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m7rpg - Part 18

The Story Continues

"They'll be back," Elaina muttered quietly, not looking at the tracker. She knew he was glaring at her, and she couldn't stand the look of loathing in his eyes. * It was loathing, wasn't it?* Certainly there was no affection there, or caring of any kind. Vin had showed his true colors when he'd betrayed her.

Silence hung in the air, and she finally leaned close to Larabee. "Get me out of here, please," she whispered in his ear. "I can't stand the way they look at me. It's not good for you, either. They know I should be in jail. I don't want to be the one to ruin your standing in this town."

"On one condition" Chris spoke as he looked from Vin to the other occupants of the saloon finally fixing his steely gaze on her. She looked into his eyes and nodded waiting for his next words

" I want to know what is between you two" he gestured towards the tracker

"No lies, no halftruths" he spoke softly "I want to know what I'm up against"

Vin watched as Elaina leaned in toward Chris and spoke to him and he saw Chris' reaction, glancing at him and the other occupants of the saloon. Was he checking to see if anyone had overheard? Was watching them?

Shaking his head Vin walked through the swinging doors. Why did the sight of his best friend and that...woman....bother him? Elaina regarded Vin closely, hoping that the tracker would answer Chris' question for her. She really wasn't sure she had the answer, and hoped he did. But then he'd turned around and walked out like he hadn't even heard. She drew a deep breath.

"I don't know," she started, knowing full well she'd have to come up with something better. "I...I let myself believe he loved me, cared about me." She gazed pointedly into the harsh eyes staring at her, then grinned. "He sure kissed like it." That brought a crooked smile from the gunslinger and she relaxed. "It was the first time in...a very long time that I allowed myself to be vulnerable." She laughed bitterly. "Look where it got me." She closed her eyes, examining her soul. Did she still have feelings for the tracker? She didn't think so, but then why did she keep feeling the fiery heat of his hands caressing her, and the intoxicating passion of his kisses? For that matter, why did she still dream of dancing with the young one, locked in a close embrace, lost in the music..?

She started to speak again, but nothing she could say seemed adequate. Instead, she leaned across the table and pressed her mouth over Larabee's, seeking answers there.

Chris kissed her back, his mind filled with her answers and all the while feeling the eyes of the saloon's inhabitants on them. Reluctantly he pulled away, his eyes filled with a spark of interest that he couldn't hide.

"So that still doesnt answer my question" he spoke "Where do we go from here?" wondering if he should just let her go and see what she did. Why was he asking her where things would go? He held her life in his hands. And quite possibly her heart - if she could just quit thinking about...

"Do I really have a choice?" she asked, not quite hiding the sarcasm in her tone. She wanted so desperately to believe, to have a glimmer of hope. When Chris didn't answer immediately, she continued. "I want to see...Fitzgerald." She was barely able to get the word past her lips.

"I...I think I need to see him."

"Fine" Chris stood, grabbing Elaina by the hand "You see him" he spoke as he dragtged her out of the saloon and across the street. Pulling her up the stairs to the clinic, he refused to think about the possible answers she would have for him or the fact that the townsfolk, hell even the rest of his family and friends thought he had laost his mind. He could feel Mary's icy stare on him as he dragged his fiery companion after him.

Pausing at the open doorway of the clinic, he spoke softly "You see Fitzgerald I'll be waiting out here for you" he paused "And when you come out make your dcisions wisely - your life and your future depend on it" JD scrubbed angrily at his hair, hissing softly as the harsh homemade soap burned against raw skin. Despite the pain, it felt good to strip away the layers of grim--but no amount of scrubbing could wash away the dirt he felt staining his soul.

The sharp tang of woodsmoke was slowly fading from his nostrils, but the bitter bite of it lingered on in the back of his throat. He leaned back in the wooden wash basin, his eyes drifting closed. Heat penetrated old bruises, massaging away the ache for a moment.

Unwilling to relax completely, and uncertain just how long he could force himself to stay awake, JD reluctantly started to reach for his clothes. Instead of the grubby, tattered garments he expected, his fingers brushed across soft, well-worn flannel.

He fingered the fabric for a moment, lifting the blue cloth from the other folded markings of Buck's silent passage. Figures, even after all they'd been through Buck was still watching over him. Taking care of him. . . Rescuing him, a taunting dream-voice whispered from the back of his mind. Numb fingers let the shirt drop back to the pile of clean garments.

