Vin was leaning against the support pole of the boardwalk, watching the goings-on that made up late morning in Four Corners. Chris walked over. "You okay?"
Vin turned to look at him. "Dunno. Got a funny feelin' bout today."
Ezra walked over to them. "Another of your renowned intuitives, Mister Tanner?"
"Dunno," Vin repeated. "Day just don' feel right."
The tall man smiled as he added the final touches to the small figures. My revenge will soon be done, he thought. You could not keep my heart's brother's wife safe.... He chanted and a smile twisted his lips.
You judged both she and he by their appearances, not their hearts. He waved his hands over the small idols -- one wearing a tiny buckskin coat, one wearing one dyed red. The red one had a small spade, cut from a playing card, embedded in its chest. The buckskin one had a bit of wolf's fur tied to it.
Herbs were sprinkled and more chanting was done. You judged them by their appearances --- The wolf fur and spade were removed from the tiny forms. Now it will be YOU that are judged. The spade was returned -- into the one wearing the buckskin. The one in the red became the recipient of the wolf's fur.
The punishment for the others is the knowledge you are no longer you --- and they are powerless to stop it! Just as they were powerless to stop your suffering, my heart's brother!
The final chant was said. The man smiled as the figures glowed intensely. It begins.
Fate was not merciful that day. Both Ezra and Vin were fully conscious the entire time.
They both fell to their knees, crying out uncontrollably as pain lanced through every fiber of their being.
When the pain finally eased, Vin and Ezra both rolled to their hands and knees. Panting and extremely dazed, neither one noticed nor cared that Nathan was shouting questions at them.
Slowly, Vin's blue eyes raised to lock onto Ezra's face. He let out an inarticulate shriek and scrambled backwards as far as Chris's restraining arms would allow. Ezra's eyes raised, and both the screech and the movement were repeated, only it was Josiah's arms that restrained him.
Nathan's voice finally penetrated the fog that seemed to surround them. "Hey! Vin?"
It was Ezra's green eyes that turned to him at the question. Ignoring him, Nathan repeated, "Vin!" When the blue eyes finally focused on him, he asked, "Are you hurt?"
Slowly, Vin's mouth worked. "I...." the sound of his own voice seemed to startle him. "I...seem to be...unharmed..."
Ezra's voice was soft....shaky. "...me....too...." He clambered awkwardly to his feet, where he swayed for a moment as if his centre of gravity were off. Vin was in a similar state as he staggered to his feet.
Both of them ignored Nathan and Chris's cries to answer them and Josiah's shaking of Ezra to get his attention. They stared at each other, naked shock and horror on their faces.
"I..." Ezra finally stuttered, "I g-gotta be alone awhile....clear m'head...."
Vin nodded slowly. "An...excellent idea...."
With that, they broke free of the hands holding them and moved. Vin vanished into the saloon and a moment later, Ezra flew from the livery on horseback and vanished out of the town.
The other five blinked in confusion. "What just happened here?" Chris finally asked.
"Not sure," Nathan replied. "But I'm gonna make sure Vin's okay."
"I'm comin' with you," Chris said, following him into the saloon.
Josiah stared after Ezra for a long moment before he headed to the church, shaking his head.
Buck shook his head and sighed. "Those two, I swear." He looked over at JD and chuckled. "Best close yer mouth, kid, 'fore you swallow a gut full o'dirt."
JD obeyed, but his wide eyes didn't move from where he had gaped after Ezra.
"Hey," Buck said, taking JD's shoulders. "Hey, what is it?"
"Ezra," JD whispered. "He...he..."
"Yeah, I know. Lit outta here like a bat outta hell." Buck sighed and shook his head again.
"No," JD sighed in exasperation. "No...it...Buck, he lit out all right -- but he wasn't riding Chaucer!"
Buck frowned. "No?"
"No!" JD shook his head. "He... Buck, he was riding Peso!"
Nathan and Chris walked into the saloon and looked around. No Vin. Nathan walked up to the bar. "Inez, have you seen Vin?"
"Si," she said, sounding baffled. "He came in a few moments ago....swaying..... he saluted me and --- walked up the stairs." She frowned toward the small apartment, worrying her lower lip with her teeth.
Chris approached. "Inez? What is it?"
"Es nada, probably....it's just...well...."
