”A Face To The Reason”
(Author’s note: My apologies to Star Trek TOS fans with the last line of part
17, but I couldn’t resist. It just sounded so ‘Buck’.)
Vin was sleeping peacefully in Chris’
bed, going through the final stages of withdrawal. Chris laid beside him on his back, an arm over his eyes, snoring softly.
quietly entered the room and paid no mind to the fact that both were lying next to each other. Chris looked like hell, but
it was going on morning, and it was time for the shift change. He brought the cup of coffee over and gently nudged Chris awake.
Chris slowly roused from his sleep. “What?”
“Shh,” Nathan gestured to Vin. “Thought
you might need to get some air,” he whispered. “Brought you some coffee.”
Chris noticed the bandage
on Nathan’s head was bloodied and in need of changing. “I can help you with that,” he offered.
need. I’ll change it when I’m ready to sleep. Cut’s not that deep and it’s already starting to heal.”
rubbed his eyes and turned to look over at Vin who hadn’t stirred. “The worst is over then?”
hard part, yes. Now we just got to get him on his feet again.”
Chris smirked. “Knowing Vin it won’t
take him long to do that.”
Nathan just looked at him as he accepted the mug of coffee and took a sip. “What
is it, Nate? You’ve got a look in your eye that tells me I should be on the look out for something sneaking up in the
“It’s just that…you know how Soldier’s Sickness affects the body, Chris, but
have you seen it affect the mind?”
Chris nodded. “I know what you’re saying, Nathan. I’m not
going to pretend there’s not going to be problems now. But no matter what Vin goes through as a result of this, I won’t
let him go through it alone. I’ll watch over him.”
“But you know he won’t be the same,”
Nathan queried with an uncertain look in his eyes.
Chris nodded again. “I know that as well. But out there, by
the wagon, the Vin I once knew shone through, Nate. He’s still in there, still sleeping maybe, but he’s still
in there. And I know Vin’s spirit better than anyone, even himself. He’ll fight to keep this from defeating him.”
sighed. “I hope you’re right, Chris. I truly do. For both your sakes.”
Chris carefully flung his
legs over the side of the bed and ran a hand through his disheveled hair. “I could use a nice hot bath,” he muttered
as he took another sip of coffee.
“Got the washtub ready for ya’ in the kitchen. Change of clothes on the
Chris slumped with relief. “God, Nathan, you’re a saint.”
“Naw, just a
friend who knows what’s needed. Go on before that bath water loses its steam.”
Chris stood and stretched.
He stopped at the door and turned to Vin one more time. “For a while there I didn’t think he would make it.”
nodded grimly. “He wouldn’t have, Chris. You got through to him. I never saw anyone fight so hard to reach someone
before. It was an amazing thing you showed.”
Chris shook his head. “It wasn’t, Nathan. My soul’s
been lost twice already.” He stared at Vin’s scarred back and sorrow filled his eyes. “I’ll be damned
if I lose it again.”
He turned and headed out, leaving Nathan to ponder the validity of the words, ‘lost
soul’ and ‘damned’.
Words Chris Larabee and Vin Tanner were now able to share the meaning of beyond
the memories of these last seven months.
It would not be an epitaph he would want for either men and he hoped something
could happen to give them hope again.
Finding out the reason for it all would be a damn good place to start.
rode up to the jailhouse and dismounted. JD stepped out to greet him. “Mister MacAfee, awful early to be riding out
here, isn’t it?”
“I have news, JD. Where are the others?”
“Most likely sleeping.”
need you to get them for me. Tell them it’s urgent.”
JD nodded and hurried off down the street towards
the saloon and hotel.
Ezra sat calm and collected at the table with the others as MacAfee went into his
story. “I’m not sure if any of this can help you fellas, but I know when the next shipment of opium is due to
arrive for my men.”
“When?” Buck asked.
Ezra had taken out a deck of cards and busied himself
working his tricks as a means to focus. He’d cut the cards, rotate them, and place the deck together again, all with
Buck watched him in amazement. The man was deftly talented with those damn things.
be Thursday,” MacAfee informed. “Around three in the afternoon. Outskirts of the railroad line near Dead Oak road.
The guy I spoke to, he mentioned a guy named Garrison Jones who sends two men out with the shipment. These two men deliver,
pick up the money and head back to Jones’ place.”
“Jones, Jones,” JD pondered.
something to you, Mister Dunne?” Ezra asked.
“Give me a minute, Ezra, I’ll be right back.”
JD hurried out of the saloon and Buck and Ezra exchanged smiles. “Kid’s onto something,” Buck explained.
I venture his studying the claims around these parts will now prove fortuitous.” Ezra tipped his hat to Josiah, “A
most excellent idea for Mister Dunne’s talents, Mister Sanchez.”
