Good Enough

by MMW

Second story in the Enough series

Disclaimer: Vin, Chris and the Old West universe in which they live aren’t mine. I’m just borrowing them for a while.

Author’s note: Second in the "Enough" series wherein we find out why Vin hates his handgun. This story follows hot on the heels of Fast Enough,so you might want to read that one first. A huge thanks to Barb Marx for doing the beta on this.

Chis sat back in his chair watching his friend. Several hours had passed since the fight that saw Vin take the life of a boy from Chris’s past. Immediately after the fight, Vin had indicated his need to have a drink. Given his friend’s pale color and lightly shaking hands, Chris agreed. The two men had entered the quiet saloon and made their way to a deserted table near the back where Chris indicated to Inez that they wanted a bottle and two glasses.

Chris had poured the first shots, one for each of them. Vin had downed his quickly and poured another.

Startled by his friend’s quick consumption, Chris slowly sipped at his, evaluating his friend’s pale countenance and frightened eyes. Something more than the gunfight was eating at his friend, something that went much deeper.

Now on their second bottle, with Chris slowly working on only his third shot, Vin let out a long, heavy sigh. "Don’t make it go away, does it?" he asked his friend, words slurring slightly as he nodded toward the bottles in front of him.

Chris sat quietly for a moment, preparing himself for what his friend was about to reveal. "Nope," came his reply.

Vin’s head dropped for several long minutes before he reached out a hand and pushed the bottle and the glass away. "Reckon I’ve had enough then." Enough. The word rambled around in his head. Enough. Fast enough. Good enough. Not good enough. Never good enough. Never had been.

Chris sat in silence, knowing that the words would come of their own volition. This attitude didn’t strike the tracker often, but when it did, Chris knew what to expect. He prepared himself for the painful piece of Vin Tanner’s past that the man would reveal in the upcoming minutes. As his best friend, Chris determined to be the rock his friend would need him to be. He would be there for his brother.

"I ever tell you why I left the orphanage?" the soft voice asked. Vin turned and saw the negative shake of the blond head. "Reckon not," he said sadly, his voice dropping lower. "Reckon I never told no one. Reckon no one’ll want me when they know."

The sound of that whispered, pain-filled voice ripped at the heart of the man in black; a heart he had so recently been accused of not having. Pain laced every word, revealing to anyone listening the shattered heart in the man before him, the shattered heart of a young boy.

"That winter Stevie had come to the orphanage. He’s a scrawny little thing like me. I remember he wore spectacles. Neither of us was a real noisy kid. When you’re small like that, it don’t pay ta bring attention to yerself. Anyway, we’d become friends. We weren’t neither of us much in a fight alone, but together we got by, giving almost as good as we got. He was the first real friend I had." A faint smile crossed Vin’s face as he recalled his boyhood friend.

"Each summer we’d be brought to a picnic in a field somewhere. Don’t rightly recall why we had a picnic, but I reckon they had some reason. We all looked forward to it." A faint smile curved the lips of the young man. "Hell, any chance to get out and run free was more than reason to celebrate."

The man in black smiled at the thought of a much smaller version of Vin Tanner being turned loose on an unsuspecting countryside. He imagined as a boy, given any freedom, Vin would be in his element.

"Anyway," Vin continued, his eyes lost somewhere in the past, "They brought us to this field..."

+ + + + + + +

The wind frolicked in the long, rasping grass, teasing the shadows caused by the ardent sunbeams to engage in an exultant dance, glorifying the bliss of this summer day. Insect and bird songs filled the air, adding voice to the rapturous spirit overflowing the countryside. Thirty young children sprang to their feet, racing as a leaf upon a rapid flowing stream to catch and revel in the joy of the day. Even the serious and strict guardians of the rejoicing children smiled and relaxed when confronted by such glory.

As ants racing across a sugar bowl, the children spread out to play, having been warned not to stray too far. Unlike most days, however, Vin Tanner and Stevie Somes did not find themselves confronted by the bullies determined to make their lives as miserable as possible. Today they found an opportunity to be the eight year-old boys they truly were.

