Thanks to Jesse Thomas for all her help and encouragement. J
Disclaimer: They all belong to them, not me. Sigh.
Warning: sexual assault
Chris Larabee heard the noise for the second time. He silently moved across the room of his shack and took his gun out of its holster as he crept silently to the door. He opened it slowly and pushed it wide, standing off to the side.
No shots sounded.
He stepped soundlessly out into the night. A sliver of the moon gave just enough light for furtive movement. He crept around to the back of his place. Forty feet away, his eyes locked on to a sight that was as far away from anything he had ever contemplated. A naked and bleeding Ezra.
Ezra's wild stare locked onto Chris Larabee. The one man he had been searching for. The only person his terror filled mind allowed as a friend.
"Chris.........help." Ezra collapsed, his mind knowing that help was near, took the man into unconsciousness to forget.
+ + + + + + +
Vin felt betrayed on so many levels. Ezra was a fellow peacekeeper. He was a trusted friend. Why would he knock him out and leave him tied up in a cave.
The worst betrayal, Vin thought was the deeper emotions that he'd always try to ignore, feelings that at times threatened to overwhelm him in their intensity. Every time he would convince himself that he was past it all, he'd be trapped in a gaze of emerald gems, that for a second, would allow access to a soul so tender and kind, Vin knew it was useless. He was trapped forever by a single glimpse.
So that made this treachery all the more appalling. He could no longer trust his own feelings. No longer could he trust the gambler, no longer trust his own heart. Vin headed back to the livery and resaddled Peso and rode out of town. Needing the calm influence of the wilderness, he chose a direction that took him nowhere near anything he knew.
+ + + + + + +
Chris was horrified by the amount of blood that was everywhere on the gambler. He picked him up anyway and carried him into the house. He kicked his blankets off his bed and laid him on the sheet. He felt for his pulse and was relieved to find one. The gunslinger looked down at the tortured body. Gashes, cuts and bruising, along with fresh blood, were everywhere. He had to get Nathan.
Chris went to his wash bowl to clean his hands and then put on a clean shirt. He was putting on his gunbelt when he heard Ezra cry out. He went to his side and brushed his hair out of his mouth, "I'll get help, hang in there." He got up and turned to finish dressing.
"No one. Promise. No one must know. No one, please Chris." Ezra spoke the words in desperation.
Chris looked back at the anxious, terror filled eyes. They pleaded with him, Chris had no choice but to comply. "Promise." He moved closer to the wounded man. "You need Nathan."
"No..........no one. Put me in a tub of water. It can be cold." The voice was stern and defeated at the same time.
"I'll warm the water, Ez. Just hang on." He got a couple of pots and went outside for water. He put them straight on the wood burning stove and stoked the fire. As they were warming, he dragged the tub in to his dwelling. He fetched a pot of water and poured it directly into the tub, and repeated for a second pot of water. The cooked water combined with the cold should make it comfortable for Ezra to lie in. He knew in his gut that Nathan should be out here, but he wasn't going to break his word to Ezra. He was afraid that the gambler would just leave on him, and he knew that he was severely injured. He didn't know all the wheres just yet, but all that blood meant something.
He lifted the injured man and gently deposited him into the water. Ezra yelped and moaned, but when asked what was wrong, Ezra had replied nothing.
Ezra soaked in the water, once he was used to it, he began to enjoy it and then the memories set in and the shame and he let his head sink below the water line.
Chris walked in and couldn't see Ezra, he searched about the room then looked in the tub, "Hell," he gabbed Ezra and pulled his face out of the water. He pushed on his stomach. The intense pain forced the water from his throat and mouth and the conman started coughing. That was fine with Chris, at least he was alive. When Ezra started shivering, Chris wrapped a towel around Ezra's shoulders and hauled him out laying on the clean bed.
Ezra rolled onto his stomach and the towel pulled up and Chris was able to see some of the injuries. Chris was appalled and furious.
His rear looked like a woodpecker home, actual holes. The anus was ravaged, torn and cut, and Chris looked just a bit closer, "Oh lord," he said aloud, splinters. The imagined agony was enough to make Chris' stomach muscles spasm in empathy. Nathan. He had to get Ezra to allow him here. All this was sure to become infected, and Chris knew he couldn't take care of it. He didn't want Ezra to die.
