azombiewrites: (The Magnificent Seven)
[personal profile] azombiewrites
Title: The Search
Fourteenth story in 'The Continuing Ezra Standish Saga'
Rating: PG
Warnings: Bad writing ahead!
Fandom: The Magnificent Seven
Genre: Hurt/Comfort
Summary: The seven search for a friend of Mary's when she goes missing from Four Corners but when Ezra finds her, he also finds the reason for her going missing.
Main Characters: Ezra, and the rest of the seven + OC's.
Disclaimers: The guys are owned by CBS, MGM, Trilogy Entertainment Group, and The Mirisch Corp.
Beta: Not betaed – written in the early days when I didn’t know what the words grammar and edit meant. *is ashamed but no longer care*
Notes: Fourteenth story in the ‘Continuing Ezra Standish Saga’.
Spoilers: None.
Total Word Count: 38,144



Part One


Chris quietly opened the door and stepped into Nathan's clinic, he closed the door silently behind him with his left hand as his right was carrying a tray of food for Ezra. He walked towards the bed and saw that Ezra had fallen asleep again. He lay on his right side with the blanket tucked under his pale face. Chris could see the ugly wound on the back of his head and knew that Horrow would have to have hit his head hard against the wall to get such as result. Ezra's sleep seemed peaceful which was a contrast to the first few days he had spent in Nathan's room. Chris put the tray aside and stepped up to Nathan.

"He been asleep long?" Chris asked, his voice barely above a whisper.

"About ten minutes." Nathan informed Chris. He finished what he was doing and went back to the bed; he placed his hand on Ezra's forehead making sure that his fever hadn't returned. He did this on a regular basis, as there was still a chance that an infection could set in. Ezra moved away from the touch and Nathan quickly removed his hand before he woke Ezra up. He turned back to Chris and saw the smile on his face. "And what are you so happy about?"

"I just sent a telegram." Chris continued to smile as he watched the confused expression come over Nathan's face. He wasn't going to tell anyone what he had done but when he saw Ezra move away from the healer's touch he couldn't stop the smile of satisfaction of what he had done as it broke his expression of concern for Ezra as Nathan checked him for a fever. Nathan was confused by what Chris had said but he didn't say anything, instead he waited for him to continue.

"To Maude." Chris enlightened him.

"You sent a telegram to Maude?" Nathan quickly looked down at Ezra as he realised he had raised his voice. When Ezra didn't stir at the noise, he continued. "I thought you were joking when you said that you were going to do that."

"I was very serious. If Ezra is not going to listen to us when we try to convince him about how we feel then Maude can do it. Besides I have a few things that I would like to say to her." Chris smiled coldly at the thought of what Ezra always seemed to go through emotionally because of the way his mother brought him up.

Nathan was actually worried for Maude but he didn't think that Chris would actually harm her. "And to think those eight months ago we wouldn't have cared about this." Nathan chuckled.

Chris frowned and he watched Ezra's sleeping form. He knew that Nathan was right, it had taken awhile for Ezra to prove himself to them and longer before, they actually trusted him. Now they all cared a great deal for him as they did each other. But they had learnt things about him, things that Ezra did not want them to know. He had had trouble dealing with and accepting the idea of friendship. He had refused it and pushed it away with the use of anger. But eventually that wall had been destroyed and he accepted the friendship, even from Chris. But now there was another wall, one built by Ezra's mother. He was not able to accept concern for what it was. All through his childhood, he had been told that it was pity as no one cared enough for him to show concern. He had grown up with this thought in his head and it was going to take a lot to convince him otherwise. And if he had to use Ezra's mother to break down the wall then he would.

Ezra had done his best over the last two months to push them away. He continued to accept their friendship but not their concern. It had come to the point when he had even hidden a potentially serious wound from them. His stubbornness and his mother's influence had nearly killed him.

"Do you think that she'll come?" Nathan asked him.

"I don't know. I told her that Ezra needed her urgently but then again you know Maude." Chris grimaced at the thought.

"I don't want Ezra to know that I asked her to come just in case she doesn't show up. That won't help him at all." Chris went and sat in the chair that faced Ezra. "Why don't you go and get some rest Nathan, I'll stay with him for a while."

"You haven't exactly had a lot of rest yourself Chris." Nathan told him.

"Ask one of the other's to relieve me in a couple of hours." Chris looked up at him. "Go on before I change my mind."

"You’re only doing this because he only just fell asleep. He'll wake up when someone else is here." Nathan smiled at him.

"You got that right." Chris laughed. He knew what Ezra could be like. He had been too tired lately to argue with his friends but that would soon change and no one wanted to be the one sitting with Ezra when he did allow his denial and anger to take control. Nathan took one last look at Ezra and then left to get some much-needed rest.

Chris sat quietly and watched Ezra's colourless face as he slept. He couldn't understand why Ezra always suffered so much and yet he always managed to come through it even if it took him a while to do so. He held his breath as Ezra moved himself deeper into the pillow. 'Don't you dare wake up while I'm here?' Chris thought to himself. When Ezra did not move again he began to relax but then he heard Ezra's quick intake of breath as he jerked awake.

"Buck." Ezra muttered as he woke.

"Buck's not here Ezra." Chris leaned forward. "Go back to sleep."

