Just Words

by JIN

Disclaimer: I don’t own or profit from this or from these characters. But I do have fun with them now and then.

Comments: Just a little fluff (with a tiny little h/c – I’m hopeless) about loving and losing. Chris says something nasty to Vin – but he redeems himself – really, he does. Trust me, I love Chris.

Universe: OW

Characters: Vin, Chris


I can’t believe he said it.

Peso’s probably wonderin’ what the hell I’m doin’. I just got him settled for the night a few hours ago, and here we are ridin’ out again.

Don’t feel like stayin’ in town.

It’s no big problem. Lots of worse things been said t’ me before . . . ain’t like I care all that much.

Just words is all.

But I still can’t believe Chris said it.

He gets that way, sometimes . . . acts like a . . . mule.

It’s not that I don’t understand. I mean, the man’s got his reasons. We all got our reasons.

Even if he thinks my reasons ain’t as good as his. He’s got no idea what my life’s been like . . . where I been and who I been there with. What I’ve lost . . .

‘Course, that’s probably my own doin’. Don’t share all that much about my life with the others. Chris knows more than any of ‘em, though. I reckon that’s why it . . . feels the way it does.

He was drinkin’ some –but he wasn’t drunk. He’d had just enough, though . . . enough to be . . . sloppy. You know, feelin’ kinda loose and easy - not really watchin’ what y’ say.

That’s when y’ say what you really think . . . what you really mean.

It started out all right. I came in from patrol and saw Chris sittin’ off by himself in the corner. I asked him if I could join him. I always ask. Me and him get on real well, but that don’t mean he wants my company all the time. I always ask.

He nodded, but he didn’t look up at me. That should’ve been my first clue that he was in a mood. Not that it matters. Hell, between the seven of us, someone’s about always in a mood. I just let it go over my head . . . ain’t my business, anyway.

He finally turned his face towards me, as he pushed over the bottle t’ share . . . and he was lookin’ kinda sad.

And I felt bad about it . . . he’s my friend an’ all.

"Wanna talk about it, Cowboy?" I asked him. Seemed simple enough.


Well alrighty then. No problem. I took a drink and sunk down in my chair. Felt good t’ just sit back after puttin’ in a long day, like I had.

"I was wrong," he said, so quiet that I wasn’t real sure that he’d spoke at all.

"‘Bout what?" I asked him, ‘cause I really had no idea.

"I asked Nathan once . . . since he’d lost the people he loved, was he sorry he had them?’"

I frowned at him, hopin’ he could see that I wasn’t quite followin’ along, but he was lookin’ down in his drink.

He went on, "I was thinking I could never feel that way . . . never be sorry that I had ‘em. But I was wrong."

He took a long swig of the whiskey, and I was glad because it gave me time t’ think what t’ say.

"You don’t mean that, Chris." Probably not as good as Josiah woulda done, but it was . . . direct.

He slammed his drink down on the table and he looked at me and he said, "You know that saying . . . the one about it being better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all?"

I nodded.

"Well, it’s bull shit."

"Chris . . ." I said, but he cut me off.

"Don’t even say it, Vin. You wouldn’t know. You’ve never had anyone. Just don’t even say it."

It didn’t hurt. They were just words, after all. And he was feelin’ low and a little . . . loose.

Probably should’ve just walked off after that. But I said the words real soft before I could stop myself. "I do know. I’ve lost . . . I’ve lost folks that I love, too."

"You were a kid, Vin . . . can you even remember her? Do her face and her voice haunt you every single night?"

No, I thought. But I didn’t say it. No, I can hardly remember her face and I sure don’t remember her voice - even though I do remember her words.

"Or do you mean Charlotte? Because I don’t even think that’s worth mentioning, is it?"

Don’t know why he brought that up. Don’t know why I sat there and listened. He wasn’t thinkin’ right . . . he wouldn’t say things like that otherwise.

He shook his head. "You don’t even know what love is."

I got up then. I’m not sure if it was because he was so wrong – or if I was afraid he could be right.

I’m not mad at him. He was in a mood. I’ll just let it go over my head. But me and Peso will be takin’ a nice long ride in the meantime.


"Anybody see Vin?" I ask.

