Standard disclaimers apply- m7 is owned by others, only using the characters for fun!
This is my submission to the 2013m7bigbang on livejournal. Please go there to see the lovely artwork from batsrgr8!
This is also an answer to a prompt provider by Tipper- To write a story involving the supernatural! Hope this works!
Thank you to NotTasha for betaing.
And finally- the general idea for this story was borrowed (ok I totally stole the whole idea) from Barbara Michaels "Stitches in Time" one of my favorite books.
Sitting in front of the saloon, Ezra leaned his chair back on two legs and let himself relax in the late afternoon sunshine. It was unusually cold for such an early fall day, but he felt too tired to even start a game of solitaire at the moment. Instead, he chose to watch the town around him. The people here always managed to intrigue him with their habits and patterns. Like old Mr. Yatesand his daily walk to the telegraph office.
Ezra didn't even know if Yates sent a telegram every day or was hoping to receive one, he only knew he could predict the two o'clock hour by the man's daily journey. Standish hadn't seen much of Mr. Yates this week though. Sighing, he glanced past the elderly man toward the jailhouse. He couldn't see any movement inside,but he knew JD was most likely in there watching over the current residents.
The Amos Brothers had ridden into Four Corners two days ago, intent on robbing the small town'sbank. They hadn't expected the seven peacekeepers to stand in their way, but at least they'd been smart enough to surrender before shooting up the place. It'd been sheer luck that all seven peacekeepers had even been in town at the time, though Ezra knew Josiah would call it providence.
There was an illness going around at the reservation. Nothing too serious,but concerning enough to warrant help when half of the settlement's people were bed-ridden. Josiah, Nathan and Vin had been making daily trips out to see to the folks needs, sometimes opting to stay days at a time. They'd happened to be back in town restocking their wares when the Amos brothers had pulled their stunt.
With the three men out of town most of the time and JD needing help at the jail, Ezra had taken more than his normal shifts at patrolling, often doubling up on an overnight and morning patrol or evening and overnight. He was exhausted but didn't find sleep coming very easily despite his need for it.
He watched as Chris rodein just in front of the afternoon stage. The weariness evident as Larabee dismounted. They were all exhausted, Ezra reminded himself. Tired and short tempered and God help anyone who got in their way for awhile.
Chris exchanged a few words with the stagecoach driver as the portly man climbeddown and opened the coach for his passengers to disembark.
Ezra recognized the Patterson family and knew they were returning from a trip to see the family back East. They'd asked the lawmen to keep an eye on their homestead, even thoughthey'd left their oldest son to run the place in their absence. Their daughter climbed gracefully down from the stage looking relieved this part of the journey was over.
Following the Pattersons, the only other passenger disembarked, a tall man with curly black hair. Hewore a plain traveling suit,but even from across the street Standish recognized the quality of the cut. When he turned, Ezra could see the stranger was older than he'd first thought, a generous amount of gray streaked his temples. Something nudged Ezra's memory. Therewas something familiar about the man, but he couldn't figure out what.
The stranger looked around the town with open curiosity as he waited for his luggage to be unloaded. Heglanced Standish's way and paused. Their eyes met and the feeling of familiarity intensified,though Ezra made no sign of recognition. Why did he feel like he knew this man?
The stage driver must have said something just then because the stranger turned away and the weird interlude was over. Ezra shivered a bit and rose, deciding it was time to move back inside.
By the dinner hour, the saloon was bustling with activity. Buck, JDand Vin had joined Ezra for their meal,but declined a game.
"When's your next patrol, Ezra?" Buck asked, shoveling a spoonful of beans into his mouth.
Ezra held back a grimace. "Not until later this evening."
"I should get back to the jail." JD grabbed two extra biscuits from the plate and started to stand.
"Finish eating," Buck ordered. "Chris said to take your time."
"Sure am glad the Judge is sending someone to escort the Amos Brothers out of here tomorrow." JD waved his biscuit at Ezra. "Theyain't hard to watch,but they're as annoying as hell. Makes me want to shoot them."
