azombiewrites: (The Magnificent Seven)
[personal profile] azombiewrites
Title: Delayed Reactions
Seventeenth story in 'The Continuing Ezra Standish Saga'
Rating: PG
Warnings: Bad writing ahead!
Fandom: The Magnificent Seven
Genre: Hurt/Comfort
Summary: Ezra receives a head injury but does not suffer from the symptoms until hours later causing him to be placed in a dangerous situation that nearly costs him his life.
Main Characters: Ezra, and the rest of the seven.
Disclaimers: The guys are owned by CBS, MGM, Trilogy Entertainment Group, and The Mirisch Corp.
Beta: Not betaed – written in the early days when I didn’t know what the words grammar and edit meant. *is ashamed but no longer care*
Notes: Seventeenth story in the ‘Continuing Ezra Standish Saga’.
Spoilers: None.
Total Word Count: 24,715

The sun began to drive the darkness away allowing a new day to dawn in Four Corners; the light invaded the homes of the town's occupants, forcing them from their beds to begin another day in their lives. Some were grateful for the early intrusion while others were not, they muttered abusively at the light that coerced its way into their minds causing their moods to become sombre.

One of the present occupant's of the healer's clinic had already woken while it was still dark so he was not affected by the light of day as it ventured through the window into the small room. The larger man rose from his seat, placed his hands on his lower back and stretched the morning stiffness out before he made his way to the window, he drew the fine cottoned curtain across it, cutting off the direct sunlight. The weakened light still managed to force its way through the material as though it intended to awaken the sleeping occupant that was in the large bed.
The man quietly walked back to the chair that faced the person that lay unmoving underneath the heavy bedcover that had been placed back over him only hours before. The smaller man in the bed had thrown it off after suffering another one of his recurring nightmares, which the man in the chair could do nothing to stop.

He sat back down in the chair and froze when it screamed in protest, when no movement came from the bed he melted into the chair allowing himself to slide further down into it so he could lean his head against the back of the seat. He began to tire and he felt his eyes begin to close and quickly opened them again. Even when he wasn't taking his turn sitting with the gambler, he didn't sleep because he was too busy worrying about his friend, it had been two weeks since the potion had left his system but it had taken time before he got his strength back and now he was having nightmares again. He silently wondered if his friend would ever have the peaceful life that he so well deserved.
He looked up at the door to the clinic when he saw the small splinter of light fall across the room and onto the bed revealing the pale face that was ignorant to the waking world, the light didn't last long as it withdrew quickly when the door was closed against it. The dark clad gunslinger walked into the room, his eyes first taking in the still form in the bed and then the quiet man in the chair.

"How did he sleep last night Josiah?" Chris whispered because he didn't want to wake the man that was still sleeping.

Josiah didn't answer him, he just shook his head, it was a small movement that told the gunslinger what he needed to know. Ezra hadn't slept well. Chris inwardly sighed and looked into Josiah's concerned eyes knowing that they mirrored what his own eyes were showing. He walked to the second chair that was in the room and sat down heavily, wincing at the sound that he had made.

The light began to shine more brightly within the room and there was nothing that Josiah could do to allow the darkness to stay so Ezra could continue his much-needed slumber. He got up out of the chair a second time and moved towards the bed, he looked down at the now peaceful expression on Ezra's face and gently pulled the cover up hiding the slack features from the advancing light, hoping that it would keep the intruder away just a bit longer.


Ezra could feel himself leaving the dark peaceful void that he was finally able to use to hide from his dreams, nightmares though was the more appropriate term. He didn't want to leave the reprieve that it gave him, he tried to stay as long as he could but his grip wasn't strong enough, it pushed him away as the darkness behind his eyes grew lighter. He also knew that if he did wake up he would have to face the real world again; he was finding it difficult to get through the daylight hours because his waking world was just as bad as his nightmares.

Ezra had listened as his friends tried to convince him that it wasn't his fault and that he shouldn't feel guilty about what happened but he couldn't stop the blame or the guilt from weighing heavily on his mind and he in turn tried to convince Buck that he was not to blame. Neither party succeeded in their attempts to alleviate the blame and guilt that the two were feeling.

The gambler squeezed his eyes tighter but the light was still there, he sighed and opened them, but the weight of a sleepless night caused them to close again. He was glad that Nathan was finally allowing him to go back to his own room, the curtains that covered his window were heavy and they did a more proficient job of blocking out the morning light than the flimsy material that covered the clinic's window.

His eyes opened again after a few more minutes and this time they stayed open. He looked up at the blanket that was causing his lungs to take in stale air; he threw the heavy blanket off and took in a deep breath, enjoying the fresh air as it replaced the stale air in his lungs.

"Morning Ezra." Josiah didn't bother trying to hide the concern that he felt, he knew Ezra could read people and he would see the concern no matter how hard he tried to hide it.

