Little Britches Universe
Disclaimer: Not mine, never were, never will be
Note: July challenge response, the nature's fury challenge. Thanks to Helen for the beta work.
Buck rode slowly, it was hot and humid and he was tired - tired but happy. JD sat in front of him, his little warm body leaning back against Buck, sleeping. JD was the other reason he rode slowly. He had been on a four day trip to deliver one of their best new mares to the Crazy R ranch, one of the best horse breeders in the territory. That the Crazy R had seen and wanted a Larabee-Wilmington horse was a huge plus to their small business, it would give them a reputation for quality among the top breeders and buyers. So the two men had tossed for the job of personally delivering the fine bay mare.
Both boys loved the placid and affectionate mare, and while the men tried not to name horses they were going to sell, the boys named all the horses. Patty, as they had named her, was the first horse to be sold since the boys arrived at the ranch. Unfortunately the men hadn't been ready for the boy's reaction.
"No!" JD wailed. "Patty can't go away!"
"JD son, we breed horses to sell, I thought you knew that," Buck tried to soothe.
"Are you gonna sell Peso?" Vin asked desperately.
Chris' heart sank; they really hadn't handled this well at all. "No," Chris dropped to his knees in front of his adopted son. " never, Peso is your horse and only you can sell him."
"I don't wanna sell Peso."
"Then you don't have to."
"No not ever."
"Pony is my horse and Beau is Buck's and only we can sell them, and when JD is big enough Buck will get him his own pony as well," Chris explained.
Once they had accepted that no one was going sell their horse or future horse, the boys were concerned that Patty's new owner wouldn't know how to look after her.
"Willed the new people give her a pat good night?" JD asked. "And willed they give her carrots?"
Vin was also concerned. "Patty likes to roll in her stable - will they know to give her a deep bed?"
In the end they decided to let the boys go on the trip, there was no hurry and the boys would be reassured that Patty had a good home. Buck and Chris couldn't both go. There was a drought, it wasn't bad, the rivers hadn't run dry, but the farms and small ranches further away from the river and bigger creeks were out of water, especially the ones with shallow wells. Many families had moved into town, some had just sent the children to town or to friends and other settler families. All these extra people coupled with the unremitting heat and dust made for short tempers. The two men tossed for the ride to the Crazy R. Once he knew Buck was going, JD instantly wanted to go too. Vin was unsure, he liked the idea of a four day ride and camping out - but - he didn't like the idea of leaving Chris for four days. In the end having four days with Chris all to himself won out and he opted to stay.
Buck glanced over his shoulder; the sky behind them was getting darker all the time and so far they had kept ahead of the storm. The trouble was the sky ahead was also dark - purple-grey and threatening. The sunshine in which he now rode was an increasingly small pocket of light between the two storm fronts. Ahead was a long horseshoe bend of the river they had been following. Normally Buck would ride straight on, crossing the river twice to cut out the long detour around the huge bend, as they had done on the way out four days ago - but not today. With storms in the area flash floods could hit at any time and with no warning. Had he been alone he might have risked it, but not with JD.
A breeze suddenly moved the air that had been still and oppressive.
"Little Bit?" Buck gave JD a little shake.
"Yeah?" came the sleepy response.
"Come on, time to wake up. We need t' put on our slickers."
JD didn't have a slicker as such, but Chris had fashioned two squares of oilcloth into rain ponchos, one for each boy. Buck stopped the faithful Beau with the slightest of signals and then swung JD down before he dismounted. They were only just in time, for as they remounted the first big raindrop fell on them.
Vin sat in the sheriff's office, hunched over the desk, tongue protruding from the corner of his mouth as he worked at his drawing. Suddenly he looked up, as shouting broke the unnatural quiet that has settled over the town, the afternoon heat having driven almost everyone off the street. He put down his pencil and slid off the chair and ran to the door. Across and down the street people were running toward one of the saloons. Vin's keen eyes quickly picked out Chris lean dark form as he crossed the street. Suddenly the crush of people huddled around the door parted, like the Red Sea before Moses, as Chris strode past them into the dark interior. Josiah was meant to be watching him, but he was asleep, so Vin also headed of to investigate.
