Nature of the Beast

by Toni

Chris' horse was racing full speed after the men who had robbed the bank in the nearby town of Falstaff. The black steed could read its masters' desire to apprehend those ahead of it. The horse's head was down with its ears flattened back trying in vain to over take the bad men. Unfortunately it had taken a stone in its shoe and was slowing as the pain from the injury was over riding its basic desire to please the man on his back.

"Damn," Chris cursed to himself. He was loosing the bank robbers or at least the half he, Buck , Vin and Nathan had gone after. The robbers had split in two directions. Josiah, Ezra and JD had gone after the others. Buck had taken a bullet in the arm, not a bad injury but enough to slow him. Nathan had stopped to look after him. Now Chris' horse had pulled up lame. It was not the horse's fault but he called after Vin to stop he didn't want the tracker to go it on his own. There were four men ahead of them he didn't want to risk the life of his friend for somebody else's money. They would find them later, he hoped his other men were having better luck. He knew Josiah's horse was slower and he didn't know how hard Ezra might try to catch the robber. JD was another story, the boy would run the man down on foot if he had too. It would take the other's with him to hold him back.

+ + + + + + +

Two of the robbers had ridden too far ahead of them but they were just within reach of the last man in the group. Sensing the trouble he was in that man turned and fired on the peacekeepers. Although a random firing the bullets were coming dangerously close. Ezra pulled his gun from its holster. He aimed the weapon, he was trying to wing the man but as he pulled the trigger the horse the man was riding tripped on a stone throwing the robber into the direct path of the now lethal bullet. The robber slumped to his saddle, his horse no longer being elicited to run slowed its pace until its reins were grabbed at by Josiah. The now dead robber fell from his horse on to the ground.

"Didn't mean to kill him but the miscreant shouldn't have run," Ezra intoned as he walked over to check the body showing no emotion at causing the death of the felon.

"If you hadn't done it brother one of us might be dead now," Josiah spoke up he knew it bothered the gambler to actually have to kill whether or not he showed it or not.

"Yes , well I assume we should take the man back and see if we can find Mr. Larabee," Ezra drawled. The gambler turned away and walked to his horse. Josiah lifted the dead man onto his horse, Ezra had done his job the preacher could help out the gambler.

"Josiah his saddle bags fell off where do you want them?" JD asked holding them up.

"Throw them over your saddle JD we'll take care of them when we get back to town.

+ + + + + + +

Chris Larabee was in a foul mood when the others met up. He watched as Josiah brought up the dead body draped over his horse.

"Sorry Chris the rest of them got away, Ezra got this one here," Josiah explained. He didn't need to ask Chris about the other robbers. The others had also gotten away and Chris was fit to be tied.

Vin walked up to their leader. "Don't worry Chris I'll get a fresh horse and come back and pick up their tracks."

"Ezra "Chris called out "You had to kill him, you couldn't bring him back alive? "

Ezra shrugged "Circumstances warranted otherwise " he answered and walked away apparently unconcerned with the anger directed towards his back.

"Wonderful, we won't be able to interrogate this one "Chris spat out the words.

"Ease up Chris, Ezra wasn't trying to kill him it just happened," Josiah said trying to help the gambler.

"Yeah, and I can see it really broke his heart too. "Chris replied as he watched the gambler walk to Buck.

" Buck are you all right?" Ezra asked. He had seen Nathan tending to the man who was still seated nursing his arm.

"Yeah, lucky shot is all " Buck answered back, he felt sorry for Ezra. Chris seemed to be taking all his anger out on the poor man.

"I would say you were the lucky one not to have taken the bullet else where." Ezra answered he could still hear their leader in essence growling and he didn't feel like being in his wake this time. "I take it all did not go well with the other miscreants you were chasing? "

"Naw, everything seemed to go wrong, then Chris' horse came up lame or we might have caught them." Buck answered.

Buck Wilmington was troubled he had watched Chris Larabee becoming more and more stressed. He knew the anniversary of his families death was coming up but this year the man was becoming worse. They had found who had killed them and who had paid to have them killed, he thought his friend would have let go but now it was as if there was nothing to hold onto, to direct his anger at ... Except Ezra .... Who seemed to accept the position he was in. Buck didn't think it was fair.

"Nathan you about done there? " Buck asked.

Nathan grumbled he got no respect "Yeah, sure fine, go ahead take off, see if I patch you up when you start to bleed to death," he groused but they all knew he would be there when needed.

