Grief and Newfound Friendships

By: Jesfrealo

Disclaimer: I wish I owned them. Sadly, some other lucky people do. Damn them.

Authors Note: This just popped into my head so I wrote it down. Iím not sure how it evolved the way it did. Itís completely different from what I intended but I kind of think thatís a good thing. Makes it more interesting to read. PLEASE REVIEW. Anyway just promise to read it all the way to the end.

"Mr. Standish," Mary Travis called while knocking on the door of the room Ezra kept. She had been upset when the man had knocked on her door so late at night. Sheíd wondered what it could be so she had cautiously gone downstairs and opened the door.

"Sorry, to wake you maíam but we got this letter for a Mr. Ezra Standish. Boss said it was real urgent. We come here cause itís written care of Mary Travis at the Clarion. You her?"

"Why, yes." Mary had said, surprised that a letter of such urgency that it would be delivered at two-o-clock in the morning would be delivered to Ezra. Also, she couldnít for the life of her understand we it was care of the Clarion. Ezraís letters never came to her. "Is this an emergency?"

"Donít rightly know, Boss didnít tell us just said it was from the law in New Orleans and Mr. Standish had to get it as soon as possible. Maíam, weíd appreciate it if youíd tell us wear he is so we can get it to him."

"Well Gentlemen, why donít you just give it to me and Iíll give it to him?"

"Okay, but just so long as he gets it tonight. Boss said to wake him up if we had to."

"Iíll take it right now."

So their Mary was standing at Ezra Standishís door at two-o-clock in the morning. "Mr. Standish," Mary said as loudest voice she could without fear of waking up the people in the neighboring rooms. She then could here some shuffling going on inside and then the door opened.

"Mrs. Travis," Ezra addressed her groggily, with a very surprised visage. The last person he would ever expect at his door late at night was Mary Travis. An involuntary, yet smug grin crossed the gamblersí features as he thought about what Chris would do if he knew Mary were here now. "What brings you to my humble abode at such a late hour?"

"Well, Mr. Standish, some messengers brought me this letter for you about ten minutes ago and said it was urgent and to wake you up." She handed him the letter.

"Mrs. Travis, Iím sorry this woke you up." Ezra apologized realizing how much this must have disturbed the beautiful widow.

"Oh, donít worry about it. Itís not your fault anyway." She stood there a moment longer waiting for him to do something when she realized that he was waiting for her to go. "Iím sorry Mr. Standish," she said, embarrassed that sheíd allowed her reporters curiosity to take control. "Goodnight."

"Goodnight, Mrs. Travis." Ezra said rather abruptly. Heíd seen the return address and was now nervous and scared as to what this letter was all about. He closed the door, quietly. He went over to his bed and sat down. His eyes rested on the return address:

Marshall Abraham Freidman

New Orleans, Louisiana

The memory of that name, or rather the memories associated with that name caused Ezraís blood to freeze within his veins. Raw pain and fear coursed through his body with such power that he had no control of it. Without really thinking about it he took hold of the letter and tore the envelope and read the words.

The emotions that became more powerful with every word he read surged through him ravenously. Pain, fear anger, hatred, and an overwhelming sadness swept over him. Ezra couldnít stay in the room a moment longer. He got up off the bed and hastily through on the clothes heíd worn the day before. He shoved the letter into his inside coat pocket leaving the enveloped discarded and forgotten on his bed.

~*~

"Where the hell is Ezra?" Chris asked the rest of the seven, who were all present to partake of Inezí wonderful cooking. "He was supposed to ride watch this morning."

"Probly still sleeping Chris, you know how he likes his sleep." Buck commented, in too happy a mood to let Chrisí sour one ruin his day. Chris had been even more mean and nasty then usual even Buck and Vin had kept their distance. Buck knew why. He expected today and tomorrow to be the worst of all. Tomorrow was the anniversary of the day Sarah and Adam died.

"Well, Buck since youíre so damn smart why donít you just go get him, then." Buck new better then to argue or even disagree with Chris when he was like this, there was only one reason anyone would do that and that was if they had a death wish.

~*~

Buck cautiously knocked on the Gamblers door. No answer. He knocked again still there was no answer. Buck had really hoped that Ezra was already awake and just hadnít come out of his room yet or that his knocks would wake the gambler up. In the past, when Buck had gone to wake Ezra up the conman had pulled a gun on him. Once heíd even gotten a shot off before he realized who it was, even then he was still pissed that Buck had woken him up.

Buck put his hand on the doorknob, praying it would be locked so that he could go down and tell Chris that he couldnít get in and the gambler wouldnít wake up. However, his prayers went unanswered as the doorknob easily turned and the door opened. Buck cautiously walked in. To his surprise the gambler wasnítí there. He hadnít been very worried when Mary had talked about the letter. He just figured that Ezra was still asleep it was the norm for the man. The fact that heíd missed his morning rounds was also normal. However, now Buck too was worried. He walked in and quickly took stock of the room. The bed had been slept in. The covers were strewn about, evidence of his quick departure. He walked over and felt the surface of the bed, it was freezing cold. Buck now thought that the gambler probably never returned to bed after Mary had brought him the letter. Then he saw the envelope Buck had left on the bed. He looked at it and saw the return address. He quickly left to tell Chris and the others what he had found.

