Webmaster Note: This fic was previously posted on another website and was moved to blackraptor in June of 2004.
[Bernadette Edwards broke me out of my writer's block and is responsible for the dialogue between Chris and Ezra. Heather Flaherty helped me with the logistics of the bear trap. Thank you both for making a good story better. Thanks to NotTasha for her beta skills in re-editing this story. Mar 2001]
"Chris, the Jensen twins are missing again," JD stated rather dryly, meeting Chris outside the Mercantile.
"Lord they should put cow bells on those two," Vin remarked, coming up alongside Chris who had had just exited the store. The dark-clad gunslinger opened a new box of ammo and began loading his blue Colts, eyeing the exasperated young sheriff. This was something that usually happened once or twice a month. The Jensen twins, Clarissa and Caleb, were well known and well liked seven-year-old twins, who seemed to find trouble wherever they went. Their parents were ex-slaves who had found a haven and friends within Four Corners. Chris twirled his gun once and slid it smoothly into its holster. 'Oh well, it's been a slow day,' he thought to himself, pulling his dark hat down to shade his eyes from the noon sun.
Chris took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "Go round up the others. We'll meet in the saloon," he finally stated. JD nodded and raced off, the kid in him escaping through his scampering feet.
Five unique men, thrown together to protect a town, congregated in the saloon waiting for their illustrious leader. One look at these men and no one would guess they would protect each other with their lives. Nathan, who was the healer of the group, was unavailable, as he was busy splinting another child's arm who had decided to go for the world record in tree climbing. Ezra absently shuffled a deck of cards through his nimble fingers. Vin finished off a beer, listening as Buck explained the finer points of women to JD, who rolled his eyes at his gregarious friend. JD could never make Buck understand that he just didn't feel the need to know every single woman who resided within a five mile radius of town. Josiah sat with arms crossed. His hat was pulled down, looking to any outsider like he was sleeping, but the others knew he was laughing inside as he listened to their antics. These five extraordinary men had seen more than their share of depravity, yet were willing to take the time to search for two lost children with the same degree of emphasis they would in tracking down a gang of desperadoes, maybe more.
"Okay you know the drill," Chris stated, strolling smoothly into the bar room, glancing quickly over the five men he had been working with for the past six months. Men he trusted with his life. Even the gambler, Ezra Standish, was starting to get to him. He watched as the fancy dressing conman smoothly deposited his cards into his jacket pocket and stood up. The man was graceful, which made him as quiet and sneaky as Vin. He watched as Buck grabbed JD in a headlock and ushered him out the door the boy yelling at him all the way. Josiah just shook his head and smiled as he stretched and rose his huge form up from his chair. Vin came up beside the dark-clad gunslinger, not saying a word. Together the two men, who were as close as brothers, walked out of the saloon.
+ + + + + + +
The six men split up, going to their designated search areas. As this was a common occurrence, each man had picked his own particular area to search. There was about seven or eight places that the twins visited regularly. Even though this was a common occurrence, the men took it seriously. A lot could happen to two young children outside the town limits. The harsh wilderness held untold dangers, from wild animals to natural pitfalls. The wilderness's beauty beckoned to the curious, challenging them to survive its brutal reality.
+ + + + + + +
Ezra walked along the riverbank. He liked to listen to the quiet gurgling of the river, which soothed his sometimes troubled soul. Unfortunately, the late winter thaw was turning the river into a cold raging torrent. He was just coming around a bend when he thought he heard a shout. It was hard to discern over the sound of rushing water. He looked up shielding his eyes against the sunshine sparkling off the white water. A lazy grin came to his face as he spotted the wayward twins, stranded on a sand dune in the middle of the icy cold river, apparently unharmed. The boy was wildly jumping up and down as the girl sat calmly drawing in the sand with a stick.
Ezra walked up to the edge of the river and called out, "Stay there, I'll come and get you." The twins recognized the suave gambler and waved, totally unconcerned with their predicament. Ezra sat upon a fallen log and removed his expensive snakeskin boots and green long tail coat. The river was running higher than normal and fast, but he thought he could traverse it without too much difficulty. He stepped into the water and hissed as the cold water slowly crept up his legs with each step, pasting his pants to his legs in an icy embrace. Gooseflesh ran up and down his whole body, there was no getting use to this water temperature. He reached the sand dune, climbed out of the icy water's embrace, and glared down disapprovingly at the twins. The two children gazed up at him with their patented doe-eyes and mock remorse. Ezra tried to bite back a smile, but it was too late they saw it and their eyes sparkled in devilish amusement. Ezra knew enough that he couldn't win this one.
