The Price of Freedom

by KellyA

Webmaster Note: This fic was previously posted on another website and was moved to blackraptor in June of 2004.

Nov 2002

Part 1

The Seven were returning to Four Corners after taming a distant town.  It only took a couple days to convince the outlaws they would be better off and live longer in another line of work.  The ones that weren't convinced were buried.   The seven lawmen were discussing the rare good fortune that none of them had needed Nathan's medical attention, when Wilmington suddenly pulled up his horse.  He squinted off to the north, noticing a wooden structure off in the distance.  They were still a good day's ride from Four Corners, and Buck had never been this way before.

"Hey, does anyone recall a town hereabout?" Buck inquired, pulling his hat down to shield his eyes against the afternoon sun.

"Yeah, a ghost town," Vin replied, bringing his paint up alongside Buck's gray.  "I can't remember the name.  It was abandoned about two years ago." 

Buck shrugged and tapped his horse into motion.

"Think we can check it out?" Buck asked turning around in his saddle to look at Chris, who just shrugged.

"Gentlemen, as much as I thrill in the exploration of dilapidated structures.  I am looking forward to reaching the comforts of a more civilized town," Ezra began, shaking his head and releasing an exasperated breath as the others start riding toward the town.

As they neared the town, they saw that it was far from deserted.  Larabee led the procession of gunslingers, with Vin and Nathan to his right.  Buck and JD followed close behind with Josiah slightly behind them.  Ezra trailed a few yards behind him.  The gambler's first thought was that he hoped there was a decent saloon in town.  Several people, walking along the boardwalk stared as they paraded down the main street.  Buck tipped his hat, not receiving any acknowledgment. 

The hairs on the back of Chris' neck started to prickle.  He hated when that happened--something was not right here.   The intuitive tracker noticed the slight disturbance on his friend's face and started to feel it too.

"Why are these people all starin' at us?"  Dunne whispered over to Buck, who only shrugged.  The young gunslinger noticed several women quickly force their children into the first available building.  Several store fronts closed and people seemed to scatter from view.

Chris then noticed something else and so did Nathan. Everyone was black; there was not a single non-black person in the whole town.

A shot rang out throwing dirt up at Larabee's horse's feet.  He pulled up getting the startled animal quickly under control.  He swore as he noticed several guns on the roof tops pointed in their direction.  Tanner reached for his mare's leg then quickly reconsidered as the seven lawmen were quickly surrounded by eight large men all holding rifles cocked and ready.

"It appears that we are not welcomed," Standish calmly drawled, placing his hand on top his saddle horn.  Larabee noticed the ugly sneers that abruptly came to the black men's faces upon hearing Ezra's southern drawl.

"Shut up, Ezra!" Chris hissed back to the gambler.

"Excuse me, sir..." Ezra began, not understanding his leader's brusque attitude, until he too noticed the rather unfriendly stares and decided for once to listen to Chris' orders.

A large, bald black man with a patch over his right eye swaggered forward.  His hand casually lay upon his pistol.  He spit out a wad of tobacco and walked around the horses eyeing each of the gunslingers.

"Who are you?" He growled, coming back to the front.

"I'm Chris Larabee."

"Shut up! I wasn't talkin' to your Yankee ass!" The black man hissed.  "You?"  He pointed a long finger up at Nathan.

For a moment Jackson was bewildered.  "Ah, I'm Nathan Jackson, a healer," he stammered.  "We're lawmen out of Four Corners."

"A healer?  We could use a healer."  The man rubbed at his chin.  "Get down, all of you, and no tricks or my men will shoot."

Larabee nodded and the seven men slowly dismounted, keeping their hands away from their weapons.  Chris noticed the malicious glare the black man gave Ezra and a cold knot of fear grew in his stomach.  Several black men moved in and quickly disarmed the seven gunslingers. 

"What the hell is goin' on, Chris?"  Vin asked, keeping his voice low.  Chris didn't answer but continued to follow the one-eyed man with his own stone, cold glare.

The black man stopped in front of Nathan staring him directly in the eye.  He placed his hands on the Nathan's shoulders.   A huge toothy grin breaking out on his dark face, which didn't improve his looks much.  The smile never reached his hostile dark eyes.  "My name is Abraham and this is my town," he proudly exclaimed, sweeping his arm around to encompass the rustic little town.  Nathan figured he better say something.

"Listen, my friends and I are just passin' through, we don't mean any harm."

Abraham's smile left his face and he looked at Nathan as if the man was mad.  "These men are your friends?"  He quietly asked, the disbelief evident in his low voice.


The black leader stared at the six white gunslingers as if they were something on the bottom of his shoe.  He motioned to his men who began herding them toward a small building.  Abraham then turned his attention back to Jackson, his smile having returned to his dark face.  He placed a brotherly arm across Nathan's shoulder and led him behind the others.

The peacekeepers were forced into the jail house, which was a two room building.  The rear room containing two large cells right next to each other.  Chris, Vin and Josiah were directed into one as Buck, JD and Ezra were forced into the other.  Nathan was about to follow until Abraham grabbed his arm.

"Not you, these cells are for whites only,"  Abraham giggled.

"Why are we being held?"  Larabee sneered, standing in front of the bars his arms crossed over his chest.

"Because, Mr. Larabee, you are under arrest,"  Abraham explained.

"What's the charge?" Buck interjected, not liking the feel of this one bit.

"Well, you're white so you're a danger to everyone in this town," Abraham simply replied, like this answered everything.

"What are you talkin' about? We wouldn't hurt no one," Vin added.

The black leader ignored Tanner and placed an arm across Nathan's shoulder.  The healer turned worried eyes back toward his friends as Abraham led him out.

"What are they goin' do to Nathan?" JD asked.

"I don't think they'll hurt Brother Jackson, son.  I think we have more to worry about," Josiah calmly remarked.  Two guards remained inside the jail.  One was probably Josiah's age and size the other was much younger, but both shared the same distrustful gaze.

Part 2

Nathan and Abraham strode over to the saloon.  Nathan marveled at the bustling little town but he kept glancing back toward the jail.  Abraham took a sidelong glance at the black lawman and smiled at his obvious awe.

"So, you say you is a doctor, Mr. Jackson?" 

"No, I'm a healer and I'm good with knives.  I used to be a medic in the army and I learned a few things and got lots of practice," Nathan explained, his eyes still darting back and forth taking in the neglected town that was being slowly rebuilt.

They entered the saloon, the warmth wrapping around them and removing the memory of the cold biting wind outside.   The saloon wasn't what Standish would consider upper scale but it wasn't bad.  There was a long bar at the back wall and about ten tables scattered throughout the rooms.  A crystal chandelier hung from the ceiling, looking slightly out of place in the crude setting.

"Rosa! Whiskey!"  Abraham bellowed.  A voluptuous, middle aged woman, who probably appeared older than she really was, sauntered over and set a bottle down on the table with two glasses.  She flashed Nate a forced smile and then turned and left.

"Are my friends okay?" Nathan asked, he noticed how the black leader winced at his use of the word friends.

The one-eyed man stared blankly back at Nathan.  "Friends? How can you call them friends?"

"We've been working together for almost a year now. I owe them my life," Nathan explained.