Chris heated some coffee, then set about drying Ezra's hair. He laid a dry towel across the gambler's back as it was still seeping blood. Chris suspected that his front side had similar puncture holes. He tried to get Ezra's attention. "Ezra, Ezra, I need you to answer me."
Ezra moaned, "Drink, some whiskey please."
Chris obliged, figuring it might help with the pain. He knew that the conman was in pain, regardless if he showed it or not. "Ez, we gotta get Nathan......we"
"No one, you promised." Ezra voice was desperate. Eyes terror-filled.
"Okay, but if you go into fever, I will get him. I'll swear him to secrecy, but I can't let you die. You're my friend." Chris told him. He thought that Ezra nodded.
+ + + + + + +
It was late the next day that Chris found himself in town, heading for Nathan's. JD rushed up to him. "Chris, Ezra's missing. His horse is here but he hasn't been around for almost three days. Vin was gone then he was here, now he's gone again. He came in on Chaucer." JD was talking to him the whole time he was walking to Nathan's.
"Not now, JD." Chris hadn't actually heard any of JD's ramblings. He shut JD out of the office.
To Nathan he said, "I need you to come out to my place now, with all the stuff for lots of injuries. Please."
Nathan was practically speechless, Chris saying please. He truly looked worried. "Okay, Chris let me gather what I need."
"'Specially stuff for infection and pain." Chris said thank you with his eyes. Chris went ahead and saddled Nathan's horse. He rode them back to Nathan's just as he was coming down the stairs. He jumped on and the two left town without a word.
They were about half way to Chris' when Nathan asked, "You gonna tell me about it?" Nathan grew more concerned at Chris' expression.
"He'll make you promise not to tell."
"Not a problem." Nathan could keep quiet.
"It's Ezra. Nathan, I think he was.........taken." Chris found he didn't want to say it aloud, like then it'd be too real.
"Forcibly? Raped?" Nathan sucked in his breath at Chris' nod.
They rode the rest of the way in silence.
Nathan found it hard to hide his horrified expression as he looked down on Ezra. Battered face, discoloration beginning on his chest and back, rope burns on his wrists and ankles. Nathan nearly gagged, rope burns on his penis, it brought back bad memories from his time as a slave. The gouges, the torn, ripped and cut hole, and the splinters, what was done? And the pain, Nathan was more than horrified, he felt sick down to his heart. This man might be misguided in some of his ways, but this was barbaric. The road to recovery will hurt worse than this torture on occasion.
Nathan wiped his face with his hands, then changed his mind set to save this man.
Chris looked as Nathan checked Ezra, and had to turn away, tears formed. The gunslinger knew that the conman conned most into believing that he was aloof, but in actuality, he was much more sensitive that most would ever know, and Chris was afraid that they may never get 'their' gambler back again.
Two hours later, Nathan washed more of the gambler's blood from his hands, the small holes finally taken care of.
"Nathan, here, take a short break," Chris handed him a fresh cup of coffee.
"Could use Vin's swill about now, it'd keep me awake for days." Nathan sat and sipped the brew. "Chris, I'm gonna need ether, no way Ezra can be awake for working on them splinters. And if he thrashes, ...... well it could get a whole lot worse." Chris nodded. Nathan asked, "I want to keep working on the gashes, could you go in and get it. I'm not sure my face could remain plain enough."
Chris nodded again, "Make me a list."
+ + + + + + +
Chris got back into town after dark, got the supplies that Nathan needed, then knocked on Miss Millie's room, taking a gamble that Buck was reacquainting himself with her.
A muffled, "Yes?"
"Is Buck around?" He asked.
A little scuffling and Buck stepped out, a bit disheveled. "Chris? Some emergency?"
"No, you're in charge for a few days, have to take care of a problem."
"With Nathan?" Buck responded seriously.
"Something I should know about," his tone indicating that he thought it was.
"Not now, maybe later."
Buck turned his head, really looking at his friend. Pain, but not Sarah, not this time. Buck nodded, "Okay, pard. If you need me, I'm here."
