Disclaimer: Please don't shoot me, I was channeling Ezra - oh - that kind of disclaimer - ain't making no money, this is just for fun.
I stand and look at Josiah's face as he preaches there over Daddy's coffin. Josiah, who called me, a black man, brother, and meant it when he first met me. I done all I could for Daddy. I used herbs, and compresses and tinctures, but in the end, death got him. And now he's here in a big box. He looked so little and shriveled, just an old man when we laid him out. But my heart remembers him holding me when I was little and he seemed to reach into the sky.
I hope he's there now. Josiah seems to think so. I can't believe the words he's saying about my Daddy. The beauty just rolls out of Josiah like Moses standing on the mountain of God to receive the law.
He's praying now. You would think Daddy was the richest man in town the way he's going on .Oh Lord, I'm grateful that I got to know Obediah Jackson. I'm obliged to him, Lord, even as I'm obliged to you, for he fathered a man who has saved my life more times than I can recall. A man who has become my friend and brother. He has healed my afflictions and eased my pains like one of your angels, and I know him because of Obediah.
And Obediah Jackson has taught me, Lord, about being a father and being a friend. For when I look on him and how he sought all over this great land looking for his son, even though he was dying, I have learned how great a father's love can be. And it heals something broken in me, Lord, to know that love can be that great and that faithful. It is a good thing to know.
Oh, Josiah, I promised myself I wouldn't cry and now I can't stop crying. Did you have to talk so sweet?
I can feel Ezra, standing next to me. He's helping hold me up and he gives me a hanky you wouldn't believe. It's made of fine lawn and smells like a fancy house. On my other side stands Chris Larabee, and he ain't got no fancy hankies. Iffin he did, they'd be black. But his hand is on my arm and his eye is on me. I feel held up with these two men beside me. Another hand is there, at my back. It's Vin. He's always watching all our backs, but I didn't think he'd have to do it here. I'm glad now, for him and J.D. and Buck standing there. J.D. is crying for me and Buck keeps sneezing like a fool, but I know he's really wantin' to cry. So many people came. Judge Travis is here, and Mary and Billy and Mrs. Potter and all her younguns. And Nettie Wells and Casey came and just took over the clinic, cleaning and feeding everyone and acting like kin.
I never knew I was liked. I knew I was needed, cause they need a healer here bad, but this is different. The Seven come along like they was glued to me. Mrs. Potter brought me a bible and wrote Daddy's name in it for a memorial for him. Yosemite brought flowers and laid em all over Daddy's coffin. When I needed to be alone, Vin took me out to this place in the desert that's an oasis and just sat with me for hours. Didn't say a thing, but I was so glad to have him there. He said it was a place made to soak up sorrows. And Chris, he's listened to me when I was angry or just needed to talk. You'd think I had a damn flag flying the way he shows up when I need him.
Oh, God, they're singing now. Chris and Ezra's got nice voices, but Buck sounds like someone stepped on a bull frog.
And now they're putting you in the ground, Daddy. I never knew the sound of dirt hitting wood could sound so ugly. It hurts my chest with each thud, and it don't stop.
Oh Daddy, I'm glad, so glad you was here and I got to know the whole truth about you and Mama. But, Daddy, you left too soon. I miss you, Daddy. I miss you.
After the Funeral
Gosh that was sad. It was nice as Mama's funeral, especially with Josiah preaching. I'm so sorry that Nathan lost his father. But I'm glad they couldn't hang him. The Judge should feel proud for what he did for Obediah and Nathan too. I wonder if Nathan knows how lucky he is to have a father that loved him like Obediah did. Buck says he knows and he wishes he had known his Daddy like Nathan got to.
It's funny, but Vin didn't know his Daddy, I didn't, Ezra didn't, Buck didn't and only Nathan, Chris and Josiah had fathers. Josiah's father was plain mean to him from what Josiah will say. And Chris has never said a word about his father. Everyone has left but us seven, now, and Nathan started crying when Josiah prayed for Obediah.
Now Vin is walking up to the grave and he's got his knife.
