Josiah lifted the last of Maude's bags onto to the coach, it was still very early and half the residents weren't up yet.
"Done, my lady," he said looking at the older woman who brushed at her dark green coat as she gave one last glance towards the clinic.
"Good," she said, moving to stand beside him. "Thank you Josiah, for listening to me," she said, kissing him gently on the cheek.
Turning, she saw Mary and Kate standing on the sideboard together. She saw Mary looking at her with something akin to concern, and it warmed her heart more than she would ever let on.
"Yes my dear," she drawled walking over to the young women, seeing that the former bounty hunter cleaned up very well. She looked very pretty with her blonde hair tied back in a plait as the patterned dark dress that she wore seemed to make her seem more refined and lady like. She ducked her head shyly when she realised that the elder woman was studying her appearance. Charming, Maude thought to herself, before turning her attention back to the confused woman.
"He didn't..." Mary began her voice faltering as she watched Sanchez amble over towards them.
"No my dear he didn't, I do believe we have finally reached an understanding," Maude drawled, her eyes lingering on the head that peeked out from the window of the clinic.
"But you're leaving," Mrs Travis murmured, bewildered as she looked at the con woman.
"Yes my dear I am, I have tarried far too long in this town, but I will back," she said smiling as she watched the head duck back as the blinds fell shut again, swinging in the breeze.
"So everything's all right," Mary queried, resting her hand on the older woman's arm.
"Yes," Maude replied enigmatically as she heard the coach driver call, "Thank you my dear woman, for all that you have done, and I look forward to seeing you all the next time I am in town." With a nod and a wave she was gone. The carriage riding slowly out of the town.
"Well," Mary said, unsure of what had happened as her blue eyes rested on the large form of the preacher as he watched the dust of the horses settled back onto the street.
The soft sounds of spurs on the boardwalk cut through their thoughts as they heard the distinctive sounds of Vin's drawl.
"Now Cowboy, I don't reckon Nate will be happy to see you walking around on that busted leg of yours."
The man in black's reply was lost on them as they saw Vin hold his stomach as he laughed, shaking his head.
"Chris," Mary said, intercepting what could be a growing argument between the two men as she saw the man bent over leaning against the side of a wall. One hand on his knee.
"Mary," he said, not looking up, teeth clenched in pain.
"I thought Mr Jackson asked you to stay off the leg?" she said her tone deliberately mild, delighting in the blue eyes that swung up to pin hers, his features hard before they split into a grin.
"Yes you're both right," he muttered, not looking at either of them as he began to tread carefully on his injured leg.
"I'm sorry, Chris," Mary said, smiling as she tilted her head looking at the other man, brushing her hands on her skirt before tugging her vest down a little nervously as the man looked at her again.
"I ain't repeating it a second time," Larabee drawled, accepting the help from Vin as they began to walk over towards the clinic.
The steps were negotiated with mild swearing on the gunslinger's part that had Mary chuckling along with Kate behind. Only the trapper noticed the fact that the preacher had disappeared into his church again.
They stopped on the landing and Chris sank down onto the chair outside, resting his leg. He felt Mary take his hand as she sat down beside him. He squeezed it gently watching as the tracker and lady bounty hunter discreetly entered into the clinic. And while he longed to know how Buck was, he knew that Nathan would have come and got him if the man had taken a bad turn.
"How you doing, Mary?" he asked, looking at the woman beside him, noting the way the she ducked her head shyly away from him.
"Mary?" he asked softly, this time reaching up and lifting the beautiful blonde woman's face towards him, seeing the pain and fear there.
"You're safe, Mary," he reassured, squeezing the hand with his, chafing it gently with his hands.
"I know," she smiled, her lower lip trembled slightly before she pressed them together; tilting her head she looked at him intently.
He felt the urge to withdraw, but that would be a cowards move, he had seen Nathan lose someone he love. Would he do the same in the name of fear? No, he had a second chance here and he knew she battled the same fear.
He smiled tenderly, reaching up framing her cheek as he brushed his thumb over the smooth skin, gently he drew her closer. Bending his head, he brushed their lips together, a soft tender kiss, one filled of promise.
Pulling back, both smiled at each other and he gently ran a hand through her long blonde hair.
Even as she caressed his cheek, both smiled. Neither said a word as she moved closer, resting her head on his chest as he placed an arm around her shoulder.
"He'll be fine," Mary said, reassuring the man that had become so important to her.
Chris didn't respond, but the hand resting on her head tightened slightly as she felt the shudder of emotion run through the stoic gunslinger and she marveled at this man's strength.
"He has to be," Chris whispered softly, looking out over the town. He felt Mary reach for his free hand, intertwining their hands together. The unspoken commitment tangible between them now as they sat together on the clinic's landing.
+ + + + + + +
Buck watched uneasily as Nathan approached with a grim face of determination. Nathan's concoctions, while they helped ease the pain some, their flavour seemed to be getting worse and worse. Nathan smiled as he sat himself down on the edge of the bed, "Now it's not going to be that bad Buck, all I am gonna do is sit you up for a little while."
