Fork in the Road

by Beth

Chapter 12

Chris could hear men and horses being prepared outside the barn doors. He didn't know why but a feeling of relief filled his stomach as he heard one of the men tell someone he was ready for the long ride. Maybe they would be left alone for a while, and Chris started to think of ways to escape. Vin had fallen back to sleep using Josiah's shoulder as a pillow, JD had also drifted off and that relieved everyone. Dark circles seemed to be under everyone of the men's eyes as they looked at each other knowing something was going on outside. The guard stationed to watch the prisoners had left and Chris started pulling at the boards of the stall.

"What do you think is going on out there?" Nathan asked quietly trying not to wake the ones who had fallen asleep.

"Hard to say," Chris whispered back seeing the tracker lift his head.

"Do you think Ez has something to do with it?" Vin asked.

"Maybe he bought us some time," Chris said looking at the faces of the men he'd gotten to know and become friends with. The lantern flame jumped as the doors to the barn opened again, two men half dragging and half carrying the conman entered. His hands were once again tied behind his back and the gag had been placed back in his mouth. To everyone's eyes he didn't look any worse for ware. The bandage that had been placed on his head was gone but the wound didn't look to have started bleeding again. His shirt was untucked and his fancy vest was unbuttoned, Chris noted that Ezra's watch was gone. They threw him to the ground and Ezra for the most part tried to land on his right side to avoid hitting his left shoulder. He tried to push himself up to his knees but was rewarded with a fierce kick to the ribs and he groaned in effort to ignore the pain.

"Damn it!" Buck yelled. "Leave him alone."

"Easy Brother," Josiah tried to reason, Buck was hurt enough as it was they didn't need him getting hurt worse.

"You should be thankful," the tall heavyset guard said squatting down next to the gambler. "For a one armed gambler he plays pretty well," the man smiled pulling a white cloth and a bottle from his coat pocket.

"What are you doing?" Nathan asked looking at the bottle concern in his voice.

"Ya see," the man started opening the bottle and pouring the contents onto the cloth, "he bought you a little bit more time, and we have to make sure he sleeps threw the most of it."

"You got to take that gag out of his mouth," Nathan protested watching as the two guards lifted Ezra up and forced the cloth over his nose and mouth, "when he wakes up he might choke."

"Well then," the guard smiled forcing the cloth on the gambler who protested to the smell, "lets hope he don't choke." He pulled the cloth away and let the conman fall bonelessly to the ground.

"You can't leave him like that," Nathan called after the two retreating guards. "Damn."

"What was that stuff Nathan?" JD asked looking at the crumpled form of the gambler.

"Chloroform," was all Nathan said before he started pulling franticly at his restraints.

Mercer eyed his men as they prepared to head out, he was taking all but one of his men. Steve he was leaving to watch over the prisoners, he trusted the older man they had worked together for a great many years. He wanted to make sure he had enough men to take down the shipment of gold he didn't want to be outgunned by the United States Army. The rest of his life was in that shipment headed for Colorado. Six hours of a hard ride lay in front of them and he intended to retire a wealthy man.

"Keep an eye on the prisoners," Mercer mounted his tall gray, "we'll be back late today." He turned his horse toward Eagle Bend and rode out followed closely by fourteen of his men. Steve watched the men ride out; he wanted very much to ride with them but understood why he was needed here. He strode back into the barn and found the prisoners to be in the same condition they were in before the men rode out he picked up his long rifle and seated him self on the stack of horse blankets in the corner of the barn.

Chapter 13

Four hours had past and Ezra had yet to move, Nathan was silently becoming more worried. The sun was coming up and Chris was thankful he would be able to see better. The guard had fallen asleep little less than an hour ago and Chris, Josiah, and Nathan tried to release themselves from their restraints.

"Josiah," Chris said as loud as he dared. "Can you get the board loose?"

"I'm working on it Brother," he tried to keep his voice down so he wouldn't wake the guard.

"Where do you spose everyone ran off to?" Nathan asked still working on his restraints.

"Maybe ol' Ez told them about the gold," Vin said in a sleepy voice.

"There ain't no gold," Nathan said.

"Hell," Vin shrugged his shoulders, "I know that, and I'd be willin to bet Ez knows that to."

"He's probably got that whole group of misfits convinced there's a whole wagon load of gold," Buck laughed quietly.

