azombiewrites: (The Magnificent Seven)
[personal profile] azombiewrites
Title: A Hiking We Will Go
Rating: PG
Warnings: Strong Language.
Fandom: The Magnificent Seven
AU: ATF
Main Characters: Ezra, and the rest of the guys.
Summary: Chris and Vin decide that it would be a good idea to go hiking for a week. Ezra doesn't want to go, but he has no choice.
Disclaimers: The guys are owned by CBS, MGM, Trilogy Entertainment Group, and The Mirisch Corp.
Spoilers: None
Status: Complete
Total Word Count: 25,059



Day One

Chris Larabee pulled up outside the townhouse, he allowed the engine to keep running while he stared at the road ahead of him. If the engine is still going then he would have to come out. If he stopped the engine then 'he' would have to go in after him and he didn't want to do that. Not today and not for the rest of the week. He glanced sideways at his passenger.

Vin Tanner was smiling, he knew Chris was going to have to go in there, because he wasn't. There were two reasons for his decision. One; it was cooler in the car than it was outside. Two; there was no way in hell he was going in there to wake him up. He watched as Chris glanced over his shoulder as the second car pulled up behind them. The engine was turned off. Vin looked out the side window when his smile grew larger. The men in the second car had no intention of going into the townhouse to wake up it's occupant. It was left to the leader of the group to do a task that each of them dreaded when it was their turn. Today they were lucky but Chris wasn't, it was his turn.

Chris growled, then spun to face Tanner when he snorted in laughter. "I could order you to go in there!" he snapped.

"We're on holidays and that wouldn't be fair cowboy. Besides, it's your turn." Vin continued to hide his face from his friend.

"Who said life was fair?"

Chris turned the engine off, opened the door and stood in the unbearable heat. It was only seven in the morning and the day was already a scorcher. A heat wave the weather people had informed the population of Denver. They were smart those weather people. He slammed the door shut. Chris adjusted his jeans then stormed up to the front door that was hidden by large growing vines. His fist banged on the door five times then hung in mid-air as it waited for an answer. It was about to begin the process again when the door was pulled open.

"I'm awake already." Ezra muttered as he dragged his backpack out through the doorway.

Ezra Standish wasn't in a good mood. He had been hating himself from the moment he had said yes to going on this outlandish hiking trip. He liked spending his days indoors, especially when he didn't have to go to work. They now had a week off and for some reason Chris and Vin and suggested the idea. He hadn't said yes straight away, it had taken a few days of continuous whining from the men before he agreed and now it was going to be the death of him.

"Thought I was going to have to drag your skinny ass out of bed Standish."

"Well, you know what thought did."

"What did it do Ezra?" Chris moved to stand in front of him to stop him from going any further.

"It got me out of bed at six AM! That's what it did. It also got me into this fucking mess!" he wasn't happy at all.

"You don't want to go?" an eyebrow was raised.

"Are you saying that I don't have to?"

"No."

"I don't want to go."

"Your going and I don't want to hear anymore of it." Chris turned away from him and began the short trek back to the car.

"If I have to endure this torture Mr Larabee then I'm going to make the next week hell for all of you!" Ezra yelled after him.

"Comin' Ezra, we're kinda in a hurry?" Chris asked him.

"In a hurry to make my life miserable more like it." Ezra followed him down the path and stopped at the back passenger door. He didn't bother to acknowledge the men in the second car. Instead he opened the door, threw his back pack into the car, followed it, then used all of his wakening strength to slam the door shut.

"Don't start Ezra." Chris warned him.

"I haven't even begun to start Mr Larabee." the early morning and lack of enough coffee had soured his mood to the point of being very distasteful.

"You get out on the wrong side of the bed Ezra?" Vin twisted in his seat so he could see his friends face.

"Getting out of bed is only the beginning of my problems Mr Tanner."

"He doesn't want to go?" Vin asked Chris.

"NO!" Chris' voice was joined by an angry Southern accent.

"Then why make him go?"

"Because he's one of us and he's going. I'm not going to let him stay at home and end up thinking that he didn't go because we didn't want him there."

"You got a point there Chris."

"Can we go now." Chris didn't wait for an answer, he started the car and drove off to start what he hoped was going to be at least a pleasant one week vacation.

________________________________________

Ezra was sick, actually, he had motion sickness, his stomach rolled and his head ached. This always happened to him when he wasn't driving, and it didn't help that he hadn't had time for breakfast. If he stopped to think about it, it was their fault. He glared at the two men sitting in the front seat. He didn't want to throw up, he wanted to say something but his anger had caused him to say 'to hell with it, if I'm going to throw up, then I'll throw up in Larabee's car'. The time had come, he was going to vomit but at the last minute he spoke up. He couldn't be sick in the car, Chris Larabee would only make him clean it up.

"Stop the car."

"What the hell for?" Chris glanced in the rear-view mirror and saw the pallor of Ezra's skin. "Aw shit! Not in my car Standish. You'll die if you do."

Chris swung the car to the side of the road and slammed on the brakes. All three occupants were thrown forward. Vin swore. Ezra groaned. Chris got out of his car and pulled the back door open, he grabbed the ailing Southerner's arm and pulled him from the car, he dragged him around the dodge and pushed him ahead of him.