"Working with them, or for them?" Abraham asked slinging back the shot of whiskey.

"Why are they locked up?"  Nate asked, ignoring the shot of whiskey and the bitter tone of his host being thrust upon him.

"We just have to take certain precautions," Abraham explained leaning forward in his chair.  "Do you know what we have here?  Utopia.  Everyone here is an ex-slave who tried to make it on their own and were either burned or chased out of whatever town they tried to settle in."  Abraham paused to allow this to sink in.

Nathan had heard the stories.  Even though the slaves had been freed, it didn't mean they had achieved freedom.  Many tried to homestead, only to be burned out or killed if they refused to leave.  It would be a long hard road to get past the years of prejudice that made men kill one another.  Nathan didn't believe he would see it in his lifetime.

"So, why are my friends being held?" Nathan repeated.

"Because, they could ruin everything we have here.  If others were to find out what we were trying to do here, they would come and chase us off.  Take away everything we've built and achieved.  No white man is going to let a black man succeed," Abraham sneered.

"My friends wouldn't do that, we can help you."

"Ha! No white man will ever help us."

Nathan shook his head, understanding the man's bitterness, but hoping he could change his mind.  He watched as the woman behind the bar started wiping out glasses.

"She owns this bar," the black leader quietly said.  "Did you ever think you'd see a black woman own a saloon? Or a store or a bank?"

Nathan had to admit, he was impressed with what these people had accomplished, and he could understand their fear at losing it all. 

"So, you trust these white gunslingers?" Abraham casually asked, tossing back another shot of whiskey.

"With my life."

"Even the southerner?"

Nathan eyed the dark leader, seeing the cynicism in his scarred face, but could he blame him?  Hadn't he mistrusted and disliked the conniving southerner once?  Standish didn't even like the idea of riding with him at first, but as the two got to know each other they actually discovered a common ground they both could stand on.  Protecting each other's back is a good way to get to know a person and develop a trust, no matter what the color of your skin.  There were still times when the presumptuous gambler would revert to some of his old ways, which would infuriate the scrupulous healer to no end.

"With my life," the dark healer repeated, but Abraham smiled at the slight hesitation.

Abraham and Jackson talked long into the night, sharing each other's dreams and aspirations.  Nathan had to admire the ex-slave turned leader. He had brought many of these people out from the south across many treacherous miles to build a life for themselves. 

Part 3

Ezra stretched out on the cot seemingly unconcerned with the present situation.  Wilmington paced sporadically in the small cell, getting even more anxious when he looked at the cardshark's calm demeanor.  JD just grinned faintly at his impatient friend.  Buck had a hard time dealing with waiting, but especially if that waiting was done in a jail cell.

"What the hell are they doing with Nathan?"  Buck asked, breaking the worried silence that had befallen them.  He looked over at Chris who was leaning against the bars.  His storm blue eyes the only thing revealing the turmoil growing within.  Buck had seen that look only a couple times in the past and it always scared him.  Vin and Josiah had taken up residence on the single cot.

"Calm down, Brother Buck, I don't think they'll hurt him." Josiah was worried about his friend, but he also believed Nate was probably their best hope of getting out of this.

Jackson entered the jail, nodding toward the guards, who eyed him suspiciously.  Abraham had told them that this man could come and go as he pleased, for now. 

Nathan approached Chris' cell. "So, what's going on Nate?" The blond lawman asked, his tone not revealing what was really going on inside his taut brawny body.

"They're ex-slaves just trying to make a life for themselves," Nathan explained.

"Highly commendable, but why do they feel the need to lock us up?"  Ezra drawled, rising up from the cot.

"They're afraid that you all will tell others, who'll come and chase them off.  They're just tired of runnin' they want a home," Nathan explained, looking into the faces of his friends hoping to see some measure of understanding.

"Did you explain to them that we'll help them?" Vin asked.

"Yeah, but the leader, Abraham, isn't very trusting and I can't really blame him," Nate replied.  Larabee was getting a bad feeling about this. 

"So, we are to remain incarcerated indefinitely,"  Ezra moaned as he stood and made his way to the bars.

"I don't think they're askin' too much.  It won't hurt you to be locked up for awhile.  Hell, most of these people have been locked up their whole lives,"  Nathan snapped, not believing the vehemence in his own voice.  

Ezra's green eyes narrowed and he stared at his friend as if he didn't know him.  Even Josiah was taken aback by the normally composed healer's tone.   Nathan bit his bottom lip. 

"I'm sorry, Ez."  Nathan forced a faint smile, and then turned to Chris who stood silently in the other cell.  "Abraham has created a new life for these people; people who have been lost since the end of the war, who had no future and no hope.  He brought them here to start anew." 

Larabee heard the admiration in Nathan's voice and saw it in his eyes.  He knew Jackson only wanted what was best for his people, he always had, but this time it may come with a very high price.  Chris didn't trust the black, one-eye leader, but felt if he told Nathan this now his friend would only think him paranoid or worse, a bigot.  Chris held his tongue, hoping that the Nathan was right or that Abraham would show his true self before it was to late.

"Look, it'll just be until I convince them that we're no threat," Nathan explained.  "These people have an opportunity here for a good life.  You all have to understand the fear they have at losing that."

"We understand Nathan, and we'll give you the time, but you have to understand where we're comin' from," Chris simply said.

Sanchez saw the light of hope in his friend's face.  Nathan truly cared for all people, but who could blame him for wanting to see good things for these people.

"Don't worry, I'll convince Abraham that he can trust you, it just may take a little time.  He's had a life time of abuse at the white man's hand."

"Okay, but watch yourself," Chris said, knowing it would be useless to try and get him to help them escape right now.  He only hoped Nathan was right.

As Nathan turned to leave JD broke in, "Don't forget Nathan, you're one of us."

Nathan looked at the young gunslinger and smiled.  "I'm also one of them."

"I don't like this Chris," Vin whispered.  "Nathan might never convince this Abraham fella into letting us go."  Larabee nodded in agreement, and Vin lowered his voice even more, looking over into the next cell.  "Did you see the way some of those men looked at Ezra?"

Part 4

Nathan had free rein of the town and strolled down a section of newly constructed boardwalk, the mid morning sun trying to dispel the late spring chill.  He could see some of the old worn buildings giving way to the new, as bit-by-bit, and building-by-building the town was being restored.  He was impressed as he watched the whole town working together.  He never thought he'd live to see the day when people of color would actually control a whole town. 

Abraham and his men seemed to be the law, and he did wonder why the black leader felt the need to have so many men, but then he rode with six lawmen who protected one town.   Nathan couldn't get over all that had been accomplished.  The people he met seemed happy and content, but at times, a shadow would fall over their eyes, a look of fear?  But fear of what?  He attributed it to his being a stranger and his six white friends.  Most of these people probably didn't trust white men and for good reason.  He was sure he could convince them that the six gunslingers would bring no harm and would actually help. 

As Jackson walked past an alleyway between the bank and Mercantile, he heard something. 


Nathan tried to peer into the shadows of the alley and stepped a couple feet in.  A gray haired, stooped gentleman appeared from behind some crates.  His eyes roved wildly as he approached the tall healer.  The old man grasped Nathan's upper arm and looked into his face. 

