M7FFA Entry

 

Saving Grace


by Carrie Byrd


Ratings/Warnings: PG for minor language and some violence; -minor- angst

Notes: This is a sequal to Enter Eden, Story 2 in the series I'm developing. Thanks again to Sally and Dayna for their continuing help. Other stories can be found at my fanfiction page at http://members.tripod.com/~Gryphon_Mage/index.html Comments and constructive criticisms are welcome. Flames, as always, will be extinguished.




1.

"Full House." Eden laid her cards on the table with a bright smile. "That beats two pair, right?" Eden looked at Ezra with innocent eyes and raked the pot towards her gleefully, leaving the gambler staring at his cards in dismay. Josiah and Nathan were chuckling while J.D. stared at the girl in awe.

"How did you do that?" the young sheriff asked in amazement. Eden shrugged.

"Beginner's luck?" Her eyes flicked to Ezra mischievously.

"Beginner's luck my..."Ezra broke off, his customary eloquence deserting him. "You sharped me!"

"What? Never." Eden tried, and failed, to look harmless.

"Some rank amateur you are. Who taught you how to play?" he demanded.

Seeing that Ezra wasn't buying her innocent act she sighed. "Guess I should 'fess up. I've been playing since I was ten. My little brother taught me."

"Your little brother?" Ezra raised and eyebrow. "How little?"

"David's two years younger than me. The older boys at his school taught him, and they used to beat him, so we practiced together." She smiled reminiscently. "We're both fairly good." Eden shrugged. "Play another hand?"

"No!" Ezra shook his head, realizing he had sounded a bit too vehement. "No thank you. I believe I have other matters of consequence to attend to, my dear." Eden's lips twitched as she fought back the desire to smile.

"Perhaps another time then, Mr. Standish." Pushing her chair back Eden gathered up her winnings and wandered out of the saloon into the bright afternoon sunlight.




2.

Vin Tanner was wandering down the dusty boardwalk when Eden stepped out into his path and collided head-on with the handsome tracker. Tumbling to the ground she fell into Vin and took him with her, ending in a pile of legs and arms and confusion.

Eden caught her breath as she found herself looking into the very blue eyes of the tracker and flushed hotly.

"Vin! I'm sor" He interrupted her

"I'm sorry I should've been" their words tumbled together in as much of a jumble as their bodies and Eden laughed merrily. Vin looked at her in surprise. This was the first time he'd heard her REALLY laugh since they'd met.

"Perhaps we should unmix ourselves?" Eden frowned. "Is unmix a word?" She shook her head. "No matter, how do we get out of this mess?" Eden tried to stand but found that the leg of her pants was snagged on the tall man's spurs and she fell back into him. "Um, I think we have a problem." Vin looked at their legs, where the inside of her right pant leg was caught on his left spur and groaned in dismay.

"Looks like we're stuck," he said laconically. Eden growled in frustration.

"No kidding? I wouldn't have guessed that on my own!" Vin looked at her and admired the flashing temper in her grey-blue eyes. "Well, Mr. Tanner, how are we going to get unstuck?"

"I think we need help." She raised an eyebrow. "Chris is in the jail. Eden thought for a moment, J.D., Josiah, Ezra and and Nathan were in the saloon, which would be closer. She glanced through the batwing doors and realized that the men had disappeared. Where had they gone? Or at least, how the heck had they gotten out?

"Okay." Eden sighed. "How do we get there?"

"Walk. If we get up together and walk together we can probably make it." Vin offered her a hand and they pulled each other up. After a few desperate maneuvers they managed to get into a rhythm and were soon walking towards the jail. Mrs. Potter spotted them from her store windows, holding each other's arms to keep balance and shook her head. That girl was completely improper, hanging around those men the way she did. And literally hanging on one of them in this instance. She was close to Mary; perhaps she could give her a hint.

