by Heather F.

Part 4

Larabee brushed shoulders with Standish just outside the batwing doors. The southerner muttered an apology and continued down toward the livery.

Chris quickly eyed Ezra realizing the man was well on his way to a drunken stupor. Larabee watched as the normally gracefully gaited gambler plodded down the boardwalk. The gunslinger noted it and made it a point to check on him later.

Something had been obviously bothering the younger man. Chris would not pry but he would not allow one of his peacekeepers to put himself in a vulnerable position. Drunk and alone in public was trouble.

Sanchez stood on the top step of his church. He leaned against the front door and watched as the gambler stumbled into the gunslinger. Josiah had seen Mary enter the saloon and silently prayed that she lost the nerve to talk to Standish, as he had so many times in the past few weeks. Now was not the time to push opinions on others. Josiah brushed the back of his hand across his forehead. The whiskey he had consumed in his private room had flushed his face and made the world tilt just out of alignment.

He was suppose to protect and guide his flock...and he could not find the nerve to speak to a lost lamb. A lamb with carnasal teeth but a lamb all the same.

He hoped Mary had not taken on the challenge. The poor woman carried enough guilt she did not need to burden herself with Josiah's responsibilities.

Wounds were open and raw. The pain was too close to the surface. Mary in her desperation to heal herself found that she had to explain herself to the wrong son. Sanchez closed his eyes briefly and sighed as the gambler slipped inside the livery.

Standish leaned against Chaucer's stall door. The big Chestnut gazed up from his manger identified his rider and returned to nibbling the fine dustings of left over hay. Chaucer flicked his ears when the livery door opened a second time. A wind carried a familiar scent. The horse returned to it's foraging.

Standish stared at the empty whiskey bottle he had callously discarded in the straw littered aisle way.

"You son of a Bitch," The growl came from the gambler's right.

Ezra looked up just in time to catch a fist to the cheek. His already shaky sense of balance was lost and he was flung to the left falling over his own feet.

Rough hands reached down and hauled him to his feet. The world spun at an alarming rate.

The fist was brought back again ready to strike. Standish recognized the angry features of Chris Larabee.

The desire for a fight had left the gambler as soon as the whiskey bottle had been drained. All he wanted right now was crawl into his bed and hope the spinning stopped before his stomach heaved.

He lashed out with a foot. His balance was off but Larabee was doing a commendable job holding the gambler up. Before Chris could throw his punch a sharp booted toe connected with the ridge of his shin.

Larabee suddenly let go of the gambler, 'Son of a bitch!'. With renewed anger the gunslinger made a lunge for the wobbling Southerner.

Sanchez deflected the body slightly and simultaneously pulled the gambler out of the immediate path of the dark gunslinger.

"Leave it be Chris," Sanchez warned. This was his fight. The preacher had seen Larabee storm from the saloon and follow Standish's path to the livery. Mary had chased after him pleading with him to stop. "It was not Ezra's fault," she had cried. Chris had merely wrenched his arm from her grip muttering something that made the widow step back in shock. It did not last she came forward again shouting after the receding back, "He doesn't know any better."

Josiah had circumvented the widow muttering an apology. Standish should have known better. It had been Sanchez's burden to make the gambler see the truth behind Mary's actions.

He had failed. He left Mary crying in the street and followed the wolf that intended to eat their angry lamb.

"Let me go you bafoon," Ezra tried to free himself from the fisted grip that twisted the front of his shirt and cavat. Josiah's thick wrist simply flexed knotting the material tighter.

Ezra's efforts were muted by the whiskey.

"He's gonna apologize to Mary," Chris hissed out. The burning sensation ran up and down his shin bone. Damn that hurt.

"And he will...right after he sobers up," Sanchez promised with all the vehemence of a fire and brimstone preacher.

"Like hell," Standish narrowed his eyes feeling the right one beginning to swell closed. "Let go of me you giant Lummox."

