Don't Know From Adam
Ezra tried to remain awake, but he found himself floating in and out. He would waken to the sound of a drum beating and then he would doze when the pounding dissipated. He ached and he hurt, but at least he was warm. And it felt good to be warm. He nuzzled deeper into his bed and tried to return to the peacefulness of sleep. Ah, how he loved his bed.
The gambler was just about to nod off again when he felt something nudge his arm. Oh, why wont they leave me be? Im in no shape to take patrol today. The nudge happened again. When he tried to roll over he found he couldnt move. Then that annoying drum began again. Ezra was about to relate his disapproval when he heard a groan. Was that coming from him? No, he was sure he was awake. The groan sounded again in his ear, nearly drowning out the drumming sound. He soon gave in and decided that he was going to have to open his poor, tired eyes.
First one lid popped open, then the other. Everything was a blur initially, but it didnt take long for his entire situation to come into focus. Ezra had fallen asleep against Chris chest and the drumming noise was nothing other than his friends heartbeat. The rapid beat and the groaning were Chris unconscious response to another nightmare.
The Southerner tried to straighten without disturbing Chris, but the effort was useless since the smallest movement from Ezra set alarms off in Chris brain. He jumped when he felt the weight leave his chest, which in turn rocked Ezra back to the ground.
The cardsharp gasped when he felt his injured shoulder strike the rocky surface.
Larabee jumped to his feet, ready for action. He scanned the room and then reached down to haul the smaller man to his feet. Ezra protested, but Chris was unresponsive.
Before he knew what was happening, Standish was being dragged from the cave and half carried up the outcrop of rock that hung overhead. "Chris. Wh-where are we going? Why are we moving?" Ezra grunted.
"Cant stay here. There has to be a place we can get to. A place he cant get to us," Chris mumbled to himself.
"Who, Chris?" Ezra paled from the exertion of their upward climb.
"He blames me." The gunslinger stopped their progress for a moment. "He should I just dont wanna go back down there. I know I did wrong, but I cant stand it down there anymore." He looked around, taking in sights that had nothing to do with where he actually stood.
Ezra blanched even more when he saw Chris face clearly for the first time since the wardens drug had taken hold. The afternoon sun made the sweat on the lawmans face glisten. He was soaking wet with perspiration, but at the same time Ezra could feel tremors go through Chris that made him think the man was cold. When the gambler looked into his leaders eyes, he knew the man was in big trouble. His blue eyes were nearly black the pupils were so dilated. He had seen that wide-eyed, out-of-reach look before in the eyes of men who had partaken in a variety of popular drugs and it frightened him.
Chris began to fidget when they reached the summit of the outcrop. He began to nervously slap at his leg and then rub it. Ezra watched and then realized that Chris leg was hurting him again. He had limped the entire distance between the cave and the peak on which they now stood.
"Chris, sit down," Standish said just as his legs gave out and he himself slid to the ground.
Larabee hobbled anxiously back and forth across the width of the peak apparently ignoring his pain and Ezras. He put the back of his right hand to his forehead and pushed as if he were trying to break the hold of an invisible force. An intense internal struggle was taking place and it appeared as if Chris couldnt cope with the conflict that grew with every passing second.
Ezra wanted to get up and help Chris but it was useless. There was simply nothing left in reserve and even the effort of sitting up became too much he gave in and toppled over.
Chris reached for the silent man and pulled him into the shade of a large boulder and out of sight. Eventually, he sat down himself and looked at the desert that stretched out before him. He would keep them safe. He would keep watch; for what, only he knew.
+ + + + + + +
Phillips didnt say much as he led the five peacekeepers to their friends. He figured their energy would be better spent moving fast; it appeared the men with him agreed. They rode hard and in a short time they reached the cave he had designated as a safe haven.
Buck dismounted first and entered the cave. He found nothing. He came out of the darkness with a look of fear on his face. "They aint here!" he called to the others.
"No, but theyve been here," Vin said from where he was squatting, inspecting the ground. "Look. Fresh tracks from the horse, and here " He got up and moved a few feet to the left, "heres some blood."
