No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

by Toni

Nathan looked across the saloon as he heard the gambler laugh and scowled in irritation. They had just had to throw out the three cowhands who had been playing cards with him. They had accused him of cheating. Ezra had told them they were just bad players. It seemed the gambler had been having more than the usual number of run ins in the last few weeks at least to the healer who disapproved of the southerner's vocation. He had voiced his displeasure with the gambler after this last incident but as usual Ezra had tried to shrug off the verbal abuse from Nathan and resume play with another set of players though the altercation between the gambler and healer had ended nasty with damaging words coming from both parties.

Nathan turned to Chris. "You know the next time he gets shot or beat up for cheatin' people I ain't gonna patch him up. The fool gets what he deserves, I've got better things to do with my time with people who really need me," he griped loudly and not for the first time to Chris.

Chris tossed back the shot of whiskey in front of him and caught the eye of Inez who was tending bar for a refill. He didn't respond to the healer. The healer was wrong Ezra didn't cheat anymore unless there was a reason. Ezra didn't need to he was a good card player and most of the rubes around this town were simply bad. Larabee decided Nathan just needed to spout off it didn't warrant a real reply this time. He knew in the end things would blow over and Nathan would tend to Ezra no matter what he said.

+ + + + + + +

Ezra had heard what Nathan had said but as he dealt the new hand he tucked away the cold remark away in the same spot as all the other hurtful things that had been said to him in his life and continued to play. He had listened to Nathan's tirade a few minutes earlier with the healer spitting out invectives until the southerner could no longer take the abuse and he had made a remark he now regretted.

"MISTER JACKSON, why would I care to ask you for assistance after all you're certainly not a doctor now are you?" Ezra had shot out the words not bullets but he saw the hurt from them just as if he had inflicted bodily pain to the black man, he saw the surprise then the hurtful look on Nathan's face. Later he would go and apologize to him but now was not the time. He was still hurting from the healer's sharp words. He was tired of explaining to Nathan that he did not need to cheat anyone, he didn't force anyone to play him and it was certainly apparent by his apparel what he did for his recreation why did the healer find it so hard to comprehend.

The pot to the last hand was raked in though not by Ezra but by the man to his right. He didn't actually win the hand Ezra had manipulated the cards so he would win. The man was a farmer and really had no business playing the cards but he was down to his last dollars and was trying a last ditch resort to make a little extra money he needed to feed his wife and kids. Ezra didn't think of himself as a benefactor by nature but tonight he figured he could afford to loose a little bit and help the man out.

"Hey Ezra looks like somebody finally beat ya," Buck Wilmington said from behind the gambler trying to make the southerner jump. He was apparently unaware that Ezra had picked this table because he could see the mirror over the bar which gave him a complete view of everything around him. Ezra's motto was you can never be too careful…or too rich.

"Well," Ezra said as he turned around quietly, "you can't win them all," and smiled at the womanizer. Buck laughed with the gambler then moved to the next table where Vin and JD were seated.

Ezra picked up his winnings from the night and picked up his hat.

"Hey wait a minute aren't we gonna play no more," the farmer said disappointedly.

Ezra shook his head. "I'm afraid I have other commitments this evening so if you'll excuse me I will be on my way," the gambler smiled amiably nodding his head to the other players at the table he turned glancing at Nathan who was still at the bar before he exited the batwing doors of the saloon.

"Now ain't that unusual, kind of early for him to be leaving. Must have another game set up elsewhere," Nathan groused still upset with the southerner.

Chris turned to the healer. "Nathan why don't you give it a rest!" he barked before he swallowed the last of his whiskey he had reached his limit. He threw some coins on the bar and left the bar leaving the healer by himself.

Buck picked up his beer and downed half of it. "Ezra must be loosing his touch to let Prescott over there best him," he said.

"Nope, you're right though he let Prescott win. I'm no expert but even I could see he was dealing him just what he wanted him to have," Vin replied he had been watching Ezra closely not wanting another altercation.

"Now why in the world would he want to do that?" Buck questioned it simply was not like the southerner.

"Maybe cause the man needed the money. Ezra and me stopped at the mercantile today Mrs. Prescott was there with their kids. The grocer was telling her he couldn't run her account any higher said she'd have to pay the next time," JD stated.

"Don't tell me Ezra's goin' soft," Buck said and chuckled.

