Questionable Behavior

by Kimber

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Mavis sat silently throughout the entire story of Mr. Standish's childhood, 'or should I say, Michael's.' The tears fell down as she realized she had a decision to make, either one would cause her heartbreak. The problem was someone she loved very much could end up either in a lot of trouble or dead. She wished her brother had listened to her about the belief that their father and uncle had not told the truth about Mr. Standish and his mother.

The young woman knew without a doubt that Mrs. Standish was telling the truth about young Ezra's upbringing. It all fit with what she could remember growing up around the plantation, and hearing the folks talk about the disappearance of the young master. She'd been a few years older than Michael when he had disappeared, maybe around seven or eight years old.

She and Toby had not been allowed to play with the quiet boy with sad green eyes. Her mother had told her to stay away, that the boy was not worth their getting beat over. As she grew older the talk of what really happened to the young boy remained a mystery, until now, she now knew that Michael and Mr. Standish were one and the same.

Now it was decision time. Should she betray her family or should she do what she could to save a man who did not deserve anything that was being done to him, or his mother? The tears began to flow faster, making it harder to keep in control of her emotions. Soon, full out, sobs tore through her body as she knew that she might never see her brother alive again, but she had to do what was right.

Buck was the first to stand in an attempt to investigate the sounds of someone crying from over behind the bar. He looked over at the others to see if those still present at the table were going to join him, when Chris stood and strode over and around to the other side of the bar. The shock on his old friend's face made him move quickly to join him.

Nathan and JD had watched as the two old friends quietly communicated with each other as they in turn followed the ladies man over to join their leader.

"Pard, what did any find?" Buck asked as he moved toward the end of the bar cautiously, with his hand on his gun, ready for action if it would be needed.

Larabee looked over at his oldest friend with a curious look on his face as he turned to motion for Nathan to join them behind the bar. "Seems we had a visitor while Maude was telling us about the Standish family history."

Buck leaned around the corner as Nathan made his way around Chris to kneel down in front of the crying light-skinned black woman. Something clicked in the scoundrel's mind at the same time, as he realized that her and her brother, 'Toby, I think his name is', had been the only new people in town in the last three months to move to Four Corners and stay. He looked over at Chris and back to Nathan, their eyes meeting and communicating the silent understanding as all three men came to the same conclusion; the upset woman and her brother were involved somehow with Beau Dumont.

"What's your name, Miss?" Buck asked gently, not wanting the woman to up and try and run away.

"Mavis Thomas, sir," she whispered through the tears as her eyes met Nathan's.

"Miss Thomas, do you know Beau Dumont?" Nathan asked as he gently took her hands in his.

"He will kills' me and Toby," Mavis cried as she squeezed the healer's hands tightly.

"We will protect you, I promise," Nathan told her, with the intent of doing just that.

"You's don't understand. He be's our father, and Toby wants his approval, evens' if it's not right." Mavis turned her tearful eyes up to look at the healer and prayed he would understand.

Nathan understood all too well, Beau was white and his son was of mixed blood. The boy had to have been fighting for his father's love and attention since birth. He had seen how the children sired by the Masters of the plantation had to live in between colors, ignored by the whites, and hated by the other black slaves.

"My's father and uncle is wantin' Mr. Standish dead. Told us it was because he'd hurt our mama before she died. But now I's knows' he is Michael, I's knows papa lied. I's did trys' and tell Toby that, buts' he wouldn't listen." Mavis sighed as she thought about telling the black man looking at her, how much he looked like Silas, "You's and my's uncle could be look-a-likes." Mavis told Nathan as she used the hem of her dress to dry her eyes.

"Look-a-likes, what's that?" JD asked.

"Twins," Buck and Chris said at the same time.

Nathan suddenly remembered the first time he'd heard the southerner address him, "Would, uh…would he be riding with you? Not interested." He now knew that perhaps it was not color as much as his looks that made Ezra respond the way he had.

"Where is your brother now?" Chris asked.

"He's went ta Eagle Bend ta tell papa that he had failed in killin' Mr. Standish."

"JD, get over to the telegraph service, have Sheriff Billings check around town and tell me if a white man and two black men are in town. If they are, tell him to telegraph me when they leave. Nathan, do you think you can get Mavis to the Seminole village and get back before nightfall? That is where she will be the safest, I think." Chris started to organize and plan; he was sure that Nathan would get back quickly and that he was the best man to get Mavis settled in the village.

"I don't think it will be a problem. Let me go and check on Ezra first, then we will leave right away." Nathan replied as he smiled down at the young frightened woman, "Don’t worry; you will be safe there, could even live there if ya'd like."

"If yous' thinks' that will be best." Mavis agreed; she was sure that Toby would have to pay for his crimes, leaving her alone.

"JD-" Chris started to yell.

"I'm goin', I'm goin."

"JD, tell Billings that this is between his people and us. NO ONE ELSE."

