Chapter 14
Chris lay on his stomach, a look of dismay on his pale face. His arm was still stretched out in front of him and his eyes glistened with grief. He stared at the spot where he’d last seen his struggling friend, before he’d disappeared over the edge. He tried to tell himself it hadn’t really happened, but he knew it was real. The pounding in his head and the ache in his heart told him that. "No…" he breathed, his voice breaking with emotion.

He dropped his head onto his arm, resting it there for a moment, before wiping away a stray tear on his sleeve. He looked up, and over at the spot that wreaked havoc in his mind. He had to see, had to see it with his own eyes before he could believe it. Before he could come to terms with the fact that he had lost his best friend, and half his soul along with him.

With a determined effort, born of anger and sorrow, he pushed himself onto his hands and knees. He knew he’d never make it onto his feet, his stomach was rolling as it was, it would just send it over the top if he tried to stand.

"…God…" He wavered for a moment or two, in real danger of toppling over to one side. But glaring at the ground, he refused to be beaten.

Taking a deep breath, he pushed his body forward, moving one limb at a time, his eyes never leaving the last spot he’d seen Vin. Adrenaline coursed through his veins, giving him the strength he needed to crawl towards his goal.

Reaching the edge, he took a shuddering breath. His energy was finally sapped, and with a grunt of pain, he collapsed onto his stomach once again. His face was set in a stubborn line; his heart beating hard in his chest, knowing the moment had arrived. Blinking the sweat from his eyes, he pulled himself forward, and peered over the side.

* * * * * * *

The moment the ground had disappeared from underneath him, Vin was sure it was the end of the line; and in that split second the thought crossed his mind that he was glad he’d told Chris about knowing he had friends who gave a damn.

He heard Seth cry out as the older man released his grip, and cringed at the crunching of the outlaw’s bones as they’d hit the hard rocks. He waited for the inevitable, but his ever-present survival instinct stepped in and his arms flailed wildly as he flew over the side. If Vin believed in miracles, he would have sworn that what happened next was indeed divine intervention. Right before him, there was a large piece of rock jutting out, and he latched onto it, gripping it tightly with one hand.

He made a mental note to thank God for that when he was less busy, and if he survived.

He grunted as he stopped falling, and cried out when he thought his arm would be pulled from its socket. His body hit the steep rocks with a thud, knocking the breath from his lungs for the second time that morning.

Panting hard, he felt around for a foothold, but was unable to find one. He wiped the sweat from his forehead with his sleeve, and looked up to see how far down he’d fallen. Thankfully, the sun was now far enough in the sky for him to be able to see.

Realising he was only three or four feet down at the most, he raised a surprised eyebrow. He must have literally flipped over the side, rather than flying into the air like Seth had obviously done. "Thank y’ kindly," he whispered to the outlaw, sure that if Seth hadn’t rolled over on top of him it would have been he who had flown and the old man who would have flipped.

A hysterical giggle left his lips. This wasn’t the time to think about flying and flipping; he’d leave that to the birds and the fish.

His heart leapt into his throat when he felt his fingers begin to slip. He couldn’t hold on much longer, his fingers were bloodied and sore, and his other arm was useless to help.

He looked up, his face locked in fear and desperation; staring at the fingers that were his only lifeline.

It was inevitable, he was too weak to pull himself to safety, and the fall was sure to kill him. He tried to curl his fingers in a little more, to get a firmer grip, but the attempts were futile, and he felt himself sliding.

His heart sank as he sensed defeat. Why did he have to delay the fatal truth? Why didn’t he just let go and that would be the end of it? His answer came like a bolt of lightning…Chris. The last time he’d seen the blond, he was laying on the ground, and his head was bleeding. Chris needed him, and there was no way in hell he was going to let him down.

His lips forming a stubborn line, the tracker found renewed strength with the knowledge that his friend needed help. He had to get up to Chris; had to find some way…any way to get to his friend.

Looking up again he caught sight of a piece of rock sticking out, and maybe, just maybe, it was within range. His mind began to tick over; if he could just reach it, he might be able to pull himself to safety.

His hope revived, he concentrated on his target. Taking a deep breath, he blew it out slowly, preparing for the only chance he had to save his life, and get to Chris.

