Webmaster Note: This fic was previously posted on another website and was moved to blackraptor in June of 2004.
Standish sat at his usual table, absently flipping over cards. He was the only one in the saloon this early in the afternoon, and was enjoying the quiet. He raised his emerald eyes as Larabee's rather somber persona entered the saloon.
The blond gunslinger looked tired, having just returned from Cedar Ridge after transporting a prisoner. Ezra nodded as Chris dropped heavily into the chair next to him. Chris poured himself a shot from the full bottle of whiskey that sat on the table.
"I take it your excursion with Mr. Tanner went well." Ezra asked, his eyes returning to his cards.
"Yeah." Chris tossed back the dark liquor. "Vin went over to talk to Josiah about something," he added, removing his dusty dark hat and placing it on the table. He ran a hand through his dusty blond hair. The weather had been hot and dry all week but small gusts of wind had turned suddenly cold.
Vin hadn't liked the sight of the dark clouds that were rolling in from the north. He knew those dark swirling masses could harbor more than just rain and lightening.
"Looks like a storm comin' in from the north," Chris said matter-of-factly as he poured himself another shot.
Ezra raised his head, his green eyes crossing Chris's cold blue ones. The two men had a strained relationship at best. No matter what Larabee said, Standish knew he still harbored doubts about him; he still expected the egotistical conman to run out on them. "Well, I guess that will preclude any games of chance this evening," the roguish gunman disappointedly answered.
Larabee furrowed his brow and turned his head to look out the saloon doors, which swung slightly back and forth, producing a rhythmic squeak. It had grown dark very fast but that wasn't what caused the hairs on the back of his neck to prickle.
Standish reached for the bottle of Whiskey and poured himself a shot. He hadn't realized how quiet it had suddenly become. No wind, no birds--nothing. It was as if someone had closed a door, sealing out the outside world. Then he heard it, a deep rumbling. Ezra's sandy eyebrow arched in puzzlement as he watched Larabee push up from his chair and start walking toward the front doors.
The twister wasn't a huge one, by any means, but it was powerful. It crept along the desert floor, like a living thing. It pulled up everything that fell into its path, sending it swirling up into the menacing sky. The funnel cloud cut a swathe straight down the center of town, bouncing between the clapboard buildings. Sand and debris pummeled the facades of the flimsy structures.
Chris had almost reached the bat-wing doors when it hit. The windows and frames exploded into the saloon, the force hurling the black-clad lawman back several feet. Ezra jumped to his feet as Chris went flying across the room, to land in a heap a couple feet in front of him. Debris swirled throughout the saloon, and Ezra hunched down and made his way over to Chris's inert form. He didn't have time to assess the gunslinger's injuries, as it felt like the whole building was shaking apart. Ezra could hardly think above the roar, it was like a thousand head of cattle stampeding through town. He grabbed the larger man under the arms and started dragging him toward the back of the saloon, just as he pulled Chris into the small storage room the front of the saloon collapsed.
Ezra didn't know how long he was unconscious. He didn't think it was long because dust still hung in the air. He slowly got to his knees, squeezing his eyes shut against the throbbing pain in his head. He took a couple deep breaths and gently massaged his temples. His vision at first was blurry as he tried to open his eyes, but slowly things came into focus. The dust covered gambler grabbed onto a small table and hauled himself to his feet. The first thing he noticed was the quiet, which was quite a contrast from the deafening roar that had surrounded them only moments ago. He looked at the wall of timber and debris that blocked the only way out.
"IS ANYBODY OUT THERE?" Ezra yelled, and winced at the renewed pain that stabbed through his head. He waited a moment, listening, but heard nothing. What if the whole town was gone, this thought popped into the forefront of his mind. A low moan banished the dismal thought, bringing his attention to the prone gunslinger. Ezra went to Chris's side noticing the foot long piece of wood sticking out of his thigh. He placed his hands on the wounded man's chest, halting any further motion. He then searched the small cramped storage area and grabbed a huge jug, relieved to hear the sloshing water inside. He knew the bar kept this to water- down the liquor. He next searched until he found two intact bottles of whiskey and several rags, some of which he tore into strips.
Chris's eyes fluttered open, and he stared up at Ezra's wary smile. He again tried to rise, but was stopped by the gambler's hand on his chest.
"Lie still Mr. Larabee, you have been injured."
Larabee gaped at the conman. He didn't feel anything, only the ringing in his ears. Chris propped himself up on his elbows and looked down at his leg. "Aww shit!" He groaned and lied back down, throwing his arm across his eyes.
