The Train

by Heather F.

Part 16
Nettie Wells woke before the morning light crested the tree tops. She woke the same time nearly every morning be it winter or summer, storming or calm. The old pioneer climbed from her bed without hesitation. She did not wallow in the twilight time between sleep and wakefulness. She did not dawdle her precious waking moments away under the comfort of her wool blankets and quilt. She had a day to greet and chores that needed tending. Time would not wait for anyone and life should be met head on. The old woman, who had seen and experienced a life time of success and misfortune rose to spindly legs and started to dress.

Wind still buffeted the land and rain still hammered the earth.

Nettie gazed out her small bedroom window to the grey light that seemed even more muted under the heavy skies of a storm. She had a cook fire to stoke, water to boil and breakfast to be made.

She stared at her niece. A mere mound under the heavy protection of blankets.

"Come along, Casey," She spoke without touching the young lady, "we’ve got chores to get done."

The mound moved and low groan issued forth. Casey Wells did not hold the same vigor and blunt fervor for a new day, especially on a dark stormy morning. For a moment the young lady understood Mr. Standish’s hesitancy about greeting the day before being good and ready.

"Casey," The stern tone clearly indicated it was the last call.

Casey Wells slowly sat up and brushed long hair out of her face, "Yes, ma’am."

Satisfied that her niece would not lay back down, Nettie headed for her tiny kitchen.

She smiled lightly at the her living room, drinking in the sight that greeted her.

Nettie stepped lightly over sleeping bodies, careful not to wake them. The fact they slept while she moved about proved their exhaustion or perhaps their sense of comfort. A chorus of rough snores and garbled breaths filled the small room. It deepened her smile. It had been along time since she had enjoyed the sound of sleeping men under her roof. For a brief moment she missed her husband and sons terribly.

+ + + + + + +

"Mornin’ Ms. Nettie, Casey," Vin Tanner strolled into the kitchen with Buck Wilmington hot on his heels.

"Mornin’ Ladies," Buck’s booming voice rivaled the wind

"Coffee‘s on," Nettie tipped her head toward the blackened pot on the wood stove. Vin grabbed a rag and poured two cups.

"How long this storm gonna last Vin?" Buck nodded his thanks and lifted his cup. JD slept real easy last night. His breathing had leveled out. He had slept his first real sleep in a long while.

"Day or so," Tanner sipped from his mug and smiled. Nettie made coffee like him. His smile widened when Buck grimaced.

"Where’s Mr. Standish?" Casey moved about the kitchen helping her aunt with the preparations for breakfast. It wasn’t often that they made breakfast for the seven peacekeepers.

Vin and Buck shared a glance and then peered into the modest living room. Three bodies graced the floor. Josiah slept diagonal, while Nathan lay on his side feet pushed firmly against Larabee’s back. The three men managed to take the whole floor.

"He ain’t in there?" Nettie asked. She paused for a moment and pulled her gaze up from the batter she beat.

"Ain’t been there since we got up," Casey answered pouring more milk into the mix.

"That’s enough girl," Nettie whispered.

Buck and Vin shared a puzzled look, "I’ll go check the barn." Tanner started to push himself away from the kitchen table.

"I got it pard’," Buck headed for the door pushing Vin back into his chair. Wilmington pulled his boots on with one hand while stomping his heel on the ground. They slid on with only a little extra coaxing, "I’ll feed while I’m out there."

+ + + + + + +

Buck jogged across the puddled yard, splashing water with each step. He cinched his left arm tight to his midsection grimacing with every bone jarring step. His large hat collected water around it’s brim letting it run over its edge away from his shoulders. He reached the barn door and shoved it open.

The horses sidestepped and nickered. It was time to get fed. "Howdy Boys, I’ll git ya’all fed in a bit." Wilmington kept his coat on, though the horses body heat warmed the immediate area it did nothing to beat back the damp chill in the air.

"You boys didn’t happen to have a visitor this morning did ya?"

The horses only pawed their respective stalls in impatience for breakfast.

Wilmington stepped further into the barn and did not have to search far. He found a pile of blankets nestled in the far corner. Socked feet stuck out from under the huddled mass.

"’Ey Ezra," Buck kicked the exposed heels. The legs just pulled away curling up closer to center mass. "’Ey Ezra," Wilmington nudged the now retreated feet.


