azombiewrites: (The Magnificent Seven)
[personal profile] azombiewrites
Title: Prisoners
Rating: PG
Fandom: The Magnificent Seven
Main Characters: Ezra and Josiah
Summary: Ezra and Josiah are on their way back to Four Corners when they are taken prisoner by a family who think the lawmen have stolen their gold.
Disclaimers: The guys are owned by CBS, MGM, Trilogy Entertainment Group, and The Mirisch Corp.
Spoilers: None
Status: Complete
Total Word Count: 23,633



Josiah allowed his horse to have its head knowing it would follow behind the horse in front of him. He removed the hat that was fitted firmly to his head and raised his face up towards the warm sunlight that had been unable to reach his already tanned face. The morning had been cool, the last days of winter finally passing and the ex-preacher took a moment to allow the strengthening sun to warm his face. The warmth reached into his bones removing the long winter's chill. He smiled and looked towards the dark green back in front of him, he knew Ezra wouldn't be enjoying the weather in the same way he was, the young man wasn't one for the outdoors, which was everyone else's job as far as the gambler was concerned.

He watched as the handsome profile occasionally showed itself as the southerner looked sideways at the scenery, the face was relaxed, there was no sign of the inner turmoil that he had spent the last few months going through on his countenance, the painful opened wounds had finally healed but Josiah knew that scars marked his soul.

The older man smiled at the thought of the gambler being back to his old improved self, he had been sent on this trip with Josiah because Chris had reached near breaking point. Ezra seemed to be taking even more enjoyment from aggravating the darkly dressed gunslinger, especially now that they were family and he knew there was nothing that would destroy that.

Josiah frowned, the wrinkles in his forehead deepening when he watched Ezra remove his thicker beige coat from his saddlebag, he laid it over the saddle's pommel and slowly pulled his dark green coat off, and the colourful waistcoat followed it. Josiah thought that this itself was very unusual; his fatherly instincts had come to the surface. The sight of Ezra's toned back caused him to take comfort in the sight of Ezra's body, it was also returning to its proper health, he had put the lost weight back on and managed to tone his muscles back to what they once were. But how they didn't know, Ezra was not one to partake in manual labour.

"You okay Ezra? Are you cold?" Josiah called out to him.

"It's the middle of winter Josiah, of course I'm cold. Only a miscreant who lives outdoors wouldn't be cold!" Ezra retorted over his shoulder. "Vin would be a perfect example of a miscreant whose hide is thicker than his brain."

"It's not the middle of winter Ezra." Josiah reminded him again. "Maybe you should get outside more often." He suggested as he gathered up the loose reins and nudged the horse into a trot with his boot heels.

"What I need to do, is not aggravate Chris just before he needs someone to take a long tedious journey out into the middle of nowhere to pick up a prisoner who had already escaped from imbecile lawmen who refused to inform us of this flaw in an otherwise stupid plan until we got there!" Ezra growled and he turned away from Josiah to hide the grimace of pain that showed on his face, his headache was getting worse.

"Are you saying I'm tedious?" Josiah smiled at him.

"No what I'm saying is that I shouldn't piss Chris off when he needs a job done!" The only thing Ezra wanted was a drink, a hot bath and his bed, he wasn't feeling at all well but he wasn't going to tell Josiah.

They were still three days from Four Corners and the last thing he wanted was his friend to fuss over him.
Ezra returned to his task and carefully folded his jacket and waistcoat then tucked them into his saddlebag. He continued to ignore Josiah's laughter as he pulled his thicker coat on, a chill had settled into his bones on the first day of winter and it wasn't going to leave until summer began, not even spring was going to remove this chill. He shivered against the cold.

Josiah's brow furrowed again. "You sure you’re okay?" He leaned over sideways and reached across with his arm, he managed to place his hand against Ezra's forehead. "You're a bit warm Ezra."

"I'm sick of being outdoors Josiah; I want my warm bed to sleep in not a cold rocky ground." Ezra muttered then stifled a wide stretching yawn.

"Are you feeling okay Ezra?" Josiah asked with concern.

"Is your name Nathan?" Ezra answered.

"I'm serious Ezra!" Josiah chastised him.

"I'm fine." Ezra told him even though he knew it was a lie. He pulled his coat closer to ward off the cold that was making him shiver.

"I don't believe you." Josiah's tone had become calm.

"Are you calling me a liar Mr Sanchez?" Ezra silently cursed his choice of words.

"I think we should try and find somewhere warm to stay tonight, I don't want you sleeping out in the cold." Josiah chose to ignore the words Ezra spoke, he knew there was no malice behind them, and he refused to acknowledge the foul look that was aimed in his direction.

