Healers and Doctors
Disclaimer: They are not mine. I don't make profit from these. (I do it for fun and sadness)
Thanks to my beta Laura and to Angela B. Without them my stories could not be.
Warning: Sad story with a few graphic descriptions
The idea began as a crossover, but the need of a background for it leads me to this story. There could be some characters barely recognizable from another OW -TV show.
Feedback is very welcome. (Just be kind, I'm STILL learning English)
Ezra P. Standish had been waiting for the noon stage. When it came to a halt in its usual spot, he quickly evaluated the passengers, expecting to locate any traveler in search of entertainment by a game of chance.
Buck Wilmington leaned near the gambler, looking for a damsel in distress who would appreciate his attentions.
J.D. Dunne, as the sheriff of Four Corners, stayed near. He didn't expect trouble, but they were always careful with all strangers.
The telegrapher, Mr. Epeler, got close to the stage driver to receive the mail bag and a couple of packages.
As it sometimes went, nobody from the stage was interested in the little town and all the passengers continued their travel.
The gambler was in the process of returning to the saloon when George, a boy who often served as messenger of the telegrapher, came running up holding an envelope.
"Mr. Standish, this came for you in the mail," said the boy trying to recover his breath "And a box that is in the office"
"Thank you, Master Epeler," Ezra said as he took the letter, "I'll get the box later"
After giving the boy a coin he proceeded to open the envelope. He read the letter in a hurry having taken note of the return address.
Both, Buck and J.D., could sense the apprehension in his demeanor, but were surprised as one tear traveled the gambler's face.
The two brunettes were staring at him when the gambler brushed it off with his bare hand. He carefully folded the letter and, after clearing his throat, told the young sheriff,
"J.D. please inform Mr. Jackson that there is a package currently in the telegraph office that would help with his practice if he is interested. Now, if you'll excuse me."
And the gambler quickly disappeared in the saloon.
"That was weird" Buck said in concern. Ezra never showed his emotions and he had seemed truly moved by the contents of the letter.
"Yeah, I better tell Nathan about the package" said J.D. and went in search of the town's healer.
Buck entered the saloon and surveyed the tables, but the gambler wasn't there. The tall rogue got to the bar and ordered a beer.
After J.D. told him about the package, Nathan left his clinic and without too much trouble retrieved it from Mr. Epeler's care.
Back in his room, Nathan got a pleasant surprise when he opened the box. Inside there was an old, but well cared for, medical bag with all the instruments. It was easy to see which ones were used most. He picked up some paper sheets with medical advice and a note that was on top of the papers.
Curious, Nathan read the note. The script was neat, almost fancy. Like the gambler's.
Nathan read the note again noticing the absence of last names, dates or any other reference. With a chuckle he got a revelation. Surely the gambler had won the entire box at the game he attended the previous week in a near town.
The owner must have packed the old things and forgot about the note when he gambled it.
As Ezra would not have any use for medical instruments, he obviously had decided to give it away to Nathan.
The healer carefully folded the note and placed it in his desk. Then proceeded to catalogue the items from the bag. They were of good quality.
+ + + + + + +
The day was slow, in pacemaker business, so at night the Seven were at the saloon: eating, playing cards and, in Buck's case, entertaining the ladies.
The mood at the poker table was quiet, almost somber, being that Chris, Vin and Ezra were the only ones playing and J.D., Nathan and Josiah were eating.
Buck joined them as Inez was retrieving the empty plates. The rogue's smile and good mood did not improve the melancholy that surrounded the table.
The players had been drinking steadily, especially Chris and Ezra. Buck snatched the almost empty bottle and asked Inez for a new one.
The pretty barmaid arched an eyebrow but complied. That was the third bottle she had served them, but at least now three more would be drinking it.
Vin folded his cards with a sigh. Chris threw a coin in the pot and then let out a snort as Ezra won the game again
Ezra was shuffling the cards for a new game when he asked the rest of his associates,
"Any of you, gentlemen interested in a game of chance?"
The answer of Buck and Josiah was an immediate "Sure". J.D. sudden silence got the attention of the men around.
"Sorry," said the contrite young man "I want to buy a new fishing pole for Casey and) need all my money" he explained.
