Orphan Train

by Angela B.

Part Sixteen
Chris and the two men riding with had run well past the camp, giving the illusion of missing the small camp partially hidden by the trees. They had doubled back after disappearing from watchful eyes and were in position when the explosion went off. Giving Ezra adequate time to herd the children to safety, they walked their horses soundlessly to the edge of camp. Spread out, with Ezra on the fourth side, they effectively circled the camp. Waiting until they saw the men ease up the slightest bit after finding no danger, Chris nudged his horse forward into the camp. Buck and Josiah, having kept a visual on their leader, followed suit. Ezra stepped out from where he was standing with his Sharps drawn.

The twelve outlaws of the camp, having relaxed a little were caught off guard and by the time they bought their guns back to fend off anyone. They found themselves looking into some very hard eyes. A thought suddenly flickered through Fleming’s mind and he began turning around in circles shouting for his children.

Ezra walked further into the camp, stopping right in front of the leader of this gang. "I assure you they are quite safe, Mr. Fleming. However, I am quite saddened by the fact that you are just now becoming concerned about their safety," he said.

Shaking his head sadly, the green eyes stared coldly into the opposite eyes. "A good father would have considered them first and drawn weapons second," Ezra spoke softly, a hard edge tingeing his voice.

The desperadoes were waiting for Fleming to tell them what to do. In many a mind there was the cold stark truth; the four men surrounding them would be difficult to beat. The look in each of the four men spoke of a hardness that only came from backing up one’s play. There was no doubt in the older member’s thoughts that a gun battle with these men would result in loss of lives.

Fleming was thinking hard about the predicament he currently found himself and his men in. The reason his gang had been so successful over the past few years was because he had chosen never to take chances with their lives, choosing only jobs that could be carried out quietly and safely. Now, though, it appeared things could get downright ugly if he chose to fight. Fleming was still considering his options when he heard the cold voice to his right make his decision for him.

Chris had given the man enough time to come to the only logical conclusion. Sensing the man was still thinking on it, the leader decided to help him out. "You’re going in," he said, flatly. The underlying message was quite clear in his glare, ‘I have no problem killing you.’

Seeing the fallen resolve in Fleming’s face Chris added, "Good choice. For you and that son of yours."

The other leader nodded to his men to remove their weapons at the same time removing his own. During this time Buck and Josiah had kept their eyes sweeping the group for any potential trouble. They both swept their gaze over their gambling friend at the same time and realized Ezra was not holding his regular weapon, but two Sharps they had never seen before. Buck and Josiah looked at one another for the briefest of moments, each needing confirmation they were seeing what they thought they saw. Josiah let out an in silent sigh. He knew Ezra had secrets, heck they all did, but the way the gambler kept popping up with expensive and highly superior weapons, the preacher was beginning to wonder just what kind of secrets the younger man held. He also, realized Ezra was not as calm and collected as they were led to believe last night. He silently prayed Ezra would not make a mistake that would cost them their family and a little boy his father.

Part Seventeen

Tim Wakefield still held visions of grandeur in his mind. He was angry at the way Fleming had so easily given in to these four men. There were twelve of them for goodness sake, they could have taken these men easily. He knew Fleming had never put his men in any real danger before and considered the action cowardly. How could one rise up and take what they wanted if they proceeded so cautiously? It was this thinking and rationalizing that had helped him convince two of the other younger men in the gang to stand with him when he rose up against Fleming in the future. Now it appeared to the young man the future was here. Catching the other two’s eyes he communicated clearly that they should make their stand now and show the old man what kind of rewards they could garner by such a bold move.

Ezra kept his aim pointed at the one man his anger was directly aimed towards. Howard Fleming could easily read the hate in the green eyes and knew it is only because of a great amount of self-control the gambler had on his emotions that he wasn’t already dead. Staring at his man, Ezra could only see one thing, a little boy struggling to hold onto his very short-lived life. No matter how hard he had tried to push that scene from his mind, it was the one that his mind chose to solely focus on. No matter the number of years he had honed controlling every feature of his life, from his thoughts to his emotions to his actions, it was all failing him now. Both leaders watched as Ezra tightened his grip on his weapon and gritted his jaw.