Josiah shrugged. “It only made sense
when you hit on the fact that Vin had been returned within an hour of Chris’ return.”
“But that doesn’t
change the fact that the name is not ‘Douglas’,” Buck suggested.
“Douglas can also be a first
name, Mister Wilmington. A small but subtle fact all of us failed to consider.”
sound familiar?” Ezra asked.
Buck thought hard for a moment then threw up his hands. “I’m still at
a loss. Can’t place the name Garrison Jones, either.”
Ezra’s face went blank, and his hand froze
the deck of cards in mid-cut. “Dear God,” he muttered.
“What, what is it?” Josiah asked.
you remember when Vin was first attacked by Calder, how he was dragged through the streets that day? And how Mister Larabee
wanted me to look through Mary’s files on his exploits as a gunslinger?”
“The name ring a bell, Ezra?”
it may, Mister Wilmington. Mister Sanchez, if you would be so kind as to go over Mister Dunne’s information, I would
like to check those files once again. Mary gave them to me before she left back east, in case I could possibly do something
with them.” Ezra put the deck of cards back in his pocket and stood.
Buck stood with him. “I’ll help
ya’ there, Ez.”
“Much obliged, Mister Wilmington.”
Before MacAfee or Josiah knew it,
both men had stormed past them to the swinging doors. They barely missed JD who was returning with a rolled up map in his
hands. “Buck, what are…”
“Show Josiah what you may have, JD. Ezra’s onto something as
well. We’ll be back in a few minutes.”
JD shrugged and went back into the saloon. He unrolled the map on
the table and pointed to a spot, not four miles from town. “I remember this guy named G. Jones staked a claim here only
a year and a half ago.”
“A year and a half?” Josiah asked, checking the route. “That’s
the large house on that property near the canyon.”
“Exactly. And from what Chris said, they were heading
that direction when they took Vin from his place.”
“When we checked it out, it was deserted, though.”
looked over the area. “Not deserted if I remember this house right. My former employer would have been working the railroad
during the time this man bought the property. If I remember the layout of the interior of the house correctly, we had been
invited to go over investment options with the railroad with this Jones you’re talking about. I had a chance to look
into his house. He has a very deep cellar.”
Josiah’s lips tightened into a deeply set frown. “By
God, JD. They had Vin there all this time.”
JD swallowed. “And we…didn’t know it.”
quickly found his legs could not hold him anymore, and he fell into the chair Ezra had vacated. “Oh, God. This is going
to send Chris into the arms of guilt more than anything ever could.”
“But...none of us could have known,
“We checked this damn place three times, JD!” Josiah almost shouted, his anger directed
at the terrible knowledge just now revealed to them. “I’m sorry, JD. I don’t mean to yell at you. I just...”
what you told me, Josiah,” MacAfee said. “It sounds to me like this was all part of Jones’ plan to get back
at Larabee. Wouldn’t that just be the finishing touch? To know that Vin had been nearby all this time with no one ever
Josiah rose up and took the chair he had been sitting on. In a flash of anger, he crashed the chair
into a table behind him, splintering it under the impact.
The yell of rage he let loose forced JD into action. He ran
up and grabbed Josiah’s arm before he could do any further damage. “Josiah, don’t!” he pled. “Don’t
let loose now. We have to have all that aggression stored for when we go after this bastard,” he reasoned.
quickly pulled JD into his arms and held him tight. He could not stop the broken sobs that poured out of him. “JD, JD,
JD, my God, Son. Hold onto that reasoning mind of yours, because I think I’m losing mine.”
Ezra’s hotel room, he and Buck worked together to pull the records out of the boxes Mary had given them. They poured
over all the newspaper clippings that dealt with Chris Larabee from the time he lost his family to how he became known as
“The Man In Black”. Chris Larabee, the gunfighter, seeking a means to end his life in many a drawing match.
shook his head as he sat on Ezra’s bed, a leg tucked up under him. He laid some of the clippings around him. “I
never knew Chris was so famous, Ez.”
“Unfortunately, his fame is not necessarily the kind most would aspire
to,” Ezra replied from the desk by his window. He continued to leaf through the documents and reports that Mary’s
deceased husband had begun in order to write his own story of The Man In Black.
Buck watched Ezra carefully as the
gambler took more than three clippings at a time and perused the words to find the clues he was searching for. Ezra was like
a hound on a trail, unable to move off the scent, unwilling to let the prize slip out of his reach.
the story is here. I remember that name, Garrison Jones, from somewhere in these articles.”
Buck removed himself
from the bed and went to stand beside him. He started to thumb through other articles and journal entries, hoping he could
find some hint at the clue Ezra was searching for.
