by Gray

Vin was laying flat on his back on the cot in the corner when Chris stepped silently and confidently into the clinic. He paused to take in Vin's appearance before moving to stand next to Nathan at the cot's side. Vin always looked younger without his hat and stripped of his jacket. The obvious remains of a bloodied split lip and bruised face made him look like a kid who'd been sent home from school for fighting but one look at Nathan's face that had come up the moment Chris entered the room told Chris it was much more serious than that.

Nathan waited patiently for Chris to take in what he could before motioning him back toward the balcony. As they moved Josiah rose from the table and took Nathan's place by Vin's bed.

It was unnerving to Chris that they were being so silent. Initially, he'd thought Vin was sleeping but observed the open eyes staring wall-ward and the clenched jaw that warned Chris that Vin was upset and wanted to be left alone. A silent request not being granted and wouldn't be. It hurt Chris to see him caged, even if it were necessary. More unnerving however than the stillness in the room was the fact that Vin wouldn't meet his eyes.

With controlled trepidation he waited to see what Nathan had to say.

"Tell me." Chris's voice was calm but his eyes weren't.

"I will. Just don't interrupt." He waited until Chris gave an indication of agreement. The healer then recapped the last 24 hours much more quickly and efficiently than JD just had, adding a few new details the boy hadn't mentioned and true to his word Chris didn't interrupt, "He's got a slight concussion, cracked ribs, a dozen bruises, and that's the second time I've had to stitch his side. I'm worried about how the blood loss might affect him an' I think maybe he's gettin' sick from being in the cold or maybe the cut is infected," Nathan sighed, glad that the basics were now out of the way. Now for the harder details.

Chris was still waiting, silently, for Nathan to finish. Knowing that there were details still forthcoming that he needed to hear.

"He ain't said a word since I took him from Josiah and the conversation they had before then was pretty short....He won't tell us who he fought with or if he's in danger. He don't seem to be wary of the outside but wary of us. I've never seen him flinch from me like's he's done now. Ez was helpin' me clean him up on the table when he was kinda out of it still. As soon as he realized what we were doing he fought us like we was devils. I hated to have it done but I had Josiah practically sit on him till I was done cleaning him up. I hid his shirt and boots and we ain't left him alone for a second. He's a might upset with us about that. He flinches if I even look like I'm gonna touch him. Chris....he needs to be here where he won't get no worse but something else is going on with him. It ain't just his usual dislike of being fussed over....He's gonna bolt the second we take our eyes off >im. Heck, he may do it even if we have our eyes on him."

"Anyone new in town?" Chris asked.

It wasn't exactly the place Nathan thought he would start the questioning but he answered and tried to follow where Chris's thinking was.

"Nope. Not with all the rains today. You're the only one to ride in or out. And most of the cowboys were kicked out of town after the brawl." Nathan knew now where Chris was going with this. He'd been trying not to think about it. Vin had fought with someone in town. Someone they knew. While some prejudice among the townsfolk was still prevalent, particularly against Nathan and Vin, the town had started to change and those in town that hadn't changed usually overlooked their doubts because the town was being kept successfully safe. Nevertheless It was the only thing that could explain Vin's excessive wariness. It was the wariness of a wolf that had unknowingly stepped into a trap and was now tying to escape with everything in his power...even if that meant chewing off a leg.

"I'll see him now," Chris stated. And Nathan let him.

+ + + + + + +

Chris approached the bed cautiously but with confidence, his mind already analyzing all the reasons why Tanner would attempt to cut off the silent line of communication he had with Chris. Larabee came up with two possibilities. Vin had found a reason not to trust Chris or was feeling guilty for something. Since Chris hadn't been in town he was betting on the latter.

The black-clad gunslinger sat carefully, choosing a spot on the bed instead of on the stool next to it. Vin tensed at having Chris so near but didn't move. The lamp-light cast an eerie glow across his face, shadowing his eyes that were still directed at some spot on the wall.

Josiah had discreetly stepped out to join Nathan, leaving the two in private.

Chris sat scrutinizing his friend more thoroughly than before. He didn't think the young sharpshooter looked well at all. He was pale, a slight tremble racked him, and his body was held too tightly to be allowing him the rest he needed. Vin didn't shift or move and Chris let the silence drag.

Finally he reached out, placing his right hand on the young man's shoulder and the left atop his head, pushing his hair back from the concealed eyes. Vin tightened his tensed muscles even more but didn't flinch.

"You gonna look at me?"


"Eventually you'll have to."


