by Beth

Notes: May challenge offered by Heather F!! One of the seven must break a bone. It doesn't have to be a long bone, or a weight bearing bone...it can be a toe (toes don't get enough respect....especially when they go snap....) or a finger....or,....well teeth aren't technically bones...but if you must break one of those that's ok too (those hurt a great deal and people look funny .... and a nose isn't technically a bone either but they hurt in the most incredible manner.

Please send comments to: artwriter@operamail.com

The wind picked up suddenly, and blew harshly against sensitive skin. Ezra pulled his jacket collar up after pulling the rim of his hat down, trying to protect himself from the elements. He and Buck were returning from Hampton after having delivered a prisoner.

The ride up had been tolerable, and Ezra had all but pleaded with Buck to stay until the quick-approaching storm passed. Chris, however, had informed Buck, that if they weren't back before midnight on the sixth day-they were going to ride patrol for the next ten… Ezra would miss his big poker game, and Buck would miss…Miss Joyce.

Larabee and his damn demands.

Ezra could see Buck riding next to him, his bandanna covering his nose, mouth, and cheeks. His hat was pushed low and his coat collar pulled up around his ears. They were both miserable.

Thunder rolled in the distance and clouds moved like violent ocean waves through the darkening sky. Leaves and branches whipped though the air and against each other as gusts swirled and waded. Even the wild creatures had vanished, seeking shelter from the impending storm.

When the rain finally hit, it came in strong pounding sheets. It drenched everything in its path. Grass and weeds succumbed to the heavy fall and wept with frailty. Puddles quickly formed on the trail. Rocks and stones glittered beneath the dimness of light and dampness of precipitation.

Both horses continued on their paths, looking only briefly at objects to their sides. They kept their heads down, as rain continued to soak their coats and manes, darkening their normal colors. Their riders sat mutely in their saddles, motioning only with a turn of a heel, or flick of a wrist.

"Hey there!" someone yelled from the edge of the road.

Buck and Ezra turned their attention to the man waving his arms. His rain slicker and heavy hat hiding most of his features. Buck placed his hand on his weapon at his side and pulled his horse to a stop. He tucked his chin just slightly, allowing the bandanna to fall around his neck.

Ezra pulled his own mount to a stop and readied his hand for a quick grasp of his weapon.

"What's the problem?" Buck asked, wanting to be of help, while never letting his guard down.

"I ah…" the man paused, and pushed the rim of his hat back, exposing scared cheeks and tobacco stained teeth, "…ya see, friend…" he sighed again, looking to his right, "…my friend an' I need your horses." His words were flat, emotionless, but full of warning.

Ezra shook his head, but the hairs on the back of his neck stood on end. He tipped his hat forward and rain poured from the rim in a narrow stream. He carefully reached for his gun.

He never heard the shot.

Buck never had time to react as he watched Ezra jolt suddenly back and then tumble from his mount in a boneless heap, landing on his side, lying unmoving in a puddle. Wilmington turned back toward the man in the slicker and saw his friend with the end of a rifle pointed at his head.

"Get off that there horse…'fore I shoot you too."

The first man moved forward and grabbed the reins of Ezra's loose horse and waited for Buck to dismount. "Bes' do what he says… He ain't one fer waitin'." A sinister grin appeared on his face, and he cocked his head toward the motionless form lying in the road.

Buck didn't wait. He dismounted and let go of his horse's reins. He reached up to grasp his saddlebags when the gunman swung out with his rifle, striking Buck's arm… snapping the bone beneath the wrist. He fell forward onto his knees, grasping his elbow. He never had time to even attempt to pull his weapon from its holster as the two horse thieves sped away.

"Ezra!" Buck called through clenched teeth, slowly getting to his feet. He pulled his right arm into his chest, trying to cradle it and he slowly made his way toward the gambler. Buck tentatively reached out with his good hand and carefully checked for a pulse. He sighed when he found one. "Ezra," he said again, carefully rolling him over onto his back.

Ezra's head lolled to the left, exposing a bloodied right cheek, eye, and forehead. A long gash ran across his hairline from his temple to his ear.

The bullet had grazed him.

He was lucky.

