CATEGORY: Challenge - OW
MAJOR CHARACTERS: Ezra and Buck
DISCLAIMERS: This is fanfiction. No profit involved. This story is based on the television series "The Magnificent Seven". No infringement upon the copyrights held by CBS, MGM, Trilogy Entertainment Group, The Mirisch Corp. or any others involved with that production is intended.
NOTE: This is in response to the April 2002 Magnificent 7 Challenge, offered by Tipper: Some, one or all of the boys are on the edge. It can be the edge of a cliff, the roof of a building, the scaffolding on a skyscraper, a ledge on the side of a rock face. They can be standing, dangling, falling, climbing, whatever works. How you get them there, and get them out of it, is entirely up to you. I only have one other little caveat. You must use one, some or all of the following words in the story: birthday, chocolate, shower and fool. It is April after all. Any universe, any style. Gold star if you use the word Cadbury.
FEEDBACK: Yes please! comments are greatly appreciated.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENT: Kristin created the name of Ezra's horse. Eleanor T created Buck's.
APPEARS IN: Fanzine Nothing Left to Chance #3
DATE: April 2, 2002
By NotTasha...who's pretty good at lying down.
His first mistake was that he traded a perfectly good night patrol for Buck's evening patrol. It was JD's birthday after all and Wilmington wanted to treat young Mr. Dunne to a party of sorts. The town’s sheriff was a bit too old for such foolishness, but Buck had thought that the young man would appreciate it. Perhaps he did. Although JD was often outwardly annoyed at Wilmington's coddling, he seemed to secretly enjoy it at times. Well, there was no telling what Dunne thought of the birthday festivities for Ezra. P. Standish had missed the party.
He should have known better. He should have been sensible and kept his shift, let Buck manage something else. Standish liked night patrol. The other’s tended to avoid it, but to him it was a piece of cake. Staying up all night was never a problem for him -- he'd done it much of his life. He would normally spend part of the shift strolling the boardwalks, then he might take a quick ride around the town and its environs if the moon allowed. The rest of the night could be spent either in the warmth of the jail or just outside it. He could even wander into the saloon before the hour became too late and pick up a hand or two of cards without putting too much of a cramp in his duties. He could manage a bit of leisure at the tables until the saloons closed and the town went dark. He even liked the darkness, the closeness of night…when he was in town.
Night patrol was easy… it was quiet for the most part. If a ruckus occurred, the situation could be quickly quelled with a show of arms. People preferred to fade into the dark as opposed to finding themselves drilled through with a bullet. He prided himself at his ability to disperse the ruffians, briskly and quietly. In the morning, when his relief asked, "Was there any trouble?" he could answer, "None to speak of," and no one need be the wiser of the disturbance that had brewed and been diffused in the wee hours.
A piece of cake… white cake with butter-cream frosting and chocolate shavings sprinkled on top….custard filled. His stomach growled at the thought. He frowned and thumped his belly in consternation. "Won’t do any good to complain," he muttered to his rumbling digestive tract. It soon gave up, realizing that it wouldn’t be heeded. Cake, he usually didn’t care for cake -- too sweet for the most part. Now, Vin could eat an entire jelly cake in one sitting. Lord, that man had a sweet tooth. Still, a vision of the white cake appeared before him -- the same damn cake he’d seen sitting in Nettie Well’s kitchen when he’d stopped to check on the wizened crone and her niece. He glared at the apparition. It danced in thin air, not even concerned about the distance separating it from terra firma and then it faded away.
He tried to get comfortable, but there was no room and he had to quickly grab hold to keep from pitching forward. His back ached and his butt hurt from sitting for so long.
Evening patrol was a pain in the ass. It took him from the tables when they were just getting hot and included a long ride into the surrounding area before nightfall. Even if foul weather kicked up -- as it often did at this time of year -- the patrol had to go on. And today it had rained. It was a light spring shower that was often enjoyable in the desert climate -- enjoyable when one is warm and dry and inside -- not enjoyable at all when one has been out it for so long. He shivered as he tugged his damp coat closer, leaning back against the rocks. If he only had a little more room he could lie down, rest his head, relax… but there was no room for anything.
