Another day saw the events of yesterday all but forgotten.
No matter what transpired between them, Vin and Athena could not seem to
keep their eyes from one another. The attraction was so natural for both,
yet when she tried to act upon it, he simply pulled away. And, even as they
grew closer, the woman could not forgotten why she was there. When she had
tried to question him about his secret, he simply ignored
her. When she reminded him of his promise to tell her, he just walked away.
There were times when they were so far apart
yet, in the evenings when
they settled in each others arms
the days conversation
The battle seemed all but lost, and as Athena returned to the fire, she was ready to give in. She had been there more than a week now and was no closer to a solution than she had been when she followed those men round the lake head eight days before. The tracker was enjoying his time here in the mountains and since the woman had joined him, he felt like he should never leave. The woman closed her eye and swore at her incompetence. What am I to do? Sighing heavily, she stepped closer. "What must I do to convince you that you must return to The Seven?" she asked, sitting down beside him.
Vin looked at her and took his own deep breath. He was really starting to hate her perseverance. "Not tonight thena. Bringin down that tree this afternoon, plum wore me out." The sharpshooter moved in closer to the woman and tried to cuddle her.
She sat straight up and did not curl into his arms as she normally did. "I did advise you against your efforts but you did not heed my warnings." She turned to face him. Her manner and her face were stern. "You are intent on building a shelter on this mountain," she gazed away. "I have not failed you, Vin Tanner I have failed your companions." She stood up and moved away from him before turning to look at him once more.
The sharpshooter was frustrated with her statements. " thena," he called. He smiled reassuringly and patted the spot she had just vacated. He was tired from his activities and wanted only for her to return and comfort him.
His casual manner got the best of the woman and she turned away from his beckoning. She was angry with herself and the tracker but his gently way made it so hard to stay mad. She cleared his handsome face from her mind and focused her thoughts on her task. "If you will not go back, then I must " she said sternly. "I will tell Ezra that his doubts were justified and that he may return to his untrusting ways."
Athena was becoming upset and Vin could sense it.
"I shall tell the cowboy that his temper is fitting and that the strength of his passions are not enough to hold this fellowship together." The woman turned to face the tracker and looked him directly in the eye. "I will return to Christopher " Her breath was suddenly taken from her as memories flashed in her mind. Her eyes wandered as she fought for the right words. "And tell him that " she took a deep breath. "What passed between us was unavailing." She turned away again and stepped further into the shadows. "I must let him know that the peace he has made in his heart was in vain." She looked out at the darkness and closed her eyes. "I must let them all know that you will not return to them that it is my failure, not yours and not theirs."
Tanner called her again but she disappeared into the darkness. He stood up abruptly and shouted her name again.
There was no answer.
Vin stood and stared out at the blackness surrounding him. Realizing that she needed time, he shook his head in annoyance and sat back down. He stared at the dancing flames and recalled Athenas words. She had just described the last month of her life through the journeys she had taken with his fellow peacekeepers. The sharpshooter hadnt fully comprehended her task until now. He had not completely understood her commitment and the sacrifices shed made in the name of that task. He closed his eyes and sat quietly listening to the fire crackling. What am I gonna do?
Two days passed and there was no sign of the woman anywhere.
Tanner checked all the places they had visited and all the places shed
wanted to go. He was angry with himself for only thinking about himself and
he was angry with Athena for making him feel this way. As the sun set on
the second day, he made his way back to camp. He stopped suddenly and realized
that she had returned.
Athena was under the lean-to packing her belongings.
Vin stood in silence and watched. So many emotions went through his mind as he saw her readying to leave; yet, he knew he didnt want her to go. In his heart, the tracker realized that there was only one thing he could say to her that would make her stay. He walked up behind her slowly. "I cant just tell anyone," he finally whispered as he sank to the ground.
The woman stopped what she was doing and lowered her head. "I am no longer a stranger to you, Vin Tanner. We have shared much I know I can help " she whispered back. "Let me try "
Neither of them moved as the sharpshooters thoughts weighed heavily on his mind.
Athenas chin rested on her chest. Her eyes were closed and she was desperately trying to hear a sign.