Ezra snaked an arm under Chris's shoulders and helped him back up, offering him one of the bottles of whiskey.
"I suggest you drink some of this to deaden the pain."
Chris took a long pull on the bottle, feeling the heat fan out from his stomach, releasing some of his tension. He watched as Ezra prepared to do what had to be done. He never felt he could fully depend on the smooth-talking cardshark, but now he was in a position where he had no choice. Chris took another long swallow, his face already bathed in sweat. He then took a deep breath and said, "Do it now!"
Standish grabbed hold of the wood. "On three. One...two." He pulled the wood out straight and fast. The wounded gunslinger screamed in pain and tried to curl up, but Ezra quickly forced him down. He grabbed a rag and placed it on the ugly ragged hole applying pressure.
"What happened to three?" Chris muttered through gritted teeth, his face contorted in agony.
"I lied," Ezra replied with a grin.
Chris coughed, bringing pain up from his leg and throughout his body. His face reddened, and he took great gulps of air trying to ease the burning agony of his leg.
As the bleeding slowed, Ezra grabbed a knife and ripped Chris's pant's leg open. Ezra grabbed the other bottle of Whiskey. Chris realized what he was about to do and tensed. Ezra took a drink of the whiskey then poured the liquor on the wound. Chris hissed in pain, his hands instinctively grabbing his leg. Ezra quickly covered the wound and tied it off. He then sat back wiping the sweat from his own brow. He took another swig from the bottle listening to Chris's quick breaths as he tried to control the biting pain going up his leg.
"You enjoyed that, didn't you?" Chris snarled. His face twisted in a mask of agony as his leg throbbed.
"Immensely," Ezra replied sarcastically, with the faint hint of a smile on his handsome face. Chris's eyes closed as unconsciousness took him. Ezra wet a cloth and placed it tenderly on Chris's brow, his face now revealing the true concern he felt.
The tornado had torn a path through the town leaving some buildings completely intact, while destroying others. Town's folk wandered out in the street in various states of shock and bewilderment. One woman sat on the boardwalk with her head in her hands quietly sobbing. A gentleman was looking up to the sky and shaking his fist. Nathan raced between them checking for any major injuries, thankful that he was only finding minor cuts and abrasions. He looked up to see Ms. Travis, her blond hair hanging in disarray, walking toward him. Nathan came up to her, placing his hands on her shoulders forcing her to look at him.
"Are you okay, Miss Travis?" He noticed the slight confusion in her blue eyes, but he didn't think it was anything serious.
Mary swallowed as she looked around at the ravaged town. "Yes," she replied in a small voice. "Where are Chris and the others?"
Nathan looked over his shoulder at the saloon and Mary gasped as she looked at the demolished tavern. "Oh no."
"Now Miss Travis, we don't know. They're probably alright we're just goin' to have to dig 'em out," Nathan tried to reassure her as much as himself. He had been in the post office, one of the buildings left untouched when the tornado hit. He couldn't believe how fast it happened.
Jackson looked over at the church and noticed that part of the roof had caved in. He knew that Josiah had been working inside and decided they should check there first. He told Mary to stay outside as he stepped over a beam and entered the church. The inside was normally dark and gloomy, but a huge gaping hole in the roof allowed clouded sunlight to stream in, lighting up the crude altar on the far wall. Nathan couldn't help thinking that Josiah should leave it like that.
"Nathan, over here!" A voice called out from the shadows.
Nathan ran over to the voice, which came from the corner of the room. He found Vin standing over Josiah who was pinned under a timber. Vin was covered in dust and had a slight cut over his eye, but other than that appeared fine.
"Help me get this off him," Vin said grabbing one of the ends.
Nathan didn't hesitate. He grabbed the other end; together the two men lifted the huge piece of timber off the ex-preacher. Nathan bent down to examine his friend.
"Help me turn him over Vin," Nathan worriedly asked.
They gently turned the big man over surprised to see his grinning face looking up at them. A bewildered frown came to Jackson's face.
"Are you okay, Josiah?" he asked.
"No, my shoulder hurts," he replied with woozy annoyance.
"Then why are you smilin'?" Vin asked, thinking that maybe he took a crack to the head.
"Because it's better than screaming in pain," Josiah remarked through clenched teeth.
Nathan and Vin helped their huge friend to sit up. Nathan applied pressure to his right shoulder. He heard the sharp intake of breath from Josiah, as pain tore through him.
"Ah, I think you broke your collar bone. We have to wrap this."
Ezra held the palms of his hands to his eyes. His own head still throbbed and his vision blurred occasionally. He kept losing track of time. One minute it felt like only minutes had past, then it would feel like hours.
