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m7rpg - Part 15

The Story Continues

Elaina sighed, exasperated. When would these men ever learn? She had started to give them a bit of credit, but was now beginning to wonder. Did Standish seriously think that the idiot Langford knew anything more than she wanted him to know? All of her 'employees' knew bits and pieces. Enough to plant the seeds of doubt. But she wasn't about to let them know enough to spoil her plans.

Sighing again, she leaned her head against the post and waited.

"I..." the man stammered, looking from the gambler to the woman. "It's nice here," he lied. "Listen, mister," he whispered, shuffling around as far as his bonds allowed, so that he was out of Elaina's direct line of vision, "she's got that news lady..."

"I'm tired of games, Mr. Standish." Elaina's ominous voice stopped the goon's comment. The man snapped his mouth shut.

Sighing, Ezra sat down on the porch. He could only hinder the obscure things taking place inside, and would be no help to any of the others.

Inside the older homestead controled chaos reigned. Dr. Burrows had followed Josiah and Nathan to the bedroom after he grabbed his medical bag. He found the wounded man already on the bed. Nathan was in the process of striping Lee of his vest, tie, and shirt. Josiah took the shirt from Nathan. He held it up to look at the hole. "I don't think this'll be used as a shirt anymore," he said to no one in particular.

"Then we'll use it for bandages," Dr. Burrows answered the comment as he leaned over Lee. He was examining the wound more thoroughly. He reached up and placed a hand on his forehead. He shook his head, "We're gonna have to lower his temperature." He looked to the other two occupents and ordered for water and rags. Josiah started to leave when the door opened up. JD came in followed by Casey. They had a pitcher of water and several towels. Ezra watched the woman carefully, but spoke to her henchman, who he suspected was rather stupider.

"How are you enjoying your surroundings?" he asked silkily, hoping to bait the man into saying more than he should.

After Lee had been tended to, Dr. Burrows turned his attention to Nathan. The wounded man sat quietly while the doctor cleaned and dressed the bullet wound in his shoulder and gave him powders to drink.

"It's a wonder you're as well off as you are," the older man commented.

"Looks like you were having a bit of a battle with infection there."

Nathan nodded wearily. "Been doin' alot of battlin' lately," he replied. Beside him, Josiah grinned.

"It's nothing short of a miracle that any of us are still standing, let alone coherent," the preacher added.

Dr. Burrows chuckled. "Well, from what I saw earlier, I've got other patients to tend to. Do you feel up to watching this one?" he asked Nathan, gesturing to the quiet figure on the bed. Nathan nodded. "Keep cooling him, and give him some of this when he wakes up," the doctor ordered, indicating the medicine on the small table next to the bed.

"Okay, Doc," Nathan acknowledged, relaxing back as the bedroom door shut, leaving him alone with Lee. For a short time, he watched the gunslinger's regular respiration, changing the damp cloth on the unconscious man's forehead, but his own wounds got the better of him and soon he was sleeping.

Lee's senses slowly started coming back. He found himself on a bed. He had no idea how he got there. He was still cold so he reached down and grabbed the blanked and pulled it up. Sighing he went back to sleep.

Ezra smiled viciously at the man. His words were directed to Elaina, however. "Thank you." He cut the goon loose effortlessly and pulled him out of the barn. The man struggled to remain standing and when he failed, Ezra helped him along gently. After all, Chris Larabee was going to be able to do more than Ezra ever dreamed. Despite his own contretemps with Mrs. Travis, he still felt obliged to protect her--she was, after all, part of his town. Chris's feelings were open to debate, but he suspected the reaction to this bit of news was going to be...entertaining.

In his sleep Lee's temperature spiked and he slipped back into unconsciousness. Finding himself back in the cantina he resolved this time to change what was going to happen. He turned to pull the Angélica behind him but someone was holding him down. He struggled in the grip while whispering, "No."

A hand was placed on his forehead when he heard voice echo, "When did this start?"

"'bout a minute ago," someone answered.

"We have to get the bullet out before he does any damage," the first voice echoed again.

Seeing Angélica sink to the floor her name was ripped from his throat in a harsh whisper, "Angélica, no." He continued to fight the restraining hands but he was no match for them. He was so tired and his arms and legs almost too heavy to move.

