The Truth is Immortal

by Strangevisitor7

Alternate Universe "Highlander"

Sequel to Child of My Heart

Characters: HL: OFC Charlotte Sparrow (AKA Pearl Black); Mag7: Ezra Standish and the rest of the boys.

Summary: During a gunfight Chris is hurt trying to protect Ezra not realizing that he is Immortal. Ezra is torn between telling the others about his Immortality and leaving town to prevent anyone else from getting hurt.

Author's Note: Just a reminder - The Mag7 boys know Ezra's cousin Charlotte by her current alias: Pearl Black

Chapter 1

Ezra felt the impact and was face down in the dirt before he registered what exactly had propelled him in that direction. It was when the weight of another body landed on his that he realized that someone had pushed him down. He had been trying to get to one of the criminals that was sequestered behind an overturned wagon in the street when he'd been tackled from behind.

He'd known it was a risk crossing the open main street, but his Immortality had given him an edge in these situations that Ezra had learned to use to his advantage. His attire had suffered due to his endeavors, but so far none of his companions suspected that he'd ever been hit by gunfire. As he analyzed his current situation, it became clear that someone had decided to stop this particular advance.

Spitting out dirt, he attempted to push off the weight still lying protectively on top of him when a hand on his shoulder prevented him from moving.

"Stay down, you idiot," Chris growled.

"Chris?" Ezra asked, though he already knew that it was. "Let me up; I can get to him."

"No, you won't! Vin is flanking him from above. We are getting back to cover," Chris commanded as he finally rolled off of Ezra and began moving away.

Ezra nodded and was edging backwards as both men fired blindly to cover their retreat. They were almost to safety when Ezra heard Chris cry out. Turning he saw the gunslinger fall backwards.

"Chris!" Ignoring any personal danger, Ezra rushed to Chris's side to drag him out of the line of fire. Chris was coherent enough to throw one arm around Ezra's shoulder as he felt himself being lifted. Ezra positioned himself to shield his burden and, as he expected, the Immortal felt a bullet tear into his upper back almost causing him to drop his friend. Only the knowledge that the wound would begin healing immediately kept Ezra moving forward.

"Almost there," he encouraged Chris through clenched teeth. Ezra hoped that no more bullets found their way into him because his shoulder was screaming in agony to release his passenger, and he was sure he wouldn't be able to stay upright under the pain of another hit. Ezra guided Chris up the boardwalk and into the safety of the jail.

Depositing Chris onto the floor, away from the entrance, Ezra collapsed next to him. His head was swimming and he willed his healing power to hurry up. He had yet to be seriously wounded enough to pass out in previous shootings and he hoped this wouldn't be the first time. He leaned over apply pressure to the bullet wound on Chris's thigh. It didn't appear to be too bad but he wished Nathan were here.

Chris propped himself up on his elbows in an attempt to sit up.

"Relax, Chris. I am endeavoring to stop the blood flow and your movements will only exacerbate the situation."

"Hurts like a son of a bitch," Chris groaned as he fell back onto the floor.

"I am sure it does," Ezra chuckled ruefully, straightening his back trying to ignore his own pain.

"Everyone else?" Chris asked.

Ezra spared a glance out the door and was relieved to see Vin and Buck leading the last of the miscreants their way. The gunfight was over.

"It appears our compatriots have won the day and are headed in our direction," Ezra informed his patient as he felt relief flow through him. As soon as Nathan arrived, he'd be able to collapse quietly in the corner and finish healing.

Vin and Back pushed the criminals into the jail and stopped short when the saw Ezra leaning over Chris.

"Take 'em. I'll get Nathan." Vin shoved his prisoner at Buck before heading out.

"You okay, stud?" Buck asked as he passed by on the way to lock up their captives.

"I'd be fine if Ezra hadn't been an idiot."

"I fail to see how you putting yourself in harms way was my fault," Ezra replied indignantly. "I would have succeeded; there was no reason to throw me to the ground."

Chris scoffed, "You take to many damn risks."

"He's right, Ez. You got a death wish or something?" Buck asked. Having finished with the task of incarceration, he settled in behind the sheriff's desk.

"I assure you my continued healthy existence is paramount in my mind. I simply saw an opportunity to end the conflict and was attempting to implement my plan when Chris interrupted my advance."

"Not the way I saw it," Chris grumbled. "You didn't see the one in the alley. He had you in his sites."

Ezra paled as he realized that he may have misread the situation. If he'd been 'killed', his time in Four Corners would have come to an abrupt end. His second thought was that Chris had risked his life to save him. That thought was even more unsettling than the first. It had not occurred to him that in using his Immortality to protect his companions from harm that any of them would throw themselves into the line of fire to save him; a gesture which could prove fatal and completely unnecessary.

"While I'm grateful for your actions, you should not have put yourself in danger." Ezra was still a bit shaken by what Chris had chanced for him. He could not remember anyone being concerned enough about him to risk their own life.

"I wouldn't," he spat out. "If you hadn't put yourself there first!"

Ezra was prepared to continue the defense of his actions but at that moment, Nathan swept in and took over. The others piled in behind him, anxious to see if Chris was all right.

"He okay, Nathan?" JD asked.

"Give me a chance," Nathan snapped as he gestured for the others to provide him room to work.

Ezra gratefully relinquished his hold on Chris' leg to the healer and moved to stand in the corner. While his wound was fully healed the soreness that came with such damage took a little longer to dissipate. He stretched and rolled his shoulder, trying to work out the kinks.

Vin moved to stand next to him. "You hurt, Ezra?"

The gambler smiled. "Our fearless leader is no light weight and I had to drag him quite a distance."

Vin chuckled and clapped Ezra on his freshly healed shoulder causing him to wince at the contact. Ezra felt Vin's hand linger on his back. He turned to look back at the tracker who was frowning at him.

"Something wrong, Vin?"

"Ez, ain't this a new coat?"

"I was unaware that my garments were worth your notice, but yes it is."

"Then how'd you get this bullet hole?"

Ezra plastered a false smile on his face while inwardly he bemoaned the tracker's sharp eyes. "I must have torn my coat during the melee. I find the cost to my wardrobe to be incalculable. I do feel that Judge Travis should reimburse us for replacements and repairs."

Vin cocked his head and Ezra could see that his attempt at misdirection was being met with skepticism. It had been a disaster of a day and Ezra was too tired to continue to argue with Vin. Beside there was no explanation he could give for the damage to his coat that his friend would believe. Instead he turned back to ask how Chris was fairing. To his relief, Vin let the subject drop.

Nathan had finished his preliminary investigation of Chris's wound. "Bullet went straight through. Just need to get him back to the clinic to stitch him up," Nathan said.

Without being asked, Josiah came forward to help Nathan get Chris to his feet.

"Buck, you and JD stay with the prisoners," Chris commanded before he allowed himself to be lead away.

Ezra waited for the others to leave, fully planning to head in the opposite direction and collapse in his bed.

"You coming, Ez?" Vin called from the doorway.

Ezra's mind was still a jumble from the events of the day. Without conscience thought the old walls came up and his separation from this life began.

"No, Mr.Tanner. Mr Jackson has assured us that Mr.Larabee will be fine and as you pointed out, I need to change my attire, so I will retire to my rooms."

Six pairs of eyes turned to stare at him.

