Disclaimer: I don't own them, MGM and Trilogy does. Not making a penny off of this, just writing because I enjoy it.
Thank you so much to Greenwoman and her generosity in letting me use her brass spurs idea. She originated the idea in her wonderful story, Finding the Right Place.
And a very big thank-you to my wonderful beta-readers, White Raven and Lori. Without your patience, understanding, and insight this story would not be where it is! You guys went above and beyond the call of duty!
Chris Larabee sighed and leaned forward, elbows resting on his desk. He looked at the calendar on the wall. April 18th. He ran a shaky hand over his tired eyes. He needed a drink. Three months ago a woman had asked him if he drank to remember or to forget. To this day, he still didn't know. All he really knew was that almost every morning he awoke from dreams of his family. Some mornings it was harder than others, but he somehow managed to get out of bed and get through the day without getting himself killed, so he figured that was something.
Chris grabbed his hat, walked out of the sheriff's office and headed for the saloon. He need a some time where he could have a few drinks and sit and shoot the bull with Buck and Vin, banishing all thoughts of his family from his mind.
As he drew closer, the sounds laughter and music floating out of the barroom. Looking over the top of the doors, apprehension abruptly filled the gunslinger, and suddenly the idea of being around people didn't seem all that appealing.
"Chris, you comin' in?" JD asked as he stood beside the older man. Chris had been so lost in thought, that he hadn't heard the youth's approach.
He shook his head. "No, not today JD. Tell Vin I'm headin' up to my place."
"Sure will, Chris. See ya tomorrow?" JD asked.
JD nodded and watched as his friend walked toward the livery.
+ + + + + + +
Chris woke with a scream caught in his throat. His heart raced. He was drenched in sweat, his hair plastered to his head, and his breath came in gasps.
Sitting up he realized that he had been dreaming again. Taking several deep breaths, he finally felt his heartbeat begin to slow. He threw his legs over the side of the bed, reached for his shirt and rubbed it over his hair. Damn nightmares came whether he was dead drunk or cold sober.
Knowing that he would never get back to sleep, Chris rose and walked to the cupboard next to the stove. Opening it, he rummaged through it for a bottle of whiskey that he always kept there. Shoving things aside, he finally found what he sought.
'Damn, almost empty and not another one in sight.' He tossed it into a corner of the room.
'Sarah would have killed me for doin' that.' He smiled sadly and reached for his gun. Since he was wide-awake, he thought he might as well do something productive. Sitting down at the table, he began to disassemble his colt for cleaning. It was going to be a long night.
Afternoon the Next Day
Just inside the saloon, Chris sat at a table, his back against the wall. Sunlight shone in through one of the huge windows and streamed across the gunfighter as he poured himself another drink. He had been there since mid-morning when he had strolled in and bought two bottles of whiskey.
Buck, Vin and JD sat at a nearby table, playing a casual game of poker. Vin sat back in his chair and stared at the cards he had been dealt. He grabbed two out of his hand and threw them on the table. JD dealt him two more from the deck. He sighed. Jack and a four. No help there.
Buck scanned his cards and decided to play the ones he was dealt. He threw a coin into the center pile. "Raise you a dime."
JD snickered. "Big spender. You sure you want to dig that deep into your pockets?"
Vin grinned slightly, and Buck glared at him. "Just play, Kid."
"I call," JD said, and matched Buck's dime with one of his own. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Chris staring out the window.
He gently nudged Buck and nodded toward their leader. Vin turned slightly and watched Chris from under his hat.
Chris sat, glass half raised. His eyes were focused on something outside. Buck and Vin followed Chris's line of vision and saw little Billy Travis playing with a friend in front of his mother's newspaper office.
Chris suddenly stood and stormed out of the barroom, leaving the batwing doors swinging in his wake.
Buck threw his cards on the table. "Damn, I should have seen this coming."
Vin and JD looked at him curiously.
"This week," was all Buck had to say to Vin.
JD looked confused. "What about this week?"
Vin laid his cards on the table and stood. "Adam's birthday," he replied. He turned to Buck. "I'll go after him."
The dark haired man nodded. "Think you'll need back-up? I've known Chris for a long time and when he get's like this, things can get pretty bad."
Vin shook his head. "No, I got a feelin' all of us ridin' out after him could make it worse. Best if just one of us goes." He rose from the table. "Let me get a couple of things from my wagon, then I'll be headin' out."
"You wire us, if you need us. We'll be here."
Vin inclined his head in acknowledgment, then left.
+ + + + + + +
Chris wasn't hard to track. As it turned out, he had only a couple of hour's head start on Vin.
