No Greater Love
Ratings: PG-13 to R for violence and a little language
Notes:This story is the sequel to my first one, "Ezra
7:6-7". Mainly a Ezra and Chris fic, but the others play a pretty good
part. Definitely a "hurt fic", with a touch of comfort at the end.
The moral and title for this one comes from the Bible,
the book of John 15: 13.
Ezra sat out on the boardwalk in front of the saloon, a small smile
covering his face as he enjoyed the feel of the afternoon sun. Nathan
had finally pronounced him well enough to leave his bed and venture outside.
It had been almost four days since the failed bank robbery in which Ezra
had been shot. His shoulder still itched terribly, but Ezra welcomed
the sensation since he knew that meant the wound was almost healed.
The sound of boots on the wood of the boardwalk brought Ezra's attention
back to the present.
Chris and Vin walked up towards the saloon, both of them feeling a
sense of relief as they recognized Ezra's form stretched out in the chair.
Without realizing it, they had both missed his quiet presence greatly,
along with the soft shuffling noise of his cards in the saloon. The
gambler returned their smiles as they stopped beside his seat.
"Ah, Mr. Larabee, Mr. Tanner. A pleasure to see you." He nodded to
each, straightening up in his chair.
"Same to you, Ezra. I didn't think Nathan was *ever* gonna let you
out." Chris' eyes twinkled at his statement. The healer had insisted
that he stay the night to make sure no other damage was caused by the
cut he had received on his forehead. Ezra had been awake the next morning,
and Chris would never forget the envious look in the green eyes as Chris
effectively pushed himself past Nathan and left the room.
"Yes, well, Mr. Jackson does seem to enjoy his physicianal duties,
doesn't he?" Both men chuckled, quickly changing to slight coughs as
Nathan appeared around the corner.
"You two gettin' sick?" the black man asked, doing his best to frown
and not smile. Chris quickly cleared his throat and shook his head.
Ezra had a harder time getting control of himself though.
"I, ah, I assure you Mr. Jackson, my health is coming back just fine."
A soft snort escaped the smaller man and he reached up to cover his mouth
with his hand.
"I don't know, Ezra," Nathan said. He'd heard their conversation
as he walked up. Now was his chance to have a little fun with them.
"You lost quite a bit of blood and your immune system might not be up
to fightin' off any infections that come along. I think you'd better
come back to the clinic for a few days." Chris and Vin broke out into
laughter and Nathan finally allowed his face to carry a smile as a panicked
look crossed Ezra's face.
"Nathan! I swear that I am in no need of such drastic measures!" Realizing
the quiet healer's joke, Ezra grumbled good-naturedly, rising from his
chair slowly. Sudden movements still caused him pain in his shoulder.
With a lavish gesture, Ezra motioned the men into the building, following
Ezra emerged a few hours later, whistling softly to himself. After
a moment of indecision, he turned towards the stable. He knew that Chaucer
would be restless after the longevity of his absence. Ezra smiled happily
as he walked, the time spent with his friends more healing than any concoction
Nathan could ever put together. Ezra realized now how important these
men were to him, and while he found that frightening to his mind, his
heart and soul embraced the thought.
As Ezra entered the stable, Chaucer nickered in recognition. The gambler
walked over, running a hand over the soft, velvety nose.
"Hello there," Ezra chuckled. "Did you miss me?" He froze, his green
eyes darting to the left as a form stepped out from the shadows.
"Actually, we did." The unmistakable sound of a gun hammer being
pulled back echoed throughout Ezra's brain. "I thought you'd never get
Ezra kept his hands up away from his waist, but angled his arm so
that the derringer could be brought out and fired quickly. A second
gun was cocked behind him.
"I'd rethink that idea, if I were you. Be an awful quick way to get
one killed, don't you think, James?" James nodded as he walked out of
the shadows. He was tall, a good five inches taller than Ezra, and thickly
built. His shoulders were broad, as was his chest, his upper body seeming
ready to burst from the faded buckskin shirt he wore. His legs were
columns of muscle that met at a slim waist. An evil glint lit his dark
brown eyes as he walked closer to the gambler.
"Yep, I reckon it would. And we wouldn't want that, now would we,
Kirk?" Ezra was caught off-guard as James' empty hand came up to crack
against his jaw, sending him spinning back and down to the ground. Kirk
laughed as he holstered his gun and reached down to relieve Ezra of his,
making sure to grab the derringer as well. He was by no means as imposing
a figure as James, but his lantern-jawed face had something evil in it
that only increased the meanness coming from his deep, blue eyes.
Ezra lay stunned, the sudden impact with the ground causing his shoulder
to ache. He flicked his tongue out to the corner of his mouth, the bitter
taste there telling him of the spot of blood that had sprung from the
split lip. After removing his weapons, Kirk leaned over and grabbed the
lapels of Ezra's jacket, jerking him up. Ezra winced in combination
of the dull pain as well as being brought into contact with Kirk's foul
breath. Releasing his jacket, Kirk spun him around, wrapping an arm
around Ezra's throat.
"Easy, Kirk," James said, grinning like a cat as he walked up in front
of the two. "He can't tell us nothin' if he's blacked out, now can he?"
Kirk lessened the pressure on his throat, and Ezra gratefully inhaled
a deep breath, eyeing his captor with a mixture of confusion and repugnance.
"What...exactly...can I help...you gentlemen...with?" he managed to
squeeze out. James reached out and pushed Ezra's coat from his shoulders
and pulled it down his arms until it fell. He could just barely make
out the bandage on Ezra's shoulder under the white fabric of his shirt.
"Why, we just need you to verify some information for us. Mainly,
is Chris Larabee around here?" Ezra kept his emotions in check as the
man brought his hand up to hover menacingly close to his wounded shoulder.
"Larabee?" he asked, screwing his face into a mask of blankness as
if he were trying to remember if he'd ever heard the name. Kirk brought
his other hand up and laid it over Ezra's mouth as James squeezed his
shoulder, hard. Ezra tensed, but it hadn't hurt like he had thought
it would. There was a dull ache coming from his shoulder, but no fiery
James' face contorted into one of anger and he reached down, ripping
Ezra's shirt open. The gambler winced as he heard the buttons fly away
with an audible *snap*. Once that was done, James pulled the bandage
from the wound, cursing as he saw the healing flesh.
"Dammit! Kirk, I thought you said he was shot only four days ago?!"
Ezra shrugged, speaking up before he could stop himself.
"Guess I'm just a quick healer." James looked into his eyes, the
brown orbs sending a promise into those emerald eyes that he would regret
"Really? I guess we'll just have to find out for ourselves, won't
we?" Reaching back, he slammed his fists into Ezra's middle four times,
grinning once again as he saw Ezra blanch at the force of the blows.
The gambler desperately wanted to bend over to catch his breath, but
Kirk's arm around his throat kept him upright, his chest straining to
regain the air he'd lost. James reached down and pulled a long skinning
knife from his boot and held it up close to Ezra's face, dragging the
tip down his cheek.
"Now, about Larabee...." James was cut short as a surprised gasp came
from the door. All three men turned to see a small boy standing just
within the stables. Ezra groaned as he recognized Billy Travis in the
dim light. James motioned for Billy to come over, pressing the knife
against Ezra's throat when he didn't comply.
"Get over here now or you're gonna see a dead man real quick!" he
growled. Billy scurried over, staying carefully out of range of James'
grasp. Ezra smiled weakly at the boy, trying to put him at ease. Before
either of them could react, James lunged, grabbing Billy and throwing
him to the ground. After tieing the boy's arms and legs, he rolled him
over so that he was sitting against one of the stable doors, looking
directly at Ezra.
"Now," James said, looking from one prisoner to the other, "We should
get some answers."
Chris smoked his cheroot slowly, enjoying the flavor of it. He hadn't
felt this relaxed in quite awhile. He downed the glass of whiskey before
him and nodded his thanks at Vin as the tracker refilled both their glasses.
Both men had been sitting quietly in the saloon since Ezra had left,
talking to Nathan until he also had departed, leaving the two alone in
the saloon. Even the bar keep had stepped out for a moment. Now they
just sat, holding a friendly conversation without saying a word.
The calm of the saloon was shattered, however, as somebody crashed
through the doors. Both men looked up, but had to drop the level of
their gaze as they realized that a child had come in. Chris tensed immediately
as he saw Billy running towards their table, his face streaked with tears
and a dark bruise forming on his cheek. The man in black was out of
his chair and kneeling in the path of the running child in seconds.
"What's wrong?" he asked, struggling to keep his voice calm, knowing
that he had to settle Billy down before they could get anywhere. "Is
it your mother?" he asked, holding his breath in the silent hope that
it wasn't. He released the air from his lungs in a grateful sigh as
Billy shook his head. "Then what is it?" For a moment, Chris allowed
himself to believe that it was something trivial like a fight between
children, but brought himself back to reality as Billy held out a piece
of paper to him, his fingers stained slightly with blood.
Without another word, Chris grabbed the paper, stuffing it in his
pocket before picking up Billy and racing towards Nathan's clinic, praying
that the healer would be there. He knew Vin wasn't far behind, so he
didn't even stop to tell him where he was going. He reached the place
in record time, calling out for Nathan as he entered. The healer took
Billy from his arms quickly, setting the boy down on the table. Nathan
questioned him, finding no other marks beside the large bruise.
"Where'd the blood come from, Billy?" Nathan asked.
"Ezra," Billy whispered, wrapping his arms about himself and rocking
back and forth. Chris, Nathan, and Vin exchanged looks and Chris suddenly
remembered the note Billy had given him. Pulling it out, he walked to
the other side of the room, his face growing cold with rage as he read
Well, how nice to finally be in your acquaintance again. We never
did get to finish our little soiree did we? Of course, you were rather
pre-occupied, weren't you? Such a shame to hear about your family.