~*~

Ezra sat against a tree in a relatively secluded meadow that found one day while joyriding Chaucer. The meadowís glorious beauty was in stark contrast to Ezraís dark mood. He absently ran his fingers over the faces in the photograph that they had had taken just beforeÖWell, Ezra couldnít really think about. Not now that this happened. Yesterday, he could have admitted the truth to himself but today was a different story entirely. Theyíd been gone for four years and the first two had been the saddest most painful time of Ezraís life. It had hurt even more then his sordid childhood. Then two years ago heíd met up with seven men who had given him his life back. But now it didnít matter. The debilitating pain in his chest, the tightening of the muscles around his heart, the fire that burn his very soul was back and this time even with the life that he had in Four Corners the pain was almost worse than before. It was fresh and new and that was the worst part. It meant that heíd have to experience it all over again. Now, tears ran unabated down his cheeks. He didnít care that he was crying. What did it matter?

Terrible thought began to run through Ezraís mind as the thoughts of experiencing the pain all over again assaulted his already tender and wounded heart. The wound was old. It was like some unknown, yet terribly cruel force had come and just ripped it back open. Then for good measure rubbed sand and vinegar into it making it infected, and twice as painful as it had ever been before. Ezra was truly considering putting a gun to his head and blowing his brains out because at least then the pain would finally go away. The more he thought about it the better the idea sounded. He reached into his holster and pulled out his Remington. He cocked the gun and put it to his temple.

~*~

Chris looked at the envelop Buck had handed to him a second ago. "So what, itís a goddamn envelop sure as hell doesnít explain why he decided to just go off. Hell, he probably wonít even come back." Chris stated very harshly.

"Jeez, Chris, I know youíre hurtiní right now but did it ever a occur to you that this letter might mean trouble. Or that this fella might be sendiní Ezra bad news.

"Well, let the son of a bitch get out of his own trouble."

~*~

The smiling faces, the dancing, happy eyes bore into his pain-filled mind. They cut through the red haze that had settled over him since heíd received the letter from Marshall Freidman. It was as if he wasnít in control anymore. It was as if some demon had possessed his body. He waited for the end. He waited to hear the trigger pull and unconsciously wondered if he would even feel anything. Then he heard an audible click. But to his surprise it wasnít the click of the trigger being pulled, signaling the end of a pain-filled life. It was the sound of his thumb un-cocking the trigger and re-holstering the gun.

At that precise moment in time Ezra realized something. Ezra realized that he had control back. He smiled down at his picture. He took in the beauty of his wife and daughters and thought to himself that the picture really didnít do them justice. True the emotion still surged through him but as if by some miracle he felt the abundant love of his wife and of their two precious little angels.

After their death Ezra had spiraled into the seventh circle of Hell. They say in hell you burn eternally in a lake of fire. Thatís what Ezra felt like after there death. So he picked up the million pieces of his broken heart. He closed out the precious memories and he built a wall around his heart. He worked to forget the love he had for his wife and the unique love a father feels for his children. Chris, Josiah, Vin, and the others thought he shut himself off because of his childhood. Yes, his childhood was bad but it had made him WANT to love. This had made him stop loving. Since being part of the seven it had gotten better but he still didnít let the memories in, they were just too painful.

However, as he sat in that meadow he could he his wifeís beautiful voice as she sang the girls a lullaby. He recalled that nightly tradition. One they had started when their first born, Rebecca, was just two days old. He smiled as he remembered reading bedtime stories, playing, or just listening to the sweet innocence in their voices.

He thought of his wife, Kayla. He recalled the first time that he had met her, and how he thought her name beautiful but odd. She had explained to him that his mother was from a tiny island in the Pacific Ocean. Heíd listened in wonder, as she told him of her father. He was a sailor on a ship that was trying to circumnavigate the world. He met her mother when they stopped on a tiny island in the middle of the greatest ocean in the world. Kayla was short for her grandmotherís name. Which was spelled with "an alphabet that doesnít even use the letters we know." Sheíd said. She told him that her father had simply spelled it out phonetically and put it on her birth certificate. He could remember the magnificent paintings she made. The sketches she used to draw of the girls. His mind wandered back to that first night he met her. She was the most beautiful, majestic creature heíd ever seen. She later confided in him that it had been love at first sight for her too. He remembered dancing with her that night. He never liked dancing until he did it with her, his thoughts of Kayla and their two girls, Rebecca and Sky continued. For the first time since their death he made no effort to stop the memories. It felt good to think of them. He realized how lucky heaven was to have them, he thought how much brighter it must be there since their arrival. He imagined the angels must have had to shield their eyes from the exquisite light. Heíd never been able to imagine them in heaven before. Now it seemed so natural. All he been able to think of them of had been rotting pieces of meat that were carelessly put in boxes and under the ground.

