by Stealth Dragon
Disclaimer: Not mine just borrowed for
“I gotta be out of my mind,” Vin said. Of course he was out of his mind, and he didn't need any fancy doctor to tell him so. He was kicking up dust in the dead of night toward the house of a man he didn't know, following the throaty bellows of a man he did know, because the man he did know was stone cold drunk off his ass for no explicable reason.
But what really made the whole thing completely insane was that Vin knew good and well what being stone cold drunk off his ass did to the man in question. Josiah didn't go looking for reasons to get himself soused; he had to have a reason, like most men. Even then, it had to be a good reason, because Josiah knew, just like Vin and the rest of the boys knew, what Josiah was like when drunk.
Stupid and, well, stupid. The story for most drunkards, yes, but with the bonus of having the strength of an ox. When Josiah drank, you kept your mouth shut, your eyes elsewhere and all together left him to it. Stupid when drunk or not, the man still managed to take care of himself. Try to get in his way, do what you thought was best, that's when you found yourself on the wrong end of that strength.
Hell, Vin could already feel the bruises, and nothing was going on... yet. Vin could see Josiah as a man-shaped blob of black outlined in moonlight, staggering like a dying thing toward the distant orderly stars of a two-story house.
And as Josiah staggered, he shouted, “I'm coming for ya, Bobby! Ya hear me, ya two timein', double crossing...!” the rest was lost in a slur that went on for an impressive amount of time.
Vin sighed. He could at least count his blessings that Josiah hadn't thought to bring his guns, or knives. But, damn it, that still left his fists and they were bad enough.
“Josiah,” Vin tried for... he assumed the tenth time since he'd followed Josiah all the way out here.
Josiah's arm cut a high arch through the air. “Ya leave me be! I told ya, leave me be!”
“Can't do that, Josiah,” Though Vin kind of wished he could. But he couldn't. The rest of the boys were off escorting a bunch of prisoners to any town but Four Corners and, well, Josiah was a friend. He'd saved Vin and the others enough times for them to be indebted to him for life. Unfortunately, most of their debts to each other were often paid off by saving each other from their own stupidity. Now, Vin wouldn't call their group brainless, not by a long shot. Every folk had their moments, one too many for the most part.
And this was Josiah's moment. So like hell Vin would let that moment be Josiah's last.
“Yes ya can!” Josiah bellowed. Vin winced. It was a miracle none of this Bobby feller's men had come riding out to see what all the fuss was about.
“No I can't,” Vin said. All the staggering was bringing Vin ever closer. Not a good thing. Too close and Josiah might get it into his head to lunge, killing any chances Vin had of talking him down.
Though if Vin were to be honest with himself, those chances had been killed and buried the moment Josiah had that eighth shot of whiskey.
“This is none of your concern, Vin!” Josiah snarled.
Vin tried very hard not to roll his eyes, just to be polite. “I'm a peacekeeper, same as you. You made it my business when you started shoutin' yer intentions to put a bullet in this Bobby guy's head. You don't even have yer damn gun.”
To Vin's dismay, Josiah just kept on staggering. “Don't need a gun,” the preacher said, raising those meaty paws of his. “Not when I got what God gave me.”
“Yeah? And you think God's gonna be okay with you usin' what he gave ya to pound another man into the grave?”
That got Josiah to stop. Maybe it was a preacher thing, maybe a Josiah thing, but a sure way to get him twice as riled was to turn anything of a religious nature against him. Josiah stood there, tall, rigid and pissed, and Vin knew better than to get any closer.
“Go home, Vin,” Josiah said, flat-voiced with warning.
“No,” Vin said, just as flat. He braced himself for violence.
What he got was Josiah finding his second wind and pushing his drunk ass onward, shouting at the top of his lungs. “Bobby you sonavabitch! You get your lying ass out here now so's I can hand it back to ya on a damn silver platter!” And if the dwellers of that house hadn't heard that, then they were deaf.
Several more lights joined the ones already on, getting Vin to cuss a streak under his breath. To hell with reasoning and self-preservation. At the rate Josiah was going, they would both end up with their fool heads blown off.
Vin swiped the back of his hand across his mouth. No way was he going down for something stupid.
