CATEGORY: Challenge - OW
MAJOR CHARACTERS: Nathan and Ezra with a bit of 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, TNN, ShowtimeExtreme. or any others involved with that production is intended.
NOTE: August 2005 (the Defenestration Challenge) - offered by MonicaM - Word of the Day - Defenestration: n: a throwing of a person or thing out of a window. So let's hurl one, or more, of the guys out of a window. Maybe it's even one of the others who does the hurling. Bonus points for actually using the word defenestration and my other new favorite word, frigorific (adj: causing cold, chilling) in the story. Okay, that was Monica. I also found flibbertigibbet and parlay on two other Word of the Day calendars. They're in here too.
SUMMARY: Part of the Game of Chess. Nathan has had a bad day.
SPOILERS: ah, just my other stories
FEEDBACK: Yes please comments and suggestions are greatly appreciated.
DATE: August 18, 2005
A Curious Game
By NotTasha... I'm game for that!
He felt like crap. He ached and was tired – so
damn tired. Somehow he’d ended up sleeping on his stomach – not his
normal position. No wonder he felt odd. He shifted his position, and
instantly sucked in his breath as the pain stabbed through him – like
razorblades against his back. Oh God….
“Easy now. Try not to move.”
Sound advice. He heeded it and became absolutely still, trying to understand the situation. Around him, familiar sounds. He was in town, no doubt. Where? Slowly, he opened his eyes to a well-known space – and blinked.
In the clinic. Yes, of course, where else? How could I have fallen asleep? Who’s hurt? Who needs tending? Gotta get up!
He pressed his hands against the mattress and tried to shove himself upright, but the pain returned, amplified – first the ripping horrible stinging across his back, followed by the sensation of a pick-axe through the head.
He collapsed on his stomach with a grunt.
“Easy now, easy,” a voice sounded beside him. “Nathan, be still.”
He squeezed his eyes shut, the pain so intense, it brought tears. A moment passed as he tried to overcome the sensation, then he tried to blink clear his vision.
“I’m fine,” Nathan growled. He sucked in a breath and managed with more conviction. “Fine -- I’m fine.”
“Thank the Lord.” Unable to clearly see his companion, Nathan had no doubts about who was beside him. He’d never mistake that southern accent.
Oh Gawd, this is hell. Jackson gasped, trying to overcome the pain, trying to come to grips with it. Keeping still seemed to help considerably. His back only buzzed with pain instead of screaming from it. The pounding in his brain lessened as he let his head rest on his arm. “I’m hurt,” he stated, amazed.
“What gave you that idea?” Ezra returned dryly. He quickly continued with, “A rap on the head and a series of cuts on your back. It would be best if you stayed still.”
“That your medical advice?” Nathan asked with a small chuckle.
“Take it for what it’s worth,” Ezra replied concomitantly. “I’ve not been in the exact position as you, but I’ve known similar. Rather reminiscent of a time I spent in Kansas.”
Nathan sighed. “How long?”
“A little longer than a year during one stretch.” He heard Ezra moving something about on the table nearby. “The end of that stay was unbearable. Still… there were things…”
“Ezra, I meant how long have I been here?”
“Two days,” Ezra responded. “Or, if you want to be more accurate, I could say it’s been closer to a day and a half, but sayin’ ‘two days’ is so much easier, plus it makes your condition sound so much more severe. Honestly, your stay has been closer to a day-and-three-fifths, but that would be splitin’ hairs.”
“Ezra…” Nathan muttered, exasperated.
“I finished reading Pilgrim’s Progress.” He said, touching a book on the table. “It passed the time. Much of it is utterly laughable. To think that one might build a moral…”
“Ezra… what happened TO ME!”
“Well…” Ezra began, sitting back. “Funny you should ask, for quite a tale hangs on that question. Would you like a cool drink before I commence? Water?”
As much as Nathan wanted to get to the bottom of this, his thirst prevailed. Tentatively, he nodded, and slowly pressed himself upward, careful of his painful back and banging head. Lord, he hadn’t felt so low since he’d been ‘disciplined’ on the plantation. God, he thought he’d never feel that way again. He hissed and moved cautiously, not allowing the pain to overcome him. At least, he managed to prop himself a few inches off the bed.
A glass was placed before his face, and he grasped it with one hand. He drank, careful not to tip his head too far. His grip felt weak, as if he couldn’t keep a grasp on the glass, but the cup seemed to follow him, making it as easy as possible for him to drink from it.
Every movement jarred his aching back – every change in position brought new pain to his head. Good God, almighty! The water was quickly finished, and the glass disappeared. He allowed himself to settle again on the mattress.
