Ezra entered the jail, a plate in hand.
"Don't suppose there's three more of them plates," Alexander asked sarcastically, interrupting the preacher who was about to say thank you to Ezra.
"You would 'suppose' right..although I'm sure I could arrange for your final meal if you so desire," Ezra said, handing Josiah the plate that held an impressive steak, equally generous helpings of mashed potato and green beans and two biscuits.
"F-f-final? Meal?" Morris swallowed, as he touched his hand to his neck.
"Oh..so sorry my dear boy..Josiah, did I mistakenly give the impression that this would be their 'final' final meal?" Ezra smirked with a raised eyebrow and amusement in his voice.
"Sounded that way to me," Josiah said seriously, sending a hardened glance to the three men who had tried his patience.
"Now hold on..you haven't shown us any proof of that pardon, and even if you do..we can't be held accountable!" Sweetser protested.
"No?" Ezra questioned, "and why is that?"
"Cause we didn't know he was pardoned!" Stan yelled out, his own panic beginning to grow.
"You were, however, aware that he had, not only employment as a lawman of this town, but also a brother that you intended to apprehend as a way to keep Mr. Tanner in 'order', shall we say. Am I correct in that assumption?" Ezra asked, his tone dead serious.
The three men were confused, not totally understanding everything the gambler had said, not even sure if he had said anything at all but words. The two older men did the wise thing and said nothing either way, Morris on the other hand was still wondering about the 'final meal' statement, knowing that if the proof existed he was going to hang.
Much to Ezra and Josiah's delight, Morris was just as impulsive and naive as JD was a year ago, taking the opportunity to tell all he knew, hoping to save his neck if at all possible.
"Mister...I'm only 18..I'm too young to be swinging from a damn rope! Look..we knew Tanner was here.." Morris began to spill.
"Shut-up Morris," Stan ordered.
Morris looked to the oldest man, he swallowed hard, and continued, "We knew he had a brother, just didn't know which one of you it was," Morris revealed.
"Shut- up Morris!" Sweetser yelled, himself beginning to feel a rope around his neck.
"We knew he was part of the hired guns here, too," Morris said quietly.
"Morris!" Stan and Alexander said at the same time, both of them could feel the rope tightening.
"We didn't know anything about no pardon though! Honest!" Morris pleaded, sounding much more like the young man the two peace keepers had learned could ride, shot, fly and swim.
Josiah swallowed a bite of steak, then he stood and walked to where Morris now had a death grip on the bars, causing his knuckles to turn white.
"Son, how long have you been riding with these men?" Josiah asked.
"Since I was 16," Morris said proudly.
"I think that you'll be needing to find a new line of work when you get out of here," Josiah said, glancing towards the angry men who sat on the cot.
"Cause you just sold out your partners, son. First lesson, no matter what side of the law you're on, you never sell out your friends," Josiah said softly.
Morris glanced back at the disappointed and agitated men, then back to Josiah, he eased himself into the corner of the jail and sunk into the corner, burying his head under his arms.
"Lets see that pardon," Sweetser said evenly, getting up from the cot, the cot barely springing back into shape where the heavy man had been sitting for nearly 5 hours.
"Oh yes, as you will understand, I can not in good conscience allow you to handle this document, it would be extremely difficult to ascertain another if this should have...and unfortunate 'accident'," Ezra stated, knowing that if the paper was ripped or torn, the conjured up 'pardon' would be useless.
"What?" Stan said, his head aching from the southerner's words.
"He says you can only read it, in case you happen to drop it and make it so as it can't be read," Josiah translated roughly.
"Fine," Sweetser said impatiently.
Sweetser and Stan read the paper, each word giving them a sinking feeling in their stomachs, and making it hard to breath. Alexander then reached his hands through the bar for the telegram.
"Uh-uh-uh," Ezra nearly sung out.
"It looks old enough..but if he's had that since November the paper'd be a bit worn don't you think?" Alexander pointed out.
"You think this is a fake?" Josiah asked.
"Mr. Sanchez, the man is only being thorough," Ezra defended, he allowed the bounty hunter to feel a corner of the paper, knowing that even if he pulled, only a small section would rip and the letters would be intact; the gambler found himself holding his breath as the pudgy fingers felt the corner of the paper.
"Damn!" Sweetser cursed, Ezra instantly let out his breath and smiled. "Alex?" Stan asked.
