Disclaimer: Don't own 'em and even if I did I'd set 'em free. Better that than them running away. Usual claims apply, not making any money, trust me. You should see the truck I drive. Nope, no money here.
Notes:Chris/Vin h/c, plenty of angst. Any similarities between the characters and my poor attempt to capture their personalities is purely coincidence. This is a story I wrote for my best friend, Whiterose. Her Christmas present, since she wanted a story where Chris got hurt, but dang it if I can't stay away from Vin suffering as well. I reckon this will satisfy both of us.
To Vin Tanner, the world came to a crashing halt when the gun was fired. He watched, unable to register the sight before him. His mind clouded over and it took a few moments for him to realize the man who had pulled the trigger, firing the shot that sent Chris Larabee to the ground, was now aiming his gun at the tracker. "Five hundred, dead or alive!" the man sneered. A bounty hunter. Vin had felt the weight of his Mare's Leg in his hand, but couldn't remember pulling it from its holster. He tried to lift it, but seeing his best friend on the ground before him, prone and not moving, froze him in place.
Suddenly another shot rang out and the bounty hunter arched back, his gun dropping from his hand. In seconds, (or was it hours? Vin couldn't be sure anymore. Time meant as much to him at that moment as the simple description of the second hand moving forward) the man fell to the ground, dead. Vin felt his head turn to see Buck Wilmington standing there to his side, smoke escaping the barrel of his six-shooter. Buck's face was grim and set, but Vin had no way of thanking him. His voice had frozen as he turned back to Chris, lying unconscious at his feet. Vin's legs went numb as he crumbled to his knees and gently turned his friend over, to see the wound in the chest.
Buck knelt on the other side. "Help me get him to Nathan's, Vin."
Vin obeyed, but it was an unconscious effort. More reflex than anything. The only thing he could see was Chris' face. 'Wake up,' Vin's first thought. 'Wake up, Chris,' he silently pleaded. He didn't feel his legs move. He didn't feel the weight of his best friend's body in his arms as he and Buck carried Chris toward the clinic. He didn't hear the other members of the Seven emerge on them, asking what the hell happened.
His only thoughts were of Chris...and how his best friend took the bullet that was meant for him.
No one spoke to Vin as they waited outside the clinic.
Nathan was inside with Josiah, working to save Chris' life.
Buck, Ezra and JD were outside the clinic on the catwalk, but they stood off from Vin. The tracker was lost in his own pain and nothing anyone could say or do would bring him out of it. "Best to leave him be," Buck instructed the other two. "He can't hear us right now, anyhow."
"He gonna be all right, Buck?" JD asked, his young voice low and concerned.
Buck sadly shook his head. "Can't say, JD. What happened is eating him alive. That it happened to Chris, well, none of us has to say how close those two are."
Ezra gazed at the tracker who was leaning against the wall of the clinic, next to the door. His back was turned to them; his gaze firmly fixed on the door handle. He hadn't moved in two hours.
"It's shock," the Southern man explained. "Never thought I'd see the day Mister Tanner would succumb to shock's paralyzing effects."
"Chris took the bullet for him, Ezra. Vin would rather the bullet had taken him instead," Buck said.
"I dare say if the situation had been reversed, Mister Larabee would be facing the same desire."
"Which just goes to show there's no real solution," JD sighed. "How can one die to save the other, when the other will die anyway?"
Buck furrowed a brow to his young friend. "Not following you, Kid."
"If Chris dies, he died to save Vin, but Vin will die inside because Chris is gone. And if the situation were reversed, if Vin died, Chris would be facing that same death of soul."
"Then it's best we make sure both of them stay alive...for each of their sakes," Ezra opined.
Vin listened to the conversation, whispered though it was, and yet he couldn't listen. His mind raced with images, his heart wrenching at the thought of Chris' life cut down...because of him. It wasn't shock, well, not all of it, anyway. It was that, but it was also guilt. 'Damn bounty,' he thought. 'Got to clear my name so this don't happen again.' He clenched his hand into a fist. 'Damn it, Chris...why? Why'd you do it? Don't ya' know without ya' I'm a dead man? Ya' gave me hope, you damn bastard. Ya' gave me a reason to believe I wasn't alone anymore.' He shut his eyes as he fought back the sting of tears. 'Don't go takin' that away from me, ya' hear? Don't ya' dare leave me behind!'
