RATING: PG for language
CATEGORY: Challenge - OW
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 August 2004 Challenge: offered by Jen Brooks:   Write us a story inspired by a song
SUMMARY:  A busy night for Nathan
ACKNOWLEDGEMENT: This story is based a song by the group "They Might be Giants".  Lyric is included at the end of the story.
FEEDBACK: Yes please! comments and suggestions are greatly appreciated.
DATE:  August 31, 2004,

The Devil's Hand
By NotTasha...doing my best to avoid it.
Runner Up for the 2005 Mistresses of Malarkey - The Golden Crutch Award for Best Gen Hurt Comfort  

Nathan Jackson yawned and stretched as he moved through the quiet, night town.  He tugged his medical bag under his arm and made his way toward his room.  It had taken longer than expected to stitch up Tommy Kale’s arm.  The boy had been beyond reason, screaming and thrashing every time Jackson tried to sew up the laceration.

It hadn't been a bad wound, but it had taken both of Tommy’s parents to hold him down, and still he managed to disrupt almost every attempt Jackson made to assist him.  It didn’t help that the boy was almost sixteen-years-old, as tall as his father and as strong as a young bull.

Nathan rotated his shoulder, trying to draw out the knots, wondering at his chosen profession.  He really needed a job that required a little less wrestling… and better hours.   He needed more leisure time – time to just sit and talk to folks. He liked talking.  Maybe over a came of cards, and he grimaced as a pang of jealousy stuck him.

He yawned as he gazed at the dark saloon, closed for the night.  Well, he didn’t really expect it to be open so late – but he’d hoped.  Earlier that evening, he’d started an interesting conversation there with a group of men who were passing through, and had found an instant connection to them. They’d spent several hours in each other’s company, buying beers, telling tales of their lives, comparing experiences.  If not for the Kale boy having that accident with the scythe, Nathan would have stayed all night at their table. 

Well, everyone was apparently abed at this hour.  Perhaps, Nathan thought, he’d be able to find those men in the morning.  It wasn’t often that he ran into people like that – people that he could get so close to – so quickly.  It had taken him a lot longer to know some of the other people in this town.

A movement along the dim street stopped the healer in his tracks.  Someone shuffled along the boardwalk, barely visible in the moonlight.  The moment Nathan stopped, the other man paused as well – and the two of them scrutinized each other through the night.

As he squinted, Nathan recognized the shape of the hat, the general form of the man.  It was too dark to discern colors, but Jackson knew that the man’s jacket was a rich plum.  With a smile and dip of his head, Nathan stepped forward.

Ezra didn’t.  His slumped posture stiffened, and he pulled back his jacket, resting one hand on the exposed pistol.  His drawl sounded, “You’d best reconsider what you’re about to do.  I am aware of your presence this time.”

Nathan took a step off the boardwalk, to let the gambler see him in the moon’s glow, but was rewarded with Ezra drawing on him. “”Ezra, it’s me,” Nathan called, holding up his hands in surrender.  “Can’t you see it’s me?  It’s Nathan!”

“Oh,” Ezra’s simple response sounded tired and abject.  He slumped again, holstering the gun.  “Apologies, Mr. Jackson.  I didn’t recognize you.”

Hearing the defeated tone of Ezra’s voice, Nathan stepped closer.  In the low light, he could see the bruises that marred the gambler’s face, the split lip.  “Ezra?” Nathan called softly.  “What the heck happened to you?”

“An unfortunate encounter, out by the Devil’s Hand,” Ezra said, waving his hand as if to ward Nathan off, but Jackson quickly trapped the arm and maneuvered himself beneath it.

“Devil’s Hand?  That ain’t no place to be at night.  Come on,” Nathan said softly.  “Let’s get you t’bed.  Too dark here for me to get a good look at you anyway.”

“No need,” Ezra muttered.  But Nathan was already shouldering some of the southerner’s weight and was walking him toward the saloon where Ezra rented a room.

The healer cajoled, “And I got my bag of stuff right here.  Won’t do any harm for me to take a look at you.  I might even help ya.”

