azombiewrites: (The Magnificent Seven)
[personal profile] azombiewrites
Title: Wrongfully Accused
Eighteenth story in 'The Continuing Ezra Standish Saga'
Rating: PG
Warnings: Bad writing ahead!
Fandom: The Magnificent Seven
Genre: Hurt/Comfort
Summary: Ezra is wrongfully accused of murder and the victim's family want to see him hang, even if they have to do it themselves.
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: Eighteenth story in the ‘Continuing Ezra Standish Saga’.
Spoilers: None.
Total Word Count: 24,711




The saloon of Four Corners was eerily quite, even with the six men who occupied one of the tables in the center of the large room. The light from the lamps that had been lit to drive away the darkness and hopefully their sombre mood shadowed their faces. Moonlight filtered through the open doorway and windows at the front of the building but it was not strong enough to reach the men at the table to fully reveal their worried expressions.

Five of the men's hands were occupied by a cup of coffee; the fifth held his mug of warm milk in both hands, as he turned it around, his eyes never leaving the swirling milk. He tore his gaze away to take in the other faces then returned it back to the milk. The men he sat with didn't hide what they were feeling; he knew his own face reflected their expressions. A chair scraped across the floor, breaking the silence that hung around them causing one of the men to take the plunge and begin the conversation that they had gathered for.

"What are we going to do Chris?" Vin asked the man whose dark clothing nearly made him invisible in the darkened room, only his pale face and hands indicated that he was even there.

"I don't know Vin, I really don't know." Chris's eyes turned upwards, his eyes saw only darkness but his mind saw the gambler tossing and turning in his bed, his whimpers still echoing in his mind from the previous night.

It had been two weeks since Ezra had pulled the trigger that nearly ended his life. They now knew that he didn't intend to harm himself at that moment in time, he had just done it to make them go away but they also knew that he did want to end his life, he just hadn't had the chance, and the effects of the concussion had taken control of the situation and saved his life. Chris had then forced him to give his word that he wouldn't do it again.

Ezra had withdrawn into himself over those two weeks; a dark cloud had surrounded his heart and mind. He had forced himself to eat but not enough, he hadn't lost any more weight but he hadn't gained a lot either. He only took part in conversations when he had to, he laughed with them but the humour never reached his eyes to replace the haunted look that had taken up residence there. He no longer argued with Nathan but did everything that he was told in a passive manner that worried the others. But what shocked them the most was that he was able to carry out his duties without a problem. When the bank had been robbed the week before, Ezra was there to stand by his friends, his reflexes were just as quick and his aim was still deadly. Chris had worried that Ezra was going to use the opportunity to allow someone else's bullet to take his life but he didn't. They couldn't understand why he was still able to protect the town while he was being eaten away inside by his memories and emotions. They didn't like the way he was behaving, there was something very disturbing about it.

"We have to do something or were going to lose him." Buck told him.

The hands gripped each other to stop the tremors.

"I know that Buck. I've tried everything." Chris leaned back in the chair causing it to grimace in protest. "He talks to me but he doesn't say anything. He listens to me but he doesn't hear what I say. I just don't know what to do to help him anymore."

"Has he spoken to you at all Josiah?" Nathan asked him, the healer knew it was a long shot but he hoped that Josiah had been able to get through to him.

"I haven't spoken to him since it happened; he doesn't want anything to do with me remember." Josiah hung his head so they couldn't see the sadness that filled his eyes. Ezra had pushed him away and Josiah stopped pushing back, he allowed Ezra to succeed in what he has always tried to do and the guilt overwhelmed him, it was so strong that it stopped him from helping Ezra.

"You haven't spoken to him? Not at all? Not even everyday conversation? Are you telling me that all those times you sat with him you didn't say anything to him?" Buck asked him. He saw the shake of the head.

"Why the hell not? Just because he doesn't want a father figure? He still needs you as a friend Josiah! Hell I can't believe that you would do that to him!"

The hand lifted to wipe away the single tear before it fell.