She sighed. "He looked --- scared. And the salute didn't look like Senor Vin's. It.... it was two-fingered. Like Senor Standish's."
Chris's eyes widened and he tore up the stairs. He didn't knock as he threw open the door, counting on Vin's 'sensing' it was him.
Instead, Vin whirled, his right arm shooting out as if by reflex. Then he blinked and pulled his empty right hand in, sinking onto the chair and softly moaning, "Aw, hell...."
Chris's eyes widened even further, then narrowed. He was across the room in one step, grabbing the long-haired man by the shirt and slamming him against the wall. "Where is he?" he bellowed. "Where the hell is he?"
Nathan grabbed his arms and broke the hold. "Chris, have you gone crazy? That's Vin!"
"That's not Vin!" Chris growled. He glared at the blue-eyed man who was picking himself up from the floor. "I don't know how, and I don't know why, but that is not Vin! Where is he, Standish? What did you do with him?"
Rotating his aching shoulder, the man inside Vin's body -- Ezra -- said calmly, "I don't know, Mister Larabee."
Nathan's head snapped around, his eyes widening and his mouth falling open at the unmistakable accent and phrasing.
Ignoring him, Ezra went on, "After our little -- fit --- on the boardwalk, we found ourselves in this predicament. I am inside of Mister Tanner's..." he ran a calloused hand down the buckskin sleeve, his lip curling in distaste, "....form.... and he resides inside of mine. Where he's gone, I don't know. Our ... condition... did not create a mental link between us."
Chris nodded, the fire calming somewhat. "Sorry about throwin' ya around."
Ezra managed to create an approximation of his own smile on the stubbled face. "Mister Larabee, you've been wanting to do that for months."
Chris returned the smile. "Yeah, well.....I'm gonna ride out and find Vin."
"When you do?" He unbuckled the gunbelt and handed both the mares-leg and the buckskin coat to Chris. After a moment, he handed the hat and pink bandanna as well. "I'm certain he would wish these in his possession."
Nathan finally spoke. "You're goin' unarmed?"
"Not hardly, Mister Jackson." Ezra's new azure eye closed in a wink. "I've more than one rigging. I'm certain it will fit this ... physique ... as the one he has on his arm does. He isn't that much taller than I." He sighed and turned to his closet. "It does, however, appear I'll have to have my clothing altered to fit...."
"Wait on that, huh?" Nathan said. "This could only be temporary."
"That prospect is all that is keeping me from going mad, Mister Jackson," Ezra said softly as he leaned over the dresser and regarded the stubbled face framed by long dark hair. "And Mister Larabee? Please inform him that the hair will be left alone --- though I insist upon a shave."
Chris's laughter followed him out of the room.
Some hours later, Chris found himself on the banks of a river. He dismounted and let Rogue go be with Peso as he made his way toward the slender figure sitting on the banks, rocking back and forth in a small ball. Chris sighed, seeing the red coat and flat-brimmed hat lying in a crumpled pile near the black horse. "Ezra ain't gonna be happy if you wrinkle his coat," he teased softly, dropping next to the figure. "How ya doin', cowboy?"
"Scared," came the soft answer. The head raised and emerald eyes met Chris's. "Talked t'him, huh?"
"Blamed him for a bit. Thought he'd hurt you."
"I'm hurt, all right," Vin said, "...but it ain't Ez's fault." He leaned forward a little, looking in the river at his altered reflection. "I'm him."
"No you're not." Chris squeezed his shoulder. "You're still Vin Tanner where it counts. You just look like him."
A corner of the mouth twitched, and Vin flinched as a dimple appeared. "Ez would say appearances were everything."
"He still does. S'why he sent these." Chris lay a bundle beside the shorter man.
Vin peered at the bundle, then reached out and opened it. His new green eyes widened and his mouth exploded into a gold-toothed, dimpled grin. "My coat! My hat! My gun...." he ran his hand over the bandanna and the smile faded. "S'too big," he whispered. "Gonna have t'get it cut down t'fit now."
"Nathan thinks this is temporary," Chris said.
"Nathan don't know what caused this."
Chris frowned. "You say that like you do."
"Nope. But got a feelin'." He pulled off the cravat and tied the bandanna around his throat. "Fer one thing, me an' Ez seem to 'at home' where we're at. Don't feel like I'm in someone else's body at all. Means it's probably been my very soul that's been moved."
