“You found it?” Gwendolyn Pigeon stared at the brooch in her hands like it had betrayed her. When she looked up again, she suddenly felt very small beneath the gaze of the black-clad gunslinger. Mary Travis stood with her arms crossed to Chris’s right, her own gaze bordering on furious, and Vin stood to Chris’s left, his rifle resting on his shoulder.
“It was on top of the wardrobe in your room,” Chris stated coldly.
“Really?” Mrs. Pigeon swallowed, the multiple feathers on her broad hat shivering, “Why…however did it get there? Did the thief place it there?”
“In a manner of speaking,” Chris said
“Amazing,” the opera singer looked again at the gold bird-shaped brooch, taking in the large emerald stone in the center and the smaller stones surrounding it. “And…have you arrested the thief?”
“No,” Chris said.
Mrs. Pigeon’s smile hardened, “Oh? Why ever not?”
“Can’t arrest someone for hiding their own jewelry,” Vin muttered. “At least, not for theft.”
“Me?” Mrs. Pigeon put her hand to her chest, “you think I did this? Why…that is preposterous! How dare you! Why I ought to….”
“Stop,” Chris said, holding up a hand. “Don’t even say it.”
“We don’t take kindly to being made fools of, Mrs. Pigeon,” Vin said.
“Well,” the large woman sniffed, “I do not appreciate being accused of….”
“Fraud,” Mary interrupted coldly, “at the very least. Criminal intent to defraud a whole town, Mrs. Pigeon. That’s just one charge we could bring right now.”
The opera singer looked at Mary, her mouth open, speechless. Then she shook her head.
“Surely you can’t be serious….”
“Then there is intentional infliction of emotional distress,” Mary added. “Defamation. Slander. False light….”
Mrs. Pigeon shut her mouth, staring daggers at Mary, her chest heaving as the color rose on her face. “Mrs. Travis, be careful what you say. I will not be spoken to in this…”
“And I’m pretty sure Mr. Sykes and Mr. Chambers would be more than happy to add assault and battery,” Mary finished, smiling coldly. “And I’m sure my father-in-law would be more than happy to preside over the whole case. He’ll see justice done, Mrs. Pigeon, I promise you. He is fiercely protective of this town, and he will not take your attempt to ruin it lightly.”
“Look around you, Mrs. Pigeon. You’re not standing on a stage in
The opera singer harrumphed, glaring at the newspaperwoman, then tried to glare at Chris and Vin. They matched the look…and dominated it. After a moment, Mrs. Pigeon had to look away. Her eyes lowered to the ground.
“Well…not that I admit to any wrongdoing…but…exactly what do you expect me to say to all this?” she asked. “Are you going to go through the charade of arresting me? Is that it? Or are you just hoping to humiliate me beyond belief?”
Chris grimaced. Fact was, they had no real proof. Unless Mrs. Pigeon confessed, they probably wouldn’t make it past the first stages of a real trial. Not that she had to know that.
“While we could do all that…we won’t,” he said, “not so long as you do something for us.” He glanced at Mary as he said that, and she nodded back at him.
“I see,” Mrs. Pigeon’s eyes narrowed, watching him, “And what might that something be?”
“You’re going to sing a full concert in an hour,” Chris said, “and you’re going to dazzle the thousands of people who have made the hard trip here to hear you. You’re going to wear the brooch…telling anyone who cares that you merely mislaid it and feel horrible for the hell you’ve caused this town. And then you are going to leave…telling anyone who will listen that this town was a good place to stop and visit…and you will never return here again.”
Gwendolyn Pigeon’s jaw tensed, “Is that all? I just have to ‘dazzle’ the probably tone-deaf rabble of this town? And if I can’t dazzle them? What then?”
Chris just shrugged, a small smile on his face, “Then we’ll see.”
She glared at him. He just raised an eyebrow. Finally, she bowed her head and sighed.
“All right, fine, if that’s the way it has to be.”
She nodded, her absurd, feathered hat bobbing up and down in exaggerated imitation. When she raised her head again, she was looking off into the distance.
“Well then, if you’ll excuse me, I have a concert to prepare for.”
Chris gave her a dark smile and back up, sweeping a hand back to let her pass him. She nodded at him, and walked through the opening he created back to the hotel.
“Thank you Chris,” Mary whispered as the opera singer disappeared inside.
“Didn’t do it for you,” he muttered sharply. And I sure as hell didn’t do it for me, he added angrily to himself. “I did it for the town.”
Mary closed her eyes, then opened them again, hiding any hurt she might have felt at his tone.
Vin blew the air out of his cheeks, then looked towards the lit jail. Darkness had descended on the town, and fires and lamps were burning brightly all over town. Many people still gathered in the streets, waiting for the concert.