"Ain't mad at you 'cause I got shot, Ezra" Chris said. "Just angry that you took a stupid risk."

"As I mentioned previously, I did not see it as a risk. But that is neither here nor there. The clinic is far too small to easily accommodate so many. I will stop by later and check on your recovery."

Chris continued to stare at him. "You do that," he said coldly

"Don't got time for this," Nathan interrupted. "We need to get to the clinic before you start bleeding again.

Ezra watched them maneuver Chris out of the jail. Nathan's voice floated back to him as the healer addressed Chris loud enough for Ezra to hear, "Could have at least thanked you for saving his life."

Ezra felt like he'd stepped back in time to the first few weeks he'd been part of the group when everything he said or did wasn't good enough. He'd handled this situation badly. His altruistic motivation to use his Immortality to end the gunfight had not gone as planned. He had endangered Chris and he was officially persona non grata once again. How quickly they closed ranks against him.

He looked back to see Buck and JD watching him. They were waiting for him to say something he was sure. Instead, he simply placed two fingers to his hat and left.

Chapter 2

Chris tried to ignore the pain in his leg as Nathan stitched him up. Instead, he focused on the situation with Ezra.

Chris had been pleased with the way the seven of them had come together. Ever since his mother's visit, it seemed that Ezra had allowed himself to become part of the group. At the same time, Chris had noticed an increase in the gambler's risky behavior during their gunfights.

Did Ezra think he had to take chances and save everyone just to prove his worth to them? Unfortunately, it was that kind of lopsided thinking he expected from the stubborn southerner.

Nathan poked something that shot pain up his leg. "You almost done there," he growled.

"Hold still," the healer commanded, returning his focus to his stitching.

"Hurry up." Chris looked across the room when he heard Vin chuckling. The tracker was leaning against the wall.

"What's so funny?"

Vin shook his head. "Not like you gonna be walking out of here for awhile. Can't be chasing Ez down just yet."

Chris just glared at his friend. Sometimes it was unnerving they way Vin knew what he was thinking.

"Then go get him!"

"Not if you're gonna lecture him. That ain't gonna work."

He needed to see Ezra and he suspected the man wasn't about to visit any time soon. It had been weeks since Ezra had called him 'Mr. Larabee' and Chris was determined to talk to the gambler before the distance he'd sensed at the jail spiraled out of control. But Vin was right, a lecture would just cause the southern idiot to throw up walls while smiling that annoyingly insincere smile Chris hated.

On the other hand, Chris wasn't all that comfortable when it came to having those big emotional conversations. That was more Buck's thing. Or maybe ... he smiled as he realized there was really only one person capable of talking sense into Ezra.

"You in the mood for pie, Vin?" he asked.

Vin nodded. "Yep I was thinkin' pie might be good right now." The tracker tipped his hat and exited the clinic.

Nathan stopped what he was doing. "What you want pie for? You shouldn't eat anything that heavy for a while."

"Pie ain't for me." Chris grinned at Nathan's confusion. The healer shrugged and returned to his work.

+ + + + + + +

Ezra escaped to his room above the saloon. Once inside, he removed his green jacket and examined the hole that Vin had remarked on. He sighed. There was no mistaking the tell tale signs of the rent for anything but a bullet hole. Now Vin was suspicious, which meant that Chris would soon be as well and Ezra had no rationalization that would explain how he had avoided being wounded.

He tossed the coat over the footboard before divesting himself of his guns. Removing his white dress shirt, he found a similar bloodstained hole in the shoulder. Angrily, he balled the garment up and tossed it on his dresser.

He selected a blue pinstriped shirt and red vest, focusing on redressing for an evening of gambling. A game was just the kind of neutral activity he needed right now. Ezra tried not to think of the disastrous events of the day, but his mind would not stop replaying the situation over and over again.

Eventually, he would have to talk to his companions. He didn't want to face the accusations he was sure he'd see in their eyes that his reckless behavior had gotten their leader injured. He had no defense that wouldn't confirm Buck's statement that he had some kind of death wish.

When he'd first used his Immortality to save JD in a gunfight weeks back, he'd been so very proud of his actions. The knowledge that he had something positive to contribute had been a heady feeling. Now, this skill had become a curse. It had never dawned on him that anyone would ever put themselves in harm's way for him.

As he finished buttoning his vest, he noticed his reflection in the mirror. Two months ago everything had changed, and yet, he looked the same. Inside he was a completely different person and not just because of his ability to heal.

He'd promised Chris he'd never run out again, but leaving seemed like the safest option. Ezra knew he couldn't risk one of the others being killed because they thought they needed to save him from injury; the irony of the situation would be more than he could bear.

Fumbling with his tie, he finally gave up and flung himself onto the bed to stare up at the ceiling. He didn't want to leave and that thought also surprised him. He'd found something steady here with friends and family, but like every other dashed dream, it hadn't lasted.

Charlotte would be worried that he wasn't ready and insist that he finish his training. But these newfound heroic impulses would not allow him to stand by and let his friends walk into danger when he knew he could do something about it.

It was all Charlotte's fault! These maddening noble instincts had come from her. He longed to recapture that cold place in his heart that seemed to have receded since that first misguided adventure in the Seminole village and it had disappeared completely after he gained Immortality. He needed to cut himself off from those he cared about so that he could walk away before he got someone killed.

+ + + + + + +

Ezra woke with a start to the sound of pounding on his door and the presence of another Immortal buzzing in his head. He wouldn't have believed he could have fallen asleep with all the turmoil coursing through his brain, but even Immortal bodies needed time to recover from serious wounds.

"Ezra, I know you're in there. Let me in."

He sat up, rubbing his eyes and dragging a hand through his hair. What in the world was Charlotte doing here? Ezra wondered as he crossed the room. Pausing at the mirror he smoothed down his wrinkled clothing and straightened his wayward tie, before plastering on his most congenial smile as he opened the door.

"Cousin, to what do I owe this unexpected visit? Are the children all right?" Ezra asked, trying to hide the apprehension in his voice.

"The children at the ranch are fine, but it is the child in front of me that I am concerned about." Charlotte pushed past Ezra and settled onto his bed. Patting the space beside her, she indicated that he should sit next to her.

Ezra shut the door but made no move to join his cousin. "I am no child, Lottie."

"Then stop behaving like one," Charlotte admonished. "Vin came to see me. He is worried - all you friends are - that you are taking ridiculous risks."

"Vin came to see you?" Ezra couldn't believe that his compatriots had stooped to calling in Charlotte to chastise him like a small child. He'd made a mistake, but he didn't need his cousin interfering.

"He told me about what happened today." Charlotte's voice softened,
"About what you tried to do and how Chris was injured."

Ezra refused to meet her eyes. "I hadn't expected Chris to interfere."

"Why wouldn't he? He's you friend!" Charlotte stood and walked toward him. She was about to reach for him when she noticed the bloody shirt on his dresser. "Ezra were you hurt in the fight today?"

Ezra leaned resignedly against his dresser anticipating the lecture that was to come. This day just kept getting worse.

+ + + + + + +

"You were hurt!" Charlotte's rational mind knew that any injuries were only temporary, but the maternal part of her was in a panic at the idea of Ezra in pain.

