Chris and JD were riding back from patrol one cloudy afternoon. It was rare the gunslinger rode alone with the young sheriff, but this day he'd switched patrols with Buck so the gregarious ladies' man could get some much-needed rest. He was still recovering from being shot in the shoulder and Nathan had all but ordered Chris to put someone else on patrol with JD.
They rode in silence along the plains, watching the storm clouds to the southwest build and began to kiss the next town over with lightning.
"Think it's going to get nasty?" JD asked.
"Wouldn't doubt it," Chris said. "Vin said to batten down the hatches later --- wonder if this was what he meant?"
In the Saloon at Four Corners, Ezra flipped the final card onto the Solitaire game and sighed. He gathered the cards up and began to shuffle them, his fingers moving nearly too fast to be seen.
Josiah wandered in and sat down at his table. "How's the luck runnin' today, son?"
"It runs as it normally does when one plays alone," Ezra said before he looked into the big man's eyes. "And I have repeated myself unto infinity, Mister Sanchez. I am not your son."
"I know ya have," Josiah said with a smile. "I also know that where it counts, you are. You're loved as a son. For some reason, you won't admit it, even to yourself. You won't seem to accept caring ---"
"Are you going to play or are you going to badger me?" Ezra asked. "If the latter is the case, I suggest you find another 'son' to play your game with."
Josiah's smile grew. "I already have one, why would I need another?" He held up a hand. "All right, all right --- deal 'em up."
As Ezra dealed, he groused, "Just for that, I ought to cheat."
Josiah's chuckles filled the nearly-empty saloon as the game began.
Vin found himself climbing the stairs to Nathan's clinic. "Ya busy?"
Nathan smiled as he met Vin halfway down. "Nope, just heading over to check on Buck. Walk with me?"
A nod, and Vin fell in step beside him. After a few moments, he said softly, "Got a real bad feelin' about today."
Nathan nodded as he squinted into the sky. "Looks like a honey of a storm brewing."
"Yup...." Vin sighed. "Hope they make it back okay."
"Hey, Chris?" JD asked, pointing at the clouds. "....what's that?"
Chris looked up at the storm. The clouds had turned inky black and were churning. Suddenly a bit of cloud separated and began to move ground-ward -- a huge slender inky black finger. At the same time, the wind kicked up incredibly.
Chris's eyes widened. He went rail-stiff and for a second, JD thought the gunslinger had frozen! But then he saw the hazel eyes turn sky-blue and then emerald green in turn -- and realised Chris was informing the others in the odd mental link of what he was seeing.
Then Chris moved with the speed of a striking snake. In one motion, he was out of his saddle and pulling JD out of his! He slapped both horses' rumps and hollered at them, and both animals took off. Chris grabbed JD's hand and ran full-tilt toward a depression in the ground.
"Twister!" was the terse reply as Chris threw JD into the depression and threw himself over the young sheriff, shielding him as best he could with his own body.
Vin stiffened, and Nathan saw his eyes flick hazel green before coming back to sky-blue. "Get Buck!" Vin cried as he broke into a run. "Get to the cellar under the boarding house! Now!"
Not questioning him, Nathan raced into the boarding house and pounded on Buck's door.
Vin ran up and down the boardwalk, hollering at the top of his lungs as he pounded on doors and at one point threw a rock through a window when someone was slow to answer. He cried warnings of the twister and told people to get to the cellar fast!
Ezra suddenly stood up, upending the chair he sat in. Josiah blinked at him, then watched in fascination as the emerald eyes flicked hazel green. When they were emerald again, he screeched, "Shit!" Abandoning the cards, he ran to the back room and pounded on the door. "Inez! Root cellar! Now! Twister coming!"
Josiah came to his feet. The two peacekeepers locked eyes --- and both sets of eyes widened as the ground began to tremble.
Moving faster than one would think possible for a man of his bulk, Josiah practically flew across the saloon. He tackled Ezra and sent him to the floor, covering the slender gambler's body with his own massive bulk. "God protect us!" he heard himself cry.
Ezra's screamed prayer rose to meet his as the whirlwind bore down on Four Corners.
