The saloon of Four Corners was erily quite, even with the six men who occupied one of the tables in the center of the large room. Their faces were shadowed by the light from the lamps that had been lit to drive away the darkness and hopefully their sombre mood. Moonlight filtered through the open doorway and windows at the front of the building but it was not strong enough to reach the men at the table to fully reveal their worried expressions.
Five of the men's hands were occupied by a cup of coffee, the fifth held his mug of warm milk in both hands, as he turned it around, his eyes never leaving the swirling milk. He tore his gaze away to take in the other faces then returned it back to the milk. The men he sat with didn't hide what they were feeling, he knew his own face reflected their expressions. A chair scraped across the floor, breaking the silence that hung around them causing one of the men to take the plunge and begin the converstation that they had gathered for.
"What are we going to do Chris?" Vin asked the man who's dark clothing nearly made him invisible in the darkened room, only his pale face and hands indicated that he was even there.
"I don't know Vin, I really don't know." Chris's eyes turned upwards, his eyes saw only darkness but his mind saw the gambler tossing and turning in his bed, his whimpers still echoing in his mind from the previous night.
It had been two weeks since Ezra had pulled the trigger that nearly ended his life, they now knew that he didn't intend to harm himself at that moment in time, he had just done it to make them go away but they also knew that he did want to end his life, he just hadn't had the chance, the effects of the concussion had taken control of the situation and saved his life. Chris had then forced him to give his word that he wouldn't do it again.
Ezra had withdrawn into himself over those two weeks, a dark cloud had surrounded his heart and mind. He had forced himself to eat but not enough, he hadn't lost anymore weight but he hadn't gained alot either. He only took part in converstations when he had to, he laughed with them but the humour never reached his eyes to replace the haunted look that had taken up residence there. He no longer argued with Nathan but did everything that he was told in a passive manner that worried the others. But what shocked them the most was that he was able to carry out his duties without a problem. When the bank had been robbed the week before, Ezra was there to stand by his friends, his reflexes were just as quick and his aim was still deadly. Chris had worried that Ezra was going to use the opportunity to allow someone else's bullet to take his life but he didn't. They couldn't understand why he was still able to protect the town while he was being eaten away inside by his memories and emotions. They didn't like the way he was behaving, there was something very disturbing about it.
"We have to do something or were going to loose him." Buck told him.
The hands gripped each other to stop the tremors.
"I know that Buck. I've tried everything." Chris leaned back in the chair causing it to grimace in protest. "He talks to me but he doesn't say anything. He listens to me but he doesn't hear what I say. I just don't know what to do to help him anymore."
"Has he spoken to you at all Josiah?" Nathan asked him, the healer knew it was a long shot but he hoped that Josiah had been able to get through to him.
"I haven't spoken to him since it happened, he doesn't want anything to do with me remember." Josiah hung his head so they couldn't see the sadness that filled his eyes. Ezra had pushed him away and Josiah stopped pushing back, he allowed Ezra to succeed in what he has always tried to do and the guilt overwhelmed him, it was so strong that it stopped him from helping Ezra.
"You haven't spoken to him? Not at all? Not even everyday converstation? Are you telling me that all those times you sat with him you didn't say anything to him?" Buck asked him. He saw the shake of the head. "Why the hell not? Just because he doesn't want a father figure? He still needs you as a friend Josiah! Hell I can't believe that you would do that to him!"
The hand lifted to wipe away the single tear before it fell.
"I don't know how to talk to him anymore Buck, I'm afraid that if I say anything he'll get angry, I don't know what he'll do if he gets angry." Josiah tried to convince them and himself but it didn't work.
"That's crap and you know it." Buck felt Chris's hand on his arm but ignored him. "You've given up on him haven't you. You let him push you away. Your doing what everyone else in his life has done to him. Your making him think that you don't care."
The tears were allowed to fall, the hand didn't stop them this time.
"Buck take it easy." Chris attempted to ease his friends anger, he wanted to say that he agreed with him but Josiah wasn't the reason why they were here.
"His nightmares are getting worse too aren't they." It was a statement made by Vin to ease the anger that was building around the table.
"Has anyone else noticed that they're different." Nathan commented.
A slight shiver ran through the slumped form.
"Yeah, I think he dreams about his father." Chris told them, all eyes looked at him, he ignored them.
"His nightmares are about his father?" JD was surprised. Chris had allowed him to take turns staying with Ezra during the night, he saw the results of the nightmares but didn't understand them. He wasn't able to help Ezra the first night that he stayed with him, he wasn't prepared, it had broken his heart and he had left the room, leaving the gambler to deal with the after effects on his own. Chris had understood and told him what to do and he was prepared the next time and he was able to help Ezra, he had even gotten him to smile. "What did his father do to make his dreams so bad?"
The shiver turned into a violent tremor as the memory flashed through the darkened mind.
"I don't know JD. I can't get him to talk about them." Chris pushed his coffee out of the way, he knew if he kept it there he would end up using it to show the frustration that he felt towards the situation. "He just shuts me out when I mention him."
"You don't think he beat him just like his brothers did do you?" Buck also wanted to show his frustration but he decided that he would use Josiah to do that. He was angry at the man for ignoring Ezra the way he had.
"The day it happened he told me that I reminded him of his father." Chris admitted to them.
"You! How do you remind him of his father?" Vin was shocked.
"He asked me if I was a good father." Chris continued what he was saying without answering Vin's question. "I told him that Sarah said I was. Ezra said that his father wasn't."
"I'm even more confused now." Vin muttered, he shook his head hoping to make sense of what Chris had said.
"If you remind him of his father how come he doesn't push you away?" Josiah spoke up.
The hands gripped each other tighter, turning the knuckles white.
"I don't know Josiah." Chris answered truthfully.
"I do." JD lowered himself into the chair as five pair of eyes turned to him.
"Did Ezra tell you something?" Nathan nudged him in the side.
"No, I know because of the way Buck and Ezra treat me, Chris and Josiah act the same way towards Ezra." JD knew he was going to be in trouble because of what he was about to say but he didn't care, Ezra was more important, he could sort things out with Buck later.
"What are you talking about boy?" Buck demanded to know.
A deep breath was taken and then held.
"Chris treats Ezra like a friend, Josiah treats him like a child." JD simply stated. "I'm sorry Josiah but you treat him like a son instead of the friend that your supposed to be, he doesn't need a father Josiah, he needs a friend and you won't even be that."
A smile played at the corner of the lips turning the frown into a small smile.
"You noticed all of that on your own?" Buck smiled at him.
"Ezra started teaching me to take more notice of those around me." JD smiled back, he was relieved that Buck hadn't taken any offense from what he said, his eyes turned to Josiah, he didn't care if he had hurt his feelings. What Josiah was doing was hurting Ezra even more and he didn't like that.
"It's as simple as that and we didn't notice." Nathan murmured.
The head nodded slightly in agreement.
"But that isn't Ezra's real problem." Chris reminded them. "You've answered one of our questions JD but how are we going to find answers to the others."
A quiet sigh was voiced.
"Why don't we lock the stubborn mule in a room and not let him out until he tells us what's wrong." Nathan suggested even though he knew it wouldn't work.
Another shiver was felt at the memory that had been forced from the defensive mind.
"What the hell are we going to do?" Vin repeated the question that had started the conversation.
"Talking to him isn't helping him, he won't listen to what we say to him, the wall is down but we still can't reach him." Chris rubbed his tired eyes, he hadn't had a lot of sleep over the last month. "I don't know but there is no way that I'm going to give up on him."
"None of us are Chris." Buck assured him.
"Maybe he just needs to get away for a while, change of scenery." JD suggested.
"I won't let him go anywhere on his own." Chris told him but he didn't dismiss the idea.
"JD's got a point, some fresh air might do him some good, maybe even pick his appettite up some." Nathan agreed.
"He's in a slump here, like he's in a hole that he can't get out of, maybe you can take him out of it physically and his mind might follow." Josiah also agreed with him.
The figure slumped even further in grateful defeat.
"Who would go with him?" Vin asked anybody for suggestions.
"The only ones who can really get through to him are Chris and Buck." JD told them.
Buck turned to JD and smiled at him. "JD sometimes you really make me proud."
JD was about to say something but the expression that Buck held told him that he was serious. He smiled in return, he wasn't really sure how to take the compliment.
"Do you think that it would work though?" Vin asked Chris.
"I don't know Vin but I can't think of anything else so we might as well give it a try. We just need to think up an excuse to get him out of town without him knowing what were up to." Chris looked at JD. "Got anymore ideas JD."
Ezra stood up while keeping himself hidden in the shadows, he didn't want them to know that he'd been listening. He quietly stepped back towards his room, and made himself comfortable in the large bed. He knew that he would go with them, he wouldn't put up an argument, he did need to get away from this town. And like his friends, he would try anything to get out of the depressive mood that had found a home in his soul. He didn't have the strength to get himself out of it or the courage to ask his friends for the help that he knew he needed.
Ezra rolled away from the knock that sounded at his bedroom door and pushed his head further into the pillow to give the impression that he was still asleep, he kept his eyes closed and ignored the person who quickly go up from the chair to answer the door before it was opened. He heard Chris's whispered voice asking if he was awake and Vin's who said that he wasn't. He heard the door close and Vin's soft footsteps as he made his way back to the chair which squeaked when he sat down, he could feel Vin's hesitation and then the gentle movement to place himself in the chair, he also felt his eyes on him and he began to sqirm under his scrutiny.
"So you are awake." Vin got up and moved to the bed, he sat down next to Ezra and placed a hand on his shoulder, he gave it an encouraging squeeze. He no longer knew what to say to his friend so he decided to use his hands instead and was grateful when Ezra didn't push his touch away. He knew that Ezra understood that he was uncomfortable with speaking and not knowing what to say to him and that he felt better using a comforting touch to show how he wanted to help.
Ezra opened one eye and looked up at Vin. "Can't fool you can I." The smile was strained but it was there.
"How are you feeling?" Vin asked him as he brushed away some strands of hair off Ezra's forehead.
"Same." Ezra muttered as he closed his eye, he didn't want to see the emotion that was showing on Vin's face. It had come to the point where it was all he could see, they didn't hide what they were feeling, their worry and concern seemed to depress him even more and Josiah's lack of concern tore him apart inside but he couldn't tell them that, he didn't know how to tell them what he was feeling. He thought that he had pushed Josiah away but after what he had heard the night before he now knew it wasn't only his fault, Josiah had allowed him to push him away, he had stopped pushing back and that hurt more than anything else.
"Wish I could say something that would make it all go away Ezra." Vin moved his hand so it was resting on Ezra's cheek, he needed everything they had to offer him, anything that could help him through it. Every morning they would ask him how he was feeling and his answer was always the same, he wasn't improving, they knew he was getting worse but he wouldn't admit it to them.
"Don't worry Vin, your helping in your own way." He lifted his arm and took Vin's hand off his face and placed on it on the bed next to him and held on to it. "What did Chris want?" He already knew the answer.
"Said he has a job that he needs some help with, thought that you might want to give him a hand." Vin awkwardly pulled the bedcover off Ezra with his other arm, he didn't want to remove his hand from Ezra's grip. He winced at the sight of Ezra's ribcage, he was beginning to loose his muscle tone. "So it's time to get up."
"What sort of job?" Ezra was courious, he wanted to know what their plan was.
"Didn't say." Vin answered hiding the smile from his face.
"Why Vin, you sound like your hiding something." Ezra rolled onto his back and saw the flicker of hidden knowledge in Vin's eyes.
"He's waiting for you downstairs Ezra, said he wants to leave in an hour." Vin stroked his hand with his thumb, he listened as Ezra let out a breath that he must have been holding.
"Has anyone else been invited?"
"Buck's going with you." He reluctantly pulled his hand away and stood up. "Come on Ezra, it might do you good."
"Tell Chris I'll be there shortly." Ezra silently groaned as he closed his eyes once more, he was beginning to think that it wasn't such a good idea after all.
"Sure Ezra." He moved away from the bed and looked back. "The trip will do you good Ezra, I'm sure of it."
Ezra waited for the door to close behind the silent tracker. "Then why do I get the sudden feeling that it's only going to make things worse." He muttered to the door before he got up and prepared himself for the trip.
The sunlight slowly filtered through into the saloon, making the lamps useless in their attempt to fill the room with their false light. On this quiet morning only three men sat at the table that was centered in the middle of the large room. The healer was giving instructions while the other two men listened, both of them lowering themselves further into their chairs with each word.
"You make sure that he eats, you know he won't eat if you don't make him!" Nathan instructed them as they sat around the table. "Make sure that he gets plenty of rest and don't let him do anything to strenuous! You send me a telegram when you get there telling us how he is and I want you back within a week!" He leaned forward and gave them his most serious expression. "And if he comes back sicker than when he left there'll be hell to pay! Do you understand me!"
"Nathan, we know what were doing, he'll be alright." Buck protested but there wasn't any anger in his tone, he understood how Nathan was feeling. The friends that were being left behind were going to worry themselves sick until they got back to town.
"Yeah I know, I'm worried that he's not going to eat if I'm not there to make him." Nathan admitted to them. "He's getting to thin."
"He'll eat, don't worry Nathan, well at least don't worry to much." Chris smiled, he was glad that Ezra now had the sort of friends that he had longed for all his lonely life.
They looked towards the stairs when they heard the steps that echoed from them. Vin walked towards the table and saw the question that was written on their faces, it was the same every morning, he wanted to give them a different answer just as he had wanted Ezra to give him one.
