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Mary Travis had always considered herself to be a woman of fortitude, however she couldnt ignore the flutter in her stomach and the slight tremor in her hand as she approached Chris Larabee.
Something I can do for you Mary? Chris prompted at the unusual hesitancy.
Mary ruffled the papers she held, suddenly uncertain in her course of action. Chris, I was only intending to find Vins mother, her gravesite. I overheard Vin and Billy talking a few months ago about Stephens grave and I realised he didnt know where his mother was at her final rest.
Mary, what are you talking about? Larabee knew that Marys good intentions could be dangerous. They didnt need to draw attention to Tanners connection to this town. Questions just drew more questions.
Mary handed the sheaf of papers over to the gunslinger, the results of three months of enquiries. Vin didnt know the name of the town where he was born but he did have some general landmarks for the area. He was taken away to another town when he was placed with the orphanage, but distance is very relative to children so I was hoping it was just a neighboring town. I started the investigation with the towns in the region, hoping to find an orphanage, church or group whod taken in children. Mary stopped, aware that shed started to ramble.
Vin knows about this? He answered all these questions? Chris was surprised that the tracker had been forthcoming with any details.
No, not really Chris. Billy was asking Vin about his family and thats when I realised how little he knew. I thought Id try to locate some more information. Mary glanced away for a moment. She hadnt intended or expected there to be any problem. I just asked Vin some questions about the area of Texas where he was raised. I didnt tell him what I was planning.
Chris was holding the papers, but hadnt yet given them a glance. Vin wouldnt appreciate you digging about like this. After nearly twenty years and a war there isnt much hope of finding anything.
Mary tapped the papers in his hand. I did find something and thats the problem. She pointed to a paragraph at the bottom of the page.
Larabee frowned at the words he read. This is a mistake.
This town had an orphanage run by a preacher. Its location near the river matched Vins description. There arent many original residents left, but I did manage to find two who could confirm that children were placed there during the right years.
What would they remember of one child twenty years ago?
They dont remember Vin specifically but they remember the two influenza epidemics that took so many of the children. No one seems to have any records of the children who passed through, but they supplied me a list of some of the children from markers in the churchyard. Vincent Tanner died in Gibson Bend aged ten.
Chris had already read the words. He didnt want to hear them spoken. Have you show this to anyone else?
No. I thought it best if you handled this. Mary waited with some trepidation however Larabee didnt continue the discussion. Instead he folded the papers and slid them into his coat pocket.
Leave it with me. Ill speak to Vin. Mary accepted the dismissal, uncertain of what shed uncovered. After Mary left, Chris retrieved the papers from his pocket and smoothed them flat. His eyes were drawn back to those words.
It was the wrong town. It was the wrong orphanage. It was the wrong grave.
The man he trusted with his life was simply a different Vin Tanner. The words on the page continued to taunt him and a small seed of doubt was planted. What was the chance that there had been another child of the same name in the same situation? Chris found that he couldnt easily ignore these thoughts as his restless steps brought him to the saloon. He ignored his fellow peacekeepers as he entered, instead sitting at his usual table near the side of the room. The possibility that the man hed trusted above all others had been lying from the moment that they met weighed dark and heavy. Hesitating for just that moment to give such thought credence was enough to nurture that seed of doubt, the whisky he then swallowed providing it sustenance.
Buck watched curiously as his old friend downed two shots quickly then toyed with the third. There was a frown drawing Larabees brows together, a rigid set to his shoulders that warned off casual visitors. Buck continued his study as Larabees most casual of visitors arrived through the swinging half doors. Tanners long-legged stride brought him to Larabees table and he slipped easily into one of the hard chairs.
Larabee looked up at the interruption. Hed always read this young man so clearly and easily. Here was Tanner looking looking like a cat with cream, while Chris sat struggling with a question he couldnt yet voice. Thoughts of that treachery changed his study into a hard narrow-eyed gaze.
Vin ignored the black look he received for his interruption. Who pissed in your whiskey?
Larabee didnt want to deal with this yet, but he couldnt ignore it while Tanner was sitting opposite. He tossed back the glass of whiskey, locked eyes with the man opposite then slowly and deliberately stood and walked away.