Chris has monitored his friend’s actions from the corner of his eye since his arrival. He understood the need Ezra felt to kill this man. He understood the line of thinking Ezra had taken, that by somehow shooting the man responsible for the incident, it would perhaps make things right. He, too, thought this way for a long time. Only recently did he understand that killing a person responsible for something this horrible did not reverse the way the past had already happened. He recalled all the times Buck had fought for him, with him and against him and wondered if there were truly any words he could speak to his friend that would sway him from his current path. He realized, much like Buck must have realized, there is no way he can make Ezra’s decisions for him. He could only stand by him in the end like Buck had done for him, no matter what the outcome was.

Knowing he couldn’t actually make Ezra’s decision didn’t stop him from saying what he felt needed to be said. With a rare emotion in his voice the blond spoke softly, "I’ve been where you are, Ez." Chris sucked in a deep breath before completing his thought. "It doesn’t alleviate the pain or change what’s been done," Chris finished quietly.

The blond watched as his words reached his friend and didn’t have to wonder what was going on in his mind. Chris returned his full attention to the men standing on the ground before him. Seeing the hesitation of two of the young men, he pointed his gun and barked, "Remove them."

Becoming incensed at the continued hesitation, Chris sent a warning shot to the dirt in front of one of the men’s boots. "Now," he commanded, his patience wearing thin from the whole ordeal.

Vin, still watching the small circle, sighted in on the shooter. Due to skills long honed, he kept from shooting his best friend. Analyzing the situation quickly he turned and started down towards his horse. If things turned ugly, he wanted to be as close by as possible and if gunplay started before he reached the group, the sharpshooter knew he could always shoot while riding.

Chaucer had begun to carefully make his way back towards the hill from which he and his human had departed from earlier this morning, sensing that this where Ezra wanted him to take these young riders. They had left behind those other humans that they ride with there; surely one of them would remove these light humans.

Vivian and Matthew, both, turned their heads at the sound of the warning shot. The young son, seeing the newcomer pointing a gun at his daddy, slid off the back of the horse and took off running back to the group. Yelling at he top of his voice, pleading with this stranger not to hurt his daddy. Ezra looked away from the men in front of him towards the sound of the crying child. Arriving back at the camp, the young boy skidded to a stop in front of the gambler. With tears streaming down his face, the innocent looked up into shocked-filled eyes and pleaded, "Please, Mister, don’t shoot my daddy.

In that brief moment, looking down into those scared defensive eyes, Ezra saw himself years ago. In that moment, he came to the correct decision the others had been trying to make him see since starting on this hunt; his actions would have ramifications beyond the healing powers of Nathan Jackson. He wouldn’t add to this boy’s wounds.

Taking advantage of the distraction, Tim Wakefield nodded to the other two men. Pulling his gun, the young outlaw set in motion what would have the next few seconds seem to last a lifetime and would forever change the outcome of many lives. Someone screamed Ezra’s name. A cacophony of guns and one rifle being fired filled the air. A father screaming his son’s name and then nothing.

Part Eighteen

Another awful scene lay out before the five regulators, this time the outcome was far different. Still gripping their smoking weapons the four peacekeepers within the camp surveyed the destruction. Tim Wakefield and his two friends laid dead, only Wakefield’s gun had been fired. Chris shook his head; stupidity had a way of killing the young. Ezra raised himself off the five-year-old boy cautiously, his Sharps still held firmly. Moving to a sitting position and certain the camp was secure, he laid the hot weapons on the ground and turned his attention to the little boy.

Sensing the intense moment had passed, Matthew freed himself of Ezra’s caring hands and ran to his father. Sliding to the ground beside his father he noticed blood escaping around the fingers that were wrapped around his leg. "Daddy, you’re bleeding!" Matthew yelled, alerting the others to the wound.

