March 12, 2004
The mans wanted in the State of Texas.
Good thing this aint Texas, now, huh?
Vin watched the standoff between Chris and the bounty hunter with remorse. He knew it would just be a matter of time before guns were drawn, seconds maybe. While he knew Chris would win the shootout with this man, it wasnt without risk. And he really couldnt blame the other man he had every legal right to try to bring him in, dead or alive. Why should he die when hes just doing his job?
Stop it! Vin shouted, walking toward the two men, his mares leg drawn he wasnt a fool.
Two against one, Chris drawled, raising half a smile and nodding his head.
Look Mister, Vin began. I dont expect ya to believe me, but I was framed for that murder. He held up his hand when the man tried to interrupt. Just hold on a minute. Like I said, I dont expect ya to believe me about that. But believe me on this: you try to take me outta here, and this man here will kill ya, he said, pointing to Chris.
And well gladly assist him, Josiah added, stepping up to Vins right.
Yup, I can see it now, Buck spoke up from Chriss left. Wont be a teary eye in the house.
Wont be very pretty, neither, Nathan said, coming up behind the bounty hunter.
You think the undertakerll have time to bury him? JD asked. I think hes still got those last three Chris got waitin out in the wood shed.
Is that what that stench is? Ezra asked, coming to stand next to Vin. Good Lord, I thought Mrs. Chan had extra loads of Mr. Wilmingtons dirty laundry soaking.
The bounty hunter quickly looked around him, seeing that his odds had just gone from one or two to one up to seven to one. Not good. He started backing away from the group, his gun still out and aimed at Vin. Just before leaving the saloon, though, he looked directly at Vin.
You got your friends and protectors here with you this time, Tanner, he said. But that wont always be true. Hope you got eyes in back of your head.
Vin acknowledged his statement with a nod and the man left the saloon.
Woo hoo! JD shouted, moving over to clap Vin on the back. We sure taught him a lesson, didnt we, Vin?
Yeah, sure, Kid, Vin replied, quietly. He returned his mares leg to its holster and made for the bar.
I dont think weve seen the last of that one, Chris said, joining Vin at the bar and nodding to Inez for drinks.
Well just have to keep our eye on him til he gets the message, then, Buck added. Why thank you, darlin, he said to Inez, giving her a wink as he took his beer.
Just dont kill im, Vin said. Hes just tryin to do his job.
But hes gonna try and kill you, Vin! JD balked.
An hes got every right to, JD! Vin shouted, slamming his beer down onto the bar. You just dont get it! I got a price on my head. Right or wrong its there. And its always gonna be there.
He stalked away from the group and headed for the saloon entrance. The other six made to go after him, but Chris just raised his hand and waved the others off. He would stick with Vin for now. To protect him and, hopefully, to talk with him, too.
Vin waited for him just inside the doors.
Didnt think youd wait, Chris said as they headed out onto the boardwalk.
May not like needin yall, but I aint stupid, Vin replied.
As they began walking down the dusty street, they caught a glimpse of the bounty hunter across the street, near the hotels entrance.
Ever heard of this one? What was his name? Chris asked.
Walsh, I think, Vin replied. And no, never heard of him before. Vin sighed. Maybe its time to move on, Cowboy. Hell, Eli Joe found me easy enough, and now thisun. And therell be more. Me bein part of the law heres been gettin around. Its workin against me.
Being part of the seven of us is whats gonna work for you, Vin, Chris replied. Couldnt ask for a better set of bodyguards.
Vin stopped walking and turned to face Chris. Thats just it, Chris. I never asked to begin with. I cant be relyin on you six for the rest of my life. You got your own to live.
Aint saying that, Vin. Just that, for now, you got us. Unless youve got a better idea somewhere?
Vin shook his head and started walking again. Been a while since I needed any babysitters, Cowboy.
Dont think of us as babysitters, Vin, Chris said, putting his arm around Vins shoulders. Think of us as... I dont know... guardian angels?
Vin stopped walking and looked at Chris again. You aint nothin like no angel, Cowboy! he exclaimed, poking a finger at Chriss chest, and quickly ducked his head as Chris took a swipe at him.
+ + + + + + +
Vin lay in bed staring at the ceiling. It had been four days since Walsh had shown up in town looking for him and he was getting tired of his babysitters. Practically every hour of his day had been spent in the company of at least one of his six friends. He looked over at the other bed and listened to Chriss quiet snores. The only place they hadnt followed him was into the outhouse, though JD had come real close before meeting up with the point of Vins knife.
