The sun was warm on Vin Tanners face as he lay near the waters edge enjoying the freedom of being outdoors. He stretched out lazily and, while the sun continued to warm his face, his gaze fixed on the sky as he listened to the sound of the water making its leisurely journey through the creek.
A small smile spread across his face as he continued to languish in the solitude of his surroundings.
The past week had not been easy for the tracker. He had caught a chill from riding in the rain and Nathan had confined him to town, hovering over him like a buzzard.
The smile on Vins face widened, a twinkle appearing in his blue eyes as he remembered Nathans words a few hours earlier.
"Now mind you dont go too far. Dont stay out too long and stay dry. I dont wanna see your sorry hide back in this clinic any time soon .ya think that all I have ta do is "
Vin had left Nathan at the bottom of the clinic steps halfway through his lecture. With a tip of his hat and a drawled "Sure Nate ever ya say" he headed for the livery grinning all the way and wondering why it felt good for someone to be fussing over him when he usually hated things like that.
His mind returned to the present. He felt a coolness on his face as the sun was momentarily covered by a lone fluffy white cloud, allowing Vin to unsquint his eyes.
Brushing a fly from his nose, he once again squinted as the sun reappeared.
It felt so good to be out on his own again. It had been quite a few days since he had been able to escape.
Vin sat up and blinked, cocking his head to one side. Escape, now that was a strange word to come to mind. Is that what he was doing? Escaping? Did that mean Four Corners was somewhere he didn't want to be?
He was a little startled at the questions that had suddenly entered his head.
If he didnt want to be there then why didnt he just do what he usually did. Pack up and leave.
He already knew the answer to that question before his mind finished asking it. It was the loyalty he felt towards the other six peacekeepers of Four Corners. dare he even think it his friends. Hell, in a way they had become his family, and that frightened him more than any Bounty Hunter ever would. He hadnt gotten this close to anyone in a long time. It was safer that way; nobody would get hurt including himself. And here he was calling six men he had only met a few months before-his friends-his family. What was he thinking?
His eyes watched the slow moving creek as he pondered the questions his mind had conjured up.
He shook his head, cursing himself. Dang it! Sometimes he just thought too much. Why couldnt he just accept what was and not worry all the time about what might be?
He lay down again, trying to recapture the peace he had lost through his pointless meanderings.
Peace a luxury he rarely afforded himself. Usually he was on guard against making himself prone to predators both animal and human.
Human Predators. Reminding himself once again of the bounty on his head the thought sent tremors through his body. Sighing heavily he closed his eyes, trying to shut out the demons mercilessly slamming themselves into his thoughts.
He wanted desperately to return to the place of inner peace he had been resting in only minutes before.
Lying there with his eyes shut images began to appear uninvited into his now troubled mind. Violent, bloody images that made his body jolt.
Snapping his eyes open he sat up abruptly, his heart pounding in his chest. A thin sheen of sweat covered his face and he wondered fleetingly whether it was brought on by his recent illness or the terror of the images that refused to leave him.
"Aw hell " he rasped as a pain shot through his temples at the sudden movement.
Running his hand down his face he sighed again. Knowing he would not regain anytime soon the feeling of tranquility he had been enjoying, he decided he may as well head back to town. Nathan was probably organising a search party by now anyway.
Vin grinned at the thought and stood slowly, stretching his taut muscles to try and dispel some of the tension that had now invaded his once relaxed body.
He closed his eyes once more and tilted his head towards the warm sun, taking a last deep breath that made him wince as his chest protested. In a determined effort to restore reason to his mind he decided, although he hated to admit it, Nathan was right and he still needed time to recover.
"Aw hell," he sighed "I hate being sick."
Adjusting his hat on his head he strolled towards his horse, blissfully unaware of the events that were about to take place to rock his world.
Vins ride back to town was not one of the most enjoyable he had ever spent. The uninvited images of his past had unnerved him and his muscles were tense to the point of being painful.
He tried not to dwell on the past. After all, what was done was done. Nothing could change it; it was the hand that life had dealt him, he just had to turn it into a winning one. It was easy to tell his conscious self that but try telling his sub-conscious. It seemed to be every time he felt at peace with himself and the world, the dormant images would once more erupt and send him into tormented hell again.
