A Hero's Heart
(Old West)

by Kayim

Disclaimer: None of the characters are mine. Honest.
Summary: A single comment can cause more pain than intended.
Rating: G
Characters: Vin Tanner and Ezra Standish
Author's Notes: This is my theory about what happened during the events of "Achilles". The poem, although said in the show by Vin Tanner, was actually written by Dale Midkiff.
Dedication: As my first Mag7 fic, this can't be dedicated to anyone but Rosie. She knows why.

I stare across that solitary plain, each and every dawn.
Always searching for a hero's heart.
A stranger bleeds, his hope lays near death...
Clutching a tangled wreath to crown a hero's heart.

Vin touched the brim of his hat and nodded slightly at Mary Travis. A poetry contest, he thought to himself. Maybe I could enter.

As he headed back towards the saloon, he could barely think about anything else. Despite not being able to read or write, he spent many hours considering the natural beauty around him. The way the colours of the sunset blended together like a watercolour painting across the sky. Or how two old, weary work horses could become as spry as foals and as beautiful as stallions with some affection. And he thought about the way it felt to finally be part of a family again. To have people who cared about him, and who he cared for in turn.

He wanted to remember those feelings, so he had begun composing poetry in his mind. He would recite them over and over, so that he could always recall them. Some he forgot over time, but the important ones -- the ones that meant the most -- would always be there.

No-one had ever heard any of his poetry. Hell, he'd always thought that anyone he knew wouldn't even be interested. Except Mary was. And she seemed to genuinely care. She had taken one look in his eyes and understood that the words were in there, just waiting to get out. After all, what use is beauty if you have no-one to share it with. And he already knew exactly which poem he would give her.

He paused momentarily before pushing the doors of the saloon open. He was finally ready to share his poetry with other people. He wasn't yet ready to share the fact that he was illiterate. He would have to ask someone to write the poem out for him. He considered which of his friends would be the best to ask. Of all of them, Chris was his first thought, but he quickly dismissed that idea. Chris Larabee was not the poetry type. Same went for Buck and JD. Nathan might be willing, but Vin had seen his writing before. He may not have been able to read it, but it certainly didn't look pretty enough for something like this. Josiah would probably offer, if Vin asked, but he had a feeling that if he went to the preacher, he would look a little too deeply at why Vin wasn't writing it himself.

That left only one other option. Ezra. The gambler could write, for sure. To Vin, his words always looked like a delicate piece of lacework. The letters flowed together, giving them a beauty of their own. And Ezra seemed more like the poetry type than Chris or Buck, that was for sure. He was by far the most educated of them all, and Vin had seen Ezra with his nose in a book on more than one occasion. Vin sighed. Ezra might be the best person for the job, but he was also the only person in Four Corners who might be able to truly understand the poem. Vin wasn't sure if he was ready to open himself up to another person that much.

Pull yourself together, man, he chided himself. It's only a poem. Just a few words placed together to sound pretty. And if Ezra wants to read more into it than was there, so be it.

Vin had made up his mind. He would ask Ezra to write out his poem for him. Simple. But even as he said the word aloud, Vin knew that he was kidding himself. This was anything but simple. The poem he was going to recite would reveal the true Vin Tanner to anyone smart enough to understand it. And the person he was going to recite it to, would be the only person who would understand it. Hence, Ezra Standish would soon know Vin Tanner better than any other person had done since him mother had passed away. And the thought scared Vin half to death.

But Vin was a determined man. Once his mind had been made up, that was it. He wouldn't back down from a challenge, even if the only person challenging him was himself. Defiantly, Vin walked through the doors and headed to the bar, where Ezra was happily enjoying his whiskey and a pack of cards.

As Ezra turned to look at him, Vin knew that he had made the right choice. Ez was a good man, an educated man, and a friend. He would be able to make the poem look as good as it sounded. Vin took a breath and asked Ezra his favour.

Less than three minutes later, Vin was storming from the saloon, his self-confidence dashed with one carelessly placed laugh.

Damn Ezra Standish, he thought. Damn him to hell.

As Vin stormed from the saloon, he could do nothing but think about Ezra's reaction. What if other people thought that way? What if Chris laughed at him? A part of Vin's mind knew that Chris would never do that, but he had never expected Ezra to laugh either. His thoughts in turmoil, Vin removed the whole incident to a deeper, secret part of his mind. It wasn't important now. There were still other problems to be dealt with in town. Maybe later he would go off riding somewhere. Think about it then.

And so Vin succeeded in avoiding the thoughts, until Mary Travis approached him again. This time, when he tried to squirm out of it, she offered to write the poem out for him.

"You'd do that for me?" he asked, genuinely shocked that someone would go out of their way like that for him. He promised to think on it some more and went back to the saloon to watch Ezra. The other man may be the biggest pile of horse dung that he knew, but he was still one of the seven. And if Ezra was gambling, he'd probably need some kind of backup.

That was the plan, at least, but the disappearance of the body from the jail prompted Vin and the remaining members of the Seven to rush off after JD.

Luckily, the six of them managed to get JD away from Achilles without too much fuss and no injuries, although the kid was pretty badly shaken up. They rode back, the seven of them splitting up into smaller groups. Buck and Josiah rode on either side of JD, talking to the boy, trying to get through to him that they wouldn't abandon him and that he was needed. Chris and Nathan rode in near silence, pulling the coffin between them. Vin started to ride off towards the front, when a call from Ezra caused him to slow.

"Mr Tanner," he started. The use of Vin's surname meant that Ezra was being serious for a change. "I wish to express my deepest regret at my inappropriate behaviour earlier."

Vin didn't look at Ezra. He spoke quietly. "I thought I could trust you."

For a moment, anyone that knew Ezra at all, would see the expression on his face change. Instantly, his poker face returned and he gave a small cough to clear his throat.

"I am truly repentant but ...."

"Drop the five-dollar words, Ez. If you want to say sorry, do it. Else don't bother." Vin looked over at Ezra and held his gaze.

"I'm sorry, Vin."

Vin held out his hand. "And I forgive you."

The two simple statements had been nothing but truth. Once Ezra had realised what he'd done, he was horrified. He'd known for a while that Vin couldn't read or write and had sworn to himself to help the other man in any way he could to overcome his disability. The comments he'd made were just one reason why he never intended to drink alcohol again. That and the persistent headache.

As for Vin, he'd been hurt by Ezra, hurt bad, but he understood that sometimes the whiskey made you say or do things that weren't real. He was not the type of person who held a grudge once an apology had been made.

Ezra reached out his hand to Vin and the two shook. The friendship, while not entirely healed, would return in time.

"If you still require my assistance, I would be honoured."

Vin smiled. "That's mighty fine of you, Ezra, but Mrs Travis has offered to help. I think it might be best that way."

"I understand," Ezra nodded. "I look forward to reading the results of your creative acheivements in due time."

"You mean you wanna read my poem?"

"Was that not the desire I expressed?"

Vin rolled his eyes. Some things would never change. But maybe that wasn't such a bad thing after all.


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