It's All in the Spelling

by SoDak7

He felt the sting just above the gun belt on his left side. Turning to put all his weight in the right stirrup, and bringing his left leg over his horse’s rump he began to dismount but he didn’t move quite fast enough. "Damn," he muttered as another shot whizzed by leaving a burning crease on his left cheekbone. Hitting the ground and holding onto his reins he kept the horse between him and the shooter until he reached an outcropping of rocks. Squeezing himself down between two boulders he prepared himself for the fight of his life. He was in a bad situation. Whoever the gunman was, he had the high ground and he sure seemed to be one hell of a shot.

Quiet reigned for a few seconds and then the rock he was hiding behind got peppered with more bullets. "Aw hell," the tracker cursed as he scrunched down as low as he could get. Reckon I’m gonna have to wait this one out, he thought to himself. Right now, he was safe, but when, and he knew there would be a when, when the sharpshooter got closer to him, it could all be over in a matter of minutes. Every time he tried to look out the bullets would zing in and around his head. Didn’t give him much time to take stock of the situation or the surrounding area.

The man had to be about 400 feet in front and slightly above him. Vin knew there was a deer trail just to the right of him which would lead him to a wooded area and put him a little higher than he was right now. Trouble was, there was about 50 feet of absolutely nothing between here and that trail and there was no way in hell he’d be able to make a run for it not the way this guy was shooting off lead. Even if he could run flat out, which he couldn’t because of the wound to his left side, the odds were definitely stacked against him. Hell, Ezra wouldn’t even put a bet on this.

Once again there was a spell of quietness. The tracker figured his one and only out was in hoping that the shooter was an impatient man. Figuring him to be a bounty hunter, Vin hoped he was in a hurry to get that reward money. Hell, maybe he didn’t know how bad he’d hit him with that first bullet. If the man thought his victim was bleeding out and was of no trouble, then he just might make a mistake and let his guard down and that’s what the ex-bounty hunter was putting his hopes on. If he just stayed still, the man was bound to get curious and come lookin’. Once again, his life depended a lot on hopes. Not many men could be as patient as he could and that fact alone had saved his hide more than once.

He didn’t have to wait long. When he heard the voice, a feral grin touched the corners of his mouth. Now, I’ve got ya where I want ya, he thought to himself as he levered himself up on his right elbow, priming his mare’s leg. Just come on down here and get me.

+ + + + + + +

"Hey Tanner. Vin Tanner," the voice called out. "Got me a poster that says you’re worth five hundred dollars. Easy money. Now, why don’t you come on out of there and let me see you. I know I didn’t hit you that bad."

Damn it ta hell, the Texan thought. Some days it just wasn’t worth gettin’ out of a bedroll. He really needed to get that bounty off his head. It was becoming a real pain in the ass.

Laying quietly, he strained to hear anything out of the ordinary. Finally hearing a tiny noise that sounded like a boot hitting on a pebble, he made his move. Springing up from his spot between the rocks, sawed off leveled belt high, he fired off a bullet. Seeing his tormentor fall to the right side, and knowing the man’s vision was obscured by the boulders that he had been hiding behind, Vin took off at a run, well, a limping run and headed up the deer trail. Squatting at the top of the trail he looked back down to where he last saw the shooter. The man was gone.

"Damn," he said aloud. He knew he'd hit the man, but just wasn’t for sure how bad. Now, both of them were injured, but the tracker felt better knowing he‘d evened up the odds. And now, now Ezra would place a bet and Vin knew without a doubt the gambler would put all his money on him. A smile graced the handsome face as he thought about the conman and he could practically "see" him counting his money, grinning and showing off his gold tooth. Well Ez, let’s just make this a payoff for you, he mused as he headed into the brush knowing instinctively where the wounded man would head.

Coming upon some large blood stains Vin knew he was close. The way the man was bleeding he knew he wouldn’t last long, but that didn’t make him any less dangerous. A man that was about to die didn’t care who he took with him or how he did it. And sure enough, just as he was thinking that thought he heard a yell and the area in which he was standing was peppered with more bullets. Diving to the ground, he came up on a knee and fired back, luckily his bullets rang true. The shooter fell backwards into a sitting position up against an old stump but he wasn’t about to die easily. Keeping his colt trained on the tracker, he gave a wicked grin and began to taunt him.