Ezra ignored him and rolled onto his back, he grimaced as the wound on the back of his head pressed against the pillow beneath him. "Is Buck okay?"

"Buck is fine Ezra; you can see him later when he comes to sit with you." Chris assured him.

Ezra seemed to accept this as he rolled back onto his side and took on the steady breathing that was associated with sleep. Chris leaned back in his chair. Ezra had told them before that he had thought that Buck was killed in the alley when Horrow had grabbed him a second time. They could see the emotion that was in his eyes when he spoke of it and they knew that he had been devastated at the thought of Buck's death. They had to reassure him on more than one occasion that Buck was okay.

Chris sat still for another hour before he heard Ezra moan and looked up to see him roll onto his back again. He stood up and leant over him. "Take it easy Ezra." He looked into the green eyes as they opened and focused on him and then looked around at his surroundings.

"Why am I still here?" Ezra grimaced. "I can sleep just as easily in my bed as I can here." He looked back at Chris and allowed the sarcasm to show in his voice. "And not have any distractions." He stared at Chris so he would know that he was talking about people sitting with him all the time.

"Why don't we see what Nathan has to say when he comes back?" Chris didn't want to make Ezra any angrier than he already appeared to be.

"Why do we have to ask Mr Jackson?" Ezra wanted to know.

"I'll let Nathan answer that one as well." Chris told him and then quickly changed the subject. "Want something to eat?" Ezra shook his head no. "What about some water?" Ezra seemed to think about it for a moment and then shook his head no again. "If you keep that up Ezra, Nathan will never let you out of here." Chris smiled as Ezra threw him a foul look. 'Here we go again.' Chris thought.

Chris had stopped trying to convince Ezra to eat something; he was going to regret it when Nathan came back. This threat though did not change Ezra's mind. They both stayed silent, Chris watched Ezra who occasionally glared back at him but did not say anything to him. Ezra believed that his expression had spoken for him. Chris couldn't help but smile at the mind game that was happening between them.

They both looked up to see Buck walk into the room. Chris kept his gaze steady but Ezra quickly lowered his eyes. Buck smiled a greeting at Chris and then looked at Ezra. "How ya feeling' Ezra?"

"Fine." Ezra muttered, he still didn't return Buck's gaze.

Buck frowned at Chris who shrugged. He didn't really know what was going on with Ezra when it came to Buck. Chris had thought that Ezra would have been happy to see him, as he seemed to ask about him when he woke up and now that he was here when he was awake, he was not happy to see him. Every time they thought that, they had begun to understand the gambler he did something that just put them all back to the beginning and they had to start all over again.

"I came to sit with Ezra for a while so you can get your rest Chris." Buck told him. He walked closer to the bed watching Ezra who had continued to look away from him.

"I don't need anybody to sit with me." Ezra growled. He didn't want to look at Buck, as he felt too guilty to look him in the eye. He had tricked him into letting him out of Nathan's room and Buck was nearly killed because of it. Ezra had actually thought that he had been killed. It had been the one of the worse feelings he had ever felt in his life. Not THE worse but very close to it and it was something that he did not want to go through again as he didn't want to relive those other memories but his friends kept trying to get him to relive them. This made him angry but instead of telling them why it bothered him he lashed out at them using his anger to try to hurt them. But no matter how hard he tried to push them away, they kept coming back at him. Maybe one day he will just tell them but not yet, he still wasn't ready for that.

"Well if we don't Ezra you are just going to walk out of here and go back to your own room. Isn't that right Chris?" Buck saw Ezra wince at the comment but did not understand why.

Chris nodded his agreement and then stood up so Buck could sit down. "Ezra I'll go and talk to Nathan for you." Chris told him hoping that it would calm his mood down so he would go easy on Buck.

"You do that Mr Larabee and please tell him that if he doesn't agree then I will just get up and leave." Ezra stated harshly.

"Don't you even think of doing that Ezra?" Buck growled at him.

Instead of answering him, Ezra rolled over onto his left side and clenched his teeth against the pain he felt in his side. He would have turned onto his uninjured side but that would mean that he had to look at Buck and at the moment he preferred the pain to the accusation that he thought Buck's stare would hold. He suddenly felt someone's hand on his shoulder as they tried to pull him back over.

"Ezra roll back over, you're gonna hurt yourself if you stay on that side." Buck warned him.

Ezra shrugged him off. "Leave me alone Buck." Ezra growled at him.

"Ezra what the hell are you doing?" Buck demanded.

"Maybe I should stay." Chris commented but Buck waved him out of the room and he left hoping that the argument that was sure to start did not end in a physical confrontation, as Ezra would only get himself hurt. Not that Buck would hurt him but Ezra could easily hurt himself.

"Are you going to answer me Ezra?" Buck demanded as he made his way around to the other side of the bed.

"No." Ezra whispered through the pain.

Buck sighed and bent down so he was facing Ezra. He could see that he was in pain but to stubborn to do anything about it. "Ezra look at me." He waited and watched as Ezra kept his eyes closed. "Ezra!" He was finally able to see into the green eyes and the emotion that they held. "Tell me what's wrong."

"If I do will you go away and leave me alone." Ezra wanted some space and he wasn't going to get any while everyone continued to watch him.

"Only if you stay put." Buck smiled back at him but Ezra did not return it as he had closed his eyes again. "Alright, I'll leave you alone." But he didn't tell him that he would stay outside the room.