"Those two are in no shape to have gone far," informed Phillips. "They have to be around here somewhere."
"Buck, over there. Thats gotta be their mount," JD said excitedly as he pointed to a horse nosing around a thin patch of tall grass about 50 feet away.
"Thats him," Phillips acknowledged.
"Okay, then they have gotta be close by. Spread out and look for signs of em," Vin instructed.
The six men separated and began to cover the area. Seeing the others go off in different directions on ground level, Buck thought he would climb the rocky hill over the cave and try to get a better view. He was about three quarters of the way up when he found what he was looking for. Only what he saw was not what he expected. Chris sat at the top of the rise, staring blankly into space. The blond man was naked from the waist up, and from where Buck stood he could see innumerable cuts, gouges, scrapes and bruises all over the mans torso. His feet were bare and the flesh was torn; his wrists were caked with rings of dried blood. He looked as if hed been stomped over and over again, but that wasnt what sent a shiver up Bucks spine; it was the empty, haunted look on Chris face.
He took a few more steps towards his friend, but Chris never moved.
"Chris? Chris, its me, Buck." The tall cowboy lowered himself to one knee a couple of feet away from Chris.
The sound of Bucks voice didnt appear to startle the distant man, but it did seem to provoke a small rocking motion. Chris crossed his arms around his stomach and very slowly began to move back and forth in a silent rhythm.
"Chris, buddy, can you hear me? Weve come to take ya home."
Still, Chris wouldnt look at him. Buck put both his knees to the ground and sidestepped until he was directly in front of the gunslinger. He looked into the face of his friend and drew in a sharp breath when he saw just how bad Chris looked. Beneath the dirt, blood and beard, he couldnt look closer to death than if he had been laid out for a funeral. His pallid face was thin and drawn, his lips were cracked and colorless, and his eyes were strange. Buck just couldnt get over how the blue irises of his eyes had been swallowed by the black pupils. The effect was a dark vacancy that scared him.
"Its okay now. Im gonna get you some help. Ill be right back."
It took a huge effort on Bucks part to leave his friend, but he had little choice. He couldnt help Chris on his own. He walked to the edge of the rise and called down to the first person he saw. "Vin! Vin!"
Tanner looked up from he had been searching.
"Vin, get Nathan! Ive found Chris! Somethins terrible wrong with him!"
Buck saw Vin nod and go after the healer. He looked back at Chris to see the man still swaying. Then he went halfway back down the hill to meet the others.
Wilmington held up his hand and cautioned the men that rushed to meet him. "Whoa, slow down. Theres somethin real odd about Chris. I dont want to go runnin up there and scare him."
"What do you mean odd, Buck?" Nathan asked.
"Come on, see for yourself. Just move real slow."
The group eased back up the hillside. Josiah, Vin, JD and Phillips hung back so Nathan and Buck had space to check out the expressionless man.
Nathan squatted in front of Chris. "My God, Buck, what did they do to him?"
Phillips hung his head.
Buck wiped at his brow. "I dont know, but he aint seein us, is he? I talked to him but he hasnt said a word, just keeps movin like that."
The healer waved a hand in front of the staring eyes. Nothing. He wanted to reach out and touch him, but there were very few spots on Chris body that werent marked or injured in some way. He finally decided that hed just have to take a chance. He reached out to examine the blond mans head, putting his hands on either side and slowly trying to run his hands through Chris matted hair and along his scalp. He felt several welts and small ridges covered in dried blood, and he noticed blood coming from his ears and nose.
"Damn," he muttered.
"What? What is it?" Buck asked worriedly.
"Hes been hit so many times in the head I cant count all the lumps."
"Is that why hes actin so strange?"
"Could be. Hes been beaten all over by the looks of him, and more than once. We need to get him back to town so I can look him over real good," Nathan advised grimly.
"What about Ezra?" JD called from where he had moved a little closer to the others.
"Hes gotta be close by. I cant see Chris leavin him no matter what condition hes in," replied Vin. "Lets get back to lookin."
