RATING: PG for some language and tough subject matter
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, TNN, Showtime Extreme, MGM, Trilogy Entertainment Group, The Mirisch Corp. or any others involved with that production is intended.
NOTE: The May 2003 Challenge: Offered by Heather F, 1) Write a story, any AU, in which one of the guys breaks a bone.  .AND/OR  2) With this quote in mind....write a story in any AU...."(Doctor,)   my eyes have seen the years, And the slow parade of fears without crying, Now I want to understand,  I have done all that I could to see the evil and the good without hiding.   You must help me if you can...." -- Jackson Browne.   
SUMMARY:  Ezra returns from Roca Grande with a broken bone and a terrible tale of what he found there.  
ACKNOWLEDGEMENT: "Doctor My Eyes" by Jackson Brown.  The name of Ezra's horse came from Kristen.  I made up Nathan's 
FEEDBACK: Yes please! comments are greatly appreciated.
DATE:  May 14, 2003

By NotTasha...nothing but...

The men were all familiar with the little village – called Roca Grande in the preferred tongue.  The Spanish sounded better than the English – Big Rock.  It was little more than a collection of houses and a town square.  The tiny population was mostly Mexican– along with a couple Indians and runaway slaves, and a few misplaced Swedes, including a white woman named Berta with her black husband Maurice and their two children.

It was a friendly place, not unlike the Seminole village they’d saved.  The regulators were always welcomed with open arms when visiting.   So, when Ezra returned from a trip past that place, they’d expected tales of overfilled tables, of impromptu festivals and friendly card games.  Nothing could have prepared them for the news when they greeted the gambler and found downcast eyes and the simple statement, “It’s gone.”

They’d surrounded him before he'd even been able to get off his horse, wanting to know what he’d seen.  Details came haltingly, as Ezra tried to redirect them to other topics, his eyes not finding them.   The defeated demeanor seemed foreign to the gambler.  It wasn’t like him at all.

Finally, after Chris’ voice grew sharp, Standish stated, “They took Roca Grande apart.  Nothing is left -- nothing.  They burned what would burn.  What couldn’t be set aflame was destroyed.  Hardly a stone has been left on stone.” He gritted his teeth and then intoned softly, “And not a soul survived.”

“Who?”  Chris demanded, clutching Chaucer’s bridle.  “Who did it?”

Ezra made a slight movement, as if to shrug, but instead lowered his head so that the brim of his hat hid his face.   “I suspect the people of Chesterville, the nearest town.  I'd gone through Chesterville..." he spat out he name,"... on the way to Roca Grande.  The citizens of that town made statements that I didn't understand at the time, but have since been able to understand."  And his eyes seemed even more distant.  "They were boastful, proud of something that they'd just accomplished and they laughed when heard where I was going."

Speaking still in that perplexed voice, Ezra stated,  "In Roca Grande, they left a message, decrying the lives led by those kind people.”  He sighed and shifted tiredly in his saddle, drawing his left arm close to his body.  “The message, scrawled on the only wall still standing, said that the peolpe of Roca Grande didn't deserve to live.”  He hunched and kept his head down.  “It said that they deserved what they got.”

Silence followed.  The six regulators stood stunned, unable to move as they tried to fathom what Ezra had said.

With awkward movements, Ezra swung himself from his saddle.  He landed with an undisguised grunt and patted his faithful mount, but didn’t give the animal the smile he used as reward. The tired horse was as lackluster as his rider and stood quietly.  Ezra started to lead the animal to the livery.

JD was the first to snap out of it, stepping forward.  “I’ll take care of Chaucer for ya,” the young sheriff promised earnestly, taking the reins.  “I’ll see to him.”

He received a nod from the gambler, and a softly voiced, “Thank you.”

Now that JD had come out of his astonishment, the others started moving – Chris leaned forward, ready to demand more answers.

Nathan moved before Larabee had a chance.  “Ezra, you’re comin’ with me,” he stated, grabbing hold of one of Standish’s elbows.  The fact that Ezra did nothing to resist him told the healer everything he needed to know.  Chris moved as if to block their path, but Jackson shot him a baleful look that stopped him.  Ezra was dead tired by the look of him.  He was ailing, too.  A blind man could see that Standish was hurt.