"I’d heard you were a tricky one Tanner," the man said as the colt began to dip in his hand. "I got you though didn’t I? Just sorry it wasn’t bad enough. Should have been more patient I ‘spose. He raised the gun a little more as the wanted man came near him. Squinting at the Texan as he came close to him he said, "You won’t live long Tanner, I’ve got someone you’ll have to answer to. You’ll see… your days are numbered. That five hundred dollars will be in my family no matter of this outcome. You’ll see," he said again as he began to cough and the gun slipped further from his fingers.

Vin had approached the man slowly after shooting him down the second time. Even though the man raised his gun at him, he could see there was no fight left in him. He was gut shot from the first hit and this time the tracker had hit him right near the heart. Hard to believe the man was still alive let alone talking, but Vin figured to hear him out especially if there was another one that would come looking for him.

Glancing around, Vin heard the man chuff out a laugh.

"Already got ya worried huh? Well, you…you are a dead man Tanner. My bro…my brother will come after you and he’ll hunt you down. You’ll die…die like the animal you are, damn murderer…hell, I hope he takes you in gut shot and then hangs you. Would…would serve you right. You… you should be watching your backside now…cuz you are a dead man. He’s fast, my brother is…deadly fast. Fastest this side of the Miss… Mississippi, you’ll never get him with that hog leg of yours…" Another try at a laugh and the blood trickled out of the mouth and down the chin. "Maybe…maybe I should tell you who he is…who my broth…brother is. You are a dead man Vin…Vin Tanner. Could be…maybe you’ve heard of him. Name’s Larabee. Chris Larabee…and you are a dead man." One more attempt at a laugh and the light went out in the man’s eyes, the gun falling harmlessly to the ground. It was a good thing too, that he died that is, because he would have gotten a thrill looking at the tracker and seeing him go white as a ghost.

+ + + + + + +

It was as though a buffalo had slammed into his chest. His breathing became constricted and the pounding of his heart was blocking out everything as it seemed much too loud reverberating through every pore in his body. He felt himself go lightheaded as the blood drained away from his brain to go God only knew where, but it felt like it all had drained from his body. He figured he was going into shock, his skin turning clammy and he was starting to shake. He needed to sit down. He backed into a rock sitting down when the rough edge hit him in the back of the knees. The eyes wide and disbelieving, he felt like a fish out of water as he tried to grasp what he’d just heard.

"Oh my god, oh my god," he whispered. "What have I done? Chris," he cried out in a softly pained voice. "What have I done?"

Letting the mare’s leg fall downward in his hand and his head following suit, the tracker let his grief and sorrow flow out of him. He’d killed his best friend’s brother. Chris, who had already gone through so much hurt in his life now had another to deal with, and it was by his so-called best friend’s own hand. How was he going to live with this? How could he live, period, knowing what he’d done. God, but he’d never ever hurt Chris, he’d die first. But now…now, look what he’d done. He wouldn’t blame the gunfighter if he just shot him outright. It’s what he deserved. This…this…curse…this bounty, was costing him so much. It was hard living with the fact that all of the men that he rode with were put in harm’s way because of the price on his head, but it was something they’d all convinced him that they could live with, hell, they were all running from things, and most had sworn enemies who could retaliate against any of them at any time. It’s why they were so careful in watching each other’s backs. You just never knew…you never knew.

Lifting his head and looking at the dead man, Chris’s brother, through red and swollen eyes, he let himself ‘really look’ at the man. He had light hair like Chris. The eyes? Were the eyes the same greens and browns of his best friend? He didn’t know. He hadn’t paid attention. The build? It was slight and lean like Larabee’s. Damn it all to hell, just looking at him he could see the similarities. He should have known, shouldn’t he have? He’d never seen the man, not really, not until just a few minutes ago. But he should have known…somehow. God, but he hurt. And his head hurt the most, no, take that back. His heart hurt the most. He wasn’t sure, but it felt like maybe it had just broken in two.