The sun was not yet completely up and so they were using the lanterns
in Ezra’s hotel room as a means to read by.
Buck moved two lamps closer to them in order to increase the lighting.
leaned over Ezra’s shoulder and couldn’t help brushing up against the gambler’s arm.
up at him. “Sir, I realize the lighting in here is not incredibly conducive for two people, but…”
I’m just trying to help is all. Hand me some more of those clippings.” Buck reached around Ezra and found himself
looking directly into Ezra’s eyes.
Ezra could see the scoundrel’s smile and swallowed. “Sir, is
there a problem?”
“Not sure, Ez. Was hoping you could tell me. You seem awful breathless suddenly.”
He quickly leaned in and pulled Ezra into a mouth-numbing kiss, searching to steal the gambler’s breath away.
Ezra pulled away he cleared his throat. “I, uh, I seem to have, uh, lost my…”
Buck nodded, a mischievous
twinkle in his eyes. “Lost your train of thought?”
Ezra slid his eyes up to him and nodded.
have that way with…um…with how I kiss,” Buck replied.
Ezra arched a brow and gave him a knowing look.
“Such conceit must draw your lovers in by the wagon load.”
“It’s not conceit. It’s confidence.
Something my Ma taught me when I was just a kid. She never lacked for customers because she knew how to play...” he
smiled at Ezra, “her cards right.”
He pulled Ezra against him and planted another kiss on those tempting
lips. His tongue pushed against Ezra’s teeth until the gambler opened his mouth to allow him entrance. And when their
tongues met in primal need, swirling around each other, Ezra moaned and wrapped his arms around the scoundrel with desire.
“My God,” he whispered. “It’s been sometime since we did this in the alley. I had almost forgotten
that you...do know how to kiss, Buck.”
Buck gazed into his eyes. Unable to look away, unwilling to look away.
“Ezra, by God, you aren’t bad on the kissing yourself. I think I’ve grown a bit...” he cleared his
Ezra eased a hand down between them and brushed against the hardness that had formed within Buck’s breeches.
“I’ll, uh, I’m not certain, sir, what you expect me to do about this problem. For as you can see,”
he took Buck’s hand and guided it to his own hardening bulge. “It seems I’m in the same predicament.”
let out a chuckle. “I guess we both asked for it, didn’t we?”
“I fear it’s the primal
nature within the males of our species. Sex is something we simply cannot do without, and when the opportunity arises,”
he checked himself, “so-to-speak, we simply give way to wanton abandon.”
“Damn, Ez, you talk too
much.” Buck shut him up with another kiss and this time, he explored Ezra’s mouth and let Ezra explore his to
their heart’s content.
When they were done, as much as they could be done, they looked at each other. “I’m
not certain we should try to pursue this at this time, Buck. We do have a task to perform and, I, uh, feel that perhaps later
would be a good time to...?”
Buck pulled away, suddenly coming back to himself. “Uh, sure, Ezra. We have
some work to do. Can’t ignore what we came up here to find.”
”Indeed, as much as the thought of dealing
with both our problems appeals to me, we can’t let Mister Larabee or Mister Tanner down with our selfish desires.”
watched with delight as Ezra straightened his neck tie and coat and resumed the perusal of the newspaper articles.
leaned closer to Ezra and brushed his fingers over the side of the gambler’s face. “When this is all over, you
and I have got to take care of these...problems.”
To which Ezra nervously cleared his throat. “Yes, well,
we best get back to searching through these articles.”
Buck smiled and grabbed a pile of clippings, laying them
out next to Ezra’s.
But before he could actually start reading any, Ezra lifted a clipping and held it under
one of the lanterns. “This is it!” he exclaimed. “My God, Buck, this is the one!”
is it? What?”
“We must hurry and get out to Mister Larabee’s right away. But first we must inform
Mister Sanchez about this, and I’m anxious to find out what Mister Dunne has discovered.”
Before Buck could
say anything, Ezra was out of the room, shouting over his shoulder. “Douse the lights if you would be so kind, Mister
Buck slouched. “Back to ‘Mister Wilmington’ again,” he muttered. “Oh,
well,” he said as he blew out one lamp, then the other. “I suppose it’s better than ‘hey, you’.”
The sun was creeping up into mid-morning, when the rest of the seven, along
with MacAfee, rode up to Chris’ shack.
Buck was riding his horse, while leading the chestnut horse Chris had
traded his black for in order to return to town. He dismounted and tied both horses to the hitching rail outside the shack.
Nathan came out, wiping his hands on a towel, clearly he had been busy either cleaning or cooking. Cooking from the
looks of the stains on the towel being used as an apron. “Buck, what is this? You know Chris only wanted one of you
to check on us.”
