M7FFA Entry

 

The Day of Miracles


by Carla


Answer to the Christmas Challenge




The winter weather came on with a vengance the week before Christmas. Mary Travis was in a constant state of worry, for her son Billy was on his way to Four Corners for the Holiday. Due to large amounts of snow, the stage had been stranded in Eagle Creek for the last five days.

Mary wasn't happy about it, but she and Billy communicated through the telegraph daily and she was somewhat mollified. The seven men who protected the town were edgy as well. Nothing had happened except cold, snowy weather for a solid two weeks and tempers were flaring.

Compound that with the men's different views on Christmas and things got downright ugly. JD, Buck, Nathan, Josiah and Vin seemed to be cheered by the Christmas spirit around them. Chris and Ezra became withdrawn at best, morose at worst.

Everyone could guess why Chris didn't like Christmas, still mourning as he was, but Ezra? For all anyone could tell, and Nathan joked not too kindly about it one day after he and Ezra had words, was that Ezra had a bad Christmas where he didn't get enough toys and was still mad.

Ezra had withdrawn onto himself after his spat with Nathan and rarely was seen out of his room. True it was cold and everyone was indoors due to the weather, but he was the least seen of them all.

Vin, JD, and Buck had rode out the first clear morning to check on Nettie Wells and the other west lying ranches. Chris, Nathan and Josiah the ones to the East. Chris had irritatedly told Ezra since he wasn't going to be much use to them out of town, he had better keep watch while they were gone.

Ezra hadn't responded to the almost-insult, he just meerly nodded and assumed a post at the jail. Puzzled Josiah watched Ezra's face, not entirely sure all was right with the gambler. Something was definately wrong and getting worse. But now was not the time to worry about it. The six left at a canter to make sure everyone out of town was alright.




Ezra sighed and absently flipped his cards through his hands. He hated Christmas with a passion, and never found the need to change his opinion. It had seemed as a child al he had ever wanted was to be with his mother like every other little boy at Christmas, but it never seemed to happen. She always promised, but never came, dashing his hopes over and over. So he gave up hoping, and Christmas.

"Mr. Standish!" Mary travis hurried up to the startled conman and didn't even wait until he had greeted her. "This telegram just came from Orrin! Billy's in danger!"

"Calm down, Mz. Travis." Ezra grabbed her arms and held them, forcing her to stand still. "What does the telegram say?"

Mary gulped, forcing herself to calm down and speak clearly, but she was so worried. "Orrin put away three men who murdered over twenty people in their homes and robbed them. One of them had a brother. After the trial Orrin was threatened that his family would pay if they hung his brother. He hung last week. Now the brother was spotted headed towards Eagle Creek, he was following Billy's stage!"

Ezra frowned, this was not good. "Has the cretinous individual been seen in Eagle Creek?"

Mary shook her head no. "Billy's stage left this morning! It was supposed to get here this afternoon, I have a bad feeling about all this. I just know he's in trouble! I know it!"

Ezra's mind was spinning, he wondered if his mother ever worried about him this much. He shook his head, this was not helping the situation at hand.

"Ms. Travis." Ezra considered his words carefully, wondering why he was about to do what he was. "If it would make you feel better, I'll ride out to meet the stage and escort it home. Mr. Larabee and the others will undoubtedly be returning from their forays soon, and you can tell them as well."

"Oh , would you really do that?" Mary looked at the gambler in gratitude. "After the last time he was here..."

Ezra heard the terror in her voice. It was worth it to know he could allay some of that fear , even if it meant spending a couple of hours freezing! And Hell, Christmas was only two days away.

"Absolutely, Ms. Travis. If it will ease your mind I would be happy to do just that." Ezra fixed a grin in place, hoping reassure her. He knew he was going to regret this, but what other choice did he have.

With a nod in her direction, he walked back to his room, gathered his gear, a heavy coat, some extra ammunition, rifle and food. Those packed he headed for the livery. It was now late afternoon, Chris and the others should be back soon, but Ezra didn't feel he could wait. It was an intuition. One thing he learned never to ignore.

Within ten minutes he was saddled and heading out of Four Corners. If lucky, he would meet the stage in about an hour and escort it back in time for dinner.