Ezra reached into his pocket and pulled out the letter. He realized it wasnít the letter so much as the memories it brought back. He brushed the still falling tears from his cheeks. He missed them so. He read the letter again, this time he really read it:

Dear Ezra,

I donít know how youíll take this. So brace yourself. A man came into the jail today. Do you remember the Celpís? Well, Edwin brought said his brother, Martin, in saying how sorry he was and that his brother was crazy in the head. He said that his brother was responsible to a whole bunch of murders and robberies. You, Kayla, and the girls were included in the list of victims. Heís crazy but says that the ghosts are haunting him so he needed to confess. He seemed real sane then but that night he started screaming that he was going to kill us all and saying that the ghosts were coming to get revenge on him. There are eyewitnesses, as youíll recall, seeing several men go down the road from your house the night it happened. One of them was Martin Celp. We were forced to dismiss it though cause your road was heavily traveled and he was one of many that passed. Iím so sorry it took so long for justice. Iím also sorry for failing my duty to you and the other survivors. Iíve looked at my old records of all the murders that were entire families, like yours, we now know that Martin committed them all. At every murder that had any eyewitnesses Martin was seen. Iím only sorry my stupidity in the matter has caused you and the numerous others more pain. God knows this was the last thing you needed. Martin is going on trial Monday July 14. I have no doubt he will hang. Iím not even sure there will be a trial, he may plead guilty.

Our wives were the best of friends, as Iím sure you remember. Caroline has told me of all the time she spent at your home and of how Kayla and all the rest of you comforted her and the kids when I was gone or sick or injured. Ezra, as your friend, I only hope you have found peace and are well. My wife wishes you all the best and hopes you have found happiness once more. We hope that you can look back and remember them with happiness and for the good times.

Most sincerely Yours,

Abraham Freidman

Ezra sighed. He put the letter back in his coat pocket and walked over to Chaucer. Tears still wet on his cheeks he knew he needed time to become accustomed to his wife and children once again. They were in his heart now and despite the fact he wanted nothing more then for them to be alive and well he also wanted to keep their memory. He needed to stop being a fool and keep them close. However with the memories came new pain that left a bittersweet feeling and an all too familiar ache in his heart. "Come on Chaucer, My friend. Let us go home. I fear I will have much explaining to do. I recall that I missed rounds this morning."

~*~

As Ezra rode into town, his heart still burned and ached but it held some hope as well. No doubt the return of his loved ones to his still raw and wounded heart. However for the first time in a long time it wasnít just pain because now he had friends. Yes, these men had proven that they would look out for him. Why doubt it? Besides, despite Chrisí bad mood as of late, he had been less hostile toward the gambler. Ezra felt that the dark gunslinger was even beginning to trust him. Yes, this would be difficult but Ezra felt a renewed hope, one he hadnít felt since the untimely deaths of his family.

~*~

Chris sat drinking in the far corner of the saloon. No one dared to go near him, not even his friends. Normally, Inez would have not continued serving him or at least tried to convince him to stop after already drinking so much whiskey but she didnít, not when he got like this. Sheíd seen him bad before but never like this.

Buck walked in and sat at a table with JD, Nathan, Josiah, and Vin. He took the shot of whiskey proffered by Vin. No one was in a good mood. They were all worried about Chris and wondering where Ezra was. Nathan was convinced heíd run out. Vin and Josiah were too worried about protecting Chris and JD didnít really know what to think. However, Buck was angry with Chris. He had loved Sarah and Adam too and he felt like Chris was tainting their memory by acting this way. Sarah would have been appalled at Chrisí behavior and especially about him unduly taking everything out on Ezra all the time. "Iíve gotta go talk to Ďim" Buck said a little absently to the others.

"Chris," Buck faced the gunslinger, having faced him like this before and angry at his undue harsh words about the gambler. "I think Ezraís really in trouble we-"

But, Chris interrupted him, " I DONíT FUCKING CARE ABOUT EZRA, HE RAN OUT ON US ONCE AND NOW HE'S DONE IT AGAIN. HEíS NOTHING BUT A SELF-SERVING SON OF A BITCH!"

"Chris, I know this time of year is hard on you, what with Sarah and Adamís passing but you-"

"Shut the fuck up Buck-"

"Yes Buck, donít even think of defending a self-serving son of a bitch like me." Ezra spoke with very evident pain in his voice. The others watched in shock as a very haggard Ezra Standish walked into the saloon in time to hear Chris and Buckís entire conversation. Ezra looked terrible, his normally imacculant appearance gone, replaced by a tired, run-down looking man who had obviously been crying. It was strange to see Ezra in such a state, but his watery, red-rimmed eyes were the hardest for the men to see. Buck, Josiah, Vin, JD, and even Nathan realized that something must be terribly wrong with the gambler for him to allow himself to be seen in such a state. However, Chris paid Ezraís obvious problem no mind.

"Thatís right, Standish, youíre nothing but a self-serving son of a bitch traitor and I should shoot you right here and now." At this point the whiskey was talking as much as the man and nothing was going to stop Chris Larabeeís fury.

"Thatís right Chris, you blame me for your pain because youíre the only one whoís ever had pain in there life. Youíre the only one whoís ever lost someone they love and for some reason your special. You get to act like a bastard to everyone and anyone you want for no reason other then the fact that you want to and you have people defend your deplorable behavior." Ezra said it without yelling but with a voice that rivaled Chrisí own menacing voice. However, there was a knowing, wiseness that caught his friends off guard in the gambler's words and tone.

Everyone in the saloon was stunned. The place had been in total silence as the words were spoken. No one talked to Chris Larabee like that, and lived to see another day.

