Alternate OW Universe
This is the third story in my Con's Son's AU. I don't own any of the characters in this story other than Joe Brooks and One-Armed Pete. (Though if Chris or Ezra's available I'll take them.;) )
Follows "Finding Home" and "Staying Hidden"
Chris woke with a start, and looked wildly around the room for his brothers. When he saw them asleep on a cot in the corner he relaxed slightly but not completely. When the door opened he jerked his gun, which was hanging on the chair beside the bed, out and cocked it.
Nathan was surprised to find himself staring down the barrel of a gun when he walked back into the clinic. "Easy Chris," Nathan soothed, "It's just me."
Chris looked at him confused for a minute then, "Nathan? You're Buck's guardian Nathan."
"Yep that's right. Now why don't you lie back down and relax? Dinner will be up in a few minutes." Nathan moved toward Chris and noticed how Chris flinched away from him when he reached a hand towards him. "It's alright I'm just going to check your temperature." Nathan laid his hand on Chris' head and smiled, "Your fever is gone that's good."
"How long have I..." Chris started but before he could finish his sentence he heard a squeal of delight from Vin.
"Chris," Vin shouted as he raced over to the bed. "You're awake!!"
"Yeah Cowboy I'm awake. How long have I been asleep?" Chris asked as he smiled at his brothers.
"You've been asleep for going on to four days," Ezra said.
Chris closed his eyes and sighed, "That means we've been here for six and I still haven't made any money."
"It's okay Chris it really is," Vin said, "We can stay here as long as we want."
Chris smiled at his brother and was about to say something when Buck walked in with a tray; Josiah and Mrs. Potter followed Buck in the door.
"Buck put the tray on the table," Mrs. Potter said. "Nathan how is our patient today?"
Nathan smiled at the woman, "Why don't you ask him yourself? He just woke up."
Mrs. Potter beamed at Chris, "Hello there young man my name is Mrs. Potter. I have been helping to take care of you. How are you feeling today?"
Chris looked at the woman and suddenly he felt like he was once again in the care of his stepmother. He felt safe and secure and had the sudden urge to trust this woman. "I'm feeling better than I was Ma'am."
Gloria smiled this boy's drawl could melt anyone's heart. "That's good dear. Now you rest up and get better." She straitened up from where she bent over Chris' bed. "I had better get back to the store." And she left.
After Mrs. Potter left Chris started eating and he noticed the way Buck watched him. Chris' brow furrowed trying to figure out why Buck was watching him. After the soup was gone Chris looked right into Buck's eyes and did something he had never done as a boy and therefore took Buck off guard, he asked a direct question.
"Why are you staring at me Buck?" Chris' voice was as hard and as cold as ice. He hated people watching him even if they were friends.
Buck was stunned by the way Chris asked the question and the iciness in which it was delivered. "No reason Chris. It's just...It's been so long since I've seen you and you've changed... a lot."
There was silence in the room as Chris contemplated Buck's statement. "You're right Buck it has been along time and I have changed quite a bit. What is it that you want to know about me?" Chris had sensed the underlying question in Buck's voice and had just said it out loud.
Buck swallowed hard he didn't know where to start and Chris was actually scaring him. Finally one question that had been nagging him just popped out, "What's with the southern drawl?"
Chris, Ezra, and Vin all looked at each other as if asking, 'how do I answer that without giving to much away?'
Chris took a deep breath then answered, "When living in the south you have to learn to blend in." The explanation was so simple anyone would have believed it but in the eyes of the three brothers you could see that it wasn't true.
Buck decided not to press the issue, and moved on to the next question. "Why did you leave without saying goodbye?" You could hear the hurt in his voice even though it had been five years since the event.
Chris sighed, "You could say I didn't have much of a choice in the matter."
The older men noticed the way that Chris' answers were vague and didn't give to much away but Buck didn't he still thought that Chris was being completely honest with him. The adults noticed another thing too. Chris was getting tired so they both decided to cut the interrogation short.
"Chris needs to get some more rest Buck. Why don't you take Vin and Ezra with you and find something to do?" Josiah suggested as Nathan took the dishes from Chris' lap.
