When You Need Me
Josiah looked up from his seat outside the jail hoping the approaching horses would be familiar, this time he was rewarded as his own horse and Chris' black came down the street. The big ex-preacher crossed the street to join them at the livery. The two riders quickly filled him in on Buck's progress.
"He's asking for you," Chris informed him.
"I'll leave at first light," Josiah said earnestly.
With that the three of them headed for the saloon. Inez poured the drinks and politely asked after Buck. Mary had stopped them outside to ask after Buck and had immediately gone to inform Mrs. Potter who had asked to be kept informed. All evening people came up to ask about the big affable gunman, the saloon girls were particularly distressed. Inez slipped out of the back of the saloon and followed Josiah to the church as he headed home. Just as he was about to let himself in she ran up behind him.
"Err Señor Sanchez," she asked softly, "may I speak with you?"
The ex-priest turned to face the pretty hostess. "God's house is always open child, come in."
They sat together in the church lit by the slowly dying prayer candles. " Señor San.." she began.
"Please, call me Josiah," he corrected.
She smiled shyly. "Josiah," she began again. "How sick is Buck, really?"
"I haven't seen him - you should ask Chris or Vin," he counselled.
"No, I can't trust them, what I tell you is like confessional; yes?"
Josiah frowned, not sure what was coming, but with a slow nod of the head confirmed whatever she was about to confess was sacred.
"From what they tell me and what Nathan said when Vin came, he is very ill indeed, hurt on the inside, bleeding maybe," he explained solemnly.
Her head dropped, "Do you think he will die?" she whispered.
Josiah placed his hand under her chin and raised her head so he could look into her eyes, into their deep, dark, liquid pools of fear.
"No I don't!" he said emphatically. "Buck is too strong and to ornery, he loves life too much, he cares too much about his friends, worries about them too much to leave us."
"He flirts with me," she said as though no one else knew.
"Well I think that is common knowledge my dear, Buck is less than subtle in such matters."
She shook her head, "I pretend to not care, to joke with him." Suddenly she looked up into his trusting pale blue eyes. "But when he is close I feel light headed, when he looks at me my heart misses a beat, if he touches me, even to take a drink I " She stopped, no she could not tell him that; even in a confessional! "Well he makes me feel good," she confessed with a blush.
"I take it you have not told Buck how you feel?" he asked.
She looked down with a slight shake of the head.
"How long have you felt this way?" he asked.
"When he stood up to Don Paolo I thought he was just showing off, it was just machismo, boys games, you know?" she looked up at Josiah for conformation, pleased when he nodded wisely, he had had similar thoughts. "Then I came here that night to try and stop him. It was a different Señor Buck, this one knew exactly what Don Paolo was like. What would happen to me if he caught me. He was going to risk his life for my honour, not his, it would not have mattered if I were old or fat or ugly he still would have defended me. He would have fought him any place with any weapon. It did not matter to him if there was an audience, if people thought him a hero or a fool, so long as I was safe. That is when I fell in love," she was smiling. "There I have said it!"
Josiah smiled back.
"Josiah, why can't I tell him, why do I push him away?"
Josiah thought about it, and finally asked her a question. "Before you came here, were you ever free?" he asked.
Inez thought long and hard about her life before Four Corners, servitude, fear, subservience, that was what had dominated it.
"No," she finally admitted.
"Then that is why, if you let Buck know how you feel, and he reciprocates, you will be giving up some of that freedom, I do not think you have yet had enough of freedom, it is a heady drug, not easily given up," he reasoned.
"Do you think he will reciprocate?" she sounded out the final unfamiliar word.
"I can't look into another man's heart, but I believe that when Buck does find the right woman for him he will be totally loyal," he stated, it was something he really believed, Buck would never cheat on his true love, of that he was sure. " He will give his whole heart to her and she will be one lucky woman because I don't think I have ever met anyone with a bigger heart than Buck."
"I do not want him to die without knowing how I feel, if if he starts to will you, if I can't?" she struggled with the words.
He placed a large firm hand on her shoulder. "I will, but I do not believe it will become necessary, he is also very stubborn."
Before she left Inez lit a candle for the man she loved and prayed to the Holy Mother to keep him safe, until she was ready.
