "S’alright Ezra. I know what it says."

Vin held the paper tightly in his hand and stared at the moving water in front of him. He remembered his Ma, the way she used to sing to him when she put him to bed. The way she used to brush his hair back from his forehead when he was sick. A smile curved on Vin’s lips at the fond memories, and faded just as fast as it had come as he remembered his ma being sick. He had seen her take her last breath. He was laying beside her, wrapped in her arms and she had whispered softly in his ear. "I hope I’m keepin’ m’ promise ma." Vin whispered into the stream. "Hope I’m livin’ up to the Tanner name."

The six men standing silently behind the tracker heard his words as they drifted on the wind. Each one of them knowing in their own minds that his promise was being kept.

Tears slid down Vin’s face as he relived his Ma’s funeral. Then his face set into a hard line at the memory of being dragged off to an orphanage that, in his mind, was the gateway to hell. He closed his eyes against the memories stabbing at his mind, of being beaten and locked in a dark cupboard. He saw one of his friends die. He swallowed hard and bit back the sob that threatened to escape from his lips.

He remembered leaving in the middle of the night, he had taken only what had belonged to him. A set of clothes. A book. And his harmonica. He had been blowing on it when they had found him. They had taken him into their tribe and accepted him. Teaching him their ways. That was where he had learnt his survival skills, from the Indians. His mind continued to take him through the tumultuous journey of his past. Through bloody battles and his days as a buffalo hunter and a bounty hunter. He closed his eyes and shook his head as he was reminded of Eli Joe and the unwarranted bounty on his head.

He swayed on unsteady legs as the memories finally crashed to a halt. Bringing him to the present. He felt arms grabbing him as his knees threatened to give way. Opening his eyes, he saw two faces swimming in front of him.

"Vin?" the query was softly spoken.

"I’m alright Chris. Jest a mite overwhelmed." He replied to the unspoken question.

"Ya need ta rest Vin. Sit yerself down fer a while." Nathan tried to steer Vin over to the shade of a tree but Vin held his ground.

"No Nate. I’m doin’ this now. Can’t stop now." Vin’s eyes were fixed on the stream. He pulled himself free of the supporting arms and took two unsteady steps towards the water. He slowly got down onto his knees and took one final look at the words on the paper. He didn’t have to read them to know what they represented. And every word was engraved in his mind. He had taken three painstaking days to collect his thoughts together and turn them into this poem. And Ezra had been right when he said that the words would mean more if they were written in verse. This piece of paper represented his hell of a life. And now he was relinquishing that hell. It was time to move on. The only memories he wanted from the past were the happy times he had spent with his ma before she got sick.

He leaned across and stretched his good arm out across the water, the paper held tightly in his grasp. He squeezed his fingers tightly into his palm, and then slowly, he let the paper fall into the stream.

He stood up carefully, but still felt himself going a little lightheaded. He blinked away the sensation and focused on the paper as the water soaked into it and it began to slowly drift away. His eyes never left it until it floated out of sight.

Issuing a deep sigh, Vin hung his head, and closed his eyes. Buck went to go towards him, but Chris put up a restraining hand and as his eyes met Buck’s he shook his head. This was time that Vin needed to himself. He knew they were all there. When he was ready he would turn to them.

Finally, a small smile crept onto Vin’s face. Hell, he didn’t know if what he had just done was going to stop the nightmares. But at that moment, he felt at peace and he felt safe.

Turning slowly around, he looked at the six men who were standing silently behind him. He dared not speak. His emotions were too close to the surface. But the way he felt was reflected in his eyes and one by one his six friends faces broke into broad grins.

"Well now." Buck said a little too cheerfully. "How’s about we hear your poem now, JD."

Vin grinned as the men took the few steps to join him. His head was thumping and his bruises were throbbing, but he was happy.

He threw a grateful look at Buck. He knew the ladies man was attempting to lighten the mood. "Yeah JD." Vin drawled. "Ya heard half o’ mine, so I’d say it’s only right fer us ta hear part o’ yers."

JD looked at Vin and knew he could not deny him. He had been through so much lately and if he wanted to hear what he’d written, then hear it he would.

"Yeah, alright Vin. I got it right here."

JD pulled a crumpled piece of paper out of his pocket, and as he began to straighten it out, Buck moved as quick as lightning and snatched it from him.

