Christmas had not been a joyful occasion for Chris following the death of Sarah and Adam. He would grab a bottle of whisky and drown himself in it to numb away the season, growling at anyone who tried to intervene. It started to change after he teamed up with the other six men in this small frontier town, slowly pulled from his self-imposed exile to join in with the festivities even if he did just sit at the edge and watch for the most part. This year was different. His resolution each new year had been to find out why Sarah and Adam had to die in such a terrible way. He finally had the answer and with it came a new resolution this year to track down Ella Gaines and see justice meted out for Sarah and Adam.
He winced at the constant reminder of Ella. Even though the bullet wound had healed it still ached a little and likely always would.
"You okay, Cowboy?" Vin asked as he sank down on the bench beside Chris.
Chris gave Vin a wry smile and edged the bottle towards Vin before taking another sip of whisky.
"Ms. Travis looks pretty tonight."
Chris gave a noncommittal response. She was beautiful and attracting the eye of more than a few men, some of whom had wives looking on enviously but Chris had long since dismissed any thoughts of paying her amorous intention. Since learning of Ella's insanity he had no inclination towards any of the women who might have once drawn his attention. Maybe it was the whisky loosening his tongue for a change but Chris felt more talkative than usual.
"Made any New Year resolutions?" Chris asked Vin.
"Same one I make every year... to clear my name."
"Going to be harder with Eli Joe dead."
"Heard he bragged about it to some of the men he ran with." Vin shifted. "Figured I might head out in the Spring. Hunt them down before some other bounty hunter takes them in dead rather'n alive."
Chris thought about it for a moment, about how quickly he had given up the peace keeping of this town for a horse ranch and a life with Ella before it all went up in flames. It was all just an illusion though, grasping for something he had once had with Sarah only to learn it was Ella that had taken all of that away from him in the first place. It wouldn't be so easy to go back to that life after Sarah and now Ella. Yet he wasn't sure he had a place here in the town any longer. The town was different now. It had already grown half as much again and with the railroad reaching them by this time next year it would grow bigger still. He didn't want to spend the rest of his life as a peacekeeper in a busy town with all its hustle and bustle. Since the day they met Vin had been his mainstay, his anchor, and he remembered a half-made promise made to Vin several years back.
"Made a resolution to hunt down Ella, bring her to justice one way or another." He glanced across at Vin. "No reason why I can't make another to help you clear your name at the same time."
Vin smiled, blue eyes crinkling up. "I was figuring the same 'bout me helping you track down Ella Gaines."
Chris reached out, clasping each other's forearm as they sealed their pact. Later than night they rode out to Chris's rebuilt shack to get away from the noisy New Year's celebrations that would go on into the night so they could seal a different pact that had nothing to do with anyone other than them and the feelings they shared for each other.
In the Spring, once the winter snows had mostly melted away, they saddled up, not surprised when the others elected to stay, having found a home and love in the growing town. J.D. had married Casey just a few days earlier and Nathan had similar plans to marry Rain, and would be leaving to join her and her people now there was a trained doctor in the town. Josiah, now re-ordained as a preacher, had finished his rebuild of the church and he had his congregation, while Ezra was now a respectable businessman after his mother signed over the saloon to him. Buck had left over a month earlier to join Louisa Perkins, with Chris hoping she would be the woman who tamed the Ladies' Man, and he had returned for J.D.'s wedding happy and content.
"I'll tend to your land so you'll always have a home to come back to," J.D. stated, and Chris knew he meant it and would keep that promise.
He nodded his gratitude, and with a glance towards Vin, they nudged their horses onward. They had resolutions to keep and once all the dust had settled they knew they would return to the friends they had made in his small town.