M7FFA Entry


Sticks and Stones

by Linda

Author's notes: Follows the stories Lesson, Hitches and The Good Book. I hadn't meant for this to be a continuing arc, but it seems to have taken on a life of its own. Feedback always appreciated. (Well, the good kind, anyhow).

Vin and JD perched on the counter in Mrs. Potter's store, laughing and chatting with her, their legs dangling and swinging beneath them. When Ed Carlson came in with his 8-year-old son, Justin, Vin took a piece of candy out of the jar beside him and offered it to the little boy.

"Are you payin for that, Vin?" Mrs. Potter smiled.

"Nope, don't have no money, but Ezra'll pay you for it. With interest." Vin looked at JD and they both laughed again. Justin took the sourball and popped it in his mouth. Ed nodded to the both of them and began gathering a few items.

"How come you never have any money, Vin?"

"Cause I'm a lousy gambler." Vin grinned. The two of them were in top form, Vin pressing JD to think of a way to play a new trick on Buck. The orange horse had been so much fun, he was anxious to try again.

Meanwhile, Carlson and his son were talking to Mrs. Potter about some money that was owed. Carlson was getting more and more frustrated, explaining about lost cattle and feed costs.

"I know, Mr. Carlson, everybody's had a bad year. But I can only carry you so far, you know that. You go ahead and get what you need to feed your family, but I can't carry you on the farming implements you want."

Carlson slammed his fist down on the counter in anger. It scared Justin and he backed quickly away from his father, bumping into a barrel of apples behind him and knocking several onto the floor. His father turned to him in anger.

"Goddamnit, boy! Watch what yer doin'. I got enough troubles without you addin' to 'em." He bent over to pick up the apples. He shook his head and in a slightly lower voice muttered, "You worthless little shit, anyway."

JD didn't hear what Ed Carlson said, but Vin did. His leg stopped swinging and his whole body stiffened. Something deep down inside him, from along time ago, snapped.

You worthless little shit.

You worthless little shit.

You worthless little shit.

In one fluid movement, Vin was down off the counter and on Ed Carlson. He pulled him up from where he was bent over the apples and hit him hard with his fist. When the man went down, he pulled him up and hit him again. And again. And again.

JD couldn't believe what he was seeing. One minute they had been enjoying themselves and the next Vin was like a madman, attacking an innocent man. He jumped off the counter and tried to pull Vin off the farmer, but was struck with a quick backhand. Then he watched in disbelief as Vin reached to his sheath, pulled out his Bowie and jerked Carlson's head back by the hair. He touched the knife to the man's throat and had just drawn blood when JD lifted the glass jar of sourballs and sent it crashing down on his friend's head. Carlson scrambled out from beneath the tracker as he fell. Justin was screaming, Mrs. Potter was crying, and sourballs bounced and rolled across the floor around the still figure of Vin.

When Chris and Buck came running from down the street, they took one look at Vin on the floor and Carlson with his hand pressing a cloth against his bleeding neck, and Chris drew his gun, pointing it at the farmer.

"What the hell are you pointin' that at ME for? He just tried to kill me!"

Chris looked at JD. He was white, and he stared at Vin. "JD?"

JD looked up at Chris and Buck. "He did. He tried to kill him. I hit him with the jar, else he would have cut his throat." He spoke very quietly.

Chris looked at Gloria Potter. She simply nodded.


JD and Mrs. Potter shook their heads together.

"You're gonna lock him up, ain'tcha?" The scared farmer asked.

Chris glanced around at the gathering crowd. He nodded. Nathan came in and leaned over Vin.

"Take him to the jail. Nathan, you need to check Mr. Carlson, then come over to the jail." No one moved.

"Buck, come on, let's get him over there before he comes around." Chris looked over at Mrs. Potter. "We'll come back and help clean this up."

"No need, Mr. Larabee. You just take care of Vin."

Buck and Chris dropped Vin on the cot in the cell, throwing his hat and coat on the desk. A small stream of blood trickled down the back of his neck.

"What'da think's goin' on, Chris?"

"I don't know. Don't sound like something Vin'd do, though."

"JD and Miz Potter wouldn't lie."

"I know that."

Vin began to stir. When his eyes opened, he sat quickly up, swaying slightly, casting a glance around. When he saw he was in a jail cell, he stood up, pressing his back against the wall, and backed into the corner. Then he slid down the rough wall, drawing his legs up under him.

"Tell me what happened, Vin." The cell door stood open, and Chris pulled up a stool and sat opposite Vin inside the cell. It didn't give the confused tracker any room to back away further. He shook his head slightly. Chris wasn't sure if Vin knew where he was or what had happened. He wished Nathan would get here to look at his friend. He watched as Vin wrapped his arms around his knees and leaned his head down.

