Standard Disclaimers Apply: I don't own them, not making any money. (Dang on both counts!) Vin's poem "Achilles" was written by Chad Everett.
Verbal Smarm with a shoulder grip put in for good measure.
Slight Intro: Inspired by the poems Vin recited on 'Achilles'. Being a lover of words, myself, the one about Vin asking Mary to teach him to read and write tugged at my heart and caused a few tears to fall. That night I simply could not sleep as the following scenario refused to let me ignore it. I never have needed to get out of bed at 12 am and write so badly. It seems Chris and Vin have more in common than just good shooting, brains and silence. (Well, there is also their outstanding taste in dusters, hats and guns, and their impeccable good looks, but that's stating the obvious. <G>)
I'm not the way they see me.
He was going there again.
Chris Larabee watched from the jailhouse as his best friend, Vin Tanner, headed toward the Clarion Newspaper office. He had been going there every day that week at the same hour. Chris started taking notice when his other friend, Buck, had mentioned the fact to him. "Hey, Chris, looks like Vin is moving in on your territory," Buck had said, a hint of teasing behind his eyes.
Chris had watched Vin enter the Clarion office and not leave for an entire hour. He shrugged to Buck as the two sat on the porch of the jailhouse. "Mary is free to see anyone she wants," he had replied, though there was no conviction in his tone.
Buck had chuckled. "Right and if pigs had wings they could fly."
Now Vin was heading toward the office again. This was the sixth day in a row. What Vin was doing there was unknown to Chris, but it had caused a tension he didn't understand. Maybe it was because of his desire to allow Mary into his life. The loss of Chris' wife and son still seared his soul with pain and it was still too soon to allow thoughts of another woman to enter his life...but seeing Vin spending an hour every day with Mary caused pangs of jealousy to fill him.
Before Vin could enter the Clarion again, Chris walked up to him, his stance deliberate. "Vin?"
Vin turned and saw his best friend come near. "Chris, something up?"
"I guess this isn't my place, but I've seen you for the last few days going into the Clarion. Was just wondering if there's something I should know about."
Vin understood instantly what Chris was intimating. He didn't want to tell Chris that he had been going to see Mary every day for reading and writing lessons. He was ashamed enough as it was to have the prominent newspaper woman know that he possessed neither skill. To have the members of the Seven know, especially Chris, would be a shame not even he could bear, but he also knew that Chris was holding feelings for Mary. He didn't want there to be any reason for Chris to think that he was seeing Mary in that manner.
Vin stood, feeling awkward with the confrontation. "I'm sorry, Chris. I know you have a fondness for Mary. I would never come between you two. It's not what you think."
"Really?" Chris wasn't sure what to think. "'cause if you want to set your hat in her direction, I'll step aside."
Vin gazed at Chris long and hard. "I can't tell you, Chris. Just know why I go there isn't for what you think. I'm not seekin' to court her."
Chris stared at him. "Then why can't you tell me why you see her every day?"
Vin looked down. He couldn't tell Chris. He was too ashamed. "I...I just can't say. It's personal."
Chris said nothing more and turned, walking off with anger in his steps.
For the first time since the two men met, Vin misread Chris's actions. He thought the gunslinger was walking off angry because he didn't believe Vin. What Chris was angry about, though, was that Vin could not trust him enough to tell him what was really going on. All men had their secrets and Chris understood that as well as any man living, but to have Vin ashamed in front of him was something that did not settle well. Whatever secret Vin was keeping he would let it lay for now, but it bothered him just the same that there had to be a secret.
Vin watched Chris walk off and it felt like a blow to his gut. If Chris thought there was something going on between him and Mary, then Vin decided the lessons weren't worth losing a friendship over. He turned and walked into the Clarion. "Mary?"
Mary looked up from where she was pulling out the lesson books. "Afternoon, Vin. Are you ready to start?"
Vin removed his hat and looked down as he fought to speak. "I...uh...I been thinking. I appreciate all you've done for me. I know my letters now, and...and everything, but...um...I think it best if I don't continue on with the lessons."
Mary felt her heart fall to her stomach. She gazed at Vin in shock. "Vin, is something wrong? Did the others find out? Are they teasing you about this?"
"No, no, none of the others know about you teaching me. I...uh..." he looked over his shoulder out the window and Mary followed his gaze. She saw what, or rather, who Vin was looking at. "Vin?" she prompted.
Vin sighed and turned his attention back to her. "I just think it best if we stop. I appreciate you wanting to teach me and all. I guess I'm just not into book learnin'." He put his hat on and opened the door. "Thank you for everything, Mary," he said as he walked out into the street closing the door behind him.
