Somewhere Only We Know

by JIN

Disclaimers: I don’t own Vin or Josiah, but I love them anyway.

Comments: A small vignette that came to me out of the blue after hearing a song with the same title. This is an epilogue to one of my favorite episodes, Penance.

Josiah gave a contented sigh as he rode along the meandering stream. The air was crisp and cool; just the right amount of breeze fluttering the fall leaves and lifting the hair off his forehead. It felt good and right, all of this, and he knew he’d made the best decision at last.

Steeling a sideways glance at his partner, he noted that Vin seemed to be enjoying the fine view and uncommonly beautiful weather as much as he was. There was a tension to the way Vin sat in the saddle, though, and Josiah felt a measure of guilt at that. Was he wrong to pass on this burden to Vin?

Yes and no, for no matter that this wasn’t Vin’s problem, Vin’s burden to bear, he was the best choice to walk in Josiah’s shoes should the need ever arise. And Tanner could’ve said ‘no’; Josiah had made that perfectly clear. Vin wouldn’t turn him down though, and Josiah knew that, so maybe in a way, he had forced this on his friend.

It was almost funny, Vin’s reaction when Josiah approached him. Tanner had looked at him at once dumb-founded and fearful and maybe a little awed that Josiah had entrusted him with such responsibility. Josiah was still a bit surprised himself. He never thought he would trust anyone so completely. But now that the choice had been made and the torch passed, so to speak, he knew, he just knew it was the right thing to do.

They didn’t tell the others about it. Vin had kept his promise not to let on why or what or who held Josiah’s heart in Vista City. So this morning when they left, it was uneventful and not even particularly noted by the others.

Josiah had approached Chris at breakfast and merely stated, “I’ve asked Vin to do me a favor in Vista City. Should be gone a few days, a week at most.”

Chris had looked curious, but he’d only nodded in response and mumbled, “Watch your backs.”

Trust--an amazing and humbling thing--and Josiah hoped his appreciation showed in his eyes, if not in the simple tip of his hat as he left. He’d found Vin waiting for him outside the saloon, saddled and ready and willing . . . and he was humbled again.

It was mid afternoon when the two men came upon a shallow spot in the stream they’d been following for most of their ride. They took the opportunity to cross over to the other side; Josiah’s horse snorting as the cool water lapped at his legs. The preacher smiled at how similar the sound was to Vin’s reaction last night when he’d first talked with him.

“Hell Josiah,” Vin had said with a snort of his own, “what makes you think I’ll live any longer than you do?”

He’d answered Tanner, “I got a good twenty years on you, Vin.” He added with a broad grin, “And I got faith in you and that mare’s leg . . . not to mention that black shadow watchin’ your back.”

And that’s when Vin had lowered his eyes and mumbled something along the lines of, “Aw hell, Josiah . . . I don’t know what t’ say . . . I mean, you sure about this? I ain’t so good with people . . .”

“I’m sure, Vin.”

And he was. Vin was the best choice, the only choice to take over Hannah’s care should anything happen to him. Not her expenses; Josiah had given the convent enough money over the years to keep his sister for decades to come and they had assured him over and over that she’d never be turned out. No, he didn’t need Vin’s money. He needed Vin to visit Hannah and talk to her and to hold her hand when her own time came to die. It was that thought that tormented him most; that he would die before her and she’d be alone . . . cared for, yes, but still alone.

It wasn’t just that Vin was the only one who knew Hannah’s sad story, it was the man himself. Vin would keep his vow to Josiah until his sister breathed her last – or until Vin did. He’d treat her with quiet dignity and respect and he’d never, ever pass judgment on her, just as he’d refused to pass judgment on Josiah himself, even when Sanchez had asked for it, demanded it.

Even more importantly, Josiah was sure that Hannah would sense and respond to Vin’s gentle spirit. He smiled at that, and caught Vin’s puzzled glance from the corner of his eye.

“What you grinnin’ at?” Vin finally spoke, after hours of silence.