"Thanks, Buck." Chris headed to his horse and out of town.
+ + + + + + +
Nathan came out the make-shift porch and sat down defeatedly. Larabee looked over at the healer's face and asked anxiously, "He's not?...."
"No, .....but Chris........oh god, ......Chris, I think a tree branch was shoved up and it punctured the end, he's been bleeding from there too. " Nathan paused, he needed sleep, "At some point here, he's gonna defecate and it needs to be washed out right away, or the chance of infection goes up past dangerous. I'm gonna need your help, can you do it?"
"I," his voice broke some, "I'm not sure he's gonna make it. Chris, this is some of the worst I ever seen."
The gunslinger raised his brows, "You've seen this before?"
Nathan nodded, "On the plantation, and during the war. Soldiers from both sides raped prisoners. Some didn't recover from the injuries, some never recovered from the anguish." Both men sighed.
+ + + + + + +
Vin rode back into town as the sun crested the mountains. He was ready to ask why without killing him first. He brushed down Peso before he made his way to the saloon. He sat outside waiting.
JD rushed over to him an hour later. "Gosh, it's good to see you Vin." JD smiled, then a frown replaced his grin, "Have you seen Ezra?"
"No." Vin's face scrunched at the name.
JD sat down hard, "Well, damm. I was hoping you had."
"Why?" With a hard voice.
"No one seen him since Sunday morning. Vin, it's Wednesday, and his horse is still here." JD was frustrated that no one seemed concerned.
"Ya check his room?" Vin asked, his voice even, no longer hard.
"Nothing, and no clothes are gone and his bags are there." JD thought that Vin was paying attention now.
Vin was, he was concerned. "You checked with everyone?"
"Well, Chris only came to get Nathan, someone on the road. Tried to talk to him, but he wasn't listening."
Vin thought a minute. 'Ezra hadn't been seen since he put me in that cave. I rode Chaucer back and Peso wandered in a little after me.' Vin looked at JD, he seemed awful worried. "JD, saddle up, let's track'em."
JD was already up and headed for the stable.
Vin lead JD out to the cave that Ezra had left him in. Though JD didn't know this. The hurt was stronger than the anger now, but he needed answers and finding Ezra was the only way to get them. He was hoping that the trail would lead them to Eagle Bend, and that Ezra had just used a different mount than Chaucer for some reason. But on a gut level, Vin knew it wasn't that simple.
Vin found Chaucer's tracks, that was the horse that he had use to get back to town. He found Peso's tracks, they led away from the cave and Four Corners. JD watched in fascination as Vin would touch the track, gently blowing, looking for the story the dirt would tell. Vin became concerned when he saw Peso's track's head back the way they came, but without the weight of a rider. Vin dismounted and started searching the area in earnest. He sucked in his breath when he found the blood. Too much blood for his piece of mind. But what scared him the shit out of him was a red jacket. Ezra's red jacket. He found his vest and shirt, but they were shredded as though a knife had cut through them. Vin stood still, his back to JD. He couldn't let JD see the emotion at this discovery. Ezra. What in the hell happened to Ezra? Would the answer destroy him? It would if Ezra was dead. Vin masked it all as he turned around.
He handed JD the jacket and shirt. JD's brown eyes grew as large as the eyes of a hunted doe. "Vin? Is he...."
"Don't know JD." Vin answered honestly.
Catching something out of the corner of his eye, Vin sent JD the other way. He approached the rock face carefully, and what he saw made him nauseous. Several sticks with blood on them and a branch, as thick as his arm with blood and skin on it. Vin didn't want all the possibilities running through his head, let alone JD's. JD didn't need to see this.
He followed the blood and saw the stakes. Rope with blood still attached, and enough blood for Vin to know that this was the site. Vin muttered to himself, "Please let it be someone other than Ezra." But he was afraid. The blood did lead away, but not in a straight line. More as though a drunk person was walking. He called for JD and they followed the trail.
Two hours later, Vin knew where they were headed. The trail was round-about, as though he didn't want to be followed, but the continual blood drips made it easy. They were headed to Chris' shack. Vin was afraid of what he might find.
