Twilight at Four Corners

Peta Collins and Leigh Richards

Vin and Ezra walked quickly into the sheriff's office handing the papers to the gambler, who began to rifle through a pile while Vin went through the other.

"What exactly are we looking for, Mr Tanner?" Ezra queried sitting down in the chair and gazing at the tracker as he lighted a lamp.

"A man" he stated softly seeing the exasperated look this earned him.

He continued " A man wanted in Tuscosa, real bad, murderer, lots of women, part Indian."

Ezra frowned "Tuscosa" he repeated resting his elbows on the table as he studied the hunter before him.

"Yeah," Vin breathed out not looking at the other man. He only wanted to tell this story once, and he trusted Ezra to keep the information to himself.

"I was bounty hunting there, this guy was real hard to track... as good as the Indians... it's what tipped me off. I'd been only tracking him for three months and I found him, we got into a fight, I thought I'd killed him, but these fellas show up and their shooting holes in the sky and ground, I didn't stand a chance. Next thing I know I'm waking up in some Indian Reservation.... I thought they took him in, I guess I was wrong..."

Ezra sat silently pondering the recent revelations of his compatriot. "What was this devil's name?"

Vin leant back in his chair. "Keppel. Thomas Keppel."

+ + + + + + +

Keppel gazed about the Saloon with a hint of distaste. Damn it. Those seven lawmen were supposed to be in here drinking. Everyone he spoke too in this godforsaken town had told him the same thing; Regular as clock work they all congregated in this disgusting Saloon to drink. Scratching the table with his knife, he supposed he could wait a bit longer. After all they didn't know he was here or what they were looking for. Brushing his hand across the table he wiped at the chunks of splinters, like shards of someone's' life. He mused. Just keep scratching the surface and sooner or later it all crumbles and dies. He laughed and the men at the nearby tables looked at him strangely. He was sitting alone. Keppel grinned, so they weren't here tonight. They were probably 'investigating' and he chuckled again. He had all the time in the world to watch, wait and plan.

+ + + + + + +

JD woke from his alcohol-induced slumber and could hear the sound of dishes being washed. He heard the sound of female laughter and his gut twisted at the sound. Kate. Kate was laughing. JD rubbed his eyes and stood slowly, the room wasn't spinning, that was a good sign. He didn't know how long he had slept for, except now he felt a lot better.

Walking down the stairs he stopped at the bottom, watching as Billy rode on Chris's back and Mary looked on disapprovingly. Yet the light in her eyes suggested that she was pleased Chris was there.

"Buck, could you pass me those dishes on the sideboard," Mary asked, gently patting Buck on the back and gesturing towards the plates. Buck smiled at her and then froze when he saw JD standing beside the sideboard. Buck's face dropped, all of the last few hours of light hearted banter forgotten. Chris let Billy slide to the floor, and placed a hand on the boy's shoulder to keep him from moving. JD looked like hell, and Buck looked like he had been sucker punched.

Neither man said a word for a long drawn out moment, when JD went to speak Buck simply raised a hand halting the words. Buck couldn't hear this, not right now. He just couldn't.... Turning jerkily he forced a smile at the women before turning and walking out.

JD watched Buck go with a heavy heart. He deserved that he knew, but it didn't stop the hurt any less. How badly must Buck be hurting? His eyes suddenly burned with unshed tears.

"JD," Chris said walking over to the young man who was still staring at the door his hat in his hands. Pulling the young man into Mary's parlour. He patted JD's shoulder. "He'll come around, you'll see. It's just been a bit much for him today I suspect."

JD ducked his head, his brown hair shadowing his face. "I know, Chris. I just wish I'd never said anything."

"JD, you gotta tell us how you feel. If you don't tell us how we gonna help you. Deep down Buck's worried about you, son and we all took it for granted lately that you were okay and I am sorry, JD," Chris reassured.

"Heck Chris. I wouldn't have had it any other way... I guess I'm just-" He paused looking away from the taller man, who waited quietly. "Do you think Buck's okay?" He asked diverting the conversation from himself.

Chris raised an eyebrow sardonically at JD. "He's just got a lot on his mind."

"That's what I'm worried about," JD returned, hearing the sounds of the women working in the kitchen and it reminded him of home in Boston.