Buck knelt down and pulled his bandanna from his neck then carefully wrapped it around his arm between his elbow and wrist. He knew it was broke, and the pain was fierce. He could feel his fingers already starting to swell. He pushed his hat up away from his eyes and he looked toward the dark sky.

The moon would not offer its light tonight.

And the rain wouldn't let up.

He reached out and placed his palm on Ezra's forehead, his fingers in his hair. "Ezra…you need to wake up now, Ol' Buck ain't strong enough to lift ya." He watched as the rain washed the blood from the gambler's face. "Come on, kid," he wheezed through pressed lips. "Ol' Chris is gonna have our hides…an' I've got a night scheduled with Miss Joyce." He patted the gambler's cheek. "You know the one…hair so blonde it shimmers white…blue eyes to match the sky, an' hips that can kill a man." He reached up and wiped Ezra's brow.

Ezra reached up and batted a hand from his face. His head throbbed, feeling as though an explosion had gone off…and more would soon follow. He groaned and quickly reached for the source of his pain.

"Leave it be, Ezra," Buck groaned, despite having a smile of relief on his face.

"Wha…what happened?" Ezra gasped, feeling suddenly sick to his stomach. He rolled over onto his side and quickly vomited, succumbing only to a bout of dry heaves. He wanted to curl in on himself.

Buck winced in sympathy, but quickly focused his attention on his arm that seemed to have grown a heartbeat all its own. He could feel it pumping, throbbing, and growing in size. "We'll need to walk out of here." He reached out and helped, best he could, Ezra get seated.

Ezra groaned, wiping his face with his hand and squeezing his eyes shut. The world tipped and he reached out with his left hand to balance himself. He could feel Buck behind him. "Where are we?"

"On the road back to Four Corners," Buck replied. Using his good arm, he helped Ezra stand, and realizing the gambler had no sense of balance, he reached around and grabbed his belt to help steady him.

Ezra reached up and grasped the base of Buck's neck, just shallow of his shoulder. His stomach turned and flipped, becoming an instant martini. Like the ones he'd heard about in France…a drink he would like to try someday. He took a step forward and stumbled before being held up. "Mah hat…?"

"Hell, Ezra…I'll come back for your hat."

Ezra gently shook his head, instantly regretting the action. "Ah need mah hat." He stopped and turned suddenly, taking both he and Buck to the ground.

Buck yelled out when his arm collided momentarily with his leg. Everything froze: his breathing, his pulse…even his hearing. He squeezed his eyes shut as tight as he could get them, and he cradled his arm with his other while lying on his side in the middle of the road. Ever so slowly, he took a deep breath and gathered his wits.

For a moment he was sure he could hear his bones grinding together, but when he looked up he found it was a branch scraping against a large boulder. He turned after bracing his arm and found Ezra trying desperately to stand, only to fall over with each repeated attempt.

Slowly, Buck stood up, wiped the tears from his eyes and quickly joined Standish. "Hang on, Ezra…I'll get your hat." He reached out and grabbed the item from the ground and quickly slapped it against his leg before setting it firmly on Ezra's head, making sure not to hit the injury. He placed his good arm around the Southerner's waist and carefully turned him, making sure he didn't lose his balance before starting down the path again.

The storm did not let up, and the wind continued to power down the trail, whipping branches, weeds, and debris up and around the two. The sound of their feet striking rocks, puddles, and twigs echoed only briefly before the rolling thunder would hit the sky with a violent rumble.

Ezra's jacket had long soaked through, and Buck's wasn't much better. They continued down the trail, searching for a place to stop and rest for the night...maybe wait out the storm.

Ezra pulled off to the side as his stomach rolled again. He braced himself up against a tree to keep from falling, and succumbed to bout of dry heaves.

Buck winced in sympathy and looked up ahead, hoping to find someplace to rest. As soon as the Southerner was finished, Buck once again braced his arm around Ezra's waist and forced his right arm over his shoulders…aiding him in his ability to walk.

"How you feelin'?" Buck asked, not really needing an answer, but needing to hear a familiar voice-strike up a conversation-do something.

"Terrible," came the obvious answer.