Buck's expression eased somewhat, and his eyes flew to the door that opened as Nathan began to reach forward. Nathan turned to see who it was and he gestured the newcomers over. "JD, I need you to put some of those pillows behind Buck's head, Chris help me ease him up."
The two men nodded, hurrying over. "Ezra said you might need some help," JD commented, grabbing the pillows as he walked over. Buck sighed, trying to prepare himself as he felt Nathan and Chris grab his shoulders and slowly begin to lift him slowly up. He groaned and squinted his eyes shut as he felt a fire of pain lance up through his chest. He barely felt them resting him on the fluffed pillows behind him.
It took Buck a few minutes to realise that the other men had been calling him for several minutes. "Jeez Nathan, give a guy some warning... ain't been this weak since..," he trailed off still breathing shallowly as his body gradually became accustomed to its new position.
Opening his eyes, he saw three worried faces staring down at him, "I'll be fine, just knocked the wind out me is all," he said softly with a grimace as he felt Nathan beginning to check the stab wound.
Nathan nodded. "To be expected, it's gonna be awhile before you're like your old self, be weak for sometime. That's why I wanted you to sit up for a little bit, ain't good for your lungs lying flat like that..." He said, patting the man on the leg as he rose to grab a cup of herbal tea. "Drink," he ordered quietly helping the shaky man hold the cup as he swallowed the lukewarm liquid.
Buck's face twisted into a grin. "You ever drink this stuff, Nate?"
Chris grinned as he eased himself into a chair, his leg wasn't bothering him as much, but the cool of the morning always gave it a bit of an ache. "If he did, he wouldn't make us drink it, Buck."
JD chuckled softly, shuffling and leaning against the window, staring out the window he could just make out the main street and the Clarion where Mary and Kate were deep in conversation. Surprisingly enough, the two women had formed a fast friendship.
Nathan gave a small smile. "How do you think I learnt to make it in the first place?"
Buck laughed a low, soft sound that made all the other men's grins widen, Buck was going to be okay it seemed. Nathan threw his jacket on and sighed softly. "I got some things to take care of, you boys watch him now, make sure he don't over do it."
Buck rolled his eyes. "No chance of that, I am as weak as a newborn kitten."
Nathan shook his head at the words, just hearing Buck joke and laugh with them was a blessing he couldn't begin to describe... after Rain; well he didn't think he could handle another loss. Although the ache in his heart hadn't eased, it had lightened with Buck's slow recovery. It had taken him at least three days for him to declare firmly that he'd thought Buck would make it. This had been met with loud whoops of joy from the men outside, when he re-entered the clinic Buck had just looked at him with a soft wry grin, 'guess they're happy huh?' Nathan had shaken his head in response at a loss as to what to say. Buck's voice stopped him as he turned the handle, "Nathan?"
Buck waited till the other man turned around and met his eyes. "Thanks... remember what I said, you have a gift."
Nathan diverted his chocolate eyes for a moment before they flashed back to Buck's. "No Buck, thank you," he said in his resonant voice.
Chris watched the door shut firmly behind the tall healer, before his eyes swung back to Buck's who rolled his shoulders at the unspoken question. Chris nodded softly, his eyes darkening with some emotion that Buck couldn't quite place.
JD glanced up at the silence that had suddenly descended in the small clinic. Pushing his stray hair back behind his ears, he dusted off his hat and looked at the two men. "How about some coffee?"
Chris started at the words then nodded, and Buck's lips twisted into a smile. "That'll be divine, JD."
The young man nodded once and then strode purposefully out.
"Not too subtle, is he?" Chris said sardonically with a raised eyebrow. Buck glanced over at his old friend with a twinkle in his eye.
"Yeah well, I guess I still gotta teach him a thing or two," he said, plucking at the material that covered him.
Chris concurred with a subtle shake of his head, looking away from Buck he breathed out deeply, thinking suddenly about everything that had happened in such a short time. "How much do you remember?" He asked, his voice sounding grating to him and causing Buck to swivel his head so that he could look at Chris more clearly.
Buck shut his eyes as images flashed through his mind. "It's all muddled right now, Chris..."
Chris reached out and patted Buck's leg in a gesture of friendship. "Yeah, well, you were ill for a while and-"
"You thought I wasn't going to make it," Buck finished, watching Chris's reaction carefully. Chris lowered his head, hiding his eyes from Buck.
"I don't think I could've handled..." His voice broke and he swallowed hard. "None of us could. You frightened me, Buck... you thought Adam and Sarah were alive."
Buck winced, "God Chris, I'm sorry."
Chris raised his head and glared at him angrily. "Don't you ever say that again, you hear me!" He seethed and Buck's eyes widened in surprise. "You had to fight through your childhood all over again and I never felt so helpless..."
Buck shut his eyes at the words, images of voices and people running through his head. "Keppel called me whore boy," he said quietly, "and I guess it just kinda re-opened a raw wound."
Chris reached and grasped Buck's hand as he watched Buck fight the memories once more. "Listen to me Buck, you're better than he ever was, you're not what those kids said you were...you're not a bastard. You're a good man and my best friend."