"They'll be on their way to Yellow Fork tomorrow according to the last telegram from the judge," Buck explained while JD shoved the entire biscuit into his mouth. "He's sending a marshal for them."
Ezra glanced at Vin,but the tracker shrugged. "I can make myself scarce for the day." He grinned.
"Evening, Brothers." Josiah and Nathan pulled up chairs to join them, plates in hand.
"No one to play tonight, Ezra?" Nathan grinned and bit into a steaming biscuit.
"Not so far, Mr. Jackson. Unless you're willing?" Ezra reached into his pocket for his cards but laughed softly as Nathan waved him off and refocused on his food.
For a few moments everyone was intensely focused on their food. Ezra pushed his plate away and sipped his whiskey, enjoying the comfortable silence with friends. They all looked up when the batwing doors flapped noisily.
The passenger from the stage staggered in carryinga rather bulky package.
Chris entered behind him.
"Chris," JD jumped to his feet.
"Easy,JD." Larabee motioned Dunne back to his seat. "Mr. Perkins is watching the prisoners. I needed a break before I shot one of them."
"Told ya." JD poked at Buck before sitting back down.
Everyone turned to stare at the stranger now standing in front of the table.
"Yes?" Ezra didn't even think to conceal who he was.
Chris took a step closer to the man,but the stranger smiled instead of looking intimidated.
"I was asked to make sure you received this," heexplained, setting the package on the empty table beside Ezra.
"Do I know you?" Upclose, the man looked even more familiar. Dark brown eyes, heavy eyebrows, a slightly crooked mouth. He spoke with a deep southern accent. Ishould be able to recognize the man, Ezra thought.
The man smiled almost sadly. "Jeremiah Manchester." He held out his hand in greeting.
It took a moment for the name to click. Rising quickly, Ezra grasped the outstretched hand. "It's been years."
"Sure has," Manchester smiled widely down. "Last time I laid eyes on you, you were about 15."
"You knew Ezra as a kid?" Buck looked delighted. The rest of the seven were watching with open curiosity now.
"I did indeed."
"Mr. Manchester owns a few plantations down near New Orleans," Ezra explained. "Made his fortune in tobacco."
"And lost a good portion of it to your mother," Manchester laughed with obvious affection.
"I don't understand," JD said.
"He was engaged for a time to my mother," Ezra explained almost apologetically.
"Best and worst ten months of my life," Manchester admitted. "And speaking of your beautiful mother," He motioned to the package on the table. "I saw her not too long ago and when she found out I was coming out this way, she asked me to play delivery boy."
"Thank you." Ezra touched the package lightly. "I'm much obliged."
"Nonsense. It was the least I could do."
"What brings you west?" Josiah inquired.
"Ranching." Manchester clapped his hands together. "Got my fill of plantation living and decided to take on a new adventure. Left my two oldest running things down South and sent my three youngest out here to start over." He grinned at the group and patted Ezra's shoulder warmly. "I'm sure I'll be seeing more of you as I get settled. My boys will be in to stock up and take me home later this week."
"Oh, you bought the Powers' place?" Nathan asked.
"Homesteadabout a half a day's ride from here?" Jackson went on. "Heard there was a new owner."
"Yes," Manchester's voice lost some of its levity. He quickly turned back to Ezra, cutting off the exchange with Nathan.
"Good to see you again, Ezra."
"You too," Ezra responded,but Manchester was already walking away.
"You gonna open that or what?" Buck's question drew Ezra's attention back to the mysterious package.
"Of course." He started to pick up the package and take it to his room,but JD's voice stopped him. "Open it here!" Dunne pleaded.
Ezra hesitated a moment,debating whether he wanted to open something from his mother in front of the others before conceding. "Fine."
Carefully, he pulled the twine off and turned the package over so he could unwrap it. It was bulky and soft, but not heavy.
"What do you think it is?" Buck asked anxiously.
"I have no inkling."
The brown paper fell away, crinkling noisily to reveal a bundle of deep blue cloth. With growing anticipation Ezra unfolded it to reveal a vest and jacket.