Why couldnt he move on? Why was he constantly replaying the past in his head? He didnt want to. There was nothing he wanted more than to forget.
The dryness in his throat brought him out of his ponderings and, reaching for his canteen, he drank from it, sating his thirst. Wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, he returned the canteen to the side of his saddle.
He looked up at the sun mid-afternoon he was hungry should be back in town in about half an hour. Then he would go get some food and try and avoid Nathan, he did fuss so.
As he rode slowly into town, he scanned the street. Not many people were around, it was too hot. Likely everyone was holed up inside. He noticed Buck and JD clowning around as usual, it brought a smile to his face, it looked like Buck was teasing the kid again.
He decided he would settle his horse and then head for the saloon. It was pretty likely Chris would be there, Ezra too. And Josiah was probably at the church. That just left Nathan. Casting his eyes once more around the town he satisfied himself that Nathan wasnt about. Good, he had avoided him for now, he thought as he headed for the livery.
+ + + + + + +
"Aw, come on Buck, gimme a break," whined JD, grabbing his hat back from the scoundrel who had been waving it in the air. "I dont need ya to help me writin anything to Casey, I told ya that before."
"Now JD, ya shouldnt turn me down" answered Buck raising his brows. "Its not every day ya get the opportunity of some advice from an expert on how to woo the fairer sex." He made another grab for JDs hat but the younger man side stepped out of the way.
"Buck. I mean it. Leave it be. I wanna do this myself and I can too."
"I know ya can kid. But maybe I could fine tune them purty words Im sure yer gonna write make it sound even sweeter."
JD pouted "No! I said no and I mean no. Now leave it Buck."
At these words JD turned on his heel and set off for the sheriffs office with a determined pace. Buck smiled at his back. "He'll come runnin in no time at all. Hes bound ta get stuck," He grinned. "Now Im gonna go get me a bath."
+ + + + + + +
As Vin entered the saloon he was not surprised to see Chris sitting in his usual seat at the table near the bar. Glancing to his left he saw Ezra busy playing cards with some poor unsuspecting visitors to the town. And by the smile on Ezras face he was making a killing.
Vin and Ezra acknowledged each other with a slight nod of their heads and Vin headed towards Chriss table.
As Vin approached, Chris raised his head. His green eyes scrutinising his friend. Noticing his tired, haggard look.
"Didnt spect ya back yet pard," he said, handing a glass of whiskey to the weary tracker as Vin took his usual seat next to Chris.
"It was gettin a mite crowded." Vin responded. Acknowledging the welcome drink with a slight sideways nod to his head.
Chris raised his eyebrows but did not pursue the last comment. Instead he said "Dont wanna let Nathan see ya lookin like ya do cowboy."
"Tryin ta tell me somethin pard?" asked Vin tipping his head back and swallowing the whiskey down.
"Jist sayin yer lookin a mite worse for wear there Vin," Chris replied nodding towards his friend. "And Nathan aint gonna be too happy if ya get sick on im again."
"No I Aint," came a voice from the bar.
The two at the table turned their heads to see Nathan propping up the bar looking intently at the tracker.
"Darn it all ta hell Nate whered you come from?" asked Vin trying to figure out why he hadnt seen the healer as he entered the saloon.
"Is helpin Inez bring some things up from the cellar." Nathan advised them, walking over to the table. "What the devil ya been doin Vin? Ya look like hell."
"Nothin like gettin to the point is there," drawled Vin.
Just then an exclamation from one of the strangers at Ezras table caught their attention and three pairs of eyes settled in that direction.
Chris grinned. "Looks like Ezras gone and broke someone else," he stated smiling all the while. He turned and poured himself and Vin another whiskey.
"Shouldnt be drinkin that stuff when yer sick," grumbled Nathan, giving Vin the once over with his eyes.
"Aint sick." was Vins reply as he picked up his glass and downed the liquor in one.
Nathan pursed his lips and shook his head, not bothering to lecture Vin anymore. He would be wasting his breath.
Chris gestured to Inez that they needed another glass. She obliged and he poured them all a drink.