In the space of five minutes, it was over. The tornado moved on, heading blindly on its mission of devastation.
In its wake was a huge pile of rubble that had once been Four Corners and an eerie, eerie silence.
With a groan, Chris opened his eyes against the light. "J.... D...."
"Over here," the younger man called. He came into Chris's field of vision. "How're you doing?"
"Hurts...." he sat up and looked around at the dirt-and-wind scoured landscape. ".... Are you okay?"
JD smiled and nodded. "Thanks to you." The smile faded. "We should get back to town -- you took a nasty knock to the head. Maybe Nathan should check you over?"
Chris nodded, rubbing his forehead. "I think that's a good idea." He raised his head from his hand and his face lost all emotion as his eyes flicked blue, then emerald.
As JD watched, Chris began to frown. Hazel, blue, emerald.... hazel, blue, emerald.....
Hazel-blue-emerald. "JD...." the frown deepened as the colours kept flicking. "I--I can't feel them...."
Vin shivered as he sat up and brushed the debris from his shoulders. He stood shakily and looked around at the ruined town. Omig-d....
Are you all right?
Vin's head snapped toward the wreckage of the saloon and he began to head that way. Hurting, but otherwise --- you?
The same. Currently pinned under both Josiah's unconscious form and debris, but unharmed.
I'm on my way, partner. Chris?
I know. I'm trying as well, and I cannot reach him, either! A pause. Perhaps if we... combine our efforts...
Vin chuckled. If nothin' else, it'll make me stronger, help me getcha out. Ready?
Vin closed his eyes. When he opened them again, one was emerald green.
Purposefully, he moved toward the wreck of the saloon and began to move boards.
He barely noticed when Buck and Nathan added their hands to his -- or the fact Buck only had one hand to lend; his other one held firmly in a sling.
When night began to fall, Vin and Ezra worked as one man to build tents for the displaced people of Four Corners. They then took stock -- the worst injury was Josiah, who still hadn't regained consciousness.
The town's main street had been leveled. The people began to debate whether or not rebuilding was worth it.
Conklin thought he had sewn the argument up with -- "And what do we do when the next tornado moves through? It's not worth it!"
After a few moments, Gloria Potter shakily stood. Her face pale from the shock to her arm, she leaned on Mary Travis for support as her voice ground out into the night. "This is our home," she said pointedly. "I for one will not abandon it. You want to return East, Mister Conklin? Feel free."
Conklin glared, spluttering, at her for a long moment before he turned and stalked back to his tent.
Mary hugged Gloria as she helped her sit down. "Well said, Gloria!"
She smiled. "I just hope it was enough."
Ezra had rebuilt a table from the saloon, and he sat there scratching diagrams on a sheet of paper. Buck sat down beside him. "What's that?"
"Four Corners," Ezra replied, turning the paper to him. "Saloon here, church here... mercantiles...livery...."
Buck gazed at the diagram for a long moment. Then, in a soft voice, he asked, "Ya fixin' on rebuildin'?"
Emerald eyes raised. "Of course, Mister Wilmington. Aren't you?"
He smiled. "Yeah, Ez... but Nate had his doubts about you."
Ezra made a disgusted noise and shook his head. "All this time, you would think he'd trust me by now."
"Hell, Ez, ya know how stubborn he can be.... "Buck took a deep breath, paused, and asked softly, "....Chris? JD?"
"No word, Buck." He paused, and Buck saw his eyes run through two shades of green and one shade of cerulean blue. Ezra sighed, lay the pen down and rubbed his forehead.
"I don't know." He met Buck's eyes. "Buck.... neither one of us can reach him."
Chris was very sluggish the next morning. It took JD a full half hour to get him awake and semi-moving around. His speech was a bit slurred, and his eyes didn't look quite normal, their pupils very uneven.
*Lovely,* JD thought. *And us without Nathan.* "You able to ride?"
"Hm?" Chris asked, turning toward him.
"Midnight. You able to ride?"
Chris smiled. "I'm fine," he said, trying twice to put his foot in Midnight's stirrup before actually succeeding and swinging onto the horse.
