Disclaimer: The following story is a work of fan fiction and is not intended to infringe on any copyrights or to make a profit.

Rating: M/F

by Ezra's Cat

She got up from the bed quietly, careful, as always, not to disturb Simon. Without opening the windows or lighting the lamps, she dressed herself quickly. She spared another glance at Simon, then she carefully reached her hand into her coat pocket and removed the only thing she could call her own, a deck of Tarot cards that her grandmother had once given her, before…

She stopped that line of thought brusquely and, with another quick look at Simon, began to quietly shuffle the cards. Her question, as always, was about Simon—or rather herself. She’d been with Simon for quite sometime, but there’d been others before him, some worse, some better. But to her they were all the same, only the name changed.

Simon called her Lilly, but Lilly was not her name. She shook her head once and cursed her father. As she’d been cursing her father, she had laid out the Tarot cards for her daily reading. She sat back, a bit shocked.

Sure….she knew others would laugh at her for her belief in these cards. But her grandmother had taught her to read them and to respect them. And they had never lied to her. And that was a lot more than she could say about every person she knew. These cards were her only friends. They told her truth…whether pleasant or not.

And here they were telling her something they had never told her before, offering something they had never offered before. This reading was unlike anything she’d ever seen before.

She looked again to be sure. The cards definitely said that a change was coming, and that hope was in that change. Greed and abuse were fading into her past.

Though her cards had never lied to her before, she could hardly dare hope that they spoke truthfully now.

Simon started to stir and she quickly gathered up her cards, shoving them deep into the pocket of her coat.

"Lilly, come here," Simon said.

And she went to him.

"We’re leaving today. Get my things packed. I want to be ready to leave in half an hour."

She nodded her head and began gathering Simon’s belongings. She mused while doing so that there was indeed change coming. They’d been in this small town for months. In all that time, her cards had said "sorrow and stagnation"; today they spoke of change. She added "and hope" to her thoughts. They spoke of hope. And now Simon was ready to move on.

A short while later, she mounted up behind Simon on the horse. All his things were in the saddlebags, along with the few garments he allowed her. She surveyed this awful little town once as they rode out. She would not miss it, or the countless dozens like it she had been in before. On the other hand, she smiled lightly, she was heading towards Hope.

It was nearly dark when they rode into the town. It had been a long day of riding, and she was tired. But she knew Simon all too well. He would likely tie up the horse, untended of course, and head for the nearest saloon, looking for a mark.

He didn’t disappoint her. He stopped the horse and dismounted, tying the tired steed to a post. Then, with a glare, he ordered her off. She dismounted.

"Take off that coat, Lilith, much too dirty."

She nodded mutely and removed the coat, tying it securely on the horse. Then she followed as he headed to the saloon.

Her first impression of the saloon was the noise and the dark. But that was not unusual at all. A few of the patrons looked oddly at all. A few of the patrons looked oddly at her as she entered, but she was used to that by now. Simon always insisted she accompany him.

She saw a lone man sitting calmly at a table. He was wearing a red jacket and his apparel was…to say out of place didn’t quite cover it. It was fancy, as if he placed a great deal of stock in his appearance. She knew Simon. This would be the man he’d pick as his mark. She almost felt sorry for the man in the red jacket, almost but not quite. If he played with Simon, he only had himself to blame for his losses.

The man smiled as they approached. In a soft southern drawl he said, "Good evening. Might I interest you in joining me?" He indicated the empty chairs.

Simon gracelessly sat down. "Sure. You like poker?"

The man in red looked at her. "My dear, this diversion is not likely to be of interest to you. Are you quite certain you wish to remain?"

Simon glanced at him. "She stays."

He looked at Simon and shrugged casually. "It is of no consequence to me, I assure you. I was only interested in allowing your companion the opportunity to extricate herself gracefully from an endeavor which will surely prove tiresome to her. Unless she will be participating as well?"

Simon openly gaped at him for a moment. The man smiled.

"She stays."

The man shrugged as she took a seat between them. She determined that she liked man. He was amiable enough.

After the first round of the game, she could tell by Simon’s expression that the man was not the mark he’d expected. That, and the fact Simon lost.

Then Simon lost again. By now, she could tell that Simon had lost too much to simply walk away from the table.

The man in red, however, maintained a perfectly calm demeanor, mostly. He’d tried to engage her in conversation several times, but each time Simon had cut her off before she had a chance to respond. The last time he’d done that, she would have sworn she saw a flash of anger in his eyes. But it was gone in a moment.

The cards were dealt again. Simon wagered everything he had, and the man in red raised once again. Simon looked at the man. "I have no more money."

"Then it appears this game is at an end," came the soft reply.

"Wait!" Simon said. "I have no money, but I do have her." He indicated her. She wasn’t really surprised.

"You would wager your companion?" the man in red asked dangerously.

"Why not? She ain’t nothin’ to me."

She knew this line. She’d been here before…several times. It was how she’d met Simon. It was how the life she now lived had begun.

She said nothing though. She kept her expression neutral.

"She means nothing to you, and yet you expect her to have value to me? An intriguing notion," the man in red commented casually. He turned to her. "My dear, how do you feel about this?"

She looked at him in shock. No one had ever asked her that before. But before she could respond, Simon said, "She’s mine. It don’t matter how she feels."

She saw anger once again flicker in the man’s eyes, but he did not divert his attention from her. "What is your name?" he asked her.

"Her name is Lilith, not that it matters," Simon stated.

The man looked away from her and glared at Simon. "If you expect me to accept her as your wager, you will allow her to speak."

"Tell him your name…Lilith," Simon ordered.

She looked at Simon, then turned to the man in red. He was her hope…the hope the cards promised her. She could feel it. She decided to trust them.

"Felicity. My name is Felicity Chambers," she said very softly.

The man in red smiled at her lightly. She wasn’t paying attention to Simon, but he had been paying attention to her.