Vin sat back in his chair stretching his legs out in front of him. A smile was on his face and a twinkle in his eyes as he watched Ezra continuing to relieve the poor out of towners of their money.
"Hes somethin aint he?" he observed to no-one in particular.
"Oh yeah, he sure is," replied Chris with a wry smile.
Just then there was a commotion at the batwing doors and the mens eyes were drawn to the two men barging into the saloon.
"Buck, leave me be. I told ya I dont want yer help. Now just drop it." JD was exasperated and it showed as he came up to the other three men and slumped in a chair scowling.
"Aw come on JD, let me look at what ya writ," pleaded Buck wickedly. Also finding a chair and sitting down.
"Leave the kid alone Buck."
Buck looked at Chris and grinned. "Aw, Im only funnin him. I just wanna help with his courtin."
"Dont need no help." stated JD.
"There ya go Buck, he dont need no help." Said Nathan trying to come to JDs rescue.
"Ya dont know how to court anyways." came a Texan drawl.
All eyes fell on Vin questioningly.
Vin looked at each of the men. "Well he dont," he said. "He jist grabs em and beds em."
A loud bellow sounded from behind Nathan as they all realised that Josiah had joined them and had heard Vins comment. The only person not surprised to see him standing there was Vin.
"Never a truer word Brother Vin." He stated cocking his head towards the tracker and winking.
The other men grinned. They had to agree. Hell Vin didnt say much but what he said was always straight and to the point.
"I dont grab em, I woo em," retorted Buck. A twinkle in his eyes showing he hadnt taken offence at Vins words.
Chris grinned. "Give it up Buck, we know ya remember?"
As the playful banter among the men continued, Vin lowered his hat over his eyes and let the voices fade into the distance. Darn it. His head hurt. Why was this chill hanging on so?
Chris glanced occasionally at the tracker trying to decide whether he was asleep or not. He figured he wasnt as he noticed the whiskey glass in Vins hand.
He had seen something in the younger mans eyes since he came into the saloon. He couldnt put his finger on it, but what he saw troubled him. He would like to have talked to his friend about it. Find out if he could help. Anything to get that look he couldnt put a name to out of Vins eyes and ease the pained expression on his face. But he knew how Vin could get. If he didnt want to talk there was no way in hell you would get one word to pass those lips of his except Taint nothin wrong, Im fine." It frustrated the hell out of him.
Vin could feel Chriss eyes on him. Knew he was trying to figure out if he was awake or not. He tipped his hat back on his head and, raising his eyes to Chris he said "Ya can take ya eyes offa m whiskey. Yaint havin it." Lowering his hat once again he smiled slightly.
"Go ta hell Tanner," Chris responded with a grin.
Vin felt very relaxed thanks to the gutwarmers, which he thought he had probably had too many of today, and his friends hearty chatter. His headache was now a slight throb and he concentrated on the rhythmic beating in his head.
Suddenly, moments from his life started flashing through his mind. Fleeting moments of happiness with his Ma, playing in a field, his Ma hugging him, then a grave, a small cross. He felt pain in his heart but was paralysed by the images. His heart started beating faster. He could feel his body start to sweat but could not move or snap himself out of the trance-like state he had become trapped in. More of his past flashed through his throbbing head. An orphanage, crying, a lot of crying, pain, the war, Indians, dead buffalo, gun shots, blood, screams of terror, more blood, a noose, more blood .
The other five men at the table were shocked into silence as the glass Vin had been holding in his hand fell to the floor, smashing into tiny pieces. Even Ezra, who had been dealing cards, was now on his feet as he saw what had happened. They all had their eyes on Vin where he sat stiff in his chair. Suddenly he jerked and stood up pushing his hat back from his eyes.
They were all struck dumb by the soul wrenching look in the deep blue pools of pain that were Vin Tanners eyes.
Vin was trying to catch his breath. Wheezing as he tried to control his heartbeat. He felt as though there should be a pool of sweat at his feet. He looked around at the six faces that were staring at him, startled and concerned looks on their faces.
He opened his mouth to speak but no words would come. Darting his eyes around the table once more he managed to get his legs to move and propelled himself towards the batwing doors.
