Don't Know From Adam

by Jordan McKenzie


The ride back to Jericho was slow and steady. Chris was plagued with tremors that shook his whole body and Ezra was in and out of consciousness. Buck watched over both his friends, but he knew that there was little he could do to ease their pain. He just laid a couple of blankets over them and reassured them with a hand on each man’s arm.

Buck heard Ezra moan and reached to pat the top of his head. He stared at the look of discomfort on Standish’s face and thought about how far Ezra had gone to save Chris. The man had risked himself, all alone, on the slim chance of rescuing the gunslinger. He would have thought he’d feel surprise at the cardsharp’s actions, but deep down in his heart he knew that Ezra would do it all over again if he thought he could help one of his own. Buck sighed a laugh. One of his own. Yep, I reckon that’s what we are.

The cowboy turned his attention to the man who lay on his right. Chris jerked uncontrollably and pushed at the blanket that covered him. Buck tried to still the clenching fists, but the hands refused to cease their efforts. He pulled the blanket back over his friend’s shoulders and rested a hand on his arm. "It’s alright, buddy. You made it. I’m not gonna let anything happen to you now."

Buck noticed how frail Chris looked. He had lost too much weight these past couple of weeks, and his body seemed ready to cave in. He prayed with all his might that Chris’ spirit wasn’t in the same condition. "I ain’t lettin’ you give up, pard. You just hang on, you hear me? Just hang on."

+ + + + + + +

Nathan stopped the horses just outside the back entrance of the Lullaby Inn. He quickly jumped down from his seat and went to the back of the wagon. "Josiah, would you take Ezra up to our room?" he asked quietly, trying not to draw too much attention to their arrival.

"I’d be glad to," Josiah replied as he left his horse and went to pick up Ezra. The smaller man was trying to stay awake but appeared to be having great difficulty. He pushed at Josiah weakly. The preacher man trapped the hand against his chest and lifted the gambler in his arms.

"JD, I need you to run over to the General Store and pick up a few supplies. I’m gonna need things to clean these two up, and from the looks of it, they’ll be needin’ some new clothes. Oh, and pick up something we can use as bandages. I should have enough herbs in what you brought from my clinic to take care of the rest. Mr. Phillips, would you mind goin’ with him? I don’t know what to expect from the folks in this town," Nathan continued.

The two men nodded in unison and took off down the street.

"Buck, has Chris come to yet?" the healer inquired.

Wilmington looked up from where he hovered over Larabee. "No, he’s still just shakin’ all over and breathin’ funny."

"Well, let’s get him inside. We need to get that fever down and clean him up. Vin, if you’ll help him, I’ll go and get started on Ezra."

"Sure, Nate. Come on, Buck, can you ease him to me?" Vin moved to the tail of the wagon.

Buck kneeled beside Chris and tried to raise him up. When he leaned over, the shuddering man grabbed Buck’s jacket and pulled himself closer.

"Whoa there, pard. You’re all right. We’re just gonna get you off this thing," Buck said as Chris gripped the coat tighter and refused to let go.

Larabee mumbled something, but the tall cowboy couldn’t make out the words. Vin watched as Chris hid his face against Buck’s shoulder.

"Okay, tell you what, you and I are gonna get off this thing together," Wilmington said. "You just hang on to old Buck."

It took some doing, but Buck and Vin managed to maneuver Chris off the wagon, into the Inn, up the flight of stairs and into the first of their two rooms. Josiah heard them bumping and banging down the hallway and met them at the door. He pulled it aside and ushered them into the room, leading them to an empty bed next to the one Ezra occupied. Careful not to jar Chris too much, the two bearers lowered him to the bed with a single motion. Vin stood up once the man in the blanket hit the bed. Buck, however, was pulled to the mattress and forced to stay there until Josiah reached in and released the gunslinger’s hold on his coat.

"Thanks, Josiah. He may look thin right now, but the man still weighs enough to put a crick in your neck." Buck straightened and raised his arms over his head to stretch.

Josiah smiled and moved back to his seat on the bed next to Ezra. The gambler was both conscious and irritable. He growled at Nathan when the healer removed what was left of his shirt.

"Nathan, please. I am just fine. I would much prefer it if you would take care of Chris first. He isn’t looking well at all," Ezra said grumpily.

"Now that’s the pot calling the kettle black," Josiah stated.