"Damn you girl! I told you your name was Lilith." He swung his hand back to punch her, but the blow did not land. She watched in amazement as the man in red held back Simon’s arm. He smiled at her.

"Ezra Standish," he said. "It is a pleasure to meet you, Miss Chambers."

Felicity’s eyes widened, not only from surprise that this man had just defended her, but also from the manner in which he addressed her. He’d called her "Miss Chambers". No one had ever addressed her like that before.

"I have decided that your wager is acceptable," Ezra said to Simon.

Felicity had gotten past the point of caring about the outcome of hands at poker. She had. But this particular hand had her undivided attention. Sure, she’d been through this before, several times; it was how she’d ended up with Simon.

But this time, Felicity found herself hoping that Mr. Standish would win. She knew if he did not, she would pay for her defiance. She couldn’t even imagine why she’d told him her name; it was a name she had not heard in ages.

She watched Simon, and she could tell by the way he held himself that he was exceedingly pleased with his hand. She looked at the man in red…Ezra…and she could tell nothing. He did not look at her. His eyes were fixed on Simon.

Finally, they laid down their cards. Simon had two pair, king high. It was a good hand, but Ezra had a straight flush. Felicity let out a breath she did not know she’d been holding.

"Well then," Ezra drawled casually, "I believe I have relieved you of your charming companion." He looked directly at Simon. Then he turned and smiled at Felicity.

"My dear, why don’t we go gather your belongings."

"No!" Simon exploded. "You won the girl, but nothing else. Everything she has is mine."

That’s not true!" Felicity cried. Then she remembered that Simon did not know about her grandmother’s gift.

She started to panic. Her clothes meant nothing to her. They were of styles she would not have chosen. Her cards, however, were the one thing she’d always had that was hers, and Simon was trying to take them away.

She felt a hand on her shoulder and looked up. Ezra was smiling at her. Then he turned his gaze back to Simon.

"I will offer you the opportunity to regain your losses this evening. Everything except Felicity. I win, I keep everything and you relinquish Felicity’s belongings. You win, I return what you had when we met, excepting again, Felicity. I am not willing to lose her. Do we have an agreement?"

Felicity knew that the pot was too juicy for Simon to resist. She looked at Ezra, admiration and awe shining clearly in her eyes. He was defending her. Sure, she was now his possession, but at least he ascribed some value to her. She saw Simon glare at her, but she didn’t care; she was free of him.

The cards were dealt again. Felicity watched with interest. When they lay their hands down and Ezra had won, she clapped with glee. She had not wanted him to lose on account of her.

But her joy was short lived, for she realized that even though she now had her possessions, her cards, they belonged to Ezra. Her cards were no longer hers. Everything she had was his.

Ezra stood up and offered her his arm. She stood up and took it meekly. He looked at her for a moment. "Come, let us collect your belongings and be rid of that loathsome miscreant."

Felicity nodded and led Ezra to the overburdened horse. She vaguely heard him curse Simon under his breath when he saw the poor animal. She liked this man. That scared her. She had never liked anyone she was forced to be with. But Ezra was different somehow.

She moved quietly and quickly, first untying her coat and putting it on, then she reached into the saddlebag for her small bundle.

She walked back to Ezra, noticing Simon in the shadow. She watched, as if it weren’t happening, as Simon raised a gun and pointed it at her. She heard the firing of the gun and she felt herself pushed with violent quickness. She heard another gunshot ring out as she landed on the ground.

But she had not been hit. Ezra had pushed her aside. She looked up at him, only to notice that he was clutching his side. He still had his gun out and aimed in Simon’s direction. Simon lay on the ground and he was not moving.

Felicity stood up and ran to Ezra. She noticed the blood oozing over his hand. "You’re hurt!" she cried. "You need help. Where? Who?" She was trying not to panic. This man had defended her…again. And she was not going to let him down now.

When he looked at her, she could see the pain in his eyes. He was disoriented. "Where do you live?" she asked. "We need to get you home, then I’ll find the doctor."

"This burgeoning metropolis does not at present have the services of a doctor readily at hand."

No doctor, she thought wildly. The town didn’t have a doctor?

Ezra turned to the hotel and staggered slightly. Felicity put her arm around his waist and draped one of his arms over her shoulder. "You’ll need to help me a little, Mr. Standish. I’m afraid I don’t know your town very well, and if you fall, I won’t be able to lift you. Where are we going?"

"Hotel. Second floor," he said quietly.

Felicity nodded. Together they staggered down the street. No one came out to help. She noticed that no one came out to investigate the gunshots that had sounded out. She saw a few faces in the windows, but nothing else. She vaguely wondered where the sheriff of this town was. Surely, he should have investigated.

After what seemed like forever, she finally got Ezra to the hotel room. She opened the door and she started to walk with him over to the bed. She knew he’d been hurt badly and that he was fighting hard to help her, because she was covered in blood. Blood he was losing. Suddenly, he slumped forward, and she caught him…barely. The sudden increase in his weight, however, propelled her backwards. She landed on the bed, Ezra’s unconscious form on top of her.

It took her several moments to shift him off her. Then she pulled him completely onto the bed and tried to make him more comfortable…or at least move him to a seemingly comfortable position.

Felicity knew next to nothing about medicine. But she knew that she needed to get that bullet out and she knew she needed to stop his bleeding. How…well that was quite another story.

She quickly began to work on moving Ezra’s jacket. When she pulled him to a sitting position, he opened his eyes.

"Mr. Standish?"

He focused on her for a moment.

"Can you help me take your coat off?"

Ezra nodded and, leaning on her, removed his jacket. When the jacket was removed, Felicity pulled his shirt tails out and began to unbutton the shirt. Before she could remove the shirt completely, she felt Ezra slump against her.

