Fork in the Road

Leigh Richards & Peta Collins

Know what are you going to do and then do it and don’t backslide.

If you make a mistake make a glorious one

It’s like the man, who comes to the tree at the fork in the road and says,

"Which way shall I go, this way or that?"

Go! Take one way and go.

There is always the element of timing

Everything has a time and place.


Orange light filtered down through the trees that surrounded parts of the trail the three men were riding on. It had been a long day, the three men had checked out the outlying properties near the town of Four Corners’. It had been a task that they had all welcomed, the town had felt a little like a tiny oppressive pocket of activity. It was a town that was a little pocket of activity where everyone knew everyone else’s business. They each knew that was the case when small towns began to flourish however the smaller the town the more everyone interfered in the daily lives of others. It was however, their business to know everything or something of it that was going on in the small town. When Chris Larabee had suggested that a three-man team ride out and check on some of the smaller ranchers, each of these men had all jumped at the chance. None of the other men hired to protect the town had protested each of them wanting quiet in town.

If the men had known what was about to surface none of them would have agreed to go on the ride. JD Dunne rode quietly beside Ezra Standish; Vin Tanner rode slightly ahead, so he could still hear the conversation without being a part of it. A fact that Standish had noted and dismissed, the tracker liked to observe events, before taking part.

The shod hooves of the horses made their quite padding sound as JD quietly raised the topic of Boston. Ezra had just mentioned that he had spent some time there.

Ezra replied to the incessant questions of the young sheriff, without much thought. It took him a moment to realise that JD was telling him about an older man he had once known in Boston. Abruptly Ezra reined in his horse, staring at the younger man. Vin slowed, nudging his horse gently round to ask why the Southerner and Sheriff had stopped riding.

"What name was that?" Ezra asked harshly, shock evident on his features. Standish’s mind was whirling at a mile minute each thought tumbling over the other. It couldn’t be could it? How?

Glaring at the young man when he wasn’t responding to the Southerner's question. "Who, JD," he questioned forcefully, holding his horse steady as it danced around feeling the agitation of his rider.

JD shifted slightly in his saddle uncomfortable under the scrutiny of the gambler. Ezra he had noticed had the same tendency as Vin. The eyes saw everything and that made a person uneasy - especially when they were locked on you as both men’s were right now.

The young man shifted his eyes to the lean tracker who was leaning forward to gently rub his horse's neck, steadying the nervous tension that it could feel. JD looked at Ezra, then nudged his horse to begin riding again, the Southerner’s gelding matched his stride, Vin shook his head and once more let his horse quicken its pace so it was riding ahead of the two men behind him.

JD sighed. He could still feel the watchful gaze of the man riding beside him. Those green eyes felt like they were burning a hole into his soul. That made him uneasy, because what had caused it was one name. A name of a man JD had known long ago, Luke Haywood.

"You heard me." JD said that softly, refusing to meet Ezra's eyes his own eyes going dark with the memories. He didn’t see the man beside him blanch, his poker expression lost with those three words.

Yes he had heard the young man and that is what had shocked him to the core. Oh God. It couldn’t be - could it? Ezra shuddered, suddenly feeling ill over this news. He sensed the questioning look of the bounty hunter, who had slowed his horse to a walk, sensing something was awry. But all of the gambler’s attention was focused on the young man beside him.

"He said he was my father..." JD began haltingly, swallowing painfully at the recalled memory. "He took everything we owned. That’s why my ma took that job... and I became a stable hand." He finished finally, raising his head to look at the two silent men riding beside him. JD was surprised to see the sadness in Vin’s blue eyes and the normally unflappable gambler’s face was an open book. Sorrow, guilt and regret flashed across Ezra’s face.

Dunne was appalled, he hadn’t meant to hurt the gambler with talk of the past, it was so uncharacteristic of Standish to show his emotions that he inquired quickly if the older man was all right, concerned that he might of made mention of something that pained the other man.

"Uhh." Ezra suddenly felt claustrophobic in the presence of these men. Vin could read him like he was an open book - they may not always be on the same page, but Standish had come to realise that hiding something from Vin was just impossible. JD Dunne on the other hand, well he was so young and full of life that Ezra found that he just couldn’t lie to him, not now. Which led him to the dreadful predicament he now found himself in. He felt lost he could not fall back on his poker face, he couldn’t lie to them. That much he did know, he also knew that what he was about to say, what he must say would undoubtedly hurt the boy.