The tracker was staring intently at the back of her head. He so much wanted to trust her. If he couldnt reveal himself now, he probably never would. He set his hand on her shoulder and closed his eyes, too. He squeezed her gently, moved round in front of her and kissed her forehead lightly. "Stay with me for just a few more days Ill try tah find the courage in my heart to let you in."
Tears welled in her eyes but she would not let them fall. There is nothing that I would not do for you, Vin Tanner. Please, let me help you please
Athena did not leave
but Tanner felt as though
hed lost a part of himself. The comfort and ease he had enjoyed in
her company was gone. The simple, shy smile that made him laugh had vanished,
He sat and watched her across the firelight and wondered if he could find courage to tell her what she wanted to hear. But, the thing that weighed heaviest on his mind, was the thought of what would happen if he didnt. He so wanted to hold her in his arms but she had refused. Vin felt as though he was losing something precious and his heart wanted nothing more than to fix that which he had broken her trust.
In the morning, she did nothing but stare. He had tried to relax their moods by drawing her into conversation. Now he understood how frustrated other people felt when he didnt respond to their queries... or answered them with a single word or a grunt. They both became frustrated and Athena wandered off. He watched her go and the longing he felt in his heart choked the breath from his lungs. He had to do something and soon.
Setting out after her an hour later, Tanner found the woman sitting in the long grass in the meadow. He hadnt seen her at first but finally spotted her blond hair blowing in the breeze. He wandered over and stood behind her. "Hey " was all he said.
Athena lowered her head. Several minutes passed before raised her chin in the air to smell the breeze. Her eyes were closed. She was confused and angry but most of all hurt. She had no idea what it was that Vin couldnt share with her yet, that wasnt the pain she felt the strongest. Deepest in her anguish was his inability to trust her but that baffled her too. Why should she value his confidence so much? She had no answers she was vulnerable and she hated feeling this way!
The tracker sat beside her and rested his hand on her shoulder. "Ever hear of a boon?"
There was no reply.
The sharpshooter licked his lips nervously. "Its a blessing good fortune "
"I know the word," she blurted out in frustration. Leaning her head towards his hand, she hesitated. She didnt want distractions. She wanted to be close to him but that would bring her no answers. "Why are you afraid, Vin Tanner?" she asked quietly. She opened her eyes to look up at the mountains.
The tracker lowered his head and squeezed her shoulder. "Aint much Im afraid of " he started to say. Licking his lips, he tried again. "Everyone just reckons they understand me is all. Most men probably just " he swallowed hard. He wanted to tell her. He just didnt know how.
Athena could sense his hesitation and she turned to face him. His emotions suddenly overwhelmed her and she ran her hand across his jaw line. Turning her body completely towards him, she smiled. "Whatever it is, Vin Tanner, I will listen I will not judge you because of it... I could never see you with different eyes."
The sharpshooter listened to the emotion in her voice and knew, beyond any doubt, that she spoke the truth. He suddenly felt as though a huge weight had been lifted and a gentle smile touched his face. He leaned in to kiss her and Athena melted at his embrace. When their kissed ended another, more passionate one ensued.
Her body pressing against his as they slowly lowered to the ground. Athena kissed him again but as she lay on top of him, something pressed against her chest. She reached down between their bodies and retrieved the offending harmonica from his pocket. A mischievous grin crossed her lip before she looked from Tanner to the instrument and back again. Without warning, she flicked it into the tall grass.
"Hey," Vin complained as he pushed her aside to retrieve his property.
Athena rolled and tackled his legs as he tried to move off in the direction that she had thrown the instrument.
The sharpshooter was caught in a quandary. Hed hunger for her touch for days now. He knew the woman didnt understand the importance of what she had just done. He wasnt really mad, he just wanted to find his harmonica. Yet, the sharpshooter also couldnt help but feel excited by her playfulness. He pushed her away carefully and continued his search
It wasnt in Athenas nature to give up that easily. This time she climbed onto his back and forced him to the ground. She was giggling like a child as Tanner squirmed beneath her
Vin was enjoying their little game. Her amusement was pleasing and he tried to continue his search. In his usual agile manner, he rolled her off his back and pinned her against the soft ground. They both smiled happily but as they followed each others eyes, the grins slowly disappeared. The tracker gradually lowered his body on to hers and kissed her passionately.