She took his shirt off, then gently lay him back on the bed. With a deep breath she looked at his injury. Then she went over to his dresser where she had noticed a basin and pitcher. The pitcher was empty, so she left Ezra alone for a moment and went to refill it with fresh water, knowing that she’d need it.

Felicity returned with the water, then began searching for something she could use for bandages. Ezra had a lot of clothing, she noted rather quickly, but all of it was of high quality and exquisite workmanship. She hated to destroy any of it. Finally, she located one shirt that looked a little worn about the cuffs. It was at the bottom of a drawer, and she hoped it was not one he would miss. She also hoped he would not be too irritated with her for going through his things. But she needed bandages, and she only had one additional outfit, or she’d have used her own.

She quickly tore the shirt into strips and then carried the strips over to Ezra. The water was already close by. Using the washing cloth that she had found earlier, she gently bathed the wound with water. Absently, she noticed a half empty bottle of whiskey nearby and she moved it closer to her. The alcohol in it was better than none at all. When she had washed the wound, she was able to get a closer look at it.. The bullet was not too deeply embedded; she could easily see it.

Felicity then realized she had nothing with which to remove the bullet. She started looking around again, hoping to find a knife or something she could use. She saw nothing, so grimacing, she washed her hands then poured alcohol over them. Then she reached into the wound and pulled out the bullet.

Ezra groaned at her touch.

Quickly, she poured some of the whiskey into the wound, causing Ezra to twist away from her. She waited a moment for him to be still again, then she washed the area clean with the water. Finally, she applied the bandages to his side, hoping that she’d done this correctly. She covered Ezra with a blanket, wiped his forehead with the cloth, and then lay down on the floor beside the bed. It had been an extremely long day, and Felicity was exhausted.

She awoke the next morning as the sun came into the room. She was disoriented, and for a moment did not recognize her surroundings. The memory of the previous evening came back to her in a flash. She sat up and checked on Ezra. He seemed to be resting peacefully.

She reached into her pocket and pulled out the Tarot cards. She quietly lay them on the table and looked at them. They showed peace and tranquility. She started to clear them up when she heard movement behind her. Ezra was attempting to sit up. After a moment, he gave up and leaned back on the pillow.

He looked at her oddly for a moment. Then he said, "Miss Chambers?"

Felicity nodded.

"What are you doing here?" he asked.

She was confused. "You were injured. I …"

He looked down at the bandages. "You took care of me?" He smiled.

She looked away and blushed.

"Much obliged, dear lady," he said quietly. Then he looked at her curiously. "What were you doing just now?"

Felicity looked at him startled. He’d seen her cards. "You would not understand, Mr. Standish."

"Try me," he said.

She took a deep breath. "I was reading my Tarot."

He didn’t laugh, but he said, "You surely do not place your faith in those instruments of prophesy, do you?"

She blushed.

He looked at her again. "I see that you do. Why?"

"They have never lied to me. They told me I’d meet you."

He looked astonished. "Explain."

"They told me change was coming and that it brought with it hope."

He considered what she said. Felicity stood up and went to the pitcher beside the bed and poured him a glass of water. "You’ve lost a lot of blood, Mr. Standish. You really should rest. Here," she said as she handed him the glass.

He took a couple sips of the water then handed the glass back to her. Within moments, he drifted back to sleep. Felicity took the time to check and change his bandages.

She sat and watched him for a while. Without meaning to do so, she drifted to sleep in the chair beside his bed.

She awoke to a loud pounding on the door. Ezra did not stir at the noise, so she stood up and went to the door. Felicity took a deep breath before answering it.

A tall man dressed entirely in black was on the other side. He glared at her, then looked over her shoulder to Ezra. He pushed past her without saying a word.

"Ezra, I thought I told you to watch out for this place while we were gone?" he said harshly before reaching the bed. "And here you are spending time with a fancy woman. There’s at least one dead body in the street…" here the man broke off his tirade as he noticed the bloody bandages beside the bed and the reddish water in the basin. Then he turned his glare back on Felicity.

"I think you better tell me what happened."

Felicity shrank back against the door. She wanted to run. About that time a tall black man entered the room.

The man in black shifted his attention to the newcomer and Felicity breathed a sigh of relief.

"Nathan, best check him out. Seems Ezra got shot while we were gone." Then he glared back at her. "You gonna tell me who you are and what happened?"

An irrational thought floated into Felicity’s head. *My cards lied. This is not peaceful.* Then she tried to face the man calmly. "My name is Felicity. He got shot after he won me. It’s my fault."

At these words, the black man…Nathan…turned and looked at her. "Won you?" He then looked at Ezra in extreme irritation. Felicity could almost see him trying to decide if he should help Ezra or not. Actually, Felicity thought it looked like Nathan wanted to punch Ezra.

She looked from Nathan to the intimidating man in black and back to Ezra. Then she ran over to Ezra’s side and took his hand. During all this, Ezra had not stirred. She wanted to run away completely, but she was afraid of what would happen. To her. To Ezra. She didn’t entirely trust these two men, and she was not going to leave Ezra defenseless with them.

Bracing herself as much as she could, she turned to the man in black. He looked mad. "Who are you?" she demanded.

He glared at her. But Nathan looked at her and his expression softened. "Chris, can’t you see she’s scared? Ease up on her. Ma’am, my name’s Nathan Jackson. This here’s Chris Larabee. We’re friends, or we used to be friends," at this he glared at Ezra, "of his." Nathan rather ungently removed the bandages Felicity had placed over Ezra’s wound. She could tell Nathan was angry.

"Be careful!" she said. "He is a good man, despite what you think."

Nathan looked at her. Chris growled and left the room. Felicity relaxed visibly at his departure.

"He won you, and you say he’s a good man?" Nathan was astonished.

"He also saved my life. That bullet was meant for me," she replied softly. "Already, he has treated me better than anyone else has."

