When morning finally did come, Vin slowly roused from his lethargic sleep. At first he only knew he was outside, somewhere. Exactly where escaped him. He opened eyes that felt like lead and his first sight was Chris sitting by a campfire, stirring the logs to give off more heat. The morning mist filled the air and the sound of birds could be heard singing their morning song. He felt the blanket that covered him and something was cushioning his head from the ground. He lifted his head to see that he had been sleeping on a saddlebag. It was then that the bandages on his arm caught his attention. Suddenly the memory of it all slammed into him and he jerked up with a start.
Chris was at his side in an instant, taking his shoulders. "Easy, Vin. You're at Shepherd's Rock."
Vin gazed at him with confused eyes. He could not bring himself to say anything. He had thought it had been a dream and the reality that it wasn't forced his voice to shut down. He lifted his arm and studied the bandages. Had Chris done that? He vaguely remembered his arm being tended to the night before. Had it been just the night before? Had Marcus really died the night before?
Vin rubbed his eyes and felt something on his face. He looked down at his hands and saw the dried blood. "You painted yourself with his blood last night," Chris explained. "I'm guessing the Kyowa or Comanche taught you that."
Vin lowered his hands. He said nothing. His voice still would not work. He didn't exactly want it to. Words were a fine thing, but sometimes silence speaks louder.
"You can wash up if you're ready to." Chris gestured in the direction of the stream. "If not, we can just sit here. There's no hurry to leave. They won't start the funeral without us."
Vin looked off in the direction of town, his eyes taking on that vacant stare again. The funeral. Yes, they had to be there for the funeral. Vin had to say good-bye' to his...to his kindred spirit. He slowly stood and headed for the stream. Chris sat there, watching him go. He had never seen Vin deal with grief. Vin never spoke of losing people in his past except his Ma. This death was hitting his friend hard. What worried Chris was the sudden silence. Vin would speak only what he had to say when he had to say it. Sometimes the words would string together, and sometimes one-word responses would be all people would get. You never knew with Vin what would come out of his mouth or what wouldn't. Chris wasn't exactly worried about the lack of speaking Vin was doing that morning, as much as he was worried about the shock stealing Vin's voice away.
A hint of sunlight reflecting off metal caught Chris' attention. He looked down to see Nathan's knife. It had fallen to the ground from Vin's hand sometime during the night. He picked it up and gazed at the dried blood on the blade. He wanted to be the one to clean it, but he didn't want to intrude if Vin wanted to be the one. He got up and headed for the stream. He would stand off, feel his way around his grief stricken friend and wait for a signal as to what move to make.
The signal came as he stood by the large willow tree about twenty feet from where Vin was kneeling by the stream. He was washing his face and hands of the blood. Chris could see the lash scars on Vin's back clearly now. There were quite a few. Crisscrossing each other. From what Chris could count there were about fifteen or sixteen scars. Roy Calder, you just better damn well be dead. Or if I ever meet up with you, you son-of-a-bitch, you'll be another notch on my gun.' As if Vin could hear him, he stood and turned slowly to him. Chris took this as an invitation to draw closer. He did so, holding Nathan's knife down at his side.
When he was face to face with Vin he held the knife out. "Was going to take care of this, but thought maybe you would want to instead."
Vin took the knife and examined it carefully. He looked at the bandages that were now clinging wet to his skin. "I know some Indian customs call for mutilation to deal with grief, Vin. You don't have to explain anything to me."
Vin looked up at him, not saying anything, but his eyes showed gratitude.
Chris lowered his head and started walking off when he felt Vin grab his arm. He turned to him, curious.
Vin kept his hold on Chris' arm and looked up to the sky. A flock of birds were circling way above the earth. Chris looked up at the formations they were making.
"Wing dancing," Vin whispered.
Chris closed his eyes and a smile of relief formed. He turned and looked at Vin who still gazed up at the sky. "Word Painter," he said to him.
Vin looked at him and smiled knowingly.
Chris put his hand on the shoulder closest to him and squeezed it. "Take all the time you need, Vin. Like I said. There's no hurry."
Vin let Chris go and the blond man turned to head back to the rock. No, there was no hurry to say good-bye'. Marcus had not left him, yet.
+ + + + + + +
When Vin returned to the small campsite he found Chris sitting by the fire reading the book of sonnets that once belonged to Marcus. Chris looked up at him and gestured to the book. "Been thinkin' you might want to say a few words at the funeral. Like a tribute."
Vin slowly took a seat by his friend and looked at the printed words on the pages. "Want to," Vin replied softly. "Don't know if I can."
"Well, there's one here that you might like." He held the book out to Vin. Vin took the book and tried to read the words, but he shook his head. He handed the book back to Chris. "Can't make some of em out."
"I can help you...if you'd like."