Chris looked up at the sound of odd footfalls in the doorway of the jail and nearly tipped the chair he was leaning back in all the way over in shock. The high wooden back caught in the wall in time though, and he stared at the sight in front of him in surprise. Vin and Eden stood practically wrapped in each other's arms and half-panting from exertion. A dozen scenarios ran through his mind before he finally managed to drawl a disinterested sounding "well?"

"Hey pard." Vin looked at his friend with a shamefaced grin. "Could you give us a hand. We could use a third set." Chris looked at Vin in confusion, and wondered what he was being asked. "We ran into each other on the sidewalk and got caught together." Vin nodded to where their legs were still tangled and Chris followed his glance. A slow smile edged across his face and then a small chuckle escaped his lips, which slowly turned into a hearty belly laugh that nearly shook the tiny jail. Eden looked at him indignantly.

"It's not funny." Chris laughed harder. "It's not!" Putting her hands in her hips Eden tried to turn to face him and realized her mistake with dismay as she felt herself falling again.

Chris looked at the girl as she fell, taking his friend wit her and clutched his stomach with hysterical laughter. A laugh escaped Vin's lips and after a moment all three of them were laughing so merrily that passersby shook their heads in wonderment.




3.

After a few minutes of laughter Chris wiped his eyes and crawled to where Vin and Eden lay hopelessly tangled. After three tries Chris managed to free the girl's pant leg, but not before he cut his hand a few times on Vin's spur while shaking with merriment. Eden crawled out from under Vin with a sigh and looked at her denims in dismay. The hem of her pants was frayed where it had been snagged. Vin pulled himself up and investigated his boot carefully. He grinned and plucked several strands of frayed denim from the spikes of his spur and handed them to Eden with a smile.

"I believe these belong to you." He handed them back to her with a flourish and after a moment of silence all three burst into laughter again.

When she could breath again Eden looked at the slim blonde man who was alternately clutching his bleeding hand and his stomach, which ached from the unfamiliar sensation of laughter.

"We should get Nathan to look at that. Who knows what Vin was carrying around on those boots."

"Hey!" Vin opened his mouth in protest, but Eden shook her head.

"It's true! These streets are not precisely spit n polish! Besides, if you didn't show it to Nathan he'd scold terribly and then make you show him anyway, so..."

"Lady's got a point, pard." Chris frowned and then shrugged agreement.

Eden struggled to her feet and offered a hand to each of the men. And nearly dropped Chris when he gave her his blood slick hand and slipped half out of her group.

"Well, that's just um...icky." Eden looked at her hand and searched for a place to wipe the blood, and a slow smile crept across her face. "Hand me that duster Larabee."

"Why?" Chris looked at her and then her hand. "Not a chance." Eden grinned.

"Guess I'll have to follow you to Nathan's and wash up there then." Vin looked at them with a sleepy smile.

"I reckon I'd better follow to make sure you two don't get into any trouble." Chris shot Vin a look.

"I wasn't the one who got my spur caught," Chris said. Vin grinned and followed his friends out the door.




4.

J.D. looked at the telegram he carried in consternation. Hurrying down the boardwalk, he looked around for Chris, or any of the 6 men he rode with. Ezra noticed the young sheriff's searching gaze and strolled towards him.

"Might I inquire to where you are hastening with such a disturbed countenance, Mr. Dunne?" J.D. looked at the southener in confusion.

"I-I guess so." J.D. said.

"Well?" Drawled Ezra.

"Well, what?" J.D. blinked his wide brown eyes in bewilderment. Ezra sighed.

"Where are you going in such a hurry?"

"Oh. I'm uh, looking for Chris. Got a telegram from the judge he should see. There's a gang on the way?" J.D. began hurrying along again and Ezra fell into step beside him.

"What is the name of this gang, pray tell?"

"Oh, um..." J.D. glanced at the slip of paper he held. "The Blackshear gang." He shrugged. "I never heard of 'em." Ezra frowned.

"Nor have I my young friend. I believe I saw Mr. Larabee heading into Nathan's with Miss Lance and Mr. Tanner. Perhaps fortune will smile upon us and they will still be there."




