The Biggest Gamble Part 6
Back to: The Biggest Gamble: Interlude
Ezra looked across the saloon from his table on the raised platform and saw his lover, Vin Tanner, drinking and laughing with Chris Larabee. He paused in his dealing and tilted his head; his lover was beautiful there were no other words to describe him. He was tall, almost lanky in form, but his body was made up of pure compacted muscle, of that Ezra had intimate knowledge. He moved with the grace of a mountain cat and had the energy to match. His hair was long, and silky if one was to run their fingers through it, and this only caused to emphasise his strikingly handsome face and vivid eyes.
Standish had to admit that he was totally besotted by the man, and loved him more than he could ever hope to understand or put into words. They had had their share of troubles in building their relationship, and would no doubt have more in the future, but the last couple of months had been everything that Ezra could have hoped or wished for.
"Are you going to deal those cards or what?" a rough, uncultured voice barked from his right. He tossed the man in question a casual look; the scruffy cowboy looked and smelled as if he had been on the range for quite a while.
"So eager to lose your money, sir?" Ezra questioned as he smiled back, then he finished the deal and, after another quick glance at Vin, he continued with his game.
Early the next morning Ezra stepped away from the table. While he had won some money he had also lost, and in the end it had been an even game and the other players had no cause for complaint. It had been a most enjoyable night.
He had watched Larabee and Tanner leave the saloon earlier and knew that they were over at the jail. Some of the cowboys, who had come into town the night before, had been livelier than necessary, and a couple of them had ended up in the cells for the night. Standish suppressed a slight smile as he knew Larabee would be reading them the riot act even as he stepped through the swinging doors of the saloon.
Ezra stood for several minutes soaking up the rising sun and enjoying the feeling of belonging he now got from the small town. It was a grand place to live when it was quiet and you were in love. He looked forward to swinging by the jail and gathering up Vin, and any of the others who were inclined to join him in a hearty breakfast. He then planned on talking his lover into retiring with him for a short loving interlude before sleeping the rest of the morning away. Both men had been up for the night, Ezra contentedly playing cards and Vin because it was his turn to cover the night shift of watches about the town and jail.
"Hey, Ezra..." a familiar voice called to him from across the way, and looking over he saw Vin and Chris strolling towards him. He held up his hand in acknowledgement and turned towards them. Just as he was about to step down from the boardwalk onto the street, another voice attracted his attention and he turned to see JD and Buck walking towards him. They must have just returned from the early morning patrol that Chris insisted they keep when a cattle herd was near the town.
He waved towards them just as he stepped down. The next thing he knew he was sprawled on the dust of the street. Burning with intense embarrassment, he jumped up and, with a startled yelp of pain and surprise, he slumped down again, shocked at the agony that radiated from his right ankle and left knee.
Vin reached him first in the cloud of dust as he threw himself to his knees, his demanding tone laced with concern. "Ezra... are you alright?"
"I appear to have fallen off the boardwalk." Ezra stated calmly, looking back at the offending six-inch step. "How clumsy," he continued, before he again attempted to rise. This was aborted as he swallowed down a yelp of pain, but he was unable to prevent the gasp that slipped out. His right boot was starting to cause him considerable pain. He looked up and saw that Chris, Buck and JD had joined the group, along with a several townspeople. "Oh Lord..." he gasped when he realised that he was now the centre of attention. "Vin... Please..." He held out his hand. "Help me up... I cannot just sit here..."
"No wait..." Larabee suddenly interrupted, also kneeling by the gambler and holding out his hand to prevent the injured man from rising. "I think we should get Nathan to have a look at your leg first..." before Standish could prevent him Chris had ordered the youngest member off on the errand. "JD go and get Nathan... this looks nasty." The boy shot Ezra a very worried look before he departed down the street calling for the healer at the top of his voice.
Standish heard him go with a wince; soon the whole town would know that Ezra Standish had tripped off the boardwalk. Ezra wondered if Mary would publish the fact in her newspaper. He could see the drawing that would accompany it and winced again. Pushing that unflattering image aside, Ezra spoke up saying, "Mr Larabee I can assure you that it is only a slight twist..." As if to prove his point, Ezra struggle determinedly against their wished to his feet. He attempted to stand upright, endeavouring to brush his clothes down at the same time as he brushed the concerned hands aside, then resolutely putting his weight on his right leg, he gasped again would have fallen again if Vin and Buck had not caught him.
"Good Lord." He commented in some surprise just before he passed out.
Vin was horrified when Ezra passed out in his arms, and waited for Nathan's arrival with barely suppressed panic. They had lowered Standish back to the hard ground, and Tanner had taken the unconscious gambler's head up to rest on his knees, where he gently wiped back the stray locks of hair that the gentle breeze disturbed. The healer arrived running, closely followed by JD, and by Josiah, who had been breakfasting with Nathan.
"What happen?" Jackson questioned as he knelt beside Ezra. Using a knife he started to cut at the right trouser leg that Chris pointed out as the source of the injury.
"Ezra.... He..." Larabee explained wincing at he saw the knife cut the expensive material. He knew that he would be held responsible by the gambler for the ruination of his clothes, as he had been the one to point out the injury to Nathan, "He kinda fell off the step..." he motioned back towards the boardwalk.
"Has he been unconscious since it happened?" Nathan asked, gently bending and straightening the other's right limb after he had carefully felt down it. Finding no break on the leg he did the same with the other limb and winced when he came across the left knee. He could tell even without removing the trouser leg that it had swollen dramatically.
"No..." Vin said licking his lips nervously, "He was alright, was talking, but when he tried to stand... he... he just passed out."
Nathan looked over towards Tanner and nodded before he straighten up and said firmly, "I can't do anything here... we need to get him to my place and get those boots off."
Many willing hands reached forward to assist but Jackson waved them off saying, "no... we can manage..."
He pointed towards Josiah, who reached forward and as carefully as if picking up a precious object, lifted the unconscious gambler, and with Nathan supporting both legs, they made their way cautiously to the small clinic. The other four members of the team following closely.
Tanner had stood by the bed as the trousers were fully and carefully cut away. He was unable to prevent a wince when he saw the full extent of the badly swollen left knee, but that was nothing compared to the bile that rose from his stomach when the boots were removed to reveal the misshapen right ankle. It looked like a small cannon ball had been placed under Ezra skin, just above the outside of his ankle.
That was when Jackson had tossed Tanner and the other four men from the room.
Vin Tanner waited impatiently outside Nathan's small room that he used, when necessary, as his clinic. He had been tossed out after he had got in the way of the healer one too many times with his persistent hovering about the bed, and his demanding questions which distracted Jackson from his patient. Tanner had taken his removal hard and now paced back and forth on the small balcony, and it was only Chris Larabee's firm presence that prevented him from barging back into the small room.
"What the hells is taking him so long?" Vin demanded, moving right up into Chris's personal space, but the gunslinger was guarding the door and the bounty hunter was not going to get by him.
"Nathan's doing what he's gotta do." Chris said calmly. The sight of the ankle had shocked him as well, and he was fully aware of how it had affected his younger friend; he could see that just by looking in his terror filled eyes. "You know you can trust him, Vin..." he continued, trying to calm the other man.
Vin opened his mouth to reply, but it was cut short as the door suddenly opened and Nathan stepped out.
The healer smiled weakly at the five men waiting for him.
"I don't think he's broken the ankle... but it's so swollen at the moment it's hard to say... I'll need to give it a few days... just to be sure, but I've splinted it just in case..." he paused, but when he saw that no-one was going to comment he continued, "the left knee is definitely sprained... maybe twisted."
"Is he conscious?" Vin asked, moving forward and placing himself directly in front of Nathan.
Jackson tilted his head, knowing that the tracker's belligerent action was caused by worry, and he accepted this as he answered. "He did wake up, but I gave him some laudanum... he was in a lot of pain, but he's sleeping now... Should remain asleep at least until later on this evening..."
"Nathan, can I sit with him?" Tanner asked, his anger now drained and unable to hide his concern for his lover.
Jackson smiled warmly, and stepping aside, he gave his permission with a wave of his hand.
"Of course..." Just before Tanner disappeared into the room he offered, with a hand resting lightly on the tracker's shoulder, halting him. "Vin, he will be alright... but it will take some time and he will need to stay off those legs until they are healed."
Tanner nodded just the once, accepting the healer's words, before he disappeared into the room. He left the door open as he knew the others would soon follow.
"Exactly how much damage are we talking about here, Nathan?" Larabee asked, his own voice coloured with concern. Since Standish and Tanner had become lovers, both men had settled down and the repartee between the seven men had grown closer than any family that Chris had ever known.
Jackson rubbed his face. "It's really hard to say, Chris... I mean, the ankle could be broken... I just can't say at the moment... I really need to wait until the bruising and swelling has gone down. That could be quite a few days... in the mean time, I can only try to keep him in bed, as still as possible, and put a cold compress on both his knee and ankle to help take the swelling down."
"Damn." Buck suddenly burst out, taking his hat off and slapping his leg. "Who would have thought you could hurt yourself like that, just by missing a step."
Nathan agreed with a sorrowful nod before he stated, "and it's not going to be easy..."
"Why?" JD suddenly spoke up his eyes wide with alarm, "I thought you said it wasn't serious..."
The healer looked at the young man and sighed sadly before he explained to the eagerly listening group. "While it's not life threatening in itself, it's still a very nasty injury... and it's extremely painful, especially as it affects both legs, and in this heat... with Ezra's limited patience... I think we are just heading for trouble." This time he paused and met each man's look, the expression on his face clearly telling the others that he was deadly serious about what he was about to say as he continued. "If he tries to walk on those legs, he could do himself some permanent damage."
Larabee sighed heavily, trying to keep the energetic gambler still would be like boxing a raging stallion. The man demanded his freedom and individual right to do as he so wished, and he knew that Standish would not accept his bedridden status with ease. The gunslinger also realised that with Ezra out of action in this manner, it would take the continual presence of Tanner to keep him stationary and amenable to Nathan's demands, and that in turn meant that Vin would only be available to do light duties.
"Okay..." Larabee said firmly, "...who wants to take tomorrow's patrol."
As he expected there were no problems with the alteration of duties, as the other five men were fully understanding of the situation, but Chris had to wonder if they would still be so understanding after they had felt the tongue lashing that a hurting and bored Ezra Standish could hand out.
When Ezra next awoke he felt woozy but the pain was distant. He blinked, looking owlishly about the small room. He recognised immediately that he was in Nathan's room, but he could not understand why he was there as his last memory had been of the saloon.
He looked down the bed and was startled to see that the blankets had been raised to keep them off his lower legs. Fear ripped through him and he came off the bed with a gasp of terror. As he did so a burst of pain flared up from his ankle and knee, tearing across his consciousness with enough strength to cause his vision to dim, and he slumped back with a groan of agony.
Vin was by his bed instantly, and reaching out he gently supported Ezra saying reassuringly. "It's alright... it's alright.... You've just hurt your ankle and knee... that's all... Nathan thought the weight of the blankets on your legs might hurt you."
"What... what happened?" the injured man gasped, accepting the words his lover spoke and settling back slowly as the world began to settle down. He didn't argue with Tanner's words, as he trusted his lover implicitly.
Before Vin could answer, he noted that Ezra was licking his dry lips, so he accepted the drink that Nathan held ready and assisted Ezra to drink. Once the man was settled again the tracker began to explain. Nathan left the room for a few minutes, giving Vin and Ezra some time alone.
"You slipped of the boardwalk yesterday, and you've hurt your right ankle and left knee... Nathan says you'll be fine... but you need to stay off your feet for a couple of weeks while it mends."
"Weeks!" Ezra spluttered, his face bleaching even whiter. "But... but I only tripped." He gasped, looking down at his feet as if they had just become alien to him.
The bounty hunter had to smile in sympathy at the gambler's predicament, before he leant forward and placed a gentle kiss on the other man's forehead. Seeing the lustful light that entered Ezra's eyes he smiled again and placed another one on the tip of his nose, then he slipped down until he was nibbling on the lush lips that opened under his tentative probing. Without thought Tanner followed his seduction through and slipped onto the edge of the bed, his hands slipping into the wide collar of the night-shirt that Standish had on, seeking the flesh he knew was hidden underneath. As he moved onto the bed, his long legs accidentally caught the pillow supporting the blankets and this in turn caught Ezra's right leg. The gambler reared back and cried out in pain. This caused the bounty hunter to leap up, but from his prone position he only succeeded in slipping onto the floor with a loud bump. Both men looked at each other in shock and pain at the turn of events.
This was the sight that Nathan and Chris crashed in on, as they had heard the yelp of pain while waiting outside the clinic. Nathan moved over to comfort the gambler who was still reeling from the pain. Larabee, meanwhile, leant against the doorframe and smiled devilishly towards the tracker who was slowly picking himself up off the floor, rubbing his injured backside.
"Need any help there?" Chris joked with a wide smile. This earned him a deadly glare from the bounty hunter who answered snappishly.
"Not from you cowboy."
He was rewarded by a full belly laugh from Larabee who was well aware of, and agreed with the feelings that Tanner and Standish had for one and other, then he turned serious, his attention passing to Jackson, who was still trying to settle his distraught patient.
"Now let that be a lesson to you, Ezra..." Nathan stated firmly. "This injury is not to be messed with." As he spoke he held a cup to the other man's lips and the gambler gratefully sipped the concoction which he knew would soon drive the pain from his body.
"What are you giving him, Nathan?" Vin asked as he turned his attention back to his lover, seeing the healer settling Ezra carefully back on the pillow.
Jackson reached out and gently brushed a stray lock of hair back from the gambler's pale face as he felt for fever. He let out a sigh of relief when he found none. "Just a herbal drink... mixed with a weak dose of laudanum... it will help the pain and allow him to sleep."
As Nathan moved away Vin stepped up and once more took the seat by Ezra, smiling down at the man who looked up at him with sleepy eyes. Reaching out, Tanner rested his hand warmly on the stubbled cheek.
"Looks like we are going to have to behave for a short while."
The gambler agreed with a sigh that was heart felt, but Ezra was unable to hide his disappointment at his lover's words.
"Aw hell..." Ezra mumbled blinking owlishly at his lover, and was not even aware when sleep crept up on him.
Once Tanner was sure that Standish had slipped into slumber, he turned to Nathan. "Isn't there anything else we can do?"
The healer slowly shook his head and offered sadly, "we can only keep him off his feet and apply a cold compress, try to bring out the bruises... once they are out, the pain should ease... but if he walks on the ankle or knee, they will take longer to heal."
The tracker looked back at his lover and sighed, it was not going to be an easy few weeks, as Ezra took immobility badly at the best of times, and having it enforced on him would almost certainly drive him insane with boredom.
The next few days passed with Ezra slipping in and out of a drugged sleep, courtesy of Nathan. On the third day the healer decided that the weak solution of Laudanum was no longer needed except at night to help Ezra sleep, although he did still give the gambler the herbal painkiller. The gambler knew that Nathan only used his drugs sparingly as he was concerned about addiction, so Ezra accepted the lost of the laudanum stoically, for he too agreed with the fear of getting addicted.
He would lay in the bed with gritted teeth while he allowed Nathan and Vin to drape a water-cooled compress over his injured knee and ankle. The bruises that formed were severe, slowly creeping across the injured ankle like a sway of night across the desert plain. The right side of the injured foot was just a mass of dark purple which trailed up over his toes and swept down the other side, his whole foot looked like it had been beaten and crushed, and was at least twice it's normal size. What was more worrying was the way the bruising drifted up the outside of the injured leg. Jackson stated to his fiends, that all of Ezra weight must have fallen on the ankle, his knee being injured as he hit the hard ground, before being tossed back onto his right ankle.
Ezra gallantly accepted Nathan's explanation, although he did inform Vin later that he did not believe his weight to be as much as Jackson and the damage to his legs implied. The tracker wisely kept silence on that comment and just smiled as he replaced the cold cloth over the ankle. The compress did appear to be helping the gambler.
Night was the worse time for the injured man as any movement he made during his sleep would jar him awake with pain. He was unable to stop the groan of pain that issued from his lips and found that lying awake was easier than suffering the tormenting pain of waking in such a manner. The problem was the laudanum that Nathan still gave him at night would send him plummeting back into a restless sleep from which he would be jarred awake again. The consequence of this was that he would awake the next morning feeling no more rested then he had the night before.
Tanner remained by his lover's side for the first few days, but he finally departed to complete some of his duties about the town at Standish's insistence. The gambler knew how important it was for the tracker to maintain his independence as a member of the team, and neither man wanted the others to feel that if one was injured then they were losing two men. They had discussed this after Tanner had been shot, and it was agreed that if one was injured the other would try to maintain their duties to the best of their abilities.
When Tanner had been recovering from being shot during a bungled robbery attempt on the general store, he had watched Ezra depart every morning and evening to cover his stint at the jail. It was not until he had had to leave Standish now that he realised just how hard it had been for the gambler to leave him.
Standish meanwhile used the time that Tanner was away to argue with Nathan about returning to his own room. Part of his problem was that he did not feel that his injury was as serious as the healer made out. He had only tripped off the broad-walk, a short fall of about 6 inches, not at all life threatening. Jackson just looked at the gambler and refused to comment apart from saying that if Ezra could make his own way to the door, then he could leave. After one attempt, Standish had settled back in the bed with Nathan's assistance, and gratefully accepted the laudanum-laced drink that the healer offered. As he slipped into sleep he decided that he was going to attempt it again after a day or two.
When Vin entered the room to find Ezra sleeping soundly, he shot a concerned look towards Nathan who just shrugged and offered, "He insisted on trying to stand..."
"But I thought you said..." began the tracker angrily, but paused when the healer held up a hand and continued firmly.
"He never even made it out of bed, he caught his ankle on the blanket and I had to give him something for the pain... at least this way he'll stay quiet and in that bed for the next couple of days."
"Nathan, he's finding this..." The bounty hunter waved his hands towards the bed and the gambler's inability to move from it, "...pretty damn hard." His tone was slightly accusing as he glared at the other man, but the darker man just shrugged.
"Vin, I can't heal his legs any quicker, and I've explained a number of times what will happen if he does not stay off his feet... believe me this was the lesser of two evils..."
Tanner considered the words and, finally, he had to agree that just asking Standish to remain still was not likely to have any success. He did not like the thought that Ezra had been in such pain that he had willingly accepted the strong drug from Nathan in the middle of the day.
"Vin..." Nathan said, moving over to the other man and standing by his side looking down at the sleeping gambler. "The first week is the hardest... believe me, if he can keep to his bed for that period, then he should be able to move back to his own room after that, but even then he will still have to rest that ankle."
Tanner rubbed a hand over his tired face and finally agreed. "I know, Nathan. It's just so hard... seeing him in so much pain... and he's finding it harder because it's not like he was injured in the line of duty or anything... he sees this as a sign that he's weak or something..."
"Weak!" Nathan repeated in some surprise. "Anyone can fall like he did, and believe me, Vin, that..." he pointed towards the covered legs, "...is not something I would like to suffer. It was an accident, but it could have happened to anyone of us. Would he think Chris was weak if he tripped and hurt himself in the some manner?"
The tracker considered the other man's words carefully before he finally admitted, "he might, but I'm damn sure he'd never say it to his face." He smiled broadly as he finished, and even laughed as the man in question chose that precise moment to open the door.
"What?" Larabee asked, looking behind himself to see why the other two men were laughing.
"Nothing." Tanner offered, winking at Jackson.
"Well, seeing as it's nothing you can both wipe those smirks of your faces 'cause we have a major problem." His tone was now serious and his expression dark.
Both men fell silent at Larabee's words and the gunslinger, seeing that Standish was asleep, tilted his head to indicate that he wanted to talk to the men outside. Once the door closed behind the three of them, he turned about and explained swiftly.
"Words just came in that the bank at Eagle Bend was hit this morning, and they are asking us to form a posse and backtrack to meet them... they want to see if they can catch the gang between us..."
"How the hell do they know that they are going to head this way?"
"They don't." Chris confessed. "They've asked the sheriff of Pine Ridge to arrange a posse and cover that direction from town. A lot of people have lost money in that robbery, and they are desperate."
Nathan nodded, he knew that on some occasion a town bank being robbed would spell the end of the town and a lot of dreams for the farmers, ranchers and town's people who placed their money in it's care.
"I don't really want to leave Ezra at the moment." he said, looking back at the closed door. "If I do he'll be up on his feet before we rode out of town."
"I know." Chris agreed, before he turned to look intently at the bounty hunter. "I really need you on this one, Vin... once we meet up with the posse from Eagle Bend, we are going to need someone who can track the robbers."
Tanner managed to look perplexed, distressed and annoyed at the same time. He didn't want to leave his lover, and yet he knew how much the others would need his tracking skills if they ever hoped to catch up with the robbers. "I guess..." he reluctantly turned his attention towards Nathan and continued, "...but you better make damn sure he does as he's told."
Before the healer could answer Larabee interrupted saying, "JD will be remaining here with you, Nathan. Do you think you'll be able to manage?"
The healer thought for a moment. "How long do you think you'll be gone?"
"Two... maybe three days.... Just long enough to see if we can catch up with them."
"If we don't catch up with them before the second day then I don't think we'll ever find them." Tanner offered, his own mind now leaping ahead to the hunt.
"That makes sense... let's say three days at the most then." Chris agreed. "I've asked the others to meet us at the stable in twenty minutes... the sooner we head out, the faster we can get back."
"I'll be there." Tanner stated firmly, before he turned and went back into the room where his lover slept.
"How is Ezra?" Chris asked his expression showing his concern. Nathan knew that the gunslinger was worried about the gambler.
"He should be fine if he stays off his feet... but with Vin leaving..." he shrugged, then nodded towards the door. "This isn't going to make it easier... he'll worry about Vin and that will make him antsy."
Larabee nodded, he fully understood what Jackson was saying. "I know Nathan... but we have a job to do... and those people in Eagle Bend are depending on us to help them out... and we would expect no less from them in return."
"I know... I know." Nathan waved aside his words and said instead. "Just take care out there... if anything happens to Vin, I would not like to be in your shoes." He finished with a smile, but both men knew that there was a serious edge to the threat.
"I'll better get going..." Larabee stated. "Keep an eye on JD, I've spoken to Peterson, Marlow and Harley, they will be available to help if you need it." The three men he had mentioned were dependable townsmen who had willing placed their names forward as extra help when needed. "They have also agreed to take the night watch at the jail, if we're gone for longer than three days... use them... for the day shift as well if needed, don't get over tired."
Nathan reached out and placed a reassuring hand on the other man's shoulder, as he offered warmly, "Don't worry Chris... everything will be alright..."
Larabee took a steadying breath and smiled before he turned and left, he knew that everything had been said, and he no longer needed to worry. Jackson was a dependable man and JD was growing into a very reliable and sensible lawman. Chris's main concern about leaving at this time was Ezra. He had grown to trust the gambler far beyond what he had ever thought he would. The gunslinger knew that leaving him injured in town was going to weigh heavily on Vin, and also that the gambler would not rest easily while his lover was out chasing after bank robbers without him. Larabee did not envy Jackson his task over the next few days.
Tanner looked down at his sleeping lover and took a deep breath, he wished that Ezra was awake so that he could explain why he was leaving , andwhy he would not be there when he awoke from his drugged sleep. He knew that Nathan would explain about the robbery and the need to help the posse from Eagle Bend. Yet, he also knew that it would not ease Ezra's concern for him.
Moving carefully, he sat down on the edge of the bed. Reaching out he wiped a thick lock of hair from the forehead, before leaning forward to place a kiss on the brow. He moved down and rested his lips on the tip of the nose and then finally reached the lax lips. He allowed his lips to linger, savouring the tactile feel of the warm mouth under his. Finally he drew back, and breathed. Leaving at this time was going to be the hardest thing he had ever done, yet he knew that he had to.
A gentle knocking at the door drew him from his musing, and he straightened as Nathan slowly opened the door and stepped into the room.
"I'll take care of him for you." The healer said, knowing where the tracker's main concern lay.
Tanner smiled. "I know." Then after another sweep of his hand across the brow of the man he loved, he departed, never looking back.
Ezra knew the moment he opened his eyes that something was wrong but it took him several seconds to realise that Vin was not sitting beside his bed as he had been since the accident.
"Vin." He demanded hoarsely, starting up, but he slipped back with a hiss of pain.
Nathan was by his side at the first sign of movement, gently pushing the other man back saying, "easy there, Ezra, easy."
"Vin," he gasped, looking about for his lover, "where's Vin?"
The healer sat back and carefully stated, "The bank at Eagle Bend was robbed yesterday, and the sheriff asked that we form a posse to meet up with his men and track the robbers."
"Vin..." Ezra said, laying back and continuing, "...he went with Chris and the others?"
The gambler nodded then smiled before he added, "Good."
"Good." Nathan repeated with some surprise.
"You are surprised that I am not upset with Vin for leaving?" the gambler question with a slight smile.
Jackson had the grace to look slightly embarrassed before he stated, "No, well, yes... maybe a little."
Ezra smiled back, flashing his gold tooth before he spoke. "Several months ago, I might have reacted differently, but Vin." He paused and a smiled filtered across his face. "Vin has a very effective way of assuring me that he will be returning, and how can I proclaim to love him, if I am not prepared to trust him."
Nathan smiled warmly at the other man and offered, "that sure is nice to hear."
Ezra settled back, before he asked, "how long will they be gone?"
"Chris reckoned three days at the most."
"Can I take it that you are still insisting that I remain in bed for the next couple of days?"
Nathan smiled at the gambler who was being a lot more co-operative then he expected, considering the circumstances as he replied, "that's right, now lets see about getting some cold cloths on those legs."
Standish raised an eyebrow and sighed deeply in resignation before he answered dryly, "Ah... the cold cloths how could I have forgotten."
The next two days passed quietly, with Ezra portraying the model patient. The healer knew that he was just being so obliging because he knew that there was only the two of them, Nathan and JD, to look after the town and he didn't want to add to their worry.
"They should be back tomorrow." Nathan said, removing the last of the cold cloths and examining the ankle. It was still swollen and now the bruising covered most of the foot, and three of the toes look plump and enlarged, pushing each other out to give the foot a spread look.
"I can't believe that after all the fights and shootout I've been in that I actually injure myself by falling down six inches." Ezra was grousing.
"It can happen." Nathan said, carefully running his finger along one of the toes. He winced when Ezra pulled the leg back and then gasped in pain. "Sorry." He said. "I think you may have broken those toes, Ez..."
"Really." Came the cold, bitter reply from the man still grimacing in pain. "I am constantly amazed by your powers of observation, Mr Jackson.... Now leave the damn foot alone." He was almost panting with the pain and the healer took pity on him by saying.
"I'm sorry Ezra, I should have told you what I was doing... I didn't mean to hurt you."
The gambler had slumped back and now was looking slightly shamed face as he offered his own apology. "No, I am the one who should say sorry... but you just caught me by surprise."
Nathan looked at the pale man on the bed and said, "Ezra this is going to take quite few weeks to heal, and it is very painful, but I really can't do anything for it, except ensure that you remain off it. I'll get you something for the pain."
He had just assisted Ezra in drinking the pain killer when the door burst open and Marlow rushed into the room, his face was pale. He blurted out.
"The bank. They are robbing the bank."
The two men looked totally shocked, as no sound of gunfire had attracted their attention. Marlow explained this in his next few words. "Mrs Travis saw them enter, she got JD and he's down there waiting for them to come out."
These words spurred the other two men into action. Nathan reached for his gun at the same time as he pushed Ezra roughly back on the bed snapping, "No... you stay here..." Then he was out the door and following Marlow, demanding, "are the others aware?" he was referring to Peterson and Harley.
"Yes, Mrs Travis has gone to get them..." then their voices faded as the clattered down the steps.
Ezra was lying back on the bed in a state of shock. The painkiller was kicking in and he felt himself starting to float, but he fought against it. If the robbers were the same ones who had attacked Eagle Bend then they were ruthless, and there was only Nathan, JD and a couple of townspeople to stop them.
With an effort he swung his legs over the side of the bed and winced at the pain that flashed up his body, but he pushed it aside, he didn't have time for this now. As if on cue he heard the first barrage of gunfire and knew that the robbers had discovered that they were caught and were attempting to escape.
"Damn... Damn." Ezra panted under his breath as he forced himself upwards and started to hop towards the door, snatching up his gun on the way. He painfully leant against the wall and checked the bullets, he was glad that Vin had brought the gun to the clinic to clean while he sat talking with Ezra. He made it to the door, and then stumbled out onto the balcony. Silence filled the air but the gambler knew that it was only a lull in the fighting while each side gauged what their chances were.
He stumbled down the steps and nearly fell the last few, he lay panting on the ground, gasping at the amount of pain he was feeling, he could not believe that a sprained ankle would hurt so much. Using the banister he struggled back to his feet surprised that he still held the gun in his hand.
Then using the wall for support he hopped and staggered towards the sound of gun fire, which suddenly burst into life again. He could see the fight progressing up ahead of him; the side alley of the bank trapped the robbers. They were unable to return to the safety and hostages of the bank, the townspeople's covering fire ensured that, nor could they reach their horses, and the other end of the alleyway where they trapped was also covered by townspeople with guns. Standish knew that this fact made the men extremely dangerous, as they now had nothing to lose, they would have to make a run for it, if they wanted to escape.
Suddenly the gunshots from the alleyway increased and Marlow howled as he was flung out of cover by a bullet hitting him. Seeing this, JD moved from his place of safety to help the other man, leaving him exposed and a robber took advantage of this, and JD was caught and tossed back, landing hard on the ground behind him. He lay still.
Then all hell let loose as the robbers attempted to make a run for it. Without thought for his own safety Ezra raised and fired his gun, seeing that one of the killer's was drawing down on Nathan who had his attention torn from the firefight to the still body of his young friend.
Two of the bank robbers fell to the ground mortally wounded, another two made it to the safety of the next building, but by now the townspeople were better organised and were returning fire to protect their town.
Suddenly the sound of horses rushing down the street attracted everyone's attention, and men were then frantically scrambling for safety. One of the robbers must have reached the stable and released the horses as a distraction. Ezra threw a look towards Nathan and JD and saw, with utter fear, that the healer was attempting to lift the boy and move him to safety, but he was not going to do it in time. Unthinkingly Standish threw himself in front of the stampeding animals, firing the last of the bullets from his gun as he attempted to shy the horses away from his friends.
Standish heard Nathan call out his name, but he was unable to respond as a racing horse caught him by the shoulder and threw him aloft, he felt his body lift up and then, as he hit the ground hard, his world blinked out.
Nathan could not believe his eyes as he looked up from tending JD. He was trying to get the boy out of the line of fire, when he heard the stampeding horses and looking up he almost drop the unconscious lad in shock. Then he saw Ezra stumbling, hobbling across the street towards them, firing his gun in the air to divert the horses.
The healer swallowed hard and without thought yanked the lad up over his shoulder and threw himself behind the safety of a water trough. As he did so he saw a horse catch Ezra high in the body and toss him out of view. Nathan yelled his name as he saw his friend disappear and felt a catch in his chest as he wondered how anyone could have survived that. He also knew that Ezra's action had given him the few precious seconds he needed to save the lad and himself.
After the horses had fled, a strange quiet descended on the town, as people slowly crawled from their places of safety. Mrs Travis appeared by Nathan's side, her voice reflecting her shock at what had occurred as she asked, "how is he, Nathan?"
The healer was once more attempting to stop the loss of blood from JD's shoulder wound. "He should be fine. Bullet went right through." Jackson said before his voice failed him as he found that he was not able to tell her about Ezra. Suddenly Peterson came running up shouting.
"Nathan... quick... Mr Standish... he's..." he got no further as the healer grabbed Mary's hand and stated firmly, putting her hand over the handkerchief he was using to stop the blood flow.
"Keep the pressure on there." Then he was off, chasing after the other man.
Ezra had landed face first, up against the wall of a building, his back to the street. His arms were tossed about as if in sleepless abandonment. With great care, Nathan reached out and with trembling hands carefully rolled the broken gambler over, so that he could get a better look at his injuries. From the still expression on his face Ezra looked as if he was just resting
Standish was slack jaw with unconsciousness, yet Nathan could see a nasty, jagged cut with mottled bruising forming on his forehead, and the angle of his right arm gave indication that it was broken. Jackson was almost dizzy with relief to discover that the man was still breathing. With careful hands the healer felt his way down the rest of the body, straightening out the limbs as he work.
"Oh Ezra," he breathed as he came across the injured leg, it was no longer just a sprained ankle, now it was clearly broken, with a sliver of bone sticking out of the torn trousers leg, just above the ankle. The healer closed his eyes as he took in the bloody and torn skin. "How many were hurt?" Nathan suddenly asked, needing to know what he was up again. Glancing over he saw that Mary was still tending to JD.
"Marlow dead, so are five of the robbers... JD and Ezra here, Mr Palmer got some splinters when a bullet hit close, but I think that's all." Harley said, his face creased with worry.
"We need..." before Nathan could get any further, his attention was drawn by the clatter of several horses as they rode into town. He sat back when he realised that it was Chris and the others. They took in the torn sight of the town, the bodies, and swiftly dismounted, with Buck and Josiah rushing over towards JD, and Chris and Vin making their way at a run towards Nathan and Ezra.
"What happened?" Chris demanded, as he watched Vin fall to his knees beside his lover, his face etched with torment at he took in the blood and the injuries.
"The bank was robbed, we manage to stop them, but..." Nathan let his words hang, at what cost? Could clearly be heard.
"My G-d, Nathan." Vin breathed, reaching out a shaky hand to feather across the face of his lover. "My g-d." he repeated, this time his tone was laced with horror and fear.
"Vin." Nathan began, but then seeing that he was not getting though he reached over and snatched Tanner's hand away as he snarled, "we need to get him back to the clinic... and I need to see to JD."
"How bad?" Chris demanded, and the healer knew what he was asking.
"JD should be alright, the bullet went right through." Nathan paused looking down at the man under his hands. "I don't know... Ezra could have internal damage... I'm sorry, but I don't know... he got caught by one of the stampeding horses."
"Yeah, we saw them running out of town." Chris commented his attention still firmly fixed on the gambler.
"How could this happen... how could you let this happen." Tanner suddenly demanded his shock turning to raw anger.
"Vin." Chris snapped. "Not now." His voice was sharp enough to drag the tracker's attention back to him, and it seemed to settle him, as he leant back on his heels and closed his eyes against the impression of Ezra's injuries, he slowly took a deep breath and nodded.
There were many willing hands, and after Nathan had secured Ezra broken bones they were able to transport him up to the clinic with little trouble. JD was placed in another bed that was brought in for him. He was conscious and brushing aside the hovering Buck as he looked with concern over towards the gambler.
Looking about the crowded room Nathan said, "Mary, Josiah would you remain, the rest." His eyes caught Vin's as he apologised, "I'm sorry, but I need the room to work."
Larabee gently took Tanner's arm and with Buck on the other side he carefully steered him out of the room. The tracker slowly sank down onto the seat that had been placed outside the clinic several weeks before. He leant forward and rested his head in his hands and remained that way for the next several hours while Nathan worked on JD and on the man he loved.
The next few days passed in a haze of worry for the tracker. Once he was allowed back into the sick room he had sat beside his lover, holding his uninjured hand. Ezra did not regain consciousness that day, nor the next and the bounty hunter was starting to lose himself in his worry.
Nathan had discovered from Chris, that the posse from Eagle Bend had met the four men from Four Corners the day before and that Tanner had indeed tracked the bank robbers, right back into Four Corners. They had been riding hard to reach the town when they had heard the sound of gunfire. They had managed to capture the two bank robbers who had fled using the stampede as cover, and after a night in the jail the sheriff of Eagle Bend had taken them back to his town to stand trial. The money had been recovered and for them, at least, it was a good ending.
JD recovered quickly, his youth once more assisting his healing ability and he now lay in the bed next to Ezra looking over towards Vin who was gently rubbing the still hand under his grasp. The gambler's broken arm had been tightly bound, and his leg was also splintered and raised up high on pillows, it did not look like a comfortable position, but Ezra was totally unaware of this as he slept on.
The fever set in late the next day and all six men watched helplessly as it took a firm hold of the gambler's body, causing him to shake and shiver as he fought the soaring temperature that coursed through him. He would mumble and cry out as he fought the nightmares that his fever brought on, and he frequently cried out for Vin as if he was unable to find the man. At these times the bounty hunter would wipe the sweat from his lover's forehead and, leaning closer, kiss Ezra's face and lips as he tried to calm the other man.
The fever was not breaking, and it was this worrying fact that caused Nathan to bring in one of the large bath tubs, fill it with cold water and, after carefully ensuring that the splints were tight, he, Chris, Josiah and Vin lowered the shivering man into the cold depths. They did this several times over the next few hours, until finally, thankfully, the fever broke.
Ezra hurt, every breath he took caused his entire body to wince in reaction and every wince he made caused his body to hurt. He felt drained, totally exhausted and yet he knew that he had been asleep for a while. He was not sure how he knew this, he just knew he did.
"Ezra.... Babe, come on... come on back to me." A voice spoke in his darkness and he knew that it was important that he listen to it, at this time he felt a warm pressure on his hand, someone was holding his hand. Slowly he struggled to open his eyes. The world fluttered in and out of focus, and his sight finally came to rest on the man sitting beside him.
Standish was shocked at how tired and haggard his lover's face was. The eyes were red rimmed, and he looked to be supporting at least a three day growth of beard. Even his cheeks looked sunken as if he had not eaten for several days, and he was sitting holding Ezra's hands, mumbling the words that had awoken the gambler. So far gone was Tanner that he had not even realised that Standish was awake.
"V... Vin..." Ezra attempted to talk, but his throat was too dry and he ended up choking as he attempted to cough, trying to curl about himself at the pain this caused.
The bounty hunter awoke from his daze with a shock and felt a rush of relief that quickly turned to fear when he saw that Ezra was awake, but in pain. Nathan was suddenly there, gently holding the injured man's head as he offered a sip from a cup.
"Careful, Ezra, careful... just take a sip... that's right." The healer encouraged as the other man followed his orders. With a gentle hand Nathan allowed the other man to rest his head back on the pillow and took a step back saying, "how do you feel?"
Ezra thought about the question before he answered, and slowly he offered, "like I'd lost... a run in with a... herd of cows."
The healer smiled, but it was fractured with memory as he offered, "that's not that far from the truth, Ezra."
"My arm... leg?" the gambler asked, as he became aware of the intense pain and the bulky bandages wrapped firmly about his limbs. He turned a fearful expression on the other man, who hastened to reassure him.
"You've broken your arm and leg... but you should be fine, you need to rest, but Ezra." He met the other man's worried look as he firmly continued, "you will be alright."
His words helped as the gambler relaxed back onto the bed, and turning his baleful look towards his lover he gasped, "and what about you?"
The tracker smiled and it lit up the room. As he leant forward and gently kissed the hand he still held he offered, "now... now you're awake... I'm fine."
"That bad?" Ezra breathed, his eyes starting to droop as exhaustion claimed him.
Vin seeing this shot Nathan a concerned look, but the healer just smiled slight and offered, "he's going to spend the next few days sleeping. It's the body way of coping, and it's for the best, he will only be in pain otherwise."
The hand that Tanner was holding suddenly squeezed his, attracting his attention, and leaning nearer Vin heard Ezra whisper just before sleep claimed him. "Get some rest... don't like... you... looking so..." Then he was asleep.
Nathan smiled down at the sleeping man before he said to the tracker. "I suggest that you do as he says, 'cause you really do need to get some food into you, and good night's rest."
"I can't..." Tanner began, but Jackson waved his words aside saying, "Ezra's going to sleep for the rest of the night, and I will be here." Seeing the hesitation he continued, "now that the fever's broken and he's been awake, he will start to heal quicker, but not if he wakes up and sees you looking like death, Vin... please, he doesn't need to lay there worrying about you."
The tracker had to admit the truth of the healer's words so, reluctantly, he released the hand he held and stood, swaying slightly before he caught himself. "I'll get some food and a bath, then I will be back." He stated firmly, and Nathan accepted that this was the best he was going to get from the other man, but as Vin left he asked.
"Vin could you let Chris and the others know that he's been awake."
"Sure." Then he was gone. As the door closed a tired voice from the other bed asked.
"He will be alright won't he, Nathan?"
The healer turned and smiled down at JD who was still recovering from his own wound. "Of course he will JD, you know Ezra, this time next week we're going to be having trouble keeping him in that bed."
The injured youth smiled at that. "I'll get Buck to sit on him... he always manages to keep me in this bed when I don't want to."