"If you are referring to my attire, I assure you I had little choice in the matter."

"Ezra, he ain’t talking about your clothes. You could be wearin’ your fancy red jacket right now and you’d still look like crap," Vin explained.

"He’s right," Nathan added as he reached for Ezra’s hands. "You’re black and blue and covered in blood, and with all that’s leaked outta ya, your skin is bone white. You’re runnin’ a fever, you got a hole in your shoulder near the size of your fist, and I ain’t even looked underneath these other bandages yet. So hush up and be still. JD’ll be back in a minute and I want to get started cleanin’ you up."

"But, Chris…" the chastised man began.

"Don’t you worry none about Chris." Buck gathered up a cloth and a bowl of water before he sat down next to the man curled on his side. "We’re gonna see to him right now."

Ezra saw the look on Buck’s face and took a deep breath. "I know. It’s just…" he started to say. "I saw…"

"What, Ezra?" Vin sat at the foot of Chris’ bed and put a hand on the man’s ankle.

"I… I’ve never seen a man tortured the way Chris was. He had been physically beaten and abused before I ever arrived at the prison. Once they realized that he could survive the whippings, they began work on his mind. He started remembering things that had happened to him before. He was in such pain…" Ezra stopped when he felt the bandages Nathan was removing from his hands tug at the tender flesh beneath. He hissed in pain and rested his head back on the bed’s headboard.

"Sorry, Ezra," Nathan apologized.

The gambler breathed through the hurt. Just as he was about to respond, JD and Phillips walked through the door. They quickly laid out the supplies they had gathered on the dresser.

JD walked over to stand between the two beds. "How are they, Nathan?"

Jackson got up and looked over the materials. "We’ll know soon, JD. You did good here. Do me one more favor though, run downstairs and get us some more water. I’m gonna need more than what’s in that basin there. Oh, and I’m gonna need some of it hot to make tea with."

"I’m on my way. Wanna help, Mr. Phillips?" JD asked about halfway out the door.

Phillips smiled and followed the boy out of the room.

Nathan looked at where Chris lay. "Buck, keep his head and chest cool with that water ‘til I can get some tea made for him. After that, we’ll get some of that dirt and blood off him and I’ll work on those cuts. Josiah, you wanna give me a hand with Ezra? We’ll work on his shoulder after he’s had something for pain. Right now I need to work on those hands and his arm."

"Nathan." Ezra tried to get the healer’s attention. "My arm."

"I know, Ezra, I’m gonna take care of it for you." Nathan sat on the bed again and took the wrapped arm in his hands.

"No, you don’t understand. My arm is fine."

"Ezra, don’t start that again. Just let me take a look. I need to clean it up so it won’t get infected."

"I told you, my arm is not hurt. Why won’t anyone listen? First Chris, now you." The Southerner was beginning to get very perturbed.

Jackson wouldn’t give in however. He meant he was going to tend the wrapped arm. "Ezra, shut up. If you don’t be still, I’ll have Josiah hold you down."

Standish looked at Josiah and then at Nathan. He decided to let the stubborn fool find out for himself.

Nathan unwrapped the bandages around the extended forearm slowly and carefully; he didn’t want to pull open any old cuts or tears. Once the tattered cloth had been removed, he turned the arm from side to side in an effort to locate the expected injury. "Ezra, your arm’s not hurt," he mumbled.

"I think he was tryin’ to tell you that, Nathan," Josiah said with a grin.

"Then why’s it bandaged?"

"Oh, are you asking me now?" Ezra felt bad and he was letting it show.

"Ezra." Josiah raised an eyebrow at the testy conman.

"Chris tended my arm while we were in the cave together. For some reason he believed it was injured. I tried to convince him otherwise, but he seemed adamant. He has been adamant about quite a few things lately."

As if responding to the accusation, the man huddled in the next bed began to mumble.

"Chris?" Buck asked in a soft voice as he wiped the man’s brow. "You in there?"

Chris mumbled something else unintelligible and then groaned. Ezra turned as if to get out of bed but Josiah stopped him.

"You stay put," Josiah said firmly. "Let Nathan check him out."