"I'm fine now," he insisted. "I was able to get Mr. Larabee to safety and no one was the wiser. I assure you the shirt you're holding is the only evidence of the bullet wound."

Charlotte eyed him suspiciously. He was hiding something about his injury but she let it go. Ezra prided himself on his ability to mask what he was feeling from those around him but he'd always had a tough time keeping the truth from her; though sometimes she allowed him to believe he could.

"Ezra, Immortality is not a shiny toy for you to play with as you see fit," Charlotte chastised him. "You must stop taking these ridiculous chances or you will reveal your secret." She watched as his shoulders slumped even further under her censure.

She knew that he needed support, but the situation was too dire for coddling. Ezra had to understand exactly what was at stake if he continued to act out of what he thought were good intentions.

"And that puts me and other Immortals at risk," she continued. The irony of the situation was not lost on Charlotte. She'd spent Ezra's childhood convincing him that he was a good person and that altruistic behavior was not a weakness, yet here she was telling him that self preservation was the preferred activity in this situation. In her mind's eye she could almost see Maude laughing with a gleeful 'I told you so' on her lips. The idea that she was giving Ezra advice that might have come from Maude made Charlotte wince inside.

Ezra gave a rueful chuckle. He'd recognized the familiarity of the advice as well. "Mother was right after all."

Charlotte reached for Ezra's hand. "You are doing good here. I don't mean for you to stop being a lawmen or to stop helping your friends. You just need to behave more - "

Green eyes finally looked up into blue ones. "Mortal," he finished as he pulled away from her. His defeated stance was gone and there was a hint of anger in his stride as he paced around his room. "And stand by while one or more of my friends is hurt when I knew that I could save them without any harm to myself?

"This is your influence," he snapped. "All these altruistic feelings; the desire to help, to be useful! Mother was right, you've made me respectable and now I can't go back." He threw up his arms in frustration. "I need to go back to who I was," he finished. He stood gripping the footboard of the bed, his knuckles turning white under the pressure of his grasp.

Charlotte was taken aback by the fury in his tone, yet she understood that for the first time in his life Ezra wanted to do good and it had come back to haunt him. This was a dilemma all Immortals faced: to interfere in the lives of mortals; to share their secret. Charlotte could no more run down the street in her undergarments than she could tell others of her Immortality, it was just not done.

Immortals had learned to hide their true nature. Too often they'd been burned as witches or scorned as freaks - the dangers were to numerous to list. Ezra's faith in his friends was admirable but when faced with the supernatural would they accept his true nature or run him out of town and her along with him.

She moved next to him and placed a comforting hand on his shoulder. "You can't go back, darling, and I don't want you to. I admire the man you've become and I think that you do to, or you wouldn't be so torn by what has happened."

Ezra snorted. He reached up to pat her hand, taking it in his he turned to face her. "It was so much easier when I didn't care, when everyone was simply a mark to be used or ignored."

"But it wasn't living, Ezra." She reached up to stroke his cheek. "Immortality is a gift but it is also a curse. I think after today you're beginning to understand that."

He nodded. "What happens now? I just stand by and watch them die?"

"Oh, dearest, no; we watch them live and enjoy them while we can."

It pained Charlotte to see the weight of their reality hit him this way. Immortality is just a word until the idea that everyone you ever loved will whither and die while you go on. In Ezra's case, it was a violent death that might take his friends away, while he stood by and did nothing. She wasn't so sure that she could do the same.

"I won't do it," Ezra said. "I won't." He began moving around the room with a single-mindedness that alarmed Charlotte. He pulled a valise from under his bed. "I'm leaving. At least if I'm not here I won't feel the guilt of inaction."

Charlotte moved to place a hand on the top of the case. "You are not ready. Your sword skills are still rusty. You wouldn't stand a chance against a truly experienced Immortal."

Ezra gently pushed her hand away as he placed a neatly folded stack of shirts into the bag. "I see no other alternative short of telling them what we are so that I might be free to take what ever risks I deem necessary without their interference."

"That is not an option." Charlotte moved to block his way as he attempted to open his wardrobe.

Sighing, he placed hands on his hips. "Cousin, either I leave or I tell the truth." He stopped to chuckle at that thought. "Tell the truth - who'd have ever thought that would be my first choice?"

Charlotte didn't know whether to be pleased or worried that Ezra believed in his companions enough to share their secret. She knew the fact he was even considering confiding in them was due to her guidance. Immortality and her influence had changed him more than she could have imagined. He was learning to trust and here she was telling him not to. Life was so unfair sometimes.

"Ezra, please don't go. Give me some time to figure out another way or to come to terms with your desire to share the truth. It won't be just your secret you reveal, it's mine too."

They stared at each other, before Ezra relented. "All right, I think I can wait a few more days."

Charlotte smiled. "Thank you." She pulled him into a fierce hug.

"I suppose I had better unpack," Ezra said as he pulled away.

"Yes, you should, but first we will go see Chris."

"We? Is it really necessary for you to come with me?"

Charlotte has to suppress a giggle. He was so much like the small child she remembered being forced to make amends under her watchful eye.

"Actually, yes. I do not trust that you and Vin will deliver the pie I brought for Chris."

Ezra perked up. "You brought pie? And you let Vin watch over it?"

Charlotte was relieved by the small smile that graced Ezra's face. She still marveled at her pie's ability to make hardened gunslingers act like small children at Christmas.

"Don't worry; I already made sure that Mr. Tanner was well aware of how many body parts he might lose if he even thought about having a sample before I saw Chris."

Ezra laughed at the image of Charlotte dressing down the scruffy tracker. "Then let us not torture poor Mr. Tanner any further."

He paused to claim his gunbelt from the dresser and grab his favorite red coat before offering Charlotte his arm.

Smiling, she took his arm, allowing herself to be lead away to the clinic. They hadn't really solved the dilemma but at least Ezra wasn't running and that gave her time. Time was something she knew how to use to her favor.

+ + + + + + +

The pie had been well received by the others as small talk had been exchanged. Ezra stood silently in the corner, enjoying the sight of Charlotte and his friends teasing Vin over his love of her pie, Chris demanding Nathan to allow him a second slice, the frustrated healer trying to corral the situation, insisting that Chris needed his rest, and the others ignoring him as usual.

The camaraderie was comforting, and sadly, Ezra knew it would be the last time he'd enjoy them all in one place. Nothing was said of Ezra's behavior that morning; he plastered on a happy face and allowed them to believe that all was back to normal. He had promised Charlotte he would give her a few days to devise a workable compromise to their dilemma, but Ezra had lied -- successfully lied - to her. On top of everything else, he still was reeling from the fact that she'd believed him.

Charlotte stood. "Well, gentlemen, it's time I was getting back to the ranch."

"You ain't gonna make it back before nightfall," Vin observed. "Ain't safe for you to leave."

"I will be fine," she assured them.

Chris spoke directly to Ezra. "You get Pearl a room in town. She shouldn't be traveling alone at night."

"Chris, really -," Charlotte stopped as she locked eyes with the Larabee glare.

Ezra smiled, watching the silent standoff. Somewhere along the line Chris had adopted Charlotte into their inner circle and that meant he expected her to listen to him. Ezra was shocked when Charlotte nodded her acquiescence; the gunslinger had outmaneuvered his cousin. It was a day for surprises, he thought.

