by Gambler's Girl

Maude walked into the saloon, appraising it with a swift glance. Her son sat at a table just to one side, playing poker with four other men.

The rest of the group of lawmen Ezra seemed to have attached himself to were sat at another table. She noticed, however, how their gaze went to Ezra's table now and then, as if they were keeping an eye on things.

Perhaps they were simply mistrustful of him, given his profession and past history. She nodded to herself. Yes, that had to be it. Ezra may have gone soft, may have believed he had become part of something, but she knew the truth. She was a study of human nature and she knew everyone was always out for themselves. That was how the world worked. What had happened with Ezra's saloon was a way of reminding him of that. She hoped he'd learned his lesson - maybe she'd even be able to persuade him to leave with her this time.

A sudden commotion at Ezra's table drew her attention. One of the players had stood up, knocking his chair over, and was pointing accusingly at the cardsharp.

"He cheated! Low down, dirty gambler been cheatin' on all of us!" he exclaimed angrily.

Ezra looked up, barely reacting to the accusation.

"Sir, I am insulted by your accusation. When a man plays as badly as you do, there is no need to cheat," he drawled.

Maude tensed as the man's hand went to his gun, but the click of another gun being cocked drew her gaze to the table where the others sat.

Both Vin and Buck had drawn their guns and had them aimed casually at the angry player. Josiah had stood up and was leaning against the wall in a way that suggested he was just waiting for the right moment to step in. Nathan and JD had pushed their chairs back and they too had all their attention focused on the other table now. And Chris - Chris had stood up and was making his way slowly to where the man stood.

Everyone had frozen, watching the scene unfolding in front of them. You could have heard a pin drop. Ezra for his part still seemed unconcerned although Maude knew her son well enough to know he was ready for anything.

Chris stopped next to the unfortunate accuser and looked at him.

"I reckon you oughta be leaving about now, don't you," he said. It wasn't a question.

The man stared at him, his face red and his chest heaving.

"He cheated!" he shouted again and Ezra just shook his head, acting for all the world like this was a nuisance and he wasn't about to face an irate man with a twitchy trigger finger.

Chris glanced to Ezra and back again.

"Ezra says he didn't. So I reckon you owe him an apology. And then you need to be somewhere else," he said.

Maude marvelled at how Chris could speak so quietly and yet make his point as clear as if he were shouting.

"You gonna believe the word of a conman over me?" said the man indignantly, not having enough brains to know when to quit.

Chris shrugged. "No," he said and when Ezra's gaze flicked to him Maude saw the flash of pain that told her the real reason her son stayed in this place.

He actually cared what they thought of him, she realised, he actually cared about them. And even though Chris appeared to be proving her point for her, about how putting faith in such men was misguided, she found she took no pleasure in it.

But Chris it seemed was in actual fact about to prove her wrong.

"But I am gonna believe the word of a friend," he finished and this time Ezra's poker face slipped completely and he stared at Chris in open amazement for a second before he could get a hold of himself. Maude watched astonished and tried to tell herself that her heart hadn't just leapt at Chris Larabee's words.

The man stared at Larabee angrily, and his hand twitched as it rested on the butt of his gun. This time it was Vin's lazy drawl that broke the air.

"I really wouldn't if I were you," he said with a slight smile that spoke of his confidence that he could easily take the guy out before his gun even left its holster.

"Ain't none of your business!" snarled the man and Maude really did marvel how someone so stupid had managed to live this long.

Buck grinned. "Well, see that's where you'd be wrong. Like Chris here said, that happens to be a friend of ours you're insulting. So that makes it our business. And I reckon it'd be the best decision you ever made if you just walked away right now, 'fore someone does something they'll regret," he said, winking at Ezra.

Ezra made no show of reacting to Buck's statement or the wink, but Maude saw his lips twitch very slightly and saw the sparkle in his eye at the outright support these men were giving him.

The man suddenly seemed to realise he was hopelessly outnumbered. Letting out a strangled exclamation of rage he shoved the table hard and stepped back. As the man made his way towards the door and conversation began again, Ezra tipped his hat to the rest of the players.

"I believe I'll call that a night gentlemen," he said, standing up and reaching out to gather his money.

Chris was still standing there and Ezra turned to say something to him when several things happened at once.