Before the three of them walked out the door Chris said, "Remember boy's. Remember your promise." He saw Vin and Ezra nod as the once more turned to follow Buck out the door. It was then that Chris laid back and fell asleep.
"So how did y'all meet?" Buck asked as they were walking towards the paper office to pick up JD. "I know that Chris didn't know about you guys when I knew him."
Ezra looked at Vin then shrugged, "We are all brother's from the same mother. I have lived with Mother all my life, but Chris and Vin lived with their Father's until five years ago when mother decided she could make more of a profit if she had more sons, and she threatened their father's until they gave up Chris and Vin."
"She told my Pa that she would kill a man and then blame it on him, she didn't know that I over heard, my Pa told her that she was crazy to think she'd ever get me. Two weeks later the sheriff came out to the ranch and arrested pa. Pa escaped but not before she already had me." Vin said.
Buck's eyes widened. How could anyone be so cruel and then he thought back to a couple of weeks before Mrs. Larabee and Sarah had been killed. Chris had acted so sullen, so sad. When he had asked his friend what was wrong Chris had mumbled something along the lines of, 'My mother.' Back then Buck had thought Chris had meant Mrs. Larabee, but now he knew it was Chris' other mother.
"Who is Adam?" Buck asked.
Vin stopped walking for a moment then took a shuddering breath. Ezra's eyes glazed over with tears and he had to bite back a sob. "He is...was our brother." Ezra said quietly.
"What happened to him?" Buck knew he couldn't push to hard or he wouldn't get an answer.
"He was killed six months ago," Vin said his Texas drawl more pronounced then before.
Buck felt terrible for brining it up but he really wanted to know what his old friend had been doing in the past five years. "H-how was he killed?"
Vin turned away not answering and Ezra sighed and bowed his head, "He was shot by a gambler who claimed that Adam had cheated."
Buck was shocked, "How old was he?"
"Fourteen," Was Ezra's almost inaudible reply. "Come Vin we must check the horses." And the two boys rushed off before Buck could say anything.
Buck stood there for a moment before he realized that there was someone standing behind him, he turned and found both Josiah and Nathan standing there.
"You know Buck some people don't like talking about the past to people they just met," Nathan said as he put a hand on Buck's shoulder.
"Couldn't you see that the subject you were on was hurting those boys more than helping them?" Josiah asked calmly.
Buck hung his head as he realized what he'd been doing to the two boys, "I'm sorry I was just trying to figure out some thing's about Chris."
"We know, but maybe you should talk with Chris when he gets better rather than talking to those two." Nathan said.
Buck just nodded and the three of them walked on to the newspaper office to pick up JD.
The two boys had rushed off to the livery and had started to brush down their horses each boy was lost in the past.
Ezra had a winning hand and he was about to sweep his money off the table when the shots sounded from the main room. Somehow Ezra knew that his brother's had been involved and despite the protests from the other gambler's he took off to see what had happened.
He was almost to the main room when Vin caught up to him they both looked at each other their eyes doing the talking for him. Ezra pushed Vin behind him, just incase the battle wasn't over, as he peeked his head around the corner he was hit by a site that he'd never thought to see and had never wanted to see.
Chris, the strong older brother who took the brunt of mother's anger, was holding Adam and crying tears running down his cheeks in rivers. Ezra was moving before he realized it and he instantly knew that Vin was right behind him.
Ezra felt the tears start to flow and he did nothing to stop them as he bent down over his brother and heard, "Vin? Ezra? Is that you little brothers?"
Ezra and Vin choked at the same time, "We're here."
Ezra sat there watching his brother die and he could do nothing about it. When mother came in and Chris turned on her Adam spoke to Ezra, "You're going to have to help him Ram...bler. He'll be lost...without you an' Vin. Watch over them...promise you will." Adam had begged even as his breathing started to fail.
"I promise...Y-yank," Ezra had sobbed out using his brother's nickname for the last time.
Adam had smiled before he turned and spoke to Vin, Ezra couldn't follow the words he said and before he realized it Adam was taking his last breath with one last look to make sure his brother's were together.