Nathan asked no questions as he led Ezra up the stairs.  He spoke softly, nonsense stuff about the stairs.  He talked about the last time he had to drag Buck to the clinic and the hardship they’d all faced in hauling Sanchez up on one occasion.  “I should think about movin’,” Jackson commented, his gaze on their feet as Ezra sluggishly climbed the stairs beside him, the toes of the gambler's elegant boot striking the boards more than once.  “Make sense t’get on the first floor somewhere.”  Usually such statements would get a reaction from Standish, a hearty agreement or questions regarding investment opportunities, but Ezra said nothing, allowing himself to be led.

Nathan threw a glance to the street once they reached the upper level, seeing the others departing.  Vin, Buck and Josiah were heading to their respective rooms or sleeping spaces, getting ready for a ride. JD was walking Chaucer toward the livery.   Chris still stood where he’d stopped Ezra in the street.

With a slow step, Nathan brought Ezra into the clinic and sat him down on the bed. Ezra's face was as blank as a slate. Funny how different he looks, Nathan thought.  Many claimed that the gambler had a poker face that revealed nothing, but Ezra’s regular ‘bland expression’ had nothing on what Nathan gazed on now.

If it wasn’t for his intense eyes, one might think that Ezra was feeling nothing at all.

Jackson stepped back and further regarded the silent man.  Standish held his arm to his chest, usually a sign that his shoulder had found the way out of its socket again.  Well, at least there was something Nathan could do something about that.

With a sigh, the healer put a kettle on the stove, knowing that some sort of tea would need to be brewed – maybe a poultice concocted, too, depending on what sort of damage was under that coat.

“Let’s get you out of that jacket, okay?” Nathan asked softly.  Not getting a response, he knelt down before his patient and carefully pulled back on the lapels.  He didn’t miss the wince that crossed Ezra’s features when he tugged the cloth over his shoulders.   The southerner did nothing to impede or help him, moving as Nathan moved him.  The shoulder harness and holster came next.  Jackson carefully unbuckled it and worked it off the gambler who hardly seemed to notice he was there.  “This’ll just take a minute,” Jackson said softly, being careful as he moved around Ezra’s shoulder.

“Do you remember Alejandro?” Ezra asked softly, startling the healer.  “Do you remember Nina?”

“Yes.  Yes, I do,” Nathan responded, as he set the harness and gun aside.  Alejandro and Nina were beautiful children who loved to sing and dance – joyful, fun-loving little kids.

“They were the first ones I found.  Down by the river.  Drowned.”

Nathan nodded, not wanting to think about it -- not wanting to imagine it.

“I thought it a horrible tragedy, an unfortunate accident, and brought them to their home.  I thought I’d be the one to break the dreadful news to their dear parents – but there was nothing there.  The adobe smashed to gravel.  Their parents -- vanished.”

Lotte and Pablo were fine parents, who doted on their children – would do anything for them. Nathan clearly remembered Lotte’s smile and her bright skirts.  Pablo was always ready to help them with anything – he was a fine horseman who delighted in caring for animals.

“I found them later, Seńor and Seńora Ruiz, in the village square.  Executed against the wall… with the others.”

Nathan worked at unbuttoning Ezra’s shirt, listening to him, but not wanting to hear it.

“Most of the townspeople were there.  Heaped together… or alone.  Someone might have thought they’d fallen asleep – a siesta.”  The word was drawn out, spoken in the same inflection-free voice.  “They’d been shot down like dogs.”

The healer bit his lip, recalling the people of the town.  Familiar faces came to him, smiling, warm, welcoming faces – how could they be gone?

“Hang on now,” Jackson stated and continued is work.  When he pulled back the shirt, Ezra didn’t wince – he was too far away to notice such things.  Now, with a clear look at matters, Nathan could see that the shoulder wasn’t dislocated, but something else was amiss.  “Looks like you broke your collarbone, Ezra.  Got yourself bruised up a bit, too.”

“It’s nothing.”

Raising his dark eyes, Nathan asked, “Care to tell me how that happened?”

“An unfortunate accident,” was Ezra’s reply.

With a practiced hand, Nathan felt along the break.  It had to be damn painful to ride all the way home with that.  No wonder Ezra was so distracted – shock of discovery, pain of injury, and the dreadful weariness that was evident in his face -- Ezra was hardly able to stay upright.