"It's just a coat." JD sounded disappointed.
"Not just anything," Ezra murmured as he smoothed the material and laid it out on the paper covered table.
"Fancy." Vin wrinkled his nose at the garments.
"Beautiful." Ezra smiled, admiring the cut of the jacket and the feel of the material. He'd never seen anything quite like it before.
The stitching was amazing. Black against the dark blue, the jacket was edged with a fine piping. Along the buttons, embroidery scrolled in a subtle design that in any other color would be almost garish. The pockets were lined with the same piping and scrollwork.
The vest though, was truly a work of art. Covered with the scrollworkand piping it created a dizzying lacy design. He could see flowers and leaves in the design, but again the black on blue kept the garment from crossing the line into ostentatious.
"Amazing," Ezra breathed as he traced the piped edging of the jacket.
Nathan reached out and ran his fingers gently over the lacy needlework. "Fancy enough,ain't it?"
Ezra held back the sudden urge to slap Jackson's hand away.
"Think it fits?" Vin asked, looking fairly unimpressed.
"Yeah, try it on, Ezra," Buck encouraged.
"I can't try it on here." Ezra looked at Buck like he was crazy. "I'd have to half-disrobe."
"Just the jacket then." Vin didn't point out the general lack of concern Ezra had shown for modesty in the past. He seemed to remember not that long ago, Ezra parading down the street in nothing more than a table cloth.
Anxious to try the outfit on, Ezra agreed and slipped off his red jacket, hanging it carefully on the back of a chair. The blue jacket felt weightless as he picked it up, the material was soft and rich. He slipped his arm into the sleeve and smiled already sensing it would fit perfectly.
"It's perfect," he murmured.
"Looks good, Brother." Josiah grinned.
Ezra glanced at the others,noting their lack of enthusiasm over the attire. What did any of them know about fine fashion anyway?
"Thank you,Mr. Sanchez," he said politely. "If you all will excuse me," he shrugged the new jacket off. "I'm going to put my belongings away and get ready for my next patrol."
He headed upstairs and tried not to look like he was too anxious, but if he hurried, he could hang his new garments up to air out before patrol so they would be ready to wear in the morning.
Ezra admired his reflection with a smug smile. The vest and jacket fit as if they'd been tailored specifically for him. Best of all, the ensemble showed no wear and tear from itsjourney.
Turning sideways,Ezra ran his hands over the front of the vest, smoothing it down and enjoying the texture of the piping and embroidery. The blue didn't flatter him quite as well as his green jacket did, but he admitted with a burst of vanity, he looked damn good.
The previous night, patrol had been long and uneventful. Boring really, though usually he enjoyed the midnight solitude. Last night however, his thoughts had been consumed by his new attire. He'd wondered where Maude had acquired such an elegant outfit and felt pride that she had considered him worthy of it. It surprised him a little that she hadn't sent a letter along with the gift, but it wasn't completely out of character for her to send him something without explanation.
Straightening, Ezra took one last look at himself. Maude would make a scene if she knew he was wearing this grand outfit without occasion, but he couldn't wait for an event of the nature in this dusty town and he needed to wearit. He couldn't wait any longer. Deciding he was wholly put together,he put his hat on and headed downstairs.
He had slept late after his long patrol. It was already fast approaching the noon hour and the saloon was fairly busy. Ezra spotted Buck and JD at a table with Nathan.
"Chris is so pissed!" JD looked up. "Hey, Ezra."
"Gentlemen, good morning," Ezra greeted as he sat down.
"Barely," Nathan shook his head.
Ezra ignored Jackson. "What has Mr. Larabee in such a fowl temper this time?" heasked.
"Judge Travis' Marshall is delayed," Buck explained since JD had just taken a bite of his sandwich. "Amos brothers are gonna be staying a couple more days."
"Which you'd know if you got out of bed before noon," Nathan pointed out.
Ezra raised his eyebrows at the healer's words. It usually took more effort than simply appearing to rile Nathan's sensibilities. "What can I say?" Ezra smiled despite his growing annoyance. "An early riser, I am not. Never have been, never will be."