“I’m going to go check on Josiah at the jail,” he said, looking at Chris and Mary. Nodding at them, he headed off in that direction.
Mary lowered her eyes, then looked up at Chris, “Um…how are JD and…and Ezra?”
Chris glanced at her askance, then walked away without answering, headed towards the clinic. Mary pursed her lips, her eyes downcast. She deserved his scorn, she knew, for what she’d said about Ezra. To think she’d been worried about what Mrs. Pigeon might think if she knew about Ezra’s past….There was a nasty irony to this. With heavy step, she moved to follow Vin to the jail. She still had a paper to write, and she wanted the story connected to the two men who had hurt Ezra.
Vin pushed into the jail, growling at the two thieves being kept there. The two men were sitting in separate cells -- Jay was napping, and Kite sat on the cot, his knees pressed against his chest, watching everything like a hawk.
Vin arched an eyebrow at Kite, who had been stripped down to his underclothes, and then to the collection of about ten knives sitting on the desk next to Josiah. Man had been a walking arsenal.
Josiah snorted suddenly. They’d found a handful of notes in Jay and Kite’s room that related to the brooch, and he’d just finished reading them. Shaking his head, he pushed the notes towards Vin.
“They won’t tell me who wrote them. Just that it was a rancher, but that’s all they know. It wasn’t the man himself who hired them, just a flunkey. They never got a name, so they say.”
Vin looked at the scrawled writing, pretending to be able to read them. He was about to ask Josiah for the gist, when the sound of the door opening caused him to look behind him. Mary walked into the jail, pulling a notepad from a pocket in her skirt.
“What’s the story?” she asked, pulling out a pencil as well.
“Jason ‘Shotgun’ Blue and Jim “Cutter” Kite,” Josiah said,
pointing at the two men. “Escaped from
Mary’s eyebrows lifted, “Someone really did want to steal it?”
“Yup…funny ain’t it,” Vin said. Mary nodded, writing down the two men’s names on her pad.
“There’s more,” Josiah said. “Here…look at these.” He pushed the notes towards her.
Mary glanced at them, her lips parting. She recognized the handwriting as being the same as on the note slipped under her door this morning.
“Oh God,” she hissed as she understood their purpose. “They were supposed to steal it…and then frame Ezra.”
Vin’s jaw clenched, then released. That he hadn’t known. He turned and glared at Kite and Jay. Kite arched an eyebrow at him in return. Frankly, he didn’t care.
“Yup,” Josiah agreed with Mary, “and, by doing so, bring us all down in the process. You know we wouldn’t have let Ezra go to prison for something he didn’t do. And the town would have been left unprotected.”
Vin grimaced, wondering if Josiah was right. Would they all have believed Ezra didn’t steal that brooch? He looked back down at the notes. Truth be told, he didn’t want to think about it.
Mary swallowed harshly, looking at Josiah, also impressed by his conviction. She should have had that same conviction, but, instead, she’d played right along with it, she realized. The note she’d received this morning did exactly what it was supposed to. The heavy heart she felt seemed to get even heavier.
“Must’ve been Royal or James,” Vin muttered, leaning against the desk and fingering the paper.
“Or both,” Mary whispered.
“Best we leave it up to the judge,” Vin sighed. “Maybe he can sort it out.” He sure didn’t want to.
Mary sighed, nodding, and wrote some more on her pad.
Chris stepped softly as he entered the darkened clinic. Buck looked up from his vigil by JD’s bedside. The kid was sleeping at an odd angle, his face peaceful even if he didn’t look too comfortable. Nathan had wrapped and splinted the kid’s arm and then rested it slanted away from JD’s body, which was why the position looked awkward.
“How is he?” the gunslinger asked.
Buck shrugged, “Quiet. Nathan hopes it’s a good sign. Better than showing pain. Hasn’t opened his eyes yet though.”
Chris nodded, then looked over at the other pallet in the room. Ezra lay by himself, his torso and shoulders swathed in bandages. Specks of blood spotted the white material. As Chris reached his bedside, Nathan walked in from the other room, carrying some herbs.
“Oh,” the healer said, “hey Chris. Didn’t hear you come in.”
“Nathan.” Chris sat down on the chair next to Ezra’s pallet, leaning forward to see the gambler’s face more clearly. “How is he?”
Nathan’s lips screwed up, and he shrugged. “I wish I knew,” The healer sighed, walking over to Chris’s side. “Bastard Kite knew exactly what he was doing. Them cuts were deep enough to make the danger of infection real, but not enough to kill him right out. And the knife stuck in his shoulder was pretty dirty. Between blood loss and the fever I know is coming….” He shrugged, not wanting to finish the statement, and moved to dump the herbs on the table he had off to one side. Fact was, Nathan didn’t think Ezra would survive. “Either way…,” Nathan looked back at the gambler, then at Chris, “he’ll have a lot of scars.”
