It was cold.

Cold, and the light was odd... pale and bleached, making him think of old and broken bones. It made everything around him look strangely flat, a little unreal. Wooden.

Which, he thought, made sense, given the buildings were all wood. Old wood. Very, very old, broken wood. He sat on an old, broken, wooden step and leaned back against an old, broken, wooden railing, and he felt cold.

His head hurt, and his leg and side, and he couldn't remember why he was here in the first place, but it didn't seem to matter.

It was also quiet, not a sound but his own shaky breathing, and the thump of his heart. Which he thought also hurt.

He wondered where the others were. Jim, and Simon, and... and... Brown? He couldn't quite remember who else.

He did wish it wasn't so cold.


"Are you still in pain?" The silence was broken by that soft, almost musical Southern drawl again, and the only other person here came into sight, stiffly and carefully. "I must apologize, I could not find anyone to assist. But I did acquire... this."

A bottle, very old by the look of it, and only a third full.

"Beer," the stranger went on, "the best of an unfortunate offering, and somewhat mediocre in itself." His pale green gaze shifted back towards the decrepit doorway. "I think this must have been a saloon once, a poor one. There may be items we can use in the other buildings..." He looked around at the dirt street of crumbling buildings. "Or there may not. Curious, I don't recall how I came to be here. Certainly not by choice."

Blair took a swig of the drink, gagging at the tepid, stale taste but hoping it would warm him a little, and stared around hazily. He had a vague idea that he should be panicking at least a little... but it hurt too much to worry, almost too much to think straight.

Of course, Jim would say that thinking straight had never been his strong point.

Jim would come.

He stared up at the soft-featured face, with large, world-weary eyes and mobile mouth, under dark chestnut hair matted with the blood that had also dried on the left temple. He didn't know the man he was stuck here with, not why either of them was here in this godforsaken, utterly empty, utterly silent little town - both of them hurting, neither of them able to go for help.

Then again, he didn't really know where to go either.

"You're hurt too," he said finally, knowing it was obvious, not really able to get past the obvious.

"I'll survive. The bullet," the man's right hand hovered over his left arm, and the rough, bloodied bandage made from his own shirt sleeve, "has gone straight through."

"You were shot?"

"Oh yes, I am all too acquainted with how it feels."

"Well... acquainted?"

"Far too well. And you?"

"I'm acquainted, yeah. I've been shot before, well, once."

"Once...? You are fortunate."

"Hey, it hurt like fu... it hurt. What did you do to your head?"

"Ah..." The hand went waveringly to his face, leaving a faint streak of dirty red. "I assume... I fell. I'm not certain where from..."

"Concussion," Blair nodded, then wished he hadn't. He had concussion too.

"And you?"

"I don't remember, man... some sort of accident?"

The other man huffed, a soft, bittersweet breath of laughter. "Aren't they all accidents? I do assure you, I did not wake this morning with the intention of..." His voice faded away. "...Of whatever I did to reach this sorry state."

"So... what now?" Blair tried to sit up, and gasped; the pale air shivered and fractured around him for a moment, and he recalled crashing, and screams, and a clear bright blue sky. But it was... gone, swallowed by the pain and the silence.

"Stay still." The hand on his arm, the touch of fingers on his forehead, was icy. "You are cold -?"

"S-so are you!"

"True. Your outfit..." Cautious fingers touched the edges of Blair's light shirt, and that green gaze ran down the torn patchwork vest and jeans, "though piquantly homespun, does not strike me as sufficiently warm."

'Piquant'? Blair opened his mouth to retort, then groaned as his head throbbed, so hard it seemed like the only noise in the soundless place.

"And we have no way of augmenting it."

"What are we gonna do?" At least, do until Jim and Simon came.

"We do not appear to have much choice, either of us." The man slowly, painfully, lowered himself to sit on the broken wooden steps near where Blair was propped, and held out a hand for the bottle. "And we've yet to be introduced - Ezra P. Standish, at your service." He grimaced. "Such poor service as I can manage."

"At least," Blair handed the bottle over, "you got this. I'm Blair Sandburg, by the way."

There was a silence, heavy and uncertain. "My pleasure, Mister Sandburg, and now I would suggest it is imperative that we find some way to leave for what passes for civilization in these parts -"

"You mean to find help."

"I doubt there is any," Ezra waved a shaking hand, "here."

"Man, be realistic. Neither of us are going anywhere," Blair leaned back, wishing his head would stop hurting, "even if we knew where to go, which we don't. Someone'll come looking, they've got to."

"You truly anticipate rescue?" Ezra said softly. "When you have no idea where we are?"

Blair licked dry lips, and stumbled on, "Yeah... yeah, I do. I don't know, I really don't know where my friends are, but they'll come. Soon." Jim would, he knew that. Jim and Simon. They'd come looking.

"You trust them." It was not a question.

"Yeah. Trust 'em with my life." Especially Jim.

"With life..." Ezra sighed. "That, my young friend, is encouraging."

"And you?"

"I..." There was another silence. "I couldn't say."

"People are gonna miss us both -"


Blair stared at him. "You don't think you've got friends who'd come for you?"

