The Sequel to "He Sees"
Disclaimer: The magnificent 7 characters belong to MGM, Trilogy and Mirisch. No profit is being made from this story.)
Ezra stared out the window watching as a light rain tapped a quiet rhythm against the glass. He focused on a droplet of water and followed its weaving path down the pane. He could hear the town coming alive in the cool gray morning and knew that he needed to force himself to move.
He wasn't sure how long he'd sat in the rocking chair. He didn't actually remember moving from the bed to the chair, just that sometime in the night he'd watched the moon disappear and the rain begin. Part of him desired nothing more than to stay where he was, the other remembered clearly that Chris had asked him to accompany Nathan, escorting the morning stage to Eagle Bend. If he attempted to avoid the journey he knew any excuse he provided would be greeted with hostility as his usual complaining and he did not feel up to any confrontations…not today.
Sighing heavily, Ezra pushed the soft quilt off of his bare shoulders and stretched his cramped limbs. He groaned softly and shivered in the morning air, eyed his rumpled bed one last time and began his morning routine. It didn't take long, and Ezra found himself in front of his mirrored bureau scrutinizing his pale reflection.
"You look horrific," he mumbled, unable to ignore the dark circles beneath bloodshot eyes or the drawn expression he couldn't seem to lose. He tried to smile genuinely but the result was almost frightening. Shaking his head in resignation he opened the top drawer and reached into its depths. He smiled faintly when he felt the velvet pouch and with graceful movements pulled it from the drawer and loosened its ties. With a gentle shake, a silver case slid into his hand. Lightly, Ezra ran his thumb over the ornate carving in the precious metal before taking a deep breath and opening it.
It was a long moment before he was able to exhale slowly. His fingers ghosted over the image as if it would fade when touched. His heart seemed to beat harder and faster as he struggled with his emotions.
"I miss you," he whispered hoarsely.
Reluctantly Ezra closed the case and returned it to the black pouch. He shoved the bag into the drawer and closed it definitively. One more glance at the mirror and he was sure he had himself together enough to face the day.
Downstairs, he found everyone but JD already focused on their morning meal. The smell of hot biscuits and fried bacon turned his stomach as he requested a simple cup of coffee from Inez.
"That all you're having?" Nathan asked as Ezra approached the table.
Vin slid a chair out for him and Ezra nodded his thanks to the Tracker as he settled into it.
"This is sufficient," he said, finally answering Nathan's question.
Nathan huffed and shook his head as he mumbled under his breath about the trail and not sharing his noon meal just because Ezra was too stubborn to know what was good for him. Josiah smiled at the healer while Ezra merely raised an eyebrow.
"Where're your fancy duds this morning?" Buck asked curiously, between bites. The brown coat was almost drab in comparison to the brightly colored jackets Ezra usually wore and seemed out of place.
"I didn't see any reason to ruin a fine specimen of clothing riding in such weather as this." Ezra answered as he set his cup down on the table, one hand motioning toward the window and the steady drizzle.
"Makes sense," Vin agreed, snagging a biscuit from Wilmington's plate.
The bat wing doors of the saloon slapped the wall and swung wildly with JD's sudden entrance. "Morning guys." He smiled, shaking excess rain off before he moved further into the building.
"What have you been doing out there?" Buck asked.
"Getting ready." JD bounced on his toes and waved off Josiah's offer of a chair.
"For what?" Buck was immediately suspicious.
"I'm going with Nathan and Ezra."
Ezra looked up quickly, surprised by JD's announcement. "If you wish to take my position as escort, I'd be more than happy to…"
"You're going, Ezra." Chris' tone held no room for argument but Ezra turned toward him anyway.
"Is there a need for all three of us?"
"That stage is carrying a large deposit of gold for the bank in Eagle Bend, as well as the entire Miller Family. Won't hurt to have an extra set of guns along."
"A little rain won't hurt you none, Ezra." Nathan added when Chris finished.
Ezra bit back an angry retort and simply nodded to Chris. Then, taking a final gulp of his coffee, stood, adjusted his coat and headed out the doors.
"Something wrong with him?" Josiah asked, following Standish's retreat with concerned eyes.
Vin frowned but had no answer for the Preacher.
"I could stay…" JD offered but Chris cut him off.
"No, you're going."
A quarter of an hour later Chris stood just outside the saloon watching as his three men rode out with the stage. The rain had tapered off, leaving only a cold dampness that seemed to cling at a man and weigh him down.
"Thinking hard?" Vin asked, quietly appearing beside him.
Chris grinned. "Not really."
"Everything all right?" Vin took his hat off and ran a hand through his damp curls.
"Don't know," Chris admitted, not knowing how to put his thoughts to words. There had been something different about Standish and he couldn't figure it out. Any other day Ezra would have complained dramatically about the weather and made some attempt to avoid the trip. Today-he was quiet and acquiesced to Chris' orders without so much as a real argument. Chris had expected and imaginative response to Nathan's comment as well, but the Gambler seemed more interested in getting away from them. Now as he watched the three ride through the fog, Ezra rode apart from the other two, his shoulders slightly slumped and his head almost bowed.
"Our brother looks weary." Josiah commented as he and Buck joined him and Vin.
"Probably stayed up all night at the tables again." Buck's voice held no judgment.
