Chris was on edge. He had been since Ezra and Vin had ridden out on patrol two hours ago. Buck refused to leave his side. Though Ezra and Vin were the most connected through the link thanks to that damnably annoying Merge, Chris still had enough of a connection to them that he was all but climbing the walls.
Buck stayed by his side to make certain he didn't shoot anyone by accident. "C'mon," he said finally. "Let's walk."
"Don't wanna," Chris growled. "Gonna stay right here and watch for the two o'them."
"You're not gonna do them -- or yourself -- " or me, he added silently, "--any good prowlin' the saloon walls. Come ON." Reluctantly, Chris went.
A grin split Vin's face as they rode. Not willing to disturb the easy silence surrounding them, Ezra 'asked', What's so funny?
The cowboy's about to climb the walls.
Ah. Ezra nodded. He still has one of those Feelings?
Yep. Vin frowned at the ground.
You found something. It was not a question.
A nod and Vin dismounted. After a second, Ezra did the same. Vin led the way to a rock formation. Odd, Ezra related. This wasn't here last week.
Somethin' fishy here, Vin agreed. He motioned for Ezra to stay still, which Ezra did. Vin crept forward gingerly. Ez, there's writing here. He reached out a hand and brushed it along the symbols.
And the rock formation seemed to explode in purple light. Vin was picked up and flung to the ground. Ezra screamed his name aloud and broke into a run toward his fallen friend, who lay pinned beneath the purple beam. A second shot out and connected with Ezra, lifting him and depositing him feet away from his friend; intensifying till the purple vanished behind a light so white and bright it seemed to burn his very soul.
On the boardwalk, Chris suddenly let out a sharp, wordless cry. His hand flew to his head as his knees buckled and he fell to the wooden planks.
"Chris!" Buck gripped his shoulders and straightened him slightly. "Chris, can you hear me?"
"....Ez...ra....Vi...Vin...." Chris's head lolled back. His eyes fluttered open and Buck gasped in spite of himself.
Chris's normally hazel eyes flickered emerald green-- then sky-blue--- then were his normal hazel colour again before they closed and he collapsed bonelessly into Buck's arms.
With a grunt of exertion, Buck heaved the insensate gunslinger into a fireman's carry and screamed out, "Nathan! I need you! Josiah! JD! Mount up! Ride out! Find Vin and Ezra!"
Ezra opened his eyes and noticed immediately that it was dark. He noticed as well that the hot sun was beating down on his face. For a second, despair washed over him as he realised that for the second time in his life he had lost his sight.
Then he realised it was silent. Not the silence of deafness, thank G-d, but the eerie silence of being alone in his mind. Chris! Vin! he called. No answer, just the constant 'buzz' of background noise that he'd come to realise meant they were both unconscious.
With an effort, Ezra rolled to his hands and knees. "Vin!" he called aloud. Then he added the 'kick' of their telepathy to it. "Vin, please! Make a noise! "
Ezra smiled. He chalked the slightly higher timbre up to the position Vin was no doubt lying in. "I'm coming, partner, just hold on! "
I've no doubt of that, partner, none at all. I need you to make a noise again....please. Vocally.
Vin, I've lost my sight.
Ezra turned in that direction and crawled toward the voice. I'm blind, Vin. That light... harmed my eyes. I'm on the right track now... He sensed warmth a second before his fingers brushed against something soft and yielding. Is this you?
He trailed his fingers up Vin's arm and found the tracker to be face-down. Brace yourself; I'm going to turn you over.
Ezra did, wincing at the soft gasp of pain. I'm going to check you for injuries now, okay? Where does it hurt?
Vin, you're a world of help. His fingers began to trace Vin's head, looking for injuries.
He found something else.
Softer features. A less sharp chin and a more mobile mouth, full lips parted in gasps of pain. Larger eyes and longer hair.
Ezra licked his lips and ran his hands down Vin's arms -- and found slender hands with tapered fingers at the ends of them. He moved his hands inward to check Vin's ribs --- and his fingers met unmistakable curves.
WHAT THE HELL? erupted from Vin's mind at the same time a wordless cry of shock erupted from --- HER -- mouth! Pain, shock and confusion abruptly merged into a long scream that ended in agonised sobs as Vin's overwhelmed mind simply ... shut down.