+ + + + + + +
'This is weird,' Chris thought as he regained consciousness. He felt his eyes open, only to see Nathan and Josiah hovering over him. "Hi, boys. What's all the fuss about?"
But neither of them responded. "Can't find the damn bleeder," Nathan was saying. "If we don't find it, the blood loss will kill him."
Josiah held the lamp closer. "Take your time, Brother Nathan. Don't push yourself. Use those hands God gifted you with. Let your hands find the bleeder. Let your hands see."
Chris felt himself jumping off the table and he turned to them. "Who's hurt, boys?" He couldn't see through Nathan's shoulders. His last memory was of a bounty hunter aiming his gun at Vin. "No!" He stepped closer to the two men and looked over their shoulders. "Not Vin, he can't be." then he stopped. "Me? But...I'm right here. How can I be the one you're working on?" Chris stepped back as the horror of it all hit him. "I'm..." he looked down at his hands, he could see right through them. "I'm...no, I can't be dead, or they wouldn't still be trying to save my life. What the hell is this?" Then he turned to the window. A shadow fell across the glass pane and Chris knew by the shape of the hat and the lean that Vin was outside. He could hear the sound of muffled talking and knew the others were outside the clinic, too, but what they were saying wasn't clear.
He walked to the door and turned once more to see.his body on the table, blood everywhere, and Nathan and Josiah steadily working. "Damn it, Chris, you better hold on, you bastard. Vin needs you," Nathan was saying.
Chris looked up at that. "Vin? What's wrong with him?"
Josiah leaned closer to the unconscious form on the bed. "The two of you are linked somehow, Chris. If you die...he dies."
Chris shook his head. "Vin'll be fine. He's strong. He'll get over it."
Josiah shook his head. "You two are the damndest piece of coming together I've ever seen. Never seen the likes of it in my life. I take that back, yes I have, or at least I've read about friendship's like yours. To actually see it before me, manifesting in my life, it's a damn miracle is what it is. Vin's holdin' on, Chris, but it's a fragile peace he's fronting. Whatever it is you give him, whatever shelter you offer him, it's enough to help him walk without stumbling, and Lord knows he's been needing a supporting arm most of his life. That's what you are to him, Chris. So...you hold on, now. Don't let go, whatever you do."
Chris listened, lowering his head as the words struck home. 'I reckon I knew that's what Vin's done for me,' he thought. 'I just never stopped to think I could do it for him.' He turned to the door. "Well," he said. "If I'm gonna be a ghost, then I've got some things to do." He reached for the door handle and his hand went right through it. He couldn't touch anything. "Damn it! How do I...?" then he shut his eyes and stepped forward. He found himself outside on the catwalk. His first sight was Vin, and the image plunged into him like a knife.
The tracker's eyes were glazed over with shock. His face was pale. "Vin? Vin, can you hear me?"
No response. Chris reached out to touch Vin's shoulder, but his hand passed through the tracker's body. "Damn it all to hell," he cursed. How could he talk to Vin if he wasn't able to be seen or heard? "I'm right here, Vin," he tried to break through to Vin...somehow. Maybe...what was it Ezra had called it? Their telepathy? Maybe that would come in handy now. "Vin, listen to me, I'm right here, Pard. Why I'm allowed to see and hear you all and you all can't see or hear me, I don't know. But this is what I've got to work with, and I know there's got to be a reason."
Chris moved to stand behind Vin. He gazed at his friend's slumped shoulders and knew the reason behind them. He wanted to take the pain away from Vin, but he had no idea how to do that. Not in the 'condition' he was in at that moment. He turned to the others who were talking amongst themselves. "He'll make it," Buck was saying. "He's got to. If he doesn't I'll follow him to hell and drag him back."
