Vin Tanner's grief was immense. The loss of his beloved Gwendolyn left him devastated. What was he thinking? How could he possibly believe he could be happy? And how could he not foresee her tragic death?
Weeks had passed since her funeral and sitting alone in his room at the boarding house Vin was beside himself. Seeing other people was impossible. Especially his six companions. They of course did their best to console him and tell him it was an accident and not his fault. "If that wasn't a laugh". He sneered and took another gulp from his newly opened bottle of whiskey. His blue eyes deep with regret and longing. Feeling the wetness of the tears working their way through his eyes, Vin wiped them away with the back of his hand.
"I miss you." His voice trembled in a soft whisper. Getting himself up, with the balance needed from the grip of the chair, he made his way over to the bed and collapsed on it. He still had the bottle of whiskey in his hand and brought his eyes to stare up at the ceiling.
"Vin Tanner." He could hear her voice as clear as if she were right beside him. "You think your no good." Gwendolyn was looking at him in amusement. Her dark brown eyes fixed on him. Her long chestnut hair moved with the gentle summer breeze. "Or at least you do your best trying to convince me of that." Her hand rested on his cheek and she played her thumb slowly over his jaw. "But you will never be rid of me." As always she brought herself up on her toes to meet his lips. Vin placed his hand on the back of her neck and brought her closer to him for a lingering, gentle kiss... .
Shaking himself awake from his memories he brought the whiskey into his view and put his faith in the brown liquid to once again give him an occasional peace of nothingness.
"Can't let him drink himself to death." Josiah said coolly.
The six men had come to find themselves in the jail in hopes of a plan to somehow get their friend through his distress.
"Don't you think we know that Josiah?" Chris shot hotly, as his blue eyes shifted in his direction.
"Biting each others heads off ain't gonna do us any good neither." Nathan spoke up and as usual was trying to keep the peace in the group.
"Chris?" He turned to see JD sitting behind his desk and dumbly wringing his hands together.
"What is it JD?" He was rubbing his temple with his fingers in hopes to lighten the tension in his head.
"I know I don't know as much about things as you but." JD licked his lips and looked about the room to see the five men staring at him. "But Vin... I ain't never seen him with a woman like---well-like he was with Gwen." He shook his head in frustration. "I think he was gonna marry her and leave us."
"Kid's got a point Chris." Buck was agreeing with JD. Standing by the desk, his hip rested against it and his arms were folded over his chest. "I ain't never seen him like that either."
"Whether Mr. Tanner was going to part company with us... right now I'm afraid has nothing to do with the task at hand." Ezra was standing against the door, his back rested against it and his arms were folded over his chest.
"Ezra's right." Chris then slapped his hands on his thighs and brought himself to stand. "I'm going to see him." The others shot each other a concerned glance.
"I---I don't know Chris?" Buck searched for words. "Maybe we should just give him more time?"
"More time? Christ sakes Buck!" Chris leveled his intense blue eyes on his friend. "If we give him more time he'll die from liver failure by the end of the week!" With that he pushed by Ezra and yanked open the door and made his way out into the night and to his bereaved friend.
Throbbing Vin's head was throbbing. The constant banging that over whelmed his dream. Placing the pillow over his head did little to lessen the sound.
"Vin goddamn it!!!" The banging grew louder. "You open this door or I'll kick it down I swear!!!"
"Chris?" Vin murmured. "Why am I dreamin of Chris?" Vin blinked his eyes several times to be sure he was awake. He knew now as he looked about the room he was indeed awake and Chris was definitely on the other side of the door getting ready to storm in.
"Go away Chris." He would have hollered but he was afraid his head might break from the pain.
"Open it Vin!!!" Came the insistent response.
Vin knew there was no arguing with Chris. He landed his feet roughly to the floor and got himself up more easily then his feet. He new he would fall flat on his face if he attempted to move his body that quickly. Finally, he made his way to the door and opened it.
Chris had one hand on each side of the doorway and Vin met his gaze in an equal intensity.
Vin heaved a sigh. "What Chris?"
"You know what."
"Chris." Vin whispered as he dropped his head and shook it slightly. "I'm not in the mood for this."
"Well get in the mood." Chris retrieved his hands from were they had been resting and folded his arms over his chest. "You can't live like this Vin."
Vin shot his head up and hissed. "You ain't my daddy Chris Larabee." He then went to close the door but Chris placed his boot to avoid Vin's effort of an abrupt dismissal.
"I'm warning you Chris." Vin's jaw tightened.
"I'm not movin Vin."
The two men glared at one another. Vin's chest heaved with fury and beads of sweat made their way onto Chris's brow.
"I'm not leavin!"
Vin threw the door open. "Is it so much to want to be left alone?" His eyes burned with intensity.
"The state you're in yeah," He answered with a nod.
Vin snorted, he then turned on his heels and made his way back to the bed.
"Your given me a headache Chris." Vin softly answered.
"I'm not surprised." Chris was looking around the room. The shades were drawn, the scent of liquor was heavy and whiskey bottles that laid about the room were many.
"I told you." Vin's blue eyes turned stormy as they set on Chris's. "You ain't my daddy!"
"No," Chris stepped closer. "No if I were I'd kick your ass!"
Without warning Vin punched him square in the face. Chris stumbled back a couple steps and the pain shot hotly, he then blinked to clear his vision. Chris then threw a punch at the corner of Vin's mouth that caused him to stumble back as well.