5.

Chris looked at the neat bandage on his hand with a frown.

"You sure you don't want to tell me how you got them cuts Chris?" Nathan looked at his friend curiously and shrugged when he exchanged sly glanced with Vin and Eden.

"I don't think so Nathan. It was an accident." Eden gave an unladylike snort of suppressed laughter and Nathan looked at her sharply, but her face was already rearranged to its normal placid façade." Nathan shook his head and began putting away his supplies when J.D. burst in, followed by Ezra.

"Chris! We got a telegram from the judge. There's a gang maybe headed this way." J.D. held the yellow slip of paper out to his idol, and Chris took it, skimming the note darkening eyes before thrusting it at Vin.

"You ever hear of the Blackshear Gang?" Vin shook his head.

"What did you say?" Eden's voice sounded clear and brittle. "What was that gang called?"

"Blackshear, why? You hear tell of them?" Eden nodded, hatred flashing in eyes.

"They're the ones that killed Tom."

"What?"

"Well, not the very ones, they're dead but, um...not all of 'em. This mostly the brothers and friends of the boys that came after us." Suddenly, she swore very low, very angrily under her breath. "That two bit judge must've told 'em where I was when you sent him that telegram." A shade of fear flickered behind the anger. "They're coming for revenge."

The room fell silent as the men tried to assess what she'd told them. Finally, Chris nodded.

"J.D. find Buck and Josiah, and meet us over to the church. We need to figure out what we're going to do." He looked at the woman before him, who suddenly looked so vulnerable. The desire to protect her welled up inside him and he felt a fierce anger towards the men who would hurt this girl who had so quickly made herself a friend. "Eden, why don't we go over to the church, and wait for the rest of them?" Taking her arm with surprising gentleness Chris guided her towards the door. She followed him out, speechless.




6.

Eden sat with a cup of warm coffee held loosely between her icy fingers. The tin cup trembled and the seven men who she faced looked at her in surprise.

In the month and a half since she'd come to Four Corners, Eden had proven herself to be nearly as unflappable as Ezra. She enjoyed a good laugh, but when it came to showing her real emotions, it was like trying to peel an onion. There were a thousand layers to penetrate before the core was revealed. The first time they'd seen Eden shaken to the core was when Chris had confronted her. It was hardly comforting to know that this second time was coming from the woman who had stood her ground against Chris who even Buck, close as they were, had to admit was often more than a little scary.

Eden shook herself out of her reverie and looked at the men who faced her. Chris, proud, angry, but with a good heart; Vin, wild, untamable, kind; Nathan, with his healing gift and killing anger; J.D. innocent yet, but with a harder core than the other men knew; Buck, loud, raucous, sweet; Ezra, trying to hide his better nature beneath ruffles, entrancing green eyes and a cool façade; and Josiah with his strong, true, if somewhat battered, faith. They were all good men, and she prayed they wouldn't think less of her when they heard her story.

"Perhaps I should...begin with why these boys are coming after me..." Eden shook her head again. "They're thrill riders. Rich boys who grew up in a town too small to hold them where their Daddies ruled the roost. They couldn't find enough to keep them busy, no, to keep them interested, so they got into trouble instead." Eden sighed and set the now cold coffee at her feet. "Jimmy Blackshear was the head of the gang. His daddy was big news around Nibroc, and he and his cronies owned most everything except the newspaper. That was owned by a man up in Boston who'd grown up there and didn't want to sell his last tie to his home town. I was in charge there and my brother David took care of the farm and horses."

"Nibroc went through a string of sheriff's and so did all the towns in the area. Whenever Blackshear and his buddies got into trouble they also almost always got caught. They were the worst sort of criminals, stupid, proud and cocksure of themselves. Jimmy knew that whatever Daddy's money couldn't get him and his friends out of Daddy's hired hands could. Folks didn't want a sheriff who would back down to the Blackshears, but those that didn't tended to end up...missing. Finally, my Tom took over. He wore that star and did it right, locked up the bad guys, made sure judgment was passed right." She looked at the men in front of her with sad eyes.

