Webmaster Note: This fic was previously posted on another website and was moved to blackraptor in June of 2004.
There are two types of blindness;
One that prevents a person from seeing what's in front of one's own face.
The other, from seeing what another person is really like.
Only one leaves that person ignorant of what is really happening."
The two riders were enjoying the cool early morning air, or at least one was. Standish was never very cheery before nine. He had stayed up late, involved in a stimulating game of poker. Stimulating, because he won most of the hands. JD, being anxious to get back to Four Corners and risking life and limb woke the nocturnal gambler early.
The suave gambler sometimes envied the easterner's youthful exuberance; this wasn't one of those times. He truly liked the boy. He was one of the few who was probably as educated as he was, which wasn't saying a whole lot, but it was better than most. It took awhile for the young gunslinger to be accepted by the five gunslingers they worked with, he had to prove himself and in that they both had a lot in common. John Dunne had become everyone's kid brother, much to his dismay, and everyone felt a duty to watch out for him whether he liked it or not. Before leaving left Four Corners Buck had asked Ezra to keep an eye on him. The gregarious cowboy had grown very fond of the youth and Ezra had promised to watch out for him.
JD slowed up his horse, letting Ezra catch up with him. Ezra's hands were draped casually on top of the saddle horn the reins held loosely, allowing his horse pick its own way. He was in no hurry to return to Four Corners; not that he disliked the quaint backwater town. He just enjoyed the peace and quiet of the open road.
"Hey, Ez, I really appreciate you helpin' me pick out this dress for Casey," JD exclaimed as he brought his horse up alongside Ezra's chestnut stallion. His smile still held the charm of innocence; Ezra wondered how long that would last.
"Think nothing of it Mr. Dunne, anytime I can be of service in the pursuit of love is my pleasure," Ezra replied with a smile. He absently swiped at some dust on the sleeve of his new verdant jacket, which he had purchased at great expense from the Cedar Ridge mercantile.
They were making good time and by late morning they had reached 'Devil's rocks', a collection of medium sized boulders seemingly strewed about, like someone had tossed them like dice against a small sandy cliff. With JD leading, they casually made their way between the boulders, their horses' hooves striking the rocky ground and sending echoes throughout the small canyon. The coolness of the morning was giving way to the heat of the afternoon, which radiated off the rocky walls. Ezra removed his hat to wipe the sweat from his brow. He froze when he caught the glint of metal up above. Ezra slowly placed his hat back on, keeping his eyes to the ground. His hand casually dropping to his holster. A shot was fired, kicking dirt up at JD's horse's feet and causing the animal to rear. JD hung on and managed to turn the frightened horse around. He pulled out his revolver, searching for the source of the shot and a target. Standish saw the surprise on JD's face and watched as it quickly turned to terror as bullets started flying and ricocheting off the nearby rocks.
JD managed to shoot one of the bandits just as his horse was shot, sending both to the ground. Ezra witnessed the young man's descent and continued firing as he jumped from his own horse and took cover behind a nearby rock. He could see JD's horse lying motionless but couldn't see his young friend. He hoped that JD was playing possum. Ezra peered around the rock, seeing a second attacker trying to move in closer. He waited for his chance and fired, the bullet striking the man in the chest and hurling him back several feet where he laid motionless. Ezra waited until he heard the sound of a horse riding away then let out the breath he had been holding. He holstered his gun and ran to JD's downed horse.
"Mr. Dunne, are you injured?" He called out, a tremulous note attached to his words. Ezra came around the dead horse and spotted the young lawman lying unconscious on the ground his head bleeding where it had struck a rock when he fell. Ezra kneeled down beside the young gunslinger and started assessing his injuries. He carefully turned the young man over onto his back relieved to not find any bullet holes. He reached into the saddlebag on JD's mount and pulled out a clean shirt, which he ripped in half. He applied pressure to the wound until it stopped bleeding then wet another cloth and cleaned it. JD began to stir. Ezra propped him up against the rock and wrapped some cloth around his head to protect the wound, he didn't think it looked too serious. He then wet down more of the cloth and began moping the young lawman's face. JD moaned and his dark eyes fluttered then snapped opened. Ezra looked down and watched as anguish contorted the boyish features.