He had no difficulty crawling past the adults and into the saloon. There was Chris in the middle of a mass brawl. He punched one man and then elbowed another who was trying to creep up on him. As Vin watched Chris took on one man after another, he barely noticed Josiah come to his aid or that Nathan was already fighting or Ezra lurking in the background, ready to help if needed but not committing himself as yet. Vin knew Chris and Buck and his 'uncles' were peacekeepers, but he had never seen Chris - or any of them - really doing their job. He watched Chris dispatching attackers, easily dodging drunken blows. He smiled, sitting up, trading phantom blows with Chris. As fast as it had begun, the fight was over. Chris and Josiah spoke to some of the men, one man gave the bar keep some money, two shook hands and three walked - or limped - past Vin and out on to the street. Vin turned to watch them go and thus didn't see Chris spy him crouching in the doorway.
"Vin!" Vin spun around at the sound of his name. "Vincent Michael Tanner, what are you doing here?" Chris demanded to know.
Involuntarily Vin flinched at the angry tone, shrinking back against the wall; his arm came up to protect his head from the blow his subconscious brain told him was coming.
"Ah hell," Chris breathed to himself.
"Vin, son, I'm sorry I shouted." Chris moved forward and squatted down in front of Vin but not so close as to scare the skittish lad any more. "I just don't want you to get hurt, that's why I told you to stay in the jail."
Vin lowered his arm and gazed into the green eyes of the man he had come first to trust and now to love.
"When I tell you to stay some place or do something or even not do something, it is always because I want you to be safe, so it is important that you do as you're told - okay?"
Vin searched the face before him for deceit or malice but found only concern. Finally he nodded.
"Good, come on lets get outta here."
Once out in the street Vin felt more confident. "Chris?"
"Didn't you want to put the men in jail, the ones who were fightin'?"
Chris shook his head. "It was just short tempers, locking them up in hot stuffy cell would just make their tempers shorter."
Josiah walked up to them, having stayed to help the saloon staff put things straight again. "Chris I'm off to the mill, like I told you?"
Chris nodded and Vin waved as Sanchez headed off down the street. With that Chris looked up at the dark purple-black sky.
"Is there gonna be a storm?" Vin asked.
Chris looked down. "Reckon so."
"When?" Vin wanted to know.
"Hard to say, but soon."
"What's Josiah doin' at the Mill?"
Tompkins Mill was owned and run by Clay Tompkins and his two sons. It ground anything that needed grinding, powered a pit saw and a cider press, not to mention two lathes in the joiners shop next door. The trouble was there was so little water in the river that there was no power for anything except the lathes, so the miller had decided this was a good time to change the millstone. He had asked Sanchez to help move the massive stone.
Chris smiled, Vin didn't talk as much as JD and he didn't have JD's book smarts, but he had a lively and inquisitive mind, and he loved to learn.
"I tell you what, why don't we go down there and find out?" Chris suggested.
Vin nodded, a big smile on his face, then he took Chris hand and started to lead him toward the mill at the far end of town.
They had just passed the last building when they caught sight of Josiah, strolling gently down the hill to the mill. Suddenly, with no warning lightning split the sky and instantly there was a deafening crack of thunder. It made everyone, young and old suddenly duck and flinch, and as Chris looked up, he saw that the mill was now engulfed in flames. Man and boy stood there rooted to the spot in stunned silence.
"Josiah!" Vin suddenly shouted, drawing Larabee's attention to the figure lying on the ground just yards from the flames.
"Stay here!" Chris ordered as he ran forward.
Sanchez was lying on his back, blood flowing freely from a gash somewhere in his hair above his left ear. Blood was staining what was left of his light cotton shirt and Chris could already see several large splinters embedded in his torso and arms. Chris tried to rouse his friend without success.
"Vin!" he yelled, looking up at his clearly terrified son. Instantly the boy started to move forward. "No, go and get Nathan, run son, go!"
Vin didn't hesitate; he just turned tail and ran.
The rain had become so heavy Buck could hardly see ten feet in front of him. In an effort to protect JD he had turned the boy around so he was facing him, opening up his coat he had enveloped the small body with in it. Now JD's little legs were clamped around his waist, his head buried in Buck's shirt. Above the sound of the rain and now thunder, he could just about hear JD's voice.
"I don't like it, make it stop - please Buck make it stop," he pleaded.