"Blackshear didn't like that. Decided that Tom needed a little 'persuadin' and sent his son and his hired guns down to take care of it." She shuddered. "I had the misfortune to walk in on it when I went down to see Tom. It...was the night before our wedding and I needed to settle up on last thing." A choked sob escaped her. "You know the rest of this part. They killed him and while he lay dying decided I could use some persuading too."

"To make an already long story just a bit shorter, I'll cut to where I started printing the truth about the Blackshears in the paper and David took over as sheriff. Blackshear decided I could use a little more persuadin' and sent the boys back down. This time though he just sent his boy and his friends without the guns, after all, how much harm could a little girl do?" Her voice turned steely. "I killed 'em. All of 'em that came for me. Judge couldn't find me guilty. Too many people came forward to protest, and my brother was sheriff."

"Blackshear decided that I shouldn't have gotten off though, and Jimmy's brother thought the same way, so he rounded up a new gang and the hired guns, and they been looking for me. That's one of the reasons I needed to get out of Kentucky. I'm guessing when you checked me out..."

"We led the S.O.B.'s right to you," Chris swore.

"It's time I stopped running. I'll face 'em and get it over with one way or another." Vin studied the tremulous ice that formed over the grey-blue of her eyes.

"You won't face 'em alone. He pushed his hat back and looked at her with sky blue eyes. "I'll stand with you." He looked at Chris and the other men, who were all nodding their agreement. Even Ezra looked disturbed by the story and anger glinted in his normally cool green eyes.

"We all will." Eden looked at the men who had so quickly become friends and allied and quickly blinked back the tears. She couldn't let them endanger themselves, but they looked like they would accept no argument. She nodded her thanks and then slowly made her way to the door. Chris watched her and recognized the carefully concealed look of determination in her eyes. As she walked out of earshot Chris looked at Vin.

"She's gonna go after them."

"Yup."

"You wanna stop her?"

"You better. Don't think she'll listen to me." Vin looked at his friend. "Besides I reckon you got a better idea what she's feeling." Chris nodded and followed her into the falling dusk.




7.

Chris found Eden packing her saddlebags and bedroll. He looked at her with a half smile.

"I feel like we've been here before." Eden sighed.

"This is my fight Chris. I shouldn't have gotten you involved at all. I don't want any of you to get hurt." Eden shoved ammunition into her saddlebags and moved toward the array of knives that lay spread out on her bed. Chris raised an eyebrow. "I like knives, okay? They make less noise." She sighed angrily. "That's really not the point anyway. The point is that I'm leaving. I'll find them, face them and take whatever happens as my lot."

"No you won't," Chris growled. "You gave up the right to fight alone when you became friends with this group. I learned that the hard way, and you're going to learn it too. If you try to run, we'll lock you up. You're not just going to get away though." Eden sighed and looked at the tall blonde man as if judging how serious he was. Pretty serious she guessed.

"Fine." Eden growled in disgust. "I'll stay." Chris nodded in satisfaction and headed for the door. "Thank you." Chris stopped for a moment. The words were almost too low to catch. He smiled and closed the door gently behind him.




8.

Eden paced nervously inside the saloon. Ezra sat at a table in the back, shuffling his cards with smooth precision. J.D. and Buck were grousing over the money they'd just lost to the gambler, and Nathan and Josiah were laughing at their friends' misfortune. Chris was nursing a bottle of whiskey and Vin was the only man not settled into his usual seat in the saloon, instead he was patrolling the town to make sure that Blackshear couldn't take them by surprise. Finally, Chris looked up.

"They ain't gonna get here no quicker just because you're pacing," he said dryly. Eden looked at him in surprise and grinned sheepishly. She walked over to the table where he sat and pulled out a chair.

