Title: Each Must Know His Part
Characters: Ezra Standish, Chris Larabee, Vin Tanner, Buck Wilmington, and eventually Josiah Sanchez, Nathan Jackson and JD Dunne.
Pairing: Chris/OFC - Charlotte Sparrow
Summary: An unexpected visitor to Four Corners, forces the men to come to terms with Ezra and Charlotte's Immortality
A/N: This is a sequel to "Child of My Heart" and "The Truth Is Immortal".
Each Must Know His Part: Chapter 1
Chris pushed his way through the batwing doors of the saloon and paused as his eyes adjusted to the gloom of the interior which was at odds with the bright day outside. He smiled as his gaze settle on the table on the raised platform where Vin, Buck and Ezra were playing poker. Chris knew their resident gambler didn't cheat his friends but it was a rare game that saw Ezra losing to the other peace keepers. Still, sometimes it was hard to believe he was simply just that good.
Chris sauntered over to take the empty seat at the table between Buck and Vin.
"You keep smiling like that," Buck grinned as he poured Chris a drink, "and people are gonna start thinking you might be a happy man."
"Quickly followed by a loss of dread for our leader," Ezra added. "A happy gunslinger does not bode well for convincing bandits that you are a fearsome presence."
"Knock it off," Chris commanded as the smile broadened on his face. He raised his drink, glass poised at his lips as he realized they were staring at him with matching grins. "What?" he demanded, uncomfortable with their scrutiny.
"He used walk around like that all the time after Sarah said yes." Buck leaned toward Ezra as he spoke. "Guess Charlotte saying yes has him grinning like an idiot too."
Ezra nodded, his gaze taking on a more studious air. "So that is what love looks like. I have noticed a similar besotted look on my cousin's face. But while on her visage I find it a great source of joy, on Mr. Larabee's it is quite disconcerting."
"Get used to it, Ez." Vin nodded in sympathy. "He ain't stopped smiling since they set the date."
"You finished?" Chris asked, pouring himself another drink.
"You know, something has just occurred to me," Ezra said as he rubbed a thumb along his jaw, but he failed to continue his thought.
Chris knew he shouldn't ask but couldn't help himself. "What?" He glared at the gambler, fully aware that it had little effect given his positive disposition these days. He'd have to work on fixing that if his men were going to take his threats seriously again.
"You are to marry my cousin in two weeks," Ezra paused and Chris knew he was drawing it out just to annoy him.
"Know that. What's your point?" The equally stupid grins on Vin's and Buck's faces alerted him to the fact that he was being set up. Too late now as he'd already asked the question.
"Simply that you and I will be related after that blessed event," Ezra said, adding a belated, "Cousin."
"Cousin?" Chris gulped as he set his empty glass back down on the table. He hadn't really registered that fact. Ezra and Charlotte were not truly blood related but that didn't matter as they were as much family as any two people he knew.
Vin and Buck were unsuccessfully trying to stifle their snickering. Chris glared at them, which did nothing to silence their good humor. He really was going to have to work on that.
Buck slapped Chris on the back. "You and Ez are going to be cousins, ain't that great?"
"Shut up!" he commanded, but the three at the table apparently had no intention of listening to him.
"Now, Chris, I am disheartened to hear that being related to me would cause you such grief."
"It ain't that." Chris tried to retreat from the implication that the relationship was undesired. "I just hadn't thought about it before."
"I'm sure not," Ezra chuckled.
Chris noticed silent encouragement from Vin for Ezra to continue and Chris groaned inside wondering how much more of this teasing he would have to endure.
"It had occurred to me," Ezra paused as he looked between the two troublemakers at the table, the twinkle in his green eyes matched by two sets of blue ones, "that since Charlotte is like a mother to me, that once you two are married it would make you something of a stepfather to me."
Chris leaned forward over the table, while encouraging Ezra to come closer which the gambler did. "You ever call me Pa and I will shoot you."
Ezra reclined back into his chair, laughing, "I am afraid that isn't much of a threat."
"Have at it, Chris," Vin said, gesturing toward Ezra. "But he's just gonna wake up and annoy ya all over again."
"Mr. Tanner, I am hurt that you find me annoying," Ezra said, throwing a hand to his chest, adding to the drama of the statement.