"It's legitimate," Alexander said, heading back to the cot, sitting on it heavily, nearly causing the cot to collapse.
"I'm sure that Mr. Sanchez will inform Mr. Larabee of the developments, as soon as he finishes his well deserved meal. I'm sure our leader will take appropriate action concerning this case," Ezra smiled, turning and leaving the room, Josiah grabbed his plate, shutting the door behind him then sat in the chair the con man stood next to.
"Do you think it wise to leave young Morris in with his former companions?" Ezra asked, concerned at what the others may do in retaliation to being sent up the river.
"Don't think that Stan fella would let Sweetser do anything to the boy, he seems to be a bit..what was it JD called Vin?" Josiah wondered.
"'Buckish' is what I believe Mr. Tanner said," Ezra smiled.
"Buckish..that would be the word, Stan's a bit Buckish towards the boy," Josiah smiled, shaking his head at the sound of the adjective.
"Speakin' of Vin and JD, they okay?" Josiah asked, putting a fork full of potato into his mouth.
"Mr. Tanner is up and about, and at this time, trying to reason with his younger sibling as to why he needs to remove his wet clothing," Ezra began to fill Josiah in.
"JD should understand that," Josiah questioned, the sheriff may be young but he had common sense.
"Yes, well..it seems that Mr. Dunne had a very grueling outing this time with his brother. Would you believe me if I told you that he pushed and pulled that young gelding he rode to a gully nearly 10 feet?" Ezra asked his eyebrow raised and a smile on his face.
"By himself?" Josiah asked, delaying the input of the green beans he had stabbed with the fork.
"Yes sir," Ezra said, nodding his head to accentuate the seriousness of his statement.
"Heard tell a man can do some amazing things under the right circumstances," Josiah said, the path of the fork resumed.
"As well have I," Ezra agreed, he had heard things in his travels, men lifting wagons off from trapped passengers or loved ones, women plowing fields while their husbands fought in the war, and other things like that.
Josiah sat enjoying the peacefulness of the growing night, watching as the street fires were lit, then suddenly remembered what had brought the topic of amazing strength up.
"Tell me again why Vin is trying to convince JD..about the wet clothes," Josiah asked.
"Oh. Yes..as I began to relate, Mr. Dunne exerted himself beyond his means, after arriving in town he simply collapsed and , unless something has changed since my leave of the clinic, he was unable to move his appendages properly," Ezra stated, "Hence, aid was required to remove the clothing causing JD to be, 'embarrassed'. Upon his brother's request, we exited the room to leave his bother to do for him," Ezra sighed, he knew the humiliation one went through when unable to do for ones self, let alone the humiliation of having to be undressed.
"Can he move anything?" Josiah asked, like the rest of what Ezra had said meant nothing.
"Yes, he can move, but with great effort and not with accuracy. When he tries he merely shakes as if he'd been holding that position for hours," Ezra revealed.
"So it's just his muscles that aren't letting him do what he wants," Josiah understood.
"Precisely what I told him, after panicking at the thought he couldn't hold a coffee cup in his grasp; I told him his body was protesting the commands due to the fact that he had over exerted himself for a period of time," Ezra smiled. He then turned to Josiah, "That is a logical assumption is it not?" Ezra asked, suddenly wondering if he shouldn't have said anything, giving JD a false hope.
"Sounds right to me Ezra, relax, Nathan would have yelled at ya' if he thought you were stepping out of line," Josiah smiled, finishing the last bits of food left on his plate, then stood., "He never misses an opportunity to yell at ya'," Josiah smiled, patting Ezra on the back as he stepped off the porch heading to the hotel to return his plate to Molly.
"How unnerving, accurate, but unnerving," Ezra said quietly to himself, he turned and opened the door to the jail holding back a pitiful laugh that desperately wanted to escape as he saw the scene in the small cell.
Morris was crying hysterically, sobbing out that he was to young to die, he didn't want to be hung and the such. Stan's overfed body holding the boy like he was cradling and infant.
Buckish.. Hell..he's not that bad, but if he ever is..well..we'll just have to remind him not to be 'Stanish' Ezra thought, then grimaced Stanish...Standish..good God, Buckish will have to stick...ish Ezra chuckled at his small joke.