"I don't plan to let you cut me off."


"We promised we'd ride into hell together."

Vin grimaced and closed his eyes, the stoicism broken. He took a deep breath, "It weren't right of me ta ask ya inta my hell."

"You never asked," reminded the older man.

"And I never thought I had was just...right...I thought."

"It was right," stated Chris as though it were a fact as clear as the grass being green.

"I ain't so sure."

"This mean you ain't gonna back me when my own ghosts come calling?" Chris was serious. He trusted Vin. He knew he'd never let him down and someone had cast doubts on the rectitude of that alliance, causing Vin to try to withdraw from their silent understanding and bond. Chris needed Vin. He wanted to protect him but he also wanted him to be there when his own pain surfaced. He wanted Vin to be there when he finally found Sarah and Adam's killer because he knew he wouldn't stand in front of Chris trying to shield him from pain that was already there like Buck had tried so many times before. He would stand beside him and they'd weather it together. Whatever it was. He knew Vin knew that. He knew Vin needed that, and wanted it even now.

"I'd never leave your back uncovered Chris." The tracker's voice was weak.

"What if I wanted you too...because I didn't want you to get hurt?" challenged the gunslinger.

"I'd punch ya in the nose." Vin's eyes were still closed, traces of anguish still on his face.

"So you wouldn't give me a say in that you think I'm gonna give you a say in this?" Chris paused, "I'm coming with you. Wherever you go. And it ain't your never was. This is something that just is."

Silence. But not the stonewall silence of before.

"Vin look at me."

He did, and the link of wordless conversation was renewed in an instant. Chris could see Vin trying to hold it back but he saw it as clear as if he'd said it.

It was Buck. Chris, it was Buck. I thought he...I didn't realize he hated me.

"Buck and I have been fighting about you," Chris revealed. "He was pretty mad when I left. He thought I was being stupid to trust you so quickly. I didn't think he'd actually take it out on you. He doesn't understand." What exactly did he tell you or did he just beat the crap out of you?

"Weren't your fault Chris. He said...Buck said that..." Vin's imploring eyes pierced him. He said I had no call to get you killed. You have your own hell...don't need mine too.

"He was wrong, Cowboy. He was wrong." He had no call to kill something, just cause he don't understand it. We're family Vin. Brothers. You and me.

"He found my wanted poster." Vin pointed this out as if to tell Chris that Buck's actions were acceptable. No doubt to defend the existence of a friendship he had been fascinated by from the beginning and envied because he'd never had one like it.

"He was still wrong. Buck can't take care of me. Not like that. He can't make my decisions. He can't protect me from pain, new or old. He can't force his judgments in my life." And he can't hurt you. "Bringing his concerns to my face is one thing. Sabotaging it behind my back is another." I haven't given him that trust.

"Reckon you're gonna explain that to him?" Vin rasped. Nicely?

"s nice as I can be Tanner.

Explain to him for me too then Cowboy. I give you that trust.

Chris released a relieved sigh. You know I will. Out loud he said, "Don't give Nathan and Josiah any trouble. They said you'd be staying for a while." He pulled the extra blanket up over the thin form.

"They fuss too much," Vin complained.

"Don't care. They know what's right for you right now. I think we should trust them. They're worried for you." I'm worried for you.

"I figure they's good men. Even Ezra. I jist got nervous. Thought if I was wrong about Buck and you I was wrong about them." Vin grinned and then grew serious. "Someday they're gonna need to know about the bounty." Should we trust them then?

I don't know for sure Vin...but I think eventually it could be worth the risk.

"Reckon you're right....reckon you're right." Vin was closing his eyes slowly out of exhaustion.

Chris stood, the tightness in his gut diminishing slightly. Momentarily he returned his hand to Vin's head just once more. "I'll be back pard."

Silence. Vin was asleep.

+ + + + + + +

JD had retreated to the saloon after leading Chris to the clinic. He was feeling scared and confused about the events of the day and he wanted to talk to someone. He wanted someone to give him answers, and even though Buck's advice was often a lot of nothing, occasionally he said something that made sense. JD wanted that now but when he stepped through the batwing doors even he could tell that Buck's body language was screaming, "Don't talk to me right now." The observation added another brick to JD's confusion but he wasn't about to tempt fate and approach his mentor. He'd learned about restraint (at least a little) since riding with these men. Finally, coming to a decision, the boy chose a table near the corner, close to the Bar and close to Buck. He ordered some milk and slumped into his chair. Moments later he heard a chair scrape across the floor and a presence at his table.

