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m7rpg - Part 7

The Story Continues

"Okay kid." Lee went before them, grabbing a bedroll and placing it near the unconscious form of the ladies man. Vin helped JD down. "Why don't you try and get some sleep."

"Alright. Not guaranteeing it but I'll try." "

I'll sit with the boy." Lee offered.

"Thanks." Vin replied, placing his hand on JD's shoulder before returning to help Chris with the feverish healer.

Chris knelt beside Nathan wiping the cool damp cloth over his fevered skin, racking his brain to think of what he had seen Nathan do for fevers.

"Levi" he moaned in his stupor "Levi"

"Nate" Chris murmured against the healers ear "Nate you've gotta calm down. Levi is sleepin" he hated lying to his friend but he couldn't think of any other way to calm the troubled man.

A loud cry of pain, distracted the gunslinger from his ministrations. Turning quickly it was only to see angry green eyes and clenched teeth in the face of the gambler as Josiah poured Brandy into the wound on his side.

Chris almost laughed at the look of horror at the waste of good brandy on Ezra's face.

Grateful that Nathan had calmed a little, his head lolling against his shoulder, Chris made him a little more comfortable and resumed sponging him with the cool damp cloth. He listened as he worked to Vin trying to settle JD. They all knew that the kid wouldnt really settle until his best friend opened his eyes and proved to the boy that all would once again be well in his world, but at least this was a start.

He managed a tight smile for Vin as he knelt on Nathan's other side and picked up the cloth he had discarded earlier.

"Hell of a way to spend an evening" Vin spoke tightly as he wiped the cool cloth across Nathan's forehead.

The loud crack of thunder woke Vin with a start. He hadn't realized that he had dozed off, leaning against the mine wall. Chris chuckled from the other side of Nathan, who he was still cooling down with cold rainwater.

"Little jumpy there Pard."

"Yeah. How long was I asleep?"

"Not long." Josiah's voice came from across the room where he sat with Ezra.

Vin glanced over at the other two injured peacekeepers. Buck, who Vin now sat next to, hadn't seemed to move. JD was sleeping restlessly with Lee watching over him. Ezra also was sound asleep.

"Why don't you go ahead and get some sleep Pard? You look like hell. I'll wake you in awhile and you can take over. Josiah? Why don't you do the same. Everyone has quieted down. For now anyway. Lee and I can watch these four and wake you in a couple hours."

"Sounds good to me." Vin said, pulling his still damp coat around him and closing his eyes once more. He was asleep in moments.

Lee looked across from the sleeping JD to the now sleeping Vin up against the mine shaft wall. He shook his head a moment then quietly comment to Chris, “You know something, they look even younger while they’re asleep.”

Chris nodded in kind and answered, “I know what you mean, Lee. I know what you mean.” Chris turned to look at Vin for a minute then spoke again, “Sometimes I just want to make both of them go back home to their Mama’s.”

While Chris was speaking Lee looked back down at the restless JD and placed a hand on the kid’s shoulder while he maneuvered into a more comfortable position.

There was a distant, yet not so distant pain in his upper body. He couldn't really pinpoint it. It was pretty much all through his chest and arms and his head. His head ached so bad.

He was quite aware of a sharp, pinching pain in his arm. But he couldn't move, and he couldn't yell. In all honesty, he didn't know whether it was real or not. He didn't know whether he was dead or alive. Or whether the pain was real, or just a dream.

It was all so....dreamlike. Distant, and unreal. And it was so dark and quiet.

At least until the quiet was shattered by a loud crash. Louder than anything he'd heard in a long time. Like a stick of dynamite going off...only...five feet from him. It echoed. The ground even rumbled, shaking slightly for a few seconds.

And suddenly he knew he was very much alive. The pain in his head increased to the point of throbbing.

He could vaguely make out voices. But he couldn't open his eyes, and he didn't think he could open his mouth, he just knew he was trying to talk, but he couldn't hear his voice.

He tried doing something, but moving was not an option. Breathing took everything he had.

For some reason, something he'd never expect to enter his mind, had suddenly entered it.

He was going to die. Whether he liked it or not. He'd never felt like this before. But he knew this had to be the end. It absolutely had to be.

He squeezed his eyes, trying to ease he pain in his head, but it didn't help, it only made it worse. His breath got caught in his throat, and he had to cough.