"You---you," Vin charged at him like a bull, knocking Chris back into the bureau. A dizzying pain surged through his back. Rage hit him, he then lifted up both his arms and with as much strength as he could attain he brought is elbows down onto Vin's back. Vin landed on all fours at first, he then slightly shook his head and rolled onto his back and began gasping for breath. Chris made his way to the door and stopped for a moment to regain his own breathing. Pausing in the doorway to look back at him. "I know what your going through Vin... believe me of all people I do. But you have to get out of this room."
The coolness of the night air brought a slight chill to the tracker. Vin's eyes shifted about the town and both good and bad recollections came to mind. He wasn't certain what it was that kept him but he also new that it was time to leave. Vin reined his horse and quietly trotted out of Four Corners.
The distant sound of a church bell woke Vin from his comatose slumber. Rolling his head to one side he squinted his eyes to see his paid for company. Resting beside him her bare back was moving up in down in tempo with her breathing. God how he hated whores. Vin's stomach turned. Since the death of Gwendolyn, he desperately tried to block her from his mind, yet here he was in the same bed with trash and had the nerve to think of someone of her stature.
He sat himself up and placed his hand over his eyes to block the annoying sun's glares. As he slowly got himself up and dressed as he considered his destination. Can't go west. He was looking out the window and down to the filthy town of Little Creek he had occupied for the last several days. East maybe? What would an ex buffalo hunter and hired gun possibly be able to do east? He snorted lightly at his lack of success in a decision. One thing was for certain; he had to move on. He turned away from the window and made his way out the door and out of town.
The heat from the sun grew hotter and hotter in the afternoon sun. Tipping his hat low over his eyes, Vin leaned back in is saddle and took in the view before and around him. Endless rolling grass of prairie. And more no doubt lay ahead. He pondered stopping and resting for a while. His destination was unknown, so moving in desperate pace was not a factor. That was with of course the exception of the price still on his head. Reining his horse, he chose a spot of thick grass to take a nap. Just as he had taken his saddle down he heard high pitched screeches... they no doubt belonged to a woman. He spied over the ridge to look down at a lone girl struggling with three very big and determined men attempting to get her down from her mount. The girl continued to scream as the men completed their task.
Vin shook his head and breathed. "Shit!" He got himself up, went and retrieved his gun.
Descending down the hill he saw the girl trying to run and two of the three men toying with her and blocking her chances of escape. He held his gun and grasped it firm in his hands. "Hey!"
Silence fell. The men and the girl turned their gazes to him.
"Mind your own business mister." One of them warned in a soft whisper.
Vin ignored him. His eyes shifted about. Where was the third one? Wanting to get the girl away as soon as possible he came to fix his eyes on the current two desperado's. Now with his gun pointed at the one who's hand still gripped about the girls' arm. "Get your filthy hands off her."
The man roughly threw the girl to the ground and went for his gun.
Vin cocking his gun shot at the man's midriff, the men fell dead to the ground from the one shot. Vin then turned his gun to the other who was holding his hands up.
"Don't move." Vin hissed a warning as he began moving closer.
With a quickness Vin hadn't expected the man grabbed the girl and withdrew his gun from its holster, he then placed the barrel to the girl's back.
"Oh God." The girl sobbed.
The man's eyes narrowed on Vin and gave a twisted smile. "You want her... you can have her." A shot rang out and the girl's eyes held on Vin's as she fell to the ground. The man aimed his gun on Vin, pulled the trigger; the bullet however did not dislodge. He repeated his attempt and in horror he remembered he was out of bullets. The man's eyes met Vin's like that of a frightened deer. Vin stole the moment and shot the man clear in the chest, he also fell to the ground dead.
Vin turned his gaze to the girl; he crouched down to inspect her condition. While feeling her neck in hopes of a pulse, a flicker of a shadow was caught from the corner of his eyes, instinctively he went to reach for his gun, a quick white, hot pain came in immense force... dizziness became over-whelming. He dropped on the chest of the girls. He felt himself falling... .into blackness.
Back at Four Corners, JD burst through the swinging doors of the saloon waiving a yellow piece of paper in his hand. "Chris!"
Chris was sitting at table playing cards with Josiah, Buck and Ezra; he lifted his eyes slowly from his hand and to the over zealous youngster moving quickly in his direction. He then shot a quick glance at his company and shook his head and rolled his eyes. JD was always worked up over something.
"Chris." JD reached the table breathless.
"Where's the fire JD?" Chris was back to eyeing his hand.
"This." Hurling the message to Chris's view and blocking his card hand.
Chris shifted his eyes up at JD, placed his cards on the table and snatched the paper from his hand.
"Well," Chris said casually and getting himself up from his chair. "We know where Vin is."
"And were pray tell is that Chris?" Ezra asked coyly and taking a sip of his beer.
Dawn was rising. Wisps of pink and gray were painted against a blue sky as the six men entered the town of Little Creek.
"What a hole," Chris muttered as his eyes shifted about the town. Little Creek was smaller than Four Corners. The streets were unkempt and the boarders that announced the nature of the establishment of the buildings hardly hung onto their latches. The men found their way to the sheriff's office and swung off of their mounts.
Chris threw open the door. JD, Ezra and Buck followed behind him. Josiah and Nathan volunteered to stand out on the boardwalk.
"Sheriff?!" Chris roared.
"No need to yell son I'm not deaf."
Following the voice, the men discovered the sheriff leaning back in his chair, his feet rested up on the desk, one over the other and drinking a cup of coffee. He was an older man, fifty-fifty five perhaps; he appeared to have kindness about him.
Chris nodded to the sheriff and glanced over at the cell. Vin was reclined on the cot inside the lone cell of the jail.