"Wastes the day away," Nathan complained. "Though knowing you, that's your plan anyway."
Buck and JD were staring at Nathan now.
Ezra felt his neck grow warm. "Pardon me?"
"Nathan, Ezra had patrol last night." JD looked from Ezra to Jackson and back again. "He was up all night."
"Everyone's been working their fair share and then some this week." Nathan shoved his plate back and stood. "He's not the only one staying up all night."
Ezra fought back the urge to point out that he was sitting right there and instead said, "I take it Ms. Cleary has had her baby then?"
The question seemed to catch Nathan off guard and to knock the aggression out of him. He sighed and rubbed at his eyes. "Yeah," heanswered. "Baby arrived about two hours ago." He looked confused for a moment. "I'll see you later."
"What was that about?" JD asked once Nathan was out of earshot.
"I've no idea." Ezra watched the doors swing.
"He's just tired out." Buck looked up, a large smile spreading across his face.
"Senor." Inez placed a plate and cup of coffee in front of Ezra and turned away. Ignoring Wilmington altogether.
"What's this?" Ezra stared at the meager meal.
"Your usual." Inez sounded strained.
"Where's my sausage?"
"You don't eat sausage," she whispered.
"Hey,Ez?" Buck interrupted, his voice low and unusually serious.
"What?" Ezra snapped, still staring at Inez.
"You wanna let go of her?" He nodded toward the tight grip Standish had on Inez's wrist.
Ezra let go as if burned. "My apologies," he exclaimed. "I don't know what…" He tried to explain but his words fell empty. He hadn't even realized he had grabbed her.
Inez was backing away from the table, rubbing her wrist. "It is all right," shemumbled then turned and hurried out of the room.
"What the hell was that?" Buck hissed leaning across the table.
Ezra stood quickly. The room swayed a moment and he grabbed the back of the closest chair to steady himself. "I don't know," headmitted and fled outside.
He walked. Down one side of the street and up the other. He wandered behind the bathhouse and general store until he found himself at the livery.
Chaucer head butted him as he patted the horse'sside. "Ouch." He patted again. "Though probably not undeserved, I come seeking solace."
The horse simply stared at him and nipped at his sleeve. "Absolutely not,you big brute." Ezra stepped back frowning a little. Chaucer didn't usually bite at him at all, even in play. He took a few minutes to brush the horse down until he felt calm again.
Ezra couldn't believe he'd grabbed hold of Inez that way. He would never hurt a woman and especially not Inez. Shaking his head, he put away the grooming tools and decided he just must be more tired than he thought.
After a brief encounter with an irritable Chris, Ezra found himself assigned to watch in the jailhouse. Evidently James and David Amoswere wearing away at Larabee's patience. Sittingat the desk, Ezra played a few games of solitaire during his watch. The hours went by quickly and surprisingly, the Amos brothers hadn't bothered him much at all. In fact, they were both sleeping when Vin showed up to relieve him.
"Give you much trouble?" Vin asked as he lit a couple of lanterns.
Ezra shook his head. "None whatsoever."
Tanner paused and looked at the duo sleeping in separate cells. "You serious?" He looked back at Ezra.
Vin pointed. "Those two have driven everybody nuts with their yammering and complaining."
Ezra shrugged, gathering up his cards. He was starving, he hadn't eaten all day and he was anxious to get a game started. "They were fine for me."
Vin frowned. "Okay then, he said,but Standish was already gone.
"Where you heading now?"
Ezra looked up to see Nathan blocking his way.
"Not sure that's any of your business," Ezra admitted.
Nathan scowled. "You could do more around here, you know."
Ezra stepped closer. "And you could learn to watch how you speak to me," hegrowled before pushing past the angry healer.
Chris sipped at his whiskey and watched as Ezra ran his game across the room.
"He's playing differently tonight," Josiah commented beside him.
"What do you mean?" Chris waited for Sanchez to explain.
Josiah leaned back in his chair and scratched his beard. "Ruthless is the word that comes to mind."
"How's that any different than normal?" Nathan scoffed.
