"What happened?" Will asked faintly, taking in the view from the ridge with a mix of shock and horror. "Where's the house?" Dan simply stared, his eyes not really taking in what he saw.

They had just come over the ridge, taking a shortcut from the road to Bisbee and cutting directly across the land to the hill overlooking the ranch. It was the same place Charlie had stood while Ben was switched out of the carriage. It was the same place the ranch used to be. All that remained were two large piles of charred wood: one where the barn had been, and one where the house had been.

"No," Dan gasped eventually, finally absorbing what he saw before him. "No!" Giving his horse a kick, Dan charged down the hill at a near gallop, ignoring the pains it awoke in his still-healing wounds. Will followed after a few seconds lapse, his shock holding him in place rather than spurring him forward. Dan rode to the edge of the house's ruins and dismounted, stumbling as he switched his weight onto his gimp leg to quickly. He quickly limped to the first board, holding his hand over it to feel for heat. There was none. A cursory gaze at the house revealed no lingering flames. Only cold, burned wood remained. This had been done long ago. "No," he whispered. He barely heard William come up next to him. The boy stood looking at his former home for only a second before starting forward and tossing boards the about.

"William," Dan said quietly. "What are you doing?"

"Looking for Ma," Will replied frantically as his hands moved over the boards, "and Mark!" Dan stood and stepped forward to help, barely touching one of the burned boards before loosing his balance and stumbling back.

"Will," Dan called softly. "Will."

"No!" Will replied stubbornly. "I'm going to look for them!"

"Will!" Dan's voice was harsher this time. "Stop. We'll ride back to town. Maybe your Ma and Mark are there."

"Maybe they aren't," Will replied with a sob. "Maybe they're here."

"Will. Come here." Dan waited until his son paused to glance back at him. "If we go to Bisbee and find no news of them, we will come back here and look. Understand?"

"But they might be here," Will cried, turning back to shuffle through the mess.

"If they're here, they're dead," Dan snapped, spinning back to mount his horse. He heard Will moving closer. The boy mounted up and the pair turned their eyes back the way they had come.

The ride back to Bisbee was one of the longest and quietest in Dan's life. It was as if the very air could sense their mood and had somehow stilled itself to a mourning still. It gave Dan time to think.

The first thing he tried to wrap his mind about was the loss of Alice. Sadness flooded his mind, but it was not nearly as suffocating as he would have thought it to be. The loss he felt was that for a friend and loyal wife, not a lover. Thinking about it, he and Alice had not really been lover's since Mark's birth years earlier. The hardships of raising the child had pulled them apart. Made them argue. Made her unable to even look Dan in the eye most of the time. Dan could still remember the night he left for Bisbee and the look she had given him as he walked out the door. That final cold kiss on the cheek. They were meaningless symbols. He was a friend, the father of her children, but never a lover.

The loss of Mark was harder to take. Dan had adored his youngest son, and loved him all the more when they came so close to losing him before they had moved south. And Mark had loved his father. The look in his son's eyes the night he had brought Ben Wade to the house had lingered somewhere between worship and worry. Sometimes Dan had thought that Mark was the only one in the family who loved his without reserve. Then there were the moments when even his youngest son was swayed against his father.

William had changed dramatically over the course of the last month. The rebellious boy who had left the ranch had gotten lost somewhere along the trail to Contention, revealing a stubborn young man. The boy had matured, probably been forced to mature, after seeing his father struck so low by his wounds. But William could look at him now. Dan smiled to himself, quickly erasing the grin from his face as darker thoughts descended. Two familiar and essential parts of his past life had just vanished. That would always be a loss.

"Bisbee," Will mumbled, his voice hidden beneath the horses' hooves' pounding in the near silence of the road.

"Bisbee," Dan repeated. He locked his eyes on the town ahead, trying to force the picture of his former home from his mind to no avail. The town drew nearer, but Dan and Will didn't speak. Dan could see the railroad men laying out the train's future path with their wooden stakes, marking for the iron road to come. The pair road past the workers, returning silent nods of greeting and goodbye. They paused on the road between the first two buildings.

"Where to, Pa?" Will asked quietly, shying his horse closer. Their legs were nearly touching, and the horses nipped playfully at the other for a moment then stopped, almost as if they too knew the reason for this visit.

"The sheriff's, I believe. Then Grayson."

"Grayson may not be back yet." Dan looked sharply at his son, causing Will to hurry on with his explanation. "He had some business in Yuma, then he was going to another town down that way for a while. Railroad business, he said."

"Then the money?" Dan was worried now. Grayson Butterfield had promised him 1000, delivered upon his return to Bisbee.

"He gave it to me," Will replied. "I sent it back to ma with a Pinkerton."