“Josiah,” Vin said. He closed the distance between himself and the preacher, close enough to grasp the bigger, heavier man's shoulder.
Josiah shrugged it off with a hard jerk.
“I mean it, Josiah. You stop, now.” Vin grabbed again. Josiah shrugged harder.
Then spun around and shoved Vin two-handed in the chest. Vin didn't just fall, he could have sworn he flew, landing on his back in a sprawl that shoved the air from his lungs.
“Damn it... Josiah!” he gasped, scrambling to his feet. He reached out for a third time. Josiah spun like the bad dancer he was, arm swinging, fist looking to meet flesh with the force of a hammer. But Vin weren't dumb, weren't one for letting folks take him unprepared if he could help it, and this time he was able to help it. He ducked just as that thick arm and hand whistled overhead. Then he lunged, and knew in that split second before his lighter body propelled itself into the heavier body that he was going to regret it.
He drove Josiah several steps back, which made for a pretty decent tackle if he said so himself, even if it didn't land Josiah to the ground.
It was a short-lived moment of pride; Josiah's elbow came down, hard and fast, right in between Vin's shoulder blades.
Right on his spine.
It knocked the breath from him worse than hitting the ground had, leaving him not only winded but in a fair amount of pain.
“Ah... hell...” Vin groaned. Yet seeing as he could still feel his legs and toes, he figured he'd survive, and pushed past that pain as he pushed to his feet. He definitely didn't need no doctor to tell him he was insane – he was damn well certifiable.
Vin leaped right onto Josiah's back.
“Damn, you, Josiah! Will ya just stop and listen to some damn reason for a damn moment!”
Josiah spun, arms flailing, bellowing like an old bull being bested by the herd dog. Vin imagined it might have been a funny sight if he wasn't the one clinging like his life depended on it to the preacher. Which it might, because he could honestly say he'd never seen Josiah this enraged. Vin tightened his hold, all actions purely self-preserving now.
Then Josiah finally got it through that soused head of his that the trick wasn't to pull Vin off. He grabbed Vin's arm, and with a shout, snapped his upper body forward quick as you please.
The trick was to throw Vin off. And Josiah did, landing Vin right back on his back. Once again Vin found himself staring at the stars, trying to recollect how to take in air and get his legs to work.
“Damn you, Vin,” Josiah growled. He helped Vin with the standing issue by gripping to his coat and hauling him to his feet. Then, with the ease of a child handling a rag doll, he lifted Vin clean off the ground and shook him.
“Damn you, you leave me be! This is none of your concern!”
Josiah flung Vin right into a nearby tree. There wasn't much power in it, but it was enough that when Vin's flank met that rough bark, his ribs tried to out-shout the pain in his spine. Vin crumpled to the ground, dazed, hurting, and questioning his own sanity.
It all took a back seat when Josiah stalked toward him like a lumbering bear, hands out ready for more hurt. Despite this being Josiah, despite everything good Josiah had done, Vin suddenly found himself on the wrong side of panicked. He scuttled back but could go no further when the bruised part of his back came in contact with the tree. And before Vin could scurry around it, Josiah was upon him, grabbing his coat and lifting him to his feet.
Then hugging the air right out of him.
“J-J'siah!” Vin gasped. Damn but the man was like an iron vice, wrapped firm around Vin's ribs and wrapping themselves tighter until they were squeezing every drop of air from his body. Vin's heart thrashed like something wild trying to escape.
It terrified Vin, more than being caught, more than being hanged. His mind screamed and begged for his body to do something, anything, to make it stop but no matter how much he squirmed it only made the tightness worse.
And Josiah did. Quick as a blink, the pressure lifted, giving Vin's ribs enough room to expand and fill his desperate lungs. The arms weren't gone, but in that moment between one breath and the next it was enough. Once Vin's lungs were satisfied and he was no longer in danger of passing out, it was with a jolt that he realized they were kneeling on the ground, Josiah patting him warmly on the back, slow, steady, almost comforting.
Or would have been comforting had those same arms not tried to kill Vin a moment ago. Vin's heart still fluttered like something spooked, fluttering faster the longer Josiah held on. But when Vin attempted to squirm, the muscles of those great arms flexed as though with silent warning.
