DISCLAIMER: The following is an original work of fan fiction 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. No profit is being made - enjoy!!
In the quiet of dawn, all Vin Tanner could hear were echoes. The memories of sound ricocheted through the cool air and he lay very still, face down on the warm mass beneath him, waiting until the reverberation ceased. Eventually, his head felt steady enough to let him rise.
He pushed himself up on wobbly arms, looked down at the supine form stretched out on the cracked, chipped sidewalk, and saw the pair of holes puncturing Ezra's Standish's sweater. The dark brown wool glistened, and a darker stain spread as the southerner's stomach heaved up and down with each gasping breath. As Vin moved away and withdrew his touch, Ezra's hand came up, arm drooping and weaving in a desperate, aimless movement, before toppling onto his stomach. Vin fell back, sitting on his ankles and calves, stunned, breathless, numb but for the sensation of dampness causing his own heavy sweatshirt to cling to his skin. Ezra's hand was blood-streaked. His eyes were open and glassy. His breathing hitched, paused, started up again.
Vin figured Ezra was going to die.
"I'm gonna get that son of a bitch." That the thought made it into words surprised him; that Ezra heard and answered surprised him more.
The southerner's head lolled to the side toward Vin. He blinked, forcing focus into his eyes. Vin could see the effort it took for his friend to stay conscious. The strong, acrid scent of sweat came upon him suddenly, repulsively, underscored by the tangible metallic odor of blood and gunpowder, and he was captivated by the gray-white hue of Ezra's skin.
"Vin -- no. You -- you --" Ezra collected the energy of a few rapid breaths, and said, "Help."
The words missed Vin. He wasn't aware of anything but Ezra's warm blood on his own chest. A quick recall told him whom it was who had shot at them as they stood on the sidewalk in front of Vin's apartment building. Ezra's blood soaked Vin's shirt down to the waistband of his pants, thickening and spreading like the horror and anger that erupted in fire in his chest. Ezra was going to die because of a vendetta against Vin.
Vin stood, shock coursing through his body and weakening him; he slammed one hand against the fender of his jeep to steady himself. His other dug shakily under the back of his sweatshirt and found the SIG holstered there. The weight of it made his hand flop down uselessly against his thigh. It occurred to him that the damn thing would probably slow him down, but he knew he'd need it when he caught up with that chickenshit Klan-wannabe cocksucker who'd waylaid them. He pushed away from the car and staggered down the sidewalk in the direction their attacker had taken.
Nature loves a balance. Yin/Yang, good/bad, sane/insane. Ezra simply wished that fate would assign the dual roles by way of a method more sensible than a cosmic coin toss. He couldn't move, he couldn't breathe, his body was simply a mass of screaming nerves and shuddering muscles; and yet he was coherent. He could smell the pain and hurt festering in himself, and it was only slightly less revolting than the perfume of gasoline and rot wafting to him from the nearby gutter. His shoulder blades and the back of his skull hugged the warm pavement; the cool, early autumn wind had a bite to it that he hadn't noticed before. Winter was rolling inexorably down the mountains. But the storms that often heralded Denver's winter season were still a ways away, if the crystal clarity of the silver-blue and honey-fire sunrise sky were any indication.
All of which was just peachy, but didn't matter one fucking bit, because the other pertinent individual in this situation -- the one with motor control -- had run off in numb, stumbling irrationality after their assailant.
Ezra let his eyes fall shut and wished for at least the release of a groan. But it was hard enough convincing his perforated diaphragm to move oxygen through his throat, much less sound.
The bastard had been standing in the middle of the street, hidden from view at first by the van parked in front of Vin's jeep. Ezra clearly remembered the bald head, the nearly black eyes, and the blotches of red, black and white that resolved into a representation of a swastika on the boy's t-shirt. He remembered the kid raising a gun. The first couple of bullets had pinged off the pavement and the jeep's bumper. The next pair had punched the air out of Ezra's stomach.
From what Ezra saw when Vin levered himself up off the southerner, the last few bullets had strafed the sharpshooter's upper chest and shoulder. And since Ezra had been cursed with clarity of thought and sensation in this particular scenario, fate had apparently decreed that his friend be blissfully unaware of his own injuries. Ezra had seen no pain on Vin's face. In fact, all he'd seen was the instinctive need for vengeance shining in the sharpshooter's wide eyes. Vin was a hunter. Normally, his first thought would have been to get help for himself and his friend; but this wasn't a normal situation. Shock had dulled everything but the predator in Vin, and Ezra's feeble attempts to reach him had stood no chance of overcoming that impulse.
All right, fine, that was the situation. If coherent thought was all Ezra had at the moment, he'd make the best of it.
Without opening his eyes, Ezra knew that the street was empty. It was daybreak on a Saturday morning; only poor saps like himself and Vin who had stakeouts to man were out. And Ezra's cell phone was tucked deep in the pocket of his coat, which he'd tossed into the back seat of the jeep preparatory to getting in. Reaching it would require movement. Ezra didn't know if he could do that. Vin had all the physical capabilities in this scenario.
Yin/Yang. Yin/Yang. A bit of each in the other. Ezra opened his eyes, clenched his teeth, and hoisted himself up --
The second Vin's knees hit the pavement, he began to compute. He crashed shoulder first into Emilio Mendoza's faded green Buick, and his palm and fingertips dragged squealing over the rust-bubbled paint before he landed face down on the sidewalk.
Of all the stupid-ass things --
That Saddler kid was probably blocks away by now, hell he'd probably had somebody waiting for him in a car around the corner, and they were most likely on their way back to their so-called 'Klan headquarters.' And stupid-ass Vin had run off and left Ezra bleeding on the sidewalk. Of all the lame-brained, half-cocked things to do. While he lay here with bits of gravel and glass digging into his face, his gun and hand trapped under his stomach, and his leg laying in a curbside puddle of who-knows-what, Ezra was probably breathing his last. Alone. Christ.
He had to go back. But first he had to catch his breath. He couldn't believe how winded he was. He got his legs underneath him and swayed cockeyed on his hands and knees -- he couldn't get the one leg out of the gutter. He settled for using one rubber-boned arm to heave himself up, and he hunched back against the curved side of the Buick. The cool morning breeze stroked his face, and he tried to give in to it, tried to accept its soothing and let it refresh him. But it was all he could do not to collapse. His chest constricted with guilt and panic for his friend's life; tears streamed down his face from eyes squeezed tight shut as he struggled to breathe. He wanted to scream. He had to get back to Ezra. He had to get help, dammit.
Oh god, why couldn't he breathe?
Ezra didn't know which was worse -- laying on the ground in agony, or laying draped over the ratty vinyl passenger seat of Vin's jeep in agony. He'd probably be able to answer that better if he could recall how the hell he managed to get up there in the first place. Whatever the process, he was sure he ought to be thankful that Vin hadn't put the doors back on his jeep.
For a while he just lay there, forcing himself to breathe past the fiery cramps in his belly, pressing his forehead against the hard plastic of the gear shift box, and staring out of the corner of his eye at the rumpled mass of his coat folded on the back seat.
One arm curled awkwardly around the edge of the seat he lay upon, his muscles locked and preventing him from following the dead weight of his legs and sliding back onto the sidewalk. His other arm had the same thought as his brain: cell phone. As Ezra peered sideways at his coat, his arm struggled, writhed, and crept out from the prison created by his body and the seat, and pulled him forward enough that he could reach into the back seat and bat at the coat.
Not that it did any good.
The coat began to slip off the seat.
Well, hell. There it was. Now if only his fingers could see fit to speed dial.
The hum turned into a shriek and a bang. Vin was still mulling the meaning of this when the ensuing silence sprouted with muttered cursing. A warm pressure against his neck and a hot, solid mass cupping his cheek coalesced into a form kneeling before him.
"God fucking dammit, Vin."
