Trappers' Tricks

by Hombre

Notes: Vin takes the first half of the story and Ezra is in it from halfway.

Vin had been tracking the two trappers on foot over many miles for several days now. He had a suspicion that they were dealing in more than furs and he was determined to prove it. He was positive that they were rustling cattle and selling them on to the small army garrison at Bitter Creek. Chris had given him five days to try to gather enough evidence to back up his claims before he needed him back in town. Vin had now been forced to reluctantly decide to head back the next day because he'd been unsuccessful in his quest.

The tracker had been getting increasingly tired as he trailed relentlessly after his quarry. The men seemed to have traps spread over a wide area of countryside but other than collecting their prey they showed no interest in the many cattle they had passed by on their travels. He'd begun to seriously doubt his once-solid beliefs.

Vin sighed as daylight faded signaling the end of his endeavor so he bedded down for the night near the trappers' campsite and listened to the voices of the two men talking as he drifted off to sleep. He was woken in the early hours of the morning by frantic shouting so he leapt to his feet to see what was happening. He moved to the edge of the camp and watched as the two trappers ran to the far side of the clearing with rifles in hands before disappearing into the undergrowth. Vin circled round cautiously as he wondered if a puma was on the prowl. He drew his gun and continued on his way toward where the two men had gone into the scrub.

It was still dark and the scant light from the campfire soon faded to leave him in complete blackness. He continued toward the sound of shouting and slightly quickened his pace, knowing any noise he made would be covered by the voices of the two men. He took another pace forward and suddenly felt a searing pain in his right leg. His forward momentum carried him onwards but he was pulled back when his leg refused to move any further. Despite his situation he screamed at the pain and looked down to discover a beaver trap now encased his lower leg. He lost his balance and fell to the ground and screamed again as the trap's jaws bit further into his flesh of his calf. He heard the sound of crashing in the undergrowth heading toward him and the two trappers came into view. He frantically reached for his gun, which he'd dropped in his fall but one of the trappers kicked it out of reach before he could grab hold of it.

"Hey, caught him, Thaddeus," the taller man crowed as he slapped his thigh and laughed as if it was a great joke.

"Yeah. Won't get no money for his pelt though, will we? He ain't no beaver," the smaller man guffawed and punched his companion's arm delightedly as he showed a gap-toothed grin.

"No, he sure ain't but we've got him off our tail, ain't we? That was good idea of yours."

Vin stared up at the men speechlessly as he realized they had deliberately set out to hurt him. "Bastards," he groaned breathlessly.

"Shut up," the smaller man said as he kicked out at Vin's head. He connected and Vin was thrown backwards, his trapped leg jerking in the trap as he did so.

"Ah, shit!" Vin moaned as he bit his lower lip to keep from crying.

"Didn't I just tell ya to shut up?" the man yelled as he struck out once more. This time he achieved his aim and knocked Vin out.

The two men went back to camp and packed up their equipment before hurriedly leaving the area. Still bleeding in the trap, Vin was left to his fate.

+ + + + + + +

The ex-bounty hunter woke slowly and cried out as he tried to get to his feet, forgetting what had happened. He put his hands down to his leg and cried as he touched the tender skin. Now it was light, he could see the extent of damage to his leg and the amount of blood he had already lost. He looked around him and saw several other traps laid out nearby and he realized that there was no way he could've avoided injury. If he hadn't trodden in one, he would have stepped into another. He would've been extremely lucky to miss treading in one of the deadly snares.

He sighed and put his hands to the trap's jaws and tried to pry it open. He felt the teeth move from his leg but the pain was so intense that he passed out again.

He woke feeling increasingly weak. "Come on, Tanner. Stop being such a jerk and just pull it off. It ain't that hard."

He got a good grip and with one swift pull and a scream he opened the jaws. He lay back panting and crying as he tried to stop his body shaking.

"Can't lie round here all day. Gotta get home."

Vin pulled out his neckerchief and pulled up his pant leg and tied the scarf round the wound. It wouldn't stop bleeding so he removed his coat and shirt as well and tore the shirt into strips to use as a tourniquet and a bandage. Once he treated his wound, he put his coat back on and struggled awkwardly to his feet. He stumbled on a few steps as he tried to maintain his balance before falling to the ground hard and cursing in frustration when his leg gave way under him. Looking round from grass level he saw a branch that he thought might make a good crutch, so he crawled toward it and made sure it was sturdy enough for the job. It was, so he somehow climbed to his feet again and used the branch to keep him there.