Fleming removed one of his hands and wrapped it around the shaking body of his son and offered what comfort he could. The rest of the men in camp, having dove to the ground when the bullets starting flying, made no move that would agitate the already angered black-clad man and his friends. Chris made a motion for Buck to head off towards Fleming and do what he could to help.

Josiah’s watchful gaze, still eyeing the group for any trouble, landed on Ezra and scrutinized the mesmerized man studying the interaction between the father and his son. Pulling himself out of his reverie Josiah noticed Chris had already dismounted and had begun tying up the remaining men. The preacher stretched his body and let out a deep sigh; things could have been worse. Feeling better now that things were calmed down, Josiah joined Chris in tying up the outlaws. Coming to one of the men lying close to the gambler, Josiah sat on him and tied the wrists together. Switching his gaze back to the gambler, who was watching the by-play between father and son as Buck tied his bandana around the flesh wound, he noticed the gambler had yet to move.

The preacher left his criminal secure in the knowledge that the man would not be going anywhere and hurried over to the younger regulator. Squatting beside Ezra, he anxiously asked, "Are you alright?"

Ezra slowly tore his eyes from the other scene, gazed up at the older man and responded slowly, "Pardon me? What did you request?"

"I asked if you were alri…," the big man stopped his statement as he noticed a small stream of red flowing down Ezra’s fingers.

"You’ve been hit," the preacher stated, with more calmness than he felt. "Help me get your jacket off," he ordered. Moving the two guns in order to get closer, he held off his questions about them for later.

Looking down at the hole in his jacket and seeing the blood run off his fingertips. "Oh dear," the gambler whispered, "Another unjust ruination of a fine garment."

Josiah, used to hearing such remarks, simply smiled as he tore the sleeve open and looked the bleeding injury over. "Just a graze," Josiah said. Then with a devilish grin he added, "Nothing to keep you from taking your turn at patrol when we get back."

Rolling his eyes at the statement, Ezra faked his own grin and deadpanned, "Oh joy."

The preacher laughed as he used the torn sleeve as a sling, mentally noting Ezra seemed to be back among them and his old self. A disaster avoided, a lost soul returned, because of a simple request by a child. Josiah couldn’t help but think of the line in the bible: ‘And a child shall lead them.’

Not long afterwards Vin arrived with Chaucer following. He had just met the horse and rider when the first gunshot sounded. Putting himself between the gunplay and the girl, the sharpshooter instantly put the rifle to shoulder and had his prey sighted within seconds. When he felt it was safe, he remounted his horse and, knowing better than to grab Chaucer’s reins, instructed the horse to follow.

The tracker stepped down from his saddle and removed Vivian from Chaucer. Taking a moment to locate Matthew, Vivian then searched for the sharp-looking man who had tried to help and rescue them. Once located, the nine-year-old took off at a run toward her new friend. Vin, in the meantime finished assisting Chris in gathering the remaining live men and securing their guns, as well as tying their hands together.

Plopping down beside Ezra, Vivian became concerned at the wound Josiah was binding. The gambler, easily reading the worry, scooped the girl closer with his good hand to reassure her of his health.

Looking into his green eyes, Vivian calmly stated, "I knew you were someone good, that I could trust the minute I saw you."

Ezra, taken aback by the comment, could only ask, "You did?"

Vivian nodded. Josiah, who had finished bandaging Ezra’s arm, fought to keep the laugh building in him from erupting. Watching his friend stare at the girl in speechless wonder Josiah spoke up, "You, young lady have a very astute perception of my friend." Then shook his head and wondered just when it was that he started sounding like his loquacious friend.

The three dead men were quickly buried and their horses gathered. The other nine men mounted their horses without comment, not wishing to incur anymore of these men’s wrath. Chris watched with sadness and puzzlement as Matthew, with the help of Buck, mounted the saddle in front of his father. The son never met his father, got kidnapped because of him, was in the middle two shootouts, knew the father for just a couple of days and still the boy sought out his father for comfort. For a split moment, Chris wondered if Adam would feel that kind of devotion or love. The blond quickly quashed those thoughts and mounted his own horse.

