Three part Round Robin - December 2009 Vin F&D List
Character Focus: Vin
Language warning: none
References to Achilles and The New Law
Summary - One of Vin’s friends is injured and he contemplates the cause.
An Innocent Man
Vin fingered the hole in the shirt. The hole seemed innocent enough, now that the blood had been washed out. Vin looked over at his friend lying on the bed, the unconscious man didn’t stir. Vin sighed and looked down at the hole. It wasn’t the first time an innocent bystander had been hit by a stray bullet and wouldn’t be the last.
Heck, he should know. He’d shared a story with JD after the shooting of Annie to try and help the younger man cope. JD had felt a bit better knowing that even a sharpshooter like Vin could make one mistake. Vin didn’t have the heart to tell JD that that story had only been the first innocent to be struck down by one of his bullets.
Vin sighed and settled back in the chair he’d pulled up beside the bed. Every time a bullet was fired, there was a chance that something would go wrong. Some innocent might get in the way. Shoot, even when you didn’t mean to fire, the right… or wrong circumstances could cause the gun to go off.
As was the case today. A loaded weapon, pulled in anger, a scuffle to get the gun and now a good friend was injured. Vin shook his head. It was enough to make a man not want to carry a gun, but that wouldn’t really solve the problem. Even banning weapons from town wouldn’t work, as Marshall Bryce had so aptly shown. All it took was one loaded gun, one bullet to change everything.
Vin wasn’t usually the type to second guess himself. Things happened and you dealt with it, but today was different. It had just been him and the drunk on the street as dawn peeked over the horizon. No one in harm’s way. JD was in the jail, Nathan in his clinic. Josiah had just reached the top of the ladder that was leaned against the church. And Chris, Buck and Ezra were all still in their rooms, as far as he knew.
One drunk, one gun, one bullet, one hole… If only… Vin dropped the shirt in his lap and leaned forward resting his hand on his friend’s arm. “I’m sorry,” he whispered hoarsely.
One more innocent hurt. Vin snorted. Of course, he would laugh at the notion of being called innocent. That was probably the last word anyone would use to describe this man. But in this situation, this one time, he was the innocent. And the guilt was eating at Vin from the inside out.
Shifting in the chair to try to ease the ache in his back, Vin took off his hat and pushed a hand through his hair, his eyes flicking again to the pale face of his friend. Friend … he hadn’t had many friends in his life, and even now he didn’t have so many that he could afford to lose one, especially not like this, not to some stupid, pointless accident that he could have, should have, avoided.
His biggest fear was that one of his fellow peacekeepers, his friends, would be put in danger or injured because of the bounty on his head but this hadn’t been a bounty hunter out to collect on him, this had been the town drunk and he should have handled it differently. It was his job to watch his friends’ backs and he’d failed, and the weight of that failure was suffocating.
The sound of boots on the stairs alerted him to company. He’d wondered who would be the first to come, and he sighed as he recognized the footsteps. ‘Guess the kid feels it’s time to repay the favor,’ he thought as he replaced his hat, pulling it down low over his eyes, and prepared to face the onslaught of JD’s good intentions.
The door opened quietly and was closed the same way. JD always felt he should tread softly whenever one of his fellow peacekeepers was laid up in the clinic, kind of like being in church. Taking in the slump of Vin’s shoulders and the shirt laying across his lap, the tattered bullet hole plainly visible, he was glad he’d come, certain his friend shouldn’t be alone right now.
‘How’re ya doin’, Vin?’ JD asked and Vin was incensed that the kid was asking how he was doin’. What the Hell did it matter how he was doin’?
‘I ain’t the one layin’ there with a bullet hole in me, JD,’ he retorted, the anger he felt at himself finding a new target.
JD flinched but stood his ground, refusing to be put off by the tracker’s fiery response. ‘Nathan says he’ll be fine, an’ ya know he’d be here fussin’ ‘stead of over at the saloon eatin’ his lunch if it weren’t true.’
‘Still got a hole in ‘im that shouldn’t be there.’ Vin replied, belligerently.
‘It wasn’t your fault, Vin,’ JD pulled up a chair and sat down, careful to leave some room between them. He’d seen how the tracker could react to any invasion of his personal space, especially when he was hurting, and Vin was hurting, that was plain. ‘Drunk as he was, Deke could’ve hurt a lot of people if you hadn’t gotten the gun off him. No-one’s blamin’ you for what happened,’ he glanced at the figure on the bed and smiled, ‘You know he won’t be blamin’ you.’
Somewhere, in a rational corner of his mind, Vin believed that, but until his friend woke up and showed that he really was going to be all right, he just couldn’t accept it.
