Vin bounded into the small area with Buck, JD and Nathan hot on his heels. All brandishing weapons. Horses were hauled to a stop and people jumped from still sliding mounts.
Nathan holstered his gun first and ran over to Josiah.
Sanchez sat on the ground legs crossed and chin touching his chest, a revolver sat in his lap.
"Josiah?" Jackson approached the slumped preacher cautiously. From the scattering of horses and the amount of debris on the ground there was a heck of a fight.
"Brother Nathan?" Sanchez weakly raised his head up and stared at the form approaching him.
"Yeah...How ya doin'?" Jackson knelt beside his patient.
Sanchez tumbled to the side like a felled tree.
+ + + + + + +
"JD git a fire built," Buck ordered gently. He did not want the kid stumbling into anything not fit for his eyes. Dunne was a good strong kid but Buck wanted to keep him sheltered a little longer....protected like none of the others were ever afforded.
Dunne merely nodded his head. A fire was important. Beside Nathan was checking over Josiah talking to him from the sounds of it. Vin was already at Chris's side and Buck was searching for Ezra.
A cold breeze whisped across the desert. A few hardy tufts of long grass waved gently in wind. Sage branches scratched against one another adding to the litany of night sounds and low voices that filled the area. Dunne stepped bodily out amongst the dry vegetation keeping one eye out for any threat to this friends.
JD gathered up dry fuel. It would not be difficult starting a fire out here, the hardship came in trying to keep it contained. Within a few minutes Dunne had a small blaze going. A few hand size rocks surrounded the small fire as an effort to contain the flickering flames. The young sheriff surveyed his surroundings...one apparent dead body over by Chris...no surprise...one body near Josiah...dead or not? JD could not be sure. Nathan had finally been able to attend Josiah's wounds. Vin was working on Chris....JD squinted his eyes searching the night for Buck and Ezra....
A soft nicker got the young man's attention. JD swung around and saw his bay standing near the fire reins hanging to the ground.
Someone needed to tend the animals and then set up camp. Dunne pushed himself to his feet. He would take care of the mounts and tack and then look for Buck and Ezra.
+ + + + + + +
"Nathan I need ya over here," Vin called out quietly. Tanner gazed back down at Larabee. The gunslinger was running a fever. Even in this light the tracker could make out the growing bruises on his friend's face. A bullet wound oozed serum. The fluid felt thick and sandy. The shoulder itself hot and swollen, Vin cursed silently.
"Can ya get him closer to the fire?" Nathan called back. Infection had taken root in Josiah's calf. The bullet had burrowed a hole through the thick muscle mass of the calf. Fabric, skin and debris littered the wound. The head wound appeared old but the amount of bruising and swelling did not allow it to be discounted so easily. Nathan sighed quietly..couldn't anything be easy and straight forward.
The healer realized it would be easier to bring the fire to the injured but the area was to dry. A spark could set off an inferno. Though there was not much out here to lose to fire it did no good to endanger the other men and horses any further.
"Yeah," Tanner breathed out a reply. He would have to not much choice in the matter really.
"JD give me a hand will ya," Vin noticed Dunne bedding down the horses. Tanner smiled gratefully. Damn kid had to be worried sick about the others and still he had sense enough to tend the animals....he was a better man than most.
Dunne jogged over, "Sure Vin whatcha need?" JD had unrolled the bedding. The Black and Sorrel had saddle sores on their backs. Dunne would have to remember to ask Vin how to treat those wounds.
"Grab 'is feet we're bringin' 'im closer to the fire."
Tanner and Dunne lifted Larabee, who bowed underneath them and hauled him closer to the hastily erected camp. JD struggled under the weight of the booted legs and was grateful they did not have to walk to far.
"Jist set'im down on 'is bed roll there," Nathan instructed. With a groan of relief tracker and sheriff released their burden.
"Where's Buck and Ezra?" JD finally asked. He searched the night again without moving from Chris's side. Even Chaucer was missing. It was not like Ezra to have just disappear.
Vin gazed up from Chris and peered into the night...where was the gambler?
Josiah had regained consciousness only briefly. His fragmented questions were merely ramblings of a delirious mind. Nathan soothed the preacher the best he could with a wet rag across the forehead. Jackson did not have time for much else. The leg needed tending to immediately and from the looks of Larabee he was next in line...