But Ezra determined no other way. The gambler could not condone what he had done. Shifting his hat nervously, he glanced at the two men, Vin was watching him avidly, as if trying to ascertain what was about to happen. Ezra could sense that the tracker could guess. JD was riding along head down bowler hat only obscuring his features slightly.

"I know Luc," he softly pronounced, accentuating the name slightly differently - giving it a Cajun French sound. JD frowned as he turned to give him his full attention, his brown eyes widening in disbelief.

"We worked together... I didn’t know..." Ezra whispered urgently to JD whose wide eyes followed his every movement. Take a deep breath he continued. "I Knew he was going to pull a con on a woman he had an affair with..." He stopped looking at the young man the implication was clear. JD’s eyes seemed to impossibly widen even further as he stared at the con man. Dunne’s hand clenched involuntarily, as anger seeped into and hardened the man’s features. He looked out on the trail, before looking at the southerner. His eyes sought an answer from his friend.

"You knew. You knew that he was going to do that?" JD demanded angrily maneuvering his horse away from the gambler.

Standish nodded, feeling the home he had created in Four Corners begin to slip away from him as he took in JD’s shocked angry expression. "You didn’t stop him..." He whispered bewildered and accusingly. Ezra shook his head again sadly. The young sheriff scrutinised him, hurt and betrayal evident on his face.

"I can’t believe you. " Swallowing hard, JD stopped unable to say anything else. With a shake of his head, in anger or disgust - for once Ezra was unsure of which - he was gone. Spurring his horse, Dunne galloped for their town as if the devil was chasing him. Only it wasn’t the devil, it was the past coming back full circle, to slap him in the face.

Ezra watched JD go his heart sinking, an empty feeling settling in his stomach. He looked at Vin who sat contemplating him an expression of sadness and concern in his eyes..

"How old were ya?" Vin asked at length, after they had once again began to ride back to Four Corners. Neither man could see JD anymore, he had ridden the horse like the wind, and was gone even faster. Tanner shifted his horse around a tree stump as they both came out onto the open fields that surrounded some of the area around the town. Ezra didn’t reply, at first too caught up in the memory of JD’s face when he had found out. He’d hate me now, he thought morosely.

"Couldn’t have been more than fifteen years old. Old enough to know better..." Ezra explained guiltily, his shoulders sinking with dread at the prospect of going into that town.

Vin snorted as he looked away his blue eyes searching the distance. "You didn’t tell him everything, then," he summarized as they both ducked under an old tree branch.

Ezra winced slightly, sighing sadly. "I knew, isn’t that enough?"

"Nope," Vin said, eyeing the man next to him. Tanner could see that despite his own desire to help the Southerner, it might not be enough. The gambler was lost in a world of guilt and regret. Tanner’s eyes narrowed with apprehension, he realized that once they reached Four Corners - nothing was ever going to be the same. Now, why did a tracker who lived off his gut instincts, suddenly feel an icy feeling of dread seep into his stomach. Buck was going to eat Ezra alive when he found out and whatever was dragging the Gambler down at the moment was more than just what had happened with JD’s mother. The guilt that Ezra was feeling at the moment was going to allow Buck to go and cut him down. Vin didn’t know how wrong he was, that everything was going to take an about face that no one was going to see coming, especially the man riding beside him.


Chris Larabee grinned to himself, reaching for the bottle of whisky, it was late, late enough to seriously start drinking. During the day - sure as hell he loved a drink, although on most occasions he had found himself only sipping the drink so that he might not cloud his judgment. His grin turned slightly mocking at that, he always believed in a code of conduct of behaviour and there were certain things you just didn’t’ do. First was when you were a lawman you drank sure, but not to excesses. Not so that any man could throw down on you and win.

He could see Buck Wilmington clearly, dancing with a lovely woman around one of the old wooden tables. She laughed, clearly enchanted at whatever Buck had whispered to her in her ear. Chris shook his head . That man could wrap the oldest, meanest woman around his finger in an instant.

Strange that no woman had yet managed to snare him...he corrected himself on that one. There had been one special lady for Wilmington that had been a long time ago. His musings were brought abruptly to halt by the youngest member of their outfit, banging into the Saloon. Dunne looked furious and Chris only wondered at what or whom that could be.