The tracker debated with himself about keeping his distance for awhile, allowing the gunslinger the time he needed to cool off. Then thought, 'To hell with it.' This was one time Chris was not going to get away with running. He decided for better or worse it was best to catch up with his friend as soon as possible. Peso, however, had picked up a stone a half a day's journey into the ride. Vin took the required time to remove it, but Peso's foot had been bruised in the process.
"Aw, hell, looks like Chris is going to get his time whether I like it or not." Peso nudged his shoulder and Vin patted his neck.
"Not your fault, Pard. Someone else is callin' the shots." Vin took the horses reins and slowly began to walk him toward a group of trees near a small stream. "What say we stop here for awhile and let that leg rest?"
Peso snorted as Vin began to remove his saddle from the animal.
+ + + + + + +
Several hours later, Vin gently lifted Peso's front leg and looked at the injury. "Looks better." He let the leg drop and rubbed the horses' nose. "You ready to get movin'?"
Peso snorted. Vin mounted up and headed out. The nearest town was Prairie Dog Junction, and Vin could only hope that Chris had decided to stay there instead of moving on.
As Vin slowly rode into the small dusty town, he spotted Chris's horse in front of the saloon.
"Hallelujah!" He had never been a church going man, but sometimes it was just plain obvious when the good Lord was on your side.
Vin tied his horse to the hitching post and slowly made his way into the dingy barroom. Swinging his gaze around the room he soon found who he was looking for. Chris sat alone at a table near the back of the room. He was slouched down in his chair, his hat pulled low over his face. Vin noticed two empty whiskey bottles on the table, waiting to be taken away. A third bottle, half-filled, was next to Chris's empty shot glass.
Vin cautiously made his way across the room.
"Hey, Cowboy, mind if I join ya?" Vin asked as he settled himself into a chair.
Chris Larabee looked up and found himself staring at his best friend. For reasons that he couldn't begin to explain, anger began to build inside him.
"Get the hell away from me, Vin," he growled.
The former bounty hunter leaned back in his chair and folded his hands across his stomach. "I can't do that, Larabee."
"The hell you can't! Just get your butt outta that chair, on your horse, and ride the hell out of town!"
"Like I said I can't do that. Now you gonna pour me a drink or not?"
"NOT!" Chris snarled and grabbed the bottle of whiskey, sloshing some into his glass.
"So what, you just gonna sit there all day?"
"If that's what it takes," Vin replied quietly.
"What the hell is that supposed to mean?" Chris gave up trying to pour the liquid into his glass; instead he held the bottle up to his lips and drank.
"Means somethin' mighty powerful is eatin' at ya, and I don't intend to let it get you."
Chris smirked, as he clumsily put the bottle on the table. "So you're gonna save me from myself, is that it, Cowboy? Have I got that right?"
The younger man didn't reply.
"Go to hell, Tanner, I don't want or need your help." Chris made a grab for the bottle, but Vin was quicker.
"Give that back." The gunslinger's voice was low.
Vin shook his head.
"I said, give me back that bottle!"
The two men stared at each other from across the table. It was Chris who finally broke the silence. "I oughta just kill ya', and be done with it."
Vin continued to observe his irate friend.
Chris lowered his gaze. "You know I could do it. You'd be dead before you hit the floor."
"I know ya' could, but then what would you do? Take my body back to Tascosa? Use the bounty money to buy more of this?" He held up the bottle. "Well, hell, I thought my death would count for something more."
"You're a sorry son of a bitch, Tanner, bringing that up. You really think I would do that?"
Vin shrugged. Chris had known about the bounty on his head from day one, and yet Vin had never even questioned where Chris's loyalties stood. But right now, he needed to get his friend focused and the best way he knew to do that was to get him angry.
"Well, I call 'em as I see 'em."
Chris's voice was dangerously low. "I don't betray my friends."
Vin gestured to the bottle. "What do you call this?"
"I call it a friend too."
Vin looked at the bottle and then looked at Chris. "And every time you pick it up, it betrays you."
"Get out and leave me the hell alone!" Chris snarled.
Vin grabbed Chris's empty glass and poured himself a drink. "There are only two ways I'm leavin' this town. Either ridin' out with you or in a pine box." He raised the glass in a mock toast before drinking. "Your choice, Cowboy."
Green eyes clashed with blue, and in that second Chris knew that there was no way Vin would back down. He would stand by his ultimatum. Chris felt a rage wash over him that he had never experienced before.
In a burst of fury, he swiped his arm across the table sending the two empty bottles flying.
