azombiewrites: (The Magnificent Seven)
[personal profile] azombiewrites
Title: Mortimer Johnson
Rating: PG
Fandom: The Magnificent Seven
Main Characters: Ezra, the rest of the seven + OMC
Summary: Mortimer Johnson is searching for the man who killed his son five years earlier and he thinks he has found him in Four Corners.
Disclaimers: The guys are owned by CBS, MGM, Trilogy Entertainment Group, and The Mirisch Corp.
Spoilers: None
Status: Complete
Total Word Count: 16,660



Ezra Standish didn't care, he wasn't bothered by it, why should he be, it was something that had happened before and will happen again. With the life he led, it was bound to happen, but sometimes it wasn't true, he didn't cheat every time he sat down to play poker. Other players assumed that because he was a professional gambler that he would be cheating, especially if he was winning. They didn't stop to think that maybe they were playing badly, no, they pointed their guilty finger towards him. This was normal for him. Or so he kept telling himself. They had wanted to stay on for a few more hours anyway. Why? Who the hell knew, because he didn't and he was sure that they didn't. The town had been non-prosperous, for him anyway, he'd been run out of town by his own friends before he could win enough to make it worthwhile. The saloon was small, the patrons poor, and the whisky sour. In simple terms, it was a town of hell and why anyone lived there was beyond his comprehension.

Chris Larabee though would tell you a different story. He would tell you that Ezra Standish had been accused of cheating and he had ordered him to leave before someone tried to hang him. They would stay on to finish the business they had gone there for and meet up with him back in Four Corners. Chris knew that Ezra would tell you that it was all a lie and it had been his idea to leave and as far as Ezra was concerned Mr Larabee had a way of exaggerating when it came to the truth.

And now here he was, gambler, con man, excruciating-pain-in-the-ass to one Mr Chris Larabee, riding home on his own, with no-one to talk to but himself and his horse; it wasn't even his horse. You could talk to a horse, anyone could talk to a horse if they tried hard enough, but getting the horse to talk back was a bit of a problem. So Ezra was resigned to talking to himself but even he had tired of his own voice. For the past five miles, he had been riding in total silence. And for the past two miles, he had been riding through a downpour of cold rain and blowing winds.

If he had been able to read the skies like Vin Tanner, he wouldn't have left the town at all. He would have hidden himself away from the townsfolk and waited it out. He wasn't a smart man when it came to mother nature, sometimes he even thought of her as a cold hard bitch that liked to take her anger out on unsuspecting city folk- namely him - who were just trying to enjoy the open environment.

Town was only two miles away so he continued with the clothes he wore that were now soaked to the skin. His black crown hat no longer protected his face from the rain, it now soaked through it. Droplets of water ran down his face and the back of his neck. This was why, as far as he was concerned, that mother nature was a bitch.

So was luck. The horse he was riding slipped in the mud, he fell to his side and try as he might Ezra couldn't stay on. He pulled his leg from the stirrup so it wouldn't be caught under the horse when it fell. But it didn't fall, only a Southern gambler who was down on his luck fell. When he was clear of the saddle and free falling, the horse managed to get its footing and stayed upright.

Ezra struck the ground, the mud splattering upwards and onto his face. His head found the only rock that was laying in the vicinity. The blow causing him to lose consciousness. The gambler lay on the ground with the rain falling onto his face and his horse standing beside him. A strange expression was worn by the animal as it watched the man that seemed to be incapable of staying on a horse. If it could talk it would say something like this; 'stupid human, look at it, lying in the mud and rain. Look who's talking, think I'll wonder over to that large tree and stand under it. Yeah, that's it, you just stay there like the stupid human that you are'.

Ezra Standish did just that. Not because the horse told him to but because his injury wanted him to. Injuries could be nasty like that. He lay oblivious to the lone rider that was heading towards him.

________________________________________


Mortimer Johnson rode the unknown path towards an unknown town within an unknown distance. He had been riding like this since the day his only son had been killed by a man that he now searched for to claim his rightful vengeance. He had no idea who the man was, or what he looked like, his only information was that the person he was looking for was a gambler, a man in his late twenties, brown hair, and good-looking. A man who was willing to cheat or con a man out of his life savings. His son had died when he accused the gambler of cheating, the man's experience had out drawn the Johnson boy who on his last birthday had turned twenty-four. If he were still alive, his son would be twenty-nine.

He was a lonely and angry old man. The loss of his wife had made him even more bitter. His need for vengeance driving the love she felt for him from her heart. She understood that her son had been murdered but she had also wanted to continue living, it's what her son would have wanted. Carl would not have wanted his father to waste his life looking for the man who had killed him.

The rain blurred his already fading vision, his old ragged hat didn't provide any protection. The slicker that covered his clothes was full of small holes, which allowed the water to find a way in to the material beneath it. He didn't mind the rain, it was a way of cleansing one's soul but the warm weather and dust soon darkened it again. He had always injured the rain. So had his son. Mortimer often wished that he found the guilty party on a rainy day, to him it seem appropriate.

He didn't see the body until his horse had nearly trodden on it. The chestnut balked and tried to step sideways so it could avoid the object on the ground. It really didn't feel like stepping over it, besides, it reminded of a human. Mortimer pulled at the reins to bring the horse back into its original position. He was jerked sideways when the horse refused and that's when he saw the unmoving form. He allowed the horse to follow its own path around what he thought was a corpse but then the head rolled to the side. The old man got off his horse and squatted down next to the unconscious man.

The red jacket caught his attention, the expensive vest, the watch; this man was a gambler. Hope filled his should. His shaking hand reached forward and gripped the man's jaw, he pulled the face towards him so he could get a better look at the features. Good-looking, looks to be in his early thirties, which would have made him the right age for the man, he was looking for. He searched the pockets but found nothing. His eyes searched for a horse and found it standing under a tree. The horse was looking at him, it seemed to know what he wanted and shifted away from the tree. Mortimer was going to have to be careful, the animal looked as though it was going to run.

"Easy there fella, just want to find out who this guy is." his voice was soft but held a sight husky tone.

His boots slipped in the mud as he made his way to the horse. He continually put out his hands to stop himself from falling flat on his face. He kept his voice low, keeping the horse calm as he got closer to it. Once he reached the animal, he grabbed the saddlebags and tore them from the horses back. He no longer cared about the animal.

He tested the weight of the bags with his right hand, they weren't heavy. After looking at the gambler to make sure he was still out he sat down where the horse had been and began to rummage through the man's effects. There was still no money to be found, maybe he wasn't the one he was looking for. Then a thought struck him. Some of the gamblers he had confronted over the years hid their winnings in other places, such as their boots. He would check when he was finished with the saddlebags.

A letter fell from a shirt that he had lifted from the bag, he picked it up and glanced over it. When his interest had been caught, he returned to the beginning and read it thoroughly. The anger and hatred he had felt for the man who murdered his son began to grow. It happened every time he found the person who he thought had been the murderer. His brown eyes lifted, he wanted to pull his gun and put a bullet in the man right there and then. But he wanted him to be awake, to remember who Carl Johnson was, to admit that he had gunned down his only child.


Words jumped out of the letter; go back to conning, you need to cheat to keep in practise. I have a con going and I want you to join me. This man was not only a gambler who cheats, he was also a conman. This had to be him, he fit the description perfectly. He only had to get him to confess before he killed him. Mortimer was a good man, he would shoot the man if he didn't confess, it wasn't in him to do it, and he had to be sure the man was guilty before he put a bullet between his eyes. The anger he felt had to be controlled.

He folded the letter and put it in his pocket, he would need it later. The saddlebags were thrown aside and the horse that obviously belonged to the gambler was scared off. There wouldn't be a means of escape, his own horse had been trained to only allow one rider to be on its back. His movements became quick as he rushed towards the man, he lifted him under the arms and dragged him back to the tree. A groan told him that the man was semi-conscious. He didn't care, why should he, the man was only a gambler, a man that robbed people of their money by cheating.

Mortimer let go and allowed him to fall the rest of the way to the ground. A grunt came from the form as it rolled over onto its side. The older man sat down. There was some protection from the rain under the large branches that were thick with leaves. He would wait out the weather then move further away from the road. He didn't want the body to be found

________________________________________

Ezra knew his head was about to split open, there was no other reason for the pain that was emanating from it. Maybe it had already split open and the pain was the result. It wouldn't surprise him. Things like that happened to him all the time. And it was all because of Chris Larabee and the others. It was because of them that he had returned to the Indian village and then accepted the offer by Judge Travis to stay on and protect the town. He had been injured more times since the day he met Larabee than he had all his life. It wasn't the way to live.

He forced his eyes open and saw a figure standing before him, his first thought was that it was one of his friends. Then he remembered that he had been on his own. They had allowed him to travel back to Four Corners without any company. He pushed himself backwards and a wave of dizziness assaulted him causing him to fall onto his back.

A face appeared above him, it said nothing, didn't help him, and only stared at him. Ezra tried to remember what had happened, it took a few seconds, the horse had fallen, nearly fallen, he had been the one to fall. He lifted a hand and carefully felt the area on the back of his skull that hurt the most. The hand returned to the front of his face and he managed to make out the blood that slowly ran down his fingers. This wasn't good. He was injured and a stranger was staring at him.

"Can I help you with something?" Ezra asked him.

Mortimer frowned at the sound of the Southern accent. It hadn't been mentioned in the description he had been given. Maybe it didn't matter, most gamblers came from the South, and it was only natural that the killer had an accent.

"Yeah but not now, later when you’re feeling better."

"Uh huh," Ezra muttered and closed his eyes. He wasn't feeling well at all.

Mortimer watched as the man fell back into unconscious. No, he couldn't help him like this, he wouldn't be aware of what was going to happen to him. He sat back down and realised that the rain had finally stopped. His eyes searched the darkening sky and saw the few stars that the clouds allowed to be seen. The weather was clearing up. He decided to take the opportunity to change his clothes for dry ones. He stood up and made his way to his horse, the animal was facing the direction he had come. The road was long and straight, he was surprised he hadn't seen the gambler earlier. But he saw something now. In the distance were two riders heading toward him. He had to get this man out of their view. If they saw him, they would help him.
He grabbed the unconscious man by the arms and began to drag him further away from the road. The path he chose was steep. The man was heavier than he looked. Mortimer glanced to the road and saw the men coming closer, he looked over his shoulder to the group of trees that were close to him. He dug deep down and used what strength he had, he'd made a mistake, and he wasn't going to be able to make it. His body was too old, it was no longer able to do this sort of thing, he swore at his own stupidity. He wasn't going to make it, they would see him as they passed, and they would want to know why he was dragging this man towards the woods. There would be no truthful answer, they wouldn't understand what he wanted and needed. Not everyone agreed with revenge.

It was going to have to wait until later, maybe the two riders won't see him, and maybe they would continue to ride on. He couldn't take the chance. A whistle brought his horse to him, he let go of his burden and quickly lead his horse to the woods, and making sure, he went deep enough not to be seen. He would wait and watch, if the men took this man with them he would follow them and approach him later. It would be more difficult with people around but if he could get him alone then he could do what needed to be done. If death came for afterwards he wouldn't care. Life wasn't worth living without his family. If he died seeking his vengeance that would be all right. He would be able to see his son again.

________________________________________

Buck was doing his best to cheer up his friend. Chris was down, angry, but it had nothing to do with the death of his family. The entire situation was brought on by a gambler by the name of Ezra Standish. But they both knew it wasn't Ezra's fault. Chris had begun to hate the fact that people assumed that Ezra had cheated when playing poker and were willing to beat him to death or kill him outright with a bullet without proof. It was their choice to join the game, their choice to bet everything they had, but Ezra always made sure that the people he played against left the table with some money in their pockets. But why did they have to blame Ezra for their own faults.

Buck had understood when Chris ordered Ezra to return home but he didn't think Ezra had. The gambler still had trouble believing that they were looking out for him, protecting him. Ezra had the sort of life that made it hard for him to accept that someone else actually cared about him and about what happened to him. Buck was sure that Chris was going to drag the Southerner into a corner when they returned home and explain it to him, and not let him go until he accepted it.

They had followed Ezra once their business was completed. Chris knew Ezra's anger and hurt would fester so he wanted to put a stop to it as soon as he could. Buck agreed although it meant riding in the rain. Why not, Ezra had to do it.

He pulled is horse to a stop when he realised that Chris had turned off the path.

"Town's this way." Buck called out to him.

"Yeah but Ezra's over here." Chris had jumped off his horse and was running towards something only he could see.

Buck followed him, it was all he could do.

Chris had seen something that looked out of place. The ground was a mixture of green grass and dark mud. The red colour didn't blend in with its surrounding area. The red then turned into an object, a jacket, the same red jacket that Ezra wore. Chris' first thought was that someone from the town had caught up with him and did what he and Buck and tried to stop.

He stopped next to his friend, the face he stared down into was slack and pale. He could see no evidence of a gunshot wound but that didn't mean there wasn't one. Chris slowly collapsed to his knees and looked up when Buck finally joined him at Ezra's side. Together they turned the Southerner over, both of them having the same thoughts. No gunshot wounds to the back but they did see the blood that was beginning to congeal on the back of his head.

"What do you think happened?" Buck asked as he watched Chris probe the head wound.

"Could have fallen off his horse." Chris shrugged. "But there's nothing here for him to hit his head, maybe he was trying to get out of the rain."

Buck searched the area for the animal that Ezra had hired from the livery, his own horse was suffering from an injury and Ezra hadn't wanted to worsen it. "Can't see the horse."

"Could have been robbed." It seemed like a more plausible idea. "Why don't you take a look around while I try to clean this wound up. Then we'll take him home."

"Be right back."

Chris turned all of his attention to Ezra, he rolled the younger man back onto his back. He felt around the ribcage through the wet clothing for any damage and found none, but it didn't mean there wasn't any. Chris took off his jacket and laid it over Ezra's still form and left him to get some water and a shirt. His eyes followed Buck's movements as the ladies man picked up what he knew were Ezra's saddlebags.

"Someone's been through these and it wasn't Ezra, everything's just been thrown back in." Buck reported as he made his back to his fallen comrade.

"Any dry clothing that we can change Ezra into?" Chris asked as he made his way back to Ezra.

"Only a couple of shirts, nothing else." Buck answered.

"He can wear my jacket." Chris told him.

When Chris and Buck returned to Ezra, they found him staring up at them. The green eyes then blinked in confusion. "Have I been out that long?"

"And how long is that Ezra?" Chris smiled down at him.

"A day or more . . . "

"You only left a few hours ago Ezra." Buck informed him.

Ezra turned to Buck, the confusion still filled his eyes, and now his handsome features. "But you're here, you wouldn't have left a few hours ago."

"We left as soon as we finished our business, wanted to make sure that you were all right." Chris explained.

He would go into the explanation further when they go to back to town.

"I seemed to have fallen off that damn horse!" Ezra growled as he reached up and touched the back of his head.

"Lie still and shut up Ezra, we need to take care of this." Chris pulled the shaking hand and laid it back down beside the gambler.

"I want to go home and go to bed." Ezra sighed.

"Is that how you shut up?" Buck admonished him.

"A few shots of whiskey to warm me up first, then sleep for a month . . I want to . . "

"Shut up Ezra."

Chris ripped his own shirt - Ezra would not be impressed with him if it were the Southerner's shirt that had been destroyed - and poured some water onto one of the strips. He pushed Ezra onto his side then pressed the cloth against the wound and grimaced when he heard Ezra hiss through clenched teeth. "Sorry." Well at least it shut him up for a while.

Ezra nodded and looked up into Buck's eyes, the ladies man had a strange expression written all over his face. The smiled at him and it was all Ezra could take, he closed his eyes and began to mutter curses under his breath while Chris cleaned the wound on the back of his head.

"You know that hurts, don't you?"

"Yep." Chris nodded.

"Then why are continuing to inflict more pain on me, don't you realise my head hurts enough as it is."

Both Chris and Buck refused to answer him, instead one held his head up while the other bandaged it.

"It's going to hurt no matter what we do Ezra, so do as your told and shut the hell up!"

"Mr Larabee, are you saying that I don't do as I'm told." Ezra raised an eyebrow and winced because the simple movement hurt. "That hurt, I'm going to shut up now." there was a pause before he spoke again.

"Think I'll get some sleep too if you don't mind. Don't want to be rude, and I don't like to be bad company but I'm tired and I'm going to go to sleep for a little while."

"Don't want you to sleep Ezra." Chris leaned over him and lifted an eyelid before it could be closed, then the other. The pupil on the right was larger. "You've got a concussion, you need to stay awake."

"No I don't." Ezra insisted as he closed his eyes again.

"Ezra! Stay awake."

"And what is the best way to stay awake?"

"To talk."

Ezra would have nodded in satisfaction but he knew it would hurt. "But you keep asking me to shut up."

"Jesus Ezra, why do you have to be so damn irritating and difficult all the time." Chris growled at him as he pulled him up into a sitting position.

Ezra's eyes flew open as the pain tore through his skull and his stomach began to roll. "It was your order to shut up and I'm now going to be sick . . . "

They didn't have a chance to move out of the way, the mess that came from Ezra's stomach landed on their feet. The boots and lower part of their trousers were covered in vomit.

"Can you put me back down please." Ezra demanded. He had felt better when he was lying down, he wanted to do back to his original position.

"I think it might be best if we stay here tonight and take him into town tomorrow." Chris told Buck as he
began to dress Ezra in his dry jacket.

"He's soaked through Chris, we should take him now."

"He's also gonna vomit everywhere. You can take him on your horse."

"Maybe we should stay here." Buck repeated Chris' suggestion.

"He's soaked through Buck, we should take him now."

"I get the point." Buck growled.

"Maybe I should just take care of myself, I can sleep here for a while and then walk back to town, meet you there. That way you won't have to keep arguing about what you're going to do with me." Ezra snapped at them. "I'm sorry to be such a burden to you."

"You're not a burden, you're a friend and we're trying to decide what's best for you." Chris retorted.

"Fine, while you're making your decision, I'm going back to sleep."

"No you don't," Chris nodded to Buck and together they stood up and brought Ezra up with them, "we're taking you home now. Nathan can then decide what's best for you."

"And I know what Nathan wants to do with me." Ezra groaned.

He could feel the world spinning around him and he thought he was going to throw up again. It passed and he hoped that it was not going to come back.

"You're not going to throw up again are you Ezra?" Buck asked as he stepped away but kept his hold on the gambler.

"You wish."

"No, my shoes are already ruined, thanks anyway."

"Think you could walk to Buck's horse with our help?" Chris bent a little so he could look up into Ezra's face. The gambler's head was leaning against his chest.

"Buck's, where the hell is the horse that nearly fell over?"

"Gone."

"Typical, first the stupid animal thinks it's going to fall over then decides not to but forgets to tell me about it then runs off."

"Am I going to have to tell you to shut up again." Chris was still looking into Ezra's abnormal pupils.

"Shut up, don't go to sleep, stay here, go home, fall of a horse, don't fall off a horse, stay, go . . . stay, go. Mother says go, I say stay, go, stay, I'm going to have to decide one day."

Chris looked at Buck who was returning the confused expression. Ezra was now taking about something completely different. Stay in Four Corners or leave.

"We're going home Ezra," Chris told him, "you hear that, home. H . . . O . . . M . . . E, home. It's your home and it's our home."

"Home." Ezra nodded. "And no, I don't think I can walk to Buck's horse."

"We'll help you." Chris stepped forward with Buck but for some reason Ezra had stayed where he was.

"I think I'll just stay here," Ezra allowed his knees to buckle so he could fall back to the ground.

"Whoa there Ezra," Buck pulled him back up, "you're not staying here."

"Why not?"

"Because you've been injured, you're soaked through, you'll catch a cold. We need to get you warmed up and into a bed."

"You want to get me into a bed." Ezra smiled up at Buck.

"Now your wishing." Buck laughed, he couldn't help himself. If only Ezra was this, free with his speech more often. The Southerner had a very good sense of humour but it was something they didn't see very often.

"With that refusal, I will stay right here." he tried to sit down again but his friends wouldn't let him.

"Think we're going to have to carry him Buck."

"Oh no, I'm not a child, I am quite capable of walking to my horse."

"You don't have a horse." Buck reminded him.

"I don't?"

"No, that's why your riding with me."

"Would someone please tell me what's going on?"

"Later Ezra, we want to get you home first." Chris took most of Ezra's weight and began to lead him to Buck's horse. "No more interruptions."

"Fine, I'd rather sleep anyway."

"I'm going crazy." Chris shook his head.

Buck hid his smile and mounted his horse. He then reached down and helped Ezra get up on the horse in front of him. "You certainly know how to push his buttons, don't you Ezra."

"Who's buttons?" Ezra lifted his head slightly to look at the man behind him.

"Chris' buttons Ezra."

"Chris is here?"

"You must have hit your head pretty hard."

"I hit my head?"

"Shut up Ezra!"

Buck turned his head to see Chris riding up to them. "He's getting pretty confused."

"We better get him back to Nathan then." Chris slapped Ezra's arm. "You ready Ezra," there was a nod, "if you think you're going to throw up, shout and we'll help you." Another nod.

Buck wrapped his arms around Ezra's waist and heeled his horse into movement.


________________________________________

Nathan was about to retire for the night, the day had been as long as it was difficult. He was frustrated, hungry and too tired to eat. The healer planned on sleeping through the night and having a large breakfast in the morning. The door opening stopped the plan dead in its tracks. Chris and Buck stepped into the room with Ezra propped up between them. The gambler didn't look well at all. His features were pale, his lips slightly blue and he was obviously unable to stand on his own.

"What did you do this time Ezra?" Nathan asked as he gestured Chris towards the bed.

"I, Mr Jackson, didn't do anything . . . " Ezra frowned and looked sideways at Chris, "Did I do something to earn this discomfort and pain?"

"No Ezra, you merely fell off your horse." Chris told Ezra and Nathan.

"I fell off my horse, my horse wouldn't allow me to fall." Ezra protested verbally and physically when they tried to lie him down on the bed.

"It wasn't your horse Ezra."

"Oh, where is my horse?"

"In the livery, wasn't feeling too well, that's you told us."

"He been like this since it happened?" Nathan asked Chris.

"We weren't there when it happened."

Nathan gave Chris a questioning look, but Chris shook his head, he would explain later. The healer nodded then turned his attention back to Ezra. "Firstly, let's get you out of those wet clothes."

Ezra helped as best he could, it wasn't much. He lifted his arms and pulled them when he could. The upper clothing was off quickly followed by boots and pants. Nathan did a quick examination to make sure there were no other injuries, he found some slight bruising to Ezra's back but nothing else. Nathan covered him with a blanket and gestured to Chris to get him a second blanket.

The black healer left to gather the things he needed then moved back to the bed and sat down behind Ezra. He lay his equipment on the side table. He looked down at his patient and noticed the closed eyes and steady breathing.

"Chris, could you hold his head."

"No, not now, I want to sleep." Ezra muttered. "Keep trying but I’m not getting there though."

"This is going to hurt Ezra." Nathan warned him.

"When doesn't it." the man on the bed sighed.

Nathan began to clean the wound but had to stop when Ezra moved his head away. "Chris!" he hadn't realised that the gunslinger hadn't been holding Ezra's head still.

When he knew Chris was in position he returned to what he was doing. He smiled warmly when Ezra began to curse, the Southerner wouldn't be going to sleep now. It took a few minutes to get all the dirt out of the wound, he then cleaned it a second time to make sure. The disinfectant caused Ezra to struggle against Chris' hold and the cursing became worse.

Chris held onto Ezra's head as firmly as he dared, he didn't want to push his face down into the pillow, he wouldn't be able to breathe. He moved his free hand forward and gripped Ezra's chin. His movement caused the gambler's eyes to snap open and stare up at him. Chris could tell by the expression that if Ezra were able to talk he would be cursing him, using every word that he knew.

Nathan began to stitch the wound. He felt Ezra tense up as the pain became worse so he worked as quickly as he could. It took him almost five minutes to put in the seven stitches. Nathan nodded to Chris who released Ezra. After he re-bandaged the wound, he moved around the bed to face Ezra.

"All finished Ezra, you can sleep now."

Ezra didn't answer him, he simply closed his eyes and lay in the bed silently until sleep claimed him.

"How long has he been like that?" Nathan turned to Chris and Buck when he was sure that Ezra was sleeping. “Confused I mean, how long has he been confused like that?”

"He was unconscious when we first found him, then he woke up," Chris sat down in the chair, all of a sudden he was tired, "wouldn't stop talking at first, then all he wanted to do was sleep. After about twenty minutes he started to get confused."

"He was forgetting things that only happened a few minutes ago." Buck added. "Is that bad?"

"Could be," Nathan answered, "he may simply be confused."

"Aw hell Nathan, it's just a bump on the head, he's had plenty of those, so have we for that matter." Buck argued with him.

"I should know more in the morning. Why don't you guys go get some rest, come back tomorrow."

"No, we'll stay with him, we got him into this mess in the first place Nathan." Chris made himself comfortable, it was going to be a long night.

"What did you do?" Nathan walked back to the washbasin and scrubbed the blood of his hands.

"He was playing poker and some guy accused him of cheating . . . "

"Don't they always." Nathan interrupted him.

"He wasn't cheating Nathan, he doesn't cheat!" Buck spoke harshly.

Nathan only shrugged.

Chris continued what he was saying. "We knew he wasn't cheating, but they didn't. His life was threatened and I thought it was best that he leave town. Ezra did, but he wasn't too happy about it. Must have thought that we believed the townsfolk. We left when we were finished, I wanted to explain what happened. He wasn't on the road, I don't know if he crawled off it or not. His horse was gone and we think that maybe someone had gone through his things."

"He didn't fall off the horse?"

"Ezra said he did." Buck told him.

"Maybe Ezra went through it . . ." Chris shrugged but he had a bad feeling about it. The whole thing wasn't right. He believed Ezra when he said that he had fallen off but the rest of it didn't fit. Ezra was in the wrong position. His saddlebags were on the ground, someone had gone through them and the horse he had been riding was gone. "We're not sure what happened after he fell off the horse."


________________________________________

Chris woke quickly when he heard Nathan loudly calling Ezra's name. His still groggy form protested the quick movements that he forced upon it as he made his way quickly to the bed. Nathan had began to slap the gambler's face, gently at first then with more force.

"Can't wake him?" Chris asked.

"Having a bit of trouble with that." Nathan nodded as he spoke.

"Let me have a go." he took the healer's place beside Ezra and cupped the younger man's chin in his hand.

"Ezra!" he slapped the exposed cheek that was already beginning to redden because of the abuse. "Ezra! You really don't want to piss me off!"

A groan came from Ezra's waking form.

"Now that was easy." Chris gloated. "Come on Ezra, wake up, it's only for a few minutes, then you can go back to sleep.

Ezra's eyes opened slightly. "What's going on, you need me for something?" he saw Nathan. "Is someone hurt?"

"No." Nathan leaned in closer. "How ya feelin' Ezra?"

"Me?" he tried to sit up but a sudden pain in his head flared up causing him to fall back down. "Oh it's me."

"Well?"

"Tired, and my head hurts. Why does my head hurt?"

Nathan patted his shoulder. "Go back to sleep now Ezra."

Chris and Nathan moved away from the bed to allow the gambler to sleep.

________________________________________

Ezra blinked, then frowned, then blinked again. Something wasn't right. His head hurt, badly and he was in Nathan's clinic but he couldn't remember how he had gotten here or why he was here. He had to be hurt, that was the only explanation. Maybe if he closed his eyes and tried again, he would be back in his own room. Ezra tried it, his eyes closed and he counted to ten. The eyes opened again and he found himself still in the clinic.

"You're awake finally." Nathan's voice interrupted his thoughts.

"What happened?"

"You don't remember." the healer walked to the bed and sat down on the edge.

"Nathan, if I could remember, I wouldn't be asking you." Ezra's patience was limited in its capacity, his anger was also on a short fuse. He was confused, and there was a period of time that he had no memory of and he didn't like it.

"You fell off a horse on the way back to town yesterday, hit your head. You've been a little bit confused Ezra, you’ll be fine in a few days."

"Confused, why?" Ezra pushed himself up into a sitting position.

"You’ve got a concussion.”

"I’ve had that before and haven’t been this confused. So how did it happen?”

“How did what happen?”

“How did I get a concussion?”

“You fell off your horse and hit your head.” Nathan explained again.

"When can I go back to my room?"

"I want you stay here till tomorrow, I need to keep a close eye on you."

"Okay."

"I want you to drink something for me, it'll help with the pain." the larger man got up and went to the long table that he had placed the brew he'd made up earlier.

"And make me sleep no doubt." Ezra smiled up at Nathan when he returned to the bed.

"That too." he handed Ezra the cup. "Drink all of it Ezra."

________________________________________

Chris opened his eyes and grimaced at the pain that ran through his back, he was getting to old for this. He was going to have to demand that Nathan put another bed in here so when one of them wanted to stay, they could sleep on the spare bed. Chris stretched, groaned, stretched again then stood up. He noticed Nathan sitting in a chair next to the bed. The healer seemed to be sleeping. His eyes shifted to Ezra, the gambler was sleeping heavily, his chest rising and falling in a steady rhythm Chris stood up and made his way to the bed, he leant over and placed the back of his hand against Ezra’s cheek. The fever was still there. He wanted to wake him up to ask him how he was but knew Nathan would have something to say about him disturbing his patient. If he really needed to know, he would have to wake up Nathan. The idea was as bad as the first one. He was going to have to wait.

“Woke up an hour ago, I gave him something.” Nathan informed him as he raised his hands over his head to stretch his back..

“How was he?”

“Still confused and forgetful.”

“Do you know why?”

“No I don’t.”

“Anything you can do?”

“Only wait and see.” It was the only answer that Nathan could come up with.

“I’ll sit with him for a while. You go and do what you need to do.”

“If you mean eat and sleep then thank you, I’ll send someone up to give you a break.”

“Nathan.” Chris waited until the healer turned to look at him. “Is he going to be okay?”

“I really don’t know Chris.” Nathan left the room, leaving Chris confused and worried about the gambler.


________________________________________

Mortimer Johnson shifted his position in the chair he had been sitting in all morning. The man named Ezra had spent the night in the room at the top of the stairs. Other men had come and gone but there had been no sign of the man he wanted. He could wait, he had plenty of time and plenty of patience. The years he had spent searching only proved that. It also gave him time to think. There were five men in all that had visited the injured man, some of them more than once. If it was going to be like this all the time, he was going to find it difficult to get to the gambler. He needed him to be alone, he couldn’t go through six men to get to him, and he wouldn’t survive.

He watched as the solid black man returned to the room. At first, he thought that it was a Doctor’s room but the men he had seen didn’t look like Doctors. The black man had been there all the time, it was his room. He had never arrived as the others had. Either the man was a healer or a charlatan trying to convince people that he could heal them. A black man couldn’t be a Doctor or a healer. It had never happened before and it wouldn’t happen.

The old man drank from the cup he held in his hand, the liquid was cooling but it was still warm enough for him to drink. One of the two men who had brought the gambler back was still in there, he was the one that would cause the most trouble. The man in black obviously cared for the gambler, he didn’t know why. No one should care about a cheat, a man who took money from those who didn’t have enough to survive on, a man who would gun down anyone who questioned his card playing techniques; like his son had done.
Mortimer was going to enjoy reminding this man of what he had done, the memory that would flash in his eyes would be enough to allow him to pull the trigger that would kill the gambler and revenge his son’s death. All he needed to do was to get the man on his own.


________________________________________

Ezra was awake when Nathan entered his clinic that also served as his living arrangements. He couldn’t understand why, it wasn’t like he had anywhere to sleep when he had a patient staying for a few days. The chair was the only thing that was available and he sometimes suffered as much back pain as the patient did from his injuries.

“Nathan, can I go back to my own room now, I feel fine.” Ezra didn’t give Nathan a chance to ask him anything or to even sit himself down.

“How you feelin’ Ezra?” Nathan ignored the question, he’d learnt how to a long time ago. If you wanted to win an argument with Ezra, you didn’t listen to what he was saying, you carried on a one sided conversation.

“Fine, can I leave now.”

“No.” the healer smiled at him. “Not until I know you’re okay.”

“You can’t keep me here forever Nathan, I may be a bit confused but I’m not stupid!”

“You’re also forgetful.” Chris reminded him.

Ezra looked across the room at Chris. “And this has something to do with you because?”

"Apparently someone made me the leader of this irritating group, so what I say goes. If Nathan wants you to stay, you stay.”

“But I feel fine!” Ezra argued with him. “By the way, it wasn’t my choice that you be the leader.”

“You weren’t there when the decision was made.” Chris retorted.

Ezra hung his head in shame.

“You were in jail remember, something about bail jumping.”

“Oh, maybe we should vote again.” Ezra suggested with a slight smile.

“What makes you think they wouldn’t say the same thing.” Chris crossed his arms with confidence.

“You have a point there.” Ezra felt defeated, he didn’t want to stay here, and he felt fine apart from the ache in the back of his head. That usually happened though when you fell on it.

“If you’re confused and forgetful how do we know you won’t do something . . . ?” Nathan started.

“Stupid?”

“Yeah, sort of.”

“How can I do something stupid when six men will no doubt hound me until I am back to my normal self.”

“Now Ezra has a point.” Chris added.

“Tomorrow Ezra, we’ll see how you are tomorrow.”

“What am I going to do until tomorrow?”

“Sleep.”

“I’m not tired.”

Chris was surprised that Ezra hadn’t asked them to partake in a game of poker.

“Poker.” Chris was going to find out why Ezra hadn’t made the suggestion.

“Poker? I don’t feel like playing cards.” Ezra muttered and looked down at his hands, he didn’t want to tell them he wasn’t sure how to play. How could a bump on the head do that to him? He thought about asking Nathan but the healer would only keep him in here longer than he wanted to be.

“Why not?” Chris stood up and moved to the bed.

“Just don’t feel like it that’s all, there is nothing wrong with that is there.”

“No, suppose not.” he looked at Nathan who shrugged in return.

“You hungry Ezra?”

“Yes,” it was an easy lie, one that he had to use quite often.

“I’ll go and get him something.” Chris offered.

“Something light.” Nathan ordered.

When Chris left, Ezra allowed his gaze to find Nathan’s kind face. “Nathan can I go home now.”

“Not until tomorrow Ezra, I told you that remember.”

“I know you did, I just thought I would give it another try.”

“It won’t work, you’re staying put!” Nathan glared at him, narrowed his eyebrows, crossed his arms and pressed his lips together.

“I’ll stay put.”

“Do I have your word as a gentleman?”

“Aw hell.” Ezra crossed his own arms in a gesture of defence.

“Ezra?”

“Fine! You have it.”

“Good, now that I know you won’t go anywhere I’m going to help Chris.”

“I’m not hungry.” Ezra tried.

“I don’t care.” Nathan said before he left the room.





Part One | Part Two


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