"He’s on patrol," Buck answers.


"Since he obviously enjoys the activity so much, far be it from us to encroach upon his pleasure," Ezra says, without looking up from his hand.

Thinking back, I don’t recall seeing Tanner for the past two days. Not since the other night . . .

I remember that I was in one of those moods. Some days – most days anymore – I can deal with it. Sometimes I even feel guilty about that . . . that I’ve learned to live so well without them. But other days, I just can’t . . . deal with it.

I’d been drinking some, but not all that much. I remember spouting off to Vin about loving and losing, or some such nonsense. I’m pretty sure I accused him of not understanding, too.

Vin probably wouldn’t mind, though. He always has accepted me . . . and my moods. Puts up with me, at any rate.

Still, I wouldn’t want to hurt his feelings.

What am I saying? It’d take a whole lot more than a few stray words to run Vin off.

And I suppose the truth is that I believe some of what I said. I don’t believe Vin or any of the boys know what it’s like. None of them can really understand. Nothing compares to that bond between a man and wife . . . or a man and his son.

They don’t know what it’s like.

They don’t know what it’s like to have it . . . and they sure don’t know what it’s like to lose it.

I envy them that . . . envy my friends who don’t have to wake up every morning with a hole staring them in face. Sometimes that hole is so deep, that ache is so unbearable that I’d do anything to make it go away – including not ever having Sarah and Adam in my life to begin with.

Might be wrong to feel that way, but some days I do feel exactly that way.

The other night was one of those days. Vin just showed up at the wrong time, I reckon.

But hell, he knows me. He hasn’t been out riding the last two days because of anything I said. He probably got a hankering to get away for a spell – he does that every now and then.

Maybe I should say a word or two to him when he comes back, though.


I don’t mind bein’ alone.

Been alone most of my life.

That ain’t likely t’ change, either – with this bounty on my head.

Sure, I’ve got pards t’ ride with now . . . guess I ain’t alone in that way. But I won’t be havin’ a wife or a child anytime soon.

Wasn’t thinkin’ too clear with Charlotte. If I really loved her, I wouldn’t have asked her t’ go on the run with me. That just ain’t fair t’ any woman. I know that. I just . . . fergot it fer a spell. She had me all worked up . . . not thinkin’ clear. Guess I was more lonely than I thought.

You’d think I’d have learned by now. You’d think I’d be used t’ bein’ lonely . . . bein’ alone.

I could live that way again.

If I had to.

You don’t even know what love is.

Don’t know why that keeps runnin’ through my head. Just words.

I got better things t’ think about than love . . . whether I had it or lost it or whatever the hell he was goin’ on about.

But I do know what it is. I know what I had and what I didn’t.

Even if I’m not exactly sure that anyone ever loved me.

It’s no big problem.

My ma probably did anyway . . . I’m sure she did. And what’s it really matter? None of us can live in the past. Somebody might want t’ mention that t’ Chris.

He ain’t the only one that’s been hurt. He ain’t the only one that feels alone, sometimes. Somebody might want t’ mention that t’ Chris, too.

Won’t be me.

I don’t mind that I never had it . . . bein’ loved like that.

Doesn’t mean I don’t know what it is, does it?


Vin came back.

I didn’t have time to talk with him, though. Judge Travis came into town and asked us to run a few errands for him. I offered, since I was feeling the need to get away for awhile.

Josiah came with me. He can get on my nerves sometimes, but he seemed to sense that I needed the quiet this time around.

I probably could have asked Vin to go with me, but he wasn’t around at the time.

I probably could have looked a little harder.

I suppose when it comes right down to it, I feel bad about what I said. And I sure ain’t good about admitting when I’m wrong.

I suppose that’s obvious?

Then again, I’m not all that wrong. He doesn’t understand, and he never will. When it comes to this gut-wrenching grief that still festers inside me – he’ll never understand.

The only way he could really know, is if it happened to him . . . and God knows, I’d never want that to happen to any man, least of all my friend.

In the end, it doesn’t matter all that much – whether he can truly understand or he can’t. It shouldn’t – it doesn’t – change everything else. Doesn’t change my respect for him. Doesn’t change the fact that I trust him to watch my back. Doesn’t change the way he can make me smile with a just a word or two.


