It was another sleepless night. Christian Sebastian was still bound and determined to break the electronic monitoring, find a break in the security of the Ranch --- or both.
It should have been easy! He had Chris Larabee's memories of the Ranch. He had his memories of how Team Seven acted and reacted. It should have been easy! He should have been able to escape by now!
But why couldn't he get away? Why couldn't he figure it out?
Ezra came out of Sebastian's bedroom. "He's not there."
"I know," Vin said calmly.
"You don't seem to be perturbed by this development."
"I'm not." He jerked his head, and Ezra followed his gaze.
Sebastian lay curled on the floor, sleeping fitfully.
Vin grinned. "Wore himself out."
Ezra smiled, shaking his head. "Not sleeping for almost three days will do that. Which end do you want?"
"Grab his feet."
Together, they wrestled the limp blond into bed, covering him before they left the room.
Tellingly, they did not close the door.
"Sarah and I will take first watch," Ezra said. "Adam needs to rest."
"I know," Vin sighed. "He's all but asleep, and my body's startin' to go." He squeezed Ezra's shoulder, and a little boy's voice whispered, "G'night, Uncle Ez. G'night, Mama."
Ezra's eyes flicked to hazel, and his hand rose to cup Vin's cheek. Sarah's voice whispered, "Good night, son. Rest easy. And you as well, Vin. Bless you."
"Bless you, Sarah," Vin replied with a smile before he headed for the bedroom and the welcoming covers.
Ezra watched him go, before stationing himself outside the sleeping Sebastian's door. There was no telling how long he would stay asleep.
Best to be prepared for any eventuality.
As they guarded Sebastian, Ezra and Sarah spoke in hushed whispers.
Something's been bothering me.
This is our ranch. This is where we lived all but the first three months of our married life.
So why – if Sebastian has access to Chris's memories – hasn't he been successful in escape?
Ezra smiled. "I've been noticing a few things, Sarah. It's looking like Chris might be battling him from within – taking back his memories."
Ezra shifted his gaze to the bed and frowned deeply.
Sebastian's eyes were open. Fixed and glassy, focussed at the ceiling over the bed.
"Sebastian?" Ezra walked into the bedroom. "Sebastian?"
Ezra went closer and frowned. Sebastian was barely breathing. Ezra put his fingers on Sebastian's throat and felt a steady – if somewhat slow – pulse.
"Okay, what is going on here?" Ezra murmured.
Sarah came forward and peeled one of Sebastian's eyelids back completely. "You're right," she breathed. "This is very strange. It's as if all the lights are on, but nobody's home."
The speedup of the pulse was all the warning Sarah and Ezra got. Suddenly their hand was knocked away and Sebastian was sitting up, his hand fisted in Ezra's shirt. Ezra came forward and tensed, bracing their shared body for a blow or to be thrown. His brain rapidly discarded several scenarios, after mentally preparing for each one.
But the blond's free hand came up and the fingertips stroked gently, softly down the faintly stubbled cheek. ".....Sarah?"
Ezra drew in a shocked breath. "No – Standish."
"Your eyes.... your voice... they way you moved...." The eyes boring into Ezra's had laser-like intensity. "They – they aren't you. They aren't Ezra.... They're Sarah."
Ezra's eyes widened. "Chris?"
"What.... how did she... inside you? I'm not imagining – she always gave me strength.... she's giving me strength now...." His eyes started to droop. ".....need strength.... can't let....S-Sebastian win...."
Gripping his shoulders, Ezra shook him. "Chris? Chris, stay with us!"
He opened his eyes wide, visibly trying to stay awake. "Tr-Trying.... so weak.....tired, still...."
Ezra nodded and did the only thing he could think of. "Vin! Vin! VIIIIIN!"
Covers hit the flood with a nearly-audible 'snap' as Vin leapt from the bed and tore down the hallway.
Seeing Ezra holding the blond man's shoulders, Vin groped for his gun – then froze, his eyes widening. ".....Chris."
Ezra looked at him with wide eyes. "This isn't an act, then?"
"No," Vin breathed, staring. "No – I can feel him." He sat down beside Chris. "Welcome back, Cowboy."
Chris smiled slightly. "Don't know how long. He's still there – and I'm still pretty tired."
"Are you scared if you sleep he'll be the one t'wake up?"
Vin leaned forward as his eyes visibly changed. It was Adam's voice that whispered, "Love you, Daddy."
Chris stiffened. "....omig-d."
"We'll keep you safe till you're strong again." Adam pulled back and the eyes became blue again. It was Vin who finished, "What the kid said, Chris. He's wise for his years."
"Always was," Chris whispered.
"Adam is right – it was good to see you again, Christopher." The name was deliberately used – in case the voice wasn't enough.
Chris's eyes widened and turned to Ezra. An Ezra with hazel eyes and a woman's tender smile. "....Sarah."
The auburn head nodded. "Yes, Chris." The voice was unforgotten and unmistakable. "We're both here."
"Not fair," he breathed.
"No," she agreed. "It wasn't."
"No... not time...." His eyes drooped. "Not....fair."
"He's scared," Vin whispered. "He don't know which he'll wake to be."
"I heard," Sarah nodded. "I hear what Ezra does."
Chris chuckled. "Help me, guys," he whispered as he drifted to sleep.
Sebastian frowned as he woke – too warm and pinched in tightly on both sides.
Turning his head, Sebastian let out an alarmed yell at seeing Vin Tanner's sleeping face close to his.
Tanner's eyes snapped open and he yelped. "It's Sebastian!"
"Shit!" he heard Standish gasp in his other ear as he felt a body roll off the other side of the bed.
Sebastian's eyes were huge as he watched Tanner gain his feet. "What do you mean 'It's Sebastian'? Of course it's me! What the hell were you doing in my bed?"