"I don't know how to talk to him anymore Buck, I'm afraid that if I say anything he'll get angry, I don't know what he'll do if he gets angry." Josiah tried to convince them and himself but it didn't work.

"That's crap and you know it." Buck felt Chris's hand on his arm but ignored him. "You've given up on him haven't you? You let him push you away. You’re doing what everyone else in his life has done to him. You're making him think that you don't care."

The tears were allowed to fall. The hand didn't stop them this time.

"Buck take it easy." Chris attempted to ease his friend’s anger, he wanted to say that he agreed with him but Josiah wasn't the reason why they were here.

"His nightmares are getting worse too aren't they?" It was a statement made by Vin to ease the anger that was building around the table.

"Has anyone else noticed that they're different?" Nathan commented.

A slight shiver ran through the slumped form.

"Yeah, I think he dreams about his father." Chris told them and all eyes looked at him but he ignored them.

"His nightmares are about his father?" JD was surprised. Chris had allowed him to take turns staying with Ezra during the night; he saw the results of the nightmares but didn't understand them. He wasn't able to help Ezra the first night that he stayed with him, he wasn't prepared, it had broken his heart and he had left the room, leaving the gambler to deal with the after effects on his own. Chris had understood and told him what to do and he was prepared the next time and he was able to help Ezra, he had even gotten him to smile.

"What did his father do to make his dreams so bad?"

The shiver turned into a violent tremor as the memory flashed through the darkened mind.

"I don't know JD. I can't get him to talk about them." Chris pushed his coffee out of the way. He knew if he kept it, there he would end up using it to show the frustration that he felt towards the situation. "He just shuts me out when I mention him."

"You don't think he beat him just like his brothers did do you?" Buck also wanted to show his frustration but he decided that he would use Josiah to do that. He was angry at the man for ignoring Ezra the way he had.

"The day it happened he told me that I reminded him of his father." Chris admitted to them.

"You! How do you remind him of his father?" Vin was shocked.

"He asked me if I was a good father." Chris continued what he was saying without answering Vin's question.

"I told him that Sarah said I was. Ezra said that his father wasn't."

"I'm even more confused now." Vin muttered, he shook his head hoping to make sense of what Chris had said.

"If you remind him of his father how come he doesn't push you away?" Josiah spoke up.

The hands gripped each other tighter, turning the knuckles white.

"I don't know Josiah." Chris answered truthfully.

"I do." JD lowered himself into the chair as five pair of eyes turned to him.

"Did Ezra tell you something?" Nathan nudged him in the side.

"No, I know because of the way Buck and Ezra treat me, Chris and Josiah act the same way towards Ezra."

JD knew he was going to be in trouble because of what he was about to say but he didn't care, Ezra was more important, he could sort things out with Buck later.

"What are you talking about boy?" Buck demanded to know.

A deep breath was taken and then held.

"Chris treats Ezra like a friend, Josiah treats him like a child." JD simply stated. "I'm sorry Josiah but you treat him like a son instead of the friend that you’re supposed to be, he doesn't need a father Josiah, he needs a
friend and you won't even be that."

A smile played at the corner of the lips turning the frown into a small smile.

"You noticed all of that on your own?" Buck smiled at him.

"Ezra started teaching me to take more notice of those around me." JD smiled back, he was relieved that Buck hadn't taken any offense from what he said, his eyes turned to Josiah, and he didn't care if he had hurt his feelings. What Josiah was doing was hurting Ezra even more and he didn't like that.

"It's as simple as that and we didn't notice." Nathan murmured.

The head nodded slightly in agreement.

"But that isn't Ezra's real problem." Chris reminded them. "You've answered one of our questions JD but how are we going to find answers to the others."

A quiet sigh was voiced.

"Why don't we lock the stubborn mule in a room and not let him out until he tells us what's wrong." Nathan suggested even though he knew it wouldn't work.

Another shiver was felt at the memory that had been forced from the defensive mind.

"What the hell are we going to do?" Vin repeated the question that had started the conversation.

