Chris sipped coffee in the cold morning air, relishing the warmth that flowed down his throat and settled in his belly. He'd slept little as restlessness made him edgy and the eerie feeling he'd had in Kojay's village had refused to leave him. The old chief might have been lying about Vin being there, but Chris doubted it. Kojay was cagey, but not stupid.
Still, that didn't explain the sense of unease, of being watched.
"Mornin', pard," Buck greeted with a raspy voice as he poured himself some coffee. He took a drink and grimaced. "Damn, you always did make this stuff stronger'n buffalo piss."
"You're welcome," Chris said dryly.
"Rough night?" Buck asked, uncanny perception in his dark blue eyes.
Chris shrugged. "Nothin' I haven't had before."
Buck stared into the dancing flames. "We ain't gonna find him if he don't wanna be found."
Buck brought his puzzled gaze to bear on Chris. "So why we on this wild goose chase?"
"Because Vin shot a man in the back in cold blood."
"Maybe, but that don't make him a murderer," Buck said softly.
"Yet," Chris added.
Buck traced the handle with his thumb and forefinger. "What if he don't wanna come in peaceable-like?" The glacial look in Chris's eyes sent a shiver of foreboding through Buck. "Don't do it, Chris," he said quietly, knowing how badly Chris would suffer if he had to shoot Vin to achieve justice. "You two been through too much together."
Chris's gaze faltered. "I may not be able to," he admitted in a low, anguish-laden voice. "He may end up getting me instead."
Buck's shoulders tensed. "Vin wouldn't do that."
Chris sighed. ""Maybe, maybe not. Nobody figgered he'd shoot at you." He shook his head. "We don't know him anymore, Buck."
Although Buck wanted to argue, he couldn't. Chris was right. Something had broken in Vin, something vital to the man's spirit. Buck had seen it happen before - to the man who sat across the fire from him. Chris had survived, albeit a changed man. Buck knew he'd never be as close to Chris as he had been years ago, though it had taken him some time to reach that realization. If Vin survived, Chris may find a stranger instead of the man he knew, just as Buck had.
Ezra and JD joined them by the fire. As Buck boiled some oats, the men sat in quiet companionship, although an undercurrent of unease wound through them. Nobody knew what to expect today - what would happen if they found Vin? How would he react? Would they be taking back Vin or a corpse?
Buck studied the somber expressions on his friends' faces, and his chest tightened. The thread had been broken between the seven men, and Buck had no idea how to tie a knot that would bind them together once more.
Just as he'd been unable to save Chris when the bond between them had been severed.
Vin continued on a westerly course, half-dozing in the saddle after a sleepless night. At least he'd been spared the nightmares, but he wondered how long he could go before he collapsed. As long as I have to, he thought grimly.
California seemed a good choice to start a new life. Though it had been nearly thirty years since the discovery of gold at Sutter's Mill, he figured he might be able to do enough panning in the mountains to eke out a living.
Hell, what did it matter what he did? He'd become a murderer in his friends' eyes, and he found himself questioning his own sanity. What if he'd imagined the gun in Woods' hand? What if he'd wanted to shoot him so badly, his mind had turned the thunderclaps into gunshots so he could justify putting a bullet in his back? Doubts plagued Vin, gnawing at his confidence, making him question his very self.
Vin looked ahead, to the scrub brush and cacti of the arid land. Yesterday's rain seemed a faint memory, but Chris's expression of betrayal had been burned in Vin's mind. And Buck's disbelief when Vin had shot at his feet. Vin rubbed his grizzled jaw - had he really fired a bullet at Buck? God Almighty, he had gone over the edge.
As he rode, he allowed his thoughts to grow numb. He didn't want to think.didn't want to remember. It hurt too damned much.
Should the angels call.
Maybe it was time for Vin to answer their summons.
Chris rubbed down his horse, then joined Buck, Ezra, and JD in their second camp since leaving Four Corners. He hunkered down and poured himself a cup of coffee. After taking a drink, he spoke in a low voice. "You boys ought to go back to town."
"We ain't found Vin yet," JD piped up, his dark eyes wide.
"And we probably won't," Chris said.
"What about yourself?" Ezra asked, arching a sandy-colored eyebrow.
Chris flexed the fingers of one hand. "I'm going to keep trying."
"And if you are unsuccessful?"
"I won't stop until I find him."
"But you said we probably won't," JD said, puzzled.
"'We' probably won't, but Chris figures he can do it by himself," Buck answered. "Ain't that right?"