Buck got up nursing his arm which had been put in a sling. Holding it to his chest he walked to Chris.

"Don't ya think you're being a little tough on him?" he asked the brooding man.

Chris looked up, he knew who Buck was talking about "You want to be the one who tells the people of Falstaff that their money is gone, forever?" he asked. He actually knew Wilmington was right but the foul mood had started and he was going to let it ride its course.

"Well get the money back, Vin will find their tracks. I'm getting tired of you riding Ezra. I don't see why he don't lay into you one of these times. " Buck said shaking his head. He'd seen Chris get falling down drunk during these times, holding his head while he threw up but he wasn't going to let Chris turn on anyone else, anniversary or no anniversary. "Tear into me if you like though I might slug you one but leave Ezra alone. "

"What's your problem Buck? "Chris asked not willing to concede the problem.

"It's not my problem pard' it's yours " Buck answered and walked away.

+ + + + + + +

Ezra stood at the far edge of the group, he had heard the exchange between Buck and Chris. He smiled looking down at the ground. Someone had finally stood up for him too bad it was for the wrong reason. He knew Chris Larabee needed some one to yell at. To blame when something went wrong. The man no longer had hate and retribution for his family to fall back on, with out that he used alcohol as his crutch. Ezra had decided to let himself be the fall guy. Hell it was so easy, he was always being blamed and castigated he might as well let it come to good use. Chris would not be the first person to yell at him and he wouldn't be the last at least the end result was beneficial. Ezra sighed, maybe he had found his calling.

+ + + + + + +

What was left of the bank robbers watch from a overhang as the posse broke camp and headed back to their own town of Four Corners.

"Well Jake what are we gonna do about the money? " the younger man asked. They had unwisely given the money to Micah, the now dead man, to hold. They had worked hard for the money, their desire for it had not abated.

" maybe we can get it back from them," Jake answered, he knew it would be difficult but they had worked hard for it and he had lost a friend. They wouldn't leave empty handed.

+ + + + + + +

Not far from town JD veered off waving to the rest of them.

"Where's that boy off to?" Josiah asked waving back to the young man.

"Casey's birthday, Nettie made her a cake and JD bought her a present. " Buck answered. JD had already cleared him leaving with Chris, apparently Chris had enough common sense left to know it was important to the boy.

Chris turned toward the gambler as they entered town. "Ezra take the body to the undertaker, your mess, your problem," he said as he rode on to the livery.

"Ezra, I'll help ya there," Vin said, he too had noticed how disagreeable Chris had become to the gambler.

"Thank you but totally unnecessary Mr. Tanner," Ezra replied as he guided his and the dead man's horse to the mortician.

"Have your dinner waiting for you when you're finished," Josiah called out to the southerner.

Ezra turned and tipped his hat to him smiling.

Buck was about to enter the saloon when he was stopped by Larabee at the front. "Go on over to the telegraph let them know at Falstaff we didn't get the banks money back yet, we'll go out again tomorrow. "Chris instructed.

Standing in the corner by the alley still hidden one of the bank robbers listened in to the conversation. Where was the money, if he didn't have it and the peacekeepers didn't have it who did. Silently the man made his way to his horse eager to vacate this town where the handful of men who watched over it had ridden to catch them. He would tell Jake, he would know what to do.

+ + + + + + +

Ezra had left the dead man with the undertaker. He had handed him a coin to take extra care of the man though he knew who ever the man and what ever the circumstances the mortician would handle the matter with respect. The southerner left the undertaker's office surprised to see Vin Tanner was waiting outside for him. The tracker grabbed his arm and guided him towards the restaurant where Josiah had been true to his words and was waiting for him with a steak and potatoes just as he liked them.

"Gentlemen what have I done to receive such bounty?" Ezra asked pleased but uncomfortable that these men were paying so much positive attention to him.

"Aw we figured Chris was givin you enough grief leaving none for us we just thought we'd let you know we appreciated it. "Vin answered good naturedly.

Though Ezra thought he most certainly could use a bath and change of clothes first was smart enough not to look a gift horse in the mouth and the steak dinner did make his mouth water. The gambler sat down with a smile and dug in.

"Ezra don't spend all night playing cards, we're leaving early again and you're going with us. "Chris said to the gambler who seemed to be having a good night at his table and didn't look to be leaving soon. Buck had left with Miss Millie, Nathan had long ago called it a night and Vin was waiting to walk out with him. JD had not yet returned from Casey's probably spending the night there.