Ezra murmured a quiet, “Thank you.” He put up no real resistance to Nathan’s direction, and soon they had climbed the outside stairs of the saloon.  Once in his room, Ezra made his way to his bed in the dark space, while Nathan felt around for the lamp.

Upon lighting it, Nathan let out a low breath, finally getting a clear look at Ezra’s face.  “Lordy, Ezra,” Jackson exclaimed.

Ezra grunted discontentedly.

The healer set the lamp down on the bedside table and crouched down before the battered gambler.  Vivid bruises covered both sides of his jaw, and his lip was bleeding.  One eye was blackened and nearly shut and the other had narrowly escaped the same treatment – a small cut bled just above his eyebrow.  “Must have been some fight.”

Ezra groaned, looking disgusted with himself.  “It was rather one-sided, until I was able to turn the tables on them.” 

“More than one?” 

“They took turns,” Ezra added.  “Rather polite of them, don’t you think?”

Nathan opened his bag and rooted through it.  “What happened?”

Ezra rolled his eyes, only one of them seemed to move.  “I had taken a stroll that culminated at the Devil’s Hand.  I was ambushed, disarmed, restrained and used as a punching bag.”  Ezra uncomfortably shifted his position on the bed.  “Until I managed to put my hands on one of their pistols.”

Nathan clucked unhappily at this news.

Ezra took a breath and continued, “After reclaiming my weapons, one of them drew a knife on me.  I fired, and they ran off.”  Ezra fluttered a hand to demonstrate, and winced, bringing his left arm back to his body.  “At that point, I felt too incapacitated to deal with them, so I headed home.  It seemed like the right thing to do.”

“You hurt your arm?” Nathan asked, watching how Ezra clutched the appendage.

“It wasn’t I that hurt it,” Ezra returned darkly.

“Take off your jacket, Ezra,” Nathan demanded, and Ezra stiffly, slowly complied.  Once the dark-colored jacket was off, the healer made a ‘tsking’ sound, seeing that much of Ezra’s white shirtsleeve was stained with reddish-brown.    He helped Ezra with the shirt, careful of the drying blood that tugged at the wound beneath.  “They got you with the knife?”  Nathan inquired, recognizing the damage done. Ezra nodded.

Nathan eyed the dark bruises that were forming on the southerner’s stomach and chest. They’d certainly battered the conman.  It was a wonder he’d been able to walk the distance home.  Finger-shaped bruises around his biceps showed where strong hands had held him in place. 

“So what were you doin’ out at Devil’s Hand?” Nathan asked, concerned, and hoping that the damage didn’t go deep.  A particularly nasty looking bruise was over Ezra’s ribcage.  He palpated, looking for a break.

Ezra made a face and tried to pull away.  “I was minding my own business.”

“It’s not safe out there,” Nathan stated. Devil’s Hand wasn’t far out of town, a rocky formation that resembled a deformed hand, clawing at the sky.  Not finding a break, Jackson left the bruise alone, more concerned with the bleeding slice across Ezra’s forearm.  The blood flow had stopped, at least temporarily, but a slice from a knife needed attention.  “You know the Indians ‘round here think that place’s got bad magic.  Why’d you go there?”

“I was having trouble sleeping,” Ezra admitted softly.

“Hmmm,” Jackson responded as he worked.  “Could’ve found a better place to take a stroll.”

Ezra let Jackson turn the arm this way and that.  “I find the walk relaxing, and it’s easy to spot the formation in moonlight.”

Nathan released Ezra’s arm, settling it onto the gambler’s lap. “Maybe you just surprised ‘em.  Folks camp out there sometimes. Did you tell ‘em you meant ‘em no harm?” Jackson asked, as he pulled a bottle of carbolic acid out of his bag.

“Quite vocally!” Ezra responded.  “But they seemed rather pleased at the turn of events.”

Nathan shook his head as he poured some of the bottle’s contents into the basin on Ezra’s washstand.  He added some water from the ewer to dilute it, then carried the bowl to the bed.  “This is gonna sting,” he warned as he wet down a boiled rag.  “You ready?”

“As I’ll ever be,” Ezra responded, and then sucked in his breath when Nathan started daubing the cloth along the long cut.

