Notes: A multitude of thanks go to Helen once again for her excellent help as a beta.
It was midmorning when Vin and Ezra rode into a dusty neglected-looking little town. They were returning to Four Corners from Meyer’s Creek where they had returned some recovered property. The men who had stolen the items were now all dead. Unfortunately for them, they had decide to try their hand at cattle rustling in the area under the protection of the seven. They had all died from wounds received in the gun battle that had taken place when the seven had caught up with them. It was while going through their belongings that the stolen items had been found. A few telegraphs had turned up several owners in different towns. Buck and JD had been sent to the towns in the North, while Vin and Ezra went to the east.
It had taken nearly two weeks for Vin and Ezra to finish their half of the job, and though they were only a couple of days away from Four Corners now they decided to stop. Two days on the trail from Meyer’s creek had left them looking forward to spending some time in a town, even one this close to home.
Vin grinned as he heard Ezra sigh. “Not what you were hoping for?”
Ezra sent him a sidelong glare. “Indeed not. I was hoping for some semblance of civilization.” He crinkled his nose in disdain. “I am somewhat doubtful that we could even obtain a decent beverage here. Does this dreary collection of buildings even have a name?”
Vin chuckled. “Miller’s End.”
“Indeed? How appropriate.”
“We’re here. May as well get a drink and fresh supplies.”
Yells coming from up the street caught their attention and they saw a man running out of the bank holding a bag in one hand and a gun in the other. The two peacekeepers automatically reached for their guns as they urged their horses forwards. The man turned in their direction and got off two shots before Vin’s mare’s leg sounded.
Vin’s shot took the man down, but he saw Ezra thrown from his horse from the force of one of the robber’s shots. He was off his horse and at Ezra’s side in seconds, keeping one eye on the rest of the town as he checked on his friend.
“Did you get him?”
“Yep. Now let me see your shoulder.”
“What about them?” Ezra nodded at the townspeople.
Vin looked over at the crowd who were gathering near the bank.
“Don’t look like they’re interested in us.” He turned back and moved Ezra’s hand and then pulled his shirt away from the wound. The bullet had entered his left shoulder near the joint. There was no sign of an exit wound. He looked back to the crowd and called out. “You folks got a doctor?”
“Doc’s house is the yellow one down the street there.” An old man spat as he spoke seeming more interested in the dead man than anything else.
“Thank you.” Vin helped Ezra up. They stood still for a moment while the gambler found his balance.
Ezra nodded and then started walking down the street.
Vin followed, catching the reins of both horses, and sticking close in case Ezra faltered.
They exchanged dubious looks as they approached the house. The paint was old and cracking, the windows dirty, and the place had a general air of neglect. Vin opened the door and followed Ezra in, sidestepping quickly when Ezra stopped abruptly. If the outside of the house had been discouraging, the inside was even worse. Dirt and grime covered everything. Old stains, some of them still tacky, were visible. One chair was occupied; the man in it sprawled in drunken slumber with a whiskey bottle dangling from one hand, snoring loudly.
Vin looked at Ezra, who had gone even paler than before. “We could try to wake him up. Might not be the doctor.”
Ezra shook his head. “Even if I were in imminent danger of dying without the aid of a physician, I would not allow that, that person anywhere near my body.”
“Maybe we can find something here we could use.”
Ezra shot Vin a look of incredulity, and then looked around the room and shuddered. “I would not trust anything found in this squalor even if the packaging were intact.” He turned and headed back out the door. Feeling lightheaded, he leaned against a support post on the porch, vaguely aware of Vin coming out behind him.
Vin helped to a seat at the top of the stairs and asked, “You be all right here while I go find us a room?”
Vin opened his mouth to speak and then shut it again after catching the look on Ezra’s face. The two men stared at each other.
“You need to get that taken care of.”
Another long moment passed and Vin realized that there would be no arguing with the Southerner on this.
“All right. Let me see what I can do here.” He crouched in front of Ezra and unbuttoned his shirt and vest enough to get to the wound. After a quick look he went to their horse and retrieved supplies from his saddle bags. Folding one bandage into a square, he pressed the pad against the wound. “Hold that.”