He heard the quiet spoken sound of Chriss voice saying his name but could not respond. Everyone was staring at him. He had to get out of the saloon.
Josiahs "Trouble in the fold." were the only words spoken at the table as the men looked on in stunned silence.
Nathan stood, ready to go after Vin. He was worried about the red spots of colour on Vins cheeks and thought his fever may have returned. Before he could move towards the door he felt a hand on his shoulder. It was Chris
"Ill go." He said.
Nathan nodded his head. "Let me know if he needs me," he called after the black clad back, retaking his seat at the table. Chris raised his hand in acknowledgement as he headed for the doors.
+ + + + + + +
Outside the saloon Vin paused, wondering what to do. He felt bad. Real bad. And knew he couldnt go out of town on his horse. It was almost dark and he didnt trust himself to find his way. His eyes went to the roof across the street and he began walking.
He sensed someone behind him but continued on his way.
"Im alright Chris." He managed to say as Chris reached him and grabbed his arm, making him turn to face him. Chris looked deep into his troubled friends eyes. He flinched at what he saw there. "I jist need some air is all."
They stood for a few more seconds, saying nothing as Chris continued to scrutinise Vins face. With a slight nod he released Vins arm.
A silent exchange passed between the two men.
Ill work it out.
Lowering his eyes, Vin turned and walked away, leaving Chris standing on the boardwalk, with a frown on his face, watching him go.
"Damn." He exclaimed as he turned around and headed back to the saloon.
+ + + + + + +
Chris felt five pairs of eyes on him as he came through the batwing doors. The look on his face spoke volumes. He sighed, wondering what he was going to tell these men who were so openly concerned about Vin. Hell! They werent the only ones! With a quick glance at Ezra he headed back to the table where Inez was just finishing sweeping the glass from the floor.
Ezra, who was still seated at the card table, surprised himself by what he did next. Excusing himself from the game he headed out of the saloon.
Vin kept walking across the street until he felt Chriss eyes leave his back. Then he stopped, turning just as Chris disappeared into the saloon.
Emotions were sailing through his body like a ship on a stormy sea. He wanted to talk, needed to, but he knew the words would not come right now, he needed to gather his thoughts.
He decided not to go and sit on the roof across the street from the saloon. He would be noticed as soon as anyone went looking for him.
He thought for a moment, his gaze sweeping around the town. His eyes rested on the roof of the hotel. Beginning to walk again he headed in that direction. Vin was looking for somewhere to hide. He had to smile at that. For years he was mostly alone and yearning for company and here he was trying to hide, and from his friends no less!
He entered the hotel and made his way hastily to the stairs, quickly finding himself on the roof. With a wry smile he suddenly remembered the last time he had been on this roof. He had been chasing Eli Joe. His smile faded. That was the day when his plans to clear his name took a turn for the worse. Eli Joe had been about to stab him when Chris appeared and shot his attacker sending him off the roof to his death. And with Eli Joe dead, Vin could not take him back to Tascosa and make him tell the truth about framing Vin for murder, thus clearing his name. His hand went instinctively to his neck, almost feeling a noose, as he thought of the bounty still remaining on his head.
He found a spot on the roof and sat down.
He felt sick from the trauma he had suffered over the last few hours. And, resting his head against the wall he was leaning against he looked up at the stars that had just begun to appear in the twilight sky. He couldnt relax. Hell! This was insane! He could normally keep his memories locked away and couldnt fathom why they were surfacing and flooding into his head like they were.
He wondered if it was because he had been sick and was still a little weak. But hed been sick before and this hadnt happened. Not like it was now, invading him every time he let himself relax, like a cavalry of evil ghouls grabbing at him from all directions and pulling him apart.
His hands went to his gun, and taking it from its holster, he looked at it, turning it in his hands.
This weapon of destruction had caused him a lot of problems over the years, but it had also saved his life and that of his friends more times than he cared to remember.
Suddenly he sat upright. Alert. His eyes darting backwards and forwards but looking nowhere in particular. Someone was on the roof and headed towards him, and it wasnt Chris. Sensing no immediate danger, he waited where he was, his hand ready on his gun.
