Notes: In the timeline for this story, the attack on Chris's family took place thirteen years ago rather than three. Everything else follows canon.
Ezra awoke to a pounding in his head and the warmth of a fever. He gazed blearily around his room, sighing when he noticed his pocket-watch sitting on the stand next to his bed. He reached for it, wincing when the pain in his head increased. Once he was able to focus his eyes on the timepiece, he swore violently. He gingerly pulled himself out of bed and began to dress, for once foregoing both his jacket and cravat in deference to the heat he felt.
The gambler made his way out of his room and toward the stairs, pausing on the landing when he heard Chris and Buck talking in the saloon below him.
"I don't know why he seems to push all my buttons, Buck. I don't even think he does it all on purpose."
Buck shook his head, tossing back a gulp of whiskey. "I know why Ezra bothers ya so much, and so do you. He reminds ya of Adam. I've seen it, too, pard."
The pain in Ezra's head suddenly spiked and he dropped to his knees. He lost his balance and tumbled bonelessly down the stairs, unconscious before he hit the ground.
The two gunmen hurriedly made their way to the downed gambler. When Chris reached for him, he hissed at the heat coming from Ezra's body. "Get Nathan. He might have broken something, so I don't wanna move him."
While Buck ran for the healer, Chris tried to make Ezra more comfortable without moving him. When he brushed the gambler's damp hair back from his forehead, he was shocked at just how young he looked.
It was only a moment before Nathan and Buck dashed into the saloon. The healer knelt next to Ezra, frowning when he felt the fever. He gently checked Ezra's neck and back, making sure that it would be safe to move him. "It don't look like anything's broken, but he's burning up with fever. He's probably been sick for a couple days now. It'd be just as easy to take care of him up in his own room instead of moving him over to the clinic."
Chris scooped the gambler up into his arms and began carrying him up to his room as Nathan headed for the kitchen to make some tea to take Ezra's fever down. Once Ezra was comfortably settled on the bed, Chris stepped back and simply looked at him.
Buck came up behind him and glanced down at the bed, letting out a low whistle. "Hell, when he's asleep, Ezra don't look a day older than JD."
Both men looked up in surprise when they heard the weak voice of the Southerner. "What are ya talking about, Ezra?"
Ezra forced his eyes to focus on Buck. "I am not older than JD. I'm only twenty."
Chris felt the blood drain from his face. "That's how old Adam would have been."
Ezra's headache came roaring back. He squeezed his eyes shut, determined to ride out the pain. He was only partially aware of Nathan's return as he tried to make sense of the images that were dancing just out of his reach. He dimly felt a cup at his lips and instinctively swallowed. He only relaxed when he felt a hand on his forehead and heard Chris's rough voice in his ear. He quickly lost consciousness again, his body too tired to continue the fight to stay awake.
Nathan rose from where he had been sitting on the edge of the bed, surprised that Ezra had drunk as much of the tea as he had. "I'm gonna look through some of my books, try to figure out what's wrong with him. Somebody else is gonna have to stay with him, though, and try to keep his fever down."
Chris surprised himself when he immediately volunteered. As the others left, he settled in a chair next to Ezra's bed and with the cloth that Nathan had left, he began to gently wipe the gambler's face.
After about an hour, Ezra began mumbling under his breath as he moved restlessly on the bed. Chris strained to hear, his eyes widening when he realized that Ezra's accent had faded and his voice had risen, leaving him sounding like a little boy.
"Please, help me, Pa. She wants to hurt me, Pa. Please, come help me."
Chris's heart broke as the desperate pleas continued to tumble past Ezra's lips. As his movements became more violent, Chris did the only thing he could think of. He began humming a lullaby that he and Sarah had sung to Adam.
Ezra immediately calmed, a small contented smile on his face. "I knew you'd come for me."
+ + + + + + +
That afternoon, Nathan was sitting with Ezra while Chris sat on the boardwalk, an untouched glass of whiskey in his hand. Buck walked up to him and practically fell into the chair next to him. "How's Ezra, pard?"
Chris shook his head. "His fever's not gettin' any better, and he's delirious part of the time. And there's just somethin' about him..."
"That makes you think of Adam." Buck continued before Chris had a chance to continue. "I know how ya feel, pard. I lost Adam, too. And Ezra makes ya think of what Adam would have been if he'd lived. But he didn't, Chris, and we're both gonna have to accept the fact that Ezra ain't a replacement for Adam, and he never will be."
Chris sighed, then took a gulp of his whiskey. "I know you're right, Buck. It's just so damn hard to let go when almost everything Ezra does reminds me of Adam."
Buck frowned in sympathy, then pulled himself to his feet. "Well, I gotta go spell Nathan. I'll tell him to give ya an update on Ezra."
It was only a moment before Nathan exited the saloon and headed in Chris's direction. "I think I figured out what's wrong with him, Chris. He woke up for minute, and he told me he's been havin' real bad headaches lately. I think that's what's been makin' him sick."
Chris glanced over at the healer as he took another gulp of the whiskey. "Any idea what's causin' the headaches, Nate?"
Nathan nodded, but his eyes were somewhat unsure. "I think it's memories that he's blocked out. I think they're coming back, and they're hurting him. He was mumbling off and on, something about losing his ma and wanting his pa to come and save him from someone. I asked him about it while he was awake, but he had no idea what I was talking about."
"How long do you think he's gonna be sick, Nathan?"
The healer shrugged. "I don't know, Chris. He could remember whatever he's blocking out tomorrow, or he might never remember. There's just no way to tell."