"Same." Was all Vin said before he pulled out a chair and took the coffee that Nathan offered him, he refused the food, he knew that Buck and JD had cooked it again.
"What sort of mood was he in when you woke him up?" Chris asked him, he hoped it was good, the last thing he wanted was to start the trip on the wrong foot.
"He wasn't asleep, just wanted to make me think he was. He's not in a bad mood, he's just down." Vin smiled wearily. "I'd do anything to get a real smile out of him."
The table became quiet, each of them understanding and agreeing with what Vin had said. They would do anything, give anything just to make Ezra smile but everything they had done so far didn't work. Every expression he showed was forced, even anger, it was as though he just couldn't be bothered any more and only did it to make them think he was alright.
Their thoughts were interrupted when JD walked through the saloon doors, the expression he held showing the worry that he was already feeling. Seeing Vin at the table told him that Ezra was awake, and the forlorn look told him that the answer to their everyday question was the same. He longed for a different answer. He joined the table not wanting to break the silence that it held and it stayed that way until Ezra arrived.
They tried not to watch him as he walked down the stairs, he didn't wear his usually colourful clothing, instead he dressed in his stripped trousers, a simple white shirt and his buckskin coat which made his handsome face even paler. Chris diverted his eyes when he saw the usually alert green eyes that were now haunted, he was beginning to have trouble looking Ezra in the eye, he hated seeing what he use to see in his own eyes everytime he looked into the mirror each morning before Buck brought him back.
"How you doin' Ezra?" JD asked him while he watched him sit down in the chair, he couldn't help notice the new hole in his gunbelt.
Ezra shrugged his shoulder and tilted his head towards him and smiled knowingly at him. "Thanks JD." JD smiled back but he couldn't hide the confusion that he felt. "For being you. Did anyone tell you that you can be very profound when you want to be?"
"Huh?" He looked around at the others to see if they knew what he was talking about.
"You can be very wise for your age JD." Ezra smiled at the confusion that everyone held, but it still didn't reach his eyes. "I'll explain it later." He turned his attention to Chris. "So what is this job you want help with?" He tried to find some enjoyment out this but he couldn't, his heart still felt heavy, but he continued because he thought that it may make his friends feel better even if it didn't help his own feelings.
"The Judge sent me a telegram this morning asking us . . ." Chris didn't get very far before he was interrupted, he expected an argument but didn't think that there would be much of an effort behind it.
"Us?" Ezra questioned as he raised his eyebrows. "He asked for me personally." He saw JD's smile grow, he hated causing his young friend to worry about him and was glad that he could at least relieve some of his pain if not his own.
"Yeah he did, you, me and Buck." Chris continued the lie. "He wants us to go to Eagle Ben to pick up a package. . . "
"He needs three of us to pick up this package." Ezra picked up the a cup of coffee that had been placed in front of him and tested it to see if it was drinkable, it wasn't. JD and Buck had made breakfast again, he grimaced at the taste and sat back to listen to Chris's answer.
"It's a big parcel." Buck threw in, he shrugged at Chris.
"It's an important parcel is what Buck meant to say." Chris hoped that Ezra didn't see what they were trying to do but he didn't worry to much as he didn't really seem to be listening to what they were saying. He was just putting up a front trying to make them feel better so Chris played along.
"Maybe I should read this telegram myself, you gentlemen sound like your setting me up for something." He had no trouble hiding the smile because there wasn't one, his eyes looked down quickly so he wouldn't see their shocked expressions that would usually give them away.
"Threw it away." Chris muttered. "Okay so he didn't ask for you, I just thought that you might want to come along."
"Fresh air will do you good Ezra." Buck encouraged him.
"I break from this town might help you." Nathan suggested as he watched him carefully. He could tell that he was sick physically and emotional, his outer image showed the physical damage, his eyes and manner showed that he had been torn apart inside. Nathan tried to heal him physically but there was nothing that he was able to do to help him emotionaly.
"I can't be bothered arguing with you, I'll go." He grunted when Buck slapped him on the back.
"Good. Now eat some breakfast." Nathan ordered him as he continued to try and heal his body.
Ezra didn't even protest, he didn't use words or his usual expression to try and get his way. He just did as he was told. He picked up one of the biscuits and began eating it. When he finished he sat back but Nathan told him to eat more so he continued to do as he was told until Nathan decided that he had eaten enough.
"Time to go." Chris announced as he stood up, everyone but Ezra got up from their chairs. "Ezra?"
"Where's Josiah." He asked quietly.
They all looked at each other hoping that someone else would answer his question, all eyes looked down and then back up to Ezra to see his reaction when Vin finally answered it.
"He couldn't make it Ezra, said he had something important to do." Vin explained knowing that it was a poor excuse. They had all tried to get Joisah to be here, hoping that his presence would help Ezra but they couldn't convince him.
"Yeah I know. He wants to be the father I don't want instead of the friend I need." Ezra said bitterly, he didn't hide the hurt that he felt as he stood up and walked out the saloon doors, leaving them swinging on their hinges.
"Nathan could you work on Josiah while were gone please." Chris told him, the threat was heavy in his voice. He followed Ezra out into the brightening sunlight.
Chris found him standing on the boardwalk, his head turned in the direction of the church, he stepped up to him and put his hand on his shoulder. "Let's go Ezra."
"I see that you assumed I would agree to go." Ezra nodded towards his already saddled horse.
"I wasn't going to force you to come Ezra, I hoped that you would." Chris waited patiently while Ezra's eyes went back to the direction of the church and when he looked back the tears were ready to fall.
"Why did he let me push him away?" Ezra asked him. "Doesn't he realise that I need him, even though I have trouble telling him that I do."
"He'll come round Ezra, I'm sure." Chris put his arm around his shoulders and gave him a quick hug.
"No he won't, he's just like him." Ezra muttered more to himself than to Chris.
"He's just like who Ezra?" Chris asked him.
"My father." Ezra pushed away from him and made his way to his horse but looked back at Chris before he got on. "I'm not going to talk about him Chris." He mounted his horse and waited for them.
Chris stepped close to Nathan so Ezra wouldn't hear what he had to say, he caused the healer to flinch back from him. "You tell Josiah to sort himself out by the time we come back or he'll have me to answer to."
"Don't worry Chris, he'll answer to us before you even come back." JD bodly told him.
"Ezra was right about you JD." Chris cupped his face in his hand. "You make him see some sense."
Nathan went up to Ezra while Chris and Buck were mounting their horses, he put a hand on his thigh, the touch pulled Ezra's eyes back to Nathan's, he had been looking towards the church. "Ezra I want you to do what Chris and Buck tell you, I want you to eat and make sure you get plenty of rest. Okay?" Ezra just nodded that he understood, his haunted green eyes moved back to area that he had been watching.
Chris moved his horse into a position that blocked Ezra's view of the church that sat in the distance. "You ready Ezra?" He saw the pain that now filled the green eyes. 'Josiah is going to pay for this when I get back.' he thought angrily to himself but made sure that Ezra didn't see the anger that he felt.
Ezra nodded and allowed his horse to follow Chris and Buck's horse's, they slowed down though and allowed him to catch up so he could ride in between them, Chris on his left and Buck on his right. Chris knew that they were going to pass the church, he hoped that Josiah would be in sight, he knew that it would mean a lot to Ezra just to see him but he wasn't there. He watched as Ezra's head turned to the right so he could watch the building as they passed it.
The tall silent figure hid himself in the shadows of the church so he wouln't be seen, he silently prayed for the young gambler as he rode past with Chris and Buck.
The sun beat down from the cloudless blue sky onto the three riders as they rode the along the track that would take them to Eagle. The heat caused two of the men to remove their jackets but the third kept his on, he didn't feel the heat like the other two. Nathan had told Ezra that he would feel colder due to his weight loss, the lack of fat on his body no longer protecting him from the weather. The cool breeze wasn't strong enough to give any relief from the heat for the two men but it was enough to cause the gambler to pull his coat tighter around his body. This was something that didn't go unnoticed by Chris and Buck.
Chris kept glancing sideways at Ezra who had kept his head down during the last two hours, he hadn't spoken a word to either of them. He wasn't interested in the scenery around him or the men who accompanied him. Chris turned again and he looked directly into the green eyes that stared back at him.
"Something wrong Ezra?" Chris asked him.
"No." Ezra spoke quietly and turned his eyes away from him, his head hanging low once more.
"You sure, seemed like you wanted to say something." Chris knew they had plenty of time to talk to Ezra, it was just over a days ride to Eagle Bend. He watched as the gambler slowly shook his head, he wasn't going to push him, he wanted Ezra to start talking on his own.
They continued to ride in silence as Chris and Buck kept watching Ezra. They would steal glances at him and they each noticed that his eyes never lifted from the ground before him, his shoulders also seemed to be permanently slumped in defeat. Chris knew he longer had any fight left in him, his stubborness was gone. He had felt the same way when Buck had brought him back from his darkened time after his families death, he had struggled with his feelings but then felt nothing for weeks, it had been like a dark void that he couldn't escape from and he knew that Ezra was in the same void but for a different reason. The only thing that had kept himself alive was the hatred that he felt for the men that had killed his wife and son. Ezra had nothing to keep him going, he had nothing he wanted to live for and the only reason he still lived was because he had given Chris his word.
Another hour of heavy silence had passed when Buck decided to try and get Ezra into some sort of converstation. It scared him to see the way Ezra was behaving, his personality had become passive instead of argumentive and stubborn, the homour that had caused them all to laugh so many times was no longer there. Ezra was now like a polite child in the company of an adult, he would do anything he was told to do.
"Beautiful day isn't it Ezra?" Buck hoped for something, anything.
Ezra nodded without raising his eyes to look at his friend, he didn't want to talk, he couldn't get Josiah or his father out of his mind, he hated the fact that he had allowed the memory of his father to push the preacher away but he was even more dissapointed that Josiah had let him. He now knew that Josiah didn't care about him like he thought he had, if he did he would have continued to push back like the rest of his friends did.
"Makes you glad to be alive doesn't it?" Buck added then frowned when there was no response from Ezra.
"Ezra?" Buck wanted to make sure he had his full attention before he asked him again.
"I said it makes you glad . . . "
"I heard what you said Buck." Ezra stopped him before he finished.
"Ezra?" It was Chris who asked for his attention this time.
"Yes." Ezra looked up and turned his gaze to Chris.
"Were ready to listen when you want to start talking about it." Chris offered.
"I wouldn't know what to say Chris, I wouldn't even know where to begin." Ezra told him, he pulled his eyes away from him. He couldn't look at him anymore.
"Why don't you start with Josiah." Buck suggested.
"You know if I didn't know any better I would think that you arranged this journey just to get me talk." Ezra hoped that he was able to distract them from the present subject matter.
"He does care Ezra." Chris assured him as held the look of surpise from showing on his hardened features. He was beginning to think that Ezra had know their plan all along and if he did it also meant that he wanted to talk about it and deal with it.
"If he cared he wouldn't have let me push him away." Ezra's head hung even lower. "I know I shouldn't have done it but he stopped pushing back. He doesn't care anymore." He spoke quietly and his friends had to concentrate on every word he said. "That's what hurts so much, the fact that he doesn't care." He didn't bother trying to stop the tears. "He helped me so much when he made me remember what my Aunt and Uncle did but now he want's nothing more to do with me. He won't even be a friend."
"Do you remember the day when I shot myself." They winced at his words. "Afterwards when you were all in my room, when I woke up you all had something to say to me." He could see them nod. "Josiah was the last to leave, he didn't say anything, he just gave me this look of dissapointment and left." Ezra took in a quick breath as his chest heaved. "I have wanted to tell him how much that hurt me but I couldn't, what if he just did the same thing again. If he turned his back on me a second time I don't know what I would do."
Chris had to wait a moment while he gained control of his own emotions. "I don't know why he backed off Ezra, I can't give you an explanation as to why he's doing any of this."
"I do." Buck told them. Chris looked at him but Ezra kept his damp eyes cast downwards. "He wanted to be the father that Ezra never had and when he told him no he didn't like it. He's just being selfish and if he was standing here now I'd clobber him, I'd beat him to a pulp, I'd . . . "
"I get the point Buck." Ezra muttered.
"So will Josiah." Chris smiled at the thought and had to force the smile to stay in place whe he saw Ezra's questioning gaze, his eyes were once more filled with tears. "JD is going to sort him out." He announced proudly.
"JD?" Ezra asked as he wiped the tears away, he didn't care that they saw them anymore, they weren't embarrassed by them so he wasn't going to be.
"Yep, he's grown up a lot over the last few weeks." Buck told him. "Must be all the worrying that he's been doing."
"I can't wait to hear about it when we get back." Chris smiled to himself. "JD is going to give him hell."
Ezra pulled his horse to a stop and waited for the others to do the same. He looked up to see the expressions of concern. He quickly dropped his eyes, he hated being the cause of those expressions.
"I'm sorry." Ezra could hear the emotion in his own voice, he hoped that he was going to loose control, he knew that it was something that he needed to do and he would welcome it with open arms. He didn't want to feel numb anymore, it was worse than the emotions that he had hidden all his life, now he would do anything to feel them again.
"What for Ezra?" Buck asked him, the confusion was evident in his voice.
"For putting everyone through this. I don't want you to worry about me. I want to get better but I don't know how to. I don't know what to do." Ezra could feel the ache in his chest grow stronger as the emotions threatened to take control.