"Hey. Vin. Come on, look at me. Tell me what happened." Chris reached out to take him by the arm, but Vin tensed and pressed himself hard against the back corner and Chris thought better of it. He picked up the stool and sat down outside the cell, now, to give him a little more room.

But Vin wasn't talking. When Nathan came in, Vin shook his head at him. "Git away from me."

And that was it. He wasn't talking. Finally, after an hour of strained silence, Chris shut the door to the cell and motioned everyone out. He went to talk to Ed Carlson.

Carlson wasn't a bad man. Chris knew that much. He didn't know him well, but he wasn't a troublemaker. He provided for his family with crops and a few head of livestock. He couldn't figure out why Vin would have attacked him.

"He just started hitting me. I don't know why. Justin just knocked some apples down and I was pickin' them up. He jumped off that counter and he was gonna kill me. He's a lunatic. I ain't never done anythin' to him."

Chris knew that was true. Vin never had a problem with this man. As far as Chris knew, Vin LIKED Ed Carlson. He knew he liked the boy.

"He just went crazy, Mr. Larabee. You'd best keep him locked up."

Chris nodded. "Thanks, Mr. Carlson. We'll find out why he did this."

He rose and started out the door. Mr. Carlson cleared his throat. "Uh ..."

Chris turned back to him. Josiah was beside him. "What?"

"I called my son a name. Didn't mean it, but Mr. Tanner, he mighta heard me."

Josiah and Chris exchanged a glance.

"What did you call your son, Mr.Carlson?"

"Uh . . . I called him a worthless little shit. I don't mistreat my boy. I was just angry and upset about our credit problems, you understand? But, I s'pose it mighta made him mad. He kinda takes a likin' to my son Justin."

"Coulda been, Ed."

"That don't give him no call to do this."

"I know."

Chris and Josiah walked out onto the boardwalk together.

"You think that was it?"

"I reckon it had to be. I don't know why. Maybe Vin thought Carlson was gonna hit the boy. Who knows?"

"What are we gonna do?"

"He's gonna have to talk to us. Til then, he ain't gettin' outa there."

The two men walked together, heads down, back to the jail.

Vin was in the same place, in the corner, knees drawn up defensively. Chris and Josiah sat down outside the cell.

"We talked to Carlson. He's OK. You didn't hurt him. You gotta tell us what happened. Carlson can make a lot of trouble for you over this. He's a decent man. We can straighten this out, but you gotta help us."

Vin leaned his head down again and covered his ears with his arms.

You worthless little shit.

You worthless little shit.

You worthless little shit.

You're a Tanner. Don't ever forget that. You're a Tanner . . . .

The voices wouldn't stop. Only now it wasn't just Grandpa. It was his ma. And he couldn't always tell the difference between the two.

Three silent hours later, Chris was out of patience. He rose, and intended to leave, but something made him look at Vin again. He was sleeping. And not peacefully. Chris sighed. He sat down again. He knew what nightmares were like. And something told him he should be here when Vin woke up.

ou worthless little shit.

You're a bastard, bastards don't have birthdays cause they ought never to have been born.

You worthless little shit.

You're a Tanner. Don't ever forget . . .

You worthless little shit.

Vin woke with a start, standing up and grabbing the bars of the cell. He was trapped. Trapped in this cell, trapped in his dreams. Sweat poured down his face and his breath came in short, sharp gasps. He forced himself to draw a deep breath. Saw Chris watching him.

"Let me out."

"Can't do that. Not till you tell me what happened."

Vin shook his head and sat back down. "Go t'hell."

"Thought we were goin' together."

Chris finally gave up and left.

All the next day, Vin remained silent. Josiah came, and Nathan, and Ezra. Chris came and went, several times, but Vin spoke to none of them. Buck kept JD away, since he was feeling guilty enough about hitting Vin with the jar. Late in the evening, after Chris had come and gone again, Buck entered the jail. He took the key from the post and sat down on the stool outside the cell, levelling his gaze at Vin.

"You're in a heap a trouble. I ain't gonna let you drag Chris down again. I ain't gonna sit here and watch him fall apart when they send you to prison for this. You listenin'?"

Buck almost jumped when Vin spoke. He really hadn't expected an answer.

"They ain't gonna send me to prison. Let 'em hang me."

"You didn't kill him, Vin. They ain't gonna hang you."

"Shit. I would've if JD hadn't got in my way."

"Yeah, well, lucky you. Like I said, I ain't gonna let you drag Chris back to the bottle. He's been there once and crawled out and watchin' you kill yourself is gonna send him back." Buck rose and stuck the key in the lock, turned it and opened the door. He held out Vin's holster and sawed off. "Git the hell outa here. Don't come back. Never."

Vin looked at the open door, eyed Buck warily, then made a quick grab for the gunbelt and disappeared into the night.