The healer tried to see through the darkness. The body that had been next to Sanchez was alive... a broken leg from the feel of things and good size welt to the forehead. He would tend him last. The leg broken near the joint like it was would need a doctor. Out here they were few and far between, like watering holes unless you knew where to look you were out of luck.
"We're right here," Buck answered out. He materialized out of the shadows with the gambler draped across his shoulders in a fireman's carry. The Chestnut gelding walked behind him the reins draped casually over its neck.
"Where was he?" Nathan asked.
"Crawled out into the desert...must a gut turned around." Buck gently eased his burden down next to the fire. Dunne fixed the crinkled bed roll making it smoother.
"Ohmygosh...what hit him?" JD whispered stepping back unconsciously.
"I ain't sure.....but I think it was that bid dead guy over by Chris," Buck answered back trying to manipulate the Southerner's head to a more comfortable position on the makeshift pillow. He would have to borrow Vin's knife to cut the ropes.
Nathan cursed. The tension that had held him for the last few days had finally dissipated when they found Josiah and the others. With the accumulation of injuries and being nowhere near a town all the apprehension flooded back threatening to drown him.
Jackson took a calming breath. His practiced eyes and hands ran quickly over each man laid out before him.
He sat back on his haunches when he was done with his cursory exam. Nathan gazed up at the three expectant faces of this friends. They thought he had all the answers. They believed he could make things right with just a few simple herbs, bandages and water....Didn't they know he was only guessing...making educated estimations in the proper line of treatment. He did not have all the drugs and clean bandages that a diploma'd Doctor would have...didn't they realize that he 'made do' with what he had....and hoped for the best.
Jackson caught his breath and realized...Yes, Yes they did know...Vin, Buck and JD were well aware of his abilities and supplies or lack there of... and still they had faith in him. Not blind faith..just an understanding that he was the best hope for their fallen friends.
The night breeze ruffled his shirt flapping it against his chest cooling the sweat that covered his body. The flames bent and spiraled, smoke was whisked away in whispy trails with the wind. Through the fluctuating firelight hue, Nathan peered at each conscious man. Vin's darkly shaded blue eyes held not doubt....JD's hazel gaze waited expectantly and Buck smiled in confident reassurance.
"Ok..Vin git Chris out of that shirt and bandage...clean the wound the best ya can..there's some carbolic in my saddle bags... JD I want ya to boil what bandages ya can find and git me the Laudanum.." Dunne was up and moving before Nathan completed a sentence.
"Buck check 'im over for busted ribs...'is heads banged up pretty good so make sure he don't go chokin' on his own vomit iffen he gits sick.....I ain't got enough Laudanum for all three so I want to save it for Chris and Josiah..." Jackson raised his hands forestalling Wilmington's pleas, "Those bullet wounds in them two are infected and gonna need scrubbin'..alot..and its gonna hurt...Ezra looks bad but I'm suspectin' his mouth did most of his damage....he'll be uncomfortable but he'll survive."
Wilmington merely nodded.
+ + + + + + +
Nathan rubbed his eyes tiredly with the back of his wrist. The sun had just started to crest over the horizon. JD's fire had dwindled to mere coals. Jackson tossed a few dried twigs and branches onto the glowing embers. Flames popped up dancing left and right in the breeze, slowly growing in strength.
Jackson surveyed their work. Vin slowly tipped water into Larabee's half parted lips. The tracker had smeared salve all over the chapped lips and immediate tissue around his friend's mouth. Nathan watched with some relief as Chris's body instinctively swallowed the few drops that made it passed his teeth.
The Laudanum, blood loss and heat had sapped whatever strength the gunslinger might have had in reserve. Between Vin and Nathan they picked the scabs and dried desiccated skin from the wound and then scrubbed it liberally. Larabee protested weakly...much too weakly. Nathan feared the desert heat and lack of water may have done irreparable damage. A fever raged unchecked and it seemed Chris had nothing left to fight back.
Josiah slept under a blanket on his sleeping roll. It took Buck, Vin and JD to hold the preacher still as Nathan debrided the leg wound. Sanchez tried to refuse the liquid opiate derivative but with gentle persuasion Nathan managed to get a few good swallows past the older man's swollen and cut lips. After a brief struggle Josiah drifted off into a deep troubled slumber.
