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If It Were Not So - Part Two - AsTheCroweFlies

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April 4th, 2006

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06:29 pm - If It Were Not So - Part Two
Cyber Hymnal - Have Mercy Lord On Me


Cort felt comfortable. He'd found a nice mound of green grass in his meadow and curled up close to it. It was a bit wet, though, probably from the spring rains, but that was ok. It was still comfortable and felt soft beneath his bruised cheek. He drifted off, dreamless and peaceful. Then the mound moved! Why was it moving? He didn't want it to move and he grasped his arms around it more tightly. Maybe if he held on it would stop and be still? But, no. It moved absolutely relentlessly and when he pried his
eyelids up, found himself once more flat on the floor while the green being hurried out the door with someone else.

Horace was there, then, looming over him, saying something. What? Something about...about... long johns? The face disappeared and he felt his pants being pulled down. Now wait a minute! Things were going too far here! First they skin him, then they drown him, and now they want to steal his clothes?

He remembered watching the crowds in the street, stripping the corpse of the losing gunslinger. NO! He would NOT appear before his Maker without his pants!

Using mostly his shoulder muscles, he heaved himself to a sitting position and glared fiercely at Horace. The barkeep had Cort's pants down to his ankles by this time, but even though sick, Cort's expression scared the bejeezuz out of him.

"DON'T DO THAT!" Cort ordered, his voice level, deadly.

Horace dropped Cort's feet, letting his heels bang sharply on the planking.

"Ahhhhh!" Cort cried, his whole body jarred.

Horace called, "MISS! MISS!" loudly, but the door remained firmly closed.

Cort glared again. "You did not miss! You...you....what the hell are you DOING, anyway?"

Horace backed up, scrabbling on his knees, trying to put more space between him and Cort.

"I...I'm...I'm....," his face was crumbling, his lips quivering, "I'm...changing you into dry...longjohns?" It was more a question than a statement.

"You're WHAT?" Cort bellowed. The effort of sitting up and hollering was beginning to get to him. Bright spots of light appeared in front of his eyes. He put his left hand to his forehead, then slid it down, covering his eyes. His upper torso swayed. Horace watched carefully from a safe distance. He could tell Cort wasn't going to be able to maintain his sitting position much longer. All he had to do was...wait. Then it would be safe. He hoped it would be safe.

Cort wobbled some more, trying to brace himself with his left hand. It wasn't working all that well and he knew he had to get his head down flat. Slowly, he slid his hand, letting his body lower. Once prone, he closed his eyes, lying there, aware, but with no strength to move. Horace pounced on him like a puma, jerked his pants off, replaced his longjohns with the dry pair in a rather haphazzard, twisted fashion, then raced to the door, flinging it open. "I did it!" he cried, sounding like he'd just climbed Everest or something.


By the time Rachel had fled downstairs and into the kitchen Horace and Katie used for their own meals, the temper had died to an irritation. Her skirts were soaked, but she would have to wait to change if she was to have any further progress this evening. And if Horace was successful at all at getting the sick man returned to his bed, she could sit down with Cort and try to get some liquids into him and rebandage the wrists before collapsing on her own pallet. Katie
circuitously brought up the subject of the expectant townspeople, and it took a certain perceptible pause for her to keep the irritation flaring once more into a shout. Whatever the townspeople were expecting, they would just have to wait until the morning to get redress, because at this point in time Rachel herself felt like she was going to collapse or break into a thousand pieces from stress.

When she returned to the room with a new bowl of food, she found Horace standing at the door, beaming with pride.

"He's all in there now. Not too happy with me, but he's in there. But I can't help anymore, you know. Got restless cowboys to tend to down there."

Rachel nodded and thanked him, watching Horace and Katie briefly as they trotted downstairs where the voices of patrons were growing increasingly insistent. Business was booming since Herod died...poor Horace! So much has changed for him and Katie...

She hadn't noticed the sun had completely disappeared until she re-entered the room, where a kerosene sconce blazed away in the corner, casting shadows upon the figure in the bed, bundled as he was now under blanket and sheet. He appeared to be asleep, although his breathing was still and he did not snore as he usually did. She set her tray on the (cleared) bureau and took out the bandages and oils of her first treatment of him. Then, sitting at his left side as cautiously as she could muster, she began undoing the bandages of the wrist of the still-whole hand. Even though some of the rougher spots had seeped some blood, the raw skin looked much healthier than it had, faint signs of
new skin forming where before had been abrasions and scuffs.