“So…” Nathan continued the conversation as he worked, cleaning the wound, starting it bleeding again. The knife didn’t go very deep, and a few stitches would keep it closed and let the cut heal evenly.  “Didja know who they were?  Maybe some other gamblers?”

Ezra watched Jackson work.  “They weren’t at my table.”

“See ‘em around town b’fore?”

“They were seen about town, yes,” Ezra responded evenly, sucking in his breath again as Nathan continued his work.

“Just about done,” Nathan commented as he felt Ezra involuntarily try to pull away from him.   He got a better grasp of Ezra’s arm, tucking the gambler’s wrist under his armpit to keep the arm tight.  Ezra closed his eyes.  To keep his mind off the arm, he brought his free hand to his face and felt his swollen jaw.

Nathan watched the conman’s movements, seeing Ezra tenderly manipulate his jaw and then feel about at his bruised eye.  “Can you see all right?” the healer inquired.

Ezra blinked and rotated his eyes in their orbits.  “Yes, I believe so,” he responded.

“Good, good,” Nathan responded, glad of that news.  “I’ll get some water from the pump.  A cold compress will help with the swelling. Then, I’ll head over to the clinic.  Mix up some slippery elm bark and milk, or maybe carbonate of soda or tincture of opium in water.  One of those should help.”

The gambler let out a sigh and nodded.  “It would be appreciated.”

With Ezra’s hand still tucked up under his arm, Nathan picked up his needle, threaded it, and poured carbolic acid over it the rig.

“Whiskey?” Ezra asked as he watched the preparation.

Nathan nodded, and held needle in his teeth as he snagged the bottle of medicinal spirits.  He handed it over to the gambler who smiled gratefully, making his swollen lip puff out strangely.  Ezra lifted the bottle in a salute, pulled the cork with his teeth and spat the stopper onto the bed.  He downed a mouthful of whiskey, then made a face as he tenderly licked his split lip.

Nathan concentrated on his needle, stitching up human flesh to keep it together and healing well.  Ezra focused on drinking down the alcohol.

They both did their work wordlessly.

Finally, when he was nearly done, Nathan spoke again.  “These fellas, do you know where they went?”

“I believe they were on their way out of town,” Ezra replied.

“You got their names?”

A laugh.  “I didn’t feel it was appropriate to ask them at the time.”

“We’ll get the boys and go lookin’ for them.”

“No need to muster the troops.  None of our townspeople should feel threatened by them.  They’re gone.  I heard them say as much.”

As he placed the final stitch, Nathan inquired, “Can you describe ‘em?”

Ezra sighed and lowered the bottle, letting it rest against his thigh.  “There’s no need,” he muttered.  “I’ll take care of my own business.”

Nathan cut off the cord and frowned. “Now, Ezra, you ain’t gonna be feeling top-notch for a while.  What say, me and the boys chase down those fellas?  You’ll rather stay abed tomorrow  -- probably want to sleep all day.  These bruises are just gonna make you stiff and sore.”

“No,” Ezra returned.  “I’ll manage.”  He nodded decisively.  “I’ll be tracking them down in the morning.  Nobody treats me in this manner and gets away with it.” He lifted his stitched arm to get a good look at Nathan’s work.  The bleeding had stopped and the wound was nicely closed.  “Your excellent embroidery will keep me together,” Ezra commented. 

Nathan assured, “I’ll be comin’.”

Ezra’s gaze flicked up to meet Nathan’s.  “You shouldn’t be involved.”

“I damn well choose what I get involved in.”

“Not this, sir,” Ezra continued sharply, but his voice softened as he added, “Please, Nathan, believe me.  I’ll do this on my own.”

Something about Ezra’s plea made Nathan stop his questioning.  He regarded the conman, who gazed at him with one good eye.  Taking the rag from the carbolic acid mixture, he wrung it out and dabbed the moist cloth over the cut above Ezra’s eyebrow.  Standish hissed and squeezed his good eye shut.

“Keep your arm still and dry,” the healer told the gambler.  “Best if you don’t move it around at all.  I’ll leave the wound uncovered tonight, as long as it’s not bleeding, and bind it up tomorrow, so you can get about a bit.” Nathan spun the remaining thread back onto its spool and stowed the thread and needle in his bag.  “Why don’t you lie back and I’ll come back with that cold water.  It’ll make your face feel better.”