Ezra was grateful they were feeling so sympathetic towards him. He stepped towards the tree and pressed against it in a use of support. First his shoulders heaved as he drew in gulps of fresh air, he hoped that it would stop what was about to happen. It didn't. His stomach then began to convulse as he threw up what was in his stomach. He'd only had a light dinner the night before so there wasn't much for his stomach to get rid of.

"Ahhh shit Ezra." Chris had been angry at first. But now that anger was aimed at himself. This wasn't Ezra's fault. "Vin, grab some water will you." he walked to Ezra and placed a hand on his shoulder. Of course Ezra had to throw it off but Chris put it back immediately. "Sorry about that Ezra."

Ezra could feel himself trembling, god he hated this shit. Why did he come? Why didn't he just say no, I'm not going. Because he didn't want to disappoint his friends. It didn't matter to them that this was going to be hell for him, but it did matter to him that they were unhappy because he didn't go. A bottle of water appeared in front of him. He grabbed it and took a mouthful. After washing his mouth he spit the water out. It hit Chris' boot. His aim was still good.

"Sorry about that Chris." Ezra gave Vin the water back and started back to the car. Nathan Jackson's larger form stopped him.

"You okay?"

"Do I look okay to you?"

"No." Nathan turned to speak to the men in the car he was travelling in. "JD, Buck, why don't you ride with Chris, Ezra's going to come with me."

"I'm not going to feel any different in you car Nathan." Ezra tried to assure him.

"I'll give you something to make you feel better Ezra." Nathan put an arm around the smaller man's shoulders and lead him to the second car.

"Would that be a taxi to take me home?" Ezra asked hopefully.

"You don't want to come?" Josiah asked him. He had heard what Ezra said as the younger man got into the car.

"No. Chris is making me and I feel obliged to come." Ezra muttered as he made himself more comfortable, he leaned his head back and closed his eyes. He felt Nathan put a small pillow behind his head.

"Here drink this, it'll settle your stomach."

Ezra opened his eyes to see a glass of liquid being offered to him. He didn't like the look of it and knew he would like the taste even less. He refused to ask what it was, instead he took his courage in his hands and drank the entire contents without saying a word.

"Thank you."

"Why don't you see if you can get some sleep Ezra." Nathan suggested then got back into the car himself.
From his position in the car he saw Chris watching him, he nodded that Ezra would be okay. Chris nodded back then got into his car and drove off.

Josiah waited for a while. Ezra needed time for his stomach to settle. It wasn't long before Ezra's head fell onto his shoulder, his forehead resting against the window. The ex-preacher smiled. Ezra always looked so young and innocent when he slept, and they all knew that it was a different story when he was awake. He drove off, making sure that he was careful not to bounce their back seat passenger around.

________________________________________

Josiah had to stop four more times before they reached their destination. Ezra's stomach had decided that it didn't want to settle down. The Southerner hadn't been able to sleep for a period longer than forty minutes and the constant interruptions had caused his mood to worsen. Nathan and Josiah were silently glad that Ezra was no longer travelling with Chris, their leader would have lost his patience a long time ago. Nathan had constantly checked Ezra for a fever while he was sleeping. None had surfaced until the fourth time he vomited.

The ex-medic wasn't too concerned, it was only motion sickness, a good nights sleep and a decent breakfast was what Ezra needed. Nathan had made sure that Ezra had drunk plenty of water during the trip so he didn't become dehydrated.

When Josiah brought the car to a stop along side the dodge in the parking area, Ezra was fast asleep in the back. He was lying on his right side, a pillow under his head and a thin blanket over his body. His knees were bent, the bare feet were hanging out from beneath the blanket. A slight sheen of sweat covered his forehead.

The two men in the front seat exited from the car as quietly as they could and made their way over to the group of men who had been waiting for them. Josiah couldn't help but notice the impatient tapping of feet when he looked at Chris and Buck. Those two were eager to get started.

"You didn't take him home did you?" Chris demanded to know.

"He's sleeping on the back seat," Nathan informed him. "and that's where he's going to stay until he wakes up. Then he's going to lie down on the bedding that I'm going to set up for him, eat a light dinner then sleep again until morning. Now, do you have a problem with that?"

Nathan didn't usually talk to Chris in that manner so each man looked from Nathan to Chris.

"He that bad?" Chris asked him. Nathan wouldn't speak to him like that unless Ezra was in a bad way.

"Threw up four more times on the way up here."

"I didn't know he got that bad." JD commented from the sideline.

"He doesn't."

"You don't think he's sick do you Nathan?" Vin stepped closer to the group.

"No, just a mixture of an early morning, no food and a bad mood." Nathan shrugged.

"So he'll be okay for the hike?" Chris asked him. He didn't want Ezra walking for the next six days if he wasn't up to it.

"Yeah, I'll just make sure in the morning before we head off." Nathan nodded.


"Let's set up camp then and stay here the night." Chris spoke with his leadership qualities. "Josiah, Vin, set up a couple of tents in the camping area. JD, Buck, collect some firewood. Nathan, take care of Ezra." he waited but the others wouldn't move.

"And what are you going to do?" Buck crossed his arms.