The fit racked his body to the point that tears formed in the corners of his eyes.

If death was coming for him, it better claim him soon, otherwise it had better stay outta his way.

Chris saw the movement from his friend, movement that he was more than happy to see. moving uquickly to his side he tried not to disturb VIn but in his haste to get there he knocked his best friends leg and was faced with the barrel of a gun and the bleary eyes of the tracker.

"Whoah hold on Vin" he murmured calmly "Just me" he explained and watched as Vin moved a little aside and laid the gun back on the ground beside him.

Chris moved into the sapce Vin had left and laid a cool hand on Buck's fevered forehead.

"Buck it's Chris" he spoke softly, aware of Lee's eyes on him as he spoke "C'mon Buck come back to us"

Vin moved off to one side, his hand rubbing over his eyes, trying to wipe the sleep from them as Chris talked to the stirring Buck.

He couldn't believe he had pulled his gun on his best friend, but he also knew he was just on teh fringes of a deep sleep. That point when people react strongest when awakened. he leaned his head back and listened to Chris' voice.

Buck opened his eyes slightly. He could barely make out Chris' haggard looking face.

"Damn, Chris...." he whispered. "You...look like hell."

"I'll bet I look a hundred times better than you do." The leader gave a relieved grin.

"Well, I ain't got nothin' to complain about...." Buck joked. He felt sweat running down his face, hopefully they covered the tears that had come to his eyes with the pain. He tried to smile.

Just seeing this man, his oldest friend in the world, his brother, made him feel better. Gave him a little hope for getting out of this godforsaken situation.

"Everyone alright?" Buck asked, his voice hoarse, and still little more than a whisper. It still felt like he had a ton of rocks sitting on his chest. He could hear himself wheezing.

"They'll be fine once we get back to town." Chris replied. Buck closed his eyes again, not because he wanted to, but because if he didn't he was afraid Chris would see some of the doubt in his eyes. He'd seen what those men had been through. Normally he'd be positively sure they'd be fine. Give 'em a few days to rest and get they're strength back, they'll be good as new, he'd say. Not this time. This fight had been different. It would take much long than a few days or weeks.

Before he could get a chance to ask anymore questions, he'd dozed off.

Ezra rose through the layers of sleep gradually, feeling oddly comforted by the noises of the men moving and speaking around him. *I must be losing my edge.* he thought blearily as he peeled his eyes open.

Seeing the others propped around the edges of the room served to remind him that he needed his clothing. Before he asked where it was, he saw Buck moving, with Chris speaking to him to softly to hear.

Finally he spotted his clothing, and painfully began to dress under the cover of the blanket. Only then did he emerge, giving a disdainful glance at the rags. Hobbling over to Chris and Buck, he eased himself down against the wall.

"Mr. Larabee. May I take this as a sign of improvement on Mr. Wilmington's part? If so, I might need to make an expeditious retreat before he awakens enough to perceive his mangled appurtenances." Ezra gave Chris a ghost of his former lazy smile, but his good spirit shone through. For some unknown, unanalyzed reason, Ezra was hopeful for the first time in days.

Chris relaxed against the dirt wall behind him, finally allowing himself to relax, now that the others were finally out of the woods and somewhat rested, he could give in to the bone weary exhaustion that girpped him. Still not wquite ready to completely relax he laid one hand on Buck's shoulder, almost as if he was trying to ensure that his friend was really waking. A small grin crossing his face as he realised that his new family would survive this. He had seen the pain and doubt in all their faces but now the despair was litfting and with it came the renewal of hope.

The soft murmur of voices filtered through the fevered haze wrapped around Nathan's mind, drawing him toward consciousness. He fought the sensation. He didn't want to be conscious. There was too much pain, and the memories he'd abandoned years ago were trying to resurface. He groaned, curling into a tight ball, willing himself to sleep.

Lee looked back across the cave to Chris. He slowly watched sleep overcome the younger gunslinger and leader of this motley group. *He looks just as tired as I feel,* Lee thought to himself. He moved closer to the opening in the cave and pulled out his Winchester. He was going to keep watch, letting the rest of them get some sleep. He looked outside for a minute then his gaze swept the group assembled. His eyes stopped when he reached Ezra.