"It ain't that you're annoying but you'd make damn fine target practice," Buck assured him.
"I do not appreciate being volunteered as a target," Ezra said as he collected the cards from the table and proceeded to shuffle one handed while feigning an air of indignation at Buck's suggestion.
"You're the only one that makes sense when Chris starts threatening," Buck said, reaching for the bottle on the table to pour himself another drink. "Might as well let him do it once."
"Yeah, Ezra, let me get it out of my system." Chris smiled as he shifted back in his chair, allowing his coat to fall open so that the gambler could see his gun. This wasn't the first time one of the others had volunteered Ezra as a target whenever he threatened to shoot someone, but he'd never actually taken the opportunity to do it.
The shuffling stopped as the gambler's eyes met the gunslinger's. A small impish grin graced Ezra's features. "You will of course replace whatever garments you damage," he said laying his cards on the table.
Chris hadn't expected him to actually agree, but he could see that Ezra was serious. Well, he was game if Ezra was. Besides it was an opportunity to prove to his men that love hadn't softened him. Though truthfully he was pretty sure it had. He was finding it harder and harder to find that black place left behind by Sarah and Adam's deaths. While their memory would always be a source of sadness, his newfound love for Charlotte had successfully begun to fill the emptiness inside of him in a way he never thought would ever be possible again.
"Of course," Chris replied. "Care to step outside?"
Vin sat up straighter. "You ain't really gonna let him do it, Ez?"
Ezra didn't answer either man; instead he tilted his head as if listening for unseen voices. Chris had noticed the gesture before when Charlotte was near and knew it was a sign that Ezra felt the Immortal presence of his relative.
The gambler smiled, revealing his gold tooth. "Consider it a wedding present," he said. "But I do hope that you are ready to explain to your paramour why you felt it was necessary to shoot her beloved cousin."
The color drained from Chris' face. He hadn't considered that. Charlotte probably wouldn't appreciate that is was all in good fun. Chris turned anticipating Charlotte's imminent arrival in the saloon.
The batwing doors parted, but it wasn't Charlotte who entered.
Ezra wasn't sure why he had volunteered to be target practice for Chris, but he sensed it might prove illuminating. There was a part of him that was curious about what lay beyond death. He had been killed twice but there had been no enlightenment. There had been no white light beckoning him towards heaven or demons waiting in the shadows to drag him to hell, but then he hadn't been expecting either death. Aside from the pain, he'd felt simply as if he'd gone to sleep and woken up with a terrible hangover. He wondered if he were prepared for death, would he learn what lay beyond the veil; it was an intriguing concept. As an added bonus, it would be fun to watch Chris try to explain his behavior to Charlotte, and a flustered Chris was always entertaining.
As the batwing doors swung back, Ezra realized that the Immortal presence he felt was not his cousin but instead the man who now stood staring at him from the entrance of the saloon.
Ignoring the questioning looks from his friends, Ezra stood slowly, never taking his eyes off the stranger. The man was dressed for the trail; bandana at his throat, checked shirt, brown pants, and Ezra suspected there was a sword sequestered within the folds of the man's tan duster.
"Ez, is he?" Chris hissed
Ezra moved his hand ever so slightly, a silent request that Chris remain quiet while also signaling an affirmative to the question.
The three sat up straighter in their chairs, indicating that they would back him if he needed it.
It felt as if the entire Saloon was holding its collective breath waiting to see why their resident gambler was so interested in the newcomer.
Ezra thought back to when another Immortal had wandered into town. Methos had been Charlotte's friend and mentor, so there had been no threat of challenge. In fact, Methos had taken over his cousin's job as Ezra's teacher. A role Charlotte was happy to relinquish to the more experienced Immortal. He'd just started warming to the old man when Methos had disappeared; breaking his cousin's heart in the process. Ezra was beyond angry at Methos and was in no mood to have their lives disrupted by another of Charlotte's Immortal 'friends'.
On the other hand, if the man wasn't a friend, then there was only one other reason the Immortal had entered this establishment. Challenge.
The man stared at Ezra, finally breaking into a feral smile. Ezra read the man clearly. The stranger had taken in his fancy dress, smaller stature and protective friends, quickly coming to the conclusion that he was easy pickings.