"We've come for him.' He inclined his thumb in Vin's direction.
The sheriff shook his head and laughed lightly. "I'm sure you have." He brought his feet down from the desk, stood himself up and went over to the coffeepot that sat comfortably on the potbelly stove. "You fellas like some?" He held up the coffee as a welcoming gesture.
"No." The all mumbled and again turned their attentions to Vin.
"You boys made a long trip for nothing I'm afraid." He partially sat on the end of his desk.
"How so?" Chris turned to regard him.
"Well you see him and Daisy Hopper." He inclined his head towards Vin. "Well they were found together outside of town by some local folks. Both a bit beat up. Mr. Tanner there says he ran into some fella's tryin to have there way with Daisy." He then made his way over to the cell and placed a hand on one of the bars, he still kept the coffee in the other. "Well now," he continued in a friendly manner. "Seeing how Daisy isunconscious. I only have Mr. Tanner's word. Until I hear her side." His eyes rested on Chris's. "He stays put." Chris looked over his shoulder and peered at the others. They all gave him a blank stare and shrugged their shoulders.
"Vin would never hurt a woman." JD spoke up in a challenging tone.
"Indeed," Ezra chimed in. "Mr. Tanner is quite a gentleman."
"That may be fellas, but he stays put."
"Looks like were gonna be in town for a while then sheriff," Buck whispered but his point made clear.
Chris's eyes were fixed on Vin's. He made no movement. He had stayed in the same position since they entered the jail. He seemed unaffected by the situation unfolding before him.
"Listen boys, I know Daisy and her family." He stole a glance in Vin's direction, then back to the others. "The only time I've seen Mr. Tanner other than being a guest in this here jail was when he was causin' a ruckus over at the saloon.
"Wait just a minute mister," Buck warned and began to walk in the sheriff's direction.
Chris put his arm out and shifted his eyes at Buck.
Buck stopped, gave Chris an annoyed glance and relaxed a bit.
Taking long, slow strides, Chris made his way over to the cell and placed his hands on the bars. "How yeah holdin up in there?"
"Can't complain." Vin answered flatly. "Sheriff's been nice enough."
Chris was trying to read him, but was unable. "Do you need anything?"
Vin studied him for a minute, then turned to regard Buck, Ezra and JD and back to Chris. "No." He said while shaking his head.
"I'll be back later." Chris promised. He then turned on his heels, nodded to the sheriff, he and the others made their way out of the jailhouse.
The six men settled themselves at the only hotel establishment. Considering the outside the inner appearance was somewhat of a shock to them. The dcor seemed simple but clean and would hold quite a few people comfortable. This evening however with the exception of one other couple they were the only occupants of the room and being doted on frequently by the owner and his wife.
As they relaxed they noticed the sheriff making his way to their table. As he approached he dragged a chair with him from a near by vacant table.
The sheriff glanced at the table full of men glaring up at him. He nervously cleared his throat. "Mind if I sit?"
Chris nodded. "If yeah like."
He hadn't noticed he was holding his breath, he let out a sigh of relief and sat between Chris and Buck. They all continued their glare. "I, um... well," he looked about nervously, licked his lips and wrung his hands together dumbly. "I'm Sheriff Chaz Werner," shifting his eyes at the unimpressed group. "Well, really it's Charles but folks have always called me Chaz." He slid more anxious glances at the still silent observers. "Yeah, know this used to be a right fine town to live in. Little by little the bad element started comin I couldn't keep a decent deputy to help me out so... well, you can see what's come of it. I expect pretty soon there won't be any folks left at all. More and more head out every day."
"Why don't you just head on out yourself?" Buck gave a smooth yet mocking reply.
The sheriff relaxed a bit. "Listen, I'd rather be shot dead in the street than die in my own piss."
Buck and the others couldn't help but let out a chuckle.
"You know Vin's tellin' the truth don't yeah?" Buck was studying the sheriff's profile.
"No," he turned to Buck. "No I don't." His eyes made a turn around the table at each man seated. "I'll say this much, he don't seem like no liar."
"Where's the girl?" Chris's voice was low.
"She's at the clinic. The doc," he snorted and shook his head in disgust. "Well, what we have for a doctor ,checks in on her on occasion."
"What do yeah mean 'bout the doc?" Nathan inquired from across the table.
"He's a drunk," the sheriff stated flatly. "Last I saw Daisy, all I could tell was she was breathin."
"Nathan here is a healer," Josiah inclined his head towards Nathan and stating matter of factly.
"Is that so?" The sheriff rubbed his chin. "That's so." Josiah smirked.
"Would yeah like to see her son?"
Nathan's head shot up. "Yeah, yeah I would." His voice full of hope.
"Well then," The sheriff stood himself up. "That's the best news I've heard in a long while."
"Josiah," Chris peeked over at him. "You go along." He then looked up at the sheriff and gave him a half smile. "No offense."
"None taken." He shook off Chris's comment.
"Hey!" Buck yelled after the sheriff, Nathan and Josiah.
"How do yeah know we won't let Vin out?" He teased.
"I don't." He answered with a low chuckle. "But I have a feelin you men ain't like that." He then turned to regard Nathan and Josiah. "Ready?"
"Yup." They nodded and followed the sheriff out.
The next few days passed with Nathan now taking care of the girl and the so-called town doctor had taken up permanent residence at the saloon. Nathan's only uplifting diagnosis concerning the girls condition was that the bullet had gone straight through, no vital organs were hit from what he could tell and her talking now and again during her sleep was a good sign. He believed her to be more delirious than comatose.
