Fork in the Road

by Beth

Chapter 27

Nettie covered the gambler with another quilt. She was glad that he was sleeping comfortably now it seemed to ease everyone's mind. She watched from the window as Vin and Nathan hitched up the wagon. JD was worried about things happening in town and Vin wanted to get back as well. Nathan needed to get more medical supplies, he was grateful that Nettie said it was okay for Ezra to continue to stay in her home Nathan didn't think it best to try and move him now, not until the fever came down. The idea didn't bother the woman at all, she wished JD had also agreed to stay but she understood his need to do his job. Nathan agreed as well, as long as he didn't try and ride. Nettie moved back to Ezra's side when she heard him stir beneath the layers of blankets. She was surprised to see him awake and looking toward the far wall.

"Do you want something to drink son?" she smiled and went to get him a cup of water not worried that he didn't answer her.

He could see them now in an almost foggy haze. Hanna, she was so beautiful. Ezra blinked trying to clear the image. He could tell she was in her favorite green dress, the dress she wore on her wedding day. She smiled that heavenly smile she was so well known for, it made her whole face light up. Her dark brown hair was always free and around her face, he loved to see it down and when he was home she always wore it down for him. He continued to stare at the image, it was so far away and yet so close, he saw the children. Emma looked like her mother and just like her mother her smile could melt anyone's heart and often did. He couldn't say no to her, not even with Hanna standing over him. These were his children and they would have everything he didn't have, he decided that long ago, even before he married her. They would have everything they needed nothing would stand in the way of that. He could see Mathew, what a charmer, he would break girls hearts. Hanna held Amanda at her waist balancing the child on her hip while moving about doing her usual routine. Ezra squinted his eyes, the image was fading and he didn't want it to go. He wanted to be there, he needed to be there. That was his family. "Hanna?" Ezra looked harder at the image he didn't understand what was going on.

"Hanna's not here son," Nettie spoke pushing loose bangs from his forehead. She was concerned and didn't know what it was he was looking at. "Mr. Standish," she spoke louder lifting his head and putting the cup of water to his lips, "you need to drink this son."

Ezra broke his gaze from the image and looked at Nettie's face unsure of why she was there. He then turned his attention to the far off wall the image was gone. He struggled under the weight of the blankets and Nettie's restrictive hand and continued to stare at the wall. Another image appeared and Ezra stopped his weak struggle to look in horror.

Nettie grabbed a washcloth from the basin of water and gently wiped Ezra's face, she looked at the wall wondering what it was that he saw there. Her heart beat faster when his face took on a look of sadness.

"Ezra," she tried to get his attention, "don't do this." She knelt on the floor blocking his view from the wall hoping to get a response out of him but he seemed to look right threw her. "Casey!" Nettie yelled, "Casey!" she called louder.

"Yes Aunt Nettie," the young woman entered the back room with JD on her heals, the look on Nettie's face was enough to get Casey's heart racing.

"Go get Mr. Jackson," she looked back to Ezra and continued to try and get his attention. JD stood in the doorway unsure of what to do.

Ezra looked at the image in shock, his wife, his Hanna lying on the floor in a pool of her own blood, the children not far from her. All dead. Ezra struggled again and he felt hands restraining him, "no," he choked, "I have to go home."

Vin and Nathan ran for the house when they heard Casey call, more out of fear than anything else. They weren't prepared for the sight they found. JD tried to keep the southerners blanket-covered legs down by lying over them; he was failing miserably his ribs still to sore to do much good. Nettie had a hold of his right hand and shoulder. Nathan immediately took Nettie's place while Vin aided JD. Ezra continued to struggle and stare at the far wall.

"Ezra!" Nathan called trying to get the gamblers attention.

"I have to get home," Ezra said again a little louder not hearing the voices around him.

Casey stood in the doorway unsure of what to do. Nettie regained her composer and knelt next to Ezra's head she could tell Nathan was worried about him hurting him self further. "What can I do Mr. Jackson?" Nettie asked sensing the urgency of the situation.

"It's the fever Mrs. Nettie," Nathan told her while restraining the struggling gambler.