Ezra didn't even think. He lifted her as best he could and cradled her gently, pressing her cheek to his shoulder and rocking her slightly as she clung to him and poured out her agony and fear. He made comforting noises even as his own tears slid from unseeing eyes to drip onto her long black hair.
They were still like that when Josiah and JD thundered up twenty minutes later.
Chris walked out of Nathan's clinic, worried anger etched in every step. Nathan and Buck followed him, Nathan finishing his diagnosis. "....no idea why he collapsed like that. No medical reason for it at all."
"Nope," Buck agreed. "No medical reason."
Nathan scowled at him. "You know more than you're telling."
"Maybe I do, maybe I don't." Buck met his eyes. "And maybe it ain't none of your business."
"Look, if it's going to start affecting Chris's health it's damn well my business!"
Chris suddenly shot out into the street, barreling toward the jail. Buck and Nathan blinked after him for a minute, till they saw JD's horse barrel up to the jail and JD launch off his back a second after the sweating beast stopped. He said a few words to Chris, whose cry of "Shit!" was clearly heard. While JD was still talking, Chris grabbed the bridle of the horse and swung himself into the saddle. With a click of his heels and a "Heyah!" Chris was off, the horse tearing back the same way he'd come.
"What the hell...." Nathan breathed.
"Vin," Buck said under his breath before he bolted toward the livery.
Chris rode up on the surreal sight of Josiah leading his horse by the bridle, walking beside it. Astride it sat Ezra, holding the reins. Chris's heart squeezed in his chest as JD's words were confirmed -- Ezra's posture and head position were those of the sightless.
Ezra's arms reached around a young woman with long ebony hair. The hands that held the reins also served to hold her in something of a comforting embrace. She leaned back against Ezra, her head resting on his shoulder. She and Josiah both wore expressions of stunned shock and horror, similar to that on JD's face when Chris had stormed off. Ezra's poker face was somewhat intact, but the shock showed through on him as well.
Good G-d, Chris mentally gasped. The woman wore Vin's clothing, minus the hat.
To his horror, the woman raised her head. ...cow...boy.....
Chris stopped JD's horse and Josiah stopped his. Chris reached out and touched a lock of the long hair spilling over the buckskin coat. "....my God, what happened?" His voice was choked with horror.
It was Josiah who answered. "We don't know, Chris." Chris's eyes turned to him and he saw the tear tracks on the ex-preacher's face. "God help us, we just don't know."
Four Corners was abuzz. The strange and terrible misfortunes that had befallen two of the seven protectors took only hours to be the talk of the town. While most felt pity and sorrow for blinded Ezra, they literally queued up to see the altered Vin. The others finally had to order them to go about their business or they'd start arresting.
Mary and Inez stayed to aid Vin in adjusting to her new condition. Chris, Buck and Josiah determined to help Ezra adjust to life without sight.
"No." Vin sat up in the bed, her arms crossed across the top of her stomach and her lower lip protruding slightly in a furious female pout.
"Vin," Mary said, holding up the offending garment. "You have to --"
"Why? Just cause I'm stuck in this body?" She jabbed a tapered finger at the bone-and-satin construct. "There ain't no way in hell you're gonna squeeze me like an orange in that!"
Inez took the corset and lay it aside. "Es bueno, Vin. I don't wear them either."
"See?" she jabbed a finger toward Inez. "I may be a girl now, but I'm still me. I'm gonna dress like me, gonna act like me." She sat up and glared at Mary. "An' if you think you're gonna change me; you can stick that idea where the sun don't shine!" She settled back down and grinned. "And you can quote me on that!"
Mary HMPH'ed and left in a swirl of skirts. Inez sat on the bed. "Change is not a bad thing, Vin. But the changes that count are from here." She touched her own heart. "Mary was wrong. I hope I never do that to you."
Vin smiled at her. "Thank you. When can I get up?"
"This afternoon, Nathan said. He wishes you to rest, says the....what happened to you.... must have been very draining."
"At least everyone believes I'm me."
Inez laughed. "What choice did we have, senorita? You show up in your own clothing with your own scars and mannerisms ---- senor o senorita, eres Vin."
Her nose wrinkled. "Vin. Doesn't sound like it fits no more."