Chris smiled. "Good ole' Buck, always thinking positive." He turned to Vin. "Did you hear that, Vin?" But Vin did not respond. It reminded Chris he couldn't be heard or seen. He shut his eyes and tried to sigh, but found he couldn't. He considered this and thought, 'Can't breathe when you're a spirit. Hell, if that don't beat all?' He stepped in front of Vin and focused on his friend's face; saw the pain etched in the tracker's features. "It ain't your fault, Tanner. You gotta let it go, Pard. I chose to do what I did. You had no say in the matter."
Vin could not hear. Frustration built inside Chris and he screamed out. "What do you want from me, God??? You've got my attention...now what do you want me to do???"
"Well, if I'm on my way to hell, reckon you wouldn't answer, would you?" He stepped closer to Vin, reaching out to him once more. His hand began to pass through the shoulder, but then he stopped the movement, keeping his hand inside the tracker. Vin took in a breath. Chris' gaze widened. "Do you feel that, Vin? Can you feel my hand in your shoulder?"
The others heard the intake of breath and all turned to Vin. "Vin?" Buck asked. "You all right?"
Vin turned his head to look sideways over his shoulder. He nodded once, but said nothing.
"Damn, I'd wish he'd speak. He ain't said a word since Chris was shot."
Chris heard this and turned to Vin. "Hell, I know you don't talk much, but don't shut down, Vin. Don't close up. You hear me?" He tried to squeeze Vin's shoulder, but the effort was futile, he simply couldn't touch anything solid. He pulled his shoulder out of Vin and the tracker reacted, ever so slightly, to the separation. He jerked forward, letting out a small moan. Chris turned to him again and then looked at his hand. He wondered if the others would react the same way. He walked over to Ezra and did what he had done to Vin a few seconds before, but there was no reaction. Buck seemed to look around him, wondering what bug was bothering him, and JD, well JD reacted like Ezra. With no reaction at all. Vin was the only one who had reacted like he had been slugged in the gut, even if only slightly. Chris walked back to his friend and stood at his side, gazing at him with concern. "How the hell can I reach you, Vin? There's got to be a way." He took a step back to lean against the clinic wall. "Reckon I'll just wait with you, if you don't mind. Kinda like to see what I'm supposed to do next." The next thing he found, he was back in the clinic. He had passed through the wall, forgetting that he could not lean against solid objects. He stumbled a bit, then caught himself. "Shit!" he cursed. "Got to remember not to do that." Then he heard Nathan shout out with jubilation.
+ + + + + + +
"Found it!" Nathan exclaimed as he began to suture the bleeding artery.
Josiah grinned. "Knew you could find it, Nathan," he said as he began to swab the area of the blood. "What do you think his chances?"
Nathan gazed down at the pale face and shook his head. "It's going to be touch and go for a few days. He lost a lot of blood, Josiah. I'm just not sure if he'll pull through."
"Then we'll pull him through. You saw the look on Vin's face when he and Buck brought him in?"
"Yeah," Nathan said sadly. "Vin didn't say anything, he just stood there and stared at him while we got ready for the surgery. I know Vin ain't one to talk, but damn, if this didn't shut his voice down all together."
Chris listened intently. Vin's not speaking worried him. Could his death affect the tracker so deeply? He listened as Josiah and Nathan talked while still suturing his body's wound. "Damn this is weird," he said, knowing no one could hear him.
Josiah jerked his head up. "Did you hear that?" he asked.
Nathan glanced up at him for a second then resumed his suturing. "Hear what?"
"Something...thought I heard a voice."
Chris turned to Josiah expectantly. "Josiah? Can you hear me?"
The preacher shrugged. "Must be the others talking outside."
Chris walked up to the large man and yelled into his ear. "Talk to me, Preacher! Tell me what the hell is going on! You're the spiritual man among us! Why am I apart from my body, but my body is still alive?"
Josiah felt a shiver of cold run through him. "Damn, did it just get cold in here to you?"
Nathan smiled. "You've got to be kidding? I'm sweatin' like a pig and you're asking me if I feel cold?"