"We best get outta here before they return, see'n how if Ezra conned em' into chasing down that gold they ain't gonna be to happy to learn there ain't any."

"Keep working at it Nathan," Chris said agreeing with the healer.

All the men's attention turned to Ezra who groaned and then coughed. "Breath threw it Ezra," Nathan encouraged.

Ezra coughed again, he could feel his stomach rolling and he fought the erg to vomit. He rolled over onto his right side away from the others; his back was on fire and his left shoulder was becoming unbearable. He could hear the others talking to him but he wasn't sure what they were saying, his vision was blurry and the pull of sleep seemed to beckon him.

"Come on Ezra," JD pleaded hoping this would be a way for them to escape.

Ezra tried to ignore the voices calling his name and succumb to the threat of sleep. But the constant badgering would not let him go. He tried to free himself from the ropes restricting his hands and let go a long sigh when he didn't get anywhere. "Keep trying Ezra," Chris demanded getting Ezra's attention. He fought again with the binds at his wrist and finally gave up. He moved his hands and decided on another tactic. Every move of his shoulders caused his back and shoulder to scream in protest but finally he managed to tuck his legs up and get his arms around them. He rolled over on his back and immediately rolled back over on his side and took a deep breath. Chris, Nathan, and Buck were all yelling at him to get moving he sat up and tried to keep him self from passing out. He reached down in his boot and pulled out the steak knife he'd swiped from Mercers dinner plate earlier.

"All right Ezra," JD exclaimed seeing the southerner cut his binds. Buck slapped the kid in the shoulder and pointed to the guard who was still asleep in the corner. Ezra removed the gag from his mouth and gingerly maneuvered closer to JD and quickly cut the ropes that were restraining his hands. "Where did you get the knife?" JD asked surprised to see the gambler had one.

"It would appear Mr. Mercer enjoys his steak," his voice sounded harsh compared to the smooth southern drawl the others were used to, "can you move enough to cut the others free?" he asked the kid and was rewarded with a nod. He handed the knife to JD and sat back down on his haunches.

"You alright Ezra?" Josiah asked seeing how disoriented the gambler appeared. Ezra simply nodded his head and reached back into his boot and pulled out a long pick.

"What the hell else you got in them boots?" Buck joked seeing a glint of hope for an escape. Ezra went to work on picking the locks on the shackles that restrained the tall mustached man.

JD quickly cut the ropes binding Vin and the tracker gave a sigh of relief as he rubbed his chafed wrists. "How you doin JD?" Vin asked seeing the kid grimace in pain when he moved the wrong way.

"I'm a whole hellofa lot better now." The kid smiled.

Ezra managed to remove the shackles from Chris, Nathan and Josiah. Chris got to his feet and slowly crept over to where the guard slept and took the man's gun. The man woke with a start and was surprised to see the end of his gun staring him in the face, "morning," Chris smiled before motioning for the man to move over to the support beam in the middle of the barn.

Josiah checked the doors of the barn and didn't see anyone standing guard outside and he was surprised to see the horses already saddled and running loose in the corral not fifty feet from the barn doors. "Brothers," Josiah's voice boomed. "The Good Lord is looking down on us today," the big man smiled and walked back to help Nathan with the wounded.

Chris tied the now disgruntled guard to the support beam and went to find an escape route. Josiah grabbed hold of Buck and helped the tall gunslinger to his feet, "lets get out of here."

Nathan grabbed hold of Vin and got the tracker to his feet. It took both Nathan and Chris to steady the wobbly man. "Ya all right Vin?" Nathan asked worry written across his face.

"Lets just get out of here," Vin said using Nathan to support most of his weight.

Chris checked outside the barn doors then signaled for the rest of them to follow, he was relieved to see the horses saddled. He opened the gate and threw the loose polls to the ground before reaching his and Vin's horses. He helped Nathan get Vin on his mount before turning to help Josiah get Buck up on his gray. "You both going to be able to stay on?" he looked at his men concerned about the hard ride they had before them.

"I'm sure as hell not going to stick around here," Buck smiled looking down at Chris and confirmed with a nod of his head that Vin would do everything necessary to stay on.

The Admiral nickered softly at Ezra who slowly came up behind the others and grabbed his horse's reins. The two-day rest must have done the lean chestnut some good. Ezra took notice the animal was no longer limping and he sighed a heavy sense of relief. He noticed Nathan gingerly help JD up on the back of his bay gelding the boy was biting back a scream as his ribs cried in protest to the movements. Ezra grabbed the saddle horn with his right hand his left being useless.

