Chris didn't know how long he'd been out, but he did feel marginally better when he woke up again. His head didn't hurt so much any more. He still felt sore, though, and knew it would be a while before he was back to normal.

 

With a bit of surprise, he realized that Nathan was in the room with him when the healer settled down on the edge of his bed, giving him a scrutinizing look. "You've looked better," Nathan said and smiled weakly. "How's the head?"

"Sore," Chris admitted, and gingerly touched his still swollen forehead. "I reckon my roguish good looks are gone for good, huh?" he added and smiled. "How's Vin doin'?"

The healer glanced over at the tracker who lay motionless in bed, breathing shallowly. "Ain't sure, but I reckon he's in a lotta pain. Care to tell me what happened?" he asked and looked back at Chris.

"The Stanford brothers." With dark, stormy eyes, Chris stared over at his friend. "Vin's messed with their traps one time too many, I reckon. They took it out o' his hide." The look in his eyes darkened further, and he would have frowned deeply if he could have. "I just don't know how they could get him in the first place. Vin's fast. An' he ain't no fool."

Nathan nodded, his eyes on the tracker as well. "That he ain't," he agreed. "The wound on his foot, though, that looks like somethin' done by a trap or the likes."

With a tired shake of his head, Chris closed his eyes. "He's a tracker, Nate. He'd know about such things, wouldn't he?" he asked.

"Could be he got distracted an' stepped in it by accident. Happens to all of us," Nathan replied. "It don't look good, though. He's feverish an' the foot's almost black."

It was hard not to hear the regret in Nathan's voice, but this wasn't what Chris wanted to hear. Not yet, at least. "He'll be fine," he tried to convince both of them.

"I ain't so sure, Chris. It don't look good at all," the healer insisted. "Ain't seen too many trap-wounds like that, but I seen enough bullet wounds in the war to know that it ain't gonna heal on its own. He'll get gangrene."

"Don't give up on him yet," Chris said, a slight warning tone to his voice. "He'll be fine," he added, more to convince himself than Nathan. He could only guess at what would happen if Vin lost his foot. Sure, other men had lost their feet, even their legs, and gone one from there. But Vin was a free spirit, and he needed his body intact to take him wherever the wind blew. Losing a limb was not an option for him.

"I'll go talk to Mrs. Landon about this. She might know more 'an me," Nathan said and got up to leave the room again. He stopped briefly to stare at Vin, then shook his head and left.

***

With Chris feeling better, Jessie figured he'd be better off in another room, which the house had plenty of. For a reason, which was her own, she had room enough for all of them and then some. None of them asked her about it, although Ezra was the one most intrigued by the size of the house, and its neatness.

Jessie moved Chris to another room so they all didn't have to bother Vin more than necessary. Ezra and J.D. eventually decided to go back to Four Corners despite the fact that it was dark already. J.D. felt he couldn't leave the town unprotected, and Ezra didn't feel like he was doing much good anyway, so he might as well just go back to the saloon, and help J.D. keep an eye on things.

Buck, Nathan and Josiah stayed behind to help out if necessary. Jessie arranged another room for the three of them after having cooked them a meal they wouldn't forget any time soon. She made it all look so easy, and she didn't seem to mind the company one bit.

Chris didn't join them for dinner, but he did eat, and felt better for it. Jessie settled for giving Vin some soup, afraid that if he couldn't stomach solid food and got sick of it, he would only hurt himself if it came back up again. After she had shown them where everything was, they settled down for a late cup of coffee, another thing she was good at making, to discuss what to do next.

Nathan stared darkly ahead of himself, having run out of ideas when it came to Vin's condition. He agreed with Jessie that the open cuts couldn't be sutured until the inflamation was gone, but he also knew that the longer the wounds remained open, the more likely it was that they wouldn't heal at all, or at least would leave very ugly scars behind.

