Main Characters: Chris, Vin
Notes: One of my earliest pieces, a tag for Wagon Train. And no, Charlotte's not in it
Webmaster Note: This story was previously hosted at another website and was moved to blackraptor in July 2012.
Chris walked away from the fire, to where a shadowy figure sat on the edge of a rock, staring into the distance. He was enjoying the peace of being away from the wagon train of settlers and Dicky O’Shea’s band of cutthroats. On the other hand, the sullen figure of his best friend quickly put a damper on any happiness he felt. Vin Tanner had had his heart broken while they had been charged with protecting the group of people traveling to their new homesteads. He had ridden away, taking Charlotte Richmond with him. Chris had tried to reconcile the thought that he might never see the young buffalo hunter again, but had quickly given up. Then his sense of responsibility had brought Tanner back to the train to warn them of the impending attack by the cold-blooded Irishman and his gang. By the time the matter had been resolved, Charlotte had returned to her husband’s side, and Vin had seemed sullenly resigned to leaving her behind when they left.
“Yeah, “ Chris said, “Tanner’s fine, all right.” As fine as any man would be after having his heart ripped out. Calling the dark healer away from his fussing over Vin, Larabee promised to keep and eye on the despondent young man for any sign that his mood was complicated by physical injuries.
The others turned in, wrapping themselves into bedrolls. The men had arranged themselves in such a way as to protect Mary and Billy Travis from any predators – two or four legged – that might make an attempt to disturb their night’s slumber. Vin had not moved from the rock that he seemed to have become a part of, he was so still. Chris sat near the fire, simply watching. He knew that the most important thing right now was to allow the tracker space and time to sort through the past several days.
Finally the camp was filled with the soft sounds of sleeping people. Chris rose and walked quietly across to where his friend sat. He carried two mugs, steam rising from the coffee inside each. Vin watched his approach of course, he wouldn’t have expected otherwise. He said nothing, but still made it known that he was not interested in talking. Larabee didn’t care. He would say only what he needed to say and no more, but it needed to be said tonight.
Handing Vin one of the mugs, he pulled his flask from his pocket, adding whiskey to the coffee. Then he spoke, his voice quiet, carrying no farther than his friend’s ear. “I know you’re hurting pard, and I ain’t gonna ask you to talk about it. Reckon you’ll say what you want to say, when you want to say it. But I know things have been better between you and me. I can’t say that it’s going to go back to the way it was, reckon only time will see to that. But I want you to know I’m here for you.” He started to turn away, but the other man’s voice stopped him.
“Like I wasn’t there for you,” Vin said, the tone of accusation clear in his voice.
With a heavy sigh, Chris said, “You rather I lied and said I trusted you right now?”
Vin said nothing in reply for several minutes, and when he did speak his voice was a haunted whisper. “I was a fool Chris.”
Leaning against the rock that the other man still perched on, Larabee could only answer, “Reckon you were.”
With a snort, Vin said sarcastically, “Thanks. Appreciate how you’re bein’ there for me Larabee. You’re a true friend.”
“You don’t think you’re the only man that’s been made a fool by a pretty face and a soft voice, do you?”
“Don’t rightly give a damn if we’re bein’ honest an’ all.”
“Fair enough.” He knew it was a dismissal. Maybe he had been wrong in the first place to come over. All he knew was that his best friend was hurting, and something compelled him to offer some small comfort; a few words and a drink. With a sigh, he once more made to return to the fire. “Wake me in a few hours and I’ll keep the next watch.”
Vin nodded, but did not commit. He had no desire to lay down and sleep. He still ached from the tumble he took down the side of the hill; his head throbbed and his ears rang from the blast. His body cried out for rest, but his mind rebelled. Maybe it was to be his penance for deserting his friends. That was what it amounted to; he should have stayed away from Charlotte, it had been wrong from the beginning. Even when they had been making plans to leave for Bolivia, there was a part of him that felt nothing but guilt for what they were doing. That same part of him had been grief-stricken, too, mourning the loss of all the seven of them had managed to build together. He had been leaving the only true family he had known in years. Even now he wasn’t sure that he hadn’t lost them. Although the others had said little, he knew that they felt the same as Chris did. How could they not? He had broken their trust.
Tanner sat through the long night hours, trying to make sense of what had happened. As dawn sent it’s first tentative fingers of light over the horizon, he realized that it was impossible. Standing slowly, his body complaining loudly and reacting stiffly, he started back toward the now-dying fire. After a few steps he realized that something was wrong. A few steps later, he collapsed toward the ground with a moan.
Vin opened his eyes to find the mid-day sun shining. Confusion covered his handsome face as he tried to figure out what had happened. He remembered starting back to the camp, to build up the fire and start some coffee for breakfast. He felt someone close and, slowly turning his aching head, he managed to focus on the face of Chris Larabee.
“How’re you feeling?” the blond tried to hide the concern in his hazel eyes.
“I’m fine…just a little headache,” he started to push himself up, only to have the world begin spinning. With a groan, Vin slumped back toward the ground.
Chris slipped a hand behind the other man’s head in time to lower him carefully. “Reckon you might want to avoid any sudden moves, pard,” he said with a small smile.
“Reckon,” Tanner said breathlessly. “What happened?”
“Nathan says chances are you got a concussion when that crazy powder man tried to bring the side of that hill down on you. Thinks that with… everything… going on at the time, your body didn’t respond til things quieted down.”
Tanner started to nod his head in understanding, but quickly thought better of it. Instead, he said softly, “reckon I messed things up again.”