Ezra watched numbly as Chris bowed his head sobbing for a minute before he lifted Adam's body and started to walk. Almost of their own accord Ezra and Vin's feet followed their brother through the maze of New Orleans streets.
As they passed each gambling palace and bordello, people lined the street each with a grim look of sadness. The women were actually sobbing as the procession of death passed by. Every establishment was quiet save for a death march played on the pianos.
It was this display that made Ezra realize how well liked Adam had really been. Ezra saw a man come forward and recognized him as one of the men he had played against tonight and he heard the man offer the use of his burial plot for Adam. Ezra saw Chris nod. Another came and offered to make a tomb for Adam and put him in it when it was finally complete and again Chris nodded.
When they made it to the undertakers someone had already roused him and he was already prepared for them. When the undertaker was finished they carefully carried the pine box out to Adam's temporary grave. The head stone they put in place and slowly people filtered in and out finally they left the brother's alone after giving them some money, Ezra wasn't sure how much.
As a cold and lonely wind danced around them Chris spoke, "Read it out loud for all of New Orleans to know him."
Both Ezra and Vin complied and started to read, "Here lies Adam Halmer. Best loved brother and an honest Gambler. Shot in the chest by Joe Brooks and avenged by his brother. May he rest in peace and make it to heaven."
They all turned to go and once more Chris spoke, "It's going to be okay Vin, Ez. I'll get you out of here, we promised Adam we would leave and we won't break that promise."
When they got home that night Mother had had Chris dragged out side and lashed to a post in the barn and she had ordered them into their rooms. The two didn't have a choice so they went and were kept awake all night by the sound of their brother's screams of pain.
The next day Chris had been allowed in the house but not allowed to wear a shirt. When Ezra saw the new scars he nearly puked, 'I own you' was burned across Chris' chest. Chris' back was also covered in welts and every time Chris took a step he would wince.
"Chris is there something I can do?" Ezra asked quietly.
"It's not that bad," Chris had rasped, that was the last time Chris had spoken for a month.
Ezra was pulled back to the present when Chaucer nudged his arm asking for treats Ezra chuckled as he gave the horse a sugar cube. Ezra looked over at Vin who seemed lost in thought. Ezra sighed as he saw Peso draw back and bite at Vin.
Vin had just racked in his fifth win of the night when he felt as if something was wrong almost as if he had caused it a gunshot went off Vin merely stood up and took off. Almost a minute had passed before a second shot was fired and Vin caught up with Ezra.
When Ezra pushed him behind Vin almost protested but decided against it when Ezra started running across the room. Vin tailed him and when he saw the reason for Ezra's distress Vin felt the tears well up in his eyes.
As the two went down on their knees next to their brother's Adam spoke and asked if it was them Vin was on automatic when he answered at the same time as Ezra and Chris. When Mother came in Vin nearly joined his brother in threatening her but he refrained knowing it would only make things harder on Chris in the long run.
Before he could think of anything else Adam spoke to him, "Injun I...need you to...watch ov...er them for...me." Adam gasped out more pained then before. "You...need to lis...ten to Chriss and...obey him."
"I promise I will Captain," Vin nearly sobbed out the promise and nickname.
Vin watched numbly as Adam took his last breath and Chris broke down and sobbed. Vin had never seen Chris show emotion before and this was something entirely new to Vin. Vin stood up on numb legs and followed Chris out the door and through the streets.
'We must be a strange sight,' Vin thought as they walked through the town and the palaces and bordello's of New Orleans stopped their activity and watched them with sadness. Vin heard the strains of at least ten different death marches from in the palaces with pianos. Vin heard the soft sobs of the women as they passed and he realized that his brother had meant more to this town then he knew.
Vin saw the one man come forward with the offer of a burial plot, then a man that he recognized as one of the men he had played with tonight came with the proposition of a stone tomb for Adam. Vin saw Chris nod at both offer's and had realized that Chris was in shock at that moment. Chris had already lost a mother, a father, and a sister, but now he had lost a brother for Chris it had come full circle.