"You should leave, get your friends out of here.  He's mad, you know," the old man ranted.

"What are you talkin' about?" Nathan asked, trying to pull out of the man's grasp.  One of Abraham's guards came up from behind.  Nathan thought his name was Max and was surprised when he suddenly appeared. Was he being watched?

"Move along, Rooster," the guard snarled at the old man who quickly scurried away.

"Don't pay him no mind, he's a little touched."  Max tapped a finger to his temple.  "If you know what I mean."

Nathan nodded and gave the guard an uncertain smile.  He stepped back out onto the boardwalk and looked around, for the first time seeing the men with rifles on top of several roofs.  He saw how some of the townsfolk actually left the boardwalk to allow Abraham's men to pass.   Everyone was just nervous, he must not allow his imagination to run wild.  

Jackson entered the small mercantile store.  There wasn't much in the way of supplies, but they did carry quite a bit of construction materials.  He noticed that there were no weapons for sale.  The storekeep came out from the back.

"May I help you?"

"Nah, I'm just lookin',"  Nathan replied.  "Why don't you sell any guns?"

The storekeep took a quick furtive glance around the store before answering.  "Abraham doesn't see the need for the citizens to be armed since his men protect the town."

Four Corners could take some pointers from this town; it sure would cut down on his doctoring, Nathan thought, tipping his hat and leaving the small store.  He looked toward the north end of the street and noticed a large building, which appeared to be almost completely refurbished. He decided to check it out. Upon entering, he discovered one large room filled with about a dozen desks.  A lithesome young, ebony skinned woman sat behind a wooden desk in the front of the room.

She raised her eyes as the handsome healer entered, removing his hat.

"Ah, I'm sorry if I'm intruding I was just curious.  I'm Nathan Jackson."

The woman stood and came around the desk with a smile.  "Oh everyone knows who you are Mr. Jackson.  I'm Mira."  She extended her hand, placing it into his huge, strong grasp.  She felt herself blush at the feel of his hand wrapped around hers.

"Are you the teacher?"

"Unfortunately, no, there isn't anyone very qualified at the moment." Nathan watched as Mira lowered her head.  She felt his fingers under her chin lifting her soft oval face up to meet his.

"There's nothin' to be ashamed of." 

Mira gave a contrite half smile and took a step back.  "You seem well educated, Mr. Jackson?"

"I was lucky."  Nathan looked around the spacious room.  "You know my friends can help."

"Really?" She asked, slightly incredulous. 

"Believe it or not, Ezra could teach the children to read and write; the man does have an affinity for children.  Josiah and Chris are excellent carpenters.  Vin could teach your men to track game and hunt.  Does anyone ride?"

Mira shook her head.

"JD is an excellent horseman and Buck, well, I'm still trying to figure out what he's good for, but I'm sure he could help," Nathan chuckled, delighted when a slight chortle burst past the beautiful woman's lips

"And what about you, Mr. Jackson?"

"I could teach you all about herbs and some simple doctoring."

"You and these men would do this for us?"


"Abraham would never allow it," Mira sadly replied.

"Maybe together we could convince him."

A scream from outside caused Nathan and Mira to jump.  Nate turned and raced out the door.  He stopped and pushed his way through a crowd of people to kneel down beside a fallen man.  He slowly turned the gentleman over and a gasp caught in his throat as he recognized the man as Rooster, the one who had talked to him in the alley.

"What happened?"  Nathan asked, looking up into the faces of several other townsfolk.  "Look he's dead did anyone see what happened?"  No one would answer.  

Max knelt down beside the dark healer.  "Poor Rooster.  He was walking up there on the roof, does it all the time.  Must have lost his footin' this time," he answered, looking into Nathan's doubtful face. 

Something was wrong, there was no remorse in the man's voice.  Nathan watched as the townspeople all dispersed without saying a word.  He looked over his shoulder to see Mira standing outside the school house, her arms wrapped around her body.  She bowed her head and went back inside.

+ + + + + + +

Jackson found the black leader at the restaurant, flanked by two guards.  Nathan stopped in front of the table, ignoring the man's offer of a chair.

Abraham sat back bringing his hands together and up to his face.  "Sorry to hear about poor Rooster.  But these things do happen, which is one reason I would like for you to consider my offer about staying and being our healer."

"What's going on here, Abraham?"  Nathan blurted out.

"What do you mean?"

Nathan ran his hand down his face not sure what he meant.  Something didn't feel right but he couldn't put it into words.   "Look, how much longer are you going to hold my friends?"

"THEY'RE NOT FRIENDS!"  Abraham yelled, jumping up and slamming his fist on top the table, knocking over a glass of water.   Nathan stepped back, startled by the leader's outburst, but just as quickly a calm descended upon the crazed man and he sat back down as if nothing had happened.  "They are the enemy, forget about them.  You have a place here with us now, we're your family."

"I'm going over to see them," Nathan said turning to leave. 

"I forbid it."   This stopped Nathan in his tracks.  Abraham rose and wiped his mouth with his napkin then walked up to the dark lawman whose mouth was set in a firm line.  A smile came to Abraham's face as he put an arm across the taller man's shoulders.  "Now, let's just forget all this unpleasantness, won't you join me for some dessert they make an excellent apple pie here."

A shudder went through Jackson's lean body and his heart started beating faster.  He realized that him and the others were prisoners of a madman and he now feared for all their lives. 

Part 5

The six incarcerated lawmen had been given only bread and some water on  a couple occasions over the past two days.  As the sun reached its zenith and started its descent, they were becoming more and more agitated.  They hadn't seen Nathan all day and Chris was beginning to worry about the healer.  He'd hate to lose him, not only because of his doctoring skills, which lord knew they desperately needed, but because he was a good friend and a man to be trusted.

Vin took up the same pacing that Buck had done earlier.  He hated confined spaces and was starting to feel the walls close in on him.  Josiah and Chris tried to give the tracker as much room as possible.  Ezra sat on the cot, manipulating a deck of cards as JD watched, enthralled with the man's dexterity.  The two guards sat unconcerned in the outer room, drinking coffee and playing cards.  Everyone jumped when the door flew open and five armed men entered, approaching the cell that held Ezra, JD and Buck.

"You, come with us," one of the guards motioned to Ezra who calmly gave his cards to JD and stood, straightening out his tan jacket.  Wilmington stood in the corner, not about to let them take his friend without a fight.

"What 'cha want him for?" Chris growled, the tendrils of fear slowly flowing throughout his stomach and up to his chest.

"None of your business!"

Buck charged one of the two men, who stepped into the cell, and Ezra swung out with his fist, connecting with the other man's jaw, sending him back out of the cell.  Two more guards rushed inside, one driving his rifle butt into Wilmington's stomach, causing him to double over. Then a blow to his head sent Buck to the ground with a sickening thud.  Sanchez reached through the connecting bars, grabbing JD by the collar, and holding the impetuous gunslinger back. 

Ezra was grabbed by the arms and flung into the bars with enough force to take the air from his lungs.  All Chris and the others could do was watch helplessly as Ezra was forced out the door.  He tried to dig his boot heels in, but the men who held him wrenched his arms up, producing a yelp of pain from the southerner.