"JD," Casey yelled seeing the kid fall to the floor clutching his side, "are you all right?" She knelt down beside him.

"I'm okay," he said threw clenched teeth leaning against the bed.

"Casey," Nettie stepped closer to the two, "lets get him up and in the next room." She and Casey each helped JD get to his feet. "You gonna be all right son?"

"Yeah," JD nodded his head and left with Casey into the next room.

Ezra's struggles were weakening but the gambler still had fight left in him. He continued to rely his need to get home while Nathan and Vin held him down so he wouldn't hurt himself more. "I have to get home," Ezra said again looking to the far wall in almost fear.

Nettie clasp Ezra's face in her hands and she forcibly forced the gambler to look at her. "Where's home son?" Ezra's struggles weakened and his brow furrowed.

"Keep talken Mrs. Nettie," Vin said wiping the sweat off his forehead. Nathan moved so Nettie could position herself better in front of the gambler but he still wouldn't let go in case he started to struggle again.

Ezra looked at her confused by her question, "what?" he almost whispered straining to understand.

"Where's home?" Nettie continued to look at him; she wanted to pull him out of his need to get home. She didn't understand what was so important at the saloon.

The gambler continued to stare at Nettie, the question she asked was so simple but yet he didn't know how to answer, "I," he paused, "I have to get home."

"I understand that," she smiled and took one of her hands away from his face to wipe away some stray strands of hair that fell into place at his forehead. "What's at the saloon that you need?" she decided to try another tactic.

Ezra once again tried to struggle the woman didn't understand anything, what saloon? "Clarkston," he muttered threw exhausted breath, "I have to get home to Clarkston."

"What's in Clarkston?" she looked to Nathan and then to Vin and they only shrugged their shoulders not understanding. "Where is Clarkston for that matter," she looked back down to the struggling gambler and it dawned on her. He was looking back to the wall at something only he could see. Nettie's face fell and she looked back to the gambler and forced him to look at her once again, "their gone son." Nettie paused when all of the fight left the man lying prone on the bed, his eyes searching for the truth he knew in his heart was there. "Your family are gone," she repeated once again feeling her own heart tighten at the thought of it. Ezra looked to Nathan and then back to Nettie, his face showed emotion none of them had ever seen before. Nettie choked back a silent sob and stroked the gamblers cheek with her thumb, "I'm sorry," she whispered. As quickly as it came it was gone and Ezra turned his face toward the window that famous poker face firmly in place as he tried to ignore the people around him. The fight was gone as he stared out the window at nothing.

"Are you all right mam?" Nathan released his grip on the southerner and gently grabbed Nettie's shoulder in comfort.

Nettie smiled lightly and tapped her hand on Nathan's then quickly straightened her skirts, "I'd best get some food on the stove." She hastily wiped the lone tear off her cheek and headed into the other room refusing to look either of the two men standing in the eye.

"You best check on her Vin," Nathan looked to the now worn out tracker. Vin nodded his head in silent agreement and left the room with a heavy heart. He wanted to kill McKinley and he wanted to kill Mercer all over again.

Nathan checked the bandage on Ezra's side and sighed in relief to find the wound hadn't started bleeding again. The gambler didn't look away from the window and he didn't protest when Nathan forced some water into him. He felt the blankets go up and over his shoulders but he didn't acknowledge the person doing it, he just continued to stare blankly out the window trying to understand his revisited past, the people at his side and the pain inside that hurt him like no other pain he'd ever had.

Nettie tried to busy herself at the stove throwing vegetables in a pot to start some stew. Vin paused seeing the distress in the older woman. He'd never seen her like this before, before there really hadn't been cause for her to react this way. He didn't know what to say or do. Vin lowered his head and focused his attention to the long tear in his trousers with the white bandage showing between the slits.

"How is he?" JD asked holding his side with his arm. He looked to Vin hoping it was good news he had. JD liked the gambler, he treated him like an equal not the snot nosed kid he sometimes felt like when around the others.

"Nate's with him," Vin stood up a little taller and looked out the window hoping to see Chris and the rest of them.