Buck stepped up onto the porch. “We’ve got news, Nathan. Where is he?”
Chris said, as he came out, dressed in a freshly cleaned black shirt and pants. He also looked to have recently bathed and
shaved. He was holding a steaming mug of coffee in his hands. He looked as though he was ready to face the day, any normal
day, but the dark circles under the eyes were testament to how he was feeling on a physical level. “What news?”
he said, as he sipped some of the coffee.
He was bone weary and Buck wanted to get this over with so that Chris could
have the necessary time to process all that was about to fall into his lap. He gestured to Ezra and JD who had dismounted
and approached the porch. “Well, it’s really these two who did most of the research. Them and MacAfee.”
tilted his head to the extra rider who dismounted and walked up to him, shaking his hand. “Mister Larabee. Sorry to
hear about Tanner. I wanted to help when Josiah told me what happened.”
“MacAfee. Tanner will be glad to
know he has such a good friend. But what can you possibly tell us?”
“A lot,” JD replied as he carried
the rolled up map to Chris and unfolded it for him. Chris studied the area where a circle had been drawn.
a foot onto the porch step and waited for JD to give his information.
JD and MacAfee informed Chris of the house that
Vin may have been held at, and why they thought it fit in with the pattern of the attackers…mainly to give Chris an
added wound to the soul, once finding out that Vin had been under their noses all this time.
Chris took the map, studying
it hard. His hand began to shake, causing some coffee to spill over onto the porch.
Buck hurried to Chris’ side
and wrapped a steadying arm around his shoulders. “Easy, Pard. Take it slow.”
“Are you sure?”
Chris pushed out the words, his voice hoarse with pent up anger.
JD nodded sadly. “I’m sorry, Chris, but
everything fits, especially when you add in what Ezra found.”
Chris turned to the gambler. “Tell me,”
he said, gripping the map with such fierce anger it was as though he wanted to strangle it.
Ezra held out the newspaper
clipping. Chris hesitantly reached for it.
“It merely states, sir, that the man who we believe owns the property
circled on the map may be Garrison Jones. And according to this article, close to four years ago, now…you killed his
son in a shootout at a saloon. The reason I never made the connection in going over the articles before Mister Tanner was
abducted, is because the name of the son was withheld in the article. All I saw was the name of the father.”
handed the mug of coffee to Buck and took the article. He walked off a few paces and read the story of the incident.
Jones,” he whispered.
“It happened in Kansas City,” Ezra went on, “but
the details are somewhat lax. We were hoping your memory could assist in giving us more.”
Buck asked. “Could the son’s name have been Douglas?”
Chris, his back to them all, read the article in silence.
Once finished, he slowly turned back to Buck and the others. “I don’t remember. The date of this article places
the incident at about three months after my family…” he stopped and swallowed. “Back then I wasn’t
interested in remembering much of anything.”
No one said a word to this. They had all been hoping the information
would stir up within Chris some memories long forgotten, but it appeared they were still locked up inside of him, and that
nothing could be verified.
“I remember so many times being called out in Saloon’s. This article doesn’t
give much information, only that I was involved. It doesn’t say why the shootout happened.”
the name in the article fits the name on the claim to this property,” JD said, gesturing to the map. “As well
as the man responsible for bringing opium stock to the Chinese working with the railroad. And Ezra has a plan to find out
for certain if this is the guy we’re after.”
Ezra stepped up onto the porch and moved closer to Chris.
“Sir, it would be my very great pleasure to assist in putting a face to the reason behind this debacle.”
gazed at the gambler, a mixture of respect and gratefulness in his eyes. “Ezra, work out the details with the others.
Only, keep in mind that Vin and I will want to be there, and he’s still too weak to move.”
a few days before we can implement the plan I have in mind, Mister Larabee. I assure you, we won’t move until he’s
The voice in the doorway took them all by surprise, and they turned
to see Vin standing there, dressed in Chris’ discarded clothes. Looking as ill as a man on the verge of starving to
death, Vin didn’t look anywhere near ready. But he was on his feet and his face, though drawn and hollow, held a look
of determination that gave Chris a spark of hope.
Chris went to his side and took his arm. “Vin,” he whispered.
want to go,” Vin whispered.
“In a few days, Pard. They don’t need us, yet. Let’s use this time
to get your strength back.”
Vin grabbed onto Chris’ arm to steady himself as a wave of dizziness swam over
him. “Chris,” he whispered, and it was more a plea.
“I’m here,” Chris whispered back.
“Let’s go inside, all right?”
Vin lowered his head, reluctantly gave a nod and allowed Chris to help
him back into the cabin.