As Adam was buried it finally hit Vin Adam was dead. Chris was going to get the beating of his life when they got back home. And all the carefully laid plans of escape from mother would have to be pushed to the side.
When Pete had given Chris the money Vin had been surprised but before he could do much else Chris had demanded the gravestone read and Vin had read along with Ezra surprised that Chris didn't join them. When it was over Chris turned them towards home and promised that they would get out of there.
When the got home two big men had dragged Chris to the barn and they had been sent to their rooms. Vin's room had a window that he could climb out of to sit on the roof and Vin took advantage of that tonight. Vin had a clear view of the barn and he cried in earnest as he saw what mother had done to Chris. When she had ordered him branded Vin had to turn away from the sight though the smell of burning flesh hit him in waves.
The next morning Vin saw Ezra talk to Chris had replied to whatever it was that Ezra had said then Chris had turned and Vin had seen the full extent of Chris' injuries. Vin had felt sick and Chris had seen his expression as well and had turned away and walked up to his room. Chris didn't speak to anyone for a month after that but day after day Chris would go to Adam's grave and just sit by the headstone.
Vin and Ezra had started to cheat mother of some of their winning's and by the time Chris had healed enough they had quite a bit of money between them and they had left in the middle of the night.
Vin was brought back to the present by Peso biting him. Vin yelled and then slapped the horse before he gave him a sugar cube. Ezra laughed and said, "You shouldn't do that Vin he'll never learn if you do."
"He'll never learn anyway with the way he keeps at it," Vin said as he rubbed his arm. "We should probably be gettin' back to Chris."
Ezra nodded, "I think we need to talk to him about Buck and his guardians. I think it's time we tell them the truth."
Vin nodded and the two of them walked out of the livery together. Just as they were walking out the stage pulled up and an older man stepped out.
"Hello Dad," The sheriff Stephen Travis greeted the judge.
"Hello Son I hope things have been going well for you," Judge Orrin Travis said.
"Oh things have been quiet," Stephen said and then he saw the man riding into town, "It looks as if I spoke to soon." Stephen muttered as the man pulled up in front of them. "How can I help you Stuart?"
"I want the man responsible for hurting and then threatening my nephew," Stuart James nearly yelled.
"Oh and just what did Lucas tell you happened?" Stephen asked.
"That he was riding along minding his own business when a man attacked him with a whip and spooked his horse so his horse threw him, then the man threatened to use the whip on Lucas." Stuart said.
"Well I was there Stuart and I saw everything. Your nephew had challenged Buck Wilmington to a race through town and I was going to stop it if that young man hadn't. And what that young man said is true, Lucas has got to learn better manners for when he's in town. That's the third race this month and I know that he keeps trying to pick a fight when he's at school so don't go yelling at me Stuart! You teach that boy some manners or I'll turn that nice young man with a whip loose on him you got that?!" Stephen finished with his eyes blazing and a totally shocked Stuart James in front of him.
Stuart turned to the judge, "He can't really do that can he?"
"Yes he can," The judge said.
Stuart was in shock. For one thing he had never heard Stephen Travis raise his voice to anyone and for another Stuart had no idea that Lucas really was that bad. Stuart turned his horse away and rode out of town still thinking about what Stephen had said.
When Ezra and Vin got back to the clinic Chris was awake and the others still weren't there.
"Hey have you two been good?" Chris asked as they came in and curled up on either side of him.
"We've been good, but Chris we need to talk to ya," Vin said.
"What?" Chris asked quietly.
"We think that we can trust these people," Ezra said. "We think that we need to tell them about us and about Mother."
Chris winced, "What did I say?" He instinctively knew that he had said thing in his delirium that could be explained.
"You..." Vin looked at Ezra.
"You relived the night that Ad...That Adam died and you weren't very quiet either," Ezra said.
Chris closed his eyes, "What else?"
"They saw your scars Chris. They saw the words," Vin said.
"I guess we have no other choice then," Chris said, "Do you think that you could find them all and bring them here so we can do this today?"