They stared at each other for a minute. They had a strange connection, this con-man and tired mercenary, but the mercenary had been a gambler to in his days. He gave the con-man a slight nod, which was answered in kind, and continued on it’s way across the rest of the occupants. He would wake Chris up when he figured he had enough sleep.

Vin's eyes opened slowly and scanned his surroundings, realization of where he was settling in through a still foggy brain. He saw the outlines of his friends in various locations. All but Ezra were sleeping. Lee was sitting by the entrance, his Winchester at hand.

Vin stretched slowly then rose. He checked on Buck first. The tall man was sleeping peacefully. Then he moved over to Nathan. As quiet as he was, Chris still reacted to his movements, the gunslingers eyes opening and closing again. Nathan seemed to be sleeping, his fever down but not gone. Vin rung out a piece of cloth and laid it against the man's forehead. then he made his way toward the entrance , his eyes studying Ezra as he went. The gambler just nodded, acknowledging that he was doing well and not to worry.

Vin settled down across the entrance from Lee. He studied the area within view. At some point in time while he slept, the rain had turned to a light drizzle and the breeze had almost stopped, making the weather outside far more tolerable. Still, Vin wished he could see some stars. Among other reasons, he would have a better chance of knowing what time it was.

Lee watched the tracker search the sky, knowing what he was trying to determine.

"Just a few hours shy of daybreak I figure." The older man said quietly.

Vin nodded and looked over at the man. He seemed older than he had just a few hours before. Lack of sleep would do that to a person.

"Thanks for keeping watch. Why don't cha get some sleep yourself? It's been a long night for ya."

"Hasn't been so bad. I rather like the night time. But I might take you up on the offer." the man stood stiffly and moved further into teh cave. Vin watched him go then passed over his friends once more. He wasn't surprised to see Chris watching him.

Josiah groaned softly, trying to roll into a comfortable position. He found that nothing was going to be comfortable, though. His stiff, aching muscles had become almost paralyzed with the brief sleep and the chill in the makeshift shelter. And the pounding in his head was worse.

He rose slowly to his knees, the joints reminding him that he was long past JD's age. He cast a glance at the boy, who was sleeping fitfully next to his chosen big brother. The kid was too young to be subjected to the hardships that these men had to deal with. He hoped that whatever had taken place in the wretched mansion hadn't broken the kid's spirit.

Once on his feet, Josiah limped to the entrance of the mine, where Vin was keeping watch. He settled next to the tracker.

"Coffee'd be good 'bout now," he commented dryly.

Chris stretched his long limbs, trying to ease the bone weariness out of them. This whole damned experience was making him feel so old. He drew a deep breath and watched as Lee picked his way through the sleeping men to find a place to rest for a time. Leaning forward he placed a hand on Buck's forehead, smiling as he felt no fever. Seeing JD tossing fitfully he placed a Gentle hand on the young man's shoulder, which seemed to sooth him back into a less troubled sleep.

Rising slowly to his feet he walked towards the mouth of the cave, he felt the abuse of the past days in his joints as he knelt at Nathans side and rewet the damp cloth that laid acorss his forehead. Looking across the cave his eyes met the cloudy green eyes of his southern ally and nodded his head in greeting. Moving towards the southerner he decided against joining him as he watched his friend shake his head and indicated the mouth of the cave. Giving him their customary two fingered salute, he turned back towards his other two friends.

Listening to the quiet conversation of his friends, he squatted between his two friends and patted Josiah on the shoulder "Yep that coffee would be mighty fine Josiah" he smiled, feeling optimistic for the first time in days.

"Well, one of the buildings had some pails and such. I think I saw an old coffee pot there." Vin said beginning to rise. "And who knows we might find some coffee around here somewhere. If not I know a few tricks. Want to come help Pard?"

"Yep." Chris rose also and the two pulled their coats around them and moved off into the predawn drizzle.

They hurried across the compound to one of the buildings and entered. They searched through the contents until they found what they needed. A coffee pot. But no perishable supplies.

"Okay, plan number two." Vin said as he moved back out into the night air. Leaving Chris to gather rainwater in teh pot he went inserch of the bark and roots he could use to make a poatable brew with a little caffeine content. It wasn't great but it would do.

He took the items back to Chris near the mine entrance.