A very tired and cold six men met coming into town, they had gone to every ranch checking to make sure everyone had weathered the storm. They were lucky, other than a few downed trees and broken windows, everyone was fine. The foul mood had lifted from the six men, and everyone realized it was mostly due to being cooped up in town, an unfamilier concept for most of them. JD who grew up in a city had adjusted the best, Vin and Chris the worst.

"Last one back buys dinner!" Buck hollared as soon as Four Corners was in sight.

With a wicked grin Chris and Vin took off after him, JD a shot behind. Nathan and Josiah following. The scene that greeted them when they got towards the livery, however, was not quite what they expected.

Mary Travis was waiting for them anxiously by the livery. She was wringing her hands and talking to the stage driver. Slowly, the men noticed bullet holes scored the sides of the stage and one of the horses appeared to be wounded.

"What happened?" Chris said, sliding off his horse in front of Mary. "Where's Ezra?"

"I asked Mr. Standish to go out and escort the stage in. Orrin thought a man looking for revenge agianst him was after Billy." Mary looked as terrified as she had when Billy had run away. "About ten minutes ago the stage comes in, They were ambushed about an hour out of Four Corners. The driver remembers Mr. Standish grabbing Billy from one of the men who attacked them and getting away. The others followed them!"

"Anybody hurt?" Nathan asked , opening his saddlebags.

"Nope." The stage driver said shakily, "The fancy lookin' feller got there just before things could get really ugly. Took the boy to safety, but they are after 'im."

"Was the boy injured?" Chris mentally was cursing, he hoped Ezra had him somewhere safe.

"Nope, just plenty scared." The stage driver coughed, "Now if'n y'all will excuse me , I got to wire the head office and report this to them."

"Reckon we ought to get lookin'?" Vin looked up into the rapidly darkening sky.

"It's dark, we'll lose any trail if we go now. Best thing we could do is go just before first light." Chris glowered, he wanted nothing more than to ride out, but Billy's life depended on them finding the trail left by Ezra and his pursuers.

"Theres nothing you can do until then?" Mary's panicked voice intruded on Chris' dark thoughts.

"I'm sorry Mary, but we are going to have to wait until morning or lose the trail in the dark and have to start over again." Chris reached out a hesitant hand to her arm, attempting to comfort her.

Mary seemed to gather herself, her ice blue eye still large and scared, but she turned and with drooped posture made her way home.

"I'll keep her some company for a little while, Chris." Nathan said, following her.

Chris nodded. "Lets get some sleep tonite, we leave early."

"Hope Ezra finds himself a good place to hole up." Buck sighed, he hated to see any woman upset, and Ms. Travis especially.

"Ezra can handle himself." Vin spoke up. "We just got to find him in the mornin' before anythin' else happens."

"What else do you think is going to happen Vin?" JD asks.

"If they didn't get him off the stage, they might try to wait until he gets here and ambush 'im." Vin looked around.

"It's possible." Chris sighed, taking a kid at Christmas was about as low as someone can get, and Chris aimed to make them pay for it. "Let's just hope Ezra's usual self-preservationist instincts keep them both alive until we can find them."




At the particular second, Ezra's said instincts were in high gear. He had met up with the stage just after it had been forced to a halt, and all Ezra could do was watch as a kicking and screaming Billy was hauled out of the stage.

One man had grabbed him, thrown him in from of his saddle and taken off, while the others stayed with the stage, covering his retreat.

Ezra had found it easy to ride right in front of the man's horse, causing it to rear in fright, then he had deftly plucked Billy from the man and taken off. The man hadn't been very lucky and had fallen off his horse, the horse running away. Ezra got enough of a headstart to make for the hills.

Billy hadn't said a word or moved since Ezra had grabbed him. He looked up at his rescuer with wide, scared eyes. Considering the headlong rush, it was the right thing to do. But when Ezra slowed down to go through a stream, Billy piped up.

"Mr. Standish, did Grandpa send you?" Billy held his breath as Ezra's horse stumbled slightly on the wet rocks.

"Indirectly, yes " Ezra's voice sounded strained. "Your Mother alerted me to the possible violence upon your person and I hastened to alleviate her concern."

"Huh?" Billy was puzzled.

"Your Mother was concerned, so I came for you." Ezra reiterated calmly,smiling.

"Oh! Is Chris with you?" Billy looked about.

"Mr. Larabee was out of town when your mother recieved the telegram from Judge Travis, I was the only one available." Ezra looked up at the hillside.