Wilmington sighed. He squatted down and slowly peeled the blankets back to reveal a sandy brown crown and then slack features. It was their paleness and the sheen of sweat that started to make him worry. He reached out with a callused hand and felt the gambler’s brow. It was cool and clammy. Sweat matted the bangs to his forehead. The inner layer of hair around his head had become darker, slick with moisture.

"Hey Ezra," Buck shook his friend’s shoulder. The shirt was tacky and damp but cool.

He watched as blood shot eyes fluttered and peeled back. Standish groaned and tried to distance himself from his intruder. Wilmington carefully kept his left arm away from any possible reprisals.

"Hoss, what the Hell are you doin’ out here?"

Standish moved away from the intrusive hands, "…Said to leave."

Buck sat back on his haunches, resting his injured arm across his legs, "What?" He watched as Ezra struggled to open his eyes, "Who said to leave?"

There was a pause. Ezra blinked again keeping his eyes closed a little longer. He ran a hand over his face, dragging it down his features pausing when he reached his jaw. "He did, there is not enough room," a disoriented fatigue tangled the harsh sounding words.

Buck watched the gambler closely, trying to understand the half muttered statements.

"Come on Hoss," Buck shook his friend’s shoulder again, "wake up…talk to me."

When Standish finally opened his eyes, Buck had the feeling that Ezra was truly looking at him for the first time.

"Mr. Wilmington…" The scratchy raw voice had Buck cringing slightly. Ezra stared at him as if trying to place the person with the environment. The gambler stared over Wilmington’s shoulder and let his eyes roam around the barn. "Ms. Well’s barn?" His question wavered between a question and a hopeful statement. His words started to fade as vocal cords resisted their use.

"You alright Pard’?" Buck watched the Southerner closely. He looked flushed, exhausted.

A smile flashed across Standish’s face, "Ms Well’s Barn?…" He let his gaze fall to his friend at his side, "He’s not here….never was, was he?…never here…." His voice wavered in and out. Each word was a gamble as to whether or not it would carry sound.

"Ya makin’ me nervous hoss," Buck smiled good naturedly but could not disguise his worry. "Ya look like shit too….you ok?"

Standish skewered his face for a second before letting an easy smile slip out. He leaned back into the tarp and cinched under the pile of blankets trying to recapture some of the lost heat, "I am now good sir….I am now." The grin grew.

Buck stood up and extended his good hand to help the gambler stand. "Come on Ezra, lets git the horses takin’ care of then go git some breakfast."

Standish ignored the hand. His legs and back still ached considerably but not near as bad. "I’m more inclined to watch your technique in feeding these fine beasts and keep from falling underfoot." A slick smile touched his face. His voice faded in volume as the hoarseness took over.

"So who told you to come out here?" Buck expected no less and started tossing leaves of hay to the individual horses.

Ezra sighed and leaned against the tarp trying to untangle the disorienting array of visions that made so much sense last night. His legs still ached and muscles felt drained. He shook his head dismissing the question and shaking himself of the uneasy feeling, "No one….absolutely no one." His hoarse voice tapered off lost in the howling wind that whipped against and pass the barn.

After a bit, the two men beat a hasty retreat back to the house. The door blew open threatening to rip it from its hinges. Josiah reached out and grabbed the door at the same time hauling the struggling gambler inside. Wilmington found himself pulled inside and toward the fire by Jackson.

"What the heck are you two thinkin’ yer doin’?" Jackson stared at the two men in an accusatory light. Why did he bother trying to put them back together again if they were just going to undo all his hard work?

"Feedin’ the horses," Buck answered his easy grin was offset by the seriousness of his eyes. He held Nathan’s eyes a moment longer before shifting them quickly to Standish and then back.

The gambler had his boots off and in the living room laying down on a discarded bedroll. The barn, though comfortable and dry some, how did not offer the same respite from exhaustion as sleeping in a house. A strange phenomenon that he had learned as a child growing up under the fickle tutelage of real and feigned relatives.

"He alright?" Nathan asked

"Think that fever of his might’ve spiked n’ broke last night," Buck answered doing his best trying to get the incessant ache out of his arm and hand. Damn even his shoulder hurt. Givin’ ‘im a headache too.

" I’ll let’im be fer now, ‘til breakfast anyhow, see how he’s farin’ then."