Ezra nodded his head in Chris' direction while continuing to play his hand. He intended to stay at the gaming table awhile longer, he knew it didn't matter much when he went to bed he had to get up at an ungodly hour which he didn't much care for.

Ezra continued to play for another couple of hours until one by one the rest of the players either left when their money ran short or became sleepy themselves. The gambler had managed to accumulate a decent sum of money with out cleaning out the other players. He knew if he took all their money when they came into more money they would not wish to play the cards with him. He collected his winnings tossing Inez a tip and began to make his way upstairs to his room.

Ezra entered his room immediately sensing another presence in the dark but before he could pull his gun he saw stars as he was struck on the back of his head and fell to the floor.

+ + + + + + +

The gambler awoke to a sharp headache, he couldn't seem to move and when he was able to clear his head enough to open his eyes he saw he had been tied to a chair. He recognized the location as an empty building at the edge of town. He and the rest of the peacekeepers had kept an eye on it to keep away vandals. His head still swam but he couldn't think of any reason anyone would want to keep him here. A movement directed his attention to the corner.

" Bout time you came to, didn't think I had hit you that hard. " the man spoke.

"Would you care to tell me why you have brought me here and tied me up?" Ezra asked he had too much of a headache to lollygag.

A larger man, older came forth "Do you remember me?" he asked.

With the headache Ezra had he couldn't remember much of anything. "I sorry, I don't think I've had the pleasure of your acquaintance," Ezra answered trying to wriggle out of the ropes.

"Don't get your dander up trying to get out of them ropes, George here is the best rope knotter I've ever seen. You sure you don't know me?" he asked again walking closer to Ezra.

Ezra squinted his eyes as he looked closer, still not recognizing the man he shook he head "Sorry "

The larger man struck Ezra across the face "I'm the man you stole ten thousand dollars from you son of a bitch." he answered in anger.

The man had struck Ezra so hard he was afraid he might have broke his jaw. It was sore enough. Spitting out the blood from his mouth he looked at the other man in surprise.

"Sir, and I use that term loosely, as much as I would love to have that much money I'm afraid you are mistaken," Ezra answered evenly as he looked into the other man's eyes knowing full well he was not being believed.

The man hit him again knocking the chair over "You killed Micah, he had the money, now you got the money." he howled.

Two other men came forward picking Ezra and the chair up and setting it right.

"Gentlemen I must again reiterate I do not have your money. " the gambler again stated knowing the futility of it.

"We're not leaving this town without our money" he stated. Ezra saw Jake pull up another chair in front of him, he assumed the man was getting tired of towering over him and was going to be face to face. He was wrong.

The two men who had helped earlier lifted his legs and placed his feet on the other chair. His feet had also been tied together he was unable to move.

"Listen fancy man there were only three of you with Micah. You, that kid, and the preacher man. My moneys on you so to speak. If we can't get it out of you we go after them. But you're the likely choice," Jake motioned to one of the other men. A gag was forced into Ezra's mouth. Ezra thought how am I supposed to say any thing with this filthy thing in my mouth.

Jake picked up the mallet, he knew what he had to do, he wouldn't make any of his men do it, he would do it himself. The act would give him no pleasure but his men counted on him as leader.

"Now I got nothing personal against you but my men and me are about plum worn ragged and it took us a bit of doin to earn that money and we ain't leavin here with out it," Jake explained as he brought the mallet down on Ezra's legs striking the gambler just below the knees.

Ezra screamed through the gag that had been placed in his mouth, he had felt the legs breaking, the pain was excruciating, tears streamed down his eyes. He thought he was going to choke on the handkerchief. Two men had held his chair up or it would have fallen over. One of the men removed the gag from his mouth finally. Ezra's breathing was ragged.

"I'll give you a couple of days to think things over, if we don't get our money back we work on the kid, then the preacher, then you again."

Again Ezra felt himself being hit on the back of the head, he was released from the torment of earlier.

"Untie him and leave him close to the door, make sure the door is ajar, I don't want him unable to get out and unable to get help for hisself. Can't get the money from him if he's dead."

Jake left the store confident his men would follow his orders. He still thought the gambler had their money. He knew it was hard to pry anything of value from a man of his sort.