Ezra climbed aboard Chaucer with the small assistance of Vin. Without asking, Vivian made it clear to them both she intended to ride with her new hero. Gently, the tracker lifted her up and placed her in back of Ezra. Vivian instantly wrapped her arms around Ezra’s waist and gave a small squeeze before settling into what would be a long ride back town. With a simple nudge of his heels, Chris led the band of men back to Four Corners.

Part Nineteen

The group traveled for a good long distance before Chris motioned for Vin to scout out a campsite for them. A short time later the tracker made his way back to the traveling men and led them to a watering hole off the side of the road. The captured men sat quietly on the ground as Josiah and Buck made camp. Chris, standing guard, simply glared at the sullen men, daring them to make the slightest move. Ezra, for his part, was thoroughly entertaining the two children with card tricks. Soon the sun began to set, leaving a colorful rainbow of colors.

The group, without words being said, began bunking down for the night. Vivian chose to make her pallet close to the brown-haired man with the glimmering green eyes. Matthew chose to sleep next to the man he had begun calling pa. During the night, Ezra felt an increase of warmth at his side and a small head nestled into his chest. Opening his eyes a fraction he took in the sight of young Vivian snuggling up to him. A strange warm feeling he had never felt before flowed through him, stinging his eyes as well as his heart. Without thought, Ezra shifted his blanket to cover the little girl. Ezra raised his head a little further to ensure he had covered the young girl entirely, and the green eyes caught Chris’ stare. A look passed between the two men before he laid back down and curled an arm over the blanketed Vivian and gave a tentative pat.

Ezra either didn’t notice or didn’t wish to acknowledge that he noticed the other three regulator’s glances. It was no surprise to any of them that the girl would choose Ezra as her protector. Children, for reasons some of the regulators couldn’t understand, flocked to the gambler. Chris often wondered if they knew something instinctual about the man that he didn’t. The four men watched as Ezra gave the small girl the pat on the back then try to move away. Upon hearing the slight whimper Ezra blushed scarlet red in the blackness of the night and moved back to his original spot. His friends hid their smiles in the same darkness.

The next morning Vin scouted out for more meat and soon returned with several rabbits. After a quick bite, the men broke camp. All five of them were anxious for one reason or another to get back home. Josiah tended to Fleming and Ezra’s wounds. Then helped Fleming mount up. Ezra declined any assistance, except for letting Vin place Vivian in back of him, once more. Chris was determined to sleep in his own bed that night. Breaks would be often, for the children’s sake, but short.

Part Twenty

The sun had long past set as the somber group of riders made their way to the edge of town. The fires burning in the barrels lining the only street in town was the light. Chris led the weary men to the jail. The outlaws, lacking in energy, quietly let themselves be led into the jail cells.

Ezra dismounted by swinging is leg over the pommel. Once on the ground he reached up and removed the exhausted Vivian from her place on the saddle. Stepping up onto the sidewalk, he came eye to eye with Fleming, holding his sleeping son. Without a word, the man that had just wanted to be back with his children unwound the small arms from his neck and sadly handed him to Ezra. Shifting Vivian to the left side. Ezra wrapped his free arm around the small boy and placed him on the opposite hip, his mind never registering the small stinging of the bullet graze. The two men never exchanged a word, but a solemn promise was given and accepted.

+ + + + + + +

As Ezra stepped off the boardwalk, Matthew roused up and saw his father being led into the jailhouse. Reaching out with both hands he pleaded, "Papa, please!"

Ezra briefly struggled with Matthew before turning back towards the other man. Josiah, leading Fleming, stopped and watched passively as Ezra bought the boy back to his father. For the last time the man would be able to give his child a hug and a kiss on the forehead. "You be a good boy for Mr. Standish, you hear?"