Right now he wanted to be left alone. He’d just decided to apologize for his earlier outburst and assure JD he was fine, hoping the kid would believe him and leave, when the sound of a second set of steps on the stairs killed that hope dead.
Looking to the door as it opened, desperation shone in Vin’s eyes, and Buck stopped just inside the door, with a nod of acknowledgement to Vin before turning his attention to JD. ‘Let’s go, JD, we got a patrol to cover.’
Seeing that JD was about to argue, Buck strode across the room and pulled him to his feet, bundling him towards the door.
‘JD,’ Vin rasped softly, ‘thanks, pard.’
JD allowed himself to be bundled down the stairs before rounding on his friend. ‘What the Hell are you doin’, Buck? What patrol? You heard Vin, he needs …’
‘What he needs,’ Buck interrupted, ‘is for this not to have happened. But it did, and now he needs to deal with it, in his own way.’ Slipping an arm across JD’s shoulders, Buck steered him across the street towards the saloon.
Easing back in the chair, Vin watched the steady rise and fall of his friend’s chest, and sighed as he realized that the person he'd find easiest talk to about what had happened, the one who would best understand what he was feeling, was the man lying injured on the bed.
As Vin once again fingered the hole in his friend’s shirt, he wondered which of the two remaining peacekeepers would be the next to arrive. The last he had seen of either of them, they had been ‘escorting’ the drunken man to the jail.
If he were a betting man, he would place his money on…
The door quietly opened.
Vin crossed his arms over his chest in a subconsciously defensive gesture. The last thing he needed … or wanted… was to have to listen to the talkative southerner. Ezra could read body language almost as well as he could read a deck of cards; hopefully he would get the message.
Vin remained silent as the southerner pulled up a chair and sat down next to the bed. He watched as Ezra laid his hand over the injured man’s chest, almost as if he needed to feel that his heart was still beating. Vin couldn’t really blame him; he had done the same when he had first entered the room.
When Ezra finally spoke, Vin wasn’t surprised by what he had to say.
“Even if this was your fault, he’d forgive you, you know.”
Vin shrugged in response; he’d heard it all before. But Ezra’s next words came as a complete surprise.
“I’m not talking about him, Vin,” Ezra said as he glanced at the still form lying in the bed. He gazed toward the ceiling, “I’m talking about Him.”
Vin was speechless. This was the last thing he ever expected to come from Ezra’s mouth… Josiah, absolutely, but Ezra…definitely not. After a moment, he chuckled softly; the southerner was a mass of contradictions and, if nothing else, Ezra had pulled him from the black mood he had been in since the whole thing had started.
“And how would you know that,” he finally managed to ask, “Ya tellin’ me yer on speakin’ terms with the Almighty now, Ezra?”
Ezra’s green eyes seemed to bore into Vin’s blue ones as he quietly replied, “Because, my friend, you have the purest and most honest soul of any man I have ever met, and if He can’t forgive you, then what chance does a man like me have? Besides, what happened today wasn’t your fault,” he glanced at the man in the
bed, “and I know he will say the same as soon as he wakes. It’s time for you to let go of the guilt, Vin.”
Vin shook his head.
Ezra was determined to get through to his stubborn friend. “Mr. Tanner, if given the chance, what would you have done differently today?”
Vin was silent for several minutes as he pondered Ezra’s question. There were plenty of ‘what if’s’. As the events of the day replayed in his mind and he once again heard the shot and saw his friend fall, an old adage that Josiah often used came to mind.
His friend was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Ezra could tell the minute realization hit. It was almost as if he could see the weight lift from Vin’s shoulders. Ducking his head to hide his smile, Ezra glanced at the man in the bed. He saw his eyelids flutter even as he heard the sound of footsteps on the landing outside.
As Nathan stuck his head inside the door, Ezra stood and walked to the end of the bed. “Ah, Mr. Jackson,” he said, “just in time. I believe your patient is about to wake.”
Vin’s eyes flashed to the man lying in the bed. He smiled as he caught sight of him trying to open his eyes and moved aside as Nathan rushed forward.
“Ya’ll git now,” Nathan said, “give the man a chance to wake up. I need to check his bandages. You can come back in a few minutes.”
As the two men walked toward the door, Vin placed his hand on Ezra’s arm. “Thanks, Ez,” he said quietly.
“You’re welcome, Vin,” Ezra replied. He left Vin standing at the door to the clinic. He grinned as he hurried down the stairs. It appeared he had good news to impart to the rest of his friends.
Vin watched as Nathan changed the bandage that covered his friend’s shoulder. He could hear the two men quietly talking.
He fingered the hole in the shirt he held in his hand. “Good to have you back, Josiah,” he said softly.
Feedback is greatly appreciated. JudyL