azombiewrites: (The Magnificent Seven)
[personal profile] azombiewrites
Title: Quest for Survival
Rating: PG
Fandom: The Magnificent Seven
Main Characters: Ezra
Summary: Ezra is on his way back to Four Corners when a group of men rob him of his possessions and leave him for dead.
Disclaimers: The guys are owned by CBS, MGM, Trilogy Entertainment Group, and The Mirisch Corp.
Spoilers: None
Status: Complete
Total Word Count: 22,732



The sun began to rise over the mountains in the Western sky. The warming bright rays were creeping over the ground towards the man that was trying to gain some warmth from the numerous blankets that covered his body. The thick blankets moved as the figure beneath them shivered. A muttered curse escaped the form, but it was a muffled sound due to the suffocating material that stopped the fresh air from gaining access to his lungs. The figure rolled over and shifted itself into a more comfortable position then settled back down into a deeper sleep.

The man's horse continued to graze on the verge of the slow moving stream that lay a short distance from the small man made camp. Even though dawn had arrived, the horse knew that it would still be a few hours before it would be required to carry its owner home. It lifted its head and pricked its ears towards a sound that drifted through the air from the east. It was a familiar sound to the animal and it shook its head and blew the air out of its nozzle in response. When the noise stopped, the animal resumed its grazing.

The fire that had been centered in the middle of the camp had gone out in the early hours of the morning. This gave the chill of the long night the opportunity to move in and cause the sleeping figure to lose its body heat. The sun continued its journey as the next three hours passed. The sleeping man moved again. This time he was waking up. Finally. The horse became alert at its owners movements when the blankets were roughly thrown aside.

"Good lord." The rising figure moaned when the chilled air hit the bare flesh of his face and hands. "Whose stupid idea was this anyway?" No one answered him.

He sat up, reached into his beige jacket, and removed a shiny silver flask. It was his constant companion. He kept it next to the deck of cards he carried with him everywhere he went. He returned it to the inside pocket after taking a long swig of whiskey. He hoped that it would help get rid of the chill that had seemed to settle in his bones. This really was a bad idea. The man stood up and stretched the muscles in his back. They had become stiff after spending the long cold night on the hard ground.

He didn't bother with breakfast. He wasn't in the mood. His anger had grown during the days he had spent on the trail. It wasn't his idea to be out here, it had been someone else's. The person who had pulled him away from the gambling tables was going to pay dearly when he returned to town. It had been done out of anger and as usual he had received the backlash of that anger. Why it was always him, he didn't know. He hadn't done anything. But they always accused him of doing something. He would get payback. He only had one more day of travelling, plenty of time to come up with a plan of vengeance.

His first priority was to relieve himself of last night’s coffee, which had included a few shots of whiskey from his flask. The man's anger had caused him to spend the night thinking about what had been within his reach. A home, friends, people that he could care about and trust. Men that he thought were willing to watch his back and protect him with their lives. He’d never had these things before. They were words that hadn't existed within his large vocabulary, but were now becoming more familiar to him. But after what had happened that night, he wondered if it was worth the effort.

Did he really need people who would say they were his friends but treat him differently than they would the others? Men who continued to blame him if something went wrong. He didn't understand friendship, didn't know what it really meant. He was a man who was easily hurt but never showed it. He had been taught not to let people see what was in the inside. He had learnt to pretend to be someone else. He had gotten so good at it that the real man that was within him didn't exist for years. He had only begun to want to show himself in his new environment. But where had it gotten him, so far, nowhere. He had a decision to make. Should he go or should he stay and try to become a permanent part of the group.

His mind continued with the thoughts but he refused to acknowledge them, it was too early. He had plenty of time to think it over once he began the final part of his journey to Four Corners. He packed up the small camp then whistled for his horse to come to him. He saddled the animal that he had owned for four years then mounted it. The man turned it in the direction of the town he had wanted to call home and heeled it into a gentle trot.

The man's bright green eyes looked up into the sky. It was becoming darker as the storm clouds moved in. He knew the rain was going make him even colder than he was. He had nothing to protect himself against it. God he hated this. Why him? He could be somewhere warm playing a game of poker, and winning. His body jerked at the sound of thunder. The rain wasn't far away.

"Knowing my luck it'll be snowing next." The Southern accent was thick with anger and sarcasm.

The rain started to fall late in the morning. It wasn't heavy, it was annoying. The light patter of rain that surrounded both man and horse grated on his nerves. His anger grew as another clap of thunder sounded in the distance. This was only the beginning of the storm. It was going to get worse. He just didn't know how much worse.

He didn't hear the gunshot that was covered by the sound of the thunder, only the searing pain as the bullet tore through his right arm. The force of the bullet threw him from his horse and he landed awkwardly, his head hitting a rock on the dirt trail. He lay on his left side, dazed and confused as to what was happening around him. He thought he could hear the sound of galloping horses getting closer to him. He tried to lift his head to find out what was going on but quickly allowed it to fall to the ground again. A wave of dizziness had overcome him. The sound of muffled voices assaulted his ears, mixing with the ringing that had already taken up residence within his hearing cavities.

"Check his pockets. You get the horse." A voice growled in his ear.