"Josiah." Ezra rubbed the sleep out of his eyes and then pushed himself up into a sitting position; this was when he noticed that Chris was also in the room watching him. "Chris."

"Ezra." Was all Chris could say, he saw the dark circles under his friends eyes that were caused by his lack of sleep.

Ezra hid a yawn behind his hand and leant his head against the headboard, he was comfortable with the silence that was in the room and hoped that the others were also because he didn't want to talk. It was too early in the morning to do anything.

"You want some breakfast Ezra?" Josiah broke the silence that had filled the room.

"Josiah, you know I don't eat this early in the day." Ezra reminded him.

"Coffee then?" He tried again, he constantly tried to get Ezra to eat something, he didn't eat enough lately. He took Ezra's smile as a yes. "I'll go get some then." He stood up, walked to the bed, and again looked down at Ezra but this time he looked into the green eyes. "You sure you don't want anything to eat Ezra?"

"I'm sure Josiah. Just coffee thanks." Ezra watched as the quiet preacher frowned down at him. "Don't worry, I'll eat some lunch later." He saw the doubt in the eyes. "Honest, I'll eat something later."

"Promise me." Josiah smiled wickedly at him.

"Promise." Ezra agreed.

Josiah smiled down at him and rubbed the top of Ezra's head with his hand. "You want coffee too Chris?"

"Sure why not." Chris couldn't help but notice the expression on Ezra's face when Josiah had rubbed his head in a fatherly fashion, he was grateful that Josiah didn't see it. The scowl wasn't pleasant. They all knew that Josiah had become a lot closer to Ezra because of what had happened over the last month that he now hoped that he could be the father figure that Ezra had never had but Chris wasn't so sure that Ezra wanted a father figure.

Josiah left the room that was once again in silence and shut the door behind him. Chris turned his gaze from the closing door to the quiet man in the bed.

"You know he's only trying to help you don't you Ezra?"

"I know Chris but he's going into a direction that I don't want or need at the moment."

"Want me to talk to him?" Chris didn't really want to but they wanted things to be easy for Ezra, he didn't need any more complications in his life.

"No, once I'm out of this bed things will be easier; he won't feel the need to smother me when I'm back on my feet."

"You hope." Chris saw Ezra's confusion. "Your nightmares, they're still worrying him and the rest of us Ezra." Chris said with concern.

"Yeah well, they sort of have me worried too but I can't get them to stop." Ezra looked down at his hands as he began to fidget. "What I did to everyone keeps going over and over in my mind, except in my dreams I do more."

"It wasn't your fault Ezra." Chris told him again, he'd forgotten how many times he had told him this, they all had but it didn't help him. Chris waited for him to change the subject but he didn't.

"I know that Chris but it doesn't stop me from feeling guilty about hurting Casey and Josiah and that man I nearly killed." He lifted his head and saw Chris's blues staring at him, he saw the understanding and concern that they held.

"What if I had killed them Chris, what then?"

"But you didn't Ezra so you shouldn't even be thinking about that, you should be dealing with what did happen, not what could have happened."

"I can't stop thinking about what I could have done Chris, it's all I think about." Ezra lowered his eyes again as he felt the guilt and shame flow through him. "I haven't even dealt with what happened with my Aunt and Uncle, now I have to deal with this as well. It's too much."

Chris stood up, walked to the bed, and sat down next to his troubled friend. "It's not too much when you let your friends help you Ezra."

"Thanks Chris."

"That's what friends . . ."

"I mean for everything Chris, you and the rest of the guys have done a lot for me. No one else has ever gone to the trouble to help me as you guys do; no one ever cared about me before I came here. I wasn't use to it, I couldn't accept, I pushed you all away but instead of letting me do that you just pushed back and I'm really grateful for it Chris."

"I had my own moments though Ezra, I didn't treat you right, I mistrusted you, didn't like you for a while but you changed and we saw the man that was inside, the one that always wanted to get out but the habits that your mother taught you stopped him but your here now and were also grateful for that. You’re a good man Ezra and I'm glad to call you a friend, hell, family even."

"Thanks Chris."

"You're welcome Ezra." Chris smiled at him. "So does this mean we should hug now?"

Ezra couldn't help himself, he leaned forward and gave Chris a hug, he felt the warmth of his body and the beating of his heart, he enjoyed the comfort and was no longer going to refuse it when it was offered. He thought of the hugs that his mother gave him and they now felt cold to him, as though it was something that she had to do, he never felt her warmth or her heartbeat. He didn't realise that a real hug could mean so much to him.

"Thanks Chris." Ezra said for a third time, he didn't think he could say it enough, he didn't think that these men would truly know what they had done for him, what it all meant to him. For the first time in his life, he felt as though he had a home and a family who cared for him. And he liked it.