Buck shuddered at the words. "Thanks, Chris... I'm sorry," ignoring the glare that he felt Chris give him. "I'm sorry that I scared you all."
Chris shrugged noting the tiredness that Buck was trying to hide. "You were doing what you do, Buck," he paused laughter colouring his voice. "Saving a damsel in distress."
Buck chuckled and then grimaced as his mid-riff complained at the movement. "Don't make me laugh."
Chris leaned back in his chair. "Just glad you're still here and by the way we never did finish that talk at the river."
Buck finally opened his eyes and they flashed with annoyance at Chris. "Don't you ever let anything slide?"
Ruffling his hair, Chris stared at Buck for a long serious moment. "No I don't. Now I better see what's keeping JD," he said, slowly standing and testing his bad leg and pleased to feel that he it wasn't hurting too much. "You'll be okay for a few moments?"
Buck nodded, waving him out with a flick of his wrist. "Hell yeah. I ain't up to doing anything but lie here, so go help JD," he said as his voice slurred into sleep. Chris watched him in repose for a few moments then tucking the blanket up around Buck. He stood and strode out quietly closing the door behind him.
+ + + + + + +
JD poured the boiling water into the coffee cups and felt the steam brush at his face. His actions betrayed a man thinking about other things. He started when he felt Chris tap his shoulder gently. JD glanced up at him sheepishly, before turning back to the tray and the coffee. "Everything okay now?" He queried, making sure he concentrated on his actions so Chris didn't feel pressured.
Chris raised his eyebrows at JD's perceptiveness. "Yeah, JD. Everything's okay now. You're safe to go up and spend some time with your big brother."
JD chuckled before ducking underneath the gentle swipe that he felt Chris take at his head. "Yeah well he's your family too," he retorted, as he ambled out of the small kitchen and over to the clinic.
Chris's soft laughter echoed in the kitchen as the door swung closed. "Don't I know it," he said, before heading over to the Saloon.
Buck squinted an eye open and grinned when he saw JD enter. "Took your sweet time."
JD rolled his eyes in exasperation. "You and Chris needed to clear the air," he said, taking the mug over to his friend and helping him sip the warm liquid.
Buck swallowed savouring the taste of the coffee. "Yeah, well you were right about that," he said as he watched JD try and settle himself in the chair. He sighed internally, wondering how many apologies he'd have to make to his friends about scaring them to death. "Looks like we need to clear the air as well," he said softly.
JD nodded. "Yeah, well we're about the closest thing all of us have to a family, after what's happened recently I'd been blind not to see how Chris was worried sick about you." He slurped the coffee, causing Buck to twist his eyes in distaste.
"Now JD, how you ever gonna be a ladies man if you drink your coffee like that," he drawled, with a hint of amusement in his voice. He tried to hide the yawn that suddenly came upon him, but JD looked at him knowingly.
"How about you rest and I'll just sit here and keep you company," he ruminated as Buck looked at him through sleepy eyes. "We can talk later I promise, after all you're not going anywhere now," JD added, and Buck slowly nodded.
"Not going anywhere," he whispered as sleep came over him and took him into a healing slumber.
JD placed the mug down and wiped Buck's brow gently with a soft cloth. "No you're not going anywhere; not if any of us can help it."
+ + + + + + +
Ezra heard the soft knock on his door and he tried to roll quickly to his feet. It wouldn't do for the healer to discover that he had taken to lying in his bed most of the day.
Unfortunately he wasn't quick enough and Vin's head appeared, a frown appearing as he realised the gambler was in bed, blankets still tangled around him.
"You okay there, pard?" Vin asked as he moved into the room, shutting the door behind him.
"Yes," Standish said trying to breathe calmly, his ribs having protested at his violent movements.
"You sure?" Vin asked, resting a hand on his forehead before it was knocked away.
"Yes Mr Tanner, I am well, I just find that I needed to rest and...." He looked away, curling the blanket around him as he moved to the side of the bed.
"Think?" Vin queried, blue eyes understanding as he saw the strain of the past few weeks still present on the man's face.
"Yes," Ezra, said wearily as Vin sat down beside him on the bed. They were silent for a moment before the tracker spoke.
"You okay with your ma and all that?" the hunter asked softly seeing the minute shiver that ran through the smaller man.
"I should be," was the soft reply as the man ran a hand through his hair.
"Still mad at her?" he asked watching as Ezra licked his lips nervously, a smile gracing his face as he shook his head no.
"I understand, and I have deep abiding sympathies for what she went through, but I still..."
"Hurt," Vin supplied, seeing the man close his eyes as he gave a nod of assent.
Vin cleared his throat as the other man remained silent and lost in thought. "Reckon that's understandable, Ezra," he drawled softly, resting a hand on the blanketed shoulder realising that the man would talk when he was ready.
Ezra acknowledged the words with another smile. Opening his eyes he gazed about the room.
"How is Mr Wilmington?" he inquired hearing the soft chuckle from the other man.
"Well, he's sitting up now... and complaining how you got out of the clinic so early and I reckon he might have a right seeing you in bed still." He saw the fear in the man's eyes and he laughed now.