He sighed, amazed at how tired he felt from the simple exercise.
“You’ll note,” his companion stated. “That I hid no unseemly medications in that glass. When I offer a man water, that is exactly what he receives.” Nathan smiled, imagining Ezra’s shudder of revulsion. “I would not trick you with a sneak attack of the noxious brew!”
“Ezra,” Nathan started and rested his chin on one hand. “I’d expect nothing less from you.” He winced and sighed. “Still, I might be wantin’ some of that ‘noxious brew’.”
“Of course. Of course!” Ezra started to stand. “Just a moment and I’ll...”
“Not now. Gotta be clearheaded for a moment. I want to know… tell me… what happened to me?”
Nathan frowned, not knowing if he’d just misheard the southerner, or if he just didn’t understand. “Say again?” he tried.
“Defenestration!” Ezra happily complied, settling himself in the chair again.
Blowing out a breath, Nathan realized that this wouldn’t be easy. “Could you just tell me how I got hurt?” he asked, wriggling in an attempt to get comfortable, but finding he could do little without his back forcing him to stillness.
Ezra slowly drawled, “Well… let me see.”
Nathan squinted, finding his vision clearing. Ezra leaned back in his chair and thoughtfully drew a thumb across his bottom lip. Beside him, something cluttered the small table – bottles? Nathan couldn’t make it out.
“It started thusly,” Ezra told him. “I was in the saloon, minding my own business.” He gave Nathan a pointed look. “Of course.”
“Of course,” Nathan echoed.
“…When a bit of an imbroglio broke out. It wasn’t much at first. One man had trodden on another’s toes. I believe they were friends, but they were well into their cups. Even compatriots can come to blows. It’s natural, I suppose. One does get on another’s nerves from time to time.”
“Yeah, one does,” Nathan agreed.
“It can’t be helped. I once knew two miners who regularly beat each other to near-pulps, but they loved each other like brothers. It was like a game to them, I reckon -- and a curious one at that. If you were to …”
“Yes, Mr. Jackson.”
“Can you get back to what happened to me?”
“Ah yes, of course. Well, as I said, one man squashed the foot of another. The one with the damaged digits took offence and shoved the toe-treader, who felt it best if he responded in kind. He took a running start and collided with the other, sending him careening into the table beside theirs.”
Ezra fiddled with the objects beside him on the table. “The adjoining table was upset, as were those sitting around it. And, as it’s bound to happen, an all-out brawl erupted in the saloon as others joined in.”
“You joined in?”
“I swear on my sainted mother’s grave that I never threw a punch.” Ezra raised an eyebrow as Nathan squinted at him. “Figure of speech,” he added quickly.
“Ezra, what did you do?”
“My hand to God, I abstained from physical violence. I did my best to avoid the brawl, and wanting to stay on the straight and narrow, did nothing more than provide a commentary on the happenings. I parlayed while others tried to flay others with their fists.”
“Yeah? Never threw a punch?”
“I was beyond reproach.” He held up his hands. “My hands are clean. You, conversely, are an altogether different story. I never would have suspected you as the type to enter such a fracas willingly. To think, you were free and clear of the matter, yet you leapt in like a country boy into the miller’s pond.”
“What?” Nathan responded, getting tired of Ezra’s flibbertigibbet tale-telling.
“Dang it, Ezra, how did I get messed up in it?”
“OH! You’d been passing by when you noted the commotion with the establishment. Shortsighted man that you are, you joined in.”
“I just started fighting?” Nathan asked.
“I was utterly surprised,” Ezra drawled. “Apparently, you decided to assist some poor sod who’d gotten himself in a pickle.” Ezra laughed. “Three men were on him. The fool deserved it, no doubt.” Ezra pulled his flask from a pocket. “You tried to intercede.”
“And you didn’t?” Nathan asked.
“I was occupied,” Ezra responded, lifting the flask in salute and taking a swig.
“By standin’ aside and making commentary.”
Ezra grinned at him, showing off his gold tooth. “You, filled with indignant fervor, dove right into the struggle, slinging off the attackers in your attempt to assist the beleaguered ninny.” Ezra shrugged. “The idiot was useless in providing assistance, so it was all up to you. Unfortunately, the combatants grabbed hold of your person and… flung you.”
Replacing the stopper on the flask, Ezra continued, “They hurled you through the window of the saloon – a defenestration.” He buffed his silver container against his lapel, and took a moment to look at his reflection in it. He smiled at himself before returning the vessel to his pocket. “It took three of them to lift you, and you were thrashing about quite a bit. They must have been uncommonly strong for you are nearly as weighty as our Mr. Sanchez. Several of our compatriots now know this well. It’s not easy to carry a man as tall as yourself, especially when negotiating that stairway. Have you ever considered moving your clinic?”