Dan's face fell. "But they always get robbed." Will smiled.

"By Ben Wade." Dan allowed his lips to curve up into a slight grin, his mind still preoccupied as he sent his horse trotting down to the sheriff's.

"Stay here with the horses, Will." His son nodded, unexpectedly obeying his father's orders. Dan dismounted, took the two steps up to the front door with an awkward hop, then limped into the office.

"Sheriff?" Dan looked about the cluttered room, noting the disarray of papers on the desk and the dozing man behind it. He stepped further into the room and called again. "Sheriff."

"What? Huh? Who goes there?" The man snapped to attention, his eyes rolling about wildly before settling onto Dan. "Holy lord," the man muttered, crossing himself. "A ghost."

"No," Dan replied in annoyance. "I'm no ghost, Sheriff."

"Dan? Dan Evans?" the man asked in surprise, standing and circling the desk to stand in front of the not-so-dead man.


"You're alive? We all though for sure when you didn't come back from Yuma that you were dead. Especially after Alice left the ranch."

"What?" Dan lurched forward, causing the sheriff to shuffle back against the desk. "She left?"

"Yeah," the sheriff replied quietly. "She left about five days after you did with a wagon and the horses. God knows what happened to the cattle. Someone else probably took those."

"She left? With Mark?"

"Well I assume she took the boy," the sheriff looked confused now, anxious too. "They went west, to the coast I'd assume, but don't quote me on that. Said she had some relatives there who could put Mark through school."

"Shit," Dan said under his breath, backing up to lean against the wall. He could see William still sitting abreast his horse, his eyes watchful as he gazed up and down the street. "What do I do now?"

"You mean with the ranch gone?" Dan glared at the sheriff's obvious comment. The man ignored it, finally regaining his nerve now that he knew he spoke to one of the living. "I would suggest finding another occupation."

"But I paid for the ranch. Butterfield sent 1000 here by my name." The sheriff looked at him, pity staining the gray eyes.

"No Pinkertons, whom I assume you assigned to bring the money, have been through here for a solid month. Not since the last ones got robbed."

"Damn it!" Dan turned to slam his fist against the wall, wincing when the harshness of the movement unsettled one of the bullet wounds. "Damn it," he said again, more softly as he hit his head against the wall.

"I'm sorry Mr. Evans," the sheriff said quietly. "If there is anything I can do—"

"Did Alice say where they were going?" The sheriff shook his head sadly.

"West. She thought you were dead, Dan."

Dan sighed and straightened up. "Hollander?" he asked quietly, facing the doorway.



"Many would agree with you on that, Dan." The sheriff paused. "Do you want to stay in town for the night? My wife and I could put you up."

"No thanks, sheriff. I think me and my boy will hole up out on the ranch for a couple nights and salvage what we can. If that's alright." Dan frowned. He didn't like the fact that he had to ask to stay on his own ranch. Or what had been his ranch.

"It's fine by me," the sheriff said quietly, looking at the hunched figure that made for the door. "But Dan, the fire happened about 10 days ago. I don't know what you'll find."

"Thanks." Dan limped out the door, a great weight dropping onto his shoulders, relieved only by one thing: Alice and Mark were alive.

"Pa?" William asked anxiously as Dan hop-limped down the steps and mounted up.

"They're alive, Will." The boy let out a whoosh of air.

"Thank God."

"But we're not going to be able to find them." Will's head snapped up at that, some of the old defiance returning to his eyes.

"Why's that?"

"Sheriff said they went west to meet up with some of Alice's family. I didn't even know she had any relatives out west, so either she lied, or they really did head west. Either way, we have no idea where to look for them."

"Why would they leave?" Will's voice broke. Dan looked at his son, watching as he collapsed in one himself.

"They thought we were dead." Silence for a moment. "I think she did the right thing," Dan said softly, watching for William's reaction. The boy merely tensed. "Will," he said quietly. "If they had stayed, they could have been in danger from Hollander. And your ma was probably worried about Wade's gang as well, thinking me and you dead and all."

Will didn't speak as Dan led the way back out of Bisbee. They stopped only once for a small stash of bread and fresh water. He barely managed to pass on the tempting offer of whiskey from a concerned Emmy. He declined with a numbly polite nod. The last thing he needed was to get sloshed right now.

The ride back to the ranch was quiet. Solemn. Only once did Will speak, and that was only to point out that they could head west along the road to see if anyone had heard of Alice Evans. Dan shook his head.

"She wouldn't have been giving her name out if she was trying to hide. From Hollander or Wade." The ride after that was filled with an uncomfortable void of silence. They returned to the ranch around dusk, quickly laying out their rag tag collection of blankets to sleep. Neither bothered with a fire.

Nights such as these just couldn't be warmed.