"Gotcha," JD replied as he hurried out the door.

"Buck, you stay here with Mavis while Nathan checks on Ezra. I will go and tell Josiah and Vin what is going on." Chris nodded for Nathan to join him only to be stopped by Nathan.

"Ya'd best let me send Josiah here, no tellin' if Ezra doesn't hear what is goin' on." Nathan offered, "When Josiah gets here send Buck to set outside to cover Ezra when I leave."

Chris looked at Nathan and took a few seconds to think the healer's suggestion over, realizing the man was right. "Okay, when Josiah gets here I will send Buck over, he will knock three times fast and then two slow to let you know he is there." Chris watched as Nathan nodded his head then turned to leave and check on Standish.

"Ya might want to wait and tell the guard dog. He won't sleep if ya tell him any of this right off, so let him sleep and we can wake him up in a couple hours," Buck suggested.

"You might be right, let me think on it." Chris said as he nodded toward the young lady that was now making her way over to one of the far corner tables. "Watch her, Buck; I still don't trust her not to switch sides."

"Don't worry, pard, I'm on it." Buck smiled and winked at his friend, as he moved to join the young lady in question.

Chris walked over to the table that they had commandeered when they first started to ride together; it looked over all the ways in and out of the saloon. Larabee took a seat and waited for the arrival of Sanchez.

"So we will leave in time for us to make Four Corners before it is too dark to travel. Rebecca is staying in the clinic with Michael, and there is only one guard in the room and one man patrolling the town. Silas, they are making this too easy for us, this will be easier than stealing candy from a baby," Dumont laughed as he slapped his old friend on the shoulder.

"All we have to do is take them by surprise and, boom, three dead people, maybe four, if we must." Beau's evil smile made Toby feel ill inside.

"I want us ta takes' Michael, I owes' him some hurtin'." Silas chuckled.

"I know that is what you want, my friend, but think of the consequences if we get caught. I want him dead, so we can then tell the bastard O'Shay and I can get what he promised me if I found his grandson, dead or alive, I get a part of the O'Shay fortune," Beau reminded his old friend, "We cannot spend it from prison or a hangman's noose."

Toby watched as the men drooled over killing Mr. Standish and his mother. What he could not understand now was the mentioning of a Rebecca, Michael, and O'Shay. He was beginning to believe that Mavis was right, he did not know the true story behind his father and uncle's want of revenge on the Standishes.

"Let us get some rest now; we are going to be too busy tonight to get any sleep," Dumont suggested as he stood to leave the saloon and retire to the hotel room, as Silas and Toby followed him.

"Josiah, come with me; let's track this bastard down," Vin growled. He wanted blood for what this man had put his friend through.

"Vin, I don't think we need to track him down; he is going to come after Ezra and Maude. Our best chance of catching him is being ready when he does. I know if you were more rested right now you would agree. That is why you need to rest." Josiah sighed as he watched the young man pace back and forth like a caged animal.

Josiah knew that Tanner wanted to avenge the wrong done to Ezra as a child and now as an adult. He pitied Mr. Dumont if the tracker was the one to catch him, 'not sure if the man would be recognizable after Vin was done with his knife.' The preacher continued to watch his son's guardian angel work through his anger and settle it somewhere inside for future use.

"Think I will take a walk and burn up some of this here energy," the tracker said as he looked from Josiah to the clinic door and then back at the preacher, with a look of, 'can I trust you?'

"I won't go in unless I have to or if asked to," Josiah promised.

Vin nodded at the old man and turned to leave, when he noticed Nathan coming out of the saloon. 'Can kill two birds with one stone,' Tanner thought as he moved to intercept the healer and tell him of Ezra's request.

"Nate, gotta talk ta ya; before you go and see Ez," Vin said as he walked to meet the healer halfway.

"How's he doin'?" Nathan asked.

"Sleepin' last I saw him, but that was before Maude brought him some broth. But, what I need ta tell ya, well, don't take it personal but Ezra doesn’t want ta talk about anythin' right now. He don't mind ya comin' in and tendin' ta his wounds, but he's not ready ta talk." The ex-bounty hunter hoped he did not offend the healer.

"I understand, Vin, and I will let Ezra tell me when he's ready ta do some talkin'," Nathan stated. He could understand the southerner needing some time to work things out.

"Thanks, Nate. Gonna go and get some shuteye now. Will ya send someone ta get me in a couple of hours?" Vin asked.

"I will have someone come and wake ya up." Nathan promised as he noticed the dark circles under the young man's eyes.

Nathan was sure that Josiah had talked with the tracker about what Maude had told them earlier. He would let Chris handle telling Vin what they'd just found out from Miss Thomas a few minutes ago.

Nathan continued toward the clinic, wondering how Ezra was going to greet him. He knew he was going to have to take it easy and let Standish set the pace, and do his best not to make the gambler uncomfortable in his presence.