"That doesn't make me feel any better." Making a face she quickly snatched his bottle and poured herself a shot. She raised the glass to him and tossed it back in a practiced motion. Smiling at the surprised look on his face she pushed the glass back to him. "Good for your nerves, you know."

Chris studied her carefully and looked at the gun she wore slung low across her hips. He suddenly realized this one of the first times she'd worn it since that first week she'd been in town, and he'd never seen her shoot. "You any good with that thing?" he asked, jerking his head to indicate his meaning. Eden looked at him in surprise.

"I'm not dead," was all she said, but it was enough. Chris smiled and raised the glass in a toast to the slim woman in front of him. She would do what she had to.

Vin found them still seated together, each lost in their own thoughts, when he returned. They looked so peaceful that he almost hated to speak, but...

"They'll be here soon." Vin's voice broke the silent meditation Eden had sunk into in the cool darkness of the saloon. A flash of anger followed by fear shot through her, and then it passed, as it always did.

Chris looked at Eden and was surprised to see a look on her face that he'd felt so often on his own. Pushing past any emotions, there was only the fight. Vin saw the look, and saw Chris nod approvingly. Vin was none so comfortable though, and his stomach clenched with anger at the thought that a girl like Eden should have to know how to exist in a place where the battle was all that mattered. No, he thought, that woman like Eden should have to know...looking at her now he realized that for all her apparent youth, she was a woman. It was easy to see only her joy, and the way she made all of them, even Chris, laugh, and think that she was only a little older than J.D., but now, he could see that that was an illusion, and he suddenly realized just how much anger she was carrying around inside her.

Eden felt Vin's eyes on her and looked at him coolly. "Let's get ready." That was all she said, but Vin had the oddest feeling that she had known exactly what he was thinking.




9.

When Alan Blackshear headed his gang into the tiny town of Four Corners, the streets were empty and his men glanced about nervously around.

"Alan, I ain't so sure this was a good idea." Tim Chase reigned his brown gelding in beside Alan and gestured to the empty town. "This ain't normal. I don't know how, but they knew we were coming." He swallowed nervously. "I heard them 7 lawmen were pretty tough." Alan looked at the man superciliously.

"Why would they worry about a little whore like Eden Lance?" He snorted. "We'll get the girl, ride out of here and be on our way." He glared at the man, who seemed not at all consoled by Alan's words. "You do want to avenge our brothers, don't you?" Alan's voice held a dangerous edge and Chase nodded immediately.

"O-of course. I'm just saying we should be careful, that's all." Alan smiled coldly

"And we will be, my friend, we will be." Alan's eyes scanned the street and spotted a figure dressed all in black. A cruel smile spread across his face. "Looks like our welcoming committee just put in an appearance."

Chris strolled into the street as the men approached him, and Eden swore under her breath. "What does he think he's doing? Is her trying to get himself killed?" She started from where She sat with Buck, carefully concealed. Buck grabbed her a dragged her back down.

"Just stay put. Chris knows what he's doing." Buck looked at the girl firmly and she sighed, worry clear in her eyes. "I hope you *do* know what you're doing Chris," Buck muttered.

"Afternoon gentlemen." Ezra snorted in poorly suppressed amusement at the misuse of that particular euphemism.

"What can I do for you?" Alan smiled.

"We're here for a girl."

"We don't got many, but you'll have to be a little more specific than that."

"Her name is Eden Lance." Alan looked at the gunslinger in distaste.

"Well, I'm afraid we've gotten attached to Miss Lance. I don't think we want to let her go." Alan frowned, marring his handsome features.

"Perhaps you don't know what kind of woman she is. She's a tramp, a liar and a murderer, and all we want is to make sure that justice is served."

"Way I understand, justice was served." Alan's face darkened angrily as he head Chris's words.

"Look Mister, you better help us, or get out of our way, because we will go through you." Chris smiled the cold, deadly smile that Buck was so familiar with and Chase shivered on his horse.

