The Greatest Con

(aka: Fighting Babies)


NOTES: Thanks Nancy, Judy, Ronnie & Laura for your input on the "altercation." Thank you, Kerry, for great beta-ing!


"Where the hell is Ezra?"

Vin Tanner grinned at the very familiar question coming from the gunslinger who was approaching where he sat on the boardwalk in front of the saloon. Chris and Ezra were frequently at odds. The gambler having a way of annoying Larabee that was almost a game between them.

"Ya check the roof?" offered the tracker as he kicked out a chair in a silent invitation for the handsome blonde gunslinger to join him.

"Has he taken to hiding out up there again?" Chris shook his head with the question and sat down in the chair the longhaired tracker had offered. He knew Standish sought refuge on the rooftops on occasion, but he could not comprehend taking the risk of falling off the roof just to be undisturbed.

"He could be alone in his room instead of risking his neck up there."

"Nah. It's the same as me going out ta Table Rock. He heads up there when he don't want no one ta bother 'im. Everyone knows where his room is."

Chris snorted, "Everyone knows he hides out on the roof!"

Vin grinned, "I reckon, but not everyone's willin' ta climb up there to git him."

Larabee gave a nod in acknowledgement. The tracker was right. It was an effective deterrent to unwanted visitors. Even Chris wouldn't go climbing on a roof to find Ezra.

"When ya see him," Larabee eyed Vin, "and I know you'll see him, tell him I have a job for him."

"Oh great," complained Vin softly, "stick me right in the middle."

"What was that cowboy?" He had heard the tracker's words, but wanted him to explain himself.

Vin paused, he wasn't sure he wanted to raise Larabee's hackles and tell him to go find Ezra himself, or just keep things on an even keel and go do the job for Chris.

"He ain't gonna like it."

Larabee rolled his eyes, "It's not like I'm condemning the man. I just want him to go to Eagle Bend to pick up a package. He can even stay over night and play some poker, if he keeps outta trouble."

"News like that, I'd think you'd like ta tell 'im," taunted Vin. The longhaired Texan grinned, soft brown curls framing his handsome face. Chris grimaced and rubbed the back of his neck. Vin's grin widened. Larabee was beginning to look truly annoyed. Knowing he was in dangerous waters, Vin tried to contain the snort of laughter that wanted out, but he was unsuccessful at hiding his mirth.

The darkly clad gunslinger turned at the sound and saw glint of amusement in his friend's blue eyes. Vin turned away quickly trying to keep a straight face, but changing his mind he turned back and faced his unknowing victim, bobbing his eyebrows. He was pulling Chris's strings just as Standish had done so many times. Chris rolled his eyes and shook his head with a grin, "You have been spending entirely too much time with Ezra."

Vin grinned and stood up. "I'll see if I can find him."

As the tracker headed back inside the saloon, Larabee hoped Ezra was in a good mood. Tanner didn't act his young age very often, but Standish had better be on guard, 'cause Tanner's wicked sense of humor was wriggling its way free and their tracker was ready to play.


It only took a few minutes for the tracker to locate Standish. He was on the roof of the saloon as suspected. Vin had climbed out a second story window, using the eaves to pull himself up on the roof. It wasn't an easy maneuver and it made the tracker appreciate the gambler's agility. He climbed over the peak and slid himself down the slope toward Ezra.

"Whatya doin' up here, Ez?"

Ezra looked up, startled. He hadn't heard Vin approaching. He quickly closed the book he was writing in. "I could ask the same of you Mr. Tanner."

"That ya could," nodded Vin in agreement. "So what're ya doin'?"

I was trying to be alone," said the con man with a feigned gracious smile. I am a gentleman. I am a gentleman, Ezra repeated to himself, trying to control his annoyance at being disturbed after taking all the effort to climb to this spot.

"I figgered that much," said Vin, taking the smile as an invitation. He scooted down the roof until he was seated next to the well-dressed con man. "But I was talkin' about that there book. Most folks read 'em. You were scribin' in that one."

Ezra sighed and closed his eyes. He really wanted to be alone. He needed to finish his notes, but the taciturn tracker wanted to talk and that in itself was a rarity. Pushing his irritation aside, the green-eyed gambler smiled. "Yes, my friend, this is a journal."


"A book where one records his thoughts or events of the day. A diary if you will."

"Ya scribe yer thoughts in there?"

"Sometimes, Mr. Tanner." As Ezra looked down to put his pen back in its box, the gambler missed seeing the gleam in Vin's eyes.