Josiah shook his head as he reached out a cloth and wiped Nathan's forehead. "Must be my imagination."
Chris knew then that Josiah would be the one to connect with. Vin was in too much shock to sense his presence. Josiah, being more aware of spiritual matters than the others, would no doubt be able to help him connect...somehow. "Damn it, Josiah, I need help. What the hell is going on with me? I've got to talk to Vin and you're the only one who can help me! Think, damn it! Has this ever happened to you before?"
Josiah worked steadily with Nathan as they finished up the closing of the wound. He shrugged off the feeling that he was being watched.
The door opened and Vin pushed himself from the wall. Nathan stepped out, wiping his hands on a towel. There were bloodstains all over the front of his shirt and Vin couldn't take his eyes from them. The rest of the men gathered around. "Well?" Buck asked.
"How is he?" JD piped up.
"Will he make it?" Ezra asked.
Vin said nothing. He just gazed at the bloodstains on Nathan's shirt. Chris was at Nathan's side, wanting to slug Vin across the face. Anything to get him to focus on something other than his blood covering Nathan. "He's alive. The bullet nicked an artery. He lost a lot of blood. He's in a coma. I'm sorry, boys, all I can do now is make sure no infection sets in. The rest is between Chris and God." He looked at Vin and saw the pale skin and the glazed over eyes. "Vin? You want to come inside, sit with him for awhile?"
Vin looked up at Nathan. His gaze tore at the healer's heart. "Vin, go on in now. Let him know you're there."
Vin turned his gaze toward the others. They all encouraged him to go on in, but he backed off a few steps. He shook his head, turned and ran down the stairs. "Vin!" Chris yelled after him. The look in the tracker's eyes had scared him. "Tanner! Hold up!"
"I'll go after him," Buck said and hurried after the tracker who didn't seem to know where he was going. "Vin! Hold up, there, Pard!" Buck called after him, but the younger man didn't acknowledge him.
Vin didn't see Chris running beside him. "Slow down, Tanner! Damn it! How can I make you hear me!" But Vin's eyes were glazed and non-responsive. He was heading down the street into the saloon. People. Vin had to maintain control, and he would force himself to do it in a crowd of people. Chris followed along beside him. Buck still running after the tracker.
Vin walked into the saloon. He headed over to the bar counter and leaned into it, resting his arms on top. The bartender came up and asked him if he wanted whiskey. Vin shook his head. "Beer?" Vin nodded.
Soon a mug of beer was placed in front of him and Vin drank like a man who was dying of thirst. Buck came up to him, slowly. "Vin?"
Vin didn't look at him. He set the mug down and clutched it in both hands. He was shaking. Chris stood on his other side and gazed at his friend with concern. "Damn it, Buck, he's thinkin' about his Ma," Chris said. "He watched her die. Get him to focus on something else."
Buck asked for a beer. "I'll join my friend here."
A mug was placed before him. He was silent for a long moment. He studied Vin's glassy stare and knew what was going through the tracker's mind. "It ain't your fault, Vin. You gotta know that," Buck said, lowly, trying to calm the nervous air that Vin emitted.
Vin slowly ran his fingers across the body of the mug, staring into the air. He heard Buck, but his body was just too numb to force himself to respond.
Buck took a swig of his beer and allowed the silence to creep up between them. He had to take this slow. Vin could bolt at any second if he said the wrong thing. "You can't let this bring you down, Vin. Chris did what he did 'cause he cares about ya'. You know you'd do the same thing for him if the situation called for it. We all know that, hell it ain't no secret how much he means to ya'. The man's like your brother. Well, you gotta know you're like one to him as well. That's why he took that bullet. If you let this drag you down, you're gonna do what Chris wouldn't want ya' to do." Buck could see Vin's hands tightening around the mug, his fingers turning white. "He ain't dead, Vin. With our help, he ain't gonna die. Right now, though, he's got to know we're there for him. He's got to have a reason to hold on. And all of us know that if anyone can reach him, you can."
Vin's fingers eased up on his grip and Buck slowly let out a breath. "You gotta say somethin', though, Pard. You gotta say anything. Get that voice o' yours workin' again."