"You bastard!" with that Chris drew his gun, however Ezra was only a foot from Chris and, with Chris pretty drunk, Ezra was able to grab Chrisí gun and move it to the side before Chrisí just slightly slower reflexes pulled the trigger. The bullet that would have cut through Ezraís stomach lodged itself into a beam that ran from ceiling to floor and sent splinters flying in all directions.

With that Ezra turned around looked Chris in the eyes and said, "I am sorry for your loss. I have no doubt that Mr. Tanner, Mr. Wilmington, or one of the others will put a bullet in my head for saying this to you. I do hope youíre happy, youíve won, you always do." There was no anger in the soft southern drawl simply resignation and pain. With that he turned around and began to walk out of the still silent saloon.

"STANDISH!" Chris Larabee yelled but the gambler yelled. He didnít turn though, he just kept walking. He knew that regardless of Chrisí rage and drunken state he would never shoot a man in the back.

Josiah had always felt paternal feelings toward Standish and at that moment all his worry for Chris was replaced by anger at Chris and terrible worry for Standish. He had been a priest long enough to know when someone was in deep pain and from watching Standish he saw pain that was as bad as Larabeeís.

Buck was pissed. He didnít know what to do but wanted to go after Ezra. He began to go but a hand grabbed him. "Please, Buck, let me?" Josiah asked, remembering that Buck had been the only one to stand up for the gambler.

"Okay, Josiah, just help him, thereís somethiní wrong, I know it."

"I will brother, I will, you just take care of things here."

~*~

When Josiah exited the saloon he looked around hoping to find some sign of Ezra. He saw none. He was very worried about Ezra. He was also feeling very bad that he had been so worried about Chris that he hadnít even thought that the gambler was in pain or trouble. Josiah was ashamed that heíd ever doubted the gambler's loyalty, heíd certainly proved it enough times since he deserted them in the Seminole Village. He was guilty that he just let Chris vent his anger on Ezra, damn near just stood by and let the dark-clad, drunken gunslinger kill Ezra.

Josiah walked quickly down the boardwalk. He expelled the guilty and ashamed thoughts from his mind. There would be plenty of time for them later. Now he had to worry about finding Ezra. Actually, Josiah reasoned, finding him would be the easy part, talking to him, now that was a different story completely. He first headed toward the room that Ezra boarded at, knowing that he probably wouldnít be there but not willing to risk the chance that he might.

Josiah swiftly walked into the boarding house. He saw an old man sitting on a bench in the front hall. Josiah knew the man to be Sam Jenkins. "Sam, have you been sittiní here all day?"

"Why hello, Josiah," He greeted kindly, he and Josiah had had many a conversation and Sam liked the defrocked preacher, "I surely have been sittiní here all day."

"Well then, did Ezra Standish just come through here, headed toward his room?"

"That gambler fellow?" Sam questioned.

"Yes." Josiah answered shortly.

"Why?" Sam asked curious as to why Josiah was in such a rush to find the man.

"Sam, I donít have time to explain but trust me when I say that itís very important."

"No, I ainít seen him, but-"

"Thank you, Sam," Josiah walked out not letting the man finish.

Josiah then turned toward the livery, hoping that Ezra hadnít decided to just leave.

~*~

Everyone in the saloon was still reeling from what had happened. Everyone but Chris Larabee. He had just sat back in his chair and went back to his drinking.

Buck was about to go over and shoot the son of a bitch himself. How could he tear a friend apart, try to kill him and sit down to continue drowning himself in the bottle. At the same time, Buck stopped himself from going over to Chris. Ezra had been over the line in what he said. He had no write to talk to down to Chris the way he did, like he understood what Chris was going through.

"Buck," Vin the soft Texan walked over to him, "I know you bin worried Ďbout Ezra and moreínílikely you were right in yer wery but Ez ainít had no right to talk to Chris Ďbout his grieviní for his family. He donít know nothiní bout it, none of us do. Chris is hurtiní too."

"I know Vin, more then anybody I know," not really angry with the tracker but venting his anger at the situation, "thatís why I havenít already gone over the that stubborn cuss and shot him. We gotta stop this drinkiní of his. If it had bin anybody else, Ďsides Ezra, Chris woulda killed um."

"I know but he ainít gonna stop just Ďcause we want him to."

"I know, Vin." Buck answered solemnly, thinking of the hopelessness of the entire situation.

"I got an idea."

"Good," Buck said as Vin wordlessly walked over to the bar. Buck watched him as he asked a still shaken Inez for something. She bent behind the bar and then hand Vin a Whiskey bottle. He watched Vin walk over to Chris and to Buckís surprise, smash the bottle over Chrisí head, knocking him unconscious.

"Okay," Vin walked back over to Buck. "Where should we take him,"

"Ainít sure."

~*~

Josiah didnít know where else to look. Heíd gone to the livery, Chaucer was still there and the stable boy said he hadnít seen Ezra since he rode in the morning. Which was a surprise to Josiah but he dismissed it, this was good it meant Ezra was still in town. Since then heíd checked with Mary Travis, Gloria Potter and numerous people on the street. Heíd even checked all the restaurants. There was no sign of the gambler. In despair, Josiah headed toward his church hoping that some prayer may lead him to his lost sheep.