"No need to be," Chris affirmed, before moving away and leaning against the wall and looking carefully at JD.

"What?" JD asked quizzically, shifting a little uncomfortably under the weight of the stare.

"Vin and Ezra found another body... they think it's the same killer."

"Oh man," JD said, slumping down on a nearby chair. "You mean she... Sh- Kate isn't the killer?"

Slowly Chris shook his head. "Doesn't look like."

"But how do we know for sure?"

"Same style at both places... at least according to Vin."

"Does everyone else know?"

"Nathan doesn't, Josiah's with him now," Chris responded quietly shifting his foot slightly so the spur clanged into the silence. JD fingered the butts of his Colts worriedly.

"Christ, Chris. Buck.."

"It will work itself out. You'll see," Chris drawled, wondering where Buck had disappeared too. He was worried about the man. But he didn't want to push him too hard. Buck would come to him when he was ready. Chris was certain of it. Now he just had to help JD work through the load of guilt he seemed to be determined to put on his shoulders.

"Ah listen Chris, I am gonna head out. Do a patrol then crash," JD decided suddenly.

"That's probably a good idea JD. Ain't nothing we can do tonight," Chris returned, watching the young man grab his jacket from the coat hanger. He wanted to be alone and wallow. Chris tapped his foot on the ground. Can't blame him really, it's been a hell of a day.

+ + + + + + +

Vin leaned back in his chair, on the porch in front of the Sheriff's office. Ezra had long since departed to his room. He thought he could just make out a figure moving towards him. "Hey there, Buckley."

"Vin," the taller man acknowledged with a nod as he paused as if debating whether to keep on walking or to stop and sit with the tracker.

"You doing all right?" Vin inquired eyeing the man briefly before turning to his constant vigil of the town. He saw JD exit the Clarion, his head down as he pulled on his coat. He watched as Buck turned as if sensing the younger man's presence. JD didn't seem to see them as he turned to walk the other way, there was something about the way that he was walking that looked wrong.

Wilmington sighed heavily looking away seeing Vin watching Dunne with something akin to concern and worry. He swallowed the pain as he rubbed his hand over his gun waiting.

"He's hurting bad," Tanner finally commented his eyes serious, he saw the faint acknowledgment in the eyes. "Ya can tell by the walk, heavy, his body sort of slumped, too much of an effort. The way his head hangs half way down, not really noticing anything" he stopped seeing as Buck watched JD closer again before he turned down into an alley disappearing from view. Wilmington faced the tracker running a hand through his hair as he placed the hat back on his head.

The two men were silent in their quiet vigil over the town. Buck shifting so he leant against the pole on the edge of the porch.

"I know he's hurting..," Buck replied finally, before his blue eyes flashed with fire. "But what he said hurt me, Vin." He didn't see the younger man freeze in his step as he approached the porch from the side. "I just don't know if I can forgive that..." He looked back at Vin who sighed heavily, his eyes meeting the brown hazel ones of JD, before he could say something the younger man was gone.

Tanner looked back at the scoundrel "I reckon he knows now," he stated bluntly, pointing to where the sheriff was now hurrying into the hotel almost at a run.

Buck swore under his breath before looking accusingly at the man beside him. "Ya might have warned me, I didn't want him hearing that." He shook his head, wondering again why he had gotten up this morning.

"Yeah well, he's hurting and ya need to see that," Vin retorted rubbing his harmonica on his thigh. Not even glancing at the man beside him.

"I KNOW HE'S HURTING!" Buck exclaimed angrily, his voice loud in the night.

"Do you? Cause lately all JD's been doing is hiding the fact that he's downright scared he nearly lost ya, and ya not even talking about it!" Vin snapped irritated, letting his harmonica rest in his lap. He needed to get a grip on this fear. God, he had to control this emotion. He couldn't track like this, and he had a killer to catch.

Buck bit back the angry retort, couldn't Tanner see that JD's words had hurt him? God, they had jumped to defend Ezra but now Vin only saw JD's side. The ache in his heart increased, the kid was right. They didn't know if they could count on him anymore. He stopped the whirlwind train of thoughts as the last words hit him. "You're not talking about JD, are you?" Buck questioned as he gazed at the suddenly still figure beside him. Vin closed his eyes briefly, and shook his head, looking away.