"You've got nothing to be sorry for Ezra." Chris told him as he quickly got off his horse and moved towards Ezra. "None of this is your fault." He took his arm and pulled it gently, telling Ezra to get off his own horse, he walked him away from the horses to give him room. "Everything that has happened has been out of your control."
"I was in control when I pulled the trigger."
"No you weren't. You had a concussion or did you forget that." Buck had also gotten off his horse, he could see the emotion on Ezra's face and hoped that he was going finally let it all out.
"Like I told Nathan, the thought was there. The concussion just gave me the courage to do it but it also stopped me." He lifted his eyes to look at Chris. "I still want to do it. I still want to die Chris and I don't know why."
"I know Ezra, I know." Chris took him in his arms and held him tight but Ezra didn't let go of his emotions like they thought he was going to. He gave out one heart wrenching sob and then nothing.
"Let it out Ezra." Buck put his hand on the back of Ezra's kneck.
"I can't." Ezra pressed his face into Chris's shoulder.
"Yes you can Ezra. Just let go." Chris whispered into his ear.
"Jesus Chris, don't you think I want to. There's something stopping me, it's what's keeing me in this miserable state that I can't get myself out of." Ezra tried to move away from him but Chris wouldn't let him go.
"It's okay Ezra, I understand what your going through." He felt Ezra's head nod. "Why don't we find somehwere to stop so you can get some rest and something to eat."
"Good idea Chris, Nathan will tan our hides if Ezra missed a meal." Buck agreed.
"Now that I would like to see." Ezra finally managed to pull away from Chris and make his way back to his horse.
Buck and Chris exchanged a look of hope and followed their tormented friend back to their horses.
Josiah looked up as he heard a noise to see the young form silhouetted in the open doorway of the church. He frowned when he looked at the young features that seemed to have aged in a mature way if not in years. He watched as JD walked straight up to him, there was a dertermined look on his face that he wasn't use to seeing and the young brown eyes held nothing but anger.
"Why didn't you say goodbye to him? Why didn't you at least do that for him?" JD growled at him. "I never knew you were a coward Josiah."
Josiah ingored the coward remark. "You wouldn't understand JD." He turned away from the boy who had become a man to be respected but the young sheriff followed him.
"No I don't understand. Not you anyway but I understand Ezra and I know he's in hell right now and you helped put him there!" JD made sure the anger that he felt sounded in his voice because Josiah would not look him in the eye. He wanted him to know that he was feeling a lot of anger towards him.
"Ezra pushed me away JD, remember." Josiah tried to defend himself but the onslaught didn't stop.
"You let him. Damn you Josiah. You of all people should know that Ezra always thought that people allowed him to push them away because they didn't care about him. Did you even stop to think that Ezra now thinks that you don't care? Well, did you!"
"Don't swear in my church JD." Josiah's own anger was beginning to grow.
"Your going to preach to me. How dare you! You have no right Josiah! If I want to swear I'll damn well swear. And I'll do it in the same way that your ignoring Ezra! I'll do it in a way that will hurt you, I'll make it eat away at your soul as your lack of concern is eating away at Ezra's." JD didn't even hesitate, he used every single word that he had ever learned in his entire life, he smiled when he saw the man before him flinch at some of the words that he used.
Josiah tried to shut out the profanity that spilled from JD's mouth, he had never heard such language from anyone before, he didn't know he had it in him. He felt ashamed that JD had lost his innocence.
"That's enough JD!" Josiah's firm voice finally stopped the verbal abuse that JD threw at him.
"You have no idea what your doing to him do you? I stayed with him while he slept Josiah, I heard him call out to you, I saw the tears that fell when you didn't come. I comforted him when you weren't there, I couldn't tell him why you didn't talk to him anymore."
"Have you finished JD?" Josiah asked him as the guilt began to build.
"If you can't be a friend to him Josiah then your no friend of mine." JD turned his back on the preacher and walked out the church door leaving Josiah to think about what he had said.
The loud terrified scream broke through the silence of the early hours of the morning, causing Buck and Chris to jump out of their bed rolls, they knew what caused the scream. Ezra was having another nightmare. They rushed to his side with Chris getting to him first, he practically fell to his knees at the gambler's side and picked his upper body up and drew him into his embrace.
"It's okay Ezra, it's just another dream. It's okay." Chris began to stroke the back of Ezra's head with one hand while he held onto him with the other.
"Why . . . won't they . . . stop." Ezra gasped.
"They will Ezra, they will." Chris silently prayed, he knew there was a good chance that they wouldn't, they may just slow down like his own nightmares had. He still dreamt of his families death on occassions. Chris felt Ezra's arms wrap around his waist as he returned the embrace, he smiled slightly at the thought, two months ago the gambler would have pulled his derringer on anyone who tried to show him this sort of comfort and now Ezra not only accepted it, he returned it.
"You want to talk about it Ezra?" Buck asked him as he looked into the distraught face that pressed against Chris's shoulder. He sat down beside him and began to rub his back, he could feel Ezra's heart pounding through his rib cage against his hand and knew that Chris probably felt it against his chest.
"No." Ezra whispered, he wasn't going to talk about his father to anyone.
"You dreamt about your father didn't you Ezra?" Chris asked him.
"I told you I don't want to talk about him." Ezra tried to push away from Chris but Buck put more force onto his back, keeping the gambler where he was. Ezra pushed with more strength but gave up when he knew they weren't going to let him go. He let his hands fall to his sides, he no longer wanted to hold onto Chris. "Please, I don't want to talk about him."
"But it's tearing you apart Ezra, you need to talk about him." Buck pleaded with him.
"No, Josiah's lack of concern is tearing me apart, these emotions that I haven't dealt with are tearing me apart, not my father. I won't let him." Ezra moved his head so he could look at Buck. "Honest Buck, he doesn't have a lot to do with the way I'm feeling. It's everything else." He closed his eyes, the long days ride causing him to feel more tired than usual. It was only a matter of seconds before he was alseep in Chris's arms.
"He's never going to let it out." Buck spoke with quiet frustration.
"Just give him a bit more time Buck." Chris told him as he laid Ezra back down onto his bedroll. "You want to get my blankets for me?"
"Sure, I'll get mine too." Buck smiled back at him.
Buck was the first to wake up to another warm cloudless day and he was deeply moved by the sight that was before him, he quietly stepped over Ezra's legs, he sat back down on his knees next to Chris and tapped his shoulder. He held him down as he jerked awake. Chris quickly blinked the sleep out of his eyes and looked up at the person who intruded on his sleep, the smile on Buck's face stopped him from showing him any anger.
"He looks good on you." Buck nodded towards Chris's long legs. Ezra was lying on his right side, his left arm draped over the gunslinger's shins, his head rested on his left thigh.
"If you tell anyone, I'll kill you." Chris couldn't help but smile. "You know what this means don't you?"
"Yep, your going to have to eat my cooking." Buck laughed as he stood up, he walked away so he didn't have to listen to Chris's protests.
Ezra woke to feel someone rubbing his temple. He could also feel something soft and warm under his head. He had to concentrate for a moment to remember where he was. Ezra wondered if it was Chris or Buck's thumb he could feel rubbing his face, he opened his eyes with the intention of finding out which one of his friends it was. He blinked against the bright sunlight and saw the black clad legs before him, he realised that he was lying on his Chris's legs.
"Good Lord." The embarrassment he felt was evident in his voice, it was one thing to be held but another to use someone's legs like a child would use a toy when they were sleeping.
"Morning Ezra." Buck tried to hold his laughter back but he couldn't.
Ezra threw him a foul look and Buck laughed even harder, more in relief because it was the first time he had seen that look in weeks. "If you tell anyone, I'll kill you!"
"That's exactly what I said." Chris agreed with him.
Ezra lifted his head and looked up into Chris's smiling face, he let his head fall back onto the gunslinger's leg. "Good Lord." he repeated.
"How are you feeling Ezra?" Chris asked him the same question they had been asking him every morning for the last two weeks. He continued to stroke the gambler's temple and smiled because he didn't change position, he stayed where he was, the arm still draped across his lower legs and his head still lying on his thigh.
"Extremely embarrassed." Ezra finally gave a different answer. "I suppose this means that Buck is cooking the breakfast that I can smell." He felt a slight hope that he was finally beginning to crawl out of the void that he was in.
"You got that right Ezra." Buck told him.
"I don't suppose there's any biscuits left." Ezra asked.
"Ezra there is nothing wrong my cooking." Buck protested.
"No, nothing that a different cook couldn't fix." Ezra continued to argue with him.
"I give up, not again Ezra, you or Chris can cook next time, I'm not going through all this trouble just so you can complain about it." Buck walked away, he couldn't keep the smile off his face.
"Chris?" Ezra spoke in a soft tone.
"I thought he was never going to get the hint."
The three men rode into Eagle Bend just before noon, the main street was crowded with locals, they couldn't help but notice the suspicious looks that were sent their way as they rode through the town to the telegraph office. People actually stopped in the street to look them over. They tipped their hats in greeting to the townsfolk but they scurried away without returning the hired lawmen's greetings.
Two members of the larger population took particular notice of the three men, they thought the men would be easy pickings and they decided to follow them until an opportunity rose where they could relieve them of any cash and belongings they had. They hid in the shadows of a small alley and watched as the three strangers stopped in front of the telegraph office. They listened as the three men argued.
"Is there any particular reason that you don't want me to come in with you?" Ezra asked, he knew that there was nothing there for them to pick up. Chris had to arrange something with the man inside and he didn't want him there when he did it. Ezra was actually beginning to feel better, he had ridden all morning watching the area around him, whereas the day before he had no interest in it, he didn't really say alot but he knew that something was changing inside him, it was the same as when the morning light filtered through your eyelids into your mind to wake you up from your sleep. He felt as though the light was beginning to break through into the dark void that he had been made a prisoner of. What suprised him was the fact that nothing had really happened to cause the change, it had just begun, there was no particular reason for it. Maybe JD had been right, he just needed a change of scenery and to get away from Josiah for a while.
"No reason Ezra, just thought you might want to stay out here in the fresh air." Buck tried to think quickly but it was hard when you were up against Ezra, he was too quick for any of them.
"I would rather come in with you Buck, I don't really want to be alone at the moment." Ezra hung his head and lifted his eyes to see the two men exchange glances.
"We'll only be a few minutes Ezra." Chris assured him.
"Must be a big parcel if it is going to take the two of you to get it." Ezra muttered as he kept his head down.
"Aw hell Ezra." Buck was feeling guilty now.
"No go on Buck, I'm sure I'll be okay . . . out here . . . on my own . . . while you two are in there . . . picking up that large parcel." Ezra turned away from them, a genuine smile was beginning to form on his face, the dimples finally appearing to make his features even more handsome. He felt a hand on his shoulder and the smile dropped from his face. He lifted his eyes to look into Chris's worried gaze. "Don't worry Chris, I'm fine. You go on. I'll wait for you here."
"We'll just be a few minutes Ezra." Chris patted his shoulder and moved away, a frown covered his face, he was really beginning to think that Ezra knew the real reason for their journey.
Buck and Chris stepped into the telegraph office and up to the counter. "Can I help you gentlemen?" The young clerk asked them.
"Yes you can." Buck leaned forward and glared at the young man who stared back at him through steel rimmed eye glasses. "First of all we would like to send a telegram and second we want a parcel that's big and heavy."
"Their late, Chris said noon, where the hell is that telegram." Nathan was fuming. "If they have done anything to make Ezra feel any worse I'll . . . ."
"Don't worry Nathan, he said he'll send a telegram, just give him a bit more time." Vin tried to calm the healer down. He smiled inwardly though as he watched the larger man pace back and forth along the boardwalk. He nodded to JD who stood on the other side. JD smiled back at him, he was also enjoying the sight, it helped break the tension they were all feeling. They had been worried every minute of the day when Ezra left yesterday and if the telegram said 'same' then they would continue to worry.
Nathan stopped pacing when he saw Josiah walking towards them. He turned around and walked in the opposite direction, cursing under his breath, voicing the different ways he was going to make Chris and Buck pay if Ezra was any worse when they came back.
"Is this what your waiting for?" The telegraph clerk stuck his head out of the door and handed Vin a telegram.
"Thanks." Vin saw the smile that he wore and hoped that it was because of the telegram, he waited for him to go back inside then handed the telegram to Nathan.
Nathan took it from him and began to read it. "Asked question. Stop. Answer. Stop. Extremely embarrassed. Stop. You had to be there. Stop. Chris."
"That has to be good news? Doesn't it?" JD asked, he wasn't sure, he knew it was a different answer but it wasn't what he expected.
"Sounds like good news to me." Vin stepped forward and gave him a hug. "Best idea you ever had JD. Come on, I'm buying you a drink."
Nathan watched as they walked away towards the saloon, he began to follow them and stopped when he reached Josiah who had been standing to the side. "Good news isn't it Josiah?"
"Yes it is, I hope he's finally sorting things out." Josiah answered him.
"What about you Josiah? Are you sorting things out?" Nathan looked directly at him. "Are you going to be there for him when he gets back?"
"Seems I don't have a choice. JD threatened to no longer be my friend if I'm not."
"You have a choice Josiah, your just not making the right one." Nathan walked away from him and followed Vin and JD into the saloon.
Ezra tried to look into the window but the dirt that covered it made it difficult, he gave up and turned away. He looked around the main street and stepped off the boardwalk, he wanted to stretch his legs after being on a horse all morning. He looked into the alley and saw a man and a woman arguing. The man was largely overweight and dirty, a beard covered the bottom half of his face, the woman was too thin, her dirty hair hung loosely around her face and shoulders, it hid his view of her face. He watched as the man struck the woman knocking her to the ground.