"All right, I'll get a room," Charlotte said. "It would be best to travel in the daytime and the children weren't expecting me back until tomorrow, anyway."

Chris nodded his approval and indicated that Ezra should see her safely to the hotel.

Charlotte said her goodbyes and took Ezra's arm as they headed out the door.

"I know that the infamous Larabee glare can be intimidating, but I was under the impression that you would be immune," Ezra commented as he walked her down the steps.

Charlotte shrugged. "He was right. One tends to forget the dangers of the open plains when one is Immortal." She looked pointedly at Ezra as she spoke.

"Is this your attempt to show me how easy it is to behave more mortal?"

"No, this is my attempt to show you how easy it is to let others care for you," she explained. "Chris's concern for my safety isn't without merit, and by giving in, I acknowledge that his concern is appreciated."

"Are you suggesting that I could behave similarly during any altercations that arise?"

Charlotte smiled at him as she squeezed his arm tighter. "Let them care for you, Ezra, and the rest will work itself out as it should."

Ezra disagreed, but he wasn't about to say so. He had to leave, and he wanted this last evening with his cousin to be pleasant.

"I will do my best to keep your advice in mind next time." He patted her hand and smiled at her. "We still haven't resolved the underlying issue, but I am willing to see it your way for now."

She stopped to look at him critically. For a moment, he was worried she could sense his false contrition. "I am happy to hear you say that. It would break my heart if you were to leave," Charlotte said as she leaned up to kiss his cheek.

He returned the kiss, trying not to react to her words which had him wondering if he'd really fooled her.

"Even though you have already eaten your dessert, I expect that you will join me for dinner," she continued.

As much as Ezra wanted to return to his packing, he knew that his behavior was being critically scrutinized and to refuse her invitation wouldn't be prudent. "I can think of no finer way to spend my evening."

Ezra's attention was distracted by loud voices headed in their direction; Buck and JD. He smiled to himself as he recognized a way not to be the focus of his cousin's full attention and to spend a last evening in the company of friends.

"Gentlemen," he called to them, "would you care to join us for your evening meal?"

Buck's face broke into a wide grin at the invitation. "I could eat," he said, clapping the southerner on the back in a gesture of friendship. Ezra felt bad, knowing that the big man had misinterpreted his overture; thinking that he was reaching out, trying to mend fences. When in reality it was just a diversion so that no one would suspect his true motivations.

"When can you not?" Ezra teased as he looked toward JD, who nodded his acceptance of the invitation.

"I am so glad. I do enjoy the company of such fine gentlemen," Charlotte said.

Ezra glanced surreptitiously at his companions. The contented looks they were exchanging spoke to their belief that Charlotte had successfully brought Ezra back into the fold.

It saddened him only a little to realize that he had successfully duped them. It seemed that he hadn't lost his ability to find that cold place in his heart after all.

Chapter 3

Dinner had gone as expected with Ezra playing his role as cordial friend. He did not allow himself to become too comfortable in the conversation. His mind screamed for him to leave before his determination to go escaped him.

At last the meal was finished. Buck and JD said their goodbyes as Ezra lied that he would see them in the morning.

He stood with his cousin in front of the hotel. There was so much he wanted to say to her before he left, but any extreme displays of emotion would have alerted her to his plan.

"I'll see you in the morning, cousin," he said as congenially as he could.

She patted his hand one last time. "Sleep well," she said, before mounting the steps into the hotel.

Ezra watched her disappear. She hadn't won the day, but at least she thought she'd convinced him not to leave tonight. She may not be comfortable traveling in the dark, but Ezra had no such hesitation. As much as he hated to disappoint her, and it broke his heart that he couldn't let himself be swayed by her concern, he could not stay. Once he was out of town, he would send her a letter apologizing for his deceit and hope that she could someday forgive him.

The biggest dilemma Ezra faced was whether or not to tell Chris he was leaving. Six months ago, he'd promised Mr. Larabee that he'd never run out on him again. That promise was one he felt compelled to keep.

+ + + + + + +

Ezra had packed his bags and saddled his horse. Before leaving town he had one more stop to make. He looked around to make sure his trip to the livery had gone unnoticed. He chuckled at the thought that if Vin were Immortal, he'd always know when the tracker was around, which would be highly convenient considering the man often came and went like a ghost. But he didn't see Vin or anyone else.

Ezra climbed the steps to the clinic for what he presumed would be the last time. He knocked lightly on the door. Nathan opened it

"Ezra? Watcha doin' here so late? I'm trying to get Chris to go to sleep. Come back tomorrow." Nathan tried to close the door on him but Ezra put up a hand to keep it open.

"I need to speak with, Mr. - Chris. If he's still up." Ezra switched to the less formal moniker knowing that his return to formality this morning had raised concerns which had led to the retrieval of his cousin.

"Let him in Nathan," came the weary voice from within.

Nathan shook his head but relented allowing the southerner into the room. "Make it quick."

"Might we have some privacy, Nathan? I promise it will be a brief conversation."

Nathan grumbled but exited the clinic without another word.

Ezra faced the man in the bed, positioning himself so that he could grip the footboard as he contemplated what he would say. Chris looked tired and grumpy, but otherwise healthy.

"What's eatin' at you, Ezra?"

Ezra cleared his throat. "I am grateful that no one remains aggrieved with me concerning today's unfortunate turn of events. Even so, I find myself in need of a change of venue. I recognize that this decision, coming as it does, on the heels of today's events would seem to imply that they are somehow related, but I assure you that my departure from this locale has been on my mind for some time. The original contract called only for thirty days of service and of course the proximity of my cousin - "

"Hold on Ezra." Chris held up a hand. "You trying to tell me you're leaving?"

"Yes. I promised that I would not run out on you again, and I felt that a notice of this kind should suffice to fulfill my obligation to that promise."

Chris stared at him. "You're leaving?"

"I believe that's what I've been attempting to explain."

The stare transformed into a glare. "Pearl know you're running out on her?"

The question was not the one Ezra expected. "My cousin and I came to an understanding tonight."

"So that would be a 'no'," Chris said. "You tell the others?"

"I had hoped that you might pass along my regrets."

"So 'no' again. When you planning on taking off?" The tone was cold and Ezra wondered, if even in his weakened condition, Chris might attempt to stop him.

"My horse is saddled and I am ready to leave once I had informed you of my decision."

"Runnin' out, then. A coward in the night."

"Mr. Larabee, the entire purpose of this conversation was so that I could assure you that I was not running out." Ezra found he was stung by the harsh accusation. He had been hoping to avoid exactly these types of negative thoughts about his departure.

A feral smile crossed Chris's lips. "Good, then you're staying. And can the Mr. Larabee crap; it's Chris. Go to bed, Ezra, we will finish this in the morning."

"I will be halfway to Eagle Bend in the morning." Ezra saw no reason to lie about his destination.

Chris tried to shift himself into a sitting position, and Ezra could see that the action caused him some discomfort. Without thinking, he moved to help the gunslinger. Chris grabbed the lapel of Ezra's jacket and pulled him close.

"I don't know what goes on in that fancified brain of yours, but you ain't going anywhere. And if you do, I will send Vin after you to bring you back. You ain't gonna abandon your cousin and you ain't gonna run out without so much as a goodbye to your friends."