Buck and JD had wrapped Standish's ribs...the conman complained and shied from the manipulation, weakly pushing hands from his torso. A hoarse cry of pain escaped when Buck cinched the bandage down snugly. Dunne draped wet clothes over Ezra's swollen eyes in an attempt to bring down some of the swelling and offer relief.
It had taken a full nights worth doctoring to get them cleaned and bandaged. Now it was a matter of waiting. The desert heat alone could kill a man. The three lawmen had a long convalescence ahead of them.
Wilmington had ridden out with Dunne at first light to retrieve the gear they had left behind at the camp they had abandoned in haste.
Nathan pushed himself wearily to his feet. He checked on the stranger with the broken leg....and found him dead. A twisted look of agony had frozen itself on the bluish grey features. Flies entered and exited the distorted mouth seeking meals. A few climbed the lateral canthus of the eyes...some even trespassed across the glassy corneas. Jackson had seen enough death to prevent an outward reaction.
He had witnessed this kind of death before...sometimes badly broken bones threw clots of blood or fat to the chest....Jackson was not sure why it happened or even the exact place these little globs of death lodge but he had seen it enough during the war...even after 'successful' amputations, to know the signs. This poor man had died alone in the night, with a piece of his body lodged someplace it was not meant to be. Whoever he was he did not deserve this.
Jackson dropped a discarded coat over the frozen features and moved onto the next body.
Light dust and position obscured the body's face and hands from view. Jackson sighed wearily and rolled the stiff corpse onto its back. It would be difficult to manipulate the limbs into a position suitable for burying or covering with rocks..
The body clunked over onto its back like a piece of drift wood. The dark face appeared shocked. The pale brown eyes were open and stared lifelessly at the sky. Blood had oozed from both nostrils and from slightly parted lips. A small hole in the chest clearly defined how this individual had died.
Nathan ignored this and continued to stare at the ridgid features.... "Benny?" He whispered silently to himself..... "Benny?" He has asked a little louder as if hoping the corpse would answer him.
Tanner gazed up from Larabee and stared over at Nathan. The tracker furrowed his brow.
Jackson tore his gaze from the body and with hot accusation stared at the camp. "That son of a..." The ex-slave pushed himself to his feet and strode over toward the gambler.
Vin followed Nathan's glare... "Ahh shit..." Tanner quickly stood up and blocked Nathan's path.
"What's goin' on Nathan?"
Jackson did not answer and instead tried to circumvent the tracker. Vin side stepped his hands up in a consolatory gesture. "Hold on Nathan...what happen'd?" The tracker took a side glance at the sluggishly moving southerner...Oh don't wake up now Ezra....
"He got Benny kill'd...I'm gonna throttle the son of bitch..." Nathan pushed passed Vin hurling the tracker into and over the small fire. Tanner swore and pulled his legs from the struggling flames. He scrambled to his feet as whisps of smoke wafed from his pants.
"Nathan ya don't know what happened," Tanner argued....but Vin had a pretty good idea.
Jackson ignored the tracker. He reached down and pulled the drying rags from the southerner's battered face grabbing him by the hair while the other was cocked ready to land a blow.
With the sudden rough movement and sound of fighting voices, Standish realized he was still at the mercy of Benjamin and Kerns...the cool dampness over his eyes had to have been dream. A pleasant distant dream.
Standish in a moment of helpless panic threw his arms over his head and twisted away in a panic, trying to scramble to his feet. The ground seemed to roll and heave under him,effectively preventing him from gaining any purchase with his feet.
Nathan's fist never fell....He stood shocked, frightened by his own animosity as he watched Standish blindly scuttle away from him in stark fear.
'Ahh Ezra...' Jackson whispered. Standish toppled over to his side, clawed to his knees all the while moving away from whoever grabbed at him.
The southerner's legs did not have the strength to raise the body from the ground and the arms flounded like the legs of a newly born foal. Time and again the gambler fell to the dirt only to continue to push and pull himself from a perceived threat.
He headed for the cook fire.
"Whoa easy there pard'," Vin gently intoned cautiously reaching out to keep the bare, bruised shoulders and torso from fumbling into the flames.
