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"A Face To The Reason" Prologue (Slash - Chris/Vin, Buck/Ezra)

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"The Devil And Davy Jones" Monkees Slash Mike/Davy Part 2 (Conclusion) By Myristica
Magnificent Seven Fiction (Chris/Vin)
"Poet's Heart" (Gen)
"To Soar Above The Clouds" (Gen) Part 1
"To Soar Above The Coulds" (Gen) Part 2
"To Soar Above The Clouds" (Gen) Part 3
"To Soar Above The Clouds" (Gen) Part 4
"To Soar Above The Clouds" (Gen) Conclusion
"A Face To The Reason" Prologue (Slash - Chris/Vin, Buck/Ezra)
"A Face To The Reason" Parts 1-2 (Slash C/V and B/E)
"A Face To The Reason" Parts 3-4 (Slash C/V and B/E)
"A Face To The Reason" Parts 5-6 (Slash C/V and B/E)
"A Face To The Reason" Parts 7-8 (Slash C/V and B/E)
"A Face To The Reason" Parts 9-11 (Slash C/V and B/E)
"A Face To The Reason" Parts 12-13 (Slash C/V and B/E)
"A Face To The Reason" Parts 14-16 (Slash C/V and B/E)
"A Face To The Reason" Parts 17-19 (Slash C/V and B/E)
"A Face To The Reason" Parts 20-22 (Slash C/V and B/E)
"A Face To The Reason" Epilogue (Slash C/V and B/E)

Chris’ past comes to haunt him in a very personal way when Vin is abducted.  Mystery abounds behind the reasons.  Clues left behind offer little if no answers.  When everyone else believes Vin is dead, Chris refuses to let go.  The darkness that claimed his soul when his wife and child were murdered, now threatens to claim Chris’ sanity as he walks the earth looking for the answers…looking for a face to the reason.


(Author’s note: If you have not read ‘Poet’s Heart’ or the second part to this trilogy ‘To Soar Above The Clouds’, it would behoove you to read those first before going on to this one.  We start this story where ‘To Soar…’ left off, complete with recaps.   I would not want you to be spoiled.  Also, due to the time frame debate I have chosen to set this story in 1870-71.  For a more detailed reason why I decided on these two years I have given a statement at the end of the story.  If I give one here now, it will give the plot away.  Though this plot has been used before in other fandoms, I wanted to give my take on it done in the Old West.)



No profit is being made from the use of the Magnificent Seven characters.  Marcus and Hathaway, Roy Calder, Beuregard Phelps and Douglas Jones are my own creations.  Please do not use them without permission.


‘A Hero’s Heart’ is a poem written by Dale Midkiff, though incorporated into the Magnificent Seven television series via Vin Tanner. (Beautifully quoted by Eric Close, I might add.)


As with all interpretations of characters, my take on Chris and Vin may differ from others.  My desire is the bow.  My interpretation is the arrow.  My concept is my aim.  Hitting the bullseye is a talent that solely belongs to Michael Biehn and Eric Close.  I figure if I hit the target at all, I’m doing good.  


"A Face To The Reason"
Sequel to "To Soar Above The Clouds"
By: Myristica


"I don't think I ever can
believe my friend is gone.
Keep saying it's all right, I'm gonna bring him back,
But I know I'm wrong."
-Duran Duran 'Do You Believe in Shame?'-

Five days.

Chris Larabee felt his chest constrict over it all. It had been five days since Theodore Marcus (a terribly burn-scarred actor who had reached out to Vin Tanner through their love of words), had been murdered by his boss, James Hathaway. The loss had left a hole inside Vin's soul big enough to charge a horse through, and with very much the same trampled-on result.

Five days of grieving, five days of sorrow. Chris understood. He understood loss only too well. He had sworn he would stand by Vin even if only from a distance, but Vin, though not exactly rebuffing the moral support, had unconsciously ignored it, shutting everyone out...even the man whom Vin looked on as a brother. That, however, did not stop the black-clad leader of the Seven to stand ready when Vin decided to reach out. And he would. They always did.