When he reached the doorstep of the church he was about to walk in to begin his prayers when he heard decidedly male crying. He peered and the door and saw Standish sitting on the steps leading up to the alter. Josiah cautiously, and quietly walked in, unsure of what state the obviously distraught Standishís mind would be and preparing himself for the worst. Ezra wasnít a man that thought much of crying or any show of emotion so Josiah knew it was worse then what happened with Chris. Josiah assumed it had something to do with this mysterious letter heíd heard Buck talk about. He wished now that heíd listened more closely to Buck.

"Ezra," Josiah began in a patient, quiet voice.

"Please, leave me alone, Josiah." Ezra said in a defeated, pleading voice.

"No Ezra," Josiah said gently, "I owe you an apology for not helping out in the saloon just now"

"It doesnít matter."

"Of course it does, you deserved a lot more then what we gave you."

"But, Mr. Sanchez, I am sure you do not approve of my words towards our infallible Mr. Larabee." With very little derision in his voice just sadness and defeat.

"Well, I donít think you or any of us have the right to tell Chris how to deal with his grie-" Josiah stopped in mid-sentence, he looked down at a picture Ezra held in his hand. Josiah suddenly got a terrible feeling in the pit of his stomach. "Ezra, who are they?"

"My family." Ezra answered simply and sadly.

"She your wife?" Josiah probed gently while he pointed to the beautiful woman in the worn photograph.

"Yes."

"Are the little girls yours too?"

"Is it so hard to believe, Mr. Sanchez?"

"No, itís not, Ezra."

"Tell me about them."

"NO!"

"Yes, it will help. How did you meet your wife?" Josiah continued to probe knowing, sensing that Ezra had to let it all out, before he exploded.

"Josiah, I canít." Ezra answered meekly.

"Yes you can, how did you meet her?"

"When I was twenty-one I was attending a family wedding. The bride was my cousin and we had been very close, so I was sitting at one of the head tables. When the social part of the evening began I was standing in a corner, drinking, when I looked up I saw the most enchanting creature Iíd ever laid eyes on. She had golden colored skin, crystallite blue eyes, and jet black hair that was streaked golden in places from the suns rays. She seemed to be an outcast, and I seemed to gravitate to her. Finally, after shamelessly starring at her for nearly an hour, I finally got the courage to ask her to dance. She accepted. We danced the rest of the night." He smiled at the memory.

"I learned that her name was Kayla Stanton. I recall how mesmerized by her I was. Even her name, Kayla, I thought it was beautiful, but I had never heard it used before. We were nearly inseparable after that night. She changed me. I no longer wanted to constantly gamble I wanted to be with her. I remember talking to her for hours upon hours about nothing, yet I enjoyed every moment of it. She brought so much to my life. I was deliriously happy whenever I was with her and I cared for her, I loved her so much. It got to the point where the mere thought of going a single day without seeing her left me terribly depressed. So on my cousinís first anniversary, the anniversary of the day Kayla and I met I proposed to her and to my astonishment she said yes. I was so surprised she had said yes that I was speechless. For a long while I just stared at her. I became terrified that I might in some way hurt her. I mean, the Lord knows, Kayla was much to good for the likes of me. Finally she took my hand and I finally got the presence of mind to reach into my pocket and give her the ring." Ezra stopped.

"Go on, Ezra," Josiah encouraged him knowing the happiness of this story wouldnít continue. He wondered what horrors Ezra and his family had suffered. He also wondered how much faith heíd have left in God after he heard Ezraís story. Josiah had a decidedly bad feeling about where Ezra was headed.

"Kayla and I were married for six years. We had two daughters, Rebecca, who had reddish blond hair and emerald colored eyes. She was born June 14, 1870. Then a year and a half later our youngest daughter Sky was born."

"Thatís an interesting name, Ezra." He commented.

"Yes, well, the night she was born, December 2, 1871, Kayla and I sat starring at our little angel wondering what on Earth to name her. Well, Kaylaís good friend Caroline came to see the baby and she brought her four-year-old son. Well that little boy sat on the bed and starred at the baby. Then all of the sudden she opened her eyes. They were light blue with gray, almost white swirls. He tapped me on the arm and said ĎLook at her eyes, they look just like the skyí. I had to laugh; he had been so excited and full of enthusiasm. But Kayla had really listen and she said ĎThatís it thatís her nameí. So we named her Sky. I still remember praying that her lovely little irisí wouldnít turn brown."

"What happened to them?" Josiah gently asked the terrible feeling heíd gotten when Ezra began bore further into the pit of his stomach when the wistful smile on Ezraís face disappeared and was replaced by one of the saddest, loneliest expressions heíd ever seen.

"My life had been perfect for six years. I had the perfect wife and perfect children. I was in absolute bliss. But, that life was shattered on March 18, 1876. I can remember that day so clearly. The date was branded into my mind. That night I remember reading Sky a storybook and kissing Rebecca goodnight. When it happened it was very late at night. We had already been asleep for hours. It was maybe 1:30-2:00 in the morning. I heard someone in the house, downstairs. I rolled over to see if it might be Kayla, but she was right there next to me. I guess in my haste to see if she was there, the shift I made in the bed, woke her up. She asked me if something was wrong, I told her I heard someone downstairs. I got my gun; I remember her telling me to be careful and that she loved me. I didnít say it back, I was too worried about what was downstairs." Ezra looked out the window at the admission that he didnít tell her that he loved her too. He stopped heíd thought he could tell his story but it was becoming very difficult and he felt himself beginning to choke up, and he hadnít even gotten to the worst part of his very own nightmare.