At the touch Standish whirled and shied to the right falling back onto his backside. He lashed out with a stocking foot and landed a solid blow to Tanner's inner knee. Vin gasped and reached for his knee hobbling on one leg cursing between tightly clenched teeth, "sonofabitch, sonofabitch...."
With palms flushed with the dirt and knees bent the conman scurried backward in a mad attempt at escape.
He tripped into Sanchez.
Josiah jumped up slamming Ezra into his own outstretched legs. Sanchez let loose with a howl of complaint as the calf flared up with pain.
Sanchez reached for the offending body, his grasp pulling on Standish's bare biceps.
"Josiah don't!...." Vin and Nathan yelled in unison. The preacher held firm to the arm and tried to focus drugged and fevered eyes.
"Brother?" Sanchez whispered out to the bisecting, weaving form in front of him. Standish swung his head slightly left and right trying to pick up sounds of his pursuers.
"He jis got startled is all," Tanner explained approaching the two men as if they were wild dogs. Nathan flanked from the left.
"Its alright Ezra...." Sanchez turned his dwindling attention from the tracker to the gambler still held tightly in his waning grasp, "our brothers have found us."
Standish nodded his head agreeing with the preacher's words but obviously not believing them. He crawled over Sanchez's legs easing his arm from the bruising grasp that held it. Josiah hissed trying to control his temper. He would let the others deal with this problem. His leg was not up for it.
Two forms still descended on them. The preacher must have been delirious with heat exhaustion.
Standish slowly moved backward trying to keep the two grey shapes in view. He finally made it to his feet, his legs trembling with effort. If he could bolt and make his freedom then he would come back and get Chris and Josiah free.
Buck and JD rode into camp their saddles laden with the extra bed rolls and discarded saddle bags. Wilmington slowed the Grey's walk.
What happened now? He asked himself tiredly. It was not bad enough they were traipsing all over the desert in this blasted summer heat...now they were stalking one another from the looks of it.
Buck sighed. He would round up the conman and figure out what happened.
" 'Ey Ezra! What ya doin' up this time of morning?" Dunne shouted out waving to the Southerner who dangerously swayed on shaking legs.
"JD?" Ezra muttered out quietly in disbelief. He took a shaky half step in the direction of the familiar voice. His eyes rolled back into his head and his knees buckled. He crumbled forward toward the ground.
Nathan closed the distance and caught Standish before he hit the ground, "Easy Ezra I got ya now," Jackson whispered out quietly. His gaze found the stiff body of Benny and silently asked himself, 'What had happened?'
The insistent pounding headache woke Josiah. No matter how hard he tried to convince himself to ignore it, the incessant hammering between his ears continued. With great reluctance he opened his eyes. After a bit of figuring he discerned he lay on his side...left side. His leg ached miserably...but not as bad as earlier.
How much earlier? He wasn't sure. A brisk wind cut over his blankets ruffling his hair. The breeze felt good on his burned face. He ran his tongue over his lips and tasted salve. His teeth even felt slick.
Josiah layed quietly for a moment staring at the small rocks that lay just a few feet from him.
"Ey Josiah....you feelin' better?" JD leaned down from his sitting position by the fire and gazed at the preacher.
Sanchez stared at the young man wondering how Dunne had managed to stand on his head and maintain his balance. After a few indeterminable seconds he figured out Dunne was hunched over.
"Better," He whispered out. The sky was slate grey a few sheets of thin clouds cluttered the horizon. Evening...from the looks of it. Another breeze waved over his blankets. The dry wind forced him to shut his eyes against the small billowing of dust.
"Ya look better. Nathan says the infection in your leg is down, fevers almost gone too," Dunne added. JD slid off his small perch and knelt beside the preacher. "He said ya should have water..everytime ya wake up....even if ya don't want any," Dunne added hoping to stop any arguments before they began. The young Sheriff never could make it seem right to give his elders orders.
Without waiting for a response JD uncorked the canteen and held it up for Sanchez.
Josiah moaned. His head hurt to much...his stomach gurgled and boiled in a threatening manner.
Dunne did not hesitate and merely wrestled the preacher's head up onto his knee and started pouring water through the white covered lips. JD pulled the canteen away softly explaining, "Nathan said ya would have a headache 'n upset stomach...not ta give ya to much.."