“Honestly, it would be best for everyone. I swear, every time one needs to move the infirmed, one is apt to break something.”
“Lordy, I recall the last time Mr. Sanchez needed your services, I think half of our crew ended up in this room due to strained backs and…”
“Get on with it!”
Standish shrugged. “The sound of you crashing through the window was like a thousand shattering drinking glasses. You should have heard Inez scream. Replacing the pane would come at great cost, you see -- a great pain monetarily.”
“Yeah, I see.”
Ezra chuckled, and leaned toward the small table beside him. In an almost nervous action, he moved some of the items about -- first one, then another -- before returning to a casual position in the chair. “You landed with a crash on the boardwalk and rolled directly into the street. Pedestrians squealed like hogs in November, and a wagon was nearly overturned as the driver fought to keep his team from trampling you. You caused quite a disturbance. I believe you scared a year or two off of Mr. Stoker in the process. If he hadn’t been so attentive at his seat on the wagon, you’d be flatter than a pancake right now.”
Nathan sighed, letting his head settle heavily on his arm. He closed his eyes.
Without a response from Jackson, Ezra went on. “Mr. Sanchez and the rest of our coworkers appeared almost immediately. You should have heard our preacher bellow! One would think that a man of the cloth would be more… discreet. The combatants fled like frightened hares.”
Jackson sighed, listening to the soft ‘thunk’ as Ezra returned to fussing about with whatever was on the table. “Mr. Larabee was all but silent as he surveyed the ruin. And silence, in that man, is more dangerous than when he is roaring.”
It was quiet for a moment, and even the soft thumping stopped. Nathan breathed in the quiet.
“Nathan? Are you all right?”
Jackson opened his eyes to find Ezra hovering over him, asking, “Are you certain you wouldn’t want something for the pain?”
“I’m just waitin’ for you to finish. Figured it’d go faster without me interrupting.”
Ezra grinned widely. “Oh, if all my audiences might have the same opinion. Shall I continue?”
“Very well.” And Standish settled again in his chair. “The participants in the tussle had managed to disappear through the rear door. In other words, the occupants of the saloon liquidated, leaving only myself behind. Mr. Dunne and Mr. Larabee went in pursuit. Several of these men were rounded up and ensconced in our jailhouse.” Ezra cocked his head. “You were in a sorry state. Your head must have struck the sill on your exit because you were dead to the world, and the glass had done great work on your back.” He paused, and sincerely stated, “I’m sorry, but I believe your scars have multiplied.”
“Seems that way,” Nathan muttered, carefully moving his shoulders, feeling the cuts and scrapes. “Who… who tended it?”
“Josiah and Vin,” Ezra answered. “They seem to have learned much from the master.”
Nathan sighed. “Was it real serious?” he asked carefully.
“I have no idea. I was otherwise occupied,” Ezra uttered quickly. “You see, many of the poker tables had been overturned and someone needed to look after the lost cash. By the time I’d taken care of myself, they’d scooped you up and were taking you away to the clinic. There was nothin’ I could do for you in any case, so my participation was of no consequence. Still, it was interesting to watch them negotiate you at the stairway.” And he chuckled merrily.
“So, what are you doin’ here?” Nathan asked plainly.
“Takin’ my turn at waitin’ for you to wake up,” Ezra responded, leaning toward the table to shift the items about a bit more.
Nathan squinted and then smiled when he recognized the objects -- the chess set. Nathan knew the curve of every piece, carved from pinewood and mahogany. He knew every face, every gesture of the pieces. Even from his position, Jackson could tell that Ezra had his hand on the piece that resembled JD.
Ezra was moving the chessmen, one after the other, in a game where no one seemed to be winning. The pieces were simply dancing about the board in a curious game.
“To sit at your bedside was the least I could do,” Ezra continued airily, “After all the times you’ve done the same for me.”
“Thank you,” Nathan said softly.
“No need,” Ezra returned. “I had nowhere else to go, as Inez shut down the saloon until the window might be replaced. Hopefully the pane will come tomorrow. Luckily, your awakening won’t conflict with my return to the saloon.”
“Well, thank you anyway,” Nathan replied, giving Ezra a sly look.
“As I said, it was nothing.” And Ezra shoved himself upright with a groan.
Nathan watched his stiff movements carefully. “You ailin’, Ezra?”
Ezra smirked. “Simply been sitting for too long. First it was a long game, and then I took my turn here. Deplorable.” He took a moment to straighten, resting his hands on his knees and then smiling at Nathan’s concerned glance. “Too much leisure,” he commented.