"I thought I got you killed." Ezra said quietly.
Buck had to strain his ears but he heard what Ezra had said and he realised what he was talking about. "It wasn't your fault Ezra. It was mine for letting you out." Buck had blamed himself for what happened but he had no idea that Ezra also blamed himself.

"How could it be your fault? I conned you into letting my out and it nearly got you killed." Ezra opened his eyes and looked at Buck, the surprise evident on his face that Buck had taken the blame on himself.

"So then, I blame me because I let you out and you blame you because you tricked me into letting you out. Have I got it right?" Buck couldn't help but smile as the weight was lifted from his shoulders. His smile grew bigger as Ezra nodded and returned the smile. "Now will you please turn back over?" He helped Ezra onto his back and then went and sat back down in the chair. "So I guess our blame cancels each other’s out."

Ezra nodded even though he was going to continue to blame himself just like Buck would still take the blame for what happened. "So are you going to leave now?"

The smile dropped from Buck's face. "I thought that . . ."

"Then you thought wrong Buck." Ezra interrupted him and smiled. "Now would you please fulfil your part of the barging and leave me alone." Ezra rolled onto his left side and closed his eyes as the pressure of laying the back of his head on the pillow was causing him a headache. Buck mistook it as a dismissal.

"Fine then." Buck said angrily. "If that's want you want then you can be alone." He got up out of the chair and headed towards the door but stopped and turned back to Ezra. "Just remember though that it was your choice to be alone as always. You’re the one that keeps pushing us away, keeps asking to be left alone." He regretted what he had just said but before he could apologise Ezra retaliated.

"People like you make it very easy for a person to want to be alone, now get the hell out of here." Ezra struggled to sit up as he shouted at Buck.

"Ezra I'm sorry." Buck apologised. He made to move forward to help Ezra who had fallen back onto the bed.

"Get out!" Ezra was angry. What Buck had said hit a nerve and it had brought back the pain of an old memory, one that he never wanted to remember again.

Buck knew that he wouldn't be able to calm him down so he left the room, sat down on the bench outside, and waited. He would give him some time and then go back in to talk to him. He was angry at himself for losing his temper at Ezra and knew immediately that what he had said had it a raw nerve with him. He just hoped that he would accept his apology when he gave it again.

Ezra laid still with his knees drawn up to his chest and his eyes squeezed tight against the onslaught of the memory. He tried to fight but it was to no avail as it had managed to find a way through his wall. He could see his Uncle Jack standing over him, threatening to beat him again but the young Standish had stood up to him. He demanded that his Uncle left him alone. Uncle Jack had told him that if that was what he wanted then so be it. He then forced Ezra into the confined space of the small cellar and left him there for a month. Ezra had thought that he would let him out after the first few days but he hadn't. After a week, Ezra had started to yell at them to let him out but his Uncle just kept repeating his words that he wanted to be left alone. By the end of the second week, he was afraid that he would never be allowed out and he had cowered in the corner and cried until the tears had dried up. They had fed him occasionally but by the time they had finally let him out he was a near skeleton. He then received the beating that had nearly killed him.

Ezra fought the tears that threatened to fall and replaced them with anger and hatred. It was the only way he was able to get through these memories. He opened his eyes when the tears dried up and looked around the room for some clothes. He wasn't going to stay here any longer. He saw some of his own fresh clothes lying on top of the small chest of drawers that sat against the far wall. They must have been there for when Nathan finally allowed him to leave.

Ezra took a deep breath and then sat up. He felt slightly dizzy but that quickly passed. The pain of his stab wounds did not bother him so much anymore but the broken ribs still caused him trouble. He pulled the blanket aside and swung his legs off the bed. Making sure that he had hold of the bed railing just in case Ezra stood up and gingerly made his way to his clothes. He took his time dressing, as he did not care if someone came in, as they were not going to stop him from leaving. The memory had caused his anger to build to breaking point and if he had to use physical force to get himself out of there then he would. He was too angry to care what the others would think of him.

Once he did finish dressing he made his way to the door and opened it. He shut his eyes against the bright sunlight and when the pain had eased, he opened them again to find Buck standing in front of him. Ezra made to step forward but Buck blocked his way. Ezra was not going to let him stop him so he tried to push him out of the way. If it weren’t for the anger, he would not have had the strength to do it. Buck though pushed him back towards the door.

"Get out of my way Buck." Ezra growled at him. He made to move forward again but found Buck's taller frame standing in front of him once more.

"Nathan doesn't want you leaving yet Ezra." He kept his voice calm; he was going to control his temper this time.

"I don't care what Nathan wants, he is not going to keep me in there against my will." Ezra glared at Buck and managed to move another step towards the stairs.

"It will only be for another couple of days." Buck used a soothing voice to try to calm Ezra down but it only made him angrier. Buck couldn't understand why he was so angry. He knew that Ezra was stubborn and didn't like to stay in Nathan's room to long but he had never reacted like this before.

"Don't patronise me Buck, I am not a child."

"Then stop acting like one." He watched as Ezra faltered and his eyes took on a distant look but he shook it off and stepped towards him again.

Ezra had thought that it was his Uncle standing in front of him again but he blinked his eyes against the memory then moved forward. "Buck if you don't get out of my way." he warned him.