Josiah smiled and a small chuckle grumbled through his chest. Jackson was a smart man.
"Where is Brother Nathan?"
JD's reassuring smile faltered somewhat... "He and Buck are trying to bury that big guy Benny...seems he was a friend of Nathan's from back on a plantation..."
Dunne nor any of the others had been able to gleam much of what had happened. Chris still wallowed in throes of a high fever and infection...so much so that it had Nathan real worried. Ezra just slept...occasionally they found him over by Chaucer like he was trying to leave or hoping his horse would protect him from someone or something. The crazy horse would stomp and pin its ears back everytime someone went near him...well except JD.
Out of respect for Nathan, Buck had offered to help bury Benny. They had dragged the other body far into the desert. The ground was way to hard to dig two graves. In fact from the amount of cursing and the numerous 'breaks' they took, one grave was to much.
Josiah shut his eyes and released a breath....how many lives would his damndable sins touch? How many people would suffer because of his blind cruelty from a life time ago?
He spotted Chris lying stretched out under blankets...Vin hovered near by whittling on a stick.
Larabee was still in a bad way. 'Why Lord? Why punish those who had nothing to do with my own sins?'
JD smiled, "Don't worry 'bout Chris...Vin 'n' Nathan say he's gonna do jist fine...jist needs rest."
Josiah gazed up at JD and smiled. The kid had enough faith for the other six. "Ezra?"
Dunne's smile broadened slightly, "Ahh heck Ezra's been up wandering around...ain't got 'is head on straight yet.... Buck n'Nathan say they're gonna tie 'im down or maybe tether him to Chaucer if he don't keep still."
Sanchez chuckled slightly...the southerner found faith only in his horse and cards...when he controlled the deck, of course.
Josiah nodded. Exhaustion dragged him back down pulling his lids together. He heard JD tell him he had better get some more rest....they might leave in the morning.
+ + + + + + +
Chris woke feeling better than he had in long time. The waves of pain no longer washed through him like a storm front. His headache had finally slipped away and the thirst that had occupied so much of his thoughts had dwindled to a controllable desire. His limbs felt weighted...to heavy to lift or even move. It was a small miracle to just open his eyes. Focusing would have to come later.
"'Ey pard' how ya feelin'."
Chris took a deep breath. The air had cooled considerably. Either it was early morning or early evening or the heat wave broke. Before he opened his eyes he easily heard Buck exclaim, "Gawd damn it Ezra I'm gonna tie ya to Chris......Chaucer knock it off....."
Must be evening Larabee deduced...Standish was moving around.
"Ya best watch ya back side Buck....here comes Chris's Black," Vin warned.
A sharp hiss and a curse punctuated the area followed by the empty hollow clap of biting teeth..then stomping feet. Chris kept his eyes closed he didn't want to see what was happening.
Buck's voice drew closer, "That damn horse of Chris's has got Its panties in a knot...its not even like It likes Ezra's horse or anything...but gawd forbid ya try and whoosh Chaucer away. "
Chris chuckled at the irritation in Wilmington's voice. Ezra's horse was a barrel full of trouble.
"Black's just protectin' its herd," Vin patiently explained trying to keep the humor out of his voice. He did not bother offering Buck a hand with his sleeping burden. Wilmington had retrieved the gambler so many times that he had developed a routine. He would merely kicked the bedroll open and slide the gambler down feet first to folding legs then let him land in the bedding in a controlled fall.
"Yeah well Ezra ain't apart of his herd," Wilmington groaned sitting heavily on the ground adjusting blankets around his dozing friend.
"Chaucer seems to think so," Tanner replied. Peso was no different than the Chestnut. Worse maybe, because the dark bay gave no warnings....it just struck. Vin ,on a couple of occasions, had considered destroying the animal due to its over protective streak. The tracker could never get himself to squeeze the trigger...how could one punish an animal for such loyalty?
If push came to shove they would just send JD to calm the horses. Tanner's eyes found the young sheriff. The kid was grinning holding his head down trying not to laugh at Buck. Vin winked at him in a conspiratorial manner.