Maude saw out of the corner of her eye the disgruntled player turn back to the table. He pulled his gun with lightening speed and Maude felt her heart freeze and leap into her throat. Before she could say anything she heard Vin shout a warning. Chris reacted instantly, throwing himself at Ezra and knocking him to the floor. At the same time she saw something fly through the air and just as she heard the crack of the shot she also heard the man cry out and drop his gun, clutching his hand.

When she turned she saw he now had a knife sticking out of it. Whirling back to the other table she saw Nathan standing, breathing hard at the exertion from the throw. Tearing her gaze back to Ezra she saw Chris get up and hold his hand out. Moments later Ezra took it and pulled himself up, wincing as he brushed dirt from his jacket and putting a hand gingerly to the back of his head.

"A simple 'duck' would have sufficed, Mr Larabee," he said dryly but Maude could see the gratitude and surprise in his eyes at what Chris had just done.

Chris could obviously see it too because he just gave one of his rare grins and clapped Ezra on the shoulder, dislodging more dust.

"You're welcome, Ez," he said and Ezra huffed but there was no hiding the delighted smile on his face. Buck had made his way over now too and he reached down and grabbed Ezra's hat, dusting it off before holding it out to him.

Ezra inclined his head and took it, putting it back on with a wince that said his head had at some point connected with the floor when Larabee was protecting him.

JD had moved across to the man who'd tried to shoot Ezra and stood over him now, gun trained firmly on him. The man showed no sign of moving, he just crouched there on his knees clutching his hand and whimpering.

Ezra walked round the table and looked down at him.

"You really should have taken that advice," he said, his tone cold. The man glared up at him but said nothing.

"Josiah, JD - take him to the jail," said Chris and Josiah came over, patting Ezra's shoulder as he passed him and grabbing one arm of the unfortunate man while JD grabbed the other. JD flashed Ezra a smile as they pulled the man out of the saloon.

Ezra glanced at Chris, who stood next to him, and then at Buck, Vin and Nathan who'd all joined them.

"I believe I owe you gentlemen a drink," he said, making it sound as if it was no big deal. Vin grinned as he clapped him on the shoulder.

"Now that is something I never thought I'd live to see," he drawled and Ezra looked indignant before ending up grinning as well.

Maude watched as they made their way to the bar, noting how Vin and Buck stayed close to Ezra and how Chris was still watching the rest of the room, just in case. Ezra signalled the barman to bring a bottle of whiskey over and when he'd filled their glasses Ezra raised his in a salute.

"Gentleman - my thanks," he said quietly and sincerely.

All of them raised their glasses in return and Buck grinned.

"That's what friends are for, Ez," he said as they all downed the shots and Maude saw Ezra blush slightly and duck his head, as if unsure how to respond to the statement. Which she reflected, he probably was.

As if knowing Ezra needed a minute to gather himself Chris put his glass down and took charge.

"Nathan, you should probably go check on that fella - make sure he's fit to stand trial. Buck, you and Vin take patrol. Keep an eye out - make sure he had no friends around looking to get revenge." He glanced at Ezra. "You might want a call it a night," he said, wording it as a statement rather than an order. Maude would have expected Ezra to rebel, he'd never done well with people telling him what to do, but he just nodded.

"I was feeling a little tired," he said and Chris gave him an approving look.

"Reckon I'll walk back to the hotel with you," he said and Maude knew just as Ezra did that Chris was going purely to make sure no one else went after Ezra that night.

As they all turned and headed for the door they seemed to notice finally that she was standing there. Buck tipped his hat and gave a smile that was polite but not as friendly as it had been before.

"Ma'am," he said courteously as he passed. Vin acknowledged her but the look he gave her made her shift uncomfortably, as if he was seeing straight through her and not liking what he saw. Nathan looked more embarrassed than anything and just nodded as he went past.

Ezra stopped in front of her and it didn't escape her notice that Chris stood that little bit closer than usual, as if lending support.

"Mother. I trust you didn't find the evening's entertainment too boisterous for you," he said, his tone polite but colder than she'd heard it before.

"You and your friends seemed to have everything under control," she said, amazed her voice sounded so steady. Ezra's gaze flashed at the way she used the word 'friends' and he looked for a second like he was going to question it, but then he changed his mind.

"Yes," he said simply and she could tell from the troubled look in his eye that he would be awake for some time tonight, pondering this public display of trust and friendship that had just occurred.

