This is the sequel to Past Links.
It had been nearly a week since the incident with Ella Gaines and even though Ezra and Chris had both been staying in the clinic, neither had spoken to the other. The revelation of Ezra's true parentage had left both men unsure of how to relate to the other. Ezra had finally managed to sneak away from Nathan's care while his roommate was asleep, and was now safely holed up in his room above the saloon, trying desperately to figure out how to deal with the emotions that were overwhelming him.
He glanced out the window when he heard a loudly cursing Chris Larabee headed for the saloon, still walking with a slight limp from the wound to his leg. He sighed, still unwilling to discuss anything with the gunslinger but knowing that he probably had little choice. Ezra was sitting calmly on his bed when Chris burst through the door and moved to stand close to the bed, looming above the gambler.
"Why aren't you still in the clinic, Ezra? Nathan didn't tell you that you could leave yet."
Ezra bristled at the condescending tone the gunslinger was using. "Mr. Jackson is not my keeper, and neither are you. I felt that I was sufficiently recovered to return to my domicile, where I shall no doubt rest easier."
Chris's eyes hardened. "I may not be your keeper, but I am your father. And I don't take kindly ta that tone of voice, boy."
Ezra's temper finally snapped and he rose from the bed, stepping around Chris and heading for the door. "I am an adult, and I refuse to be treated as a child. And while you are my father, I have not been your son for a very long time. I don't remember how to be anymore." The gambler's voice rose until he was almost yelling. "Adam has been dead for the past thirteen years. Ezra is all that is left, and if you don't like that then I suggest that you find yourself a more appropriate son, like Mr. Tanner."
With those words, Ezra stormed from the room with Chris hot on his heels. The gambler had just reached the stairs when Chris reached out and grabbed his arm, trying to pull him around. Ezra was thrown off balance and even Chris's grip on his sleeve was unable to keep him from falling backwards as the sleeve ripped. He tumbled down the stairs, striking his head at the bottom as Chris looked on in horror.
"Ezra!" The blonde man rushed down the stairs after the gambler for the second time in a week, afraid that this time the gambler would not walk away. He was vaguely aware of someone calling for Nathan, but could only hear the last words Ezra had spoken to him ringing in his ears.
'I suggest that you find yourself a more appropriate son, like Mr. Tanner.'
Chris gently brushed Ezra's hair back, praying that he would get a chance to apologize to his son for his rash words. "Hell, Ez. Why would I want Tanner for a son when I got you?"
Ezra was soon back in the bed in the clinic and Nathan was checking him over. "Well, Chris, I don't think he broke anything, but he's got a big lump on the back of his head. We're gonna have to wait till he wakes up to tell if he's gonna be okay." The healer's voice dropped as if he were afraid to speak the last sentence. "If he wakes up."
"What do you mean, if he wakes up? Why wouldn't he wake up, Nathan?"
Nathan sighed when he heard the quiet desperation in the gunslinger's voice. "He took a pretty hard blow to the head. You add that to everything else that's happened this past week, and it may just be too much for him." He put a consoling hand on Chris's shoulder. "You can never tell with head injuries like this. He could wake up any time."
"Or he might not wake up at all." Chris ran a tired hand through his hair as he fell into the chair next to Ezra's bed. "He could die thinking that I don't want him as a son."
As the hours passed, Ezra made no signs of waking. The other lawmen had all passed by the clinic to check on both the unconscious gambler and the gunslinger who sat slumped in the chair next to him. Chris never spoke, never even made any indication that he realized that the others were in the room. He simply stared at Ezra, willing the green eyes to open.
It was only late that night when Vin entered the clinic that Chris began to pay any attention to his surroundings. The tracker simply stood next to Chris's chair silently, one hand on the gunslinger's shoulder. He frowned when tortured hazel eyes finally glanced up at him, and he had to strain to hear Larabee's words.
"It's all my fault."
Vin's frown deepened. "Cowboy, unless ya pushed Ez down the stairs, it ain't yer fault. And I know ya didn't push him, so why're ya feelin' guilty?"
Chris looked down at his hands. "I might as well have pushed him. I said a lot of things I didn't mean, and it hurt him." His voice lowered, becoming husky from his guilt. "I grabbed his arm at the top of the stairs, and that's what made him fall. It's all my fault."