Ezra held the pad in place while Vin wrapped another bandage around his shoulder and chest before tying it off.
“That’ll have to do for now. Should hold ‘til we can find a place to rest up.”
Ezra nodded, and Vin moved to wash his hands in the nearby horse trough. Wetting another of the bandages, he returned to wipe the blood off of Ezra’s hand.
“Thank you, Vin.”
Vin smiled as he unfolded one more bandage. “Let’s ease the pressure of that shoulder a bit.”
“No sling.” Ezra looked beyond Vin to the townspeople who had been watching them since they had come out of the doctor’s house. No one had approached them and their apparent apathy bothered him. “Not here.”
“You still want that drink?”
“I just want to get out of this misbegotten excuse of a town.” His voice was tight with pain, and the fight to stay in control.
“All right. I’ll just go get us some supplies, and then we can head out. You’ll be all right here?”
“As long as you are expeditious in making your acquisitions.”
Vin grinned at Ezra’s words, then squeezed his good shoulder before heading for the General Store.
Having made his purchases as quickly as possible, Vin was pleased to see that Ezra was still alert and keeping an eye on the town’s inhabitants when he got back. He repacked the saddle bags and checked both horses over before moving to Ezra’s side.
“No law, no doctor to speak of,” Ezra said, still watching the town. “I wonder how much longer this town can survive.”
“Not our problem. We already have a place that looks to us.” Vin looked around and then at his friend. “Time to go.”
Ezra grasped the post he was leaning against with his right hand, took a deep breath and pulled himself up. He would not show any more weakness than he had to in front of these people. Once on his feet, he paused, waiting out the flare of pain, then moved towards his horse. Vin’s presence behind was reassuring. He carefully lifted himself into the saddle, trying to make it seem effortless. He set his left hand casually on his leg, nodded to Vin, then urged his horse forward as if nothing was wrong. Vin quickly mounted and caught up; riding on Ezra’s vulnerable left side.
They had ridden for about an hour. Vin had watched Ezra with growing concern, even as he searched for signs of a clearing. He breathed a sigh of relief as he finally found what he was looking for.
“This way, Ez.” He led the way through the trees to a small clearing that lay next to a clear stream. He dismounted and moved to his friend. “Need a hand?”
Ezra stared at him for a moment and then blinked, and took in their surroundings. “I believe that would be advisable.”
Vin helped him dismount, holding on as Ezra’s knees threatened to buckle, then assisting him to a shady spot once he was steady.
“I’m gonna get a fire going, and see to the horses, then I’ll come back and see what I can do for your shoulder.”
“How long will we be stopping here?”
“Least a couple hours. It’s early enough we can still get some good riding in if you’re up to it after some rest.”
Ezra nodded and leaned back against the tree while Vin saw to setting up the camp. With water on the fire, and their medical supplies set out, Vin returned to find Ezra sitting with his eyes closed.
“Ezra? You awake?”
“Time to take care of your shoulder.”
“Come on, let’s get these clothes out of the way.” Vin ignored the comment, knowing that Ezra was well aware the shoulder needed tending.
Ezra nodded dreading the pain that was ahead. He was grateful for Vin’s assistance as he removed guns, clothing and bandages. When they were down to his undershirt Vin used his knife to cut the material away from the wound area and slowly peeled it away.
All that time they had been riding Vin had been worried about how much the wound was bleeding, and he was thankful to see that it wasn’t as much as it might have been.
“You did a good job.”
Vin nodded at Ezra’s assurance, concentrating on removing the bandages as carefully as he could. He handed Ezra his flask. “I’m gonna try to find where the bullet is now.”
Ezra took several deep swallows from the flask before nodding at Vin.
Gently, but firmly, Vin pressed his fingers around the wound, hoping he’d be able to feel the bullet close to the surface and be able to get it out. Disappointed, he sat back.
“What’s the verdict?”
“I was hoping the bullet would be in shallow enough I could just flick it out.”
Ezra winced a little at the phrasing.
Vin sighed. “Looks like it’s lodged in the muscle. I’d rather not go digging around in there. I make a cut in the wrong place, I could damage the muscle or set off some bleeding we couldn’t stop. Be better to let Nathan do it.”