+ + + + + + +
Nathan kept Ezra under as he cleaned everything he could. He stitched the tears and cuts at the opening, he cleaned them and didn't want them to get infected. Chris tried to remain impassive as he helped, but the extent of the damage, was more than a man wanted to see.
"Chris, we're gonna have to get him to talk about this or he will never recover." Nathan said as they let the man sleep.
"You know how hard it is already for him to tells us how he feels, even if it's just a cold." Chris returned.
"Maybe Josiah..." Nathan started.
"I promised that I wouldn't tell, you can't either. He'll leave, just as he is, and I believe him. This is just us." Chris Larabee's expression was adamant and Nathan knew he wouldn't go against it.
+ + + + + + +
Ezra didn't want to open his eyes, he was afraid it would hurt too. It seemed that the act of breathing was painful. As he laid there, he tried to remember where he was and why did he hurt. He heard voices in the next room and fear coursed through his body. No people. Memories flooded his mind and he screamed in anguish.
The cries had Chris burst into the room with Nathan right behind him. Chris knelt down and touched his shoulder and Ezra flinched. Chris spoke to him softly, "Ezra, it's Chris, it's okay now, you're safe."
Ezra kept his eyes closed, he didn't want to see the disgust in his eyes. Nathan would have told him what happened, and that he let it. He tuned out all the words and let the dark take him back.
Nathan checked him and turned to Chris, "He's asleep, best thing for him."
Chris held up his hand for Nathan to be silent. He pointed outside and to his ear. The gunslinger picked up his gun and went to the door. He opened it, but didn't stand in front. No shots, just a voice. "Tanner and JD here."
Chris looked back at Nathan, then stepped outside. He looked into Tanner's face and he could see that he somehow already knew what had happened. Vin looked at him then shifted his gaze to JD and hoped Chris understood.
Apparently he did, "JD, I need you to ride into town and back up Buck."
"But what about Ezra? We found...." JD was cut off.
"Ezra is here, but that goes no further. Understood." Chris' eyes drilled into JD.
JD nodded, and looked to Vin, who also nodded. He turned and headed for town.
Vin waited for JD to be out of sight before he said a thing. "You got Ezra." The tracker didn't ask, he was stating what he knew. Chris nodded. "I found where it happened." Chris' eyes turned to the direction that JD had used. Vin answered the frantic non question. "JD didn't see anything but the jacket and ripped shirt. .....I want to see him."
The man in black shook his head. "Nobody right now."
"Chris, he knocked me out, tied me up and left me that way in a cave." Vin stated baldly.
Larabee cocked his head to the side, "How you get out?"
"There was an opened knife lying where my hands could reach it." Vin replied.
"How'd you get back?" Chris knew some of this, Ezra talked in his sleep.
"Not too convenient for you?" Chris asked.
"Yea, well, I need to know why. I really need to know." Vin said. Completely serious.
"Can't, promised." Chris rubbed his face, and sat wearily on the step.
"Well, I ain't leaving. I'll jus camp out here. I know something bad happened. I ain't leaving." Vin had the tenacity of a badger. He was there to stay. What he felt for the man wasn't going away. He knew he had to deal with this.
Chris nodded. The pain in Vin's eyes was liquid. This was more than personal, but Chris didn't have the energy to puzzle it out.
Nathan needed to work on the front of Ezra. The gashes and holes were deep, they had to be cleaned out good. And the penis, Nathan shook his head, he hoped that it didn't become infected, and if it did, then Ezra better be out of it. The man would have a difficult time with the indignity. Nathan wasn't sure that he could survive the humiliation of the offensive act.
No one knows what they can survive until they do.
An hour later, Nathan yelled for Chris. Chris gave Vin a stare that kept him where he was. Chris ran into the house.
The smell alerted him to the help Nathan needed. He took the soiled bedding and threw it out back. He brought in more water and washed Ezra gently. The gunslinger left the other pail for Nathan as he took out all the rags that Nathan had used.
Nathan worked diligently within the canal. The puncture at the top of the canal could allow all sorts of infection into the body. He needed to keep it clean until a scab formed. The splinters were already forming pus, but Nathan could only dig in so far. The agony awaiting this man will be some of the worst of his life.
Chris came back and checked with Nathan if he could do more. "Not right now, Chris. Tomorrow we will have to do most of this again."