"I 'spect Ezra's probably done a lot more for people he just don't go around and blab it all over the place," Vin replied he had seen the gambler give the grocer money to clear the Prescott's debt.

"Now I kind of doubt that, he's good in a fight but he keeps to himself and minds his own business," Buck disagreed he liked the southerner but helping someone out of the blue now that just wasn't Ezra's way.

"You just don't give Ezra enough credit," JD agreed with Vin.

Buck laughed and finished his drink then waved at Inez for a refill. "Now don't go telling Nathan that he won't have no one to argue with. "

+ + + + + + +

Chris Larabee leaned against the railing in front of the saloon a lit a cheroot. He looked about the town wondering again if it was time for him to leave this town or whether he had gained a new family with the group of men he now rode with. Deep in thought he didn't hear Josiah walk up to him. For a big man Josiah had a light foot.

"Evening," Josiah said quietly. He watched the figure of the gambler as he walked slowly down the street.

"Evening," Chris replied looking up at Josiah and following the direction of the man's sight he too saw Ezra. Larabee watched the southerner and wondered what made him stay. Ezra could certainly make more in another town, a big city but he didn't seem too interested in leaving, he even wanted to run his own establishment in town he would have too if Maude, his mother, hadn't taken his dream away from him. Maude was certainly a piece of work and he liked it a lot better when she stayed away from his town.

"Any thing interesting going on?" Josiah asked as he watched the gambler make his way to the livery probably to treat his horse to something sweet. He liked that horse way too much.

"Nope, quiet night," Chris replied "Evening," he said to Josiah as he turned to go to his room tomorrow was a new day.

"Evening," Josiah answered as he turned to go into the saloon for a nightcap.

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Nathan made his way to his clinic and his bed for once empty of any one else. He couldn't be staying up late unlike a certain gambler he knew after all he had to get up early. The town needed him and he certainly couldn't be lollygagging abut in bed. Nathan was preparing for bed when his eye caught on the medical book on the desk, Ezra had been out of town and seen it and brought it back for him, he hadn't asked for anything in return. The healer shook his head maybe he had been a bit too hard on the southerner. After all even Ezra had finally spoke out to him where usually he let it go in one ear and out the other. Nathan remembered what Ezra had said, at the time it had hurt him but in retrospect he decided he had probably deserved it after all he had been brow beating Ezra till the man couldn't take it any longer. Nathan decided he'd make it a point to be nice to him. Nathan blew out the lamp and went to bed.

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Ezra brushed at Chaucer's coat he had already fed the animal a cube of sugar. The horse had pushed for more but Ezra didn't want him to get fat and after awhile the animal reluctantly accepted that he wouldn't be getting anymore treats from his master. Ezra talked quietly to his horse he knew he was alone and he could open up to the animal that which he couldn't do with most people.

"Well the pockets are a little emptier but a good deed once in a while should pave my way to the great here after when the time comes don't you think Chaucer?" Ezra asked and looked at the horse as though he expected a reply.

The horse whinnied and snorted in answer.

Ezra smiled and set the brush aside as he scratched at the horse's neck. "Rest easy old friend tomorrow we go for a ride," he told the horse then making sure the animal was comfortable left to turn in for his own bed. It was a little early for him but he was expected to travel the following day with Buck.

Ezra walked down the street feeling as though he didn't have a care in the world….until he was grabbed from behind as he passed an alley. The southerner was thrown against a wall his head impacted causing him to see stars.

"The boss was waitin for Prescott to leave, he wants his land nice and legal. You spoiled his plans maybe next time you'll learn to mind your own business," a rather behemoth of a person spoke then sent a very meaty fist into Ezra's face.

Three other somewhat similarly built men proceeded to use the gambler as a punching bag landing what ever blow or kick they felt was necessary. After the first blow to his face it did not occur to the southerner to try and use his derringer or any other weapon he had on his possession. His clock had been rung but good. When the beating stopped he didn't know all he finally realized was he was laying on the ground looking up at the stars and his entire body hurt. Now what was he going to do… find Nathan… no Nathan was mad at him and wasn't he mad at Nathan? It was just a beating he was going to hurt for awhile but he shouldn't require Nathan. All right that decided now he needed to get back to his room. Ezra dragged his arm up to pull himself over off his back. His legs were shaking his back was killing him one of the miscreants had kicked in the small of his back. Very slowly he managed to pull himself up and lean against the wall. He tasted blood in his mouth he ran his tongue over his teeth and felt on of them loose. He spit out the excess blood and hoped he wouldn't loose that tooth. He managed to make his way to the end of the alley the saloon looked so far away and his room was above the saloon. He had to make it down the street and cross over he didn't want to go in the front way he'd have to go around back " Oh hell," he thought as it suddenly occurred to him he would have to go up a flight of stairs now how was he going to do that.