His opened eyes couldn't focus on the face that appeared above him. Hands roughly tore the jacket from his weak struggling form. A gasp of pain escaped from his mouth when his injured arm was moved. Someone yelled in surprise after they removed his custom made boots. Three hundred dollars had been hiding in the left boot.
Other hands removed his guns and watch. That angered him. The guns and other objects could be replaced but the watch was the only memento that he had of his father. He kicked out at the man who was standing over him and at the same time reached out for his watch. He smiled when he heard a voiced scream. His own followed it when someone's boot connected with his ribs. His arm was pulled back down, his hand empty. The thought of losing his father's watch hurt him more than the physical pain he was feeling. That watch meant everything to him.

"What are you going to do with him?" A voice asked. It was more distant than the others were. "He's not dead yet."

"Very observant of you." The man on the ground growled at his attackers. He was rewarded with a second kick to his ribs.

"Kill him slowly." This was spoken by the man that had ordered someone to take his horse. He was obviously the leader of the group of men. "Throw him over the cliff."

'Cliff! What cliff?' But the injured man didn't make his thoughts available to the men that surrounded him.

"What cliff?" Someone else had the same thought.

"The one we passed two miles back." Was the explanation. "Tie his hands and put him on his horse. Sorry, I meant to say my horse."

The outlaw had admired the horse from a distance. The chestnut gelding was going to lose its owner. He had no problem with killing the stranger, he'd done it before. He'd lost count. It was a way to make a living without having to work like the poor bastards who struggled all their lives with nothing to show for it.

The injured man clenched his teeth when his blood soaked arm was pulled in front of him. The person wasn't gentle in his attempts. It took a matter of seconds before the skin around his wrists were torn. Blood was beginning to soak into the rope. He was pulled to his feet but his knees buckled, he wasn't able to carry his own weight. The rain helped to blur his vision even more than it already was. The pain in his arm and side wrapped itself around his mind with a strong grip. It would only be a short while before it let go. When that happened, he would be dead. He wasn't ready to die. The man who had sent him out here hadn't paid for his error in judgement. He wouldn't know that the gambler had died. The leader of the group would assumed that he just kept going.

He wasn't allowed to sit on his horse, he was thrown over it. The pain in his side worsened. All he could see was the ground beneath him. His hands were tied to the stirrup. He felt the movement as his horse was forced to follow the others. The man's mind tried to think of a way to escape, but his mind was clouded with pain. He silently cursed the person responsible for sending him out here.

His mind finally cleared but it didn't think of ways to escape. It thought about the people and things that he was going to lose. The men that he needed and wanted to make his life complete. He wasn't sure though if they wanted to help him get what he'd always wanted as a child. The things he wanted didn't come easy to him, he refused to accept it or people didn't trust him enough to give it to him. He almost had it once but it had slipped through his fingers. He still didn't know whose fault it had been. His or theirs. It didn't matter now. He had been given another chance, but he was allowing his insecurities to keep him from taking what he wanted and needed.

The man forced those thoughts from his mind, he needed to concentrate. He had to find a way to survive. He wasn't going to leave the world like this. His mother had taught him better, he had learnt a trade. His death should be at a poker table, not out in the middle of nowhere where his body would be left to the wolves. That was no way to die. He had to survive and make someone pay for what was happening to him. But it was also important to him that they knew he hadn't run out on them again.

They reached the edge of the cliff. He closed his eyes and gave his mind one last attempt to think of a way to escape. Nothing came to him. He was a failure, his mother would be disappointed in him. Maybe it was fate, this was where he was meant to die. He didn't want this. If he were a religious man like the one in Four Corners who'd made an effort to be his friend, he would have prayed. His mother and life had convinced him that a higher power did not exist. Neither did luck, you had to make your own.

"Throw him over. If the fall doesn't kill him, well, then he'll suffer until he dies." Laughter followed the order.

The sharp edge of a knife freed his hands from the saddle. He was pulled from the horse, he wasn't given the chance to escape. He was carried to the edge and tossed over before he could do anything to stop them. He heard a scream and realised it was his own. He seemed to hang in midair for what seemed to him to be hours before he began to fall. It was a long way down. But he felt some hope, the cliff's wall was set at an angle. If he hit the side of the cliff first, he would roll the rest of the way. Then he remembered the man's words. If he didn't die instantly, he would suffer until he did die. It would be better if he died quickly.

He hit the side of the cliff with bone breaking force. He couldn't help but notice two things through the pain as he rolled dangerously down the side of the cliff. The rain had stopped and the sun had come out. At least he wasn't going to die in bad weather, the sun would be shining down on him. He finally reached the bottom. His body slammed against a large rock. The sunlight broke, the breakage caused the light to disappear as the man was sent into oblivion.

________________________________________

The sun slowly disappeared again and the rain began to fall. This time it was a heavy downpour. Large droplets fell to the ground, seemingly with as much force as the man who had fallen from the cliff's edge. The blood that had begun to soak the ground was being washed away leaving small trails of blood stained rivers. The blood that had poured from the wound on the side of the man's skull had also been washed away by the rain that was continuing to splatter against the slack features of the inert form.