Vin just stared; then, for the first time since Chris had been shot, he looked at Buck. Buck felt his heart drop into his stomach. This wasn't the Vin Tanner he had come to know so well. This was a lost and scared little boy with a world crumbling around him. Suddenly he understood why Vin had run. "It's your Ma, ain't it? You had to watch her die and you think you're gonna have to watch Chris die. That's just somethin' you can't come to grips with. That's it, isn't it?"
Vin said nothing, but his eyes told the story. Buck sighed. "Damn, Vin, how'd you and Chris get so damn close in such a short time? What is it about the two of you?"
Vin turned his gaze back to his beer. He took another swig.
Chris watched both his friends as Buck tried to coax Vin into going back to the clinic. "Vin, listen to Buck, now. Don't you go crawling inside yourself. Buck's right. That's not what I want you to do."
Buck swallowed down the rest of his beer. "Can't force ya' to go back, Vin. Only you can know what Chris needs right now. I just know that if you were in that bed, wild horses couldn't drag Chris from your side." Buck reached into his pocket and threw two coins on the counter, paying for both his beer and Vin's. He rested a hand on Vin's shoulder. "It won't be like watching your Ma die, Pard."
Vin looked up at him, the sorrow filling his eyes. He tried to open his mouth, to say something, but the words caught in his throat. He gave up and turned away from Buck, walking out the doors.
Chris watched him leave in sadness. Vin was heading away from the clinic. "Leave him be, Buck. I understand what he's going through."
Buck sighed. "Sorry, Chris. Just never knew Vin's pain ran so deep."
"Neither did I," Chris muttered. He thought of where Vin could be and in an instant he was in the livery...where Vin was bedding down the gunslinger's horse. Vin was brushing down the black with slow, even strokes, gently letting his left hand follow the brush's trail on the coat. "You don't have to do that, Vin," Chris said as he walked up to his friend. Vin kept brushing, his face set and determined. Did he even know what he was doing? Was his mind even on the task he was performing? Chris shook his head. "If you could hear me, I'd tell you that I understand why you're not back at the clinic. I'd tell you not to fret over it. No guilt about not being there. You are there; I see it in your eyes. You're just so damn scared right now. Me, too, I suppose. Never been like this before," he held out his arms and looked at himself. He lifted his eyes to Vin. "Can't see me, can't hear me, but somehow...I know there's a way to reach you. I just have to find it. Why am I like this...right now? Why can you feel me, even if only a little bit, when I run my hand through your shoulder? Why have you stopped talking, Vin?" He walked over to the tracker who rubbed his hands gently over the black's coat, as if the horse were a treasure and he was shining it up.
"Can you hear me, Vin? Can you even sense I'm here at your side? It's the strangest feeling, knowing my body is somewhere else and yet, I'm here able to walk and talk and hear and see everyone around me." Chris' voice drifted. "I'll find a way to reach you, cowboy. If death is waiting for me, then I'm not leaving until I know you and the others are going to be all right."
Vin turned and walked back to the tack box. He stumbled and fell to one knee. Chris watched, helpless to do anything but observe. Vin slowly pushed himself to his feet and threw the brush back into the box. He stood there, unmoving, gazing at the saddle that hung on the stall door. He walked over to it and rested a hand on the leather. 'Don't die, Chris,' he thought.
Chris jerked his head to the side. "What did you say, Vin?" God, he hated the lost look in his friend's eyes. Those blue orbs shut and the thought came to Chris again. 'Don't ya' leave me behind, cowboy.'
"I'm right here, Vin. I ain't going anywhere!" He could hear Vin's thoughts! Why couldn't he hear them before? What made these thoughts so clear as if Vin had spoken them aloud? Could he get Vin to hear 'his' thoughts? He tried. 'I'm right here, Vin! Right here!'
But there was no reaction. Vin removed his hand from the saddle and wiped a hand over his eyes. Chris would have thrown his fist into a wall...if he could have. "Damn it, God! What are you doing to me here? What's the purpose of all this?"