He knelt down in front of the two children and curiously asked, "How did you two get over here?"
The brother and sister regarded each other for a moment. "It was Caleb's idea," Clarissa angrily replied, giving her brother a shove. She knew they would both end up in big trouble when they got home.
"Was not!" Caleb shot back. Ezra placed a hand on the young boy's shoulder.
"We crossed over on a log, but then it got away," Clarissa explained, pointing down stream.
Ezra nodded his head in understanding. He grinned, placing a hand on Clarissa's thin shoulder. "Well, don't worry I'll get you back across. Clarissa, I want you to get on my back and wrap your arms around my neck. Now your feet might get a little wet is all."
Clarissa climbed up upon Ezra's back, wrapping her thin arms around his neck. He straightened, grabbing hold of her legs. "Caleb, you stay put until I come back for you."
Ezra again eased himself back into the cold, fast moving water. He heard Clarissa gasp as her bare feet met the icy water. Ezra smiled. "Are you okay, darlin'?" Clarissa nodded her head, even as a chill shook her small body. Ezra picked up his pace careful not to misstep, it would do neither of them any good to get drenched in the icy water.
When he reached the other side, he was greeted with Buck's mustached face and cocky grin. Ezra knelt down allowing Clarissa to slide off his back. She ran to Buck, who picked her up and swung her around bringing a round of delighted laughter. The sound even lightened Ezra's heart.
Ezra sat on the log trying to retrieve the warmth he had lost. "Well, Mr. Wilmington, why don't you make yourself useful and retrieve the boy?" Ezra asked through chattering teeth.
Buck stopped spinning the girl and now held her with one arm. "Ah, I would, Ezra." Buck scratched his head in contemplation. "Except you're already wet. Makes no sense for both of us to catch our death. It would make extra work for Nathan," Buck answered with a reckless grin, which reached ear to ear. "And anyway, I don't want to take away all your glory."
Ezra shook his head, hiding the grin from his gregarious compatriot. He never could come up with a good answer to Buck's sometimes askew logic. Ezra stood, releasing an exasperated breath. He stepped back into the river a little further downstream than before. The bottom of the river was generally sandy with smooth pebbles, its source being the distant snow capped mountains. Ezra waded slowly across keeping his arms up and his eyes on Caleb, throwing him a reassuring smile.
He was halfway across when his foot stepped into the partially sand covered bear trap. The metal jaws snapped shut, biting into his ankle. Ezra's legs gave out and he fell back into the water drowning the strangled scream that erupted from his throat. His hand instinctively reached down, feeling the metal vise clamped tight around his ankle. He tried to force the jaws open, but icy water caused his fingers to go numb.
When Ezra yelled and fell under the water, Buck didn't know what had happened. He stood stunned for a second then cried out, "EZRA!" Buck dove into the river, the icy water crushing his chest and taking his breath away. He made his way to the spot where Ezra had disappeared. Buck saw the gambler just under the water's surface and wrapped his arms around his chest pulling him up.
Ezra suddenly felt muscular arms wrap themselves around his chest and pull him up. He choked as he broke the surface trying to rid his lungs of the icy water.
"Stop, Buck!" Ezra yelled, as Buck was about to pull him towards the bank. "My leg! It's trapped!" Ezra's face contorted in agony as he felt that his leg was being ripped apart.
"Ah, Shit!" Buck swore and started yelling for help, hoping the others were still nearby. "CHRIS, VIN!" He looked over his shoulder, relieved when he saw Chris, Josiah, JD and Vin racing down the sandy slope towards them. Chris saw the little girl and looked across the river to see Caleb still stranded on the sand dune.
"JD, get the boy!" Chris called over to the young gunslinger, who nodded.
The four men didn't even hesitate as they splashed into the icy waters. Ezra grimaced as pain shot up his left leg. He was still within Buck's grip and was thankful, not sure he would have been able to hold himself up long enough to keep from drowning.
"Buck, what's wrong?" Vin was the first to ask as he reached the two men and seeing the tortured expression on Ezra's face.
"Something has Ezra by the leg," he explained, fear slipping through his voice.