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Inez Recillos stepped out of the saloon to get a breath of fresh air. Most of the patrons had already left only a few stragglers remained in a moment she would go back in and usher the rest of the customers out it was getting late even a saloon had to eventually close. She walked down the sidewalk leaving the entrance to the saloon the odor of liquor and smoke still wafted out she may manage the business but she liked to get away from the atmosphere once in awhile. Soon she would go back in and clean up for the night. Inez made it to the end of the building she was reluctant to go much further the alley led to the back of the saloon and a back way to the upstairs but it was dark and she wanted to remain safe. There may be seven protectors to this town but she didn't want to push her luck.

As she turned to go back inside Inez heard a noise just inside the shadows of the alley.

"Whoever's back there come out right now," she called not willing to go any further.

From the darkness she heard a low moan then a voice called to her. She recognized that southern voice it was Ezra Standish.

"Un momento," Inez called to him, she turned and ran back into the saloon to grab a lantern then came back out with it to illuminate the alley. She held the lantern high above her face. She could see the gambler he was sitting on the bottom steps with his hand pressing against his back. As Inez walked closer to him she could see the bruises on his face. "Oh Senor Standish I will go get Senor Jackson," she said but before she could leave Ezra grabbed her arm weakly.

"No my dear, I think we should let him rest tonight," Ezra stated not releasing the young woman's arm.

"But Senor you are hurt," Inez implored it broke her heart to see the gambler in this condition.

"It's just a few bruises my dear, I will be fine but I would appreciate it if you could help me up these stairs," Ezra asked there seemed to be way too many steps tonight to manage.

Inez took Ezra's arm around her shoulder and began to help him ascend the staircase. It was not an easy job it was not wide enough for two people side by side she found it necessary to get closer to him which if it had been in a different situation might have been enjoyable but Inez could tell that Ezra was in pain by the time they had reached the landing at the top she had accepted almost all of his weight on herself. Inez helped him down the hallway when they reached his door the southerner made as if to enter his bedroom on his own barely staying upright. Inez entered the bedroom with the gambler.

Ezra wanted to fall on the bed and not move at least the bed was soft.

"I appreciate the help but I can take care of myself my dear," Ezra said not wanting to compromise the Mexican woman any further.

Inez helped him onto the bed then lit the lamp by the bed. She shook her head and tsked. "I should go get Senor Nathan you are a mess. "

"I'll be alright," Ezra said surprised Inez had not left yet.

"If you will not let Senor Jackson take care of you then I will have to," Inez stated as she poured some water from the urn and dipped a cloth into it. She gently pushed Ezra back on the bed when he tried to rise up to argue with her to leave he didn't have the strength to fight any longer.

Inez took the damp cloth and began to wipe at his face. She laid the compress against his left eye which had swollen shut the other had a bruise underneath it along with a deep bruise to his chin and a split lip where the blood was beginning to dry. When she saw spots of dark red on his pillow when he moved his head she gently took her hand and felt along the back of his head. She felt a large bump there was a small gash but not much blood seeped from it. Inez heard Ezra gasp slightly when she touched the spot. It could cause a serious head injury but he seemed to still have his wits about him except for his refusal to let her go for Nathan but she knew why she had heard Nathan's cruel remarks. Inez didn't know why Nathan would say those things to Ezra. The southerner never let it on that it would bother him but she knew Ezra had high regard for the healer and it did hurt him.

Inez saw the gambler grimace as he tried to turn then gave up the idea. " Senor Ezra where are you hurting ?" she asked.

Ezra still managed to smile a twisted smile with his swollen jaw and laughed quietly. "My dear it would be easier to state what doesn't." Ezra saw Inez frown. "I'm sorry I think I have a few bruised ribs and I got kicked in my back, it pains me. Cowboy boots can be awfully abusive. "

Inez helped Ezra remove his jacket then began to unbutton his vest and shirt when she pulled back the material she could see the deep bruises on his chest. Inez gently helped him to turn on his side though it pained him to do so. In the small of his back was a very large and dark bruise she could see why he was in so much pain. She helped him to turn back onto his back then pulled up the blanket over him.