Oh, men put on a stoic front, hiding behind walls of security. Chris had fallen into that frame of mind himself at one time in his life. Then Vin came along and as easily as the two strangers had fallen into step, side-by-side, to fend off a show of evil, Chris welcomed the young man into his world. It was an immediate acceptance, that would have daunted the gunslinger had he bothered to think about it, but it had been so natural an occurrence that he had never given thought to it.

What Chris saw in Vin that day less than a year ago, was a man full of confidence, but without the arrogance...a man willing to stand up for what was right, even if it meant losing his own life. A shared look between two strangers, and a friendship was born. What amazed Chris the most was that this acceptance did not amaze him. It was as if Vin was destined to become the cornerstone in the rebuilding of a troubled gunslinger's life.

Vin had unwittingly reached out to Chris, and Chris had grabbed hold. A connection forged in the path of destiny. Now it was Chris' turn, and he would do anything to keep Vin from entering the dark void of emptiness. Chris had been there and he would fight to keep Vin from going there. He would fight the Hounds of Hell if necessary.

Chris remembered back to the day after Marcus' funeral, when Buck and Josiah helped him go through James Hathaway's room at the hotel. To find anything that might prove that Hathaway didn't deserve an insane asylum, but the gallows for taking the scarred actor's life. He had found pictures of James and his deceased son, Robert Hathaway, clothes and a valise full of business papers for the acting company James had supervised.

Chris had also found a scrapbook with newspaper clippings of the fire in
Kansas City that had stolen Theodore Marcus' career as the bright young star of the stage. Headlines read anything from; 'Hathaway Concedes Fire An Accident', to; 'Hathaway Mourns Loss of Son'. Chris glanced over the reports and did not see anything that he didn't all ready know. There was also a scrapbook with newspaper articles regarding Robert's acting debut...and Theodore Marcus. 'Renown Actor Joins Hathaway's Traveling Performers'.

Chris pulled the article out, folded it gently and stuck it in his pocket. He would give it to Vin when he felt his friend could handle seeing it.
Josiah went to the bed and lifted the mattress. "Buck?" he said.

The tall gunman walked over and saw what Josiah had found. "What's this?" He pulled the leather bound book from its hiding place and Josiah set the mattress down.

Chris turned from the scrapbook. "What did you find?"

Buck handed the book to his friend who studied it carefully as he set the scrapbook back on the table by the window where he had found it. "A journal," he mused aloud, thinking to the night before when he had given Vin a journal to keep his thoughts and poems in.

Taking the journal he took a seat in the chair by the window. Buck and Josiah took a seat on the side of the bed as Chris opened the book to the last entry.

"What's it say, Chris?" Buck asked.

Chris read a bit before shaking his head and then he read it aloud to them. "Tanner will never interfere with my plans. He is a danger. I have Teddy where I want him and no one, especially..." Chris tensed at the next words, reading them with controlled anger, "especially an ignorant poet, will stop me. Robert is dead. I must kill Teddy this time. This time I will not fail. If Tanner intervenes, he, too, will be shot. Their friendship disgusts me. It was the same with Robert. It would not surprise me if deviant behavior is taking place between those two. They have taken to going off alone together. What would Mister Larabee think if the truth came out?"

"Dear God," Josiah said, closing his eyes.

"Chris," Buck said, gently. "You don't have to read anymore."

Chris continued to read silently, his fingers turned white as he gripped the book with burning rage. "There's more, Buck. And from the looks of this journal, we have the evidence that will be presented at the trial. I'd rather you two hear it with me first."

Josiah and Buck exchanged worried glances; then Buck nodded. "Go on."

Chris cleared his throat and continued reading. "Teddy is an evil man. He caters to beautiful young men. Robert was beautiful and young, his innocence like a fresh spring morning, full of wonder and vitality. Teddy lured him into his sordid world of deviance. They denied the accusation, but I knew it was true. I saw it in the way they looked at each other. I see it in the way Tanner stands up for Teddy. How passionate his loyalty is. I should have said something earlier today in the jailhouse when I confronted Larabee, but I had hoped the explanation of insanity would be enough. He obviously has no idea how to judge people. I shall take matters into my own hands. Larabee is a fool, or else he knows about the secret meetings between Tanner and Teddy...and he allows it. I should kill him, as well. If word got out that I was associated with a sexual deviant, my reputation will be ruined."