"But ma’am…" Nathan broke off as Ezra stirred and opened his eyes.

"Oh, Mr. Jackson, I am pleased to see that you have returned safely from your sojourn to the next town."

"Save it, Ezra," Nathan growled.

Felicity could tell that Ezra was confused by Nathan’s tone.

"What have I done now to offend your sensibilities?" Ezra’s tone, Felicity noted, was one of resignation. As if he accepted that on occasion he offended this man unknowingly. He also sounded like he considered Nathan to be a friend.

"You won yourself a human being in a poker game."

"What was I supposed to do, allow her to stay with the individual who would put her up? I assure you, I have no intention of keeping her. Miss Chambers is free to go whenever she desires."

Felicity heard no more. She was free? That was the only thing she could think of, he was granting her her freedom. It was more than she had dared to even dream of or hope for. She was overwhelmed by what he had said.

She felt rather than saw a presence hovering over her. She felt herself being lifted by strong arms, but her mind was still too clouded to react to it. She heard voices, snippets of voices she thought she recognized but could not be sure. One said, "you just set right back there and I’ll see to her." A vague protest registered in the thick of her mind. Felicity struggled to clear the fog. She felt the softness of something under her head and smelled a pungent aroma. ,She opened her eyes.

"Miss Chambers?" Nathan said quietly. "Are you all right?"

She looked at him. "Miss Chambers?" he asked again.

"Mr. Jackson, did he say what I think he said?" she asked quietly, not really sure if she wanted to hear his response or not.

"Depends on what you think he said," Nathan smiled.

"Did he say I was free?"

Nathan looked to her. "Why don’t you ask him that?"

Felicity looked at Ezra, who was propped up on the pillow beside her looking at her with concern. "Did you mean that?"

"Certainly. I meant to inform you of that last night; unfortunately, that odious individual who had so recently been forced to relinquish you rendered that occurrence impossible. My apologies."

She blinked and tried to take in the sentence. Nathan whispered, "he meant to tell you last night, but then he got shot." Felicity nodded.

Felicity didn’t know what to think. She knew Ezra was a gentleman. She could tell when she first saw him, but to have him give her without pause the one thing she never dreamed she could have was more than she knew how to understand. She didn’t know how to thank him, or what to say to him. She sat up and reached over to Ezra, embracing him tightly, tears streaming down her face. "Thank you," she whispered.

Ezra cleared his throat. She could tell that she was making him uncomfortable with the display, but she just could not contain the joy that she felt.

"Miss Chambers," he said with a note of sadness in his voice, "your reaction to this shows me only how badly you needed a rescue. I am merely sorry that I was unable to assist you before." He pushed her back a moment and looked at her. "What will you do now?"

Felicity looked at him; she only knew one type of life. She had no skills, at least none of a reputable nature. "I don’t know," she said uncertainly. "But I’ll think of something. I never expected to do anything else."

He nodded and looked at Nathan, a saddened expression on his face. "It seems you are quite unprepared for this circumstance." Felicity nodded.

"You got you some right good ideas about healin’ too, Miss Chambers. You patched up Ezra real good. You ever consider nursin’?"

She looked at him. "Mr. Jackson, I never dared consider anything before. Now, the whole world is a possibility." She turned back to Ezra, who was obviously tired and needing more rest, "Thanks to you." She kissed him lightly on the cheek.

"Miss Chambers…" he started.

"Please call me Felicity, both of you. I’m not used to bein’ called ‘Miss’ and I find it a bit strange…like you aren’t talking to me."

Ezra smiled, "Felicity, you’ll get used to it, I assure you." Unexpectedly, the sound of Ezra’s voice sent a shiver down her spine. When he said her name, she felt something she had never felt before, but she wasn’t quite sure what it was. "However, if I am to address you by Felicity, then you must certainly call me Ezra."

Felicity nodded.

"And call me Nathan. I usually do the patchin’ up around here, but I’d be delighted to have an assistant, if you’d like the job. It don’t pay nothin’," he smiled.

"Well, that’s better than I’m used to," Felicity grinned. She would do anything that allowed her to stay near Ezra. She fully recognized that the feeling growing inside her for him, the warmth she felt when she thought of him, was in part due to his action. But she could not help it. He had saved her life; no, not just her life but her very existence. How could she not be attracted to him?

But a part of her asked, what if he is not attracted to me?

She refused to listen to that part just yet. If it proved to be the case, she would deal with it then. She knew she did not feel worthy of him, but she could make herself worthy. She would work hard, and hope that Ezra noticed her.

She noticed Nathan looking at Ezra and realized that Ezra really did need to rest. But he was not going to do so, or rather he could not do so while she was still sitting as close to him as she was. As it was, he was fighting, it seemed to keep his eyes open. She stood up. "Ezra, I’ll let you get some rest."

Nathan nodded. "That’s a good idea."

Felicity walked to the door of Ezra’s room. She had no idea where to go, what to do. That had always been a decision made for her. Nathan followed close behind her and shut the door behind him as they left. Felicity stood in the hall and looked at the door.

"You wanna stay and watch him for a bit?" Nathan asked.

Felicity nodded.

"Where’re you staying?" he asked.

She looked at him, "Mr. Jackson…Nathan…I have no idea. I expected to stay with Ezra, but I never expected…"

Nathan nodded.

Just then Chris Larabee walked up to them, and Felicity shrank back against the wall, trying to hide behind Nathan. He had someone else with him. A tall man with blue eyes. The man looked like he was always smiling. Looking at them, she almost felt disoriented. They were seemingly opposites of one another.

"Easy there, Felicity. They ain’t gonna hurt you," Nathan said.

His words of comfort did nothing to ease her fear though. Chris Larabee was a force to be reckoned with, and she was not altogether sure she was ready to deal with him. The other man grinned even more broadly when he saw her.

"Well, who have we here?" he said around a smile.