He let out a sigh and turned over to face the window. He longed to get out of town, to get away from the six for a bit. If only for a day or so. He also knew that wouldnt happen. Not with Larabee on the job, anyway. Unless...
Dont even think it, Vin, Chris murmured, yawning and stretching as he rose from his bed.
Of trying to slip out on your own. When he saw Vins confused look, he continued, Dont look so surprised, Vin. How long have we known each other, now? I know how you get. And I dont blame you, either, he quickly added.
Vin turned away from the window, now and sat up against the headboard.
Just want some control back, Chris, he said. Been forgettin who I am, where Im supposed to be.
Sure you aint exactly who and where youre supposed to be?
If thats so, then I might as well just give myself over to Walsh right now, Chris, cause this aint much better, thats for sure.
All Im askin for is a couple of days, Chris. Just some time to get my head on straight maybe do a bit of soul searchin. He looked Chris directly in the eyes then and added, Please.
What about Walsh?
What about im? Have Buck get into a bar fight with im or somethin and lock im up in the jail for a few days. When Chris raised a questioning eyebrow at the suggestion, Vin added, Like you aint done nothin like that before? I could say somethin worse, like have Mary pretend to take a shinin to im and invite him over to dinner, though that might send him to Nates clinic for a few days...
Chris was smiling and laughing now.
Well be merciful and just send him to jail, he finally said when he calmed down. Give me a bit to set it up, though, okay?
Thanks, Chris, Vin said with a smile.
They extended their hands and arms and shook to their friendship and agreement.
+ + + + + + +
Chriss plan for Walsh and Buck was all for nothing, as Walsh found a fight on his own with one of the local farmers, Jack Filmore, first. The two had wound up fighting over one of the working girls in the saloon and it was Buck that broke them up.
It wasnt half an hour after the two were secure in the jail that Chris met up with Vin inside the livery.
You sure you want to do this, pard? Chris asked. Ill gladly come along, ride shotgun, so to speak.
Thanks, Cowboy. But it aint a matter of wantin to do this, as much as needin to. That goes for the alone part, too, Im afraid.
You know where youre heading yet?
Got an idea.
Youre not gonna tell me, are ya? Chris said, shaking his head.
Tell you what, Cowboy, if Im not back in two days, you go on up to that fishin hole we found last month. Ill leave ya a note, Vin replied cryptically.
Chris smiled and nodded. Alright then, he said, clasping forearms with Vin. Watch your back.
Always, Cowboy. Always.
+ + + + + + +
Vins first stop on his journey was to the fishing hole he mentioned to Chris. The two had been riding around the perimeter of Chriss land when they found a small deer trail and followed it. It led to a small mountain fed stream, one small enough that theyd barely heard it running. Near one side of it, further down from where the deer trail had led them, it had formed a small pool, which, to their delight, had some fish in it.
After taking care of his horse, unsaddling it and leaving it to graze on the grass and reach the water as well, Vin took out his bedroll to lie on. This would be just a short stop, not his final destination. He would stay long enough to sleep for a few hours, knowing from the lack of tracks in the area that he and Chris were the only humans to have come around, and hed be reasonably safe. He did keep his gun belt on, however.
+ + + + + + +
I cant believe after all we went through, you let him just go off on his own! Buck shouted. I thought you were gonna go with him, thats why I agreed to that plan in the first place!
Buck, you dont understand.
No, Chris, I dont understand. And neither do the others.
I do, Josiah spoke up. When he had the others attention, he continued, Mans gotta exorcise his own demons. Nobody else can do it for him.
Demons? JD questioned.
His inner turmoils, Mr. Dunne, Ezra rephrased.
When JD still looked confused, Nathan asked, You ever just need to be alone for a bit, JD?
JD nodded, understanding coming to him.
Regardless, he shouldnt be out there by himself, Buck went on. How many times has he covered our backs. Why shouldnt we cover his?
Because Vin asked us not to. Simple as that, Chris replied and walked away.
+ + + + + + +
Chris knew hed regret agreeing with Vins wishes. But he was also a man of his word, and would abide by that agreement. Vin was a grown man; he didnt need the other six to watch him every minute of the day. Lord knew hed hate having the others watch over him that way. Granted, they all watched each others backs every day, but it was more subtle, not the overt way theyd been sticking to Vin while Walsh had been free in town.
