Webmaster Note: This fic was previously posted on another website and was moved to blackraptor in June of 2004.
COPYRIGHT @ JUL 1999
Standish tipped his hat as Mrs. Travis approached with her son Billy in tow. The young Travis grinned as the genteel gambler stopped in front of them.
"Hey, Mr. Standish are you going to teach me that card trick?" The young boy innocently asked.
Ezra's smile dropped slightly, abashed at Billy's disclosure in front of his mother. Mrs. Travis tried to appear not at all pleased with this revelation, but it was difficult to grow angry with the gracious and well-mannered gambler.
Ezra Standish did make a lousy first impression on most people, but Mrs. Travis had discovered that as one got to know and understand the enigmatic cardsharp, it was hard not to surrender to those captivating green eyes and southern charm. Mary had caught herself, on more than one occasion, in romantic fantasies with the handsome lawman.
Ezra placed a hand on Billy's shoulder, for some reason, which mystified many; Ezra had an affinity for children. They sought him out like some kind of pied piper.
"Maybe that wouldn't be a prudent idea, Mr. Travis, but how about I treat you to a sarsaparilla at the saloon?"
Billy bowed his head in disappointment. He then realized that the other lawmen, including Chris, would be at the saloon and the smile returned to his face.
"That would be great." The excited boy looked toward his mother. "Can I go ma?"
Mary smiled down at her young son, who was looking more and more like his late father every day. "I don't see why not, but behave yourself."
"No worries, I'll see to it personally that Master Travis conducts himself appropriately," Ezra said, giving Billy a wink.
"Uh huh." Mary smiled; she sometimes wondered what sort of influence Ezra and the other lawmen were on her son. She looked down at the smile of pure joy on Billy's face and knew it was good.
Ezra tipped his hat to the newspaper woman, and he and Billy stepped off the boardwalk onto the wide dirt packed street. "I must warn you Mr. Travis that JD has several new jokes and he's determined to tell them to everyone in town."
Chris Larabee stepped out of the saloon and leaned against the railing. The afternoon sun causing him to pull his hat down to shade his eyes. He smiled when he saw Billy and Ezra coming across the street. Chris heard Buck and JD coming up the boardwalk, their usual verbal antics making them hard to miss. The blond gunslinger glanced up the street. Fear came to his blue eyes when he saw an uncontrolled team of horses and wagon racing down the street.
Ezra frowned at the look on his leader's face and turned to see the oncoming danger. Ezra instinctively grabbed a handful of the Billy's jacket and flung him backward. The startled boy landed on his backside as the thundering hooves churned up the dust just feet away, he could feel the vibration through the ground. He watched in horror as the horses struck the gambler spinning him around. Billy couldn't move as Ezra fell under the spinning wheels of the wagon.
Chris froze and his heart dropped into his stomach as dust churned up around Billy, momentarily hiding him from view. In that moment of terror, he relived the death of his own son.
Wilmington grabbed Chris's arm, tearing him away from his inner horror. JD, Buck and Chris raced to the middle of the street where Ezra laid motionless, face down in the dirt. Mary sobbed, sitting in the dirt, holding her terror-stricken son close. Billy stared over her shoulder at the unmoving lawman.
Having witnessed the incident from the church, Josiah Sanchez now raced up the street, his heart pounding in fear. Josiah pushed through the surrounding crowd, yelling, "DON'T MOVE HIM! SOMEONE GET NATHAN!" He knew it could be dangerous to move an injured man. When he looked down at the dust covered form, his first thought was that Ezra was dead.
Nathan Jackson slid on his knees alongside his friend's broken body. He checked for a pulse, relieved and surprised when he found one. How could anyone survive being run over by a wagon?
"Okay, we need to turn him over slowly and all at once," Nathan instructed.
Nate took hold of Ezra's head as Josiah took hold of Ezra's waist and Buck and Chris grabbed his legs. Vin appeared at Mary's side and helped her to stand. She never relinquished her hold on her trembling son.
"Okay, on three. One...two...three."
The four men rolled the gambler over, keeping his limbs aligned to prevent further injury. "JD, I need a board so we can carry him up to my room without doing any more damage."
The young lawman ran off without questioning. Jackson's examination revealed a broken arm and several broken ribs, and then he noticed the trickle of blood coming from Ezra's mouth. Nate opened Ezra's jacket and shirt. He gasped when he saw the large discolored area on his abdomen.