"Oh Jesus," he moaned as he put his injured foot to the ground. "Just gonna have to use yer one good leg and this artificial one to get home, ain't ya?"

He began limping away from the campsite at a snail's pace. His mind was blinded with pain and he really didn't take heed of where exactly he was heading. After traveling for an hour and making very poor progress he stood still and looked around him once more. His eyes slowly focussed and he realized he was a couple of miles away from someone who could give him some help.

"Two miles?" he grumbled sourly. "May as well be two hundred."

He sank to the ground in the shade of a tree and wiped his face on his sleeve and then ran his hand round the back of his neck. His head drooped forward with fatigue and he felt like passing out but he knew he couldn't let that happen so he struggled to his feet again and wobbled precariously on his crutch. He turned in the required direction of his potential savior and set off once more.

He was exhausted beyond belief when he's finished making the final climb toward salvation. He could now see his goal in the distance but had no idea whether he could make it or not. The tracker continued walking but he just didn't seem to be getting any nearer to where Chris's shack stood awaiting him. He at least knew the blond was in residence because his horse was tied up outside. If Chris hadn't been there, the tracker knew he would've lost his one chance of survival.

Chris? Help me, cowboy! Vin pleaded in his mind.

Vin staggered on another two paces with the help of his crutch before falling on his face in a pile of leaves. He lay still trying to gather his scattered senses and his strength. Won't get there lying down, will ya? Get up, Tanner. Stop being so weak.

He put his hands back under his chest and levered himself upwards slightly and managed to bend his good leg beneath him. He rocked his weight forwards onto his hands and got his other knee bent too. He was now on all fours. Well, that's an improvement. Might get somewhere on hands and knees, he thought wryly.

He got hold of his crutch and crawled toward a tree and used that to help him get up onto two feet again. He leant against it and then looked once more at his distant target.

"Well, I'm a few steps nearer than I was than the last time I looked. I might get there by Christmas."

Vin pushed himself away from the tree and took one last look at the shack before bowing his head and setting off toward it. He hoped that by not looking at his destination and concentrating on walking he might get there quicker. Whether that strategy would work was anyone's guess though. Vin was getting worried because he now couldn't feel his lower left leg at all but he pushed that realization angrily to the back of his mind so he could concentrate on putting one foot, or crutch, in front of the other. Every time he put his foot to the ground it felt like he was treading in water but he resisted the urge to find out why.

He limped onward for what seemed like hours and then looked up. He sighed in relief when Chris's horse came into view so Vin headed for it. He didn't have the breath to shout for help so he just tried to get to the door. He put his hand out and touched the horse's rump to steady himself when he tripped but the equine skittered away with a terrified snort.

"What's up, hoss?" Chris called as he stepped onto the porch with gun drawn expecting trouble.

He saw Vin swaying on one leg with his arm still outstretched from where he'd touched the horse. Now that the animal was no longer there to provide support the tracker stumbled forward and went down on one knee before collapsing on his face. Now he'd reached the blond, Vin trusted that Chris would care for him.

"Shit Vin!" Chris was down beside the smaller man and gathering him into his arms almost before he'd hit the dirt.

The blond picked him up carefully and took him inside and laid him on the bed. Chris heated some water and poured it into a bowl and began cleaning the dirt from his friend's face.

"Vin? Talk to me, will ya?" the slender man called as he worked.

The blond began peeling the clothes from Vin's body as he checked gently for injuries. He could see Vin's lower right pant leg was soaked with blood so he reached out to see what was wrong.

"Don't," Vin whispered, being brought back to consciousness by the pain from the blond's touch.

"Vin?" Chris called as the tracker finally opened his eyes.

"Don't touch. Hurts."

"I know, cowboy. You've got yerself in a right state, ain't ya?"

"Hurts," Vin insisted weakly as he tried to bat Chris's hands away from his leg.

"'Course it hurts and it'll keep on hurting until you let me help. Come on, stop moving about, cowboy."

Vin closed his eyes when his eyelids seemed to get too heavy to hold open and there was nothing he could do but succumb to the darkness.