And Vin had had that bounty on his head longer than the few months theyd known each other. Hed lasted this long on his own...
+ + + + + + +
Vin left the little fishing hole at dawn and headed west. As promised, hed left Chris a message there, with the location of his intended destination. He let out a chuckle as he thought of the message - hed drawn a crude, and lewd, picture of a womans naked breasts and tacked it to a tree. Chris would know that he was now heading toward a certain pair of hills, ones that Chris had jokingly told him looked similar to the attributes of a working girl he once knew.
The hills werent too far away; maybe a two-hours ride from the fishing hole, about four hours from Four Corners, at an easy walking pace. During his journey, Vin thought about his current situation. He realized that while it had changed in the time since hed come to Four Corners, he couldnt really say it was for the better. Sure, hed gotten six good men to watch his back, defend him, befriend him. But hed also lost the only witness to his framing for murder. Hed gone from being alone, with some hope of clearing his name, to being part of a group, but with no hope for his future. Was one better than the other? Thats why he was out on the trail...
At last hed reached his destination. Vin dismounted at the base of the left breast and took a walk around, leaving his horse to wander a bit on its own to graze. Vin wanted to check out the area, make sure it was safe and had what hed need as far as food and water sources went.
After a few minutes, he deemed the area satisfactory and headed for his horse. He hadnt taken two steps toward it when the beast reared back in obvious fear and irritation and ran away. Vin took two more steps that way, intending on trying to catch his horse when he had to stop again, nearly coming knee to fang with the rattlesnake that had spooked the horse. Within a second, his mares leg was in his hand and he fired, killing the snake. And by the time he looked up, his horse was out of sight.
Son of a bitch! he swore, shoving the gun back into its holster.
Vin sank to the ground in a heap, dropping his head into his hands.
After a minute or so Vin took a deep breath and let it out.
Fine. Didnt need the damn horse for another day anyway, he muttered. And even if it dont come back, Larabeell be here in another two. Shit.
After giving himself a few more minutes to feel sorry for himself, Vin decided to make the most of the situation.
Hell, the only thing I wouldve needed was the blanket, anyway, he told himself. Might as well do this while its warm.
He found a more comfortable place to sit down and took off his hat and coat. Then, reaching into his coat pocket, he pulled out a small pouch. He reached into the pouch and pulled out several small round pieces of cactus and popped them into his mouth.
Vin made a face at the bitter taste, but kept on chewing, and wondered where his thoughts would take him. About half an hour later, he wasnt thinking at all as his stomach began to rebel.
+ + + + + + +
Vin opened his eyes and saw blue. The blue of the sky above him. He turned his head and saw the brown of the sand and the green of the shrubs and trees. He turned his head the other way and saw much of the same. He let out a sigh.
Goddamn day couldnt get no worse. Damn peyote didnt do anything but make me puke, he muttered to no one in particular.
While it wasnt an unpleasant experience hed had, it just wasnt what hed hoped for. Needed. He vividly remembered his last vision quest, and similar ones hed taken using peyote and other plants when hed lived with the Indians, looking for direction and meaning in his life. Theyd always led him to grander things or better understandings of what was going on in his life. The last one had led him to Four Corners and the six men whod become like brothers to him.
Vin rolled over with a groan and unsteadily made his way onto his hands and knees and then his feet. He lurched to the left, but quickly regained his balance by grabbing onto a low tree branch. After a moment or two, he was able to let go and take a few tentative steps.
Maybe I just wasnt thinkin good, he said aloud. Was worryin too much about the damned horse. Yeah. Thats it.
He knelt down next to the small creek bed and splashed some water onto his face before cupping his hands together to take a drink of the cool water.
Need a clear head.
He leaned down and took one more mouthful of the water. Then he stood and looked around. It was mid-afternoon now. Vin knew if he took more of the peyote now, and if it worked as he hoped it would, it would be late evening before he got his desired results. He contemplated making a fire for warmth, but decided against it. He knew his defenses would be down while under the influence of the peyote and didnt want to attract any visitors.
He also thought about waiting until morning to try again.
No, I feel it. Nows the time, he reasoned.
Determined and in the right frame of mind, Vin sat down and opened the small pouch again. He shook out several of the buds, and then a few more, and rolled them around in his hand. The first few hed taken would normally have given him the effect he desired, but this time they hadnt.