There was plenty of tree cover and a few caves he knew of. The specific cave he was looking for was a not so well known smugglers hideout that he found a little while back. There was a place to hide horses just outside of it, and plenty of cover. if you didn't know it was there, you would never see it.

"But he's going to come too, right." Billy worshiped Chris "As soon as he gets back to town."

"I certainly hope so." Ezra paused as the sound of hoofbeats came into hearing. He didn't have much time to get to the hideout before they were spotted.

"They found us!" Billy almost screamed, his fear overriding his common sense.

"Quiet, son." Ezra put a hand on the boys shoulder, if they hear you, we're both dead.

"Yes, sir." Billy whispered, causing Ezra to smile at him.

"IF we're careful and quiet, I can hide us until they go away. But we have to be very stealthy." Ezra urged his horse into a gallop, heading towards the hideout. The rocky surface hiding his tracks from all but the best of trackers, which Ezra was counting on.

Soon he was just above the hole into the cave and in a small lowering of the rise. A copse of trees hit it from view and an old tierail had been placed there years ago. Ezra dismounted, tied his horse and grabbed Billy's hand and his saddlebags. If the horse didn't make any sounds, no one would ever find it here.

He ran with Billy to the entrance and plunged in, pausing to make sure the bushes surrounding the tiny opening moved back into place. Then Ezra pulled Billy further into the entrance.

Billy gasped as the cavern opened up to a room thhe size of the hotel lobby. Benches had ben carved into the stone for beds,a nd there was a broken table in the center of the room. But what was the most amazing was the glow of iridescent light coming off the walls.

"Wow!" Billy whispered into the half-light. "This is really neat! How did you find it?"

Ezra coughed into his hand, amused. He really didn't want the boy to hear he found this place while running from the law. "I happened upon it a few years ago, never thought it would be this useful."

"What if they find us in here, they'll get us!" Billy looked around for another exit.

"This facility is very easy to defend from intruders. It was originally built by smugglers to hide their illicit goods from anyone else who wanted them." Ezra looked over the room, they could wpend a little time in here comfortably, and in a few hours, head back to town. Pluse there WAS a back exit only he knew about... after all, he put it there.

A clattering of horse hoofs stopped both man and boy from talking. Their pursuers were close! Ezra silently crept to the enterance, hoping to catch their conversation or see if they were getting close.

"Where'd they go?" He heard one say.

"Couldn't of just disappeared. You rekon we lost 'em?" Another spoke up.

A slightly annoyed, southern voice answered them all. "No, they are still here. I heard rumors of caves in this hill. Smugglers caves. I bet they are hiding right underneath us."

"So what we do now?" THe second voice asked, slightly exasperated. "Blow up the mountain?"

"Why, Mr. Jahnson, that's exactily what we are going to do!" The southern voice smirked. "Bailey, get five sticks of dynamite, we'll work our way from here to the edge of the hillside."

"Right Boss!" A voice answered.

Ezra went cold, it didn't matter if they stayed hidden, the mountainside would fall down on them all. He rushed back into the cave, grabbed Billy roughly and headed for his back door.

He made it right to the entrance to the tunnel out when the first dynamite stick exploded. A terrible trembling and noise assaulted Ezra's senses. He stopped and jerked Billy back into the cave when rocks and debris rain down on the tunnells exit. Ezra turned and covered Billy with his body as the force of the explosion brought the cave down on them.




Chris was sitting in the saloon, well after dark, contemplating the bottle in front of him. Vin was on the other side of the table, silent as ever. JD, Buck and Josiah had gone to sleep, determined to get an early start looking for Billy and Ezra. Nathan had stayed at Ms. Travis', keeping her company with Ms. Potter.

"You reckon they're alright?" Vin finally spoke up.

"I think Ezra knows what's at stake, he'd bring Billy back as soon as he could." Chris answered after a pause. "I'm just hopin' Ezra is as clevar as he thinks he is this once."

Vin smiled a faint tinge on unease in it. "Somethin's tellin me it's not right out there. I just can't shake it."

"Me either." Chris admitted, lips pursed. "If anything happens to that boy......"

Vin just nodded, rose to his feet and walked out the saloon door, headed for bed. Morning was going to come very early.




"Now Mary," Ms Potter said for the thousandth time. Nasthan had just left for his bed, Mary insisting he get some sleep. "You know Mr. Standish is out there with him, I'll bet they are huddled somwhere for the night and will be home before you know it tomorrow morning!"