There was no movement, no sign of life from the man who lay in a crumpled heap. He lay on his back, his hands were on his stomach, and the rope still bound them together. The white shirt, now soaked by the rain, clung to the bruised skin. The shirttails had been pulled from the waistband of his trousers. Two buttons had been ripped from the once immaculate shirt. The bruised skin was exposed to the elements. A cut, seven inches long, made its way across his left side. The left leg was twisted and lay beneath the right leg. The wet bare feet were covered with abrasions and bruises. The once handsome face held a deep graze on the right cheek. The skin was pale, a greying tinge was beginning to show through. The lips were a pale blue.

The storm ended quickly but the clouds kept their position in the sky. They hid the sun, its warmth was unable to gain access to the unmoving form that lay at the base of the cliff. A cool breeze began to shift through the trees, it lacked the strength to move the clouds or the damp hair that clung to the man's scalp. The breeze picked up in strength, the clouds finally began to move away. Trees swayed in the wind, the long grass also moved with the wind. The form on the ground didn't move, it was as still as death.


Darkness crept over the land. The full moon rose up into the cloudless sky. Thousands of stars shone brightly in the dark void above the man who still hadn't moved. A coyote howled in the distance. The body jerked in a responsive movement and a grimace of pain showed on the man's countenance. His head rolled towards his left shoulder. No other physical motion came from the body.

It was another cold night but this time the man had no fire to protect him from the winter chill. No blankets to cover his unconscious form, the remaining heat escaped from his body. The late winter night passed slowly. When morning arrived the sun rose, its strength melted the morning dew that covered the ground like a cloak made of snow. By this time, the still form was generating its own heat through a fever that had developed during the night.
Movement came from the body. The man's eyelids fluttered open. Green eyes that were filled with pain looked up at the pale blue sky in confusion. His gazed turned to the face of the cliff. A man sat on one of the rocks watching him. There was a look of sympathy on his face but he made no effort to help the injured man. Emerald orbs stared at the dark eyes that looked back at him. His own eyes closed again as he drifted back into a state of unconsciousness.

________________________________________

The sun drifted across the sky. The source of warmth failed to dry the man's clothing, his hair was still damp. The fever caused the sweat to ooze from his pores. The blood had begun to flow from the head wound again, a thin line stained the side of his face as it slowly ran down his cheek to gather around the deep graze that had been caused by the fall. The man could feel the dampness on his face, he lifted his hands to wipe it away and groaned at the movement.

"Ezra."

Ezra frowned, his mind was clouded with a thick fog. He thought he heard a voice, but he couldn't have. He was alone. Out in the middle of nowhere. Dying. There was no one around to help him, he was destined to die here. The men he fought with wouldn't know what happened. They would hate him for running out on them again.

"Ezra!"

This time he was sure there was a voice calling his name.

"EZRA!"

He winced at the volume of the voice.

"You need to stay awake!"

Ezra opened his eyes and looked around at his surroundings. His eyes settled on the face of the man who was watching him. He didn't recognise the person but there was something familiar about him.

"What?" Ezra managed to mumble. His throat was dry, his lips were cracked and his voice was nothing but a coarse whisper.

"Remember what Nathan told you about a concussion?"

"Nathan?" Ezra was confused.

Why wasn't this man helping him. He was lying here, probably dying and the man was just watching him.

"Yes, Nathan. Come on Ezra you haven't lost your memory."

"Help me." Ezra pleaded with him.

"I'm sorry Ezra. I can't."

"Can't?" Ezra tried to focus on the man who refused to help him.

"I can't help you physically. You have to do that yourself."

Ezra's eyes drifted closed again.

"Stay awake, Ezra, you have t. . . "

Ezra thought the voice just seemed to fade away, he was still aware of being awake but where did the voice go. Was the man still there, or had he left him alone. He tried to reopen his eyes, to stay awake as Nathan had told him. Had it been Nathan talking to him. No, it hadn't been but the man had known Nathan's name. And his knowledge of Nathan Jackson told him that he knew Nathan, he knew that he was a healer and would know what to do with Ezra's injured form.

Darkness overcame him once more. His thoughts of the stranger drifted away into nothingness. A few hours passed before the form moved again. The eyes slowly blinked open. The man stared at the darkening sky above him. The silence that echoed within in him and around him terrified the young man. He was alone. He had always been afraid of dying alone and now the thing he feared most was going to become a reality.

"Ezra if you stay here you're going to die."

Ezra's body jerked at the voice that shattered the silence. The pain he felt brought tears to his eyes and a cry of pain to his lips.

"I know it hurts Ezra, but you can't stay here."

"Why . . . won't . . . you . . . help . . . me?" Ezra gasped through the pain.

"I can't Ezra."

"Why?" When the pain eased slightly Ezra turned his head. The man was sitting on a rock. His knees were grasped within his arms against his chest.

"I can't explain now, you're too confused."

"I'm not . . . doing . . . anything until . . . you . . . explain."

The man chuckled. "If that's what you want Ezra. I can't help you because I'm not real."

"Wha . . ." Ezra knew he was unconscious, he had to be. Or maybe he was dead. But he knew he was wrong in his assumptions, there was too much pain.

"I'm not real Ezra." The man repeated.

"You’re . . . not real?"

"No."

"Then . . . what are . . . you?" He could feel the dark void returning for him.

"I'm you Ezra."

The figure disappeared from the rock as the man slipped back into unconsciousness. The sun fell behind the mountains as the day echoed the man's state of mind, it too drifted into darkness.