"Ya talking about you?" Buck stated knowing he was right by the slightest flinch the other man made. He saw the blue eyes flicker with something.

"God damn Vin, I had no idea that..." Buck paused as he remembered the events... the clicking of the gun, that blackness. The despair that had engulfed. And now he saw Vin's face, the wide blue eyes filled with worry, concern, fear for him, and the distress that this caused him.

"I'm sorry, Vin.... I didn't mean to..." Buck was halted from saying anymore as Vin suddenly stood, his eyes hooded as he turned away from the other man.

Buck frowned, clenching his jaw in frustration, before the buckskin-clad man in front of him turned. When would he ever stop hurting people?

"I ain't ever gonna forget that picture, the gun... your eyes..." Vin swallowed visibly, looking away as he tilted his head to study the ground. One hand placed the harmonica in a trusty pocket before he spoke again into the silence.

"But I'm glad I was there and ya know why, pard?" he said softly, his blue eyes meeting his friends. "Because ya stopped, I don't think ya would of done it... maybe I don't know, but all I know is ya here now and I'm pleased I help stop whatever train ya were on," he finished, leaning back against the pole beside him.

Buck bit his lip trying to speak, his emotions overwhelming, and seeing his loss, Vin reached forward holding out his hand. Buck gripped it firmly, pulling the slightly unbalanced tracker towards giving him a brief hug. "Thanks," Buck whispered.

Without a word the hunter smiled at him, tipping his hat in salute before turning to finish the patrol that JD had started.

Buck watched him go, for some reason even though everything looked bad right now, and his heart hurt at the harsh words of earlier in the day and for Nathan, Ezra, and JD. He knew without a doubt that as family they would pull through together, they just had to remember that's where the strength lay. Together. He just had to remember that and that was proving more difficult than he'd imagined.

+ + + + + + +

Nathan made his way slowly out onto the deck of his clinic. His brown eyes squinted in the harsh sunlight. It was cool, but the sun shone brightly and his eyes darkened... it wasn't right, it should be overcast, clouds, storms. Anything that would show his loss. But the sun still beamed down at him, as if trying to force him to see the light.

He saw Kate standing on the boardwalk talking quietly with Buck and Mary. She looked different in ladies clothes. She looked fragile, and he wanted desperately to ask her about Rain's last moments. When Josiah had told him that they found another body, and it was impossible that she was the killer, he had fought it till he was worn out with his own arguments. But, Josiah had calmly pointed out the faults in his arguments. Never once faltering in the face of his anger. Now he felt tired, weary, and alone. The woman he loved was gone, and he didn't ever know if

he could make peace with that.

He could see Ezra standing with Vin and JD... there was something odd about his friends. He just was too exhausted to work it out. He wanted nothing to do with them, with healing. He couldn't heal his own woman's injuries, what good were these skills for if they couldn't save the woman he loved.

Rubbing his hands over the worn railing he pondered his future in Four Corners. What was the point in him staying now? Rain was dead; the other men could survive without him. There was just no point to it all.

+ + + + + + +

Mary Travis twisted her hands nervously. Chris grinned at her gently. He was well aware of what she wasn't saying, but asking. "Fine Mary, I'll take Billy fishing."

The expression of relief that swamped her face made him frown slightly before he smiled. There was a reason why she wanted him gone, and he'd make damn sure he'd find out what it was.

"Thanks Chris, Billy is really looking forward to it." She smiled, her eyes darting past him to check where her son was playing.

"Anytime, Mary," he replied, touching her gently on the cheek before swaggering away to find out if Vin had discovered anything from his morning scouting trip.

Mary nodded, still feeling the tingling sensation from where he touched her and it made her smile. Standing quietly for a moment, arms wrapped around her she watcher her son play. He'd been without a father for so long. It was heartening to watch the relationship develop between Billy and Chris, it reminded her of Stephen.

She strode away, unaware of the gentleman that had been about to speak to her.

Tomorrow, then. She could do what needed to be done tomorrow, when Chris was with Billy.

Ian Palmer sighed with frustration. That widow was as prickly as a pear, what she saw in Larabee, he'd never know. He only wished it was him the widow looked at like that. Keppel watched this all with an amused expression. An idea forming in his mind he moved over to Palmer and introduced himself.