Chris stood, shutting the book. He turned to the window and looked out, his body tense and shaking. "That bastard!" he seethed, as he looked toward the jailhouse where Hathaway was locked in a cell.

Buck stood and cautiously walked up to Chris' side. He knew the stance, had seen it countless times before. If Buck didn't say something to calm his friend down, the hotel room would become a shambles in the next five minutes. "We all know Marcus and Vin did nothing wrong, Chris. All of those thoughts are the result of Hathaway's twisted mind. You gotta calm down now, Pard, for Vin's sake if nothing else. When he hears what Hathaway put in that there journal, it's gonna rip him apart. If he sees you handling it well, then he will, too. You gotta think of Vin. He's gonna need you when this comes out in court."

Chris shut his eyes and rubbed them with his forefinger and thumb. He let out a long breath, using Buck's words to calm him. He knew his old friend was right, but only if these words of Hathaway's were revealed. However, there was another direction they could take.

"I thought I would clear Marcus' name by putting Hathaway through a trial. Now it seems more rumors will spread when the trial begins...and this time Vin's reputation will be under scrutiny."

"There's got to be something other than what you just read, Chris," Josiah said, hopefully. "How far back does the journal go?"

Chris opened the book again to the first entry. "Two years," he said, noting the date.

"Something else has got to be in there that we can use. We can keep this part of the journal from the town. We can keep it from Vin. He never has to know."

"Hell if the story Marcus told us about the night of the fire is anything to go on, I'm sure Vin all ready suspects what was going through Hathaway's mind regarding them two," Buck said.

Chris turned to Buck, and his eyes took on that notorious glare. "And suspicions are all they're gonna be. I ain't gonna confirm them. What you all heard, stays in this room. Buck?" He sized up the taller man, a stance in his green eyes that made the black haired man show his hands with a nod. Buck knew what Chris was wanting.

The taller man had flapped his jaw once too often about Chris' tragedies and Chris had very adamantly showed him the error of his ways. It wasn't a lesson he wanted to have taught him again. "I'll take this to my grave, Chris. I swear that to you."

Chris nodded once. "That's all I need," he said, telling his old friend that his word was good enough.

Josiah stood and put a hand to Chris' shoulder. "Nothing could drag it from me, Chris. In fact, if you will give me the honor of burning that journal when the trial is over, I will be very happy to do so."

"The three of us will burn it. I think a fire will be a fitting end to Hathaway's words."

"Amen to that," Buck said with a heavy sigh.

The sound of running footsteps down the hall filled their ears and JD came rushing into the room. "Chris, you gotta come to the jailhouse," he spoke out, breathlessly. "Ezra and Nathan are there,'s Vin. He don't look right."

Chris had not seen Vin enter the jailhouse as had stood at the window. The tracker must have entered while he had been reading the journal. He looked at Buck and Josiah, handing the journal to the preacher. "No one sees that but me," he said and turned to run out of the room.

Josiah stuck the journal inside his shirt as he and Buck followed after their friend. Buck clapped JD on the shoulder. "Let's move," he said and JD ran along behind them.

Chris didn't know what to expect when he ran into the jailhouse. He was envisioning Vin ripping the place up, looking for the keys to Hathaway's cell so that he could tear the man limb from limb. What he saw, though, stopped him so abruptly that Buck almost ran into him.

Vin was just standing at the wall of bars that separated the cells from the rest of the jailhouse. He was still, calm, staring straight ahead into the eyes of James Hathaway who sat in his cell. The man's right arm was in a sling, due to the wound Chris had inflicted him with the night of Marcus' murder.

Hathaway glared at Vin who refused to tear his eyes from the man.

Chris turned to Ezra and Nathan. "What's going on?"

"It seems Mister Tanner is trying to find answers," Ezra replied.

Nathan nodded. "He ain't done anything yet, Chris, but we thought if he was thinking about it..."

Chris raised his hand to stop him. He slowly walked up to Vin who continued to stare Hathaway down. "Vin?"