“Josiah?” Vin tried.
Josiah sighed, long and light. “Oh, Vin. Vin, Vin, Vin.” He rubbed Vins' back, up and down along his aching backbone. “What'm I doin' Vin? I'd never hurt you. I'd never hurt any of you.” He loosened his hold further in order to lean back, meeting Vin's eyes with his blood-shot, hazy ones. “Yur my friends. I could never live with myself if I hurt ya.”
A mighty belch erupted from the pit of Josiah's stomach right into Vin's face. “Srry,” he slurred, back to patting Vin's back, then rubbing, then patting. “Anyone... ever tell you that yer... a skinny son of a--” Then, with his eyes rolled back into his skull, Josiah collapsed against Vin.
It was a might indignant position to be in, but all Vin cared about was that it was about damn time.
It was to hammers and spinning that Josiah awoke, spitting up a curse and a prayer for the Lord to smite him right then and there. He figured he deserved it if he'd put himself into such a state. And a hell of a state it must have been, because he didn't remember a damn thing.
Such as how far he'd had to walk to get to his bed in the church. And why Vin was lying on his side, as curled up as the church pews would let him be.
The Lord must have been in an ironic mood, for instead of striking Josiah down, he struck his memory back to life.
Bobby, that back-stabber. Bobby Shay sauntering into town, a woman that wasn't Elise clinging to his arm. A bottle, lots of shots, a ride into the night, falling... maybe. It got a tad more hazy there, because the next memory was of himself walking and of Vin...
Josiah's eyes opened wide. Dear Lord, Vin.
Headache be damned, Josiah leaped from his bed straight to Vin and shook him as gently as possible.
“Vin. Vin! Oh, Lord, please tell me I didn't do him any harm. Vin!”
It was never wise to come upon Vin Tanner with him unaware of it, and that included shaking no matter how carefully. So it was with much trepidation that Vin started awake with a snort and a gasp, yet without the usual swinging fist connecting a well deserved blow to Josiah's jaw.
“Damn it, Josiah,” Vin croaked, though there was little to no power behind the words. He'd lifted his head, which was all he seemed capable of doing, and not for long when he lowered it back to the hard pew. “Jus' got ta sleep.”
Josiah's stomach felt as though it had dropped to his feet. He could see through the chinks in the windows' shutters the shafts of blue-gray twilight creeping toward morning. Last he remembered, it had been the middle of the night.
Josiah clapped his large hand over the bony shoulder and squeezed. “Oh, Vin. I am sorry, I am so sorry.”
“You 'member?” Vin asked, blinking languidly.
“Enough,” Josiah said, shaking his head. Hell, he didn't think he could feel any more low if the ground opened up and swallowed him. He wished it would, but what more perfect a way was there to pay penance then by enduring his fractured memories of hurting his friend?
Dear Lord, I could have killed him! It was often said of a man that he didn't know his own strength. Josiah, however, knew well of his. When people said he had a fist like a hammer, well, that weren't an exaggeration. He'd sent men far taller and wider than Vin flying over the dirt. And Vin; bless his scrawny hide, he might be quick and strong but under that skin was nothing more than muscle and bone. It wouldn't take much to toss him about. Josiah didn't want to begin to think about what a punch to the head might have done. The very notion made his insides churn, and him praying for that ground to open up right about now--
Josiah started. He laid his other hand on Vin's messy head. “Yes, Vin?”
“You feelin' bad?”
“Like the very bowels of hell are wantin' to pass me.”
Vin snorted. “Hell, you talk purdier than Ezra. And good.”
“Good. Damn right you should feel bad.” Vin then looked at Josiah. “But I don't hate you or anything, if you're thinking that.”
“Vin, I could have hurt ya bad.”
“I wouldn't have let ya.”
Josiah barked out a laugh hearing that, to which Vin replied with a rather poor look of hurt. “ Yeah I coulda. An I did... fer a good while. Yer damn quick even when drunk, you know that?”
“I do now,” Josiah said. He gave Vin's shoulder a light pat. “Let me check you over, make sure it ain't too bad. Nathan's going to be a while in coming and I can at least cut the tirade that will follow his arrival short by fixing some of the damage.”