"Talking to him isn't helping him, he won't listen to what we say to him, the wall is down but we still can't reach him." Chris rubbed his tired eyes, he hadn't had a lot of sleep over the last month. "I don't know but there is no way that I'm going to give up on him."

"None of us are Chris." Buck assured him.

"Maybe he just needs to get away for a while, change of scenery." JD suggested.

"I won't let him go anywhere on his own." Chris told him but he didn't dismiss the idea.

"JD's got a point, some fresh air might do him some good, maybe even pick his appetite up some." Nathan agreed.

"He's in a slump here, like he's in a hole that he can't get out of, maybe you can take him out of it physically and his mind might follow." Josiah also agreed with him.

The figure slumped even further in grateful defeat.

"Who would go with him?" Vin asked anybody for suggestions.

"The only ones who can really get through to him are Chris and Buck." JD told them.

Buck turned to JD and smiled at him. "JD sometimes you really make me proud."

JD was about to say something but the expression that Buck held told him that he was serious. He smiled in return, he wasn't really sure how to take the compliment.

"Do you think that it would work though?" Vin asked Chris.

"I don't know Vin but I can't think of anything else so we might as well give it a try. We just need to think up an excuse to get him out of town without him knowing what were up to." Chris looked at JD. "Got anymore ideas JD."

________________________________________

Ezra stood up while keeping himself hidden in the shadows, he didn't want them to know that he'd been listening. He quietly stepped back towards his room, and made himself comfortable in the large bed. He knew that he would go with them, he wouldn't put up an argument, and he did need to get away from this town. And like his friends, he would try anything to get out of the depressive mood that had found a home in his soul. He didn't have the strength to get himself out of it or the courage to ask his friends for the help that he knew he needed.

________________________________________

Ezra rolled away from the knock that sounded at his bedroom door and pushed his head further into the pillow to give the impression that he was still asleep, he kept his eyes closed and ignored the person who quickly go up from the chair to answer the door before it was opened. He heard Chris's whispered voice asking if he was awake and Vin's who said that he wasn't. He heard the door close and Vin's soft footsteps as he made his way back to the chair, which squeaked when he sat down, he could feel Vin's hesitation and then the gentle movement to place himself in the chair, he also felt his eyes on him and he began to squirm under his scrutiny.

"So you are awake." Vin got up and moved to the bed, he sat down next to Ezra and placed a hand on his shoulder, he gave it an encouraging squeeze. He no longer knew what to say to his friend so he decided to use his hands instead and was grateful when Ezra didn't push his touch away. He knew that Ezra understood that he was uncomfortable with speaking and not knowing what to say to him and that he felt better using a comforting touch to show how he wanted to help.

Ezra opened one eye and looked up at Vin. "Can't fool you can I." The smile was strained but it was there.

"How are you feeling?" Vin asked him as he brushed away some strands of hair off Ezra's forehead.

"Same." Ezra muttered as he closed his eye, he didn't want to see the emotion that was showing on Vin's face. It had come to the point where it was all he could see, they didn't hide what they were feeling, their worry and concern seemed to depress him even more and Josiah's lack of concern tore him apart inside but he couldn't tell them that, he didn't know how to tell them what he was feeling. He thought that he had pushed Josiah away but after what he had heard the night before he now knew it wasn't only his fault, Josiah had allowed him to push him away, he had stopped pushing back and that hurt more than anything else.

"Wish I could say something that would make it all go away Ezra." Vin moved his hand so it was resting on Ezra's cheek, he needed everything they had to offer him, anything that could help him through it. Every morning they would ask him how he was feeling and his answer was always the same, he wasn't improving, and they knew he was getting worse but he wouldn't admit it to them.

"Don't worry Vin, your helping in your own way." He lifted his arm, took Vin’s hand off his face, placed on it on the bed next to him, and held on to it. "What did Chris want?" He already knew the answer.

"Said he has a job that he needs some help with, thought that you might want to give him a hand." Vin awkwardly pulled the bedcover off Ezra with his other arm, he didn't want to remove his hand from Ezra's grip. He winced at the sight of Ezra's ribcage, he was beginning to lose his muscle tone. "So it's time to get up."