"Oh..no..please..that wasn't for you," he apologized as he got a glare from Stan, "I simply had a thought that amused me," Ezra said with honesty, then realized how ridiculous that sounded,
"Please..ignore me..I haven't had a decent meal or sleep...Continue," Ezra said, turning away and headed for the desk that Josiah had occupied for so long, the gambler was actually surprised the seat hadn't formed to the preachers...seat. Ezra smiled and stifled a small chuckle that nearly escaped as once again he had amused himself.
+ + + + + + +
Josiah walked up the stairs and joined the waiting men outside the clinic door.
"Still in battle are we?" Josiah asked, hearing the protest from the behind the door.
"Yup," Chris sighed.
"Not for much longer though," Buck stated.
"Why's that?" the preacher asked.
"Believe it or not..he ain't as loud as he was, more n' likely he's wearing the rest of himself out," Nathan diagnosed.
Josiah hung his head as another protest was heard, and a sharp threat given.
"Wonderin' how long Vin was gonna last 'fore he threatened him with that," Buck smiled, as he heard Vin tell JD if he didn't stop his fussing he was gonna poor the dreaded tea down his gullet just so he'd stay still.
"I like that tea, it relaxes me," Josiah offered with a shrug.
"Yeah, well if I remember right you also ate five of those dried jalapeno peppers them Mexican's brought when they was passin' through," Buck pointed out.
"Cleared out that head cold," Josiah said.
"Cleared out your taste buds too," Chris quipped.
The laughter the comment had caused, ceased when they heard Vin yelling JD's name, not in a harsh manner, but with panic. Nathan was nearly to the door when it flung open and Vin stood there.
"Somethin's wrong Nate," Vin said urgently.
Nathan entered the room quickly followed by everyone else. JD lay on the floor where Vin had put him, dressed in his nightshirt.
"What's wrong with him Nathan?" Vin asked out, holding back the tears that threatened.
"Looks like muscle spasms," he said, lifting the blanket that covered JD's legs, seeing that JD's toes were crossed, and the muscles in his calf were tightened.
"JD," Nathan said to the whimpering sheriff, his eyes wide with fear, not understanding what was happening.
"Hurts Nate," JD managed between his fast breaths and the tears he couldn't fight back.
"Is it just your legs?" Nathan asked calmly, feeling anything but.
"No, all over," JD said, again between breaths.
Nathan noticed that JD's whole body was quivering, he covered up JD's legs, then pulled back the upper half the blanket, exposing JD's arms. He saw the fingers were pretty much doing the same as his toes, the muscles tense through out his lower and upper arms where Nathan felt through the nightshirt.
Nathan placed his hand on JD's stomach, feeling all the muscles there quiver as they too were tense. Nathan sighed, he had never seen anything like this.
Vin looked up from where he was kneeling next to JD's head, he didn't need words to tell him Nathan was at a loss at how to help JD.
JD had fought back the darkness that had wanted him since he had arrived at the clinic, he would do anything in the world to be able to get there now, the pain was unbearable, he wouldn't even feel embarrassed to scream..if only he could, he settled for the pitiful whimpers that escaped, not caring who heard them or saw the tears that fell freely from the corners of his eyes, he'd had muscle cramps before..but never a whole body full of them, and never all at once.
"What's wrong with him?" Buck whispered, his voice full of concern.
Nathan looked back to where JD lay on the floor, Vin still on his knees by JD's head, wiping the tears away.
"His muscles are all cramped, Ezra was right, he stressed them all out," he said regretfully.
"How..What..ain't there nothin ya' can do?" Buck fumbled his question.
"Vin," JD gasped out.
"Somethin else crampin' up?" Vin asked, not thinking that it was possible.
"Lin..i..ment," JD said, the word was broken, but Vin understood. JD had heard the others talk, noticed that Nathan didn't answer when Buck had asked if there was anything he could do.
"I'll be right back, you okay without me?" Vin said, wiping another tear away.
"Fine," JD said, managing a quick smile.
Vin smiled back, he sprang to his feet and headed to the door without an explanation.
"Vin..where.." Buck tried, he glanced back to the floor, seeing JD gasping between breaths and his body contort under the blanket with each spasm.
Buck felt an instant anger rise in him as he turned and followed the tracker out the door..he caught up to him just as Vin stepped off the last step.
"What the hell are you doin? You beat the shit outta him and he still went after you..he didn't abandon you!" he said, his voice full of venom.
"Liniment, Buck," Vin said calmly, turning to head for the livery.
