All the bridges that you burn.
The scream alerted the rider that something was amiss, wheeling around the bay coloured horse they galloped hard to the Seminole village. The hooves of the horse kicked up the wet dirt in clumps. A light rain had fallen the night before leaving the ground damp and covered with dew. The rider urged the horse faster. "Come on."
+ + + + + + +
Vin rode quietly into Four Corners, the buggy trailing behind him. The woman steering it had been silent for sometime. Vin Tanner could only wonder at what had been going through the Southern belle's mind.
Maude Standish, dressed in her fanciful green dress, did not meet the lawman's eyes. In all honesty, ever since they had neared even the familiar countryside of the frontier town, her stomach had not been able to keep anything down.
She wiped her palms together, even enclosed in the soft lace gloves; she could feel the itchy sweat of nervousness, a feeling that seemed alien to her. She had not felt this frightened and terrified since... well since Ezra had been born.
Vin slid down from his horse in front of the Hotel, the town was yet still quiet in the pre-dawn light. "Let's get you settled in," he said easily, casually eyeing the nervous woman, who merely nodded in acquiescence.
Mary Travis quietly sat down outside the Clarion; she liked the still of the morning it allowed her a freedom to really think about the issues that troubled the growing town. The petite blond woman sighed, glancing pensively at the street. Life in Four Corners had not been easy recently she mused. Hearing the clapping sound of horses hooves she glanced over towards the Hotel, her mouth dropping open in surprise. "Maude?" Mary breathed out quietly. Standing, she made her way over to the elegant woman and Vin who was by now helping Mrs Standish out of her buggy.
"Mrs Standish, Good morning!" Mary smiled genially. Vin smiled a greeting at the pretty widow. "Leave Mrs Standish with me Vin. I am sure I can see that Maude is taken care of, I am aware that you have some business to take care of."
Vin quirked a smile at Mary and then nodded. "Yeah, you're right about that," he agreed, casually glancing up and the down the street. Still quiet. "Guess I better take care of that business then," he finished quietly, with a tip of his hat he was gone.
Vin chuckled to himself, there was no way Mary Travis would let that woman out of her sight. After finding out what happened to the Southerner, she had been adamant that Maude Standish should at the very least explain herself to her son. He sighed quietly rubbing at his jaw and the shadow of a beard that was there. 'Time to inform the prodigal son that his mother has returned.' He thought.
+ + + + + + +
Ezra stared at the woman who he had believed was his mother as she fidgeted nervously on the edge of the bed. "Maude?" He intoned quietly. "I need to know why."
"Ezra dear," Maude stalled, " I really don't know where to start."
Ezra glared at her, absently fixing the derringer hidden up his sleave. "At the beginning. Mother "
"To me, you are my son. You must understand."
"Really? Is that why you lied? Did the things you did?" Ezra returned sarcastically, his green eyes flashing angrily.
"Yes! I mean no. I thought it was better for you!" Maude said imploringly, reaching out a hand to Ezra who stepped back, looking at her heartlessly.
"Which is it?" His southern accent holding a note of hostility, as he contemplated the elegant woman whose eyes were beginning to glisten with unshed tears. "Yes or no? I mean really Mother, you used to be able to lie so much better than that-"
He continued on ignoring her look of hurt, all that he really needed to know was the circumstances of his birth and why this woman had lied and mislead him his entire life. He hated being taken for a fool and the one person who he had thought at least had understood him, had conned him. This woman had shattered his entire foundation of self and he needed to know why.
"Was there a reason that you chose to use me the way you did? Did you ever love me? No, I don't suppose that you did... a person like you, a con-artist, you can't get attached to anything. It's not in you."
"Stop. Please, Ezra. I'm sorry. I never meant to hurt you," Maude pleaded with her son desperate to make him see, she was uncaring of the tears that now fell slowly down her face.
Ezra shifted, moving to the window and sitting down on the chair that he had placed there so long ago. It seemed like a lifetime since he had moved to the small town of Four Corners. Now, the place was the only real home he'd ever really had. Why? 'Simple,' he reasoned silently, 'because that woman had destroyed everything with a lie.'
"Ezra, I am sorry," Maude said weeping, raising a handkerchief to wipe at the trail of tears. "I love you, I didn't mean to hurt you. You-"
"You love me!" Ezra repeated standing and striding over next to the Southern belle. "Then tell me! Please."
Maude hiccupped holding a hand delicately to her face. She shook her head, "Ezra I was young then, much younger then you are now, dear. You might be surprised to know this, but I wasn't always what I am now. I was poor, you see and I married well - my mother was so pleased." She smiled a little wryly, her eyes turning dark with memory.