"What sort of job?" Ezra was curious, he wanted to know what their plan was.

"Didn't say." Vin answered hiding the smile from his face.

"Why Vin, you sound like you’re hiding something." Ezra rolled onto his back and saw the flicker of hidden knowledge in Vin's eyes.

"He's waiting for you downstairs Ezra, said he wants to leave in an hour." Vin stroked his hand with his thumb, he listened as Ezra let out a breath that he must have been holding.

"Has anyone else been invited?"

"Buck's going with you." He reluctantly pulled his hand away and stood up. "Come on Ezra, it might do you good."

"Tell Chris I'll be there shortly." Ezra silently groaned as he closed his eyes once more, he was beginning to think that it wasn't such a good idea after all.

"Sure Ezra." He moved away from the bed and looked back. "The trip will do you good Ezra, I'm sure of it."

Ezra waited for the door to close behind the silent tracker. "Then why do I get the sudden feeling that it's only going to make things worse." He muttered to the door before he got up and prepared himself for the trip.

________________________________________

The sunlight slowly filtered through into the saloon, making the lamps useless in their attempt to fill the room with their false light. On this quiet morning, only three men sat at the table that was centred in the middle of the large room. The healer was giving instructions while the other two men listened, both of them lowering themselves further into their chairs with each word.


"You make sure that he eats, you know he won't eat if you don't make him!" Nathan instructed them as they sat around the table. "Make sure that he gets plenty of rest and don't let him do anything to strenuous! You send me a telegram when you get there telling us how he is and I want you back within a week!" He leaned forward and gave them his most serious expression. "And if he comes back sicker than when he left there'll be hell to pay! Do you understand me!"

"Nathan, we know what we’re doing, he'll be alright." Buck protested but there wasn't any anger in his tone, he understood how Nathan was feeling. The friends that were being left behind were going to worry themselves sick until they got back to town.

"Yeah I know, I'm worried that he's not going to eat if I'm not there to make him." Nathan admitted to them.

"He's getting to thin."

"He'll eat, don't worry Nathan, and well at least don't worry too much." Chris smiled, he was glad that Ezra now had the sort of friends that he had longed for all his lonely life.

They looked towards the stairs when they heard the steps that echoed from them. Vin walked towards the table and saw the question that was written on their faces, it was the same every morning, and he wanted to give them a different answer just as he had wanted Ezra to give him one.

"Same." Was all Vin said before he pulled out a chair and took the coffee that Nathan offered him, he refused the food, he knew that Buck and JD had cooked it again.

"What sort of mood was he in when you woke him up?" Chris asked him, he hoped it was good, the last thing he wanted was to start the trip on the wrong foot.

"He wasn't asleep, just wanted to make me think he was. He's not in a bad mood, he's just down." Vin smiled wearily. "I'd do anything to get a real smile out of him."

The table became quiet, each of them understanding and agreeing with what Vin had said. They would do anything, give anything just to make Ezra smile but not everything they had done so far worked. Every expression he showed was forced, even anger, it was as though he just couldn't be bothered anymore and only did it to make them think he was alright.

Their thoughts were interrupted when JD walked through the saloon doors, the expression he held showing the worry that he was already feeling. Seeing Vin at the table told him that Ezra was awake, and the forlorn look told him that the answer to their everyday question was the same. He longed for a different answer. He joined the table not wanting to break the silence that it held and it stayed that way until Ezra arrived.

They tried not to watch him as he walked down the stairs, he didn't wear his usually colourful clothing, and instead he dressed in his stripped trousers, a simple white shirt and his buckskin coat, which made his handsome face even paler. Chris diverted his eyes when he saw the usually alert green eyes that were now haunted, he was beginning to have trouble looking Ezra in the eye, he hated seeing what he use to see in his own eyes every time he looked into the mirror each morning before Buck brought him back.

"How you doin' Ezra?" JD asked him while he watched him sit down in the chair, he couldn't help notice the new hole in his gun belt.