"You're welcome to try." Blackshear smiled his coldest as well, but it was a pale imitation of Chris's look of pure hatred. Eden giggled quietly when Blackshear began to realize he was in over his head, but her laugh quickly faded when she his hand twitch reflexively over his gun.

Blackshear looked at the man in black. His cold smile twisted into an angry grin and his hand twitched again and he drew it more quickly than Eden had thought possible. Her heart froze in fear for Chris, but before Blackshear could squeeze a shot off his gun was shot out of his hand and Chris was smiling. There was a moment of silence before the street erupted into gunfire and Chris dove behind the nearest water trough for cover.

Blackshear's men thought that they only had the man in black to contend with, but they soon found out different as the seven began to protect their leader and take down the men who were shooting up their town.




10.

Eden had caught her breath when the shooting started and was holding it as she took shots at the men who had come for her. Most of Alan's original gang was already down and all that was left was the hired guns. Admittedly, there were enough of them, since only 6 or 7 of the 15 men who had ridden in weren't hired. The men that were left had hunkered down behind any cover they could find and now the firefight was a virtual stand off and Eden was breathing again. She looked around the street as the barrage of bullets slowed, and saw that Alan had disappeared. "Buck," she whispered, "Blackshear's gone."

"What?" The mustachioed gunslinger looked at her in confusion. "He was right there..." Buck peered from behind the water barrels where he and Eden crouched just in time to see the revenge crazed man reappear right behind his best friend.

Chris heard the click of the hammer before he realized that anyone was behind him. Turning slowly he saw Blackshear behind him and cursed himself for his carelessness. Blackshear waved the gun at him gestured for Chris to lay down his weapons, which he did, reluctantly. Blackshear guided the slim gunslinger into the middle of the dusty street and began to speak.

"I will not kill him if you give me the girl now." Alan smiled and it was like the grimace of a jack o'lantern, twisted and somehow...wrong. He pressed his gun to Chris's temple and in the silence that had fallen over the street Eden heard him cock it and knew in one sickening instant what she had to do.

"Here I am Alan." Buck heard Eden's voice quite clearly and made a wild lung for her as she stood, hoping to pull her back to safety, but he was too late. She moved from behind the barrels where she and Buck had crouched. Alan smiled cruelly as she approached.

"Ah, Eden, so good to see you."




11.

What happened next was a blur. Eden stood still for a moment, and saw Blackshear's smile become maniacal. His gun turned from Chris to her and her heart lurched as she felt, rahter than heard, the gun fire. Diving she only glimpsed as Chris elbowed the man fiercely and dove for his weapons. In the next instant all she knew was the pain that shot through her. She heard another shot and braced herself for more pain, but there was only a cry and then darkness.

When Eden awoke she looked about her groggily and discovered that she was in what Ezra had laughingly called "Nathan's recovery room." She blinked hazily and the forms that were floating above her resolved themselves and she found herself staring into Vin's worried face. Shaking her head to chase away the cobwebs she struggled to sit up, but Nathan laid a strong, rough hand on her shoulder and held her down.

"Don't try to sit up yet, you're still too weak." Eden nodded, and let the pleasant haze settle in once more when a sudden terror shot through her and she shot up anyway.

Eden managed to gasp out, "ChrisBlackshear, what..." but got no farther before the pain took her breath away and she began to choke on her words, each cough tearing at the pain that seemed to have settled deep in her right side. Vin helped her lay back and handed her a cup of water, which she refused, eyes still filled with fear for her friend. Vin smiled.

"Chris is fine. He killed Blackshear while he was distracted with..."

"With me." Eden finished with a weak smile and this time accepted the water Vin offered her.

"I'm going to get Nathan, okay?" Vin asked, as her took the tin cup from her. Eden nodded and he slipped silently out the door. Eden watched him go and let the darkness settle over her again.




12.