Ezra reached a hand and placed it over the trembling woman's arm. "Go on," he encouraged hoarsely.
"I never spoke to my mother after it happened. She disowned me," she laughed a little hysterically. "Much like you are doing now," she paused trying to rein her emotions in. She lowered head, closing her eyes as she began to speak again. "Hank died, you knew that, he left me destitute. I did love him, you know. One of the loves of my life as it turned out. When he died, I had nothing, no where to go. I searched everywhere for employment, so I took a job as a governess. It worked out marvellously, then." She stopped standing to stare out the window onto the main strip. She twirled the curtain in her hand, trying to figure out how to phrase the next part.
"Then?" Ezra asked, turning on the bed so he could see Maude more clearly.
"Then, it got a little complicated." She looked back at Ezra her eyes clear, before walking over to him and kneeling in front of the slight man. "You must understand, your.." She hesitated on the words, "your mother, she loved you. She wanted to keep you. But he wouldn't let her. Your father was her stepfather you see. What they did; it wasn't done then, it isn't done now." She smiled a little, glancing away from Ezra's intent eyes. "So, instead of disowning her, I took you in, they all believed that you were my son and with good reason." Her smile turned self-mocking. "We were sent away to her family's estate in Louisiana with no one there except one servant. Vivien, well, she died in childbirth and your father... he died in the war."
Ezra sat there quietly listening to the narration with a growing understanding. Yet he was still unable to rid himself of the anger that his mother had lied to him. It was obvious that the narration by Maude had a lot more too it than that. But Ezra was unwilling to push Maude any further; she had obviously told all he needed to know for now, all she was willing to face as well. Ezra could only wonder what she was still keeping from him, although he could hazard a guess.
Maude looked up at her son, for she would always think of him that way. No matter what Ezra thought, she would always consider him her son.
Ezra sighed deeply, glancing at her and then slowly he leaned forward gently raising the woman from her knees. "Thank you," he said huskily, "Thank you for telling me... Mother."
Maude's visage trembled, tears falling again. "It was time Ezra, I should have told you a long time ago."
Ezra's eyes pricked with tears and then he did the unexpected; he kissed her gently on the forehead. "Yes," he admonished gently, "But you have now and that is enough. As the esteemed Mr Dunne suggests, It will take time to mend," he smiled, his gold tooth flashing.
"Yes, I suppose you're right, Ezra," Maude agreed, brushing at her dress in an action that mirrored the mannerisms of her son. Ezra started at the familiarity of the gesture. "Then I will depart to my room, I have imposed on you long enough."
As soon as the door closed softly behind the woman, Ezra stood and poured himself a shot of whisky. It was all much clearer to him now, yet Ezra still wasn't sure if he could ever forgive her for lying to him for so long. Even though she did have the best of intentions. What had surprised him was how readily she had admitted her culpability. Maude had rarely, in his memory, ever admitted that she had done something wrong. That she had done so now illustrated to the elegant gambler just how much she did care for him. Ezra shook his head and downed the whisky. "Well Mother, we'll just have to wait and see," he murmured.
+ + + + + + +
The rider urged the horse to go faster, it arrived and the woman dismounted elegantly. Cocking her gun quietly, she preceded cautiously into the village that now seemed eerily quiet after those screams that she heard all the way to the Seminole village. Gently she pushed open a door with her foot, and stepped into the room and swore harshly and colourfully. There was a trail of blood on the floor...
+ + + + + + +
Vin Tanner shared a look with Buck as they sat impatiently waiting in the saloon. JD stood pacing at the window his bowler hat swinging in his hands. Chris Larabee slowly made his way in the swinging doors and joined them at the table.
"She just left," he stated accepting the drink from the ladies man pushed towards him.
Each man paused looking at the man all clad in black. His face was hidden underneath his hat. He didn't raise his head, but it was clear that there was more to it.
"She's gone to see Josiah," he continued as he accepted the second drink that Vin poured for him.
JD sank down in the chair, his hat still swinging in his hands. Buck grabbed it from the kid's hands. "You need a new hat," he said annoyed, but there was an easy banter to it. Yet, they could all hear the worry in the man's voice.
"Quit it," JD snapped, frustrated that this was still going. Tanner smiled as he pushed a shot glass towards the young man.
"Reckon one of us should see if he's okay?" Vin drawled softly, looking out towards the street.
Larabee shrugged his shoulder as he pushed his hat back to look at the tracker. "Maybe he just needs some time".
Wilmington cocked his head as he studied the other men. "Nope, don't reckon he does, Chris," he countered. Rising to his feet, he was gone before the other men could reply.