"Leave 'em alone!" Tanner yelled, trying to reach out to his friend through the bars.

Dunne went to Buck's side, seeing the blood covering his dark hair on the back of his head.  He carefully turned his unconscious friend over.

"Brothers, God's wrath as well as mine will rain down upon you if he's harmed!" Josiah bellowed.

Larabee flung the cot at the bars in frustration.  "What are you going to do to him?" He yelled out, his hands gripping the bars in helpless rage as he watched them take away one of his men--one of his family.

"Don't worry, you all won't miss it," one of the guards sneered back, and then closed the door.  Chris' heart beat fast and hard. He could hear it pounding in his ears.  He clenched his teeth against the bile that rose from his gut.  He looked over to see the murderous stare in  Vin's matching blue eyes and knew if anything happened to the conniving conman this town would feel the wrath of all of them.

"How is he, JD?" Josiah asked, hoping he could at least help one of his friends.  He silently prayed that Nathan would be able to intervene and save Ezra from whatever fate they had in store for him.

"I think he's okay; he's got too hard of a head for anything to really hurt him," JD chided, trying to lighten the somber mood.  The four gunslingers stared at the door trying not to think about what may be happening to their friend.

Part 6

Ezra was taken behind the jail to a small shed and thrown in.  He kept his balance and put his back against the far wall feeling like a trapped animal.  He looked at five pairs of dark glaring eyes, blocking his only escape.  The five malevolent men approached the fear-driven gambler.  Standish charged the men, figuring he'd at least get in a few good shots of his own.  He managed to strike one of the guards across the jaw and kicked another in the knee, sending him to the floor.  A blow to Ezra's mid-section sent him to the floor where he tried to ball up to protect himself from the kicks and punches that suddenly rained down upon him.  A sharp kick to his hip sent a searing pain down his leg and he screamed.  For a moment he heard the men laughing then a blow to his head sent him gratefully into limbo.

+ + + + + + +

Nathan tried all day to see his friends, but every time he neared the jailhouse Abraham would intercede, wanting to show him more of the town and boast of his grandiose plans.  The man seemed oblivious to Jackson's sudden coolness toward him.   By late afternoon, Nathan was worried and very afraid for his friends.  As Abraham led him toward the new town hall, Nathan decided to try again.  He stopped, pulling his arm out of the black man's grasp.  "I want to see my friends!"   The one-eyed man stared at him and an unpleasant smile forced his lips to curl. 

"Sure Nathan, anything you want.  After I show you my office at the town hall, I'll let you go visit your friends."  Nathan hadn't expected this response, this sudden change in attitude, but he was not about to let the opportunity pass by.

+ + + + + + +

Chris continued staring out the cell at the door where Ezra was dragged out.  When the door opened, he prayed it would be the enigmatic conman and couldn't help his disappointment when Nathan entered. 

Jackson immediately felt that something was wrong as soon as he entered the cell area.  He saw the broken cot tangled within the bars.  Vin and Josiah sat against the far wall, Vin's head was resting against the wall.

"Nathan, they took Ezra!" Chris exclaimed.

Nathan had never seen the look in Chris' eyes that burned there now, a look that would send most men running for their lives.

"What?" Nathan glanced quickly around as if to validate this fact.  He noticed Buck sitting on the bunk, his head in his hands as JD held a rag to the back of his skull. "Is Buck okay?"

"Yeah I'm fine, no thanks to your friends!"  Wilmington snarled rising a little to quickly and just as quickly sitting back down as the room tilted and spun.

"Brother Buck, Nathan is not the enemy," Josiah intoned, trying to keep rampant feelings in check so no one said something they would later regret.  Buck only glared at Jackson.

"They dragged him out of here a couple hours ago," Vin added, his own anger now directed at the healer.

"I'll find out what this is all about, Chris," Nathan promised.  He was about to turn to leave when Abraham and eight armed men suddenly blocked the entrance of the jail.

"Where's Ezra?" Nathan demanded.

Abraham ignored the question.  "Your presence is required as are your friends."

"I want to know what you did with Ezra?"  Jackson demanded.

"All will be revealed to you," the dark leader sneered, sending a chill down everyone's spine.

+ + + + + + +

The six gunslingers were ushered out of the cells, eight guns pointed directly at them.  JD held onto Buck and Vin moved up alongside to help the unsteady cowboy.

The six gunslingers were forced into the street and what they saw caused every one of the lawmen's blood to run cold, and their faces to pale.  Standish was tied to a post in the middle of the street, his hands tied above his head. 

They all could tell that Ezra had already endured a beating.  He had been stripped down to the waist, a large bruise covered his left side, from his chest to his stomach.  His muscular arms sported dark purple and blue bruises and red welts.  Nathan couldn't believe his eyes.  He hadn't seen this kind of abuse since he left the plantation.  Abraham positioned himself alongside the disturbed healer, throwing an arm across his shoulders, which Nathan promptly shrugged off.  Chris and Vin attempted to go to their bound friend being stopped by several guns thrown up into their faces.

Abraham walked toward the helpless southerner.  A guard shoved Nathan forward forcing him to follow.  They stopped several feet from the semi-conscious gambler.  Nathan could now see the bruises on his face.

"What are you doing, Abraham?" Nathan asked, unable to take his eyes off Ezra's tortured body.

"Justice my friend, justice.  This southern bastard is the epitome of all the white man's injustice sent upon us.  His kind killed my family and did this to me."  Abraham raised the black patch to reveal an empty, eye socket, as dark and empty as his soul.

"Ezra had nothing to do with that," Nathan tried to tell him.

"I don't care.  I'm sure some of his kindred or friends probably did."

Nathan turned to face the dark leader.  "All you see is his white skin, not the person inside.  You're no better than the whites who persecuted us because of our skin color," Nathan shot back. 

Abraham backhanded the black gunslinger, whipping his head around and bringing a trickle of blood from his mouth.  "Is this the price you put on freedom? The lives of good men?"  Nathan continued, wiping the blood from his chin.  "How does the rest of the town feel?"

"They feel what I tell them to feel.  I'm their savior from the white menace.  I have led them to the promise land," the one-eyed leader ranted his eyes looking off, seeing a place free of whites, with him in total control or better yet with whites as slaves.

Another man appeared at Abraham's side carrying a huge, braided bull whip, which he handed to the dark leader.

"You are going to dispense justice Nathan to prove you are one of us."

Jackson's eyes widen as he realized what he was being asked to do.  "One of you?  I don't want to be one of you.  This is madness Abraham you can't do this.  I won't do this," Nathan babbled unable to stop the panicky flow of words.

"You will, or..."  Abraham looked back at the stricken faces of the other five gunslingers.  He nodded toward JD who was summarily pulled from the ranks by two of the guards, one throwing a rope around the young gunslinger's throat and drawing it tight.  JD clawed at the rope as his breath was abruptly cut off.

Buck tried to go to him, but was halted by a gun butt to the abdomen.  Vin grabbed him before he fell to the ground.  "I'm getting... real tired... of that," Buck gasped out, glaring up at the guard who had struck him.  Larabee's fists shook with growing rage.  His eyes darted back and forth trying to find a way out of this, but there were too many guns, they would never have a chance.