The men began to resume their search when Buck noticed an odd shadow to his left. He left Chris and circled a huge rock to find Ezra huddled in a bloody, mangled heap.
"Vin, wait! Hes here!" Buck hollered.
Nathan looked up from where he sat with Chris. "Buck, can he be moved? Can you bring him here?"
Buck disappeared behind the boulder. His voice could be heard moments later. "Ive got him, Nate! Ill get him to ya!" The tall man came back around the rock with the battered body of Ezra cradled in his arms, a sad look pulling at his features.
"Hes bad, Nate. Hes real bad," Buck said as he laid the gambler down on the ground behind Chris. "Hes covered in blood and I cant wake him."
Vin, who had snagged Nathans bag of medical supplies from his horse, hurried to where Buck had placed Ezra. He handed the healer his bag and went to kneel beside the unconscious Southerner.
The sun, which was shining brightly behind Chris, cast odd shadows of movement as the cowboys huddled around Ezra. The activity sent long, swiping fingers of dark and light on the ground in front of the dazed man and he watched as they began to change and move more rapidly. Chris brain registered the change in his surroundings and it sent a red flag up that warned him to move. He began to search for the source of the moving shadows and looked behind him. What he saw sent him into a fit of panic and rage. Adam. The shadows were coming after Adam!
"Get away!!!" Larabee screamed. He shot up off the ground in an instant, brandishing the knife he had hidden.
Buck and Vin fell backwards away from Ezra. Nathan, JD, Josiah and Phillips scrambled away to avoid being cut.
"Whats he doing?" Buck cried to anyone who might know.
"Looks like hes protecting Ezra," Nathan guessed. "He probably hid him behind that rock and was meanin to sit out here to keep watch."
"Whys he comin at us then? And where the hell did he get a knife?"
"He dont know its us, Buck!" said Nathan.
Phillips answered Bucks second question. "I gave the knife to the other one when I sent them out here. He," he said as he pointed to Chris, "was out cold and tied to the horse. There had to be a way to cut him loose!"
"Well, hes out to cut a whole lot more," Buck said anxiously.
"Just give him some room," Nathan suggested.
Buck and the others stepped away from Ezra.
Chris moved to put himself between them and the man on the ground, waving the knife in his hand menacingly. "You cant have him. I wont let you take him," he warned, his eyes unfocused and blinking.
Vin studied his friend a moment and noticed that Chris was looking just over their heads. "Chris, were just tryin to help," he said to get the mans attention.
It didnt work. Chris still seemed to concentrate on something above their heads.
"Vin, we gotta get to Ezra. He could be bleedin to death," Nathan pleaded.
"It seems Chris has other plans. Just everybody settle down a minute. In fact, why dont yall just back off and move on down the hill. Buck, you stay with me, but get down close to the ground," Vin instructed.
No one knew what Vin was up to, but they did as he asked. Buck watched as Vin started stepping along a ridge that rose slowly until it met with the boulder. Chris seemed vaguely aware and followed the sharpshooters motion.
"Vin? Whatre you up to. Why am I down here?" Wilmington asked quietly.
"Youre down there so he wont see you. Like Nathan said, Buck, Chris aint seein us. Hes seein someone or something else. Look at his eyes, hes lookin up, not at me. Hes just barely catchin my movement." Slowly, Vin took another couple of steps until he was standing on higher ground than Chris.
"Vin, hes not liking what youre doin. Youre fixin to piss him off again," Buck stated.
"Un-hunh, and when I do, you be ready. Im goin to get him to follow me just a little bit more. He wont see you comin."
"You sure? I mean, a pissed-off Chris Larabee, holdin a knife; that aint good no matter what state hes in."
"You got a better idea?"
"Then shut up and get ready."
Vin saw Chris start to look for the second voice he heard and knew he was losing him. He had to divert his attention back to himself. "Chris? Hey, its just you and me. Stay with me here, okay. Just stay with me."