"I’ll go hide and you can come find me," Stevie called to his friend, already turning to seek his hiding place. "Just count to twenty and don’t look!"

"I know that," Vin said, smiling as he covered his eyes. "Ya best git hidin’ if’n you want me ta find ya."

"’K," Stevie replied waiting until Vin had his eyes covered and had started counting before heading toward a small copse of trees he had seen by the river. The green area had enough bushes along the riverbank to hide the small boy from his friend. Heading off that way, Stevie saw a small hole under a bush. Crawling into the narrow opening, he froze at the sight before him.

"Ready or not, here I come!" shouted the young Vin Tanner. Having not yet learned the tracking skills that would serve him so well in the future, he looked around the field and spotted a bunch of bushes along the riverbank. Smiling to himself, he figured he would be able to find Stevie somewhere hidden amongst them.

Making his way as quietly as possible through the brush, Vin eventually spotted the sole of his friend’s shoe in the small clearing behind a bush. Bursting through the underbrush, Vin cried, "Found ya!" before his eyes widened in horror. His face reflecting his shock, Vin looked upon the scene of his friend kneeling by a dead body. The man had been shot. Since there weren’t any flies around him, Vin figured he couldn’t have been dead that long. What made him stop from backing away, however, was the gun held in Stevie’s hand.

"Isn’t it amazing?" Stevie asked admiringly, turning the gun in his hand so the sun would glint off of the silver barrel. Obviously over his shock at being near a dead body, Stevie walked around it casually, bringing his find over to his friend. "Here, hold it," he offered.

Not wanting to show his dislike of being so near a dead body, Vin looked away from it and toward his friend who was offering the gun. Vin took the gun from Stevie’s hand. Having never held a handgun before, Vin nearly dropped it in surprise as the full weight of the implement rested in his hand. He took a closer look at the gun, fascinated by the fine metalwork and the etchings on the handle. Examining the handle, Vin made out the letters HH and a carved rose.

"Let’s play sheriff and robbers!" Stevie called excitedly. "You be the sheriff and I’ll be the robber. You chase me with the gun and I’ll run away."

Vin smiled. He liked to run. He liked to play. "All right," he agreed. "I’ll give you a head start. I’ll count to five and then chase you."

"’K," Stevie replied before running off with a whoop.

Counting to five, Vin set off after his friend. Though Vin knew he could easily catch his friend, he allowed Stevie to outpace him. Vin loved running. The sound of the wind as it passed by his ears always left him with the impression of voices talking to him. He and Stevie laughed as they called out their threats to each other. Vin would occasionally lift the gun, aiming it at Stevie and make shooting noises. None of the imaginary bullets ever hit the dastardly bank robber, however, so the chase continued.

Finally tiring, the two boys stopped. Looking around, Stevie asked, "Vin, do you know where we are?"

Fear of being lost suddenly shooting through him, Vin looked around. "I don’t know where we are, Stevie," he said, concern lacing his voice. "We’d better go try to find our way back."

The two boys looked for some sign of the way they had come. Currently they were standing on the side of a small hill. Looking around, Vin saw two large boulders. "Let’s climb those boulders and see if we can tell where we are," he recommended.

Walking around the large boulders to find a way up, Vin and Stevie froze at the sound of the hard voice behind them.

"Well, well. What’ve we got here," the voice sneered.

Vin spun quickly on his heel. He was sure his heart had stopped beating at the sound of the man’s voice. His eyes wide and panic beginning to settle in, he found himself face to face with what could only be a bad man.

The man standing before the two scared boys towered over them. He had something of a beard started, as if he hadn’t shaved in several days. The odors rolling off him indicated he didn’t really care for bathing. His clothes were dusty and dirty. His face was set and sneering. His eyes made Vin’s throat constrict making it nearly impossible to breathe. His eyes were everything nightmares were made up of. Years later he would know those eyes, having seen them in several of his bounties, and some men who weren’t. The only word he could use to describe them was soulless. They promised nothing but evil and pain.

