His Own Laws
Notes: This is a companion piece, sort of sequel, to Charlotte's No Love for Solitude, one of my favorite C/B stories ever. I re-read it the other day and decided to try my hand at a 'what comes next' piece.
August 2008, Choice 1: Timed challenge: Set aside 30 minutes. Write. When the timer goes off, reset for 10 minutes and finish whatever it is you wrote in the last 30 minutes. Where you see the "+_+_+_ " symbols is where the timer went off, but I was on a roll, so I kept going.
Buck found him where he expected, in the livery, throwing his gear onto his horse. Of course Vin would leave town - in his place, Buck would probably have done the same.
Damn Chris Larabee, and all his cowardly ways. And he'd had the gall to warn Buck away from JD, to make him promise not to hurt the boy, and then the damned man had gone and done this to Vin.
Vin was tying off his bedroll, his fingers sure despite their shaking. Anger, Buck knew, and hurt. Maybe more of the latter now.
"Vin?" he said quietly, taking a step further in the door. There was only one lamp lit, the one Vin had probably grabbed on his way in, and it cast deep shadows in the dark building. The other horses moved around, Buck's own grey nickering as it recognized his voice.
"Not now, Buck," Vin answered, his words clear, but Buck heard the air in them, the emptiness.
"Then when?" he asked, worried that the answer was going to be 'never', that Vin was riding away alone with no plan to come back.
His worry grew as Vin didn't answer, instead pulling on the saddle to make sure it was tight, then catching the reins and pulling his horse out of its stall and toward the door. He caught up the lamp, holding it out to Buck as he drew near. "Here's the lamp, if you need it."
Close up and in clear light, Buck saw the tracks on Vin's cheeks, lines where the skin was washed clean of the dirt and grime they all seemed to carry this time of the year. It made him a little sick to know why they were there, what part he'd played in making them.
"It ain't your fault," he said softly, carefully, wishing he knew the words that would make this better and knowing there weren't any.
Vin stopped though, his chin coming up. "What business is it of yours?" he asked, his voice hard. "Or has it been a game from the start, something for y'all to laugh over when you get up to it yourselves?"
"No, nothing like that. I didn't know that he hadn't told you, that you two were still - " He shut up when Vin's eyes went wide with fear and even more anger.
"What do you mean 'still'? How long have you two - " Vin stopped as well, his voice seeming to give out, but Buck knew that it had more to do with finding words than with the air to carry them.
He sighed, feeling tired and old and even angrier with Chris. The thing between him and JD had been over for a while, fading away as Casey had become more important to JD. JD had been worried, anxious, even, that he was hurting Buck, but they'd cleared the air on that, Buck reminding JD that from the start, it'd never been anything other than what it was - fun times together, him teaching JD about the good things men could have together when they needed to. When they wanted to.
He should have known that Chris would never do that, never set the rules in place straight up, never take the time to draw the lines to protect both him and Vin from - well, this very thing.
"God damn you," Vin spat then, but it was low and rough, and he started forward, trying to push past Buck. "Both of you - "
"Now hold on," Buck said, bracing himself. "Don't go off like this - at least let me try to explain a few things to you, things that you'll want to know later, when you're of a mind to think on it."
"Reckon it's pretty clear," Vin shot back, but his voice was shaky now, and Buck saw the tremble in the way the lamp light danced. "Chris gets what he wants with me, and with you, and probably half the damned town - "
"If I'd known that you and Chris were - well, he wouldn't have been, not with both of us," Buck said. "If I'd known it meant that much to you, Vin."
"You knew 'bout..." Vin swallowed, looking down at the ground. Beside him, his horse snorted, pawing at the ground with one foot.
"I've known Chris for a long time," Buck answered. "Knew the signs, knew he was interested. Knew he wouldn't say 'no' if you offered."
"Yeah," Vin agreed, the sound more like a sigh. "He never said 'no', not once. I thought..."
"I know what you thought," Buck said gently. And so had Chris, Buck knew, Chris had known what Vin thought as sure as he'd known his own damned name. He'd known and he'd let it go on, preferring to avoid talking about it, thinking that if he didn't give it words, it would just go away. Thinking that if he didn't give it words, it wasn't real, that the attraction between them would fade but the friendship remain.
And Buck - Buck hadn't even thought to ask. He'd been so happy to have Chris back in his bed, to have them talking and laughing again, as they'd done before Sarah's death, that it hadn't even occurred to him that Chris hadn't ended it with Vin.
That Chris still wanted Vin.
But his pain, his anger, was for later. He'd have it too, have more than that one punch he'd thrown at Chris before he'd pulled on his clothes and run after Vin, afraid of what Vin would do now that he knew.
'You'll do right by the boy?' Chris had had the gall to ask, all that worry for how Buck was gonna hurt JD, and then he'd gone and done ten times worse to Vin.
"How long?" Vin asked, the words crawling up his throat in a dry rasp.
Buck shook his head, taking the lamp from Vin's hand. "We go back a long way, Vin, back before he met Sarah. After she died, her and Adam, things between us went wrong. Even after we got here, it was still a while before we were friends again, close ones, and it's been rocky. The whole thing with Blackfox and Fowler, well, that's put a few holes in the road for us. But what you saw tonight, well, that ain't been going on but a few weeks. And if I'd known, well - "
"Wouldn't have mattered," Vin said, his voice so hollow that his horse turned toward him, whuffing at his hair. "Chris ... don't reckon it ever meant nothing to him. I was just hoping that..."
