Chris Larabee hated birthdays and birthday parties, but not nearly as much as Vin Tanner did. Even a small gathering like the one they attended tonight made the tracker nervous. When he came into the back room of Mrs Potter's store, he cast a quick look about, dropped a small plain flour sack of objects on the table beside gingham wrapped gifts and took up a wall near the back. He'd come late and would leave as early as possible, but not before Mrs Potter could single him out to present him a piece of Larabee's birthday cake. The party passed quickly, until Chris began to open his presents. A beautiful braided rawhide quirt from Buck, a silver engraved whiskey flask from JD, a leather bound copy of a book from Josiah (he knew it wasn't a bible, but couldn't read what it might be), a small box of fancy store bought cigars from Ezra, a pocket knife from Nathan; as Chris gratefully acknowledged each gift, Vin grew more and more apprehensive until he slipped up to the table and whisked away the bag he'd left earlier.
He tried to escape by pleading a patrol off Ezra, but Mrs Potter had latched onto him early in the evening and wasn't about to let him go. When he saw Chris elude another piece of birthday cake and flee outside, he rapidly followed.
Chris stole out to the boardwalk and dropped into a chair on the firelit street. There beside the chair was the flour sack he'd seen Vin pick up earlier. He lifted it to his lap and upturned it as Vin came out the door behind him.
"Happy Birthday, Cowboy."
Vin wasn't a great carver by any means, they were simple in design, polished and oiled until smooth and glossy---eight carved animals: four horses, a buffalo, wolf, eagle and bear. Children's toys. He looked up at Vin and waited for an explanation.
Vin only shrugged and sat on the edge of the boardwalk. He raised his head for a moment and turned to look at Chris.
"For Adam. Put 'em at the old farmstead. They're for his . . . his . . ." He gestured wordlessly. "His spirit. The People believe that where ever you go when you're alive, part of your spirit stays there. So if you go back there, his spirit will be there. Kind of."
Chris was silent as he studied the figures in his hands. A feeling that was almost anger rose in his chest and strangled his throat. The silence stretched beyond the darkness, beyond the town and the friendship and the trust.
"Bear-north, wolf-south, eagle-east, buffalo-west. The Four Winds-four horses." Vin turned back to the dirt at his feet and worked at a clod with the toe of his boot.
Chris, still speechless, thought of JD. Since they'd first been together, Vin had always spoken simple, straight and true. When Chris came up with a lousy idea, Vin, never one to keep quiet, would simply say, "Ain't no fucking good," while the rest of them waited for Chris to explode. They were a long time learning that he wouldn't. Not at Vin, not for speaking the truth. It was one of the things that drew them together, that absolute honesty. Vin hadn't been raised with decorum or tact, and while his silence spoke volumes, he had a habit of speaking his mind, too. JD's reaction to the awkward moments caused by that habit was invariably, "Well, geeze, Vin."
Chris thought it only appropriate now.
"Well, geeze, Vin."
A bright smile broke across Vin's face in the darkness. "Crude bastard, huh?"
"I reckon," Chris agreed. He placed the animals carefully back into the bag. Vin wasn't finished.
"Buck and me'll see to it, anythin' happens, you get buried up there, with them."
A more solemn promise Chris had never heard. He nodded.
"What makes you so sure I'm not gonna be collecting that bounty on you, first?"
"I reckon it's a toss up."
He took out his fancy new cigars and proffered one.
Vin shook his head. "Ezra'd shit he come out here and I'm smokin' one'a your fancy see-gars," he drawled.
"Yep," as he reached out for the lit cheroot. "Let 'im."
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