Suddenly Vin knew this was going to get physical. As if Chris had read his mind, the two men stood, sending their chairs crashing to the floor.
Throughout the rest of the saloon, men scrambled for cover. They had seen enough gunfights to know what was going to happen.
"WHAT THE HELL DO YOU WANT FROM ME?" Chris yelled as he overturned the poker table that separated them.
Vin grabbed the half-empty bottle of whiskey in mid-flight and held it up. "I want you to stop hiding behind this!" He shouted back. He then threw the bottle at his friend, missing the older man's head by only an inch or two. It shattered against the wall behind Chris, the sound of glass hitting the floor filled the air. Chris never flinched.
A red haze clouded Chris Larabee's sight. His hand went for his gun, half pulling it from its holster, before Vin's next words penetrated his mind. "Guess we're goin' for the box."
The gunslinger froze. What the hell was he doing? Declaring war on his best friend, because of something that happened three years ago? What kind of lowlife had he become?
Vin stood silent, watching the emotions play on his friend's face. He knew Chris was struggling with his demons, but Vin also knew that the next move would have to be Chris's, so he waited.
"He would have been eight this week." Chris's voice was barely above a whisper.
Vin's heart silently shattered. He had absolutely no idea what to say. Sometimes 'I'm sorry'was so meaningless so inadequate.
"I miss him so much." Chris's eyes met with Vin's. 'Help me,' was the gunslinger's silent plea.
The tracker moved and stood in front of his friend. Reaching out he gently lowered Chris's gun back into its holster. With his other hand, he gently placed it over Chris's heart.
"I'm right here."
Chris recognized in that instant, the words and the tone of voice. They reminded him of Sarah's steadfast patience and understanding.
Chris dropped his hands to his side and lowered his head slightly. Vin could see the tears forming in his friend's eyes.
"Come on, Cowboy, let's take this outside."
Chris nodded and the two walked out of the saloon side by side. As they walked down the street, Vin shot a sideways glance and saw Chris was fighting back the tears.
"You get a room yet?" he asked.
"Headed straight for the saloon, huh?"
"Story of my life," Chris replied.
"Yeah, well, story's about to change." Vin answered quietly.
Chris glanced at him. "I didn't know you were into storytelling."
"I have a way with words."
Chris smiled slightly. "So when do we turn the page?"
"Whenever you're ready, Pard."
Chris opened the door to the boardinghouse. "Tomorrow morning should be soon enough."
The two men stood outside the boardinghouse. "I'm going to head over and get us some supplies," Chris nodded in the direction of the local store.
Vin nodded. "I'll head down to the gunsmiths. Meet ya' at the livery in about an hour."
"All right." Chris turned and headed down the boardwalk. Vin watched him for a moment before heading out in the opposite direction.
Chris entered the general store, pausing a moment to allow his eyes to adjust to the dim interior.
"Help you, Mister?" The man behind the counter asked.
"Yeah, I need a dime's worth of sugar, salt and flour. Also need twenty cent's worth of coffee."
"Just take a couple of minutes," the shopkeeper replied.
Chris nodded. "Mind if I look around?"
"Help yourself. Name's Sam if you need anything."
Chris moved away to look at the items in the nearby display case. Slowly he moved from one end to the other, until a glitter caught his eye. Spurs, gold spurs. "Are these real gold?" he asked.
The merchant stopped what he was doing and moved to the case. Giving the black-clad man the once over, he decided that it was best not to run a con this time, if he wanted to stay healthy. "Well, they are really made of brass. Cowboy here in town had 'em made up special. Had gold put on the outside to make them look real fancy like. You interested?"
Chris looked them over again. Spurs like that would cost more money than he would see in three months. He would have to find something else. Chris shook his head. "No thanks."
Sam leaned over the case. "Could let you have 'em for say ten dollars?"
Chris looked at the spurs one more time and then nodded in agreement. He didn't know exactly when Vin's birthday was, but that didn't really matter. They were more of a thank-you present anyway. "I'll take 'em."
"Okay, here ya go." Sam laid Chris's items out on the counter. "Ten dollars and fifty cents total."
The gunslinger handed over the money. "Much obliged."
The shopkeeper smiled. "Pleasure doin' business with ya'. Been trying to get rid of them spurs for awhile now."
Chris tipped his hat and left the store hiding the gift in the pocket of his duster.
A Week Later
Vin tossed his jacket into the back of the wagon. Damn, it had been a helluva week. No sooner had he and Chris gotten back into town, when some dumb cowboy who had too much to drink decided that Josiah's church would be great to use for target practice. To say that Josiah had not taken it well would have been an understatement. Brawls filled the saloon and a riot had broken out when Mary had gathered most of the women in town and had them on strike, protesting the fact that women should be given the right to vote. Vin snorted. Right, as if that was ever going to happen.