Josiah made his way down the steps that led away from the clinic, his heavy footsteps imitating how his heart felt. He reached the bottom of the stairs and turned his pale eyes back up towards the clinic door as though he could see the tortured soul that was hidden behind it. He couldn't stop the memory of Ezra's nightmare from repeating in his own mind, he could still hear the guilt in his words, he remembered the fear that revealed itself in his breathing when he thought that he had killed Casey. The tears had fallen from Ezra's eyes once more at the thought of hurting the man who had done so much to help him deal with his past.

He wanted to do more for Ezra but knew he couldn't push him; he would have to tread carefully where the gambler was concerned. Ezra had changed a lot over the last month, he now fully accepted their friendship, their concern and most of all their touch but he didn't want to push his friend to far, he didn't want to take him into a direction that he wasn't yet sure, that he wanted to go. Josiah wanted to know about Ezra's father but decided to wait for an opportunity to bring the subject up in conversation; he knew that now wasn't the right time for it.

The ex-preacher walked the short distance to the saloon knowing that Vin and Buck would be there with the coffee already made, he could feel the strength of the sun as its warmth beat down on him, proving that it was going to be another warm day. Josiah returned the greetings that he received from the townsfolk and smiled at those who just scowled at him, their mood sombre because of the early morning, Ezra wasn't the only person in Four Corners who hated getting up at the same time as the ascending sun.

He knew the residents of Four Corners were curious as to what had happened to the local gambler but a real explanation hadn't been given to them yet. Young Ricky Blair had done his best to help Ezra, he had told his friends that Mr Standish had stopped a man from beating him and they went home to repeat the story to their mothers, the gossip was then spread through town but it hadn't answered the question of why he had hit Josiah Sanchez.

Josiah pushed opened the saloon doors and allowed them to swing shut behind him, he stood in the doorway for a moment and looked around the near empty room until his gaze fell upon the faces staring back at him. He made his way along the unswept floor to the table, which seated his friends. Lamps had been lit to make the corner of the room brighter; the sun was yet to reach the area where they were sitting. As he got closer to the table, the false light exposed the concerned expressions the other four hired lawmen held.

"Ezra sleep alright?" The usually quiet bounty hunter asked Josiah as he sat down in the empty chair that Vin had pulled up for him.


Buck Wilmington who was sitting on Vin's right, a warm cup of coffee occupying his hands, nodded in understanding. He hadn't been sleeping to well himself lately. He had his own nightmares but he wasn't going to tell the others about them, they had to take care of Ezra first, when they had done that then he would talk to either Chris or Josiah about his own dreams.

Josiah looked over at Buck, he noticed as his eyes took on a distant look before they turned away from him. "What about you Buck? Did you sleep okay?"

Buck choked on his coffee, much too young JD's amusement. JD slapped him on the back, harder than what was actually necessary but stopped his hand in mid air when Buck glared at him, he hadn't found it amusing. He wiped the spilt coffee out of the moustache that his upper lip held and stared back at Josiah. "I slept fine. Why?"

"Buck we have only just managed to get Ezra to open up; I don't want you to take his place." Josiah leaned forward, placing his arms on the table in front of him. "We know that you’re having nightmares too."

"Okay, I am but we can talk about it later, take care of Ezra first." He thought they didn't know about his dreams and was shocked to find that they did. "Does Ezra know? I don't want him worrying about me, he has enough to deal with."

"No he doesn't Buck." Josiah allowed the concern to show through his voice. "But he will, you won't be able to hide it from him."

"I know, I know." Buck rubbed his tired eyes with his hand and then drank from his still steaming cup hoping that the warm liquid would drive away the tiredness that he was feeling.

"Maybe you could talk to each other about your dreams." Josiah suggested.

"I'll think about it Josiah but somehow I don't think my dreams could compare to what Ezra's going through."

"You sound just like Ezra, Buck." JD flinched back from Buck as he leaned towards him with an expression that told him to shut up but he continued with his large smile and friendly jibes to lighten the mood of the small group of men.

"Stubborn, moody, stubborn."

"JD you forgot to mention stubborn." Vin added.

"Yeah well, he learnt from the best." Buck smiled.

"His mother." JD chuckled.

"Is there any coffee left?" Josiah asked the group. "Ezra and Chris want some."

"What about breakfast?" Nathan frowned at him. He had stayed quite during the conversation but his instinct to help others was brought to the surface when Josiah voiced his question. He had been able to force Ezra to eat when he was in a weakened state but it had become more difficult as the man became stronger. He had begun to refuse to eat breakfast, even lunch, he had gone most days without eating until the evening and even then, it wasn't a lot.

"Sorry Nathan but he didn't want any."

"We'll see about that! I am tired of trying to help that man only to have him throw it back in my face." Nathan stood up but Josiah grabbed his arm.

"Take it easy Nathan, he promised me that he would eat something for lunch." Josiah said soothingly as he tried to calm the healer down.