Vin sure has a way with them. Like that poem he wrote. It would have taken Josiah three pages to say what Vin said in a few lines.

Or what about Ezra? Vin can say more in four well spoken words than Standish could say in four paragraphs of the four-syllable bullshit he throws around.

And it would take more than a few poorly chosen words to ruin what Vin and I have.

I don’t know why I’m worrying on this. Vin’s probably forgotten about the whole thing by now.

I looked for him when Josiah and I came back, but he’d gone to the reservation with Nathan. Guess they have some kind of flu or food poisoning going on out there.

He’ll be all right. We’ll catch up when he gets back.


Been sick for a few days now . . . feels like my insides are on the outside.

Feel real bad for Nathan. He brought me out here t’ help, and the very next day I was pukin’ along side of everybody else.

I keep tryin’ t’ get up and help, but every time I take a few steps, I end up flat on my face. The last time, Nathan got kinda mad . . . well, that’s not true. He got real mad and said he didn’t need any more problems.

I spent a good part of my life tryin’ not t’ be a problem t’ anybody.

I reckon that’s why it was so hard fer me t’ accept the boys’ help when we went after Eli Joe. I’m used to handlin’ things on my own . . . bein’ on my own.

Think I was about seven or eight when I figured it out. Although, lookin’ back, I didn’t figure it out by myself. I was at some orphans’ place at the time, and one of the older kids there pointed it out t’ me. You know - the fact that we were problems . . . that that was why we were there. Nobody wants a problem . . . and nobody wanted us. So I was thinkin’ that if I was real good and no problem, then someday somebody would want me.

Few years later, I took off. I did figure out by myself that bein’ good had nothin’ t’ do with bein’ wanted.

Had nothin’ t’ do with bein’ loved, either.

You don’t even know what love is.

What if he’s right? What if I don’t know? What kind of man . . . of person, does that make me?

"Vin? You all right?" Nathan asks me.

"Fine," I croak . . . forgetting that my throat is full of sawdust.

He smiles at me and helps me take a drink. It tastes real good goin’ down, but after a few minutes, I know it’s comin’ right back up.

Nathan just stays there, rubbin’ my back real gentle and tellin’ me I’m gonna be all right.

I’m feelin’ like shit, though, and I know I’m groanin’ as he helps me lay back down.

"Think your fever’s coming back," he says with a frown.

"Don’t worry none," I say, because I really do hate t’ make the man worry. Nathan’s such a good man . . . the best of us all, I reckon. He sure doesn’t deserve the grief we give him.

"I’m sorry t’ be such a problem," I add.

Now he’s really frownin’ at me as he says, "You’re a lot of things to me, Vin Tanner, but a problem ain’t one of ‘em. I don’t want to hear any more talk like that. Now go on and rest."

I nod. I don’t think I can get another word out of that scratchy throat of mine anyway.

He pulls the blanket up over me and pats me on the shoulder as he turns to leave.

I guess I don’t know much about love – least not the kind Chris was talkin’ about. But I’m thinkin’ what Nathan does – the way he cares fer people who are sick and hurtin’ – I reckon that’s a kind of love.

But then again, what do I know? It’s lookin’ more and more like Chris was right.


"Good Lord, Nathan! What horrible calamity has befallen our resident sharpshooter this time?" I hear Ezra ask.

I look up then from the book I’ve been reading, and before I know it, I’m on my feet and helping Nathan get Vin off his horse.

He’s white as a sheet and a good ten pounds lighter than when he left – pounds he sure didn’t need to lose.

I listen for Nathan’s response as I keep an arm on the stumbling figure beside me.

"He got that flu that Kojay’s people have had . . . been sick all week. Help me get him up to the clinic," Nathan instructs me.

"Aw hell, Nathan, I can just stay in my wagon . . . don’t need t’ be puttin’ you out," Vin argues in a pathetically weak voice.

"You’re still too weak, Vin. I won’t keep you but a few days – the worst is over now," Nathan says.

I’m thinking if this isn’t the worst . . . than the worst was worse than I care to think on.

It’s a struggle, but between Nathan and Ezra and me, we manage to get Vin up the stairs and into bed. He hardly hits the mattress and he’s out cold.

