A Different Man

by The Buffalo Gals

Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Part Five | Part Six | Part Seven | Part Eight

Part Eight
Vin Tanner felt like a little kid being allowed out on his own for the first time. Nathan was clucking around him like a mother hen, slowly driving the tracker to distraction.

"Have you packed an extra blanket?"

"Yes Ma…"

The healer chose to ignore the truculent remark. "Chris, did you fill a flask with the herbal tea I made you?"

"Yes Nathan. I know …warm a cup up for him every night." He raised an eyebrow at the scowling Vin.

"Got a book in yer saddlebags, Larabee?" Vin asked petulantly.

"Book?" Chris was confused; this was supposed to be a fishing trip.

"Yeah, so that when ya tuck me in at night ya can read me a bedtime story."

"Vin Tanner shut your smart mouth ‘fore I call off this trip." Nathan warned seriously, though his eyes twinkled with amusement. "I ain’t spent the last month tendin’ you, just so you can …"

Vin raised his hands in defeat. "I won’t do anythin’ stupid, I promise."

"I’ll make sure he rests, Nathan."

Nathan wagged a finger at Chris, not in the least intimidated by the glare Larabee shot his way. "Make sure he does. And don’t let the fool go swimmin’. He’ll catch pneumonia for sure!"

"Ain’t no fool." Vin sulked.

Buck Wilmington who’d been quietly watching the episode took pity on the tracker and placed a friendly arm around the younger man’s shoulders. "Nathan don’t mean it pard. He’s worried about you. You’ve been real sick son."

"I know, but I gotta get outta town Buck, ‘fore I go crazy."

"Then mount up pard. Before those two change their minds."

Vin cheered up immediately he was in the saddle. He could almost taste the wilderness and feel the open space. He’d been shut up in the clinic for so long he was getting claustrophobic. Moreover, he needed time alone with Chris. Their friendship had weathered the storm, but it wouldn’t hurt to shore it up.

Allowing Chris the chance to watch over and protect him would help the gunslinger banish the few remaining doubts he still had about Vin ever being able to trust him again.

JD and Ezra walked over to their friends to wish them a good trip.

"Ah cannot see what pleasure you’ll gain from reposing on a cold, rocky bed of earth. Ah personally prefer mah feather bed."

"Cain’t see the stars Ezra. I need to see the stars." Vin explained simply.

"Ah do not understand such yearnings, however Ah wish you well."

"Wish I was goin’ with you." JD said longingly, his opinion of the trip in direct opposition to Ezra’s.

"Take Casey fishin’ with ya. It’ll be more fun." Vin teased the youngster before turning to Chris who was still receiving instructions from the healer. "Are ya ready? Day’ll soon be gone."

"It will?" Ezra asked, "Ah hardly call…" He checked his pocket watch, "…ten thirty in the morning, late."

"It ain’t to you Ezra. Hell, when was the last time you saw the dawn?"

"Dawn?" The southerner smiled and the sun glinted of his gold tooth.

JD chuckled at their conversation. Ezra was rarely seen before noon.

Finally, Chris was ready, weighed down with instructions and potions. He hauled himself into the saddle then turned to his companion; "This is goin’ to be a steady ride, pard. No gallopin’ off into the distance."

"Will ya’ll stop treatin’ me like some damn kid!" Vin snapped, losing his customary good nature.

"Shoo!" Buck diffused any anger the tracker felt. "Go on kiddies, enjoy your trip. Don’t fret ‘bout me and the boys."

Chris snorted, "Never entered my head." He edged the black gelding into the street and waited for Vin to follow. Behind him he could hear Nathan scolding Ezra for not taking better care of himself.

"Thought I told you to get some early nights! Have you been…"

Chris glanced across at Vin. "Don’t you feel sorry for Ezra?"

"Nope!" Vin grinned. "Least he’ll take Nathan’s mind off me."

They continued down Main Street, pulling up outside the Clarion office when Mary called to them.

She passed Vin a parcel. "There’s paper, pencils and one of Billy’s reading books."

"It’s a fishing trip Mary." Chris said tersely, aware of Vin’s lack of skill at reading and writing.

"S’all right Chris. I can do some work while I’m waitin for the fish to bite."

Larabee nodded and waited patiently while Vin stashed the parcel into his saddlebags.

Resuming their journey, they were called to a halt once more when Mrs Potter handed Chris a covered basket. "There’s sandwiches for later, some home baked scones and cake plus two tins of peaches…"

"Thank you Ma-am." The gunslinger hooked the basket over his saddle horn. If they didn’t get out of town soon they’d be snowed under with gifts!

Vin whispered a shy "Thanks." Colour blushing his cheeks; overwhelmed by the goodwill shown to him by the townsfolk. "Best get goin’."

Chris understood his companion’s discomfort and clicked his horse forward into a sharp trot. Determined to leave Four Corners before anymore interruptions came their way.

"You okay pard?" he asked Vin once they were free of town.

"Yeah … guess I never realised…" Vin found it difficult to explain, "Never had folk care for me since my Ma died."

"I think Mrs. Potter would adopt you if you let her."

"She’s a good woman; so’s Mary." Vin grinned cheekily at his friend, relaxing now they were free of the claustrophobic buildings.

"Don’t start on how nice a couple me and Mary make, or you’ll be back with Nathan."

"See the way she looked at ya?" Vin ignored the threat.

"Didn’t look."

"Liar!" Vin kicked his horse hard in the ribs and shot past the older man, his carefree laughter filling the fresh morning air.

Larabee charged after him, it was going to be hard work keeping Vin Tanner under control!

+ + + + + + +

Vin stretched on his back and stared up into the night sky, smiling softly as Chris stood close by, his eyes questioning.

"A thousand campfires," Vin whispered, the starlight reflected in his wondrous eyes; "Homeless tribes giving us form so that we may navigate the land. Makes ya just want to get on yer horse and ride out there."

Vin’s smile widened. "Why don’t ya join me and see." He patted the ground by his side. "Come on cowboy, ain’t gonna hurt none."

The gunslinger wasn’t so sure. Vin’s excitement, now that he back in the wilderness was tangible, however Chris wasn’t certain he could find the same in himself.

"Come on, Chris." Vin insisted.

Larabee grumbled softly as he settled on the ground next to his companion.

"What d’ya see?" The tracker asked, his gaze sliding across to the other man’s face.

Chris stared hard at the night sky, his eyes accusing the heavens of many evils.

"What d’ya see?" Vin repeated, his pose easy and relaxed, compared to the man at his side.

"Nothin’." Chris drawled, knowing the answer would annoy his friend.

Vin responded with infinite patience. "Close yer eyes, then look again."

Chris turned to look at the tracker, his expression dubious.

Vin grinned, motioning Chris’ gaze heavenward. "Well go on." He couldn’t stop from chuckling at the gunslinger’s countenance.

Chris felt familiar warmth as he turned away from Vin to stare into the night sky.

A comfortable blanket of silence covered the two men and the brightly lit sky banished the shadows that had so nearly destroyed them.

The end!

Author e-mail addy: sue@diver27.co.uk
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