Suddenly he was back in the clinic. Buck was talking quietly to Nathan and Josiah as Ezra and JD waited outside on the catwalk. Chris' body rested on the bed, covered to his chest, which was bandaged now. Chris looked down at himself and saw his pale face; his head resting on the pillow. "Hell, Larabee, you've looked better, I gotta admit," he said.
"I'll talk to Vin," Josiah said with a sigh. "He's got to be here."
"He's running scared, Josiah," Buck said. "Never thought I'd see the day Vin Tanner ever ran from anything in his life, 'cept maybe a bounty hunter."
"Running from this is pretty much the same thing, Buck," the preacher observed.
"How so? His best friend is lying in a coma and he ain't here! I call that plum selfish."
"Oh, shut up, Buck!" Chris snarled. "You don't see it clearly like I do!"
Josiah shook his head. "It's self-preservation, Buck. The same way he's run from bounty hunters, he's running from the very possible fact that Chris could die...and he'd watch it happen. It's like when a fire burns too hot, we pull away to protect ourselves. It's a basic instinct to keep ourselves from pain."
"It's selfish!" Buck snarled. "If Vin was in that bed Chris would be right there with him! Not running off scared he was gonna die."
Chris shook his head. "A lot you know, Wilmington. Did it ever occur to you that maybe I don't want Vin to see me die??? Huh??? Maybe I want him to stay away! Hell, I don't need him to come to me...I can go to him just by thinking about it." Chris felt that frustration building again.
Josiah looked around, raising a hand. "Boys? I suggest you both head over to the saloon and fill everyone in. I'll stay with Chris for awhile. Go on," he ushered both Nathan and Buck out of the room and closed the door after them. He turned and looked at Chris on the bed. He hurried over to his friend's side and sat down. He leaned closer to the unconscious man's ear. "Chris?"
Chris knelt beside Josiah and looked up at him. "You can sense something's happening, can't you, Josiah? Tell me that you can. I'm at a loss here. I don't know what's happening with me."
Josiah took Chris' hand. "Chris, you're there aren't ya'? You can hear what we're saying."
"Yes!" Chris yelled. "That's it, Josiah, well all except the part about me being...there." He pointed at his body. "I'm here! Right next to ya'!" He put his hand on Josiah's shoulder. Josiah jumped and turned and for a moment he thought he saw Chris beside him, smiling up at him, then in another moment the image disappeared. Josiah let Chris' hand go and stood as if startled. "Damn! That was strange!"
"For me, too," Chris said. "I felt you, Josiah. Just for a second, I could feel your shoulder!"
Josiah paced the clinic room as he tried to piece together what had happened in the last hour. He figured at first that what he had seen was just his imagination. His desire to see Chris respond in some way, while still unconscious. It was known to happen. Desires manifesting into reality, but still not being real. But...what if it had been real? What if he had seen Chris'...spirit...talking to him? Reaching out to him in some way? He was a spiritual man...who was he to question the Maker and his ways?
The door opened and Nathan walked in. "Josiah? Vin's at the livery. He won't come out. He just sits there. Maybe you should go and talk to him now."
Josiah knew then that there was a reason he had seen Chris. "I'll go right now." He grabbed his hat from the table by the doorway and headed out. Nathan had never seen a more determined pace in his friend's steps before.
+ + + + + + +
Chris listened from the livery doorway as Josiah approached the stall where Vin was sitting in a corner. "Brother Vin? May I sit with you for a spell?"
Vin pulled his leg up, indicating his invitation for Josiah to join him, but the tracker said nothing. "Come on, Josiah, reach him for me," Chris urged as he walked over to the stall and watched.
Josiah sat beside Vin and stretched his legs out. "I like stables, Vin. Yeah, they smell and what not, but the essence of the animals nearby can be quite calming. I find myself coming here just to brush the horses down, let them know a friend is nearby. I see you took care of Chris' horse for him."