JD stormed over to the bar, gesturing for a bottle of whisky. It was the bottle being passed over to Dunne that had Buck stop his graceful dance. He murmured an apology to his young lady and casually walked over to his young friend.

JD drank - but never had he ordered an entire bottle for himself. Something was up and Buck was going to find out for sure what it was.

He pulled the kid over to the table near Larabee, so he could hear but at the same time respect that privacy that the two men might need.

Dunne glared at Buck’s attitude of concern, his brown eyes flashing in anger. Wilmington grinned good-naturedly, it wasn’t a good idea to annoy the kid even further he thought. Especially when he was about to interrogate him as it were. Now, where were Vin and Ezra - they were supposed to have been with the kid.

"How were the ranches.?" Buck asked getting down to business straight away, both he and Chris needed to know if there was trouble brewing.

Dunne sighed, rubbing his leg absently, the fast ride into town hadn’t been easy, and he was beginning to feel the affects of it. JD glanced at Chris and Buck and the older men observed the shadowed look over the young man’s face. "The ranches were fine, Chris. Nothing happening except the usual."

Wilmington took a casual sip of a whisky chaser that the kind barmaid had left with Chris. Kid was being cagey this wasn’t going to be easy he thought tiredly.

Dunne played with the bottle toying with opening it. He wasn’t sure, if he wanted to tell these two men about one of the most horrible experiences in his life. Luc had destroyed his mother.

"What’s up JD?’ Buck asked softly, leaning forward to take the bottle out of the young sheriff’s hands.

"Nothing," he replied sullenly, his stomach twisting it was hardly nothing he knew that.

"Oh. Yeah?" Buck said incredulously, "Sure seems like something to me- don’t you think Chris," he commented bring his old friend into it.

"Well, I don’t want talk about it."

"Can’t let you do that JD, it’ll fester otherwise," Buck said, grabbing the kid by the arm when he would’ve risen to leave. People in the Saloon watched curiously. Something was up that much they were sure of, but one look from Buck and Chris sent them all hurrying out the swinging doors.

"Chris," JD began plaintively. A smile twitched for the briefest of instances and Chris shook his head.

"Sorry, JD," Buck interrupted before Chris could continue. "Besides it can’t be that bad."

"Worse." Dunne said morosely, staring out the window onto the dusty street of Four Corners.

"Well, Chris I think his wallowing a little don’t you. Now JD why don’t you tell us a little about what happened to get you angry like this, and then maybe we can help you," Buck said softly and intensely.

Dunne eyes snapped up to Buck’s, "Shut up. You don’t know nothin’ Buck." Wilmington grinned but the smile didn’t reach his eyes "What you don’t think I know about wallowing or pain JD."

"I didn’t say that," JD began, rubbing a tired hand across his eyes.

"Well son, it sure sounded like it too me." Wilmington leaned back glaring at the young man in front of him. Buck’s eyes briefly, clouded with a memory and then it was gone. "Me and Chris know all about it."

Chris frowned at Buck, the other man’s eyes met his for a brief instance before snapping back to his charge in front of him. Chris raised a finger for him to continue, he knew exactly what Buck had been referring too. "JD," Buck drawled slowly, waiting for the silence to lengthen for a moment. "Come on."

JD sighed, he could see that he wasn’t going to be able to leave this table without the two men finding out the truth. Drawing a deep breath he raised pain filled eyes to the two older men. " Long time ago, when I was a young boy couldn’t have been about 6 or 7 at the time maybe a bit older. My mom went with a fella called Luc Haywood. He claimed he was my father, me and mom believed it too." JD gazed at down at the table drawing circles on the wooden surface. "He conned us for all that we had. Lost everything."

Buck leaned back, "Ahh. I see. I’m real sorry kid," he said, reaching out to rub the young man on the shoulder. JD jerked back abruptly. "No! You don’t. Ezra knew this man, knew what he was gonna do," JD said angrily.

Chris threw a covert glance at Buck who had frowned at the last statement. This wasn’t good, he thought belatedly.

"No JD. I think we do," Chris said, holding a placating hand out when the young man was about to storm on in his argument. "How much older than you do you think Ezra is JD?"

Buck’s eyes snapped to Chris for an instance confusion raised across his face, followed by a dawning understanding of where he was going with his questioning.

Dunne’s brow furrowed confused. "Don’t rightly know. Chris. Could be about seven years older."