"He seems to be doing all right," Vin stated as he watched the tall man make his way towards Standish's room.
"Seems to be," Chris nodded as he stared into his glass.
JD sighed, rubbing his face as he looked about the saloon. "What happened up at your cabin, Chris?" he asked curiously as he shifted forward, resting his elbows on the table.
"Should ask Buck, JD, but I'd say he laid a few demons to rest is all," Larabee drawled, his tone clearly saying that this discussion was over.
JD frowned, his eyes shadowed as he looked away. He couldn't forget that look on Vin's face when he said that Buck was going to kill himself. He hadn't of course, but the intention had been there. How was he supposed to look to Buck for support now? When he didn't know if the man could handle it. JD breathed out sipping his drink. Wilmington seemed all right, but he had last time as well before all hell had broken loose.
"Where's Nathan?" Vin asked, his mind still on the tracks that he had seen on his dawn patrol that morning. He had dismissed it as one of the men that he worked with or one of the many regular stock hands that came into town on a fairly regular basis. Now, he felt that the tracks were more familiar to him than that and couldn't help but wonder why. He tilted his chin and looked at Chris waiting for answer.
"Went to the Seminole Village to see Rain," Chris replied shortly, his face still hidden.
+ + + + + + +
The woman could see that the blood was fresh, she jumped when she heard the gasping breathing of someone in the next room. Following her gut she opened the door quickly. "Jesus," she murmured seeing a young black woman lying there covered in blood that was seeping from a wound in her chest and stomach. She knelt down quickly, placing her gun beside the woman. "You'll be okay sweetheart," she whispered. The black woman whimpered in pain then met her eyes. The rider nearly lurched back at the pain she could see there. Pulling off her jacket she pressed into her belly, trying to stop the flow of blood. She didn't hear the gallop of hooves as she worked trying to save the woman's life.
"RAIN!" a deep voice called, startling the rider.
"Nathan," the black woman murmured, "I am sorry, I love you," She said as she passed out from the pain. The rider's blue eyes widened at the words and she went to wipe a tear away only to stop when she saw her hands covered in blood.
At that moment, Nathan walked in and stopped in shock, seeing his beloved lying there on the floor. "Rain," he whispered stunned. He glanced up from the body to the woman kneeling in shadow beside Rain; her hands covered in blood and his grief turned to fury. "WHAT HAVE YOU DONE!"
+ + + + + + +
Buck pushed open the door to the gambler's room. He saw the stiff figure by the window, sitting in the chair. What was odd about the man was there was no movement, he was still, his hands unmoving. Taking a deep breath he entered into the room.
"You okay?" he asked softly as he sat down on the bed, in the spot that Maude had so recently vacated.
There was no response, no sign that the con man registered his presence. His eyes were staring thoughtfully over the town.
"Ezra?" he questioned again, more loudly as he rose to his feet and squatted beside the elegantly dressed gentlemen. He wondered if perhaps he should call for the Healer.
The green eyes blinked as they filled slightly before the owner of them took a deep shuddering breath.
"I..." he started before shaking his head, too many thoughts tumbled through his head. To many unanswered questions, too much to think about.
Buck seemed to sense his friend's need, reaching out a hand he gently laid it on the cold one that rested on the window frame.
"Don't have to talk, how about we sit here for awhile," Buck said soothingly, patting the man's hand lightly.
Standish smiled gratefully at Buck. Ezra gave a soft sigh, one look at the tall man and he could see the concern and curiosity written on his face. Ezra nearly laughed, he just knew that his other five compatriots would also be longing to know the truth.
"It would appear that I am a bastard," Ezra whispered hoarsely, a new pain registering in his chest. He had been able to detect in Maude's tone the one thing she hadn't wanted him to know. "My birth mother... she didn't want me." Blue eyes saw the lone tear that rolled down the smooth cheek of the gambler
Buck smiled reassuringly, "Well, hey now Ezra... Maude did and you know what? So do we," he stated just as softly.
Green eyes studied Buck intently as he rose to his feet. Holding his hand out to Ezra, Buck waited for him to take it hesitantly. "Reckon I could do with a drink," Buck drawled leading the other man out of his room. Instinctively aware that Ezra needed to be with the comforting presence that their mismatched group provided.
Standish gave a quiet chuckle as he murmured, "And if I happen to tell you the story?"
Wilmington shrugged as they made their way to the saloon, "Well, even better," he stopped, gripping Ezra's arm, "Only if you want too," he said firmly.
Standish nodded, his cheeks dimpling, "Yes, but it's the least my 'brothers' deserve."
The ladies man laughed then loudly, "Come on then, the suspense is probably killing them, hell JD was wearing a hole in the floor!"
