by KT

An hour later, after various experiments, a lot of mime and play acting and gesturing they knew the truth. Vin had lost not only his hearing but also his sense of smell and taste. And to cap it all he was having trouble balancing - not that he was admitting that to Nathan - whenever he tried to move it felt the way a kid felt after spinning around and around on the spot, but unlike a child the feeling did not pass. He wouldn't eat, he just wasn't interested in the mechanical process of chewing and swallowing with no reward. If anything this had Nathan most worried. They were always telling Vin he was scrawny, and though his well-muscled form wasn't really 'scrawny' as such, there wasn't an inch of spare flesh on him anywhere, and this was despite him eating enough for three most of the time.

Buck had patiently and stoically endured having his bandages changed. Nathan had been doing it every twelve hours but this was the first time Buck was conscious when it was done. Vin, despite the dizziness, wouldn't rest, and he moved restlessly around the room, clutching the wall or the furniture for support. He stood at the end of the bed watching Nathan's big but ever-gentle hands work on Buck. He watched the big man's hands grab on to the bars or the bedstead in white-knuckled intensity as the old dressing was peeled away to reveal the black and red, angry, blistered flesh beneath. The blisters wept into the linen wrappings and made them - despite Nathan's salve - adhere to the wounds. Removing them was torture.

"Now remember, no matter what don't try to open your eyes, alright?"

"I know Nate, just…hurry will ya." Buck's voice was pinched and strained.

Vin didn't need to hear the words to see the pain and fear, and he empathised, not knowing what to say or do that would make it easier, knowing there was in fact nothing he could do. Finally Nathan was done, Chris had left already to do evening patrol.

"Buck, you rest now, you hear?" he instructed. "you want something fer the pain?"

Buck, who looked alarmingly pale, his undamaged skin almost as white as the fresh bandage over his eyes, lay back on the pillow, breathing just a little too fast, shook his head. "'M alright, it's not so bad now."

"You sure now?"

"Quite sure."

"I gotta get rid of these…" He gathered up the soiled bandages. "…and get some fresh linen. You two stay out 'a trouble."

"Ain't… planning' on going… no place just at the… moment," Buck said in intermittent gasps.

"VIN YOU STAY HERE." He made sure Tanner was looking at him as he spoke, adding a hand gesture to emphasise the 'stay'.

"Stay? Hell, I ain't no dog, Nate." Jackson looked alarmed, thinking Vin was planning to make a break. "But I reckon Bucklin needs someone to watch over him, I'll be here."

+ + + + + + +

Once they were alone neither man said anything, Vin just stood at the end of the bed holding on to the frame for support, Buck lay back waiting for the intense pain to subside.

Buck lay there for a good ten minutes before the pain was manageable again, finally he sat up, listening intently to see if he could gauge where in the room Tanner was. Buck through necessity had become very adept at gauging where people were in dark rooms, it was a survival skill learn the hard way, and very highly attuned.

"Tanner, I reckon you're at the end of the bed, I know you can't hear me but it don't matter. I'm just talkin' to ya to remind m' self I ain't alone in here, 'cause a deaf Texan who hardly puts two words t'gether on a normal day ain't exactly ideal company fer a blind man, but I ain't complainin'."

He sat up and swung his feet around to land on the floor. The sudden movement of the bed alerted Vin to Buck. He had been gazing out of the window until then. Now he looked back to see Buck about to stand.

"No you don't! I'm s'pposed t' be watchin' ya." He moved to stand in front of Buck. "Where you goin'?"

"VIN I GOTTA GO," Buck enunciated, just as he had heard Nathan do.

Tanner was sure one word was 'go'. Surely Buck wasn't trying to leave, was he?

"Buck you can't leave. It ain't that bad, please give Nathan a chance," he pleaded.

"NO." Buck shook his head. "GO…I GOTTA GO!" He grasped his crotch through the light cotton pants he was wearing.

Vin blushed, suddenly pleased Buck couldn't see him.