"Yeah, I want to keep my money too. I think Ezra will have to do with what the rest of you have." Nathan knew the tendency of the Southern to win.
Nevertheless, the seven remained seated, five of them playing, two watching.
At the fourth winning hand of Ezra, J.D. asked him,
"That letter wasn't bad news, right?"
"What letter?" the raspy voice of Chris asked. He, like most of them, had noted that the gambler was pale, drinking too much and in a somber mood.
"The one that came with Nathan's package" explained the sheriff, "Ezra seemed sad after he read it."
Feeling the gazes of his associates focusing at him, the gambler just shrugged and raised the bet.
"You shouldn't have accepted the box," stated Nathan. The gambler remained in silence.
Thinking that the gambler had been disappointed at receiving the box and not money, he went on, "You can have it back and sell the things inside in Eagle Bend. Can't get a lot of money for them but... I'll just keep the note to give it back to the owner." The Healer finished.
Ezra was giving Nathan a cold stare. He was hurt by the thought that Nathan didn't appreciate the gift and growled, "If you don't want it, give it back. But you won't sell anything!" There was a full tense second before his alcohol fogged mind process the last of Nathan's words,
"What note? Mike didn't mention anything about a note." There was a hint of hope in his voice that wouldn't have been there if he had been sober.
"It's just a note from the ex-owner to his nephew." Said the Healer.
"Mike should have sent the box to Preston, not to me." stated Ezra. "I'll send it back as soon as possible so Mike can send it to Preston before he finds I had it."
Chris was curious, taking advantage of the drunken state of the Southern he asked, "Who is Mike?"
"Mike is a friend of a friend you could say," Ezra said softly.
"And who is this Preston?" Chris asked "And why you don't just send the box to him yourself?"
"He's my brother... half brother." said Ezra folding his cards "I don't want him to know where I am." He turned slightly to the healer before questioning him.
"Did you, by any chance take a look at the note, at what it said?"
Nathan blushed and passed his glass from one hand to the other. He tried to explain, "It was with the other papers I was arranging. I thought it was another reminder and not a personal letter."
"So you read it?" boomed Buck.
"It's pretty good, all neat. He must care a lot for his nephew, telling how much he respects and admires him..." he was cut off abruptly when Josiah's elbow hit him in the ribs. The gambler had squeezed his cards.
The ex-preacher had tied all the events to Ezra's unusual mood, but he didn't have all the clues, yet.
He saw Chris and Vin interchange looks and nods. So he wasn't surprised at all when Vin asked the gambler, "I thought Preston was your middle name"
"It's a long story, not worth the effort of retelling," stated the Southern.
His past wasn't for the amusement of his associates; he clamped his mouth shut and tried to smooth the abused cards.
Now all the men at the table were paying attention to the talk and actions of their friend. Nathan was worried, he didn't want to give the tools back, but if they were never Ezra's property, he would do what he knew was the right thing.
//The right thing...// thought Nathan. Out loud he asked,
"Why did your brother stop being a doctor?"
Even Vin was startled by the abrupt laugh that came from Ezra, "Preston, a doctor? That's ludicrous. He's a banker like his father... our father."
Ezra seemed to deflate as he continued, "It was Alexander... who was a doctor."
It wasn't unnoticed the way he stressed the "was".
"So you have another brother, his name is Alexander and he was a doctor" said J.D. who was trying to sort out the information the drunk man was giving.
"No, Mr. Dunne, Alexander wasn't my brother." Ezra shuffled the cards to deal a new game, oblivious to the fact that his friends still had the cards from the previous hand.
"But why did he stopped being a doctor?" questioned Nathan.
"Must be because he's now dead," Ezra said while looking at the floor searching for something.
"The note said he wasn't helping people anymore."
"That's impossible Mr. Jackson, he was a lot like you, even to his last breath he would have been prescribing a drug for one of his patients."
"Somebody stopped being a doctor, the note said so" exclaimed Nathan clearly exasperated at the gambler who was now trying to move Buck of out the way of his search.
"That story is irrelevant as it happened to another Preston." Ezra abandoned his attempts of moving Buck.
"Wow," J.D. piped up "You have more than one brother called Preston?"