Taking in a big breath, he let it out slowly. He knew what he had to do. There was no way he’d ever not bring this man, this brother, to Chris. His friend deserved to know what happened to his kin. He knew he’d lose the friendship of the best man he’d ever ridden with, hell, maybe Larabee would even let him live. No matter. If he didn’t have Chris’s friendship and companionship, it wouldn’t be like living anyway. Maybe he’d just shoot him. Then everyone would be safe, at least safe from him and all those damn bounty hunters. Maybe that would be the best thing that could happen. He resigned himself to the fact that whatever happened, it would be for the best.

+ + + + + + +

Early morning found the tracker pulling up in front of the undertaker’s store. Pounding on the door, he waited until Mr. Locker came and answered it. Talking to the man for a few minutes before leaving the body and the horse at the hitching post, Vin led Peso to the livery and slowly began to untack his horse. Hearing someone enter the barn he turned and watched as Buck snuck into the building carefully looking back out the doors craning his neck to look both ways down the street. No doubt the man had been caught, or had almost been caught, in the wrong woman’s bed and there was a husband or boyfriend out looking for him. If he didn’t feel like the world had crumbled at his feet, he would have laughed. As it was, he turned back to his horse and tried to undo the cinch straps. Either his hands weren’t working right or his eyes weren’t seeing straight because he just couldn’t seem to get the leather undone.

"Hey Vin," Buck whispered, coming up behind him. "Saw ya bring someone in over the saddle. Anyone we know?"

The question was a typical one normally, but today wasn’t normal. Today was a day that yes, it probably was someone that was known. Buck more than likely knew the man he’d killed too seeing as how he and Chris had known each other for a good many years. Just thinking that thought made his eyes sting again and a lump form in his throat. His hands fell to his sides and his shoulders slumped. He felt like a beaten down old man right now.

"Hey, pard, " the rogue said, in his regular voice now, putting a hand on the Texan’s shoulder. "What’s wrong Vin? Vin? Look at me buddy. What’s wrong?"

Vin turned away from his friend and went to sit down on the bench that sat against the wall in Peso’s stall. Taking his hat from his head and dropping it beside him on the bench, he ran his shaking hands through his hair. He blew out a breath and said,"Been a helluva day Buck and it’s bound to get worse fore it’s over." He couldn’t help it, his voice betrayed him and he knew the ladies man had heard the crack in it. His head drooped in despair.

Coming over and squatting down in front of the tracker, Buck let his eyes roam over the obviously shaken man. His glance took in the dirty scuffed appearance, the slightly bruised cheekbone which looked suspiciously like a bullet graze and the blood stain on the left side slightly above the gun belt.

"You hurt Vin?" the ladies man asked softly, knowing that the man was indeed hurt, but not knowing if he himself knew it. He seemed to be somewhat in a trance or in shock or something. Course it could be the dead man’s blood but either way, it was a question that needed to be answered.

He watched as the hung head shook out a ‘no’ and then he got a glimpse of the pain filled eyes as the head came up a notch and a sniff followed.

Damn. Was Vin crying? What the hell could have happened to bring this man to such a state? Vin was one of the strongest men he knew...

"Somethin’ happened Buck, somethin’ bad an it’s all my fault," he heard the tracker say softly. "Chris…" and then he had to strain to hear because the head had sunk low again and there was another sniff followed by a backhand swipe under the nose.

Shit. He was crying. Okay…okay, he could handle this. He just had to get the young man to tell him what happened. It couldn’t possibly be that bad, could it?

"Tell me Vin. Tell me what’s got you so upset, maybe…maybe I can help. Maybe we can figure out something together, but you gotta tell me pard," his voice gently trying to coax some answers out of the distraught man.

He flinched as two liquid pools of blue looked at him filled with such pain it almost took his breath away.

"Tell me Vin."

The tracker took a deep shaky breath, locked eyes with Buck and said, "I killed Chris’s brother."

Taken aback by those words it took him a second or two before responding. "Chris ain’t got no brothers Vin," he said gently.

"The man I brought in was a bounty hunter," the tracker said, seeming to ignore what he’d just heard. 'Fore he died he told me his brother was gonna come after me and his name was... Larabee." It was so hard to talk when your throat felt like it had a lump of coal in it.

"Could be lots of Larabee’s in the country Vin, don’t mean he’s kin of Chris’s. Sides, I’m sure Chris ain’t got no brothers. I never met any and he never said he had any. It can’t be a relation Vin."