"What is it, Nate, what's wrong," Buck asked.
Nate ignored the anxious gunslinger as he pressed slightly on the area, eliciting a moan from the unconscious gambler.
"Shhh, easy Ez," Nathan sadly soothed.
Hearing the despair in Nathan's voice, Buck and Vin exchanged heart-wrenching expressions.
JD returned with a back board. Josiah, Buck and Nathan carefully placed Ezra's limp body on it and took him up to the clinic.
Nathan chased everyone out of the room, and then turned his attention to Ezra who had become very pale and was starting to stir. Nathan placed his hands on the gambler's abdomen and pressed slightly noticing how rigid it had become. Ezra's eyes' flashed open, and he started taking in great gulps of air.
"Nat...than." His southern accent was thick with pain and fear.
"I'm right here Ez, just take it easy," Nathan soothed as he bent down close to the injured man. "You've got some busted ribs and a broken arm. You have to stay still."
Nathan straightened. Ezra's hand lashed out and grabbed hold of Nathan's arm.
"He's fine." Nathan smiled and patted Ezra's hand. 'Thanks to you', he thought.
Ezra's hand fell to his side, and he slowly closed his eyes not noticing the single tear trickling down Nathan's dark visage.
The other lawmen were all waiting in the bar room, including Mary. She never would have believed it if she hadn't seen it with her own eyes. Ezra Standish had saved her son's life. The words kept running through her head, along with the sight of him lying in the street. She had asked Mrs. Potter to watch after Billy. She had to know that Ezra was going to be alright. Billy had fallen asleep as soon as he was settled into bed.
"He'll be fine, just like always. Right Buck?" JD asked, his voice betraying the doubt he felt. The womanizer gave his young friend a sad look and tossed back the shot of whiskey he was holding. Ezra hadn't looked alright, not at all.
All eyes turned to the top of the stairs, as Nathan finally appeared looking very tired and dejected. Buck, JD, Mary and Josiah all stood up as Nathan descended the stairs, their bodies showing how anxious they were for word on their friend's condition. Nathan made his way across the floor and sat down across from Chris, who slid a shot of whiskey to him. Nathan nodded his gratitude and tossed the liquor back. He couldn't look at anyone. He didn't want to erase the hopefulness in their eyes.
"Well, how is he?" Buck asked impatiently.
Nathan licked his lips and released a deep breath. "He needs a doctor, a real doctor. I think he has internal injuries. There's nothing I can do." Nathan clasped his hands on the table and bowed his head so no one could see the despair on his face--Ezra was a dead man. Damn, he was useless. "The best I can do is try and make him comfortable."
Quiet commanded the room as what Nathan was saying sunk in. Ezra was going to die. Buck wiped a hand down his face. JD turned around to hide the sudden tears that welled up in his eyes. Josiah's own gray-blue eyes glistened with pending tears. Mary allowed tears to stream freely down her face.
"There's got to be something you can do," Vin suddenly stated. The thought of Ezra dieing created a feeling he hadn't experienced since the death of his mother.
Larabee tossed back the shot he held and slammed the glass back on the table capturing everyone's attention. He grabbed his hat and stood up all in one fluid motion. "So, we get him a doctor," Chris stated matter-of-factly. "Vin you're with me."
The dark-clad gunslinger turned to head out the door, but stopped when Nathan called out, "Chris, if you don't find one in a day, come back."
Chris understood the look in Nathan's compassionate eyes. If he came back without a doctor, he'd be returning for a funeral. He nodded and left, Vin following close behind.
The ex-medic poured himself another shot, not much of a drinker, he really needed this one. What good was he? He was nothing more than an ex-Army medic who was good with a knife. When it came right down to it, anybody could do what he did. He had fooled himself into thinking that he was actually doing some good. Now a good friend was dying and there was absolutely nothing he could do for him. Some people might think it strange, including Ezra that he actually cared about him. The two men had their differences, but Nathan had grown quite fond of the sometime knavish gambler. He had seen beneath the cool exterior that Ezra had been taught to use as a child. Ezra had a good heart, even though he tried to hide it. Nathan realized that they had more in common than either wanted to admit. They both were brought up to not trust or rely on anyone but themselves for survival. Doubts began to plague Nathan's thoughts. Had he been fooling himself as well as everyone else? He never pretended to be a doctor, but what exactly was he doing? Giving false hope?