Abraham waved his arm and the guard released some of the tension on the rope around Dunne's neck.  JD quickly drew in some much needed air. 

"You either give this southern piece of shit fifteen lashes or we slowly kill the boy," Abraham calmly explained.

Part 7

Ezra was still conscious and listening to the conversation between the two men. 

The crazed black man forced the whip into Jackson's hand.  "You know you want to, deep down you want to," Abraham whispered into Jackson's ear, the toothy smile on his face sending a shiver down Nathan's spine. 

"Do it, Mr. Jackson," Ezra's raspy southern voice rose up. He turned his head as far as he could, swallowed and continued,  "Do it, or they'll kill JD."  Standish inwardly smiled. He really had to discover where this selfless streak had come from and try and curtail it.

Abraham moved away grinning at the confrontation that was taking place. If Nathan didn't do it, he would, and he wouldn't stop at fifteen and the young gunslinger would die.

"Ezra I... c..can't," Nathan stammered, his eyes wide as he stared down at the bullwhip in his hand, which suddenly wavered as tears began to form in his dark eyes.

The guard holding JD again tightened the rope around his throat causing the youth to gag.   Josiah grabbed Buck, seeing the anguish on the cowboy's face.  They all knew that JD was like a brother to the fun-loving gunslinger.  They also knew that if JD was killed there would be nothing that would hold Buck back; he would die with the guard's throat between his hands.

"Do it you black bastard, just do it!" Ezra yelled out, trying to make the knife throwing healer angry.  He knew the noble, caring man would be unable to force himself to inflict pain on another human being.  So he hoped he would forgive him for what he was about to say.  "C'mon you fucking Nigger you know you've always wanted to!" 

This seemed to get the desired results as Nathan's head snapped up and a momentarily flash of hate twisted his face.  Chris bowed and shook his head knowing what Ezra was doing. 

Nathan unfurled the thick bullwhip; he also knew what the southerner was trying to do.  The crazy SOB was surprising him once again.  

Larabee was barely able to control his own wrath, but he had to stay together for all of them.  It wouldn't do anyone any good to get himself shot.  Sanchez started mumbling some prayer or curse, no one was sure which.

"Forgive me, Ezra," Nathan said loud enough for the stalwart conman to hear.

"I already have, my friend.  I already have," Ezra silently murmured as he felt the sting of the first lash cut into his white skin.

After the first couple of lashes, seeing Ezra jerk, Nathan no longer saw his friend. He saw the man that had raped his mother until she committed suicide, the man who sold his family and killed his friends.  He saw every white man whoever mistreated, beat or humiliated a black man; tears flowed freely down his dark face obscuring his vision.

Chris' fury grew with each strike of the whip.  His shoulders shook with rage as he watched every lash rip into the gambler's skin, not seeing Nathan, but a dark one-eyed, bitter man who he swore he would kill. 

Sanchez had to physically hold Vin and Buck back since they seemed to  ignore the guns pointed at them.  He yelled out a curse toward the men responsible for this depravity trying to release his own building rage.  JD turned away, his face extremely pale under his dark hair.  Finally, even Buck couldn't watch anymore.

Tanner noticed how most of the townspeople seemed repulsed by what was taking place, some not even able to watch.  Only Abraham and his guards seemed to be getting any enjoyment out of Ezra's suffering. 

"You all might not be slaves anymore, but you're not free, you've only changed masters!"   Vin yelled out, earning him a punch to his kidneys, bringing him down to one knee.  Abraham glared at the tracker; he would have to deal with those men soon.

Standish didn't make a sound; his jaw grew sore from clenching it so tight, holding in the scream that wanted to erupt.  He had never felt such pain before.  The whip seemed to reach down to the bone, tearing at his skin and muscle; he felt the blood running down his back.  His vision began to waver and his breathing quicken.  He tried to think about a recent card game he was involved in, going through every hand he held, trying to get his mind off the pain.  He could feel his weight increasing on his bound wrists as he started losing his battle with conscious thought.

Ezra didn't feel the last few lashes, but Nathan did and they cut into his very soul tearing out the faith in himself and others; he had failed his friends.  After the last lash, the silence that followed was like a shroud of death.

Two of Abraham's men cut the unconscious gambler down and let his body crumble to the ground.  Abraham allowed Larabee and the others to go to their friend.  Nathan stood silent, his eyes shut tight, until he felt Sanchez's huge hand on his shoulder.   His whole body shook uncontrollably and the whip fell from his grasp.  He opened his dark eyes to see the bloody, sweat soaked form of his friend lying in the dirt.  For the first time that he could remember bile rose up into his throat; Nathan doubled over and threw up.

Part 8

The guards followed as Larabee and the others gently carried their half dead friend back to the jail.  They refused to be separated, instead crowding into the one cell.

Ezra moaned slightly and Josiah turned to Chris who went to the bars.  "At least give us some clean water and rags to clean him up," he asked, trying to control his anger.  It wouldn't do Ezra any good to get these people more pissed off, the guards just sneered and turned their backs.

"Shit," Buck swore as he started tearing the bottom half of his shirt, followed in-suit by JD and Vin, each handing the ex-preacher what material they could. 

Sanchez stared down at the man he at times thought of as a son.  He didn't know where to begin.  He was afraid to touch him; it looked like every part of the gambler's body hurt.  He quickly wiped at his gray-blue eyes, now was not the time; Ezra needed him.  "Lord, I think he's got some broken ribs," Josiah absently informed the men in the cell.  He also noticed the bruising peeking out from the waist band of Ezra's pinstriped pants. He placed his hand on the gambler's sweat-plastered forehead, already feeling the heat emanating.  The ex-preacher cast care-worn eyes back toward Chris who stood with fists clenched in helpless despair. 

JD suddenly voiced what everyone was thinking.  "Where's Nathan? Why isn't he here to help Ezra?"

No one had an answer. Chris assumed that Abraham wasn't going to allow the healer to help; at least he hoped that was the case.  He was sure Nathan was probably feeling tremendous guilt.

As night fell, Ezra began to shiver uncontrollably.  The cell was cold, only the guards were benefiting from the heat of the small stove.

Sanchez moved the rickety cot out of the way, and they set Ezra down against the big man throwing the only blanket available on him.  Chris removed his dark duster and threw it over the pair, followed by Vin's buckskin coat and Buck and JD's jackets.  It would be a long cold night for the five men, but it was more important to keep Ezra warm.

By morning Ezra's breathing was labored and the fever was making him delirious.  Josiah had to hold on to him to keep him still.  His struggles never lasted long as pain would take him back into darkness, but Josiah would still feel the tremors that went through his pain ridden body.  Even in sleep Ezra wasn't given a respite from his torment.

Chris paced the cell in front of the bars like a caged lion, the others giving him as much space as possible.  He couldn't stand it. He grabbed the bars and yelled out to the guards. "I want to see Abraham now!" His blue eyes glared hatred toward the two men who stood guard.  The taller guard only grinned, but the smaller one seemed to hold a little sympathy in his eyes.  Larabee locked on to this with a little hope.