Chris nodded, eyes dark. Shifting a little, he settled in, prepared to spend the night, while Buck watched him from the other bed. The ladies’ man opened his mouth to say something, then thought the better of it.
It was going to be a long night.
Nathan set the kettle on the stove to boil water, then pulled the mortar and pestle down from a shelf.
People’s voices filtered in from outside. A lot of chatter from the crowds waiting for the concert. Chris supposed one of them should be down there, taking care of things.
But, frankly, he just didn’t care.
Nathan ripped leaves up and dropped them into the mortar. Grabbing the pestle, he started grinding the herbs down, making a poultice he knew sometimes worked on infections.
Outside, several people laughed, and someone else shouted something unintelligible. Chris sighed, looking towards the closed door.
The kettle boiled. Letting go of the pestle, the healer grabbed a cloth to grip the hot kettle. With care, he poured some of the hot water into the mortar, then the rest into a bowl holding strips of cloth for bandages, his head leaning away from the rising steam as he did so.
Buck rubbed at his forehead and face, wishing he could wipe the stress from his face. JD never moved on the bed.
More laughter from outside. Conversations seemed to be getting more animated now that the sun was down.
Nathan pulled a teapot down from a shelf, and a packet of already combined herbs, in order to make tea.
Chris looked back at Ezra’s face. He wondered what the gambler was thinking in there…or if he was thinking at all….
“I…heard he had pretty much taken care of them two thieves by himself,” Buck offered, wanting to break the quiet in the room, “before you got there.”
“Yup,” Chris said. Then he smiled softly, “Killed two birds with one stone.”
Buck nodded, “Chris…this morning…what you said to him….”
“I know Buck. I’m fixing it.”
The ladies’ man nodded. Good.
Outside, the voices suddenly quieted. Nathan looked up from his textbook, looking towards the window that faced the grain exchange. Standing, he looked at Chris and Buck. Both men nodded.
Nathan walked over and opened the window. Then he walked to the door and opened that as well.
A piano started playing quietly.
And a voice, strong and soft at the same time, started singing sweetly in Italian…
Voi, che Sapete…che cosa č amor…Donne, vedete s’io l’ho nel cor…
Buck stood up, his eyes opening. Chris watched the window, lips parting slightly.
“Wow,” Nathan whispered.
Buck nodded. Wow.
The opera singer’s voice grew, building the tension in the notes.
Donne! Vedete!…s’io l’ho nel cor….
“If that’s considered faded,” Nathan said, “then she must have blown them away in her prime.”
“She’s blowing me away now,” Buck whispered.
The music filled the air, ringing the wood and drawing them all in. Her voice echoed without needing something to echo off of. It expanded, trembling, laughing, growing….This was why she was famous. Most everyone can sing, but very few can make their voice bigger than the person singing it, bigger than the room containing it, as big as the sky above. Gwendolyn Pigeon was a devil…but she had the voice of a god.
Chris looked down at the gambler. The man’s eyes were still closed…but there was a smile on the man’s face. Was he waking up? The gunslinger leaned forward and whispered Ezra’s name.
Chris watched as Ezra’s eyes fluttered, but didn’t quite open. Instead, the gambler sighed softly.
Č per me Nuevo; capir nol so….
“To me, this is new,” the gambler whispered, “I don’t understand it…”
“What?” Chris said, brow furrowed. He lifted his head up to look at the others. Neither Buck nor Nathan were paying attention to either him or Ezra; they didn’t hear him whisper.
Sento un affeto…pien di desir…ch’ora č diletto, ch’ora e martir…
“And now it’s death…” Ezra whispered. Chris frowned more deeply.
The opera singer’s voice shifted, softening again, her voice cascading with the words….
Gelo…e poi sento l’alma avvampar…
“I freeze, and then my soul burns…” Ezra smiled as he spoke, and Chris’s eyes narrowed as comprehension dawned.
E in un momento…
“And in a moment,” Ezra whispered.
“You’re translating,” Chris got it.
torno a gelar….
“Freezing again,” Ezra smiled.
“Whoosh,” Buck shivered, enraptured by the music, feeling the tone even without understanding the words. Chris leaned back in his chair, his eyes thoughtful. For some reason, he wasn’t surprised that Ezra knew Italian.
Ricerco un bene fuori di me…Non so chi il tiene, non so cos’č
“I look for the good outside myself,” Ezra whispered, “I don’t know who has it, I don’t know what it is….”