"Ya scribe things about me in there?" asked the inquisitive tracker. "About Chris 'n the others?"

"I believe I have written some... " Tanner snatched the book from his hand and skittered up towards the peak, cutting off the Southerner's words.

"Mr. Tanner... " Ezra urgently called out. "Vin, that book is private!" he protested. Vin backed up a few more steps and pretended to open the book. No! Vin, please do not read that! Ezra squeezed his eyes closed, silently begging the tracker not to read the journal. The con man was embarrassed that Vin would read the final few entries in the journal and ask him questions that he was not prepared to answer.

"Ezra... "

He brought his eyes up to meet Vin's and perceiving the humor there, Ezra let out the breath he had been holding. Vin was joshing him. The tracker bobbed his eyebrows in invitation. Well, if Vin wanted a chase, he was up to the challenge. He scrambled up the roof running after the tracker who took off down the other side of the peak.


Buck joined Chris on the boardwalk as the two overgrown children scrambled across the rooftop above.

"Mornin' Chris."

The gunslinger was about to step off the boardwalk to cross the street, when he suddenly stopped after catching some sort of movement out of the corner of his eye. He looked up and saw a flash of buckskin followed closely by a flash of crimson leap from the saloon roof to the top of the boarding house. "What the... "

"Was that Vin? ... and Ezra?" asked Buck incredulously. "The fools are gonna kill themselves!"

Larabee sprinted off the boardwalk to the head of the alley followed closely by the tall ladies man. "Vin! Ezra! Get down here now!"


Both men stopped running at the mandate from their leader. Vin turned back to Ezra with a sheepish grin, "I reckon I forgot ta tell ya, Ez, Chris wants ta see ya."

"Wonderful!" replied the Southerner bitterly. He took a step back down the roof and peered over the edge, locating a very rigid, angry looking man at the end of the narrow alleyway. His shoulders drooped and his head lowered as sighed in resignation. I wonder what he thinks I did this time?

Seeing Ezra's dismay, Vin sympathized with the gambler. "Aw hell, Ez, he just wants ya ta go ta Eagle Bend for a package. He even said ya could stay a bit if ya was careful."

Tanner started to walk back down the roof towards Ezra with the journal in his hand. "I weren't gonna read it Ez. I was jest funnin' ya."

Ezra gave a nod and smiled at the tracker who had allowed the boy hidden within him to escape briefly. They had enjoyed a moment of amusement, but now reality in the form of one tall imposing gunslinger beckoned from the alley below them. The con man nodded his head once towards the saloon and Tanner took another step towards him, accepting the unspoken invitation to head back. Their grins were replaced wide-eyed looks of shock as a shingle broke loose under Vin's boot and he began to slide out of control toward Ezra.

"Look out, Ez!" yelled the tracker as he grabbed at the roof in a futile attempt to stop his momentum.

No! Ezra screamed inside as he tried to scramble out of Vin's path unsuccessfully as his own boots skidded across the shingles. There was nothing either man could do as the sliding tracker plowed into Ezra and the force of his weight propelled both men off the roof.

"Noooo!" yelled a horrified Chris as he watched the twosome come hurtling down onto the hard packed soil.

"Buck... " Chris had to choke back his fear and force himself to be rational, "Buck, get Nathan! Now!" As Buck raced towards the clinic yelling for Nathan, the gunslinger ran to the end of the alley where two friends lay in a tangled, motionless heap in the dirt.


Vin was stunned. Blinking several times, he tried to focus. It was dark and he couldn't breathe. He kept trying to take a breath but nothing happened. He couldn't get any air into his lungs. Panic began to creep into his mind, causing him to turn his head seeking the air he couldn't find. Though he didn't yet comprehend it, that simple movement had freed his face from the gambler's chest. Immediately the darkness disappeared and cool air caressed his cheek.

Breathe! The Texan sucked in a big breath through complaining ribs as his body began to respond correctly. Suddenly, Larabee's face was peering into his own. Chris's lips were moving but it took a couple of moments for the sound to make sense.

"Don't move Vin."

"I'm... okay... Chris," Vin gasped. "Jest got the wind... knocked outta me." He moved his left arm as he tried to find a way to push himself up. "Damn!" he hissed through clenched teeth as pain shot up from his left wrist and straight through his arm. "Damn! Damn! Damn!" Instinctively he began to roll to his side to take the pressure off his wrist.

"NO!! Don't move!" Chris commanded as he laid his hand on Vin's shoulder.