Ezra nodded and maneuvered himself about, grimacing as his boots swung onto the quilt.

Nathan sighed as he stood, and then grasped the heel of the nearest boot.  “Someone should come with you when you go after those fellas,” he stated.  “I don’t like this, Ezra.”

“And neither do I, but I believe I should go alone,” Ezra told him.  “It would be for the best… for everyone concerned.”

“What the hell does that mean?”  And with a grunt, Nathan pulled off the first boot, letting it drop to the ground.

“This isn’t your problem,” Ezra stated.  He clutched the bottle of medicinal whiskey close to him as Nathan worked off the other boot.  His bruised face took on a somber expression.  “We won’t discuss this any further.”

“Yeah,” Jackson stated, letting the other boot drop.  “We’ll see about that.”

Part 2:

Jackson walked onto the boardwalk again, heading toward the nearest pump to get a supply of cold, clean water.  He just didn’t understand Ezra sometimes.  Why did Ezra insist on keeping this to himself?  Was he that embarrassed about being ambushed?  It was just pure stubbornness on the part of the southerner! This need to ‘take care of it’ on his own, was pure-selfishness when you got down to it, Nathan figured.  Won’t even let his friends help him track down folks who are a danger to the whole community.

As he reached the pump, Nathan paused.  Again, someone moved along the street.  ‘What now?’ he thought, searching out what was approaching him.  Three forms moved through the darkness, walking slowly along the dim boardwalk.

“Who’s there?” Nathan called, not liking this – not after Ezra had been attacked.

“Nathan?” a voice returned.

It took Jackson a moment to discern who’d called him – it was Joe Bailey – one of the men he’d met at the saloon earlier that evening.  Thank God!  Joe, and his two companions, Moses Johnson and John Porter came out of the night.  Jackson let out a relieved breath, glad that he’d met up with ‘friends’ instead of ‘foes’.

“Nathan,” John said with a big grin.  “Sure am glad to find you.”

“We come lookin’ for you!” Moses added.

They were three former slaves, like Nathan, trying to find a better life.  It was good, Nathan thought, to find people who had so much in common with himself, people who so easily became his friends.

“Joe got hurt,” Moses explained, pointing to his friend.  “He needs some doctorin’.”

It’s going to be a busy night, Nathan decided.  “What happened?” he asked, stepping closer to the big man.

“Some crazy fella jumped him,” Moses went on.

“He got attacked?” Nathan felt his heart sink – two people now!  Just goes to show that Ezra’s got to think of more than just himself.  Now there would be no arguments – the boys would ride tomorrow – Chris, Buck, Vin, Josiah, JD and himself… Ezra, too, if he were feeling perky enough – they’d ride out and track down this menace.  It’d didn’t matter that Ezra’s gentle feelings got hurt in the matter!

The jail was the nearest facility and Nathan wanted to get a look at Joe immediately in good light.  He fished the key out of his pocket as he said, “We’ll go in here.”

The door opened and the four men entered.  Nathan lit the lamps and anxiously turned to Joe Bailey.  The sleeve of his tan jacket was stained with blood.

The former slave clutched at his arm and moaned.  “He got me good, Nathan,” he uttered.

Nathan helped Joe out of his jacket and shirt to see the extent of his injury.  “Can you tell me what happened?”

“We was minding our own business,” John complained.  “Weren’t doing no harm to anyone.”

“He come out of nowhere and there weren’t no reason to it,” Moses stated.  “Just plain evil!”

There was a makeshift bandage around the wound, and Nathan removed it carefully.  He prodded about at the wound while Joe groaned.  Yeah, Nathan figured, bullet wound -- a glancing wound across Joe’s upper arm.  The bleeding had nearly stopped, but it would need to be cleaned and bound.

“He was a hate-filled bastard.  Kept yellin’ at Joe,” Moses explained.

“I done nothing to him,” Joe stated.

“He said things that ain’t fit to repeat!” John proclaimed. 