Josiah had had enough. He had wrestled with this problem for to long. His patience had finally bottomed out. He lashed out with his free hand. The fist collided solidly with the gambler's jaw. Standish's head snapped around. His knees became putty and he melted out of Sanchez's grasp to the livery floor.

Chaucer flattened his ears. Larabee met the horse's eyes with a menacing glare of his own. Chaucer backed up a step.

Mary screamed bringing her hand to her mouth as she stood at the livery's doors.

Buck and Vin cautiously entered the small confined area. They knew this would happen the minute Standish started opening his mouth in the saloon. They just didn't know where it would be ended.

Wilmington quietly asked the widow to wait outside. Poor Mary did not need any more grief today. What was wrong with everyone?

"Chris g'see ta Mary...." Vin directed. The tracker slid down the ailse placing himself between the prostrate man and the gunfighter. Buck approached slowly and dragged the southerner out from under Josiah's feet all the while keeping his eyes on the volatile preacher.

There must have been a whiskey bottle or two tucked away in the church, Buck mused. A version of Sunday wine? If Josiah was serving Red Eye at Sunday Mass he was going to have to make it a point to attend.

"Josiah," Buck spoke in a slow reasonable tone, "Vin and me are gonna tend ta Ezra...ya'll can talk to'im later when he sobers up." Wilmington was not going to point out Sanchez's own drunkenness.

"Go on Josiah...we got'im," Vin pointedly put his back to the preacher and grabbed Standish's feet. Buck had the shoulders and a good view of the preacher.

Sanchez found his frustration boiling. This was not how it was suppose to happen. With an angry growl he shoved Vin out of his way and stormed out of the livery.

Vin pushed himself back from the front of Chaucer's stall shaking his head.

"'Ey pard,"

"Yeah," Vin answered as he grabbed Standish's ankles.

"If ya ever see Josiah coming to my some interference for me will ya?" Buck laughed as he adjusted his grip on Standish's shoulders.

Together the two men shuffled out of the livery. Tanner had shimmied his grip up to the gambler's knees. The Southerner was slung like a rag doll between the two men.

"Where too?"

"Better not the Clinic..." Buck reasoned, "Nathan won't be back til tomorrow and there're way to many stairs."

"Then his place is out too," Vin said indicating to the gambler.

"Yer wagon?"

"Reckon'in so."

A few minutes later they were swinging the unconscious body between them. On the count of three they heaved the 'dead' weight up into the wagon...with minimal damage.

Vin climbed in trying to make the gambler as comfortable as possible laying him on his side.

"I sure hope he don't git sick in there," Tanner mumbled out as he exited.

Buck chuckled, "Well I'suppose Ezra there owes us a drink or two...and then we can figure out jist what the devil is goin' on 'round here."

Wilmington padded Tanner's shoulder in confidence as the two made their way toward the saloon.

+ + + + + + +

Standish woke due to the intensely numb sensation in his arm. He tried to move the fingers associated with the arm but they felt thickened and wooden. The headache made itself know with all the subtly of a charging buffalo....and hit almost as hard. His stomach rolled with the pounding of his head. The arm was momentarily forgotten as stringy, viscous, saliva began to fill his mouth.

Lord No...

The soft spoken plea went unanswered. Unfamiliar with his immediate surroundings, his frantic movements to find a suitable receptacle unceremoniously lead to his unfortunate departure from the wagon.

He hit the ground with a bone jarring thud. In a panicky haste he rolled onto his stomach which graciously emptied itself of whiskey and an expanding pool of bile.

Buck bent his head resting his ear on his shoulder, "Ezra's up and moving' around." The lanky gunslinger had his chair tilted back against the saloon wall. The morning sun brightened the main street.

Vin sat beside him on the saloon porch. His heels once again rested on the crate. The tracker lifted his hat slightly and observed the gambler wretching under his wagon.


"Don't look to good does he?" Wilmington cringed when he watched the coated back arch for a third time.

