Holly '05: The Person And The Place

Vin stood at the window and watched the rain pour off the roof. It had been raining for hours, which was how he came to be in Chris' room at the boarding house. At times like these space was scarce and no one raised an eyebrow when two friends shared a room and a bed. The fact that Chris' room was next to Buck's and Buck had also kindly offered to share his room with the young widow Fisher, had allowed the two of them to make use of the large and reasonably comfortable bed. Chris had rolled over to find only a cooling sheet beside him. Now he lay in bed, watching Vin watch the rain. There was no light in the room; all he could see of Vin was a vague outline against the window, which was only fractionally lighter than the rest of the room.

"Why don't you light the lamp?" Vin asked softly.

"Don't want people to see you like that."

"No one's gonna see, ain't nothing moving out there but the rain, not even the rats."

"How do you see so well in the dark?"

"I don't see any better in the dark then you do, I just understand what I do see better than you. Right now I can't see shit, which is why I know no one is out there - who the hell would go out in this?"

He stepped away from the window and let the drape fall back, plunging the room into total darkness. Chris reached out for his matches, struck one on the wall behind him and lit the lamp, keeping the wick turned down. The low light picked out the contours of Vin's naked body in hues of gold.

"God, you're beautiful."

When he had first said it, Vin had been embarrassed and dismissive; now, six months on from their first encounter, he had learned to accept the compliments Chris bestowed on him.

"So are you."


The rain continued all night and into the next day, so it was no surprise that the stage was late. Nonetheless it was due at eleven, but by four the rain had stopped and the stage still had to appear. Chris instructed Nathan and Josiah to stay in town, while the rest of them headed out see what had become of the stage.

It was getting on for seven and dusk was fast approaching when they found the stage. As they approached, their horses began to play up, tossing their heads and trying to dance away.

Chris pulled up. "We'll walk. JD, stay here with the horses," he ordered, already dismounting.

"I'm not a child, I can…" JD began to protest.

"Do as Chris says," Buck's hushed tone, a sure sign he was deadly serious. "Stay here 'til I call you."

JD opened his mouth to protest, then closed it and dismounted, holding out his hand for Pony's reins. There was something very wrong about the scene before him. The kind of men who held up stages often killed the passengers, sometimes they raped the women first, but they always stole the horses, they didn't kill them. From their vantage point, he could see the dark heap of equine corpses, crows sitting on them, no doubt having already made quick work of their eyes. From the way they had fallen, in a heap with the coach rammed into the back of them, the horses had been cut down as they ran.

With JD looking on, the other four walked slowly down the slight slope, in no hurry to confront more closely the carnage they could already see before them. The coach itself was riddled with holes as big as a man's fist, in places the wood was so splintered that there was nothing left. The driver's corpse lay among the lead horses, no doubt thrown there as the horses were shot down.

"How?" Ezra asked.

"Only one thing can do this," Buck commented. "Passengers must be on the far side." He began to walk round the wreckage.

"One thing?" Ezra turned to Chris for an explanation.

"Gatling Gun."

"God in Heaven."

Vin had followed Buck. The passengers lay where they had fallen, in a line beside the coach, three men, two women and a child, a girl of no more than ten or eleven. They had been cut down at chest height, some lower, some higher, their bodies not just punctured, but ripped open, cut, mutilated, and severed. A massacre with no blood, the scene washed clean by the rain, the victims looking so much like ghosts Buck half expected them to rise up and demand justice.

"I hope I find the ones that did this," Buck muttered, his hand resting not on his gun, but on his knife.

He turned to look at Vin, expecting to see the same grim determination to exact justice, but what he did see shocked him more than the scene before him. Before he could say anything Vin turned and ran. He shouldered past Ezra, and charged back toward the horses.

"Vin!" Chris called after him, but he didn't break stride, if anything he ran faster. They watched him snatch Peso's reins from a startled JD, swing himself up into the saddle and gallop away.


"Go after him."

Buck spoke so softly in Chris' ear, he almost didn't hear it.


Buck looked over at Ezra, who had pulled on his gloves and begun to look for anything that might identify the victims.

"Vin - go after him."

"He'll find some tracks, we don't need him here."

"Ain't no tracks to find after all this rain, 'sides that's not why he left."

"What are you talking about?"

"Why did we keep JD back?"

"Because he doesn’t need to see this yet. We've all seen something like this before."

"Yeah, we have, you remember that look? The look boys get the very first time they see what's left after a battle, after the smoke's cleared, when the sun gets on the bodies and crows and the dogs get among them? That look they get when they realise that it isn't a game, when they finally work out they aren't immortal."

Chris thought back to those days, to his and Buck's first battles, and the first battles of each batch of new recruits, and slowly he nodded.

