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Odd One Out

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He would have laughed if the situation hadn't been so serious.

Here he was again, by himself, left unnoticed in the alley with his blood bubbling up through his fingers. He wondered how much would be pouring unchecked from the smaller hole in his back, trying to gauge how much time the others might have to find him before he bled out. The bullet hadn't gone through an area where anything vital would have been hit, he knew, but still, at such close range...

Shot from behind.

It wasn't anyone's fault really. Well, except for his own and the cretin who lay dead behind him with a smoking hole between his eyes. He didn't blame the others for not protecting his back; they simply had more pressing issues at hand. Hell, they weren't even paired up in their usual fashion. He wasn't on his own because Vin had covered Chris, or Buck had coddled JD, or Josiah had guarded Nathan. Seven was just a number that demanded one be left on the outskirts, and it was just his plain dumb luck that the position had fallen to him once again. That was what he found so humorous about his current predicament.

It wasn't Chris's fault that he had been discussing wanted posters with JD at the jail when the marauders had rode into town. It certainly wasn't Vin's plan to twist his ankle being thrown by Peso that morning, sending him up to the clinic with Nathan. Buck couldn't be blamed for seeking out advice from the preacher regarding a beautiful, but highly religious young lady he wished to court. No, Ezra was waltzing along the boardwalk on a warm afternoon alone simply because that was how circumstance played out, and thus he was left to fend for himself once the bullets started flying.

The alley he had ducked into should have been a safe place really had the bandits stuck to riding in full-force, guns a blazing, like they normally did. Unfortunately, these particular miscreants had been a little smarter than the average evildoers and had sent men on foot around the outskirts of town to silently dispatch any who got in their way. The frontal assault was meant to be a distraction, and would have worked if the boys weren't watching out for each other. Chris had spotted the one coming up from around the jail just in time to knock the young sheriff out of the way. In the process, he had absorbed the lead meant for JD into his own shoulder; not that it stopped him. The no-nonsense gunslinger quickly made a corpse out of the shooter and turned back to fire on the main group without so much as batting an eye. Nathan had his hands full trying to keep Vin from crawling up onto the roof with the bum ankle, but lucky for the healer the sharpshooter didn't listen. He scrambled right up there just in time to take out the man sneaking around under the clinic stairs, but unfortunately his balance was off and he took a tumble. The fall didn't knock him out so he stayed down there in the dirt shooting men off their horses while Nathan stood above him, offering cover until he could properly see to the tracker's newly acquired injuries. Josiah had taken a hit when he and Buck came running from the church, the attacker having slipped out from behind the mercantile as they were rushing past. Buck had seen the man at the last second and turned to tackle him just as he fired the shot, knocking the gun down low enough so that the preacher took the bullet in the leg instead of the head. Buck then dragged Josiah to cover where they presumed to litter the streets with the bodies of nameless outlaws.

Ezra had seen all this from his position in the alley and did his best to provide cover for his friends, but he had forgotten to pay better attention to his own surroundings. He couldn't be looking everywhere at once, and with his attention divided amongst the three groups of his fellow peacekeepers and the killing force rolling through town trying to rid it of lawmen, he hadn't been able to hear the man creeping up from behind until it was too late. His slight turn was triggered more on instinct than on conscious awareness of the danger, the movement being just enough to cause the bullet to tear through his side instead of shredding through his middle. He allowed the momentum from the shot to throw him fully around, making it possible for him to end the life of his would-be murderer before going down.

A few minutes later the sounds of gunfire ended, and instead he heard two different voices calling for Nathan's assistance – one from Buck and one from JD. There was no one around to holler for him.

They'll come for me, he assured himself. He forced his hand to press down harder on the fabric of his coat in hopes of slowing down the flow of his own life exiting his body.

Listening intently, he waited as Nathan barked out an order for someone to get Vin back up to the clinic, and to mind his ribs, and to keep him "off that damn leg." The healer's voice moved down the street a ways to where Buck was apparently helping along a grumbling Josiah. The preacher argued with Nathan for a few minutes before the ex-slave grudgingly relented, allowing the two to head back to the church until the healer could get to the leg wound. He left some initial instructions for Buck before making his way across to the jail where yet another argument ensued. Ezra grinned and shook his head as he listened to Larabee insisting he was fine, with JD and Nathan both (in so many carefully chosen words) telling the man he was being an imbecile. Not surprisingly, the healer eventually won the argument and the three of them headed off to the clinic together, their voices fading as they climbed the stairs.

Wait.

The smile fell from the gambler's lips. He strained to listen for the sound of any of his compatriots calling out for him. The town remained quiet for the time being.

Surely they didn't forget…

He did his best to remain calm, patient. Any minute now JD would come bursting from the clinic, probably screaming his name up and down the street.

Or Buck would come ambling down the boardwalk, muttering how a stubborn old preacher would rather send him out to check on their "black sheep" than have him tend to the leg wound.

Or maybe Chris would stumble out cursing Ezra's name with Nathan on his heels, calling their black-clad leader a fool for not staying put.

Nothing.

Ezra began to panic, causing his heart to thump faster in his chest. The warmth pumping against his hand increased, thus decreasing the warmth within his own body. He felt himself shiver with the growing cold, the sweat beading on his forehead a cool contrast to the thick liquid pooling on the ground around him.

He was dying. Lying in the street of the only town he had ever called home just yards away from the only people he had ever called friends, and he was still going to die alone.

Figures.

The hand creating a tentative barrier against the life attempting to flee his body fell slack. At that same instance, the clinic door flew open with a bang, a young man sprinting from within to vault down the stairs. The voice of the healer yelling at both gunslinger and tracker to stay put carried through the air. Across town, the ladies' man was practically tossed from the doors of the church, told by an angry baritone voice not to come back until he had word of the wayward seventh. The lone figure lay still, shivering, his pulse becoming weak and thready, unaware that his friends frantically called for him again and again…