Ezra's voice harshened. "I have acquaintances, those I work with. I..." He faltered. "I believe they will search for me, we have always had each others' backs, as they so insistently put it. I do believe that much."

"Hey, that's quite a lot, man," Blair said softly, disturbed by what he saw in the other man's eyes - not quite worry, not quite resignation, something inbetween. "Sounds pretty much like trust to me."

"That, young man, is questionable."

"Is it? C'mon, you sound like you trust them to be there for you."

Ezra shrugged, wincing a little. "As you said... 'with my life'." His face grew still and cold. "But that is on occasion the easier alternative."

Blair wasn't sure he was up to deciphering that... well, not right now. "It's still a lot."


"But not enough for you?"

Ezra looked at him. "It was you, Mister Sandburg, who found a use for the word... friends. Not I."

"But it sounds..." Blair stopped. "Okay, that's so not my call. But anyway, it sounds like you do think they'll come looking for you."

"I believe... I would hope... yes," in a rush of tight, brittle emotion, "they will. They all will."

"And Jim and Simon won't give up on me, I know that. So between your... people and mine, someone's gotta find us soon."

"Obviously an optimist."

"Look, I was gonna meet them, right before I... I walked here." "I must have. I remember..." He paused.

Ezra leaned forward, intent. "Remember what?"

"Not much, but I walked here."

"Wherever 'here' is."

"Odd that neither of us can remember..." But that thought, like the memory, skittered away.

"It cannot be far from home," Ezra said musingly, "given that I was home this morning. So my associates should not take long to find us."

"And your home is..."

"Four Corners," his voice dropped, "for the moment."

Blair thought, then shook his head - and wished he hadn't. "Owww... no, I don't remember going through there."

"Most folk would take pains not to."

"Go through?"

"Or remember, if they did."


"Not at all."

"So why's it home... for the moment?"

Ezra glanced at him. "I owe..." He stopped, his gaze caught in Blair's, seeming to see something there... then he struggled to his feet, clutching a battered black hat that Blair hadn't noticed before. "I owe them, Mister Sandburg. Please leave it at that. I owe them, and they will come."

"To collect?"

That stopped him. "No," he said finally, with that huff of laughter again. "They never collect."

Blair stared at him, not really understanding. Sounded like friends to him...

Still stiff and careful with the pain, Ezra made his uncertain way down the steps. "As I said, I trust those six men with my life, Mister Sandburg." His voice sounded... off in the flat, leached air, drained of the soft music Blair had thought he heard. For the first time, Blair's fuddled mind registered how odd, uncommon, how old-fashioned the man's ruffled, torn shirt and pinstripe trousers, that flat hat - and the gun belt, how had he missed the gun belt? - were.

"I admit I trust them with my life, which is the least complicated form of trust." Ezra half-turned away, staring down the empty dirt street. "As you do. But do you trust your friends with more than that?"

"Yeah," Blair said without having to think.

"You mean that."

"Trust them with my heart as well, man. And at least one -" Jim. Jim, who he knew was coming. "- with my soul."

"I am not - I c-cannot do that." The wavering voice held a jaded weariness Blair didn't understand, and didn't want to. "I can't."

"I'm sorry."

Ezra turned back, looked at him, and smiled. "Or at l-least, I can't as yet."

"You okay, man? You look -"

Ezra stopped, lifting his head as if he could hear something, though to Blair it was still uncannily quiet. "Do you hear that?"

"Hear what?" Blair was struggling to sit up, and that was a mistake - all he could hear was the roaring in his ears. By the time that faded, he could see that Ezra had moved further away, further down the street, staring towards the edge of town. "Hey," and he hated how thin and panicky his own voice sounded, "Where're you going?"

"Do you hear it?"

"Nothing, man, come back, you'll hurt yourself worse -"

Ezra was swaying slightly, but still staring ahead, and Blair couldn't see what he was looking at, and couldn't hear anything.


"But someday," and though the other man spoke softly, almost in a murmur, Blair would have sworn he heard clearly, "someday I will."

The bone-colored air shimmered and flickered coldly, and in that shimmer Blair thought he saw... he saw...

He did see it. The shadowy outline of six riders, on horseback, coming in at the end of the street, and Ezra P. Standish, pale and wavering in that strange light, lifting a hand to them before he fell.

Blair blinked, eyes tired and blurry, and looked again. There was nothing, and nobody, there.

He was alone, in this old, lifeless, silent place with the air so blanched and cold it hurt...


...The air seemed to clear all at once; he blinked again, and he could see the pickup, Simon driving and Jim jumping out before it stopped, just where Ezra had been - had been.

And the town looked different, just a rickety old ghost town crumbling into the land; there wasn't a railing at his back, and he fell back, lying on the ground, staring up at a brilliant blue sky, and hearing the babble of sound - someone, several someones yelling, the pickup's roar, the odd, faint sound of birds, his own heartbeat, and Jim's breathing as his friend slithered down on his knees beside him.

He remembered the accident now, was pretty sure he'd left the Volvo just out of town, or what he'd thought was a town, a town he'd staggered to for help. He remembered stumbling in, and falling down on the broken ruins of the only building left...

He remembered thinking his friends would come.

And they had.

And it wasn't cold any more.

-the end-