The young sheriff opened his mouth to protest, but closed it again and grinned when he saw the amusement on Vin’s face.

Buck cleared his throat and everyones attention was on him. He began to read.

"Casey, I like you. Really I do. I love all of the things you do." He shot his eyes at JD. "Good start kid." He said with a twinkle in his eyes. He cleared his throat and continued. "When we go fishin’ ya make me laugh. And when we come home, I have a bath."

The end of the poem was met by silence.

Then there was a cough. All eyes turned to look at Vin. The sharpshooter was doubled over, his good arm holding his stomach. His whole body was shaking in silent laughter. Tears began to pour from his eyes, and Ezra decided that, if he had been running a book on whether Vin would topple over or not, all bets would have been off.

Nathan stepped forward and grabbed the trackers arm to keep him upright. The healer found he could not hold back any more. He let out a little chuckle and then started laughing right along with Vin.

JD’s scowl deepened as, one by one, each of the men broke into uncontrollable laughter.

"Well, that’s just great." He said as he snatched the poem from Buck’s loose grasp and shoved it back in his pocket. He sat on the grassy bank and waited for the men to get themselves under control.

"Ya need ta rest Vin." Nathan finally managed to say, and tried once again to steer Vin over to the shade of a tree.

"Aw hell, Nate. ‘M havin’ some fun. Don’t be fussin’ round me so." Vin shrugged off Nathan’s hold just as he caught sight of a wicked glint in Buck’s eyes. He followed the ladies mans gaze and screwed his forehead as his eyes rested on Chris.

"Ya know what?" Buck began. "That poem o’ yours could be a great song, JD."

"Huh?" was all JD managed as Buck quickly grabbed the paper from JD’s pocket.

"Now, who’s gonna sing along with me?" He looked from one man to the other until his eyes rested on his old friend.

"Chris, come on pard. Join me in a song. I ain’t heard ya sing in a long time."

"I don’t sing." Chris directed the words at Buck but turned a glare on Vin, daring him to say anything about what had happened when Vin had been drunk.

Vin kept silent, but a smile was quivering on his face. He turned away, now fully aware of Buck’s intentions.

"Aw. I’ll have ta sing on ma own then." Buck responded. "But, I’ll tell ya what." He handed the poem back to JD. "I won’t turn JD’s poem into a song. I’ll sing one I was reminded of recently."

Buck had everyones full attention now. Winking at Vin, he threw his arms out to his sides and began to sing loudly.

"Home, home on the range. Where the deer and the antelope play." He danced over to where Chris was standing, his face set in a grim line. The ladies man directed the next part of the song at him. "Where seldom is heard, a discouraging word. And the skies are not cloudy all day."

Buck stopped singing and gave Chris a wicked look. Chris’s heart sank. His worst fears had been realised. Buck had heard him singing the night he had been taking care of Vin, when the tracker had had too much of Ezra’s whiskey. He glanced around at the other men. Ezra and Nathan had small knowing smiles on their faces, and JD and Josiah showed signs that they knew they were missing something.

He looked over at Vin, whose smile had widened into a fully fledged grin.

Buck’s eyes followed Chris’s and his heart did a happy dance. There was that smile. The smile he had missed so much. The one he had so desperately wanted to see again. The one he had been waiting for. Hell, he was gonna have to ask Vin how he did that!

"Yeah." He whispered in satisfaction.

Chris sent Vin a silent message with his eyes. Pay backs gonna be a bitch Tanner.

Vin’s smile stayed in place as he slowly eased himself down until he was sitting on the ground. Nathan looked on warily, watching for any signs that the tracker was in trouble.

The other men all followed Vin’s lead, and sat on the soft grass.

For a while they remained in companionable silence. Watching the water as it made its lazy journey between the banks of the stream.

A movement from Vin brought them all back to reality and they watched as he reached into his pocket and pulled out his harmonica.

"Aw, hell!" Chris cursed as he realised their peace was about to be shattered.

Vin smiled wickedly, and a twinkle appeared in his blue eyes as he raised the instrument to his lips and began to strangle his harmonica.

"Oh joy!" Ezra exclaimed, rolling his eyes.

"Gentlemen, I do believe we are about to witness a murder."


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