+ + + + + + +
Josiah arrived at the farm early the next day, he had brought a pack horse laden with supplies, the Brighton's could not be expected to feed three or four men indefinitely without some contribution. He had also brought a new book he had acquired, thinking as Buck improved he would need entertaining, and some personal things for Buck and JD who had not packed for an overnight trip, let alone a prolonged stay away.
He found the family, plus Nathan and JD, taking breakfast, warm greetings were exchanged but Josiah was anxious to see the patient. He found him with Ezra, despite what Vin and Chris had told him he was not prepared for what he found. The normally larger than life in every aspect Buck Wilmington, pale, drawn, silent and still in a strangers bed, being drip-fed by an attentive Ezra.
"See Buck, I told you Josiah was coming just as you requested," Ezra explained brightly to the clearly unconscious Buck.
He and Nathan had taken their lead from JD and Fay, and now all four carers spoke to Buck as though he were awake. Josiah got closer, Ezra was sitting on the other side of the bed, propped up against the headboard, so Josiah sat on the chair on the far side, he took in his friends frail and week condition, unable to cover the deep distress he felt. Sometimes Josiah hated that he empathised so fully with others, he could almost feel Buck's pain and sense the fear in the room that could almost be tasted, it hung in the air, heavy and dark. Sanchez doubted any of the others were aware of it. He looked up at Ezra, he did not appear to be consumed with fear, anxious yes, but not enough fear to account for what he could feel in the room.
"How 's he doing Ezra?" the preacher asked.
Ezra looked down at his surrogate big brother and protector, and smiled.
"Well Buck, what do you think? JD said you had a quiet night, drank some early on then rested, been drinking steadily since sun up though." He looked up and smiled. "You're doing alright Buck arent you?" The gambler returned to dripping in the fluid.
If Ezra wasn't afraid then it could only be Buck. No one could blame the man for it, mired in pain, unable to move, week, dependent, who wouldn't be afraid? Buck Wilmington wouldn't, Josiah concluded, no - he was an optimist of the highest order, his glass was always half full, the grass was always greener, all his clouds had silver linings, he would have some fear but only some, the rest would be anger, determination to get well, concern for his friends, distress over the fact he was not there to protect them. The preacher had not failed to notice Ezra's plain language, gone were the twenty dollar words, pedantic use of grammar and formal names, Ezra was using a simpler more straightforward vocabulary, more like Buck. Just then Nathan returned, his face pinched with anxiety.
"It's time Ezra," he said quietly.
Both men at the patient's side could not fail to notice the syringe in his hand. Josiah stood so his friend could approach the bed. Ezra put aside the bottle. Instantly Buck began to search for the fluids he needed.
"Hush now Buck, you'll get it back," Nathan soothed. "Just as soon as we get you up a little, 'member I told you, it has to be done. Now I'm gonna give you a small dose of morphine, it'll take about a minute to work then we'll give this contraption of Ezra's a go."
He had already slipped the needle into the pale hip and depressed the plunger. The patient made no sound, no movement, even to register the inevitable sharp pain in his leg. He had stopped craning his head to reach fluids that were not there and was now quite still. It was the unnatural stillness that Nathan still found so frightening.
While he waited for the drug to work, Nathan used the hatpin to check his foot reflex, which was as strong as ever. Then he pushed the covers down to Buck's hip level. Josiah now saw the huge extent of the injuries and his stomach rolled, he had to make a conscious effort to stop himself fleeing the room and throwing up. How had he survived this? he asked himself. Then he had to remind himself that he hadn't, not yet. Nathan slid his hand under the small of his patient's back, it brought a gasp of pain. All that from the lightest of touches, oh God, this is just unbearable. Josiah was empathising with Buck he couldn't help it. Nathan put his stethoscope on the battered chest, first the relatively undamaged side, a slight frown, then on the ugly discoloured side. The reaction to the touch was not as pronounced but he did flinch. Nathan frowned, repositioned the instrument despite the reaction.
"Buck I thought I told you not to let that congestion get any worse, not listening to your doctor again," he chided softly. "Now that morphine gotta be working by know so I'm gonna check yer stomach."
Nathan placed his hand lightly over the deepest bruising on the side of lean gunman's flat stomach. Suddenly Buck's peaceful stillness was gone, he flinched - an involuntary movement of his abdominal muscles. Buck groaned he made a feeble effort to roll away, which was no more than a slight twitch of his hip, his muscles twitched involuntarily producing another moan of pain. God and thats with morphine, after five days. Josiah thought, feeling his stomach protest the level of his emotions again.