Chris sighed as he looked out across the dusty town. "With JD and Vin both gone, we're gonna be awful short-handed." He glanced at the church. "Hope Josiah's over there praying for some peace and quiet, for once. We're gonna need it."
+ + + + + + +
That night, Chris was back in Ezra's room watching over the still feverish gambler. He was startled when Ezra's green eyes suddenly snapped open, but gazed around the room blankly. He could feel the fever still radiating off of Ezra, and he realized that the gambler's mind was still somewhere deep in his past.
"Pa, please hurry. She's going to beat me again, I know she is. Please hurry, Pa." Ezra sniffled, a single tear rolling down his cheek. "Ma's gone, and I'm all alone here, Pa. Please, come for me."
Chris felt tears stinging his own eyes as he listened to Ezra pleading for his father. He knelt next to the bed and began brushing Ezra's hair back. He listened for another moment, then began speaking words that he thought should have come much harder to him.
"It's all right, son. I'm here. No one's going to hurt you anymore."
As he continued speaking, Ezra quieted and slowly succumbed to sleep once more. Even though it was no longer necessary, Chris kept his hand on Ezra's forehead and was relieved to feel that the fever was abating slightly. He glanced back at the gambler's now peaceful face.
"I wonder what you were seeing, Ezra. What happened to you that's still causing you so much pain?"
+ + + + + + +
It was early the next morning when Chris's back made him aware that it was not happy with being forced to slump in a chair all night. He leaned back and stretched, his back popping in relief. When he glanced back at the bed, he realized that Ezra was awake and staring at him.
"Feeling better, Ezra? You've had us all worried."
Ezra raised an eyebrow, but his expression was still unreadable. "I am feeling somewhat better, Mr. Larabee. May I ask for what purpose were you sleeping in my chair last night?"
"Nathan wanted someone staying with you in case your fever got worse." Chris glanced away for a moment, then turned back to Ezra. "Do you remember anything from yesterday?"
Ezra thought for a moment, then nodded. "I felt somewhat less than my best when I awoke, but since I was to go on patrol I got up anyway. I had just reached the top of the stairs when my head began pounding. After that I only remember waking up once or twice here in my room." He suddenly shuddered. "And my nightmares."
Chris remained silent for a moment, hoping that Ezra would continue to volunteer information. When none was forthcoming, he spoke. "What kinds of nightmares, Ezra? Nathan and I both heard you mumbling in your sleep."
Ezra glanced down at his bed, but he began speaking before he could stop himself. "I was about eight, I think. I'm not quite certain. I was with a woman, and she beat me quite regularly. That is one of my earliest memories, and one that I had apparently locked away until I became ill." He sighed. "I believe that I was with her for about a year before I finally managed to run away. Maude found me shortly after and took me in."
"What about your real family?"
Ezra simply shook his head. "I have no idea who or where they were. Lately, I've been remembering some images, but none of them make any sense." He winced as a dull pain began pounding behind his eyes.
"Get some more sleep, Ezra. You're still sick and you need the rest." Chris crossed his arms and waited until he was sure that the gambler was asleep. Then he left the room, determined to find Buck.
+ + + + + + +
Ezra's sleep was restless as the images from his forgotten past continued to haunt him. Finally, in a blinding flash of light they all came together.
He was riding on his father's shoulders as his mother smiled from the porch of the house. He was waving at his father as he rode off, hoping that he'd be back soon. He was being pulled from a burning house, screaming desperately for his mother who was still trapped inside. He was being beaten, simply because some crazy woman wanted to punish his father.
Ezra snapped awake, choking back a scream. All of the memories that he had locked away were suddenly visible again. He jumped when he heard gunshots from outside, and the angry voice of a woman he had tried so hard to forget.
As quickly as he could, he pulled on his clothes and after a second's thought, strapped on the derringer rigging. He carefully made his way down the stairs and out of the saloon, but was brought up short at the sight that met his eyes.
Chris was on his knees in the middle of the street, one arm clutching his bloody shoulder while the other was clamped on his leg. A woman stood over him, her pistol pointed directly between his eyes.
"We had something once, Chris. Until you met that whore Sarah, and she gave you that little brat Adam." Ella grinned at the wounded gunslinger. "I have a little surprise for you, Chris. Little Adam didn't die in that fire. I had him, but then he disappeared. He could be anywhere, but you'll never find him."
Ezra slowly walked up behind Chris, keeping his head down. "What if he already has?" Ezra had thickened his accent, desperately hoping that Ella wouldn't recognize him.
Ella frowned at him, but allowed him to continue walking towards Chris since she couldn't see any guns on him. "Who are you, and what do you think you know about Adam?"
Ezra knelt next to the injured gunslinger and carefully released the derringer, pressing it into Chris's hand when he was certain Ella wouldn't notice. "I know who he is." He raised his head, looking Ella in the eye. "He's me."
Ella's face twisted in rage and she fired. The bullet that would have killed Chris lodged in Ezra's shoulder instead as the gambler moved in front of Chris. The next shot that was heard was from the small derringer. It pierced Ella's heart, killing her instantly.
As Nathan and Buck hurried towards them, Chris looked at Ezra, hope burning in his eyes. "Are you really...?"
"Adam?" Ezra nodded. "I remember it all now. I always knew that there was a reason why I was so willing to follow you. Now, I know what it was. Pa."
Chris smiled, resting a blood-stained hand on Ezra's forehead. "It's so good to have you back again, son."
"It's good to be back. It's very good to be back."
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