"What in the hell were you thinkin'? No, wait, you weren't thinkin'! You never think, Buck. How we gonna find him out there? He knows every trick when it comes to hiding. " Chris shook his head, furious.

"Who's gonna go lookin for him? You?' Why? So you can sit there starin' at him while he won't answer you? He tried to kill somebody, Chris, for all you know cause Ed Carlson called his kid a name. Hell, you don't even know that he didn't kill that feller back in Texas. To hell with him."

That was what was bothering Chris. And Josiah. The man they knew as Vin Tanner wouldn't have killed an innocent man, in Texas or anywhere else. And there had never been any doubt about that with them. But now, suddenly, Chris had a tiny, niggling doubt. Maybe he was wrong. Maybe Vin Tanner wasn't the man he thought he was. Maybe . . .

Josiah had a pretty good idea Vin had heard that phrase before. 'You worthless little shit.' And Josiah thought it might have been more than enough to set Vin off. He was also sure it wasn't going to happen again. Vin had remembered something that day, and Josiah thought maybe in remembering, he was letting it go. But it had all snowballed from there. Trust was important to Vin, and he knew that Chris didn't trust him right now. But none of that was important, because Vin was gone.

He thought being out of that cell would make him feel better. Small places always bothered him, but up here on the ridge, the wind blowing through his hair and the stars above him, he was still bothered. Uneasy. Where to go? He kept looking back at the town below him. Home. It really was home, wasn't it? Ten months in one place was a long time to Vin Tanner. But it was more than just time. It was Chris and Ezra and Buck and JD and Nathan and Josiah and Billy and Mary and Mrs.Potter and Nettie and . . . Why couldn't he just let it go? All the things Grandpa had said and done, but that was a long time ago. And because of it, he had just screwed up the best thing in his life. What had Chris said? 'I thought we were going together.' That was it. A pard to ride to hell with. And he left it all behind. Because he couldn't let it go.

Chris was in the livery early the next morning, throwing a few things together to ride out. He had to look for Vin. It wasn't so much he thought he could find him, but he couldn't just sit here and let him go without a fight. And so he was truly startled when a quiet voice behind him asked,

"So what do I gotta do to make things right?"

Chris spun around to face him. He looked like hell. But then, Vin usually did. He couldn't think of anything to say, so he turned back for a moment to his horse, trying to compose himself. He shrugged.

"Apologize to Mr.Carlson? He's not so bad. If you talk to him, explain what happened, maybe. . ."

"You think that'll do it? 'Goddamn, sir, I'm sorry I tried to kill you, but you mouthed off to yer kid and it reminded me of my Grandpa?'"

"I don't know, Vin, but knowing you and Ed Carlson, it just might be enough."

Vin nodded tentatively. "Reckon you could come along, just so's he feels a little safer?"

Vin, Chris and Josiah stood on the front porch of Carlson's house an hour later. Josiah had seen Vin return, and had fallen in with them when they headed out of town. Carlson looked surprised when he opened the door, and a little uneasy, but he stepped out onto the porch and nodded to the three men.

"I ain't gonna hurt you, Mr.Carlson." Vin shifted from one foot to the other. "I'm sorry for tryin' to hurt you. I didn't think you oughta be talkin' to your boy like you did, but what I did wasn't right. You reminded me of my grandpa, he used to talk to me like that. What I did wasn't right," he repeated. "It ain't gonna happen again." He looked straight into Carlson's eyes when he spoke, then dropped his head.

"I believe you, Mr.Tanner. It's over with, far as I'm concerned."

Chris and Josiah continued to watch Vin fidget. Finally they turned to leave, thinking Vin was done.

"You ought not say them things to your boy, sir. He might . . . you don't want him growing up hatin'...he might ...turn into a man like me, Mr.Carlson."

Vin turned and walked away, going to his horse and mounting up. He didn't look back. Ed Carlson cleared his throat.

"I'll be more careful what I say to him."

Vin nodded.

"And Mr.Tanner?"

Vin looked up.

"I don't reckon that'd be so bad. Him growing up like you."

Chris was right. Ed Carlson was a decent man.

Things wouldn't be the same again. Not for a long time, maybe never. Buck still eyed Vin suspiciously, and JD was still feeling guilty and a little afraid. Vin felt the added responsibility of Chris's future, now more than ever. And yet, he stayed. Josiah admired him for that, and so did Chris. Chris wasn't totally sure given the same circumstances, he could have faced the townsfolk. But Vin did. And to all their credit, they accepted and went on. Ezra continued to win most of Vin's money away from him at the poker table. And Vin continued to give children sourballs and put them on Ezra's tab. Some things would never change.

Sticks and stones can break our bones, but words can break our hearts.

the end

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