Ezra might not possess Methos' skill level but even the older Immortal had been impressed with how far he'd come in such a short period of time. With a little cunning, Ezra was sure he could determine if the odds in this duel would be to his favor.
Ezra nodded hesitantly, inviting the other man to climb the two steps to their table. As the Immortal approached, Chris, Vin and Buck stood, and while they didn't draw their weapons they made it perfectly clear that they were willing too. Ezra was pleased by the gesture not simply because of the friendships it implied, but more because it would cement in his opponent's mind that Ezra was in need of the others to protect him.
The man ignored the three gunslingers focusing all his energy into menacing Ezra. "Karl Jaeger," he said curtly.
"Mr. Jaeger." Ezra tilted his head in a gesture of greeting. "Ezra Standish, and these are my companions, Chris Larabee, Buck Wilmington and Vin Tanner."
The man barely acknowledged the introductions. "I believe, Mr. Standish, that we have some business to discuss."
Ezra took note of the heavy German accent. It could be a sign of a newer Immortal, one who hadn't had time to lose the indicators of his homeland.
"Now?" Ezra squeaked, putting an appropriate amount of fear into his voice; after all, image was everything. "Are you sure you wouldn't like to have a drink or perhaps a game of poker before we get down to business." He only hoped his friends would not ruin the façade he was building by opening their mouths.
Karl smiled, taken in by the false meekness that Ezra was projecting. "I'm sure your friends won't mind giving us some privacy while we have that drink."
"I - I agree," he began hesitantly and cast a look toward his friends, building on the idea that he would be vulnerable without them, before retuning his gaze to the other Immortal. "Some things should be discussed in private."
Chris and Buck seemed uncertain as to what to do. Vin turned toward Ezra, taking a step closer so that his face was hidden from Karl. "You sure you want us to go?" The tracker asked, the concern for abandoning his friend to this stranger clear in his voice. When he followed the question with a wink, Ezra had to suppress the urge to smile at Vin's perceptiveness.
"Thank you, Vin," he said. "I believe that Mr. Jaeger is correct. Our discussion will require some privacy." He reached out to touch Vin's arm, an uncharacteristic gesture for him, as he said softly but loud enough for Karl to overhear. "Please, don't go far."
Vin nodded slowly then tilted his head toward Buck and Chris indicating that they should leave. "Don't worry. We'll be right outside iffen ya need us." Vin punctuated his performance with a menacing glare for Jaeger.
Ezra watched them go, allowing Karl to see the distress that their departure caused him. He was quite enjoying this character of reluctant participant that he was building for the German's benefit. It had been too long since he'd pulled a proper con. The glint of satisfaction he saw in the man's eyes told Ezra that he hadn't lost his touch.
As the three gunslingers exited the saloon, the other patrons returned to their previous activities, figuring that if Chris Larabee was unconcerned for the gambler's safety who were they to worry.
Once outside, the three lawmen walked down the boardwalk to stop in front of the jail positioning themselves to watch the saloon
"I ain't never seen Ezra so scared," Buck said. "I don't think we should have left him in there alone with that guy."
Vin and Chris looked at each other and burst out laughing.
"It ain't funny guys."
"When you ever seen Ezra that scared, Bucklin?" Vin asked as he continued to snigger.
"You mean?" Buck cast his eyes back toward the saloon as understanding dawned. "He was faking!"
"Course he was faking."
"Best way to keep an opponent in the dark," Chris said. "Let them think they have the advantage."
"Well, if Ezra fooled me," Buck chuckled with admiration for their resident conman, "I reckon that guy ain't got a chance."
"Hate to break it to ya, pard, but you ain't that hard to fool."
Buck opened and closed his mouth as he looked to Chris for support.
"Sorry to disappoint you, stud, but Vin's right," Chris teased.
Huffing his disagreement, Buck dropped down into one of the wooden chairs on the boardwalk and glared at his friends.
Vin leaned over to stage whisper at Chris, "I think we hurt his feelings."
Chris nodded. "He looks so sad and alone."
Buck waved a hand at them in annoyance. "Ha ha very funny."
"What's funny?" came a lilting female voice.
Chris looked up to see Charlotte had silently joined their group. "Buck ain't feeling particularly happy." He reached out to take her arm drawing her to his side.