Nathan went around to sit opposite Buck on Chris’ bed. Another groan came as Larabee tried to roll onto his back, quickly followed by a muffled cry of pain. Nathan pulled the blanket off the shivering body and went immediately to the wound in his side. Chris tried to push the probing hands away, so Vin and Buck each took an arm and held them out across the mattress. The wrists that had been wrapped earlier bled freely and soaked the material. The healer noticed the blood and set about removing the bandages and cleaning the open wounds. The blond head tossed on the pillow and the delirious man began to once again talk in his sleep.

Ezra watched his cellmate closely. "Must be dreaming… about the bear," he wheezed.

Buck caught the words and looked at the pallid gambler. "You mentioned back near the cave that Chris was rememberin’ a bear attack on Adam."

"Yes, he’s been having… vivid memories… about the attack," Ezra answered with a slur. Buck noticed the smaller man’s accent was becoming thicker.

"Ezra, I knew Adam his whole life; he was never attacked by a bear. Not Adam, not Chris. There never was a bear," Buck explained.

Ezra was rapidly succumbing to exhaustion. "All I know is what I saw, Buck, what Chris saw… He’s been having vicious recollections — one involved a bear attack… on both himself and Adam... He relived the smallest details." Standish was so worn out by his effort to explain that he was panting.

Nathan spoke up. "Be quiet now, Ezra. You need to be sleeping. Don’t worry about what Chris thought he was seein’. It could have been the drugs the warden used on him, or maybe the hits he’s taken to the head. Either one could make him see things."

As Jackson finished bandaging Chris’ wrists, the blond man grunted and tried to pull away from the healer. When he couldn’t get away, he drew one leg up across the other. It appeared to Ezra that Chris was trying to ease a pain.

"Nathan, take a look at his leg," he said in a whisper. "Been giving him problems… I tried… find an injury, but… too dark where we were kept."

"Ezra, hush up! Not another word. Josiah, if he opens his mouth again, shut it for him!"

Ezra fell silent. Not really because of the hollow threat, but because he couldn’t force another breath from his tortured chest if he wanted to.

Nathan turned back to the man on the bed and watched him squirm in pain. "His leg. Yeah, I did see him hobblin’ on it before. Buck, help me." Nathan stood and pulled the blanket completely off Chris’ body. He pulled up the tattered legs of the prison pants and looked for any cuts, bruises or swelling.

Standish pulled against Josiah’s arm until he sat straighter. "I think it might be his left leg, up high. He seemed to favor it." Sanchez turned a threatening glare on Ezra and the smaller man meekly lay down again.

Nathan looked into the fevered green eyes and nodded, then he motioned for Wilmington to help him. "Come on, Buck, let’s get these pants off him."

It only took a few seconds to strip Chris down; there was very little of his prison clothes left. Nathan examined his patient’s upper left leg and was about to declare nothing wrong when he spotted something odd around the front of his pelvic bone. "What on earth," he muttered to himself and moved closer.

"What is it, Nate?" Vin tried to see what Jackson had discovered. "You find somethin’?"

Everyone in the room watched as Nathan ran his fingers over the dirt-caked skin that covered the gunslinger’s hipbone.

"Hand me that wet cloth, Buck," Nathan requested. He reached back for the rag, but never turned his eyes away from Chris. He took the rag and wiped away some of the dirt and blood that had gathered beneath the man’s filthy pants. "Good Lord," he muttered softly as he continued to clean the skin over the curve of his patient’s pelvis and around to his hip. "Help me turn him over," he said to no one in particular.

Vin and Buck both took hold of their friend’s shivering body and rolled him onto his stomach. Nathan dipped the rag he used in water and set about cleaning more and more of Chris’ hip and upper leg. Larabee felt the pressure and tried to crawl away. Six hands grabbed hold and pulled him back down.

"Off me," Chris said in a raspy voice. "Get him…off …"

Buck put a hand out to gently stroke his friend’s head. "It’s alright, Chris. You’re safe." He looked at Jackson. "What is it, Nathan? What’d you find?"

The healer looked up from his work. "Scars. A whole mess of old scars."

"What d’ya mean scars? How can some old scars be hurtin’ him now?"

"They’re not just any scars, Buck," Vin said in amazement from his position beside Nathan. "Look at ‘em."

Wilmington leaned over Larabee’s body and stared at what Nathan’s cleaning had revealed. From the front of Chris’ left pelvis, over the rise of bone, across his hip and about six inches down the back of his upper thigh were two distinctive sets of four to five parallel lines. The lines were equidistant and thick. They were also razor-straight from front to back, but ended jaggedly and messily on the leg.

