Spoilers: emphasis on Sins of the Past, references to Ghosts of the Confederacy, One Day Out West, & Inmate 78
I ain't never seen that look on his face before.
I ain't never seen that look on nobody's face before...'cept maybe my mama. Or Nathan, after he's done all he could for a patient, and it still wasn't enough. But it's different now. I'm not real sure how it's different. It just is. Because my mama was sick by the time I saw that look, sickly and tired, and beaten down by life. Nathan ain't old or sick...though he may be tired of patching me up. But again, that's...different.
I suppose even when Nathan and me found Vin in the jail, him being unconscious, I always saw Vin as being unshakable. Stronger and sturdier than Chris even. Until the gunshot, and until Eli Joe landed practically at our feet, dead. I looked up...to make sure Vin was okay, I think. I don't recall, not exactly. I was too far away to see for sure that he was or wasn't crying. But he did look like he would start cryin' any second.
It took my breath away, that look on his face. That sad, shattered, *lost* look. And he did lose. He lost his best chance to clear his name, to stop running once and for all. He lost it because Eli Joe was about to kill him, and the only way Chris could save Vin...was to kill Eli Joe. Kill the best chance Vin had. It almost killed me, seeing that shattered look...but I don't know that I could have done anything differently than Chris.
Hell, I was standin' up to the phony Marshals, to keep them from taking Vin. *That's Vin Tanner, ma'am,* I told Mrs Travis when she warned me. It was stupid, and impulsive...and selfish. All I was thinkin' about was myself, and how I would feel. It never even entered my mind how Vin would feel if I got myself killed. If Josiah hadn't stepped in when he did, it coulda happened...they were outlaws, not lawmen.
And while I was being stupid, Chris was plannin' exactly how he would keep Vin from swingin' for a crime he didn't commit. I don't imagine that's much of a consolation for him right now, as Eli Joe's body is taken away. I look at Vin again...the mask is back up, the one that keeps people from knowin' too much about him. At least, until I look into his eyes, and see the pure agony there.
I see the same agony when I look at Chris, look into his eyes. How would I feel, if my best friend was falsely accused of a murder...and to save his life, I had to kill the one man who could clear him completely? Hell, I can barely meet Vin's eyes as I squeeze his shoulder. And Buck is just watching...not sayin' a word. It always scares me, when Buck gets that quiet. It ain't natural.
I look back and see Vin's face. The mask has dropped again, now that no one else can see his face. The mask has dropped again, and I wish to God it had never slipped. I wish to God I had never seen just how fragile Vin Tanner really is. And I hate myself all over again for being so selfish. Because Vin had never been anything but strong for me, and I can't be strong for him now. I don't even know if Chris can do that, or Josiah.
He has always been strong for us. He stepped in as leader when Chris was trapped in that prison camp in Jericho. He and Chris fought side by side to save Nathan. He stood at my side, when townspeople wanted me to release Lucas James, and even now, I laugh when I remember how we squabbled while burying 'Judge Travis,' which was really a coffin full of rocks. That's the real Vin Tanner. But so is this devastated man. I should be strong for him, but I don't know what I can do or say to take away his pain. I haven't lost what he's lost. I haven't had to make the choices he's had to make.
And so I walk away, but as I do, I hear the laughter of children behind me. I turn, to find Billy Travis racing to Vin, throwing his arms about Vin's legs. Jamie and Elizabeth Potter follow, and it's then I see a miracle. The shattered, fragile man of only a few moments ago is gone, and while I know Vin has to still be hurting...I see him smile. A real smile, though it only lasts for a few minutes. But it's enough.
Mrs Potter steps to my side and says softly, "It's such a strange thing. A man protects your town, your family, your life. You think you know him. Until something happens, and the mask which protects his soul drops. And you realize you don't know him at all." She's right. When that mask dropped, so did my illusion that I knew Vin. I know parts of him, but not everything, and that's what scares me.
After a moment, Mrs Potter continues, "But the wonderful thing is, JD, that in order for that mask to drop...there has to be trust. Safety. Knowing that someone will be there to catch you." I look at her, totally confused, and Mrs Potter goes on, "Maybe it would make more sense if I told you a story. When Jamie was younger, and he was hurt, I would see him putting on a brave face...until he got to me. And there was no more pretending, because there was no need to pretend. Do you see what I'm trying to tell you, JD?" I think I do...and while I'm still shaken by seeing *that* expression on Vin's face...
It's easier to accept. Because I understand now, what Mrs Potter is trying to tell me. Vin would have never allowed his mask to drop, if he didn't trust us. He's already trying to rebuild his defenses, trying to act as if this isn't that important. But it is. It is, because...because what Mrs Potter is trying to tell me is something I should have known. Vin is a part of my family. And when his mask dropped, I saw the face of my brother for the first time. He's just another human being. Not perfect, not someone to put on a pedestal. Just a man.
But he's my brother, my friend. And I make myself this silent vow, as Mrs Potter and I watch the wagon carrying Eli Joe's body slowly disappear among the dust and the dirt. The next time my brother's mask drops, I'll be ready. I will stand at his side.
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