Even after everything the gambler had gone through and accepted, he still didn't like to be told what to do or be taken care of when he was injured. When they had returned from Eagle Bend, Ezra's stubbornness had forced Nathan to take drastic actions; the healer had tied him to his bed so he could continue to recover from his injuries. The gambler had been healthy enough when he returned but Nathan had wanted to make sure that he continued to get the rest he needed to heal but Ezra was not the type to rest when he was required to do so. Nathan had caught him outside of his room one too many times and the gambler had paid for it dearly.

"Your sick aren't you?" Josiah growled.

"I'm not sick." Ezra argued.

"How long have you been feeling like this?" Josiah asked him.

"Like what?" Ezra looked away from Josiah's angry expression.

"Sometimes Ezra I could just . . .” He couldn't hide the frustration that he was feeling.

"What?" Ezra raised his eyebrows at him; he ducked the swinging arm that didn't intend to hit him.

"I could beat some sense into you." Josiah swung his arm at him but kept it at a distance from Ezra's body, the slow reflexes told him that Ezra was feeling poorly.

"Are you trying to make me ill?" Ezra smiled then began to cough.

Josiah pulled his canteen from behind him and handed it to Ezra but the southerner already had his flask to his lips. He waited while he took a long sip from the small flask. He noticed that the southerner's face had paled during the coughing fit.

"You are sick!" This time Josiah made a statement. "We're going to find somewhere to stay and I don't want an argument from you!"


"As long as it's a bed, you won't receive an argument." Ezra berated himself for not being able to hide his worsening illness, he had known for two days now that he was coming down with something. He just hoped that things didn't get any worse.

*************

The darkness began to hide the path they were following in much the same way it hid the concerned features of the ex-preacher's face. He constantly glanced to his right but Ezra's own visage was becoming difficult to see. He grimaced when he heard and felt the gambler begin to cough again. He couldn't understand why Ezra wouldn't admit to being ill; everything that his body did indicated an illness. His temperature had risen during the afternoon, the coughing had become more frequent and he had begun to shiver uncontrollably when the chills racked his body.

Josiah looked back towards the darkened distance that was before them, he eyes caught a welcomed site. He could see a light that would have to be coming from within a building, hopefully a home.

"Ezra." Josiah turned when he didn't receive an answer. He used his hand to gently shake his young friend.

"Ezra?"

"What?" Ezra was fighting to keep his eyes open, his was tired and his body ached in a way that made him feel miserable.

"Looks like there's a cabin up ahead." He watched the drooping eyelids and knew that Ezra couldn't go much further. "Give me the reins and I'll lead your horse for you."

"I'm quite capable of guiding my own horse thank you very much." Ezra's throat began to protest against its overuse, the opened airways were being subjected to the dry air that made its way into his lungs. He began to cough, the force of it almost caused him to fall off his horse, and the only thing that stopped him was Josiah's strong hands.

Ezra handed him the reins of his horse without voicing another argument but his expression told Josiah what his body wouldn't allow him to. He didn't like being treated like a child who was incapable of looking after himself.

It took another fifteen minutes before they reached what looked like a small cabin. Josiah took in the area that surrounded it, towards the back stood an even smaller barn, a lantern showed the entrance to a small mine shaft that was located to the right of the building. He could also hear running water, there was a stream nearby. His observations were disrupted by another bout of coughing by the smaller man who was struggling to stay in the saddle.

"I'll be back in a minute Ezra." He got off his horse and moved closer to him, he laid his hand on his thigh and could feel the heat of his temperature. "Will you be alright until I get back?" He saw the slight nod in the brightened darkness that the light from the cabin had caused.

Josiah patted the leg and walked to the porch of the house. The door opened before he could knock on it. A short man stepped out onto the porch. He was old, the growing beard was pure grey, and it matched what remained on his head. The wrinkles that lined his face also covered the hands that held a shotgun, which was now pointed in Josiah's direction.

"I'm not here to hurt anyone," Josiah lifted his hands carefully, "my friend is sick and I was hoping for somewhere warm to spend the next couple of nights."

"What's wrong with him?" The man asked as he looked over Josiah's shoulder at Ezra's slumped form.

"He's got a fever and he's coughing quite a bit." Josiah looked back when he heard Ezra begin to cough; it was as though he was confirming what Josiah had said.

The man seemed to think about it for a moment. "You can sleep in the barn; it's warmer in there than it is outside." He began to walk down the steps, his suspicious eyes watching the gambler carefully. "Get him off his horse."