"Mount up Ezra," Chris bit as he mounted up on his big black.

"Need help Brother?" Josiah asked coming up behind the conman and placing a large hand on Ezra's back.

"No," Ezra wanted to scream threw clenched teeth moving away from the former preacher a little to hastily. The Admiral feeling Ezra tense reached out to bite the big man but was stopped by Chris who grabbed the animal's bridle in haste.

"Move!" was all Chris said giving the gambler a look of threat. Ezra grabbed the saddle horn and slowly made his way into the saddle biting back the erg to tell Larabee where to stick it. "Lets go, we don't have much time," Chris said not wanting Mercers men to come back while they were trying to escape.

McKinley stepped out onto the front porch in time to see seven riders head toward the hill, he cursed himself and retrieved his shotgun, "I will find you Larabee!" he shouted running after the men on foot while firing his weapon.

Chris felt the bullet enter low on his right side, it pushed him forward in the saddle and he managed to hang on while following his men out of harms way.

Chapter 14

They rode hard for three miles before Nathan pulled everyone up, he wanted to make sure nobody had started bleeding again. Horses blew hard and stomped their feet waiting patiently for their next command. Vin crouched low in his saddle hanging on to the saddle horn for fear of falling out. His leg had not started bleeding again but Nathan knew he needed some medical attention and soon. "Is there a place to hold up for a while around here?" Nathan asked seeing Buck sway and quickly recovered himself.

"Nettie's is only ten miles from here," Chris spoke up his right arm tucked up tightly against his side, "we should ride up Wilson's Creek, loose our tracks that way, and cut across to Nettie's."

The others nodded their heads in agreement and Nathan remounted his horse and led the way to Nettie Wells. Chris continued to fight the desire to fall asleep in the saddle; he could feel the cold water on his legs as his horse walked patiently threw the creek. If they could make it to Nettie's they would have a slim chance of making it.

Josiah watched as Buck, Vin, JD, Ezra and Chris all sank lower in their saddles. Not only were they exhausted, shot, bruised, and battered, but they were all feeling conquered. He noticed how Nathan continued to look back and check the men and he knew the healer was getting impatient with the amount of time it was taking to get to Nettie's.

"Chris!" Nathan yelled seeing the gunslinger slump forward in the saddle. Josiah pulled his horse up and reached for Chris before he had a chance to fall from his saddle and hit the ice-cold water.

"Nathan," Josiah called back, "he's been shot." He grabbed onto Chris and pulled him from his saddle. Josiah hung onto him until they reached the other side of the creek then he patiently dismounted and got Chris laid out away from the waters edge.

Nathan quickly dismounted and rushed to Chris's side, "bullet went clean threw," he was relieved but concerned about the amount of blood he'd already lost. "I need something to wrap this up with," he looked to Josiah hoping the big man had an answer. "I didn't bring my medical kit with me," Nathan sounded more defeated at that moment than Josiah had ever heard him before.

Ezra rode up and looked down at the seen below him, he didn't offer to dismount, afraid if he did he wouldn't be able to mount back up, "Josiah," he said quietly, "I have a clean shirt in my saddle bag."

The former preacher noted how Ezra wasn't moving anymore than he had to, he also noticed how the gambler had tucked his left arm into the straps of his shoulder holster, "that'll work just fine," he smiled before grabbing the clean neatly folded shirt out of Ezra's saddlebags.

Nathan bandaged Chris up as best he could. He didn't want to have to move him but they needed to get someplace where they could be out of the elements, and this wasn't it. "Can you ride double with em' Josiah, he ain't gonna be able to ride by himself."

"I believe I can handle it."

A bitter chill seemed to encrust the air and Josiah was relieved to see the smoke coming out of Mrs. Netties chimney. Her dog barked when the riders got close enough to the house to cause him alarm but soon settled when he recognized Vin's and JD's horses. Mrs. Nettie came out of the house with her Spencer Carbine cocked and ready to use if trouble followed. "Land nations," she sighed putting the weapon down leaning it against the frame of the door. "What happened to you boys?" she grabbed her skirts and made her way to Vin's horse.

"We need a place to hold up for a bit Mrs. Nettie," Nathan pleaded, "we got wounded that need tenden to."