He'd been asking the same thing ever since the thunder started. Storms didn't bother JD as a rule, if anything Buck was more afraid of thunder than JD. But being in your nice safe home while a storm rages, held close by the man you love, who is holding you close because it helps him as much as you, is one thing; being caught out in a storm was entirely different.
"If I could Little Bit I would, believe me I would." Right now I'd do anything to stop the thunder, right now I want to be anyplace but out here.
Tightening his grip on the boy for mutual comfort, he pushed on, there was no cover but the trees, hardly a safe place to shelter in an electrical storm. Like most storms it didn't last long, and after about twenty minutes, the time between the lightning flashes and the thunder began to lengthen as the rain eased off. JD pulled his head out from Buck's chest.
"Is it stopping?" he asked, looking up.
"Reckon so Little Bit."
JD peeked over his father's shoulder and suddenly froze, his little fist holding on the tall man's shoulder so hard it was actually painful.
"JD what's the ma ?" he began to ask.
"The trees Buck, the trees is moving," JD gasped out.
Buck looked over his shoulder to see what the boy was talking about. Behind them the trees were indeed moving, sliding down toward the now swollen river.
"Shit!" Buck exclaimed and kicked Beau on, hoping against hope that he could outrun the landslide.
They only got a few yards when Beau reared up, twisting as he did. He was a steady and trusting horse, but he was still a horse, a creature of flight, and when the ground below him moved he panicked. Buck had no chance. He could feel himself falling, and in a split second he took hold of JD and pushed him away from his body, terrified that he would land on the small child and crush him. As Beau twisted and reared one way, Buck and JD fell the other. As he hit the moving, liquid earth, Buck tried to hold on to one of JD's wrists but the boy was swept away from him.
"Stay on top JD!" he yelled, "Swim on it!" Then his world turned black.
Vin flew over the hard dusty ground, dodging the people who were now moving toward the fire with morbid curiosity. Strong, lithe legs propelled him on, so intent on his mission, so single minded that he didn't even notice the second thunder clap. Nathan was just coming out of his room, wondering what all the commotion was about.
"Nathan!" Vin yelled as he stared to mount the steps. "Themill'sonfireandJosiahgothurt!"
Nathan understood only two words, 'Josiah' and 'hurt'. "I'm coming," he called, ducking back inside to grab his bag. He followed - with some difficulty - the fleet-footed boy back to the blazing mill. As he arrived Vin was already kneeling beside his 'uncle' and Chris was getting up and turning to face the blazing inferno. Nathan slid into a kneel beside his friend on the other side to Vin. He was still making his assessment when Ezra arrived.
"Is Mr Sanchez alright?" he enquired.
"Don't think he's too bad." Nathan looked up, and mindful that Vin was right in front of him glanced meaningfully at the figure in black standing a little way off, staring at the flames. Ezra nodded and left him and Vin to take care of Josiah.
Just as Ezra arrived Chris tried to move forward, only to find Ezra blocking his path.
"I have to get them out," Chris muttered.
"If Mr Tompkins or his sons were in there, they are dead already, there is nothing you can do." Ezra kept his voice calm and soft, so no one else could hear.
Chris made another move forward.
"Mr Lar Chris, listen to me - they are dead. It was a lightning strike, an act of God - you can't save them you never could."
Very slowly Chris turned his face away from the inferno to look at the smaller man in front of him.
"We have a job to do, the flames are approaching the joiners shop. I believe Mr Tompkins kept paint and varnish in there, these are some what flammable not to say explosive." Ezra looked over to the now largish crowd of people edging ever closer to the fire, some even had buckets with them. "They can't put it out, it's too big, besides I believe rain is imminent."
There was a moment when Standish believed Chris would try to move forward again. His hand closed around his gun, prepared to club Chris down if need be to save him from himself. But as he watched he saw acceptance wash over Larabee, dark memories pushed aside as the blond looked down at the southerner and nodded.
Somewhere in the distance Buck could hear a voice, he couldn't see anyone, there was just blackness and this distant voice.
Sounds familiar, reckon I should know who it is, he mused, as he strained to hear what the voice was saying.
"Buck! Buck, please wake up, please, I'm scared, please Buck!" JD shook his father once more.
