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m7rpg - Part 14

The Story Continues

JD was going to be sick. This nightmare just refused to end. Just looped 'round and 'round, bringing him back to where it started. Bringing him back to. . . back to that woman. It wasn't courage that let him stand his ground as Vin led Elaina past him. JD wasn't even sure he had any courage anymore. It was a heavy numbness that smothered him, dulled his senses and slowed his reactions.

He could feel her gaze trail over him. The dead, green gaze appraising him like she had a right to measure the kind of man he was. The thought sparked low flickers of anger deep in him, and he tried to shake off the effect Elaina seemed to have on him.

Casey was still watching him. Her eyes silently asking for an explanation.

"Casey. . . She's lying." He broke off, seeing the anger flashing in Casey's dark eyes. Assuming it was directed at him, he turned and walked away, shoulders stooped and eyes downcast. He felt so old. . . and tired.

Reaching what felt like a safe distance from the others, he sat down in the tall grass and drew his knees up to his chest. The sound of his breathing was unnaturally loud in the silence that followed Elaina's poisonous taunting.

He waited until JD was settled, his head resting on his knees, his complete exhaustion and youth never more evident to the weary older gunslinger. Placing a firm hand on his shoulder he sank onto the grass beside him waiting for JD to speak.

The silence stretched out between them, the seconds turned into minutes, not the comfortable silence of friends but an uncomfortable uneasy pall that hung between them. It took several minutes, but Chris realised what the problem was. JD was waiting to be chewed out.

“We know she’s lying JD?” Chris spoke softly, wanting to reassure the uncharacteristically nervous JD

“How?” JD spoke as he pushed himself to his feet “How?” his voice rose in pitch but was still little more than a whisper as he railed against his leader “How the hell can you be sure when I’m not”

Chris wearily stood and moved to stand in front of his young colleague “I can be sure because I know you” he spoke wishing that he had the words of their southern gambling friend. “ You are a strong man JD, no matter what she did to you, I know that she is lying” he paused seeing the uncertainty in his eyes “Casey knows she’s lying” he finished “What she is saying is just not you” he shrugged

JD turned away from the man who had for so long been his hero, not wanting him to see the tears that suddenly clung to his thick black lashes at the mention of Casey’s faith in him. He remembered Casey’s doubts when she had seen him in the livery with Mattie, he couldn’t stand to see his betrayal in her eyes again. “how can you be sure? I don’t even know myself anymore” he murmured painfully as he strode away from the stunned man, as one fat tear escaped his lashes and fell down his face.

Lee looked around the cantina. He could have sworn he was farther west and not back in San Antonio. He turned around and found Angélica coming towards him. Suddenly he remembered what happened. He tried to stop what he knew was going to happen but there was nothing he could do. Like an innocent bystander he watched the scene unfold.

A scruffy looking rancher came inside. He came over to the bar and ordered a whiskey. After downing the drink he reached for the Mexican girl, at the same time someone tried to stop him. Soon a scuffle started and shots were fired. Lee watched as Angélica sank to the floor and stopped moving.

Watching with a detached eye he watched the younger man yell and reach for the girl, cradling her now dead body close to him. Lee looked down into the face of the man on the floor. He saw his own face, much younger, looking back up at him with shock and grief. He started struggling when hands reached for him and pulled him away. A voice echoed, "Easy Lee."

Ezra snarled to himself as the woman sat there smugly, sure that she managed to rent the group asunder. Perhaps she was correct in her assumption, and he hadn't missed the glance she'd thrown to Josiah's companion.

Suddenly he wasn't feeling tired anymore. Indeed, he was as tantalized and on edge as if he were balancing delicately on the blade of a con. This looked to be an--entertaining-- journey.

Rather than bite his tongue--and his rage--any longer, he reined in next to the hell-bitch. His words were sweet as honey, "Elaina. You disappoint me. Surely a woman of your cunning can manage better than a child's trick to come between an innocent of heart such as Mister Dunne, and his equally naive object of affection. Where is the challenge, the finesse, in that?" He smiled mockingly at her as she ground her teeth. It seems her pride in her accomplishments was as great as his. After all, a confidence play was a confidence play, only the rewards of his game differed from hers.

