Spoilers: emphasis on Manhunt; indirect reference to Ghosts of the Confederacy
"Gonna try to tell me you ain't proud of that boy?"
I don't bother looking up. Don't have to. Know exactly who's talking to me. I saw Josiah come in a few minutes ago, heard him sit down beside me at the bar. He had been quiet up until then, which was fine by me. I had been trying to. . .I don't know. I don't know what I was trying to do. Hell, I can't even figure out what I'm thinking, much less what I was trying to do two minutes ago. But Josiah Sanchez can't be ignored, much as I might want to right now. I tell him, "He's one of my men, he ain't my son."
"He's your best friend, and even if you can't admit that you're proud of him, I can," Josiah responds. I look up at him, startled by this admission, and Josiah says quietly, "No matter how it started, he was right, Chris. And even if you're mad at him for goin' after Chanu, when he shoulda been resting. . .you know you're proud of him. If he hadn't done what he done, a lot more people would be dead right now. You know it, and I know it. And really, who are you mad at? Vin, for being determined to find Chanu himself? Buck and Ezra? Chanu? Moseley?"
"All of them," I answer. And it's true. When JD came to get me, babbling about the jail and Vin being hurt, I was afraid. I don't handle fear well. I never have. Being afraid makes me angry. And because I was afraid, I was angry when JD barreled into me, babbling about Vin and the jail and Chanu. I was angry when I found out he trusted Chanu, even a little bit, and nearly died because of it. What the hell was he thinking? Did he really think he could trust a desperate man? I was angry when he refused to listen to reason and insisted on riding after Chanu himself. I was angry with Reverend Moseley, for killing his own flesh and blood. With Rafe Moseley and the other hotheads in town for trying to punish innocent people for the sins, real or imagined, of one man. I was angry when Buck and Ezra. . .
"All of them," I repeat, and look up at Josiah. He's watching me. I tell him, "I'm angry with Chanu, oh yeah. I'm angry with Claire, for not tellin' us. I'm mad as hell at that bastard Moseley for killin' his own child. And Vin. . .Vin should have been resting. He had no business even bein' on a horse after what Chanu did to him, much less tracking him. I don't even want to think about how he must have reacted when they found Claire's body. I know him, Josiah, I know the way his mind works. He blamed himself. And then to have Buck and Ezra. . ."
I can't finish. Josiah does it for me, saying quietly, "To have Buck and Ezra all but say that Vin didn't care about that girl dying. . .that was a little too much. They didn't know, Chris. And Buck helped you to carry Vin to his hotel room after Vin collapsed. He's over there now. Judge Travis convinced him to go see him. He's making things right, as best he can. Vin doesn't hold it against him."
Yeah, Buck helped me to get Vin. . .no. No, that's not right. After Vin collapsed, when we got back to town, it was Buck who caught him. I grabbed his other side, and we got him to the hotel, where he could finally rest. Really rest, not just shut his eyes for a few hours to appease Nathan. It ain't that he don't trust Nathan to watch his back. . .naw, trust don't enter into this picture. Vin's guilt and fury woulda kept him from resting.
"I'm angry with Vin, too," I admit after a moment, "I'm mad as hell at him for trustin' Chanu. What the hell was he thinkin,' letting Chanu close enough? Didn't he know how desperate Chanu was? Huh? Don't he know he coulda been killed?" Stupid questions, of course. Vin ain't stupid. He knows how close he came to dying. But why didn't he know how desperate Chanu was?
"Oh, I'd say he knows, brother Chris. He's got the bruises on his throat to remind him how close he came to dyin,' as well as the knock on the head. Now, you ask some good questions. Sure, Vin could have tossed that food through the bars. But he needed to hear Chanu's side of the story. Because he knows what it's like to be falsely accused. And if he could get Chanu to trust him, if he could find out the truth. . .then he could help Chanu," Josiah replied. I stare at him. . .how. . .?
The preacher man smiles faintly and adds, "Found his wanted poster, not long after we started protecting the town. Hid it straightaway, where JD couldn't find it. You know that boy. Got the best of intentions, but he don't always think. I know about the bounty, and I know that young man didn't murder nobody. His secret's safe with me." I release my breath. Ever since Vin told me about that damn bounty. . .it's been a source of worry for me. Except for me and Josiah, ain't no one else who knows about that. Nathan don't rightly care, and the others. . .
Oh yeah. Me. Chris Larabee. The infamous gunfighter, worried about a scruffy tracker and fugitive. In the last few weeks, I've heard all the attempts to explain my. . .well, my friendship with Vin. And how a hard, cold gunslinger allowed himself to trust, to care about a former buffalo hunter, former bounty hunter, from the beginning. But it can't be explained. It's just there, and the only thing I can do now is accept it. Fightin' it ain't even an option, at least, most of the time, it ain't.
At least until that hardheaded, stubborn Texan decides that he's gonna ride off after the man who attacked him, never mind that he ain't in no condition to go nowhere. Josiah says softly, "You never lost faith in him, did you? Not even when Moseley returned with Claire's body." I shake my head. No. I never did. And maybe that was part of the problem. Not that I never lost faith in Vin, but it never occurred to me that Buck and Ezra. . .
I shoulda told them the whole story. I just didn't think it was necessary. Vin has never given Buck or Ezra. . .hell, he's never given any of us reason not to trust him! And all Vin wanted was a chance for Chanu to tell his side of the story. . .justice. Hell, I thought that's why we were here. On the other hand, it was almost worth it, to see the look on Standish's face when I did tell him and Buck, on the way to the Indian reservation, after Mary warned us. . .
"Yes," I finally say, my voice dropping until only the preacher can hear me, "yes, I am proud of him. But if ya spread that around, preacher. . ." Josiah grins almost indulgently, as if I'm no older than JD. Hell, I can't remember that far back! And I know I'm just trying to distract myself from the truth. All right. I'm proud of that stubborn, ornery Texan. I'm proud of him for never giving up, I'm proud of him for being so damn stubborn. I'm proud of him listening to his gut, instead of to everything else. And I know what Josiah is about to tell me. Before the words are out of his mouth, I hold up my hand, saying, "I'm on my way."
And I am. I leave the saloon and head over to the hotel, where Vin's been staying ever since he collapsed. I've noticed Rafe Moseley skulking about guiltily, always managing to disappear when he sees me. I'll let him sweat a few more days, before telling him I don't hold his father's actions against him. Maybe he'll think before he shoots off his mouth next time. And maybe not. That's not my concern.
My concern, I discover, is asleep at the moment. Buck is still sitting at his side. Watching his back, I suppose. Buck looks up as I enter, relaxing ever so slightly, and I realize my first inclination was correct. Buck tensed, as if ready to react to a threat. Vin stirs, then opens his eyes. He blinks a few times, then smiles sleepily when he sees me. And it's then, I understand. Yes, I'm very proud of him. . .but I don't have to say the words. He already knows.
But in my heart, with my eyes, I say it any how. *I'm real proud of you, Vin.*
His answer is simple, *Thanks, cowboy. For that, and for your trust.*
Not long ago, JD got it into his head to compare each of us to animals, after Vin told him about the spirit animals. . .spirit guides, in the forms of animals. JD decided that my animal was a lion. I still ain't sure how he got that, but Ezra commented that a group of lions was called a pride. And Josiah went even further by comparing our group to a pride of lions. And right now, it seems so appropriate, so right. A pride of lions. A lion's pride.
Comments to: LadiSwan@aol.com