azombiewrites: (The Magnificent Seven)
[personal profile] azombiewrites
Title: 'Look to your left, Mr. Larabee'
Rating: PG
Fandom: The Magnificent Seven
Genre: Hurt/Comfort
Summary: After Ezra is injured his behaviour becomes ... slightly unhinged.
Main Characters: Ezra, Chris and the rest of the seven
Disclaimers: The guys are owned by CBS, MGM, Trilogy Entertainment Group, and The Mirisch Corp.
Beta: Not betaed
Spoilers: None.
Word Count: 5,727




Look to your left, Mr. Larabee



"You Sir, are an uncivilized vagabond who has the mannerisms of a swine, and quite honestly . . . you smell."

The man who had accidentally spilt the gambler's drink stood to his full height and glared down at the smaller man in front of him. "Did you just insult me?"

Ezra wiped his hands with his handkerchief and smiled. "I'm sorry, but I didn't think you could be insulted."

"I can be, and I am."

"Sir, even a man with your limited intelligence should be--"

"You're calling me Sir, and insulting me at the same time?"

"One must be a gentleman at all times."

"You're not a gentleman, you're a good-for-nuthin'-two-bit gambler . . . you're also . . . short and ugly." The man, best known to his friends as Jethro Jeffs, folded his arms across his wide chest and waited for a response. He didn't get one.

The gambler stared back at him and said nothing. Leroy Jeffs grimaced and resorted to what he knew best - physical violence. He hit Ezra Standish.

-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-

"I'm tellin' ya, that gambler man started it," Jeffs repeated for the fourth time. Why wouldn't this man believe him? He was an upstanding citizen who obeyed the law. He respected his father – whoever he was – and loved his mother.

The man he hit was a gambler, and it was a known fact that all gamblers were liars and cheats. Jeffs didn't doubt for one moment that the gambler would lie to his own sainted mother.

"The man insulted you, so you hit him?" Chris Larabee nodded in understanding. He himself had lost count of the amount of times he'd wanted to hit Standish, especially when the man went out of his way to speak a different type of language than everyone else. Sure, he spoke the English language, but they didn't always understand the words that tumbled out of his mouth and it frustrated not only Larabee but also the rest of the lawmen in Four Corners. He knew they had their moments when they wanted to hit Standish - they still did. Chris almost smiled when he remembered the day that Josiah had hit the Southerner. The surprise on Ezra's face had been priceless.

"Skinny ugly runt had it comin'."

The happy memory fled Chris's mind and he tightened his grip on the cell bars. His knuckles turned white. He wanted to do more than hit the man sitting in front of him; he wanted to kill him for what he had done to his friend.

"So you kicked him when he was down?"

"What else was I supposed to do? The asshole wouldn't get back up."

"He was unconscious, he couldn't get back up!"

"Glass jaw," Jeffs smiled at Larabee.

"Why did you kick him in the head?"

Jeffs shrugged then said, "I was aiming for his stomach . . . guess I missed."

"You missed . . ."

"I missed." Jeffs stood up and moved closer to the bars that separated him from the angry form before him. "Can I get out of here now? I mean, I didn't start the fight. That gambler did."

Chris smiled. "That gambler is one of the town's seven lawmen. He's also a friend of mine."

"So, what you're sayin' is, you believe him over me."

"He hasn't said anything," Chris banged his fist against the bars, "he hasn't woken up yet!"

"O . . . kay." Jeffs took a step backwards. "That means if he doesn't wake up, it's my word against . . . no one's. You'll have to let me go."

"If he doesn't wake up . . . you're a dead man." Chris tipped his hat, turned his back on the prisoner and walked out of the building.

-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-

Nathan dropped the clean rag into the bowl of water that sat on the unsteady table next to the bed. He left it to soak in the cool liquid for a couple of minutes then lifted it up and squeezed out the excess water. He carefully laid the damp cloth over the large purple bruise that adorned the left side of Ezra's forehead. Nathan sighed, letting out the frustration he felt. The healer wasn't sure what to do for his friend. Standish hadn't made any sort of movement since the injury had occurred and Nathan was becoming more worried with each passing moment.

"Don't know what you were thinking, Ezra. What were you doing? Going up against a man who's at least two feet taller than you was a stupid thing to do, even for you."

Josiah laughed. "Two feet? That would make the guy . . . what, at least eight feet tall."

"May as well have been." Nathan pulled the thin blanket up closer to Ezra's chin and tucked it under his shoulders. "Took Ezra out with a single punch."

"Wonder what Ezra said to him?"

"Don't matter what Ezra said. The man didn't have to kick him the way he did."

Neither man looked up when the door to the clinic opened. Chris Larabee's silhouette stood in the doorway and blocked out the afternoon sun. It was hot outside and the heat was beginning to seep through the open doorway into the clinic. Chris closed the door, shutting the heat out.

"He wake up yet?"

"No, and I don't think he will. Not for a while anyway." Nathan stared down at his hands wishing that he could do something more with them to help the Southerner.

Chris walked into the room and stopped when he reached the end of the bed. His green eyes took in every detail of Standish's appearance. A purple bruise spread out from beneath the white rag that covered part of Ezra's pale face. A light sheen of sweat wrapped his features, plastering his hair to his scalp. The sound of Ezra's ragged breathing through partially opened lips was loud in the quiet room. His chest hitched with every breath.

"You think he'll be okay, Nathan?"

"Can't say Chris, I'm not a doctor."

"Better than any doctor I know," Chris retorted.

A smile pulled at Nathan's lips. "Must not know many doctors then."

"I'm sure you've done all you can for him."

"Not much I can do, except wait for him to wake up." Nathan removed the cloth from Ezra's forehead, revealing the darkening bruise to Larabee, and put it back into the bowl of water. He repeated the process of squeezing out the cloth and placing it back on his patient's injury.

"What did the prisoner have to say for himself?" Josiah asked Chris.

"Said Ezra insulted him."

"Uh huh . . . must have been some insult."

"The guy thinks Ezra called him a stinkin' pig."

Josiah laughed at the image that appeared in his mind. "I'm sure he was very polite when he said it."

"That mouth of his is going to be the death of him one day." Nathan shook his head. "I should sew his mouth shut, might save his life if I did."

"Let's hope that it's not today." Josiah patted Ezra's hand then relaxed back into his chair to wait.

-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-

"To your left, Mr. Larabee."

Vin glanced towards the man in the bed when he heard the Southern drawl. The face he looked into grimaced in pain, rolled to the right, and then relaxed. Vin smiled up at Chris, his smile growing when he saw the gunslinger's posture relax. He let his own tension flow from his body.

For two days, the six men had spent their spare time sitting with Ezra, each man finding his own position in the clinic. Nathan, Josiah, Buck and Vin had sat in chairs next to the bed. JD, for some unknown reason, had preferred to sit on the mattress, while Chris made the foot of the bed his permanent position. Larabee had silently hoped that Ezra would wake up to see him standing over him in a protective stance. He wanted his friend to feel safe when he woke up.

Chris and Vin waited silently and patiently for Ezra to fully wake. It took another hour for the green eyes to appear behind hooded eyelids.

"Aw hell, is that a crow standing at the foot of my bed? And why is it wearing a hat?" Ezra tried to focus his eyes on the image in front of him but all he managed to do was make it worse. He closed his eyes, blinding himself to the vision of one of Josiah's crows. He wasn't ready to die.

"Ezra . . . that's Chris," Vin informed him. "And I don't think he likes being called a crow."

"Wizened old crow." Ezra's smile quickly turned into a frown. "Your left, Mr. Larabee. Look to your left."

Chris did look to his left but all he saw was the South wall of the clinic. "Ain't anything there but a wall, Ezra?"

"Not now, you dim-witted fool."

"I think he just called you an idiot, cowboy." A mischievous glint appeared in the tracker's eyes.

"And you just called me . . . cowboy." Chris snarled back at the tracker.

"I'll go and get Nathan." Vin yelled out over his shoulder as he ran from the room.

"You do that Mr. Tanner, and while you're at it, please remove this," Ezra lifted his hand and waved it in the direction of what he thought was a crow, "beastly specimen from the room."

"I notice the blow to your head hasn't affected your speech."

Ezra forced his eyes opened again and smiled when the distorted image of the crow changed into Chris Larabee

"Ahh . . . Mr. Larabee, . . . with all that dark clothing you resemble one of Josiah's crows."

"Really?"

"Death walks amongst us, and his name is Archibald Higgabottom."

"You're not making any sense, Ezra." Chris stepped around the bed, sat in Vin's vacated chair and rested his elbows on his knees.

"Chris, when the time comes . . . look to your left. There's danger to your left."

"What the hell are you talking about, Ezra?"

"I feel the need to quench my thirst." Ezra searched the room for something, anything that would help to ease his dry throat.

"Damn . . . sorry, Ezra." Chris reached over and picked up a cup filled with water. It had been sitting on the table waiting for Ezra to wake up. "Here." He helped Ezra to sit up then held the cup to Ezra's lips and smiled when the gambler emptied the cup.

"I was hoping for something a bit stronger."

"I'll sneak you up something later when Nathan's not looking." Chris laid Ezra back down into the bed and pulled the covers back up over his chilled body.

"Thank you Chris, I would appreciate it . . . and I won't even inform Nathan of your treachery."

"So, what did you say to that guy that made him hit you?"

"Someone hit me?"

"You don't remember?"

"The only thing I remember is . . . that you have to look to your left."

"Why?"

"There's danger to your left." Ezra yawned and closed his eyes. "When the time comes . . . look to your left."

"Damn it Ezra, what the hell does my left have to do with anything and who the hell is Archibald Higgabottom?"

Chris wanted to shake an answer out of the gambler.

He didn't get the chance. Standish had fallen asleep

-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-

Look to your left, Mr. Larabee. Look to your left, Mr. Larabee. Death walks amongst us, and his name is Archibald Higgabottom. Look to your left, Mr. Larabee. Look to your left, Mr. Larabee. Look to your left, Mr. Larabee. Look to your left, Mr. Larabee. Death walks amongst us, and his name is Archibald Higgabottom. Look to your left, Mr. Larabee. Look to your left, Mr. Larabee.

Ezra frowned, his eyebrows drawing together, as the mantra continued to repeat itself within the boundaries of his confused mind. The words caused the throbbing pain in his skull to grow, each word beating in rhythm with the pain like a chaotic melody of music. The frown quickly became a grimace of pain. He wrapped the blanket that covered his body in his hands, pulling it down to reveal a pale, sweat covered chest. Ezra turned his head and pushed it further into the pillow.

Look to your left, Mr. Larabee. Look to your left, Mr. Larabee. Look to your left, Mr. Larabee. Look to your left, Mr. Larabee. Death walks amongst us, and his name is Archibald Higgabottom. Look to your left, Mr. Larabee. Look to your left, Mr. Larabee. Look to your left, Mr. Larabee. Look to your left, Mr. Larabee. Look to your left, Mr. Larabee. Death walks amongst us, and his name is Archibald Higgabottom. Look to your left, Mr. Larabee.

He wanted it to stop.

Look to your left, Mr. Larabee. Look to your left, Mr. Larabee. Look to--.

"Will you please refrain from speaking such foolhardy nonsense. You are an incompetent know-it-all who knows absolutely nothing about anything!"

"You talkin' to me, Ezra?"

Ezra opened his eyes at the sound of Chris Larabee's voice but it was a different figure that appeared in front of him: A very blurred Nathan Jackson swam around the edges of his vision.

"Nathan, I assure you, I am perfectly fine." Ezra pressed his body further into the mattress and searched the room for a means of escape. Josiah Sanchez was sitting in a chair on the right side of the bed. Ezra glared at the preacher knowing that the man wouldn't help him to escape his offensive predicament. To his left sat Vin Tanner. Ezra smiled. Vin would help him.

"Vin?" Ezra blinked the man into focus then smiled at his friend. "Would you please use your skills to aid me in my escape from the administrations of our less than capable healer?"

Nathan frowned at the insult, and then ignored it after deciding that the head injury had caused the gambler to speak against him.

"I would help you Ezra, but I might need Nathan's . . . administrations . . . sometime in the future." Vin winked at Ezra. "Wouldn't want him leavin' me to bleed to death in the middle of the street, now would I."

"Barbarian." Ezra noticed the dark figure at the foot of the bed. He lifted himself up onto his right elbow, his breath catching in his throat when a sudden bout of dizziness assaulted him. When it passed he indicated to Nathan to come closer to him. "Mr. Jackson, there is a crow standing at the foot of my bed."

"Ain't a crow, Ezra." Sadness filled Nathan Jackson's features. "That's Chris."

"Ah . . . no, if I may correct you, and I will," Ezra smiled and ran his tongue over his bottom lip. "It's a crow and its name is Archibald Higgabottom."

"Ezra!"

Ezra dropped his elbow, allowing himself to fall back down into the pillows and looked up at the crow. "It speaks."
Chris leaned over the end of the bed and grabbed Ezra's foot. The result was a yelp of surprise from the gambler.

He let go when Ezra tried to kick him with his other foot.

"Ezra, I'm not a crow. I just dress like one."

"Then perhaps you should change into a more colorful shirt before someone shoots you!" Look to your left, Mr. Larabee. Death walks amongst us, and his name is Archibald Higgabottom. "Chris . . . you need to look to your left."

"We went through this already Ezra," Chris told him. "I looked to my left and there was nothin' there . . . that's when you called me an idiot."

Ezra's mouth dropped open. He would never call Chris an idiot, not to his face anyway. He closed his mouth and defended himself, "I most certainly did not! I called you a dim-witted fool because you looked to your left."

"You told me to look to my left." Chris realized that this was one of those times where he would normally want to hit the Southerner.

"I didn't mean at that exact moment, Mr. Larabee."

"Then when?"

"When death appears. He walks amongst us, Chris . . . and his name is Archibald--"

"I know . . . Higgabottom," Chris said. "Archibald Higgabottom."

"You know this Archibald Higgabottom?" Ezra asked him.

Chris let his breath out slowly. "You told me his name, Ezra. I don't know who Archibald Higgabottom is."

"What sort of name is Archibald Higgabottom, anyway?" Vin questioned Ezra.

"A very disturbing one." Josiah was watching Ezra very carefully. "I believe our young friend is seeing my crows."

"Only one, Josiah, and he is standing at the end of my bed."

"Josiah," Nathan stood up but refused to take his eyes off Ezra. "Can you sit with him for a while? I need to speak to Chris and the others."

Josiah nodded and pulled his chair closer to the bed. "Of course, take all the time you need."

"And get him to drink some of that tea I made, it'll help with the pain."

It was a few seconds before Nathan could pull his gaze away from Ezra's bloodshot eyes. He nodded slowly and left the room with Chris following him. Vin started to stand up but Ezra reached over and grabbed his wrist forcing him back down into the chair. The grip was strong and he winced at the unexpected pain.

"Please Vin. Make sure he looks to his left."

"Don't worry, Ezra. I will."

Ezra wasn't satisfied with Vin's answer but he let go of the tracker's arm, leaving him to follow the others out of the clinic.

"Look to your left, Chris," Ezra whispered. "Look to your left."

-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-

Five men sat around a table in the furthest corner of the saloon. Its shadows hid the concern written on their faces and in their body language. Dust mites danced in the sunlight that filtered into the room through the windows and a light wind caused tornadoes of dust to roam the saloon's floor. A soft murmur of voices filled the room; the townsfolk, knowing that something was wrong, didn't want to disturb the men encased in a circle of despair.

"There's something wrong with him," Nathan tapped his head with a finger. "Up here, there's something wrong. That man must have done some damage."

"You sayin' that Ezra's crazy?" JD couldn't believe that someone who was so intelligent was now a babbling idiot.

"He's not talking sense, JD." Nathan ran his finger around the rim of the shot glass. He refused to drink the amber liquid that filled it; he needed a clear head so he could take better care of Ezra.

"What's going to happen to him?" Buck asked.

"Either we take care of him ourselves, or we send him somewhere."

"Send him where?"

"A crazy house," Chris growled at the healer. "You want to send Ezra Standish, to a crazy house!"

"Not if we take care of him, Chris."

"We'll take care of him . . . all of us," Chris said, "I'm not sending a man like Ezra to a crazy house. He wouldn't cope. He'd die in a place like that."

"What if it's just temporary," Vin shrugged when his friends looked at him. "He's only woken up twice. Maybe he just needs some more time for his scrambled brains to sort themselves out."

"Maybe," Nathan agreed with him. "But you need to know that he may not be right in the head anymore. I mean . . . he thinks Chris is a crow, and he keeps tellin' him to look to his left."

"Don't forget Archibald Higgabottom." Chris reminded him.

"Crows? Archibald Higga-what?" JD was hearing about Ezra's ramblings for the first time. "Why does he want you to look to your left?"

"Don't know, JD." Chris emptied his drink then poured himself another. "Don't think Ezra even knows what he's talkin' about."

"People are going to pity him," Buck said.

"Not us," Vin snapped at him. "It'll crush him if we pity him."

"Didn't say that I would, Vin."

Vin lowered his head in defeat. "I know Buck, I'm sorry . . . I just--"

"Chris Larabee."

Chris looked up, stared at the stranger who had dared to interrupt their private conversation, and grimaced at the sight before him. The man was short, fat and very ugly. Dirt covered the clothes that were too small for his over indulged body. Beady little eyes that were shaded by a hat very similar to JD's, sat above a tightly pinched nose. Thin lips slashed an unpleasant line across the bottom half of his face and a scattering of freckles covered the pale features. Only a mother could love this face.

"You best leave now Mister, before I throw you out on your ass!" Chris warned him.

"I'm callin' you out, Larabee."

JD choked on his beer. Buck laughed and Vin smiled. Nathan didn't really care; he was too busy thinking about what was going to happen to Ezra Standish to be concerned about a man who was stupid enough to call out Chris Larabee.

"Excuse me?"

"I said I'm callin' you out?"

"Your name wouldn't be Archibald Higgabottom would it?"

"What sort of name is Archibald Higgerbottom?" The stranger nudged his coat away from his holster and allowed his hand to hover over the butt of his gun.

"Higgabottom," Chris corrected him. "And I'm not going out anywhere with you."

"You ain't got a choice, Larabee."

"What's your name, Mister?" Buck leaned past JD to get a better look at the man who had no idea he was about to die.

"Why do you want to know my name?"

"You don't want to be buried without a name do you?"

"I'm a lot faster at drawing a gun than you think I am."

"Your bulk won't be able to move fast enough." Vin told him.

"Don't let my size fool you."

"Then we'll need your name for the papers. People won't know it was you that killed Chris Larabee if the headlines read, 'Fat, ugly stranger kills Chris Larabee.'"

The man ignored the name-calling. "George Jamison."

"George," Chris rested his hands on the table where Jamison could see them. "I'm not in the mood to kill anyone today. I've got other things on my mind so why don't you come back at the end of the week and I'll see what I can do for you."

"You ain't gonna kill anyone today, Larabee."

"I know that . . . I just told you to go away and come back at the end of the week! Remember, or are you stupid as well as ugly."

"You're the one that's gonna die." Jamison growled.

"Yeah, well . . . I'm not in the mood for dying either so just come back at the end of the week."

"You a yellow belly."

Buck slapped his hand down on the table. "That's gone and done it."

"When?" Chris stood up slowly.

"How 'bout now?"

"As good a time as any to die." Chris walked around the table until he was standing in front of Jamison. "Just so you know . . . that mole between your eyes, that's where I'm gonna shoot you."

JD looked sideways at Buck, "Doesn't Chris even want to know why that man's calling him out."

"Don't rightly matter, JD. Man wants to die, simple as that." Buck grabbed JD's arm, pulling him towards the saloon's doors and followed Chris out onto the street. Vin and Nathan quickly joined them.

-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-

Chris Larabee stood with his feet slightly apart, his right hand hovering over his gun. He let out a deep breath, his body relaxing as a result. The mid-day sun beat down on him, its heat causing the sweat to break out on his skin. Chris felt smothered, useless because there was nothing that he could do for Ezra Standish and now a man who stood at least twenty paces from him wanted the gunslinger to kill him. He hadn't asked Jamison why, didn't want to know why and he didn't care about the why. The only thing that he needed to know was Jamison wanted him to gun him down in the middle of the street beneath an angry sun. Some people were just too stupid to know any better.

Two minutes passed and neither man had made a move. Chris though, did not intend to make the first move; he would leave that mistake to Jamison. He could hear his friends muttering under their breaths in the background. A smile split his face as he thought about Ezra Standish. If the gambler were here with them, he would be taking bets on the outcome. Damn gambler would bet on anything if he could make a profit out of it; even a man's life.

He caught the movement out of the corner of his eye and his first thought was Archibald Higgabottom. His body tensed in anticipation then relaxed when he remembered that Ezra had told him to look to his left - the movement had come from his right. If he were able to, he would kick himself. It was too late now to look to his left. If his eyes wavered from the man in front of him, Jamison would draw on him and if his aim were true . . . Chris would be a dead man.

Before he could ask Vin to check his left, a distinct Southern voice spoke from his right.

"To your left, Mr. Larabee."

The movement he had caught in his peripheral vision was Ezra Standish. What the hell was Ezra doing out of bed!
The gunshot was almost deafening in the overwhelming silence. Chris heard a noise coming from the alley to his left. He was sure that it was a body falling to the ground and it took every ounce of his strength not to look.

George Jamison took the opportunity of the distraction to go for his gun but a bullet from Chris Larabee's weapon blew the brains out of the back of his head before he could release the gun from its holster.

Chris disregarded the body in the street and finally looked to his left.

"A little late for that isn't it, Chris."

He ignored Ezra's comment for the moment, his blue eyes staring at the body that lay in the dirt in the middle of the alley. His throat was suddenly dry; Ezra Standish had just saved his life and he was certain, beyond any doubt, that

Ezra would never let him hear the end of it.

Chris finally allowed his body to turn away from the sight in front of him and looked towards the gambler. Ezra stood on the boardwalk, his gun by his side. He wore his pinstriped pants, the suspenders hanging against his hips and an open white cotton shirt; he had failed to do up the buttons. The moisture on his chest glistened in the sun.

Josiah stood behind and to the left of the gambler.

The gunslinger smiled in returned when Ezra tipped an imaginary hat at him. Worry replaced the smile when the gambler collapsed onto the boardwalk.

-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-

Ezra Standish walked carefully down the stairs, the fingers of his hand running along the guardrail and stopped when he reached the bottom. He searched the saloon for his fellow lawmen and discovered his friends sitting at their usual table in the corner of the room. A smile graced his handsome features as he pulled the parcel he held closer to his chest. He patted the dollar coin in his waistcoat pocket and his smile grew at the thought of the three dollars that would soon join it.

It had been five days since Jethro Jeffs had hit Ezra Standish and the only thing the Southerner remembered about the incident and the days that had followed it was that there had been a crow standing at the foot of his bed. He remembered nothing about Archibald Higgabottom or the subsequent shooting of said person. Neither did he remember that he had continually told Chris Larabee to look to his left.

Ezra stopped a few feet from the table and coughed into his hand to get their attention; they had been too busy playing cards to notice him - that or they had decided to ignore him.

When they looked up at him, he smiled and said, "Mr. Larabee . . . it seems that my brain must still be somewhat befuddled because . . . you still look like a crow."

"Do you want me to shoot you now, Ezra . . . or later?" Chris noticed that Ezra still seemed slightly pale beneath the angry bruise on his forehead.

"Ah . . . later would be more preferable, thank you."

"What have ya got there, Ezra?" JD stood up and offered the gambler his seat but Standish refused it.

"Something for Chris, I thought he needed a change." Ezra threw the package onto the table, knocking the cards and money away from its center and into the laps of his friends. They began to gather up the money and place it in front of them; they would later argue about the amount each of them had collected.