I told him it was rash to do that with your wife and child at home, but
he still insists it a perfectly good idea. If that isn't enough to pique
your curiosity into coming to see me, I have something else. The boy
will be able to tell you everything, but in case you need more proof,
maybe this will suffice. Ride due East until met. If anyone accompanies
you, I will leave your friend, piece by piece, in a trail for you to
Chris looked at the blood smeared card that was with the note. He
recognized it as one from Ezra's personal deck, the Ace of Spades. His
memory came rushing towards him like a locomotive with the name Waters.
James Waters. Just after he and Buck had returned from Mexico to find
his family dead, Chris had taken off, running reckless. In a little
town he had long since forgotten the name of, he came across a man who
was taking a quirt to a small boy because the boy had tried to pet his
Chris, being drunk at the time, intervened, beating Waters senseless
with his fists. Waters had called him out the next day, but Chris had
agreed to see the boy and his mother safely into the next territory.
The blonde gunman hadn't thought of Waters again until now. Until once
again, his family was being threatened.
Dropping the note, Chris walked over to Billy and placed his hands
on his shoulders. Just then, Buck and Mary came into the room at a run,
Buck having seen Chris running with Billy towards the clinic. Nathan
grabbed Mary and assured her that Billy was fine. Chris didn't look
away but continued to look at Billy.
"Do they have Ezra, Billy?" he said, his voice an icy whisper of rage.
Billy nodded. Chris drew a firm rein on his anger. "What'd they do with
him, Billy? How many of them were there? I need to know anything you
can give me, son." Billy drew in a deep breath, forcing himself to be
calmer. The others needed his help.
"I walked in to go give Chaucer some sugar cubes like I been doing
since Ezra got hurt. But there was two men inside, and Ezra was there.
One was holding Ezra by the throat while the other had a knife. They
made me come over or they was gonna kill Ezra. Then...then they started
asking questions." Billy broke off, closing his eyes as he saw in his
mind the pain on Ezra's face with each punch the other man threw, each
slice of the knife, shallow and painful, cutting into his reserve.
Mary went over, brushing Billy's hair from his forehead and laying
a gentle kiss on it. Chris let him go and stepped back, waiting with
what little patience he had left for Billy to continue.
"What kind of questions did they ask, Billy?" Buck queried, unsure
of what was going on.
"They wanted to know about Chr..Mr. Larabee," Billy replied, looking
at the black clad gunman. "I didn't want to tell them, honest! But they
was hittin' and kickin' and cuttin' him!" Chris immediately went back
in front of the boy and raised his head so they could see eye to eye.
"I know, Billy. It's okay. We'll get Ezra back." Billy quieted at
the confidence that came from Chris' voice and nodded in agreement.
Chris turned to Nathan. "Alright. Find out what they did to Ezra from
Billy so you'll know what to have ready." Then, he turned to Buck and
Vin. "Buck, go get JD and Josiah. Tell 'em to meet us here. Vin," The
tracker was already heading towards the door.
"I'll find out which way they went." Looking back, Chris saw Nathan
talking to Billy and Mary standing to the side, her hand over her mouth.
She turned and walked towards him.
"Oh God," she whispered. Chris laid his hand on her shoulder, hoping
to steady her, but she noticed how his body was trembling. Cold, merciless
rage was building up inside him and Chris was fighting against letting
it free. Yet another life had been endangered, hurt, and broken because
Nathan finished his discussion with Billy, nodding to Mary that she
could take him home. As she left, Mary touched Chris' shoulder briefly,
offering all the hope and confidence she had to give. Chris nodded his
thanks and then turned back to Nathan. The healer appeared to be deep
"From what I can tell, Ezra may have about ten different cuts, all
superficial, but dangerous none-the-less if not treated; bruised, cracked
or even broken ribs, several bruises, and possibly a concussion. Billy
said that the one who gave him the note used the butt of his gun to knock
Ezra out and get him up on a horse in front of the other one." Chris
shook his head and Nathan left to prepare both a travel kit with what
he might need, as well as to set out the items he would need upon return
to Four Corners.
Buck, JD, and Josiah slid into the room, looking around expectantly.
Chris filled them in, noticing the look of comprehension that crossed
Buck's face. Buck had met up with Chris not long after the encounter
with Waters and had learned all about it. Chris stopped talking as Vin
quietly entered the room, his mare's leg in the crook of his arm.
"They rode off North, Northeast." Chris nodded. Just as he'd suspected.
They would keep Ezra far enough away that Chris couldn't do anything
from where he was met. The note had said go East until met. If there
was any way of doing things Chris liked best, it was the direct one.
"Alright. Here's how it's gonna go then. I want you five to go after
Ezra while I go to meet Waters." Chris knew Buck wasn't going to like
that plan, and he wasn't disappointed in the explosion that came from
"Dammit, Chris! At least take one of us with you." Chris just shook
his head and walked out towards the stables.
"Buck, Waters is mine. I don't want anybody else out there. The only
one I want to have to worry about is Waters. Ya'll take care of Ezra."
Buck knew Chris had a point. If they got Ezra away, Chris didn't have
as many worries. But that still didn't mean he had to like the idea.
"We leave at first light," Chris' voice drifted from the boardwalk.
The others nodded and went off to prepare themselves to help save their
Ezra came to slowly, his head bobbing on his chest with the motion
of the horse. The first sensation to hit his mind was pain. Deep lines
of fire coursed through his body from the injuries that had been inflicted
upon him. After the third time, Ezra had lost count of how many times
the one called James had sliced along his skin with the knife. He never
went deep enough to cause serious damage, but the cuts were long and
The second feeling Ezra got was heat. His body felt so hot. He wished
that he could find some shade from the sun. Opening his eyes, Ezra gave
a small start. It was night, the moon almost overhead. A shiver tore
through his body and Ezra grimly realized that the heat he felt was from
the fever that was threatening to consume him.
Kirk felt the man who shared his saddle move and knew he was awake.
Just to make sure, he tightened his arm around Ezra's middle, pressing
against the man's ribs. Ezra bit back a scream, snapping his head up
against the pain. Kirk smiled with pleasure as he felt the bones under
his fingers grinding against one another.
"The boss sure did a number on you, didn't he?" Kirk chuckled evilly
into Ezra's ear. The gambler made no response, his body still trying
to cope with the shock to ribs. Kirk continued, baiting the smaller
man. "Too bad you couldn't stay awake a little longer back at the stables.
I'm sure you would have enjoyed what we did to the boy."
Ezra's rage overcame all other feelings in his brain and body. Billy?!
He remembered Waters writing and then handing the boy a note. And then,
he had turned back around, his gun in his hand. After that, blackness
until he woke up a few moments ago. Gathering every ounce of strength
available to him, Ezra slammed his elbow back into the other man's stomach,
grunting with effort and pain. Kirk laughed, moving with the blow and
using Ezra's off-balance to push the gambler from the horse.
Ezra landed hard on his right shoulder, pain flaring throughout his
whole body. Darkness threatened to close in on him again, but he refused
to let it, breathing deeply until the flashing lights at the edge of
his vision faded. Kirk sat in the saddle, his arms resting on the horn
as Waters rode back from where he had been scouting up front.
"What happened?" he asked, his eyes on Ezra but the question was clearly
aimed at Kirk. His partner smirked and sat back up, shrugging his shoulders
"Why, he came-to a fighting and a swearing. I tried to keep him still,
but he just lost his balance." Waters smiled back, biting back a chuckle.
Kirk was completely different from Waters in many ways, but they did
share one common sentiment. If you were their enemy, you would pay in
blood, and they would enjoy watching each drop of it pour from your body.
Hearing the sound of hoof beats coming up behind them, Waters spun
his horse and drew his gun, only to re-holster it as the six men of his
gang rode up. He nodded to Ezra and then pointed to the extra horse
"Tie him to the saddle if you have to, but get him up there, make
sure he stays there, and let's get going."
The ropes chafed his wrists terribly and Ezra did his best to ignore
them as they rubbed the skin raw. He had done his best to resist the
men that had tied him to the horse, but his troubles had only resulted
in yet more blows to his body, one of them causing a cut above his left
eye. The blood from it still seeped from the wound.
Ezra kept his eyes closed, the morning sun glaring painfully into
his green orbs. They had ridden all night and showed no signs of stopping
now. The gambler had caught snatches of sleep during the night, not
having to worry about staying in the saddle. Bracing himself, Ezra forced
his eyes open, noticing the sun was just a little off to his right.
That meant they were going Northeast.
Ezra racked his brain for a memory as to what lay in that direction
from Four Corners that would take this long to reach. A vague thought
about an old, abandoned homestead came to him and he was sure that was
their destination. It would provide shelter, cover, and was so far off
the beaten path that almost nobody knew of it. And, if he was correct,
at the pace they had kept, they should be reaching it right about...
"Hello the house!" Waters shouted, stopping on top of a small rise
looking out over a little house, barn, and corral. Receiving an answering
yell, Waters raised his arm and waved before turning around to the group
"Kirk, you and Johnny'll come with me to get Larabee. The rest of
you, take our guest and make him comfortable. I don't care what you
do with him, but make sure he stays alive! Matt's in charge till I get
back, ya hear?" The men nodded their heads, an occasional "yes sir"
running through the air.
Wheeling their horses, the three men set off to make it to the meeting
place ahead of their prey, leaving the others to make their way down
to the house. Ezra gnawed at his lip with worry. He knew that Chris
would be going to meet Waters, if not for him then at least to exact
his revenge for roughing up Billy. That meant that Buck and Vin would
be trailing Chris (because the stubborn gunslinger would request them
to stay behind, a request they would definitely ignore), and the others
Ezra did not try to hope the others would come for him. He had to
do something to help himself, just like always. He just couldn't believe
that the others would willingly take a bullet for him. /It's not like
you would do it for them, either, now would you?/ he asked himself.