"I will be back in a moment," she stated ringing out the rag again and placing it on his swollen eye.

Ezra touched her hand. "No Nathan," he murmured.

"No Senor no Nathan, you rest I will get you something for the pain," Inez replied then left the room quietly closing the door. She returned a short time later carrying a bottle of laudanum. She helped Ezra to raise up and take a couple sips from the bottle, she knew he must be feeling bad he accepted the opiate with no reserve, he then laid back on the bed a few minutes later the medicine began to take effect and his eyes slowly closed. Inez pulled the rocking chair up close to the bed and covering her shoulders with a throw sat down prepared to spend the rest of the night watching over the gambler.

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Inez woke to the crow of the cock she opened her eyes and looked down on the still sleeping form on the bed. A tear formed in her eye he didn't deserve this. He didn't deserve to be beat up and he didn't deserve to be treated like an outcast by those he wanted to be his friends. She reached up and brushed her hand across his forehead then bent over and placed a light kiss there. Inez got up it was the start of a new day she would clean up the bar then comeback later with breakfast and check on Ezra. Inez left Ezra's bedroom not noticing Buck as he opened the door to another bedroom where he had enjoyed the company of a young woman.

Buck slipped back into the bedroom of his paramour who was still asleep on the bed. Now that was a surprise he thought to himself besides commenting on Inez's attributes Ezra had never given the indication that he was interested in the barmaid. Buck thought a minute he didn't know if he should be upset that the Mexican woman had taken an interest in the gambler or not, true she had rebuked his charms but he had no more interest in her than he did in any beautiful woman. Buck chuckled Ezra certainly managed to keep things secret Buck wondered if he should spill the beans. He waited a moment longer to make sure Inez was down the stairs then he too left his ladies bedroom and went down the back steps he met up with Vin when he stepped on the boardwalk.

"Mornin Buck sleep well?" Vin asked though he knew exactly where Buck had spent the night.

"I had a wonderful night and it looks like it's going to be an interesting morning," Buck replied and grinned.

"And just what are you up to Bucklin?" Vin asked cocking his head to the side as he watched the ladies man. Buck had the biggest grin on his face like the cat that ate the canary.

"Nothin, nothing at all can't a man just enjoy the day?" Buck replied and slapped Vin on the back as they both entered the saloon to join the rest of the peacekeepers for breakfast who were straggling in one by one.

Buck watched as Inez brought over cups and began to fill each one with coffee. She already knew their order it was the same every day she always made sure they had a nourishing breakfast.

"Is there something wrong senor?" Inez asked Buck when he continued to stare at her.

"No, not really I just thought you looked a little tired this morning. " Buck replied with a big smile.

"You need help with anything maam?" JD asked wanting to be the gentleman.

"No JD thank you but I can handle everything," Inez replied looking again at Buck then turning away to prepare their breakfast. She was going to get things going in the saloon then in another couple of hours take some food up for Ezra and check on him.

Inez quickly prepared the morning repast and took it to the six men making sure there were large quantities of everything. She began to clean up their table as they were finishing and refilled their coffee.

"Someone's got to go wake up Ezra, you two got to be on your way soon Buck, "Chris stated. They were supposed to be taking a prisoner to a near by town.

Inez put down the plates she had collected. "Senor Standish is not feeling well I do not think he will be leaving his room today," she explained.

Chris raised up his eyebrow, Nathan shrugged his shoulders and began to stand up. "I guess I'll go check on him," he said.

"That will not be necessary Dr. Jackson I took care of him," Inez answered.

"I bet you did," Buck said quietly and laughed to himself.

Inez walked away, she had not heard Buck's last comment.

"What did you mean by that Buck," Chris asked.

"Oh nothing," Buck answered and laughed again.

Nathan threw his napkin on the table. "Well I got work to do if Ezra don't need me I'll be goin. "

"Come on Buck I'll go with you," JD said exuberantly nothing he liked better than ride with Buck Wilmington.

Buck rose from his seat and picked up his hat. "Let's go kid," he exclaimed to JD and he thumped him on the back.