"Don't listen to him, Charlotte," Buck said, standing up to greet her. "He's been so happy these days he makes a clown look sad."
"It's true, ma'am," Vin said as he touched his hat in greeting. "You've made Chris so happy his glare don't even work no more."
Looking up at her intended, she smiled. "I am sorry that I have taken away your greatest means for controlling your motley crew."
"Who's she calling motley?" Buck asked.
Vin shrugged. "Who says he controls us?"
Chris quirked a mischievous smile. "I can still shoot them."
"That's not really the best solution," Charlotte teased.
Buck got an evil glint in his eye. "He was gonna shoot Ezra for target practice and Ez was gonna let him."
Charlotte pushed back from Chris. "You weren't?" A hint of disapproval in her tone.
Chris sent an ineffectual glare toward his oldest friend. "It was a friendly conversation. I wouldn't have done it." He snaked an arm around her waist pulling her back to him and she came willingly. "I know your 'condition' is nothing to joke about."
"You keep calling it her condition," Buck laughed, "and people are gonna think – " He moved his hand over his stomach with the suggestion of a baby bump.
"Buck, shut up!" Chris snapped. How could Buck be so thoughtless?
Buck visibly blanched at the harshness of Chris' command and then sagged as he realized what he'd said. He stepped toward Charlotte. "Ma'am, I am sorry. You know I didn't mean –"
Charlotte gave him a weak smile. "Do not worry yourself, Buck. Apology accepted." She reached out to squeeze his arm.
Immortals could never have children of their own. Buck should have known better than to mention pregnancy because that had been one of the stumbling blocks in Chris and Charlotte's relationship. Assuming that Chris would want to start a family of his own, she had initially refused his desire for a more permanent commitment. What Charlotte had failed to understand was that the six children she'd adopted over the years were more than enough family for him. Hell, it was more family than he ever hoped to have again and they'd accepted him as he'd accepted them. The twins had already asked if they could call him Pa after the wedding. He smiled at that thought; surprising himself with how much he was looking forward being called that again; as long as it wasn't Ezra doing the calling.
He shook himself out of his thoughts to find himself once again the object of Vin and Buck's childish grinning.
"See, that's the look!" Buck pointed at Chris while addressing Charlotte. "You done that."
"I know." Her face was a mirror of his contentment. "Now if you gentlemen will excuse me, I have to see Ezra. I wanted his advice on some of my business investments," she gestured to the small ledger Chris hadn't noticed she'd been holding, "and I am already late."
Chris was smacked back to reality with that statement. In the midst of all the lighthearted banter, he'd allowed himself to forget that Ezra might be in real danger from their Immortal visitor. He really was slipping.
"He ain't here," Vin said. "He's on patrol."
Chris was grateful for Vin's quick thinking. He had no intention of letting Charlotte anywhere near that other Immortal. He fully expected that Ezra would be able to talk the man's ear off and convince him to be on his way without any challenges taking place. If that didn't work then Chris fully intended to shoot and behead the German bastard himself before Charlotte even had a chance to know another Immortal was in town.
"Well he's back," she said gesturing toward the saloon. "And most likely wondering why I have yet to appear."
The three gunslingers exchanged frustrated looks that did not go unnoticed by Charlotte. Chris knew that they felt an equal responsibility to keep Charlotte safe from the dangerous Immortal.
"Surely you must realize by now that I always know where Ezra is?" Charlotte asked "Did Ezra ask you to delay me for some reason?"
"No ma'am," Vin said, covering his earlier lie with another. "Didn't know he was back already."
Charlotte nodded, accepting Vin's explanation.
While Chris hated that they had tried to lie to Charlotte, he felt her safety justified the small deceit. He was only angry that it had never occurred to him to ask just how far one Immortal's perception of another could reach. He wished she hadn't been close enough to challenge Vin's story.
"Why don't we take a walk? Ezra can wait," Chris offered.
"Later," she squeezed his arm, "I really shouldn't keep Ezra waiting. Gentlemen."
She tilted her head in farewell and headed toward the saloon. Chris followed, reaching out to grab her arm, turning her to face him. "You're not going in there." He hadn't meant to sound so harsh, but the danger presented by the other Immortal made him speak hastily.