"Oh … 'go'! Right, er I think there's a pot under the bed." He bent to check, was assaulted by a nausea-inducing wave of dizziness and stood up almost instantly.

"Vin!" Buck reached out and located Vin's shoulder. "I ain't used a pot since I was three, ain't gonna do it now." With that, one hand out to feel for obstructions, he headed where, from memory he thought the back door to Nathan's room was, the one that led onto the stairs leading down to the back of the livery.

Vin just knew what he had said even if he couldn't hear it. He ran around him. "Aw Hell, Buck, ya can't go out with just these on." He tugged at the flimsy cotton pants.

Buck felt down his leg. "Well hell's teeth, where's m' clothes?"

+ + + + + + +

It took a good fifteen minutes for Vin to locate the clothes and hand them to Buck right way out so he could put them on; he had to stop every now and again to let the sick, dizzy feeling subside.

Vin didn't make too bad a guide, all his pacing around the clinic had made it easier to walk without staggering, despite the dizziness. 'It ain't movin', the floor is flat', he told himself over and over again. But stairs proved to be a bigger problem. The top was illuminated by a weak lamp hung on the wall, but this only served to cast even darker shadows at the base, it was as if the stairs led down into nothing. A black, still, silent, nothing. He had just come from that, and much as he tried to tell himself that this was not the same nothing, he faltered. To make matters worse his balance or lack thereof was making the stairs pitch forward on him, making him feel he was stepping off the edge of the world into the blackness.

Stop it Vin! Stop, you're in control. It's just a staircase, it's just a shadow, the ground will be there, something will be down there. You gotta look after Bucklin, he needs you, he's depending on you. He chided himself, striking out boldly to place a foot on the first tread. But it was no good; the blackness was there, inky, silent, malevolent. His vision swam, the nagging, gnawing pain in his head flared up. I can do this, I will do this. You’re a Tanner after all, damn it! He felt Buck's hand on his shoulder, reminding him he was there to help him, not the other way around. Buck was the eternal mother hen, always clucking over others, it was hard to see him as the chick, so to speak. But his body betrayed his brave thoughts.

On the second step he had to grab on to the much larger bulk of Wilmington, to stop himself from falling, he just couldn't seem to co-ordinate his legs, his breathing was coming in short pants. The fear that had haunted him in the nothing place, was creeping back.

"What's the matter pal? What do you see?"

Vin felt rather than saw Buck speak, he had to be wondering why he was acting so strangely

"It's dark out here."

But Buck could hear Vin panting beside him, still holding on tight and deaf or not Vin wasn't afraid of the dark

"Come on Vin, tell me, we're in this together you know, no turning back now, can't have no secrets, not like this. I know yer scared, I c'n feel ya tremblin', come on tell me what's wrong," the older man asked gently.

Vin looked up at Buck, even if he were able to lip read it was too dark out to see much, especially with Buck's moustache in the way. But he felt the firm grip on his waist, he could feel the small movements in his friend's body as he spoke, from what he could see of Buck's face - which admittedly wasn't much, he wasn't joking, he was, if anything, concerned. Maybe Nathan hadn't told Buck about him not being able to balance right, assuming Nathan had noticed, he hadn't tried to ask him about it, so maybe he hadn't. Buck was a friend, a friend who needed him, and he needed in return. Buck could also be trusted not to betray you, loyalty to Buck was the supreme virtue.

"Can't balance, feel like I'm gonna fall all the time," he finally admitted.

"Hold on t' me and point me at the outhouse, we'll get there t'gether." With that Buck held even tighter onto Vin and took another faltering' step down the dark staircase. "It's just a staircase, can make m' way down one in the dark no problem, been doin' it since before you was born. Had t' sometimes, husbands are a jealous breed you know. Is it my fault I can give their wives what they can't? Course I'm grateful yer here an' all, an' when we get t' the bottom I'd appreciate some help to locate the outhouse, it's a mite small, don't want to go wanderin' off in t' the desert do I? I know you can' t hear me, I just need t' hear someone speak, even if it's me, can't see so I want to hear, otherwise there's just nothing, just blackness, and pain. It feels like fire ants got into my face, all I want is t' scratch 'um out. I know… I know I can't touch it, but it hurts Vin, God it hurts. I been hurt before, been shot, stabbed, beaten up, even been blown up before, but this, this is the worst I ever had. Don't know how long I can go on foolin' Nate that it's alright now. Don't want no more laudanum, seen men get hooked on that stuff, not me, no way, not ever."