Ezra shrugged his shoulder, tilted his head towards him, and smiled knowingly at him. "Thanks JD." JD smiled back but he couldn't hide the confusion that he felt. "For being you. Did anyone tell you that you can be very profound when you want to be?"

"Huh?" He looked around at the others to see if they knew what he was talking about.

"You can be very wise for your age JD." Ezra smiled at the confusion that everyone held, but it still didn't reach his eyes. "I'll explain it later." He turned his attention to Chris. "So what is this job you want help with?" He tried to find some enjoyment out this but he couldn't, his heart still felt heavy, but he continued because he thought that it might make his friends feel better even if it didn't help his own feelings.

"The Judge sent me a telegram this morning asking us . . ." Chris didn't get very far before he was interrupted, he expected an argument but didn't think that there would be much of an effort behind it.

"Us?" Ezra questioned as he raised his eyebrows. "He asked for me personally." He saw JD's smile grow, he hated causing his young friend to worry about him and was glad that he could at least relieve some of his pain if not his own.

"Yeah he did, you, me and Buck." Chris continued the lie. "He wants us to go to Eagle Ben to pick up a package. . . "

"He needs three of us to pick up this package." Ezra picked up the cup of coffee that had been placed in front of him and tested it to see if it was drinkable, it wasn't. JD and Buck had made breakfast again, he grimaced at the taste and sat back to listen to Chris's answer.

"It's a big parcel." Buck threw in, he shrugged at Chris.

"It's an important parcel is what Buck meant to say." Chris hoped that Ezra didn't see what they were trying to do but he didn't worry too much as he didn't really seem to be listening to what they were saying. He was just putting up a front trying to make them feel better so Chris played along.

"Maybe I should read this telegram myself, you gentlemen sound like your setting me up for something." He had no trouble hiding the smile because there wasn't one, his eyes looked down quickly so he wouldn't see their shocked expressions that would usually give them away.

"Threw it away." Chris muttered. "Okay so he didn't ask for you, I just thought that you might want to come along."

"Fresh air will do you good Ezra." Buck encouraged him.

"I break from this town might help you." Nathan suggested as he watched him carefully. He could tell that he was sick physically and emotional, his outer image showed the physical damage, his eyes and manner showed that he had been torn apart inside. Nathan tried to heal him physically but there was nothing that he was able to do to help him emotionally.

"I can't be bothered arguing with you, I'll go." He grunted when Buck slapped him on the back.

"Good. Now eat some breakfast." Nathan ordered him as he continued to try to heal his body.

Ezra didn't even protest, he didn't use words or his usual expression to try to get his way. He just did as he was told. He picked up one of the biscuits and began eating it. When he finished he sat back but Nathan told him to eat more so he continued to do as he was told until Nathan decided that he had eaten enough.

"Time to go." Chris announced as he stood up, everyone but Ezra got up from their chairs. "Ezra?"

"Where's Josiah." He asked quietly.

They all looked at each other hoping that someone else would answer his question, all eyes looked down and then back up to Ezra to see his reaction when Vin finally answered it.


"He couldn't make it Ezra, said he had something important to do." Vin explained knowing that it was a poor excuse. They had all tried to get Josiah to be here, hoping that his presence would help Ezra but they couldn't convince him.

"Yeah I know. He wants to be the father I don't want instead of the friend I need." Ezra said bitterly, he didn't hide the hurt that he felt as he stood up and walked out the saloon doors, leaving them swinging on their hinges.

"Nathan could you work on Josiah while were gone please." Chris told him, the threat was heavy in his voice. He followed Ezra out into the brightening sunlight.

Chris found him standing on the boardwalk, his head turned in the direction of the church, and he stepped up to him and put his hand on his shoulder. "Let's go Ezra."

"I see that you assumed I would agree to go." Ezra nodded towards his already saddled horse.

"I wasn't going to force you to come Ezra, I hoped that you would." Chris waited patiently while Ezra's eyes went back to the direction of the church and when he looked back, the tears were ready to fall.

"Why did he let me push him away?" Ezra asked him. "Doesn't he realise that I need him, even though I have trouble telling him that I do."

