Vin Tanner moved carefully along the path, he knew that he was closing the distance. He was thankful that the rain hadn't gotten any heavier.
He paused, hearing a slight scream and echo around him. He couldn't pinpoint the location, cocking his head he analysed the ground below him. The dirt was sunken and damp and there were hoof prints marking the ground. Keppel had stopped here, Vin concluded, the hoof prints were deeper. Like a horse had been still for a while. He perused the ground again briefly, checking his findings. He paused seeing an object dully glinting up at him. A small ring. Dismounting, he picked it up and a half smile crossed his face.
Kate was a bounty hunter; she had dropped the ring on her finger. She was still alive. It was also an indicator that Keppel wasn't stopping anymore. He swung up onto his horse and made his way forward. He knew that there wouldn't be any more traps.
Keppel was running out of time.
+ + + + + + +
The preacher and the gambler sat stunned, Ezra's screamechoing around them in the dense vegetation. Ezra bit back the fear that encased him, 'please don't let him be dead.'
Ezra moved quickly, dismounting and hurrying over to JD, relief flooding through him when he saw the younger man carefully raising himself to his knees, a hand holding his head.
"You okay?" Ezra asked worriedly, kneeling in the mud as he rested an arm around the trembling man.
JD didn't respond, trying to get his lungs to work again. He felt Josiah come to stand in front of him.
"JD?" he asked, his voice heavy laden with concern as he bent his large frame down to peer intently at the man.
JD gazed at the man seeing double, "I'm fine," he muttered deciding to stare in the middle between the two wavering forms of the preacher.
Standish's hands gently felt the slight wound in his hairline, before examining the man further. Dunne would have pushed him away, but he didn't have the energy.
"Well... Mr Dunne," Ezra drawled, relief colouring his voice as he helped the man to stand on his wobbly legs. JD tightened his grip painfully on the gamblers forearm, while Josiah tried to settle the skittish horse.
"Just got the wind knock out of me," JD said softly, his heading already pounding.
"And perhaps a slight concussion?" Ezra concurred as he wrapped an arm around the man's waist, helping him to gather his strength.
JD thought about refusing that as he wobbled towards his horse, aided by the gambler.
"Maybe," he finally agreed as the surroundings began to whirl around him. He thankfully sank to the ground, the cool drops of rain seeming like heaven on his face.
"Ezra?" Josiah questioned softly, moving over to the con man as he examined the log that had caused their young friend so much grief.
"I don't believe that our illustrious villain set this, it has weathered...its knots are also very familiar... I think we are indeed the culprits in this unfortunate venture." Seeing the curious gazes that fell upon it, he explained. " We did it when we helped defend the Seminole village..." Standish drawled, as he looked intently at the frayed end of the rope.
Sanchez watched Ezra finger it gently. The rain had eased slightly, but not enough. Their route was becoming more treacherous.
"Yeah, well... wish somebody had warned me," JD said, head in his hands, trying to ease the sudden nausea that was rolling in his stomach.
Sanchez wanted to use this brief interlude to discuss what lay between him and Maude Standish's son. He would have, but he couldn't find the words. He felt estranged from this prodigal son. He wondered if perhaps he viewed the gambler as a son, as he did JD. Maybe that's where he was wrong?
"We need to get moving." A sharp southern drawl cut through his cloudy confused emotions. As the gambler strode by to help JD up onto his horse.
Ezra was so gentle and concerned; it was with regret that he felt surprise at this. Why was he feeling further away from his so called family, why was he, the preacher, unable to help his family.
"Josiah!" Standish called impatiently; they didn't have much time. Why was the preacher standing their looking lost? He stopped that thought, he knew perhaps that his patience with the man was wearing thin. And he didn't want to lose control; not yet.
The three men moved forward down the path, each man lost in their own web of worry and pain. No one wanted to think of what they may find when they arrived back in the town.
+ + + + + + +
The Southern woman watched as the weary widow left Nathan's clinic for the third time in as many minutes. Standing, she made her way over to the fatigued widow as she was about to enter the Clarion.
"Mrs Travis," Maude greeted.