He continued cheerfully, realizing that he believed--with good reason--what he was saying. "Ah well, what could one expect of a woman who sets her goals--and rewards--at such a pitifully inadequate level."

Leaning in closely, and lowering his voice, although his words rang clearly in the silence, he finished his monologue. "As a favor, I must obviously relate to you what your lack of...well, your lack has left you painfully ignorant of. You barbs have missed their mark. Instead of confusion on the part of the young lady" he stressed the lady, intending to humiliate her, and was delighted to see her flush in rage, "you have merely incited a wholesome anger towards yourself on her part. You have caused Mister Dunne momentary pain, but he is far more intelligent than you believe. As for any distrust towards myself," he smirked, "that is no more than I expect. It is a sign that I am a most excellent player of the many games available."

Well, that last was a bit of an exaggeration, he had to admit. But though it pained him a little, his mother would have considered it a compliment, and so he borrowed the beliefs he had discarded so many months before and prepared to tame the shrew. He was tired of being tired and hurt and shamed and helpless. He could do little, but he could do this one thing, and do it well.

Josiah flinched at the unspoken accusation that the woman shot at him. It wasn't really an accusation. He had, after all, flung Ezra across the mine, despite the man's injuries. He had rationalized it with himself at first - he and Nathan were old friends, and it was only natural to go to his defense when he saw what appeared to be someone hurting him. But what if it had been JD, or any of the others trying to hold Nathan down? Would he have reacted as rashly? He couldn't honestly say yes. The answer was more likely no.

As Ezra spoke quietly with Elaina, Josiah watched them closely. Some of the gambler's spark had returned, and his words were obviously bothering the woman. Josiah smiled. If nothing else, Ezra sure knew how to raise someone's ire.

Josiah tried not to look away as the cold green stare settled on him. He glance briefly at Ezra's bright green eyes, taking comfort in the fact that the gambler held no grudges, for now, anyway. They had found their common enemy and that would unite the fraying edges of their team.

Elaina glanced toward Ezra, the hate in her glare alarming. If she hadn't been a lady...He scoffed at the word. That was no lady, and if she kept at it, one of them just might deck her before this was done.

The goon nearest Elaina shifted toward her, casting her a worried look. "When you gonna tell 'em..." She cut of the rest of his remark with a sharp glance.

Vin glanced about at his friends. Those that were healthy seemed to have things under control and Vin wasn't convinced that all of Elaina's men had been accounted for. He looked at Chris, one eyebrow lifting slightly. Chris gave a barely perceptable nod of his head and Vin gave a slight tug on the reins of his horse, bringing his mount around and passing the wagon and other riders.

He needed to make sure there were no more surprises ahead of them.

Enough was enough. She didn't have the time or tolerence for this. And she certainly wasn't about to let these thugs drag her to that pothole of a town.

Elaina straightened, speaking loud enough to be heard by Larabee. "Mr. Larabee, might I have a word with you in private?" She sighed at the suspcious look the man gave her.

"Out of ear shot, not pistol shot. I assure you, you want to hear what I have to say."

As the group of bound prisoners approached the wagon, Nathan turned his attention from Lee, curious at the newcomers. He found himself staring at the woman. It was hard not to. She was beautiful, her bearing regal despite her current disheveled state. But as he continued to stare at her, a vague memory began to form. *He was at her feet, pleading with her. Something about Levi*.

Nathan shook his head. Where had that come from? He'd suppressed those memories long ago. *"Your brother wouldn't' behave himself. He had to be punished".* Her words rang in his head. He remembered a fire, Levi chained to the wall. He and his brother were going to die together...But he hadn't died. He was still alive. Levi was the one...Nathan shook his head again. Levi had died outside, under the bright sun, the soft scent of honeysuckle in the air...

He looked toward JD, fighting to clear the hazy pictures in his head. He had been clinging to the kid, his head fogged with fever and pain. He noticed the bruises on the young man's neck, and blinked harshly when that particular memory hit him with crystal clearity...*Good God, what did I do?*

Fighting tears, Nathan sank heavily beside Lee, his head pounding with the deep, dark secrets from so long ago.