Ezra continued, not noticing what Nathan was doing, “I had to cut Maurice Keplar from a tree.  They’d hung all the Negroes…Abel, Dewey, and Maurice… all in a row,” he said tonelessly.  “I’d tried to be careful, but I’d mismanaged Mr. Keplar.  I wanted to ensure he met the ground gently, but he was heavier than I suspected.”

Nathan closed his eyes, understanding how the break must have occurred. I don't want to think about it right now, he told himself.

Ezra continued, his voice sounding lost and quiet.  “I’m afraid I wasn’t as gentle as I’d cared to be.  He deserved better.  Maurice’s wife… his wife…" He trailed off, his voice catching.  “The things they must have done to her…  I tried to ... to make her neat and proper...”

Nathan kept his face still as he listened.  Good God, what the hell happened in Roca Grande? He kept his attention on Ezra, trying to find out if anything else was wrong with him.  His shoulder was badly bruised from where he’d probably hit the ground, trying to bring Maurice Keplar down as carefully as possible.  Ezra was pale, but there seemed to be nothing else wrong with him – nothing physical at least.

Nathan patted the southerner on the knee and stated, “I’m gonna get a sling.  You’ll need to keep that arm still, Ezra so that the collar bone won't move.”

Ezra nodded a fraction, not seeming to really hear.  “I brought them to where the church once stood – a blackened hole now.  They deserved to be interned on sacred ground.”

As he walked back with an adequate cloth, Nathan shook his head, knowing that Ezra must have moved those people with that broken bone grinding all the way.  Damn fool!  He drew in a calming breath and suggested, "I’ll need you to get some rest.”  Nathan knew from experience that there’d be no natural rest for the gambler.  He’d have to slip a little something into his tea.  Ezra was passive now, out of sorts, but Nathan had little doubt that his demeanor would change once he'd slept.

“There is no rest for the wicked,” Ezra murmured.

Nathan sighed, expecting such a response.  First, he helped Ezra back into his shirt, and then fixed the sling around Ezra’s neck and settled the arm into it.  Holding the arm to keep the weight off his neck, Nathan tied the sling around his waist, to keep the burden off Ezra’s shoulders.

As Nathan leaned close to Standish, tying off a knot, Ezra’s head suddenly pivoted and his vivid green eyes finally met Nathan’s deep ones.

“Why?”  Ezra gasped.

“I gotta get this set up right, Ezra,” Nathan explained patiently. “Make sure the bone don't get moved, so it sets right.”

Ezra shook his head and squeezed his eyes shut.  “Nathan, please.”

With that plea, Nathan sat back on his haunches and looked up at his patient.  “What is it, Ezra?”

“What’s wrong with people?”  The question wasn’t given time for an answer as Ezra continued, “I’ve lived a long enough life,” Ezra started, glancing about as if hunted… or haunted.  “I’ve seen plenty. I've studied and exploited the worst attributes of man.  I’ve been through a war for Christ’s sake!” His voice broke and he brought his free hand to his face for a moment before dropping it.  “…for Christ’s sake!" he repeated, blinking his eyes and lowering his gaze again.

“I know,” Nathan said, because he couldn’t think of what else to say.

“I’ve seen things you can’t imagine.  I’ve done things you wouldn’t want to know.  I’ve been…" His face twisted in a grimace.  “I’ve been a bad man, Nathan.  I’ve done unconscionable things.”

Nathan watched his friend carefully, not moving from his uncomfortable squatting position.  “I’ve done things, too, Ezra.  Things I’d rather not own up to.”

Ezra smiled without humor.  “Oh, nothing to match me, Mr. Jackson.  Let me assure you.  You are a moral and upright man,” he commented.  “But, I’m certain you’ve seen plenty of evil.”  He gestured behind the healer.  “Your back is a testament to that.  Slavery was an issue that I had witnessed at close hand, but never as close as you – never as close as Abel or Dewey or Mr. Keplar.  You know that I have not always been fair to you.  I have my prejudices."  Standish paused, licked his lips and stated, "But I have seen things…  The manner in which the white masters treated their black brethren seemed….  Even at an early age, I found it repugnant…" His voice trailed off as the false smile turned into a toothy grimace.

“Yeah, that’s a word for it,” Nathan sighed.