"No trouble, Chris. I give ya' my word. Just...wanted to look him in the eye, is all."

Chris took a step closer, keeping his eyes locked on Vin's pale and unwavering face. No expression showed. No life, no anger, no sorrow. Vin was a blank page, waiting for words to flow out and give him life again, to make life real again.

Chris wanted to touch the younger man, to grab hold and physically ground him to this world once more, but instead he only used his voice, hoping Vin would hear beyond the words to the heartfelt desire inside. Chris whispered, "What do you see, Pard?"

Vin kept his eyes on Hathaway. He did not turn to look at his friend. "He ain't crazy, Chris, least ways not insane. He's evil. He was losin' control over Marcus, that's why he killed him."

"You don't know that, Vin," Chris said in a gentle, reasoning tone.

"I know it can't be proven," Vin acknowledged. "And I know grief can cause a man to do terrible things, but he tried to kill Marcus before and his son was still alive. Seems to me he's just usin' his son's death as an excuse."

Josiah pulled the journal out and handed it to Chris. "Vin needs to know we found something that could convict Hathaway, Chris."

Vin turned from Hathaway and looked down at the book. "What's that?"

"Hathaway's journal. Goes back two years. We already found entries that can prove he planned Marcus' death," Chris replied, carefully leaving out the details of those entries.

Hathaway stood and approached his cell door. "That's my private property! None of you have any right to read that!"

Vin remained calm. Chris could almost feel the sadness and depression engulfing his friend, like some rushing river crashing against boulders that sought to slow the rapids down. Chris was one of those boulders Vin's grief was rushing towards, but Chris knew he could stand against the onslaught and allow Vin to break against him and around him, easing the violent rage of furry into a calm and settling flow.

Vin looked on Hathaway, his expression still blank. "What's the matter? You 'fraid we're gonna find out the truth?"

"And what truth are you referring to, Tanner? Teddy's truth? He killed my son!"

"Then why didn't you have him arrested and tried?" Buck asked.
"Seems to me if you really wanted him to pay for your son's death, you would have brought the law into it instead of calling the fire an accident."

Hathaway glared at him. "There are more satisfactory ways to obtain justice, Mister Wilmington."

"Really?" Nathan spoke out. "Like placing a person in bondage? Controlling them, beating them down for your own amusement?"

Hathaway went cold. "Teddy got what he deserved."

Vin looked as though had been hit in the gut. Marcus' soul had been tempered and fashioned into a pure testimony of overcoming tragedy. If any man deserved to be angry and vengeful it was Marcus, but he had not been. He had been gentle and caring and desirous to give of himself. And he had given himself to Vin as a teacher. To hear his murderer speak of Marcus with no compassion at all must have made Vin's sadness over the loss that much deeper. He lifted his gaze to see Chris and the others look on him with compassion. They all knew what Marcus had meant to Vin and they all understood his pain. He turned to Hathaway and softly replied, "And now you will get what you deserve. When your hold over Marcus began to weaken...ya' should have let go, Hathaway. Instead, ya' held on tighter and everything shattered in your grasp."

He lowered his head and walked out of the jailhouse. A lethargic pace plagued Vin's steps, and Chris could have sworn he saw the yoke of sorrow hanging from his friend's neck, forcing his shoulders to slump with the burden.

"He may be walkin' through hell right now, Chris," Josiah said. "But he ain't walkin' through it alone. He knows that."

Chris shook his head as he clutched the journal tighter. "Knowing that doesn't make it any easier, Josiah."

"It wasn't meant to," the preacher softly said. "It was simply to offer hope."

Chris looked at the preacher. Hope. It was a word that seemed to disappear from the town, especially within the Seven's corner of it. He looked at JD. "I have some reading to do. When is Judge Travis scheduled to arrive?"

"This afternoon's stage," the young sheriff replied.

"I'll be at the hotel. Get me when he comes."

JD nodded in affirmation and Chris stormed out of the jailhouse, not bothering to give Hathaway another glance.

