Notes: This is a combination story. It's a sequel to my missing scene story for the episode Penance and a missing scene story for the show Vendetta.
Disclaimer: Not mine. Never will be. No money being made.
Josiah shook his head as he watched, the undertaker load the bodies of the fallen Nicholls' family unto a wagon. The remaining members were headed back to Kansas. Seeing Ma Nicholls headed his way Josiah braced himself.
"Ma'am," he said in greeting.
"Afternoon Preacher," she said with an Irish accent. "I see your missing brother is back." Indicating Chris going into the saloon.
"Yes ma'am, Chris came back this morning," Josiah informed her. Then was distracted as he saw Ezra walk out of the jail with Vin. Sighing he tried to rein in his still simmering temper. It's been a week since the gunfight and still his temper flared as he remembered the risk Ezra took getting up on that damned wagon. Josiah had every intention of talking to the southerner about it, but was trying to wait until he was sure he wouldn't snap the little shit's head off first.
Losing his temper was just what Ezra wanted him to do. Ezra knew just what buttons to push to get the most immediate response from him. Hell, from each of them, especially him and Chris. No matter how much Ezra tried to avoid him in the last couple of months, Josiah had not allowed him to push him completely away. Slowly Josiah was proving to Ezra that he wasn't going to go away and sooner or later Ezra was going to have to deal with him.
"These men are your family," she stated the oblivious and watched him watch the only well dressed man in town. "But that one is . . . special to you. Isn't he?"
"They're all special to me, Mrs. Nicholls," Josiah said turning to face her. "But Ezra . . . " he started then shrugged his shoulders before continuing, "he's . . . real special to me."
"Then let me give you a little advise Preacher," she said placing a hand on his arm. "Don't take anything for granted. Like I did." Wiping a stray tear away she continued, "Just like you said, an eye for an eye leaves us blind. Revenge blinded me to what was really important. To what really mattered. I l...lost me boys and I c...can't change that, but you still have time to make things right with your boy. Don't waste it." Reaching up she patted him on the cheek and took a step back. "I thank you for what you tried to do Preacher."
"Thank you ma'am," he replied and then kissed her hand. "Peace be with you and your family."
"And also with you," she whispered and turned and walked away.
Sighing Josiah turned and headed back toward the church. Stepping inside he walked up the alter and dropped to his knees and prayed for strength.
Nathan paused just inside the churched not wanting to disturb Josiah and he couldn't help but over hearing him.
"Please Lord, give me strength, for this will be my toughest battle yet. Help me not to loose my temper because I know if I do then he'll win. I know I hurt him Lord, but don't let Ezra shut me out," Josiah closed his eyes and then kissed his cross before getting to his knees. Taking a deep breath he turned and froze as he saw Nathan as he was about to leave. "Nathan."
"You seen Ezra?"
"Yeah he's in the saloon."
"I think it's time I had a little talk with that boy."
"Talk? There's no talking to Ezra, Josiah, you know that."
"I have to do something. I'll loose him if I don't."
Nathan nodded and turned back for the door only to have Josiah call to him.
"You gonna warn him?"
Nathan grinned and said, "No Josiah. I'm just gonna get the others. I know they wouldn't want to miss this."
Grinning in return Josiah watched his friend leave and felt a determination he hadn't felt in a long time. Straightening his shoulders took a deep breath and with a determined stride walked out. Stepping onto the street Josiah didn't let anything distract him and walked with a single-minded determination that would have done Chris proud.
Ezra sighed as he poured himself another drink being careful of his burned hand. That certainly wasn't one your brightest ideas, he chided himself. Looking up he nodded his head at a grinning Buck and JD as they walked by. There was nothing unusual about those two grinning, so with a shrug he turned his attention back to the game of poker him, Vin and a couple of local cowboys were playing. Looking up again he saw Nathan walk into the saloon and was careful to keep his face neutral as he noticed his grin. Ok, something's up, Ezra told himself and tried to prepare himself of the unexpected.
"Was Nathan grinning?" Vin asked and tensed as he noticed the subtle difference in Ezra's breathing. Of course, an untrained eye would never have noticed the difference, but Vin wasn't untrained and had been around the gambler long enough to finally notice things like that.
"Noticed that did you. Those three are up to something Mr. Tanner," Ezra said and then casually threw some more money into the pot.
Chris looked up in confusion as Buck and JD said down with him grinning like a couple of fools followed quickly by Nathan. "What the hell's going on?" Chris asked.
"Josiah's finally gonna talk with Ezra," Nathan explained.
"Should we warn Vin?" JD asked.
"Nah. He's a big boy," Chris said with a grin.