Vin took three deep breaths then dropped beneath the surface. Buck kept his hold on Ezra, his arms wrapped tightly around his chest.
Vin probed the metal trap and tried to find the release without success. The trap had probably been buried for years, was rusted, and sand covered. Vin found the half buried anchor chain and followed it, pulling himself along the bottom of the river. He broke the surface about ten feet away. Chris and Josiah waded over to him. The initial adrenaline rush was fading, allowing their bodies to now feel the freezing water.
"Ezra's caught in an old bear trap. Someone must of put it here years ago when the river was dry. It's anchored here, but there's a lot of silt and debris," Vin gasped, his teeth chattering and his long hair hanging in wet tendrils over his face.
JD watched anxiously from the shoreline, having retrieved Caleb from the sand dune. He paced the shoreline until he realized he was probably making the children nervous. Caleb and Clarissa were quiet, realizing something was terribly wrong.
"Is Mr. Standish goin' to be okay?" Clarissa worriedly asked the young gunslinger, who stood and stared at the five men standing in the middle of the river.
JD broke from his reverie to answer the young girl. "Don't you worry none, they'll help Ezra."
Josiah, Vin and Chris dropped down under the water and started frantically digging, trying to find the base where the chain attached. The cold water quickly numbed their fingers and out of desperation, they took hold of the chain and pulled, hoping to break one of the rusted links. They pulled until they were forced to the surface. Josiah prepared to go back under when Chris put a hand on his shoulder, stopping him from his useless endeavor.
The three gunslingers waded back over to Ezra and Buck. "We can't get it loose," Chris sputtered.
"You're lucky Ezra," Vin remarked, trying to stop the shivering, which was taking control of his body.
"And how... Mr. Tanner... would you define lucky?" Ezra gasped, also trying to keep the quiver out of his voice.
"The trap is old and rusted, sand jammed the spring mechanism. If you had received the full impact of the trap you'd of lost your foot."
Ezra turned his green eyes towards Josiah. "Well, Josiah can thank the powers to be for me." Ezra cried out as an acute pain ripped up his leg. "...on second thought I might be able to do it in person."
The four gunslingers snapped worried glances at the ensnared gambler, but didn't reply to Ezra's morbid remark.
"We need something to break the links," Vin stated, pushing his long wet hair back out of his face.
Chris wiped a hand through his own water soaked hair and down his face. His heart was beating fast and hard in his chest making his mind become more focus. This was when he was at his best and why the others looked towards him during desperate situations. This is what made him a good leader and why his men would follow him to hell and back. Larabee kept his head in the face of adversity, quickly assessing the situation. They couldn't get Ezra loose and the water was cold, it was just above freezing, dangerous if one stayed in to long and Ezra had already been in too long. Chris could already feel his own legs going numb.
"I know you'll come up with something, Mr. Larabee," Ezra stammered.
"Buck, stay with him. Josiah, Vin, come with me." Chris looked into Ezra's green eyes and put a hand on his shoulder. "Don't worry, Ezra. We'll get you out of this. I promise."
"Well, Mr. Larabee, I hope you won't mind if I hold you to that," Ezra retorted with a shaky smile. Chris squeezed the conman's shoulder and waded back to shore his mind already spinning trying to come up with answers.
JD had remained on shore reassuring the Jensen twins. He forced the two children to sit on a log and made them promise to stay. He then went to meet the three waterlogged gunslingers.
As the men came on shore, they moved into the sun, trying to thaw the icy hand that gripped them. Josiah removed his poncho, wringing it out and laying it down.
Chris put a hand on Vin's chest as he ordered, "Alright, Vin, go back to town and get somethin' we can use to break that anchor chain. JD, go with him and bring back a buckboard and Nathan, and take those children home."
Josiah grabbed JD by the shoulder, stopping him. "JD, tell Nathan to bring what he'll need to amputate," Josiah sadly added, looking back across the river at Buck, who was talking to the slowly freezing gambler. Everyone's mouth fell open, but immediately closed, realizing this might be their only option if they wanted to save Ezra's life. Chris nodded and Vin and JD took off each grabbing a twin as they ran up the sandy hill and back towards town.
"Josiah, start a fire. We'll have to take turns helping Ezra so we don't all freeze," he ordered. Chris shivered and moved to a place in the sun to try and warm up. He looked back at his two friends who stood waist deep in the middle of the river. How could a simple search go so wrong?