Jesus God, he's rolled up his sleeves and is making cuts on his arm. Buck's grabbed me, and he whispering to me, "Don't be scared, Kid. Vin's showing respect for the departed this way. The blood is supposed to help Obediah make it safe and strong to the Happy Hunting Grounds. Indians believe tears will hinder his spirit, so this is his crying for Obediah."
God, I'm glad he explained. And now that he's said that, I realize that those drops of blood do seem like Vin's crying.
And I can tell Nathan is just itching like hell to clean and bandage those wounds. Chris practically had to hold him back, though Chris ain't wild about Vin cutting himself either. He gave Vin one of those looks that would take the hide off a mule. Ezra turned white as a sheet, so I ain't the only one who was ready to puke.
Vin turns away from the grave and just looks at Nathan and we all grow still. Vin's eyes seem so wise, and so caring. You know he cares about Nathan a whole hell of a lot. And this seems just as solemn as Josiah's preaching and praying was, only more private, like he's giving a part of himself as a gift to show how he feels.
He takes Ezra's flask and dashes that fancy scotch on his chest and arms where he made those cuts and then wraps each wound with a clean bandage. I can almost feel Nathan relax.
"Gotta do patrol now. Night boys," he says, short like and leaves.
I wonder. Would Vin mourn for me like that, if it was me there in that grave? Damn, I'd better be careful so he don't have to.
That Night on the Porch in Front of the Clinic
Well I can tell tonight is gonna be interesting. For once I'm not the one getting lickered up. Instead it's Nathan and Ezra, the two men I would have voted most likely to not ever get drunk. Oh, I know Ezra got a little drunk when that cardsharp kept beating him, but he had his guard up good. Tonight he and Nathan are drinking those fancy libations like water. Buck and J.D. are watching em, and so am I. Maybe that's why they can get drunk, cause they know they got us as backup. Josiah's drinking too, but it's nothing unusual, and I can see him watching them. We'll keep them safe.
I can tell though, Ezra is going to be the more amusing drunk. The fact that he's lying on his back on the porch with his feet up in the chair is a good sign. The boy can sing too. And at least he's making Nathan smile.
Nathan Jackson had never really gotten drunk before. Wasn't safe, first of all. Black men who got drunk tended to spout out opinions, and that was a real good way to get lynched.
But things was different right now. Daddy had died and was in the ground and the boys had been there for the funeral. Nathan didn't think any black man in the territory had ever had such a beautiful service and it did him proud. He hoped Daddy could see it up in Heaven and know he wasn't remembered as a murderer, but with respect.
The boys had sure stood by one Nathan Jackson, though. The one who surprised him the most was Ezra. He'd helped nurse Daddy at the end and spent hours with him listening to stories about his life. He'd made Daddy feel comfortable and brought him little fancy foods. He'd even taken Nathan's early morning patrol for him when Daddy had gotten worse, and for Ezra waking up early was a true act of brotherhood.
Hell, Ezra was taking on like it was his Daddy had died. There was a time when Nathan would have been suspicious, but not now. 'Sides, Daddy wasn't rich. Ezra reserved play-acting for rich marks, which they wasn't.
And now, after the funeral, they was all sitting outside the clinic, all of 'em but Vin, who went on patrol. Ezra had brought some fine whiskey to share out and they all was drinking it, but only Nathan and Ezra were really letting loose.
Ezra had taken off his fancy jacket, and was lying on his back on the ground, looking up at Nathan and Chris Larabee who were sitting on both sides of him. He had his feet resting up on the chair though, and Nathan thought it was a hoot. First thing he'd had to laugh about in a long time.
Ezra was singing some song that he must have picked up from Buck, and singing it with great flair.
"Ezra," said Nathan, "You all should have been an entertainer. You definitely got a gift."
"He's definitely got something," was Josiah's comment, as the preacher took another swig from the bottle that had already changed hands several times.
Nathan knew he was going to be sorry for drinking tomorrow morning, but right now this felt good. God, Ezra was funny.