"I'm the boss, I don't have to do anything." Chris smiled. "It's as simple as that. If you want to argue about it just remember that we'll back at the office in a weeks time."

"No arguments here." JD and Buck left quickly to gather wood.

"You could at least make the coffee when the fire's going." Vin grumbled.

"I can do that." Chris grinned.

"Who's going to unpack the cars?" Nathan asked. "I can, Ezra's sleeping, he's not going to wake up for a while."

"We'll do it in the morning Nathan, " Chris winked at Vin, "while I'm informing the park ranger of what we're doing for the next six days."

"We're on a weeks vacation," Vin growled as he began to follow Josiah, "you would think he'd take a break from that leadership bullshit and give us a hand, take a turn at doing things, some of the hard work, instead of sitting on his fat ass letting us do it."

"Did you say something Vin?" Chris called out after him.

"I said you’re a asshole who's lazy, stupid, and . . . and,"

"We'll maybe you should have volunteered to wake Ezra this morning."

"I knew it, that man holds a grudge almost as badly as Ezra does."

"You've got all week to get him back Vin, bide your time." Josiah nudged him with an elbow.

"Got any ideas?"

"Nope, but then again I'm not the one seeking revenge."

"Thanks." Vin was on his own. "Maybe Ezra will be able to come up with something."

"Might cheer him up, it's a way of making the trip worthwhile for him." Josiah agreed.

Vin looked over his shoulder and smiled at Chris, he winked then turned back to Josiah.

"Ah shit." Chris muttered. "He's gonna do something."

________________________________________

Ezra opened his left eye, in front of him was a car seat. The eye roamed the interior searching for a clue that would reveal the car owner's identity. He finally gazed upon a cigarette burn. He grimaced, that was his cigarette burn. The occasional cigarette was required after he'd had a bad day. He wasn't the only that had a smoke every now and then but he'd been the only one that had smoked in the back of Josiah's car while he was drunk. The ex-preacher had stopped suddenly for a red light and he had fallen forward onto the floor, the cigarette butt burnt a hole in the carpet. Ezra had never told Josiah about it and as far as he knew Josiah didn't know.

The undercover agent turned his head slightly and opened the other eye, he looked out the window of the vehicle to see the approaching darkness. Had he been asleep all day? His stomach growled, it was hungry. Ezra thought about refusing the food it was asking for as a punishment for throwing up so often. The stomach rumbled again. Lord, why did it always have to win? Because it wasn't his stomach that was doing the talking, it was his brain and it was demanding the nourishment that it needed to replace what the body had lost when the stupid stomach decided that it had wanted to throw up so many times.

Ezra threw the blanket off and sat up. The windows had been left down allowing the cool breeze to flow through the car. The wind carried in a noise that told him Buck and JD were playing football, no doubt with themselves. Ezra decided that it was time to show himself, he got out of the car and searched the area for his friends. He found them about two hundred metres away. After closing the windows and locking the door he made his way over to them. As he walked he prepared himself for the snide remarks that he knew would be coming. He stopped dead in his tracks when he saw Nathan approaching him.

"Hey Ezra, how you feelin'?" Nathan thought it would be best to ask about his health before the others caused Ezra to shut him out.

"Still feel a bit sick but I'm hungry as well. Stomach muscles hurt though." Ezra admitted to him.

Nathan reached out and put a hand against Ezra's forehead. His hand was quickly pushed away but he got the information that he needed. "You still got a fever Ezra."

"I'll be fine by the morning Nathan. Thanks."

"Sure Ezra. Why don't you come and get some soup, your stomach should be able to handle that."

Ezra nodded and followed him to the camp. He sat down next to Josiah and accepted the bowl of soup, they must have known he was waking up. Nathan had a way in that regard, he was always able to tell when one of them was returning to the living world.

"Thanks."

"It's not hot, Nathan didn't want it hot." Josiah smiled at him.

Ezra looked around the small camp fire at the others, they were looking at him in a strange way. He frowned, they weren't making fun of him, he was sure that it was going to happen.

"Feeling better Ezra?" Chris asked from the opposite side of the fire.

"Yeah."

"You up to this or do you want to go home?"

"Mr Larabee, I don't believe that I, or my stomach, could handle another six hour drive home. If you had allowed me to stay at home when I asked you this morning, I wouldn't be going through this shit. And to answer your question, yes, I am up to this."

"Good." Chris returned to his dinner. But his eyes kept turning upwards to watch his undercover agent. Ezra wasn't a happy man and he knew it. Maybe he shouldn't have dragged him out here. It was too late now, they would just have to make the best of it.

________________________________________

Day Two

The first day of the hike started without any incidents, the sun's strength had weakened, the heat wave was finally over. Seven men walked in procession along the man made trail with Chris Larabee taking the lead and Vin Tanner in the rear. They were four hours into the hike and Chris was beginning to think that Ezra had settled and was beginning to enjoy himself. It looked like he was enjoying himself but you could never tell with Ezra, if there was something wrong with him, you wouldn't know it until he collapsed into a heap or threw up. The man never discussed how he felt emotionally or physically.

Nathan had told him that Ezra still had a slight fever, it was something he couldn't understand why. Ezra had insisted on going on the hike, he'd said that he felt fine. The ex-medic couldn't argue with the Southerner about it, he didn't have enough patience for it.