"You can't do it today Chris you still aren't strong enough," Vin reasoned, "We can do it tomorrow. Now are you hungry?"
Chris laughed, and Vin and Ezra grinned it was rare to here Chris' laugh since Adam died and the sound was music to their ears.
"Course I am cowboy of course," Without realizing it Chris' voice had slipped back into his Midwestern accent and that made Vin grin all the more.
"We'll see what we can do Irish," Ezra said as he stood up.
"Hey," Chris protested, ever since Ezra had found out that he was half Irish he had called Chris "Irish" and though Chris didn't mind it as much as he put on he knew that others would mind.
Ezra grinned and Vin said, "Serves ya right Mule."
Chris groaned as the nicknames he hadn't heard since Adam died bombarded him. "Just go find me something to eat."
The two grinned and the laughter followed them out of the room.
They wound up at the café where they found Nathan, Josiah, Buck, and JD. Talking to the older man that they had seen get off the stage. They also saw Mrs. Travis and Billy and a man they didn't know at the table.
"Ezra, Vin." Josiah called, "Come join us boys."
The two walked up to the table very cautiously and sat down in the offered chairs.
"Boys I'd like you to meet Judge Orrin Travis and his son Stephen who is the sheriff here. I believe you boys already know Mary and Billy." Josiah said.
Ezra flinched at the thought of both a judge and a sheriff at the table with them. No doubt their mother had told the law that they had run away. The law in New Orleans would do nothing about it but other's might.
Orrin noticed the boy's reaction to the introductions and saw that Stephen had as well. "It's nice to meet you young man. What were your names again?" Orrin said.
Ezra looked at Vin and saw that Vin was looking at him the same way, "My name is Ezra and this is my brother Vin." Ezra finally said before he turned to Nathan. "Mr. Jackson Chris wishes for provisions and we do not know what fare you are allowing him to eat."
Nathan looked at Ezra thinking, 'this kid is a walking dictionary.' "Well Ezra I think that Chris could probably handle some soup and we'll see if he can eat solids tomorrow."
"Thank you Mr. Jackson," Ezra said as Tru came over.
"What'll it be Ezra?" Tru asked with a smile at the two boys that had come to mean so much to her and the other girl's here at the café.
"Well I think that we merely want a bowl of your finest soup for Chris," Ezra said.
"Coming right up." Tru said before turning and going to the kitchen.
"So where are you boys from?" Orrin asked.
"We have recently vacated New Orleans in light of our mother's infirmity and our on our way to California to meet our father." Ezra said.
To Ezra and Vin this was how they were supposed to talk but the other's gathered at the table were surprised by the vocabulary of one so young.
"How old are you boys?" Stephen asked.
Again Ezra hesitated before answering, "I am thirteen and Vin is nine."
"And how old is your brother?" Stephen asked knowing that their brother was the one that had stopped the race three days before.
"He is sixteen," Ezra replied as Tru approached with the soup.
"You watch it Ezra that soup is mighty hot. And you tell that brother of yours to get better you hear?" Tru said as she gave them the tray.
"We'll tell him Miss Tru," Vin said before turning to walk in front of Ezra, "Come on Scotty let's feed the mule." Vin said using Ezra's nickname. Ezra had gotten that nickname because he was half Scottish.
Ezra rolled his eyes as he followed after his younger brother.
"I think you're right Josiah they're hiding something," Orrin said after the boys had left.
"Yeah did you see the way they both reacted when you introduced us as the judge and sheriff?" Stephen asked.
"You think they might be running from the law?" Nathan asked.
"Running yes," Orrin said, "From the law I don't think so."
"Well I still think you need to see the damage that the older boy has on his body. There's not a piece of skin untouched by scars except for his face and hands," Nathan said. "I've never seen scars like them and I grew up in slavery and went through a war."
Orrin closed his eyes. He could already visualize the boy's body from the description that Nathan and Josiah had given him before the boy's showed up. "I think that I need to sit down and have a talk with those three young men tomorrow when the oldest is feeling better."
"Well I better go check my patient," Nathan said as he got up. "I'll see you all tomorrow."