Vin said nothing, just kept staring straight ahead. "Vin, I know the others have told you that what happened ain't your fault. And I believe that deep down inside...you believe that to be true as well. If it wasn't the bounty on your head, some day another man would probably take a shot at you simply because he didn't like the way you wore your hat or your coat, or the way you don't talk much to others. I know what's going through your mind, Vin. You keep seeing Chris taking that bullet for you. You keep seeing him get hit in the chest and falling at your feet. You keep seeing the blood and you keep reminding yourself it's because of the bounty on your head that Chris is where he is now. It is because of the bounty, Vin, but that man pulled the trigger on you in cold blood. He shot Chris in cold blood, but it could have been you had Chris not taken the bullet. And Chris would be the one feeling guilty right now, because he could not have stopped you from being hit, maybe even killed. It's a funny thing, guilt. It cuts both ways. In situations like this, no one really emerges unscathed from it."
Vin did not take his gaze away from the wall in front of him, but Josiah could see the pools of tears welling up in the tracker's eyes. Josiah leaned back against the stall wall and sighed. "Vin, do you know the story of Jonathan and David?"
Vin said nothing.
Chris listened intently.
"Theirs was a friendship that nothing could extinguish. Knitted at the soul, the Bible depicts. Knitted at the soul. Knitted is just another word for intertwined. Two threads becoming one completed cloth. Jonathan had to be anywhere from ten to fifteen years older than David. David was so young, but so strong in his faith that Jonathan saw in him a kindred spirit. I look at you and Chris, Vin, and I see the same strong threads intertwining. You would be David and Chris would be Jonathan. Two souls, knitted together by the hand of God, if you will. I imagine that not even death would separate you two."
Josiah looked over at Vin and saw one tear streak down the tracker's face. "I know you don't want Chris to die, Vin. You're so scared of that possibility that you're running from it, hoping that if you get far enough away it won't happen, you won't see it happen. And that will be fine for you, my friend, but what about Chris? What if he dies and you never could say to him all you wanted to say? Maybe, though, in the case of you two, all that ever needed to be said has been said. Maybe Chris doesn't want you there at all, maybe he doesn't want you to see him pass on from this world into the next. Maybe...he understands your fear. And it is a fear, Vin, oh, Lord, yes, it is a very powerful fear. It fills a man, chokes his voice, paralyzes him. It shuts him down to where he can't really think what to do, where to go. Don't think Chris doesn't understand that feeling. I can guarantee, anyone who's suffered through loss has gone through it. And you went through it, too, long ago...when your mother passed away. It's not shameful, Vin, to be afraid of losing someone you care about. That fear stems from love and we all know how powerful love is."
At this Vin turned to Josiah, a questioning look in his gaze. "Yes, Vin, I'm talking about love. Men don't speak of that kind of thing with each other, because, well it's just not something we're taught to do. But David and Jonathan's friendship was so deep that they wept on each other's shoulders when they were forced apart by Jonathan's father who wanted to kill David because he feared the shepherd boy was going to steal his crown. They wept, unabashed, Vin. A friendship so pure and strong that God saw fit to record it in His word. And he even put in the words, 'And Jonathan loved David as his own soul.' You love Chris as your own soul, Vin. You don't ever have to say the words, because what you're doing right now proves it. You're afraid that if Chris dies, your soul will go with him. I'm even willing to bet that you will turn yourself in at Tascosa if Chris dies, because you will have given up any fight to live."
Chris jerked at this. "Like hell he will!" he blurted out.
Josiah continued. "Words of wisdom to live by, Vin...sometimes the bravest thing we can do...is keep on living. As much as that fear you possess stems from your love of Chris, there is also a great strength that can stem from that love as well. Can you find it in yourself to latch onto that strength? Can you do that...for Chris?"
Vin looked at Josiah and the preacher saw in Vin's eyes the truth that Vin could not, at that moment, speak. He would find the strength. He would keep on living.
Josiah patted Vin's knee and pushed himself to his feet. "Come to Chris when you're ready, Vin. I know beyond any doubt, that if he is to die, he won't until you're ready to let him go."
Josiah gazed at Vin who stared back up at him from where he sat on the straw. The look in the tracker's eyes expressed gratitude and Josiah nodded to him.