The little five-year-old was covered from head to toe in mud, though the heavy rain had already begun to wash some of it out. The trails of mud ran down his face and neck but he didn't notice. Tears etched trails through the grime down his cheeks, but he didn't notice, he just tried to wake the man he loved.
JD had heard the instruction to swim and had tried his best, managing to stay on top of the earth and debris as the landslide swept them away and he lost contact with Buck. Once he stopped moving the boy stood as best he could. The ground beneath his feet was unstable and treacherous, it sloped steeply into the river, which swirled angrily around the new obstruction in its path. JD looked around him, desperate to find Buck. The tall man was no were to be seen. JD began to call but there was no answer, so he started to search. After nearly half an hour the exhausted and terrified boy found Wilmington's inert form, camouflaged by mud and trapped under a fallen tree.
The rain was just heavy now, not torrential, and the thunder was gone. JD had called and shaken and pleaded with Buck to 'wake up' but he never moved or made a sound. After almost three-quarters of an hour JD gave up and settled for lying next to Buck, and waiting. He believed Buck would wake up, he believed Chris and Vin would find him, he just hoped it would be soon.
JD's head was resting on Buck' shoulder, he had no concept of just how long he lay there but what made him sit up was a groan from the man beneath him.
"Buck!" he cried. "Wake up, please wake up."
JD! Thats JD calling me, he's scared, gotta get to JD!
"Lit B t," he muttered.
"Buck!" JD squealed in his excitement. "Buck you gots to get up now, please, I don't like it here."
Slowly, deep blue eyes blinked at JD. The image of the boy was fuzzy at best, the mud didn't help as it made him blend in to the background.
"You alright boy?" Buck still hadn't moved.
"Uh-huh, but I'm all wet and muddy."
The image was very blurred but he didnt want JD to know that. "Well I can see that, reckon I am too."
JD nodded, his huge grin a beacon of white happiness in their sea of mud. Buck tried to sit up, he got as far as propping himself up on his elbows. Looking down his own mud-encrusted body he could see the large tree branch lying over his left ankle. He tried to pull the limb free and was rewarded only by a blinding pain that shot up his leg like a white hot dagger. It took all his strength not to scream out in agony, and frighten JD.
"Buck?" JD was clearly aware that something was very wrong.
"JD, where's Beau?" Buck asked trying to sound normal, even casual, and hoping to God his beloved horse had survived.
JD pointed up, back up the new slope the landslide had created. "He's up there, I think he's alright, he's eating the grass."
JD, Vin and Beau - they were all the same. No matter what happens don't let it get between you and your next meal! Buck craned his head back to look up the slope, he couldn't see a thing.
"You sure he's up there?"
JD nodded vigorously. "I seed him."
Buck lay back down and closed his eyes for a moment.
"Are you alright?" JD whispered, almost too afraid to know the answer.
"I'm just thinking Little Bit," Buck assured. After about a minute he opened his eyes and turned to the boy. "JD, son, you and Beau, you're gonna help get this tree off my leg, so listen up."
"Is Josiah gonna be alright?" Vin asked Nathan.
The healer looked up and smiled. "Yeah, but we need to get him off the street."
As Nathan called for some help to move the large ex-preacher, Vin turned to look at Chris. "Leave him be son," he cautioned, even as Vin was about to run to Chris.
"It's the fire isn't it?" Vin asked quietly.
"That makes him so sad, 'cause of Sarah and Adam."
"You know about Sarah and Adam?"
Vin nodded. "Buck told us, we mustn't ask him or talk about them."
"He'll be fine son, you come and help me take care of Josiah."
Just then, Tiny came over to help move Josiah. As they lifted him the first rain fell, huge drops that speckled the ground.
Chris stood a short distance away as Ezra tried to explain to the town's folk that there was no point fighting the fire, and usher them to safety. Even as he did something in the flaming ruins of the joiners shop exploded. With a mixture of gasps and shouts of alarm the people finally moved back as the rain came down, becoming increasingly heavy, as mother nature began to dowse her own inferno. Even as the people ran for cover, Chris just stood and watched the battle between the flames and the rain.
The rain became so heavy, so fast, that Nathan told his helpers to divert to the jail, rather than try to get Sanchez up to his clinic. Vin stood in the office, alternately looking out of the window for Chris and watching Nathan tend his friend. Eventually the healer came out into the office, wiping blood from his hands and then instantly regretting it as he saw the look of fear on young Vin's face. Hastily he shoved the bloody rag out of sight.