The music seemed to speed up…her voice grew more frantic…
Sospiro e gemo senza voler…palpitoa tremor senza saper…
“Ezra?” Chris watched the gambler’s smile grow with the swelling music, and the green eyes finally opened, though they didn’t seem to see anything.
Non trovo pace notte nč di…
“I find no peace night or day…,” Ezra translated.
Ma pur mi piace languir cosi!
“And yet I like suffering this way.” As he finished, the smile on the gambler’s face faded, and the unfocused eyes fluttered closed again.
Chris, his brow still furrowed slightly, gave a small smile. Interesting song.
Outside, the music returned to the refrain….
“Mozart…would have been pleased,” Ezra whispered, his voice fading away as he drifted off to sleep again as the aria came to an end.
“Yeah, I think he would,” Chris smiled, his voice sounding strangely loud now that Gwendolyn Pigeon had finished singing. Buck and Nathan heard him, and soon Nathan was fussing over the gambler while Chris leaned back to watch.
JD opened his eyes as Gwendolyn Pigeon was on her last refrain of Die Walkure. Every window shivered as she hit the penultimate note, drawing it out with exquisite care. The kid blinked up at Buck, seeing that the ladies’ man was turned towards the window.
“Buck?” he asked.
The ladies’ man jumped at the voice, turning to look at the kid. His grin turned blinding when he saw JD looking up at him.
“Hey,” JD blinked again, his eyes looking towards the window, “is that Wendy?”
“Yeah,” Buck smiled, “that’s her.”
“She sounds like she’s in the room.”
Suddenly, Nathan was there, looking down at the kid, his dark brown eyes bright. “JD…how are you feeling?”
JD blinked some more, then yawned. Then he smiled, “Tired. Hungry.” He looked up at the rafters, frowning a little. “What happened?”
“You fell out of a tree,” Buck admonished. “Spectacularly.”
JD frowned, then remembered. “Ohmigod…Buck…Someone’s got a knife…Ezra….”
“Is alive,” Chris said from behind JD. “We got to him.”
The kid tried to roll over, to see behind him, but was impeded by Buck’s hand on his shoulder.
“Not yet. You hurt your arm,” Buck said. “And your head. Don’t roll that way.”
JD grimaced, then his eyes narrowed.
“Then help me sit up,” he said. In other words, you ain’t hiding nothing from me, Buck Wilmington.
Buck’s jaw tensed, and he looked at Nathan. The healer sighed, and nodded.
With care, they shifted a very determined JD up to lean against the head of the bed, and the kid turned his head to look over at Chris…and Ezra. The kid hissed at the sight of all the bandages.
“Is he going to be all right?” he asked, locking his eyes on Chris’s.
The gunslinger looked down. Ezra had fallen asleep again, deeply it seemed. Wagner hadn’t the same power as Mozart, apparently.
JD looked at Nathan when Chris didn’t answer.
“He’s fine right now,” the healer said. “Time will tell. Same as with you.”
“As with me?”
“You’re staying here until I make sure there’s nothing more wrong with you than a knock on the head, strained muscles, a few bruises and a broken arm.”
“Oh,” JD grimaced, looking down at himself. He didn’t feel so…ow…owwwww...ouch…. a “few” bruises? Damn. He was one huge bruise. “Not a problem,” he grunted. Nathan gave a small smile and headed to his little stove.
The kid’s lips lifted into a snarl, “do I have to?”
“Yup,” Buck said.
JD sighed, and settled back against the pillows. Quiet graced the room again, and, like the others, he found his head turning towards the window, and to the music drifting in.
The opera singer’s voice wafted over them as she descended down out of the music, spiraling down to the final notes of Die Walkure.
“If she’s singing,” the kid asked quietly, thinking about the brooch and her threat not to sing without it, “Does that mean its over?”
“Its never over,” Chris stated evenly from his seat, still watching Ezra’s face.
The grain exchange and all the area around it exploded in applause, hoots and shouts of “brava!”
Gwendolyn Pigeon had completed her set to wild acclaim. She blushed and let the grateful audience’s zealous reaction ripple through her. She even started to cry – she hadn’t felt so much praise and happiness from her singing for years, and she hadn’t even been at her best tonight. And, more than that, the music had done something, reminded her of how lucky she was, washing away her bitterness, even if it was only for a short time. She licked her dry lips, looking over at Miss Plover, who was grinning, her own eyes tearing, then down at Mr. Gadwall off to the side, who was clapping along with the audience.
“Thank you,” she trembled out, touching her hand to her chest. Her fingers brushed the brooch, and the smile faded. “And I’m so sorry,” she whispered at the oblivious audience, who couldn’t hear her over the noise they were creating. “I don’t deserve it.” They just continued to clap, shouts of “encore” echoing across the space. She blushed again.