“Hmmm,” Nathan uttered, too intent on examining the wound, figuring if he should just get his medical bag from Ezra’s room – wondering if he needed to stop at his clinic as well to pick up more bandages. 

Joe sniffed and stated, “They’re all still thinkin’ they’re Master and we’re at their beck and call.”  He glared at Nathan and said, “Nobody owns me.  I’m a free man now.  We’re all free.  Ain’t anyone gonna hold me down again.  They’ll pay for what they done.”

“Damn Rebs,” Moses added with disgust.  “Can’t stand the sight of them.  They all thinkin’ they’re so fine and they all stink worse than dog dirt.”

Nathan continued his examination, listening and wondering at their story.  As he scrutinized Joe’s arm, he glanced down at the man’s hands.  The knuckles were raw and bruised.

Jackson turned, looking to John and Moses.  They held their hands in front of them, also bruised.  “Ya’ll were there when that man jumped out at Joe?” Nathan asked.

Joe shook his head.  “Not to start,” he provided.  “I was by myself!  That crazy Reb came at me, fightin’ and scratchin’ like a wildcat.  If we all were there, we’d ‘ave pounded him to a pulp.   He come jumpin’ out of the trees, yellin’ ‘bout how I was his ‘boy’ and should be bowin’ down to him.  Said that I had no right to be at Devil’s Hand, as if he owned it, too.”

“We got every right to be there!” John put in.

Nathan bowed his head, and let out a low breath.

Joe continued with his story, “Then he got out a gun and started t’shootin’ at me.”

“That’s when we come runnin’.”  John interjected.  “He took off like a scared hare!”

“Runnin’ and pissin’ his pants he was so scared!” Moses added, laughing.

“This is what come of it,” Joe gestured contemptuously at his arm.  “Tryin’ to kill me and just barely caught me.”  He laughed scornfully.   “A toad could shoot straighter than that yellow-bellied Reb.”

“If he’d stayed ‘round, we would’ve shown him how we treat folks like him,” Moses told Jackson.  “Would’ve given him a lesson or two about how things stand these days.”

“What would you have done to him?” Nathan led on, his voice low, “If you had the chance.”

“If that son of a bitch didn’t have a gun,” Joe said, “He’d be hangin’ from a tree right now… Just like they did to Jones and Caleb.”

John and Moses both nodded fiercely.  “You know what we’re talking about, brother,” Moses stated softly as he flexed his hand with bruised knuckles.

Nathan stood, stiffly.  “I’ll need to get some things.  Ya’ll might want to sit down over there.”  He gestured toward the cells.  Before he could get a response, he continued, “There’s enough cots for each of you.  Joe, you should lie down.  Rest of you look kinda tired and you won’t be able to get a room at this time of night.”

The three men stood and made their way to the cells, as Nathan continued to speak.  “Blankets are clean.  We keep the mattresses well-aired.  They’re good for sleepin’.  I’ve slept there myself a few times, while I’m watchin’ the jail.”

Once the three were within, Nathan stated,  “Ya’ll are gonna give me your guns, now.”

“What?” the three men cried at the same time. 

“And I’ll need that knife, too,” Nathan continued, “I’m going to have to lock you up for a bit.”  He held out his left hand as he drew his own weapon with his right.  “I gotta get things straightened out.”

Part 3:

Nathan entered the gambler’s room with a bucket of cold water and made his way to the bed.  Ezra had managed to get out of his trousers and to pull a nightshirt over his head.  He turned his bruised head toward Nathan and smiled as much as he could.  “I was afraid you’d gotten lost,” Ezra said.  “I was about to call out a search party.”

Not speaking, Nathan set down the bucket and pulled a rag from his medical bag.  He dunked the cloth into the water, then wrung it out slowly.

“I didn’t think I’d be able to go in search.”  Ezra gestured first to his face and then his arm and current clothing.  “I wasn’t really fit to be out on the street.”  But Nathan didn’t miss the gun that rested beside the southerner, or the fact that the whiskey bottle seemed to be at the same level as when he’d left.

Nathan still wasn’t talking, and Ezra watched him carefully.  Jackson’s face was screwed up as if he were about to burst.  “Nathan,” Ezra said in a low voice.  “Is something wrong?”

