Buck was watching from the doorway of the jailhouse when Chris came barreling down clinic steps. "Be right back," he hollered to Vin, jogging out into the street. He caught up with Larabee in four strides and fell in step beside him. "What's going on, Chris?"

When Chris didn't answer Buck grabbed his arm and forced him to a halt, not at all intimidated by the look Chris gave. "JD okay? Ezra?" he asked with concern. His worry grew as he when he saw the pain in his friend's eyes, an old pain – one he recognized way too easily. "Chris?" he asked, his fear growing.

"They're fine," Chris managed. "JD's fine."

Not satisfied, Buck steered Larabee toward the saloon and once inside pushed him at a deserted table in the corner shadows. He left Chris by himself while he went to find a bottle of whiskey and some glasses. Glancing at the mirror overhead, he caught Vin's entrance and picked up a third glass.

"Josiah came in to watch the prisoners," Vin explained quietly. "He's upset about something." He looked from Buck to Chris, waiting for someone to speak.

Wilmington didn't look up until he'd poured the whiskey and shoved a drink towards both men. He stopped up the bottle and set it aside.

Chris stared at the glass before slowly reaching for it and taking a long sip, enjoying the burn as he debated within himself what to say. He'd never planned on sharing Ezra's past with the others but now… three already had overheard, might as well tell the others.

Swiftly he dug into his pocket and pulled out the ring, setting it deliberately in the center of the table.

Buck and Vin exchanged a questioning look before Vin spoke, "Ezra's?"

Still watching the ring as if it could come alive at any moment, Chris nodded.

Buck inhaled sharply. "He didn't lose the finger?" he whispered.

"No," Chris reassured.

"This is what he put up a fight over? He could have gotten killed," Buck murmured quietly. "Could have gotten them all killed."

Taking another sip of whiskey Chris reached forward and touched the ring before pulling back quickly. "He made a promise to his wife that he'd never take it off," he explained, just managing to keep his voice steady.

Buck choked on his drink, coughing in surprise, his eyes watering as he concentrated on catching his breath.

Vin stared. "His wife?" He looked at the ring and then at Larabee again. "He never said."

"No." Chris tossed back the rest of his drink just as Buck recovered.

"That night," Buck rasped. "Here in the saloon when he stayed and talked to you."

Chris' expression confirmed his answer.

"God damn." Buck put his elbows on the table and covered his face with his hands. "She's dead then." His statement was muffled but clear.

"Yeah."

"How long?" Vin asked.

"Four years…today."

"Oh God." Vin closed his eyes.

"That's why he fought." Buck reached across the table and touched the gold ring. "Why he looked so tired and acted so…off."

The three were silent, the noise around them growing as the later hour began to bring in more patrons.

"Is he okay?" Vin asked finally.

Chris met his gaze. "He will be." He stood and scooped up the ring, tucking it back into his pocket as he started toward the door.

"How?"

Buck's question stopped him but Chris couldn't bring himself to turn around. He cleared his throat, "childbirth," he managed before striding out the door. He never looked back, knowing he wouldn't be able to handle Buck's reaction to his answer.


Vin found Josiah staring menacingly at the prisoners when he returned to the jail. "You all right?" he asked.

"Not me you should concern yourself with," the preacher answered quietly.

"Not like it's everyday you find out your friend's a widower," he reminded, seeing the obvious effect the news was having on the older man.

"No it's not." Josiah looked up at him, his eyes projecting sadness and loss. "So much pain, I'll never understand it."

Vin nodded knowingly as he picked up the pocket watch, roll of money and boots he'd recovered from one of the robbers, for Ezra. "Didn't think we were supposed to."

Sanchez snorted and shook his head as Tanner left the small building again, marveling at the simplicity and acceptance in the Tracker's answer.

Entering Ezra's room, Vin's eyes scanned it carefully, picking up the signs of his friend's recent restlessness- the tangled bed covers, the discarded quilt, still draped over the rocking chair. Feeling like an intruder, Vin set the muddy boots beside the door, made his way to the bureau and started to slip the pocket watch and money into the top drawer when a hint of silver caught his eye. Pulling the drawer out further, he saw that it was a tintype frame that had slid part way out of its small bag. He reached for it, his hand just brushing the soft cloth before he paused, his hand curling into a tight fist before he pulled back again. Quickly he shut the drawer. He picked up Ezra's boots again on the way out so that he could clean them for his friend and hurrying out of the room; he locked the door and Ezra's secrets safely behind him.

It felt like a long walk from Ezra's room to the corner table downstairs where JD had joined Buck. A dark bruise the only visible sign that Dunne had been involved in the day's earlier events.

"Hey, Kid," Tanner said taking a seat across from him. He let the boots plunk to the floor beside his chair.

"Hey, what're you going to do with those?" JD asked.

"Clean 'em. How're you feeling?"

"Fine, just a headache." JD shifted in his chair and glanced at Buck, obviously concerned for him.

Buck caught his look and managed a weak smile. "We're something else, ain't we?" he asked.