Crying out with the effort, he raised his injured arm upwards and scrabbled around with his feet, getting a grip on the rock surface. He smiled shortly, he was holding on with both hands now, but it hurt like hell.

Looking up at his last hope, he took another deep breath, summoning up the courage and energy he would need to complete his task. He issued a deep growl as he pushed himself up as hard as he could with one arm and both feet, his other hand reaching up blindly to try and grab a hold of the rocks above.

Just as he was about to give up, his heart leapt as he felt a hand clasp onto his. Lifting his head, he saw his outstretched arm, and two hands, one holding the other in a vice like grip. He raised his head a little further, and his gaze rested on two determined green eyes.

"Chris…" he managed. His voice little more than a hoarse whisper. "…can’t…"

"Yes you can," the dogged reply came through gritted teeth. "You’re not gonna fall, you hear me?"

Vin nodded, too exhausted now to say anything. He was sure his arm was going to break off, the pressure on his shoulder was so great.

Their eyes remained locked, the two friends drawing strength from each other. Neither needed to speak; their uncanny gift of being able to communicate without words taking over.

Chris nodded once, almost imperceptibly, his eyes never breaking contact with Vin’s as he waited for the other man to respond. The tracker swallowed hard, and nodded back; the signal to begin to pull.

The two friends worked together; Chris grabbing hold around Vin’s wrist with both hands, trying to pull him up, and the Texan pushing with his other hand and digging his feet into any crevice he could find. Grunts and cries broke into the silence while the two men worked, and slowly, Vin drew nearer to the top.

With one last, strenuous pull, Chris sucked in a breath when he saw the top of Vin’s head. Now on his knees, he grabbed the tracker’s coat at the shoulders, pulling hard, not being able to believe it when the rest of his friend’s body appeared over the top.

Both men collapsed onto their backs, laying side by side, with their eyes shut. They panted hard, completely exhausted from their efforts.

Chris felt tears sting his eyes; tears that had threatened to fall when he looked over the edge of the ravine, and saw that Vin was alive. He’d pushed his relief aside, knowing he’d have to pool all his resources to save his friend from his precarious situation. But now Vin was safe, his emotions were floating to the surface again. He blinked, wiping the moisture from his eyes with the back of his hand.

He tried to regulate his breathing, taking slow, deep breaths. His head hurt like hell, and his shoulder felt as though it had been shot all over again. He didn’t want to think about the pain Vin must be in. The tracker was still healing from his previous injuries, and now he had a whole new list to add to them. In fact, he was pretty sure they both looked as though they’d been caught in the middle of a herd of stampeding cattle.

Feeling Vin’s eyes on him, he turned his aching head towards him. He read the unspoken message in the grateful look, and saw the tracker struggling to find the words he wanted.

"Chris…" The Texan managed, before the blond cut him off.

"You’re welcome, Cowboy."

Both smiled and turned away, looking up at the sky.



"Remind me not to listen…to you in future."

"Go t’ hell…Larabee."

"Already been there."

"That’s old."

"Well, according to…you, so am i."

Vin replied with a snort as he placed his arm across his forehead, squinting up at the sky. "Ah hell!"

"What’s wrong?" Chris asked, suddenly worried.

"We missed it."

"Missed what?" Chris was growing too tired to talk, and having to handle Vin’s riddles was not helping.


The gunslinger relaxed. "We’ll see it another time."


"Promise," Chris answered determinedly. He knew only too well how close they’d come to never having the chance to see the sun come up again.

He was lost in thought for a while, the sun growing warm on his face. He knew they couldn’t stay where they were, but right now, he needed the time to rekindle some energy.

"Hope he didn’t land on a beaver ‘r somethin’."

Chris screwed up his face in disbelief. He was worried by the strange way Vin was thinking. Turning to look at his friend, he studied the battered Texan’s profile, frowning at the dark red stain on the tracker’s arm. He felt a question forming on his lips, and cursed himself as he asked. "Who?"

"Seth." Realising Chris didn’t know that was the name of their visitor from earlier, Vin explained. "The scum we jus’ sent t’ hell."