The tracker felt the tension build in his friend. Whatever tortures he had been subjected to in the past few weeks were about to culminate in the largest manmade explosion ever seen. Chris Larabee was about to reach the end of his rope and he prayed they would be able to catch him when he fell.
"Chris, come on. You can do this now. Stay with me." Vin just needed to turn him a few more inches.
In that instant, Ezra began to stir. He moaned in protest to his bodys agony, but never came to. That was the distraction Vin and Buck needed. Chris looked down to help the man who needed him and the two cowboys jumped him. Vin grabbed the arm with the knife and easily wrestled it away from Chris. Buck grabbed him from behind and wrapped his arms securely around his waist.
"Nooooo!" Chris yelled with a horrified scream. "Get off! Get off me!"
The man fought like a wildcat, but Buck and Vin were determined to hold on.
The men who watched from a distance ran back up the rise and tried to help. Nathan and Phillips fell to the ground around Ezra and started working on him. Josiah went to assist the poor men who held on to a hysterical Chris.
Their leader had unbelievable strength and conviction. He didnt want anyone to get near Ezra and he tried everything he could think of to free himself. He kicked, jerked, bit and spat, but nothing could break the hold the three men had on him.
Vin looked away from Chris for just an instant to see what was happening with the gambler. "Nate! He gonna be alright?"
"Dont know. Hes got hisself a gaping hole in his shoulder, hes lost a lot o blood and hes runnin a fever. Looks like hes got a few other wounds, but Ill leave em wrapped up until we get him back to town."
"How we gonna do that?"
"I sent JD to get a wagon. Shouldnt take him too long to get back."
Buck tried to pull Chris closer to him. "Nathan, I hate to point this out, but I dont know if I can hold onto Chris until JD makes it back." He grunted when Chris elbowed him.
"Buck, I cant give him no drugs with his head as banged up as it is. I dont know what itd do to him."
"Well, him buckin around like this aint gonna do his head no good either."
Nathan conceded his point, but didnt know how to resolve the problem.
"How about we let him sit with Ezra. You done all the doctorin youre gonna do?" Vin inquired.
"Then lets see how Chris reacts if we let him be near Ezra."
"I dont know, Vin. Ezras not in real good shape."
"Nate, Chris wont hurt Ezra. Hes been tryin to protect him. Let him try, okay? We wont let go of him, well just let him sit close," Vin countered.
The healer thought for a moment and then agreed.
As Buck, Vin and Josiah maneuvered Chris closer to where Ezra lay, Nathan noticed that Chris moved with a limp. He made a mental note to check it out when they got him back to Jericho. He hated the thought of taking these men back there after everything they had been through, but there was no place else to go. Home was just too far away.
When it reached Larabees brain that he was within arms length of the person he had to protect, he hurried his progress by letting go and falling to the ground. Vin and Buck each held an arm, but they tried not to hinder him too much. All he appeared to want was to put himself in between them and Ezra. They allowed it, but Nathan kept a close eye on Ezras breathing. Almost immediately, Chris temperament changed. He seemed concerned about nothing else in the world but the man he rested against.
"Howd you know, Vin?" Buck asked.
"Didnt, just made sense. Chrisd take care of any one of us if we were in trouble. Just cause he aint in his right mind, dont mean hed do any different now."
Buck smiled. "I just hope he stays this way til we get em outta here."
"Me too, Buck. Me too."
Ezra heard mumbled words discussing his placement into a wagon. He felt hands lifting him and then he felt what he assumed was the bed of the wagon underneath his back. He thought about protesting the indignity, but decided against the bravado and allowed himself to be assisted. After all, he did feel lousy and he doubted very seriously if he could manage to get on the thing by himself. In fact, he felt like death warmed over. His shoulder throbbed with every beat of his heart; his head felt like it had been kicked in; his hands screamed of torture; and even his skin hurt as he felt a fever burning just beneath the surface. Oh no, now was not the time to protest assistance.