Vin frowned at the unspoken accusation but didnt follow. Vin moved over to the table shared by Buck and Ezra. He shrugged at their curious looks and kicked the chair out, dropping down with a thud.
I see your sunny disposition has failed to improve the mood of our dour leader. Ezra glanced around the room with bored dismissal. How is it possible that a dawn patrol could place such a glow upon your spirit?
Just one of those mornings when the sun rises just right.
And sometimes that golden orb of morn fails to rise correctly Mr Tanner? Ezra enquired with a raised brow.
Well if you got out of bed before noon you might already know this, Buck suggested with a grin.
At least its my own bed from which Im arising, Mr Wilmington.
Thats nothin to boast about Ezra.
It merely means I have no need to pursue my gratification. There is much to be said for room service. Ezra noticed that theyd lost Vins attention, sidetracked from the original question. Mr Tanner? Your morning? he prompted.
I just mean it was it just it was a good morning, okay. Vin couldnt explain. Some mornings he just woke up and knew it was going to be a good day. He couldnt help but glance at the now empty table by the wall. It looked like he may have been wrong.
Buck noticed the past tense. Ignore Larabee. Vin nodded his agreement but Buck didnt expect that his advice would be heeded.
The pause in the conversation was filled by the whispers of the cards as Ezra shuffled and cut the deck. He smiled slowly as the two pairs of eyes were drawn to the flickering cards. He tapped the pack sharply on the tabletop. A friendly hand or two gentlemen?
How friendly? Buck challenged.
Friendly as in a one dollar ante.
Friendly is penny ante, Buck corrected.
Penny ante is not worth the wear and tear on such fine quality playing cards as these.
The debate ended as Vins chair scraped back on the floor.
Vin? Buck asked.
Buck watched with concern as the tracker left the saloon, all evidence of his earlier good mood erased. Buck considered the possibilities for Chris behavior but nothing came to mind. It had become obvious with time that certain anniversaries in Larabees life sent his mood spirally downwards however there was nothing today or in the next few days that he could recall. He hoped that there wasnt anything new to add to the list.
I guess Ill save my pennies too Ezra. Ill be over at the jail. Buck took his time, exchanging greetings with shoppers and storekeepers in the main street until he finally reached the jail. He opened the door to find JD behind the desk sorting wanted posters.
Arent you supposed to be on patrol?
Vin wanted to take it.
Hes already done his shift today.
JD just shrugged. I think he wanted to get out of town.
Kinda, JD answered warily. Well I saw him, but he looked like he had somewhere to be. He went right past Vin without a glance.
And that would be when Vin offered to take your ride.
JD nodded. They fighting?
Not sure whats going on.
The men slowly gathered together in the afternoon, seeking the shady interior of the bar instead of the hot dusty streets. It was an afternoon for a quiet beer.
Larabee entered the saloon and noted he was the last to arrive. Hed again delayed his confrontation. Hed only seen Vin three times today and each time the doubt had churned but hed failed to spit the words out. Chris noticed there was no seventh chair left vacant at the table.
Were you raised by wolves Mr Tanner?
Larabees attention was drawn back to the table at Standishs question.
Vin had noticed Larabees arrival but his hope that the problem had passed died as Larabee hovered instead of drawing up a chair. Vin continued to enjoy his snack, sopping up his chilli with the warm tortilla. Not the four-legged kind, he grinned in response to Ezras query.
Where were you raised? Larabee had accepted Tanner without question when they met and hed stood firm against the demands of the wanted posters. His need for an answer finally pushed the questions from his lips. We dont know very much about you.
Vin stilled at the question. This was the first thing Larabee had said to him today and it didnt sound friendly. I dont know much about me. Vin wanted to laugh off the remark but there was nothing light in Chriss tone of voice.
Must be convenient sometimes.
Vins back straightened as he dropped the food from his hand and turned to face Chris. He was tired of the slurs Chris had been casting his way today. He may not have spoken them, but Vin had felt them in every glance. Vin locked eyes with his accuser, his lips tightening at the challenge being carried clear and solid in that green gaze. He pushed the remains of his food away, his appetite lost as all eyes at the table turned to him. Uncomfortable at the sudden attention and unwilling to argue in public, Vin pushed away from the table. If Larabee had a problem then he could bring it to him privately.