If it weren't for the fact that it was dark out, Buck was sure Ezra's pallor would be green…or close to it. "First time I came off a horse, I hit my head on a post and bam…I was pukin' my guts up like a-" He stopped suddenly when Ezra paused in his poor attempt to walk. "Sorry," he quickly apologized; realizing his topic of discussion wasn't a good one.

"Where're the horses?" Ezra asked, confused.


"Where's Chris?"

"Probably sittin' in the saloon drinkin' a beer and enjoyin' Inez's cookin," Buck responded, almost bitterly.

"Where are we?" he asked, feeling as though he should know, but for some reason not understanding why he didn't. His mind was clearing slowly, but he was still a bit confused.

"Hell if I know," Buck replied, shaking his head. He winced when he moved his arm wrong, sending shards of pain to his neck. He stopped suddenly when he saw the faint glimmer of light in the distance. He paused and decided to head in that direction. "I ever tell ya about my ma?" he asked softly, thinking about a different time in his life-trying to avoid the pain in his arm, so he'd replace it with the pain in his heart. "She was a tiny woman-weren't no bigger than Casey, an' she probably weighed less." He smiled, trying to remember the way she looked, the way she smelled. "Never saw her with her hair up…it was always down."

Ezra stumbled and forced both of them forward, Buck, however, managed to adjust his grip, keeping them both upright, even with his arm tucked up against his chest.

"Her name was Lara-real simple ya know… Her daddy was a miner from Kentucky-had thirteen kids, and my ma was the youngest. She left home when she was fourteen." He gripped Ezra's waist tighter so he wouldn't stumble over a downed log. He could see the faint outline of a cabin in the distance and Buck hoped whomever lived there would be willing to help them.

"I'm tired," Ezra voiced softly, trying to keep his eyes open. His feet moved more out of force than conscious thought.

"Almost there…almost there," Buck reassured. "I never knew my daddy," he continued, "Ma never said nothin' about him-guess there weren't nothin' to say."

"…Always somethin' to say…" Ezra replied softly, just trying to keep to his feet. His mind was clearer, but his balance was shot to hell.

Buck chuckled softly, wishing his mother were here now. She'd know what to do, tell him if he was doing right, tell him if she was proud of him. "S'pose my ma could give your ma some parentin' lessons."

Ezra brought his hand to his face and chuckled softly. "Anyone could." There was an unfamiliar pain in his tone, but Buck decided not to act on it.

Wilmington nodded: perhaps he shouldn't have brought it up. "My ma-she…she taught me a lot about life…how to treat the ladies, how to be a man."

Ezra furrowed his brow and took a deep breath.

"Looky there," Buck said, with a smile in his voice.

The cabin came into view quickly. It was small with a makeshift porch out front. Buck adjusted his grip on the Southerner's waist as they stepped forward.

"Take a seat, Ezra," Buck said with a grunt, trying to get the gambler positioned on one of the steps. It didn't take much for him to go down.

Buck took his hat off and tentatively knocked on the door with his good hand.

"Who's there?" came a call from inside. The voice was female, and lined with age.

"Buck Wilmington, ma'am. My friend and I are the law from Four Corners and we're in need of some help." He spoke calmly, not wanting to alarm her.

The door was slowly pulled open, and an elderly woman stood in the doorway. Her hair was wrapped in a bandanna, her black dress pulled up tight around her collar and around her wrists. Her face was lined with wrinkles; all signs of a life lived full and hard.

She looked hard at Buck, noticing his bandaged arm and his honest face. She looked around him and found another man sitting on her step, his back to her, leaning against the railing.

"What happened to ya?" she asked, letting her age and wisdom ask her questions before her intuition.

"Couple of men stole our horses-my friend Ezra's been shot, and I've busted up my arm."

The woman nodded and quickly untied her apron. "Best get you boys taken care of then."

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Buck sat in the chair he was ordered into and watched as the woman removed Ezra's coat and jacket, and then his boots. She wrapped a blanket around his shoulders and made sure he was seated close to the fire. She hung his clothing so they would dry quickly…as though she'd done it a million times.