Buck, for once, was solemn, not talking much while he sat at the table, sloshing the coffee around in his cup while he stared at the dark liquid. "It ain't right," he finally said, looking up to face the others.

Josiah had chosen a rocking chair and was looking rather relaxed, but a little sinister too. "What isn't right?" he wanted to know, looking over at the big cowboy.

"That good folks get hurt by them Stanford brothers. We gotta do somethin' about 'em," Buck said.

"I agree," Josiah consented. "But there are more pressing matters at hand right now. Like brother Vin. What'd you reckon, healer? Is he gonna make it?"

Nathan shrugged. "Don't know. It's too early to tell. But I reckon he might lose that foot o' his. It ain't looking good an' it ain't gettin' no better, neither."

Jessie listened to their conversation, saying nothing. She had her own opinions about what was what, but kept them to herself until someone asked for a piece of her mind. After a moment, she rose, smoothing the fabric of her dress as she straightened. "I'll just go check on ‘im," she said and walked off down the corridor, not looking back.

Buck watched her go, then sighed. All his intentions to try and woo this beautiful woman had gone up in smoke the minute he had learned that his friends were hurt. And he most certainly wasn't thinking about wooing her now. "We can't just sit around an' do nothin'," he grumbled instead.

"For now, we can and we will. Let's see how Chris feels about it in the mornin'," Josiah said quietly.

***

The following morning

After a restless night spent taking care of Vin, Jessie sat on the chair next to his bed in the early morning hours, resting a little. She had changed the bandages on his foot, and had spent the major part of the night listening to his feverish rambling. Most of it had made no sense what so ever, but like most men when they were sick, he had ended up calling out for his mother. She had soothed him as best she could, doing her best to keep him cool and reasonably comfortable, and he had finally slipped into a restless sleep, which had lasted for a little over an hour at that point.

Nathan had looked in on his ailing friend a few times during the night, but had been no luckier than Jessie in dealing with his rising temperature and festering infections. As tough as Jessie was in her day-to-day routine, that was how lost she felt while she could just sit by and watch a man younger than herself slowly slip into oblivion. If only she had paid more attention to her grandfather's advice, she would probably have been able to help him more. And on top of it all, she worried about the Stanford brothers, and whether or not they would return. It was unlikely at this point, though. Despite their stupidity, they would know that she wasn't alone any more. There were three horses out front, and that should keep them away for the time being.

Allowing herself to close her eyes for a bit, she let her shoulders slump, and cleared her mind of worrying thoughts. Her grandfather had said that the spirits of his tribe watched over her, that she alone had inherited the right to be called...! Shaking her head, she opened her eyes again. She could not, with any certainty, recall the name of his tribe. But that was what he had told her back then. And with it, he had also told her that she had also inherited the skill to become a medicine woman. She could make bandages that would help heal a wound. But that was all she could remember at this point, and in this instance, that wasn't enough.

With a soft sigh, she leaned forward and placed a hand on her patient's brow. He was still as hot as steam kettle, although he was resting peacefully. Once again, she wrung out the cloth in the water and dabbed his face and chest with it, trying to cool him down. The fever was going to eat him alive if she didn't find a way to break it, and she once again chastised herself for not being able to remember all the remedies her grandfather had taught her about in her childhood. Even one or two of them would do the trick. If she could only remember the ones that would break a fever or kill an infection. But, no matter how hard she tried, she just could not remember. On top of it, she also feared that she was too tired to focus her mind properly. Eventually, she decided that she would do Vin more good rested, so she stretched out on the other bed, draped an arm over her eyes and fell asleep almost instantly.

An hour later, she sat bolt upright on the bed, her eyes wide with surprise. The ancient recipes of her grandfather's had come back to her in a dream, and she rushed out into the common room to start preparing what she needed. The most important one had returned to her with such clarity, that she wondered if her grandfather's spirit had intervened when she needed it most.