Larabee watched the tracker depart but found his way blocked as he moved to follow.
What is your problem? Buck demanded. Youve been looking sideways at Vin all day.
Outa my way Buck. This isnt your concern. Buck didnt know what the problem was and while Chris was clearly angry he wasnt in a blind rage. Buck decided to respect his friends request for the moment and moved back to the table.
Four pair of eyes settled on the ladies man. What? he asked defensively.
You think its wise to let those two at each other? Nathan asked.
Best to let them sort this out. Buck explained. He could only fiddle nervously with his glass aware that Vin was as confused as himself as to the source of the problem. It didnt seem entirely fair to leave Vin alone in this. Maybe Ill just go keep an eye on things just in case.
Vin felt the soft muzzle nudge the side of his neck, teeth clicking as they nibbled at his hair. Vin reached back absently to scratch at Pesos cheek, sighing at the days turn of events. The day had started perfectly with the dawn patrol, then hed added a hard run with Peso before returning to town, but Larabees attitude had cast a shadow and the day had gone downhill from there. He recognised the footsteps of a new arrival at the stables. He ignored the approach choosing to force Chris to make the first move.
Who the hell are you?
What? Vin was startled by the opening salvo, moving away from the stall to face Chris. He suspected hed done something to irritate the man but he wasnt expecting a question like that.
I want to know who you really are.
Vin could hear in the brittle question that Chris was deadly serious, but he had no reply. Chris continued in the face of Vins silence. Vin Tanner died in a Texas orphanage nineteen years ago, so who are you?
A shiver ran down Vins spine. Dont know whats up your butt today but I got no part in it. That aint funny.
Theres a headstone in a churchyard in Texas with your name on it. Chris pulled the papers out and shoved them at the stunned tracker. Mary thought she was doing you a favor but instead she found this. I took you on your word once before, but I wont be played a fool twice.
Vin accepted the papers numbly. He stumbled over the words, finally concentrating only on the section with the dates. Vin looked at the man he considered his closest friend in the world. All Vin could see reflected back was anger and hurt. I dont know what this is about. If this is some sort a joke it aint funny Cowboy.
Its no joke and Im no cowboy. Chris shoved a hand hard into the center of Vins chest to emphasise the point. Unprepared, Vin stumbled back against the wall but stayed back against the rough planks almost relieved by their support. You walked in here with your little orphan sob story and I fell for it.
Vin was still reeling from the first statement and anger flared at the second. He shoved Chris back and away from. Get the hell away from me.
Who are you?
You sayin Im lying?
Larabee noticed his question wasnt being answered. There was an acid taste of betrayal in his mouth. Why did you come here? Were you looking for some fool to cover your ass against the bounty hunters?
The pair was too distracted to notice the new arrival. Vin? Chris? Whats going on here? Bucks interruption was ignored as Chris words finally hit home for Vin.
Youre not takin' it!
Chris was caught by surprise at the enraged cry and went down under the flying tackle. Buck shifted clear of the rolling, struggling bodies. What ever had been going on had finally come to a head and definitely rocked the tracker, his attack continuing with no strategy just instinct. Buck winced in sympathy as a right cross from Vin landed solidly on Chris jaw, snapping his head to the side. Chris was stunned only for a moment before he drew his legs up and kicked the tracker away.
Buck took the opportunity while the pair was separated to try to end this before any major damage was done. He grabbed Vin and pinned him against the wall, using his extra weight and height to keep the slighter man still. Vin tried to kick and thrash but couldnt budge the weight.
Le me go. You keep outa this Buck.
Buck was struggling to keep the tracker controlled, surprised by the taunt fury he had to contain. What did you take Chris?
Nothing. Let him go Buck. Buck ignored the instruction from behind him.
Nothing. It was all just nothing to Larabee. Nothing? Vin didnt realise hed said it aloud but Buck caught the whisper. Buck felt the sudden release of tension in the body he was holding. Buck stepped back concerned that he may have inadvertently hurt the smaller man when he saw the color drain from Vins face.
I dont know what this is about Chris but beating each others brains out aint going to solve anything.