"Goodnight brother," Josiah said, "I'll get these two put to bed before I turn in for the night. Come on you rapscallions off to bed with you both. Night all."
"Night Nate, Judge, Sheriff, Miz Travis, Billy. See you all tomorrow." Buck said as he picked up a half-asleep JD.
"Night, Night," JD said with a yawn as he cuddled into Buck's shoulder.
"Goodnight Buck, JD." Orrin said with a smile.
When they were gone Stephen rose, "Well I think this young man needs to go to bed too."
"No papa I'm not sleepy," Billy protested even as he tried to hide a yawn.
"Oh really?" Orrin said with a grin, "Then what was that that I just saw?"
Billy giggled and Mary sighed.
"Why don't you make your rounds Stephen me and your father will get Billy to bed." Mary said as she got up from the table.
"Are you sure?" Stephen asked.
"I'm sure Stephen I'll see you when you get home tonight," Mary said as she and Orrin herded a reluctant and sleepy Billy towards the door.
"Goodnight Stephen," Orrin said.
"Night Papa," Billy said as he once more tried to hide a yawn.
"Night dad. Goodnight my little rascal, you be good for Mama and Grandpa."
"I will," Billy said and they parted ways one headed to check the saloons and make his nightly rounds the other three headed for their beds.
One town away in Eagle Bend Maude was getting ready for a night of gambling. Even though she had more than enough money from her sons and her own gambling that she didn't have to it was still in her blood.
Maude looked in the mirror not seeing her own reflection but that of Chris who was the only one of her children that looked like her the other's had all resembled their father's but Chris with his blond hair didn't even come close to his father's fiery red hair.
"I will find you Christopher. And when I do you will regret leaving," Maude said to the mirror. Though the Chris she saw in the mirror didn't even flinch when she threatened him just like always.
She remembered the one time in her life that she had been afraid of her son that had been the night she'd lost Adam. He had been the best gambler out of all her sons.
The night air had been thick and something had told Maude that she needed to check on her sons that night. When she had walked in the room she had been stunned to see her oldest most stoic son on the ground crying.
Maude had been stunned she had never seen her son cry before and it rattled her. As she got closer she could see that the one that her oldest cradled was Adam. Adam had looked over his brother's shoulder and said, "Good bye mother."
She saw that her other two sons were there as well and she didn't want to cause anymore of a scene so she said, "Come Christopher, Ezra, Vincent we will have your brother's body collected."
Chris stood up and turned towards her his eyes no longer green but a glowing black that scared Maude and she took a step back trying to get out of the fury in those eyes. "No you bitch I'm not going to leave him not until he's buried properly not down in the harbor like I know you'd have him put."
Maude had been stunned Chris had never turned on her before even when she was at her worst. Whether he knew it or not Chris was his mother's foundation that never moved, but that night the foundation had crumbled.
Maude watched as Chris picked up his brother's body and started walking towards the door. She had stepped in behind her sons a lone tear falling in honor of Adam but nothing more as she climbed into the cab waiting for her.
"Follow them," She ordered and the driver clicked to the horses and they followed at a sedate pace through the town. Maude got another shock as they drove through town it was as if the whole French Quarter had shut down there was no noise save the pianos playing the death songs, the sobbing of the women of the night, and the beat of the horses hooves.
Before they arrived at the graveyard Maude had the driver take her home where she sat and waited for her sons to come home. When they arrived three hours later she ordered the two youngest to their rooms and had Chris dragged to the barn where she oversaw his punishment. When he was nearly unconscious from the pain she had ordered him branded. That night was the first time she had ever heard her eldest scream. And the voice of her son begging her to stop still haunted her.
After the men were done with her son she ordered him cleaned up and then she went outside and threw up. Maude had never felt so sick in her life and she vowed never to go so far again.
The next morning Chris was up and he didn't let on how much pain he was in. It would be a month before she heard the voice of the one son she clung to like a rock in a storm.
Maude drew back from the thought's of that night and smiled at the mirror. She would find her sons and when she did she would apologize for her actions and then make them come home to New Orleans where they belonged.