Ezra looked at him in annoyance, "Of course not Mr. Dunne, the family would not permit it to happen again."
"Ezra, stop playing with J.D. and Nathan, just answer them" growled Chris, who was beginning to felt nauseated by all the nonsense talk and his own drunken state.
"You are wrong Mr. Larabee, both of them refused to play poker with us so I haven't been 'playing' with them. In fact it seems I can't play anymore."
Josiah placed a calming hand on Chris shoulder before the explosive man could retaliate, and then he asked the Southern,
"And why is that you can't play anymore?"
Ezra let out a loud sigh before responding, "Because I somewhat misplaced a big part of my deck and I can't find it."
Turning to Vin with a hopeful face he pleaded, "Maybe you can track them cards, I can describe them to you and you will follow their footmarks or scent..."
"Hum, Ez... I think we have them, see." Buck showed his cards trying to suppress his laughter enough to talk.
The rest of the men were barely containing their amusement. The idea of Vin tracking the cards seemed funny even to Chris.
Ezra tossed his cards in the table, "Maybe I should stop being a gambler." He fumed.
Josiah took a sip of his glass, their friend was in need of help, but even sober, Ezra was a stubborn man and would refuse the support but...
"What I think you need, brother, is to stop drinking and maybe talk about the reason behind it." He noticed Ezra's parlor. The proud Southern was hunched in his chair.
"Ezra, we will wait until you are sober to hear about your brother, about Alexander or about why you left the practice."
The gambler's head rose so fast that the Southern had to grip the table to steady himself. His eyes revealed clearly the shock he was in. A soft "How?" left his lips without his knowledge.
Just two out of the seven men at the table were calm.
Chris threw an accusing look at the tracker, /you knew/
Vin just tilted his head. He hadn't known but he had suspected.
"I will not" stated the gambler at last. "I have nothing you'll want to hear"
Josiah took another sip of his drink,
"Something is bothering you, son, if you talk about it you'll feel better..."
"I can not feel better, don't you see? Alexander is dead and there is not a thing you can do to make me feel better. There is not a thing "I" can do to feel better," Ezra stated emphatically, his southern accent deepening like it did when something mattered to the gambler.
The Southern was in agony. His past was still an open wound and Mike's letter had rubbed salt in it. His mind kept reminding him of the last argument he'd had with Alexander and the disappointment Ezra saw in his eyes when he tried to explain and Alexander refused to listen.
"I'm just the fiasco he tried to amend but failed; now he will never forgive me."
Nathan was stunned, he wasn't sure he wanted to, but he needed to know. Swallowing the knot that had formed in his throat he spoke tenderly "Tell us, please"
Ezra looked in despair to the six men that were sitting at the table with him. He wanted to grieve, to get this sadness out of his body.
Maybe it was the amount of hurt that saturated his heart or maybe it was the amount of alcohol that saturated his blood, but he started his story, not with Alexander or with his brother, but at the very beginning of it.
"Mother raised me alone, we traveled continuously, gambling and conning. It was at an early age that I learned the job's requirements and my value. I was at her side when she needed it and locked in a room when not. My cards and a few books were all I was allowed to own. It was lamentable that I grew up, and wasn't easy to control anymore. Mother had been having a hard time with my teenager temper so she decided to let my Father take care of it for a while.
That we had never met each other wasn't an obstacle for her plans; neither was the fact that he had a family: wife and sons. I was dropped at his door, literally. The scene that followed our meeting was most disagreeable, the shouting escalated so fast to a fight that didn't favored me ...
I was sent away of course. My oldest half-brother, Preston, took great pleasure throwing me out by force. But I had the good fortune that one of the old maids of the house noticed how much I looked like my Father, even as he denied to be related to me and she had the insight to send for Alexander. He was my Father's younger brother... and had just graduated medical school. He arrived without delay and took care of me."
The gambler paused, lost in the memory. Even J.D., who was somewhat inexperienced regarding the dark side of human nature, could imagine why Ezra had needed the help from the maid and a doctor.
In one way or another every man at the table had, in the past, suffered at the hands of those who were supposed to care for them.
Buck was murmuring threats at irresponsible fathers, as was Josiah. Vin simply shuddered.