Josiah walked past the older man. "Ezra?" He nudged him and got his attention. "Come on, let's get you off your horse." Josiah took the smaller man's weight so he wouldn't fall to the ground when his feet lost their support of the stirrups.

Ezra managed to gain control of his trembling limbs and stood beside Josiah, he felt like he was being scrutinised and looked around for the culprit. He felt his hand before he saw the stranger's form before him. He instinctively shied away from the touch.

"Your right. He's sick." He stepped away from them. "Get him settled, I'll bring out some of the stew that I have cooking on the stove."

"Thank you." Josiah smiled, the warmth of it showing the stranger that they didn't mean any harm. "My name is Josiah Sanchez and my friend is Ezra Standish." He put his hand out to shake the man who stood two inches shorter than Ezra.

"Bert Young." He shook the offered hand then walked away.

Josiah left the horses where they were for a moment and after taking Ezra's weight, he began to lead him towards the barn. He pushed opened the door and looked around the darkened area for somewhere comfortable for Ezra. He saw a pile of loose clean hay in the corner and headed towards it. He carefully lowered Ezra to the floor; he pushed until the stubborn man lay down. He pulled the black hat from his sweat-dampened head and knelt down next to him.

"I'll just go and get the horses Ezra then we'll get you settled in for the night." Josiah informed him.

Ezra's only answer was to roll onto his left side, the shoulder holster made the position uncomfortable so he fell onto his back once more. He tried to sit up so he could remove the offending piece of hardware but strong hands pushed him back down.

"Stay put Ezra!" Josiah growled down at him. "I'll only be a minute then I'll help you."

Ezra didn't have the strength to answer so he nodded instead. The movement made him grimace against the continuous ache that had taken up residence in his skull.

It only took Josiah a few minutes to bring the two horses into the barn; there was plenty of room because there were no other animals in there. After putting each horse into a stall, he grabbed the bedrolls from each saddle and took one of the canteens then turned his attention back to his ailing friend. He knelt down beside Ezra and the steady but ragged breathing told him that he had fallen asleep. He didn't want to wake him but knew any movement would. Josiah pulled Ezra into a sitting position; he worried when the only reply was a muted groan against his shoulder then a violent coughing fit that caused the form in his arms to shudder.

The ex-preacher first removed the gun belt around Ezra's waist, then the thick coat so he could get access to the shoulder holster; he also took the opportunity to remove the derringer that Ezra always kept up the sleeve of his right arm. The small gun had saved the gambler's life on many occasions. Once he was free of his life, saving protection Josiah pulled his coat back on. He laid Ezra back down then placed the two blankets over him. Josiah put his palm against Ezra's heated brow and frowned. As long as he had known Ezra, the man had never gotten sick, he had been injured quite often because trouble seemed to follow him everywhere and Lady Luck always saved him from death. But never sick, he wasn't sure what to do to help him.

He watched as Ezra rolled onto his side. The larger man felt some sort of relief, the position that Ezra now lay in seemed to cause his breathing to become easier for him. He tucked the blankets back around him and felt another shiver wrack the inert form. Josiah let out deep sigh. He got up and went to take care of the horses but his eyes continued to glance towards the sleeping form.

His blue grey eyes turned to the barn's door when it opened, the darkness tried to follow the old man in but the lantern he carried forced it back outside. He pushed the door closed with his booted heel and walked towards the stall where Josiah was taking care of Ezra's horse.

"How's your friend?" The old man looked at the blanketed form then at Josiah.

"He's sleeping." Josiah shrugged.

"How sick is he?"

"He wasn't too bad this morning but his fever's high now and his cough has gotten worse, it's causing his breathing to become difficult."

"It sounds like you should be spending more than a couple of days here Mr Sanchez."

"I'd be grateful Mr Young." Josiah smiled at him.

Josiah came out of the stall and took the tray that the man was struggling to carry in one hand. The tray held two bowls of hot steaming stew.

"If I was you I'd wake him and make him eat that, then make sure he gets plenty of rest and fluids. There's a well behind this barn." He saw Josiah's questioning expression. "I have boys of my own, had to nurse them back to health on plenty of occasions. They've gone to town. They'll be back in a couple of days."
Josiah thanked the man again and when he left, he walked to Ezra's side and sat down on the floor beside him. He placed the tray down next to him, his hands then moved to Ezra's shoulder. Josiah shook him gently at first then with more force.

"Ezra?" He watched as the green eyes fluttered open, he could see the fever burning within them making his eyes seemingly even more green. "Ezra!"

