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Not Alone in This

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Mary heard the shot ring out and turned, instinctively ducking.  After she waited that one moment long enough to make sure she was not hurt, she looked around for her son.  Billy.  Where was Billy?  He had been right -- Ohsweetlordinheaven --

Her mind completely shut down.  She froze, standing near enough in the middle of the street, looking across to where there were men gathered around her son.  Her baby lay on the ground, still.  She couldn't stop the tears, nor the shuddering that filled her frame.  She started when a strong hand grasped her gently on the elbow, and she instinctively allowed the man to walk her toward the scene.  

"Now, Sister Mary, he wasn't hurt that badly, thank the Lord, and Nathan'll have him back up in no time." The words washed over her like cold water.  They seemed to work much the same as well:  stealing one shock away only to replace it with another one entirely.   She could not bear to lose her son -- Stephen's son.  

Cold is the water
It freezes your already cold mind
Already cold, cold mind
And death is at your doorstep
And it will steal your innocence
But it will not steal your substance

"Thank you Josiah," she replied when she could draw her emotions back into the polite facade she wore to protect herself in this dry, dusty world.   

"Nothin' to thank me for yet, ma'am.  But we'll take care of you."  And she knew it to be true.   However, she said no more, only knelt down, and lifted her little one's head to her chest, reassuring herself that his heart still beat, that breath still circulated in its steady rhythm.  In. Out.  In. Out.   

 There was another sound she heard too, but could not quite place it for a moment. It was a hum.  It seemed out of place, completely, until she realized that it was a gentle, lullaby-like tune.  When she looked up, she was shocked to see who was humming to her son.  Ezra P. Standish.  Notorious gambler and -- in her mind -- the least trustworthy of the Seven.  Mostly because he held himself so far apart from it all. And wasn't that ironic, she thought to herself, as she recalled her own efforts to do the same.  

"Mary!"  There was the voice she'd expected to be consoling her son.  Chris rode up, dismounted, and handed his reins off to JD.  The young Sherriff took the reins and led the black gelding off to the livery. Chris himself stepped quickly toward her, gathering her into his arms.  It hadn't been that long since he'd come calling that first time. He'd actually asked Orrin for the opportunity, like some young farm boy starting out. It had thrilled her and amused her by turns.  After she stopped being so frustrated with his lack of action.  

"Chris." She settled into his arms easily, resting her head on his shoulder, shifting his serape a little to avoid tearing it with her hairpins.  "He -- he's been shot."   

"I heard, Mary.  Nathan'll take care of him."  She heard the rest of the thought, though it wasn't spoken out loud.  The strong arms and tight hold said, 'And I'll take care of you' more than he could ever say out loud.   She closed her eyes, and heard another voice join in the humming.   

And you are the mother
The mother of your baby child
The one to whom you gave life
And you have your choices
And these are what make man great
His ladder to the stars

Chris heard the men humming, and turned, shifting her effortlessly with him.   "What's that tune, Ezra?  It sounds familiar."   

It was Nathan who spoke up, though. "I heard it from some of the troops.  Both sides."  He knelt down, and began working on Billy, preparing to move him up to the bed where he could do the most good.  "Can't remember all the words, though.  You recall them all, Ezra?"  

Standish spoke then. "Of  course, Mister Jackson.  I have sung it several times.  It did seem most apropos at this time, considerin' the current circumstances."   Nathan just nodded, and carried on with his work, then gesturing to Vin nearby.

"Vin.  Y' wanna grab him?  Think you'll be the most gentle." Nathan's choice surprised her a little, but then she thought about it.  He was right.   Other than perhaps herself, but the stronger man could do it with more ease. She'd been having trouble lifting him lately. He'd gotten so big.   

The quiet man nodded a couple times, and lifted her boy with the ease she expected, walking swiftly but with measured strides toward the stairs. Ahhh. There was the other reason. His solid, easy stride would disturb the little one the least.  She pulled away from Chris enough to move that way, grasping on to his arm. "Come with me?"  She asked softly, wanting to keep her conversation with her suitor between the two of them.  Besides, Chris never needed a lot of noise.   

"Alright."  Nor a lot of words.   They stepped up the stairs, and perched at the end of the bed.  Mary closed her eyes at how the huge bed seemed to swallow him whole.  She knew the bed was soft, and hoped he'd be able to rest and heal well.  

She turned to see Vin looking over at her son with a frown on his face.  "How'd it happen?"  She wondered herself, but hadn't yet thought to ask.  Her priority had been to get him up here and cared for.  