Chris narrowed his eyes at the parcel then picked it up. Standish had wrapped the gift in brown paper and tied it together with a piece of string.

"For me?"

"For you." Embarrassment flushed the gambler's cheeks. "It should make you less of a target."

Chris smiled down at the parcel.

Good Lord, Chris, you are over acting.

Larabee tore the paper open to reveal a white shirt. He lifted it up and allowed his eyes to travel over the garment.

"You're giving me a white shirt!"

"No, Mr. Larabee. I gave you a white shirt." Ezra took a step closer to the table. "Now put it on because I have seen enough crows in the last few days to last me a life time."

"I'm not putting on a white shirt, Ezra," Chris threw the shirt down onto the table. "That's final."

"Aw, come on Chris," Buck nudged the shirt closer to his long time friend. "Put it on."

Vin smiled at Ezra then looked at Chris. "Least you can do for someone who saved your life."

"No."

"Put it on, Mr. Larabee!"

Everyone looked up at the gambler in surprise. After seeing the smile on Ezra's face, they turned their eyes back to their leader. Mouths dropped open when Chris stood up and began to undo the buttons of his black shirt. He pulled the piece of clothing from his shoulders and allowed it to fall onto the chair behind him. He took the white shirt and put it on.

"Now, that wasn't so hard was it?" Ezra put out his hand, the palm facing upward. Five men grimaced in disgust as they each got up and placed a dollar coin in the gambler's hand. Not trusting that his friends had given him the correct amount of money, Ezra began to count it.

"You guys bet on me wearing a white shirt?" Chris pulled the shirt off and threw it onto the sawdust and dirt covered floor.

"Chris!" Ezra, even though he was on the other side of the table, reached out to catch the shirt. "That was a clean shirt."

"It was Ezra's idea." JD told him. "He bet us that he could get you to wear a different colored shirt."

"Of course it was," Chris said.

"Chris . . . maybe you should put your shirt back on," Vin was smiling. "You've got other people's attention and I'm thinking they like what they see."

Josiah stood up and rested his hand on Ezra's shoulder. "Son, I think it's time you go back to your room. You need the rest."

"I believe you are correct in your assumption, Mr. Sanchez." Ezra turned and began to walk back toward the stairs that led to his room.

"Ezra?" Chris pulled the black shirt up over his shoulders but ignored the buttons. Instead, he put his hands on his hips and glared at his friend's back.

"Yes, Chris." Ezra stopped but refused to turn around and look at the gunslinger

"You are going to give me my share . . . aren't you, or do I have to take it from you?"

Ezra sighed; he could never get anything past Larabee. "Of course."

"What the hell do you mean your share?" Buck growled at Chris.

Chris ignored the ladies man and stepped around the table. He waited patiently for the gambler to turn and face him.

"Two dollars I believe, Mr. Larabee." Ezra turned around and jerked in surprise. He hadn't even heard the gunslinger sneak up on him.

"Three, Ezra."

"What!" Ezra closed his fingers around the five dollars. "The agreement was two dollars."

Chris smiled and shook his head. "Your memory is still playing tricks on you Ezra. I agreed to put that shirt on for four dollars."

"Four," Ezra spluttered. "But you said three, I said two--"

"Don't care what you said, Ezra. We agreed on five dollars."

Ezra squared his shoulders and stood straighter. "I'll keep the five dollars, Mr. Larabee. Call it payment for services rendered."

"You're not trying to cheat me out of my money are you, Ezra?" Chris frowned down at the shorter man.

"Cheat? I'll have you know, Mr. Larabee, I saved your life, poor miserable excuse of a life that it is, so there is no need to throw slanderous remarks upon my person."

Chris Larabee hit Ezra Standish, knocking him to the floor. "How about I throw my fist upon your person." He then bent down, uncurled Ezra's fingers and took his five dollars. It was money well earned.

Ezra rubbed his jaw and looked up at the gunslinger in surprise. "What just happened there?"

"One of your marks just bit you in the ass." Chris explained.

"Oh, and here I was thinking a crow pecked me on the cheek."


The End





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