Spoilers: Achilles, references to Ghosts of the Confederacy, One Day Out West, Witness.
Author's Note: This is NOT a romance. I'm a Chris/Mary shipper, and while I don't have a problem with alternate pairings, Vin & Mary as a couple just doesn't work for me as a writer. This is the last of the Facets series. . .and while I wrote it several months ago, I waited because Mary's story ties all of the others together. Achilles' was written by Chad Everett.
The town has finally quieted down. . .JD is back with the Seven, he's starting to forgive himself for Annie's death. I know the other six will be there for him, no questions asked, and I'm grateful for that. JD's a good boy. For the first time in several days, I can concentrate on the paper. I've decided to focus on Achilles Thompson and his brother for this edition, rather than JD. Everyone knows what happened, and too many people have been hurt already.
I've been trying to concentrate on the facts about the brothers. Except, it's not that easy, because my mind keeps drifting back to this afternoon. I don't even know how to describe the mistake I made today. Organizing my thoughts is hard enough.
The first time I can really remember seeing Vin Tanner is the day Nathan Jackson was almost lynched. I must have seen him around town, but that's the first time I can remember. Vin's used to blending into the scenery, so to speak. . .not being noticed. But I'm a newspaperwoman, and I'm supposed to notice things which others don't. Including quiet, polite young shop clerks who are far more than what they appear to be.
In the months since my father-in-law, Judge Orrin W Travis, hired Vin and the other six men, I've come to know them all. They're extraordinary men, men I'm proud to call my friends. They're very different from each other, and very much alike. Vin, as I said, tends to slip into the scenery. But he's always there. He was there the morning I woke up to find my son Billy gone, and he was there when Chris and Billy were being attacked by the same men who had killed my husband Stephen. And so many times since then.
I suppose that's why I feel so badly about what happened earlier. Honestly, I'm not even sure what first clued me into Vin's gift. He's a quiet man. Not given to great drama or flash. He can't afford either with the bounty on his head. He would tell you that he's a simple man, but I would strongly disagree with that. Complicated' isn't the word to describe him. I'm not sure if there is one word that sums up Vin Tanner, unless it would be loyal,' but that's only a facet of the entire man. Loyal. . .protective. . .honorable. . .vulnerable. . .honest. And not even those words are enough to explain our dear Mr Tanner, as Ezra would say.
Even before he recited A Hero's Heart' for me, I had come to believe there was far more to our sharpshooter/tracker. Perhaps more than even Chris, who is Vin's best friend, realizes. But then to hear that. . .? It was all I could do to keep from crying. And the expression on his face when I told him how beautiful it was. . .for a moment, I saw a surprised child in his eyes. His expression reminded me of a little boy who had given his mother an unexpected gift, and her response was even better than he dared hope.
I returned the poem to Vin after writing it down for him, to make sure I had done justice to it. And that's how I knew. Vin looked at the paper upside down, and it was then that I realized Vin couldn't read. And, as I've been known to do, I opened my mouth before my brain had a chance to catch up. I said the words out loud. "You can't read, can you?" He tried to deny it. Not that I can blame him, and I tried to tell him that it didn't make him less of a person, that a lot of people couldn't read, and it was no reason for shame. But I had already gone too far.
He left in a huff. . .about as much of a huff as I've ever seen from him. He was right, of course, that he hadn't needed books to teach him about life. Life is the harshest and best teacher of all. I cursed myself for being six kinds of a fool. A man risks his life on a daily basis to protect this town, to protect my family, and I embarrass him. He didn't deserve that. I should have found another way. . .except, I can't think of anything else.
Worse yet, Vin's my friend, someone who is very dear to me. I wouldn't say I'm attracted to him, though I'd be blind not to notice his good looks. As Mrs Potter has observed to me once or twice, there isn't a woman in this town who hasn't noticed all seven men. But Vin has always been more of a younger brother to me, rather than a potential suitor.
I spent the next several hours trying to think of a way to apologize to him. And then, a miracle happened. He returned to the Clarion. . .to apologize to me. I apologized in turn. . .then received a second miracle, in the form of a second poem. I call it Achilles' in my mind, though Vin never titled it. There's a legend in Greek mythology, of a great warrior, who was dipped in the River Styx, I believe it was, by his mother. It's been several years, but I think his mother was a goddess, who sought to ensure her child's safety.
The boy, Achilles, was invulnerable. Except in that one spot, where his mother held him while she submerged him into the river. His heel. And when a spear struck that exposed part of his body, he died. His one vulnerability. Vin spoke of it in his poem. A vulnerability, which could very well get him killed. Maybe not today, or tomorrow, but eventually. The world is changing. Even now, as I lock the door of the Clarion and go into the next room to check on Billy, the lines haunt my mind, "I'm not the way they see me. . .not who they think I am."
I wonder. Who is the they' he mentions? The town? Or, the other six? How does he think his friends see him? Does he believe that they don't see the insecurity and the doubt? The vulnerability which shines through, if you know where and when to look? Does he think that they don't realize there are times when he's afraid? He's only human after all, and he will fall from time to time. Maybe we take him for granted. All of us. Does he really believe we only see the tracker and the sharpshooter. . .not the man?
I don't know. I'm not a mind-reader. . .I don't know what Vin believes. I just know that a man who has risked his life countless times, for this town, for his friends, for my son and for me, proved once and for all just how courageous he really is. He came to me, and he asked me to teach him to read. This proud man asked me for help. And that leads me to yet another revelation, one which makes me dizzy.
Vin Tanner trusts me. If he didn't trust me, he would have never given me either of those looks into his soul. If he didn't trust me, he wouldn't have reacted as he did when I embarrassed him. He can only give way to his emotions when he is with someone he knows and trusts. And if he didn't trust me, he would have never asked me to teach him. And again, his voice echoes in my mind, his eyes intense and filled with a telltale moisture that I would never bring to his attention. I've caused him enough distress.
I know the words by heart now. I've repeated them in my mind since Vin's departure from the Clarion to say good-bye to JD. "I'm not the way they see me, not who they think I am. I'm just a man. And I have need of you, sweet woman. Not for the velvet of your touch, but for the weaponry of your mind. There's a hole in me needs mended. My own Achilles heel. So I offer up my need. Teach me, noble lady. . .teach me how to write, and how to read."
But you're wrong, Vin Tanner. You are the way we see you, and you are the man we think you are. If I told you that, you wouldn't believe me. Nor would you believe that you do, indeed, have a hero's heart. So, I will keep this secret sacred, and offer my own oath in return. Yes, my dear friend. . .I will teach you how to write, and how to read.
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