As Josiah passed Chris, the gunslinger looked after him with admiration. "Thank you, Josiah." He turned to see Vin getting to his feet. The tracker stood, leaning back against the stall wall, his head lowered. 'Never thought about it, Chris,' he thought and Chris could hear the words in his friend's mind. 'It'll hurt like hell to see you go. Not sure I can face it.'
Chris stepped up closer to him, wanting to touch him in some way. 'God, Vin, this is tearing you up. How can I?' He thought back to when he was able to touch Vin through the shoulder. An idea struck him and he laid his hand over Vin's chest, he then slowly eased it through, over the heart...and kept it there. Vin jerked back as he took in a breath. Chris watched his friend's reaction with worry, but needing to know if this would somehow pull Vin from his pain. Vin leaned back, putting his hand to his heart, never feeling Chris' hand all ready there. "Come on, Vin. Hold on."
Vin felt the cold filter into his chest like a shard of ice. It took him completely by surprise. He gasped as if in pain.
Chris pulled his hand out quickly. "Damn it! What did I do?"
Vin fell to his knees, clutching his chest. Chris knelt beside him. "Vin!"
His friend was breathing in heavily, as if the air had been torn from his lungs. "Vin! I'm sorry! I had no idea it would do that to you!" Chris stood and ran his hands through his hair. "Damn it, Larabee! You're only making matters worse for him!" He stopped as understanding hit. "Making matters worse," he thought out loud. "I'm not supposed to reach you, Vin. That's it." He turned to his friend who was pushing himself to his feet once more, shaking his head. "You're supposed to reach me!" Chris smiled as he began to put the puzzle together, but then the smile faded. "If that's true, then why...why am I still like this? Why am I here? Why is my...spirit, I guess...able to run around and see and hear?" He walked up to Vin who was breathing easier now, but still rubbing his chest where Chris' hand had entered. "Why can I read your thoughts some times and not at others? Why can't I read anyone else's mind?"
Vin coughed and looked around him. He said nothing, and if he was thinking anything at that moment, Chris couldn't 'hear' him. "Help me, Vin! You've got to reach me, Pard! I can't reach you!"
Vin walked over to the livery door and gazed down toward the clinic. With resolve he headed down the street.
Chris fell into step beside him. "Vin, whatever happens, just know I..." he stopped as he gazed at the tracker's eyes. The lost, hopeless look, the giving up look. "Just know I understand, cowboy."
At that moment, Mary's voice could be heard calling out to Vin. The tracker turned to see her walking up to him, holding her son's hand. "Vin, Billy and I were going to check on Mister Larabee. Have you heard anything?"
Vin looked over to the clinic. He then turned to her and shook his head.
Billy reached up and tugged on Vin's jacket. Vin squatted down and looked at him questioningly. "Is Chris gonna be all right, Vin?"
Vin saw the hurt in Billy's face. Since Billy's father had been murdered, Chris had sort of filled in as a surrogate to the child. Taking him fishing, horseback riding, acting in many ways like a father would to a son. Seeing Billy like this now, thinking, too, that Chris was going to die...it tore at Vin's soul and he stood. He shook his head at Mary, turned and walked away into the shadows of the nearest alley.
Chris saw Mary and Billy and his look was full of compassion. Mary had tears in her eyes.
"Why didn't Vin talk to us?" Billy asked.
"He's worried about Chris too, Billy. Sometimes worry makes us stay very quiet, because we don't feel like talking."
When Chris turned to go after Vin, he stopped as an image filled his mind. Vin was...suffocating. No...Vin was drowning, a millstone tied around his neck and he was drowning, trying to stay above water, but the millstone was dragging him under. And what was worse was that the water was choking off his voice and he couldn't call out for help. Was Chris seeing into Vin's soul at that moment? Was he seeing what the tracker kept carefully hidden...even from him? So much weight to carry, so much pain in his young life, adding extra weight to the millstone around his neck. It was a torture to see and Chris tried to pull away from the image, but it filled his mind, forcing him to look, not letting him turn away.
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