Vin still stayed in his silent state. Chris and the others believed he felt guilty concerning the complete ordeal. The allowing the girl to get shot and not getting a look at the man whom had knocked him out.
The sheriff didn't exaggerate in his description of the town. The lawless were frequent and what there were of locals came in for supplies and headed out of town as quickly as they had entered. The saloon kept its share of drunks and troublemakers for the most part the patrons made their own entertainment and paid the six companions no mind.
Chris threw down his latest loosing hand and caught Ezra's usual boyish grin as he collected the winning pot from his not so lucky friends. Chris threw back his shot of whiskey and got himself up from his chair. "Goin to see Vin." He announced and left the table.
Buck let out a heavy sigh. "Wish Vin would say more, might help us out."
"Said he didn't see nothin Buck," JD reminded him as he watched Chris exit the saloon.
"I know that JD!" Buck spat back.
"Gentlemen, gentlemen please," Ezra's voice was weary. "Must you two always quibble like two old ladies?" Both gave him a glare as a response. Ezra shrugged it off, shuffled the cards and threw a new hand on the table. At first JD and Buck hesitated and then reluctantly took the cards. The figured all they could do at this point was wait anyhow.
Chris opened the door and stepped into the jail. He found both men in the same manner as the first time he visited.
"Sheriff." Chris nodded in his direction.
Chris was looking about the small jail; he then turned to regard the sheriff. "Wouldn't happen to have another chair would ya, Sheriff Werner?"
He looked about cautiously, then stood up and dragged the chair over to Chris. "Was just thinkin how the night air might do me some good." He gave Vin a quick look, turned to Chris and winked at him, then walked out and closed the door behind him.
Chris took the chair, sat down, took his hat off; he then put a hand through his short reddish blond hair.
A still quiet fell between the men for some time.
"Do you believe in fate Chris?" Vin whispered as he turned to him.
Chris squinted his eyes. "Sometimes."
"I don't know. I mean here I am framed for two crimes I didn't commit." He lightly chuckled. "Hell, maybe I am just supposed to swing."
"You didn't kill Gwen." His blue eyes set on Vin. "That drunk did and he's payin for it."
"I ain't talkin about Gwen damn it!" Vin said through clenched teeth.
"Really?" Chris challenged.
"I'm not-I... ." He broke off, looking over at him. "Maybe I am." He again averted his eyes.
"Nathan says the girl seems to be getting better."
Vin made no response.
"All we can do is wait. Can't go lookin for someone we have nothin on."
"I know." He answered softly.
"We'll get through this Vin just like we've always gotten through everything else." For a long moment he said nothing.
He then turned to Chris. "Getting through sometimes just ain't enough."
Recollections flowed through Vin's mind, her carefree manner, her deep, dark brown eyes, her long rich brown wavy hair, her inviting smile and the combination of courage and shyness left him mesmerized and weak.
Vin sat up from his dreams with a jolt. He placed a palm to his sweaty brow. "Damn," he cursed himself. In the darkness he wept silently. "I'll never love anyone again," he promised in a low whisper.
The mid-afternoon sun brought shades of sunlight into the small room of the clinic. Daisy Hopper stirred and opened her eyes.
"Wh-where am I?" she rasped.
"Hey now." Nathan placed the book he'd been reading down on the chair; he sat in while watching over her. He then came to sit by her. His dark face loomed over her.
She ran her tongue across her lips. "Who are you?"
"Name's Nathan," he said while pouring some water from the basin and into a glass. Nathan cradled her in one arm and held the glass to her lips, she took several gulps and swallowed.
"W-what happened?" Nathan could see the girl was still half sleeping. "You remember anything?"
"I um.." She placed the back of her hand over her forehead. "Got shot." Her voice so low Nathan could hardly hear her.
"That's right," he agreed with her as he gently removed his arm away from the back of her so she could rest comfortably against the pillows again. He watched as she again fell into a deep slumber. But watched also with relief as her breathing had a constant rhythm. A smile played across his mouth. She was definitely going to make it.
Rain pelted heavily on the window and the oil lamp's shadow's where the only visible trace of light. Josiah sat in a chair in the corner, one foot rested over the other as he studied the sleeping girl. Nathan had been there and the girls parents as well through the duration of the day. Josiah volunteered to watch over her in the evenings so Nathan could rest. As he watched her sleep, Josiah felt a bit of a tugging guilt. He wanted the girl to get healthier but he also wanted her progress to quicken. Vin was in jail and they all knew he was in there for rescuing her and not hurting her.
The girls' head moved slowly from side to side, she then brought herself up on an elbow and peered at the window.
"Hungry?" She glanced over her should to find Josiah sitting in the chair.
"You're not the same man who was here earlier." She studied him curiously.
"Nope," he said as he stood himself up and made his way over to the bed.
Instinctively she inched back and recoiled against the headboard. Her dark brown eyes took in the length of the huge gentle man.
"I'm not gonna hurt yeah honey?" he lightly chuckled. "Just wanted to get a better look."
She licked her lips nervously. "What do you mean?"
Again he chuckled and his large hand gestured to her face "Color's comin back to your cheeks."
"Oh." She relaxed a bit.
"So, are you hungry?" He cocked his head to a side.
"A little," She still studied him.
"Alright I'll be back." With that he turned on his heals and left the room.
Sheriff Werner was just about to the steps of the jailhouse when he noticed Josiah walking towards him.
"Evenin Mr. Sanche,." he greeted him warmly.
"Girl's up and she's askin for somethin to eat."
"What are we waitin for?" The sheriff's pace quickened and he hurried ahead of Josiah.