"It meant something to him, Vin, it means something to him." He reached out, catching Vin's shoulder, but Vin pulled away.
"Yeah, which is why you're here, worried I'll leave town and he's - where ever the fuck he is."
"He's nursing the bloody nose I gave him," Buck said, smiling despite himself. "And you're right, he's the one who should be here - but you know him, almost as well as I do. He'll come after you, Vin, it just might take a while for him to admit he made a mistake."
Vin sighed, but nodded once before saying, "End result's gonna be the same, ain't it. He's gonna be with you."
It was ... well, it was what Buck wanted. But it was too early, he knew, to be thinking of the long-term. "I can't say, Vin, not about tomorrow or the next day. But I can say that no matter what else happens, you're a friend, a damned good one, and I don't want you to leave, not like this. Don't want you to get hurt, but it's too late for that, so the best I can say is that you and Chris need to work it out, 'cause you both care too much for each other to end it this way. And there's a lot more to this than just what happens in a bed."
Vin sighed, lifting his head to look out the door. "I'll be back in a few days," he said, sounding as tired as Buck felt.
"You swear?" Buck asked, trying to catch Vin's eyes. "You promise you'll come back?"
"Yeah," Vin said, stepping forward, his horse moving with him.
Buck picked up the lamp and followed them out, pulling the livery door closed behind him as Vin mounted up. They both turned as they heard the familiar jingle of spurs accompanying the measured footsteps on the boardwalk, coming toward them.
Buck glanced up as Vin turned his horse the opposite direction and pressed his knees to the horse's ribs, urging it on.
He was gone before Buck could say anything. He blew out the lamp and put it on the wide rail affixed to the livery wall, then stared into the darkness in the direction Vin had taken. Out of town, out into the desert. In the faint light of the watch fires, he thought he saw the man and horse disappear.
The steps drew closer, and his anger rose again. He clenched his hands into fists, the knuckles of one already bruised and scraped.
Chris stopped several feet away, out of easy reach. Buck didn't look at him, even as the silence grew long and heavy between them.
"I never promised him anything," Chris muttered eventually.
"No," Buck agreed, "you never said a damned word to him one way or the other. Let him believe what he wanted - what you knew he wanted - without once trying to warn him. You're something, Chris, you are truly."
"I can't help what he thinks," Chris tried again, but his voice was weaker now, and Buck knew already that the guilt was eating at the other man. "You're the one who pushed me on him, anyway - "
"Yeah, I know, it's all my fault," Buck snorted. He started off then, feeling sick about the whole damned thing.
Behind him, he heard Chris sigh, but then the jingle of spurs as Chris tried to catch up.
"What should I have said to him?" Chris rushed, his voice a hiss. "No matter what I said, he was gonna be hurt - "
Buck stopped and turned, the movement apparently fast enough to startle Chris, who jerked back, his hand unthinkingly going to his gun.
Buck took a little pleasure in that, but he was still angry enough to say, "You son of a bitch. You came into my room, accusing me of all manner of things with JD, then you turn around and do that to Vin, someone you actually, finally care about? And you can't even be man enough to admit that you're afraid of him leaving, so much so that you'd lie to him instead of cutting him free?"
He held up a hand as Chris opened his mouth, looking for words.
"There's all manner of lies, Chris," Buck said, "and you lied just as big in your silence as you could have with your words. You know it, I know it, and now Vin knows it. And we all know why you did it - because you don't want to lose him. You can't give him what he wants, but you can't admit to it because then he might leave. The damned thing is, I feel sorry for you - almost as sorry as I feel for him and what you did to him."
He started away again, ignoring the few faces that peered at them from the darkness. It was late, after midnight, but there were a few stragglers about, some making their way home from the saloons, others just strolling, unable to sleep. He didn't care at this point, just wanted to work off some of the anger, and try to avoid some of his own pain.
He heard Chris behind him again, and he sped up, wanting distance on the man. Tomorrow, maybe, he thought, after he had time to do like Vin was doing, get away from the hurt and anger and just think.
Time to think about Chris' pain and how he was finally laying it aside, trying to move forward. How Chris was finally coming to terms with his losses, accepting that Buck had suffered as well. Accepting Buck again.
Part of that, Buck knew, was because of what Chris did feel for Vin, and he knew he owed Vin for that.
Tomorrow, he thought as he walked down the road toward the far side of town, tomorrow he'd be able to look Chris in the eye while Chris finally did what he needed to: accept the responsibility for what he had done, and figure out some way to make it right with Vin.
Chris would, Buck knew, because in the long run, Chris Larabee wasn't a coward, not even when it came to his own feelings. It just took him a little longer to admit to them - to accept the pain and fear that came with caring again. The lack of control.
Come morning, Chris would own up. And come morning, Buck might be in the mood to let him. But for tonight, for tonight, his anger felt clear and justified and unsullied by the distractions of conscience and his own love for Chris.
"He who lives in solitude may make his own laws."
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