"Alright Buck, I know it hurts, but I got to check every now and again, lets just rest a few moments then we'll go for it," the healer explained.
Nathan listened to Buck's heart and breathing, waiting for both to slow down again. Josiah tore his eyes away from Buck to look at Ezra. The young southerner's head was dropped, he had a tight hold of his friend's hand, something the preacher had failed to notice before. As he watched, the young man used his other hand to clear his eyes before placing it back on Buck's forehead, pushing the unruly, thick dark hair back, allowing his hand to rest there.
"Ez you stay as ya' are, Josiah - you reckon you can lift this slowly to the first height?" Nathan asked.
The big preacher moved to the head of the bed, studied the task and nodded his agreement. Nathan took Buck's other hand in his, gave it a quick squeeze and gave Josiah the go ahead. He lifted the board until Nathan could slot the support arm into the first notch. The movement was gentle, but it inevitably pulled at both back and abdominal muscles. Buck groaned, his head rolled toward Ezra, who tightened his grip on the hand he held, and let his hand remain on his protector's forehead as it rested against his chest. Ezra dropped his own head, and Josiah could hear him speaking, but the words were so soft, so quiet, that with the added effect of Ezra's thick drawl he could not make out one actual word, even though he was only a foot or so away.
Nathan returned the stethoscope to his patient's chest, though you didn't need to be a doctor to see and hear the rapid shallow breathing. But as the minutes slipped by, even though they felt like hours, Buck began to settle again. Nathan seemed satisfied, he sat back.
"There Buck," he said confidently. "That wasn't so bad was it? I said it would be easier than the last time."
Sanchez shuddered to think what the last time had been like. He watched as Ezra gently pulled himself away from Buck, giving his hand one last squeeze before letting go and sitting up.
"You know Buck you need another shave, what say we ask Josiah to do it, he is really quite proficient?"
Sanchez smiled, not at the compliment, but at the return of Standish's normal speech pattern, it showed his confidence. It took him a while to realise the other two were looking at him expectantly.
"You got it Buck, I'll get the things, remember how I did the 'little one', not a scratch even with him squirming all over the place." He risked a glance at Ezra, too see him flush with embarrassment, not a common sight. "There! Look at that, don't see old Ez red-faced and lost for words often."
Josiah was surprised to find himself falling in with the others and speaking to Buck as though he were awake. Just then JD came in, he wanted to see Buck before giving in and getting some sleep. He was tempted to go to sleep beside Buck, but wisely chose to bed down on Barry's bed, there was something about Josiah being there that told him Buck and the preacher were going need some privacy.
The shaving was done in private, just the two of them. The familiar and pleasurable sensation coupled with the pain dulling effects of the morphine began to part the darkness that surrounded Buck. A voice came to him through the darkness and he struggled to reach it. As he worked, Josiah talked about the things that had happened in town while he'd been away, about how so many people had asked after him. He finished the shave, carefully wiping away the excess soap, finally patting his friends jaw dry. When he turned back after putting the shaving kit in the bowl he met Buck's midnight blue eyes.
"Hello," he said gently, "Nate said you needed me."
It had been the word 'need' that had struck something deep in Josiah, not 'want', not 'like' but needed to see him. Buck continued to stare at Josiah, his eyes were still not focusing, and the blurry images he was getting were disorienting. He did recognise the voice, and the general outline was unmistakable. He frowned, blinking hard in an attempt to clear his vision.
"Yes need Josiah," he said carefully in a weak, halting voice.
Fear, there was so much fear, in his voice, his face, his whole body radiated it. Josiah could see it and feel it. He took Buck's hand in his and squeezed it gently.
"I'm here, whatever you need, I'll be here," he assured.
Buck was focusing better, the dulled down pain level was making it easier to concentrate, yet he still couldn't articulate what he wanted, so he just concentrated on maintaining eye contact.
"You're scared arent you, what you're going through, anyone would be scared." Josiah decided he should try to push him a little, since Nathan had warned him if Buck did regain a measure of consciousness it wouldn't last long.
Buck frowned slightly, he swallowed as he worked on his reply. "Don't want to die like Ma," he said slowly, but more strongly.
"What happened to your Ma?"
Buck's face became very sad, he looked lost and alone. "A man beat her, she died, very slowly, in pain all the time." His voice was steady, measured, sombre. "Two weeks." He finished.