"Lets get em' inside, I'll start some water and cut some sheets."

Casey came out of the barn carrying a bucket of chicken feed, "JD!" she screamed seeing the condition of the boy. "What happened," she ran to him before he fell out of the saddle.

"I'm okay," JD tried to comfort her putting an arm around her shoulder for support and together they headed for the house.

Josiah handed Chris off to Nathan before dismounting then he went to Vin and gently pulled the tracker down and carried him into the house draped over his shoulder.

"I ain't got much room, but what I got you can use," Nettie said pulling back the covers to her small bed tucked away in the corner. "The water should be about ready," she told Nathan as she helped him lay Chris down on the bed.

"Thank ya mam."

"Just get these boys back on their feet, that will be thanks enough," she patted Nathan on the shoulder and went to lay out some bed rolls and stoke the fire. Casey got JD sat down at the kitchen table, "Casey, help me get some beds rolled out."

"Mam," Josiah boomed coming in threw the door with Vin draped over his shoulder, "where can I put our Brother."

"Get him over next to the fire," Nettie said throwing a couple more sheets on the table. As soon as Josiah got Vin laid out Nettie was right there wiping down his face with a warm cloth. Josiah headed back out to get Buck and Ezra.

"Come on Brother," Josiah grabbed Buck and gently pulled him down off his horse. "Can you walk?"

"Hell, Josiah I ain't dead yet," Buck leaned heavily on the big man and together they made it into the house.

Ezra waited until Buck and Josiah disappeared before trying to dismount. The Admiral stood perfectly still while the gambler slid from the saddle. He gingerly grabbed the reins to the horses and started for the barn. He knew Mercer and his men would be out looking for them, and Mercer would want Ezra more than any of them. They went after a wagonload of gold that didn't exist. He had to get the horses out of site before someone spotted them and found there whereabouts.

Josiah stepped out onto Nettie's porch and watched the gambler lead the horses to the barn. He knew what the man was doing and he had to smile to himself. The year he had come to know the conman he knew the man didn't give up, or at least he never acted like it. He jogged up and got the barn doors seeing how Ezra wasn't moving his left arm, "you plan on unsaddling them all by yourself?" he asked taking some of the reins.

"How is everyone?" Ezra asked genuinely concerned.

"Nathan's got Chris's bleeding stopped, he's working on Vin now. How's your arm?" Josiah asked knowing Ezra would shrug it off. He quickly started to unsaddle Chris's big black.

"Fine," Ezra started to unsaddle the Admiral. He wiped his brow with his good hand, he felt hot, and his head was swimming. The Admiral nickered softly and eagerly awaited the removal of his saddle. Ezra cringed on behalf of the pain in his shoulder and back and at the sight of the Admiral's back. The saddle had been on for almost three days and it had taken its toll. Three raw sours were on the Admiral's withers and the horse shook his head when Ezra slowly touched them, angry with himself for letting his friend go so long without care. "I'm sorry boy," he said quietly taking off the horse's bridle after turning him loose in a stall. After he got the rest of the animals unsaddled he would take some time and rub him down.

Josiah watched the slow movements of the gambler and knew it would only be a matter of time before the man collapsed. He finished unsaddling his own mount and stretched his back. Ezra threw the last saddle off and grabbed the stall rail to keep himself from falling. Josiah was at his side in an instant, "lets get you in to see Nathan." Josiah wrapped his arm around Ezra's shoulders; Ezra moved away from the touch it caused his back to scream in protest.

"I'm fine Josiah," Ezra protested backing up toward the Admiral's stall. He was exhausted and he was fighting it tooth and nail. Four of them were already down and he didn't want to see harm come to Nettie and Casey because of them.

Josiah backed away and sighed, "I'll feed the horses."

Ezra backed into the Admiral's stall and took a deep breath. The horse nickered softly while nudging him in the arm. Something was wrong and the horse acted like such. Ezra closed his eyes and sighed, he was miserable his back felt like it was on fire and his arm, still useless, throbbed. He leaned against the stall avoiding contact with his back. He wanted to wait until his knees stopped shaking before he tried to move. The Admiral once again nudged him disregarding the hay that Josiah tossed to him. Josiah was there when the gamblers legs gave out on him and eased him to the ground before he fell. "Damn," Josiah paused brushing away a few strands of hair from Ezra's face. The gambler was unconscious and burning up, Josiah carefully lifted him up in his arms and headed for the house in a hurry.