Ezra frowned as he said with mock horror "Holes in the floor? Whatever will Inez do?"
+ + + + + + +
Josiah rubbed his brow pensively and stared at Maude as she sat nervously on the edge of the pew. "And how did he take the news?"
The wind blew in and gently ruffled the skirt of her green dress; Maude gazed at the floor, her usual implacable gaze now bewildered and a little lost. "Quite well, I think," she drawled, pulling at the material of the gloves she held in her hand.
"What did you tell Ezra?" Josiah prodded gently. Seating himself down in the pew opposite the con-woman.
"I told him the circumstances of his birth," Maude retorted, feeling suddenly overwhelmed at the sudden return of memories and a time she had long since tried to forget. A film of tears blurred her vision, " I told him about his mother and father."
"But you didn't tell him everything," Josiah mused softly, seeing how this was also destroying the woman beside him.
"I told him as much as he could handle right now," Maude said softly, her voice lilting on the words.
Josiah rose stiffly pulling at his shirt and casually poured himself some water. He was surprised that the Southern woman had shown enough compassion not to overwhelm her son with everything that had happened and perhaps he hazarded a guess looking surreptitiously at Maude, it was best that Ezra didn't know everything. Maude seemed to be wilting and becoming nearly a shell of the woman she had been from her first visit. He sipped his water cautiously; the liquid felt smooth and clear in his mouth. Maude smiled a thank-you as she accepted the offered glass of water.
Her shoulder's rose and fell with a sob that was suppressed. "Josiah? He'll probably hate me forever won't he? Not that I blame him, I should have told him a long time ago... I've lost him, haven't I?" She asked beseeching the preacher for some sort of denial to her words. Josiah sighed and gently enfolded the woman in hug that she at first resisted, then finally gave into, her grief overcoming her. She couldn't lose her son as well.
"It will take time Maude," Josiah whispered softly, rubbing her back comfortingly.
Maude nodded wiping at her eyes, pulling back out of the embrace. "Then I'll wait for him to come around." She would not lose her son today; maybe there was hope after all.
Josiah couldn't help but laugh at the tenacity of the Southerner. 'An amazing woman. An amazing woman indeed.'
"Josiah. Care to hear my confession?" The Southern woman asked softly, feeling the need to be absolved of the guilt she felt at lying to her son for so long.
"Why Maude, Nothing would please me more," Josiah rumbled in reply, leaning back on the pew and waiting for the beautiful woman to begin.
"A long time ago, I made a mistake and today it's probably going to cost me the love of my son.," Maude said, recalling Ezra's face as she finally told him the truth. Could he handle it all? Maybe and perhaps not, her son was strong but life had been cruel to him recently at her hand. She sighed, wiping away the trace of tears that still laced her cheeks. "I married for love back then, then lost it all... It made me a little cynical and I have never married for love again, it hurts too much when you lose it," she explained staring around her at the Church. The Seven men were doing a wonderful job of restoring the old thing.
"I see," Josiah encouraged, leaning his elbow on the top of the hard wooden pew.
"Now it appears that after all that I will lose that which I hold most dear, my son. Yes I know that he isn't actually mine. But I raised him... you see?" She said imploring the preacher to understand. "I love him, what I have done has always been done to help him in some way. Although..." Maude smiled sardonically, "it would seem that those actions were ill-fraught and I have damaged my son as much as my mother did to me," she declared her green eyes alive with recrimination. "I... I lost my baby about the time Ezra was born."
Josiah reached out and placed a hand over Maude's. "I'm sorry, that must have been terrible for you."
Maude nodded, her head bowed. "Yes, but Ezra was a delight to raise. He was a very bright child."
Josiah grunted in agreement. Yes it was obvious that the young Southerner would have been a precocious child, especially judging by his quick wit. He frowned. " If I may ask, how did you lose your child?"
Maude stood abruptly pacing over to the window and looking out. "I lost him saving Vivien, Ezra's mother's, life," she explained staring out the glass pane and seeing only the past. "We had been picnicking, and two women in the same month of pregnancies is a great deal of fun," Maude said dryly, drawing a laugh from Josiah in response. "Vivien and I became very close, so we often went on picnics together. We knew the reason for each other being there. My husband had died right before I became Vivien's governess and chaperone. I arrived too little too late as it happened... thus we were sent away. No one knew Vivien was pregnant except her mother and step-father of course ...." Maude hesitated, drawing in a deep breath.