"I'm gonna see if I can find something for breakfast. The rain is letting up and I might find a couple rabbits or squirrels soon.'

"Okay. We'll have this waiting for ya when you get back."

Vin came back an hour and a half later, three squirrels and two rabbits field dressed and cleaned in tow. He also had his hat full of berries. As he entered the cave he say several of teh others beginning to stir.

Josiah grimaced as he took a small sip of the hot liquid that Chris offered him. It was more than he'd had in days, and according to the tracker, should help give him some energy, but...

"Damn, Vin, this stuff puts Nathan's concoctions to shame," he mumbled.

Chris cradled a mug of the makeshift coffee in his hands as he watched his best friend return with his finds. Smiling at the thought thathe had found them not only coffee but food at well, he poured a second mug and lifted the small animals from his friends hands, replacing them with the coffee cup.

He placed the carcasses on a thick stick to act as a spit and placed them over the fire returning to sit by Vin's side, absently picking berries out of the hat and eating them slowly. He hadnt realised how hungry he really was until food was available to him. He was almost always amazed at the silence that he and the young tracker shared so comfortably, even when they said nothing it always felt like the best conversation he had ever had.

They sat there absorbing the silence and the succulent scents of the roasting rabbit and squirrell until Vin's soft texan drawl broke the silence.

"Looks like the peace and quiet is gonna be a thing of the past" he nodded towards their friends in the cave.

The scent of the cooking food and the coffee, was drawing the hungry men from the rest they needed so badly, but now what they needed was food to replenish their strength, and their bodies were beginning to tell them so.

Ezra wearily watched the other rise, content to relax on the fringes of the group. As they gathered at the mouth of the mine, he finally stretched and rose, but instead of joining them, he went over to JD, who was just waking.

"Go on, you need sustenance worse than I." He spoke in an undertone as he nudged JD towards the fire. "I assure you I will care for them whilst you are absent."

Sitting down gingerly, he also checked the damp cloth on Nathan's forehead. Finding it still damp and cool, he turned his attention to Buck, who was just beginning to stir.

JD accepted the mug that was pressed into his hands without comment. His mind was so busy trying to separate the nightmares that had interwoven themselves with his memories, that the taste of the bitter brew didn't register until he'd downed nearly half of it.

He choked on his half swallowed mouthful, trying to cough, gulp and gasp at the same time. "What is this?" He asked in a strangled voice.

"Just Vin's idea of coffee," Chris answered in a lightly teasing tone. "Drink it. It'll warm you up."

JD regarded the drink suspiciously, then took another sip. It was still just as bad, but his stomach was reminding him that it had been neglected for far too long.

Vin seemed to sense his discomfort, at least JD hoped he guessed at it and hadn't heard JD's stomach growling. The tracker held out a handful of berries. "This should hold ya 'til the meat is done."

JD ate the berries slowly, trying to draw them out as long as he could. He sat back and watched as the others began planning the trip home. Finally, the question that had been nagging at him, pushed to the forefront of him mind. Almost without meaning to, in a hushed voice he asked, "Did. . . She get away?"

Chris turned and looked at the man who deliberately stayed away from the circle of talking men to assist his still ailing brothers. Not so long ago he would have denied that Ezra would even contemplate such a selfless act, now he knew better. Reaching over he filled a mug with the coffee like brew and grabbed a handful of the berries, before standing and moving to the southerners side.

"Here" Chris spoke as he squatted down beside Ezra and pressed the mug into the cold hands "Its not good but at least its hot" he finished

"Thanks" Ezra spoke wearily sipping at the tar like brew with a grimace

"Eat some of these" Chris spoke pressing the berries into his open hand, before standing and moving back to the warmth of the fire to listen to the friendly conversation there.

Buck opened his eyes, it felt like he'd been asleep 5 minutes. The smell of food had brought to the land of the living this time. He sniffed several times, then spoke.

"Y'all gonna hog that grub for yourselves, or bring some to the dyin' man over here?"

Ezra watched Chris walk back towards the fire, feeling warmed by the gesture. In spite of Vin's idea of coffee, which quickly lost it's rustic charm, Ezra was hungry and thirsty.