"Ya'll have been really good to me," he said, feelingly. I don't think anyone has ever had such good friends as I've got. Ya'll have done me and Daddy right proud and I'm obliged to all of you."
The boys all nodded to him. Ezra smacked his head on the boardwalk beneath his head as he did so and winced.
Nathan couldn't help it; he started to chuckle. So did Chris and then the rest of the boys did, too. Nathan decided he was damn lucky to have such good friends. They almost made him forget about being white or black, and when he was with them, he felt safe from hatred's pointed finger and stare of contempt.
Ezra held up his silver flask, which he had also been sharing about quite freely. "I congratulate you, Mr. Jackson, on your great fortune in having a loving father. I nevah had the privilege of knowing my own father. Mother never saw fit to share that tidbit of information with me."
"Damn!" Nathan Jackson exclaimed, a little too loudly, "that's right mean, Ezra. I'm sorry." Chris Larabee was nearly spitting out his whiskey at Ezra's words, and Buck suddenly looked like a sad old hound dog.
Nathan remembered that Buck didn't know his daddy either, or J.D. for that matter.
"That's okay, Mr. Jackson," replied the gambler rather effusively for a man lying on his back on the boardwalk; "He probably wouldn't have liked me anyway. This way I can have the mental solace of thinking him perhaps a hero or someone who would have been glad to have a little boy."
Ezra then fell atypically silent.
Nathan felt real bad for Ezra all of a sudden. He'd always thought Ezra sort of looked down his nose at Nathan Jackson, but suddenly it occurred to him that Ezra sounded jealous of an ex-slave having a loving daddy. Ezra acted like he didn't think his mama wanted him a whole lot neither. Nathan knew he'd been a slave, and poor and sometimes cold and hungry. But he'd also known his parents loved him fiercely and were proud of him and cherished each minute they had together as a family. Ezra sounded like maybe he might have had things Nathan didn't, but he hadn't had that strengthening knowledge of knowing someone in the world was glad he was there.
Nathan felt he had to say something. "Ezra, anyone would be proud to have you as their child," he pronounced.
Ezra spat fine scotch up in the air like a fancy fountain and started to choke something terrible. He sat up and Nathan reached forward to slap his friend on the back when he realized Ezra was laughing so hard he had tears in his eyes.
"Mr. Jackson, you are certainly the kindest man in my acquaintance, with a heart of pure gold, but I can assure you, I was not a popular child. Mother sent me to friends of all kinds, from all walks in life, and they were all unanimous in wishing to be rid of me as quickly as possible. The most joy and pleasure I brought any of them was in taking leave of their miserable abodes."
"I don't think much of your Mother's choice of friends, Ez." said Chris Larabee. Nathan could see J.D. frowning something fierce, and Buck patting the boy's back.
Josiah sat right up then and everyone grew still. When Josiah had something on his mind, it was always worth listening to.
"Ezra," said the Preacher, "I would have been proud as hell and honored to have you as my son. I am honored by your friendship now."
"Me too!" piped up J.D. who was never afraid to cast in his two cents. Buck clapped him on the shoulder and grinned, and Chris Larabee smiled at the now stricken gambler. Nathan could see a look in Ezra' eyes like a rabbit caught in the light of a lamp come nightfall.
Larabee said solemnly, "I wouldn't have you ride with us, if I didn't think you were a good man, Ez."
To Nathan's horror, Ezra's green eyes filled with unexpected tears. Ezra now tried to sit up and ended up falling backwards in frustration since his legs refused to cooperate with his wishes.
Nathan tried to get up too and that didn't work, so he fell out of his chair and went to the now besieged gambler turned lawman. "Ezra," he chided gently, patting Ezra weakly on his trembling shoulders, "It's all right, Ezra."
Ezra turned those stricken eyes on Nathan Jackson. "Mr. Jackson, would you want me, a damned lyin' cheatin' gambler as a brother? Would you?"
There was real torment in Ezra's face. Nathan put an arm around the southerner's shoulder and laughed. "Hell, Ezra, I feel like you're family now. I wouldn't put up with your shit from an acquaintance, that's for sure."