"Tomorrows Christmas Eve." Mary stared at the tree she had put up, presents beneath it. "Billy always like to go to church and then he played until Christmas supper. He was so looking forward to Chris being here."

"You must take heart." Ms. Potter hugged the younger woman gently. "It's the time of miracles."

Mary let the tears fall from her eyes. "I promised him a Christmas never to be forgotten. I was going to tell him he could come and live with me if he wanted......"

Gloria Potter sighed, and wrapped her arms tighter. It was indeed going to be a christmas to remember for them all, any way it turned out. Of the seven men, Gloria knew Ezra Standish to be the least reliable of them, she wondered if he knew what kind of heartache he was causing each moment he didn't come back with the boy. Then more charitably, Gloria hope they both were just plain safe and healthy, waiting for help, or waiting for daylight. Either way, she hoped both came home.




In the hour just before dawn, six men assembled silently at the entrance to town, all were keyed up and ready. Vin had packed extra food and water in case they found them. Nathan had packed his medical supplies, making sure he had plenty of water and bandages. The rest of the men had paked to the hilt too. Extra ammunition and guns, food and water. They would stay out all day if they had too.

"We go until dark, then head back." Chris sighed, "Mary will want to know either way."

The others nodded grimly. The sun was still a half hour away, but thanks to the stage driver, they knew exactily where the stage had been ambushed and in what direction Ezra had headed.

With a resigned sigh, Chris Larabee noticed a face at the Clarion News window. It was clear Mary hadn't slept all night. He nodded to her and rode out of town. Each man acknowledged her presence at the window before following.




The first sound Ezra heard was crying. The fretful crying of a child. Billy. Blinking open his eyes, Ezra could barely make out he was lying on his side, legs covered in rubble, partially sheltered by a huge boulder. If the large rock hadn't fallen exactily as it did, both of them would have been crushed under it's weight. A miracle.

Saying a quick prayer, Ezra tried to sit himself up. A shooting pain ran down his left leg, and he smothered a coarse groan. Something was definately wrong. Panting, Ezra reached out an started pulling the smaller rocks off of himself.

"M...Mmmm...Mr. Standish?" Bily sopped his crying, his voice tentative.

"Still here, son." Ezra kept his voice steady, not giving into the pain in his leg. "Are you injured?"

"Nnn ..no." Billy sniffled. "I couldn't wake you up! You were just lying there..."

"I'm alright son." Ezra looked into the boys frightened eyes. He had seen his father killed, Ezra could only imagine what his unconscious state had enhanced the boys fears. "I was meerly rendered senseless for but a brief moment."

"Huh?" Billy looked even more confused.

"I was knocked out." Ezra looked towards where the exits to the cave were. Nothing remained of either tunnel. But at one point in the ceiling, a hole could be seen. "Eureka."

"What?" Billy was suddelny at Ezra's side, looking up with him. "We going to climb up there?"

"Well, unless you want to spend Christmas here in this lovely abode, yes." Ezra lifted the last rock off of his legs with Billy's help.

"I want to be with mommy." Billy looked resolutely at the small opening. "You think your horse is alright?"

"I certainly hope so." Ezra grimaced as he puled himself to his feet. His left knee throbbed mercilessly, he could feel it swelling with every heartbeat. Climbing wasn't going to be fun, but he was going to be damned if he would let Billy see him injured.

"I found your saddlebags." Billy held out the canteen and wrapped bundle of food.

"Thank you son." Ezra grinnned at the boy in the faint light drifting from the cracked ceiling of the cave. He automaticaly shook the canteen, not much left. Of the food, there was only a couple of strips of jerky and some hardtack. He had better make this last.

"Aren't you thirsty?" Billy asked as Ezra passed him the canteen back.

"I'm fine for now." Ezra looked up at what looked like the only way out. "We'll partake more once we reach the top. You ready?"

"Yes, sir." Billy resolutely walked to the wall they had to climb. Ezra limped behind him, careful not to let it show,lest the boy become more afraid.

It was a slow, careful trip to the top. Ezra stifled many gasps of pain as the arduous trip forced him to put more weight than he should take on his injured leg. It was swollen twice normal size and moving it even a fraction of a degree was agony. But Ezra was going to be damend if he would scare Billy any more than he already was.