He was confused, he wasn't sure, where he was or if he was even alive. If he wasn't dead then he had gone mad. Or someone was playing a game with him. Maybe it was the men who had thrown him over the edge of the cliff, he wasn't even sure when that had happened, he'd lost track of time. And now they were taunting him, enjoying his slow death.

But the man had been familiar. He concentrated on the voice, it dawned on him that he had spoken with a Southern accent. It wasn't his own voice but very similar. He tried to picture the face of the figure in his mind. He remembered the dark eyes, his own were green. The face was handsome but in a different way to his own. The clothing was plain, a simple white shirt with a brown jacket, the trousers were dark, not stripped like his own. The feet had been covered by custom-made boots, they were his own.

"Ezra."

How did he know he was awake. He hadn't moved, there was too much pain to do that. Maybe his change in breathing had given him away.

"Ezra."

"What." Ezra whispered.

"You have to get up."

"Why?" He didn't want to move, he didn't think that he was capable of doing anything now.

"You have to get back to town, if you don't you’re going to die alone. You don't want to do that. Do you?"

"But I'm . . . not alone . . . you're . . . here." Ezra opened his eyes.

His surroundings were in darkness. The moonlight shone through the large gaping holes in the cloud covered sky. He couldn't see the figure clearly but he knew he was there, probably laughing at him, he would be enjoying the suffering that he was going through.

"But I don't count Ezra. I can't tell your friends what happened. If you don't return, they're going to think you ran out on them again. You will die a coward. That's how you'll be remembered Ezra. As a coward who ran out on his friends."

A tear ran down Ezra's left cheek. He wasn't a coward, he never had been and he didn't want this man or his friends to think that he was. 'Friends'. There was that word again, he wasn't familiar with it and yet the man who had claimed to be him had used the term so easily. Were they his friends. Did he want them to be his friends. No and yes. He didn't think they were but he had wanted a friendship with each one of the six men that he had worked with. Had. Now his mind was talking as though he was already dead.

"Get up Ezra!"

"I . . . can't." Ezra gasped.

"You can. You just don't want to."

"It hurts." His body was filled with pain. His skull felt like it had been split open. He had difficulty breathing because each expansion of his lungs caused the pain to burn through his side, stomach and chest. His left leg ached with a passion.

"I know Ezra, I know."

"How would . . . you . . . know." Ezra could feel his anger growing.

"Because I'm you."

There was a pause filled with silence.

"Now get up! Or do you want to be a coward and die alone!"

"Bastard!" The anger was evident in Ezra's voice.

"Maude would agree with you on that truthful statement."

"I can't get . . . up." Ezra moaned.

"You have a choice Ezra. Die a coward or get up, walk back to town and prove that you didn't run out on your friends."

Ezra knew he had to. Even though the man was arrogant, he was right. He didn't want to die like this, didn't want his friends to think wrongly of him. He had to move, to get back to town anyway he could. He attempted to take a deep breath before succumbing himself to the inevitable pain.

His first attempt at movement was to roll onto his left side. The pain registered in his mind instantly. He screamed at the agony that tortured him then lay on his side gasping for breath.

"Come on Ezra, you can do it."

"Just . . . give . . . me a . . . minute." His eyes were closed tightly together against the pain. He knew he had to keep moving, if he stopped now, he would never move again.

"Try sitting up."

"Well that's the . . . most obvious . . . move . . . isn't it." Ezra opened his eyes and looked at the smiling man before him. "You're enjoying . . . this . . . aren't . . . you."

"No Ezra, I'm not. Sit up!"

He lifted himself up onto his left elbow, a wave of nausea caused him to fall back onto his side. Ezra waited for it to pass then tried again. This time he succeeded. He paused in his movements for a few minutes before he continued. His next attempt would be to sit up. He pushed with his arms and felt the pain tear through his upper right arm but it didn't stop him. He knew there was a large rock behind him, it must have stopped his fall. But the barrier had caused considerable damage to his body.

Ezra continued to use his arms as much as he could. He felt the rock against his back and used his shoulders to help him move into a better position. Once he was there, he let out the breath he'd been holding. Now if only he could stand up. He wiggled his toes then tried to move his legs. His left leg froze in place when the knee erupted in pain.

"That . . . hurts." He told the man sitting on the rock.

"Don't let it stop you Ezra."

"How the hell . . . am I . . . supposed to walk . . . on that!" Once the initial pain was over it wasn't too bad. He had laid on the hard ground for how long he didn't know. It gave his muscles and injuries time to become stiff making the pain of movement even worse. He was sure that once he started walking the knee would improve. That's what he was hoping.

Now he had to stand up.

"Stand up Ezra."

It was as though the man had read his mind. But he had claimed to be him. If that were the case then he would know everything that he was thinking. He couldn't imagine having a discussion with himself. He had talked to himself before but he had never been answered by an image that claimed to be him. This was going to be hell. Maybe that's what he needed. He was stubborn enough to fight back and if fighting back meant walking back to town to shut himself up then he would do it. Now he was treating the image as though he was a real person. Maybe he was already in hell. That would explain everything. In that case, he should just stay where he was.

"Stand up Ezra."

"I'm standing!" Ezra retorted.

"No you’re not. Now get up!"

"If you . . . were real . . . I'd kill you!"

"Stand up and try."