She kissed him back just as deeply and then rolled him again so that she was on top. A coy smile returned to her face. Her expression was so gentle and inviting as she slowly unbuttoned his shirt and kissed his chest. Moving back to his mouth, Athena kissed him again as she reached down to loosen his gun belt.
Feeling the belt slip, Tanner pushed the woman away. He sat up as the strap dropped to the ground.
The sharpshooters quick movements and forcefulness startled Athena. She pulled away from him as he reached for his weapon. She frowned in confusion. What did I do? She couldnt have read him wrong could she?
Vin looked at Athena and took a deep breath. Oh, no God, no! His torment was clear. He tried to reassure her with a smile and ran his hands across his face. Anguish shone in his eyes as he got to his feet. "Im sorry," he muttered under baited breath. He turned to walk away.
"Do not go, Vin Tanner."
The tracker stopped but did not turn to face her. He could hear the devastating plea in her voice and he fought back his own empathy. Shed given him so much. Shed given them all so much The womans pledge finally hit home. For her, he wasnt only giving up his chance to face down his fears; he was also giving up The Seven. The tracker couldnt let her bear such a burden. He wouldnt let her believe this was her fault. He couldnt
Sucking back his tears, Tanner spoke softly. "Aint afraid a much thena... Just aint never found the courage " He lowered his head and told her what she had been waiting to hear. The five simple words were coated in so much anguish, shame and disappointment that the woman could hardly contain her own emotions. He had finally revealed himself to her completely, just as he had promised.
Athena wiped a tear from her eye as she watched him walk away. She sat in the meadow most of the afternoon, flipping his harmonica repeatedly in her hands. His words replayed over and over again in her mind. He was right There was no way she or any of the men that he rode with She shook her head to clear her thoughts. There was just no way anyone who knew Vin Tanner, would have ever guessed his secret. She now understood completely why he held it so close to his heart. She closed her eyes as she replayed his words in her mind.
The sun was nearing the horizon when Athena came back
to his camp. She could see him leaning over the fire fixing something for
their supper. And, as the woman stood silently and watched, she slowly came
to the realization that having a plan in mind wouldnt have helped her
this time. A smile graced her lips. The spirits that guided her had known
what they were doing all along. There was no way to deal with this situation
in his town. There was no way to plan a solution ahead of time. This was
the only place this shy, gentle man could have revealed the deep secret that
he held in his heart.
The smirk was still on her face as she walked casually back into camp. She gathered the plates and utensils from under the lean-to as though nothing had happened. They didnt look at each other as they waited for the meal to be ready. They didnt speak while they consumed it, nor when he gathered the dishes to take to the stream.
The sharpshooter took his time cleaning the dinnerware. He needed space to consider what she would be thinking. She had shown no reaction when he had revealed his confidence to her. Somehow, he hadnt expected her to. But, what was he to do now? Surely, she would be trying to formulate a plan. Hed found the courage to tell her but he wasnt positive he had the courage to end the impasse. But, if ever there was a time
His daydream passed and Tanner headed back to camp. The sun was completely down and Athena had built up the flames up to keep them cozy. He couldnt help but notice the bedrolls beside the fire and he watched as the woman laid the blankets on top of them. Vin put the dinnerware away and made his way to the fire. He sat down beside the lady who had kept him company for the last nine days.
Everything was quiet for the longest time. Neither of them moved nor spoke.
Athena sat with her eyes closed and listened to the sound of the fire and the soft breeze across the lake.
As she lifted her head to take in the warm night air, Vin glanced at her and smiled. She did indeed understand the peaceful splendor of the wilderness, just as he did. "Beautiful night," he whispered.
The woman slowly looked at him and her expression softened. "Beautiful company," she replied, looking back towards the fire.
Tanner dropped his head to his chest then deliberately looked back at the woman. His smile was as wide as the mountains that surrounded them and he moved a little closer to her, pulling his arm around her shoulder.