Felicity looked to Nathan, who sensed her discomfort and introduced his friend. "Felicity, this is Buck Wilmington."

She nodded to the tall man.

"Not very talkative, is she Nathan?" Buck said.

"Buck, why don’t you go talk to Mary about findin’ her a place to stay," Chris said. "I don’t care what the hell Ezra was thinkin’ about, but he ain’t keepin’ you," he growled at her. Chris started to go into the room, looking for all the world like he was about to deliver a final judgment on Ezra.

"Chris, easy there. Ezra ain’t plannin’ on keepin’ her," Nathan put in just as Felicity shouted, "You leave him alone!" She was not going to allow anyone else to hurt Ezra, not when he’d done all he had for her. Before Nathan could stop her, she ran back into Ezra’s room and bolted the door behind her.

Then she ran over to Ezra.

"Seems there is a bit of commotion out in the hallway, my dear. Pray enlighten me as to the cause.

"Mr. Larabee. He’s not happy."

"That would be an understatement, Felicity. However, it is also a semi-permanent condition. Has something new occurred to increase his malcontent?"

"He don’t like me."

She heard a pounding on the door and looked over to it anxiously.

"Felicity. Open up this door." It was Nathan. She wanted to trust him. She really did, but she did not want to let Mr. Larabee near Ezra.

Ezra seemed to sense her discomfort, for he put his hand on hers and said quietly, "Why don’t you open the door?"

Because he had asked her to, she got up and went to the door, unbolting it and opening it slightly. Nathan stood out in the hallway beside Chris Larabee. She nearly shut the door again, but Nathan reached out and held it open. Before she could say anything, Chris said, "I didn’t mean to frighten you, Miss Chambers. Mind lettin’ me in?"

She could tell that he was making an effort to be kind to her, like he was aware that she was terrified of him and wanted to allay her concerns. She looked at Nathan, who nodded to her, indicating that it was all right.

Felicity opened the door all the way, allowing Chris and Nathan to enter the room. She turned around and watched as Chris asked Nathan, "How is he?"

Before she could shut the door, Buck Wilmington entered with a young man behind him and a tall bear of a man. Right behind those two was a slender man with long hair. The room was crowded, and Felicity had no idea where to turn. She decided to take refuge beside Ezra.

"I see you have determined to make my recovery room the location of a reception, Mr. Larabee," Ezra commented.

"The way I see it Ezra, we got a problem. And I am not referring to your companion. There’s a man dead, and nobody will tell us what happened. Not only that, saloon got robbed last night, and Mr. Simmons is none too pleased about it."

Felicity looked around. What was this group of people? None of them looked like a sheriff. Why would Mr. Larabee be confronting Ezra over a saloon robbery and a death.

"It isn’t what you think. He was defending me. He didn’t murder that man. And he didn’t rob the saloon!.

They all looked at her. The big bear of a man said, "Ma’am, we aren’t saying he did."

Ezra looked over at her and smiled. "It’s all right Felicity, they know that. I think what they want to find out is if there is any information I might impart regarding these occurrences." He turned his attention back to Chris. "Unfortunately, I was otherwise occupied at the time of the robbery. But Felicity can probably give you more detail regarding the identity of the dead man."

Chris fixed his gaze upon Felicity. She swallowed nervously. Ezra took her hand in his, "My dear, you have nothing to fear from these men. They are my friends. Please tell them what you know."

Though her fear did not decrease, Felicity nodded. "His name was Simon. He tried to kill me and shot Ezra instead." Without quite meaning to betray her emotion, she hissed, "I’m glad he’s dead."

Nathan looked at her and nodded. She could tell he knew what she meant, and based on the color of his skin and his earlier reaction to Ezra, she figured he must have been a slave at one time. Perhaps that was why she instinctively trusted him. He understood her.

Ezra also smiled at her.

Nathan then turned to Chris. "That all the information you need? ‘Cuz Ezra does need rest and I don’t see him getting’ any with the lot of you hovering about. Case you forgot, he did get shot last night."

Chris nodded and left the room. Buck tipped his hat and looked at her, winking. The young man looked like he wanted to say something, but didn’t know what.

"Come on, JD," Buck said. "That gal don’t need you moonin’ over her."

"Buck!" the younger man said. His voice was colored with embarrassment and frustration. "You don’t know nuthin’. I just wanted to ask her a few questions," he said as he followed the other man out in the hall. Felicity could hear them continuing to argue.

"And she ain’t likely to answer your questions, now is she?"

She had to admit that the man was probably right. She wasn’t likely to answer any questions.

The slender man had left without her noticing, but the bear of a man was talking to Nathan.

Nathan came over to her, "Felicity, I’d like you to meet Josiah Sanchez."

Josiah nodded to her, and she tried to smile at him. "Ma’am, I understand you been through a lot lately; I’m always willin’ to listen if you need someone to talk to." He grinned at her broadly. She could tell that the gesture was meant to put her at ease, but it did not.

She looked to Nathan. "Josiah’s a spiritual man, Felicity. Closest thing this area’s got to a preacher."

"I ain’t got any use for god," Felicity practically spat out.

"Maybe not, but you look like you could use a friend," Josiah put in calmly. She looked at him confused. He was unlike any preacher she’d ever met.

"Thank you, Mr. Sanchez. I appreciate the offer."

He nodded and looked at Nathan, smiling. "Take care of that rascal over there," he said as he left the room.

Felicity visibly relaxed as the room emptied out.

Over the past few hours, she had become aware of how much her life had changed. It was beginning to sink in. The person she used to be, the one she had had to be to preserve herself, was no longer who she was. She didn’t know who she was anymore…who she was expected to be.

Nathan went over to Ezra and handed him a glass of water. "Drink this up, then you get some rest." Ezra took the glass, and Nathan took Felicity’s arm and led her to the window. He opened the curtains a bit and pointed to a building. "You need anything, go to the church. Josiah will be there, and he knows how to find me. Okay?"