Charlotte looked down at his hand on her arm and then up at his face. She quirked an eyebrow at him. "And why don't you want me to go into the saloon?" Her tone was even, but he could sense the temper waiting just behind her words.
Chris hesitated. His lack of response provoked an immediate reaction. "Unbelievable," Charlotte snapped as she yanked her arm away. "You do not get to suddenly dictate where I can go just because we are betrothed."
"You know I would never do that," he entreated, trying to calm her down. He knew better than to command her behavior. Charlotte was a strong, independent woman and he loved that about her. "It's just that –" he stumbled, looking for a reason she would accept that would prevent her from leaving.
"Actually, ma'am," Buck spoke up. "Ezra's wantin' to avoid you. Asked if we couldn't keep you away for awhile. "
"Oh really?" The skepticism dripped from her words as she folded her arms across her chest.
Chris knew they were playing a dangerous game, deceiving her, but he saw no other solution. "Might be best if you didn't confront him just now," Chris said. "Why don't we have lunch and you can wait for Ezra to find you."
Charlotte narrowed her eyes as she studied the men in front of her. "For as much time as you spend with Ezra, you boys continue to be terrible liars."
Chris wasn't surprised she wasn't buying it. Ezra would never have dismissed plans with his cousin so carelessly nor asked them to lie to her.
"Please, Charlotte. Can't you just trust me that it ain't in your best interest to go looking for Ezra right now?"
"Tell me why and I'm happy to leave Ezra alone for the moment."
Chris looked to his companions hoping they might come up with answer she would accept.
"Truth is he's entertaining a lady," Buck said. "Might put a damper on his chances if his cousin were to come around demanding his attention."
"That was weak, Mr. Wilmington." She glared at the men, daring them to attempt to lie to her again.
Chris might have laughed seeing his own ability turned against him if he weren't so busy scrambling for a story.
Suddenly Charlotte's face went pale as she glanced toward the saloon. "It's Maude, isn't it? She's back."
"No! I promise you it isn't Maude," Chris assured her.
After Charlotte had stepped in to save the Standish Tavern from Maude's manipulations, Chris had finally gotten the truth about how Ezra had died the first time. He'd made it perfectly clear to Maude that she was unwelcome in Four Corners. He didn't expect to see the con woman again for a long time. Though, and Chris almost smiled at the thought, Maude was the Standish he'd prefer to use for target practice if the opportunity ever arose.
"Last chance, Chris," Charlotte demanded. "I want the truth."
Chris caught Vin's eye. The tracker shrugged and with a tilt of his head indicted that it was time for the truth. Sighing, Chris knew that Vin was right.
"Ezra is in the saloon with another Immortal. We think the guy wants to challenge him." Chris said. "I think it's best you stay away and let them work it out." Chris waited as his words penetrated hoping that she would understand why they'd tried to keep her away and obey his request.
Anger flared in Charlotte's eyes before turning to concern for Ezra. "You should have told me," she said coldly. "You have no idea what you're dealing with." She turned and took measured strides toward the saloon.
Chris knew she wasn't going to let him off the hook for keeping this from her, but he was also curious what she'd meant by her last pronouncement. She'd told him all about challenges and just like gunfights he didn't think they required much understanding.
Without looking back she snapped, "We will talk about this later," and disappeared through the batwing doors
"That went well," Vin drawled without humor.
"Get the others," Chris ordered as he stalked across the street, Buck and Vin following close behind. "May need 'em."
They nodded and took off to find their missing members.
Chris knew that Charlotte didn't have her sword on her. He wasn't sure if that was a good thing or a bad one. He spared a glance down the road to where she'd left her wagon; he knew that she kept it under the seat whenever she traveled. He had no intention of retrieving it; he'd put a bullet in Mr. Jaeger before the Immortal ever have the opportunity to draw on his woman. Immortals, Charlotte had once explained, were too discrete to pull their swords when there were potential witnesses about. He hoped she was right. If not, they had numbers on their side. With the other six to back him, he hoped Ezra could convince the German to simply leave town.
Ezra was almost enjoying the conversation with Karl. The other Immortal was arrogant, self-assured and completely taken in by the picture of the scared, inexperienced novice that Ezra was painting. If not for the fact that the ultimate goal of their little tête-à-tête was a duel to the death, he could have taken more pleasure in the con.