Vin looked at him and nodded. He bent his knees and wrapped his arms around them, lowering his chin to his knees he listened as Chris read out loud to him.
When Chris was finished he held the book to Vin again. "Try it."
Vin took the book again and started reading. Chris followed along with him and helped him with the words he didn't know. By the third try Vin had the words down and he smiled at Chris, nodding his thanks. "This is perfect," he said.
Chris reached for his saddlebag and pulled out some bread and cheese. "You hungry?"
"Naw. You go ahead, though."
The two men sat in silence as Chris ate. A few minutes passed and Vin spoke out softly. "I wrote a poem, Chris. While I was at the stream."
Vin shook his head. "Fer you. Would ya' like to hear it?"
Chris looked at him, warmth filling him. "I would."
Vin kept his arms wrapped around his knees. He stared off ahead of him as he began to recite.
"It is true that water cleanses the skin, but what can cleanse the soul? The comfort of a friend.
The pain of life I claim, my scars he sees. He does not judge or demand to know. The wisdom of a friend.
At times the darkness hovers, His eyes reveal his pain. The sorrow of a friend.
My words don't sometimes come out right. I bring a smile to his face. The laughter of a friend.
When darkness hovers over me I sense he's by my side. A wounded healer that is my friend.
My grief, right now, he knows. His heart, right now, my shield. My friend...who became my brother."
Vin turned to Chris.
Chris gazed at him for a long time; then he wrapped an arm around Vin's shoulders. "Thank you, Vin," he spoke out lowly. Then he stood and walked off.
Vin watched him walk away, his head down. From what it looked like Chris' hands were covering his eyes. But whether Chris was wiping away tears or just rubbing his eyes due to fatigue, Vin wasn't sure.
Vin put his chin back to his knees and continued to gaze at the fire. He never thought his words would bring Chris Larabee to tears, but then he never thought he would weep in front of the gunslinger either or write poems or recite plays. The last few days had been days of never' becoming right now'. Vin doubted such emotion would pass between the two men ever again, but right now...right now the word never' held no meaning.
He stood and followed after Chris. He found him sitting by a tree not too far off just gazing out at the open field of grass.
Vin approached him, cautiously. "Ya' all right, Chris?"
"Fine," Chris replied. He looked up at Vin. "Are you?"
Vin sighed deeply. "No, Chris. I can't lie to ya' about that. I still can't believe this has happened. I feel like I'm broken inside. I only knew im for a few days, but I feel like I've known im all my life."
Chris rested his head back against the tree. "I know the feeling," he said.
Vin caught his look and smiled, lowering his head. "Yeah, I reckon both of us might at that."
Vin took a seat next to Chris and became somber. "Have...have I shamed ya'?"
Chris jerked his head sideways to look at him. "Shamed me? Why would you think you've shamed me?"
Vin shrugged. "It's not everyday two grown men, sitting by a fire, recite poetry to each other."
Chris chuckled, then shook his head. "Maybe they should. Maybe the world would be a better place if they did."
Vin looked thoughtful. He nodded. "Maybe."
"No, Vin. You haven't shamed me. If you've shamed me, it's because of the realization that my heart is not as compassionate as yours. I see your scars, yes. Not just the scars on your back, but the ones you carry inside you. After all you've lived through, after all you have to live with everyday, knowing that for this time in your life you'll always be one step ahead of a noose...and yet, you are still able to see the beauty of this world." He looked at Vin. "I can't see it anymore, not on my own. That ability died with my wife and child. But I can see it...through your eyes. You help me to see it all over again."
Vin stared at the ground between them. He had never heard Chris say so much to him, almost in one breath. He closed his eyes. There was that word again...never...changing into right now'.
"Josiah said that we were made richer for knowing Marcus. And that's true, Vin. But...my life is made richer for knowing you."
The two men locked eyes for a long moment. Vin's eyes spoke volumes. Same here, Cowboy.
Vin leaned his head back against the tree. "Why didn't ya' kill im, Chris?"
Chris was not surprised by the question. Vin wasn't asking to demand a reason. He was curious as to why Chris had just winged Hathaway instead of killing him in self-defense. "A year ago I would have, Vin. Wouldn't have thought twice about it. But I was thinking of Marcus."
Vin turned to him, his eyes questioning.
Chris sighed. "Marcus' name may have been out of the papers about the Kansas City fire, but the truth has to be told. I want to be sure his name is cleared before what Hathaway believes becomes gossip. The only sure way to do that is to see to it Hathaway stands trial. He can't do that if he's dead."