"Get some rest, Nathan. I'll sit with him." Chris took the chair and moved it closer to the bed, resting his feet on the base board.
Nathan nodded and left. He found a bedroll all made up for him on the porch. He looked over at Vin lying on the ground, watching him. Didn't ask any questions, didn't say anything at all, just watched him. He bet that Vin would be surprised if he told him he knew. Nathan had to watch people, some of his patients were less than truthful as to their conditions. So he had seen some of the looks Vin had bestowed on the gambler. Looks the gambler had not noticed, which was almost funny, for the conman has been casting some soulful looks at the tracker, which he had never seen. Nathan was quite sure that no one else suspected. Oddly, JD would be the other most likely to figure it out, but he just couldn't put the pieces together.
Nathan fell asleep with a slight smile.
The screams woke everyone but the screamer.
"VIN..............VIN............VIN............RUN......." Ezra was screaming and sobbing, his hands moving sporadically, clenching and unclenching his fists. "NOOO!"
Vin beat Nathan into the shack, he was kneeling beside the injured man, petting his head, whispering, "Vin's safe. You saved him. He's fine. He's fine." Tears glistened in his eyes as he saw the condition that Ezra's body was in.
Ezra's eyes weren't seeing the here and now, he was caught in the delirium of the fever. "You can't have Vin......... He's gone .........he's safe." Laughter exploded first then changed to the screams. Screams of terror. Agonizing sounds that had the three men nauseous in what had actually caused them.
Tears fell freely from Vin's eyes. Somehow, being tied up in that cave has something to do with this, and Ezra is this way because of it. He laid his head on Ezra's head, murmuring, "Vin's safe, Vin's safe."
Chris and Nathan stood there, faces wet, their friends in torment.
+ + + + + + +
Over the next five days, the fever persisted, delirium induced dreams kept all from sleeping well. Chris heard things that no person should imagine, let alone experience. He wasn't sure how Ezra would make it through. It has become obvious to him that Vin had a different kind of feeling for Ezra. But the look he gave would let all know that he won't tolerate anyone messing with him. Chris, Nathan and Vin did discover that Ezra believed that Vin was still in danger. That he basically offered himself so he could keep them off the scent of Vin. Ezra also begged to die. That some of the damage inflicted, Ezra had wanted death instead. At those revelations, Vin had a difficult time, usually puking his guts out.
Vin helped tend Ezra through all this. Told Chris he didn't have to tell Ezra, but he had to help. Had to be there. Chris and Nathan appreciated the help.
Vin would reassure him whenever he whimpered. Vin received confirmation that Ezra loved him, but the road ahead would not be easy. That Ezra didn't want Vin to know, came out in the many ramblings. Chris would give Vin a look that would say, we'll take it day by day.
On the sixth day of Vin's caretaking, the fever broke. Vin knew he had to remain outside for awhile. Hopefully, Ezra would allow him back.
Nathan had been rather grateful for the fever, they could clean the wounds without Ezra feeling the worst of it. Most of the splinters were out and healing. The cut and gashes, while healing, were still able to cause great pain.
Ezra opened his eyes to see Nathan tending him and Chris near by. Unfortunately, the conman remembered pretty much everything up to getting to Chris' place. After that, one memory of waking up and a lot of bad dreams. The pain was pretty bad, but he needed it as a reminder how he was different now. It would be best not to forget.
The gambler's green eyes locked onto Chris. Never leaving him as Nathan cleaned places no man should allow a friend to care for.
Chris looked into the gaze that was finally awake, and genuinely smiled. "Glad to have you back, Ezra, scared us real bad there for a while."
Ezra closed his eyes, not deserving of the caring that rested there. He fell asleep again.
"Nathan?" Chris asked, concern returning to his voice.
"Just sleeping, he's just asleep." Nathan assured Chris. Chris stepped outside to let Vin know.
+ + + + + + +
Ezra ate when Nathan brought in soup. He drank the foul liquid the Nathan made. He drank the coffee that Chris gave him. On his third day awake, Ezra spoke more than yes or no, "May I take a bath?" He asked of Nathan.