Chris tipped his head slightly in acknowledgment. "You'd do the same for me."
"That I would, pard," Buck said softly. "You sure you don't want one of us to go with you? I'd even be willin' to sacrifice a few nights with the ladies."
Chris's lips tilted up in a crooked grin. "That's one helluva sacrifice, Buck." His humor faded and he shook his head. "No, I need to do this alone."
"Why?" Ezra asked, his pale eyes studying Chris intently.
"Only a man who's faced his demons can help another do the same."
"What if the demons is stronger'n both of you?" Buck asked.
"Then we'll burn in hell together." Another self-effacing smile crossed Chris's face. "Figured it'd happen someday anyhow."
JD's young face wrinkled in worry, but he didn't voice his fears. The boy - no, the man - was learning the price of courage.
"You boys head back tomorrow morning," Chris said.
"Which way you going?" Buck asked.
Chris took a sip of his coffee as he considered the question. "If I was Vin, I'd head west."
"There ain't nothin' that way for him," Buck argued.
Chris nodded thoughtfully. "That's why I would."
"What if you don't come back?" JD asked.
"Then I don't," Chris replied simply. "You're the law, and you got a responsibility to protect the townsfolk. Don't you ever forget that, JD."
The young man's shoulders seemed to grow a little broader. "I won't."
"Let's eat something, then hit the sack. Morning'll be here before we know it."
Buck and JD moved away to scrounge up some food from the saddlebags, but Ezra remained seated by the fire.
"What if Mr. Tanner wasn't fabricating a story? What if he was fired upon first?" Ezra asked quietly.
"Where was the gun?" Chris demanded. "And why did we hear only one shot?"
"As I recall, there was an explosion of thunder immediately before the gunshot - nature could have hidden the two Vin claims to have heard. And perhaps Woods disposed of his weapon before we came upon him."
"He didn't have enough time," Chris argued, his muscles tensing.
Ezra studied Chris for a long moment. "You are as close to Vin as a brother, yet you refused to believe his pleas of innocence. Why?"
"What are you talkin' about, Ezra - you know why. There was no gun and Woods' wound was in the back. You tell me how I could believe him," Chris said, anger vibrating in his tone.
"Because, despite his somewhat altered condition, he is still the man we respect, and we owe him our allegiance even if the evidence runs contrary to his entreaty." Ezra paused a moment. "And Vin Tanner would not shoot a man in the back unless he had a very good reason."
Chris stared at Ezra. Was the gambler right? Was his judgment being clouded by his aversion to backshooters so much that he hadn't looked beyond that? Or maybe his sense of betrayal by Vin's act had made him blind to the characteristics that had drawn him to the man in the first place? Geezus, what if Ezra and Buck were right? If so, he had tried and condemned Vin without a fair hearing.
"Do me a favor when you get back to town, Ezra," Chris said in a low voice.
Ezra tipped his head in question as his eyes narrowed.
"I want you to search that area where Woods was shot. I don't mean just look around. Check every nook and cranny in that alley. If Vin was telling the truth, there's got to be a gun there someplace."
Ezra's expression eased and a smile found his eyes. "You can be assured if there was a weapon, I shall find it."
Chris sent Ezra a nod of gratitude. "I just hope I can find Vin."
Ezra's features grew somber. "That, Mr. Larabee, will be the greatest obstacle."
Chris studied the flickering flames of their campfire. If he didn't find Vin, the tracker would be figuring he was wanted for two murders instead of one. And it was hard telling what Vin might do - either he would disappear, never to be seen again, or he would take a chapter out of Chris's life and find the nearest saloon to hole up in until whiskey numbed the guilt and transformed Vin Tanner into a stranger forever.
After traveling through the desert, Vin had arrived in Yuma. He guided Sire down the middle of the rough and ready town. A gunshot sounded and he took a firmer hand on the reins. He continued riding until he arrived at the end of town that the respectable folks steered clear of. Saloons, gambling hells, dance halls, and brothels lined the streets. Some were made of brick, but most were wood-framed buildings that were weathered by the desert sun and bullet scars from over-enthusiastic cowboys. There were even a few tents, like the ones in Wickestown from another lifetime. The memory of Chris helping Mary out of the tent and Buck giving Wickes his due flashed through his exhausted mind. He shoved the images aside, as well as the bitter ache of loneliness it had evoked.