"What Ezra? You’re in no condition to beat me in a fight." He put his hands on his hips and stood up straight trying to stare Ezra down.

"You never learn do you Buck." Ezra kicked out with his right leg but held back so he wouldn't cause too much damage to Buck's knee.

Buck cried out at the pain and the shock of what Ezra had done. He grabbed his left knee and started hoping on the other foot; Ezra then pushed him to the side and walked quickly towards the steps. Buck quickly recovered though and grabbed Ezra's arm as he got past him and pulled him around. He felt Ezra's hands push him away and he lost his grip. He watched as Ezra turned and moved forward at the same time and called his name as he realised what was about to happen.

Ezra tripped over his own foot on one of the rare moments that he was clumsy and began to fall head first down the stairs. Buck threw out his hand to grab him but he missed as Ezra hit the stairs with a loud thud and then rolled down the stairs until he fell face down into the hard dirt floor of the main street.

"EZRA!" Buck yelled as he ran down the stairs ignoring the pain that he was feeling in his knee. He reached his friend's side but did not move him. His placed his right arm on Ezra's back and his left on his head, which was turned towards him.

"NATHAN!" He yelled this time. "NATHAN!" He hoped that one of the other five would hear him or one of the townsfolk would go and get them. But they were next to the saloon so he hoped that Nathan would hear him and come to find out what he wanted. "NATHAN!" He looked up as he heard the running footsteps on the boardwalk. It was the other five hired lawmen. They ran to the bottom of the stairs where they had seen Ezra lying with Buck leaning over him.

"What happened Buck? Did he collapse?" Nathan asked as he knelt down beside Ezra.

"He fell down the stairs. Tripped over his own foot. Would you believe it?"

"What do you mean he fell down the stairs?" Chris asked him. If Buck told him that Ezra was going to the bathroom again then he would make sure that he felt his fist against his jaw.

"I'll explain in a minute Chris." He looked at Nathan.

Nathan had first felt for a pulse and found a strong steady one. He then carefully checked Ezra's neck to make sure there was not any damage. Then using a healer's touch he checked each of Ezra's limbs for any broken bones but found none. With Josiah's help, he then rolled Ezra over on to his back. He saw the lump that had already formed on the side of his head.

"There are no broken bones but he does have a large bump on his head which would explain why he is unconscious. I'll have to take the bandages off to make sure that the stitches are still in place and if there is any more damage to his ribs." Nathan rubbed his face with his hand and sighed. This meant that Ezra would have to spend even more time in his clinic. "Josiah could you please carry him back up to my . . ."

"No Nathan. Josiah take him to his own room please." Buck saw the angry look he received from Chris and the confused expressions from the others. "I'll explain when we get him there." Josiah hesitated for a moment not knowing where he should take him.

"Take him to his room Josiah." Chris agreed.

Josiah carefully lifted Ezra into his large arms and once he made sure that he was comfortable, he began to walk towards the saloon. He continued to glance down at the slack features of the handsome face hoping for some indication that he was regaining consciousness but there was none. He wanted to know why Ezra fell down the stairs but he was going to have to wait like the others for an explanation. He walked into the saloon grateful that there were not many people in there and then made his way up the stairs to Ezra's room with his friends following close behind him.

Nathan rushed up the stairs ahead of Josiah and opened the door to Ezra's bedroom; he then moved to the bed and withdraws the bedcovers. He stepped aside as Josiah laid the unconscious gambler on to the bed and then removed the cotton shirt that Ezra had put on. Nathan carefully removed the bandages and checked each knife wound to find that the stitches had held. After doing that, he used his hands to place a gentle pressure on the injured ribs and when Ezra did not respond he applied more pressure and found that there was no further injury to his ribs. He then probed the red welts that would soon turn to ugly bruises to make sure that there was no damage apart from the injury to the skin's surface. Nathan then replaced the bandages over the healing wounds.

The healer then turned to the head wound, the skin had not been broken which meant that he may have a concussion. He allowed his fingers to probe the bump, feeling for any damage to the skull but found none. He stepped back and pulled the covers up over the still form and joined the group of lawmen who were standing at the end of the bed watching the whole scene.

"The only damage is the bump to his head, he may have a concussion but I will have to wait until he wakes up to be sure and he is going to be very sore as he is going to have quite a few bruises." Nathan informed them.

"But apart from that he's okay?" Buck asked as he limped to the rocking chair that sat in the corner of Ezra's room.
They all noticed the limp that Buck was trying to hide from them. He sat down in the chair and wanted to rub his knee but held off. He knew that Chris would get angry if he told him, what Ezra had done. But he was never very good at hiding things. "What happened to your leg?" Nathan asked him.

"Anything to do with Ezra falling down the stairs?" Chris asked before Buck could answer the first question that was
thrown at him.

"Chris." Buck hesitated and was grateful to Chris for waiting for him to continue. "Ezra was angry."

"Tell me something I don't know." Chris said it with humour though.

"No. He was really angry; I have never seen him that angry before." Buck looked over at Ezra and watched as his chest rose and fell in a steady rhythm. Buck explained to them what happened. He wasn't sure though if he was able to convince them of how angry Ezra was.

"Did you say anything that may have made him angry?" Josiah asked not knowing if it may have been something, that Buck had said.