Nathan returned to his room to check on Ezra. The cardsharp had regained consciousness. Nathan placed a hand on the southerner's fevered brow, thinking what a useless act.
Ezra stared up at him with glassy eyes, which showed the pain he was struggling with. It was a struggle just to breathe. He desperately wanted to take a deep breath, but the pain constricting his chest wouldn't allow it.
"It's not good is it, Mr. Jackson?" Ezra's normally smooth southern drawl came out raspy and harsh. Nathan could see that even a few words were tiring him out; he was as pale as the pillow and fighting to keep his eyes open.
Nathan bowed his head; he hadn't realized his face was giving him away. "You'll be fine, Ezra."
"You sir, are a terrible liar," he whispered as his eyes slowly closed.
Nathan's pressed his lips together, 'Not if Chris and Vin have anything to say about it,' he reflected, trying to maintain some small ray of hope.
Chris and Vin returned later that evening. They entered the saloon with a grandfatherly-looking fellow between them. The elderly gent was probably in his mid to late 60s, but carried himself well. He had eyes the color of a clear winter sky, but by the look of them a storm was brewing. He sported a wild crop of white hair and was a couple inches shorter than Chris, but radiated an authoritarian attitude, which he seemed very comfortable with. It was apparent he wasn't pleased with the present situation. His lips were pressed in a firm straight line making them almost non-existent. The lines on his brow deepened with his scowl. Chris led the gentleman to a chair and placed a hand on his shoulder forcing him to sit.
Nathan and Mary descended the stairs surprised to see that the two lawmen had returned and even more surprised to see who they had brought. The elderly man glared at them, arms folded across his chest.
"Nathan, I'd like you to meet, Dr. Matthew Edwards, from Denver, who just happened to be passing through Cedar Ridge when we bumped into him," Vin introduced.
"You mean Shanghai, don't you!" Dr. Edwards complained, shrugging off Larabee's hand. He still couldn't believe that these two men had more or less kidnapped him. They had approached him in town asking for his help, but he had been in a hurry to reach Denver. His daughter had just given birth to a baby girl and he was anxious to see his new granddaughter. The two gunslingers also made him exceedingly nervous. He had refused their request and boarded the stage. He didn't realized how desperate the two men were and to what ends they would go.
Chris and Vin had intercepted the stagecoach a few miles out of Cedar Ridge. They had pulled the Doctor off, offering very little in the way of an explanation. Vin had pulled his gun on the driver, stopping him from interfering, not that he'd have shot, but the driver didn't know that.
Jackson could see that Dr. Edwards was not happy at being here and could only assume that Chris and Vin had used there own special persuasive tactics to bring him here. But either way, he was here and they needed his help. By the glare in Chris's eyes, the gunslinger was not above threatening bodily harm if the Doctor refused to help. Nathan was astonished at the amount of concern the blond lawman had for Ezra.
Nathan knew someone had to set the wheel of affability in motion and extended his hand toward the good doctor. "Sir, it is a pleasure to meet you. I'm Nathan Jackson the local healer here."
Dr. Edwards glared suspiciously at the dark man. Nathan dropped his hand and looked toward Chris and Vin. He then sat down in the chair opposite the put-out doctor. He knew he had to gain this man's trust and sympathy.
"Doctor, I apologize for the inconvenience but we're in desperate need of your help. A friend of ours was seriously injured saving the life of Miss Travis' son." Nathan glanced over at Mary, who stood beside Chris, biting her lower lip. "He's dieing."
Dr. Edwards glanced over at the attractive blond woman seeing the sadness in her blue eyes. He returned his glare to the young black man, not sure what to make of the whole situation. He looked into Nathan's face and saw the concern and fear etched in his handsome young features.
Nathan was prepared to drop to his knees and beg if necessary and the doctor seemed to sense this. Edwards turned his head to glare at the two gunslingers who had brought him and noticed the same concern now on their harden exteriors. They didn't look like the same dangerous men who had abducted him from the stage. They looked more like men desperate to save their friend.
Jackson saw the Doc's face soften and his shoulders relax. He ran a hand through his thick white hair and took a deep breath. The anger he felt was waning, as he realized the extent these people had gone and were willing to go, to save a friend. "Well, since I'm here I guess the least I can do is take a look," he begrudgingly replied.