“How?” Another familiar voice joined the discussion, and Vin moved only his eyes enough to see Buck Wilmington kneel at the other side of him,
“Reckon what y’ did back there saved a lot a lives, Vin. If you hadn’t gone up there that crazy sumbitch…he’d have blown up a lot of them settlers.”
“What Buck says is true, pard,” Chris said, “You didn’t mess anything up. You probably saved a lot of lives.”
Vin looked unconvinced, but said nothing in reply. Instead he asked “how soon we leavin’ for home?”
“We’re staying here til morning. Nathan says you’ll be able to ride by then.”
“Ah, hell Chris. Y’ know Nathan. He’s just frettin’.” Vin started once again to sit up, fighting against the spinning scenery around him.
Larabee caught the younger man as he began to slump once more toward the ground. “This is getting to be a habit, Tanner, “ he growled. “Now lay still and count yourself lucky that we don’t just hogtie you to keep you quiet.”
Buck chuckled. “Best you listen to Chris, son. I seen him lookin’ real close at his rope while ago.” Stretching up to his full six-foot-plus height, he said “I’ll go get y’ some broth.”
Vin closed his eyes, his face in a grimace. “Not broth…” he mumbled.
With a chuckle, the man in black eased him up to rest on a rolled up blanket. Pulling his kerchief out of his duster pocket, he gently wiped the perspiration from the pale face of his best friend. “Reckon you can count it as your punishment for not telling us you weren’t feeling good.”
“Hell Chris, didn’t know it m’self til I’s fallin’ on my face. Knew I had a headache, but didn’t think much of it.”
Chris studied the other man’s face quietly and finally nodded. “All right.” He looked up to see Buck returning with a mug and a grin causing his mustache to twitch. He handed the mug to the blond with a wink, then walked back to where the others were sitting. Larbee slipped a hand under Tanner’s head and helped him drink the hot brew. After a couple of swallows, the hunter looked up with a mixture of shock and amusement on his finely chiseled face.
“Damn Wilmington,” he said with a snort.
It was Chris’ turn to be confused. Curiously he sniffed at the liquid. The gunman had laced the bland drink with whiskey. It didn’t smell like the rotgut they typically drank. Looking across the camp, he saw Buck handing Ezra something. His silver flask. The two men turned to look at him, both smiling like the proverbial canary consuming cat. Shaking his head, and allowing another smile to light his face, the gunslinger turned to find Vin watching the men as well.
“Reckon I’ll accept the apology,” Tanner said softly.
“Nothin’ cowboy,” he favored his friend with a slow, easy grin. “Now, give me back my broth Larabee.”
He looked at him, his face a peaceful mask. He seemed to consider the request for a few seconds.
“C’mon Chris,” Vin held out a hand, which trembled slightly.
“If Nathan finds out, we’re all gonna be in deep shit. You know that.”
“Chris,” Vin growled.
Holding the mug, the leader of the mismatched group of peacekeepers helped the scruffy tracker drink the rest of the liquid in the mug. By the time the mug was emptied, Tanner’s eyes were drooping closed, the mixture of headache and whiskey lulling him to sleep. Larabee settled him back against the blanket, wiping the broth from the man’s face.
Sitting back, Chris watched Vin drift deeper to sleep. He was grateful to have the young hunter back, he could at least admit it to himself if to no one else. At the same time he knew that something had changed. He couldn’t quite put his finger on it, but it was as if there was a wall that had never been between them before. And it made him angry. Not at Tanner, but at himself; at the situation; at Charlotte Richmond. What had Vin done other than try to snatch a little happiness for himself? The young man may not have made the wisest decision, but when did romance and love necessarily mix with wisdom? If that were so, he doubted that he and Sarah had ever made a life together. She would have known better than to throw in with a wild and wooly rouge.
Vin was guilty of only one thing. For once, he had thought of himself first. He had not considered the rest of them, their need of him against the fight to come. He had fallen in love, allowing his emotions to lead him to make decisions based on his own wants and needs. The same wants and needs that Chris still mourned. Was that why he tried to deny Tanner those same things? Was he afraid that things would end badly if the hunter sought out that sort of happiness? Or was he jealous at the thought that Vin might be able to enjoy that life for more than a few short years? Was he that petty?
Maybe. Or perhaps he was only afraid of Vin being hurt; of carrying the pain of loss as he had for so long. Was he only trying to protect the man he had come to consider a younger brother? It was more likely that he was jealous rather than so noble wasn’t it? Wasn’t it?
A soft sound called Chris away from his thoughts. Vin sighed as he turned, looking for a more comfortable spot on the ground. It wasn’t very likely, but if any of them could be comfortable out here, it was the man he sat beside. More comfortable than in town, that was for certain. Maybe as much as the woman herself, that had been the draw to her; the thought of being with someone who wanted to live in the wilderness rather than in a more civilized town like the one they protected.
He had returned though, wasn’t that the most important thing? When push came to shove, Vin had returned to his friends; fought by their sides; watched their backs. Just as he always did. Tanner’s short foray into ‘selfishness’ had ended as soon as he knew the others needed help. And even though it had taken being thrown down a hill, he saw that Charlotte’s place was with her husband. His dreams gone, Vin rode away from the woman, returning to his place beside them. No, perhaps things weren’t going to return to what they had been before. But Chris felt a tug, realizing that it was the weakening of the wall that had been raised. And when it was dragged down, the trust would be stronger…hopefully on both sides.
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