"That's it, cowboy. Get some rest and leave me in peace to treat yer injuries." Chris turned to study Vin's leg to see how badly he was hurt. "Shit! How the hell did you do this? Looks like you got caught in a trap. Jesus Christ, I can't deal with this. Yer damned boot's full of blood, Vin. Fucking hell!"

Chris went out and saddled his horse quickly and made ready to leave. He needed Nathan and fast. He strode back to his injured friend and bent down to pick him up. He cradled Vin's head in one hand, with his fingers laying gently over his friend's ear and the heel of his hand near the man's nose. The blond could feel Vin's breath blowing on the inside of his wrist as he held him and the older man stopped for a minute and just looked at his unconscious friend, realizing the man's life was literally in his hands.

He shook himself after a while and said, "Ain't got time for tarrying. Gotta get you back to town 'cause I can't stop the bleeding, cowboy. I need help and I certainly can't leave you here alone while I go get someone."

The blond lifted the man into his arms and took him outside. He somehow managed to get the limp body of the tracker into the saddle and then climbed up behind him. He looked down to see that the tourniquet he had previously put in place was still there before setting off for town as fast as he dared.

+ + + + + + +

Back in town, Buck was getting worried because Vin hadn't come back on the agreed day. Vin always kept his word and the ladies' man began getting an uneasy feeling in his guts. When the man was still not back by noon he decided on a course of action.

"JD? Ezra? Go and tell Chris that Vin ain't back. The rest of us will head out to see if we can find him."

The men split up and went to carry out their orders. No one argued with Buck about giving them orders because they were all equally worried about the tracker's welfare.

Ezra and JD rode fast toward Chris's shack and were within a few miles of their target when they saw the silhouette of the man heading toward them. They could see that he had something bulky in his arms and they hurried toward him worriedly.

"Mr. Larabee? Whatever has occurred?" Ezra asked as he saw it was Vin that Chris was holding tightly.

"His leg, Ez. It's a mess."

The gambler hopped off his horse and went to examine the tracker for himself. "Good God, have you been ensnared, Mr. Tanner? Chris?" The con man looked up at the blond in something close to horror. "His boot..," the gambler mumbled as he put a hand over his mouth and turned away, bent double and puked.

"Yeah, I know, Ez. Let's get him back to town pronto 'cause he needs Nate's help."

"What about his boot?" JD asked, as his eyes remained fixed on Ezra who was still bent over gasping and retching.

"You don't wanna know, kid, believe me," Chris warned, knowing what Ezra was feeling.

JD remained silent, knowing that this was one of those times that Chris wouldn't take kindly to him continuing with his line of questioning. After Ezra had remounted shakily the three men set off at the fastest pace that Vin could manage.

They arrived back in town just as Nathan, Buck and Josiah returned from the other end.

"Nathan!" Chris yelled when he spotted the healer.

The hailed man looked up and saw the blond with the injured tracker in his arms. He kicked his horse onward and dismounted quickly nearby. "What happened?" he asked as he moved toward the blond's horse.

"I don't know. He turned up at my shack like this. His leg's badly ripped, Nate. All we can think is that he got caught in a trap."

"Jesus. Bring him up."

Josiah helped the blond dismount and then Chris and he followed Nathan upstairs and lay Vin on the bed. They then stepped back and allowed the healer access to his patient.

Nathan cut the pant leg away from the flesh and drew in a sharp breath after he'd also removed the man's boot. Josiah took the blood-filled footwear and walked outside with it when he saw that Ezra was on the verge of puking at the sight of it again.

"Jesus Christ," Nathan swore. "Chris? Get me some whiskey. Buck find the laudanum. Josiah? Light some lamps 'cause this is gonna need some time to sort out and I need to be able to see what I'm doin'."

"Can I be of assistance?" Ezra asked haltingly as he swallowed the bile that had suddenly appeared in his mouth. He couldn't tear his eyes away from Vin's mangled leg. How in Heaven's name did Mr. Tanner walk with such an injury? the con man asked himself as he swayed slightly.

Nathan looked up at him and saw the horrified look on the man's face. He knew the gambler needed to be occupied so he said, "Bandages, Ez. Needle and thread and a bowl of water."

The gambler moved his eyes away from the gruesome sight and nodded slightly before turning to carry out his orders.