"I ain't got no clothes for you to wear-burned all my husband's extras when he done died on me. You'll dry soon 'nough though-so don't worry none about it." She moved toward a small cupboard and pulled out a small wad of bandages. "How come you're so far from Four Corners-if'n you're the law there?"

"Had to take a prisoner up to Hampton," Buck replied, carefully removing his bandana from his arm.

"Seems like it would've been a good idea to stay there-least till the weather cleared." She grabbed a bowl and filled it with some of the water she had warming over the stove.

Buck looked toward Ezra, making sure he hadn't heard.

He didn't.

She took a seat across from Buck and positioned herself before him. "My name's Pickles…in case you were wonderin'." She carefully ripped the sleeve of Buck's shirt and took a long hard look at the swollen, discolored, and obviously painful arm.

"Kinda unusual ain't it…your name?"

"So's Buck…?" she replied with a smile. "My husband's name was Morty Pepper-we thought long an' hard 'bout namin' one of our kids Salt." She chuckled to herself.

Buck nodded in agreement and winced when she gently picked up his hand and pulled tenderly at his fingers. "If you could just wrap it for me…I have a friend back in town that could fix it."

Picked shook her head and quickly got to her feet. She walked back toward the cupboard and pulled out a bottle of whiskey. "Drink that," she ordered. "You're goin' to need it."

Buck didn't wait. He pulled the cork out with his teeth and took a long pull, knowing what was going to happen next.

Pickles took his hand and squeezed it gently, and then pressed her other hand against his elbow. Buck's face contorted with pain as his bones were grossly readjusted. Tears watered his eyes and his chest felt suddenly tight. His body shook with pain and he waited patiently as Pickles wrapped it with her bandages. He continued to nurse the bottle of whisky, losing all sense of necessity, he drank for relief. He watched her as she quickly formed a triangular bandage and quickly had it tied around his neck and over his shoulder to support his arm. At the moment it didn't seem to help, but he wasn't complaining.

"You'd better slow down with that stuff, you're likely to pass out and break that arm all over again." Pickles stood up and moved toward Ezra. She shook her head and quickly started cleaning his head wound. He only protested for a moment before realizing she wouldn't be swayed. "You boys plannin' on walkin' back to Four Corners?"

Ezra rolled his eyes and winced when a cloth drenched in whisky touched his forehead.

Buck leaned back in his seat, feeling the effects of pain and alcohol. Life wasn't half bad at the moment.

"Oh no ya don't," Pickles said, quickly moving toward the dozing lawman. "Get yourself up, I ain't strong enough to move ya." She helped him stand and sluggishly they both moved across the floor and toward the small bed.

Buck sat and fell back, leaving his feet on the floor. Pickles ungracefully pulled off his boots and then lifted his legs onto the bed, careful of his wounded arm, she threw a blanket over his form and shook her head when he started snoring.

"He always like this?" she asked Ezra, who remained seated while cocking his eyebrow.

"Usually he's worse," came the soft-spoken, light-hearted response.

Pickles chuckled and moved back toward Ezra. "How come you dress so fancy for a lawman?" She continued to dab at his forehead, careful not to hurt him.

Ezra clenched his jaw: "I'm a gambler by trade." Why was the world still spinning?

Pickles nodded. "My husband used to dally with the cards- he never won, but that never stopped 'im." She took a long bandage and wrapped it around his head. "You'll be hurtin' for a while-but you'll heal faster than yer friend." She patted his leg and leaned over to toss more wood on the fire.

Ezra rubbed his brow with his hand and sighed, feeling tired and craving the need to sleep.

"I ain' got much room, but what I do have you can use." Pickles tossed a couple blankets on the floor and helped the gambler get situated. She shook her head, wondering how two perfectly sensible lawmen ended up in her home, seemingly out of their wits.

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Ezra woke to a pounding in his head that refused to go away, despite his pleading. He covered his eyes with his arm and tried to wait it out…it didn't help. He twitched his nose when he felt something soft touch it. When it didn't stop he swiped out at it, never looking to see what it was.


Ezra opened one eye and quickly closed it when he found Buck squatting next to him with a long feather between his fingers.

"You know you talk in your sleep, Ezra?" He stood up and stretched his back, his arm still resting in the sling over his neck.