Nathan looked over at the others who had watched this scene with both sorrow and pride.
us when you have a plan set. We’ll do what we can to get Vin ready.”
MacAfee swallowed. “I want to
be a part of it,” he said. “That man saved my life once. I owe him.”
“It could get dangerous,”
MacAfee shook his head. “My men may have been involved with this. If so, I want to know who and
how.” He went back to his horse and mounted. “I’ve left the railroad in the hands of my partner. You’ve
got an extra pair of eyes and hands if you need them.”
Ezra tipped his hat. “We may yet need them, sir.”
Then it’s settled.”
JD rolled up the map and went back to his horse. “Garrison Jones won’t
know what trampled over his miserable heart when we’re done with him.”
Buck and Ezra exchanged subdued
glances. “Do you think Mister Tanner will be ready in three days, Buck?”
Buck sighed, and put an arm around
Ezra’s neck, giving it a friendly jostle. “You saw him just now, Ez. That look of determined stubbornness was
shining through. His body may be battered and even his spirit, but that stubborn streak is probably what kept him alive all
this time, and it’ll get him through what’s to come. That and Chris, of course.”
Ezra moved off with
him back to their horses. “I do hope you’re right. It would pain me to not have Mister Tanner there with us when
we find out the reasons for his current state.”
Buck clapped his shoulder, a gesture of encouragement, and mounted
his gray. He turned to Chris’ horse. He knew he shouldn’t leave the horse there, knowing Chris’ instructions.
He didn’t want to give Vin an opportunity to escape and seek out more of the drug that had pulled his body and mind
into this hell, but he wondered if now would not be the perfect time to push Vin into making the decision himself. He was
obviously on his way back, physically. Would Vin be able to come back at least part of the way, mentally?
at the door. Buck looked up at him. Chris nodded. “Leave it. I know what to do,” he assured.
his hat to his friend and turned to the others. “Let’s get to work on how we’re going to do this thing.”
Vin sat at the table, stirring the stew around on his plate with his spoon.
Nathan and Chris
were busy eating their portions and watching Vin carefully. “Just a few bites, Vin,” Chris said, “or at
least the gravy and broth. Get something in your stomach. You’ll feel better.”
Vin dropped his spoon and
pushed it away. “Not hungry.”
Chris pointed a finger at him. “Mister, you will eat a few spoonfuls,
or I’ll have Nathan hold you down and I’ll force the food into your mouth. Now, eat!”
at him. He angrily pulled the plate back to him and stuffed a few spoonfuls of gravy into his mouth. Then he pushed the plate
away. “Satisfied?” he snarled.
Chris went back to eating, clearly not satisfied, but he wasn’t about
to push it. “It’s a start.”
Nathan said nothing as he finished his meal and put the dirty dishes
into a bucket of water next to the stove. “I got some clothes to clean this morning. I’ll be outside if you need
Chris nodded appreciation to him as he left and closed the door behind him.
Chris pushed his plate
of half eaten food away and watched Vin carefully. Vin was sitting sideways on his chair, fiddling with his fingers, not looking
at Chris. There was anger in his movements, possibly more out of frustration than anything.
“Vin, talk to me.”
shook his head stiffly. “Got nothin’ to say.”
“You’re hurting and I want to help.”
got up and walked over to the kitchen window, gazing out at the horse. “Where’s Pony?” he asked.
just sat at the table, sipping his coffee. “Had to trade him for that one, when I decided to come back here. I’ll
get him back once this is settled. Don’t worry about him.”
Vin did not reply. He kept looking at the saddled
animal. It would be so easy for him to get onto the horse and ride out. He looked down at his bare feet, and for a brief moment,
thought about simply taking off with no gun, no boots, no money. He’d been stripped of such things before and had survived.
May as well give it another try.
For some reason, however, he had spoken his thoughts out loud, letting Chris know
what he was thinking. Perhaps he wanted to see just how far Chris would keep him a prisoner here. “I could just leave…right
Chris crossed his arms over his chest and nodded, plaintively, keeping his eyes on his uneaten portion
of food. “Yes. You could.”
“Would you stop me?”
Chris shook his head. “Not unless
you wanted me to.”
“You mean you would let me go, just like that?”
Chris turned to him. “Just
Chris stood and walked over to him. “Because, Tracker. We needed
you locked here while you went through the worst of this nightmare. To get you to the place where you could make a choice
based on reason, not need. But the locks are opened, the chains released. If you really want to leave,” Chris went to
open the door, “then go.”
Vin slowly walked up to the opened door and gazed out. He stood there for a long
Chris reached up to a shelf on the wall just inside the door and pulled down a book. “Don’t forget
to take this with you.” He handed Vin his journal.