Buck handed over the laudanum and Nathan put his hand under Vin's head. "Vin? Drink some of this."

The tracker heard Nathan through a mist but he obeyed the order when he felt the mouth of the bottle on his lips. The healer settled him back on the bed and next took the bowl of water from Ezra's hands. He removed the tourniquet and raised Vin's leg on the air to try and stop the flowing blood. He moved a few pillows into position to keep the limb elevated. He then cleaned as much dirt from the wounds as possible before putting the whiskey on the ragged wounds.

"Needle and thread," Nathan said when he was finally satisfied that no dirt remained.

Ezra passed them over and watched as the healer began painstakingly sewing the myriad of wounds together. He watched until he began to feel sick again, so he averted his gaze swiftly and took a deep breath.

Nathan looked around the group of worried men and said, "Guys? I need a bit more help. Can you mix up some herbs while I'm doin' this? He's a bit feverish and I need to prevent infection or he could lose his leg."

"Shit. Tell us what you want doin', Nate," Buck said as he stepped forward to be the first to help.

Nathan barked out instructions and the men worked quickly. The healer then soaked some rags in one of the brews and made poultices to put on the wounds to fight the infection.

"Bandages," Nathan called. These were handed to him and he covered the poultices and wounds efficiently. He then covered the injured man with a blanket and felt his brow once more. "When he wakes we need to give him some of this herbal drink."

"I'll sit with him, Nate," Chris offered. "You've done your part."

Josiah put a hand on Ezra's shoulder and tried to steer him out of the room. The man remained rooted to the spot though, and even Josiah's strength couldn't shift him.

"Ez? You okay?" the preacher asked softly as he leant down to whisper in Ezra's ear.

", dear, I'm sorry, Mr. Sanchez," Ezra stuttered as he looked at the preacher and then back at Vin before covering his mouth with a trembling hand.

"Come outside, and get some fresh air. You look kinda green, son," Josiah said quickly as he turned Ezra round and started him walking toward the door.

Although Ezra had helped out in the clinic on numerous occasions the man had never really conquered his phobia where large amounts of blood were concerned. He didn't mind his own in any quantity but seeing other peoples seemed to turn his stomach. Ezra stumbled out onto the balcony and took a deep breath as the preacher rubbed his back comfortingly. The gambler saw Vin's boot standing outside the door still slowly dripping with blood and it proved the last straw for his already sensitive stomach. Ezra tried desperately not to embarrass himself but he finally gave in to his nausea and vomited as if he'd never stop. Josiah rubbed his back a bit more and handed over a handkerchief when the gambler finally seemed to have emptied his entire stomach's contents at his feet.

"I'm sorry. It was all rather a horrible sight. I just keep imagining him being trapped and how he must have been in agony. And as for trying to liberate himself from it..." Ezra shivered from head to foot and threw up again. "Oh, God."

Josiah pulled the smaller man closer while still rubbing a hand across the width of his back and then up and down his spine with long firm strokes. "Best not to think too deeply sometimes, son. You know Nate's doing all he can."

Ezra hiccuped and put a hand to his mouth when he belched as a result of his nausea. "Yes, I know he is."

"Come on. Let's go and get a whiskey. That'll put some color back in those cheeks of yours and hopefully settle yer stomach too."

"Sounds like a good idea," the con man muttered as he patted his mouth with the handkerchief.

"You okay, Ez?" Nathan asked from the clinic doorway where both he and Chris were watching. The two men had heard him throwing up and had come to see if they could help.

Ezra's face turned bright red when he realized he'd had an audience. "Yes, thank you. I do apologize for...well.....," his voice tailed off.

"Don't say sorry, Ez. I know it weren't a pretty sight. I can give you something if you still feel sick later on."

"Hopefully that won't be necessary but thank you for your concern."

"I'll take care of him, fellas. You concentrate on Vin." Josiah winked at the two men and then herded Ezra away to the saloon.

Chris and Nathan went back inside and while Nathan tidied up, the blond sat next to Vin and began reading a book. After several hours the tracker finally woke.

"Hey cowboy," Vin mumbled as he squinted up at the blond in the dim lamplight.

"Hey yerself. What've you been up to? Nate near enough had to sew yer leg back on and Ezra threw up at the sight of it."

"Ran into a bit of trouble."