Chapter 15

Nathan quickly cut Chris's dark shirt away and started cleaning the gunshot wound. He could hear
Casey trying to get JD to let her clean his wounds he complained wanting her to help Buck or Vin who'd been shot. He had to smile to himself as Casey ignored him and treated his wounds all the same. Chris moaned and tried to push Nathan's assaulting hand away from the pain in his side, "ya with me Chris?" Nathan said trying to get the man's attention.

"I'm with ya Nate," Nathan had to smile at Chris's reply.

"Good, you had me worried there for a bit, you should have said something about having gotten yourself shot." Nathan argued while gently cleaning the wound.

"Everyone alright?"

"You were the worst, Nettie is tending Vin, Casey is with JD, Buck is giving Josiah a hard time," Nathan quietly joked.

"And Ezra?"

"Out tending the horses," Chris nodded his head in understanding and closed his eyes.

"Almost done," Nathan encouraged, and then realized Chris was unconscious again. Nathan finished bandaging the wound relieved to see Chris's chest rising and falling at a steady rhythm.

Nettie carefully lifted Vin's head up so he could drink some much needed water, "take it slow son," Nettie encouraged.

"How's he doing?" Nathan asked coming up from behind. He knelt down and removed the bandage from Vin's leg. The wound was red and slightly swollen and Nathan knew he had to get the bullet out.

"He's got a good fever going threw him," Nettie wiped Vin's face with a cold cloth.

"He come around at all?"

"A bit ago right after Mr. Sanchez brought him in, he drank a couple sips of water."

Vin groaned as Nathan carefully worked at the wound, it was infected but not as bad as he first thought. "Mrs. Wells," he looked to her, "could you get me some clean bandages and bring me over some boiled water."

"I figured as much," she smiled before getting up off the floor and grabbing a handful of freshly cut bandages and a basin of boiled water. "What happened to you boys?" Nettie asked concerned about all the men.

"Guess you could say we got the wrong person angry at us," Nathan turned his attention back to Vin's leg and Nettie settled back down by the trackers head. "He'll be fine," he tried to reassure her seeing the uncertainty in her face.

JD bit back a yelp as Casey finished cleaning the cuts on his face, "Where's Josiah going?" he asked seeing the former preacher leave hoping to get an answer.

"Hold still."

"I am holding still," JD squirmed trying to avoid the weapon Casey was using to clean the cuts on his face. "How's Vin Nathan?"

Nathan dropped the bullet into the water basin he just pulled out of the trackers leg. "He's gonna be fine with some rest," he reassured the kid who seemed more concerned about everyone but himself.

"How about Chris?"

"Lost quite a bit of blood, but he's sleeping good now," Nathan finished wrapping the trackers leg with one of the bandages Nettie cut for him.

Nettie got to her feet and grabbed a heavy quilt off the chair nearby and laid it across the still form on the floor not far from the fire. She had a soft spot for the former bounty hunter and she couldn't help but take her maternal instincts out on him. Nathan saw it and didn't interfere; he knew Vin had similar feelings for Nettie. "I'll get some coffee going," Nettie tapped Nathan on the shoulder after seeing him rub the back of his neck.

"Thank ya mam," Nathan sighed before heading over to Buck. The ladies man was sitting heavily in the chair not far from JD. Josiah had rebandaged the wound on Buck's shoulder but he still needed the bullet removed, and like Vin he was showing signs of a fever. "How are you feeling?" He asked squatting down in front of Buck.

Buck was sore, he was tired, and he was worried about JD. He could hear the kid arguing with Casey and he was relieved that the kid was feeling good enough to complain. "I've been better," he replied as Nathan tried to asses his wound.

"I gotta get that bullet out of that shoulder Buck."

"Hell Nate, I've grown kinda attached to it," he knew the procedure would be painful and he had no desire to go threw it now. He also new Nathan didn't have any of his medical supplies with him, which meant no laudanum.

"It's gotta come out," Nathan got Buck's arm over his shoulder and carefully lifted the ladies man to his feet, "I want to get you down flat, that way if you pass out on me I wont haveta worry about you falling out of the chair and hitting your head."

"No offence Nate but I think I would rather pass out about now, before you started cutting into me."

Nettie quickly made another bed on the floor not far from Vin and without asking she gently helped Buck down. "I'll get you more water and bandages."