Somewhere nearby, the weakened gambler heard voices. They seemed very intent on making themselves heard, but still they sounded dull and unintelligible. All he wanted to do was close his eyes and sleep for a month. That wouldnt be too much to ask, would it? Just some nice quiet No, that would be too much to ask for. The distant chattering seemed to turn into an outright disturbance. Almost too tired to care, he tried to let himself float away. Damn. It just wasnt to be. He couldnt just lie there and let the ruckus continue. Some part of Ezras brain seemed to feel an urgency come from somewhere within his subconscious. He had to help. He had to get his butt off the wagon and go to the aid of "Chris," he mumbled. "Chris, its all right. Im right here."
A cool hand came across his shoulder to rest against his forehead, then it pulled back and patted his arm. "Easy, Ezra. Just lie easy."
Was that Nathans voice? Oh, no. He felt a panic well up inside. Someones in trouble.
"Nathan?" he croaked.
"Yeah, Ezra, its me. Just lie still and rest. We found you and were goin to take you some place to fix you up."
"Nathan, where is Chris?"
"You hush now, Ezra, and try to go back to sleep."
"Where is Chris?"
The voices continued to grow louder and louder. There was definitely something amiss. Ezra struggled until he managed to raise himself into a sitting position against the inside of the wagon. The world tilted just enough to dazzle him with brightly flashing stars on the ground.
"Whoa now. Youd better listen to Nathan, Ezra," a young voice recommended.
The owner of the whirling mind looked up and tried to focus on the face that floated nearby. A hand clamped on his arm and he realized that JD was preventing him from falling off the back of the wagon. "I am quite all right, Mr. Dunne," Ezra slurred. He swayed once again. "However, if you could see your way to holding the wagon still, I would be much obliged."
He heard a giggle. Then he heard a shout.
"What is happening?" He asked no one in particular. No answer came forth so he scooted his backside slowly forward, pulling himself with his one good arm.
"Ezra, dont you be tryin to get off that wagon," Nathan commanded.
"Well, then perhaps you will tell me what is going on." Ezra tried to sound in control.
"Those feet of yours touch the ground, and Ill tie you down. Now be still," Nathan answered firmly.
Ezra closed his eyes and took in a deep breath. He released it slowly before he lost his temper. "Nathan, please answer my question. Where is Chris?"
The healer didnt answer right away. It wasnt until he saw the Southerner move to leave the wagon again that he responded. "Weve got Chris, Ezra."
"What do you mean youve got Chris? Where is he?" Ezra was really getting irritated.
The voices from earlier came again and this time they came to his ears much clearer. They belonged to Buck, Vin and Josiah. So, they were all together again -- that was a relief, but there was still something not quite right.
"Answer me, Nathan."
"Ezra?" Yet another voice called his name as if testing the sound of it. "Your name is Ezra."
A weary head turned in the direction of the unexpected addition to their little group. It was a bit long in coming, but it finally dawned on Ezra that he knew the man who now addressed him. "Mr. Phillips?"
"Yes, sir. Im sorry. I never heard your name before I met your friends." Phillips came forward.
Ezra looked at the man in disbelief. "You made it back. You found them."
Phillips only nodded.
The ex-prisoner raised the hand attached to his healthier arm and offered it to the dark man. "I am in your debt, sir."
Phillips looked at Nathan briefly then reached out to take the hand. Shaking it gently, he answered softly, "I dont hardly think so. I should have done somethin sooner to help. It shames me to think what I let you and your friend here suffer. What Ive let other men suffer "
"My friend? Hes here?"
At that instant, a blood-curdling scream sounded from just outside Ezras field of vision. He snapped his head around at the voice he heard and tried with all his might to focus past arms length.
"God, NO!! Get him off! Get him off that thing! He doesnt belong there!"
Ezras eyes opened wide and his chin came up. Suddenly, he realized where they had Chris and he reasoned that where he was sitting was the last place the delusional man needed to see him. He knew that Chris would very likely still be thinking of Adam.
"Chris? Chris!" Ezra reached deep for strength and forced himself to his feet. JD nor Nathan were ready for the fast dismount and nearly missed him as he rocked back against the wooden transport.