Vin looked down at the journal and a look of horror flashed
over his face. He fell to the floor, and sucked in a powerful breath as though the wind had been knocked out of him.
got to his knees and pulled him into his arms. “What is it, Vin? Please. Tell me.”
Vin reached out and
took the journal, holding it against his chest, a treasure lost in time and then unveiled by a quick and forceful pull of
a curtain. “Where did you get this?” he choked.
“I found it the day you were taken from me, Tracker.
I’ve kept it with me ever since.”
“Oh, God. I thought it was lost to me.” He forced the words
Chris lowered his head to Vin’s. “I kept it close. I kept you close.”
fell into the strong but trembling arms that held him as the weight of Chris’ sorrow crashed into him. “You didn’t
let me go?”
Chris shut his eyes, forcing the sting of tears back. “I couldn’t.”
rested his head onto Chris’ shoulder. “Oh, God, I don’t know…I don’t know what I’m feeling
right now. There’s a darkness eating at me, Chris. Gnawing at me and it’s so…thick.”
voice drifted off, as his body eased into the offered shelter and rest. Chris held him close, cradling him. He was so light,
that Chris did not find it difficult to lift him into his arms and carry him back to the bed where he laid him down gently
amongst the rumpled sheets.
Vin gazed up at him with weary eyes, still holding the journal to his chest. “Don’t
let go, Chris,” he quietly said, and reached out to grab Chris’ arm.
Chris sat on the bed beside him and
reached up to brush the tangled hair from Vin’s pallid face. “We’ve got some mean roads to walk before this
is behind us, Tracker. But I swear I’m not going anywhere. I’m never going to let you go.”
his hold as he closed his eyes.
Chris kept caressing the furrowed brow. “Sleep, Vin. Just sleep. I’m here.”
I’ll drive that darkness away. Starting with a bullet into Garrison Jones’ head.
The boards had been removed from the windows in Chris’ room.
The cool breezes of evening flowed in, and he sat on the chair, allowing the soothing breath of the world to cascade over
Nathan was asleep on the cot in the kitchen, snoring peacefully.
In Chris’ bed, Vin slept as well,
his body seeking repose from the horrors it had experienced these last seven months.
Though this battle
was over, Chris knew the war was far from won. Now the true healing had to begin.
Buck and Ezra, Josiah and JD could
take care of Garrison Jones for the moment. Chris had faith their plan would include both he and Vin. Three days was time
enough for what Chris needed to do until then.
He would send Nathan home in the morning. No emergencies had arisen
in town that required Nathan’s training as a physician, but that didn’t mean none would come up. There was no
telling when that new doctor would need Nathan’s help. Vin was over the worst of it, now. Nathan could get some legitimate
And that would leave Vin alone with Chris. To talk, to not talk, to touch or to not touch. Vin would call the
shots in the next few days as to where they would go, what they would do regarding what was between them.
the journal to his body was a sign the Vin Tanner that Calder could not touch was still in there, possibly hiding, waiting
for a moment he could deem it safe to come out.
Chris would give him that moment.
A moan pulled Chris from his
pondering and he moved to Vin’s side in a smooth, wraithlike motion. He knelt by the bed and put his hand to Vin’s
brow, caressing the furrowed lines that had knitted together from the threat of an oncoming nightmare.
Vin murmured in his sleep, flinging his arm out in a half-hearted attempt to push the unwanted visitor away from his dreams.
covered the hand wrapped around the journal and squeezed. “Here, Vin. You’re safe, now. No more darkness. You’re
Vin quieted, his brow smoothing under the loving touch of a protector he was not aware was nearby.
eased to the floor, to allow himself some comfort, and he leaned against the bed, holding Vin’s hand, caressing his
brow, watching for any more signs of unrest.
When he was certain Vin had fallen back into an easy sleep, Chris lowered
his head to the bed and, his hand still wrapped around Vin’s, fell into a needed sleep of his own.
here,” he whispered as he allowed himself to drift off.
Outside the cool breeze continued to wash over them
through the open windows, like a gentle mother consoling her troubled children.
When Ezra opened his
hotel room door, he was pleasantly surprised to find Buck standing there, hat in hands and a questioning look on his face.
“Can we talk?” Buck asked, a hint of a smile lurking under the mustache.
Ezra gestured him in. “By
all means. A conversation to go over the plan is what I had in mind. There are still some details I’m not completely
When Ezra shut the door, Buck quickly silenced the gambler with a forceful kiss. “I
didn’t come here to talk,” he whispered.
Ezra swallowed, his stomach suddenly performing cartwheels. “Mister
“Buck, Ez. Call me ‘Buck’.”