Ezra rushed forward, not thinking of his own safety, he only thought of protecting the woman. He reached the man who was about to hit her again. "I wouldn't do that, you'll regret it if you do." He growled up into his face as he stopped the man's arm as it swung towards the woman.
"No your going to regret it." A female voice said from behind him. Ezra felt the gun as it was pressed against his back. "Let him go and then give him what money you have."
"I don't have any money." Ezra spoke the truth, he didn't think he would need it, he had no intention of playing poker while he was here.
"Sam, search him." The large man stepped closer to Ezra and used his hand to search Ezra's clothing.
"Nothing." the man growled. "You certainly picked a great mark this time Grace."
"Me your were the one that said he looked like he had money." She spat at him.
Ezra began to step away from them before they realised they hadn't taken his gun from him.
"I never said that." He turned to look at Ezra. "Hey where do you think your going." He took the gun from Grace and aimed it at Ezra.
"I've had enough of your stupidity Sam." Grace ignored Ezra and continued with the argument.
"Your the stupid one not me." He took his eyes off Ezra for a split second but it was all the time that Ezra needed to draw his own gun. The man's eyes moved back to the smaller man to find himself looking into the barrel of a gun. He panicked and pulled the trigger.
Ezra felt the bullet tear through his left side and he fired his own gun, his aim was more deadly than the man who had just failed in his attempt to kill him. He watched as the man fell to the ground, his chest no longer moving.
"You killed him!" Grace yelled at him as she calmly picked up the gun that lay next to the dead body. "You killed Sam!"
Ezra didn't take any notice of her, he looked down at his side and saw the blood that had begun to soak his shirt, his only thought was that Nathan was going to kill him. He fell to his knees, his legs were no longer able to support his weight. He felt hands grab his shoulders and he looked up into Chris's face.
Chris and Buck had heard the two shots and their only thoughts were of Ezra, they knew that the southerner attracted trouble like no one else they had ever known, they didn't know why, it just seemed to follow him everywhere. They didn't have to look far to find him. They saw Ezra slumped on the ground in the alley that ran along side of the telegraph office, his gun was lying on the dirt floor next to him, they rushed to his side as a new thought crossed their minds. Nathan was going to kill them. Chris took his shoulders and allowed Ezra to lean against his chest while Buck checked the bullet wound. The first thing they had seen was the blood that stained the plain white shirt.
"Nathan's going to kill me." Ezra grimaced as a bolt of pain tore through his side, he looked back down to find Buck probing the wound.
"What happened here!" A voice yelled as more figures ran into the alley.
"That man murdered Sam!" Grace cried out as she forced the tears to flow from her eyes.
"I didn't murder anyone." Ezra spoke through clenched teeth. Buck had begun to apply pressure to the wound to stop the bleeding.
"Yes you did, you shot him down in cold blood."
"Grace, I want you to calm down and tell me what happened." Sheriff Glason ordered her while his men covered Ezra with their guns.
"We were arguing, Sam hit me and then this man showed up. He threatened Sam and then shot him. He killed him." She wiped the tears from hers eyes for a dramatic effect and then continued. "I shot him so he wouldn't get away. Sheriff, he murdered Sam in cold blood."
"It was self defense." Ezra whispered before he allowed the darkness to take him away from the pain.
Chris allowed Buck to take Ezra out of his arms. He stood up and faced the Sheriff. "If Ezra said it was self defense then that's what it was."
"And who the hell are you?" Glason's beady eyes looked Chris up and down, he put his thumbs in his gunbelt causing it to press even more against his pudgy stomach.
"Chris Larabee, were three of the lawmen who protect Four Corners." Chris glared at him.
"And you think that gives this man the right to shoot someone in cold blood?" Glason growled at him, he tried not to show the fear that he felt as Chris's cold eyes glared through him.
"Ezra said it was self defence." Chris repeated.
"Grace wouldn't lie about something like this." Glason told him.
"Neither would Ezra." Chris replied calmly.
"Well then, we'll just have to wait to see what the Judge will have to say about it. He'll be here in two days and in the meantime, he goes to the jail."
"Ezra needs a doctor not a jail cell." Buck growled up at him.
"There is no choice in this matter. He is under arrest for murder." Four guns were cocked and pointed at the three men. "Either you take him to the jail or my men will and they may not be as careful as I am sure you will be."
Chris turned to the woman that had accused Ezra of murder, he took in her face and her eyes, placing them in his memory so he would not forget her. When he turned back he saw that Buck had already picked Ezra up. He looked down at the pale face of his friend as they were forced into the direction of the jail house. He knew Ezra was in serious trouble. It was going to be his word against hers and things were in her favour because she was one of the town's residents and Ezra was a stranger to them. And it was the last thing that Ezra needed, they had planned this trip to help him and the only thing that they had done for him was to allow him to be shot and arrested for murder.
"Where the hell is that Doctor?" Buck yelled through the cell door as he tried to keep Ezra still. He had been able to stop the bleeding but the bullet hadn't gone straight through. It was still in Ezra's side and was now causing him a lot of pain. Ezra held onto his hand with a grip that brought tears to his eyes, it wasn't the pain in his hand that caused the emotion, it was because Ezra had seeked out the comfort that he had refused all his life, he hadn't waited for someone to offer it, he had taken it by grabbing Buck's hand as soon as they laid him down onto the small bunk.
"I told you he's coming." Glason retorted.
"You've been telling us that for the last hour." Chris reminded him, his voice telling him the anger that he felt was reaching breaking point.
"That's because you keeping asking me." Glason moved closer to the cell and looked at Chris. "Doc Campbell is out at the Haley's ranch, he'll get here when he's finished." He quickly stepped back when Chris walked out of the unlocked cell.
"If Ezra dies because your Deputy is taking his time, I'll kill you." Chris's tone held a cold threat.
"They'll get here, I told him to hurry. Maybe the Doc can't leave Mrs Haley, did you ever stop to think of that." He tried to show the courage that he didn't feel and he knew that Larabee could sense his fear. "He'll get here."
Chris glared at him one last time and went back into the cell that he had forced Glason not to lock. He knelt down beside the cot and put his hand on Ezra's forehead, he could feel the fever that had already begun. He watched Ezra's pale and sweating face, his eyes were full of pain and there was nothing he could do to help him.
"Hang in there Ezra, he'll be here soon." Chris wiped the loose damp hair from his forehead and then placed his hand on top of his head, he used his thumb to rub his temple. He was terrified that Ezra wasn't going to fight, that he would give in and let death take him. "Don't give up on us Ezra."
Ezra heard what Chris said and he turned his head towards him, he blinked the sweat out of his eyes. "I won't Chris . . . I won't break my . . . promise." He could see the relief fill Chris's eyes. "Aw hell, Nathan's . . . going to kill me." He grimaced as more pain tore through his side.
"No he won't Ezra, he's going to be to busy killing us." Buck told him, he didn't know if he was trying to make himself feel better or Ezra.
"The Doc's here." Glason informed them as he stepped back into the jail house.
Chris turned on his heels to see an older man follow the Sheriff in through the doorway, his sun wrinkled face was framed by short grey hair, his ill fitting clothing gave the impression that he was someone who didn't know what he was doing. Chris shifted his position to make more room for the Doctor but he allowed his hand to continue to give Ezra the comfort that he needed and wanted.
"Could you please give me some space to work in?" Campbell asked Buck as he looked at Ezra's face, he could see the amount of pain the prisoner was in and the flushed skin told him that he had a fever.
Buck tried to get up but Ezra wouldn't let go of his hand. "Ezra you need to let go, I have to let the Doc fix you up." He felt Ezra's grip loosen and he gently removed his hand. "I'll be right here Ezra, I'm not going anywhere." He could see Ezra's painfilled eyes follow him as he moved back to lean against the cell bars.
"Glason, get me a cup of water and put some on to boil. Now!" The Doctor ordered him as he pulled Ezra's jacket and shirt aside, he felt around the wound with long thin fingers causing Ezra to let out a cry of pain. He grabbed his bag off the floor and took out a small bottle. "Glason!"
"I'm coming!" The Sheriff complained as he brought the cup into the cell, he handed it to the Doctor and then left again.
"I'm going to give him some laudnum, it'll make him sleep." The Doctor looked up at Chris. "That way the pain won't be as bad for him when I take the bullet out."
"Chris?" Ezra lifted his left arm up and Chris took it and pulled it back down.
"It's okay Ezra, he's going to help you." Chris tried to reassure him, he saw the look that the Doctor gave him and ignored it.
"Can you lift his head up for me." The Doctor poured a small amount of the mixture into the water and then placed it against his patients lips. "Come on you need to drink this." He could see the fear that was in the man's eyes. "It will take the pain away."
"Ezra, can you drink it for me, please." Chris knew that Ezra's lack of trust and fear of more pain stopped him from doing what the Doctor asked him to do, he needed reassurance and he tried to give it to him but the fear was building in his friend's eyes.
Ezra finally gave in and opened his mouth to allow the mixture to be poured in. Campbell couldn't help but smile at the look of disgust on the man's face. "Where's . . . Nathan's concoctions . . . when you need them . . . they taste . . . better." Ezra forced his eyelids to open as he struggled to stay awake, they were beginning to feel heavy, he didn't like what was happening, this was something new and it scared him.
"Don't fight it Ezra." The older man told him in a calming tone. He watched as Ezra's eyes closed once more and this time they stayed closed
All Ezra could feel was a numbness that seemed to have taken control of his entire body, there wasn't even any pain coming from his side, he tried to move but nothing would follow his brains instructions, the fear started to build within him, he had never felt like this before.
"He's coming round."
Ezra heard the voice but he didn't recognise it, the fear grew stronger but then Chris's voice spoke to him, he could feel the warm breath on the side of his face and took comfort in it.
"Ezra, it's Chris. Dr Campbell said that what your feeling is normal, it'll wear off, just relax and give it some time. He took the bullet out, your going to be fine, your going to be okay Ezra." He could only just feel it as someone picked up his hand and another as it began to stroke his face. He knew how much these men had come to care about him, he could feel it in their touch, he could hear it in their voice, their concern overwhelmed him and broke his heart. He felt the finger wipe the tear that had fallen from his eye. "It's okay Ezra, your going to be okay."
Ezra tried to say something so Chris would know that he could hear him but all that came out was bearly audible moan. The hand continued to stroke his face and the unknown voice spoke again.
"Try not to talk Mr Standish, what your feeling will wear off in a few minutes, just relax." Campbell spoke in a soothing voice while he put his hand against his patient's forehead, the fever was still there but it wasn't at a dangerous level, he then felt his pulse to find it stronger than it had been.
"Chris?" Ezra managed to whisper.
"Does he ever do as he's told?" Campbell looked at Chris, the smile on his face told the hardened gunslinger that there was no anger in his question.
"He can be a bit stubborn." Chris answered him.
"A bit, try more like mule headed." Buck's voice held the relief that he felt.
"Shut up . . . Buck." Ezra croaked.
"How are you feeling Ezra?" Chris asked him as he squeezed his hand.
"Do you really . . . want to ask . . . me that now." Ezra groaned, he felt terrible but he didn't want Chris to know that. He knew he was back in the void that he thought he had finally begun to escape from.
"Thought I would catch you off guard." Chris smiled down at him.
"I see your just as stubborn." Campbell told Chris.
"More so." Ezra agreed as he finally managed to pull his eyes open, he looked up at the blurry figure that was leaning over him and had to blink his eyes until the man came into focus.
"Ezra, this is Doctor Campbell." Chris introduced the Doctor.
Ezra took in the smile, the kind grey eyes and couldn't help but instantly like the man. He tried to smile back at him but a grimace formed on his features instead, the pain in his side had come back. Ezra turned his painfilled eyes to his left so he could look for his friends, he saw Chris beside him, he looked over his shoulder at Buck who was still standing against the bars of his cell. He frowned at the sight and tried to remember what had happened.
"Do you remember what happened Ezra?" Chris could see the confusion on his face.
Ezra nodded at the memory, he had tried to protect the woman but in return she and her friend had tried to rob him, the result was the death of the man and then his own arrest.
"We've got some good news Ezra." Buck informed him.
"Ezra do you think that you could drink some water now?" Doctor Campbell interrupted the conversation, he knew that his patient would fall into a natural sleep within minutes and he wanted to make sure he got some fluids into him before he did. He smiled when Ezra nodded in acknowledgement. He placed his hand behind his neck and helped him lift his head. "Just a sip to start Ezra, I want to make sure you can swallow first." When Ezra drank the small amount he allowed him to drink more and when he had finished the full cup he laid his head back down. "Chris, tell him what you need to and do it quick, he'll be asleep again in a few minutes."
"Ezra?" Chris continued to wipe his forehead as Ezra turned his head towards his voice. "The Judge that's coming in a couple of days is Judge Travis." Chris smiled at Ezra's confusion. "You finally got some good luck for a change. I think someone is trying to tell you something."
"Then why am I still here?" Ezra asked, he could feel the darkness waiting at the edge of his vision, he knew it wanted to take him back but he fought it off.
"That woman is still saying you shot her brother in cold blood." Buck explained as he came forward.
"Brother?" Ezra's eyes widened. "I didn't Chris, it was self defense, he shot first . . . "
"I believe you Ezra, there's no doubt in my mind or Buck's." Chris tried to calm him down. "We just have to prove it to the Judge when he gets here. I know he'll believe you."