Its about a grave in Texas that says Vin Tanner died aged nine. Its about who this man is.
Michael. The name came out hard and bitter.
What? Chris head snapped up in surprise. He hadnt expected this.
Thats what you want isnt it? Chris was shocked to have his suspicion confirmed. Sick at the thought that it had all had been a lie. Vins angry voice continued. Dont like Michael? How about Henry? Never liked that myself but hey, its you that counts in all this.
Vin refused to acknowledge either of them, retreating to Pesos stall. Larabee instead saw the failure to deny his statement and read guilt and defeat in the movement.
Vin? Buck persisted, wanting an explanation for all this. Wheres he got this idea from?
Vins response was directed at Chris rather than Buck. Why dont ya tell em all? Six is better than one for a lynch mob.
Buck knew hed arrived too late and the situation had exploded tragically. Were no lynch mob Vin, were friends. Chris, where the hell did you get this idea?
Its reliable. Larabee growled. I expect an answer Tanner.
Yeah, well I expected some things from you too. Guess were both gonna be disappointed.
Id better not be Tanner, Larabee warned as he turned and left the area.
Buck wasnt sure how to approach Vin. The anger was fading and he could see the deep hurt. Vin glanced across quickly and Buck read the suspicion in that gaze. He might be one of Larabees oldest friends, but hed like to think he was one of Tanners newest.
Dont Buck. I dont have much except m word and m name and he just threw em both back at me.
You still have both Vin. Give us a chance to find out why this has happened.
I dont care why Buck.
Well prove these wrong Vin. Buck waved the now crumpled papers he had retrieved from the floor, long forgotten during the fight.
Dont you get it Buck? I dont care about the papers or about proving anything. His reason for doing this is because he doesnt believe me. Im Vin Tanner. Im standing here. Aint nothing else in this world that should be more true than that. He doesnt trust my word Buck and no one scribblin out some statement can change that.
Buck immediately read the intention as Vins eyes flitted to his gear. Run wasnt a word Buck associated with Vin, but there was no denying that a number of times in his life Vin had been forced to run just to survive. He suspected that Vin would revert to old habits if Larabee pushed him far enough.
Vin, dont do something Im gonna regret, Buck pleaded. Hed grown fond of the scruffy tracker in their midst. Youve got friends here. Dont throw us all away because of that stupid bastard.
Vin saw Buck standing before him offering to help him. He didnt want to leave these friends but he couldnt stay without Larabees trust. He moved to collect the rest of his gear but was stopped when Buck grabbed him by the shoulders.
Buck felt Vin stiffening in surprise at the grip but he didnt fight it. You are Vin Tanner. Pieces of paper are wrong all the time. You know who you are and we know who you are. Buck could still see the shadow of doubt. Well get this all straightened out. Buck didnt want to let Vin escape. Tanner and Larabee could be as stubborn as each other and this mistake needed to be cleared up now before the gap could widen. Vin I dont want you to leave.
It aint your choice Buck.
Its not his either Vin. Buck released his grip as he felt Vin pull away.
Vin looked longingly at Peso and the freedom he offered. I want to go out for a while.
Just give me a little time Vin.
Vin finally gave a nod of acceptance.
Bucks arrival at the saloon in search of Chris had drawn the attention of the others. The disturbance in the group had been obvious all day and the others had grown concerned.
What is going on Mr Wilmington?
Buck held the documents out to the gambler. Ezra raised an eyebrow at the lack of direct answer, but took the creased papers and perused the contents. He couldnt help but frown over the contents, passing them around for the others to read.
I think Mary tried to do Vin a favor by locating some information about his mother, Buck explained.
While Im not one to case aspersions on Mrs Travis' fine journalistic endeavors, she has simply made a mistake.
The names and dates are from headstones in a graveyard, Ezra. Thats a little hard to dispute, Nathan pointed out.
I have always understood Mr Tanner to have been raised in less than generous circumstances. Why would an institution that could barely care for its living occupants bother to mark their passing in immortal stone?
As a place of religion, a marker would have been fitting, Josiah suggested.
Are you defending these papers? There is an explanation for all things. When it came to people, Ezra relied on his own instincts and those instincts had always told him that Vin Tanner was not a deceitful man. Certainly the man could scheme when he was called upon, but there was no deceit in the core of who he was or how he lived. Do any of you know the town where Mr Tanner was raised?