+ + + + + + +
Ezra had no idea what he was doing. He had been bleeding them dry at the card table one minute and had found himself in search of the scruffy tracker the next. He had lost his mind, that had to be it, he thought as he looked around. Catching sight of retreating buckskin entering the hotel he headed that way. Yes, he was sure of it, he had lost his mind he thought as he entered the hotel.
+ + + + + + +
The five peacekeepers in the saloon were sitting in an uneasy silence. Since Chris had walked back in and sat down he had not said a word. Just sat there in broody silence, every now and then looking around at the other men seated at the table.
JD could feel the tension. Every one of them wanted to know if Vin was okay but not one of them had said anything. He opened his mouth to speak, wanting, no needing, to break the deafening silence.
"Not many people in here tonight," his eyes widened in horror. What kind of thing to say was that? What part of his ever present stupid mind had concocted that little sentence? Looking at Buck he gulped. Hoping his mentor would help him in his time of need.
Buck saw JDs discomfort and put his hand on his shoulder in silent reassurance.
JDs words had, however, had the desired effect. It had at least broken the stalemate at the table.
Looking at Chris, Nathan asked " Is Vin okay?"
Chris knew it was coming, but he had no answers. Looking at his whiskey glass he replied simply "Seems ta be."
This did not satisfy Buck.
"Somethins eatin away at that boy." he said. "I wish to damnation hed open up and talk about it. Tell someone."
"Best to leave him be," was all Chris said, much to the frustration of the other men. They knew Vin and Chris couldnt have spoken much outside. Chris was not gone long enough.
"Weve gotta help him," JDs eyes were as big as saucers. He wanted desperately to help Vin. Wanted so much to be able to ease whatever was troubling his friend.
"I think maybe somebody already is."
Everyone looked at Josiah who was the only one who had seen Ezras departure shortly after Chris had returned to the saloon.
"The Lord works in mysterious ways," was all he said in response to the questioning looks on the other mens faces.
+ + + + + + +
Vin sat alert, his gun still in his hand as he heard faltering steps getting closer. He furrowed his brow, startled by the voice he heard.
"Mr Tanner. As I am aware of your precision with a firearm, before I attempt to approach you I would like to draw your attention to my presence."
Ezra, waiting for a response, stood several feet from where Vin sat holding his gun in his hands. He was hoping against hope that Vin hadnt been contemplating anything drastic.
"Plenty more roofs in town," was the drawled reply.
Ezra sighed, he knew this was not going to be easy. "Well, I particularly like the view from this location." He continued to watch the tracker intently, his hands were still firmly holding that infernal gun of his!
Vin had to admire the gambler. He had an answer for everything.
"What dya want Ez? I was figurin on bein on ma own."
"Oh, and you have exclusive rights to this exquisite rooftop location Mr Tanner? I was wanting to have a little sit up here myself and seeing that there was a friend up here I thought we might sit together in companionable silence or interesting conversation, whichever you prefer."
"Pfft!!" was Vins only unbelieving response.
Ezra shut his eyes and shook his head. He was beginning to regret his foolhardy actions, and thought wistfully of the card game continuing in the saloon without him.
A soft drawl penetrated his thoughts.
"Its safe Ez, for now."
That was good enough for Ezra, although the for now was a little unsettling. He approached the man hunched on the roof, still wondering what in Gods name he was doing there.
Sitting down beside Vin he said "I would feel much more comfortable Mr Tanner if you would put the gun away."
Vin still looked straight ahead. "Im not gonna shoot ya Ez," he sighed holstering his gun. Hell! He was more likely to shoot himself, he thought.
The two men sat in silence for what seemed to Ezra like an eternity. Glancing now and again at Vin he saw raw painful emotions crossing the trackers face. He was shocked at how much this bothered him. My God he was certainly surprising himself tonight!
Still not knowing how to handle this unknown problem he had landed himself in the middle of, he continued to sit and say nothing.
Vin had been surprised as hell to see Ezra on the roof, and even more shocked when he had sat beside him. He was a little unnerved by it. He was used to sitting silently with Chris for hours on end. But Ezra? What the hell was going on?
He sensed that Ezra wanted to say something. Hell, Ezra always had something to say!