Ezra nodded thoughtfully. “And how far are we from our dedicated healer?”
“The rate we’ll be traveling, two, maybe three days.”
Ezra closed his eyes, and wiped his hand down his face. It was going to be a rough three days. He opened his eyes again to see Vin looking at him worriedly. At a loss for words for once, he simply reached over and squeezed Vin’s arm.
“I’d best get it cleaned out, and put on fresh bandages.”
“Oh, joy.” Ezra took another healthy slug from his flask hoping to dull some of the pain he knew was coming.
First, Vin cleaned the blood away from the wound, then poured water slowly over it, hoping to wash out any pieces of fabric or dirt that had made their way in, wiping the resulting blood away.
“Ready for this?” Vin asked holding up a whiskey bottle.
Ezra took a deep breath. “My handkerchief, please.”
Once Vin had found it and handed it to him, Ezra twisted it into a rope and placed it in his mouth, biting down on it and then grasping Vin’s arm. Green eyes met blue, and when Ezra nodded Vin poured the alcohol into the wound.
Ezra scream was muffled by the cloth as the whiskey burned its way into his shoulder, and his hand tightened its grip on Vin’s arm. When the pain lessened, he released his grasp and settled back breathing hard.
Vin dried the area before placing a fresh bandage on the wound.
“You able to sit forward?”
“What on earth for?”
“So I can finish wrapping this up. Then I’ll get a sling on ya. Tie your arm down, too. Keep you from moving that shoulder too much, and getting it bleeding bad.”
“I’m sure it will help alleviate some of the pain as well.” He grimaced, and pushed himself up as straight as he could and watched Vin work. When Vin was done he tested his movement. “Thank you, Mr. Tanner. Exemplary work. Nathan couldn’t do much better himself.”
Vin grinned. “You hungry? I picked up some canned peaches at the store.” He hoped to tempt Ezra into eating.
“No, thank you Vin. I am afraid I can’t bear the thought of eating right now.”
“How about just some of the syrup?”
Ezra looked thoughtful and his eyes brightened. “I believe I could manage that.”
Vin opened the can and poured the syrup into a cup which he handed to Ezra. While Ezra sipped at the juice Vin headed for the stream. Using rocks, he formed two small pools along the edge. Into one he placed the soiled bandages and Ezra’s shirt. The can of peaches went into the other one to chill.
With an appreciative sigh, Ezra set down the cup. “Thank you, Vin. That was well thought of.”
“Ready to lie down?” Ezra nodded and Vin helped him to where he’d set up the bedrolls. “You get some rest, Ez. I’ll see to everything.”
Vin settled a blanket over Ezra, knowing that keeping him warm was vital. He also placed a canteen by Ezra’s right hand, where he would be able to reach it easily if he wanted to. Satisfied that he’d done all that he could for now,
Vin turned his thoughts to supplementing the food they had. He’d purchased fresh bread, eggs, and cheese, as well as three cans of peaches and two of beans. He’d been more than pleased at finding the fresh food, knowing the pain would be working against Ezra’s appetite, and these were things he’d find appealing. Well, except for the beans, but he’d figured on eating those himself. Some meat would be good too, so he would set some snares and try to catch some fish. If he caught enough, they could save some for the evening meal as well. And if the snares worked too, he’d coat the catch and some of the eggs with mud tonight to cook in the coals for eating the next day.
Ezra slowly awoke to the aroma of fish cooking over a fire. He opened his eyes and felt a brief moment of disorientation before the pain in his shoulder brought back the events of the morning.
“There’s water there by your hand.”
He blinked and turned his head to his left where he saw Vin sitting at the side of the fire.
“You’ve been sleeping for nearly two hours.”
“Ah.” He blinked a few more times as he tried to decide how to get himself to a sitting position with the least amount of pain. Finally he rolled slightly to his right and used his left arm to slowly raise himself up. He knew Vin would provide assistance if he asked, but he needed to see how well he could manage on his own. Once upright, he took a deep breath. Not too bad. The pain was no more than he could deal with. The rest seemed to have restored some of his energy as well.