Nathan threw his hands around Ezras shoulders. "What the hell are you doing? You wanna start bleedin again?"
"I cannot be on that wagon. He cant see that," he mumbled as he pushed at Nathans hand.
"What?" Nathan didnt think he had heard correctly.
Standish felt another pair of hands offer support. He looked up to find Phillips aiding him as he fought to find his balance.
"Let me go!" Larabee cried. "Let me help him!"
"Chris, there aint nothin you need to be doin except comin with us." Buck could be heard saying. "Whats gotten into you, pard? Calm down."
About that time, Ezra saw three men come into view. Buck and Vin were trying to hold on to a struggling Chris Larabee. The man fought as he had before at the prison, only this time there were the two men holding on to his arms and shoulders. Every move they made forward, Chris would plant his feet on the ground and start backpeddling. Forward progression was slow but they did gradually move closer to the wagon.
Every step nearer the group gathered by the horses and wagon, Chris fought that much harder. "Get away from him! Sweet Lord, please get away!" he cried, in a state of hysteria.
"Brother Chris! Please, dont fight us. Were here to help you. Its over now," Josiah said as Ezra saw him walk from behind Chris. He had been trying to ease the man along from behind.
The closer Chris got to Ezra, the more desperate he became. Three full-grown men were barely able to move him forward. JD was so stunned at the sight, he couldnt move. Nathan and Phillips just tried to hold on to Ezra and keep out of the way. Ezra looked at the men standing around him as if they had lost their minds. This was Chris they were dragging along like some animal. Didnt they care what hed been through? Couldnt they see what had been done to him? The man was fighting the demons of hell itself and they seemed oblivious. Oblivious. Of course they cared, they simply didnt know what was going on or how to help.
Ezra straightened slightly and tried to muster enough moisture in his mouth to speak clearly. "Stop this! Stop this now."
Nathan looked at him as if he were speaking gibberish.
"Nathan, please tell them to stop this," Standish requested calmly.
"Ezra, we have to "
"Please. Dont do this to him." Ezra brought green eyes to plead with brown.
Nathan seemed to give his request some thought. He raised his head to call out to the men coming slowly towards them. "Buck! Vin! Wait up a minute."
"What? Why?" Buck wondered.
"Just give him a minute. Hang onto him though." Jackson looked back at the wounded man. "All right, Ezra. You have some idea whats the matter with him?"
Ezra closed his eyes and nodded.
"We know hes been beat up pretty bad. I checked him myself and that head of his has been hit too many times to count. Even at that though, I reckon theres something else goin on. If you know, Ezra, tell me."
The pale Southerner raised his chin and announced gravely. "Hes been drugged."
"Drugged? With what?"
"Im not sure what they used the last time."
"The last time? You mean hes been drugged more than once?" Nate asked incredulously.
Ezra let his head drop. "From what I could gather," he started to say as a wave of nausea threatened to send him to his knees. He took a deep breath and tried again. "From the wardens boast, I gathered that Chris had been given peyote several times before my arrival. He didnt react well to the drug, but he was beginning to recover during the time he and I were locked up together."
Nathan noticed the ghastly color that Ezra had turned in just the past couple of minutes and tried to get him to sit down. Phillips tried too, but Standish just waved them off.
"Nathan, I am alright. Just listen to me. After we escaped, the warden and his men caught up to us. They gave Chris something else. They used a needle on him, injected him with something stronger."
"Okay, Ezra, think. Did they say what they were using?"
"Damn," Jackson swore.
"Nathan, the peyote did horrible things to him made him see things, remember things, but he was coming out of it, becoming more lucid. I think we can pull him back again."
The man sandwiched between the healer and the guard turned to face the latter. "Mr. Phillips, call your prisoner."
Phillips looked as if hed been slapped. "What? Im not callin him that no more. The mans been through enough. Rememberin that hell aint no way to help. Just leave him alone."
Ezra tried again. "Mr. Phillips, please understand, where that mans body has been is nothing compared to where his mind has been residing. Hes re-living something more horrible than the prison. We have to bring him back to us, back to now. The only way to do that is to make him see where he is now."