"No I won't take it easy." Nathan growled. "Ezra would have been out of that bed days ago if he had eaten more. Why can't I get it through his stubborn head that it's for his own good? Why won't he listen to me?" Nathan threw his hands up in the air, showing the agitation that he felt towards the gambler and stormed out of the saloon.

The remaining members of the group sat in silence, the only sound being made by the still swinging saloon doors that Nathan had slammed against the wall on his way out. They watched the doors until they stopped their forced movement, no longer showing the anger that the healer had felt, the silence and tension in the room became thick enough to slice. Josiah coughed and the others looked towards the reason for the silence being broken.

"Guess I'll go make that coffee now." Josiah told them as he rose from his chair, he took his time though because he didn't want to be in the clinic while Nathan was still angry.


Nathan made it the bottom of the stairs, he stopped and looked up at the door, he began to pace back and forth muttering to himself, the heat already causing the sweat to run down his back. He didn't want to be angry when he spoke to Ezra, he had to be calm, if he were angry, Ezra would become even more stubborn and then talk his way out of it with him agreeing to every word the gambler said. He had to stay on top of the situation or he would lose, again.
He ignored the amused looks that his rambling received from the townsfolk who were passing by, the main street was becoming crowded as more people rose from their beds. He finally stopped his pacing, took a deep breath while he stared at the wooden door and then calmly walked up the stairs and entered the clinic that he called home.


Ezra had removed himself from Chris's warm embrace and leant back down against the bed head, he could still feel the heart-warming feeling that it gave him and he held onto it as long as he could. It was a feeling that he had never had before, it was a feeling of friendship, of family and he now welcomed it with open arms. When it finally began to fade from his soul, he looked back up at Chris and smiled, the dimples that made his appearance even more handsome forming on his pale face.

The smile instantly dropped from the gambler's face though as the light once again invaded the room through an opened doorway, he looked up to see Nathan's angry form silhouetted within the doorframe, making an interesting contrast to the light making its way around him. He knew that something was wrong, the expression on Nathan's face told him this, anger showed in his eyes. Ezra looked across at Chris hoping that he was going to protect him against Nathan's wrath but his expression told him that he was on his own.

Nathan moved to the bed and sat down, his eyes never straying from Ezra's confused gaze. He smiled at him and watched as the confusion grew.

"Chris could you please go and get Ezra some breakfast." Nathan kept his eyes on Ezra as he spoke, he saw Ezra's mouth open to speak but it was quickly shut again.

"Anything special Ezra?" Chris didn't even try to hide the amusement that he was feeling.

"I don't want anything." Ezra finally found the voice that had left him only moments before.

"You eat or you don't leave here today!" Nathan growled down at him. He felt relief when there was no show of fear in his friend’s eyes at the thought of having to stay in the clinic longer. Ezra now knew that he had no intentions of hurting him or keeping him longer than was necessary, the fear of being shut in the clinic had finally left him, Nathan only wished that the stubbornness that the gambler had would also leave but he knew that wouldn't happen, it was a personality trait that would stay with him.

"I'm not hungry Nathan." Ezra stated simply.

"You're not hungry because you don't eat, you no longer have an appetite. I've had enough of you ignoring my orders Ezra. Don't you realise that I am only trying to help you? To make you feel better so you can leave here?" He raised his hands and pointed them at the man who lay in the bed before him. "Look at you, your pale, your losing weight, all because you won't listen to me Ezra!"

Ezra's eyes moved to the humorous expression on Chris's face back to the one of anger on Nathan's. "But I'm not hungry."

"Didn't you just listen to a word I said?" Nathan was dumfounded and his face betrayed his inner feelings.

"Yes I did Nathan and I'm grateful for everything you have done but I'm just not hungry."

Nathan knew that he was fighting a losing battle. "Why do I even bother?"

"Because you care Nathan." Ezra smiled at him.

"But you don't do you Ezra because if you did you would do what I ask of you." Nathan continued the fruitless battle.

"Of course I do Nathan." Ezra frowned at him, he was confused by the healer's words.

"Then why won't you do what I tell you?" Nathan was becoming more and more frustrated.

"Call it stubborn pride Nathan." Ezra shrugged at him.

"What! Stubborn pride! Do you know how many times I saved your sorry behind . . . " Nathan allowed his mouth to stay hanging open as the laughter spread to his ears. "This isn't funny, I'm trying to be serious here. You are just going to make yourself sick Ezra." He turned his angry gaze towards their leader. "Chris you’re not helping!"

"I'm sorry Nathan but you should know by now that that part of Ezra is never going to change." He wiped the smile off his face when Nathan's anger was literally thrown in his direction.

"If he gets sick then you can look after him, he can stay in your room and you can deal with him!" Nathan stood up and after giving Ezra and Chris one final glare, he walked out the room, slamming the door closed behind him.

"You don't think he means that do you Ezra?" Chris asked him.

"Chris, you sound worried." Ezra looked across at him and then back at the door at a third interruption. Josiah stepped through with a pot of coffee and three cups in his hand.