Tiredly Ezra closed his eyes and whispered hoarsely, "How could they? How could they do that?”

“I don’t know, Ezra.”

“Women and children!”

“I don’t know.”

"Those bastards.  Those sons of bitches."

Nathan saw the anger flare on Ezra's face.  Yeah, Jackson figured he'd have trouble keeping Ezra from heading off to Chesterville once he'd gotten some rest -- once he'd snapped out of this bewildered state.  Let him get his feet under him again, and dire consequences would be felt in Chesterville. He said a quick prayer of thanks that Ezra had come back to Four Corners -- to get help -- instead of charging to that town alone.

“Mr. Keplar.  Christ Almighty, Nathan.  Maurice Keplar was the gentlest man I’d ever known!  He treated Berta as if she were made of china, as if she were the most precious thing on the planet.  He was intelligent and a good man… an asset to the community. Everyone in Roca Grande knew that!  His children… Good God, Nathan, his children…”  And Ezra cut off again, horrified.

Realizing that Ezra would never tell him everything that he’d seen, and might never say what happened to those mixed-blood children, Nathan said, “I don’t know, Ezra.  I just don’t know how they can do things like that.”

Nathan worked at the collarbone, ensuring that it was lined up properly and would heal correctly.  As his thumbs pressed against the bone, he knew it must hurt like hell.  He might have been working on dead flesh for all the response Ezra gave him.  Nathan didn’t have any words to offer Ezra.  If he thought too hard about it, the black healer knew he’d fly into a rage.  He bit his lip, to quell that emotion, to keep himself in check.

He kept himself from picturing what Ezra described. Later there’d be time to react to the terrible deeds.  Right now, he had other responsibilities.

“Help me understand, Nathan.  Explain it to me.”   Ezra gestured with his free hand.

The childlike question was nearly too much for Jackson.

Ezra continued, "How is it that people can perpetrate such tragedy?"

The former slave looked back at the southerner and sighed.  “There is Evil and there’s Good,” Nathan tried to explain.

Ezra made a face.  "Lord, is that all you can say on the matter?"

Jackson paused, trying to draw his thoughts together.

Ezra charged on.  "I've done plenty of what could be deemed 'evil'."

"Not like that," Nathan said resolutely.

"You don't know."

"I do," Nathan responded.  He stood, stiffly.  Satisfied that the bone was in a good position, he patted Ezra on the knee again, and then walked to his desk to mix up something that might ease his friend’s pain.  The physical pain he might be able to lessen – sleep might help with the emotional.

“I just don’t understand why I should even care,” Ezra said softly.  “I’ve lived my whole life learning to avoid caring about such things.” Some of the flatness left his voice as Ezra tried to cajole himself back to his normal way of looking at things.  ‘To feel nothing.”

“It ain’t wrong to care about another person, Ezra,” Nathan said, pulling bits of this and pieces of that into his mortar.

“It makes my life easier if I don't,” Ezra said petulantly.  He blinked his eyes slowly and sighed, his exhaustion showing.  “I shouldn’t even have noticed them.  The people of Roca Grande could do nothing to benefit me.  There was no chance of monetary gain.  Why should I care?”

Figure that’s the way he’s lived his whole life, Nathan thought as he started grinding the herbs together.  He glanced back to his friend, seeing the blank look again, that tried to hide his horrible sorrow.  Only his vivid, expressive eyes dared to show the turmoil that seethed inside the gambler.

“Fact that you care means a lot,”  Nathan stated as he worked.  With a practiced maneuver, Nathan dropped the contents of the mortar into a cup, added the boiling water, and came back to Ezra.  Slowly, and distinctly, he said, “You’re a good man, Ezra.  It don’t make you any less of a man to express it.”

Ezra snorted angrily, his gaze still diverted.  “It’s too late for me,” he stated blandly.

Nathan reiterated, “You are a good man, Ezra.”  He knew that Ezra wasn't going to listen to him… not right now.  Maybe later he'd get the stubborn man to understand him.  "I know it, Ezra.  Nothing would make me doubt it.  It’s as sure as the nose on my face."