"Vin I need to run and get some supplies. Will you sit with Josiah while I'm gone?" he asked.
Vin hesitated, but finally nodded. He liked Josiah, he liked all he 'uncles'. Nathan took care of both boys, he was always as gentle as he could be, but he was firm too. If a cut needed cleaning it got cleaned, no matted how much it hurt. Vin kind of liked that, he had confidence that Nathan wouldn't let anything bad hurt them, no matter how much they protested, for their own good, Nathan wouldn't listen. He liked Ezra, Ezra told the best stories, he could do magic tricks, he talked funny but he was always willing to answer any question, even when the other adults thought he was too young to know the answer. Uncle Josiah gave the best hugs - well next to Chris and Buck - but only if you wanted it. He knew lots of things, there was almost nothing he didn't know, he was always gentle and he was so big both boys could hide behind him.
Vin had never seen the big man so still. He looked very pale lying there under the rough jailhouse blanket. As Vin watched Josiah's heavily bandaged head moved a little, he groaned.
"Uncle 'Siah?" Vin whispered. "Are you alright Uncle 'Siah? You want some water?" People always offered him water when he was ill.
As Vin watched he thought he detected a slight nod of the head. Instantly the boy scurried away to find a pitcher and some water. Returning a few seconds later he poured out a little and held it to the parched man's lips. He watched with some pride as his patient swallowed the water. Setting down the cup he sat down again beside the bed.
"Vin?" came the quiet, voice, no more then a whisper. "That you, Vin boy?" Pale blue eyes fluttered open.
"Uncle 'Siah?" Vin cried, rather too loudly, causing the big man to wince involuntarily.
"Are you alright now?"
"Can't rightly say. What happened?" He opened his eyes enough to looked around the room, expecting to find himself in Nathan's clinic. "This the jail?"
"Uh-huh, it's rainin' real hard, so Uncle Nathan brought you in here, 'cause it was closer," Vin explained.
The rain was now torrential, the street, until only a few minutes ago, baked hard as stone under the relentless sun was now had a river running down the centre of it. Great curtains of water fell from the rooftops, it was so heavy you could barely see across the street. So heavy was the rain that the flash of lightning went unnoticed but not the thunder crack that shook the windows. Vin jumped, looking over to the windows. Chris! Come here please, come inside with me, he silently pleaded.
"What happened?" Josiah asked softly.
Vin looked back from the window, sadness in his striking blue eyes. "Lightning hit the mill, it caught fire," he explained.
"The Tompkins?" Sanchez asked, almost afraid to hear the answer.
"I think they're all dead," Vin whispered.
Sanchez closed his eyes and rested back into the pillow, offering a silent prayer to God for the souls of his friend and his sons.
"Are you alright?" Vin asked anxiously.
"Yes son, but I am kinda tired here, so I'm gonna take a little nap now." With that he was asleep.
Vin watched the big man for a bit then, once he was satisfied he was safely asleep he moved to the windows. The rain was still as heavy, he had never seen rain like it. There was no one on the street now, across from the jail Vin could see people huddled under the sidewalk roof opposite, just watching the rain. Even the horses had been moved undercover. The river that now ran down the middle of the street was getting deeper and wider, swirling muddy waters now threatened to stretch from one side of the street to the other.
Thunder once again made Vin jump and as the sound faded a new sound could be heard. The Soft drumming of the rain was replaced by a 'rat-a-tat-tat' as hail began to fall. At first it was just light, small pellets of ice that rested on any flat surface that wasn't already a puddle or a river. But as Vin watched in morbid fascination, the balls of ice got bigger and the sound more intense. Hail stones the sized of apples plummeted to earth. As Vin looked on in mounting horror he saw several punch through the veranda roof opposite and hit people as they sheltered there.
Frantically Vin pulled open the door, desperate to know that Chris was alright, that he wasn't outside under the bombardment. Torn between his worry for Chris and his duty to stay and watch Sanchez, Vin hesitated under the less than safe protection of the porch roof as the bombardment continued.
Still nearly three hours ride from the town, Buck and JD were spared the wrath of the storm that battered Four Corners. But Buck knew that he has to get out from under the tree. He was barely five feet above the water in the swollen river and it was still rising alarmingly fast. JD, mud covered, frightened and exhausted was his only hope.