"Are you okay?" Chris's low voice broke the silence and invaded his thoughts. Ezra hadn't noticed that he had come too, and was that concern he heard.
"Yes," Ezra replied a little to quickly.
Chris stared at the inscrutable man, not sure if he should believe him. It was a look that Ezra was all too familiar with. He knelt down next to the scrutinizing gunslinger to check his wound.
"I guess all them times that Nathan's had to patch you up paid off," Larabee dryly remarked, grimacing as Ezra checked the bandage.
Ezra only nodded as he checked to make sure that the wound was not bleeding. The silence that hung in the air was something the gambler was use to when he was around the austere gunslinger.
"Thanks for saving my life," Chris managed to say.
Ezra knew the words were forced, but it still surprised him, he wasn't sure why. He didn't hate this man, and infact, held a deep respect for the gunslinger. He was actually the first, and only person, Ezra had ever respected. He also didn't think that Larabee hated him, it was just one of those things. People sometimes clashed, and Ezra and Chris were definitely those people.
"What did you think I'd do, run out on you again?" Ezra regretted saying it the second the words left his mouth. He didn't even know why he said it. It was just easier to throw verbal barbs at this man; it was something he couldn't help.
Chris's infamous anger started to rise as it always did around the glib gambler. He bowed his head and took a deep breath. He knew he deserved that. For some reason he couldn't forgive the self-serving conman for running out on them at the Indian village, even though that was two months ago, and Ezra had proved himself more than once. Chris just didn't believe the man could change. "Why do you always make it so hard?" he angrily replied, it was just so easy to get mad at this man.
Ezra stood up; his green eyes flared down at the blond leader whose own cold blue eyes stared harshly up at him. Months of hidden animosity burned in those two pairs of eyes. A twinge of pain from his leg caused Chris to grimace, which took some of the anger out of both of them.
"Are you okay, Mr. Larabee?" Ezra asked, trying to appear only mildly concerned.
Chris laid his head back and let out a breath, trying to release the tension inside. "I have demons inside that seem to stoke my anger," he off-handedly replied.
Standish was taken aback by this admission and a faint smile teased at his mouth. "Don't we all?" Ezra found a comfortable spot on the floor and sat down, leaning up against the wall. He took another swig from the bottle he was holding then handed it to Chris. "I believe we are both guilty of allowing past demons to intrude upon our present lives."
Larabee took a long drawl on the bottle, seeming to contemplate what the gambler had said. The conclusion came hard and fast; he was right. Chris stared at the conman as if he had just voiced some sort of grand revelation.
"Maybe Mr. Larabee, we are more alike than either of us cares to admit." This was not a pleasant thought, and Ezra grimaced slightly as he said it, bringing a grin to Chris's face.
Vin and Nathan came out of the church, supporting Josiah between them. The ex-preacher's eyes were glazed in pain.
Nathan had wrapped his right arm and shoulder tight to his chest. He looked down the street to witness Mary taking control and directing several men in putting up a large tent in the middle of the street. The three lawmen walked slowly down the street until they noticed Buck standing motionless to the side, his hat held down at his side. His head was bowed, staring at the ground.
"Buck?" Vin called quietly, as they neared the quiescent gunslinger. There was no response.
"Buck, are you okay?" Nathan demanded, trying to get a better hold on the ex-preacher, who was starting to get heavier. The ladies' man raised his head.
"It's gone," he replied in a voice barely above a whisper.
"What's gone, Buck?" Vin asked.
"The jail," he replied, the words coming out slow and detached.
The others hadn't realized, and then shock came to their faces as they looked at the empty space before them, the space that had once held the town jail.
A new fear gripped Vin's insides. "Oh, no," he whispered.
A tear ran down Buck's cheek and he solidified their fears. "JD was in there."
"Buck, are you sure?" Nathan asked his voice cracking.
Buck could only nod his head.
"Vin we have to get Josiah down."
The ex-preacher was starting to lose his hold on consciousness. Reluctantly Vin and Nathan left Buck standing alone, his eyes glued to the spot where the jail use to be.
Nathan, Vin and Josiah made their way over to the large tent. People were bringing out cots and blankets and placing them in the tent as Nathan and Vin brought Josiah in and laid him down. Mary came up and placed a blanket over him.
"I figured we needed some place to treat all the wounded," she explained. "I have someone collecting as much medical supplies as they can find, Nathan." She paused and glanced over at the demolished saloon. "I needed to stay busy." She fought the tears that threatened to fall.
