by Clair

It was stupid, Vin knew. Maybe even worse than stupid, maybe it was downright mean. Mean and stupid, maybe that’s what it was. What he was. Mean and stupid.

Because he was glad Chris got shot.

What was he expecting anyway, coming in on Chris, telling him Ella’s business, how she was laying some kind of trap. Even as wild-broke and rough as he was, Vin knew there was “company manners” and there was “back door manners.” He just forgot that sometimes things were different in a man from when he was on a dusty trail to when he was polished and starched and standing in some fancy lady’s fancy parlor.

He hadn’t expected Chris to thank him – but he had expected Chris to believe him. He sure hadn’t expected it to hurt so bad when Chris didn’t believe him. So he said the most hurtful thing he could think to say to Chris: Come the morning I’ll be gone. Only it didn’t seem to hurt Chris at all.

So Vin was glad he got shot.

After that, after he told Chris he’d be gone, Vin sat out under the trees, under the stars, watching the windows glow with the lamps and festivities inside. He waited and hurt, alone. Come morning he’d leave. He had nothing to go back to Four Corners for, everything he owned he carried in his saddlebags. He wouldn’t say goodbye to anybody, there was no point in that. Just saddle up his horse and go. Leave Chris to his own consequences.

If the moon had just been a little brighter Vin could’ve up and left right then.

But he didn’t. He figured that was stupid too.

He didn’t sleep that night, the air was alive with something deadly about to happen. Vin knew the sensation of it. He watched the lamps go out one by one, and tightened the hold he had on his mare’s leg. Chris might be a bigger fool than Vin had ever thought a man could be, but to let a man like Chris Larabee die of his own stupidity just didn’t seem right.

Once the smoke cleared though, Vin would be gone. He never had to be told twice that he wasn’t wanted. Maybe he didn’t have any book learning, but he sure had made a study of knowing his place among folks. There was nothing to be gained but misery by lingering where you weren’t wanted. He had some things to take care of anyway, didn’t he? Go back to Tascosa, clear his name.

Knowing that Chris wouldn’t be going with him had felt like poison in his soul. But Vin Tanner never stayed where he wasn’t wanted by folks who used to be his friends. He never hung onto the promises they were never going to keep. He wasn’t that stupid.

So Ella shot Chris, and Vin was glad of it.

The whole fracas happened so fast, and ended so fast, that Vin didn’t have time to think about anything until it was over. He saw Chris go down and – her back to him or not – Vin took aim and fired his gun at a woman for the first time in his life.

He couldn’t tell yet if he was sorry or not that he missed.

Chris did something odd then – shot and bleeding, and looking like a man who’d just been pole-axed, he pulled himself to his feet and went back into the house. There was so much was going on around them that nobody else seemed to notice and nobody else made a move to either stop Chris or help him. Vin couldn’t even begin to guess what Chris might be after, though the determined way he was moving made Vin think there might be one or two bad guys left that Chris wanted to finish off.

So Vin followed him in. He wouldn’t leave before a job was done, and that was all this was to him anymore. Just a job he was doing for money and nothing else.

Nobody else.

That’s what Vin was telling himself anyway.

He followed Chris into a little room upstairs, where Larabee started picking things up from a table. They looked like ladies things and Vin decided that if Chris was so addled he was keeping mementoes of Ella, then good riddance. Chris stood there hurt and bleeding and Vin was glad Chris got shot because he wanted him to know how bad it hurt to be betrayed by somebody you trusted. By just about the only person in the world you ever trusted. And if he had to hurt that bad from being that stupid, then he was glad that Chris had to hurt too.

But then he heard Chris whisper ‘Sarah’ and suddenly a whole lot of little pieces tried to cram into a place they didn’t quite fit. Suddenly this was no longer about Chris being with Ella, this was about why Ella shot him and why she’d set a trap in the first place.

Chris kept picking up things until it got to be more than he could carry and Vin looked about for something to carry them in. If those pieces had something to do with Sarah and Adam, Vin didn’t want Chris to lose a single one of them. In a room just across the hall, he pulled a pillowcase off of its pillow and brought it back to hand to Chris. He offered it and Chris took it, both without saying anything.

Except for a softly spoken ’She killed them.’ and that was all.

Vin began to see that Larabee was bleeding from more places than just a gunshot wound.

Just as he was about to ask Chris what had happened, what was happening here, Nathan and Josiah discovered them and set about getting Chris somewhere Nathan could take care of him. One of them pushed the pillowcase into Vin’s hands and he stood there holding it, watching the three men make their way down the hallway.

+ + + + + + +

So now Chris sat out on the porch of the boardinghouse, wounded and vulnerable, in sunlight that was as cold as the look Mary Travis was giving him. Even Buck seemed to be having trouble knowing what to say to Larabee. Vin watched from a distance away. Sitting there, in that condition, Chris wouldn’t be able to defend himself from a gnat, much less any fool come looking for an easy reputation.

Chris saw him the one time, and looked maybe surprised that Vin hadn’t left town yet. It figured that would be the word Chris would take him at, and not the truth he had turned up on Ella. It would’ve saved everybody a lot of heartache if Chris had believed that.

Vin gradually let go of the idea of heading off to Tascosa alone. He wouldn’t leave town, he’d signed on for a job, and with Chris laid up for even a little while, he just kind of naturally fell in as boss of the operation. There’d been talk about going after Ella, they finally settled on sending out telegrams and waiting for her to go to ground. That left Vin with watching over the town, and watching over Chris.

The others had told Vin about Ella and the fire that had claimed Sarah and Adam, though none could say whether they believed her outright or whether they thought she’d twisted the truth into her own vision of reality. They wouldn’t know either, unless and until they ever found her.

Until that time though, there stood in front of Vin the biggest hurdle he ever had to find his way across.

He had to find a way and a reason to start talking to Chris again.

They hadn’t really said anything since that night. Not to each other, not to anybody really. Vin didn’t know what to say to Chris, and he didn’t know what he wanted to hear either. Finally, he just held his breath and walked down the street to Chris. It wasn’t until he was actually standing next to him that Chris looked up from a piece of paper he had in his hand. He gave Vin that look again, like he was surprised to see him.

“Sorry ya got shot.” Vin said. He couldn’t have sweared in a court of law that it was the truth.

“I got stupid.” Chris answered.

“We all get stupid sometimes Chris. Stupid and mean.”

Chris lifted the paper in his hand. “She’s still alive.”

“We’ll get her.”

“I thought ya were pulling out.”

A few answers rolled around Vin’s brain. “I thought I was too.”

Then neither of them said anything else for a minute. Vin dipped his head. “I was glad ya got shot Chris. Don’t know that I am still, but I was.” A wagon rolling down the middle of the street almost drowned out Larabee’s answer.

“I was glad too.” He said. “It whalloped some sense back into me.” He folded the paper in his hand and stuffed it into his shirt pocket. “I reckon I won’t be that stupid again.”

“Yeah.” Vin was thinking the same thing about himself.

“I’m glad ya didn’t pull out.” Chris added.

“Yeah.” Vin said again. He pulled up a chair, and sat next to Chris. “I’m glad too.”

The End

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