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m7rpg - Part 10

The Story Continues

She passed though the living room and caught a glimpse of JD napping on the couch. The sight brought a smile to her face before stepping out into the cool air.

The scuffling of boots on the wood planking of the back porch startled Josiah from sleep. He had retreated to the solitude the space provided after everyone else had settled in for the evening. Now, he was being approached.

Instinctively, his hand went for his gun, coming up empty. As he prepared to fight, his eyes adjusted to the dim moonlight and he recognized Casey.

"Evening, Casey," he said, amused when the girl flinched slightly. To her credit, she held her ground, hesitating only briefly before continuing forward. "'Might crowded inside, isn't it?" he continued.

"Sure is," Casey replied. "Had to come out here just to find a place to sleep."

Josiah chuckled, rising slowly to his feet. "A gal needs her privacy," he commented, walking around toward the front of the small house. He opened the door cautiously, knowing that he would be facing several guns. As he entered the main room, he was indeed met by the gaping barrels of Vin's, Lee's and Chris' guns, not to mention the massive shotgun that Nettie held. The men were all jumpy. They had every right to be. But they were skilled enough not to fire at an unidentified target. He smiled and held up his hands to show that he wasn't a threat.

"Just came lookin' for coffee," he said. As the weapons were lowered, he wondered if perhaps any one of them would be justified shooting him after the fiasco in the mine.

Nettie handed him a cup of fresh coffee, and he noticed that Nathan was sitting against the wall. He poured another cup of coffee and moved toward his friend.

Lee relaxed slowly. He put his colt pistols back in their holsters as he let out a sigh. His shoulders slumped slightly as he let out the last of the breath he had inadvertently been holding. He looked around carefully, making sure instinctively that there was no more threat. When he deemed it safe enough he moved quietly over to his saddlebags he brought in last night and rummaged through one. He found a cheroot and some matches at the bottom of one of the leather bags.

Heading towards the door he reached for a fresh cup of coffee then went outside. He knew Casey would be outside somewhere, he just did not know where in particular. He sat down heavily and inspected one of his matches. After deeming it dry enough he lit the cheroot he brought with him and leaned the chair back against the front of the house and attempted to really relax.

Ezra carefully eased himself out of the bed *If you could designate it as such!* he thought spitefully, relieved that they had failed to remove the rags that were all that remained of his clothing. He looked around carefully, ascertaining that he was still unnoticed. Realizing that he had no chance of leaving by the sole door to the room, he stifled his coughing and hobbled towards the tiny window. Buck continued to sleep through the slight groan of the window being opened, and watching both Buck and the door carefully, he managed to climb through.

Once outside he huddled next to the wall, both because of the early morning cold and to ease the strain on his ribs. He finally managed to stand nearly upright, and he began to warily pick his way towards the barn.

Certain that he had gone unnoticed, he slipped inside and moved towards his horse. Silently he praised whoever had stabled it--his tack was slung over the half wall, high enough that all he had to do was slide it onto the horses back.

Before he could accomplish that ordinarily simple feat, however, he was bent double by an agonizing fit of coughing. When it finally subsided, he gingerly wiped at his mouth, trying to remove the traces of blood he could feel there.

Galvanized by his almost physical need to escape, he found the strength to saddle his horse, tightening the girth through sheer will power. Then he led the horse quietly out the rear of the barn and into the trees, safely away from any sight of the house.

Buck's eyes opened ever so slightly. They were heavy with sleep, and it was hard to keep them open let alone open them all the way. He lay staring at the ceiling for a few minutes letting the sleep wear off. He felt a little better then he had the last time he'd been awake. He felt like he'd slept for days, but hadn't gotten *that* much sleep. He could probably stand to take in another day or so of shut eye, but his mind was wandering now....

The first thought in his mind was wondering where he was. The second thought was that he was pretty hungry, so maybe getting up was a good idea.

He used his good arm to push himself up and noticed that he wasn't really as sore as he thought he'd be. In fact, his arm was stiff, and there was a slight pain, but other than that, he actually felt pretty good.

He stood up and stretched as best he could, ever mindful of his injured shoulder.

He slowly made his way out of the room, into a larger room, where his friends were scattered about in various positions, sleeping or just dozing.

His eyes settled on JD. The kid looked uncomfortable asleep on that couch. He also looked pale and sickly. Buck walked over and shook him lightly.

"Kid," He whispered. He didn't want to disturb anyone. JD didn't stir. He shook him again. "JD,"

Something that wasn't quite right tugged Chris back from the shallow depths of his first real sleep in days. Stretching tired aching muscles, he cast an assessing eye across the room trying to distinguish what it was that had drawn him from his uneasy slumber.