When the two men entered the clinic room, Josiah was holding a tray that had food and coffee settled on top. The two men stopped by the restaurant on their way to see her.
Seeing the sheriff with Josiah she was obviously more at ease. "Sheriff Werner?" She said wearily and tried lifting herself up.
"Now, now," he rushed over and gently assisted her in a sitting position.
"Thank you sheriff," she whispered.
The sheriff stepped back so Josiah could place the tray of food on her lap. Bashfully she peered up at him. "Thank you."
"Welcome." He gave her a wide warm smile, poured her some coffee and stepped away from the bed.
"Think you could talk to us Daisy?" the sheriff asked while folding his arms over his chest.
She nodded a reply.
"Can you describe the fellas that attacked you and what happened?"
"Well," she began and made a slight grimace due to her healing injury. "I was riding around it gets so boring on the farm." She gave them both an uneasy glance. "I've been told it gets dangerous but... " She played her fork in her food. "Anyway, I was just ready to stop and take a rest and then the next thing I knew three men were chasing after me."
"What did they look like?" The sheriff interrupted her.
"I-I'm not sure." Her voice slightly shook in obvious remembrance of her ordeal.
"Were they white?" Josiah inquired cautiously.
"No," She lifted her head and turned to regard the sheriff. "Mexican maybe?"
"Anything about them you can remember?" She bowed her head not wanting to hold eye contact.
"I know this is hard darlin' but if were gonna find em we need your help."
"No nothing." Her voice quivered and her hands trembled slightly as she took a sip of her coffee.
"Alright then. Anything else you remember?"
"A man saved me." She flashed a slow smile.
"What did he look like?" Josiah asked.
She lifted her head to meet his gaze. "He wore buckskins." Her smile grew wider. "And he was real handsome."
Josiah couldn't help but laugh. He then looked over at the sheriff their eyes met and the sheriff nodded in acceptance that the girls' description of her savior was Vin.
Chris was sitting in a chair with his feet up on the sheriff's desk when the two men entered the jail. Chris immediately took his feet down and stood.
"You're free to go son," the sheriff stated as he took the cell keys from the desk drawer, he then unlocked the cell and widely opened the door.
Vin at first hesitated; he then swung his feet over the cot and stood himself up. He stepped out of the cell the sheriff handed him his hat and gunbelt.
Accepting them he nodded to the sheriff. "Nice meetin' ya sheriff."
"Well Mr. Tanner!" The cheer in Ezra's voice was unmistakable. As the three men entered the saloon and made their way to the table that Ezra, Buck and JD were occupying. "This is glorious."
"Vin!" JD exclaimed with obvious joy that his friend was back with them.
"Ezra, Buck, JD." Vin nodded, he then turned the chair straddled it and sat down.
Chris took a seat next to him.
"How ya doin' kid?" Vin lightly patted JD on the shoulder.
"Good to see ya out of that cell Vin." Buck gave him the usual grin.
"Good to be out pard."
"I'll have a drink then let Nathan know what's happened." Josiah stated as he headed for the bar.
"Since your incarceration is no longer a perplexity I see know reason to sustain our visit in this ungodly setting." Ezra was grinning from ear to ear.
"Sorry Ezra, but I want to see the girl." Vin watched as Ezra's grin faded. Vin then found himself flashing a grin. He'd forgotten how easy it was to rile the gambler and how much he enjoyed doing it.
"I think that would be right kind of yaVin," Buck consented with a nod.
"Reckon it's the least I can do."
The following morning, Vin went by the clinic to check in on the girl. To his surprise she was alone in the room and standing looking out the window. Vin closed the door, then stood there, uncertain what to do or say.
Daisy turned and threw a blank glance at him. A slight blush ran up her neck as she tugged at her nightgown and tried covering her thighs.
"Ma'am." He tipped his hat. Her gaze shifted to the bed, making her way over, she then sank herself onto the mattress and clutched the blanket to her throat.
Vin cautiously made his way to the side of the bed. "You alright?" Her brown eyes met his briefly and again she averted her gaze.
"Just wanted to see how you were doin," he offered.
"I-I'm fine," she whispered.
Silence followed for a few minutes.
"Well, I'm glad to see you're getting better," he tipped his hat again and went to turn to leave.
"You saved me. You could have left... but you saved me why?"
He turned and glanced down at her, their eyes locked.
"What kind of man would I be if I did that?"
"Some men would," she blurted out.
"Suppose." He gave a half smile. "But I ain't one of those men." Turning her face from him.
"Guess you'll be going home now?"
He placed his hands on his hips and looked down at his boots but didn't reply.
She twisted her neck to look up at him. "Would you stay?" Slowly he brought his eyes up to meet hers.
"Why would ya want me to stay?"
"Never mind." She turned away. She was obviously uncomfortable with her remark.
Vin ran a gaze over her. She was still not over her experience and was most likely in need of companionship. From what he and the others could gather about the town... there really weren't many decent people to rely upon.
"Reckon I can stay for a spell."
Her head shot up. "Really?" she beamed.
Cocking his head to a side and giving a wide grin. "Wouldn't say it if I didn't mean it."
"You up for a walk?"
"I um... well." She looked about uncertainly. "I think I should see what Nathan says."
Vin nodded. "Expect you're right. I'll talk with him."
"Oh, would you? I want out of this room something awful." Her eyes were pleading up at him.
Vin laughed lightly. "I'll talk with him."
Vin found the others in the restaurant huddled together at a table and eating breakfast.
"Boys." Vin nodded.