"Nearly lost this on the way up, I take it things didn't go to well with Nathan?" Josiah asked the two men. Nathan had nearly knocked him off his feet on his back down the stairs, Josiah had smiled at the obscenities that the normally patient healer had aimed at the gambler who was not within earshot of his angry words.

"I'm fine, Chris is the one in trouble." Ezra laughed at him.

Josiah's smile grew at Ezra's laughter, it was the first time he had heard it in three weeks. "And why is Chris in trouble?" He asked as he moved forward to hand them each a cup and then fill it with hot coffee.

"Nathan said that I had to look after him if he got sick again." Chris leaned back in his chair, making sure that he didn't spill any of the coffee that Josiah had just poured into the cup and quietly tried to work a way out the situation that he had gotten himself into.

"Said that I had to stay with him." Ezra added.

"He does have a point Ezra." Josiah took on a serious tone, he looked at the poor appearance of his friend, he knew that the paleness of his skin had a lot to do with not being out in the fresh air for the last three weeks.

"I know Josiah." Ezra's face equalled Josiah's but then he allowed the mischievous smile to cross his features. "But I just can't help myself."

Josiah rolled his eyes. "Drink your coffee Ezra and then we'll walk you back to your room. That is if you’re still allowed to leave."


Ezra walked into the saloon and smiled at his friends who greeted him from a table in the corner, he was about to make his way towards them when Nathan came forward and grabbed his arm, the healer ignored his heated protests as he was dragged upstairs to his room. Ezra had struggled in his grip but because the healer was larger and he was still in a weakened state there was nothing he could do. He constantly looked behind for Josiah and Chris for their help but he only saw the smiles that they shared at his predicament.

Nathan pushed him through into his room and then sat him down heavily on his bed. Ezra's feeble attempt to get up again was easily stopped when he was forced back down. Nathan looked at Chris. "He's your responsibility now, you take care of him, I've had enough!" For the third time in a day, Nathan left a room in a huff, his anger though was slow to follow, it hung in the air as though it was waiting for the apology that its owner wanted.

Ezra shook himself out of his shocked state and then smiled up at his friends. "Gentlemen, how about I gather together some clean clothes, have a bath and then return to this fine establishment for a pleasant game of chance."

"Bed!" Chris ordered him and then followed Nathan out of the room before Ezra could talk his way out of it.

"Josi . . . "

"Don't look at me Ezra." Josiah smiled down at him and patted his shoulder. "I'll come back later with some lunch."

"Just great." Ezra muttered as he watched Josiah leave his room.

Ezra's eyes travelled around the now empty but familiar room, he looked at the rocking chair that sat in front of the only window and a frown crossed his handsome features. He stood up and walked to the dresser, he hesitated only a moment before pulling the top drawer open. His eyes fell upon the dry bloodied cards that he had hidden there, he turned his eyes to the chair and then back again as the memory of what he had done to himself come back, he had remembered almost everything. Ezra had been amazed when he was told about the two occasions that he had found the sounds of someone's footsteps fascinating but when they asked him how he hurt his arm, he couldn't tell them. Now he knew. He picked up the cards that were now stained a dark brown and sat back down in the rocking chair, his
eyes never leaving the group of cards that now lay in his lap.

Ezra couldn't tear his troubled green eyes from the sight before him, he lifted his left arm and pulled back the white sleeve revealing the faint scars crisscrossing his arm that had been hidden by the light material. Ezra remembered how he didn't feel any pain as he ran the sharp cornered cards across his arm, allowing the blood to flow from the newly broken skin. He felt sickened to his stomach at what he had done, he had not only hurt others, he had also hurt himself. For the first time in two weeks he needed and wanted a drink, he was hesitant though, Nathan had told him that the potion was no longer in his system and he knew that he could now partake in his usual libations if he wished to but he wasn't confident that it wouldn't affect him somehow.

His thoughts were interrupted by a knock at the door, he ignored it, the owner of the hand that rapped on the bedroom door persisted. He continued to ignore it but the door was quietly opened, he listened as the footsteps came closer and then felt the firm but gentle pressure that was placed on his shoulder. He didn't look up to see who it was, he knew by the touch, he watched as the hand picked up one of the cards that was on his lap and then as the figure placed itself in his line of vision. He could no longer ignore Josiah as he now squatted down in front of him, he had used his large hand to gently lift his head so he could look into his eyes.

"Did you use these to cut your arm Ezra?" Josiah asked him, he barely felt the nod that Ezra gave him but the emotion clouded his green eyes.

When Josiah hadn't received an answer to his request to enter the room he opened the door expecting to find Ezra asleep in his bed. He had frowned when he saw that the bed was empty, he saw Ezra's outline in the rocking chair and he moved towards it, placing the tray of food on the bed as he passed it. His own heart became even heavier when he saw the stained cards, he knew it was blood and that they were the instrument with which Ezra had used to inflict the injury to his arm.