Before he could take more than the one sip, however, Buck woke up, and Ezra was quick to press the vile brew into his hands, smiling as he said, "Well, Mr. Wilmington, if you were not already doomed, drinking this concoction would certainly send you down that path." He wouldn't have believed he could be so happy to see the morning, he thought as he pressed the remainder of the berries into Buck's hand as the others arrived, turning instead to tend to Nathan.

Now if only Nathan would wake up. He seemed to be returning to that former bizarre behavior that had marked the day he'd been freed from the tree.Ezra removed the wet cloth and wrung it out, then returned it to Nathan's forehead.

Chris heard Buck's voice and turned to watch the interaction between the patient and his self appointed guardian. His eyes met the pain filled, yet alert eyes of his oldest friend and he nodded his head in greeting, unable to stop the smile that crossed his face.

Turning back towards the fire, he knelt beside JD and clapped a hand on his shoulder as he spoke to the everyone at the fire. "Buck's awake"

Josiah couldn't help but smile. It was relief enough that Buck was awake, but the fact that he was also his normal, jovial self was more than he could have hoped for. He watched the motley group of men in the mine for a moment before rising slowly and heading into the morning sun. Using dry burlap sacks he'd found, he started rubbing down the horses. He chose not to unhitch the horses from the wagon - Ezra's impromptu rigging was complicated, and worked, and he was afraid if he undid it, he would never get it redone.

Nathan swatted at the hands that were holding a damp cloth to his forehead. He didn't mind the help, and in truth, the cool rag felt good. But accepting the help was a sign of weakness, and would certainly mark him as a target.

When the hands persisted, he pushed them aside with more force, struggling to sit, then scrambling back until he was against the wall. He looked around wildly, trying to remember where he was. Or who he was, for that matter. All he knew was that he had to survive, and that he had to stop anyone who got in his way.

"Whoa Pard. It's okay." Vin said quietly as he joined the others at Nathan's side. Ezra had moved back as the healer had pushed up and against the mine wall. He glanced at Chris, the two exchanging their concern silently. Neither knew what to do for the man who was obviously not himself. All they could hope to do was calm him down and keep working on the fever.

But how to get that done....

"Mr. Dunne!" Ezra tried to sound casual, but based on Nathan's previous disorientation, he was...well, he would admit he was a bit concerned. Remembering Nathan's reaction to JD before, he hoped it would work again."I hate to disturb your reunion, but it seems that Mr. Jackson is feeling less than himself. Perhaps your presence would serve to calm him so that we may administer some sort of medicinal concoction to him?"

JD gave Ezra a dubious look, but he moved from his spot next to Buck. A few shuffled steps brought him to where the other men were trying to calm Nathan down. He wasn't sure what the southern had in mind, but he was willing to help if he could.

Nathan had a wild look in his eye and there was a faint trembling that underscored his movements. JD recognized the 'there, but not there' glaze in Nathan's eyes. Just like before, in the tower. JD winced at the memory.

Slowly he extended one hand to his friend. "Nathan, what's the matter? Tell me what's wrong."

Ezra was surprised at the level of caution that JD was displaying towards Nathan. Almost as if he were afraid of him--but Nathan had always seemed to relax and become calmer when JD was around.

Nevertheless, Ezra watched closely from where he was, uncomfortable that he had pushed JD into a situation that was making him uncomfortable. He watched as JD absently rubbed at the bruises on his neck, and a horrid suspicion began to grow in his mind.

Chris moved aside to let JD get closer to Nathan, not really sure if he should. He was tempted to speak to Ezra outside and let him know what he thought of forcing the younger man into a situation he wasn't comfortable with. But when he looked at the trepidation on the southerners face he knew that Ezra was as concerned for JD as he was. He cast his gaze around the mine looking into the faces of his friends, the concern on each face mirroring his own. The only thing that stopped any of them was intervening was the hope that maybe JD could help Nathan fight whatever it was that was controlling his thoughts.

JD knew they were watching him. He was sure the others were waiting to see if he screwed this up like he had everything else this week. Silently, JD began to pray that he didn't. Not in front of Chris and the others. He'd been captured several time without much of a fight. But this was different. This was just Nathan. Not some bad guy. He could do this. He could.

Clenching down on the panic tinged pain that was rising, he forced himself to take a step.

