In Plain Sight
Notes: This is not an entire day, it's one of those days where there's a changing point, a trigger, and the day turns out entirely different by the end, to what it started. So -- I always wondered what the hell Vin was doing with that broom in his hand in the Pilot. Turns out he did too.
Whoever invented guns maybe hadn't realized you could kill someone just as dead with boredom -- pure, mind-crushing boredom. Sure, it'd take longer and be less...well, bloody...but the poor sucker would still be just as damn dead in the end. And there'd be no awkward explaining to do.
There was no mistaking Mrs. Watson's raised voice, or the beckoning hand-wave, so he propped his broom against the nearest shelf and stepped up to the counter. "Ma'am?"
"Wagon's out front." It was the middle-aged customer who responded and Vin wasn't surprised he was eager to leave.
He'd been in the store almost an hour, and most of it with Mrs. Watson attached to his elbow. Turned out he had a wife and three young kids, all of them heading further west to set up a homestead and Mrs. Watson'd been happy as a pig in mud, offering advice and recommendations on everything from the best quality bottling jars to the finest tools. The man had seemed grateful enough, but by the time they made it back to the counter he looked dazed.
Probably safe with the warming pan, but he'll have a time explaining that fancy silver belt-buckle to his wife, Vin thought, hiding a smile.
The man lifted one of the boxes off the counter and clearly expected Vin to take the other. Mrs. Watson nodded.
Right. Vin hoisted the box -- damn, felt like it was full of bricks -- and headed out the door. The man didn't look at him at all.
Mrs. Watson beamed.
Five was the sum total of days he'd spent working in her husband's store, and already she had him scrubbed and starched and wrapped up in an apron. "You're a good worker, Vin," she'd said when she'd drawn breath from instructing him to bathe and shave and how to dress, "but you make the customers nervous."
Inexperienced as he was in the ways of shopkeeping, he knew that nervous was bad if your aim was to tempt people through the door, so he'd bitten his tongue, scraped together the last of his money, and done what she asked -- bought some new pants, visited the bathhouse, polished his boots -- and it seemed to make her happy. The more invisible he was the better she liked it, and the customers not noticing him at all, well, that was what she liked best.
Should have made him just as happy, considering a low profile was exactly what he was aiming for, but belonging wasn't something he'd ever aimed to be proud of and it was an uncomfortable fit.
He straightened from the back of the wagon and caught himself halfway through the act of tipping his hat. Godammit, he ought to have gotten used to being hatless by now. Even though no one else in the street was paying the slightest bit of attention it still made him feel stupid to forget, and he didn't need to be reminded how exposed he felt with his head bare.
Maybe it was time he gave in and went to see the barber. "Civilized men of business don't wear their hair long, Vin," he could hear Mrs. Watson's all-knowing voice in his head. Since he couldn't wear his hat indoors, maybe it would be better to get his hair cut off than leave it like it was -- curling all over his head like it used to when he was a kid!
He went back inside and took up his broom again. The shop was filled with expectant silence, made all the more obvious through comparison with the bustle of the street. It was like the pans and brushes and tools were just waiting for someone to step through the door and take them off the shelf. He snickered to himself at the fanciful notion; he sure as hell was bored if he was getting to imagine the shop goods with thoughts of their own.
"Yes, ma'am," he dutifully responded, and leaned on the broom.
"I'm just ducking over to Potter's. Virgil's out back, so give him a shout if anyone comes in."
"Yes, ma'am," he said again and then watched as she bustled out the door.
It was a strange town, this one. The Watsons were nice enough, but with the boarded-up stores and most people shy about being too friendly, it looked as though they'd had enough trouble to make them cautious.
Not my problem, Vin shrugged mentally and ran a finger around his collar. The laundry woman had washed his bandana with something that itched and buttoning his shirt up tight made him feel like he was choking. His back hurt from sleeping on the hard cot offered as part of his wage and to top it all off, his big toe was poking through the hole he'd darned in his sock, and he still had two more days till he got paid.
Damn. He closed his eyes briefly and loosened his hold on the broom; he was gripping the handle so tight he'd likely snap it in two if he didn't watch out.
It wasn't even that this day was worse than the previous handful but the repetition sure as hell was wearing him down. Same thing, day in and day out: clean up the store, be nice to the customers, eat enough to keep going and, at day's end, hide out in the saloon and pretend there wasn't something more he could be (should be) doing.
My choice, he reminded himself as he sucked in a breath and chased a small pile of dirt out the door same as he'd done a hundred times over the last week. Ain't no one making me stay right here in town and hold a broom instead of a gun.
But that didn't shake the uneasy, restless, gut feeling that this was wrong; that marking time was wrong, that hiding out and licking his wounds was ... wrong. That the only fool he was fooling was himself, and all in the pretense of taking the time to slow down and make the right decision about what to do next.
More like waiting for the decision to make itself, he scoffed, shaking his head. You really are a fool, Tanner, if you think you can just wait for some generous spirit to show you the way forward.
But the truth of it was, he'd never had to concern himself with things like this before -- with having to move on because he had to rather than because he wanted to, with not being able to just speak his name right out in the open with the pride it was due.
Hell, he still didn't have anything that even felt like a plan.
A burst of gunfire brought his head up and he stepped farther out onto the boardwalk. It was more instinct than anything else; only a fool or a coward would ignore gunplay in the main street and so far he hadn't sunk as low as to be either.
Looked like the trail hands were liquored up and on a rampage, shooting wildly and making a ruckus. He glanced around trying to make some sense of what was happening, of where this was going, and it didn't take him long to find the center of the action. So the cowboys had a beef with the healer? Well, that was going to get someone dead quick if no one gave enough of a damn to stop them. But the only person who stepped up was the feisty newspaperwoman and she soon enough ended up on her backside in the dirt.
Well, hell, he looked around again. The respectable folk were too busy looking out for themselves, not interfering in someone else's business, and if it were up to them the healer would get lynched.
He turned and pushed his way back into the store and it was like shedding a weight to untie his apron and leave it on the shelf. He grabbed his hat and took up an untried rifle that fit his hands better than the broom he'd held every day for the last week and the next time he looked up, it was to check what kind of trouble he was about to get himself into.
But instead of the sheriff or his deputy arriving to keep the peace, it was a black-clad man stepping forward out of the shadows of the saloon who caught his attention.
Gunfighter was his instinctive thought. The man gave off an air of competence, of surety; and it was no surprise, when their eyes met, that he saw recognition and expectation.
So, not invisible after all -- someone who knew what to look for could still see him plain.
He nodded, acknowledging the unspoken request, and stepped off the boardwalk into the street. Casually, he slung the rifle over one shoulder, confidence building with every step.
He felt drawn to the stranger in black, and at the same time his heart beat fast and his breathing quickened as his body got ready for the fight ahead. It felt good; better than good. This was what he did, who he was, who he'd always be. All those weeks of moving on, keeping a low profile and staying out of the way of anyone's notice; it was killing him surer than any lawman's noose.
Enough of playing things safe, of stopping and thinking and waiting. He'd never been one for fitting in, anyway.
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