Jackson smiled again and stated, "No, I think that Buck will be too busy sitting on you next week, and I also suspect that Vin is more than capable of keeping Ezra in line."
"He was pretty worried, wasn't he?"
Nathan considered JD's words, before he answered, his voice laced with a seriousness that the lad rarely saw, "so was I, JD. So was I."
The next few days passed in a haze for Ezra. When he awoke it was to blink owlishly about, ask a question or two, accept the broth and drink that was given to him and then drift back off to sleep. This suited Nathan just fine, as he knew that the gambler was going to be in some serious pain when he did start to stay awake for longer periods of time.
There was a steady stream of visits from the other four men. They came to visit the two who were injured, and it was on the sixth day after the failed bank robbery that Nathan finally allowed JD to return to his own room. He left with strict instructions to rest; a hovering Buck assured him that JD would do exactly as he was told. The man in question just snorted but allowed Buck to lead him from the room.
"And when can I expect to be released from this place?" A weak voice demanded from the other bed. The other four men turned and smiled to see a shaky but bright eyed Ezra glaring at them.
"Not just yet." Nathan said, moving forward and checking the forehead for fever.
"How you feeling Ezra." Chris asked, a genuine smile on his lips, this was the first time that he had visited when the gambler had been awake.
"I have to be honest and say that I have felt better, Mr Larabee." Ezra confessed slowly.
"I'm sure that you have." The gunslinger smiled. "Once you're feeling better, me and you are going to have a little talk about doing what you're told."
Ezra looked slightly distressed as he remembered a similar conversation with the healer, and offered, by way of warding off the discussion, "I believe that Mr Jackson has already covered that subject with me." He shot the healer a quick glance before he added, "quite vocally I might add."
Larabee smiled, but it was edged with a serious side. "Yes, but if we both... talk to you, then it just might sink in this time... You're not expendable, Ezra."
The gambler looked slightly shell-shocked by the words and he opened his mouth to comment but nothing came out. He moved and winced with pain, but before he could speak again Tanner was there, gently resting a hand on his arm as he spoke.
"Chris, this can wait," he snapped before he asked Ezra "Do you want something for the pain?" His face creasing up with concern.
Standish looked at Tanner for several long seconds before he slowly shook his head., "No, I hate the way laudanum makes me feel." He knew that he was also going to have the same long talk with his lover, if the expression in Tanner's eyes was anything to go on, but he also knew that Vin would forgive him and understand why he had to do it. He wrapped that knowledge about himself like a warm blanket. "I'll just sleep now."
"Nathan says that sleeping is the best medicine you can get at the moment, and that's gotta be better than that weird concoction that he keeps trying to force down our throats every time we're ill." Josiah said, throwing a grin towards the man lying in the bed.
"I can heartily agreed with you on that, Ezra smiled over at the preacher before he added sadly, I fear it will be some time before I am capable of leaving this bed under my own steam." looking down at the bulk bandages and his raised leg.
"I'm afraid so, Ezra, this is slightly more serious then a sprained ankle." Nathan said his eyes expressing his concern for the other man.
Standish nodded, his face was starting to look drained, but he struggled to continue wanting to change the subject away from himself. "Did you have success in capturing your Eagle Bend robbers, Mr Larabee?"
Larabee smiled warmly before he offered, wanting to take the bite out of his last words. As it was only his raw concern and anger at Standish for risking himself so thoughtlessly that made his last words seem harsh. "Well you see, Ezra, they kinda slipped passed us and hit the bank here... The posse only managed to clean up the scraps that you guys left."
"But you caught them all?"
"Yes," Larabee turned serious and explained. " The sheriff of Eagle Bend took the ones that lived back for trial, and they got all their money back. There are a lot of grateful people back in Eagle Bend." Chris paused before he added. "Nathan told us about how you risked yourself to save him and the kid. Now while I don't like the idea of you risking your life like you did, I have to admit that you did good Ez."
The injured man nodded, accepting the words of thanks, but knowing that he would not have done anything differently, then closed his eyes, he could feel the weight of his wounds starting to bear down on him, and he only faintly heard Nathan directing the other men from the room. When he opened his eyes he saw that only Vin remained. The tracker smiled down at his lover and carefully, making sure that he didn't cause the other man further injury he leant down and gently pressed his lips on Ezra's mouth. The gambler was unable to prevent his lips from parting and welcoming the other man, with his own tongue.
"I have missed you." Vin said his lips a whisper away from his lover's.
"I'm sorry to have... caused you anxiety." Ezra mouthed back, looking deep into the eyes of the man who meant more to him than life itself.
Vin smiled into Ezra's eyes and, gently, he raised a hand and wiped a lock of hair back from his lover's forehead as he said, his voice husky with emotion. "I don't care how much anxiety you cause me Ezra, as long as you never, ever leave me."
Ezra reached up with his good hand and rested it against the other's cheek and replied, "Never."
Tanner let out a sigh of relief and bending again he sealed the words with another kiss, before he leant back and offered, "you know you're going to be stuck in the bed for quite a while."
Standish raised any eyebrow and smiled as he demanded, "and what are you going to do to keep me entertained and quiet?"
Vin smiled, his expression informing Ezra that he was considering the words, finally he offered, "Whatever it takes Ez... whatever you want."
The gambler licked his lips. "Well, you were making a pretty good start just now..." he never finished as Vin swooped in and claimed his lips again, this time he licked and played with the other man's mouth, until with a groan Ezra opened it for him. As they kissed both men knew that they had been lucky once more. Had fought against the odds and won, and that as long as they had each other, then the odds would always be on their side.
"I love you, Mr Tanner." The gambler said when his lips were released.
"Ahh hell, Ezra..." Vin said, as the gambler once again addressed him using his surname. Then he shrugged philosophically, and before returning to the kiss he offered warmly, "just so long as you put those three little words in front of my name, I don't give a damn what you call me."
"I know, Vin," came the husky reply of his lover.
|The Biggest Gamble Index||On to: The Biggest Gamble Part 7: The Shirt|
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