Vin looked up at his friend unsettled by his harsh tone. Something was definitely wrong. Fear was written all over Larabee's face, but the tracker's brain wasn't quite registering correctly yet.

"I'm okay Chris."

"I'm glad, Vin. I'm real glad you're okay, but you can't move until Nathan gets here." Chris paused as his eyes drifted to the man pinned beneath Vin, "You might hurt Ezra," he whispered.

"Ezra?" As Vin's muddled thoughts began to clear, he realized that he was lying atop the gambler with his head on Ezra's chest. He also found the location of the con man's knee was making him very uncomfortable. He remembered smacking his wrist hard on the edge of the roof as they fell and figured that he hadn't been seriously injured by the fall itself. Thinking that if the fall had not really hurt him, it wouldn't have hurt Ezra either. He figured that the wily con man was faking being hurt just to get even with him for swiping the book and knocking him off the roof. Vin jokingly said, "Hey Ez, I like ya' n' all, but ya wanna move yer knee?"

Surprised by Vin's comment, Chris realized Vin was really out of it. He tightened his hold on the tracker's shoulders, wanting to keep him from causing more harm to himself or Ezra. "Vin," he said calmly, "Ezra can't hear ya right now. I need you to lie still. Don't move at all."

No! This can't be happening. Chris's tone of voice and the lack of a sarcastic response from Ezra, combined to bring the tracker to the realization that this was no joke. Ezra was hurt, maybe badly, and it was his fault. Vin tried to calm his now pounding heart, and concentrated on staying perfectly still. "Is he okay?"

"I don't know, pard. He's not moving... Just try to stay calm."


"Don't move them!" Nathan called out to Chris as he ran into the alley with Buck and Josiah close behind. Josiah had heard Buck yelling for Nathan and knew there had to be trouble for Buck to be raising such a ruckus.

"What happened?" The healer knelt beside the men and began to examine Vin for injuries.

"They fell off the roof," said Chris evenly, forcing the fear he felt for the gambler to stay hidden.

Nathan glanced up at the roof. It was a long fall, two stories; they could have serious injuries. Seeing that Vin was awake and appeared to be alert, he asked, "Where do ya hurt Vin?"

"I'm okay Nate, it's jist my arm. Ez... " he closed his eyes in dread. "Oh, God... Ez... " he moaned. What have I done? Hell, this is all my fault. The heavy weight of Vin's guilt was evident in the simple whispered words, "Ezra broke my fall."

"It's okay Vin," soothed Nathan as he finished his quick exam of the tracker. He wanted Vin calm and in control, not lost in guilt over an accident. "Y'all give me a hand here. Be real careful of Vin's left arm and his ribs. I want you to pick him up off Ezra real easy like. Vin, I don't want you to move at all. Don't try to help, just let us do it."

Nathan guided the action while Buck, Chris and Josiah followed his instructions to the letter as they gently lifted Vin off the prone gambler. Vin choked back a scream as his injured arm bumped against Buck's chest. They eased him onto his feet, supporting him as he swayed with the blinding pain.

"Take him up to the clinic," ordered the healer, "and bring a board or somethin' to carry Ezra."

Chris hesitated only for a moment. Vin was his best friend, but he couldn't leave Ezra being in such bad shape. He nodded to Buck indicating that the ladies man should take Vin to the clinic while he stayed with Ezra.

"C'mon, Vin. Let's git you upstairs," said Buck as he gently guided Vin toward the clinic. The tracker peered back over his shoulder as they started their slow journey, unable to pull himself from the sight of Ezra lying in the alley as still as death.

"C'mon, Brother Vin. Ezra will be okay. Let's go," encouraged Josiah as he supported the tracker opposite Buck.

"What's goin' on? What happened to Vin?" asked JD anxiously. The sight of Buck and Josiah assisting Vin had caused him to bolt from the Jail.

"Vin and Ezra are hurt, JD. Go over to Tiny's and get a board. We're gonna hafta carry Ezra."

"Right, Buck!" JD flew towards the livery with his fears for his friend as his only companion.

Josiah and Buck helped Vin up the stairs and into the clinic. Josiah guided him onto the cot and pressed him down on mattress. "Brother Buck, you go ahead and help with Ezra. I'll stay here with Vin."

"Okay." Buck squatted down and laid his hand on Vin's knee. "It's gonna be all right Vin."

Vin didn't say a word. He just leaned back with his eyes tightly shut, as if he were trying to shut out everything that had happened.