"Nah." Vin shook his head, "went to his room b'fore I left. Mentioned his head was bothering him."
Buck shrugged. "Maybe that's what was wrong with him this morning then."
Chris turned as the stage and riders disappeared around the bend. "Maybe," he said, but the doubt in his voice was obvious.
The wind picked up not long after the journey began. Gusts of cold air ripped and tore at the riders, causing them to huddle over their saddle horns and grip their jackets closer, seeking whatever warmth they could find.
"Can't believe it's this cold today," JD commented, pulling his hat more firmly onto his head.
Ezra nodded but kept his gaze forward.
"Are you feeling alright, Ezra? You look tired," Dunne said honestly.
Nathan looked back and frowned when Ezra replied that he was fine.
There were a few moments of silence save for the rattling and creaking of the stagecoach when JD began talking again.
"Oh," he smiled widely, catching Ezra's gaze. "I forgot to tell you that Mrs. Travis loaned me a new book yesterday. 'The Count of Monte Cristo', she said it was full of intrigue and adventure. Have you ever read it?"
Ezra looked at JD blankly, the wind teasing at his hair and trying to lift his hat from his head.
"Have you?" JD asked again, confused by the lack of response.
Ezra cleared his throat. "Uh, no I haven't," he lied. Then without explanation he pulled back on the reigns and steered his mount away from JD's. He waited until the stage had passed before riding to take up watch on the other side of it.
JD frowned and looked at Nathan. "Did I??" He let the question hang, unsure of what had happened.
"Don't mind him, JD." Nathan consoled. "He's most likely mad over having to take this trip."
Dunne shook his head, wiping at his bangs in an effort to keep them out of his eyes. "I don't know, Nathan. Seems like something else."
"Let him ride by himself for awhile," Nathan said with annoyance. It didn't seem right to him that Ezra was taking his anger with Larabee out on JD. None of them particularly liked riding in this kind of weather but they had a job to do and no one but Standish seemed to ever make issue out of it.
Ezra heard Nathan's voice from the far side of the stage and though he couldn't distinguish the words, he caught the tone clearly. He grimaced and rubbed his forehead where his headache felt most intense. He hadn't meant to brush off JD, but the Kid was just more than he could handle right now. The lightness in his voice, the curiosity that was so familiar… his heart twisted as the memory assailed him. Pale, slender fingers peeling back a soft cloth cover to reveal the leather bound volume within. Gold lettering reflected brilliantly in the soft light of the room.
"Oh, Ezra," a refined southern drawl. "It's beautiful." Brown eyes wide with curiosity met his. They flicked back to the book as the fingers traced the lettering. The strong scent of leather filled the room. " 'Le Comte de Monte Cristo,' it sounds so intriguing Ezra, have you ever read it?"
The gambler shook his head suddenly, chasing the memory and the feelings that came with it away as he tried to swallow the sudden lump in his throat. Maybe he should have pulled Larabee aside and privately excused himself from the mission. Chris was the only one who knew about his past enough to understand the significance of this day, but Ezra didn't think he could have spoken of it and maintained his hard fought and fragile emotional control.
Sighing, Ezra adjusted his hat and pulled at the collar of his coat as the wind picked up and the rain began to fall again, somehow thankful for the numbness brought about by the unusually cold September rain.
Chris watched from his chair outside of the saloon as the rain began to fall fast and hard. He pulled his duster closed to protect himself from the strong gusts of wind that assaulted him but couldn't stop the cold from creeping in and making his bones ache, reminding him of various injuries from his past. His shoulder twinged and he debated seeking the warmth of the saloon where relief was waiting with a cup of coffee, or a shot of whiskey…or both, but his growing sense of foreboding held him in his place.
He smelled the coffee before he heard Vin approach.
"Thought you could use this." The tracker grinned at Chris' surprised expression.
"Thought right." Larabee took the mug of steaming liquid and held it under his chin, letting the steam warm his face a moment before gently blowing on it and taking a small sip.
"Bet they're all miserable about now?" Vin asked, balancing his own cup in one hand while reaching for the vacant chair beside Chris, spinning it around and straddling it.
"Probably- cold and wet," Chris answered.
Vin nodded not looking up from his cup. For a moment there was nothing but the sound of the rain beating mercilessly against the wooden roof above them.
"Stage should have stayed." Tanner broke the silence.
"Bank needed that gold," Chris explained but his tone revealed that he agreed with Vin.
"Feels wrong," Vin commented, glancing up at his friend.
"Yup." Chris took another sip of his coffee, wondering what good it would do to make the rest of the team ride out in these conditions and if it was really necessary or not.
"That Buck?" Vin's question caused Chris to look up and squint through the downpour at the figure moving quickly across the muddy street toward them.
"We got problems," Buck hopped up onto the boardwalk and shivered as he pulled a note from his coat. "Mary handed me this wire from Eagle Bend," he explained, handing it to Chris. "New sheriff over there caught a man sneaking round the bank. Guy squealed like a stuck pig when they questioned him. Said Sam LaFollette and his gang were laying in wait somewhere along the trail for the stage."
"How many?" Chris asked as he and Vin both stood.
Chris frowned and set his coffee down on the railing. "Get Josiah," he ordered, hoping that the weather had slowed the stage down enough to let them catch up with it before it was too late.