Chris put his hand to Vin's shoulder, squeezing it, offering some small but hopefully meaningful comfort. "Ezra, I want you and JD to put that man in a cell." He pointed to Hathaway. "Josiah, Buck, get these people out of here. They are not allowed to view this moment." He looked up at Mary. Mary was silently weeping. She had heard Vin read and the reason for his beautiful recital tore at her heart. Chris looked at the people. By this time the actors and actresses had all gathered around and were staring in dismay at the scene before them. "There will be no performance tonight," Chris spoke out, in a voice that dared anyone to defy him. The people began to depart the area, slowly, each slipping away into the night. Cynthia Stewart and Geoffrey MacLeod stood side by side gazing at their employer with disgust.
Hathaway looked at them and began to plead. "You understand why I did it... don't you? Cynthia? You must understand."
The actress clutched her skirts and turned on her heels, walking away never looking back. MacLeod soon followed.
Hathaway turned to Chris and began to laugh again. "Mister Larabee, It is regretful what has happened, but the show must go on," he spoke out in a crazed voice.
Chris flew to his feet and grasped Hathaway's neck in a vice like grip. He pulled the wounded man to his feet. "There... will be... no... performance... tonight!" he seethed. No one interfered with Chris' loss of temper. No one cared that he had a man by the throat. Chris wouldn 't kill Hathaway, but he was damn well going to drive a point home.
Mary looked at Hathaway with shocked horror. "James, what have you done?" She gestured to the weeping form of Vin Tanner as he continued to hold Marcus' body.
"I had to, Mary. He killed my son! I had to punish him! He had no right to be happy. No right to have a life!"
Chris shoved Hathaway to the ground and glared at him. "Ezra, JD! Take him! Now!"
The two men grabbed Hathaway. They pulled him to his feet and shoved him toward the jailhouse.
Mary went up to Chris. "Mister Larabee, I can't tell you how sorry I am."
Chris just shook his head. "Meeting Marcus was the best thing that could have happened to us. I'm just sorry he had to come with the likes of Hathaway." Vin's weeping forced Chris to turn to look at him. Without looking at Mary, he said, "I mean no disrespect, Mary, but I have to ask you to leave us right now."
Mary looked at him with sorrow. She saw what was happening as the friends of Vin Tanner stood around him. "I wish... I wish I could have met Mister Marcus sooner."
"Maybe you would have... if you had taken the time," Chris replied.
Mary flinched at the words. Chris was not happy with her at that moment, and to be truthful, she was not happy with herself. She had been more focused on the plays and Hathaway than what was going on with Vin or Chris or the others. She nodded in acknowledgement and turned, leaving the men alone with their sorrow.
Chris returned to Vin's side, still holding the book of sonnets in his hand. The people had dispersed and Ezra and JD were returning from putting Hathaway in a jail cell. There would be a trial, but with Hathaway's mind being gone, he would probably get off with an insanity plea and placed in an asylum. No one wanted to think that far ahead right now. All that mattered to them was Vin and the grief he was suffering at that moment. The six men gathered around Vin, who wept without shame in front of them. His hat had been pushed down to hang over his back. "Marcus," he spoke out between sobs. "Marcus was... a humble man. If he could not have mahogany or brass handles while he was alive, he won't have them as his final resting place." Vin lifted his head and stared down at his two arms crossed over Marcus' chest. He kept his eyes there as he spoke. "A simple coffin will do fer him."
Chris felt the tears stinging his eyes as he gazed at his friend, feeling Vin's pain and sorrow. "I'll see to it, Vin. Do you want us to leave you alone for awhile?"
Vin lifted his gaze to Chris at that. His eyes were swimming pools of tears. "Y'all appreciated him. I just need some more time, 'fore I let 'im go."
Chris squeezed Vin's upper arm. He looked at the book in his hand. "I'll hold onto this for you, Vin. I know Marcus would want you to have it."
Vin nodded, lowering his head to Marcus'.