Yes, night patrol is as easy as pie. His stomach growled all the louder. He sighed and thought of pie -- so many delectable varieties. Pumpkin, apple, cherry, peach and pecan delights floated around him. He smiled congenially on the vision and reached one tired hand toward them, but they skirted his attempts at capture. They drew him ever so slightly forward and he had to lurch back to save himself.
Idiot, he thought as he huddled closer to the unsheltering rock. The rain still fell -- slowly -- gently -- insidiously and cruelly. He was soaked to the skin and continued to shiver. He couldn’t escape it.
His second mistake was in accepting the flighty mare, Floss, as his ride for the evening. Chaucer had picked up a stone on their last jaunt and was convalescing. Floss needed exercise and Ezra Standish, the damn fool, thought he could keep the palomino under control. She was a spirited and nervous animal, but Ezra wasn't one to give up so easily. Given a little work, she might make a decent mount.
The journey had gone well for at first, but the trouble came when Ezra heard what sounded like a child crying for help.
His third mistake was in heeding that call from Deadman's Gulch. Alarmed, he'd ridden to the site of the steep cliff. If a child had fallen from there…my Lord!
He hadn’t bothered to dismount as he investigated, because he was used to Chaucer. The chestnut was well-trained and would do whatever his rider asked of him. Chaucer had spoiled his owner. Ezra sighed at his own stupidity at letting that green palomino get the better of him. He should have known better.
He'd moved closer to the edge, and was able to determine that the howl was not human, but rather the wind racing up the cliff. Floss suddenly caught sight of the long drop and balked. She reared and bucked and fought. As Ezra tried to get her under control, one of the horse's leg missed its footing and Floss went down, tipping her rider into Deadman's Gulch.
He was lucky, actually. He might have fallen all the way to the bottom. Floss might have fallen on top of him instead of running away unharmed. He might have done worse than cut his arm on that sharp rock, might have done worse than twist up his ankle. He might have missed this ledge entirely and confirmed the name of the gulch.
Yes, lucky, Ezra, he thought. You, my man, are lucky. Lucky, lucky…lucky. He glanced at the distance between him and the ground. He would have died if he hadn’t been able to catch this ledge. All in all, he was in a good position – it was better than dead.
Looking upward again, he knew he’d find no escape. The rocks were too steep and he couldn’t even stand to make the attempt. He’d tried already. It didn't work. Lucky.
He wrapped one hand around his arm and felt the heat rising from the wound. He hadn’t been able to tend it very well and certainly it was infected by now. He’d used his flask against the rent sleeve, trying to clean the deep cut, but he couldn’t maneuver enough on the narrow perch to remove his jacket and fashion a bandage. He did his best by applying constant pressure with his other hand. The bleeding eventually stopped, but it still throbbed incessantly.
The whiskey may not have properly cleaned the wound, but remained helped to take the pain down a notch or two. Unfortunately, that soon was spent. What he really needed was water. He licked his dry lips and sighed.
His leg hurt. He couldn’t elevate his strained ankle and it dangled off the edge, over the long drop to the bottom. He could almost hear Nathan’s voice, admonishing him to elevate the damaged limb. "What the hell are you doin', Ezra? Don't you got any wits about you? Get that thing propped up before I have to tie it to the top of that chair." He smiled at the imagined words.
Where were they?
He’d spent one long and miserable evening as the wind howled along the rock-face. He recalled watching the darkness come, fearful that it meant he’d be left here, alone, throughout the night. No one could find him in the dark, not even Vin. How could a tracker track on such a dark night?
The night had enveloped him.
He'd waited and hung on as the blackness took away all his perspective. More than once he’d lost his ability to tell up from down and could only lean fretfully into the rock and hope for the best. He felt as if he was falling and his knuckles went white as he tightly gripped the ledge beneath him. Lord, help me.
The night had been endless. He’d had to keep telling himself that it would be light in a matter of hours… of minutes… of seconds. And he waited as the night rolled on.
At least the rain had abated by then. He’d sat quietly in the darkness, listening to the wind howl and moan like a hurt, lost child. It had been an awfully long night.
He remembered smiling at the first sign of light…of daylight returning to the earth. They’d be coming soon now, he told himself. He hoped for warmth, but instead received only further showers.
The hours stretched on. He checked his watch intermittently, watching seconds, minutes and hours pass. He wound it. The morning inched along until it was noon. He called out from time to time, wondering if anyone was nearby…looking. He called until his voice grew hoarse and no one answered.