“Nothing much,” Josiah answered with a shrug. “Just thinking how some people aren’t at all what they appear to be.”

Vin furrowed his brows. “You just now catchin’ on t’ that?”

“I’m a slow learner,” Josiah answered with a wide smile as Vin shook his head and galloped on ahead.

If Vin only knew that Josiah was speaking of him. Tanner came off as dangerous, deadly, and untouchable . . . and he was all of those things. But Vin was also tender and generous and kind-hearted . . . and as achingly vulnerable at times as poor Hannah.

This was entirely the right thing to do, and Josiah thanked the Lord for giving him the insight to see it.

It was early evening by the time they reached Vista City. They stopped for a bite to eat, and then Josiah got them a room at his usual place; a flea-bit, four room shack that offered little more than a lumpy mattress and a basin of water. Vin didn’t bat an eyelash at the poor accommodations, and Josiah was even more certain of his decision. He smiled again, aware that he’d been doing that most of the day now.

Apparently Vin had noticed, too, because he lifted an eyebrow when he said, “I’d sure like to know what keeps puttin’ that silly grin on your face.”

Josiah settled himself on the edge of the bed and he sighed. He wasn’t sure he could put it into words, until Vin’s words came back to him. ‘Now you’re free and clear,’ Vin had said to him on that fateful day when Poplar died.

“I reckon I’m just feeling a little freer . . . and a little clearer.”

It had been a long day, and Josiah figured Vin might have trouble catching on to what he was trying to say. But he didn’t. And didn’t it just figure that he wouldn’t? Josiah should have added perceptive and intuitive to Tanner’s list of distinguishing qualities.

“I appreciate what you’re sayin’,” Vin stated thoughtfully, shifting slightly in the weathered old chair that sat next to the bed. “But I ain’t sure I can do this for y’. Ain’t sure she’ll let me. I scared her half t’ death last time and all I did was ask her a question.”

“That’s why we’re here, Vin. I figure if you start coming with me to visit her every once in awhile, she’ll get used to you.”

Old wooden joints groaned as Vin fidgeted in the chair again. He’d placed his hat on his lap, and now he nervously toyed with the rim, studiously avoiding Josiah’s gaze.

“Maybe,” he muttered. But it was clear he had his doubts, and painfully clear his nerves were frayed at the situation Josiah had placed him in.

“Look Vin, I don’t mean to pressure you. If you won’t . . . if you can’t do this, it’s alright. I reckon I’ll just leave it in the Lord’s hands.”

“Leave her, you mean,” Vin said pointedly, and Josiah knew right then whatever argument Vin had been waging with himself was over. There was no way Vin could turn his back on a woman in need, especially a soul as lost as Hannah.

“Let’s go see her,” Josiah stated matter-of-factly; stunned for a moment that for the first time in years, it was as easy as it sounded.

In fact, it was the first time he’d ever looked forward to visiting with his sister, and his breath caught in his throat at that realization. It had all changed. Somehow, somewhere between this visit and the last, he’d laid some demons to rest, and he had a feeling the man next to him had everything to do with that.

Vin simply followed him out the door and down the dusty road, looking more uncertain with every step. He kept coming, though, and Josiah knew he always would. Vin would take this walk for Josiah when the time came; for as long as Hannah took breath and as long as Vin’s legs would carry him. The wonder and relief of it brought tears to the older man’s eyes, and for a moment, he faltered.

“Josiah? You okay?”

He nodded, not trusting his voice, and made his way to the small room that housed his sister.

She was exactly as she had been before, and he didn’t know why it disappointed him. He’d an epiphany of sorts, and he supposed he’d thought--he’d hoped--that the same miracle had touched her as well.

It wasn’t to be, so he approached her as he always did; slowly, cautiously, his voice calm and soft. “Hannah? I’ve brought a friend.”

He knew she’d seen Vin standing behind him; knew that she was even more hesitant than usual because of him. She recognized him, too, that was apparent to Josiah right off by the fire that lit her eyes briefly before returning to that dull, lost gaze.