The tormented man continued to carry on as if he hadn’t heard a word that was said to him, like he was just talking to himself. He was no longer looking the lady’s man in the eyes, instead looking down at the ground, the battered calvery hat being turned around and around in the nervous hands. "Said his brother was a gunfighter, real fast. Said his name was…was," and here Vin again tried to keep his emotions in check but he was failing badly. "He said his name was Chris."

Buck felt himself pale as his friend looked at him again with those pained eyes. He could see Vin’s whole tortured soul in that look. It was as though the man had just learned his best friend had died, and well, for Vin, this was equal to that feeling.

Shaking his head and looking into those lost eyes, he tried to send a message that everything was going to be okay.

"I know this sounds bad Vin and I know everything is pointing to this being Chris’s brother, but I just gotta tell ya that there has to be a mistake. I’m ninety nine point nine percent sure Chris has no brothers."

"Wish you could be a hundred percent sure," he whispered softly.

"Damn it Vin," Buck said a little harsher than he meant. "The man coulda been playin’ with your mind. Maybe he knows you and Chris are close, knows he could get to ya that way. It could happen. Probably wanted to see you hurtin' just like he was. A sick joke Vin, that’s all it is. A sick joke."

"The man had light hair like Chris, built like him too. You don’t know Buck…you just don’t know. I killed him and now I’m gonna lose Chris. Damn, he’s gonna hate me Buck and…and I just…I just…" I gotta go find Chris, gotta tell…tell him what I’ve done."

"Vin, listen to me. Okay, you gotta tell Chris, but Vin, answer me this first. Did the man have any papers on him? Anything that might have had his name on it? Did you look for anything like that?"

Vin shook his head no, knowing full well that it wouldn’t have mattered even if the man had his name stamped on his forehead, he wouldn’t have been able to read it anyway. Getting up to leave he found Buck standing right in his way.

"Vin." he heard the man say softly. "You need to go see Nathan first okay? You see this," he said, pushing the tracker’s hide jacket away and pointing to the bloodied hip. "Do you know you’ve been shot?" Putting his hands up seeing that his friend was going to more than likely tell him he was fine, he told him that Larabee wasn’t in town yet anyway and so he might as well go and get checked out first. He also told Vin that he’d take care of Peso and get him unsaddled. He breathed a big sigh of relief watching as his friend limped slowly out of the livery, leaving the back way, probably so that no one could see or talk to him. This situation had left the tracker brokenhearted and it worried him that the man didn’t even realize that he’d been shot. Yeah, this was all a shock but there was just no way he was going to believe that the man the sharpshooter had taken down was Chris Larabee’s brother. Oh, it’s true, he probably didn’t know everything about the black clad gunman, but he was pretty positive his friend didn’t have any brothers. Too bad he couldn’t convince Vin of that. Just thinking of how broken up the tracker was brought a flood of tears to his eyes. Damn, but it was hard to think of a man like Tanner all…

"Buck? What are you doin’ up so early? Anythin’ I should know about?" Not hearing anyone come up behind him, the ladies man nearly jumped a foot in the air when he heard the voice.

"Geezus Chris!" the ladies man yelled, putting his hand to his heart. "Sneak up on a man why don’t ya?" he said, turning around to face his friend, blinking quick to clear his eyes.

"What’s goin’ on? Why you unsaddlin' Vin’s horse? He hurt?" the man in black fired off the questions, squinting at his friend as if trying to read his features. "What’s wrong?"

"Whoa there pard, just hold on and I’ll fill you in," he told the irate man, putting his hands up as if to tell Chris ‘just a minute’.

"Just tell me Buck, is he hurt?" the question coming out in an impatient bark.

Taking his hat off, the rogue ran his right hand though the thick dark hair. Tilting his head as he glanced at his friend, he told him, "We have a bit of a situation here."

Shifting his weight and pushing back the long black duster so that the ivory handled gun appeared showed just how short of temper he was. Especially when it came to Vin. No patience there. He wanted to know and he wanted to know now! "Buck?" he said one more time drawing the name out with a hiss, letting the man know he was at the end of his rope.

Giving a huge sigh Buck looked at his oldest friend and began to tell him what had happened.