A knock, and the door was slowly pushed open. Buck stood in the opening with a tray, looking first to Ezra, before changing his gaze to Nathan. The ladies’ man beamed. “Nate!” he cried, carrying the food tray to the table and setting it down with a clatter. “Lookit you!”
“He’s awake,” Ezra said unnecessarily, gesturing broadly.
“Yup, sure looks it,” Buck responded. “How you’re feeling, Doc?”
“None too good,” Nathan told him honestly. “Feel like I’ve been wrung through the wringer and run over rough-shod.”
“Well, that’s no surprise,” Buck said philosophically as he found the chair that Ezra had vacated. “Just dang happy to see you awake.” And he gave Ezra a glance. “Ain’t we, hoss?”
“But of course. Now, since you have another keeper, Mr. Jackson,” Ezra said quickly, moving toward the door. “It’s time I departed for a more entertaining locale.”
“Hey, Ez,” Buck stated. “I brung up your dinner.” And he pointed to the tray. “Why don’t you sit and eat while me and Nate chat a bit.”
“Since Nathan is now awake and undoubtedly hungry, it’d be best served it to him.”
With a discontented sigh, Nathan told him, “Ain’t exactly up to it just yet, Ezra. Might as well stay.”
Ezra wasn’t swayed. “Then, I’ll tell the others the good news. I believe I have a bottle of wine that might be opened for this occasion. Excuse me while I see the bottle is put in a sufficiently frigorific state. Good day, gentlemen.” And with that, the conman slipped through the door, moving quickly as a scalded cat.
Nathan watched the quick departure with concern, then turned to Buck.
“Ya ever notice,” Wilmington started as he shook his head, “His vocabulary gets more expensive the more nervous he becomes?”
“Seems that way,” Nathan agreed.
“Tends to meander a bit, too, when he doesn’t want to get to the point.” Buck sighed. “Figure he hasn’t done his penance yet.”
“For that damn fight in the saloon,” Buck informed him.
“The fight? Did he start it?” Nathan tried.
“Well,” Buck started. “Started innocently enough. A couple of wranglers got into a fuss over nothing, but one of them backed into Ezra, and our friend didn’t take kindly to that. Whiskey got spilled.” And Buck paused, letting that sink in. “Ezra let the man know he wasn’t too happy. Words were said.”
Nathan shook his head. “Figures,” he muttered.
“The whole place was in uproar, but those three fellas were just after Ezra. Had him pinned up against the wall and was using him as a punching bag ‘til you looked in the window. He was pretty much out of it by that time, from what I’ve heard – hardly able to keep his head up. You come runnin’ in like some avenging angel.”
“I pulled them off of him,” Nathan stated, understanding.
“Yeah. Figured you shocked the hell out of those fellas. I mean, there was no doubtin’ where our southern boy was from. When they looked up and saw you – they were downright surprised. You got ‘em off Ezra, but then they came after you,” and Buck pointed a finger at the healer. “They grabbed ya and tossed you through the window. You must’ve hit your head pretty hard somewhere because by the time we got to you, you weren’t moving and were bleeding like a stuck pig.”
“Is it really bad?” Nathan asked.
Buck gave him a smile. “Bad enough. Lord, I wouldn’t want to suffer it. You got cuts all over your back.”
Jackson nodded softly, one hand reaching over his shoulder.
“Josiah and Vin saw to you. Figure Josiah’s learned plenty, working with you, and Vin’s mighty fine at stitching when the mood catches him. I should remember that when my socks need darning.”
“I’d like to see his work,” Jackson declared.
“We’ll getcha a couple of mirrors,” Buck told him. “You can check out his handy-work. They’ve been keepin’ a close eye on you. Seen no infection, so they musta done pretty good. And, hell, now that you’re awake, everything is looking up.”
Smiling, Nathan agreed. It could have been so much worse.
Wilmington nodded toward the doorway that Ezra had just escaped through. “Just gotta look after him a bit.”
“He’s hurt,” Jackson divined.
“Aside from feelin’ guilty as hell for what happened to ya? Yeah, he got himself hurt.” Buck sat back, tucking his chin to his chest. “While Josiah and Vin was lookin’ after you, and JD and Chris went after the wranglers, I went in to check on Ezra. He was tryin’ to get to his feet. Just kept fallin’ and gettin’ up again.”
“How bad did they get him?” Nathan asked plaintively, unable to stop being the ‘healer’. “I should go check on him?”