Leaning the canteen against his leg, he opened it, and then lifted it to take several long swallows. When he looked at Vin again, he saw that the other man had threaded thick slices of cheese onto sticks. He frowned. He could tell that the bread was fresh and couldn’t understand why Vin felt the need to toast it. Then he saw the cheese being placed on top and he grinned in delight.
“Hungry?” Vin asked with a smile of his own.
“You have managed to awaken my appetite, Mr. Tanner.”
“Good. I chilled the peaches in the stream.”
“Ahhhh. I can see that our meal will be a treat.”
Vin was gratified and relieved to hear the eagerness in Ezra’s voice.
“Just stay where you are. I’ll bring you a plate in just a minute.”
Ezra pushed himself back so that he was leaning against a nearby rock and watched as Vin finished preparing the meal. When everything was ready, he served up two plates and brought them over.
“Dinner is served.”
“Thank you, my good man. Won’t you join me?”
“Don’t mind if I do.”
Both men grinned at their playacting and settled down to eat. It was a quiet meal with both men more interested in the food than in conversation.
Finished, Ezra set down his empty plate with a sigh. “That was a fine repast, Vin. Just what I needed. Thank you.”
“Glad to do it. Think you’ll be up to doin’ some more riding?”
Ezra considered the question for a moment. “Yes, I believe I’ll be good for a while.”
“All right. You just let that food settle and I’ll see to breaking camp.”
It took only a short time for Vin to put out the fire and get all their gear together. Ezra listened to his movements around the camp, but kept his eyes closed, gathering his strength for the trial ahead. With the way Vin had strapped his arm up, there would be no extraneous movement to aggravate the wound from that source, but the movement of the horse itself would bring pain. He would also have to adjust his balance. He sighed and opened his eyes to see Vin walking towards him.
“As ready as I can be under the circumstances.”
“I put your other guns in you saddle bags. Figured you’d still want to wear that one.”
“Washed your clothes earlier. They’re all dry now. Packed your vest. Reckon you can button both the shirt and coat over your arm.” As he was speaking Vin helped Ezra do just that.
When he was ready, Vin gave him a hand up and waited as he caught his balance.
Ezra walked to the horses on his own, but accepted Vin’s help in mounting. He gathered his reins, and as soon as Vin mounted led off at a pace he believed he would be able to maintain.
They had been riding for nearly three hours with Vin keeping his eyes open for signs of a good place to camp for the night even as he gauged how well Ezra was holding up. He could read the exhaustion in the tightness of his body and the lines of his face. He’d held up remarkably well, with the two of them enjoying light conversation for most of the afternoon. Ezra hadn’t spoken at all for the last few miles though. It was time to stop.
Vin found what he was looking for and guided his horse off the main trail and onto what was little more than a trace. Ezra followed. Soon the forest opened up into a welcoming glade.
“Mr. Tanner, I do not know of anyone else who could find two such excellent campsites in one day. I am highly impressed.”
Vin grinned, pleased both with the compliment and the fact that Ezra was feeling up to giving it. He dismounted and walked over to the other horse. “You ready to get down?”
“A moment, if you will.”
Vin waited as Ezra gathered himself. When he nodded his readiness, Vin moved in closer.
Ezra showed none of his usual grace in dismounting, leaning over his horse, and more of less letting himself drop to the ground, trusting in Vin to keep him on his feet.
“I’ve got ya,” Vin drawled softly. He waited patiently, allowing Ezra to lean into him. When he felt Ezra take on more of his own weight he loosened his hold, but did not entirely let go. Together they walked over to a tree where Vin helped him sit down. Kneeling next to him, he gently removed first the coat and then the shirt.
“How is it?” Ezra asked without looking.
“Some bleeding, but still not near as bad as it might have been. Not too bad at all. Want to change the bandage now, or after you’ve rested up some?”
“I don’t believe I’m up to it right now, Vin.” Ezra hated sounding so weak.
“No problem. You want to lie down?”
“I’m quite comfortable right here, thank you.”
Vin accepted the words, understanding that, right now, the thought of moving at all was more that Ezra could handle.
Ezra blinked his eyes open to see a tin cup being held in front of him. The steam rising from it brought the aroma of fresh coffee. He reached up for it.
“I put a bit of somethin’ extra in it.”