"Somethin on ya mind Ez?"
Ezra was startled by the sudden sound of the Texan drawl beside him.
"Why no Mr Tanner, I am happy to sit in silence. Unless you would like to partake in a conversation."
Vin studied Ezra, frowning again. God he wanted to talk, so badly. He wanted to voice all of the horror he had been experiencing lately. But with Ezra? He turned his head to once again look across town.
"I need it outta my head Ezra. Afore it drives me crazy." The tremor in Vins voice betrayed the look of calm on his face. Ezras back stiffened as he heard the words. Oh Lord. Is this what I came up here for? he asked himself as he turned to the tracker who was still not looking at him.
Ezra suddenly remembered something Vin had said to him in the clinic when he had been sick. Vin had a fever and was having nightmares and he had said that he had been remembering things that he wished had stayed forgotten. It struck Ezra that maybe this was why he had felt compelled to come to Vins aid when he had seen his distress in the saloon. He could relate to what Vin was going through. He had haunting memories too. More than he would care to admit. Oh, he had not suffered as deeply as Vin had. Nobody he knew was as emotionally scarred as Vin Tanner.
"Memories again Mr Tanner?" Ezra managed to ask, trying to make his voice sound normal when his insides were churning from the worry of how he was supposed to help Vin.
Vin turned to look at Ezra. Yes this man was full of surprises.
He nodded. "Kept em hidden away for a long time Ez" he said, "only thing I can think of is, now I have a feelin of belongin somewhere again, it kinda let the monsters outta their cage and rear their ugly heads so I wouldnt " Vin let his voice trail off. What was he talking about? How could he talk about this with Ezra?
"So you wouldnt be happy Mr Tanner? Is that what you think? That the demons are inside you to keep you a prisoner of your past?"
Vin nodded, swallowing a lump that had suddenly appeared in his throat. That was it. Ezra had voiced his thoughts.
"So maybe its time to put the demons to rest once and for all." Ezra suggested "Then you can move on."
"Ya think I can Ez? Ive tried so hard to get rid of the memories that I cant bear to live with." Vins voice was shaking, the emotions surfacing.
"They will always be with you, a part of you Vin." Ezra replied . "Thats what makes you the man you are today. But you could stop the nightmares, make it all a lot easier to bear."
"How do I do that?" asked Vin "Lord knows Ive tried."
A good question, thought Ezra. How was he going to help?
A thought struck him out of the blue. Something someone had told him a long time ago when they were trying to help him suddenly came into his head. At the time he had dismissed the suggestion as ludicrous but now he wasnt so sure.
Ezra sighed. What did he have to lose? A friend was the response his head chose to ignore. "Well Mr Tanner. Someone once suggested something to me which may seem a little outlandish. Will you let me pass on the suggestion to you?"
"Got nothin better ta do right now."
Ezra continued. He had the trackers attention. " Someone once suggested to write down on a piece of paper all of the things that are worrying you. Then place the piece of paper in water, a stream or a river, and watch the paper float away. It is symbolic Mr Tanner. As you watch the paper float away with your memories on it, then they will leave you."
Vins eyes widened. Hed never heard anything so down right dumb in his whole sorry life.
Ezra saw the look. Hes going to shoot me, he thought. He held up a hand before Vin could speak.
"It would be a solution to this problem of yours of not being able to string two words together Mr Tanner. You obviously do not want to talk about it at any great length. So you just write it down instead of saying it with the added advantage of watching the words floating away."
Vin couldnt help himself. He looked at Ezra and chuckled at the absurdity of the suggestion. "Ez that is loco. Ill figure it out on m own. But thanks anyway." He was a little put out. Was Ezra funnin him?
"I want to help you Vin."
Ezras voice was soft in the night.
Vin frowned and stared at the man sitting beside him. What was going on? He thought once again how odd it was to be having a conversation like this with Ezra of all people. Discussing his deepest problems and fears with the Southerner.
"Ya dont have ta do anythin Ez. Dont feel that ya have ta help me."
"On the contrary Mr Tanner," Ezra replied "For some unfathomable reason I feel that I can help you with this predicament if you would permit me." He turned a steady gaze on Vin. "I want to help you. Please let me."