With a sigh that suggested fatigue and relief, she began smearing more of the healing oil she had used, hoping the camphor smell and sting of antiseptic didnt disturb his sleep. She must have been so absorbed by her task that she literally jumped when Cort spoke, almost as if he wasn't sure if he was dreaming again.


His voice came low, soft, almost as though from some far place, some place where memories lay gentle and sweet. Not like this place.

"For except we had lingered, surely now we had returned this second time. And their father Israel said unto them, If it must be so now, do this; take of the best fruits in the land in your vessels, and carry down the man a present, a little balm, " he smiled slightly, looking down to where she was ministering to his wrist, "and a little honey, spices, and myrrh, nuts and almonds."

Then he closed his eyes again. "Thank you."


It was a few minutes before Rachel realized her cheek had somehow sprung a leak, struck by the music of the words he recited, which must have had some kind of magic, for she felt drawn in by the imagery, sustaining the thread that had been connected before. But those words, which she recognized from Genesis, did not strike fully until he pronounced the last two, "thank you;" and she was bending over his wrist like before, eyes hot with feeling.

She had to wipe away the tear before she had the courage to speak herself.

"Don't thank me just yet, Padre. I still have to do your other hand. And it's not as easy as this one," she responded, her own voice low, not expecting a reply, trying not to sniff too loudly. She emphasized this point by taping off the bandage and laying his hand back by his side, standing to travel to the other side of bed to follow through with her threat.


"I know," he murmured. "It's broken, isn't it?" He tried to move the fingers just a bit, but couldn't, not without great pain. And the whole center of the top of his hand, where a direct blow from the butt of Ratsy's gun had landed with full force, felt like a railroad spike had been driven clear through it. His mind wandered briefly to the crucifix that had hung above the altar in the mission. Ratsy and Foy had burned even that. Somehow it was almost...appropriate...that his hand hurt in such a fashion now.

"Don't worry," he said, trying to comfort his comforter, "I know you're trying to help. Just do what you have to do." He closed his eyes as she gently lifted his right hand off the covers, his lips moving soundlessly as he repeated a low prayer. The words were the same he'd whispered just before he'd faced Foy. "I give myself unto Thee, O Lord. Forgive me for my sins."

The words seemed stuck in that place where his prayers found their source and none besides them could make their way past. They were the last he'd prayed...the last...before. Now he found he had nothing else to say to God, only those words. And so, as the cleansing and rebandaging of his hand and wrist continued, he lay there quietly, those words coming without sound from his lips, over and over and...over.


Rachel worked in silence, noting Cort's wordless chant was the one thing giving him solace while she gingerly checked her previous handiwork. She had been very worried about what his activity had done for the integrity of the bones and she needed to know if it were not as bad as it had seemed at first. Even though the two broken fingers appeared to have been properly set, the palm where the longer carpal bones were appeared to have been smashed flat. She was
certain at least one carpal had been shattered; she wasnt so sure about the others, as his hand was still so swollen she could only press softly before Cort interrupted his meditation with a sharp intake of breath. She then finished applying the salve to his wrist, which was healing as well as the other one now, and firmly reattached the splint, risking more pain to the man to be sure that the splint did not give way.

There would have to be surgery then, she thought, feeling more intensely the need to contact Terry, plead for assistance, anything. She couldn't linger any more, she was sure, before things got really out of hand. But she hadn't been able to slip away as she had planned, to the abandoned house down the road, beyond the cemetary. She needed to get away and soon.

She remained at the bedside for the moment though, lost in thought, looking out the window at stars beginning to wink in the night sky. It had been risky trying to find a way out there in the day time. How dangerous was it in the dark? No telling what creature or rogue lurked there now and the night had its double edge sword of secrecy. Her thoughts led her to the only weapon she had brought along, a rapier custom made for her small height, to her specifications. Terry didn't know this, of course. He had argued that because she was not fully trained in firearms, it would be best to not carry any at all. No one would expect a woman to carry a gun anyway, he reasoned. Rachel scowled at that thought. Typical man, typical Aussie. How could someone from a frontier country like Australia say something like that to her?