"Vivien and I went to the creek to have a picnic, but on this day... a storm hit that we hadn't been expecting. I managed to get Vivien into the buggy she was hysterical. Driving back... I uh a tree crashed in front of us and the horses went wild, tearing... I lost control of the buggy... we crashed" Maude's voice trembled with emotion and her hand wavered in front of her as she remembered the leather straps of the reins ripped from her grasp and the buggy tumbling over and over. " I covered Vivien with my body when I saw that we were heading for a boulder. I took the full impact... But it was to no avail as it turned out," Maude said, tears tumbling over and rolling down her cheeks. "Vivien died four months later in childbirth, neither I nor the mid-wife could save her. I lost my baby in the crash. I woke up in a great deal of pain; Vivien had been trying to rouse me for sometime as it turned out... I" She stopped her sobs overcoming her. "So when Vivien died, I adopted Ezra as my own... He may not be my blood son, but he is my son," she drawled softly, her eyes finally drawn away from the window to take in the stunned preacher who sat staring at her with tears also on his face. "I saved him the day when Vivien and I crashed, he saved me the moment he was born," Maude said softly.
In two quick strides Josiah was there holding the sobbing woman. "He'll understand, you must tell him this as well when he is ready..," Josiah ordered quietly in his deep baritone. "Ezra will understand," he whispered placing a soft kiss on her forehead before rocking her back and forth, and this time Maude did not fight the embrace, she needed the human contact more than she'd ever dare admit.
+ + + + + + +
Nathan reached out tentatively and brushed back Rain's soft frizzy hair. She had never re-gained consciousness, never seen the effort Nathan exerted to save her. His hand rested there for a moment, before his gaze snapped over to the cowering woman in the corner. "Get up," he snarled, his white teeth flashing.
"But I didn't-" The woman began, she was cut off by Nathan jerking her roughly to her feet.
"Not a sound, ya hear?" He whispered menacingly, his grip tightening around her slim wrists painfully.
The woman whimpered in pain, but said nothing. She had been convicted, she knew that. This man wouldn't believe her, especially after last time. She was going to hang. Nothing was going to stop that; this man had lost his lover. A small wry smile crossed her face as she was dragged out to the horses. 'I look as guilty as Mady was that day, ain't no one gonna listen to me. Not after what happened to JD. Oh God," She thought, 'I am gonna hang...'
Nathan turned as he mounted his black horse to look at the only resident of the Seminole Village, "See that she gets a proper burial," he said crisply, his eyes darkening with grief.
The woman bit her lip in pain as the rope that encircled her wrists pulled tight as the horses took off at a gallop.
+ + + + + + +
Vin leaned back in the chair, twirling the glass between his thumb and forefinger thoughtfully. "I saw some tracks this mornin'... somethin' about them ain't right."
"Well we best check them out, Mr Tanner," Ezra drawled, as he and Buck entered the Saloon.
JD stood gaping at the Southerner who returned his gaze flatly. "But-"
"Perhaps now would be a prudent time to embark on this adventure," Ezra said interrupting the younger man, who stared at him in surprise.
Buck clapped JD on the shoulder as he sat down. "Ring a bell, do they?" Buck asked looking at Vin, who nodded avoiding Buck's eyes. The ladies man met Chris's gaze and shrugged, now was not the time to push the Southerner or Vin.
"Shall we, Mr Tanner," Ezra said, tipping his hat to the other men before striding out of the Saloon.
"What happened, Buck?" JD asked, turning towards the older man.
"Ain't nothing worth talking about at the moment. He just needs some time to get his head together," Buck answered quietly, his eyes on the table.
"See you boys later," Vin said softly, pushing back his chair with a feline grace.
"How long will it take?" Chris questioned, his green eyes flicking to the tracker, then out to the street.
"Don't rightly know, Bout' a day, maybe less," Vin returned, "Be careful boys," he said before following after Standish.
Chris stood and the other men followed suit. They watched from the porch as the two men rode out of town.
Mary Travis swatted a fly away as it hovered around the tray of food she was carrying to her newspaper office. "Mr Larabee, Mr Wilmington, JD," she greeted courteously, as she continued on her way. Buck shook his head as she sashayed away from the men.
"Chris-" He began, a playful smile tugging at his lips.
"Stay out of it," Chris bantered flatly, his green eyes still on the form of Mrs Travis as she went to enter her office. He saw her freeze and drop the tray with a clatter, he was about to go to her, when a forceful hand on his arm drew his attention elsewhere.
"Kate," Buck said in a strangled whisper, his eyes flicking to JD then to the woman who rode silently beside Nathan Jackson. "What the sam hell is going on?" he asked plaintively. Reaching out he placed a hand on JD's shoulder in a comforting gesture. The young man shrugged it off and stepping off the porch, JD went to greet the Healer.