He looked from Tanner to Standish – neither of which were forthcoming with an explanation. Both of whom were looking at him with naked hatred in their eyes.
"What the hell is going on here?" Sebastian gulped.
Over the next 72 hours, Chris would emerge more and more. Each time he did, he was a little stronger.
On the other hand, each time he emerged, Sebastian was a little weaker. And it was Sebastian – who had no knowledge that Chris still existed, but who had given up trying to physically escape – who said it best. "I'm escaping after all. You're light – I'm darkness. Darkness always runs from the light."
"What are you saying?" Ezra challenged.
"I'm escaping you," Sebastian repeated, smirking. "I am escaping you the only way I can." He closed his eyes and leaned back into the pillows.
"He is," Chris confirmed with a grin. "The stronger I get – the more of my life I take back – the sicker and weaker he gets. Soon, he'll be just a very bad memory."
"Good!" Vin sighed, leaning back into the chair. "I can't wait! I want him gone!"
Chris looked over at Ezra. "But what will happen with Adam and Sarah?"
Ezra shook his head. "I don't know."
His eyes shifted to hazel, and Sarah said, "Concentrate on yourself right now, Chris. Don't worry about us."
"I can't help it," Chris smiled. "I never stopped loving you and missing you."
Sarah just smiled in return.
Vin was on guard the moment that a now-bedridden Sebastian closed his eyes and breathed in deeply. He breathed out in a very long sigh.
He did not breathe in again.
Vin screamed for Ezra and bolted to the blond's side, his fingers scrambling at the throat to find a pulse.
He found one – just in time to feel it stop.
"Sebastian's dead," he told Ezra flatly.
"Good," Ezra growled.
"Maybe," Vin gulped. "What about Chris?"
The pulsebeat at his fingers stuttered back to life. The body on the bed shuddered and drew in breath. His eyes opened halfway, blinked groggily, then opened fully.
And Vin nearly sobbed in relief. "It's Chris..."
Ezra looked at him.
Vin smiled. "Yeah – it's definitely Chris. There's not a single sign of Sebastian in his eyes. And I can feel Chris there. Only Chris there."
"You mean---" Sarah breathed. "It's over?"
"He's dead," Chris breathed. "It's over."
Some hours later, once he was out of the black silk and into faded jeans and a red plaid shirt, Chris looked at Sarah's eyes in Ezra's face. "I thought – I thought you'd come home. To the Ranch. With me. I mean – I'm your husband..."
He sputtered to a halt when Sarah shook her head 'no'. "Our marriage ended with my death, Chris. And if I remain – it will have to be through Ezra. And I am in a male body. Ezra and I both – well, we're just not comfortable --"
Chris held up a hand. "Okay. I-I get it. But... please... even as friends – can you please stay? I nearly died myself without you."
"Adam wants to stay," Sarah said. "He'll never get older – but Vin enjoys having him around. He says it's fun being a kid again."
They chuckled together, then Chris asked, "And Ezra? What do you think?"
Ezra came to the fore and replied, "I'd like her to stay. But it must be her choice." He grinned. "I don't mind sharing. It's... nice."
"May I?" Chris asked, holding out his arms.
And it was Sarah who permitted the hug. "I'll stay, then," she whispered. "Your hidden ace-in-the-hole."
Chris laughed and released the shared body. Then he frowned. "Sarah – why were you taken from me?"
She sighed. "You were mistaken all this time, Chris. It had nothing to do with your cases or with someone you put away wanting revenge. It was just a case of a woman's insanity and a man crazy in love with her who went too far."
"I don't understand."
"Our actual murderer was brought to justice years ago, Chris. You arrested him three weeks later on a similar charge."
"Fowler?" Chris gulped. "Cletus Fowler killed you?"
She nodded. "Dead by his own hand now. And the one behind his actions – the one you could never track down, the one whose name you could never uncover – she's being dealt with." Sarah's smile turned predatory. "As we speak, as a matter of fact. Justice wins, Chris."
She touched his hand. "It's truly over now. We're together again – best friends again. It's over."
He nodded, feeling the last jagged pieces of his heart stitch back together at long last.
The dual lights of love and justice had caused the darkness to flee – permanently.
It had taken all her body's original resident's skills of duplicity and acting and weeks of deception to get Eleanor "Ella" Gaines comfortable with her – but now she was.
So, she was in Gaines' mansion on the outskirts of Denver, celebrating a merger with her younger adversary. As Gaines was on the phone, she grabbed the servants and told them they had fifteen minutes to evacuate the mansion – without her and without Gaines.
Each of the servants looked at her with undying devotion after that announcement – and scrambled to save their lives. All of them made it.
Then she walked into the kitchen with purpose. She stuffed all air exit points well. Then she sabotaged the stove to emit great quantities of gas.
When Gaines hung up the phone, she struck her over the head hard enough to stun. Then she dragged the dazed woman into the kitchen.
"....what...." Gaines coughed, trying to sit up.
"You killed my daughter and grandson," she snarled into Gaines's face. "Now it's time for justice." With that, she strode into the doorway.
"Who...who are you?" Gaines coughed.
She smiled coldly. "Maria Donnelly." She exited the kitchen completely, but knew she could still be seen. "Sarah Larabee was my daughter." Coldly, she struck a match.
"Meet justice at last, Ella Gaines." Casually, she threw the lit match into the kitchen and shielded her borrowed body from the explosion.
As the house was consumed – fire to avenge fire – she walked calmly down a few blocks. "It's over," she said with a smile. "Thank you for the use of your body. Too bad you won't remember."
Then the ghost of Maria Donnelly exited her body, leaving Maude Standish standing dazed on the sidewalk.
Return to The Magnificent Seven page
Return to The Realm