He found a decent livery to board Sire, then shuffled into the nearest saloon and stepped up to the plank and barrel bar. "Two bottles of whiskey."
The fat bartender gave him a quick, assessing look with close-set eyes, then shrugged and set two brown bottles and a shot glass on the warped plank. "That'll be two and a half bucks."
Vin gave him two silver dollars and four bits. "You got a room to rent upstairs?"
The man nodded. "Six bits a night and if you want female companionship, you don't bring in anyone. You buy one of my girls."
Vin smiled but there was no warmth to the gesture. "All I want is this whiskey and a place to drink it." He tossed six more coins on the counter.
"Last room on the right at the end of the hall. That way you won't be gettin' in the way of the workin' gals."
Vin nodded stiffly and headed up the steps, his saddlebag slung over a shoulder and the needed whiskey in his hands. His legs ached, but it was a minor discomfort compared to the pain of betrayal in his chest.
He found the room and entered it, wrinkling his nose at the stench left behind by the last occupant. After tossing his saddlebags and hat on the bed, he opened the filthy window and pulled the single rickety chair over to it. With a groan, he lowered himself to the seat and lifted his feet to the windowsill, then crossed them at the ankles. He rubbed the knotted thigh muscles and clenched his teeth when the shin splints came and went. Feeling as old as the hills, he opened the first bottle of whiskey and set down to some serious drinking.
"Why?" He was barely aware that he spoke the single word aloud. Why hadn't Chris believed him? Why had the man stared at him like he was looking at a stranger instead of the person he'd fought beside for months? Vin could almost understand the others' skepticism more than Chris's, but they had disappointed him, too. JD had stared at him in open-mouthed astonishment like someone had just told him Bat Masterson had robbed a bank. Nathan's dark eyes had been cool when he'd looked at him in between examining Woods' body, and empathy had filled Josiah's expression, but he hadn't believed Vin either. The recollection of Buck's disbelief when Vin had shot the bullet between his feet brought another stab of self-recrimination.
Surprisingly, the only person who might have believed him was Ezra. Maybe because Ezra was familiar enough with liars that he could spot one instinctively, and he had read the truth in Vin's words and expression.
Vin lifted the whiskey bottle up to the sunlight streaming in through the window, and he gazed through the brown glass. On the other side of the bottle was a monochromatic world - a place without a vivid blue sky that seemed to go on forever or startling green grass that moved like a living creature at the whim of a gentle breeze. It was a world devoid of life and color.and friends.
For awhile, Vin had almost believed that nothing could tear them apart, that the seven would ride together forever. Or until the angels called their names.
Should the angels call.
A self-loathing smile twisted Vin's lips. Stupid to believe a boy's make-believe. Nothing lasted forever, and angels had nothing to do with tearing friends apart. Only misplaced loyalties and betrayals that went so deep nothing could take away the searing scar.
He took a long pull of the whiskey, willing it to dull his body and mind - to stop the stream of memories that threatened to rob him of his sanity. But the demons wouldn't be stilled. They'd waited over fifteen years for their return and they wouldn't be denied their retribution on his soul.
How had it all begun? When had Seth started turning against him and Brett? What had Woods promised him? Other than eternal damnation. Vin laughed, a harsh sound in the room's heavy stillness. Vin had been the one eternally damned - Seth and Brett were gone - `ashes to ashes, dust to dust.'
His eyes stung and he brushed at them impatiently. If only he hadn't tried to stand up to Woods, but Vin couldn't do what the man had ultimately demanded. Bile rose in his throat even now as he thought about it. The man wasn't normal - he was a devil on earth, waiting to steal the souls of innocent boys. And if the devil had to use a whip to get what he demanded, he'd do so. And had many times.
Vin's scars seemed to ache even now as he remembered that night so long ago and how the agony of the lash had burned through him like a river of fire. Brett had seen what happened when someone defied Woods and he had taken his chances on a deal with the devil.
Vin dropped the empty whiskey bottle to the wood floor and it struck with a dull thud. His gaze sought the mountains but they were obscured by dusk's haze, and desolation opened a gaping wound in his chest. Even his mountains had abandoned him.
He reached into his pocket and pulled out his harmonica. He stared at it, wishing for the peace it usually brought him, but knew he would find none. Not anymore. He slipped it back into his pocket and reached for the second whiskey bottle. With trembling fingers, he opened the last friend he had on this earth.
At least this one couldn't betray him.