Nathan ducked his head into the living room. Larabee had yet to waken, no surprise with the type of head injury he had, and Ezra had already dozed off in Buck’s sleeping roll.

Jackson pulled the blankets up around Standish and then headed into Casey’s room to check on JD.

Vin stared out the kitchen window watching storm clouds race by through a curtain of waving rain.

Thunder rolled over head and lightening cracked freezing the immediate area in a vivid blue light.

The storm would blow itself out before noon.

I wish that I had known you when, as a child,
I knew friends were all I'd need to build my life.

But whether thoughts of then or now hold true,
The thought of staying pierces like a knife.

He wished the words would stop. Here in the house, surrounded by the others with the smell of Mz Nettie’s breakfast cooking, Vin Tanner’s desire to walk away faded with the current tempest outside.

He leaned his head against the cool glass and welcomed the heat of the cook stove.

I leave you in this world - I don't belong
Wishing I were staying, could truth be known.

Truth be known, no one was making him leave, and he knew it. In fact, they left the gate open for him, make sure he understood no one tied him down. In allowing him his freedom, perhaps they caste their greatest chain around him.

Tanner spied the world through the grey curtain of rain outside the streaked window.

+ + + + + + +

Over steaming plates of biscuits and gravy garnished with bacon and some eggs, the six regulators of Four Corners discussed their immediate plans.

Nathan surveyed the group with a critical eye. Even just one night of rest did them good. He metered their appetites and realized they would be making supply runs to the Well’s ranch for the next few days. The others, himself included, were eating her out of house and home.

The stony grin on her features showed no remorse concerning her hospitability. She clearly welcomed them into her home and was bent on keeping them fed.

"I say we head back to town today," Vin mopped up white gravy with his buckshot biscuit. "Storm’s gonna break by midday…ain’t no reason to stick around here and crowd Nettie."

Larabee carefully nodded in agreement. He had no intentions of delaying his meeting with the Judge. His stomach had settled down finally, and his sudden bouts of dizziness and special disorientation seemed less.

"What about our…" Standish started but once again found his voice not cooperating.

"I sure hope that lasts," Vin smirked out. Standish made to toss part of a biscuit at him but a raised eyebrow from the lady of the house stilled his hand.

Nathan leaned forward in his chair, resting his forearms on either side of his plate, "I’d think it best if JD don’t get moved," Jackson turned his attention to Ezra, "that’s what you were tryin’ to ask about?"

Standish nodded breaking a biscuit and dropping jam into the middle of it.

"Thinkin’ it might be best if some of us stay here with’im," Jackson swiveled around in his chair, "iffen that’s alright with you ma’am".

"Star and garders, son," Nettie swung a dish rag over her shoulders, "my home is open to you boys, ya best start realizin’ it."

"What are ya thinkin’ Nathan?" Chris lifted his eyes from his near empty plate. Two rounds of Nettie’s biscuit and gravy was doing wonders for his headache and belly ache.

"Thinkin’ maybe," Jackson sighed and tried to find a way not to start an argument, "Ezra ‘n Buck ‘n Vin should stay put," The healer held up his hands at the two verbal protest and the quiet but rather indignant gambler, "I’d ask Chris to stay too iffen I thought I could make’im."

"Like Hell," Larabee intoned quietly. He took a sip from his steaming coffee. Hell of a lot better than Vin’s.

Tanner shot him a look, like Hell it is.

"Right," Jackson looked at Buck, "ya ain’t doin’ yer arm any favours by using it like ya have been, and JD would probably feel a whole lot better iffen you were around."

Wilmington fought to dig up a tactful argument. "Kid’s been on his own before, and it ain’t like this is permanent." Just going to town and back.

"Don’t see how ya need me stayin’ then," Vin spoke up slapping his napkin on the table next to his plate.

Ezra merely inclined his head in the direction of the tracker, agreeing with the Texan’s observations.

"Vin ya got bruised if not cracked ribs, ridin’ around back ta town ‘s jist gonna irritate them some more."

"Done all the irritatin’ already gittin’ here."

Ezra again nodded his agreement with the Tracker.

"Ezra you ain’t even got a say in the matter," Jackson nailed the ever red flushing southerner with a hard stare.

"He’s got ya there pard’," Buck chuckled out, "you ain’t sayin’ much now are ya?"