Vin placed both of his feet on the outside of his chair just incase he had to make a quick get away as he saw Josiah walk into the saloon. He opened his mouth to warn Ezra just as the large ex-preacher stepped up to the table with a look of determination that Vin had only ever seen on Chris and he caught himself before he flinched away from it.
Josiah stepped up to Ezra's table and glared at the occupants. "I want to talk to you."
"Can I stop you?" Ezra asked never lifting his eyes from the table.
"Then by all means, please proceed," he replied still not looking up.
"Not here. Outside," he said and turned away and got as far as the swinging doors before realizing that Ezra was not following him. Turning around Josiah stalked back to the table and said, "Ezra . . . "
"Did you mean now?" the gambler asked throwing some more money on the pile.
"Yes, I mean now."
"I'm so sorry Mr. Sanchez, but as you can see I'm in the middle of a game," he explained the oblivious.
Vin winced as he heard Ezra's reply and thought Josiah was just gonna snatch him up then and there. Dammit Ez, why can't you ever do anything the easy way.
"So end it."
Josiah growled deep in his throat and looked at the other players, "This game is over."
"Josiah maybe you . . . "
"Shut up Vin and stay out of this," Josiah warned him with a look.
"Gentlemen, please, sit down this game is far from over," Ezra said and finally looked up at Josiah, "Don't speak to Vin like that. He hasn't anything to do with this."
"For once I agree with you," the older man said.
The two cowboys looked from each of the three men and wondered if maybe they shouldn't have left.
"I thought I told you this game was over," Josiah sneered.
The two cowboys dropped their cards and quickly got to their feet.
"Oh please, don't tell me you're afraid of him?" Ezra asked in wonder.
"I'm not gonna say it again. Now get your money and go," the large ex-preacher growled.
"Gentlemen!" he implored getting to his feet. "If you ignore him, he'll go away."
"Sorry Mr. Standish, but he's bigger 'en you," one of the men said as he gathered his money.
"Yes, but I'm meaner when crossed," the southern voice warned them.
"But he's bigger," the other one insisted.
"Fine! Run!" he snapped and slammed his hand down on the pot and refused to wince when he realized it was his burned hand, "but this is mine." Shooting a look over at Josiah he said, "I hope you're satisfied. Say whatever you have to say and get it over with."
"No. If you want to talk to me than talk to me now. Here."
"Ezra I'll give you one last chance to do this the easy way," Josiah warned him then shook his head as Ezra stubbornly sat back down. Reaching out a big hand he grabbed the younger man by the collar and yanked him bodily out of his chair and pulled him outside to the alley beside the saloon.
"Mr. Sanchez! Let me go! Who do you think . . . If you rip my jacket there's gonna be hell to pay," he sputtered. Grabbing one of the batwing doors Ezra tried to hold on, but he was no match for Josiah's strength and felt his fingers began to slip and shouted, "Mr. Tanner . . . Vin grab my money!"
Chris and the others grinned and exchanged a look before getting to their feet and hurried out so they wouldn't miss anything. Vin shoved the money in his pocket and quickly followed.
Josiah dropped Ezra and watched as he hit the dirt with a thud only to jump immediately back up. Ignoring the pain from his recently healed shoulder wound he grabbed the wiry gambler as he made to go past him and jerked him up close. "I don't want to hurt you Ezra, so settle down." Josiah went to shove him away just as Ezra jerked loose and he hit the side of the building with a good deal of force. The older man winced as Ezra hit the wall then slid to the ground.
Ezra looked up and sneered, "Go ahead Mr. Sanchez you have my undivided attention."
"Dammit Ezra!" he hollered and started pacing. "Why the hell do you have to make everything so difficult?"
"You don't really expect an answer to that do you?" Ezra asked as he picked up his hat and dusted it off.
"No! Hell, Ezra I've learned never to expect anything from you . . . "
"Because I'll only disappoint you," Ezra finished for him.
"NO!! Because the minute I think I have you figured out you go an do something totally unexpected," Josiah told him and closed his eyes and took a deep breath.
Blue eyes snapped open and glared. "Like that little stunt you pulled last week with that damned wagon!"
Ezra just shrugged and placed his hat back on and folded his arms across his chest. "Need I remind you that 'you' threw me the second bottle of whisky," he pointed out.
"No! No, you don't need to remind me. I see it every time I close my eyes, but instead of seeing you catching it I . . . I see you getting shot," Josiah explained.
"I did what had to be done Josiah," he told him and settled back against the building and pulled his hat down low over his face as if bored.