With a smile on her lips, she gathered the different remedies stored in various jars above the stove, remedies she had kept there because her mother had done the same, and put the pot on the fire, leaving the brew she was making to simmer. If she got it right, the paste that would come out of the bistort root, echinacea, myrrh and goldenseal would be able to drag the infection out of Vin's wounds. Reaching up again to the shelf above the stove, she retrieved a jar, which contained dried henbane leaves. She figured it would be better to use fresh leaves, but since she didn't have any, these would have to do. Used in the right dosage, they would act as an effective way to reduce his pain. She just had to remember the most important part of using henbane leaves. If she left them on too long, they became toxic.

"‘Mornin', ma'am."

Jessie almost dropped the spoon she used to stir the brew and sent Buck a startled look. In her haste to prepare the medication, she had completely forgotten about Vin's three friends. "‘Mornin'," she replied, instantly in control of her emotions again. Although she didn't have anything in particular against Buck, he wasn't the type of man she found attractive. Fully aware that this would come as a shock to him, she still didn't really care. She knew his type, and he wouldn't take it too lightly that she didn't find him fascinating and sexy.

"How's Vin doin'?" he asked, stepping closer to see what she was doing. "My, that smells good. What is it?"

"Mr. Tanner's asleep," Jessie replied and kept her attention on the brew. "And this is medicine," she added.

Buck wasn't stupid. Although he did consider himself irresistible to women, he could sense that this one wasn't interested. He figured it was because she was busy taking care of Vin and Chris, and didn't have time to fall for his charm. "What's it gonna do?" he wanted to know and settled down on a chair to watch her work.

"Hopefully, it'll drag that infection right out o' his wounds," she said, not seeing any reason why she shouldn't explain this to him. "I ain't no healer, but my grandpa was an Indian medicine man and... well... he told me a few things that might work. Didn't remember 'em ‘til now, though."

"That sounds mighty good. I bet Vin's gonna be real happy you're helpin' ‘im," Buck said with a smile that would have melted any woman's heart. Or so he liked to believe.

Jessie merely glanced at him and shrugged. "I sure hope so."

"‘Mornin'."

Jessie glanced over at Josiah and gave him a quick smile. "‘Mornin', Mr. Sanchez," she said and returned her attention to her doings.

Buck glanced up at the ex-preacher, slightly annoyed that he'd chosen this moment to enter the scene, but he couldn't very well tell the man to get lost without raising suspicion. Instead he merely nodded to Josiah, who settled down next to him and folded his arms on the table top.

Nathan turned up five minutes later, looking as tired as Jessie had begun to feel. "‘Mornin', ma'am," he said, nodding to her. "How's the patient?"

"Asleep when I left ‘im," Jessie replied, thoughtfully eying the paste-like soup the brew was turning into. "He's got a high fever, though. You got any remedies to bring it down?" she asked, glancing over at him.

Nathan stepped up beside her and looked into the pot. "Nothin' that would work here," he said. "What's that?"

"Ancient Indian recipe. I just remembered how to do it," she explained. "Bistort root with echinacea, myrrh and goldenseal. It has cleasnin' abilities. Should drag the infection right out o' his foot and other wounds."

Nathan watched with interest as she went on preparing the medicine. "I could sure use them recipes," he said with a smile, hoping he wasn't intruding on some family secret or something. "If you don't mind sharin', that is."

Jessie merely smiled. "Certainly. You might find use for ‘em when you're healin' folks," she replied.

"You wouldn't happen to have somethin' for a headache, would you?"

Jessie looked over at Chris, who had just turned up in the doorway to the corridor beyond. He was leaning heavily against the doorframe, squinting at her. "Sure I do," she said and grabbed another jar off the shelf, wondering where the instincts to do this suddenly came from. The day before she wouldn't have known which herbs to use for what. "Sit down. I'll make you a cup o' tea. It'll take that headache right away."

