"Ezra?" Chris Larabee's voice held a hint of hesitation. Not without good reason.
"Yes, Mr. Larabee," The tired tones of put upon sarcasm did not do anything to bolster Chris's confidence.
Larabee tilted his head back and toward the side peering past and over his shoulder at the ground that sat too far out of reach. Pine trees that towered over the largest buildings stood like mere toys. The river, itself, on its full spring run could no be forded with wagon or horse, but from this height it seemed no more than a trickle.
Chris tightened his hands around the wrists of the gambler. He dug his fingers into the soft material of the coat and buried them into the hidden flesh.
The grip that returned his was weak at best.
Larabee turned his head back toward the edge of the cliff. The ledge and solid ground was not that far out of reach. Not far, if he had arms that extended another foot and a half, perhaps two feet. It really wasn't that far, if one was looking down and not up from the face of the cliff. Not far, if he had Gawd Damn wings and could fly like a bird. Hell, it wasn't far at all, if he was back at town instead of out running down outlaws.
"Ezra can't you...."
"Mr. Larabee," The tired drawl interrupted the repeated suggestion again, "do spare your energy, I am woeful that I can hold you much longer." A deep sniffle punctuated the statement.
Chris closed his eyes. Damn gambler decides to tell the truth now. Not that Chris hadn't figured it out for himself. Hell, it wasn't the gambler that was keeping him from falling to a splattered grave. It was the grey, barkless, fallen, tree trunk that the gambler found himself wedged on, that saved the day. Precarious, unequivocal luck.
The outlaw that had rolled Chris over the edge in the beginning of the fight had lost his grip on Larabee's foot. The peacekeeper, for his part, did try to arch his foot upward to give the one time bank robber a good hand hold. Unfortunately, polished boots make for poor leverage. Billy had needed a penny to buy his mom a gift for her birthday and Chris had figured the boy could earn the money by polishing his boots at night. Things like that happen...the nature of luck.
Chris had thought he too would fall to a horrid death but his empty hands had suddenly grasped two wrists. The Southern tinged whoosh of air had confirmed whom he had latched onto before he even had a chance to look up. When he did finally swing his gaze upward, he found himself staring at a prone Ezra Standish laying face down on the fallen trunk over hanging the edge of the cliff.
Things could have been worse...Luck is a fickle mistress...
Standish's sniffling brought Larabee back to the present.
Oh No not again. "Damn it Ezra!"
Another pitiful sniffle and a soft groan, "I am sorry Mr. Larabee," Ezra shook his head tiredly as his nose ran despite his half hearted sniffling attempts. The gravity dependent thick fluid hung tenaciously from his nose, twirling slightly in the breeze before snapping.
"Ezra ya a dead man," Larabee hissed out as another wet spot adorned the front of his shirt and shoulder. It matched the increasing number of spots on his dark blue shirt.
"My apologies Mr. Larabee," Ezra whispered out sniffling yet again, "perhaps you would be willing to release one of my hands," Standish's sarcasm was lost under the abrasive crackle of his voice.
Another long drip issued forth. This time the wind snapped it free and laid it in a spiral on Chris's outstretched forearm.
"Buck!....Vin!!" Larabee yelled out again, kicking his legs hoping to find better purchase against the clay face of the cliff. The one toe hold he did have did not feel solid enough. No such luck. Vacillating, irritating fates.
"I'm sorry to inform you Mr. Larabee," Ezra paused for a breath. He licked chapped lips and closed his eyes against the incessant body aches that had settled on him a day ago, "they are otherwise occupied." Gunfire rocked the area behind him.
"Shut up Ezra," Chris bit out. His hands were getting tired this was becoming serious. The small ledge that supported the toe of one boot did not feel like it would last forever.
"Ahh yes, Mr. Larabee," Ezra purred rubbing his face against the soft wool of his coat, "charm me into doing your bidding."
"Damn it Ezra, at least you could try and pull me back up," Larabee watched as the gambler closed red, swollen eyes and breathed heavily through his mouth.
"I fear Mr. Larabee that the log will move and send us both plummeting to our deaths," Ezra paused fighting for breath again, "and though at this particular juncture in time, it does not seem like such a hideous thing, I would warrant that you, dear sir, would prefer a more equitable outcome." The Southerner once again paused and breathed rapidly through partially open lips.
Chris closed his eyes and put a little more weight on the foot that held the slightest toe hole. His calf cramped.
"Could you at least yell for someone," Larabee tried to dig up an air of friendly civility.
Ezra sighed. The man was making an effort. "Yes I can try," Standish sniffled again closing his eyes tiredly. His arms and shoulders ached well before this little mishap but having Mr. Larabee hanging from him like a tapestry was not doing him any favors.
"Buck!....Josiah!" the effort was there, the voice was not. The plaintiff squeak that ripped at his throat and chest were all his rewards.
A coughing fit hit him. It rattled his chest and watered his eyes. He closed them and rode out the scratching pain of a wet productive cough. His nose ran even worse.
"Ahh shit," Chris tried to scoot out of the way, tried to move but found himself precariously stretched out like a partially torn sail. The greenish colored mucus strung from chap lips and fell like a small cannon ball. It hit with a wet splat on Chris's shoulder.
"Ezra," Larabee started clawing at the wall of the cliff with his feet. That was the last straw.