+ + + + + + +
Buck shifted over to Ezra's left side throwing his arm around the smaller man's waist. Ezra was becoming extremely pale. He couldn't put any weight down on his left leg, as he believed it was broken. His right was going numb from the icy water. Ezra shifted his right foot, which sunk into the sandy bottom causing him to sink even more into the cold water.
Buck's grip tightened, hoping whatever body warmth he had left would help sustain his friend. "Hang in their, pard," Buck soothed, trying to bring him up higher. His arms ached from the cold and Ezra's weight, but he ignored it.
Ezra's emerald eyes looked up at the jovial cowboy, a man who always seemed happy in life. "I'm not going anywhere, Buck. Hell, who would save all those beautiful women from your boorish romantic endeavors," Ezra chuckled.
"Hey, I'll have you know many of those women love my boorish romantic endeavors," Buck replied with a mischievous grin, which couldn't wipe away the worry in his eyes.
Ezra cried out as a sharp pain raced up his leg and he clenched his teeth, falling back into Buck's supporting embrace. The smile left Buck's face as he held onto his friend. He hated this, he felt so helpless. A stab of guilt flashed on his face, causing his brow to furrow, as it dawned on him that if he had gone and retrieved Caleb, Ezra wouldn't be in this position.
"And...I would now... be holding you up instead," Ezra uncannily replied to Buck's silent thought.
"Gawd, I'd wish you'd stop doing that," Buck chided, trying to force the smile back on his rugged face.
"Sorry, occupational hazard. I would not wish this on anyone and especially you, Buck." Buck saw something in Ezra's eyes, something he'd never seen before in the standoffish gambler. He had only recently realized that he considered the enigmatic conman a friend, but he wasn't sure where he stood with him.
Ezra's eyes fluttered closed and panic came Buck's mustached face. "EZRA! C'mon pard don't do this to me. I need the competition." His heart beat hard and fast in his chest; it felt like he had just drunk several cups of Inez's coffee.
Ezra's eyes opened. "Don't worry, Mr. Wilmington, I'm still here." His voice was weak, the southern drawl coming out sluggish and slurred. Ezra was having a hard time concentrating. He could hear the rushing water and that seemed to fill his mind. He tried to focus on something else, but it was too hard. He tried to concentrate on Buck's arms encircling him, holding him up and safe. He'd never felt safe before, but he really wasn't, was he? It was only an illusion; he was slowly freezing to death the icy water undermining his strength, stealing it away.
Buck didn't hear Chris until he placed a hand on his shoulder. "Buck, I'll take over now, you go and get warm." Chris handed Ezra a warm cup of water hoping it would help.
Buck did not want to leave Ezra. He watched as the conman savored the heat coming off the mug. "I'm fine, Chris," Buck absently replied not taking his eyes off Ezra. Chris could see the tinge of blue on Buck's lips and saw the involuntary shiver he tried to suppress.
"Buck, please do what Mr. Larabee says. I do not wish to deprive those women of your boorish endeavors," Ezra said, gazing up at his fun-loving friend. Chris grinned knowing now what the two men had talked about. Buck reluctantly relinquished his hold, allowing Chris to take his place. Chris got situated as Buck stood and stared at Ezra. He slowly turned and waded back to shore. Ezra and Chris stood silently for a moment the water pulling at their clothing. He noticed Ezra's blue tinged lips and how pallid his skin had become. He felt the fastidious conman shiver in his grasp unable to stop it.
Ezra raised his emerald eyes up to meet Chris' concerned gaze. He didn't know why he felt the need to say this. "Chris, I wish to thank you for giving me a second chance." At first Larabee didn't understand then his brow furrowed.
"I'm glad I did," Chris answered.
A reply Ezra hadn't expected from the stoic gunslinger. Larabee was full of surprises.
"Never can figure you out, Ezra," Chris exclaimed, looking down into the emerald eyes that no longer danced brightly on that devilish face, but instead, showed the numbness that mirrored how his body was feeling.
"Well, you're not exactly an open book, Mr. Larabee," Ezra managed to gasp out. This man had given him a second chance, something no one else had ever done before, and for that he was exceedingly grateful.
"No Ezra, I'm not and I'm sorry about that." Chris knew he needed to keep the gambler talking and if he had to open up to his own emotions to do so, he would.
"What do you have to be sorry about?" Ezra gasped as the coldness of the water bit once more at his shivering form.