Chris was in no mood to discuss whether he believed a cup of tea would kill the thundering in his head. At this point, he was willing to try anything, and if she thought tea would do the trick, he would give it a try. "Thanks," he said and sank down on a chair across from Buck and Josiah.

"How're you feelin', pard?" Buck asked, giving him a thoughtful look.

Gingerly rubbing his sore brow, which had returned to its normal size, but was still discolored, he briefly closed his eyes. "Like I've been trampled by about a dozen horses," he said and blinked a few times to readjust his eyes to the light.

Jessie placed a cup of tea in front of him and returned to her doings without a word. She knew it would work. The knowledge of such things was alien to her, but she trusted them because she could remember her grandfather telling her about all this. With a dishcloth wrapped around the handle of the pot, she pulled it off the fire, content in the knowledge that she would be helping now, rather than feeling frustrated over not being able to do anything. The only thing that had her worried was Vin's response to the treatment she was going to give him. She figured she needed some help, and turned to the four men now sitting around the table. "I'll be needin' some help..." she said, attracting their attention.

"I'll help you," Buck volunteered instantly, already rising.

"...to hold Mr. Tanner down while I put this on his foot," she continued, holding the pot of still smoking hot paste up. "It's gonna hurt 'im somethin' fierce, but it's necessary. I can't do it if he won't let me, though."

Suddenly a little pale, Buck dropped down on the chair again, not so eager to help anymore. He had never been fond of hearing other men screaming their heads off in pain.

Chris stared at her for a moment, then emptied the cup of tea, which he had to admit was already doing wonders for his headache. "Ain't that a little too hot yet?" he asked.

"Oh, I'll let it cool a little," she assured him and set the pot down again. "But it has to be warm when it's put on, and he ain't too happy about just having bandages put on, so I need a pair o' strong hands to hold ‘im down while I do that."

"And one to hold his legs, I reckon," Chris supplemented and she nodded. "I'd help, but I just don't think I got the strength for it yet."

"Oh, you ain't helpin'," she told him a little sternly. "You ought ‘o be in bed still."

Josiah rose, smoothing his hands over his pants, and gave Buck a look. "Come on, brother Buck. A friend needs us," he said, clamping a hand onto Buck's shoulder. "I gather it'd be best if we three were hold'n 'im down."

***

Jessie had explained the situation to Vin, but he didn't really seem to register what she wanted to do. He was awake, bathed in sweat, burning hot, and all he did while she explained the procedure to him was stare at her. Eventually, she sighed and glanced at the four men standing around the bed. Chris had refused bluntly to return to his bed and was watching the whole thing from the doorway. Jessie got the distinct impression that he wanted to make sure she wasn't going to hurt his friend unnecessarily.

"He don't understand," she said somewhat sadly. "The fever's too high. I gotta break it first."

Nathan put a hand on her shoulder and gave it a light squeeze. "He don't need to understand, Mrs. Landon. The sooner we do this, the better for ‘im. Let's get it done."

With a nod, Jessie sat down on the edge of the bed, took a deep breath and started to unwrap Vin's foot. The infection was still bad and the fact that she touched his foot once again made him jerk violently. Josiah took a hold of his left leg, pressing it down on the pillows meant to keep his foot elevated. Buck did the same with his right leg, and Nathan sat down facing Vin and put his hands on the younger man's shoulders. Glancing back at Jessie, he gave her a nod. They were ready.

In order for the warm paste to work, it was best if the wounds were fairly fresh, and the only way she could achieve that was by removing the bandages, which were once again stuck in the wounds, forcefully. When she got to the point where there was nothing left to do than just give the pus-saturated bandages a pull to get them off his foot, she glanced around at the three men holding her patient down, then looked over to meet Chris' eyes. The man just stood there, watching the proceedings with a calm expression, but she could read in his eyes how much he disliked what she was about to do.