Vin thought back to the time when Chris had to kill Eli-Joe in order to save Vin's life. Eli-Joe was the only man who could clear Vin's name of the false murder charges against him. Chris knew Vin had wanted Eli-Joe alive, but if Chris hadn't pulled the trigger, Vin would have been killed and his reputation would have been slandered forever. Can't clear my name if I'm dead,' he had told Chris. Vin shook his head at the irony of it all. He supposed Chris could have just winged Eli-Joe, but the man had been precariously close to a roof's ledge. There was no guarantee Eli-Joe wouldn't have been pushed over that ledge when the bullet struck, taking Vin with him as he fell. He was grateful Chris had saved his life and he didn't blame the gunslinger for having to kill Eli-Joe. Chris had seen the only way out and he had taken it. In Hathaway's case there had been two clear choices. Wing him without fear of his dying anyway, or just killing him, leaving Marcus' reputation to the hands of fate. Vin understood the differences between the two incidents. He was grateful that Chris had thought ahead. Marcus' reputation would now be defended in spite of the fact that the man was not alive to do it himself.
Vin stood and looked down at his friend. "Reckon we should be headin' back."
Chris stood and looked out once more over the field. "Are you sure?"
Vin nodded to him. "I'm sure."
The two men walked back to the camp, side by side.
The Seven and Mary, along with Dan and Harding, stood by the grave, with Josiah conducting the service. Vin stood stoically looking on the coffin with sorrow and emptiness. He was wearing his blue shirt and tan pants. His buckskin jacket still carried the stains of Marcus' blood on the sleeves. His hat was held in one hand, his other hand holding the book of Sonnets. Chris stood at his side, dressed in his trademark black, his duster flapping in the breeze, his hat in his hands. JD and Buck stood on the other side of the grave. They were dressed in suits along with Ezra and Nathan who stood by Josiah's side. Mary stood on the other side of Chris. She was wearing a typical mourning dress, black with a veil over her face.
"Marcus was a lover of words," Josiah said. "He took words and made them alive. I end this service by saying that we may have known Theodore Marcus for a very brief moment in time, but the impact of our knowing him will always be felt. Now, Vin would like to say something. Vin?" Josiah gestured to the head of the grave. Vin walked over to that spot and Chris moved closer to stand by his friend.
Vin looked down on the coffin and cleared his throat. "Marcus...was partial to the sonnets of William Shakespeare. The first thing he ever read to me was a sonnet. The last thing he ever heard was a sonnet. I would like to read another one fer him now. Chris found this one and when he read it to me this mornin', I knew this was the one fer this moment." Vin opened the book where it had been marked with the binding's red ribbon. He cleared his throat and began to read, confident that he knew the words. He silently thanked Chris for coaching him that morning.
"Sonnet Fifty-five. Not marble, nor the gilded monuments of princes, shall outlive this pow'rful rhyme, but you shall shine more bright in these contents Than unswept stone, besmeared with sluttish time. When wasteful war shall statues overturn, And broils root out the work of masonry, Nor Mars his sword nor war's quick fire shall burn The living record of your memory. Gains't death and all oblivious enmity shall you pace forth; your praise shall still find room even in the eyes of all posterity that wear this world out to the ending doom. So, till the judgment that yourself arise, You live in this...and dwell in lover's eyes."
Vin closed the book and looked at each of his friend's as he said with a trembling voice, "Theodore Marcus...was a beautiful man."
Josiah came up beside Vin and placed both hands on his shoulders. He squeezed them once and walked off. Buck and JD walked over to Vin and shook his hand. Ezra came over to him with Nathan and they shook his hand. Mary went up to Vin and kissed him on the cheek. Dan and Harding gazed down at the grave for a moment, then looked up. They caught Vin's eyes and nodded once to him. Vin returned the nod; grateful they had come to pay their respects. All walked off except for Chris.
Chris stood there under an unspoken vow not to leave Vin's side during the ceremony. He would not leave until Vin did.
Vin looked up at him and this time there were no tears. Chris held his gaze and rested a hand on Vin's upper arm. He squeezed it gently.
Vin nodded to him, unable to say any more. The two walked out of the cemetery together.
Chris knocked on the door to Marcus' room.
"It's open," Vin's voice invited.
Chris opened the door and walked in. Taking off his hat he closed the door behind him. He found Vin seated on the bed gazing over a book in his lap. The bandages around his cuts were fresh, put on by Nathan after the funeral.
The tracker did not turn to look at him. The funeral had only been that afternoon. It was going on dusk now. Close to twenty-four hours since Marcus' death. The tears may have stopped for the funeral, but Chris could tell Vin was losing the battle to keep them inside. "Came to see if you'd like to join me for dinner, Vin."
Vin shook his head never taking his eyes from the book. He was slowly turning the pages, skimming over the words. "Not hungry," he replied.
The sound of his voice was like a weight on Chris' soul. He went to sit on the foot of the bed beside Vin. "Will you be staying here tonight?"
Vin took in a breath and looked around him at the room. "Thought I might."