Buck looked down at the floor. "I reminded him that he was the one that always asked to be alone, that he always pushed us away."

"That wasn't very smart Buck." Chris told him.

"I know but he just seems to know which buttons to push. He makes me so angry at times that I just want to hit him." Buck growled.

"Yeah I know what you mean."

"He didn't want to stay in Nathan's room. Said something about being held against his will." Buck turned his head to the bed. "He's really mad about something and I'm sure that it had something to do with what I said. Not actually what I said but I think it seemed to remind him of something."

"Leave me alone." Ezra muttered from the bed. All six men moved as one towards Ezra's bedside as they thought that he was regaining consciousness.

"Ezra?" Nathan gently called him.

"Leave me alone." Ezra said more urgently.

"Ezra?" Nathan tried again as he placed his hand on his forehead hoping to get a reaction from him.

"Don't." Ezra tossed his head violently to the side. "Let me go." He said louder as he began to struggle. The others watched not knowing what was going on. They were suddenly concerned for him, as they knew he wasn't talking to them.

"Ezra can you hear me, it's Nathan." Ezra seemed to start to calm down at the sound of Nathan's voice. "Your okay now Ezra, your back in your own room." He waited until Ezra was still again and then looked up at the others. "I don't want everyone to be in here when he wakes up. Someone should stay and the rest of us wait downstairs."

"I'll stay with him." Josiah volunteered.

"Come and get me when he wakes up. I want to find out why he's so angry." Nathan told him as he ushered everyone out of the room.

Josiah nodded and watched as the door closed behind Chris who was the last one to leave the room after taking one last look at Ezra. Josiah then sat down on the bed and watched Ezra carefully. He could tell that there was something wrong with him but he wasn't going to find out what it was until he was awake and then only if he could get him to talk.

***

Ezra found himself in the darkened cellar again. He was huddled up in the corner praying that the two rats who shared the accommodation with him stayed on their own side of the room. He could hear them scurrying around and he had begun to despise the noise; it was a noise that would stay in his nightmares for a long time to come. He quickly stood up when he heard the cellar door open and watched as his Uncle came down the stairs, the light from the room above shown across the cellar floor and he heard the rats as they tried to find a darker corner. His Uncle was carrying a tray of food. Ezra's mouth watered and his stomach growled, as he hadn't eaten for two days. He knew that the tray also meant that he was going to stay here longer. His Uncle put the tray on the bottom of the steps and then began to leave again. He hadn't even acknowledge Ezra; it was as though he was feeding the vermin in the cellar.

"Don't leave me here, please." Ezra asked him as he did his best to keep his voice steady.

"You said you wanted to be alone Ezra." Jack continued up the stairs, the smile breaking on his face as he heard his nephew cry out to him.

"Don't leave me here!" Ezra yelled at him. He heard his Uncle's laughter being cut off by the closing door. He waited a few minutes waiting hoping that the door would open again but it didn't. He kept the tears at bay and went and picked up the tray and walked back to the corner of the room. He threw a couple of the scraps of food to the rats so they would leave him alone while he ate. Once he finished he curled up into a ball and allowed the tears to fall.

Josiah listened as Ezra began to talk again. He leaned over him and tried to use his voice to calm him down as Nathan had done. "Ezra, it's Josiah."

"Don't leave me here." Ezra told someone. Josiah wished he knew who it was that Ezra was talking to. "Please don't leave me." Ezra's voice had broken and so did Josiah's heart as he listened to the emotion that was in Ezra's voice.

He watched as the tears fell from behind Ezra's closed eyelids.

"Ezra." Josiah had to fight hard to control his own voice. He used the sleeve of his shirt to wipe the tears away from Ezra's face. "Ezra!" He called louder and shook his shoulder trying to get him away from ever it was that was torturing his soul.

Ezra jerked at the touch and instinctively threw his arms up to ward off the blows. Josiah gently took them and pulled them back down. "Ezra it's okay. Ezra can you hear me." Josiah continued to use a soothing voice.

Ezra could hear someone calling him, he at first thought it was his Uncle but then the voice changed and he recognised Josiah's voice. He tried to pull himself from where he was the memory of the dream staying clear in his mind. It took him a few minutes but he was able to finally open his eyes. He focused on Josiah who was leaning over him.

"You alright Ezra?" Josiah asked him.

Ezra looked away from him and saw that he was in his room and not in the clinic. "What happened?"

Josiah smiled. "You fell down the stairs."

"What!" Ezra couldn't believe it. He went to wipe his tired eyes and felt the dampness that was there.

"Do you want to talk about it Ezra?" Josiah asked him knowing what he was going to say but he wasn't going to force him to talk.

"About what?" Ezra didn't want to even remember it much less talk about it.

"That's okay Ezra." Josiah could see the emotion that Ezra was not able to hide from his eyes. "You want me to stay?"

He knew that he was no longer angry but he was going to tread carefully.

"No. Leave me . . ." Ezra choked on the words.

Josiah knew that he was hurting, he wanted to know why. "I'll come back later, maybe we can talk then." He patted his shoulder and Ezra flinched back from him. "Were downstairs when you need us Ezra." He got up off the bed and left the room. He leant against the door and listened to Ezra as he finally broke down. He wanted to go back in but he knew Ezra would only shut it back in and he needed to let it out. He made his way back down to the saloon and slowly walked to the table, which seated the other gunmen. He sat down heavily in the seat.