After thinking for a moment, Inez suggested, "Violet?"
The nose wrinkled again. "I ain't gonna be called no damn colour."
Inez laughed, and then pondered a moment more. "Vivian?"
After a second, the sunshine of a smile bloomed. "Vivian Tanner. I like that."
"Her name is Vivian," Ezra announced out of the blue as Nathan was shining a light into his eyes.
"Vivian Tanner, hm?" Nathan said as he set the lantern down.
"Yes. What is the verdict?"
Nathan sighed heavily. "Well, it's simply too soon to tell. From what you've told me and the state of your eyes, it appears that your eyes have been.... overloaded. Whether or not you’ll see again, however...."
Ezra nodded. "I... understand. Thank you for your honesty, Nathan." He slid from the bed.
"Hey, where are you going?"
"To be beside Vivian," came the curt answer. A hand swung out and was caught by Chris. ".....Chris?"
"Yep," the gunslinger said. "Come on, I'll take you to her."
Ezra smiled and nodded. Over Nathan's protests, they left the clinic.
Vivian lay in the bed, looking out the hotel window and at her wagon enviously. At the moment, she'd kill just to be back in her own bed.
Tell me what ya need, and I'll get 'em, came the whisper in her mind.
She smiled. Thanks, cowboy. Fresh clothes'd be nice.
Uhm, you're forgettin' somethin'.
The smile turned to a frown. What's that?
Ezra chimed in. I believe he's alluding to the fact you now only stand at five feet and five inches. All your clothing will have to be altered to fit.
Vivian crashed against the pillow and made a noise of frustration, pounding the bed with her smaller fists. My guns.... will I have to have THEM altered too?
Doubtful. Ezra walked into the room on Chris's arm. However, you may have to rebuild the strength in your hands.
Chris sat Ezra down on the chair by the bed and left the room, to get clothing for Nettie and Casey to alter for her.
Sensing his departure, Ezra sank deeper into the link, going into the part of it that connected himself and Vivian alone. How are you?
Responding in kind, Vivian gave just one word. Scared.
Ezra felt for her hand. Finding it, he squeezed it. Me too.
Hug me again?
Smiling, Ezra climbed onto the bed and enveloped her in his arms. There, feeling suddenly secure --- suddenly safe --- Vivian began to cry again.
Two hours later, Nathan opened the hotel room door to check on his reluctant patients. He found them entwined on the bed, Ezra on top of the covers and Vivian beneath. The gambler held the smaller woman in a protective embrace. Both were sound asleep.
With a rare broad smile, Nathan slid out of the room and closed the door behind him.
Ezra opened his eyes and realised two things with a jolt. First of all, he was holding a soft, warm, very female body next to him. How long had it been since that had happened? he wondered idly as his fingertips brushed her soft cheek.
Second, it struck him that it was lighter in the room. He blinked at that, and memory suddenly rushed back with a vengeance. "Vivian!" he whispered. Then, not even trusting that voice, he communicated, Vivian!
He saw the dark shape move and part of it lift. With a wordless cry of joy, he saw the room lighten even more. Before his eyes, her face lightened and seemed to separate from her dark hair. Her features, drawn with confusion and worry, drew into sharp focus. ...my God, she's beautiful...
I'm...what? Then her eyes widened as she looked deep into his. She broke into a beatific smile and touched his cheek. ....Ezra! You... you can SEE?
He nodded, crushing her close in a celebratory hug. I can SEE! The hug lasted only a second when, caught up in the moment, Ezra pulled back just enough to close his mouth over hers.
When he realised what he was doing, he pulled back. V...Vivian...I ... I....
She was studying him more intently than ever. Hush, she ordered as she slid her hands up his back and pulled him close again.
Are you...sure, Vivian? he asked hesitantly.
Positive. And she initiated another, more tender kiss.
Ezra tangled his hand in her hair and deepened the kiss. He opened his mind to her, and felt her do the same. Their minds flowed together, merging once more as they lost themselves in a love newly born.
At the jail, Chris suddenly moaned and dropped his head into his hands. He was unable to ignore what was going on with the other two, and unable to sever his connection. Oh, lovely, he thought sarcastically. As if our lives weren't complicated ENOUGH....
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