Nathan led the doctor upstairs and to his room. The doctor looked down upon the inert form of the young gambler and his heart went out to him. The handsome, dark-haired man reminded him of his own son who had died last year and would have been about the same age. Nathan remained out of the way, leaning up against the wall. He watched as the Doctor pressed down on the same spot on Ezra's abdomen. Ezra groaned slightly and tried to move away from the pain. Edwards placed a restraining hand on his shoulder. "Easy there, son."
Nathan watched the doctor's shoulders rise as he took a deep breath and slowly released it.
It was half an hour when Nathan and the doctor returned to the bar room. Josiah, Buck and JD were now present along with Chris and Vin. Edwards looked around at the people who surrounded him and felt the anticipation and anxiety filling the room. This made what he was about to say even more difficult. Surprisingly the Doctor grabbed the bottle of whiskey that sat in the center of the table and poured himself a shot, tossing it back. "I'm sorry, gentlemen," he paused, took a deep breath and finished the thought, glancing toward Mary as he spoke. "And ma'am, but there is nothing I can do." Mary gasped holding back the tears. "Mr. Standish has internal injuries which require surgery."
Everyone kept a solemn face until Buck's outburst. "So, why can't you do it?" The mustached cowboy angrily asked, standing up and moving threateningly toward the doctor until Josiah intervened. Buck had automatically gone for his gun, but stopped when he felt Josiah's calming hand on his. Wilmington looked up at the ex-preacher, ashamed and surprised by what he almost wanted to do. Sanchez patted his shoulder in understanding. Over the past couple months Buck and Ezra had grown close, even sharing in the innocuous torment of JD. Buck was not going to let Ezra die without a fight. He just wasn't sure who to fight.
Dr. Edwards stared at the taller man in understanding then poured another shot. He brought the glass up, trying to hold his hand steady, the liquor sloshed over the glass. "I haven't been able to operate in two years. I'm sorry, the best you can do is make him comfortable." He downed the shot.
"How long?" Chris asked his voice barely above a whisper, his head bowed.
"Two, maybe three days at the most."
No one said a word, the facts trying to sink in even as everyone tried to deny them.
"Best to just keep him heavily sedated," Edwards added.
"Maybe there's another doctor around," JD voiced, not allowing himself to believe there was nothing anyone could do.
"I'm sorry son, I'm all there is for about a hundred miles," Edwards explained.
Josiah suddenly noticed how quiet Nathan had become. The healer's head was bowed, staring down at his hands, which lay in his lap. Nathan slowly raised his head. "I'll do it." At first he thought no one heard him.
"What?" Vin asked.
"I'll operate," Nathan repeated and looked at Dr. Edwards. "If you'll tell me what to do I'll be your hands." The doctor gave Nathan an incredulous look.
"Mr. Jackson, this is a very complicated and dangerous surgery you could kill him."
"He's goin' to die if we don't do anything. This is his only chance," Nathan answered, determination now burning in his dark eyes. He didn't know if he could do it but he had to try. His future in medicine depended on it and so did Ezra's life.
Doctor Edwards was silent. He looked at each of the six men and shook his head. He hadn't seen such camaraderie since the war. Nathan had told him how these men protected the town and each other. They were like brothers and would do anything; even risk their own lives for each other.
"Okay, I'll tell you what you're going to need. We'll have to wait for morning for better light and we'll need someone to administer the anesthesia?"
"I'll do it," Josiah volunteered.
"Very good." The doctor nodded and stood up. "Well, let's get to work we have a lot to do."
Everyone gave Doctor Edwards their full attention, ready to execute what ever orders were given to them; even Chris stepped to the forefront to do whatever was required to help.
All night long the six lawmen and Mary helped to prepare, from sterilizing instruments and bandages, to making a suitable operating table. The doctor demanded that Nathan go straight to bed, saying he would need to be fully alert for the surgery. Josiah went to his church to pray. Ezra was just now becoming a part of them. He couldn't be torn away from them now, not when he was so close to finding the family he had always wished for.
At the crack of dawn everyone was up and ready. Mary entered the saloon carrying a still sleeping Billy, who she relinquished to Chris's strong arms. Everyone sat quietly, almost afraid to breath, food had been placed on the tables but no one felt like eating. JD kept refreshing the coffee, trying to feel useful. Each one of them stole glances up stairs, wondering what was happening, and if they would ever see their friend's devilish smile, or hear the shuffle of his cards again.