"Gawd Josiah, my head is killing me." It was the first time the gambler had voiced any sort of admittance to the illness that was raging through his body.

"I need you to eat something. Think you can do that for me?"

"If it's beef jerky . . . no." Ezra tried to sit up but had to rely on Josiah's strong hands. The new position caused another expulsion of violent coughs.

Josiah wrapped his arm around him until the coughing stopped. "Drink some of this." He held the cool water to Ezra's open lips and allowed him to drink as much as he needed. "Now some food."

"What is it?" Ezra eyed the bowl in front of him.

"Beef stew."

"Where did you get that?" Ezra croaked and nodded to the canteen. He drank a few more mouthfuls then pulled his head away.

"Bert Young. He's allowing us to stay in his barn until your well enough to travel."

"That might be a while."

"So your admitting that your sick?"

"Josiah, I haven't felt this bad since I was a kid." Ezra leaned against him, struggling to hold himself upright.

"Stay awake Ezra, you need to eat something." He felt the nod against his shoulder but Ezra didn't raise his head. "Come on Ezra." Josiah used his large hand to lift the warm face off his shoulder. "Looks like I'm going to have to spoon feed you."

"No I can manage." Ezra took the bowl and spoon from Josiah's hand and held it on his knees.

Ezra got through half of the stew and gave up, he returned the bowl to the floor then collapsed back onto the hay, and he was asleep on his side within seconds. Josiah covered Ezra with the blankets then settled himself in for the night. He fell asleep with the sounds of Ezra's ragged breathing echoing in his mind.

*************

Josiah woke again to the sound of Ezra's coughing, it had been this way all night, each time the gambler had settled another bout of coughing would wake him. He opened his eyes and saw the beginning of a new day and hoped it would also mean an improvement in Ezra's health but it wasn't to be the case. He moved to

Ezra's side and felt his forehead, he hung his head when he felt the fever had grown in intensity. He remembered something that Nathan usually did, he pulled the blankets back and unbuttoned the few buttons on Ezra's shirt, he put his ear against the hot flesh and listened to his breathing. It sounded fine to him. Ezra didn't seem to be struggling for breath. He took comfort in that discovery.

"Josiah?" Ezra opened his eyes and looked up into Josiah concerned features.

"You want some water Ezra?"

"Please."

After he forced Ezra to drink as much of the water as he could he laid him back down. "How are you feeling Ezra? And tell me the truth."

Ezra hesitated and decided he couldn't be bothered to argue with him, he felt terrible and he was willing to admit it.

"Terrible."

"Terrible how?" Josiah pulled and tugged at the blankets trying to make Ezra as comfortable as he could be under the circumstances.

"I feel sick Josiah, how terrible do you want me to be!" Ezra angrily stated.

"Calm down Ezra and tell me what's wrong with you." Josiah laid a comforting hand on Ezra's fevered brow and the eyes underneath closed.

"Isn't it enough that you got what you wanted?" Ezra's voice was becoming slurred.


"And what was that?" Josiah had to lean closer to hear Ezra's whispered words.

"That I finally admitted I'm sick." Ezra coughed then settled back down onto his right side and drifted off to sleep while Josiah's concerned features scrutinised the man who he considered to be like a son as well as a good friend.

Josiah brushed the damp hair from Ezra's forehead and waited until he was sure Ezra was asleep. He stood up and stretched his back then after grabbing a bucket he left the barn to get some water from the well. He looked up at the sun that was rising into a clear blue sky and knew it was going to be a warm day. He pulled his hat down further onto his face and took a better look around Bert Young's home. The cabin looked bigger under the scrutiny of daylight. He got a better look at the mineshaft. The wooden beams that supported the opening didn't look to be very old. He strained his ears and heard a digging noise coming from within the dark opening. He decided not to disturb the old man and walked around the barn pass the water trough until he found the well that he was told was behind the barn. He also found the cause of the running water he had heard last night. The creek lay at the base of the hill the cabin was positioned on. Josiah looked to his left and saw an even smaller building that was hidden in the trees, he turned away from it and used the bucket in the well to fill the one he had brought with him and went back into the barn.

Josiah spent the rest of the day administering to Ezra's needs. He got him to drink more water each time his coughing brought him roughly awake. The southerner refused to eat, stating that he felt nauseas. He wiped his sweating brow with a cool cloth and rubbed his temple when his sleep was restless. It wasn't until the darkness began to drive away the daylight that Ezra's fever finally broke. It flowed from his body as the daylight slowly retreated from the barn.