"Nope," Tanner pulled his hat back down.

"Reckon we should go see to'im?" Buck rubbed his stomach in sympathy.

"Ezra's been takin' care of'imself jist fine...he'll slither'is way over here when he's done," Tanner settled back down in his chair and continued to mull over yesterday afternoon's events.

"Ya gonna wanna move yer wagon when he's through."

"Suppose yer right," Vin toyed with the characters involved. Billy, Mary and Ezra...somehow Josiah....Chris's role was obvious and explosive and short lived. The other four though, they had been fighting for some time. The tracker closed his eyes and tried placing the tracks with the people.

Buck watch as Standish finally crawled out from under the wagon. Wilmington cringed turtling his neck when the gambler raised his head to quickly and slammed it against the underside ridge of the side boards. Buck chuckled softly as the southern gentleman rolled on the ground clutching his head in obvious agony.

A soft Texan twanged, 'Damn' grabbed his attention.

Buck gazed expectantly at the bounty hunter.

"Got it figured, I think," Vin watched as Standish clawed his way to his feet using the spoked wagon wheel as a guide. "Iffen I'm right...Josiah has got'imself a hell of job to untangle." The tracker sat quietly staring out at the deserted street.

"You mind lett'in ole Buck in on the big secret?" Buck waited as Standish held onto the wagon edge for a moment still clutching the back of his head.

Vin's quiet voice quickly and softly cut to the quick of the matter.

"Damn..." Buck watched as Standish took an unsteady step toward them and then another, "ya know he does have a point....ain't agree'in with how he treated Mary but..."

"Yeah, s'gotta hurt....hurt like hell," Vin muttered. Standish reached the bottom step of the saloon.

With some effort the man of chance pulled himself up onto the boardwalk. He delicately walked past the two men heading into the saloon.

"Thank you Mr. Tanner for the use of your humble abode."

"No problem Ezra...yer place pretty comfortable too...gonna aft'a git me one of them feather beds..."

Tanner's words trailed off as the gambler disappeared inside and headed for his room.

+ + + + + + +

Josiah pounded nails with blinding intensity. Sweat rolled down his forehead stinging his eyes. The hammer slammed down glancing the head and settling soundly on his thumb. With a loud curse he flung the 'S' shaped nail to the side. The small misshapen roofing nail landed with a slight ping nestling itself within a large growing pile of similarly shaped brethren.

"Ya might wanta be a lil' more careful there Josiah," Wilmington chuckled when he noticed the split and splintered discarded pile of shakes. The roofing nails were not the only thing falling to the preacher's discontent.

Sanchez turned his back to the peak of the roof and sat with a thump. The big man sucked on the torn knuckle of his thumb and stared up at the intruder.

Josiah was not in the mood for visitors.

Buck noticed the warning and promptly ignored it. The gunfighter took an unoffered seat next to the larger man.

Buck picked up one of the bent twisted nails. The head had been nearly sheared off, the point was blunted and the metal still carried some heat at the bends.

The ladies man stared at the preacher for a moment and finally decided to dive into a problem that was no ones business.

"Ya ain't gonna have any luck with straightening this mess." Buck rested his forearms on his knees and twirled the bent nail between thumb and forefinger. His gazed out over the main street. Things looked so different up here. It was no wonder Josiah spent so much time on the roof. Well and the fact that the roof had more leaks in it than a wicker basket.

Sanchez slowly turned to face the somber man beside him. The easy going smile was no where to be seen. The mischievous kid had ducked away and a serious adult had lurched to the forefront. Josiah was not sure he liked the change in the man beside him.

"I've got more nails."

"Ain't talkin' about nails Josiah," Buck answered meeting the preacher for the first time in the eye. "Vin got it figured...ya can correct me if I'm wrong but...." Wilmington softly wove a story out of the trail of misused words and actions and all the players involved that had been strewn about over the last few weeks.

