Title: These Five Words
Author: Jourdana Standish
Pairing: Ezra/Inez, mentions of others but they are the focus. I do come up with the different pairings that are not always others' cups of tea, but I like 'em. :-D
Author's Notes: It's been at least 5 years since I wrote a Mag 7 fanfic, maybe longer. This came to me listening to a Bon Jovi song. I'm finally getting a stride with this one, but it will be slow to post parts as I find time to write on it and the other Ezra/Inez I have started working on. Feedback is appreciated.

Ezra Standish stepped into the saloon and instantly paused. A frown began to mar his handsome features as he glanced around. Normally he was rarely up at this god foresaken hour, but this was one of those mornings when he had been up for the early morning patrol. The lack of patrons in the saloon was nothing new at this time of day, but never had it been quite this silent. The silence was deafening and it made Ezra's skin crawl. Something wasn't right with this scenario. Normally the bar's manager, Inez Recillos, was up and doing things around the saloon before customers began to arrive. He often would hear her humming from the back. That was why the silence was so eerie.

"Miss Recillos?" Ezra called, his voice echoing slightly off the walls. He frowned at how empty things seemed. There was a soft scratching near the back that caught Ezra's ear. The heels of his boots sounded as if rocks were falling onto the wooden planks as he made his way to the back.

"Miss Recillos?" he called again. He listened for the noise, but nothing came. His frown deepened before he spoke again.

"Inez?" he said, calling her by her given name this time. Worry began to gnaw at his belly and formalities tended to go out the window when that happened. He stiffened as a different noise emerged. The softest of whimpers reached his ears and he strained to hear where it originated from. He saw the soft shadow of movement beneath the door of Inez's office and hurried to it.

"Inez?" he called again. "Are you in there?" He heard movement that time, but no response. Ezra reached beneath his jacket and pulled a pistol from the shoulder holster and slowly turned the knob. He prayed that he was not walking in on Inez having a private moment with someone; or that he was walking in a potential robbery that could get her killed.

Pushing the door open and getting a look inside, Ezra realized it was something far worse.

Inez lay in a heap on the floor, curled around herself, trembling. Her clothes were hanging off her slender body, shredded and torn. She was covered in bruises and blood. She wasn't looking at him or near him, but when he stepped inside all she heard was his boot on the floor. She tried to scramble away, hoarsely crying out as something was pulled in her attempt to flee.

"My God," Ezra whispered. He glanced quickly around the room to make sure there was no one else present before he re-holstered his gun and stripped off his jacket. He moved towards the frightened woman and cursed his stupidity when she tried scrambling away.

"Inez, it's me," he said, letting his smooth Southern voice wash over her. "It's Ezra. I'm not going to hurt you."

She didn't move. Ezra got closer and reached to drape his coat over her. She flinched away, both from pain and fear but not as much as before. Ezra moved slowly, not wanting to startle her. He knelt beside her, trying to assess her injuries. He was going to have to take her to see Nathan, there was no getting around that. He brushed a bit of her dark hair from her face and Inez finally lifted her eyes to his. He tried to give her a small, reassuring smile, but it was shaky. Ezra did not know what she saw in his face as she looked at him, but it was enough to show her that he was there to protect, not hurt. With a desperation he had never seen, Inez launched into his arms and desperately clung to him. Without disengaging her hold, he shifted his jacket to wrap around her more and then his arms wrapped around her and held her close.

"Who did this to you?" Ezra whispered enough for her to hear. Inez shook her head against his shoulder, whimpering as her bruised cheek brushed against him. Ezra frowned and shifted carefully before rising to his feet, bringing her with as he cradled her in his arms. Inez remembered the glimpse of the gambler's muscular build that was hidden by the formal garments he wore, it was no surprise how easy he lifted her as if she weighed nothing.

"I'm taking you to Nathan," Ezra said.

"No!" Inez said, panic filling her. She started to struggle in Ezra's arms.

"Inez..." Ezra said, his hold tightening. She mewed in pain as he squeezed just a bit too hard. "Inez, this is why you need to see him!"

"No!" she said again, finally lifting her pain filled eyes to him. "Please."

His heart shattered. There was such a sense of defeat and fear in that simple word that there was no way that Ezra could ever disobey her plea, but he was scared that if he did she would die and that would destroy him further. Why it would, he was not able to vocalize or even process at the moment. Instead, he simply pushed the thought aside and looked into her eyes. If necessary, he would analyze the why later.