He knew the warnings of taking too many at once, but he also knew that the plants buds could vary in potency.
Must not be a very strong plant this time, he said, and promptly ate the handful.
+ + + + + + +
You still set on waitin the full two days? Buck asked.
Chris looked up from the small wood figured hed been carving and met Bucks gaze.
I take it you arent? he asked, though he knew the answer.
Be a whole lot easier if you were along, to show me the way, Buck countered.
Chris looked around and saw the other four men at various points around town. Nathan was up on the veranda outside his clinic. JD was on the steps to Potters mercantile. Josiah was standing in the jails doorway. Ezra was leaning on the batwing doors to the saloon. All were looking at he and Buck, waiting for his answer.
Chris sighed before folding up his knife. He turned the small wood carving around in his hands and then placed the eagle into his coat pocket.
Fine, he said, standing. He nodded his head and immediately saw movement as the others walked toward him. We gotta head out to a small fishing hole near my place, first.
You heard him, boys, Buck said to the others. Lets bring Vin home.
+ + + + + + +
Despite the blurriness of his surroundings, he easily read, Seven Corners - 7 miles, on the crudely painted wood post. He kneed the horse below him and continued onward toward the town. To the left, seven hills bordered the road he traveled, to the right, seven trees, all as tall as sequoias, gave him shade.
Seven, the wind whispered.
A short time later, Vin opened his eyes, and instead of riding between the hills and trees, he was in the desert. Immediately thirsty, he reached for his canteen, only to find none. A lone cactus stood before him, tall and sturdy. He reached for his knife, hoping to cut into the cactus, to gather its juices. His knife was gone, too. In the sky a lone buzzard circled above him, waiting for him to die so it could feed.
One, it called to him.
When he reached the town, he was welcomed. Within its confines he found something he hadnt before: a group of men he eventually called family. They were multi-faceted: full of youthful exuberance, yet willing to accept age-old wisdom; deadly serious about their business, yet taking their pleasures equally so; willing to take a risk for anyone, yet never leaving anything to chance; Where did he fit in? Would he?
Seven, the church bells rang.
Back in the desert Vin watched as the blood welled up from his palm and fingertips, the cactus needles having done their job, protecting their owner. He took off his shirt, mindless of the hot sun beating down upon him and wrapped it around his hand, staunching the blood flow.
One, the cactus moaned.
The music played lively in the saloon, the seven working girls singing and dancing bawdily around he and his companions. It wasnt all fun and games in town; the men had been involved in a gunfight earlier in the day, were victorious, and had reason to celebrate. Theyd worked together and saved the lives of several townsfolk.
Seven! the girls shouted.
Vin lay sweating in the sand, his chest heaving from his exertion. His pants lay in shreds about him, kicking at the big cactus proving just as fruitless in his attempts to get to its moist meat. He watched warily as the large snake slithered through and around the holes in his pants, searching...
One, it hissed just before sinking its fangs into Vins leg.
+ + + + + + +
What is it? JD asked, moving closer to peer over Chriss shoulder.
Never you mind, JD, Buck said quickly, putting his hand over JDs eyes, but taking a closer look for himself.
Are those what I think they are? Josiah asked.
My, my, my... Mr. Tanner is as skillful in his drawing as he is his prose, Ezra murmured in appreciation.
That they are and that he is, Chris replied.
And theyre supposed to tell us where he is? Nathan asked, skeptical.
What?! What are you talkin about? JD asked, squirming out of Bucks grip.
Vins note, Chris told him, and handed him the paper.
JDs mouth dropped open at the sight of the drawing. Were gonna rescue him from a whorehouse? he blurted out, the only idea coming to mind.
Dont think Id ever need to be rescued from one of them, Buck said.
A man could get into a lot of trouble in one of those, Josiah murmured.
Chris just smiled as he shook his head. Sorry, boys, but that aint where Vin was headed. When their looks questioned him further, he explained, rather sheepishly, Theres a pair of hills a ways away from here that I made the mistake of comparing to... he waved his hand toward the picture, them.
Why, Mr. Larabee! Ezra exclaimed, the shock in his voice not matching the amusement in his eyes.
You old dog, Buck said with a wink.
Anyone we know? Josiah asked.
Enough, Chris said, heading for his horse. Weve got a job to do.