Josiah watched as Nathan approached the clinic, smiling at what he imagined the tired member of their little group told the healer. 'I'm sure he was letting Nate know what Ezra's conditions were for being treated right now.' The preacher had no doubt that the man now approaching the clinic would tread softly and heed Vin's words of wisdom.

Ezra woke to the sound of the door opening and then closing, and as he heard the swoosh of the material that belonged to someone wearing a gown he knew Maude had returned. The gambler closed his eyes, expecting to sleep some more.

"Ezra, you need to stay awake and take some nourishment, while it is still warm and edible. If the taste is anything like the aroma, then I will say it would be welcomed in the finest restaurants in New Orleans." Maude rambled on, trying to hide her anxiety, only to make Ezra aware of it with her usual nervous talk alerting him that something was bothering her.

"What is bothering you? Is it something I should know about?" The southern drawl of the gambler was more noticeable with him feeling tired and in pain.

The pain was not a bother; he'd hurt worse in the past when he had received retribution for his mistakes in questionable financial endeavors. He was feeling more tired than usual, most likely due to the blood loss and fever he'd suffered through. Of course, it didn't help that it was easier to sleep than to think of the events of the past week or so.

"Ezra, we will talk after Nathan has checked you over, but for now I want you to take some of the broth and more water. Do you need some of Mr. Jackson's tea for pain? I can try and hide some of the taste with mixing it with Mrs. Potter's and some honey she sent over for you." Maude smiled as she looked at her boy and knew he was going to be okay; he was alert enough to read her and see that something was bothering her.

"I will take some of the broth and Mrs. Potter's tea, with honey, of course. I will leave Mr. Jackson's tea 'til after you tell me what is bothering you to the point of talking me to death." Ezra smiled softly at his mother, knowing her anxious jitters, one being talking nonstop over menial stuff when there was something she was trying to avoid.

Maude settled in beside the bed and assisted Ezra with his meal. It made it difficult to eat all by himself, with his left arm hard to use because of the pain and the bandage.

Nathan climbed the stairs to the clinic and hoped he could make the gambler comfortable with his presence. He would do as Vin had said and just check the southerner's wounds and let Ezra talk to him when he was ready. As Nathan stepped up onto the balcony leading to the door of the clinic he noticed someone who just might need to be prodded to talk.

"Josiah, ya okay?" Nathan smiled as he walked toward his oldest friend here in town.

Josiah smiled at the sincere concern he noted in Nathan's eyes. He was not sure how he should answer, with Nathan knowing everything, except why he had left the young woman carrying his child behind. The fact the man did not outright judge him was a sign that the healer trusted him to tell the truth and understood that something was not right about the whole situation.

"Brother, my heart is heavy, my soul is crying, and my mind is at war with what to do. But it will all have to wait until we get Dumont and make him pay," Josiah vowed as his face took on the look of an avenging angel.

'I'm sure that is what one would look like.' Nathan thought, as he was glad he was not on the receiving end of the promise he found in those normally gentle blue eyes that now were as cold as ice. "I'm here if ya want to talk." Nathan offered as he placed his hand on the preacher's should and firmly squeezed.

"I know, my friend, and I will take you up on the offer when it is my turn to be the one looked after. Right now I don't think we can afford the distraction," Josiah replied as he in turn placed his hand on the healer's shoulder and squeezed.

"Holdin' ya to your word friend and before I forget, Chris wants ya at the saloon." Nathan smiled as he moved to break the contact so he could go and check on Standish. "Do you plan on tellin' him?"

Josiah knew Nathan was talking about telling Ezra that he was a Sanchez, and not a Standish. "Right now, no. Ezra doesn't need anymore surprises right now; he has enough burdens to bear at this moment." The preacher sadly shook his head. "His welfare is more important to me than me hearing him call me father or such things. I guess I better get over there and see what Chris wants."

"I will wait for someone to come and relieve me shortly. Tell them to knock on the door, three fast and then two slow ones will tell me it's one of us." Nathan instructed as he prepared to enter the clinic and Josiah walked toward the stairs to seek out Larabee and Buck.

Chris sat and stared at the beer sitting in front of him on the table. Nathan was gone, taking Mavis to the Seminole village, and then would return to town right after dropping her off. Josiah was presently sitting up on the balcony outside the clinic, protecting Ezra. Buck was fast asleep in someone's room, but close by. JD was at the jail, where he watched the comings and goings of the people in town, both new and old, and Vin was resting, like he should be doing, but sleep eluded him at the moment.

Larabee could not help but feel frustrated and useless; everything could have been avoided if he'd just used his head for once. 'But no, I let my anger blind me to the truth again, just like I did with Hank. The emotion kept me from seeing how sick in the mind he really was and look what happened because of it.'

He looked at his watch and realized he needed to wake up Tanner and catch him up about Mavis and her brother. Larabee's gut feeling was Dumont was going to strike tonight and they needed to move Ezra while they could.