He estimated the growth of imagined investments, replayed particularly fine poker games as he clung to the ledge and waited. He thought about places he had traveled, people he had met. He thought of the family that had cared for him a babe, and his Aunt Annie, and couldn't quite get his mind around her benevolence towards him. He thought about his mother and wondered what she’d think of his predicament.
The afternoon passed. He clutched his hurt arm and gritted his teeth against the pain in his leg. He wanted to sleep. The afternoon never warmed as the sullen rain continued to fall. And then, it was suppertime, but his stomach no longer growled.
They’ll be here soon, he told himself. They’ll be here.
He convinced himself that they’d come at the precise hour of his fall. That would make a tidy tale! He held his pocket watch close to his chest as he watched the final hour tick by minute by minute. He willed himself to keep his head down until the precise minute that he'd toppled into the gulch.
Just another forty minutes… twenty…ten minutes. Seven. Down to four. And he counted the seconds. And then, as the exact moment arrived, he lifted his head and gazed upward, hopeful and smiling to greet them, but no one came.
No one came.
He looked upward for another ten minutes without finding them.
With a sigh, he tucked himself up against the rock wall, cradling his hurt arm in his lap. He was so tired and cold, hungry and hurt. His ankle throbbed, but there was nothing he could do about it. God, if he could only lie down.
He was lucky… damn lucky. Yes, he kept telling himself that as the evening dragged on. It would be dark again soon. He wasn’t looking forward to another night on the ledge.
Where were they?
He tried not to ask that question, but it kept returning to him… where were they?
Yesterday had been JD's birthday. It didn’t really bother him that no one had come looking for him that evening. After all, they were celebrating and wouldn’t miss him. He wasn’t expected home until dark and everyone was probably drunk by then anyway. He rationalized that they would have awakened late the following day. Nobody would have immediately noticed he hadn’t returned. Hell, Chaucer was still in his stall -- why should anyone suspect he was gone? No one would look for him until at least 10:00 am…or maybe noon…maybe later. Even so, there would be no real reason to become alarmed until after dark when he was to start his next shift.
He shuddered at the thought. If they didn’t realize he was gone until the night shift began, then their search would be delayed until tomorrow morning. God, he didn’t want to spend another night here… and another day as they started their search.
He rubbed his eyes tiredly as the wind howled like a child.
He wondered how much longer he could stay awake. It wouldn’t have been so bad if he hadn’t been up all night before this even started.
He blinked at the distance before him. Everything was becoming unfocused. It was getting so hard to stay awake. All he wanted to do was lie down. Sleep would be death.
And the wind still howled.
He thought about them… the men he worked with. He wondered what they’d think when they discovered he was missing. Would they suspect he’d run out on them again? Left them high and dry? He’d done it before. They’d expect him to do it again.
Something in him told him otherwise…no… they’d worry. They’d understand. They’d know… wouldn’t they?…that Ezra Standish wouldn’t run out on them…again?
They’d look for him. They’d want to find him. Tomorrow maybe. He could wait. He could hold out that long, couldn’t he? It wasn't so long. Just one more night. Just one more long and uncomfortable night. That was nothing. He wouldn’t give up. He released his hold on his arm and clenched the ledge beneath him, feeling light-headed again.
He thought of them, the men he worked with. He could see their faces almost as if they were with him. He smiled, glad to have company. “Sorry to bring you out in such uncomfortable weathah,” he drawled.
Nathan was there, always such a caring man in spite of the differences between them. Mr. Jackson, a more noble and decent human being would be difficult to find. Josiah, with his misguided parental behavior. Mr. Sanchez, you deserve better. Vin, the bounty hunter and near-savage who shared a strangely similar history. Mr. Tanner, who would’ve believed that the two of us might strike up a friendship? I would have thought you’d have seen though me by now.
There was Chris Larabee with his deadly glare and his second chances. Thank you, Mr. Larabee. Buck, a more amiable and protective friend would be hard to find. Mr. Wilmington, I feel blessed to have known you. And JD who just turned twenty-two. “Sorry about the birthday, Mr. Dunne,” he said quietly. “I hope I haven’t ruined it completely.”
When he blinked, they faded and disappeared… pity. It was nice to have them here with him.