His brain smugly agreed that it would not, and was then shocked into
silence. His heart, without any hesitation, had said yes, he would.
And they would do the same for him. Ignoring the sputtering voice in
his head that sounded suspiciously like his mother, Ezra allowed a small
smile to light his face. The others *would* come for him.
But that didn't mean he couldn't help them out a little.
As soon as Vin was able to see well enough to pick up the tracks,
he and the others were on their way to the livery. A surprise to them
though, came from the fact that a good deal of the townspeople were up
and on the boardwalk. Thanks to Mary's printing press, the whole town
knew of the situation the men faced, and this was their way of showing
When they reached the stable, another surprise awaited them. Their
horses were out, saddled, and their saddlebags full of provisions. Several
people followed, some offering words of hope, some just nodding. The
men smiled slightly as they mounted up, a slight blush creeping up Vin
Tanner's face. The town had finally accepted them into their lives.
They belonged. And now, with one of their own threatened, the town was
willing to do anything to get him back.
A path cleared in the crowd as Chris Larabee came to the stable. His
face showed no surprise what so ever at the turnout. Billy held the
reins to his horse, passing them over as Chris neared him. The swelling
on his face had gone down considerably, but a large, dark bruise still
remained. Chris touseled the boy's hair, smiling slightly at him. Swinging
up into the saddle, Chris turned to face the other men. Vin looked past
him, though, a deeper blush covering his face.
Chris turned as Nettie Wells and Casey walked up to them. Each carried
in their arms a long wrapped bundle. Mary helped undo the paper, revealing
six new Winchester rifles, complete with a box of cartridges each. They
were passed out to the men, each taking it with a shy smile of gratitude.
Chris opened his mouth to argue, but closed it, instead nodding his thanks
as Mary handed the rifle to him. He turned to the others again, placing
the rifle on his lap.
"Let's ride!" he ordered, spurring his black into action as the other
men did the same. The townspeople waited before slowly going back to
their homes, not relishing the chore they had left to do.
They had to wait.
They rode out along the line of tracks that led to Ezra. Chris called
a halt and re-stated his orders, his eyes laying on Buck. The usually
jolly cowboy just nodded, making no promises. Chris noticed this, but
let it go. They sat their horses in a line, each keenly aware of the
empty space at the end usually filled by the small, southern gambler.
Chris nodded to them, and then kicked his horse to go meet Waters.
Vin picked up the tracks and nudged his horse into a gallop. Buck watched
the figure in black recede into nothingness before following the tracker.
Vin paid close attention to the ground, trusting the others to watch
their surroundings. Apparently, Waters had been in no hurry because
the tracks indicated that the horses had gone no faster than a walk,
and one of them was extra heavy. That would be the one with Ezra. Every
now and then, beside the heavy track, he would find a dried spot of blood.
The others reined in their horses as Vin called a stop, swinging down
to the ground. He squatted down, studying the story the tracks gave
him. Somebody, probably Ezra had been thrown on the ground. He shifted
through the sand, finding some of it still wet with Ezra's blood. Their
quick pace had gained them some time. They weren't that far ahead.
There wasn't enough blood to cause any panic, so Vin made no mention
What did worry him, however, so much that he gave voice to it, was
the tracks of seven other horses that had come in. One left heavier
than it came in. He noticed the scuffle marks on the ground. Ezra had
at least been conscious enough to fight them as they put him on the horse,
he noticed. They had left at the same leisurely pace. Vin mounted up,
kicking his horse into a fast gallop, feeling the excitement in him grow
as he realized they were closing in on them.
Waters settled back against the rock he had chosen for cover. Kirk
was just off to his left behind another rock, and Johnny was over in
the scattered brush to his right. That was the only cover in the small
stretch of land he had chosen to meet Larabee at. He heard a short whistle
from Johnny's direction and looked down into the road. The figure in
black was riding up, looking around cautiously.
Waters smiled, his eyes twinkling evilly as he lifted his rifle to
Chris had kept his horse to an easy gallop, his steely gaze constantly
sweeping the countryside around him. As he rode, he felt his gut growing
tighter with apprehension, and he knew something was fixing to bust wide
open. He noticed the small grouping of rocks ahead and figured that
somebody would be there. There was no other cover anywhere around.
And if it was one thing he had learned over the years, it was always
trust his gut.
The first bullet tore through the meat of his upper right arm before
he heard the sound of the shot. His horse reared and he fought hard
to stay in the saddle, his rifle falling from his grip. He felt a second
bullet hit his thigh, and yet a third struck his shoulder, knocking him
off his horse. The black took off towards Four Corners as Chris lay
on the ground, his body screaming at him with white hot agony.
/Damn,/ he thought as he watched a figure come down from the rocks,
hearing the hammer of a gun being pulled back. /I hate it when I'm right./
The shot echoed throughout the air as Chris Larabee felt the darkness
close over him.
Ezra sat up as straight as he could against the wall. His ribs were
throbbing painfully, and his head wasn't far behind. He hadn't really
thought anything of Waters last comments, but now realized there was
a lot of room to play with and still keep him alive. His face was now
a mottled, continuous bruise, and the cut over his eye had reopened,
spilling more of his precious blood down his face.
What few, undamaged ribs he had had left, were now just as pained
as the rest. One of the men had been intrigued by the cuts on his arms
and chest, and had decided to see if he could make parallel ones. The
result, a single cut going straight across from his old one, with little
branches where the man had not kept a straight course.
He hissed as the ropes cut deeper into his wrists, but there wasn't
much he could do to help that. In fact, he was responsible for that
pain himself. He pushed his arms apart again, stretching the ropes that
held his hands. He almost had it loose enough to slip free.
Ezra pushed again, his mind moving quickly as to what he would do
once he escaped. He needed a gun, he knew that much. If all else failed,
he had noticed a small room off to the side of the house that had held
some very interesting materials. Ezra knew that the additional space
had been newly constructed, as the wood wasn't weathered, nor was it
painted. It had probably been put up by his captors.
The state or condition of the room wasn't what had caught Ezra's attention,
though, as they had dragged him through the house. It was what was inside.
Two kegs of black powder and what looked to be like at least five sticks
of dynamite sat in the middle of the floor. Enough to effectively destroy
the house and all its occupants. The only problem with this plan, was
that Ezra was an occupant as well.
Ezra bit his lip as the ropes slipped in his blood, and his hands
came free, his arms moving forcibly outward with the momentum of the
tugs he had been using against the ropes. At the sudden movement, his
ribs screamed out in pain and it was all Ezra could do to not curl up
and wrap his arms about himself.
Stretching for a moment to help prepare his body for what was to come,
he carefully reached down and set to work on the knot of the ropes at
his ankles. Freeing himself at last, Ezra stood, leaning heavily against
the wall. His head swirled and he pressed his eyes shut against the
whirling room, trying to identify each pain and ignore it.
The cuts on his arms, chest, and shoulders were a flaming red in color
and the flesh around them burned. Each time he breathed, his ribs creaked
and groaned in protest. But breathe he did, and with a sense of renewed
determination. Creeping over to the one window of the room, Ezra peered
out, keeping his head low so as not to draw attention.
With Waters, Kirk, and Johnny gone, that had left five men in the
party that had taken Ezra to the house. Inside the structure had been
four more, not counting the temporary boss, Matt. That made a total
of ten men against the idea of Ezra leaving; thirteen if the other three
came back too soon.
That thought sent a shiver down Ezra's spine. Three men, waiting
in ambush, while Larabee rode out to meet them. The gambler had no doubts
towards Chris' ability with his guns, or his mind, for that matter.
But three to one odds, especially stacked in such a manner, didn't leave
room for much hope. Ezra spotted two guards from his vantage point.
A third one walked into view from around a corner.
Ezra smiled, ignoring the pain from his battered face, his green eyes
lighting up with ironic humor. The odds were not in the house's favor,
he had nothing to bluff with, and Ezra was betting against a full house.
Vin put down his spy-glass, crawling back from the bluff down to the
others. The tracks went over the bluff and down to the homestead. Except
for three horses that went off in the direction Chris was heading. Two
of the sets of tracks were those that they had originally trailed out
of Four Corners. Vin had no doubts as to what those three men were going
that way for. His anger was cold, and it flashed through his blue eyes
with a vengeance. He slid the last few feet down and stood, brushing
the dirt from his clothes. His eyes swept the the other four men as
"House down there. Barn, corral, house. Doesn't look like anybody's
been there for quite a while now. Tracks head straight for it. I spotted
three men making a patrol of the house, with five more down at the corral.
There was also some movement from one of the windows, but I don't know
how many are in there. Didn't see Ezra anywheres." The others mounted
up and turned to Vin when he didn't.
"They're gonna see us coming, no matter where we come from. We need
a plan. And," Vin swung his eyes to Buck, his gaze holding the man steady,
"Three of 'em rode off to where Chris was headed. The two we tracked
a third." Buck swore and stared hard at the ground in front of his horse.
His heart was torn in two different directions by the same motivation.
Ezra was hurt, bleeding, and surrounded by almost nine men. And yet,
Chris was facing three ambushers, alone. His friendship for the two
waged a war inside him, trying to make him choose. Chris' words came
back to him. He knew that Chris would rather see Ezra safely back than
killed because he had needed help. He sighed heavily and turned his
thoughts back to the men who were waiting for the desicion they knew
he was making.
"Alright," he said, "How's this for a plan...."