Nathan walked behind the undercover agent, he wanted to keep an eye on him, to watch for any signs of physical ailments. He was worried because the fever that had attached itself to the Southerner’s body hadn’t let go yet. He was hoping that it didn’t grow into anything worse or even life threatening. They were in a position where medical attention was hours away.

The dark man turned when he heard someone ask for permission to walk behind Ezra. Nathan turned and looked into Buck’s smiling features. The man was up to something. JD, who stood behind Buck was also smiling.

“If you do anything stupid to him, you’ll have me to answer to.” Nathan warned him. “You know he’s not feeling the best.”

“What are you? His mother?” Buck joked as he pushed Jackson out of the way.

Buck fell into step behind Ezra and patiently bided his time for the right moment. He wasn’t going to do anything nasty, he just wanted to have some fun. Four hours of just walking, he was beginning to get bored. He had discussed practical jokes with JD and who to pull them on. It was decided that Ezra was going to be the first one. Nathan and Josiah were too big, Chris was the boss and he easily got into a bad mood. They would wait until at least the fourth day before they pulled a joke on him. Vin, well, he would only return the favour and they weren’t ready for that. So Ezra was the one. He would retaliate with embarrassment, dwell on it for a while and either do nothing or something. Either way he was the better choice for the first practical joke.

JD had moved up behind Buck and was nudging him in the back. “Do it!”

“Give me a minute.” the ladies man growled back at him.

“If you don’t, I will.” JD warned him.

“Okay!”

“Something wrong Buck?” Ezra had heard the argument and turned around to find out what was going on.

“No,” Buck stammered, “nothing.”

“You're not thinking of pulling a practical joke on me are you?” Ezra stopped walking and didn’t allow himself to step back when Buck walked into him.

“No, why would I do that?” Shit, the man had an uncanny knack of reading people’s minds. He’d have to work on keeping his nasty little ideas for pranks behind an unreadable wall.


“I’m not in a good mood Buck, I don’t want to be here, I don’t feel that great and if you pull any sort of joke on me I will respond with physical violence. I don’t care if I hurt you. Do you understand me?”

Buck nodded, he understood perfectly. The threat in the green eyes was easily read. Well, that idea just went down the toilet.

“You don’t feel well?” Nathan had heard the comment and made his way closer to Ezra.

“It was an statement of untruth.” Ezra shrugged. “I needed something to convince him not to do anything stupid.”

“You sure about that?”

“Yes I’m sure!” Ezra growled and turned around to continue only to find Chris and the others staring at him.

“I’m fine!”

“Maybe we should stop for lunch.” Chris suggested.

“You don’t think it’s a bit early for lunch?” Vin asked from the sidelines.

“Nope.” Chris answered. “Besides, I’m hungry.”

“Don’t know why,” Vin stepped back, “it’s not like you did any hard work this morning or yesterday for that matter.”

Chris looked at his friend, his eyes narrowed then he smiled. “Vin just volunteered to collect firewood and make the camp fire.”

“Did not!” Vin protested. “I’m not doing it.”

“I’ll do it.” Ezra began to take off his backpack.

Nathan quickly took the opportunity and placed a hand against Ezra’s forehead. The smaller man wasn’t able to stop him while his own arms were entangled within the straps of the backpack.

“You sit on your butt and do nothing!” Nathan ordered him.

“Does he still have a fever?” Chris frowned at Ezra.

“Yeah, and it’s higher than it was.”

“I’m just hot.” Ezra retorted as he allowed the pack to drop to the ground. “Now, I’m going to collect some firewood and make a fire. If anyone wants to try and stop me, they can, but they have to be willing to fight me.”

“Do you even know how to make a fire?” Chris’ frown turned into a playful smile.

“Of course I can?”

“When did you ever make a fire?” Vin joined in on the fun.

“When I was a kid.”

“You were once a kid?” Chris nudged Vin with his elbow.

“Bastard.” Ezra turned his back on them and walked away.

Of course he’d made a fire before, it was twenty years ago but he was sure he could remember what needed to be done. He wasn’t stupid. He could do it. Ezra began to gather twigs and thicker branches. They were watching him, he knew it. What were they waiting for, for him to fall over. Then they were going to have a long wait. He had no intention of falling over, or failing in his attempt to start a fire. Ezra continued to walk away from his friends, his eyes took in the beauty of the surrounding wilderness and he wondered why he had never enjoyed the outdoors.

Something moved near him, he spun around quickly expecting a bear to be staring at him as though he was dinner. There was nothing there but the sound continued. This was a reminder as to why he didn’t like the outdoors. He began to step backwards, afraid that if he turned his back to the noise that something would jump out at him.

“SNAKE!” A voice yelled at him.

Ezra jumped, literally, his feet left the ground and the wood that he’d been carrying fell to the ground in a scattered heap. A scream leapt from his mouth as he turned and ran away from the danger. He stopped when he heard someone laughing. Bastards!

“Should have seen your face Ezra.” JD was doubled over.

Buck and Vin stood beside him, their own faces showing the enjoyment they had gotten out of the practical joke they had pulled.

“What did I tell you Buck!” Ezra yelled at him.

“I didn’t do it Ezra, JD here did.” Buck protested.