"Hold him steady now," the first voice echoed again.

If anything the hands became stronger. He then felt a pain in his gut.

"Got it!" the voice said triumphantly. "Now let's get him bandaged up."

Nathan watched Lee struggle, and heard the mumbles of his fevered dreams. All that could be done physically for the gunslinger had been, but the healer knew that the older man was lost in a nightmare. Recalling his own troubled dreams, he gently shook Lee, trying to wake him.

"Lee? You gotta wake up now. You're dreaming." The man stirred, but didn't respond otherwise. "C'mon, Lee. Time to come back." Someone was holding him still. Lee tried to push the touch away, he wanted to be alone in his grief. Someone was calling him, he knew he should recognize the voice but his mind was so muddled he could not connect the voices with the faces.

"Need any help Nathan?" a youngish male voice spoke.

"You can help me to keep him calm, and to lower his temp, JD. There is one thing, don't try to hold him down, he's gonna fight it."

Lee felt a damp cloth brought gently down his skin, the cooling aspect relaxed his taught muscles. "Angélica?" he whispered afraid she might be gone.

"Who's Angelica?" JD asked. Nathan shrugged, looking back at the kid. For a moment, their eyes met, and Nathan couldn't help but cringe. The hazel eyes brought a brief flash of very unpleasant memories. The Prickett boy had hazel eyes. But when Nathan looked past the color, he saw only compassion and caring, not the hate and coldness that had been in those long-forgotten eyes.

Lee called out again, and Nathan shook him gently. Lately, he'd been having his own struggles with long-buried memories, and wanted to spare the gunslinger the pain if he could. He glanced at JD again, wondering what the young man had to do with those memories and why he reminded him so much of Levi.

Lee felt someone shaking him. He looked up and saw her, Angélica. She placed a cinnamon colored hand on his shoulder. When she spoke it was a mixture of Spanish and English, "Lee, you need to let me go."

He stood up and looked back down at the floor. He noticed her body was gone.

"Que?" He could not understand what she was asking of him.

"You've held on long enough, it's time to let me go."

"No," he whispered as she put her arms around his neck and laid her head on his shoulder as a final gesture. She disappeared and two concerned faces took her place as his eyes focused.. He opened his mouth to speak but no sound came out.

Vin slowed his horse studying the tracks in the soft dust. He hadn't seen them before now. And they were heading toward Nettie's.

Pulling his mare's leg and checking it, just to make sure, Vin followed cautiously. His horse seemed to understand the need for quiet as it placed a hoof down as carefully as possible, making it's way silently through the tall grass.

Their silent approach paid off. Vin spotted a single horseman, watching Netties cabin from the shadows of a stand of trees.

"Mister, if I was you, I'd take that gun from your holster with two fingers and drop it to the ground."

JD was grateful when Lee's stirring pulled Nathan's attention away from him. He hated seeing the questions and traces of guilt in the healer's dark eyes. They hadn't talked about anything that happened over the past few days, and JD wasn't in any hurry to.

It was bad enough that he'd told Ezra about the bruises on his throat. Nathan didn't need to know. The gentle healer would only feel guilty over something he couldn't help. Anyway, JD knew whose shoulders should bear the blame for things. His.

If he'd just gotten out of there with Nathan like Chris and Josiah trusted him to. . . they would never have ended up in that tower room; Buck wouldn't have been shot; and. . . well, he was sure everything would have happened differently. The fact of the matter was, he'd screwed up and gotten people hurt. Chalk it up as another life-lesson learned.

Tugging his shirt collar up over the bruises he'd seen Nathan eyeing, JD turned his attention to Lee who was struggling to open his eyes.

"JD, go get Doc Burrows," Nathan said quietly as he began checking Lee over again.

"No need," Chris said from the doorway. He stepped aside and let the doctor into the room. "JD, why don't we give them some room to work."

JD heard the implied order clearly, and hesitated only a second before turning to follow Chris out of the make-shift surgery.