Chris looked back at Standish.
Josiah nodded. "His game is like art to him. Well crafted, intricate, complicated and beautiful. Tonight it's just…"
"Brutal." Chris took another swig.
"What'shis problem then?" Nathan asked.
"Could ask you the same question." Josiah fiddled with his glass instead of looking at Jackson.
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"You been riding rough over him all day." Sanchez looked up finally. "Heard your exchange outside."
"He had no call to talk to me like that," Nathan protested.
"You back him into a corner and he will fight back," Chris pointed out.
"Then I'll take him down." Nathan glared at them both before rising and storming out of the saloon.
"That went well." Chris looked at Josiah. Sanchez shook his head.
Chris found Ezra the next morning, headdown on the table where he'd left him gaming the night before.
"Hey." Larabee kicked the leg of the chair, jarring Standish enough to wake him. "You patrol last night?"
Ezra stirred slowly. "What?" he asked as awareness grew.
"Did you patrol last night?" Larabee repeated knowing the answer.
"No." Ezra swallowed and reached for the glass of whiskey abandoned when he'd fallen asleep.
"Get your ass up and get out there then."
"What? Now?" Ezra blinked as Chris took the glass and slid it out of his reach.
There was no arguing when Larabee had that tone, so Ezra stumbled to his feet.
"We'll talk about this later, "Chris informed him.
An hour later Chris was sitting in front of the saloon whittling when JD found him.
Chris looked up, squinting in the sun. "What do you want, JD?" His tone lighter than his words.
JD, unfazed, sat down beside him. "I'm worried about Ezra."
"Yeah?" Chris went back to his project, shaving a long sliver off the wood blockin his hand. "Why is that?"
JD watched the smooth movements of the knife sliding across the wood before he spoke. "I just saw him leaving for patrol."
"It was the way he was treating Chaucer."
Chris paused and looked at JD now.
"He hit him." JD shook his head. "Chaucer was biting at him and Ezra smacked him."
"He was just disciplining his mount," Chris suggested.
"No. He never hits his horse, any horse. And Chaucer never acts like that towardhim either." JD looked at him concerned. "It's not like Ezra. Something is wrong."
"I don't know, JD." Chris rolled the knife in his hand. "Ezra had a bad night and I made him go out on patrol. He's just mad at me. He'll get over it."
Sighing,JD stood up. "Fine, but I still think there's something wrong."
By late morning Ezra was so tired he decided it was worth Larabee's wrath to return to town early. He hadn't slept well and he didn't know why Chris was being such a bastard about patrol.
Quickly,he took care of Chaucer and hurried up the back stairs of the saloon. He was hungry but didn't want to encounter anyone right now. He just wanted to sleep. Stumbling into his room, he paused just long enough to take off his guns and hat, before collapsing on his bed and falling immediately into a deep sleep.
Ezra woke groggy and listless, feeling as if he hadn't slept at all. So, when he glanced out his window and recognized the first hint of dawn creeping over the horizon, he was shocked.
He'd slept nearly an entire day and night. Why did he still feel so tired?
Checking his pocket watch, he frowned. He'd missed another patrol. Chris was going to be furious. He shook his head, trying to clear it. Larabee would have to get over himself, Ezra thought. Obviously he wasn't feeling well and even Chris didn't make a man ride patrol if he was sick.
Chris watched JD eating his breakfast and felt old as he wondered how the kid could eat so much so fast. He just kept shoving more eggs into his mouth and Larabee wanted to remind Dunne to chew or breathe or something. Instead,he drank his coffee and tried not to think about how much he sounded like his grandfather.
Buck was watching over the Amos Brothers for a time and Vin was on patrol. He didn't know right off where Nathan and Josiah were,but his focus wasn't on them right now. Hewas after a certain gambler who not only had blown off his patrol the morning before,but seemed to have decided he didn't have to do any patrols anymore.
The object of his frustration appeared at the top of the stairs and Larabee frowned, his anger slipping away to worry.