"Should think ya did. Are ya up to tellin' me?"

"I was trapped with a beaver trap."

"Dammit, Didn't ya see it? How did ya get caught?" the black-clad man ranted as he stood up and moved to the window.

"The trappers put it out deliberately to catch me," Vin said as he shivered. "It was dark and I couldn't see it but when daylight came I could see several others left around the area too." The sharpshooter told the rest of his tale and Chris's face clouded with fury.

"Damn Vin. Get some more rest 'cause you need to get yer strength back." Chris walked out onto the balcony after exchanging glances with Nathan.

Buck was standing outside leaning against the railing on his forearms while smoking a cigar. "Hey pard. How is he?" the ladies' man asked as Chris stood beside him with his back against the rail so he should look back through the clinic door.

"I want those bastards caught," the black-clad man muttered, not answering Buck's question.

""What? Who?"

Chris looked up and fixed Buck with a serious stare. "The bastards who deliberately trapped Vin."

"What the hell ya saying, pard?"

"The traps were put out on purpose to injure Vin. He told me. He'd been following those trappers and then kept watch at their campsite. They pulled some stunt to divert his attention and when he went to see what was up he stepped into a trap. Those bastards came back and gloated that they'd caught him. Even joked that they couldn't make a profit out of his pelt. Thank God they didn't know about the price on his head of they'd have made money out of him too."

"Jesus. Did he say where the camp was?"

"Yeah, near enough. We'll have to leave going after them until tomorrow 'cause it'll be dark soon. Just hope they stay in the area," Chris said as he ambled back inside to see Vin.

Vin shifted slightly on the bed as he watched Chris enter the room again and he groaned at the pain in his lower damaged limb. "Aw, shit."

"Vin? Want somethin' for the pain?" Nathan asked as he moved toward his patient.

"Hate to say it but yes, Nate."

"There ya go then," the healer said as he passed over a mug of green liquid.

"Jeez, where the hell did ya get this? Looks like it's from that stagnant pond out back of the livery. Better not taste like it as well, Nate." Vin swallowed it down in one gulp and then coughed in disgust. "God Almighty. Shit, that was vile."

"Just think of all the good it's doin' ya, Vin," Chris said as he couldn't help grinning broadly at the look on his friend's face.

"Yeah right. Yer enjoying this, ain't ya, Larabee?"

"No, I ain't." The blond shook his head as he smiled and sat down beside the injured man again.

Nathan took the empty mug from the tracker's hand and felt his brow. "Well, I'll just go and get something to eat, Chris. There's some more of this in the jug by the window if he wants any but he's doing real well."

"Sure, thanks, Nate," Chris said, relieved to hear the news about his friend's condition.

The healer made his way toward the saloon and met up with Ezra and Josiah there. Inez filled a plate with food for him and the man sat down with his friends after collecting a glass of beer.

"How is young Mr. Tanner faring?" Ezra asked.

"Accepted my herbal drink without no arguments. Even admitted he needed it."

"Dear Lord, things must be bad," the con man said worriedly.

"He'll be okay, Ez. His strength amazes me sometimes," the healer replied. "You alright?"

"Totally recovered except for my embarrassment," Ezra grinned.

"Brother Nate?" Josiah said after taking a sip from his beer. "Has Vin said what happened?"

"Yeah, he did and you ain't gonna like it." Nathan grimaced and filled the two men in as he smoked a cigar.

"What a fiendish thing to do. Has Mr. Larabee said when we will be handing out retribution?" Ezra asked as he continued shuffling the deck of cards he had hold of.

"No, but by the look on his face when I left him, he's thinking hard and fast about it."

"Well, we're ready when the call comes," Josiah said as Nathan finished eating and hurried back to the clinic.

Ezra and Josiah stayed in the saloon and continued with their game of poker for another couple of hours. Josiah then yawned and stretched before standing up.

"Not going so soon, Mr. Sanchez?" Ezra asked in disappointment.

"Need my beauty sleep, Ezra. I ain't as young as I used to be and I can't keep up with you young 'uns."

Ezra grinned. "You poor old soul. Do you want me to assist you back to your abode? Wouldn't want you to collapse of exhaustion half way."

"That's mighty kind son, but I think these old legs have got a bit of life left in them yet," Josiah said with a smile as he pushed his way out onto the boardwalk.