So she had snuck her rapier through the Warp. *That* she knew she excelled at, having won numerous competitions and played endlessly with techniques learned from those master who studied the ancient fencing arts. She could be just as lethal as Cort, she berated Terry in her private musings. She only needed a small amount of surprise.

Well, that would have to be it then, she decided, having forgotten the man in the bed at her side. She'd go get her sword from its hiding place and sneak out when no one was looking....


He lay there watching her when she had finished her ministrations. Obviously, she was lost in thought. He wondered what occupied her mind to such a degree. She even seemed a bit worried about something. He found he wanted to soothe her as she had soothed him.

Opening his mouth to say something, it dawned on him fully that he didn't know her name. She'd said it, maybe, there on the steps...but he'd been so out of it he couldn't remember.

"Miss?" he said to get her attention, hoping she wasn't really a 'Ma'am.' "Can I help?"


Her reverie broken, Rachel turned and smiled at him, fully back to the task at hand.

"Yes, you can," she replied, standing to face him. "Eat. One of the reasons why you're so weak is you've not had much to eat. Can you sit up?"


"I'm not sure," he said, meaning it. "Maybe if you help me slide up against the headboard and prop me with pillows?" He tried lifting his head alone, actually managing it a bit, but it was a great effort. He felt drained still from the fever, the beatings, the lack of food and water. "You've got food? I could sure use some."


She couldn't help the little rueful laugh that escaped her lips as she recalled the earlier events of the day.

"I'm shocked you'd want me to come near you after all the bumbling I did today," she said, as she slid the pillow out from under his head and slipped her hands under his arms. "Here, put your injured hand up on my shoulder and push with the other one." Somehow, they both managed to have him sitting upright with his back against the headboard, cushioned by the pillow. Shyness prevented the both of them from really looking at each other until Cort indicated he was in a position comfortable for him and then their eyes met, faces close together because his one arm was still around her shoulder.

Clearing her throat, Rachel pulled away to turn for the soup bowl on the bureau, arguing with slight thrill she had experienced in that moment; and Cort had done nothing to hide his own emotions.

"And the name is Rachel," she added, when she thought she was certain her voice wouldn't break. "Rachel Keirs."


"Rachel," he repeated softly, drawing out the first syllable just a bit as though he were tasting the flavor of it. His head was tipped down slightly, but he looked at her with upturned eyes, his hair swinging down about both cheeks. "You've been most kind to a stranger. Not sure just why you would go to the bother, but you have my thanks." He studied her a moment. "Cort. Cortland Wells."

A sudden sharp pang went completely through him as the face of Father Michael replaced Rachel's. Father Michael had been the last person to go out of his way to take care of him when he'd been so shot up and sick. Now...here he was again...completely in the debt of someone else he'd just met. He squeezed his eyes tightly shut, shuddering violently as he remembered how the last had ended.


She couldn't help herself; that is, couldn't help but study the way the shadows from the lamplight highlighted his face as he looked up at her, giving her his full name, which not even the film-makers had bothered to specify. The thought that only the man who had played Cort could have done so crossed Rachel's mind, a particular detail which appeared to have been implanted in this alternate reality she was participating in now. But before that thought was allowed to generate others, Cort's face twitched with pain and his expression folded inward, as if he were recalling...remembering....

Rachel sat back down on the edge of the bed, placing a hand on his arm, a spark of intuition causing her to speak before thinking.

"You're thinking about what happened the last time...?" She breathed, unable to finish the sentence.


He opened his eyes, looking at her. How did she know? Ellen? Ellen must have told her.

Or...Herod. It had been Herod's little joke...the naming of this town he'd founded. As they sat there on the steps of the big house, Cort chained to the leg of Herod's chair like a pet dog, the older man had enjoyed telling him about it. John Herod had not let Cort go all that easily, not without keeping himself well aware of where his former protégé was, what he was doing with himself. So when he'd built his huge house and the town sprang up around it, it had pleased his perverted sense of humor to call the town "Redemption" in honor of Cort's attempt to redeem himself in the eyes of God for having killed Father Michael. Herod had gotten a good laugh out of that.