"He'll come round Ezra, I'm sure." Chris put his arm around his shoulders and gave him a quick hug.

"No he won't, he's just like him." Ezra muttered more to himself than to Chris.

"He's just like who Ezra?" Chris asked him.

"My father." Ezra pushed away from him and made his way to his horse but looked back at Chris before he got on. "I'm not going to talk about him Chris." He mounted his horse and waited for them.

Chris stepped close to Nathan so Ezra wouldn't hear what he had to say, he caused the healer to flinch back from him. "You tell Josiah to sort himself out by the time we come back or he'll have me to answer to."

"Don't worry Chris, he'll answer to us before you even come back." JD boldly told him.

"Ezra was right about you JD." Chris cupped his face in his hand. "You make him see some sense."

Nathan went up to Ezra while Chris and Buck were mounting their horses, he put a hand on his thigh, the touch pulled Ezra's eyes back to Nathan's, he had been looking towards the church. "Ezra I want you to do what Chris and Buck tell you, I want you to eat and make sure you get plenty of rest. Okay?" Ezra just nodded that he understood, his haunted green eyes moved back to area that he had been watching.

Chris moved his horse into a position that blocked Ezra's view of the church that sat in the distance. "You ready Ezra?" He saw the pain that now filled the green eyes. 'Josiah is going to pay for this when I get back.' he thought angrily to himself but made sure that Ezra didn't see the anger that he felt.

Ezra nodded and allowed his horse to follow Chris and Buck's horse's, they slowed down though and allowed him to catch up so he could ride in between them, Chris on his left and Buck on his right. Chris knew that they were going to pass the church, he hoped that Josiah would be in sight, he knew that it would mean a lot to Ezra just to see him but he wasn't there. He watched as Ezra's head turned to the right so he could watch the building as they passed it.

The tall silent figure hid himself in the shadows of the church so he wouldn’t be seen, he silently prayed for the young gambler as he rode past with Chris and Buck.


________________________________________

The sun beat down from the cloudless blue sky onto the three riders as they rode the along the track that would take them to Eagle. The heat caused two of the men to remove their jackets but the third kept his on, he didn't feel the heat like the other two. Nathan had told Ezra that he would feel colder due to his weight loss, the lack of fat on his body no longer protecting him from the weather. The cool breeze wasn't strong enough to give any relief from the heat for the two men but it was enough to cause the gambler to pull his coat tighter around his body. This was something that didn't go unnoticed by Chris and Buck.

Chris kept glancing sideways at Ezra who had kept his head down during the last two hours, he hadn't spoken a word to either of them. He wasn't interested in the scenery around him or the men who accompanied him. Chris turned again and he looked directly into the green eyes that stared back at him.

"Something wrong Ezra?" Chris asked him.

"No." Ezra spoke quietly and turned his eyes away from him, his head hanging low once more.

"You sure, seemed like you wanted to say something." Chris knew they had plenty of time to talk to Ezra, it was just over a day’s ride to Eagle Bend. He watched as the gambler slowly shook his head, he wasn't going to push him, he wanted Ezra to start talking on his own.

They continued to ride in silence as Chris and Buck kept watching Ezra. They would steal glances at him and they each noticed that his eyes never lifted from the ground before him, his shoulders also seemed to be permanently slumped in defeat. Chris knew he longer had any fight left in him, his stubbornness was gone. He had felt the same way when Buck had brought him back from his darkened time after his families death, he had struggled with his feelings but then felt nothing for weeks, it had been like a dark void that he couldn't escape from and he knew that Ezra was in the same void but for a different reason. The only thing that had kept himself alive was the hatred that he felt for the men that had killed his wife and son. Ezra had nothing to keep him going, he had nothing he wanted to live for and the only reason he still lived was that he had given Chris his word.

Another hour of heavy silence had passed when Buck decided to try to get Ezra into some sort of conversation. It scared him to see the way Ezra was behaving, his personality had become passive instead of stubborn, and the humour that had caused them all to laugh so many times was no longer there. Ezra was now like a polite child in the company of an adult, he would do anything he was told to do.