"Hold ‘im down," she said and ripped the last piece of bandage out of the wounds, which started bleeding with renewed force. Somehow, the pain this caused Vin broke through the veil of fever, and Nathan had his hands full in keeping him down, while Josiah and Buck had all the trouble they could handle holding his legs still. Where he got the strength from was anybody's guess, but he put up one hell of a fight to get away from further pain.

Jessie quickly spread some of the paste on a new bandage and, after cleaning the wounds thoroughly, she carefully placed the bandage over the bleeding gashes on his ankle. That caused another bout of eerily silent resistance. What really got to Chris, who was watching all this, was that the young tracker didn't make a sound. He fought them with everything he had, trying to get them to release him, but he never even hissed.

Within moments, Jessie finished wrapping his foot in new bandages, and eventually signaled for the three men to release Vin, who had calmed down considerably. He was probably too spent already to put up much more of a fight.

They released him and stepped back, and Jessie turned back to face him, taking in every sign of his misery she could see. His breath was shallow and fast, his chest and face glistening with perspiration. His hands lay limply by his sides, and his eyes were closed.

For a long moment, nobody moved and nobody spoke. Then Jessie slowly got up, smoothing her dress down and tucking a loose strand of hair behind one ear. Glancing around at the four others, she noted that their attentions were solely on Vin, all of them solemn. "Thanks for your help," she said. "I'll finish the rest."

Nathan stayed to help her deal with the remaining wounds, while Buck, Josiah and Chris returned to the common room. Buck went outside for a moment, and returned with a bottle of whiskey from his saddlebag, which he handed over to Chris without a word. Chris took the bottle and stared at it for a second, then pulled the cork out with his teeth, and took a generous swig.

Josiah grabbed three tin cups from a shelf, took the bottle from Chris before he could finish it on his own, and poured for all of them. Then he settled back and took a sip of his cup.

"Sweet lord, ain't that just the scariest thing you ever saw?" Buck muttered and emptied his cup in one go. "He never made no sound."

"It would seem I wasn't mistaken about Vin after all," Josiah said in his usual calm, balanced manner, while he stared thoughtfully into the cup.

"Why's that?" Chris wanted to know, his elbows resting on the table top, the cup sitting untouched in front of him. "What did you think he was?"

Josiah raised an eyebrow, a puzzled look on his face. "The quiet type," he finally said and looked up to meet Chris' eyes. "In all aspects of life, he's the quiet type."

"Ain't that the truth," Chris agreed with a sigh, and leaned back on his chair.

Buck focused on him, a frown furrowing his brow. "You feelin' better?"

With a frown of his own, which made him grimace since his forehead was still sore, he realized that he was feeling better. "As a matter of fact, yeah," he said, sounding a little confused by it. "Ain't nothing left but a sore feelin'."

Josiah smiled knowingly. "It's mighty good to know that the dear lady is on our side," he said, confusing the two old friends. "She's very good at cookin' up healing herbs," he added, attempting to explain. "Imagine what she can do if she don't like you."

Both Buck and Chris stared at him for a moment, then Chris settled himself a little more comfortably, grabbed the cup and drained the whiskey in one go. "Between her and Nathan, Vin should be in good shape soon," he said, a dark look in his eyes. "I say we head out and have ourselves a little talk with the Stanford brothers tomorrow mornin'."

***

Jessie gathered the discarded bandages in the nearly empty bowl of water and raked her fingers through her hair, pushing several loose strands back. "He's tough," she commented, glancing at Nathan.

"Yeah, that he is," Nathan agreed with a concerned glance toward Vin's foot. "Ain't no toughness gonna be enough if that don't heal soon, though," he added.

Cradling the bowl in her arms, Jessie stared at her patient and smiled weakly. "It'll heal," she said, the confidence in her voice striking Nathan as somewhat odd. "That paste'll pull the infection right out. He'll be right as rain in a few weeks."

"I wish I had your confidence," Nathan sighed. "Let's give 'im some peace."

