Chris sat on the chair supposedly checking his saddlebags one last time. The truth was, he was keeping a close eye on Ezra.
It had been a week since their almost-hanging and, while the bruises on their bodies had faded, the bruises to their psyches were still vibrant. Twice last night Chris had been awoken by Ezra’s cry of distress and once he’d been awoken from his own nightmare.
A shiver ran down his spine as he thought on the previous night’s dream, at what had almost been. A part of him wondered how Vin lived with it day in and day out, but that thought passed as a more immediate need caught his attention. "What do you think you’re doing?" he asked Ezra. Standing and walking over to the conman, he stopped in front of the younger man.
Ezra looked up at the blond, his initial shock fading to confusion. "I’m preparing myself for our travels," he replied, puzzled by Chris’ reaction.
Chris shook his head. Reaching out, he grabbed the coat from Ezra’s hands and held it out for the gambler. As Ezra’s eyes widened in surprise, Chris couldn’t stop his smile. Standish turned and easily slipped his arms into the sleeves as Chris aided him Then, as the coat settled on Ezra’s shoulders, Chris patted the Southerner on the back and returned to his saddlebags.
Ezra stood, adjusting the lapels of his coat and looking down. He was a little unsettled by Chris’ actions .
Chris watched as his friend tried to figure out why Chris had interceded. Larabee was fairly sure Ezra would figure it out - eventually.
Ezra pieced through what had just happened and tried to figure out what Chris had been doing, what had caused him to come over. The Southerner had been careful the past few days to hide how stiff and sore he still was. The people of Dry Gulch had been more than courteous in an effort to make up for the earlier misunderstanding, but the draw of home was strong for the gambler.
Glancing over his shoulder at the blond, Ezra smiled warmly at the memory of his friend standing steadfastly by his side throughout. Chris had been there ever time he’d needed him, had offered comfort and companionship when Ezra would have expected neither. Chris had even known that the act of putting on his coat caused the pain in Ezra’s back to flair. "Thank you," he said softly, watching as blond head rose and green eyes met his own. The words were simple, but said everything he needed.
Chris looked into Ezra’s eyes and read there thanks, not just for help with his coat, but for everything they’d been through. He hoped his own eyes reflected his friendship. "Ready to ride?" Larabee asked, standing and breaking the spell of the moment.
Ezra sighed. "I suppose if one must be so greatly inconvenienced as to partake of such a commonplace and uncomfortable mode of transport in order to achieve the accouterments of a civilized society, then I really have no choice but to comply to your request," he replied, tugging on the cuffs of his sleeves to straighten them.
Chris had followed every word, but would never let Ezra know that. Narrowing his eyes slightly, he couldn’t stop the corners of his mouth from curving upward in an amused smile. "I’ll take that as a yes," he said before turning and heading out the door.
Ezra’s eyes twinkled in amusement. He was well aware that Chris followed every word, but it was nice to fall into the comfortable banter they had established long ago. Picking up his own bags, he followed Chris out to their waiting horses.
The two men had left Dry Gulch later than planned, due mostly to the people who felt compelled to wish them well and a few who wanted to present them with gifts. The delay, though didn’t really matter much in the scheme of things since they’d been planning on taking two days to complete the journey.
Fortunately the day had been sunny, but not too warm and the gentle rain that had fallen the night before kept things from being too dusty and dry.
The conversation between the two men ebbed and flowed in a genial manner. Sometimes they would laugh and at other times they would ride in silence, just enjoying each other’s company.
As the sun headed toward the Western horizon, they approached a small copes of trees by a stream, the place they’d agreed on as their stop-over. Both men halted their horses as they spotted five other horses and five familiar men already populating the area. Twin grins broke out on the weary travellers’ faces.
Pausing a moment, Ezra took a deep breath and observed, "It appears our return was not unexpected."
Chris chuckled softly. "Appears not." Turning to look at the Southerner, he asked, "Ready to go meet the rest of them?"
Ezra thought a moment before nodding. It had been a week since he’d seen the others. Nathan and JD had headed out the day after the dramatic events. It was a day later that several trustworthy townsfolk had agreed to take over the job of watching the sheriff until Travis arrived. It had taken firm orders an not a little growling and shouting by Chris to get Josiah, Buck and Vin to head home, but it had happened. That had left just the two of them in the doctor’s care with little to do other than think, heal and talk.
Ezra had done a lot of thinking in those days. The question of why he hadn’t been tempted to take the money for himself had been bothering him. Nothing had come to him as far as a reason went. Then, as they prepared to greet their friends, Ezra suddenly realized he knew the answer to the question that had been bothering him since the jail. Reaching out, he rested a hand on Chris’ arm, staying the man’s progress.
Startled and concerned by Ezra’s move, Chris turned to Standish and asked, "What is it Ezra? What’s wrong?"
Ezra smiled at his friend. "Nothing’s wrong," he assured. "I just realized the answer to the question you asked me in the jail - why I hadn’t been tempted to take off with four times the amount of money we found in that assassin’s room."
Chris raised an eyebrow, his eyes reflecting expectation and curiosity. He held his breath hoping that Ezra had really figured it out.
Ezra saw the anticipation in Chris’ eyes and smiled more broadly as he explained, "I wasn’t tempted to take the forty thousand dollars be cause I have found something worth far more than gold. I’ve found friends - a family - and no amount of money can ever take their place."
Chris smiled broadly. That’s exactly what he wanted to hear. Reaching over he slapped Ezra on the arm and whooped loudly before taking off toward their waiting friends at a gallop.
Ezra threw back his head and laughed.
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