RATING: PG-13 for language
CATEGORY: Challenge - OW
MAJOR CHARACTERS: Chris and Ezra
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: The December 2003 Challenge: Offered by Debby: "Your fic must include the following: A seasonal/ Christmas party, a spiked drink, faulty decorations/Christmas lights, and at least one of the seven in their underwear, long johns, thongs...you get the idea."
SUMMARY: Okay, so it's Christmas, but it's not jolly for everyone -- especially for seven lawmen who were just having fun when something tragic happens.
FEEDBACK: Yes please! comments are greatly appreciated.
SPOILERS: Small ones for the Pilot, Vendetta, and Serpents
DATE: December 24, 2003
APPEARS IN: Fanzine The Bad Element #3
So Far From Home
By NotTasha...glad to be with family this holiday season
Chris Larabee hated Christmas. There was
a time when he loved that season. When he was a child, it had been a
magical, wonderful time -- time for family. His brothers and sisters,
mother and father, always so busy with their farm, would all come close and
celebrate. Uncles, aunts and cousins would come calling. There would
be plenty to eat and a special punch (presided over by his father). It was
a warm and jolly occasion. Every child received a present – there were
stockings stuffed with little things. It was beautiful. It was magical. It was perfect. As a small
one, he’d tremble in anticipation, waiting for that special day to arrive.
Later, he and Sarah had spent a quiet Yuletide together. There was such happiness in that first Christmas as husband and wife. The memory burned like a warm hearth. Then came Adam, and Chris’ world was complete. Those were good times. Those were the best times. He remembered laughing when Adam couldn’t keep still, so excited about the coming day. Chris Larabee’s heart seemed to swell with joy during those days. Now, that same heart felt cold and quiet, shrunken, and that happy home was so far away.
He re-crossed his legs and tried to get comfortable in that hard chair. "Hell of a way to spend Christmas Eve," he muttered to his companion. “I could think of a dozen better places to be.” Yeah, dozens of places – but he could be nowhere else at the moment.
Those glorious days had vanished. After the murder of his beloved wife and son, this season became bleak and cruel -- he came to loathe the season. Everyone was too merry, too happy, too ready to smile. They didn't understand anything. They didn't understand that, to some, this was a time for introspection, for sorrow, for solitude, for darkness.
"Shouldn't be alone at Christmas," he spoke to the other, negating this thought. “Shouldn’t be far from people who care about you.”
Black --- cold --- alone.
So dark. So terribly lonesome. He wanted to cry out, to call for companionship, to feel another near him, but found only a void. A deep chasm. A yearning emptiness.
He floated in it… trying to build his strength, but it was slow in coming. Blackness … stillness… quiet… solitude.
He wanted out. He’d been here too long. He wanted anything but this. This was hopelessness. This was emptiness. This was nothing.
He wanted home…It was so far away.
Chris had thought that this year might be
different. Perhaps it was time to leave behind that darkness. Since
he'd come together with these six men, he'd found a family of sorts. Yes,
it was a left-handed variety of family, made out of odd bits and pieces, like a
patchwork coat – but it fit him. It fit him well.
Finally, after those desolate years, he had been looking forward to Christmas. The holiday didn’t have to be based on sorrow and regret. There was a vivacity to those men that wouldn’t let this season fall into that pallor. They were too damn spirited. Too full of themselves – too full of life. They’d spend it together – the seven lawmen. There'd be food and drink -- enough to keep all of them warm and happy. It would be a bright spot in an otherwise cold December.
"Sure would have been nice," Larabee said.
Strength wouldn’t come. He’d have
to do without it.
He had to get out, but how? There was nothing here… nothing to help him. He’d have to do it himself. Try, must try. But where had trying gotten him in the past?
So he must try, for he had to escape. He had to get back. Something important had been happening when he left. What had it been? The black velvet darkness enveloped him, not letting him think. Must get out of it.
He tried. He tried. He tried so hard.
But he was cold and weary, and had so far to go.
Slumping down, Chris realized that he wasn't
meant to have a decent Christmas. But, as he glanced to his friend, he realized
that he had nothing to complain about -- there were those who had it worse.