"Ezra?" He couldn't quite contain his surprise.

"Mr. Dunne." You would have thought Ezra had been at the table first by the way he sat. He was slouched back, one leg straight out in front of him and the other, toe to heal, propped on top of it, ever present cards being shuffled by his hands. JD thought for a moment that the gambler would say no more but after a dragging pause he continued, "I have noticed, as I'm certain have you, that many of our fellow regulators seem to live with the ability to say very little. They live in silence more often than not." Ezra's eyes were on his cards, "I am not one of them." He continued shuffling.

JD sat frozen for a moment, mentally deciphering what Ezra might be telling him. And then, to test what he though was said, he stated, "Dang Ezra. There's so much silence I can't figure out what's going on."

Ezra released a relaxing chuckle and JD loosened before continuing, "Ez, what do you think happened to him?"

"To Vin?" It was a stupid and obvious question, but Ezra employed it because he knew it would get the boy talking and give him time to plan what he would say. He couldn't really tell the boy his suspicions. Not without logical justifications to back them up.

JD nodded in response, "Yeah, I mean Nathan left him in his wagon, then you saw him on the ground, and then he was just gone."

Ezra took a deep breath, he had hoped JD would ramble longer than that. "Mr. Dunne, sometimes people do things that are unexpected and unwarranted. While in our profession we must often make snap judgments of a man's character, our current bond of employment and, if I may say it, our friendship allows us the grace period of discovering the explanation." Standish looked up to see JD's puzzled face.

"Huh?" responded the boy.

Standish rolled his eyes, "Mr. Tanner, in defense of his survival, was forced to make a decision of who he could trust. He chose to attempt survival on his own. We did not understand his reaction because we didn't know the explanation but I imagine that whatever caused him to hide also caused him to doubt our loyalty to him."

"So you think someone close to him or us is the one that hurt him?" JD was soaking this in. Trying to understand what it meant.

"I believe that is a distinct possibility, yes. However I also think that the particular person in question may have had his reasons as well and the grace period should be allotted to him to understand his own motivations and explain them to us. Why it is somewhat trying, we must be patient Mr. Dunne."

JD had gotten lost again. Why couldn't Ezra just say things straight out instead of dancing around everything and talking in metaphors? It sounded to him like Ezra knew who was responsible for this situation and that he was all for letting him off the hook.

JD leaned back in his chair. Somewhat more frustrated after having this conversation with Ezra but also more at ease from the Gambler's apparent confidence that the situation could be resolved. He was still leery. He hated the feeling that Ezra knew something he didn't. He got that feeling a lot with the older men so he tried to ignore it for the moment and relax, which would have happened if he hadn't seen Chris intensely step into the saloon causing a silence to fall dramatically over the clientele.

The young sheriff watched awestruck and nervous as Larabee securely approached the bar with a dangerous gate. He stopped less than two feet behind the boy's mentor.

"Buck." The soft statement echoed precipitously in the silence.

Wilmington turned, straightening as he did so that when he was finally facing Chris he was at his full height.

JD could hear mutters throughout the room indicating fear of gunplay. And even though there wasn't any the boy was just as shocked to see his leader's fist lash out lightning fast to connect with the left side of Buck's face and send him immediately crashing to the floor.

"And just as quickly, when the dust settled, Larabee was gone.

+ + + + + + +

The next morning found Buck making circuits of the town...the back way. His jaw ached something awful and was swollen and bruised. He guessed somewhere in his mind that he deserved but still felt as though the punch had been unjust. Chris hadn't spoken to him since. He'd just gone back up to the clinic to sit with Vin and hadn't left.

The others hadn't spoken to him either. Not that Buck had been available for them to find. After JD and Ezra had picked him up off the floor last night Ezra had asked him, or told him, that he knew he was the one who'd beat up Vin. Ezra's eyes had been calm but JD's had nearly popped out of his head in shock. Buck had shoved them both away from him.

"Don't need your condemnation," he'd groused as he exited.

He didn't totally hear Ezra's subdued call after him, though it might have sounded something like, "Buck, Chris believes in second chances."

+ + + + + + +

"Vin. Stay put!"

The sharpshooter slumped back into the bed, not because of Nathan's stern reprimand but because of Josiah's strong hands that forced him back. He was about to attempt to rise again until he realized that Chris was right behind the healer.

The black-clad man stepped over to where Vin lay and replaced the hand Josiah had on his chest with his own. "Thought I told you to get better and do what they say?"