Vin continued to guide Buck down the dark stairs, even though he was now as much in the dark as the blinded man he clung to. Vin had heard the saying 'the blind leading the blind', now he finally understood it fully. He could feel rather than see Buck talking. It didn't seem to matter that he couldn't hear, they were communicating. He had been afraid to show how helpless he felt in front of Chris and Nathan, but with Buck it was alright. Buck couldn't hide his weakness from the world, and Vin knew enough about the man to know he hated that, but he wasn't letting it stop him. He had to be afraid, and Vin was sure that was why he was talking so much, if Vin could hear him he most likely wouldn't say a word, so in a way his condition was helping Buck to deal with his own.

Finally they reached the bottom of the stairs. Looking back up Vin groaned as a thought struck him.

"What?" asked Buck.

Vin didn't respond. He was looking at the lantern that had illuminated the top of the stair and thrown the rest into such terrifying blackness. Why hadn't he just picked up the lantern and carried it, clearly that was what it was there for. He needn't have faced the fear he had just overcome at all - or maybe? He stopped to think a moment more. Maybe he had to face it, for both of them. Maybe that was why he didn't pick up the lantern

Buck, now on terra firma, remembered why they were out there. "Er, Vin, we gotta go." He gripped Vin's shoulder more strongly.

"Sorry, here." He placed Buck's hand on his shoulder and headed off in the direction of the outhouse, which was just visible as a light patch against the surrounding blackness. Vin silently thanked who ever had had the foresight to paint it white.

"You know, I don't get much company on the way to the outhouse as a rule, good job it's dark out here or people would talk. I got me a reputation to protect you know…OW!"

"What? Buck what?" Vin froze where he was trying to see what was wrong.

"Stubbed m' toe is all, come on before I disgrace m' self in the street - again."

The two men made their less then smooth progress to the little hut. Once there Vin placed Buck's hand on the latch.

"You gonna be alright?" Vin asked.

"I been doin' this a lotta years now, in the dark too, I reckon I'll manage, just…talk to me alright?"

Vin could see Buck talking. "Reckon ya tellin' me you’re a big boy an' ya don't need no help. Since you can't see me I'm gonna keep on talkin' so as you'll know I'm still out here and ya ain't alone, hope you don't mind, 'cause I'm like to talk a lot a rubbish, not somethin' I'm used to - talking."

Buck couldn't suppress a laugh, he patted Vin on the shoulder and headed inside.

"Guess I should have told Chris I can't read, you guys must have figured that out by now. Don't know why I can't, I did go t' school, fer near four years I think. But I couldn't learn an' the school master jist used t' beat me and call me dumb an' stuff. After I lived with the People I reckoned it was too late. But Mary's been teaching me, an’ I'm doing alright, but I can't hardly read yet. I know I don't have t' ask you t' not tell no one 'bout that. I get excited when I think on it, readin’ that is, Mary's read me some stuff, poetry and such, some guy called Shakespeare. He was one smart man, you heard of him? He said "To thine - that means yourself - be true' an' he's right, you gotta be what you are, can't be somein't yer not. Not an be…I don't know…happy, content. You can't stop worrin' 'bout JD and the others or chasin' yer women. Nate can't stop trying to heal folk, ol' Josiah he can't not be serchin' - don't rightly know what he's serchin' for but he's gotta do it. Ez? He just gotta make money, he can't not make money. JD? That kid was born to be a hero, he was, an' if you can keep him alive he will be. And Chris? Well Larabee is a leader, he's tried not bein’ what he is, an' look what happened to him. An' I guess I gotta be me, don't rightly know what I am, but I gotta do what feels right t' me. Even if I can't hear, I gotta be me."