"Oh, my God…" The ladies man dropped back onto the mattress.

"Tell us, Buck," Josiah said as he tried to lean as far forward as he could and still keep Ezra from leaving the bed.

Buck put his hand once again on the back of Chris’ head. When he didn’t say anything, Vin answered for him. "Claw marks, Josiah. The scars are from bear claws."

"Are you sure?" Josiah asked.

"Yeah, I’ve seen ‘em before. Looks like Ezra was right. Chris wasn’t just dreamin’ – he was rememberin’."

"But when? How?" Buck wondered, his tone full of sorrow and confusion.

"Not much tellin’," Vin replied. "Judging by the scars, I’d say a bear caught Chris from behind and pulled him down. Looks like it caught him here," he pointed to the front of Larabee’s body, "raked across him as he pulled him to the ground and tried to keep hold of him by the leg. Chris must o’ tried to pull away. What I don’t know is how he got loose. Not much way to get free of a bear when it’s got you pinned to the ground."

"Why didn’t he tell me?"

"Sometimes a man buries the meaness that’s been done to him, Buck," Josiah offered. "It’s just easier to not think on some things."

"Yeah, but damned if they don’t come back to haunt ya anyway." Vin sighed as he looked down at the man stretched across the bed. Chris continued to grunt and mumble, but he didn’t have the strength to evade the hands that held him.

Nathan heard footsteps outside the door and moved to help JD and Phillips bring in the water he needed. JD handed him a steaming kettle of hot water and then used both hands to raise the other bucket he carried to the small table next to the dresser. Phillips put his two buckets down beside it and turned to look at the men lying on the beds. Ezra appeared to be fighting sleep, his head bobbing up and down and his eyelids growing heavy. Chris seemed to be struggling as well, his hands grasping the blanket beneath him and his naked body shuddering uncontrollably in spite of the quilt being placed over him.

Phillips stepped closer to Nathan, who was preparing herbal tea. "They gonna be alright? He looks done in," he stated with a nod towards the gambler. "And he," he added, motioning to where Chris lay, "looks like he’s gonna come outta his skin."

JD turned to Nathan when he heard the guard’s question. "He’s right, Nathan. They don’t look so good."

The healer looked into the young man’s soft brown eyes. "I won’t lie to ya, JD. They ain’t in good shape at all. In fact, I’m honestly surprised they made it this far, seeing what they been through."

JD looked down sadly. Jackson put a hand on his shoulder and added, "But they have made it this far and not one of us here is gonna let ‘em give up."

The positive words appeared to renew the young man’s faith so Nathan went about his work. Once the herbs had steeped in the hot water long enough, he handed a cup to Josiah. The preacher man took the hot cup and carefully turned to the man sitting next to him. Ezra was nearly unconscious again, but he did drink what was offered. The fact that his patient hadn’t grumbled about the taste or tried to push it aside worried the healer. Ezra always complained about what he called "Nathan’s Noxious Concoctions."

Nathan watched as the Southerner weakly wiped at his mouth. It looked as if he was about to say something, but his lips simply couldn’t put together the sounds he wanted to make. It was only seconds before Ezra’s jaw went slack, his eyes shut, his hand slowly slid down his chest and a rather large sigh escaped his lips. Josiah reached for his sleeping friend and tried to make him more comfortable on the bed.

"Finally," Nathan said in relief. "He shoulda been out a long time ago. I don’t know what’s been keepin’ him goin’."

"That ain’t hard to figure," Phillips said. "He’s been frettin’ over his friend so long now I don’t reckon he can stop. He come a long way to free him — a lot further than most men would go for their own kin. Until he sees him on his feet and in his right mind, well, his job just ain’t done."

Every man in the room thought about what Phillips had said. He was right, of course. It was just surprising that someone who hadn’t known Ezra that long could figure him out so well. It had taken months for most of them to understand how the conman’s head and heart worked, but here was a man who had looked into the man’s soul in just a matter of days. They knew the ability was probably the result of his line of work, but it was amazing to see all the same.

Vin found his voice first. "You’re a good judge of men, Mr. Phillips, but I suppose it’s time ol’ Ez takes a break and lets us see to gettin’ the job done." The guard smiled at Vin before the sharpshooter turned to Jackson. "Nathan, you think they can make it?"