Sanchez felt his face redden slightly. Embarrassment and anger vied for supremacy. The others had not even been privy to Ezra and Billy's conversation and yet they had unearthed the reason for the growing tension.

After yesterday's debacle Josiah had to concede Vin would have enough markers to close in on the truth.

"You sayin' I should let it be?" Sanchez stared at Buck waiting.

"I ain't sayin' anythin'....jist thinkin its between Mary and Billy and Ezra and his Ma.. You git yourself involved and yer jist gonna git burned all the way around." Buck wanted nothing more than to tell Mz. Travis to go after Billy. The ladies man would give a weeks pay to be able to talk some sense into Ezra.

Truth be told...Mary could not be forced to see the child's side. She herself no longer a child and unable to think as one. Ezra? Hell no one but Maude would be able to convince him why his mom ditched him. Hell truth be told...Buck couldn't say that Ezra's reasoning was wrong.

There was no doubt that Maude loved him...none at all...just she sometimes didn't do what was best for her boy....her intentions might be for the best but her execution was seriously questionable.

"Gotta try," Josiah muttered. He feared Buck might be right.

"Kinda afraid you would say that but kinda relieved too," Buck stood up pushing his hands against his knees as he straightened. "One thing though, Josiah."

The older man stared up at Buck shielding his eyes from the afternoon sun.

"When ya do decide to talk to him.....leave the whiskey out of it," Wilmington stepped back out of striking range, "me and Vin already had to drag Ezra's dead butt through town...we ain't aimin' to do it again."

Josiah chuckled mirthlessly to himself. He had hoped it was all a bad dream...guess not.

The preacher sat the remainder of the day on his roof doing his best to straighten some misused nails.

Part 5

"Ezra I need to speak with ya for a moment," Josiah leaned against the small railing that encircled the raised dais in the saloon.

Standish merely nodded his head ignoring the older man. The other three card players listened half heartedly to the one sided conversation and realized they would not be winning any of their money back tonight.

"Now." The whiskey on his breath caused the gambler to raise an eyebrow.

"Go to Hell Mr. Sanchez," Ezra responded shortly. He would be damned if he was going to be dictated to by anyone this evening. It was bad enough he had the worst hangover of his life. He had tried chasing the lingering nausea and headache away with a few shots of Red Eye and it failed miserably. A few more drinks later and it still failed. Games of chance seemed to be the only thing to take his mind from his misery and the reason for it.

Buck and Vin watched from across the room. Tanner shook his head in resignation. Buck made to interfere but Vin simply put a restraining hand on Wilmington's forearm. They would wait and make sure no one got killed.

The twosome had been joined by Josiah earlier in the evening. The preacher had not said much to them instead he had concentrated all his energy into drinking. Neither man had the inclination to stop him. It was not until Standish limped in sporting the bruises from yesterday and a partially started bottle of his own.

The three peace keepers had watched as the gambler joined a game of cards. Over the past hour Vin and Buck had tried to divert Josiah's attention from the game table. Nothing had worked.

Now Buck and Vin watched as Sanchez had drunk enough courage to face Standish. Hopefully Ezra had stayed out of the bottle long enough to keep his mouth shut.

The 'Go to Hell' floated across the room.

Maybe not.

Buck groaned as he watched Josiah lumber up the step to the felt table. With a low growl Josiah flung the table up on end scattering cards, coins, bills and drinks. The three players jumped out of their chairs. One became entangled in the legs of his chair and fell to the ground. The other two in a panic brushed past the irrate preacher and headed for the doors. The third player vaulted over the small railing following the playing paraphernalia and left the immediate area.

"Dear Sir...." Ezra raised his whiskey glass slightly, "though this may appear like Hell and at times feels as such....I had another destination in mind," Standish leaned back in his chair still clutching a portion of the undealt deck in his other hand.

"You and I are gonna have a talk," Sanchez heaved out grabbing the conman by the front of his shirt.

