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Notes: This is my interpretation of what happened after the Wagon Train episodes. If you don't like a grumpy Chris, then don't read it! Thanks to Helen for sorting out my mistakes and giving some good suggestions.
Two innocent civilians lay dead in the middle of the main street. Two people whose deaths could have been avoided. Chris stood and stared at the bodies and watched with regret as blood pooled beneath the still shapes. Vin appeared at his side almost silently, and the black-clad man whirled round to face him.
"Take a good look at 'em, Vin. Why do you think they're lying there?" Not getting any reply, Chris poked out a finger and stabbed it against the younger man's chest. "Because of you, that's why."
The tracker stared at Chris in disbelief, unable to answer as the rest of his friends drew alongside him.
The blond wasn't finished yet. "Get yourself sorted out. I don't need a lovesick boy dragging us down. Charlotte's gone. Get over her, or get out, 'cause you're no good to me as you are. You ain't concentrating on what you're doin' and you're becoming a liability. You were supposed to be on patrol this morning, weren't you? How the hell did you miss seeing those murderin' bastards come in?"
Vin walked away without speaking as the rest of the men looked on nervously. They certainly weren't going to intervene at the present time. Things were too hot and any reaction from the others was more likely to exacerbate matters.
What had caused the men's deaths and the subsequent argument? Outlaws, of course. The town had just been hit by a gang of bank robbers, who had caused mayhem before making good their escape, killing the two townsfolk on the way.
Vin, for once in his life, had failed in his job as a marksman. As part of his patrol, the sharpshooter had been checking on a wagon train that had set up outside of town. He'd found the place crowded because a photographer had arrived to take photos for a newspaper article that Mary was writing. The artistic man had spotted the potential for making money and had set up near the wagon train to encourage custom from the travelers. Vin spotted the pretty blonde journalist nearby and pushed his way through the crowd to talk to her. When Vin had realized that the bank was being robbed he was still surrounded by scores of people all waiting to take advantage of the photographers services. He'd been forced to hold his fire or hit innocent people. He cursed at what he considered bad luck when he'd been unable to force his way through the crowds, despite yelling at them to stand clear.
Now he had another reason to curse. The tracker continued to walk away from his friends, head bowed in guilt and anger. He felt bad enough without the added burden of Chris's words. He felt the tears prick his eyes as he replayed the recent events, wishing things could have turned out differently.
"Josiah? Can I talk to ya a minute?" Vin asked tentatively, later that afternoon.
"Sure, Vin. Anything wrong?" Damned fool question Sanchez. 'Course there's something wrong. The preacher turned round and studied the pale sharpshooter closely.
Vin took a seat at the back of the church and nervously fiddled with his hat, which he'd removed out of respect. He turned the headgear round and round in agitation as he gathered his thoughts. He finally cleared his throat, then sighed, shifting awkwardly on the hard seat. "I'm gonna be away from town for a couple days. Can you let Chris know? Don't fancy another argument with him right now."
"Sure, son. Anything I can help you with?" the preacher asked as he moved closer to his young friend.
Vin flicked a quick look at the preacher before turning his gaze out the window. "Nah, I just need to think things through. I was just caught in the wrong place during the robbery and I didn't dare shoot. Chris oughta understand that, but he don't. He made that clear enough, Josiah."
"He ain't thinking straight right now, son. He didn't mean nothin' by it."
"Sounded like somethin' to me, big fella. I'll see ya later," Vin said as he stood and flicked his eyes toward the altar quickly as if sending a silent prayer.
The preacher shook his head sadly as he watched the younger man leave the church. He knew that even if Chris hadn't yelled at him, Vin would have left town anyway, needing to sort himself out. He always did that when he was upset. However, there had been something else in Vin's eyes that had set the big man thinking. There had been hurt in those gentle blue eyes, but that hurt was accompanied by something else that Josiah couldn't quite put his finger on. Whatever it was, it worried the preacher. The big man growled as he wiped his hands and set off with a purpose to the saloon.
"Chris?" he called as he barged through the doors and saw the man sitting at the table just inside.
"What is it? Ain't in the mood for a sermon," the blond snapped as he knocked back his shot of whiskey and then slammed the glass down on the table.