Campbell watched and listened as the three friends talked, he could tell they were close and that they trusted each other, he was willing to accept this man's innocence just on this display of friendship and trust. He was a good judge of character and he always relied on that judgement, he knew that he hadn't misjudged these men, he also knew what type of person Grace Lockwell was, he didn't trust her or her family
"Are you sure about that." Ezra's voice became slurred as he drifted off to sleep.
"That's enough for now Chris, let him get some sleep." Campbell told the gunslinger. He waited a few minutes and then lifted one of Ezra's eye lids to make sure he was sleeping. "Why don't you two go and get some rest, maybe something to eat and then come back."
"No we won't leave him." Chris told him.
"He'll be sleeping anyway, he's not going to know that you weren't here." Campbell tried to convince them to get some rest.
"Let me put it another way John, we can't leave him." Chris used his first name so he would know how serious he was. After the Doctor had removed the bullet from Ezra's side, introductions had been made. Campbell had told them that he had only been in Eagle Bend for three months, he had come out West after spending years practicing in the city. Chris had liked the man immeadiately, he had a certain character that was easily readable and he could tell that he was a person who cared about people. He also liked the fact that the man hadn't judged Ezra.
"Why?" Campbell asked him, he saw the look that was stolen between the two men. "Is there something else wrong with him? Does it have something to do with the shooting?"
"He has nightmares." Chris didn't look at John but instead kept his eyes of Ezra's slack features. "He's been having a lot of problems lately, mostly emotional and he hasn't been coping."
"What type of problems?"
"I don't think it's something we should tell you." Chris wasn't sure how Ezra would react if he knew that he had told the Doctor what had been happening to him.
"I'm a Doctor, you can and should tell me. What he's been through might effect his recovery and besides I might be able to help him." He tried to convince them to tell him what his patients problems were.
"Why would you want to help him, you don't know him." Buck said defensively.
"I became a Doctor so I could help people, I want to help them." He took a deep breath. "Look, I can see that you care about him but it's obvious that you haven't been able to help him through it so why don't you let me try." He watched as another look passed between them. "I have experience in this type of thing, I'm sure I can help him."
"Okay." Chris finally accepted his offer of help. "Were willing to try anything to help him." He answered Buck's expression with one of his own. He didn't look away from Ezra while he told Campbell about everything that Ezra had been through, he told him about his mother and how she had taught him to hide his emotions and not to accept any type of concern, he told him how hard it was for him to finally show the emotions that he needed to, how hard it was for him to accept their touch because of what his relatives had done to him as a child. Chris finished with what Ezra had done two weeks ago because he wasn't able to cope with the torrent of emotions that now flooded his mind.
"He's been in this dark mood since he tried to kill himself?" Campbell looked down at the man that lay on the bed.
"Yeah." Buck admitted. "We haven't been able to do anything to get him out of it."
"Did he tell you what the dreams are about?"
"No." Chris answered him. "He won't talk about them, we know there about his father, we can hear him talk in his sleep but we can't work out what he's saying."
"Where does his father come into it?" Campbell was confused because Chris hadn't mention a father in his telling of Ezra's obviously difficult life.
"He has six friends, he finally accepted us after quite a bit of pushing but Josiah has been treating Ezra more like a son and Ezra didn't like it, he wasn't very pleasant when he told Josiah to stop. I tried but I couldn't get much out of him about his father. The only thing that we really know is that he wasn't a good father and he died when Ezra was only five."
"So it's either the type of father he was or his death that's bothering him." He leant forward and took a closer look at Ezra's face. "Do you know how he died?"
"No." They both spoke as one.
He turned his grey eyes to Chris. "So he'd be about twenty eight now, that means he's kept the memory hidden behind this wall that you told me about for at least twenty three years just like he hid the memory of his Uncle and Aunt. No wonder he's not coping, it would be very hard for someone who has hidden everything all his life to have to suddenly deal with the memory and the emotions all at once."
"Ezra's thirty three." Chris corrected him.
"You sure." Campbell looked back down at the young face. "He looks like he's in his late twenty's."
Chris and Buck looked at each other. "Ezra told us that he was thirty three but then again who knows with Ezra, he's always pretended to be something he wasn't, it was only when he came to Four Corners that the real person showed himself." Chris frowned. "Come to think of it, I don't even know what the date of his birthday is."
"I wanna see him!" All three men turned at the voice that sounded from outside the jail house.
Campbell looked at Chris. "That's Grace Lockwell's father." He turned his eyes to Ezra to make sure the noise hadn't woken him.
"Get out of my way Glason! I want to see the man that killed my son!" The voiced echoed through the jail house.
"Buck, stay with Ezra." Chris stood up and made his way to the street that held the angry voice. What he found was a man who looked very much like the dead man, he also wore a beard that covered his dirty face and his body was just as large, his stomach pressed against his tight trousers in just the same way as the Sheriff's who was trying to stop the man from getting to the jail house.
"I told you Hank, you can't see him." The Sheriff tried to stop him but the larger man was able to push him away.
"Your not going in there." Chris told him.
"Yes I am." Lockwell growled at the stranger before him.
"No your not." Chris placed his hand on his holster, warning the man not to come any further.
"Glason. Who's the Sheriff here? You or him?" Lockwell glared up at Chris, even though he was large in size he was still smaller than the dark clad gunslinger that blocked the doorway to the man who murdered his son.
"I am." Glason moved to closer to the man. "Your not going in there. Doc Campbell's with him and he won't allow any visitors."
"I'm not here to visit." He glared into Glason's beady eyes but the Sheriff held his ground. "I'm here to seek judgement. That man is going to hang for what he did, even if I have to do it myself." He turned around and walked away. "I'll be back!"
"Never did like that man." Glason admitted as he watched the retreating back, he turned to look at Chris. "We have to take his threat seriously, if your friend gets off then Lockwell will go after him to seek his own justice."
Chris stormed back into the jailhouse that had begun to darken in much the same way that his mood did, he had heard what the Sheriff said and took the comment seriously. He had thought Ezra was in enough trouble but he now knew that things were going to get worse for him. They had to prove Ezra's innocence beyond a doubt for Lockwell to leave Ezra alone. He couldn't ignore the worried expression that he saw on Buck's face, he must have heard everything, he looked down at Ezra and saw the haunted green eyes looking back at him.
'Shit!' Chris thought to himself, the yelling must have woken him, he didn't want Ezra to know about what had just happened. He made his way into the cell and knelt down on the floor so he could be at Ezra's level when he stared into his eyes.
"It'll be okay Ezra, everything will be fine." Ezra turned his head away from him without acknowledging what he said and closed his eyes, he was asleep again within seconds. Chris closed his own eyes and hung his head in despair, his forehead resting on Ezra's left shoulder, he could feel the heat that radiated off his body through the blanket that covered him.
"What are we going to do Chris?" Buck asked him as he came away from the metal bars that he had been leaning against.
"We have to prove that it was self defense Buck, it's the only thing that we can do." Chris answered him as he lifted his head but his voice was full of doubt. The only way they could do it was to convince Grace Lockwell to tell the Sheriff and her father what had really happened and he had a gut feeling that told him she wasn't going to admit the truth easily.
"And while your doing that, I'll help him with his problems." Campbell stated simply as though it was going to be easy to free Ezra from his dark void.
"You think that you could help him?" Buck was hopeful and he didn't hide the emotion that he felt.
"I can't promise anything, it will depend on whether or not Ezra wants help in dealing with his problems, if he doesn't then I won't be able to do anything for him." Campbell admitted.
"Just do what you can Doc." Buck smiled at him and then looked down at Ezra's pale sleeping form.
"Why don't I go and get us something to eat." Campbell suggested as he blinked his eyes against the brightening light as Glason moved around the jail house lighting lamps that caused the darkness to suddenly retreat from the building. The new light allowed him to see the worried faces before him more clearly.
"I'm not really that hungry Doc." Buck told him.
"Me either." Chris agreed with his friend.
"But if you could get something for Ezra. We um . . . promised someone that we would make sure he ate and he won't eat unless you force him to." Buck moved from one foot to the other.
"Your both going to eat some dinner and then I'm going to stay here with you so I can experience one of this young man's nightmares." He didn't wait for an answer but instead got up and left the cell and the jail house.
Glason didn't argue with Chris when he told him they were staying with Ezra but he wouldn't leave them alone until Campbell promised that the men wouldn't use the opportunity to escape. He had left the cell unlocked but locked the front and back door so they wouldn't have to worry about anyone trying to get in.
Each man had taken turns of guarding the jail house and watching Ezra for the first signs of a nightmare, Campbell wanted to listen to Ezra's mutterings to try and figure out what it was he was dreaming about. Chris had already told him that they were about his father but he needed to know why he was dreaming about the man who had died when he was five years old, he hoped that it would then help him to help Ezra.
Chris turned away from the jail house window to see Ezra tossing his head to the side. 'It's starting.' He thought to himself. Each night he silently prayed that there wasn't going to be another nightmare but each night his prayer went unanswered. He moved quickly to the chair that Campbell was sleeping in and shook his shoulder until he woke.
"Ezra's dreaming." It was all he had to say to make the Doctor rush from his seat the Ezra's bedside.
Campbell watched as the emotion filled Ezra's face, tears fell from behind the closed eyelids but he didn't talk, his movements became more frantic as the nightmare worsened until he finally woke. The scream echoed off the walls of the jailhouse causing Buck to wake from his own peacefull sleep.
The older man held Ezra down as he tried to sit up. "What are you dreaming about Ezra?" He asked while the nightmare was still fresh in his sleep clouded mind, he hoped that Ezra would say something without realising it.
Ezra began to push him away, his efforts were weak at first but then they became more violent. Chris knelt down behind Ezra's head and held his shoulders down. Buck came into the cell and sat down on the cold floor, he reached forward and began to massage Ezra's temple with his thumb. Ezra instantly calmed down, his eyes slowly opened and he turned his head towards Buck.
"Hey Ezra." Buck kept rubbing his forehead and used his free hand to wipe the tears from his friend's face. "Your okay, it's just a dream. It's over now."
"Do you want to explain how you calmed him down so quickly?" Campbell asked Buck.
"It's hard to explain." Buck shrugged. "This was the first touch of concern that Ezra actually accepted. It was the one thing that calmed him down. Don't know why."
"When he feels it he knows that it's one of us, that were there with him and he's not alone." Chris added.
"My father used to do it." Ezra ignored the pain as he rolled onto his right side in an attempt to end the questions before they started.
"Your father?" Buck was stunned.
"Would you like to talk about that Ezra?" Campbell asked him.
"There's nothing to talk about."
"You dream about your father don't you?" Ezra didn't answer him, he ignored those around him. "Is it your father's death that is hurting you so much Ezra?"
"No, he left us before he died."
"Is that what it is?" Campbell waited for an answer but he didn't receive one. "Is it your father leaving you that's troubling you Ezra?"
"No!" Ezra began to get agitated. "I was glad the bastard left."
Campbell looked at Chris and Buck and saw the look of surprises on their faces, they had never heard any of this before, it was all new to them.
"What did he do to you Ezra?" Campbell asked him quietly.
"I'm not going to talk about it anymore, I don't want to go through that again."
"But you are Ezra, your going through it again in your dreams." The older man told him as he placed a hand on his leg.
"No I'm not, I don't dream about him." Campbell gave Chris a confused expression.
"But you talk about him in your sleep Ezra." Chris reminded him.
"I don't dream about him, now will you leave it at that!" Ezra closed his eyes and prayed that the darkness would take him back but it didn't. He was angry at himself for saying what he did. The others had never asked these type of questions after he woke up from a dream, they usually only asked him if he wanted to talk about it. He didn't know why he had told this man so much already, he wasn't going to tell him anymore.
Campbell caught Chris and Buck's attention and nodded towards the area beyond the cell, they reluctantly took the hint and stood up. Ezra could feel their movement as they left him alone with the Doctor.
"Your reliving those first few years of your life aren't you Ezra?" Campbell gently forced him to roll onto his back, he saw the confusion in his eyes. "If you don't want to talk about him Ezra that's okay, I won't force you to." He got up off the bed and picked his bag up off the floor. "Do you think that you could sit up for me while I rebandage your wound?"
"Yes." He tried to push himself up but had to rely on the Doctor's help. Campbell turned him so his back was leaning against the wall. Ezra bit his teeth against the pain and the sweat continued to roll down the side of his face. He watched as Campbell removed the old bandage and then began to replace it with a clean one.
"Ezra do you realise that your living in the past instead of now?" He didn't look up at him but he knew by the way he tensed up that he had his attention.
"What do you mean?" Ezra asked him, he didn't want to talk about his father but the statement peaked his curiosity.
"Your allowing your father to control your life instead of you controlling him and living in the present." Campbell tried to explain to him.
"I don't understand." Ezra needed confirmation of what he thought this man was telling him.
"It's like your five years old again Ezra instead of, . . . what, twenty eight, twenty nine." Campbell chose this moment to look up at the intense green eyes, he saw the shock before they were once again filled with confusion. "You need to let whatever happened go Ezra before you can go on. It's holding you back."
"I'm sorry, I still don't get what your trying to say." But he did.
"You need to forgive your father for whatever it was he did. You have to tell him that you forgive him."
"But she said it was my fault." Ezra muttered as the tears filled his eyes.
"EZRA!" Chris yelled at him. "Why do you keep blaming yourself for everything that ever happened to you!"
"Because my mother kept telling me that it was my fault he left!" Ezra yelled back at him.
"How can it be the fault of a five year old?" Campbell asked him.