Chris was tired, hot, thirsty, and feeling mean enough to take on Purgatory by himself when he arrived in Yuma. It had taken over two days to cross the desert, and he and his horse were ready for the comforts a town could offer. Even an untamed town like Yuma. Especially an untamed town like Yuma.
He stabled his horse in the first livery he came upon, then went to get a room at a decent looking place called The Desert Rose Hotel. After drinking a gallon of water and cleaning off the worst of the dust using the pitcher and basin in his room, he headed out to find a friendly place to wash down the alkali in his throat.
"Gutwarmer with a chaser," he told the bartender in the Silver Lady Saloon. After he'd paid for the drinks, he stood by the bar and tossed down the whiskey, then drank half of the mug of beer. With the vigilance experience had taught him, he studied the inhabitants of the saloon using the mirror behind the bar. He didn't recognize anyone and relaxed a little.
"I'm lookin' for a friend," Chris said to the bartender.
The man shrugged as he wiped a shot glass. "Most everybody is."
Chris smiled slightly. "He might've shown up a few days ago. An inch or two shorter than me, longish hair, leather coat with fringe on the shoulders. Wears a sawed-off Winchester on his hip."
"Nope, don't recall anyone like that in the last few days. I'da remembered that Winchester."
Chris accepted his answer. There were only thirty or so drinking establishments in Yuma, and he had only a gut feeling Vin was in town. He finished his beer and nodded to the bartender. "Thanks."
He walked back on to the boardwalk and paused to look up and down Yuma's main street in the fading light. Heaving a tired sigh, he headed to the next saloon.
Two hours later, Chris entered the twenty-first saloon and decided he deserved a drink. "Whiskey."
The big bartender set a dirty glass of cloudy whiskey on the plank bar. "Two bits."
Chris laid down the coins, and threw back the liquor, grimacing at the caustic taste. He'd had some bad whiskey in his time, but this ranked right up there. He sighed, feeling the burn in his belly, but it wasn't a pleasant feeling. Best get his pointless questioning over with and head to the next place. "I'm looking for a friend. A little shorter than me, long hair, leather jacket with fringe."
The bartender came over to stand closer to him, and his garlic breath made Chris wince inwardly. "Likes his whiskey?"
Chris straightened. "You seen him?"
"Iffen it's the same fellah, he's been up in his room for the last three days. Only things he comes out for is to buy more whiskey and use the privy out back."
Chris's heart thundered in his chest. Vin, holed up drinking? Damn - so he had taken Chris Larabee's path. "Which room?"
"Last one on the right down the hall."
Chris started for the stairs.
Chris stopped and turned back to the barkeeper.
"Get him outta here. He ain't good for business - yells out late at night and scares the girls' customers. Was goin' throw him out myself first thing in the mornin'."
Dread punched Chris in the middle. He nodded, keeping his expression flat. Geezus, it sounded like Vin's demons had caught up to him and the demons were winning. Maybe he should've brought Josiah with him - a preacher man like him probably had more experience with demons than Chris did. But Josiah wasn't here, which meant Chris had to struggle along on his own.
He arrived at the door and stood a moment, fearful of what he'd find on the other side. Taking a deep breath, he knocked. No answer.
He knocked harder. "Vin, you in there?"
Chris eased the safety loop from his revolver and laid his palm on the familiar curve of the handle. He turned the doorknob and pushed open the door. The stench of stale sweat, urine, and vomit almost made him back out, but the still figure on the bed stopped him cold. Taking shallow breaths, he crossed the small room to the bed and leaned over to peer at the man's features in the dim light.
His breath caught in his throat. A scraggly beard covered Vin's lower face and his hair was greasy and tangled, like a wild man's. The smell of his body made Chris sick to his stomach. A part of Chris didn't want to believe this pitiful piece of humanity had been his friend. But there was no denying the wounded creature was Vin and, like it or not, Chris had an obligation to help him.
He touched Vin's shoulder lightly. "Vin, wake up."
Vin muttered in his drunken stupor.
"Vin," Chris spoke louder and shook him a little harder. "Vin!"
The tracker suddenly bolted upright, his hollow blue eyes haunted and vacant at the same time. "Leave me be!" He swung at Chris, but Chris easily sidestepped the awkward blow, and caught Vin's wrist in his hand.
"Let me go, you sonu-" Vin fought against Chris, but his weakened condition made him no match.
"Vin, take it easy," Chris spoke reassuringly, grabbing hold of his other wrist, too, so Vin wouldn't hurt himself. "Relax, it's me, Chris."