+ + + + + + +

Chris Larabee watched the gambler intently, he wasn't thinking about them, he was sure.

Ezra shuffled his cards. The cards flying with his thoughts, the cards in his fingers were somehow a relaxing quality. He was aware that the other four members at the table were very curious as to what Maude had said.

His green eyes flicked to Josiah... their was a knowledge their. Sanchez knew the truth. He could see something else there, and he knew without a doubt that Maude was withholding from him. He knew it that morning when she had explained her reasons, and he honestly believed that he would be able to live with that explanation. But, he needed to know what she was holding back. Her last secret had almost destroyed him, causing him to retreat into his mind. He wasn't sure if he could risk that again, but then knowing would resolve everything.

"You gonna deal?" JD prompted nervously his eyes meeting the green ones that pinned him, before his looked away.

Ezra heaved a sigh before plastering a small smile on his face, he didn't mean to lash out at JD the other day. He still felt mad, but wasn't ready to deal with it at the moment, and the man looked so guilty he wasn't sure if he needed too. For one thing he knew was that JD would punish himself far more than any tongue-lashing he could give ever would.

"Certainly," Ezra smiled beginning to deal out the cards as he grinned slyly. "You going to eat tomorrow, Mr Dunne? It is three days to pay day after all?" he saw Vin chuckle and he began to use his talents to ease the tension that had settled upon this group of men.

JD Dunne folded his cards looking disgustedly at Ezra who gave a cheeky grin "I warned you Mr Dunne, let that be a lesson to listen to what I say".

And suddenly JD understood that this was the gambler's way to remind him that it had been Standish's decision when he told Buck. He had broken that, but Ezra was just acknowledging and letting it go. He swallowed past the sudden lump in his throat avoiding the gazes of the other two men as he nodded at Ezra. He understood, quickly rising to his feet he exited the saloon.

The three men watched him go before Chris turned his gaze back to the con man, who was staring thoughtfully after the younger man.

"You could've given him a hard lecture" Chris stated, reaching for his beer before leaning back and openly studying the gentleman opposite him.

"Yes" Ezra replied not bothering to look at the two men, as the cards began to dance.

Vin wondered if Larabee realised that the cards signalled Ezra's state of mind. He watched them fly and he knew that without a doubt the gambler was coping. But it was only a matter of time.

Josiah studied the man, his eyes softening with sadness as he thought on Maude's words. Would the gambler listen? He hoped he would, but then again you could never dictate how Standish would react; he was as much of an enigma as Vin Tanner. His mind wandered to Vin; he had been distant and quiet even more so than usual. Before he could query the younger man, he spotted the elegant dignified figure of Maude as she made her way to the hotel restaurant for dinner. He looked at the three men, and nodded softly before disappearing into the murky night.

"Well, why didn't you?" Larabee prompted curious as to why Standish had taken that route to tell JD.

"Nothing serves more of a lesson than a little hunger," Ezra stated, his green eyes flickered slightly before they registered back on his leader's. "He didn't need me to tell him I told you so," he replied quietly.

Tanner nodded in agreement as he accepted the cards that Ezra dealt him. God, he couldn't believe Keppel was free. If he had just followed his instinct, checked out what really happened, maybe Rain would still be alive, how many other women would still be alive?"

"Chris, I think I know who's been killing around these parts..." he began leaning back in his chair, cards forgotten as he explained to his friends his feelings.

"You couldn't of known," Chris stated quietly without looking at the other man.

"I should have," Vin countered, closing his eyes briefly thinking of all of the other bodies that he had discovered of Keppel's.

"Contrary to popular belief, Mr Tanner, I do not believe you have the gift of foresight. There is no conceivable way you could have known that Mr Keppel was free," Ezra said softly tapping the cards gently against the table as he watched the other man intently.

"Maybe," Vin said softly reaching for his beer before shaking his head. "I've seen some thing's in my time, but this guy was riding the edge when I hunted him, I don't know much of his mind is left".

"We'll get him," Larabee stated firmly, he would get this man. He knew Tanner had glossed over the fight with Keppel, but one look at Standish and he knew that he had seen it as well. Keppel had almost killed Vin.