Chris and Buck had gone over and over how they could trap Dumont, Toby, and whoever else was involved. Buck had come up with a plan that would work as long as they could set it up before any of the bad element came to town. 'Yep, it's time to wake up Tanner,' Chris thought as he stood to go over to the tracker's wagon and wake him up.

Maude looked down at the sleeping man she'd raised as her own son. Ezra had drank most of the broth and all of the tea placed in front of him, only to fall asleep right after doing so. She watched as he lost the battle and slumber overtook him and smiled at the memories of him doing so as a child.

She stood and decided to take a chance and start paving the way for Josiah to find his way back into Ezra's good graces. Maude was sure something from Josiah's past had interfered in his looking past the smokescreen Beau had blown in all of their faces. 'He had to have been watching them and worked to find out what their weaknesses were,' Maude thought to herself, and she let the con artist come out and look the scene over.

The southern woman had a plan, now she just hoped all the cards were in play so the game would have a happy ending.

Maude walked over and poured two cups of coffee and then went to join Josiah on the balcony. Something had happened since her last visit at the saloon, and it was a great excuse for her to visit the man, and accidentally leave the door open. She just prayed the voices carried inside, and that her son would be awake to hear.

Josiah was still trying to get his anger under control after hearing of Mavis and Toby Thomas's involvement with Ezra's getting hurt. To think that they had been here watching them and learning the best way to use them to hurt his son. The preacher was so deep in his angry thoughts he did not hear the door open.

"Mr. Sanchez, I brought you some coffee." Maude smiled, but hid the worry she was feeling. She could feel the tension radiating from the seated man, who looked mad as hell.

"Thank you," Josiah mumbled as he stood to take the much needed beverage and distraction from his troubled thoughts.

"Josiah, what is happening that has you so upset?"

"It would seem that a brother and sister, Toby and Mavis Thomas, were living here for a few months working for their father, Beau Dumont. They were here to learn all they could about us and Ezra, and what they learned they used against us. Still no excuse for how he was treated by us," Josiah replied as he looked at Maude with the anger burning in his blue eyes.

"What clouded your judgment of Ezra?" Maude could not help but ask, feeling the man needed to talk about it, and hoped that by some good fortune Ezra would hear it. It surprised her that Beau had children; the last time she'd heard anything about the man he had not remarried and no children were mentioned.

"I let the man's so-called affiliation with God lead me down the wrong path of judgment; I'm more like my father than I care to admit. When Ezra came to talk with me I was too angry to talk then, so I told him it was not a good time. I hated when my father did that to me, because then a good time never came, just more questions without answers. I had planned to talk with Ezra when the pain and disappointment were bearable, last thing I needed was doing the other thing my father did that hurt me, and that was to talk with his fists." Josiah's blue eyes clouded with pain and tears.

"So you had planned to talk with Ezra once your had you emotions more under control." Maude nodded, as she now understood more of how Beau was able to play on Josiah's religious and fatherly feelings toward her boy.

"Yes, I had planned to talk to him the day he was shot. If only I had not turned him away that day he came to me, he would not be lying in there now." The pain that Josiah was feeling was present in his voice.

Ezra laid in the bed and listened to the conversation between his mother and Mr. Sanchez. The words and emotions in the man's voice gave Ezra a better understanding of what had went through Josiah's mind when informed of Ezra's bad deed. Standish knew who Mavis and Toby Thomas were, but who was Dumont? There was something familiar about that name, but he could not place where he knew it from. He looked around the room and noticed he was alone, no Vin or Nathan. Maude was out interrogating Mr. Sanchez about his treatment of her son, but for whose benefit, hers or her son's?

"Mr. Sanchez, I fully understand why you feel responsible, but the fact that you were going to talk to my son makes my heart feel better. I'm sure Beau pulled off his con very efficiently and wanted you to act the way you did. If what you say is true about the possible physical retribution that could have come Ezra's way, I'm glad it did not happen. The words and betrayal can be forgiven, but a mark on my son such as that would not be so easy for me to overlook," Maude nodded as she stood to go back into the room.

"I can see JD's youth and inexperience with life's injustices and fallacies played a part in his lack of faith in my son. But, I would like to know if you have any ideas as to Mr. Larabee's or Mr. Wilmington's reasons?" Maude suddenly thought to ask, thinking to herself, 'Anything to help my son try and get an understanding that it was most likely nothing he had done.'

"I think it comes down to the death of the woman and her husband and children being left alone to deal with the fact she had killed herself. It brought too many memories to those two men. With Chris he saw his murdered wife, Sarah, and he saw her in place of the young Amelia. Buck, he grew up in a place where women were often abused and taken advantage of, especially his mother. So I think it brought up very painful memories for him as well. Larabee is quick to temper and does not think before he acts most of the time, but Buck, he usually is hard to rile so I would say this touched an old festering wound from his past too." Josiah shrugged, "It's the only thing I can offer you as a possible explanation for their reactions."