In the clinic the doctor went through the last of the procedures and made sure everything was ready. Edwards was impressed with Nathan's ability to grasp the concepts he explained. The young healer had a good understanding of human anatomy and was about to get more. "Okay Mr. Sanchez, I need you to drip the ether on to this mask over the patient's face," Edwards explained. "Two drops, about every ten seconds, unless he starts to stir then increase to every five until he quiets."
Josiah nodded his understanding as he sat at Ezra's head, holding a linen mask just above his mouth and nose. Nathan finished scrubbing his hands and arms like the doctor had instructed. Edwards then poured alcohol over them. Ezra's chest was covered with a white sheet and one was pulled up to his waist. His stomach lay exposed. A four inch line had been drawn down his right side along the discoloration.
Nathan swallowed hard. He could feel the sweat forming on his brow and trickling down his spine. Edwards handed him a scalpel, and then took a cloth and moped his brow, smiling reassuringly at the dark man. "Okay son, I drew the line where I believe the bleeding could be coming from, just cut on the line."
Nathan nodded, his eyes not leaving the four inch stripe on Ezra's stomach.
"If the damage is too extensive, and I tell you there is nothing we can do, we close immediately. Agreed?"
Nathan looked over at Josiah.
"Agreed," Nathan reluctantly replied.
"Okay, Mr. Sanchez, start the anesthesia."
Josiah dropped two droplets on the mask than counted very slowly and did it again.
After a few moments the doctor checked Ezra's breathing and took his pulse, he then turned encouraging eyes toward Nathan. "Okay Mr. Jackson, begin cutting."
Nathan let out the breath he had been holding, for how long he wasn't sure. He pressed the sharpened scalpel onto Ezra's muscular stomach and drew it down the line, watching as blood followed the path he created.
Buck and JD paced the floor almost non-stop, anxious energy keeping them from sitting down for more than a minute at a time. Vin leaned back in a chair his eyes locked on the upstairs, wondering if he would ever have the pleasure of his money taken by the ambiguous gambler. The only sound outside of Buck and JD's measured boot steps on the bar room floor was of Chris, who absently flipped over cards from a deck he found behind the bar. He stopped when he turned over the ace of spades, Ezra's trademark card. He stared down at the card until Mary placed a tender hand on his shoulder. The next card he drew was the seven of spades. Chris took a deep breath as he held the card in his hand wondering if they were still going to be the Magnificent Seven.
All that could be heard in the small room was Ezra's labored breathing, and Dr. Edwards occasional directions. He watched closely as Nathan located the source of the bleeding and began sewing it closed. Edwards was amazed at Nathan's concentration and dexterity. His hands were as steady as rocks, and he wielded the scalpel as if he was born to it.
"What is taking so long up there?" JD complained breaking the oppressive silence. "Its been almost three hours." He kept raking his hands through his long dark hair trying to keep it out of his face.
Everyone stood at the sound of a door and a moment later Dr. Edwards came down the stairs, his face haggard and drawn, but a small smile turned the corners of his mouth. He stopped when he reached the bottom step placing a hand on the post for support. "The next twenty-four hours will determine if the surgery was a success. Mr. Jackson is closing up the incision and should be down shortly," Dr. Edwards explained to the anxious faces that stared back at him. "Now I need some rest."
Mary took the doctor by the arm. "I'll show you to a room."
Edwards laid a hand on her arm and smiled. She led him to one of the rooms in the back of the saloon.
A few moments later Nathan and Josiah finally appeared. The strain of the last three hours evident on their faces, but Nathan's also held a strange euphoria. He sat silently down at a table and everyone surrounded him. Cups of coffee were placed in front of both men. "I did it, I actually performed surgery on a man. I can't believe it." Nathan's voice was full of astonishment at his own achievement.
"Did everything go okay?" Vin asked.
Nathan looked up trying to break out of his trance like state. "Yeah, everything went fine. We were able to stop the bleeding without any problems." Nathan was so proud he couldn't wipe the grin from his face. He felt different, he didn't know how, he just did. He couldn't explain it, not even to himself. "We just have to watch for infection and hope we got it in time." The tension seemed to ease as everyone knew in their hearts that Ezra would be okay.