"JD, son, I need you to listen an be very brave for me - alright?" JD nodded, he looked absolutely petrified. "Go up to Beau, and bring me my rope. Now I know you can't reach the saddle, so you will need to lead him to a rock or a log that you can stand on. Can you do that?"
JD chewed on his bottom lip and glanced up the slope towards the track - or what remained of it. It was a long way up, he didn't want to be alone, he wanted to stay with Buck.
"I need you to be brave for me son, I need your help this time," Buck tried to keep the desperation out of his voice. "Can you do it for ol' Buck?"
Scared as he was, JD wanted to help, so, reluctantly he agreed. It took him some time to scramble his way up the loose scree slope, more than once he slipped back. With grim determination he pushed on; small hands were quickly cut to ribbons on the small stones and broken branches he had to clamber over. His thick cotton pants tore and his knees were scraped raw but he pressed on. Once he got to the top he could stand. The horse stood a few yards away, browsing on the sweet upper branches of a downed tree. JD had no fear of horses, no matter how big they were.
"Come on Beau, we gots to help Buck." JD took hold of the one of the reins that trailed on the ground. "I have to get the rope, so you have to stand real still." He looked around and found a boulder that would do. The grey followed where the boy led and obediently stopped next to the rock. "Now," JD turned to face the horse. " you stand still."
With that he dropped the reins and walked around the rock to a place where he could clamber up. Small, cold, wet and bleeding fingers fumbled with the wet leather that held the rope on to the saddle. JD sniffed, tears ran down his cheek to mix with the rain as he struggled with the knot.
"Buck I can't " He began to call for help and then stopped, Buck couldn't come and help him, he had to help Buck. JD always wanted to do everything Vin did, but not now. Now he wanted to be a little boy, he wanted his father to come and help him, he wanted Chris to come and help him to save Buck. Desperate hazel eyes looked up the track, as far as he could see through the rain. No one was coming, not Chris or one of his uncles. "I can do it Beau, I can, I'm a big boy," he assured the horse, sniffing back another tear. "I'm not a baby anymore." Beau shifted his weight as JD tugged again on the leather, turning his head to view his young master. Finally the narrow strap began to give and once it did the knot came undone quickly.
Rope in hand, JD began to scramble back down to Buck, going down was just as hard as going up and he slipped more than once. For a moment he couldn't find the tree under which Buck lay, but finally he spotted his father's dark hair. Buck was lying back on the wet ground, eyes closed, trying to conserve energy and get the pain under control, preparing himself mentally for JD's return. It never occurred to the man that the small boy wouldn't return.
"Buck!" JD shouted as soon as he saw him, doing his best to run over the uneven and slippery ground, he fall flat on his face not four yards from his father.
"Slowly Little Bit, I ain't going no where, take it slowly." JD looked up, just hearing that soft, reassuring voice was enough to bring a smile to the boys grimy, mud encrusted, blood and tear streaked face. He stood up, waving the mud caked rope in triumph. "Clever boy, come on over - slowly."
"I gots it," JD announced as he knelt beside Buck. "I had to stand on a rock and Beau was a good boy and he stooded very still and the knot was hard to undo and my fingers is all sore but I did's it!"
Buck couldn't help but smile, a smile that died the moment he got a good look at the boy's torn and bloody fingers.
The apple-sized hailstones were falling faster and faster. In the saloon Ezra opened a book on the size of the biggest one found. He was standing on the sidewalk, tape measure in hand when there was a crash from above and a scream. Shoving the tape, the money and his notebook into his pocket he ran inside and up the stairs. There was another crash as he headed toward one of the rooms at the back. Inside part of the roof, weighed down by ice, had collapsed, trapping one of the saloon girls, Two others we trying to free her, but more ice missiles were raining in.
"Out, ladies, into the corridor!" he instructed.
Ezra ran forwards and using all of his not inconsiderable strength, heaved the edge of the broken roof up a few inches. The girl tried to climb out, but although she was mercifully relatively uninjured, she didn't have enough room to manoeuvre.
"Try my dear, this is as high as I can lift it," Ezra encouraged.
"She's doing her best." Came a voice from the doorway.