Vin had never talked for so long at one time in his life, and was very relieved to see Buck emerging. In the darkness the only really clear bit of Buck was his smile. He knew there was no way to discuss what Vin had said. He assumed that was one of the reasons he had said it, knowing there would be no embarrassing dissection afterwards.

"Don't worry Vin, yer secret's safe with me. Have to say this is one occasion yer gonna be glad you can't smell. Reckon that place has had its time, needs fillin' in and movin' over, whoo-ee!" He waved his hand in front of his face to ward off some of the offensive aroma of the over-full privy.

Vin could see the gesture even in the poor light. "You been spreadin' yer animal magnetism about again, Buck?" he asked, once again placing Buck's hand on his shoulder.

"Hey! It weren't me, place smells like a skunk infested dung heap in a heat-wave, weren't me!"

"Oh, you c'n deny it all ya like, I can tell what yer sayin'. But you gotta admit when you go to the privy we know about it, leastways I'm spared that!"

They were now back at the livery. With Vin on one side Buck was trailing his hand along the wall of the livery as they made their way back to the steps. Suddenly Buck stopped, the wall moved, it pushed in.

"What's the matter?" Vin asked as Buck broke away and pushed the small side door to the livery open. "Where ya goin'?…Buck?" Since Buck wasn't responding, at least he didn't think he was, Vin was forced to follow.

The stables were warm, the aroma musty with the sweet mixture of manure and horses. Buck wished Vin could smell it, he whistled to his horse. The big grey lifted his head and snorted at the familiar sound and scent of his master. Feeling his way along the stalls, with Vin occasionally steering him around obstructions, he reached the stall. Max leant his head forward and on pure instinct Buck's hand came up to greet him, rubbing the gentle horse between the cheekbones and behind the ears. Vin's eyes travelled across to Peso, watching him as ever.

"I'm fine Vin, go say hello to Peso."

"Buck, if yer fine I'll jist go see Peso, I'll be behind you. I'll keep my eyes open if you need me, jist wave, all right?" Buck nodded in response.

The two men stood and communed with their respective horses for some time, the animals unaware of any changes in the humans, to them they were as they always were. Eventually Buck patted Max and fumbled his way to the other side of the stall to where he knew his saddle would be, and with any luck his saddle bag.

+ + + + + + +

Nathan returned to the clinic with a pile of clean linen intending to change the sheets before persuading his patients to sleep. Now Buck was refusing laudanum he would have to rely on herbal tea to help him sleep. And since both men had slept a good portion of the day, it wasn't going to be easy. He pushed open the door and looked around. The room was empty. The lamp was lit, the bedclothes on the big bed thrown aside, but it was devoid of any people.

"Oh shit!" Nathan exclaimed with an uncharacteristic curse.

He dropped the linen and ran back out on to the balcony. Scanning up and down the fire illuminated street. There was no sign of the two men. Taking the steps two at a time he descended and raced across the street to the saloon. Standing in the doorway he cast his eyes around the dim smoky room, trying to see if they had come in. The only person he did spot was Chris finishing a meal. On seeing Jackson looking so worried at the door, Chris hurried to join him.

"I was about to come and relieve you, what's up?" he asked.

"They're gone."

"What do you mean - gone - they can't go anyplace, well Vin could but not Buck, not like he is, they can't be gone."

"Well they ain't in my room, come on." With that Nathan headed back across the street.

The room was still empty. They searched the surrounding area, even the outhouse.

"I wonder if Vin tried to take off and Buck tried t' stop him," Chris speculated. "I'm gonna check on Peso.

Inside the livery, Pony greeted the familiar smell of his master with a small whinny, Chris instinctively crossing to the black and patting him reassuringly.

"Pal, you seen two crazy men in here tonight?" he asked the horse. Pony declined to answer.

He could see Peso and Max so they hadn't ridden out. Walking along the row of stalls he checked on both horses. He was just about to join Nathan outside to search the town, when he heard a noise coming from an empty stall just past Max. What greeted him when he looked around was the sight of two men, one with his eyes covered by a white bandage, sitting side by side in the hay, a bottle of whisky in the hand of the blind man.