"I ain't gonna tell Nate." He saw the relieved smile cross the man's face as his eyebrow raised slightly.
"I hear a but there, Mr Tanner..," he said suspiciously and he saw Vin's shoulders shake in amusement.
"That you teach me those tricks of yours with the cards, reckon I could use a bit of money." He was delighted with the burst of laughter that bubbled forth from the other man. Realising that he hadn't heard the pure sound of joy and laughter from the gambler for a long time.
"Okay Vin, deal," Ezra agreed, holding out his hand to shake on it with the tracker.
"Gonna start with a lesson now?" Vin asked as he watched Ezra rise stiffly to his feet, arm still wrapped around his chest.
"Yes Mr Tanner, but I feel the need for a libation. Care to join me in the saloon?" he asked as he struggled into his coat.
"Sure," Vin drawled, unobtrusively helping the gambler into his coat who smiled at him in thanks as they headed towards the noise and activity that was the saloon downstairs.
+ + + + + + +
JD Dunne watched the petite form of the blonde woman as she swept off the porch of The Clarion. Kate didn't look anything like he remembered; she wasn't the woman who had callously watched her sister shoot him. The pattern dress suited her, and the white apron made her seem like a completely different woman. But she wasn't; she was still Kate Stokes former bounty hunter. Taking a deep breath he approached her, they had to settle things between them. She was focussed and intent on her task that she didn't hear him step onto the boardwalk near him studying her.
"Ms Stokes?" he drawled quietly, careful not to startle the woman as he quashed down the memory of her sister as she swung towards him. Her blue eyes widening at seeing the sheriff.
"JD," she said nervously, twirling the broom in her hand as she pushed some of the loose bit of hair that had fallen out of the tight bun behind ear.
"Can we talk?" he asked politely gazing around the dusty street, taking the hustle and bustle as things in Four Corners settled down to its mundane existence of fighting bandits and keeping the peace.
"Yes," she said quietly as she took a seat on the step that led towards the main street.
They were both silent for a long time; neither knew where to begin or what to say. For the emotions that lay between them were raw and open wounds.
"When Mady shot me..," JD began, clearing his throat nervously as he twirled his hat in hands.
"I wanted to stop it JD, I swear I just ain't seen Mady like that..." Kate broke in passionately, "I thought I could protect her, that I could help her change. She weren't no cold-blooded killer, least not to me. She was just Mady, my little sister." She stopped when a hand rested on her arm.
"I know that," Dunne said, his coffee brown eyes sincere as he gazed at the woman before him. "It took me a long time to come to terms with everything... And I thought I had, but when you came to town, and I saw you with Buck..." he shrugged looking away as he withdrew his hand.
"It was stupid, but I thought maybe he'd die too... "
"That I'd shoot him like Mady did you?" Kate said seeing the cost of this admission on the finely chiseled features of the man.
"Yeah," JD breathed, not looking up as he heard her sigh heavily.
"That ain't stupid JD, it's perfectly natural if you ask me," Kate said, patting JD on the leg lightly. Before he could speak, she continued. "You see, what happened with Del is he used to beat me and hurt me bad. The sort of stuff I wish on no woman... but it made me think of all men like that..." She smiled slightly, ducking her head as she spoke softly so only that JD could hear her.
"So my first reaction when I meet a man is 'are they gonna hurt me?' So your first instinct when you met me, I gotta say JD that seems right and natural so if you're blaming yourself for that, don't... for believe me I get it," she said a lopsided smile rippling across her face.
JD nodded his head as he let out the breath he'd been holding, both silently taking in the busy street. The two smiled as they saw Chris walking stiffly beside Mary as they walked towards the hotel. The couple had been making slight overtures of courting towards each other, which was a welcome sign to all of the peacekeepers. Their leader was letting go of the grief that clung to him.
JD looked sideways at Kate seeing the longing in her look as she watched them, and he pondered her words, turning them over in his mind. Tilting his head back to her, he said softly, "You can have that with Buck, he ain't like Del, he'd rather cut off his hand than hurt a woman"
Kate bowed her head playing with the folds of the fabric on the apron, licking her lips nervously. "I know..."
"Then why you hiding from him?" He asked seeing the muscles tense in the lady's neck. "You haven't seen him since you came back, and that was four days ago."
"I ain't hiding," Kate snapped before letting go of a deep breath as she acknowledged that perhaps so she just be honest and damn the consequences.
"Because I failed Mady, I didn't see she was so far off the beaten track that it almost got you killed. You were doing your job, and if I had been doing mine I could have saved her," she murmured sadly, shaking her head, her heart aching at the loss and empty spot that now filled her heart as to where her sister used to be.
"You didn't fail her. Right to the end you were trying to protect her, hell you tried to break her out of jail, you did all you could for her," JD argued vehemently, their voices no louder than intent whispers so as to not draw the attention of those around them.
"But you got shot," Kate argued shaking her head in disagreement.
"Yeah I did, but I survived and now you gotta as well, you loved your sister and you did right by her now you gotta do right by you," JD said firmly, seeing the dawning light of comprehension in the blue eyes.
"And Buck?" Kate asked hating the fact that her voice betrayed her, but the man smiled softly in understanding.
