Webmaster Note: This fic was previously posted on another website and was moved to blackraptor in June of 2004.
As the smoke and dust dissipated Vin cast a contrite gaze over the grisly scene materializing before him. He stared at the black-clad bodies strewn around the still smoking iron carriage, the scene looking like some ancient battle. Vin watched as Josiah guided a despondent Ma Nichols, and what remained of her brood toward the church.
The tracker allowed his gun to drop to his side and glanced up to see JD sitting in the second story window of the hotel. His gaze shifted over to Nathan checking the bodies for any sign of life.
Nathan soon realized there was no hope of finding anyone alive. He turned his attention to Buck who was leaning up against the saloon railing, his arm soaked in blood.
"Let me look at that arm," Nathan said as he approached the unsteady cowboy.
"Aw Nate, this ain't nuthin." Buck's legs started to buckle and Nathan leapt the last few steps to catch the crumbling man. He wrapped an arm around Buck's waist for support.
"Right, and that nothing is goin' to keep you in the clinic for a day." Nathan led the grumbling man up to the clinic.
Vin strode across the street toward Chris, who was kneeling beside Hank's motionless body. He caught a blur of color as Ezra went into the saloon. The tracker still couldn't believe what the normally self-serving gambler had done. Ezra had risked his life and probably saved a lot of lives.
Vin stopped in his tracks when he saw the look on Chris's face. He'd never seen such sadness in the harden gunslinger before. Vin's heart broke for all that his friend had lost. Hank had been his last earthly connection to Sarah and his son and a life he dearly missed. He was once again reliving all the pain of loss.
Vin continued his casual stride across the street to stand beside his friend, allowing his silent presence to hopefully ease some of Chris's despair. He ignored the occasional whiffs of burned flesh wafting up from the nearby smoking body. Several town's people began to remove the bodies from the street.
Chris finally stood and together the two lawmen carried Hank's body to the undertaker.
Ezra's hand shook slightly as he brought the shot glass up to his lips and downed the fiery liquor. The pain in his right hand was starting to intensify, or maybe he was now starting to feel it as his fear-filled adrenaline rush began to wane. He looked down at the burned hand; blisters were forming on his fingers. He knew he should go and see Nathan, but he saw that the healer was busy tending to Buck, and Josiah would also need his attention soon. Ezra had seen the preacher take a bullet after throwing him a second bottle of whiskey. No, his wound could wait.
Ezra grasped the bottle in front of him and poured another drink, most of it ending up on the bar. He put the bottle down and rubbed his eyes. He wished the ringing in his ears would stop, it was becoming very annoying and added to the headache that had formed at the base of his skull and was stretching over the top of his whole head. He downed the less than full shot.
Standish didn't hear the two gunslingers enter the saloon and was
startled when Vin and Chris appeared on either side of him. Vin stared curiously at the gambler, noticing how pale he was and how a sheen of sweat covered his face.
"Mr. Larabee, Mr. Tanner," Ezra greeted, sliding the bottle over to Chris without raising his eyes from his empty shot glass.
Chris tipped the bottle back and took a long drawl, hoping to burn out some of the anguish that had settled in his gut.
Vin noticed how Ezra kept his right hand pressed against his stomach. He reached down and grabbed Ezra's wrist, pulling the arm up.
"Nasty burn," Vin remarked.
Ezra pulled his hand out of the tracker's grasp. "I'm fine."
Larabee gave the gambler a sidelong glance. He had been as surprised as anyone when the cardsharp ran out of the saloon and climbed on the top of the armored carriage. Chris and the others had immediately turned their attention, and their guns, to protecting the imprudent southerner. Ezra had dropped a bottle of whiskey down the stove pipe, causing the carriage to explode and changing the outcome of the battle for the better.
"I'll have Mr. Jackson tend to it at the first opportune time," Ezra replied to Vin's dubious stare. Chris filled Ezra's shot glass and passed the bottle to Vin.
The gambler stared down at the glass. His vision blurred, splitting the glass into threes. Ezra swallowed back the nausea that rose up from his stomach and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.
Chris's sandy brow arched as he watched Ezra try and grab for the shot glass only to grasp air. He turned his lean body sideways to face the suddenly distressed conman.
"Ezra, you okay?" Vin asked, looking over at Chris who was also staring at Ezra.
Ezra's head was pounding so loudly that he couldn't even hear Vin, who was standing right next to him. Suddenly Ezra's eyes rolled up into his head and he started to crumble. Chris and Vin were both ready and grabbed the gambler by the arms, stopping him from crashing to the floor. They gently took the unconscious man to Nathan's clinic.
Nathan had just finished tending to Buck's wound and was trying to ignore his constant barrage of complaints when the door to the clinic was
kicked opened. Nathan's eyes went wide and Buck jumped up only to be
pushed back down by Nathan. Chris and Vin entered with Ezra slumped between them.
"What happened to him?" Nathan angrily asked. The way things were going he'd be patching people up all day.
The two gunslingers laid Ezra down on the cot.
"Don't know. He just collapsed in the saloon," Chris explained.
"Burned his hand pretty good," Vin added.
Nathan checked the burned hand then peeled back an eyelid. "Guess he didn't escape that explosion completely unscathed. He's got a concussion."
"Ahh Geeeze," Buck moaned, looking at his injured friend.
Nathan went to get the things he'd need to take care of the burned hand. "I'll take care of his hand while he's out, it'll save him a lot of pain."
"Will he be alright?" Chris asked the healer as he continued to stare down at Ezra.
Nathan took a deep breath, held it, then exhaled. "Should be, we'll have to wait until he wakes up though."
"I still can't believe what he did," Buck said from his place on the other cot.
"I'm not sure he even believes what he did," Chris intoned.
Ezra's eyes tried to open and a soft moan past his lips. He then felt a cool cloth wipe his brow.
The familiar voice forced his eyes open. He had to see the dark-clad gunslinger to actually believe who he heard. Chris Larabee stood over him, concern replacing the sorrow that earlier had dominated his features. Ezra raised his right hand and stared at the white bandage wrapped around it.
"Nathan says you'll be back to dealing from the bottom of the deck in about two weeks," Chris good-naturedly joked.
Ezra let his hand fall to his chest.
"How you feelin'?" Chris then asked.
Larabee pulled up a nearby chair and folded his arms across his chest. "Why didn't you tell us you were hurt?" He asked with a slight edge to his voice. He wanted Ezra to know this was serious.
"At the time it seemed inconsequential, others were in more dire need
than me," Ezra simply replied.
Chris shook his head, he would never completely understand the southerner, but he had learned something today that increased his level of respect for the man.
"We probably owe you our lives," Chris said.
Ezra gave a curt laugh and stared directly into Chris's blue eyes. "Don't worry I haven't strayed from my true nature. I had my own personal survival in mind."
"Really?" Chris asked, a faint grin tickling the corners of his mouth. The gambler was only foolin' himself.
"If the Nichols' boys had succeeded in their massacre, I firmly believe they would have made good on their threat to me for sending them on that wild goose chase."
Chris shook his head and chuckled, the man continued to surprise him, not wanting to take the credit he so obviously deserved but always taking the blame. He watched as Ezra's eyes slowly closed.
"You rest, we'll talk more later," Chris quietly uttered. "And Ezra."
Ezra forced his eyes to open a little wider.
Ezra allowed his green eyes to close, a smile remaining on his face.
Re-edited Mar 2002