Felicity nodded.

"Don’t worry. He’ll be fine. You did a good job cleanin’ that wound."

"Thank you, Nathan," Felicity said.

For a while, Felicity watched as Ezra slept. She memorized the curls of his dark hair against the white of the pillow; she studied his face. He was incredibly handsome. She missed the vibrancy of his eyes, as they were closed and she could not gaze into them. She remembered the outline of his chest. She longed to run her fingers all over his body, as she had never longed to do with any other man before. She wanted to feel his arms around her, his flesh pressed against hers. She wanted to taste him.

She turned away from Ezra, trying to clear her head of the thoughts running through it. She was embarrassed that this man, even in sleep, was able to bring out these desires in her, desires she never realized could exist. She was terrified of the feelings he stirred in her. She had only just met him, but she felt she needed him. Felicity stood and walked to the window; she could hear the faint sound of Ezra breathing. It seemed as though every one of her senses was focused on him; he permeated her awareness.

Felicity began to pace. She looked over at Ezra, and he was still sleeping. Oh, how she wanted to run her fingers through his hair, to touch him, to breathe him. She went and sat down beside him on the bed. Then she stood up abruptly. She knew she was acting foolishly. She moved a chair close to the bedside and sat down in the chair, watching him sleep.

Some time later, she woke up. She didn’t remember falling asleep, but she felt like she was being watched. Nervously, she opened her eyes and felt Ezra’s gaze upon her. It was dark in the room, where it had been dim before. The light from the window had provided a dim glow in his room, but now that light was gone. She wondered how long she had slept, and what time it was.

"Felicity," Ezra whispered.

She stood up and went over to him, sitting beside him. "Yes? Do you need anything? Water, food?" She was anxious to give him anything.

He nodded his head once, "water, please."

She retrieved the pitcher and left the room to get fresh water, returning as quickly as she could. She poured the water into a glass and handed it to him.

"Thank you, my dear," he said, then he took a few swallows from the glass, before handing it back to her.

When she had put the glass down, she turned back to him and found his intense eyes upon her once again. She forced herself to calm down. "I realize you have been napping while caring for me, Felicity, but how long has it been since you had any real rest?" he asked her.

"I have been getting real rest, Ezra," she protested.

"While that chair is comfortable, it is hardly appropriate for a proper repose," he insisted. "You need to take care of yourself."

"You do not want me near you," she whispered, pained.

He took her hand and placed it within his own. "That is not the case. I simply do not wish for you to make yourself ill."

She looked away from him. She didn’t believe him. He didn’t want her near him. Though she tried to control it, her breaths came quicker as she fought off a wave of panic and pain. She was surprised when she felt his hands pull her close to him.

"Felicity? What is the matter?" Ezra asked.

How could she tell him? Would he even understand how much he meant to her already? She wanted to be content to be held by him; she wanted to relish the feel of his shoulder, his chest, his arms about her.

He ran his fingers over her hair, sending chills down her spine. Several times she started to say something, but each time the sentence seemed stupid and inadequate before the words left her mouth. How could she tell him that she had rested better in that chair than she could ever remember doing without sounding like a fool? How could she tell him that she never wanted him to let go of her? But he seemed patient enough to wait while she formed her thoughts.

Finally, she whispered into his shoulder, "please don’t send me away. I’ll go if you ask, but I don’t want to leave you."

She felt him stiffen and knew that she’d said something wrong. "You really don’t understand, do you?" he asked.

She was confused and didn’t know what he was talking about.

"Felicity, you are your own person. You can go where you want…anywhere."

"But not here, not with you. You don’t want me near you." She understood. Ezra had taken pity on her because of the way she was being treated. But he did not find her attractive; he was not now, nor was he likely to be, interested in her. She choked back a sob, trying not to let him hear it. She had no right to inflict herself upon him.

He gently squeezed her once, then pushed her back so he could look at her, but she turned her face away. She could not bear to look into his face knowing he could never want her as badly as she wanted him. She wanted to believe she loved him, but she didn’t know; she’d never experienced love. But if its rejection made her heart feel like a leaden lump that twisted and burned inside her chest and made her stomach feel like she hadn’t eaten in days, she loved him. And she’d only known him for a day.

"Look at me Felicity," he said gently. "Please."

She couldn’t do it; she tried but she could not.

Ezra said, "My dear, you think you want to be with me because I have set you free. You have many emotions you are trying to deal with right now, and no doubt gratitude," he paused there as if quite surprised, "is one of them. I could make you stay, easily. For you are a beautiful woman."

She turned to him in shock.

"You are," he insisted. "I want you to have the chance to deal with your new situation before trying to complicate it with a…" he paused searching for the word. "Complicate it by taking up with me. I’d like nothing more than for you to stay here, but it is not what is best for you."

"You aren’t disgusted by what I was?"

His eyes looked pained. "I am disgusted that someone would take a beautiful woman and turn her into a frightened individual and use her for his own purposes. But I am not disgusted by you."

She leaned into him again, holding onto him. He held her close and did not try to push her away. Felicity closed her eyes and fell asleep.

It had been a week since she’d met Ezra. He spoke to her, on the occasions she saw him, but he made no attempt to seek her out…not since he’d healed up enough that Nathan would let him out of his room, and she really couldn’t think of a good reason to go up to him. Besides, if he didn’t want to be near her, who was she to argue?

But she desperately wanted to be near him.

"Felicity, you ain’t doin’ yourself no favors by moonin’ over him." Nathan’s voice broke into her thoughts.

She looked at him. "I know. I can’t help it though. I can’t get over him, and contrary to what he thinks, this is not just gratitude."