Vin was about to reply when they heard a low groan from the bed. A pair of green eyes blinked tiredly, then focused on Chris's face. Ezra frowned in confusion, but made no attempt to speak.
Chris sank to his knees next to the bed, resting one hand on Ezra's forehead. "How are ya feeling, Ez?"
Ezra opened his mouth, then closed it and just shook his head. His breathing became more rapid and his eyes darted around the room. He couldn't remember what had happened to put him back in Nathan's clinic and it seemed that whatever it was had also stolen his speech. While the gambler was certain that he could still use his voice, he could no longer find the words he wanted.
Chris was shocked when Ezra began to panic silently. He met Vin's eyes and jerked his head toward the door, signaling the tracker to go get Nathan. As Vin dashed out of the room, Chris sat on the bed with Ezra and pulled the shaking man into his arms. "What's wrong, Ez? Tell me."
Ezra shook his head violently, feeling hot tears welling in his eyes. How was he supposed to tell Chris what was wrong when he couldn't wrap his mind around the words? He closed his eyes as he felt the wetness slide down his cheeks. Then his face was pressed against rough black cotton and a hand was soothingly rubbing his back. He didn't move when he heard the clinic door open to admit a very worried Nathan.
"Ezra, can you tell me what's wrong?" Nathan grew even more concerned when Ezra only moved away from Chris long enough to silently shake his head. "Why not, Ez?"
Ezra finally turned to look at the healer. He tapped two fingers against the side of his head, then tapped them on his lips and shook his head. He frowned when Nathan just stared at him in confusion. He let out a low growl when he realized that he wouldn't be able to write down his problem either.
He pulled away from Chris and started to pace around the room. He only made it a few steps before his knees buckled. Only Chris's fast reaction kept the gambler from hitting the floor. "Easy, Ez. Calm down." Chris couldn't keep the guilt out of his voice.
Ezra took a deep breath and glanced over at where Vin was leaning against the doorframe. Communication would be so much easier if he was half as close to Chris as Vin was. Each always seemed to know what the other was thinking. Ezra gasped as that thought triggered a memory.
'I suggest that you find yourself a more appropriate son, like Mr. Tanner.'
The events of that morning suddenly rushed back into his mind and he stiffened. Even though every word he had said was true, he desperately wished that he hadn't said any of them. Chris had just found the son he had lost years ago, and Ezra had no right to take that away from him. He sighed as he focused back on the men in the room who were all worriedly looking at him. He glanced at Chris, the apology that he could no longer say shining in his eyes.
While the gambler was quiet and calm, Nathan quickly checked him over. "I don't know what to tell ya, Ezra. It'd be a little better if I knew exactly what was wrong, but it's probably just a side effect of hitting your head again. With a little time, everything should be back to normal." He smiled encouragingly at Ezra. "Now, stay in this bed and tomorrow we'll see how you're doin'."
Ezra just nodded, trying to resign himself to a life of silence. He couldn't hold onto the hope that his infirmity was temporary. Life just didn't work like that for him. He felt an arm around his shoulders and looked up to see that Nathan and Vin had both left the clinic, leaving only himself and Chris.
The silence stretched on for several moments until Chris finally spoke. "I didn't mean what I said this morning, Ez. And I don't care if you're Ezra, or Adam, or whoever. I just want ya to be my son." He glanced at the still silent gambler. "Do ya think we could start over and try this father-son thing again, Ez?"
Ezra felt tears stinging his eyes again as he slowly nodded. He could tell that Chris was sincere in his desire to start over. He frowned as he tried once more to wrap his mind around the words, but felt a flash of hope when the two words he wanted to say managed to travel from his mind to his tongue.
The words had been spoken very slowly and with a slight stutter, but all that mattered to Ezra was that he had spoken them. Perhaps Nathan was correct and this was only temporary after all.
Chris squeezed Ezra's shoulders. He had seen the effort that the younger man had to put into speaking the two simple words, so he tried to take his mind off of his new disability. "Ya said earlier that ya didn't remember how to be my son. Well, I don't rightly remember how to be a father, either." He smiled. "We can figure it out together."
Ezra nodded, then yawned. He quickly found himself lying back on the bed with Chris tucking the blankets around his shoulders. He smiled gratefully and managed to force one more word past his lips. "Stay?"
Chris settled into the chair next to the bed. "I'm not goin' anywhere, Ez. I'm gonna be here for as long as ya want me to be."
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