"Any luck this morning?"
The smile turned into a frustrated sigh and JD watched the blue and emerald green flit across Chris's eyes before they settled into their normal hazel. "None. Still nothing."
"I'm sorry." JD swung into his own saddle and the pair began their laborious trip east.
The day turned hot late in the morning. Buck, Vin and Ezra worked side-by-side with the men of the town to remove the debris and pile up boards that could be used for rebuilding. Just after a lunch break, Vin decided he'd ride out for a bit, exercise Peso.
Be careful, Ezra warned mentally.
Always am, came the reply as he headed out of town.
Nathan came from Josiah's side, shaking his head mutely at the others' looks. Still unconscious.
When they returned to work, Nathan worked by their side this time -- Mary was watching Josiah. The healer smiled to himself as Ezra unself-consciously removed his fine jacket and vest, returning to work in rolled-up shirtsleeves.
He loved it when Vin rubbed off on Ezra.....
Hours later, Ezra suddenly raised his head from the task, a look of startled curiosity on his face.
"What is it?" Buck asked gently.
"Vin." Slowly, a delighted grin spread over Ezra's face and he let out a whoop of joy, racing away from the main street debris and over to where the church had once stood.
Topping the rise of the small hill was a covered wagon, a driver with a lady sitting beside him guiding the single horse, another horse walking beside. As it got closer, the cheers began.
Vin drove the wagon, Nettie Wells by his side. Fractious Peso was letting Casey ride him, all but grinning at the joy he caught from his usual rider. Ponied to the wagon was a second, smaller one --- familiar to everyone in town.
Vin's wagon home had been moved -- but not damaged! "Vin comin' in!" Ezra called amid the cheers, and Vin smiled at it.
Nettie got down and was embraced by several of the women. "Now, now, none o'that!" she scolded. "Them wagons are full'a supplies, clothes, and food. We'd'a been here sooner, but we filled Vin's too when it blowed inta our yard!"
"Our home is undamaged," Casey reported as she got down. "Aunt Nettie suggested we open it as a place for the injured to go!"
Nathan's eyes filled. "Miz Nettie, that's the sweetest offer I've heard....."
Vin jerked his head. "We'll unload m'wagon and I'll port 'Siah in it. An' anythin' else ya need."
Nathan nodded. "Much obliged, y'all. Much obliged."
"Josiah?" Casey asked. "What ---"
"He's still unconscious," Ezra said gently, worry in his green eyes.
"Oh," the girl said, fretting a bit. "JD? Where's JD?"
Everyone looked at each other, then back at her.
Tears welled. "He's dead, ain't he?"
"Not as far as we know," Nathan was quick to interject. "Him and Chris went patrollin' 'fore the cyclone hit. They're not back yet."
Casey studied his face, then took a deep breath. She squared her shoulders and turned around. "C'mon, Vin, I'll help ya unload that wagon."
Nettie smiled. "Scared t'death and she's still tryin' t'help out. I'm proud'a that girl. Now!" She nodded and turned toward Ezra. "S'pose you tell me what needs doin'!"
Ezra smiled, his eyes clicking into an odd turquoise colour -- both of them green and blue mixed. "C'mon, Miz Nettie, first priority is clearin' the wagons for transportation of the ill!"
As she followed him, Nettie frowned. "....very odd....." she mumbled. "....usually one eye's green and one's blue when they pull this..... never both eyes both colours..... somethin's happened t'these boys."
JD turned his horse around and headed back down the hill. "There's lights over the ridge -- I'd say it's Miz Nettie's cabin -- if we've been going the right way."
"O-One way to find out," Chris said. He spurred Midnight and began to climb the hill.
"Whoa!" JD called to Midnight, grabbing the reins and pulling Chris off the horse. "Aw, hell," he sighed. "Out again." He made Chris comfortable on the ground, then rode full clip toward the lights.
The galloping horse drew Vin's attention. Inside, Ezra stood up suddenly. "JD," he breathed.
Buck shot to his feet. "JD?"