Grabbing up the rough towel, JD pulled himself up from the tub. He ignored the way the coarse cloth scraped across scrapes and bruises, waking multiple points of fire along his skin. Mechanically he pulled on the clothes Buck had left for him.

The shirt was predictably too big for him. Sleeves trailed past his fingertips, so he rolled the cuffs back; feeling like someone's kid brother who had yet to grow into this year's hand-me-downs. He didn't bother tucking the shirt in, or lacing his boots--he didn't have far to go. Just the boarding house, and from there to bed. Not far at all.

Afternoon sun burned at eyes that were adjusted to the dark interior of the bath house, and gritty from lack of sleep. His hand came up defensively to block the harsh light. He blinked to clear his vision, then blinked once more to be certain his eyes were really open. That he was really seeing Chris. . . escort Elaina to Nathan's doorstep.

He'd been willing to believe that before was an act; that Chris was conning Elaina because they needed her to stop the attack. Hell, he had to believe that. But now. . . Watching Chris lead her straight to their injured

Sudden anger lent itself to energy. JD squared his shoulders and marched himself across the street before his resolve had a chance to weaken. He'd failed to protect his brothers from Elaina once before, it wouldn't happen again. "What the hell is She doin' out here?" he demanded, too carried by anger to worry about the tone he took with Chris.

"JD," Chris' voice carried a note of warning, "Just stay out of it."

"No." Even JD was surprised by that answer.

The night-clad gunslinger coiled, suddenly becoming the man whose reputation had been earned in countless dusty streets like this one. He was somehow less the man JD knew, and more the legend the kid hoped to someday become.

JD wavered under the icy glare, but held fast to his anger. "No," he repeated. "Somebody's got to say it. After what she done, how can you even *think* of trusting her? She_tried_to_kill_us," he managed to force passed clenched teeth. "How can you just forget that?"

Elaina regarded the young man from hooded lids, smiling slightly at the spunk the boy was showing. He would make a passionate...She shook that thought, and used the distraction to slip out of Chris' grip and step into the clinic.

Vin watched from the shadows of an alley as JD confronted Chris. He couldn't blame the kid, after all he had been through. He just hoped JD was prepared to be on the receiving end of Chris Larabee if that's how the scene played out.

Silently he made his way across the street and up the steps, stationing himself on the stairs just in case JD needed his help. Somehow, as upset as JD was, Vin had a feeling it might be Chris that needed assistance instead of JD.

"He ain't forgetting anything kid" Buck spoke softly putting himself between Chris and JD

"Is he?" Buck turned angry eyes on his oldest friend, he paused and waited for a response that was not forthcoming

"I can't Buck" JD shook his head "I can't stay here if it's gonna play out like this" JD spoke angrily glaring at Chris still

"Nobody's asking you to do anything kid" Buck spoke calmly "Chris knows what he's doing" he turned back to look into Chris's icy glare "Or he sure as hell ought to"

"Are you telling me what to do Buck?" Chris spoke through teeth angrily clenched around his cheroot

Buck looked assessingly at Chris then pushed his hat back on his head "Yeah I guess I am"

Chris stepped forward and poked a long finger into Buck's chest "How many times you gotta be told to mind your own damn business"

"Guess a few more times yet" he shrugged, pausing for a few moments "JD and I are gonna, go and ride a patrol" he looked into Chris's eyes before he spoke again "I hope you work out what you're doing by the time we get back"

He turned and pushed JD away from Chris, brushing away JD's complaints as he forced him to procede him to the livery.

Vin had not been surprised when Buck had brushed past him on the stairs to join JD. He stepped aside as both Buck and JD deascended and headed to teh livery, JD glancing over his shoulder at him as Buck lead him off.

Vin stepped briefly onto the landing in front of Nathan's. His eyes met Chris', gaining the man in black's attention for a brief second. Then he turned and slowly descended the stairs. It sure seemed as though he was walking away a lot the last few days. But until he understood what was going on, what he was feeling, Vin felt it best to put a bit of distance between himself and his friend. Or was he seperating himself from both Chris and Elaina?

Sometimes Vin felt as though he would be better off the way he had been. No close friends, very littel contact with people, no complications. Just him and his horse and a job to do. Still, he felt a tug at his heart when he thought this. Would he want to give up the new family he had gained?

Ezra stopped in the doorway of the saloon, revulsion sweeping him from head to toe. A feeling of betrayal followed it's passage quickly, and he spun on his heel, leaving as silently as he'd come.