Buck sighed heavily meeting Chris's gazel they both followed the young man.
This felt bad.
+ + + + + + +
"Mr Tanner, What exactly are we looking for?" Ezra said, watching for the fifth time the tracker dismount and search the ground for clues. The sun had reached its peak and Ezra's stomach rumbled quietly with hunger, both men had forgotten to eat before they departed on this scouting trip. It had been a long day so far, and he chuckled quietly to himself and it was only lunchtime.
"Anything that seems out of place," Vin responded non-committedly, his attention focused on his task. There it was, that hoof print that had seemed so tantalisingly familiar this morning. Kneeling down beside, it he gazed at it for a moment, 'Why do I feel like I should know that track?" He thought raising himself up with a groan.
"How about me, Mr Tanner?" Ezra quipped, serious blue eyes met his green ones.
"You talking about your Ma?" came the soft Texas drawl.
Standish grunted in exasperation "Why is it that everyone feels that everything comes back to that?" he saw Vin about to say something, but he continued on. "I mean, so I lose it a couple of times... " He heard the scoff from the other man and he cut him an annoyed glance "Fine, so I go catatonic, does that really make it everyone else's business? No, I do not think so Mr Tanner, and therefore it doesn't mean when I make a sarcastic quip that it is about Maude!" He snapped, eyeing the other man intently.
Vin watched him for a second, a small smile tugging at his mouth. "Okay Ezra, I was just asking," he said holding up his hands.
Standish opened his mouth to speak before stopping and looking away. Tanner just grinned, shaking his head as he mounted up onto his horse.
"You done for now? Or should I wait till that next wave comes?" He asked grinning openly at the Southerner.
Ezra glanced at him and Vin saw the gratitude in his eyes before Standish laughed.
"Yes Mr Tanner, I believe that I am done for now..." he stopped his eyes seeing something in the brush, quickly dismounting he walked over.
"Well all right then..." Vin replied as he watched curiously as Ezra leant down before quickly stepping back, his face draining of colour.
"What is it?" Tanner asked quickly, moving to join his friend who shook his head, his eyes never leaving what he saw.
Vin stopped, his heart quickening as he looked at what had made the other man freeze.
"Holy...," he breathed as he grabbed a bandanna and lifted the severed hand up slightly, it was a lady's hand, slender and pale.
"I believe Vin, that would be what we were missing," Ezra said hollowly, his shocked green eyes meeting the trackers.
"Come on, he could still be around," Tanner said roughly as he stared intently at the hand.
He felt the curious gaze from the gambler and he explained. "Blood's still fresh," He said pointing at the gruesome wrist.
Standish nodded, licking his lips nervously before he said pointing at the fingers. "She was rich, for her fingers had rings; see the lines..." the buckskin man nodded. Both eyed the hand for a moment, before Vin stood up, eyeing the area. "No blood, means it wasn't done here, only blood is in that area where you saw it...." Standish nodded in agreement.
"Come on," Vin said looking at the hand again, noting the placement of the fingers. . His eyes dark as they met the Southerner's, who was thinking the same thing, for they pointed the same way as the tracks. North.
"Lets ride," Ezra drawled as the tracker mounted up; neither looked again at the hand, both staying silent as they nudged their horses forward to the north, neither wanted to contemplate what they would next find on this path.
+ + + + + + +
Nathan didn't look at the other men as he roughly pulled Kate Stokes off the horse. Ignoring her cry of pain as she stumbled, rolling her ankle as she landed unevenly. His mind still saw the deathly bloody figure of Rain. He felt a hand grab his arm and he bit back the cry of pain as he was forced to let go of his vicious hold on the blonde woman's arm.
The man heard the voice of the preacher, and Nathan was suddenly aware that the large man was restraining him. Kate sagged limply in Wilmington's arms, her head bowed as strands of blonde hair hid her face.
Turning his head, Nathan glanced at Chris who stood in front of him. He shook his head, his expression one of horror and disbelief.
"Chris, she killed her " He whispered brokenly, the enormity suddenly crashing down on him. He felt his legs buckle, but Sanchez held him steady.
"Who?" The blond man questioned, his eyes meeting the preacher's before drifting to Kate who looked small and defeated in the ladies man's grasp.
"Rain " He stopped unable to continue, shutting his eyes as the image washed over him again.
"WHAT!" JD exclaimed staring in absolute shock at Kate, the sister of the woman who'd shot him, his hand strayed unconsciously to his stomach.
Jackson opened his eyes that were filled with unshed tears. " She killed her" He murmured desperate to be away from them, from their sympathy. Nathan could see the understanding and pain in the other men's eyes and he felt it hit him again in the stomach. A loss so deep, he felt like he was dying. His eyes strayed to Kate again, and anger took control once more.
