A/N: Once again, I’ve had a story get away from me…only this time it wasn’t exactly a labor of love. Manhunt is far from being my favorite episode, so this one was a struggle to finish up. I hope it don’t disappoint.
~ ~ MANHUNT ~ ~
The next time one of my charges agrees to help someone out with a personal matter, I’m going to cuff him over the head so hard that it leaves a dent on his cranium. “That ungrateful git is about to meet an unfortunate end,” I growled, turning my head around to sneer at the young man who hung back a few paces from Vin and Buck. He may be the son of a missionary, but his attitude left a lot to be desired. My charges were doing him and his father a tremendous favor by lending their skills to aid in the rescue of the young man’s missing sister; the least the little runt could do was be polite. “Didn’t your parents teach you any manners whatsoever?” I muttered darkly, swiveling my head back around so that I could keep my gaze fixed on my two charges. Hopefully Rafe Mosely would lose some of that bluster of his after a few more hours out here on the trail, saving my charges the hassle of shooting the young man in order to obtain a little quiet.
The farther along we trekked, the more suspicious I began to grow of Reverend Mosely. “That missionary is far too calm for a man whose daughter has been kidnapped by an Indian,” I mused aloud. Unlike his outspoken son, the older man was content to follow Vin’s lead quietly, seemingly in no hurry to retrieve his missing daughter. It was almost as if he knew something that the rest of us did not. “Then again, maybe I’m just reading too much into things,” I mumbled, scrubbing a hand over my face as I relegated my misgivings to the back of my mind. “No need to jump the gun just yet.”
I released a deep sigh once Vin and Buck broke off from the others in order to scout ahead. “Maybe now I can hear myself think without that imbecile’s voice grating through my every thought,” I grumbled. I felt bad for young Mr. Mosely, but my sympathy only stretched so far when the person you showed compassion for repaid your kindness by kicking your teeth in. “Ungrateful, little snot,” I groused, stomping after my two charges as they turned off the main trail. We ended up trudging through the brush for a bit until the trees cleared enough to where we could spot a small river running through the valley. “It would appear that we’ve found the culprit and his victim,” I murmured, catching sight of an Indian brave drinking from the water while a girl, who I assumed was Claire Mosely, sat on the river’s edge.
For a moment, I was afraid that the young man would try to resist Buck and Vin’s attempt to bring him in peacefully, choosing instead to die fighting. However, I visibly relaxed when the Indian chose to give himself up without a fight, thankful that we’d been able to avoid spilling needless blood. “Well…he’s not as dumb as the missionary’s men would have us believe,” I remarked, sizing up my charges’ new prisoner. Then again…kidnapping a young, white girl wasn’t exactly the smartest act for an Indian brave to perform. “What the bloody hell were you thinking, mate?” I hissed, sweeping past the young man as Vin and Buck proceeded to lash him to his saddle. Sometimes, I think that I’m the only one in these parts that possesses a working brain, I thought to myself, shaking my head disbelievingly.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The reason for taking a roundabout route back to town had been to avoid the missionary’s posse and the trouble that was certain to be stirred up the moment they set eyes on Chanu; however, I don’t think my two charges took into account what the townspeople’s reaction to the Indian brave would be. “I don’t think I can stomach another lynch mob,” I sighed, moving closer to my charge as men from town began to crowd around Vin and his prisoner. Unlike the last time I was put in this situation, none of my charges were the intended victim, which meant that I couldn’t interfere in order to put an end to this madness. “Hopefully these bloodthirsty civilians won’t do anything rash,” I muttered, keeping myself close to Vin’s side as he hauled his prisoner through the crowd. The last thing I wanted to deal with was one of my charges getting injured because he tried to prevent the lynching of an Indian accused of kidnapping a white girl.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The second I spotted Reverend Mosely and his posse riding back into town, my back began to automatically stiffen in preparation for the confrontation that I knew was about to take place. My hopes that young Mr. Mosely had perhaps calmed down on the ride back were quickly dashed as the young man made a beeline for the jail. Oh no you don’t, I thought angrily, moving to stand next to Vin in the doorway. Although my quiet charge possessed the patience of a saint, I knew that he wouldn’t hesitate to use force on Rafe in order to prevent the angry man from getting his hands on Chanu, which might in turn lead to a brawl between Reverend Mosley’s party and my men. Rafe began spouting his mouth off the moment he stepped up onto the boardwalk, and I had to bite down on the curses that threatened to spew forth from my lips at his infuriating comments towards Vin.