Josiah knelt beside Marcus and rested his hand on his stomach. "Our lives... were made more richer for knowing you, Theodore Marcus. We thank God for your presence in our lives, especially in Vin's life."
Josiah looked up to see Vin smiling at him through his tears. "Thank ya', Josiah."
Buck reached down and squeezed Vin's shoulder. "He was special, Vin. Just as you are." The larger man spoke those last words with a whisper, but Vin had heard him just the same.
Vin nodded in acknowledgment. Buck and Josiah walked away to give Vin his time. Ezra stepped up closer, his voice choked with emotion. "Mister Tanner... Vin... it was a pleasure to see the light Mister Marcus ignited within you. May your words always be filled with his memory."
Vin looked up at Ezra and saw the true sorrow in the gambler's eyes, sweeping over him like a gentle rain. He managed a smile and Ezra lowered his head, walking away to stand by Josiah.
Nathan knelt beside Vin and put a hand to his shaking shoulder. "Vin... I... " he started to say.
"Ya' tried, Nathan. I know that."
Nathan nodded and he stood to walk away as well.
JD knelt beside Marcus' body, his own eyes filling with tears. "Marcus... was a special man, Vin. I'm glad to have known him. I'm glad... you... knew him."
"Thank ya', JD."
JD walked off to stand by Buck. The larger man put his arm around the youth 's shoulders and hugged him tightly to his side. "I can't believe this is happening, Buck. Tell me it's a nightmare and that we'll all wake up from it soon."
"I wish I could, JD. I really, really wish I could."
Seven strong men who never flinched away from a gun fight when the greater good was at stake, who never backed down from a fight, when evil threatened the good... not one of them were without tears, as they watched one of their own mourn the death of a friend.
Chris gazed at Vin. Compassion filled his heart, spilling out of his eyes. He could say nothing that had not all ready been said. He had known from the start what Marcus would end up meaning to Vin. He had known, and in spite of the tragedy they were now facing, Chris would never have changed a moment of Marcus being in their lives. He had touched Vin's life, and through that connection, he had touched them all.
Chris could see the pain of the world in Vin's face and he wanted desperately for time to turn back. He had wanted that to happen when his wife and child were murdered, now he wanted that for Vin. Chris took Vin's upper arm and squeezed it. "I wish I could take this pain from you, Vin. I know what Marcus meant to you."
"Ya' know," Vin became thoughtful. "Ya' knew what he would mean to me. Ya' knew right off that he could teach me how to fly."
Chris tried to smile at that.
"I never would have known him, Chris, if'n ya' hadn't pushed me to do so. I can't thank ya' enough fer that."
Chris lost his battle with the tears and gave in to them. He put his hand to Vin's face and neck, squeezing gently. Vin allowed him to do this. Since meeting Marcus he knew what it truly meant to reach out and to have others reach out to him.
Vin lifted his blood stained hands and gazed at them. He put the fingers to his face and ran them across his cheeks and nose. He then placed his right hand over Marcus' wound and then put the bloodied hand inside his shirt where he rested it over his own heart. Chris watched this custom in silence believing it to be something Vin learned from the Indians.
Vin looked at Chris. "I think... I think I'm ready to let 'im go now."
Chris nodded. He looked over at the others. "Josiah, Buck?"
The two men stepped forward. "Take him to the funeral home."
The two men knelt on either side of Marcus and placed their hands under his body. "Be careful with him, please," Vin spoke out.
"We will, Vin. Don't you worry about that," Josiah said. They lifted his body and headed down the street toward the funeral parlor.
"Nathan?" Vin spoke out before the healer could follow after them. Nathan turned. "Yes, Vin?"
"Can I borrow one of your knives?"
Nathan pulled a knife from its sheath at his belt and handed it to Vin hilt first. Vin looked him in the eye as he took it. "No questions, Nathan."
"I think I need some help gettin' to my feet."