A vision of a woman dying in agony over a long fourteen days filled Josiah's head. "How old were you Buck?" he asked.
"And you were with her the whole time weren't you?"
His friend nodded slowly, "I helped take care of her, I was with her at the end." His eyes closed. "I miss her."
Josiah groaned inwardly. Good old jovial, happy, fun-loving, devil-may-care Buck hid his personal demons so well few people guessed he carried such sadness, fewer still got a glimpse at it. No wonder he made such a connection with JD, who had also nursed his mother in her final illness. He gave the hand in his own huge appendage a gentle squeeze.
"You still with me Buck?" he asked.
The gunman's eyes opened slowly. "Yeah - I'm still here."
"Buck, I know you're afraid, but Nathan's very pleased with your progress, you're not getting any worse, your not getting any weaker, we're lifting you so your lungs can work better. I know it hurts, and it's gonna go on hurting for a while yet, but "
"Can't go on, too hard, too tired try but 's hard so black lonely too long, I'll get lost."
Josiah's heart went out to him, never had he heard such an eloquent description of being trapped in unconsciousness and being aware of it. He could understand how Buck wanted this existence of pain and lonely blackness to end, but he couldn't help him out of it and he couldn't let him give up the fight and end it.
"Buck don't you say that! You will not get lost 'cause we will always be here calling you home. Buck Wilmington does not surrender, he does not give up no matter what the odds are, you told me that!" he couldn't believe he was hearing this. "You can't give up on us, we need you; Ezra needs you, JD needs you; you can't leave them, what if JD turns into Chris? Who's gonna help your 'little one' when the thunder comes?"
Buck sighed, "You fight dirty preacher," he commented.
"If I have t' to keep my friend safe, yes I do. You will get better Buck, you been regaining your senses more often, youre no longer confused when you're awake "
"Never was," Buck stated as defiantly as his weakened condition would allow.
Josiah smiled. "Well I doubt you would remember those times."
"I always knew where I was and what was going on " Buck reiterated, closing his eyes wearily.
Josiah watched as some of the tension left his battered body, this time he could not be woken again, so the preacher just sat there quietly watching, speaking words of comfort.
"Fight Buck, you have to keep fighting for your family." As he spoke he watched the moustachioed man's mouth move a little, he almost licked his lips. Sanchez looked around, and spotting the bottle Ezra had been using, tried to remember how the gambler had done it. He repositioned himself and, laying one hand along his friend's jaw, carefully allowed one drop to fall between the partially opened lips.
I hope this is what you wanted and I'm doing it right? the preacher thought; his doubts fleeing as Buck swallowed hungrily.
+ + + + + + +
Josiah stayed with Buck all day, he had a feeling he had not heard all Buck needed to say. Buck remained quiet, drinking steadily helped by Ezra, Nathan and Josiah as JD slept. Come the evening JD joined them; Nathan concerned about the congestion on Buck's chest, decided to raise him again in the evening. They repeated the procedure, and it was, despite the second dose of morphine, just as painful. Sanchez asked them all to leave once Nathan was satisfied his patient was resting quietly. He was hoping that the effects of the pain killing drug would once again help Buck to find his way back to them.
About an hour after the others had left he was rewarded. Buck shifted imperceptibly, his eyes moved.
"Buck? Come on Buck talk to me, come back to us," Josiah encouraged.
Buck's head moved toward the sound of a familiar voice. He forced his way past the blackness, and the dull throbbing aching pain. His eyes opened slowly, blinking as he tried to focus on the figure before him.
"Hello again friend," Josiah said gently, laying his hand over Buck's to help him orientate himself.
"Hello yerself," Buck said weakly.
"I told you we would be here to pull you back."
"Yeah ya did." Suddenly his eyes slid past the preacher to the end of the bed, a strange expression came over him. Josiah couldn't place it, joy, apprehension, contentment - he just couldn't work out what was going on.
"Buck, what's wrong?" he asked. Stupid question Sanchez! he berated himself.
A week grin played on Buck's lips. "You want a list?" he asked sarcastically. "I ain't forgot you calling me a liar preacher."
Josiah was confused and hurt, surely he hadn't done that, he wouldn't ever, Buck and the truth were an indivisible pair. Buck was apparently aware enough to know what Josiah was thinking.
"Said I didn't know what was going on, I knew all the time." Buck explained with even a hint of indignation.