"Um Buck, I sink we're in troubles," Vin slurred.

"Why 's that pal?" Buck responded.

"Hello Chwiss," Vin announced.

"Oh, that kinda trouble, oh hell, I can manage ol' Chris, don't you worry about him Vin. Hi Chris!"

"You drunk?" Chris challenged.

"Um a bit," Buck admitted.

"He drunk?"

"Oh yeah, very, but he's happy drunk, you know?"

"Chwis, don't be mad at Buckslin, he an' me 's bin talkin, is not hisss fault."

"How the hell did this happen?" Nathan arrived and having taken in the scene before him was fuming.

"Well Nate, you see there is this stuff called alcohol and if you…" Buck began.

"I know what alcohol is. How did he get drunk?" Nathan enquired. "He's got a head injury for God's sake!"

"I know but he needed…" Buck tried to explain, Vin's need, and indeed his need to feel they weren't invalids, they could do all the things they all ways did, including drinking. True, the limited amount of alcohol they had drunk had had a rather rapid effect on Tanner, probably due to the head injury, but Buck considered it worth it.

"Whaaaaat you guys all shouts…in' about?" Vin demanded. "'S about me ain't it. Don't shouts at Buckslin I knowed I's not sur..sur..surposssed a drink, but I wanna - so there." Vin folded his arms over his chest and pouted, looking for all the world like a spoilt four-year-old.

"He sounds like Adam havin' a tantrum don't he?" Buck commented. If he could see, if he wasn't drunk, he wouldn't have said it. But he did and despite the sudden pang in his heart Chris had too agree.

"Yeah, he does. Come on big guy, let’s get you upstairs before Nate here hog-ties you to the bed!" Chris moved to guide Wilmington up but the pouting tracker suddenly sprung to life.

"No 's my job, right Buck?" He stood none-too-steadily in front of Chris, reaching down to take Buck's hand.

"Too right son, too right." Buck affirmed.

It was clear to both onlookers that Vin could barely stand.

"Buck," Nathan started. "He's too…"

"He's alright Nate, we got down here on our own, we'll get back on our own." Buck snaked a hand around Vin's waist to steady him as Vin guided him towards the door.

+ + + + + + +

With alcohol doing as good a job as any sleeping draft Nathan had spent the night in Chris’ room while Chris watched over their friends. He was just about to see if he could scare up some breakfast, when Gloria Potter's eldest boy came running over to him.

"Telegram Mr Jackson sir, for you or Mr Larabee," he announced.

Nathan opened the folded paper and read.


Smiling at the very satisfying news Nathan headed to his own room to spread the word.

Two days later.

Vin was playing checkers with JD in the clinic; he had his back to Buck, who was sitting on the bed as Nathan changed the bandages one more time. The process had become less painful, but less painful was a relative term, and it still hurt like hell.

"OW! Hell Nate, you could warn a guy before you do that!" Buck bellowed.

"You alright there Bucklin?" Vin commented without looking up.

Everyone in the room froze, except Vin who was concentrating on his next move, his tongue protruding from the corner of his mouth.

"VIN?" Buck called loudly.

"Yeah Buck."

JD couldn't contain himself any longer. "Vin! Vin you can hear!" he all but shouted.

"Wha…?" Vin looked up. "I can?" He stared at JD and then over at Buck and Nathan, who were both smiling at him.

Vin then held his hands out in front of him and clapped. He repeated the operation clapping louder and louder. The smile on his face seemed to spread from ear to ear.

"Hey! I c'n hear!" he exclaimed.

His hearing wasn't perfect, and although his sense of smell had returned, his sense of taste only returned partially. Every so often over the next few days Nathan would check on his progress, and little by little there were improvements. Nathan's only explanation was that maybe when he was hit on the head a kind of bruise formed in his head, a swelling, it pressed on his brain and that caused the loss of hearing, smell and taste, when the swelling subsided the feelings came back. With the return of at least some hearing he also regained his balance. Although Vin was happy to be improving, happy he wouldn't be deaf for the rest of his life, he felt bad for Buck. It was Buck who had shown him even if he never heard, smelt or tasted again he could go on. Now it seemed he was going to be all right but Buck was still in the dark.