During the climb, Billy stared to rattle on about Christmas and what he and his Mother would do once he got home. It sounded like heavan to the gambler, who had never felt the 'Christmas Spirit" extended twords him during his life. He would even have tolerated the visit to Church Billy raved about, just to have a warm fire and a warmer reception later.

"What about you Mr. Standish?" Billy loked back at him. They were almost to the top now. "What do you like to do for Christmas."

"I fear it is just another day to me, son." Ezra grunted, heaving himself up to be level with the boy.

"Really?" Billy looked at him suspiciously, "Everybody has a special day at Christmas, Mom and Grandpa told me so."

"Well, " Ezra glanced at the terrain before him, only a few short feet now, but they were very steep. "As I am not 'everybody', I guess that doesn't apply to me."

Billy seemed to consider his words in silence, for which Ezra was grateful. Then "What about your family? Where are they?"

"I suggest we concentrate on our climbing young Mr. Travis." Ezra looked up above, "We are almost done, but need to stay focused."

"Yes, sir." Billly sounded meek, like he knew he had intruded. Ezra didn't want his spirits falling right now and did something he had never done before.

"Son, I spent nearly every Christmas of my life away from my family, so it has not been the Hallmark holliday for me. My Mother is in St. Luis right now, she said she was coming, but...." Ezra's voice traied off , he was having a hard time controlling his bitterness. He loved his mother, and still always hoped she would show up for Chistmas.

"Maybe she'll come!" Billy piped up, climbing up the steep incline. It was almost verticle.

"It would take a miracle." Ezra said dryly, struggling behing the boy. Suddenly his handhold gave way and he lost his grip. With a startled cry he flailed his hand around, his other hand on the verge of letting go, sending him plunging down the the cave floor far below. It was as if his hand was guided to another handhold, where there hadn't been one before , one was suddenly there. Ezra grasped it gratefully and pulled himself to the top of the hole, to freedom. "But Today seems to be the day of Miracles."

Billy had looked down, frightened as Ezra seemed to be about to fall, but then recovered and climbed out to join him. "Thats what the Preacher said. A day of miracles!"

"Well, I definately will agree with him right now." Ezra puffed, his heart slowing down from the fear that caused it to pound like a racing horses. There hadn't been another handhold in sight, where had that last one come from? Shaking his head he sat briefly next to Billy, resting.

The hole had put them about 200 yards from where the horse had been hidden. It was wooded and hidden from view, not even the blasts of dynamite had disturbed this area, but with all the noise, the horse was probably gone.

"Drink some of this." Ezra handed the canteen to Billy, only a swallow left. Then he gave the boy one of the last strips of jerky. With luck, the boy wouldn't realize Ezra was not taking anything for himself.

"Will your horse still be there?" Billy asked, his breathing calm and relaxed.

"I do hope so." Erza stayed on alert, hoping he coud avoid running into anyone on the journey home. It was late afternoon now, the climb had been long, soon it would truely be Christmas Eve and Ezra fully intended to get Billy home for dinner.

The two got up and crept towards the horses hiding place, as Billy parted the foliage , he gave a gasp of joy. "He's here!!"

"Good, " Ezra smiled, another small miracle. "Lets get you home,son."




Chis was sething. Vin had followed the tracks to the caved hilllside and the destruction of the area was a testament to how much these men wanted Billy. No sign of Ezra, his horse, or Billy was to be found. But the ones who tried to kill them, their tracks headed towards Four Corners.

"They could be after Mrs. Travis now." Vin drawled, mopping his forehead with a bandana. He had just crawled from a hiding hoe. "looks like a horse was stole away there, gone now."

"Ezra's?" JD asked, now even more worried.

"Pretty sure." Vin looked around. Found little footprints there along with a man's. They headed off towards the Mountain pass. The other tracks are headed home the ridge route."

"They'll cut them off at the junction?" Nathan speculated.

"My guess is they wil wait for them in town." Chris said, voice tight. "Can we beat them back?"

"I reckon," Vin swung up on his horse. "They will go slower, looking for Ezra and Billy, we can make time going the same way and skirting them."

"Lets do it." Chris said, taking another look at the destruction around him. If one hair on Billy's head was hurt, someone was going to pay!