Chris knew he shouldn’t pursue this conversation, but his mouth had other ideas. "Since when did you care about a beaver being squashed?"

"Kept ‘em as pets…other critters too."

"You had pet beavers?" Surprised by this revelation, Chris’s voice was a little higher than usual.

"Yeah." The Texan smiled as his face took on a distant look. "Used t’ find ‘em near where me an’ Ma had a cabin. Only took ‘em home if they was hurt." He smiled a whimsical smile, his eyes lighting up as he remembered. "Ma’d fix ‘em up best she could. One’s that made it, we let go."

"Bet you hated that, you must have been pretty young." Chris knew Vin’s mother had died when he was five.

"Started when I found m’ legs, ‘til Ma…" He swallowed, his memories turning sour. "Liked seein’ ‘em go back t’ the wild, where they belonged. B’sides, I knew there’d be another one along sooner ‘r later."

Chris decided to lighten the mood, feeling Vin’s sadness. "Well, I’m sure the beaver would’ve seen Seth coming, and moved aside."

The friends looked at each other and laughed softly, before growing still again. Their injuries were finally taking their toll. The rush of adrenaline they’d had from the fact they’d both survived now all used up.

Vin tried to raise himself onto his elbows, but quickly gave up. He couldn’t help groaning as he swallowed down a wave of nausea. He thought maybe he should have just lain there quietly, and not talked so darn much. "Don’t feel s’ good." He didn’t know why he’d voiced his thoughts aloud, his mind seemed to be getting more foggy by the second.

"Me neither." Chris rubbed at his sore head, feeling the congealed blood. It worried him that they were miles from anywhere, both in need of medical help. It worried him more that they were both so ready to admit how they felt. Usually they would both swear blind they were fine, even if they couldn’t even stand on their own. "Need Nathan." His voice sounded weak.

Dreading the thought of moving; they remained where they were. Both men wanting to help the other, but neither having the energy to move. They knew they should be trying to get home, but didn’t want to awaken the pain that, right now, was just about bearable. Their thoughts as one, they lay still, putting off having to move for as long as they could. But celebrating quietly the fact they were both still breathing.

* * * * * * *

The five peacekeepers had been riding hard since they left town. Each man’s thoughts going places they didn’t want to go. The further they got, the more they worried that they would be too late to help their friends.

Buck was the first to pull up his horse; followed by the other men, who stopped along side him. They all looked to him for guidance, wondering what had made him stop so suddenly. Seeing him with his eyes narrowed, staring at the area to his left, each of them turned their heads that way.

Their hearts skipped a beat simultaneously as each man saw what had caught the big man's attention.

Two figures lay side by side, unmoving, at the edge of a steep crevasse. They all could have denied that what they saw was their two friends, but they knew they would be kidding themselves. The black clothes on one man and buckskin and tan on the other was enough for them to know that it was Chris and Vin.

"Buck…" JD’s voice was low and scared. He didn’t want to go over there. Didn’t want to confirm what he dreaded to be true.

"It’s alright, kid," the rogue’s voice trembled as he tried to reassure the younger man. He looked from one to the other of his companions, knowing that the sullen looks on their faces mirrored his. "Let’s go."

Moving as one, the horses were guided slowly toward the fallen men; none of the riders wanting to reach their destination. All too afraid of what they would find, and what it all meant.

Seeing Chris trying to rise, Vin reached out an arm and placed it on his friend’s sleeve. "Relax…boys’r here." His voice was more raspy than normal. He was thirsty enough to drain a creek.

"Oh Lord…" Josiah breathed. "…Chris moved."

"I saw Vin…Vin moved too!" JD added excitedly.

That was enough for the men to dig their heels into their mounts and ride fast towards their friends.

Nearing their injured comrades, the peacekeepers reined in and Buck was off his horse before it had come to a complete stop.

Chris blinked, as an object blocked the sun from view. He blinked again and his lips twitched weakly when he finally focused on a familiar face.

"Buck…you followed…"

The ladies' man placed a hand on the blond’s shoulder, relief showing in every line of his face. "To hell an’ back ol’ friend."

"Vin…" Chris tried to lift his head, but settled it quickly back on the ground.