"I do not," came the predictable protest.

"Who's Grace?" he asked with a grin.

Ezra pressed his lips together. "That…is none of your business."

Buck chuckled. "She must 'ave been somethin'?"

"Go away, Mistah Wilmington."

"Pickles made us somethin' to eat-feel like keepin' somethin' down for a change?"

Ezra shook his head. He didn't feel like eating at the moment.

"There's coffee." Buck's voice went up an octave-as though it were a prize to be won.

Ezra cocked and eyebrow…that sounded good at the moment. Slowly, he sat up and braced his arms behind him as he leaned back. "How's your…" he sighed, thinking of the right words, "…broken appendage?"

"Broke," Buck replied snidely. "That's all right though-maybe Miss Joyce'll take pity on me."

"Or not." Ezra sat up and slowly got to his feet.

Buck handed Ezra a cup of coffee just as he took a seat. "You know Ezra…Miss Joyce could probably teach you a thing or two about…the finer points of life." He smiled. "For you an' …Grace."

"My sexual exploitations, Mr. Wilmington, are none of your business."

"Now, Ezra… My momma always said that a man's got to relieve himself in ways that only a fine woman could provide-if he don't-he's liable to explode."

"Explode away, Mr. Wilmington," Ezra replied, taking a drink of his coffee.

Buck rolled is eyes, realizing he wasn't going to find out about the woman from Ezra's past. He turned when he heard the front door open and Pickles stepped through.

"How are you boys feelin'?" she asked, resting her bowl of freshly picked fruit onto the counter.

"Miz Pickles, I don't think I've ever slept so well," Buck said with a smile.

"Well, it sure sounded like ya were sleepin' good," she replied with a grin, despite being surprised he didn't have a hangover.

Ezra smiled when Buck's brow furrowed.

"Not one word, Standish."

"My husband used to snore up a storm at night…it'd get worse if'n he were real tired." She chuckled, grabbing a knife out of a drawer. "Eli an' I had four children-Rosemary was our youngest…the fever took her when she was just a baby." She started slicing some apples, never turning around to look at the two men sitting behind her. "Thyme was next-he and his wife Mazzy are comin' by this afternoon-gonna take me for a picnic."

Buck and Ezra could hear the smile in her voice…they didn't need to see it.

"Marjoram and Pap were twins-near wore me to death… 'till their own deaths." She didn't elaborate-she didn't need to. "You're welcome to take ol' Basil to Four Corners…she'll get you there in one piece."

She turned around and handed each man a knapsack filled with apples and sandwiches.

Buck smiled. "Don't know how we can ever thank you."

"Just bring Basil back when you're done with her," she replied with a smile. She grabbed the bottle of whiskey and handed it to Ezra. "Keep that handy, don't figure that broken arm of your friend's is gonna be feeling too well after sittin' on ol' Basil's back all day." She reached for the door. "Basil's all ready for ya-whenever you're ready to ride-ya need any help, I'll be out feedin' the pigs."

"Thank you, Pickles," Buck said with a smile.

She returned his kindness and sent a smile of her own. "You're a might welcome." She opened the door and headed out.

Buck returned his look at Ezra. "You 'bout ready?"

"As Ah'll evah be," came his unenthusiastic reply.

"Best take a pull from that bottle…sounds like we're gonna need it."

Ezra didn't wait; he took a long pull and handed it to Buck who drank a healthy amount. The whiskey burned its way down their throats and warmed their bellies.

Buck stood up and headed for the door, careful of his wounded arm and thankful for Pickles' ability to wrap the wound. Ezra grabbed his hat and slipped it on his head, fitting it gently over the bandage on his scalp. He reached for his jacket and slipped it on, trying to keep his balance and clear his vision.

It was going to be a long day.

Buck opened the door and stepped outside. The weather had cleared up nicely and the smell after the rainstorm had freshened the air of dust and debris. He took a deep breath and stepped off the porch. He stopped suddenly, Ezra bumping into him, pushing him forward.