"I sat here and used each one until they wouldn't cut anymore." His eyes became even more clouded as they filled with tears. "Why did I do that Josiah? Why did I do any of it?"

"It was the potion Ezra." Josiah tried to reassure him.

"Nathan was right, I don't listen to him, I don't do what he tells me, I don't care." He blinked and the tears fell from his eyes. "If I had done what he told me to do none of it would have happened. I drank alcohol when he asked me not to. It's my fault that it happened. I should have done as I was told."

"It's not your fault Ezra." He took his face in his hands and used his thumbs to wipe the tears from Ezra's face.
Ezra pulled Josiah's hands away. "Yes it is, it's no one else's fault. It happened because I drank when I was told not to. The potion wouldn't have done any of it without the alcohol."

"Ezra what is it going to take to convince you that it wasn't your fault? I don't blame you, neither does Casey or Nathan."

"There's nothing you can do Josiah." Ezra allowed his wet gaze to fall to the cards once again. "Nathan was right. It's my fault because I didn't do as I was told."

"Ezra! It's not your fault." The anger and frustration showed in Josiah's voice, more at his own failure to convince his friend that he wasn't responsible for what happened.

"Josiah could you go away please."

"Ezra I . . . "

"Please Josiah, just go away."

Josiah hung his head as his own tears threatened to fall, he gathered the cards into his hand and then left Ezra alone with his troubled thoughts. He closed the door shutting off the sound of Ezra's tears but he couldn't get the tortured sound out of his mind.


The saloon was becoming crowded with the lunchtime regulars, a game of poker had started at the card table, the chair at the head of the table was kept empty in respect to the town's resident gambler and protector whom they knew would be returning shortly. They didn't fail to take the opportunity though to have a game of chance where the players were equal and everyone had a chance of winning.

The five hired gunmen still sat at their own table in the corner of the saloon watching the familiar faces as they carried out their normal everyday routines. The lamps had been extinguished now that the noon sun had finally reached all the way into the saloon. Nathan continued to look up at the stairs expecting the soft spoken preacher to come back with the tray of food that he had taken up to Ezra, he didn't expect the gambler to keep the promise that Josiah had told him about.

Chris smiled at him each time his dark eyes turned towards the stairs and then back again. All eyes looked up as they heard Josiah at the top of the stairs, their eyes reflecting the smiles that grew on their faces when they saw that he was empty handed. Josiah saw the smiles and knew they would be short lived, he walked slowly to the table with his head still down, the sound of Ezra's emotional turmoil still echoing in his mind, it was a sharp contrast to his laughter that had filled the clinic hours earlier.

"Well?" Nathan asked him when he reached the table.

"Well what?" Josiah answered him a little too harshly.

"Is he eating?" Nathan asked again.

"No he's not." Josiah pulled out a chair and sat down heavily in it, he rubbed his eyes with a shaking hand.

Everyone looked across at Nathan as though they expected him to rise from his chair and storm up to the gambler's room to force him to eat the lunch that he promised he would eat.

"Don't look at me, look at Chris. Ezra is his responsibility now, he can go and make him eat!" Nathan growled, as he hid his concern behind his anger, he knew that Ezra would not keep his promise, it was just typical of the man who always managed to talk his way out of anything.

Expressions of amusement then turned to the dark clad gunslinger, no one had noticed the forlorn expression that Josiah held while he sat silently listening to the conversation that the other men held. Chris sunk lower in his chair, he hadn't been able to work a way out of this uncomfortable predicament, he couldn't con people like Ezra, he could threaten them but not con them. He gave Nathan a cold stare but the smiling healer didn't flinch.

"Alright, I'm going." Chris stood up, pushing his chair away in frustration, he respected the patience that Nathan had with Ezra but the gambler had finally pushed him too far. It was one thing looking after Ezra when he was sick and weak but another when he was getting better. His stubbornness was enough to push the most patient person to the edge of their limit, it usually came to the point when all you wanted to do was hit him, he knew Nathan wouldn't do that but he was afraid that he would.

"Don't Chris." Josiah simply stated in a tone that froze the group's leader where he stood.

"Why not?" Nathan asked him.

"Because he's upset Nathan."

"What do you mean he's upset?" Chris sat back down in his chair. "He was in a good mood this morning, he was even joking around." He leaned forward. "What happened? You didn't say anything about his . . ."

"No." Josiah cut him off. "It was something Nathan said and these." The cards were scattered across the table, everyone's eyes falling to the dry bloody mess before them. "Ezra remembered what he did, he said that he used them until they wouldn't do anymore. The whole pack, he used all of them."

The silence hung in the air around the table like a shroud, each member of the group realising what it meant. Nathan lifted his eyes from the card that he had picked up and looked at Josiah, he could see the emotion in his eyes.