Larabee! And that--that--he froze in the shadows of the alley as Chris pulled the redhead towards the clinic. He watched in understanding as the scene unfolded, sorrow filling him as he watched his companions.

There seemed to be no point in asking them about Nathan now, and he turned away, alone again, missing Elaina walking into Lee's sickroom.

He entered the livery slowly, still unhappy about what he'd seen, and say Vin ahead of him. "Mr. Tanner," he greeted him slowly, realizing instantly that though they were sharing many of the same emotions, there was more to Vin's feeling of betrayal than Ezra felt.

"Ez." Vin clamped his mouth shut at Ezra's questioning look. "Ain't you s'posed ta be in bed?"

"Our healer has decamped for a place or places unknown, and though I am currently reconsidering the wisdom of returning him here, I cannot in conscience let him wander alone."

Ezra pulled his cinch tight and painfully dragged himself up. "Good day, Mr. Tanner."

Lee slowly picked up the spoon. Ezra left the clinic anyway, hopefully going to have help in his quest to find Nathan. Having Inez in the clinic made him slightly uncomfortable. With her presence there it started triggering more memories. He pushed it to the side and concentrated on the soup.

Glancing up he noticed Inez wanted to help but stayed in the chair. She was unsure the older gunslinger would accept the assistance. His hand made the slow arduous journey back and forth, moving perceptively slower each time. The weight increased as the minutes passed.

Half-way through the small meal the door opened...


The explosion came well after Four Corners had blurred into the horizon. They were making a long, arching sweep around the town; long enough to let everyone cool off. Only JD wasn't cooling. JD was stewing; a slow boil that ate at him from the inside out.

"Goddamnit, Buck! Why'd you do that? I ain't some kid who needs his big brother to finish his fights." Reckless anger had given way to an only slightly more subtle rage. Part of his mind--the part that could still be considered rational--knew it wasn't Buck he was mad at; it wasn't even really Chris. But his emotions were so big, if he didn't let them out somewhere, they'd keep growing until they pushed even himself out of his body.

The thought of letting go and just following the rage wasn't without appeal. He'd seen the way Chris' eyes could go dead for a moment, offer a hint of the freedom from emotion. Maybe then, his hero's apparent betrayal wouldn't leave a dull ache in his chest.

"I know you aren't. But when it comes to Chris, you gotta pick your time and place." Buck's resigned answer was low, and calm in a way that made JD want to lash out at him. Force a rise from the normally volatile man.

"Yeah, that's worked real well in the past, hasn't it." The words were honed, a razors edge that carried JD's unnatural rage out, away from him. If he thought it would make the hurt go away--he was wrong. The flinch he read in Buck's eyes left him hollow, somehow less than what he was. Buck rode in silence beside his young friend, he knew damn well that he was damned if he opened his mouth to speak, and damned if he continued to ride mutely in silence. Drawing a deep breath he spoke softly.

"You know kid, it ain't gonna make it any easier if we lash out at each other"

"Yeah well, I'm not gonna stand there and have him accept her after all she's done to us"

"No-one's asking ya too son" Buck spoke his breath little more than an exhalation of sorrowed breath

"I don't see any of you willing to face up to him about it" JD turned his face to Buck his hazel eyes glittering with unshed tears of pain and rage

"I told ya kid" he spoke sadly "you've gotta pick your time and place" he paused "and the middle of main street ain't the place to take Chris to task"

"It never is the right time for you is it" JD spoke his voice filled with the angry venom that was eating at his soul with every memory that evoked images of Elaina in his mind "You'll always fold before him, doesnt matter who's getting hurt so long as its not the almighty Larabee" he spat as he spurred Milagro away.

Buck watched his companion ride further ahead, his own eyes filling with tears at the rift that was forming between he and JD. A rift that he couldnt find in his own mind a way to heal. He had to contetn himself with watching the taut back of his young friend and making sure he stayed out of trouble until they got back to town.

Chris stood on the landing outside the clinic, stunned by the way Elaina brushed past him. He saw the terror in her eyes and couldnt find it within himself to reach out and hold her there. He couldnt leave her locked within her terror, yet he knew that no matter how far she ran she would never outrun it.