Josiah wiped the last of the sweat away from Ezra's face, the touch on the pale flesh causing the gambler to wake.

"Ezra?" He watched as the eyes focused on the direction of his voice and then as recognition filled the green eyes.

"Josiah." Ezra's voice was hoarse, the frequent bouts of coughing over the two days had done it's damage.

"Feeling better?" Josiah asked him.

"What makes you think I'm feeling better?" Ezra didn't feel any better, his head still ached with a passion, his chest was sore and every muscle in his body felt as though he had overexerted himself with manual labour.

"Your fever finally broke." Josiah informed him.

"Then why didn't it take everything else with it." Ezra wanted to roll over onto his left side, the arm he was lying on was numb but he knew the pain caused by the movement would be worse.

"You still feel sick? You want something to eat Ezra?" Josiah wasn't going to take no for an answer so he didn't wait for a response. "I'll go and get something."

Josiah listened as the protests weakened. He shut the gambler's ramblings off by closing the door of the barn. He stepped out into the darkness and headed to the back door of the house. He knocked on the door, Bert had told him to come up and get something for dinner when Ezra was ready to eat. A tired man opened the door, his back stooped over.

"You okay Bert." Josiah was sincere in the concern he showed towards the old man. He had gone out of his way to help and asked for nothing in return.


"I'm fine, just over did it in the mine." He opened the door so Josiah could step into the small kitchen. "My sons usually do the work but I try and do something when there not here. I get bored on my own." Bert explained.

"Is it working for you?" Josiah asked.

"Yeah, we've got a small amount of gold at the moment, Guy, my oldest is waiting till the end of the month to see if we can add to it before he takes it to Eagle Bend and cash it in." He smiled, the wrinkles on his face making him look even older than he was which Josiah had guessed to be about fifty-five. "Guy thinks that we're going to retire on this lot. I shouldn't even be telling you, he's pretty touchy when it comes to his gold."

Josiah nodded, he had no interest in gold but he knew Ezra would, he was glad the gambler wasn't here to listen to the conversation, he would no doubt try to con the old man out of it. The ex-preacher suddenly felt guilty, he chastised himself for even thinking that Ezra would still do something like that. The man had changed for the better since arriving in Four Corners, it had taken time and a lot of hard work by the other six members of the group to help him realise that there were better things in life, such as friendship and family, something the southerner had never had before. Ezra now accepted what they had given him and Josiah knew he would do nothing to risk what he had become a part of and that was a family that cared about him. No one, not even his mother had given him that.

"Is Mr Standish any better?" Bert carried two bowls to the table, both filled with the stew that he had made earlier.

"His fever broke but he's still feeling poorly." Josiah smiled in relief. He would wait another couple of days then continue their journey onto Four Corners. The fact that they had to stop was going to make them arrive two days late. He wouldn't be surprised if they met the other five men on the trail on the way back home.

"Make sure he eats all of it this time, or he won't have the strength to ride back." Bert ordered him.

"Thanks Bert." Josiah left the old man after making sure once more that he was alright.

Josiah enjoyed the noises of the night as he made his way back to the barn. He quietly pushed the door open but failed in his attempt to not wake Ezra. The southerner jerked awake, the movement eliciting a groan before he fell back onto the hay. Josiah rushed forward and fell to his knees next to Ezra. He ignored the hot stew that spilt onto his legs.

"Ezra!" Josiah could see the pain etched onto his face.

"What?!" The southerner retorted.

"You okay?" Josiah calmed down and got some control over his fatherly emotions.

"I'm fine!" Ezra growled. 'What a stupid question.' he thought to himself, he had wanted to say it aloud but knew that Josiah was only concerned, he didn't want to hurt the feelings of the man who was taking care of him. Josiah wasn't like Nathan, the healer was used to his protests but Josiah thought about him in a different way and would take the verbal abuse to heart.

"Liar." Josiah smiled down into the pain-filled eyes.

"This is worse than the worse hangover I've ever had." Ezra stated simply.

"Your head?" Josiah wiped at the loose hair off his forehead.

"Yes."

"Think you could eat something?" Josiah gently pulled him into a sitting position and allowed Ezra to use his shoulder for support.

"Do I have to?" It wasn't a question.

"Yes."

*************

Josiah awoke to sound of an argument. He turned towards Ezra to find him still sleeping heavily on his right side, his back to the ex-preacher. He carefully placed his hand against the cool forehead and was grateful that Ezra's fever hadn't returned. He stood up and strapped the hanging gun to his waist in case it was needed then walked out of the barn right into the middle of an intense argument between father and son.