Chris Larabee was ready to kill someone. The only problem was, if
he had his choice, it would be himself. The sweat was dripping from
his face and running cruelly over his open wounds. When he had woke
up, his hands had been tied tightly together, a rope running from them
to the saddle horn of a horse a few feet away. Waters had sat there,
smiling with evil pleasure as he watched the bleeding gunman shiver with
"Well, well...the infamous Mr. Chris Larabee. So nice to see you
again." Chris hadn't had the energy to argue with a milk-sot kitten
and had lain still on the ground, assessing his body's reserves. The
wound on his arm was but a scratch, the bullet having passed clean through
the meat of it. His hip was another problem entirely. The bullet was
still inside him, but from what Chris could tell, was not too far under
the skin. If he'd had his hands free, one quick slice of a knife over
the top of it would have fixed the problem.
With a sense of dread, Chris concentrated on his shoulder. He only
felt the firey pain on the front side of his body. That told the blonde
all he needed to know. The bullet was deep in the flesh, possibly having
lodged in the bone. Closing his eyes, Chris replayed the events in his
mind. Wait...there had been a last shot at the end. He quickly checked
the rest of his body, but could find no additional injuries. Where had
that last shot gone? Chris turned his head at the sound of two more horses
"Nobody else was around, James. He came alone." Waters nodded at
Kirk and then his smile grew wider.
"Good. Now, I believe it's time we set off for a little reunion,
don't you. It's a shame your horse ran off without you, Larabee. I
guess you'll just have to walk." As they had started out, Chris had
noticed where he had lain on the ground, indicated by the large spots
of blood on the ground. About three inches from where his head would
have been, a deep bullet furrow gouged into the Earth. Whether the shot
had been missed on purpose, or because of a last minute interference,
Chris wasn't certain. But, at least he was alive, and damn happy to
Now, Chris was aching for them to shoot him, but did his best not
to let that be known. He would not give Waters the satisfaction of breaking
his reserve. Every step sent white agony up from his hip to join with
that seeping down from his shoulder. Even though the bullet in his hip
was not in a deadly position, it was far enough under the skin to grate
against his hip bone every time his leg moved. Chris marched on as best
he could, limping painfully and trying to keep up the pace so that Waters
would not jerk him with the rope again.
His mind fought against the blurring effects of the blood loss and
pain. He had collapsed under the weight of the sensations once, unable
to keep walking. Waters had only looked back and then kicked his horse
into a jog, dragging the gunslinger's body roughly over the rocks for
about ten yards before slowling to a walk again. Chris had valiantly
pulled himself up again, staggering as a new spot of pain came to his
senses. Raising his bound hands, Chris rubbed them against his forehead,
hissing as they came in contact with yet more of his blood as it ran
from his body. After that, Chris had done whatever it took to keep from
being dragged through the rocks again.
Suddenly, a loud explosion was heard from in front of them and a plume
of smoke rose from over the next hill. The horses threatened to bolt,
and the riders fought against them. Chris dodged about as best he could
in his weakened state, praying that the horse he was tied to would not
Waters finally got the animal under control about the same time that
Kirk and Johnny did, pulling sharply on the rope Larabee was tied with.
Chris cried out, no longer caring if Waters saw his pain.
"What the hell?" Waters muttered as the three dismounted, pulling
Chris' rapidly weakening form up to the ridge.
Ezra had waited until the three sentries had resumed their walk around
the building, making sure they were out of sight before pushing upwards
on the window. The wooden frame creaked loudly in protest, and the gambler
froze, expecting the three men to come running up and cut him in half
with their bullets.
After almost a full minute had passed, Ezra released the breath he
hadn't realized he was holding, and looked at his work. The window was
open almost a foot, maybe a little more. His green eyes carefully gaged
the width and then he ran his hands over his chest, stomach and hips,
wincing as his fingers grazed his many wounds. He could fit, but just
barely, and it was going to hurt, alot. Looking around the room, Ezra
spotted the remains of a rung-back chair. Picking up what used to be
a small, pipe-like rung, the gambler placed it between his teeth to help
fight off the cries of pain.
Carefully putting his head and shoulders under the window, Ezra
did a quick last check to see if the men had returned. When he found
the coast clear, he squeezed through until his stomach was holding his
weight on the window sill. Ezra stopped for a moment to gather his strength.
His ribs and head were about to bust with throbbing pain. Silently,
Ezra thanked anyone who would listen for his small frame as he pulled
himself outside completely.
Working his way slowly around the house, Ezra paused to sneak a look
around a corner. By chance, he had gone in the direction of the small
explosives room. Ezra blew a kiss upwards to Lady Luck as he saw that
a door was on the outside of it. Then, he almost took the gesture back
as a tall, solid man with a black mustache appeared beside it, his rifle
held casually in the crook of his arm. Ezra leaned back against the
house, his tired mind and body rebelling against the idea of taking the
brute down by force. He needed a distraction, but the items he planned
to use for a distraction were, at the moment, behind the cause for his
need of them.
Suddenly, Ezra ducked as the echoing sound of shots were heard, along
with loud yells and shouts. Forgetting about the room, Ezra cautiously
made his way as fast as he could back towards the front of the house
where the sounds were growing closer. As he peered around the corner,
his green eyes grew wide and bright with disbelief.
Nathan was running down the hill, his eyes wide with fear as his legs
pumped faster and faster. Directly behind him came four men on horseback,
firing at his feet and the dirt around the fleeing man. Ezra immediately
recognized Buck's horse, as well as the unconscious way the four men
rode, in a line, side by side. Ezra smiled with relief, and then noticed
the brutish guard from the explosives room had also come to see what
the ruckus was about. With a twinkle in his eye, the gambler quickly
made his way back to the room, and slipped in the door. Rubbing his hands
together with pleasure at his findings, Ezra picked up two sticks of
dynamite and shoved them into a pocket of his worn pants.
"So much for subtlety," he whispered to himself as he wrapped his
hand around the stock of an old Sharps. Checking to make sure of the
load in it, Ezra stepped outside and ran barrel first into a sudden need
for another distraction.
Vin carefully peppered the ground around Nathan's fleeing form, concentrating
on watching to see when the healer would move. He saw the men gathering
at the front of the house as Nathan neared it. Their was eight that came
from outside the house, and Vin watched two more come out the front door.
/Ten,/ his brain counted. Scanning the crowd and buildings with his
sharp blue eyes, Vin didn't see any sign of Ezra.
As they got closer, Nathan slowly started to veer away from the house.
Vin planted a shot right in front of him, causing the healer to fall
backwards. Rising in his stirrups, the tracker shouted to the men at
"Catch that darkie!! Don't let the son of a bitch get away!" Several
men ran forward, holding Nathan to the ground while the others rode up.
Vin swung down off his horse and strode over to the group, yanking Nathan
up forcefully. "You know, boy," he sneered, forcing the black man back
towards the group, "I was just gonna shoot you, but no, you had to run.
Now, you're gonna hang!"
"What seems to be the problem here?" a voice cut through. Vin turned
to see the men part for another to come up front. He looked to be around
his late twenties, with dark brown eyes that seemed to hold an evilness
in them. He casually hooked his thumbs into his gunbelt and walked towards
"We heard this darkie doctor was actually trying to set up a practice
in Four Corners. Me and the boys don't think that's quite right, so
we came down and decided to settle the matter. Only the little bastard
up and ran off. But, them trees look mighty inviting. You fellas mind
if we just put an end to this foolishness right here?"
Vin forced Nathan's hands up, placing them behind his head and in
closer reach to the knives on his back. He scanned the crowd once more
and watched a mountain of a man with a dark black mustache light a cigarette
and then turn back to go around the house again. The other men all voiced
their agreement with Vin's idea, calling out the name of the man in charge.
Matt looked around and then nodded his assent.
The tracker and the others whooped in excitement as they led the way
over to the trees, Matt's men following closely. Stopping under a low
hanging branch, the five gunmen turned to face their enemies, playing
up their parts to the hilt. Vin reached over his saddle as if to retrieve
his rope. Instead, his hand came up filled with his new rifle. The
others, who had never put their guns away after "chasing" Nathan down
to the homestead, trained them on the crowd. A sickening realization
came over the outlaws that soon turned to rage at being tricked.
"We want Standish," Vin said, no longer wasting time on words to play
a part. Matt shook with anger. He spat on the ground, a sardonic smile
covering his face.
"Why don't I show you his body, and *then* you can decide if you still
want him." Vin's eyes snapped with anger, but concern also fought its
way through. Before he could reply, however, Buck's voice, cold with
fury cut through the air, shattering the confidence of the man before
"For your sake, I sure hope your lying. 'Cause if you're not, you're
gonna wish that the only thing I did was kill you."
"Go to hell!" Matt yelled, drawing his gun with lighting speed as
he pulled the man beside him in front as cover, pushing the body away
as it took a bullet from Buck's rifle. Swearing, the five comrades made
for cover in the trees, firing to put their enemies down if they could.
The others, realizing that their only cover was behind them at the house,
took off running, stopping to turn and fire every so often. Five of
them reached the house, while three more lay on the ground clutching
at bleeding knees and shoulders.
Vin and the others crouched low as the men returned fire with a vengeance
from their new cover. A soft cry was heard off to his left, and Vin
turned to see Buck pulling JD down against the ground, grasping at his
now limp arm. Nathan carefully and quickly made his way over, nodding
to Vin that the boy would be okay. Vin cringed as another shot struck
the wood beside his head, sending splinters over his body.
They had taken out three of them, four if you count Matt's now dead
human shield. They were no closer to Ezra and were now short one more
gun. Vin swore softly to himself before turning to defend himself.
And was promptly thrown ten feet back as the house before them blew
Ezra stood very still, his finger poised over the trigger as he stared
at a thickly muscled chest. Raising his eyes, the gambler once again
saw the face of the man who had been guarding the door.
A cigarette hung limply from his lips as he stared at the smaller
man in shock. But slowly, that shock was replaced by a malicious grin.