"By all means don't let my unwilling participation deter you," The sarcasm matched his expression.

Buck sighed. He wondered where Chris had ridden off to early this morning. Vin hadn't known either and both felt it was best if they stuck close to town.

"Well by all," Standish held his arms open palms up in a welcoming gesture though the rest of his body language did not embrace the idea.

"He don't ever learn does he?" Tanner said watching the duo across the room. The wrong two were talking.

Buck shook his head.

Josiah's time tested patience dwindled on a short fuse. A quick jab was thrown. Standish's head snapped back and he slumped dazed in his chair. The whiskey class clunked to floor beating the fluttering cards that slid from lax fingers.

"Ahh hell Josiah what'd ya go an' hit'im agin fer?" Tanner said standing up. He was getting down right sick and tired of dragging stupid, dumb, ass, idiots all over town.

Sanchez heaved the southerner over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes. "Ain't yer concern Vin."

"Like Hell Josiah, I told ya it ain't gonna work...he ain't gonna listen to ya," Buck stood up making his way to the bat wing doors hoping to stop Sanchez. The few patrons in the saloon had found their drinks and table tops very interesting.

"What makes ya think he has it all wrong anyhow?" Buck nodded shortly to Inez. They would handle this again.

"What if he's right Josiah?" Vin spoke up from behind the preacher shadowing them to the entrance. The young Texan swung wide around them and took up position on the other half of the doors.

"He don't...Mary's doin' the best she can." Josiah shifted the dead weight on his shoulders. The gun buckle was digging into the front of his shoulder. Standish moaned softly his head falling to the small of the preacher's back.

"Best fer her maybe...sure might not be the best fer Billy...least ways..Ezra's got a point." Buck stood with one arm draped across one half of the swinging doors.

"You tellin' me you think Billy coulda stopped his Papa from gettin' killed?" Sanchez bit back with hot anger. "You really think Mary blames him for what happened?"

The shock on Buck's and Vin's faces mirrored one another. It was then Josiah realized that in Buck's retelling of what Tanner had figured out omitted the motivations Billy and Ezra had believed drove their mothers to action. The most important and private piece of the puzzle finally fell into place.

"Shit," Buck and Vin whispered simultaneously together.

"Yeah." The preacher pushed past the two men with his burden and headed across the street to the church.

Vin and Buck stared at one another... "Damn."

Part 6

Josiah watched the man on the pew move with a little more coordination. Standish had never truly lost consciousness but the blow was enough to muddle reflexes for a moment or two.

The preacher leaned forward and with a guiding hand helped the befuddled gambler to sit up.

"You going to listen?"

Standish merely nodded his head slouching against the back of the wooden bench. He appeared still dazed and unsteady. Josiah sighed satisfied and sat back in the small chair he had drug out.

The gambler made to lunge off the bench. His effort would have most likely succeeded on someone who had not known him. Sanchez had the insight of over a year.

With reflexes that belied his age, the preacher grabbed the smaller man and threw him back into the pew.

"Sit Down!" His bellow rattled the glass panes. Dust floated down from the rafters.

+ + + + + + +

Buck quickly peeked through the knot hole in a side board. From this vantage point he could see both parties. The gunslinger pulled his eye from the board and sat beside the tracker.

"They're still alive."

Vin merely nodded. This was not going to help Billy or Mary.

+ + + + + + +

Ezra shut his eyes. It felt as if his brain was sloshed from one side of his skull to the next. This was not his day.

Once again the preacher was in his face. Standish felt like a boy again...having once again transgressed across some unseen boundary and offended an Uncle or Guardian or some other fool obliged to his mother. The helplessness and futility of the situation boiled a mad rage.

Josiah watched dismayed as the dazed expression was replaced by cold uncaring facade. Though the hands stayed down in his lap the gambler had his defenses in place. Actions and words would not so easily penetrate a closed mind.