The trial had come and gone, and Chris had managed to find the evidence in the journal to convict Hathaway without revealing any sordid details behind the man's motives. The night after the conviction and sentence had been passed; Chris, Josiah and Buck met behind the church. Each lit a match and set it to the pages. The three stood and watched it burn. Vin would never know what had been written.

The night before the execution was to take place, as Chris took over the early morning watch; he had sat in the cell and stared at Hathaway with contempt.

"You surprise me, Mister Larabee," the doomed man said.

Chris said nothing to prompt the man further, but Hathaway had continued nonetheless. "I'm certain you read all of my journal, yet you kept out the last entry in the trial. Perhaps you don't surprise me after all. If you had brought out what I had written your friend would be under suspicion, perhaps even you."

"You could have said something, Hathaway. You had a chance."

Hathaway smiled and shook his head. "You think I've lost control of this situation, don't you? Well, I haven't. I will never lose control. Knowing you know what I enough for me. You have to live with my thoughts for the rest of your life."

"What you think makes no difference to me anymore, Hathaway. This morning you'll hang, and your words will have no bearing."

"I will have my last say, Mister Larabee. I will then be sure to tell Vin Tanner what I believed to be true."

Chris shook his head. "He won't believe you. It's been proven your hatred for Marcus ran deep. Your words will not be listened to because of the motive behind them."

"Then the journal will speak for me."

Chris said nothing about burning the journal. No one but the three who burned it knew it had been destroyed. He didn't want Vin knowing. There would come a time, no doubt, when the tracker would ask to see it. Chris would tell him then. "What you say or don't say, Hathaway, is moot at this point. The damage to your credibility has been done."

Hathaway had shrugged and grinned with contempt. "Believe what you will, Mister Larabee. I will not give you the satisfaction of thinking you have won." He had eased back on his cot, and a look of contentment, blank and unyielding, crossed his a snake. "I may die this morning, but what you know, what you read...will stay with you forever. I always have the last word."

Chris ignored the man. He picked up the stick he used to whittle on from the edge of the desk. He pulled out his knife and started cutting away, while he waited for dawn. And as the sun began to change the sky into an orange and black canvas, the sound of hammers on wood could be heard, pulling Chris back to the present. The carpenters had started the gallows the day before and were now finishing it up. He turned to Hathaway and found the man sleeping with his back to him. He shook his head and stood. He walked over to the stove and began to welcome the day with coffee, trying to ignore the sound of the hammers.


The sun had been up for about a half-hour. Chris now stood on the porch outside the jailhouse doorway, sipping his coffee. He turned to see Vin riding his freshly saddled horse up to the hitching rail not two feet from him. The last few days the tracker had been riding out to Shepherd's Rock to be alone and grieve. The only difference this time was that he was taking the time to connect with Chris before leaving. Chris supposed part of the reason was that this was the morning of the execution. Perhaps Vin decided the time for reaching out had come. The younger man sat in the saddle gazing down at Chris with eyes that had lost all spark of life.

Chris walked over and stood by Peso's neck. He reached up and uncharacteristically put his hand on Vin's knee. Vin did not pull from the contact. That was something. The gunslinger turned his eyes up to Vin with a searching gaze. Chris was a man of few words, but he would say what he needed in order to get Vin on his feet again.

Vin locked eyes with his friend, and then lowered his gaze to the reins in his hand. He shook his head. "Can't forget," Vin whispered, and his voice was hoarse with choked back tears.

"I know," Chris whispered back. "What can I do?" Chris didn't need to say the words out loud. Or maybe he did. Silent communication had its pluses, but there was something to speaking your heart and mind out loud...especially when the soul of the other was broken. Vin was broken...more than he probably ever had been. He had suffered being whipped by a madman and left for dead in the
territory, a fact that Chris had not known until Marcus had urged Vin to reveal that part of his past. He had suffered the loss of his Ma when he was five years old. He had suffered orphanages and being on his own. He still suffered under the black cloud of a bounty on his head for a murder he didn't commit. Any day that cloud could engulf Vin and drag him toward a hangman's noose. All those things would have broken a weaker man. Vin lived and survived them, but this was different. This was the loss of Vin's least a big chunk of it.