Lee hovered just below a conscious state. He could hear what was happening but could not do anything about it. He had no strength in his limbs. He heard a woman's voice. *Who could that be,* he thought. His memory of the past week came back in a rush. The woman, Noonan, Johnson, whatever her name really was, seemed extremely familiar. He also remembered Chris talking to one of her hired guns and mentioning about a bounty. Then it hit him. She had to be a member of the Johnson clan down by the border. If so then her ultimate goal was him.

He felt someone sit heavily beside his position. It rocked the wagon slightly bringing fully conscious. Taking a lot of strength he managed to open his eyes. Through eyes barely open he watched Nettie on one side of him. He turned his eyes to the other side and saw Nathan with his head lowered. Gathering his strength again he moved his hand and touched Nathan's leg.

Nathan looked down at the hand resting on his leg. He grasped onto it, looking over at Lee. This was his present. The past was done with. He couldn't undo what had already happened. His family had been fragmented by a war, and by hate and greed. But that was many years ago, and he had a new life and a new family. Hate was tearing at them again, but they were strong, and would make it through. He tightened his grip on Lee's hand, glancing at the rest of their companions.

His gaze wandered to the red-headed woman again. She was staring intently at Lee, anger and loathing in her green eyes. But there was also something else there - a distant, haunted look that reflected the melancholy he was feeling. He found himself almost feeling sorry for the woman.

Ezra looked suspiciously at that creature as she gestured to Chris. Although he was no longer within earshot, he could feel that it was not going to be good news. He reined in tight to Josiah, fighting against the desire to stay away and crawl back in his shell. Such a maneuver would benefit no one.

"Mr. Sanchez," his whisper broke the silence, "I feel that we must come to an agreement concerning our unfortunate altercation." He paused, waiting for a response. When none was forthcoming, he continued, "I have never enjoyed losing, especially not to a person of less talent than I have. I have no intention of losing to that woman. If we continue in our solitary courses, we damage the group. She wins. That is unacceptable. I ask you to consider what I say now as my final word on the subject. Your response caused me a disturbance," he could bring himself to say pain, "but in the grander scheme it was almost a compliment. I bear you no malice for it."

He looked over at Josiah, and a sparkle lit his eyes. "Quit pouting." With a smile, he pulled ahead, closer to the wagon.

"Pouting?" Josiah chuckled, then looked hard at Ezra. "Don't you mean hiding? Running away? Building insurmountable walls?" He watched the gambler flinch slightly, then grinned. "It's time we both stop." He didn't want to discuss this in front of the others, but he really owed it to the man. He had, after all, been the one at fault.

"I was wrong. I acted on instinct..." *No, that was wrong. Instinct knew that Ezra was not a threat.* "I reacted," he amended. "My temper took over..." *That wasn't right, either. No matter how angry the man made him, he still knew he would never harm a friend.* He had no excuse, plain and simple. The shame of his actions burned deep. He knew the others would never really trust him again. One hasty action, and the seed of doubt had been planted. All he could do now was start rebuilding.

"I was wrong. No excuses, not even any apologies. That wouldn't be sufficient. Nathan..." He stopped. The words weren't there. And to add insult to injury, Ezra had been the one to approach him. The mere fact that the normally stony man had made the first move was such a huge step for him. It was an honor, yet Josiah was weighed down by the burden that Ezra had placed on him, and he couldn't even find the words...

He started to say something, then hesitated. If he pointed out Ezra's acquiescence in front of the others, that would be too much. Instead. he smiled sadly.

"No more pouting," he finally muttered.

He squatted down, examining the tracks in the dirt of the trail. Old ones. So far they had all been old tracks, or ones they themselves had made in their travels. There was the print made by Casey's horse. It's shoe had a slight knick in it.

Vin swung up on his horse and continued on his way.

Lee felt Nathan's hand in his. He hoped to communicate to the healer that the past was past and not to dwell on it. He squeezed the hand gently and connected eyes with him. Before he could do anything else he started coughing. Pain shot up through his gut from the wound, and he got very cold. To try to get warm again he curled up on his side, arms wrapped around his midsection.

He heard through the haze of pain the sound of horses hooves and someone speaking about anyone hurt and doctor. After that everything went black again

Casey sat atop her horse, quietly seething at the woman who had tossed those ridiculous things at her. She watched as the woman, Elaina, turned and spoke to Chris. She shot her back an angry look before glancing over at JD, who looked upset.