"I been doing that all night Chris. It's day now. Reckon it's not raining. Jest wanna go out for a bit." The raspy voice was soft, softer than normal.

"Nope. Not yet. Ain't gonna let you get worse. You gotta take care of yourself and I don't reckon you'd tend to do that if you weren't being watched."

The tracker released a discontented sigh. "Did you talk to him?" He asked unexpectedly. He would have waited until Josiah and Nathan were out of the room but he could tell by their manner that morning that something had happened.

"Yeah, well sort of, and the others know," Chris responded, "He's gotta work through it but everything should be fine."

"He ain't gonna leave is he?"

"If he does it will be his choice but I don't think he will."

There was silence in the room. It was true that Nathan and Josiah now knew that Buck was the one to beat him up but they didn't know the reasons why. They wanted to ask but weren't sure they had the right. Finally, however, Josiah risked it.

"It may be that I shouldn't ask, but what exactly did happen between brothers Vin and Buck?"

"He was drunk," Vin said, "Jest upset."

"He was wrong...he'll figure that out soon enough," overrode Chris.

"Apparently, Josiah wouldn't get his answers here. Subtly he slipped out, hoping maybe to find Buck.

+ + + + + + +

JD was worried about Buck. He was worried about Vin and Chris and every last one of his new associates. What was worse was that they all seemed to understand what was happening and no one would let him in on it. Slumping into the desk chair in the jail he began to shuffle through the papers not really paying attention to what they said. Several minutes later he heard heavy scuffling boots out the back door of the jailhouse. Slowly he got up to see who it was. Another set of boots and a deep voice stopped him in his tracks.

"Brother Buck?" JD identified the deep voice as Josiah and quickly deduced that the original scuffles were from his mentor. Carefully he eased closer to the back door, deciding halfway there to slip into the back room and see if he could hear them through the window there and better yet see them without being seen. Maybe he would figure out what Ezra had been trying to tell him.

+ + + + + + +

"Hey Josiah." Buck slumped to a sitting position on the back porch of the Jail. He knew he couldn't avoid running into the others forever and he thought if he had to chose who to run into first it would be Josiah.

"Buck," the preacher repeated as he sat next to him, "You look like you've been doing a powerful bit of thinking," he observed.

"Been thinking alright. Haven't come up with any answers though Josiah and I know that's what the rest of you are looking for."

"I'd be a liar if I said we all didn't want a little bit of clarification. But we don't want to push."

"That's mighty understanding of ya all." There was a slight bit of sarcasm to Buck's voice that Josiah didn't understand until he saw Buck unconsciously finger the swollen bruise on his face.

"Sometimes it helps to talk about it."

"I thought that was what women did?" Buck glowered.

"You're right, men like us just use our fists. So if you'd rather." Josiah held up his fisted hands in invitation.

"Naw, you're right preacher. This whole situation. It just don't figure in my head."

"How about you start at the beginning," encouraged the grey- haired man.

"Reckon the beginning is about twelve years ago."

"That's how long you've known Chris," guessed the wise listener.

"Twelve years," acknowledged Buck, "twelve years."

"You don't think Chris has done right by you."

"It ain't that Josiah, I just...well...maybe it is that. I've stood by him through a lot a bad stuff." Buck didn't need to expand on the "bad stuff" by this point they all knew about Chris's family. "There were times when the only person in the world I thought I could trust was him. Stood by him. Never even had to think about it," Buck paused, taking a deep breath, "Chris and I've been fighting...about Vin. Pretty much since the seven of us got together. It ain't really that I don't like Vin, it's just that nobody knows him. Nobody knows where he's come from...nothing. And I guess I was worried cause I ain't ever seen Chris take to anyone like he took to that scruffy tracker. I didn't want Chris to get hurt. I didn't think he was being smart, and a man like Chris needs to be smart. His life depends on it....but Chris...he wouldn't even talk to me about it. He kept saying that he trusted the kid and that was that."

Buck rocked his jaw again, "It just seemed to me that twelve years of knowing each other should give a man's words some weight. He didn't even consider that I might be right. What is it with them two Josiah?"

The preacher didn't answer. Instead, he asked another question. He wanted the whole story before he said anything. "What happened last night Buck? With Vin? Did you seek him out?"

"No, no. I didn't have no intention of beating on him. And I didn't know he'd been hurt in the bar-fight. Honest Josiah, I didn't know."

"I believe you Buck. Vin said you were drunk."

"He said that? Did he say anything else?"