"Just bout finished then we can head out," Buck stated cheerfully obviously pleased to be leaving.
Taking his hat off and raking a hand through his long brown hair. "Stayin' for a spell."
They all looked at him in disbelief.
"Got my reasons," he told them flatly.
Arching a brow at the healer. "Nathan?"
Looking over at Vin while pouring some coffee into his cup. "Want me to stay?"
"I'd appreciate that."
"All right," Nathan nodded and went back to his meal.
Chris peered up at Vin. "Figure I'll stick around as well."
"Don't have to on my account."
"Gettin to like the coffee." Chris's voice was full of amusement.
"Hell and damnation. I knew it!" Buck complained. "I just knew we was gonna have to stick around this... this, awe hell!"
"Well now gentlemen as enticing as that offer sounds. I must decline." Ezra made his best to present an argument to get out of staying. But as he looked about the table and found all six glaring at him, the decision concerning his presence had already been made.
As the days passed the men kept themselves occupied by mending the town. The owners of the buildings gave a pleasing, helping hand as well and the residents of the town seemed to become more at ease with their visits into town.
With Nathan's approval Vin and Daisy would take daily walks. There was an immediate equal fondness for one another and the safeness Daisy felt in Vin's presence was something they both new would be upsetting once he moved on.
Vin led her to a creek. The rushing of the water could be heard as the came to sit upon a fallen log amidst a meadow of grass.
Glancing at Vin and then back to the water, she then turned to again regard him. I, um... are you a gunfighter?"
He grinned widely at her. "Not a gunfighter, no."
Averting her gaze back to the water. "You'll leave when I'm better won't you?"
"Yes." He was studying her profile. She was so young and unknowing to life and its challenges, disappointments and surprises. Vin knew he couldn't make false promises but still, he wanted for her to feel stable once he left.
"Why can't you stay?" Her voice trembled slightly with embarrassment.
"Listen," He whispered while taking a loose strand of her hair and then tucking it behind her ear. "I'm not gone yet." He could see the disappointment of her expression. "Why don't we just work on getting you better?"
She nodded in response and not able to meet his eyes. "I... suppose." She then pushed off the log. "Can we go now?"
"Yeah, let's get you home." He murmured.
Vin entered the saloon. His deep blue eyes slid about the room to the surrounding tables. Finding Chris the lone occupant of one in particular he made his way over.
Chris leaned back in his chair as he noticed him approaching. "Vin." He nodded.
"Evenin' Cowboy," he teased with a grin. Taking his hat off he took a chair and sat.
Pushing a shot glass and a bottle of whiskey in Vin's direction, Chris snickered. "Women problems?"
"Women?" He laughed softly. "She's seventeen Chris." He then tipped back a shot and drank.
Chris lifted an eyebrow. "That's a dangerous age."
"Heard that pard," Vin muttered as he poured another shot and tipped it back as quickly as the first.
Chris was studying him. Damned if he could ever figure this man out. "She gettin ideas?"
Vin sat back in his chair. "Don't think so. Think she's just scared." Turning his gaze to his other five companions, they were engaged merrily in a poker game, turning to Chris with a wide grin. "Why don't we see if our luck is better hear than in Four Corners?"
"Why not?" Chris agreed standing up.
Days had turned into weeks and although Vin still felt a fondness for Daisy he was afraid his feelings were starting to turn more intimate than he had hoped. Not only was it obvious to Vin how Daisy had taken to him but to the others as well and they made their opinions known frequently. Vin was aware that his friends were right and staying would only be in a method of leading her on. Vin found her sitting under a tree by the schoolhouse. He walked towards his usual long, slow stride.
Daisy slowly rose to her feet as she watched him approach. "Hi Vin," she greeted him waving a hand.
"Daisy." He tipped his hat and smiled.
She studied his troubled expression. "You're leaving?" He brought his eyes to set on hers.
"I don't want you to." Her voice was a low whisper.
"Daisy you don't need me around to get better."
"No," her eyes met his. "No, I just need you."
Vin moved closer and then touched her hair his hand then moved to the nape of her neck. "You'll forget about me before my dust settles."
Daisy burst into tears.
"I'm sorry," he whispered and drew her into his arms. "I'm sorry," he repeated, his tone sincere. "I didn't want to make you cry."
Daisy nuzzled her cheek closer to his neck. "Please don't go?" Her voice shivered.
"Daisy, listen to me." He placed a hand on her waist and drew her closer. The other hand cupped the back of her head. Looking into each other's eyes, Vin's gaze fell to her mouth. His mouth then moved closer and closer to her, he then lifted his head back slightly he went back to staring at her mouth. And then, he bent his head and touched his lips to hers. He deepened the kiss ever so slightly. Daisy quivered. Clutching his shirt, she then lowered her head into his neck.
"Daisy... are you ok?"
"Yes." She whispered.
"I'm sorry." He felt her shaking. He felt guilty as to his actions. To her this kiss was more then just a passing thought. To her this was of serious importance. "I shouldn't have done that."
Daisy looked up at him a flush still running up her neck. "I'm glad you did."
"I don't know," the sheriff was thinking out loud. He and the seven men were sitting at the restaurant enjoying their supper. "Town looks better than it ever has."
Chris had been taken notice of Vin's brooding manner. He now turned to regard the sheriff. "Maybe you should try and get folks to get more involved," he offered.
"How do you mean?" The sheriff shifted in his seat and was obviously interest in his input.
"What Mr. Larabee is attempting to suggest is develop the town as a more becoming atmosphere." Ezra's charming explanation played from across the table.
Turning his attention onto Ezra. "And how do we go about doing that?"