+ + + + + + +

Chris sat in the saloon with his fellow peacekeepers finishing their breakfast. He sipped the last of his coffee and slowly wiped his mouth with his napkin. The rest of his men were here ... save one.

"All right where is he?" he barked, actually he had awoken in a pretty good mood and even Ezra's absence had not yet changed that, in fact he pretty much expected the gambler's late arrival. The man never did like to get up early. He turned towards the rest of his men.

Buck saw Chris' gaze settle on him "No, now that's just not fair I had to wake him the last time, almost shaved one side of my mustache off when he fired." he complained.

"Should have ducked Buck "Nathan said and laughed.

"Oh yeah, real funny you go wake him up then. " Buck countered.

"Can't I'm the only person who can patch all you guys up," Nathan said and grinned.

"JD you go, you haven't been up there recent " Buck said turning to the young man.

"Not me I'm too young to die yet," JD said beaming with his glass of milk in his hand a milk mustache was on his face.

Buck sighed exasperated and looked towards Josiah pleading.

"All right brother I guess I can do the honors today," Josiah said as he got up and slowly made his way up the steps to the accursed door of their resident gambler.

"We'll make a saint out of you Josiah," JD called out.

They sat around the table in silence waiting to hear the sound of Ezra's gun being fired.

A few minutes later Josiah returned with a troubled expression on his face. "He wasn't there " he said

"Don't think he's already at the livery do you ?" JD asked surprised.

"His bed's not been slept in." Josiah replied.

Buck, you and JD go over to the livery and see if his horse is still there. "Chris instructed he had been prepared for the gambler to be late for which he would have chided him on but the fact Ezra hadn't been in bed at all and he wasn't carrying on a late game of poker through to morning did not bode well for the southerner. Buck and JD left but returned a short time later.

"Ezra's horse is still there, his saddles not on him or anything," JD said worriedly this just wasn't like Ezra.

"All right, Buck, JD, Nathan taken the north of town, check with all the store keepers. Vin, you and Josiah come with me, we'll check the south of town. Meet back here at the saloon. "Chris stood up. The search for the bank robbers and the bank's money could wait, right now they would search for the errant gambler.

+ + + + + + +

Ezra became conscious and immediately wished he hadn't. He found himself on the floor of the store his face laying on the cold wood floor. He was in excruciating pain, it took his breath away when he tried to move. His head hurt but it was nothing compared to the pain running down both of his legs. He was surprised they hadn't killed him but remembered they had decided to give him a while to think, they most assuredly still believed he had their money. The irony of it was he didn't. He hadn't seen any of the money on the dead bank robber. He had assumed the robbers who got away had taken it with them.

Ezra knew he had to find himself help. He didn't no when any one would come by and check on the store. If they were doing their normal patrols it wouldn't be long but Chris had said they were going back out to look for the robbers. Ezra wondered what Chris would do when he didn't show. Would he come looking for him or would he figure the gambler had decided to make himself scare not wanting to join in the search.

Ezra looked at his legs, they didn't look good his pants were bloody. It was going to hurt but he was going to have to crawl out of the store and call for help from the street. It was an arduous task, slowly he moved forward using just his arms to cross the room which now seemed extremely large. As his legs dragged they screamed out to him in agony, the skin had been broken and as he pulled himself towards the door he left a trail of blood. Sweat trickled down his eyes, at least he thought it was sweat for he didn't take the time to wipe it away. All he wanted was to reach the door and pull himself out, then he would yell at the top of his lungs and hope some one would come for him.

The door was ajar, it beckoned him, just a little more. Finally he reached his destination. He could feel the fresh air, he breathed deeply, trying to let the clear air invigorate him. Just a little bit further, he head swam he let it drop to the floor resting his forehead on the cool wood trying to muster the strength to continue. Gradually he was ready to resume. First using his left arm then his right arm he dragged the rest of his body to the door. Pulling the slightly ajar door open further he dragged himself the rest of the way out. Looking up he didn't see any one at this end of town. Ezra didn't care how it would make him look he needed to be found. At the top of his lungs he yelled. "HELP!!!"

That one word was all he could manage. His head was hurting, his vision swimming. His body could take no more. He collapsed unconscious.

+ + + + + + +

On the one end of town Buck, JD and Nathan had stopped everyone they saw asking if anyone had seen the errant gambler. Stopping in every establishment the same was heard. It was as if the southern had fallen off the face of the earth.