“Ain't too bad,” Vin grunted as Josiah helped him upright. “Jus bruises.”
But even bruises hurt, Josiah knew well, and a thorough examination meant removing Vin's shirt and under shirt. It was not pleasant for Vin, and Vin's hisses and grunts were hell on Josiah. But the boy had been right in his quick assumption over his own body's ills – bruises, lots of them. Maybe cracks in the ribs but too small to tell. Just to play it safe, Josiah unearthed a few strips of cloth from the closet toward the back and wrapped Vin's chest, much to Vin's silent, tired chagrin.
Vin's exhaustion was something if he wasn't voicing much complaint. His eyelids trying to drop and the shadowed skin beneath them agreed. Josiah tried very hard not to think about how long it must have taken Vin to drag the both of them home, all the way from Bobby's place.
Could really use that ground opening up right now, Lord.
“So who's this Bobby guy, anyway?” Vin asked. He grinned without a lick of repentance. “Figure you owe me that.”
Josiah helped Vin back into his under shirt. “Man I knew.”
“Well gee-wiz, Josiah, really? Had no idea.” Vin narrowed his eyes. Josiah blinked in alarm. He knew Vin could shine forth with an ornery streak but had no idea he had a whip for a tongue to boot.
Josiah heaved a sharp sigh, slapping his hands on his thighs. “He was an old friend, back when I was younger than even JD.”
“And he betrayed you somehow,” Vin added.
Josiah gritted his teeth, dropping his gaze, bracing himself for whatever his next answer brought upon him. “There was a girl...” he said.
Vin stayed silent.
“Elise. I was interested in courtin' her. Bobby said he'd help me win her over. Next thing I knew, she'd have nothin' to do with me and everything to do with Bobby.” Josiah's fingers fisted on his knees. “He sabotaged my efforts. I never had a chance... bastard.”
Vin stayed silent for what felt like an eternity. Then he asked, “Was she purdy?”
The question bled the anger right out of Josiah, filling him with melancholy, and thoughts of what might have been. “If there were ever angels hiding among us, she was one of them. Sweet-tempered, shy, hair as fiery as the sun and eyes as green as emeralds. And her heart... I could have sworn there was no one with a heart purer. To say I was smitten was putting it mildly.” He chuffed a quiet laugh. “I was so in love, just seeing her from across a room left me tongue-tied. I was helpless around her, couldn't say a word to save my life. Then Bobby promised to help me win her over and... did everything to ensure that never happened.”
“Asshole,” Vin said.
“Amen to that,” Josiah replied.
“And you've been pissed about it since?”
Josiah shrugged. “Love makes a man do crazy things.”
“Amen to that,” Vin said in heart felt agreement and a touch of melancholy of his own.
When Josiah looked at him, Vin shrugged and smirked. Then they were both laughing – Josiah coughing up a guffaw, Vin hugging his chest to minimize the discomfort.
Josiah rubbed away the tears with the heel of his hand. “Vin, I don't expect you to forgive me for my actions--”
“Already do,” Vin said, making himself comfortable before he lay back down. He paused to point a finger at Josiah. “Don't mean I don't want ya to stop feeling bad. Yer a damn mean drunk.”
Josiah nodded. “Fair enough. And as part of my penance,” he took Vin by the arm and pulled him to his feet, holding tight until Vin found enough footing for Josiah to drag him to the bed.
“Josiah, you don't--”
“Hell I don't.” He eased Vin down, then onto his good side. “You rest there. I'll get some water and soak some rags for the bruises. The one on your back looks bad.”
“I could've broken it.”
Vin gave him another derisive snort. “If you could've, you would've. Yer a mean drunk, Josiah, but turns out ya ain't that stupid when liquored up. If it's any consolation, you stopped yerself before things got bad.”
It was consolation, even if Josiah didn't deserve it. He patted Vin's arm. “Yer a good friend, Vin. Too good for the likes of me.”
Vin squirmed into the blankets Josiah pulled over him. “Damn right.” But he smiled and winked.
Josiah chuckled as he rose to fetch that water and cloths. “Far too good,” he said. “And too skinny. Anyone ever tell ya that?”
Vin scowled at him, but all it inspired in Josiah was a soft chuckle and a lighter heart.