"That was the look Vin had, just before he took off. Go after him, he needs you."

"Me? You're the one's got it all figured out."

"Oh for Christ’s sake Chris! Because at a time like this a man needs his family - his loved ones. You're the only 'loved one' Vin's got."

"Loved one? What is that meant to mean?"

"Think I don't know about you and him? Hell, you and me fooled about some when women were scarce. Think I don't see the way you two look at each other? Think I haven't noticed him spending more and more time out at the shack, just the two of you? Hell man, you two were right next door to me last light, I've got ears!"

Chris opened his mouth, then closed it again.

"Go after him. Any idea where he's headed?"

Chris nodded.

"So go, me and Ez can do what's needed. If we're gonna catch these pigs, we need Vin. Bring him back to us."


Up on the ridge the rain had fallen as snow, though in places it was already melting. The ridge was like a great wedge of cheese, sloping gently up to an abrupt steep drop. From the tree covered top there was a spectacular view of the surrounding hills. Close to the centre of the ridge there was a place where some flat rocks stuck out a little higher than the others. This was Vin's place, the place he came to think, to pray, to contemplate the beauty of nature, to be alone.

Chris rode up, making no attempt his hide his approach. Peso stood under a tree, browsing on the early spring shoots. Leaving Pony under the same tree, with enough rope to get out of the cantankerous horse’s range if needs be, he set off for the rocks, which lay on the far side of a small stand of trees. Here the snow was still thick on the ground and crunched under his boots as he approached.

This was only the second time he had been to the ridge, the day, a month ago, that Vin had brought him here, to watch the sunset, was one of the happiest and proudest of his life. It was the moment he knew Vin finally accepted and returned his love. Vin was sitting on the rocks, right on the edge, his legs dangling over the edge, gazing at the distant hills. Trying not to think of the drop below them, Chris approached and sat down beside him. Vin acknowledged his presence with the merest movement of his head. The two of them sat in silence for a long time.

Finally Vin said, "I fought in the war, you know?"

"I know."

Vin turned his head toward Chris just a fraction. "How? I haven't told anyone, not here anyway."

Chris smiled affectionately. "Sometimes, not often, you talk in your sleep, just muttered words here and there."

Vin looked back at the view. "Oh - right, well anyway, the war - I was just kid really."

By Chris’s estimation Vin would have been about fourteen when the war started.

"I…I was on the other side, I was a Reb. Ain't something I'm proud of, I hate slavery, always have, truth be told I'm ashamed of what I did and why."

"No need to be, we didn't start the war, most of us didn't even get a chance to choose sides, all we got to do was follow orders and look out for each other. No shame in that," Chris assured him.

"I had a choice," Vin told him darkly. "But then, back when I was a kid, full of piss and vinegar and not a drop of common sense, back then I hated every soldier in a blue uniform. It was them took me from the People, from my family. They came charging into the village, killing anyone who moved, braves, women, elders - they even killed kids." He looked back at Chris. "How does a man do that? How does a grown man put a bullet in a little kid, cut down an old man with a saber - how?"

"I can't answer that."

"I know it. They didn’t hurt me; they were 'rescuing' me. Took me to their fort, cut my hair, made me wear clothes and boots, locked me up."

"Locked you up?"

"They weren't dumb, knew I'd run as soon as I could, so they locked me in a cell. To begin with, I wouldn't do nothing they wanted, wouldn’t talk English - even though I remembered how, wouldn’t eat with a knife and fork, wouldn't even wear their clothes. But after a while I worked out that if I carried on like that they'd never let me out. So I started playing along, even went to church on Sundays. Pretty soon they were trusting me. They were so convinced their way was better, the white way, they believed I had just 'forgotten' my white life, and as soon as I remembered it, I'd be happy again." Vin shook his head and turned his attention back to the scenery. "After my Ma died, they put me in a mission school. The men that ran that place, the brothers, they were cruel, no other word for it, cruel. They made my life hell, so, when I was a few years older, I ran away. Black Feather found me, he made me part of his family, he took care of me, he loved me and the US - God damned - army 'rescued' me from him, and thought I was grateful." Vin gave a little smile. "Ezra would have been proud of me, the performance I gave them." He shook his head. "I offered to scout for them, started hoarding food and supplies. One day, I was out scouting, had all my 'stores' with me, worked my way away from the troopers, 'till I was out of sight then I…"

"Took off?"

"Yup. That was a good little horse, that US pony, took me a long way before I had to turn him loose - not as good as Peso of course, but damn good. I knew there was a war coming, all the troopers were talking about it. So when it happened I volunteered. All I wanted to do was kill me some Blue Bellies. 'Course I was too young and I looked it too, but once I showed them how well I could shoot, they didn't care."