Ezra nodded and jogged outside, Buck on his heels.
JD pulled Dodge up short. "Is Nathan here?" he cried once he saw his friends.
"Inside," Buck said, suddenly alone with JD as Vin and Ezra shot over the hill. "Chris?"
He nodded wildly. "Hurt his head in the twister!"
"I'll bring Nathan, you get back to Chris." As he turned, Buck grabbed the bridle. "Are you---?"
JD managed a smile. "I'm a lot better since the horses came back! I'm fine, Buck. Honestly --- Chris shielded me with his body."
A study of JD's face and a simple nod, and Buck let go. JD wheeled Dodge around and rode back to Chris.
There he is....
Vin and Ezra dropped down on either side of him. Vin felt for a pulse in his neck as Ezra lay a hand on his forehead. Not feverish.
Pulse is strong. "Chris? Hey, cowboy...."
Glazed hazel eyes opened slightly. "Don't.... call me...."
"Sorry," Vin smiled. "We've been concerned --- neither of us could connect."
"Perhaps now that we're together?" Ezra suggested.
A long moment later, Chris let out a frustrated moan as his eyes slid into their normal hazel and Vin and Ezra's settled into an identical turquoise. "Nothing," Chris sighed. "Y-you...."
"We can reach each other with ease --" Ezra began.
"---We just can't reach you," Vin finished.
Nathan came up and examined him as Chris confirmed, "And I can't reach either of you...."
"If anything, those two've leaned harder on each other than ever," Nathan said as he bandaged Chris's head. "Even got a new set of eyes between 'em. Ya hurt anywheres else?"
"No... no, just my head.... new eyes?"
Nathan nodded. "You've definitely got a concussion. Probably scrambled your brains enough that the telegraph wires t'Vin and Ezra went down for a bit."
"F-for a bit.... then it'll c-come back?"
Nathan helped him up. "Let's get you t'Miz Nettie's, let you rest awhile -- and we'll see what happens. Deal?"
Chris managed a shaky smile. "D-Deal."
Vin and Ezra looked at each other, more worried than ever. If Chris was caving to Nathan this easily, that was a sure sign of the amount of pain he was in.
Chris then looked over at his mind-brothers. "N-New....eyes?"
"They both got turquoise eyes now -- blue an' green all mixed up." Nathan got a better grip on the arm he held around his shoulders. "I swear, at the moment, y'can't tell who's who if'n you didn't know what they looked like."
Chris didn't know why that frightened him.
Nathan was finishing an examination of Josiah when Ezra walked in. "How is he?" the gambler asked plainly.
Nathan sighed and rubbed his eyes. "The same," he said gently. "I was hopin' the daylight'd show me somethin' I'd overlooked, but...."
A gentle hand lay on Nathan's shoulder and Ezra's voice was very soft. "You're doin' your best, Nathan. I'll sit with him awhile, talk to him. Maybe hearin' my voice will help."
Startled by both the plain speech and familial sentiment, Nathan looked into Ezra's eyes. Their turquoise colour sent an icy rush down the healer's spine. With a single nod, Nathan stood. "I'll ... go check Chris," he said, trying to keep the shaking out of his voice.
Ezra nodded and sat by Josiah. As Nathan moved to wash his hands and gather his supplies, he heard Ezra begin to softly speak.
"I miss you, Josiah.... I-I've been thinking.. you've loved me -- th-the way a real father would have. But due to fear on my part, filial affection has been somewhat..... aw, hell, Josiah. Come back to us and I promise I'll try to ... be the son you've always seen in me."
*I'll believe that when I see it,* Nathan thought, then he paused. *I just hope he gets the chance.*
Troubled by that thought, Nathan moved to the far side of the large room. "Any change?"
Vin raised tortured turquoise eyes. "He woke up twice... couldn't sense him either time. And he still can't sense us." He took a deep breath. "I'm gettin' scared, Nate. He's right here -- but it feels like he's dead!"
At those words, Nathan found himself checking Chris's pulse and breathing. Finding both strong, he nodded. "You're talking about the link."