"He's gonna fight, and you could never fail him. That man's got a heart as big as the ocean," JD said smiling earnestly, willing the lady before him to believe it.
"Thanks JD," she whispered before catching sight of Nathan pushing Buck out onto the landing so he could sit in the sun for awhile.
"Thank you," JD returned, smiling as they both stood together, both now watching as they saw Ezra place a blanket over the scoundrel's knees, before sitting down gingerly beside him.
"Things change Kate, it's up to you to whether they are good or bad," JD said softly. With a nod of the head he was gone, disappearing into the saloon across the street.
Kate watched him go, a smile brightening up her face. The man certainly was well on his way to breaking a few hearts himself. Turning back to her task she began to sweep the porch. This time though the angry strokes of the brush along the wooden floorboards were gone, and a smile tugged at the corners of her mouth.
+ + + + + + +
The sound of a hammer could be heard clearly in the afternoon sun, and Vin caught the disgruntled looks on a few citizens' faces. He understood their annoyance, the sound had droned all day for the past couple of days and well into the night.
He looked around the porch smiling as JD placed a glass of milk in front of Buck who was in the wheel chair on the porch. Buck had been progressed to being able to sit upright with out too much stress and was now allowed to be pushed about the town. Never too far from the clinic though because he tired easily. He caught the green-eyed gambler's gaze linger over the church before returning to the deck of cards that he shuffled.
Buck stifled a moan as the loud banging started up again. Lord knew what had Josiah so mad. "Don't that guy ever let up?" he muttered cracking his eyes open as he heard the sound of a chair near him being pulled back. He watched Vin pat Ezra on the shoulder before heading over towards the church.
"Mr Wilmington, if he let up how would we then measure the passage of time?" Ezra deadpanned his face expressionless for the second it took Buck and JD to register the comment then laugh.
"Damn, if you ain't right," Buck gasped, holding his stomach slightly as he laughed.
+ + + + + + +
Josiah felt the muscles along the back of his shoulder stretch and protest at his misuse and a small feral smile fluttered across his face. "It's what I deserve."
"What is?" Vin's Texas accent throwing the older preacher off balance slightly as he looked across at the former bounty hunter.
Josiah threw the hammer down and wiped the layer of filth and sweat from his brow. "Nothing."
Vin rolled his eyes and seated himself down in one of the pews. "Could've fooled me. The way you been hammering at all hours, it's a wonder any of us can get some shut eye."
Josiah rolled his expansive shoulders expressively at Vin's words. The man was right, he was taking the restoring of the church very seriously. "Just doing a little penance is all."
Vin nodded, leaning forward in the hard wooden seat. "Yeah, you're probably right. But avoiding your friends ain't the answer, Josiah. So you allowed yourself to react to everything --"
Josiah's harsh laugh cut Vin off as he slapped his palm against his thigh. "Is that what you call it? Reacting. I just about took Ezra's head off, broke everyone's trust in me."
"Like all of us, Josiah. You're one man. No one can expect any more of you than what you did. Ezra don't blame you for what you said, he understands, Josiah." Vin tapped the pew in front of him for emphasis. "He understands and he forgave you. It's high time you forgave yourself..."
Josiah bowed his head, pondering the slighter man's words. "When did you become so wise?" He rumbled.
Vin chuckled. "Hell Josiah, I've always been wise, this is the first time you've listened."
Josiah looked at him in surprise then a slow smile crossed his face. "I was asking for that, wasn't I?" Vin tilted his head and nodded. Josiah rubbed his thigh thoughtfully. "Ezra forgives me, huh?" Vin nodded again and waited for the big burly man to continue. "Lord knows why. I promised myself that I wouldn't hurt him again Vin, and I did..." He stopped, closing his remembering how he'd grabbed the Southerner and forced him to listen. "I twisted Maude's words too... it's no wonder she slapped me."
Vin eyebrow's rose at that. He hadn't been aware the southern belle knew about what had happened with Josiah, but to hear that she had slapped the preacher, well that explained an awful lot to him. Pulling himself out of his thoughts, he watched Josiah hunker down on one of the steps to the pulpit.
"Nathan told me off; I guess I let everyone down," Josiah mused morbidly and Vin rolled his eyes.
"Josiah, you ain't perfect...none of us are. We've all made mistakes and we've all made bad choices, said harsh words, and we've forgiven each other for them. Forgive yourself Josiah, the rest of us have," Vin said, standing and brushing of the dust from the pew and striding out of the church.
Josiah put his head in his hands and saying a prayer, he finally allowed himself to believe that the bridge of friendship hadn't been destroyed after all.
+ + + + + + +
Mary closed the door to the Clarion with a quiet thud, and held out her hand for Billy to hold. Dusting off the black dress, the pair slowly made their way down the old boardwalk. Chris stood as they approached, a sombre expression on his face. "Ready?" he asked quietly, taking Mary's elbow.
Mary nodded, subtly flashing him a comforting smile. "Let's go," she said, her voice full of unspoken emotion.