Vin nodded. "Seems a fittin' day to share one's misery." He signaled for Inez to bring another bottle and glass to the table just as Josiah joined them.

"Who's at the jail?" JD moved to stand.

Sanchez waved him down. "Bill Barney volunteered to take a shift."

Vin looked up and grinned, "Barney volunteered?" He shook his head when the older man shrugged.

"He felt led by the Lord."

They fell into a sullen silence as Inez brought two bottles and enough glasses for all of them.

"Why didn't he ever say nothing?" JD asked suddenly.

"Some things are just too hard, JD," Buck answered. "Ezra hates to reveal his hand before he's ready."

"So what do we do now?" JD searched each man's face as he waited for an answer.

Josiah leaned forward and folded his hands around his drink. "We wait until he's ready…and in the meantime, we make sure he knows that we're here."


Nathan sat in the hard wooden chair he'd placed beside the bed and massaged his temples. Ezra stirred and murmured softly in his sleep. Jackson frowned at his patient's restlessness, wondering how much sleep Ezra had been getting. How many secrets did this man have? How many times was Standish going to shatter everything he believed to be true about him? He'd made so many judgments based on his own perceptions, and assumptions. Chris had been right; he hadn't been trying to help Ezra, he'd been too busy being angry.

Glancing at the southerner again, Nathan took the time to really look at him. He saw the dark circles under the eyes and the strain and tension still visible in sleep. He could see the slight amount of weight loss now that Ezra was without a shirt. He wondered how many meals Ezra had missed lately. His gaze settled on Ezra's right hand and he found himself relieved to see the color in Ezra's hand had returned to normal. The fingers still looked swollen and he bit his lip guiltily as he gently checked their flexibility. It was better than before and improving but he wondered how he was going to apologize to Ezra for such treatment.

Jackson was pulled from his wonderings when Chris entered the dim room again. "He still asleep?" he asked, no longer displaying any signs of his earlier anger with the healer.

"Yeah." Nathan nodded. "He's been in and out...restless." He finished with a sigh of frustration.

Chris listened and watched Ezra grimace in his sleep. "I'll stay with him awhile."

"It's no problem," Nathan protested.

"I'll stay."

Nathan knew from Larabee's tone that there was no use in arguing further. He looked one more time at Standish and then reluctantly rose to his feet, almost suppressing the groan when his back twinged. "You'll get me if you need me?"

"Yes."

Starting toward the door, Nathan paused after just a few steps and turned back to face Chris. "Look Chris, I'm sorry about earlier. You were right; I wasn't really trying to help him."

"Long as you are now, that's all that matters to me," Chris answered, his eyes intense as they met Nathan's.

"I am," Nathan whispered, then quickly left the room.

Chris settled in the chair that Nathan had deserted and pulled it as close to the bed as he could, until his knees rested against the edge of the mattress. He watched as Ezra raised his injured hand plaintively and moved his lips in a silent dialogue. Standish frowned, an expression of grave sadness coming over him as his hand settled back down and he stilled again.

Keeping his eyes on Ezra's face Chris drew a long gold chain from his shirt pocket and simply held it for a moment. Finally he looked at the object in his hand. He ran his thumb over the locket remembering the way Sarah used to lift her hair and allow him to clasp the original chain for her…the chain that'd been lost in the fire. He closed his eyes as the memory of finding the locket itself in Ella's closet crashed down on him. He'd bought the new chain not long after they'd returned from Ella's, once he'd recovered enough to get around town on his own again. He didn't wear it all the time, only on the days when he needed to feel her closeness- on the days when he felt the loneliest- the pull of the chain beneath his shirt, a reminder that he carried something of her with him.

He let the cool metal of the tiny links slide through his fingers as he searched for the clasp. With great care he slid the locket off of the chain and grasped it tightly in his fist a long moment before putting it safely into his pocket. From another pocket he withdrew Ezra's wedding ring.

"Chris."

He looked up, surprised to find Ezra watching him. The look in the Southerner's eyes telling him immediately that Ezra'd seen the locket and knew what he was doing.

"Chris, you don't have to…"

Chris merely slid the ring onto the chain and looked into Ezra's watery eyes. "Lean forward," he whispered as he moved from the chair to the edge of the bed. He helped Ezra adjust and sit up off the pillows slightly. He could feel Ezra trembling as he reached around his neck and quickly clasped the chain. He eased Standish back against the pillows again and remained seated on the bed. He watched as the emotions washed across Ezra's face…loss, pain, relief, gratitude and understanding, all readily identifiable as he looked at the ring laying on his chest. Slowly Standish raised his injured hand and placed it lightly over the ring, pressing it against his heart.

Chris watched as Ezra's eyes closed, his hand still on his chest. Though the gambler made no sound at all, in the fading light of the clinic's lamps Chris could see the tears as they ran down across his friend's temples and disappeared behind his ears. He swallowed the lump in his own throat and comforted Ezra the only way he knew how. Careful of the injuries, Chris gently laid his hand on top of Ezra's and hoped that Standish would find strength in the knowledge that he was there and he understood.


Thank you for reading. Hope you enjoyed it.