The burns had taken longer to heal to the point where Nathan felt it safe to uncover them and let Buck try to open his eyes, than he had hoped. When they were uncovered the angry, puffy red and pink burns across his face at the level of his eyes made him look like some strange racoon. In all that time Buck had not once asked to leave the clinic except to visit the outhouse, and then only at night. Once Vin had left the clinic he had become quiet. He rarely complained, no matter what Jackson did or made him drink. Finally the big day came.

Buck had requested that it be just him and Nathan and that none of the others were to know when it was to happen. Nathan agreed, knowing if it was bad news Buck wouldn't want to get it in front of anyone. After removing the bandages, Buck sat quite still as first, Nathan bathed and cleaned the eyes as much as he could, then he pulled the drapes. Jackson squatted down in front of Buck.

"Right, we're ready, I want you to open them very slowly."

Buck did as he was told, his heart racing. It wasn't easy, the eyelids didn't want to separate but eventually he got both eyes open. Slowly he looked around the room.

"Well?" Nathan asked.

"Um, it's like when yer a kid and you've been cryin' real hard, sort'a streaky."

"Stay there." Nathan then washed out Wilmington's eyes with large quantities of slightly warm water, slightly salty water, then gently patted them dry. "Now how is it?"

Buck looked around, and smiled. "Better, much better, still a bit fuzzy but better."

By the next day Buck could see as well as ever. Finally he asked Nathan for a mirror.

+ + + + + + +

Buck exited the clinic with his head down, his hat pulled down as well, ensuring no one could see his face. He had convinced himself he didn't care how he looked, people would stare - sure - but he wouldn't care. People stared when he kissed women in the street - he didn't care, half the women in town had seen him all but naked - he didn't care, when he was a kid, people had called him bad names and insulted his mother in the street - he had held his head high. But, for all his brave thoughts, his resolve fled like a summer shower in the desert, once he was outside.

Just then Ezra strode up the steps carrying a small box. "I'm glad I was able to retrieve this just in time," he said with a smile.

Buck made to leave, as Nathan unwrapped the package Ezra had given him.

"No Buck, this is for you." Nathan put a hand on Buck's shoulder.

"Me?" Wilmington turned back to face the tall healer.

In the box was a pair of spectacles, with wire frames and largish lenses. Buck eyed them suspiciously.

"Nate, I c'n see jist fine now, I may look like a side of beef but I c'n see alright," he explained.

"I know Buck, but you got no eye lashes t' speak of yet an' it's a very dusty town, you need some protection or yer gonna get dust in them eyes sure as hell, and that…" He paused for emphasis. "…could be as dangerous as the burns. Look Buck, you've been through too much to risk it now. Ezra went all the way to Eagle Bend to get these. It's just plain glass, is all, just until your lashes grow back?"

Buck took the spectacles from him and turned them over in his hands, opening and closing the arms.

"Aw hell! Guess I come this far I c'n go the distance." With that he looped the slim hooks behind his ears but still keeping his head and hat down, as he headed down the steps and toward the saloon, the saloon was at least dark inside.

Inez placed a mug of beer in front of him almost before he had sat down.

"This one is on the house, think of it as a welcome home present." She turned to go and then turned back. "Senor Buck, do not keep your hat so low, you will get the brim in your beer, here let me." Before he could stop her, she had pulled his hat back in to a more normal position. Bending low, as if cleaning the table, she placed a surprisingly strong hand over his arm before he could raise it to re-adjust his hat. "Do not hide Buck, it is not your looks we love." With that she was turning away.

We love! She said we not they! And she didn't call me Senor, he suddenly realised.

