Clearing the Air

by SoDak7

Note: Missing scene from "Achilles". I've messed up the scenes a little so as to get this to work for me. Chris and Vin do head out in the morning to look for Achilles and his men.

"Figured this is where we'd start. Don't seem likely he'd come this way, but with Achilles, anything is possible I reckon."

"Ain't that the truth," Chris agreed, studying the rough country ahead especially for a wagon. "Let's do it."

Tanner had seen one hoof print in the area the day before when tracking the renegade Achilles, his men and the wagon with Achilles' dead brother, Hector, aboard.

Finding Hector's picture on a wanted poster, the body was going to be sent to Julestown where the sheriff there could put a positive ID on the man and take care of any loose ends. But before that could happen, Achilles and his men had struck first. The bandits had come in the night and boldly taken the coffin, filling the night air with gunfire and killing the undertaker in the process, Achilles shooting the fleeing man in the back.

The one hoof print turned into more, unfortunately, as what happened the day before, the tracks crossed one another, more than once and the two men ended up nearly where they had started. Conversation was sparse, Tanner up and down on his horse while Larabee watched their backs. Only a whispered "damn" once in awhile when Vin figured out what was going on with the false trails.

"They are good," Vin commented, both men resting easy in their saddles, taking a break, teeth ripping at and chewing jerky.

"Seems that way," Chris answered, drinking from his canteen.

"Got me an idea though."

A grin and crinkling of the eyes told Larabee that his companion had come up with something. Returning the smile with one of his own, Chris answered, "Figured you would," acknowledging his faith in the tracker's abilities.

"But first, there's somethin' I‘d like ta clear the air about," Vin said, seeing Larabee gather his reins, a sign he was ready to begin again. He continued when Larabee looked at him, waiting.

"Mary's puttin' on a poetry contest for her paper."

"Saw that." Chris replied, having absolutely no idea where Vin was headed with this, but could tell, to Tanner, it was important. It did take him by surprise though and that was a rather odd feeling.

Vin hesitated, looking down at his hands, then said as casually as he could muster, "I've written a coupla poems. Think she's gonna put one in the paper." He watched as Larabee looked away from him to gaze at the horizon. Thinking, Vin figured as he watched the gunslinger's thumb rub gently on one of the reins in his hand. Then there was the slightest smile, but Vin knew it wasn't what he'd just told Chris that struck him as being funny. It was something else.

"Poetry was something Sarah favored," Chris said, looking back at his friend, a far away look in his eyes. "She'd read Adam and me poems we had no idea what they meant." He grinned again. "Never knew you could write poetry," he added, coming out of the daydream. "Not something most people can do."

Vin shrugged and studied the horn of his saddle. "Truth is," he began, looking across at Larabee, "I told 'em to her and she wrote 'em down for me."

Chris nodded at that, suspecting there was more but waited for Vin to finish. He was surprised at Tanner's admission, never figuring the man for a poet, but who knew for sure what made up a man?

"I can't read nor write, Chris." He wasn't going to make any excuses. It's just the way it was. The way he was. Up until he'd made a fool out of himself in front of the pretty newspaper woman, it never mattered to him. Now, since he'd confided in Larabee one other time early on, he figured this was something to come clean about, too... this and the other thing.

"Not everybody has the chance to learn," Chris said, a quietness in his voice, not knowing enough about Vin's past to make any judgments on the man nor to speculate. He just knew it was important to Tanner that he know.

"I asked Mary to teach me how ta read and write. Wanted you to know, in case," Vin's hand gestured slightly in the air, "in case you got to wonderin' why I was seein' her."

Ahhh. So that's what this is about, thought Larabee. Had nothing to do with Vin's worrying about what he'd think of him not being able to read or write, but worrying about what he'd think when seeing the two together. Inwardly he smiled. He had no claims on Mary, at least he didn't think he did, but maybe Vin saw more than he did. "She'll be a good teacher," is what he said in all honesty.

"I reckon," Vin said, relieved that he'd gotten everything off his chest and it set well with Chris. Not that he thought it wouldn't, but who knew what was in a man's heart? "Just thought you should know," he added, satisfied now.

A pregnant silence followed for a minute, letting the new-found knowledge settle in.

"You ready?" Larabee asked, bringing the fact of finding Achilles back to front and center, prior conversation over and done with. Tanner gave him a hand motion to follow, and they rode in a different direction basically ending up circling around and heading back in the direction of town.

Finally seeing something that proved his thoughts to be right, Vin dismounted, Chris following suit. Larabee listened as Tanner told him what he'd come up with and showed him the tracks and markings to prove his point. Both were perplexed that the men hadn't left the territory after possibly burying Hector somewhere, but who knew what a man like Achilles next move might be? They should be on the run after killing a man in town. Certainly couldn't hide in the area long nor make good time driving a wagon.

Resting on their haunches in the tall prairie grass, Chris' thoughts turned to the friend beside him. The man might not read words, but Vin could read people and tracking signs better than anyone he knew. Tanner impressed him.

"Not all learnin' comes from books," Chris' voice rode gently on the breeze. He figured Vin already knew that, didn't need any approval from him, but felt the need to voice what he thought. He knew it was the right thing to say when Tanner's look and quick nod thanked him. "Since we know where they're at, we'd best get us some help."

Vin's quiet "yep" sent them to their horses and riding back to town.