“But you put him up to it didn’t you?”

“No.” Buck smiled.

Ezra smiled back but it wasn’t a friendly smile. He walked up to Buck and with a clenched fist he hit him in the face. His aim was true and the fist landed against Buck’s nose. Ezra had held back, he didn’t want to break it, just cause it to bleed and be sore for a few days. Once he was sure he had inflicted the physical pain that he had threatened earlier, he went back to the pile of firewood he had lost. He picked up what he could and moved away.

Buck held his nose, he could feel the blood building up behind his hand. He was going to have to let go and use something else to stop the flow. Nathan, he had to find Nathan. The ex-medic would fix it, then he would take care of Ezra. The idiot had actually hit him. He and the others followed Ezra back to the camp.

“He hit me.”

“Yeah he did.” Vin was still smiling.

“He actually hit me.” Buck repeated.

“You said that already.”

“Why’d he hit me?”

“Now that is a stupid question Buck.” JD told him as he walked beside him.

Buck was still holding his nose when he made it back to the camp, he glared at Ezra who was ignoring him and trying to make the fire.

“Why are you holding your nose?” Chris glared at him. “If you need to blow it, use a tissue.”

“Ezra hit me.” Buck explained to his friend.

“You hit him?” Chris hid the smile his features wanted to wear very well, even Ezra couldn’t see the amusement his leader was hiding.

“No.” Ezra replied.

“What do you call this then.” Buck growled when he revealed his bloodied nose.

“I call it carrying out a threat.” Ezra raised an eyebrow in defiance.

“He did warn you Buck.” Chris allowed his smile to be seen by all, especially Ezra so he would know he wasn’t angry at him and wasn’t going to side with Buck.

“Oh, so you think this is funny do you.” he couldn’t believe Chris’ reaction to his nearly broken nose.

“You obviously thought the prank was.” the Southerner retorted.

“It was!”

“So is the sight of that nose!”

“This hurts, anything that hurts isn’t funny.”

“If I fell over and cracked my head open on a rock would that be funny?”

“That wouldn’t be funny.” of course it wouldn’t. Why would Ezra think he would laugh if something like that had happened.

“No it wouldn’t,” Ezra stood up and moved closer so he was standing in front of Buck, “but you still pulled a prank that could have caused me serious bodily harm after I asked you not to. I even threatened you.”

“We wanted to have some fun, we were getting bored.”

“You were getting bored,” Ezra’s tone was full of sarcasm, “Is that why I’m here? To use so you can amuse yourself?”

“You know you’re not.” Buck said guiltily. “It was just, well, you were the easiest to start with, we were going to move on to the others later.”

“Oh, were you now.” Chris smiled at him.

“I was the easiest?” Ezra was stunned.

“Well, I thought you wouldn’t react straight away, that you’d think about it, and then forget when we did something to one of the others.” Buck shrugged. “I didn’t expect this.”

“But I wasn’t the easiest was I?”

“No.” Buck looked down at the ground and kicked at the dirt with his boot.

“Ezra! Haven’t you built that fire yet?!” Chris bellowed at him from his position beneath the large shady tree.

“WHAT!” Ezra turned to face him. “I’ve been busy arguing with this imbecile.”

“You mean when you should have been building that fire?” Chris was beginning to enjoy himself. He could have as much fun aggravating Ezra as the Southerner did from driving him crazy. “You’re not just using the argument as an excuse are you?”

“Of course not! I am very capable of building a fire.”

“Better hurry up then, cause it’ll be nightfall before you finally get it lit.”

“Fuck you!”

“I’m starving Ezra,” Vin yelled out, “when are you going to get that fire going?”

“Did you not hear the profanity that just came from my normally composed mouth when Mr Larabee decided to try and be funny?”

“No, I was too busy wondering if you were going to make that fire or talk all day.”

“Fuck you!”

________________________________________

Ezra made the fire, it took him thirty five minutes but he made it, lit it and now it was burning with a frenzy. He suffered the insults, the laughter, the sympathy and offers of help. Ezra ignored all of them. He wanted to do it and do it on his own without their help. His hands were now covered in dirt and a small number of splinters had embedded themselves into the flesh of his fingers. He decided that he didn’t mind looking at the outdoors but he hated being in it.

Chris and the others had watched Ezra as his determination and stubbornness got him into an embarrassing and painful predicament. He was covered in dirt and his t-shirt was soaked through to the skin. Ezra Standish was a stubborn bastard that didn’t know when to give in, he would die before he allowed or asked for help.

Chris had thought about forcing the undercover agent to accept their help but it would’ve made Ezra angry and resentful. So they had watched, firstly with amusement and prodding remarks, then with sympathy and then finally anger. But now it was over, Ezra could sit down and enjoy his achievement while someone else cooked the hot lunch.

Ezra wiped his hands on his trousers as he made his way to a tree a short distance from the camp and grimaced as the splinters were pushed further into his flesh. What he’d done had been stupid, his pride had gotten in his way and now he was hot, sore and feeling like he was going to throw up again. It was the last thing he wanted. He sat down and was grateful for the sudden drop in temperature, the breeze was cool and it chilled his heated flesh.