"I think you have told me everything I needed to know. As for the town, I do not care what they think, but if they at any time do anything to hurt my boy again, they will be sorry. I just hope that the four of you can work things out with Ezra, he will need closure so he can move on, be it here or somewhere else." Maude smiled again and nodded toward the preacher as she returned into the clinic.

Ezra closed his eyes quickly; he didn't want his mother to see he was awake and listening, even if he did believe she'd had that conversation for his sake. He kept his eyes closed as she bent down to kiss his forehead and then fluttered them open and kept them sleepy looking as he pretended to fall back asleep. Ezra found it funny that pretending did not last very long and he was claimed again by sleep.

Maude was sure that her boy had heard everything said out on the balcony, she would bet her life savings on it. No, she knew Ezra like she knew herself; he would have listened and digested this bit of information to use and decipher the men's motives.

'Sleep well, my love, for when you waken we will need to talk.' Maude thought about what she needed to tell him and hoped she had the courage to follow through. The last thing she needed was Ezra trying to get out of bed and leave, either to get away from everyone here or to track down the man that had managed to affect his life not once, but twice in a horrific way. Maude took the chair looking toward the door and made sure the guns were in reach under the blanket. Both derringers lay snug in her dress pockets. She waited for them to inform her of their next move, and her instincts told her it would be soon.

Chris ran into Buck on his way out of the saloon, to go wake up Tanner. No communication was needed as they just nodded and walked in the direction of Vin's wagon.

"Did ya get any sleep there, pard?" Buck asked, already knowing the answer to be no.

"No, can't."

"Damn, guess we are back to like old times, no sleep for the lawmen out hunting the lawless." Buck chuckled, but his normal jovial tone was missing.

"Yep." Chris replied as he also remembered back to the days of their being lawmen together and not sleeping 'til they found whoever it was they were looking for at the time.

As the two peacekeepers came upon Vin's wagon they noticed Nathan riding into town. Chris motioned to the black member of their group to meet them up at the clinic with just a tilt and a nod of his head, with Nathan nodded his understanding of the silent order.

Before either Chris or Buck could call out for Vin the flap of the wagon opened to reveal a fully clothed and awake tracker; his mare's leg pointed dead center of Chris's chest.

"I could hear ya comin' from a mile away, bunch of clod hoppers, the both of ya," Vin snorted as he jumped out of the wagon, landing perfectly on his feet, his gun now down by his side.

"I'm tellin' ya, he's part Injun, that's all there is to it, I rest my case." Buck smiled at Chris's expression at Vin's having pointed the gun at the gunslinger in black only.

"Did you sleep?" Larabee asked.

"Did you?" Vin glared as he moved to walk to the clinic.

"Smart ass, sneakin', sharpshootin', son of a bitch." Buck laughed, "Like someone else I know that wears all black."

Chris and Vin both stopped and glared at the ladies man. "What did I say? What, does the truth hurt? Damn, except for your colorin' bein' different both of ya was cut from the same cloth, hardheaded assholes."

With that said, Buck nodded to the two men and continued on past them to the clinic, meeting Nathan on his way there.

"Safe delivery?" Buck asked the healer.

"Safe as they come out there, the hostility welcome is open for viewing is all I gotta say." Nathan had laughed when the villagers pointed at the cannon still housed in the shed facing out from the village.

Vin and Chris just quietly walked toward the clinic, neither men feeling that comfortable bond they usually shared. Vin wanted to check on Ezra and see how he was after talking with Maude. He'd wanted to stay but Josiah had made him see that it was more important for him to rest so he could stay with Ezra during the night. There was no way he would have been able to stay awake tonight if he had not went and got some rest.

He could tell from the vibes from the others that something had happened while he was sleeping in the wagon. The tracker watched as JD was signaled to join them on the balcony. 'Yep, somethin' is about ta happen.'

Toby wanted to leave and not come back. He'd made his decision. When he got back to town him and Mavis was leaving, he would stop off at the sheriff's office and tell them all he knew. He'd just leave out the part that he was the one that shot Mr. Standish. He truly would have been glad to confess, but then who would take care of his sister?

The ride back to Four Corners opened his eyes to a lot of things, since his father and uncle felt it safe enough to mention the real reason they wanted the gambler dead. Come to find out it was not over something he had done to insult the family or Rose, their mother, but for money. The thought that he may have killed a man for money made his stomach queasy, and he fought hard not to show his newfound conscience.

Beau and Silas made plans with the money that they knew would come with the death of Michael Paul Dumont. Beau would play the grieving father, damning Rebecca for stealing his son and wishing he'd been the one to kill her.

Silas just wanted the only person that escaped his wrath dead, by any means possible. The slower the better, but he knew they had to work fast and not get caught.