"Mr Larabee, so kind of you to join us, a little assistance here wouldn't come amiss."
While Ezra held up the roof, Chris pulled the girl out. She was just free when there was a shattering of glass and Ezra cried out, dropping the roof section and falling to his knees.
"You alright?" Chris asked the skimpily dressed young woman, who nodded vaguely.
With that reassurance, Chris ran to Ezra. A hailstone had crashed into the window, and as Larabee approached his breath caught in his throat. A truly huge slice of broken glass was now embedded in Standish's back.
"Jesus!" Chris gasped. "Ezra dont move, whatever you do, don't move!"
"I wasn't planning on it," the gambler ground out.
There was no way Chris could deal with this injury, he needed Nathan. More people had arrived at the damaged room, and Chris shouted at one of them to go and get Jackson.
Nathan had left Vin and Josiah to get some salve to help remove the tiny splinters he couldn't get with his tweezers. Now he was on the wrong side of the torrent that ran down the street and inundated with casualties. Mrs Potter had a broken arm after part of her porch collapsed. At least three people had concussion after they were hit on the head by hailstones, before they could get undercover. A terrified horse had kicked Tiny and he now had three broken ribs and a nasty head laceration. Jackson needed to get back to Josiah, but he couldn't leave people suffering and bleeding. Finally he had his current casualties stable and so grabbing the extra supplies he needed and pulling on his oilskin coat, headed out. As he came out onto the veranda he saw Chris waving at him form the window opposite.
"Get over here!" Chris shouted. His voice was lost in the storm and the thunder that seemed to be almost constant now, but his frantic gestures were clear enough.
The hail was letting up now but as it did the rain returned, heavy and persistent. Nathan tried to ford the street come river, but the current almost washed him away, there was then a delay while he and some of the men threw a rope across the street. Chris and more men secured it and with the rope to hold on to Nathan finally managed to get across the street.
"Ezra what he hell have you been doing to yourself?" Nathan dropped to his knees beside the stricken gambler.
Ezra was still on his hands and knees in the semi-destroyed room, surrounded by half-melted hailstones, soaked to the skin as the rain poured in. Nathan's examination was thorough but he decided it was best to move Ezra out of the rain before working on him.
"Ezra I need to get you someplace where you can lie down in the dry. If possible I don't want to move you once I remove the glass and stitch you up."
"I would appreciate that, are you quite sure I have to move at all?" Ezra enquired.
"Yes, you can't stay here, who knows how much more roof will come down. I'm sorry Ezra we'll be as gentle as we can be - alright?"
Ezra nodded. "I place myself in your hands Mr Jackson, do not drop me."
Ezra was able to stand and with Chris and Nathan supporting him on either side he managed to walk out of the saloon and move two doors down to the sheriffs office. As he walked, the glass still embedded in his back and clearly visible, people gasped and instantly moved aside.
The noise of the hail on roofs was loud and spelt danger, many of the roofs were little more than stretched and tarred canvas, others were just wood shingles, but the jail roof was corrugated tin. It gave the brick structure the strength it needed but it made the noise of the hail deafening. As the bombardment became louder and heavier Vin retreated to a safe places. He wanted Chris, he wanted the noise to stop, he wanted his Uncle Josiah to wake up and he wanted Buck and JD back safe. But the hail and the thunder just kept coming.
The intense noise finally began to wake Josiah, his concussed mind was further confused by the loss of blood. He scanned the room - identifying the jail was one thing, working out why he was there was another. The cell door was open, so he wasn't a prisoner, and slowly the memory of the first time he woke up came back to him. Doing his best to ignore the blinding pain in his head, not to mention the numerous aches and pains he seemed to have picked up, Sanchez searched for someone else in the jail; he doubted Nathan would have left him alone. The pain in his head was made worse by the infernal noise coming from above him, what it was he still hadn't worked out. As he levered himself up on his elbows he detected a new sound. Somewhere, someone was speaking. On distinctly shaky legs he finally made it to the door of the cell, holding on to the sturdy bars for support. When he could finally see into the sheriff's office he found the source of the other voice.
Vin had retreated under the desk. He was sitting there, knees pulled up to his chest, arms wrapped around them, head down, rocking back and forth. He was repeating the same phrase over and over again.
"Makeitstopmakeitstop " The words ran into each other, like a mantra.
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