"I'll see you burn in hell KATHRYN STOKES, you hear me!" Nathan shouted enraged struggling frantically in the preachers strong hold.
"Get him out of here," Chris ordered observing the townsfolk watching the scene with interest. He caught sight of Mary standing slightly away from everyone, her face set tight in grief as she remembered her own loss. Chris pulled his jacket closer to him- the wind was getting up. Chris turned away from Mary's sad eyes, his heart heavy that another member of his new family had lost someone that they had loved.
Buck gently helped Kate into the cell, her face imparting no emotion, she observed around her surroundings impassively. There were bruises marking her neck and he could see a new scar in her hairline. He frowned at that, but his mind still burned with the words that Jackson had imparted.
"Kate, what happened?" Buck asked gently, instinctively knowing that she hadn't done it. For he had felt her tremble in fear at the healers words.
Sombre blue eyes stared up at him as she shifted back on the cot gingerly feeling her ankle. "It don't matter now," she declared resigned to her fate.
Buck knew then what was different about this woman - the fire and the will to continue living had vanished. Whatever had happened out there had defeated her.
"Kate, you gotta help me here, because right now it ain't looking too good," Buck drawled reaching out to touch her cheek gently, but stopped when he saw her flinch back.
"When has it ever?" She returned flatly, turning away from him, she rolled over and stared at the wall. The last time she had been in this cell, her sister had died. She breathed out sadly, feeling the familiar ache of loss when she thought about Mady. It looked like maybe she'd be joining her now.
Buck sighed heavily, rising to his feet he moved out of the cell. Glancing back once at the woman who laid curled on the cot, eyes closed. Turning back, Buck paused noting JD standing in the doorway. A dark scowl lit his face as he gazed intently at Kate. His eyes burned with an anger as he locked gazes with Buck, before he shook his head and stormed away.
"Awl hell," Buck muttered to himself, he had a real bad feeling that things were about to take a turn for the worse.
+ + + + + + +
The tracker signalled that his companion should stop riding, both men shared a look. Something wasn't right. Dismounting they made their way through the trees, guns drawn. Tanner indicated that he would go right. They both could hear it now, the soft moans and pleas.
Ezra moved silently taking the left as they cornered their prey. He could see Vin and nodding that he was ready, he raised his gun.
Both men froze in shock as they stared at the gruesome tableau that lay before them. The lady lay blindfolded tied to the ground. She gave one more last agonised breath, then was still. Even as her blood continued to stain her dusky pink dress. They could see that her ankles had been broken to stop her from running.
Standish moved forward slowly, his emerald eyes meeting the sky blue ones, as both stared at her. Each thinking the same thought, he could still be around. Vin's eyes expertly searched the ground before he swore, seeing that any evidence of the killer had been brushed away.
"He's cleaned up his tracks," Vin stated frustrated turning back to where the gambler knelt head bowed beside the dead body. His face pale.
"Ezra?" he questioned softly as Standish stood to face him, as he licked his lips nervously.
"If we had arrived sooner," He said softly as he looked at his friend.
Tanner sighed as he shook his negatively. "She just would of died sooner " He paused their was something strangely familiar about all of this. He just wished he could figure out what it was.
"Come on Ezra, lets get her back to town" Vin drawled softly, gently prodding the man back to their horses.
+ + + + + + +
JD thumped his hand angrily on the wooden table in his room. He felt a rage that he couldn't explain seeing Buck being kind to that... that - woman - it had infuriated him. "Well, it just wasn't right. Especially with Nathan losing Rain like that. It just wasn't right," he said sinking down on the floor. His hand rubbed his stomach, even through the layers of cloth he could feel the scars that marked where the bullet had entered his body. JD leant his head back against the wall, trying to take a deep calming breath. He didn't want to infect Nathan with his rage- the poor man was already distraught enough.
JD rubbed his face and stood, wishing that he could go talk to Buck about his feelings. The trouble was he just didn't know if Buck could handle it - not after the last few weeks. Sure, Buck seem to be doing okay. But hell, how could he trust him again? He shook his head. 'Best go find Chris and see what's happening.' He decided, striding to the door. Kate had to get what she deserved - if she had killed Rain, JD would stand right beside Nathan at the hanging and support his brother when he needed it most.
+ + + + + + +
Nathan shuddered, drawing in a shaky breath. He accepted the weak tea that Josiah had hastily brewed, blowing on it softly before taking a tentative sip.
Chris stood in the doorway of the Church. "Nathan? Can you tell us what happened?" His took his hat off and held it in his hands. Nathan raised his eyes to look at Chris, his eyes dark and wretched.
