Like Flying

by Hilary Fox

Follows Few Words Spoken

"I brought him back, Vin."

The whisper, soft as it was, cut through the layers of black that swathed Vin's awareness. He knew that voice, despite the uncharacteristic exhaustion that filled it, and he opened his eyes to inspect its owner, even though it took a considerable effort. Vin winced as he took in the drying blood that painted Chris's face and chest- it made him look almost inhuman, the whites of his eyes startling against the dark, rusty red.

"Did... you bring... Chris back... too?" he managed to ask. His lungs fell flat and didn't want to fill properly, but he forced the question past his lips. Vin meant it to be funny- the apparition before him looked nothing like Chris Larabee- but a sudden seriousness passed across his friend's face.

"Yeah, I brought him back."

Vin couldn't even manage a nod, and keeping his eyes open took more effort than he decided it was worth. He slid back into the limbo of half-sleep, the steady thundering of the fire in his chest keeping him awake. The rustling sounds of Nathan tending to Chris, and Chris's half-hearted objections, seemed loud, intrusive, against the blackness.

"You get him, Chris?"

"Yeah... yeah, I got him. He's down at the undertaker's..."

"Know who he is?"

"Don't rightly know... but the man had the craziest gray eyes I've ever seen. God, Nathan, there weren't anything in 'em..."

Vin listened as best he could to their conversation, but niggling, pricking little thoughts kept tormenting him. Thoughts of flying, of coursing like a hawk through clear blue skies without so much as a hint of a cloud. He remembered his ma holding him in her lap, the two of them outside on their small porch, watching the birds. Sometimes, if one came close enough, she'd tell him what kind it was.

"See that one there, Vin? That's an osprey," she said of the bird that perched on a nearby fencepost. Vin remembered looking at the bird's bright eye, watching in amazement as the creature launched itself into the air.

"You reckon I can fly one day, Ma?"

He smiled, thinking of that question. Damn fool, bright-eyed kid, thinkin' he could fly one day.

Well, he had for a little while.

The feeling of weightlessness returned, and Vin desperately wanted to go with it- until he remembered how he'd tried to see his body and found nothing but air, and that awful, sucking mass that had pulled him into the darkness he'd spent twenty-five years trying to escape. Vin clawed for air, for the light, fought to open his eyes.

When he did, he thought his heart would burst from relief.

"Brother Vin?"

Josiah? Josiah had been with him all night; Vin vaguely recalled a constant voice that came and went but always returned. He whispered the preacher's name, searching the craggy features for... for what? Nothing, he decided, except to simply know the man was really there, that what he saw was real.

"Welcome back to the land of the living," Josiah said softly, taking the seat next to Vin's bed. At Vin's puzzled expression, Sanchez briefly outlined the events of the past day. Vin followed him, clinging to the words, wishing he could remember something of what Josiah told him had happened. All he could remember was that sky and that blackness, though.

"Was I dead?" he croaked.

"Almost," Josiah said. "Nathan, God, luck, the fact that you're too damned stubborn to die.. could have been one or all of the above, but you made it. Nathan thinks you'll be okay, with time and rest."

"Time and rest... hell..."

Josiah merely laughed at that, leaning back in his chair and regarding the tracker calmly. "You'll get plenty of it, Vin. We'll see to it."

"Time or rest?" Vin thought about flying and... God. He'd come so close. Angels flew.

"Both." Josiah glanced down at the pale, drawn face of the tracker and touched the young man's shoulder reassuringly. "We'll make sure you get both, Vin, whether you want them or not."

Vin felt some small measure of comfort in Josiah's words, but the dawning realization of just how close he'd come to stepping over... God. It threatened to obliterate everything, and Vin felt small, insignificant in his bed. Cold prickled up his spine, as if Death himself breathed on it. He twisted convulsively, wanting to escape the dark thoughts that threatened to bog him down, wondering why he couldn't just accept this as just another close call, just another wound. Just another day.

Because he'd been flying. Not on the wings of Nathan's laudanum, or shock, or the weird, dizzy feeling of being punch-drunk. Flying, just like that osprey he saw. Before he knew... before he knew what was happening, it had felt good. Really good. What if..? No...couldn't be.


"Yes, Brother Vin?"

"You reckon there's a heaven?"

"All religions believe that there's something waiting for the soul after it passes on. There's the Christian Heaven of course, Elysium of the Greeks and Romans, Valhalla of the Norsemen, Paradise and the houris for the Muslims. There are countless others, of course... Interestin' that so many different people, some of whom never had contact with each other, could come up with the idea of an afterlife..." Josiah's voice trailed off as he threatened to go off into another scholarly tangent, but he pulled back and asked, "Why's it important what I believe, Vin?"

"You're the preacher outta all of us."

"Vin, I ain't the one who knows best- just 'cause I say there's a Heaven doesn't mean there is one, an' if there is a Heaven, it doesn't necessarily have to be like what I think it would be like." Vin heard the reprimand in it and winced a little, despite the gentle tone that carried it.

"What do you think Heaven would be like, Vin?"

Vin stared at the bedcovers for a moment, seeing the osprey there, staring up at him. It flew away, and Vin's eyes followed its path up to Josiah's face.

"I think it'd be like flying," he said softly, and Josiah nodded his agreement.


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Continues in Small Things