“Thank you, Vin.” He inhaled the aroma and smiled. He took a sip and then looked around, surprised to find the camp fully set up. He turned questioning eyes to Vin.
“You’ve been asleep for a bit more than an hour.”
“Oh.” He looked around the camp again thinking about how the day had gone and sighed.
He felt Vin’s hand on his good shoulder and looked into concerned blue eyes.
“I regret that I have been a source of extra work for you during this portion of our journey.”
Vin shrugged. “Ain’t like it’s your fault. ‘Sides, the way I figure it, you’ve got an ironclad excuse for getting out of any menial labor.”
Ezra laughed briefly, in spite of the pain it brought, and raised his cup in a mock toast. “Touché, Mr. Tanner.”
They ate more of the bread and cheese that night, along with a can of peaches. Vin finished off the fish when Ezra declared his disinterest. When they were done, Vin brought out fresh bandages.
“Time to unwrap you.”
“Like a present?”
“I was thinking more like a mummy.”
Ezra snorted and then groaned, “Oh, I really shouldn’t laugh.” He tilted his head in thought. “How do you know what a mummy looks like?”
“Saw a picture of one in one of those dime novels JD likes. Asked him what it was.”
“Aha, one never knows what might prove to be a source of knowledge,” Ezra said as he watched Vin loosen the knots.
“I’m gonna untie the sling now.”
Ezra nodded and used his right hand to hold his left arm still. Once the sling was off, he slowly lowered his arm, wincing at the pain.
Vin continued removing the cloth strips until he got down to the square he’d placed right over the wound. He used water to loosen where it was stuck with dried blood, and eased it away. It released with a small flow of blood.
“Doesn’t look too bad,” Ezra said.
“Yeah, it looks clean. Just a little red around the edges.” Vin pressed around the wound with his fingers, eliciting a soft curse from Ezra. “Bullet’s probably causing some swelling just by being in there.”
When he reached for fresh bandages Ezra stopped him. “Before I am wrapped back up, I wish to remove some of the byproducts of the day from myself.”
“All right. I’ll clean up here while you do that.”
Ezra accepted Vin’s help in rising, but then made his own way first to his horse, where he retrieved soap, a small towel and a clean shirt, then over to the spring. He was felt more like himself now, and able to care for his own needs.
Vin kept an eye on Ezra as he worked, making sure he wasn’t overdoing.
When Ezra came back he sighed in pleasure. “Ah, now I feel much improved.” He sat down carefully. “Ready when you are.”
Vin smiled and quickly set to replacing the bandages and sling, then helped Ezra with his shirt. Repacking the supplies, he returned to the fire to find that Ezra had a cup of coffee waiting for him.
“You’re quite welcome.” Ezra sipped his coffee. “How far did we advance today?”
“Did better than I thought we would. I ‘spect we’ll still have two more nights on the trail though.”
Ezra grimaced. The thought of riding two more days with a bullet in his shoulder did not sit well.
“Missing your feather bed?”
“Why, whatever reason could I have for a feeling a desire for my own soft, clean bedding, after spending two weeks enjoying the delights of rocks, dirt, sticks, and grass? Not to mention soiled and vermin infested bedding and mattresses.” Ezra gave a careful mock shudder as he teased with Vin.
“Yep, I will admit to looking forward to a real bed myself.”
“I thought you enjoyed the trail, Mr. Tanner.”
Vin shrugged. “Trail’s fine, but a soft bed does have certain advantages.”
“I am now wondering just what sort of bed you are hiding in that ramshackle domicile of yours.”
“Ramshackle? Are you insulting my home?” Vin said in pretend offense. “That wagon is perfectly sound. Why don’t you try it one night?”
“No, thank you, Vin. I believe I will pass up that opportunity.” Ezra covered a yawn with his hand. “I apologize for my poor manners. It seems that all this talk of beds is causing me to become drowsy. I suppose I should heed the message and seek slumber even though it is still early.”
“Go ahead. The more rest you get, the better you’ll be tomorrow.”
Ezra nodded and headed towards his bedroll. “Goodnight, Vin.”