Phillips considered the soft words. Somehow he knew this man would not hurt the other; he would protect him, regardless.
The Southerner reached to pat the rifle that stood behind him against the tail of the wagon. He spoke again in gentle tones. "Mr. Phillips, please call your prisoner."
The guard nodded slowly before he released his hold on the smaller man. He turned to his rifle, picked it up and took a few steps away from the wagon. He stood alone as he cocked the rifle and pointed it away and slightly skyward. "Prisoner 78," he called, his heart not really in it.
Larabee continued his fight but never loosened the grip his friends had on him. He didnt hear Phillips. He didnt hear anyone.
Phillips raised the gun and fired. Then he shouted in a deadly tone, "Prisoner 78! Stand down!"
The sound of the rifleshot exploded in Chris mind. He jerked to turn and look at the source of the unforgiving noise. He froze when he found it.
"78! Stand down now!"
Chris stared at the man with the gun. He tried to keep up with the images flashing through his mind -- Adam the bear the wagon the prison prisoner 78 but he failed. Instead, his body reacted. As if a lightning bolt had struck from above, he stiffened. After seconds of straining against the hands of Buck and Vin, his head fell back and he strangled on the protests that gurgled in his throat.
Buck cried out in fear, "Nathan, whats goin on? Whats wrong with him?"
When Nathan saw Buck slowly ease a rigid Chris to the ground he came running. Seconds later, the gunslinger began to jerk in spasms on the ground.
"Nathan!" Buck shouted.
"Hes been drugged, Buck!" Nathan answered roughly.
"Ezra told me that the warden at the prison has been usin drugs on Chris."
"That son-of-a-bitch," Buck cried as he held his friends upper body and head. "Thats why Chris is out of his head. We gotta do somethin, Nathan. We gotta help him!"
The healer didnt answer; he simply reached for the man on the ground and tried to support his neck. The angle that Chris head and back tried to take were too dangerous to permit.
"Nathan, help him!" Buck insisted.
"Buck, there aint nothin I can do. We just have to hold on to him and help him ride this out."
The mustached cowboy fell silent and pulled Chris closer. He watched the features on his friends face tighten and pale and his lips pull against clenched teeth. "Hang on, Chris. Hang on," he whispered.
Vin and Josiah stayed close to their leader, loosely holding his legs and arms as he fought the evil that gripped his body. After several minutes, the tracker felt the muscles he held begin to quiver rather than tighten and realized that the episode was beginning to pass. "Nate, somethins happenin. Chris, hes getting tired I think," he said softly.
Nathan released the neck he was cradling and used his hands to examine his patient. The fingers of his left hand parted Chris eyelids. He looked into the large black pupils and shook his head. The palm of his right hand went straight to the heaving chest and rested over a racing heart. "Chris," he called. "Chris, can you hear me?"
Buck looked worriedly between the healer and the man in his lap. "Is it over, Nate?"
"I think hes through the fit, but hes got a ways to go before thisll be over. Hes out cold now, but that could be a good thing. We can put him in the wagon with Ezra and get them both back to town." Nathan put a hand to Chris forehead. "Oh, no."
"What is it?" Josiah asked from his position over Chris knees.
"On top of everything else, hes got hisself a fever. Must be from that knife wound in his side. Or it could be from any one of the other dozen or so cuts hes got on him. The mans a mess." Nathan stroked Chris arm before he raised his hand to rub at his own neck.
Josiah put a large hand on the healers shoulder. "Hell be alright, Brother Nate. Well get him through this."
Jackson looked back at Josiah and nodded before he turned further to gaze at a semi-conscious Ezra. The gambler hadnt been able to remain upright and was now lying on the ground with Phillips propping him up.
Josiah followed Nathans eyes. "Well get them both through this."
"Yeah," Nathan answered wearily as his gaze fell upon Chris torn wrists. "I need to bandage his hands and cover that belly wound. Once were in town, Ill sew him up again." Jackson stood up. "Alright, lets get em outta here. Itll be dark soon."