"Not a word. He ain't blaming you. He said he understood why you did it. Chris just said he was waiting for you to understand why you did it."

"I was drunk. Reckon I was trying to drown my anger. I was still mad at Chris for not listening to me...and for taking Vin's word over mine. Ezra got me out the back-way of the saloon and I was crossing down Vin's alley. And suddenly he was there. I started asking him about his life." Buck didn't mention the bounty he'd discovered, "I don't remember all that was said but I do remember I asked Vin something about Chris's past and he knew. He knew all about it. Chris won't even talk to me about Sarah and I was there. I was there when it all when Vin knew...I just...snapped. I know I done wrong Josiah. And I guess I'm jealous. I didn't think I was. It just hurts that the bond Chris and I had ain't there anymore."

"I think you're wrong Buck," the preacher finally answered. Buck looked at him quizzically, not sure what specifically he was getting at. "You are a good friend and Chris knows it. And just because you don't have the same bond with Chris that Vin has doesn't mean that there's not a bond." When Buck didn't respond Josiah continued, "Think about it. If any of the rest of us had done to Vin what you did we'd either be laying dead in the street or high-tailing it out of town while the getting was good. All you got was a punch in the jaw."

Josiah could see Buck was turning this over in his head, and that maybe it was sinking in. "I don't claim to understand the friendship that those two got but I know I don't want to mess with it. It's important to both of them. They both need it. Sometimes people like that just know certain things about the other. They know they can trust each other and anytime someone can find another person to trust in this land I imagine it's a darn miracle."

Buck was nodding his head, but there was still some confusion on his face. Josiah pushed onward, "I know there's a lot that we don't know about that boy but when you think about it, we're all still learning about each other. I can't tell you why you should trust Vin but I can tell you why I trust him." The rogue gave a curt nod, inviting the older man to continue. "He saved Nathan. He stepped forward when he didn't have to, when no one else was going to and he saved him. I imagine an action like that reflects on a man's character. It's been said that actions speak louder than words. That's why I trust Vin."

Buck nodded. Josiah continued. He wasn't sure he should voice this last part, "One other thing Buck. For the last twelve years Chris has had you to defend break the nose of anyone who crossed him even if he didn't need you to. He's always had you there to defend him. But Vin....I don't think Vin's ever had a friend like you. In fact, I don't think many people in his life have stepped to his defense. That can get mighty tiresome after a while."

Buck snapped his head up at that. He looked into Josiah's eyes and caught the deeper meaning. Chris had hit him because Vin needed to know Chris would defend him. He needed to know that he could count on that friendship. Suddenly Buck understood where Chris's actions were coming from. He wondered what he would have done if Chris had beat on JD while he was drunk and knew he could no longer fault Chris's deeds. Josiah was right. Everyone deserved at least one friend like that. And more if they could get it.

Buck gave the preacher a quick nod, "Thanks Josiah. I reckon I need to have a talk with Chris and Vin. I guess I forgot that trust is a two way street," he claimed, knowing all along that was what the big man was hinting at. He had demanded that Chris listen to his side and follow it, but he'd spent very little time trying to understand Chris's point of view. He owed him at least that.

+ + + + + + +

JD slid back from the window. He felt guilty for ease-dropping on the conversation but glad that he'd gotten some answers. He'd taken so much for granted with these men. He had simply assumed that they'd all be friends. He'd simply assumed that they'd all trust each other. He didn't realize that the dynamics of friendships and the west could dictate otherwise.

He felt scared at realizing how close the seven had come to breaking up so soon after their agreement to watch the town, but relieved that things seemed to be on the mend.

+ + + + + + +

"Chris?" Vin's voice was still weak, and Chris knew that bothered him. He leaned forward, putting the book he'd been reading face down but still open on the table.

"You okay pard?" The gunslinger asked the waking patient.

"I'm good Chris. Reckon I could leave now?"

Chris had to grin, "You're not even awake enough to know how your feeling and nope, you can't leave yet."

"I don't have to do what you say you know." Vin's voice was tired but teasing.

"Not technically no," answered Chris, who waited to see what Vin would do with the admission.

The younger man's response wasn't vocal. Reckon you're asking me to trust you still?

I already know you trust me. I'm asking you to do what I say because I wouldn't ask you to stay here just to torture you.

"I know that Chris. I'll stay put for a bit longer." Don't want you getting any more gray hair on my account.

Chris's mouth twitched and he was about to respond when a third voice cut him off.