“Damn right, there’s something wrong.” Jackson finally exclaimed, dropping the rag back into the bucket.  “Why couldn’t you just say it?”

“Say what?”

Grimacing, Nathan continued, “That the men who beat you were black men?  Those three fellas from the saloon? Why couldn’t you say that?”

“And why would you think this?”  Ezra asked suspiciously.

“Because I just locked them up in the jail!”

“They confessed?”  Ezra sat up, his astonishment obvious even through his disfigurement.  He winced immediately and doubled over as he brought his uninjured hand up to his head.

“Lay back, you damn fool,” Nathan demanded, shoving Ezra back down onto the pillows.

His eyes closed, Ezra asked, “They told you what happened?”

“They told me that some crazy bastard jumped out of the trees, yellin’ all sorts of racist crap at ‘em.  They said the son-of-a-bitch tried to kill one of ‘em.”

“Oh,” Ezra responded.

“ ‘Oh?’  That ain’t gonna be enough, Ezra.”  Jackson continued, “They claim that a damn southerner was attackin’ because they were black and he was white and better than them.  What d’ya have to say about that?”

“Nothin’,” Ezra stated.  “I suppose you have to weigh our stories and take them on their own merit.  Believe whomever you chose.”

“Damn it, Ezra, of course I believe you,” Nathan exclaimed, and his voice lowered as he continued, “Why couldn’t you say that they were black men?”  Nathan wrung out the rag again and carefully laid it over Ezra’s eyes.

Releasing a sigh as the cool cloth was placed over his face, Ezra asked, “Was it important?” He paused a moment and then said, “I wouldn’t have mentioned that they were white men if that was the case.”

“Well,” Nathan said, “That’s different.  Ain’t so unusual to have white men pounding on you.”

Ezra sighed again, this time without any comfort.  “They were friends of yours, Mr. Jackson.  I didn’t feel it was my place to tell you that the friends you’d chosen were racist bullies.  It might not have set well.  You might’ve wanted to believe in the story your friends told.”

Nathan was quiet, dunking another cloth and wringing it out.  The sound of sloshing water filled the room.  “I do believe in my friends,” Nathan said sincerely, and then smiled when Ezra raised his good hand to lift the compress off his eyes.  The healer asked, “You really think I wouldn’t have believed you?”

Ezra, lowering the cloth as he went on, “People seem to have a tendency to disbelieve me.  And you certainly seemed pleased to be in their company.  You seemed to have found friends in them, like souls, compatriots.”

“Ain’t no way that those fellas are my friends,” Nathan shot back.  “It’s like you said, they’re bigots and I ain’t gonna stand for that.  Did you honestly think I’d be happier with you keepin’ quiet on who they really were?  I might’ve gone on thinkin’ those fellas were okay.  Those… thugs… might’ve killed you, Ezra.”

“They didn’t,” Ezra responded.

“What about next time?”

“Next time, I’ll be ready for them.”

“Next time it’d be someone else.  What happens to the next southerner they attack, huh?  Would you be okay if they killed some kid from Georgia?  Some poor lady from Kentucky?  Some damn fool gambler from the Carolinas?”

Ezra said quietly, “I was plannin’ to hunt them down.”

“You ain’t gonna want to move tomorrow, Ez.  You get on a horse in the mornin’ and you’ll just make yourself sick.  You ain’t gonna be any use to anyone… and those fellas would’ve gotten away.”

Ezra said nothing, licking the split on his lip as he rested beneath the cool cloth.

“You make me a promise, Ezra,” Nathan demanded, giving the new cloth another dunk and wringing it out once more.  “You promise me that if you see me in the company of folks like that again, you let me know.  I ain’t gonna shake the devil’s hand if I can help it.”

“Agreed,” Ezra said softly.

“I ain’t like them.  I don’t ever want to be like that,” Nathan went on.

“You’re not,” Ezra assured Jackson.  “No one could ever believe that.”

“You ain’t like that either,” Nathan continued.  “Ain’t a racist as far as I can see."

"Well," Ezra drawled, "There were certain words spoken at our first meeting."