"Well," Ezra leaned back in his chair while humorously adjusting his cuff links and mischievously grinning. "Perhaps with a fee I could assist you in your dilemma."
"Son I'm lucky if I even get paid."
Ezra's smug expression relaxed and the others chuckled lightly at the gamblers constant determination in making money.
"Hell," the sheriff sighed heavily. A sad look came over his face. "Hardly any folks left any how."
"Why don't you just get people to take more notice of the town?" JD questioned him as if the suggestion was a simple task.
"Don't even have a mayor or a town committee. The preacher and me are the only ones left with any sense of decency. And he's the school teacher too."
"Hold an election," Josiah offered with a dubious look.
"Wouldn't even know if anyone would take interest."
"Get em interested." Josiah advised.
"Wouldn't know were to start."
"Hold a town meeting. Get some notices passed out and get their attention." Chris offered a suggested.
The sheriff sat back and rubbed his chin and whispered. "Don't know?"
"I'll help yasheriff. Maybe Mrs. Travis will let us use her press," JD offered cheerfully.
"Heck, we all will. Nothin much else to do around here till the girl's better," Buck muttered under his breath as he volunteered their services.
The sheriff stole a look at the table of men. They all held the same expression of acceptance. "You fellas would do that?"
"Sure," JD assured him after he took a glance at his companions as well.
"Why that's right kind of yeah."
After dinner the majority of the men found there way over to the saloon. Chris however, decided to go find Vin. His dark mood at supper had been on Chris's mind all evening. Knowing he wouldn't get much out of the tracker Chris's concern outweighed his judgement.
As Chris made his way through the town, he found Vin sitting on a bale of hay out side the livery stable.
"Vin," he greeted him and went to stand over by him.
"Saloon not excitin enough?" Vin attempted to sound amused but his tone betrayed him.
"Somethin on your mind?" Chris asked while he placed his hands on his hips and played his boot heel in the dirt.
"I kissed her." Vin answered with an ashamed gleam in his eyes. He then averted his gaze.
Chris let out a low whistle. "Don't think that was too smart Vin."
"I know that." Keeping his eyes averted.
Chris studied his friend. "Think it's time we moved on?"
Vin nodded. "Not 'til I say goodbye."
The attitude of the residents had become more festive in the days that followed. The concern of the town was stated in the leaflets passed out and was also, available for all to take notice in the shops as well.
Growing anticipation was taking hold of Sheriff Werner. Sitting in his jail, JD was keeping him company. "Never thought that a bunch of gunfighters would come to a town's rescue." He then turned a quick glance at the young man. "No offense son?"
"None taken." JD smiled. "We ain't really gunfighters yeah know Sheriff?"
"Whether you believe it or know it... . you are."
JD was sizing up the Sheriff. "I guess so."
"Well," The sheriff cleared his throat to try and cover up the uneasiness in the room. "More people left than I thought. Since those notices been out seein' more folks."
"Town's comin along real nice sheriff," JD confirmed as he glanced out the window and observing the banners informing all of the upcoming town meeting and its purposes.
"Wouldn't consider stayin would ya John?"
Staying silent for a moment, JD slowly shifted his eyes in the sheriff's direction. "No one calls me John." His voice slightly quivered. "'Cept my... ."
"John is your Christian name son. Bout time folks called yeah that."
JD stood himself up straight, turned and fixed his eyes on the sheriff sitting in his chair. "John Dunne was left in Boston. I'm JD now."
For some time the men's eyes locked. The sheriff then slowly nodded his head. "Whatever you say JD."
JD's body relaxed. "Best be seein what's goin on with the fellas." He then took his hat that had been resting on the desk and turned to leave.
"Think about stayin would ya?" He then stood up till they were face to face. "Could use a partner I could trust." He then placed a hand out for JD to accept.
JD's gaze fell to the sheriff's hand; he then looked into his eyes and slightly smiled. "Al right." He then took the sheriff's hand a firm handshake was exchanged between the two men.
In celebration of the town's regained faith, and renewed, prosperous population a dance had been overwhelmingly in favor of being held. The livery stable held the biggest hall. The men contributed in the carpentry while the women used their feminine touches in the decorations.
Daisy had been assisting her mother when she found Vin sitting out in front of the restaurant beside Chris. Vin had been avoiding her since their kiss and Daisy was confused. She had hoped he hadn't found her too forward and no longer cared for her. Spinning her heels she turned to her mother.
"Momma I'm going to get a drink of water." Before her mother could answer Daisy took off in the direction of Vin.
"Uh, oh." Chris breathed watching Daisy crossing the street. He shifted his eyes over to Vin. "Well... " without another word he got up from the chair and tipped his hat at Daisy as she walked up the steps onto the boardwalk.
"Hi Mr. Larabee." She greeted him cheerfully.
"Daisy." He nodded as he walked past her.
Vin stood up to greet her presence. "How are you today Daisy?"
"Hi Vin," she said nervously.
Inclining his head to the livery stable. "Looks like that barns turnin' out to look real nice."
"You going?" Her eyes were searching his.
"I never go to socials," he lightly chuckled.
"Oh, Vin please go?" She pleaded. "If not for anything else for me?"
Seeing the desperation in her expression, Vin couldn't help but feel guilty once again about his actions. "I'll think about it."
She clasped her hands together. "You will?!"
"Said I'd think about it," he reminded her with a grin.
"Oh, thank you Vin." Without warning she rushed over and placed a quick kiss on his cheek, then ran back across the street.