"What did I say to upset him Josiah?" There was no anger in his voice, only understanding.

"He fully blames himself for what happened because he didn't do what he was told." Josiah picked up one the cards, the seven of spades and turned it around in his hand, his eyes taking in the single ace that was not covered by the brown stain. "He thinks it all happened because he didn't do what you told him to do and that was not to drink."

"But I was the one who started it all, if anyone is to blame, it's me." Buck argued.

"Ezra believes otherwise Buck, he thinks that if he did as he was told the potion wouldn't have done what it did." Josiah threw the card back onto the table to join the others.

"It's not his fault." Buck continued.

"We know that Buck but I just can't convince Ezra." Josiah sighed. "I don't seem to be able to do anything to convince him that it's not his fault."

"I'm going to talk to him." Buck stood up from the table.

"He wants to be alone Buck." Josiah told him. "Besides what makes you think that he'll talk to you, he wouldn't even talk to me."

"I don't care if he wants to be alone." Buck growled. "I'm going to tell him that he's not to blame and he's going to listen to me even if I have to force it down his throat." Buck walked away from the table and made his way through the crowded room, ignoring the looks that were thrown at him by the customers who spilt their drinks when he forced them out of his way.

"I better go with him, make sure that he doesn't say anything that he's going to regret." Chris informed the others as he raised himself from his own chair.

Four pairs of concerned eyes turned from Buck's retreating back to Chris, the heads nodded in understanding and watched the man who had had to deal with his own personal hell follow his lifelong friend up the stairs to the gambler's room to help their friend who was now being tortured by his own guilt.


Ezra sat in the chair, his head leaning back as his eyes looked up at the card that he held in his right hand in front of his face. When Josiah had collected the cards, together he had hidden the ace of spades from him and now he stared at it, unable to tear his gaze away from the small object that he had used to cause so much damage to his arm. His eyes finally moved to the pale lines on his skin and back to the card again, he screwed it up in his fist and threw into the corner of the room. He leaned his head back against the chair and closed his eyes as he felt the lack of sleep that he had the night before beginning to fall over his lethargic form. His eyes flew open at the sound of the door to his bedroom being slammed open, the noise invaded his mind just as the light had that morning, it was only a matter of seconds before he saw the source of the intrusion.

Buck didn't even bother knocking, he opened the door and allowed it to bounce off the wall before he made his way to the chair that faced the window. He leaned against the sill, crossed his arms over his chest, and glared down at the man who sat staring up at him. Both men watched as Chris walked into their line of vision then to the corner of the room where he picked up the crumpled card, returning it to its previous condition with only a few creases, his eyes turned to the gambler, his expression asking a silent question that he already knew the answer to. Ezra must have felt alone in his guilt, thinking that nobody would be able to help him through it. He held the card up, making sure that the face of it would be seen by the man in the chair.

"I thought we had this sorted out." Chris said to him as he moves forward to join Buck at the window.

"Habit." shrugged Ezra as he looked down at his hands, he didn't know what to do with them so he crossed them the same way that Buck had.

"Why are you blaming yourself for this Ezra?" Buck asked him as he took the card from Chris and threw it into Ezra's lap.

Ezra's eyes slowly made their way down to the card, he noticed that the left sleeve of his shirt was still rolled up, he quickly pulled it down covering the marks that shamed him. "Because it was my fault, if I had done what Nathan told me to do then it wouldn't have happened."

"If I hadn't gotten that potion none of this would have happened." Buck growled at him. "None of it is your fault Ezra."

"It's all my fault Buck." Ezra muttered without raising his eyes to look at his friends.

Buck leaned down and grabbed Ezra's shirt and pulled him to his feet, he swung him around until the gambler's back hit the wall. Ezra's knees buckled and his mouth opened in shock, he looked sideways at Chris but only saw him mimic his shoulder shrug, his eyes turned back to the man that held him up against the wall.

"You're not the only one that's to blame for all of this Ezra. I'm the one that put the potion in the milk, Vin and JD were the ones that tricked you into drinking it, you’re the . . ."

"It's not Vin or JD's fault." Ezra told him.

"If it's your fault then it's also their fault."

"It's not their fault." Ezra growled at him as he tried to push him away but Buck only used more force to hold him in place.

"Why not?" Buck asked him as Chris smiled, he would have to buy him a drink if he pulled this off.

"Because they didn't know what was in the milk."

"And you did?"

"What?" Ezra was confused by what Buck was saying.

"Did you know what was in the milk?" Buck spoke more slowly.

"No." Ezra blinked his eyes.

"Then why is it your fault Ezra?" Buck demanded to know, he wouldn't let go of the gambler. He kept him held up against the wall, he had expected Chris to pull him off Ezra but he hadn't. He could see the smile that he tried to hide from the corner of his eye and realised that he knew what he was trying to do, he knew Chris wasn't going to interfere unless he had to.

"Because I didn't do what Nathan told me to do."