Ezra knew the man would be smiling. In his own sick way, he was enjoying every moment of his suffering. This man could not be him. If he was then he was a very sick individual.

"Stand up Ezra."

"Can I have . . . a minute?"

"Stand up Ezra."

"Guess . . . that was . . . my answer."

He tried to relax his left leg to allow it to settle on the ground once more. He couldn't do it, the pain was too much. It overtook the amount of pain the rest of his body was feeling. He wasn't going to be able to make it back to town. He wouldn't be able to walk, he couldn't do it. He looked over at the man who was glaring at him. The expression was like his own. He looked away in shame. He was weak, a coward, the man was right. He was right.

"Stand up Ezra."

"I can't." More than anything, he wanted to stand up, walk over to the man sitting smugly on the rock and beat the expression off his face.

"Coward!"

Ezra pulled his right leg under him and put his weight onto it. There wasn't a lot of pain. He relaxed only slightly at the thought that the leg hadn't taken any serious damage. He held his breath and pushed himself upwards. Pain tore through his head and upper body. A tidal wave of nausea took control of him. He doubled over as his stomach began to empty itself.

"Don't sit down."

A sarcastic reply came to Ezra's mind but he didn't voice it. If the man were he then he would know what he wanted to say. There was no reply to his thoughts. It was over in a few minutes. He was grateful for that, he wouldn't have lasted much longer with the pain the vomiting was causing to his stomach, side and chest. From his position, he could see the swelling around his left knee.

"Aw hell." Was his only comment.

It had to be broken, smashed to pieces. The size of it and the amount of pain it was producing confirmed it. He wasn't going to be able to walk on it. But he had to try, if he didn't the man, watching him would nag him to death. He couldn't take that. He tried to put a little bit of weight on the knee to test it. It wasn't pure agony but it was close enough. He gritted his teeth and applied even more of his body weight on it. He screamed more in frustration than in pain.

"Nathan will take care of you."

"Nathan's . . . not here!" Ezra yelled at him.

"No but he's in Four Corners. Start walking."

"My knee . . . is broken . . . I can't . . . walk!" He didn't realise he was so stubborn. People always told him he was but now he was finding out for himself.

"You've got one good leg."

Ezra couldn't help but laugh at that statement. It was exactly what he would say. He was beginning to believe what this man had told him. They were the same person.

"You want . . . me to hop . . . all the way . . . back?"

"If that's what it takes. Yes."

"You couldn't . . . perhaps . . . carry me?"

"You know I can't."

Despair filled Ezra's mind. He wasn't going to be able to do this. He couldn't walk away from his death. He was destined to lay back down and let death take him. He straightened his back and his green eyes rested on the dark pair that looked back at him. He could see the sympathy there and pity. He didn't like the pity. It was something he had always hated.

"I wonder what Mr Larabee would be thinking right now."

Ezra grimaced in disgust. He knew exactly what that man was thinking. He was always thinking it and he had no right to. He didn't know Ezra Standish, didn't know what he was capable of doing for other people. He saw what was on the outside and believed that was the real Ezra Standish. He hadn't taken the time to get to know him better.

"You never gave him or the others the chance."

"What?"

"You never gave them a chance to get to know you so what do you expect from them."

"Who's side . . . are you on . . . anyway." Ezra was shocked.

This person was supposed to be him and he was taking the side of the enemy. This was wrong. As he leaned against the rock, resting his weight on his one good leg he began to think of what Chris would be thinking. Ezra didn't know how long he'd been lying at the base of the cliff but he knew it was long enough for Chris to start thinking that he wasn't coming back. Not because something had happened to him but because he had kept going, that he had run out on the group of men who had been hired to protect Four Corners. It was the last thing that Ezra would do.

"Yours. If you think about it Ezra you'll know that I'm right."

"I don't need to . . . think about . . . it. Chris Larabee doesn't trust . . . me or like me. None of them . . . do." Ezra could feel the sweat that stung his open wounds. He grimaced in pain.

"Can you blame them. You haven't given them a reason to like or trust you. You ran out on them once remember."

"I didn't run out on them . . . I hadn't planned on . . . staying . . . I only joined them . . . to get the gold . . . I went back . . . I've never done that . . . before." The Southerner explained to himself.

"It doesn't matter what you think Ezra. It matters to you what they think."

He was right. It was important to him what the other six men thought of him. It never bothered him that people thought that he was a liar and a cheat. It was even why he had been recruited in the first place. Larabee had thought that they might need a cheat, a liar who could lie his way out of almost anything. These personality traits had become useful to the group of lawmen. He had been able to use his skills to save other members of the team without them receiving any injuries to their person. But even then, they didn't seem to appreciate him or his skills.

"Start walking Ezra."

Ezra no longer had the mental strength to argue. He twisted himself around so his right hip was pressed against the rock. He rested his bounded hands on the rock for support and took one-step. His left leg managed to take some of his weight but he wasn't sure how he would go once he took his hands away from the supporting rock that was doing the job of his left leg for him. He tried another step. He was going to have to let go soon or he would just end up walking around in circles. Ezra lifted his hands up to his chest and took a step towards Four Corners.