"Nathan?" I ask, and I notice even Ezra looks concerned.

"He looks worse than he is. He’s been real sick, though. Almost sent for you a few times."

My heart starts beating faster and I turn away from them. It doesn’t matter. He’s here and he’ll be fine. Nathan almost sent for me . . . but he didn’t . . . which means he really is fine.

In the next instant, I’m thinking that he should have sent for me, though. What if something had happened? What if I hadn’t had a chance to . . . you know . . . say it?

Not that I’m entirely sure of what I’m gonna say. Not that I’m entirely sure that I need to say anything.

But just in case . . .

"Did you hear me, Chris?"

Nathan must have asked me something but I don’t have a clue what.

"What?" I ask, and I can tell he knows I’m distracted . . . seems like I’ve been distracted for days now.

"Vin’s been acting kind of . . . off."

"Off?" What the hell does that mean?

"Yeah, not exactly . . . right. Like something’s bothering him."

Could be anything. Might not have a thing to do with what I said. I don’t even remember exactly what it was I did say.

"He’s been sick," I answer shortly, as if that explains it. Maybe it does. Probably it does. I hope it does.

"I noticed it as well, even before he and Nathan left town," Ezra adds helpfully.

Standish is looking straight at me, and I frown back at him. He couldn’t possibly know what went on that night . . . what stupid words came out of my mouth.

"I’ll sit a spell with him," I offer – hoping this conversation will just go away.

I’m beginning to wish that other conversation would go away even more. And I’m remembering why I only say three words in a day. Even with that, I get myself in trouble.

I’m about to push both Ezra and Nathan out the door, when Buck comes busting in. "We got some trouble out at the Smith ranch, Chris. We’re gonna need your help."

I shake my head. Those Smith boys are gonna turn me gray yet . . . if Tanner doesn’t beat them to it. I look at Vin, all pale and hollowed out, and it grips me hard – how much I care about him.

I’d never intentionally hurt him – surely he knows that.

But I did. I can try to turn it all around a hundred different ways, but the truth just keeps rearing its ugly head.

I hurt him. And as much as I want to set that right, it will have to wait a while longer.


Nathan don’t want me up doin’ much, but I snuck out when he wasn’t lookin’. I’m feelin’ a heap better than I did. Tired, but that ain’t nothin’.

I decide to head over by the school house. It’s out of the way enough that Nathan won’t see me right off. Can’t believe what I see, though – or rather, who I see.


He’s sittin’ on this log on the ground, and he has all these kids around him. Reminds me of when we first helped Rain’s people; how them kids there took t’ Ezra like they did.

I’m bettin’ he’s showin’ them all card tricks again, and sure enough, as I get a little closer I can see that I’m right.

The sky’s kinda overcast today, hazy gray clouds blocking out the sun – but the smiles on those kids’ faces shine brighter than any ordinary sunshine ever could.

Ezra’s laughin’, too. He’s got a nice laugh . . . I’ve noticed that about him. There’s a whole lot of things a person could notice about Ezra, if they look past the stuff on the outside.

Not everyone’s good with kids, y’ know. I’ve known plenty of men who have no business bein’ anywhere near a young ‘un.

I don’t think about it all that much anymore. Can’t change the past. But I reckon if I ever come across one of those men who hurt kids like . . . like I was . . . well, I reckon even Chris couldn’t keep me from shooting ‘em . . .

in the back . . .

six or seven times.

No, I didn’t get much of a chance t’ see many good men when I was a little feller.

Maybe if I’d had an Ezra when I was growin’ up, maybe then I’d know what love is.

‘Cause it seems like it shines real bright in Ezra’s eyes – and all those eyes shinin’ back at him.

Seems like I got somethin’ in my own eye, the way it’s tearin’ up on me - and I am startin’ t’ wear down some, so I decide I’ll head on over t’ the church. See what Josiah’s up to.

He’s busy up on the roof again, fixing those loose boards. He doesn’t see me down below, but it doesn’t matter. I just sit down on the steps and lean back a little. My back is achin’ from layin’ around so much, and it feels good t’ stretch it out.