Nathan's stomach lurched with fear as turned his attention back towards the unmoving Southerner. Ezra was sprawled awkwardly on his back in the dirt. His left shoulder and his head had impacted the door leading to the boarding house root cellar. He could see that Ezra's left arm was dislocated from the odd angle it was in. The healer felt for a pulse and sighed inwardly in relief as he found one. He checked the gambler's extremities for injuries, then moved to his torso, neck and head. Just as he was finishing his preliminary examination, Buck reappeared with JD in the alley carrying the board they would use to transport the unconscious con man to the clinic.

"Okay boys. We need ta git him on that board. Lay it there beside him Buck. That's it. Now, we're gonna lift him onto the board real easy like. Ya understand?" Three heads nodded in response. Following Nathan's instructions carefully, Buck, Chris and JD helped Nathan move Ezra onto the board.

As Nathan was making sure the gambler would not fall off the board during his short journey to the clinic, JD looked around the alley and gathered up Ezra's hat. His eyes caught sight of a small leather bound book lying nearby and the young sheriff quickly picked it up and slipped it into his coat pocket before returning to the injured man's side.

"Okay boys, we're gonna lift on the count of three. One - two - three," called Nathan as they lifted the gambler and headed for the clinic.


"Chris, you and Buck see if you can git that coat off of Vin. Y'all be real careful with Vin's left arm. Josiah, I'm gonna need your help with Ezra here." Nathan didn't wait for their response before throwing out the next order. "Josiah, help me get this coat and shirt off Ezra. JD, git some water boiling."

"Right, Nathan."

Nathan glanced over at Buck and Chris who were fumbling with the tracker's coat. Vin would have to wait. His arm was probably causing excruciating pain for the Texan, but Ezra was more seriously injured. Taking a deep breath, he turned his focus back to the gambler. "Josiah watch his left shoulder, It's prob'ly broke." Josiah nodded somberly as the two carefully maneuvered Ezra out of his jacket.

Josiah went to work on removing Ezra's derringer rigging as Nathan began to examine his patient. He winced when he saw the blood that flowed freely from the deep gash the rigging had torn into the gambler's arm. "Nathan... "

The healer looked up from his examination of the growing lump on the left side of Ezra's head. "Damn," he cursed, "just do the best you can Josiah. You ain't gonna get that contraption off without hurting him more, but it's gotta come off."

Josiah nodded sadly. He hated causing the smaller man any additional pain, but it was necessary. He swallowed hard as he pressed the bent rigging deeper into the wound in order to free it from Ezra's arm.

"How's he doin' Nate?" asked Chris.

Nathan didn't respond. He didn't have time and he didn't have answers. Keeping his head bowed, he worked intently on the oblivious con man.

"Is Ezra gonna be... "

"Out! All of ya, out now!" Nathan snapped at JD's unfinished query. "Ain't got time for questions, and there ain't enough room in here for all of us."

A chill raced up Chris's spine as he exchanged glances with Buck over the tracker's head. Nathan's ill-tempered reaction meant the healer was afraid, and that didn't bode well for Ezra. The gunslinger patted Vin's leg, "I'll be back later." Vin nodded to him as Chris, Buck and JD headed out the door to wait on the balcony.


The head injury worried Nathan. There was nothing that he could do if Ezra was bleeding inside his head. The blood that poured from the knot above his temple was from a superficial cut. He hoped that the vital fluid of life wasn't trapped inside the con man's head, building up pressure that would eventually kill him. He pressed a cloth pad against the wound and wrapped a bandage around the Southerner's head to hold the packing in place.

With Josiah's help, he maneuvered Ezra's dislocated shoulder back into place. It was a difficult procedure made more complicated by the fractured collarbone and broken ribs. Nathan was grateful the gambler was unconscious for what would have been an otherwise excruciatingly painful procedure. Josiah held the con man's shoulder in place as Nathan wrapped his left arm to his chest to prevent movement that would hamper the shoulder from healing.

Moving on to Ezra's injured right arm, Nathan unwound the bandage Josiah had tied around it to stem the flow of blood. He patiently cleaned and stitched the deep gash. With a grim smile, the healer noted the fact that Ezra wouldn't be wearing that derringer rigging for some time until that injury had healed and the rigging was repaired. Sighing again, he finished bandaging the wound and moved his attention to the injured tracker.

Vin sat silently on the cot cradling his left wrist against his stomach, pinned there by his right hand. He gave no sign that he had seen Nathan approach him. His eyes never flicked away from the prone con man.