Eden had lain in bed for a day and a night before she had truly awakened for that first time. After that her recovery was rapid, and after five days she was quickly becoming the worst patient Nathan had ever had. Even the seven men did not fret so much about being confined to bed, especially after they'd had so narrow and escape. Eden had been lucky that the damage was so minimal, a few inches higher or a few inched more to the left and she would have been dead. This realization did nothing to improve her temper and Nathan began to look forward to the day when she would be out and about again.

On the fifth day Nathan had given up with exasperation and Vin had joined her, sitting silently at her side. Eden studied the tracker for a long while before she finally spoke.

"Why doesn't Chris come?" Vin looked at the blonde woman carefully and was surprised to see the hint of hurt that haunted her eyes.

"What?" Vin said the first word that popped into his head, but knew it was the wrong thing to say.

"You know what," she retorted impatiently. "All of you come here to entertain...or more likely, to pacify me, but he never comes. You told me he wasn't hurt, so why doesn't he come?" Eden flushed. She knew she sounded like a petulant child whining for a toy, but...why didn't he come?

"He's fine, it's just...he feels real bad about what happened." Eden looked at Vin in confusion.

"Why? It wasn't his fault." Vin sighed.

"He said he'd protect you, and you got hurt. He feels guilty. He thinks he failed." Vin wondered how much she knew about Chris and how much he dared to tell her, thinking of Buck's close shave. Eden saved him the trouble of making a decision when she spoke.

"Because of Sarah and Adam." Vin looked at her in surprise, and she shrugged, and then hissed at the pain the movement had caused her. "I hear things." She thought of something else she had heard. "Where is he?" Vin just looked at her. "In the saloon." Vin nodded. "For how long?"

"Since he was sure you'd be okay." Eden growled.

"Five days. Son of a ..." Eden through her legs over the side of the bed and struggled to stand.

"What are you doing?"

"What does it look like?" Eden challenged Vin to stop her and he realized that unless he tied her down he had a snowball's chance in hell. Smiling, he handed her her clothes.




13.

Eden walked through the batwing doors of the saloon and paused for breath. She hadn't expected the short walk from Nathan's office to wind her so much. Chris looked up as her shadow fell across him and caught his breath at the change in the girl. She was thin, her softness gone and her skin was as pale on of Ezra's freshly laundered shirts. In her pale face her blue eyes burned like a sapphire fire and Chris realized that he knew the look that lit them so brightly, it was anger and pity and disgust. But beneath it al, he thought he saw what, understanding? He shook his head and poured himself another shot. She didn't know anything about it, couldn't understand.

"You shouldn't be here," he slurred. "Go back. G'Back." Chris looked the empty bottle he held in confusion and dragged another one towards him. Eden looked at the blonde man sorrowfully and placed her slim white hand on his cheek, while both of them pretended not to notice how it was shaking.

"Chris, I need to talk to you. I've been here for a couple months now, and I've come to consider you an ally, and a friend. So I want to take what I'm about to say in the best possible way. Get over yourself. I got shot because Alan Blackshear and all his little friend's were S.O.B's, not because you failed me. " Chris looked at Eden in surprise, the angry tone in her voice chasing away the drunken fog he had escaped into. "You lost your wife and child and I'm very sorry that that happened, but it's time to move on. It wasn't your fault either, and you need to start to live again. Would Sarah want you to wallow in your misery forever? I doubt it. From what I've heard she was a woman who rejoiced in life. She'd want you to live yours." Chris scowled.

"Sarah"

"Is a taboo topic with you, I know, and I don't care. You could walk out on this conversation if you weren't so drunk that you can't walk. Which means, love, that you have to listen to me." Eden smiled sweetly.

"I'm going to tell you right now, that as bad as it is that you lost your wife and child, it's not the end of the world. And I do know how you feel. I didn't lose my husband, of course. I lost the man who would have been my husband. And I didn't lose my children, just the children we would have had. I lost my future, my entire world, on the night before my wedding." Chris looked at her in surprise, this was a piece of the story he hadn't heard before.