"What?" Buck asked, following the ex-bounty hunter who seemed to be on a mission.
"That stuff he puts on Pup, when she's run real hard, he does it so she don't cramp up," Vin revealed, his fast walk breaking into a jog.
"I'll go tell Nathan," Buck said, he turned from where he jogged next to Vin and headed back to the clinic.
+ + + + + + +
"You look like you could use some sleep Chris," Josiah offered his observation.
"Not till I know he's okay," Chris said quietly, like Josiah knew he would.
"What about Sweetser and his boys?" Josiah asked, trying to distract the leader.
"Ezra show them Vin's...pardon?" Chris asked.
"Don't know how he made it look real, but they bought it," Josiah smiled.
"Probably think they'll be hangin' soon I guess," Chris sighed out, again looking to the floor where JD was.
"Pretty much," Josiah said, crossing his arms in front of him, knowing that Chris was going to make his decision.
"Let them think that till morning, they can leave after breakfast," Chris said.
Josiah smiled, knowing that Chris would eventually let the men go, after all , by rights he had no reason to hold them, Vin's bounty was legitimate even if he had been framed.
"You wanna give me a hand with the bed Josiah?" Nathan asked, interrupting the conversation.
"He okay?" Chris asked, concern that he no longer heard the painful whimpers and the fact that Nathan had left the young man's side.
"His toes and fingers are still all cramped up, but the others seem to have relaxed, he fell asleep just a minute ago. I wanna get the bed ready for him, get him in it. Where'd Vin and Buck go?" Nathan asked.
"No ide.." Chris began, but the opening of the clinic door stopped him as Buck entered through it.
"Vin's gone to get that liniment JD uses on Pup," he said breathlessly.
"Vin, thinks that'll help?" Chris asked.
"Couldn't hurt I s'pose," Nathan shrugged, then turned to help Josiah with the bed.
"JD thinks it will, he any better?" Buck said.
"Cramping let up a little, he's sleeping," Chris informed.
Buck walked to where JD lay still, he knelt down touching JD's forehead, he turned around to where Nathan and Josiah were flipping the mattress.
"Nathan, he's covered with sweat," Buck said, his worry front and center.
"There ain't no fever Buck. What he just been through, the crampin' and all, that's all it's from," Nathan said, spreading a new sheet over the mattress.
The men turned to the door, hearing the heavy footsteps heading up the stairs quickly, Vin opened the door, he instantly went pale as he saw Buck next to JD, who was laying still.
"JD," he gasped silently, heading to the two on the floor.
"He's just sleeping," Chris said, grabbing at Vin's arm.
JD's face contorted with pain, his eyes squeezing tighter and his jaw clenching.
"Nooooo," he pleaded quietly, as he felt his muscles begin to tighten again.
"Nathan," Buck called. Nathan looked over his shoulder.
"Let's get him up here," Nathan said.
Chris left Vin's side, who stood stuck to his place with the jar of liniment in his hand. Buck moved to JD's head, Chris to his feet.
"We're just gettin ya' into the bed kid," Buck informed.
"Kay," JD replied, his breathing becoming fast as the muscle cramping increased and spread.
"Ready?" Buck asked, Chris nodded. They began to lift, expecting JD to sag when they lifted him from the floor; he didn't, his body was as stiff as a board.
As the men lifted JD and took him to the bed that awaited JD, chanted 'Oh God' with every breath, tears beginning to run freely again. JD swallowed hard as he was laid on the bed.
"Vin back yet?" he asked, again through sporadic breaths.
The two men who'd carried JD to the bed, looking to the requested brother, who seemed to still be frozen to the floor. Vin seemed to break from the trance that he was in to acknowledge his younger brother.
"Right here JD," Vin said, walking towards the bed, screwing the top off the jar that held the horse liniment
Vin didn't ask for permission to start or where to start, he simply pushed by Buck and sat at the foot of the bed. He pushed back the covers from JD's feet and calves. Vin dipped his fingers into the ointment, with a generous amount on the tip of his fingers, Vin wiped it onto JD's foot, causing him to gasp slightly, and Vin stopped.
"I hurt ya'?" he asked, not wanting to cause anymore discomfort, but also knowing that it might be unavoidable.
"No..cold," JD laughed out, his eyes looking down to where his brother was.
Vin smiled as he looked into the eyes that made it too clear just how much pain he was in. Vin continued his efforts, putting his fingers in the ointment several times as he massaged every muscle he could find. Vin was applying the liniment to JD's left calf, wondering if it was having any effect at all.