Chris eyed Buck suspiciously, Buck Wilmington was certainly acting strange. Chris finished his coffee normally he would have argued about Ezra staying in town but as it was Inez who had informed him he decided there must be some merit to her reply but be that as it may he felt obliged to check on the condition of the gambler especially since Nathan would not be treating Ezra, but then again Chris remembered himself it was Nathan who just last night stated he wouldn't treat the southerner after arguing with him hopefully the gambler wasn't too bad off he was sure Ezra would neglect his ails just to spite Nathan but then again he was sure Inez would ignore the gambler's reluctance to see Nathan if he was very bad off. But there was the question again … what was wrong with Ezra. Chris stood at the bottom of the stairs ready to go up.

"Chris stage just pulled in the judge is on it he wants to see you," Josiah called to him. Chris hesitated. "He says it's important," the preacher continued. Chris looked at the head of the stairs then turned deciding his visit with the gambler could wait.

+ + + + + + +

Ezra awoke to the clattering of dishes he turned his head managing to open one eye and was surprised to see Mary Travis setting down a tray of food on his dresser. Mary turned around and smiled.

"Sorry Ezra didn't mean to wake you up I was just going to leave this for you. How are you feeling?" she asked.

For all of Ezra's verbosity he was now at a lose for words.

"Are you all right?" Mary asked concerned when he didn't answer her.

Ezra realized his mouth was hanging open where upon he closed it. "I am feeling fairly well considering forgive me I am just surprised at your being here," Ezra answered.

"Well now that you are awake why don't you eat some of this while it's still hot," Mary said she went over to the gambler's bed and helped prop him up on his pillows then picked up the tray and placed it on Ezra's lap removing the napkin that was covering the food. Ezra's stomach growled and he turned red embarrassed. "Pardon me," he stammered." Nothing to be embarrassed about Ezra now you just eat your fill and when your done I'll take care of the tray," Mary stated smiling. Ezra was perplexed first Inez helping him last night now Mrs. Travis. Ezra didn't think he would be able to eat much but the food was so tasty he managed to finish most of it. Mary took away the tray as Ezra tried to move he gasped. Mary looked at him with concern "Are you sure I can't get Nathan for you?" she asked. "Just bruised and battered my dear lady it is painful but it won't kill me," Ezra responded trying to smile. "Well I have to go but I'll see if I can't find you something to help with the pain all right?" Mary asked. Ezra nodded his head if getting beat up got him all this attention from women maybe he should have it happen more often he thought." Mary tucked the blankets around the gambler. "Why don't you go on back to sleep and get some more rest," she said then picked up the tray and left the bedroom.

Mary went down the stairs to the saloon oblivious to the stares coming from Josiah and Nathan who were standing at the bar. They had never seen Mary Travis upstairs of the saloon she never had any reason to be. Mary turned to the two of them. "Ma'am," Josiah said and tipped his hat she nodded to them and went out the batwing doors. "What in tarnation," Nathan said. Josiah shrugged his shoulders and continued to sip his beer.

+ + + + + + +

Chris stood outside the saloon and watched the town. He had seen Judge Travis the man had wanted Chris and the rest to keep an eye on a tribe on Indians not too far from town some of the younger braves were scaring the ranchers though Vin didn't think it was anything to be worried about. The judge was going to stay in town for a few days to visit with his grandson and daughter in law. Chris watched as Mrs. Potter walked across the street carrying a covered tray what ever was on it smelled good and his mouth began to water as she crossed by. "Can I help you with that?" he asked.

"No thank you Mr. Larabee," she answered as she walked passed him and entered the saloon. Chris followed Mrs. Potter was not the sort of woman to frequent saloons. He found the situation even stranger when the said woman began to go up the stairs of the saloon.

Vin came up behind Chris he saw the expression on his friends' face. "I spect' all the ladies are acting a might strange today Nathan said Mrs. Travis went up there too earlier."

Chris Larabee had decided the time had come to find out what was going on he knew the ladies had been going up to Ezra's room he crossed the saloon and began to climb the stairs.

"Where ya goin cowboy ?" Vin asked he loved to call Chris cowboy cause he knew Chris hated it.

Chris turned to the bounty hunter and frowned. "One of these days I'm going to shoot you when you call me that," he said.

Vin laughed at the idle threat. "Come on pard let's go see what trouble Ezra's got up to. "

The two climbed up the stairs ending up in front of the gamblers' room. Chris raised his fist to knock. He heard an argument coming from inside. A moment later Mrs. Potter emerged brushing back a wisp of her hair looking somewhat distraught.

"Ah, Mr. Larabee I believe you are just the person Mr. Standish needs right now," she said as she hurriedly brushed by him.