Josiah spent days repairing these old stairs. He spent months fixin’ the floor inside . . . and the walls . . . and the windows. He never really quits. He says he’s doin’ it for . . . penance, I think. But whatever he’s tryin’ to make up for, he’s long since paid in full.

I don’t think it’s that at all. He likes it when people come there lookin’ fer peace and understanding. He likes it when they come fer his advice and words from the Bible. He always acts like him and God aren’t the best of friends anymore, but I don’t think it’s true.

I sure don’t know much about religion – but I know what I see in my friend. He doesn’t do all this fer himself.

I may not know what love is, but I’m pretty sure it’s in every nail and every splinter and every word that’s said in Josiah’s church.


You don’t even know what love is.

I didn’t really say that, did I? I woke up in a cold sweat this morning – those words ringing in my ears.

I’m sure I didn’t say that.

Shit. That’s exactly what I said. And since there’s no way I know of to unsay it, I’ve just got to set it right. I’ve got to tie Vin down and tell him that I’m . . . an idiot.

But I swear events are conspiring against me. Every time I’ve tried to have a conversation with Vin, something has interrupted us.

Maybe it’s for the best, since I still have no idea what to say.

I suppose it’s because I still can’t imagine that he really knows what it’s been like . . . what it’s still like.

Just like I can’t really know what it was like for him.

I’ve been thinking about that a lot.

The whole loved and lost thing.

I’ve been loved my entire life. I’ve been part of a family my entire life. I don’t really know what it must have been like to not have that. It’s so engrained in me, so much a part of who I am, that I couldn’t imagine being totally on my own from the time I was a small child.

Totally alone. Like Vin.

Only an insensitive fool would throw that in his friend’s face . . . a selfish, arrogant, feeling-sorry-for-himself, insensitive fool.

God – what must Vin think?

At least I answered my own question. At least there is one thing I now know for sure; it’s so much better to have had someone . . . to have loved someone . . . than to never know that joy and contentment.

Than to be alone.

There’s no comparison.

I knew it all along. Just have to hit me over the head a time or twenty, and I’ll soon remember.

Now if only I could figure out how to put into words that I regret saying those things. I’ve got no right to judge Vin’s life or his feelings or anything at all having to do with love, of all things.

I suppose saying "I’m sorry" would be a start. I suppose I’ll damn near choke on the words. Damn pride gets in the way more times than not. Josiah would have something to say about that I’m sure.

Vin will probably blush and stammer and look at me like I’ve cracked my head. He’ll say all this talk about love is more than he can stomach, and then, with a little luck, he’ll invite me for a drink – I’ll even pay – and it will all be over.

It’s time to face up. I’m going to find him right now and get this settled, and nothing and no one is going to stop me.


I’m gettin’ stiff, so I decide to head on back t’ my wagon. I might even lay down fer a spell, if I can do it without anyone noticin’. I sure don’t want t’ hear Buck teasin’ me about takin’ a nap in the middle of the day.

I don’t need t’ worry about him, though, because after I take a few steps, I see that’s he busy helpin’ the Widow Davis with that broken down wagon of hers again. He has t’ fix somethin’ on the old thing at least once a week. He never complains though.

Mrs. Potter walks by, and Buck looks up from what he’s doin’ t’ tell her that she has a pretty dress on today. She grins ear to ear, thanks him, and keeps on goin’.

After that, Mary Travis passes by and she reminds him, "Don’t forget, Buck, you promised to help me with that story this afternoon."

He smiles real big, and says, "Of course I won’t forget, Mrs. Travis. No one can tell the story like yours truly. You want to know what really happened out there at the Smith’s ranch? You’ve come to the right man."

I almost bust a gut at that, and I can see Mary knows he full of wind, too – but she smiles back anyway.

Buck would do anything fer her. He’d do anything fer any woman. He loves women. Not just in the . . . uh . . . traditional way. In every way.

I may not know what love is . . . but I know that Buck sees every woman as a treasured gift. Seems like love t’ me.

I don’t get much farther before JD joins him. I stand back and listen. Ain’t nothin’ more entertaining than when JD gets goin’. This time he’s talkin’ about some horse one of the ranchers got. Yesterday, it was the fish he caught.