Casey stood with her aunt at the stove and helped her cut vegetables. Nettie's movements were automatic and the girl knew her aunt was upset. "I can do this Aunt Nettie," Casey grabbed the sleeve of Nettie's shirt and looked the woman in the eye. She handed her aunt a cup of hot coffee, "sit down."

Nettie paused and took the cup from her Niece, "thank you," she patted Casey on the cheek with the palm of her hand then quickly headed outside. She needed time to think, time to reflect, and most of all time to collect herself. She seated herself in the rocking chair on the porch and looked off over the land she and her family had worked so many years before. Without realizing it the tears began to roll down her cheeks in full force, something she hadn't done since her youngest son had died.

Vin slowly followed Nettie out to the porch and tried not to disturb her. He could tell she was in tears, something that made him even more nervous to be around. "Ez'll be all right Nettie," Vin tried to sooth but felt him self failing.

Nettie turned her face to look at the tracker who looked more uncomfortable now than she'd ever seen him before. "You're a good man Vin Tanner, your mother would be proud," she smiled and wiped the stray tears from her face.

"Thank you," he nodded his head and looked out past the horse corral into the distance.

"Are you boy's going to make it?" Nettie asked realizing it had been more than just the incident with Mercer and McKinley.

Vin shrugged his shoulders before answering, "I don't know what happened to start this off but I'd be willen to bet Chris has had some time to think on it."

"You didn't answer my question," Nettie smiled again and looked off into the distance.

"I hope so," Vin said barley above a whisper.

"I never would have figured Mr. Standish one for being a family man," she chuckled lightly.

"He's always been one for surprises." Vin's head snapped up when he realized three riders were making there way toward the ranch house. They didn't find him; Vin shook his head, "damn."

Nettie stood up and Joined Vin at the edge of the porch, "I'll get some more coffee on."

Chris pulled his horse to a stop and carefully dismounted. Josiah grabbed Chris's and Buck's horses and pulled them off toward the barn. The tall blonde gunslinger shook his head at Vin's unasked question, "how's Ezra?"

"Nathan's with him now."

"What about the kid, Mrs. Nettie and Casey?" Chris took his hat off and ran his fingers threw his hair.

"Tired," was all he needed to say.

Buck came up behind his long time friend and slapped his shoulder, "I could use some coffee." He headed up the steps and into the old homestead.

"What aren't you telling me?" Chris looked at Vin knowing something else was going on inside the trackers head.

"Things need to be taken care of, not all of this was caused by McKinley." Vin looked at Chris wanting him to take care of the situation between himself and Ezra.

"I'll take care of it," Chris started up the steps toward the house.

"You're the only one who can." Vin continued to look out past the corral but he knew Chris had stopped in his tracks at his last statement. The tall black clad gunslinger nodded his head in agreement then headed inside leaving Vin behind.

Chapter 28

Chris entered the house to find Buck joking around with JD a sight he welcomed. Nettie immediately handed Chris a hot cup of coffee and patted his arm in a silent understanding. Maybe she and Vin were related. Chris looked up when Nathan came out of the back room and closed the door behind him. "How's he doing?"

Nathan shrugged his shoulders and rubbed his forehead, "he finally fell asleep a bit ago." The healer moved across the room and seated himself in the last available chair.

"I think it would be best if we headed back to town before nightfall," Chris said looking up at the faces of his men, all of them seemed to nod their heads in agreement.

"I don't think Ezra should be moved," Nathan jumped in not wanting to cause any more undo harm to the southerner.

"Casey and I can keep an eye on him," Nettie spoke up putting the lid back on the pot of stew.

"You shouldn't be left alone Mrs. Nettie, in case something else comes up," Nathan folded his hands.

"I'll stay," Chris said, "someone should get back and check on things in town, Nathan you should get a good night sleep and get some more medical supplies. Josiah can ride patrol until Vin and Buck are well enough to ride."

"Wagons ready," Nathan piped in, "JD should ride in the back as well as Vin, he don't kneed to be pushing himself, you should as well Buck."

"Hell Nate, spent most of the day in the saddle already and I feel fine."