"Nathan’s with him," the rogue soothed. "He’s in good hands."

Nodding, the gunslinger closed his eyes. They were safe, and he could relax now. "Seth…" he offered, trying to explain what happened, but not getting very far. He opened his eyes again when he heard Ezra’s voice.

"The miscreant found you I surmise."

"Where is he?" JD looked around as he asked.

"Laying on top of a beaver." The amusement on Chris’s face did nothing to reassure his friends that he wasn’t delirious. Buck stood up, with a puzzled expression. He eyed the surrounding area, walking to the edge of the ravine and peering over. Looking back at the other bewildered men, he pointed downwards. "Ouch."

"Serves him right. Justice has been served." Ezra decided he needed to sit down, and found a rock to lean his back against. His emerald eyes rested on Vin, and he frowned as he watched Nathan tending the injured Texan.

"Easy Vin." For the third time since he’d got there, Nathan had to hold the tracker down. He and Josiah had to pry the sharpshooter’s fingers from Chris’s sleeve in order to take the Texan’s jacket off.

Vin rested his head back on the ground, deciding that for now he would comply with Nathan’s request. He knew that Buck was with Chris, and so didn’t need to worry. He swallowed hard when nausea hit him again. Nathan was probing the wound in his arm, and it was hurting like hell. His eyes grew wide, when the prodding moved to the reopened wound in his leg. Gritting his teeth, he reached out and gripped Josiah’s sleeve, needing something to help him ride out the pain the healer’s ministrations were causing.

A hand wrapped around his and, when the pain lessened, he felt a cool cloth wiping his hot face. "Thanks," he whispered, blinking up into Nathan’s worried features. "Reckon me an’ Chris need some o’ yer horse piss."

"Reckon you do," Nathan answered, frowning as Vin began to cough.

The tracker felt his head lifted and a cool spout touch his lips. He thought he’d died and gone to heaven as the cool water slid down his parched throat. He craned his neck when the canteen was pulled away, wanting more.

"Not too much." Nathan sat back and looked down at his patient. Seth’s bullet had not entered Vin’s arm, but had managed to gouge deep into the skin, causing it to bleed quite badly. His ribs were bruised, and his leg was bleeding again. He was covered in cuts and bruises, but the healer was pretty sure none of them were serious. He looked over at Josiah. "I’m gonna check on Chris. Watch ‘im for me."

"Like a hawk." Josiah winked and settled on the ground beside the tracker as Nathan made his way over to the other injured man.

"What you been doin’ to yourself, Larabee?" he asked, kneeling by his leader and rummaging in his supply bag.

Buck grinned. "He’s been flattening outlaws."

"No, that was Vin." The blond sucked in a breath when something cold was applied to his head wound. "Shit Nathan, thought you were supposed to stop it hurting."

"Don’t sass me now, I’ve had enough of that with Vin."

There was no answer as Chris finally gave in to his body’s demands and passed out. Nathan finished with the head wound and checked the old injury in the gunslinger’s shoulder.

Sitting back on his heels, satisfied that he had done all he could for now, he looked around at the four expectant peacekeepers. "They’re gonna be fine," he announced, and was answered by an ensemble of relieved smiles.

"Need to get ‘em back to town though…and Lord knows where their horses are."

"I’ll round ‘em up," JD volunteered. "Couldn’t have got far."

"Alright, kid. Just be careful, ya hear?"

JD frowned at the ladies' man. "Can take care of myself just fine."

"Course ya can." Buck slapped the young sheriff on the back and then looked over at Josiah.

"You take Vin, I’ll take Chris?" he raised his brows in enquiry.

"Sounds like a plan, Brother."

With Vin too weak to protest, and Chris still out for the count, the men were soon on their way back to town.

Chris woke once, and knew it was Buck seated behind him, holding him tightly. To the rogue’s surprise the blond didn’t seem to care that they were riding in the same saddle. "Vin okay?" he mumbled.

"He’s fine, buddy. Get some rest." The whispered words were answered with a nod, and Chris’s head was soon resting peacefully, back against the big man’s shoulder.