"Right," Buck answered picking up Chris’s questioning. "So when this Luke fellow came a courtin’ your mama, how old was he?"

"Probably about thirty-five, maybe older."

"An Ezra was how old back then, JD," Chris suggested softly,

"Probably about fourteen or fifteen." Dunne’s eyes widened with comprehension. "He couldn’t have done anything to stop him," Buck affirmed this with a nod. "Doesn’t mean you can’t be angry with him for awhile JD, but maybe you should get Ezra’s side of the story," Chris nodded, noting that Josiah and Nathan had overheard parts of the conversation.

Buck stood, grasping the younger man’s shoulder sympathetically. "I’m real sorry that happened to you JD. No one deserves that kind of treatment. I bet Ezra is too." With that he was gone walking out onto the street to sit quietly on the boardwalk. Talking with JD had brought up some memories that he had thought were long gone.

Chris watched his old friend go with a frown, memories of his recently buried pain re-surfacing fleetingly. Turning back to JD he grinned, "Hell, I’m always surprised when that man comes out with something akin to a pearl of wisdom." JD’s eyes snapped up to meet Chris’s blue ones, a slow smile spread across his face. "So am I," he whispered, reaching out he re-grasped the bottle of whisky. "I’m just going too remain here for a bit OK?"

"Sure, no wallowing though."

JD smiled at him forcefully. "I’ll try not to Chris, I’ll just drink to my ma then."


Silently, Vin and Ezra rode into Four Corners, they had not spoken much. Ezra had explained some of the circumstances to the situation and Vin had agreed with him, there wasn’t much that Southern kid could’ve done against a grown man.

Ezra could see from the expressions on the other men’s face that they knew. It was obvious by their posturing and stance that they knew some of what had transpired out there on the trail. Slowing their geldings from a trot to a walk they dismounted in front of the Sheriff’s office.

Chris watched them closely, one look from the tracker had confirmed his suspicions about this - there was more to the story than just JD’s side. Chris already knew that , he just wondered what.

Buck watched, them ride a frown forming at the thought of the kid being conned like that, yet his anger wasn’t directed at Standish. Buck’s anger was directed at Luc Haywood a man who had interfered in two men’s lives with that one con of JD Dunne’s mother. He shook his head, his gaze was drawn to the young man in question as he exited the Saloon, still carrying the bottle of whisky -unopened fortunately. JD paused when he saw the gambler dismounting alongside the tracker.

Ezra glanced towards JD sadly before his expression turned carefully neutral. He stepped onto the boardwalk, and met Josiah and Nathan. They had heard some of what had happened and were angry at the Southerner. Both men had assumed it was his fault. Chris had been about to talk about the recent events, but the arrival of the man in question had stopped him.

Tanner stepped onto the boardwalk after Ezra, seeing the fury and fire in the healer’s and preacher’s eyes. Shit, they were going to show no mercy here, The tracker thought.

Chris glanced at Vin and raised an eyebrow, they both realized that they couldn’t stop this now: This horse was out of control.

Ezra took the words from Jackson without respite even agreeing with both Josiah and Jackson in a manner that made them wonder very briefly about the Southerner.

Both men dismissed it, when the Southerner refused to respond, carefully brushing off his coat and jacket the fire was lit, their anger was a flame ignited by their own ignorance.

JD uneasily observed the argument escalate between Jackson Sanchez and Standish. It had shifted he realized, it may have started with him, but it wasn’t about him anymore. Nathan had been spoiling for a fight all day and JD had given him the perfect opportunity to let his anger loose at what he considered to be a most worthy cause, Ezra.

Dunne sighed softly, his brows knitting together in a frown. He was angry at Ezra, but this wasn’t what he wanted. He had the distinct feeling, that something was about to happen and he idly thought if that was what Vin and Chris thought as well.

The two men were tense with anticipation as if they were waiting, they tried to stop Jackson and Sanchez with a word, but the two men were too irate.

JD met the curious gazes Tanner and Larabee threw his way, he read the concern in theirs and Buck’s expression as he handed the bottle to him.

Tanner stood still his movements suggesting to all that the tracker was ready to pounce on who JD had a good feeling, the healer. Chris also was raising a hand to try and ease the tone of the argument.

Buck nodded, together they stepped down the remaining steps to cross the main street to join the other men, JD’s stride was quick and purposeful they wouldn’t destroy the team because of him.