He couldn’t feel his fingers anymore. He could hardly move. His head felt so heavy, his eyelids were like lead. His butt hurt from sitting so long on the uneven and hard stone ledge.
Would they realize how long he’d held on? Would it make a difference?
God, he’d miss them.
The sun was closing on the horizon and it was getting harder to keep his eyes open. He’d fail soon and he’d fall. But not immediately. No, he wouldn’t lie down and give up. He’d hold out. He’d manage somehow. He didn’t want to be here over another night.
The wind still howled – it seemed to call his name, plaintively and intently. He glanced downward again, unable to see all the way to the ground anymore.
“Sorry,” he muttered. “I don’t aim to give up just yet. I’ll hang on just a bit longer, I think.”
The calling continued, so distinct now – he could clearly make out the sound of his name. The voices sounded familiar. Funny how the mind plays tricks.
He raised his head slightly when he perceived movement and looked out in front of him. Something danced. He watched its sinuous waltz. A rope? He smiled at the sight, wondering what would come next. He watched it wiggle and waggle for several long minutes, not bothering to reach for it. What was the point? It was only another hallucination.
The wind still cried his name, sounding sad and upset, sounding angry, intense, and he pressed himself back against the rock. “Not yet, my friend,” he murmured. “I can hold out for some time. I shall not give in.” He rested his head on the rock wall, wishing for his feather pillow. When he looked up again the vision was gone. “Pity,” he said quietly, shuddering still. “I could have used a rope.”
He didn’t know how long he could ignore the wind that called for him. The call was getting more persistent now, coming closer. He hoped he could resist it.
Damn it, but the wind almost sounded like Buck. Buck sure sounded upset. Ezra felt himself starting to lean. He thought he heard JD, farther away, scared.
He was losing his balance.
He jerked his hand and tried to grasp the ledge beneath him, but a boot came down quickly and almost trod on him. But, at the last moment the boot hovered above his hand and then alighted beside him. Curious. He stared at it in wonder. Something brushed against his shoulder and he turned, surprised to see Buck suspended over him.
“Buck?” he muttered hoarsely. He reached out one hand hesitantly, not quite believing. It couldn’t be. When he grasped the fabric of Wilmington’s shirt, he smiled. “Glad t’see ya again, Buck.”
Wilmington smiled broadly, his eyes full of relief. “Glad to see you, too, Ezra,” he said. “We’ve been lookin’ all over hell for ya.” His smile vanished as Ezra suddenly fell forward. Buck swore and nearly lost his footing. The forward motion of the gambler threatened to swing them both out over the abyss, but Wilmington managed to dig in with the toes of his boots. His other hand stayed firmly against Ezra's chest to press him back against the rocks. "Hang on, big fella," he muttered, glad to have his lifeline.
Once he was secured against the rock, Buck called his name, but Standish continued to slump, oblivious.
“Buck!” JD shouted from above. “You okay? How is he?”
With careful eyes, Buck watched the unconscious man, seeing the gentle rise of his chest beneath the sodden clothing. “He’s gonna be okay, kid. Send down that other rope again.” He added, “Now!” as Ezra continued to sag against him.
The wind howled mournfully, kicking up the light shower in an irritating and inescapable mist. Buck looked up worriedly, waiting for the other rope as he leaned closer to his charge. Water ran from his mustache and down his face. God, it was awful here. “Hang on, hoss. We’ll getcha out of this hell, I promise.”
Ezra had no response.
“You found yourself a pretty uncomfortable place to rest, Ezra,” Buck commented, holding Standish tightly as he dangled by a rope. “Come on, can you wake up for me?” He shook Ezra slightly. It would be easier to have Standish awake during this process, but the exhausted gambler refused to open his eyes. He was dead to the world. Buck didn't blame him.
“Sorry it took so long to find you, Ez,” Buck whispered. “It wasn't for lack of trying.”
The second rope quickly reached them and Buck, with a little difficulty was able to get it around Ezra’s arms and shoulders. “It’s gonna be okay, Ez. JD’s gonna get ya back up to the top. Rope's tied to my saddle. Big, dumb Clyde will pull so you don’t need to worry about JD droppin’ you.”
“I wouldn’t drop him, Buck! ” JD shouted incredulously from above.