Feeling the tracker wriggle, Josiah looked down at his charge. Vin lay across the saddle, his upper body cradled in one of the preacher’s strong arms. The older man turned on a toothy grin as his pale eyes met wide Texan blue.


"…is with Buck, sleeping," Josiah cut in, pointedly.

Vin nodded, then frowned. "…m’ horse."

"JD’s rounding ‘em up." Josiah adjusted the thin blanket around the tracker, when he felt the smaller man shiver. He lifted his eyes, and looked ahead of him, but lowered them again when he felt

himself being observed. Cocking his head to one side, he watched the expression on Vin’s face change as the younger man obviously wrestled with something in his mind.

"Yer friends are the measure o’ yer worth. That’s what ya tol’ me, right J’siah?"

The ex-preacher was taken aback by the young tracker’s rasped words. "That’s right, Vin."

The Texan dropped his gaze, then raised it again. "Reckon ‘m worth more ‘n five hun’red dollars then."

Josiah’s heart clenched. Vin sure had a way of pulling you in all sorts of directions. Drawing the tracker just a touch nearer his big chest, he smiled a warm smile. "A lot more, son…a whole lot more."

* * * * * * *

Chris scanned the room with bored eyes, huffing loudly. Two days of this and he’d had enough. Two whole days; laying in the clinic and staring at four walls, drinking horse piss, and enduring prodding fingers.

The first day hadn’t been quite so bad. He and Vin had slept most of it; exhausted from their ordeal. But today was different. Today, they felt better, and to top it all off, Vin had the devil perched on his shoulder. The mangy Texan had driven him crazy. He turned his glare onto the tracker; propped up in the bed beside him.

He cursed the day he’d ever told Vin about his Ma’s saying…the cuss was bleeding it dry.

Chris crossed his arms in front of his chest, his head leaning against the wall. Glaring at Nathan’s neat shelves, he ground his teeth.

JD entered the clinic at that moment, rubbing his jaw. "Nathan here? Buck’s looking for him."

"He went fer food," Vin informed, his eyes closed.

"What’s wrong with your face?" Chris asked, watching the young sheriff as he continued to rub at his jaw.

JD sighed. "Casey wore a dress to surprise me."

"How’d that hurt yer face?’ Vin opened an eye, his curiosity getting the better of him.

JD shrugged, and sat heavily in the chair beside Chris’s bed. "I told her she looked better in britches…and she hit me!"

Chris laughed softly. "You’ve got a lot to learn about women, kid."

Vin’s face turned mischievous, his eyes flicking to the blond, before turning back to JD. "Mebbe y’ shoulda took a step back and pondered ’fore ya said anythin’."

JD jumped off his seat, his eyes wide, when Chris threw a cup full of water at Vin, narrowly missing the tracker’s head. Looking from one man to the other, the young sheriff decided not to stick around. "I better go find Nathan," he mumbled before hurrying out of the door.

Looking across at each other, the two friend’s lips started to twitch.

"Don’t think he liked the advice, cowboy."

Vin’s raspy words wiped the smile from Chris’s face. His glare returned as he spoke. "Mention that saying one more time, you get a bullet."

"Mighty generous of ya…was runnin’ low."

Chris growled and pulled back the covers, swinging his feet to the floor. He closed his eyes, grabbing his head with both hands.

Full of remorse now, Vin’s worried gaze watched as Chris manoeuvred himself back into bed. "Hell, ‘m sorry, Chris."

"Not your fault, Vin."

The door opened, and this time it was Nathan. He eyed his two patients, wondering about the looks on their faces. He knew they were going crazy, being holed up in the clinic. He also knew that he wouldn’t be able to keep them there much longer.

"Buck was looking for you." Chris closed his eyes, and rested his head against the soft pillow.

"Yeah, he found me." He walked over to the blond, noticing his pale pallor. "You try to get up too quick?"

"Yeah, needed to escape from a smart assed, pig headed Texan you might know."

Vin snorted, and reached for his cup of water. "Reckon there’s an ornery gunslinger round these parts needs t’ take his Ma’s advice ‘fore he hurts his head again."

Chris reached out and grabbed the cup of horse piss next to his bed. Ignoring his thumping head he made to throw it at the tracker. Acting fast, Nathan grabbed Chris’s wrist and prised the vessel from the blond’s grasp.