Josiah remained silent. He didnít know what to think he certainly never expected anything like this from the wily gambler. It explained so much. "Go on, Ezra." Josiah finally offered gently.

Ezra sucked up his tears and continued, "Anyway, I went down the stairs and looked around. I could hear men in the kitchen and living room. I was walking cautiously down the hall in the direction of both the kitchen and living room. It was then that I heard a gun being cocked behind me. I have very vague memories of speaking to him for a moment. However, I cannot remember the words we said. That last thing I recall is hearing the gun go off. He shot all six bullets straight into my back. As soon as he pulled the trigger my legs no longer worked. They simply fell out from beneath me. Then everything went black." Ezra stopped, unsure of what to say next or how to go on.

"What happened?"

"UmÖwell, sometime later, Iím still not sure exactly how long I regained consciousness. I canít for the life of me understand how I did, though. My injuries were severe, as anyone could guess. My first conscious thought, was, naturally, of my family." He paused for a long while. "My legs were completely useless. There was no feeling in them and as much as I tried to get them to they wouldnít work. I didnít really care I just wanted to make sure my family was okay. So I dragged myself up using only my arms, which was not only excruciatingly painful but also difficult with my arms as weakened as they were. Somehow I did, though, I pulled and pushed myself up the stairs and towards Kayla and my bedroom." The whole time it seemed as if Ezra was no longer talking to him but to someone far away. Josiah got the feeling was intruding or perhaps interfering in something that wasnít really any of his business. He also knew that the worst was to come.

"When I reached the entrance to our bedroom, all I saw was blood. I was sitting on the floor trying desperately to find Kayla hoping, beyond hope that she somehow might still have been alive. I pulled myself a little bit further into the room, and thatís when I saw her. My beautiful wife, theyíd cut her, her chest and stomach were nothing but bloody strips of dead, cold, rotting flesh. I couldnít stand to look at her. Those same eyes that I had fallen in love with were open, only now they werenít full life and love and happiness they were as dead as the rest of her. Just by looking at her it was painfully obvious that sheíd been raped-" Ezra was openly crying now and Josiah wasnít sure he wanted the gambler to continue. Josiah prayed that the two precious little girls in the picture had been shown more mercy then their mother. God surely had that much mercy?

Ezra spoke through his tears, he needed to finish, to get it out once and for all, "I went into Skyís room, she wasnít there," Ezraís five dollar words were no longer present and spoke between bouts of tears. "I didnít know what to think, the pain in my back was getting worse and moving was becoming almost impossible, but I had to see about my babies. Part me wished for Sky to be alive but another feared those monsters had taken her and after what theyíd done to Kayla, I thought that that was a fate worse then death. When I finally got to Rebeccaís room they were in there, both my baby girls. Sky was lying on the floor, she been shot, execution style, right in the back of her tiny head. Blood and brains were splattered all over the walls-" Ezra physically shuttered at that revelation, surprising even himself in saying it. Tears poured down his cheeks and his voice was getting increasingly shaky. "Rebecca had been spared her motherís gruesome end but he was stabbed to death. She was murdered in her bed. It was covered in intensely red blood. It sticks out in my mind-" The sobs and tears were now uncontrolled and Josiah held him in a tight embrace. His body shook with the sobs.

~*~

Chris Larabee awoke and quickly realized two things. Number one, he was about the throw-up and number two, he was tied to the bed. He was about to struggle or yell out when a voice interrupted him.

"See yer back with the liviní, pard," Vin Tanner spoke with his typical soft, calm drawl. Chris was about to comment back when flashes of the day before came him and he remembered the date.

"I kill Ďim?" The question was asked in a voice so soft it was almost a whisper.

"No, he pushed gun away, remember?"

"No, but Iíll take your word for it." Chris said shortly.

"Look he had no right to say what he did, Ďspecially with today beiní the day that th-"

"Your right, Vin, he shouldnít have said Ďcause he donít have a fuckiní clue. None of you do, and Buck had no right to tell you what tod-"

"Thatís not true." Josiah interrupted anger evident in his voice.

"What the hell do you know, preacher? Besides Buck did NOT have the right to tell all of you that."

"Thatís not what I was talking about, I was talking about the first part."

"No body understands-"

"Ezra does." Before Larabee could argue with him, he simply showed them the picture of Kayla and Ezraís two daughters.

"Who are they?" Vin said when he found his voice. Chris sat in silence, trying not to look at the picture.

"Look at it Chris!" Josiah yelled ferociously, wanting Chris to get some comprehension of what going on and a picture was worth a thousand words, and this picture said it all.

"No! This isnít any of your damn business." Chris said angrily.

"They were murdered Chris. Ezraís wife, Kayla was raped and slit up with a knife until she died and the smallest girl, Sky, got her brains blown out, and-"

"Shut-up, Josiah, DAMN YOU JUST SHUT UP!"

"No, Chris, you shut up and listen. The older girl Rebecca got stabbed to death in her own bed. Ezra was shot six times in the back. Heíd gone downstairs when he heard the intruders. When he regained consciousness he was paralyzed but dragged himself upstairs despite the pain only to find their broken, bloody bodies. But he doesnít understand, does he Chris?" Before Chris or Vin could say anything to him, he was gone. He was headed back to Ezra, who had thankfully fallen asleep, in the church.