"Beautiful day isn't it Ezra?" Buck hoped for something, anything.

Ezra nodded without raising his eyes to look at his friend, he didn't want to talk, he couldn't get Josiah or his father out of his mind, and he hated the fact that he had allowed the memory of his father to push the preacher away but he was even more disappointed that Josiah had let him. He now knew that Josiah didn't care about him like he thought he had, if he did he would have continued to push back like the rest of his friends did.

"Makes you glad to be alive doesn't it?" Buck added then frowned when there was no response from Ezra.

"Ezra?" Buck wanted to make sure he had his full attention before he asked him again.

"What?"

"I said it makes you glad . . . "

"I heard what you said Buck." Ezra stopped him before he finished.

"Ezra?" It was Chris who asked for his attention this time.

"Yes." Ezra looked up and turned his gaze to Chris.

"We’re ready to listen when you want to start talking about it." Chris offered.

"I wouldn't know what to say Chris, I wouldn't even know where to begin." Ezra told him, he pulled his eyes away from him. He couldn't look at him anymore.

"Why don't you start with Josiah." Buck suggested.

"You know if I didn't know any better I would think that you arranged this journey just to get me talk." Ezra hoped that he was able to distract them from the present subject matter.

"He does care Ezra." Chris assured him as held the look of surprise from showing on his hardened features. He was beginning to think that Ezra had know their plan all along and if he did it also meant that he wanted to talk about it and deal with it.

"If he cared he wouldn't have let me push him away." Ezra's head hung even lower. "I know I shouldn't have done it but he stopped pushing back. He doesn't care anymore." He spoke quietly and his friends had to concentrate on every word he said. "That's what hurts so much, the fact that he doesn't care." He didn't bother trying to stop the tears. "He helped me so much when he made me remember what my Aunt and Uncle did but now he wants nothing more to do with me. He won't even be a friend."

"Do you remember the day when I shot myself." They winced at his words. "Afterwards when you were all in my room, when I woke up you all had something to say to me." He could see them nod. "Josiah was the last to leave, he didn't say anything, he just gave me this look of disappointment and left." Ezra took in a quick breath as his chest heaved. "I have wanted to tell him how much that hurt me but I couldn't, what if he just did the same thing again. If he turned his back on me a second time I don't know what I would do."

Chris had to wait a moment while he gained control of his own emotions. "I don't know why he backed off Ezra, I can't give you an explanation as to why he's doing any of this."

"I do." Buck told them. Chris looked at him but Ezra kept his damp eyes cast downwards. "He wanted to be the father that Ezra never had and when he told him no he didn't like it. He's just being selfish and if he was standing here now I'd clobber him, I'd beat him to a pulp, I'd . . . "

"I get the point Buck." Ezra muttered.

"So will Josiah." Chris smiled at the thought and had to force the smile to stay in place when he saw Ezra's questioning gaze, his eyes were once more filled with tears. "JD is going to sort him out." He announced proudly.

"JD?" Ezra asked as he wiped the tears away, he didn't care that they saw them anymore, they weren't embarrassed by them so he wasn't going to be.

"Yep, he's grown up a lot over the last few weeks." Buck told him. "Must be all the worrying that he's been doing."

"I can't wait to hear about it when we get back." Chris smiled to himself. "JD is going to give him hell."

Ezra pulled his horse to a stop and waited for the others to do the same. He looked up to see the expressions of concern. He quickly dropped his eyes, he hated being the cause of those expressions.


"I'm sorry." Ezra could hear the emotion in his own voice, he hoped that he was going to lose control, he knew that it was something that he needed to do and he would welcome it with open arms. He didn't want to feel numb anymore, it was worse than the emotions that he had hidden all his life, now he would do anything to feel them again.

"What for Ezra?" Buck asked him, the confusion was evident in his voice.

"For putting everyone through this. I don't want you to worry about me. I want to get better but I don't know how to. I don't know what to do." Ezra could feel the ache in his chest grow stronger as the emotions threatened to take control.