"Just quit thinking of yourself and sit for a moment and listen," Sanchez dragged his small chair closer to the pew. If the wiry southerner was going to make another mad dash he would have to go through the preacher.

Standish raised an amused eyebrow. Thinking of himself? Who else was he to be concerned with at this particular time?

"Your wrong about Mary and Billy?" Josiah watched for some kind of reaction. Perceiving none he dug in deeper, "Mary and I overheard you and Billy a few weeks back...." Again he paused trying to gage some hint of response. Again nothing.

Standish's heart beat wildly in his chest. Josiah and Mary knew....Knew all this time and still she banished her son....Of course...he and Billy had not said anything she did not already know. Maybe embarrassed her for having Josiah hear as well. She was after all the doting caring mother. The facade was well established and in place.

"Yer wrong...she doesn't blame him," Josiah leaned forward resting his forearms on his knees, "she never did."

"Of course," Ezra nodded solemnly properly chastised for his erroneous part in this large misunderstanding. The quicker he accepted the Truths Mary portrayed the quicker he would escape from potential violence.

Sanchez closed his eyes briefly. This was not working.

"Ezra do you really believe Billy could've prevented his father's death?" He would turn the tables.

Standish paused. He knew the popular lines...understood the role adults were to shadow. He could mimic the understanding phrases they did not believe.

How would they know? He had always wondered how they could hope to placate someone who had suffered a tragedy without being there to witness it. They simply were not there. How could they possibly know he did the right thing? How could they know that he did everything he could to save himself or his father?

Now here was Josiah asking him to learn the same lines that had been uttered to him. Sanchez the one who amongst the Seven sought the truths in life. Here he was trying to coach Ezra into shallow lies that would only cut young Travis. Standish had wept privately when relatives had patted his head or shuttled him to the side mimicking false statements and flimsy reassurances that he had acted correctly. They were not there....they would never know if he did all he could to save his father.

"I was not there," Standish quietly watched for the explosive retaliation he figured would be coming sooner rather than later.

"You wouldn't have to be there Ezra," Josiah paused. His mind quickly turned over thoughts tossing out words and jumbling others together hoping to string the right ones in a line to reach the friend before him. "Billy's was just a little boy. There was no way he could have stopped what had happened."

A heavy silence fell over the two. The creaking and settling the church on its foundation heightened the tension.

Sanchez could see the easy agreement already beginning to be uttered. A false acceptance a muttered apology so his captive audience could gain his freedom.

"What could he have done Ezra? It was two against one," Sanchez watched as the gambler suddenly stared at the wooden bench seat.

"It was two against two," Standish hissed quietly. They were so willing to discount Billy and himself. So willing to brush them aside, just as Mary was doing to her son now...just as Maude had done to him. They held them accountable but discarded them so easily.

Josiah saw an opening. A proverbial hand had dropped exposing a narrow target, "Your right...Billy was there." Sanchez felt his pulse quicken when the gambler made brief eye contact before dropping his gaze back to the bench. "What could he'ave done Ezra? He is still just a boy. It was him and his father against two grown men with guns." The preacher watched as a manicured finger picked at a raised sliver of wood.

The bench needed sanding.

"His father hid him from view to keep him safe. Surely Billy understood that?" Sanchez watched as the finger paused. Josiah held his breath. So your father hid you too. Kept you safe from the men or man that confronted him. You did as you were told and have been beating yourself up for it for a life time. Dear God...did they all live with self imposed penance's?

The silence was thick, grieving, like those times of silence around an uncovered grave. Josiah could actually feel his own pulse race up his neck.

"He could've made a sound...anything...he could have distracted them," Standish gazed back up at the preacher expecting to find an incredulous look or maybe see disgust. Instead he found the preacher to be mulling the words over and actually nodding in agreement. Standish turned his eyes back to the bench back to the sliver of wood that offered no judgment of him.