Chris still held onto part of that which Vin had freely given to him that one fateful day. The day Vin had trusted Chris enough to tell him he was a wanted man. How Vin knew he could trust Chris with this knowledge was a mystery, but he had trusted, and the trust had sealed a bond between them. And Chris had taken up the mantle of 'guardian' over Vin's soul. After all, it had been Chris who had seen in Marcus a teacher for Vin. A man who could show Vin the world of words in a way neither he nor Mary could. It had been Chris' idea to urge Vin to seek Marcus out. Both were poets, and though Chris had a feeling for the craft himself, it wasn't near the extent that Vin and Marcus had held.

Marcus had opened up a new world for Vin, a world the tracker had never known existed within himself, and Vin would never forget the man who had filled his life with words.

Vin had thought it ironic that what Marcus had told him had been proven true. "Words can be tools used to build up or they can be weapons used to destroy,” he had said. Hathaway's journal had ended up destroying him. Vin glanced over at the gallows, and his face reflected the turmoil in his soul. "Help me to understand, Chris," he whispered.

Chris removed his hand from Vin's knee and grasped the younger man's arm. "I wish I could, Vin. You know I'd do anything to take this from you."

Vin turned from the gallows, and his eyes rested on Chris' compassionate gaze. He knew how much Chris wanted to help him. The truth was, though, Vin couldn't think of any way for help to reach him. What could Chris do that he hadn't already done? Stand by him? Hold him while he wept? Guard over him while he slept? How many more times would Vin weep? How many more times would he cry out from nightmares? How many more times would he stumble because his mind was mired down in grief?

Vin reached over and patted the hand that held his arm. "I know ya’ would, Pard," he said with understanding. "Sometimes, I guess, a man has just got to find his own way."

"Not alone, Vin," Chris urged. "Sometimes those times are easier when another walks with him."

"Speakin' from experience?" Vin asked.

Chris' lips tensed at the reminder of how he had shut out everyone when his family had been murdered. He had chosen to walk alone. And it had taken three years for him to see that walking alone caused nothing but more grief...three years and a certain buckskin-clad tracker. "Yeah," he sighed heavily. "I am. Trust me on that."

"You've seen me break, Cowboy. How many more times ya’ gotta see it 'fore ya' get to the point you've had enough?"

Chris' eyes spoke volumes. (As long as you're hurtin', I'll be there) Another squeeze of Vin's arm emphasized the point.

And Vin knew Chris meant it. For some reason he was drowning, but Chris was willing to dive in and risk drowning himself to save him. What price Friendship? One thing Vin knew for certain, the man who was reaching out to him now would never be blocked from Vin's heart, not completely. No matter how much the distance between them. Years down the road, if they both survived that long, should Chris ever need him, Vin would be there as matter the miles, no matter the age, no matter if the bones refused to work right, or the eyes refused to see right. No matter what...Vin would be at Chris' side. It was a vow spoken from more than just loyalty. It was a vow spoken of the soul. Friendships, the likes of which he shared with Chris, were few and far between if ever formed at all. Marcus had formed one such friendship with Vin, and he was taken away too soon. Vin would be damned if Chris would be taken from him, as well. The tracker shook his head slightly. No, he thought. No matter the distance.

As if realizing his thoughts were turning too maudlin, Vin nodded in acceptance of Chris' words, and then he looked down, pulling his hand from Chris' and resting it on his saddle horn. "When's the hangin'?"

"In a few hours."

"Would ya' think I was dishonorin' Marcus by not stickin' around to see his killer swing?"

Chris squeezed Vin's arm again shaking his head. Again those green eyes expressed his thoughts. (No, Pard. No one would question you not bein' here.)

Vin understood the silent message and nodded. "Appreciate it. I'll be at Shepherd's Rock, if'n ya' need me fer anythin'."

Chris patted Vin's arm and released him. "The Hounds of Hell would have to be chasin' us before I'd pull you away from there."

Vin swallowed. "Just don't let 'em bite ya' before ya' do, Cowboy," he said, and turned Peso to head off down the street at a full gallop.

Chris sadly watched him go. "I won't," he quietly vowed.