He didn't fall flat on his face as he expected to. He actually managed to take a step. He took another and before he knew it, he was walking with a profound limp. The pain was already causing the sweat to run down his face in large droplets. Ezra could feel a stinging sensation on his right cheek. He lifted his hands to feel the moist skin and when he brought them up to his face, he could see the blood and dirt that covered them. He quickly wiped the sweat from his forehead to distract himself from the image. He knew what the dirt and blood that came from his face meant, any wounds that lined his features would become infected, if they weren't already. He looked over his shoulder to find the man following him. He instinctively stopped and waited for him. When the man reached his side, he continued to limp towards town.

"And you said you couldn't do it."

"I haven't done it yet." Ezra chanced a glance sideways at the man who claimed to be him. "Where did you come from?"

"In here."

Ezra watched as he tapped his head. The body language indicated that he came from Ezra's own head.

"My head?" Ezra questioned him.

"Yes."

"Why?"

"I don't know why. Perhaps you do."

"No."

Ezra stopped questioning him and concentrated on what he was doing. The pain he was feeling easily caused his mind to become confused. The last thing he wanted to do was to trip over his own feet. His body could do without the extra pain a fall would give him.

"I'm not going to make it." Ezra stated simply.

"Yes you will."

Ezra ignored him and took a quick look around to get his bearings. He needed to know where he was. He would first return to the stream that he had camped by. Water was what he needed, to drink and to clean his wounds. He could feel the pain in his leg worsening. He had only taken twelve steps; he'd counted them as he walked. If it was this bad after such a short distance, how was it going to be after one hour, one day, or two days. What if it took him a week to walk home. He believed he would be dead before then. He wouldn't be able to last that long.

"Keep going Ezra."

"I'm going . . . I'm going." Ezra grumbled.

"Do you want to talk. It will help keep your mind off the pain."

"I know a . . . lie when I hear one." He smiled at the man. Even though he was arrogant and stubborn, he instantly liked him. Maybe because the stranger understood him, knew what made him tick.

"It might help."

"And what am I . . . supposed to talk about?"

"Chris Larabee and the others."

"Why them?" Ezra had balked in his movements and jarred his knee. He gritted his teeth and waited for his body to collapse. It didn't. Maybe the knee wasn't as bad as it looked.

"You have unresolved issues with them that involve your past."

"Shoot me now." Ezra groaned.

"I'll do the talking then."

"Please do. Maybe we can stop and rest for a minute." He hoped.

"You only started."

"I'm the one in . . . pain here, agony actually. If I want . . . to stop and rest I will." Ezra growled at him.

"If you sit down now you won't get back up."

"I'll compromise with you . . . I'll stop every hour." he didn't want to argue so he hoped they could meet halfway.

"You haven't got a watch."

"I know why your here. Your meant to . . . torture me until I die. Or am I in hell now."

"No. I'm here because you want me here. Maybe you need help to get back home."

Ezra believed him. If it had been left to him he would still be lying where he fell, his hope fading at each sunset when no one had come to rescue him from his impending death.

"What if I don't want to go home." He put on his poker face and kept his eyes staring at the man who stood a short distance from him.

"Your poker face won't work with me. I know what you’re thinking. You want to go home, you just won't admit it to yourself."

"There is nothing to admit."

"Yes there is."

"I'm not going to argue with you about this!" Ezra stopped where he was and allowed his weight to flow onto his right leg.

"Keep walking Ezra."

"No. I need to rest." He looked around for a place to sit down so the pain in his body could leave him. Ezra knew it wouldn't but he was hoping for some reprieve from the pain. He began to walk towards a small group of trees in the distance. It took him longer than he expected. The pain made it seem as though time passed by as hours instead of minutes. The days would probably seem like weeks. His clothes were soaked with sweat and the cool breeze that moved through the trees didn't stop the heat from building within his sick body. He stopped and leaned against one of the smaller trees. He looked up at the moving branches and leaves that were green and full of life.

"Keep walking Ezra."

"I can't." Ezra admitted.

"You're not usually this weak."

Ezra didn't have anything to say. The words had shocked him. What he said was true, he had never been this weak. He had been in worse situations than this. And younger. As a child, he had been left in the care of violent relatives. The injuries he had now were nothing in comparison to the ones he'd received during one of the numerous beatings he had been given as a child. So why was he feeling as though he couldn't manage the simple task of walking to Four Corners. Maybe he didn't want to return. He carefully lowered himself to the ground and groaned in pleasure as the pain in his body eased slightly.

"Admit it Ezra."

"Is it going to be like this all the way back to town?"

"Yes."

"Well I don't want to talk about Mr Larabee or the others and there is nothing to admit." Ezra closed his eyes and leaned his head against the tree.

"You're lying."

If it were anyone else, Ezra would have attempted to get up to seek resolution for the remark spoken by the person before him. If this man really were himself then he would know that he was lying but he would never admit to anyone else that he was lying to protect his vulnerable side.

"Why should I talk to you about it. If you are who you say you are then you already know what I'm thinking."

"Who else are you going to talk to."

"There isn't anyone that I could talk to." Ezra told him. The sadness and loneliness came across in his voice.

Since a young age, he had to deal with his problems on his own. There was never anyone to help him, no one that he could talk to. It had made him too independent to seek out the help he required when he was in trouble. He never spoke to anyone about his problems, not even strangers. But now he had found six men in Four Corners. His stubborn independence stopped him from seeking them out and allowing them into his life.