Nathan shook his head negatively as he walked out of the barbershop.

"What do you think happened guys," JD asked, he was extremely anxious about the southerner's disappearance.

"I don't know kid, I just don't know " Buck replied looking around hoping at any moment he would see the gambler sauntering towards them with a grin on his face oblivious of all the commotion.

+ + + + + + +

Chris scowled he had even woken up every drunk and malingerer trying to find the whereabouts of the missing gambler. The three had searched every where they could think of splitting up to make sure they had asked everyone.

"Chris I reckon we should maybe check some of the ranches out of town." Vin said watching the dark man. No one who had watched this man in the last few days would believe that he had actually cared what happened to the southern gambler. But he cared for him the same way he cared for the rest of the peacekeepers. They had become what was now his family, the only family he had left.

Chris had started to respond when he saw Josiah, the preacher, turn and look down the street. His facial expression was of rapt attention, listening.

"What's the matter Josiah?" Chris asked. He too looked in the same direction but had seen nothing.

"Thought I heard someone yell, sounded like Ezra. " He answered still gazing in the direction further on. He began walking, first slowly, then faster with determination. He had seen him now and he began to run. Chris and Vin were behind him they had not seen Ezra yet but they saw the preacher's face and knew something was gravely wrong.

Josiah reached the store front. Ezra lay on the ground unmoving and unconscious his face against the boards. Josiah bent down and reached out to turn the gambler over. His face was pale but bruised, he had scrapes on his arms where the floor had torn his shirt blood oozed slowly out of them. He could see the gambler's pants were torn and bloody below the knee. Ezra had groaned when Josiah turned him over.

"Shush, it's all right now Ezra we got you," Josiah said as he tried to comfort the southerner. The preacher held him by his shoulders hugging him to his chest trying to bring some warmer back to the injured man.

"You think we should try and carry him to Nathan's clinic?" Vin asked concerned.

"No, Vin I want you to go get Nathan and bring him here, we don't want to injure Ezra any further by moving when we shouldn't," Chris instructed any perceived wrong the gambler may have done him was completely forgotten.

"Right I'll be back faster than a jack rabbit. "Vin turned down the street to find their healer.

Ezra moaned, Chris bent down and took the gambler's hand "Nathan will be here in a minute Ezra just hang on," he said not knowing if he had been heard or not but continued to hold on to the gambler.

+ + + + + + +

Vin ran as fast as he could searching for the healer. He was not to be seen on the street. They had said they would meet back at the saloon. Vin turned at the entrance to the establishment, he burst through the bat wing doors. Sure enough the rest of the peace keepers were sitting at their regular spot waiting the return of the others hoping for good news. Well the news wasn't exactly good.

Buck called out "Vin you'd find him?" he called out to the tracker seeing the man was upset.

Vin ignored him instead calling out to the black man "Nathan need ya "

Nathan jumped up immediately and followed the tracker out who took off at a run hardly allowing the healer to keep pace with him.

Part ways down the town street he saw why the tracker had been running. The gambler was down both Chris and Josiah were holding him, he wasn't moving. Nathan arrived and dropped down to examine him.

"We didn't think we should move him until you got here "Chris explained.

Nathan didn't respond he continued to look after Ezra. "He been out the enter time ?" he asked no one in particular.

"He moaned once that's all," Josiah answered.

"What do you think Nathan? "Chris asked when it seemed the healer was almost finished.

"I'll know more when we get him to my clinic but more in likely he has a concussion also both his legs are done broke. He's not gonna be moving about much for awhile," Nathan answered. He knew Ezra was going to be in a lot of pain from his legs when he woke up. He needed to get him back to his clinic before he did wake up and set the legs while he was still unconscious. "We need to get him to my place without jostling his legs too much. "

"I'll carry him Nathan it'll be quicker, he's not heavy for me." Josiah stated as he gently lifted the southerner in his arms.

Nathan went ahead to ready his meager equipment.

By the time Josiah had arrived with Ezra the clinic had been made ready.

"Josiah I'm gonna need your help setting his busted legs, the rest of you out you'll just be in my way," Nathan said. The men were reluctant to leave.

"Go on now I'll call for ya when I'm done," Nathan repeated ushering the rest out. They did not go far keeping a vigil on the steps leading to the clinic.

Nathan turned back to his patient. Josiah was already removing Ezra's clothing from him. When he came to the gambler's pants Nathan chose to cut them off.