"Until you go pushin yourself and end up suffering from a fever because of it." Nathan snapped. The healer was exhausted and it was obvious to everyone.

"I'll go help Josiah get the horses ready," Buck quickly got to his feet and headed outside.

"I'll be back in the morning Mrs. Nettie," Nathan stood up to once again check on the gambler.

"We'll be here," she smiled watching as the men tended to their jobs without even being asked. Casey helped JD get to his feet and the two headed outside. Chris continued to stand by the window watching his men get ready for the trip back to town. "You alright Mr. Larabee?"

"Fine," was the quick emotionless reply.

Nettie nodded her head in agreement before heading into the back room. She wouldn't push him, she knew not to. The sun was beginning to make its decent and grabbed the basin of water she'd refilled and a fresh washcloth. She left Chris standing at the window.

Nathan threw another blanket over the still sleeping gambler and felt his forehead once again. The fever was still there and the healer knew it would only be a matter of time before it took its toll or it broke. He hoped for the later. Nettie moved past him and sat the basin on the small table and rang out the washcloth then seated herself on the edge of the bed and gently wiped his face. "He should sleep threw the night," Nathan headed for the door, "thank you for all your help mam." Nathan's tone was low.

"Get this worked out Mr. Jackson, for all our sakes."

Chris watched in silence as his men slowly mount up and get ready to ride out. "We'll be back in the morning sometime," Vin stuck his hand out for Chris to shake knowing by morning everyone would know if they would be riding out or staying together. He hoped Chris would make the right decision. Vin turned and got in the wagon next to Josiah who seemed hesitant to leave.

"See you tomorrow Pard," Buck tipped his hat and followed the wagon to town Nathan riding close behind. Chris turned and headed back inside.

Vin sat in silence next to Josiah thinking about all that had transpired and enjoying the quiet solitude. "You all right Brother?" Josiah rested his elbows on his knees the reins resting easily in his hands.

"Thinken is all."

"You wanna talk about it?"

"Not really," Vin rested his foot on the floorboard of the wagon. His attention now captured by the dirt under his fingernails. "What happened in town, after I left on patrol?"

Josiah cleared his throat; he wanted to be careful what he said because he knew JD would be listening. "Chris confronted Ezra in the saloon, some things were said."

"I'm assuming Ezra didn't take kindly to Chris wanting to know about his family."

"No, he didn't," Josiah slapped the reins on the horses rumps, "I think Chris is having a problem facing the fact that he's not the only one of us who knows what it's like to loose a family."

"The fact that it's Ezra doesn't help the any."

"No, I believe it doesn't,"

"Why would it bother Chris that Ezra had a family?" JD asked from the back of the wagon.

"Brother Ezra isn't the kind of man one would assume would have a family JD, he lives his life by his own rules. More than likely because he's had to," Josiah added, "first time we met him assumptions were made, not only by Chris but by all of us."

"Don't see how it matters any," JD wiggled under the blankets trying to make him self more comfortable.

"It shouldn't matter," Josiah nodded his head in agreement, "but for some reason it matters to Chris, and all we can do is let things happen."

"Hell Josiah," Vin started, "Chris and Ez ain't never seen eye to eye on anything." The tracker took his hat off in frustration and ran his fingers threw his hair. "A man's past is his own, has a right to keep it that way."

Chapter 29

Chris sat at the table looking out the window. The sun was making its decent and the tall gunslinger hoped his men, his friends, arrived to town without any trouble. He ran his finger over the rim of the cup Nettie had given him earlier filled with coffee. What was he going to do, and when did it start to matter what he did? He wasn't these men's guardian. He'd been hired along with the rest of them to do a job, and for the second time in his life it was a job he truly enjoyed doing. He didn't think when he met Sara that he would be satisfied with breaking a few horses and running a few head of cattle. How wrong he was. Sara had changed him, changed him from that young kid who seemed to be content breaking other peoples horses and running other peoples cattle. Changed him from saloon brawls and drinking binges to a father and a husband. Damn good one at that. Maybe not so good, Chris sighed and ran his fingers threw his hair again. If he'd been a good father and husband Sara and Adam would still be with him. Chris looked back out the window and paused, what was he going to say to Standish? Would the man stay?