A slow nod, and Vin took one of Chris's limp hands in both of his. "Never thought I'd miss it so bad. Miss him so bad." Cowboy... come on back to us....
Chris's eyes slowly opened.
Vin blinked. He gripped the hand tighter. ....cowboy?
...one o'these days.... gonna shoot you....for callin' me that....
"He's back!" Vin whooped.
Ezra echoed it a moment later. "He sure is!"
Chris sat up, over Nathan's protests. "Headache's manageable....thank you, Nathan." He got settled, then turned blazing hazel eyes to Vin. "Now... s'pose you tell me what's goin' on with you two?"
"What do you mean?" Vin asked, baffled. "We're fine, you were the one we couldn't reach..."
"So you ended up leanin' on each other," Chris finished. "A bit too much, it looks like."
Vin frowned, looking over at Ezra. Emerald flashes danced in the turquoise eyes, and Chris could see -- even from that distance -- answering azure flashes in Ezra's. When Vin turned back and opened his mouth, Chris held up a hand.
"You two really have no idea what all the fuss is about, do you?" At their double headshake, Chris nodded gently. "Then see what I do." He closed his eyes and transmitted an image of both of them ---
Their altered eyes prominent.
The expletive began in Vin's voice and ended in Ezra's.
"Took the words right out of my mind," Chris sighed. "You two pulled that damnable Merge again, didn't you?"
"An' got stuck," Nathan said grimly.
Trying to deflect the attention away from themselves, feeling increasingly uncomfortable, Ezra said, "At least you have returned to the fold."
"....will He....not go.....looking for....the one lost sheep?"
Ezra's eyes widened and he looked down. Suddenly he was off the chair, joy-filled voice shouting for Nathan. "Josiah...."
The preacher's eyes were pain-filled slits -- but they were open! He weakly squeezed Ezra's hand and looked directly into the wonder-wide eyes. Haltingly, he whispered, "...a true son... need not come...from blood....the...the heart knows...its own..."
Ezra smiled at him. "What verse is that from?"
Josiah gently shook his head. "...not Bible.....my h-heart...." And his eyes closed.
Nathan checked him, and smiled at Ezra. "He's in a normal sleep." The smile grew. "Reckon you got yourself a pa for real."
"Like it or not," Ezra shot back, but he was grinning. "I reckon so."
Weeks had passed since the tornado had leveled Four Corners. Chris walked from the rebuilt -- though still spartan -- boarding house and looked around.
All around him, the now-familiar sound of hammering filled the air. Chris's heart swelled as he saw the people working in harmony to rebuild the town. He looked for the rest of the Seven, finding them with ease.
The three largest heaved a wall of the new church in place, with Tiny and Mister Barrows helping them. Chris smiled to see Josiah laughing as Nathan tore into Buck for overusing that arm.
JD and Casey were working side-by-side with some of the townswomen and older children, hammering slats into place to rebuild the boardwalk. The support poles were already in place.
Two to go..... Rather than call, Chris sent a silent question. The reply made him chuckle. Of course they'd be there.... He looked up.
Sure enough, there they were -- both in work pants and shirtsleeves. Ezra and Vin were perched on opposite sides of Mrs. Potter's store roof, both hammering shingles in place.
Chris still felt a pang of alarm to see Ezra's left hand and Vin's right moving in perfect unison. The extent of the Merge frightened him a bit.
"Are you going to stand there gathering flies?"
The soft voice made him jump and spin, one hand on his pistol. "Dammit, Mary! I nearly drew on you!"
She smiled at him and reached a hammer toward him.
He stared at her for a long moment, then with a sound midway between a chuckle and a snort, he took off his black duster and handed it to her, taking the hammer and tucking it into his belt. With a dancer's grace, Chris shinned up a support pole.
He felt twin warm mental hugs. Glad to see you feelin' well enough to be up here, Cowboy.
Chris turned the Glare onto Ezra. Don't YOU start, too!
Vin chuckled. We're just glad the headache receded and you're among the fellowship again.
Him with the 'cowboy', you with the five-dollar words.... ya both shut up and pass me some shingles.
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