"EZRA! EZRA! Where are you? I can't see!" Dunne grabbed for Ezra as panic set in. He grabbed hold of the verdant jacket his eyes darting back and forth.
"Easy Mr. Dunne, take it easy," Ezra tried to soothe the terror-stricken boy who was taking great gulps of air trying to calm himself. Ezra was barely holding down his own panic and fear at JD's condition. He truly liked the boy and hated to see anything happen to him. Ezra waved his hand in front of JD's unseeing eyes and bit his lip, as JD began to shake. "Listen to me, JD," Ezra said trying to calm the youth, using his given name immediately got Dunne's attention. "Mr. Jackson has told me that sometimes head wounds can cause this affliction and it's usually temporary."
"Head wound?" JD asked bewildered reaching up to gingerly touch the bandage around his head.
"Yes, don't you remember? We were ambushed. Your horse was shot and you were thrown to the ground where you hit your head," Ezra slowly explained.
Dunne shook his head immediately regretting the movement as a sharp pain lanced through his head almost bringing him to tears. He brought his face up, his watery unseeing eyes staring at the worried gambler. "I'm blind?"
Standish grabbed another piece of the clean shirt he had used to bandage JD's head and began to wrap the youth's dark, sorrowful eyes. "We probably should protect them until we get back to Four Corners and have Mr. Jackson take a look."
JD seemed to grow a little calmer, Ezra figured the shock was hitting him and he was trying to deal with it. JD took a deep breath and let it out slowly his whole body shuddered. "Are you okay? What happened to the men that attacked us?"
"We disposed of two of them the third got smart and took off." Ezra looked over his shoulder to confirm that the man had not tried to return.
"Now what?" JD asked his lips pressed into a line of worry.
"Well, I believe we should withdraw from this area, incase our surviving friend decides to return. We'll have to ride double on my horse and take it slow," Ezra replied, maintaining a steady voice.
Standish picked up JD's bowler and placed it on his head, rewarded with a faint smile. Ezra took JD's hand and helped him up grateful the boy could not see the pained expression on his own face. JD wobbled slightly, and Ezra leaned him up against a nearby boulder.
"You stay here and I'll retrieve my horse and your saddlebags. We'll have to come back for your saddle later."
JD sighed, "I'm glad that wasn't my horse but he was still a good animal."
Ezra walked over to his horse and started rummaging through his saddlebags pulling out the new white shirts he had purchased and his flask of whiskey. He removed his jacket noticing the bullet hole. The bottom half of the shirt he was wearing, was soaked in blood. He unbuttoned the shirt, seeing where the bullet had entered his left side. He opened his flask and took a long drawl then closed his eyes and poured the remaining liquor on the wound. He bit back a scream and fell against his horse, grabbing the saddle to keep from falling on the ground. As the pain subsided Ezra ripped one of his new shirts, the act making him ill. He applied pressure to the wound, audibly inhaling as he tried to stop the bleeding. He knew the bullet was still in there. He ripped another long strip and tied it around his waist to hold the bandage in place. He then removed another clean shirt and put it on. He put his jacket back on, grabbed the reins of his horse, and returned to JD.
"Are you okay, Mr. Dunne?" Ezra asked in a strained voice, which luckily JD did not notice. The young lawman turned to the sound of the southerner's voice.
"Yeah, I guess so, a little dizzy is all."
"Here drink some of this." Ezra placed the canteen in Dunne's groping hands.
Ezra walked over and managed to pull the saddlebags from the dead horse, causing his side to rebel in pain. Ezra's world started to swim but he shook it off. He was JD's only chance. He had to get them back to Four Corners. Buck would never forgive him if he allowed anything to happen to the boy, and he would never forgive himself. Larabee would probably shoot him; Ezra grinned to himself at the thought.
"Okay, Mr. Dunne, I suggest we be on our way." Ezra feared that the man that escaped would return and probably with reinforcements. They were still a day away from Four Corners and would eventually have to find a place to camp for the night. Ezra did not want to be caught out in the open.
Ezra led JD to his horse and mounted, placing JD's saddlebags in front of him. He reached down for the younger man's hand and hoisted the boy up behind him, grimacing as it pulled at his side. Ezra clucked his tongue and gave a gentle nudge with his heels to urge his horse into motion.