They had just finished negotiating the details of their challenge when Ezra felt another Immortal's presence. This time he was sure it was Charlotte because Mr. Jaeger frowned, indicating he had no idea who it could be.
Silently he cursed Chris, all the while keeping a pleasant smile plastered on his face. He was sure the gunslinger didn't want Charlotte involved in this, but obviously Chris had been negligent, allowing her to get too close. Ezra was sure Charlotte would sweep in and try to take over the challenge. While Charlotte was an able swordswoman, the gambler was not about to let her endanger herself. The gentleman and the son in him would not allow it.
"I believe that is my mentor," Ezra said neutrally.
Karl absorbed this information. Ezra noticed a twinge of fear cross his face and disappear before he spoke, "Still new enough to need a teacher." There was disgust in his voice. "I killed mine, first opportunity I had. Happy to take care of yours once we've finished."
Ezra clenched his fists under the table. As if this cretin stood a chance against either of them. The time he'd spent in Mr. Jaeger's presence convinced Ezra that he could take the braggart. After all he'd held his own against Methos; a point that even the older Immortal had grudgingly granted him.
"Your skill must be quite remarkable to take out such an experienced Immortal." In truth Ezra had no idea who the man's teacher might have been, but the dead man had obviously misjudged his student's loyalty.
Any response was interrupted as Charlotte pushed through the batwing doors, halting at the entrance. Both men stood to face her.
Karl turned back to Ezra. "That is your teacher?" he laughed. "This is going to be easier than I thought."
Normally, Ezra would threaten to shoot any man for insulting his cousin in such a caviler manner, but the persona he'd created was a bit of a pushover. Instead he bowed his head in a sign of defeat.
"She has done her best," Ezra said ruefully.
"I'm sure she has." The condescending tone was almost more than Ezra could stand. "But one cannot expect a woman to play the Game well."
The man was baiting him and Ezra knew it; yet, he found himself fighting to control his temper. IFocus! /I he thought as he regained his center. He could not allow himself to be distracted by his concerns for Charlotte.
"I find her to be a competent instructor," Ezra said, forcing resignation into his voice. "I'm sure her instruction will serve me well." Everything about Ezra's body language and tone projected a defeatist attitude which Karl was lapping up. It was almost too easy.
Ezra hoped Charlotte would recognize the con he was playing. It was one she and Maude had used to great effect, or so she'd said, to lure foolish men into underestimating the skills of female Immortals.
He raised his gaze to see Charlotte climbing the two steps to stand behind Karl. Her face betrayed nothing as to her course of action but neither did she appear upset at his casual dismissal of her training skills.
"Mr. Karl Jaeger, may I present Mrs. Pearl Black." His friends had taken to calling his cousin 'Charlotte' once they'd learned that was her true name, but Ezra was taking no chances that this man might have heard of Charlotte Sparrow, Immortal and pirate's wife.
"Mr. Jaeger." Charlotte nodded solemnly.
"Mrs. Black," Karl returned the greeting.
Ezra held his breath waiting for Charlotte to take over the challenge. She'd been an encouraging teacher, but now that Ezra was faced with a real opponent would she be so quick to believe in him? Surprisingly, she made no move to interfere and Ezra relaxed as Charlotte simply joined the supposedly friendly conversation.
"I assume you gentlemen have concluded the preparations for your business later," she said, her tone still giving Ezra no clue as to what she was truly feeling.
"We have," Karl replied. "I look forward to conducting future business with you." The egotistical bastard smirked at the euphemism.
Ezra had to struggle to keep from rolling his eyes. The man was so arrogant it was almost funny.
Charlotte gave a polite laugh. "I do hope that it won't come to that."
Ezra allowed himself a small smile. She knew the game and was playing along. Her ambivalence about her student's skills would only add to the charade. A small part of Ezra wondered if she truly felt that way, but he clamped down on those thoughts immediately. It was a bad conman who started believing his own story.
At that moment, Chris pushed his way into the tavern and stalked up to the table to stand menacingly behind Charlotte, making it clear that he was protecting his own. Ezra stared at the man, willing him to turn around and go before he ruined everything.