"It wasn't" Ezra admitted to himself. "I know it wasn't, my friends convinced me that things like that aren't my fault but sometimes . . . I wonder if he would have stayed if things were better."
"Do you forgive him Ezra?" Campbell lifted his damp face with his hands.
"I can't." Ezra didn't pull his head from the gentle grip. "I can't. Please I don't want to talk about him anymore."
"Okay, you can't forgive him, how about accepting what happened, how about taking back control of your life?" He also didn't remove his hand. "Let it go Ezra, don't let him control you anymore." He felt Ezra try to move his head away so he made his grip firmer. "Ezra! I want you to say, I'm not going to let my father control my life anymore."
"What?" Ezra knew what he wanted and also knew what it meant.
"Your letting a man who has been dead for nearly twenty eight years control your life and your emotions. It's not your friends, it's not the fact that you had so much trouble dealing with your emotions. You accepted them, you began to deal with them but Josiah began to remind you of a dead man and you let that man's memory take control of you."
The realisation hit him, that's exactly what had been happening, his father was in his mind twenty four hours a day, he couldn't get rid of him.
"I'm not going to let my father control my life anymore." Ezra repeated as the tears refilled his eyes.
"I'm going to take back control of my life. I'm in control." Campbell nodded to him, indicating that he wanted him to repeat what he had just said.
"I'm going to take back control of my life." Ezra hesitated. "I'm in control."
"Tell him you forgive him."
"I forgive you father." Ezra said it before he could stop himself. "Oh god!" He could hear his own heart wrenching sobs but he couldn't stop, the emotions were finally escaping, he looked around for his friends. "Chris! Buck! Help me please!"
Campbell got off the bed when he heard Ezra's friends coming towards him, he stepped back and watched Chris take him into his arms and as Buck put an arm around his shoulders. He knew that it was only the beginning for Ezra.
Ezra put his arms around Chris and held on tightly as the tears continued, he didn't want to let go. He couldn't believe that he had forgiven his father for what he had done. He had loved him once but that love quickly turned into hatred, a hatred that he never thought would change into forgiveness. Ezra could feel the pain tearing through his side and the blood that began to flow from the freshly opened wound but he couldn't stop, he no longer wanted to stop.
Chris could feel Ezra's emotional tremors as they tore through his body, he knew that he would be feeling a lot of pain in his side but he wasn't going to stop him from letting out the emotions that had refused to come out for the last two weeks. He didn't bother to try and wipe the tears that fell from his own face, he looked over Ezra's damp head at Buck and saw that he was the same, he allowed a smile to creep onto his face, Buck returned it.
Doctor Campbell watched for a few minutes then prepared something that would help Ezra sleep, it was something that the young man now needed to do. He waited patiently for another twenty minutes before the tears finally began to ease, he moved forward and knelt down beside Ezra.
"Ezra?" He saw the damp eyes open and look at him, he smiled back at the dimples that appeared on the young face. "I want you to drink this, it'll help you sleep."
"It's not that stuff you gave me before is it?" Ezra sniffed and wiped at his cheeks. "I mean anyone would think that you were trying to kill me with that stuff." Ezra's smile grew when he heard his friends laugh.
"Did I miss the joke?" Campbell asked him.
"Yeah you did." Buck laughed as he used the palm of his hand to wipe the tears from his eyes.
Ezra pushed himself off Chris's damp shirt and cried out in pain at the movement. He felt Buck's hands on his shoulders as he supported his weight. He used a shaking hand to take the cup from the Doctor and quickly drank the foul tasting liquid.
"Your worse than Nathan." Ezra muttered as he allowed himself to fall back onto Chris's chest, he could feel his friends heartbeat and it lulled him into the first peaceful sleep that he'd had in weeks.
Ezra woke to the sound of voices and his mind instantly filled with confusion. He frowned in concentration, trying to remember what had happened. It all came back to him, being shot, talking to Doctor Campbell and then forgiving his father. He remembered the emotions that finally erupted, causing the dark void to finally shatter. The light started to fill his soul once more. He could still feel the sadness that was there but it wasn't the heavy depression that he had felt for two weeks. He actually felt better than he had in a while, he thought he could laugh and smile again without having to force himself to.
He listened as the voices invaded his mind once more. He recognised one of the voices. 'No that can't be right, Chris said he wasn't arriving for another two days.' He thought to himself. He opened his eyes and saw the brick wall of the cell that he was in, he turned his head so it faced the rest of the room. He saw Judge Travis talking to Chris and Buck. They hadn't noticed that he had woken up so he closed his eyes again and listened to the conversation.
"We haven't even been able to find Grace Lockwell." Chris growled.
"She has to show up for the trial, if she doesn't I will rule it as a mistrial and then you can take Ezra home." The Judge explained.
"That's going to be difficult." Buck told him. "Her father threatened that if Ezra wasn't found guilty and hung for shooting his son he would do it himself."
"We have to hold a proper trial so Ezra can be proven innocent. That way this guy will let him go." Chris continued.
"I'll get Glason to give notice to Lockwell that the trial will be held tomorrow and to make sure that his daughter is there. Does the Doctor have any idea when Ezra is going to wake up?"
"No and he won't wake him, he said that Ezra needs the rest, emotional exhuastion was the term that he used." Chris muttered. "Nathan's going to kill us if he finds out that Ezra hasn't eaten for two days."
Ezra had to strain his ears to hear what he had said, he listened as the conversation ended and heard the sound of footsteps as someone come into the cell towards him. He felt a hand on his forehead and the finger that began to rub his temple. He opened his eyes to find Chris's blue eyes staring back at him.
"How are you feeling Ezra?" Chris asked the question and held his breath while he waited for the answer.
"Better." Ezra genuinely smiled at him. "A lot better."
"BUCK!" Chris yelled, he didn't take his eyes off Ezra's smiling face. "Did you hear that, he feels better!"
"Chris do you have to yell in my ear?" Ezra growled at him.
"Sorry Ezra." Chris wiped the hair from his forehead. "We're glad to have you back."
"Ezra!" Buck came running into the cell.
"Isn't it obvious." Ezra glared at him.
"Yep, it's you alright." Buck couldn't stop himself as he slapped Ezra's leg a little to hard.
Ezra winced and then looked around Chris towards the Judge. "Have I been asleep for two days?"
"Yeah, you have." Buck answered him.
"What did Doctor Campbell give me?"
"He only gave you something to help you sleep Ezra, you slept for two days on your own." Chris smiled down at him, he was glad to see him awake.
"I haven't eaten for two days." He watched as Chris nodded. "Nathan's going to kill you and Buck." Ezra smiled and the humour reached his eyes.
Nathan knew that something was wrong, he could sense it, he had hoped that it was just the worrying that he had been doing about Ezra but something continued to gnaw at his stomach. He pushed his chair out and stood up, hesitated and then sat back down again. His eyes moved from the other men who sat at the table to the doors of the saloon. He was expecting bad news to come through those doors at any moment. He started to get up again but sat down in the chair that was beginning to protest loudly at the indecision of the person using it.
"What's wrong Nathan?" JD asked. He could feel the tension and worry that Nathan was giving off and couldn't help but feel it himself.
"Nothin'." His kind brown eyes moved back to the door, he blinked against the afternoon sunlight that shone it's way into the saloon before finally moving over the building towards it's expected sunset.
"Ezra's fine Nathan, stop worrying." Vin knew he had hit the mark when the concern expression turned to him.
"I've just got this feeling, you know, like when you get it." He stood up again but froze in his stance when he saw the telegraph operator enter into the saloon.
The clerk stood just inside the doors and could feel their movement as they swung behind him. He saw Nathan and the expression that he held, he smiled quickly so he would know that it wasn't bad news and saw the instant relief on the healer's face and moved towards him.
"Telegram from Mr Larabee." He smiled then tipped his hat, he didn't wait for their reactions, he knew what it would be. They would feel what he felt at the news but their feelings would be much stronger than his were. He liked Mr Standish, the man had a way about him that you could only admire but these men were his friends and they worried about him.
"Well, how good is it?" Vin asked Nathan as he sat down, he knew by the clerk's smile that it was good news.
"Are you gonna read it Nathan?" JD leaned forward and tried to take the folded piece of paper from his trembling hand, he succeeded in removing it from Nathan's weak grip.
JD read it quickly, his smile growing with every word. "Asked question. Stop. Answer. Stop. Better a lot better. Stop. Staying for another week. Stop. Will let you know when we start heading back. Stop. Chris."
"Well guys, I think that this calls for a celebration. Don't you?" Vin's smile mirrored JD's but he frowned when he saw that Nathan wasn't sharing in their joy. "Nathan?"
"I'm sorry but that nagging feeling is still here." He pointed to his stomach.
"Chris wouldn't lie to us Nathan." Vin assured him.
"I know that, it's just . . ," Nathan shook his head and rubbed his face with his left hand. "I got the feeling that he's not telling us everything." The healer stood up from his chair. "I'm going to tell Josiah the good . . . "
"No!" JD startled both of them with his anger. "If Josiah can't be bothered to check up on how Ezra's doing then he can stay in the dark." His angry gaze caused the two men to admire the adult that JD was becoming. "Were not going to chase him, if he wants to know how Ezra is, he can come and ask us."
Nathan sat back down in his chair and nodded at JD. "So what sort of celebration were you going to pay for Vin?" Nathan asked him, he smiled when Vin spat out the mouthful of whisky that he had begun to swallow.
After sending a telegram to Nathan, Chris rode with Sheriff Glason to the Lockwell farm, he wanted to make sure that the man understood that his daughter had to be at the trial tomorrow. The small farm was only thirty minutes outside of town but it had felt like he had been riding for hours, Glason was terrible company, he wouldn't stop talking. He spoke about the arrests that he had made and Chris knew that the man was trying to convince him that he wasn't the coward that he thought he was, he wasn't succeeding.
Chris shut his voice out of his mind and looked around at the sight before him, he had been to depressed himself lately to take in the scenery, he looked up towards the sky to see the clouds that were trying to gather together so they could block out the sun's light and warmth. The worry that he had felt for Ezra had controlled all of his thoughts much like Ezra's father had controlled the southerner's. Ezra still hadn't told any of them what his father had actually done and he wasn't sure that he ever would but he knew that Ezra had dealt with it and that he would now continue to improve until he was back to his old self.
"Were here." Glason informed Chris. "Larabee! Were here."
Chris's eyes had already seen the farm minutes before, he couldn't help but see the smoke coming from one of the two small chimneys on the roof of the small run down building. He had been checking the area carefully to make sure there wasn't any trouble waiting for them. It was something that Glason obviously didn't do.
"Hank Lockwell!" Glason yelled out.
Chris grimaced at the man, he should have made him stay in town.
"Lockwell, are you in there!"
Chris watched as the front door to the house opened and Lockwell stepped out, two even larger men, who also wore beards followed him onto the porch. Chris was beginning to wonder if this family knew what a razor was. Each one held a rifle in his hand and they were pointed directly at Chris, they didn't seem to think that the Sheriff was a threat to them. Chris agreed.
"What do you want?" Lockwell demanded.
"Judge Travis arrived in town this morning. He wanted me to let you know that he will be holding the trial tomorrow morning starting at ten in the Court House. He also wants me to tell you to make sure that Grace is there to testify, if she isn't he'll judge it as a mistrial." Glason explained to him.
"She'll be there. Grace will tell the truth, she'll tell the Judge that man killed my son in cold blood and then we can watch him hang!" Lockwell turned his back on them and walked back into the house. The two men stayed where they were and waited for Chris and the Sheriff to leave.
"He never was one to mince words." Glason told Chris as they rode away.
Doctor Campbell only allowed Ezra to give him an empty bowl, he refused to take anything else, he didn't stop glaring at his patient until he had eaten it's entire contents. The Doctor enjoyed the looks that Ezra gave him each time he told him to eat more. He remembered what Buck had told him about having to force Ezra to eat but knew the reason for him not wanting to eat was because of his lack of appettite due to not eating rather than the depression that he was no longer in. He took the bowl from him and looked into the smiling face, his green eyes were no longer haunted but instead held a mischievous glint that showed his true age.
"Are you feeling better Ezra?" Campbell sat further onto the bed and leaned his back against the wall, mimicking Ezra's position. He decided to take the opportunity to make sure that his mood was still improving and hopefully to get Ezra to talk some more about his father. He watched as Ezra's mouth opened but Buck's voice spoke for him. He smiled at the foul look that was sent to the older man who was also sitting on the crowded bed.
"He's doing a lot better thanks Doc and in more ways than one." Buck answered for him as he slapped Ezra on the shoulder causing him to slump slightly forward.
"Buck!" Ezra grimaced at him more in embarrassment than in pain.
"You want to answer my question Ezra." Campbell reminded him as he leaned around his patient and pulled open the blanket that was wrapped around his thin body to check the wound that seemed to be healing as well as his emotional wounds but like his mood he needed to check it to make sure.
"There's still pain but . . . " Ezra started to tell him.
"I'm not really talking about that Ezra." The Doctor smiled up at him. "I want to know how your feeling."
"I feel alot better but . . . " Ezra shifted his eyes away from Campbell's.
"But what?" Campbell asked patiently.
Buck put his arm around Ezra's shoulders, giving him the comfort and support he now knew he wanted and accepted without any sort of hesitation, he felt Ezra shrug beneath his arm.
"Chris and Buck told me what's been going on with Josiah." Campbell told him. "Your scared Ezra, I know that. You've finally started to get yourself back together but your afraid that your going to go back into that void again when you see him."