Buck's eyes glanced across Ezra’s bloodied sleeve. He felt the cold and wet clothing. Damn, Wilmington thought. How long did Ez have to wait? “We’ll getcha fixed up and dried off,” Wilmington stated firmly before he signaled to JD, and the horse started taking him up. “We’ll getcha home.”
Ezra blinked at the ceiling and stretched luxuriously in his bed. It felt good to be warm again. He sighed deeply, content. This feather bed was the most comfortable place in the world. His thick blankets warmed him; his expensive sheets were like silk against his skin. The throb in his leg was bearable and his arm only twinged occasionally. It was so nice to be comfortable, to relax, to lie down.
He sat up with a start, stricken with the sudden terror. Oh God no! I can't give up, not now! Have to keep holding on! They're coming! I won't give in! He gasped in panic and tried to grasp hold again as he wedged himself against the headboard. Lord! He wasn’t going to give up!
“Easy! Easy, Ez!” a voice called urgently. “Calm down! You’re home!”
His heart raced as he sat tightly against the board, his feet tucked up around him. His strained ankle was awkward with its bindings.
“Damn it, Ez.” That was Buck. The big cowboy leaned over the bed, trying to keep him from moving any further. “You’d better stop this and get yourself settled b’fore Nathan sees you. He was all affright when he saw what you done to yourself and told all of us that we’d better keep you still when you woke or there’d be hell to pay.”
“Buck?” Ezra rasped, tugging the blankets tightly around him with his good hand.
“Yeah, it’s me, ya fool!” Buck replied. “Ya damn near scared us all to death, ya know that?”
Briskly, but gently, Buck forced Ezra to stretch out his legs again, to settle his wounded arm on the pillow set up for that purpose. When he was finished, the mustached gunslinger smiled and said, “You okay, Ez?”
“Better,” was Ezra’s response.
“I damn well hope so,” Buck replied gruffly. He grabbed a nearby glass, filled it with water and then pressed it into Ezra's hand.
“How do you think JD would ‘ave felt if he found out you got yourself killed on his birthday?” He watched as Ezra greedily drank. “The kid was beside himself when that Floss came runnin' back to town without ya. We lit off right away lookin’ for ya. Left his cake uneaten on the table. Didn't look back. I think some wranglers took it while we were away."
“Yeah, pity. We were lookin’ for ya for more than a day.”
“Thank you,” Ezra muttered as he handed the glass back to Wilmington.
“Well, Nate said you’d be thirsty.”
“No, I meant, thank you for looking for me. I apologize for the trouble I’ve caused.”
Buck grunted unhappily. “Ain’t no need for that.” He frowned. They’d been frightened when Floss came running back into town without her rider. The light rainfall and the horse's tortuous path had made tracking difficult, so they’d split up and searched all evening until dark. JD had become angry when they suggested returning without Ezra, but there was no sense in staying out in that weather all night long. It had been a sleepless night for most of them anyhow as they waited for dawn -- to go out and try again -- to look for their seventh. They would not stop until they found him.
They’d split up again and searched in the damp weather. They searched all damned day long.
Then JD and Buck happened across the spot where Floss had stumbled at the edge of the Gulch. First, Wilmington had been terrified at the thought that Ezra could be dead, then it damn near broke his heart when he’d looked down and saw the huddled form of Ezra on the too small ledge. How long had he been here, alone, on this cold, wet and windy perch? They’d called him and saw him move, but he never responded to them. He'd seemed to gaze at the rope they'd dropped for him, but never even reached for it.
Then Ezra just about pitched into the gulch as Buck was descending to get him. Damn! Buck thought his heart had nearly stopped.
The look of astonishment and relief on Ezra’s face when Buck finally reached him further hurt the kind-hearted gunslinger. Lord, how long had he waited?
Buck added, “You were out like a light as soon as you realized it was me who’d come down that cliff for ya. Had to haul your ass out of there like a bag of feed, then I rode double with ya all the way back.”
Ezra had been so cold, so quiet. Damn, Buck had hoped he wasn’t too late. More than once, Ezra had jerked suddenly as if he was afraid of falling from the saddle, but he quickly returned to a silent sleep.
Nathan and the others hadn’t returned to town, so JD ran the signal flag up at the top of the church tower to call them home. Buck and JD had done what they could to make the gambler comfortable as they waited for the healer; they stripped off his torn jacket and shirt. He had a nasty gash on his arm and reacted feebly as Buck did what he could to clean the infected wound. “S’okay, Ez,” Buck had reassured. “Almost done now.”