"I'll take him. Abraham might want to see him," the smaller guard said.  He had listened to the moans of pain from the southerner and heard the concern from the others; guilt had started to rip a hole in his heart.  The tall one just shrugged and aimed his gun as the smaller man went and opened the cell.  "No funny business or Jake will shoot one of your friends," he told the grateful gunslinger.

+ + + + + + +

Chris entered the saloon to see Nathan at a table by himself a half bottle of whiskey in front of him; he had never known Jackson to be much of a drinker.  Abraham was leaning up against the bar, his arm over the shoulders of one of the barmaids.  Chris heard the cocking of rifles and looked up to see two men on the balcony, their rifles pointed directly at him.

"Hey boss, he wanted to see you," the guard who had escorted him in announced.

"Really? And what can I do for you, Mr. Larabee?" The dark leader tossed back the last of his beer and set the glass down on the counter.

Chris fought the urge to just leap at this man and strangle him with his bare hands.  He noticed that Nathan had yet to look up at him.

"We need Nathan, Ezra's sick," Chris calmly explained.

Abraham grinned at this news.  "And why would I allow our esteemed Mr. Jackson here to save that good-for-nothin' southerner's life?"

"Because, if you had wanted him dead you would have forced Nathan to whip him to death," Chris replied impassively.

Nathan visibly cringed and quickly downed the shot he held in his hand.  He couldn't wipe the image of Ezra's torn body from his mind.  He kept seeing the whip tear into the gambler's back again and again.  He knew the pain that Ezra had endured, he had the scars to prove it, and now, so would Ezra.

Jackson's glassy dark eyes slowly rose. "I can't face him, not after what I did to him," he slurred.  His eyes tried to focus through the growing tears.  He looked up at Chris, a man he had come respect.  A man who saw him not as a man of color, but someone to be relied on and trusted, a true friend.  What had he done to that trust?

Abraham seemed amused by the conversation between the two men.  Chris stepped forward then stopped when Abraham laid his hand upon his holstered gun giving the gunslinger a warning glare.  Abraham turned to the woman under his arm and whispered something in her ear causing her to giggle.

"He doesn't blame you Nathan, no one does," Chris explained.

Jackson turned to face Abraham.  He had thought this man was someone to be admired.  Now, as he looked at the smug scarred face he realized he never hated a man so much in his life.   Nathan licked his lips and forced a pleading look to form on his tired face.  "Let me help him, Abraham."

The black leader broke into a toothy grin.  "Well, maybe if Mr. Larabee saw fit to get on his knees and ask nicely,"  Abraham mocked.  Nathan hung his head.

The blond gunslinger's icy blue eyes turned dark and stormy.  He clenched his jaw causing the veins on his neck to stand out.  Slowly, without removing his eyes from the sadistic man at the bar, Chris sunk to his knees.  "Please...let Nathan see to Ezra," he said through clenched teeth.

"I'll give you fifteen minutes.  I want to keep your friend alive so I can kill him with my bare hands."

The dark-clad gunslinger bit his tongue.  This man would touch Ezra over his dead body, he thought to himself.   Chris stood, placing his hand on  Nathan's shoulder breaking him from his self inflicted despair.  Nathan obediently stood and allowed himself to be led out.  The guard trailed behind the two lawmen leaving behind the booming laughter of a madman.

Part 9

As they neared the jail house, Nathan's heart started to pound within his chest. He could hear each damning beat in his head.  He had to grab hold of his hands, which began to shake.  Chris' hand squeezed his shoulder reassuringly. 

Larabee entered the building first with Nathan right behind him, his head bowed.  He licked at his suddenly dry lips and slowly raised his eyes to look upon the prone figure lying on the cot within the jail cell.  Ezra's eyes were open, glowing with fever, but he wasn't seeing anything.  The fever that raged through his body caused tremors and demons to awaken, both vying for procession of his tortured body and mind.

Josiah was sitting on the floor, his hand on Ezra's head, stroking the sweat-soaked brown hair.  The others clustered protectively nearby.  Josiah looked over his shoulder to see the despair in his old friend's handsome young face.  The caring and hope-filled light that used to shine in the ex-slave's dark eyes seemed to be extinguished; instead, a dull, numb void stared back at him.  Josiah only hoped his old friend wasn't gone for good and that that fervent light could be re-ignited.  

Wilmington found it hard to look at Jackson; all he saw was him whipping Ezra.  Buck knew Nate had had no choice, Abraham would have strangled JD in front of them all, but the image still refused to leave his mind.

Nathan asked one of the guards to bring his saddle bags and some bandages and water.

"Remember you have fifteen minutes," the guard reminded throwing the saddle bags into the cell then closing the door.  Everyone crowded around as Nathan kneeled beside the cot.

"Are you okay, Nathan?" Josiah was the first to ask.

"They haven't hurt you or nuthin?" JD quietly asked.

Nathan smiled thankfully at his friends and slowly shook his head.  Vin and Chris regarded each other over the healer's silence.

Jackson cringed at the hateful glare from Buck.  He knew the gregarious cowboy didn't mean anything by it, and he didn't blame him.  At this moment he hated himself just as much.

Nathan checked Ezra's pupils then palpitated his ribs. He also noticed the bruising coming up from his waist.  He carefully pressed on his thigh moving up to his hip, eliciting groans of pain.   Nathan rummaged in his bag and pulled out a pouch of herbs to mix up in some water to help control the fever and pain.

"He's hardly slept more than an hour at a stretch, the pain is too bad," Josiah remarked as he raised the conman's head so Nathan could force the herbal remedy down his throat. 

Standish's vision seemed to clear for a moment and he looked right at Nathan who looked away.  Then Nathan felt a hand squeeze his arm and returned his eyes.  He looked into green eyes that held no animosity.  Nathan released the breath he had been holding and went back to work.  He checked the lash marks finding a couple that were already infected.  He wished he had something he could use to sew up the deeper cuts.

Nathan drenched a cloth in whiskey and started to clean out the festering wounds.  Vin and Josiah grabbed hold of the struggling, pain-racked gambler, feeling his body shake.  Ezra was no longer able to hold back the searing agony.  A scream, which seemed to hold all the pain and abuse he'd endured over the past day burst forth, taking the last of his strength and plunging him into darkness.  Tears streamed down the healer's face and Chris laid a sympathetic hand on his shoulder. Nathan checked the unconscious gambler's pulse, which was weak.

"Is he goin' to be alright?" JD whispered through the solemn silence of the cell.

"He's got two cracked ribs, I don't think there's any internal injuries or he'd be dead already."  Nathan's voice cracked and he had to pause and swallow a lump, which had lodged in his throat.  "His hip and left leg are severely bruised, and he probably won't be able to use it for awhile.  He's also got a high fever from several infected lashes; hopefully the herbs I gave him will help.  You have to keep trying to get fluids down him and keep those cuts clean."

"Okay healer, your time is up."  The guard came to the cell, opening the door.

"I'm not leaving," Nathan murmured.

Chris leaned down next to Nathan's ear.  "You're our only hope."

Nathan stood and took one last look at the man he thought six months ago he would never consider a friend.  Then he looked at the other five men who stood before him in the cell and realized he'd give his life for these men.  Nathan gave Chris an imperceptible nod and walked out, leaving his supplies behind.