Sanity flowed back into Vin's eyes slowly. He blinked a few times, then studied Chris as if he were a ghost. Then bitterness shaded his features. "Come to take me back to hang?"
Chris flinched as if struck. Had all this been because Vin thought Woods was dead? No, there was something else at work here. "Woods ain't dead."
Confusion lit Vin's face for a moment, then tempered relief followed by resignation. "Then it ain't done yet."
Chris shook his head, bewildered, and held his breath as he leaned closer to Vin. "What? What ain't done?"
Vin closed his eyes. "Everythin'. Nothin'." His eyelids flickered open. "My promise."
"What promise?" Chris demanded in frustration.
Vin only shook his head.
Chris sighed and straightened, releasing Vin's wrists. They were back to square one. "I got to take you back, Vin," Chris said, keeping his voice firm and resolute.
The tracker licked his wind- and sunburnt lips. "I knew if anybody'd find me, it'd be you."
"Then why didn't you keep going instead of hanging around here for three days?"
Vin shrugged. "Maybe I decided I ain't got a whole helluva lot to live for anyhow."
"That's the whiskey talkin', Vin. The whiskey and whatever's been eatin' at you." Chris studied him a moment. "The nightmares, too."
Vin's jaw muscle knotted, but he remained mute.
"You gonna come peaceable, or do I have to hogtie you?" Chris asked softly.
Vin raised his gaze to Chris, and in his troubled blue eyes, Chris saw the damage the demons had exacted on him. "I'll go."
Chris clenched his teeth and nodded shortly. "What do you say we get the hell out of here and go to the bathhouse? We could both use a clean-up." He arched a sandy-colored eyebrow. "One of us more than the other."
Vin looked around the dismal room as if seeing it for the first time and nodded. He moved slowly, stiffly, as he maneuvered himself off the bed. Chris took hold of his arm and helped him stand. Vin's shakiness concerned Chris - his legs seemed to have gotten worse. If he kept on this course of self-destruction, there would be nothing anybody could do to save him.
"After the bath, I'll treat you to a steak," Chris offered, keeping his voice light.
Vin lifted his head. "Since when do you buy a steak dinner for backshooters?"
"When he's a friend of mine." Chris held Vin's gaze for a long moment, then Vin pulled away from Chris's grasp and slowly gathered his saddlebag, hat, and sawed-off carbine and holster.
"I'll take the weapon," Chris said reluctantly.
For a moment, Chris thought Vin would try to fight him, but the tracker must have realized he was no match for Chris in his pitiful shape and he gave the mare's leg and holster to Chris, who slung the belt over a shoulder. They left the room and Chris allowed Vin to go ahead of him, to set the pace. He walked slowly, and Chris followed close enough to lend a hand if he needed it, but not so close that Vin would know what he was doing.
A few minutes later, they arrived at the bathhouse and shucked their clothes while the tubs were filled with steaming water. Vin's motions were awkward, slow, and when he removed his shirt, Chris clenched his teeth at the pale, puckered scars that crisscrossed his back. Then Vin gingerly stepped into the wooden tub and leaned his head back and closed his eyes as the steam rose around him.
Chris lit a cheroot then took the next tub that was ready to go. He rested his arms on the wooden tub's sides and studied Vin's pallid complexion.
"Say what's eatin' at ya," Vin said softly without opening his eyes.
Chris took a drag of his cheroot and exhaled a stream of smoke. "Them whip marks."
Vin's eyes flashed open and fire flared. "They ain't open to discussion."
Chris grinned. "Nice to see some of that Tanner spirit back."
Vin's anger relented only slightly. "I said I'd go back, Chris, but don't you be pushin' me."
The blond man gazed at him with that damnable knowing look of his, and Vin picked up the brush and bar of soap near the tub. Maybe if he ignored him, Chris would leave him alone.
"Why'd you shoot him?" Chris asked quietly.
Because he killed Brett, Vin thought, but spoke, "Because he shot at me." He glared at Chris, daring him to challenge him.
"Maybe he recognized me like I recognized him." Vin ducked his head under the water then washed his hair and itchy scalp.
"Recognized you from where?"
Vin remained silent. He'd already said more than he planned.
"Buck and Ezra ain't mad at you," Chris suddenly said.
Surprise flooded Vin and he glanced at Chris who was scrubbing the desert dust from his chest and shoulders. "Not even after what I done to them?"
Chris shook his head. "Nah. They know something's eatin' at you. Ain't a one of us that doesn't know what that's like."