"Feelin' any better?" Nathan asked, wondering if the absence of the tears were because he wasn't in as much pain, gotten used to the pain or he simply didn't have anymore to shed.
"Couldn't say," he answered honestly, he was still in a great deal of pain, if he wasn't as cramped up where the liniment had been massaged in, it was overpowered from where he still was.
"Hey, you're toes ain't crossed back," Buck observed, pointing to where Vin had started.
"Guess..it's ..workin' then..huh?" JD asked, his voice weak and tired..he was now going on 2 days with little sleep, Nathan was more than surprised that JD just didn't slip into unconsciousness just out of pure exhaustion.
Chris noticed what a slow process this was becoming, Vin was very diligent in making sure the liniment was rubbed in completely with no excess left on the skin's surface. He dipped his fingers into the liniment, and knelt next to JD's upper body, throwing the covers off then pushing the sleeve of the nightshirt up, he began to massage JD's hand and fingers, then moved to JD's forearm. He had to hold back his curse when he reached JD's forearm, shocked by how tense the muscle was under his fingers.
In over an hour, and a few pleading protest when things became too 'personal', JD had been covered with the liniment. The two stood in satisfaction, but where instantly distressed when the pain had not cleared from his face.
"JD..it's gotta be better," Vin pleaded.
"My back," JD said, his breathing easier but still fast enough to impede his words.
"Oh yeah, forgot . How we gonna do this?" Vin asked Nathan, he would have just rolled him over on his stomach, but he figured the way JD was breathing, he knew Nathan would worry about it becoming even more difficult.
"Just stand me up," JD suggested.
"Not sure that's a good idea, might send you back trying to use them muscles," Nathan voiced his thought, "Lets just sit you up," Nathan said.
"It's gonna hurt..ain't it," JD asked more than said.
"No more than you already have been," Chris said.
"Kay, kid, lets get ya' sittin' up," Buck smiled.
"Don't try and help JD, just let Buck and Josiah do it for ya'," Nathan instructed as the preacher and ladies man began to sit JD up slowly.
"Owowowowowowowow," JD let out as he felt the muscles in his back and shoulders protest the movement causing Josiah and Buck to stop.
"Don't stop..just do it!" Vin yelled harsher than he'd meant, but he knew the pain was going to be there if they stopped and started again, he figured it best to get it over and done with then to drag the motion out.
Josiah and Buck did as they were told and continued their effort, trying to ignore JD's words to stop, as they encouraged the youth that they were almost done.
Josiah and Nathan began to remove JD's, now limp, arms from the sleeves of the nightshirt; Vin unbuttoned several of the buttons, as JD's arms were free of the sleeve. Chris then brought the nightshirt down over JD's shoulders, exposing his back, letting the men see every muscle that silently screamed in protest.
The effort was started again, the men's focus was completely and totally on their task, and only when JD's head fell back did they stop.
"Nathan," Chris was the one to ask, Vin lifting a pale face to look at the healer who was touching the patient's brow.
"He's asleep," Nathan smiled, the liniment had worked, JD's muscles were finally relaxing, allowing the young man to escape the small amount of pain he knew JD would still be in.
Vin smiled, Chris sighed, Buck shook his head, Nathan nodded, Josiah sent a silent 'Thank you' heaven ward and JD lay still, except for the easy rise and fall of his chest; and quiet, except for the soft snoring.
"Never woulda' thought of that liniment," Nathan sighed, feeling he'd let JD and the others down.
"Yeah ya' would've," Vin reassured.
"Not to sure of that, never seen nothin like that, how'd he know what to do?" Nathan asked.
"He was a stable boy Nathan, you might never've seen that, but I wouldn't be surprised if he has before," Chris said.
"In a man?" Nathan wondered, remembering the panicked look on the boy's face, wondering what was wrong.
"Nope, with horses..happens all the time, 'specially if ya make them do somethin they ain't used to doin' and don't take care of them," Buck explained.
"Nathan.. Just face the fact that we've all had to face," Josiah said slapping a consoling hand to the healer's back.
"And what fact is that?" the surrogate doctor wondered.
"That he knows a lot more than we've given him credit for," Josiah smiled.
The men nodded at Nathan, smiles on their faces, letting Nathan know that he was just the latest to be shown that fact.
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