"It's okay now. Mr. . ." he paused grouping for the name Nathan had said earlier, "Mr. Prickett's gone. You're okay."

He took a step forward, watching Nathan for a reaction. He didn't even seem to be aware of JD's presence. JD kept a running litany of soothing words, careful to keep his tone even and soft.

Another half step brought Nathan within his reach. Gently, with a light touch that he used with skittish horses, JD placed his hand on Nathan's shoulder.

Nathan eyed the figure in front of him skeptically. He had no friends. They were a liability, and made you vulnerable. But he thought that he should recognize the face. Maybe if his head wasn't pounding so badly, he could force his eyes to focus. As it was, he could barely think, and the voices bombarding his ears only served to confuse him more.

He flinched at the hand on his shoulder, pulling away. Then a single word penetrated the fog in his head.

'Prickett.' The devil incarnate. Pain and hate and murder.

Nathan panicked, grabbing the hand on his shoulder and scrambling to his feet, dragging the boy with him. He stood, trembling, tightly grasping the hand, trying to decide if the young man was a threat or an anchor...

Ezra watched in horror as Nathan seized JD and pulled him forward. For a moment his heart quailed, but he realized just as quickly that Nathan wasn't hurting JD yet. Prudently he remained silent and still, but ready to move should it be necessary. A plan took shape in his mind. If Nathan became violent, perhaps his anger could be redirected towards a more likely enemy--a southerner. If he thickened and coarsened his accent, Nathan might decide to attack him instead. Ezra poised for any move.

Chris flew to his feet ready to pluck JD from Nathan's grasp, he could see the murderous rage in the other man's eyes and was ready to protect the young man from his friend if he had too. He was about to step forward, his hands already extended to pry Nathan's hand from JD's throat when he realised that Nathan, had calmed just a little. He watched as Nathan tried to decide if JD was a friend or a threat, and waited ready for whatever happened.

The noise of the others trying to keep Nathan from going bezerk sank into Lee consciousness. “Can’t a man get some sleep around here,” he mumbled softly. But the voices continued and Lee realized he had gotting as much sleep as was readily available to him at that time of day? Or was it night, he could not remember anymore. He did know the light was too much for a fire. Suddenly the smell of roasting meat assaulted his sense of smell and his stomach rumbled in answer. His eyes fluttered open slowly. It was definately morning. Sat up slowly and stretched his stiff joints, *I can’t do this forever, sleeping on the ground,* he thought soberly. He turned around to re-orient himself only to find JD not in the best spot to be in.

Vin moved quietly off to one side, making his way slowly around behind Nathan. He didn't want to hurt is friend, but he couldn't let the incoherant man hurt JD either.

Chris saw his movement and knew he needed to distract Nathan just a bit. He began to talk. "Nathan? It's okay, Pard. We're your friends. Remember us? It's Chris. Chris Larabee."

Vin had managed to make his way behind his feverish friend, but was reluctant to make a move just yet. Nathan seemed to be listening to Chris, but all that could change is a second.

Nathan shifted slightly, pulling his hostage against his chest. The boy wasn't resisting, so he loosened his grip. He faced the blonde man who was trying to speak to him. The man's words were soft, but his head hurt too bad for him to actually understand what was being said. He shook his head slowly. He wouldn't give up the one defense he had. Not until he could make sense of all of this.

"Levi," he muttered. "He's dead. I got nothin'." He felt the tears, but was powerless to stop them. He wished he knew where he was, how he'd gotten here. And why he was using Prickett's son as a shield...

Chris watched the slight flicker of recognition in the eyes of the healer, but just as quickly watched them fade, as his strong arm tightened around JD's neck. He watched JD struggle momentarily against the hold before he relaxed in Nathan's grip not wanting to hurt his friend more with his struggles. Running a shaking hand through his blonde hair he wondered if this day could get any worse as his eyes scanned the cave and settled on Ezra who seemed to be trying to tell him something with his eyes. He glanced back at Vin who was ready behind Nathan to stop him physically before he was able to hurt JD should the need arise.

Vin eased up closer to Nathan but paused, still undecided as to what to do. Lee had gotten up from his bed roll and was approaching the small group. And Nathan seemed to be relaxing his grip on JD just a bit.