But they didn't know his horrible secret - if they did, they'd never trust him again. Someone who could shoot. Vin swallowed the rising bile. He needed another drink. Bad.
"What do you say we head to a saloon after we're done here?" Vin suggested.
Chris smiled slightly around the cheroot clenched between his teeth. "Take it from someone who knows - that ain't the answer, Vin."
"Maybe not, but it makes the questions a little easier to take."
"For a time, but they'll always be there, waitin' for ya."
Vin frowned, not liking Chris's words, but recognizing the truth in them. Only problem was, Vin wasn't sure he was ready to handle them questions without the whiskey. He rinsed his hair, then finished washing up. He shaved with a trembling hand, leaving a few cuts behind on his jaw and neck, then stood and stepped out of the cooling water in the tub. "Let's go get that steak."
Chris nodded and, after the two men had toweled dry, they went to the Silver Lady. While they waited for their meals, they drank hot coffee instead of liquor. Vin's hand trembled so badly he could barely lift the cup to his lips.
"That was the worst whiskey I ever had," Vin admitted softly.
"Didn't stop you from drinkin' more'n your share." Chris slouched in his chair, his elbows braced on the armrests and the coffee cup held between his hands. He'd shoved his hat off so it hung down his back, held in place by the latigo strap.
Vin took a deep breath and his gaze shifted to the darkness outside the saloon. "Was better'n the nightmares."
"That bad, huh?" Chris asked quietly, his perceptive green eyes studying him.
Vin drew his gaze back to Chris, and he nodded, but didn't elaborate.
The bartender brought out two plates and set one in front of each man, then went back to his place behind the bar. A huge steak covered most of the plate, with mashed potatoes, gravy, peas, and cornbread taking up the rest of the space. Vin ate slowly, knowing his stomach would rebel if he shoved too much down there too fast. He was acutely aware of Chris's wary guard, and wondered if the two of them would ever be comfortable with each other again.
Forget it, Tanner, you threw that away when you shot Woods. It was self-defense, he argued with himself, wasn't it? At least he hadn't killed the bastard so he wasn't a murderer in Chris's eyes. But that would change as soon as Vin succeeded in his mission of vengeance.
Vin managed to clean off his plate, and felt better now that he had some food in his stomach, instead of cheap whiskey. Chris paid for the meals, and they left to go to the hotel.
The two men entered Chris's room and Chris motioned to the far bed. "You can sleep over there."
"You gonna keep an eye on me all night?" Vin asked dryly.
Chris shrugged. "If I have to."
Vin chuckled. "At least you're honest."
The blond man smiled wryly. "When it counts anyhow."
Chris set the weapons on the other side of his bed, then he stripped to his underwear and slipped into the bed. "Damn, this feels good after a week sleeping on the ground."
Vin remained fully clothed and sat down in a ladderback chair. "Why didn't you bring any of the other boys to get me?"
"Why - you plannin' on givin' me trouble?"
Vin crossed his arms over his chest. "S'pose not. Hell, you know I couldn't shoot you, Chris."
Chris stacked his hands under his head and studied Vin. "Do I?"
His soft question was barely audible, and Vin's palms grew moist. He had shot Seth and he'd been as good a friend as Chris. He licked his dry lips. Chris wasn't anything like Seth, who'd been blinded by Woods' promises of wealth. But at what cost?
"You all right, Vin?" Chris asked, worry lacing his usually laconic tone.
Vin turned away so he wouldn't have to see the damnable concern in his green eyes. "Ain't nothin' gonna be all right again," he said softly.
Chris sat up. "Look, Vin, I know you ain't one to unload your guts to folks, but I ain't just anyone. Me and any of the other boys will help in any way we can. You gotta know that."
The sincerity in Chris's voice startled Vin. For a moment, he could almost see Seth and Brett, promising him and each other that they'd ride side by side forever. That their friendship couldn't ever be broken.
"I know," Vin said quietly.
After a few moments, Chris lay back down, but Vin remained in the chair, his gaze turned to the dark night.
"You gonna get some sleep?" Chris asked.
Vin smiled sadly. "Not if I can help it."
A few minutes later, Chris heard a quiet snore and saw Vin's chin touching his chest. He'd fallen asleep. Chris, however, suspected that it wouldn't be a peaceful sleep and would be filled with more of his nightmares. His stomach churned - he'd best get some rest, too, before Vin's nightmares awakened him.