"Yes, sir," Matthew answered quietly.

Ezra fought against the emotions warring inside of him as he held onto the small frame. For the first time the gambler looked really hard at the man he held all his hate for and read the man easily. No matter what misdeeds he had committed, no matter how much Ezra hated him, the father truly loved his son. With that insight Ezra turned and walked away with his bundle.

With his arms full, he headed towards his room to bed down the two innocents. Walking across the street at an angle, he purposely avoided the clinic. He didn’t have the strength or the control to face tonight what might have happened while he was gone. Tomorrow would come soon enough.

JD, having taken up residence in the jailhouse, came out to meet the group. After helping secure all the ruffians, he helped Vin gather the horses and take them down to the livery. The steeds deserved good treatment after the hard riding they had endured over the last dew days. Waking the livery boy, the three of them brushed down their horses and gave them extra treats for a job well performed. Vin and JD could have sworn the horses were as glad to be back in their own place as their owners.

+ + + + + + +

Chris shut the iron door firmly after Fleming walked into the cramped cell. Turning, he looked into the gunslinger’s hate-filled green eyes. "I don’t reckon what I did makes any sense to you," Fleming said, before taking a deep breath. "And Lord knows I couldn’t explain it to ya. All I can say is they were my kids and I was their father." Fleming finished with a low sigh as he hung his head.

Chris stared back at the man for a long while before saying softly, "I was a father once. I would have done anything to keep him with me." Walking away, Chris reached the door before turning around and saying, "But I wouldn’t have deserted him in the first place and I certainly wouldn’t have put him in harm’s way to get him back." With that Chris walked out the jail door and right into Judge Travis.

Judge Travis stepped aside to allow the tired blonde out. Taking up matching strides, the older man walked a few paces before he started his questioning. The judge was not one to waste time.

"Heard there was a small skirmish," the graying man stated.

‘Dang, he got that information fast. Probably ran into Vin going to the stables,’ Chris thought. "Short lived", the blond replied, anxious for a drink, a bath, and his bed; in that order.

"Have trouble from anyone else?" the judge asked tactfully, avoiding mentioning the gambler by name.

"He’s a professional through and through," Chris answered.

By this time they had reached the Saloon and though, it was late, Chris opened the doors Ezra had unlocked moments earlier, and let the judge and himself in. He closed the door without locking it, knowing he rest of the men would come straggling in later. He went behind the bar and grabbed a couple of glasses and a bottle of the good stuff. He’d put it on the judge’s tab later. The two men sat down in silence and drank the refreshment. Tomorrow would be another long day, but at least they were back in town and more importantly back together.

Part Twenty-One

Ezra opened his eyes and promptly shut them again. Gallantry was highly overrated he thought, as the hard wood floor beneath seemed to grow even harder. Rolling over onto his other side he could feel two sets of eyes boring holes into him.

Easing his eyelids open and letting them adjust to the sunlight penetrating the room through the single window, Ezra looked up to find the small children laying crossways on his bed with their chins resting on crossed arms smiling down on him. Smiling back up to the two, they exchanged unspoken morning greetings. A rumbling stomach, sending the children into fits of laughter, broke the silence.

"Well," the gambler said, trying to retain his dignity, "That would suggest feasting of an adequate breakfast should be the first in order." Ezra figured Mary would help with fresh clothes and personal needs as well as baths afterwards.

"If that means breakfast, then I’m ready," Matthew announced, as he bounced off the bed.

The gambler tried to hold back the smile the childish action provoked in him. "Shall we then?" he said, holding his crooked arm out to Vivian.

Placing her hand in his curved elbow, the little girl gazed up at the handsome man with bright shining eyes. When she grew up she was going to marry someone just like this man, who would give his life for her, without ever knowing her in the first place. Matthew fairly bounced in front of them and opened the door. Leading the two, he hopped his way down the stairs.