Ezra was momentarily paralyzed by the command in his tone. He attempted to pull away, but despite being injured, Chris's grip remained firm. "Mr. Larabee -" Ezra began

"Chris!" The gunslinger barked. "Remember, One should always address ones friends with familiarity," Chris parroted Ezra's own words back at him as he released his grip. "Now explain what's behind this sudden desire to escape in the middle of the night."

Ezra felt his frustration grow; he needed to leave. Why was the man making this so difficult? The gambler was at a loss as to how to explain that his departure was for the best. There was a part of him that hadn't expected the gunslinger to do more than say goodbye. He certainly hadn't expected Chris to fight for him to stay.

He was saved from having to speak by the return of Nathan, with Vin two steps behind. Just wonderful, Ezra thought, how was he going to get out of here now?

"Saw you saddling your horse, Ezra," Vin said. "You ain't thinking of taking Pearl back to the ranch? Thought she was settled in ta the hotel for the night"

Of course Vin had been around. Ezra had suspected it; almost sensed it.

"Ezra has decided to run out on us," Chris explained.

Ezra turned to glare at the injured man. "That is unfair - Chris -" he hesitated over the use of the familiar. "I came here specifically to say goodbye and inform you of my departure."

"But you didn't feel the need to tell the rest of us?" Nathan asked. Ezra noted that the healer used the tone he normally reserved for chastising him when he'd done something of which Nathan disapproved. It made no sense that he would adopt such indignation at Ezra's impending departure.

His frustration was at the boiling point. The calm façade he normally kept in place was in danger of crumbling. "I have done as I promised and informed you of my plans. Now if you'll excuse me, I really must insist that I be going." His attempt to exit was blocked as Vin placed a hand on his chest.

"Don't know what's got ya all hot 'n bothered but you ain't thinkin' straight."

Ezra brushed him aside without a word. He passed through the still open door of the clinic and slammed it shut behind him.

+ + + + + + +

"That boy ain't right in the head," Nathan observed.

"We have to stop him," Chris said as he tried to get out of bed.

Nathan was at his side immediately, pushing him back down. "You ain't goin' nowhere.

"Nathan! I'm fine. Let me up."

"No, you ain't," Nathan said with a finality that forced Chris to behave. "I'll grab the others and we'll stop him."

"You have time for that?" Chris asked. "Thought he was saddled up and ready to go."

Vin started chuckling.

"What?" Chris demanded.

"Well, I suspected som'ing weren't right. Ain't like Ezra to be visitn' the livery so late and when I saw he'd packed his bags - well -- "

"Well what?"

Vin cracked a big smile. "I hid his saddle."

Chapter 4

Vin headed over to the hotel to rouse Mrs. Black. He still believed she was the only one who might find out what was driving Ezra's sudden need to leave town.

He knocked on the door and waited.

"Who is it?" came the cultured feminine voice.

"Sorry to wake ya, ma'am, but it's about Ezra," Vin explained. "He's tryin' to leave town and we figured you might know why."

"I'll be right out," Charlotte replied.

Vin heard movement inside the room that indicated she was dressing. Five minutes later the door was flung open. He was taken aback by her appearance. Her clothes were slightly rumpled and her dark hair hung loose to the middle of her back.

At the sight of the surprise in his eyes, she shrugged. "There is no time for the niceties. Now where is my idiot cousin?" she asked as she hurried down the stairs and out into the main street.

Vin followed in her wake. "Nathan and the rest of the boys are corralling him at the livery. I'm gonna let Chris know you're handling it."

Nodding, Charlotte stalked toward the end of the street. Her anger was a living thing and it reminded him of Chris's frustration when Ezra had pushed him to the limit. Vin figured Ezra was in for a world of hurt when she found him.

+ + + + + + +

Nathan, Josiah, Buck and JD entered the livery to see Ezra frantically searching the stalls and uncharacteristically cursing Vin's name.

Buck came up behind the smaller man. "Ezra, Nathan said you were leaving."

Ezra whirled to look up at the big man. His normally controlled features were twisted with fury. "That had been my intention, but it seems that the disappearance of my saddle has thwarted my plans!" He looked past Buck. "Would any of you happen to know what Mr. Tanner did with my property?"

Buck placed a hand on each of the southerner's shoulders. "Ezra, no one wants you ta leave, and we ain't blaming you fer what happened to Chris. Just calm down and think about what yer doing."

Ezra shrugged off his grip. "It would be safer for everyone if I left."

"I didn't mean that stuff about having a death wish. Hell, Ezra, if ya didn't pull some of yer crazy stunts, JD here would be dead and we all know that."

"It's true, Ezra," JD chimed in. "You saved my life. Don't think I don't appreciate that."

"You don't understand," Ezra said, his mounting frustration pushing him to the breaking point.

"Then explain it to us. What's the big secret?" Buck chuckled. "Because way I see it, you are one lucky son of a bitch and that makes us lucky."

"I can't!" Ezra shook his head as he walked past his friends heading for the exit. He stopped as he reached the door and turned to stare at them, the anger clear on his face. "Who thought it was a good idea to wake my cousin?"

Four sets of eyes stared at him, but before any of them could speak, Charlotte burst through the door. Her attention was completely fixed on Ezra who had spun around to face her.

JD leaned over to Buck. "How'd he know she was out there?"

Buck just shrugged.

"Ezra, what were you thinking? Sneaking out in the middle of the night!" She pointed a finger angrily at his chest. "You promised to give me time!"

"I saw no reason to delay the inevitable," Ezra snapped back.

The four watching exchanged concerned looks. "Never seen them even exchange a harsh word," Nathan said and the others agreed.

They stood transfixed by the argument in front of them.

"You lied to me!" Charlotte shouted. "How could you do that?"

"You gave me no choice, remember?

"That is not true. I simply asked you to give me more time."

"The result would be the same. Now if you don't mind, I need to find Vin and get my property back." Ezra tried to walk past her.

Charlotte grabbed his arm forcing him to face her. "Ezra, I am not done here; we need to talk."

He looked over her shoulder at the other men while he spoke to her. "I wanted to tell them the truth. If I can't do that, then I'm leaving."

Charlotte followed his gaze to see the others standing in the shadows. The surprise on her face indicated that she had been so intent on her argument with Ezra that she hadn't registered their presence.

"Ezra wants to tell us the truth, but you won't let him?" Nathan asked, the confusion clear in his question.

"Not the situation I was expecting," Buck added.

Charlotte ignored their questions as she whirled back to her cousin. "You used me to get your way?"

Ezra shook his head. "Even I am not a good enough grifter to have anticipated this scenario, but I am not one to let an opportunity pass. I believe, dear cousin, that it is time to show our hand."

"It's not that simple," she hissed through tight lips, her anger still a living thing, "and you know it. I will not be manipulated in this way!"

"Then you should let me go." Ezra's frustration with this entire day had returned in full force.

"Why must you be so stubborn?"

"Me!" Ezra felt his control slipping. "I'm not the one who is trying to have it both ways!" He was shouting at her now.

The others watched in shocked disbelief as the cousins had escalated their disagreement. They exchanged worried glances. This was no small family tiff.

"Do something, Buck," JD said elbowing his friend.

The big man nodded and stepped into the fray.

"What's going on, Ezra?" Buck asked, gaining not only their attention but two glares that would have made Chris proud. "Is your cousin the reason you're leaving?"