Her eyes drifted to her left, up, towards where she knew the town doctor’s clinic was. The lights were burning inside, and she saw several people standing out front on the balcony. She raised a hand in apology for all the hurt she caused.
The man in black acknowledged it with a nod.
Ezra ‘s fever began early in the morning, creeping up on him like a bad dream. By of the next day, he was twisting and turning in the bed, unable to control his dreams and reactions. Sweat poured off of him in rivulets, and the bandages keeping him together tore almost as often as they could replace them. They restrained him when it got too hard to keep holding him down, the ropes bruising and chafing his wrists and ankles even though they tried to keep the flesh protected.
Chris was Nathan’s constant companion up in the clinic room, though Josiah and Vin were up there often as well, when not watching over the prisoners. But it was the gunslinger who’s presence was always there. Every time Ezra opened his eyes to see someone watching over him, or heard a voice talking to him, more times than not, it was Chris.
Buck had JD moved back to his own room before Ezra’s fever got too bad. The kid slept some, but, other than the broken limb, seemed to show no other problems from his fall. Buck never left him either, but he often watched the clinic from his perch at the window in JD’s room. After a few days, JD felt well enough to limp around town with the ladies’ man, but like many, they often gravitated to the clinic to hear if there was any news.
The crowds all disappeared the same day that Gwendoyln Pigeon took her leave. She thanked Mary, who stood there as the only representative of the Seven, and said she would keep her promise. Mary just nodded, her arms crossed. As the stage rolled away, the newspaperwoman bowed her head and shuffled back to the Clarion.
It was odd, then, to find her steps had drawn her to the clinic. When she looked up, she found Chris leaning against the balcony rail, watching her. He met her gaze…then looked away. She shut her eyes, sighed, and headed back to her original destination.
So life went back to normal in
Maybe five days after the concert had ended, Josiah found himself climbing the stairs to the clinic, his head bowed, his eyes thoughtful. He knew it was probably pointless what he was about to do, but he just couldn’t see a good reason not to.
When he reached the top, he found Chris leaning over the balcony, staring out blankly at the town. The gunslinger hadn’t left the clinic yet. Faded green eyes turned to look at Josiah a moment before turning away again.
“Everything all right, preacher?” Chris asked.
Josiah almost laughed. Of course not. Everything was wrong! This whole thing….
But he knew that’s not what the gunslinger meant.
“As well as can be,” he rumbled. “Kite and Blue did their best to escape today, but they failed…and they won’t be trying it again soon.” There was something sinister in his tone that Chris didn’t fail to notice….but he also didn’t care. If anything, he was pleased to hear it.
“He awake in there?” Josiah looked to the open clinic door.
“Well…mind if I sit with him a while?”
Chris frowned, and looked back at Josiah. “You’re asking me?” He looked away again, “Don’t need my permission, preacher.”
“Right,” Josiah nodded. Sure. He looked again at the open door, “So…how is he?”
“Same,” Chris lowered his head, “Violent. Nearly broke my jaw today, and I got some nasty bruises and scars I’m not going to shake off easy.” The head shook, “Hell, preacher, I don’t know who gave him these nightmares, but if I ever meet the son of a bitch….”
“I know,” Josiah whispered. He’d seen Ezra’s nightmares too. Looking at Chris, he realized this was probably the first time the gunslinger had gotten the full brunt. He wanted to ask why Chris was making the effort this time, but decided against it. Now was not the time.
Chris returned his gaze to the town, watching the sun setting in the distance.
Josiah turned and walked into the clinic.
Once inside, he let his eyes adjust to the light, which was low, and understood a little better why all the windows and doors were open. There was blood in the air…and death.
Nathan didn’t want to tell them openly, but they all knew the healer had all but given up. He was going through the motions taking care of Ezra….Any time now, he had admitted to them. Any time.
Josiah made his way to the bed quietly, grimacing a little to see Ezra’s arms pulled to the sides and tied to the bed frame, even the one with the damaged shoulder. He knew why…but it was still disturbing to see. Gently, he sat down on the edge of the bed, careful not to disturb him…not that he was worried about waking the gambler. According to Nathan, Ezra hadn’t been awake more that moments in the last few days…well, except for his “episodes.”
“Ezra,” the preacher said the name slowly, “There’s something I need to tell you, son. Something important.” He frowned, watching for any signs of life on the face of the gambler. He thought he saw a slight furrowing of the brow when he used the word “son”…which was encouraging.