The guard, Jake was what he went by this time, hadn't expected the little
man to be conscious after earlier, much less walking. Then, Jake noticed
the slight flush of fever on Ezra's face. He chuckled as the gambler
pressed the barrel of his gun deeper into his middle.
"Go ahead, little man. Pull the trigger. Ol' Jake may go down, but
everyone else will hear that shot." Ezra hesitated, knowing that the
statement was not a threat, but a fact. He licked his cracked lips,
wondering why they were suddenly so dry. His vision was blurring around
the edges, and he shook his head to clear it. Ezra took a step back,
keeping the old Sharps trained on the guard's middle, and leaned heavily
against the wall.
Jake just smiled wider as he watched the smaller man's body shut
down. To tell the truth, he was quite impressed with the determination
of the one before him. Jake had personally taken a hand in Ezra's earlier
beating, making sure he drew three more dark bruises from the gambler's
ribs before turning him over to the next in line. To see Ezra standing,
hell, to see him coherent was more than Jake had thought possible.
Ezra was finding it harder and harder to focus on the mountainous
form before him. He heard Jake chuckle, and fury as well as fever made
his body shake. He had come this far only to pass out in the arms of
his captors? Ezra blinked rapidly, his eyes moistening at the thought
of failing his friends.
Suddenly, all hell broke loose from the front of the house. It seemed
as if all the guns in the world had gone off at once, the noise setting
off a frantic hammering in Ezra's brain. Jake whipped his head around
in that direction and then turned back to the gambler with a sickening
realization. Ezra allowed himself a small smile as he pressed the gun
deeper into the other man and pulled the trigger. The close proximity
of the barrel and the body muffled the loud roar as Jake fell back, his
stomach almost completely gone.
Ezra felt himself shoved back by the kick of the Sharps, and then
fell to his knees, clutching his stomach to keep from retching at the
site before him. Forcing himself up off the ground, Ezra staggered away
from the grisly scene, moving towards the end of the house. Peering
around the edge of the corner, Ezra watched as his friends were held
down by the thunderous rain of bullets coming from the house.
The gambler did a quick count, noting that his five comrades were
all in the trees, while the other desperados had made their cover in
the house. He knew he didn't have much time as they would surely try
and use him to keep his friends from firing. Once they found him gone....
Hoping the trees would give the others enough protection, Ezra ran
back to Jake's oozing corpse, pushing his disgust aside as he searched
the ground beside it. Finally, the gambler found the object of his search,
reaching down beside the gaping mouth of the dead man to pull the still
burning cigarette from the ground. Picking it up, Ezra turned and looked
inside the explosives room. Taking Jake's rifle with him, Ezra walked
inside and used it to break open the powder kegs and spread the powder
and remaining dynamite around the room.
Ezra leaned against the outside wall once more, pulling what was left
of his will power, strength and self discipline together for the run
he was going to have to make to get away from the house. Taking the
cigarette from his lips, Ezra stepped away from the wall, pulling out
the two sticks of dynamite from his pocket. A surge of adrenalin shot
through him as he touched the glowing tip to the fuses, watching the
spark to life. Ezra threw one against the wall he had been leaning against,
took five steps and threw the other one into the room itself.
Turning, the gambler ran for all he was worth, gasping as his lungs
drug in breath after breath of air, his body throbbing with every step.
Ezra spotted an old stock tank to his right and veered in that direction,
smiling as he thought he would make the cover.
Ezra's body flew through the air as the dynamite finally exploded,
sending the house and all within it in a million different directions.
The gambler looked down into the tank as he dropped towards it, noticing
thankfully that there was water in it. His thanks were quickly turned
to curses, however, as there was only about an inch of liquid covering
the bottom. Ezra grimaced as he fell, bracing himself.
The small man landed on his right side, crying out as his shoulder
gave off a sickening pop before sending up a flare of agony to every
nerve throughout his body. Ezra gratefully welcomed the painless darkness
as it washed over him, his body lying in a crumpled, smoking heap against
the edge of the tank.
Nathan, Buck, and JD had all been huddled behind the tree as Nathan
worked on JD's arm. When the explosion came, they had been knocked to
the ground, but not thrown. Nathan quickly took in the destroyed house
and then looked over to check on Vin and Josiah. The preacher had been
in the same position as they were, so Josiah merely had to pick himself
up off the ground, putting his hands to his ears to quiet the ringing
there. That left Vin. Nathan looked to where the man had last been,
but instead, had to look backwards to where the tracker lay stretched
out along the ground.
Moving quickly, knowing the others would keep watch for anyone left
alive to shoot, Nathan moved back to where the other man lay. The healer
was quick to notice that Vin's eyes were open and he seemed alert, but
the man was not moving. Fighting back the quiet and scary possibility
of why that might be, Nathan began checking Vin over, looking at his
eyes for a concussion and running his hands over Vin's body, checking
for broken bones. The tracker made no response other than to watch Nathan
as he moved. Finally, he tried to speak.
"Nothing...wrong....Nathan. Ju-just had the...wind knocked...ou-outta
me," he managed to squeeze out. The healer breathed a sigh of relief
as Vin's lungs filled back up and the tracker struggled to a sitting
position. Josiah backed over, keeping his eyes focused on where their
enemies had just been. Leaning down, the giant man hoisted his arm around
Vin and helped him up. The three men made their way over to Buck and
JD, all happy to see that the youngest member of them was sitting up
with his gun in his good hand.
"Now what the hell was that?" Buck asked, nodding his head towards
the remains of the house. Vin straightened up and walked towards the
smoldering ruins. Josiah and Nathan followed. Buck helped JD up as
they went after the others. "I guess we'll find out."
The five men carefully sifted through the ashes and rubble, counting
as they located each of the men that had been firing at them. Vin came
upon one that wasn't too badly burned, and recognized Matt's face. There
were a total of nine bodies, the three that had been wounded between
the house and the trees included, killed by the falling debris. No sign
of Ezra was found, and for that, for once, the men were grateful. But,
that left them one short. Vin immediately swung his eyes around, trying
to locate the missing man.
Nathan turned to see JD standing away from the group, his face ashen.
The healer called out to Buck. "Why don't you and JD see if there's
anything around back that might help us out a little." Vin called out
his warning about the missing outlaw and the others dropped back into
The two men skirted what was standing of the walls of the house, coming
around to the back and laying their eyes on what had to have been the
blast point. A deep, gouging hole lay at the back of the house. Buck
and JD both walked towards it, their eyes roaming the area around them.
Feeling his foot catch at something, JD looked down and almost lost his
stomach. The large man was charred and unrecognizable, but what tore
at JD's insides the most was the fact that there was only *half* a man
Buck pulled the kid away from the remains, tripping over the other
half as they backed away. "Well, I guess that takes care of our missing
man," Buck choked out, keeping JD turned in the opposite direction.
Buck whipped around as JD gave out a cry of excitement, turning to
follow the boy's gaze towards an old stock tank. His own eyes widened
as his brain recognized what he saw. He gave a loud whoop and took off
running towards it, not far behind JD as they both watched Ezra climb
over the wall of the tank and sink to the ground beside it.
Ezra came back to wakefulness slowly, not wanting to come back to
this land of pain he had been in for...how long was it? Could it have
only been last night that he was taken? The gambler shifted and sat
up. Or rather, he tried to sit up. Ezra moved his right arm to push
himself up, but fell back on it as the pain took his breath away, causing
his stomach to rumble with the sickening agony of it.
Once the flashes were gone from the edge of his vision, Ezra used
his left arm to turn himself over and push up, leaning against the edge
of the tank. He gingerly felt of his right shoulder, his fingers running
softly over the unnatural shape of it. What had Nathan called it back
at the village that first time.../Dislocated,/ his brain replied. At
least it was a different shoulder than last time.
Using only his left arm, Ezra removed the smoking, blood soaked tatters
of his once white shirt from his body, wrapping them around and tying
them up in a sling which he carefully eased his right arm into. Deciding
to save his strength for getting over the three foot wall of the tank,
Ezra crawled to the opposite side, his body shaking with a vengeance.
Panting for breath, Ezra got to his knees, using his left hand to wipe
the blood from the newly-opened cut above his eye and sweat from his
A familiar voice came to him through his blanket of pain, and Ezra
forced himself to raise his head and look out. Buck and JD were looking
at the back of, or rather, what used to be the back of the house. Ezra
tried to call out, but his throat constricted and refused to let anything
come out besides a muffled croak. He watched as the two moved away from
what was left of Jake, and saw JD turn towards him. Knowing he had to
make his presence known, Ezra pushed himself up, trying to throw his
leg over the side of the tank. It took him three tries, but the gambler
finally managed to move himself out of the tank. He sank down to the
ground as JD and Buck both ran towards him.
Buck reached Ezra's side only a few seconds after JD, both appalled
at the amount of injuries apparent on the gambler's body. Reaching down
to check his friend, Buck felt the raging heat that was beginning to
come off Ezra's skin and knew they had to get him back, and fast. Gently,
he gathered Ezra into his arms, noticing the pain in the green eyes as
Ezra watched his every move.
"Go tell Nathan we got him. Tell him he's bad hurt!" Buck added to
JD's back as the boy ran off to get the healer. As gently as he could,
Buck stood up, cradling Ezra's body to him. Ezra moved his left arm
around Buck's shoulders to try and help hold some of his wait up, but
doing so only pulled on his battered rib cage. A small groan escaped
his lips as his eyes fluttered against the coming darkness.
"Sorry, Ezra," Buck whispered, thinking he had caused the gambler
more pain. Ezra leaned weakly against the strength of his friend, allowing
himself to slip into the darkness once more.
Waters and the others stared in disbelief at the smoldering remains
of their base of operations. Watching, they saw three men pulling body
after body out of the wreckage to lay them down in the dirt. Waters looked
back at Larabee with renewed hatred, reaching to grab the wounded gunslingers
neck and pulling him up to where he could see. A snatch of a smile crossed
Chris' face as he recognized Josiah's big form.