Mary looked out her window. The day had gone so slowly, that she felt as if it had been years. She knew Chris and the others would do all they could to find Billy, but she couldn't shake the feeling of ddread that encom[assed her at the passing of every hour.

It had seemed as if all of the townsfolk had stopped by to visit wiht her and try to raise her spirits, but nothing worked. Only her son in her arms would help her now, and with every passing hour , the hope she held for him returning to her safely waned.

Sudden hoofbeats roused her from her introspection, and she saw that Chris had made it home. Running ou tthe door, she halted when they stopped in front of her home, with no Billy.

"What...." Was all she could stammer out, fear taking hold of her.

"We think Billy an' Ezra are on their way back, but the men who tried to take Billy are ontheir way here too." Nathan spoke up first, as Chris dismounted along with Josiah and Buck.

"JD, take Nathan and Vin and look for strangers in the saloon." Chris looked at Mary. "I'll stay here and watch over Mary with Josiah. Buck? check around town quietly, ask the girls at the saloon if anything has been heard."

Various versions of "Right Chris" filled the air as the men separated, hunting for anyone who didn't belong in the town, or they hadn't seen before they had left this morning. All keeping a sharp eye out for a lone horse , hoping it would amble into town soon.

As dark approached, the six men converged at Mary's house. It was dinner time, but stil no Billy. Mary had cooked anyway, and it made the time go a little faster and gave her something to do. Unconsciously, Mary had cooked for nine, hoping agains all remaining hope, that Billy would arrive with Mr. Standish unharmed tonite.

Just before Mary thought she was going to lose it completely and give up, a lone horses hoofprints rang in the just dark sky. All seven in the house shot to their feet, running for the door. The sight that greeted them made them pause.

Billy was sitting in front of Ezra on the saddle, both were covered in dirt from head to toe, and both looked exausted. As soon as Billy saw his mother, he shouted and leapt off the horse, running towards them. The six men all looked around for trouble, but none came.

Billy threw himself into his mothers arms, and squeezed with all his young might. Mary looked him over, and other than being very dirty,he didn't have a scratch on him. Nathan had also kneeled by the boy, smiling as he found nothing to have to heal.

"I'm sorry we're late, mom." Bily whispered, trying to keep from crying in relief.

"It's alright honey." Mary whispered, tears in her eyes as well. "As long as your safe."

"What happened, son." Chris kneeled and looked the boy in the eyes.

So involved in watching the reunion taking place, nobody noticed Ezra reign his horse towards the livery. He was tired, dirty, and emotionally drained ad he didn't feel like answering endless questions right then. A bath, and a week of sleep seemed just fine to him. He heard Billy start to tell them what happened and smiled, let the boy have some fun with the tail. But before Ezra could rest, he had a tired horse to tend to. He headed into the barn to quietly do just that.

".....and then we climbed out , all by ourselves!" Billy was finishing up his tale for the six men and his mother, all who stred at him throughout the teling. None had interrupted the boy as he told tham about the cave, the collapse and the escape. Only Nathan frowned when Billy recounted how Ezra was unconscious for a few minutes. Chris flicked his eyes at Nathan and Josiah nodding, they would look after Ezra soon.

"Where is Mr. Standish?" Mary looked around, finding him gone. She wanted to thank him for saving her son, and tell he some news he needed to know.

"Figure he took his horse to the livery." Vin looked over, noticing the barn door open.

"Well as soon as he's ready, please have him join us all for dinner." With that she headed Billy into the house.

"Nathan, go see if he's alright and watch his back, I'm not convinced this is over yet." No sooner had the words come out of Chris' mouth when a gunshot filled the air. The six men looked at each other in shock, before running for the Livery.




Ezra unsaddled the tired animal and brushed him down, soothed as always by the horses encouraging nickers and obvious pleasure in the scratching action of the brush on sweaty hide. Getting out of the saddle had been agony, the left knee was now useless for anything but remaining upright in one place. Any movement sent waves of pain throughout his body. Nothing felt broken, just wrenched badly.

He was glad the Travis boy was home safe, he had deliberately slipped away unnoticed so that he could relax himself before facing the others. He wondered what their reaction would be to their exploits. He hoped Ms. Travis appreciated how brave Billy had been. He envied that boy his obviousy caring mother and wondered again if his mother ever worried about him in that way. He liked to think so.