Turning, he went back inside the jailhouse where he would sit with his charge until the time of the execution. Hathaway was still sleeping on his cot in the jail cell, trying to escape the knowledge of his fate in the only way he could.

Chris went and poured himself some more coffee; then he sat at his desk and gazed out the window. There was no doubt Vin's pain had become his. He could feel the tragedy of it all raise its ugly head and laugh in his face. Many times during these last few days he had cursed himself for urging Vin to get to know Marcus. If his young friend had not taken the time to connect with the actor, the pain of his death wouldn't be tearing Vin down at this moment. Perhaps even Hathaway wouldn't be facing a hanging. Perhaps Marcus would still be alive. Then he would think on Marcus' last words to Vin. "These last few days have been the most glorious of my life," the actor had said. A few days of happiness, yes, but at what price...Marcus' life and now Vin's soul? "Help me to understand, Chris," Vin's voice echoed in his head.

Chris shut his eyes, forcing the sting of tears back. How can I, Vin, when I can't understand it myself?


An hour later the crowd began to gather. Why would anyone want to willingly watch a man be killed? Chris shook his head with disgust. A vision of Vin being on the end of that rope went through his mind. If the unthinkable occurred and Vin wound up back in Tascosa, unable to outrun the law, he would hang the moment he was brought back.

Would Chris be able to stop it from happening? If he couldn't, would he be able to watch it happen? He cringed at the thought, shutting the image from his mind, wishing to God that he could ignore it completely.

The door to the jailhouse opened and Mary stepped through, her white shawl wrapped around her shoulders. She was pale, and her eyes were red from crying. Hathaway had come to this town as her friend, and now he was about to the hands of the law.

Chris looked at her with remorse. "Mary," he said softly.

"I say 'good-bye' to him. Would that be all right?"

"Are you sure you want to put yourself through that?"

"Mister Larabee, though I loathe what he did, he is about to die for it. I want him to know...that I don't hate him. I couldn't live with myself if he went to his death thinking that."

Chris nodded in acknowledgment. He took the keys from the pole beside his desk and went to open the first door, the one that led to the cells. "Don't get too near him," Chris instructed. "A desperate man will do anything."

"I understand," Mary replied with a nod.

Chris let her through, but stood by the door, ready to intervene just in case Hathaway decided to do something drastic.

Mary approached the cell where the sleeping man lay. "James? It's Mary."

The man did not move in response.

Mary put her hands to the cell bars. "James? Please, I need to talk to you."

Still there was no response. She turned to Chris, questioning.

Chris looked through the cell bars. "Hathaway!" he called out.

Again, there was no movement.

Chris examined the man from where he stood and could not detect any sign of breathing. He pulled his gun and pulled the hammer back. Using the key he unlocked the cell door and kept his gun on the man as he slowly drew near. "Mary, get Nathan."

Mary hurried out of the jailhouse and toward the clinic.

Chris knew there was probably nothing the town healer could do, but if Hathaway was playing possum, Chris didn't want Mary anywhere near should the convicted man get his gun in a fight.

Chris cautiously reached out and clamped a hand on the large man's shoulder. "Hathaway!" He turned the man over and flinched back at the sight. Hathaway's face was gray with death. His sightless eyes were open; his mouth was twisted as if in his final moments of life, the fear of oncoming death had ravaged his soul.

Chris released the hammer on his gun and holstered it, just as Nathan had come through the jailhouse entrance with Mary right behind him. "Chris? What's wrong?"

"It's Hathaway...he's dead."

"Oh, dear God," Mary gasped, putting a hand to her mouth.

Nathan hurried inside and knelt by the dead man, examining him closely. "Looks as if his heart gave out. Couldn't have happened too long ago. His body is still warm."

Mary stood by the cell her arms wrapped around her, tears falling from her eyes. "He always told me he feared for those who hung. The strain of waiting for his death to come must have been too much for him."

Chris put a hand to her shoulder, squeezing it. "I'm sorry, Mary. I'm sorry any of this had to happen."

She looked up at him, her eyes wide with grief. "As am I, Mister Larabee. For Vin's sake as well as mine." She pulled from Chris' touch and walked out of the jailhouse.