"There is something seriously wrong."

"Of course there is Josiah, he fell down the stairs." JD told him. Buck hit him.

Josiah pointed to his heart. "I mean here."

"I'm going to go up." Chris announced.

"No Chris. He does need to be alone at the moment."

"Like hell. I'm not going to let him go through this alone."

"Chris, he's finally letting his emotions out." Chris gave him a confused look as did everyone else. "He's crying." Josiah sighed remembering the sounds he heard outside the door. "Ezra's going through something that seems to be tearing him apart at the moment. Let's just let him get this part out of his system then we'll talk to him."

"He's crying?" JD asked.

Josiah looked at him. "Yeah he is. It's nothing to be ashamed of but you know Ezra. If we go up there now we'll never get anything out of him." He looked around at the table, his friends faces looking down at anything but each other.

"Whatever we do we have to make sure that he doesn't find out that we know."

"I sure as hell would like to know what's going on with him." Vin growled.

"If Ezra doesn't tell us I know someone who will." Chris growled. He hated the thought of Ezra being alone at the moment but Josiah was right. He would go up later. Chris also wanted to know when the gambler had begun to affect him so much. He wouldn't of cared less if he lived or died before but now it actually hurt him to watch Ezra go through this. He was going to make sure that he was there for his friend to make up for the times when he wasn't.

"You hope." Nathan commented as he knew who Chris was talking about.

***

Ezra wiped the tears from his eyes; the fear was beginning to subside and was now being replaced by anger. He tried to push the memory to the back of his mind and put a wall up around it but he couldn't. It kept coming back at him with more force each time so he stopped trying. He was also disgusted with himself for crying. He had been taught not to show his emotions and Josiah had almost seen him break down but he had left just in time. Maybe he knew that we were holding it back.

"My mother would be very disappointed with me." He said aloud and heard the tremor in his voice. Ezra was grateful that she wasn't here. That would be one thing that would really send him over the edge. He could not deal with her at the moment. He was feeling tired but the last thing he wanted was to sleep. He held it a bay for as long as he could but it eventually won and while he slept, he relived his realistic nightmare all over again.

***

"Mr Larabee." A man called into the saloon.

"What!" Chris said a little to harshly.

"I'm sorry but I've got a telegram for you." He walked in and handed Chris the telegram and then quickly left. Chris read the telegram to himself first while the others waited patiently.

"Well?" Nathan asked as he thought that he knew who it would be from.

"Maude will be here in a week."

Chris explained to the others that he had sent Maude a telegram telling her that Ezra needed her. He knew that it was the only chance he had of getting her to come. If he had simply asked her, she would have refused. He told them not to let Ezra know and he stared at JD when he said this. When the questions stopped, he sat back and waited. He waited an hour and that was long enough. He pushed his chair back and followed by Nathan and Josiah he made his way to Ezra's room.

Chris knocked on the door and without waiting for an answer; he opened it and looked in. Ezra was dreaming. He walked into the room and made his way to the bed where Nathan and Josiah joined him. Ezra was tossing and turning in his sleep, his face and hair soaked with sweat. He was crying out to someone, asking them not to leave him. Chris wondered for a moment if he was talking to his mother but then he thought that even Maude would not have caused him to get into such a state during the times that she did leave him.

Josiah was also watching him and he could also see the moisture on Ezra's face and wondered if some of it was caused by tears. Both Chris and Josiah were brought out of their stupor when they heard Nathan's voice. "I'm gonna wake him up."

"Be careful." Josiah warned him.

Nathan thought that Josiah was trying to break the tension with the usual joke of waking Ezra up but when he looked at him he saw that he was being serious. He sat down on the bed and placed both hands on Ezra's shoulders. He could feel him tense up immediately at the touch. "Ezra!" He shook him gently at first as he didn't want to bring him out of the dream to quickly. "Ezra, it's Nathan." He shook him again and heard Ezra moan. "Come on Ezra, wake up!"

Ezra's eyes flew open and they could all see the fear that was in them. He tried to sit up as he pushed the arms away from him. "Ezra relax, it was just a dream, your awake now." Nathan reassured him. Ezra heard what Nathan had said but it was as they say - easier said than done. He couldn't get rid of the fear and he felt his body start to shake and he heard Nathan's voice again. "Take it easy, try and take some deep breaths." He tried that and started to feel himself calm down. He then felt the hands that were on him and he shook them off. He couldn't focus on anything so he blinked his eyes and he finally focused on Nathan. It was his hands that were holding him down. Ezra felt the anger rise to replace the fear as it always did and he knew that he was going to lash out. He didn't want to but he found it hard to stop a lifelong tradition.

"Get off me Nathan!" Ezra pushed hard enough to nearly cause Nathan to fall of the bed. He rolled over onto his side wrapping his arms around his still trembling body and looked into Chris Larabee's eyes. Ezra didn't say a word but he did try to glare at him but knew that he was not succeeding as the fear hadn't completely left him and the anger was still rising.

"You okay Ezra? You seemed to be having a nasty dream there." Chris asked, the concern hung heavily in the air that surrounded them.

"I've been better." Ezra admitted.

"When?" Chris smiled. With everything, that Ezra seemed to go through it was hard remembering a time when he was healthy for a long period.