He heard someone walking towards him, their boots snapping the twigs that lay on the ground. A canteen full of water was handed to him. He didn’t know whether he wanted to drink first or wash his hands or face. The decision was made for him.

“Drink,” Nathan ordered him, “then you can wash your hands and face.”

“I don’t suppose there is a stream nearby?” Ezra hoped.

“We should be passing one tomorrow.” Nathan smiled. “So your going to have to settle for this.”

“Great! Why the hell did I come.”

“So you wouldn’t disappoint us remember.” Nathan reminded him.

“You would be though, wouldn’t you?”

“Of course we would Ezra, but we’d be more disappointed by forcing you to do something you don’t want to do. Besides you make it miserable for the rest of us when you’re in a bad mood.”

“I do?”

“Yeah you do.”

Ezra took a drink and the cool water washed the dirt from his throat.

“Take what you just did as a perfect example. You were in such a bad mood that you had to be stupid and do all of that yourself.”

“I had a point to prove.”

“Just so you know,” Nathan stood up, “we’re all in a bad mood now because of what you did.”

“For what I did? What has that got to do with you guys?”

“We’re pissed off at you for being so bloody stubborn.”

“For me being stubborn, who was it that forced me to come here. Chris wouldn’t take no for an answer, that’s what I call stubborn.”

“That’s what’s called making you a part of this team, getting you to join us in out of work activities, getting you to relax and have some fun for a change.”

“Do I look like I’m having fun?”

“No you don’t.” Nathan glared at him. “Do I look like I’m having fun?”

“No.”

“And why aren’t I having any fun?”

“Because I’m pissing you off.”

“Yes, because you’re pissing me off. Now why don’t you stop with the self pity and start enjoying yourself because I’m getting pretty sick of your attitude. Chris and the rest of us are trying to include you in this, instead of allowing you to sit in a chair in the corner of your living room alone for the rest of the week. Clean yourself up and come back to the camp.”

“Okay.” Ezra didn’t know what else to say.


________________________________________

Darkness was looming in the distance, it was closing in on them and was threatening to suffocate them within it’s total blackness. Ezra was not looking forward to it. The night brought out all sorts of creatures, the small bug like kind that crawled all over your body. Insects that stuck a needle like appendage into your flesh and drank your blood without you even knowing it. It was one of the things he hated about nature.
He walked behind the others who were, believe it or not, singing. Of all the embarrassing things they could do, they had to sing. There was no way he was joining in. It had been Buck’s idea to sing the stupid song; something to do with an original prankster. It was JD’s favourite CD of the moment.

Ezra placed his forefingers into his ears, it helped but he could still hear the attempts of singing coming from his friends. Sometimes he wondered if they were friends. Shouldn’t he enjoy the company of these friends, usually he did but not in situations like this. Was that wrong of him, did that mean that he wasn’t a friend to these men. If he were a true friend he should enjoy their companionship wherever they were. Maybe he was fooling himself thinking that these men were his friends; not through any fault of theirs but because of some fault he possessed in his personality. He wasn’t making an effort to enjoy the situation. Nathan was right, he was feeling sorry for himself and taking it out on the men around him.

His stare caught the back of Vin’s feet, if he concentrated on those shoes he might forget the tone-deaf voices surrounding him. Then again, President Bartlett (a character from his favourite show ‘The West Wing’) claims that you’re supposed to sing when you’re walking down the trail to keep the grizzly bears away. That didn’t surprise Ezra, any bear with brains would stay away from this awful racket.

The Southerner fell flat on his butt when he ran into the back of Vin who was now standing still. He hadn’t even had time to remove his fingers from his ears. Dust from the trial settled around his slumped form.

“You okay there Ezra?” Vin reached down and hauled the undercover agent to his feet.

“Wasn’t watching where I was going.” Ezra muttered as he dusted himself off.

“We’ll camp here tonight!”

“Want to make the campfire Ezra?” Vin smiled at him.

“No thank you, think I’ll just watch.”

Ezra removed his arms from the backpack and it collapsed on the ground much like he had done moments earlier. He sat next to it and stretched his arms above his head. The back bone cracked, giving him some relief against the back pain he was feeling.

“Vin!”

“Yo!” Vin turned to face Chris.

“What do you think?” Chris looked up at the darkening sky, it was clear, allowing the millions of stars to watch over them.

“Think we should sleep under the stars.” Vin grinned.

“Excuse me.” Ezra tugged at Vin’s jeans.

“What’cha want Ezra?” the sharp shooter frowned down at him.

“Do you mean no tents?”

“Yep, just us, our sleeping bags . . . “

“And the bugs.” Ezra interrupted him.

“The bugs won’t hurt you Ezra.”

“No they just eat you.” Buck warned him when he passed by on his way to collect firewood.

“We’ve got bug spray Ezra, you can spray some of that on before you go to bed.” Nathan called out to him.

“Like that would help.”

“Ezra!” Nathan’s tone held a warning.

“Thanks Nathan, that’ll be great.” the false smile eased the anger that the ex-medic was feeling.

“Wonder if Chris is going to do anything or sit on his large butt all evening.”
Ezra didn’t realise that Vin was talking to him.

“You listening Ezra?”

“To what Vin?” the Southerner lay back and pushed the backpack into a better position so he could use it as a pillow.