Tanner nodded in agreement. They all sat silent before Ezra rose stiffly to his feet. "Gentlemen, it's been a pleasure"

Larabee grinned as he joined the gambler eyes sliding to the tracker who still stared at his drink. Ezra gently cuffed the hunter on the shoulder "We'll get him" tipping his hat in salute he was gone.

"Seems to be doing all right," Chris commented slowly as the tracker made his way to the door with him.

"Yeah," Vin nodded. "Just hope it stays that way, I reckon though something else is about to happen, got a feeling."

"I thought you didn't see into the future." Chris grinned as they stood on the boardwalk watching the gambler head towards the hotel.

"I don't, just get feelings," Vin replied, eyes cutting to him before looking back at he gambler.

"We'll just see he gets there safely," Larabee drawled spurs clanging softly as they walked along the road following the gambler at a discreet distance.

+ + + + + + +

JD wasn't really sure where he was walking he just needed to feel something, he felt like he was losing his grip. He knew his hands were shaking, he made his way slowly into the cemetery it had been a long time since he had set foot in this place. It was eerie here at night and JD hunched his shoulders as he scuffed at the dirt as he ambled. He knew where her grave was just as he also knew where Annie's was and where Rain's would be as well.

He hadn't been here for a while though... not since Annie, but he still knew where 'she' was. JD ran a hand through his brown hair, he hadn't realised he'd left his hat in the saloon. His palms felt sweaty and he rubbed them agitatedly against the coarse fabric of his coat. The coat, his coat one of these days he'd get a new one soft expensive fabric like Ezra's. Maybe he'd get Standish to help him pick it out, after all the man knew his clothing he thought with a brief smile.

His legs felt like lead as finally halted in front of the small gravestone with her name:

'Madeleine Stokes'

Sister of Kate Stokes

'God no date.' He thought.

JD wondered why. But he knew why, none of the men had wanted him to remember Kate had not wished to remember either. His legs suddenly felt unsteady as he fell to his knees, head bowed as the slight breeze cooled his flushed cheeks. JD wanted to understand what had pushed him to be so cruel, to a man he considered a brother. God, he couldn't remember the last time he had felt this alone, this scared.

Then with a flash of memory it hit him, the last time he had felt this way was when Ma died. He shuddered with remembered grief, when she had died he had no family left. So he had headed west and found seven brothers. He had never had them before, but he couldn't remember a time when he hadn't felt more lost.

"You okay there, kid?"

JD's head whipped up to see the ladies man standing beside him staring down at him intently. Beginning to rise, he realised that he just didn't have the strength, biting his lip he looked away unsure at how to respond to his best friend.

"Ya know, common courtesy says you ought to respond," Buck said sardonically moving around so he could see the kid's face in the moonlight.

"Yeah well..." JD's Boston accent sounded soft and tired.

Buck paused uncertain how to act, it was difficult the kid's words had hurt, but watching JD now he doubted whether fighting would do any good. Besides the last thing he needed was a repeat performance of Purgatory.

Wilmington sighed deeply, about to speak when JD interrupted him standing and distancing himself physically from Buck. Sliding his hands into his pockets Buck frowned, JD looked different... he looked lonely.

"I... I shouldn't have said what I did to you and I should accept that," JD whispered softly, his eyes serious and huge in the night.

"Hmmm" Buck said non-committedly, "You have a right to your view kid." He rubbed a hand against his jaw.

JD shrugged looking away back to the grave, "Maybe." He kicked at the ground.

"What? You don't have a right to your opinion?" Buck countered, "You made that pretty clear the other day what you thought." One hand rose to smooth his moustache.

"Yeah well," JD replied shortly, trying desperately to quell the rising tide of anger and fear. He couldn't let it go again, not now -Not on Buck.

"That's all you have to say 'Yeah Well?" Buck repeated "God kid! I'm trying to set things straight here and you're making it damn difficult!" He snapped angrily blue eyes flashing, his foot tapping agitatedly on the ground.

JD's head whipped back and forth as he shook his head, his skin going pale before he bit out. "DAMN IT BUCK! CAN'T YOU SEE WHAT'S GOING TO HAPPEN! Kate's going to kill ya. Sleep with ya and kill ya that's their way!"