The day before, it was all that excitement at the Smith’s ranch. I was still too sick t’ help out that day, but JD filled me in. You’d think it was his first fight – the way he came back and told me about every thing everyone said and every shot that was fired.

JD just loves life. I never seen anyone like him. Seems like everything is new and exciting t’ him. It gets annoying some times, but even a man like me – a man who might not know what love is – knows passion when he sees it.

And that’s when it really hits me.

Chris is right. I don’t know what love is at all.

I don’t have Nathan’s need to help the sick, or Ezra’s pure joy with children. I see the spiritual side of life sometimes, but I sure as hell don’t devote myself to it, like Josiah. I don’t have Buck’s understanding of women, or JD’s passion for living.

I don’t know how t’ love like any of them.

And maybe Chris doesn’t, either. Maybe that’s why he said those things the other night. Maybe when he lost the people he loved, he lost more than he knows.

Maybe neither one of us knows how t’ love.


Finally I spot him just down the road, and I will for him to meet my eyes – to hold him in place before some ridiculous circumstance crops up to separate us again.

And that thought doesn’t even have a chance to leave my head before it happens.

Those damn Smith boys are in town and at it again. And this time they’re aiming for us.

We all take cover. Vin’s moving a little slower than I’d like, but he makes it behind a water trough across the road from me.

I can hear Josiah firing from up on the church roof, and Buck and JD just down a ways from me. I have no idea where Ezra is, but now might be a good time for him to show up. As if he read my mind, I see Standish slink into town and take cover not far from Vin.

There are only four Smith brothers, but I’m having trouble keeping track of them. They’ve split up – going in all directions, and I’m hoping the boys got a better handle on where they are than I seem to.

And suddenly, appearing from nowhere, I see one sneaking up behind Vin – but he’s so busy firing, he doesn’t notice.

I can’t get a clear shot from where I am. No matter how I move, there is just no way I can make it.

So I stand up.

Sometimes you just do things because you have to. I have to help Vin. There is no way he is dying with these . . . words . . . between us. There is no way he is dying, period.

The damn stupid thing is – he stands up at just that same moment. I fire at the man behind him, who turns to fire at me. I feel the bullet rip through my arm, as the man behind Vin falls from my bullet.

Within seconds, I hear a man behind me fall from Vin’s bullet . . . just as Vin spins and hits the dirt.

The shooting stops – or at least I think it does. I don’t know for sure, and I don’t care much as I run across the street to where Vin’s laying way too still.

I roll him over and breathe a sigh of relief when I hear him groan.

He opens his eyes and looks at me as he rasps, "Quit lookin’ at me that way, it’s just a scratch."

"Then what the hell are you doing in the dirt?" I ask, with a dumb grin that’s probably not even coming close to hiding the fear I’ve just shoved back down my throat.

"Been a little bit sick . . . felt a mite dizzy."

Nathan makes his way over, moving real fast now that he sees Vin and I are both bleeding.

He catches my eye, and knows to look at Vin first. We’re both kneeling in the dirt now; Vin’s still laying on his back and looking at us through cloudy eyes.

"He says he’s been a ‘little bit sick’ . . . and he’s feeling a ‘mite dizzy’," I inform Nathan.

Jackson rolls his eyes, and turns to look closer at the blood soaking through the arm of that old buckskin coat of Vin’s.

Shaking his head, he says "Let’s get you both upstairs."

Vin groans at the exact same moment I do.

Guess our talk will have to wait . . . again.


Me and Chris are both sittin’ on Nathan’s bed – him at the foot and me at the head. Must look kinda funny – judgin’ by the expressions on our friends’ faces.

"Damn! I never saw anything like that! Vin jumps up to shoot the man behind Chris and Chris jumps up to shoot the man behind Vin and all four of you hit! Good thing you two were better shots, though. But damn, I never saw anything like that! Have you, Buck?"

The Kid’s givin’ me a headache.

Buck’s shaking his head and laughin’. "I’ve got to say that you’re right, JD. That was purely entertaining."

"I doubt that the Smith brothers share in your amusement, Gentlemen, but I must agree with you. What do you suppose the odds are of that happening again?"