"Fancy yourself a gun slinger, do ya?" the man asked nodding at the gun in Vin’s hand, an evil smile curving his lips. "Well we may just need to try you out." This was followed by a laugh so evil, so dark, that it took all Vin’s control not to cry out.

In a move so quick neither boy had a chance to counter it, the man grabbed Stevie around the throat. Pulling a large knife, he held it to the boy’s throat.

Finally finding his voice, as he looked into Stevie’s terrified eyes, Vin demanded, "Let him go, Mister. We’re just kids."

The man laughed again, causing a shudder to run the length of Vin’s small frame. "Oh, sonny. I plan on lettin’ him go. But first you gotta prove you’re good enough with that gun to earn his freedom."

"Wh-what do you want me to do?" Vin asked, unable to hide his shaking, but terrified of losing his friend.

The most evil smile Vin had ever seen appeared on the man’s face just then. It was as if darkness danced across his lips and Hell threatened to spill out his mouth. Tearing his eyes away from the man’s mouth, Vin made the mistake of looking into his eyes. The man had eyes like none Vin had ever seen. Their color was a muddy brown, which wasn’t all that unusual, but the look in them froze his soul. His eight-year-old mind had no words to describe it. The eyes were dark, evil, not human, cruel… There was no light in their depth, only a writhing blackness. "You’re going to show me how well you handle that gun, boy. And we’ll be using your friend here to hold the target," he hissed. Releasing a soulless laugh at the look on Vin’s face, he laughed harder as Stevie lost control of his bladder in his fear.

Vin watched as the man took Stevie and tied him to a tree. He tried to balance an apple on Stevie’s head, but his sobs were shaking his shoulders and head so that it fell off. Snorting in disgust, the man took another length of rope and secured it around Stevie’s shoulders and neck. The new ropes stilled Stevie’s movement, but made it hard for him to breathe. Vin could see him struggling for each breath of air. The apple was put back on Stevie’s head.

"Now," the man began, walking over and leaning into Vin’s face so that his foul breath rolled over and around the boy, "See this knife?" He waited to receive Vin’s nod. "For every time you miss the apple, I cut you. For every time you hit, you don’t get cut."

Vin couldn’t breathe. He didn’t know how to fire a gun. He didn’t want to hit Stevie and that apple was awfully small from ten feet away. Focusing on the man before him, he knew he would find no mercy. From somewhere in the back of his mind, he heard his mother’s voice, "Remember, you’re a Tanner." Swallowing against the tight constriction of his throat, Vin nodded his understanding, knowing he would never be able to say the word.

The man looked into the terrified blue eyes of the boy before him. This one might not say much, but oh, those eyes. He could feed off the fear there for a very long time. He might just have to take this one with him for a while, at least until the fear started disappearing, or until the boy died from his attentions. Moving around to the side of the boy, he put his knife at the bottom of the boy’s back. He’d start cutting there. Idly he wondered how long it would be before the boy hit his friend with a bullet and killed him. Then he smiled and licked his lips in anticipation of the moment when the understanding dawned upon the child of exactly what he had done.

Vin lifted the gun. He used both hands, not able to support it with just one. He didn’t know what to do and the man with the knife at his back must have known because with a low laugh he reached over and cocked the gun for Vin. Fighting his desire to cringe away from the man’s breath hitting his ear, Vin tried to think of what to do. He noticed the gun shaking in his hands and took a deep breath to steady himself. Looking at his target, he willed himself to focus on nothing but the apple, not seeing his friend beneath it. Trying to shut out everything around him, just as he did when they whipped him at the orphanage, he lifted the gun a hair higher and squeezed the trigger.

Stevie screamed, unnerving Vin. Vin had been shocked by the kick of the gun. His hands had flown up and he had involuntarily taken a step back to maintain his balance. His cry of pain followed upon the end of Stevie’s cry of terror. Both screams were overlapped by the laugh of the outlaw.

