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Coming Home

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Amelia stood in the middle of the street, as the wagons began to travel down it in a caravan to the town limits. Scotty and Mary had packed up their belongings in the wagon and she had gotten up there beside him, holding their son on her lap. They had put the hotel on the market but were unable to sell it before leaving town to go to Stockton.

The mines had closed again in Paradise after a tragic explosion and since it had always been a town centered on this industry, the businesses had shut down and sales revenues trickled down to nearly nothing on all the businesses which lined the main street. The bank had been emptied of all its monies as people emptied their accounts before the cash ran out. Amelia had been relieved that this time it hadn't been her problem of pushing back mobs of panicking people trying to get their money out at once.

That had happened several times, like when she'd shot that teenaged bank robber dead in self defense. His father had shown up to collect his son's body at the funeral and had threatened her, saying he'd return to settle the score.

When her confrontation at the funeral spread through the grapevine of Paradise, people had crowded the bank to withdraw their monies thinking her demise was eminent. Perhaps if John Taylor hadn't gotten wind of it and alerted Ethan, she might have met that fate.

She didn't want to think of him right now, not since he'd left town with the children two days before after losing his job at the mines. It wasn't supposed to happen this way. They'd been busy planning their wedding after all. Ethan sprung a surprise on her a few weeks earlier when he told her that he'd strong armed her cad of an ex-husband into signing her divorce papers. With that behind them, they were free to get married.

Until the mine exploded in a rage of debris and dead bodies and all hell had broken loose. Dreams turned to dust as did mining towns and there'd been no way to stem the tide of residents who were leaving Paradise.

She stayed in the town she'd long despised even as Ethan packed up his family and left…he'd asked her to come with them but she couldn't. She'd be leaving too large a piece of her behind which she couldn't bear, her life had become interwoven in the fabric of the town in ways not anticipated.

She'd first come to Paradise as a young woman, a child still really wed to an older man who still acted as a young boy. It'd take her so long to realize he'd never grow up and then one morning he'd been gone.

She'd woken up and she remembered the fight they had the night before, the one that sent her to bed angry and alone while he'd gone back to the saloon down the street. She thought he'd at least be in the house when she woke up…but only silence along with the streams of morning light through the curtains met her. She knew right away that he'd left her…and not long after that she learned he lived a secret life.

Not involving another women, Paradise didn't see too many of them but he'd been married to his many schemes at getting rich without working hard for it. He'd been engaging in swindling others while she'd been slaving away at their bank, trying to make something of it…on her own. He's been away a lot and she consoled herself with managing his bank until she realized she'd made something of it.

.

She'd been lonely too though she'd never admit it. Her expensive and stylish wardrobe, her higher standard of living in the rustic environment kept her apart, even isolated. People didn't know how to treat her, some saw her as a hardcore business person an unusual role for a woman and others…as a topic of idle gossip as to whether or not she'd been able to keep her man.

But not Ethan…even when she'd been curt with him and disapproving of his lifestyle, he'd treated her with respect. When the children had arrived, she'd seen how it affected him and how it might change him.

Oh it had changed him in ways not anticipated…in ways that both attracted her to him and pushed her away.

"Are you really staying?"

Amelia broke from her thoughts to look up at Ida, one of the women in the telegraph office. One of the women who had idly wondered about her marital status and her relationship with the gunslinger who suddenly inherited four children who weren't his… She just nodded at Ida.

"Why?"

It had been the question on many a person's lips. Why hadn't she left Paradise with Ethan and the children? After all, she'd just accepted his marriage proposal…began making preparations for their wedding day…until the pendulum that was Paradise swung away from prosperity towards depression.

"It's my home…"

Simple as that and she had often been the glue that bound Paradise and its people together, even as she struggled to come to terms with it being her home away from home, a world away from her birthplace. A land of cattle barons and convicts, where most of it remained untamed wilderness carved into small kingdoms and smaller towns. She'd left it and her father to travel for months in a cramped freighter with hundreds of other people until they landed in the harbor of San Francisco. She hadn't believed that it actually existed until she set foot on solid ground for the first time in months.

