Small Things

by Hilary Fox

Follows Like Flying

The day began quietly, as it always did for Ezra Standish - it began quietly because, per usual, he spent a good part of it asleep. Ezra didn't see the point in waking up until the great star which governed the life on his planet saw fit to do so; if one couldn't see, one might as well stay asleep. Furthermore, in an obviously arid and almost resource-less environment, the more time spent asleep meant fewer resources utilized to sustain life, and Ezra knew as well as anyone that sometimes the small things mattered.

With that thought consoling him and erasing whatever guilt he felt at arising while his six compatriots had been awake for the better part of the morning, Ezra stumbled downstairs and navigated over to the saloon, weaving in and out of the other passersby, mind consumed by the need for coffee and his body consumed by a raging hangover that exhaustion prevented him from feeling.

"Hey, Ezra," Nathan greeted him, medical bag in hand, his purposeful striding down the boardwalk brought up short by the horrible, red-rimmed green eyes that stared at him blankly.

"'Mornin', Nathan," mumbled Ezra, continuing by the healer, the need for coffee escalating into an obsession. "Must... get... coffee..." Spying the saloon door, Ezra swung through it and collapsed into the nearest chair.

"Back so soon?" Inez asked dryly, setting down a cup of coffee and, after considering the gambler's haggard countenance, the pot as well.

"Coffee..." Ezra's eyes tracked left and right uncertainly, before fixing on the cup in front of him. A shaking hand brought the cup to his lips and, tilting his head back sharply, he drained it. Inez watched impassively as Ezra's face reddened and his eyes squeezed shut in agony.

"Oh, dear God, my head..." he rasped through clenched teeth. "I do believe Leviathan and Behemoth have taken up residence in it..." Ezra reached blindly for the coffeepot and poured another cup with shaking hands, oblivious to the hulking form of Josiah Sanchez as the preacher sat down next to him.

"Why don't you just have Vin make his coffee when he gets like this?" asked Josiah as Inez set his breakfast in front of him.

"I tried," Inez informed him. "It took Chris and Nathan to peel him off the wall."

"Do not assume that, because of my advanced state of disrepair, I am incapable of comprehending what, and whom, you speak of," Ezra rasped. "Mr. Tanner's concoction would be considered barbaric by the Visigoths, and I did not need, my dear Senorita Roscillos, to be 'peeled off the wall.' Now, if you will excuse me, I have business to attend to elsewhere- specifically, in my bedroom. I believe I have a conference with my pillow."

Ezra tried to stand, but his knees buckled and he half-fell into his seat again. Josiah and Inez silently watched Standish's futile attempts to regain his feet; when it became apparent Ezra wasn't going anywhere, Inez turned back to the bar, tacitly placing the incapacitated gambler in Josiah's custody. "Oh, damn it anyhow," Ezra mumbled, reaching for his coffee and taking a slow, painful sip.

"Want to talk about it?" Josiah asked. There'd been easily a dozen greenhorns, idiot businessmen, greedy second-string con artists, and drunken wranglers patronizing the saloon last night, and Ezra was never one to pass up such a golden opportunity. He'd chosen to meld with a bottle instead, and when Inez started to give him the third-rate stuff that Ezra Standish would rather die than drink, Josiah knew there was something wrong.

"No, I don't want to talk about it," parroted Ezra sarcastically from around his coffee cup, then contradicted his own assertion by continuing, "Maybe it's what happened to Vin... what happened to all of us that night. Realizin' that it takes death... big things... to make us see something in life, and then forgetting that lesson after a while, only to have it given to us once again. Perhaps. I... I don't know." Ezra scowled as, for the first time in a long time, words failed him. He blinked owlishly at his empty coffee cup.

Josiah nodded, and opened his mouth to say something when Ezra jerked his head up and pushed himself away from the table.

"I should go... yes. Get while the getting's good, yes sir..." Standish murmured. He managed to stand and totter out the door, pausing only intermittently for support. He shut his eyes tightly against the blinding light of the sun, wondering if he could make his way back to the boardinghouse with his eyes closed.

He took two steps to test the theory and promptly collided with something small, mobile, and indignant.

"Hey!" the obstruction screeched.

Ezra opened his eyes cautiously, and through slitted lids saw eight-year-old Lisa and an upset six-year-old David McConnery. Identical blue eyes stared up at him from underneath tousled blond hair, each face wearing a tragic and pleading expression that penetrated even the thick fog surrounding Ezra's awareness. Lisa held something close to her, hands curled around it protectively.

"Miss and Mister McConnery, what may I do for you this fine morning?" he inquired politely.