Standish opened his mouth to speak again but nothing was articulated.

They mean me no harm but it’s time that I face it
They’ll never allow me to change

But I never dreamed home would end up where I don’t belong

They kept him from the Gold car, dropped him in the river against his adamant protests, and now they were going to tell him when he could or could not go into town? Ezra had just about enough of being dictated too. Hell, even in his dreams someone was telling him where to go.

"Listen ya fool," Jackson narrowed his look, "ya been soaked through to the skin for too many days, ya slept in the barn for God knows what reasons that ran through that addled brain of yours, going back out in this rain ain’t gonna do ya any good but git ya pneumonia."

Ezra tossed his napkin on the table and glared at the healer. Yes, he had his fill of being dictated too. He’d been on his own for too long, to be told what was best for him.

"I done told ya Nathan," Buck spoke up in defense of the gambler, "yer’ll snored so loud he had to go to the barn to git any rest." Wilmington suspected the truth but figured he would save Ezra the indignities of exposing his feverish nightmares to the group.

"Uhhuh," Nathan shot back, not for a second believing a word of it but recognizing the big man’s attempt at saving Standish some of his foolish pride. "don’t make no difference, fever broke sometime last night and ridin’ out in this rain ain’t gonna do ‘im no favours."

"Brother Nathan," Josiah finally leaned forward and addressed the table. "I think it’d be best if you let the others decide for themselves about who stays and who goes."

Nathan made to argue but Josiah stalled him with a slight halting motion, "our brothers have been looking after themselves long before we all were drawn together….High time they decided for themselves which ones stay and which ones go."

The finality of the statement had Ezra and Vin sharing a nervous look as if they had been found out. As if their desire to splinter from the group had some how been exposed. Buck watched the two men exchange uneasy glances and then looked to Chris.

Larabee merely shrugged. Josiah had the right of it; in more ways than one.

+ + + + + + +

By late morning the rain had stopped and blue sky fought through the grey rolling thunder cover. With the dregs of the storm fading from the area, the area seemed unusually green and still.

Six men saddled their borrowed mounts in silence. Ezra pulled Buck’s cinch tight, "Now hoss, don’t make it too tight, don’t want this old Nag tossin’ my fragile ass on the ground."

Standish rolled his eyes and croaked out a comment that was lost.

"Ain’t nuthin’ fragile about ya Buck," Nathan remarked from tightening Tanner’s cinch. Busted ribs or not the tracker could hardly pull his boots on this morning. Chest muscles did not appreciate the movement.

Nettie and Casey Wells watched them from the porch of their small homestead. They would watch over JD until Nathan or Buck or perhaps both came back with a wagon.

The old widow and her niece waved from the porch as the six men rode out of their yard and back to Four Corners.

Part 17

The midday sun had finally beat back the storm cover. Four Corners stood quiet in the straining aftermath of a harsh storm. Puddles dotted main street, mud bogged wagon wheels and sucked at horse’s feet. The rain had cleaned the roofs and sides of buildings but had caked the land in fresh mud. The smell of the storm still lingered heavily in the air.

All morning, Orrin Travis had stood at the edge of town and waited. The raw cold of the storm had left an ache in his bones that paled in comparison to the ache that had settled in his chest. He had unknowingly sent seven men into a potentially dangerous situation for no reason. The Judge had stood a solitary steward staring out over the lone road that led to and from Four Corners. No stage was due today, and no traveler in their right mind would dare challenge the thick mud that had filled the wake of the storm.

As midday had drawn close, under the strengthening brilliance of the sun, he had spotted men on horses crest the hill just outside of town and counted six. Only six.

What had he done?

The Judge had bowed his head in loss and shame. He had stood alone on the boardwalk just at the edge of town and fought the tears of loss and anger. He lifted his chin and counted again through the blurry haze of watering eyes. Six. Who had fallen?

He had feared the worst. Judge Travis had turned on his heel and headed back into the midst of town. He had stopped by the livery and asked, Yoesmite to direct Larabee toward the saloon.

It was too early in the day for the night crowd and too late in the morning for any late night revelers. The Standish Tavern was at its daily lull.

Judge Travis looked up from his whiskey glass when the batwing doors were pushed open.

The old Federal Judge stared at the black silhouette standing in the doorway holding both halves apart. The tell tale swish of a black duster slapping against planted feet filled the silence.