"You'll stay put for as long as it's good for ya. Shouldn't a let you go to your wagon the other night either." The healer's voice was stern but worried and edged with guilt. The other two looked his way as he approached sitting opposite Chris on the far side of Vin's bed. "Chris help me undo his shirt. I gotta clean his cut."

Chris reached forward, towards a frowning Vin and after bating his hands away started to undo the buttons of the shirt he was wearing. Larabee recognized it as Nathan's not as Vin's.

"Weren't your fault what happened Nate. Nothing you coulda done. Reckon it would have happened sooner or later," stated the man in the bed.

The healer didn't answer right a way. He was pouring carbolic into a bowl on the short table between Vin's head and the wall, laying out white strips of cotton cloth and spreading some smelly mixture onto some of them from a kettle he'd just taken out of the fire. Vin grimaced at the sight. So did Chris who had finished opening the dark gray shirt, catching Vin's hands when they rose instinctively to block the removal of the bandages, laying them back down at his side with an expression of sympathy and sternness.

"I knew ya weren't fit to be out there on your own. I didn't watch your back." The tall man's dark eyes flashed towards him as he finally spoke.

"You didn't know it needed watching Nate. Vin's right, it ain't your fault." The new voice came from the doorway. It was Buck. No one knew what to say and the rooms three occupants simply stared at the new comer in expectation.

Since no one was swearing at him Buck figured it was safe to enter. "Is this a bad time?" He asked while easing further into the room.

There was more silence, the ladies man was about to turn around and slip out but Chris stopped him, "Come on in Buck. Nate's cleaning the cut, we may need help encouraging Tanner to cooperate."

Vin scowled again but Buck smiled, seeing in Chris's eyes what Josiah had claimed was there. A bond, a bond of history and friendship and thankfully patience. Buck couldn't believe he'd missed it before. He cast an apologetic and thankful look at his friend of twelve years and took the stool next to him. "I got something to say before we get started if you can hold off a minute?" The question was directed at Nate who motioned his approval warily. With the go-ahead Buck turned to Vin, "Tanner, I was wrong and I'm sorry." He said it while looking directly into the young man's blue eyes, never wavering. "I forgot for a moment that to get trust you have to give it." Buck's eyes flicked toward Chris after that statement and the man in black knew the words were meant for him as well. "You ain't never done anything but backed me up since we met and I shoulda been doing the same." As he said it he realized it was true. Vin had covered him in every shootout since they met and he imagined that he'd done it because Chris deemed Buck worthy of it. "Jest want you to know it won't happen again and...well...I hope you can forgive me. I won't tell nobody about Chris's box. I give you my word." He didn't want to refer to the bounty directly, not with Nathan in the room.

Vin flicked his gaze from Buck to Chris knowing Chris would have the answer to his question. Does he mean it?

I ain't never known Buck to be a liar.

Vin licked his lips wanting to sit up and talk to Buck like a man instead of an invalid, but Chris' gentle hand on his shoulder reminded him that his ribs and side were not going to let him and neither was his friend. He sighed, looking back to Buck and stated, "I reckon what you've said is true and I'm grateful." He paused to glance at Chris again, "But maybe we ought to tell Nathan and the others about Chris's box as well."

Nathan had been silent up until this point. "I don't need to know what you're talking about Vin. You don't have to give up anything you aren't ready to."

"But Buck has a point. To get trust you have to give it," claimed the tracker.

"And some things are worth the risk," added Chris, knowing Vin was thinking of their earlier exchange. Besides, wouldn't it be better to find out now if the seven could trust each other? Instead of finding out when it was too late?

Vin gave and a nearly imperceptible indication of agreement.

"Buck, do you remember how I used to bring out that box on special occasions?" questioned Chris.

"I remember," he answered softly, wincing at the fact that the memory of the box had been the catalyst for the last day's events.

"Maybe the seven of us should go out to my shack. We can pull it out and celebrate the fact that after two months of knowing each other, ain't none of us dead yet. And we can plan a little of how to make sure the seven of us stay that way."

"I think it sounds like a right good idea pard. Vin?" returned Buck.

"I'll be there, Nate?"

The healer paused, "I don't have a clue what you're talking about but if it's important, I'll be there and I'm sure the rest of the boys will be too."

Buck stood to leave, "I'll go ask them and let you all get back to what you were doing." He chuckled lightly at the expression on Tanner's face. "Friends?" he asked him, extending his hand and Vin, who had never had a friend like Wilmington extended his own hand until the hands met and shook and created another bond.

"Friends," he repeated.


Comments to: