Disclaimers: I own nothing related to m7. This is all for fun, even if Vin doesn't think so.
Warnings: Racial stuff here, as evidenced by the title, but no offense is intended and I sincerely hope none is taken. There is a little romance, but that's not the main point of the story. Also, Nathan is much darker than I normally write him, but this idea just wouldn't leave me alone so I guess he had things he needed to say. A little cursing and violence.
"Don't do this, Vin."
Vin narrowed his eyes, but he kept walking towards his wagon.
Nathan snagged his arm, and Vin stopped to glare at him, but he remained silent. The streets were deserted, only the voices of a few men still left at the saloon disturbing the darkness.
"It ain't right. You know it."
"What I know is that it ain't none of your damn business, Nathan."
"You're wrong, Vin. It's everyone's business. That's the world we live in. People think - they think they can tell others how t' think, how t' act, how t' love." Nathan paused and took a breath. "That's the way it is. There's some rules you got t' live by, whether you like 'em or not."
With a smirk, Vin shook his head. "I don't live by other folk's rules. Learned a long time ago that the only way t' stay alive was t' live by my own."
Angry now, Nathan shouted, "Well we ain't talkin' about just you anymore! She's involved now, too!"
"You jealous? You want her for yourself?"
"You are a stupid, stubborn fool, Vin Tanner," Nathan replied, but he didn't deny Vin's accusation.
Nathan knew he didn't have deep feelings for the beautiful young woman that had moved into town a few months before, but he couldn't deny his attraction to her. Large brown eyes, shiny black hair, a smile that lit up the night, and dark, flawless skin that matched his own - a man would have to be blind not to notice a woman like Bethany Moore.
"Been called worse," Vin replied, though Nathan could see by the tight lines around Tanner's eyes that his words had stung. Vin might have been called worse, but probably not by a man he considered a friend.
There was nothing more to be said. Vin would learn his lesson the hard way, and Nathan could only pray Bethany wouldn't suffer as well. He turned away and swiftly made his way back to the stairs that led to his clinic, his refuge. Once inside, he lit the lamp near the bed and sat down heavily on the soft quilt.
"Damn you, Vin Tanner," he muttered, the anger still raging at what he'd seen.
Her face was lit up by the moon, even her dark skin couldn't hide her identity, and Nathan could only thank God that it was he who had witnessed it.
But he wished he hadn't. He didn't want to close his eyes tonight and think of Vin holding her close, kissing her tenderly in the moonlight. Would Vin have laid with her, too? Had he not interrupted them, would they have gone that far?
He thought they would have. He felt it, as he watched quietly in the shadows . . . her trembling breath and Vin's racing heartbeat. They would have done it right there, where anyone could have seen and known.
"Stupid, stupid fools," Nathan muttered under his breath as he rose to take off his clothes before climbing back into the bed.
It could only end in bloodshed. Didn't Vin know that? Surely a man like Vin Tanner, a man who'd seen and experienced the world had to know. So alright, if Vin wanted to throw away his life, so be it. But he was not throwing away her life. Nathan couldn't allow it. Come morning, he'd talk to the one man who could make Vin Tanner see reason. And if that didn't work, he'd go to the one man who loved Bethany more than any other ever could - her father.
The early morning sun was warm on his face, but it didn't do much to nudge him to full wakefulness. He'd had another restless night; anguished thoughts and uneasy feelings chasing him in his dreams. Trouble brewed, as surely as that pesky sun rose and set each day.
Chris knew how to handle trouble - most kinds, anyway. But this baffled him. Tanner was walking headlong into a world of hurt, and he didn't have a clue how to stop him. Vin seemed to have fallen for the young woman, and he wished he could say it didn't matter a hill of beans what color her skin was.
But it did.
Maybe some day it wouldn't. Maybe somewhere it didn't matter now, though Chris wasn't sure where that place was. Even on the reservation, there were some boundaries a man didn't cross. Vin had already tried that once, although he'd only told Chris about it after a night of unusually heavy drinking. Tanner might have spent time with the Kiowa and Comanche, but when he'd fallen in love with an Indian woman, he was quickly reminded of his place. It had to have been tough; a young man with one foot in two worlds, not entirely accepted by either.
Which only made Vin's current actions even more confusing - and disturbing. Was Vin trying to prove a point? Was he only attracted to women he couldn't have? Or did he truly have feelings for the girl?
Chris suspected the latter. He thought back to when the young woman and her father had arrived in town a few months back. The man drove a decent wagon, loaded down with home furnishings and such, everything needed to start a new life - and a pretty good life, too, from the looks of it. Jacob Moore might be dark-skinned, but if he'd lived the life of a slave, he'd made good on it somehow.
Jacob had no trouble coming up with the down payment for the Jameson house, sitting vacant on the outskirts of town. He had no trouble hiring a man, either, to help him get the place in shape. The only problem was - that man was Vin Tanner.
And Tanner's head had been turned the moment Jacob's lovely young daughter stepped foot off that wagon. Chris couldn't exactly blame him. The girl was exceptionally pretty and sweet enough not to realize it. She spoke with a bit of a southern drawl, and her words were thoughtful and well-chosen. She'd obviously been educated by someone, somewhere.
Chris had watched Vin closely that afternoon when Jacob first approached him about the temporary job. Bethany was standing next to her father, her eyes wide as she took in the activities of the town. She was charming in her innocence, and even Chris felt a certain pull towards her.
Vin had stammered, blushed, and rearranged the dirt with his feet while trying to speak to the man without allowing his gaze to wander to the woman at his side. Vin's mannerisms contradicted the confident, able man that Chris knew him to be, so much so that he had to stifle a laugh. It'd been a long time since he'd seen Vin so flustered.
Something inside him warned against the arrangement, but what could he say? They weren't tied up with anything pressing at the moment, and Vin could use the work, not so much for the pay, but for the activity. Tanner was prone to bouts of boredom, and Chris often found himself thinking up things for Vin to do just to keep him from taking off for the hills.
Still, it didn't sit right with him, and his gut was generally a pretty fair gauge of trouble.
He'd have to think on this a good while; take things slow and easy because if Vin felt like he was backed in a corner, he might do something stupid - like run off with the girl. Chris remembered all too well when Vin almost took off with the married woman from the wagon train. Now there was a mess . . .
"Chris? You awake?"
Nathan's voice outside the door was insistent, bordering on desperate, and that could only mean trouble had already arrived. Chris stood from his bed and hurriedly threw on his pants before opening the door.
"What is it? What's wrong?"
Nathan barged inside and closed the door behind him. "We need t' talk," he said, seemingly not caring that Chris was half-dressed and barely awake.
"Alright," Chris said, pulling a weary hand through his hair. "But can I have some coffee first?"
"It's bad, Chris. Worse than I thought," Nathan went on, ignoring the question.
"What's worse than you thought?" Had he missed something? Was somebody hurt or sick and he'd been too distracted to notice?
"Vin. And Bethany. Vin and Bethany together." Nathan emphasized the last part with a meaningful nod.
Chris sighed as he buttoned up his black shirt. "Nathan, it's early-"
"I saw 'em, Chris. Last night. They were . . . they were kissing."
Now Chris had to struggle not smile - all this worry for kissing?
"It happens, Nathan," he said, trying to downplay the situation even though his own heart sped up a bit. Damn that Tanner, anyway, for always getting himself into a fix with the wrong woman.
"It can't happen. Not between them."
Nathan might have been right - was mirroring his own thoughts, in fact. But hearing it said still rubbed him the wrong way. "Why Nathan? Because she's got black skin like you?"
"Yeah, Chris. That's exactly why."
"I'd think you, of all people, would be able to look past that. After all, Vin's put his life on the line for you more than once, and he never thought about what color you are."
"I know that. For God's sake, Chris, it ain't about that."
"Then what is it about?"
Nathan swallowed and sat down on the chair near the window. "I know what happens to a black woman when she's found with a white man. I've seen it. And I don't want it t' happen t' that precious girl."
Something tickled the back of Chris's brain. "You got feelings for her, Nathan?"
"No. I mean, yeah. She's . . . she's special. Any man of any color can see that. But it's not . . . that's not why I'm here."
"You want me to talk to Vin," Chris said, more statement than question.
"Yeah. Tell him, Chris. Tell him it just can't happen. I tried but he won't hear it from me. And somethin' bad is gonna happen if they go on with this and someone finds out."
Chris shook his head. "I don't know, Nathan. I've heard of trouble when a black man has a white woman, but the other way around . . ."
"What are you sayin'?" Nathan jumped up and approached him. "You sayin' a white woman's life is more valuable than a colored woman's? It's a crime for a white woman t' be taken advantage of, but not a black one?"
"Now hold on. You know me better than that - and you know Vin better than that, too," Chris snapped, working hard to keep his cool. He never thought he'd be having this kind of conversation with Nathan. Had the man forgotten how he and Vin had risked their lives to save him?
Nathan softened for a moment, but he didn't back down. "Yeah. But other folks don't think like you. Some colors just don't mix, Chris. Not in this world, not in our lifetime."
"I think folks in this town have come a long way. They accept you as one of them. And Jacob's barber shop is doing real good business, from what I hear. Maybe it wouldn't be so bad."
He was trying to convince himself as much as Nathan. God knew that Vin deserved some happiness for a change. And maybe no one there would care that such relationships were generally forbidden - even considered crimes in some parts of the country.
"That ain't the same thing, Chris. Business ain't . . . well, it ain't personal, you know? And Vin, you know how it was at first for him. It took a long time for people around here to accept him and his ways. But they'll never accept this. If you won't do it for her, do it for him."
"Alright. I'll try. But I don't think he'll listen."
"Tell him . . . I don't know." Nathan shook his head. "They were right there, in plain sight, behind the livery . . . kissing."
Kissing. Chris sighed. It was a sorry day when he had to figure out a way to tell his friend - the man who could shoot the wings off a fly and track a hummingbird at midnight - that he couldn't go around kissing a girl behind the livery. Hell, Tanner was likely to pull out his rifle and shoot him, once he got done reminding him that it was none of his damn business.
But then again, maybe Nathan was right. Maybe Nathan was just putting voice to what his gut and his troubled dreams had been telling him all along.
He found Vin an hour later, picking up supplies. "You on your way to Jacob's?" he asked his friend, in lieu of a greeting.
"Yeah," Vin replied. He didn't even look up as he took the things from the counter and headed out the door.
"Need some help?"
"Nope," Vin answered as he began tying the packages on the back of his saddle.
"Things going alright there? At the house, I mean? It seems like you've been spending a lot of time there. Aren't you about finished?"
Vin finally met his eyes. "What do you wanna know Chris?"
Lowering his voice, Chris replied, "Not here. Let's go somewhere a little more private."
"Why? I got nothin' t' hide."
"Ain't right, Chris," Vin said defiantly. But then he lowered his voice, too, when he added, "It shouldn't matter."
"I know. But it does."
Vin looked around, took note that no one was close by and said softly, "I like her."
Three simple words, but Chris knew them for what they were: Vin was laying his heart wide open, standing right there in the middle of the street.
"I know." Chris couldn't hide the note of sadness in his voice. Nathan was right - this couldn't end well.
Vin chewed on his lip a minute, then rasped, "I gotta go."
Nodding, Chris stepped away. He imagined this wasn't what Nathan had in mind when he'd asked him to talk to Vin, but he didn't have the heart to take the discussion any further.
Peso knew the route by heart, not that they had far to go. Vin could easily have walked to the small plot of land where the Moore house stood, if he didn't have supplies to bring. Truth be told, he had walked it, more than once, generally when the sun had set and the moon was high in the sky.
He wasn't quite sure what to expect that first night. He'd been working at the house for almost two weeks when Beth quietly approached him one afternoon as he repaired the loose floorboards on the front porch. She whispered that she wanted to show him something and to come back after dark. They'd been getting along real well; Vin was more comfortable with her than he'd been with any woman in a long time. So he thought he knew what Beth had to show him, and he wanted to see it - badly.
But it wasn't what he thought. Several yards from her home, Beth had greeted him and pulled him to a secluded area surrounded by brush and a few tall trees. She had a candle with her and a book of poetry. Vin wasn't sure who let on to her that he liked poetry, maybe no one had, but it was clearly an interest they shared.
Hours of quiet conversation ensued as Beth read to him in the moonlight. But after several nights passed, he could resist her no longer. And soon, there was a whole lot more kissing going on than talk of poetry. But even though Beth was a few years over twenty, Vin knew she was inexperienced with men; her father had protected her well. The problem was, he wasn't inexperienced - and it was getting harder and harder to keep his emotions in check.
It wasn't just that she was nice to look at, though she was. And it wasn't that she was smart, though she was that, too. It was the way she laughed when he tripped over his feet, the way she held the nails in her teeth when she was hammering beside him, the way she looked at her father like he made the sun rise. She wasn't perfect, of course, Vin was sure of that. He just hadn't figured out her faults yet. And the longer he stuck around, the more certain he was that it could take a long time - maybe even a lifetime - to find anything wrong with Beth.
He didn't give a damn about the color of her skin, either. Maybe it was the way he was raised - or rather, the way he wasn't raised. By anyone. He'd been on his own most of his life and consequently, he'd learned early on that the measure of a person couldn't be told by age, sex, or color. Hell, he'd thought he was red-skinned himself, for a time; had wanted it to be so, had wished for it so hard that he made himself believe it was true.
Still, he knew other people didn't think like him. Some people cared, most people cared. He didn't believe Chris was one of them, but his brief conversation with Larabee had made him wonder for a moment. Likely Nathan had put him up to it.
Vin shook his head as he dismounted at the Moore house. He hadn't gotten away to see Beth last night, so she'd boldly come to town and found him. He probably should have sent her on her way - he'd intended to, anyway - but once she wrapped her arms around him, well, any thought of saying 'no' went clean out of his head.
Nathan saw them - put a stop to matters before they got out of hand. That might have been for the best, but Vin could still feel the anger burning hot when he thought about Nathan's words to him. It wasn't Nathan's damn business. And now he'd gotten Chris involved.
"Mornin', Vin. You get everything you need in town?" Jacob Moore asked.
Vin nodded as he untied the packages from his saddle. It was getting harder and harder to look the man in the eye, considering the things he was doing with his daughter after dark. He looked up at the house, and caught Beth staring at him from her window on the second floor. He never worked there unless Jacob was home, the old man had seen to it. Vin was starting to think that was smart, real smart.
Beth was smiling at him, fingering the fine, gold chain she always wore around her neck, a nervous habit that Vin had often observed.
"Vin? Did you hear me?" Jacob asked.
Vin cleared his throat as he turned towards the man. "Uh, yeah. I should get the fence done in an hour or so and then I'll get started on the steps to the cellar. "
"That's fine, that's fine," the older man responded with a broad smile. "You sure have been a big help to me, Vin. I feel like I should pay you more."
"No, no," Vin replied quickly. Hell, he was thinking he should give the man his money back. "I'm just happy I've had some free time t' help y'all out."
He was working on those steps a few hours later, replacing the rotting wood, when a shadow blocked the light from the open door to the cellar. Vin raised his head as he heard the distinctive sound of the cellar door being pulled shut.
"Hey . . ." he started to call out, until he recognized the figure slowly making her way down the stairs to him. The lantern he carried cast a small circle of light, but not nearly enough for him to see what he was doing.
"I need the door open to see, Beth," he said softly.
"I know but I just need to see you for a minute, Vin."
Her voice was small and breathless in the shadows.
"Beth-" Vin started to warn her. If her father knew that she'd come . . .
"Just kiss me one time, that's all."
Maybe Nathan was right, maybe he was a stupid fool, because he couldn't turn her away when she reached for him. He kissed her once, lightly, then leaned his forehead against hers. "You shouldn't be here," he said. "It's . . . it's not right."
"I know," she answered shyly. "I just couldn't stop thinking about you down here . . . all alone. I'll go now."
But the thought of her going back inside - so close yet so far - made his heart ache, and he grabbed a hold of her wrist and pulled her to him once more.
She smiled after the second kiss, her teeth glittering white and perfect against her dark skin.
It shouldn't matter that her skin was darker than his; they shouldn't have to hide in a cellar to share a kiss. It wasn't fair, and he was tired of giving in to rules he had no part in making, rules he couldn't understand for the life of him. He held her close and kissed her again.
Trouble was brewing. Josiah felt it in the air, and he instinctively pulled his coat tighter around him. It was to be expected, he supposed; things had been quiet for too long now.
Vin passed by on horseback just then and lifted his hand in a greeting. Likely on his way to the Moore house again, Josiah thought with an involuntary sigh. It shouldn't matter that Vin spent a lot of time there; shouldn't matter that the man's eyes lit up every time Jacob and his daughter came to town; shouldn't matter that on a few sleepless nights, he'd spotted Vin leaving his wagon and heading that direction.
But it did matter.
Josiah had spent some time with Jacob Moore, and he genuinely liked the man. He learned that Jacob had stayed with his former master after the war had ended, had tended to him when he fell ill until he eventually died. The man had no family, and left many of his belongings to his former slave.
Jacob shared that his owner had taught young Bethany to read, and had tutored her on many subjects. While on his deathbed, Bethany had remained at her master's side, reading softly to him from the books he had loved throughout his life. It was a sheltered life, very different than what awaited the man and his daughter in the west.
Certainly the girl had been exposed to few men in her life, and surely none quite like Vin. He smiled at that thought. Vin was rare, indeed, in so many ways. And normally, he'd think a girl would be lucky to have Tanner's attention, for that was rare, too. In fact, Josiah would be hard pressed to remember Vin showing an interest in any woman, other than Charlotte, and everyone knew how that turned out.
Of course, he didn't know for certain that there was anything more than friendship between his friend and the young woman. But he suspected there was. Vin seemed to in a daze a good bit of the time, and Bethany glowed with what could only be new love.
Conversely, Nathan seemed to wear a perpetual scowl. That took some pondering, that Nathan should feel so angry about the situation. Prejudice abounded in many forms, some more subtle than others, but it didn't seem likely that that was Nathan's problem. It occurred to him that perhaps his old friend had feelings for the girl, as well. But no, he didn't buy that jealousy was the culprit, either. It was more likely that Nathan was just concerned. After all, he knew more about the complexities of living with dark skin in a white man's world than any of them ever would. The harsh realities, the bitter unfairness, the experiences of his own past - all of these must come into play where Nathan was concerned.
Josiah felt a bit perplexed by it all. He'd become their unofficial mentor, of sorts, the one the younger men came to when a problem weighed heavy. But he was almost relieved that neither Nathan nor Vin had come to him as yet, for he didn't know what he would say. While he had no problem with mixed relationships of any kind, he couldn't deny the hardship such a union would likely encounter. Wrong or right, fair or unjust, it was a fact. And if he had his say, he'd have to agree that it would be far better for Vin to walk away from this one; give the girl a chance to find someone more suitable - if only in the world's view - than himself.
Those thoughts consumed him as he continued his short walk to the saloon. Night was falling, yet he saw only Ezra at the table when he entered the establishment.
"Where are the rest of the boys?" he asked as he sat down across from Standish.
"Buck and JD are still in Eagle Bend," Ezra replied. "Nathan feigned a headache, though I have my doubts. Chris said something about making a quick patrol through town. And I suspect Vin is at the Moore house."
"Yeah, I saw him ride out that way."
"What, pray tell, could he be doing there after dark? Or do I really want to know?"
Josiah took the opening gratefully. "I imagine he's doing some work inside. And since Jacob is present, I hardly think there is anything disreputable going on."
"Perhaps not at the moment, in any case."
"Why don't you just get to it, Ezra. What do you have on your mind?"
"Alright. Forbidden fruit," Ezra said succinctly as he continued to shuffle the cards in his hands.
"I don't follow," Josiah replied, although he followed very well. But he was curious about Ezra's thoughts on the matter.
"Vin is attracted to women that are, shall we say, unobtainable. He likes the challenge, the danger."
"Maybe," Josiah agreed with a slow nod. "Or maybe he just likes the girl."
Ezra laughed and dealt the hand. "I'm sure he does. What's not to like? She's lovely. But it can't work and he knows it, so why does he persist if not for some sort of thrill?"
"That's pretty harsh, Ezra." He'd thought Standish might have strong feelings about the possible coupling of Vin and Bethany, but not for this reason. He hadn't planned on having to defend Vin's motives. This was a new twist to the story.
"It is. And I hope that I am wrong. But either way, nothing good can come from this. You know that. I know that. Nathan certainly knows that."
"I know a man that can't see a red bird in a green tree," Josiah shared.
"How intriguing. Is there a reason I should care?"
"I see the correlation you are trying to make, though I am unconvinced that it is a worthy argument. Vin might not see color, as you say, but others can. And Vin is not ignorant; he is aware of the prejudices that rule our society. There are even laws in many states that forbid such a liaison. He is playing with fire because he likes it. Otherwise, why would he not choose someone more suitable? There are plenty of available, single women who would - for reasons unclear to me - be ecstatic to be seen on Mr. Tanner's arm."
Josiah grinned. "Do I detect a hint of envy there, Ezra?"
"Absolutely not!" Ezra huffed. "I assure you, any woman attracted to our illustrious tracker would not be of interest to me."
"Does that include Bethany?"
Putting his cards on the table, Ezra leaned forward and spoke very deliberately. "I understand what you are inferring, so let me make myself perfectly clear. I may have had some difficulty riding with Nathan when we began. I may even have implied that I found his race inferior to my own. But it's not true. I have been cheated and defiled by men of every race; just as I have been heartened by the goodness of men of every color. I don't give a damn if Vin is seeing a black woman - a woman that I have no designs on, I might add. But I do care that both he and she are likely to be hurt in the end."
And such was the contradiction that was Ezra, Josiah thought with a soft smile. Maligning Vin in one breath, worrying about his welfare in the other.
Josiah didn't buy the argument, however; didn't believe for a second that Vin was only interested in the excitement of playing with fire, as Ezra put it. Of course he was a man who thrived on danger - weren't they all? But there was more to this, just as there had been more to Charlotte. Vin cared, deeply, which meant that Ezra was right about one thing - he was likely to get hurt.
And even if he happened to find the right words, Josiah suddenly realized that there was nothing he could do about it. Judging by the look on Vin's face when he saw Bethany, it was already too late.
The nightmare was vivid: Nathan could smell the blood, hear the cries, feel the pulse of life in his fingertips. Her hips were raised, her legs spread wide, and he was there, between them. Vin was at her side, coaxing and soothing, but the responsibility lay in his hands.
He wanted to fail, and that knowledge sickened him; that he could think the death of a child preferable to life. For what kind of life would it have?
But in his dream, the baby came; gasping, wrinkled, bloody . . . alive. He didn't know if it was a boy or a girl, only that it had black hands and white palms like his own, but a face that was neither black nor white.
"What have you done?" he screamed at Vin in the depths of the nightmare. Didn't he know? There would be no place for this child. It would be accepted by neither race, loved by no one but its parents.
He woke up in a cold sweat; angry at Vin, angry at Bethany, and angry at himself for being so goddamn angry. His feelings were justified, he reminded himself, for his fears were based on historical fact, not clouded emotions. Yes, he liked the girl, but he had no designs on her. Even if he wasn't aware of Vin's feelings, he'd make no move towards her. But something about Bethany stirred up his protective instincts, especially since he knew there was only one way this could turn out.
Giving up on sleep, Nathan climbed out of bed and walked to the wash basin that sat on the dresser near the door. The feel of cool water on his face brought him back to that horrible moment when a cold river had nearly taken his life. He was fifteen at the time, minding his own business on a beautiful spring day, when he saw a girl throw herself off the bridge near the plantation where he lived. It took a few seconds for his mind to catch up to whom he was seeing and what she was doing. It took even longer for him to work up his courage to jump in the river after her. He remembered struggling against the current, being pulled under time and again. The water was still frigid after an unusually cold winter, and it numbed him, rendered him incapable of thinking clearly. He forgot completely why he'd entered the water, his only thought to make it back to shore, to survive.
Later, he learned that thirteen year old Melanie had drowned. It wasn't his fault, of course. Everyone told him that. And while he could accept that he couldn't have saved her, he wasn't sure he hadn't contributed to her decision. She was the daughter of a slave and a white man - a dirty secret, shunned and shamed. Unlike the other young men, black and white, he hadn't harmed her, but he'd done nothing to help her, either.
It was a long time ago, he reminded himself. It didn't matter now. Things were different, the west was different. But not that different; a mixed child would still suffer cruelties, be treated differently . . . whispered about behind its back.
Vin was being selfish, careless, and cruel - traits Nathan would never before have associated with his gentle friend. He would only make life harder for Bethany, when it was already hard enough being a black woman in this place, in this time. They may be free, but the war was still new and still fresh, and opinions hadn't had time to change. The cynic in Nathan thought it might take a hundred years for that to happen - maybe more.
Glancing at his clock, he noted that it was midnight; the night stretched long ahead of him. He stepped out onto the landing for some fresh air, and caught a glimpse of a man walking out of town. Vin.
It was more instinct than conscious thought to follow him. The vague notion that it was now emotion governing his actions troubled him briefly, but he cast the thought aside as he moved stealthily through the night. He allowed several minutes to pass before he followed the sounds of soft laughter into the brush. His first thought as he peered from behind the thick trunk of a tree was that it should be impossible to sneak up on Vin. Only if Tanner was completely absorbed could he have missed the intrusion.