"Well, you're damned well gonna sit there and listen to what I have to say, whether you like it or not. Vin's just getting ready to leave town for a few days. He asked me to let you know 'cause he didn't wanna talk to you himself. You treated him badly, son. It wasn't his fault that those men died and he certainly didn't deserve what you said to him. He thinks that you don't trust him."
"Chris!" the big man snapped. He moved toward Chris, but stopped short when he noticed the blond fingering his gun distractedly. It didn't seem as though the other man had calmed down at all.
"Go away, Josiah, before I put a bullet in your head."
The preacher scowled and walked away. He decided on a second line of defense and immediately sought out Buck. The dark-haired peacekeeper knew Chris better than anyone and the preacher always asked his opinion during times of grief with the black-clad gunslinger.
He found the tall peacekeeper coming out of Potter's store, his arms laden with some cloth. Josiah frowned at the sight but stepped up to intercept his friend.
"Buck? What we gonna do about Chris and Vin?"
Buck's gaze was on a woman down the street. He seemed eager to reach her and Josiah realized that the cloth was probably for her, a bribe of some sort, no doubt.
The tall man focused on Josiah for a fraction of a second before returning his eyes to the buxom blonde. "Best not interfere yet, pard. Chris'll calm down, but until he does, he won't take kindly to being told to pull his head in. He'll come to his senses eventually," Buck advised as he tried to step round the big man.
Josiah moved the same way to prevent his friend from escaping. "Hopefully sooner rather than later 'cause he just threatened to shoot my head off. I went to see him 'cause Vin's leaving town for a few days and the poor kid's feeling real bad about what Chris said to him. I'm just worried that he don't intend coming back."
Buck looked up worriedly and gave in. "I'll go talk to Chris then, but be prepared for gunfire."
The ladies' man took a few steps along the boardwalk before realizing that he still had an armful of material.
"Is that for Mz. Dalton?" Josiah asked with a raised eyebrow.
"Yeah, I kinda bought it for her. It'll bring out the color in her eyes," Buck replied with a grin.
"Give it to me. I'll make sure she gets it and knows that it came from you," Josiah said in amusement.
Buck narrowed his eyes suspiciously but handed the bundle over, hoping that Josiah would do as he said. He'd been after the young woman for a long time and he hoped this would secure her affections. Patting the preacher's back in thanks, he headed off in search of his oldest friend.
Chris, as the ladies' man had expected, was still in the saloon drinking himself stupid.
"Pard?" the tall gunslinger said as he approached the man cautiously.
"Fuck off," Chris said when he saw who it was. "I've already had Josiah in here sounding off. I don't have to take it from you, too."
"Vin's only human, pard. He couldn't help what happened this morning," the ladies' man said reasonably as he sat down opposite Chris.
"He shoulda concentrated on the matter in hand, not run off with someone else's wife."
Buck growled angrily and pursed his lips together before answering. "Is that what this is really all about? Charlotte wasn't exactly an unwilling participant, y'know? You saw for yerself how her husband treated her, and I saw how you reacted to his behavior. You know Vin's a sucker for a female in distress and at least he had the guts to help her out."
Chris shook his head vehemently. "She'd've run off with the first man who showed an interest. He was a fool to think that she actually loved him. She woulda left him too, as soon as she'd gotten away from her husband."
"You don't know that," Buck said quietly.
"*Yes*, I do. Vin saw the light before it was too late, so he knew it as well." Chris scowled and snarled, "If he's run out on us once before, he'll do it again."
Buck frowned as he studied his friend for a minute or two. "When we first left the wagon train you seemed to sympathize with his feelings. What's changed? Why did you treat him so badly earlier with the things you said? What happened today was just bad luck on his part, it wasn't deliberate or nothin'."
Chris disagreed immediately. "He wasn't concentrating on what he was doing and two men are dead because of it. He was preoccupied and I need him to be alert. He's acting like he was when he was with her. I can't trust him when he's in that kinda mood."
"He's kinda grieving, pard. He just needs time."
"Ain't got time," the black-clad man snapped irritably at Buck's continued comments.
"Jeez, yer a bastard sometimes, Chris." Buck then had a sudden realization and he frowned uncertainly. "You were jealous, weren't ya? You couldn't stand the fact that Vin was happy and had found someone to love. He'd gotten the guts to reach out and take her, whereas you were watching Mary with Gerard, and were too much of a coward to tell her how you really felt."