Casey moved her horse over to JD's and looked at him, wondering what to say next.

Vin skirted through the trees near the road, moving silently on foot. he has left his horse further back so he wouldn't be as noticable.

His friends had stopped for some reason and there was strange horse now with them. Vin intended to find out who it was.

As he moved to within a few feet of the road he heard the others talking. Quietly he stepped from the underbrush, his gun leveled at the new rider.

"I wouldn't move if'n I was you."

The man on horseback froze. His friends all looked at him, some startled by his appearance, others just taking it as normal.

"Vin," Chris said, a wry smile on his face. "This is Doc Burrows from Eagle Bend."

Vin immediately lowered his rifle. His fingers went to the brim of his hat.

"Pleased ta meet ya, Doc."

The doctor, his hands still in the air, just stared at the tracker.

Nathan scooted back to allow the doctor access to Lee. He was glad that there was a real doctor there to take the responsibility, and was more than willing to step aside, although he wouldn't move too far from the wounded gunslinger. He wanted to be nearby if Lee woke up.

"Gut shot," he explained. The doctor nodded to him, examining the wound.

"You're Jackson, aren't you?" Nathan nodded. "Heard of you. Heard you do good work."

Nathan shook his head. "I do what I can."

"Well, your friend here needs to have that bullet dug out. Can't do it here, though." Dr. Burrows surveyed the small group. "Looks like most of you could use some tending."

He touched Nathan's shoulder lightly. "How's the shoulder?" Nathan shrugged.

Dr. Burrows looked around again and smiled. "It doesn't look too safe to be around you lot," he quipped, turning his attention back to Lee.

The long trip, well to everyone involved, finally ended infront of Nettie's place. There was a collective sigh of relief when the trees thinned out and opened up revealing a clearing with a house and various other buildings scattered half-hazzardly around. Lee had stayed quiet the rest of the trip after Dr. Burrows arrived. His pale skin was flushed with fever. Dr. Burrows had pulled out a handkerchief and was wiping the sweat off Lee's face and neck. Until he got him in a cleaner place that did not move constantly there was little else he could do.

Chris and Vin were over to the side talking, while they kept an eye out on Elaina and her goons, they knew they had to be extremely watchful.

Dr. Burrows, ignoring the two gunslingers saw the woman on the other side of Lee lean over the edge, "Casey!"

The teenager, who had been riding beside JD moved her horse closer to the side of the wagon, "Uh-huh, Aunt Nettie?"

"Get on inside and get the water t'boiling. The doctor's gonna need hot water. Now get! Don't worry about the horse, just get!" she finished when she saw the girl hesitate. Quickly nodding at Nettie she dismounted and hurried to the house to set the water to boiling.

Vin stood talking to Chris as Josiah and Nathan began to move Lee inside Netties house. JD set about carefully unhitching the horses.

"I'd feel better if she was in a cell right now." Vin said as he watched Elaina and her henchmen.

"Same here. But i don't think any of us are up to the trip yet tonight." Chris replied. "We'll have to settle for keeping them tied up and post a guard or two."

Vin nodded and looked around, as if he could see into and beyond the trees around Nettie's place. When he looked at Chris next, Chris just nodded in agreement. Vin swung up onto his horse once more and tiredly moved off to scout the area around the house and patrol the area. Chris turned and herded the prisoners into the barn, Buck carefully and stiffly following behind him.

Elaina sighed, gazing around the dusty barn. She'd spent time in worse places, with worse companions, but enough was enough. Larabee hadn't been willing to listen to her, but she would find someone who would. The consequences would be too great if she couldn't, to herself, and her pawn.

Chris quickly and efficiently secured Elaina to one of the poles in the barn, before turning back to look at his friend. He knew that really none of them were up to the task that was before them at the moment but they had no choice but to settle in here and hope that they could regroup quickly.

He looked back at the woman he had just secured and sighed deeply, wondering if he should listen to what she had to say. Shaking his head in consternation he shook off the temptation to ask her before he started to walk from the barn

"Keep an eye on her Buck" he spoke "I'll be back shortly"

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