The other men nodded and headed for their horses, Buck quickly taking the picture from JDs hands as he did, folding it up and putting it into his coat pocket.
+ + + + + + +
The buzzard, the cactus and the snake all had agreed. He was alone. One. No one would save him. Hed left the others willingly. Hed spurned their offers of help and now hed hurt them even more by dying. Alone. One.
Chris would come, eventually. Hed left him the map. Hed at least get a decent burial. Chris would do that; he wouldnt take his body to Tuscosa for the money, even though hed been told to. Right? Or maybe he would. No, that was Walsh. And Eli Jo. And others, like Yates. Theyd take the money. Theyd kill him. Theyd kill the others, too.
Images of the men came to mind. The seven of them riding together, fighting for one another. Vin didnt want to leave that behind. Didnt want Chris to come bury him. It was all getting too confusing...
+ + + + + + +
Will you look at that! Buck exclaimed, seeing the pair of hills. Damn, Chris!
That picture doesnt quite do them justice, Josiah remarked.
I dont see anything, JD put in, confused.
One must use his imagination, Mr. Dunne. Open your eyes, expand your horizons...
JD looked at the hills again, turning his head to one side and then the other, finally squinting his eyes before realization hit. Oh!
His amusement was short lived though, when Chris pointed out the figure lying on the ground at the base of the left hill.
Down at the bottom of the left one, Chris said, pointing, spurring his horse faster.
What the hells he doin? Nathan asked, quickly following, along with the others.
Looks like hes trying to hide, Ezra called over.
Chris was the first to dismount, about ten feet from Vin. He saw the wild look in Vins eyes, the fear, and couldnt understand it. He couldnt understand what had happened. Why Vin was afraid of them, why he was naked.
Easy, Vin, he whispered, taking a step closer, motioning the others to stay back. Its me, Chris. Whats going on, Cowboy?
But Vin just moved back further. When it looked to Chris like Vin would jump up and run away, he made the first move and lunged forward, grabbing Vin by the arm. Vin screamed at the touch and tried to get away. Buck and Josiah ran forward to help, each grabbing an arm or leg.
Vin! they called, hoping to get some sign of recognition from their friend.
Vin! Goddammit, Vin, look at me! Chris couldnt help but shout, with frustration, not anger, in his voice. But still Vin writhed and squirmed in his grip, Buck and Josiahs hands on him the only things keeping him down.
No! No! Not yet!
What the hells wrong with him, Nathan? Buck asked, narrowly ducking Vins fist before grabbing it and getting a better grip on it.
Leave me alone!
I dont know, Nathan replied. Could be a head injury, maybe. If hed only calm down and hold still Id be better able to tell!
Im right here, Vin! Chris put his hands on either side of Vins head, stopping the crazed
back and forth movements. He waited for Vins eyes to catch on and stop moving, to meet his gaze. Vin? Vin?
Let me at him, Chris, Nathan asked, moving in to get a closer look. You feel any lumps or bumps on his head?
Chris concentrated and moved his fingers gently around Vins scalp. I dont feel anything, but hes moving around so much...
Here, let me, Nathan said and placed his practiced hands on Vins head, replacing Chriss.
Leave me alone! Vin shouted, still trying to break free from those that held him.
JD, Ezra, Chris called to the two. You find anything that might help?
Just that its a cold camp, Chris, JD replied. Looks like hes been here a while, but theres no fire pit anywhere.
It doesnt appear that anyone else has been here, either, Mr. Larabee, Ezra added. Im also fairly certain that our Mr. Tanner was not in his right mind when he got here.
Why do you say that, Ez? JD asked.
Look around you, Mr. Dunne, was all Ezra said.
Chriss gaze joined JDs in examining the camp, if one could call it that, in more detail. As JD had said, there was no fire, which, considering the cold weather theyd been having lately, would mean that someone was after Vin and he didnt want the light or the smoke to give away his position. But everything else contradicted that theory. Hell, even if Vin hadnt told Chris where to find him, theyd have found him by following a trail a five year old could have followed, he and his horse having walked through mud and soft earth without any trace of trying to hide it. Then there was also the fact that his horse was nowhere to be seen. No saddle or saddlebags were around, so Vin had never even taken care of it before letting it wander off. Then, of course was the fact that his clothing was strewn all over the campsite... Another shout from Vin brought Chriss attention back to the tracker.