"Probably...probably could've done that...but I figure his pa told him to keep quiet," You,Josiah thought, listened to someone and believed they knew what was best and look what it won you. Josiah nodded sadly in some understanding, "betcha it took all Billy's nerve and courage to keep quiet and do as he was told...probably one of the hardest things that boy will ever have to do in his life."

He watched as Standish merely nodded absently to himself. Hardest thing to do was play the role of a coward. How could you hide crouched in the cold and not raise a finger or make a sound? No diversion to direct the men who attacked one of the only things that mattered in this world. Hardest thing to live with was knowing he let them take his father.

The piece of wood finally relented under the constant badgering and splintered from the rest of the bench. The tiny sharp crack of splitting wood echoed harshly in the empty church. The window pane rattled against the slight breeze. Drafts of cold air circled their legs swirling up small piles of dust.

"Billy probably's been feelin' a mite responsible for what happened, maybe even finds blame with himself," Sanchez watched as Standish tried to fit the splintered piece back into its groove.

"Maybe even thinks himself a bit of coward." Josiah prayed that it was not the truth.

The man across from him paused and then slipped a small nod. Sanchez froze. Heaven help them. How could so many miss the pains of ones so young?

Josiah waited for the face to turn toward him with some biting retort. Instead the slightly shaking fingers desperately tried to wedge the splinter back within the bench.

"Mary don't blame him Ezra," He paused. Maude could not have blamed him. She would have hurt, mourned her husband's loss and in those dark days might have neglected her son. For all her cunning and cold calculations Maude was still a mother and still protected her boy the best she could. Her biggest failure lay in her lack of communication. Her son suffered a guilty verdict by his own judgments. Maude never saw it, never stripped away the self doubt. Instead it clung like ivy and wrapped its vines around her son's soul.

Mary nearly fell to the same blindness. Billy was choking under the same self accusations.

"She never did." Josiah prayed he reached the boy so long hidden under a burden of black guilt.

"Maybe she should," the soft whisper mirrored the tremor in the hands. The wood refused to be fitted.

Sanchez shut his eyes and caught his breath. Dear God.

"Ezra...The only ones to be held in blame are those who did the killing." The movement on the bench before him had stopped. Sanchez pressed on, "I know a parent will go the grave if it will keep their child from harm." The preacher watched again as he received a simple nod in acquiescence. The shaking hand still toyed with the broken wood.

"They'll even go so far as to send them away no matter how much it hurts both of keep them safe." Sanchez waited with open palms expecting to meet an explosion.

The words hung heavily in the chilled air.

"They're wrong...Its wrong Josiah....its just wrong," Standish had finally given up on the small rebellious sliver and flipped it end to end between index finger and thumb. His eyes stayed glued to his moving hand. His voice just a resigned whisper.

"Ya got to let it go Ezra....It weren't Billy's fault," You were never to blame. You never stood a chance.

The preacher waited for some kind of acknowledgment. The gambler never lifted his eyes from the wood. With none forth coming he climbed to his feet pushing his small chair with the back of his knees. He resisted the urge to grab the younger man and shield him from himself or offer any physical reassurances. Instead Josiah picked up the chair and headed back to his small apartment.

Hopefully he had planted the seeds of doubt.

When Josiah had returned Standish was gone.

+ + + + + + +

Buck and Vin sat quietly in the saloon. They watched as the gambler entered and slid up the stairs. The man appeared beaten and over worked. Maybe they should have stayed and listened to the conversation.

Epilogue: Next Morning

Standish sipped his morning coffee in front of the saloon. He watched Vin and Buck through the mist rising from the mug. If he had not known better he would have thought they had been shadowing him these last few days.

He was pulled from his musing when Buck stood up, "Hey look who's back."

Vin and Ezra both stared down main street.

Standish took a sip of coffee to hide his smile.

Chris rode his black toward the Clarion. Billy sat behind him clutching tightly to the gunslinger's midsection. The valise was tied to the saddle.

The end

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