The two men froze as JD's words carried in the air, the wind died down, leaving a stillness that neither was willing to break. Their eyes locked for a long moment and JD shook his head and pivoted on his heel, giving in to the desire to escape the revelation and the look on Buck's face.

Wilmington stared after the retreating figure, his mouth agape. The kid thought that Kate would kill him. "Oh hell," he muttered. No wonder he'd been acting so strange lately.

Slamming his hat against his hand he raced after JD, hesitating when he reached the main strip, before seeing JD hurrying in the direction of his room. Throwing open the door to JD's room forcefully, Buck glared at him as he slammed the worn wooden door behind him. JD gulped and backed away from the taller man as Buck advanced on him.

"Tell me you don't think Kate's a killer, JD," he said fiercely, throwing his hat down.

"I don't know," JD responded shakily looking away from Buck. "All I know is that my guts saying that if you get involved with her you're going to die... just as Mady tried to kill me. Don't you see you've already tried to die once, I can't lose ya again, Buck... I can't," he finished brokenly looking away, his eyes filming over with unshed tears.

Buck's shoulders slumped, feeling the anger drain from him. "I ain't going to die, kid," he reassured softly.

JD shook his head emphatically, looking steadily at the floor.

"I ain't," Buck said firmly, placing a hand on JD's shoulder. JD raised his eyes avoiding Buck's eyes as he stared around the room. And Buck read the fear that the younger man had been living with and hiding from them all.

"You've already tried to, Buck," he said sadly.

"I was wrong, but things changed I know things now... And one things for sure I can't do that..." Buck answered honestly, squeezing JD's shoulder reassuringly.

"Ya sure?' JD asked finally, meeting the older man's gaze when Buck nodded. JD swallowed hard as Buck gave him a quick hug.

"Sorry Buck, for everything," JD mumbled into his jacket. Wilmington sighed rubbing the kid's back before pulling away.

"Sorry for scaring you," he said with a twisted smile.

JD shrugged, "It happens." He smiled weakly at the ladies man.

Buck smile straightened and his eyes twinkled for a second. "Really, so when was the first time, kid?" His heart lifted to see JD laugh at the jest and it nearly erased how much he'd hurt JD, when would he ever stop hurting the people he cared about.

+ + + + + + +

Ezra's footsteps sounded quietly on the boardwalk; it had been a relatively quiet day. The only bright spot was that Mr Jackson had moved from the room, he looked like hell but who wouldn't in that position. His mind drifted over his remaining friends, they all had things preying on their mind.

"I just don't know if he can handle anymore, Josiah," came the woman's unmistakable southern drawl.

"Well..." Josiah rumpled as a chair scraped along the floor, and then there were the sounds of walking as the light that had been thrown onto the boardwalk, dulled as a curtain shut. He didn't see the frozen gambler in the shadows.

"Well... what?" Maude snapped, something hit the table, Ezra immediately could picture her slapping her light fan on the table.

"There is a lot to deal with, Ezra's got a lot on his mind," Sanchez stated quietly, the distinct clattering of crockery sounding harsh as he began to pour out a cup of tea for them both.

"I mean would you really want to know what really happened? It may be too much that his birth caused his mother's death. "

"No I thought not. I can't tell him that I lost my own child because of his mother." There was a slight hiccup of a sob and then the hurried movements of the preacher as he began to softly console the woman, who brokenly began talking again " When he was young, I used to wonder what my son would have been like, would it have been a son... I just don't know what to do anymore, I still miss him," Maude finished in a whisper.

Ezra felt like he'd been stabbed in the gut, literally and figuratively. He couldn't believe she had lied again, not told him everything. God just when he thought he could move on another card was knocked out from underneath him. His breathing was coming too shallow and he tried to regulate it.

He needed to think, but he couldn't bring himself to move, Maude's child had died because of him. He understood now the pain he had caused her in his actions, it explained so much. But oh god it hurt as well, he rested a hand on his stomach trying desperately to retain a handle on the spiralling emotions as his head dropped to rest on his chest. He had been so lost in his thoughts that he didn't hear Josiah and Maude stepping out onto the boardwalk with him. He stepped back his footstep sounding loud to his own ears. Both heads swivelled towards him, as he began to back away quickly.