Cort's brow furrowed, remembering. It was how Herod had known right where to send Foy and Ratsy to find him, to bring him back for the gunfight.

"You've talked to someone?" he asked, a bit of suspicion rising, unwelcome, in his look. He'd hoped she was...different. Not connected with all this in any way. But it was obvious she knew.

"Why, then," he continued, "would you take care of me at all? There's no real point. In the end, you know, no real point. I'm not worth the trouble." He turned away from her, burying his cheek in the pillows she'd piled behind him so he could eat.


Inwardly, Rachel cursed herself for her lack of caution when broaching this subject. All this planning and careful subterfuge and here you go ruining it with a stupid question!

Don't let him know that you know - not yet.

"Only with you," she stammered slightly, her thoughts churning furiously over what she could say to sidestep his suspicion. "I thought you were remembering the last time I tried to talk to you. You were feverish, not right in the head...and...you were...reliving...the mission...I'm sorry." She ended, her voice very small. She felt about two nano-meters high. Embarrased she rose from the bed to get the bowl, telling herself to keep her conversation to those things pertaining to his health. Explanations and revelations had to come later.

"Besides," she added, while her back was turned to him - ah, here was the real crux of your fear! - "you're wrong. You are very much worth the trouble. Anyone who can't see that is blind. I'm many things, Cortland Wells, but I'm not blind."


He raised his left hand to his face, covering his eyes, blowing out a long breath. So...it had been his own ravings...and now he'd made her uncomfortable.

"I'm sorry," he said, letting the hand drop to his lap, waiting for her to turn back and face him again. "It's just that I've..I've...well, I've been off-kilter for the last few days. No excuse, I know. Things've been happening a bit fast for me to handle, but, truly, I meant no offense. You've been only kind to me." He shook his head, muttering something under his breath about her deserving better. He chose not to comment on her last statement. She had no idea of what he'd done, the choices he'd made, damnation upon damnation he'd heaped on his own head. By his own actions. As he'd said to Ellen when she'd commented, "He made you do it"..."I was the only one who pulled the trigger."

He'd kept saying, over and over he'd said it. "I won't fight." But Herod, damn him, had been right. Herod knew the truth of him when he, himself, had fooled himself...thinking he was somehow better than he was. What a laugh! Renounced violence? Him? He was a killer. He knew that now. He had proven it once and for all. Herod's stamp of ownership upon him was stronger than God's. His jaw trembled with the thought and he blinked rapidly, determined not to let the tears show.


She nearly forgot the bowl of soup in her hands, the tepid soup that probably wouldn't taste very good now that it had lost most of its healing heat, watching Cort manfully fight off an outbreak of emotion in front of a woman he didnt know. She WANTED to fling the soup aside and embrace him, tell him that she knew all about his past, and didn't care, didn't believe he was damned, if only he would remember...

"Well," she said, trying to act as if she hadn't noticed the hint of tears brimming. She took her seat on the edge of his bed once more, trying to keep the soup from sloshing from its bowl. "I'll forgive everything if you just tell me the soup I allowed to get cold is actually piping hot and the best you've ever had. And if you really insist on feeling guilty, then a more fitting punishment for you is to make you eat some of my own cooking. The last time I cooked, they could see the smoke for miles," she added, with a mischievous grin.

"Now comes the hard part: can you manage to eat on your own?"


He let himself be distracted from his thoughts. It was a relief. He looked at the bowl in her hand. Right now he was so hungry she could've had to break a layer of ice off its surface and still he would want it.

He looked at the spoon in her other hand. "On my own?" he repeated, lifing his eyes to meet her gaze. "Um, well...," he held out is left hand, "I suppose I could hold the bowl with this one and just drink out of it." He nodded toward his useless right. "This one is not ready to hold a spoon for a while, I think." He smiled, the last of his unshed tears still glistening in the lamplight until one final blink erased them. "You need to go somewhere?"


"Hmmm? Oh, well, yes, eventually. There's, ummm....an errand I have to run, but," she said, "for now I want to make sure you dont end up with soup all in your lap. Your idea is a good one, or..." and she hesitated, not sure how he was going to take her suggestion, "I could spoon feed you." One could never tell how a person was going to take the idea of having to depend on another to eat. Some were indignant, some mortified, some absolutely loved it. Her best
hope was that Cort was at least indifferent.