"They belong to you, Larabee?" Waters hissed, squeezing harder on
the man's neck as Chris just looked at him, the smile on his face easily
recognizable this time. Chris' eyes slid closed as he fought for breath,
finding himself thrown to the ground as Waters vented his anger. Walking
back to the horses, Waters grabbed his rifle, as well as Larabee's guns.
The others followed suit, and soon, the four men were making their way
up behind the others.
Vin did not care for his current job of pulling the bodies out away
from the ruins, but they had to make sure that Ezra was not amongst the
rubble. He and Josiah were moving the last one out to lay in a line
while Nathan checked to make sure they were all dead. Vin looked up,
wiping his brow with the back of his hand, as JD came skidding up to
them, Buck not far behind.
"Nathan! Guys, we found Ezra!" The others left off their tasks and
came to stand beside the boy as he bent to catch his breath. Nathan went
and retrieved his medical bags, waiting for JD to either point him in
the right direction or Buck to come on through. JD threw his thumb behind
"Buck's bringing him," he said, just as the man himself stepped through,
Ezra's limp form seeming small against the bigger man's chest.
"He's hurt pretty bad, Nathan," Buck said before all of them froze.
Ezra looked up as the voice that had began it all hit his ears, followed
by that same deadly sound as the hammer of a gun was pulled back.
"That's the best news I've had all day."
"Good Lord," Ezra groaned, staring at Waters as he placed the cocked
gun against Chris' head.
Buck almost dropped his friend at the site that greeted him. Chris
was barely able to stand, most of his weight being held up by Waters'
iron grip on his upper arm. Dried blood from a gash on his forehead
covered most of his pale face, and Buck could see the sweat that poured
from the gunslinger's body making it red liquid again. His usually black
clothes were blacker still and stiff with the dried blood from several
bullet wounds. Buck unconsciously tightened his grip on the gambler
in his arms, causing the smaller man to groan in pain.
Nathan's eyes had been busy as well, flicking back and forth between
Ezra and Chris. The latter began to shiver and Nathan gritted his teeth
as Waters shook the man to make him hold still, only making the motions
of the wounded gunman worse.
"Drop the guns or I drop your friend," Waters hissed, keeping his
gun to Chris' head as he knocked the other man to his knees, grinning
at the hiss of pain that passed Chris' lips. The others looked at each
other undecidedly. Waters sighed dramatically and motioned to one of
the men that stood with him.
"Johnny, bring that Arkansas Toothpick of yours over here. Appears
we need a little demonstration." Johnny moved over, reaching to pull
a long knife from his boot. Between the two of them, they pulled Chris
to his feet. Johnny ripped open the gunman's shirt, reaching up to slap
Chris' face when he jerked away from the rough handling. Making sure
the blonde could see the blade as it descended to his body, Johnny smiled,
making a quick, shallow slice across Larabee's stomach.
Chris jerked back, trying to free himself from the pain these men
seemed determined to inflict on him. Johnny stepped to the side, grasping
his other arm just above the bullet hole there, causing Chris to release
the cry of pain that had been building up inside him. The other men flinched
as they heard their leader, their cold anger consuming them.
"Now, I don't believe Mr. Larabee would enjoy it if you refused to
do as I say. Drop the guns!" Vin threw his rifle down first, followed
by his belt and holster. The rest of the men followed suit, except for
Buck who still held Ezra in his arms. Waters motioned and JD walked
over, carefully relieving Buck of his guns. The other man rode out to
look at the line or corpses, stopping at one and blanching before turning
back to Waters.
"James," he started, his face neutral as he knew his boss would explode.
"This one's Matt. He's dead." Waters, nodding to Johnny as the man
tightened his grip and shoved the knife against Larabee's throat, moved
slowly towards the body that Kirk indicated. Matt's body was burned
and twisted, the face frozen in death, the eyes that were an exact echo
of his own, closed forever. Waters turned to face his prisoners, those
eyes burning with crazed rage.
"Which one of you bastards did this?! Which one of you killed my
"The pleasure...was all..mine," Ezra whispered out, the sound like
a shout in the tension heavy air. Waters pushed his way to the wounded
man, dragging him out of Buck's grasp and throwing him to the ground.
Buck desperately wanted to go to his friend but a flash in the corner
of his eye held him still as Johnny pressed the knife into the tender
skin of Chris' neck a little harder.
Waters walked up to Ezra's inert form, drew his foot back and kicked
him hard in the ribs. Ezra's cry of pain was weak as his body began
to shut down.
"Leave him alone!" Chris' shout caused Waters to whip his head around.
Pulling out his gun, Waters leveled it at Ezra and nodded to Johnny.
The other man released his hold and, without his captor's support, Chris
weaved and fell to his knees. He stood carefully and surprised Waters
by walking towards him. Waters moved his gun to cover Larabee, stopping
the gunman in his tracks.
"You keep on coming and I'll fill you so full of lead you'll sink,"
Waters warned the bloody figure in black. Chris just grinned, his blue
eyes burning with the icy fire of anger.
"You touch him again and there aren't enough bullets in the world
to stop me from killing you." Chris' soft statement carried more power
behind it than the loudest shout. Waters blanched, indecision covering
his face for a moment before a confident smile took it's place.
"In that case," he said, going over to Kirk and reaching in his saddle
bags to pull out Ezra's gun, and pulling Chris' own pistol from his belt,
he emptied both of them but for one bullet. "I'll let you do it."
Chris blinked, confusion written across his face as Waters hoisted
Ezra off the ground, calling Johnny over to help him. Kirk kept his
rifle trained on the other five prisoners, herding them into a group
by the line of corpses. They had to fight hard against the need to go
help their friends, Josiah going so far as to physically restrain Buck
and Vin with his large arms.
Waters and Johnny put Chris and Ezra back to back, leaning them against
each other. Johnny then backed away to stand about ten feet in front
"Here is the deal, gentleman. A duel." A smile covered Waters face
and Chris had no doubts that the man had been pushed beyond the edge
of sanity. "You each have one bullet. You will take the customary ten
paces, turn and fire. Now, before you get any noble ideas of throwing
down your guns for your friend's life, let me explain the stakes. With
your bullet, Mr. Larabee, you have the opportunity of saving your friend
from an agonizing death for killing my son. Plus, I will release two
men of your choice from your friends to go free."
Waters watched with pleasure as Chris listened, his pale face going
even whiter as his mind took in his words. He had heard alot about Larabee
during his search for him, and one thing that always seemed prominent
was his desire to protect his friends. Waters knew that Chris would
do whatever he could to keep his friends from pain, but the weight of
death and the choice of which of his friends survived would burden down
his conscious and slowly drive the man insane. Waters turned to Ezra.
"And you, Mr. Standish. Your decision will save Larabee from having
to live with the fact that he killed you, as well as three of his other
friends. Plus, I will promise you that these other men will have a quick,
and merciful death. Of course, yours will not be that easy. The choice
is yours, gentlemen. On my count." Waters turned and walked away, leaving
the two men to support each other and to wrestle with their choices.
Kirk turned his horse so that he was facing Ezra, a little off of his
left. Waters moved out to stand to the side and then smiled.
"One." he called out and watched as the two men moved hesitantly forward.
Chris stared at the ground, his eyes cloudy with thought as he fought
against the feverish pains to come up with a plan. He knew he would
kill Ezra before allowing Waters to get hold of him again. And, knowing
Waters, Chris himself would not live long enough for the guilt to hang
over his head. A small smile tugged at his lips. /After all,/he thought,
/Waters didn't say I could go with the two I chose./ The smile fell from
his face at that. Choose only two? How did you choose two men to survive
out of five that had risked all they had, even their own lives, for you
time and time again? Choose only two out of five of the best men you
had ever known in your entire life? Chris screwed his eyes shut as tears
of anger and frustration threatened to consume him.
"Two." Waters voice called out again, jerking Chris and Ezra forward
once more. The smaller man did his best to stand upright, not wanting
to fall and set off a chain of events that could get them all killed.
Could he, Ezra, do what was asked? Could he kill the Chris? The gambler
had been honored that Chris had trusted him with joining the small group
of men. They were all honorable, but Chris was solid in a way that provided
Ezra with the strength he needed to break away from his old life of cons.
Buck had told him once, after receiving a solemn oath to never breathe
a word of it to anyone, about Chris' family. The gambler had known bits
and pieces ever since their hunt for Fowler, but what Buck had given
him went beyond simple grief. Chris had almost gone insane with their
deaths, and Ezra knew what would happen if Chris killed him now. Ezra
drew a deep breath to steady his nerves as he fought to decide what was
the right thing to do.
"Three." The call rang out clear, causing JD to jump in his boots.
His arm from where he had been shot earlier was throbbing fiercely, but
the young man ignored it, his mind and body tense with the deadly situation
unfolding before him. Mentally, he berated himself for rushing back
to the others without scouting the area first. The 'if-onlys' ran through
his head at a rate faster than he could keep up with. Finally, with
a small shake of his head, JD stopped the flow altogether and instead
turned his mind towards figuring a way out. The others had finally accepted
him on equal terms into their group, and now he would prove their trust
by taking his mistakes and moving on.
"Four." Josiah vaguely heard the voice as he continued to mumble
his prayers, sending them out to every God he'd ever heard of or studied.
His eyes were fixed on the two bleeding figures as they staggered away
from each other a step at a time. He tightened his hold on the two men
beside him, knowing that their fury could very well get them killed.
He closed his pale blue eyes and put everything he had into his prayers.