The three paused on the steps as they watched Nathan stride up the middle of the main street his head down and dressed in a lovely black suit. Josiah ambled beside him, a reassuring hand placed upon his back as they manoeuvred their way through the sombrely dressed throng of people.
Chris squeezed Mary's elbow gently and together they began to walk towards the church. "You don't have to face this alone, Mary," he murmured softly as they walked. Mary's gentle sad smile answered him more clearly than any words would have, 'neither do you.' She seemed to say.
+ + + + + + +
JD pulled the edges of his suit together nervously. He hated memorial services; they reminded him of his ma. He twisted the hat in his hands as he waited for Kate to wheel Buck out onto the deck of the clinic.
Glancing down, he watched Ezra and Vin head to the church; both men melancholy expressions causing his heart to clench with grief for Nathan.
Nathan. JD sought out the anguished man and saw him standing next to Josiah at the bottom of the steps, greeting everyone who had come to pay their respects to Rain.
JD saw the rest of his friends reach Nathan and the way they congregated around their grieving friend lightened his heart. A soft cough and he turned realising that he had been so lost in thought he hadn't heard Kate and Buck come out to join him. Buck's understanding gaze made him smile. Kate followed his gaze to Nathan and her eyes shimmered with tears. Buck patted her hand reassuringly. "Tell him what you know. It'll ease his mind more than you know."
Kate bent down and brushed a soft kiss to his cheek that made Buck smile and brushing the tears that laced her skin, he whispered some soft words of reassurance. Kate nodded, then straightening the dark grey dress she began to make her way down the staircase to the church. Buck watched her go, realising with astonishment once again that he really could love her.
JD sighed. "You okay, Buck?" He asked, trying to delay going. It would only serve to remind him of his own pain and memories he'd prefer to forget. Buck closed his eyes for a moment then nodded.
"I'll be fine, JD," Buck assessed the man standing before him and perceived the hurt that JD was attempting to hide. "How about you?"
JD laughed. "Me?" he shook his gaze. "It's Nathan we should be concerned about," he reprimanded. Buck gazed at him flatly, seeing through the bravado that JD was showing him.
"Don't mean you should push you're feelings aside..." He rubbed a hand over his jaw wishing suddenly that he could have a shave. "If you ever need to talk JD, I am here. I know how these things can stir memories up," he said softly almost to himself and JD frowned reaching to touch Buck's shoulder gently.
"You sure you'll be okay by yourself?" JD questioned, suddenly worried about leaving the ladies man to his memories.
Buck nearly groaned at the question, but suppressed it quickly in a cough. "Yeah, I'll be fine. Go join the other's; tell Nathan... hell I'm sorry I can't be there for him," he said looking down over the congregation of mourners.
JD nodded and taking a deep breath, he resolutely faced his own memories and went out to support a friend.
+ + + + + + +
Buck watched the flow of people as they exited the church. If he hadn't known better it would've looked like a typical Sunday church service. Except it wasn't. The strictly black and grey attire and the way the women dabbed at their faces with handkerchiefs all indicated what kind of service it was. His eyes glinted with tears as he too remembered the vibrant way Rain had smiled at Nathan when they had first met.
Shaking his head his blue eyes alighted on Ezra, noting the way he walked towards the saloon his head bowed, obviously lost in thought. He watched Vin and JD trail after him a discreet distance behind the gambler and he sighed. Obviously the con man was having the same discreet mothering that only their friends could provide.
A glint of a blond hair in the sunlight captured his attention and his gaze was drawn to the sight of his old friend walking slowly with Mary. Their faces both mirroring a mutual grief and he knew that each were lost in their own pasts. But what was different was the way Chris's arm was guiding Mary and the way she leant into him. Billy walked quietly beside them, his own face a mask of sorrow. Neither Mary nor Chris seemed aware of the curious gazes of the townsfolk. And Buck felt his heart lighten at the knowledge that Chris wouldn't share this day alone.
It was then that Kate caught his eye, her flaxen hair flew in the breeze as she stood on the steps of the church Nathan coming to stand beside her. Buck observed them talking, the bowed head of the healer as he listened to her words, the way Kate touched his arm as she spoke. Jackson nodded looking up and about the town only turning back to Kate when she reached up and wiped away some of his tears, and he saw the healer look intently at the young woman before pulling her into a tight hug.
He spied Josiah standing framed in the doorway, a protective father watching over the two on the steps, making sure that both were well. The preacher moved down the steps to guide Nathan back inside as Kate left. Her steps hurried as she headed towards the room that she had at the Clarion. Buck was perceptive enough that he knew that the service had reminded the small woman about her own loss not so long ago. She needed to be alone and that really was the best thing for her at the moment.
Wilmington sighed deeply, a day of pain and grief for all he decided. But as he rested his head back against the cool wooden wall and looked up at the sky, he knew that Nathan wouldn't fall into the same trap that had ensnared Chris. Vengeance had been served- Rain's killer was dead. And he had a family that would protect him and look after him no matter what.