"Inez honey did you say 'we'? Inez…"

"Buck!" Blossom practically ran across the room, and deposited herself in his lap. "Oh Buck I missed you, we all missed you. Ooh, glasses, I love a man in glasses, are you free now, wanna go upstairs? I ain't workin', please Buck it's been so long."

He was listening, he was even taking in that Blossom and the other girls had missed him and seemed as keen to spend time with him as ever, but he was looking at Inez. That tantalising 'we' hung in the air, could she really have been including herself in that statement?

Blossom however was not to be denied. It really wasn't how Buck looked that drew women, especially working girls, to him. His looks were bonus. What he offered was pleasure, comfort, understanding, and safety. When they slept with men, with customers, they had to be on their guard, it was rare indeed for a client to give them pleasure and not just take it, few clients wanted to talk and if they did it was always about them. Buck made the women feel safe, he understood them, he let them talk, he gave pleasure - he never took it at their expense. No matter how long it took, Buck always made sure his woman was satisfied. And he was content after to spoon and snuggle for as long as they wanted it, usually for the rest of the night.

Blossom wrapped her arms around his neck, dislodging his hat as she did. "Please Buck," she pleaded.

Buck pulled his eyes away from Inez and on to Blossom, for a second he felt like pulling the hat back, but then he thought. What the hell, if the women don't mind, no one else matters. With that thought he stood, and pulling Blossom close to him mounted the stairs at the rear of the bar.

Vin watched him go with a grin. Trust Buck. Then his thoughts returned to the mug of coffee in front of him. It was inky black, but that was the only way he could taste it. Ezra had followed Buck into the bar not to check on him but to find the tracker.

"Mr Tanner," he said clearly, ensuring Vin would hear him. "I believe your perception of sweetness has yet to return?"

Vin frowned at him.

"You still can't taste sugar?" Ezra tried.

"Oh, no, not yet, it ain't no big thing." Vin returned to staring at his coffee.

Ezra knew it was a big thing. Vin had been denied the sweet treats that even impoverished childhoods like JD and Buck's had provided, and while Nathan had had precious little, if any, candy as a boy, he, unlike Vin, didn't have a sweet tooth. Now as an adult Vin had discovered sugar and was an addict. He pulled two bags from behind his back.

"While I was away I had a baker make these to my grandmother’s recipe and these, which come from England." Vin peered into the bags.

"This," Ezra's hand went into the second bag and pulled out a thin, crisp, wafer like thing, slightly curled up. "Is a Game Chip, it is made by deep frying a wafer thin slice of potato and then tossing it in salt - try one," he prompted.

Vin took the proffered savoury treat and tried it. A smile spread across his face.

"And this is a cheese straw." He pulled out of the other bag a long stick of pastry. "It has cheese, mustard and cayenne pepper in it." Vin tried it, the smile practically split his face. "I thought that until you can appreciate Mrs Potter’s fine collection of candy again, you might enjoy these."

Vin took the bags. "Thanks Ezra, I 'ppreciate it, it's real… well it's…I mean…aw hell!"

"'Aw hell' accepted, it was my pleasure," Ezra stated graciously.

"Hey Vin, what ya got there?" JD sat down beside him.

"What?" Vin asked.

"Can I have one?" JD continued.

"Sorry JD, you know I don't hear so good now, don't know what you want."

"CAN I HAVE ONE?" JD enunciated loudly.

"Sorry JD can't heat a thing yer sayin' boy, I gotta go, I'm on duty at the jail." Pulling his bags of goodies out of JD's reach, he stood to leave, JD pestering him all the way.

Outside the saloon Chris had been looking in on his two injured friends with Nathan.

"Will they improve?" he asked.

Nathan shrugged. "Buck's scars 'll improve some, how much I don't know, maybe fade all most to nothin', maybe just pale down some on what they are now, maybe somewhere between the two. I don't know."


"No way to know, maybe, maybe not. But you know what? I reckon, even if they don't improve one inch on where they are now, they'll be alright."

Chris watched Vin and JD's antics across the street, as the unmistakable sound of Blossom's light feminine laughter drifted down from above them.

"Yeah I reckon they will."

The End

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