Ezra though ignored the attempt at humour. "Why don't you just say it and then leave." Ezra told him.

"Say what?" Chris asked him. He wasn't not going to push Ezra. Chris could see the fear in his eyes being replaced by anger and he knew that he would not get anywhere with him. So he just kept the conversation casual, maybe a miracle will occur and Ezra will just tell them what was wrong.

"Whatever it is you come here for." Ezra growled at him.

"We came to see how you were doing and to sit with you for a while." Chris watched as Ezra looked around to see who then we entailed. He saw the look of shame that quickly crossed his features as he saw Josiah but it was gone as quickly as it had come.

"You don't have to sit with me." Ezra turned back to Chris. He didn't want to look at Josiah.

"No we don't have to, we want to." Chris smiled and walked over to the rocking chair, he had turned his back on Ezra and he could feel the glare at his back. He sat down and continued to smile at him.

Ezra looked up as another figure crossed his vision. He groaned when he saw Nathan as he knew he was going to check him over. His nightmare began to flash in his mind; he could feel his Aunt's probing fingers as she took care of his injuries after his Uncle beat him. He could feel the pain that she caused when she squeezed harder than she needed to, when she pulled to hard as she stitched his still bleeding wounds. She had enjoyed causing as much pain fixing him up than his Uncle did when he inflicted the injuries.

Chris saw Ezra flinch as Nathan moved towards him, he saw how he tried to press himself further into the bed as though he was trying to get away from him. It was as though Ezra thought that Nathan was going to harm him in some way. Nathan had also noticed so he put his hands up in a gesture of surrender.

"Ezra I'm just going to ask you a few questions is all." He didn't move any closer. "You hit your head when you fell so I just want to check if you have a concussion or not." Ezra's body language did not change. "Have you got a headache?"

"Yes."

"Is your vision blurry, are you feeling sick?"

"No." Ezra had to take a minute to think about that. His emotions were too strong for him to feel much of anything else. He couldn't miss the headache though.

"That's good." Nathan nodded in encouragement. "Feeling hungry, I am going to arrange some food for you."

"No." Was the short reply.

"Ezra if you don't eat your going to end up getting sick and then you will have to stay in bed longer."

"You can't make me stay here." Ezra's voice was full of anger but they could sense the fear that was also there.

"We won't make you stay Ezra." Chris told him. "If you don't get your strength back you will be too weak to get out of bed, so if anyone is going to make you stay it will be you because you wouldn't eat anything." Chris smiled at Nathan.

"Go and get him some food, I'm sure that he will eat it."

"You think your smart don't you Larabee." Ezra accused him.

"No Ezra, I'm just trying to help you."

"Well I don't want your help!" Ezra's voice became louder as he grew more angry. "And I don't need your help!" He was practically yelling now. "All I want from you is to get out of my room and leave me . . .” Ezra stopped there as the memory suddenly flooded back into his mind and soul. He took a quick intake of breath and tried to stop the fear that was hurtling towards him. Chris and the others moved to the bed quickly.

"Ezra what's wrong?" Nathan asked him.

"Don't leave me here." Ezra whispered. He could feel the fear taking control of him and he couldn't stop it. He wanted to escape it so he ran to his own corner deep in his mind and curled up into a foetal position. He could feel the darkness closing in and he welcomed it.

They all heard what Ezra had said; they then watched in fear as he lay down and curled himself up. He had drawn his knees up to his chest, his eyelids then fluttered closed. Nathan shook him trying to get some sort of response but he did not receive any.

"He's unconscious." He looked at the others and saw their questioning looks. "I don't know so don't ask me." He bent back down and made Ezra comfortable. Nathan had no idea what just happened. Ezra seemed to have gone into a world of his own for a moment. He hoped that he did have a concussion because he knew how to treat that. But he knew that he was wrong, it was something emotional and none of them knew how to deal with Ezra's emotions or how to heal him.

Chris ran his hand through his hair in frustration as he watched Ezra's still form. He had sat on the bed so he could watch him carefully. Ezra seemed so peaceful at that moment and he hoped that he stayed like that. Chris wasn't sure what to do, he thought being here would be enough to help Ezra through this but he seemed to have some sort of demon that wanted to torture him during his waking hours. Chris did have an idea how he was feeling though as he had had his own demons. They were still with him but they no longer threatened them because they were being replaced by the feelings of friendship and family. That was what these men had become to him. He was like Ezra at one time, he wouldn't let anybody near him, he wouldn't accept their friendship or help but Buck had finally gotten through to him and now thanks to these men - even Ezra - things were becoming a lot easier for him. He was able to deal with the memories of his family without ending up passed out in a corner of a saloon. He now wanted to do for Ezra what Buck had done for him but it was a lot harder than he thought it was going to be. There was only one problem though. Buck had known what Chris's demons were but no one knew what Ezra's were.

Nathan returned to the bed with a dampened cloth and Chris watched as he gently wiped the sweat from Ezra's face and neck. Ezra didn't even respond the human contact of concern. "So what do you think Nathan?" Chris asked him hoping that he could shed some light on what just happened.

"I think that it was a memory he couldn't deal with." Nathan still wasn't sure.

"How are we going to get him to talk about it?" Josiah asked from the other side of the room.

"I have no idea Josiah." Chris sighed.