And he was . . . completely absorbed. Vin had Bethany on the ground; he lay on top of her and his mouth covered hers with bruising, demanding force. And although the area was lit only by the full moon and the light of the stars, Nathan was certain the girl's skirt was pulled up above her thighs. Dear God, she was hardly more than a child, he thought, his eyes filling with tears as his nightmare came back to him.
He could intervene, but Vin would only argue with him - and come back again tomorrow and the night after that.
Something pulled at the back of his mind as he quietly moved away and walked to the Moore house; something about trust and friendship, loyalty perhaps. But Vin had betrayed all they stood for, had forced himself on an innocent, impressionable young woman. And he was sick of it; sick and tired of white men taking what they wanted without thinking of the consequences - without caring what marks, what scars they left behind.
Jacob came to the door after he'd only a rapped a few times. The older man was in his night shirt and appeared disheveled and confused. "Nathan?"
"Yeah. Look, Jacob, I, uh . . . I don't know how to tell you this, but . . . your daughter isn't in her room."
"What? What are you talking about? Of course, she is."
He saw panic replace the confusion in the father's dark eyes. "What happened?" His voice was breathless, laced with pain without even knowing why.
"She's alright," Nathan quickly explained. "But - you'd better come and see for yourself."
Now the fear was replaced with a quiet desperation that Nathan knew well. Jacob picked up his shotgun as he followed him out the door. Nathan noted the action, thought about stopping him, but couldn't seem to form the words. The old man wouldn't shoot Vin, surely he wouldn't.
But he didn't know that. He knew about anger and loss, about being mistreated and misjudged, but he knew nothing about being a father. "Jacob-" he started in.
"Show me where she is!"
At a swift pace, it took less than five minutes to get there. Vin must have heard them coming, because by the time they'd reached the secluded hide-away, he was rolling off of Bethany and attempting to stand.
"Get away from her!" Jacob shouted.
It happened too fast. Nathan was aware of the sounds of a gunshot, a scream, and a grunt of pain as Vin fell back to the ground - but a strange heaviness kept him silent and still. Even when Jacob threw the gun down and moved towards Vin, he couldn't think what to do.
"No, Papa! No!" Bethany screamed as she tried in vain to pull her father from Vin's unresisting form.
Jacob had his hands wrapped around Vin's throat, and was slamming Tanner's head against the ground when Nathan finally snapped out of his shock and reacted.
"No, Jacob!" he hollered as he gripped the man by the shoulders. "This ain't the way!"
Surprisingly, that was all it took. The older man broke his hold and stood up shakily. "I ain't never shot a man before," he said, and the despair in his voice made Nathan's heart clench. He was just an old man, protecting his own - and old black man, and therein lie the difference.
Nathan looked at Vin and noted that his friend had pulled himself up to a sitting position with a soft groan. Tanner's right hand instinctively wrapped around the bleeding wound on his left upper arm. Not serious then, Nathan could see that at a glance. He turned back to Jacob, "He'll be alright."
It was true. Vin might be talked about for a time, might even be ridiculed for his poor choice in women. But it would soon be forgotten. Not so for Jacob who had shot a white man, not so for Bethany who had lain with one. Her life would be forever tarnished, unless they left town, and how was that fair? Why should they be the ones to pay for Vin's indiscretion and stubbornness?
Before anyone could say another word, Bethany sobbed and ran off.
"Go after her!" Jacob pleaded to Nathan.
"I will, I will," Nathan promised. "But first we got to get Vin taken care of."
Vin finally looked up at him then, but he didn't speak. Nathan wasn't sure what he saw in his eyes, and he didn't care.
"Dear Lord, what have I done? They'll put me in jail!" Jacob lamented.
"No. Not you," Nathan replied. He didn't fully realize it at the time, but he'd taken sides.
At that very moment, he'd cast his lot.
It was Josiah who came knocking this time. And judging by the fact that it was the middle of the night, trouble had finally reared its ugly head. Chris rose and threw open the door, already in the process of dressing by the time Josiah entered.
"What happened?" he growled.
Josiah shook his head. "I'm not too sure. But Vin's got a hole in his arm and he's . . ."
Chris looked up from buttoning his shirt. "And he's what?"
"Nathan's got him locked up. In the jail."
"Aw hell," Chris muttered, repeating Vin's oft used phrase.
The first thing he noticed when he entered the jail was tension so thick it was hard to breathe. Jacob Moore stood just inside the doorway, his stance stiff and wary. Nathan was near him, a comforting hand on his shoulder. Chris by-passed them both and headed directly for the cell where Vin stood, cradling his left arm.
"Vin? You alright?"
Vin looked up at him briefly, but didn't respond.
"What the hell happened, Nathan?" he asked then, turning towards Jackson.
Chris noted that Josiah had followed him, and he was grateful that the big man immediately reached for the keys to open the cell.
"Don't, Josiah," Nathan ordered. "Vin stays until we get this sorted out."
"I repeat, what the hell happened?"
Nathan took a deep breath. "I couldn't sleep, so I got up and I saw Vin leaving town. I followed him and I saw . . . I saw him with Bethany. He was, uh, he was having his way with her."
Chris immediately turned to Vin, who looked at the floor and made not a sound.
"Nathan, are you sure?" Josiah asked.
"I know what I saw. And I knew Vin wouldn't listen to me, so I went for Jacob. When he saw what was happening, he . . . he shot Vin. He was just protecting his daughter."
"And you're certain she needed protecting?" Josiah clarified.
"This is bullshit!" Chris finally exploded.
"Is it, Chris? You so sure? Why don't you ask Vin!" Nathan shouted.
"Is that the way it happened, Vin?" Chris asked, hating that he had to.
Vin didn't reply for a long time, and he refused to meet his eyes. Instead, his friend turned his gaze to Jacob Moore.
That was when Chris knew how it was going to be, before Vin even opened his mouth, he knew what was about to happen. And there was nothing he could do to stop it.
"Yeah," Vin replied. Nothing more. No explanation. Just Tanner stupidly taking the blame for something Chris was dead certain he didn't do.
"Fine," Chris replied, unable to hide the bitterness in his voice. "I think I'll ask Bethany what she thinks about all this."
"Not tonight, you won't," her father argued. "You can see her come morning."