He wondered where his mother was. He really missed her, and since her last visit to Four Corners, felt some of the distance between them had lessoned. He had even gotten her a Cristmas gift, it lay wrapped on his bed, if she didn't come, he would send it to her. He shook his head, even at his age, he still held a shred of hope, much as he tried not too.

So ingrossed in his contemplations, Ezra didn't notice the men coming stealthily in the back door. A hand grabbed him from behind, pulling him backwards, as other hands reached out and took his Remingtons.

"Where's the boy!" The irate voice hissed in his ear, Ezra recognized the voice of the man who ordered the others to dynamite the hillside.

"Where you'll never find him!" Ezra used his weight to push backwards and sent his captor into he stalls wall, hard. He triggered the derringer and used both shots to take out the two men who had taken his guns. That just left the man behind him, but he was too slow and something hit him across the back of his head, not hard enought to knock him out, but enough to send him reeling to the floor.

Ezra landed on his back in the hay, a roaring filled his ears and his vision swam. But he could still make out the man aiming a gun at his heart. He was dead. Ezra knew it. Well, at least the boy got home safe, was the last thing he saw before something unexpected happened.

To anyone watching, it looked like Ezra's assailaint just clutched his chest and fell over, but to Ezra, it was somethign else altogather. As his vision still spun, Ezra could swear he saw a bright, luminescent figure come from nowhere and strike the man thrugh the chest. In shock Ezra saw the figure turn towards him and wondered what he was seeing. Then he wondered if he was dead. The bright, transparent being reached out and touched Ezra on the forehead. That was the last thing Ezra remembered.




Chris rushed into the livery just in time to see the man topple right onto Ezra's prone form. To all the world, it looked like the man just died where he stood! He heard Buck exclaim something and the spell was broken. All rushed forward into the frozen tableau before them. Nathan kneeled down beside Ezra and checked for his pulse, he nodded encouragingly at the others who let out the breaths they had unconsciously been holding.

Vin and JD checked the two men Ezra had shot, both were dead, shot to the heart. Neither woud have known what hit them, neither suffered. Vin shook his head in amazement. Two excellent shots out of the peashooter gun, how did he do that!

"He going to be alright?" JD asked, kneeling next to Josiah,who was across form Nathan.

"Yup." Nathan probed the lump on the back of his head and noticed the swollen knee. "But he won't be walking for awhile. He musta gotten this during that cave in Billy told us about."

"It broken?" Buck asked, wincing as Nathan slit the knee of the trousers revealing the swollen appendage.

Then, to their startled eyes, it seemed the swelling was going down with every passing second. Something strange was happening and a sense of peace flodded the room, holding all in it's spell. The spell deapened weaving the men togather in an almost silent song of strength and joy. Then abruptly the feeling vanished and everyone shook their heads, wondering at the inexplicable reaction they all had.

"Oh my." Ezra groaned, and attempted to sit up.

"Take it easy." Josiah steadied him and moved him to a sitting position. "How you feel?"

Ezra looked around him, taking in the bodies, and the men crowded around him, concern in their faces.

"Fine." He croaked out, then noticed the ruined pants leg. He sighed, another piece of clothing ruined. "Travis boy alright?"

"Yup, home with Mary, getting cleaned up and eating dinner about now. She wants you over there as soon as you clean up." Chris stood, he didn't understand what had just happened, but he was grateful for it. Now they could all relax and it would truly be a day of celebration tomorrow. Maybe some things did turn out alright after all.

"Let's get you back to your place." Nathan stood and he and Vin helped Ezra to his feet. Remarkably, his knee didn't hurt quite so bad, and once standing was able to walk on his own.

Another miracle, Ezra thought as he limped towards home, the men flanking him, offering silent support should he falter. The kindness cheered Ezra, maybe this wasn't going to be such a bad Christmas after all.

"Ezra?" A startled, female voice called from the doorway to the hotel. Ezra turned and stared in shock.

"Mother?" He whispered. Suddenly he was a child again, waiting for her, and instead of the usual disappointment, she had come.

"Good Lord! What happened to you?" She briskly walked up and Ezra just stared at her. Hoping this wasn't a dream and she really had come. "Well, say something, son. Are you alright"

Ezra shook his head and chuckled, pulling his mother into a startled embrace, kissing her on the cheek lightly. It truely was yet another miracle, the finest one of his life. From this day on, Christmas would be a happy day. "I am now."

The End





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