"We could always push him until he cracks." Josiah suggested.

"That won't work." Nathan looked at Josiah. "What if he does but instead of talking, he closes himself off for good. We'd never get through to him then."

"Then we will just have to stay with him and nudge him. He might say something without knowing it." Chris pushed some of the damp hair away from Ezra's face. "Maybe Maude will even be able to enlighten us."

"Maude will probably tell you about as much as Ezra would." Nathan told him.

"She is going to tell me what she knows." Chris smiled and the other men in the room shivered. "She's not going to have a choice."

The time passed slowly and Ezra still slept peacefully which they were all grateful for. They were all in a sombre mood; they didn't know what to say or what to do so they sat silently until they heard Ezra moan as he woke up from his dreamless sleep. Chris and Josiah sat down on the bed and waited for Ezra to open his eyes. This took a few minutes and when he did open them, they could see the underlying fear and the anger that they held.

"Are you still here?" Ezra muttered as his eyes adjusted to the oncoming darkness of night.

"I'm going to go and get him some food." Nathan informed them as he left the room.

Chris nodded to him and then looked back at Ezra. "Want something to drink Ezra?"

"If it is stronger than water then yes I do." Ezra wanted to get out of the darkness. "Could someone please light a lamp?" Ezra felt the fear subside as Josiah lit the lamps in his room. He also wanted these men to leave him alone as he knew that while they were there he couldn't leave his room and it made him feel like he was being forced to stay, he felt like a prisoner all over again.

"Are you going to eat something Ezra?" Chris asked him as he watched for any signs of the anger exploding as it had done before.

Ezra nodded reluctantly, he didn't feel hungry but if it meant him getting out of his bed sooner then he will eat it. He sat quietly as the others scrutinized him under their gaze. He wanted to talk to them, tell them what was wrong, what he was feeling but something stopped him. He could hear his mother's voice in the back of his mind speak up; he knew that she was the real reason for him pushing people away from him. He shut the voice out.

"Is he asleep again?" Ezra heard Nathan ask as he came back into the room.

"No I'm not." Ezra opened his eyes and looked at the tray of food that Nathan held. His stomach turned. "If I eat it will you leave me alone?" He whispered hoping that if he didn't speak to loud the memory would not hear him and come rushing back.

"Sure Ezra." Chris told him.

There was not a lot of food on the plate but Ezra still didn't manage to eat all of it. He drank the water and then pushed it all away from him back to Nathan.

"You didn't really eat much Ezra." Nathan hoped that he would have eaten all of it.

"Don't push it Mr Jackson." Ezra growled at him.

"Come on let's leave him be for a while." Chris told them. Ezra was getting angry again and they didn't want the same thing to happen. "We'll come back later Ezra."

"Please don't."

They didn't answer that last remark; they kept walking through the door and out into the hallway. Chris closed the door behind him. They made their way down the stairs to find that the others had not moved from the table that they had left them at earlier.

"How is he?" Asked Buck.

"Not good." Chris answered him.

"We gonna take turns sitting with him." Vin wanted to know.

"Later, we'll leave him alone for now." The silence that had filled the table earlier returned.

***

Ezra could feel the walls closing in on him, he couldn't stay in here any longer, and he had to get out into the open air. He got up out of his bed and could feel a lot of pain in his chest. He looked down and saw a number of large bruises starting to cross his body. Ezra slowly got dressed, the stiffness in his muscles making it difficult. He left his room taking his blanket with him as he knew that it would be cold outside. He stepped outside of the room wondering if someone was going to be there. Nobody was, they had actually did what they said they were going to do. He went to the back stairs as he was going to leave by the back door. The others would be sitting in the saloon, he knew that they wouldn't leave the building, the lawmen would probably stay there all night.

Ezra made his way to the front of the saloon and looked into the window and watched for a few minutes as the men sat there. He turned and made his way up to Nathan's clinic. He was not going to go inside but there was a bench outside and he also knew that it was the last place that they would look for him. They wouldn't see him up there in the dark. He carefully made his way up the stairs and then made himself as comfortable as he could on the cold wooden bench. It was still dark but at least he didn't feel like he was locked in a small cellar.

"He's gone!" Vin yelled as he ran down the stairs two at a time not stopping when he reached the bottom.

"What do you mean he's gone?" Chris jumped up from his chair the anger at what Ezra had done already building. He didn't want to get angry but it was like Buck had said, the gambler just knew what to do to make him angry. Chris took a deep breath and controlled his anger.

"He's not in his room so he's gone." Vin told him as he reached the table.

"JD you check the stable to make . . . " Chris began but he looked sharply at Vin when he interrupted him.

"Chris he didn't leave town, just his room." Vin returned the stare. "He took the blanket off his bed and everything else is still there."

"Let's find him then." They all left the saloon and then split up, each going in a different direction, each hoping to find the gambler before he did something stupid.

Thirty minutes later than began to regroup back at the saloon. None of them had any luck in finding where Ezra had gone. They sat down and tried to think of where he could be.

"Where would he go?" Josiah asked the quiet group. He had wracked his own brain and could not think of anywhere so he hoped that the others had.

"Some place where he'd think we wouldn't look for him." Chris suggested. They all suddenly looked at each, asking the silent question of how could they be so stupid. They rushed out of the saloon and went straight to Nathan's clinic.





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