Nathan cut away Buck's shirt and the ladies man cringed, he liked that shirt. Nathan carefully cleaned the wound trying not to cause Buck any more pain than he had to. The healer smiled when he saw Nettie pull out of the cupboard a bottle of whisky. She poured some in a cup and gently lifted Buck's head so he could drink a bit easier.

"Take some of this," she encouraged. Buck didn't question her he just drank and smiled when he realized what it was. He bit back a scream as Nathan cut into his shoulder.

"The bullet ain't to deep," Nathan could feel the tip of the bullet not far from the surface of the shoulder.

"Feels like it's a mile down," Buck said threw clenched teeth. "Just hurry Nate," he didn't know how long he could handle the pain. He grabbed Nettie's hand as a source of comfort.

"Got it," Nathan yelped pulling the bullet from Buck's shoulder. The wound started bleeding profusely again and he quickly applied pressure to stop it. Buck took a deep jagged breath and leaned his head back on the pillow Nettie had gotten him. It wasn't but a minute before he was out and breathing steadily. "How are you doing JD?" Nathan asked wrapping up Buck's shoulder. He sighed to himself thankful none of them had been hurt any worse than they had. He watched as Nettie covered Buck's form with another one of her blankets.

"You alright Mr. Jackson?" Nettie asked seeing how tired the healer looked.

"I'll just be glad to get these boys bandaged up," he shrugged off the tiredness he felt and headed to JD.

Casey had done a good job cleaning the kid's wounds and Nathan noticed JD had his shirt off and the bruising of his chest bringing concern to Casey's face. "I wanted to wrap his ribs, but I thought you should check em' out before I did," Casey moved away letting Nathan take a closer look at the kid.

Nathan gently prodded the kid's ribs and knew by his quick intake of breath that some of his ribs were busted. "I'm gonna have to wrap your chest JD, and then your gonna have to keep quiet for a good while until these ribs get healed."

"I figured as much," JD leaned forward and noticed Casey had taken hold of his hand, he gave it a slight squeeze and waited quietly until Nathan finished wrapping his ribs.

"You can stay in my room," Casey smiled and looked to Nettie for acceptance and she nodded her head yes.

"The most that ever stayed here was five," Nettie smiled realizing her small homestead was turning into a hotel, only the patrons were sleeping on the floor.

"We just need a couple days to rest up mam," Nathan helped JD get to his feet, "we'll be out of your way as soon as everyone can ride."

"No hurry," Nettie smiled, "I don't want no harm to come to you boys, and if staying at my place will help you, then you stay as long as you need." She took Nathan's place under JD's arm and started toward Casey's small room, "sit Mr. Jackson, before you fall down."

As soon as Nathan set himself on a chair not far from where Vin and Buck were resting the front door to the cabin burst open. Nettie in a panic grabbed her Spencer Carbine and stood at Casey's bedroom door prepared to protect her niece. She gasps at seeing Josiah carrying Ezra's limp form into the house. "Dear Heavens," she put her weapon down.

"He collapsed in the barn," Josiah said bringing Ezra in, "he's burning up Nathan." Josiah's voice was strained and concerned.

"Damn," Nathan said barley above a whisper feeling Ezra's forehead. "get him down Josiah," his voice changed from exhausted to panicked. The only wounds Ezra appeared to have was the gash just below his hairline and the torn skin on the wrists, but that was something they all had. None of his injuries looked infected and that was the only reason he thought Ezra would be suffering from a fever.

"Could it be a reaction to that chloroform?" Josiah asked laying Ezra down on the makeshift bed Nettie had made up for them.

"I hope not Josiah," Nathan paused, "I don't know what do in case it is." Nathan kneeled down next to Ezra's head, "help me get his shirt and jacket off." Nathan noticed Ezra's arm was tucked away in his shoulder holster, "he's dislocated his shoulder again, hold him Josiah while I put it back into place."

Josiah sat next to the unconscious gambler and held him steady, Ezra's face hidden in the large mans shoulder. He winced when he heard the shoulder pop back into place, and he was concerned when the charismatic conman didn't so much as groan. "He gonna be alright?" Josiah was concerned and it showed in his eyes.

