Coercion - Part Ten

Ezra Standish was, for once, utterly silent. He stood beside the narrow bed and watched--no, stared at the big man who lay face down, a gaping wound in his massive back.

Dear God, the gambler prayed silently. His eyes filled as he realized that praying would not have occurred to him were it not for this man . . . his friend. Josiah had not moved, nor had he made a sound since being shot. He just lay there, most certainly dying.

Ezra felt lost and he couldn't tell why. He remembered what it had been like when the group had been divided -- when JD had been hurt so badly. He'd felt anger then--anger like he'd never known before. He worried for his friends. But he had not felt lost.

Perhaps it was because Josiah had been a steadying presence. Josiah had ministered to Ezra in a conversation about beef jerky, and Ezra, ever perceptive at the poker table, hadn't even realized Josiah was keeping him steady. Somehow Josiah had anchored them all even when they were separated.

Josiah had become Ezra's quiet conscience. He was not of the "fire and brimstone" ilk, but he was simply a . . . conduit . . . for a greater good.

Ezra felt the tears spill over. He felt truly alone.

And yet he prayed. Why? If he were so alone, why pray? Maybe because it meant something to Josiah.

Or maybe he wasn't alone after all.


"Chris . . ." Buck clutched at his friend's shirt. "They got . . .Vin." Buck's hand trembled and he squeezed his eyes closed against a new wave of pain.

"Easy, pard," Chris breathed, trying to assess his friend's injuries. Buck seemed oblivious.

"You gotta . . ." A heavy cough interrupted Buck's thought. It was a bloody cough. Chris felt a hand clutch his shoulder.

"What do we do?" JD's soft voice asked.

"Turn his head to the side," Chris directed, and JD sat cross-legged beside Buck and eased his hands under his friend's head. He gently turned Buck's head, and the blood started to dribble from the corner of his mouth. JD turned terrified eyes to Chris, but Chris turned hard ones back to the boy. No time for emotion. No time.

But Chris felt like part of his own soul was dying.

Buck was trembling and his chest was rattling with fluid. The big man started to speak, but he coughed again.

"Easy there, Buck," JD said. Chris knew the kid was struggling to keep his voice steady for all their sakes.

What finally shook Chris was seeing the big seasoned gunfighter weep with his own frustration. He wanted to communicate so badly. JD cradled Buck's upper body in his lap.

"Go . . . home . . . boy." Buck worked for every sound and he cut his eyes up at JD.

"Don't talk, Buck," Chris said sharply. He was answered with another bloody cough--this one almost choking him to death.

Chris worked feverishly keeping pressure on the big chest wound. He grabbed one of JD's hands and had the kid press.

". . . with all your might, JD . . ." Chris said softly.

JD nodded, but said nothing. He grasped the torn rags from Chris and pressed the heels of his hands into Buck's chest. Buck cried out.

"I'm hurting him," JD said.

"You're helping him. Those other bastards hurt him." Chris was completely preoccupied with Buck's condition. He would kill the ones who did this.

JD did everything Chris told him to without further comment. Chris left for a moment to get some firewood so he could start a fire and heat some water. Obviously a better job for the kid, but he'd waste time trying to explain to JD the exact kind of wood he needed.

As soon as Chris stepped into the wood, he doubled over and retched. How in the hell could he help his men? How could he save Buck and rescue Vin and keep Jacob Chiles from trying to kill the kid again?


And he'd left Four Corners without enough protection . . . but what else was there to do? Surely Nathan and Josiah and Ezra could manage things at home. They'd have to.


Nathan Jackson would have given anything for a real doctor at that moment. He'd never saved anyone who was injured like Josiah was. He felt like he'd be a lot more help out there with Chris and JD looking for Vin and Buck.

But Buck was probably dead by now.

Nathan felt his chest get tight. He couldn't have helped Buck just like he couldn't help Josiah.

"What do we do, Nathan?"

The healer heard the voice but the question didn't quite register with him.



He felt a strong hand grasp his shoulder and he looked back into the pained eyes of Ezra Standish.

"What do we do?" Ezra repeated gently. Nathan looked down at Josiah.

"I . . . don't know. I really don't know."

"Have you found the bullet?"

"I haven't looked." Nathan felt Ezra squeeze his shoulder again.

"Why not?"

"I could puncture his lung. I could hit his spine. I could . . . kill him."

Ezra turned Nathan toward him and put a hand on each of the healer's shoulders. "He's dying now, Nathan. He'll surely die if you don't try something."

It was strange, Nathan thought, but Ezra Standish had almost assumed a calming presence. Nathan listened to the gambler . . . the gambler who claimed "not to leave anything to chance".

Ezra's voice was lilting and soothing. "If the bullet weren't in such a precarious place, what would you do first?"

Nathan bit his lip for a moment, and answered as if by rote. "Clean it up so I could see what I'm dealing with."

Ezra rolled up his sleeves. "Let's do that. What do you need?"


The more he thought about it, the angrier he got. How could they possibly think that killing Buck Wilmington would get Chris Larabee to do anything?

And what was Jacob Chiles doing out here?

Vin would do something if he didn't hurt so damn much.

Aw, Buck, I'm sorry. I'm so sorry.

Trussed and blindfolded, Vin tried to figure out where he was and how badly he was hurt.

And who the hell was the guy that had helped him? Was it even remotely possible that he had an ally in the camp? Before he even had a chance to really think on it, he felt a jostling inside the wagon and a person leaning close to his ear.

Let this be the ally . . .


JD kept steady pressure on Buck's chest, just as he'd been instructed.

"I know it hurts, Buck, but we gotta keep you from bleeding to death."

Buck tried to talk again.

"I know. You're trying to say, 'Go home, kid'. You don't even have to talk. I know what you're gonna say before you even say it."

JD shifted his weight so he could maintain the intensity against the wound. "You've been talking some, Buck. I've been listening. Chris has, too."

Again, Buck opened his mouth to speak, but squeezed his eyes closed and cried out again.

"It's ok, Buck. You're gonna be ok." JD wished he could believe that, but he had to convince Buck that he did. "I know you're hurtin'."

JD kept one hand on the chest wound, and grabbed Buck's hand with the other. "Hold on to me, Buck."

The big gunman opened his eyes and met JD's. JD couldn't remember seeing tears roll down his friend's cheek, but he knew he'd never tell. "Let it go, Buck. I won't tell. I know you're worried for Vin."

Buck grit his teeth against all the pain he was feeling. "I know you're worried for me, too. But I swear, I'll do whatever Chris tells me to."

JD felt Buck squeeze his hand. JD kept talking. "I know they've got Vin, and I know they're setting a bait for Chris. They want him to do something . . . break somebody out of jail or something--at least that's what he figures."

Buck nodded slightly.

"You gotta trust Chris, Buck. You gotta trust him. He's never gotten into a situation he ain't gotten out of. Besides, if they want him to do something, they have to keep him alive. And if Vin is the bait, they have to keep Vin alive, too. So just let that all go, Buck."

JD grinned. "And for God's sake, don't sing anymore."


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