Chris stood at the door of the sickroom watching for several minutes before he spoke. Something had been troubling JD badly ever since Elaina had become part of their little entourage and he wanted to know what it was. He had sought the kid out in all expectation of tearing strips off the young man until he made his confession. After all, knowledge was power and they had precious little of that at the moment

That thought had immediately fled his ind as he stood and watched the duo beside the sick bed. JD might be younger and smaller than the rest of them but never before had he seen him like he was at the moment. He seemed almost vulnerable, no that wasnt quite right, fragile perhaps. Almost as if the wrong questions would shatter the fragile threads he was clinging to into a thousand peices.

He hated to be the one that had to do this to him, but JD was apparently the one that held the key to Elaina's hold over them and they had to know. Watching him with Nathan he came to another startling realization. Nathan was somehow involved in the tangled web that had been woven around the kid. He watched the way that JD studiously avoided Nathan's eyes and seemed almost frightened everytime Nathan spoke, almost like he was afraid of what he was going to ask.

Chris waited for JD to pass him and followed him out on to the porch. As soon as Chris closed the door behind him he spoke "JD son I know this is gonna be hard for you" he stated "But I need answers and I need them now"

Through his fuzzy vision Lee watched JD and someone else switch places. The man leaned over and placed a hand gently on his forehead. "Can you hear me?" he asked quietly.

He rasped out quietly, "Yes."

"Here, I need you to take this," he leaned over to the small table beside the bed and picked up the pitcher and poured some of the water into the glass placed there earlier. He looked up to Nathan and nodded, he spoke quietly, "I want you to raise him up to a semi-sitting position, that way he can have an easier time taking the medicine."

Lee listened quietly, it had taken most of his energy to answer the earlier question directed to him. There was a dull throbbing in his abdomen. He hoped it would go away soon. He had been rarely shot, and this made it all the more reason to not get shot anymore. Not only that but he was not getting any younger. Let them take the bullets. He noticed the stranger, probably doctor, turn back to the bed. He had what looked like a bottle in his hand. He then felt strong, steady hands grasp one shoulder and raised him slowly into position.

"I want you to open your mouth. Now I'm going to give you some medicine then wash it down with water." Lee choked down some of the water and the rest spilled out onto the blankets. After being resettled he whispered, "Could you at least lace it with whisky."

Nathan shook his head at the comment as he sponged up the rest of the water.

"Mr. Tanner? Well I must say I'm relieved to se you here." Travis said as he turned to face Vin.

"What are you doin' here Judge?"

"Well you seven have been gone for quite some time. Everyone in town has been a bit concerned, especially when you and Ezra rode in and back out again so quickly a few days ago."

"Things been keepin us a bit busy Judge. Come on down ta the house and we'll explain it to ya. We got us a few injuries down there that are gettin taken care of. Then we'll be headin back ta town."

Travis mounted and the two men approached the house.

Nathan glanced up at Chris, quickly averting his gaze. He was glad that the gunslinger had called JD from the room. He knew that eventually he'd have to explain things to the others, but first he had to get the jumbled images straight in his head. He could still recall only bits and pieces of the awful childhood events, and wasn't in any hurry to fill in the blank spots.

With a sigh, he turned his attention back to Dr. Burrows and Lee. He assisted the doctor with changing the bandages, then sank into the chair beside the bed to keep watch over the wounded man.

She wasn't sure how much time had passed, but no one had bothered to offer her food or water. Her arms were beginning to ache and her head was pounding. She wasn't sure if she should be insulted or angry that she was being ignored.

And time was running out.

She really didn't hold any ill will toward the Travis woman, or the boy, for that matter. They were merely pawns, an ace in the hole. She hadn't really thought the men would choose to ignore the veiled threat, but it was out of her hands now. Time limits had been set. Plans made. It was too bad that things would have to end badly, but at least the blood wouldn't be on her hands.

Elaina closed her eyes and leaned her head back against the post that she was bound to. She started to scream, a loud, piercing yell that vented hate, anger, frustration, pain, elation and joy. The cry died down to a low wail, then she took a deep breath and started again. Chris stood on the porch watching JD's face expectantly, waiting patiently for the youngr man to begin to tell him what it was that was going on. That was when it started. A godawful bloodcurdling scream from the barn.