"Geez," JD muttered beside him. "Ez looks horrible"
The kid wasn't wrong. Chris had to admit, Standish looked rough and for the normally immaculate gambler, that was saying something. His hair hung over his forehead, despite the hat. His clothing, same as he'd been wearing the day before, looked as if he'd slept in them. He staggered slightly before grasping the stairwell and descending the steps.
As he grew closer, Chris could see the dark circles beneath bloodshot eyes. Had the man stayed up gaming for a second night in a row? No one had seen him in the saloon the night before though. No one had actually seen him since yesterday morning for that matter.
Chris decided to hold his tongue and wait to see if the southerner provided an explanation for the missed patrols,but Ezra simply plopped rather ungracefully down in the seat across from JD and accepted a mug of coffee from Inez. Chris watched as she hurried away from the table much quicker than normal.
Standish stared at the cup for several minutes until JD spoke up.
"You ok,Ezra?" he asked.
Era looked up from the mug, first at JD and then at Chris. "I'm fine," he rasped and took a sip of his coffee.
Immediately,he spit the liquid back out, dousing the table and JD. Heturned, looking for Inez. "What the hell is this?" he roared, rising to his feet. "You think it's funny to put salt in my coffee?" Hehurled the mug. "Youbitch!"
Coffee sprayed everywhere. Inez managed to duck in time to avoid the projectile, but it hit the bottles behind her and sent glass flying.
"Ezra!" JD and Larabee were up at once, JD heading for Inez.
Angrily, Chris grabbed Ezra by his lapels and slammed him down across the table. "What the hell do you think you're doing?"
Ezra's green eyes clouded a moment with genuine confusion before he fought back with a strength Chris wasn't expecting. "Get off me." hehissed, shoving back and breaking Larabee's hold. "Stay outof my way." He grabbed his hat and stormed out of the saloon.
Larabee stared in shock before turning back to the bar. Other patrons who'd frozen at the commotion slowly went back to eating, carefully avoiding eye contact with him.
"Youalright?" heasked Inez.
She stood with JD, her trembling visible. "I- I didn't put anything in his coffee," she stuttered.
JD shook his head. "You still gonna tell me that nothing is wrongwith Ezra?" he asked.
Inez took a step away from them, glass crunching under her feet. She pushed her hair back from her face and looked up at Chris. "That ," she nodded toward the doors. "That is not Ezra Standish."
Ezra walked along the street, stopping and scratching at his scalp. Where did his hat go? Where had he been going? God, he was so tired. His mind refused to work properly. He had been heading somewhere, he knew it.
Looking around, he realizedhe was standing outside the Clarion. Through the dusty window, he saw no sign of Mary Travis. Had he been in to see her?
Shaking his head,he resumedwalking. Maybe he should go see Nathan. Perhaps Jackson could help him figure out why he felt so tired and out of sorts.
Sudden gunfire jerked Ezra around. Someone screamed and he saw the two Amos Brothers run out of the jailhouse. Hepulled his pistol as Chris and JD ran toward the escaping brothers.
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Vin riding in and jumping off his horse to join the fire fight. Ezra ran toward the commotion,watching in terror as JD's weapon misfired. Dunne spun under the impact of a shot and went down. Chris shot James Amos just as Vin shot down David.
It was over as quickly as it started.
"Nathan!" Vin's voice shattered the eerie stillness. Larabee kicked at both bodies making sure they were dead before he hurried toward Tanner already at Dunne's side.
"Ezra! Check on Buck!" Chris ordered waving at the building.
Realizing Wilmington had been on watch, Ezra ran into the jailhouse. Outside, he could hear Nathan asking what happened.
It was dim inside the jail,but he found Wilmington on the floor, slumped against the cell bars.
"He okay?" Josiah entered just as Ezra knelt beside Buck.
Wilmington stirred at Ezra's touch, groaning and reaching for his head.
"Looks like they knocked him out, " Ezra answered with relief when Buck cursed at his touch.
"Whathappened?" Wilmington pulled away, looking up at them in confusion.
"Amos brothers broke out."
"Damnit, anyone else hurt?" He let Ezra help him get to his feet. At their silence he cursedagain. "JD?"