Josiah remembered what Nathan had relayed to him of Chris edict about telling Buck the truth, no matter what.
"Now pal, that isn't exactly true you know, the second time you came to you thought you were dead and so was Chris, and that Mrs. Brighton was your Ma, and then again when Mr. Brighton threatened you. When Ezra came you thought he was the Little One."
He watched Buck work through this information, a small furrow of a frown appeared as he concentrated.
"Called Ez that so he'd relax, be his self, only me and him see his real self." This Josiah could believe, but he was amazed Buck had had the presence to deliberately use his supposed confusion to put Standish at ease. "How do you know about him and storms?" he asked interrupting Sanchez's train of thought.
The preacher smiled, "I got eyes, before Louisiana he uses to get all jumpy when a storm was coming, now he's fine, except this last storm, the old jumpy Ezra was back, but you weren't, don't take a genius to work it out," he explained.
"No flies on you Josiah Sanchez. You won't tell the others will you, don't let them tease him?" he asked with sudden anxiety.
"Never, Buck never, everything you tell me is just between us and the Lord, you know that."
"Can't blame a guy for thinking he was in hell, hurts like hell, his dead Ma talking to him an' all. Don't remember the other time, what happened?"
Josiah humoured him and explained about Mr. Brighton jumping to conclusions and threatening him and how he thought it was his mother who was being threatened. Buck worked on this for a while, he even closed his eyes, but Sanchez could tell he was still conscious. Finally he opened his eyes.
"I had a dream about the first time a man hurt Ma when I was about eight, guess that was it?" Josiah agreed it probably was. He was concerned about the phrase 'the first time a man hurt Ma' just what had his mother done that she was beaten more than once, but much as he wanted to know the answer, he forced himself to concentrate on the job at hand, ensuring Buck knew the truth and kept on fighting.
"But you do know now it wasn't your Ma speaking to you it was Mrs. Brighton, don't you?" His comment brought a pitying response from Buck, clearly Josiah needed things spelled out for him.
"No, no, no, Josiah Ma only used Miz Brighton, I seen her whispering in Miz Brighton's ear, tellin' her what t' say, I guess ghosts can't talk out loud to ya, eh?"
This scared Sanchez, was Buck feverish, deluded, had is brain been effected by loss of blood or pain? He reached out to lay a hand on Buck's forehead, Buck instinctively flinched away but Josiah managed to place his hand and gauge the heat radiating from it. Which wasn't much, maybe a little high but nothing to cause delirium.
"I ain't sick in the head preacher I know what I know, my Ma she watches over me and when I needed her she came to me. It was the last thing she told me before she passed, that she would always be watchin' over me, and if'n I ever really needed her she would come to me." He continued to fix Josiah with an unwavering stare. "Hell Josiah! Youre s'pposed to know about this stuff!"
How did a wise man like Josiah not know this? Buck asked himself, as he continued to explain patiently.
"It's what Mammas do for ya, mine, the kid's, Vin's, even your'n, they never stop lookin' after their young'ns."
"What about Maude?"
Buck's eyes darkened. He had no yet forgiven Maude Standish for the way she had treated Ezra as a child. He wouldn't disrespect her, but his opinion of her parenting skills was not repeatable in company. Yet she had not allowed her evil brother to kill her son, so he had to admit even Maude watched out for her child, and who knew? When old Maude conned her way past Saint Peter, even her heart might soften.
"Even Maude," Wilmington confirmed.
It occurred to Josiah that this wasn't like the last conversation they had had, for a start it as much longer, Buck, no matter what he was saying, was lucid, there was a strength in his voice that had been absent before. Clearly the morphine was acting like alcohol, dropping his inhibitions and loosening his tongue but what he said did make a kind of sense, and it was clear he believed it. Josiah had never dismissed the possibility of ghosts, he had seen too many strange things and spoken to too many honest people who, like Buck, swore blind they had seen one, to discount it. Nor did he discount the strength of the human spirit, both in the living or the dead.
"You say you saw your mother whispering to Mrs. Brighton?" he questioned.
"Yes, ain't you listening to me? She can't talk to me on her own so she whispers to Miz Brighton and she talks to me. Do you reckon Miz Brighton knows she's saying someone else's words?"
Josiah wasn't going to get into that debate, besides he had another question. "Buck how often have you seen your mother?"
"Most every time I'm awake," he said more quietly, yawning.