“You’re lucky that Josiah was here to rein you in, you bloody git,” I spat harshly, continuing to glare at the young man as he turned to leave. “This is the last time that I let any of you lot do anyone a favor,” I cried out, spinning around to thrust my index finger in Vin’s face. “That goes double for you, Mr. Tanner!” Bloody man was too damn nice, and that big heart of his would get him killed if he wasn’t careful.
I cast one last look towards the jail door before turning on my heel and following Rafe to the room where his sister was being tended to. It wasn’t until I had taken a few steps down the boardwalk that a pang of guilt for my treatment of Vin began to assault me. This ordeal was going to be stressful for all of my charges, but it was going to be especially difficult for Vin, who held such a high admiration for the Indian people. I just hope that he doesn’t let his feelings towards Indians in general cloud his judgment in regards to the young man currently residing in a jail cell, I mused apprehensively. If Chanu was guilty, then he deserved what he had coming to him as far as I was concerned. If by some chance he was innocent, then I’m sure there was a way to go about proving it. However, if Vin were to get himself injured by siding with the Indian and going against the rest of my charges… I let the thought trail off as my anger began to reassert itself. I needed to try and remain positive, not send myself into a homicidal rage. I viciously shook my head in an effort to banish the negative thoughts as I prepared to see Claire Mosely, praying that she could shed some light on what exactly had happened to her.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
My previous notion that perhaps there was more to this story than meets the eye came back to the forefront of my mind after witnessing Claire’s interaction with her father and brother. She hadn’t appeared to be half as hysterical as I would’ve expected from a girl who had just been rescued from her kidnapper. “Hell, she hadn’t been hysterical at all, and she didn’t appear to have any injuries aside from that bruised ankle either,” I reasoned aloud, leaning against the bar between Josiah and JD. I caught some of the conversation between the two and hoped that Josiah’s planned journey out to the Indian village where Chanu was from would shed some more light on this conundrum. I turned my head to the side when I noticed a new presence next to JD, and I couldn’t hold back a groan when the voice of Reverend Mosely’s son assaulted my ears. “Of course you would have something to say on the matter, wouldn’t you?” I ground out harshly, shaking my head in disbelief at the young man’s disparaging comments. Rafe Mosely was treading on thin ice, and it was just a matter of time before one of my charges snapped and ended the twerp. “Antagonizing him is the last thing you want to do, JD,” I grumbled, watching as my eager charge once again let his mouth get the better of him. “If Josiah and Chris had not been present…” I let the implication trail off as my charges turned back to their drinks upon Rafe’s exit. One of these days I was going to follow through on my threat of gags.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
I was only at the Indian village for a brief while before the hostility of the Indian Chief and the other villagers got to be too much for me to handle. “This is what you get when you try to force salvation upon unreceptive souls,” I mumbled darkly, taking notice of the suspicious looks the villagers shot towards Josiah. “I don’t know which is worse, the hypocritical souls who profess Christ or the lost souls that they drive further into damnation with their heavy-handed witnessing.” I decided to leave Josiah while he discussed Chanu’s situation with the Chief and return to town where the rest of my charges were currently unsupervised. “Hopefully they didn’t get up to anything while I was gone,” I exhaled harshly, giving the village one last sorrowful look before leaving.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
To say that I had been displeased by the little confrontation I saw taking place in front of the jail when I arrived back in town would’ve been a grand understatement. “I was afraid something like this would happen,” I muttered, standing next to Vin’s chair as the two of us watched Buck and Ezra amble away. Vin was putting himself in a very tight spot by sticking up for Chanu, and by the looks of things his opinion on the kidnapping was not a very popular one. “I hope for your sake that you’re right about him, Vin,” I whispered as I watched him go into the jail, “because I’m not sure if this temporary rift between you and the others can be repaired if you’re wrong.” Josiah was the only other one of my charges who was keeping an open mind about the situation, but I wasn’t so sure how he would feel once he returned from the Indian village. “I really don’t need this nonsense right now,” I moaned, cradling my aching head with my palm as I took up Vin’s spot by the doorway.