Shaking his head sharply, Ezra winced again as he strained the broken bone.  “I just wish I could wake up and find that all of this was a dream.”  He let out a slow breath.  “Perhaps it is.”  His lips twitched into the shadow of a smile.  “Perhaps this part is the dream.  I can’t understand how I could be so affected by something that doesn’t even touch me.”  The gambler rubbed his aching collar and closed his eyes.  “Sometimes I feel as if my whole life is a dream and I am only wandering through it, waiting to awaken.  I've been wandering through a nothingness all my life.”  He rubbed harder, his voice even quieter as he stated, “I feel so empty sometimes.”

This was going to take a while, Nathan decided.  Gently, he took Ezra’s hand away from the break.  "You are nothing like those men," he said distinctly.  He met Ezra’s bleak, troubled eyes and pressed the mug into the hand.  “Nothing."  He waited, wishing that he could see the words sink in.  Ezra blinked first.

After drawing in a breath, Nathan said, "Ezra, I need you to sit tight.  I gotta go talk to Chris and the others.  I'll be back.   Drink this down, okay?”

Ezra’s gaze dipped to the mug and he nodded.

“I’ll be right back,” the healer promised.  “Wait for me.  We’ll talk.”

Again, all Ezra could do was nod, clutching the mug with one hand.

Sighing again, Nathan noted Ezra’s unusual passive demeanor.  Yeah, this was going to take a while.  He stood, picked up his medical bag and walked to the door.

It was no surprise to find Chris and Vin waiting on the balcony.  JD, Buck and Josiah all crowded near the bottom of the stairway, holding the reins of six horses – ready to get underway.  Beyond them, other townspeople were mounted and packed.  It surprised the dark healer, seeing the posse that had formed – not only the peacekeepers of the town – a dozen other men had joined them -- white men and black men together, willing to join up and seek justice for the terrible wrong.

“Well?” Chris started.

“Hell of a thing,” Nathan whispered, shaking his head.  His hands clenched at his sides.

“Find out anything from him?” Larabee continued.

The healer let out a slow breath.  Yeah, he’d heard plenty. Not much that would be of use to the others though.  “Everyone in Roca Grande is dead.  They destroyed the whole town, Chris.  They left nothing.  Men, women and children. Killed them because of the Keplars.  They drown some of the children.  Hung Maurice, Abel and Dewey.  Shot the rest.  Other things. too...”

“Best be goin’,” Vin said abruptly, watching the emotions that played on Jackson’s face.

“You plannin’ on bringing them back alive?” Nathan asked cautiously.

Chris narrowed his eyes and stated, “If they come peacefully.”

"They'll pay," Vin assured.

Nathan nodded.  He hoped they got it done before Ezra got the notion to take that trip to Chesterville -- no sense adding to that man's burden.

Vin nodded to the clinic door.  “How’s he doin’?”

“Broke his collarbone,” Nathan responded.  “Bruised up a bit.  He’ll be all right.  Needs t’sleep.”

“You ready to ride?” Larabee asked.

Nathan shook his head.  “Gonna stay put.  Figure I’ll stick near Ezra for a while.”  He extended the medical bag to Chris.  "Give this to Josiah.  He can take care of things."

Chris’ head shot up as his hand closed on the bag.  “He bad off?  Gonna need some doctoring?”  Larabee turned toward the door, ready to go check on their seventh – make sure that he was okay.

Nathan held up a hand to halt him. “No.  He just needs a friend right now.  Looks like you got enough hands to take care of things.  Josiah and Vin know how to patch up someone good enough if something goes wrong.  Right now, I figure this is where I gotta be.”

Chris nodded.  Vin tugged at the brim of his hat, and the two descended the stairs to meet up with the others.  They mounted and were gone within a matter of minutes.

With a sigh, Nathan walked down the stairs to retrieve his horse -- to bring Badger back to the livery.  The long-legged bay waited at the hitching post, looking confused at the change in plans.  The healer patted the patient horse and undid the reins.  The minutes it took to bring the horse back would be put to good use, as Nathan tried to figure out what he would do with Ezra.

I can do something, he thought.  Help him get some sleep.  Wake him up if needed. Figure I can  be around, be someone he can talk to.  He likes to talk.  Don’t know what I can possibly say to him.  I got nothing to say.

Might never really know what happened in Roca Grande.  Won’t know everything about what he saw there.  Figure it wouldn’t hurt to listen though.  Listen to anything he has to say.  Might just sit around and do nothing.

I’ll help him any way I can.


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