Dunne had a gift. They all recognized it, well except JD, ....Ezra had at one point attempted to profit off it....Buck had quietly smothered the 'opportunity'. Vin had joined in the small show of 'reasoning'. Ezra had not understood 'The error of his ways' as Buck explained it to him that afternoon on the saloon boardwalk...but the Southerner had picked up the not so subtle hint about leaving JD out of his schemes...no matter how profitable.
"Yeah well Chaucer is jist as slippery as his owner." Wilmington dropped another cold rag on Ezra's neck. Standish slept on his side his back pressed against Buck's leg. Wilmington checked the wraps around the bruised and swollen torso..they were still pretty snug and relatively clean.
"Leave the horses to JD," Chris softly added. He did not want anyone getting hurt because of his gelding.
"'Ey welcome back Chris," Buck leaned over Tanner and stared at his old friend. It was good to see the hazel eyes open. The last night and day had been rough on everyone.
Buck and Vin exchanged glances. Sanchez had withdrawn somewhat from the rest of them. He slept mostly, refused Laudanum making Nathan give his share to the gambler. As a result the others did not believe him to be dozing as much but simply hiding.
"He's taken what happened to you two pretty hard...won't say a word about it though," Buck finally answered, "its like when that Pinkerton Feller showed up and accused him of killin' those women."
"Weren't a Pinkerton man Buck..." Dunne clarified. But Buck was right...Josiah had been really scary then...violent and angry. Only Vin seemed able to approach him or talk any sense to him.
Chris shut his eyes and sighed heavily. Damn preacher shoulders the blame for everything...
"Blames himself for what happened."
"What did happened?" Buck asked slightly exasperated.
"Where's Nathan?" Larabee did not want to repeat this story more than once. There were parts he would leave out. He would talk to Ezra later, though he did not think it would be necessary. Standish had ghosts of his own, as they all did...and hid them. Sometimes the past had away of sneaking up on ya and pushing those skeletons out of the closet haunting you in broad daylight in front of friends, family and strangers.
Chris did not like it but figured if his ghosts were going to plague him in public he hoped it would be amongst trusted friends. He would give Josiah the respect his demons were due.
"Nathan's over at Benny's grave," JD scooted closer to the small knot of men.
"He was a friend of Nathan's from his slave days," Vin explained cutting off the question.
"Shit," Chris breathed out realizing the burden of penance just increased.
"JD go git 'im. He needs to hear this more than anyone," Chris whispered out wondering how much Josiah could bear before he disappeared from them.
+ + + + + + +
Josiah lay in his bed roll and listened quietly while Chris told the flat truth about the last week. Sanchez stared up at the stars feeling puny against their vastness. Larabee's voice was kept low but the words floated over the small area with stinging clarity.
The preacher shut his eyes at the soft exclamations of his friends. JD occasionally would stare at the gambler, who still slept with his back pressed against Wilmington. Buck occasionally dropped a comforting hand on Standish's dark hair.
Josiah felt the eyes of the others glide over him...he continued to feign slumber...hoping they would leave him to his sins.
Buck let out a low whistle, the Black indeed was a frightful creature. He would have to remember to toss it an apple some day.
Nathan in the end softly mumbled, "Benny never had a chance...hooked up with the wrong people."
"That Kern's fella shouldn'ta blamed Josiah like that...not sayin' I don't understand it...jist was wrong to hold'im blame is all," Vin added softly shaking his head. Sanchez carried more burdens than most....and judging from Chris's mannerisms he did not tell the full story. Tanner could appreciated Larabee's position.
Josiah watched as JD patted Jackson's shoulder in an attempt to sooth his older friend. Dunne had a heart of gold. They all just had to keep it from being tarnished to quickly....
Ohhh Garrett. If only you and Bobby had left me passed out on that saloon floor....
Josiah closed his eyes. He must have drifted off to sleep...when he woke Nathan was staring down at him and smiled, "No one blames you...." Jackson then forced Laudanum down him.
Sanchez woke a second time to an overcast morning sky... "Gotta quit beatin' ya self up over thin's that jist happen.." Tanner quietly remarked. Kerns spotting them in Junction City was just plain bad luck. The tracker slipped from Josiah's field of vision before he could reply.
Josiah fell back to sleep.
+ + + + + + +
"I ain't wakin' him up."
"Quit bein' a chicken," Buck taunted somewhere from afar.