Three days ago, everything had been bright and hopeful. Mary had made plans for a big celebration in Four Corners. The whole town was invited. She had tried to rope Buck, Vin, JD and Ezra in to set up the party. The Grain Exchange – the largest building in town – was to be the site of the festivities. It had to be made bright and merry. The boys had balked and groaned, until Chris marched them to the locale, ordering them to help. They’d acquiesced, with their usual complaints, but Chris doubted that any were truly perturbed. Too easily, they’d fallen into their tasks, horsing around as they hung colorful buntings and ribbons, bits of hard-acquired greenery, bells and glass balls. Too easily, Chris stayed to watch them – to supervise.
Mary, glad to have help, graciously supplied them with a fruit punch, and Buck disappeared long enough to make a trip to the saloon to get something to give the punch some… 'punch'. He dumped two bottles of whiskey in and went back for a third. The men, growing a bit tipsy, had laughed and joked as the simple decorations turned the austere room into a veritable wonderland. Chris sat at a table – joined by Nathan and Josiah -- watching as Buck, Vin, JD and Ezra bounded about the room at their tasks, fighting for the most prominent placements and the best decorations, dashing up and down the helter-skelter ladders. The near-riot had kept Nathan, Josiah and Chris entertained.
Nathan and Josiah had shouted out comments from time to time, offering their own (mostly ignored) advice. Chris had sipped the strong punch, enjoying himself, laughing, smiling.
This is Christmas, he’d thought, observing the festive scene. Ezra had graced his hatband with a bit of holly. Vin had wound a garland around his neck. Buck had sleigh bells on his belt. JD had found a red hat that was constantly being snatched away by the others. This is how it is meant to be, Chris decided. This is not a time for aloneness, not for sorrow and bleak reflection. Christmas can be fun again. He finally let himself admit that. He, Chris Larabee, could enjoy Christmas.
He grinned when he saw the boys impatiently setting up one of the ladders to reach the highest point of the ceiling, wrestling each other to get up the ladder first. Vin had tried to beat Ezra to the steps, but Ezra had pulled a dirty trick that sent Vin to the ground, sputtering oaths. God, Larabee had thought, they’re idiots.
He had looked away. Chris had turned in his chair, away from the ruckus to look at Mary Travis. She was standing near the door, giggling. Intoxicated on the spiked punch, her ears had turned red. I gotta remember that, Larabee was thinking, as he noted this tell. Her ears go red when she’s drunk. There was something utterly charming about that. She was covering her mouth as she tittered. Then her eyes grew wide, and her mouth, barely visible beneath her hand, opened to a horrified “O”. Her other hand clutched uselessly at her little apron.
A clatter, a rip, a bang, a series of curses, a crunch, and a pop-pop-pop. Larabee had watched the proceedings reflected in Mary’s shocked expression, reading it all in her terrified eyes.
Finally, tearing himself away from her aghast expression, he had spun about in his chair as Nathan and Josiah leapt to their feet.
Blackness. He fought against it.
Blackness still. He tried to get around it. It filled his senses.
It filled his head. It filled him.
He was so tired. He was so cold.
He was sinking again. The velvet black closed in.
“Goddamn… goddamn!” Buck had sworn as he
staggered out from under the busted and toppled ladder, tossing it away in
irritation. It banged against a nearby table and clattered again to the
floor. Buntings and ribbon, that had once crossed the ceiling, lay ripped
and unfurled across the floor. Evergreen needles rained down. A gold
ball shuddered for a moment on a nail before it let loose its hold and hit the
floor with a ‘pop’. JD stood as if frozen, still holding a
length of cloth that was to be draped over the rafter above him. Vin
swayed as he gained his feet, rubbing his head. Glass ornaments crunched
beneath his feet.
It looked as if a bomb had gone off in the middle of the room.
“Vin! Buck!” Nathan had cried. “JD! You all right? Everyone all right?”
“Ezra?” Josiah had called softly, expecting the con man to pop up, swearing and complaining about the poor workmanship of the ladder, the ruination of his jacket, the extra work that would have to be done to fix the disorder. But the gambler didn’t appear.