"Ezra's not going to like what you just done to his pants, you know they're his favorites," Josiah said to Nathan and smiled.

Nathan grinned "Yeah, I know but there all ready a mess, maybe if there not too bad Mrs. Potter will mend them for him."

Removing the pants the healer saw what was left of Ezra's legs .

"Damn " he exclaimed "Looks like someone purposely smashed them all up."They were not a pretty sight.

"Can you fix them," Josiah asked grimacing.

"Yeah I think so but there gonna hurt for a while," Nathan nodded to Josiah to hold the top of Ezra's legs so he could set them but before he could do the job he heard Ezra gasp. Looking over he saw the gambler had regained consciousness . "Damn " he thought that's only gonna make it worse. Pain was all ready etched on the southerner's face.

"Ezra just take it easy I'll give you something for the pain in a minute gotta be careful though you got yourself a concussion," Nathan said holding his hand to the injured man's chest. He could feel Ezra's heart racing. He was gonna need more help than Josiah now he turned towards the door he knew the others were close by.

"Chris " the healer called out loudly. The door immediately opened the man appearing with the rest looking over his shoulder. "I'm gonna need your help holding Ezra down. He woke up and I need to set his legs. "

"Where do you want me? " Larabee asked looking down at the southerner hating to see what he was going through.

"Hold his shoulders still, this is gonna hurt a lot. Josiah his legs," Nathan took hold of Ezra's ankle and shin. He wanted to make this quick. He pulled with all his might, he felt the satisfying pop as the bones went back in place. He was surprised he hadn't heard Ezra scream till he looked up and saw the gambler had a death grip on Chris' arm his face was pale with a sheen of sweat covering it. Chris had a lock on him like a vise grip.

"Sorry Ezra just one more time and it'll all be over," Nathan said.

Ezra nodded and turned and buried his face into Chris' shoulder.

"Just a minute Nathan, Buck come on over and take Ezra's other shoulder." when he saw Nathan look up he explained " he a lot stronger than he looks. He almost threw me off the first time," Nathan nodded. Buck came in a held the gambler down from the other side. Nathan hesitated a moment until he heard Ezra's weak voice say "Go On "

Nathan pulled hard unfortunately it was not as easy as the first. The gambler was holding his breath still waiting. He pulled again this time with all his might and not as gently as the first. Ezra could not hold out this time he screamed throwing both men off of him as he sat up before passing out unconscious.

"Maybe we should have just knocked him out the first time. " Buck said and grinned sadly.

Chris rubbed his arm repeatedly he knew there was going to be a bruise there Ezra had really clamped down on him.

"Thanks guys I just need to splint his legs and clean and wrap his head," Nathan said.

"Nathan? "Chris asked looking at him.

"He'll be all right," Nathan replied to the unspoken question they all had.

Chris looked down at the unconscious gambler he realized he would have to wait till the man woke up to find out what had happened.

+ + + + + + +

Ezra awoke midafternoon the next day. His head was throbbing, his legs were throbbing. He hadn't opened up his eyes yet and he tried with the best of his ability to just go back to sleep, back to where he wouldn't be in pain. But it was not to be Nathan had some how sensed he was conscious and began calling him out of his intended bliss. Ezra tried to ignore him hoping he would simply go away but the healer was persistent.

"Come on Ezra open those big green eyes of yours, I know you're awake," Nathan persisted.

"Let me try " he heard Bucks' voice.

"EZRA " Buck yelled in his ear as he mussed the gambler's hair. Buck lifted one eyelid then the other "Anyone in there?" he yelled again. This time Ezra gave up. He already had a headache and Buck certainly wasn't doing anything good for it. He opened his eyes slowly grimacing at the light streaming in.

"See that did it " Buck said as he grinned at Nathan.

"Do you think those curtains could be drawn?" Ezra asked just wanting to close his eyes again.

"The light bothering you?" Nathan asked looking down on him.

"That is most certainly an understatement," Ezra answered groaning.

Nathan walked over and partially closed the linen drapes he still needed enough light to examine the gambler.

Nathan held up his hand "How many fingers am I holding up?" he asked.

"Three," Ezra responded.

"That don't mean nothing Nathan, you always hold up three fingers " Buck said.

"I do?" the healer asked askance.

"Sure, we learned that awhile back, no matter what we see we always say three. " Buck said and laughed.