Nathan took a long look at her; his expression was unreadable. Then he nodded once and left her there, studying yet another bone diagram. She sighed. She didn’t want to seem ungrateful, but this was not something she enjoyed. She’d been terrified when she’d taken care of Ezra, but this was boring. She also realized that if the same thing had happened before she’d met him, if Simon had been shot, she’d have let him die. And that was not the attitude a healer should have.

Granted, Simon would never have taken a bullet for her. Likely, he’d have used her as a shield.

But it did tell her that this was not her calling.

She looked back at the diagram. The door opened and she thought, ‘Nathan must be back,’ and did not look up.

"This really does not suit you, Felicity."

She looked over to the door. Ezra was there. "No. This is definitely not your chosen trade. Come." He held out his hand.

But he did not look happy either. She was a burden to him. That was the last thing she had ever wanted. She did not take his offered hand.

A few quick strides brought him to her. "What is wrong?" he asked, concerned.

"Ezra, I’ll not be a burden to you, or in your way. No, I’m not enjoying this, but it is respectable…something I can do…to contribute in some way." She tried to sound aloof and failed.

"Felicity…oh my bliss," he said gently, "What have I done to you?" The tone of his voice made her look at him uncertainly.

He cupped his hands around her cheeks. His eyes searched hers…making her uncomfortable under his scrutiny. She looked away. She wanted to throw her arms around him. But she knew he didn’t want her. And she could not really blame him.

Out of the corner of her eyes, she saw him shake his head. In a sudden, swift movement, his arms were around her, pulling her to her feet and drawing her to him.

She looked at him, confused. Ezra didn’t say a word. He bent his head down and kissed her lightly on the cheek.

"Come, let’s find you a more suitable employment, one which will give you pleasure. Tell me, have you given thought to contacting your family, my dear?"

Family? Her grandmother was dead, and she’d just as soon never see her father again.

"What ‘family’ I have left is not worth contacting," she said bitterly.

Ezra looked at her and almost flinched. Then he smiled, "Then I surmise that they will not be coming to retrieve you at present."

She shook her head.

"Good," he said simply. "Well, my dear, what are you adept at?" he asked.

She raised an eyebrow and decided to show him.

She took his hand and led him to the room where she had been staying. It was not a big room, rather small and dingy. But it was hers. She urged him to come in. And he did so, with a questioning look on his face.

"You have not answered my question."

"I’m am about to. However, it is not an occupation I wish to engage in professionally, Ezra," she said. She nearly lost her nerve, but she wanted him. She really did.

His expression went completely unreadable. "Felicity, you do not have to do this."

"Don’t you understand? I want to. For the first time in my life I have a choice, and I want this. Tell me you don’t want me, and I’ll leave."

He looked away. "Oh, I desire you, Felicity."

Her heart nearly stopped. He wanted her too. "Then let me show you," she whispered, bringing her face close to his and kissing him. She wrapped her arms around him for just a moment, then stepped back and pushed him so that he sat on the bed. Then she smiled at him.

It was time to dance.

Felicity started humming a light tune, it was so soft that only she could hear it, but it was the song that would govern the dance. First she closed her eyes and raised her arms slightly above her head, her legs beating out an intricate pattern on the floor. One which would not be visible to him just yet, but would make her hips sway in a suggestive manner. She leaned first slightly to one side than to the other, weaving back and forth as she hummed her song. She lowered her arms, running her hands suggestively over her body. Then she began to unbutton her shirt.

She moved closer to Ezra as she did so. He was watching her, like he wanted to assist her, but she held him back with a glance. He looked at her and smiled with a crooked assenting smile. She pulled the shirt out of her skirt and finished unbuttoning it, never missing a step. She slowly pulled the shirt off of first one arm, then the other and brought it in front of her, dangling it at first. Then she tightened her grip on it and changed the way she held it, so that instead of looking like a shirt, it resembled a strip of cloth. She raised her arms again, dragging the shirt against her breasts, then holding it high above her head before releasing it, and allowing it to fall to the ground. She lowered her arms, again trailing them in a manner which suggested how she wanted to be touched.

She moved even closer to Ezra, smiling, she reached out and untied the bow of his necktie, tugging at both ends. She sat down on his lap, still moving to the beat of the song she now sang completely silently. She pulled his head to hers and kissed him passionately. His arms wrapped around her, pulling her close to him, pressing her against him.

Felicity worked quickly to unbutton his vest and relieve him of the jacket. She pushed it off his shoulders. Kissing his shoulders after she exposed them, she pulled at each sleeve until the jacket was removed. Then she unbuttoned his shirt, but she allowed him to keep it. She kissed his jaw, his cheek, his ear. Then she stood up and continued with her dance.

She saw the hunger in his eyes, and smiled at him, beckoning him to join her now. He stood up and approached her. She put his hands on her waist and led them to the buttons which kept the skirt fastened. He smiled at her and bent his head down, taking her mouth in his. As his kiss became more passionate, Felicity began to unbutton his trousers. She knew the only reason her skirt had not fallen was because he had not released it.

She pushed the shirt which he was still wearing off of his shoulders, backing up from him, taking a sleeve with her. He quickly shifted and removed the shirt himself. Her skirt tumbled in a heap of discarded material to the ground. She stood before him, wearing her corset, and petticoat.

Ezra rapidly approached her and lifted her from the ground, carrying her to the bed. He kissed her deeply. She drank in the smell of him, the feel of him. He tossed her to the middle of the bed, carefully she noted, and then lay down beside her, his hand running up and down her body, exploring, and setting her on fire. She wanted her flesh to be exposed to his touch. She wanted to drink him in, to feel him upon her, in her.

Felicity reached out and drew her fingers across Ezra’s chest. She trailed down to the opening of his unbutton trousers and placed her hand on his stiffening manhood, lightly tracing over it. She heard him swallow. He stood up and eased the pants off, then he raised her and slowly, with torturous slowness, untied the strings that bound her. She pushed the undershirt he wore up and allowed her fingers to freely explore his chest, pausing on each of his nipples, pinching and circling until they were hardened. He kissed her and then pulled the corset off of her. He kissed her neck, then slowly, tenderly, he kissed her shoulders, her chest, the top of her breast. He took one breast in his hand, lightly, gently caressing it, while he sucked and licked the other. Felicity groaned.