“Ezra?” Vin exclaimed, stepping through the mess. “Ez?”
“Oh God,” JD muttered, diving toward the bundle of cloth in the middle of the floor.
Buck made it to the man-sized lump first and dragged a long bit of fabric away. The man was sprawled, half on his side – half on his back, not curled, as an injured person should be. His eyes were closed; his mouth half-open. There was no movement. No sign of life. “Hoss?” Buck had whispered hoarsely, his expression stricken. He fell to his knees beside his comrade. His fingers reached toward the pale man’s face but withdrew. Buck looked up, searching for Nathan.
The healer stepped in, parting the other stooping men with a gesture. He dropped to a squat beside Buck and the twisted gambler. “Ezra,” Nathan had called sharply, but there was no response. He leaned closer. “Ezra?” he called again, softer – pleadingly. And there was still no response. None at all. Nothing.
Black… all black.
He tried to get through it, to get back. It was all around him, choking him, filling his lungs.
His arms were lead. His head weighted. His legs bound. He couldn’t move. It felt as if his head were wrapped in dough – stifling all his senses – robbing him of everything.
He tried. God, how he tried.
Home…he had to get home.
But it was so far – and it kept pulling him under -- and he was so tired.
Ezra lived, Nathan had anxiously informed
them. They’d all released relieved sighs at that notice, but Standish
hadn’t moved, hadn’t twitched. Later, Josiah filled Chris in on what
he’d seen -- that Ezra had grabbed hold of one of the fabric buntings
and was using it to balance himself as he leaned too far away from the ladder to
hang a silver star onto a nail. Idiot, fool, moron! Dumber than a
sack of hammers! Stupider than a box of hair! Less sense than a pile
of warm manure. Duller than a pile of wet rocks. Overconfident brainless
son-of-a-bitch! Didn’t he realize? Didn’t he even think?
The bunting, woven in with all the fabric that crossed the ceiling, failed.
The misbalanced ladder had tipped, bringing long strips of fabric, evergreen
boughs, half a dozen glass balls, a ladder, a silver star and one gambler to the
ground – and knocking down a couple other men in its wake.
The healer had squatted beside Ezra for several anxious minutes before he ordered the gambler moved. They’d delicately lifted Ezra, lay him on a board, and gingerly carried him here – to the clinic – to this bed -- where he’d been ever since.
“Gotta keep him still,” Nathan had insisted, fearing a broken neck – a damaged back. “Just gotta wait a bit, ‘til he comes ‘round. Shouldn’t be too long. But you know Ezra. He likes his sleep… might not be ‘til t’morrow.”
He struggled, for that was all he could do.
He fought against it, because if he stopped, he would sink again. He would
not allow that anymore. He had spent too much time in the blackness.
He wanted out. He needed out.
He needed to be there – to be out of this – to be home.
To be whole.
He had to keep fighting. He had to try.
The blackness remained, but he didn’t stop trying.
The day and night passed – and a day crept
along after it – and another night.
Nathan had grown more nervous as time passed, doing what he could to wake the gambler, but getting nothing in return. “Two days is bad,” he had murmured. And then two became three. Three days was very bad. Nathan had been able to get a few spoonfuls of water down Ezra’s throat, carefully coaxing, hoping that none of it would end up in Ezra’s lungs, hoping he didn’t choke.
“He’ll be awake before Christmas,” Nathan had prophesied. “He’ll be around before Mary’s party.” That particular prediction proved true only because the party was canceled.
The day before Christmas drew into a night . Two days was bad. Three days was worse. Three and a half – devastating. What would happen when they reached four days?
Larabee still waited. They’d all spent time at his bedside, Ezra was not be be left alone, but Chris took more than his share. He had to be here. There was no other place he could be.
He leaned closer to Standish, examining the southerner’s still face, his quiet hands. So rarely did one see Ezra so motionless – those hands were always flying as he shuffled his cards. That mouth was always flapping. Those eyes would mischievously spark at anything. Yet, here he was, stretched out in Nathan’s bed, his face far too immobile, his hands like stone. So unlike Ezra… so wrong.