Nathan didn't wait and unbutton Ezra's shirt, it was ruined anyway, so he tore open the shirt and lifted Ezra back up so Josiah could support him while he removed his the jacket, shoulder holster, vest, and silk shirt. He heard Nettie gasp when he pulled the vest down past Ezra's shoulders and exposed the now blood stained back of the once white shirt he wore. "They horse whipped him," Nathan stated, he knew what that was like; he had the scars to prove it.

Josiah unconsciously held on tighter to Ezra and found him self rubbing the back of his neck with the compassion of a father, the father Josiah never had, "hang on son."

"What in the hell happened to you boys?" Nettie asked angry at what she was seeing, she had reservations about the gambler, but she found herself liking him despite herself. She grabbed a basin of water and brought it closer to Nathan so he could start to clean the wounds. "I'll get some more bandages cut, looks like you may need them." She moved away from the sight of Ezra's back not sure if she wanted to know what happened.

Nathan carefully removed the rest of Ezra's upper body clothing while Josiah held onto him, afraid if he let him go he would break. Josiah realized his shirt was now soaked, Ezra was running a high fever and it worried the former preacher. "He's getten hotter Brother," Josiah looked at Nathan unsure of what to do.

"I'm gonna clean his back and wrap it up good, looks like he bruised a couple ribs as well," the healer paused before gingerly washing Ezra's back. He didn't know what to do for the high fever other than to wait it out, he also knew fevers could kill.

Ezra flinched in response and his eyes flashed open, "take it easy Brother," Josiah said holding him a little tighter, not wanting him to hurt him self more. Ezra sucked in a quick breath upon feeling rough hands cleaning his back.

"I'm trying to hurry," Nathan looked into Josiah's pleading eyes.

"It's hot," Ezra muttered trying to move out of Josiah's arms.

As if on cue Nettie entered in threw the back door of the cabin with a bucket full of water, "I brought you some cold water, figured it might help with the boys fever." Nettie set the bucket not far from where Nathan sat cleaning the conman's back. She knelt down next to Ezra and Josiah and pulled a wet rag from the bucket and wiped Ezra's face.

Casey came out of the back room with an arm full of torn sheets, "I finished with the bandages." Her eyes got large when she saw Ezra's back.

"Give them here," Nettie called to her, and Casey reluctantly handed the older woman the bundle of bandages, "go check on Mr. Larabee child." Casey continued to stare as Nathan carefully finished cleaning the battered back of the gambler; five of the seven were down. Who got to them to cause such harm? To what extent would they do to finish them off? "Now Casey," Nettie snapped seeing her distress.

Nathan finished bandaging Ezra's ribcage, a few of the lashes on the conman's back needed to be stitched but he didn't have the supplies. Nettie grabbed as many soft blankets she could muster to lay the gambler on, Nathan didn't want him on his stomach afraid it would hinder his breathing. They got him as comfortable as they could and Nettie continued to bathe his face, neck, and chest with cool water. "What about his fever?" Nettie looked to Nathan hoping for an answer.

"I don't know mam, best thing to do is keep cool water on him." Nathan got to his feet and rubbed the back of his neck in frustration.

"Get some rest Brother," Josiah spoke up, "you need it."

"I'll keep an eye on everyone," Nettie got to her feet and moved to the other side of Ezra so she could keep a better eye on Vin and Buck. "You get some rest as well Mr. Sanchez, Casey and I can handle things for a while. Besides it won't do anyone any good if the last two of you go down as well."

"Mr. Larabee is still sleeping, I covered him with another blanket. It's a bit chilly in the back room." Casey smiled walking over to the wood stove to throw more wood on the fire.

"Thank you," Nathan looked to Casey before grabbing his bedroll and heading into the room where Chris was sleeping.

"There is room on the floor in Casey's room Mr. Sanchez to throw your bedroll." Nettie continued to wash Ezra's slack face.

"Thank you mam but I think it would be best to stand watch for a while, I wouldn't want to get any surprise guests tonight." He grabbed his coat and headed outside with his rifle in tow.

Nettie looked at the men around her, not much older than boys really, she had to sigh. To her they were boys. Vin moaned and rolled his head to the other side but didn't awaken. Nettie rested her free hand on his shoulder. It was all the comfort she was able to offer at the moment. She watched as Casey went back into the room where JD was sleeping peacefully. Nettie knew Casey would stay with the boy until he was better and she couldn't blame her. Nettie admired the men around her and she would give them everything she had if they needed it, even the gambler who lay at her side.


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