"Five." Nathan clenched his fists by his side, his right arm dipping
into the medical bag that hung there. Kirk had even removed his knives,
leaving the healer with a feeling of naked helplessness. His watchful
eyes had taken in every detail of injury to the two men and knew that
any more physical or emotional strain would break them in half. Nathan
released, and then re-clenched his fists, wincing as he felt a biting
pain in his right hand. Carefully, he pulled it out, noticing the blood
that dripped from his hand and the blade of the scalpel. Nathan looked
from the instrument to their captors. It was used for saving lives,
but now, it might just help to take one as well.
"Six." Buck ground his teeth in anger, his usual jovial face contorted
with rage at the situation he found himself in. He had known Chris for
over twelve years, and despite the many times they had locked horns over
one thing or another, the love for his friend had always rung true in
his heart. He would never desert this man, not for anything. Ever since
Sarah and Adam's deaths, Buck had felt a keen responsibility and need
to bring the gunman back to the man he had once been. His thoughts shifted
to Ezra. Buck hadn't much cared for him after their first encounter,
but that had gradually changed after time. Buck enjoyed the easy going
manner of Ezra's nature. Now, as he was forced to see them both beaten
down to mere shells of themselves, it was all the man could do to keep
from ripping out his enemies throats. Buck knew that, whoever came out
on top, he would lose two friends that day.
"Seven." Vin was jerked out of state of semi-shock by Waters' voice.
/Seven,/ he thought. /Seven men, seven friends, seven brothers./He had
not even taken the time to berate himself for allowing Waters to come
so close and take control. Instead, his mind had been focused on the
bodies of Chris and Ezra, his usually well hidden temper surging to the
front as he took in their condition. Vin had felt a connection to the
two ever since he had first met them. Chris, his figure so solemn and
imposing that day in the street, and yet, Vin had immediately known he
could trust this man with his life. And Ezra. Vin had sensed the man's
character after their first meeting in the saloon. He had wanted the
smaller man to join them, only knowing that he had found a connection,
just as he had in Chris. That had been the main reason for his offer
of Ezra "needing to get out of town anyways." Ezra's agreement had started
a quiet game of verbal jabs and jokes between the two, and yet, the southerner
had never topped Vin's ruse to get them into Wickes' place. Vin was
thankful for, and at the same time, resentful of Josiah's restraining
arm which held him back from rushing to the two most important people
in his life as the count neared it's end.
"Eight." Kirk sat his horse easily, his rifle pointed at the group
of men as his eyes watched the two duelers. He enjoyed the mental torment
he knew each of them had to be going through. Kirk didn't believe for
an instant that Waters' would actually allow any of the men to leave
this place alive, especially after losing his son. He watched as Larabee
stumbled a bit, his free hand reaching over to his hip. The move had
dropped him out of line a little with Ezra and Johnny, but Kirk thought
nothing of it.
"Nine." Johnny watched with satisfaction as Larabee had trouble keeping
himself upright. He had desperately wanted to kill him back on the flat,
but Waters' warning shout had made him adjust his aim at the last moment,
hitting the ground by his head instead. Johnny hadn't been to thrilled
with keeping the gunman alive, but now, watching the others squirm in
their helplessness, he decided that this game was quite fun.
"Ten." Waters watched as his two pawns took the last step, but did
not turn. He nodded to Kirk, who raised his rifle at the group. Silently,
he hoped Larabee would win. He wanted to let the man pick his two, watch
the faces of the unlucky three as they were killed, and then feel the
joy as the hope of the chosen ones was dashed under a bullet, taking
Larabee's sanity with it. He waited for them to turn and fire, watching
their chests rise and fall with labored breathing.
"FIRE!" he shouted, jerking his own gun out and aiming at the group
as well. Both men turned, bringing their guns to bear. Waters' watched
as their eyes met, exchanging volumes without speaking a single word.
"I said FI," Waters began to scream again, only to be cut off as the
two men reached a decision and pulled their triggers.
Everyone held their breaths as the count of ten was reached and Waters
yelled at the two friends to fire. Chris and Ezra locked eyes as they
faced one another, sending out messages that no one else could understand.
Coming to the same decision, they shifted their guns slightly away from
Waters waited to see which one would fall as the echoes of the shots
faded away. To his surprised, both of them wobbled unsteadily, the pistols
falling from their fingertips. But, neither of them went down. Instead,
Kirk fell from his horse, the bullet from Chris' gun having pierced his
heart. Johnny fell to the ground behind Chris, clutching at his stomach.
Breaking free of the shock that held them for a few seconds, Vin yanked
the rifle from Kirk's hands as the others dove for the pile of guns on
the ground. Waters stood, unable to believe the turn of events that
had just occurred. Vin trained the rifle on him as he watched Chris
and Ezra stagger back to the point from which they had began their walk.
The others, having regained their weapons, began to move towards them,
hurrying as they saw both men threaten to sink to the ground. Upon meeting
the other, Chris simply stuck his hand out in front of him.
"Ezra," he said, wincing as it pulled on the many tears in his body.
Ezra did the same, reaching out to grasp it with his left hand.
"Chris," he replied, the gunman smiling slightly at the use of his
first name. Ezra returned the smile as best he could. Using each other
for support, the two men turned towards the others as they hurried over.
The gunman heard a shout just as he caught a spot of movement out of
the corner of his weary eyes. Ezra tried to ask what was wrong, but
the only thing to escape his lips was a gasp of pain as Chris roughly
pushed him down, turning his own body full to cover him just as the shot
exploded. The blonde felt the bullet's heat enter his body low and on
his right side.
Ezra did his best to catch Chris as the gunman fell against him, his
eyes widening at the grisly sight before him. Johnny was on his knees,
one hand clutching his stomach, dark and wet with his blood, while the
other held his smoking pistol. A flash of something bright and shiny
crossed Ezra's vision, and he watched as Johnny dropped the gun to grab
at his neck, falling to the ground.
Nathan walked over, checking to make sure the man was dead before
pulling the scalpel that he had thrown out of the body. By taking a
life, the instrument had saved at least two more. Two more lives that
would not be wasted on evil, but would have the chance to stop its reign.
Nathan felt no remorse as he left the corpse behind.
Ezra sank to his knees, Chris already in that position, leaning heavily
against the gambler's weak body. Ezra supported his friend as best he
could, ignoring the shivering from both the body he held as well as his
Waters watched as Johnny took Larabee down, getting some of his satisfaction
back. But, that southerner still lived, and he had killed his son.
Watching the others, Waters noticed that they were paying him no mind.
He hadn't noticed Vin with the rifle in his deadly hands. Quickly, Waters
shucked his gun and brought it up. Pulling the trigger, he heard the
shot go off, followed closely by a second. The outlaw didn't even see
if his bullet had hit his target, dead before he hit the ground, Vin's
bullet of vengeance lodged inside his brain.
Ezra had seen Waters raise his gun and knew that Chris' body was in
the direct path of the shot. The gambler released his friend, allowing
him to slip further as he heard two shots fired in rapid succession.
Ezra fell back, a flare of agonizing pain coming from his right shoulder
as the bullet pierced it, making the dislocated joint jerk with its force.
Landing hard on the ground, Ezra felt Chris' weight on top of him and
brought his good hand up to rest on his head as the blonde struggled
to keep breathing.
The other members of the Seven watched in horror as Ezra fell back,
looking immediately to where the shot had come from only to see Waters'
body on the ground, and Vin's form walking towards them, the smoking
rifle in his hand a testament as to whether or not the man who had started
all this still lived. Josiah made the sign of a small cross for the
man's black soul, mumbling to himself as he turned towards his injured
friends, "Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of
our God, and the authority of his Christ. For the accuser of our brothers,
who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down."
Nathan reached the two friends first, stopping for a moment at the
scene before him. Both men were bleeding heavily, the combined flows
pooling on each other and the ground below them. Chris lay with his
head on Ezra's middle, and Ezra's hand covered the already bloody forehead
of the gunman. A snippet of verse ran through his head, "...and bloody
brothers, side by side...."
Shaking off the chills he felt, Nathan gently pulled the men apart,
cursing silently that the house had been destroyed. Looking over, the
healer saw that the barn was still in fair condition and decided that
was his best, if only, option. Motioning for Buck and Josiah to take
Chris, he grabbed Ezra's top while Vin took his legs.
"Let's get 'em into the barn. Quick now!" The others followed at
a rapid rate, not giving the dead outlaws a second glance or thought
as they followed their friends. Followed to see if they would return
to town as a group, a family...or as the sad procession for the lives
of two men gone from their hearts.
Mary left the clinic quietly, balancing the tray of barely touched
meals on one hand as she softly closed the door. Her heart was threatening
to rip right down the middle. The men had hardly set foot outside the
room since their return to Four Corners three days ago, and the whole
town was feeling their tension.
Ever since that first day when they had ridden out, Mary and the others
had been forced to sit by and wait for news of their protectors. When
Chris' horse had come in, lathered with sweat and splattered with blood,
it had taken all of Mary's faith to keep hoping the gunman was still
alive. Then, the next morning, a great rush had gone through the town
as the Seven returned. Or rather, they came back, cradling their two
wounded in the back of a wagon found in the barn of where their confrontation
had taken place.
Mary had been aghast at the injuries both Chris and Ezra had received.
Neither man had moved during the entire process of moving them from the
wagon into Nathan's clinic, only mumbling to themselves in their delirium.
Since then, the two men had never been alone, Nathan and the others only
leaving when necessary, and Mary and the townsfolk covering for them
when they did go. The blonde woman sighed, sending out what seemed to
be a continuation of an un-ending prayer that lifted from the hearts
of all in the town.
Nathan struggled to stay awake in the chair as he watched his two
friends, turned patients. The rising and falling of their chests was
sometimes the only indication of the life that still existed in their
bodies, their pale complexions nothing to judge by. Thankfully, their
fevers had finally broken that morning, but they weren't out of the woods
yet. For almost four days now, both men had been experiencing extreme
shocks to their bodies, as well as their minds. Coupled with a fever
for about the same length of time, and Nathan knew that their chances
It had taken over fifty stitches to sew Ezra's body back together.