"Vin brought in a bounty hunter this mornin’. Over the saddle. Deader than a beaver hat. Left him at the undertakers and then came here. This is where I found him," he said, with a wave of his hand to Peso which included the whole stall. "He…he told me Chris, that the man he killed told him before he died, that he had a brother that was going to hunt him down and kill him for what he’d done."

He watched as Larabee’s mouth thinned out and the jaw began to tighten. "We can handle that, done it before."

"There’s more Chris, just hold on," Buck said, looking into the intense eyes. The man says or said that his brother’s name was, I mean, is Larabee."

He saw Chris’s eyes widen and the mouth open as if to say something, but he continued on. " I know, I know. I told him you didn’t have any brothers, you don’t do you?" he said, raising an eyebrow in question. Noticing the narrowing of the eyes he said, " Well, I didn’t think so and I told Vin that, a couple of times at least."

"Hell, I ain’t the only Larabee in this world…," Chris began to say as Buck interrupted him saying, "I know. I tried to tell him that too, but there’s more pard and it only gets worse. Seems the man told him his brother was a gunfighter. That he’s fast and that he goes by the name of, get this, Chris Larabee," he said watching the emotions flit across his friend’s unbelieving face.

"What?" the question coming out in a quiet chuff of breath.

"Yeah, and this man Vin brought in, seems he kinda favors you both in looks and build, or so Vin says. I don’t know Chris, it just seems so…so unreal or somethin’. And Vin? Well, he’s just…he’s just sick with worry and guilt that he’s kilt your brother. He sat right over there, " he said, pointing to the bench against the wall, his voice becoming thick with emotion, "and told me what happened while trying to keep himself from falling apart." Shaking his head remembering how broken up Vin had been, he also added, " And oh yeah, he’s been hurt. Shot, I think, but…"

Larabee’s head snapped up at that statement, anger clearly written on his features. "This is a load of bull. I don’t have any brothers and any resemblance is pure coincidence. Dammit Buck…shit. Where is he? Nathan’s? You say you think he’s been shot? How the hell can you not know if…"

"Chris, listen to me. That boy is hurtin’ and I just don’t mean physically. I don’t know if it was Vin’s blood or maybe the dead man’s and I don’t think he even knew. Hell, ten bullets couldn’t hurt him as much as thinkin’ what he’s thinkin’ he did. You just can’t go in there and start yellin’ at him…"

"Ain’t gonna do that Buck, just wanna…just wanna see him, put his mind at ease. Damn, " he said softly, looking down and shaking his head as the anger was put aside in thinking of what his best friend was probably going through. Vin, what the hell?

Bringing his head up he asked, "What about papers? Did Vin look to see if the man had any papers or identification on him?"

"Don’t think he thought of it Chris, hell, the way he looked it was lucky he even remembered his way back ta town. He looked like…well, he looked like he’d just lost his best friend, " the ladies man told him, trying to ignore the stinging at the back of his eyes as he glanced back at his friend. "I was gonna go over to Locker’s place to see if there was any papers or anything, just as soon as I got done with Peso here.

"I’ll do that. Unsaddle Pony for me too will ya? I’ll meet ya over at Locker’s." With that said, the man in black handed the reins to Buck, turned on his heel and headed out the big livery doors.

Damn, but what a stinkin’ mess this is, he thought as he finished unsaddling Peso and started on Pony. Graining the horses and running a quick brush over them he left the livery and headed to the undertakers. Coming through the door he almost bumped into Larabee who was heading out the door, papers in hand.

"Got ‘em Buck. Look at this," he said, handing him a two paged letter and pointing to a couple of spots. "Says everything we need to know. I’ll take this to Vin and show him. Ought to make him feel better don’t ya think," he said, taking the papers back from his friend.

"Oh, it makes me feel better and it’s gonna make him feel a whole hell of alot better," he agreed as he felt the tension release from his back and shoulders. He hadn’t realized just what a toll this was taking on himself, let alone what it was doing to the Texan. Funny how something that affected one could effect them all. He seemed to notice that more and more when he was with these men, and he knew it wasn’t just him that felt that way. Right now, Larabee looked as though he’d just struck the biggest gold vein in the country. As both men were getting ready to leave they heard the clearing of a throat behind them. Turning as one they both looked at the undertaker.

"Mr. Tanner stated that this man was to be given the utmost of attention, now if you’ll excuse me I’d like to continue with my work, in private, if you please."