Chris had figured as much, he imagined that at fourteen, Vin must have been lean and gangly, probably well muscled for a boy, but still a boy. At the beginning of the war there was no pressing need to accept underage boys, but a sharpshooter of Vin's ability would be too useful a resource to lose.

Vin took a deep breath, before he continued with his narrative. "Buck got hit by a sniper in the war - didn't he? I've seen the scar, on his shoulder. He told me once, you know the way Buck is, he just said 'damn sniper, winged me' like it was nothing, but I know a bit about bullet wounds, where that scar is, he coulda died."

"He nearly did - what has that…"

"What if it was me? I shot a lot of men, shot them right there; it's a kill shot - most of the time. What if I was the one shot Buck?…"

"Stop it. It was a war. A lot of people shot a lot of people, brothers shot brothers, fathers sons, friends killed each other, it, was, a, war. Maybe you did shoot Buck, but I doubt it. Buck makes an impression, people tend to remember him, even at a distance - believe me I know, I've been chased by enough angry fathers, brothers and husbands!" That at least made Vin smile. "But maybe it was you, who knows? I got hit by shrapnel."

Vin had a sudden memory of the back of Chris’s leg, a fond memory of tracing his finger down the smooth flesh then feeling the slight ripple effect of the raised scars.

"Maybe it was Ezra fired that canon?" Chris continued.

"Ezra says he didn't fight in the war."

"Ezra says a lot of things, but the ability to handle artillery the way he does? He was in the war."

Vin was gazing off into the distance again.

"This isn't about you maybe shooting Buck - is it?"

Vin shook his head. "When I was seventeen, I had a…friend, Marcus, we were…"


"That mean what I think it means, like you and me?"

Chris waited for his lover to make eye contact, then nodded.

"Right, well I don't know if it was love, we were so young, neither of us had even been with a woman, but it felt so good, so right, it made the rest of it bearable. We had to sneak about, hide, just like us, but it was more difficult. Marcus was a rich boy, his Pa was a bank clerk."

Chris was about to comment that bank clerks weren't rich, but then anyone with a regular wage was rich to Vin.

"He was as young as me, but he was new to the army, scared shitless, couldn't see his hand in front of his face without his spectacles, but by then the south was so desperate for troops they didn't care. I took care of him, I taught him how to survive, and he… he took care of me." Vin gave Chris one of those shy, slightly crooked smiles that always melted his heart and set his groin on fire. "My squad was sent away, when I came back, Marcus was gone."

"He was killed?"

Vin took a deep breath, then continued his story, without answering the question. "When, when we got back we were sent out again to escort some supplies coming in by wagon. The Yankees knew it was coming, there were spies everywhere, we pretty much assumed they knew everything. So three routes were mapped, and the commander of the supply detail chose which route to use once they were underway. A messenger rode ahead, told us which route they were on, by the time we - we were sent to bring them in - we were too late. I'd never seen what a Gatling gun could do - 'til then." Tears now glistened on Vin's cheeks. "There must have been more than one, on both sides of the road, because they were…there was nothing." Tear swollen eyes turned pleadingly on Larabee. "Some of them were cut in half! There was a horse with no head - the head just gone, just blood and bone sticking up. They must have been so close to them. They were all dead, all the men, all the horses. I found this body, the legs had been cut through at the knee and… there was no face, almost no head but…his neck was untouched, it was still perfect."

Vin seemed to have run out of words, but Chris knew this was important, so he pushed a little.

"What about his neck?"

"It was still there, all bloody, but still there, the medicine bag I made him, to keep him safe, it was still around his neck, but the rest of…"

Chris put his arm around Vin and pulled him into his embrace. There were no words that could express how much he wanted to make things better, there was no way to tell him it was alright - because it wasn't alright and it never would be, so he just held him close.

"I was meant to keep him safe, to protect him and they did that to him, they destroyed him - all that beauty, all that love; just gone, for nothing, for a few wagons of blankets and corn, it was just so…pointless. I'd forgotten that day; I'd forgotten it until this morning - how? How could I forget something like that, I almost forgot Marcus. I loved him, at least as much as kids can really be in love, and I almost forgot him."

"Love is love, age isn't an issue, sounds to me like you two were in love. I loved Sarah, she's gone, I still love her memory, but I love you, here, now. If - God forbid - I lose you too, maybe I'll find someone else to love, but I'll still love you and Sarah."

"But how could I forget him?"

"Because you were a kid, because it was too horrible to remember, I guess if you'd have kept that memory for all these years, you might have gone crazy."

"But now I've got it back, the memories are all back now."

"You've got me now."