I could hear Vin talking quietly inside the jail, offering Chanu some food and sharing his thoughts on the situation. I shook my head sadly at the venomous response the Indian spat out. “So much hatred,” I sighed. There was far too much hatred surrounding this affair, and I was more afraid than ever that poor Vin would end up getting burned for attempting to lend aid to this man’s plight. “What the…bloody hell!” I stammered, launching myself out of the chair that I’d been slouching in when I heard what appeared to be a struggle taking place inside. The sight that met my eyes once I rushed inside caused a swell of anger to bubble anew within me. “Bloody hell, Vin,” I growled lowly, attempting to break the chokehold that Chanu had around his neck. “If this is how you treat someone who offers you a helping hand…” I let the accusation towards the Indian trail off as my desperation took over. A quick snap of the young man’s wrist would serve as a reminder that he should think twice before attacking one of my charges. “And hopefully this assault will give you a new point of view on the matter, Mr. Tanner,” I wheezed, doubling over as I gazed down at my unconscious charge. Poor man’s heart was just too big for his own good.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
After the little incident in the jail last night, I chose to stick to Vin like a second shadow. If he and Nathan chose to go after Chanu, then I’d be right there with him to make sure he didn’t get taken by surprise again. “Fool me once and I’ll make sure you never live to fool me again,” I murmured menacingly, looking on as he and Nathan left Rafe Mosely sprawled out in the young man’s front yard. I allowed a smile of wry amusement to twist my lips as I glanced down at the unconscious man, silently approving of my charges’ methods of keeping him out of the way. “Serves you right, mate,” I smirked, giving the body a swift nod of approval before following after my charges. The last thing that Vin and Nathan needed was an overzealous Rafe Mosely breathing down their necks whilst they searched for the missing Indian and Rafe’s once again missing sister.
As we departed the Mosely property, I could tell that something about this new course of events wasn’t adding up to Vin. He was probably wondering why Chanu would choose to go after Claire the moment he escaped from jail rather than flee to the reservation, I thought silently, studying Vin’s intense features as he attempted to track the Indian’s trail. “Quite frankly, I’d like an answer to that question as well,” I reasoned aloud. The young man’s actions were peculiar to say the least, but that didn’t mean there wasn’t a hidden agenda at work. Regardless of what my compassionate charge thought, I was keeping my eye on Chanu, whether the young man was innocent or not. “You don’t just assault one of my charges and get away with it,” I growled.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
I swallowed thickly as Reverend Mosely began his trek back to town, his daughter’s body slung over a horse. “This is not going to go over well with the townsfolk,” I whispered. Not for the first time did I wish for the ability to be omniscient; if I had known how things were going to turn out then, perhaps I could’ve… “Oh bollox it all,” I muttered, bringing my hands up to rub my aching temples. It was no use arguing about ‘what could have been’; preventing Father’s will from coming to fruition was not in my power. “Although…I’d really be interested to know your reasons for that poor girl’s death,” I called out to the heavens. This new development changed everything, and I could tell by the look on Vin’s face that his belief in Chanu was definitely wavering. As much as I wanted to stick with him and Nathan while they continued to follow the Indian’s trail, I knew that I should be in town when Mosely arrived. “Someone needs to watch my charges’ backs whilst they attempt to keep the peace,” I exhaled heavily, not liking my options but accepting them nonetheless. I wouldn’t stay in town for long, partly because I didn’t like the idea of Vin and Nathan having no backup but mostly because I wanted to be with them when they caught up to Chanu. “He had better have one fantastic explanation if he hopes to save his neck,” I stated firmly, letting out a deep sigh as I turned to follow the departing Mosely. Somehow, I didn’t think that anything the young Indian could come up with would be enough to spare him the wrath of the townspeople.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
“Heaven help us,” I exhaled quietly, preparing myself for what was sure to be a dramatic encounter. However, the somber scene that greeted Reverend Mosely and I when we arrived back in town was a lot more subdued than what I had been expecting. I had feared that once people caught sight of Reverend Mosely leading a horse carrying his daughter’s body into town that they would become angry and perhaps form another lynch mob. “I would almost rather deal with that than this,” I mumbled, letting my eyes roam over the faces of those we passed by. The townspeople looked as if they were in too great a shock to do much more than gape as the Reverend ambled by. As we passed in front of the jail, the stricken looks that Buck and Ezra sent our way had me clenching my jaw painfully. “I wish I could’ve done more for you,” I whispered, running a gentle hand over the covered form of Claire’s head. Oh how I hated feeling helpless. I heard the distinctive sound of Rafe Mosely’s voice drifting over from across the street moments before I saw him stumble into his father’s arms. “Poor sod,” I choked out, shaking my head sadly at the distraught man’s display. Despite his abrasive attitude, I felt for the lad; losing a family member was like losing a part of your own self. Looking at his father’s grief stricken face caused another pang of sympathy to clench my heart. “A parent truly isn’t meant to outlive his children.”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Hearing Vin’s words as I sat with him and Nathan around their campfire sent my already frayed emotions into overdrive, giving me the courage to reach out to my distraught charge in his time of internal struggle. I gripped his clenched fists with my hands and gave them a gentle squeeze in an effort to help drive home the message that Nathan had been trying so valiantly to get across. Despite my earlier claims that his big heart would bring him nothing but trouble, I’d be damned if I let the poor man feel guilty for possessing a trait that made him a decent human being.