Most of the regulators were already at their regular table: Buck was taking his turn at the jail. Hearing the thumping noise, they turned their attention towards the stairs and smiled at the procession. The little boy sitting in Chris’ lap jumped down and ran to meet his friends.

"Matthew! Vivian," Henry called out. The little boy had reattached himself to the tall blond man when he had showed up that morning at the newspaper office to talk to Mrs. Mary.

"Hey, Henry!" Matthew yelled. "Guess what? I have a pa and he’s famous!" Matthew had heard a comment from the young longhaired man about how everyone in hundred miles knew about Howard Fleming and his men.

"And guess what else? He’s the boss of a lot of men. Whatever he tells them to do, they have to do it," Matthew exclaimed, thinking his pa was someone to be proud of. "But then he did something wrong, or so they think." He nodded in the direction of the men seated around the table.

"But, Pa says everything is going to be just fine. So, when they let him go, me and Emily are going with Pa and we’re going to go find a house and live together." Matthew finally finished, a huge smile covering most of his face.

Henry was quiet. He had listened to his friend rattling on about his pa, and pondered for a moment before quietly asking, "Your pa tell his men to shoot at us and kill Mr. Johansson and Mr. Hostler?"

The men around the table shifted uncomfortably in their chairs. The question effectively deflated the five-year-old boy's spirit. Answering solemnly while shaking his head, he said, "No. Pa didn’t tell them to do that. In fact when he found out he beat up Mr. Wakefield for starting it."

Sensing a rising problem, Ezra promptly placed himself between the two boys. "Gentlemen, those deeds were performed in the past and can’t be undone. Come." Taking both boys’ hands, he led them over to the table. "Let’s enjoy our breakfast and be grateful we’re back in civilization and relish a meal that hasn’t been cooked over a campfire."

Moving to the table, Henry took back his position on the blonds’ lap. Vivian and Matthew sat down on either side of Ezra. Vin motioned toward the two stacks of clothes and personal items sitting on the end of the bar. "Mrs. Potter brought them by for the kids," he said.

Looking in the direction of the clothes, Matthew turned back to the gambler, "Mr. Standish, after I get dressed can we go see Emily?" The boy asked enthusiastically.

"Certainly, Master Fleming. I do believe your sister would be most joyous to see you again," Ezra answered, with a smile; happy to have something to relieve the tension created by the two boy’s earlier confrontation.

"Yeah!" Matthew shouted; making a few of them men wince at the loud noise. "Then we can have her meet Pa," he exclaimed. "Won’t that be great?" he asked, oblivious to the sudden decline in the atmosphere. He missed the angry expression on Henry’s face and the emotions that flashed fleeting across the gambler’s at the mention of his father.

The gambler had kept a tight rein on his emotions, but there was a limit on how long he could keep it up. For the sake of the boy, though he held onto that control a little harder until he was away from everyone, where it would be safe to let go of his temper.

Vin, seeing the indiscernible dip of emotions in his friend, quickly intervened. "I was going out to Miz Nettie’s this morning anyhow. I could take Matthew with me," he offered.

"I can’t go with you," Matthew said, turning towards the tracker. "Mr. Ezra is taking me to see Emily," he explained to Vin, like the man had missed out on the earlier conversation.

It dawned on the regulator, as the others began to laugh, that the boy had no idea where his sister had been taken to stay after arriving back in town. "Mrs. Nettie is the person your sister is staying with for the time being," Vin explained.

"Oh. Okay," Matthew agreed happily. Ezra was able to transmit a silent thank you to the tracker for his offer.

Chris had felt the little boy on his lap grow tense again at the mention of the other boy’s father. Quietly, the leader excused himself and Henry from the table and escorted the boy outside. Once out the door, Henry turned to Chris with those same stunning blue eyes Chris had been on the receiving end when they first met. "Why’s he so happy about his pa? Don’t think I would like it if my pa got people killed," Henry said truthfully.