Torn between his loyalty to his friends, whose disapproval he could feel like a tangible force between them, and the pain he could see in Elaina's eyes. Pain that he knew at one time he had shared. Her life of vengeane could have so easily been his. She hadn't had Buck to pull her back from the edge of insanity and vengeance. She had had no-one to pull her from the hurtful path her thoughts of vengeance had carried her. No-one to help pick up the peices of a heart shattered by the loss of her family.

He had had the support of a good friend, and now a new family. How could he live with himself if he didn't give her the same chance he had been given in the form of Buck's outstretched hand. A lifeline to pull him back from the life she had forged. A lifeline she had been denied for too long. He realised what his actioins were costing his family, but he also knew the depth of their hearts, maybe once they got past their own fear and loathing they would be able to at least try to offerher the redemption they had given him.

That was the reason why she wasn't in a cell and the reason why he hadn't shot her as she fled up main street. Turning his mind from his own thoughts he he moved to follow her and drag her back to face the nemesis that had burned in her soul for so long. He was more than a little surprised to see Elaina moving towards the clinic again, hr eyes glistening with hot tears, firmly ensconsed in JOsiah's strong arms.

Now he finally understood the scattered emotions he had seen in vin's eyes as he had watched Elainia in his arms. An emotion that could only be called jealousy welled up in his chest as he watched the strongly suppportive arm around the woman who was confusing the whole team so badly. Watching Josiah's hand resting innocently on her hip turned his eyes steeely. Was he jealous? He didn't think so, his body might want her, his mind challenged by her but his emotions were not yet a part of the equation that they were all part of. Or was it?

Shaking his head to clear the errant thoughts his eyes narrowed as he thought recent events through. First JD, then Vin, he himself had fallen quickly under her spell and apparently now Josiah. Was she using them against each other, trying to undermine them further. Seemingly succeeding in pulling the fibre of their friendship. Or was she truly what she appeared to be, a woman so desperate for revenge that she never considered the harm she did to others along the way.

He watched through narrowed eyes as Josiah led her up the stairs. As they reached the top step he grabbed her by the forearm and pulled her out of the embrace that was begtginning to make his blood boil. 'Don't you ever run from me again" he spat as he pushed her into Nathan's clinic.

Josiah grasped Chris' arm in his large hand and glared at the man. If he didn't know better, he'd think that the gunslinger was jealous. "No call to treat her like that," he said quietly, fighting to control his own rage. "She stopped of her own accord. Facing her past like that made her panic."

Chris opened his mouth to speak, but Josiah continued, cutting him short. "How'd you feel if someone shoved you in a room with Ella and told you to forget everything?"

Chris batted Josiah's hand off his arm angrily "Don't touch me" he spoke between gritted teeth and stalked away from the larger man.

"I didnt tell her to forget about it" he spoke running one hand over his face before he turned to face Josiah

"You of all people should understand" he ground out "She has to do exactly what i would have to do faced with Ella" he paused "Deal with it"

"Like this?" Josiah gestured to the clinic

"How else would you like it?" Chris growled "She asked me to let her see him" he paused "I'm going to make sure she does" he spoke sinking onto the bench seat before him "Don't you think I can't see what you think of what im trying to do, what all of you think?" his voice was suddenly weary "This is just hard for her, its hard for all of us. She has to make a stand before she's dancing at the end of a rope. If I can help her I will" he fell into momentary silence

"Hell it's all I can do not to take her with me and run" he muttered almost too softly for Josiah to hear

Her heart was pounding in her chest. She had clung to the preacher as though he were a lifeline, keeping her from drowning in terror and old memories. As they ascended the stairs to the clinic, she felt her courage rise at the sight of the black-clad gunslinger on the balcony. Maybe with him by her side, she could actually go through with this. Then he had turned on her in anger, not only withdrawing his own support, but that of Josiah's as well.

"Don't you ever run from me again," he growled, and before she could try to explain herself, she was shoved into Hell.

Elaina hugged the wall, unable to look away from the man on the bed. He spoke quietly to the young Mexican woman administering to him, and she nodded slightly, gathering the tray and quietly leaving. For several long minutes, the two occupants of the room stared silently at each other. The room was far too small, and Larabee's threats be damned, Elaina was ready to run again, as fast and as far as she could.

Instead, she slowly approached the bed and reached forward tentatively, brushing her fingers across the man's cheek. She withdrew her hand quickly as fire rushed up her arm. Letting out a strangled gasp, she stumbled back to the far wall, her vision obliterated with tears. She sank to the floor and drew up her knees, squeezing her eyes shut, unable to stop the images that were assaulting her.