"Vin, let me look at that arm," said Nathan. When Vin's gaze didn't waiver the healer sighed, recognizing that the tracker was in shock. He gently pried Vin's right hand free so he could examine the left wrist. There was a growing bruise about two inches above the wrist where his arm had impacted on the hard edge of something. Musta hit the edge of the roof, thought the healer as he gingerly probed the area. Vin flinched but didn't pull his stare from the injured con man.

"Josiah, bring me a couple splints from the shelf over there."

The preacher complied quickly. He set the splints on the bed, positioned himself to hold the tracker's arm at the elbow, and wrapped his other arm around Vin's chest to hold him still. Since he had helped Nathan set many bones, he knew the procedure by heart.

When Josiah was ready, Nathan gripped Vin's hand and pulled it firmly, twisting it slightly. The tracker grunted as the bone slid into place. The healer quickly placed the splints and tied them to Vin's arm to immobilize it. With setting the arm completed, Nathan rechecked his patient for other injuries, finding only bruises. Nodding towards the stove, he instructed Josiah to bring him some tea that would help the injured man rest. Throughout the entire procedure, the Texan stared off into space, unaware of what was happening around him. Vin drank the tea without protest, and together, Nathan and Josiah laid him down on the cot. Vin instinctively rolled to his right side facing the unconscious con man. The healer shook his head. Tanner was single minded even in his stupor.

"Will you keep an eye on them, Josiah? I need to tell the others what's going on."

"Certainly, brother Nate." Josiah watched the exhausted healer wash and dry his hands and then head out the door.


It was over an hour after the accident before a weary Nathan joined the rest of the group waiting on the balcony. He eased his tired bones down onto the bench and let out a sigh.

"Before ya say anything, I wanna apologize for blowing up at y'all. Ya didn't deserve that. I know y'all were worried. Now," he sighed deeply, "Vin's gonna be jist fine. He's got a broken wrist and some bruised ribs." Looking at Chris, he added, "And he's feeling mighty guilty, Chris. Feels responsible for the whole mess. Josiah sitting with them. I put some laudanum in some tea and got Vin to drink it. He'll sleep for awhile."

Nathan dragged the back of his hand across fatigued eyes before continuing his report. "Ezra's still unconscious. I think he's in what some of those medical books call a coma. He didn't react at all to none a' the work we done on him. He's got a nasty lump on his head, most likely a concussion. Dislocated that damn shoulder of his again an' broke his collarbone as well. Has a couple of broke ribs." Nathan looked up at his friends with somber eyes. "I don't know when... or if Ezra will wake up."

JD gasped at the words, gripping tightly to the arms of his chair. Buck clenched his fist and hammered it on his denim covered thigh. Chris closed his eyes and let out a slow breath. "What can we do Nathan?"

Nathan laid his big hand on Chris's taut shoulder. "Ain't nothin' we can do but wait, Chris... and I don't think Josiah would mind if ya added a few prayers of yer own to his."


Nathan's words had struck all the men hard, and now, two days later, the situation seemed even grimmer. Ezra had shown no sign of regaining consciousness. Not a groan. Not a flutter of an eyelid. Nothing. Knowing that Ezra was definitely in a coma raised Nathan's level of fear for the gambler. The longer he was unconscious, the less likely it was that he would ever wake up. In addition, while Ezra was unconscious, he would be unable to take the nourishment he needed to help him survive. Nathan was able to force small amounts of water into the unresponsive man by pouring it into his mouth and massaging his throat until he swallowed. It was far less than he needed, but it was something.

The comatose gambler was not the only problem the healer was dealing with. His other patient, although quiet by nature, had gone silent on them. Vin was never one for talking much but, he had not said a word since entering the clinic after the accident. Nathan had given him the okay to go and stay in his room at the boarding house, but the tracker had refused to leave. The healer was pretty sure Vin had been in shock in the beginning, but sometime during the last two days, it had become a choice for the tracker to remain silent. He was obviously feeling immense guilt for Ezra's injury and closing himself off was his way to deal with it.

Nathan had gone out to get some fresh bandages, leaving Chris to sit with the irritable tracker. The gunslinger knew that Vin was lucid and no longer in shock. Josiah, Buck and JD had already tried to get the tracker to talk, succeeding only in frustrating themselves. Chris smiled to himself at the sight of the imposing glare on Vin's face. The tracker clearly wanted everyone to stay away from him, but he hadn't taken into account Larabee's stubbornness.