"Really, Mr. Larabee," Ezra croaked out, letting his face rest against the dry heat of the whitish tree trunk that hung precariously over the cliff, "it was not unknown to you, that I had fallen under Mr. Wilmington's ailment." He just wanted to go to bed and die. Perhaps they would say something nice about him. Maybe even shed a few tears.
He felt his nose run again. The discharge hurt, it felt sticky and tenacious and it burned the raw skin around his nose. He tried to sniffle but it tightened his head and really did nothing but threaten to stimulate a cough. He had already apologized the first few times...what more could he do?
"Ezra, you've been whining worse than an old woman," Larabee bit back with disgust.
Standish closed his eyes, yes perhaps he had been a bit vocal in his discomfiture but surely Mr. Larabee would understand his need to sleep in and languor in bed until this atrocious malady passed him.
Of course, Mr. Larabee saw no such need for any infirmary. Ezra retaliated by making his suffering town wide. Mrs. Potter made him some soup yesterday. It was very kind of her, but the potatoes and carrots had corners on them and seemed to slice his throat on the way down. It made his ears hurt too. He asked Nathan about it. Jackson shrugged and kind of chuckled.
Ezra didn't think people should laugh at those who were sick. It didn't count when the others were ill, however. When Buck had fallen to this nasty influx of debilitating symptoms nearly a week ago, it had been great fun. Ezra had felt alive, vigorous and just damn happy it was someone else and not him. He did not have time for sympathy or soft looks. He had money to be made. Besides, Mr. Wilmington laying on his side curled up under a blanket bemoaning his fate had been too much for Ezra to resist picking on him. Buck had promised he would make sure Ezra got whatever the hell it was that knocked him down so hard. Standish had responded with a laugh and friendly slap on Wilmington's blanketed shoulder, which had resulted in a low groan from the Ladies man, that he, Ezra P. Standish did no get sick.
It hit him yesterday.
Today, lying on the old grey tree trunk seemingly miles above the ground, Ezra P. Standish wished for a quick and merciful death.
Having strings of nasal discharge landing on the hapless Mr. Larabee, though, amusing at any other time, seemed only a shallow pinnacle in Ezra's debilitating, life threatening illness.
He had to be sicker than Buck. Surely Mr. Wilmington could not have been this ill and have survived. Heavens no. Not possible. Ezra, knew himself, to be on death's door step...Good Lord he was miserable. Surely death was the only possible outcome.
"What cha doin' pard'?" Buck's jovial voice brought a meager moan to Standish's parched lips. The others had finally arrived. Yes the gunfire had died down. Now perhaps, they would recognize his Herculean efforts to overcome his terrible devastating ailment and save Mr. Larabee. Perhaps there was a reward in all this. Yes perhaps a large reward....
"Buck!" Chris yelled up from his slowly disintegrating perch on the cliff face.
"Chris?" Buck knelt down on the sandy edge of the cliff and rested his hand on the small of the gambler's back. The gambler's blue coat was stretched tight over his shoulders and rode somewhat up on his back. Wilmington peered over the cliff.
"Dang, Son, and I here thought, only Ezra would do anything to git out of work," Wilmington chuckled.
"Shut up Buck 'n git me out of here," Chris threw an angry glare at his old time friend. Buck curled back on himself a little and yelled over his shoulder to the others, "Josiah, Nathan git a rope, Chris is in a bit of a bind." Wilmington turned his attention back to his old time friend. He scrutinized the dark stains on the shirt and for the first time worried he might have been injured, "Chris? You've been shot?"
"Then what..." Buck's was cut off mid question when Standish sniffled pitifully. Another long strand of discharge broke free, free falling for a few agonizing seconds, before slinking itself snuggly across Larabee's chest. "ohhh." Wilmington cracked a smile and slapped Standish on the back, "Didn't think ole Ezra P. Standish ever got sick."
Twin, "Shut up, Buck," circulated around the cliff's edge.
Ezra rode back to Four Corners under the continued harassment of one Buck Wilmington. Through bleary red swollen eyes, Ezra begged the healer for something to ease his misery. Give a dying man a reprieve...show some mercy. Nathan could only shrug and offer his condolences. His soft encouragements fell of muffled ears. His sage advice, "Its best to jist let this ride itself out, Ezra," did nothing but drape the heavy burden of misery on the gambler's shoulders. Josiah's rolling laugh had Standish huddling even further into his coat.
Chris Larabee lead the group back to town at a quick trot. He had changed his shirt once he had gotten his feet back on terra firma. He had half a mind to let the gambler sleep the night on the log. The man had refused to move. It took both Nathan and Josiah's combined efforts to get Standish on his horse.
Larabee peered over his shoulder at the folded gambler. Standish rode with his head nearly touching the mane of his horse. He had both coats on and a tissue at his nose. Occasionally a violent cough wrenched his shoulders and a pitiful moan bordering on a whimper followed suit.
Damn man couldn't handle being sick. Pathetic. Chris shook his head in a manner closely akin to disgust.
Two days later
Chris Larabee stood wrapped in his coat at Nathan Jackson's door step at 2 in the morning. Another fit of violent coughs abused his chest. His muscles ached like never before. It felt as if he had been dragged through a knot hole backward. The hardened gunslinger knew , without a doubt, he was going to die.