"What....does that mean?" Chris whispered. "Who'd do this? Why?"
"Dunno." He strapped on the mare's leg and slid Ezra's gunbelt into the saddlebag before pulling on the too-large coat and mounting Peso. "But I aim t'find out."
At the first sight of Chris and his companion, Buck's jaw unhinged and he raked the shorter man's form up and down with his eyes. "Damn, JD was right," he hissed. "Ya look like Ezra, but ya act like Vin!"
"I am Vin," he said succinctly as he climbed down off Peso and was nosed by the beast. "Goldarned horse," he chuckled affectionately as he rubbed the large nose. "Git in there, till I come for ya."
As Peso trotted into the stall, Vin raised the new green eyes and sighed at the unreal sight of his own body exiting the saloon. The pants were unchanged, as was the clean shirt -- but there was now a violet vest over it and the stubble was gone from the chin. The hair had been pulled back in a small, tight ponytail. The tall man was also buttoning the sleeve over a derringer rigging. He looked up and smiled. "How are you?" he asked.
Vin shrugged. "Comfortable. Too comfortable."
A two-fingered salute and the blue eyes turned sad. "I, too, am too comfortable. Do you have any idea what caused this?"
"Got a hunch. Feel up to ridin'?"
"If Chaucer will permit me to ride him."
The gold tooth flashed as Vin smiled. "He will. Horses know. Peso didn't give me no grief."
"Don't think for one moment you're goin' alone," Chris informed them.
"Wouldn't dream of it," Ezra chuckled as he moved toward the livery. "The three of us then?"
"Five," Buck said, riding up and leading Chaucer by the reins. "I gotta watch your back, and if I know JD -- and I know JD -- he ain't gonna let me go it alone."
That made them all chuckle, then Josiah rode up. "Six." He looked at Ezra, frustration in his eyes. "We'll figure it out, son."
Ezra sighed. "Mister Sanchez, I am not your ----" Then he looked away, tears pricking at the blue eyes. "......thank you."
Josiah squeezed his shoulder, then smiled over it. "We're seven strong, brother?"
"We're seven strong," Nathan grinned as he rode up. "Let's get to it."
The seven mounted and rode toward the setting sun.
Five hours later, they rode into the Seminole village. The chief who had originally hired them walked out to meet them. "Greetings, my friends," he said with a smile. "We greet you with hostility."
The Seven couldn't help but chuckle. By now, it had become a running joke between them. "We got a bit of a situation here," Chris said with worry in his voice. "Hopin' one of your shamans could help us out."
The chief nodded and led them to the houses. As they filled in the shamans, they began to murmur and crowd Vin and Ezra. One of them stepped back, frowning deeply. "Yes..." he said at long last. "Their souls have been moved. Possibly by the use of a kachina or an idol."
"A kachina?" JD asked.
"Almost like a voodoo doll," Josiah told him. "But not quite. Similar, but different."
"Ah," JD said, frowning. "Clear as mud..."
Vin managed to make his way out of the press and he scanned the houses. He looked over at Chris, nodding his head minutely toward one of them.
Chris recognised the set of the jaw and the look in the green eyes --- Vin had one of his Feelings. He returned the nod, and saw the auburn-haired man slip inside.
A few moments later, he came out, holding something in his hands. He called out a word in Kiowa, and all action froze. When all eyes were on him, he held up two dolls -- one in buckskin with a spade cut from a deck of cards imbedded in its chest; the other one red-coated, with a bit of wolf's fur tied to it.
Two of the shamans looked shocked. One looked smug. He walked toward them. "Now you understand," he said with a nod.
The chief moved forward. "What have you done?" he demanded.
"They judged Chanu and his bride by their appearances. Now they will be judged by their appearances."
The chief shook him. "It was not your decision to make! Not your act to perform!"
The shaman grinned at him. "But I did make the decision. I did perform the act. It is done."
CLICK-CLICK. All around him, guns cocked. Chris's voice said evenly, "Then undo it."
The chief released the shaman, who took the dolls from Vin's hands. He moved toward Chris and put his chest right on the business end of Chris's gun. He met Chris's eyes. "No."
Silence. The tension level in the camp jacked up noticeably. "No?" Chris asked.