Both men looked in awe at Basil. Their jaws dropping to the ground, looking more like the animations in the newspapers. She returned their look with mistrust and wonder. Her light brown, dun color accentuated her height of seventeen two hands. Her huge head seemed larger with a white blaze that didn't seem to have an end. Her full mane and blonde colored tail were beautiful, if not hardy.

A Belgian.

The old workhorse nipped suddenly at the grass near the tie's edge, her lips sounded and echoed, smacking together in bold moves. She cocked her hind leg, waiting for her job-just waiting-just doing what she was asked.

"Hell, Ezra…you fall off you'll bust your head wide open." Buck grinned-he couldn't help himself.

"Perhaps you'll break your other arm and Ah'll all be free of you and Miss Joyce for a while."

Basil turned her head and looked at the two men as if asking, "Are you ready or not?"

Ezra carefully tied their supplies to the saddlebags-standing on the balls of his feet to do so-that were supplied and he stood back, debating on how he was going to mount up. Who should get on first? Who should ride in front?

"What if we use the back of the wagon," Buck said, pointing with his good hand. "You get on first, then I'll ride behind you cuz you've got both arms workin' good."

Ezra turned and looked at the gunslinger as though he'd grown two heads. He didn't say anything, simply because he didn't have a better solution to their problem. His head hurt, and he wanted to be back in Four Corners, sleeping in his feather bed, anticipating his next game of cards-maybe win some money.

"Ah'm in hell," he whispered to himself. Carefully, he untied Basil from the hitching post and led her toward the back of the wagon. Her steps were long, and she seemed to rock as she walked. She followed like a dog would, completely content with her duty.

Buck followed at a safe pace behind…he had one broken arm, he didn't need a broken foot on top of everything else. Even Ezra seemed to lead her at a distance, keeping her from stepping on the back of his heels.

Her hooves were huge! And covered with her long pastern feathers.

She stopped on command, and waited…and waited…while two seemingly smart cowboys crawled up onto the back of the wagon and proceeded to argue about mounting her back. Her ears swiveled back and forth, debating on whether or not to take a simple step forward and munch on some of the grass near the wagon's edge. She didn't-she'd let them do their thing and then she'd do hers.

Ezra slipped his foot into the stirrup and swung up onto Basil's back. He felt as though he were sitting astride an elephant- he'd read about people doing that in far away lands-odd, yet seemingly appropriate at the moment. His pelvis was going to kill him by the end of the day.

Buck, being taller, grabbed the saddle horn with his good arm and carefully swung up behind the gambler, sitting atop the saddlebags and the single bedroll.

What a view.

Buck smiled, taking a good look around him. He let his foot fall free of the stirrup, and he waited until Ezra got ready to move forward. He reached back and grabbed the bottle of whiskey and took a swig, trying to ward off the pain in his arm. He rocked suddenly backwards as Ezra urged Basil forward.

Elephant indeed.

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Ezra chuckled and shook his head. He kept in rhythm with Basil's gate, the long rocking motions that seemed more hypnotic than arduous. Buck handed him the bottle of whiskey again and Ezra took a long pull before handing it back. He chuckled again-thinking of something only he could laugh at.

"…Come on, Ezra-let me in on the joke," Buck urged, laughing despite not knowing.

"If I tell you, Buck, you can not tell anyone it came from me."

"Probably won't remember anyhow," Buck snorted. His eyes got large and he carefully wiped some of his snot off the back of Ezra's jacket.

Ezra never knew, or he was too drunk to care.

"Out with it, Standish-I need a break from this rockin' motion, otherwise, I'm bound to fall asleep and fall off."

Ezra sighed and slowly nodded in agreement, more for himself than the drunkard behind him. He cleared his throat and began, "A cowboy was taken prisonah by a horde of Indians. The Indians were all prepared to kill him when the chief announced that due to the celebration of the Great Spirit, they would grant the cowboy three wishes before he would die. 'What do you want for your first wish?' asks the chief. 'Ah wanna talk to mah horse!' says the cowboy. He goes over to his horse and whispers in its ear. The horse neighs, rears back, and takes off at full speed. About an hour later, the horse comes back with a naked lady on its back. Well, the Indians were very impressed, so they let the cowboy use one of their teepees. A little while later, the cowboy stumbles out of the teepee, tucking in his shirt. 'What do you want for your second wish?' says the chief. 'Ah wanna talk to mah horse!' says the cowboy. Again, the cowboy whispers in the horse's ear. The horse neighs, rears back, and takes off at full speed. About an hour later, the horse comes back with anothah naked lady on its back. Well, the Indians are very impressed indeed. So, once again, they let the cowboy use one of their teepees. The cowboy stumbles out a little while later, and the chief asks the cowboy, 'What do you want for your last wish?' 'Ah wanna talk to mah horse!' says the cowboy. He grabs the horse by the ears and yells, 'You stupid animal, Ah said POSSE, POSSE!!!!'."