Feeling the man’s large hand fall on his shoulder, Vin turned, tears welling in his eyes at the pain in his back and the terror that was overwhelming him. "Damn, boy," the man exclaimed, smiling his vile smile. "That was close. Still missed, though, so I guess I gotta cut ya."

Vin’s eyes started darting looking for escape. He could already feel blood trickling down his back from where he had been cut when he stepped back. He wanted to whimper or scream, but he couldn’t free his voice to make a sound and simply closed his eyes as the man ran his knife blade once more across Vin’s lower back. "Now try again," he hissed, licking the blood from the knife. "And be sure to miss again. You cut nice, boy, and taste even better."

In pain he hadn’t known and terrified to the point of being numb, Vin once more aimed his gun, took a deep breath and prayed he would hit the apple. Focusing all his attention on the apple, and knowing the gun would kick some, he prepared himself and pulled the trigger. He released a sigh as the apple exploded above Stevie’s head. He’d hit it. Now maybe they could go.

Turning quickly to look at the man, he could tell the man wasn’t happy. Glaring down at the boy before him, the man’s eyes squinted in concentration before a malevolent smile creased his face. "Do that three more times, boy," he offered, "and I’ll set you and your little friend free." Vin swallowed, hope lit in his eyes momentarily. That small glimmer of hope amidst the boy’s fear was the sweetest thing the man had seen in a long time. He hoped the boy made his shots a few more times so he could relish the moment that hope died forever. Digging his fingers into the slightly bleeding wounds on Vin’s back, he ignored the boy’s gasp as he pulled him about five feet further back. "Of course, you’ll have to make it from a farther distance each time." He allowed an black laugh to escape him as he saw the small spark of hope die, and then raised an eyebrow at the determination that was born in the sky blue eyes.

Vin hated the man before him for doing this. He didn't understand what exactly would happen, but instinctively he knew he would have to find another way for he and Stevie to escape. Three shots. He just had to hit the apple three more times. That's all the time he had to find a way out. But first he had to hit the new apple placed on Stevie's head. He couldn't look at his friend, couldn't see the fear he knew would be there; the fear he could feel churning within himself.

Taking a deep breath and trying to focus on nothing but the apple, Vin was only vaguely aware of the return of his tormentor and the pressure of the knife on his back. Tuning out the man's words, Stevie's pleading eyes and everything else, he once more heard his mother's voice 'You're a Tanner...' He could do this. Releasing part of his breath, he squeezed the trigger.

"Damn kid," the man muttered as he saw the apple explode. The kid was better than he should be. All he'd wanted was some fun and now the scared little brat was taking even that away from him. Maybe he should take the other little brat from the ropes and tie this one up. He truly contemplated this for several moments before deciding to just up the challenge a little.

Placing another apple on the whimpering boy's head, the man made his way back to his blue-eyed plaything. Yep, things were about to get more interesting. Bending down before the boy, he took off his gun-belt and slung it around Vin's waist. The belt wrapped twice around the boy's waist before it was remotely tight enough to buckle. Taking his gun out, he told Vin to put the one the boy held in the holster.

Vin felt himself begin to shake. He hadn’t thought it possible to be more terrified. Not knowing what the man had in mind, he only hoped it would be over soon. Looking up into the face before him, he found he couldn’t breathe. Something in the man’s face indicated to Vin that some new terror awaited. He didn’t want to know what it was. The tears he’d been fighting swelled in his eyes. This wasn’t fun. Guns weren’t fun. He wanted it to stop now.

"There ya go, boy," the man said, a self-satisfied smile oozing over his face. "I’m going ta give you a chance every boy likes. You’re going ta play gunfighter for me." He smiled as the first tears started streaming down the thin face. He could clearly see the boy’s screams reflected in the sky blue eyes. Such wonderfully expressive eyes, he thought. It would be fun to watch them as the had his fun with the boy; he would be able to read every trace of pain, fear and terror in them. "Here’s what we’ll do," he said aloud. "I’ll put my knife back in its sheath. Then I’ll say draw. If you can draw the gun and shoot the apple before I get my knife out, then you don’t get cut. If you draw first and miss the apple, I get to cut you once. If you miss the apple and don’t get the gun out, I get to cut you as much as I want."