Josiah rubbed the bridge of his nose and paced the length of the balcony. *How could this be happening?* The menace was over, the culprit in custody, and yet their impromptu family was still under attack, and these wounds could run deeper than any physical hurts.

"Chris..." What was there to say? Don't run out on us? He reckoned if he threw the gunslinger's own words back at him, he'd end up at the bottom of the steps without the aid of the risers. But he had to talk some sense into the man. No one else was speaking to him right now.

"We're a team, like it or not. The others deserve a hearing. Do you really have any idea what has happened in the past few days? What she did to JD? The boy was alone in that house with her. You've seen the way he's been skulking around." Josiah took a breath, but gave Larabee no chance to interrupt him. He needed to get this out. "Nathan was chained to a tree like a worthless cur. They wouldn't even feed him. And she left me free to watch it all."

Josiah paced again. With all that they had been through, he hadn't had a chance to really think about more than survival. The woman had stirred deep emotions, and reawakened his demons. "I was helpless. I couldn't leave them there, and I couldn't go to them or protect them." He faced the gunslinger. "If you let this rip us apart, she wins." He continued pacing, organizing the thoughts. "It won't be easy, Chris, but the only way we can come out of this intact is together. Even if your ultimate intention is to make a life with her."

Josiah stopped and gazed across the small town that had become home, then turned back to Chris. "Besides, if you run," he grinned, "Vin'll hunt you down."

"Damn right I will," Vin said from the top of the stairs. He moved forward reluctantly, thumbs hooked in his gunbelt. He had never been afraid of Chris, afraid of talking to him, until now.

"We need ta talk," he said as he stood before his friend. "All of us."

"Who said anything about a life?" Chris immediately rose to stand toe to toe with his accusser

"I don't want a life with her" he shook his head far too quickly, the denial sounding false even to his ears "I want a life *for* her" he turned and began to pace speaking more openly then was his wont "I can see me in her Josiah" he spoke softly "She is what i could have become. I had Buck to stop me" he paused and looked into Josiah's face "She's had no-one but her own anger and her lust for revenge" he turned to look at both of them "IF wwe don't help her we are no better than her."

"So what do you want yus to do" Josiah asked

"Find the others" Chris spoke taking charge once more as he strode towards the shadowed interior of the clinic "She tells us her story, and we decide her fate" he looked into both their faces "Together"

Vin studied his friends face. then he silently turned and moved down teh stairs. he knew that Ezra and Nathan were out somewhere. He would do as Chris asked and find them. It was time to confront this once and for all. As a family.

The touch did not surprise him as much as the woman withdrawing to the far wall and collapsing to the floor. He watched her closely remembering her actions earlier that week, *had it only been a week, it felt like an eternity,* he thought as he closed his eyes.

He opened his eyes wondering what to say, her actions were entirely foreign from the previous confrontation which confused him slightly. All he really knew was he was trying to end the constant gunfighting he had been engaged in for the past thirty or so years.

It stood in the middle of the carnage, like a silent guardian, watching over the charred ruins of the mansion, and the bodies that still littered the yard. Nathan stared at the tree for a long time, numb. Finally, he wandered over to the remains of the barn and sifted through the ruins, pleased when he found an ax that had managed to survive the destruction. Slowly, he walked back to the tree and started to hack at the trunk. He'd been at it for several minutes before the tears started. Progress was slow - he was forced to work one handed, and the reminder of the injuries he and his friends had received lent passion to his efforts. But he was weak and tired, and finally collapsed in the dirt beside the tree and stared up through the branches at the afternoon sky.

Even this he couldn't do right anymore.


He knew Buck was watching him. Even without looking he could feel the telling blue gaze that was pounding between his shoulder blades. An aching numbness spread through him under the hurt stare; a red-tinged void that was worse than the physical hurts, because this JD had done.

Part of him wanted to blame them on Elaina, on Chris--or even Buck. Anything but claim the weight he'd added to an already unbearable load. He could no more do that than he could call the words back, wish as he might to erase them.

But they were there. And they were his. The hateful words that still hung between them had come from his mouth and no one else's. No amount of wishing could undo that. An apology could not erase them, only soften their memory. *If* Buck would listen. *If* Buck would forgive him. *If* Buck would grant him a second chance.

JD scowled abruptly, a sudden tensing through his body that made Milagro dance uneasily. A second chance was what Chris offered Elaina. . . How could JD ask such a thing?