"Oh no Ezra," Maude began reaching plaintively for the man she had raised. But he ducked away, his eyes flicking back and forth between the two of them, so big and so round. It was then that she had done the impossible. She'd hurt him again, just when she thought they may begin again. "Oh darling, let me explain," she began her eyes pricking with tears as Ezra studied her for a long moment before spinning on his heel an fleeing towards the sanctuary of his room.

"Wonder what he heard?" Josiah asked worriedly, but two voices answered him from the darkness.

"Enough," Vin's clipped drawl sounding cold and hard in the still night, he couldn't believe that they had done it again, struck the gambler when he was most vulnerable.

"That Maude lied again, that he's solely responsible for not only the death of his own mother but also the death of Maude's child, how's that?" Chris surmised as he stepped into the light so they could see him, the tracker behind him, eyes worriedly on the hotel.

"Oh God," Maude whispered colouring fading from her skin, the turmoil and pain of the last few days washing over her. She met Chris's gaze the disgust evident in his features and mirrored on Vin's. Reaching out for something to hold on finding nothing, as her surroundings turned to grey, collapsing bonelessly into Josiah's arms.

"You don't know the whole story," the preacher admonished the two men gently.

"I know enough," Chris replied, his eyes dark. "She's hurt that man again," he stated

Vin sighed, watching as Josiah laid Maude gently down who was beginning to stir. Perhaps Josiah was right and they didn't know the whole story. Yet, he mused leaning against the door jam, he couldn't blame Ezra's reaction to the news, misunderstanding or not.

"Best go check on Ezra then," Vin decided.

"No, best leave it. He'll come to us when he is ready," Josiah advised. Chris stared at him hard, and Josiah met his gaze unmoved. It was a long moment before Chris nodded, concurring with the preacher.

"He's right. Ezra will seek us out if he needs us."

+ + + + + + +

Maude knocked lightly on the door, her hand trembled; she had to rectify this before she lost her courage. He had to know the truth in all its all-brutal honesty.

"Go away," came the harsh southern drawl.

Taking a deep breath, she picked the lock, opening the door. Ezra stood at the mirror undoing his tie. She quickly forced down the bile that bit her throat. She could do this.

"Not now," Ezra drawled his voice hard, but that did nothing to match the burning animosity in the green eyes.

"Now," she replied firmly shutting the door, her skirt swishing as she turned back to face the man she had called son.

Ezra didn't reply, his jaw clenched firmly as he gazed at her through the mirror.

"You have to hear what I have to say," she began nervously.

"No I don't, you've had your say I believe you made it quite clear your feelings on the matter," he drawled spinning around to face her. His fists balled by his side as heobviously kept his anger in check.

"You don't know everything."

"Get out," Ezra spat, emerald green eyes flashing, "You've said enough I'm surprised you don't hate me, obviously I have been such a burden to you all those years not that you cared dumping me from relative," he paused, "Your relatives," he corrected snapping off his derringer as he strode past her as he placed the rig on the mantle shelf.

"Ezra it wasn't like that," she stammered unable to get her footing in the face of this anger.

"I don't care, you've had your fun, I will spare you the pain of wondering how wonderful your 'real' son was. He probably would have made you proud, where as I can count on one hand the number of times I have," he snapped.

"Ezra," she tried again stepping forward, but he moved away turning his back to her as he said "Just go."

She swallowed hard, her eyes shimmering with the unshed tears as she looked at his tense figure.

"Fine," she murmured turning with as much dignity she could muster her footsteps sounding hollow on the floorboard as she opened the door, taking one last look at the man she shut the door.

Ezra flinched, hearing the door close behind him resting his hands on the bed frame. He felt as though the world had just stopped again. He had wanted to know the truth, he just hadn't expected it to hurt so much. He ducked his head, bewildered eyes staring down at the patterned bed spread. Perhaps it had been easier to believe that the reason had been a manipulative one, but this? Anger swamped him and he smashed his hand down on the railing. "Damn her," he muttered.

+ + + + + + +

"Damn it!" Kate cursed under her breath as she looked at the ink that was spreading over the table. Moving quickly she grabbed the spare cloth mopping up the spreading liquid.