Vin could feel the scream trying to escape, but his voice wouldn’t work. He small body began shaking with silent sobs. He felt like ropes were tying him, restraining him, making it impossible to breathe, to move to think. ‘Mamma,’ he cried out. Why wasn’t she here? He knew she could make it all right.

"Mamma?" the man said amused. It was the first word he’d heard from the boy. Releasing a full-throated laugh, he looked at the little boy. "Son, you’re an orphan. They’re the only ones ever come this way. You don’t got a Mamma. Most likely she left you ‘cause she couldn’t stand you. Just weren’t ever good enough to please her. I can understand that, seein’ how scrawny you are. Reckon you’re just not good enough for a mother, for a family, otherwise you wouldn’t be an orphan. Let’s see if you’re good enough to save your friend." With another laugh, took his position behind the boy, hand hovering over the hilt of his knife. "Ready boy?" he asked.

Vin took a shuddering breath and knew he had to focus. Pushing the man’s words to the back of his mind, he tried to ignore the man’s presence. His Mamma didn’t leave because he wasn’t good enough. She’d loved him. She’d only left him because she died. He needed to focus. Now not only did he have to hit the apple, he had to draw. He knew he didn’t want to be cut again. Not ever. ‘Remember son, I love you…’ his mother’s voice echoed in his mind. She loved him. He was good enough. Drawing strength from the memory of his mother’s love, his shuddering stopped and an unusual peace descended upon him. Nodding his head once, he waited.

"Draw!" the man shouted. His knife had just cleared its sheath when the boy’s gun barked. With a loud curse and a glance at the other boy, he cursed again louder. Not only had the boy beat him, he’d hit the apple! The damn kid hit the apple from 20 feet away on a quick draw! A very, very small part of his mind expressed awe at the natural talent of the boy, but the vast majority of his mind felt a hatred and loathing for the boy grow. This scrawny little orphan denied him his fun. This scrawny little orphan would know the meaning of wrath.

Roughly jerking Vin back another 10 feet. He forced Vin’s gun into the holster and prepared his lie. "That’s good, boy. Tell ya what. We’ll do it one more time and if you can beat my draw on the knife and hit the apple, I’ll let you and your little friend go. If not, I get to have some fun." He laughed at the emotions in Vin’s eyes. Even if the little bastard beat him, he’d still have his fun. Maybe he’d even help the boy have some fun on his friend - that could be interesting.

Coming back after putting a new apple on Stevie’s head, he squatted next to the boy. This time he left his knife partially out of the sheath and rested his hand on the hilt. Looking at his small, determined blue-eyed victim, he allowed a smile to curve his lips. "Draw!" he cried.

This time Vin felt the knife bite into his back at almost the same instant he squeezed the trigger. The pain caused by the blade of the knife forced him to close his eyes. Opening them again, he looked up to see if he’d hit the apple. The sight that greeted him froze every muscle in his small body. His mouth opened in horror, but the scream shrieking through his head would not be voiced. He heard the man let out a loud laugh and slap him on the shoulder.

"That’s some mighty fine shooting, boy," he commended, standing and moving over to the boy still tied to the tree. "Guess you weren’t quite good enough to keep from being cut this time and weren’t good enough to save your friend," he finished. Releasing another laugh, he took the still pristine apple off of Stevie’s head, touching the perfect hole the bullet had left in the middle of Stevie’s forehead. He took a bite of the apple. "Good shot though. Not everyone who can kill a friend so clean. May not be good enough for decent folk, but I reckon you’re good enough to be a murderer!" he laughed again at his own humor. A dark glint appeared in his eyes. "Now it’s my turn boy. Deal was I get to cut you as much as I want," he said, his voice hissing in its evil intent, the sun reflecting off the steel blade and still red blood.