You know Vin never says much, JD replied.
But from what he has said, I dont think Vin knows for sure, Nathan added.
Precisely, so Mrs Travis can only assume she has the correct locale.
But another town with another Vin Tanner? Nathan was still a little sceptical.
I sincerely doubt Mr Tanner is from a long line of single male generations. It is unlikely hes the only Tanner walking this earth and Texas does take up a sizeable portion of it. Ezra was unwilling to let the matter drop so easily.
Do you reckon Vins twenty-eight? JD stopped as all eyes at the table settled on him. These dates on the headstone, he explained. It would make Vin about twenty-eight. I just never could tell.
Our young friend has packed a great deal of living into his years, but I would hazard a guess those years number twenty-five or less, Josiah stated.
Nathan nodded his agreement. Can be hard to tell, but Id have said younger. Clean-shaved and sleeping in the clinic, he definitely seems closer to JD in age.
Wouldnt Vin know? JD suggested.
I dont think our questions into Mr Tanners childhood would be well received. He has had far too many intrusions already.
I dont see what the big deal is.
Mr Tanner closely guards his name, Mr Dunne.
Geez Ezra, I know this is a big deal to Vin. I mean Chris. Vins prepared to die for his name. If hed just been pretending then he could have cut his hair, changed his name and avoided the bounty a long time ago. Its all just a big mistake. JD declared. I only know this Vin and I got no problem with that.
But Mr Larabee certainly appears to have a problem with it.
Were not arguing here Ezra. Somewhere along the way a mistakes been made and Chris hasnt stopped long enough to consider it. Nathan knew Chris wasnt normally unreasonable. He clearly hadnt looked at all the possibilities yet.
Vin hadnt intended to listen in to his friends like this, but hed become uneasy just waiting for Buck. Uncomfortable as he was to be the topic of conversation, he couldnt help but be relieved that no one else had reacted like Larabee. Buck had been right to ask him to give them a chance.
Thanks. Vins soft drawl came from the doorway. All four heads turned in surprise at the silent arrival. Before anyone could speak and reassure him further, Vin disappeared back outside.
Ezra moved swiftly to follow the tracker, finally catching up near an alley. Mr Tanner, wait. While circumstances were not the same, Ezra felt he understood the situation better then most. Well sort this out Vin.
Vin may have been disappointed in Larabees response, but he couldnt fault his other friends offers to set things right. They were well intentioned but Vin didnt believe that you could settle matters of trust. It existed or it didnt, there was no half-measures. Why should I?
For the same reason I stay every time he questions my integrity or denigrates my gaming habits. Would you rather walk away with your pride intact but alone?
I can do alone Ez.
But you know the difference now. Its no longer a matter of whether you can, but whether you want to.
Vin couldnt argue with that. He wouldnt just be alone if he left, he would be lonely. Told Buck Ill wait a bit.
Ezra was satisfied for the moment. The promise extracted by Buck would hold Vin here and hopefully his intervention would prove fruitful. He watched the tracker move away but then his attention was diverted to movement from within the shadows of the alley. He easily recognised the profile and knew his comments had been overheard.
Is your trust so fragile or are we all mistaken that it was ever given in the first place? Ezra didnt wait for a reply, uncertain that he really wanted to know the answer.
Buck had failed to locate Larabee in any of his usual haunts. Finally he saw the black-clad figure exit the alley near the jail. He hurried down to the building and followed him in, closing the door behind him.
Those papers are wrong Chris.
Theyre facts Buck.
Theyre words. Having someone write them down doesnt make them worth more than Vins word. Buck watch as Chris refused to accept the argument. He couldnt see how a man whod embraced the tracker from their very first meeting should suddenly believe such an outrageous accusation. No, that wasnt true. He wasnt just believing it, he was making the accusation. Why would he suddenly turn on Tanner like this? Christ, you were just waiting for something like this. You want this! he accused.
What, I want him to lie?
You want to believe hed betray you. You want to push him away so it wont be your fault.
What wont be my fault?