Vin looked like he was about to say something, but he didn't. He merely sank down on the cot inside the cell, his face growing paler by the minute.
"Nathan, see to Vin's wound," Chris instructed, noting the blood dripping off Tanner's arm to pool on the floor.
At that, Vin's head shot up. "No."
"Vin, don't be stubborn. You're bleeding like a stuck pig," Chris argued, his patience long gone.
"Not him," Vin snapped. "Give me the stuff. I'll do it."
Nathan turned away, but he said nothing.
"I'll take care of him, Chris," Josiah offered.
But Chris had a hunch he was the only one Vin could stand to be near at the moment. "You all go on to bed. I'll see to Vin and we'll take care of this in the morning."
Nathan hesitated for a moment, looking from Chris to Josiah, but he remained silent until Jacob reminded him that he'd promised to find Bethany. Josiah offered to help, and the remainder of the conversation was lost as the men exited the building.
Turning his full attention to his wounded teammate, Chris took a seat next to the bunk where Vin sat. He pulled up the sleeve on the injured arm and hissed when he saw the extent of the damage.
"Goddamn, Vin, he shot away a good chunk of your arm."
"Shotgun'll do that," Vin mumbled.
"I'd feel better if Nat-"
"Alright." Chris knew he wasn't going to win this round, and he couldn't say he blamed Vin. From what he could discern, Nathan had hung him out to dry.
Vin groaned softly as he cleaned the wound, but when he spared a glance at him, Chris noticed the tracker was rubbing the back of his head.
"You hurt your head, too?" he asked.
"I'll look at that next."
Chris sighed. "Vin, I'm not letting you throw your life away."
"It's my life."
"Let me rephrase that: I'm not letting you go to jail for something you didn't do."
"You sure?" Vin finally looked him straight in the eye as he waited for the reply.
"Sure that I'm won't let you go to jail? Or sure that you didn't do it?"
"The last thing."
"Yeah. I'm sure."
Like a damn bursting, Vin's words tumbled over themselves in a breathless rush, "I never, ever would, Chris. Not with any woman, but especially not - not with her."
"Then why didn't you defend yourself?"
He shrugged, more out of resignation than indifference. "She needs her father. And he didn't mean it. He just . . . he just loves her so much. I can't let nothin' bad happen to him on my account."
"Nothing bad has to happen to anyone." Chris took another look at Vin's arm and clarified, "Nothing worse has to happen anyway. It can be explained as a misunderstanding, an accident."
Vin looked at him doubtfully.
"Anything could have happened out there in the dark, Vin. We can figure something out to keep you both out of trouble."
"And what about Beth? What about her reputation? What can we figure out about that?"
He wasn't being difficult, Chris quickly realized; Vin was genuinely asking the question. Unfortunately, Chris had no ready answer. Either Bethany was a willing participant or she wasn't. If she was, Vin's case was made, but her reputation would be ruined. And if she said she wasn't, the law didn't look favorably on rape, no matter the color of anyone's skin. And with Vin already wanted for murder . . .
His hesitation did not go unnoticed. Vin's eyes grew moist, and he turned his head away. Chris saw him wipe his nose with the back of his good hand as he muttered, "I should have known better. How could I be so stupid?"
It wasn't the first time he'd heard his friend ask himself that same question, and it was no more deserved now than it was then. "You're allowed to have feelings, Vin."
Vin shook his head and turned back towards him. "Not when someone else gets hurt."
Chris didn't have an answer for that either, so he turned his attention back to Vin's arm. The wound was nasty and Vin had lost a good bit of blood - was losing it still. "I'm not sure this bandage will hold. I think I need t' stitch it," Chris finally said aloud. He cringed at the thought of pulling a needle through Vin's skin; he wasn't good at this anymore - they'd all been spoiled by Nathan.
"I never meant to hurt her," Vin went on, apparently oblivious to the gaping hole in his arm. "Charlotte, neither, but I hurt her, too."
It was the first time Vin had ever brought up the woman from the wagon train. Chris didn't know what to say to that, anything he might try would sound hollow to Vin right now, so he said nothing at all.
"I could take her away," Vin whispered then, his eyes distant.
And this time Chris did reply. "To where? To what?"
It would be a solitary existence, on the run. Vin would have two crimes against him then. Mixed unions were illegal in most places, and if that wasn't enough, Jacob Moore would claim his daughter had been forced to go with him. Vin could take it, but Bethany couldn't. She obviously adored her father, and in spite of her awkwardness around a crowd, she was a social girl who deserved a more normal life.
But Chris didn't have to say any of that. He knew Vin had figured it out on his own when Tanner expelled a bone weary sigh and slumped back against the wall of the cell. He rolled his eyes to Chris and said very softly, "I can't be with her, can I?"
Biting his lip, Chris told the hard truth, "No. I'm afraid not, Pard."
He'd expected a reaction, at the very least a reminder of how unfair it all was, but Vin only leaned his head back and closed his eyes.
There was nothing more to say really, so Chris set about taking care of the goddamn wound that never should have happened. It had to hurt, but Vin barely seemed to register the movement of the needle and thread beneath his skin. He would have liked to have talked with Vin - distract them both from what he was doing - but he couldn't think of a single thing to say. And that gave him time, too much time, to think.
Nathan couldn't let it go, couldn't let Vin find a way to work it out. That was his first reaction, but it angered him so much that he tried to find a way around it. He tried to remember that Nathan had a different past than all of them, different obstacles, different trials. His perception was likely colored differently than theirs, no matter how close they'd all become as they worked together. Still, it felt like a betrayal. Nathan could have handled it differently. Vin didn't have to be in a cell with a crater in his arm and an even bigger hole in his heart.
Chris left Vin in the cell all night, but he kept the door unlocked, and he laid down on the cot in the cell beside him. He heard Vin moan a few times in the night, heard him sniffling, too, though he didn't want to think that his friend might be crying. He left him alone, only glancing over occasionally to make sure the stitching had held.
It seemed to take an awful long time for the sun to make its appearance through the windows lining the jailhouse, and Chris breathed a sigh of relief when morning finally came. He'd only just climbed off the cot, casting a glance at Vin who appeared to be sleeping, when Josiah came in.
"You find the girl?" Chris asked, forgoing any pleasantries.
"Yeah. She'd locked herself in her bedroom."
"She say anything?"
"No. But I didn't ask."
"She'll talk this morning," Chris said, his voice ominous.
Josiah walked over to him and lightly touched his arm. "She's a victim, too, Chris."