"Stay out of this, Buck," Ezra commanded.

"Don't think I rightly can. This ain't no small thing between you two."

Ezra let out a rueful chuckle. "You have no idea."

"Then tell us, brother," Josiah said sympathetically as he came to stand beside Buck.

"It's a private family matter," Charlotte insisted. "I'm sure you can understand why we can not share the details."

"If you did then maybe we could help."

"No, Mr. Sanchez, you can not," she spit out. "This is not your concern. I think it best that you gentlemen allow us some privacy."

Buck's eyes narrowed. "Don't know what you two are fighting about, but if it's so bad that Ez here thinks he has to leave town then it is our concern."

+ + + + + + +

Ezra studied the four men in front of him, recognizing the familiar looks of distrust as they crossed their faces. Though he'd seen looks like that all his life directed at him, it was a shock to see them directed at Charlotte. If he left now, without full disclosure, he knew that they would blame his cousin for his abrupt departure.

He could handle the questioning looks thrown his way, he was used to it, but what he could not bear was Charlotte being subject to them.

Ezra stepped forward and did something he rarely did; he placed a hand on Buck's shoulder to draw the man's attention to him. He saw in Buck's face that the gesture was recognized for the pleading overture he'd intended.

"Please," he said. "Allow me a chance to speak with my cousin in private. I assure you that this matter can be resolved to everyone's satisfaction."

"You sure, Ezra?" Nathan asked, his apprehension palpable. The healer's concern still had the power to surprise Ezra.

"Quite sure."

The four men nodded their acquiescence.

Charlotte had been quiet throughout the exchange. He could tell that some of her anger had dissipated. "Shall we retire to a more secluded locale to continue our discussion?" he asked her.

"Yes, I think that would be best," she replied.

Ezra tipped his hat toward his friends and gestured for Charlotte to follow him out of the livery.

+ + + + + + +

The men watched the livery door swing closed.

"What do you think is going on?" JD asked, unable to bear the silence any longer.

"I have no idea," Buck admitted.

"Never seen Ezra so upset," Nathan added. "Pearl neither."

"Upset?" Buck scoffed. "Hell, we've never even seen him angry before."

"I hate to be the one to point out that we should be prepared for Ezra's leaving," Josiah said.

Buck nodded, indicating he'd come to the same conclusion.

"That's it? We just gonna let him go? We have to do something," JD insisted.

"JD, she's family. It ain't none of our concern if she really wants Ezra gone," Nathan said. "Wonder what he did?"

"He didn't do nothing. You saw them at dinner." JD looked to Buck for confirmation.

"Kid's right. This argument don't make no sense. They was fine together."

"I guess we let them work it out then," Josiah offered.

"But Ezra might still leave," JD reminded them.

Buck had agreed to give Ezra a chance to fix it himself, but now he wasn't sure that was the best thing to do. The idiot had already shown that his favorite solution was to run away from conflict. Buck wasn't willing to wait until his cousin decided that was the right solution too. "Pearl wanted Ezra to lie to us. Don't like what that might mean."

"That was surprising," Josiah agreed. "The disagreement wasn't Ezra's fault, but his cousin's."

"So, what do we do?" JD asked.

"We don't let her drive him out a town," Nathan said, his anger toward Pearl's mistreatment of Ezra surprising him.

"I agree." Buck smiled as he clapped Nathan on the shoulder. "Josiah, you and JD follow them; find out where they're going. Nathan and I will get the others."

Josiah chuckled. "You mean to bring the mountain to Mohammed."

Buck nodded as he dragged Nathan off to the clinic.

"That don't make no sense, Josiah, there ain't no mountains 'round here."

Josiah shook his head and pushed the youngster out the door.

Chapter 5

Ezra guided Charlotte toward the church and she did not fight him. They walked in silence up the steps and into the sanctuary.

Charlotte seated herself in the front pew, waiting for Ezra to explain himself. It was the first time she could remember ever trading harsh words with him and it upset her greatly. Coupled with the idea that Ezra would leave on a lie, she found herself at a loss for words.

Ezra paced slowly in front of her. "The situation is untenable," he began finally.

"How so?" she asked quietly.

"If I leave they will blame you," he said. He stopped pacing as his eyes met hers. She could see the war going on inside him. "That is unacceptable. I will not allow you to lose favor in their eyes."

She was touched by his concern. "But you were willing to let them think the worst of you and I find that unacceptable."

Ezra plopped in a most ungentlemanly fashion onto the pew next to her. "Then we are at an impasse."

Charlotte rubbed a comforting hand down his arm. "I do not understand why you could not simply have continued on as a lawman as I suggested. There was no need for what happened here this evening."

He shook his head dejectedly. Charlotte was beginning to understand that there was something else driving Ezra tonight, but for the life of her she could not determine what it was.

"Why is it so important to you to share our secret?" She stopped herself from adding that Ezra had never felt the need to be truthful with anyone but her.

"I can't explain it," Ezra said, his voice filled with emotion. "It is just important that I tell them the truth; that is, if I stay."

She studied him and thought back over everything that had happened today; the conversation in his room, his behavior in the clinic watching them all enjoy the pie, and the camaraderie during dinner with Buck and JD. But mostly she focused on Ezra's reaction to the concern shown by the men in the livery at the argument between them. The truth hit her like a lightening bolt.

He didn't think they would ever trust him, and he desperately wanted their good regard. Charlotte knew that Ezra had their trust and didn't even realize it. Somehow he thought it would never happen, not completely, not without a grand gesture of trust from him. It pained her that he could think so little of his own company. Charlotte knew in that instant that her own fears were not as important as the connection that Ezra was attempting to build with his friends.

"Then we will tell them," Charlotte said simply.

+ + + + + + +

Chris was stretched out on the top step of the church. The rest of the guys were reclining on and around the stairs.

"How long we gonna give them?" Buck asked, voicing everyone's impatience at waiting outside.

Chris looked up at his friend and raised his hand. He'd grown tired of waiting too.

Buck smiled as he helped their leader to his feet. "Go gettem', Hoss."

Chris hobbled forward on the crutch Nathan had insisted he use and flung open the church doors with a bang. He hated being injured as it took some of the menace out of his entrance.

Ezra and Charlotte were on their feet in an instant watching as Chris charged toward them as best as he was able given his injury.

"You okay?" he asked Ezra, who nodded silently. "Good." He pushed the gambler aside to face Pearl. "Now you're going to explain why you told Ezra to lie to us." He glared at the woman; his anger at this whole situation directed squarely at her.

She did not flinch but stood toe to toe with him. "Mr. Larabee, do not take that tone with me."

"I'll take whatever tone I like if it means protecting one of my own even from his own family."

Chris didn't care if he upset her; Pearl had left him no choice. From what Buck had relayed of the argument in the livery, it was her fault that Ezra no longer felt welcome. He had to admit that he was relieved for once not to be the source of conflict with the gambler. He aimed to make sure that his team stayed together and being tactful wasn't a skill he'd ever mastered nor did he care to.

"Chris, stop!" Ezra moved between the two. "My cousin has come to see my point of view."

Chris took a step back. "She gonna explain everything?"

"I was," she snapped, as she crossed her arms and continued to stare at the black clad gunslinger. "But after that little display of incivility, I'm not sure you're worthy."