"If you'll excuse me?" he said, and he stepped round her to the door. Chris stayed for a second studying her for so long she began to feel uncomfortable. But then he gave a slight nod and looked almost approving as he followed Ezra outside. Maude sagged and let out a ragged breath. She found the saloon stifling all of a sudden and almost stumbled in her haste to get outside. She stood there, leaning against the railing and watching as Ezra and Chris walked across to the hotel.

Maybe she really had been wrong. In the space of a few moments she'd seen these men publicly display their trust in Ezra, and in Chris's case throw himself in front of a bullet to save him. They'd all rallied round when Ezra had been threatened, like a pack of wolves protecting one of their own, and Maude suddenly realised that's what Ezra was.

He was one of theirs.

They'd inadvertently hurt him this last week with what had happened with the saloon, but that was the important thing - it had been inadvertent.

She'd made a calculated move to try and teach Ezra a lesson. They had simply not realised how important this whole thing had been to the southerner. Furthermore she knew they were sorry for it and that they were trying to make amends.

She found herself suddenly hoping that Ezra let them. She had a feeling he hadn't realised himself just how much a part of this group he'd become until tonight. She knew she'd raised Ezra to be independent, to trust no one, and she could only guess how hard it must be for him now to try and go against all that and believe that what these men were offering was real and genuine.

But it was. Even she could see that now. And standing there she realised that these men, this bunch of misfits, they could offer Ezra more than she ever could. And as much as it pained her to admit it, she was glad. Glad that her son had six men who genuinely cared about him and would watch his back, whether he wanted them to or not.

Mulling this over in her head she walked slowly back to the tavern, contemplating what she should do next.

Ezra and Chris meanwhile had reached the hotel. They stood there for a second, Ezra struggling to think of something to say. His usual endless supply of words was failing him and he was dazed by more than just the bump on his head. What had just happened had destroyed all the conclusions he'd come to over the last week, and it left him feeling adrift and confused. He'd resigned himself to the fact he'd been wrong to think he could fit in here, wrong to think he could trust these men and call them friends, but then in one fell swoop they'd turned round and disproved every conclusion he'd come to.

It made no sense.

Chris watched the gambler, seeing the slew of emotions that were raging behind the green eyes. It hadn't been quite the way he'd wanted to get the point across, but in a way the night's events had been a blessing. He'd seen Ezra's reaction to their words and actions, and he could only hope now that it had been enough.

It had surprised even him how much it hurt to think of Ezra leaving, or how instinctive it had been to place himself between Ezra and danger when the disgruntled player had fired.

With Buck it was easy, they'd been friends for so long they were brothers. And Vin he'd made an instant connection with, one he couldn't explain but that he was grateful for. JD, Josiah and Nathan were all good men and he had no hesitation calling them friends. But with Ezra it was different. It wasn't that he didn't trust him - he did, absolutely. It had taken a strong man to come back to the Comanche village after he'd run out on them and Chris had seen how hard it was for him, and how confusing he found his own actions.

It was why he'd given him a second chance.

But even after all this time Ezra still kept them at arms length. At times it was as if he deliberately said and did things to drive them away. It was Vin who'd pointed out how hard it had to be for Ezra, to try and unlearn everything he'd been taught, and Chris had been surprised how determined he felt to prove to Ezra that he had a place in the family they had so quickly become.

What had happened with the saloon had damaged that, almost beyond repair, and although Ezra had kept his true feelings on the matter hidden from them they had to take responsibility for the mistakes they'd all made.

But maybe this had been just the thing to convince Ezra to give them another chance. Chris hoped so. He really did care about the gambler, even if he'd never admit that out loud.

"Night, Ezra," he said simply, heading over to the jail to check on the would-be murderer. Ezra's voice stopped him though.

"Chris," he called and Larabee turned.

Ezra looked at him for a moment, looking strangely vulnerable in the dim light.

"Thank you," he said quietly and Chris gave him a warm smile, touched the brim of his hat and turned back again. As he walked the smile widened. Maybe there was hope yet.

Ezra sank into the chair in his room feeling strangely exhausted. He didn't know what he should do now, even though a few hours ago it had seemed clear. He'd been all set to send a telegram to Judge Travis telling him he had no choice but to move on, and asking for leniency with the terms of his pardon. He'd been prepared to pack his things and ride off into the sunset, going back to his old way of life almost as if he'd never left it.