Whatever his intention JD saw Ezra’s eyes cut to him briefly, then fly back to Josiah.

The Southerner’s eyes held a fury that he had not seen before, he was obviously furious at the preacher’s comments.

JD and Buck approached the other men, they could see the young gambler make a barbed comment to the older man. Nathan glared at the smaller man furiously snapping out a short reply. Ezra appeared to freeze, his complexion rapidly losing colour. Utterly frozen, he stared at the two men in front of him as if he had never seen them before. Ezra’s glanced over at JD, and Buck who had finally reached them after crossing the busy main street.

Standish looked at them confusion and bewilderment evident in his expression.

To JD, Ezra for all the world looked like a cornered animal, in a trap he couldn’t get out of. It was also clear from both Tanner’s and Larabee’s expressions of shock and surprise that something monumental had occurred. Dunne was also painfully aware that Ezra reminded him of the day that he had found out Luc was not his father.

Dunne saw Sanchez shake his head sadly in regret, raising his large hand to grab the gambler's green jacket to stop him from leaving.

Ezra stepped back quickly out of reach, raising his hands in a gesture of warning.

A warning to back off. Ezra obviously did not want to be touched by the preacher at all. Yet, all could see that his hands were trembling as he held them up warding off the older preacher. There was a moment of silence as the conman obviously struggled to find his voice.

Finally, he rasped, "Is that true?" His green eyes desperately sought the truth in the Josiah's eyes. "Is that true?"

JD watched as Josiah nodded, and Nathan glared triumphantly. Tanner and Larabee looked at Ezra sympathy and concerned etched over their tanned faces. A look of pain and anguish crossed the conman’s face as he stared at the older man, his breath coming in short gasps. Ezra’s emerald green eyes shined with unshed tears. Ezra bowed his head closing his eyes hiding his face from the other men.

JD moved to go to him to try and help. His mind stewing over what Nathan could have possibly said, he was stopped by Buck’s firm hold on his arm. He raised a glance at Buck, but the older man ignored him his attention and concern was focused on the gambler in front of them.

Standish raised his face the utter devastation was gone from his face replaced by his resident poker face which revealed nothing. He was shutting them out the only way he knew how. The men had been around the man for too long though not to be able to read the young Southerner. For although his face was blank his body was taught with emotion and his visage visibly trembled.

JD had never been so in awe of Standish’s skill as he was in that moment. The courage he was displaying as he valiantly tried to keep his emotions in check, made him admire him even more.

Ezra licked lips nervously. He spoke softly, his southern voice full of an anguish that he couldn’t suppress. "Gentlemen, I believe I will take my leave, Mr Larabee." He nodded at the man dressed in black who was watching him worriedly. Ezra turned to walk away, but his eyes caught the sign of the Standish Saloon. He didn’t move for a moment his eyes reflecting on something only he could see.

Vin moved towards the gambler his blue eyes shining with worry. "Ezra?" His Texas drawl coloured with concern.

The gambler who had seemed frozen was brought from his introspection by Vin’s voice and he quickly looked at them taking a small step back, trying to maintain a distance. Ezra locked gazes with the tracker noting the compassion, a quick glance at Larabee showed the same depth of concern. Shaking his head he backed away from them, whirling around intent on going to his room.

Unfortunately, it was blocked by Buck and JD, who were undeniably ready to reach out to him with the worry etched on their feature. It was all too much and Ezra did the one thing he knew how, he fled into the Saloon, his figure quickly disappearing into its murky depths..

Vin looked over at JD noting the confusion in his expression he shook his head glancing at Chris, who’s eyes were still staring at the Saloon.

Chris shifted sensing the tracker’s attention. He turned and both men appeared to communicate silently over what had just transpired.

Dunne stepped up onto the porch, his hands resting on the gunbelt around his waist, whatever Chris and Vin had just communicated he didn’t care. All he really needed to know was what Nathan had said, that had clearly devastated the now departed gambler.

Wilmington’s eyes met Chris’s and he raised an eyebrow questioningly. Clearing his throat Chris deliberated for a moment, watching the ladies’ man and the kid. Both men looked bewildered and not a little worried.

Tanner motioned with a hand for Chris to explain the situation, neither Chris nor Tanner even looked at Josiah and Nathan, Dunne noticed absently.