"And I was miserable. I climbed into bed with a jug-not a bottle, of 'shine and didn't get out until the it was empty, which was almost a week. And then I got another jug, turned around and went back. Nobody talked to me, nobody looked at me and nobody tried to help me." Eden sighed, looked at the bottle she held and threw it across the room n a single, swift gesture. "And then David came and hauled my jug away from me and did that. And then he dragged me out of bed, out of my house and dumped me into the water trough." Eden laughed, but it wasn't her normal joyous laugh, instead it was brittle, almost bitter.

"Then, he hauled me into the house and sat me down in front of a mirror. I took a look at myself and I was horrified. I was filthy. My hair was tangled, I'd cried so much that my eyes looked like two red pincushions and my face was filthy and red. I smelled, and I couldn't even stand up on my own willpower. And David asked me, he said 'What would Tom think?' And I just looked at myself and thought, G-d, what am I doing?" Eden looked at the man in front of her. "I hadn't even gone to his funeral."

"Well, David turned around and walked out and left me there to think on how stupid I was acting, and when he came back I was clean, and dressed. And it has been a long road back, which I frequently slipped on, but every time I did, I had to ask myself, what would Tom think, and I pulled myself together, and while I still miss him I'm getting on with my life." She looked at Chris for a moment, and laid a gentle hand on his tousled blond head.

"What would Sarah think?" She asked the question softly, and Chris could see the tears that she was fighting to hold back. Eden touched his cheek gently and then pushed her chair out and walked slowly out of the saloon.




14.

Eden's exit would have been perfect if she hadn't crumpled as soon as she hit the boardwalk. Her anger had sustained her while she was with Chris, but now it was gone, and so was her strength. She felt a pair of strong arms lift her as if she were no more than a child and opened her eyes to find herself staring into the very green eyes of Ezra.

"It seems, Miss Lance, that you may have overestimated the speed of your recovery." Ezra's drawl was a cool as ever, but worry flashed in those eyes...eyes that a girl could get lost in, she thought. Eden shook head and struggled a bit, only to feel his grip tighten about her.

"I'm fine, Ezra."

"My dear young lady, I am no physician, unlike our beloved Mr. Jackson, but I am fairly certain that fine people do not generally drop like a sack of stones while they are walking down the street." Amusement tinged his voice. This girl had won the respect of them all with her strength, and although they'd both probably rather die than admit it, she was a fair copy of their leader, had he been a member of the gentle sex. Ezra carried her easily to Nathan's rooms and left her to the man's reprimands, most of which he suspected she would sleep though.




15.

When Eden awoke she felt a hand covering her own, and saw Chris Larabee watching her. Realizing that he'd been caught he attempted to withdraw his hand, saying "you were dreaming...I was trying to make you calm down." Eden frowned, and held onto the hand that warmed her own cold one.

"Dreaming?" Images of the leering faces in the darkness sent a shudder down her spine. "More like nightmares." She placed her other hand over his. "I'm glad you were here." She smiled at Chris and struggled to sit up. He leaned forward to help her and then moved to the floor, so that

he could hold her hand in a less awkward position for both of them. Eden smiled and leaned to push the hair from his eyes. They sat in silence, hands intertwined until Chris heard a sigh from her and turned to see tears standing in her eyes.

"What's wrong?" His normally cold voice was warm to her, and full of concern. Eden shook her head.

"Tom and I used to sit like this for hours. Just...together. It's very nice." Chris looked at her and squeezed her hand gently, as if reassuring her of his presence. He looked at her carefully before framing his question.

"Can you...tell me about him?" he asked tentatively. Eden smiled.

"Of course. What do you want to know?"

"Anything. You've become a friend and...he meant a lot to you. It might help to talk." Chris shrugged. "It might help me to hear." Eden smiled and a far away look gathered in her eyes.

"Well, his full name was Thomas Raymond Croydon, and he was very handsome." Eden's face was transformed by a softness Chris had not seen before. "He was as tall as you, and had black hair and blue eyes and," another smile, "he was always laughing..."





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