I aint found nothin yet, Chris - no bumps, no blood, no bruisin - its like hes drunk or somethin, but I dont smell no booze on im.
Would these, perhaps, be the cause, Mr. Jackson? Ezra asked, slowly approaching the group, right hand outstretched.
Nathan took a look at what Ezra held and closed his eyes. Just might be, Ezra, he said with a sigh.
Shit, Chris whispered.
+ + + + + + +
He no longer remembered why he was out on his own, separated from the others. He no longer cared. He just wanted the agony to stop - for them to either let him go, or get it over and done with and kill him. Please!
Please! Vin screamed, still struggling against the hands that held him.
+ + + + + + +
What is that? JD asked.
Peyote, Josiah answered. A cactus. Indians use it for Spirit Walks, Vision Quests or other such rituals.
Spirit Walks? Buck asked,
Its like gettin drunk or takin too much laudanum, Nathan spoke up. Makes you think an act different. Indians say it calms em an lets em talk to their Spirits, or Gods.
But Vins acting crazy! JD exclaimed, gesturing once again at the struggling man being held down. You sure he didnt hit his head, Nathan?
Cant be sure of anything, JD, Nathan replied, returning his attention back to his patient.
What can we do, Nate? Chris asked, putting his hands back on Vins head, trying to keep him from hurting himself.
Just gotta wait it out, let it run its course, Josiah replied first.
Nathan nodded in agreement. In the meantime, let me try to take another look at im. Make sure I didnt miss nothin in case he did hurt himself. State hes in...
He keeps fightin us like he is, hell have hand shaped bruises on him pretty soon, Buck put in.
I know it, Buck. But it aint like we can tie him up, Nathan replied.
Vin let out a guttural cry, renewing his efforts to break free from the men.
Take it easy, pard, Chris murmured close to Vins ear. The tracker stopped his movements for a moment, as if finally recognizing Chriss voice. Vin?
But the moment was lost as Vin pulled his hand free from Josiahs grasp and lashed out, nearly hitting Chris in the jaw.
I got it, Josiah said, grabbing the arm again. Sorry bout that, Chris, he apologized.
JD, can you get a fire goin? I think we might be here for a while. Buck, Josiah, you two got im now?
Yeah, Nate, Buck replied, adjusting his hold on Vins right arm and leg.
Me too, Josiah said with a nod.
With the three men holding Vin in place, Nathan reexamined Vin more closely, and then sat back, shaking his head.
Nate? Chris called.
Like I said, he aint hurt. Other than some minor scratches and such. Its just the peyote doin this, he replied. Lets get im warmed up, though. Ezra, you got his clothes?
Ezra dropped the bundle of Vins clothing that hed gathered at Nathans side and then assisted in getting Vin clothed, before adding a blanket to help warm him. After a while, though Vin still seemed to fight them, his struggles became weaker. Nathan wasnt sure if it was just due to fatigue or if the effects of the peyote were wearing off and he was becoming more coherent. Soon, all it took to keep him in one place was Chriss hand on his arm.
Two hours after the men had found their friend, and the camp was established, Chris made some decisions.
Ezra, you and Josiah head back to town. JD, Buck, see if you can track Vins horse, maybe we can get it back for him, he ordered.
As if in response to hearing Chriss voice, Vin stirred. Chris, he called. Whyre ya doin this?
I could ask you the same, Vin, Chris replied quietly.
+ + + + + + +
Chris hadnt received a response from Vin. The young tracker had just closed his eyes and gone back to sleep. It didnt stop Chris from asking the question again, though. And then find some possible answers.
He thought about how he might feel, knowing there would always be a price on his head, never being able to stay in one place too long, afraid to trust anyone, which probably included women, as well. He wouldnt do that to family...
Chris looked down at his friend. Or were they more than friends? Had they all become family to Vin? To each other? Chris raked his hand through his hair. He was tired and he didnt know what to think anymore.
On the one hand, Vin had gone out to do some soul searching. Fine. Vin using some peyote in some Indian ritual to do the soul searching was another story. Chris knew of Vins past association with several Indian tribes, and knew he respected their customs, but he didnt realize that hed participated in them. This was Vins way, the Indian way, of trying to find some answers and direction in his life.
Chris sighed. There was the other hand, now. Josiah, sharing his knowledge of religious customs, thought that Vin might have eaten too many peyote buds. Chris had to wonder if Vin had done that on purpose, whether to protect them, his family, or in response to whatever answers hed gotten during the rite.