Who of the seven had not returned?

Which man had he conducted into an early grave?

Travis sat in his chair nursing the same whiskey Inez had planted before him not twenty minutes ago.

Larabee appeared in no rush, or perhaps the burden of only five men at his side slowed his pace.

Whatever the reason, the Judge now sat staring at the man who had at one time trusted him. Whom Travis had now failed.

Larabee let his eyes adjust to the light. His piercing gaze swept the saloon floor and fell to the lone man sitting at the far table next to the raised dais. Chris had to approve of the Judge’s choice of seats. No one would blindside him there.

Blindside him like Travis had done to them.

Larabee slid through the doors, his spurs tolling with each step. Tanner followed him a step behind and to his right while Buck paralleled Vin to the left. Nathan and Josiah stepped in together with the gambler bringing up the rear.

Travis watched each man, noticed their eyes, their step and their attire. They appeared beaten and used. Not discarded

Young JD Dunne was not amongst them.

Travis felt his heart lurch. Of all the seven, why the youngest, the one with the most promise?

These hardened men, who had found room for a young man in their midst, lost their most protected member.

Judge Travis shot back the whiskey hoping to find courage in a liquid lie.

Chris slid across the room like a shadow, flanked and followed by five silent men. Their determination and mere presence caused the few patrons that sat scattered throughout the dimly lit room to disappear.

Inez ceased wiping down the bar. Her eyes teared at the missing spot that should have been filled by JD.

Chris ignored everyone else, did not care about the dusty men that slunk from their tables at the sight of him and his men. He did not nod a greeting to Inez. He fixated solely on the old man that sat determined to face them.

The old man had grit.

Larabee stopped at the table of the federal Judge. Travis sat by himself, secluded from the rest of the world by his position and demeanor.

For the first time, since Chris Larabee met Judge Orrin Travis, Larabee realized the man looked old and worn.

"Mr. Dunne?" The Judge hated to ask the question but feared not knowing. He needed the truth. How far had these men been pushed? How much had they lost in this foolish ruse?

"At Nettie Well’s place," Tanner answered. The others stood just behind Larabee flanking him. Their disgust and distrust easily readable.

When Larabee pulled out a chair to sit, his men moved around the table taking positions and dragging out seats. They settled as a group and faced the Judge.

They were nearly killed over nothing. They wanted an explanation.

"Weren’t no Gold." Chris stared hard at the Judge.

Travis met the icy green eyes dead on, "I know."

"Before or after we found out?" the question came from Wilmington. The once laughing blue eyes held the cold look of a man who had been lied to one too many times. His tolerance for games had petered out. His forbearance disappeared when JD lay buried under the engine car.

"Probably the same time."

"Don’t jerk us around, Judge," Larabee again.

"I was told the Gold was to be on that train, told that a group of men might have hired some others to try and steal it."

"They tried alright," Buck again. His mocking tone clearly indicated that no prisoners would be gracing any local jails.

Tanner sat quietly dissecting the man before him, having trusted him at one time, knowing that a Territorial Judge knew of his wanted status.

Travis found himself unnerved by the quiet man. Sanchez, Jackson and Standish offered no reprieve. They let the others speak content to watch and listen. Out of character for the Southerner…unnerving.

"Weren’t no need for us to be on that train," Wilmington had left the Rangers for the simple reason of politics. Politics and men that had no right to give orders, had jerked the reins of fellow Rangers and lead to too many unnecessary, careless deaths. Buck wanted no part of it.

"If the gold fell into the wrong hands, it would have found its way back to support radicals and open the rift between the states again. Would get a lot of innocents killed….I needed a group of men I could trust to protect the gold, ensure it made it to Denver safely."

"Weren’t no Gold on the Train Judge," Vin spoke reiterating Chris’s earlier statement. They had been used and did not like it.

"Damn near got us killed," Nathan intoned quietly. The anger and fierce disappointment in the healer’s tone made the Judge cringe.

"What a man don’t know can get’im killed." Larabee stared at the Judge. He and his men were not for hire, not by anyone else, not for any reasons or causes.

"Gentlemen, I too was railroaded, not to the same degree as you, nor will I pretend that my life was in any danger, such as yourselves. What I can tell you is that, the men who orchestrated that little derailment have been caught and subsequently jailed." He paused and scrutinized each man, noting the bruises, the cuts, the exhaustion and over all tattered look. "I will not allow myself nor yourselves to be put in such a position again…you have my word."