The thought was uncomfortably close, overwhelming in the crush against his anger-bound defenses. The two are nothing alike, he insisted angrily, thrusting the connection away. Elaina Noonan had tried to kill them, repeatedly. She had deliberately found their weaknesses and turned them against her prey.

And he'd deliberately hurt Buck with words honed on friendship.

Which of the two was the greater betrayal?

So much needed mending. Bodies. . . friendships. . . With a groan, JD remembered his confrontation with Chris. It was hard to believe he'd done that, challenging Chris like that before God and everybody.

More amazing still, was the fact that Chris had more or less let it pass unanswered. JD knew there was a time when questioning Chris Larabee like that was a good way to be called out. It spoke of the family their ragged like group had become. A family that JD desperately wanted and needed. And now stood to lose if he didn't own up and do what was needed to save it.

He slowed Milagro, letting Buck draw even with him. The other gunslinger held his peace, waiting for JD to break the silence that was thick between them. Buck's eyes were hooded, hiding his thoughts from JD. The shielded set of his face was unnatural on Buck, and JD felt his apology catch in his throat.

Coward, he silently named himself, because he knew Buck would not. "Aw hell," he whispered, gathering the remnants of once unflappable conviction that he was brave. "Buck, I didn't mean. . . I shouldn't have. . . What I'm trying to say is, I'm sorry."

There it was, an olive branch for the taking and mending. Or a large club for the taking and beating, a snide part of his mind pointed out

Buck held his silence, the events of their shared recent past welling up inside him, flashing through his mind. He heard JD's fumbled attempt at apology. He heard the pain that JD had already suffered in every word the young man spoke, but he couldn't bring himself to grab hold of the fragile tendrils of apology that would bind them into the healing that they both so desperately needed.

"What do you want me to say JD?" he spoke wearily, suddenly feeling older than his years, turning in his saddle he looked into tired and hurt hazel eyes "That you're forgiven?" the start of his hurt and anger released his words began to rush forth in a torrent. "I can't do that son" he spoke "You mean more to me than anybody and it cut me like a knife to know that you think I would do anything that would put anyone else ahead of you" his voice softened "Even Chris"

Tears filled his own eyes as he continued to speak "I could say I accept" he shrugged "But we both know it would be just words, we both know that I don't" his voice pushed past the knot of pain and anguish that gathered in his throat "I'll never be able to forget".

"If thats the way you really feel I have no choices left" Buck shrugged as he gathered his reins tighter in trembling hands "somehow I've let you down, I don't know how and I sure as hell don't know when but you won't have to worry about that any longer" he paused "When we get back to town I'll get out of your hair" his painfilled words continued on a exhalation of whispered breath "and your life" he spurred his horse into a tight wheeling arc and began to gallop back towards town.


"Mr. Jackson." Ezra eased tiredly to the ground next to his contrary friend. Leaning over, he gently disengaged the axe from Nathan's hand. Standing back up, he walked around to the other side and started chopping.

*Not much better than what Nathan accomplished.* he thought sadly. For once, he couldn't seem to think of anything to say, to express what he felt about the gesture. It seemed to be enough, just to chop away at the tree, soothing his anger, and hopefully Nathn understood as well.

Nathan wasn't aware of anything until the steady rhythm of chopping broke through his stupor. He blinked, changing his focus from the sky to the gambler, who was hacking at tree, barely staying on his feet. Nathan struggled to his knees, then stood. He caught Ezra's hand as he swung the axe yet another time.

"You don't have to do this," Nathan muttered wearily. He had decided that he'd had enough. When he was sure the others were safe, he was going to retreat to the Seminole village, maybe marry Rain, and start a family with her. But he was done with 'civilization,' and the convoluted complications that made it civilized.

Ezra looked at him, his gaze dazed. But the green eyes sparkled with something deeper than Elaina could ever touch. The conman shook his head and pulled from Nathan's grip, finishing the swing.

"For you," Ezra whispered, as the axe bit into the wood.

Nathan stood silent a moment, but as the axe struck home again, he spoke. "For JD."

Ezra swung again. "For Josiah." Again. "For Buck." Again. "For Vin." Again. "For Chris." Again. "For Mary." Again. "For Casey." Again. "For Nettie." Again.

"For the whole Godforsaken backwater dubbed Four Corners and all the gentle folk who call it home," Ezra finished as the tree finally gave and toppled to the ground. In the silence that followed, both men blinked tears, looking away from each other.