"Nathan and Josiah decided to inform Ezra that Maude is not and never was his mother," Chris said simply, although his tone indicated to all of them that clearly it wasn’t that simple.

Buck and JD gasped in shock each staring at the preacher and healer as if they had never seen them before. Vin blue eyes were stormy as he gazed over at the two men in question. Josiah groaned slightly as suddenly he and Nathan were faced with four very angry men.

Nathan stood his ground still feeling the last remnants of anger towards Ezra. "What? It’s the truth."

JD stared at them in disgust. "You knew." He stepped up towards them, glaring at them. The other men watched allowing Dunne to take the lead. "You knew," he whispered, jabbing his finger in Sanchez’s chest who flinched at the antipathy in the younger man’s expression. A quick glance at the other men made Josiah realise that it was reflected in all of their expressions, he shifted guilt falling heavy on his shoulder.

Nathan, glared defiantly at them.

Buck and Chris exchanged glances never in their life did they think that these two men, especially these two would do something like this. Betray a confidence to deliberately hurt a man they called friend.

Tanner shook his head, it was all so futile. He felt betrayed and he could only imagine what the gambler was feeling. Rubbing his jaw, he realized that he felt that trusting Josiah and Nathan again would be a hard task for them all.

JD turned away intent on following Ezra, but a large hand on his arm stopped him. He met the guilt laden expression of the preacher. "I imagine he needs some time," Josiah trailed off, as the younger man looked at him disbelief JD’s gaze travelling over to Nathan who was standing behind the larger man. "You knew," he mocked looking back and forth between them letting them see the irony of this statement. "Let go," he ordered flatly when the preacher refused to let go. Abruptly, the preacher shaken by the vehemence in the tone did just that.

JD gave one last look at the two men and shook his head in dismal.

Giving a final backward glance at other three remaining men, he saw worry, concern and not a little anger. They were furious he saw, and was glad that he was leaving when he was he wouldn’t be in Josiah and Nathan’s shoes.

Buck gave Dunne a quick nod whilst Tanner gave him his two finger salute at his performance, Dunne gave a tight grin.

JD nodded at Chris and saw the man, give him a slight tilt of the head in understanding, with that he left the sheriff’s porch heading towards the Saloon.

Chris watched the kid go with a feeling of nostalgia. That kid had just grown up an awful lot, he thought ruefully. Chris knew that Dunne would look after Standish as they all would, but first he had to deal with Nathan and Josiah.


The sun hit the porch at an odd angle and the men could feel the day cooling day as they headed into the quiet of the evening. No one had shifted after Dunne had left the Sheriff’s porch.Nathan still stood silently, his defiant posture begin to slip slightly, while Josiah stood head slightly bowed regret showing on his features.

Chris had watched JD go with a mixture of feelings. A combination of pride, regret and sorrow or battling inside of him at that moment. There was a great deal of sorrow for Standish and the pain he was in as well as pride in the way that JD had acted. He handled himself like a man and not like a kid even in the face of Sanchez’s betrayal to Ezra. Larabee sighed looking at his remaining men. "Told you Nathan, it was between them," he bit out, turning to regard the taller man, who looked at him the enormity of what he had done slowly beginning to sink in.

Tanner stared stoically away from the two men. "Should’ve stayed out of it," he muttered, shaking his head in disgust. His blue eyes snapped towards the preacher. "We’ve shared allot Josiah, and I ain’t ever goner betray a confidence like you just did today. How much else have you told to other men about us. I never would have thought you would." He was stopped by Wilmington laying a hand on his arm.

"Easy Vin," Buck murmured, his eyes still on the departed figures reflecting a sorrow that went deep down.

Sanchez clapped Nathan’s shoulder lightly. "Let him who has not sinned cast the first stone, maybe we all should of listened huh," he said sadly, his eyes met Chris’s who nodded in agreement although anger still radiated from him.

Vin rubbed his jaw softly, shaking his head in disgust.

Buck swore taking a step past Vin. "Well it’s a little late for that now, don’t you think Josiah. Maybe you should have just kept quite about something that you had no right interfering into," he fumed, moving forward with each accented word.

Tanner flew a quick glance at Larabee, and as one they both gently restrained Wilmington from physically attacking the other two men.

Buck shook himself out of the grasp, his eyes beseeching the other two men. "They need to know Chris, Vin. Talk to them. Because right now I can’t stand the sight of them."