"Shut up!" Chris yelled as he threw his whiskey glass away to smash against the wall. He looked furious as he balled his fists in agitation.
"Vin sacrificed everything to come back and warn us about those other men. He coulda just kept riding, but he didn't. I think that says just how much you can trust him, don't you?" Buck yelled back. He stood up and leaned toward his companion with the palms of his hands pressed flat on the table top.
The blond stared up at him, dumbstruck. The ladies' man saw the look in his friend's eyes and wondered if he'd gone too far.
"I'm sorry, pard," he apologized as he sat down again.
Without another word, Chris stood abruptly and left the saloon, his black duster swirling about him.
"Shit," Buck cursed, thumping the table angrily.
"Brother?" Josiah asked as he came in from the boardwalk where he'd been listening.
"I think I made matters worse," Buck admitted worriedly as he looked up at his friend.
"No, I think you hit home," Josiah said wryly as he patted Buck's back in comfort.
The tall peacekeeper swung round and looked nervous when he saw who was there. "Oh, hey, Chris," he greeted quietly.
Chris smiled lopsidedly and shrugged awkwardly. "I'm sorry. You were right. I know Vin would never let us down and I shouldn't have yelled at either of you, or Josiah for that matter. I need to set things straight with Vin. Do you know where he went?"
Buck let out a relieved sigh. He'd been expecting another tongue-lashing. "No, I'm sorry, pard. Josiah might know, though, 'cause he spoke to him first."
Chris nodded and walked away in the direction of the church. He cursed at his behavior and hoped he'd be able to mend the unique friendship that he had with Vin. He stepped into the church and saw the preacher doing his daily exercises.
The blond cleared his throat and waited for Josiah to look at him. "Josiah? Do you know where Vin went?"
"Probably out to the Seminole village."
The black-clad man nodded gratefully. "Thanks, Josiah. I'm sorry for what I said to you earlier. I was...hell, I don't know what I was thinking."
"That's alright, Chris. I've got a thick skin. Vin don't, though, so make sure you bring our missing lamb back to the fold in one piece."
"I will," Chris said with a smile.
Chris dismounted and tied his horse to a nearby tree. He wandered through the Seminole village and greeted everyone with a curt nod of his head. They all knew why he was there and all indicated in which direction his young friend was in.
"Vin? Can I join you?" the gunfighter asked as he finally spotted him.
The tracker looked up, startled. He had missed the approach of the other man, his mind elsewhere. "Whatever," he replied with a shrug.
Chris squatted down beside the man. "I'm a stupid bastard sometimes, Vin. I treated you badly and I apologize."
Vin looked up and studied Chris's face minutely before answering. "I've only ever looked out for our welfare, Chris. I never expected you to doubt me, or blame me when things went wrong. I just didn't have a clear enough shot to kill those outlaws. It weren't 'cause I was thinking 'bout Charlotte."
"I know." Chris nodded. "Buck said something to me earlier that got me thinking. He said that I was jealous of you for finding someone to love, and for the fact that you did something about it. He was right." Chris hesitated, uncomfortable with voicing his true feelings. "I also thought I was gonna lose you forever. You left with her without a second thought and I couldn't understand how you could do that. I thought we were friends and that you'd always be around. It shocked me to realize that it may not always be that way. I was stupid. You've got your own life and you don't need me tellin' you how to live it."
Vin looked slightly shocked. "I'll always be yer friend, Chris. I won't ever lose contact with ya. When I left with Charlotte, I knew you'd go back to Four Corners again. There is such a thing as a telegraph office, you know? I woulda wrote ya as soon as I could."
Chris looked up and smiled as he patted his friend's back. "I know, and I'm truly sorry. I wouldn't blame you if you never wanted to speak to me again after what I said to you."
"I ain't one to hold grudges, Chris. Yer apology is good enough for me."
"Are you coming home then?" Chris asked hopefully.
"Yeah, cowboy. Nowhere I'd rather be," Vin said as he smiled, stood up and held out his hand.
Chris grasped the man's arm just below the elbow as Vin clutched his in the same way, pulling him to his feet but not letting the clasp go immediately. Chris grinned, glad that Vin was such a forgiving soul. He vowed never to treat his friend in the same way again. He was much too precious to lose.