Chris is rollin’ his eyes at Ezra, but Ezra’s just ignorin’ him . . . like usual.

Nathan just finished wrapping up Chris’s left arm. He got hit just above the elbow and the bullet went right through . . . same as me. Probably does look funny – me and him sittin’ here with identical bandages on the same arm. I wonder if I’m wearing that same hang-dog expression, too.

"You’re gonna have to stay the night, Vin," Nathan’s sayin’.

I’m ignorin’ him. If Chris don’t have t’ stay - I don’t, either.

Chris looks over at me, and I get the idea he’s wantin’ t’ tell me somethin’. Probably wants t’ argue with me about stayin’ put fer the night.

"He’ll stay, Nathan. I’ll see to it."

"No, he won’t," I argue.

"Vin, you’ve been sick – and if you don’t take it easy for a day or two, you’ll be sick again. You don’t want that do you?"

I really hate it when Nathan’s got a point.

I sigh – or maybe it’s more like a huff.

Buck and Ezra and JD are still laughin’ and talkin’ all the way out the door. Buck’s tellin’ JD if he ever does somethin’ stupid like me and Chris did – jumpin’ up in the middle of a gunfight – he’ll tan his hide.

I reckon it did look kinda stupid. There was no way one of those Smith boys was gonna get Chris, though. I couldn’t see t’ make the shot any other way. Sometimes you just do what y’ have to.

Josiah’s getting ready t’ leave, too, but before he goes, he turns t’ Chris and me and he says, "There is no greater love than this; that a man lay down his life for his friend."

Nathan nods his head, and for the first time that afternoon – he smiles at us and he leaves, too.

Chris gets up then and moves over to the chair. "Go ahead and lay down, Vin. I’ll sit over here."

I might be a little stubborn now and then, and I reckon this is one of those times. I’m thinkin’ I don’t need t’ lie down and I don’t want t’ lie down.

My head is startin’ t’ spin, though . . . so maybe I will just pull my legs up on the bed.

Chris is lookin’ at me real funny. I wonder if he’s thinkin’ about what he said that night. I wonder if he has any idea at all how much I’ve been ponderin’ those words. He said ‘em so easy . . . but they sure didn’t go down easy. I’ve been havin’ a problem gettin’ them out of my head fer days now.

He wouldn’t know that, though. He probably doesn’t even remember he said them.

"Vin . . . I just want you to know . . . those things I said . . . the other night, you know?"

So he does remember. He’s lookin’ real uncomfortable about it all, too. I never would’ve thought it would bother him so much. I could let him squirm a little, but I don’t want to drag this out.

"Yeah?" Don’t want t’ make it too easy on him, either.

He looks down for a minute, before turnin’ t’ face me again. "I’m . . . sorry."

I try not t’ look too surprised. Must’ve been hard for him to choke that out.

I shrug and look away. "Don’t matter none. Don’t go frettin’ over it. I sure got more important things t’ worry on than . . . love." And just so it doesn’t get too serious, I add, "and hell, it ain’t like yer an expert on the subject, either."

He laughs a little and nods, but then he gets serious again. "You’re right there, Pard. But I do know when I’ve hurt a friend with my words, and I know enough to tell him I’m sorry."

"Takes more than a few words t’ come between us, Chris – you know that," I say – tryin’ to hide the way my voice is startin’ t’ crack.

"And besides," I go on, "you were right. I pondered on it all, and I don’t know what love is. Ain’t never had enough of it t’ know."

"That ain’t true, Vin. The fact that it’s been so rare in your life is what makes it so incredible that you are the man you are. Hell, I’ve seen you put your life on the line for us . . ."

He stops and quirks an eyebrow at me and it’s like a light’s come on behind his eyes.

"What was it Josiah said?" he asks me.

I shrug. "Somethin’ about there not bein’ any greater love than when a man gives up his life fer his friend."

He smiles at me.

And it’s like a light came on inside me, too.

I smile back.

So maybe we’re not so stupid about love after all.

Maybe I do know what it is . . . and what it means . . . and what I’ve got.

Maybe Chris knows, too.

It would take more than words to come between me and Chris – but sometimes words are important.

I think about what Josiah said, and I realize that sometimes, just a few well-chosen words say it all.


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