"I’d like to Buck, but right now I can’t stand to be near them either. " Chris said sardonically, dusting off his jacket as he stepped off the porch to head over to the Saloon. He was followed by Wilmington, who backed away from the two men before turning and with quick steps moved to follow Larabee.

"Me neither." Tanner muttered. Not even glancing the other men’s way he paused on the steps, staring unseeingly at the Saloon. "I never thought you’d do this Nate, nor you Josiah." With those parting words he was gone following Chris and Buck towards Saloon.

Nathan and Josiah watched them go with a sinking feeling in their gut, the seven were divided and they had caused it. They felt alone - feeling that nothing could heal what had occurred except maybe a little time.

JD pushed open the doors of the saloon looking for his friend, but with a cursory glance it was obvious that Standish wasn’t there. He looked over at Inez who was busy serving customers she gave him a nod, pointing towards the back door of the Saloon.

Dunne gave a brief nod of thanks as he gently pushed his way through the evening throng. Opening the cellar door, he squinted a little eyes adjusting to the darkness. He could just make out a small figure seated on the floor.

"Ezra?" he asked worriedly, reaching out he grasped a lantern on the wall and quickly turned it up so it was burning more brightly. Its yellow light flickered into flame, shining its light onto the walls and a crumpled broken figure of a man in the corner.

"Ezra," JD said, seating himself on the step of the doorway, neither all the way in but there if the other man was willing to talk. If anyone knew what Ezra was going through right now, it would have to be him.

They sat there in silence neither willing to break it. Standish raised his head and regarded the young sheriff, rubbing his hand tiredly over his face he wiped at the tears that threatened to fall.

"Ezra..," JD began, but Ezra held up his hand quietening him.

Taking in a deep breath he sighed, "I need just a moment Mr Dunne to gather myself.." shaking hands reached out to grasp the bottle that lay beside him.

"Ok. Don’t have anywhere to be right now. So." JD shifted so that he was leaning against the cool wall, "We don’t have to talk Ezra, but I am here ok."

Ezra inclined his head at the younger man, thanking him with a brief smile.

Dunne watched the other man once again retreat into himself, and he felt an anger burn inside of him. JD realized that Nathan and Josiah probably didn’t even know the extent to which they had destroyed the man in front of him.

God, this was worse than what he had been through, much worse. Ezra had been betrayed by men he had considered friends, that alone was enough to make a man angry, but this..well this was enough to destroy a man.

It was long time before the other man spoke. The bar had long since quieted down, they had sat there till dawn was nearly breaking in a companionable silence.

Standish slowly rose to his feet, his hand brushing over his eyes tiredly. "You must be laughing kid - I knew what Luc was going to do, and little did I know that - my moth - Maude has been playing me since I was an itty bitty baby.," he said bitterly, the self-loathing evident in his voice.

"I don’t know about your moth-" JD paused, as he saw the other man close his eyes at the mention of the term. "Maude," he corrected quickly, "But she must love you if she’s stayed around for this long?" he declared as Ezra raised his watery green eyes to meet his, "I mean Luc only stayed for five months.. she stayed for all your life," JD finished trying to stop the pain that the memory of Luc always brought.

"I’m sorry JD," Ezra whispered into the silence, but the kid looked at him seriously.

"What could you have done Ezra he probably would have done it anyway right?"

Standish nodded wearily, looking away from the younger man, who grabbed his arm and pulled him round to face him.

"How old were ya?" JD questioned curiously, wondering if Buck and Chris had been right in the reasoning.

Standish gently eased himself from the hold of the younger man and seated himself on the doorway step. "About 15, ma - Maude, had just left on one of her cons... Luke was her companion at that time, and he saved my life," he whispered heavily, his eyes swimming emotion.

JD sat there for a moment pondering these words. "I still don’t understand why Luc had do what he did and I never will. But if he saved your life Ezra for that I’m grateful because I wouldn’t want to lose your friendship in any lifetime." His brown eyes met those vibrant green ones and an understanding passed between them.

The jaded conman and the greenhorn suddenly found in each other a way to overcome the hurdle of their past.

JD held out his hand to help the Southerner to his feet. "I know it's hard but you will get through it," he said knowingly, not releasing the other man’s hand. Seeing the other man shudder he gave his hand a tight squeeze before they exited the damp cellar ready to face the dawning of a new day.