A Second Chance
"Get out!" The loud outbreak was accompanied by a hurled armchair that missed its goal only by accident.
No answer, no arguments, no fit of rage from his opponent. Instead, just the sound of a slamming door and Chris Larabee was alone, exactly like he wanted to be.
For a few moments he stared at the door partly in disbelief, partly with suspicion as he waited for Buck to return, as usual. It hadn't been the first time Chris had chased the man away, but maybe it was the last? Had he finally gone too far and put to flight the last friend he still had?
No, not Buck. He wouldn't just leave. In a few hours Buck would return, tomorrow at the latest, and he'd try again to pull Chris out of his depression, although he'd have as little success as he had in all the months before.
Or maybe not. Two weeks had passed since that last quarrel and still there was no trace of Buck. His horse had disappeared, and not one of the whores had talked about him; he had to be gone.
Despite everything the curses, the oaths, the certainty that he had really succeeded Chris was left with a feeling of loneliness. However, that could be swiftly drowned with a couple of shots of whiskey.
He didn't need any friends. He didn't need anybody, damn it! Except for the bastards who had murdered his family.
Chris had unknowingly built up a reputation as a gunslinger during the past months, something that had merely produced a light smile when he'd heard about it for the first time. Until the first idiot had challenged him. He'd always been fast and sure with a weapon, but his skill wasn't anything extraordary. Or so he'd thought.
But now that he'd shot some men who'd been on quests for a reputation, others wanted to revenge them, and now he considered his gift more of a curse.
Buck was the last of what had always been a small circle of friends who had still concerned themselves with Larabee and his depression over Sarah and Adam's murder, but Buck's friendship had soon changed into a burden. Chris didn't want to get rid of his sorrow; he didn't want to handle his guilt. And when the attempt to blame Buck for the death of his family hadn't worked, Chris resorted to raw violence in order to drive the man away.
Buck faced it for two entire months before it became too much for him. Good. That meant Chris would have his peace from now on and could work on his plans for the future without any obstacles. And his future would consist of finding the murderer of his family, no longer avoiding trouble, and finding out how just much alcohol a man really could take before he died from it.
"How long did y' live by this motto?"
"Too long." With one hand Chris poured himself his next shot of whiskey while his other hand played with an empty glass. "I don't know for sure anymore," he admitted after a few seconds. "My life turned into a series of quarrels, gunfights, alcohol and death." He shrugged slightly. "Unfortunately never my own."
"I'm glad 'bout that," his opposite retorted. "Otherwise I'd probably 've gone t' the gallows a while back."
A quick glance, intense enough to make both men drop their heads, and Chris was sure Vin had honestly meant what he'd said. "No." He shook his head. "Someone else would've come."
"Who?" With a swift movement Vin snatched the glass from Chris and simultaneously grabbed for the almost empty bottle. "An' who else would've helped Nathan? Oh no" He shook his head, knowing Chris was about to say "you." "I never would've managed on m' own, and you know it." He grinned slightly. "But you're probably right I wouldn't've died on the gallows. I would've been shot before that."
An amused shake of the head was Chris's only reaction. What should he say to that anyway? The sound of swinging batwing doors and heavy steps nearing their table saved him from having to come up with an answer.
"Beautiful day, don't y' think?" With a satisfied sigh Buck sank into the chair to Chris's left.
"Don't know what's so beautiful about it." With a gesture Chris signalled he wanted the rest of the whiskey. "But," he continued, "I didn't spend the night with..." He threw Buck a questioning look.
"Valerie," Vin supplied.
"Valerie," Chris finished.
"Maybe y' should. The company of a woman does wonders for a pained soul..."
"Thanks, I prefer to do without." With a small sigh he pushed back his chair; it was time for the daily patrol. After the last days of quiet the arrival of some cowboys promised some entertainment exactly what Chris needed right now. "You coming, Vin?"
With a frown, Buck watched the two men leave. In earlier times it would have been the two of them who rode together before both their futures were turned to ashes by fire.
After he'd left Chris, Buck had tried to settle down, but quickly realized he wasn't suited for that kind of life and had returned to traveling, going back to doing what he'd done with Chris before Sarah and Adam. He'd been a temporary sheriff here, hired-help there, was even a bodyguard once for a young lady whose father had some difficulties with a business partner. The memory elicited a smile. The "protection" had soon become much more intimate than her father had wanted.
That day he'd fallen out of Annie's window, landing directly at Chris's feet, and he'd hoped everything would be like it had been before. But that hope had died the moment Vin Tanner positioned himself at Chris's back. The looks that passed between the two men made it clear Chris had changed, so much so that he could unconditionally trust someone like Tanner, whereas someone like Buck had become nothing more than a good friend.
Good enough that Chris still trusted him with his life, yes, but not good enough to talk to him about everything. Or not to talk, Buck thought, recalling the really annoying habit Chris and Vin had of simply keeping their silences together.
Maybe it could happen because Vin had never known the old Chris Larabee. Or maybe it was because Vin's taciturn, almost shy nature fitted Chris far better. Whatever it was, it boiled down to the same simple fact: Vin Tanner had replaced Buck Wilmington in Chris's life.
And what did he do? He accepted the inevitable, acknowledged the old times were gone once and forever, and pursued his friendship with JD. No replacement for Chris, but in a way something better. He'd lost Chris as his best friend, but he'd met five others who, after some initial difficulties, he could trust unconditionally.
And even if he wouldn't trust Ezra with his money any more than he'd try to cure JD's hero worship of Larabee.
With a grin Buck downed the last of the whiskey directly from the bottle, then started his search for that night's company. Yes, life had definitely become more pleasant and more entertaining since the day Chris and Vin had chased him out of Annie's bed.
|| Fiction ||