"I haven't exactly welcomed you into the group with open arms have I?" Chris ignored the paling face as his friend continued to look up at him. He could see that the effort was soaking up any strength that Ezra had left, just as their clothing had soaked up the cold water that surrounded them. He held on more firmly with his left arm and used his right to wipe the damp hair from Ezra's forehead; it gave him a reason to hold his head for him. "I've kept my true feelings behind a closed cover, Ezra. I shouldn't have done that. It's made things more difficult for you to accept our friendship."
"Chris..." Ezra began but he wasn't able to stop Chris' open admittance.
"I never told you this, Ezra, but those days at the Seminal Village, I saw something in you, something that I don't think that you even knew." He applied pressure to Ezra's forehead forcing the conman to lay his head against his shoulder. "I saw the good man that you've become and I'm glad that you allowed that man to surface. I know it's been a struggle."
Chris felt Ezra's forehead frown beneath his hand, he knew that the younger man was thinking about what he had said.
"Thanks, Chris." What Chris had just told him brought a lot of emotions to his mind, momentarily distracting him from the numbness that had taken control of this body.
"If you tell anybody what I just said, I'll deny it." Chris smiled at him, his own eyes showing the humor behind the remark.
"Don't worry, I am finding it hard to believe that you said it." Ezra took a deep breath and groaned at the constriction in his chest. "No one would believe me anyway."
Chris could feel his own grasp taking on more weight as Ezra's strength continued to leave his body.
"Stay with me, Ezra!" Chris growled into the southerner's ear and felt the heaviness of the form that he held in his embrace take some of his own weight back.
"Chris?" Ezra struggled against the feeling of dread that began to fill his heart.
"Yeah, Ezra?" Chris waited a few seconds before he got a response.
"If you thought that, how come it took you so long to trust me?"
A pain-filled expression covered the gunslinger's face. "Because, Ezra, the person you were didn't deserved to be trusted, but the person that you have become can be trusted without a doubt. I couldn't trust you until you changed, and that took you a while." He felt Ezra nod in agreement.
"I didn't even trust myself." Ezra tired to shift his position, but cried out in pain as the trap once more tore at his ankle.
"You okay?" A nod was given as an answer. "What about now?" Chris repeated trying to take the gambler's mind off his pain.
"Do you trust yourself now?" He waited for the response that he hoped he would receive, but it didn't come, instead the gambler opened up to him.
"I want to, but I find it difficult to accept the person that I'm becoming. As you said, it's a struggle for me." Ezra regretted his words. How could his friends trust him if he didn't trust himself?
"We trust and believe in you, Ezra." Chris assured him as he felt another violent tremor wrack the smaller man's body. His own form shivered in sympathy.
Chris turned his head to look over his shoulder when he heard Josiah's huge mass enter the frigid water and wade over to them. He also brought over a heated mug of water placing it in Ezra's pruned, icy hands, which shook. Josiah clasped his huge hand over his and helped raise the warm liquid to his lips. He then wrapped his huge arm around Ezra's waist raising him up a little higher out of the water. Chris slapped the huge preacher on the back and gave Ezra one last encouraging smile then waded back to shore.
"Hang in there, son," Josiah quietly remarked.
"Mr. Sanchez, I thought we'd cleared up that little misconception," Ezra good-naturedly admonished the kindly ex-preacher.
Josiah smiled and bowed his head. Ezra winced in pain and Josiah's brow furrowed in concern. His body ached from the cold, but at least he couldn't feel the trap on his leg any longer.
"I had a son once," Josiah remarked looking down river as if looking towards a distant memory that only he could see.
Ezra looked up at the ex-preacher, speechless at this admission. He admitted he didn't know much about the ex-preacher's previous life. Hell, he didn't know anything. It was never his way to pry, even in friendship.
Josiah softly continued his eyes taking on a somewhat distant glow, peeling back the years. He looked down into Ezra's emerald green eyes. "He would be about your age now if he had lived."
"I'm truly sorry, Josiah, I had no idea." The words came out on a breath of disbelief and sorrow.
"You have a good heart and soul, Ezra, even if you don't want to admit it."
"I don't think you would have wanted the possible life of your son to of mirrored my own," Ezra chuckled.
Josiah smiled sadly, wondering why Ezra felt his life wasn't worth as much as anyone else's was. He knew a lot of it had to do with his upbringing.