+ + + + + + +
Noises at the card table had caused Chris to look over there and he noticed that Ezra was no longer there.
"Maybe he went to bed." JD mused.
"Nah, the games in full swing, he wouldna left it" Buck stated.
"Well he aint there." Nathan added
Josiah had been silent. He didnt relish the idea of Chris knowing Ezra had probably left in search of Vin. "He left" was all he said.
Chris turned quizzical eyes on the preacher. "Left? When?"
Josiah gave a deep sigh. This is the moment he had been dreading. "Just after you got back to the saloon, Brother."
"Ezras gone after Vin?" Buck asked incredulously "Hell! Now were in trouble."
"Well I aint heard no gun shots yet, so Vin hasnt shot im." said Nathan.
"Yeah but theres always strangling and stabbing." JD offered grinning "they dont make any noise."
Buck and Nathan couldnt help chuckling.
Chris turned a steely green gaze on the other men. How could they joke about this? Ezra of all people talking to Vin about his problems? It was doomed to failure and imminent violence.
The other men were moved to silence once more as their leader sat stock still in his chair, a muscle working in his jaw as he tried to control his anger. His green eyes glittered.
Any second now Josiah thought as he watched the emotions crossing the gunslingers face, waiting for him to act. He didnt have to wait long.
In one smooth movement Chris suddenly rose to his feet sending the chair he had been seated in scraping noisily across the floor. The tension around the table was rising to a crescendo.
Josiah stepped towards him. "Chris, dont." he said softly, tentatively placing a hand on the black clad arm.
Chris looked at him, his eyes blazing. He looked down at the hand on his arm and then back at the preacher silently warning him to let go. Josiah complied.
"Hell Josiah! It can only make things worse. Are you willing to risk it?"
Josiah looked the younger man straight in the eyes. "I think its okay Chris. I really believe Ezra can help Vin."
"Damn it Josiah! You know how Vin gets. Now specially." Chris wiped his hand down his face. "Hell likely shoot Ezra sooner n talk to im."
"Aint heard no gunfire yet." Said JD getting a warning shake of the head from Buck.
"Yer over reactin. Give him a chance. No-one else has gotten through to Brother Vin. Maybe this time Ezra can."
Chris stood staring at the preacher. He knew Josiah was referring to him. He had to agree there. What Josiah was saying did make sense. He hated to admit it but, hell, hed try anything to help his friend. Even inflict Ezra on him.
He nodded and, retrieving his chair, he retook his seat. "Hell, what harm could it do," he said reaching for his whiskey glass "The worst that could happen is Ezra could wind up dead."
He was wrong.
+ + + + + + +
Ezra was thinking along similar lines as he sat next to Vin, not sure if the sharpshooter was going to high tail it and run or shoot him between the eyes for his seeming stupidity.
He would also not be surprised, he decided, if he saw Chris stomping over the roof at any moment and fill him full of lead. "Oh what a predicament."
He hadnt realised he had said the thought aloud until he heard Vins queried response.
"Nothing Mr Tanner." Ezra replied, wishing he could get off the roof. It was damn cold.
Vin had been mulling over Ezras idea. Watching his nightmares float away actually made sense to him. Darn it all to hell! He was turning into Ezra!
Ezra had asked to help him. But why? He had asked for Ezras help before and had been scoffed at by the gambler. Why should he trust him now? But he seemed sincere, and he had hunted Vin out this time. Last time it had been Vin who had asked for help.
Vin turned a puzzled look on Ezra. But Ezra saw distrust and confusion in the trackers blue eyes. It made him flinch. He remembered only too well the time Vin had asked for his help and in a drunken stupor he had refused him, ridiculing him in the process. No wonder he didnt trust him.
"Mr Tanner. If it is my past display of un-helpfulness that is making you question the sincerity of my offer of help, I would like to assure you that, although not a good excuse, I was under the influence of several glasses of alcohol when I unfortunately ridiculed you."
Vin couldnt help himself as a wide grin spread across his face making his eyes twinkle. "Hell Ez! Those are mighty purty words yer spoutin there pard. Mind tellin me what ya said?"