Ezra started playing solitaire but soon got bored with his own company. He looked out the window into the gathering dark and clenched his jaw angrily at what he saw. He stood up so hastily that he knocked his chair over in the process but he left it where it lay and pushed out the batwing doors onto the boardwalk, hardly breaking stride. The gambler stood staring at someone on the opposite side of the street as he curled and uncurled his fingers repeatedly while muttering under his breath. The gambler was staring at one of the trappers who had foolishly come into town. Ezra, though, was totally unaware that he was being watched too. The second trapper had been on his way to meet his partner when he'd seen Ezra exit the saloon. He recognized him as a peacekeeper and grew worried as he watched the dark-haired man staring so intently at his friend. The trapper whistled to alert his friend of trouble but although Ezra heard the shrill note he didn't associate the sound as being a warning to his quarry.

Ezra saw the man he was watching duck down an alley so he broke into a run to catch up. Without any thought for his own welfare he hurried down the thin street and got hold of his quarry's arm roughly. The con man kept hold as the man turned to face him and began struggling violently.

"I hope you don't mind wearing these," Ezra snarled as he pulled out some handcuffs and dangled them in front of his prisoner.

"Why the hell would I want those?" the man objected as he tried to pull away.

"People who try to kill usually wear them when they are arrested."

The man stared at Ezra and tried to look innocent. "What? I ain't hurt no-one. I only just got into town."

"I didn't say the offence took place in this dusty haven, did I? You harmed a very good friend of mine while he was out in the wild blue yonder."

"Who the hell are you, anyway?" the trapper snapped as he kicked out at Ezra's shins.

"Nemesis," Ezra replied with a raised eyebrow as he sidestepped the pointed-toed boot quickly.


"Well, I shall enlighten you as to the meaning when you are safely tucked up in a cell."

Ezra still had hold of the man's arm but he didn't get any further with attaching the handcuffs to it. Suddenly from behind he felt arms encircling him, pinning his arms to his side and forcing him to drop the manacles and let go of his prisoner. He looked over his shoulder in surprise and saw the second trapper had entered the fray. He hadn't heard the sound of footsteps approaching at all and had been totally unaware that he had been followed. He looked back at the first man and was just in time to see a fist heading toward him. He had no chance of ducking and it hit him hard on his chin. He grunted and tried to kick out with his feet to keep the trapper away. The man soon put a stop to that by slamming Ezra face first into the wooden side of the alley. He then turned to face his partner again to allow the assault to continue. The man sent punches to the gambler's body and head until Ezra slumped forward in the other man's arms. Ezra felt the man let go of him and before he could attempt to fight back he was hit on the head from behind making him collapse to the ground unconscious.

"I think you'd be better off wearing these, fella," the first trapper said as he fitted the manacles to Ezra's wrists instead and gave him a parting kick.

Josiah happened to be making his way back to the saloon after forgetting to collect a parcel that Inez had been holding for him. He heard the sound of fighting coming from the other side of the street and turned his head just in time to see Ezra fall to the ground in the mouth of the alley. He watched in increasing anger as the trapper attached the manacles to his friend's wrists and then kicked him hard. "Hey, hold it right there," Josiah yelled as he drew his gun and fired two bullets into the ground in an attempt to stop the men escaping. They had no intention of taking heed and the big man reluctantly shot them both dead before they could retaliate.

The preacher ran toward his injured friend while keeping the two trappers covered with his gun in case they weren't as dead as he'd hoped. He heard another set of footsteps heading in his direction and looked over his shoulder to see JD coming toward him from the jail.

"See to 'em, son," Josiah ordered as he continued on toward Ezra. "Can you handle 'em on yer own, kid? I need to check Ezra out."

"Sure, I'll be fine. Only need to haul their carcasses to the undertakers by the look of it."

Josiah knelt down beside the motionless, manacled gambler. "Ezra? Talk to me, son." He sighed when he got no reply and searched the man's pockets for the keys to his set of 'cuffs. He found them quickly and freed Ezra before picking him up and taking him carefully up to the clinic.

He pushed the door open awkwardly with his foot and took Ezra inside. Nathan heard the door open and turned to see the injured gambler hanging limply in Josiah's arms. He found a blanket and laid it on the floor so that Josiah could put the injured man on it.