+ + + + + + +
Dusk was settling over Four Corners and the town's inhabitants were moving towards the Saloon. Its welcoming lights a beacon on the cold night. Ezra Standish smiled, nodding at his friends as he meandered slowly down the main street. He knew that they all longed for the truth and he had given his permission to Josiah to tell Maude's story for it was only right that they know the truth; they were his family now. He saw Sanchez nod raising a hand in understanding. Even as the tracker met his gaze, his blue eyes looking for something, whatever he read in the gambler's expression made him relax as he leaned back against the wall turning to Josiah as he began to speak.
Ezra made his way up the steps to the clinic. Nathan smiled warmly at him and Ezra returned it, watching as he left to join the other men.
"So what brings you round here?" Buck drawled from where he lay on the bed, eyes opening and twinkling up at him.
"Don't know; figured maybe I'd get some peace," Ezra remarked, flashing a smile as he stood leaning against the door to the clinic.
"Felt the need to escape our watchful mothers?" Buck said cynically, Ezra chuckled in response, before nodding and striding over to sit on the chair next to the bed.
"You feel it too then?" He asked his southern accent wrapping each of the words and drawing each of them out.
Buck pushed his brown hair back from his forehead before raising himself up on the bed and arranging the pillows with Ezra's help. "The way they have been hovering, hard notto," He said wryly.
Ezra ducked his head, tapping his chin thoughtfully. "I know. They keep pushing me to deal with my feelings," he said wavering his hands in agitation.
Buck sighed nodding in agreement. "It's getting a little annoying. I know they care, and I appreciate everything they did... I know I can turn to y'all for help to drown out the past..," he paused considering his words. "It's just they don't have to be..."
"So blatant about it... Yes we both had a hard time and shut down so to speak, but we are dealing with it," Ezra interrupted with a soft grin.
Buck sighed. "I'm sorry about Purgatory, Ezra."
Ezra looked at him annoyed for a long moment, both men sharing a long look full of understanding and sympathy. "So am I," he answered finally.
Buck shrugged his shoulders expressively before grasping Ezra's hand in his own. "Guess the fact that we are family means that we know how to hit each other where it hurts."
Ezra nodded, a crooked smile crossing his face. "Indeed. It's what family's do best I hear."
Buck looked at the gambler, a lopsided smile crossing his face before he asked softly, "What did he say, Ez?" Noting the sudden intake of breath and the way Ezra's eyes narrowed slightly, as Ezra looked everywhere but at him. His green eyes had darkened and Buck saw the hurt there and recognised it.
"JD was pretty good with his words," Buck said softly, mind on the heated words that the young man had thrown at him.
"I'm sorry about that, Buck," Ezra said softly, leaning back in his chair and kicking his legs forward so that his ankles crossed.
"Ain't your fault, he was hurting and I understand that but..." he paused as Ezra finished the words
"It doesn't mean that it doesn't hurt." Ezra met his gaze then as he tilted his head to the side.
"Josiah can be pretty good with 'em words of his," Buck drawled slowly unsure whether he should broach the subject, but deciding that perhaps he was the only one who could help him, and in helping Ezra he was helping himself.
"A regular orator," Standish murmured, his mouth thinning into a line before he closed his eyes.
"It's still there... those words. I see it - I hear it... I mean it's hard to forget Josiah when he is angry... and when he said that..." Ezra paused letting his gaze wander around the room before he locked gazes with the azure eyes.
"Said what?" Buck pressed, shifting uneasily he heard some of the things Nathan had overheard but not all.
The words were imprinted in Standish's mind and he whispered closing his eyes as he did.
+ + + + + + +
"No, all you care about is yourself. Suppose you were always like that, even with your birth you took two lives to get into this world." He shook his head as he rolled his sleeves back.
+ + + + + + +
Buck stared at the other man the agony as he relayed the event pierced his soul because he understood.
"You're not selfish, Ezra... and it ain't your fault; you were a helpless child; you didn't have any control over any of it." He cursed Josiah in his mind for placing this sense of doubt in the gambler's mind as if he didn't have enough to deal with.
"I know," Ezra whispered hoarsely, still not looking at the other man.
"Ezra, look at me," Buck ordered softly, watching the other man struggle with himself. Ezra looked at him once before quickly turning away. It was enough for him to see how the preacher's words had struck him and hurt him.
"Ezra, you're a good man," he said softly, watching the man shake his head slightly, and suddenly he understood.
"You feel betrayed by Josiah again?" he questioned seeing the relief that flooded Ezra's expression.
"I guess I always thought that..." He stopped as the other man finished his sentence.
"That he wouldn't do it again, use something of your past and throw it at you again?" he guessed seeing the slight nod from the other man.
Before he could reassure the other man Ezra spoke. "I understand his reasons. I do but," he shook his head slightly rubbing a finger over his bottom lip as he continued, "But it doesn't mean that it still doesn't hurt and that I can forget the words just like that," he said clicking his fingers together.
"I know," Buck said seeing that he really didn't need to reassure the other man, he just needed a confidante.
"And you, Mr Wilmington?" Ezra drawled sardonically raising an eyebrow at the other man as he shifted uneasily on the bed.
"JD?" Buck asked seeing the exasperated look the Southerner threw at him. He smiled slightly clearing his throat, it was his turn to look anywhere but at the man sitting beside him.