If he hadn't been watching JD he wouldnt have noticed it but for a split second his skin seemed even paler than usual. Chris grabbed him by the lapel of his jacket and dragged him with him towards the barn.

He stopped only when he had reached the interior of the barn, Buck frowning harshly at the screaming of their captive. Chris moved to her side and covered her mouth with his hand.

"Now I don't care who does it" he spoke "But one of you is going to tell me what is going on" he finished looking expectantly at both of them.

Vin and Judge Travis kicked their mounts into a run at the sound of screaming from the barn and the sight of Chris and JD running across the yard. Within seconds Vin was bursting through the barn door, his mare's leg drawn and ready to fire. he lowered the weapon and motioned the Judge inside when he saw Chris hunkered down by their female captive, his hand over her mouth. JD stood nearby, looking paler than he ever had.

"What the hell....." Vin muttered. When Chris looked up at him he jerked his head to teh side a bit, indicating the Judge. "We got us a visitor."

Elaina smiled under the hand that covered her mouth and bit down. Hard.

Chris felt her teeth peirce the flesh of his palm and pulled his hand away his other hand reflexively raised to slap her for inflicting her teeth on his flesh.

"You can't hit her" JD spoke softly from behind them

"Why the hell not?" Chris growled itching to hit her

"Well she's a woman" JD stated quietly

"And you do have her trussed up like a christmas turkey" Buck almost grinned at the angry man kneeling before the prisoner

"She's the root of all that's been going on" Chris growled "The sooner we get to the bottom of this the better"

Vin watched the inrteraction between Chris and JD. Something was going on and Vin had a feeling it had something to do with the fading marks on JD's neck and the look of fear and loathing in teh young man's eyes when JD looked at Elaina.

He wanted to assure the younger man that the woman could not hurt him again, trussed up as she was. But he wasn't sure that she couldn't, somehow.

He stood by and watched, ready to do whatever was needed.

The laughter was gone from Buck's voice when he spoke again. "Chris, her heavy says they have Mary. Ezra's questioning him right now."

"Is this true?" Chris demanded of Elaina.

She didn't answer, merely arched one eyebrow and let a smile ghost the edges of her lips.

JD could see the confidence in those dead green eyes. She had a trump card, and that had to be Mary. "If she says she has them," he said hollowly, "she's telling the truth."

Chris seemed startled by his flat pronouncement. He looked from JD to Elaina several times, then to Judge Travis for some sort of confirmation. Not liking what he found in any of their faces, he scowled darkly at Elaina, and stood. He stalked quickly away from her to confer with the other men beyond her hearing.

JD didn't follow him. Instead he dropped into a crouch, staying well beyond any physical reach Elaina might have had--even if she weren't tied up. He could feel the others watching him worriedly, but he didn't acknowledge the anxious stares and after a moment they moved on to the conference.

For several seconds he just stood there, resting on the balls of his feet. His body protested the position loudly, but he ignored the pain. Dark eyes studied Elaina intently. She returned the gaze without becoming overly involved in it.

Finally JD broke the silence. "You said I reminded you of someone. Who?" His question was quiet, meant only for the two of them. In the entire time he'd spent with Elaina, that last dance had been the only real emotion he'd seen from her. Somehow, through all the rage and hatred, that one moment of weakness bothered him more than the rest.

Elaina regarded the young man in front of her, staring into the hazel eyes, letting herself get lost in the past for a moment. *Who did he reminder her of?*

*My one and only true love*, she thought, without voicing the words. She had been young. Only sixteen or seventeen. She had been naive then as well, believing the whispered promises and vows. Then reality had hit full force, and he had turned his back on her, saying that his family would never accept a girl 'like her.' It was only later that she'd realized that she was carrying his child. But he would not see her or answer her letters. She had never felt so alone or deserted.

The child had brought her out of her depression. He was a delightful, tow-headed boy, quick to smile and always ready to defend his mother's honor. The eyes looking at her now were so like the boy's, and his father's...

Elaina licked her lips, tasting Larabee's blood there. Any sympathy or pity she may have felt vanished as she recalled that the man who had ruined everything for her, not only once, but twice, was laying wounded near-by, Her only reason for living now was vengeance, and the weakness of emotion didn't belong.