"Why did you let them stay?" The larger man yelled down to his father, he only stood an inch taller but his broad shoulders made him look even bigger as he stood in front of the frail man.

"Because one of them is sick, that's why and I'm not sending them on their way until he's better." Bert yelled back.

Josiah stepped closer to the two men, his eye glancing over the son. He could tell by the profile that they were father and son but they didn't treat each other as such. He saw the dark hair that Bert must have had when he was younger, and the strong jaw line and clear blue eyes that matched his fathers.

"You're a stupid old man. Did you tell them about it?" He threw his hands up in the air showing the frustration he felt when he saw the guilty expression cross his father's face. "What if they steal our gold?"

"We won't." Josiah answered him. "I only came here so my friend didn't have to be out in the cold during the night."

Guy Young turned towards the sound of the voice, he hadn't notice Josiah come out of the barn. He stepped closer to Josiah and three men stepped up behind him, they were ready to follow his lead. Two of the men carried the same features as their brother and father but the third was the opposite. The eyes were narrow and brown to match the hair that was long and tied back.

"Guy, this is Josiah Sanchez." Bert introduced him.

"As soon as your friend is up to it I want both of you gone!" Guy didn't bother with any pleasantries. His expression showed the disgust that he felt.

Josiah nodded and watched the angry man walk away, his two brothers and the third man following him. He looked towards Bert who was also watching his son's retreating back. The old man turned towards him, the smile on his face was forced but Josiah returned it trying to make the man feel more comfortable about what had happened.

"I'm sorry Josiah. He's been angry ever since his mother died a couple of years back. Thinks it was his fault." Bert explained.

"It's alright Bert." Josiah turned towards the barn. "As soon as Ezra's up to it we'll be on our way. I don't want to cause any more trouble for you.

Josiah could see the sadness in the old man's eyes, he didn't know if it was the mention of his dead wife or the way his son reacted to the two strangers being here. He moved closer to him hoping to give some sort of comfort or get him to talk but the old man turned away and headed back to the cabin. Josiah looked up towards the mineshaft were the four men had gone. He shook his head in sympathy and returned to the barn.

*************

Josiah looked up when the barn doors slammed opened, he felt Ezra jerk awake beside him and put a comforting hand on his shoulder. He looked up at the four men who entered the barn. Guy stood in front of them, his face full of anger. The ex-preacher's grey blue eyes took in the guns that were aimed at his direction. Something was wrong. He looked behind them searching for Bert and his heart leap into his throat when he didn't find him. He hoped that whatever was wrong didn't involve the man's father.

"Where is it?" Guy growled at Josiah, pure venom dripped from his tone.

"Where's what?" Josiah asked. He had no idea what Bert's eldest son was talking about.

"Take his gun then tie their hands behind their backs." Guy ordered his two brothers.

Josiah moved closer to Ezra hoping to protect him but he was pushed aside. His own hands were roughly pulled behind him and tied, the ropes that bound him were rough and the tightness of the knots caused them to cut into his skin immediately. He struggled against his captures when he heard Ezra's cry of pain. He managed to turn his head to see his friend roughly pulled to his feet, the blankets fell to the floor. Ezra now only wore his thin shirt with his trousers because Josiah had taken the warm jacket off him.

Ezra had no idea what was going on or who these men were. One minute he was sleeping, the next he was woken by a loud noise and these men were tying his hands behind his back not caring if they were hurting him or not. He looked around trying to find Josiah and saw that he was in the same predicament.

"Take them outside." Guy nodded towards the open doorway.

Ezra closed his eyes against the invading sun that he hadn't seen for nearly two days, the brightness caused bolts of pain to tear through his skull, and he was roughly pushed around to the side of the barn. His pain filled eyes made out a long water trough that was filled with water. He grimaced in pain when his back was slammed against the barn wall. His pain filled eyes turned to the right to find Josiah standing next to him. Ezra struggled to stand upright, his body was still weak, and the pain that still flowed through him wasn't helping him at all.

"Where's our gold?" Guy demanded once more.

"I didn't take your gold." Josiah answered him. He knew they were in trouble but he wasn't about to risk Ezra's life or his own while four guns were aimed at them.

Guy looked at the man who didn't belong to his family and nodded at Josiah. His own eyes watched Ezra for his reaction. The fourth man stepped close to Josiah and slammed his fist into his stomach. He waited until the large man doubled over then hit his jaw with a powerful uppercut. Josiah's head hit the barn wall behind him and his legs buckled. He fell to his knees. He struggled to replace the air that had been forced from his lungs.