Chris and Nathan each took a grip under Vin's shoulders and helped him to stand. He wavered a bit and Chris held onto him a bit longer. "You all right?"
"No. Not for a very long time." Vin pulled away from Chris and turned to head back to the livery. Chris followed after him. "See to Hathaway's hand, Nathan. I think I know what Vin's gonna do, but I want to be sure."
"All right, Chris." Nathan knew that if anyone could keep Vin centered at that moment it would be Chris. Anyone else would just be getting in the way. He turned and met up with JD who gazed at him questioningly. "I have a feeling I know what's going on, JD. Nothing to be worried about. Vin's doing what he has to in order to get through this."
"I should send a wire to Judge Travis."
"Wait for Chris to give that order, son. We need to see to Hathaway then to Marcus. Ezra? Would you care to join us?"
Ezra watched helplessly as Vin headed for the livery followed by Chris. He quietly replied, "Indeed. I somehow feel as useless as a three wheeled wagon."
"Ezra, trust me, we're all feeling that right now."
Ezra nodded to Nathan and joined the two men as they headed inside the jailhouse.
+ + + + + + +
Chris saw that Peso was all ready saddled. Solomon stood, still saddled as well. "Could ya' take care of Solomon fer me, Chris?"
Chris went up to Vin's side and rested a hand on his shoulder. "All right. Just tell me where you're goin?"
Vin looked up at him as he took Peso's reins. "Shepherd's Rock."
Chris nodded. "How long do you want to be alone?"
Vin locked eyes with his friend and saw the concern. "I don't know what I need, Chris. I ain't had to really grieve over anyone in a long time. I... I just don't know."
Chris squeezed his shoulder. His eyes told Vin he would be coming after him in a couple of hours. How Vin knew that he couldn't say, but he read it in Chris' eyes. Vin nodded once to him and mounted Peso. He turned and headed off.
Chris watched him leave until he was out of sight, then he rubbed his tired eyes and headed back into the livery where he proceeded to bed Solomon down for the night.
A few hours later...
Chris led his saddled horse to the outside of the Clarion. He tied the reins around the hitching post and walked inside where he found Mary at her desk busily writing. "Mary?"
The woman turned and stood to greet him. "Chris, I... " she stopped not exactly knowing what to say.
Chris held up his hand. "I need to apologize for what I said to you out there. You didn't know this would happen. None of us did."
Mary smiled up at him. "And I need to apologize to you for what I said earlier this afternoon. For a woman who uses words as a living, sometimes I say the wrong things. I can only hope that you can forgive me."
Chris reached out and took her wrist. He squeezed it gently. "Tempers flare and words can either ignite or smother the flames." He gazed at her with compassion and she smiled, tears filling her eyes. "You were right, though, Chris. I was so wrapped up in bringing a little culture to this town that I failed to see what was really going on. James... he's not the man I once knew. Tonight, I saw him for what he really was. A man obsessed with vengeance."
Chris nodded. "It's hard to see a friend come to that frame of mind, Mary. It's funny, I thought actors would bring trouble and someone would get killed. It's a long story why I thought that, but it's... " he stopped, releasing her wrist, and looked down at his hat in his hands. "I never thought one of them would turn on... " he shook his head. "I'm not making much sense."
"That's all right. I think I understand what you're saying. The actors are packing up to leave as we speak. I told them what happened. None of them can really offer any insight as to James' actions. I don't think they'll be coming back this way again, not for a long time. Geoffrey MacLeod said Marcus' things are still in his room." She was just speaking to speak. Nothing of what she said at that moment was really important to Chris. That is except the part about Marcus' room. "I'd appreciate it if you had that room locked up. I don't want anyone but Vin or myself to enter it."
"I'll see to it. What about James' room?"
Chris pondered the matter and lowered his head. "I want to go through his things. No one takes anything of his. Can you see to that as well?"
She nodded. "Right away."
After a few seconds of silence, Chris sighed. "I need to go to Vin."