Buck moved over and looked across the table at the little man. "Vin give you money to take good care of this man did he?"

"Why, yes, he did," the man said as he pulled some bills out from his pocket. "Told me and I quote, ’do him up proper like’."

"Could I…could I see that money fer just a minute," Buck asked the undertaker, taking the bills from him and then promptly handing them to Chris. "Vin may want his money back," he said, nodding to his friend and then watching as he pocketed the cash and went out the door.

"Hey, wait a minute…what…?" the undertaker started to stammer out.

"Mistaken identity," Buck told the little man. Pointing his finger at the dead man, who did bear some uncanny resemblance to the blond gunslinger, he waggled his finger at him and said, "Shame on you, but now we know who you really are, you piece of sh…oh, sorry Mr. Locker, just got abit carried away there. Ah, need any help here getting him out back?"

"Well, I suppose I could use some help. Elmer just went to get a casket, however of course, we won’t be needing that now, but yes, you can help me Mr. Wilmington. We can roll him back up in his blanket," he said, throwing the sheet back off the corpse.

Looking at the colorless nude body of the man on the table, Buck gulped and told the undertaker that he could first clothe the man and then he’d help roll him in the blanket and take him out. Turning away from the gruesome scene on the table, he gave a visible shudder and wondered how Nate and Mr. Locker could handle touching and cleaning dead people. It just gave him the willies.

Squinting through the dusty glass window, he looked out across the street seeing Chris emerging from the newspaper office. Hmmm…wonder what he went in there for, he thought as he watched his friend head directly over to the clinic. He noticed people moving out of the leader’s way and had to chuckle knowing Larabee must have had that scowl on his face that he wore when he wanted people to stay clear of him and not bother or even try to talk to him and he had to admit; it worked. Chris just sort of had that effect on people, they tended to…

"I’m ready Mr. Wilmington," he heard from behind him and turned around to help the man with his task knowing full well he’d never ever volunteer to help do this again. With a tight smile he headed back over to the table.

+ + + + + + +

Clutching the papers tightly in one hand he used the other to lightly rap on the clinic door, then turned the knob and let himself in. Seeing Nathan drying his hands on a rag, he glanced over to the bed to see his best friend laying under the covers fast asleep.

"How is he Nathan?" he asked, never taking his eyes off the tracker.

"He’ll be fine Chris. Bruised on the cheekbone from a close call by a bullet, lucky there, and he was hit in the left hip, grazed there too, probably saved by his gun belt but it took out a chunk of skin and bled quite abit. Must have hurt like hell ta ride back with the belt chaffing the wound like that and it sure didn’t help it any, but I guess he didn’t notice it much. Gonna be mighty tender in that area for a few days. He seemed to be…well, distracted I guess, for lack of a better word. I want ta check him out more when he comes to, make sure he don’t have a head injury. Just don't seem quite right ta me. Awful quiet, just…well, somethin's botherin' him but he ain't said nothin'. So I’ll check on him later. Got ta go and look in on Mrs. Jennings. You want ta stay with him for abit Chris? I’ll be back in about a half hour." Getting no response he looked from the man laying in the bed to the black clad man in front of him.

"Chris?" he called quietly to the man again. Seems as though he didn’t hear a word he’d just said. Must be something catchy since no one seemed to be listening to him lately.

"Hmmm? Yeah, I’ll stay with him. Think I have somethin’ that just might make him feel better too," Larabee said, with a look to the healer and a wave of the papers he held in his hands.

"Good. That’ll be good. I’ll be back in a bit." Seeing the gunslinger give a slight nod of his head he walked to the door. Just as he was about to open it, he heard Larabee ask a question.

"Got a pencil and a piece of paper handy?"

"Sure, right over there on the desk. Help yourself."

He watched as Chris went to the desk, wrote something down, took the piece of paper with him over to the bed and pulled up a chair sitting down to watch over his friend. He quietly went out the door doubting that Larabee even knew that he’d just left. Something was up, but he’d wait and find out what was going on later. He knew it was something important, just by the look on Chris’s face, and no doubt by the way the tracker had been acting. He was hoping that whatever the gunslinger was going to show Vin would indeed help him out. His friend seemed…well, just seemed so very sad about something, but he sure as hell wasn’t gonna tell Chris that. Vin would never forgive him for telling of his feelings like that. He shrugged his shoulders as he went down the stairs. Most times, things had a way of working themselves out. He could only hope this would be one of those times.