"It’s gonna be a long, hard road, but I mean to see them through this."

"Well, there ain’t nothin’ else I can do here so I’m goin’ after the men who did this."

JD stepped forward. "I’m comin’ too, Vin. You’re gonna need help."

Buck looked up at the young sheriff. "JD," he started.

"I’m goin’, Buck. You need to stay here with Chris. Josiah needs to stay as well to help Nathan. That just leaves me to back up Vin."

Buck’s heart swelled with pride even if he was afraid for his eager friend. He gave JD a soft smile and said, "Just you be careful. I want you back here in one piece."

Dunne smiled in return.

Phillips met Vin and JD at the door. "You’re gonna be needin’ someone who knows their way around. Reckon that’d be me. Mind another gun?"

Vin grinned and nodded as he opened the door for their newest ally. "Let’s ride."

Once the three men had made their exit, Nathan, Josiah and Buck went back to tending their friends. They all knew this night was meant to be a long one.


Buck pulled his long legs down from where he had them propped on the foot of Chris’ bed. The chair he had been sitting in for so long had finally gotten the better of his backside. It was time to get up and stretch his legs.

The ladies man thought about how hard Nathan had worked to clean and dress the numerous wounds on both Chris and Ezra. Ezra’s shoulder had been the biggest problem. Despite the herbs that the healer had given Ezra to make him sleep, the Southerner still fought against the attention paid to the large, messy wound. The pain caused by Nathan’s probing fingers and intensive cleansing was so intense that it dragged Ezra just out of reach of unconsciousness. Jackson prayed the smaller man would pass out, but it never happened. Standish cried out in agony the entire time it took to scrub and bandage the entry and exit wounds caused by the spear. It wasn’t until Nathan finished taking care of Ezra’s hands that the gambler fell back in exhaustion. He never even knew it when his arm was bound to his chest to prevent him accidentally reopening the shoulder wound. Josiah, who had held the smaller man during the torture, straightened him out on the bed and covered him with a blanket. He rested a large hand on the fevered brow and spoke soothingly to his friend. The preacher waited to make sure that Ezra was indeed asleep before he finally left his side, then he moved on to help Nathan and Buck with Chris.

Buck had managed to bathe Chris in the time it took to tend Ezra. He had cleaned out the smaller scratches and cuts that covered his body and double-checked the wrappings around his friend’s wrists. He had just covered him with a blanket when Nathan came to minister to the wound in Larabee’s belly. He had to clean and re-stitch the ugly, half-healed slice. It was a horrible thing to watch, but Chris never let on if he felt any pain. Jackson explained that he was too far-gone to know what was being done to him. Between the drugs, the head injuries and the fever their leader was oblivious to everything.

After the surgery to Chris’ abdomen, he was allowed to curl on his side again. He folded his hands across his chest, drew his knees up and burrowed deep into the bed’s covers. He still shook, but the violent tremors seemed to have left his body. After another hour of twitching and jerking, he settled into a deep sleep and didn’t move again.

Nathan took the stillness that filled the room as a good sign and decided that the three men left standing should take turns keeping an eye on Chris and Ezra. Buck, who initially felt he couldn’t sleep if he wanted to, offered to take the first shift while Josiah and Nathan went to the next room to get some sleep. Now, three hours later, in a room that was dark and quiet, Buck wished he had something to keep him awake. He stretched his back and went to look at Ezra. He didn’t look as if he’d moved an inch since Josiah tucked him in. The tall man leaned over to rest a hand on his face – it was still warm, but the fever didn’t seem any higher than before.

Buck looked at the slack features a moment longer before he leaned over to say something he felt long overdue. "Just in case no one’s said it, Ezra, you did good. You did real good." He patted the sleeping man on the chest before he turned to check on Chris.

Moonlight entered the room through the window next to Larabee’s bed. The soft light cast an eerie glow on his friend’s face. The effect almost startled Buck as he rounded the foot of the bed and sat down next to Chris. He looked as pale as death. If it weren’t for the lines of pain etched into his features, Wilmington would have sworn … but that thought was too painful to think about.