Ezra's jaw dropped and he stared into Nathan's face piercingly, as though he were trying to read his mind and then an incredulous smile broke out on his suddenly illuminated features.
"I'd actually nevah considered that. None of you have run me off yet," he murmured this incredulously, and Nathan grinned at him.
"Good Lawd! You all can stand me!" Ezra uttered this as though he'd received a revelation of deep import, "Why, Hell, Mr. Larabee would have shot anyone else by now. You want me to stay here, don't you."
Larabee leaned forward and looked at the smaller man, "Don't tell anyone, but yeah, Ezra. We all want you to stay."
Ezra looked around at everyone, who nodded. His glance fell on Josiah Sanchez, and now almost shyly, he asked, "Mr. Sanchez, did you truly mean what you said."
"I don't say what I don't mean, Ezra," was Josiah's mild comment.
"My gawd," Ezra put a hand to his forehead. "I hope I remember this tomorrow. I've never been this drunk before."
"Hell Ezra, can't you see that we're all kin here," said Buck. "Friends can be the family you choose, and I know I choose every fuckin one of you, even that old rattlesnake Larabee." He punctuated this remark by knocking J.D.'s hat off, and J.D. was so pleased, he didn't complain.
Larabee gave one of his tight grins that just might fit on a rattlesnake.
"Hell, Cowboy," said a raspy voice, "I think you'd scare a poor old rattlesnake." Vin Tanner was back from his patrol and sounded pleased.
"Vin!" cried Nathan happily as he fell down on top of Ezra.
"Pard," said Vin thoughtfully, "You and Ezra are shitfaced."
"Brother Vin," Josiah laughed heartily, "You are remarkably perceptive."
"We're just realizing that we're all kin now," announced Nathan solemnly.
"Yes," said Ezra, "I know I'd miss all of you horribly if I left, I just didn't think any of you would miss me!"
"Aw, hell, Ezra," Tanner shot back, "How could I live without you winning all my money from me at poker and confusing me with your ten dollar words? Life just wouldnt have no meaning."
He leaned over and clapped the gambler on the back, which unfortunately was too much for the man's inebriated sense of balance, because it knocked him into Nathan who wasn't doing that well himself.
Chris Larabee handed the whiskey over to Vin who took a seat. "Stick around," the gunslinger advised, "If you're lucky, Ezra will sing again."
That was about all Nathan could remember of that particular evening. He woke the next morning with a headache, but no hangover (Nathan had remembered to drink lots of water too - that was supposed to help prevent hangover). He looked around and realized he was asleep in Ezra's bed and Ezra was snoring softly next to him.
"Holy shit!" he murmured, rubbing his head, "What the hell did we do last night."
From the floor next to the bed, he heard Buck say hesitatingly, "I'm not sure, Nathan, but I think we're engaged now."
On the other side of the bed, Vin hissed, "Shut up, Buck, you know damn well we all got married." Buck chuckled.
Nathan shook his head. From somewhere else, he heard J.D. snoring away and a deeper snore that must be Josiah.
Nathan realized he was wearing Ezra's jacket and Ezra was sleeping with his old beat-up coat on. Apparently they had exchanged clothing at some point in the evening.
"Why in hell am I wearing J.D.'s hat," murmured Chris Larabee.
"Hell, Cowboy, " said Vin Tanner in the tone that meant his sense of humor was rising, "What I want to know is why I'm wearing your pants and Ezra's vest."
"Jesus," cried Buck in a harsh stage whisper, "Where the hell are my clothes?"
Nathan Jackson closed his eyes, and smiled contentedly. He knew he'd grieve for Daddy for a long time to come, the sorrow of it was there with him now, bittersweet, but he wasn't alone. He still had family taking care of him; standing by him. They were crazy as hell, of course, but that just added to their intrinsic charm, as his brother Ezra would say. Yup, with laughter and with tears, Nathan Jackson, ex-slave, healer and lawman, was at long last, home.