"Pearl, we agreed--" Ezra began but stopped as she turned her glare to him.

"He was rude!" she spit out.

Ezra threw his hands up in frustration and stepped away allowing Pearl to return her attention to Chris.

Chris had been stupid and now he'd made her angry. He hadn't given Ezra enough credit in dealing with his formidable cousin; but then she had a way about her that had caused all of the men to defer to her at one time or another. Even he had backed down on at least one occasion.

But something was off about her tonight. It was then he noticed how her hair cascaded down her back, that her clothes lacked that just pressed looked he'd come to associate with her, and was there a bit of fear in her eyes behind the anger.

"Think you best apologize, stud," Buck whispered in his ear, "or we won't get any answers."

Chris tilted his head toward Buck. Damn but the man was right. He took in a deep breath. "Pearl, I'm--" he paused searching for the right words.

She looked up at him, waiting, a small smile breaking through her attempt at sternness. "Yes, Chris?" She stepped toward him.

"What I mean to say is-- " he stopped again as he heard the others snickering behind him. He turned his head to glare at them.

"You're doing great, cowboy," Vin said with a wave of his hand, indicating Chris should get on with it.

Pearl was smiling at him when he turned back around. "Apology accepted," she said.

Chris returned her smile, relieved that she had saved him from actually saying the words.

+ + + + + + +

Ezra was thankful that the tension between his cousin and his leader had dissipated. The silence stretched as they stood smiling at each other. Ezra was reluctant to intrude on the moment until he was sure that they had truly reconciled.

His attention was drawn toward Buck, as the ladies man elbowed Vin and nodded toward the smiling couple. Ezra swung his gaze back to Chris and Charlotte.

No, no no, he thought. He was not seeing that! This was worse than watching Josiah moon over his mother.

Ezra cleared his throat drawing everyone's eyes to him. "Cousin, if all is well, I believe you and I have something to share."

"Of course," she said. "Josiah, may I borrow your knife?"

"Thought you and Chris made up," he chuckled.

"Give her the knife, Josiah," Chris snapped as he settled himself onto the front pew.

The big man walked over and handed her the blade. "Thank you." Charlotte took the weapon and then rolled up her sleeve.

"What are you doing?" Ezra reached out and grasped the hand holding the knife.

"I thought a demonstration was in order."

"If anyone is demonstrating anything, I assumed that would be me," Ezra insisted as he tried to take the knife from her.

"Don't be silly, Ezra, I've done this before." The two wrestled for control of the weapon momentarily before Charlotte was able to pull her hand away. Suddenly free, she stumbled backwards and into Buck.

Buck caught her and doing what Ezra had been unable, he took the weapon from her hand. "Y'all want to explain what's going on? 'Cause all I see is you two arguing over a knife."

Charlotte glared at him as she held out her hand. Buck ignored her silent demand and gave the knife to Ezra.

"Thank you, Mr. Wilmington," he said. "First the explanation, then the demonstration."

"You are not going to do the demonstration," she insisted reaching once again for the knife.

Ezra was clearly frustrated by her behavior. "Charlotte, be reasonable. I can not allow you to harm yourself. That would be most ungentlemanly of me."

"Who's Charlotte?" JD asked.

Chapter 6

JD was at the end of his patience; though according to Buck that wasn't a very long trip. He'd been anxious about this confusing situation since they'd found Ezra searching for his saddle in the livery.

First Chris's temper had almost ruined the whole thing, then Ezra and Mrs. Black had started fighting over a stupid knife, and now Ez had called her Charlotte. Nothing made any sense to him.

"Who's Charlotte?" It had seemed like an innocent question, but the look that Mrs. Black had sent Ezra told him that it was part of the mystery.

"That is an interesting question, JD," Ezra said. "Charlotte is - well you see -"

"Oh for goodness sake," Pearl said and grabbed the knife from Ezra. Before anyone could stop her, she plunged the knife into her chest.

JD stood transfixed as Ezra caught his cousin and lowered her to the ground. "That was completely unfair," he snapped at her.

"Now you explain it," she gasped. "I'll be back in a bit." Her head rolled to the side

Nathan was at the fallen woman's side immediately as the others moved closer as well. Chris struggled to his feet.


The healer looked up at Chris and shook his head.

The gunslinger's fury erupted. "Why the hell would she do that, Ezra?" he yelled. He tried to reach for the gambler but lost his balance. Vin was at his side immediately to settled him back onto the pew as Chris grimaced in pain.

Buck took over when he saw that Chris was incapacitated. He grabbed Ezra by his jacket, yanking the smaller man to his feet. "What the hell just happened here?"

Ezra shrugged out of Buck's hold and straightened his jacket. "What happened is that my cousin took advantage of my distraction to perform the demonstration leaving me to the explanation."

"So start explaining," Chris growled.

Ezra took a deep breath. "You have chastised me for taking too many risks during our recent encounters--" he began.

"What does that have to do with this?" Nathan demanded. "Your cousin just killed herself and you're angry with her! Don't you care?" Nathan was furious.

"I am attempting to lay the foundation for the explanation, if you don't mind."

"How can you be so heartless, Ezra?" Josiah asked. Kneeling next to Pearl's body, he hesitated before removing his knife and tossing it aside as if unable to bear the touch of it.

"I'm trying to tell you," Ezra snapped

Mrs. Black had killed herself right in front of them; JD was stunned. His first thought was for Jemma and the other Black children: who was going to tell them their mother was dead? It confused him that Ezra didn't seem to care.

JD couldn't stop himself from thinking about his own mother and that feeling of loss. He continued to struggle with his emotions but lost the battle as he felt a few tears slip down his cheek as his anger built. "Just tell us!" he shouted over the din of the other's interrogation of Ezra. "Don't need no long winded story."

The arguing stopped as the others all faced him. JD tired to hide the fact that he'd lost control of his emotions; he hugged his arms around his body and glared at Ezra.

"JD, do not be upset," Ezra said sympathetically as the gambler approached him. "Pearl will be back within the hour. She can not die permanently because she is Immortal."

He stared at the southerner. "That ain't funny, Ezra."

"It is not meant to be."

"What do you mean Immortal?" Chris demanded.

"My cousin and I can die, but we do not stay dead," Ezra said, turning to look at the others. "We can heal from any wound almost instantaneously."

"You were shot this morning, weren't you?" Vin asked.

"You don't believe this?" Chris asked the tracker

"Actually I do," Vin confirmed. "Ez here had a fresh bullet hole in his new jacket this morning. No way he gets a hole in his jacket in that location without taking a bullet to the back."

"You are correct, Vin. In attempting to get Chris to safety, I was shot in the back."

"I wouldn't have guessed you was an Immortal, but I knew som'ing was off about that bullet hole," Vin said as he smiled at Ezra, confirming his acceptance of the situation.

The others stood silently absorbing this information. Pearl wasn't dead. JD wasn't sure he could begin to believe that until he saw her breathing again.

"So when you saved JD last month and Chris thought you were gut shot, you really were?" Nathan asked

"That hole in your coat that ya showed me; that bullet hit you," Buck added.

"Yes, I was shot and it took quite a bit of stalling to prevent y'all from discovering what had happened until I had healed." Ezra grinned, obviously proud of his deception.