"Where’s the Gold?" Vin felt obligated to ask for Standish, ease his mind. Let him know it was out of reach.

"Denver," The Judge held up his hand, "they parceled it out, packed it into stages, and other rail cars…gentlemen this Gold is intended for the future financial support of the railway and those that protect this territory…the US Calvary." The Judge sat forward in his chair and addressed each man as he spoke, "you gentlemen were used as a diversion without my knowledge…It was thought that if others realized you seven gentlemen were sent on board a train, then that would surely direct any outlaws toward you and away from the true shipment." Judge Travis stared hard at Larabee "you have my deepest apologies."

Standish sat forward weaving cards through his fingers. Buck and Vin did a double take. Where the Hell did he find a deck of cards? They were not in town more than a few minutes and then only at the livery. The gambler ignored the looks of his fellow lawmen and leaned forward. "Comp…" the word or words drizzled out. Jaw muscles bulged and clenched in obvious frustration.

Judge Travis furrowed his brow and eyed the others with a question in his expression.

"Only good thing to come out of this whole mess," Vin stated leaning back in his chair.

"Yup," Buck slapped Standish on the shoulder, "Ole Ezra here lost his voice."

"Mr. Standish?" Travis scrutinized the red faced man and easily read the growing aggravation.

"Com…" again words failed the most verbose of the group a crude ungentlemanly croak marked his attempt at speech.

"Thinkin’, Judge, he wants a raise, and for ya to buy’im a new set of boots, hat and some of those fancy digs he likes to wear," Vin filled in, "seein’ how Josiah there dropped ‘im off a cliff in the line of duty. Dang near drown him, but I’m figgerin’ Ole Ezra here, pulled his slitherin’ ass outta that river thinkin’ of all the ways he can use this situation to turn ‘imself a profit."

"Mr. Sanchez?"

"Brother Vin is probably correct," Josiah answered confidently purposely misinterpreting the Judge’s unasked question. "I’m sure brother Ezra will seek some sort of profit from this ill gotten adventure."

Buck waved to Inez. She gathered shot glasses and a bottle of Red Eye.

"Well, Mr. Standish, gentlemen" Travis knew not to push for an explanation, "a dollar a day plus board, same as before."

The expression of horror that seared the gambler’s face would have been laughable except for the slight clearing of Larabee’s voice.

"Think Vin and Ezra might be on to something."

The Judge paused and turned an unsure look to the gunslinger. Were they finally acting as a group…not just individuals caste together? Was there a hope for the Judge to re-build bridges using a medium that at least one of the others would understand? He paused considering the men that faced him. "You might be right, I’ll see that you gentlemen are reimbursed for lost or damaged goods…just make a list."

Ezra smiled like a snake oil salesman and slapped a piece of crumpled paper onto the table. He struggled to ask Inez for a writing utensil. Inez smiled sweetly, after coming to understand that JD Dunne was very much alive. Ms Roscillos returned to her bar with a bright smile lighting her face.

"And I have wired the Doctor over in Fernwood to stop by. He should be here before the day is out." The Judge paused listening to the rising dissention at the table, mainly from Tanner and Wilmington. "I realize that Mr. Jackson does excellent work, I think it’s the least I could do to ease your discomfort, and give Mr. Jackson a much needed break."

"He’s right boys, I’m beat," Nathan dropped his head toward the table top and shook his head wearily, " ‘sides, Buck’s arm needs a good lookin’ at, I ain’t too sure about Vin’s ribs, or Chris’s head, and I ain’t so convinced Ezra’s cold ain’t tryin’ to make itself into pneumonia." There was a pause, "and it would do JD good to have someone else with some book learning behind’im to take a good look at him."

This declaration was met by even more vocal displeasure.

Amongst the arm waving, gesturing and foolery, Larabee and the Judge gathered up their glasses and headed for a quieter table. They had all been used, some more than others, but things still needed smoothing over. They would be more successful one on one.

They stared over at the other table. Standish wrote with an almost fevered zest, Buck waved his good arm at Nathan trying to prove his health. He might have been successful if Vin had not squeezed Wilmington’s injured arm. That provoked an unholy holler. Sanchez sat back and sipped his whiskey, enjoying the discomfort of the others.