"It's not your fault you were never given a chance to be who you were really meant to be...who you really are inside," Josiah stated with conviction. There was something about this fancy-dressing, arrogant, conniving man that brought out the paternal instinct in the ex-preacher. He couldn't explain it, not even to himself. Maybe he was just trying to save Ezra so he could redeem his own lost soul.
"Since you've been with us, the real you is emerging and it's someone..." Josiah paused and swallowed hard. "Someone I'd be proud to call son." Ezra saw the sincerity in those gray-blue eyes and it gave him a feeling he hadn't had since he was a child. His ice cold body was forgotten, replaced with the warmth of family, a family he once had long ago.
Ezra's voice was strained as he fought the fatigue pulling at him from the frigid water. He was weakening, and he knew it.
"I was five. I remember my father sitting on my bed. My father's own green eyes looking down on me as he tucked me in for the night." Ezra's eyes stared down that same stretch of river. "I can still feel his hand on my head. He had a sad look in those matching eyes." Ezra's eyes clouded over with the memory. He didn't know why he was telling Josiah this, he had never told a soul before now.
"He kissed me on the forehead and told me he loved me, it was the last time I ever heard those words. That night I heard Mother and him fighting and he stormed out. I still remember the slamming of the door. I fell asleep, but woke as mother finished packing some of our things. We left in the middle of the night and I never saw my father again."
Josiah stared incredulous, a lump in his throat making it hard for him to speak. How could Maude have taken a boy away from his father?
"You don't know if he's alive or dead?" Josiah asked.
Ezra slowly shook his head, his eyes were getting heavy and Josiah felt his weight increasing in his arms.
"Ezra, no stay with me, come on," Josiah pleaded the panic rising in his throat causing his voice to crack. He couldn't lose him now, not now.
Ezra's memory decided to take on a reality all its own. His green eyes looked up into Josiah's long face seeing the face of his father, his brow furrowed and his hand came halfway up then stopped. "Father?" Ezra's eyes slowly closed his hand dropped into the icy water and his head fell to his chest.
"CHRIS!" Josiah yelled over his shoulder. Chris and Buck jumped up seeing Josiah now holding Ezra's limp body and looking at them helplessly. They turned as they heard Vin racing toward them on his horse. He leapt from the saddle and ran down the slope, passed them and into the icy water.
"HURRY!" Josiah shouted as he tried without success to awaken the unresponsive gambler.
Chris and Buck quickly followed Vin into the water. Chris took a moment to look at Ezra's colorless face and his heart sank. He quickly waded over to where Buck and Vin were.
Nathan and JD pulled up in the buckboard, which was loaded with blankets and supplies. The two men jumped from the wagon and ran to the shoreline. Nathan grabbed JD by the collar, stopping him from rushing into the water.
"I need you dry, JD," Nathan sternly said. JD understood, but couldn't stand by and watch what was happening to his friend. He looked around hoping to find something that he could do to help; he saw the blankets in the wagon and ran to get one.
All three men dropped under the surface. Vin wedged the metal pole into one of the links. Buck and Chris grabbed the chain and all three men pulled with every ounce of strength they had, ignoring their lungs plea for air. The chain held firm. They tried again and finally, one of the links broke releasing its hold on the river bottom.
Chris broke the surface and yelled, "Get him out, Josiah!" Josiah gathered up the unconscious gambler his waterlogged clothing making him heavier than usual. He headed for shore with Vin supporting Ezra's foot and Chris and Buck splashing close behind.
Nathan swore as he took in the pale and near frozen form of his friend which Josiah cradled as he waded through the rushing water towards them. He saw the leg trap clasped tightly on Ezra's ankle, the chain dragging ten feet behind them.
JD quickly laid out a blanket on the sandy soil.
Josiah gently laid the unconscious gambler down. Vin used the metal pole to break the spring mechanism and pried open the metal-mouth. He threw the trap against a nearby tree with enough force to take a huge chunk of bark out of it.
"JD, I need hot water," Nathan urgently ordered. The young sheriff started searching frantically for more wood to build up the fire.
Everyone stood ignoring their own cold and wet clothes, their eyes locked on Ezra's rising and falling chest. The slow movement echoed their own, they held their breaths waiting for Nathan to give them permission to release the air that was now locked within their lungs.
"Dear Lord," Josiah quietly muttered looking at Ezra's broken ankle.