Mary turned startled, her heart leaping. She smiled wanly at the Southern belle, hoping her fright wasn't too obvious. "Mrs Standish."
Maude reached out a tentative hand. "How is he?"
Mary blinked back tears as she regarded the woman before her. "We don't know if Buck will make it," she said her voice deepening with her distress.
Maude nodded slowly, her eyes drifting past the widow to gaze at the grey skyline. "Awful. That a man would do such a thing," she concurred, her eyes also shining with unspoken emotion. Mary paused, assessing the con woman. There was something different- she looked defeated and forlorn. Mary sighed, she remembered that feeling.
"Yes. I don't know what this town will do if we lose him," she whispered, a tear trailing down her cheek. She brushed it aside roughly. Maude smiled sympathetically, her hand touching Mary's arm tentatively.
"You're looking a little pale their, child. How about I fix you a cup of tea?" She said, leading the weary widow into her office.
"Thank you, that would be nice," Mary said, her pale eyes widening in surprise at the lack of destruction in her office. "What?" She asked confused.
Maude smiled self-consciously. "I... uh... I had some of the town's people come and help clean it up. They heard the ruckus anyway... after all it's the least they could do after..," she stopped, embarrassed, her hands resting on the wooden working table.
"It was very thoughtful," Mary replied, touched. "Who helped?"
"Mrs Potter, Inez, and several of the men... they were most generous. I don't know how I would have done it."
Mary smiled. "It was most kind. Now how about that tea?" She inquired heading into the kitchen, where she saw a new set of cups, bowls, and plates placed on the table. "Oh Maude, you shouldn't have."
Maude shrugged her shoulders delicately. "It was nothing."
Mary raised an eyebrow as Maude began to move efficiently about the kitchen, boiling the water and making the tea. It was several minutes before either woman spoke again. Maude helped the widow slice the cake. She placed several large pieces on a plate in front of the widow. Maude smiled. "After all you've been through lately, I just bet you haven't been eating."
Mary went to object, but then realised that since the attack she hadn't really eaten anything. One mouthful of the delicious cake proved the Southerner right.
"Mary..," Maude began uncertain at how to continue. Mary nodded encouragingly and Maude shook her head taking a deep breath. "I'm leaving on the next stage..." She raised a hand to forestall the interruption she could see brimming on the newspaper woman's lips. "He ordered me to leave..." She glanced away from the pale eyes and they came to rest on a dime store novel... Funny, she remembered reading that and being so proud. Now it was all she had to remember him by.
"Maude-" Mary began.
"I can't fault him for his reaction. So I will respect his wishes and leave." She swallowed hard as her voice cracked, betraying her emotions.
"Why don't you tell me what happened?" Mary entreated, leaning both forearms on the table.
Maude shook her head, tears in her eyes. "Mary, I... he hates me," she finished, her face falling at the realisation.
Mary ducked her head for a moment, looking away from the emotional distress of the other woman. "Maude, you hurt him so deeply. I saw it... Ezra was devastated. If I am to help you both, I need to understand everything. Why didn't you tell him?"
Maude stood moving to the window to stare out at the street. "I didn't want to cause him more pain...in the process I've lost my only child," she said laughing, an awful painful sound. Mary winced.
"Tell me," she commanded.
Maude turned at the order. "After my first husband died, I became a governess to a well respected Southern family..," she began.
+ + + + + + +
Sanchez followed the wavering form in front of him, the rain had stopped but their path had become almost a river of mud, slippery. He spent his time concentrating on the ground, determined not to let his faithful horse slip... his mind trying to rid itself of the terrible sound of Chris's horse dying. Then there was Buck. He had survived too much for him to die now. Their team would never be the same. Buck provided something to the group, optimism tinged with knowledge. Something that JD was also learning.
He looked up wondering what that sound was, before his stomach rolled in fear. His blue eyes widening at the large expanse of river in front of him.
"Gentlemen, I do believe we are at an impasse, it would seem the bridge that I was counting on has fallen by the wayside." Standish's southern drawl reached through the fog of fear that was swamping the preacher',s mind.