Ezra nodded, he smiled slightly, this man seemed to know exactly what he was thinking and what to say to make him feel better. "I didn't realise that it was my father that caused all of this until you made me realise it. I always told myself that I wouldn't let him hurt me again, that I wouldn't let what he did bother me. Josiah brought it all back and I couldn't think of anything else, I got angry and I pushed him away but it hurt that he stopped pushing back." Ezra took a deep breath. "Buck, Chris and the others didn't give up on me, they kept pushing at me until they tore my walls down. But Josiah stopped and I have always associated that with people not caring about me." He wiped the tears that fell from his eyes. "I'm worried about going back to Four Corners." He hung his head. "I don't know what to do about Josiah." Ezra looked up at Buck and his eyes darted to Campbell. "What if he's still the same? What if I go back to feeling the same way? What if he makes me feel angry again."
"Ezra, just tell him why you pushed him away. Tell him that your father hurt you and that Josiah brought all that hurt back and you had no control over what it did to you." He placed his hand on Ezra's shoulder. "And we both know that's true. Unless you accept a painful memory you have no control over it, that's why it controlled you Ezra."
"Do you think that he'll understand? I don't want to loose him as a friend, he's helped me get through a lot of things."
"I know he'll understand Ezra, as long as you tell him how you feel." Campbell smiled at him. "Besides, from what Buck has told me a JD Dunne is taking care of him."
Ezra laughed and Buck was overjoyed to hear the sound. "JD has grown up quite a bit, mostly because of what I have done." He felt Buck squeeze his shoulders. "I think he's lost his innocence."
"Ezra, the day that boy gets rid of that stupid hat and buys himself a decent one will be the day he looses his innocence." Buck assured him.
Chris could hear Ezra's laughter from outside the jail house, it was a sound that he never thought he would hear again. It terrified him every time he looked into those green eyes to see only emptiness instead of that glint that made it very hard to get angry at him. Six months ago that glint caused him to loose his temper on more than one occassion but now he couldn't even get himself angry over the look. He stepped into the building to find all three men sitting on the bed. Ezra and Buck were laughing but the Doctor held only a look of confusion, this caused Chris to smile.
"Chris?" Campbell had seen him enter the room and thought that he could enlighten him on the situation of JD and his bowler hat. "Perhaps you could explain JD's hat to me as these two . . . " He watched as Chris burst into laughter and threw his own hands up in defeat.
Chris walked into the cell and knelt down so he could look up into Ezra's eyes, he could see the humor that they held. "I sent Nathan and the others a telegram to let them know how your going. I also told them that we'll be staying in town for another week." He watched as the green eyes darkened. "Don't worry Ezra, it'll all be over tomorrow and then when the Doc here says you can leave, we'll go home."
Ezra nodded, he liked the sound of that word. Home. Four Corners had become his home and these me had become his family. Both were things that he had longed for all his life but he never really thought that he would find them but he had found them and he was never going to let them go. He just hoped that Josiah would still be there for him when he got back.
"Why don't you get some rest Ezra." Campbell ordered him.
"I have been resting for more than two days now." Ezra argued as he tried unsuccessfully to stiffle a yawn. "Why don't we partake in a game of chance instead?"
"Rest. Now!" Campbell got up off the bed and violenty motioned to Buck and Chris to leave the cell.
"You'll need it Ezra, the Judge is coming round to see you later and you know what he's like." Chris smiled back at him as he left the cell. He could feel his heart swell with the knowledge that Ezra was back.
"Good Lord." Ezra muttered as he made himself comfortable, he didn't think that he was going to sleep but he fell into a dreamless slumber within minutes.
Ezra could feel someone's hand wiping his forehead, the touch was different from what his friend's did, he thought that it was Doctor Campbell. He allowed his eyes to slowly open and he looked up into Judge Travis's face. He jerked awake quickly, he had never expected this man to show him any type of concern.
"How are you feeling Mr Standish?" The Judge asked him as he saw the uncertainty in the green eyes. Chris and Buck had told him everything that had happened to the gambler and he felt a deep sympathy towards him. He wanted to help him in everyway he could.
"I'm fine Judge, thankyou for asking." Ezra tried to smile at him but he was confused as to why he was at his bed side.
"Don't lie to me Ezra. I know what happened, what's been happening." The Judge's voice held a challenging tone.
Ezra sighed, it seems that everyone knew what he was going through. It had bothered him once to even allow people to know how he was feeling but not anymore. He knew that Chris wouldn't have told the Judge if he thought that the man wouldn't have cared in some way.
"I'm feeling a lot better. Physically and emotionally." Ezra answered truthfully.
"Good. I'm glad to hear that." He waited for a moment. "Are you up to talking about what happened with Lockwell? The man that you killed. Chris already told me but I want to hear it from you."
Ezra pushed himself up into a sitting position, his arms shaking with the effort. He looked over the Judge's shoulder at Chris and Buck who were watching him carefully. They must have been worried about how he would react to the Judge's show of concern. He saw Chris smile at him encouragingly and then looked back at the Judge. It only took him five minutes to explain what had happened.
"Grace Lockwell took the gun from her brother's hand and then accused you of shooting him down." The Judge confirmed.
"Yeah." Ezra was already beginning to tire, he laid back down on the bed and closed his eyes. "I don't remember much after that."
"That's okay Ezra." He began to wipe the loose hair from the southerner's forehead as he fell back to sleep. "You don't need to remember anything else." He watched Ezra for a few minutes then stood up and went back into outer area of the cell to speak to Chris and Buck.
"It's going to be Ezra's word against Grace Lockwell's but the final decision will be mine. Ezra has nothing to worry about." Travis assured them.
"As long as she shows up, if she doesn't Lockwell is going to go after Ezra." Chris growled, the cold threatening expression that he held told the Judge and Buck that Lockwell was a dead man if Ezra was harmed in anyway.
Judge Travis pulled his silver pocket watch out once more to confirm the time, he smiled slightly in rememberance of his son who had given him the watch as a present six months before he had been murdered. It was now eleven, the trial was supposed to start at ten but Grace Lockwell or any other members of her family were yet to show. He looked across the near empty room at Chris. He sat alone, his blue eyes darting around the room looking for anything that may confirm the dreaded feeling that he felt in his stomach, he looked towards the Judge and found that his expression also showed the concern he felt.
Doctor Campell had stated with all seriousness that Ezra was not well enough for the trial so he had stayed in the jail house with Buck and Glason. Chris gave him a look that told him he couldn't sit here anymore and that he was going to go back to the jail house. The Judge easily understood Chris's expression and nodded in acknowldgement. Chris stood and pushed the heavy chair away from him and turned to leave but before he even reached the doorway to the outside world, gunshots sounded shattering the silence of the courthouse. Chris knew the shots had come from the direction of the jail house. He pushed the doors open and burst out into the morning sunlight. His eyes quickly adjusted and he looked towards the jail house to see an unconcious Ezra being dragged from the building.
Buck was sitting in a chair that faced Ezra's back, the gambler had fallen asleep again after eating some breakfast and now lay on his right side, his left hand resting on the pillow in front of his face. He had noticed that some of the colour had finally returned to Ezra's face causing the paleness to leave him. He continued to stand up on a regular basis causing him to strain his back when he leant over to look at the slack handsome features to make sure that he was still asleep, he was worried that the irritating sounds of Glason's nervous pacing was going to wake him up. He was about to stand up again when he heard someone bang on the front door. As he began to turn around he saw Ezra move and heard him groan, he hesitated a moment to make sure that he wasn't going to wake. It was a mistake that he was going to regret.
Glason moved to the door and looked through the small opening that allowed him to see anyone who was at the doorway without having to open it first. What he saw scared him. Grace Lockwell's terrified eyes stared back at him.
"Sheriff you have to let me in." She turned her head to look behind her and then back again. "I'm sorry but I lied and now my father wants to force me into continuing the lie." She banged on the door a second time. "Please you have to help me, let me in."
Glason didn't even stop to think that it all may have a been a trick. He heard Buck yell out to him not to open the door but it was to late. Lockwell and his two remaining sons forced the door open and pushed the sheriff out of the way. One of them kept his rifle on Glason while Lockwell and his eldest son moved towards the cell.
Buck had turned just in time to see Glason opening the door, his verbal warning was to late, he watched as the Lockwell's entered the jail house and as Hank Lockwell walked to the cell. Buck didn't draw his gun, he knew that it would only get himself killed and he would be no help to Ezra if that happened. He was sickened by the expression that Lockwell held and his fear for Ezra grew.
"Get out!" Lockwell growled to Buck but the man who stood before him showed his defiance. "If you don't I will shoot him now!"
Buck slowly backed out of the cell where the other bearded man took his gun. He watched as Lockwell leaned over Ezra's sleeping form and pull the blanket back. He had to hold his anger back as he heard Ezra scream out in pain when Lockwell hit his injured side with his gun.
Ezra had been feeling nothing but a darkened peace until lights flashed across his vision and pain exploded in his side. He didn't have time to register what was happening when he was roughly dragged from the bed but the voice that yelled into his ear told him everything he needed to know and it also made him want to survive what this man had planned for him. He now wanted to live, he wasn't going to let Chris down, not after what he and all the others had done for him.
"You killed my son and now your going to hang!" Lockwell yelled at Ezra as he dragged him from the bed and out into the area that led to the front door. He past his son who had his rifle aimed at Buck to stop him from interferring. "You get into the cell, you too Glason!" He ordered them.
Ezra struggled to get his feet under him while the man that had him within his grasp was distracted. When he knew his legs were taking his weight he brought his right fist up, forcing it into the man's large stomach but the punch was weak due to his lack of strength and it only caused the man to become more angry. Lockwell lashed out at the smaller man, slamming his gun against the left side of his victim's head. Ezra was unconscious before he even hit the floor, he didn't feel the kick as it struck his right side with enough force to crack one of his ribs.
Glason watched the man that was holding a rifle on him look away to see what was happening, he pulled his gun and fired, his bullet missed his mark and the younger son fired in return, his aim was more accurate and the bullet tore through Glason's right shoulder knocking him to the ground. The man came forward and dragged the injured Sheriff into the cell with Buck, locking them in so they won't be able to stop them from hanging the man who had killed his brother.
Buck hit his fist against the bars in anger when he saw the two brothers lift Ezra by his arms and then drag him out of the front door. Hank Lockwell stopped in the doorway and turned back to him. "The next time you see your friend he'll be hanging by a rope." He followed his sons out of the jail and towards his daughter and the horses that were waiting for them in the alley.
Chris looked to his left to see one of Glason's Deputies running towards the jail house, he caught his eye and motioned for him to go into the jail. The tall thin man nodded his head and carefully moved towards the building. The front door was wide open and he managed to get inside without being caught.
The hardened gunslinger aimed his gun towards Hank Lockwell and used his cold voice to stop the three men in their tracks. "Put Ezra down or I'll kill your father!" Chris yelled at them, he knew that it was only a threat but his voice and threatening look would tell them otherwise. "NOW!"
The two brothers stopped and looked behind them towards their father, each of them still holding Ezra's inert form between them.
"Keep moving, he won't shoot me while we have his friend." Lockwell called to both his sons and Chris.
They seemed to believe this so they obeyed their father but the sound of a gunshot and their father's screams stopped them, they turned around to see him lying on the ground clutching his leg as he tried to stop the blood flowing from the bullet in his left leg.
"If you don't put Ezra down the next bullet will kill him!" Chris warned them for the last time.
The eldest son easily gathered Ezra's smaller body up under his left arm while his brother aimed a rifle at the southerner's head. "You shoot my father again and your friend is dead."
"Either way your father is going to end up dead!" Buck surprised them. The Deputy had released him from the cell quickly and after taking his gun he had run outside just in time to see Chris shoot Hank Lockwell. He ran to the injured man and placed his gun against his temple before yelling out to the men who had Ezra.
"Shoot him Larry!" Grace yelled out from the alley's opening. "He killed our brother."
"Do you want to see your other two sons die as well?" Chris asked Lockwell as he moved forward. "Because I won't hesitate in shooting them if they hurt Ezra anymore than he already is." He couldn't see Ezra's face, his chin was resting against his chest but he could see the blood that continued to escape from the wound on the side of his head.
Lockwell knew that he was in a no-win situation, he was loosing a lot of blood from his injury and also knew that if his sons shot the man then these other two would shoot them. He would loose his children, only Grace would be left but he was a man who needed his sons. He had thought that it would be a simple process of taking the man and hanging him in a place where it would take a while for him to be found but he hadn't expected Glason to react, he had always considered him to be a coward.
"Put your guns down boys and let him go." Lockwell sigh in defeat, all he wanted was to avenge his son's death.
"You can't do that!" Grace yelled as she ran to her father. "Your just as stupid as Sam was."
"Don't speak of your brother like that Grace!" He yelled at her.
"Why not? He was stupid. He couldn't even shoot straight, he couldn't even kill that man." Grace hadn't even realised what she said.
"Sam shot him? You said that you did it." Lockwell was shocked.
"I lied. I didn't want people to know how useless he was."
"Grace, you almost caused me to kill an innocent man because you lied." Lockwell stared at his sons. "Let him go and take care of your ungrateful sister!"
Chris rushed forward and took Ezra from the arms of the large man and lifted him into his own, he ignored the look of regret. "Where's Doc Campbell's surgery.
"Chris." Doctor Campbell called from behind him. "Bring him this way!" He looked at George Lockwell. "Bring your father as well." He began to walk towards his surgery with everyone following him. He saw Deputy Johnson half carrying Glason and indicated for him to follow them.