+ + + + + + +

Nathan was still allowed to go anywhere within the limits of the town, but now two or more of Abraham's goons were a constant presence.  He needed help and knew he wouldn't be allowed to leave town, so he had to hope he could get some of the town's people to help him rescue his friends.  Nathan neared the Mercantile just as Mira emerged, carrying a box of nails, the two collided sending nails skittering across the boardwalk.  Nathan knelt down to help collect the scattered nails.  He looked over his shoulder, noticing that the guard wasn't paying any real attention, caught up in a conversation with a young woman.

"Mira, I need your help.  We have to get my friends out.  Is there anyone who can help me?" Nathan asked, keeping his voice low.

Mira looked over Nathan's shoulder toward the guard and whispered, "Yes, most of us want to be free of Abraham but there are only a few willing in do anything."

"If we can free my friends, they'll take care of Abraham." 

Mira saw the guard approach and quickly stood, lifting up the box of nails.  "Thank you very much for your help, Mr. Jackson," she replied, and turned to leave.

The five gunslingers did all they could to make the pain-ridden gambler comfortable.  His fever had come down slightly and Josiah was able to get some water down him, but his breathing was still labored and the lashes and injured ribs were a constant source of pain.  Someone was always at Ezra's side, laying a hand on his forehead or arm, trying to pass on whatever comfort they could.

Wilmington stood off to the other side of the cell his face sullen and foreboding.  A look that JD had never before seen on his fun-loving friend's face, but Chris had, even though he couldn't remember the last time he'd seen it.  Buck's dark brows almost came together over his equally dark eyes, gone was that mischievous glint that everyone attributed to the ladies man.  When Buck was like this Chris knew he could be just as dangerous as himself.

Larabee approached his long time friend, hoping to assuage some of Buck's rage, as much as his own.  He had noticed that Buck hadn't said a word to Nathan and in fact looked like he wanted to kill the man.


"What?" The mustached gunslinger snapped.

"It's not Nathan's fault," Chris said. 

Buck closed his eyes and took a deep breath trying to rid himself of the murderous hate he felt.  He wanted revenge, he just wasn't sure against who.

"I know, but look at him..." Buck choked back a sob as he looked at Ezra's shivering pain racked body.  Chris placed a hand on his old friend's shoulder.

"Abraham forced his hand, he's the one responsible and he's the one that's going to pay," Chris simply stated, but the deadly overtone was impossible to miss.  Buck nodded.

+ + + + + + +

Nathan continued to walk the boardwalk, but now noticed the furtive glances and nodding of heads--he had allies.  He only the guards carried weapons, but if they could somehow free the others.

Nathan stopped just outside a dress shop to re-lace his boot.  "Don't react I'm a friend of Mira's," a voice whispered from behind some crates.  Nathan continued to slowly lace his boots.  "My name is Josh, there are fifteen of us.  We'll get your friends free, but you must keep Abraham occupied." 

Nathan straightened.  "No Problem," he softly answered and continued down the boardwalk.  Renewed faith started to flow through him, lightening his steps, these people were willing to help, willing to save his friends and fight for their freedom.  He knew how to keep the dark leader busy; give him what he wanted by appealing to his self-serving pride.

A woman entered the jail carrying a tray of food.  She greeted the guards who ogled her petite form.  "Abraham wants the prisoners to eat."  Her skin crawled at their leers, but she maintained the flirtatious smile on her oval face.

Mira approached the cell to be met by the darkly dressed leader.  She placed the loaf of bread and water within his reach then looked over her shoulder seeing that the guards didn't see fit to follow her.  "You must be ready, we are devising a plan for your escape," she whispered.

"What about Nathan?" Larabee asked.  

"He is with us."

Josiah approached the bars.  "Miss, can you get us something for our friend, he's in terrible pain."

Mira looked over at the pale figure laying on the cot and her heart went out to the southerner.  She hated seeing anyone harmed in anyway.  She had been lucky, she was never physically abused as a slave, but she had witnessed other atrocities.  "I'll see what I can do."

Part 11

Vin sat on the floor against the far wall of the cell when he heard scratching sounds coming up from the other side.  He looked down to see one of the bottom bricks being removed.  A small brown bottle was slid in and the brick was quickly replaced.

"Josiah," Tanner called, picking up the bottle and handing it to the huge gunslinger.  Sanchez opened and smelled the contents, a huge grin coming to his long face.

"It's laudanum."  He went back to Ezra's side.

Ezra was only semi-conscious, his face bathed in sweat.  Every time he shook knives of pain would tear through him.  He'd fall asleep only to be awaken by a sudden fiery agony.

"Lord, I hate that stuff," Standish complained, his southern drawl coming out hoarse.

"Well my brother, we hate to see you in this condition, so you're drinking this," Josiah admonished.   Vin lifted the weaken gambler's head allowing the ex-preacher to pour some of the pain-relieving medicine down the his throat.  Ezra coughed and choked a couple times, but managed to take half the bottle.  Vin continued to mop Ezra's fevered brow as he watched his stubborn friend fight the effects of the drug.

"Let go, Ez," Vin quietly told him, placing his hand over the weary man's heavy eyes and forcing them closed.  A few moments later, Ezra was in a deep drug induced sleep where hopefully the pain wouldn't be able to reach him.

Chris came up and smiled down at the steadfast gambler, then looked over to make sure the guards were not paying any attention.  "Alright, somethin's goin' to happen.  We don't know when or what, so we have to be ready."  Chris turned to the youngest member of their little family.  "JD, no matter what I don't want you leaving Ezra's side."

The young gunslinger's face dropped in disappointment.

"He can't be moved and he's vulnerable.  I'm counting on you to protect him," Chris added.

Dunne looked over at his tortured friend knowing that Chris was right. "Don't worry Chris nothing will happen to him, I promise."

+ + + + + + +

Jackson found Abraham supervising some work being done to the town hall.   He was worried about Ezra; Mira had told him that Josiah had asked her for laudanum, this could only mean that the injured southerner was in considerable pain.  He took a deep breath and put on his most sincere smile, hoping some of Ezra's conning abilities had rubbed off on him. What was it that Ezra always said, 'if you believe, they'll believe.'  Nathan had to chuckle at this, if Ezra saw what he was doing he'd never hear the end of it.  Right now, he'd give anything to hear that smart-mouth southern drawl.  Jackson shook himself out of his self-pity.   He had to concentrate.  Forcing a smile on his face, Nathan tried to keep the bile from rising up this throat as he approached the one-eyed man.

"Abraham, we need to talk."

The ebony leader turned at the healer's voice.  He had left the healer alone, hoping he would eventually come around.

"Yes, Nathan, what can I do for you?" he asked suspiciously.

"I've been thinkin', maybe you're right?  How can those white men be my family, they don't understand.  Now, I still don't want them hurt, but maybe you and I can talk some more about me becoming a part of your family."  At first Nathan didn't think the egotistical man was going to buy it, then a smug smile broke across his face and he slapped a hand on Nate's shoulder.   Two guards flanked them as they walked off toward the saloon. 

