The Samaritan's Choice
Follows the episode "The Trial", contains a good many spoilers for the ep.
disclaimer- the magnificent seven characters do not belong to me, I only borrow them for fun. No profit is being made.
Nathan Jackson squinted against the hot afternoon sun and twisted his worn hat in his hands. Casually, he brushed away a tear and glanced about to make sure there was no one around to notice. Seeing he was alone, the tall dark healer returned his attention to the simple and obviously new grave in front of him. It had barely been a week since he'd buried his father. A swift wave of bitterness washed over him, and Nathan frowned. So many years lost to the cruelty of slavery. White men using, abusing and selling his family. Shuddering, Nathan pushed painful memories aside and straightened his shoulders. He was a free man now. He looked once more at the wooden cross engraved with the name Obediah Jackson, then turned , pulled his hat on low over his eyes and headed back into the main section of town.
From his vantage point right outside of the saloon Chris Larabee appeared to be engrossed in reading the tattered leather-bound book in his hands. In reality, he was observing his town. The sturdy wooden chair set at an angle to enable it's user to see the majority of the small dusty settlement. From beneath the brim of his black stetson, Chris' green eyes followed Jackson as he made his way back from the cemetery. He could see the firm set of Nathan's posture and knew from experience the man was dealing as best he could with the loss of his father.
"He okay?" Larabee showed no sign of surprise when the soft drawl sounded beside him. He hadn't heard Vin approach but he'd sensed his presence well before the tracker spoke. He turned, letting his eyes meet Vin's. A gentle breeze stirred Tanner's long brown curls as he pushed his hat back off his head and wiped at the line of sweat forming on his forehead.
"He will be." Chris answered plainly. Jackson needed time. They had all known that Obediah was dying of consumption. Ever since the incident at Eagle Bend and the controversial trial, Nathan had cared diligently for his father. It hadn't been nearly enough time to make up for what they had lost, but it had been time. Time together.
Nathan stepped up onto the boardwalk and nodded to his two friends. He was well aware they had been watching him. He knew it was out of concern, and that thought comforted him slightly. The batwing doors of the saloon creaked noisily as he pushed through them. The healer paused a moment inside to adjust to the immediate change of light. The contrast of the sun's brightness to the saloon's dim interior made him strain to see until his eyes had acclimated to the change.
Once he could see, Nathan scanned the half full saloon. Buck and JD were sitting at a table with Ezra and Josiah. The four men going through the motions of a card game. None of them were really concentrating on the outcome. Even Ezra appeared uninterested, though he knew he could use this opportunity to milk his colleagues easily out of their wages. Today they had earned an uncommon reprieve. There was no real explanation for the apathy, other than the ominous reality of boredom. After the run in with the sheriff from Eagle Bend, Four Corners had settled into a dull monotony. Nathan slipped to the bar and requested his drink, then pulled up a chair to join his friends.
"Good afternoon Brother Nate." Josiah's deep voice rumbled as he rubbed a hand over his bearded face and pondered his cards.
"Would you care to join us in the next hand?" Ezra asked as Buck and JD simultaneously folded.
"And let you cheat me out of my money? No thanks." Nathan's tone was more biting then he intended but Ezra showed no outward reaction. The southerner merely nodded and waited for Josiah's move.
Josiah sighed heavily and tossed his cards into the center of the table. "I call." He groaned as his pair of sixes were beat by Ezra's two pair, of sevens and tens.
Nathan snorted. "You're surprised?"
"Not really. The fates are against me today." Josiah winked at Ezra trying to ease Nathan's harsh retorts. He knew they affected the gambler more than Ezra would ever let on. He also knew that Nathan was torn up by his past and his father's death at the moment. Sanchez was actually proud of Ezra. The Southerner tended to react to Nathan's barbs with sarcastic retorts of his own but for the last few days had managed to hold his tongue. An action that hadn't gone unnoticed by any of the seven except maybe Jackson himself.
Josiah looked up at Buck and JD as they began to banter over something. Buck was eying Inez at the bar with keen interest while telling JD just how close he was to winning her over. JD laughed and pointed out that just this morning Inez had shot the ladies' man down yet again.
"JD, I'm telling you, I'm wearing her down."
"Sure Buck. In your dreams maybe." JD jumped back as Buck swatted for his head and bumped into Chris.
"Sorry Chris." JD apologized, grinning and keeping out of Buck's reach. Chris just nodded and pulled a chair up to the table. Vin sat next to him.
"Got a job." Chris said simply.
Six pairs of eyes focused on him, waiting for instructions. "Judge Travis sent a wire, seems there's a handful of land deeds that need to be picked up over at Woodhall. Ezra, he wants you to go." Ezra's eyes widened slightly at Chris' statement. He was surprised the good Judge would single him out for a mission.
"May I ask why?"
"Travis wants to make sure the deeds are legit, figured you could help with that."
Ezra nodded accepting the explanation. "When do I need to leave?" He wasn't really looking forward to the trip but figured he could go and get back within three days if he didn't dawdle. Besides there hadn't been anything of entertainment around here the last few days. He was tired of being the brunt of Nathan's anger and a little bored with being long suffering. It wasn't his style. It was only his respect for Nathan's pain that kept him from retaliating and he could tell his own patience was wearing thin.