Vin finally managed to tear his eyes off of Stevie’s dead face only to have his attention caught by the blade coming toward him. Murderer. Good enough to be a murderer… The voice echoed in his head. Finally a resolve settled in the child’s mind. He was already a murderer, one more dead body wouldn’t matter. One more dead body would end this nightmare for him, even if it never would for Stevie.

Raising his arm even as his eyes glided from the blade to the face of the man who now claimed the role of living nightmare, Vin took aim and squeezed the trigger once more. He watched numbly as a perfect hole appeared in the man’s forehead, a match to the one in Stevie’s. He watched dispassionately as the man’s smile died, as the evil left his eyes, as he collapsed to the ground, never to torment another boy.

Vin had no idea how long he stood there staring at the scene before him. He never heard the people from the orphanage calling for him and Stevie to return. He never saw the beautiful sunset or the darkening sky. He never saw the clouds roll in and cover the moon and stars. He never heard the roll of thunder or saw the flash of lightening. He never felt the cold rain begin to pound down around him, drenching him.

Vin stood for hours seeing the tableau before him, and not seeing anything. His mind had ceased functioning on a conscious level at the sight of Stevie. Eventually a wind started blowing - a wind strong enough to nearly knock over the still boy. The motion of nearly falling causing him to snap out of his reverie.

The gun dropped out of his hand into the mud below. He started shaking as he took in the sights around him. He wasn’t good enough for people. Wasn’t good enough to have friends. He’d killed his only friend. He was a murderer. He couldn’t go back. He could never go back. Never.

Turning away from the path that led back toward the field he knew, he started running, not stopping until exhaustion claimed him.

When he awoke, he found himself at the top of a cliff. He stood, looking to the distance. Lost in a way he had never known.

He heard noises behind him and knew that someone was behind him, but just then he couldn’t find the energy to care. His mind still echoed the words from yesterday, a confirmation from a stranger of what he always knew. He wasn’t good enough. Not good enough to have his Ma live; not good enough to get adopted; not good enough to save his friend. Just no good.

He turned as he felt the approach of someone behind him. Turning he looked into the face of a young Indian brave…

+ + + + + + +

Vin’s unsteady hand filled his shot glass and he downed the shot, feeling the burn down his throat as he had failed to feel the others. "While I’s with the Indians, I learned a lot about survivin’ and providin’ food. We never hunted with no handgun, only with rifles. After I was taken from the People, I started interactin’ with the white man again and figured it out. Rifles are for huntin’ food and protectin’ the village. The only thing pistols are good for is huntin’ men." He stopped here, an unsteady gaze rising to meet that of his friend. "Swore I’d never carry a pistol, would never own one."

Pulling out the handgun he used with such deadly precision earlier, he laid it on the table, the engraving facing upward. Staring at it with blank eyes, Vin whispered, "This is it. This is the cursed pistol I shot Stevie with."

Chris looked at his friend, his brow furrowed in confusion and concern. "Vin, that happened a long time ago. You said you got rid of the pistol. How can you be sure this is the same one?"

His eyes never leaving the gun in front of him he said simply, "HH and a rose. Don’t reckon I’ve ever seen another like it. ‘Sides," he said softly, his voice heavy with emotion, "I’ll always ‘member it; the feel, the weight, the kick of it."

Taking a moment to absorb this new information, Chris soon gave in to the question that was nagging him. "So, how’d you end up with it?" he asked.

Vin sat silently as his time with Tom once more played through his mind. He didn’t want to reveal all of that as well, but the alcohol in him weakened his resolve to never speak of that incident. With a sigh, Vin looked away from the gun to the table before him. "When I’s huntin’ buff, I rode with a man, Tom. He was good company. One day he got the influenza and got laid up for a while. After he recovered we were ridin’ to a place we’d heard had buffs ta hunt when a rattler startled his horse. He fell off. I jumped down and killed it, but not ‘fore it bit Tom." Swallowing the lump building in his throat and the tears threatening to spill from his eyes, Vin continued. "He’s weak, Chris. Couldn’t fight it."