Vin stayed awake for several more hours, seeing to the camp, preparing for the next day, and checking on Ezra, whose sleep occasionally turned restless, but he always settled back down without really waking. With everything set, Vin sat back enjoying the quiet of the night. In a little while he would allow himself to settle into a light doze, knowing that any disturbance would awaken him. There wouldn’t be much true sleep for him until they were back in town with Ezra in Nathan’s care.
* * * * *
Vin glanced up from the fire when he heard a moan from Ezra followed by cursing.
“Careful there, Ez.”
“Why, thank you for the timely reminder, Vin.” Ezra’s voice was exasperated and Vin grinned.
Ezra sat up and rubbed his face. “What time is it?”
“Sun’s been up most of an hour now.”
“Good Lord! What am I doing awake at this hour?”
“Can’t answer that, pard. Wasn’t my doing.”
“Not helpful, Mr. Tanner.”
Vin ignored the glare sent his way. “Since you’re awake, you gonna get up?”
In contrast to his words, Ezra sat unmoving for long enough for Vin to become concerned.
“I’m here. Simply debating what to do first.”
“Want me to check your shoulder?”
“May as well, then I shall proceed from there.”
It didn’t take Vin long to check the injury and secure the bandaging. “Still looking good. You were running a bit of a fever last night. Seems to have passed.”
“Probably a reaction to the events of the day.”
“Yep. Why don’t you go get cleaned up for breakfast. We’ll set out after we eat.”
Ezra nodded. “I will be back momentarily.” He took care of his business and returned to the fire. “What fine cuisine have you prepared for our dining pleasure this morning?”
“We got the rabbits I snared yesterday, along with the last of the peaches and some hard cooked eggs. Still got bread and cheese, too.”
“Eggs? However did you manage that?”
“They’d had some just come in at the store in Miller’s End. Knew you liked ‘em. Figured they’d also help fight the blood loss.”
“Mr. Tanner, you are a wonder. Remind me to be sure you’re around the next time I am injured while away from town.”
“I’d much rather there weren’t a next time.”
Ezra chuckled lightly. “I would prefer that as well.”
They took their time over their meal, but once they were finished they were soon back on their horses heading home.
* * * *
They repeated the previous day’s pattern, stopping several times to allow Ezra to rest. At each stop Vin offered him food, which Ezra ate, knowing he needed it. By the time they stopped for the day, he was drooping in the saddle. The wound had begun bleeding more freely and he was running a fever again.
As soon as Vin changed the bandages that night, Ezra headed for his bedroll and huddled under the blanket. Vin wanted to keep an eye on the fever and decided he could do without any sleep that night. As a result he found he was able to soothe Ezra with his voice and a cool cloth when he became too restless. Towards dawn, the fever broke again and Vin turned his attention to preparing for the day.
When Ezra woke, he stayed still where he was, feeling no desire to get moving. Eventually Vin crouched next to him.
“Gotta get going if we want to get home, Ez.”
“I know.” He sighed.
“Need a hand?”
Ezra nodded, and Vin helped him move first to a sitting position and then to his feet.
“You good on your own now?”
He nodded again and slowly moved away from his bedroll. By the time he returned to the fire, he was moving with a little more ease and appeared more awake. He took the eggs and bread Vin handed him and started to eat, dunking the bread in his coffee.
Again they mounted up right after breakfast. Vin wished he could allow Ezra to rest longer, but his condition was obviously worsening, and Vin wasn’t sure how much longer Ezra would hold up.
His concern was well founded. Their rest stops became longer and more frequent as the day went on. During their morning stops, Vin was able to get Ezra to eat more of the cheese, and half of the last can of peaches. By mid-afternoon the wound was bleeding steadily and his fever was beginning to rise again. Most worrying to Vin was that Ezra had stopped the banter the two of them had been engaging in.
“Ez.” There was no response. “Hey, Ezra.”
Ezra slowly turned to look at him.
“I was thinking. We’re gonna have a full moon tonight. The trail will be easy to see, 'specially since we’re just about on home ground. We could just keep on riding and get to town some time tonight.”
It took Ezra a long moment to process what Vin had suggested. “That is agreeable to me. The sooner I get this piece of lead out of me, the better.”
* * * * *
A few hours later Ezra allowed his horse to come to a stop.
“I do believe I am not doing well.”
Vin dismounted and moved around to the other horse.