Lowering himself to Henry’s level, he thought best how to answer the complicated question. Finally he pulled the boy closer in to him before starting. "I don’t think Matthew wants to say his pa did anything wrong," the blond explained. "Maybe," Chris continued, "Matthew wants to believe his pa is good because going to live with his family, even though he doesn’t really know them, is easier to accept than going to live with perfect strangers."

Henry looked into the green eyes and thought about what the man had said. Thinking on it for a moment, he understood. He, too, was scared of going to live with people he had never met before. Maybe, if a family person showed up that he had never met, it would be easier to go live with them than someone who wasn’t family. Finally, Henry nodded his head in agreement, and then looked at Chris again. "But, that man won’t get out of jail? Will he?" Henry asked, with a slight tremor in his voice.

"No, Henry. None of those men will ever get out of jail again," Chris said truthfully. Looking into the woeful eyes of the young boy, the blond stated measurably, "You know, once Matthew realizes his pa isn’t getting out of jail, he’s going to need a good friend to lean on. Reckon you can be that friend?" Chris asked.

Henry looked reflective and again Chris’ mind saw the tracker at this age. Finally, Henry nodded. "Yes, I can be his friend," he said softly.

The blond smiled, before giving one sharp nod and a wink. If this little boy were anything like Buck and Vin, then Matthew would come out of this just fine.

+ + + + + + +

Meanwhile back in the saloon, Nathan was aware of Ezra’s resistance to acknowledge his presence throughout breakfast. If this had occurred when they first joined up, the healer would have thought Ezra was snubbing him. Now, though, Nathan knew it was Ezra’s way of avoiding knowing the condition of the little boy lying in the clinic.

Nathan shifted in his seat before saying, " Well, Ez, since you don’t have patrol until tonight and Vin, here, has offered to take Matthew out to Mrs. Nettie's, I could use your help in the clinic."

Ezra went on the immediate defense. Surely, Nathan had bad news to share and did not wish to say it in front of the two minors sitting with them. The lasting silence forced the green eyes to focus on the healer. Scanning the healer and the grins on the other’s faces, Ezra was getting a tingling feeling deep inside. Surely these smiles didn’t mean what he hoped they did. Warily the gambler asked, " Why, Mr. Jackson, do you require me in your clinic?"

The healer had tried to remain neutral, but was failing miserably as he felt the smile he had fought to hide burgeoned. Unable to play it cool any longer, Nathan said, "Sammy could use someone to personally entertain him and I figured you’d be the best person for the job."

At Ezra’s reaction several of the regulator’s refrained from bursting out laughing. As it were, several of the smiles did grow wider and JD couldn’t stop but letting out a small whoop that expressed everyone’s feelings.

The gambler’s whole demeanor changed in an instant. "You mean to tell me, Mr. Jackson, that young Samuel is still among us?" He knew it was a rhetorical question, but couldn’t stop himself from asking for verification.

Nathan nodded in assurance. The whole table felt the anger the gambler had been carrying around for the last several days lift like compressed heat after a thunderstorm. He went on to explain, "Yeah, he’s a tough little guy. Woke up night before last. Slept most of yesterday, but I figure he’s gonna want a little more attention today."

Hearing Sammy was alive and awake, Vivian spoke up for the first time since arriving at the table, "Can I go see him?" The hope and excitement showed clearly on her young face.

Nathan turned his attention to the girl. "Maybe. We’ll see how he’s doing this afternoon, then you might see him for a few minutes."

Vivian quickly accepted the conditions of her possible visit, then turned her attention to Ezra scooting his chair back. Not bothering to finish his breakfast, Ezra picked up his Stetson and excused himself from the table, unaware of the small chuckles his actions elicited from his friends.

After his departure, Matthew looked at the tracker. "What about us?" he asked innocently.

Vin laughed and said, "Well, first I guess we better get you two cleaned up." Rising from his seat, he walked over to the bar and picked up the stack of clothes. Jerking his head toward the door. "C’mon, sooner we get you cleaned up the sooner we get you at to see your sister."


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