He gently pushed Ezra against the
wall and threw his hat to the side. “Tell me this hasn’t been something you’ve thought about all day.”
gazed deeply into the taller man’s eyes, saw the sincerity there, the prolonged need, and he found it hard to breathe.
“Buck, please, this is not what…”
Buck pushed himself against Ezra, forcing a gasp from the gambler’s
throat. “The walls are thin, Buck,” Ezra panted, but could not deny the excitement that welled up inside his groin.
Buck took Ezra’s face into his hands and stilled his trembling form with a spearing look. “Then don’t
make any noise,” he instructed.
He pulled Ezra into his arms and searched the gambler’s mouth with his
tongue. “I don’t know what it is,” he breathed out between kisses. “But seeing you take charge of
this plan like you did,” he maneuvered Ezra around and started pushing him toward the bed. “I’ve been hard
all fuckin’ day and I can’t seem to stop thinking about you.”
“I declare,” Ezra moaned,
“Patience does not seem to be one of your virtues.”
“Life is short,” Buck replied and fell
with Ezra onto the bed, the creaking loud and sharp.
Both stopped moving, listening to see if anyone would come storming
up to the door to find out what the hell was going on.
“Did anyone see you come in here?” Ezra whispered.
the hall was clear,” Buck whispered back.
“Oh, well, in that case…” Ezra quickly pulled off
Buck’s neck scarf and started in on his shirt buttons.
Buck grinned with delight. “Oh, so youhave
been thinking about me.”
“Shut up, stop flattering yourself and make love to me, damn it!”
language, Ezra, from a Southern Gentleman, no less.”
Ezra pushed Buck onto his back and snarled. “It’s
called ‘lust’, Mister Wilmington. And if you believe you can come in here and seduce me without some sort of repercussion…”
he flung himself onto Buck, grabbing the man’s wrists and pushing them above his head, “then you are sorely mistaken.”
grinned. “I like your definition of ‘repercussion’, Ezra.” He bucked up into Ezra’s hardness
and smiled. “Repercuss away.”
Nathan checked the cinch on Chris’ saddle as Chris stood
on the porch, holding a mug of coffee. “Seems we’re set to go,” the healer nodded and turned to Chris. “You
sure you don’t want me to stay? Vin is still too weak to…”
“I can handle it from here, Nathan.
Thanks for the offer, though.” He walked up to the man and held out his arm.
Nathan grabbed onto it and the grip
from both was firm and strong. “You’ve been a Godsend, Nathan. I will never be able to repay you for your help
with this one.”
“You two saved my life a few years ago, Chris. I think it’s high time I returned
“You’ve returned that debt over and over since then, Nate. Still, the thanks I have doesn’t
seem near enough…”
“It doesn’t have to be, Chris,” Nathan said, sincerity in his voice
and gaze. “I did what I did because it was what I had to do, not just as your friend but as a man. If you need me for
“Just bring my horse back to us when you boys are ready. I’m going to see Vin through
the rest of this storm, and get him to shore.”
“If anyone can, Chris, it’s you.”
released each other’s arms and Nathan mounted the horse. “The food is getting cold. Best get him up and eating.”
smiled and Nathan gently kicked the animal’s side and clicked his tongue. The horse moved off at a gentle lope, off
the property and down the road to town.
When he was out of sight, Chris turned to see Vin standing on the porch, more
stable than yesterday, but still far from ready to face the world.
“How are you feeling?” Chris asked,
walking up to him.
Vin stared out after Nathan. He said nothing.
Chris gestured to the mug in hands. “Want
“I need the air, Chris.”
“Sit down, then. I’ll bring you a mug.”
went to sit on one of the chairs on the porch. He leaned back and lifted his feet to rest on the porch railing.
spite of the August weather, a cool morning breeze washed over him. It had been so long since he truly felt and understood
the breeze around him, or the sunshine pouring down on his body.
Chris brought out a mug of coffee and handed it to
him before perching himself on the railing. The blond studied him carefully.
Vin stared into the brown liquid, taking
a sip here and there. “It’s good coffee,” he said.
A few more moments of silence; then Chris said,
“Talk if you need to, Vin. I’m not going anywhere.”
“What do you want me to say?”
you need to say to let go that ache inside you. And I know it’s there. I can see it in your body and eyes.”
traced the rim of the mug, keeping silent for a bit longer. He stared off into the trees surrounding Chris’ shack. “I
feel…like I’m not really here. Like there’s something…dead inside of me.”
his head and said nothing. He knew he had to allow time for Vin to get his thoughts together. Vin needed to think. He needed
to word things out for himself, to connect with his ability to communicate again. Chris wanted him to find that path of words
for himself, or it wouldn’t mean anything.
Chris moved the chair beside Vin around to where they faced each other.