Looking despairingly from glaring green eyes to laughing blue he threw up his hands. "I give up, you two are out of here tonight!"

* * * * * * *

Hugging his knees, Vin sat looking out of his wagon. The town was still in darkness, the only light coming from the fires in the street, and the moon up above.

It was five days since he and Chris had left Nathan’s clinic, and he was finally feeling like his old self again.

Taking a deep breath, his lips turned up in a small smile, relishing the fresh air as it filled his lungs. Exhaling slowly, he decided that this was the day…it was time.

Crawling out of his wagon, he placed his hat on his head and started walking towards the boarding house. He knew they’d have plenty of time

to get there, it wasn’t that much of a ride.

Creeping along the corridor, he stopped outside Chris’s door, and prepared to go inside. He chewed his lip, remembering the week before, when he had done the exact same thing; and Larabee had almost shot him!

Telling himself he was perfectly safe, he carefully opened the door, and squeezed through the small gap before closing it again.

He stood with his back against the door, looking towards the bed, frowning when it seemed flatter than it should. It was then he realised there was light in the room, and he noticed an oil lamp was glowing faintly, making shadows dance on the walls.

Movement near the dresser drew Vin’s eyes that way, and they opened a little wider at the sight of Chris, sitting fully dressed, sporting a wide smile.

"I’m ready to ride, Cowboy."

Vin stood stock-still, his mouth slightly open, and his brows furrowed. He cocked his head, and went to speak, but closed his lips tight. He knew better than to ask how Chris knew he was coming. There’d been many times since the two had met that the same kind of thing had happened, as though their minds were joined somehow. He’d given up trying to fathom it out, instead he’d decided to accept it as one of those things, and he had to admit he kind of liked it.

Shifting his weight off of his still healing leg, the tracker decided he’d better respond; Larabee was looking too smug.

"Ready t’ ride where?"

"To see this sunrise of yours…that’s why you’re here isn’t it?"

"If yer head gets any bigger, yer hat won’t fit," Vin grumbled, his face sporting a frown. Turning towards the door, he looked back at the blond. "Get off yer ass, Larabee, y’ won’t get far ridin’ a chair."

Laughing softly, Chris followed the Texan out of the room. He was still a little perplexed himself, about how he’d known Vin was going to turn up when he did. He’d woken up suddenly, and the thought just entered his head that he needed to be ready for when Vin got there. Not asking himself why, he’d got himself organised, and had just sat down when the tracker entered the room. Like Vin, he no longer questioned their ability to communicate the way they did; he just accepted it as the way things were.

The two peacekeepers were soon riding out of town. The moon was full and easily lit their way as they travelled along. This time, Vin didn’t gripe about how slow they were moving, he knew they had plenty of time, and so just enjoyed the ride; and the company.

"Got something of yours."

Chris’s voice filled the silence, and Vin raised an eyebrow. He watched the blond reach into his pocket and he smiled when he saw what was pulled out.

"Thought I’d lost it…" Vin reached out and took his spyglass from Chris’s outstretched hand. "Fergot I gave it t’ ya."

"I figured you’d be needing it more than me now."

"Thanks, Cowboy." Slipping the spyglass into his pocket, Vin squeezed it tight before retrieving his hand. It was one of the few things he possessed, and like most other stuff he owned, it was special to him.

The spyglass had made Chris’s thoughts turn to the day of the stagecoach hold up, and a shiver ran down his spine at the memories.

"You did a brave thing, sticking your neck out for Somers…though I shouldn’t be surprised."

Vin shrugged. "I’m figurin’ you’da done the same." He threw a look at the gunslinger. "Buck tol’ me how ya came t’ get shot."

Chris chuffed. "Buck talks too much." He looked straight ahead, not wanting to end this particular conversation, it had been a long time coming. "All this hero stuff you keep doing, you’re gonna have the ladies falling at your feet."

"Yer jus’ jealous they ain’t fallin’ at yers." Blowing out a deep breath, Vin realised it was time to clear up a few things. Since the day in town, when he’d broken cover to help JD, there’d been something floating in the air between him and Chris.