"That's a helluva nifty trick." Buck said, gratitude for the ability which had saved his friend in his voice.

"You took a bullet for me?" JD couldn't believe he'd done that.

Ezra nodded. "I was happy to do it, JD. I couldn't be killed and you might have been. How could I allow that to happen when I knew I could prevent it?"

"Thanks." JD knew it would never be enough but it was all he could offer. If Ezra hadn't jumped in front of that bullet, he might be dead. JD was overwhelmed by that thought.

+ + + + + + +

When Charlotte woke up, Ezra was going to kill her! They'd been ready to throttle him until he'd finally been able to share the truth.

He was grateful for Vin's powers of observation. The tracker's belief had calmed the others. It had actually been enjoyable watching the realization dawn on them that he was serious.

Except that now, JD was looking at him like he was his new hero and Buck was a little bit as well. He hadn't saved JD for that kind of admiration; in fact he wished the kid would stop staring at him that way.

"I know you have many other questions," Ezra said.

"That is an understatement," Josiah said. The preacher looked shaken as he plopped into one of the pews. "How is this possible?"

"I really don't know," Ezra admitted.

"Why tell us now?" Chris asked.

"I think you know the answer to that question." Ezra gestured to the gunslinger's leg. "You were hurt trying to save me. A gesture, while much appreciated, was completely unnecessary."

"My god, Ezra, you care about us don'cha." Buck was still grinning at him. "I said you were one lucky son of a bitch and that made us lucky. Guess I was right."

"I think you are overstating the significance of my actions," Ezra insisted, trying to deflect the depth of emotion Buck was accusing him of feeling.

"Buck's right. You've been protecting us. Taking crazy risks so we didn't have to," Nathan said with awe in his voice. Ezra was sure he'd had never heard that respectful tone of the healer's directed at him.

He was becoming unnerved by the responses from his compatriots. He had hoped for acceptance but had not allowed himself to believe it possible. He'd lived so long under a cloud of mistrust; he wasn't sure what this newfound admiration really meant.

"But why didn't Pearl want us to know?" Josiah asked.

"I will let her explain her exact feelings about that. Just know that Immortality isn't always viewed in a positive light."

"She thought we'd reject ya. Think ya were freaks."

Ezra had ceased to be amazed by Vin's ability to read between the lines. "You have inferred her motivations correctly," he admitted. "She feared your reactions."

"Hell Ez. That's jest wrong thinkin'," the tracker said. "Ain't gonna change the way we see you or her."

"It has happened to many Immortals in the past. They've been accused of using witchcraft; of being abominations against God." He directed this last statement toward Josiah wondering how the former preacher was handling his revelations.

"Abomination? No, don't think that." Josiah shook his head as a small smile broke across his face. "Figure He's got a wicked sense of humor though."

"I would appreciate if you would share those sentiments with my cousin when she awakes," Ezra said. He allowed himself to enjoy the knowledge that Charlotte's fears were unfounded.

Nathan gestured toward Charlotte. "Did it hurt?" he asked.

Ezra nodded. "We feel the pain just as you do, which is why I did not want my cousin to perform this demonstration."

The questions continued to come in rapid succession. Ezra explained all that he knew to the best of his ability, all the while silently cursing Charlotte for abandoning him to this task for which he felt completely unprepared to handle alone.

The inquiries about Charlotte he put off, suggesting that they needed to ask his cousin about her history. He did explain the basic concept of the Game, the need for a violent first death to trigger Immortality, the ability to sense other Immortals and the finality of decapitation.

Then JD asked the question Ezra had been dreading. "How old are you? I mean how long have you been Immortal?"

"Well, I've been Immortal for about three months," he admitted and waited for the shock to wear off.

"You died this past Spring?" Nathan asked. "How?"

"I would rather not say; it was something of a traumatic experience."

"Does Maude know?" Again JD seemed to be asking all the questions he didn't want to answer.

Ezra really did not want to talk about his mother. This was one aspect of his confession he'd neglected to account for. He was saved from answering when he felt Charlotte's buzz return. It was about time.

He smiled at his friends and moved to kneel beside his cousin. "She's reviving," he told them.

+ + + + + + +

Chris had sat silently on the pew listening to all that Ezra had to share. His mind was still reeling from the idea that they were Immortals. He'd barely taken his eyes off of Pearl's lifeless body as he absorbed every word of the conversation going on around him.

He had questions, lots of questions, but couldn't bring himself to voice any of them. He wondered who decided that some could cheat death and others could not. Why Pearl and not Sarah? The dark thoughts swirled in his mind and he shook himself trying to force them away.

It didn't seem possible that she would return to life, to be able to breath and laugh and make pie once again. He found himself smiling at that thought, which chased away the brooding he'd felt himself falling toward. This beautiful, maddening woman would never die and he was both fascinated and conflicted by that thought.

Then Ezra announced that Pearl was waking up. Chris stared at her and could see the signs that life had returned. She sat up with a gasping breath and looked around; the fear he had suspected earlier plain on her face. Then just as quickly it disappeared as she composed herself.

She took several deep breaths before she settled her gaze on Ezra. "Well, dearest, how did they take it?" she asked as he helped her to her feet.

She was a bit unsteady and Ezra helped her settle onto the pew next to Chris.

"You don't have to worry, Miz Black," Vin was the first to speak. "Ez explained everything."

The others quickly chimed in their understanding and acceptance of the situation. JD had moved to sit on Pearl's other side; his eyes filled with wonder. As if sensing his need for proof, Pearl leaned to give him a quick hug.

"It's really me," she assured him. The kid lit up like a Roman candle.

Chris watched Pearl take in their acceptance. She really had expected them to what? Burn them at the stake, send them on their way? He didn't know whether to be angry or disappointed by her lack of faith in them.

Sensing his scrutiny, Pearl turned her unspoken question to Chris.

Instead Chris looked up at Ezra. "You figure on staying around now?"

Ezra frowned as he studied the two before him on the pew. "She was only trying to protect me. There is no reason to be angry with her."

Chris narrowed his gaze. "I know that. This ain't about her. It's about you leaving in the middle of the night thinking we wouldn't understand this Immortality stuff."

Ezra remained silent as if he still didn't understand the question.

Buck chuckled. "Chris is mad you didn't trust us the way we trust you."

"Trust me?" Ezra squeaked out.

"Wouldn't ride with you, if we didn't trust ya," Vin said simply.

"So you staying or going?" Chris was enjoying the gambler's discomfort. He knew that Ezra had trust issues. Hell, they all did, but he wouldn't have fought so hard for the man to stay if he didn't trust Ezra to watch his back.

Ezra had been right to tell them. His crazy stunts had been escalating and sooner or later one was gonna backfire. Chris had put it all together and knew exactly why Ezra wanted to go. He would have some choice words for Pearl later, out of Ezra's earshot. After everything that had happened today, she'd been proven wrong and needed to better understand the dynamics of their group.

"I thought it was obvious," Ezra said, that smug smile that Chris hated back in place.

Chris just glared at him, unwilling to let the southerner get out of saying the words.

"I am staying," he finally admitted under the unrelenting glare.

"Good." Chris said and then turned toward Pearl. He saw the hesitancy in her eyes, wondering what he had to say about her Immortality. Instead he smiled and asked, "You got any of that pie left?"