"I guess I'll have to remember that," Nathan said and chuckled. He turned back to the gambler "All right now how many fingers do I have up?" he asked.

"Three," Ezra answered again.

Indeed Nathan did have three fingers up, he figured if they thought he knew now he would change the number but he kept it the same.

"Mr. Jackson, I may have an excruciating headache but I can see fine," Ezra complained.

"How do your legs feel," Nathan asked as he pulled back the covers to check them.

"I was trying to put them out of my mind, out of sight out of mind as they say. Though honestly it wasn't working. They hurt like hell," Ezra said grimacing.

"Sorry Ezra they're gonna hurt for awhile but I think they'll heal fine."

"Thank you Mr. Jackson, I know you are doing your best. "

"I'll make you up something to help with the pain. Buck why don't you go tell Chris Ezra's up. "

"Sure Nathan be right back, now don't go anywhere pard. " Buck said grinning at Ezra.

A few minutes later both Buck had returned with Chris followed by Vin. The time for questions had come.

"Ezra you up to a few questions? "Chris asked.

Ezra knew he would be uncomfortable answering them but the time had come.

"I think I can manage " he answered.

"Why don't you start by telling us who did this to you and why? "Chris began sitting down on the now vacant chair next to the bed Ezra occupied.

"The men who robbed the bank," Ezra commenced. "Apparently they no longer have the money to the robbery and they think we do. Or more succinctly I do. "

"And why would they think we or you have this money "Chris asked looking intently down at the gambler.

"Apparently the man I killed had the money on him, they overheard you and Buck talking about not having the money and they decided one of the rest of us must have taken it," Ezra answered not wavering his gaze at Chris.

Vin spoke up "How would we have gotten the money Ezra?" he asked from the side of the room.

"The leader of the robbers said the man I killed had the money on him," Ezra answered, he knew it was coming.

"Do you have the money Ezra?" Chris asked him directly to the point.

"No Mr. Larabee I do not," Ezra answered looking him in the eye. Ezra could see the doubt in the other men's eyes. "I can tell you don't believe me and neither did they. I have two days to come up with the money otherwise they intend to do more grievous harm on myself or they said they might go after JD or Josiah next. "

"Ah Hell Ezra, JD or Josiah could be hurt, what did you do with the money?" Nathan asked he had no doubt the gambler had come upon the money and decided to keep it.

"Mr. Jackson, I certainly do not wish to see harm come to either JD or Mr. Sanchez but as I have already stated I do not have the bank money.

Nathan scolded, he knew it was his job to tend to the sick and wounded but he had decided Ezra had brought his wounds on himself.

Ezra could see it in both Chris and Bucks eyes, they thought he had the money. He could see the indecision in Vin's eyes. At least he had a chance with one of the men. He had known from the start what their reaction would most likely be, the same reason he had been singled out from the beginning by the outlaws. It was the nature of the beast, once labeled it stuck.

"Gentlemen no matter what you may think of me I believe Mr. Sanchez and young Mr. Dunn should be warned don't you?" Ezra said his legs were beginning to hurt more he wondered if Nathan would give him the herbal brew to help him. It didn't look like he was going to receive the help. He watched the healer take the water he had been brewing off the stove and set it to the side shaking his head.

" Buck you know where JD is? "Chris asked.

"Sure I seen him over at the mercantile " Buck answered he looked back over at Ezra he thought the man at least cared about the boy not to put his life in danger.

"Go get him, I'll fetch Josiah bring them both back here. "Chris instructed. He was angry at the southerner and thought if they were all in front of him he would give up the location of the bank money.

"I'll stay here and keep an eye out," Vin said as he looked at Ezra with a sad expression, he could see Ezra was hurt both emotionally and physically.

After Chris and Buck had left he looked over at Nathan.

"Ezra looks like he hurting some " he said quietly to the healer "You gonna give him something for it? "

"You think he deserves it?" Nathan answered he himself was weighing the natural inclination to help and the fact he thought the gambler had deceived them.

"Yep and I bet you think so too," Vin answered.

Nathan brought the brew over to the gambler. Ezra looked at Vin quietly thanking him.

Ezra turned to Vin "I really didn't take that money " he said quietly to the tracker looking into the man's eyes hoping he would look past the exterior and finally have someone believe him.

"I never thought you did," Vin answered. He could see the importance had put in his last statement.

Ezra put his hand on Vin's arm " thank you " his said. The simplicity of the word was its importance.


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