“Move your foot.”
“Out of the stirrup. I’m going to come up behind you.”
“Oh. All right.” He did as directed and felt Vin swing up behind him.
Vin gathered both sets of reins in his hands, and got them moving again. As they rode he felt more and more of Ezra’s weight settle against him. When he felt Ezra go limp, Vin held onto him with an arm around his waist. “I’ve got ya,” he assured his friend quietly.
* * * * *
In Four Corners, Chris walked out of the saloon and sent his gaze around the town. Everything seemed calm enough. Nothing out of the ordinary. He looked towards the east end of town. Ezra and Vin were due back soon, going by the last telegraph they’d received from Meyer’s creek. Buck and JD had gotten back two days ago.
Sighing, Chris decided to do a walk around the town. He started towards the jail and then stopped as he heard horses.
He waited a few moments and then made out the form of two horses walking slowly down the street. When he realized only one was being ridden, he moved out into the street.
Chris’ shout brought several people from the town’s buildings. When Vin stopped the horses they were surrounded by the rest of the seven.
“What happened?” Chris asked.
“He took a bullet to the shoulder. It’s still in there. Thought it was better for Nathan to tend to it.”
“How long ago?” Nathan wanted to know.
“Nearly three days, now.” Vin helped ease Ezra into the waiting arms.
“Get him up to my room.” Nathan followed behind, questioning Vin. “How’s he been?”
“He’s held up well until today, when the bleeding began to get heavy. Fever comes and goes, but the wound’s been looking pretty good.”
Nathan nodded as they entered his room. He headed straight for his patient.
“Ezra? Ezra, you with me?”
Ezra moaned and tossed his head.
“Come on, Ezra, talk to me.” Nathan tapped his face gently, working for a response, pleased when Ezra frowned and blinked his eyes open.
“Yep. I’m here. You ready to get that bullet out?”
Ezra blinked a few more times trying to work out where he was and what was happening. He made out Vin standing near by. “We’re home?”
Vin took a step closer. “Yeah, just got in. You gonna let Nathan take care of you?”
Becoming more alert, his gaze found Nathan and he smiled. “Nothing would please me more than getting rid of this encumbrance, Mr. Jackson.”
“Haven’t heard that many words from him in hours,” Vin commented. “Sure does sound good.”
Nathan chuckled. “Let’s see what we’re dealing with here, and then I’ll get ya fixed up right.”
Buck held Ezra up while Nathan removed his clothing and the bandages.
Vin never took his eyes from them even as he explained to Chris what had happened.
Nathan did a quick check of the wound and the regained Ezra’s attention. “I’m gonna give you some laudanum before going after the bullet.”
Ezra nodded and drank the medicine, then sighed as he was allowed to lie back on the bed.
“I’ll give that a few minutes to start work, then I’m going to need some help.” Nathan looked to the other men. “Bullets in a tricky place. I need you all to hold him still while I work.”
When it was time, the men surrounded the bed, ready to assist. Nathan cut the wound open more so he could see what he was doing, and have more room to work. He used the tip of the knife to find the bullet, then used the forceps to remove it. There was resistance on his first attempt, so he pulled harder.
The bullet came out and blood welled from the wound. Nathan quickly pressed a cloth against the flow. After a minute he cautiously released the pressure, relieved that the bleeding had slowed enough for him to clean and stitch the wound. Finished he bandaged Ezra up much as Vin had.
“You did good Vin. He should be fine in time. Mostly just needs rest.”
“Speaking of rest,” Buck said as he walked over to Vin. “You’re looking a mite worn there. Just how much sleep have you gotten since he was shot?”
“Yeah, right,” Chris spoke up. “You heard Nathan, Ezra’ll be fine. Time to let someone else watch over him.”
Vin still found himself hesitating.
“They are correct, my friend.” The words came weakly from the bed.
“Ez? What are you doing awake?”
Ignoring the question, Ezra said, “It’s your turn to rest, Vin. I’ll be here when you return.”
Green eyes held blue for a long moment, then Vin gave in with a nod and a smile, saying, “See ya in the morning.”
“No too early, please.”
A yawn muffled Ezra’s words and Vin laughed softly as he headed for his wagon.