~*~

"Hi, Darling."

Ezra looked around curious as to who was calling him darling, the voice was frighteningly familiar and he thought that someone might be playing a cruel joke on him.

"Darling, wake up I need to talk to you."

The voice was just too much like hers to be fake. So Ezra opened his eyes and saw Kayla beautiful and alive. He wrapped his arms around her and kissed her passionately. He wanted to continue but she ended the kiss.

"As much as Iíd like to, Darling, we canít. Iím with you to talk."

"Wait a minute, Kayla, please tell me whatís going on."

"Daddy!" Two voices cried out to him in unison. Ezra turned in time to see his two little girls running towards him, safe and healthy. He held out his arms to them and when they reached him, he wrapped them in a tight embrace hoping they wouldnít just evaporate.

"I love you so much." He whispered into the ears.

"We love you too," They said, seemingly unaware of the oddity of the situation.

"Girls, why donít you go play for a little while Daddy and I talk." Kayla said gently.

"Okay."

"Ezra come with me," Kayla said to him as she reached out he hand to him. Ezra took her hand and she led him through this place of unparalleled beauty. They walked into a house, a beautiful house bright and full of love. Kayla's paintings adorned the walls and the house seemed to exude all that was good and right with the world. He sat down at the kitchen table, where Kayla had led him. He looked out a large window and saw Rebecca and Sky playing in a glorious meadow, next to which lay an amazing looking pond.

"This place is like a paradise." Ezra commented, to himself, not realizing he had said it out loud.

"More then you know."

"Kayla, what do you mean?"

"I mean Ezra, this is paradise."

"Heaven?"

"Yes"

"Am I dead?" Ezra asked, sounding very hopeful. It hurt Kayla to know that he hurt so much he wished for death.

"No, you most certainly are not. I have watched you since our deaths. The girls do not realize they are dead they do not remember anything but the good times, however I could not forget you, especially with you immense sadness."

"But, why, why am here? Why did you bring me here? Kayla I want to stay!"

"No Ezra, thereís a reason why you didnít die-"

"No Kayla, itís cruel to bring me here only to make me lose all of you again."

"Ezra, youíre not going to lose anyone or anything. I brought you here to ease you mind and your heart. I want you to move on." She took his hands in her own and looked into his eyes. He simply starred back into those amazing eyes so filled with love for him, and listened to her words holding out some hope that they might comfort his aching soul. "Start living your life again. Forgive you friends; trust them, they will be what bring you back to life. Ezra itís no coincidence that youíre with them. It was planned that way. You all need something, and you need their friendship. It wonít be an easy rode but when you do get there it will have been well worth you while."

"No Kayla, no to everything. Not after what Chris said about me, and not after what I said to him. They donít need me like Chris said, Iím nothing but a self-serving son of a bitch-" Kayla couldnít stand to hear him in such despair, she could think of nothing to say to ease his pain. So she simply reached over and held him in a tight, loving embrace while softly whispering "I love you" over and over again in his ear.

"Oh, God, Kayla I love you, please let me stay with you." Ezra fairly pleaded with her.

"No Ezra," She softly and lovingly admonished, "You still have a life to live." He seemed not to agree with her, he stiffened considerably when she said those words. "Ezra, do you trust me?"

"Of course," Ezra said amazed that his beloved wife could or would ask such a ridiculous question.

"Is there anything you wouldnít do for me?"

"No!" Ezra couldnít understand why on Earth she was asking such preposterous questions.

"Good, then if you wonít do it for yourself or for them do it for me."

"Do what for you?"

"Keep living. Give them another chance. Ezra, thereís a woman out there for you who can ease all the pain in your heart. I promise you. When she comes along" Ezra made like he was going to interrupt her but she put her finger across his lips, effectively stopping him from saying a word. "No, there be a woman who will come along and make you fall in love again. When she does come donít push her away. I know you blame yourself, and that youíre guilty for our deaths but itís not you fault. Do you understand?"

"Yes." Ezra said quietly.

"You still have a life a head of you and you DESERVE all the happiness and love it has to offer. Goodness knows youíve suffered enough. Now is your time for happiness. I donít want you to forget me and the girls, keep us in your heart. As we will always keep you in ours, but donít stop living. Share you heart with other people, lord knows youíve got a big enough one. I just wish you would show that heart of gold we both know you have more often." She kissed him tenderly.

"I love you, Kayla" Ezra said finally feeling some absolution and some end to the pain within himself.

"Daddy," Rebecca and Sky came to him. Somehow knowing that their father needed comfort, they went to him and hugged him. He looked at Kayla and back to his daughters. Despite the pain at knowing he had to leave he couldnít help but smile. He had finally gotten to say goodbye. And Kayla didnít hate him for the whole thing.

"Ezra, itís time for you to go," Kayla said smiling despite the sadness in her voice. "Donít forget you promise to me, Ezra Standish."

"I wonít, not ever. I would never break a promise I made to you Kayla." He said honestly.

"I know," Kayla said smiling, in a laughing, knowing voice, despite her sadness that he couldnít stay with them. However she knew he had a wonderful life to live. He deserved at least that much.

"I love you girls, all of you." He as he kept moving his eyes from Kayla to Rebecca to Sky.