Ezra continued, apparently oblivious to his associates' distress. "Alexander was good natured and compassionate. He treated me with great care, was always gentle and friendly... he was a soft hearted man, even if I was the most stubborn, unhelpful and inconsiderate juvenile. As I was bedridden for a while I got restless, he soon discovered that he could get me quiet and happy just by leaving a couple of books near the bed. I had nothing else to do and too soon finished his limited collection of classics so he had to hand his medical texts to keep me entertained. An uneasy situation became an interesting project for both of us"
"When I was well enough, he let me help him take inventory of his supplies and archive the records of his patients. He declared himself incompetent to maintain his papers in order. Soon Alexander and David, his best friend and fellow doctor would engage in medical discussions and throw me questions about symptoms or treatments..."
"Don't worry Mr. Jackson, I merely gave them the text references and they checked the books and consulted with an old doctor and mentor of them. Both, Alexander and David felt great respect for Mike's father, he was a admirable man and always supportive. The time I spent at Alexander's house was the most fructiferous in my quest of knowledge. Both young doctors were very appreciative of my hands skill with the cards, but it was Mike's father, Joseph, who commented that a surgeon could use that kind of control while operating."
Ezra paused and Vin used the time to lean over the table and close J.D.'s mouth. The young sheriff didn't seem to notice as he was focused entirely at Ezra with awe.
Nathan was quickly recalling the times he had watched Ezra's tricks with cards and little objects, task that he usually performed for the town's children. The steady hands of the gambler even in the most awkward situations and the calm demeanor he projected at almost all time. Indeed, the skills that any surgeon would need to have.
While talking, Ezra had reunited the cards his friends had abandoned and was now shuffling them, slower than usual but with the high quantity of drinks they had, it wasn't unexpected.
Ezra eyes appear to be fixed in an invisible spot in the wall at the other side of the saloon. "Mother came back, eventually. And I had to go with her and participate in her schemes again, but I convinced her to start an emergency fund that I managed to increase in a short time. Later I succeeded in joining a prestigious medical school thanks to the letters of renowned physicians that saw potential in my abilities, but mostly, for the times that the war had brought where doctors were a great necessity."
"You graduated" the tone of the dark haired Bostonian didn't let clear if it was a question or an affirmation.
"Yes, Mr. Dunne, I graduated from the institution with good grades and settled in a near locality. Alexander visited me often; we had already lost David in the war so we sort of become best friends. He stated, more than once, that it was uncanny how much I looked like his older brother with whom he always had a strained relation... but this is irrelevant." He cleared his throat.
"It was at that town that I met the 'most beautiful being God had ever created to wander this world'. She was so frail, too delicate, kind and lovely."
Ezra, again lost in thought, missed the shove Buck gave J.D.
For the rogue, a good story would never lack of, at least, one lovely female, and no, Maude didn't qualified at that after having abandoned the young Ezra.
A hard glare from Larabee got the mustached man settled.
"Her family wasn't too happy about me courting their beloved daughter; I was from a respected family but was born out of wedlock. For some reason they thought Alexander was my father. Which was ridiculous as he wasn't that much older than me."
"But I had a most decent job. That, summed with my fiancée's tenacious will to maintain our wedding plans and the fact that her family was afraid that they would lose her anyway if they forbid it, gave us their reluctant blessing."
"We devoted all our time to being happy, until her health started to crumble. She had been diagnosed, at an early age with heart weakness, but both of us dismissed it since she scarcely showed any symptoms. Her sudden chest pains scared us immensely. Her condition worsened within just a few weeks. She was already weak, pale and losing her appetite because of the nausea. When she started to vomit after the meals, Alexander, had an inspiration."
Ezra let out a dry chuckle.
"What?" asked J.D. anxiously.
Nathan had a serious expression, "She was pregnant". Without knowing, the healer had discovered in a few minutes what three doctors had spent weeks trying to detect.
"She was?" interjected the young sheriff refocusing his attention at the gambler.
"Yes" proceeded Ezra, "We had been married for eight months and I don't know what scared me more; when I thought her heart condition had progressed suddenly or when I reasoned that pregnancy with her heart condition would put her life in extreme danger."