"You've got nothing to be sorry for Ezra." Chris told him as he quickly got off his horse and moved towards Ezra. "None of this is your fault." He took his arm and pulled it gently, telling Ezra to get off his own horse, he walked him away from the horses to give him room. "Everything that has happened has been out of your control."

"I was in control when I pulled the trigger."

"No you weren't. You had a concussion or did you forget that." Buck had also gotten off his horse, he could see the emotion on Ezra's face and hoped that he was going finally let it all out.

"Like I told Nathan, the thought was there. The concussion just gave me the courage to do it but it also stopped me." He lifted his eyes to look at Chris. "I still want to do it. I still want to die Chris and I don't know why."

"I know Ezra, I know." Chris took him in his arms and held him tight but Ezra didn't let go of his emotions like they thought he was going to. He gave out one heart wrenching sob and then nothing.

"Let it out Ezra." Buck put his hand on the back of Ezra's neck.

"I can't." Ezra pressed his face into Chris's shoulder.

"Yes you can Ezra. Just let go." Chris whispered into his ear.

"Jesus Chris, don't you think I want to. There's something stopping me, it's what's keeping me in this miserable state that I can't get myself out of." Ezra tried to move away from him but Chris wouldn't let him go.

"It's okay Ezra, I understand what you’re going through." He felt Ezra's head nod. "Why don't we find somewhere to stop so you can get some rest and something to eat."

"Good idea Chris, Nathan will tan our hides if Ezra missed a meal." Buck agreed.

"Now that I would like to see." Ezra finally managed to pull away from Chris and make his way back to his horse.

Buck and Chris exchanged a look of hope and followed their tormented friend back to their horses.


________________________________________

Josiah looked up as he heard a noise to see the young form silhouetted in the open doorway of the church. He frowned when he looked at the young features that seemed to have aged in a mature way if not in years. He watched as JD walked straight up to him, there was a determined look on his face that he wasn't use to seeing and the young brown eyes held nothing but anger.

"Why didn't you say goodbye to him? Why didn't you at least do that for him?" JD growled at him. "I never knew you were a coward Josiah."

Josiah ignored the coward remark. "You wouldn't understand JD." He turned away from the boy who had become a man to be respected but the young sheriff followed him.

"No I don't understand. Not you anyway but I understand Ezra and I know he's in hell right now and you helped put him there!" JD made sure the anger that he felt sounded in his voice because Josiah would not look him in the eye. He wanted him to know that he was feeling a lot of anger towards him.

"Ezra pushed me away JD, remember." Josiah tried to defend himself but the onslaught didn't stop.

"You let him. Damn you Josiah. You of all people should know that Ezra always thought that people allowed him to push them away because they didn't care about him. Did you even stop to think that Ezra now thinks that you don't care? Well, did you!"

"Don't swear in my church JD." Josiah's own anger was beginning to grow.

"You're going to preach to me. How dare you! You have no right Josiah! If I want to swear, I'll damn well swear. And I'll do it in the same way that your ignoring Ezra! I'll do it in a way that will hurt you, I'll make it eat away at your soul as your lack of concern is eating away at Ezra's." JD didn't even hesitate, he used every single word that he had ever learned in his entire life, and he smiled when he saw the man before him flinch at some of the words that he used.

Josiah tried to shut out the profanity that spilled from JD's mouth, he had never heard such language from anyone before, and he didn't know he had it in him. He felt ashamed that JD had lost his innocence.

"That's enough JD!" Josiah's firm voice finally stopped the verbal abuse that JD threw at him.

"You have no idea what you’re doing to him do you? I stayed with him while he slept Josiah, I heard him call out to you, and I saw the tears that fell when you didn't come. I comforted him when you weren't there, I couldn't tell him why you didn't talk to him anymore."

"Have you finished JD?" Josiah asked him as the guilt began to build.

"If you can't be a friend to him Josiah then you’re no friend of mine." JD turned his back on the preacher and walked out the church door leaving Josiah to think about what he had said.





Part One | Part Two


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