It was another fretfully long day before Ezra regained consciousness and rejoined the living. He developed a slight fever a couple hours after surgery, but it didn't last. The six lawmen took watching over him and when Ezra's eyes fluttered opened, he was rewarded with Buck's jovial grin staring down at him. Ezra squeezed his eyes shut, trying to focus. His mouth felt like he had swallowed cotton, and his eyes were crusted with sleep. He ran his tongue over his dry lips.
"JD, go get Nathan," he heard Buck say and listened as JD raced out the door.
A moment later more faces appeared within his field of vision. Nathan took hold of his wrist to check his pulse and smiled down at the bewildered man. And bewildered he was, everything felt distant as if he was watching a play from the back row and couldn't make out what was going on.
"What happened?" He finally asked, his raspy southern drawl strangling the words, making them almost indecipherable. He tried to move, but everything felt heavy and numb. He wiggled a toe just to reassure himself he wasn't paralyzed.
"Take it easy, Ez, you just had an operation," Nathan explained. Someone slid a hand behind his head and raised it slightly. He was to weak to even look to see who it was. Nate brought a cup of water to his lips. The cool liquid felt wonderful going down his parched throat and melted away some of the sticky harshness.
Ezra's brow wrinkled. "Operation?" He asked in woozy confusion, his usual sharpness was as dull as a butter knife. Then he noticed the white-haired gentleman standing behind Nathan. "Who's that?"
"This is Dr. Edwards," Nathan answered turning to the side to introduce the doctor.
"He operated?" Ezra asked his voice already drifting away as his eyes fought to stay open.
"Ah, no son, I only assisted. Mr. Jackson operated," Dr. Edwards corrected.
Ezra's eyes went wide for a second. "Good Lord," he managed to voice as he drifted off, hearing the slight laughter in the room.
"He's going to be fine," Nathan said.
The next day the doctor was preparing to leave. Vin and Buck were going to escort him back to Cedar Ridge to catch the stage to Denver. The sagacious man stopped at the table where Nathan, Josiah and Chris sat enjoying a small breakfast.
Chris and Nathan stood as the Doctor approached. "Sir, thank you for your help. We're sorry about..." Chris began.
Dr. Edwards raised a hand cutting off the repentant leader. "No need, Mr. Larabee, not that I approve of your methods, the chance to watch someone of Mr. Jackson's caliber work was well worth any inconvenience and to save that man's life. I'd forgotten what it was like to work with people and make a difference."
Everyone could see the blush that washed over Nathan's face. He bowed his head trying to hide his discomfort.
Doctor Edwards turned to the healer. "And it is my pleasure to extend to you Mr. Jackson an offer to come to Denver to enter Medical School."
Nathan's legs gave out, and luckily Josiah managed to shove a chair under him. He couldn't believe his ears. Josiah grinned and slapped his dumbfounded friend on the back. Nathan could only stare up at the Doctor unbelieving.
"Sir, no school is goin' to accept me."
"I beg to differ. When I could no longer operate, I opened a school for young gifted people to attend. I expect to see you at the start of next month." With that Dr. Edwards bowed his head and headed out the door followed by Buck and Vin. Nathan could only stare out after him.
Mary watched over Ezra most of the time, thanking him more than once for saving her son's life. The other lawmen went about their normal duties, assured that Ezra would eventually be well enough to join them once again.
Chris entered the darkened room startling Mary as she sat in a chair next to the bed. "Mary, go and get some sleep, I'll sit with him," Chris said as he helped her out of the chair.
"Thank you, I could use a little rest."
Chris nodded without saying a word and picked up a wet rag, wiping the sweat from Ezra's brow. Mary smiled and silently left. The stoic cowboy listened to the gambler's breathing, which was no longer labored. Ezra's face was peaceful but still a little pale. Chris pushed some of his limp brown hair back and laid a hand on his shoulder, thankful that the sometimes difficult lawman was alive. Like the constrained conman, it was hard for Chris to voice his feelings. He was tremendously grateful to the gambler for saving Billy's life and didn't know how to tell him. "Thank you, Ezra," he quietly whispered to the unhearing man.
After a couple more days, Ezra was coherent enough to know what was going on around him. JD and Buck filled him in on what had happened numerous times, as he had a hard time believing it. He was sore from his waist to his chest and his right arm was in a sling. He constantly ran his finger down the incision on his abdomen, realizing how lucky and blessed he was.
Jackson entered the dimly lit room with a tray of food, which he placed on the table next to Ezra.
"I hear you've been offered a great opportunity, Mr. Jackson," Ezra simply said.