Chris watched her leave, uncertain how to console her, uncertain he even wanted to try. The tension between him and Mary had begun when Hathaway tried to convince Chris that Marcus was a pot of heating water waiting to boil over. The man had tried to manipulate Marcus into not meeting anyone, for fear of what would happen to his control over the scarred man. But Marcus had met someone...he had met Vin. Hathaway had tried to keep the friendship from forming, so that Marcus would not get any ideas about facing the world again. He had Marcus right where he wanted him and any interference was looked down on. The Acting Troupe organizer even went so far as to use Chris' friendship with Vin in his manipulations. "You wouldn't want anything to happen to your friend at Marcus' hand would you, Mister Larabee? Marcus is unpredictable. Your friend could look at him wrong and Marcus could fly into a murderous rage causing your friend severe bodily injury."

That had been the last straw. Chris had seen Marcus with Vin, and knew beyond doubt that Marcus would sooner take his own life than cause Vin harm. Mary was Hathaway's friend, and Chris had turned into Marcus' friend. The fact that Chris refused to listen to Hathaway formed a rift between him and Mary, each wanting to be loyal to their side.

Unfortunately it wasn't until Hathaway lost control of Marcus completely that Mary finally saw the type of man her friend had turned into, but by then it was too late. Marcus had been shot and killed by Hathaway. It had not been Marcus who was subjected to fits of rage after had been Hathaway. It seemed that Chris wasn't the only one cursing themselves over the tragic events that occurred once the Hathaway Acting Troupe came to town.

Chris miserably shook his head at Mary's departing form. He knew it would take time, but the woman was strong. She would find a way to cope. Chris would help her, too. When she was ready to reach out.

He turned his attention back to the dead man in his cell. "Vin stopped by an hour ago, on his way to Shepherd's Rock. It must have happened when I went out to talk to him."

"Could have," Nathan said. "It looks as if he might have made some sound, but there's no tellin'. There would have been nothin' ya' coulda' done for him anyway, Chris. And even if ya' could..." Nathan shook his head. "Save his life just to watch him die a few hours later?"

Chris noticed something under the cot. "Wait a minute, what's this?"
He squatted down and retrieved a few small red berries. He handed them to Nathan.

The healer examined the berries, and then he opened up Hathaway's mouth. "He ate some. There's your reason he stopped breathing. Took his own life."

Chris lowered his head. "Can't say as I blame him, Nathan."

"What do you want to tell the people?" Nathan asked as he stood up again.

Chris shook his head. "Tell them his heart stopped. I was content to let the law have its way on this one. But, seeing as how Hathaway took his own life, that doesn't need to be public knowledge."

Nathan nodded. "All right." He pocketed the berries so that no evidence of Hathaway's suicide would be found; then he followed Chris outside to declare the pending hanging cancelled.

In the crowd, keeping well out of the way of Chris' line of vision, two Cowboys stood, watching the gunslinger at work. The taller of the two held a piece of straw in his mouth, watching Chris distinctly. Five other men joined the lead peacekeeper in assisting to disperse the crowd. The straw-chewing cowboy scrutinized the scene. "Tanner ain't among them," he softly spoke to his companion.

The shorter of the two men looked around them. "You sure?"

"Sure I'm sure."

"What are we gonna do then?"

"Stop worryin'. Boss man said to take our time. Just cause he ain't here now, don't mean he won't be turnin' up. We sit back and wait it out."

"Now this time is just for show, right?"

The taller cowboy nodded. "Just to deliver a message, is all. Boss man don't want no one killed."

"You think Tanner will recognize you?"

"Nope. It's been a few years. Reckon I've changed a bit since that time. Had a beard back then, and he was so far gone when I left him to die he probably forgot why he came after me in the first place."

"How are ya' gonna' keep yerself from killin' him this time?"

"Oh, I got my reminders, Cole. Ten thousand of them."

Cole grinned at his taller friend with something akin to lunacy. It was a flaw Cole had, but the man was able to shoot well in a gunfight and wasn't afraid of dying. For those two reasons alone, Roy Calder decided he could live with Cole's one major flaw. After all, wasn't everyone just a little bit...insane?

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