Nathan was grateful; he knew it was going to be a long day. He needed to go to his room and collect some of the pain relieving herbs that he had. He was also very worried about his friends trapped in the saloon.
Vin placed a hand on Nathan's shoulder, understanding where his duty lied. "Nathan, you take care of the wounded, I'll get Chris and Ezra out."
Nathan turned thankful eyes to the tracker.
Vin returned to Buck, stopping just behind him. He stared at the empty space that had once held the town jail. He couldn't accept that JD was gone, not right now--It would hurt too much. He placed a hand on Buck's shoulder. "Buck, Buck, I need your help." Wilmington turned lost brown eyes to the tracker. His face had a haunted appearance, but what really disturbed the ex-bounty hunter was the light that was gone from those fun-loving eyes.
"Buck, Chris and Ezra are trapped in the saloon. We need to get them out," Vin slowly explained, trying to break through his friend's despair.
"Chris, Ezra?" Buck repeated, feeling like he was in a dream. He stared at the lean tracker, then put his hat on his head and headed for the saloon, Vin falling in alongside.
The two lawmen managed to recruit several other able bodied men to help excavate their trapped friends. Buck prayed he would find the two men alive. He wasn't sure he could handle losing three friends in one day. He thought of JD as he determinedly dug through the rubble. A boy, no, a man, who had faced down killers and survived, struck down by a big wind.
"Do you believe people can change, Mr. Larabee?" Ezra asked breaking the long silence that had descended.
No Ezra, I don't." Chris paused a moment, watching as the enigmatic gambler bowed his head, and stared down at the empty bottle, which sat between his legs. "Unless it's already in them," he continued, which brought Ezra's green eyes back up. "You haven't changed you've always had compassion and loyalty inside, it just took something to bring it to the surface."
A smile flickered across Ezra's dirt-smudged visage.
"As much as I hate to admit it, I can never go back to my previous life, so I'm afraid you all are stuck with me."
"I can live with that," Chris replied, giving the gambler the first honest smile.
At first, they thought it was just the settling of the building, but then they heard the voices.
"Hello!" Ezra shouted through the debris that blocked the doorway. He strained to hear, then smiled when Vin's voice came through.
"Ezra? Are you and Chris okay?"
"Yes, Mr. Tanner, but we'd be better if you'd kindly extricate us from this dismal tomb.
"We're on our way, just hang on," Vin replied, the relief evident in his voice and the increased speed of debris removal.
Ezra turned to Chris who was trying to sit up. He quickly moved to his side. "Mr. Larabee, I believe our salvation is at hand." Standish got his shoulder under Chris's arm and helped him up. He saw the pain flash across his face and waited until the gunslinger steadied himself.
When the last of the debris was removed, Vin and Buck looked upon two weary, yet smiling men. They came forward each grabbing one of Chris's arms. Vin noticed that Ezra didn't appear none to steady.
"Are you okay, Ezra?" Vin asked getting under Chris's arm.
"I am fine Mr. Tanner, but our illustrious leader here could certainly use Mr. Jackson's medical skills."
Vin and Buck helped Chris through the debris of the saloon and out the door. Ezra stopped halfway, noticing Chris's hat lying on the floor. He picked it up, shaking off the dust. Ezra glanced around the gutted saloon where he had spent many pleasurable hours. It was his second home; it hurt to see it in such a condition. He shook his head and smiled. "We'll fix you up old girl," he quietly murmured.
Vin and Buck brought Chris over to the make-shift clinic and placed him on a cot next to Josiah who was sitting up with a grin on his face.
Nathan was immediately at Chris's side, examining the wound. He placed his hand on the gunslinger's forehead, feeling the fever that was burning inside. Chris turned glassy eyes toward Nathan and gave a faint smile as Ezra's face appeared behind him.
Nathan turned his head over his shoulder. "You did a good job on this leg, Ez."
Ezra nodded and handed Chris his hat.
"Yes, he did," Larabee replied for the gambler. Mary appeared, relief written all over her face. She brought a glass of water over and handed it to Nathan so he could put some pain medicine in it.
She couldn't wipe the smile from her face as she looked down at Chris's haggard face. He took her hand and returned the smile.
Wilmington stood outside the tent. He was glad that Chris, Ezra and Josiah were alright, but the loss of JD was almost more than he could bear. He thought he would have to leave Four Corners; there were just too many memories. Suddenly he heard someone shouting and looked down the street. A forlorn figure was walking toward them. Buck squinted and took a few tentative steps forward. His heart started racing. Buck's steps quickened, and a smile broke out on his face. He yelled back to the tent. "It's JD!"