“To me.”

“Obviously not or I would have heard what you said.”

“I said! Do you think Chris is going to do anything or just sit on his butt all evening.”

“When does Chris ‘ever’ do anything.”

“He does boss us around.” Vin made one suggestion.

“He does at that.” Ezra agreed. “He also glares very well, he’s even doing it now.”

Vin looked over his shoulder to see Chris’ cold glare.

“We do a really fine job of ignoring that glare.” Vin dropped his own backpack and sat down next to Ezra.

“Took a bit of practice though.” the Southerner admitted.

“You too?”

Ezra nodded.

“Scared the shit out of me for a few weeks.”

“He wouldn’t fire us for ignoring him.” Ezra spoke with confidence.

“Another thing he can do well is make us suffer.”

Vin and Ezra looked at each other, both men were wearing expressions full of fear.

“You think . . . ?” Vin mumbled.

Ezra replaced his look with a poker face. “Who cares, we have the rest of the week to enjoy ourselves. We
can deal with our misery later, when it happens.”

“You’re enjoying yourself?” Vin lay down on his side and nudged the other man with his arm.

“I didn’t say that.” Ezra assured him.

“Are you enjoying yourself?” Vin ignored Chris when he yelled out to him.

“No.”

Vin didn’t say anything but instead rolled onto his back. He knew Ezra didn’t like the outdoors, so why did he assume that his friend would enjoy this hiking trip. He shouldn’t have allowed Chris to force the Southerner to come with them.

“Vin.”

“Yeah Ezra.”

Chris yelled out a warning, both men ignored him.

“I should be enjoying myself, shouldn’t I?”

“Why should you?” Vin asked carefully.

“What I mean is . . . ,” he took a deep breath, “you’re my friends, aren’t I supposed to enjoy myself around my friends.”

Vin smiled, Ezra was finally learning what friendship was about. “Just because we’re friends, it doesn’t mean that you have to enjoy what we do. You’re going to hate some of the things we do, just like we hate doing some of the things you do. There are some things that we all enjoy doing.”

“So it’s okay for me not to enjoy myself.”

“Sure it is.” Vin turned his head to find Ezra staring at him.

“You should’ve stayed at home Ezra. You didn’t have to come.”

“I didn’t really have a choice in the matter. Mr Larabee would have handcuffed me and thrown me in the boot.”

“Next time you don’t want to do something like this, tell me and I’ll make sure Chris doesn’t force you to do it. Deal?”

“Deal.”

Both men looked skyward when someone coughed above them.

“Sounds like a nasty cough Chris.” Vin warned him.

“Some hard work in the fresh air will shift that irritating frog in your throat Mr Larabee.” Ezra said as he closed his eyes and shifted his body into a better position.

“It’s time you did some work.”

Because neither man knew who Chris was talking to, they ignored him.

“Vin, Ezra . . . “

“I, Mr Larabee, have already done my share for today, and I even have the splinters to pro . . . “ Ezra sat up and shut his mouth a few words too late.

“NATHAN!” Chris’ scowl grew into a smile that ran from ear to ear.

“You’ve done it now Ezra.” Vin chuckled.

“They’re only small ones,” Ezra stuttered, “ they’ll come out when I wash my hands, they’re not causing me any pain, my hands are fine. Nothing to worry about, see.” he raised his hands in the air only to have Nathan Jackson grab them and begin to inspect them.

“Going to have to clean these Ezra, ain’t going to be pretty. Maybe you guys should make yourselves busy, don’t want you to have to see this.”

“He going to be okay Nathan.” Chris asked him. His face was serious, his tone held a hint of fear.

“Not sure Chris, if they get infected,” he shrugged, “may have to take them off.”

“I’ll get the First Aid kit.” Chris walked away from the shocked expression worn by his undercover agent. Teach him to ignore me like that; Tanner’s next.

“Nathan they’re fine.” Ezra finally managed to pull his hands out of Nathan’s tight hold.

“You’ve got a few in there Ezra, they need to come out.” Nathan was serious.

“I can take them out.”

“No you can’t.” the ex-medic growled at him.

“I’m quite capable of doing it Nathan, I’m not stupid!”

“Didn’t say you were Ezra. Just want to do it for you that’s all.”

“Aw hell Nathan, I wouldn’t want to disappoint you. Go ahead and enjoy yourself.” Ezra offered his hands.

“You think I enjoy causing you pain?” Nathan was surprised by the words that had come from his friends mouth.

“You’re going to cause me pain?” this time it was Ezra’s turn to be shocked.

“No!” Nathan stopped himself. “Well, a little bit . . . not much . . . just a bit.”

“A bit.”

“Yeah, a bit. A pair of tweezers, pull out the splinter, cleanse and bandage.”

“Vin, you said that if I didn’t like something that you would convince Chris not to make me do it.” Ezra turned to his knight-in-shining-armour.

“Not helping you on this one Ezra, I’m with them.”

Ezra suddenly felt like slaying the knight who was no longer his hero. A sudden thought occurred to him.
“Fine, do it. As long as you realise that I will be incapable of doing any work for the next few days.”

“Why’s that?” Nathan frowned.

“My hands are damaged, splinters, I can’t work when my hands have holes in them.”
Nathan rolled his eyes.

“You know Ezra,” Vin smiled at him, “I’ll help you out on that one. I think Chris can take on your share of work.”

“I believe you’re right Vin.”

“What about you Nathan?” Vin winked at him.

“You should take care of these hands for the next few days Ezra, don’t want you doing any work. They need to stay clean.”

“I owe you one Nathan.”

“Enjoying yourself now Ezra?”

“A bit Vin, a bit.”


________________________________________

After seven ‘ouches’, nine ‘ows’, and twelve muttered ‘bastards’, - Vin had been counting - most of which were just for show, Nathan had finally finished. He looked at his work and was happy with the result. The fingers and palms of the Southerner were covered with band aids of all shapes and sizes, which were also for show.

Ezra feigned hurt and grimaced at Chris Larabee. “I’m afraid I’m not going to be working with my hands for a while Chris.”

“Bullshit!” Chris couldn’t believe it, a few splinters he’d said.

“I’m afraid he’s right Chris.” Nathan crossed his arms and stared at Chris while trying very hard to look serious.

“Why is he right?”

“There were more than just a few,” he lied, “we’ll take the bandaids off tomorrow but his hands are going to have to stay clean. Some of them were in pretty deep.”

“You’re having me on aren’t you?”

“No.”

“Are you calling Nathan a liar?” Ezra frowned at his leader.

“Ah . . . no.”

“You’re going to have to do Ezra’s share of the work Chris.” Vin placed a hand on his friend’s shoulder in a show of sympathy.

“What!”

“You were the one who informed Nathan of the splinters, when you think about it, it’s your fault.” the sharp shooter shrugged.

“Now hold on a minute . . . “ Chris threw the arm off and turned to face Vin.

“If you hadn’t said anything . . . “ Vin let the sentence hang so Chris could get the idea on his own.

“You’re lying, all of you are.”

“I am most certainly not!” Ezra protested.

“How dare you accuse me of such a heinous crime.” Vin retorted.

“I don’t have it in me, what with me being such a nice person and all.” Nathan smiled.
Ezra was proud, they were learning well.

“You’ve been taking lessons.” Chris accused the two men but his stare was aimed at Ezra.

“And I believe they both pass with flying colours.” Ezra continued to feel the pride that was causing his heart to swell. These men were truly friends. He was actually beginning to enjoy himself.

________________________________________


The fire burned with the same intensity as the good mood that burned within the seven men that sat around it. A good meal had been eaten and now a bottle of ten year old scotch malt was pass around while someone told a ghost story.

“That was a true story.” JD insisted.

“True story my ass.” Buck slapped him on the back of the head and as always, knocked his baseball cap off.

“It is, it happened to a friend of a friend of mine.”

“Crap.”

“JD,” Ezra swung at the mosquito that was trying to eat him, “remind me to teach you how to tell a ghost story.”

“Think you can do better.”

“Of course I can.”

“Not that yours wasn’t good JD.” Buck growled at Ezra.

“Well, yes it was good, you just need to learn how to tell them.” Ezra quickly added.

“I’ll wait until you’ve finished yours then Ezra.” JD crossed his arms and waited.

“You want me to tell one now?”

“You were the one that opened his big mouth.” Chris shot at him.

“I can’t think of any at the moment.” Ezra shrugged.

“You don’t want to tell one because you know it won’t be better than mine.” JD grinned and slapped Buck on the arm.

“That and I don’t feel like telling a story.” Ezra shrugged.

“Thought you said you couldn’t think of one.” Chris eyed him suspicously.
Ezra didn’t give a response.

“Maybe tomorrow Ezra?” JD asked.

“Maybe.”

“Is it time for the marshmellows then?” JD grabbed the large bag that had been sitting next to him all evening.

“Go ahead JD, as long as you do all the roasting.” Chris smiled at him.

Chris enjoyed watching the others have fun, it made him realise what life would have been like if his son and wife were still alive. They would have spent many weekends camping just like this. Ghost stories, marsh mellows, fishing, hiking, all the things that normal happy families would do. He grimaced in irritation when Ezra squashed another mosquito, his aim was getting pretty good.

“Use this Ezra!” Nathan threw a can of bug spray at him.

“Ow!” Ezra yelled when the can hit his knee.

“You should have caught it Ezra.”

Ezra muttered a few very unpleasant curses at the ex-medic who was grinning widely in return. He removed the lid and began to spray the surface of his body.

“Just a small amount Ezra, you don’t need a lot.” Nathan explained. “Ezra, that’s enough you don’t . . . Ezra, that’s too much . . . Ezra! stop spraying . . . ” That was it, Nathan quickly stood up and stormed over to the smaller man and pulled the can from his grip. Nathan glared at Vin who wasn’t being any help. He shook the can and found it to be nearly empty. “Ezra, you’ll be that sticky, you’re going to attract ants.”

“Ants?” the undercover agent’s mouth fell open. “Ants?”

“Relax Ezra, it’s bug repellent remember, it stops them from coming near you.” Vin rolled his eyes.

“Oh yeah.”

"Marshmellow anyone?” JD called out to them.

“Thank you JD.” Ezra whispered when he was saved from any more embarrassment.





Part One | Part Two


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