Nathan didn't answer, placing a hand on the gambler's forehead making sure the fever he had earlier had not returned. "How are you feelin'? he impassively asked.
Ezra tried to swipe Nathan's hand away from his head, but he was still very weak. "Fine, why are you avoiding my question?"
Nathan's face fell before he turned around and started mixing up some medicine. "I need to get Josiah to get me some more horseroot," Nathan absently said.
Ezra arched a sandy eyebrow. "Is there something wrong, Nathan?"
The use of his given name got the dark healer's attention and he turned to look at Ezra. "I'm not going." The sadness in those three words pierced Ezra's heart. He had never heard the Healer sound so dejected so utterly done in.
Standish tried to sit up and gasped at the pain from his stomach, but he dismissed it and asked, "And why pray tell not?"
"Because, it cost money to live in Denver, to have decent clothes and to eat. Money I don't have," Nathan replied a little more vehemently than he had intended. He wasn't angry with Ezra, but he couldn't keep the anger and disappointment out of his voice. He turned and left, Ezra just stared out after him.
A couple days later everyone smiled as Ezra cautiously made his way down the staircase, seeming to study each step before he stepped down. He had managed to put on a pair of pants. His suspenders hung down and his shirt was uncharactisically untucked. He only had one arm in a sleeve. He didn't even attempt a jacket. He approached the table where Chris, Vin and Nathan sat.
"Ezra what are you doing out of bed?" Nathan angrily declared.
Ezra ignored Nathan's question taking hold of the back of a chair for support.
"Gentlemen, I wish to speak to Mr. Jackson in private."
Chris and Vin shrugged, got up and left without saying a word. They made their way over to where Josiah, Buck and JD were sitting. Ezra sat down wincing as the movement pulled at his stitches. He held a thick envelope in his hand, which he slid over to the perturbed man sitting across from him.
Nathan picked it up. "What's this?" His eyes went wide as he peered inside.
"$2500 I believe," Ezra stated, trying not to breath in to hard. He wrapped his arm around his waist.
Ezra rolled his eyes. "For you to attend Medical School, of course."
Both Nathan and Ezra looked over at the sound of Buck spraying his beer and choking. JD started slapping his back, until Buck turned and stopped him, wanting to listen to the rest of the conversation.
"Ezra, I can't accept this, this is money you've been saving to buy a saloon."
"I've found a better use." Ezra slumped in his chair already tiring; he couldn't believe how weak he was.
Nathan pushed the envelope back toward the surprising conman and sat back, folding his arms across his chest. "No, I can't accept this."
Ezra's green eyes glared at the exasperating man. He took the envelope and shoved it back leaving his hand on it. These men were always trying to make him do the right thing, so why was Nathan now making it so hard?
"Never mind that I owe you my life, Mr. Jackson," Ezra said. "I do have my own self-seeking reasons for why I want you to take this."
Nathan couldn't wait to hear this one.
"I consider it an investment, sort of Health Insurance. You attend Medical School and I fully expect you to graduate at the top of your class. You then return here to keep me healthy to enjoy the fruits of my labors for as long as possible." Ezra turned his head taking pleasure at the astonished expressions of his fellow lawmen.
"And I'm sure our associates could also benefit from your enhanced expertise," he added.
Nathan's resolve started to crack. He couldn't believe it. All his dreams laid inside that little white envelop under Ezra's hand. His brown eyes met Ezra's sincere green ones and he slowly reached for the packet, which Ezra relinquished with a smile. If someone had told him six months ago that Ezra Standish would be financing his future, he would have called them a bald-face liar.
Ezra got up a little unsteadily holding his side. The room had become deathly silent. Several other patrons looked over in awe. Nathan's eyes glistened with unshed tears. "Thank you," he quietly whispered, afraid to say any more. He felt honored to call this man friend.
Ezra nodded, uncomfortable with emotional situations he started to walk up the stairs. His knees buckled slightly, but he found himself suddenly supported by Buck and Josiah who helped him back to his room.
Chris stared at Ezra's retreating back and raised his glass to the ever surprising man.
Nathan Jackson attended Medical School that month and became the first black man to graduate at the top of his class. He returned to Four Corners where the six gunslingers still remained, defending a wild and growing town. Moreover, it turned out his enhanced skills came in handy more than once for which everyone was eternally grateful to Ezra Standish.
Re-edited Mar 2002