Josiah moved to take Chris from Bucks arms, but Buck didnt relinquish his hold right away. "Come on, Buck. We need to get him loaded onto the wagon," he said in a gentle voice when he saw the fear in the cowboys eyes.
Buck still wasnt willing to give Chris up, but Josiah managed a solution. "Why dont you ride with him back to town. We wouldnt want him wakin up without someone there to explain things. Okay?"
Buck didnt answer, but he did let go and help Josiah gather Chris close to his chest. Once the large mans arms were secured around the Sevens leader, he stood and moved towards the gathering at the wagon. Buck followed, watching Chris hand dangle loosely against Josiahs back.
Vin, Nathan, JD and Phillips were huddled on the ground around Ezra. Buck heard the Southerner ask about Chris as he neared the wagon. "How is he? Did it work?"
"It worked, Ezra. It worked just fine," Vin said reassuringly.
"Is he alright? You didnt hurt him."
"He should be just fine, Ezra. Now drink some of this," answered Nathan as he held a canteen for his patient to drink from. Tired eyes closed as the liquid filled his mouth and poured down his throat. It was a wonderful sensation, but it was too much at once and he gagged on the water. He coughed and sputtered as Nathan reached out to steady him.
"Sorry, Ezra. I shouldnt of let you have so much so fast."
"s quite cough alright. Havent had much to drink. Chris needs some too."
"Well take good care of Chris, Ezra," Nathan said quietly as he put the canteen aside. "Now just be quiet and let us get you back on the wagon."
Ezra put a hand on the healers arm, not quite trusting the tone behind the words. "Where is he, Nathan?"
"Hes where youre gonna be if you will just settle down and let us move you."
Ezra pulled his hand away and submitted to the transfer from the ground to the wagon. Vin and JD picked him up as gently as they could, but still Ezra felt the wound in his shoulder shoot an agonizing pain through his chest. He cried out and Nathan was with him in an instant.
Josiah held Larabee close until he reached the wagon, then he laid the trembling body alongside Ezras. Buck helped him, then leaned over the sideboard and watched as Nathan tried to ease the gamblers pain. He wished he could help, but there was nothing he could do but get in the way. He looked back at Chris, who lay shaking beside him. "I wish I knew what that was all about," he said to no one in particular.
"What?" Josiah asked.
"When Chris was fighting us before. What was he so torn up about when we were trying to get him to the wagon?"
Hoarse words came to Bucks ears and he realized Ezra was trying to answer him. "H-he was remembering "
"Hush up, Ezra," Nathan advised as he applied more pressure to the Southerners bleeding shoulder.
"Rememberin what, Ezra?" Buck took in Ezras white complexion and fast breathing.
"Buck," Nathan warned over his shoulder.
"Its alright, Nathan." Ezra took a deep breath and held it a moment. "Hes remembering the attack on Adam."
"Attack?" JD repeated. He stood against the side of the wagon opposite Buck.
Ezra nodded and took another deep breath. "The bear attack on Adam." That was it; that was all he could get out before another searing pain shot through his body and tore another cry from his aching throat. He gripped Nathans probing hands for an instant and then fell back into blessed unconsciousness.
The remaining men in the group fell silent. Not one word was uttered until Buck looked at Vin with a confused look on his face. "Adam was never attacked by a bear," he said with certainty.
Vin looked down at where Chris lay. The man was shaking so hard he could nearly hear his teeth rattle. The tracker patted the legs that were drawn up and noticed that Chris lay in a fetal position. The image suggested that the tortures his friend had suffered might have actually taken the man over the edge. The sight terrified him. The realization angered him. In the end, it was the rage that motivated him.
"Load up, Buck. Were takin these boys outta here." Vin gave Wilmington a look of determination. "Then were gonna find us a lowlife warden."
Encouraged by the plan, Buck replaced Nathan in the wagon and sat between his fellow peacekeepers. The healer took the reins of the team that hauled his friends and used them to get the animals moving. The others mounted their own horses and followed the wagon back to Jericho.
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