Nathan nodded, "Yeah, there were, but I’ve never heard the like of them again.  Figure that was just some mistake on your part and you owned up to it, too.”

"Still, such sentiments are unforgivable," Ezra continued.

"Aw," Nathan muttered.  "I don't think you ever really believed it."

Ezra readjusted himself in the bed, trying to find a comfortable position.  “I’ve lived most of my life feinting and dodging the devil.  I suppose someday he’ll lay his hand on me and make me own up for all that I’ve done and said.”

“Not tonight,” Nathan told the gambler.  “Maybe he won’t get you at all if me and the others have any say in the matter.”

And Ezra moved again in his bed.

“Next time you tell me,” Nathan continued, because Ezra apparently had no response.  “You should feel free tellin’ me anythin’.  It won’t hurt my feelin’s none if you tell the truth.”

“The truth?”  Ezra sounded hurt.  “I hardly think that’s possible.”

Nathan pulled off the warming cloth from Ezra’s face and dropped it into the water, grinning as Ezra’s green eyes peered up at him again, one of them half hidden in purplish-swelling.  Jackson quickly settled the cooler cloth over those eyes.

“I gotta go back and check on those guys,” Nathan explained.  “Gotta bind up that hole you put in one of them.”

“You can let him bleed a bit more,” Ezra responded.

Nathan grinned.  “Yeah, but I don’t want to have to clean up the mess tomorrow.”

“You shouldn’t go alone.”

“I’ll wake up Vin,” Nathan decided and glanced to Ezra’s Regulator clock.  “It’s almost 4:00.  Probably about time for him to wake up.”

“Lord, that man keeps ghastly hours,” Ezra muttered.

“That’s comin’ from a man who’s been out walkin’ in the middle of the night,” Jackson reminded Standish.  Ezra made a disgusted sound in response. “And then, of course, there’s me – up at all hours lookin’ after shiftless gamblers.”  Nathan chuckled and stated, “I’ll be back, okay?”

“I’ll be fine,” Ezra confided.  “You’ve taken care of my immediate needs.”  He fished around blindly until he found the whiskey bottle.  “And I have what I need for the rest of the night.”

Nathan stated, “I gotta mix up that stuff for you in the clinic.  Give ya something to help you sleep a bit too -- no arguments."  And Nathan shook a finger at the gambler, even though Ezra couldn't see him.  "Hey, what do you think about a good steak?  That’ll help with the swelling.”

Ezra rested a hand on his belly and smiled, “Medium-rare, please,” he ordered, “With sweet corn and sweet potatoes.”

Jackson grinned. “You’re buyin’,” he said, knowing that Ezra' wouldn't be up to chewing too hard for a while.

“It’s the least I could do,” Ezra responded. 

“Too bad the restaurant’s closed.  I might have some of Mabel’s biscuits back in my room.  They’re soft as a feather pillow and mighty tasty with butter and honey.”

“That’ll do perfectly, Nathan.”  Ezra raised his good hand.  “Thank you, my friend.”

Nathan took the offered hand, and they shook on the matter.  “Not a problem,” Nathan told him.

His hand released, Ezra grabbed for the whiskey bottle again.  “And bring a glass.  I hate to drink alone.”

Nathan, standing, gave Ezra friendly slap on the shoulder.  When he reached the door, he paused and turned back to the bed, where Ezra lay beneath the cool cloth, clutching the bottle of whiskey.  The healer smiled, and left the room.


The song doesn't really fit, but it got me thinking....
Your Racist Friend - by They Might Be Giants

This is where the party ends
I can't stand here listening to you
And your racist friend
I know politics bore you
But I feel like a hypocrite talking to you
And your racist friend

It was the loveliest party that I've ever attended
If anything was broken I'm sure it could be mended
My head can't tolerate this bobbing and pretending
Listen to some bullet-head and the madness that he's saying

This is where the party ends
I'll just sit here wondering how you
Can stand by your racist friend
I know politics bore you
But I feel like a hypocrite talking to you
You and your racist friend

Out from the kitchen to the bedroom to the hallway
Your friend apologizes, he could see it my way
He let the contents of the bottle do the thinking
Can't shake the devil's hand and say you're only kidding

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