Chris and Buck didn't argue with Doctor Campbell when he told them that he would first have to remove the bullets from the other two men before he was able to take care of Ezra. He had allowed them to take Ezra to his room above the surgery where they did their best to stop the head wound from bleeding any further and then settled in to wait for the Doctor to return.
It was another two hours before Campbell entered his bedroom to find Chris and Buck sitting on the bed with Ezra. They each held a hand and Chris was wiping Ezra's sweating face with a damp cloth.
"Has he regained consciousness at all?" He asked them as he came forward.
"No, he hasn't even moved." Chris pointed to his side. "There's bruising too. Buck said that Lockwell kicked him."
Campbell used his hand to ask Buck to get off the bed. He sat down next to Ezra and gently lifted each eyelid to check his pupils. "There even so there might not be a concussion, I'll have to wait until he wakes up to make sure." He then moved to Ezra's side and pressed against his ribs. "There's one cracked." His fingers carefully probed the head wound. "It looks more serious than it actually is."
Campbell took his time to clean and bandage Ezra's head wound. He then had Chris sit Ezra up so he could wrap a bandage around his waist to support his ribs and cover the gunshot wound. Once that was done there was nothing else he could except wait for him to wake up.
Ezra grimaced as the pain tore through his skull, he tried to lift his hand to his head but someone took it and pulled it back down to his side. He could hear the voices that tried to break through his painfilled and confused mind, he didn't recognise any of them. He felt a hand on his forehead and the caring touch that stroked his temple.
"Father?" Ezra muttered as he struggled to remember what had happened and why his head hurt so much.
"No Ezra, it's Chris. Can you hear me?" Chris asked as the worry began to fill his mind.
"Chris?" Ezra forced his eyes open but they quickly closed again, it was another few seconds before the eyelids lifted again to reveal green eyes that held nothing but confusion.
"Ezra?" Campbell sat down on the bed and looked into the eyes that turned towards him. "Can you tell me your name?"
Ezra thought for a moment. "Ezra. Ezra Standish." The words were whispered as though he was unsure about what he was saying.
"Do you know who I am?" Campbell asked him again.
It was a very two long minutes before he answered. "Doctor Campbell."
"And this?" He gently took Ezra's face and turned his head towards Chris and Buck.
Ezra smiled. "My friends, Chris and Buck." His eyelids fluttered closed again and he fell back into a peaceful sleep.
"Had me worried for a minute there." Campbell admitted. "But he should be fine, he knows who he is and who we are. He must have been confused when he first woke up. He'll just need plenty of rest now." He placed a cool damp cloth on Ezra's forehead and turned to Chris and Buck. "So you want to tell me what happened?"
Chris and Buck let out sighs of relief at the Doctors words and began to explain the reason for Ezra getting hurt.
John Campbell followed Buck into the living area of his small but well furnished house, both were carrying trays of food. Plates full of solid food for themselves and a bowl of beef broth for Ezra. Campbell knew that his stomach wouldn't take anything heavier, it would only cause him to vomit.
"What do you think your doing?" The Doctor demanded to know when Buck moved out of his line of vision to reveal Ezra sitting in one the large comfortable chairs.
"He even sounds like Nathan." Ezra smiled at Chris.
"And I'm starting to think that this Nathan has a point!" It was the first time that Campbell had showed any anger, this was the third time he had found Ezra out of his bed and on the first two occassions it had been a struggle to get him back into it.
"Yep, just like him." Chris smiled back at Ezra, he couldn't help but enjoy the moment. It was more or less like old times.
"Let me put it this way Mr Standish, if I have to use Laudanum to make you stay in bed, I will!" Campbell was finding it very hard to keep his composure. Ezra Standish had a way of aggrevating a person to the point of wanting to hit him but for some reason you just couldn't do it.
"It would be a better alternative to Nathan's rope." Ezra continued to smile, it felt good to feel the dimples form on his cheeks once more.
"Your supposed to be resting in bed." The Doctor tried to stay angry but he couldn't.
"The only time that you can't get Ezra out of a bed is when he's woken up before he's ready." Buck explained. "It's something that I suggest you never do, wake him up that is, he nearly killed me once with that peashooter of his."
"Please remind me to send Nathan a letter of congratulations. I don't know how he does it." Campbell shook his head and finally put the tray of food on what he had called a coffee table. He walked to where Ezra was sitting and placed his hand on his forehead, there was no fever, he felt the pulse in his neck as it beat strongly against his fingers.
Buck pulled the cloths from the trays and everyone but Ezra's mouths watered, Campbell saw the green complexion and smiled. He lifted the small bowl and picked up a spoon and walked towards Ezra.
"You don't expect me to eat that do you?"
"Not until I get a bucket." Campbell growled down at him.
Chris and Buck's smiles turned to muttered moans as they listened to Doctor Campbell making his demands. They knew that he was only worried about Ezra but it brought back their own fear that Nathan was going to kill them when they got back to Four Corners.
"Make sure you get plenty of rest Ezra, don't go to far, rest every couple of hours . . ." Campbell was ignoring the look of frustration on the younger man's face.
"Just like Nathan." Chris whispered to Buck.
"And make sure you eat, your still to thin Ezra and . . . "
"Think we should rescue him?" Buck asked as he saw Ezra's pleading look as it was thrown to them but it was quickly replaced with an expression that told them he was going to make them pay for not helping him.
Ezra decided that he had to do something to stop Campbell from talking, he was worse than Nathan. He stepped forward and took the Doctor into his embrace and gave him a fierce hug. "Thankyou John, for everything." Ezra stepped back and wiped the tear that fell from his eye.
"Your very welcome Ezra." He smiled at him.
"I wouldn't have been able to go on if you didn't help me." He spoke softly as he hung his head, he felt the Doctor's gentle touch on his chin as he lifted his head back.
"Your a good man Ezra with good friends who care about you." His smile grew. "So go and enjoy the rest of your life, forget about the past and concentrate on the future."
"Can I keep in touch?" Ezra hoped that he would say yes.
"I would be dissapointed if you didn't." Campbell assured him while he returned the hug, he squeezed his arms around him tightly. "Now get going before someone else decides to shoot you." He pushed him away from him and towards his friends.
Ezra mounted his horse and tipped his hat to the man who had saved his life, he turned his horse back into the direction of Four Corners and smiled as he heard the Doctor call out to them.
"Chris, Buck, you make sure he eats, if you don't you'll have me to answer to, not just Nathan and don't tire him out, he needs to rest."
Chris waved behind his head to indicate that he had heard him. "Just like Nathan." Chris smiled.
It was a few minutes before Ezra realised that his two friends had stopped, he pulled his own mount to a standstill and turned in his saddle towards Chris and Buck. The afternoon sun shone brightly behind them and Ezra had to squint his eyes against it's brightness.
"Is there something wrong?" Ezra saw the look that passed between the two men, he had to hide his amusement because he knew exactly what they were thinking.
"Um . . . " Chris didn't want to admit it, he wasn't afraid of anything but he knew that Nathan could get angry and was a force to be reckoned with and it wasn't as if he could fight him back in self defense. "You tell him Buck."
"Were worried about how Nathan is going to react to you being hurt when we promised to look after you." Buck had no problem admitting what was troubling them.
"Why don't you let me take care of Nathan." Ezra hid his smile. "Give my a five minute head start and I will explain to him what happened and that it wasn't your fault."
Buck and Chris smiled in relief. "Thanks Ezra, that would be great."
"It's the least that I could do for the two men who helped save my life." Ezra put on a look of innocence. "If the Judge hadn't asked you to pick up that parcel then this wouldn't have happened and I wouldn't have met Doctor Campbell." Ezra watched as Chris nearly hid his suprise but Buck's expression faltered. "Five minutes and then follow me to the saloon, Nathan will be fine." He turned his horse around and allowed the smile to spread across his handsome face as he rode into Four Corners.
Ezra looked towards the church as he passed it but he didn't see Josiah, he hoped that he was with the others at the saloon. He knew they would be together waiting for him because Chris had sent them a telegram the day before. He dismounted his horse in front of the saloon and looked back at the direction he had come, he could see Chris and Buck following him. Ezra stepped up to the porch and placed his poker face into position as he pushed his way through the saloon doors. They hadn't even stopped swinging when he heard JD's voice.
"Ezra!" JD came forward but frowned at the expression that the gambler held, he looked almost the same as he had when he left nearly two weeks ago. It had all been a waste of time.
Ezra winced as a pain that didn't exist tore through his side, he gripped it as he made his way to the table that seated his friends, even Josiah, he hid his eyes from them because his eyes didn't have that painfilled look that had been in them for so long. Nathan practicaly threw his chair away as he stood up quickly and came to his side.
"Nathan, please do not allow those two to take me on another journey." Ezra groaned as he slowly slid himself into the chair that Vin had pulled out for him. He could see the worried looks. He took off his hat and made sure that Nathan saw the healing wound.
"What the hell happened to you?" Nathan was angry.
"If you mean apart from being shot, hit on the head and kicked in the side while in Chris and Buck's care." Ezra shrugged. "Nothing really."
"Where are they?" Nathan growled, his eyes held a threat that Ezra had never seen before.
"They should be coming down the street now." Ezra looked over his left shoulder towards the door and quietly moaned as he lifted his hand to his head. "Is there any food around, I haven't eaten since yesterday."
"Their dead!" Nathan stormed out of the saloon, nearly breaking one the swinging doors off it's hinges
"Ezra, I thought you were getting better." JD was heartbroken.
Ezra stood up with an agility that the others didn't expect from an injured man, their looks of worry changed to confusion, he wrapped an arm around JD's shoulders. "I owe you my life JD. I know it was your idea that I get a change of scenery." He saw the look of confusion that came over his young friend's face. "I was sitting on balcony when you gentlemen were having your meeting. JD, thankyou for speaking up for me." He allowed the smile to cross his face and he winked at JD. "Now I believe we have a show to watch."
"What the hell did you do to him!" Nathan's voice reached into the saloon.
"Aw hell Ezra, you didn't." Vin groaned as he stood up from his chair.
"I certainly did." Ezra's smile grew even more.
Vin could see that the smile reached his eyes. "Well then, what are we standing around in here for when all the fun is out there." He came forward and placed his own arm across Ezra's shoulder. "Shall we?" Vin guestured to the door in much the same way as Ezra would.
Together the three men began to walk out of the saloon but before they reached the doors Ezra stopped and turned around. "Josiah, will you be joining us." Ezra didn't allow his smile to lesson.
"Don't mind if I do." Josiah smiled back at him as he stood up from his chair, he knew that Ezra had gone through a changing experience, he could see it in his eyes. He had been able to sort himself out thanks to JD and was looking forward to Ezra's return. He had every intention of talking to him and repairing their friendship but he could see that the friendship had already begun to heal, he decided that he was still going to talk to him about what had happened between them.
"EZRA!" Chris's voice screamed into the saloon.
"Gentlemen I do believe that I am in need of some protection." Ezra smiled thinking that they would help him.
"Your on your own Ezra." Vin gladly stepped aside as Chris stepped into the saloon with Buck and Nathan behind him.
"Sorry Ezra, their bigger than me." JD smiled, things had worked out afterall.
"I'd be glad to help out a friend Ezra." He stepped up to him and stood beside him.
"Ezra what did you think you were doing scaring me like that!" Nathan had become pretty good at acting himself. He stepped forward intending to give Ezra the reprimand that he desreved when Josiah stepped in front of the gambler.
Nathan looked at him then at Ezra as he leaned to his left to look around Josiah at the healer and his other friends, his dimpled smile stopping any anger that they held.
"It's good to have you back Ezra." Nathan smiled as he came forward.
Josiah stepped aside and watched as Nathan took the southerner into his embrace and stood by as each man showed the joy that they felt to have him back home. Ezra returned the affection that each man gave him and when they were done he looked towards Josiah, he didn't hesitate, he stepped towards him and hugged the larger man who returned the embrace.
"I'm sorry Josiah, I shouldn't have . . . "
"It's okay Ezra, I shouldn't have let you push me away." Josiah interrupted him. "I'm your friend Ezra and I always will be. I know you don't need a father figure right now."
"You be what you want Josiah. I've forgiven my father, I'm not angry at him anymore." Ezra didn't break the embrace but held on.
Josiah looked over the top of Ezra's head towards Chris and Buck, their body language telling him that they would explain later.
"Ezra!" Nathan pulled him from Josiah's grip. "I want you to go and get some rest."
"Nathan. I don't need any rest, I'm not . . . " Ezra argued.
"From what I saw of you when you walked in here, you need to rest." Nathan began to drag him towards his room.
"Aw hell Nathan." Ezra tried to pull away from him but Chris grabbed his other arm and helped the healer to seek his revenge.
The remaining members of the family started to laugh as they watched Ezra struggling against the two men who dragged him towards his room.
"There's a sight I thought I would never see again." Vin commented and heard the others agree with him.
"If you boys want to sit down, I'll tell you how it happened when Nathan comes back."
Josiah stepped into the darkening room and closed the door quietly, he stepped towards the bed and looked down at his friend who was sleeping on his stomach, his head facing the door. He sat down carefully but the movement caused Ezra to wake.
"Josiah." Ezra blinked up at the man who sat next to him.
"Yes it's me." He placed his hand against the back of Ezra's head and begun to rub his temple. "Go back to sleep son." He watched as Ezra smiled at the affectionate term before he drifted back to sleep.