"Take your time, brother," Josiah encouraged gently, laying a large comforting hand on Nathan's shoulder. "Whenever you're ready."
Nathan fumbled with the tea, in his hands. The cup felt too hot, but right now he needed to feel something tangible. He felt numb. "Y'all knew that I rode out to see Rain... hadn't seen her in awhile and I guess I missed her..," he paused staring absently at the dark liquid. A slight pressure on his shoulder drew him back to them. "I...I. when I rode in, I felt like something was wrong. Village was quiet - and there was a strange horse that I hadn't seen before. I can remember calling Rain's name and then I saw them, she was there- next to Rain blood all over hands. Don't remember much after that... I tried to save her, there was nothing--" His voice cracked on the words, his pain wrapping and enveloping the two men listening.
+ + + + + + +
Buck Wilmington leant against the sheriff's office wall. He wondered briefly how Nathan was doing, his heart aching for his friend. His eyes caught sight of JD talking to Casey, things were certainly different between those two - he couldn't quite put his finger on it, but Buck was certain that something about their relationship had changed without either Casey or JD realising it. He noted the animation on JD's face and he squinted his eyes wondering what exactly the younger man was saying.
" Huh?" He turned dragging his mind back to the present. He saw Mary standing near him wearing a concerned expression. Buck raised an eyebrow at the tray she was holding, and she smiled half-heartedly, lifting the tray a little as she explained.
" I thought Miss Stokes might enjoy something to eat..," she trailed off as she looked at him a little worriedly. "Are you all right, Mr Wilmington?" she asked gently, resting the tray on her hip.
"Fine Mary." Buck smiled genially although it didn't reach his eyes, both of them knew he was lying. Mary nodded in understanding, she may not have known Rain too well, but she knew Nathan. She bit her lip wishing suddenly that he hadn't didn't have to live through that kind of grief. Her eyes shimmered briefly with unshed tears and she turned her head away from Buck, he did not need her pain as well. It seemed like only yesterday that she had come home to find Stephen ... 'No! I will not think it now' She berated herself mentally.
"Mary? Why don't you take that into Kate? She's a might upset..," he finished lamely. The woman was accused of murder of course she'd be upset. Who wouldn't be?
The widow nodded her head at the man, moving past him into the dimly lit gaol. Mary had heard that there had been some female bounty hunters in Four Corners. Her travel to Eagle bend had meant that she did not see them personally, but she had returned a day after Kate Stokes departure to the bounty hunter's legacy.
A legacy she was certain that upon the day she met Kate Stokes, she would tell her exactly what she thought of her. A lady going as a bounty hunter! It had been a shock to learn about them through Inez. None of the men had spoken about it. And Mary could not blame them it was a sad story the bounty hunters had shared with the Seven. Mary halted, taking in the weary figure on the bed and her heart went out to her. Kate Stokes had been a victim of circumstance. How could this woman be a killer? When she had fought against killing so desperately upon her first visit?
Mary smiled, cheerily realising that the woman couldn't see her with her back turned to the doorway. "Hello there, I brought you something to eat. I thought-"
"Don't want it" came the soft-spoken words, tired, flat and weary. Mary frowned, hardly sounded like a person capable of murder. But, then again neither had the men who had killed her husband. Mary pushed back her hair absently, she felt a compassion for the woman and that made her confused.
"Well, it's here if you need it," Mary replied gently resting the tray on the desk. The woman turned then and Mary frowned in surprise.
The woman would have been beautiful dressed in something other than the men's clothing she was wearing. Yet Kate was still pretty, but there was such a bleakness in her eyes that was disconcerting. Mary knew that look. She had seen it in the mirror after Stephen had died. The widow knew immediately that this woman had not killed Rain, she didn't have it in her. Her early doubts and misgivings vanished in the face of that one realisation. "Kate? Would you like to freshen up?" Mary asked cautiously.
Kate frowned, quietly assessing the petite woman standing on the other side of the bars. "Why?" She asked flatly, her eyes hard. Kate didn't want pity or compassion - because it forced her to feel things herself. She couldn't allow that right now, especially now.
"Well, I-" Mary paused, and then smiled disarmingly. "I'm not sure, I know how dirty I feel after a trip so I was thinking that maybe you feel the same way."
Kate was still for a moment before standing and limping to the edge of the bars. "Well you're right about that lady."
"Well then, I guess Mary I could use a bath... been a long time since I had one," Kate drawled softly, her wide blue eyes seeking out any sign this woman was deceiving her.
Mary smiled at her response. "Good. Let's get you cleaned up."