"I don’t wanna be a hero, Chris." A deep sigh escaped him. "Don’t wanna be like one o’ those ol’ knights used t’ live in England; winnin’ spurs from bein’ bold an’ brave."

Sensing the curious look on Larabee’s face, Vin smiled. "Ma tol’ me ‘bout ‘em…used t’ sit on her knee, and she’d tell me stuff." He shifted in his saddle and then took a deep breath, remembering one of the stories his Ma had told him that would explain what he was trying to say to Chris, better than his stumbling words could.

"She tol’ me once ‘bout these warriors that lived a long time ago." He licked his lips, and went on. "When they was goin’ off t’ battle, their Ma’s ‘r wives‘d kiss ‘em g’dbye and whisper to ‘em…Bring yer shield home…"

"Strange thing to say," Chris mused quietly, mesmerised by Vin’s soft drawl.

"Not when ya know what’s behind it," Vin answered seriously. "If the warrior came home without his shield, it was likely he’d turned yella an’ thrown it so’s he could run faster…’n his family’d be shamed," he paused. "But if he came home with it…meant he’d stayed ‘n fought…’n if’n he was kilt durin’ the battle, his fellow warriors’d honour him by carryin’ him home on it."

"So, if you kept your shield, you kept your honour."

"That’s right." The Texan turned towards his friend then. His eyes were bright, imploring Chris to understand what he was trying to say.

"Ya see Chris, I don’t want people sayin’ ‘m brave…an’ I’m not tryin’ t’ be no hero. It’s jus’ me tryin’ t’ hold on t’ m’ shield."

Chris’s heart flipped over at the intensity of Vin’s voice. "You’ve got your shield, Vin…can’t ever imagine you being without it." He let out a sigh. "Just sometimes, I wish you’d keep it where it can protect you, instead of holding it up so damn high." He frowned over at his moonlit friend. "I can see that Tanner name of yours shining right out from the middle of that proud chest."

He dropped his gaze. "Just don’t wanna see a bullet right through the middle of it."

They turned their horses left, towards where they’d had their encounter with Seth a week before. The moon was still shining bright. It appeared to be lighting their way in more ways than one. The tranquillity seemed to be helping the friends to heal an old wound, one that had been festering for too long.

Vin cast a glance at the blond. "Ya gotta remember Chris, I was on m’ own fer a long time. Hell, longer ‘n I can remember." His brow furrowed. "I ain’t always had friends lookin’ out fer me…it’s hard t’ get used t’."

Chris kept silent, knowing Vin had more things to say.

Vin reached for his canteen and drank from it, wetting his dry throat. Passing it to Chris, he began talking again. "I’ve been in a lot o’ tough spots in m’ time…always found a way out. But I know one day, chances are, I ain’t gonna make it. Ya jus’ gotta have faith in me…if there’s a way outta what I get m’self int’, I’ll find it. If there ain’t, or if I get kilt tryin’ then it was m’ time t’ go."

"Aren’t we allowed to help you?" Chris was frustrated. He wanted Vin to understand that there was nothing wrong with relying on other people.

"Sure y’are. Jus’ don’t lecture me on what I do. An’ remember ya can’t be there fer me all the time, anymore ‘n I can fer y’." He could feel Chris’s prickly mood. "I’m glad I got y’all…an’ I’ll look out fer ya jus’ the same as ya do fer me."

"What if you get yourself killed, and there’s some way we could have helped…even if it was just by lecturing you as you put it?"

Vin shrugged. "Don’t beat yerself up. No one puts me in danger but me…I got a mind o’ m’ own. Hell, d’ya reckon I do stuff jus’ ‘cause ya tell me to?" He smiled over at his friend, and received a half hearted glare in return.

"Lose the worry, an’ the guilt, an’ whatever else ya got on yer shoulders ‘cause o’ me. I know yer frettin’, I can see it in those darn eyes o’ yers."

"It’s hard not to…don’t have many people I give a damn about."

"Me neither, Chris. But we can’t run each other’s lives."

They pulled their horses to a stop, and Vin moved in his saddle to better see Chris’s face. His eyes were huge, imploring his friend to understand what he was saying. "All I want from ya is faith and trust…and yer friendship"

"You got all three…you always have."