Josiah growled as he reached down and snatched him up and shoved him into the wall. "It didn't have to be done like that! We would have gotten them eventually! There has to be a way to make you see that!" Then pressed his forearm into Ezra's throat.
"What . . . are . . . you . . . going to do . . . beat it into me?" Ezra gasped out.
"Maybe I should. A proper ass kicking would do you a world of good," Josiah replied.
Ezra tried to laugh, but didn't quite pull it off. "Go ahead . . . you're not the . . . first," he managed to get out.
Josiah jerked back as if Ezra had slapped him and promptly let him go.
Placing his hands on his knees Ezra sucked in some much needed air and for the first time noticed the others standing at the end of the alley.
"Josiah's right Ezra. We would have gotten them eventually," Nathan spoke up.
"Yes, but at what cost? The life of an innocent?" he asked him with a hoarse voice.
"There is not a person in this town that is worth one of our lives. Sure we're paid to protect these people and this town, but there's no need to take an unnecessary risk like that," Josiah pointed out.
"But there was," Vin threw in and stepped away from the others and over to Ezra. "You fellas seen that wagon. Hell, we weren't even close to getting them. Ezra didn't do anything we wouldn't done given the chance."
Ezra just did manage to hide his shock. Someone actually stood up for him. Hell, Vin even sided with him.
"How the hell can you say that?"
"Because it's true! We were all thinking the same thing - gotta get in that wagon, but how. We sure as hell wasn't gonna shoot our way in it. So the only other option was to get them to come out. Ezra did what had to be done," Vin told them as he leaned back against the wall next to Ezra.
Chris observed the scene before him, but kept quiet. In a way he agreed with both sides. Something did have to be done to that wagon, but he almost shot Ezra himself, as he saw him climb on top of it. Of course, Chris knew that this was just the straw that broke the camel's back as far as Josiah was concerned. The man had been trying to get back in Ezra's good graces ever since that shit happened with his sister.
"I still don't think Ezra should have taken such a risk," Josiah argued. "You could have been killed," he said looking directly at the younger man.
"You're certainly one to talk," Ezra threw at him.
"What the hell does that mean?"
"Yeah Ezra, what the hell are you talkin' about?" Buck spoke for the first time.
"I had you to cover my back. Whom the hell covered yours?" the gambler asked.
What? Chris silently asked.
"What?" JD asked in confusion.
"Oh, I suppose everyone's forgotten that Josiah was incarcerated not that long along? And that he was all ready to the take the fall for that detective instead of swallowing his pride and asking for help," Ezra pointed out. Straightening up he stepped right up to Josiah. "You want to play what if's? Well, then let's play, shall we. What if, Vin hadn't been able to find out anything about your dear sister? What if, when you threw your boot you missed? Rain could have been killed. Or even Mrs. Travis."
Chris winced as Ezra rattled off point after point. Damn man, doesn't pull his punches. But then again, neither had Josiah.
"I know Ezra. I know," Josiah stated and ran a hand across his face. "I made a mistake. How long am I suppose to pay for it?"
Ezra raised one eye brow at the question. "You're asking the wrong person Josiah. I too, made a mistake for which I am still paying," he quietly reminded them all.
Damn, score another one for Ezra, Chris thought.
Josiah shook his head and swallowed the lump in his throat. "No, you're not Ezra. We know you'll be there for us and protect our backs. We trust you," he told him. "I trust you."
Trust him? Yeah, right, Ezra thought to himself. They don't trust me anymore than I trust me.
"He's right Ezra," Chris spoke up the first time. "You've proven yourself," he went on to say. "If you hadn't, you wouldn't still be here." Chris enjoyed the look of shock in those green eyes. It wasn't very often that they got a true reaction from the gambler.
Josiah had learned a lot in his many years and since joining up with these six men and especially Ezra so he knew to make the most of an opportunity when he saw one. "Ezra I know I messed up. And I know I should have asked for help. Your help, but I didn't and I can't change that now," he stated. Looking at each of the others before looking directly at Ezra Josiah continued, "I need your help now Ezra. Will you help me?"
Ezra narrowed his eyes and shrugged his shoulders.
"You see Ezra I had this friend and I foolishly pushed him away and lost the small sliver of trust that I had fought so hard to gain. A fact, which I have regretted ever since."
"Because the friendship meant the world to me," Josiah told him. "You were once my friend Ezra and I want my friend back. You're the only one that can help me."
Ezra began shaking his head and took a couple of steps back. "I don't know Josiah. You, of all people should know we can't go back."
Josiah hung his head and gave a brief nod.