Dunne sighed as he slid of his horse looking at the gambler and back to the bridge that now lay buried in the water.
Ezra bit back a swallow of disgust. His green eyes falling on the preacher; he didn't look good. He watched startled as the big man fell from his horse and vomited behind the nearest tree. His large physique visibly trembling from where they stood.
"Josiah," he called, moving over to the man as he sank down in the mud, his back to the river.
"Go away," Sanchez rumbled, fear being enveloped in anger.
"No," Standish responded, sharing a confused look with JD whom rubbed at his head tiredly.
"You should. I bet you're enjoying this, getting me back for the fact that I hurt you, is that right?" Sanchez rumbled angrily, his back rigid as his hands tightened over his knees.
"Getting you back?" Standish repeated bewildered, his brows furrowed in confusion. What was the man talking about?
"Well, you win!" Josiah said, eyes clenching shut all he could hear was the water. The water and his younger brother of 5 years, Mark. Mark was the middle child, who spent most of his days trying to diffuse the tension that lay between his elder brother and his father.
"What are you talking about?" Standish drawled, trying to understand the quiet muttering that now came from the preacher.
Josiah was lost in the past, he could still feel the water over him, its suffocating coldness as he tried to save his brother. Tried to help him, tried to pull him out of the water, things had changed after that. His sister had changed, as had he.
"My brother!" he snapped fiercely, longing to turn around to face them, but he couldn't if he turned around he would see his brother.
"Your brother?" JD repeated stunned, he didn't know that Josiah had a brother. He saw the gambler pale, as the implication became clear to him. Ezra's green eyes traveled back to the river as he drawled, "Your brother drowned."
Sanchez flinched, head bowing as a shudder racked his body.
"I couldn't save him," he whispered darkly, voice so heavy with self-hatred it made both men wince to hear it.
"I'm sure you did all you could," Ezra said calmly, his mind keenly aware that they had to get across the river to back the tracker up. He wouldn't let Vin face Keppel alone.
"You're sure," Sanchez mocked, shaking his head as he pushed his hat off. The first few drops of rain began to fall again, making him start.
"I'm sure," Ezra repeated, trying to calm the distraught man in front of him.
"You don't know that!" He roared angrily. "You weren't there, how can you know, Ezra?" his eyes closing in pain.
"I know you, Josiah," Ezra said firmly, green eyes locked firmly onto the blue ones that swung to him in surprise.
"You know me," the preacher mocked, his blue eyes darkening. "You kno..." he began to say again, but Ezra interrupted, his hand flying up to cut off what ever the man might say.
"I know you, Josiah Sanchez," Ezra said adamantly. "I know that right now, you hate yourself for hurting me, for what's happening with Buck, Chris, all of us," he paused taking a deep breath. "You hate that you let your anger escape, and most of all I know that what you said you said because you wanted to help me." Ezra stopped this time, he could no longer hold the gaze of the preacher in front of him. He stared at the ground, his breathing suddenly fast. "And I know that you are a good man who would move heaven and earth to help someone in need."
His words seem to hang in the air between them, and JD held his breath wondering if the preacher would believe the olive branch that the gambler was offering.
Sanchez rose to his feet, his back still to the river, but he turned his head to the con man. He said softly, "Maybe you're right."
Ezra shook his head, a small smile crossing his face as he replied, "Maybe, Mr Sanchez? I do protest, I always bet on a winner and you are it".
Josiah smiled, nodding his head.
Dunne let out the breath he hadn't been aware that he was holding.
"Guys," he asked softly, eyes turning back to the river, the running water making him feel queasy forcing him to look away. He caught Standish watching him worriedly.
"I believe it would be more fortuitous if you venture back the way we came, and just follow the other path towards the Seminole Village," Ezra drawled, moving over to his horse, checking him over.
Josiah and JD mounted their horses, beginning to move up the path from whence they came before they were aware that Standish stood by his horse examining his saddle.
He gazed up at them, his face serious. "You go, I'll catch up, we mustn't let Vin be without back up." The use of the hunter's first name let them know he would brook no argument on this one.