The plan was to have Beau and Silas camp outside of town and then meet up with Toby in the livery at midnight. After they made camp, Toby would return to town unnoticed at dusk, scout around and then update them when they met up in the livery. Little did they know that some things just don't happen like you plan them.

Vin looked at the men around him and wished Ezra could see and hear what was being said here now. But Maude had told them she'd not been able to talk with him yet, because she was able to get the broth down and he'd been asleep since. Nathan was happy with the southerner's progress and said it was a healing rest he was having now. So, they'd moved further away from the door and made sure it was closed as they discussed their plans for catching the vermin about to invade their town.

Maude sat back and listened to the brilliant plan Mr. Larabee and Mr. Wilmington had concocted and felt a warmth come over her. She knew without a doubt that after tonight her son would be safe, 'At least, safe from that no good bastard Dumont.' Normally she would not cuss, even to herself, but she could not help it; that was what she thought he was.

When the discussion came to who would sit in place of Maude at the bedside, the southern whirlwind lived up to her name. "Gentlemen, I will play myself, thank you very much. I can handle a gun effectively; I aim to kill. There is no way in…I will be there when he makes his move." Maude stood and walked over to face the man in black toe to toe as she then pulled his gun and pointed it at his chest. "You will not keep me from having my satisfaction of putting a bullet in the man's gut that killed my sister and tried to take away from me something more precious than all the money or gold in the world. So, Mr. Larabee, I will be sitting next to the bed," Maude glared as she then cocked the hammer back.

"Maude, he could use you against us," Josiah pleaded as he noticed she did not lower the weapon.

"He could use any of you. But me he will expect to be there, I just know it. He will notice if it is really me or not, he cannot have forgotten the slap in the face when I turned down his proposal," Maude continued to point the gun at Larabee's chest.

"Damn fool woman, then sit there. Just don't go crying if something happens to you. Hardheaded, foolishness, stubbornness, must be a family trait," Chris growled as he accepted Maude's involvement.

"We call it audacity, courage, and honor, Mr. Larabee." Maude smiled as she moved to hand the gun back to its owner.

"Next time you'd better shoot him," Buck suggested as he fought back his laughter.

"Enough, Buck; I won't hold back the razor next time," Chris growled as he returned the gun to its holster, and then looked up at his old friend to let him know it was meant in jest with a wink.

His respect for the woman they'd come to think of as a worthless mother was growing leaps and bounds.

Vin coughed in his hand to keep from laughing about Maude's ability to take on the gunslinger so easily. He looked over and noticed the others were having a hard time holding back their mirth as well. It was not every day you had the big bad element being bested by a small southern female, but then Maude was no timid southern belle when her boy was threatened. She was a force to be reckoned with when riled, 'Like a rattler woke up from hibernation too early. Bite ya before ya know the damn thing is even there.'

"I think we need to set the stage for tonight's performance. We need to see about who gets the job of bed warming." Josiah smiled and winked at JD.

"Ah, don't tell me, I get to play the part of Ezra." JD shook his head as he mumbled something about finding someone to join the group that was younger than him, so they could do all the boring stuff.

"JD, you will have the most dangerous job," Maude told the young man.

"How do you figure that?" JD asked as the proof of his youth came to light.

"You will be playing the person they are coming to kill, my boy." Josiah softly reminded him, with no judgment or reprimand in his voice for the boy not thinking things through; he left that to Wilmington.

"Damn, JD, how many times do I have to tell ya, think son?" Buck moved quickly and hit the young man upside his head, knocking off that hat that he hated.

"I'm sorry, Buck." JD glared as he bent to pick up his hat.

"That is okay, Mr. Dunne; it will get easier with more experience under your belt," Maude offered as she glared at the ladies man.

"So, any idea where we are going to move Ezra?" Chris asked pointedly of the healer.

"We can move him over into my room in the back that I use if someone is stayin' in the clinic," Nathan suggested. "Can't really bring him outside; people will wonder and might accidentally alert Dumont that something is not right."

"Okay, let's get things moving, we don't have much time." Chris ordered as he directed JD and Buck to check out the back room for any safety issues and to set up the bed like Nathan wanted.

Everyone looked at Tanner and Maude and knew the next step was to tell Ezra what was going on and why all the changes had to be made. Chris silently communicated that he was leaving it in Vin's and Maude's hands.

"Maude, ya want me to stay with ya? I don't mind helpin' anyway I can." Vin felt he needed to ask, even if he believed it would be best for the two of them to be alone, without him being the third wheel.

"Thank you for offering, Vin, but I think we need to be alone for this. So, if we could please get him moved and settled so I can tell him and then he can have some time alone," Maude requested.

"No problem, ma'am, I think it would be best if we changed the mattresses instead of lifting Ezra, pulling it out taut would give him more support," Nathan offered, looking at the tracker as he said the words, knowing it would mean Ezra seeing all of them.

"Let me talk with Ez first," Vin stated.