Finally, Nathan whispered, "What about you, Ezra?"


The sobbing finally subsided, but Elaina remained against the wall, staring across the room at the man who was studying her quietly. Elaina squeezed her eyes shut, turning the options over in her mind. She could hear the men on the balcony talking, but mostly ignored the conversation. She knew what she had to do, but now that she was confronted with her nightmare, she wasn't sure that she had the strength.

Carefully, she rose and shuffled across the room, then knelt beside the bed, so that she was eye-level with the older gunslinger.

"Do you even know how many other lives you destroyed along the way?" she whispered. She reached into her boot and withdrew the stiletto she kept there, then slipped it between Lee's ribs. She smothered his cry with her hand. "It had to be done," she continued. "It's the only way."

She waited until his eyes slipped shut, and she was pretty sure he wasn't breathing anymore, then kissed him lightly on the forehead. "It's done, Papa."

Elaina walked from the clinic and collapsed

Lee felt the smothering darkness around him, arms and legs were like dead weight. There seemed to be a peacefulness surrounding him. Suddenly his hearing and vision returned, he was standing in the clinic next to the bed. He turned when his compatriots came rushing in.

"I'm right here," he said but no one paid any attention, they were surrounding the bed doing what they could. Lee looked to the bed and was surprised to find himself lying there with a knife in his chest. He looked down at himself standing there, "What's going on?"

"Can't anyone hear me?" he asked a little louder then noticed Josiah's head moved slightly to the side as if he heard something. Chalking it up as wishful thinking Lee moved towards the door, or what had been the door. He moved out into the bright sunshine and found Elaina collapsed against the wall totally oblivious to her surroundings. She was murmuring over and over, "It's done, Papa."

Lee shook his head sadly, so much destruction in the world. She had no idea it started with her brother, that little bit he remembered when Inez left the clinic. He reached down to touch her shoulder but found his hand moved straight through her body. Elaina stirred slightly to the movement then settled down again. He sat on the top step to overlook what was happening.

"Is this death?" he asked himself out loud. If so it was not what he expected. He looked back up and saw Buck leaning out the door calling for Orin to get a doctor as quick as possible.

*Stabbed,* Lee asked himself.

When Orin passed the Clarion he stuck his head inside for a minute then moved on to the telegraph office. Mary came out quickly and found Mrs. Potter and the two made their way quickly to the clinic. Lee could not get out of the way in time but realized belatedly he would not be a hindrance to them so he stayed where he was.

Victoria Baylor stepped out of the hotel into the bright sunshine outside. She just arrived on the noon stage and was planning to stay a couple of days before continuing her journey. It seemed a calm enough town, but then again looks can be deceiving, still something was up. Seeing an older gentleman coming out of the telegraph office she came up to him, “What’s going on?”

The man hesitated a minute then spoke, "We need nothing less than a doctor."

"What about the next best think, a nurse?" she asked quickly, if her hunch was correct someone was in dire need of a nurse or doctor.

The older face brightened up then started escorting her across the street.

"I need my stu-"

"You should have what you need," he cut her off.

They moved quickly to the stairs then through the door, not realizing that they passed straight through Lee. Lee in turn turned around to watch what was going on. "I wonder who she is?" he spoke to himself again.

The two disappeared through the doorway.

Inside the clinic she found the patient, obviously, because he had a knife still sticking out of his chest. She pushed the other's aside and got down to work.

While holding Lee's wrist she detected a faint heartbeat. "You were wise in leaving the knife in."

"He's lost enough blood as it is," someone spoke from the group.

Looking up Victoria started giving orders to hopefully save the patient's life, she knew instinctively it would not be easy.


Ezra straightened and gestured towards the horses. "For once, Mr. Jackson, I think--I don't need to think about myself."

Nathan regarded Ezra for a moment in the fading light, then shook his head. "What's that supposed to mean, Ezra?"

Josiah yelled for Nathan, then a doctor. He was afraid that Lee's wounds might be beyond the healer's skill. He watched as Judge Travis ran for the telegraph office without even needing to ask why. He glanced back into the room, alarmed at the pasty pallor on Lee's face, and the ivory handle protruding from his ribs. Chris leaned over the older gunslinger, his hand pressed around the stiletto, trying to hold Lee's lifeblood in, but failing. As Mary and Mrs. Potter pushed past him, he glanced down at the woman huddled on the balcony. Her arms were wrapped around herself, and she was rocking back and forth, muttering. She didn't seem to notice him, although as he reached for her, she shook her shoulders, as though shrugging him off, even though he had yet to touch her. Josiah straightened briefly as coldness wrapped around him, causing him to shiver.