Sanchez nodded slowly, eyes sliding away from the river. Clicking his horse forward, they both disappeared from view.
Ezra waited a beat longer, making sure his horse was ready. He rolled his jacket up and placed it in his saddlebag. Tying his hat to the side, he began to manoeuvre the horse into the water.
Sanchez stopped, reigning his horse in as both JD and he shared the same thought. 'You go' Ezra's words echoed in their heads.
"Damn it," JD muttered, whirling his horse around, ignoring how it made his head spin.
They both froze as they saw the gambler in the middle of the river with his horse swimming strongly underneath him.
JD who had been battling against the blackness that threatened to win, slumped forward, everything spinning uncontrollably as he felt terror for the gambler. He wanted to keep his eyes open, but he couldn't as he fell forward.
Josiah felt his heart leap into his throat. "Oh God," he breathed, eyes closing as he fought the memory of his father pulling out Mark's lifeless body. Except now he could see Ezra's body, cold, blue tinged, eyes open and staring sightlessly at nothing. He was unaware of the scream that launched from his throat as he opened his eyes, seeing Ezra no where. He saw JD slumped in his saddled and tried to speak, but found he could find no words. What had happened? Where was Ezra?
"JD," he breathed, resting a trembling hand on the brown hair before his eyes saw the hat as it floated down stream. 'Oh god' Ezra was dead just like Mark.
Dunne raised his head blearily to look at the preacher beside him as he asked, "Did he make it?"
"I don't know," Josiah whispered, shaking his head, eyes still watching the black felt hat disappeared down stream.
+ + + + + + +
The steady rise and fall of Buck's chest was reassuring to both Nathan and Chris. It meant that he was still alive, at least for now.
The fever was still raging within the man's body and with each passing moment, Nathan felt like he was fighting a losing battle. Reaching over, he gently washed down Buck's cheeks and forehead before replacing the rag over his forehead. Buck didn't look peaceful in repose at the moment, Rain had. The thought rocked him for a moment. She had died in such pain, but in the end she had found peace. Rain had died peacefully. He felt his heart thump wildly at the thought of Rain's last moments.
Standing abruptly, Nathan nodded at Chris once before striding to the door and exiting the Clinic. He felt like he was suffocating with grief. Nathan rubbed his eyes tiredly, if Buck died... No. Nathan shook his head, his hands clenching around the damp, cool railing. He couldn't let Buck die, if he did... Well, Nathan just knew that part of him would die with him. He had lost his love too soon. He couldn't lose a friend too soon as well. He just couldn't.
+ + + + + + +
Buck groaned softly, his eyes fluttering open. He eyed the Clinic with some confusion. Struggling to raise himself up, he let out a gasp of pain as agony assailed him. Chris leaned forward placing a steadying hand on his chest. "Its okay, Buck. It's okay."
Buck's fevered eyes met the gunman's for a moment before flashing past him to look at the room again. "Where the hell are we? Sarah? Adam?"
Chris flinched internally, but pasted a reassuring smile on his face. "They're fine. Adam's getting bigger..."
Buck frowned, his eyes bewildered and full of pain, he tried to reach out and grab Chris's arm as the gunslinger leaned back. "There was a fire... I made you stay... we got-" he stopped as his wound pulled at him with his movements. He lay back, his breath shuddering in and out. "My fault," he said softly, tears forming and running down his cheeks.
"No," Chris said firmly. "Nothing we could've done could've saved them."
Buck tossed his head from side to side in denial. "No," he whispered. "No good..," he muttered.
Chris cursed softly, grabbing his old friend by the chin, forcing Buck to look at him. He nearly flinched at the physical and emotional pain he saw there. "Listen to me, Buck. You ain't no good...Don't let them win. Don't. You're better than that, better than them."
"What's going on?" Nathan asked softly. Chris's head snapped up; he hadn't been aware that the black man had returned. Chris glanced back at Buck who was breathing shallowly and who was obviously confused at who Nathan was.
"He's awake," he answered softly.
Nathan was at the bedside quickly, pulling down the blanket to check the wound. "How you feeling, Buck? Do you want something for the pain? Where are you hurting?"