"Inez, you are badly hurt. I need to take you to someone so we can assess your injuries," Ezra said. His next move was so unexpected that it surprised both of them. Lifting her just enough, Ezra pressed a gentle kiss against one of the few non-bruised portions of her forehead. Inez blinked a couple times, surprised at the gesture.

"Please?" he whispered.

Inez shifted, mewing softly in pain before conceding. Her head rested against his shoulder, finding it a little harder to breathe from the pain. She parted her lips to try and speak.

"Mar..." was all she could manage before a painful coughing fit took over.

Ezra was by no means stupid. Knowing that the brutal attack Inez had just endured, there was only one person in town she would trust who's name began with those three letters. He adjusted Inez as gently as he could, wincing as she whimpered when his arm brushed against a tender portion of her body. Ezra was not always a man who thought of God even at the best of times, but he was thanking the good Lord for understanding as he managed to pass no one as he made his way behind the saloon and towards the back of the newspaper office where Mary's rooms were. He only tapped, hoping he would not find Mary in an uncomfortable state. As he stepped into her bedroom, he noted her absence.

"Mary?" he called, hoping she was at the front of the office. He felt immense relief as he heard the click of her heels coming closer. Unfortunately, he also heard the more defined clunk of a man's footfall in her wake.

"Ezra?" Mary questioned, obvious confusion in her tone as to why the Southern gambler was in her rooms. Once she stepped through the door and saw Inez in his arms, her eyes widened and she hurried over. Ezra looked to see which of the men were with her. He almost breathed a sigh of relief when he saw that it was Vin Tanner.

"Lay her down," Mary said quickly, urging Ezra towards her bed and making sure the covers were pulled back for Inez.

"I'll go get Nathan," Vin said.

"No," Ezra said, quick and sharp. He cursed himself when he felt Inez stiffen slightly. "Do not get Mr. Jackson." Vin frowned, eyeing the gambler.

"You two step outside, then," Mary said, looking at the two of them. "I think Inez would feel better if she didn't have to expose herself to the two of you." Ezra didn't move an inch, his eyes intent on Inez. Mary looked over.

"Ezra, go. I have her," Mary said gently. He finally nodded, but his eyes remained on Inez as he walked towards the front of the newspaper office. His inability to take his eyes off her kept him from seeing Vin advancing on him till the tracker had his hands fisted in the man's coat and was pinning him against a wall.

"Mr. Tanner, unhand me," Ezra said, anger working into his voice.

"Did you do that to her?" Vin demanded.

Anger began to seethe through Ezra as he managed to shift Vin's hold and shove the other man away before he took a swing, his fist connecting with Vin's jaw. His hand moved down, hovering near the gun at his hip. "I take umbrage at that heinous accusation, Mr. Tanner. I had thought you knew me better than that," he said, both hurt and anger obvious in his voice. "I may be a scoundrel and play loose with legalities. I may even have problems with certain women in my life. But I would never harm Ms. Recillos! And I would think you gentlemen would know this by now."

"Than why were you so against me going to get Nathan?" Vin asked, rubbing his jaw. He could tell by the look on Ezra's face, that most likely matched his own, that the gambler hadn't intended to take a swing at him. It showed how high the other man's own emotions about the situation were running.

Bristling at the accusing tone, Ezra lifted his chin. "I shouldn't answer, merely in principle," he said. "However, I suggested the very thing to Inez when I found her in that state and she panicked at the mere idea of Nathan being anywhere near her."

Vin's stance towards Ezra relaxed, but a confused frown marred his rugged features. "She panicked?"

"Yes," Ezra said, not quite as forgiving. "She fought my hold on her when I said I was taking her to him. Seems she only trusts Mary."

"And you," Vin pointed out.

"A mere coincidence, I think," he said. "Since I found her. She panicked at first till she realized it was me."

"Hell, looking at the state she's in, I ain't hardly surprised," Vin said. He looked at Ezra, noting the man was still angry. "Look, Ezra, I'm sorry. I know you would never do that to a woman, 'specially Inez, but when I saw her and you were against Nathan seein' her I... I just didn't think. My gut immediately went to think of her and protectin' her and I didn't think about the words I was sayin' or who I was talkin' to."

Ezra really was not quite as forgiving as Vin thought he should, but it was more the thought that he would hurt any woman that set him on edge. Especially as he never gave any indication that he would. Perhaps it was Ezra's insecurities over past indiscretions that led his friends to mistrust him at one time that made it harder to let it go. Holding onto the grudge isn't going to help Inez, and you'll need at least Vin's support in case the others found out and think the same thing, he thought to himself. Finally, he nodded.

"I do understand," Ezra said. "Doesn't mean that it doesn't bother me, but I need to let it go for Inez's sake."