+ + + + + + +

Before long Chris was rewarded with movement from his friend. He watch as the man tried to move his left leg and then noticed the grimace of pain that crossed the handsome features and heard a low moan of pain.

"Easy Vin," he soothed. "Just relax, you’re okay."

Next he watched as the eyes blinked once, twice and then squinted at him focusing on his face. And then he felt a pang of guilt as he saw the blue eyes turn from him but not before seeing the tears well up.

"Vin, listen to me. I know what happened. Look at me Vin," he pleaded with his friend. When the tracker turned to look at him, the pain in the eyes made him visibly wince. Seeing a tear making it’s way down from the corner of an eye it suddenly hit him just how hard this had been for his partner. Vin was one of the toughest men he knew. Hell, there wasn’t anything the man wouldn’t face. They were so much alike in that. Just bring it on, was their feeling. And together, there wasn’t a thing they didn’t feel like they couldn’t conquer. Oh, he knew that was maybe a bit foolish, but when you are with someone you trust completely, someone you knew would give their very life for you, someone who would stand beside you no matter what, it made you feel like that. It was a good feeling. One he and Vin both shared. They didn’t have to talk about it or discuss it, it was just there. And neither questioned it. Just took it and ran with it.

Swallowing down his own feelings, he looked directly into those pained eyes and said softly, "I ain’t got no brothers Vin. There’s only me pard, just me."

Vin had tried to keep his emotions in check but it just wasn’t to be. The minute he saw Chris, he could feel the hot tears making their way to his eyes. He had to look away, but his friend would have none of that. He listened as Chris told him that he had no brothers, there was only one and that was just him. And then the feared gunslinger did something that totally amazed him. Something that only a man like Larabee, his best friend, would do for him to help him understand.

+ + + + + + +

"Vin, I want to show you something. I want you to look at this," he said softly, putting a piece of paper in the tracker's hands. "You see this," he said, running his finger underneath a bunch of letters. "This is me Vin, this is my name. This says Chris Larabee, it’s how my name reads. Now I want you to look at this. These are the papers I got off the bounty hunter. Look at this Vin," he said folding one of the papers up until it was small and rectangular and gave it to him to put in his other hand. "This is how this man’s name is spelled," he said, running the same finger underneath more letters. "It’s pronounced the same, but it’s different. It’s all in the spelling Vin. Some words can sound the same, but they aren’t the same and they have different meanings." Chris watched as the blue eyes looked from one name to the other carefully looking at each letter. The gunslinger had found out that Vin knew his letters, that’s what he went to see Mary about. Knowing she was giving the shy Texan reading and writing lessons he went to check on just how much Vin knew. When she informed him that they had been through the alphabet many times and was confident that Vin would recognize all the letters then that was all he needed to know. Now the man could see for himself that there was no relation between the men with the same sounding name as his. The spelling was the key and he knew Vin would be able to see that with his own eyes and believe it. He sat back and watched as his friend took his time looking at the two pieces of paper.

When Chris had handed him some papers and told him to look at them, he was confused at first. He was aware that his friend knew he couldn't read. Then he told him to look at all the letters on both papers and to compare them and look at the difference between the two. And he did, and he could see the differences. Where ‘his’ Larabee was spelled, L-a-r-a-b-e-e, this other name was spelled L-a-i-r-a-b-e-e and where ’his’ Chris’s name was spelled C-h-r-i-s, this other’s name was K-r-i-s, lots of difference in that one. Looking to his best friend, he felt the sting of tears again. Damn, but when had he become so weak, although this time it was happening because he was a happy man. And he could see the joy in Larabee’s eyes too.

"It’s all in the spelling," he said, repeating Chris’s words, giving a small nod. Same name, different letters. Then shaking his head, he lowered his eyes feeling like a fool for all that he’d done. His not being able to read had caused all this commotion and he had acted like a idiot never checking for something that could have identified the bounty hunter. He’d just gone all soft and emotional when he’d heard the Larabee name. It was like his brain had turned to mush on him.