"Tomorrow morning." Chris answered.
Ezra glanced around the table quickly, still stone faced. "Well, I must bid you gentlemen good day then as I have some preparations to make."
Ezra double checked his saddlebags and stifled a yawn as he cursed the dawn. If it were up to him the normal hours of daily activity would start at noon and end about two in the morning. Part of him yearned for the cities of New Orleans and Atlanta where he could maintain that lifestyle he preferred, but as he pulled himself into his saddle and adjusted his hat he knew that, for now, that life was behind him.
As he started out of town Ezra saw Chris making his way to the hotel restuarant restaurant for breakfast. Ezra wondered if Larabee was surprised he didn't have to wake him up this morning. With a nod and a two fingered salute he rode past the gunslinger and began his trip in earnest.
Nathan was just emerging from his rented room adjacent to the make shift clinic he ran as Ezra rode out of town. For a moment the former slave stood in the morning sun and watched the southerner ride. It was no secret that he and Ezra had a tense relationship. True, he'd grown to trust the gambler enough to know that he could count on him in a fight but at the same time, Nathan still wasn't able to get past his frustrations with Ezra. When he looked at the other man he saw a spoiled, self centered, son of the South, who was only interested in gratifying his own needs. In Jackson's mind, Ezra had everything a man could dream of. A loving, if eccentric mother, enough money to live comfortably on, and still the man chose to gamble and cheat his way through life. All to often the mere sound of Ezra's voice would anger Nathan. The healer knew it was his own animosity with his past that caused some of these feelings, especially this past week since his father's death. Right now though, he couldn't help but be relieved to see Standish riding out of town for a few days.
The late afternoon sun was finally beginning to wane and the gentle breeze that had been missing since yesterday was just picking up as Nathan made his way tiredly to the saloon. It had been a busy day. He'd fixed up Mr. Jenkin's broken arm, stitched up little Jaime Lewis' forehead and wrapped Mike Detwiler's ribs. When was that man going to learn how to stay on a horse anyway? Needless to say he was ready for a relaxing drink. Hearing the familiar sound of the approaching stage Nathan jogged the remaining few feet across the road and stepped up onto the boardwalk. 'Someone needed to remind that driver to slow down coming into town.' He thought absently.
Curiosity got the better of him as he leaned against a support post to wait and see who was on today's stage. A drink could wait a few minutes more.
"Busy day?" Josiah asked coming up beside him. Nathan nodded to his friend.
"Yeah. Where is everybody?"
"JD went to the Wells' place for dinner and I believe Chris , Vin and Buck are inside." Josiah motioned over his shoulder to the saloon. Both men watched in comfortable silence as the stage rolled to a rough stop. The only passenger to emerge from the coach was a middle aged man with dark brown hair and observant wide eyes. He glanced around with an air of condescension as he swiped the dust off his impeccably tailored clothing. He adjusted his black top hat carefully and pulled himself to his full 5 and half foot height. The stranger's gaze raked over the boardwalk and stopped on the men standing outside the saloon.
"Who is this peacock?" Buck asked not bothering to lower his voice, as he walked up behind Josiah and Nathan.
"Looks like we're about to find out." Josiah answered.
The small, thin man took a few steps closer to the men watching him with open curiosity and focused his brown eyes on Josiah. "How much for your man to carry my luggage to the hotel?" He waved in Nathan's general direction as he spoke.
It took a few seconds for all three lawmen to decipher the thick Southern accent, deeper even then Ezra's.
"I ain't nobody's man." Nathan hissed through clenched teeth as he registered the man's words first. He felt Buck's hand on his shoulder and shrugged it off.
"Easy Brother." Josiah murmured quietly.
The visitor blinked once looking between Nathan and Josiah.
"I see." He drawled calmly. He turned as the stagecoach driver set his bags beside him. "I'll see to them myself then."
Seething with anger at the man's obvious dismissal, Nathan turned and roughly pushed past Buck. He didn't need this, didn't need another southern dandy strutting into town just to rub the past into his face. He stormed blindly to the bar and ordered a whiskey. It wasn't like him to drink heavily, seeing that he never knew when his services might be needed but at the moment he didn't care. He told Inez to leave the bottle, then scooped it up and headed to a corner table.
On the opposite side of the room Chris and Vin quietly observed Jackson's actions.
"What's wrong with him?" Chris asked as Buck joined them.
"Stranger just came into town, called him Josiah's man." Buck explained softly.
Vin closed his eyes and groaned. "Doesn't need that."
"Nope." Chris sipped his drink "This stranger gonna cause more trouble?" He asked Buck.
Buck shrugged. " I hope not. Won't take much to set Nathan off though."
"Better keep a watch on both of them then." Chris said thoughtfully.
Nathan sipped at his whiskey and frowned. Too many memories were flooding his mind. Images of his mother, his siblings, the overseer. He could still hear his father's words as he testified in court not too many weeks ago. Rubbing a hand roughly over his face, Nathan blinked back the sudden flood of emotion and took a long swig from the bottle. Inside he knew that drinking and hating weren't going to ease his pain but for the moment it was what he wanted and that was enough.