It hadn't taken long to cross paths with Pierce Lawson after that and even less time to marry him, to further cement herself in her new country.

Pierce was handsome in his own way, but he reminded her of a little boy. Ethan was the opposite, more ruggedly handsome and rough and ready around the edges except when it came to his heart. He'd fire a gun much more quickly than reveal any hint of vulnerability but he'd grown to trust her like no other and share parts of his life including his childhood.

Hers had been spent like his, in the wilderness thousands of miles away where she'd grown up on horseback in a world of men. Her father had taught her to fight and how to shoot a gun to protect herself and he lived by a gun since his teens. Earlier in their courtship as it came to be called, he had marveled at her being two different people, one who wore the fanciest dresses and was all business and the other "riding like the wind".

"That's the one who can shoot," she said simply.

But there were sides of that side of herself she still had shared with no one not even him.

She wished that Ethan hadn't decided to take the children to Virginia City to take a job in another mine there. Not that there was anything for families in a town that didn't embrace them. But she'd been so torn to have to say goodbye to him, the man she would have married. In a sense she felt abandoned like she'd been when Pierce had left her high and dry but Ethan hadn't wanted to leave.

He was doing what he needed to do to survive and provide for his new family and she was doing what she needed to do to preserve a town that had become home. He'd asked her to come with them but she just couldn't do it.

She couldn't abandon the town that embraced her only after she'd been abandoned herself. When Pierce had left her alone, she involved herself more in the town that she did business in, discovered that its people were more than just customers. Even though the town split up over various crises from economic busts to hostage situations, they soon wove those torn strands back together again.

She thought about that as she watched Tiny standing forlorn by his blacksmith shop with its "for sale" sign on the fence. Axelrod closing up his store but still undecided what to do and now Scotty and Mary taking off with their little boy. She envied them, being a family together to stand together while she and Ethan had been split apart.

Not too long ago, they'd been celebrating their engagement at her house, a romantic candlelight dinner and well…her cheeks flushed when she remembered what came next. That moment they had shared in the darkness in each other's arms wrapped up in linens, she hadn't been thinking it would all come apart with one tragedy. They'd been so happy to finally be free to be together and to plan their future.

Her eyes stung now when she thought about it as she stood in the dirt road watching people pack up and drive their wagons away. She saw John Taylor standing by the telegraph store and she knew he'd be staying. He had told her to have hope, the kind built on faith that the love expressed between people in a town could bring them back together but she didn't know if she believed him.

She smiled at Scotty and Mary as they prepared to leave, feeling happiness in the face of what had made her sad. She'd find a way to make it, to try to do what was best for Paradise because despite the hardship, in her heart she knew she made the right decision.

If she'd ever stop missing him, and the children and stop feeling as if she'd been ripped apart then…

"Hey look,"

Mary pointed as she said that and Amelia looked up and saw a familiar sight, one she didn't expect to ever see again. Ethan and the children in their wagon packed up with their worldly belongings coming down the road.

Ethan got off and he started talking about why he returned, naming all the towns people even Axelrod which brought the sense of home to him and the children. She watched in fascination as he admitted that Paradise had become his home, the children had embraced it as well.

Then after he said that, she waited, watching him and he headed straight towards her. He asked her about the silly bolt cloth that they had argued about back before all this had happened. She threw her arms around him and he did her just as tightly and as their lips met, they celebrated being reunited. Unlike her first husband he had returned to her.

The two youngest boys, Ben and George saw John Taylor and ran to embrace their closest friend.

Amelia looked at Ethan as they broke from their kiss and he smoothed her hair back.

"Welcome home…" was all she said, as they both looked at each other for the longest time.

All being right in the world again.