"Get his clothes off quick! Vin, get the rest of the blankets from the back of the wagon," Nathan ordered, this was when he was at his best.
Buck and Chris quickly stripped Ezra down and wrapped him in the blankets. Nathan and Josiah started rubbing the near frozen man's arms and chest as Buck and Chris worked on his legs. Ezra's head lolled to the side with no sign of life. Nathan lifted one eyelid noticing the sluggish pupil. Vin dumped an armful of blankets on the ground, his heart breaking at the sight of the pale unmoving chest.
It was obvious that Ezra's ankle was broken. At the moment, Nathan was more concerned with Ezra freezing to death.
Nathan searched for a pulse.
"Well, Nathan?" Buck prompted.
He felt a pulse waited, then nothing. He hung his head down. "I think we're to late."
"NO!" Josiah boomed, shoving Nathan aside and continuing to rub Ezra's chest and arms harder. "C'mon, Ezra! Fight!" Josiah yelled at the inert form below him. Chris laid a hand on Josiah's shoulder, which he shrugged off, refusing to give up.
Buck sat back on his heels shivering, his tears mixing with the droplets of water falling from his dark hair. Chris couldn't bare the thought of losing someone else; he started withdrawing into himself.
Josiah leaned over, placing his hand on top of Ezra's head he whispered into his ear. "I love you, son." Then kissed his forehead. He then continued rubbing his arms and chest trying to get the torpid blood moving through his veins. Vin looked away, seeing the despair on Josiah's face and realizing how much this was affecting the sensitive man.
It was a moment, but a breath caught in Ezra's throat. Buck and Chris immediately joined Josiah and once again began vigorously rubbing the gambler down. Nathan felt for a pulse and found one, the next beat coming a little sooner. He smiled. "We have him back," Nathan voiced, the astonishment not lost on any of them. JD began passing out blankets and hot coffee to the gunslingers as Nathan continued to work on Ezra.
Josiah stood off to the side wrapped in a blanket. He turned his head as Chris stepped up alongside. "What did you say to him, Josiah?" Chris asked wrapping his own blanket tighter around himself and holding a steaming cup of coffee close to his face.
"I just told him somethin' he hadn't heard in a long time." Josiah smiled down at his friend.
Nathan quickly set Ezra's leg with JD's help, which brought a moan of pain and awareness from the southern gambler's mouth.
Everyone surrounded their prone friend as Nathan wrapped the leg tightly. He would work on it more when they returned to town. Nathan moved to the campfire to mix up some herbs to relieve the pain.
Ezra's eyes slowly fluttered open and he was greeted by five cold, but elated faces looking down at him. A violent tremor coursed through his body and he immediately felt the weight of additional blankets.
He could again feel the pain in his left leg and he didn't think he'd ever feel warm again.
Nathan came to his head and gently lifted it bringing a warm cup of herbs and water to his lips. He forced the whole thing down Ezra's throat then laid him back.
"As soon as he's asleep we'll take him back to town," Nathan told Chris, who nodded.
Josiah sat down next to Ezra's head and pushed back the stray hairs from his forehead. Everyone noticed that the usually resistant gambler didn't protest or move away from his touch. Ezra tried to focus his green gaze, which was starting to get fuzzy, on Chris. "Thank you, Mr. Larabee, for keeping your promise," he hoarsely said. Chris smiled and nodded as Ezra's eyes slowly closed.
+ + + + + + +
Josiah stepped into the small telegraph office having just returned from Nathan's clinic. Ezra was still weak from the cold, but he was already giving Nathan a hard time about being cooped up in the clinic.
"How can I help you, Mr. Sanchez?" Mr. Warsin, the telegraph operator, asked the huge gunslinger.
"I want to send a telegram to a friend of mine in St. Louis."
The operator quickly pulled out a piece of paper and removed the stubby pencil from behind his ear. As soon as Josiah saw that the man was ready he began, "To Mr. Paul Radcliff, St. Louis, Missouri. Need whereabouts on a Byron Standish, stop. Any information helpful, stop. Signed Josiah."
Mr. Warsin figured the cost and went to work tapping out the message. "Will that be all, Mr. Sanchez?"
"Yes, and if anything comes back please see to it that I get it quickly and only me."
Josiah tipped his hat at Mr. Warsin and walked out of the small office and into the bright sunlight. He pulled his hat down to shade his eyes and headed for the church.