Chris leaned closer as Vin’s soft voice faded even more. Putting a hand on his friend’s shoulder, he waited for the tracker to continue.

"He’s in so much pain. Hell, Chris, you’ve seen what a rattler bite can do to a man…" Vin trailed off as the sound of Tom’s screams and sobs tore through him. Closing his eyes against the sounds of memory, Vin waited until the sounds began to fade before continuing. "We’d never had no need for pistols, so I’d never really paid attention to the one he carried. But he begged me… God Chris, he was hurtin’ so bad…" He felt a firm squeeze from the hand Larabee had on his shoulder. Vin drew strength from the connection, knowing Chris wouldn’t judge him for this. "He gave me his pistol. He didn’t want to suffer." Taking a ragged breath, Vin continued, "That was when I saw the pistol, saw the carving. God, Chris. It was the gun from before. The gun Stevie found."

Swallowing his own emotions, Chris found he couldn’t imagine the pain and turmoil of his friend. To have a reminder of such a nightmare thrust upon you while being asked to live through another… He just couldn’t imagine how Vin had stayed sane. How could Vin not have become as twisted and dark as the man in that clearing? Once more Chris felt awe and wonder of his friend fill him as well as a pride in knowing this man and being called his friend. "It’s OK, Vin," he said quietly, once more giving Vin’s shoulder a reassuring squeeze.

"I couldn’t do it, Chris," Vin whispered. "I tried. I got the gun to his head because I didn’t want him to suffer, because he kept beggin’, but I couldn’t do it." A long silence fell across the table before Vin continued. "Tom reached up and put his thumb over my finger that’s on the trigger." Vin’s body jerked as the sound of that gunshot reverberated in his mind. "He pushed my finger. Lord God, Chris. I blew his brains out. I killed him."

Reaching out and toying with the shot glass in front of him, Vin sighed. "I tried to sell the gun, tried to give it to a trader. He wouldn’t have it. Said it was a gift of memory. That my friend would have wanted me to have such a cherished possession." A harsh bark of laughter escaped the tracker, startling the man in black. "Hell, Chris," he said, bitterness overwhelming the sadness and despair in his voice, "memories like that ain’t no gift. They’s a curse." This said, the tracker once more fell silent.

After several more moments of silence, Chris realized his friend had nothing more to add. A brief flash of relief at the ending of the tale shot through Chris immediately followed by regret that he could so easily find relief while his friend was still suffering.

Having picked up the offending firearm, Chris helped Vin to his feet. Snatching the half-empty bottle on their way out, Chris guided Vin back to his room in the boarding house, laid the tracker on a stack of blankets, a bucket close by, and settled in for the night, determined to watch his friend’s back.

As the tracker adjusted himself on the blankets, the words he uttered shot through Chris. In a quiet, slurred voice, Vin admitted, "Ain’t never been good enough. Not good enough for Ma ta live. Not good enough ta get ‘dopted. Not good enough ta save Stevie. Not good enough ta kill that snake. Ain’t no good in me. Just ain’t good enough…"

Lifting a blanket to cover his friend, Chris whispered, "You’re wrong Vin. You are and always have been more than good enough. I’m going to make sure you know that."

+ + + + + + +

Wincing at the bright light, Vin allowed a small groan to escape.

"Mornin’, Vin," came the bemused greeting from Chris Larabee. It had been a long night for Chris. Unlike most nights, however, it wasn’t his own demons keeping sleep at bay. Instead, the thought of an eight year-old Vin Tanner being forced to shoot at his only friend haunted his thoughts. Eight years old. Then to be asked to kill another friend using the same gun, even though the older friend was suffering… Even the half bottle of whiskey hadn’t helped.

Now, however, Chris Larabee found himself being treated to a rare sight, that of a very hung over Vin Tanner.

"Shhh…" same the faint sound from the tracker. "Not s’loud."

Chris chuckled softly to himself. "Mornin’s half gone, Vin," he informed. "Don’t you reckon it’s time you rejoined the living?"