"My dear Mr Tanner." Ezra began, smiling in spite of himself, "I am saying sorry for my past behaviour towards you and reassuring you that it will not be repeated if you take me up on my offer."
Vins grin widened. Hell that was nearly as much fancy talking as the last time. But he got the message.
He made his decision as he continued to grin at the man, looking somewhat uncomfortable beside him. Why not do this floating paper business? He could try it anyway. He didnt have any better ideas. He opened his mouth to tell Ezra his decision and reality suddenly dawned on him. He couldnt write!
"Ez, my scribin "
Ezra cut him off, having realised a while ago that Vin could not write. "Mr Tanner, if you would permit me, I could write down the memories if you would dictate them to me."
"Ya mean if I tell ya what to put on the paper, youll put it?" Vin asked, translating Ezras speech.
"Why yes Mr Tanner! Would you permit me?"
"Yeah, sure Ez." Vin did not want to pursue the subject of him not being able to write. "How can I tell ya ta put it Ez? I mean, I dont know what to say, how ta put it inta words." There was a catch in Vins throat as he tried to fight the emotions that were threatening to rise again. "Aw hell Ez! This is stupid! Its just gonna be a bunch of words on a piece of paper, and thats all itll be when it floats away."
Ezra thought for a moment. "Well, If I recall correctly Mr Tanner, you are very adept at writing poetry my friend. So would it be easier for you to recite it in verse?"
Vin looked sideways at the gambler. "Didnt write it Ezra, I said it. Someone else writ it down."
Ezra rolled his eyes. It had been a long night and Vin was being difficult. But at least there was a familiar spark in the trackers eyes that had been missing of late. Sighing, Ezra ignored the remark, making Vin grin again.
"You have a way with words Mr Tanner." Ezra pointed out. "If you put your thoughts, your memories into poetry, then the words on the paper will mean something to you."
Vin thought this over. It certainly made sense. Ezra made sense. Now that was a first. And the words would mean more if he could say it with poetry. He could feel the words when it was in verse.
"Dont want anyone to know Im doin this Ez." Vin turned a steady gaze on the gambler. "Dont want people thinkin Im frilly or somethin."
Ezra threw his head back and laughed.
"My friend, there is no fear of that." He chuckled, his gold tooth glistening in the moonlight.
Vin grinned back.
Ezras face became serious. "No-one will know Mr Tanner unless you choose to tell them." He said. "I shall not utter a word about it to another living soul."
Vin continued to study Ezras face. He actually believed him. The gambler felt uneasy at the steady gaze. He needed to lighten up.
"After all," he added "Mr Larabee would not be a happy man if I did anything to distress you."
"You afeared of him Ezra?" asked an amused Vin.
"No. But I would put myself in the middle of a stampede of cattle, struggle through a flood or place a noose around my neck rather than face his wrath." Realising he had made a mistake mentioning a noose, he grimaced. "Im sorry Mr Tanner. I apologise most .."
Vin cut him off. "Sokay Ez."
The two men sat in silence for a few moments.
"Alrighty then. Ill do it." Vin said finally.
Ezra couldnt help the feeling of euphoria rising within him.
"Im glad Vin." he said. "Would you like a few days to get your words together before we put it on paper?"
"Thatd be good Ez. I need ta collect ma thoughts." Vin replied, hugging himself as he suddenly felt chilly.
Ezra did not miss the fact that Vin was getting cold. Heavens, his teeth were almost chattering too! He stood, his muscles protesting from sitting in one position for too long.
"Now Mr Tanner. Might I suggest we go to a warmer environment. There is a definite chill in the air and considering your recent ailment it might be wise not to remain here any longer."
Vin stood, nodding his head in agreement. "Yer right Ezra, and I dont want Nathan breathin down ma neck neither."
"Quite right Mr Tanner. He can be a trifle overbearing in his ministrations cant he?"
They began walking towards the steps leading down into the hotel corridor.
"Er, Ez? If were gonna be spendin some time doin this poet thing, will ya call me Vin? Im getting a mite tired of hearin Mr Tanner all the time."
"Of course Mr Vin." Ezra replied as the two men walked down the steps having formed an unlikely alliance.
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