There For You
Disclaimer: The Magnificent Seven were created and are owned by MGM, Trilogy Entertainment and the Mirisch Corporation. No profit will be made and no infringement is intended.
Ezra sat staring in astonishment at the cards lying on the table in front of him. It was hardly possible, yet the proof was there, staring him in the face. A full house. A full house that was not his.
He blinked, hoping that his eyes where playing tricks on him, but the cards did not lie. He had been beat. This should not have surprised him as much as it did. He always made sure to lose one or two hands at first, just to give his opponent a false sense of security, but he could not remember the last time he had lost the whole pot.
Putting on his best poker face, he smiled at the man who sat across from him; mentally memorizing each feature of his face so as not to make the mistake of ever playing with the man again.
"Seems as if Lady Luck has decided to smile upon you, Sir. I congratulate you. I would ask to engage you in another game of chance, but it seems that I have run out of funds."
Okay, so that was not exactly true. He had plenty of money hidden upstairs in his room, underneath the mattress that he rested on each night. That money, though, was meant for bigger and better things. It was to go toward the purchase of his own saloon. He had not given up on that dream, no matter what his mother, or anyone else for that matter, told him. He wanted the saloon more then he had ever wanted anything in his life, and he would not waste the money it had taken him so long to get.
"Maybe we can play again tomorrow night?" his opponent asked as he gathered up the night's winnings.
*Not likely,* Ezra thought to himself, but he graced the man with another one of his winning smiles.
"Perhaps. Although my duties here in this town keep me very preoccupied." He pocketed his deck of cards, and grabbed the bottle of whiskey from the table. He tipped his hat toward the smiling, and now wealthy, man.
"Goodnight then, Sir."
He stood and walked out the door. Grabbing a chair, he sat down and leaned back, letting the back of the chair rest against the wall of the saloon. Taking a swig from the bottle, he let the warm liquid slide down his throat, and smiled in pleasure. At lest he could still count on this.
He still couldn't believe he lost. Not that loss was a new concept to him, but it was one that he did not often entertain. He must be having on off night. Oh well. 'C'est la vie', as the French would say.
Happily things had been quiet around town this day. He comforted himself that things couldn't get worse.
What was that saying about fate? It had a way of surprising you?
He felt the presence before he saw the approaching black clad figure. Chris Larabee had an aura about him that reached into the subconscious. Of all the people Ezra had ever known, no one had the kind of presence about him that Chris did. It was as if he carried the weight of the world around on his shoulders. Just being around the man made the very air seem heavier. Ezra wondered how any man, let alone someone like Chris Larabee, could stand living that way.
"Good Afternoon, Mr. Larabee. How may I be of assistance to you?" Ezra addressed him before looking up at the man now standing in front of him. He looked up to find Chris staring down at him with a blank expression. *And everyone thinks I am good at hiding my thoughts*.
"Some day you're going to tell me how you do that," came Chris's deadpan voice.
Ezra had to chuckle. "Talent, Mr. Larabee. Sheer talent."
Chris shook his head, letting the matter go. "We have to go to Westerville. We're transporting a prisoner back here for Judge Travis."
"We? As in, 'you and me'?"
Chris nodded. "Vin's trackin' down two bail jumpers, Nathan's out at the reservation, Josiah is visitin' his sister, and Buck and JD are on a hunting trip. Its just us."
Ezra sighed and pushed his hat back farther on his head.
"I suppose there is no way I can talk myself out of this mission?" To be perfectly honest, going on a four day ride -- two days out and two back -- with Chris Larabee was not on his list of favorite things to do. He already knew how it would go. He would try to engage Chris in a friendly conversation, and Chris would give him the silent treatment. Ezra would get up to go for a walk, and Chris would start asking him where he was going, how long would he be gone, should Chris expect him to come back, etc. Ezra would try to enjoy some libation, and Chris would get on his case about drinking on the job. It was always the same. By the end of the trip one, if not both, of them would end up with a black eye and a concussion. The two men could get along fine if in the company of the other 5 men, but left on their own and the tension was thick enough to cut with a knife. They were like oil and water. It was not that they did not like each other, just that they were so different that finding common ground was not an easy task. He would do the job, of course, but would rather wait to see if any of the others would come back first.
"You can talk all ya like, but you're still going." A smile appeared on Chris's face that said the subject was all but closed. "Get your things together; we leave in a half hour." With that Chris turned and swaggered away.
Another sigh escaped Ezra's lips as he stood from the chair. "Yes, Sir, Oh Captain," he muttered as he turned back into the saloon.
Ezra entered the livery to find Chris there, his horse already saddled, waiting for him. The two men looked at each other, Chris taking in Ezra's clothes. He shook his head, and a whisper of a smile came across his lips.
"Ezra, why is it you insist on wearing that stuff even on the trail? Ain't you gonna get uncomfortable?"
"A gentleman never sacrifices propriety for comfort," Ezra said as he began to saddle Chaucer. The horse stamped his feet and shook his mane, ready to go out for the ride he knew was to come. Ezra lay a calming hand on the animal's neck. "Besides, if comfort means dressing such as yourself, I'd rather go without."
Ezra did not miss the scowl the replaced the smile on Chris's face. Oh yes, this was going to be one interesting job.
"Let's get going. I want to cover some miles before dark." Chris hoisted himself on to his horse, and headed out the livery doors without another word. Ezra mounted Chaucer and patted the animal's side.
"My friend, next time remind me to come up with a good excuse to stay behind. Maybe I could fake a good illness." The horse pulled on the reins, ready to get to wherever it was they where heading. "But I guess it does not matter to you, does it?" Giving a slight kick, he turned the horse to the door and followed Chris.
The first days journey passed without incident, which suited Ezra fine. Chris never was much one for conversation, and what he did say in answer to any question directed toward him was usually one word sentences that consisted of 'yes' or 'no'.
The gunslinger's silence left Ezra alone with his own thoughts, which may not have been such a good thing. Lately his thoughts had been a bit confused, which probably accounted for his recent loss at the gambling table. He wasn't sure why, but lately he had felt left out among the other members of the group. They seemed to break off with each other.....Chris with Vin, Buck with JD, Nathan with Josiah...., Ezra was the odd man out. It hardly surprised him, after all he was the one who pushed people away -- a result of his mother's teachings.
'Never let anyone get too close to you, Ezra', she would say. 'Do not form attachments when you may have to leave at a moments notice'.
He had once followed those words as if they where gospel, but for months now he had gone against them, had even begun to doubt them. A part of him longed to truly be a part of something special, something which he was sure was riding with the six other men and protecting the town. Yet another part still hung on to the way of life he had been living, the only way he had ever really known.
He looked over at the rider beside him. Chris looked off into the distance in front of them, his mind only on the job that they had to do. To say that Chris Larabee had a one track mind would be making an understatement. At times he was like a dog with a bone, latching onto it with all his might and gnawing at it till his teeth hurt. But he was also a man true to his word. A promise made was a promise kept. Ezra admired Chris for that, even if he would never say so.
The sun was beginning its journey downward, setting the sky around it a brilliant shade of red. Ezra smiled. This was his favorite time of day. He had never really took notice of sunsets before until he had come west. He had been astounded to see the way the colors seemed to dance across the horizon. It was, to him, the most beautiful sight he had ever seen. A quietness and solitude that was his alone to witness. A chance to throw away his emotional cover and just be himself. He made it a point to always stay up to watch the sun go down.
Chris brought his horse to a stop, and looked across the area around them. Ezra stopped beside him, his eyes still locked to the glorious hues of color before him.
"We'll stop for the night here," Chris said, making Ezra jump at the sudden noise intruding on his private moment. "There's some trees over there, we'll use them for shelter."
"I do believe that is the most you have said all day, Mr. Larabee. Your silence leads me to think that something is troubling your thoughts."
Chris turned his head to look at the man beside him. "Nothing more then usual."
The statement was not lost on Ezra. He knew what was on Chris's mind. The man they where going to bring back for trial, Mitchell Harring, was a killer. He murdered his way through two states, and had been accused of the murder of his own wife and son. This brought the death of his own family to the front of his mind. Chris was forever haunted by their deaths, and he would go to his grave hunting down the man who had caused it. Bringing another killer to justice was his way of evening the score.
"Shall we engage in a game of chance?" Ezra asked after they settled themselves down for the night. He began to shuffle his deck, his fingers expertly turning one card over another.
Chris watched as he made all the fancy moves, his eyes watching to catch the lightning quick moves that Ezra's fingers made. "Is that the only thing you can ever think of to do?"
"No. But my other pastimes would require the presence of a companion more attractive then you. No offense."
"None taken. Your not exactly my type either."
Ezra smiled at the rare exchange between himself and Chris. "So, what do you say?"
"I don't think so. We gotta get going early tomorrow. Besides, I don't feel like losing what little money I have to you tonight."
"I would not think of depriving you of your hard earned funds. I only meant to have a friendly hand to pass the time."
"No money?" Chris's gaze was full of suspicion and mistrust. He thought that Ezra would never offer to play a game without money unless there was something else that he wanted. "For what then?"
"For the fun of it."
Ezra could see the surprise that came into Chris's eyes. He probably thought that Ezra wanted his guns, or maybe his horse. *Really, Mr. Larabee, do you believe that I am all that materialistic?* Well, maybe he did. After all, there
where times when Ezra himself believed it.
"Ok." Chris said, a genuine smile crossing his features. "But I get to deal."
Ezra looked at the outstretched hand that reached for the deck of cards he held. He never let any opponent of his ever deal with his deck, it just wasn't done.
But Chris was not like any mark he made in some no name town. Chris was,...well...different.
*A gesture of good faith* he thought, as the cards passed from his smooth hands to the callused and work worn ones of Chris.
"I believe that would be permissible."
The game played out, and another started, and another. The two men played in silence, either not needing the conversation, or not knowing what to say to each other. Ezra tended to think it was the latter. Even though the evening was going much better the he had anticipated...they had managed not to strangle each
other...yet....there was still any uneasy air between them. He thought that maybe there always would be. After all, he was the gambler and con man, making a living off other peoples' misfortunes. Chris was the crusader, righting wrong and seeking justice for those same misfortunates. Never the twain shall meet. Right?
At least that is what Ezra hoped. To be a friend of a man like Chris Larabee seemed like an impossible thing to him. But as incredible as it seemed, he wanted it. He needed it. That he would need anyone or anything was a new feeling to him. He had to admit that the feeling, scary though it was, was nice.
As the men settled down to sleep, Ezra lay on his back staring up at the stars above him. He heard Chris's breathing, already steady with sleep. Maybe, just maybe, he could make something out of his situation with these men. To truly be a part of them, not just another one of their members.
His eyes drifted shut on the thought.
They entered Westerville by noon the next day. Chris wanted to get the prisoner and start out for Four Corners right away, not wasting time that they didn't have in town. He looked at Ezra when he said this, and the gambler knew what that meant. No poker or any other sort of card game that would result in some poor soul losing their shirt.
Ezra had no intention of playing in this town. He had done that once and it was enough, thank you very much. His winnings had caused the other players -- two very large young men from a local ranch -- to become hostile and he had barely escaped with all his limbs intact. He did not like repeating his playing skills in a town where something bad had happened or almost happened to him. He didn't consider it a superstition, just caution.
The town sheriff met them at the jailhouse door, his face looking worn and haggard. This was not the effect of long years spent chasing criminals, but only one night spent with the evil, sadistic SOB he had inside. The madman's accounts of his misdeeds where enough to turn any man's stomach.
"The sooner you two get that scum out of here, the better. Any more time, and you would have bee bringing back a corpse." He led them into the jail, and the two law keepers got their first good look at the man known as Mitchell Harring.
He was not a large man, his height being the same as Chris's, but he gave the impression of being huge. His arms where long and muscular, and he had them crossed over his chest, making the muscles appear larger in their puffed out state. His eyes where brown, although the darkness of his soul reflected in them, making them appear darker, almost black. They were cold -- no feeling could be found in them. They also seemed to burn a hole into Ezra's own green eyes. Ezra's poker face would not show the uneasiness that the criminal's gaze caused him, but his heart beat a little faster.
"These here are the two that are gonna take you to hang, Harring," The sheriff said as he unlocked the cell door. Harring made no move except to hold out his hands for the sheriff to cuff them. "Hope you enjoy the trip, cause I sure am going to enjoy your going."
"There will be no hanging until he's had his day in court," Chris said, becoming irritated at the sheriff. He did not like any law man who talked bad about a person, no matter if that person was a killer or not.
"Yeah. Whatever." He pulled Harring from the cell, and handed the keys to the cuffs to Chris. Walking over to his desk, he picked up the transfer papers and handed these to Ezra. "Good luck boys. Something tells me that your going to need it."
Ezra and Chris left the jail with their prisoner in tow. Chris led him to the extra horse they had gotten from the local livery. Trying to lend a hand to the man to help him up, Chris's hands where pushed roughly away and Harring hoisted himself up on the horse. He sat up on top of the horse and looked down at Chris, his face showing no emotion, but his eyes showing the hatred he felt toward the two law keepers. Chris turned toward his own horse, shooting a look at Ezra that said volumes as to how he felt about the man they where transporting. Ezra mounted Chaucer and looked over at Harring, who was again staring at him. A little shiver of unease ran over Ezra's back. He did not like the way the man looked at him. Tearing his gaze away from the man, Ezra kicked Chaucer's side.
As the horse started to move down the street, followed by Chris and Harring, Ezra managed to put all thoughts of the madman in the back of his mind.
As the day came to an end, the trio stopped at a riverbed for the night.
As he sat by the fire, Harring studied the two men that where with him. Different as night and day they were, but something about them complimented the other. It didn't matter to him just why the two men rode together, only that they did. His plan required that the two at least be friendly with each other.
He watched as the men set about making camp, his eyes drifting now and again to the one in the fancy colored coat. That one was a gambler. He had to be by the way he dressed and carried himself. Harring had known may a gambler in his life, but never one who also served as a peace keeper. This one was an interesting contradiction.
The other one.....Larabee, he had heard the gambler call him....well, Harring knew all about him. Gunfighter and lawman. Justice server and protector. His family was killed some years ago in a fire that was ruled to be arson. Word got around in the circles that he traveled in. He wondered what Larabee would do to get more information about the death of his family.
Larabee came over to him with a plate of food. Harring could see the keys to the cuffs that confined his hands dangling from the loop of his pants. A smile not meant to be seen by any man quickly crossed his mouth, then disappeared just as fast. As Chris leaned over to put the plate down, Harring's hand brushed the keys and they silently fell into his hand. Harring congratulated himself that the old pick-pocketing skills he picked up as a kid had not gone rusty.
He pushed the keys up into his sleeve. With any luck, Larabee would not notice the keys were missing until it was already too late. He picked up the plate without a word and ate in silence, watching as Larabee walked back over to the gambler and sat down next to him.
It was obvious that the men did not want to be near him. No big shock there, not many men did. But they would get near enough, and that was all he needed. He put his now empty plate on the ground, and sat staring at the two men. Everything would work according to his plan. All he had to do was bide his time.
Harring did not put he plan in action until the next day. They where only three hours outside of Four Corners and had stopped to water the horses at a stream. Harring sat on top of his horse watching as the two law men led their horses to the water. They seemed to be arguing about something. From the words that he could catch, he assumed correctly that it was about him.
"For God's sake Ezra, I'm not asking you to marry the man, just help him down off the horse," Chris said in a annoyed tone of voice.
"He seemed to need no assistance in getting on the animal, he should be able to remove himself from it just fine."
What Ezra did not want to say was that the man scared him like nothing else ever had before. He could just feel the killer's eyes on him as they had ridden all that day, burning into him. He knew that if given the chance, this man would kill him without a second thought.
"Look," Chris said, turning to face him, "I know the guy's a little creepy...."
"Creepy?!" Ezra interrupted. "Mr. Larabee, 'Creepy' does not even begin to describe that miscreant."
Chris had to agree there. "You're right. Don't look at me like that. Yes, I said you were right. But he's our responsibility until we get him to town. Besides, I wouldn't want that poor horse he's sitting on to go thirsty because neither of us has the guts to go over there."
"Then by all means," Ezra spread his arm in the direction of the outlaw and horse, "be my guest."
"Ezra." Chris let out a long suffering sigh.
"Oh, please do not do that. Honestly, you sound just like my Mother." He had meant that as an insult, but to his surprise Chris actually smiled. "Very well, Mr. Larabee, but you owe me one for this."
The thought of going near the man made Ezra's skin crawl, but things had been going relatively well with Chris and himself on this trip, and he didn't want to give his illustrious leader any reason to start fighting with him again. So,
with great reluctance, he went over to Harring.
Unbeknownst to Ezra or Chris, Harring had used the stolen key to unlock the cuffs at his wrists. When Ezra reached up to take hold of his arm, Harring slipped his hands through the loosened bindings and punched Ezra in the face.
Ezra never even saw it coming. Once second he's about to help Harring down from the horse, the next he's flat out on his back on the rock hard dirt. He let out a cry of surprise as he felt his head hit the ground. Pain spread through his skull, and his eyes clouded over.
Chris turned with alarm at the sound of Ezra's cry. He saw Ezra lying on the ground, and Harring jumping from the horse, now free from his restraints. With lightning quick speed he removed his gun and took aim.
"Hey!" Chris yelled. "Hold it right there." He had Harring in his view. He could kill him now and not feel sorry for it; but the thought of the Judge and all the families of the people this man had killed, their need to see justice
served, stopped him from doing it.
Harring took notice of this, and decided to take advantage of the situation. He reached down and unsheathed the knife hidden in his boot. Grabbing the collar of Ezra's coat, he hauled the felled gamble to his feet. Placing one hand across Ezra's forehead, Harring forced his head back and placed the blade of the knife against the exposed skin of his throat.
"Go ahead. What are ya waiting for. Shoot me." Harring laughed, and pulled Ezra closer to him. "You should know, of course, that once you do, I'm gonna slice him open. He'll bleed to death in a matter of seconds."
Chris kept his gun trained on the killer, his eyes never wavering from those two cold, gray sphere's that served as Mithell Harring's eyes. He felt he could get a shot, maybe wound Harring enough that he would drop the knife, but knew he could not risk Ezra's life that way. Christ, the madman would slice Ezra's throat open before he could even pull the trigger.
Out of the corner of his eye, Chris caught the slight movement of Ezra's arm, signaling that he was about to release the derringer into his hand.
"What's it gonna be, Larabee?" The knife pressed harder into the gambler's throat, making the well practiced poker face disappear momentarily to be replaced by one of absolute terror. The look was so fleeting that it would have been missed by any ordinary man.
Chris was anything but ordinary, and he saw the fear on the face of his fellow rider. It angered him to see anyone cause fear to one of his own.
"You let him go and maybe I won't kill you." The words seemed laced with ice as they came from Chris's mouth. A coldness that seemed matched in his gaze. For a second, Harring doubted this course of action. Chris Larabee looked like a man ready to kill. He knew that look well.
But the moment passed as quickly as it had come. This was a game now. A game of wits and strategy between him and the gunslinger. He knew that he was holding the pawn that would help him win.
His hand dropped from Ezra's head, and he wrapped his arm around the gambler's chest, holding him in a tight grip. The knife remained firmly against the vulnerable throat of his hostage.
"I don't think so. I think you're gonna put down that gun, and then me and pretty boy here are gonna take one of the horses. If you don't try to stop us, or don't follow, then I may release him none the worse for wear."
"You really don't think I would believe that for a second, do you?" Chris almost laughed. Imagine that he would take the word of a desperate killer on faith! The very idea was ludicrous.
Harring shrugged. "Whether or not you do, makes no difference to me. I will tell you this: If I think for a minute that you're following us, I'll leave a trail of his body parts for you."
It took all of Chris's strength not to start pumping bullets into the bastard's skull. There was always the chance that he might hit Ezra accidentally, and it was a mistake he just could not afford to make. Slowly, he lowered the gun. *I'm sorry, Ezra,* he thought.
"Chris. No," Ezra choked out. The derringer fell into his hand, and he struggled to loosen the arm that held him. As he raised his arm to try to shoot at Harring, the outlaw released him to grab at his wrist and twist it away from him.
"Ezra, get out of the way!" Yelled Chris, who had once again raised his gun.
A shot rang out, freezing everything for a second. Ezra closed his eyes, almost afraid to see what had happened. When he opened them, he saw Chris lying on the ground, a bleeding wound now on his head.
"No!" He screamed out, once again trying to struggle away from Harring's hold on him. "Chris!"
"Relax. He's alive. He'll wake up with one hell of headache, but he'll live." Harring took hold of Ezra's arm and started dragging him to the horse. "As for us, we're going to see some friends of mine."
"Let go of me." Ezra pulled his arm from Harring's grip. "I'm not going anywhere with you."
"I'm afraid you don't have the choice." Harring punched him again, this time knocking him unconscious.
Picking Ezra up, he threw him across the saddle then got up on the horse himself. He looked over at the two other horses still standing by the stream. With an evil grin he aimed the small derringer he now held at the two beasts and fired. The shot spooked the horses into a run, leaving a dust trail behind them.
He laughed, then looked over at the still unconscious and bleeding gunslinger.
"I'll be expecting you, Larabee." He said, as he rode off with Ezra slung over the saddle.
Ezra woke to find himself lying on his stomach across a saddle, his eyes staring at the ground moving beneath him. For a few minuets he just lay there, his mind not connecting his current position to anything being wrong. The pain in his head had become worse, and he groaned when he tried to lift himself up into a sitting position. Suddenly the rocking motion of the horse stopped, and Ezra felt himself being pushed off. The shock of hitting the ground cleared his head, and he looked up to see Harring grinning down at him. There was nothing jovial about the way the ends of his mouth turned up. Something about the smile reminded Ezra of a cougar barring its teeth.
"Well, looky here. Sleeping Beauty has awakened." Harring jumped from the horse, pointing Ezra's very own derringer at him.
"I believe that is MY firing arm that you are holding, Sir."
Harring looked at the small gun as if he where scrutinizing a work of art. "This little pea shooter? Not much of a weapon, but it'll do in a pinch. Sure stopped Larabee in his tracks." He laughed as if he had made the funniest joke in the world.
"You Son-of-a-bitch!" Ezra screamed, and rushed at the outlaw. The larger man grabbed his arm before he could throw a punch and twisted it behind his back. Ezra winced with pain
"Now, now, now. That's not nice. I thought you used all those nice little fancy words." Ezra could feel Harring's mouth move right next to her ear, and his stomach lurched. "Come on, say one of those 5 dollar words for me."
"Not before you, my friend." Harring pulled the bandana from around his neck, then grabbed Ezra's other arm and tied his hands tightly behind him. "That will have to do for now." He pulled Ezra back to the horse and forced him to mount, then got up in back of him. "Only a little further. Your gonna like my friends; they're very sociable."
"Somehow I rather doubt that you are taking me to a tea party," Ezra spat out, struggling with the bonds around his hands. Harring jabbed the derringer against Ezra's jaw and cocked it back.
"I am getting tired of you already, and I normally don't start hating my victims until much later."
"Glad to know my personality has such a good affect on you."
Harring nudged the horse into motion and wrapped a restraining arm around Ezra's midsection. Ezra could feel the outlaw's chest shake with silent laughter.
"I have a feeling that this is going to be real fun. I may just let you live long enough to see Larabee again. Right before he dies."
The world slowly came back to Chris, and he opened his eyes, only to be rewarded by a red hot pain shooting through his head. He gasped at the pain as he rolled over and tried to stand. Several attempts later, he finally succeeded without falling back down again.
Lifting a hand to his head, he felt the wound at his temple. It had stopped bleeding, and now felt swollen and sore. The bullet had only grazed him, but had left a mark that he would always remember.
Damn it! Harring had shot him with Ezra's gun. And he had been too concerned for the gambler to stop it. What the hell was wrong with him?
He looked around the landscape before him. Horse tracks led in a northerly direction. From the deepness of them, it was apparent that the horse had been carrying the weight of two riders. They where still fresh, perhaps an hour or so old, but no more.
Ezra. He had to go help Ezra. Shit, but his head hurt! He took several deep breaths to get his bearings about him, and searched the area for his horse. It was gone. Damn it all! What the hell kind of person left a man all alone in the wilderness without some means of transportation? This Harring was going to die a thousand different deaths once Chris caught up to him.
Moving over to the stream, Chris dipped a rag into the water and cleaned the wound on his head as well as he could. It still hurt, but treatment would have to wait until after he found Ezra and killed Harring. Or vise versa.
A sudden noise behind him made him jump up and turn, his hand going to the spot where his side arm should have been. The sight that greeted him was the sweetest one he could imagine at the moment.
Chaucer stood before him, looking lost and confused. Chris reached out a hand to stroke the horse's black nose.
"Hey, boy. Wonderin' where your owner is, huh?"
There was no sign of his own horse, the animal must have run for home; at least that it what he hoped. Chaucer though showed unyielding loyalty toward Ezra, just as Ezra seemed to lavish affection upon the horse.
Chris pulled himself on the horse and weighed his options. He was three hours from home. He could ride in there and get the others, who he thought must have returned by now. But that would cost him precious hours in finding Ezra, hours that the gambler may not have. He knew that Harring wanted him to follow, that he was playing some sort of sick game with the two of them, but he couldn't stand the thought that Ezra was now in the hands of a killer. A killer who would stop at nothing to win.
He turned Chaucer in the direction that the tracks led, and prayed that he wouldn't be already too late.
Ezra gave up trying to struggle his way out of his bonds. Harring's arm kept him pressed closely against the killer's chest. His whole body rebelled at being so close to the man. The feel of Harring's breath next to his ear made Ezra's stomach feel sick. Something about him simply scared Ezra to death.
He had no idea why Harring has abducted him instead of just killing him outright. Death was, no doubt, to be the eventual end to this saga, so why go through all of this? Not that Ezra was in any hurry to die, but he didn't think
he could stand much more of this mental torture Harring was putting him through.
Friends. Harring had said he was taking Ezra to meet his friends. He found it difficult to believe that anyone could be on friendly terms with a mad killer. Unless they themselves where mad killers. In which case Ezra wished Harring had just killed him. One murderer was bad enough, he did not want to have to contend with a whole group of them. Not that the choice was really up to him.
They had ridden about an hour since Ezra had come to, and were now approaching a clearing in which stood a small, non-descript stone cabin. Assuming that this must be their destination, Ezra resigned himself to the fact that he would not be able to help himself out of this situation. He was hopelessly trapped. He made a silent wish that Chris was alright, that his injury was not serious. Harring had said that the head wound was only superficial, but Ezra had no reason to believe him. If Chris was alive, would he come after them? Of course he would! Chris would take it as a personal affront to have a member of his team snatched from him. Ezra did not expect Chris to come rescue him out of a feeling of friendship -- he knew that it would be out of revenge alone that Chris would come. It did not matter though. Chris would come.
That is, he would if he was still alive, as Ezra most seriously hoped that he was. Harring pulled the horse to a stop and got off, pulling Ezra down with him.
"We're here." Harring said, dragging Ezra by the arm toward the cabin. The door opened, and Ezra looked up at two mountains of men. They where much taller then either him or Harring, and looked just as mean. Ezra again wished for a quick death.
"Mitch." said mountain number 1. His voice was deep and booming, sounding like thunder echoing in a canyon. "I knew you'd make it. Can't keep you down for long."
Mountain number 2's eyes turned over to Ezra, taking in the form of the captive gambler in one sweep. "Who's he?" said the even deeper echoing voice.
"This, gentlemen, is Ezra. He will be our guest for a little while," Harring said, as he pulled Ezra into the cabin.
There was only one room that looked as if it has seen some better days. Several layers of dust covered the floor, and was kicked up by their footsteps making Ezra cough. He could see no furniture, save for a table and some chairs and three bed rolls in one of the corners.
"We're going to see to it that he is made comfortable. He's our 'ace in the hole' as you might say." Harring laughed at his joke, and Ezra simply rolled his eyes. What was it with the bad guys that they always made bad gambling jokes at his expense?
Harring pulled Ezra along toward a trap door that was set into the floor. He lifted the door, and assisted Ezra in climbing down the rickety ladder that lie beneath it. The ladder led to a stone root cellar that may have once been
used as a combination of a food storage/storm cellar. It was dark and cold. There was no telling what in the world could be crawling around the floor. Ezra did not want to be kept down there.
In the back of his mind he knew what they would do to him if he dared to fight them. They where larger then he, and there were three of them to his one, but somehow this logic got lost in his desperation to not be locked down in this cold, dark place. He turned and lunged at Harring, knocking his body back against the stone wall.
Harring had not been expecting the gambler to do this, and was momentarily stunned when his back hit the wall. Anger that his prisoner would attack him broke through the surprise quickly, though.
Ezra felt as each of his arms where held tightly by the large hands of the mountain men. He tried to fight, but his still tied hands left him at a disadvantage. He could not move in their fierce grips.
Harring's fist slammed into Ezra's face. Ezra could feel the blood as it sprayed from his nose and mouth. The grip on his arms was let go, and he slid to the floor. A kick connected with his stomach, and he curled him self into a tight ball at the intense pain it caused. Harring kicked him again, and this time he could feel the cracking of ribs in his chest. He cried out in the agony that he was feeling, but this did noting to dissuade Harring from his attack. He pulled Ezra by his hair to a cold, musty corner of the cellar and punched him again. Ezra's head snapped back, hitting the wall behind him. A flash of light spread over his eyes right before it all went dark.
Harring let the now limp form of the gambler slide down the wall and crumple up on the floor. He smiled and knelt down beside the man he had just beaten. It had felt good to hit him, and he had to stop himself from going further. He did not want to kill this man yet. He wanted him to suffer.
Rolling the unconscious body over, Harring untied the bandana from around the man's wrists and stuffed it into his mouth, tying it tightly around the back of his head. He took the coils of rope that his fellow outlaw had brought down. He tied Ezra's hands behind him again, and tied his ankles together.
Turning to the two men with him, he gave them a stern look that said 'if you do not follow my order, I'll have your hides'.
"Neither of you are to touch him without my say so. Understood?" Two large nodding heads answered his command.
"Good. We're gonna have company, and I want him alive until then. Afterwards, whatever you want to do with him is your choice."
He strode past them and climbed up the latter, and they followed. Neither man knew exactly what their leader had in mind for the fellow he had brought with him, but they didn't really think about it either. They to enjoyed the thrill of killing, and what he had just said led them to believe that he was giving them this man. Each evil mind imagined what they would do to him when finally allowed.
Chris hung on to Chaucer's reins, and allowed the most recent bout of dizziness to pass. His head felt better -- at least and the spells had eased within the last hour. He knew that he should rest, but the thought of Ezra kept him
going. Whatever he was feeling, he knew that Ezra had to be feeling much worse.
He hoped that Ezra could still feel anything at all.
He had followed the tracks for more then two hours now, and was beginning to get tired. He hoped that Harring had not gone too far, as the further they rode away from the area of Four Corner, the less likely Chris would be able to go find help if need be. He hoped that when he and Ezra did not return to town as planned, the others would ride out to look for them. Actually, there was no hoping in it. He knew they would. After all, he would do the same for anyone of them. He just had to keep going, and try to find Ezra and keep him safe until they did. Although, Ezra being held by a man with murder on his mind was not a way of keeping him safe.
The blood that ran through Chris's veins turned cold at the thought of Harring harming even one hair on Ezra's head. If Ezra was seriously hurt, then Chris would kill Harring, and Judge Travis be damned. He would rather endure the Judge's wrath then have to bury his friend in the ground.
When exactly had he started to consider Ezra his friend? It must have happened so gradually that he had not noticed it. Ezra had always seemed to him to be a self-interested con man. One who only wanted to look after himself. But Ezra had changed while among the other town protectors. He had risked his own life for the lives of other people. Now his life was once again in grave danger, and Chris knew he had to save him...or die trying.
The tracks led down to a cabin in a small clearing. Chris pulled Chaucer to a stop, and hid himself and the animal within a cluster of trees. He had to get his thoughts together. Ezra was somewhere down there, but he did not know in what condition. He would have to wait. He just hoped that the wait would not be too long.
He came to, not remembering what had happened to him or where he was. He felt cold and shivered. He tried to move himself into a more comfortable position, but found that he could not move. Opening his eyes, he saw nothing around him but darkness. It was then that he remembered. Everything. He remembered Harring, and Chris being shot. He remembered Harring dragging him into this godforsaken place and beating him senseless.
He had also been tied up and gagged. He closed his eyes again, and leaned his aching head against the cold, stone walls of his prison. The feeling of moisture on his face surprised him. At first he thought that it might be raining outside and the walls where leaking, but soon realized this was not the case. One drop after another rolled down his face and fell onto his lips. He longed to run his dry tongue over the moisture, but the cloth in his mouth prevented this. He knew that the wetness was his own tears flowing.
He hadn't cried in a very long time. Not since he was eight and had broken his arm because he had fallen out of a tree. His mother, instead of being concerned for his pain, yelled at him for climbing the tree when she had specifically told him not to. She also slapped him and told him to stop crying. Crying meant he was weak. If he was weak, he wasn't good enough to help he on her con jobs; she would just leave him behind. He didn't care for the jobs -- running from one town to the other, never stopping long enough to really get to know anyone -- but the thought of his mother leaving him again was one he couldn't stand to think of. So he had stopped crying. He hadn't cried since.
That was, until now. Why should he cry now, after all the years and the trials he had been through? He hated himself for the tears. Tears where weak. He was weak. But he could not stop them. Mother would be so disappointed in him.
He tried to move again, to gain as much comfort as his bonds would allow. The ropes chaffed him, and cut into the tender skin of his wrists. He shoulders ached from his arms being twisted so roughly behind him. A sigh rose in his
chest, followed by a muffled sob that caught in his throat. He was tired, hurt; he wanted nothing more at the moment other then to sleep forever. And yet that part of him that strived for life hung on. Nagging at him, telling him to hang on. Live. He must live.
Chris would come for him. He knew that he would. He had to hang on until then. He rolled over onto his side and stared blindly into the inky blackness that surrounded him. They would be coming for him again soon. There would be more pain, more mocking laughter. He would not let them know how much he hurt. He would bite his lip and refuse to give them the screams he knew they wanted. He would be strong. But the tears continued to come.
He heard the opening of the door, and his eyes snapped open. Harring came down the ladder with a lantern in one hand, and a canteen slung over his shoulder. He approached the unmoving gambler and reached out for him.
Ezra's objections where muffled by the gag. Harring sneered as he loosened the bandana and pulled it from his captive's mouth. He placed his hand over Ezra's mouth before he could voice the thoughts that where going through his mind.
"I'm warning you right now, I'll leave the gag off for a while if you promise to behave yourself. You yell, or say anything that I feel is not appealing to me, it goes back in. Understand?" Ezra nodded, and Harring removed his hand. Ezra looked at the canteen in his kidnapper's hand, and his tongue ran over his dry lips. Harring seemed to understand, and held the canteen to Ezra's mouth. He drank greedily, the water feeling so good running down his parched throat.
Harring took the canteen away, and continued to stare at the man in front of him. The look was unnerving to Ezra.
"What are you going to do with me?" Ezra asked in a scratchy voice.
"Do? I haven't really thought about that yet. I guess we're just going to have to wait and see what your friend Larabee does."
"And if he doesn't come?" Ezra said, giving voice to the worst of his fears.
"He will." Harring reached out a hand and ran his fingers over the soft skin of Ezra's cheek. Ezra jerked his head away from the touch. His stomach contracted and he felt like throwing up all over the man who was tormenting him.
"Don't touch me," he spat out. Harring's expression changed to one of amusement at this show of bravado.
"I will do as I please." To Ezra's horror, the knife that Harring had used before appeared in his hand, and he held it against the gamblers face. "You have such a pretty face, you know that? So pretty and soft. It would be a shame to ruin that." The edge of the knife pierced into the skin of his cheek, and Ezra sucked in his breath. He could feel the trickle of blood as it ran down his face and over his chin. He could taste his own blood as it ran into his mouth. He wanted to spit the offending taste back out at the man who had caused it.
Harring laughed in that sick way of his, and stood up.
"That's just a little preview of something bigger to come." He reached down and replaced the cloth in Ezra's mouth. "Your friend should be here soon. That's when the real fun begins."
Ezra watched as Harring disappeared into the darkness, and heard the door close above him. Dear Lord, this man went beyond crazy. He wasn't going to kill him until he had had all the fun that could be squeezed out of him. The things that had been implied in what he said made Ezra sick. 'Chris. Where are you? Please help me.'
Chris had waited long enough. He couldn't stand to be hiding up here, while Ezra was going through God knew what down below. He tied Chaucer's reins to a tree, and made his way silently down the hill. He could see two very large men standing by the cabin, each with a rifle in their hands, surveying the surrounding trees and mountains. Chris looked around him, searching for something that might cause a distraction. His eyes landed on a rock by his foot.
It wasn't the best plan, but it would have to do. Picking up the rock, he threw it with all his might to the roof of the cabin, where it landed with a loud thump. Just as expected the two men turned to look at the cause of the noise. This was when Chris made his move, running quickly from his cover to the back of the cabin.
He knew he could not stay in this position for long, as the two men would undoubtedly search around the cabin. He removed his gun from his holster, and silently walked around the corner. He saw one of the men standing with his back to him. It was his only chance, and he knew that he must take it while it was presenting itself.
"Hey you." he called out, and the man turned aiming the rifle at the gunslinger. Chris fired as soon as he saw the man's face, and he went down, dropping the rifle.
"Arron? What was that?" the sound of another voice sounded behind Chris, and he spun around to see the second man there, leveling his own rifle at him.
"Mister, you just killed my brother. Your dead."
"Not so fast, Klem." Harring's voice interrupted. Chris turned to see the killer smiling evilly at him. "This is the man we have been waiting for."
"Where's Ezra?" Chris said in a tone that was full of hate for this man.
"He's inside. Won't you join us?" Harring spread his arm in the direction of the house, indicating that Chris should head in first. Chris walked to the door of the cabin, knowing that Harring and the one he called Klem where right behind him. He stopped at the door and spun around quickly, intending to punch Harring's lights out, but the fist that connected to his face stopped him. The world then disappeared from underneath Chris Larabee.
Chris opened his eyes to the sight of Ezra sitting across from him. He was tied to a chair, ropes crisscrossed their way across his chest. He looked down to see that he was also tied tightly to a chair. The room was lit only by the glow of a few lanterns, but Chris could make out Ezra's face in the shadows. He had bruises on his face, and he slumped down in the chair as if the rest of him was not in much better shape.
"Ezra?" he called softly to him.
Ezra slowly and painfully lifted his eyes to meet Chris's. Harring had dragged him up from the cellar, and he had been both shocked and relieved to see Chris in the cabin. He was relief was short lived though. Chris was out cold and tied to a chair. Harring had pushed him down into the chair across from his friend and bound him tightly to it. He had at least thankfully removed the gag from Ezra's mouth, which now hung loosely around his neck.
Ezra and Chris held the eye contact for several minutes, each reassuring the other that they were alive. Although how long they would remain that way was still left to be seen.
"Ezra." Chris said again. "Are you alright?"
He could hear the pain and guilt in Chris's voice. It was too much for him. He knew that Chris blamed himself for what had happened. Every time any one of the seven where lost or injured, Chris seemed to find a way to place the blame for it upon himself.
In truth, Ezra was not alright. He was hurting, hungry, thirsty, and just plain scared to death, but he was not about to let Chris know this. The man had enough to worry about at the moment without adding the gambler to it.
"I'm fine," Ezra choked out, but knew that he didn't sound very convincing.
"I'm sorry, Ezra."
"Please do not apologize. You have nothing to be sorry for."
Chris shook his head, knowing that Ezra was wrong. If he had noticed Harring had stolen the keys, if he had only just shot the bastard when he had first had the chance, neither man would be in this situation. He had promised himself that no one else would ever be put into danger because of him ever again.
"Would you happen to have any inspired ideas on how to extricate ourselves for this predicament?"
Chris smiled a little at hearing those kinds of words from Ezra's mouth. He didn't think he would ever hear them again.
"Nope. All out of ideas."
"Lovely. So, I take it that our comrades in arms are not at the moment waiting outside to come to our rescue?"
"'Fraid not. I came right after you. Didn't think you had the time for me to go get the others."
Ezra let out a sigh that seemed to hang in the cold musty air above him. "Well, it seems that we are both to run out of time very soon."
"How right you are."
Chris and Ezra both tensed at the sound of Harring's voice.
Harring walked across the floor to stand next to Ezra's chair. He ran a hand over Ezra's face, and pulled back his head with a jerk. Ezra let out a gasp of pain at the sudden movement. Harring turned his evil gaze to Chris. "Have you ever seen a man's neck snapped in two? It's really quite easy to accomplish. All you have to do is hold his head like so," he placed one hand on the side of Ezra's head, "and put your other arm like this." Harring wrapped his other arm around Ezra's throat. "And then you just twist it really hard like this...."
"Stop!" Chris yelled loudly into the night. "God damn you, Harring. What in the hell do you want?"
Harring let go of Ezra's neck, but continued to stay by his side. "What do I want? Not a thing. You see, I already have what I want." He pulled a gun from the holster at his waist, and placed it against Ezra's skull. "So, who shall go first? Him, or you? Hmm? I think it should be my good friend Ezra here, don't you? He's suffered long enough."
He leaned down to look into Ezra's blank eyes. A smile of demonic proportion spread across his face. "Unless of course, Ezra has something else of value that he can offer me."
That was it! Harring didn't have time to move before a stream of foul bile came from Ezra's mouth to spill all over the madman. Harring snarled in anger, and grabbed the back of Ezra's hair. He pointed the gun close to his face and pulled back the hammer.
"That was not smart. Not smart at all."
Buck had just walked out of the bath house, whistling a happy tune. He was thinking of the lovely lady he was to meet that night, and not paying attention to anything around him. He crossed the street, and thought he heard his name being called. Stopping to look up, his eyes grew wide at the sight of the large black horse running hell bent down the street and straight for him. He jumped quickly out of the way, and rolled across the dirt. *So much for being clean* he thought.
"Buck!" JD came running over to him and helped his to stand. "You okay?"
"Yeah, kid. What the hell was that all about?"
"I don't know. I just saw you, and that horse, so I yelled."
Buck looked over at the horse, now being held by the reins by Vin. He stomach fell.
"That's Chris's horse." The statement caused silence to come over the three men who stood there.
"What's Chris's horse doing here? Where are Chris and Ezra?" JD asked, feeling the same fear rise up in him that showed so clearly on Buck's and Vin's faces.
"That's what we're gonna go find out." He turned to JD. "Go get Josiah and Nathan. Tell them its an emergency."
Buck watched as JD ran in the direction of the saloon, and then turned to Vin. "What do you think?"
Vin looked at the still wild and scared eyes of the animal that he held onto. "I don't know. But I got a bad feelin'. I think we should get going right away."
"With ya there, pard. With ya there."
The five lawmen wasted no time in starting the search for their missing members. Of course it would have taken the combined weight of Buck, JD, Nathan, and Josiah sitting on top of Vin to keep him from running out after them. The man seemed to know that his two friends where in imminent danger and needed his help. He would walk through fire, if that was what he had to do, to make sure that Chris and Ezra where safe. He knew that the others felt the same. The looks of their faces told him all that he needed to know. If anything had happened to the two men, even if there was only the slightest scratch on them, the person who caused it would suffer great pain.
They followed the tracks made by Chris's horse as it ran in the opposite direction to town. After two hour's ride, Vin called everyone to a halt and dismounted.
"What do ya have?" Nathan asked, coming over to join the bounty hunter.
"Looks like they stopped here. There are horse tracks by the water." Vin stooped down next to the water's edge and studied the prints left there. "Two men, I would guess Chris and Ezra, had their horses here." His eyes followed on set of tracks that led away from the spot. "This looks like a struggle took place." He
said, examining the marks made in the dirt.
Buck and JD watched as Vin made his observations. It astounded each of them the way Vin could track a person. JD often wondered if Vin had some sort of gift for seeing into the past and the future, because he always just 'knew' things that others didn't.
"You think the guy they went to get got loose somehow?" JD asked, his worry for the two audible in his voice.
"Don't know, but it would explain why they didn't make it to town." Vin said.
"Hey, Vin." Nathan's voice sounded out, making everyone turn in his direction. Nathan was kneeling by a spot a little ways from the waters edge. His fingers touched the ground, and he looked at the substance that had almost dried in the ground. "I think it's blood," The healer almost whispered, almost afraid to think of what the discovery may mean.
There was a frightened silence then that seemed to stretch on for hours, although in reality it was only a few seconds. Vin followed the horse tracks, finding that one heading back the way they had came, and the other led to the west. The deepness of the prints suggested that the horse was carrying two riders.
"We go that way," he said, pointing. He got back on his horse and started off at a speed that should not have been possible for a man on horse back. The others looked at each other, stunned for a moment, and then followed Vin without hesitation.
No man spoke to another. Each mind was only on finding their missing friends, and hoping that they were found alive. The sun made its way down as they headed west, making a beautiful display of colors before them. JD smiled, thinking how Ezra would have liked it. He had seen the gambler riding out on his own just before sunset, and one night followed him only to find him sitting on his own, staring at the sky. He did it often, and JD knew he wanted to be alone at those times. The young man tried to memorize each element of this sunset, so that he
may tell Ezra about when they found him.
Their ride lasted two more hours since finding the rest site. Vin knew of the cabin that was located in this area, and headed toward it. He thought that it may be where the tracks where heading. He found himself to be right. He stopped at the tree edge when he heard the nickering of horse. Near the edge, and tied to a tree branch stood Chaucer. His forlorn look told Vin that the animal had been left there for some time now.
"What's Chaucer doin' up here?" Buck came over and stroked the horse's mane.
"I think he was left to hide him." Vin said, peering down at the cabin with his long spy glass. It was too dark for him to make out any shaped below, but he saw a soft glow coming from one of the windows of the cabin. "I have to get closer. Josiah, come with me. Buck, you and Nathan go down around to the back. JD...."
"Yeah, yeah. I know. Stay with the horses." The young man's voice sounded annoyed, and Vin shared a smile with Buck as they headed down the hill.
Ezra shut his eyes and waited for the feeling of his flesh being torn from his skull to tear through him. He heard the cocking of the gun, felt Harring's grip on the back of his head. He made a prayer to God to please take him quick, and not let him suffer.
The sound of the door being thrust open startled him, and he gasped as his eyes opened. Ezra breathed a sigh of relief as the gun was lowered, and Harring turned to confront the man who dared to interrupt him.
"What the hell ya doing Klem?" Harring shouted at the man who burst into the cabin.
"Sorry Mitch, but I thought I heard some noise outside. Thought you'd might wanna take a look."
Harring threw a nasty look over at man. "Well, I don't. I'm busy here. Just go take a look around, and if you find anything call me."
Klem nodded and went back outside, his rifle held tightly in his grasp. Harring turned back to Ezra, and smiled with evil intent.
"Now, where were we?"
"Harring!" Chris yelled, pulling at his ropes. "Leave him alone. Haven't you hurt him enough already?"
Harring turned his head to Chris, but kept the gun pointed at Ezra. "That's half the fun, don't you see? The other half is watching him suffer as he dies. It's thrilling to see."
"Christ. You are sick. You deserve to rot in hell."
The laughter that emitted from the killer filled the room with its sound, and sent a shiver down the spines of the two captive men.
"I already have. Its nothing new to me. What I want is to make sure that you're there to keep me company when I return."
"Then kill me first." Chris said. He saw the horror come over Ezra face as he said this.
Larabee shook his head at his friend. "Be quiet, Ezra. He wants to kill someone, so it may as well be me. I know what hells like too."
Harring turned the gun over to Chris. "If that's the way you want it."
"NO!" Ezra shouted as the sound of a gun blast went off.
To his surprise, and to those of Chris and Harring, the blast was not from the gun of the outlaw. The sound had come from outside the cabin. Harring rushed to the door and opened it only a crack.
"Klem!" he called out into the night, but received no answer. "Klem!" He called out louder, but again there was nothing. "Damn." He slammed the door shut.
Chris and Ezra exchanged glances. Could it be? Was it possible? A hope burst inside of them as the thought that the others had come after them took hold.
Harring went over to Ezra and began to untie the ropes that held him to the chair. "Come on," he said, pulling Ezra up and wrapping an arm around his neck. "We're going to go check this out."
Chris pulled and tugged at his bonds, trying without success to loosen them and help his friend.
"It's no use now, Harring. Your partner is dead. Let him go!"
"Shut up, or I will shoot him right here." To prove his point, he shoved the gun against Ezra's ribs. The gambler bit back the cry of pain that had formed as he felt the gun bump against his cracked ribs.
It was then that a voice that Chris would have at that point likened to an angel called out.
"Chris? Are you here?"
"Vin! Vin, inside! He's got Ezra!"
Harring backed to the wall with Ezra in his grasp as the door to the cabin was kicked open. Vin heard the Chris's voice call to him from inside the cabin. He had said something about someone having Ezra. It was all the incentive that he needed. He kicked the door open, and watched as wood splintered out from the force of the blow. From the corner of his eye he saw Chris sitting in a chair, bound but apparently unhurt. In front of him was Ezra, his head forced back by the arm around his neck, and a gun held against his ribs. The gambler's face was a mass of cuts and bruises. Vin could feel the rage as it built up inside of him, ready to burst out with the explosive force of dynamite.
"Mister, if you wanna keep what little life you got left, you better let him go right now." Vin's Mare's Leg was lifted, and pointed dead blank at the face of the bastard who would dare to harm his friends.
"Or you'll do what?" Harring sneered at him. "Shoot me? Tsk, tsk, tsk. What barbaric friends you have, Ezra. I would have thought someone like you would prefer more refined company."
"They are practically royalty when compared to the likes of you." Ezra forced out with a hoarse whisper. He let out a cry of pain as Harring tightened the hold on his neck, and shoved the gun harder against his side.
"You're suffocating him." Chris's voice sounded eerily calm. There was no emotion in the tone. No anger, no pleading as there had been before. As before, Harring felt a shadow of a doubt about what he was doing. He was certain that if he killed the gambler man, nothing would be able to stop these other men from killing him the most tortuous manner possible. From the look in Larabee's eyes, he no longer held on to any human feeling toward him. He saw pure, feral rage deep inside the blue eyes of the gunslinger. He had to get out of there, and fast.
"Your gonna move away from that door," he said, directing his gaze to Vin, "and then me and Ezra are just gonna go as far as the hilltop. Don't try and stop me, and I will let him go."
"And just what makes you think I'll do that?" Vin said, not moving an inch.
"If you don't, he dies. Then Larabee over there dies."
"Then you die."
"Well, I think its safe to say that I will die anyway. I know you have no care about me, but your friends here are a different story. Aren't they?"
"Vin?" He did not turn at the sound of Chris's voice, but kept his focus on Ezra and the outlaw.
The blast filled the room, deafening all who stood within it. Ezra felt himself being thrown back, his head connecting with the stone wall behind him. He slid to the floor in a heap of bones.
Chris stared in awe at the face of Mitchell Harring. Or he should say, what used to be the face of Mitchell Harring. The bullet from Vin's rifle and hit the killer dead on, tearing away his skin and tissue. The sight was, to say the least, sickening. He tore his gaze from the hideous sight to see Ezra, lying motionless on the floor. He started pulled at his robs in an attempt to get to his fallen friend.
"Vin!" he called out.
"Hold on, Chris. I almost got it." The ropes fell away, and Chris rushed over to Ezra, pulling him away from the dead body of Harring.
"Chris, let me take him."
Chris looked up in surprise to see Josiah in the room. He had wanted to get to Ezra so badly that he had not noticed that the others had come into the cabin.
"No. I got him." He shook his head, not wanting to let go of the limp body until he knew that Ezra still lived.
"Put him down over there so I can have a look at him." Nathan directed, pointing to a bedroll in the opposite corner of the room. Chris would have none of that. He did not want Ezra to wake up and find himself still inside the cabin. He would not wish the gruesome sight of Harring's face to be the first thing the poor man saw upon waking. He just plain wanted to get Ezra and himself out of there.
Chris gently lifted Ezra into his arms and carried him out the door, followed by the others who where just as anxious to see how their friend was. Chris lowered Ezra onto a soft patch of grass underneath a large tree in the yard. He cradled the gambler's head on his lap. The slickness he felt on the back of Ezra's hair alerted him to the blood that was there.
"Nathan." Chris's voice was barely above a whisper. The healer knelt down beside him, and began to check Ezra out as much as he could in the limited light. "Nathan, his head. There's blood."
Nathan swore underneath his breath. "Damn. Chris, we have ta get him back into the cabin. There's not enough light out here. I can't help him like this."
"I don't want him to be in there." Chris would not take his eyes off Ezra's still, pale face.
"None of us do. But its the only place we have right now. Look Chris, Buck and Josiah have already taken Harring's body out. Ezra won't have to see him when he wakes up." Nathan placed a reassuring hand on Chris's shoulder.
Chris looked up at him, and knew he was right. Ezra needed Nathan's help, and Nathan needed to have a place to work. He lifted Ezra up again, and walked ahead of Nathan back into the cabin.
Buck and Josiah came back into the cabin, followed by JD. All men looked over at the still form of Ezra, lying on a bedroll with Chris's jacket rolled up underneath his head.
Nathan had cleaned all of Ezra's wounds and had wrapped a bandage around Ezra's head. The wound was not as serious as originally thought, but Nathan still worried as Ezra had yet to regain consciousness. Ezra's ribs had also been wrapped, and should heal with enough rest.
"How is he?" JD asked, looking down at Ezra with a worried expression on his young face.
"He's got a concussion, a few broken ribs, and lots of bruises. In short, that Harring fellow did one hell of a number on him."
"Harring didn't cause him to hurt his head." Vin said. He was sitting beside Chris on the floor. "I did that when I shot Harring."
"You did what you had to do, Vin." Chris spoke up for the first time in the hour it had taken Nathan to patch up Ezra. "You had no way of knowing that would happen."
"Yeah. Don't you worry none about it. Erza's gonna be just fine." Buck gave his friend a smile that he hoped looked reassuring.
The men lapsed into an uncomfortable silence, and the hours passed for them slowly. JD eventually fell asleep while sitting on one of the chairs, and Buck eased him onto the other bedroll. Chris continued to sit and stare at Ezra, intent on being there when the gambler finally woke up. He needed to see with his own eyes that Ezra was going to be all right. It was the only way that he would be able to relax and get the sleep that his body so desperately needed.
The moan that came from Ezra's lips was not so very loud, but in the silence of the cabin was as deafening. The five men who remained awake rushed over to him.
Chris lay his hand on Ezra's forehead, and brushed his hair back.
"Ezra? Can you hear me?"
Green eyes slowly opened and focused on the face leaning above him.
"Chris." A smile met that one word, and he tried to smile back. His tongue ran over his dry lips. "Thirsty," he said.
Nathan held a canteen to his mouth while Chris and Vin helped Ezra to sit up enough to drink. He drank slowly, so as not to choke on the liquid. After he was lowered back down, he looked around the cabin, frowning when he saw he was still in the awful place.
"I had hoped this was all some sort of nightmare," he said, once again meeting Chris's eyes. The look he found there surprised him. Chris looked happy.
"It was. The worst one I ever had. But its over." Chris pulled the blanket over Ezra up higher. Ezra's eyes were once again beginning to close. He would sleep peacefully now, and so could Chris.
"I do hope we are going to vacate these premises soon," Ezra's voice mumbled as rest started to take him again.
"First thing in the morning. Promise."
"Not too early, Mr. Larabee. A man does... need.. his sleep."
Chris chuckled as Ezra's words started to trail off. Nathan leaned over and checked him, then nodded at the other men. Ezra would sleep through the night.
"I suggest that you do the same, Chris. Don't want you collapsing on me," Nathan said, pointing a stern finger at him. Chris smiled in agreement, and rested his head against the wall behind him.
Sleep took him quickly, and for the first time in so very long his dreams were filled not with the nightmarish images of the death of his wife and son, but of the good times to come with the six men who had become more then just friends and fellow lawmen, but the family he thought he would never have again.