Nathan sat in the chair next to the bed, "If you can wait 'till tomorrow, some of the stitches will be ready to come out and we can loosen those too. Can you wait 'till then?" Ezra nodded his head. Those were the last words that the gambler spoke all day.
His thoughts continued, he was sullied. Spoiled and damaged goods. His dreams of a future with Vin were gone. The only good that he had left in his life was that Vin was saved. But he had to keep him that way. He knew he must tell Chris.
+ + + + + + +
"Ezra, ya gotta get up and walk around. You can take another bath if you walk the room just once." Nathan was practically begging. Usually he would have to sit on Ezra to stay down long enough. But this time, Ezra hasn't complained or asked for anything, including a deck of cards. The bath seemed to be the only thing the gambler would ask for.
With Nathan's help, Ezra sat up and swung his legs off the bed. As he tried to place them on the floor, every cut, rip, and gouge twisted and tweaked and Ezra couldn't stop the loud yelp of pain. Chris and Vin were inside the shack before the sound left the air.
Ezra's eyes widened in shock as he saw Vin. Vin made eye contact and caught an inscrutable expression, the unexpected starkness in the lack-luster eyes made his heart constrict. Pain. A terrible, terrible aloneness, and shame. Vin's heart ached for the green eyed man, for that bleak look did awful things to his heart.
Then the mask replaced all emotion, and Ezra looked past Vin, past Chris that stood behind, and took a step forward. If he registered any pain, he did not show it in his gait, and his face showed absolutely nothing. But his eyes weren't available to read as he kept his eyes averted and down the entire time.
He forced all thought from his mind as he walked around the inside of the shack. He would not show that he was in pain. It was the only thing he had to help keep memories at bay. The pain required that he think of nothing else, or he wouldn't be able to mask it. He was lucky then, for the pain was excruciating. He walked back to Nathan.
"How was that? How much pain?" Nathan asked, knowing there was pain, upset that his patient was masking it.
"I am fine. I would like a bath." Ezra asked with his head down.
Chris signaled Vin and they went to fetch the water.
Nathan helped Ezra off with the robe he was wearing. Softly Nathan asked, "Ezra, please tell me how bad the pain is. Maybe there is something more I can do."
"You've done more than you should have had to. There is nothing any one can do now. It's already been done." Ezra told him, using more words then than he had in ten days.
Ezra stood behind the partition that Nathan put up so he could check the stitches. They could hear Chris setting the pails of water on the stove to heat. Then he left again to get more.
Nathan said softly to Ezra's back, "I know you are embarrassed that I know and see all this. One, I will not speak of this to anyone. You have my word. Two, Ezra, I have seen this and dealt with it before on those I didn't care about. You are my friend, all I want to do is to continue to help you improve. I can only do this by checking, make sure that infection can not set in. Hopefully later, we can talk about all that happened," Nathan could tell from Ezra's body language, that was not going to happen. "If not, I hope at some point you can. I will be here if ever you want to."
Ezra listened, but did not comment, but didn't fight the healer checking all the wounds.
By the time Nathan was completed, the bath water was done and Nathan helped him in. Chris came in and traded places with Nathan. Chris picked up wash cloth and soaped it, aloud he said, "I'm gonna wash your back now." That stopped the conman from almost jumping out of his skin. Chris had done this each time Ezra had taken a bath. He had been afraid that Ezra would try to rub his skin raw, in hopes of losing that dirty feeling that he has. The gambler wanted to remove the feel and smell and bad taste in his mouth, but it only rested in his mind now and he hadn't come to terms yet.
Ezra asked lowly, "How long has he been out there?"
"Since the forth day. He tracked ya here. He heard the screams. He's been camping outside. Ezra, I haven't told anything. He just won't leave." Chris looked Ezra in the eye, he need him to believe.
"Vin may still be in danger." Ezra told him after he broke eye contact.
Instead of telling the conman that he knew, he played dumb, "Why?"
Hands clenched in the water, Ezra looked at the ceiling as he said, "The men that did this, will try to get Vin. Use opiates to enslave him." His voice was held fear. "Keep him safe, Chris." The gambler asked, almost begging.
Chris nodded his head 'til the lump in his throat cleared. "I will."
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