“Naw, you just rest yourself. We’re lookin’ after him. He was stunned more than anythin’. I got to him, and he started clawin’ his way up me like I was a tree, sayin’ how he had to see you – make sure you were all right. I told him Vin and Josiah were takin’ care of you, but he can be damn insistent. I had to kinda drag him to the door so he could see. Ya should’ve seen his face, Nate, when he got a gander at you. Turned white as a ghost. Couldn’t say a word.”
“But he’s okay?”
“He’s plenty sore, but he’ll live. They bruised him up real good. Been off his feed. Don’t know if that’s ‘cause of tummy woes or ‘cause he’s feelin’ so low about what happened to you. Figure that’ll be cleared up now.”
“Yeah,” Nathan sighed, and closed his eyes a moment – glad that he’d decided to make that pass near the saloon when he’d heard the commotion. “He been here long?”
Buck laughed. “The dang fool’s hardly left." Wilmington glanced to the table, noting the book that rested on one corner. "Pilgrim's Progress? What's this about? Makin' Thanksgiving dinner?" He ran a finger along the book, wondering if it would be worth reading. "Anyway, Ezra pulled out this chessboard and set up the pieces as soon as he was able to sit up.” Wilmington nodded to the disarranged board at his elbow. “We figured he wanted to play a game to pass the time until you awoke.” He grinned. “So, Josiah tried to take him up on the offer. He refused. Said that he was merely attempting to ‘ascertain the value for sale’. Told us that he knew a man in St. Louis who’d pay good money for it and he wanted to have it at hand if worse came to worst”
Nathan frowned and pressed his face against his arms.
“Been fiddling with it ever since then. Hasn’t let any of us touch it. Figured our ‘grimy mitts’ would ruin the grain.”
“He wouldn’t sell it,” Nathan said tiredly. “He’d never sell it.”
Buck gave Nathan a grin. “Well, I know that and you know that, and maybe even Ezra knows it,” Buck stated. “But he ain't never gonna admit it.”
Nathan laughed, feeling his cut back pulling at that movement, but continuing to laugh in spite of the pain. “Don’t know why Ezra does that,” the healer chuckled.
Buck shrugged. “Yeah, me neither. He’s a curious fella and he likes to keep us guessing. Figure he’s always playin’ some sort of game.” Buck waved away this thought. “I don’t waste much time ponderin’ on it – ‘cause I kinda like ‘im and can’t see him changing.”
Nathan smiled and looked again at the chessboard – noticing for the first time that one of the pieces was off the board. He didn’t have to examine it to know which one it was. “Could ya set up the board?” Nathan asked. “Get all the pieces in place?”
“Sure,” Buck commented. “Now that you’re up, we won’t have Standish barkin’ at us to leave it alone.” Wilmington chuckled, straightening the helter-skelter pieces. He shook his head and tsked as he retrieved the one piece that had been removed from play. Nathan could see the flash as the light caught the gold imbedded in the piece.
“He’s a curious fella,” Buck stated, placing the pawn in the middle of the front row.
“Yeah, he is.”
“You want a game?” Buck asked, gesturing.
“Not now,” Nathan said softly. “Maybe you could grab that brown bottle on the shelf – third one from the left.” He lifted a hand to point. “I’m gonna want to sleep a bit now. That’ll help. I’ll need a spoon of it in water.”
“Sure,” Buck responded, getting up to retrieve the bottle. “What about the board? Want me to put it away?”
Nathan shook his head against his arm. “Naw. I want it to be ready for when that damn fool comes back. He owes me a game.”
“Figure he owes you a lot more than that,” Buck stated as he snagged the bottle from the shelf and picked up a spoon from the counter.
“For helping him in that fight?” Nathan responded. “Oh, he don’t owe me for that.” He watched as Buck measured out the spoonful into a glass, and then added water. He wasn’t looking forward to the taste, but he could appreciate the affect it would have. “Figure if I can just get him talking for a spell, maybe I can get him to calm down a bit.”
“Maybe you should let him keep worryin’,” Buck suggested, stirring the glass as he carried it. “Give ya a chance to have something to hang over his head for a while.”
“You honestly want him to stay like this?” Nathan asked, as he leveraged himself up again. He groaned, longing for the pain reliever in Buck’s hand.
With a chuckle, Buck agreed and handed over the glass. “Probably not,” he admitted. “The sooner we get him back to normal, the better. Might take some work.”
“I guess I’m up for it.”
Buck observed Nathan’s movements as he drank. “It's a curious game he plays” Buck commented. “Sure you're up to it?”
Nathan shook his head, even as he struggled. “Wouldn’t want to miss it,” he declared, nodding toward the board. “Not in a million years.”
THE END - by NotTasha
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