Buck knelt at the side of the sofa trying to rouse JD, who looked as exhausted as he himself felt. Chris lifted himself fromt he chair and moved silently around the room, silently checking the whereabouts of all of his friends. When he reached the bedroom he knew what the problem was. The Bed was empty and the curtains from teh open window fluttered gently in the slight breeze, indicating the route of the errant southerners escape.

Biting back a sudden curse, he moved with a new purpose through the room and with a gentle shake he had roused the lightly sleeping Vin, and with a gentle inclination of his head they both moved quietly out of the cramped building.

"Damn fool is trying to get back to his own bed I'll bet" Chris spat as the two of them walked purposefully toward the barn

The two men watched with tight smiles on their exhaustion etched faces as he struggled to saddle his horse. Both men sensed more than anything else what the ornery gambler would do to avoid notice, so with a grin they silently moved into the shadows of the nearby trees. Waiting until he was struggling to lift his foot into the stirrup, let alone swing into the saddle before

Vin stepped out of the shadows grabbing the horses reins and Chris moved to gently knock his leg away from the stirrup he was fighting to find.

"Just where the hell do you think you are going?" he spat

"ACQQQ!!" The startled outburst strangled in his throat as the other two men captured him neatly. The look of smug superiority on their exhausted faces was nauseating.

"Dammit! Don't you ever SLEEP!" Ezra exclaimed angrily in between coughs.

"Does neither of you," his glare swept around to Vin, "have any activity of greater import than pursuing me like an errant child?!"

He tried to tug the reins away, batting at both of them. When that failed, he settled for muttering foul imprecations under his breath. In between the damned coughs that wouldn't quit.

As he was led back like a recalcitrant prisoner, he wondered hopelessly about his handkerchief.

None of them spoke as they walked towards the house, Chris could feel Vin's amusement, and the frustration radiating in waves from the exhauseted and pained southerners body. Hell it was all he could do not to let the bubble of mirth that sat in his chest not to explode into giggles at the expression on their "prisoner's" face.

They led him through the living room and watched as he gingerly settled himself back into the bed, his energy supply almost sapped by his short bid for freedom. Each man took up a possition beside him on the bed, their backs resting against the be end, determined toget a little more rest, but jsut as determined not to chase a recalcitrant friend around the surrounding countryside, trying to save him from himself.

"I can assure you I don't require your presence to ensure my prolonged residence in this loathesome location" Ezra drawled his eyes already closing

"Shut up Ezra" both Vin and Chris spoke a smile in their voices as they watched him drift off to sleep

Vin looked across the bed at Chris, then back to the southerner.

"Stubborn cuss ain't he?"

Then figuring Ezra had the right idea, and that another hour of sleep wouldn't hurt, Vin tilted his hat over his face, crossed his arms across his chest, and fell back asleep himself Lee watched Chris, Vin, and Ezra head back to the house from the barn. "What has gotten into him," he commented quietly to himself. He nodded as he took another puff of his cheroot as the three passed by him and entered the house. When the door opened up the smell of food waifted out along with some other indistinguishable sounds. Hearing his protesting stomach he lowered the front legs of the chair down to the porch and stood up.

He stepped inside the house. Glancing around the somewhat large room he took stock of what was there. He noticed JD on the couch sleeping, Buck was hoovering over their youngest member. Lee came noislessly up behind the two.

"Buck?" Lee asked quietly.

Startled Buck swung around and reached for a weapon he did not have, "Geez, Lee! I swear you're as bad as Vin!" the larger man hissed through his teeth.

JD started sturring on the couch. A muffled sound came from the pillow and he settled down again.

"I think it's time to wake him up, don't you think?" Lee queried.

"Yeah, I was just about to do that when Nate came by to check on my stitches." Buck flinched as he rubbed the sewn up wound. Someone was shaking his shoulder persistently, pulling JD back toward consciousness. He fought the growing awareness as long as he could. Experience was teaching him that being awake meant getting hurt, and JD figured he already hurt plenty. Besides, if he were still at the manor, he really wouldn't mind sleeping through whatever came next.

"Come on, son. Time to get up and get somethin' ta eat."

The promise of food was enough to entice JD away from the refuge of sleep. Slowly he force heavy lids open and focused his eyes on the man standing over him. "Buck," he sighed. Memories of the past several days slowly gathered into a jerry-rigged sense of order. "You look awful."

Buck managed a grin. "That's-"

JD finished for him, "Impossible. I know. You already told me."

"I was just gonna say funny, coming from a man who look's more dead then alive himself."

JD grinned in spite of himself and slowly sat upright. He had to fight back a groan. Sleep had only stiffened his muscles, and now amplified the pain he felt all over. If it didn't hurt, it throbbed, and the rest of him just ached. Craning his neck to look up at Buck and Lee, he asked, "You weren't just kidding about the food, were ya?"