Mary went to the window and saw Vin head over to the jailhouse. She watched as Vin stepped up to Chris. Chris had lowered his head to hear what Vin was saying to him, then Mary saw Vin mount his horse and ride out of town. Something was the cause of Vin stopping any further lessons and she had a feeling it was because of Chris.
Well, she would get her answer soon, for the gunslinger was making his way toward her office. She went to her desk and opened a drawer, pulling out two sheets of paper. Each one containing a poem that Vin Tanner had written...inside his mind. She knew that Vin didn't want any one of the Seven knowing he couldn't read or write, but if she worked it right Chris would find out on his own. She put the lesson books on her desk to where they could be easily seen. Then she started to casually dust off the small chalkboard she had written that day's lesson plan on.
Chris walked in and saw what she was doing and he saw the books on her desk. He was not a stupid man and he realized with all these things what Vin had been keeping secret. He realized because he had known all along that Vin couldn't read or write. How he had known didn't matter...what mattered was everything was coming together now. "Mister Larabee? Is there something I can do for you?" Mary asked without turning to look at him.
Chris walked in and closed the door behind him. "I'd like to talk to you, Mary, about Vin."
Mary turned to him, then...and smiled.
Sunset that evening...
Chris walked up to where Vin stood. A silhouetted figure clad in the light of the street lamp that stood over head. His friend's back was to Chris and Vin never turned to acknowledge his presence. Chris stopped and gently rested a hand on the younger man's shoulder. "I knew that you couldn't read, Vin. I've known for a long time. I never said anything to you before because I felt if you wanted me to know you would have told me. I've always said that your life is your life and what happens with you is none of my business. I still hold true to that, but this is one time I have to say something to you." Chris stopped. Words came so easy to him on paper, but when faced with actually speaking them, they were more difficult. Which is why he never spoke much, except for what he had to say. This time, though, he knew he had a lot to say and putting words down on paper would not do, at least not for this first part of his apology.
He took in a deep breath and lowered his voice. "I read the poems you wrote. I went to talk to Mary after you rode out earlier today. She showed them to me." He fought to control the emotion that threatened to choke his voice. After a moment of silence he continued. "They moved me. I love words, Vin. Never did before I met my wife. Never saw how they can move a man's spirit. Sarah taught me to love words. I've read many things in my life, poetry, plays, novels, and it means something when a man can paint pictures with words. You have that talent. I would never desire to stifle that talent within you. To do that would be to cause a great tragedy. Learn to read, Vin. Learn to write, because I would love to hear more from you." Chris knew he was going to tread on painful ground with these next words, but he had to be sure Vin understood. He had to know that Vin would not throw his gift away. Chris cleared his throat. He hated it when emotion choked off the ability to speak. It always gave you away. "Your Ma would be proud of you, Vin." He felt the shoulder tense under his grip. He squeezed the shoulder harder. "I know that because...I'm proud of you."
Vin stood there and Chris felt the trembling going through the younger man. The gunslinger took in a breath and began to quote:
A man does not know he walks in darkness
Until a light reveals his path.
There is a hollow void he does not know needs to be filled
Until his soul is graced with what has been kept from him.
In that moment he turns and claims his pain.
He can see, he is made whole.
Do not dim that light so true.
Do not starve my soul.
And when my wounds no longer bleed
And my pain is just a memory,
I will look to the one who healed
And proudly say, 'He is my friend.'
Vin heard the sound of paper being folded and he turned to Chris, his face streaked with silent tears. "Did..." he choked and lowered his gaze. "Did you write that?"
Chris nodded. "For you."
He turned and started walking away when Vin grabbed his arm. Chris looked at him as Vin slowly took the paper from his hand. In a moment that Chris knew would never be repeated, at least for a very long time, Vin put the folded paper to his chest over his heart and held it there. Unable to speak because of the emotion, Vin continued to hold the paper to his chest as if it were able to burn through his skin and take residence inside him. The look the two men shared could not be fathomed, not even with words, but Chris knew that Vin understood. The younger man nodded once to Chris and walked on down the road, his head held high.
Chris stood there and watched his best friend as he headed toward the Clarion. When Vin disappeared into Mary's office, he could see by the light within that Vin was sitting down, removing his hat. He watched through the window as Mary pulled out the lesson books and opened them.
A smile touched Chris's lips and he stood on the other side of the street, unseen by the student and teacher. He would guard over them this night, like a sentinel guarding a precious treasure.
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