He was about to explode at that, until he caught the "too" part of Josiah's statement. Alright then, Josiah understood at least. "Maybe so. But she needs to tell us what really happened last night. If Nathan pursues this, with Vin already being a wanted man . . ."
"I know. But remember this; in essence, she's being forced to choose between Vin and her father."
Chris shook his head, he'd been thinking about this all night. "It doesn't have to be like that. We're the only ones who know about this. Vin was patrolling last night. Jacob thought he was a prowler and shot him."
Josiah's face couldn't suppress his surprise. "You'd flat out lie?"
"Not just me. All of us. We all tell the same story. It's over. No one goes to jail, no one gets hurt."
"Except the two that are already hurt."
"I don't know, Chris. I'm not sure Nathan is gonna go along with it. Jacob, either. He was pretty upset last night. He feels like he trusted Vin, and Vin betrayed that trust."
"Don't even speak to me about betrayal!" Chris roared. He realized then how angry he still was - how difficult it would be to ride beside Nathan. Maybe they really were from two different worlds that couldn't be bridged.
"It's not the same for them," Josiah calmly replied.
"Them?" Vin's soft voice suddenly joined in from his cell. "Why's it have t' be us and them? We're all just people. Just people sharin' the same earth durin' the same space of time."
It was moments like this when Chris remembered that Vin truly had a poet's heart.
"I know, Vin," Josiah returned as he made way over to the cell. Vin was sitting up, his back pressed against the wall, and Josiah sat down beside him. "But this all started long before you and me, brother. I suspect it goes back to Eve and that damn apple."
Vin swallowed as he met Josiah's eyes. "I care about her, Josiah. You know I'd never - I'd never . . ."
"I know that, Vin. And deep down, Nathan knows it, too. He's just caught right now. Between you and Jacob, between the world he came from and the world he lives in now, between-"
"Black and white," Chris finished for him.
"That's a simplistic way of putting it, but I'd say it's pretty much the truth," Josiah agreed.
But Vin's concern was elsewhere. "Will y' go see her, Josiah? Make sure she's alright?"
Chris didn't miss that Vin hadn't asked him to go. Apparently Vin had an idea that he might not be so understanding or generous with the young woman as Josiah would be.
"Of course. And I'll find out what happened," he added mostly for Chris's benefit as he got up from the cot.
"Josiah, I want to talk to her," Chris said. God only knew what the girl might say, and he was going to be damn sure she didn't make the situation worse than it already was.
"You're too close to the situation, Chris," Josiah argued. But Chris knew that what he really meant was that he was too close to Vin.
He let Josiah go in the end, but only because Vin gave him a look that was as about as close to begging as he'd ever seen on the man.
And Chris decided right then that the next time a pretty girl came to town, he was sending Tanner to the hills.
Nathan was there at the Moore house. Josiah got the impression he'd stayed the night with the old man and his daughter. Strange how that was so right a thing for Nathan to do, and so wrong a thing for Vin. Strange and wrong.
But he wasn't going to solve the problems of prejudice and intolerance that day; he could only hope to mitigate the damage that had already been done.
He found the two men in the kitchen, hovering over a shaken Bethany. The girl was nervously sipping on a cup of coffee when Josiah entered. She looked up at him just long enough for him to notice her red, swollen eyes. That wouldn't bode for well for Vin, he suspected, and one look at the red hot anger still brewing in her father's eyes confirmed it.
"May I speak with your daughter, Jacob?" He kept his tone polite and respectful; the older man deserved that much.
"You alright with that, Bethany?" Jacob asked.
The girl nodded, so Josiah asked the only question that counted. "Did Vin force himself on you last night?"
Her lip quivered, but her voice was firm. "No! He never would. He only did what I asked him to."
"Bethany, this is important," Nathan interrupted. "You don't have to protect him. And your father-"
"Hush now!" Jacob snapped. "Let her talk. I raised her t' tell the truth and that ain't gonna change now. If I shot a man for no reason, then I'll take what's coming t' me."
"What's coming to you? What do you mean?" Bethany turned her wide eyes to Nathan. "What will happen to my father?"
"He'll likely go t' jail," Nathan replied.
"Now Nathan, you're jumping the gun here," Josiah flatly stated. "Let's take one thing at a time. So you were with Vin willingly," he directed to Bethany.
Bethany was clearly uncertain now, but she nodded her head and softly said, "I love him."
Nathan shook his head and looked away, while Jacob put his head in his hands.
"I want to marry him, Papa," she added, turning hope-filled eyes to her distraught father.
Silence filled the room for several moments. Josiah caught Nathan's eye long enough to see an odd mixture of disgust and sadness there. There'd be a lot of mending to do before this was over, and some friendships might never be recovered.
Jacob got down on his knees and faced his daughter. He took her hands in his and he said gently, "I was wrong, I see that now. I shouldn't have sheltered you all these years. You've never known a man."
"I never wanted to know a man - except for Vin," she added easily. She had no idea, Josiah realized at that instant. She truly didn't understand; Vin wasn't the only one who was colorblind.
"He's a white man, Bethany," her father replied.
"I was raised in a white man's house," Bethany argued, desperation blossoming in her voice.
"That ain't the same thing." Jacob gently ran his thumb across her cheek. "You're not white. You can't marry a white man. It's forbidden."
Or maybe she did understand, but she'd allowed herself to believe in a fantasy. After all, if she could hide away in a grand house for years, perhaps she thought she could do the same behind the bushes of a vacant lot. Perhaps she believed it was possible to create her own world, live by her own rules - hers and Vin's - without anyone knowing or caring.
Her eyes filled with tears, and Josiah witnessed the transformation from blessed ignorance to cruel reality. "I can't be with him, can I?"
There were tears in Jacob's eyes, too, when he answered her, "No, child, you can't be with him."
She sucked in a breath, raised her quivering chin, and said, "I understand. I'd like to go rest now, if you don't need me any longer."
After she'd gone, Josiah made the offer that Chris had proposed. As it turned out, it wasn't so far from the truth: no crime had been committed, for Vin had truly been shot due to a misunderstanding. But Bethany would not be involved, her name never mentioned.
Josiah kept his eyes on Nathan as he spoke, more fearful of his reaction for some reason than Jacob's. But Nathan remained quiet.
"No matter what she says, Vin still took advantage of my daughter," Jacob finally replied. "But considerin' I shot him, I reckon we're even." He added, "He can never come round her again. Never talk to her again. I won't have her hurt like that. If he can't stay clear of her, I'll aim better the next time."