He leaned back, giving Vin his space, but his presence also voiced that Vin was not alone.
Vin looked up at him, an
emptiness clouding his eyes.
Chris wanted to reach out and wash away that emptiness, to fill it with hope and purpose
again, but he knew that Vin had to reach out first. Chris would not give in to the temptation to pull Vin into his arms and
comfort him this time. Vin had to come to terms with what happened, and Chris would do what he could when Vin asked him to,
This was Vin’s call. Everything from this moment would be Vin’s call. No matter what that call
“When I was captured, my only thoughts were of you, Chris. The only thing I could hold onto was you,
your image in my mind and heart. It was the only thing that got me through the first few days. And then…then, after
they started refusing me the drug, getting me to beg for it, the world I knew disappeared. I began to need the drug more than
I needed my freedom. As the weeks went on…” Vin stopped, staring out into nothing, his throat working as though
trying to regurgitate bile from within and having it stuck there. “You became less and less a part of my thoughts. I
lost you completely near the end. You were gone. The Seven were gone, the town was gone. Nothing remained the same to me.
All I wanted was that drug.”
His voice wafted off into nothing, and Chris knew that Vin was lost in the memories
of that time.
Then Vin continued, his expression locked in the vacant stare of someone reliving another person’s
history. Connected, but distant. “Calder…he...he did things to me, Chris. When I was on the drug, he would come
in and do things to me.”
Chris fought down the anger that welled up inside of him. He could not let loose any
emotion, not right now, not when Vin was so close to telling the complete story.
“I’m sure you saw the
lash scars,” Vin prompted.
“Yes,” Chris replied, his voice choking on the word.
up at him and saw the tears fringing Chris’ eyes.
“Calder was my problem, Chris. What he did to me had
nothing to do with you. It’s from that time past.”
Chris worked his lips, trying to force his anger down,
trying to force the hot tears back from where they came, but a few escaped and trailed down his face. He did not bother to
wipe them away.
Vin did not bother to comment further on that part of it. He turned his attention back to the trees.
“I sit here now and know that you sought for me. I sit here and see the torment in your eyes, Chris. But…my soul
is broken and there’s no sense denying it.”
He turned back to Chris. “I don’t know what I need
from you right now. I don’t know what you expect me to say or feel…or know.”
Chris turned his eyes
away. He set his mug of coffee at his feet and stood. He walked to the porch step and leaned against one of the posts, his
hands in his pockets. He stared out over the road leading back to town, wondering if he would ever step foot in that town
again. Wondering if Vin ever would, or would want to. “What I need from you, Tracker, is to know that I still love you.
Whether you love me is really not something I need to know right now. I’m not stupid. I know what this drug has done
to your soul. But, know this and let it sear into your heart as much as it possibly can.” He turned to Vin. “I
will go where you go, even if only as a friend and nothing more. This relationship, what we have, what we shared in the past…it’s
a treasure to me, Vin. And it always will be. A treasure more valuable than money. So, you may question what you feel for
me now and that’s all right. That’s something I truly understand. But, what I feel for you goes beyond the possible.
You’ve made me believe in the impossible, Vin. And if I have to wait the rest of my life for you to believe in it, too,
then so be it. My love for you is that deep. Even if it no longer exists within you.”
Vin watched as Chris walked
back into the shack. “I’ll get our breakfast ready.”
Vin sat there, letting Chris’ words reach
a level of his being he thought long since dead.
He slowly stood and followed Chris inside, watching the blond as he
prepared their plates of eggs, bacon and bread and butter.
He slowly walked up to Chris as the plates were being put
on the table. He took Chris’ hand in the hand that still bore the needle mark scars.
Chris turned to Vin who
lifted Chris’ hand and studied it as though it were a marvel. “I remember what we shared, Chris,” he said.
“I do, but,” he put a hand to Chris’ face, “the drug killed something inside of me. I need time.”
eased his hands to Vin’s face. “Like I said, Vin, I go where you go. No pressure, no expectations.”
put his hand to Chris’ chest, a question in his eyes, a need to know which step to take. “I don’t want to
“I want your heart, Vin, I want it back. That’s not going to be something I’ll keep
from you. But, until you can give it to me, let this be all there is, and I’ll be happy knowing you’re alive and
you’re here.” He eased Vin into his arms, holding him gently. “I lost you and thought you were dead. I’m
not one to question my blessings, Vin. I won’t play that way with you or your heart.”
Vin slowly eased
his arms around Chris’ waist. “Give me time, Chris.”
“I’ll give you eternity, Vin. Just
don’t push me away as a friend.”
Vin tightened his hold and that was the only response Chris needed.
(TBC in Parts 20-22)
Click here to go to parts 20-22