Blinking away tears, she gazed intently at the boy in front of her. "My son's name was John," she whispered quietly

Ezra watched the group from the dark safety of the doorway. He had been fairly assured that the man would know little of Elaina's plan, but there were other questions that he thought might be answered--in his experience, people who worked for you quickly gained information about their employer.

Once his questions had been answered to his satisfaction, and he had ascertained that the minion had no actual information about the location of Mrs. Travis, he once again trussed the man up--this time to a convenient fence post, and rejoined the group in the barn. Now it was only a matter of watching and waiting.

As Josiah listened to the men discussing the situation with Mary, his attention strayed to JD. He hadn't realized at first that the young man was not with the group, and his gaze sought out the boy. He was crouched in front of Elaina, and as she spoke softly with him, Josiah could see that JD was almost mesmerized by her. The look of utter horror on his face and the tears threatening to fall startled the preacher. In two long strides he reached the youngest member of the group, pulling him to his feet by his collar.

"What lies is she spoutin' now?" he asked. JD just stared at him. He softened his expression and released the boy. "Don't listen to whatever poison that woman's feeding you, son," he said. "She'll say or do whatever she has to. And you're a might young to understand it all."

Ezra stepped forward to join JD and Josiah. "Caution, Josiah, always be cautious." he murmured. "There are darker currents here than perhaps we have previously suspected." Turning to JD, he asked, "If you would care to repeat what has caused you such obvious distress..."

When the strong hands had latched onto his shirt, JD had panicked--torn between two nightmares. Elaina's haunting green eyes still demanded his attention, but so did Josiah's angry question.

For a sickening moment, JD had been certain Josiah was going to hit him. A week ago, he'd have sworn that was impossible. But a lot of things had changed since then. He'd seen Josiah attack Ezra. Even though Ezra didn't seem concerned about it at the moment, JD remembered.

"JD, she's tryin' to poison your mind, son." Josiah's low words were accompanied by a comforting hand on JD's shoulder.

"She didn't say nothin'. . . just more lies," he forced passed clenched teeth. JD pulled free of the preacher's hand and staggered to doorway of the barn. Once outside he rounded the corner, concealing himself from both those inside, and any observers from the house. Slumping heavily against the rough wood, JD drew a sobbing breath.

He didn't want to feel any connection with Elaina. Didn't want the tendrils of doubt she wove through his mind. And he most definitely didn't want to be scared of his friends.

"I'm tired," he whispered against the weathered boards. "Just wanna go home."

" I know the feelin'," Vin said as he slid down the side of the barn and sat next to JD. Without looking at the younger man, he handed him Ezra's silver flask. JD looked from the flask to Vin before taking it. "I borrowed it." was Vin's reply to the unasked question. The two sat there, silently passing the flask back and forth, Vin allowing JD to relax yet giving him the opportunity to talk if he wished.

Chris walked almost silently to the barn door, his intention had been to follow JD nd make sure he was alright. He had seen the fear in JD's eyes and wanted to make sure that thier youngest knew that he was not alone.

He watched the near silence that enshrouded Vin and the troubled JD and changed his thoughts. Maybe the solitude was just what he needed.

"Vin I need a hand for a moment" he spoke attracting the attention of both men and waited for Vin to climb to his feet and join him

"You okay JD?" he asked quietly watching for the almost imperceptible nod before he turned to walk back into the barn.

Chris and Vin entered the barn once more, Chris explaining his plan to Vin and the others. It was time to get the prisoners back to town, and away from those that Elaina could hurt the most.

Vin and Chris would take the prisoners to Four Corners along with the Judge and try to get Mary's whereabouts from Elaina. The others would remain at Netties until the doctor cleared them to travel. Those that were already on the road to recovery would remain to guard those that were still healing.

Vin began saddling Chris' horse and hitching Nettie's wagon to two horses for the prisoners, leaving the other wagon and horses for the others. He was actually relieved to be doing something again. And relieved to be getting Elaina away from JD. He didn't know what hold the woman had on the younger man, but he wanted her far away from him.