Josiah saw this and the grimace of pain that accompanied the sudden motion, he realised the morphine was wearing off.
"Buck?" he asked carefully.
"Can you see her now?"
"Of course, she's right there."
+ + + + + + +
Buck raised his arm and pointed to the end of the bed. Almost as soon as he had pointed his arm dropped back, another grimace of pain and a shuddering breath indicating just how much effort this simple movement had needed. Josiah turned to look; though he wasn't expecting to see anything. The room was empty as far as he could see. He looked back at the pale figure on the bed, Buck was looking at the end of the bed, he was smiling, looking peaceful. As he watched, Buck's eyes moved as if he were following someone in the room, Josiah watched fascinated as Buck followed whatever he was seeing, until he appeared to be looking just past Josiah's shoulder. The big preacher felt the hairs on the back of his neck rise; he almost convinced himself he felt a warm breeze on his ear.
Buck watched through increasingly heavy eyes as his mother's form bent over Sanchez's shoulder. The heavy sent of lilac wafted to him, reminding him of long past childhood days, of a time when he had no cares, no responsibilities, when he was loved and safe. He could barely keep his eyes open as he watched her whisper in the preacher's ear.
Josiah was anxious to get Nathan to check Buck over, he had been awake much longer than before, although he had seemed stronger, he was now clearly very tired. As he watched Buck's eyes closed and not reopen, his breathing seemed to Josiah to become deeper, he looked more peaceful and relaxed than at any time since Josiah had arrived.
"I don't think you need me here any more," he said, as he got to his feet trying not to make any noise.
"Bye Ma," Buck said softly in his sleep.
Josiah turned back to view the sleeping gunman, then he cast an eye around the room. "Good bye Miz Wilmington; and thank you," he said quietly.
Sanchez slipped out to find all the others in the main room, the lamp was turned down and Ezra dozed in the most comfortable chair. JD and Nathan turned to him, JD immediately rising from his chair. Josiah told the youngest regulator to go and sit with his surrogate big brother. Once he was gone, the big ex-preacher turned to his friend.
"Nathan, I can't explain why, but I know he's going to make it," he stated simply, holding Nathan's gaze with his own pale blue eyes.
"How is he?"
"Better I think, you need to check him out, he was awake until just now, we talked for some time, then he drifted off."
"So he's unconscious again?"
"No I think he's asleep, he seemed a little warm though."
As Nathan when in to the bedroom JD turned to look at him with a big grin on his face.
"Nathan! Come and see - he's getting better!" he whispered excitedly.
Nathan's quiet and gentle exam did indicate a marked improvement, despite the low grade fever, there was no worsening of the congestion, he was, as Josiah had thought, asleep rather than unconscious, and just to prove it Buck's head shifted and he mumbled something incoherent in his sleep.
"Well it is looking more hopeful, JD you gonna sit with him all night?" he asked the enthusiastic young man.
"Sure, been asleep all day I'm wide awake now."
"You keep an eye on him, I need to know if his fever goes up, you know what to look for," JD sighed, and nodded. "You come get me if it does or you're worried about something. You promise?"
"Yes Nathan, I promise now, will you two get some sleep, but make sure you tell Ez all this, even if you have to wake him."
Josiah shook the slumbering gambler until he roused. Standish looked up into the preacher's gentle pale blue eyes. Eyes that were smiling at him.
"Come with me," he said enigmatically.
If fear had gripped Ezra as he was woken, it had been fleeting and replaced by curiosity as he followed Sanchez into the bedroom. There he found JD sitting beside Buck a stupid grin plastered on his face. Ezra frowned, failing to see what he had been roused for.
"I fail to "
"He's asleep Ezra," JD whispered.
Still Ezra did not comprehend, his eyes rested on his protector, brother, and confidant, puzzlement clear in his face.
"Asleep," JD explained again.
The light finally dawned on Ezra and he approached the bed tentatively, as soon as he got closer he could see the difference, there was pain evident in the features but at the same time peace, but the deathly stillness gone. Even as Standish watched, his eyes twitched and his head moved to one side.
"He's gonna make it Ezra," JD whispered, low enough so that the two men in the doorway could not hear. "Our brother is going to live."