Nettie came out of the back room and paused looking at the gunslinger. She knew by the way he looked that he needed to talk to gambler and she hoped he did it before it became to late. "You need a refill of that coffee?" she asked taking to basin she had in her arms to the back door to toss out.

"No, thank you mam," he didn't look away from the window.

Nettie checked her niece briefly and smiled. The girl was out, sound asleep, something they should all be doing. She threw down a bedroll and a couple of blankets on the floor, knowing Chris was going to need someplace to sleep for the night. She'd made a bed for herself in Casey's room. "I'll make this bed up for you." Nettie finished by throwing down a pillow, "good night Mr. Larabee." The older woman exited into Casey's bedroom.

"Good night Mrs. Wells," Chris looked toward her disappearing form and sighed. The door to the room where Ezra was sleeping was open and the tall gunslinger debated on whether or not he should go in and check on him. The sound of movement caught Chris's attention and he instinctively got up to check on the sound coming from the room where Ezra was sleeping.

He was hot and he threw off a couple of the blankets that covered him. He felt like he was suffocating beneath the weight of them. He pushed himself up back against the head of the bed his right arm resting comfortably on his wounded side. How had things gone so bad? Ezra wiped the sweat away from his brow and leaned his head back against the wall. The sun was down this was the time of day the gambler felt most at home. Flashes of the day's earlier events came to him and he sighed wishing he could remember more, had he done something that caused Mrs. Wells to cry? He hoped not. The familiar silhouette of Chris Larabee stood in the doorway, the light from the other room offering him the use of the halo. Ezra sighed; he didn't want this, not now, not ever.

"You all right?" Chris asked not sure if he wanted to enter the room all the way, not until he knew the gambler would accept him.

"I have been better," Ezra raised his head up and looked at the man standing in the doorway. "May I assume everyone has left?"

"I wanted everyone back in town to make sure things weren't getting out of hand." Chris entered the room and filled the cup sitting on the small table in the corner with water and handed it to the gambler. "Nathan say's you kneed to drink plenty of water."

"Ah yes the overwrought tendencies of our admirable healer….." Ezra stopped in mid sentence when Chris put his hand on the gambler's forehead. "Might I enquire?"

"You talk to damn much, even with a fever," Chris chuckled lightly at Ezra's facial expression. He grabbed a chair and seated himself determined not to leave until he knew the gambler had finished off the water he'd been given. He watched as Ezra looked tentatively around the room, "what are you looking for?"

Ezra paused not sure why he was hesitant to answer, "my jacket," a sense of panic seemed to grab him in the chest.

"Nettie washed it for you," Chris watched Ezra's face change from panic to despair. "She found the letter and the jewelry." He waited for a reaction but didn't get one.

Ezra knew by Chris's tone that the letter he'd carried and cherished had been read, it didn't matter by whom, just that it had been read. The jewelry didn't mean as much to him as that simple letter, the last remaining item he had of the family he once knew. "Did the letter provide the information you were in dire straits to attain," Ezra looked to Larabee's quiet form. Chris faced the floor running the brim of his hat in his hands.

Chris bowed his head refusing to look at the man on the bed. He wasn't a fool and Chris knew better than to treat him as such. "What I had with Sara, I haven't had with anyone since." Chris looked to Ezra hoping the man would give him time to talk, and hoping he would take the time to listen. "When I lost her and Adam I lost myself and I took it out on everyone that tried to get close to me. Damn near killed Buck more than a few times." Chris cleared his throat and continued, "when I look at you I see someone who doesn't know what its like to feel the loss of…."

"It would appear Mr. Larabee that our techniques for grieving differ, and as such I have had seven years to get over the deaths of my family and you have thus been limited to three." He didn't want Chris to finish his last statement so he gave him the answer before the question could be asked.

"How old were you when you got married?" Chris's interest spiked and he was thankful for Ezra's interruption and basic logic.