Ezra watched as the others rode off, angry and depressed by being left behind. But he brightened momentarily as he remembered that at least this time he wasn't alone.

Turning wearily towards the house, entered in time to see Nathan picking up Lee.

"Really, Mr. Jackson, such an effort can only be contra-indicated in your condition. Allow me to assist you."

Ezra gently insinuated himself between the two men and lifted, hoping that he was being of help--surely Lee couldn't weigh as little as he seemed to.

As Lee appeared to be waking, Ezra joked softly, "I hope you are feeling up to a game of chance later? Since," he gave a sarcastic but fond look to the bare room, "there seems to be little enough else to occupy our time?"

Lee could hear someone moving around the room. The person moved to the door and left for a minute, when the door opened he could hear voices in the next room. He slowly opened his eyes. He was alone in the room and the door was still open slightly. He heard voices but could not tell who the voices belonged too.

The doctor came back into the room. He moved to the side of the bed and started checking the medication on the table.

Lee gathered his strength then whispered, "What's happening?"

"Well from what I've been able to gather it looks like the newspaper woman's been taken. But you're not going anywhere so don't get any ideas." After checking a few more things the doctor rose and left the room.

Lee laid there for a few minutes thinking about what he could do to help. Making his decision he hesitated a minute. Taking a deep breath he gathered his strength and slowly pushed himself up to a sitting position. Pain lanced through his abdomen. He wrapped his right arm around his midsection to try to stop the pain. He paused, breathing hard, then pushed himself farther up to a sitting position. He did not realize how close he was to the edge of the bed when a sudden wave of dizziness hit him. Not being able to hold himself still he saw the floor rushing up to him then everything went black again.

He could hear voices above him. He knew something had happened but he could not place what it was. He felt himself being lifted then placed on the bed again. He tried to tell them he was awake but his facial muscles did not seem to work. He then decided to open his eyes. After what seemed like an eternity he managed to get them open. He eventually recognized Nathan and Ezra looking down at him. He had heard something about a game but decided to wait on that, he was just too tired.

He averted his eyes to the door that was now open. He could tell the room was empty except for Nettie, Casey was probably somewhere outside. He knew they were gone. He felt worry for the others. They were being split up again, and there was nothing he could do about it. He just hoped they were strong enough to handle what the Noonan-*Noonan! Her name's not Noonan, it's Johnson! How could I forget,* Lee thought angrily at himself. He knew exactly who she was after, it was not any of the others, it was him.

Everyone else was just a means to get to him. He remembered what had happened thirty years ago in the Johnson's parlor, it was not a pretty site and he was a greenhorn. He still could not quite recall what it was that set the gunfire off, he might never know.

Lee felt sheets being placed over him which made him look up again to Nathan. He finally was able to speak, "It's me."

Nathan leaned over wanting to hear what Lee was saying. "What'd'ya say Lee?"

"It's me that woman's after."

"Hell, Lee," Nathan whispered to himself. "It's bad enough to put up with this from Vin and Ezra, but you too?"

He'd come into the small room to help get the wounded gunslinger to the wagon when he found the man flat-out on the floor. He knelt beside the man, feeling his forehead. There wasn't a fever. That was good. Gently, he rolled Lee over, checking the wound. Luckily, none of the stitches had broken loose.

"Why do I even bother?" he asked himself as he tried to wake Lee up. He shook the man, a bit roughly, and was rewarded with a small groan.

"C'mon, now. We're headed back to town. I'd rather not carry you." He grabbed Lee under the arms and tried to pull him upright, but only succeeded in falling to the floor himself, with the gunslinger cradled in his arms.

"I swear, if anyone says anything about this, there's gonn be hell to pay."

Chris watched as the tracker hitched the horses to nettie's wagon. Changing his mind suddenly he moved over and quietly told Vin his plan.

Vin couldn't keep the smile from his lips as he glanced over at Elaina. Unhitching the horses he returned them to the corral and saddled another instead. then leading the three horses he waited in front of the barn as Chris told the judge and other peacekeepers his change in plans. Finally Chris lead Elaina out of the barn, turning her over to Vin, who helped her onto the back of the horse. Then he mounted his horse and began to lead Elaina away from the house. Chris caught up with them a short way away.