The sensation passed as quickly as it came, and he shook off the odd feeling and reached for Elaina again. He hauled her to her feet and dragged her down the stairs, a bit disappointed that she didn't resist. He fought to control his anger, because, God help him, if he let go, it wouldn't bode well for the woman. And he wanted her out of the way before Chris had a chance to realize just what had happened. Not that he cared about the woman. No, he knew what Larabee would do, and retribution wasn't worth the price Chris and the team would pay if the gunslinger got to Elaina.

A soft hint of a whisper tickled at Josiah's head and he looked around quickly. Townsfolk were watching him, but none was close enough to be whispering at him. The voice almost sounded like it was inside his head.

Josiah sighed. When had he last slept? There'd been quick naps here and there, but looking back, it had been several days since he'd really slept well. *It must be the fatigue*, he thought. He pushed Elaina into the jail ahead of him, then into a cell. She stood placidly as he searched her thoroughly for any more surprises, finding Lee's watch and fob in a pocket, among an assortment of picks, loose change, cosmetics (as if she needed those, he thought, shaking his head), an ivory comb, a gold locket and a photograph of a family - mother and father, three boys approaching manhood, and a smiling girl who's eyes reflected innocence and joy. Startled, he looked from the photo to the woman.

Elaina gazed at him, her eyes dull, then reached forward to lightly touch the locket. "Mama's," she whispered. Josiah handed it to her and she gripped onto it, twining her fingers into the delicate chain. She then reached out and took the photograph. He released it, watching in fascination as the woman gently ran her fingers over the fading faces. "Mama and Papa," she murmured as she traced the outline of the couple who stood in the middle of the photo. Her fingers then touched each of the faces of the young men and she recited their names. "Theo, Edwin, Samuel..." Her fingers hovered over the face of the smiling girl, never quite touching the paper. "Etta." The word was wistful, almost too silent to hear.

"Josiah." The preacher jumped slightly and turned at the sound of his name from behind him. He started to reply, but no one was there. Elaina looked at him, then through him, her eyes dilating with surprise.

"You're dead," she said matter-of-factly, and Josiah couldn't help but shudder.

"Not yet, sister," he replied, stepping from the cell. He locked the door, then slipped the key ring over the handle of his holstered pistol. Wearily he sank into the swivel chair behind the desk, sorting through the items that he'd removed from the woman. He set most aside, but his hands lingered on the gold watch and fob. He wondered if Lee was even still alive, then supposed he must be, or Chris would already have torn Elaina (or was it Etta?) apart.

Josiah closed his eyes, intending to rest them briefly to ease the burning in them, but soon he had fallen asleep, the watch still clenched in his hand.


Vin sat atop his horse watching as Nathan and then Ezra worked away at felling a tree. Both men looked exhausted and about ready to drop.

All Vin wanted was a chance to sleep for several days straight and he was certain the two men below felt the same way. But rest had to wait. They were needed back in town to decide the fate of Elaina.

As the tree fell to the ground and the two men seemed to be having some sort of discussion, Vin moved his mount forward.


Lee looked silently at the now sleeping Josiah. By the preacher's reactions he knew Josiah could hear him. Lee turned back to the door, something was pulling him outside. Ignoring the sensation he moved closer to Josiah. A hand moved through the younger man's body till he reached the watch. Surprisingly enough he could feel his watch. Lee pulled his hand back and contemplated the event.

"You're dead," the woman spoke from the cell.

Lee whipped his head around to face the source of the voice. Elaina was sitting on the floor looking at them both. Lee took a step towards the cell, he wanted this to end once and for all. "Maybe I am, then again maybe not." Lee moved through the bars of the cell to confront the source of the sevens current problems.

Elaina gazed at the apparition in front of her, then reached out tentatively to touch Lee. Her hand passed through his form, although she felt a chill run through her. She laughed. "I suppose it's someone's idea of humor that I'm going to be haunted by *you* the rest of my days. God forbid it could be Mama or Papa." She hesitated and looked up. "Or Caleb."

"You have no idea how this started, do you?" he asked rhetorically. He looked down to the daguerreotype plate in her hand.

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