"What JD said..," Buck began, he ducked his head, his hand straying to his stomach and his wound as it itched with the healing process. "I just can't help but think maybe he's right. And I know it's stupid, I know that, Ez," he whispered. "But am I a sucker for a pretty face? JD, he all but blamed me for getting Rain killed and then there's..." Buck gulped biting back the tears that threatened to fall.
"Then there's me," Ezra concluded softly, watching Buck nod his head in a slight movement.
"I pushed you over the edge."
"I did the same to you."
Buck sighed raising his head and looking at Ezra. "Yeah... I know and we've both apologised about that... but I guess JD got me right here," he said tapping his heart in a similar gesture to what he'd done when he had spoken to Chris at the river so long ago. "I wasn't prepared, Ezra... he knocked me right over the barrel I was sitting on."
Ezra winced, his green eyes full of compassion for Buck. "And it hurt that he would misjudge you so badly."
Buck sighed. "Yeah," he agreed finally. "I understand where he was coming from about Mady and all. I suppose I was an easy target after I scared the shit out of him," he laughed caustically.
"I know...I suppose the two of us just need time to deal with the--" Ezra said with a twisted grin.
"The betrayal," Buck finished for him, "Yeah and I suppose caring about your family's gonna leave ya vulnerable to getting hurt." His eyes sad and full of pain. Ezra grasped Buck's hand in his own and nodded.
"You ever feel the need," Ezra said, his southern accent earnest and coloured with emotion and Buck smiled.
"Same goes for you," he said with a hint of humour.
"Mr Wilmington, what made you so desperate?" Ezra asked cautiously.
Buck frowned and then sighed. "It was something you said way back in Eagle Bend and it kind of reminded me of my childhood... I didn't have the best of time growing up," he said with a self-mocking laugh. "You called yourself a bastard. And all of sudden I was six years old and being beaten for having a whore for a mother."
Ezra groaned in sympathy. "God, Buck."
Buck closed his eyes. "They told me everyday when I was little that I was no good and I fight it everyday."
Ezra leaned forward, squeezing Buck's hand in a gesture of reassurance. "You're the most generous soul Buck, and a better man I have yet to meet," he said adamantly.
Buck's eyes filled with tears and he tried to blink them away, "Thanks, Ezra. Maybe the voices of the past won't win while I have my brothers to take care of me."
"Brothers," he returned, with a grin and standing he gave Buck a brief hug, before sitting back beside him. Ezra coughed trying to dislodge the lump in his throat. "Give it a few weeks... then our other 'brothers' or should I say 'mothers' will be bothering somebody else," Ezra said with a light laugh.
"You're right about that," Buck agreed with a twinkle of his eyes.
Ezra cocked his head as if listening for a sound he wasn't sure he was searching for. "I wager that it won't be too long before our mothers come up here to check on us."
Buck grinned, debating whether or not to encourage his friend. "Half an hour?"
"Fifteen minutes. This is our brothers we are talking about," Ezra deadpanned dryly, turning up the lantern so it brightened the clinic more brightly.
"What was that?" Chris said as he opened the door to be followed in by Vin, Josiah, Nathan, JD, Mary and Kate.
Ezra threw Buck a small pleading look and Buck grinned. "Nothing Chris, Ezra here was just telling me about a cardsharp he met in New Orleans," Buck said.
"Right, Buck," JD said with a small grin.
Buck waved his hands at them. "What? You think a wounded man would lie?" He said feigning hurt.
Vin looked at the ladies man and the gambler seated next to him and he gave one of his trademark grins. "You forget, Buck. We know the two of you too well and you would never lie."
Buck and Ezra let out a startled gawp at the remark while, watching in wonder as the newcomers all settled themselves in the room and the food they'd brought smelled divine.
"And what pray tell is the cause of this sumptuous feast to be brought to this humble abode?" Ezra inquired as he helped Mary pass the plates of cake around.
"We're celebrating life is all," Josiah's deep baritone rumbled as he silently thanked god that the seven were once again united.
Nathan nodded at the words. "Life is too precious to waste," he whispered as he sipped some wine, catching Kate's eye he smiled. "To Rain," he said.
"To Rain." They echoed toasting the vibrant spirit that had been taken too soon. Mary wiped at her eyes and she felt Chris's arms encircle her waist in support. Glancing up she gave him a small smile, which he echoed, before his eyes were drawn to the tableau that his friends made in the room.
Vin and JD laughing as Ezra and Buck gave them the evil eye for attempting to question them on how they were feeling. Kate seated beside Buck on the other side, one hand encircled with Buck's, the other resting on Nathan's back in a gesture of support. Chris shook his head; whatever had passed between them on the steps of the church only God knew, but it had certainly healed the rift between them.
Buck glanced at Ezra and they exchanged small grins. "Family," Buck mouthed.
Ezra shook his head and a smile lit up his face. "Can't live with him, can't live without them," he retorted softly.
As the moon rose over Four Corners, its light filtered into the men and women inside the small clinic. Twilight had eased into a cool night, but the friendships inside strengthened by grief and despair made the room glow with warmth.