The night of the dance Daisy watched as everyone entered the hall. She hardly noticed the fiddlers playing and the decorations that brought on a new illumination to the otherwise filthy establishment. Spying Vin's friends as they entered. Thinking how, with the exception of the gambler who always looked fancy, they all looked as though they'd been hit with a bar of soap and a new wardrobe. Their apparel was less dark and more vivid. Vin was the last and looked even more nervous then the others if that were possible.
Daisy smoothed her dress, inhaled and exhaled several breaths, then made her way over to Vin.
Vin searched about he hall. Turning he watched Daisy as she approached him. The pale pink dress swished with her steps and although a blush crept up her neck she never stopped looking into his eyes.
He grinned widely. "You look beautiful in that dress Daisy."
"Listen, he curled his hand around her arm. "Think we could go for a walk?"
She nodded numbly. She knew why he wanted to talk to her privately he was leaving.
After shouldering their way through the people in the hall they found a spot under a tree. Daisy did her best taking care not to ruin her dress.
"Please stay with me Vin?"
Turning to regard her. "Honey, if I were less of a man I would. But I can't do that... not again."
"What did I do?" Her voice squeaked. She then buried her face in her hands and wept.
"Don't cry Daisy," he pleaded and with a slightly trembling hand touched her hair.
"I'm sorry." She wiped the tears with the back of her hand.
"You don't have to be sorry." His voice a low whisper.
Nodding a reply she continued wiping her tears. "You remind me of her." His eyes softened as he watched her struggle with her emotions.
"Your wife?" She sniffed.
"I'm not married."
"Good." Her eyes set on his.
He couldn't help but chuckle. "Why is that good?"
She smiled so her teeth showed. "Because you're going to marry me."
Again he chuckled and stated flatly. "I ain't never gonna get married."
"Yes you will." She informed him with a confident grin. "And you'll marry me."
"You're too young to think of marryin' someone."
"Most girls my age are already married or have their husbands picked out," she stated as she bashfully fluttered her eyelashes.
Vin shook his head and laughed lightly. Again her innocent amazed him.
Her eyes set on him and her face became sincere. "I love you Vin," she whispered.
Slowly bringing he eyes to meet hers. "You're too young to know what love is."
"You're so wrong." She placed a hand on his cheek. "I've never felt like this ever." For a moment she held her gaze on his, she then sprang to her feet and ran off into the night leaving Vin questioning himself.
Sheriff Werner sat on a straw bale, watching the men saddling their horses. His attention was directed on JD.
"Sure I can't talk you into stayin JD?"
JD grinned. "I have responsibilities in Four Corners sheriff, but I did wire the judge and let him know about you, the town and how it's changed so I'm sure you'll be getting help in no time."
The sheriff sighed and shook his head. "I don't know what to say." He gave all the men a quick glance. "To any of ya."
"Just keep the town goin' like it is." Buck said.
"You ain't seen the last of us." Josiah promised while throwing the saddle on his mount. "We'll be back now and then to help out and make sure things are nice and quiet."
"Yes," Ezra rested his hand on his horses' neck. "Perhaps your saloon will have by then taken on more of an affluent clientele."
"Jesus Ezra." Chris breathed.
"Four Corners ain't too far now." Nathan reminded him. "You need me you know where I am."
The sheriff walked over to the healer and put his hand out. "Thank you Nathan if it weren't for you Daisy would have died."
Nathan immediately took his hand in his and shook firmly. "Don't mention it." Going from one to the other Sheriff Werner shook all but one of the men's hands in appreciation of their assistance. Vin was not among them. He had gone to say his good byes to Daisy.
As Vin approached, he saw Daisy standing on the porch. Her arms wrapped about her waist.
Dismounting slowly, he made his way over and planted a boot on the bottom step of the porch. Their eyes locked and a still quiet followed.
"I knew you'd come." She said at last.
His eyes warmed on hers. "Had to." She made her way down the stairs. When she was beside him he turned and they walked across the yard to the trees.
He angled a warm look at her. "Things are a lot safer around here now. You'll be fine."
Nibbling her lip, watching him. Her expression was tender. " Will I?"
"What do you mean?" He asked softly.
Gathering her courage. "You're the one I love."
He hesitated a moment and grinned. "What you feel ain't love."
She turned to stare at him. "Someday I'll come looking for you." Stepping over to him she leaned into his chest and encircled his waist in her arms. "And when I find you... I'll wear you down."
Vin saw the mischief in her eyes. "I'll look forward to it."
Taking her by the shoulders, Vin took her into his arms and brushed his lips across hers in a light kiss. "Good-bye Daisy."
Daisy ran her fingertips along his cheek. "Goodbye Vin." Their eyes held briefly, warm and compelling. She then took a few steps back, turned and walked away.
Vin watched her leave, thinking of the look in her eyes. "Women." He whispered amusingly with a tilt of his head and a lop sided grin.
When the men returned to Four Corners they all parted in their own directions.
Vin Tanner made his way to the modest cemetery that rested on a hill looking over the town.
As the wind whistled Vin took his hat off and wiped his hair from across his face and rested his eyes on the grave of his Gwendolyn. Gently with an unsteady hand he touched the head stone that bore her name. Bowing his head he tried visualizing what might have been. Would they have married? Started a family? He had made so many promises. Only when she was killed, his strongest promise of protecting her turned out to be a broken one. Vin prayed softly that she had forgiven him for that mistake and rested peacefully.
Pushing to his feet he straightened his shoulders and gazed into the distance and then down onto Four Corners. His friends waited for him there. Not knowing what was to come or where he might end up as always he decided to encounter it cautiously.