Buck snorted and laughed, reaching around his chest to hold his arm. "I knew you had a sense of humor, Ezra…but that's bein' just mean to a man." He moved suddenly to his left, almost losing his place on Basil's back. He quickly caught himself, using the cantle of the saddle.

Ezra countered Buck's movement to the left by moving right, almost falling. He caught himself with his hand, grasping the saddle horn. He chuckled once he corrected himself.

"Was one of those women named Grace?" Buck asked, taking another pull from the bottle of whiskey that was now almost gone.

Ezra shook his head. "The story is not about myself, Mistah Wilmington."

"But it could be, right?" he laughed, having a hard time seeing Ezra as a womanizing cowboy.

"Ah have more dignity than that…Ah assure you."

"I courted this one young filly…back in the day-she had a wild streak so wide it put me to shame." His voice elevated, as though he could hardly contain his excitement while speaking of her. "She'd put her heels behind her head and bounce up and down on the bed-"

Ezra couldn't contain his laughter. He snorted, quickly covering his mouth with his hand and leaned forward. Listening to Buck's tale of his former paramour-one of his many-who had more 'creativity' than Buck Wilmington or Annie's Georgia Whorehouse. Ezra tried to stifle his amusement, but he couldn't, the image of Buck sitting in a room learning about flexibility was just too much.

Buck chuckled, remembering that time in his life. He shook his head and looked hard at the bottle still tightly held in his hand. "What in the hell is in this stuff?" he asked more of himself than the gambler, who was still snickering-hardly able to contain himself.

"Four Corners," Ezra said boldly, as though making the discovery for the first time.

"Miss Joyce!!" Buck's excitement grew, and a smile spread across his features.

Ezra reached around and grasped the almost empty bottle of whiskey and took the last drink. He tossed it to the side, not wanting to bother taking it into town with him. "In all my days as a worldly educated gentlemen-" he ignored Buck's chuckle, "-Ah have nevah tasted anythin' like that before."

"Yeah-it was good." Buck burped, not bothering to cover his mouth.

Ezra winced, he could have done without Buck blowing his belch in his direction. "Ah really wish you could save one of those for Mistah Larabee."

"Since you asked, Ezra," he sighed, "I'll do just that." He looked up the road as the town slowly came into view.

Four Corners seemed to have been missed by the raging storm from the night before. Dust swirled around horses' feet as they stood tied to hitching rails outside of businesses. They swatted their tails and shook their heads out of boredom as well as keeping the flies away. Men, women, and children walked down the boardwalks-some hand in hand, others of their own accord.

"JD…John Douglass Dunne…Kid!" Buck yelled, waving toward the kid who led his mount out of the livery.

JD stood like a statue, not quite believing the sight he was seeing. "Buck?"

"It's me-and Basil!" Buck laughed, leaning slightly to the side as they rode past the kid and toward the sheriff's office.

JD handed his reins to Tiny who was now standing beside him with a concerned look on his face. "What do ya figure's gone on with those two?" the older man asked, shaking his head in disbelief.

"Hell if I know," JD answered, trotting off toward the saloon to warn the others.

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The saloon batwing doors burst open and JD entered in, heading straight for the table where the remaining four lawmen sat, enjoying their beers, seemingly content with their day.

Josiah looked up and furrowed his brow. "You all right, JD?" he asked softly.

JD bit his bottom lip and ran his fingers through his hair. "Ezra and Buck…" How was he supposed to finish?

Chris and Vin both sat up in concern, transporting a prisoner was never good, but it could end up deadly.