"I spend the next three months worried sick. Then Alexander asked for my help. There was a spreading epidemic at his locality and he convinced us both that I was needed urgently. He suggested that without me around worrying constantly she might have more energy to concentrate solely on herself. Her family doctor had stayed as her physician since the beginning of her life and promised to me that he would keep a close watch."
Ezra paused again, closed his eyes and reclined his head on the back of the chair.
Larabee gulped his drink and was grateful when Josiah filled his glass again. Both shared an understanding, he had known the story wouldn't have a happy ending, but it was hitting too close to Chris own regrets in life.
"Alexander and I were very busy with all the patients that arrived every day. It was hard to lose them just as quick, young and old, woman or men, it didn't matter. But I had the hope to go back to my home and leave the tragedy behind. Go back to my wife and unborn child." Ezra sighed.
"When her doctor summoned me, I was afraid to go back. Afraid I was contagious. I shouldn't have... she was already dying. She had lost the baby and was bleeding inside..."
There was a brief shocked silence at the table. The healer was shocked, "Nobody tried to stop the bleeding? You were doctors, surgeons, for God sake!" Nathan outburst was only stopped by Josiah's physically restrain.
"You think I didn't try!" declared Ezra indignantly. "The bleeding... it was too much, not only the loss of the baby. They had been hiding the abdominal pain, the sickness, the dark red blood in her evacuations. There were also mouth ulcers by all the retching she did. I was too late; I could do nothing to help her. If I had been near... If I had known..."
Buck snatched the bottle from Josiah's loose grip and poured two glasses, he quickly drained one and made J.D. drink the other. The kid was too pale.
"We buried them together. It was a little girl. So much like her mother. She had silky red hair that I'm sure with time would have resemble her mother curls. I don't remember a lot after that afternoon..."
He opened his eyes and stared at Buck with a pained look, "Alexander had to save me, not from a bottle but from the same sickness that we had been fighting side by side. He had a hard time as I had no reason to remain in this world. It was, as he insisted annoyingly, by divine intervention that I survived. He spent a lot of time trying to convince me that I still had a reason to live"
Buck understood, better than anybody, how hard it was to help a friend who had lost the will to live. It was like swimming against the current. In more than one occasion, Buck had wanted to shoot Chris to end his deadly rampage, or had wanted to shake him until he overcome the zombie state he would get at times.
The mustached man was sure that keeping Ezra alive wouldn't have been easy either.
It was Chris that, with past knowledge, stated "So you fought with him and did or said something that you now regret"
The gambler sighed, "And I left the house, packed just my things and disappeared."
With defeat in his voice, "I was denied the chance to apologize," The drunken man stood, put his cards in his pocket and left the table.
The leader of the seven said, as he watched the gambler climbing the stairs to his room with difficulty. "But you wanted a second chance... After you had run away."
Nathan stood too, "I'll make sure he gets to his room"
After having helped the drunken man with the last steps, Nathan had to open Ezra's door when he failed to insert the key in the lock.
The gambler stumbled in the room and climbed into the bed without removing his clothes or guns.
With a sigh Nathan pulled off the younger man's boots and stripped him of his coat, shoulder holster and derringer device, all this under the glazed stare of the intoxicated man, who hiccupped,
"I hate false doctors."
Nathan's breath left him as if he had been punched.
Ezra's accent was deeper than normal, "Shameless characters that want to become famous at any cost. They don't care for the patients. They have caused more deaths and sorrow than the war."
The healer stared at the man in the bed. Months had passed since Maude's scheme over the saloons but the words brought him the guilt full force.
Ezra hiccupped again but this time it was not as a result of the alcohol, his eyes bright with tears, "He killed my two loves."
Nathan saw the devastated man hug his pillow fiercely and suppress what sounded like a sob. With his heart full of regret, the healer left the room, descended the stairs and walked out of the saloon. He reached his own room and threw the doctor's bag and notes in the same box he had unpacked earlier.
A soft knock at his door made him halt. Seeing that it was Josiah he fell into a nearby chair, and asked him in despair, "How could she do that?"
The older man was confused and he waited until Nathan continued. When Nathan began again it was with anger in his voice, "She did it on purpose"
Josiah was still clueless, so he asked the healer "Who?"