"What if he's like Ezra....Ezra's to lazy to hurt me much but Josiah might be willin' ta chase me down."
"Its ok Brother Dunne, I'm awake," Sanchez opened his eyes to an afternoon sky.
"Good cuz Buck wanted me to splash water on ya," JD replied with consternation. Dunne moved away heading toward the ramutea line. Josiah laughed softly catching Buck's eye. The Lady's man returned the grin....as far as Wilmington was concerned....Josiah was a trusted friend.... Demons be damned...
Sanchez nodded his thanks....
"We're heading out this afternoon...travel til just after sunset...." Nathan said gathering up the gear around the preacher. "You boys ain't strong enough fer much more than that," The healer added curtailing any 'discussions' that might arise.
Jackson stopped and stared hard at Josiah expecting an argument similar to the one he just had with Chris. Standish on the other hand had woken long enough to add his two bits on the benefits of not moving. Jackson had chuckled Ezra must have found a piece of ground that rivaled his feather bed back home.
Nathan saw the unsure, guilty look.
He shook his head, "Ain't yer fault for what happened...It could have easily been someone out after Chris or even Ezra....Benny was a good man at one time...somewhere along the way it got destroyed ...you didn't do it."
Nathan gently forced the preacher into a sitting position. "How's the leg...think ya can ride a horse?"
"Doesn't look like I've got much choice." Sanchez remarked as he glanced around the cleaned camp.
Nathan chuckled relieved that he did not have to pursue the issue of Benjamin. It was uncomfortable enough knowing Chris had gunned him down trying to save Ezra's life. Though Jackson did not blame Larabee or even Standish he held some insight into Benny's rage....and almost felt it was justified..just aimed at the wrong guilty party.
"No not really...Chris wants to get home...," Jackson eased Sanchez to his feet and held a supporting hand on him while Josiah tested his balance.
"Lets get going Brother," Josiah hobbled gamely toward his horse diverting his gaze to the Sorrel avoiding unnecessary eye contact with the others.
Buck had given Standish a leg up and nearly tossed the Southerner over the otherside.
"Whoa there pard'," Buck laughed out hastily putting a restraining hand on Standish's lower leg, "don't want to be puttin' ya back up there." Ezra merely wrapped a supportive arm around his chest and slid gingerly back into place.
Wilmington reached to gather up Ezra's reins. "Best give me those Ezra ya can't see a thing an I know ya dizzier than a drunken cowpoke."
The gambler's eyes were still swollen tightly closed. The skin was stretched tight, a spectrum of purples, blues and reds adorned the puffy features and thorax. Nathan had reassured the Southerner that his 'boyish' good looks would return....someday.
"I don't have to see Mr. Wilmington..." The gambler spoke softly and leaned forward stiffly to pat his horse's neck.
"Yeah, I reckon yer right," Buck placed the reins in waiting palms and then swung easily up onto the prancing Grey. He would stick close to the gambler when the spinning became to much and Ezra risked losing his seat Buck would simply slide over and ride double behind him.
Vin held Peso cross ways in front of Chris's gelding insuring the animal stay still while Nathan gave the gunslinger a leg up. With a groan and curse Larabee settled into the seat and gathered his reins. It was good to be back in the saddle. Even if the Laudanum dulled the senses more than just a bit. The fierce headache that had jockeyed for attention had finally abated, the nausea only struck in diminishing surges. Chris was feeling better. Being back on his horse and headed home only helped him.
Josiah sat stiffly in the saddle trying to position his leg so it would not chafe against the fender. The Laudanum had curtailed the ache, but the burn persisted.
Sanchez held his Sorrel back as Vin and Chris led them off. Nathan trailed behind the two watching Larabee like an over protective mother. Buck rode beside Standish asking the gambler how many fingers he held up...while constantly changing the number of unfurled digits.
"I bet Ezra con's Buck into tellin' him how many fingers he has up before we stop for the night," JD whispered in a confident tone.
Josiah chuckled. He kept his eyes straight ahead. Dunne apparently had no intentions of riding on a head of him. Just like with horses, JD had a sixth sense when people were hurting and did the only thing he knew how....be a friend.
Josiah thanked the Lord silently, in the many tongues that he had learned...and asked a simple favor. Keep JD like JD...let the others protect him...from people like himself.
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