“Everyone’s entitled to a few mistakes, Vin. That’s what makes you human,” I grinned, giving his arms a little shake.
I watched as Vin slowly brought his head up and gave me a puzzled frown, similar to the look that Chris gave me not too long ago. I looked over to where Nathan had been sitting in order to see if he had heard my statement, but he had already fallen asleep. With Nathan asleep…I could try and talk to Vin some more, see if he would react to my presence like Ezra had or if he would go completely batty. Opportunities such as this had been rare since I first made contact with Ezra, so I intended to make this one with Vin count. What was the worst that could happen, I shrugged to myself.
“Look…I know you can hear me…otherwise you wouldn’t have that befuddled look on your face,” I intoned wryly, smirking when a small grin appeared on Vin’s face. “So now that I know you can hear me, I’ll just skip to the part where I reassure you that you’re not hallucinating but are in fact speaking with a disembodied voice.” I took in a deep breath and sat back to observe the effects of my statement, and I was pleasantly surprised when Vin appeared to take my words in stride, bowing his head and digesting this new revelation.
“So…what are ya exactly? Some kinda spirit?” he asked quietly, fixing me with a penetrating stare.
“Well…guess you could say that I’m a spirit, but not the kind of spirit that you’re thinkin’ of,” I chuckled, figuring that he assumed I was some sort of Indian spirit here to guide him on some spiritual walk or some other such nonsense.
“Well…if ya ain’t a spirit guide, then what kinda spirit are ya?” Vin questioned, looking even more puzzled than when he had first discovered my presence.
“If…if I told you that… I was a guardian angel and that… you and your six compatriots were my charges, what…what would you think?” I stammered, hoping that the direct route would work the best. I swallowed nervously as I sat back and watched Vin process my halting explanation, and I released a breath that I hadn’t realized I’d been holding when he finally shook his head a bit and let out a chuckle.
“Guess that sounds bout right.”
“So…you’re ok with…this whole…speaking with an invisible person situation?” I asked hesitantly. Surely contacting all of my charges couldn’t be this easy…could it?
“Ain’t got a problem with it…it’s just…you ain’t exactly what I pictured an angel ta be like,” he smirked, raising his head to look at me with twinkling eyes.
“Bloody hell…you’re as bad as Ezra,” I grumbled, rubbing my hands over my face.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It means…that you’re not the first of your little troupe that I’ve appeared to, and that like our resident conman you appear to be lacking in the sanity department,” I sighed, crossing my arms over my chest.
“Guess I cain’t argue with ya there,” he smiled self-depreciatingly, seeming to settle back into his contemplative mood. As much as I wanted to say something that would break the desolate silence that had settled over my charge, I knew that he’d have to be the one to speak first, getting his troublesome thoughts out in the open so that we could discuss them. “Do ya think I’m stupid for believin’ in him?”
The quiet question broke me from my stare into the campfire, and I quickly turned my gaze to face him, taking a moment to steady my voice before I finally responded. “No, Vin, I don’t think you’re stupid.”
“The worst part of it is…even after findin’ that girl’s body… I still can’t believe that Chanu’d do somethin’ like this.” Vin’s raspy whisper cut off as the man scrubbed a hand over his face and pinched the bridge of his nose. He looked absolutely exhausted, and the last thing he needed was for his guardian to belittle him for being gullible. I waited a few beats before responding, giving him some time to regain control of his emotions.
“Sometimes…when we want to see the good in someone so desperately, we tend to overlook all of the bad. It’s even worse when it concerns your family. In the end, it seems that everyone else could see the truth but you, and you’re left feeling like a gullible fool,” I muttered bitterly, staring into the dancing flames of the campfire. I hadn’t planned on unloading my own personal baggage in my attempt to stop Vin from beating himself up, but it was too late to take it all back now. I felt Vin shift next to me and after a few moments’ pause heard him chuckle.