"What happened?" the healer asked just as Chris came hurrying in the door behind Josiah after hearing from JD what had happened.

"He saw the trackers and tackled 'em, I assume. I didn't see what happened really but they certainly had the upper hand and gave him quite a beating by the look of it. I don't know what they had planned for him 'cause I got there just as they knocked him out and 'cuffed him," the preacher said quietly.

Nathan began examining the unconscious man and he probed the cuts on Ezra's face gently and scowled at what he discovered. "Jeez, he's got some real nasty splinters in his face. How the hell did he get those?"

Ezra chose that moment to stir and he groaned loudly as he tried to sit up. Nathan quickly reached out a hand and kept the gambler pinned to the floor before he could do any more damage to his body.

"Ezra? What the hell were you thinking, tackling them on yer own?" Chris asked angrily when the green-eyed man looked at him.

The gambler squinted up at the irate blond. "I only tackled one but his partner was lurking about and caught me from behind. I assume the second man alerted his friend of my presence by whistling at him when I exited the saloon. I heard the sound but didn't think anything of it until now, which is somewhat late, I think you'll agree. Anyway, once they'd trapped me, they proceeded to have a jolly time by knocking the stuffing out of me. I'm sorry, Mr. Larabee. I was trying to make amends for my behavior earlier. I wanted, needed, to redeem myself and show you that I wasn't weak."

"Sure picked a finny way of doin' it, Ez. They beat you to a pulp," the blond said wryly as he studied the man's bloody features. "Yer certainly weak now but for a different reason, ain't ya? Lost quite a bit of blood from yer head wound, I should think."

"Yes, I tend to agree, Mr. Larabee, but I assure you that I still needed to do my heroics if only for my own peace of mind," Ezra said softly.

"You didn't need to prove anything to us, Ez. Not everyone likes the sight of blood. Hell, Chris don't like spiders but I wouldn't call him weak because of that," Nathan said as he looked up at Chris wryly.

"Too right, Mr. Jackson. Neither would I, but that's more because he's likely to shoot me if I voiced that opinion," Ezra said with a quiet smile.

The men laughed, glad to see that Ezra was at least in good spirits if not in good health.

"How did ya get theses splinters in yer face?" the healer asked.

"Well, I seem to recall that the man who was embracing me sent me face first into the wooden side of the alley in order to stop me fighting back. I was rather numbed by the blow but now I can attest to the pain and the splinters feel like they are the size of trees."

"What else is wrong with him, Nate?" Josiah asked as he frowned on hearing the cause of Ezra's facial injuries.

"Nasty cut on the back of his bead which needs stitching so he's gonna have a real bad headache for a while. He's got a lot of other bruises and cuts from where he was punched but nothing too serious."

"Why the hell did the trappers come to town? They knew Vin worked here and that we knew them, didn't they?"

"Well, they thought they'd killed Vin and they didn't seem too bright in the brains department. Who knows what they were thinking?" Ezra asked.

"Well, they were bright enough to trick both you and Vin," the blond pointed out as he took a seat next to Vin who had woken up and been listening to the conversation.

Ezra grinned. "True. Very true. Anyway, how are you feeling, Mr. Tanner?" the gambler asked as he turned his head to look up at the tracker who was peering down at him from the bed.

"Feel about as good as you look, I guess, Ez."

"Oh dear. I truly sympathize but compared to your wound mine are trivial. Having said that, I shan't be venturing down dark alleys again in the future."

"Yeah. Look before ya leap and all that crap. I ain't gone be tricked like that again either."

"Quite so. We are really not paid enough for all the suffering and injury we endure on this town's behalf," Ezra grumbled as he rubbed his aching head gently.

"Yeah, we've heard it all before, Ez," Vin said as he threw a look up to Heaven.

Ezra looked at him haughtily as he wriggled to try and ease his battered body. "Well, you will no doubt hear it again until Judge Travis sees fit to raise our wages."

"Well, you'll be in yer dotage before that happens, Ez."

Ezra looked at Vin in surprise. "Dotage? That's a big word for you, Mr. Tanner."

"Well, I know a few unusual words, Ez. Not as many as you though. I think you swallowed a dictionary when you were young. It ain't natural talking like you do," the long-haired man said with a broad grin, shutting the gambler up once and for all.

The End

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