Chris nodded. "Can I get you anything?"
Vin's eyes took on a vacant stare. He shook his head.
Chris nodded. He examined his hat for a few seconds then stood. He was on his way to the door when the bureau caught his eye. He walked over to look at the books that rested on top. He examined the titles. Marcus had collected so many of the bound leather books that his room looked like a small library. Chris looked the books over from one end to the other, knowing that Vin would inherit all these masterpieces. Marcus had not come out and said so with his last words, either by mouth or legal documentation, but Chris would challenge anyone who would try to interfere with what he felt would be the actor's last wish. He could feel the tracker's eyes boring into his back as his eyes and fingers brushed over the titles lettered on the spines of the books. "I don't think Marcus would mind if'n ya' take a couple of em, Chris."
Chris didn't turn to face Vin at that moment. He looked over the books again then shook his head. "These are all fine authors, Vin, but the book I want I don't see."
He turned to Vin who gazed up at him curiously. "Which one would that be?" Vin's voice sounded haunted, as if all life had seeped from his soul and he was in no hurry to retrieve it.
Chris went to sit by Vin again. Lowering his head he pondered how to do this right. He didn't want to push Vin into something he maybe wasn't ready to do at this point in his life. But the tracker was lost in his sorrow and he needed to know there was a hand reaching out to him. Maybe it was his hand, maybe it was Marcus', maybe Mary's, maybe it was all of them together, including the rest of the Seven, in some symbolic way. Each person hanging onto the legs of the one before them, adding to their reach...begging Vin to grab hold. Chris reached inside his coat pocket and pulled out a brown paper-wrapped parcel. He handed it to Vin who took it inquisitively. "What's this?"
"Open it," Chris almost whispered. "We all pitched in. Even Mary."
Vin studied Chris curiously once again. It wasn't like the gunslinger to be so sentimental...or was it? After their bonding episode at Shepherd's Rock, nothing Chris did would surprise Vin anymore. He set the book he was looking at aside and undid the brown string that kept the paper wrapped around the oblong package. He then removed the paper to find a leather-bound book with a snap keeping the book closed. He popped the snap open and found... "It's full of blank paper, Chris."
"Blank paper for you to fill in," Chris explained as he pulled out a pen and a bottle of ink from his other pocket. He handed them to Vin who took them, uncertainty etched in his eyes. "I ain't that good at scribin', Chris. I'd make God-awful mistakes."
"We all have to start somewhere, Vin. Your life is worth writin' down. Your thoughts, your feelings. You have so much to share. Every poem you write, every thought you feel worth keepin', I want you to write them down in that journal. When it's filled up, I'll buy you another one. One day..." Chris tried to keep the emotion from filling his voice, but he failed miserably. He saw the potential in the young man before him. Marcus had called it right when he said that Vin had been blessed. It was like watching a young colt learning how to run...and it was like a bird learning how to soar above the clouds. He cleared his throat and finished his thought. "One day...I will see that book I want to read, Vin. It'll be yours."
Vin stared at Chris, his blue eyes, normally so distant and sheltered under a cloud of pain, filled with tears. "Ya' have that much faith in me?"
Chris looked down at his hands clasped between his knees. "I believe in you, Vin. I can't not believe." He stood and rested a hand on Vin's shoulder. He squeezed it...hard. Vin lowered his gaze and shut his eyes. He would make Chris proud.
The blond man released his friend's shoulder and put on his hat. He walked out of the hotel room and closed the door behind him, leaving Vin alone to process all that had happened.
When Vin heard the door close he opened his eyes and the first thing he saw were his tearstains on the first page of the journal. He set the journal on the nightstand by Marcus' bed and opened the bottle of ink. He dipped the pen inside and wrote his first entry. I mornd taday. Tamorow with the help of my frends...I will go on livin. He rested the pen in the pocket on the inside of the journal made for such things; then he closed the bottle of ink. He climbed into the bed and pulled the journal to his chest. Reaching up to the lamp, he turned out the light.
Outside the room, Chris stood and watched the light go out. He pulled the chair that rested in the corridor around to where he could sit outside the door. Right now he needed to be near his grieving friend. Vin would never know he had been out there that night, unless...somehow...the time ever came for Vin to read Chris' thoughts on paper.
Chris pulled out his own journal and pencil. He wrote. Vin is sleeping now. I will stand guard over him tonight. He doesn't need me to do it, but I need to do it for him. I know his pain. I will walk through it with him, even if from a distance. He's my friend. I can do no less for him. Chris put the pencil back inside the worn leather cover and closed the journal, placing it back into his pocket. He stretched his legs out crossing them at the ankles. He tilted his hat down, covering his eyes. He knew falling asleep like this would cause his muscles to ache later, but the discomfort was a small price to pay in exchange for Vin's well being.
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