"Now is that any way for a lady to talk?" Came the sardonic drawl as the door swung open. Kate looked up pushing hair back with the back of her hand she felt the butterflies in her stomach increase.

"Well I ain't no lady Buck, ya know that," she retorted as she finished cleaning up the mess. Wiping her fingers on the stained apron Mary had lent her.

"Oh that's where you're wrong," he murmured shutting the door quelling the sounds of the night outside.

"Oh," she replied unconsciously trying to straighten the blue dress that Mary had let her borrow. Even though it was stained it was one of the nicest dresses she had worn. And she loved it. But, she would never tell the other woman that.

"Yeah, you're so beautiful," Buck whispered as if in awe, both were aware of it... the attraction, and the inevitably of the moment. He was closer now. Kate licked her lips nervously... could she risk her heart again? She couldn't let her emotions rule her; she would only admit her feelings if he did so first.

"You have some ink." He reached up ever so gently and rubbed the ink from her cheek. It was so gentle, so tender. She couldn't give in yet. Kate pulled back, stepping away. Buck watched her sadly, understanding blue eyes watching her. His heart ached at what had happened to her.

"Kate, you gotta know," Buck began hoarsely, staring at her intently. Kate was caught in the gaze, her heart in her throat. "I think I could love you if you give me the chance, I've risked my heart before, both times they've died and I swore that I wouldn't again, but you've snuck in here." He tapped his chest as he moved closer. There was a pregnant pause before he finished softly. "You've snared me Kate Stokes".

Kate's blue eyes filled with tears as she let herself feel again. "Buck," she said and he was there titling her head up to look at her intently as if asking permission, she willingly gave it. "Please." He bent his head then, brushing his lips ever so gently against hers. They pulled apart, their eyes locking before they both smiled before Buck held her both content to just hold each other. He knew it would take time for Kate to fully trust him. He had time.

+ + + + + + +

The sun broke its evening cover, rising up over the growing town. The horses stamped on the ground and Chris couldn't help but grin at Billy as he ran eagerly towards him. "Morning, Billy. Ready to go fishing?"

Billy beamed at Chris. "You bet! Are we going now?"

Chris smiled. "Sure, now why don't you get those sandwiches from Mrs Potter. Where's your mama, Billy?"

"She's working, Chris!" The young boy answered before spying another friend. "Buck!"

Wilmington halted on the stairs of the Saloon. Turning he made his way over to the enthusiastic boy. "How ya doing, kid?" he grinned bending down to eye level of the small boy.

"Good Buck, Chris is taking me fishing," he said smiling widely turning back to the other man.

"Is that right?" Buck drawled running a hand through the kid's brown hair as he stood.

"Yep and I gonna catch the biggest fish, Chris is gonna show me how, right Chris?" Billy babbled catching his hand on the black duster as he tugged on it looking for confirmation.

"That's right." Chris smiled. "Why don't you check and see if we've got all the right gear; remember what I told you," he said watching as the young kid ran towards the bundle of gear that was near Chris's horses.

"You doing all right, pard?" Larabee asked turning back to the other man that was still watching the other kid with a smile on his face which broadened as another small boy came out to join Billy. They both recognised who he was. Malcolm.

"Doing all right," Buck drawled his eyes serious before cocking his head as he looked at the two boys romping in front of him, as Billy excitedly boasted that he was going fishing. They saw the crestfallen expression on Malcolm's face.

"Ya doing anything special today?" Larabee asked a slight smile tugging at his mouth, his eyes never leaving the two boys.

"Nope," Buck grinned immediately knowing what he was asking. "I'll get my gear," he turned walking away.

Chris smiled before motioning the two boys over, "You want to go fishing?" he asked the other little boy that smiled shyly as he nodded, "Billy, want some company?" he saw the excited grin broaden.

"Oh yeah Chris, so long as you help me though."

Chris grinned at the possessive tone in his voice "Yeah well, that's why Buck's coming," he said seeing the delighted expression cross the other little boy's face.

"Now go ask your ma if it's all right," already knowing that it would be he had seen Buck talk to her briefly before heading towards the livery to get some gear.

Maybe Buck would then tell him what was on his mind. He wasn't above hog-tying the man to the bed again. But he knew the other man was ready to talk, he just didn't want to do it in town.