“I realize, Ezra, that you may not be able to hear me right now. That what I have to say might just glance off whatever place you’ve gone to hide, but I still need to tell it to you. I’m hoping, vainly, that it is something that will help you get through this.”
The brow furrowed for certain this time, and Josiah smiled, encouraged some more.
“You came to me, the other day, asking if I thought, deep
down, you were a thief.” He shook his
head, “And I gave you the wrong answer.
Certainly, it made sense to me at the time. It made sense to me when I threw it in your
He leaned back, rubbing his forehead, trying to make sure he said this right.
“You asked who you were deep down, and I told you that only you knew. That’s not true. Who you think you are and who you really are…are not the same. I forgot the paranoia that lives in all of us, the goblins, the demons that eat away at our confidence and beliefs. I know now that you see yourself in a distorted light, just as the rest of us do. You think you are a thief, you let yourself believe that is all you are, and, in the end, you allow that belief to control you. But it’s a fallacy, son. Who you are is so much more than that.” He sighed, watching for more signs that he was being heard.
“But, Ezra, you are also not what others think of you. Whether or not someone sees you as a thief, or a con, or a scoundrel, as some here do…or as a hero…as others do…is also not the truth. I said you can’t blame your friends, and you can’t. Our perceptions are as distorted as yours, whether by loss of loved ones, or the need to always seem to be in control, like our Mrs. Travis, or need to seem bigger than you are, like our boy Dunne….” He trailed off, and sighed.
“Ezra…fact of the matter is, whether you realize it or not, who you are…who you are is the man who gave a hundred dollars to a Chinese girl so that she could go home to her family and help them, even though parting with her nearly destroyed you….Who you are is the man who jumped on top of a iron stagecoach to defeat a goliath of an enemy, armed only with a bottle of whiskey….Who you are is the man who lied to an insane group of revenge seekers, to help save the father-in-law of your friend, even though you knew it meant your own life might be forfeit….Who you are, son, is the man who turned around in the Seminole village…who turned around…and took a bullet to same Mary Travis’s life….” He smiled more deeply, “Who you are, Ezra Standish, is something truly amazing.” He watched Ezra’s face, watching for any sign that he had been heard. Then he shut his eyes, “Please don’t give up on it now.”
He waited, listening to the gambler’s shallow breaths. After a while, he opened his eyes and looked down. Perhaps he thought something might change as a result of his speech, but, if it did, it wasn’t visible. He sighed, and then looked at the man’s arms. Frowning, he leaned over and undid the rope binding the right arm. Then, standing up, he crossed over to the other side of the bed and undid the left.
The arms curled inwards, fingers gripping the edges of the cloths covering his torso, nails digging at the bandages.
Returning to his seat, Josiah frowned and lifted the arms away, to stop Ezra from tearing anything. In response, the gambler’s right hand clenched Josiah’s left sleeve, the fingers digging into the fabric, like a child seeking comfort. Josiah stared at it a moment, then swallowed harshly. Without really understanding why, he leant over and pulled Ezra up into a sitting position, letting the gambler lean forward on him, Ezra’s head resting against his shoulder.
The gambler’s fingers curled into the fabric of his shirt, and Josiah just held him there for a while, staring up at the ceiling of the room, staring up into the heavens above.
Chris watched from the doorframe, his arms crossed and his face grim. He’d heard Josiah’s little speech.
He just hoped Ezra had heard it too.
Behind him, the sun set fully, draping everything in the blanket of night.
On the seventh morning after the concert, JD found himself limping past the magpie tree, annoyed because Vin had woken him up with rocks to his window again. This time, it was because the tracker wanted to ask JD to wake Buck up for his shift…and he wasn’t sure which room the ladies’ man was in…since it wasn’t his own. It perhaps annoyed JD more that he knew the answer – mainly because Buck and Cherise had kept him up half the night…but, well, he was up now. He growled at the sun, which was barely glimpsing over the horizon, then suddenly stopped as something snagged his attention. Frowning, he looked up, thinking he’d heard something.
The magpies had all disappeared the same day that he’d fallen out of the tree, which had made some of the younger members of the town worry that the eggs were being left untended. (The farmers, meanwhile, secretly rejoiced). JD himself hadn’t really thought to much about it, though the quiet of the tree had begun to bother him a little.
Another rustling drew his eyes up to one of the nests.
A magpie stared down at him, the bird standing on the branch next to the nest. It gave him what could be best described as a beady glare, and JD couldn’t resist a smile in return.
“Hey,” he greeted. “Welcome home.”
The magpie stopped looking at him, its head lifting as if listening to something else. As if a door had just opened, JD suddenly noticed other movement in the tree. His lips parted as his eyes were drawn to each of the birds…all seven magpies were flitting around, jumping from branch to branch, checking in on their nests, and generally making themselves at home. His smile broadened into a wide grin.