Ezra kept his horse at an easy pace as much for himself as for the animal. JD had remained quiet for the past couple of hours, which started to worry him. There were times when he wished the lad would shut up, this was not one of them.
"Ah, Mr. Dunne, I would greatly appreciate a retelling of one of those many books you read, to help pass the time."
It was a moment before JD replied, "What good am I now?"
Standish's heart broke for the young lawman. He tried to think of something to say. He didn't have much experience when it came to knowing what to say in these situations. He wasn't use to having someone depend on him or ask his advice. "Mr. Dunne, I told you this is probably only temporary."
"But what if it isn't? What if I'm blind for the rest of my life? All I've ever wanted was to ride and shoot and have adventures and..." JD choked back a sob. "Ezra, I love being Sheriff and part of something."
Ezra felt the small shiver that went through JD's body. He raised his eyes to the cloudless sky and exhaled. He knew what the young man meant, he too found belonging much better than being alone. He used to believe his life would end at a poker table amongst strangers, and he would be buried, nameless and forgotten. Funny how life could change in a blink of an eye. Now, he had six men and a whole town that cared about him, at least enough to give him a decent burial and maybe say a few words over his grave.
"What about Casey? What good am I to her this way?" JD said dejectedly.
"I'm sure Miss Wells will accept you in any condition," Ezra quietly remarked. "She is a wonderful girl and I hope you give her more credit than that."
"I don't want to be a burden."
Ezra realized he had to get JD's mind off his affliction. "Mr. Dunne, I am the king of self pity and would hate to be dethroned. Now, I doubt that Mr. Larabee or Mr. Wilmington would tolerate this kind of talk and neither will I. Let's wait for a prognosis from Mr. Jackson before we start contemplating what may be needless worry."
The mention of Buck seemed to strike a chord. JD looked up to Buck and knew the cowboy would not like to see him wallowing in self-pity. Ezra was right. There was nothing that could be done right now. It was best to just wait and see.
They traveled for several more hours finally setting up camp near a quiet stream. Ezra placed JD against a rock and prepared his bedroll then collected firewood and started a fire. The young easterner dozed off and Ezra realized the boy probably had a slight concussion. His own wound throbbed from the exertion and his face was bathed in sweat. He took the time to check his injury, which had finally stopped bleeding. He carefully unwrapped it, grimacing as the wet cloth pulled at the wound. He looked down to see an angry, oozing hole. He tried to gently clean it and hissed as a sharp pain went through him. His vision blurred and he collapsed to his hands and knees, trying to stem off the encroaching darkness. Ezra took several deep breaths and leaned back on his knees. He looked over at JD, making sure the youth had not awaken. He washed out the bandages as best he could since he had no more shirts to rip up. Ezra heated up the last of the food they had purchased in Cedar Ridge. He noticed that JD's sleep was restless, as he tossed and mumbled.
"Ezra, Ezra?" JD called out.
Standish could hear the fear in his voice. "I'm right here Mr. Dunne," he replied kneeling down and handing him a plate of food. "Here, you need to eat." JD took the plate, the smell making him realize how hungry he was as his mouth watered. "I'm going to have to extinguish the fire soon."
"Do you really think they'll come after us?" JD voiced between mouthfuls.
"Well, like our illustrious leader would say, 'best to not take any chances'." JD grinned slightly; even though Chris and Ezra had their differences, he knew Ezra respected the dark-clad leader. And in Chris' own way, he respected Ezra. They just were both to proud and stubborn to admit it.
Ezra removed the bandage from JD's head to check the wound, making sure it wasn't infected. It hadn't bled anymore but there was an ugly purple bruise forming on his forehead.
As the sun set Ezra extinguished the fire. He hadn't unsaddled his horse, incase they had to make a quick break for it and he wasn't sure he could anyway. His own wound had started to bleed again and while JD slept he attended to it the best he could. He then propped himself up against a tree planning on staying awake the whole night to watch over his charge.
The next morning Ezra collected the gear then woke JD. "C'mon Mr. Dunne, rise and shine."
JD woke and pressed his hands to his bandaged eyes. It felt like his head was going to split in two. "What time is it?" He rasped.