"I won't go until I know you're sleeping soundly again," she added, realizing he had made an oblique request for her company.


"Please," he said. "I'm like as not to spill it all over the bed." His tummy rumbled then with great timing, and he laughed. "Better hurry!" He was glad she agreed to stay. Not just because he didn't think he could feed himself all that well, but because he was getting to like her being there. Liking the way the lamp highlighted her hair. The curve of her cheek.

As he waited for her to get situated with the bowl, he wondered about her, why she was in Redemption, why she was taking care of him.

"You been in town long?" he asked, his curiosity getting the better of him. "Didn't see you before the explosions. Were you...around?"


Rachel paused with spoon in mid-air, head tilted in thought. Around...was she around...

"You know, where I come from that could be a loaded question. Get it? Loaded? Explosions? Sorry...." she apologized as he laughed. "A friend of mine would appreciate the pun. I was in the neighborhood, yes," she concluded. She was finding it easy to talk with him as she fed him spoon by spoon. "No. I haven't been in town long. You might say, I am only passing through."

She waited a couple of more spoonfuls before she found the words to ask her next question.

"I guess Herod was quite the tyrant to make people want to blow up buildings?"


He held the spoonful of cool soup in his mouth, not swallowing, when her question came. She said things, asked things he did not expect. He felt again Herod's hand on his left shoulder, heard again his, "Bravo!" after Spotted Horse had finally died. He winced, recalling the sensation of his collar being ripped away as Herod snapped, "Welcome back...killer."

Again he saw his collar lying in the dust between their feet, godliness in the dirt. He had picked it up...later...when he'd found his chain could reach that far. It was still in the pocket of his pants. Why had he saved it? It's meaning was gone. But he could not seem to let it go, not entirely. Leaving it in the dirt was unthinkable. It had meant something...once.

His mind, then, strayed further, hearing the sound of children laughing in the mission yard, the ringing of the church bells, his own voice at prayer. Gone. All of it. Just a strip of dirty cloth now.

Had it ever been white? Had HE? He thought, for a time, he had. Hadn't he? Hadn't he thought that? He wasn't sure any more. He'd told Ellen he was already damned. Was that because he'd taken the gun, used the gun, or was that because nothing he did could ever make up for killing Father Michael? Was he stupid enough to think that in becoming a priest, in his effort to give a priest back to God because he had taken one from Him...did he really ever think that...counted?

He rolled the soup around on his tongue, finally swallowing, finally looking at Rachel.

"Yes," he replied to her question. "He was quite a tyrant." His eyes went all distant again. "In so many ways." So many memories.

"He was like my father once," he spoke quietly. "A long time ago. Took me in, taught me how to survive, to be like him. Treated me like I was his son." He smiled ruefully. "Until he put a gun to my head." He closed his eyes. "Until I...." He leaned back into the pillows, opening his lids slowly, studying her silently for a while. "After...that...we were no longer together. I...left. He started this town...had himself a real son." He shook his head, remembering how Herod had killed the boy there in the street. "Not particularly good, you know, having him for a father." A deep sigh escaped him. "Kid was too young to know he couldn't take him in a fight."

It wasn't that son Herod wanted to fight anyway, it had been him. The Kid didn't make Herod 'itch'...not like Cort did. The whole blasted contest was nothing more than Herod getting to do what he'd always wanted...face down Cort. Cort knew that, from the beginning he had known it. Even in the old days, even when they were robbing banks together, he'd catch John looking at him, a peculiar glint in his eye, that need already there to find out that one last thing, to experience that single thing that made Herod nervous.

"It was Ellen's idea...blowing up the town, I mean. It worked, but it sure messed up the place. Don't know what the folks who live here are going to do now." His eyes found the marshal's badge on the bedside table. "Don't know what I'm going to do." He turned his eyes away from the badge resolutely. "Don't want that. Not what I want at all."

He pressed his lips together tightly. He didn't know what he wanted, where to go.



To Return to Part One
Current Location: Upstairs Hotel Room - Redemption, AZ
Current Mood: accomplishedaccomplished
Current Music: Have Mercy Lord On Me

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