Vin stayed well behind Josiah, but he spoke up, “I’m sorry about last time, Ma’am. I didn’t mean t’ frighten you.”

So Vin realized that she’d remembered him, as well. Of course he would, he could read people as well as sign. But it was even more telling that Vin hadn’t assumed Hannah was senseless or stupid; he’d treated her like a person.

Josiah had made the right call on this all the way along, and he offered a warm smile at his sister as he asked, “Can we sit?”

She was puzzled, wary, but she nodded. They talked for the next hour, while Vin sat silent nearby. Or rather, Josiah talked and Hannah listened. It was always like that, but this time, it felt different. It felt like he was sharing his life with her, not out of obligation or guilt, but because he wanted to. And even more amazing, it felt like she understood and grasped it all.

After that, he sat and held her hand and said nothing at all for nearly another hour. That was their ritual, as well; a bond of silence that meant more than all the words in the world ever could. It was at these moments though, when the demons spoke their loudest, relentlessly reminding him of his failure.

But Josiah would grip his sister’s hand and try to move beyond the darkness to a quiet, tranquil place where they could escape together; a place that existed long before Hannah’s world had turned into one of fear and confusion. It was normally a brief interlude, but not today. Today, Josiah was more at peace with himself than he’d ever been, and with nothing more than a touch of his hand, he’d communicated that same serenity to Hannah.

Remorse gripped him when he suddenly realized that in all of his previous visits, his own stubborn refusal to accept the situation had only caused his sister more pain. The visits had not only been hell for him, but for her as well. This time he refused to give in to the guilt, knowing it had wounded them both for far too long.

Although, he did feel bad when he remembered that Vin had been sitting there silently the entire time. He’d completely forgotten his friend was even in the room.

But Vin didn’t seem to mind. He merely tipped his hat at Hannah when they rose to leave and said, “Nice t’ meet you, Ma’am.”

And she smiled. Dear God almighty, she smiled at Vin, and Josiah was sure his heart would burst on the spot.

When they left the dark room, Vin moved next to Josiah and he asked, “Where did you go back there? You and her?”

Josiah stopped in his tracks, startled again at Vin’s insight. “How did you know?”

Vin shrugged. “The look on your face . . . and hers. I figured I was alone in the room for quite a spell. I just wondered where it is she likes t’ be, in case . . .”

“It’s somewhere only we know, Vin. But I got a hunch you’ll find it, if and when the times comes.”

After he thought on it a minute, Josiah didn’t know why he was the least bit surprised that Vin understood how it was between him and Hannah. Vin and Chris had been communicating without words, going off somewhere only they knew--in plain site of the others--since the day they met.

Vin dipped his head. “I reckon we’ll be fine, if it comes t’ that.” He paused then and lifted his chin just enough to meet Josiah’s eyes, “But I’m plannin’ on you stickin’ around for awhile, Josiah. She needs you . . . and she ain’t the only one.”

Tears burned his eyes as once again, Josiah found himself speechless.

The two men walked together in silence to their shabby room. Vin took the floor without question, appearing genuinely puzzled by Josiah’s offer of the so-called bed.

Tanner was a simple man in most ways – in all the ways that counted. He tried to do what was right, and spent a good deal of his life helping those who couldn’t help themselves. He’d never know how much he’d helped Josiah; how much of the weight he’d lifted from his shoulders just by being the man he was.

It wasn’t so important anymore to keep this place and his reason for coming here a secret, but Josiah decided he would anyway. It was kind of nice, sharing this part of his life with Vin and Vin only. Every few months they’d come here--to this place only they knew, for reasons only they knew--and eventually Hannah would accept Vin into her small world.

And when his time came, Josiah knew he could die with a peace he’d never believed possible.

A contented sigh escaped his lips as Josiah turned on his side and closed his eyes. He knew he’d dream about Hannah, but not the horrible nightmares that had plagued him in the past. Vista City had ceased to be his private hell, and tonight he would dream of light and laughter . . . and hope.

The End