"About seven, we need to get moving," Ezra replied in a weak voice, which got JD's attention.
"Ezra, are you alright?" He asked his voice laced with concern.
"Yes, it's just that staying up all night does nothing for one's enthusiasm," he lied. His side felt like it was on fire.
They quickly broke camp; again Ezra mounted his horse and gave a hand up to JD, the pain almost causing him to scream out.
They made good time during the coolness of the morning, but as the mid-day heat wrapped around them, Ezra was forced to slow his horse. He couldn't afford to lose the animal they'd never make it on foot. Hoping to past the time, JD finally decided to recite some of the adventures he had read about in one of his many dime store novels. Ezra tried to listen but his world was starting to melt away.
"Hey, Ezra did I ever tell you..."
JD's voice seemed to fade, and Ezra's head started to swim. He thought he heard someone calling his name with some urgency, but by then he was falling from his horse. Ezra choked off a scream, as his wounded side hit the ground. The pain spread from his wound throughout his body causing him to curl up.
JD grabbed the reins and pulled up, sliding off the horse. He couldn't hold back the panic in his voice. "Ezra! Where are you?" He heard a groan, and holding onto the horse's reins made his way toward the sound. His boot nudged something soft, and he knelt down to find Ezra's inert form. "Ezra, what's wrong?" He could feel the heat emanating from the conman's weakened body. His hand brushed Ezra's wounded side, causing him to moan and curl up even tighter. JD felt the wetness through the bandage. "You were shot! Why didn't' you tell me?" His anger was only tempered by his concern.
"I believed you had enough to worry about," Ezra quietly gasped.
"What can I do?" JD asked his fingers curled into fists of helplessness.
Ezra raised his head and looked around. "There is a grove of trees over to your right, help me there," he urgently gasped.
JD got his shoulder under Ezra's arm, and helped him rise. He grabbed the reins of the horse and together they stumbled towards the shade of several large trees. He set Ezra against a tree. He felt so helpless what could he do? He grabbed the canteen and handed it to Ezra. "Is the bullet still in there?"
"I'm afraid so." Ezra winced, placing his head against the tree and closing his eyes. "Now, Listen to me. We're only an hour or so away from town I want you to get on my horse, give him his head, and he'll take you back to town."
JD couldn't believe what Ezra was asking. "Ezra, I can't leave you, not like this!"
"Sir, we have little choice. I can not ride." His eyes were heavy and it was a chore just to stay conscious.
JD stood up, and stepped back his heart pounding. What would the others do? Ezra was a good friend; he cared about him. The young gunslinger rubbed the horse's loose reins between his fingers. Ezra groaned as a bolt of pain shot through him. JD took the reins, tying them to the horn, leaving the horse plenty of slack. He then moved behind the animal and slapped its rump, sending him on its way. He turned and cautiously made his way back to Ezra's side.
"Wha...What?" Ezra mumbled as JD startled him. "Mr. Dunne, I thought I told you to leave."
"Ah, sorry the horse got away from me," he lied.
Ezra had to suppress a chuckle. "Mr. Dunne, you cannot con a conman."
The young sheriff sat down next to his injured friend. He removed the bandage from his head and used the canteen to soak it, placing it on the gambler's fevered forehead. "Ezra, why did you want me to leave you?"
Standish grimaced slightly. "Because Mr. Dunne, some people's lives our of more importance than others." Ezra cut JD off as he was about to object to this. "It is a fact of life, one that I learned early on." JD heard the abiding sadness in the southerner's voice.
Vin stepped out of the saloon just as Ezra's horse came barreling down the street. He raced out in front of the emancipated steed, grabbing the reins and bringing him to a stop. "CHRIS! BUCK!" he yelled back at the saloon. The two lawmen came out to see Ezra's horse lathered and blowing hard. Wilmington's stomach clenched in fear.
"What happened?" Buck asked, as he and Chris approached Vin.
"Don't know, Ezra's horse just came galloping in," Vin replied. His hand came up with blood on his fingers. "There's blood on the saddle."