The dance had changed.

He leaned back and looked into her eyes, then he pulled his shirt off and deposited it on the floor beside them. Urgently, she felt him working at the fastening of her petticoat. She worked her hand into the waistband of his undergarment. She wanted him. She wanted him.

Within moments, Ezra had her clothing removed and she lay naked on the bed before him. He allowed her to remove the last article he was wearing. He lay on top of her, pressing his flesh against hers. She kissed him, urgently. She needed him. She didn’t know why, but she needed to feel him inside of her now. It was almost as if she had run out of time.

But Ezra was not ready to enter her. He took his hand and began to explore her, gently at first, then more rapidly as Felicity’s breathing became more shallow. She bit down a sound, and he looked up at her. She could see his eyes, burning into her own. Felicity encircled his manhood her hand, moving her fingers in a rhythmic pattern.

Ezra groaned and separated her legs, placing himself between them. Slowly, at first, he entered her. Then his motion became more and more urgent.

Felicity’s moans came faster and raised in pitch. She wrapped herself around him, trying to get closer. She could not get close enough to him.

Ezra kissed her gently and passionately, probing her mouth with his tongue.

She ran her fingers over his back, over his chest, through his hair.

Ezra’s thrusts slowed, then again increased in speed. With a shudder of warmth, Felicity screamed his name out as she felt him empty into her.

He lay on top of her, spent, but still attentive. He ran his hands over her body, almost worshipping. She had never felt like this. A tear formed at her eye, and Ezra noticed it.

"What is it my dearest?"

"You. You’re so different…so wonderful."

"And this makes you sad?"

She looked at him, "Oh no…it makes me happy. Truly happy. For the first time."

He wrapped his arms around her and held her until she fell asleep.

The morning came much too soon to Felicity. She woke up; Ezra’s arms were wrapped around her. She looked lovingly at his face, peaceful in sleep, and kissed him on the cheek.

He opened his eyes. "Good morning, my dear."

She smiled. "Good morning to you too."

He pulled her close to him and placed a kiss on her cheek; his kiss moved from her cheek to her lips.

Just then, the sound of gunfire erupted in the streets. Ezra tossed an irritated glare over his shoulder. "Trust the local population to pick this moment to have a crisis."

Felicity didn’t know what to say. She didn’t want him to go. But she knew he could not stay, not when there was trouble.

Ezra rose and hurriedly dressed, then he returned to her, giving her a lingering kiss. "I shall return, dearest. At the first opportunity. I promise you that."

"Be careful" was all that she could say.

As she watched Ezra leave the room, she was suddenly gripped with the conviction that she would not see him again. Again she felt the weight of the passing of time.

Felicity arose quickly and dressed. She straightened up the room. The gun shots occasionally were silent, but then the repetitive snaps would once again reverberate thought the air.

She tried to shake her fears, but they intensified with every passing moment. Time was moving slowly…it had barely been ten minutes since Ezra had been gone, yet it felt like an eternity.

She took out her cards, trying to calm herself. But one glance at them made her even more wary. Death…not change. All the cards reflected termination, end, and sacrifices.

"Ezra," she whispered. She’d been thinking of him. The future she saw was his.

Without thinking, Felicity ran out of the room; she had to find him. She had to warn him.

She stopped. She saw him. crouching behind a barrel, firing at someone on a roof. He wasn’t looking behind him. From the angle she was at, she saw a man approaching him, gun drawn. Ezra continued to fire off shots to the roof; Felicity watch in horror as he stopped to reload. The man moved closer.

Felicity began to run towards Ezra. The man on the roof saw her and fired at her, but she kept running despite her fear. She had to get there first. The man aimed his gun at Ezra’s back. Felicity dove behind him, trying to push him out of the way. A searing pain exploded through her chest as she landed on Ezra. He looked at her, and, as if from a distance, she heard him say, "Felicity?" Then she heard the rapid, loud sound of a gun being discharged near her as she closed her eyes.

She felt…warm. She heard silence. Then the silence was disturbed by a screaming. She opened her eyes. Ezra was holding her; he looked afraid.

Felicity was relieved momentarily. Then she noticed there was blood covering him. "Ezra?" she started.

"Sh…it’s going to be fine, Felicity. Nathan’ll have you better in no time."

Felicity watched Ezra’s face as he looked over at someone else. She didn’t hear any response, and she was much too tired to turn her head to see who he looked at.

Ezra paled and flinched though.

"Ezra?" she started to ask again.

"Sh…sh…love…you must conserve your strength," he insisted.

She could barely feel herself. She knew she was leaving. She didn’t want to leave him, but she knew she had no choice. She didn’t have the strength to fight to stay. But she had to know that Ezra was not hurt before she left. She needed to know that.

"Let her talk, Ezra." She heard Nathan. Where was he? Was Ezra all right?

"Are you hurt?" she finally managed to ask. He looked confused for a moment, then forced a smile which she saw did not reach his eyes.

"No, dearest, no. You…" he broke off the sentence and she felt his hand brush against her forehead.

She heard Nathan whisper, "He’s all right Felicity. You got him out of the way."

She smiled, relieved, and closed her eyes. She felt Ezra raise her to his chest and press her close, but she didn’t have the strength to hold him…to look at him. Everything was fading.

"I love you, Ezra," she tried to say.

Ezra whispered, "My Felicity, my bliss…"

The words were hard for her to understand. She felt his hold on her change. She felt herself falling….slowly…and as she hit the bottom, her awareness left her. The last thing she heard was, "I love you, my Feli…"

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