+ + + + + + +

Josh and three other young men crept around the outside of the jail.  They had waited months for this opportunity to overthrow the dictatorial ex-slave.  When Abraham was not around most of the guards became very laxed in their duties.  The man at the door of the jail dozed under a large woven hat and was easily rendered unconscious.  The four rebels entered the jail surprising the other two guards.

"Darvan, watch the door," Josh ordered as he grabbed the keys off the unconscious guard and ran to the cell door.  He looked at the cold blue eyes of Chris Larabee, and saw the distrust.  Josh paused for a moment.  "We're friends, and we need your help.  Abraham has fifteen armed men."  Josh unlocked the cell door as he explained the situation.  Chris and Vin pushed their way out.  Buck and JD ran for their guns, which sat on the desk and started handing them out.  JD returned to Ezra's side making sure his guns were ready.

"I'm sorry about your friend," Josh said looking at the now quiet southerner.

"Yeah right," Buck murmured, pushing past the young black man and cocking his gun.  He was ready to do some major damage, anger still filled his heart. 

Sanchez placed a hand on Wilmington's shoulder, feeling the tension of tightly drawn muscles. "Brother Buck, these people need our help, not our hate, they've had enough of that to last a life time.  Abraham is the only one deserving of our vengeance."  A menacing smile cracked the wizen gunslinger's face.

Part 12

Abraham and Nathan shared a table and a bottle of whiskey in the saloon.  The once visionary plans that Abraham had spoken of earlier now rang false in Nathan's ears.  He knew this man for what he truly was, a sadistic bastard, who only wanted power and control of everything and everyone, including his own people.

The sound of gunfire brought a faint smile to Nate's face.  He watched as Abraham rushed out.  Nathan downed the shot he was holding, and then walked behind the bar, grabbing the knife that Mira had hidden there.  He needed to quickly make his way over to the jail, knowing that Ezra would still be there. 

Josiah saw Nathan leave the saloon and made sure his friend was covered, until he reached the safety of the jail.  Then he began to dispense his own form of justice.

Chris and Vin headed up the back stairs of one of the buildings so that Vin could take out the men on the roof tops.  Chris kept his eyes opened for the dark, one-eyed man. 

When Chris saw Abraham rush out of the saloon, his anger surged and caused him to rush his shot.  He managed to hit Abraham in the arm, but the black man dove behind a wagon.

Buck, Josiah and the four rebels met up with ten more behind the jail, all armed with clubs.  Some of Buck's anger abated as he saw that these people were as much victims as they were.  Black and white brought together by a common purpose and prepared to fight for their freedom

Jackson practically fell through the jail door, only to be met with JD's twin colts.  "Whoa, there JD, it's me!"  Nathan yelled, throwing up his hands.

"Ah Nathan, thank goodness." 

Nate came immediately over to Ezra.  "How's he been?"

"Not good, we dosed 'em up with laudanum a couple hours ago, since we didn't know what was going to happen," JD explained.

Nathan forced open an eyelid, noticing the slow reaction. He still felt a fever, but it didn't seem as bad as before.  "Why don't you go and help the others, I'll stay with him," Nathan suggested.

"Right, thanks."  JD almost raced out the door, but stopped and cautiously looked around before running for the cover of a nearby building.  Nathan smiled, the boy was learning.  He wrung out a rag in some cool water and placed it on Ezra's forehead causing him to stir slightly.  Nathan pulled the blanket up to his neck.  "Take it easy Ez, everything will be okay," he soothed.

"No, I don't think so!"

Nathan jumped up placing his body between the gambler and the dark leader who now filled the doorway.  Abraham was holding his right arm, which dripped blood down to the loosely held a gun at his side.

"You were responsible for this," Abraham growled.  "You and your so called friends."  Abraham took a step forward trying to raise his arm.  "I never should have trusted you.  You've lived with whites too long."  Abraham again tried to raise his arm getting it halfway up.

"Don't Abraham," Jackson warned, holding the knife along his wrist.

"You destroyed everything I've worked for."

"No, you had already done that by keeping these people enslaved with fear.  They trusted you, you destroyed that trust!"

A malicious grin stretched across the one-eyed man's face as he slowly managed to raise his gun.  He was going to kill Nathan and the southerner, and then he would leave this town and start anew somewhere else.  There were still plenty of ex-slaves who would more than willingly accept his help and join him in fulfilling his dreams.

As the gun came level Nathan threw his knife, watching as it imbedded itself into the dark leader's barrel chest.  Abraham looked down in disbelief then back up to meet Nathan's plaintive stare.  "I told you I was good with knives," he simply stated as Abraham fell to his knees then pitched forward onto his face.

It didn't take the five gunslingers and several town's people long to either kill or run off Abraham's men.  Ezra was moved to one of the completed hotel rooms where Nathan spent two days administering to him, hardly leaving his side the whole time.  Nathan never told anyone how near death Ezra had been.

When Ezra finally opened his green eyes, he was met with the relieved smiles of his friends.  He swallowed and licked his lips.  Nathan raised his head up as Josiah gave him a couple sips of water.

"How you feein', pard?" Buck asked.

"Better." Came a hoarse answer.  His eyes started growing heavy again, but he forced them to focus on Nathan.  "Thank you."  Was all he managed before sleep once again took him.

"You're welcome, my friend," Nathan replied.

It was four days before the healer would allow the now exacting gambler out of bed.  The familiar bantering between the two men was music to everyone's ears.  During those four days, the others helped wherever they could with the rebuilding.  Vin and Buck even rounded up several wild horses and helped to break them.  Nathan finally learned what Buck was good at... falling off horses. 

+ + + + + + +

"Damn you, Ezra!  Why do you have to be such a difficult cuss?" Nathan berated the obstinate cardshark as he stiffly mounted his horse.  The town's people had offered the use of a wagon, but Ezra was determined to ride his horse.  He winced at the pain that was still in his leg and side. 

"Because Mr. Jackson, you wouldn't have it any other way," Ezra replied, flashing a wide grin that revealed his gold tooth at his friend.

"If you fall off that horse on the way home..." Nathan began, but Ezra reined his horse around and urged him forward.  "I'll be there to catch you, you stubborn southerner," he quietly continued, unable to hide the wide grin on his handsome, dark visage.

"Thank you for everything, Mr. Larabee," Josh said extending his hand to the dark-clad gunslinger.

"If you need us, you know where we are," Chris said, taking the young man's hand.  He tipped his hat and headed for his waiting horse.

Nathan turned his attention to Mira, who placed a small slender hand on his arm.  He looked down into her large dark eyes. "My offer still stands.  I'll be by in a month to check if anyone needs doctoring, and Chris and the others are more than willing to help."

"We need to try and make it on our own first, but I'm sure we will be in touch."  Mira tiptoed and pressed her soft lips upon Nathan's, the kiss lasted only a second, but he felt a surge of heat throughout his body, which forced out a quivering breath.

"C'mon Nathan, let's go home!" Buck called out, bringing the healer out of his stupor.  Nathan tipped his hat, grabbed the reins of his horse, and mounted, taking one last look at the young, beautiful woman before turning his horse and heading off to catch up with the other six riders.  Mira watched as the seven brave men...(dare I say it?)

...rode off into the sunset.


Comments: KellyA