Thoughtfully, Chris laid the back of his hand against Ezra’s check and let out a sigh. Still so cold. Ezra had three blankets on him and a couple of hot water bottles, but it was as if they couldn’t work any heat into him.
“Ezra,” he spoke softly. “Can you hear me? You’d better be comin’ home. We’re waitin’. I’m waitin’.”
Blackness. He had to get out.
He reached. He stretched.
Somewhere, far away, something seemed to call to him. He reached. He tried – and fell short.
Again, try again. He worked with all his might to pull himself out of this molasses dark world, this thick impenetrableness. He strained; he tried; he sunk; he rose.
God, it was hard.
Josiah prayed. He prayed constantly.
He prayed instead of preparing for a Christmas service. The church would
be dark until Ezra woke. Josiah stayed in that unlit church, huddled on a
cold bench. “Please Lord, just let him come back to us,” he whispered
over clasped hands, hands so tightly gripped they turned white.
“Gracious and forgiving God, let our lost lamb return. Call him back.
Let him know he’s needed here.” Josiah had turned into an old man over
the past few days – aged by years.
JD talked non-stop, telling everyone what had happened, letting his fear and anxiety loose in his words. He stopped people in the street, met up with them in shops and businesses -- gesturing wildly as he described how Ezra had been hurt, how they’d been caring for him, how he was bound to get better – how Ezra HAD to wake up soon. “Yeah, he’s gonna be wakin’ up real soon. No doubt about it. Yessirree!” His words spoke only of hope, but under his confident language, young Dunne was scared to death.
Buck stalked around nervously, taking his turn at Ezra’s bedside, but spending the rest of the time restlessly pacing – blaming himself for that had happened. “If he wasn’t half drunk…” he kept saying. “Stupid. It was so damn stupid of me. Should ‘ave known better.”
Vin kept quiet. He’d spend time at Ezra’s side, but had hardly ever spoken. He's sit quietly at that post, hunched over. His stark blue eyes carried all the fear that he refused to voice. “Ezra knew that if he come down that ladder to move it, I would ‘ave grabbed it from him,” was all he said regarding the accident.
Nathan was beside himself, berating his decisions. “Should have put Ezra on a wagon. Should have gotten him on a train that first day. Should have gotten him to a surgeon.” But Jackson had felt around Ezra’s skull and found no damage there. Was there anything that a surgeon could have fixed? “Somethin’s gone wrong inside,” Nathan had whispered, his eyes filled with self-recrimination. “Should have gotten him to a doctor… a real doctor.” He sent off telegrams and waited for answers – wanting an answer that contradicted his own dark prognosis. The advice he received would always conflict with what another doctor had already told him. In the end could do nothing but follow his own instincts, and hope.
Nathan had decided finally that Ezra’s back wasn’t broken – he’d been able to get a reflexive reaction from Ezra’s feet – but nothing more. The gambler remained immobile. "Have to get him to a doctor," he continually muttered.
Chris watched Ezra, as he had for over three days. 'If you’re sound, why can’t you wake?” he asked softly. “I know you like your sleep, Standish, but this is gettin’ out of hand.”
Josiah had shaved the gambler’s face that morning. “Can’t stand to see him this way,” Sanchez had said about Ezra’s stubbled appearance. “He just doesn’t look right.” And so the preacher had carefully cradled Ezra’s head in the crook of his arm and wielded a blade around his passive face. “Keep still now,” Sanchez kept crooning. “Just for now,” he’d amended, as if his admonishment might keep Ezra from ever moving again. And then, Josiah had washed Ezra’s hair and carefully brushed it into place. With Nathan and Chris’ help, they’d had gotten him into a new nightshirt. “He’d want to look presentable,” Sanchez had explained. "It's Christmas after all."
But Chris had hated it, feeling as if he was preparing a corpse for burial. Clean-shaven, neat, and smelling of Bay Rum, Ezra still refused to wake. If a man is a-bed for days, he should look disheveled, Larabee thought. If a man is so sick he might never wake, he should like as if he’s going to die! Ezra appeared as if he should sit up any moment and complain about the hour of the day, pick up his cards, and start trying to cheat them out of their last pennies. Ezra looked as if he should be well and vibrant, instead of dying by degrees, instead of lying there with towels tucked up under him so that he didn’t piss himself.
