What was a little more vexing, after he’d opened his eyes and the sight before him was no longer blurry, was the fact that he seemed to be sitting on Pony with Chris' arm strongly holding him in place. That might just explain why he wasn’t feeling as much pain as he thought he would from riding with his injured hip. His own horse, Chaucer, was tied to a lead and following obediently. Ezra had to guess that Chris and Chaucer must have come to some sort of agreement since his horse was there and behaving for someone other than his owner. He wished he had been coherent for that spectacle because he was sure it would have been highly entertaining.
"You awake?" Chris' voice was rough from the heat and probably little water, but somehow was soft as he spoke into Ezra's ear.
"I am beginning to wonder," Ezra's own voice was soft and his speech slightly slurred.
"Stupid thing you did." Chris repeated an earlier argument.
"So, I believe, as you have said at least once before."
"Just making sure you understood."
Ezra snorted. "Letting the second man shoot you in the back was not an option I was agreeable with; nor was returning home without you."
He was worried and trying not to show it. Ezra had been out for more than two hours and this time he'd had to squeeze the gunshot wound on Ezra's hip to get the gambler turned peacekeeper to wake up. He was happy that doing so hadn't started the wound to bleeding again but he didn't like the idea of causing his friends, even the annoying ones, pain. The wound wasn't quite a through-and-through as he could feel the bullet sitting just under the skin of Ezra's right hip. He guessed, but Nathan could tell them for sure, that the bullet had skirted around the bone instead of tearing through it, which was probably a lucky thing for Ezra.
The Southerner started to nod off and Chris squeezed the wound lightly and quickly, wrapping his arm back around the man riding in front him afraid that Ezra would struggle or slip from his position, but he needed to keep Ezra semi-awake. The southerner wasn't complaining which meant he was hurting and in pain.
What worried Chris now was Ezra's left shoulder which had already been injured before --during the initial confrontation that had created the need for a gunfight. This would be the last time he ever said that Ezra or Vin or even JD attracted all the trouble because he seemed to be bringing in his fair share now.
Ezra had shoved him out of the way two nights ago when Edgar Whitehall had swung a chair leg at his head. The piece of wood with nails still attached had hit the gambler instead, embedding the nails into Ezra's left shoulder. When the fight was over, they'd had the nails removed and the tears in the skin stitched closed. Then not more than ten hours later, while he faced Edgar --who should still have been in jail-- in a useless gunfight, Ezra had tackled one of Edgar's cohorts who was going to shoot him in the back. During the tackle and following struggle, Ezra had dislocated his already injured shoulder. Chris was pissed at the Little River's Sheriff. He was pissed at the Judge. He was equally pissed with himself. And, he was going to throttle Ezra for jumping in like that --even if it was to save his life.
They would hopefully be back to Four Corners in a little less than three hours, then he could have Nathan check over Ezra. Even if he had to sit on the gambler to make sure he stayed put in the clinic.
Vin appeared, as if by magic, from wherever he spent the day to help get Ezra off Pony and into the clinic. Chris would take all the small favors he could. JD came from the Sheriff's Office worried about Ezra until Chris said the gambler would be fine; and before JD could say or do more, Chris had handed both the reins to Pony and Chaucer and the satchel that was the real reason for the trip to Little River to the kid.
"Buck," Chris called from the clinic's stairs, then waved his hand toward JD. Buck understood. Keep JD busy, get the horses stabled, get the satchel back to the jail and into the jail's safe. The Judge would be arriving on tomorrow's stage and would want the documents that were in the satchel.
Up in the clinic Ezra was awake and keeping Nathan busy. "Ezra if you don't sit still so help me..."
It would appear his small amount of favors for the day had ended.
Chris entered the clinic and would have laughed at the scene in front of him if it hadn't already been just that long of a day. "Ezra," he drawled, looking the gambler in the eyes. "Don't make me shoot ya after having dragged your sorry ass all the way back here."
Ezra had stopped moving when Chris called his name and in that moment with Vin holding Ezra, Nathan pulled on Ezra's arm. Ezra let out a highly undignified yelp just as everyone in the clinic heard Ezra's shoulder pop. Chris winced in sympathy and noticed that Vin did as well.
Through gritted teeth, Ezra managed to speak. "That was unnecessary," he began.
Vin snorted, but he let his friend go. "You're welcome."
Ezra nodded, but struggled to rise.
"Not just yet," Nathan called. "Ya still got that bullet in your hip."
"I assure you, Mister Jackson that there is no need to..."
"Lay down and shut up, Ezra." Chris moved further into the clinic. "Let Nathan do his job then you can go back to complaining."
Vin looked over at Chris and into the other man's eyes. The two carried out some type of silent conversation. "So," Vin finally drawled, "you responsible for this, Cowboy?"
Chris glared at the tracker. "That's enough outta you," he said to Vin before turning to Nathan. "How's it look?"
By now, Nathan had removed the bullet, cleaned out the wound and started stitching. "He'll be fine. He needs to drink some tea and rest," he answered. "Here, in this spot and not down in the saloon," he added as his patient struggled to sit up.
"I will have you know that I am still present in our shared locale," Ezra said through tightly clenched teeth as he spoke through the new pain in his hip.
Nathan grunted. "You only listen when it's others that have to stay put."
Nathan turned to the other two men in the room and looked from one to the other. He needed to arrange to have food brought up from the restaurant. He knew if Ezra didn't bathe at some point he would start complaining, plus it would help prevent infection. Vin would be the best person for one of the jobs, but as Vin had a tendency to escape from this very room, he turned back to Chris. "Chris, I need one of you to stay with him and make sure he doesn't try to escape. Vin, see if Mr. Chang will bring up a couple of buckets of hot water then go to Ezra's room and get him clean clothes --loose fitting."
"I must object, Mister..." At Chris' glare Ezra stopped speaking. "Fine," he grunted, settling back down into one of the clinic's cots. Nathan gently slid a small pillow under Ezra's side and the gambler's body seemed to relax a little more.
Vin squatted down to be eye level with the gambler and paused before starting his assigned task. "Ez," he spoke quietly, "what am I looking for?"
Ezra opened his eyes to look at the tracker. "In the bureau next to the coatrack, second drawer down, you'll see what I wore out to your old crone's house a few days back."
Vin chuckled quietly. "I'd like to see you say that again in her presence."
Ezra merely smiled and closed his eyes, letting the tea do its job.
"Thank you, Mister Tanner," Ezra acknowledged softly, not opening his eyes.
Vin noticed Chris had moved one of the chairs to the corner of the room so he could watch both Ezra and the door. Obviously their leader had learned that Ezra, even hurting, would try to escape; not that he was much better. He did hate being cooped up.
"Evening patrol?" Chris asked, not moving from his spot.
Vin opened the door to leave just as Mr. Chang had raised his hand to knock. He held the door open for the man and his son who quickly brought in the buckets of water, nodded to the two other men in the room and left before anyone could say anything not that it stopped him from hearing Chris and Ezra's exchange. The words only made him Vin smile.
"I shall have to tip them extra when I am allowed out of this prison."
"You'll be out some time tomorrow as long as you don't piss off Nathan," Chris said. "You gonna need help with your bath or can I go out and smoke for a moment? Better question, can I trust ya not to escape out the window?" Chris asked.
"I will endeavour to stay in this room for at least the next half day."
Vin figured that the quiet that followed was Chris glaring at Ezra and then probably a finger point or shrug. Vin knew Ezra's promise was probably the best Chris was going to get out of the Southerner.
The last thing Vin saw and heard before walking around the corner was "Yell if ya need anything" and then Chris standing out of the balcony, pulling out a cheroot, the door to the clinic open.
He was back in his normal attire and sitting in the saloon, with an unobstructed view of the main fairway when the Judge arrived on the afternoon stage. After giving his grandson a quick hug and dropping his bag off with his daughter-in-law he would make his way over to the jail.
Ezra thought about getting up, shifted in his chair and felt the stitches pull and decided against that action. After all he knew what would happen next.
There was one prisoner waiting for his court date and the satchel from Little River which contained important land documents for the next county over. There would be some type of brief conversation with Chris, with JD observing in his role as Sheriff, where the Judge would also give Chris the monthly wages for the seven peacekeepers before promptly returning to Mary's for dinner.
Vin had joined him at the table sometime after the Judge's arrival, and as expected read the book he had borrowed, only pausing to point to a word if he didn't know it, which had become far less often over the last few months. Buck wandered in on cue, followed by Nathan. If they were keeping to schedule, Chris would head for the saloon from the jail next with JD following.
Ezra looked down at his pocket watch and snapped it shut as Chris and then JD entered the building and headed his way, right on schedule. This would be the first time in a week that all seven were back in town --Josiah arriving back from the reservation minutes before the Judge's stage.
Inez was already setting plates in front of the men that were at their regular table. She quickly returned with two more plates, an empty glass and a glass of milk already sitting at the table. The next two hours passed in friendly banter and food.
When Ezra and Chris were the last two at the table, Chris downed the remaining amber liquid in his glass before standing. He paused briefly and turned back to Ezra. "Want to thank you again for what you did, but next time just shoot the other guy or I'm gonna have to shoot ya myself."
Ezra raised his glass to the other man. "Whatever you say, Mister Larabee. Whatever you say."
~ end ~