Buck rubbed the gunslinger’s back and felt the heat through the blanket. "What’s been goin’ on with you, pard? Why didn’t you tell me about those scars… about the bear? You had to know I’d o’ helped ya. I guess what Josiah said makes sense -- about it bein’ too hard to talk about -- but it woulda been easier than totin’ it around with ya. Damn it, Chris…"

Wilmington moved his hand to the back of Chris’ head. He felt the heat on his neck and realized that Larabee’s temperature had gone up again. He looked around the room for the water and rag he had been using. He found the large bowl but the water it held was filthy. When he checked in the extra buckets, he found them either equally dirty or empty. He turned back to Chris. "Looks like I need to go down and get some more water. You just stay asleep and I’ll be back in no time."

Buck hated to leave, but it was just to fetch some water. There really wasn’t any need to get Josiah and Nathan. He’d be back with the water sooner than he could wake them. Decision made, he grabbed a bucket and headed out the door.

+ + + + + + +

Chris Larabee pushed at the blanket that tried to suffocate him. He was so hot he could barely breath so he decided to get up. He had to get up, had to get away, but he couldn’t leave. He knew he couldn’t. It had been his fault, all of it. Everything that had happened the day Adam died was his fault alone. There was no one else to blame. He knew it; he’d been told that over and over. His fault. His fault. Chris stumbled and fell. He would just have to stay down and take his punishment.

+ + + + + + +

Buck hurried back up the stairs and quickly re-entered the room he and the others had rented. He put the bucket down on the dresser and went to fetch the bowl he’d used before. When he faced the two beds, he noticed that only one was occupied. Ezra was still where he’d left him, but Chris was nowhere to be seen. Panic surged through him as he fumbled for the kerosene lamp. He cranked the knob until the flame grew higher, then he began to search the room. It took only a minute to find his missing friend huddled in the corner on the far side of Ezra’s bed. Buck hurried to his side and lowered the flickering light to the floor.

Wilmington eyed the chill bumps on the trembling man’s skin and listened to the fast, irregular breaths he was taking. "Chris, what’s wrong? You okay?" he asked, realizing how stupid the question was.

Larabee’s brain registered the familiar voice and urged him to look away from the corner and seek it out. He’d missed that voice; it’s gentleness and humor. His first complete thought was that he hadn’t heard it in a very long time.

Chris cautiously looked up at the man hovering over him. "Buck?"

"Yeah, buddy, it’s me. What’re you doin’ here on the floor?" Buck asked quietly, relieved to see recognition in the frowning face.

"…gone…" the weak man choked out before he began to cough.

"It’s okay now, take it easy. Let me get you something to drink." Buck fetched the water he had just brought up and gave Chris a small sip. "Not too fast," the gentle man advised when he saw how thirsty his friend was. He gently pulled the cup away when he noticed his words fell on deaf ears. "That’s enough."

Chris stared at Buck. The taller man smiled but he got the distinct feeling that the tearful blue eyes were not seeing him.

"He’s gone, Buck. Adam’s gone," an unsteady voice said.

"I know, Chris. Adam’s been gone a while now."

"He shouldn’t’ve died like that," Larabee said resolutely.

"It’s alright now, Chris. Try not to think about it," Buck soothed.

"So much pain. So much fear." Larabee continued to stare blankly.

Buck raised a hand to Chris’ cheek and tried to get him to really look at the mustached face. "Chris, don’t go back there, okay? You’ve come way past that."

"So much pain," he mumbled.

Wilmington shook his head sadly. Chris needed more help than he could offer. Fortunately, Nathan and Josiah had heard the sound of voices from the next room and decided it was time to check again on their patients. They entered the room quickly, but calmed their movements when they realized what was happening. Buck motioned for the healer to stand beside him.

"Does he know you, Buck?" Nathan asked.

"Seems to know it’s me, but he’s talkin’ about Adam. I ain’t seen him like this in a long time. Why’s he rememberin’ Adam now?"

"He’s been through a lot. His mind just can’t handle all he’s had to suffer so he’s confusin’ things," Nathan said as he knelt down next to the ladies man. He rested a hand on Larabee’s bare knee before he called his name. "Chris?"

The blue-eyed man continued to stare into space. "I should’ve stopped him, Buck. He was just a boy. Why didn’t I make him stay away?"

"Stay away, Chris? Stay away from what?" Buck asked.

"From me," came the sad reply.

"He was your son, Chris. How could you make him stay away from you?"