Buck looked at him for a moment, his confusion obvious to the two men. "Nathan?" He asked softly, gasping as he felt the fire of the wound again. "I hurt all over. Fowler...was working for Ella wasn't he?" He questioned suddenly, startling the others with the abruptness of the question.
Nathan frowned, feeling the heat still residing in Buck's body. "Don't go thinking on that now, ya hear. Just think about getting well," he ordered. Turning to Chris, he sighed. "He's burning up. Help me get some laudanum down him for the pain... I've got a mixture that I want give him for the fever."
Chris nodded, keeping his hand on Buck's chest to stop him moving. "You've been a good friend to me Buck, don't ever forget that," Chris said quietly, ignoring the perplexed look that Buck gave him.
"Sit him up," Nathan said quietly, seating himself on the edge of the bed and pouring some of the herbal mixture down the wounded man's throat. "That should help with the fever and pain."
Buck scrunched up his face in distaste at the flavour. "That's the worst thing I've ever tasted," he slurred, his eyes closing slowly as the mixture began to take effect.
Nathan smiled. "I know. You say that every time."
Buck eyes flew open briefly. "Really? But this is my first time here, isn't it?" His eyes slid shut before either of the two men could answer.
Nathan sighed, brushing the back of his head as he watched the man sleep. Buck seemed to be in less pain; that was a good sign. Now, all they had to do was get this damn fever down.
Chris leaned back in his chair, his hand remaining on Buck's chest. He had to reassure himself that the other man was still alive. He needed Buck to survive. If he could will it he would, but this was Buck's fight and Chris couldn't help but worry that he might not be strong enough to win.
"Gotta break this fever soon," Nathan murmured, brushing the damp hair off Buck's face. "Otherwise..." He didn't finish, unwilling to say the words aloud. After a long silence, Nathan glanced over at Chris. "He's flashing in and out. Has he actually recognised where he is?"
Chris met the gaze sadly. "No."
Nathan clenched his teeth in frustration. "Damn."
"Nathan," Chris paused, almost afraid to ask the next question. "If it don't break soon?"
"He'll-" Nathan answered, swallowing hard at the bile that rose with the statement.
"Come on Buck, fight it... please" Chris whispered plaintively to the unconscious man.
+ + + + + + +
The horse cantered that last few yards as if sensing that its journey was nearly at an end. Keppel didn't mind, he was just pleased to see the place was as deserted as he had left it the day before.
The residents of the small community had fled to the hills when he had come. He had become one of them, and then he had slowly but surely made sure that the very things that united them drove them apart. Keppel had watched as one by one they had begun to believe the lies he had spread amongst the gullible men and women. Only that black girl had called him on his lies and manipulations, and for that she had paid a very dear price. Keppel grinned, raising his head up to greet the rain. This little one had interrupted him. His grip tightened and Kate sucked in a sharp breath. Oh, she was a feisty one all right. He liked that all right. Keppel chuckled softly. "Fight me if you want. It all ends up the same way in the end, my dear."
Kate cursed him darkly, and Keppel laughed again. A grating sound that made her skin crawl. He toyed with the knife in his hands, as the horse slowed upon reaching the centre of the Seminole Village. Sliding down, he pulled Kate off the horse roughly. "Come along. Its time to start the next part of the game."
Kate glared at him defiantly. "You won't win."
Keppel met the challenge with a sinister smile. "Look around, my dear. No one's here, I won here... over fifty people lived in this village and I one man made them leave." He played the knife down Kate's cheek in a promise of pain. Kate jerked her head away from the knife. Her eyes flew about the damp town, the bastard was right. There was no one here. He had driven them all away she realised with a frown. He couldn't have killed them all...could he?
Reading the question in her eyes, he shrugged his shoulders. "I made them believe the lies about each other... and after a while the town fell apart. No one can prosper on lies... You my dear, should know that."
"You Bastard! Rot in hell!" She spat, the dress dragging in the mud as she was propelled into a hut.
"After you, my dear. After you," he returned.
+ + + + + + +
Josiah edged his horse closer to JD's. Raising the younger man's head up, he raised two fingers up. "How many?"