This is not the way for a man to die. This just ain’t right.
Chris let out a sigh as he sunk down in his chair again. This was so wrong – for Ezra to go out with a whimper – for him to just fade away. God, it made no sense that a silly little accident with a ladder should take him. They were decorating for Christmas, for God’s sake!
Tomorrow, Christmas Day, they would load him onto a wagon and take him to Ridge City. It was a fool’s errand, Chris figured. It would take two days to get Ezra to a decent city with a decent doctor – and by then it would be five days. Five days was entirely too long. But what were their choices? To sit here and watch Ezra die away, bit by bit…inch by inch… second by second… or to take a chance and get him to some help? Hell, Ezra would probably be dead tomorrow if things didn’t get better. Maybe it would be better if he was allowed to die at home, even if it was on Christmas Day.
“Christmas,” Larabee said out loud. “Hell of a Christmas.” Fiercely, he growled, “You can’t die on Christmas! It’s so goddamn wrong. Dammit, Standish… Ezra. Ezra, you gotta wake.”
He had to get back. He had to.
God, he had to get back. The blackness might try to take him, but he wouldn’t go without a fight.
He wanted go home. He wanted it badly. He’d fight with everything he had.
Chris had found this new home in Four Corner,
among these six men – and now, he was losing it.
Nathan doubted himself at every move. He was a wreck – and Chris knew the gentle healer wouldn’t completely recover if he lost Ezra like this.
Josiah prayed as if his soul depended on it – and perhaps it did. If those prayers weren’t answered, Chris feared for the big man – the conflicted preacher. Where would his demons take him?
Vin hardly spoke, wandering around town like a ghost – nearly as silent as Ezra. Buck paced and blamed himself, cursing his poor judgment. JD worried and babbled. What would happen to all of them if Ezra were to just keep sleeping? If he were to fade away? If he were to slip into death without even a sigh?
Would have been better if he’d just died, Chris decided. If he broke his goddamn neck and died right there on the floor of the Grain Exchange. Would have been a sorrow, would have been a terrible pain…but it would have been over. There wouldn’t be any of this dreadful waiting around for death. We wouldn’t have to sit here and watch it happen. Larabee watched Standish breathe.
“You can’t take him,” Chris declared, as his eyes stayed on Ezra. “You can’t have him. Not now. Not yet. Not like this.”
Outside the room, the street was quiet – a silent night. In other rooms, in other buildings, people gathered and celebrated. In homes, people found Christmas. In a wagon, in a church and in rented rooms in boarding houses, men restlessly tossed in their beds. Here, in this simple clinic, Larabee found only despair.
“I've know what home is,” he whispered. “Three times. There was the house where I was born. There was the home with Sarah and Adam.” He paused before he stated, “And this place… this godforsaken hole.” He shook his head.
He sighed as he adjusted the blanket that draped the gambler. Ezra was so cold, cold as death. “Come home, Ezra,” Chris whispered, leaning close. “This ain’t right. This is shit.” He found Ezra’s hand and held it tightly. “Ya gotta come back.”
His head throbbed. It was a new
sensation. A horrible pain that filled his otherwise nebulous world.
He concentrated on it. Now, he had something real to follow.
Home – home for Christmas. It was Christmas, after all, wasn’t it? What was Christmas anyway? Why should it matter. He was well used to that lonely holiday. He’d spent plenty of them alone – or gambling with people he didn’t know. He felt himself sinking. The blackness pulled at him – drawing him down, drowning him. The pain lessened. He would float again. It would be easier.
But he fought. He wouldn’t let it win.
He heard a voice, cutting through that pain, coming out of the black. He reached for it, as if it were a lifeline. Just out of his grasp. So close…he reached again, and grasped something. Something held him.
He clung for all he was worth.
Chris held his breath, wondering if his mind
was playing tricks on him. Ezra’s hand seemed to grip his,
ever-so-slightly. “Ezra,” he called. “Ezra?”
The too smooth face seemed to change. Eyelids tried to open.