But it had been a hard decision and the thought of leaving had hurt more than the loss of his dream. He'd berated himself for becoming so fond of these men, for thinking they could ever care about him, make him part of their 'family'.

And yet tonight, when he was threatened, they had stood up for him. They had publicly declared their trust in him. And they'd saved his life.

He didn't know what to think anymore. All he knew was that he was tired, he was dusty and his head was throbbing.

A quiet knock on his door had him reaching for his gun. He drew it and made his way cautiously over.

"Yes?" he said and felt relieved when he heard Nathan's voice.

"It's me, Nathan. Can I come in?"

Wondering what was going on now, Ezra unlocked the door and opened it. Nathan stood there holding his bag and looking awkward.

"Mr Jackson. Something I can do for you?" said Ezra, trying not to sound too defensive. It had after all been Nathan's knife that had taken out his attacker.

"Can I come in for a minute?" said Nathan.

Ezra hesitated and Nathan felt his heart sink. He couldn't blame the gambler, he'd given him a hard time more than once since their little group had come together. And he was the one who'd betrayed Ezra the most with the saloon. He'd been taken in by Maude's pretty words and talk of him being a 'doctor'. He felt ashamed of the way he'd acted, especially now he knew how important the whole thing had been to Ezra.

He was about to say something when Ezra seemed to make a decision and opened the door wider, allowing him to come in.

Nathan smiled gratefully at him as he stepped into the room, putting his bag down on the bed.

Ezra closed the door and turned round, raising one eyebrow questioningly. He still had no idea why the healer was here and he really wasn't in the mood for another lecture if that was what was coming.

"I thought I might take a look at your head. I saw you wince earlier and I guessed you might have caught it on the floor when Chris knocked you down," he said.

Ezra blinked in surprise. It really wasn't his night for guessing people's intentions. He put his hand to the back of his head unconsciously and shrugged.

"It's not that bad," he said but Nathan looked almost pleadingly at him.

"Please," he said and Ezra realised that this was maybe about more than just making his head was ok.

He gave a long suffering sigh that wasn't entirely for show and sat down on the bed.

"Very well, if you insist Mr Jackson," he said. Nathan gave him a pleased smile and opened his bag.

He prodded the growing lump on the back of Ezra's head, eliciting a hiss of pain and a glare from the gambler. Used to ignoring such things when dealing with the southerner, Nathan poured some water into the bowl on the dresser and dipped a cloth into it. He carefully and gently washed away the small amount of blood there and when he was done he took out a pouch with some herbs in. He handed it to Ezra.

"This will help with the headache. It's just herbs - I know you don't like Laudanum," he said quietly and Ezra was touched that the healer had remembered one conversation they'd had some time ago, when he refused the drug to have his shoulder put back in place yet again. Pain had made him admit the reason he hated it was because it made him feel he wasn't in control. Instead of derision he'd found sympathy and understanding and Nathan gone to the trouble then too of finding him something else to take the edge off the pain.

He took the pouch and gave a slight smile of thanks.

Nathan put the cloth down to one side and closed his bag. Instead of leaving however he sat down on the bed next to Ezra. The gambler turned to him, his expression wary. Nathan felt a stab of guilt at the fact the other man was clearly so apprehensive about what he was going to say to him. Maybe he had been to hard on him all this time.

"Listen, I owe you an apology Ezra. I didn't know how much that saloon meant to you, but that's no excuse. I was dazzled by what Maude was offering and I let myself be bought. I'm ashamed of the way I acted and I hope maybe one day you can forgive me," he said.

Ezra stared at him in total disbelief. He briefly wondered if maybe he'd hit his head harder than he thought and this was all a bizarre dream.

"Mr Jackson, you have no need to apologise. You are quite within your rights to set up a surgery wherever you wish. And I know how persuasive my Mother can be," he said.

Nathan sighed. "That don't change the fact it was a pretty lousy thing to do to a friend," he said and Ezra looked away.

"Well, that would rather depend wouldn't it," he said and Nathan looked confused.

"On what?"

"On whether we are indeed friends," said Ezra quietly. Nathan looked at him and Ezra was beginning to regret saying the words out loud. What was wrong with him? Now he was suddenly blurting out his innermost thoughts to all and sundry? Asking for confirmation of friendships as if he were some needy child?

Maude would be ashamed of him.

He risked glancing up at Nathan again and as he did he saw that there was no derision in the healer's gaze, no embarrassment at the question. Instead Nathan looked pained and guilty, as if he was sad Ezra had to ask in the first place.