Chris had vast experience dealing with guilt. He knew how to blame himself and believe that everything was his fault. He recognized the self-criticism that flooded the tracker's mind. Vin was drowning in self-condemnation, and nothing he could say would make a difference. Vin would have to make his own choice to acknowledge that this mess was an accident. That didn't mean the gunslinger couldn't give him a shove in the right direction.

"This whole mess is your fault, Vin. You knocked him off the roof. You landed on him and hurt him worse," Larabee accused.

Vin's protective glare faded into a look of open-mouthed disbelief. How could Chris say that about him? Taking a deep breath and closing his mouth, he allowed his anger at Larabee's words to build slowly. He stared down the gunslinger, but as he started to open his mouth to blast Larabee, he realized what Chris was trying to do. He snapped his mouth closed and turned his face away.

Damn! Almost had you, didn't I? Chris looked at his sullen friend. "I'll be back later, Vin. You think on what I said." He rose and headed for the door, turning back as he pulled it open. "Keeping it all bottled up inside ain't gonna help, Vin. You need to let it out." Chris sighed and headed out when he received no acknowledgement from the tracker.

Meeting Nathan on the balcony, he informed the healer of the events that had just occurred. Nathan was slightly encouraged that Vin had at least had a reaction to Larabee's prodding. With this in mind, he decided that it was time to try a different angle. He entered the clinic and moved first to check on the unconscious gambler. He checked his pulse, felt for a fever and peeked under the edge of the bandage on the head wound, pleased that it was no longer seeping. He looked up to find the tracker watching every move he made. Good, at least I have his attention. Here we go.

"Vin, I know ya don't feel like talkin' right now, but I need yer help here. The medical books say that sometimes it helps when ya talk to a person who's in a coma. We've all tried talkin' to Ezra, an' we ain't got nowhere. It might be that he'd listen to you. I'm gonna go over to the saloon and get a bite to eat. I'll send someone back to sit with Ezra but, if ya got a mind to, maybe, jest maybe, he'd respond to you."

With that said, Nathan stepped out the door and closed it, and waited with bated breath to hear that soft Texas drawl of Vin's. Just as he was about to give up, he heard the sound he had desired. A smile crossed his face. Jist needed the right motivation, didn't ya, Vin? Nathan headed down the stairs to get his lunch with a big smile on his face.


Over the next day and a half, Vin joined the continuing efforts of the others as they all tried to talk with Ezra. They had all taken shifts sitting with the unresponsive con man. Buck had taken a chair next to the Southerner's bed telling him all kinds of tales of his adventures with the ladies. Vin had protested at the audacity of some of the stories, but Buck had continued to laugh and joke in hopes that Ezra would just open his eyes and tell him to shut up. But at the end of each day, Buck had walked away from the room with a heavy heart wondering if the gentleman gambler would ever return to them.

JD read stories from his dime novel collection. He didn't know if Ezra had heard him or not, but he figured it couldn't hurt. Josiah's shift had followed JD's and it had been hard to get JD to leave. Remembering the way his mother had died, the kid had been afraid Ezra would die and he would not be there for him. Josiah had spent the first hour of his shift the past few days talking with JD, trying to ease his worries. Then when JD had finally left the room, Josiah had focused on the con man. Although Ezra had only a slight fever, Josiah had gently bathed his forehead and the exposed part of his neck and chest with cool water. He had talked continually to the younger man telling him tales of Greek mythology or sometimes reading to him. The gambler had seemed to react somewhat to his reading, sometimes moving his head slightly, sometimes twitching the muscles in his arms or legs. Nathan hadn't been sure what was happening, but at least it was something.

Chris came to sit with the two in the clinic in the middle of the nights. It had been safer that way. Vin and Ezra would be asleep and he wouldn't expose how much he really cared about them. Under the cover of night, he could watch over and protect them. He had never said much, being a man of few words, but he also hadn't seen a point in disturbing their sleep. Occasionally, he had gotten up, walked over and replaced a blanket that had slipped down or been kicked off, sometimes just tucking them in a little tighter.

On this night, Chris remembered times that he would sit up with Adam when he was sick. He knew how much it meant to his small son just to know his father was in the room with him. The blind faith of the child that his pa could make it all right. Well, he certainly wasn't Vin or Ezra's pa and he couldn't make everything all right, but he could be there in case they needed him.

Dawn came and as Nathan arrived, Chris bent down and whispered something in the Southerner's ear, then squeezed his hand. Neither Vin nor Nathan heard what he had said. Neither asked.



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