Chris hesitated. "Well go on in cowboy you heard what Mrs. Potter said Ezra needs you," Vin said and laughed at the expression of the other man's face. To that Chris smirked and opened the bedroom door without the benefit of knocking.

"Ezra ya decent?" Vin called out. They heard a movement from the bed, then a groan. Chris pushed the door open further and walked in none too quietly. Ezra was sitting on the side of the bed apparently trying to pull on his pants. He looked up in alarm the relaxed when he saw who had entered.

"Thank goodness I thought Mrs. Potter had come back with a bed pan. I don't care if she does have a son there are some things a man just doesn't want a woman to help with, the embarrassment," Ezra said with exasperation.

"Damn Ezra what happened to you?" Vin exclaimed then looked at Chris as he saw the bruises on the gambler's face.

"I will be most happy to answer that question but right now I am in the extreme need to visit the water closet do you think on of you could help me please," Ezra pleaded with them.

Vin grabbed one arm and Chris the other as they assisted him down the hallway then when finished aided him back to his room and back to bed. The two continued to stand over him and stare at him

"Somethin I can do for y'all?" Ezra questioned.

"Hell Ezra we should be asking you that you look terrible," Chris responded a bit perturbed someone had managed to mangle one of his men without him knowing and being able to reciprocate in kind.

"Are ya gonna tell us what happened, who did this to you?" Chris asked clinching his fist repeatedly feeling the need to pummel someone about now.

Vin ignored Chris' question more concerned right now for the well fair of a certain gambler. "Ezra don't you want me to get Nathan," he asked. "I think I should get Nathan," he stated before Ezra could reply.

Ezra tried to pull himself into a more comfortable position. "That won't be necessary Vin. I will eventually be fine," Ezra answered.

"Yah, you look it," Vin answered wincing in empathy at Ezra's discomfort.

"Ezra you haven't answered me," Chris stated.

"Let's just say someone disagreed with one of my deeds," Ezra finally answered.

"Those cowboys we threw out last night stayed and stomped ya?" Vin asked.

Ezra snorted in derision. "No Mr. Tanner, Someone thought I had let Mr. Prescott win his hand. It seems the perpetrator's employer was planning to buy his land when he left and he believes Prescott is going to hang around now. " Ezra explained beginning to wish his two companions would just leave he was uncomfortable with the line of discussion and he was hurting and ready to use the detestable laudanum again.

"Hell Ezra you did let him win," Vin exclaimed.

Ezra looked up in surprise he was unaware anyone had seen through his subterfuge.

"I been paying attention to how you play," Vin explained.

"Why don't you let Nathan see to ya ?" Chris asked when he saw the gambler trying to get more comfortable. He didn't think any way Ezra moved he would feel better. "I know what he said last night but he didn't mean it. He'd just gotten a burr up his butt. "

"Now that sounds painful," Ezra remarked and attempted to laugh only to grab at his mouth when his recently split lip threatened to reopen. "It's just a bunch of bruises, it's not really necessary," Ezra answered. "You could assist me and give me that bottle there," he said indicating the laudanum on his dresser.

"I'll go get him and I promise he won't say nothing nasty to ya," Vin said and was about to turn to go when he saw Chris shake his head no. Vin scowled.

"You've not had to take too much of that stuff have you?" Chris Larabee questioned concerned that there was more to the gambler's injuries than just bruises.

Ezra looked at Chris in exasperation. "You're not my mother Mr. Larabee," he said.

"Thank heaven for small favors," Chris replied.

"Chris just wants to make sure you're all right," Vin said as he plopped down heavily on the bed. Ezra gasped in pain. "Oh sorry," Vin said. "Wasn't thinking I guess "

"So how many were there?" Chris asked as he pulled up the rocking chair and sat down.

"I'm not certain three I think … it was dark," Ezra answered knowing where Chris was leading.

"What about their faces Ezra?"

"All I could see were large shapes and one gigantic fist. "

"Hell Ezra," Chris yelled in exasperation, "don't you want the men caught who did this to you?"

Ezra sighed looking at Chris explained. "I have learned retribution is an unnecessary waste of effort."

Chris stared at Ezra realizing the gambler had probably been in similar situations, too many for him to be personally effected.