His grin continued as two of the magpies lifted themselves up out of the tree and winged their way in the direction of the clinic.
The rhyme his mother taught him echoed in his ears as the two birds landed atop the clinic roof.
Two for Joy..
Not that he believed in superstitions, of course….
He started hobbling quickly towards the clinic, as fast as his still strained muscles and fading bruises would allow.
Chris was sprawled in the chair by Ezra’s cot, his head bowed to his chest, feet stretched out under the cot, fast asleep. In the next room, on his own bed, Nathan slept like a log, trusting Chris to keep watch in case anything happened. The two men were both supremely exhausted from the long days since Ezra had first been brought here, getting no more than a handful of hours of sleep between them. At least, until today, when Morpheus got the better of both of them at the same time.
As such, neither had noticed when Ezra’s fever finally broke a few hours before.
Now, wide awake, Ezra was lying on his side, watching Chris sleep. He’d come to about ten minutes before, sweeping the cobwebs from his eyes and mind, taking in his situation with some confusion but also some comfort. He was alive and, from the looks of it, pretty intact, and also being taken care of. He was torn between waking Chris…mostly because he sorely wanted a glass of water…and letting the obviously tired man sleep. The green eyes scrutinized the man sitting next to him, admittedly a little surprised to see Chris here at all. Josiah or Vin, maybe, but not Chris. The gunslinger was not usually the one by his side when he was hurt.
He blew the air out of his cheeks. Maybe he should go back to sleep.
The door opened to the clinic from the outside, and Ezra shifted up on one elbow to look in that direction. JD filled the frame, the sunlight streaming around him, and grinned like an idiot to see Ezra looking at him. He also saw Chris, and, courteously, closed the door quietly behind him and tiptoed over to the bed to avoid waking him. Ezra smiled back at him.
“Hey,” the kid greeted quietly, sitting on the edge of the cot, “How’re you feeling?”
Ezra paused, as if he had to think about it, then nodded, “All right. You?”
“Pretty good. I’m all manners of different colors under these clothes – ranging from yellow to purple – but otherwise, I’m getting around. You thirsty?”
Ezra nodded again, and JD stood up to go to where there was a pitcher of water on the sideboard. He stopped when Chris groaned and shifted on his chair, and both men watched as the gunslinger settled himself into a different uncomfortable position. Ezra smiled again and looked back at the kid.
JD got a cup of water and returned, setting the cup on the small table next to the cot. Then he helped Ezra into a sitting position. The gambler grimaced, amazed at how weak and sore he was, but the pain faded some when he stopped moving. He took the cup of water gratefully, downing it in one gulp, his hand shaking slightly from the exertion of moving.
JD, meanwhile, had brushed the back of his hand against Ezra’s forehead, and nodded.
“Your fever’s broke.”
Ezra nodded. He’d known he’d been sick. “How long….”
Ezra nearly dropped the cup, turning amazed green eyes on the kid. “Seven days?”
“Yeah,” JD’s face darkened, “and they weren’t easy either. Look at your wrists.”
Ezra frowned, but did as he was told. The frown deepened as he took in the red, torn skin circling his wrists, and he swallowed harshly. As if embarrassed, he handed the cup back to JD and hid his arms under the covers.
“You shoulda died, really, that’s what Nathan said,” JD said solemnly. “But you held on…” he turned to look at Chris, “and he never left. Was there for the worst of it.”
Ezra looked at Chris again, eyes showing their confusion. “He was? Why?”
JD shrugged, “You should ask him that.”
Ezra grimaced, taking in the haggard features of the gunslinger. Chris looked as if he’d aged ten years since he last saw him. Speaking of when he last saw him….
“So…what happened? With the brooch, and Kite and Jay?”
“Ah, Wendy’s gone, with her brooch and her lies.” JD shrugged, “Never saw that coming, you know. How did you figure it out where it was?”
Ezra smiled, and shook his head. He was tempted to say that a little bird told him, or, rather, a whole flock, but it seemed flippant. Instead he admitted, “took a wild guess, that’s all. I had a theory, and it panned out. Well…except for Kite and Jay getting in the way.”
JD accepted the statement, and nodded, “Yeah…about them. They’re still here. Judge got mired in some ugly cases elsewhere. Thinks he’ll get here to try them in another few days, though. Meantime, Josiah, Vin and now Buck’s been keeping ‘em real good company. Truth be told,” JD’s smile turned nasty, “I’m impressed they’re both still intact. Kite keeps magically getting ugly bruises every time Josiah or Buck’s with him, and one day, after Vin’d been watching him, he somehow got a cut down the side of his face. Gonna be a wicked ugly scar.”