"What is it, JD?" Chris asked with more authority.

Now everyone was worried.

"They just rode in on a draft horse…and I think they're drunk."

Vin smiled, but hid his amusement well. He stood up and headed toward the batwing doors, following the others.

All five of the lawmen stood on the boardwalk of the saloon and looked down the street in amusement. They could see Buck trying to work out a way to dismount, but he couldn't seem to concentrate on only that one feat. He had to make comments to every young, pretty woman that walked by… married or not. Ezra sat in front of him, chuckling… uncontrollably.

Chris put on his best glare…or at least tried to, and headed toward his men, his black duster billowing out behind him. He walked down the street like the Grim Reaper…hunting his prey. The others followed at a safe distance behind. Nobody knew what to say or do.

They'd all seen Ezra drunk-not totally drunk-but drunk enough to lose any and all sense of compassion. Ezra became a grumpy drunk, unlike Chris who got violent; Ezra used his tongue to strike his prey. However, at this point in time, he seemed completely content-even happy.

Buck on the other hand got goofy, and usually to the point of absurdity. He'd even ended up riding his big gray gelding out of town stark naked-while singing Battle Hymn Of The Republic. Of course, Chris never bothered to stop him-as long as he wasn't trying to hurt anyone.

"Buck!" Chris yelled, stepping up beside Basil. She turned her head and looked at him, perking her ears forward and taking a deep breath…as though she'd gotten them here all on her own.

"Hey, Stud!" Apparently Buck had been blasting dynamite- he'd forgotten how to talk normally. "We would 'ave been here sooner, but we got caught up in a storm-Ezra got shot, and I busted up my arm-damn horse thieves caught us with our pants down-not literally." He stopped to laugh, cracking himself up. "Weren't as if we were out takin' shits or anything."

Several patrons moved forward quickly, shocked by the vile language.

Chris rolled his eyes and tried to maintain his composure.

"Damn," Buck sighed, but continued to speak loudly, "I blew snot all over the back of Ezra's jacket so don't tell 'im nothin' 'bout it-he'll have me payin' to have it cleaned-an' he already puked on hisself."

"Buck sounds like a backed up steam engine when he snores," Ezra said, catching everyone off guard. He leaned forward to ease his aching belly and spinning head. "Where's the whiskey?" He stood up suddenly, as though realizing he needed another drink.

Nathan shook his head and stepped forward. "Let's get them to their rooms-probably the best place for 'em at the moment." He sighed, wondering just how much whiskey they'd had.

"That ain't whiskey talkin'," Josiah said with a knowing tone.

Four sets of eyes turned toward the former preacher in question.

Carefully, Josiah reached up and gently pulled Ezra from his place on the saddle and held him on unsteady legs. Ezra did his best to stay upright, but the swaying of the world kept him unstable.

"While I was studying with a small band of Indians in Southern California I discovered they used a small plant they called Osceola in their cleansing ceremonies-did strange things to them…never seemed to hurt them though, and once they slept it off they were fine." Josiah gave up trying to hold Ezra. He gave up and simply tossed him over his shoulder. "It's what we call…Jimsonweed." He smiled, shaking his head.

Nathan and Chris reached up for Buck who was wiggling his eyebrows and waving at one of the saloon girls from across the street. "Hey!" he yelled when he slipped from the back of the saddle. "Views better from up there," he said in a matter of fact tone.

Chris rolled his eyes and helped Buck with his wounded arm while Nathan did most of the work carrying him. "What do you want the rest of us to do, Nathan?"

Nathan sighed and shook his head. "I better get a good look at Buck's arm and rewrap it, then I'll see to Ezra's head wound. Looks like whoever took care of them did a pretty good job of it-except for givin' them all that…altered whiskey." He started toward the boarding house where Buck normally stayed. "Don't want them fillin' up the clinic though, so just take 'em to their own rooms."

Vin followed with JD walking beside him. "Kinda like 'em this way," he said softly.

"Yeah," JD agreed. "We'll have to tell them the story…"

"Over and over again," both finished at the same time…their grins growing in size.

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The End

What in the heck was I on? LOL


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