They stepped out into the corridor, and Jessie closed the door behind her and followed Nathan back to the common room, where Buck, Chris and Josiah were talking quietly about what they should do about the Stanford brothers. Jessie eyed the bottle in the center of the table, then flicked her eyes to Chris, who wasn't paying attention to anything other than what Josiah was saying about not turning the other cheek in this case. It took the gunslinger a second to realize he was being stared at, and he looked up to meet a pair of serious dark eyes.

"You ain't doin' your head no good by drinkin' whiskey," Jessie said matter-of-fact-like, and set the bowl down on the kitchen table.

"I appreciate your help, Mrs. Landon, but this ain't none o' your concern," he replied in a slightly terse tone of voice, and reached for the bottle.

Jessie was faster, though, and snatched it away from him. "I ain't sayin' it to meddle," she told him darkly. "I'm sayin' it ‘cause it's true. Ain't gonna do you no good. You'll be hurtin' enough as it is."

Chris stared at her, using the same withering glare that would make any gunfighter facing him think twice about drawing his gun, but this woman didn't even blink. She stared right back, her eyes slightly narrowed. "I ain't hurtin' no more," he told her.

"No, not now you ain't," she agreed. "But when the tea wears off, then you'll be hurtin' somethin' fierce if you ain't taken care of yourself."

"Wears off?" Chris asked, a little surprised. She nodded solemnly in response. "Ain't it supposed to make me feel better?" he wanted to know.

"And it does," she said, no doubt in her voice. "But it ain't workin' no different than laudanum or chloroform. Just ain't got the same side effects. But, it'll wear off eventually."

Chris wasn't one to show his feelings, but he did swallow at the prospect of the pain returning, and all three of his friends noticed it too. Neither said anything, though. They were fully aware that pushing the man when he had a good day wasn't a good idea. Pushing him when he was feeling bad, that would be just about the worst idea anybody could come up with. He was likely to shoot someone over that. "Alright," he finally said, not happy about admitting defeat. Reluctantly, he pushed the cup of whiskey away, and gave her an annoyed look.

Jessie picked up the cup and shook her head like a concerned mother. "I'll make you all some coffee an' breakfast," she offered.

Buck was instantly delighted. There was nothing better than a home cooked meal, and he did so relish the air of familiarity of this scene. As soon as Jessie turned her back to them to start preparing some breakfast for them, though, the eeriness of the resemblance struck home with full force, and the otherwise delighted smile on his lips faded, while memories from happier times surfaced. He only had to take one look at Chris to know that he also saw the likeness. There was an almost sad gleam in Chris' eyes as he stared at Jessie's back, and Buck suddenly felt the distinct need to break up this scene, which seemed to have taken them all on a leap back through time. Jessie looked so much like Sarah from the back that it made him swallow hard. "So, Mrs. Landon, how's Vin doin', then?" he asked, directing his attention fully toward Jessie.

"He's sleepin'," she replied without turning around.

"Rather peacefully," Nathan agreed.

Chris made a face and looked down at the table top. To watch Jessie like this was just too damned painful. It reminded him of that last morning before he and Buck had gone off to Mexico. That last morning when he'd held his wife and kissed his son goodbye, not knowing it would be the last time he'd ever hold either of them.

The walls of the room suddenly seemed to close in on him, and he pushed his chair back and strode out of the house, out into the yard, where he stopped again, hands clenched into fists, his head down. Damn, how he hated his memories sometimes. And how he just longed to once again drink his mind out.

Nathan and Josiah exchanged glances as Buck rose and followed Chris outside. He didn't really know what he could say to make this whole thing go away again, but he did know that leaving Chris alone when he was in this mood was dangerous. Stopping on the lower porch step, he groped for words, hoping he didn't say anything that would piss Chris off even more. "Eerie scene, that, huh?" he asked.

Chris was fighting his ragged emotions. It had been four years since they had died, and the pain was still fresh and raw inside him. When he had first noticed the resemblance between Jessie and Sarah, he had felt different about it than he did now. But there were just too many things that looked alike, and he just couldn't bear it, couldn't stomach it.