Vin nodded once, his face less intense now. "So, no more advice ‘bout how I do things?"

Chris smiled wryly. "Still not sure you breaking cover on that roof sits right with me."

Vin issued a heavy sigh. He was tired from talking, but knew everything had to be resolved now, or things may never be completely healed between them.

"Chris, you know when there’s danger, ya gotta rely on instinct. Ponderin’ don’t come int’ it. Ya can ponder when ya got the time t’ make a decision." His eyes sparked, as he thought of something that might make Chris realise what he was trying to say.

"Why’d ya shoot Eli Joe on the roof?"

The question startled the blond. "’Cause if I hadn’t he would’ve used that

knife on you."

Vin narrowed his eyes, just a little. "You didn’t ponder on it?"

"No time for that…you would have been dead." Chris wasn’t sure he liked where this was heading. He had the distinct feeling he was being backed into a corner by the wily Texan.

"It was the same thing when I broke cover t’ help JD, and you put yerself in the line o’ fire t’ try an’ help me," Vin issued a deep sigh. "Sometimes ya can’t think ‘fore ya act…it can be the difference ‘tween life ‘n death."

"I know that, Vin. But some of us were in a better position to help JD than you were," Chris tried to reason, but felt he was losing the battle.

Vin cocked his head, but his eyes stayed intent as he replied. "What if we all thought the same? That one o’ the other five had it covered? JD’d likely be dead now."

"You got a point, Vin. But…"

The tracker held up a hand. "No buts Chris. I ain’t never gonna change the way I do things, anymore ‘n you are."

Both jumping down from their mounts, they ground tied them and began walking towards the edge of the crevasse.

"I’m fighting a losing battle here aren’t I?" Chris couldn’t help a small smile. "I think I’m gonna retreat, before I throw my shield and run."

The men’s laughter filled the stillness and quiet of the open land.

Still grinning, Vin winked at his friend. "No offence, pard, but I ain’t ever gonna take yer Ma’s advice."

Chris’s face was wry as he answered. "Don’t know why I had to bring that up. All I saw was the blood running down your face…I was angry…and scared. I didn’t think about what I was saying."

Vin smiled wickedly. "Ya mean ya didn’t step back an’ ponder?"

Chris pressed his lips tightly together, stopped walking, and turned to face his friend. "Vin, can we make a deal?"


The black clad man continued, ignoring the playful twinkle in Vin’s eyes. "You never mention step back and ponder again, and I never tell Buck about Ezra’s underwear." The blond held out his hand, looking expectantly at the tracker. "…deal?"

Vin eyed the offered hand before raising his gaze to meet Chris’s. Finally nodding his agreement, he reached out and both men clasped forearms in their familiar armlock.


With gazes locked, their arms remained clasped for a few moments. Then, both men’s eyes twinkled before they released their grip. Turning their heads, they both looked out over the horizon.

"Here it comes," Vin whispered.

The two men seated themselves on the ground, side by side, watching as the sun rose slowly over the land that they now helped protect. The sky turned navy blue; and a crimson glow began forming along the horizon.

His green eyes filled with awe, Chris whispered to the man beside him. "Can see why you like watching this, Vin, it’s…" he broke off, trying to find the words.

The tracker nodded in understanding. "Reckon dawn’s more ‘n a sky full o’ purty colours. The way I see it, it’s the start of a brand new day, wi’ no mistakes in it." His blue eyes were dreamy, their attention not drifting from the awesome sight. "Every time the sun comes up, it’s like God’s givin’ us another chance t’ do things right."

Chris’s small smile was warm and proud as he absorbed what Vin had said. He felt the hairs standing up on the back of his neck, and shook his head slowly. The way the Texan could weave words still astounded him.

"I’m not gonna argue with that," he responded with a small laugh. Like Vin, he couldn’t take his eyes from the spectacular show Mother Nature was putting on for them.

The shadowy outlines of the two friends slowly melted into silhouettes, as the sun made its journey into the sky. Both men took a deep breath; their

faces showing their wonder as they witnessed the beauty of the birth of a brand new day…and another chance to do things right.


Comments to: