DISCLAIMER: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by ah… various corporations and television stations whose names I can't recall at the moment. I think CBS may be in there somewhere. No money is being made and no offense is intended.

Posted By: Elspethdixon
Main characters: Ezra, JD, Nathan.
Warnings: This section of "Another Fine Mess" contains still more incompetence on the part of Julestown's lawmen, more conversation porn, and more gratuitous references to the Civil War. The plot kind of has a resolution, if you squint at it sideways.

Part Four:

It was dark in the jail now, save for a small pool of light cast by the lamp on the sheriff's desk. From where he sat against the wall, Ezra could just see Andy's dusty boots propped up on the desk beside the lamp, the dim yellow light picking out every scuff and crack in the leather. No wonder the man wouldn't lift a finger to take decent care of his prisoners; he couldn't even be bothered to polish his own boots.

Ezra leaned his head back against the wooden boards and closed his eyes. His temples still throbbed, but the sick feeling had gone, and maybe if he stayed quiet and still he could go back to sleep.

"Do you think these army guys will get here tomorrow?" JD's voice broke in on his attempt at slumber. "I mean, by then it'll have been two whole days. That's got to be long enough for them to get here, right?"

"They'll come when they come," Ezra mumbled, not opening his eyes. "It's not as if we're going anywhere."

"But do you think they'll come tomorrow?"

Ezra kept his eyes shut and stayed silent, hoping JD would think he'd fallen asleep.


Ezra sighed. "JD," he said, in a voice he hoped was sufficiently laden with long-suffering weariness, "Mah head hurts, mah side hurts, and mah arm hurts. Because Ah have been shot. And beaten. And locked up in this disgusting hovel because I was stupid enough to try and break you two out. Nathan has also been shot, and needs to sleep. Can you please, please be quiet?"

"Sorry," JD said in a small voice. "I… sorry." He was silent for a moment, then, "I just—You don't think they'll really hang us, do you? We didn't do anything!"

Ezra opened his eyes and sat up a little, turning his head to look at JD. Somehow, despite the day's growth of beard that darkened the lower half of his face, the kid managed to look about fourteen. Maybe it was the eyes, huge and scared in the dim light. His clothes were smudged with dirt from the cell floor, and he had a streak of blood smeared across one cheek. Nathan's blood.

"I don't know," Ezra admitted. "Chris and Josiah and the rest will show up eventually, though, so at least if we are lynched, we'll be well-avenged." It wouldn't make much of a difference to them one way or the other if they were already dead, but it was something to say.

"I'd rather be rescued." JD stared down at his hands, turning the dime novel he'd borrowed from Andy-the-deputy over and over. "I wonder if being hung hurts."

"Probably," Ezra said. He realized a moment too late that he ought to have lied; he'd gotten out of the habit of telling falsehoods to his fellow lawmen, but there were times, like now, when circumstances called for it. "One of the few benefits of this job was supposed to be a reduction of my chances of winding up at the end of a rope," he added.

"Yeah, well, if you don't like it, why don't you quit?" JD grumbled. It had the sound of a rhetorical question, but was still sharper than anything Ezra had expected to hear from the younger man. Unaccountably, he felt compelled to defend himself.

"I've never had any intention of quitting," only a small lie, "and it wouldn't do me much good under the circumstances anyway."

"Then why did you leave?" JD demanded. "You were going to take off for Mexico or somewhere with that money and ditch the rest of us. And yesterday, you just took off to play cards while Nathan got shot! All last night I waited and waited and Nathan was bleeding and bleeding and that damn sheriff wouldn't listen to anything I said, and now Nathan's getting worse and they're going to hang us!"

And, really, there was nothing one could say to that. Ezra tried anyway, however. "One should never put too much trust in a conman, son," he said lightly, trying for a humorous smile. Inside, he cringed, wanting desperately for this whole conversation to end. JD was correct; he had done next to nothing to aid his friends, too absorbed in his own self-pity and ridiculous resentment to provide them back up when it was needed, or even to manage an effective jailbreak, something he generally prided himself on being quite adept at. It did, indeed, not pay for his associates to place too much trust in him.

JD remained un-amused. "Oh, give me a break, Ezra. And don't call me 'son.' You're not that much older than me." He folded his arms across his chest and glared at Ezra. "So, what, you were just pretending to like us for two years?"

"Ah, well, that is-" Ezra stammered. He felt his face grow hot, but luckily it was too dim inside the jail for his blush to be noticed. His feelings had of course been genuine, but it had made damn-all difference in the eventual outcome. When push came to shove, he had still put profit first and his friends second. Josiah had clearly given him custody of the money as some sort of test—a test he had failed—and Nathan had made his disapproval over the whole affair more than evident. Vin, the one member of the seven who hadn't seemed to care about the cash, had merely shrugged in an amused sort of way, and asked Ezra exactly how far he'd expected to get leaving town on foot. Money had never been among Mr. Tanner's top priorities.

Buck had been too preoccupied with his lost love to say anything on the subject at all.

Chris had not said anything about it either. He had simply looked at Ezra in that silent, threatening fashion he had perfected and pointedly refrained from mentioning Ezra's promise not to "run out on him." And then set about making quite sure that Ezra never left town or went anywhere on his own. Somehow, it was more effective a chastisement than shouting would have been.

Ezra had quite obviously forfeited the privilege of Chris Larabee's trust, not that he seemed to have held that much of it to begin with, and the same could probably be said for the rest of his friends as well. The fact that he had only himself to blame only made it all that much worse.

"'Course not," Nathan said. "He's got no reason to go pretending to like the rest of us. There wouldn't be no profit in it."

Ezra turned sharply to stare at Nathan, whom he'd thought to be asleep. "My apologies, Mr. Jackson," he began, "we didn't mean to wake you."

"You could have tried being quiet," Nathan pointed out tartly. "A man can't hardly sleep with you two jawing on like you've been doing." He pushed himself up onto his elbows, wincing at the movement. "What-all are you arguing about that money for at this time of night? It was all over and done with weeks ago."

"I believe it was ten days ago, actually," Ezra couldn't help pointing out.

"Weeks, days, what does it matter? Like we don't got enough problems to worry about now."

Ezra dropped his gaze to the floor. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw JD hang his head.

"We're real sorry, Nathan. We didn't mean to wake you up."

Nathan sighed. "Guess not," he said. He eased himself carefully down onto his back again and closed his eyes. "It ain't your fault we're stuck here, Ezra," he said, after a moment. "You could have handled getting us out better, but they'd probably have arrested us even if you'd stayed with us instead of running off to gamble."

"Of course it's not my fault." Ezra leaned his head back against the wall again and let his own eyes drift closed. The bruise on his temple ached dully. He resisted the urge to rub at it, knowing that that would only irritate the injury further. At least his ribs had stopped hurting, now that he was no longer trying to sit up straight. "I can't be blamed for this town's cretinous sheriff's inability to read wanted posters correctly."

"Yeah, they're all cree—what you said," JD muttered. "We don't look anything like outlaws. I mean, we don't, do we?"

"Doesn't matter," Nathan said. "All us 'darkies' look alike." He sounded tired, and more than a little bitter, for which Ezra certainly couldn't blame him. Faces and mannerisms were part of his stock in trade, and his mother had made certain that the dangers of making assumptions based upon a person's appearance were drilled into him from childhood—it never paid to misevaluate a potential mark—but he had encountered that particular dismissive attitude toward blacks countless times. He had never though about the problems inherent in being on the receiving end of it.

"Well, that's just stupid," JD said forcefully. "How's somebody supposed to be a lawman if he can't tell the difference between you and some random other guy?"

"My sentiments precisely," Ezra mumbled.

There was quiet for a long moment after that, and Ezra had begun to hope that he would finally be able to get some sleep, when JD spoke up again.

"You weren't really going to leave, were you?"

Why, why couldn't the kid just leave well enough alone? Ezra debated his answer, torn between saying something false but reassuring that would get JD to shut up, and admitting the actual truth. The trouble was, he wasn't completely sure of the answer himself.

"I don't know," he finally said. "I'd like to think that I would have turned around even if I hadn't overheard Stutz's plans, but there was so much money…" he trailed off, feeling somewhat disgusted at how weak that sounded.

"I honestly didn't think you'd run off with it," Nathan said. His eyes were still closed, and Ezra was starting to become concerned over how still he was lying. "I thought you'd learned better than that," Nathan went on. "Well, hoped you had."

"I never gave two cents about the damned money," JD announced. He shrugged, and waved one bloodstained hand—it was too dark to see the blood, but Ezra knew it was there. "I mean, hell, Ezra, of course nobody trusts you with money. It'd be like asking Buck to quit trying to use his 'animal maggotism.' I just didn't think you'd actually want to leave."

"Yes, JD. I think we've all figured that out by now." It came out sounding lighter and more sarcastic than he'd intended. Sincerity was a difficult habit to acquire. To be too overtly emotional was to make oneself a target, and tiresome, besides. "I assure you, I have no desire to find a new line of employ." As he said it, he realized with a small shock that it was true. Even his visions of owning a saloon had altered from daydreams of a gambling parlor in San Francisco or Denver to a quiet fantasy of a small building in Four Corners with a well-stocked bar and a player piano that could produce something other than the mangled version of "Marching Through Georgia" that was the only music one ever heard in the Seven's usual watering hole. The details of the establishment itself were hazy, but the six faces that always populated one of its tables were quite distinct.

All of which made his attempt to run off with those stacks of greenbacks seem even more ridiculous. He didn't even need his mother's interfering touch to ruin his life; he'd sabotaged things quite well himself. Not that any of it would matter all that much if the Army really did decide to hang them.

"Good," Nathan said. "I'm glad you've made up your mind to stick around. We goin' to go to sleep now?"

"Yeah, might as well," JD said. He sounded studiedly casual, but the grin on his face was clearly visible even in the poor light. Seeing that expression directed at him almost made up for the whole painfully awkward conversation. It seemed that in one quarter, at least, Ezra could consider himself forgiven.

"Do you people ever shut up?" Andy the thug demanded suddenly, swinging his feet down off the desk and turning to face them. "Jabber, jabber, jabber, like a bunch a' damned chickens. I swear to God, I never heard such a set a' conversationalists. And throw my book back over here, city boy. You won't like it if I have to come over there and take it."

JD obediently picked the dime novel up and threw it back. It came within an inch of the deputy's head, and missed hitting him square between the eyes only because the man saw it coming and jerked out of the way. JD's aim at close range could always be relied upon.

Really, Ezra thought, as he watched Andy's chair tip over backwards and clatter heavily to the floor, the man should have known better.

JD tried to go to sleep, he really did, but the thoughts of hanging that kept sneaking into his mind no matter how he tried to ignore them made sleep impossible. He wasn't sure how Ezra and Nathan managed it.

Hell, he wasn't sure how Vin managed it. The tracker had to worry about this sort of thing happening to him all the time. JD was pretty sure that he would be a nervous wreck if he were in Vin's shoes.

JD leaned back against the cell wall, pulled his knees up to his chest, and watched Andy the Thug sleep on guard duty. If Ezra had still had his lock picks, the three of them could have been out of there before the man even knew they were gone.

The army, he told himself, would show up just as soon as morning came. They would come striding in, tall and impressive in their blue uniforms, and would know right away that he and Nathan and Ezra weren't the men they were looking for. Their commander would demand that Aiken let them all go immediately, and, if they were really lucky, he'd be angry enough about having his time wasted to rake Aiken and his deputies over the coals for it.

Or maybe, just maybe, Chris and Buck would show up to rescue them all, and make the sheriff let them go at gunpoint. And then they'd get a doctor for Nathan, and Aiken would have to admit that JD was a lawman.

Or the army might be just as convinced as everyone else that Nathan was their payroll bandit, and would hang him for robbery and JD and Ezra for being accomplices.

Ezra was probably right. Hanging probably did hurt.

And, damnit, how come nobody ever believed him when he told them he was a lawman?

JD knew he looked like a kid, and that he'd certainly never have ended up a sheriff if he'd stayed in Boston. He'd asked around, before deciding to go West, but the city's police force hadn't wanted someone as young and small as him—not when there were plenty of big, hungry Irishmen and experienced war veterans available for the job. Out here, though, things were supposed to be different. He'd read the newspaper reports and dime novels; Bat Masterson was only twenty-three, just a couple of years older than JD was, and nobody doubted that he was a lawman.

Bat Masterson would not have ended up locked up in some jail in the middle of nowhere, waiting to be hanged for a crime he hadn't committed, because no one would listen to him long enough to send a telegram.

The army would get there tomorrow. They had too. Because JD was pretty sure that Nathan's leg was getting worse.

He had been certain that there was no way he was going to get any sleep, but somewhere along the line he must have drifted off after all, because the next thing JD knew, he heard the sound of the jail door opening, and open his eyes to find sunlight shining in through the window.

His neck ached from sleeping sitting up, and his butt was numb from sitting on the floor for hours, but the moment he saw the man standing in the jail's doorway, none of that was important anymore.

The newcomer was lit from behind by sunlight, making it hard to see his face, but the silhouette of his U.S. Cavalry slouch hat was unmistakable.

Oh, thank God, thank God, thank God.

JD wanted to jump up and whoop with glee, but kept himself still, just in case Andy-the-Thug was still in a throwing-things kind of mood. He glanced around the cell, finding Nathan still motionless on the bunk and Ezra stretched out on the floor, eyes closed.

"Ezra." JD leaned over and nudged Ezra in the shoulder, willing him to wake up so that he could share in the good news—because it was going to be good. It had to be. Now that someone other than Aiken and his deputies were here, people were going to start listening to them. "Ezra. Wake up. I told you the army would get here today."

"Joy," Ezra muttered, eyes still closed. Then he opened them and sat up, groaning. "I loathe sleeping on the ground. Humanity invented beds for a reason." Ezra's hair was sticking up every which way, something he was sure to fuss about the moment he noticed it, and the bruise on his forehead had spread downward into a spectacular black eye. The cuffs of his shirt were stained a rusty brown from Nathan's blood, and his waistcoat was covered in dust. Because he'd tried to break them all out of jail. Because he was staying, not running off

JD grinned. Ezra was staying. He hadn't meant to leave, he wasn't mad at them all for some strange, Ezra-type reason, and he wasn't going to quit being a lawman and take off for greener pastures, even though it had landed him in a jail cell with JD and Nathan. And best of all, none of them were going to be hanged.

"The army are here," JD repeated happily. "They've got to let us out now."

"I wouldn't bet on it," Ezra grumbled. He brushed ineffectually at his grimy waistcoat and frowned at the cavalry officer, who was now standing by the desk, listening to Sheriff Aiken's colorful description of their capture and trying unsuccessfully to interrupt him.

"…so we locked 'em up and set in to wait for you," Aiken wrapped up. He was standing with his thumbs hooked through his belt, shoulders back and chest out. "Didn't expect you to get here so soon, though. We only cabled you yesterday morning."

"Doc Hunnicutt sent us a telegram the day before yesterday," the officer said flatly, in a voice redolent of New England, "saying there'd been a, and I quote, 'gross miscarriage of justice,' and that you fellows had arrested some doctor by mistake, thinking it was the man who ran off with our payroll."

Aiken sighed, shaking his head. "He tried to jump in when we were taking them into custody, too." He shrugged, and spread his big, swollen-knuckled hands. "I'm sure he's a fine doctor, but he ought to know better than to stick his nose in where it don't belong, especially when he doesn't know what's going on."

"Doc Hunnicutt," the officer said, "knows everything about everything. Ask him and he'll tell you. In this case, though, he's right. I don't know who you've got in there, Sheriff," he went on, his New England accent still the most beautiful sound JD had ever heard, "but it isn't our payroll thief. We caught him three days ago, got him in the lock-up at Fort Huachuca."

This, JD decided gleefully, was even better than he could have hoped for. There was no way even a stuffed-shirt clod like Aiken could doubt his word now. "I told you!" he burst out. "I told you it wasn't us! Boy, are you in trouble now, mister."

Aiken looked flabbergasted, staring from the jail cell to the cavalry officer and back with his jaw hanging open. "But," he spluttered, "they matched the description. A big negro and two white men, traveling together. And they resisted arrest."

"And said they was lawmen," Andy chimed in. "And doctors, too, like anybody's ever heard of a darkie doctor." He spat in the general direction of the room's brass spittoon, missing by several inches.

"Cretin," Ezra muttered. He stepped toward the bars, tugging his ruined waistcoat straight. "Well, lawmen or not, I trust you gentlemen are now satisfied that we are not road agents. If you could let us out now?"

"You might not be road agents, but you're sure as hell something," Aiken countered, glaring at Ezra from beneath his bushy eyebrows. "My deputy and I found you trying to pick the lock on our cell door. Or," he inquired sarcastically, "was that a case of mistaken identity, too?"

"You know what?" the cavalry officer said, holding his hands up before him and taking a step backwards, "I'm going to let you folks sort this out amongst yourselves. I'll come back in a couple minutes with one of our surgeons for your man with the bullet hole."

"No way," JD protested, seeing their prospects of immediate freedom dwindling. "Nathan gets let out of here now! And we get to cable Four Corners to prove we're who we say we are."

"Well, that I can do, kid," the officer said. He smiled at JD, and picked up a loose sheet of paper from the jail's desk, producing a pencil out of his pocket. "Give me your names, and I'll wire the telegraph man in this… Four Corners, you said?"

"Four Corners." JD repeated. "JD Dunne, Ezra Standish, and Nathan Jackson. We work with Chris Larabee; the telegraph operator'll tell you."

"Or Mr. Larabee will, when he gets wind of this little affaire," Ezra drawled. He looked as if he were relishing the thought of that confrontation as much as JD was. Normally, JD wouldn't have wished a pissed-off Chris on anyone, but Sheriff Aiken and his men deserved to be on the receiving end of the Larabee glare if anyone did.

"Nathan Jackson?" the officer frowned. "Why does that sound familiar?"

"Cold Harbor," Nathan volunteered in a cracked voice. "Broken arm."

"Nathan!" JD felt himself grinning wider than ever. "You're gonna be fine now. They're going to let us out and get you a doctor."

"I heard," Nathan rasped. He smiled, a flash of white teeth that looked more pained than happy, then tilted his head to look up at the cavalry officer. "You were in the war, weren't you? I set your arm after Cold Harbor."

"Damn." The man gaped at Nathan, his right hand going to his left bicep as if by instinct. Then his lips slowly curved into a smile. "I guess you did." He turned to Aiken, and went on, "Right, you can let them out. I don't know about the lawmen part, but Jackson there was a stretcher-bearer during the war. He saved me from having my arm cut off, or as good as." He shook his head, still smiling. "Looks like Doc Hunnicutt was right about that whole doctor thing."

"I told you," JD informed Aiken. "I told you men over and over, but did anybody listen to me?"

"Y'all gonna let us out now?" Nathan asked. He was propped up on his elbows now, and looked like he was getting ready to struggle to his feet.

Ezra stepped away from the bars and put a hand on Nathan's shoulder, holding him in place. "I believe you ought to stay put, Mr. Jackson. Their surgeon can just as easily come to you."

"He could, but he's not gonna," Nathan said, through gritted teeth, as he shrugged off Ezra's retraining hand and sat upright. "I'm walking out of here. Now."

Ezra frowned, but gave Nathan a hand up, followed by a shoulder to lean on. "Sharpsburg, Cold Harbor," he grumbled under his breath, "I suppose you were at Manassas and Fredericksburg, too?"

Nathan nodded silently, jaw set in obvious pain, and Ezra rolled his eyes, continuing with, "You must have made the grand tour. It's probably pure coincidence I didn't blow you up."

"I've seen your aim with a canon, Ezra."

"I was out of practice," Ezra protested. "It had been nearly a decade since I'd had the opportunity to fire one."

Normally, the byplay would have been interesting, but… "Why isn't anyone unlocking the door?" JD demanded.

"I'm gonna be damned glad to get rid of you, you little brat," Andy muttered, snatching the keys off the wall and stomping over to the cell door. "Larabee or whoever you really belong to is welcome to ya."

"Yeah? Well you're just lucky he's not here," JD returned.