+ + + + + + +

Nathan sat at the table sipping a beer with JD and Buck and watched as Mary carried another tray upstairs he knew to Ezra's room. He had felt guilty at the things he had said to the southerner and was going to apologize but now he was just irritated at the man what ever was wrong with the gambler he apparently was not going to let Nathan see to him. The fool Nathan thought if he was going to be obstinate then the healer was not going to worry about it.

"Nathan, how's Ezra doin I haven't had the chance to go see him yet. Hope he's feeling all right," JD asked the healer. He and Buck had been gone most of the day but now he figured he should go check on the southerner.

"I wouldn't know JD he hasn't asked for me yet," Nathan answered voicing his displeasure.

"Well don't you think you should go up anyway you know Ezra can be real stubborn when it comes to getting himself help when he's hurt," JD answered surprised the healer hadn't taken it upon himself to check on the gambler.

"He's a grown man JD if he wants my help he can ask for it," Nathan stated pointedly then got up from the table and left the saloon.

"Leave it be JD," Buck said watching Inez at the bar and now wondering if there had been an intimate encounter between she and Ezra or if she had just taken care of him what ever was wrong with him. Should he be upset she had shown and interest in Ezra over him or not he didn't feel upset now quite the opposite the gambler may have found someone.

"But I don't understand Nathan at all he's always fussing over all of us when we get sick or hurt usually Ezra too but now he acts like he don't care. What if Ezra is real sick?" JD complained.

"JD if Ezra was that bad off those ladies that keep visiting him or even Chris and Vin they've been up to see him would have gotten Nathan no matter what Ezra's or Nathan objections were," Buck answered trying to calm the young man down. "Ezra's just smarting over the mean things Nathan said last night and Nathan's too proud to go up and apologize to him yet. Give it time things will work out they always do.

+ + + + + + +

Ezra lay in bed weighing the pro's and con's of either Nathan or the ladies of Four Corners tending to him. On one hand Nathan fussed over him always grumbling over how he got himself into these predicaments. On the other hand the ladies brought him pies with his meal. On one hand Nathan's teas were worse than anything the ladies had brought him. On the other hand the lovely Miss Inez was very attentive as was Mrs. Travis and Mrs. Potter and even Mrs. Prescott. It seemed the ladies had quite a grapevine going apparently starting with Inez Recillos and it seemed even though his good deed had backfired on him he was in the ladies good graces. Inez seemed to act as a barrier between himself and Chris Larabee who had yet to say an unkind thing to him since the incident. But then there were the negatives, he felt guilty for not allowing Nathan to attend to his aches and pains and he didn't want the rift to widen between himself and the healer. He understood Nathan had just been tired when he had said those unkind things to him maybe if he requested Nathan come to see him perhaps even on the ruse he needed the healers help things could go back to normal. Besides he mused certain things he needed doing with out the assistance of the female persuasion.

+ + + + + + +

Nathan pulled tightly at the knot he had made while wrapping the ranch hands wrist grumbling to himself. "Fine he doesn't want me to tend to him that's just fine I got plenty of stuff to do around here.' The man cried out. "Hell Doc, you supposed to be making it feel better." Nathan looked up at the ranch hand startled and embarrassed. "Oh sorry didn't realize." He patted the man on the back. "You're all set to go just don't go using that wrist too much." The ranch hand hurriedly got up from the cot glad to be out of the clinic and away from the crazy black man. Nathan began wrapping his bandages thinking about the last time he had seen the errant gambler and remembered what he had said he supposed it was no one Ezra didn't come to him for help maybe if he was to go over there and offer to check on southerner himself. Nathan cleaned up his clinic stalling a little uncomfortable looking again at the medical text that Ezra had given him he quit cleaning and left his room and walked down the stairs to go across the street to the saloon. Halfway across the street he was met by Inez.

"Senor Jackson, Senor Ezra was wondering if you mind coming up to see him. He has not been feeling too good I have tried to take care of him he did not want to bother you but know he asks for you." Inez said grateful that the gambler had asked for the healer. It had been a few days since his beating and he was healing well but she was more worried about their friendship than anything else and knew it had been a ruse on Ezra's part to see Nathan.

"Maam is he feeling poorly," Nathan asked with concern worried he had let his pride get in the way with treating the southerner. He followed Inez across the street and into the saloon. Chris and Vin were already in the saloon playing cards and looked up and watched Nathan go up the stairs with Inez. They knew she was taking up to see Ezra.

"'Bout time," Vin stated quietly.