Athena, in turn, snuggled and put her arm around his waist.
The crackling of the fire was the only sound heard for the next hour. The couple simply snuggled and breathed in the fresh mountain air.
More than enjoying the renewed comfort he felt with Athena tucked at his side; Vin sighed heavily when he knew it was time to turn in. Unwrapping his arm from around her body, he reached for some more wood to build up the fire. "Suppose itd be bout time to settle in fer the night," he said glanced back at her.
Acknowledging his sentiment, the woman dusted off her feet, removed the gun belt and crawled into her bedroll. She watched him contemplate the flames before moving around to take off his boots and belt. As he slipped beneath his blankets, she turned to look up at him. Smiling gently, she caressed his cheek. "Beautiful company," she repeated again.
The tracker looked at the woman. I cant agree more. He leaned down to kiss her. For several minutes, they embraced, paused and then kissed again.
Athena played with his hair then reached down to unbutton his shirt as they continued to kiss. But, as she tried to push the shirt from his shoulder he took hold of her hand and pulled it to his mouth.
He kissed her fingers before looking deep into her eyes. He shook his head, no
The womans eyelids fluttered closed and she took a deep purposeful breath. She wiggled the hand that he still held in his and glanced back at the sharpshooter coyly. She moved her fingers between his and pushed him back and down. Ever so gently, she used the momentum of his falling body to move hers into a straddling position.
The tracker looked at the woman sternly as she sat across his body. " thena." The words carried the harshness of his look.
A soft wind brushed past their bodies and the woman closed her eyes for a fleeting second before gazing at him again. She took hold of his other hand and pushed his arms outward as she leaned in to kiss him softly. She whispered in his ear, "Do not think, Vin Tanner " she raised her head and look into the sparkling blue pools that held her soul. She kissed him passionately and took in his wondrous gaze once more. "Just feeeeeeeeeeeel," she hissed seductively before releasing her grip on his hands. Once more, she kissed him wantonly.
The tracker lay still as the woman sat up and smiled the most sensual smile he had ever seen. Ever so slowly she raised her head to the breeze and reached around to untie the knot at the back of her waist.
The cloth blew gently in the wind and he caught a fleeting glance of the roundness of her breast.
Slowly she manipulated the shirt from his back.
As she leaned in to kiss his chest several times, Tanner closed his eyes. His mind and heart were playing a terrible game with each other but the desires this woman brought out in him were slowly providing his heart the edge it needed to win. Cautiously, he reached around and released the knotted cloth behind her neck.
Watching her top fall beside the sharpshooter, Athena gave him that smile once more.
They kissed again as their bare chests warmed each other for the first time. As their lips parted, she slowly moved down his body. Her hands massaged his muscles before finding the buttons of his trousers.
Vin closed his eyes and an eternity passed as she found her way beneath his coverings and slowly relieved him of them.
The only thing that separated them from each other now was her skirt and she wasted little time in removing that. She kissed every inch of his body as she carefully made her way back to his mouth. They embraced repeatedly as they lost one another in the touch of their skin. After many minutes of being joined in each others arms, Athena positioned her body over his and smiled. She gently placed his hands on her hips and looked at him.
They were two people frozen in time. Neither moved, nor smiled.
Athena watched and waited... Waited for him to signal his readiness... waited for him to step resolutely from one life to another...
An eternity passed before he gently tickled her hips. She relaxed her leg muscles and slowly, ever so slowly, rested her weight onto his body.
His reaction was instantaneous. Vin ran his hands quickly up her body and out to her hands. Their fingers locked hard as he pulled his head and their hands to his chest.
She did not move. She did not need to. She allowed her body to just be there for him as he rode out the waves of ecstasy that pulsed through his.
Many minutes passed before his body relaxed. He let go of her hands, wrapped his arms around her body and pulled her close.
They held each other and just experienced the moment.
Ten minutes went by before he moved. When he spoke his voice was barely a whisper. "Im sorry."
Athena pushed herself away from him and frowned. "There is nothing to be sorry for, Vin Tanner" she answered softly.