Nathan watched curiously as Chris and Vin entered the small house escorting a grumbling Ezra between them. Last he could recall, the gambler had been sleeping quietly in the bedroom. He wondered what the man had done this time to make the others so angry that they'd relegated him to the barn for the night. He sighed, setting aside the bowl of stew that Josiah had brought him. He had managed to eat a small bit of it, but his stomach was already starting to protest. His shoulder was aching, and he felt downright miserable.

Mustering what little strength he had, he swayed to his feet and staggered toward Buck. The ladies man protested briefly before allowing him to check on his wounds.

"Looks like its healin' good," Nathan declared. "Who ever sewed you up did a nice job." Buck smiled at him and shrugged. The other man couldn't recall much more than he could of the last few days. Nathan squeezed his shoulder, than turned to Josiah.

"Got to check on Ezra," he said. Josiah just nodded. "I'm gonna need help with his bandages."

"Chris and Vin's in with him," the larger man said. Nathan regarded him for a moment. He didn't know what had passed between the men, but he could sense the tension.

"Need help gettin' to the room," he finally admitted. He was on the verge of collapse, and the pressure of old memories were threatening to overwhelm him. He just wanted this over while he was still able.

Josiah finally let out a sigh and nodded, wrapping a supporting arm around his waist and turning them toward the bedroom. :

Nettie Wells stirred some sort of concoction in a pot and muttered underher breath when she realized she had forgotten to milk the cow. Where is that girl? she asked herself silently, thinking of her neice. She stepped away from the pot long enough to walk over and look outside.

Casey tucked the old blanket closer around herself instinctively against the (morning?) chill. She was dreaming of riding along a beach and someone was coming up to her, but she couldn't see who...right when she got in range, she woke to Aunt nettie screaming her name from the house.

"Casey! I need you to milk the cow. The men will want something other than water to drink with their food."

That reminded Casey that they had guests, and by being out here, she wasn't being very hostpitable. She tossed the blanket aside and nodded to her aunt and headed to the Barn where the cow was.

Ten minutes later she was struggling with a full pail into the door, sloshing milk this way and that when she almost ran into Buck, who was talking to JD on the couch.

"Sorry," she muttered, embarressed that she was being careless.

"There you are, girl. Thought you had gone back to sleep on me." Her Aunt took the milk from her and allowed her to help with cooking. Hearing the conversation in the kitchen Lee headed over in that direction. He found Nettie starting to carry the pail of milk Casey brought in across the room to the table. Before she had taken two steps Lee took the pail from her and set it on the table.

"Thank you Mr. Fitzgerald."

"No problem, Mrs. Wells."

She sized one of the oldest members of the troupe that showed up last night up and down, "If you're in here to sit down, I ain't gonna let you." She hesitated, "Why are you doing this?"

"I don't know," Lee answered thoughtfully. He continued after a moment,

"Maybe I'm just tired of being constantly on the move, never staying in one place for an extended period of time."

Nettie turned, "Casey, get the plates down. We'll probably need all of them and then some." She headed back to the stove to continue her preparations of breakfast.

Vin stirred on the bed. he could tell the others were stirring due to an increase in noise in the other room. Giving up the idea of any more sleep today he carefull moved off the bed, trying not to disturb the sleeping form of a very sick Ezra. The man needed his sleep but was fighting it, wanting to get back to town. His friends had other plans though, wanting him to get some rest, while they recovered a bit too.

Vin moved over to check the window Ezra had escaped through early, trying to quietly slip the lock on it. Hopefully if Ezra tried the same thing again, they'd hear him.

When he turned back around Chris was watching him.

Silently the two left the room in search of coffee. Black and hot. Reluctantly, Josiah helped Nathan into the small room where Ezra was sleeping. He stood quietly in the shadows as the healer gently checked the gambler over, being careful not to wake the man. Moving slowly, Nathan removed the bandages and wrappings on Ezra's chest. With a sigh, he sat back.

"Wound's infected," he said wearily. "Got to be cleaned."

Josiah nodded silently, and left the room, returning a few minutes later with a pail of hot water, clean bandages and a small bottle of alcohol. Nettie Wells followed him. He closed the door. He knew that the next few minutes would not be plesant, and wanted to spare the others the pain that was giong to be inflicted on their companion.

"You're gonna have to hold him," Nathan said. Josaih nodded, slipping onto the bed behind Ezra and pulling the smaller man into a tight embrace. He captured the sleeping man's wrists in his large hands before nodding to Nathan. The healer gently shook Ezra to wake him.

"Ezra, I need you to wake up for me," Nathan cajoled. "Can you do that for me?"

Chris sought out a mug of hot coffee and stood watching his friends in various stages of waking. He watched Josiah assist Nathan into the bedroom and decided that Nathan needed all the help he could get with the stubborn southerner.