"Get everyone together now, we'll backtrack the trail and hope it leads to them," Chris ordered. Vin took the horse by the reins and led him to the stables. Chris headed for the church. Buck stood alone in the middle of the street. Please let JD be alright he thought. He cast a worried gaze skyward, please.
JD did everything he could to make Ezra comfortable. His fever was still rising, and his breathing was becoming more and more labored.
JD's eyes began to twitch and tingle. He rubbed his eyes then quickly removed the bandage. The light caused some discomfort and he squinted, everything was blurry. He did see light and some dark forms that he thought might be boulders or bushes. He rubbed his eyes again. "Ezra, Ezra, I think my sight is coming back." But the injured man was far from hearing.
JD checked his pulse and let out a breath when he finally found it. "Hang on Ez, please hang on." He wanted the opportunity to prove to Ezra that his life was just as important as anyone else's.
The expert tracker was examining the tracks in the hard packed dirt as four others watched, concern etched on each of their faces.
"Don't worry, brother Buck," Josiah said. "Ezra wouldn't let anything happen to JD."
Buck gave Josiah a thankful smile but his gut still wrenched with fear. He was fearful for JD, but he also worried for Ezra. He knew the egotistical gambler would risk his own life to protect the boy.
Chris pushed his black hat back upon his head. He stared out upon the desolated landscape, having similar thoughts. He knew at times the gambler was self-absorbed, but when one of them was in trouble Ezra always showed his true nature.
"The tracks are still heading toward the east," Vin said to the blond gunslinger as he mounted, breaking Chris out of his reverie. The five continued on in search of their friends.
JD felt before he heard the hoof beats. His first thought was that it was the others, but then he realized they were coming from the wrong direction, and dread settled into his heart. He squinted, trying to make out anything upon the blurry landscape. He could just make out four indistinct dark shapes, moving toward them. He quickly got under Ezra's arms and dragged him behind the tree. He then slowly made his way to what he hoped was a rocky outcrop where he could get protection and keep them away from the unconscious conman. He stumbled and fell several times, but finally reached a huge boulder, which he got behind. He removed his colts, trying to calm his shaking hands. He had to feel the chambers to be sure that they were loaded. He peered around the boulder and could see shapes milling about, trying to decipher the tracks. JD hoped they would ride on, but if they headed towards Ezra, he wouldn't hesitate to shoot. He wiped his sweating palms down his jacket. One of the shapes started moving toward the trees. JD raised his gun and pointed at what he hoped was a vital area. He shot and was rewarded with the dark shape dropping to the ground. The other three scattered in various directions and JD was not able to follow all their moves.
Standish regained consciousness to the sound of gunfire. He pulled his gun and rolled over, peering out from behind the tree. He saw JD, who had taken cover behind a large rock, firing at several men, who were slowing moving up on him. Ezra could tell JD's shots were scattered and random, and soon the bandits would see that too. The weakened conman brought his gun up, resting it upon a tree root. His vision blurred, and he had to wipe the sweat that was streaming down into his eyes. He fired, knocking one man off his feet. Ezra tried to focus on JD but his eyes grew heavy. He passed out still holding his gun and believing he had failed to save his friend's life.
All five men heard the shots; Buck rose in his saddle. "That sounds like JD's gun." Buck spurred his horse and raced ahead followed by the others.
JD fired several more shots at what he hoped was one of the attackers. But the last two men had realized something was very wrong with the young gunslinger.
Chris, Vin, Buck, Nathan and Josiah jumped from their horses, guns drawn, grabbing cover wherever they could find it. They were on a slight rise and looked down to see their young friend, trying to fend off two men who were closing in on him. Vin brought his Winchester rifle up and fired, instantly killing one of the men. The other turned toward the shot and aimed his gun. Vin fired again. JD heard the shots and saw the men fall, at first he thought it was Ezra doing the shooting.
After the last man was killed Buck stood up, and JD promptly shot off his hat. Buck dropped to the ground, holding his hat he fingered the hole. "Gawd dang it JD, what the hell are you doing?" He yelled out
"Buck, is that you?" JD yelled coming out from behind the boulder. The five gunslingers could tell that something was not right. They ran down the rise toward their friend. Vin veered off to check on the dead men. "Did we get them all?" JD asked, staring blankly passed them.