"We love you too, always" Kayla answered, interrupting Ezraís thoughts.

"Always."

~*~

Ezraís eyes suddenly popped open. It had been a dream. However Ezra knew that unlike most dreams this one was true. He finally had an absolution and he now knew that nothing could be as good as that. He finally could think of his family and smile. He could finally live again.

"Ezra?"

"Yes, Josiah?"

"You, alright."

"Yes." Ezra answered honestly, "For the first time in a long time," he said in a whisper not meant for Josiah to hear but he did. Josiah considered asking the gambler what he meant. However he chose against it. The man finally sounded somewhat contented and Josiah figured that he was happy enough with that.

"Here." Josiah said handing Ezra the picture of Ezraís family that he had taken while he was asleep to show Chris.

"Why do you have this?" Ezra questioned wondering why on Earth Josiah would have taken the picture. He suddenly had a very bad feeling.

"Now after what you told me I had to tell Chris-"

"Oh, God Josiah you didnít-" mortified that Josiah would just go off and tell someone, and Chris of all people.

"Well, Ezra I mean Chris-" Josiah had had no doubt about what he was doing when he first went to talk to Chris, but now the situation was different. He felt for Chris he really didnít and he didnít mean to be unduly cruel to the man but he had been horrible to Ezra and Ezra clearly hadnít deserved it. Now, however, Josiah felt the need to explain. It had never occurred to him that

"And you had to chose Chris. Good Lord, Josiah, Chris! Are you trying to kill me?! Do you really want me dead that much?! Why donít you just shoot me yourself?!"

"Wait a minute, now Ezra-"

"Yeah, Ezra wait a second," both men looked up to see the new voice that had chimed in. A much more calm and sober Chris Larabee stood before them accompanied by the four other men who made up the magnificent seven. "I reckon I owe you an apology-"

"No need, Mr. Larabee, we were both strung high yesterday." Ezra took a moment to breathe. "I suppose you all know now?"

"Well Ezra," Vin began in an apologetic tone, after hearing what Ezra had to say to Josiah. "I left Chris after Josiah came in to tell us and told the others, Iím right sorry, I didnít know you didnít want nobody to know. Not after the way Josiah stormed in."

"Itís alright, Mr. Tanner." After that there was a long awkward silence no one sure exactly what to say or how to continue. That is, until something struck Josiah.

"Ezra, what was that letter that you got all about?"

"Well, the dear Mrs. Travis delivered it to me about two-o-clock last night. It was from Marshall Abraham Friedman-"

"Yeah, he know, when but went looking for you in your room he found the envelope on your bed." JD interrupted happy that he at least had some idea what was going on and that Chris wasnít drunk and trying to kill Ezra anymore.

"Well, you gentlemen, and I do use the term loosely, really do not believe in privacy. Do you?" Ezra said smiling a little at the end to let them know he really wasnít that angry. Kayla had been right these men were good for him and he did have a wonderful life ahead of him.

"Sorry, Ez, go on." Buck stated somewhat sheepishly.

"Well anyway, my family lived in New Orleans and we had been friends of the Marshals. In fact, Kayla and his wife, Caroline had been best friends."

"Whoís Kayla?" JD questioned feeling confused all over again.

"Ezraís wife." Josiah answered for the whole group.

"Anyway," Ezra continued, "After my familyís murder, they never were able to find the murderer. I was paralyzed as a result of getting shot and it took me a lot of time to recover and learn to walk again. By the time that I had it was pretty evident that the case had been closed and the murderer wasnít going to be brought to justice. That was like salt in an open wound. I couldnít stand to stay there so I left. Then when I read the letter Mary brought me it said that the killer had come forward and confessed to the murder of my family and several other murders that had occurred in the area. -" He was about to continue when Chris cut him off.

"When you read it all the memories came rushing back and you had no control." Chris stated understanding that completely.

"Yes, then when I heard you in the saloon, I just exploded."

"I guess you had the right to in this case. Iím sorry Ezra."

"So am I, Chris."

The other men sensed they were intruding and one by one left Chris and Ezra standing inside the dilapidated church. The two men continued to stand in silence. It wasnít as uncomfortable a silence as before, though. Although neither man new what to say next or what came next.

"Do you ever see them in dreams?" Ezra was very surprised at Chrisí question.

"Not until today. Just before yíall came in here Kayla and the girls visited me, or maybe I visited them, Iím not sure. She told me that I should stay here and that I should reconcile with all of you. She told me that all of you would lead me to a second chance at life." Both men found themselves surprised at Ezraís honesty.

"Sarah never talks to me, sheís just there. Buck said to me that Sarah would hate how Iíve been acting. Heís right, sheíd be pissed of at me, and she would have loved that you said what you said to me. So I guess I ought to be thanking you." Ezra was shocked.

"Who are you and what have you done with the real Chris Larabee?" Ezra asked only half-joking.

"Iím serious, Ezra. Iím glad you said what you said, I know that because of it Sarah is resting a little easier and for that Iím eternally grateful to you." Both men smiled.

"Wait Chris, I need to get a witness, maybe call in Judge Travis, everyone should here this. Chris Larabee is and I quote eternally grateful to Ezra Standish. For yelling at him, no less." Both men smiled at that and inwardly at their newfound friendship.