Chris turned his attention back to the Judge. Ezra’s mumbled words from the day before worked slowly to the forefront.

I wish that I had known you when, as a child, I knew
That friends were all I'd need to build my life.

Did he like it? Yeah, Chris, had to concede that he did, and for a moment in time it fit, fit too perfectly. Today, however, today it didn’t fit. Today the loud mouth, overbearing antics of his friends, kept him tethered.

He had feared getting too close to them and losing them to a bullet, a foolish fight, or a brainless accident, but his greatest trepidation was that they would just fade away from him.

To change to "I" from what so long was "we" ...
A true soliloquy is not for show.

+ + + + + + +

Three days later, Judge Travis and Dr. Little rode out of Four Corners on a stage. Chris’s headaches had become less severe and the vertigo non-existent. His waking moments outstretched his time sleeping.

Buck supported his arm in a white sling but was known to change the color of said sling to match which ever fair lady he wished to pursue that day.

Vin had finally succumbed to his wagon after losing a battle with laudanum. The tracker, up to that point, had prowled the streets hugging an arm to his chest and growling at any of the other six that dared laugh at him. Dr. Little and Nathan quietly put an end to the Tracker’s snarling disposition.

Standish, slept most of the three days away, only waking to shoot scathing looks at the kindly old gentleman doctor that attempted to auscultate his chest and clean his numerous abrasions. Nathan made things easier for the kindly doctor by dosing Ezra liberally with ‘poisonous elixirs’. The Southerner found himself in a hazy surreal world where things were just fine. His sleepy grin and heavy eyes had the quiet doctor appreciating Nathan’s working knowledge of herbs.

JD had recovered remarkably quicker once he was given the chance to rest and recover other than on the back of a horse. In fact, the young sheriff’s first day back to town had been spent trying to pry the others for information about the events just before and after the train wreck.

Ezra had finally found some solace in his lost voice and neatly avoided the zealous sheriff, when he found himself awake. Tanner had snored those few days away under the tarp of his wagon. Josiah had hammered on his roof until someone had stolen all his nails, all the nails from the mercantile and from the livery. For three days, the town had no nails.

Chris and Buck had suspected Ezra. Josiah had ransacked the gambler’s room while Standish had succumbed to one of Nathan’s teas, and the Doctor had looked on slightly taken back and just a little bit frightened.

Jackson assured the good Doctor that Sanchez was actually a man of God and was not truly prone to unprovoked violence.

Standish had nearly given himself away when he had snorted at that comment but Jackson felt it best for his patient if he covered the sudden dip in common sense. Josiah had left the room cursing the gambler and praying to St. Anthony, the Patron saint of lost items.

+ + + + + + +

After those three long tiring days, Doctor Little, headed back to Fernwood on the same stage with Judge Travis.

Vin crawled groggily from his wagon, only to be accosted by JD. The tracker couldn’t fathom how he ended up with two boxes full of nails in his wagon. Chris laughed at the confused expression on Tanner. Buck disappeared with June for a midday romp and Ezra graced the gaming table after guilting both Josiah and Nathan into a very one sided game of five card stud.

The gambler still argued with Nathan over the list of lost items the Judge was to reimburse them. Nathan had listed nothing. Standish had argued that the Healer truly squandered a perfect opportunity to attain more medical literature and instruments for the betterment of himself and his clients. Nathan, of course, had argued that he had not brought any such items with him on the train and as such had not lost them.

Ezra had argued that had Nathan brought said items, they would have probably been lost, and as such should probably be reimbursed.

Nathan had scowled and said that would be lying.

Ezra had disputed that it was not lying, but potentially the truth. Who is to say that the items would not have been lost during the train wreck?

JD said he kind of understood what Ezra was saying.

Buck and Josiah vowed to keep JD from Ezra for the time being.

Chris had sat back in his chair and wondered exactly what Ezra had put on his list of things to be reimbursed by the Judge.

During the stage coach ride back to Fernwood, the Doctor watched with some trepidation as the territorial Judge read and reread a particular sheet of paper and laughed himself to tears.