As if reading his friend’s thoughts Chris told him, "I’ve heard that the English language is the hardest language to learn, both to read it and to write it. There are so many words Vin, that sound alike or are even spelled alike but mean totally different things. This was no different, there was no way you could have ever known, hell, who’s to say I couldn’t have been wrong and somewhere down the line before my pa met my ma, there could have been another Larabee. But this," and he nodded at the papers, "is proof that there is no blood relation." Seeing the head still bowed he went on telling Vin his true feelings. "I’m proud of you Vin. I am, " he said as he watched his friend raise his head and look at him with a question in his eyes. "I know you can face down anything Vin, know there isn’t anything you wouldn’t do for your friends or even strangers that you feel are wronged, but this…this taking on of learning to read and write, that takes a different kind of courage, means you take pride in knowing that you can better yourself and aren’t afraid of that learning. You’re a better man than me Vin Tanner, because I would never have the courage to do it, no," he said, putting up a hand as he saw the blue eyes widen and the lips start to open. "I wouldn’t do it Vin, my pride wouldn’t allow it and that pride would be my downfall. Hell," he said, with a slight grin, "probably will be my downfall at some point in time anyway. I take what I have and use it to the best of my ability. You take what you don't have and use it to learn and become a much better man for it."

Noting the still serious look on his friend’s face and the fact that another tear had escaped down his cheek, he figured he might as well just spit everything out. Hell, wasn’t it Josiah that said something about confession being good for the soul? Well, if that was true, his soul was going to be good for about a hundred years.

"You know Vin, I ain’t ever rode with another man quite like you and I mean that as a compliment," he added, giving his friend his best grin. And it may be true that I don’t have any brothers that have the same blood as me in their veins, but if I could choose to have a brother, it would be you. You mean a helluva lot to me Vin," he told him softly, looking down at his hands. Damn, but he’d said plenty enough now and besides his throat was getting a huge lump in it that was causing him to have trouble speaking. He looked back up in time to see a smile begin on his friend's lips and continue to travel all the way to the eyes. It looked good on him. Matching the smile, he gave a small nod, both men knowing all was put right again.

"Better get some rest Vin. Nathan’s gonna be back in a few minutes and he’ll probably chew on us both for not letting you rest. Oh, and I got this back from Locker," he said, pulling the folded bills from his pocket and showing them to Vin. "Seems Mr. Lairabee won't be needing such a fine funeral after all," he said with a cocky grin. "Want me to keep this for ya till you get your pants back?" he said, raising an eyebrow and smiling as he saw his friend frown and glance over to the chest in the far corner that his pants rested on.

Looking back at Larabee the Texan shrugged and said, "Reckon ya might as well. Looks like I ain't got no place ta put it right now. Thanks cowboy, 'preciate it."

"Alright. Now for that rest."

Vin nodded to him and slid down further into the blankets but not before running his thumb over the letters that made up his best friend’s name. Letters. Spelling. So much the same and yet so different. One word spelled different could mean so much. With a sigh, and a glance to Larabee he realized just how important learning his letters and putting those letters into words would be. It was all in the spelling and he'd learn how to do it. Chris was expecting it of him and he wasn't about to let the man down.

Chris watched as his friend’s eyes closed and the hand tighten around the slip of paper with his name written on it. Leaning back in his chair and putting his feet up on the bed, he closed his eyes to rest. Another "situation" taken care of. A small smile graced his face as he thought of just how good he felt. Maybe there was something to this ‘confession of the soul‘, hell, he knew he sure felt better for it.

Both men falling off to sleep they never noticed the mustachioed man that looked in on them from the side window. Buck had come up to let Chris know that he’d sent a wire to the address that was on the bounty hunter’s envelope. He’d enquired about a "Kris Lairabee" and found out that the man had been shot dead one week ago in a showdown. Guess the gunslinger wasn’t as fast as the brother said he was. At any rate, seeing the grins on his friend's faces and the fact that they were beginning to rest, he figured he’d just keep this information for a little longer and then give them the good news later. Sometimes…sometimes, things did work out for the best. And in their line of work, every bit of good news was cause for a celebration. Rubbing his hands together and pursing his lips, he figured he’d just go and start that celebration…maybe go see Rosie again. Her boyfriend should be long gone by now and...


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