"No," the shaman replied. He turned around and addressed the Seven. "The seven of you judged my heart's brother and his wife by appearances. Now you, also, appear to be what you are not. You," And he looked at Vin. "You now appear to be one of white man's wealth and cunning. You," he looked at Ezra, "now appear to be one of the 'ruffians' you so despise. The rest of you now must live with them, fighting your own mental ideas and heart ideas." He laughed. "You must now battle your very selves every time you look at them!"
The chief ordered, "Lift the charm!"
The shaman moved toward the fire and chanted, waving the dolls in the smoke.
"He's lifting it," Buck whispered hopefully.
After a moment, the chief's eyes widened and he moved a step forward. "Stop this!" he cried out. "Stop, you are sealing the charm, not lifting it!"
"Sealing it?" the Seven gasped as one, and Vin asked, "What the hell ---?"
"If he completes that chant, there will be no undoing of the charm! Take the dolls, stop him!"
Chris didn't hesitate for an instant. He raised his gun-- and fired. Once.
The chant stopped. Slowly, the shaman lowered the dolls and looked down at the red blooming on his abdomen. He fell to his knees. Then, with the last vestiges of his dying strength ---
The man threw the dolls into the fire. They erupted into flame and were consumed within seconds.
Vin and Ezra both let out an inhuman scream as they went to their knees. For a moment, their bodies flared fever-hot --- then it faded. Slowly, both of them regained their feet, their eyes locking as they stood, trembling.
The corpse of the man who'd set this in motion also fell into the fire. Nobody cared at the moment.
"Vin! Ezra!" Nathan called as the other five surrounded them.
"Did it work?" JD asked, his eyes huge. "Are....are you back to normal?"
The pair kept staring at each other. Tears welled in both green and blue eyes.
"Cowboy, you're scarin' me," Chris said. "Where are ya?"
Slowly, Vin turned his head. "Here," he said, and noises of grief and agony came from the others as Chris embraced him convulsively and Josiah did the same to Ezra. The single word had come from the auburn-haired, green-eyed man.
They were stuck.
As each other.
For the rest of their lives.
Ezra sat alone in his room, staring into the mirror. The blue eyes and rugged features that looked back at him would take quite a lot of getting used to. But he would get used to it.
He no longer had a choice.
A knock sounded on his door. "Go away!" he cried.
After a pause, Ezra sighed. "Come on in."
Vin entered the room and threw the large hat on the bed. "Talked t'Miz Potter an' Nettie. They'll be glad t'alter our clothes t'fit."
Ezra smiled slightly at him in the mirror. "Thank you, Vin. It's......appreciated. I will feel infinitely more --- comfortable -- in my own apparel."
"Me too," Vin said, tugging on the too-large shirt he wore. "Feel like a kid wearin' big brother's clothes."
That made the smile grow.
Vin walked over and stood behind him, laying manicured hands on shoulders that had once been his. "It's quite a wrench, ain't it?"
"Indubitably," Ezra whispered.
Vin removed his hands from Ezra's shoulders and raised them to his chest. In the mirror, Ezra watched him tug off the rings he had left on the tapered fingers, in the hope this was only temporary. Without a word, Vin lay the rings on the dresser in front of Ezra.
"Thank you," Ezra said. "One of those is... all I have... of my father."
Once more, the hand were laid on his shoulders. This time, they squeezed the slightly shaking shoulders. "I'm gonna let my hair grow," he said, smiling just enough to make the gold tooth flash. "Still me in here, an' I feel odd with short hair."
Ezra nodded. "And it's no longer my place to tell you what to do with...... after all, that body is yours now....." He broke off, biting his lip.
"I need t'do somethin'," Vin said. "Sort'a.... sort'a like a final goodbye to my --- that --- body."
In the mirror, blue eyes met green. Ezra had been Vin's friend long enough to know the tracker's need for a few rituals in his life. "Agreed," he said after a moment. "What must I do?"
Vin slid his knife from its sheath. "All ya gotta do is sit there...an' not move."
Ezra nodded. "Proceed, Mister Tanner."
Without another word, Vin moved closer to Ezra. He reached out and undid the leather thong holding the small, tight ponytail in place. The dark curls spilled onto Ezra's shoulders. His face solemn, Vin gathered the long hair in his left hand. He met Ezra's eyes in the mirror again.
Then, with one quick stroke of the knife, Vin severed the long curls at the base of Ezra's skull.
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