"But you never do what Nathan tells you. What makes this time any different?"

"This time I hurt people, I hurt myself, no one else did that, I did it." Ezra could feel his eyes becoming moist again, he tried to lift his arm so he could wipe the shameful tears away but Buck pushed him against the wall with even more force stopping him from raising his arms.

"I was the one that hurt them, it was me who hurt you Ezra." He watched as the man before him shook his head in denial. "I put that stuff in the milk and you drank it by mistake. Do you hear me Ezra, you drank it by mistake. This is my fault not yours, not Vin or JD's. It's mine." The head still shook as the tears began to fall from the green eyes.

"No, it's my . . . "

"It isn't your fault!" Buck growled at him.

"Why? Why isn't it my fault?" Ezra retaliated. "Nathan told me not to drink and I ignored him. If I didn't drink that alcohol it wouldn't have happened."

"You don't know that Ezra." Buck lied. "Maybe it also had something to do with the herbs that Nathan gave you."

Ezra's eyes blinked again allowing more tears to flow, he again looked sideways at Chris who nodded in agreement, he turned his wet eyes back to Buck. "It still may have happened Ezra. You can't blame yourself for this, if you do then the rest of us are just as much at fault.

"But I drank when I shouldn't have." Both Buck and Chris could now hear the doubt and hope that Ezra's voice held.

"So what!" Buck allowed his grip to loosen and he lifted his right hand to wipe the tears from Ezra's face, he left his hand against the damp cheek, the skin underneath the suntanned hand becoming even paler. "You do a lot of things that you shouldn't do, are you going to blame yourself for everything that's happened in your life." Buck took a deep breath before he took the plunge. "Just like you blamed yourself for what your Aunt and Uncle did to you." He could feel Chris stiffen at his words and quickly grabbed hold of Ezra as his knees buckled once more as his words sunk in. "You can't blame yourself for everything Ezra, things happen and there is nothing you can do about them."

A third sideways glance at Chris confirmed what Buck was saying. He shouldn't blame himself for things that were beyond his control but there was still a nagging doubt in the back of his mind, he had begun the spiral into the hell that he and his friends found themselves in, not anyone else. He drank the alcohol when he was told not to.

"What about you Buck? You can't blame yourself for this either, you didn't know what was going to happen." Chris took the chance to try to relieve the guilt that Buck had also been feeling.

Buck gently eased Ezra back into the chair, he sat down in front of him. "I know, I can't give a speech like that and not take any of it in." He spoke to Chris but didn't take his eyes off Ezra's face. "You okay now Ezra? Ezra?"

"I will be." was the whispered reply, the nagging feeling though still ate away at him, he forced it to the back of his mind, trying to hide it behind a wall like he had always done before these men changed him.

"You sure? I can rough you up a bit more if you like."

"Once is enough." Ezra managed a slight smile. "I'm sure."

Buck continued to look at his friend's pale face, he wasn't convinced that Ezra no longer blamed himself, he could tell that some of the guilt had been lifted from his shoulders but he knew that it was still there in the back of his mind just like it was in his own.

Chris watched as Ezra leaned back, his eyes struggling to stay open, he wanted to say more to him to make sure that he had accepted that it wasn't his fault but he could tell that he was exhausted already. Nathan had said that it was going to be a while before he was back to his full strength, they all knew that it was because he wasn't eating or sleeping enough "Why don't you get some sleep Ezra."

"Um?" Ezra could feel the darkness of sleep trying to take him as it did before the interruption.

"You’re tired Ezra, you need to get some rest." Chris urged him.

"I don't want to sleep Chris." Ezra tried to keep his eyes open, knowing that it would be a futile effort.

"I know Ezra but you need it."

Ezra forced his eyes to look at Buck, they lifted to take in Chris's determined stare, he nodded knowing that he wouldn't have a choice, they would only physically pick him up and throw him on the bed if he refused. He pushed himself out of the chair and made his way to the bed. Buck took the food tray away while Chris pulled the bedcover back. Ezra sat down and struggled to take his boots off until Chris helped him. After Ezra made himself comfortable on his right side, Chris pulled the cover back up over him and tucked it under his chin.

"Ezra." Chris knelt down in front of him and looked into the tired green eyes.


"You want me to stay?" He placed his hand against the side of Ezra's face and began to rub his temple with his thumb knowing that it would cause him to relax and then sleep. "Just in case." He felt the nod under his hand.

"I'll go and let the others know that he's okay." Buck whispered as he made his way to the door, he stopped for a moment and looked back at his two friends, he smiled and then left the room without another sound.

Chris waited until Ezra's eyelids fluttered closed and then as his breathing became shallow as sleep finally took him. He stood up, removing his hand from the gambler's face and dragged the chair closer to the bed so he could watch his friend sleep and hoped that his sleep would be more peaceful than it had been over the last two weeks.

Part One | Part Two

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