Vin and Nathan chased after the gregarious cowboy, who was now running toward the distant figure. His hat fell off, but he didn't even bother to stop and pick it up. He ran right up to JD and grabbed the youth around the waist lifting him up.
"BUCK! PUT ME DOWN!" The young gunslinger yelled. Buck released the young man and put his hands on JD's bare shoulders, looking him in the eye. JD could see the tears, which his friend held back. Buck looked the young sheriff over as Nathan and Vin appeared at his side.
JD was stripped bare to the waist and had various cuts and bruises over most of his body. His head sported a large purple bruise over his left eye. Nathan pushed Buck aside and looked at JD's pupils.
"JD, how do you feel?"
"Like hell, I've got a splittin' headache and I've been walkin' for the better part of an hour."
"What happened? We thought you were in the jail when the tornado hit," Vin asked.
Vin and Buck glanced at each other unbelieving.
"The last thing I remember is diving under my desk when the twister hit. I felt like I was being lifted off the ground. Then I woke up in the desert and my shirt and jacket were gone."
"I think some of Ezra's luck has rubbed off on JD," Vin remarked.
The four men walked back toward the tent. Buck's arm around JD's shoulder, afraid the boy would disappear if he released his hold. As they neared the tent they saw Josiah and Chris sitting up, relief evident on both their faces.
Ezra grinned as he stood off to the side. His head was swimming and it felt like someone had stuck cotton in his ears. He frowned as the four men started wavering and melting. "Awww hell," he murmured.
JD was the first to notice. "Ohmygosh, look at Ezra!" He pointed as the cardsharp fell to his knees, and before anyone could reach him fell face first into the dirt.
Panic flashed on Chris's face, and he tried to get up, but found himself restrained by Josiah's good arm. Nathan ran up to Ezra, followed by the others. He carefully turned the unconscious gambler over.
"What's wrong with him?" Chris yelled from the cot. Josiah's hand was still on his shoulder keeping him in place.
Nathan placed his hand on the gambler's chest relieved to find his breathing was strong. He forced open an eyelid and checked his pupils. "I think he's got a concussion, let's get him up to his room." The healer stopped as he realized that Ezra's room no longer existed. "Take him to my room," he amended. Vin and Buck carefully lifted the gambler up and carried him over to the boarding house.
Ezra woke to confusion and a pounding headache. He knew he was in Nathan's room, but didn't know why. The last thing he remembered was seeing the joy on everyone's face when JD walked into town--then nothing. He sensed that he was not alone and slowly turned his head. The dim light of a sinking sun revealed a dark clad form slumped in a chair, his head leaning against the wall asleep. His injured leg was propped up on another chair on top of a pillow. Ezra tried to rise and gave up immediately as bright spots of light invaded his brain. He heard the door open and looked into Nathan's smiling face.
"How ya' feelin'?" Nathan turned his head toward the sleeping Chris and frowned. He had warned the stubborn man to stay in bed. He suspected that Vin or Buck snuck him over here.
"What happened?" Ezra finally managed to ask.
"You had a pretty bad concussion. You must have been hit by debris when the saloon collapsed. You've been out of it for over a day," Nathan explained.
Ezra couldn't believe it had been that long.
"Is Chris okay?"
"Yeah, if I could just keep him in bed. He's as stubborn as you."
"Don't go insulting me now, Nathan," Chris murmured with closed eyes. He lifted his head and slowly opened his blue eyes.
"I'm getting Vin or Buck and they're taking you back to your room," Nathan threatened and stormed out.
"Are you okay, Ezra?"
"Yeah. How's the town?"
"A lot of damage, they've already started work on rebuilding the saloon. We also will need a new jail and the church needs some work. Luckily no one was killed."
Ezra breathed a sigh of relief for that. He had grown quite fond of the town and the people in it. Chris winced as he brought his leg down.
Vin and Buck entered, and Buck smiled when he saw that Ezra was awake. "Hey, welcome back, pard." He turned to Chris. "I told you we'd get caught, now we're in trouble with Nathan for bringing you here."
"Yeah, he threatened us, telling us if we don't take you back to your room, the next time we're shot he'll let JD remove the bullet," Vin added.
Ezra grimaced slightly at the thought of the young and inexperienced gunslinger performing any kind of medical procedure.
The two lawmen helped Chris to his feet. Chris looked over at Ezra and something passed between them. It was fleeting, but expressive, saying all that needed to be said. A faint smile came to Ezra's face as the three men left the room. He knew that he and Chris had built a bridge between many of their differences. Those differences would still create tension and unrest between them, but both knew that no matter what, they could count on each other forever.