JD frowned trying to focus. "Four?"
Josiah sighed. "Close enough. Let's see if we can still back Vin up," he said, avoiding looking at the river as they manoeuvred the horses up the trail.
Ezra dead, Buck dying. He shook his head, when would it end. If he could just have saved them somehow. Maybe if he got to help Vin... maybe then he would find redemption. Josiah brushed at his eyes, trying to halt the tears that threatened to fall.
"What the hell," he exclaimed angrily. Dismounting Josiah moved forward, the trail was blocked. Then how did Vin get through? Holy mother of mercy? Did they take the wrong path? Pausing for a second he ignored the slumped form of JD on the horse.
"Josiah?" JD said, his voice laced with pain. "We went the right way. This tree must've fallen afterwards... with the rain that fell."
Josiah nodded slowly. "Yes," he rumbled in reply, crouching down to examine the fallen tree branch. "Yes indeed... It appears we will be unable to provide support to Vin... and Ezra," he added lamely.
JD nodded. "You think Buck's okay?" Brown eyes wide and uncertain as he reached forward to stroke his horses mane. The animal seemed to sense the agitation of his master and neighed in response.
"I pray so," Josiah returned, looking up to the heavens in a silent prayer to God, entreating him to watch over the men he had come to care so much about. "Come on Son, let's get you back so Nathan can check you out."
"I'm fine," JD said shortly, but then smiled tremulously at the other man. "Maybe heading back couldn't hurt..."
Josiah gave him what he hoped was a reassuring smile. "Will be there for Buck if nothing else," he said as he smoothly mounted and led the way back to the town. 'I pray that I see no crows tonight.' He thought, watching as JD urged his horse to canter. He waited a beat, then nudged the flank of his horse, cantering to keep up and wondering what they'd find upon their return.
+ + + + + + +
Maude stared at the petite widow incredulously. "You can't be serious. He ordered me to leave. This is one wish that I am going to keep."
Mary shifted in her seat tiredly. "Maude, I understand everything and I can't begin to imagine what you are feeling. But, Ezra can't return and find that you have disappeared on him... even though he ordered you to leave. I think on some level that Ezra is testing you. Testing your faith in him."
Maude breathed out deeply, rising from her seat she paced the length of the small kitchen. She was unaware of the streaks of tears that had marked her face in small lines of white. "Mary... I just can't hurt him again," she said finally, her heart breaking. "I love him too much to do that."
Mary nodded, rising to intercept the woman's pacing. Even if Ezra was not her 'real' son, she could at least see that he had inherited the need to pace his surroundings when he was agitated. "You won't. You have to tell him the whole truth. He will understand... trust me," she entreated earnestly. "Its a misunderstanding ... a very painful and hurtful misunderstanding to all," she amended.
Maude looked away from Mary, coughing uncomfortably as she tried to rein in her emotions. Seeing her distress, Mary reached and drew the stubborn woman into a gentle hug. Both drew a measure of comfort from the contact.
It was a moment before they both drew back. Maude glanced at Mary's drawn countenance and frowned suddenly. "My dear child. You look awful. Go on and rest. I'll see to your Billy. Go on, after all that you've been through today... I am surprised that you are still awake."
Mary hesitated, but finally consented Maude's request. "You know, you're right. I am a little tired. Can you wake me in an hour or so? I would like to check on Buck soon."
Maude nodded, glancing at her watch and noting the time. "Well, run along then. I'll wake you in an hour."
+ + + + + + +
Ezra shivered as the wind tore at his wet clothing. The roar of the water overpowering any other noise around him, meant he didn't hear the scream that tore from Josiah's throat as he stood in the dense vegetation on the other side of the river.
His mind was solely focused on getting warm. He squeezed his clothing trying to rid himself of the excess water in his clothes. Fetching a dampish rag from his saddlebag, he quickly rubbed down the chestnut beauty, who stamped its feet on the ground, aware of the urgency of his master.
Stiff fingers pulled on his coat, thankful that while wet, it was a little warmer.