Ezra smiled, his eyes on his 'brother's' slumbering form. More than anything he wanted to lay down on the other side of the bed and sleep beside him. To be there for him, to draw comfort himself from Buck's ever constant presence. He had been told why he felt this way, how Buck never left Little Ezra alone, not for one night in that whole week, how he alone could calm the 'five year old' when the nightmares, pain, fear and sickness were too much for the traumatised and lonely child. But he couldn't remember it, only fleeting disjointed images. While Buck's life hung in the balance it had been possible to be close, but no longer. Now the mask, the pretence had to be re-established, his emotions hidden and controlled, at least until they were alone.
JD remained behind as Nathan made all the others leave. He warned them it was far from over, and Buck's life was still very much in danger. His cold clinical words ran off Ezra like so much water, it was JD's words he held close and believed.
Come dawn JD had fallen asleep been woken and sent to bed and replaced by Ezra. "Ah am going to be here Buck, however long it takes, no matter what you need, ah swear. You will not leave us, we all, every one of us, needs you. You are too important, too vital, and too strong to die because you saved a child's life. Saving children's lives seems to be habit, first JD, then me, now little Melinda."
"JD ain't no kid." Buck's voice was weak and quiet, but his words were clear.
"I know, not physically but in his heart he still is."
Ezra moved around so Buck could look him in the eye without moving.
"Do you need me to get Nathan?"
A slight shake of the head. "Thirsty," he breathed.
Nathan had said they no longer needed to drip feed him the medication, and if he asked he could for now have plain water. With infinite care, he lifted Buck's head enough so he could easily swallow the cool water in the glass Ezra's other hand held to his lips. Buck swallowed slowly and carefully, aware he was hurt inside and afraid if he drank too much too fast he would hurt himself further.
Ezra understood intuitively. "It's alright, you have been drinking since you were hurt, you won't make it worse now I promise, Nathan said you need to drink if you can."
Buck's deep blue eyes drifted up to meet Ezra's green ones, the 'thank you' was unspoken but understood. Ezra stayed like that until Buck seemed to have had enough, then he eased him back onto the pillow. He could see his friend was fading, about to drift back to sleep, before he slipped back Ezra pulled his watch from his pocket, and lifting Buck's hand, he curled the sick man's fingers around the smooth metal object that had once been his.
"I remember Buck, I will always remember."
Buck's fingers tightened on the pocket watch. Ezra's had been destroyed in the fall that had plunged him in to the amnesia that had left him believing he was five years old. It had happened just before Christmas, the remaining six gunmen combining to give Little Ezra a real Christmas. Buck had given him his own watch, first having Mary Travis engrave it with the words 'For My Little One' 'You'll Always Be In My Heart'. One of the last things Little Ezra had asked Buck, before he regained his memory, was to never let him forget how much he loved Buck.
"Ah will be here, so will JD, for as long as you need us." Ezra assured.
Buck finally gave in to the sleep that was calling him. His mother had come to him when he needed her, she had gone now so he knew he wouldn't die, in her stead he had his boys to give him the courage for the battle he knew lay ahead. Confident than he was going to live Buck let sleep claim him again.
Buck's recovery took a long time, Nathan was very cautious to begin with and Chris and Vin went along with him. But Ezra, JD and Josiah were totally confident. None of them could or would explain their confidence but it was unshakeable. For the two further weeks he remained at the ranch, Ezra and JD remained with him constantly, the others, especially Nathan, made regular visits. They read the book Josiah had brought with him the first time, Nicolas Nickleby, often with the older Brighton children listening in. When he made it back to town Nathan found himself in a battle to keep him in bed, a battle in which Ezra and JD were his biggest allies. But it was a battle he won and in time Buck made a full recovery. On the first day he was up and walking down the main street of Four Corners with his guns on, his first call was at the church. As he entered he saw Inez lighting a candle, as he watched she crossed herself and rose to leave. Only then did she see Buck standing in the doorway.
"It is good to see you once more on duty Señor Buck, welcome back." she said as she approached.
"Thank you darlin', what brings you here this morning?" he asked, flashing his trademark grin.
"I was thanking the Holy Mother for answering a prayer, and that is all you will ever know," she stated firmly, as she swept past him out into the sunshine.
He watched her go, wistfully wishing she would give him just one sign she cared for him, then he turned to go inside the run-down house of God.
Like Inez he knelt in front of the rows of lit candles. Taking a fresh one and dropping his 1c in the box he lit the candle and placed it next to the newest one, Inez's candle.
"Thank you Ma."
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