"Should have made him. That bear… if I had tried… he wouldn’t be dead," Chris said in a more agitated voice.

When the word ‘bear’ was mentioned, Ezra began to stir. He opened red-rimmed eyes and began to search the dimly lit room for his cellmate. He had seen and heard the gunfighter recreate the beast so vividly in his mind that he too responded to its imagined presence. Get up, his befuddled mind ordered. You have to get up. The effort to rise was monumental, and in the end completely useless since a large hand easily prevented his body from obeying his brain.

"Un-unh, brother. Best you lie still," Josiah’s deep voice cautioned.

"Chris is dreaming again," the gambler advised, drawing on firsthand experience.

"Not dreamin’, Ezra, Chris is awake. He’s just not completely with us is all."

"Where is he, Josiah?"

Sanchez motioned to the corner next to the bed. Ezra rolled his head on the pillow and spotted Chris sitting on the floor with Buck and Nathan squatting in front of him. Even in the low light, he could see the overwhelming emotions that played across Larabee’s face.

"He tracked us," the gunfighter whispered. "The bear…"

Buck’s curiosity got the better of him. "Chris, tell me about the bear. When were you attacked? Was it before we met up? Why didn’t you tell me you’d been mauled?"

Chris looked at the anxious ladies man wildly as the stream of questions rolled over him.

"Slow down, Buck," Nathan warned. "You’re pushin’ too hard. He can’t keep up just yet."

Wilmington realized what he was doing. "God. I’m sorry, Chris. I didn’t mean to scare ya. I just… I’m not doin’ this right."

"I don’t think there is a right way to do this. We just need to get him to focus," Nathan offered.

Buck took a deep breath. "Chris, I need you to look at me, buddy. Okay? I wanna help, so I need you to tell me what’s got ya so upset."

Larabee’s attention wavered for a moment before he actually looked Buck in the eyes, but he did, finally, make out the worried face before him. "Buck? I saw it happen. I saw the bear."

"What bear, Chris? What bear?"

"H-he killed Adam." Chris backed further into the corner and began to push himself up against the wall. He half stood, half leaned on the wall.

"Chris, you’re all confused. You have to listen to me. Adam was never hurt by a bear," Buck said clearly.

"It killed him… I didn’t, I didn’t stop him," Larabee said in a guilt-ridden tone.

Wilmington stood and reached to put both hands on his friend’s upper arms. "Listen to me, Chris. You’re just not thinking straight. Okay? But we’re gonna sort this out."

"Help me, Buck. Don’t let him get to Adam." Chris started breathing hard again.

Nathan rose and stepped closer to the man in the corner. "Come on, Chris, take it easy. Try not to remember right now."

"No. Stop him. I can’t watch him die, Buck. I don’t want to see Adam die. Help him," Chris cried as he pushed Buck’s hands away.

Ezra spoke up at the sound of Chris’ desperate belief. "Buck, be careful with him. I saw this at the prison. He truly believes in that bear."

The taller man moved even closer. "Chris, you gotta believe me. There’s no bear, there never was. Adam wasn’t hurt by a bear."

Chris tried to duck away from the figure closing in on him. "He killed him! Oh, God, he killed Adam. Not Adam."

"You’re wrong. Chris, a bear didn’t kill Adam," Buck repeated emphatically.

"No! Not him!" Chris shouted. He skirted around the corner and made his way closer to the door.

"Chris, listen to me! A bear did not kill your son!" Buck cried in desperation.

"Not him! Not my son!" Chris edged closer to the doorway.

Ezra heard the words and pulled himself to the edge of his bed, which was no easy task since one arm was secured to his chest. Josiah was distracted, so he was able to swing his legs over the side. The attempt nearly cost him his consciousness but he held on. "Buck, wait," he said, but no one heard him.

Nathan followed Chris’ movements and noticed that the door had been left slightly ajar. For an instant, he panicked, thinking that Larabee would be able to make his way out. Then he felt relief wash over him as he caught a glimpse of Vin on the other side.

"Chris!" Buck shouted when he saw where the panic-stricken man was headed.

"Not my son, Buck! Not my son! Adam!" Chris made a move for the door, but was roughly shoved back when the door came swinging into his face.