Whatever the hell you think is hiding in the future. Whatever crap fate decides to hand out. What? Did you get sick of worrying about him, tired of watching he comes back safe after every patrol?" Buck shook his head sadly. What is it about Vin that makes him so unworthy of a little justice. If you wanted him gone you could have just asked.
I dont want him gone, I want the truth.
Buck laid his hand flat on Chris chest, holding the angry man firmly at a distance. Why should he explain anything? Did you try to talk to him or confirm any of these things yourself, or did you just decide to go straight out and rip his head off?
Take your hand off me.
Buck ignored the low angry growl. Hes not going to fight you over this. Vin doesnt think like you do, shades of gray, levels of trust. Its all or nothing and you just told him it was nothing. Buck couldnt help but remember the gutted look hed seen on the younger mans face as he realised this.
This is about a grave in Texas, Buck.
No, its about you. Your doubts. Your suspicions. Your fear. Buck felt like he was stirring up a hornets nest as he continued to poke at Larabees chest, emphasising each point. The way youre acting is making us all question what we thought. Buck lowered his hand but the expected retaliation never came.
Larabee recalled the similar words Standish had thrown at him. Was his trust conditional? People had weaknesses and hed learnt that if there was enough pressure that weakness would show. He did believe that Ezra could be led astray by money and that JD was still too young for some tasks, so he supposed it was true that he had conditions. He couldnt name a condition hed placed on his dealings with Vin. Trust with Vin had been complete and unconditional from the very beginning. Had he grabbed at this news as an excuse to withdraw his trust, a reason to limit what he risked?
Buck thought that perhaps he was finally getting through to Chris. I dont expect your complete trust. I know I havent always been reliable.
Buck I do trust you. Chris also believed that where he had placed conditions, he had also forgiven breaches.
Theres a but on the end of that statement Chris. I know it was mostly me that put it there, but its there all the same.
Its not true anymore.
Buck shook his head regretfully. Its there Chris and youre trying to put one on Vin.
Buck, no Chris tried to reassure his friend.
Chris, this slide rule you operate on trust is just about ready to destroy one of the best friendships Ive ever seen. Just stop and think about things for a minute. Nothing in those letters is proof of anything. Its all based on guess.
Educated guesses, Chris corrected, still compelled to defend himself.
No. Youre still doing it, Buck exclaimed, frustrated. Mary was working from almost no information and yet its still Vin you doubt. Buck wasnt at all sure he was getting through to Chris. Talk to him. Vin deserves better from you.
All right, Ill talk with him, Chris agreed, knowing the only place for answers lay with Vin.
Today. I had to make him promise not to ride out but I cant hold him here if youre going to be pig-headed.
I said Id talk to him Buck, Chris snapped back.
Buck threw up his hands in exasperation. He hoped his words were taking Chris back to Vin for reconciliation and not another confrontation.
Vin had decided not to stay the night in town. Hed promised Buck he wouldnt leave but a little breathing space didnt really count. Vin prepared Peso slowly wanting the open spaces but unwilling to commit to the action without knowing if he should expect to return. The sound of familiar footsteps came to his ears, but Vin registered the slow step. He hoped it wasnt reluctance he heard in the slow echo.
The steps that brought Chris back to the stable were slow, but reflected his sombre mood rather than a reluctance to settle with his friend. His earlier discussion with Buck had disturbed him.
Im sorry Vin.
Vin heard the words, but he didnt think Larabee really understood what he was sorry about. Sorry for lookin stupid for chasing shadows, or sorry you looked me in the face and told me you didnt know me?
Vin, the grave is real. It wasnt like I was believing some gossip. Chris responded automatically, defending himself and Mary without realising what he was revealing. Buck may have pointed out his fault but he hadnt yet set it aside.
You didnt stop and think that some mistake might have been made? No, it had to be me doin the lying.
What sort of mistake? That someone would just bury the wrong child?
You still believe them papers. Vins words were no longer laced in anger, but instead with disappointment. You believe Mary got the right town, you believe the folks read the headstone right. The only truth is that there aint no marker for me in any churchyard and there never will. I was born Devils spawn as far as that preacher was concerned. He buried plenty of kids all right but the bastard wouldnt put in a marker cause he didnt even know our names. The only names he had for us werent fit to be repeated.