Ezra shouldn't have worried; Charlotte took control of the situation as she turned to face him. "Chris!" she said, the excitement at his presence ringing false to Ezra's ears. "So nice of you to join us." Ezra noticed that she squeezed Chris' arm as she met the gunslinger's steely glare. The gambler could only imagine the unending torture she was threatening with her eyes while maintaining a seemingly cheerful demeanor. "Have you met Mr. Jaeger?
Chris shifted his gaze to Ezra who shook his head imperceptibly hoping Chris would keep his mouth shut. For once, Ezra seemed to have mastered the ability to send his thoughts to Chris as Vin did so naturally, because the gunslinger visibly relaxed, trusting Ezra to handle the situation.
"I have," Chris replied. He nodded at Jaeger and then settled into the same seat he had vacated earlier. "You ready to finish our game?" he asked Ezra as he gestured to the cards on the table.
Nicely done, Chris, Ezra thought. Out loud he replied, "In a moment," then turning to Karl he continued, "I assume we are finished?" Ezra was now grateful that Chris' return could act as a catalyst to dismiss the Immortal.
Karl was oblivious to the silent conversations that had been swirling around him. "Yes, of course," he said. "But I look forward to finishing our discussion later this afternoon."
Ezra tilted his head. "Mr. Jaeger."
The Immortal sent a gesture of farewell to both Chris and Charlotte before exiting the saloon. When he was sure Karl was gone, Ezra dropped triumphantly back into his chair, letting the false persona slip away, congratulating himself on a con well initiated. Ezra knew there was a chance that he was being played as well. Karl was so sure of himself that it bordered on manic, usually a sign of false bravado; an Alpha male in the wild whose roar was worse than his fight.
Now, all he had to do was deal with an irate gunslinger and his, for once, unreadable cousin. Somehow fighting the challenge seemed less intimidating.
The minute the batwing doors stopped swinging she whirled on Chris. "What in the world did you think you were doing?"
Chris, taken aback by the sudden attack, was struck speechless.
Charlotte sat forcefully down in the seat next to him to continue her rant. Ezra couldn't help but feel sorry for Chris which was followed quickly by thanks that is wasn't directed at him.
"You could have ruined everything! Ezra had that arrogant idiot handled perfectly. There was no need for you to come in guns practically blazing!"
Ezra smiled. She'd approved of his play. As much as he enjoyed seeing Chris flustered, because of his good mood, he felt a certain obligation to rescue the man. "Thank you, cousin –"
She held up a hand indicating he wait to join the conversation. It seemed she wasn't done with Chris.
"He was dangerous," Chris snarled. He had found his voice and wasn't going let Charlotte dictate to him. "I wasn't about to let you come in here and take the challenge."
"Let me!" she hissed. "Any challenge I take or do not take is none of your business."
Ezra felt like he'd been punched in the gut. It was her intention to force him to stand aside.
"Bullshit! You're going to be my wife, of course it's my business," Chris spat back. "And you," he turned his glare on Ezra, "what the hell are you thinking agreeing to fight that man? Where's that sliver tongue you're so proud of? Why the hell didn't you talk him into walking away?"
Ezra was taken aback at becoming the focus of Chris' ire. Did Chris really think he could have talked that man out of a duel? While Ezra was flattered by the confidence his friend displayed about his manipulative skills, Chris had no idea what he was asking. Perhaps because the first Immortals the gunslinger had met were friends, he had no idea that there were certain Immortals that would never walk away.
"Don't be ridiculous, Chris," Charlotte said. "Ezra is doing exactly what is necessary. And based on what I've seen of his opponent, I have complete faith that he will be the victor."
She had confidence in his skill; was sure he would win. Ezra was overwhelmed by those few words. Ezra was about to face a deadly challenge and yet the irony was he never felt more alive than he did in the face of Charlotte's support. He was pulled from his musings by the rising voices of Charlotte and Chris.
The argument was becoming heated and the saloon was no place for this discussion. "Chris, Charlotte!" he snapped interrupting them and receiving matching glares of displeasure for his intrusion. "Forgive me, but perhaps we should move this – dialogue to a more private location, such as the church?"
Both Charlotte and Chris appeared appropriately chastised. The three rose and made their way to the door only to find the other five lawmen on their way in.
Wonderful Ezra thought sarcastically. The cavalry