"Nathan's with him," Josiah confirmed.
Pushing past Ezra, Buck stumbled slightly out of the jail house.
Outside, Josiah and Ezra found Nathan trying to calm the upset ladies' man. "JD's going to be fine, Buck." Jackson caught Wilmington as he swayed again. "Bullet caught the fleshy part of his arm. Carved a small groove is all."
"How?" Buck was obviously still muddled.
Chris wrapped an arm around JD's waist helping him toward Nathan's clinic.
"His gun misfired," Vin answered, examining theabandoned weapon carefully.
"I'd like to know exactly how those boys managed to escape," Josiah commented, looking back at the jail then to Buck,but Nathan was already leading Wilmington away.
"Damn." Tanner held up JD's revolver.
"What is it?" Josiah stepped closer for a better look.
"Got something jammed behind the firing pin." Vin pointed. "He's lucky it didn't blow his hand off when he tried to fire."
"JD is always quite diligent with his weapons." Ezra frowned. "What would cause something like that?"
"Who," Vin repeated. "This didn't happen natural," he explained. "Not like this."
The three stared at each other as the truth of Tanner's statement settled over them. Who would do such a thing and why?
They ended up in the saloon explaining the sabotagedweapon to Chris and watching as Vin carefully disassembled it. "Need to clean it good," Vin said laying out the pieces. "But otherwise it looks fine to use again."
"I've got some supplies in my room." Ezra rose. "Might as well repair it now."
"Do we know how the Amos brother's got out?" Josiah questioned as Ezra hurried up the stairs taking them two at a time.
Chris shook his head, his eyes on Standish as well before turning his attention toward the preacher. "Buck can't remember much yet." He sighed. "Hit him pretty hard,but Nate says he should be fine. "
"What else is bothering you?" Josiah pressed.
Vin looked up. "This ain't enough?"
Josiah didn't answer, just sat waiting for Larabee's reply.
"Ezra," Chris finally admitted. "JD pointed it out and I shrugged him off, but the kid is onto something. "
"What do you mean? "Tanner glanced at the upstairs landing.
"He's not acting like himself." Chris shrugged. "Acting out at Inez and his horse."
"Say that again?" Josiah looked shocked.
"Figured he was just in a bad mood. Missed some patrol and spent the day in his room."
"Is he sick?" Vin asked.
"Hell if I know. Not like him to throw things at anyone though, " Chris lowered his voice as Ezra reappeared at the top of the steps. "Don't know what's going on with him"
"I didn'trealize I was low on oil," Ezra said as he started down the stairs. "But, I think there's enough here to…" when he hit the fifth step down, the entire board upturned, sending him somersaultingdown the remaining steps.
"Ezra!" Josiah cried out.
Vin reached Standish first. "You ok?" heasked as Ezra pushed himself up.
"Fine. " Ezra winced. "What happened?" He stood slowly, flinching away when Josiah reached to help him. "I'm fine," he snapped.
"Maybe you should see Nathan," Chris offered.
"No!" Ezra jerked out of reach, looking slightly panicked. "I'm alright. Just banged up a little. Besides, he's busy with JD and Buck right now." He turned and started slowly back up the steps.
"Whatthe hell are you doing?" Chris questioned.
"Testingthe rest." Ezra advanced another step, holding the railing tightly. "Don'twant anyone else to get hurt, do we?"
The trio watched as the Southerner tested each step, but there were no other loose boards.
"I still think you should go see Nathan," Josiah pushed. "You fell hard."
"There's no need for that," Ezra scowled. "I don't want to bother HIM."
Chris exchanged a look with Vin when Ezra emphasized the word 'him,' but said nothing as Ezra disappeared towards his room.
"Thinkhe's really okay?" Vin asked.
"Nope." Chris shook his head.
Josiah was on his knees now, below the broken step. "Nails were pulled out." He ran his finger over the empty hole where a nail used to be.
Chris threw his hands up. "Of course they were." He took off his hat and rubbed a hand over his head. "What the hell is going on around this place?"