“Ezra!” Chris called, a sudden urgency in his voice. “Get on back here. Open those goddamn eyes, Ezra. I ain’t gonna wait here all day.”
The motion seemed to fade.
“You can do it, Ezra,” Chris said sincerely. “I believe it.”
He fought. It was like swimming
upstream, like fighting a horrible current. God! His head hurt!
It would be so much easier to let the blackness pull him under, to let it take
him. The hurt would go away, the hurt would diminish. It would be so
He clung and forced himself onward, out of the black. When he cracked open his eyes, the light was enough to blind him.
A smile stole across Chris’ face as a glint
of green graced Ezra’s face. Ezra’s eyes opened to slits before
closing again. Standish let out a low breath. His lips parted,
showing his teeth.
“Ezra,” Chris called. “Come on now. Come on. Open ‘em.”
Eyes opened again, narrowly. They blinked once -- twice. “Chris?” Ezra’s voice cracked.
Chris smiled – he smiled wider than he had in days – in years even. Not since that day when the men played at decorating the Grain Exchange, had he even tried the expression. “Welcome back.”
“What happened?” Standish rasped.
A flaming admonishment raced through Chris’ head, but instead he answered, “You woke up.”
Ezra returned a puzzled look, but accepted the answer – for now. “My head…” he started, but paused to lick his lips.
“Hurts?” Chris completed.
“Tremendously,” Ezra responded, his face pinched.
“Figured. You hit your head pretty damn hard. Thirsty?”
“Exceedingly,” Ezra answered.
Chris continued smiling, not quite believing how joyful he felt to hear those big words again. Carefully, slowly, he eased Ezra upright. Despite his care, Ezra still moaned lowly, closing his eyes and turned his face toward Larabee’s shoulder in discomfort. “Easy, easy,” Chris murmured, knowing that the change in position could be murder on a pounding headache. “Doin’ okay?” Ezra only groaned in response. “That’s good,” Chris commented.
Larabee picked up the glass from the bed stand, and gave Ezra several mouthfuls of water before pulling it away. “Better?” he asked.
“Much,” Ezra responded, his eyes still closed, his head still resting on Chris’ shoulder. “Thank you.”
“Gonna set you back,” Larabee told him.
“Wait,” Ezra declared, straining his eyelids for a moment before he could open them. “What day..?”
“It’s Christmas Eve,” Chris told him, but a glance to the clock told him that midnight had passed. “It’s Christmas,” he amended, his voice breaking slightly at that revelation.
Ezra smiled softly.
“Wouldn’t want you to miss it,” Chris continued. “S’pose I wouldn’t want to miss it either,” he added, still holding up the gambler.
“Tired,” Ezra breathed out, closing his eyes again.
After three days of sleep one would think a man would be well rested. Still, Larabee replied, “Sleep. You earned it.”
Ezra was drifting again, but the world he found wasn’t the bleakness he’d been captured in before. There was a warmth to it… a comfort. “Where am I?” he murmured as he sunk into sleep.
That simple question chilled Larabee. “Nathan’s,” Larabee answered simply.
“Home?” was Ezra’s quiet clarification.
A sigh from Chris, and his mind was eased. “Yes, Ezra. Home.”
Ezra exhaled as he fell asleep – true sleep this time, far from that horrible nothingness. Chris continued to hang onto him for several more moments, glad to have that chance.
Finally, feeling that Ezra was asleep, Chris carefully eased him back onto the pillows. “Sleep,” he repeated. Ezra’s pained expression eased, replaced with a restful expression. Nathan would be here soon. He was scheduled to relieve him at midnight. He'd been sleeping in Ezra's room lately -- an otherwise vacant bed. Chris would tell Jackson the good news. Already he could imagine the relief flooding the healer’s face. Once Nathan had been assured, he’d leave Ezra in the good healer’s care, then go off to find the others – rattle them out of their sleepless sleeps – let them know that their gambler was home again. Let them know that it was Christmas.
But for now, he sat at the bedside, as he had sat before – but it was different now. It was entirely different.
He smiled still, the expression never dipping. It was Christmas and they were home – all of them. He couldn’t ask for a better present.
THE END - by NotTasha
May your Holiday find you close to the ones you love
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