"What happened, do you know?" Vin asked.

Shaking his head, Ezra glanced at the door that separated the two men from Mary and Inez. "I returned from patrol and when I entered the saloon, I knew something was wrong. It was too quiet," he said. Vin nodded, encouraging him to go on. "I called for Inez and after a few moments I heard something from her office. I found her, like that, on the floor. Before she knew it was me, she tried to get away from me. As if she expected her attackers to return and that I was one of them."

"What snapped her out of it?" Vin asked.

"My voice," he said. "When I told her it was me." Ezra ran his fingers through his usually immaculate hair, ruffling the locks. He shook his head as he looked at Vin. "I am no stranger to miscreants and others of ill repute, but who could do something like that to a woman?"

Vin shook his head, frowning. He was wondering the same thing but hadn't voiced his emotions aloud as the gambler had. "Hell, Ezra. Most men don't treat women like Mary much better. They look at Inez and figure that because she's Mexican that she ain't deservin' of any kindness."

"Damned fools," Ezra murmured. "She's as deserving, if not more so, than most of the women in this town."

Vin grinned a little at Ezra's words. "You're kinda sweet on Inez, ain't ya?"

Ezra stiffened and looked at the tracker. "No more than you are on Mrs. Travis," he said, falling into formality to try and get his point across. Unfortunately, the grin widening on Vin's face did not set his mind at ease on how he was brushing off his sudden display of emotion.

"If'n you've been payin' attention there, Ezra, you'd notice that ain't sayin' a lot," Vin said, his grin still in place. Ezra had taken notice that Vin was spending more time with the comely widow than he had been before. All the men knew that Mary was helping Vin with his reading and writing abilities, but it seemed that it was even beyond that.

"Moving in on Mr. Larabee's territory?" Ezra shot at him, trying to take the focus off himself.

"Hell, Ezra, you know damn well Mary and Chris are just friends," Vin said, hooking his thumbs in his gunbelt. "Especially since Kate came back into our lives after her and Chris had whatever whirlwind thing between them over in Hallow Falls a few months back."

"Inez and I are just friends," Ezra said, his cheeks reddening, belying his true feelings as well as his comfort with the situation. The fact that he didn't comment on the budding relationship between their illustrious leader and Kate Stokes since her return was a testament of that.

"Besides. Buck still has his eye on her," the gambler said. Vin didn't have a chance to respond before both men turned their attentions to Mary as she came into the room.

"How is she?" Ezra asked.

"Resting, now," Mary said, worry in her lovely face. "I got her cleaned up, but she was pretty bad."

"How bad?" Vin asked.

Mary hesitated but she knew both men could be trusted. "Besides the viscious beating, she was raped more than once," she finally said. Vin cursed under his breath. "She's worried it's left her pregnant."

"And this town ain't gonna let up if that's the case," Vin said. Mary looked at him. "You know it's true, Mary. Others in this town ain't as understandin' as you are."

"If she is, I'll claim it as my own," Ezra said, startling Vin and Mary. The two looked at him. "It's already been made clear that my feelings for Inez are obvious." He pointedly looked at Vin. "I refuse to let her be run out of town or belittled due to something beyond her control."

"What do we tell the other men about her bruises and such?" Vin questioned.

"That we need to figure out," Mary said. "But not without Inez's input."

"Is she resting?" Ezra questioned.

"She is," Mary said. "She fell asleep. Poor thing is exhausted."

"Likely to have nightmares too," Vin said. "Should probably keep an eye on her till she wakes."

"I can do that," Ezra said. Mary looked at him, nodding. He rested his hand on Mary's shoulder. "Thank you, Mary."

"Of course," she said. Vin rested his hand against Mary's back as Ezra turned and walked into the back room. She glanced up at Vin, worry clear in her eyes. He tried to give her a reassuring smile, but it didn't quite meet his own eyes. The two were worried for their friends, but all that could be done now was to wait.

Once Ezra walked into the room, his eyes never left Inez. He took a chair from the corner and carried it over to the side of the bed and set it down before sitting in it. He saw the concern in Mary's and Vin's eyes over his statement that he would claim any child conceived from this mess as his. Speculation would rise, but he would do everything he could to protect Inez. Once she woke, they would figure out with her what to tell the other men. They had a right to know, if only to keep it from happening to another woman in the town. Ezra knew, however, that Inez would never want them to know because of the shame. While they wouldn't like it, the three of them would keep Inez's secret and respect her wishes.

"No matter what happens, I will be here for you," Ezra murmured, his hand slipping under Inez's and holding it gently as she slept.