"There are six men in Four Corners that you can talk to."

Ezra knew that. "I can't talk to them."

"You mean you won't talk to them."

"I told you that I don't want to talk about this."

The man disappeared from his sight. Ezra stared at the empty space, he was sure that he had gone mad.

His mind wasn't able to linger on the event that had confused him into thinking once again that he'd gone crazy, that his mind no longer worked as it should. His pain-ridden mind drifted off into darkness and rode a wave of delirious slumber. His nightmares were vivid. He was unaware of what was happening within his own mind and body. Pain didn't exist in his mind anymore, it was as though everything that happened had been a dream. He would wake up to a painful reality.

The night passed quickly without a change in the weather, it was as cold as it was dark. The sun rose to try to drive off the chill of the night. It would not succeed. Storm clouds began to drift across the sky to take control of the natural elements.

He woke up slowly as the pain drifted back into his mind. It broke the dreams apart and took control, finally making him aware of the serious situation that he was in. His eyes opened. The sight of his body before him elicited a groan of misery. He looked around in search of the man who claimed to be him. He saw him sitting to his left, the man was physically close to him. If he reached out he would be able to touch him, he didn't dare do it. He was afraid his hand would go straight through him. Was he actually a ghost.

"Am I dead?"

"No."

"You're a ghost then." This was hopefully a true statement, if it wasn't then it meant that he had really lost control of his mind. He was no longer sane.

"No. I am you."

"But how can you be?" Ezra was still confused. If this man really were him then wouldn't he know it.

"I don't know."

Ezra didn't want to look at him anymore so he looked down at his bloody hands. He hadn't even thought of trying to untie them the day before. Had it only been one day, he wasn't sure. He studied them carefully and decided not to bother trying to untie them today or even tomorrow. If he was still alive. The rope was caked with blood and mud, it was tight but not tight enough to cut off his blood circulation.

"You're not even going to try."

"You know I'm not good with knots." Ezra replied harshly.

He was angry at his hopeless situation. He hated Chris Larabee for sending him out here to be robbed of his only possessions and thrown over a cliff. There had been no real reason for him being out here, only Larabee's anger.

"Are you going to start walking."

"Don't start on me!" Ezra growled.

"If I don't you'll die here."

It was a simple statement that Ezra knew was true. He had to try, he had to get back to town even if it was only to make Chris Larabee pay for what he did. He would die later.

"It's not his fault."

"Yes it is." The anger and hatred was in evident in the Southern accent.

"Then what are you waiting for."


It was a challenge, Ezra knew it. Now he had to do something, he had to get up and start walking back to Four Corners. His attempt yesterday had been futile, he hadn't managed to lose sight of the rock that his body had collided with on his way down the cliff. Ezra tested his left knee, it was stiff but the pain wasn't as bad. Maybe he could do this after all. If he took it easy, he may even have the strength to kill Larabee when he made it back to town. He smiled as the images played in his mind.

He stood up using the same movements as he did the day before. The pain in his body had lessened considerably so he started walking. He grimaced as he put his weight on his injured knee. He didn't wait for the man to follow him. He now knew the direction he needed to take. He frowned when the sound of footsteps reached his ears. If the man wasn't real, why could he hear his footsteps. He turned his head around to look for him and quickly stepped sideways when he came face to face with him. His full weight fell onto his left leg and he cried out at the pain that travelled up his leg into his side. He shifted the weight back onto his good leg and hesitantly took a deep breath. A small gasp of air escaped from his mouth and he gave up the attempt to fill his lungs with the fresh air that taunted him. He began to take short quick breaths to ease the fear that was growing within him.

"You'll be okay Ezra."

"Yeah, I will be." But Ezra was doubtful, he had never felt a fear like this before, not even when he fell through the air after being thrown over the edge of the small cliff. "You know me, always able to take care of myself."

Right now, he wished he didn't have to. He wanted six men to come to his aid and take care of him, to assure him that he was going to be okay. He wanted someone to untie him and take care of his wounds. He needed, wanted the six men in Four Corners to help him. He needed the men he always denied he was getting close to, men that he wanted to call friends.

"Admit it Ezra."

"I don't need them." he lied to himself and the man who stood beside him.

"Yes you do and you know it."

Yes, he knew it but why was it so difficult for him to admit. He felt it in his heart and soul. He wanted to end the lifelong loneliness that he had felt. He needed friends and a place to call home, he wanted it more than anything did, more than life itself and now he was going to die without it. If he could finally admit it to himself then why couldn't he say it aloud. This man claimed to be him, it should be easy to say it to him but he couldn't. He was sure he would choke on the words if he tried but what stopped him was the fear of being rejected by them, what if they laughed at him, told him that he would never be considered as a friend. He would be hurt again, he didn't want that, he wouldn't be able to deal with the pain again.

When he first arrived in Four Corners he didn't believe it was a town he could stay in, it didn't look like it could become a home to him. He felt the same way about every town he had spent time in. But then Chris Larabee had hired him to help protect a small village. He had run out on the six men, something that he had done before but a feeling he had never felt during his twenty-eight years of life - a feeling of belonging - made him go back.