Vin, Chris tried to stop the words dragged up from Vins dark childhood.
No, why believe that? What did you think? That I just up and ran and decided to take a new name. Hell, its light to carry. Why steal food or clothes when a name is more useful. Vin hadnt raised his voice, his sarcasm so dry the words crumbled into dust. What was so hard about comin to ask me?
Vin Ive had time to think. I am sorry.
Vin heaved a sigh as he realised he would have to draw Chris a picture. You didnt give me the slightest chance. True or not you didnt ask for my side of what might have happened. Doesnt feel no different from Tuscosa.
Chris had never felt this distance before from Vin. Those words had cut, to be compared to someone prepared to take Vin's life without evidence. Chris studied the hard line in the clenched jaw, the eyes so shadowed and guarded from him. Vin moved, leading Peso clear of his stall. Chris could saw his efforts with words were failing. Vin always rode with most of his possessions, so Chris couldnt be sure of his true intentions. He felt an unreasonable panic now that his pushing may actually result in the tracker leaving. Vin?
Uncertain how else to proceed, Chris turned his back, arms raised, waiting.
Vin watched as Chris stood facing the rough-hewn wall, his vision limited, his back exposed. You sayin Im a backshooter now?
No, Chris exclaimed, unsure how to make his point. Just the opposite. When youre standing there I know one else will.
You know Id stop someone killin a dog if it was just standin there defenceless, Vin scoffed.
Vin, Im trying to show you that I trust you.
You cant. Chris spun back to face Vin at the flat declaration. You cant wrap it up like some present and give it to me.
Chris grabbed the younger mans upper arms, holding him in place. Vin, I saw the words
Vin jerked away from the restraining hands. And you believed them. Worse, you wanted to believe them.
Yes, all right. I wanted a reason. I wanted something. I wanted it because I do trust you, completely and unconditionally, and I dont know why. You dont know how disturbing that is.
Disturbing? The slight rise in the corner of Vins mouth might have been the start of a small twisted smile but the sadness in his eyes belied any pleasure in the situation. I kinda liked it. You try having no one to trust, ever. Maybe youd be able to appreciate it without it disturbin ya. Vin led Peso clear and swung up into the saddle. Im goin out fer a while.
Larabee held his position, blocking Pesos exit. Vin, I made a mistake and Im sorry. The two locked eyes but this time there was no challenge just an open admission of fault.
Vin nodded accepting the apology as a peace offering, then he abruptly broke the eye contact. There was still something that stood between them and Vin found himself uncomfortable in Larabees presence. Accepting and forgiving were two different things. Im still riding out fer a few hours.
Chris knew that at least Vin would return and moved silently aside to let the tracker depart. Chris saw Buck keeping a watchful eye at a distance. Hed reassure the others that he was setting things right with Vin then hed talk to Buck privately. He knew hed put Buck through this before and maybe he could help him make amends again here.
Buck had been less than happy with Chris description of events and Vins subsequent departure. Although Vin had promised not to leave, Buck had only been willing to wait the night before departing close to dawn to seek Vin out. Buck hoped that Vin had ridden to high ground for sunrise and chose one of the places he new Vin favored. Buck led his horse up the final step section of trail, shod hooves slipping in the loose shale. Finally he cleared the top and was relieved to see Peso tethered just to the left. Leaving his own horse, he moved to the far edge where three short terraces of rock on the side of the bluff provided sheltered viewing as the land fell away steep and long into the east.
Buck approached carefully making his presence known. He didnt need the tracker to get jumpy with the mares leg across his lap. Tanner however stayed silent, seated on the ground with his back to Bucks approach. Tucked up and clothed in buckskin, Wilmington would have easily passed the tracker, dismissing him amid the rest of the dusty landscape.
Vin? Buck had never been comfortable with silence and Vin had yet to acknowledge he was even aware of his presence. Buck held back on his instinct to speak and instead stood waiting.
Go away Buck. The tawny bundle hadnt moved and Buck wasnt so easily dissuaded. He stayed still and silent not wanting to annoy the younger man, just wait him out. Buck found his nerve failing, compelled to break the silence.