The smaller man hadn't reacted at all, there was no emotion. "Bill, the other one."

Ezra didn't react to Josiah's punishment, if he did then the man would use that reaction against them but now it was his turn, he just hoped that Josiah knew what was happening and kept his emotions to himself. He looked into the brown eyes that were full of amusement, the man was enjoying himself. He felt the air rush out of his lungs as the fist hit him with a force that caused him to double over, the pain in his chest made it even harder for him to get the air back. Each breath was an effort; the hot burning pain was giving him the impression that his chest was going to break open.



"Leave him alone, he's sick!" Josiah yelled out then regretted his words when the wicked smile appeared on Guy's and Bill's faces.

"That one." Guy nodded towards Ezra.

Bill pulled Ezra towards the water trough and forced him down onto his already trembling knees. He smiled when he realised Ezra was still struggling for breath. He pressed his left hand against the back of Ezra's head and the other on his neck then forced Ezra's head into the water trough, he could feel his victim’s struggles beneath him as the seconds continued to pass. He pulled his head up and heard the gasps for air as Ezra tried to fill his lungs with the air he so desperately required.

"Where is our gold?!" Guy yelled into Josiah's face.

Ezra turned his head to the side as far as he could; the strong hand still gripped his neck. His chest heaved as he struggled to breath, causing the burning pain to increase. The cold water that ran from his waterlogged hair down onto his back caused him to shiver.

"I'm telling you the truth, we didn't take it!" Josiah yelled in frustration.

Ezra saw the water coming towards him again. He felt the chill of the water as it covered his face and head once more. His lungs burned with even more intensity, they hadn't had a chance to recover from the torture that had already been inflicted upon them. He fought against the hands that held him down but the position that he was in made if difficult; the fact that he was still weak didn't help either. He could feel the darkness coming for him when he was pulled from the water again. He pulled in as much air as he could in the few seconds that he had a reprieve from the cold water. He was forced into it once again.

"Where is it?" Guy's tone was calm as he watched the fear spread across Josiah's face.

"I don't know." Josiah whispered.

Josiah watched Ezra's struggles weaken then stop all together, he slumped further into the trough. The man called Bill pulled him out and allowed the southerner to collapse to the floor in a wet unmoving heap.

"Where's our gold?" Guy Young growled into Josiah's shocked features. When he didn't receive an answer, he slapped him across the face. "Where is it!?"

Josiah's moist eyes stared at Ezra's unmoving form. He watched the damp dirt drink the water that dripped from his upper body. He saw no movement to indicate that he was breathing, his lips had turned a purplish colour, and his face was paler than his shirt. He pulled his eyes from Ezra and looked at the man who had ordered his death.

"You expect me to give you an answer! You killed him. We didn't take your gold." Josiah lunged for him but Guy's brothers restrained him.

Guy smiled and turned back to Bill, he gestured to him again with his head, and they seemed to have an unnecessary need to speak, much in the same way as Chris and Vin.

Bill kicked Ezra's unprotected side, when there was no movement he kicked him again. Josiah's knees buckled when he heard Ezra cough and throw up the clear liquid that had begun to fill his lungs, once they were clear he rolled off his stomach onto his right side and drew his knees up to his chest, he then began his struggle to breath as he continued to cough. It was all give and take, his lungs would give him the air he required then the coughing would take control forcing his lungs to wait their turn.

Guy stepped closer to Josiah. "I'm going to give you some time to think about it. If you don't tell me where the gold is then your friend here will die." He moved away from him and walked to Ezra who was still trying to replace his air. He pushed him on to his knees then grabbed a handful of hair. Guy pulled him into an upright position. "It would be such a shame to kill him." His eyes turned to Josiah and he watched his reaction as he slammed the side of Ezra's head against the edge of the wooden trough, he let him slump to the ground once more. "And you obviously wouldn't be able to cope with his death."

"Like you didn't cope with your mother's." Josiah was surprised by the calm tone he was able to use. He wanted to rip his heart out. He had been devastated by the thought of Ezra's death. Then he had to control his emotions while he watched the man he thought of as a son struggle to breath, his handsome face had been contorted by the pain but now the features were slack, his head leaning against his shoulder, the blood that flowed from the cut above his right temple soaked into his white shirt.
Josiah regretted his words instantly.

"You've just made it harder for your friend." Guy announced as he stood up. He used his boot to nudge Ezra's head off his shoulder. "Ben, Robbie help Bill take them to the shed." He walked away and left his brothers and friend to follow his instructions.