A hand grabbed Buck's shoulder and he glanced up to see Jessie standing behind him, her eyes on Chris. "Le' me talk to him," she said quietly and walked down the steps and over to Chris.

Buck wasn't so sure this was a good idea, but he couldn't very well prevent her from going where she wanted on her own land. Uncertain, he figured that all he could do was go back inside and let these two work it out together, so he reluctantly turned around and went back to join Josiah and Nathan to explain what had just happened.

"Is somethin' wrong?" Jessie asked. She knew it was a stupid question because quite obviously something was wrong, but she wanted to hear it from him.

Chris fought for control, didn't want to let her know how much he was hurting inside, but eventually, he just sighed and shook his head. "Nope," he said quietly. "Not a thing."

"I remind you of someone, don't I?" she asked. Being perceptive had always been both a curse and a blessing for her. She could sense other people's moods quite easily.

For a moment, the gunslinger considered denying it, but then figured that if he didn't tell her, Buck would eventually. The man just couldn't keep his trap shut. Although he didn't think it was something to discuss with everything and everybody, he figured he owed her an explanation. She had, after all, saved both his and Vin's life. "Yeah," he replied somewhat hoarsely. "My wife."

Jessie stared at him hard for a moment, sensing all the conflicting feelings in him. "She dead?" she asked and he nodded, not saying a word, his eyes on the ground. "How long ago?" she asked on.

That made him smile a cynical little smile. She would probably think he wallowed in self-pity if he told her, but he also figured that he had started this and couldn't just leave it hanging. "Four years," he said.

Without hesitation, Jessie put a hand on his arm and gave it a light squeeze. "That's no time at all. I figure you ain't put her to rest yet, huh?" she asked.

Her understanding confused him. About two years back, he had told this to someone he thought cared, and that female had scoffed at the very idea that he hadn't moved on. Turning his head a little, he glanced at her. "Nope. Not until I find that bitch who had her killed... an' my son." The words became harder and harder to say, and he quickly looked away to hide his emotions from her.

"I reckon you will in time," she said, certainty heavy in her voice. Slipping her hand down his arm, she grabbed his fist and smiled weakly. "Come have some breakfast. You need all the strength you can get," she told him and tugged gently at his arm.

For a moment longer, he just stood there, eyes closed, then he drew in a deep breath and turned to face her fully. "Sorry about this. I ain't usually this emotional," he said with the shadow of a smile on his lips.

"A man's allowed to grieve. An' I believe it ain't no fairytale that the dead can't rest ‘til they're avenged. So, it ain't no wonder you're haunted." Her tone of voice was low, her eyes dark, when she said those words.

To Chris, her words came as a kind of revelation. He had never seen it that way before, and he wondered if there was any truth to that. The brutality of Sarah and Adam's murder alone gave her words a certain truth, and he bowed his head in recognition of why he had felt so lousy ever since they'd died. It was a feeling that just didn't want to go away, a constant churning in the pit of his stomach, making him long for oblivion, to get away from the pain. But he couldn't leave this world without avenging his loved ones, and he figured if Jessie was right, the pain would go away once he found Ella Gaines and brought her to justice. Maybe then it would feel more like he'd felt that first day in this place.

Instead of pushing Jessie away like he might push others away, he opened his hand and took hers in his, giving it a squeeze. "Thanks," he whispered. Somehow, he felt like he could face the world again, and it didn't matter how much Jessie looked like Sarah. He would damned well deal with it until he could put his wife and son to rest. Then he'd focus on the rest of his life. Right now, he had a hurt friend to worry about, and he most certainly wasn't going to sit around and wait until Vin was well enough to deal with the situation at hand. He was going to go out and find the Stanford brothers and give them a dose of their own medicine. And when he was done, he would kill them, and once and for all rid the world of the pestilence they were.

***