“Sounds like I ain’t the only one with a lot on his mind,” he grinned, looking at me slyly out of the corner of his eye before turning back to face the fire. He seemed to have something more to say as he worried his bottom lip and fidgeted with his hands. Finally he spoke up in a whisper that I had to lean in closer to hear. “Do ya think I’m a fool for still believin’ in him…even after all that’s happened?” Bugger it all, didn’t I just answer a similar question! I studied his features while I contemplated how to answer, taking notice of his clenched jaw and stiff shoulders. It was as if he was preparing to hear once again how foolish he was for believing in Chanu, and yet…the words wouldn’t have changed how he felt one bit. He was prepared to accept the criticism as long as his conscience was clear.
“You really believe he could be innocent?” I questioned softly. At his small nod, I wrapped an arm around his shoulders and gave him a small squeeze. “All I ask is that you tread lightly. If you alienate the others in your quest to prove this man’s innocence…” I let the implication trail off as Vin’s head turned sharply to pierce me with a worried gaze. “Just think about it, Vin. In the end, would you rather be right and have no friends, or would you rather be wrong and still have your friends. Finding the truth is important to you, and heaven help me but I do admire that big heart of yours,” I laughed weakly before sobering myself for the ‘but’ of the conversation. “But I don’t want to see you get killed over this.” I watched as Vin absorbed my words and nodded his head in acquiescence.
“Don’t worry,” he whispered hoarsely. “If it comes down to Chanu and the others, I’d pick them any day.” Although I was pleased to hear Vin acknowledge his loyalty to my other six charges, I didn’t like the morose tone that his voice had taken. I was preparing something cheerful to say in order to lighten his mood again, but he cut me off before I could open my mouth. “Thanks for watchin’ out for us…and thanks for this,” he motioned his hand between us before raising his head to smile at me. “I’ll try not to make a fool of myself.” He may not have banished the shadows from his eyes, but at least he hadn’t let them consume him and that was all I could hope for.
“I’ll be holding you to that,” I grinned, pulling Vin into a one-armed hug before letting him get some rest. Tomorrow was going to be a long day.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
“You’ve been holding out on me, Vin,” I grimaced, listening to Chanu’s tale from the sidelines. He had had these suspicions all along, and he hadn’t confided any of them in me. I’m supposed to be his guardian angel for crying out loud! If he couldn’t entrust his thoughts to me, then who could he entrust them to? I stood staring at the Indian whilst he crouched by the river but felt Vin’s presence as he moved to stand next to me. “It looks like you were right,” I stated lowly, not even bothering to face him.
“I had my suspicions, but I didn’t know fer sure ‘til we found him and Claire’s body,” Vin whispered. I finally turned my head to the side and saw that Vin looked even more haggard than he had before.
“I would’ve thought that this new revelation would’ve relieved you of some of the stress on your shoulders, not added more to it,” I deadpanned, watching as Vin sighed wearily before fixing his solemn gaze onto my questioning one.
“I think I may know who killed her,” he whispered brokenly. Before I could question him further, he was moving to round up Chanu, telling the Indian that they needed to head to the reservation so that they could put an end to this witch hunt before any more blood could be spilt. I followed them both mutely, all the while pondering Vin’s words. If Chanu hadn’t killed Claire Mosely, then who else could’ve… The thought trailed off as I was struck by a sudden realization.
“Oh no, oh please let me be wrong about this,” I gasped, covering my mouth with a shaky hand.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
“How could a father… a supposed man of God murder his own child,” I choked out harshly. I had prayed that my suspicions about the Reverend were wrong, but it would seem that Mr. Mosely was filled with more hate than what he had let on. “All of these people,” I whispered, turning in a circle to gaze at all of the Indian villagers who had gathered around to watch the distressing scene taking place. “All of these people have so much hate in them.” Looking at the grim expressions on their faces, I knew that my charges were no exceptions to this observation. This whole ordeal had brought forth emotions that they would’ve probably preferred to keep buried deep inside of them, but hopefully they would manage to get past this stumbling block and get back to the camaraderie that they had previously shared. I watched as Buck and Vin shared a look, Wilmington nodding stiffly as he handed Tanner the reigns for Peso. “Yeah…they’ll get past this,” I stated firmly, giving my departing charges a swift nod as I watched them prepare to head back to town.
© Barb 2011