Andy's jaw tightened, but he didn't respond, beyond jerking the cell door open with more force than he needed to. Probably because the cavalry officer was watching.

JD stepped out of the way, letting Ezra leave the cell first, Nathan's arm draped over his shoulders. The healer was a full head taller than the gambler, and it would almost have been funny to see him bent half double over the shorter man's support, were it not for the lines of pain in his face.

Forget Chris, JD decided savagely. He wished Judge Travis were here, to kick Aiken and his deputies out of their posts and bring them up before the bench on charges of… well, charges of something. A bullet was only half of what Julestown's lawmen deserved.

Aiken said nothing, simply watching the proceedings with folded arms and an increasingly red face. When Ezra sarcastically inquired as to whether he and Nathan might have their possessions back, he silently handed over Ezra's coat and Nathan's medical bag, jaw tightening and a vein in his forehead throbbing when Ezra silkily suggested that Nathan examine the bag's contents to make sure nothing was missing.

"I'm sure these here fine gentlemen ain't thieves," Nathan said, in a disgusted tone that implied exactly the opposite.

JD reclaimed his hat from the peg on the wall where Deputy Harnett had hung it and examined it for damage. Aside from the old bullet hole in the crown and the dust from the day before yesterday's ride, it was as good as new, and having it back made him feel more cheerful immediately. Buckling his gunbelt back on felt even better; he felt half-dressed without his Colts nowadays.

"I distinctly remember carrying a large amount of cash money when I entered this place," Ezra announced, eyeing Andy significantly.

"Consider it a fine for attempted breaking and entering," Aiken told him. "And get out of my jail before I change my mind.

"Technically, it was breaking and exiting."

"What it was was illegal," Aiken drawled, "and you can consider yourself lucky to be walking out of here at all. I better not see any of you three in my town again."

"We wouldn't want to come back to your stupid town, anyway," JD told him, as he settled his hat back on his head where it belonged and made his way out the door. "This is the worst jail I've ever been in," he called back over his shoulder. The door swung shut behind him, cutting off any reply Aiken or Andy might have made.

The cavalry officer, who introduced himself as Captain Cantwell, escorted the three of them straight across the street to Julestown's only hotel, and brought in the promised Army doctor—yet another doctor, JD thought—to dig the bullet out of Nathan's leg.

Doctor Potter, white-haired and barely taller than JD, claimed to have been pulling bullets out of people since the Mexican war, and chatted companionably with Nathan about battlefield surgery as he set out his instruments.

"If this had been a minée ball, I'd be taking your leg off," he announced, as he sliced through Ezra's clumsy attempt at bandaging. "The damned things were worse than being kicked by a mule; shattered the bone into a dozen pieces."

"I know," Nathan grunted. He propped himself up on one elbow to watch as Dr. Potter picked up a long, thin metal probe and began poking at his wounded thigh.

"There's some inflammation, but not as much as there might be. You're a lucky young man, son." Dr. Potter slid the probe inside the bullet hole and moved it around, Nathan hissed, and a fresh trickle of blood began oozing from the wound.

JD looked away, feeling sick, and tried not to listen to the little sounds of pain Nathan kept making. When Captain Cantwell suggested that JD accompany him to the telegram office to wire Four Corners, he accepted with a flood of guilty relief. Ezra stayed behind with Nathan; when JD and Cantwell left, he was watching Dr. Potter work as if he were going to be called to judge him on his performance.

The road out of Julestown was just as hot and dusty as the road in had been, but JD had never been quite so happy to leave a town behind him. Well, except maybe for Jericho, that place with the illegal prison camp, but as far as he was concerned Julestown's lawmen were little better than that sheriff who'd tried to turn Chris into convict labor.

Ezra more than shared this opinion, and had spent the past three days loudly lamenting the theft of his hundred and fifty dollars, which he claimed was far more than even the strictest of judges could fine a man for attempting a jailbreak. Captain Cantwell, who had cast a jaundiced eye over Ezra's bottle green coat and ruffled shirtfront, had proved singularly uninterested in getting it back for him. When pressed, he had reminded Ezra that some towns had rules forbidding former Confederate soldiers to wear guns, and did he really want to get into another argument about what Sheriff Aiken did and did not have the right to confiscate from him? Ezra had brushed a hand over the hilt of his Remington, pointedly adjusted his left cuff, and shut up.

Nathan had said very little on the subject at all, beyond remarking that Ezra's money had all been cheated out of people anyway, and that he could always replace it with new ill-gotten gains. However, he had insisted on mounting Lincoln and riding out of town a mere three days after getting the bullet removed from his leg, something he would never in a million years have let any of the other Seven get away with.

Somehow, the rules about proper rest after injuries that Nathan enforced on the rest of them never seemed to apply to Nathan himself.

"Gentlemen," Ezra began, as the three of them steered their horses past the skeletal water tower that marked the limits of Julestown, "I think we can all agree that Mr. Larabee doesn't need to know every detail of our little adventure."

"You mean, like you running off to gamble and drink?" Nathan asked, raising his eyebrows and grinning.

"I was thinking more of my being humiliatingly caught in the act while breaking you two out of prison, but in a word… yes."

"Don't worry, Ezra," JD told him. "We'll just tell him you got the black eye defending President Grant's reputation."

Ezra muttered something uncomplimentary, of which only the words "corruption" and "profiteering" were clearly audible, and JD suddenly felt ridiculously happy. Ezra might be favoring his left side and sporting a black eye, Nathan might be riding stiffly, but the three of them were going home, free and unhanged, and Ezra was talking to them again. Nathan had even gotten his big Lister knife back, though the newly purchased bottles of carbolic acid had leaked away into the Julestown street.

Buck and Chris were supposed to meet up with them halfway back to Four Corners, and since Ezra had finally stopped sulking, there was a slight chance that maybe Buck had shut up about Louisa Perkins, and they could all put the whole Stutz thing behind them.

JD patted Milagro on the shoulder and began to whistle tunelessly. After a moment, Nathan began to whistle as well, though his notes formed an obvious tune. JD recognized it as a Civil War marching song, though he couldn't remember any of the words beyond the bit in the chorus about "rallying round the flag." Some of Captain Cantwell's soldiers had been singing it in the saloon the other day.

Ezra obviously couldn't remember the words either, since the ones he started singing softly a few minutes later didn't resemble any version of "Battle Cry of Freedom" JD had ever heard. He actually had a decent-sounding tenor when he wasn't pretending to be a girl, though.

Nathan shot him an indecipherable look and launched into song himself, about "welcoming to our numbers the loyal, true and brave," while Ezra, in near perfect harmony, loudly sang a completely different set of lyrics about resisting tyranny.

"The Union forever, hurrah, boys, hurrah," Nathan sang, starting in on the refrain.

"Down with the eagle, up with the cross," Ezra caroled.

"And we'll rally round the flag, boys, we'll rally once again," they sang in unison, finally getting to the bit of the song that JD remembered, "shouting the battle cry of freedom."

Then Lincoln stumbled over a stone and Nathan broke off singing with a wince, pressing a hand to his wounded leg. Ezra fell silent as well, letting Chaucer drop back a few paces to take up his habitual drag position. JD kept whistling.

Notes: Sorry about how ungodly long it took me to make this update (I think it's coming up on seven months, maybe more).

Doctors Hunnicutt, Frank the ferret-faced, and Potter are borrowed from MASH. All other non-canon characters are completely made up. "Battle Cry of Freedom" is one of the many Civil War tunes to have two different sets of lyrics, one Northern and one Southern. Nathan and Ezra sing the third verse of each version, which go thusly:

"We have welcomed to our number the loyal, true, and brave (shout, shout the battle cry of freedom)

and though a man be poor, he shall never be a slave (shout, shout the battle cry of freedom)

The Union forever, hurrah, boys, hurrah

down with the traitor, up with the star

and we'll rally round the flag, boys, we'll rally once again

shouting the battle cry of freedom"


"They have lain down their lives on the bloody battlefield (shout, shout the battle cry of freedom)

Their motto is resistance, to tyrants we'll not yield (shout, shout the battle cry of freedom)

The Southland forever, she's ne'er at a loss

Down with the eagle, up with the cross

and we'll rally round the flag, boys, we'll rally once again

shouting the battle cry of freedom"