They found one boot too tight to remove. Nathan had to cut it off when he arrived with Josiah. There’d be hell to pay for the loss of that expensive boot, but at least Ezra’s swollen ankle was finally free.
Since then, they’d waited…the six of them. “He’s probably just exhausted,” Nathan commented. “Just a matter of time and he’ll be with us again. His arm ain’t so bad and the fever should go rather quick. Gotta keep that leg elevated though. Might have to tie it down, knowing him.” They’d waited through the night and the following day and into night again before the gambler finally came around.
Thank God, he finally woke up. “So,” Buck finally voiced, “What the hell happened?”
Ezra sighed. “Floss,” he responded.
“Well, you’re an idiot for ridin’ that poor excuse for a mount. Yosemite ought ta put that beast down if you ask me.”
“She needed exercise,” Ezra said with a yawn.
“Damn near got you killed!” Buck responded brusquely. “Next time take one of the others. Cadbury was available. Why the hell didn’t you take him? He’s got some sense I figure. More than you at least.”
“He’s old and he’s slow. I prefer a more spirited ride.” Ezra shrugged and smiled. “Besides, Cadbury has the awful habit of defecating on whomever walks behind him.”
“Damn sight better than launching you off a cliff! Hell, she nearly killed Vin last time you two took her out and he wasn’t even ridin’ her!”
Ezra nodded, looking thoughtful. “True…quite true.”
“What were you doin’ so close to the edge with that nag?”
Ezra waved his good hand vaguely. "“Thought I’d heard something. I was befuddled by the wind.”
“Well, no more befuddlin’ for you.” Buck gave him a hearty slap on the thigh. “You get some more rest. You’re gonna be layin’ in bed for a while yet so you’d might as well get used to it. I gotta get goin’. Now that you’re awake, I s’pect there ain’t no reason to keep watch on ya.” They'd all agreed that Ezra would not wake up alone. After spending that lonely time on that ledge, he needed to have someone with him when he opened his eyes.
“Thank you, Mr. Wilmington. You’re assistance is more than appreciated. I would’ve certainly died there if you hadn’t found me.”
“No problem, Ezra.” Buck paused as he reached the door.
“I’m indebted. Thank you.”
Buck frowned. “You’d better stop thankin’ me for lookin’ for you ‘cause there ain’t no cause for that. You know I would’ve come for you, don’t cha?”
Ezra smiled genuinely. “Yes, Mr. Wilmington, I do. I counted on it.”
“We would’ve looked even if you are a sorry, pain-in-the-ass, son-of-a-bitch, so just stop it.”
“I’ll do my best to remain ungrateful for your heroic deeds.”
“Well, ya needn’t go that far.” Buck rubbed his chin in thought. “You could go a bit kinder on me at the poker tables when you get yourself up and around again.”
Ezra looked perplexed. “But, Mr. Wilmington, I try my hardest to ensure that you always leave the table with something in your pocket. It’s hardly my fault that you do your best to derail my attempts at magnanimity.”
“Ah, go screw yourself, Ezra,” Buck said, but smiled. “See ya later. It’s good to have you home.” He carefully closed the door behind him.
Ezra smiled at Wilmington's departure, glad that he could count Buck as one of his friends. They’d looked for him -- they’d searched for him. He glanced about the room, seeing the mess left by the others: dirty dishes, cups, wads of paper, extra chairs, his rocking chair askew -- the general disarrangement left by men who waited at a bedside. It was a mess that should have annoyed him, but the sight did nothing of the sort. Here was a sign…they’d stayed here beside him as he slept, watching over him.
He’d rarely had anyone to watch over him in his life, and to find that they’d done so for him was… pleasing, reassuring. It made him feel… comfortable.
A slight frown crossed his face and he contemplated whether Buck had just called him a 'sorry, pain-in-the-ass, son-of-a-bitch'? He shouldn’t take that lying down.
Well, he’d bother with that later. Ezra yawned and lay back in his bed. He sighed as he sunk down into the luxury of the feather mattress, lying as flat as he possibly could.
THE END - by NotTasha
Hope you enjoyed the story...comments and suggestions