"Seventeen," was Ezra's simple yet complicated response. The gambler ran his hand over his flushed face, "by the time I was young Mr. Dunne's age I'd lost a war and buried a family." Chris sighed and leaned back in his chair he was surprised the gambler had given up as much as he had and in a way he was thankful. "Don't assume Mr. Larabee that I didn't grieve," Ezra turned and looked at the man sitting across from him, "If I'd made it home an hour earlier my life wouldn't be the same as it is today." He said it mater of factly. " I may have perished with my family or perhaps I would be with them now showing my son how not to cheat at cards," Ezra chuckled at the memories.

"By the sound of the letter I would have guessed your daughter Emma would have been the one with the ability to cheat at cards."

Ezra smiled, "she was, however, I doubt if her mother would have approved."

"Why didn't you ever say anything about them before?"

"Didn't think I had to," Ezra took a long breath and leaned back against the wall.

"You should get some sleep," Chris stood up and hesitated at the door, "I'm sorry for what I accused you of doing." He turned his head down and looked at the floor, "back at the saloon did you mean what you said?" Ezra's head swam as he tried to remember what he'd said and done back at the saloon. He'd pulled his weapons and threatened Chris Larabee with his life ‘I've killed men for less' the memory came back and Ezra squeezed his eyes shut. Chris knew Ezra remembered the gambler just didn't know how to acknowledge it. "Thanks for not carrying threw with it," he looked up and met Ezra's gaze.

Ezra nodded his head and watched as Chris disappeared threw the door. He rubbed his forehead and stared out the window. Some things had just changed and the gambler wondered if it would turn out to be for the better or for the worst. He pulled the blanket he'd shoved off earlier over his shoulders after a chill racked his bones. He was lucky to be alive and he knew it. They all were lucky to be alive and once again they had all beat the odds.

Chapter 30

Vin rode next to Nathan in silence unsure if he was prepared for what lay ahead at Nettie's. JD and Buck decided to stay in town and keep an eye on things while the rest of them rode out to Nettie's ranch. The tracker almost wished they'd decided to ride along; sometimes having more than one voice of reason was beneficial. Winter was fast on its way and Vin closed the front of his jacket. He unconsciously scratched at the bandage under his trousers.

"You feelin alright?" Nathan asked noticing how uncomfortable Vin was becoming.

"Fine," was the trackers quick reply.

"You worried about Brother Chris and Ezra?" Josiah asked keeping his face forward resting his forearms on the horn of his saddle.

"Hell Josiah," he paused not really sure of what he wanted to say, "Chris ain't one for talken and half the time you can't understand a damn thing Ez says."

Josiah chuckled and let out a slow breath and looked at the two men riding beside himself, "sometimes what needs to be said can't be said threw words alone."

"You think Ez will ride out when he's up to it?" Vin questioned outright tired of beating around the bush.

"If he does, will you?" both Josiah and Nathan turned towards Vin wanting to hear an answer.

Nettie finished wrapping Chris's middle with the long bandage she'd cut from her last remaining sheet and sighed leaning back in the chair she was seated in. She watched as Chris slowly slipped back into the shirt she'd given him the day before, "do me a favor Mr. Larabee?" Chris looked up to meet her gaze and noticed the seriousness in it. "Do what ever it is you have to…."

"I intend to," Chris interrupted her before she could finish.

Nettie smiled and squeezed his hand, "good." She stood up and walked back over to the stove to finish with the coffee and broth she was preparing for Ezra.

The gambler was sitting up in bed looking out the window thinking about what had been said between him self and the leader of the seven. Suddenly the only escape he'd been used to, up until he joined up with this odd assortment of men, had been to run out and now he couldn't. He wouldn't, not after everything they had been threw together. Ezra threw the blankets off and swung his legs out of the bed until his bare feet rested on the cold floor. He grabbed his trousers and carefully slipped them on. He worked himself into a sweat and had to sit back down on the edge of the bed before he fell. The bedroom door slowly opened and Ezra looked up to see Chris staring him down.

"Going somewhere?" Chris asked suppressing a grin.