He lowered his eyes from her gaze as she smiled at him gently. "Aint it supposed tah be fer both of us not just me."
Athena lifted his chin so that his eyes met hers. She pondered the sparkling blue, shook her head, and smiled. "There is time "
The tracker smiled back at her and took a deep breath. A fleeting thought had suggested that perhaps he had messed up his chance with the woman. Yet, he slowly came to realize that she had known what might happen. She knew exactly what she was doing. One more time he had underestimated her resolve.
A moment passed before she broke the ensuing silence. "Thank you," she whispered.
Now it was the trackers turn to be confused. "For what?"
Her expression was pleasing as she leaned in to kiss him long and hard. They held each other tightly before she slipped down beside him and cuddled into his shoulder. "For allowing me the honor of being the first."
The tracker adjusted his position and pressed her down as he rolled on top of her. He grinned. "And the second " he kissed her again as his smile grew. " And the third "
A small laugh escaped her lips. "Go to sleep, Vin Tanner," she snuggled against his shoulder and closed her eyes.
"Yes, maam," he sighed. Gazing up at the full moon, the sharpshooter couldnt help but admire the beauty of his surrounding. Looking back at the woman in his arms, he felt a peacefulness that he had never felt before. A great weight had been lifted and he owed it all to her.
Sanchez was finally seeing to a loose shingle on the
church roof when he glanced up and spotted a familiar wagon turning the corner
at the other end of the street. He took a deep breath and lowered his head
to his chest before raising it high in the air. The preacher didnt
quite know whom he was acknowledging for the safe return of their seventh
but the way he saw it, they all needed to be thanked. "Hey, Nathan," Josiah
called over to porch at the clinic.
Jackson glanced up from the bandages he was wrapping.
Seeing he had the healers attention, Sanchez grinned as he set his hammer down. "Guess whose wagon just rolled back into town?"
It took Nathan no time at all to realize what Josiah was talking about. The six men had mentioned their fondest wish several times, since Larabee had returned. Smiling happily, the healer put his task aside and got to his feet. He walked down the stairs and met Sanchez at the bottom of his ladder.
Both men made their way towards the spot reserved for a certain wagons return.
Vin glanced at the restaurant porch and nodded casually
to its occupants as he passed on by.
Chris sat playing a game of cards with a bandaged up and an obviously still healing southerner.
The sharpshooter smirked at the site and shook his head solemnly. He couldnt believe how much one person could change the people he cared about. Yeah shes been here all right!
Larabee and the gambler exchanged knowing smiles as they folded their cards. They too, silently acknowledged the work of a certain young lady. The gunslinger helped Ezra to his feet and they cautiously followed the wagon.
As he neared the jailhouse the tracker reined in the workhorse and looked at Buck and JD on the porch. The kid was enjoying a dime novel out in the open and Wilmington was whittling a piece of wood with his blade. They both put down their distractions and smiled broadly as they looked up to see their returning friend.
"Vin!" John Dunne yelled out. His exuberance was obvious in his tone as he bounded to his feet too quickly. Wincing in pain, he grabbed his chest and the support post at the same time.
"Whoa there, JD," Jackson grabbed the kid and steadied him. "I told ya not tah move so fast."
Dunne nodded, reaffirming the healers orders. "Im alright, Nathan. Vins back... Im allowed to get a little excited about that, aint I?"
Jackson and Dunne shared a moment of quiet understanding before refocusing on Tanner.
Josiah reached up to shake the trackers hand as he arrived beside the wagon. "Glad to have you back, brother."
The sharpshooter grinned as he shook the offered hand. "Good tah be back, my friend," he studied the four familiar faces and then glanced over to see Chris and Ezra as they joined the little group. "Boys," he continued to study their faces.
Wilmington stood to free up the seat for the gambler and Larabee helped the man into the chair. The blond smiled at Ezra before turning to gaze at his long absent best friend. "Been two months, Tanner. Was beginning to wonder."
Chris and Vin held each others gaze for a long moment.
Standish grinned. "There was never a doubt in my mind, Mr. Tanner. When our young lady sets her mind to a task " he lowered his head as he remembered his own dealings with Athena.