Vin focused. Chris was right there. The actual live Chris Larabee was there, connected to him by a touch to his face. Since when? Weird. But never mind that; his friend looked worried for him.
"It's okay," he said. He couldn't hear himself very well; he wasn't fully awake yet. Ezra was right, it was too damn early to be up. "It's not my blood."
Between snatching at the body of his friend, who suddenly went limp and started to head for the gutter, and trying not to drop the phone mashed between shoulder and ear as the 911 operator picked up, Chris didn't hear what Vin muttered. He snapped out identification, location, and situation to the operator, then let the phone clatter to the pavement as he wrapped his arms around his friend's torso and pulled him into his lap. He looked a few cars down, and saw Buck Wilmington leaning over Ezra's still form slumped half-in, half-out of Vin's jeep.
"He alive?" Chris called. He really didn't want to know. He was suffused with icy cold. He had to force himself to not study the broad patterns of blood on the pavement between he and Buck, or get lost in the frightening coolness of the body in his arms.
"Yeah," Buck answered weakly, unconvincingly. One hand resting protectively on Ezra's back, Buck tugged at something inside the jeep, then held up a small black object, not looking at Chris as he searched for a button on its face. Ezra's cell phone, still online: the reason Buck's had been tied up during the entire ride from the stakeout location over here.
For each speculative crack he and Buck had made about Ezra oversleeping, or about Vin having to delve into his eclectic store of Spanish and Korean cuss words while he waited for Ezra to confiscate a latte from his favorite kiosk in downtown Denver, a line of worry was seared across Buck's face. Each one echoed the rhythm of fear thrumming in time with Chris's heart. Nearly a half-hour had run out before they'd really wondered where the hell their replacements were. By then, Buck's cell phone rang. Chris remembered watching with a surge of dread as Buck listened silently to a staccato of ragged breathing and realized what it meant.
Now Chris watched Buck set Ezra's cell phone on the jeep's dash and carefully crouch on one knee on the floorboard of the battered vehicle. His upper body disappeared as he leaned over Ezra; all Chris could see was one long leg stretched out, bracing him against the curb, parallel to Ezra's limp, dangling limbs. Buck's soft, pleading voice rose up from the jeep and swirled with the sounds of the city morning, with the dial-tone buzz from Chris's discarded cell phone, with a far-off keening of sirens.
Chris looked down. Strands of long hair wisped in the breeze and were caught by the sweat sheathing Vin's cheeks and forehead. The younger man's eyes were open beneath arcs of eyelashes that stuck together in damp clumps. While Chris watched his hands and wrists redden where they clutched the jerking chest, he strained to listen. Everything around him fell away, but the soft whoosh of Vin's breath. The arriving sirens screamed for him when the whooshing stopped.
Buck sat with his back to the window. Afternoon sunlight cascaded over his back and set his shadow in dark gray on the faded green industrial carpet. The sun's heat swelled in the hospital waiting room, and he had started to sweat. He could get up and move, or pull the vertical blinds shut. But he would probably end up standing blankly in front of the window, watching for the rare fat puff to detach itself from the brilliant bank of clouds welling up over the mountains in the distance. He'd already spent enough time doing that today.
A small wastebasket shared the floor at his feet with his crumpled windbreaker. One of the nurses at the reception desk had brought the wastebasket to him after observing his growing pile of discarded, brown-spotted paper towels. He crushed a tattered, twisted one in his hand and dropped it in, then picked up one of the damp rags from the seat beside him and settled his elbows on his knees.
He was almost done with the margins around the number pads on Ezra's cell phone. He couldn't believe how much of a mess one bloody hand could make. Besides the dried smears here and there, a brown crust had settled in every single crevasse and indentation on the little device. He'd already scoured out the two tiny holes on the earpiece and the one on the mouthpiece using the end of a paper clip scavenged from the receptionist.
He really shouldn't even have the damn thing. It was part of a crime scene, even though Buck didn't imagine the CSU would get anything from it that Buck couldn't tell them. Ezra had used it to call for help, and he'd bled on it. They weren't difficult facts to determine. Not that he spent any time rationalizing his action when he snatched it off the dashboard of Vin's jeep. All he'd been thinking about at that point, as the EMTs quickly rolled the gurney carrying his friend's battered body to an ambulance, was that he had to take Ez's cell phone with him. It made sense then. Still made sense, despite the hell he'd probably catch for it when the investigating team found out.
The door next to the reception desk swung open. A nurse passed by Buck in a breeze of floral perfume and padded down the hall toward Surgery. The waiting room had been remarkably quiet all day, but it was continuously erupting with bursts of scent. A draft through the reception window carried an occasional trace of copier ink or of the soft powder scent of the round, kind receptionist. Every quarter hour the air conditioner kicked on and the ceiling vents dumped sterile, tasteless air into the room. The door to Surgery spit out antiseptic, latex, and other cloying odors; the revolving door to the side parking lot spun in gusts of warm blacktop, exhaust, and a hint of clean, dry, mountain air. Buck welcomed the smells. They kept him company.
He yawned and paused in his cleaning to rub the heel of a palm against his eyes. He could expect to be alone until waiting hours were up. Last he'd talked to Josiah and JD, they'd agreed to work the whole day's shift at the stakeout -- filling in for Ezra and Vin, and then staying for their own evening shift. They'd likely end up at his and JD's apartment afterward, which would be good. Nathan was in Santa Fe with Rain at her parents' until tomorrow night. And Chris --
Chris had disappeared as soon as Vin and Ezra had been spirited behind the ominous doors marked "Authorized Personnel Only." He wasn't authorized personnel, and neither was Chris, but Buck had settled in the waiting room and Chris had fled. No surprise there. Chris refused to ghost around hospital waiting rooms with the others, since that terrible cluster of days that he and Buck had spent together, four years ago, in a waiting room in this very hospital. The waiting room of the burn ward. Waiting for Adam to die. Buck had left only to make the arrangements for Sarah's funeral. Chris had left only to attend.
These days, Vin, Buck, or Josiah kept the rare vigils. Chris waited for a call on his cell phone to tell him if he was needed. Although this time he seemed to be shunning even that connection. Buck had been trying to get a hold of Chris all day and reached only answering services, not only on the cell phone, but also at the office and at Chris's home.
Buck had to use the end of the paper clip wire again, to scrape at some particularly deep flecks of blood around the number pads. Just as he'd started to dig in, the Surgery door opened, and a man in newly-donned scrubs stepped out. He looked at Buck and asked, "Are you here for Vin Tanner?"
The doctor wore a cautious but encouraging smile. Buck swallowed and stood, laying the cell phone down in the sunshine on his seat. One down, one to go.
Chris leaned against the doorway of the auto shop and stared out across the car lot. Ropes of small, plastic flags fluttered between light poles. The rows of Grand Cherokees, Wranglers, Windstars and Explorers glimmered brightly, protected by the halo of artificial light from the discoloring effects of the blazing sunset. A couple hundred feet away, cars roared past on Santa Fe Boulevard. The dealership's main building, situated between the Ford/Jeep lot and the Dodge/Lincoln lot, was dark except for the soft lights illuminating the newest models on the showroom floor.
Across the boulevard, the National Bank sign flashed time and temperature. Chris had two and a half hours before visiting hours were over at the hospital and Buck would be ready to go home. He could hear the sounds of activity coming from the shop behind him, and knew that Robbie was working as fast as he could. It took time to replace the foam padding of a car seat, and to get the blood completely out of and patch up the vinyl seat cover. And to shampoo the stains from the grungy, matted floor covering.
However, this meant that for the first time today, Chris had nothing to do. The Denver PD had taken the investigation into the shooting as far as it could go that day, and AD Travis was taking care of scaring up some help on the stakeout from another team. So Chris had no one to hassle, nowhere to go. He took a pull on the cigarette Robbie had given him. Thank god for it. Though Robbie smoked Cloves, and the harsh, tangy smoke bit Chris's throat and dried out his nose. Probably not the best brand to start with after two years of abstinence.
He glanced at his watch. Only two hours and twenty minutes now. Not enough time. He wondered if Buck had been trying to get a hold of him today. He would know soon enough. His cell phone was in Buck's pick-up; Chris figured the beat up Chevy would be okay in Purgatorio, and he really didn't give a shit if somebody opened the door and stole the phone. He'd left the doors unlocked. Somebody else could take the calls.
A touch at his arm was Robbie's wife, Jeri. The petite blond with the Betty Davis eyes manned the auto shop's phones during working hours, and had come in to help her husband. She handed Chris his MasterCard.
"You want a cup of coffee? Or there's soda in the machines. Snacks too."
"Coffee'd be fine." His voice rasped, and he coughed. Jeri just nodded, smiling gently, and disappeared back into the auto shop.
He took another puff from the cigarette, and shot a look across the boulevard. Two hours, nine minutes.
Buck had been up now for almost twenty-two hours straight, and he felt it. Every hour of the day since early that morning had walked all over him like a funeral parade. As he stepped out of the hospital's main foyer, the chill night air tightened the skin on his face and made him shiver in his flannel shirt. He welcomed it, and left his wrinkled windbreaker draped over one arm. It had Ezra's blood on it, and he figured he'd only feel colder if he shrugged it on and had to ignore that dark stain.
He scanned the hospital pick-up area for Chris, but the big Dodge Ram was nowhere to be seen. He shifted his gaze to the lane marked "Enter Only." It was bathed in the red light that haloed around the illuminated sign and covered the pale concrete of the parking lot approach.
Damn. There was red in everything.
Except Ezra's cell phone. He smiled slightly, and reflexively tapped the hard casing of the phone in his shirt pocket. The slender device hung awkwardly between the layers of worn fabric, threatening to slip out if he leaned too far forward. But it wasn't red anymore. By the time Vin was stabilized and out of surgery, Buck had worked nearly all of the crusted blood from between the number pads. Buck had just begun scrubbing the rest of the plastic casing when Ezra finally joined Vin in the ICU and an enthusiastic and optimistic ICU doctor hurried into the waiting room. Now the phone was pristine.
Buck took a few steps forward, away from the door, and leaned against one of the stucco pillars that supported the portico at the hospital's main entrance. He relaxed to wait. Chris knew he was stranded without a ride, and knew when visiting hours were over. He'd be there.
Even before Buck saw the headlights turn into the entryway, Buck had to smile at the sound. The scruffy jeep slowed and made the left a bit wide, manhandled through the turn by a driver used to power steering. The clutch ground in protest as a booted foot and a callused hand unused to coordinating a manual gear change struggled the old vehicle down into second and then back up to third for a slow circuit around the parking lot.
Buck grinned and shook his head. He understood; Chris was holding onto Vin the only way he could allow himself.
"Misses the boss, eh?" Buck joshed gently as the jeep hiccuped to a halt and was wrestled into neutral.
Chris settled back a bit in his seat and sighed, running long fingers through wind-tousled hair; Buck saw his face relax with the unspoken good news. He started to get into the jeep, but paused when he saw the clean patched surface of the seat. It was - pristine.
Chris saw his surprise. "You'd think the damn thing'd be more appreciative, seeing how much I spent on it today."
Buck shared his friend's smile as he climbed into the open vehicle and fastened the seat belt.
The cough and growl as Chris goaded the jeep forward followed them through the quiet parking lot and into the street. Buck bundled his coat on the floorboard between his feet and leaned back in the seat. They'd both spent a hell of a lot today, in worry and fear. But he couldn't say he regretted what they'd got in return.
And the night of darkness
And the dawn of light,
Meeting, joining one another,
Helpmates ever, they.
All is beautiful,
All is beautiful,
All is beautiful, indeed.
--from the Navajo 'Song of the Earth'
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