"Will you help us put him back in his home?" Lisa asked, bringing her hands away from her chest so that Ezra could see the tiny baby bird cupped in them. David hovered close to her side, darting glances between the bird and Ezra.

The headache that sleep, coffee, and fury had masked for the past half-hour returned with a vengeance, and Ezra had to squint down at the children. He tried hard to think of a suitable reply, and after a moment of consideration, fastened on the two best scapegoats.

"Now, really, I do believe that perhaps Mr. Tanner or Mr. Dunne might be more accommodatin'... They are certainly a pair of highly skilled, capable individuals when it comes to scaling trees and replacing young avians who have gone astray."

The big words didn't work; the children showed no inclination to take their problem- or their bird - to Vin or J.D.

"Mr. Tanner an' Mr. Dunne're out doin' somethin'," David told him solemly. "What'd Mr. Larabee say they were doin', Lisa?"

"Patrollin'," Lisa said firmly. "He said they was patrollin', Mr. Standish."

"Well, then, how about Mr. Wilmington or Mr. Sanchez? I dare say that either one of them would not even have to climb said tree in order to replace that foundling you have there in your hands. Why, Mr. Wilmington could probably stretch way up on his toes and restore your charge to his proper place. Ah! And look - Mr. Sanchez is right there!" Spying Sanchez emerging from the saloon, Ezra pointed over the children's heads and gestured to the preacher, who stopped and gazed curiously at the gambler.

"Mr. Sanchez, these two adorable children seem to be in some dire straits," Ezra half-bellowed, wishing the man would just come closer so Ezra didn't have to speak so loudly. "I'm sure they would greatly appreciate it if you would assist them in returning this little chick back to his home."

"Sorry, Ez, can't - bad back an' all." Josiah pressed a hand to his spine and winced, then turned swiftly and hobbled down the street.

Ezra scowled. Bad back his infected toe.

"Please, Mr. Standish?" Lisa begged, her brother echoing her request just as fervently. Two pairs of big blue eyes nailed him to the spot, and Ezra couldn't move. His mouth worked soundlessly for a moment, and he wondered how he could explain the debilitating effects of imbibing a surfeit of alcohol to two innocents - then decided he couldn't.

Sighing in resignation, he held his hand out to Lisa. "If you would be so kind as to escort me to the proper address, Mademoiselle..." Lisa took his hand in one of hers and led him down the street, to where a small, gnarled tree grew a short distance away from the livery's corral fence.

"Found him here," she said softly, and David nodded to corroborate her.

"Well, then, let's see how we might go about returning him to his nest, shall we?" Ezra looked up at the tree, and his heart sank downward to join the fire raging in his stomach. He could see the nest up there, all right, and he cursed whatever idiot avian of a mother that had thought to place her nest in such an inconvenient place - well out of his reach, and in his present condition, completely inacessible. Ezra took a deep breath to steel himself and started up the tree, boots scratching for a hold in the withered trunk.

At last, he managed to scramble into a somewhat awkward, if stable, position, his arms screaming for respite and his knees threatening mutiny. He chanced a look downward to where the children waited with upturned faces and held out a hand, fighting to keep his balance. "If you'll be so kind, Miss McConnery, I'll just go ahead and drop the little fellow in his domicile," he said - or rather, gasped.

Lisa stood up on her toes and handed over the tiny burden to Ezra, along with the admonishment to not drop it. Ezra gave her an indignant look and quickly brought the baby bird to his chest, feeling the warmth of the tiny creature against his hand. He looked down, seeing the huge, still-unopened eyes, and wondered how such a fragile thing could have survived falling from its nest. The pinfeathers were still a suggestion on the naked, pink flesh, and Ezra, even with his limited knowledge of orinthology, knew the baby was probably just a hatchling. Quickly and gently, he transferred the baby to the nest and climbed back down, dusting his coat off.

"Well then, I believe our little escapee will be much happier where he is now, don't you agree?"

"Yes, sir, Mr. Standish," the McConnery's said in unison. They tacked effusive thank-you's onto that, David shaking his hand respectfully and Lisa planting a kiss on his cheek. The two children scampered off, waving.

Ezra returned the waves and turned back around to study the tree and its newly-restored inhabitant. "Wonder how the little guy managed to survive a fall like that," he mused, half to himself.

"Oh, I been cleanin' out the livery- had a huge stack of saddle cloths out overnight. Reckon the young'n might've landed on 'em. I moved 'em back in this mornin', after the McConnery kids came by, I guess."

Ezra turned to look at the hostler, feeling a smile tugging at his lips.

Well, a little bird saved by a bunch of saddle cloths.

Thank God for small things.


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