Ezra sighed and turned to face the floor, hoping the room would quit spinning. "It would seem Mr. Larabee that you are enjoying my malaise," the gambler looked up and smiled.

"Maybe, but if Mrs. Nettie finds you up you're going to be in a lot worse state than you are now," Chris chuckled and threw Ezra the shirt Nettie had given him for Ezra to ware. "You should be in bed."

"Under other circumstances I couldn't agree with you more," he carefully slipped the work shirt on over his bandaged midsection and back. Then he grabbed his socks and slipped them on careful not to show any discomfort in front of the man standing before him, "would you be gracious enough to hand me my boots?"

Chris reached down and picked up the boots that were sitting next to the door and handed them to the gambler. He only shook his head when he noticed how difficult this was becoming for him. Sweat beaded his brow and his hands shook lightly, "so have you decided to head out?" He looked at the conman somehow already knowing the answer but needing it verbalized.

"Have you?" Ezra returned the look Chris shot at him.

Chris ran his fingers threw his hair and sighed, since when did this become about him? "I don't know," was the simple quiet response.

"It has never been in my nature Mr. Larabee to trust the instincts of myself or more so the instincts of others," Ezra continued to button the front of his shirt. "I have no doubt you did what you felt necessary."

"Do you trust me?"

Ezra smiled and rubbed his hand over his face, "trust is a very diverse word Mr. Larabee."

"Answer the damn question," Chris snapped.

"Against my better judgment," the gambler paused and looked momentarily at the floor, "I really don't know," Ezra ran a weary hand threw his hair.

"That's good enough for now," Chris sighed and stood up straight, "but I'll ask you again in a few months." A smile tugged at the gunslingers lips as he turned and walked back into the other room leaving Ezra to think about what he'd just said. He knew in his gut the gambler wouldn't leave, not now, they had all been threw too much to fall apart now.

Ezra leaned against the wall suddenly to tired to move. He wasn't leaving and in a way it was a relief. It seemed that he and Chris had come to a mutual understanding without discussing the understanding outright. They had talked around the subject not talking directly about it. The uncertainty was there and probably would be until the day they decided to ride out in different directions. Ezra carefully rubbed his side and lifted his head at the sound of voices coming from the other room. Nettie had come in right after dawn and put a new bandage on his now healing wound. The older woman had threatened him to say in bed but he found himself needing to get back to his own room, someplace where he could rest without thinking about all that had happened. He sat up straight and wiped his brow with the back of his hand and found himself smiling to himself, somewhere Hanna was sitting in her favorite rocker enjoying a hot cup of coffee laced with brandy and laughing at the situation Ezra had found himself in. She always had a way of making the big issues that came up seem small. His smile disappeared and he thought about the seven years he'd missed with the most important people in his life, although Hanna would disagree.

Chris stepped out onto the porch leaned against the frame and watched as Vin, Josiah and Nathan dismounted and headed for the house. "Boys," Chris lit his cheroot.

"How's it going?" Vin asked stepping up to him noticing how clam his demeanor was.

"Fine," was the simple reply, "how's Buck, JD?"

"Buck's using his injury for all its worth with the ladies back at the saloon and JD's laying low in the sheriffs office."

"Hay Chris," Nathan and Josiah finished tying the horses to the hitching post, "why don't you let me take a look at your side and change that bandage."

"It's fine, Nettie changed it this morning."

"How's Brother Ezra?" Josiah asked a touch of concern etched in his voice.

Chris smiled outright, "fever broke early this morning, you might want to check on him before Nettie gets to him," he chuckled. Nathan moved passed him and Josiah quietly followed leaving Vin and Chris on the porch. "Any trouble in town?" he changed the angle of conversation.

"No," Vin shook his head, "any trouble here?"

Chris understood Vin's meaning and he paused at the question, "no trouble at all," he smiled and joined in Vin's laughter upon hearing Nathan's exasperated yell.

"Damn it Ezra!"

"Spose we should go save him?" Vin questioned relief in his voice.

"I'd be willing to bet if we don't Ezra will get us back eventually," Chris tossed his cheroot and turned back for the house all the while knowing that this strange bond they all shared was not going to be broken today.


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