I dont think he did this on purpose, Chris, Nathan said. Hed been watching Chris war with his emotions. Hed been doing the same. Not to hurt himself, anyway. If that was his plan, I dont think wed be sittin here with him; wed be buryin him. Damn fool.
Chris nodded in response, knowing Nathan was right. But it still just seemed too careless an action for Vin to him. He voiced his opinion.
Considerin the week he had in town with Walsh on his mind and us on his back, I can almost see how he let it happen.
Almost? Chris questioned.
Not much that Vin dont control in his life. Hes got to make good choices, or hes dead.
Chris found himself nodding again. Then, he suggested, Why dont you get some sleep, Nate. Ill take first watch.
+ + + + + + +
The night passed uneventfully. Vin slept peacefully, even through the morning and the arrival of Buck, JD and his horse.
Found him about five miles from here, just grazin in a meadow, Buck said, taking a seat next to Vin. Hows he doin?
Just sleepin it off, Nathan replied. Was just about to try an wake him up, get some food and water into im.
Vin? Hey, Vin? Chris called gently, nudging Vins shoulder. He got a low groan in response. Come on, pard, time to wake up.
Too early, Cowboy, Vin mumbled, turning over and huddling down under the blanket.
Hate to tell you, Vin, Buck spoke up, peeking under the blanket, but its actually pretty late. For you, anyway. Rise and shine! he finished, ripping the blanket back.
Aw hell, Bucklin! Vin cursed, sitting up to grab the blanket back. Shit! he swore, stopping in mid-motion to put his hands to his head and stomach, hoping to stop the painful spinning effects going on in both places.
Easy, Vin, lay on back down, Nathan said, putting a hand to Vins shoulder to urge him back to a supine position.
Here, Chris said, handing Nathan a canteen of water.
Vin gratefully accepted the water Nathan offered and took several gulps. Then he looked around at the four men, and realized that they seemed to be waiting for some sort of answer from him.
Thanks for bringin my horse back, he finally said. Guess we best be headin back to town.
Vin made another attempt at rising but was harshly shoved back down to the ground, this time by Chris, who said, Whoa, there, pard, I dont think so. Not without explaining a few things, first.
Like what kind of a fool you are, messin with peyote! Nathan shouted. How much of the damn stuff didja take, anyways?!
Hell, you were so out of it, you didnt even know who the hell we were, layin out here buck naked...! Buck put in.
You coulda been killed out here, Vin! JD added, joining in.
Were you trying to kill yourself? Chris asked a little more quietly, making sure Vin was looking at him as he said it.
Vin had tried to ignore the tone and words coming from Nathan, Buck and JD. They obviously didnt and wouldnt understand. But when Chris asked him that question, it was like a knife searing through, making sure he heard it loud and clear. He couldnt break the blonds gaze.
No, he finally whispered. Wasnt tryin to kill myself. He finally looked away, towards the other three. Dont expect yall to understand. I knew what I was doin, Nate. And yeah, before you lecture me, I knew there was a risk, too. Hell, if all you did was find me buck naked and not knowin whos who, then believe me, this was nothin.
But Vin... JD began and stopped, not sure what he wanted to say.
Youre wonderin why, Vin replied. He took a deep breath and ran his fingers through his hair, letting out an audible sigh. I was lookin for answers. Doin it the best way I knew how, the Indian way I learned, by usin peyote. Looking at the still confused looks on Buck and JDs faces, he shook his head and continued, Just believe me. I asked a question and got an answer. When the four men continued to look expectantly at him, Vin said, Like I said, boys, Id like to head back to town, now.
Chris looked at Vin with a critical eye before nodding his head. Fine by me. Lets ride, he said, rising from the ground and offering his hand to Vin.
Thanks, Cowboy, Vin said, not just for the offered hand, but for his understanding.
I still dont understand it all, but Im glad youre alright, Vin, JD said.
Yeah, Buck added.
Vin waited for Nathan to say something. The healer shook his head, showing that he still didnt understand or approve, and moved to saddle his horse.
All I can say, Vin, Chris began, is that next time you feel the need to do a little soul searching like this, you arent going out alone.
No. Wont be doin much of anythin alone for a while, Cowboy, Vin replied quietly, heading for his horse.
And as the group rode toward Four Corners, the wind shouted, Seven!