Ezra’s lips parted in surprise, and JD clapped him on his left shoulder. “You scared ‘em all something awful, you know,” the kid whispered conspiratorially, then smiled. “Try not to do it again. I had a hell of a time keeping them together.”
Ezra pursed his lips into a smile, and nodded, “So long as you don’t fall out of any more trees.”
“What, that? That was nothing. I’ve fallen out of way bigger trees than that one. Big fuss over nothing. They don’t got real trees out here. When I was little, I fell out of an oak twice the size of the tree here, and them acorns hurt when you land on them, let me tell ya. And when you fall out of a maple? It sticks with you…literally, that sap is like glue for dirt and leaves. And don’t get me started on the needles and pinecones when you try climbing an old evergreen….”
Ezra laughed, and JD grinned, pleased to hear the sound.
“So,” Ezra said, still smiling as he pulled the covers up a little higher, “anything else going on I should know about?”
“Magpies are back,” the kid replied.
“They went away?”
“Yeah…but they’re back now.”
“Farmers’ll hate that,” Chris said, smiling. Both Ezra and JD jumped slightly, then smiled to see Chris yawning and stretching in the chair, wiping the sleep from his eyes. JD stood up. He knew Chris and Ezra had things to sort out.
“Now he’s awake, I’m off. See ya Ez. Get better soon. Place has been real boring without you around…torturing Buck n’ all. He’s getting mighty complacent.”
Ezra grinned and leaned back, watching the kid limp out. Chris followed his departure as well, then focused back on the gambler. He reached a hand over and touched the back of it to Ezra’s neck. The gambler suffered the touch, then ducked his head forward.
“Your fever’s broke,” Chris stated, drawing the hand back.
“So it seems.” He lifted a wrist, “Guess these can heal now.”
Chris grimaced at the wrists, then shrugged. “You got some nasty things in your past.”
Ezra pursed his lips, looking at him, then put the arm away. “Don’t we all,” he muttered.
“Yup. You thirsty?” Without waiting for an answer, Chris got up, groaning a bit as his back creaked, and went to fetch the pitcher, which he placed next to the cup that JD had left on the small table next to the bed. Then he indicated them both with his hand. Ezra chuckled.
“I take it you think I can get it myself?”
Ezra scrutinized the gunslinger some more as he sat down, his smile fading.
“Mr. Larabee,” he said, “for your information, you look like hell. I suggest a long bath involving a great deal of soap, and then a week of sleep.”
It was Chris’s turn to laugh, wiping his hand over his grizzled face again. “Actually, now that I know you’re going to be fine, I think I’ll do that,” he said. “But first,” he reached into the breast pocket of his jacket, “I want to give this back to you.”
Ezra’s eyes narrowed slightly as he recognized the blue pouch. There were blood stains on it. Without taking it from Chris’s outstretched hand, he looked up at the gunslinger, frowning.
“I don’t need it yet. I want you to take care of it.”
Ezra swallowed, “Mr. Larabee,” he licked his lips, “I appreciate what you are trying…”
“I ain’t ‘trying’ anything, Ezra. Take the damn pouch. I’ll get it back when I need it.”
“Didn’t ask for an argument, Ezra.”
Ezra stared at the pouch, then, shakily, he reached out a hand and took it. The soft suede felt nice under his fingers.
“Why,” the gambler asked, eyes glued to the pouch, “did you stay with me…for all seven days. JD said…and I vaguely think I was aware…that you were here….”
Chris grimaced, then he shrugged. “Waiting for you to wake up, so I could give you back the pouch.”
Ezra’s brow furrowed, and he looked up. “What?”
“You heard me. Now, I’m going to go get some sleep. I’ll send Josiah up to watch over you. He needs a break from the jail. Plus, you’re the only one who can understand him when he starts talking in riddles.” He smiled, “He’ll be glad to have someone to talk to again.”
Ezra’s eyes remained narrowed, scrutinizing, trying to understand. Chris stretched his shoulders again, rolled his head around on his neck, then walked away towards the door without looking back.
The gunslinger stopped at the door, and turned around, his figure silhouetted against the light.
Ezra licked his lips, “I think, uh, that…I’ll be staying on a while, then…if that’s all right….”
Chris just smiled, tipped his hat, and walked out the door.
The two magpies lifted themselves from off the clinic roof and winged past the gunslinger’s head, and his smile grew into a grin as they returned to join the others in the tree.
Where they belonged
Hope you liked it. Email me if you did!
And you’ve no idea how hard it was for me not to have someone say “Birds of a feather, stay together,” at the end. Seriously. Like torture.