Hopefully, the wounds would leave either no scars, or only faint lines
on his flesh when healed. Luckily, Waters' shot had gone straight through,
hitting nothing vital in its violent path through Ezra's body. His shoulder
had been put back in place and it was only a matter of waiting to see
when the man would wake up.
The gambler had fought against them almost the whole trip back, trying
desperately to get out of the wagon. His mumbling had turned to violent
shouts at times, ranging from "Let me go!" to quieter, more desperate
tones of, "Chris...gotta get to Chris....Waters..three men...." The others
had done their best to keep him still, but the only thing that seemed
to work was placing the man as close as possible to Chris, allowing the
green eyes to see for himself that the gunman was there. Ezra had quieted
down into a rough slumber, but still, the easiest since his rescue as
Nathan told him they were entering Four Corners. Now, after doing all
he could in his little clinic, Nathan sat and watched, waiting to see
if his work had been in time.
Chris, on the other hand, had been deathly still through the entire
ordeal. He had not thrashed about as Ezra had, but his mumbling and
delirium induced shouts were just as frequent. Buck had silently hid
his tears as Chris mumbled about his lost wife and child. But what had
plagued the men most were his cryptic remarks after speaking their names.
"Ezra...not him too...I can't lose them too...."
The gash across Chris' middle had taken ten stitches all on it's own.
Three for the cut on his forehead, and then the ones to stitch up the
holes created by the bullets. Nathan didn't believe any damage had been
caused to the gunman's hip or joint from the bullet, and had removed
it easily. He cleaned and bandaged the one on his arm before they started
out. Not having the materials he needed, he had been forced to leave
the bullets inside the blonde's body until they reached Four Corners.
Once there, Josiah and Buck had laid him out on a table, belly down.
Nathan had worked for almost two hours before finally finding the jagged
metal deep inside the body from Johnny's last shot. It didn't appear
to have hit anything vital and for that Nathan had been grateful. The
one in his shoulder was found just a hair above the bone. The healer
quickly removed it and then bandaged the gunman completely, laying him
back in a bed across from Ezra.
Nathan looked around the room, tearing his eyes from the inert forms.
He didn't have to look far to find Buck. Or Vin, for that matter. Both
had come to a silent agreement, taking their seats on the floor, against
the wall that separated the two friends. They had hardly moved since
their return and Nathan was hard pressed to remember the last time he
had seen Vin stay inside so long. JD perched on the window-sill, his
arm carefully, yet grudgingly, held in the sling Nathan had fashioned
for him on their return. That left Josiah.
Nathan turned his eyes to a corner of the room, watching Josiah as
the man kept his head bent in prayer. He too had hardly moved from that
position ever since the two men were laid in their beds. A soft motion
shook the giant frame, and Nathan realized that the ex-preacher was not
praying, but had finally drifted off to sleep. The healer felt a small
smile cross his face as he walked over, gently laying the man back against
the wall before covering him with a blanket. Returning to his seat,
Nathan watched each of the others lose their battle against sleep as
it caught their weary bodies in its claws. Each time, Nathan would prop
them up, taking care of his family.
After placing the final blanket over Vin's form as it leaned against
Buck, Nathan moved quietly to check on the other two. With the fevers
gone, they had finally slipped into an easy sleep. Nathan checked their
bandages before returning to his chair, feeling the master of sleep calling
his name as well. He closed his eyes, /just to rest them for a moment,/
he thought, feeling the tension ease from his shoulders as his breathing
The Seven were back in Four Corners, their family once again complete.
And Nathan knew that the other men beside him would not let these two
members be taken away with any amount of ease. Not even by Death himself.
Ezra woke with a start, but kept his eyes closed, unsure of his surroundings.
His mind played out the last few coherent thoughts from his memory, his
shoulder beginning to throb as he remembered the shot. Had Waters gotten
Chris after that? Ezra's heart sped up in panic for a moment, but then
calmed as he remembered more and more. Nathan's soothing voice, a hell-filled
journey in the back of a wagon, the cool touch of Mary's hands on his
face, the comforting grasp of hands and arms as he thrashed about in
Feeling capable now, Ezra slowly opened his eyes, the green orbs rebelling
against the sudden presence of light. It seemed like his whole body
trembled, just on the edge of fiery pain. At least he wasn't shivering
anymore. The shudders that had racked his body had been pure un-adulterated
Not trusting himself to move without moaning at the pain of it,
Ezra only turned his head, letting his eyes sweep the room. A sense of
comfort fell over him as he locate the other men in the room, sleeping
in several different places and positions. Finally, he found the one
he searched for in the bed across from him.
Chris looked almost peaceful, his face relaxed with the sleep, taking
away the years that pain had added to his features. He had never told
them his age, but Ezra now took about seven years off his original guess.
The gambler just gazed at the pale face that stuck out above the covers,
both arms on top of the covers. Ezra almost couldn't make out where
the bandages stopped and Chris started. It never once registered in
his mind that he was wrapped up in the same fashion.
/Look what he went through because of me,/ the southerner thought,
berating himself for things he had had no control over. He remembered
those ice-blue eyes, torn with indecision as to what to do as he stared
at Ezra over the barrel of his gun. With one flick of his eyes in Kirk's
direction, Ezra had understood, moving to take his part. After saving
his life there, Chris had pushed him down and away from Johnny's bullet.
Ezra couldn't quite figure out why Chris had done it, and wasn't entirely
positive that he really wanted too. The others had come for him, just
as his heart said they would, and for once, Ezra was willing, wanting
to believe his heart and not his head. To just throw common sense out
the window and believe in something on faith. Believe in the concept
of love and friendship. The gambler was still watching Chris' sleeping
form when the gunman began to stir.
Chris came-to slowly, his mind fuzzy, telling him that he had something
important to do. One of the men....one of his friends... As his thinking
cleared, Chris' eyes flew open, trying to orient himself with where he
was. He recognized Nathan's clinic. They had all been inside it enough
to know it by now. His whole body ached and he tried to remember all
that had happened after pushing Ezra aside and taking the last bullet.
Buck's arms around him, holding him as Nathan did his work, the frantic
form of Ezra that quieted at his side, the cool hands on his brow as
Mary's voice eased him into sleep.
Chris remembered little other than Ezra's thrashing about the trip
back home. Except for his nightmares. Those stayed fresh in his mind.
Those burning images that seared the half-healed scars on his heart,
and then placed a soothing balm on the same wounds. They had begun like
always, two distinct forms against a wall of flames. Chris called out
for his family, reaching for them, but they always disappeared behind
But, instead of the dream ending there, six new shapes appeared. Each
stood, facing him, waiting. But Chris didn't know what for. He knew
those six forms, knew each one in his heart. They turned and looked
at the fire, and Chris screamed out to them. He'd just lost Sarah and
Adam to the curtain of fire, he couldn't lose them too. He called out
to the man on the end, yelling Ezra's name, calling the others back.
He couldn't lose them. Suddenly, the men turned and started to him,
beginning to fill an empty and dark place in his heart.
Chris didn't know what to make of the dream, but knew that the warm
feeling in his soul had carried over from the dream. He didn't want
to question it. Just accept it as it was and go from there. Chris wanted
to look around the room, but wasn't sure of the wiseness of that action.
/At least I got control of my body again!/ the gunman thought, wincing
at the remembered pain as his body had spasmed with the fever, the pain
tearing through his muscles.
Finally, gritting his teeth against the stiffness, Chris moved his
head and looked around, feeling a little of his stress leave him as he
spotted the others. Feeling someone watching him, Chris turned to the
bed across the room, his steely gaze meeting Ezra's straight on.
/Look what he went through because of me,/ the gunman thought, anger
threatening to well up inside of him. Chris remembered the utter sense
of loss he felt as he heard the second and third shots, feeling Ezra
move him aside and take the bullet. He had lain his head on the gambler's
stomach, feeling the ragged breathing there as Ezra placed his hand on
Chris' head. Chris had tried to stay conscious to help his friend, but
both had been drawn down.
Now, looking into the face of a very alive Ezra, Chris felt a strange
mixture of guilt and completeness. Guilt for being the cause of Ezra's
abduction in the first place, and completeness because now, once again,
his family was together, a whole. Chris took a deep breath, hissing
quietly as it pulled on his body, while Ezra flicked his tongue out along
his lips, both preparing to speak.
"Ezra, I'm sorry," Chris began.
"Chris, I'm sorry," Ezra started. Both looked at each other and suppressed
a chuckle, not wanting to wake the others or go through the pain the
simple expression of happiness would cause them. Once again, their eyes
spoke for them, offering, accepting, moving past apologies. Something
new passed between them as well, and both men knew that they would never
doubt the other ever again. They lay back down, watching the other until
both fell back into the painless land of sleep, feeling the comfort of
the others' presence as they sank deeper into oblivion.
Josiah smiled from where he was relaxed in the corner. He had woken
with the feeling of someone else in the room and looked up to confirm
it. In a way, he had been right. He had been overjoyed to see the two
men awake. The big man had bit his lip to keep from laughing as the
two apologized simultaneously, both realizing it was not needed. Then,
as they fell asleep, both feeling the safety of offering their souls
to one another in ultimate trust.
Looking around at the others, Josiah nodded at the understanding that
had been found by Chris and Ezra. They had accepted it without question,
just as they should have. The others, well, Josiah knew they would catch
it in time. But now, even if they didn't realize it, they all lived
by the one idea that would keep the Seven together, trusting each member
of itself, as a family for eternity. For no greater love hath mortal
man, than to give his life for a friend.
John 15:13 -- "For no greater love hath mortal man, than he who gives
his life for a friend."
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