A Friend In Need
(Old West)

by Jennifer

Ezra was cornered. There was no where to run, no one to turn to and no one to laugh at the stupidity of the situation with him. They were so close, their voices drowning him out. They wanted answers but they would not give him the chance to respond. They claimed he was in denial, that the firewater that he consumed tainted everything that arose from his mouth. They thought they were helping, forcing him to face an issue that they perceived a problem. The problem, however, was not his.

Ezra looked at his six comrades in amazement. His eyes went wide and the shock of their outrageous statement was slowly wearing off. How had they put it, he was an alcoholic, this notion was so peculiar that he could not help but laugh out loud. This did not go over very well with the other men he worked with who were also sworn to protect the town of Four Corners. They intended to have him listen to them, to do as they said. They spoke to him harshly in hushed tones, but he never wavered, never conceded to what they charged him with. They took his objections, for denial. He soon realized there was no getting away from these insidious observations. They would believe what they wanted to. They needed to.

They set their scrutinizing eyes on Ezra and focused all their attention on his habit of consuming alcohol. The gambler realized they did this to avoid the obvious. They turned their attention on him, not wanting to face their own demons. Not wanting to admit the truth that it was not him who had the problem but rather them. More precisely Chris and Josiah who had called this little intervention.

Chris Larabee, the notorious gunslinger, customarily wore black and drowned himself in a bottle of whiskey. Once, even through a shoot out he was content to deny the reality of the situation. With bullets flying everywhere, people getting shot all around, his only concern was the bottle he had formed a symbiotic relationship with. Even when the bottle was shot, he continued to pour the whiskey. He needed to get his courage up in order to be a hero once again. Since Sarah had died, he had avoided getting involved and doing the right thing but now with the help of his friend he had the courage he needed to be the man he once was.

Of course, that was not the only time he had sought out an escape from life. Every time a decision needed to be made, Chris would take everyone down to the saloon, and throw back a couple of drinks. He had even told a friend once, that the only thing that he was thinking about for the night was whiskey and more whiskey. He craved the liquor; there was no denying that. Instead of recognizing his own problem he was claiming that it was Ezra who had the problem, not him.

Ezra turned to face them, trying to calm their speculations with logic but he could not find his voice. He could not explain to them the truth. They would not understand him. They would not understand the need for the con, and the walls he put up. They would not trust him, if he confessed. Not that they all ready did fully but it would make things even more difficult. They claimed they were doing this in friendship. They knew him and his demons. They wanted to help. He had to smile at that. If was funny that they considered him a friend when they knew virtually nothing about him. Even so, the gambler could see them clearly. Reading people was a gift he had been blessed with which came in handy when he was engaged in a poker game.

Ezra's tranquil green eyes fixed on the big man standing just at his side. Josiah, a defrocked priest, who admittedly turned to the wrong kind of spirits from time to time would never even consider he had the problem. He drank often and at times with such ferocity that he would be of no use when trouble was raging. When Emma had chosen another man over him, he had thrown back drink after drink, and when he had enough he had went over to find her. The problem with this was that his drunken misconduct could have gotten anyone of his friends killed. No one had said anything after to him because they feared turning the magnifying glass on themselves.

That situation had not been a lone incident for the preacher. From time to time he would reemerge from vacations totally intoxicated. He could not deal with what had happened to his sister, who was now locked up in a mental institution. He could not stand to face the reality of the situation, so he drank himself into a stupor. This ill advised action only caused himself more harm, and if he had his wits about him maybe some of the people who died because of the pinkerton agent would have lived but no one dared call him on it.

Ezra looked around at his friend, and shook his head. If they only knew the truth, he thought. Ezra of course had no intention of telling them though. He had a reputation, which he planned to keep intact. When he had first met these men he had this need to belong, to fit in. He had noticed that they all consumed a fair amount of alcohol, except for JD who was considered their little brother. He so desperately wanted to fit in that the only recourse he saw was to join them.

The first week, he had tried to keep up with them but he had ended up with hang over after hang over. His head would pound so hard at times he thought it might explode. He soon came to the conclusion that he could not continue this way. He knew that if he steered clear of drinking all together he would be the butt of their jokes. It was all right for the youngest member of the seven to abstain because he was so na´ve about the world. Ezra, however, was not naive. He was not a total prude. He admittedly drank on occasion, most of the time when his mother was in town but he never felt the need to continue or to drink everyday.

That had been the start of his ruse. He would sit down to a drink with his partners but when they were not looking he would dump the liquor out like he had done when they got the sheriff drunk when they were looking for information on Chris. He had let them see that treachery but never any other.

He got a way with fooling them most of the time by utilizing his flask. The sliver metal object had been his salvation. He filled it with water, when they were out on the trail of some reprobate. It gave the illusion of alcohol consumption. There had truly been only one time when he had ever filled the container with liquor. Unfortunately it had been that time on the wagon train when Eugene had been choking. He had filled it just in case Nathan needed something to disinfect the wounds that he knew were sure to follow on that mission.

Now it seemed he had played the part too well. He had conned them, his mother would have been proud. His skills did not seem to be getting rusty. He looked up and searched the six faces for any chance of getting out of this situation but he found none. Actually, he thought to himself, their wrong conclusion could only work in his favor.

If they thought he needed to dry out and stay off the liquor he would gladly oblige him. Finally he would be able to stop pretending. It was perfect. He would be able to do so without divulging the secret that he had been keeping from them for a better part of a year. He would not lose their respect, nor their trust and they would have the added bonus of feeling they had helped him out. It would be a bonding experience. As Ezra could not think of anyone he would rather bond with then his comrades he accepted their terms.

The healer took Ezra by the shoulder and ushered him out of the stables towards his room where Ezra was to spend the next week and half while he kicked his nonexistent vice. Ezra was not looking forward to spending his time locked up in Nathan's room but he was looking at the long-term objectives. The bond between the group would be strengthened and a strong trust would form between Ezra and his six comrades that would allow him to convince the others of their actual drinking problems. If his being locked up would help save Josiah and Chris's lives, he would gladly do it. After all, what were friends for?


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