Seeing the sudden loss of words in the southerner, Wilmington cocked his head. "She sees it through to the very end," he added softly.
Larabee broke his eye contact with the tracker. "No matter how stubborn the jackass is," he concluded. He couldnt help but look away as he recalled his time with Athena.
Vin rolled his eyes and turned his head as well. Stubborn! Now, there was a word that fit all of the parties involved
A week ago hed been forced to ride away from the most beautiful spirit hed ever seen. Oh, how hed wanted her to come back with him. He had invited her Hell, hed begged her. And, Tanner knew he hadnt been wrong at seeing her hesitation Yet, she had declined the suggestion and refused to discuss it any further. She had continued to remind him of his promise to return. It was a covenant he had meant to keep. Trouble was he wanted her, too. Even his mournful tears hadnt touched her consciousness, as he had desperately hoped they would. Hed tried everything he could think of. His only option had been to deny her wish and unpack his belongings. As much as it hurt him to disappoint Athena like that, hed at least forced her hand and got a concession from her. He just had to hope that shed hold up on her end of the bargain.
Looking back at the three men who had just spoken, the tracker smiled. He knew how close hed grown to her and he knew it hadnt taken much time. Suspecting his companions of mutual admiration, Tanner thought he might understand her resolve all too clearly. "Reckon she done what she needed to," was all he could say. He moved down from the wagon and shook Wilmingtons outstretched hand.
Sanchez glanced at the four men as they stared at each other. Hed only had the opportunity to talk to the woman once but shed made her message so very clear during their brief conversation. It was obvious to the preacher that these four men shared something very special. "Reckon we can get this wagon put back where it belongs?" he asked as he looked over at Nathan.
Glancing at the tracker anxiously, the kid stepped forward. "You are stayin aint ya, Vin?"
Tanner smiled back at the kid and looked around at his six companions. He slowly nodded his head.
JD let out a loud holler and smiled at his friend. "Sure is good tah see ya back," he said happily. Moving to the rear of the wagon, Dunne untied Vins horse. "Ill let Yosemite know youre back in town," he added before guiding the horse towards the livery.
Jackson pointed a finger at the kid. "Go slow," he instructed as he jumped into the bed of the wagon and took up the reins.
JD just waved and smiled.
Nathan glanced at the sharpshooter and nodded. "Good tah have ya back again, Vin," he smiled at the young man before ushering the rig forward.
Sanchez nodded at the tracker before following behind the wagon. Turning into the alleyway, Josiah and Nathan were intent on getting Vins things back where they belonged.
Watching his rig disappear, Tanner looked around town. "Things been quiet since I left?"
"Well hell, son. We needed some peace and quiet after that last incident," the ladies man lost his words as he looked back at Ezra. He smiled regretfully and tapped the gamblers good shoulder.
The sharpshooter looked solemnly at the big man and then at his other two companions. "Reckon we all needed time to collect our thoughts."
There were several long minutes, before the silence was broken.
"Vin?" There was a definite question to Larabees voice.
The expression disappeared from the trackers face. He wasnt sure he understood the gunslingers reasons for asking but he knew exactly what he meant. Tanner suspected they all had their own, very personal reasons, for caring. "Shes just fine, Chris," he closed his eyes and took a deep breath. " Just fine." He looked at the blond and forced a smile. He distracted himself quickly by looking up and down the street. "Reckon were all just fine."
There was another long, pensive silence as each man took in the satisfaction of just being there with each other.
Noticing their three friends returning from down the street, the gambler smiled coyly. He couldnt help but reflect on Athenas words. "It would appear that The South Wind blows true, after all!" he spoke softly.
The others looked back at him curiously. They followed his gaze to the three men in the street. Seeing their returning companions, each man frowned at Ezras statement.
Laughing at the apparent confusion, the southerners green eyes sparkled and a cocky grin spread wide across his face. He whispered the words with such elegance and grace. "I would never be so presumptuous, as to pretend that I understood her meaning. Nevertheless, gentlemen, it appears that Athena was right History Will Know The Seven."
Confidants and Confidences