Josiah was pushed forward. He kept trying to look over his shoulder to see what was happening to Ezra. He could see the gambler's form being held between the two brothers, each of them holding an arm. Ezra's head was hanging close to the ground, the water was still dripping from his hair and his feet were dragging behind him, the toes of his boots left a trail in the dirt. Josiah was shoved up against the smaller building that he had seen the day before. He waited while the door was unlocked. They threw Ezra in first then he followed. The door was shut behind them. There were no windows in the small shack, the lack of sunlight causing the darkness to surround them. Josiah's first thought was the time that Ezra had spent in his Uncle's basement and he hoped that he could help the southerner keep that fear at bay.

He could make out Ezra's white shirt and he could hear the sound of his ragged breathing, he made his way over to him but because his hands were tied behind his back, he couldn't lift Ezra into his embrace. He would have to wait until he woke up, Ezra would then have to do most of the work when he did. Josiah would have to convince him to get as close to him as possible so the ex-preacher's body heat could help keep him warm.
Josiah sat down and waited, he also wondered what Guy Young was going to do to Ezra when they came back, and he had made the mistake of speaking before thinking. Josiah couldn't help but smile at the thought of Ezra's ways rubbing off on him, Chris would be furious if he thought that Ezra was beginning to change the others instead of the other way around. They were supposed to be an influence on him. Ezra's sarcastic comments always got him into a world of trouble and for some reason his mouth worked overtime when he was in physical danger, it was as though he was tempting fate, he seemed to challenge it. But Josiah knew there was another reason to his madness, it was a way to hide his fear and emotions, especially when someone else's words or fists hurt him. He had learned to use his words to show his relatives that he wouldn't fear them. But most of all his sharp tongue along with his anger stopped people from getting close to him.

Ezra had been too ill to retaliate when his fists couldn't do his talking. Josiah did it for him and now Ezra was going to pay for Josiah's comment in the same way he always did when he voiced the words himself. Josiah said a silent prayer and hoped the others had already begun to look for them. While his hands were tied behind his back and Ezra was in this condition he wouldn't be able to get them to safety. The only other thing he could do is try to convince Bert's eldest son that they didn't take his gold. Someone else did and it had to be one of the brothers or the friend. His other hope was Bert but he hadn't seen him during the incident, he didn't know if something had also happened to him.

*************

Bert Young stood at the kitchen window and watched his son threaten the two men, he had tried to talk him out of it, and he told his son that they wouldn't have taken the gold. Sanchez didn't seem the type and Standish was too sick. He couldn't take his eyes off the slumped form of the sick man as he was dragged to the water trough. He closed his eyes when his head was forced under the water. He'd always disliked and mistrusted Bill Hollow but his son had never seen those things in him, he trusted him. Bert forced his eyes open, he saw Standish lying on the ground and then Hollow kicked him twice. The old man couldn't take anymore, he turned away from the window, he would have to talk to his son again, and if he couldn't convince him then he would have to help Josiah and his friend escape.

*************

Chris sat in one of the few chairs that took up a permanent residence on the boardwalk outside of the saloon, the chair was positioned close enough to the rail so he could sit his left ankle on it while it supported his right leg. His black hat lay on the floor beside him so his face could get the full impact of the Spring sun. The warmth flowed through him, starting on his face and working its way down to his toes. He was relishing the peace and quiet that Ezra's absence gave him. A smile crossed his rugged features at the remembrance of the expression Ezra's face held when he told him that he was going with Josiah. The man was shocked to say the least. A slight chuckle escaped his throat.

"What's so funny?" Buck asked him as he pulled one of the other chairs closer to his friend.

Chris put his forefinger to his ear and listened for a few seconds, his smile grew even more. He leaned back and crossed his hands behind his head.

"I'm sure Ezra will make up for lost time when he gets back." Buck watched the smile drop from Chris' face.

"I mean he's going to be pretty angry that you sent him to that town for nothing."

"He wouldn't, would he?" He looked at Buck and saw the seriousness on his moustached face.

"You should know by now that if you push Ezra he'll push back, you'll never win Chris. The man is just as stubborn as you if not more, besides he has reason to be, he doesn't like being forced into doing anything that he doesn't want to do." Buck shrugged. "He's probably been thinking of ways to get you back when they get home, which would be when?" he leaned closer to Chris. "Today!"

The change of volume in his voice caused Chris to sit upright so fast he nearly fell from his chair. His cold glare stopped the laughter that was emanating from Buck.

"I need a drink." Chris got out of his chair and walked into the saloon.





Part One | Part Two


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