Then something happened. Chris Larabee gave him a second chance. He decided to follow the feeling and stay but things didn't really improve. The six men seemed to tolerate him, they ate with him, had conversations with him, played poker with him but each of them treated him differently than the way they treated each other. Every time he delved into his skills to get them out of trouble they would jump to the conclusion that he was being selfish and saving himself, then once he explained things were okay again. They shouldn't jump to conclusions, they should know him well enough by now to know that he was doing it to protect them. He knew it was a lack of trust, he couldn't really blame them, he thought time would change the way they felt about him and he thought their attitude towards him was beginning to change. That was until the night Chris Larabee's anger changed everything.

"Tell him when you get back."

"Tell him what?"

"What really happened on that night."

"He wouldn't listen when I tried to tell him after it happened and he won't listen to me if I get back." His first attempt to explain what happened fell on deaf ears and it wasn't only Larabee who wouldn't listen to him. He didn't try a second time.

"He'll listen to you."

"I don't think so."

"You know his anger controls him, you need to give him time to calm down."

"He shouldn't have been angry in the first place." Ezra retorted. "I didn't do anything wrong. He assumed it was my fault without hearing my side of the story."

"Explain that to him when you get back."

"If I get back." Ezra muttered under his breath.

"You'll get back."

He had to stop, the pain was becoming too intense for him to go on. Putting weight on his left knee had become unbearable. He knew he wasn't far from the stream that he wanted to use to clean his wounds; he wasn't so sure about drinking it anymore. He couldn't go any further.

"You need to rest."

"I know."

"Then stop."

Ezra did as he was told. He wasn't use to following orders. He knew that his stubbornness was sometimes the reason for Larabee's anger but not that night. The leader had jumped to a conclusion, the blame and anger had been aimed at the gambler when it should have been placed elsewhere. Ezra's anger grew at the memory of that night's events. He started to walk again, his anger urging on him.

It was a mistake, his injured leg couldn't take anymore. It collapsed beneath him and he fell to the ground withering in pain. He waited for the man to show his concern but none was voiced. He waited a few minutes then rolled onto his side. He awkwardly used his hands to wipe away the tears of pain then opened his eyes. The man was not in front of him, he twisted his neck then upper body to look for him but he was no longer there. Ezra allowed his head to fall to the ground. He sighed and could hear the sound of defeat in his own voice.

He closed his eyes and hoped the men in Four Corners didn't accuse him of running out on them again, he didn't want to go to his grave a coward. He wanted people to remember him, to say something at his funeral. He knew they wouldn't find his body because they won't come looking for him. Darkness closed around his mind and shut out the disturbing thoughts.


________________________________________

He could feel the warmth against his face and the chill that racked his body. His handsome features frowned in confusion. How could he be warm and cold at the same time. Nathan would know but he wasn't here to help him. He moved onto his back and looked up into the blue sky. His mind thought of the other times that Nathan had taken care of his injuries, he was sure it was only because of his healing instincts, his need to help people. That was why he refused his help but Nathan continued to heal him. Ezra was a Southerner and Nathan Jackson had once been a slave, their backgrounds and upbringing had ruined any chance of a solid and true friendship. He didn't care about any of that now. He needed Nathan's help and he knew he would openly admit it, he would admit anything right now.

"Then admit it."

Ezra's body jerked in surprise and he let out a grunt of pain.

"I need them." A tear rolled down his face and dropped to the ground beside him. The dirt hungrily soaked it up and it disappeared as though it had never existed.

"Then get up and go to them."

"Now?" Ezra gasped.

"Yes."

Ezra had no idea how he was going to manage to get up, there was no support for him to use to his advantage. He continued to lie where he was while the fear began to build within him.

"Get up Ezra."

"Why can't you help me?"

"Because I'm not real."

"You keep saying that."

"Get up and start walking."

"You keep saying that too." Ezra couldn't help but smile, he knew the expression wouldn't last, it was going to be replaced by a visage full a pain.

He had to do it, there was no use putting it off any longer. He rolled over onto his right side and using his hands as support, he pushed himself up into a sitting position. His face grew tight as the pain began to show on his features. He couldn't stop now, he had to keep going. He pulled his right leg up under him and kept his left leg straight out in front of him. It was going to take balance that he wasn't sure he had. He pushed up and put his weight on his right leg then stood up. It was difficult but he had managed to do it. He hopped around on his good leg for a few seconds before gaining his balance.

"You did it."

"Just." he wasn't sure if he would be able to do it again.

"Let's get going."

"It's we now is it." Ezra raised a blood-dried eyebrow at him.

"It's always been we, we're the same person remember."

"How could I forget." he wasn't sure though. The man didn't look like him or dress like him. The only similarity between them was the Southern accent.

He put some weight on his knee and grimaced at the pain the movement brought him, his hope was fading fast.

"You'll get home Ezra. I'll make sure you do."

"Do you have a name?"

"No."

"Do you want one?"

"No."

"Yes you do, you just won't admit it." Ezra repeated the words the man had used often.

"Touché."

"Couldn't have put it better myself."

"Shall we?"

"Why not." he could see the stream in the distance, it would probably take a while to get there.

It was just over half a day’s ride to Four Corners but he no longer had a horse. To walk the distance with a bad leg was going to take a lot longer. Maybe a lifetime. The man who walked beside him was determined to get him there and Ezra was going to let him take his life into his hands. If anyone could get him home this man could and would. He hoped.





Part One | Part Two


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