Searching out out Vin, he met his eyes over the rim of the cup he was sipping steaming coffee from. With a gentle nod of his head, he pushed away from the wall and made his way back to the bedroom door, He could sense that Vin was close behind him.

Closing the door behind them to save disturing the others in the next room the two weary men moved to the end of the bed. His weary eyes taking in the dishevelled gambler caught in Josiah's arms, Nathan struggling towake him.

"Anything we can do to help Nathan?" Chris asked

Someone was shaking him. Someone was HOLDING him. Ezra struggled-- he thought he struggled--to wake up, defend himself. The voices sounded,there were so many. Except they were the same voices over and over. He tried to talk, but only coughed.

*Mustn't cough. Mustn't cough.* He tried to tell them he'd stop coughing if only they'd let go of him, but he knew he couldn't speak. He never could.

Straining, putting his considerable will into it, he was able to look at the people holding him. He knew them--their names eluded him, but he KNEW that he knew them.

But he was hot and then cold, his vision fuzzy, shaking all over. The words started to make sense. The doctor wanted him to stay awake. The doctor looked terrible. Had he really thought he knew them?

"Go way." He thought hard, looking for the words in his spinning mind, trying to throttle the growing hysteria he felt. It wasn't real, it would pass. None of this was real. "Not sick."

He pushed at the hands that held him, but he didn't seem to have any muscles in his arm. He continued to push, trying to get as far away as possible.

Vin moved over to the other side of the bed from Nathan, grabbing hold of one of Ezra's legs at the knee and his wrist. Josiah had a bear hug on him around the chest and managed to capture the other wrist in one of his big hands. Chris grabbed hold of both legs below the knee.

Nodding that he was ready also, Nathan set to work

With Ezra effectively immobilized by Josiah and Vin, Nathan took the clean rag and bottle of alcohol that Nettie handed him. He took a deep breath, trying to still his shaking hands. He nodded to the two men and they nodded back.

"I'm sorry, Ezra," he whispered. Then he started to clean the festering wound.

Ezra's screams pierced his head and his heart. He didn't want to cause the gambler pain, but if he didn't gangrene would kill him. He was almost done when Ezra suddenly freed a leg from Vin's grasp. The delirious man lashed out, kicking Nathan soundly in the chest, knocking him back against the other bed.

Nathan gasped for breath as Vin and Josiah, aided by Chris, tried to restrain the struggling man. The healer realized that Ezra was fighting only because they were holding him. "Let him go," he gasped, but his words went unheard between Ezra's frustrated cries and the other men's shouts. Nathan struggled to rise, but his legs failed and he slumped to the floor. Nettie knelt beside him, trying to stay clear of the nearby fight.

Hearing the cry and the scuffling from the bedroom Lee hurried in to see what was happening. He quickly took stock of the situation and heard Nathan tell one's on the bed to let Ezra go. He came up to the side of the bed and commented loud enough for the men to hear, "Nathan said to let Ezra go. You're holding him is making him fight."

Vin, Josiah, and Chris looked up and nodded quickly. Slowly they released the wounded gambler. Seeing him settle down Lee went over to help Nettie with Nathan.

Vin took one step back from the bed, watching as the gambler calmed. he glanced at Chris, then over at Nathan who was being helped up.

"You okay Nathan?" he asked.

Nathan blinked, still trying to catch his breath as he looked at the men trying to help him up. He nodded at Vin's question, but when they let go of him, he started to collapse. Vin and Lee eased him on to the bed that Buck had occupied earlier. "

Land sakes," Nettie muttered. "You're runnin' a fever, son. You rest. I'll see to Ezra."

Ezra stilled as the restraining hands were removed. Still confused, he did stay still as more painful acts were perpetrated on him. There was one good thing about that, though. The pain finally managed to bring him full awake. Awake enough to see who was over him, and remember why he had thought he knew the doctor.

He would have gotten up, to find out what had happened to Nathan, but her hand pressed him firmly back.

"You just wait 'til I'm done here. I don't figure you need to do any moving 'round just now."

"Madam. I assure you that I am completely cognizant of my less than salubrious," -cough cough-,"condition. Nevertheless, I must reassure myself that any inadvertent actions on my part have caused no further injury to Mr. Jackson." He was proud of himself. He was managing to refrain from coughing, for the most part. But his lungs still felt like they were going to explode.

She just stared at him. Nettled, he pushed away her hand. "I," -cough-,"feel assured that you have concluded any medicinal practices you might need to perform? Thank you. Now let me up." Sitting up in spite of her, he looked around for Nathan. "Mr. Jackson!" He was surprised by how relieved he felt to see that Nathan was in his right mind, and how worried he was that the other man was just as obviously very ill. Hesitantly he continued as Nathan looked at him. "Thank you for your assistance. I hope that you have sustained no injury on my part."

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