Aww no, don't hang your head, Ezra silently pleaded with him. Hell, how can I tell him no now. Pitiful, simply pitiful. Dammit Ezra, if you're gonna talk pitiful, you might want to look in the mirror. You've been miserable without him. Whether you want to admit it or not you've missed him. Also, you might want to remember that these people gave you a second chance when you didn't deserve it.
Taking a deep breath Ezra said what he wanted before he changed his mind. "We can't go back, but . . . we can . . . hm . . . "
Vin would have laughed if the situation wasn't so sad. Ezra was never at a loss for words, but here he was struggling to tell Josiah that he'd give him another chance. Taking pity on the man, Vin stepped up to him and whispered, "Go forward."
Ezra whipped his head around so fast that him and Vin bumped heads. Rubbing his head he looked at the tracker in question and saw him motioning toward Josiah. Suddenly Ezra grinned as a light went off in his head. "We can't go back, but we can go forward," he finally said with a nod of his head. Then stilled as Vin whispered something else close to his ear. "What?" he whispered back. Straightening his shoulders, Ezra repeated what Vin told him. "We'll take it one day at a time." Holding out his hand he continued, "We'll play the cards as we're dealt them and see what we can make of it. Ok?"
Chris couldn't believe it. In fact, if he hadn't seen it with his own eyes, he never would have believed it. Vin, the quietest member of the group was telling Ezra, who never had any problems getting his point across, what to say.
Josiah grinned and grasped Ezra hand and gave it a hearty shake. Then before Ezra could react pulled him into his arms and gave him a hug. "Thank you Ezra. Thank you Vin."
"Dammit Josiah. Let go!" Ezra fussed and quickly stepped back when he was released. Then immediately punched Vin on the arm. "See what happens when you get a little sentimental. People hug you!"
"Well that ain't my fault!" Vin argued.
"Tell him you'll take it one day at a time," Ezra mimicked.
"I wasn't the one all tongue tied was I?"
"I wasn't tongue tied! I was merely searching for the right word."
"This is the thanks I get for helping ya out," Vin fussed and kicked a rock.
"Tell the man, thank you Ezra and let's get out of the alley," Chris told him with a grin.
"Thank you," Ezra muttered. Then just was they were about to step out of the alley he grabbed Vin's arm and held out his hand.
Vin grinned and shook Ezra's offered hand, "Your welcome Ez."
Ezra grinned back and grabbed the back on his jacket as he went to step away. Again holding out his hand; which Vin once again shook. "Very funny Vin, but I want my money."
"Aw hell Ez, I figured the money was mine," the tracker told him.
"Your money? Just how do you figure that?"
"You left it."
"Not voluntarily," Ezra pointed out. "If you'll remember, I was abducted and forced away against my will."
Vin cocked his head to the side and pushed his hat back. "I guess you're right. Tell ya what I'll split it with you."
"Split my own money!"
"Hell yeah. Some of it's mine ya know," Vin grinned and added, "besides you never know I could have won the pot."
Ezra grinned and shook his head in disbelief. "Sometimes I feel you've been in the sun to long Mr. Tanner."
Unlike the others, Chris had been doing pretty good at holding onto his laughter, but that last statement had him leaning against the building and holding his side. Josiah was right beside him and Nathan was over by Buck and JD they had been laughing since the second hand shake.
Ignoring the others Vin grinned back at the gambler and said, "Part or nothing."
Ezra grinned and ran his tongue across his gold tooth. "Fine. Fifty-fifty," he agreed and grabbed Vin's hand and gave it a quick shake to seal the deal.
"What are you up to now?" Vin couldn't help, but ask cause Ezra had agreed much to easily for his comfort.
"My money if you please," he prompted.
Vin reached in his pocket and pulled out a wad of bills and began counting them. There was twenty dollars in all. Handing Ezra his share Vin waited to see if he'd count it and was shocked when he just put it in his pocket. "ain't ya gonna count it?"
"Did you cheat me Vin?"
"All right then," was all he said.
Vin nodded slowly and shoved his own money in his pocket and turned to walk away.
"Hey Ezra why'd you agree to the split? It was your money," JD wanted to know wiping the tears of laughter from his eyes.
The others started walking away but turned back and grinned as they heard Ezra boast, "It's only temporary JD I assure you. I'll have all of it back by the end of the week."
Vin merely groaned because he knew Ezra was right.
Chris shook his head and wiped a tear off his face. This wasn't how he planned to spend his day once he'd gotten back to town. He'd planned on drowning his sorrows. Instead here he was remembering something Sara used to say; laughter was the best way to chase away sorrows. And Chris knew that he could always count on these men to help him find that much needed laughter. He welcomed take that laughter; at least for now.