"I know. I hurt for him, too."
Chris reached out his hand and Mary took it. He squeezed her hand gently. "Please... do right by Marcus when you write this story."
"I intend to, but in order to do that I'll need to know more of the type of man he was."
"He was the type of man to bring Vin Tanner to tears with his death. That should tell the townsfolk all they need to know."
Mary tried to smile but the emotion within her made it a futile effort. "It 's a start, Chris."
Chris smiled. He let go of her hand, put on his hat and turned to walk out of the office.
Mary watched him mount his horse from her office window. He rode off down the street, the cloak of darkness engulfing him as he disappeared from sight.
+ + + + + + +
Vin was sitting next to a fire at the base of the boulder he and Marcus had sat on top of that afternoon. For a man who had just discovered the beauty of words, Vin Tanner could not find the words to describe the emptiness he was feeling. And so he had resorted to expressing his grief, not only through tears, but through self-mutilation. It was easier to feel physical pain, than it was emotional, but he could hardly feel anything at this point. His knees were bent and his arms rested on top of them. In his right hand he held a bloodied knife. His left forearm was covered with self-inflicted cuts. The blood dripped onto his pants, but he didn't care. The cuts were not deep and he had heated the blade before cutting. During the ritual he had chanted an Indian chant for the dead. His hat lay next to him on top of his shirt and buckskin jacket. His suspenders hung from his waist. The chill of the night touched his skin but he did not notice it. He was too numb inside to feel the chill. Even the cuts... he could hardly feel them as well.
He sensed the man slowly approach him. His mind was clouded but he knew it was Chris. He felt the blanket lay across his shoulders and back. He sensed Chris sit next to him to his left. He sensed Chris' eyes on his arm. The man did not speak. He did not intrude on Vin's need for silence. Chris reached into his saddlebag and pulled out a handkerchief. He ripped it in two and gently took Vin's arm. Vin never turned his attention away from the fire as Chris gently wrapped the cuts with the handkerchief. Chris tied off the bandages and rested Vin's arm back onto his knee. Vin's eyes were swollen from crying, and the tears still fell, but they were silent tears now. The tears had washed away most of the blood that Vin had painted over his face. Some traces still remained, but the night was still young.
He felt the strong arm wrap around his shoulders and he allowed himself to be drawn into his friend's embrace. In the comfort of that shelter, the storm hit again and Vin wept unabashedly against Chris' chest.
Chris held him tightly, resting his chin on top of Vin's head. The gunslinger knew this pain. He knew it well. He would hold Vin until the weeping stopped. He would then hold Vin until he fell asleep. He would then lay Vin gently onto the ground and watch over him until he awoke. Chris knew. Chris understood. No one would ever know of this connection between the two friends... no one but God and Marcus. And Chris could not help but believe that it was Marcus who was guiding him at that moment, giving him the courage as a man to reach out to another man offering comfort.
Before Marcus, Chris would never have considered doing what he was doing now. After Marcus, Chris couldn't not consider it. The man had touched more hearts than just Vin's.
+ + + + + + +
Chris was resting back against the boulder, Vin lying beside him, when the younger man cried out in his sleep. 'Oh, God,' Chris thought as the memories crashed home. He had done the same thing the first night after burying his family. It was the ache in the heart that forced the cries out. Vin awoke and curled up into a ball. Chris lifted him and rested him on his lap. He saw the tears in his friend's eyes once again. "It's all right, Vin. Your heart's just breaking a little more. Your mind knows what happened, but your heart can't accept it. That's why it's fighting back right now. Just let it happen. I'll be here with you."
Vin reached up and clutched Chris' shoulder. His chest constricted and his body was reacting to it like it would a severe pain. He cried out again.
Chris's hold around him tightened. He knew it would be like this all night. Soon Vin would fall back to sleep, but Chris would stay awake. He knew there would be more to come before the dawn. When it came to grief, the heart was damn stubborn.
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