"Tell him we will abide by his wishes, we won't talk unless he says the word first."

Vin walked into the clinic and smiled at the look of frustration on the gambler's face.

"Gotta a problem there, brother?" Vin chuckled.

"Yes. I don't like being left in the dark, you might say," Ezra glared at the man who was supposed to be his friend.

"Well, it's hard to make plans ta catch the would-be killer when the victim keeps sleepin' like he should," Vin shrugged and winked at his friend.

Ezra looked up at Vin and felt guilty for ever doubting; he knew deep down that the Texan would never hurt him intentionally.

"You're having' a hard time with having ta trust them with watchin' your back." Vin looked at the gambler and could tell he had hit the mark. "Don't worry, they are regrettin' everythin'."

"So, I gather we need to talk about the plan that has been made," Ezra asked.

"You're a bright man, Ezra." Vin chuckled as he sat down in the chair beside the young man and told him about the plan and about Maude Standish getting the better of Chris Larabee.

Sheriff Billings nodded at the telegraph operator as he watched the man do his job of sending the message to Four Corners. He sent word of the men they'd asked about, that they had been and town and had just left about two hours ago, headed in the direction of the town being protected by seven guns.

He also sent his regards to Ezra Standish and said that his prayers were with the young man for a quick recovery. 'That boy is a living contradiction to the saying, all is not what it seems to be.' He would have sent the reply earlier, but Jeb had just told him of the three men's existence. But at least the peacekeepers would be aware that the men appeared to be on their way there.

Ezra stared at the four walls and could not get over the fact that he was helpless and dependent on the others for his protection, something he was not familiar, let alone, comfortable with. 'Damn, they could at least have given me a room with an outside view.'

The gambler's head turned toward the door as it opened slowly, allowing his mother to enter the room. He could tell she needed to tell him something in the nature of bad news. He'd tried to think about the events that had occurred since he woke up that morning. The only thing he could come up with was that someone was getting back at Maude by hurting him, and she was feeling guilty and responsible. 'Well, Mother, that is about to change.'

Maude could see the quick mind of her son at work, as he tried to figure out what was bothering her. She was sure he'd figured it down to her thinking she was responsible for his injuries, 'a con gone bad.'

"So, Mother, are we going to have that little talk now?" Ezra smiled as he directed her with his eyes to the chair he had Vin place close to the bed, where he could reach out and take Maude's hand if he needed to.

"Ah, Ezra. You are the best at reading me that is a fact. I just hope you will still love me and not feel like I have done anything intentionally to hurt you in any way." Maude smiled sadly as she sat in the chair close to her son and took his hand in hers.

"I will never hate you, Mother, though I might get terribly angry and want to do unspeakable harm at times." Ezra squeezed her hand firmly as he smiled into her eyes.

"Just try and remember that what was done…was done to protect you. I love you, Ezra. From the first time my eyes met yours, I have loved you as if you were my very own." Maude sat up straight and looked at the young man and let her love flow to him in the look she gave him.

"As I have loved you like you were truly the woman that gave birth to me. I have no clear memory of my mama or papa, having been too young maybe," Ezra smiled sadly.

"It is about your parentage and the complications from it that we need to talk. I will understand if you will not want me around after, but just remember my only concern was protecting you from ever being touched by any of what you are about to learn." Maude stated as she began to tell Ezra about his past and how it fit into this present threat on his life, and hers.

Six men sat quietly on the balcony, waiting for any sign as to what was going on inside the clinic at that moment. They had been able to move Ezra over into the next room without any complications by using the mattress to carry the man to his new bed.

The gambler kept quiet and avoided any eye contact during the transition, and they made sure they did not break the promise they had given, that they'd only speak to the man if spoken to by him first. Vin had been the only one to speak to Standish, and that was only when he told the man they were about to pick him up or lay him down. Afterwards Tanner spent some time with the gambler helped Maude to fix him up in bed. The murmurs in the room told the others that Vin and Ezra were still on speaking terms, and this helped them to relax.

The sudden shout of, "Sheriff, Sheriff Dunne," made the men startle and go for their guns, 'til the familiar face of Martin Jacobs appeared at the top of the stairs, winded from running all the way from the telegraph office.

"Sheriff Dunne, ya gotta message from Eagle Bend." Martin hurried over and placed it in the young man's hand and then turned and left.

JD opened the telegram, scanned the contents and then passed it on to Chris. "Seems our men left Eagle Bend some time this morning. Might be possible for them to be here before sundown." Chris informed the others as he looked at the sun's position. They all knew that sundown was not far away, maybe no more than another hour.

"Well, we'd best get in position and prepare ourselves." Buck looked around at the others as he prepared to stand.

"I think we need to see a man about a horse." Vin's voice sounded dangerous as he nodded toward the livery.

The men looked over at the livery to see what had the tracker ready to bounce. There, at the edge of town, was Toby Thomas, riding into town alone.