Ezra glanced about him for a moment, then decided to walk a little up the incline to the village. Ezra wasn't aware that his hat had been lost, he just knew that he needed to get to Vin. It wasn't too far now, the village was in sight. Quietly mounting, he made his way forward concluding that Tanner would be around the other side. He caught sight of the small hut and paused, his mind flicking onto the images of Keppel.
"Hey, Ez," a voice whispered suddenly beside him and he turned his head not surprised to see the tracker, his blue eyes keenly watching the ground below them.
"You made it," Tanner greeted once he had neared the other man. Vin could see the slight shivers that raked the man's form, knowing immediately that Standish had swam the river to make it across.
"I did. Young Mr Dunne had an unfortunate incident with a log and Josiah could not endeavour to move through the water," Ezra replied quietly, hearing the unspoken question in his friend's voice.
"Reckon they'll make it?" Vin asked as they stealthily moved closer to the village, making sure that the vegetation hid their presence.
"Perhaps," Standish said softly as he checked his guns, pleased to see that the water hadn't done that much damage aside from a quick loosening of the rig. He accepted the dry bullets that Vin offered with a small nod of thanks.
"Josiah has a fear of water?" Vin asked abruptly, his mind flying back to a time when Josiah had insisted that he remain inland to check on the trail, while he went ahead and scouted at the river. Vin had suspected at the time there was more to it then, but had let it slide.
"Indeed," Ezra said simply, emerald green eyes sliding to the man beside him.
Reading the knowledge there, Ezra knew that Vin would accept that truth, but only as much as Ezra would give.
"His brother drowned," Standish said into the soft silence, before turning his attention back to the clearing. Both men held their breaths as they saw Keppel move into the opening, pegging down some stakes as he roughly pulled Kate into the centre of the clearing tying her down to them. Vin glanced at Ezra and then nodded, they needed to get her out before the bastard began to hurt her like he had his other victims.
"I'll go round back," Ezra offered. Tanner agreed, waiting a beat to see Standish find his position deciding that he would have to move as he watched the large axe being pulled from the horse.
Kicking his horse, forward he yelled into the silence "KEPPEL." Tanner's eyes glinted with adrenalin; this man would not get away this time.
+ + + + + + +
The voices didn't stop. They continued to berate him as he walked slowly forward. Buck reached out a trembling hand, everything hurt. He rubbed his brow tiredly, Why did he hurt so much? Looking about him he was startled to see that he was once again in the Saloon, yet this time all his friends were there... Chris, Vin, JD, Ezra, Nathan and Josiah. Buck thought he could see Judge Travis, Mary and Inez in the background. He reached out a hand, but shaking their heads one by one they walked away. Buck watched them go, their words ringing in his ears.
-Ain't ever gonna be anything
-You made Ezra go catatonic.
-All your fault.
"My fault," Buck whispered, his gaze drawn to the ground in sudden confusion, where was all that blood coming from? "Oh god," he murmured, suddenly realising that his shirt was covered in blood. Staggering slightly, he raised a hand and realised that it was covered in blood. He must be dying...
It was then he heard it, a voice calling from the distance, collapsing he realised no one was around to hear him. "No good, they were right."
Hold on, could he hear Chris calling him... Buck gazed about the Saloon wondering why the image of it kept flickering with the Clinic. Damn he was tired. "Chris?" He asked softly.
"Yeah Buck, it's me," Chris said, shaking his friend's shoulder. "You are good enough. Come on back to us, pard." He met Nathan's watchful gaze, "Fever talking, right?'
Nathan nodded, seating himself down opposite Chris. "Buck? Come on back to us, ya hear. Come on, fight it..."
Chris sighed, wiping his friend's brow as Nathan rolled down the blanket so he could check on the wound. "Not bleeding again, that's a relief," Nathan said, reaching over to return the blanket to its original position.
Buck slowly opened his eyes. "Nathan?" He said through a suddenly dry mouth. He was in the clinic, his eyes clouded with confusion; hadn't he just been in the Saloon? He tried to glance about the room to see if he really was in the Clinic,
Nathan's teeth gleamed with the flash of a smile that he offered Buck. "Easy, how you feeling?"