"We are, for my part. I know sometimes we rub each other up the wrong way. And I'm not sure we're ever gonna agree on a whole lot of things. But yeah, we're friends. And I am sorry," he said.

Ezra was surprised at just how much those words meant to him. He ducked his head briefly, then looked back up and smiled. And for once it was a real, genuine smile. One that made him look years younger than the usual guarded expression he always wore. Nathan found himself suddenly wondering just how old Ezra really was.

"Apology accepted, Nathan," said the gambler, breaking him from his thoughts, and it was the use of his given name rather than the words themselves that told Nathan he really had been forgiven. He returned the smile and rested his hand on Ezra's shoulder for a moment.

"Well, you should probably get some rest. Let me know if you still got that headache in the morning. I don't think you did too much damage," he said as he stood.

"It beats the alternative. Although remind me to ask Mr Larabee to be a little less enthusiastic with his heroics next time" said Ezra with feeling and Nathan chuckled.

He was about to leave when Ezra cleared his throat.

"There was something I wanted to say earlier too, Mr Jackson," said Ezra, looking a little uncomfortable. Nathan looked at him quizzically and Ezra gave a self-conscious grin.

"Nice throw," he said and Nathan laughed outright.

"Thanks. Night, Ezra," he said and Ezra saluted as the healer left the room.

Even though he was tired he knew he'd sleep better if he used Nathan's herbs. He made his way down to the kitchen to fetch some boiling water, emptied the pouch into the mug and when the water had cooled sufficiently he downed the concoction in one go, grimacing at the disgusting taste. Sometimes he wondered if he wasn't just better off to deal with the consequences of the Laudanum.

Stripping off his dusty clothes and pulling on his nightshirt he turned the light out and sank into the bed with a relieved sigh. It really had been an eventful few days. He'd achieved his dream only to loose it, and at the hands of his own mother no less. But on the other hand he'd discovered something else that he'd never dared dream of but that was perhaps even better than he could have imagined.

Friends. Family.

He smiled to himself. Maybe he'd been richer than he realised, and in something more important than gold or bricks and mortar.

Maude really would disown him if she ever found out.

The next day Ezra felt better than he had in a long time, despite the residual throb in his head. He was practically whistling as he shaved and dressed, putting on his favourite red jacket and brushing a few remaining specks of dust from his hat as he put it on.

He stepped out into the sunshine and took a deep breath. It was relatively early, for him at least, so there wasn't too much activity yet in the street. JD was sitting outside the jail and he waved at Ezra enthusiastically. Ezra returned the wave in a somewhat more dignified manner. Josiah was hammering away up on the church roof and he nodded to Ezra as he saw the gambler walk across the street. Ezra gave a brief salute in return. Buck and Vin were sat outside the old saloon, mugs of coffee in hand. He sauntered over to them and Vin pushed a chair towards him with one foot.

Ezra sat down, resting one foot against the railing.

"Gentlemen," he drawled and Buck grinned at him.

"Morning, Ez. Early for you ain't it?"

Ezra ignored the jibe, looking up as Chris Larabee came out of the saloon behind him carrying two mugs of coffee. He handed one to Ezra.

At Ezra's surprised look his lips twitched.

"Saw you coming," he said, putting the southerner out of his misery. Ezra grinned.

"My compliments, Mr Larabee. This wasn't made by Mr Tanner was it?" he said, eyeing the mug warily. Buck chuckled and even Chris grinned as Vin whacked Ezra lightly on the arm,

"Ain't nothing wrong with my coffee," he said indignantly, which only prompted more mirth.

"You're safe - Buck made it," replied Chris and Vin glared at him.

"Hey, don't look at me like that, Tanner - it's your own fault you insist on making coffee you could tar a roof with," he said.

Vin muttered about being unappreciated and took a sip of his own coffee. Ezra smirked and relaxed back into his chair. Suddenly he leaned forward, watching with a frown as Maude came out of the tavern along the street, closely followed by the manager who was struggling with her luggage. She stopped on the porch, instructing him to put them down, and she looked down the street to see if the 10 o'clock stage was in view yet.

Ezra stood without a word and walked across to where she was standing. The others exchanged glances and by wordless agreement Chris pushed away from the wall and began to head in the same direction, ready to offer support if necessary.