"Well, ole dog, I guess it's up ta you, me, and Nate, for this one," as Buck stood to leave.

"Why just the three of you?" Josiah asked as he also stood.

"Well, we need him alive, not killed instantly, or tortured to death slowly. Me and Chris here won't kill him, just introduce him to a few personal directed incentives to talk, and Nathan here can tell him about protecting his sister and offer him some protection as well." Buck smiled then winked at the two men that would kill the young black man if given the chance.

"Protect the vermin that shot Ez? I don't think so." Vin snarled as he stood and confronted the ladies man's suggestion of not punishing the man that pulled the trigger.

"No one said he would not pay, but we need his help, and by what Mavis told me I think he could be persuaded to help, and still accept his punishment. Not sure 'til we try it and see where it leads us." Chris glared at both men. "Unless you have a better suggestion of getting information from him?"

"Just do what ya can, but I won't let him, or anyone else, hurt Ezra again," Vin vowed as he moved to sit over by the clinic door.

"Vin, I promise we will do right by Ezra. We will protect him and no one is going to hurt him again." Chris walked over and knelt in front of Tanner and offered him his hand.

The tracker looked up at Chris and saw for himself that Larabee was telling the truth; he would do right by Ezra and protect him.

"I'm holdin' ya ta your word, cowboy," Vin acknowledged as he took the gunslinger's hand. Both men felt the connection from when they'd first met return. The man in black smiled as he nodded back at the Texan before letting go of the hand. He then turned and left, taking Buck and Nathan with him.

Ezra looked at the woman who claimed to love him more then life as she finished telling the tale of Ezra's true beginnings. Everything now began to make sense, his dreams, why he was shuttled back and forth between others as he grew up, and Maude's preoccupation with not wanting him to settle anywhere for a long period of time. He still felt betrayed that she'd not trusted him with this information sooner, that she did not believe this was something important enough to tell him. "Why did you not tell me sooner?" Ezra asked, his voice void of feeling.

"I did not want you being touched by these men in any way. I had nightmares that you grew up only to be killed seeking revenge, or that you would be seduced by my father's charms and leave me and never return. Most importantly, I felt that Beau would do everything in his power to kill you so he could claim the O'Shay inheritance." She looked at him with pain and sorrow reflected in her eyes and face.

"So, you did everything to keep me on the move in order to protect me?"

"Yes, to protect you."

"You left me in the care of others, in order to protect me as a child?"

"Yes, I left you with people who I trusted with my life, as well as yours."

"They kept me a secret and did not introduce me around in public, in order to protect me?"

"They did so under my orders, to keep you out of questionable circumstances and away from the eyes of anyone who might recognize you. Your grandfather never stopped looking for you, and I could not trust his long arm of contacts not to find us. You look so like Elizabeth and really have not changed much from when you were a child, it would not be hard for those involved to suspect if you were Michael or not. I just could not take the chance." Maude hoped her boy would understand in time that she would have taken on the devil himself to protect him.

"Would you have ever told me?" Ezra needed to know.

"More than likely not. You are my life, Ezra; I will never do anything that would result in your being taken from me. I lost my sister because of the two men's greed; I was not about to lose you as well, no matter what it took." She held her head high and looked at her boy with a determination, that she would do what she had to do to protect him.

"You told my associates all of this before telling me, WHY?"

"Because when they described Dumont I lost my composure, and I felt that I had failed you. I knew that I would need these men to help me protect you, since the enemy knew how vulnerable we both were. I knew it would not be to our advantage to lie, so I told the truth and hoped they would believe me and…well, they have proven to me how much I can trust them." Maude shook her head at the look of shock on Ezra's face.

"You trust them?" Ezra could not believe what he was hearing.

"Yes, they have worked very hard at keeping us safe. You will need to have time to heal completely. I just hope you do not let the pain of their betrayal blind you to what could still be yours, that is, if you still want it," Maude smiled as she moved to sit on the side of the bed.

Ezra looked up at his mother's words and noticed how she smiled down at him before she kissed his brow. He frowned at the meaning of the words and wondered if his mother was encouraging him to stay in Four Corners and work on his association with the men that he rode with.

Maude noted the confusion and felt a feeling of relief, 'if he is thinking about the reason why I encouraged him to further think about his relationship with these men, it is a good sign that he still loves and respects me.'

"Mother, I love you," Ezra said without really knowing why he said it out loud.

"My precious boy, I love you too. Now, you need to rest and I need to check on the others and see what they have planned." Maude reached down and kissed him on the cheek.

"Please, be careful, all of you," Ezra requested, now wishing he'd thanked the others for what they'd done so far. "Can you ask Nathan to come in?"

"Are you hurting?" Maude started looking at him intently.

"No, I would just like a few words with him," Ezra smiled at Maude's mother-henning him.

"I will send him in, now rest."

"Yes, mother."