Chris nodded in agreement as they resumed their play.

+ + + + + + +

Ezra heard Inez knock on his door he kept his eyes shut and did not answer. Ezra had decided to play at being a little worse off than what he was that actually wouldn't be too hard he still looked a mess with all his bruises and he noticed when he tried to move it always accompanied a groan his back and ribs were still quite sore. He heard the door open and through slit eyes saw Nathan enter.

Inez accompanied Nathan to Ezra's room but left without entering. Nathan called to Ezra as he stepped into the gambler's bedroom. He looked over at the bed and frowned at what he saw. Ezra had been roughed up pretty good after a couple of days the bruises were changing colors but still covered a good deal of his face. Nathan wondered how much of the rest of his body was covered. Nathan called out Ezra's name again.

Ezra heard his name called and this time opened his eyes and looked at the healer. "Nathan," he spoke.

Nathan sat down on the edge of the bed. "Inez tells me you're feeling poorly. You mind if I check you over? I promise to be quick," he asked as he pulled back the covers from the gambler. He very gently probed Ezra's body mindful of some cracked ribs he found also noticing a mean bruise on his back. He finished and pulled the blankets back up covering Ezra's shoulders. "It looks like the ladies have been taking good care of you. You having any problems with your back?" he asked.

"It hurts when I stand," Ezra answered.

Nathan grinned, "Well it looks like we'll have to make sure you don't. I don't think there's any permanent damage you just bruised it real good. But just to make sure I would say you need to stay in bed at least another week," he advised.

Ezra looked up at Nathan. "Thank you for coming up Nathan. I appreciate it," he said as he held out his hand to shake Nathan's.

Nathan frowned. "Ezra I want to say I'm sorry for what I said and how I acted the other day. It weren't right. I was just being cantankerous. You ever need me you come to me. You know I'll take care of you," he said as he took Ezra's hand with both of his.

"Apology accepted Mr. Jackson, Nathan I should also apologize for my remark. I didn't mean to hurt your feelings. I would have come to you earlier and apologized but I have been somewhat inconvenienced," Ezra said and waved his hand over his body.

"Well I guess I can accept your apology too. Now is there anything you really need me to do for you. It looks like the ladies have done a good job," Nathan said feeling a lot better than he had in days.

"You could help me to the water closet that is one thing I just can't allow them to help me with," Ezra said as he tried to get out of the bed.

"Well at least I'm good for something," Nathan said and laughed.

+ + + + + + +

Ezra sat at his table shuffling his cards. Nathan had propped a pillow in the back of his chair his back still wasn't allowing him to sit right just yet. Once Nathan got on a roll he was his usual persistent self and would not allow Ezra to sit up for longer than a couple of hours at a time. This depleted Ezra's pocket and he already had less in his wallet after the last hand with Mr. Prescott. He looked up when he saw a man coming towards him. Ezra thought he slightly remembered seeing him in town before. He stopped and stood before the gambler.

"Is there something I can do for you?" Ezra inquired.

"Mr. Standish my name is Jacob Cole. You had a run in with a few of my men a couple of weeks ago. I just wanted to say I'm sorry for what they did. I had nothing to do with it. Yes I wanted Prescott's land but I'm an honest man and planned to buy it from the bank legally when it came up. My men are very loyal to me but sometimes are not very smart. I've given their names to Larabee so it's up to you what you want to do." Cole pulled out a wad of money from his wallet and handed it to Ezra. "I know this won't cover your pain and suffering but I know you haven't been able to make any money so I hope this will help." He turned around before Ezra could say any thing.

Chris had watched the exchange between the two men and walked up once Ezra was by himself. "That's a lot of money there," he said nodding towards the money in Ezra's hands.

"It is at that Mr. Larabee," he said as he began counting the bills.

"What do you want to do about the men who beat you up, their over at the jail right now. We showed them the error of their ways when we brought them in," Chris asked and laughed.

"I can just imagine you did. I think they have learned a valuable lesson. Loyalty is to be commended why don't you tell them through my beneficence I have decided to let them go with a warning." Ezra decided if Cole could be magnanimous he could be too.

"I'll do that. Does that money there cover you pain and suffering Ezra " Chris asked.

"No but since Nathan won't let me play cards for awhile it certainly helps," Ezra answered as he straightened the bills before stuffing them in his pocket. "And speak of the devil," he said as Nathan came in prepared to help him back to his room.


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