Maude looked up as she saw Ezra approach, noticing Chris in the background.

"Morning my dear," she said brightly, as if she hadn't a care in the world.

"Good morning, Mother. Leaving so soon?" he said, unable to decide if he was sorry or pleased by the idea.

"Why yes, I'm afraid so. You know how it is - things to do, people to see," she said lightly.

"Cons to pull?" said Ezra dryly, but there was humour in his tone this time and she gazed at him admonishingly but with a twinkle in her eye.

"Now, Ezra. Don't be vulgar," she said and Ezra just grinned.

"What about your tavern?" he said unable to stop himself asking. She shrugged.

"I'm leaving the capable Mr Anderson in charge. I'll probably sell it in time, make a nice profit," she said nonchalantly and Ezra found it didn't bother him as much as it might have before. Watching him carefully Maude saw that too and was pleased.

As the stage came into view she became serious. Putting her hand on Ezra's arm she leant forward, making sure she had his full attention.

"It strikes me that I may have been too hasty in my opinion before. I'm beginning to see why it is you stay here," she said, her gaze flicking to Chris who was now close enough to have heard what she said.

He inclined his head in acknowledgement of the responsibility she was giving them with those words. Maybe there was some motherly instinct in there after all, as the look she gave him clearly warned him to look after her boy.

The answering look she got in return was enough to satisfy her.

Ezra was for once at a loss for words. Fortunately though it seemed Maude wasn't looking for an answer. Stepping back and acting as if she hadn't just said anything, she watched as the stage pulled up and the driver dismounted. Giving him specific instructions on how her luggage should be loaded, she turned back to Ezra once more.

"Well, you take care now. I'll be seeing you," she said, and she surprised both of them by embracing him briefly.

"Goodbye Mother. Safe journey," was about all he could manage at that point.

As she stepped back she met Chris's gaze.

"Mr Larabee," she said formally and Chris inclined his head.

"Mrs Standish," he said, with just the ghost of a smile.

She climbed into the stage with Ezra's assistance and waited as the other passengers climbed aboard. Once everyone was inside the driver closed the door and got back on, flicking the reigns to get the horses moving. She leaned out of the window, smiling as she waved.

Ezra raised his hand in return and stood there with Chris, watching as the stage disappeared into the distance. As Maude took in the sight of him standing there with Larabee at his side, Buck and Vin making their own way across the street to join them, she felt comforted. She was indeed leaving her boy in safe hands.

As the clouds of dust obscured the stage from view Chris watched Ezra carefully. The gambler seemed pensive, but not too put out by Maude's departure. Chris reflected he was probably used to it.

"You ok?" he said quietly and Ezra jumped, as if he'd forgotten Chris was there. He looked at the gunslinger and seemed to ponder the question, as if thinking about more than just Maude leaving.

"Yes, I think I am," he replied with a smile after a moment and Chris gave a satisfied nod. Maybe Ezra was willing to give them that second chance after all.

He turned round as Buck and Vin arrived. Vin raised an eyebrow at him and Chris gave a slight nod in answer. Ezra noticed the exchange and had to duck his head to hide his smile. It was surprising just how much seeing gestures as simple as that could mean to him, and the warmth he suddenly felt had little to do with the sun that was beating down on them.

Reckoning it was about time things got back to normal, Chris straightened.

"Buck why don't you check on JD and our guest? Ezra.."

He didn't get to finish.

"I know, I know - it's my turn for patrol," said the gambler, adopting a put upon expression that was more for show than anything.

"Fancy some company?" said Vin and Ezra looked at him, surprised, then smiled.

"That would be most agreeable, Mr Tanner," he said and Buck shook his head, clapping Vin on the shoulder.

"He means yes," he said as he made his way towards the jail.

Vin grinned at Ezra and Ezra rolled his eyes. Tipping his hat to Chris, the gambler turned and made his way towards the stables with Vin. Chris watched them go before heading back across the street to the saloon and the coffee he'd left on the porch there.

Things were getting back to normal and that was just how it should be as far as Chris was concerned. They'd weathered the storm this time and he had a feeling that next time Ezra would be a little more ready to reach out and ask for help.

Just as they would be ready to keep an eye on the gambler and make sure he didn't forget that he didn't have to do things alone anymore.

Chris smiled to himself. Sometimes you had to fall just to realise there was someone there to catch you. And when it came down to it, that wasn't a bad lesson to learn at all.