They traveled for an hour before veering off the road to Four Corners. Elaina's eyebrows raised but she said nothing, not even when the lawmen stopped and Tanner pulled her roughly from her horse. He moved her over to a downed tree and sat her on it as Larabee joined him, both men now standing over her.

It was the normally silent tracker that spoke first.

"Okay lady, it's time ta talk. And ya will talk. One way or ta other."

Elaina looked at the two men towering over her and laughed. Did they really think they frightened her? What could they possibly do to her that hadn't already been done? She'd suffered the pain of childbirth, and the pain of having that child taken from her. She'd walked through Hell more than once and knew she wasn't welcome there anymore. So what could they do?

"Have a go, boys," she said, continuing to laugh. "You're certainly not as filthy or ugly as has been in my experience. I doubt the experience will be traumatic." She smiled at their reaction, starting to rise. Vin shoved her down again, and she looked hard into his eyes. "Mary Travis, on the other hand, is probably far less experienced in there matters than I. I'm not a great mountain man like yourself, Mr. Tanner, but from the position of the sun, I figure I have less than an hour to contact my men before something very bad happens to that fine lady."

Again, Elaina found it hard to contain her glee at the looks that passed between the two men. She sighed to herself. If the circumstances hadn't been so dire, she might have enjoyed...She shook the thought, focusing on the present. "She won't die, of course. Death is too kind, don't you think? She'll wish she was dead, but I left specific orders that she was to be kept alive. It's much more fun that way."

Vin glanced over at Chris at Elaina's words. Chris' green eyes hardened and Vin knew he was being given permision to do whatever he felt necesary. The fact that this was a woman did bother him. But he could ignore that fact if he needed to.

His hand snaked out suddenly pulling the woman to her feet by the front of her blouse.

"Okay lady, it's time now for ya ta talk. And I do have a trick or two of my own."

Lee took a deep breath and tried again this time a little louder, “Nathan, the woman, Noonan. She’s the one that’s after me.” He paused again to gather his strength. He turned his head towards the chair Nathan had sunk into. Ezra and Nathan looked at each other for a minute. Ezra rose and moved towards the bed to try and understand what the older man was saying. When Ezra moved closer to the bed Lee started.

“It started over thirty years ago. I had been chasing bounties for a short time when a Marshal called for a posse. I joined up looking for excitement. After the posse was disbanded I decided to stay with the Marshal’s.” Lee paused to gather his strength again then continued.

“I had heard about the Johnson brothers down by the border. The worst of their enterprises was cattle rustling. I decided to go down and bring them in. While there something happened, I don’t know what happened. Before I knew it there was gunfire. In the end the Johnson’s were dead.” Lee could feel sleep creeping in on his consciousness. He started blinking owlishly but tried to finish the story. “In the parlor I saw a young girl looking through the banisters, who would become Noonan.” Exhausted from telling what had happened so long ago he closed his eyes and fell asleep.

Nathan looked up at Ezra. "What do you suppose he's talking about?" he asked. "Who's after him?" The gambler shrugged. Nathan shook the wounded man. "Lee? Lee, what're you goin' on about? Angelica isn't here, Lee." The man groaned, then thrashed out, inadvertently catching the healer in the chest, sending him sprawling to the floor. Ezra was at his side in an instant.

"Are you injured?" the southerner asked.

Nathan shook his head. "I don't think so." He allowed Ezra to help him up, then sank heavily in the chair next to the bed. "Ezra?" he asked, his voice almost a whisper. The gambler raised an inquisitive eyebrow. "I don't know if I can do this any more."

Elaina winced as she was roughly hauled to her feet, allowing a look of panic to cross her features. She tried to back away as the irate tracker pulled her forward and growled at her. "You wouldn't dare..." she whispered.

"Care to bet?" the man snarled, grinning in triumph.

Elaina suddenly moved froward, and kissed the man full on the lips.

"Have a go, Sweety," she breathed. Vin spit on the ground, then drug his hand across his mouth.

"Shouldn't swallow snake poison. Could make ya sick."

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