Josiah pictured Vin in his mind, saw his face that morning when he'd asked him to make sure Bethany was alright. He'd have to go back and tell his friend that he could never talk to the girl again. The only good thing was, he doubted Vin would ever feel the pain of that shotgun blast to his arm.
Nathan couldn't help thinking that the beautiful day was wasted on him, he was just too depressed to care. He couldn't concentrate for longer than five minutes without his mind going back to the events of the last few weeks.
He might have been wrong. Not about what happened or why it happened, but about his part in it. He'd been eaten up with guilt and uncertainty, and consequently, he was snapping heads off left and right. Fortunately, most people were steering clear of him -except Josiah, of course. That man was a damn nuisance. Nathan thought if he heard one more word about mending fences and building bridges, he just might resort to violence himself.
It just wasn't that easy.
But when Chris asked him to ride out and check Vin's arm, he figured he couldn't put it off any longer - especially since things weren't much better between him and Chris. Larabee had made it perfectly clear that he was pissed off, and he wasn't about to forget it until Nathan made it right with Vin. So he was on his way to Larabee's cabin under a clear, blue sky on perfect spring day that he had no use for.
Chris had taken Vin out to his place the morning after the shooting, or "the incident" as Josiah liked to call it. Nathan hadn't laid eyes on Vin since that night when he'd pushed him into a cell and slammed the door behind him.
But even though he carried the guilt for his actions that night, he was still angry. He was sorry that Vin had been shot, sorry that this terrible rift had developed between them, but he couldn't get past the fact that Vin was older and wiser and had to have known how it would turn out. Every night when Nathan closed his eyes, he saw the pain on young Bethany's face. She loved Vin, and she believed in a promise he couldn't possibly keep. He had to have known, but he'd let his lust and his stubbornness control him and she had paid the price.
Nathan would try to find some kind of compromise with Vin, though; he'd promised Josiah that much. And he'd promised Chris he'd look at the wound if he had to tie Vin to a chair to do it.
Vin must not have been in too bad of shape, considering he was brushing down his horse when Nathan arrived at the small cabin just outside of town. He had his arm in a sling, though, which was unusual for Tanner. Likely meant it still bothered him, so maybe Chris was right in sending him out to look at it.
"Vin!" he called out in warning as he approached. He imagined Vin would have no trouble pulling a trigger one-handed, and he didn't particularly want to test out that theory.
"Somethin' wrong?" Vin asked anxiously when Nathan was in earshot.
It said a lot that Vin thought the only reason he'd come out there was if something was wrong.
"No," Nathan quickly replied. He added as he climbed off his horse, "Chris asked me to look at your arm."
The brush moved brusquely over Peso's soft hide. "It's fine. Sorry you wasted a trip."
"I'm sure it is, but I ain't goin' back t' Chris until you let me see for myself. Neither one of us need t' deal with a worked-up Larabee."
Vin still didn't look at him, but the brushing stopped. "Fine."
There was no further movement after that, Vin just stood stock still, staring straight ahead. Nathan took that as permission granted to continue, and he proceeded to remove the bandage on the affected arm. It was worse than the graze he'd anticipated, and even though it appeared to be healing alright, he gasped when he saw it.
"I didn't realize . . ." he mumbled.
"It was a shotgun. What the hell did y' think would happen?" Vin snapped.
Nathan ignored the question. "I'm gonna clean it up good. And I've got some ointment that I want y' t' keep on it. Gonna leave a nasty scar. Ain't no help for that."
After he'd worked on the wound for a few minutes, Nathan gathered his courage and asked, "Vin . . . do y' think we could talk? About what happened?"
"If you want me t' apologize for caring about her, I can't. I won't."
"And I won't apologize for trying t' protect her."
"You gonna - gonna take care of her now?"
Nathan knew what he was really asking. "No, Vin. I still got strong feelings for Rain. And I got strong feelings for you, too."
"Yeah, I figured that out. You probably wish Jacob had moved that rifle a few inches to the left."
"My God, Vin," Nathan choked. Was that really what his friend thought of him? That he'd rather see him dead?
Well, wasn't that true for a time? Didn't he think Vin deserved to be punished for hurting a young woman who couldn't possibly understand the complications, the limitations of forbidden love?
"I know you probably don't believe me, but I never wanted you to get hurt. I just wanted you to - to understand." Nathan searched for the right words, but they were nearly impossible to find. How did he explain in one sentence what it had taken him a lifetime to accept? "Some things . . . some differences just can't be overcome."
Vin looked him in the eye for the first time since he'd arrived. "Didn't think about how we were different - thought about how we were the same."
"I'm sorry, Vin, I don't understand."
With a small shrug, Vin replied, "I never was like other folks. Never quite fit. And Beth was - she was scared, y' know? She never really had t' fit in the real world, either. And I figured, hell, an Indian-lover and a colored girl -who's gonna care about either one of us? The two of us together don't equal a single Mary Travis, as far as that town's concerned. It was stupid, I know. But the more I was with her, the more I wanted it t' be true - the more I thought it could be true." He swallowed and added, "Guess you were right all along - never could have worked out."
"I'd give my life to have been wrong about that, Vin. Give my life to change it, the way this world is."
"I would, too, Nathan."
"I know you would."
He did know, for he had personally benefited in the grandest way possible from Vin's willingness to risk his life for an injustice.
"Guess you and me ain't so different, either," Vin said, his eyes reflecting the soft blue of the sky above him. Nothing hidden there; as always, Vin was straight and true, and Nathan knew what he was being offered.
He accepted the gesture of friendship and forgiveness with an outstretched hand. There might be more fences to mend in the days ahead, but it occurred to him then that he and Vin had been on the same side of that fence all along.
He'd been back in town for three days when he saw her walking on the other side of the street, her arm looped through her father's. She half turned, and he could see that she was smiling at something the older man had said.
Vin couldn't move, even though he wanted to, needed to. He should have run as fast he could somewhere, anywhere, but he couldn't lift his leg and he couldn't turn his eyes.
She saw him then. Her lips parted and her smile quickly vanished. He wondered if her heart sped up like his had, if her mouth felt dry and her hands felt clammy. He wondered if she lay awake at night remembering like he did.
He'd never know. Only a dirt road separated them, yet the divide was insurmountable.
Maybe someday it would be different. Maybe sometime, people would learn how to live with their differences, as well as their similarities. Maybe in the future, everyone would be colorblind.
Or maybe not.