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Under Fire

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Chris’s fingers danced over the bullet loops on his gun belt, but came up empty.  “Damnit!” he growled.  Out of bullets, trying to hide behind the water trough, and a bunch of yahoos in the damned jail keeping him pinned.

This was not good.

It could be worse, he thought, peering around the end of the trough.  When a bullet from across the street slammed into the trough just above his head, he drew back in a hurry.  Though I’m not sure how…

He didn’t know where any of the others were, other than probably in town, though he was hoping like hell Vin could get into position in the saloon behind him to pick off some of the yahoos in the jail.  But they had to have heard the shots by now; this standoff had been going on for a good ten minutes.  No wonder I'm out of ammunition.

What the hell do they want? Chris asked himself, scuffling around to peer around the other end of the trough.  And why barricade themselves in the jail? It was fairly easily defensible, but still… it wasn’t like they were going to get out any other way than the front door.

I suppose they could try makin’ a back door with dynamite… if they wanted to blow themselves to kingdom come, he thought wryly.  And I can’t very well stop them comin’ out the front without any fuckin’ bullets... which they’re gonna realize any damn minute now…

He heard the boardwalk behind him rattle under pounding feet, and amid the sudden whistle of shots from across the street, a body slid hard into him behind the trough.  The brilliant red coat told him who it was even before Ezra lifted his head, grinning at his own audacity.

Chris had started checking Ezra for injuries as soon as he’d stopped moving, cursing fervently under his breath – what if he’d been shot? – before he saw Ezra’s smirk.  Then he started swearing at Ezra instead.

“Now, Mister Larabee,” Ezra said, his drawl more pronounced than usual, “is that any way to talk to the man who brought you ammunition?” He held up a box of bullets, unopened.

“I oughta put one into you for scarin’ me half to death,” Chris muttered, but reached for the box regardless; they were still in the middle of a standoff and bullets were bullets.

Instead of releasing the box, Ezra pulled the gun from his shoulder holster and offered it to Chris.  “I’ll reload, you shoot.”  Chris just glared at him to express his doubt, and Ezra sighed.  “You’re arguably the better shot, and I’ve got the more… dexterous fingers.”

“Fine.” Chris snatched the gun from Ezra’s hand and started plugging at the jail again.  “You know where Vin or Buck is?” He ducked down at the renewed fire from the jail.

Ezra had already reloaded Chris’s Colt and held it out to him butt first.  “Mister Wilmington is, I believe, sneakin’ down behind the jail, while Mister Tanner…” He paused at the sound of a gunshot close by though Chris hadn’t taken the gun from his hand, then glanced up.  “I believe has reached his favored position,” he finished smoothly.

Chris followed his gaze, and saw the end of a rifle muzzle poking out one of the windows on the second story.  “About damned time,” he grumbled, then grabbed his gun from Ezra’s hand and added his fire to Vin’s.

Chris squeezed off his shots judiciously, was aware of Ezra on the other end of the trough doing the same in between reloading.  He paused a moment to reload his gun, then realized that the one he was reloading was actually Ezra’s and passed it back to him.

It felt like forever passed before the gunfire from the jail stopped, but Chris knew how time sped up and slowed down during a gun fight, so it couldn’t really have been more than a few minutes, half an hour at the outside.  He motioned for Ezra to cover him in the suddenly deafening silence.  Ezra scowled at him but cocked his pistol.  Chris eased out from behind the water trough, and when no bullets came singing his way, he dashed across the street to the jail door.

The groans and cries from inside were audible now that he’d gotten closer, and he eased the door open to find three men laying on the floor clutching various body parts, and Buck and Nathan visible through the back window bars.  Buck grinned when he saw Chris.  “Hey there, stud,” he called.  “Not sure what these fellas were up to, but it doesn’t seem to have gone to plan.”

Chris snorted.  “No, it doesn’t.”

“Don’t look like you boys are hurt bad,” Nathan said.  “I’ll be right there to check ‘em over, Chris, just keep an eye on ‘em.” He disappeared from view, rapid footsteps crunching on the dry dirt.

Keeping his gun trained on one of the wounded men every moment, Chris moved forward and kicked their guns out of reach.

Buck was still watching from the back window, though now his brow was furrowed.  “Chris? Your gun looks kinda funny.”

It felt kind of funny, too, familiar but not quite right in his hand.  Chris didn’t dare do more than flick his gaze from the prisoners to the gun in his hand, but when he did, he discovered why; it wasn’t his gun, it was one of Ezra’s.

Just then Nathan hurried through the jail door, followed by Ezra, and Chris nodded to Ezra to stand watch over two of the wounded men while Nathan examined the third.

“Hey, I’m bleedin’ an awful lot over here,” one of the two men claimed, and then the three yahoos were all talking over each other, all trying to get Nathan to take care of them first.

“Aw, quit yer bitchin’,” Buck told them, now standing behind Chris.  “You ain’t bleedin’ enough to say so.”

As soon as Nathan was done treating the first man, Buck hauled him into one of the cells.  By then, Vin had ambled over from the saloon to lean against the wall near the door.  With both Vin and Buck there, Chris eased off the hammer of his – rather, Ezra’s – gun and tucked it in his holster.  Ezra caught his movement and turned to look at him; Chris’ gun rode in his holster.  Chris tilted his head toward the door in a clear invitation for Ezra to join him.

Ezra nodded and started to holster his gun, then seemed surprised to find Chris’s gun already at his hip.

When Ezra joined him on the boardwalk, Chris said, “I’m still out of bullets.  You got that box?”

“I’m afraid I left it behind the trough,” Ezra replied. 

Before he could say another word, Chris strode back across the street to the bullet-riddled trough.  Ezra followed after him.  “Chris, you have my gun.”

Chris made a show of checking his holster.  “So I do.  Seems only fair, though, since you’ve got mine.”  He flicked his gaze toward Ezra’s holster.

Ezra pulled Chris’s pistol, then shuffled the guns in his hands almost as if they were cards, before putting his own gun in his hip holster.  He then held Chris’s weapon out to him, butt first.

But Chris didn’t take it from him.  Instead, he unholstered Ezra’s gun and stepped close to him, reaching under Ezra’s coat with his free hand.  Ezra went very still as Chris tugged his tailcoat out of the way.  Carefully steadying the shoulder holster, Chris slid the gun home, then gave it a little tug to make sure it would clear the leather easily.  He drew back his hands, not taking his own gun from Ezra.

Ezra licked his lips, his eyes darting from Chris’s face to the gun still in his hand.  “Chris?” he asked, voice low.

Chris canted his hip where his holster rode toward Ezra, grinning wickedly.  “Go on,” he urged when Ezra hesitated.  Ezra swallowed, then twirled the gun around his fingers and tucked it carefully into Chris’s holster.

“That wasn’t so hard, was it?” Chris asked quietly, still grinning.

Ezra scowled back at him, then stalked into the saloon.

“You let me know what I owe you for the bullets!” Chris called after him, then bent to grab the box of bullets from the dirt behind the water trough.  I’ll probably pay for that later, he thought, slipping bullets into the loops of his gun belt.  Serves him right for makin’ me think he was hurt.

Just as he finished, Buck came up beside him.  “Didn’t you do that yesterday?” he asked, gesturing toward the bullets now glittering in each loop.

“Nope,” Chris replied, closing the box on the bullets that remained.  “Must have been someone else.”

Buck eyed Chris, the box in his hand, his gun belt, then shook his head and pushed through the swinging doors.

Chris settled into a chair on the boardwalk, still grinning.

***
October 21, 2018