Vin, Im sorry
Vin turned to look back over his shoulder. Dont apologise for him. Vin had accepted the apology and that was ended. Something else had brought him here. A sleepless night had brought him to a realisation, but he wasnt sure what it would mean. Bucks arrival was almost a relief, maybe even an answer.
Buck was relieved that Vin didnt appear angry, but instead found himself staring at some question in the blue eyes. Im not apologising for him. Im just sorry for all of us. Buck hesitated to ask what they all wanted to know. Vin, friends fight, they say things that hurt each other. The best friendships can take that and survive but youve got to be there for that to happen.
Im not leaving. The words were spoken quietly in a voice backed by resignation rather than determination.
You dont sound too happy about that. Although relieved with the decision, Buck was a little bothered by the despondent tone.
Was just thinkin on things. Youve forgiven him a lot over the years, havent ya?
Vin had turned away and voiced the question into the void before him. Buck was starting to understand the question hed first seen. He settled onto the rocky ledge beside Vin. Its not about me Vin. Its something you have to decide.
No decision to make Buck. Bucks heart sank at the words.
I thought you came out here to think about things?
Wasnt thinkin on if Id forgive him, I was thinkin on what it is that I couldnt forgive him for.
Buck could see that coming to this realisation had shaken the independent young man. He placed an arm lightly across Vins shoulders. Couldnt think of anything? Vin didnt shake off the touch, finding comfort in the solid support. I dont think theres anything that cant be forgiven when it comes to family Vin. Walking away would hurt more.
Makes me feel kinda weak willed.
No Vin. Big hearts, thats our problem. Buck smiled as Vin shook his head in embarrassed denial. Oh yes you do. You just try to hide it. Buck felt Vin pull away and released him, not wanting to pressure Vin any further.
Bucks eyes studied Vin as he stood up. The strain was still there, now weighted a little heavier by what had probably been a sleepless night. Buck could clearly remember the white face hed had to restrain in the stable the previous day.
I dont have fancy words when the ladies arent around, so this is the next best thing. Buck enfolded Vin in a hug, hoping he wasnt about to get his head blown off. He was relieved when Vins momentary stiffening was from surprise not rejection. He grinned as Vin awkwardly returned the embrace, tightening only for moment before dropping his arms again. Buck took the signal and released him, stepping back quickly to return Vin his personal space.
Vin blinked away his surprise at the unusual offering of comfort. Hed seen Buck do this before but JD was usually the recipient. Vin could count on one hand the number of times hed been hugged in his lifetime. He appreciated the comfort but could only wonder if Buck had also intended some other message. Vin wasnt always comfortable with words, but that sort of action was not going to be an alternative. Im not doin that to Larabee.
Not unless you plan to shoot him after, Buck laughed at Vins quick denial. Buck moved to gather his horse, ready to ride home.
Vin took one more look at the lonely precipice hed be sitting at. It was a calm vista where he could see for miles, Four Corners just a distant speck. At this distance he couldnt see the detail of the town, the familiar sounds fallen from the wind long before they reached this point. Ill ride back with ya. Guess its about time I headed home.
Buck slapped him lightly on the back as he passed. Thats all it takes Vin.
Vin ambled over to the boardwalk outside the jail, stopping before he stepped up onto the worn planks. Larabee had pulled the straight-back chairs outside into the morning sun and now sat quietly smoking.
Chris had watched the approach and as Vin hesitated at the step, he nudged the vacant chair toward him. Vin accepted the silent offer.
Got two glasses in the drawer of the desk inside, Chris suggested.
Not much use in there, Vin agreed.
Chris pushed his chair back and stubbed the end of the cigarillo out. He had to move past Vin to retrieve the whisky and glasses but as he passed behind his hand grazed lightly across Vins shoulder to settle at the back of the younger mans neck.
No words were spoken but Vin felt the solid connection again. The pressure from the hand had lasted only a moment, quickly removed as Chris continued on inside. Vin couldnt hold back a slight smile at the touch. Larabees equivalent of a hug might not be the same as Bucks in practice, but it held just as much comfort. Vin rested his weight back in the chair and propped his booted feet up on the rail, his smile growing into a grin. Hugged twice in the same day and no one dead or bleeding. It definitely felt like a good day today.
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