"Go ‘way," came the grumpy reply. "Y’all ‘s so mean. Let a poor body die in peace."

Knowing he wasn’t about to make friends this morning, Chris walked over and pulled the covers away from the tracker. "Nope. Time to get up," Chris announced. Showing no mercy, he threw open the curtains letting the bright morning sunlight flood the room.

A louder groan was his reward as he watched his friend curl up on himself. "Oh, no you don’t," he said, splashing a cup of cold water on Vin’s face. "You’re getting up," he encouraged, pulling the unhelpful young man into a sitting position. "I’ve left some of Buck’s miracle hangover cure on the dresser. I expect you to be downstairs within the next twenty minutes or I’ll personally be dragging your scrawny hide down there. Got me?" he demanded.

Vin started to nod and immediately regretted it. Instead he settled for waving his hand weakly in the direction of Chris’s door and mumbled, "Go."

With a last look and a small smile, Chris left the room.

+ + + + + + +

Twenty minutes later, Vin made an appearance on the street. He looked a little better, though kept his hat a little lower than usual in order to avoid the bright sunlight. A small smile crept across Chris’s face as he watched his friend slowly make his way across the street to join him. ‘That should teach him to not drink too much,’ Chris thought to himself as his friend settled slowly into his vacant chair.

Silence sat comfortably around the duo. Eventually Chris sensed Vin shifting in his seat. He’d been wondering how much the tracker remembered of last night and if he would regret having shared something so painful. Although Chris knew Vin trusted him implicitly, he also knew that Vin hated revealing too much of himself, especially those parts that could make him vulnerable. That might explain the slight discomfort between the two of them this morning, but somehow Chris thought there was more to it.

"About last night," Vin began, his uncertainty radiating not only from his expressive blue eyes, but from voice.

"What about it?" Chris asked, continuing to scan the street for trouble, waiting on his friend.

Vin looked off into the distance and then down at the boardwalk. "I ain’t never trusted no one enough to tell that afore. I’d ‘preciate it if’n ya didn’t tell no one about it. I ain’t exactly proud a’ what I done."

Chris turned toward his friend then. He saw the uncertainty, the pain that was still fresh and raw, the hurt he didn’t know how to sooth because it had been with Vin for so long defined in every line of the tracker’s face and body. "You know you can tell me anything Vin," Chris said. When Vin didn’t move, Chris became curious. "Vin, look at me," he demanded. When Vin refused, Chris placed a hand on his shoulder and turned the younger man toward him. Finally succeeding in catching the younger man’s eye, he found himself startled to see a hint of anxiety, almost of fear.

He knew instantly what Vin was thinking. "Vin," he began, his voice kind but firm, "you are my best friend, my brother. I wish I could have been there to protect you from what happened. I wish I could take the pain from you now. You are the best man I know, a better man than me." He saw surprise and hope light the eyes before him. "You can tell me whatever you need to and I won’t tell anyone. And nothing you tell me, nothing you can do or have done will make me think less of you. Do you understand?"

Taking a deep breath, he thought now was the time to begin to rebuild his friend’s confidence. "Vin Tanner," he said, his voice softening and filling with pride, "you are, and always will be more than good enough. You are more than good enough to watch our backs, more than good enough to deserve the best life has to offer and definitely more than good enough to be my friend and my brother."

The two sets of eyes locked together for several seconds and the words and sincerity of the man in black sank through the shell around Vin’s heart penetrating to the deepest places of his hurt and beginning a healing process long overdue. Suddenly the nightmares of his youth didn’t seem as awful. Chris knew and hadn’t judged him. In fact, Chris had called him brother. A genuine, warm smile bloomed upon the face of the young tracker, "Reckon I know that, brother. Sometime I just get a little lost in battle with my own demons and need someone to pull me out."

Matching the smile of the younger man, Chris reached out at the same time as Vin, locking arms in a full forearm shake. Chris hadn’t lost Vin to the demons of either of their pasts. Together, they had put those demons on the run, and that was good enough for now.

The End

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