He jumped up into his wagon and his hand connected with a package. What the hell was this? He turned it over, tore the paper off and opened the box. Inside rested a pair of gold spurs. He let out a soft whistle. Gold spurs. He shook his head; this had to be a mistake. He climbed back out of the wagon and looked up the street, where he saw Chris leaning his shoulder against the front of the general store. Vin looked at him questioningly and watched the gunfighter nod slightly. Vin returned the nod and watched as Chris turned and disappeared down the street. Leaning back against his wagon, Vin gently took off his old spurs and put the new ones on.
Because Chris and Vin had been out of town for awhile, Judge Travis had waited to have the usual weekly meeting. Vin grinned. The thought of making Ezra jealous appealed to the sneaky part of his mind. Besides, he figured he owed the gambler a bit of retribution. Ezra had once laughed at him, in the saloon of all places, after the tracker had asked him for help in writing down a poem.
The tracker looked up, "Josiah."
The ex-preacher cocked his head and stared at Vin's boots. "We get a raise and nobody told me?"
Vin chuckled. "Naw, Chris gave 'em to me as a present is all."
Josiah nodded. "Good friends are God's gift to us, my brother, treasure it."
"Josiah, can I ask you somethin'?"
Josiah looked at him curiously. Vin was not one to ask advice. "Sure, go ahead."
The two men began to walk toward the jail. "Well, see, it's about these here spurs ."
+ + + + + + +
Judge Travis and Chris entered the saloon together. Chris headed straight for the bar to grab a beer. The judge took a seat at the same table that Ezra currently occupied. Nathan and Buck sat at the next table over.
Judge Travis reached into his vest pocket and noted the time. Forty minutes until his stage left.
"Vin and Josiah are comin' down the boardwalk." JD announced as he entered the room.
Taking off his hat, he sat down next to Buck.
Chris picked up his beer, walked over and sat down next to the judge. Leaning back in his chair, he slowly sipped his drink.
The barroom doors swung open as Vin and Josiah entered the room.
"Judge." Vin tipped his hat in the older man's direction.
"Boys." Josiah nodded his head and headed over to the bar. As he passed Chris he leaned down and whispered, "Nice spurs."
Chris nodded slightly.
Josiah leaned against the counter where he could have the clearest view. It was going to be pure delight to see the gambler's reaction.
"Ezra," Vin took a seat at a table next to the gambler.
The tracker placed his right foot on his left knee. Chris grinned. It was obvious that Vin was wasting no time in his attempt to get the gambler to notice the spurs.
"Now that we are all here, let's get started," Judge Travis began. "First thing you all should know is that the Madison gang is known to be in the territory, so keep your eyes open."
"Didn't they just rob the bank over at River Ridge?" Chris asked.
The older man nodded. "Two weeks ago. Killed the teller and a young woman. Three days ago they held up the stage out of Rock Springs."
"Looks like they're comin' this way," Josiah observed.
Chris nodded. "Looks like."
Vin began to tap his boot.
The gambler threw a sideways glare at the tracker, but Vin pretended not to notice. Instead, he increased his tempo.
"Mr. Tanner, if you don't mind!" Ezra hissed and then stopped suddenly as the glitter of gold caught his eyes.
Vin dropped his foot and quickly tucked his long legs under the chair as far as they would go.
Chris's grin widened.
"We will also have a federal prison wagon that will be here tomorrow," Judge Travis continued.
"What's it comin' here for?" JD asked.
"The normal route it takes is closed because of a rock slide. It will need to stop here for supplies. Mrs. Potter already has everything together. The wagon will stay just outside town, for safety reason, so all you boys will have to do is drop the supplies off to them.
Vin nodded. "I can do that."
JD elbowed Buck. "What's Ezra doin'?" he whispered.
Ezra had rocked his chair on its back two legs and was craning his neck, trying to get a better look at Vin's boots.
The older man shrugged. "Damned if I know."
"I also have some new wanted posters." The Judge handed them to Chris.
"Let me have a look at those," Vin moved to stand next to Chris out of the gambler's direct view.
"See anyone you know?" Chris asked.
"Well that's it. I'm leaving on the afternoon stage," Judge Travis stood. "I'll be back in a week."
Chris also stood and shook the older man's hand. "Have a good trip."
"I'll be in Cottonville if you need me."
"All right." Chris took his seat again as each of the rest of the six men acknowledged the Judge's departure.