Buck closed his eyes, "Tired. Are they dead?"
Grabbing the wounded man's hands, Chris leant forward. "Who, Buck? Who are you talking about?"
Nathan shook his head at Chris. "He's out again, Chris...ain't nothing we can do at the moment."
Chris nodded as he leant back in his chair. The two men were silent for a second before Chris suddenly jumped up, touching Buck's forehead. Hot, clammy and damp. "I think the fever's breaking," he said gesturing to the beads of sweat. "Is it?" He asked, hating the fact that his hope shone through in his voice.
Nathan quickly reached over, checking the feverish man. "Could be. Could be," he murmured. "It's definitely an improvement, don't go getting excited yet. There's still a long ways to go."
Buck moaned, drawing their attention back to him as he thrashed a little on the bed.
Nathan sighed. "It's a start though," he whispered, standing to crush some more of the medicine together.
+ + + + + + +
Josiah Sanchez reined in his horse as they came to a stop in front of the clinic. His blue eyes didn't register the two women's forms as they exited the Clarion having seen the men ride past.
JD Dunne tried to help his friend as he slid from his horse, but his legs buckled beneath him and his head flopped forward as the ground rose unevenly underneath him.
"Easy," Josiah murmured, lifting the smaller man into his arms, he made his way into the clinic, and his heavy footsteps brought Nathan and Chris out to meet him. He didn't meet their gazes, holding tight onto his own grief, not wanting to tell them about Ezra yet.
"What happened?" Larabee ordered, watching Josiah place the limp form of the young sheriff on the cot.
" Met some of our old traps," Josiah explained, raising his head catching sight of Buck's restless form, he breathed out a sigh of relief. "At least he's still alive," He thought.
He didn't realise he must have spoken aloud, for two shocked anguished expressions turned to him, even as JD exhaled a deep breath rubbing at his eyes.
"Who?" Chris asked hoarsely, feeling as if all oxygen had suddenly left the room.
Sanchez's throat tightened as he forced the words past suddenly stiff lips "Ezra drowned...," he paused, a shaky hand scratched at his chin. He shook his head, tears in his eyes as he tried to speak again. But the lump in his throat was too big and he turned away striding abruptly out of the clinic, needing to escape. He left three devastated men behind.
Buck chose that moment to come lucid, blue eyes roaming around the room as Sanchez's words echoed through his brain, he moaned unable to comprehend the loss of the Southerner. He sought the oblivion again, there was a peace in the dark silence, where hopefully this was another nightmare.
Larabee felt as if he was frozen in place, legs no longer able to understand what their function was, as the knee he was supposed to be staying off folded underneath him, and he felt Jackson's arm catch him helping him to the chair. Neither spoke, both unable to believe the preacher's words.
JD spoke then raising his head, eyes slightly unfocused as he gazed slightly to their right. "We we're going to cross the river... we turned back." Jackson nodded his head, having been privy to the preacher's secret. "But Ezra knew we needed to get to Vin to back him up... he went anyway." JD bit his lip as a tear rolled down his cheek, bowler being turned in his hands. "We just don't know if he made it." He came to a stop, eyes closing as if trying to remember something, forehead crinkling before he spoke. "He could of made it, I just don't know... we saw his hat float down river though," JD finished then. But his words gave them hope, and Jackson nodded his head at Chris. "First light we get some fellas and see if we can find him"
"Find who?" Maude Standish's voice asked as she stood in the doorway, a very pale looking Mary beside her.
"Ezra," Jackson replied seeing the stricken expression that crossed the southern belle's face.
"He's missing?" Mary inquired, seeing that Maude was unable to speak.
"Yeah, may be alive," Larabee stated blue eyes flicking back to the injured man that moaned weakly on the bed again.
"May be alive?" Maude repeated slowly, eyes watching intently the men in the room, noting the absence of the preacher.
No one responded to her question, there was no need. Without a word she turned on her heel and was gone, poker face pulled firmly into place. Ezra would have been proud.
Mary returned her gaze at the men eyes travelling over them all, and she smiled sadly. "I'll make some tea." With a nod, she was gone.