Chris fell against the wall but soon rebounded and headed once again for the open door. Vin cut him off and threw his arms around the man’s waist. Buck ran to help, but was caught in the leg when Chris reared up against Vin and kicked out. He fell to his knee, gripping his thigh.

"Nathan! Josiah! Do something!" Vin hollered when he realized he couldn’t hold his friend for long.

"I can’t drug him, Vin!" Nathan replied as he leaned over Wilmington.

"Well… think of… somethin’… quick," Tanner grunted with every kick and jab the gunfighter made.

Josiah quickly scanned the room. "Is there anything we can use to tie him down?"

"Josiah, no!" Ezra objected. "Don’t do that to him!"

"Ain’t got a choice, Ezra. He’ll hurt himself," Nathan answered.

"Josiah! On my saddle, there’s some rope. Downstairs. I haven’t stabled my horse yet. Hurry!" Vin cried.

Josiah left the room quickly as Nathan moved to help Buck off the floor.

"Nate," Buck said, "maybe Ezra’s right. Tying him up after all he’s been through, it just don’t seem right." He watched as Vin used his own body to pin Chris to the wall.

Ezra watched Chris’ struggle and decided enough was enough. "Leave him alone," he growled as he pushed himself off the bed. A second later, he was looking up from the floor.

"Ezra, what the hell are you doin’?" Nathan hurried to the fallen man. "You ain’t got a lick o’ sense, do you?" He bent down and helped Standish back to the bed.

"Enough to know," he grumbled as he sat down on the mattress, "that this isn’t the way to treat a friend. He’s been in hell, and from the looks of it he hasn’t cleared its boundaries yet."

Nathan was checking Ezra’s shoulder when Josiah returned. The tall man hurried through the door carrying the rope Vin spoke of. "Vin," he called to get the sharpshooter’s attention.

Tanner looked back over his shoulder when he heard Josiah. Chris bucked violently when he felt the arms around him change their angle and forced his captor back into the corner. The sudden jolt of Chris’ actions nearly knocked the wind out of him, but Vin managed to hold on to the angered man.

"Chris, settle down! Don’t make us do this!" Vin shouted in his friend’s ear.

It looked for a moment as if nothing they did would calm the gunfighter down, but as quickly as the desire to escape came upon him, it left. Chris froze the moment he spotted Josiah. All eyes were on him, but the only thing he seemed aware of was the length of rope held in the large man’s hand.

Buck watched the look on Chris’ face go from fury to terror in seconds. "Nathan? What happened?" he asked.

Jackson looked back and forth from Larabee to Sanchez. "Josiah, put the rope down. Put it down real slow."

The large man did as he was told. Chris never moved his eyes from the rope. His entire body remained perfectly still until the thing was completely out of sight. When it disappeared from view, he rolled off Vin and curled up on the floor. Nathan went to his side and checked him over.

"How is he?" Vin asked, placing his hand protectively on Chris’ head.

"He’s unconscious," the healer answered as he motioned for Josiah to help him put Larabee back in his bed.

"He’s out?" Buck got up and tried to help. "That fast?"

"He’ll most likely go in and out like this for a while. He’ll fight as hard as he can and then he’ll drop off in exhaustion. We’re just gonna have to keep an eye on him and help him ride it out. Right now, he needs a lot o’ rest."

"I think that would be sound advice for all us," Josiah said as he pulled the covers over Chris. "I’ll stay with him for a while, Buck. You go on and get some sleep."

Buck started to argue, but decided against it when he felt fatigue well up inside. Now was not the time to be stubborn. He needed to be there for Chris and he couldn’t do that if he didn’t rebuild his strength. He started to leave the room when it occurred to him that Vin was back.

"Vin, where are JD and Phillips?"

"We went back to the prison to see how the army was comin’ along with the mess we left. JD and Phillips decided to round up Sheriff Quince and one of his men before they headed back. Seems Phillips was the only one who knew where they were."

"This late?"

"There’s a full moon out. Besides, Phillips didn’t want to risk the sheriff disappearin’ on him."

"Did you find the warden?" Ezra asked weakly from his bed.

"No, ‘fraid not. He high-tailed it outta there. The army says they’ll look, but I don’t hold out much hope," Tanner said with regret.

Ezra turned his head to look at the man lying in the bed next to his. "Don’t look so sad, Mr. Tanner. I assure you we will catch that son-of-a-bitch. There is a debt that needs repaying."


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