Epilogue: A week later

Chris leaned back in his chair resting it against the saloon wall. A small grin lightened his features. Nathan and Ezra were arguing again...something about charging people for Jackson’s services. Nathan was adamantly opposed to the "No money No service" idea while the gambler tried to plea on the good healer’s other could Jackson hopefully improve his instruments, books and mode of travel without charging something for his hard dedicated work? And of course for a small percentage, Ezra would selflessly maintain the accounting books. It just made good business sense.....

The conversation fizzled from ear shot as the two men disappeared behind the closed door of the clinic.

"Seems Ezra’s done gone and got his voice back for good," Vin muttered pushing his slouched hat up off the brim of his nose. He leaned forward and let the front legs of his chair hit the board walk. Bright morning sunlight hardened the dirt of the main street and pushed shadows back from the boardwalks.

"Yup," Larabee sipped his beer. It was good to hear the southern accent again, though he was loathed to admit it to anyone.

"Guess he’s gonna be makin’ up lost time," Buck bounced up onto the boardwalk and leaned against the support pole.

Chris chuckled.

"Think he’s still thinkin’ about movin’ on?" Wilmington broached the subject no one else seemed to want to touch. Course the way Ezra had been harassing poor Josiah; guilting Sanchez at every opportunity, it seemed unlikely the Southerner would leave before he was done having fun twisting Josiah to do his bidding.

Chris tightened his hands around his beer mug and focused his eyes out of town. Standish had never said flat out he intended on pulling up stakes and leaving. Though the man never came right out and said anything clearly. It was always convoluted and riveted with holes…escape routes.

"Man don’t come up with words like that ‘less he’s seriously thinkin’ of high tailin’ it to greener pastures," Wilmington scuffed the toe of his boot on the board walk. No one had ever made tell they heard the voice that emanated from the top of their train car that night. Nor did they ask about the words he muttered on the way to Nettie’s place those two rainy days.

"He’s stayin," Vin shifted his mare's leg to a more comfortable position. "I’m headin’out for a bit." Tanner dropped his chair to all fours and stood up in one fluid motion. Mercury wavering in a tube.

"When should we expect ya back?" Chris changed the focus of his eyes, relieved for a change in topic.

"Day or two," Tanner headed toward the livery. The morning sun glanced his shoulders as he melted from the shadows.

"How come you’re so sure about Ezra?" Buck asked watching the bounty hunter simply slide further from them.

Vin paused, hesitated a moment as if contemplating something, before slowly swiveling his head around, "Cuz….them words weren’t his." A sad smile tweaked his lips and then Vin Tanner slid soundlessly into the livery.

Buck and Chris shared a look.

"Shit," Wilmington kept his eyes on his old friend.

"Yeah." Chris breathed watching the doors of the livery. Maybe he would go for a ride too.....Just to be sure. Buck nodded his silent agreement and watched as the man in black stood. They had a friend that needed tending.

The End

Comments to:

I wish that I had known you when, as a child, I knew
That friends were all I'd need to build my life.

But whether thoughts of then or now hold true,
The thought of staying pierces like a knife.

The point is that to stay here is not life,
It's fighting to be what you think I should be

What binds me here is Penance, a vow, and strife,
In this darkest night at last all this I see.

I may not be as strong as I should be
I cannot wait for morning's light to go ...

To change to "I" from what so long was "we" ...
A true soliloquy is not for show.

I leave you in this world - I don't belong ...
Wishing I were staying, could truth be known.

- Mitzi G.

I’ve dealt with my ghosts and I’ve faced all my demons
Finally content with a past I regret
I’ve found you find strength in your moments of weakness
For once I’m at peace with myself

I’ve been burdened with blame, trapped in the past for too long
I’m movin’ on

I’ve lived in this place and I know all the faces
Each one is different but they’re always the same
They mean me no harm but it’s time that I face it
They’ll never allow me to change

But I never dreamed home would end up where I don’t belong
I’m movin’ on


I’m movin’ on
At least I can see life has been patiently waiting for me
And I know there’s no guarantees, but I’m not alone
There comes a time in everyon’s life
When all you can see are the years passing by

And I have made up my mind that those days are gone.
I sold what I could and packed what I couldn’t
Stopped to fill up on my way out of town
I’ve loved like I should but lived like I shouldn’t

I had to lose everything to find out
Maybe forgiveness will find me somewhere down this road

I’m movin’ on
I’m movin’ on
I’m movin’ on.

- Rascal Flatts