"Please. . . don't. . ." JD tried to temper the fear out of his voice, but he knew how strong Nathan was. Even the relatively light hold he had at the moment pressed painfully against JD's neck. JD tried to concentrate on breathing instead of remembering just why his throat hurt so bad.

JD bit his lip to keep from crying out when Nathan shifted, momentarily increasing the pressure in his arm. He knew the healer wasn't intentionally hurting him. *Just Nathan. It's jus' Nathan,* he told himself over and over again. *Not Sim- Don't think about that now. Calm, stay calm.*

He looked up, trying to catch Chris' eye. If he knew the gunslinger was working on a plan, then everything would be okay.


The quiet plea penetrated Nathan's mind. He looked down at the frightened hazel eyes, trying to remember where he recognized them from. The Prickett boy had hazel eyes, but the were harsh and cold. Not like these. Had he made a mistake? And if he had, how was he going to get out of it?

If he let the boy go now, they would be on him in an instant, like a pack of wild dogs. He'd seen it before. His only option was to make a bid for freedom, but he knew he didn't have the strength to get far. He shifted nervously, trying to move toward the mine entrance, but there was nowhere to go. He was surrounded.

"Tell me what to do," he whispered.

Ezra started to move forward, spurred by the fear and pain he was seeing on JD's face, but halted abruptly when he saw Nathan relax again. He watched as Nathan scanned the men around him, and though he couldn't hear what the two were saying, he understood the gist.

Afraid to speak, afraid that his accent would damn their efforts, he grasped Chris's arm and pulled him to the side, breaching the circle around Nathan and JD.

*Hopefully Nathan will see it as a sign that we aren't going to attack him, and Chris won't kill me for giving the possibly dangerous to JD healer an out. But if he's not surrounded he won't feel as threatened and...* his thoughts raced round and round as he waited.

Chris allowed himself to be moved away from Nathan and JD, not wanting any sudden movements to startle the disorientated man and his captive. As soon as they were far enough away he grabbed Ezra by the collar and moved towards the mouth of the cave.

"What the hell do you think you are doing?" he spat angrily in a subdued whisper

"I've seen this happen before Mr Larabee" he spoke "Oh not his disorientation but when a slave was captured they would be surrounded like that. It is us terrifying him as much as his thoughts" Ezra explained

Chris mulled over that thought for a moment before he turned to return to the inside of the mine.

As the men started backing away, Nathan relaxed more. He still held his hostage. It could, after all, be a trick. And the young man was about all that was keeping him on his feet. He was afraid that if he let go, he'd collapse and be completely helpless.

"Please," he whispered again. "I don't know what to do."

As Nathan's hold relaxed, JD shifted to the side. At the first movement, Nathan tensed, pulling JD tight to him again.

"Easy, Nate. 'M not going anywhere. Just let me help you." As JD spoke, he eased Nathan's arm away from his throat, resting it across his shoulder where he could support the taller man. The added pressure on his ribs stole JD's breath for a second, but he managed to press past it.

No longer feeling quite so vulnerable and finally being able to see Nathan's face helped calm JD's nerves.

"No one here wants to hurt you. We're your friends, Nathan. Don't you remember? We protected the Seminole Village from. . ." JD caught himself before he actually mentioned Coronel Anderson or his Confederate soldiers. The last thing he wanted to do was set Nathan off again. "Ummm. . . Rain, do you remember Rain? How 'bout Four Corners?"

JD searched Nathan's eyes for any recognition. He didn't find it, but at least Nathan was listening to him. "You're a healer there. Got your own clinic, a sign out front and everything. It's home. You, me, them, it's home." He didn't give Nathan a chance to look at the others, instead he pressed on in a hushed but earnest voice, "Please, Nate, come home?"

Chris walked back into the mine in time to see JD moving in Nathan's grip, he recognised that the younger man was trying to provide more support for the larger man and shook his head in disbeleif. Even when he was in danger he still tried to help the others out whatever way he could.

Chris caught Lee's eye and gestured for him to leave the mine and did the same with Vin, he turned on his heel not wanting to crowd the healer anymore than necessary, not even seeing if his friends followed him. He just hoped Buck didnt do anything stupid when he saw Nathan holding JD in a deathgrip.

Lee cought Chris’s eye and gesture. He knew what the blond was wanting so he followed the younger man out of the mine.

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