"Some fool idiot was cleanin' his pistol and it fired.  Damnned -- Pardon me, Miz Travis.  Dratted fool didn't empty the -- weapon first."  She snickered internally, listening to Buck attempt to clean up his language for her.  "Winged 'im, jest, but still.  Gonna be a bit rough. Harder on a little body like that."  

Mary nodded. "I'm glad it's not more severe than it is.  Luckily, Billy has been in good health lately. Maybe that will help him recover sooner."  Her voice broke on the last word, and she was grateful for the familiar arm wrapping around her waist to draw her back to himself.    Chris was a rock.  She couldn't help but wonder, though, if this was affecting him much more than he let on.   She turned to gaze at him, and read the truth in his eyes.  She leaned in to whisper in his ear.  "You were close at hand.  And he'll be fine."   

Chris stiffened slightly at her words, probably unnerved by her knowing him so well, but nodded his assent. They'd had discussions over supper about his taking on more guilt than he ought, and how she'd rather be courted by a live body than one that wasn't.  She hoped the idea had sunk in.   

JD popped his head in, and frowned.  "Miz Travis?  Miz Potter says she's got a meal for you and ... well, all of us that needs it.  And if you don't mind me sayin' so, ma'am, you could use the fortification. Nathan'll come tell you if somethin' changes, or one of us can..."  

She nodded, seeing the practicality of the situation, and disentangled herself from Chris' embrace.  She stepped out the door, headed downstairs and across the street.  She was pretty sure there was a secondary reason for wanting her out of the room.  She'd been known to handle some of Nathan's work quite poorly, and only Heaven knew how bad it'd be seeing her only child undergoing what the man had to do.  She returned Mrs. Potter's greetings, and sat down, closing her eyes against the thought of what needed to be done.  Then, tucking the gruesome imaginations back into the back recesses of her mind, she began to eat the food Grace had set out.   

The seven of them all traipsed in, one right after another, and Nathan stepped up to her. "He's asleep, Mary, and it looks like he'll recover.  Pretty quickly, too.  Ain't no reason for infection, and it just grazed, so nothin' to have to ... worry about."  She knew what he was going to say. Nothing to have to dig out of his arm in bloody surgery. He continued. "Miz Casey's sittin' with 'im now, so if he wakes up, she knows where to come."   

"Thank you, Nathan.  You have been a great help to us.  All of you have."  She smiled, taking another sip of her wine.

"T'weren't nothin' ma'am."  They all gathered around her, some at her table, some at the one just beside. Vin was the one speaking. "You're one of us now."  Leave it to the quiet one to pick up on the change, though she imagined they'd made it plain enough.   

"Oh, dear."  She gave a tired smile at his words, but felt relieved.  

"I do believe ... " Ezra started to say something, but JD interrupted.

"You were gonna let me say this part, Ezra!"

"Well, now.  You were takin' your precious time, Mister Dunne, and I feared the lady would expire of exhaustion before you got around to speakin' your piece."  

"Shut up."  JD's protest was half-hearted, and then, he blushed. "I mean, close your mouth, Ezra.  Sorry, Miz Travis." He grinned. "We figured you needed to know ... Oh, he -- oh, heck.  Just listen."   

And her eyebrows lifted in surprise, looking first over to Chris, who shook his head nearly imperceptibly.  No, he had no clue either.   Once again, though, it was the quiet tracker who surprised her.  He pulled out a mouth organ, a well-used one from the looks of it, and began to play the tune they'd been humming.  

Josiah sang a note, his bass a common enough sound from the church house.   Nathan's baritone layered on top of it, and Ezra added his own voice.  Buck tapped his hands on the table, adding a rhythm.  JD hummed too, slightly higher than Ezra's melodic tenor.  She waited, wondering what was happening, feeling a nearly mystical expectation as they began to sing.

Cold is the water
It freezes your already cold mind
Already cold, cold mind
And death is at your doorstep
And it will steal your innocence
But it will not steal your substance

But you are not alone in this
And you are not alone in this
As brothers we will stand and we'll hold your hand
Hold your hand

And you are the mother
The mother of your baby child
The one to whom you gave life
And you have your choices
And these are what make man great
His ladder to the stars

But you are not alone in this
And you are not alone in this
As brothers we will stand and we'll hold your hand
Hold your hand

But I will tell the night
And Whisper, "Lose your sight"
But I can move the mountains for you

By the time the song was finished, there were tears running down her face, and she had lowered her head to the table to hide what she could.  The people in the town had gathered around, hearing the music and wondering who it was who was singing so well.  As the strains of the song faded, the wise among them kept the mass quiet.  Chris' words nearby were all that was heard. "You alright, Mary?"  

She could only nod, wipe her face with her napkin, and finish her meal, eager to return to her son's side.