The dark man looked at the ex-preacher with rage burning in his eyes, "Maude! She knew and still... She gave me a title that I don't have and have never assumed. But she was so persistent in having me at her business when she was just trying to get at Ezra."
The older man interrupted, "Oh, I see. She threatened you into accepting. She forced your cooperation."
"Not..." whispered Nathan.
"You see, brother, that even if she did it intentionally, we shared the responsibility by letting her mislead us, and we fell in with her con. She knows which things would hurt Ezra most and doesn't hesitate in using them. I think she believes that it's for his own good, but... Must be hard knowing that your own mother is always plotting against you."
Setting his hand on the healer's shoulder, Josiah explained, "If Ezra said something to you, don't take it to heart. He's hurt and drunk. I'm sure he doesn't hold you at fault for those incidents."
The dark eyed man nodded. They talked a little more before Josiah left.
+ + + + + + +
Next morning found the Four Corners peacemakers with different levels of hangovers and an extra weight at their hearts.
After a tense morning, Buck and J.D. left the town in search of fresh air. Everybody had been extremely quiet; it would be kind of usual from Vin or Chris but was unexpected from the rest of them.
At noon, Chris went to the saloon in a strange mood. He had been feeling uneasy of the similitude between Ezra's and his own life.
He found the gambler at his table, playing solitaire. The proofs of a badly spent night were the shadows under his eyes.
The blond man withdrew a chair with his foot and sat in silence. The green eyed gambler didn't acknowledge his presence.
Hours passed, people came and left, friends filled the empty seats around the two widowers; first Josiah, then Vin and Nathan, later Buck and J.D. still dusty from the road.
It was irregular in extreme that Inez had been bringing coffee and no one had asked for something different, as if all of them were cold inside and sought the comfort that the hot brew produced.
Ezra was tense. He had been waiting for one of his associates to talk. He didn't remember clearly all that he had said the night before, but knew that he had revealed more than he had intended or was comfortable with.
The seven pacemakers were still silent as Nathan reached inside his pocket, he had hesitated about giving the note to Ezra in front of so many people, but Josiah's words were still lingering in his mind.
The healer extended his arm over the table, handing the note to the man almost in front of him. His hand started to shake a little as the time passed and the gambler didn't reach for it.
All their eyes were on the note, even Ezra's, but he was frozen.
Nathan's hand fell to the table softly. He turned his head toward the ex-preacher looking for advice when he felt a gentle tug at the piece of paper. Larabee had reached for the note, he was the one closest to the immobilized Southerner, and grabbing his hand, the leader, placed the note firmly in Ezra's palm.
The gambler blinked and opened the folded paper to read it. His six friends focused their gazes on their coffees, giving him a sense of privacy, but no one left the table.
After a while, he folded it again.
Nathan set the leather bag with Alexander's tools on the table. Green eyes looked at him, at his soul.
Ezra stood, circled the table, placed his hand in the healer's shoulder, squeezed softly and left the saloon.
A silent blessing from a doctor who couldn't heal anymore, to a healer with more heart than any lettered doctor.
+ + + + + + +
Resting safe, close to the cards from his childhood, the letter wasn't forgotten
I am and always was proud to call you "friend", but realized the mistake I made by not calling you "nephew" more often. Blood ties would never be stronger than our friendship, nevertheless they exist. I felt closer to you than to my own brother, his loss was my gain.
My only regret is that I let us be separated over a misunderstanding. I can just hope that you have forgiven me by now. I do not have expensive possessions, but my tools were always my treasure. I will send them to Mike, for safekeeping only, make no mistake; these tools are for you.
I know the past forged your character but you are strong enough to surmount any difficulty. You had a kind heart and a quick mind. Let them both guide you as before, and you could be happy again. That was how you gained the people's respect and admiration.
You are loved and remembered as the most caring soul in the lives of all those people. Remember them and do what you know is best. I think that your most precious God given talent is how you always found the way to help the people in need.
I know that this is your life and no one has the right to choose your path, and that maybe you'll never be a doctor again, but what I most desired is for you to be happy, even if you never hold a scalpel again.