Vin handed the posters back to Chris. "Anything?" the gunslinger asked.
"Couple that look familiar," Vin answered.
Nathan caught Chris's eye and he nodded toward Ezra who was now bent over and had his head under the table. Chris shrugged, trying to keep a straight face.
"EZRA!" Nathan shouted. "Whatcha' doin'?"
"What? Ouch!" the gambler complained as the back of his head connected with the bottom of the table.
"Whatcha' lookin' for?" JD asked.
"Yeah, you lose somethin'?" Buck chimed in.
"I was was oh never mind." Ezra stood and began to walk toward Vin and Chris.
Buck caught his arm. "Where ya goin' Ezra?"
"I require Mr. Tanner's assistance in a certain matter."
"That can wait, Ezra, we got things to do." Buck took the gambler's arm and headed him out the door.
Vin shot Chris a wide grin, and it was all Chris could do to keep from laughing.
"You've got a mean streak, don't ya?"
Vin's grinned widened even more as he walked out into the daylight.
Late Afternoon on the Same Day
Chris looked up as Vin strolled into the jailhouse. The wind from the open door sent papers on Chris's desk flying in all directions. Vin quickly shut the door.
The tracker sat down on the opposite side of the desk and stretched his legs out in front of him.
"Somethin' on your mind, Vin?"
"Want to talk to ya."
Vin took a deep breath and let it out, slowly. Even though every thing inside of him demanded to just say what he had to say and be done with it, he knew Josiah had given him wise advice. He needed to take his time, choose his words carefully. He needed Chris to truly understand the real reason why he wanted to do this. Not that he didn't trust in their friendship, but this went deeper than that. This went to brotherhood.
"I ain't much for talkin'."
Chris smiled slightly. "That point has been brought to my attention a time or two."
"Been a loner most of my life."
"Noticed, that too."
"Hell, it's been years since I had anyone I considered a friend, let alone a close one."
Chris leaned back and folded his arms across his chest. 'This must be big,' he thought, 'for Vin to be puttin' so many words together.' Suddenly a thought flashed through his mind. "Vin, you ain't sayin' goodbye are ya'?"
The younger man smiled. "Naw, nothing like that. It's just well, I want ya' to have this."
Reaching into his coat pocket, he removed one of the spurs and handed it to Chris.
The gunslinger reached out his hand and took the object. "I don't understand, Vin, why are you giving this back to me?"
Vin relaxed in his chair. "When I was a kid, livin' back in the orphanage, there was these two girls there. Claire and Victoria. They weren't sisters by blood, but for two years they was always together. Then one day this family adopted Victoria. Mrs. Miller, who ran the orphanage, asked me to help get Victoria's things. As I was about to go into the room, I heard the girls talkin'. Claire had given Victoria half of a necklace that she always wore. She was tellin' her that there was a tradition in her family, about how if you give someone special, a half of something that is close to your heart, then they will always be with you in spirit. Two halves, separate, yet whole."
He stopped short. Well hell, he was beginning to sound like a sappy old woman!
Chris fingered the spur. His hand's shook slightly as Vin's words played over again in his mind.
Together in spirit, separate yet whole. Like brothers.
He stood up from his chair and walked around the desk. When he reached the corner of the desk closest to Vin, he leaned back against it. He carefully studied the spur in his hand. A small smile spread over his face. Not amused or mocking, it was a smile that contained both pride and understanding. He had given Vin a gift to say 'thank-you.' What Vin had given him was a symbol of connection. He had never received a gesture of friendship that meant so much to him. Chris knew that Vin was not given to sentiment easily, and this action must have meant more to Vin than the world. He reached over and gave the tracker's shoulder a squeeze. The sentiment was given and received, now came the time to lighten the mood. "Thanks, Vin, but I got one problem."
Vin looked up at him with uncertainty.
Chris grinned. "Just what the hell do you expect me to do with one spur?" he asked.
"Been thinkin' 'bout that."
Chris cocked an eyebrow.
Seems to me that with all this wind, you could use it to keep these here papers from scatterin' all over the place. Ya know, set it on top of 'em."
Chris nodded and bent over to pick up several wanted posters that were scattered on the floor when Vin had stepped into the room. Putting them in a pile on the corner of the desk, he placed the spur on top of it.
"Buy ya a drink, Chris?" Vin asked.
Again Vin looked uncertain. He waited, as the silence grew. Deciding not to push the issue any further, Vin stood. "Well, I guess, I'll be off then." He started for the door.
"Hold up there, Cowboy."
"I said you couldn't buy me a drink, didn't say I wouldn't buy you one."
Vin smiled. "Sounds even better."
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