"Yeah kid, we did. What's wrong with you?" Wilmington asked the concern evident in his voice and on his furrowed brow. Noticing the head wound, Nathan pushed forward and looked into JD's eyes.
"I can't see, I hit my head yesterday when me and Ezra..." Fear came to JD's face. He grabbed the front of Buck's shirt. "Ohmygod, Ezra! He was shot. He's over by the tree." The six men all went to the nearby tree where they found the injured gambler, unconscious, and still clutching his gun. Nathan knelt down at his side checking for a pulse.
"Nathan is he...?" JD was afraid to say it.
"No JD, he's still with us, but he's in a bad way. When did this happen?"
"Yesterday, we were ambushed by three men. We killed two of them but the third got away. I guess he came back with friends to finish the job. I didn't find out he was shot until this morning. He didn't want me to worry because of my eyes," JD answered.
Buck placed a comforting arm around his young friend. "Don't worry Buck, I'm already beginning to see shapes and light. I think it's coming back."
Buck let out a sigh of relief.
"How could Ezra risk his own life for me?" JD murmured.
"I need to remove the bullet," Nathan said. Buck guided JD over to a stump and sat him down, then went off to get some water.
Vin and Josiah held onto Ezra as Nathan used a knife to open the wound on his side. Ezra stirred but remained unconscious. Nathan quickly removed the bullet, and then cleaned the wound. He placed a cool cloth on Ezra's heated brow then sat back.
"Is he going to be alright," Chris asked. Nathan stared with concerned eyes down at Ezra, then looked up at Chris' worried frown.
"I don't know. We have to wait for his fever to break. The wound is infected and he's lost a lot of blood. I can't believe how long he held on. He had to have been in tremendous pain."
A guilty expression flashed across JD's face, which Buck caught. He knew the young man would blame himself. "JD, it wasn't your fault, you know how stubborn Ezra can be," Buck told the kind-hearted young man.
"Yeah, but he was trying to protect me. He wanted me to leave him," JD explained.
"But you didn't," Chris cut in. "And he's probably alive because you stayed."
JD gave Chris a grateful smile, anything coming from the dark-clad leader meant a lot to the young man.
Ezra slowly opened his eyes, only to be met with Jackson's wide grin. "How ya' feelin'?"
Ezra swallowed and replied in a pain-filled voice, "Like hell..." panic gripped him and he tried to rise up on his elbows, "JD?"
"Right here, Ezra," JD called out, stepping into the gambler's field of vision. Ezra let out a breath and settled back down at the sight of the young lawman, giving him a faint smile.
"You all would have been proud of young Mr. Dunne's performance and courage..." Ezra slowly drifted off without finishing the sentence. Concern jumped onto everyone's face.
They managed to get Ezra back to Four Corners where he remained unconscious for two days, enduring bouts of violent delirium and restless slumber. He had called out numerous times for JD and even once apologized to Buck for not protecting him.
A groan from the gambler brought Nathan immediately to his side. Ezra's green eyes flickered open. At first everything was dark, then he turned to see the low glow of a lantern, which Nathan brought closer.
"How long?" Ezra asked his voice harsh and sore.
"You've been out of it for two days. It's just after midnight," the healer replied, placing his hand on Standish's forehead relieved to find the fever had finally broke. He helped Ezra up and gave him some water, then laid him back down.
"He's fine. His sight is slowly improving. Buck's been hovering over him like a mother hen. I think JD's ready to shoot 'im." Nathan paused. "He owes you his life. He told us how you ignored your own injuries and kept him going. We might never a got to you two in time if you were any farther away."
Ezra chuckled slightly and swallowed. "I had a personal stake in Mr. Dunne's well being. I highly doubt Mr. Larabee would have been pleased with my survival over his."
This saddened and shocked the caring black man. He wondered why the gambler thought so little of himself, or thought that everyone else thought so little of him. Before he could correct this assumption Ezra fell back to sleep.
Nathan opened the door to leave, allowing the faint glow of light from the hallway to enter. He nodded towards the dark-clad figure, who had been sitting in the corner of the room watching over Ezra all night.
Disclaimer: The characters in this story are not mine(no matter how much I dream about them). No money is being made by me for the use of them in this story. This is for pure fun and writing practice.